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Open Thread 63.25

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

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761 Responses to Open Thread 63.25

  1. MoreFreedom says:

    Why do liberals call conservatives and Trump racists, and continue to cry wolf?

    The answer is simply because liberals don’t share the same moral foundations as conservatives, they don’t understand conservatives, and so attribute motivations and values to explain them from their perspective. Johnahtan Haidt’s simple research shows conservatives do understand liberals, but not vice versa, indicating a kind of mental deficit (and I don’t mean to disparage liberals – everyone has their own shortcomings myself included). Haidt’s research simply asks participants to answer a set of morality questions, and then to answer as they believe liberals and as conservatives would answer. So Haidt can see who best understands others. As reported at http://reason.com/archives/2012/04/10/born-this-way

    The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the care and fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with statements such as “one of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or “justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan narrative, what else could you think?

    The whole article is fascinating.

    I’m glad to see some people here are familiar with Haidt’s research. Unfortunately the vast majority of those in the MSM would never report this, because once they saw what it’s about, they’d reject it out of hand, and not want to suffer cognitive dissonance with facts about their superiority questioned. But it’s really important if people want to grow and bridge the divide between conservatives and liberals. Heck, I’m unhappy a neighbor who went into a fit of rage about Trump winning and his dog having a stroke while that happened. The poor dog is suffering as a result. I realize it’s unimportant compared to others who’ve done worse, but still I liked the dog.

    I really enjoyed “You Are Still Crying Wolf”. This is my first post, as I think this addresses the why they are still crying wolf, and will likely continue to do so, to their personal and political disadvantage.

    • skef says:

      Sorry, we just go by IQ here. You need to go back and fill in that field of the account page.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The thing is, I don’t think the problem is with moral foundations so much as a perceived (manufactured, if I’m feeling cynical) existential threat. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that a lot of prominent people in media and academia are living in a perpetual 1939. Look at Scott Aaronson’s post-election meltdown: I’ve been seeing that same sort of reaction from pretty much every Jewish person I know IRL, which is a lot of folks given where I live. And that panic trickles down to other ethnic and sexual minorities.

      I’m also not sure knowing about Haidt’s theory will really change any minds. Every time I’ve seen the idea explained to a liberal-minded person, including here on SSC, they’ve immediately taken the position “but purity group loyalty and respect for authority are dumb” and gone right back to feeling superior. The same way that the media reacted to the research on disgust reactions, where liberal subjects showed lowered disgust reactions to pictures of spiders or dead bodies, by calling conservatives prudish germophobes.

      On a slightly different note, it’s been a while since I looked at the moral foundations research but one thing I remember being a bit surprised by was that moderates blew everyone out of the water. Conservatives beat liberals but neither of them were quite as good predictors as the fence-sitters. I guess it makes intuitive sense that someone in the middle should be able to see both sides more clearly but given that everyone was arguing for outright liberal or conservative dominance it was odd to see both of them being beaten by the independents.

      • skef says:

        On the ideological Turing test stuff, David Graeber makes arguments in his recent work on bureaucracy (which is derived from earlier work of his, and also feminist standpoint theory) that would also explain these differences. He notes that one of the common tropes of 50s humor was “aren’t women’s minds crazy and beyond comprehension?” While at the same time women generally had a pretty good grasp of men’s thinking, because it was asymmetrically in their interest. Understanding requires a certain amount of cognitive work, which you might not bother with if your relative social position doesn’t require it.

        The endpoint of this continuum is when your’e in a position to inflict violence on the other party. A great advantage of violence is that it is the one thing that allows you completely set aside the problem of what the other person is thinking.

        So if it’s true that liberal values have been on the ascendance for the past N years (which I would say is certainly true on the coasts, at a minimum), and those communities have felt comfortable in those values, while those with conservative minds have felt their values threatened, the asymmetry of understanding of Haidt’s research is exactly what you would expect to see.

        On the other differences, it seems worth noting the irony of singing their praises to a community that (at least generally) explicitly embraces rationalism, according to which these other ways of thinking pose a great risk of pursuing dumb or otherwise counter-productive actions, and should at least be carefully moderated by reasoning.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          It sounds plausible on its face, but wouldn’t feminist standpoint theory predict that conservatives > moderates > liberals rather than moderates > conservatives > liberals?

          A lot of explanations for Haidt’s observations, from both a conservative or a liberal perspective, fall into that trap. It’s not as striking a difference as I remember but if you go to the original study, moderates do a sight better than either conservatives or liberals when it comes to group morality and to how exaggerated their stereotypes are. You could reclassify it as liberal vs ¬liberal but liberal vs conservative doesn’t work as well.

          On the other differences, it seems worth noting the irony of singing their praises to a community that (at least generally) explicitly embraces rationalism, according to which these other ways of thinking pose a great risk of pursuing dumb or otherwise counter-productive actions, and should at least be carefully moderated by reasoning.

          Personally, I’ve come around to recognize heuristics as a legitimate decision-making tool. Not discarding statistical or logical reasoning (I’d be out of a job for one thing) but recognizing their limitations.

          Most of the time we’re operating in conditions of Knightian uncertainty, and the best strategies are simple rules of thumb which reliably avoid the worst outcomes. And even when we’re confronted by quantifiable risks it’s still good to sanity-check statistical conclusions against those heuristics so as to avoid making stupid mistakes. Ignoring your instincts isn’t wisdom: even if you choose not to follow them, you should still be aware of what they’re telling you.

          • MoreFreedom says:

            Thank you for posting the link to the original study!

            One thing Haidt doesn’t do (that I’ve seen anyway), is break out the moderates into authoritarians vs. libertarians. If you’re familiar with this two-dimensional diagram of political beliefs (vs. the one dimensional left vs. right) https://i1.wp.com/ivytan.net/nanyate.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/politicalscore.png, then it would be interesting to see how libertarians stack up against authoritarians within the moderate group. I’d bet libertarians do much better (disclosure – I’m a long time libertarian). Simply because authoritarians don’t trust others to be free, while libertarians do. After all, you can’t have freedom unless you are first willing to give it to others.

            So I went to that study to examine how moderates compare to conservatives, after all Haidt said “moderates and conservatives were most accurate” and didn’t make a distinction. And I didn’t find that “moderates blew everyone out of the water.” Here is what I found:

            3. Who is most accurate? It depends on the type of morality.

            3a. Conservatives were most accurate about the individual-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate. …
            Stereotypes about the Harm and Fairness concerns of the typical liberal tended to be more accurate as compared to actual liberal scores in the two datasets. Here again conservatives were the most accurate, only slightly underestimating liberal individualizing concerns (average d = −.08, −.66≤ds≤.26), followed by moderates, who underestimated slightly more (average d = −.12, −.61≤ds≤.30)

            3b. Moderates were most accurate about the group-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate. Stereotypes about the Ingroup, Authority, and Purity concerns of the typical conservative tended to be overestimations compared to the actual group means in both datasets. Here again liberals were the least accurate, overestimating conservative binding concerns the most (average d = .55, .03≤ds≤1.01), followed by conservatives, who also overestimated their own group’s binding concerns (average d = .34, −.22≤ds≤.70); moderates were the most accurate (average d = .28, −.14≤ds≤.66), but they too overestimated the binding concerns when answering as a typical conservative.

            Stereotypes about the typical liberal, on the other hand, tended to underestimate the binding moral concerns actual liberals reported. Here again liberals were the least accurate, underestimating their own binding concerns the most (average d = −.62, −1.19≤ds≤−.11), followed by conservatives (average d = −.46, −.90≤ds≤.18). Moderates were the most accurate (average d = −.17, −.63≤ds≤.43), but also underestimated the binding concerns when answering as a typical liberal.

            We found some support for the hypothesis that moderates would be most accurate, which they were in the case of the binding foundations. However, and most crucially, partisan inaccuracies were not mirror images of each other (in which case the red and blue lines in Figure 2 would have opposite slopes). On the contrary, liberals and conservatives both tended to exaggerate their binding foundation differences by underestimating the typical liberal and overestimating the typical conservative.

            Finally, we found some support for the hypothesis that conservatives would be the most accurate, which they were in the case of the individualizing foundations.

            I still believe that liberals lack of understanding conservatives, leads them to incorrectly believe conservatives are evil. I see liberals saying conservatives are evil all the time (crying wolf). Like Haidt said “If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan narrative, what else could you think” when it comes to issues concerning care and fairness.

            I’ll give you an example. Who’s against helping those who really need help? No one that I know of. But you’ll get big differences between liberals and conservatives when asked when it’s OK to force people to support others. And you’ll get a much bigger difference between libertarians and authoritarians. Liberals also won’t like the fact that you’re pointing out they are harming people by forcing them to support others, or that they are creating incentives for people to go on the dole. That’s just my opinion.

          • skef says:

            It sounds plausible on its face, but wouldn’t feminist standpoint theory predict that conservatives > moderates > liberals rather than moderates > conservatives > liberals?

            That would depend on why people tend to be moderates. If people are moderates mostly in virtue of having independent reasons for choosing positions that happen to be moderate, I think your prediction would be right. If people are moderates mostly because they’re sorting out their own positions by splitting the difference between more extreme views, then you would expect them to be doing the most cognitive work sorting through those views.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Yeah, I remembered the difference being more striking than it was. One more reason to distrust one’s memory I suppose.

            I agree that it would be interesting to break down the groups further, although I’m not sure if libertarians would come out looking particularly well.

            Assuming this graphic from Wikipedia (made by some guy called Steve Cobb it looks like?) is an accurate visual representation of Haidt’s conclusions, then libertarians should have roughly the same problem as progressives. Fairness + Liberty is different from Fairness + Care, but they’re both very different from having all six foundations.

            And you tend to see this failure of imagination in Libertarian arguments. When a libertarian talks about decriminalizing various so-called victimless crimes such as drug use and prostitution, the thought that anyone could object on the grounds of purity or tradition is treated as simply absurd. Similarly libertarians are regularly flummoxed in discussions of immigration or trade balance that people genuinely have group loyalty on a national scale. And of course the standard ‘glibertarian’ response that, yes, freedom includes the freedom to starve rarely goes over well.

            (Speaking of, are there any other two-foundation philosophies? Like a Fairness-Loyalty or Fairness-Purity that lack the rest of the conservative package? It would be interesting to see which possible combinations come up in practice and why.)

            Edit: Missed Skef due to ninja powers.

            That sounds reasonable, but at the same time it also sounds a bit post-hoc.

            As a general rule I don’t like to have to patch explanations after the fact to make them fit the observations. It’s a much better sign when they just predict them correctly the first time.

          • skef says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            I agree that post-hoc reasoning can be counter-productive, but I don’t agree that the “post” is entirely relative to who says something first. I meant that response as an honest condition, I don’t see it as obvious that the second leg is the right one. And it seems like something that can be researched. The theory is that those who have the most interest, for whatever reason, in understanding the thought processes of another person or group, and has time to think about it, will have the better understanding, generally speaking. So at that level the theory doesn’t make the prediction C > M > L prediction you ascribe to it.

    • Mark says:

      I’m kind of surprised that liberals aren’t motivated by sanctity.

      “It doesn’t matter that these child refugees are 45 years old – do we want to be the kind of nation that questions the word of people just because they are black? (Get away from me, you racist!)”

      • Tibor says:

        How is that not care? Care does not mean proportionality or fairness. If you care about Care a lot, you will prefer a situation where undeserving people get care to a situation when some deserving do not get one. Apart from that, your idea of who’s deserving will be broader.

        Also, this is a question of empathizing vs. systemizing. According to Haidt, leftwingers score much higher on empathizing than systemizing, rightwingers still score more on empathizing, but less so (the only group which scores more on systemizing than empathizing are libertarians). People who are mostly empathizing will not be moved by a statistic from GiveWell, but they will be moved by personal stories and they will make judgements based on that (what those judgements will be depends on their moral foundations, typical righwingers might see the refugees more as a danger and problems and be especially concerned about 45 year old “children”, typical leftwingers will be moved by them being poor and desperate). If you are high on systemizing you will be more convinced and moved by statistics (I really mean moved – emotionally) than by personal stories and anectodes.

        But there is a sense in which I agree with you and that is environmentalism. Some aspects of left wing environmentalism seem to be motivated more by purity/sanctity than anything else (opposition to GMOs for example, possibly opposition to nuclear power).

        • Mark says:

          Yeah, mebe… I kind of feel like they’ve developed a sanctimonious attitude towards their own care-based ethics.

          I mean, if we’re saying that “the flag as a sacred object” is an example of “sanctity”, I don’t see why anti-racism as the sacred narrative shouldn’t also be. The violent objection to “dog-whistles”, and the like, doesn’t strike me as being about harm – it’s people being angered by blasphemy.

          [Edit: Just read this article linked on the new open thread, I think it illustrates my point.
          https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/28/alt-right-online-poison-racist-bigot-sam-harris-milo-yiannopoulos-islamophobia

          On one occasion I even, I am ashamed to admit, very diplomatically expressed negative sentiments on Islam to my wife. Nothing “overtly racist”, just some of the “innocuous” type of things the YouTubers had presented: “Islam isn’t compatible with western civilisation.”….
          I need to apologise for what I said and tell her that I certainly don’t believe it. It is going to be a tough conversation and I’m not looking forward to it. I didn’t think this could happen to me. But it did and it will haunt me for a long time to come.

          ]

          • Tibor says:

            Fair enough, that does sound like purity/sanctity sentiments. I wonder what Haidt thinks about this. He’s certainly moved from being a “centrist who doesn’t like Republicans” more to the direction of being a libertarian. I’m not sure whether I should find it annoying or flattering that this happens to most interesting people (originally) on the left. It can be seen as either me being biased despite trying to listen to conservatives and leftwingers (just by picking those that are leaning towards libertarianism anyway) or it can be seen as “well, those people are not quite libertarian but they are intelligent enough to absorb those parts of libertarianism which are quite clearly correct”. That sounds a little bit too self-congratulatory though (btw, it should go without saying, but a lot of libertarians are also idiots who’s opinions I find stupid or whose opinions I agree with but they hold them for reasons
            I find stupid).
            Scott is another such example and also a close friend of mine who I like to discuss politics with (when we started, he was pretty much an “John Lennon” sort of leftwinger, now he is still more leftwing than me, but definitely much closer to being a libertarian…though I changed some of my views a bit based on his opinions as well).

          • Mark says:

            Apparently, the article was a parody/troll.

            Got me.

        • Aapje says:

          @Tibor

          Some aspects of left wing environmentalism seem to be motivated more by purity/sanctity than anything else (opposition to GMOs for example, possibly opposition to nuclear power).

          I have a feeling that Haidt might have a blind spot for non-conservative manifestations of purity/sanctity.

  2. nimim.k.m. says:

    As we have occasionally discussed advertising here, there’s a recent book that might be an interesting read. Tim Wu reviews Black Ops Advertising by Mara Einstein for NYT.

  3. How well does the Red/Blue/Grey tribe categorization hold up?

    We were discussing this question this evening. One argument is that grey tribe, including us (my family) are really blue tribe heretics. I think it’s true that I feel more at home in what I think of as a blue tribe environment, the sort of college town with bookstores and tearooms and the like. An argument on the other side was that we react to red tribe as interesting and different, blue tribe as disturbingly wrong.

    Both patterns might represent results of living mostly in blue tribe areas while strongly disagreeing with blue tribe ideology. It’s easier to find people you disagree with interestingly different if they are far away.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Have you tried casting Detect Tribe?

      (Yes, I know, not helpful.)

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Slightly more helpfully: I keep wondering exactly what’s considered blue and red culture, and if people are strictly respecting definitions.

        If it’s culture, I might be in the same boat. I literally grew up on a cattle farm; most of my remembered fun moments were playing with building bricks, reading Asimov, and eventually playing around on my dad’s computers. I liked hiking, camping, eating steak, learning a trade, and 84 (a bidding game played with dominoes), but didn’t really enjoy target shooting, hunting, fishing, country music, drinking beer, working on engines, or church.

        OTOH, there are parts of blue tribe culture I despise. I’m not into yoga. I’ve done community theater, several times, but I don’t crave it, and I don’t feel the need to see live performances, except to be sociable. I don’t care for fad diets, and a lot of the social politics rubs me the wrong way; I believe more in “live and let live”, and actively making sure everyone is doing well feels too much like I’m imposing my standards on them.

        This all sounds like I might be grey tribe – except that I never really got any good sense for what Grey Tribe is. Partly because no one seems to. Even Scott himself casts it as a half-tribe, a schism from the Blue. Given that, your description makes you sound exactly Grey. I’m probably less so. If I were a D&D character, I’d be dual-class – started red, went blue, and now have about half of my life in both under my belt.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Blue tribe/red tribe doesn’t describe very much past “urbane/not urbane”. This is a schism that has been noted back into antiquity. I’d bet we’d find these schisms developed as soon as we managed to get enough agrarian output to allow specialization to flourish in any city setting. In a time past, the distinction would have might have been between those who respected literacy and those who sneered at it (regardless of whether they themselves were literate).

    • Tibor says:

      I see it exactly like you describe, including the last paragraph. I suspect that I would get a lot more “blue” if I lived in a very “red” area like a village or a small town, whereas I find myself playing a devil’s advocate for the “reds” pretty often living in a university town (i.e. very blue). If that’s accurate, I guess it does make sense to think about a “grey tribe”.

      There is actually nothing quite like the “red tribe” in Europe, or rather it is a bit different than the American “red tribe”. The same holds for the “blue tribe”. For example there are probably few people in the US who are simultaneously socialists and socially conservative, whereas in Europe this is more common…also “old left” socialism is more popular in Europe. Still, by and large one can apply a similar mapping. Interestingly enough, the “grey tribe” (if I correctly interpret it as libertarian-ish leaning people) seems to be the most homogeneous on both sides of the Atlantic (but it is also a fairly small group and somewhat more specific than the other two, which might be why).

    • The Nybbler says:

      I consider myself Gray, a status I come by naturally; my mother’s family was a central example of Blue, my father’s a non-central Red. We lived literally in a Red/Blue border area with DC to the East and the Klan to the West. I believe Gray is now seeing an influx of refugees from Blue thanks to the sociopolitical takeover of Blue by the SJWs.

    • Brad says:

      I think red and blue are useful. Not as sharply defined as is sometimes people seem to think, but describing something that’s actually there. Gray I’m more skeptical of. There doesn’t seem to be much of a real identity there — it’s an ideology plus a little bit of “geek” culture. There’s lots of people that are libertarian that are red tribe or blue tribe (in terms of everything except politics) and lots of people that are in some or other “geek” subculture that aren’t libertarian.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I don’t think it holds up very well. It describes two broad cultural stereotypes that are arguably inaccurate, and then mixes politics in.

      • Rowan says:

        The stereotype corresponding to a category doesn’t have to be accurate for the categorisation itself to be accurate; that’s a natural result when a trait or demographic is overrepresented within one category but is still a minority.

  4. aNeopuritan says:

    It’s been said that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese (-USians) lack shared traits. Actually, the category “Confucian-USian” (neither Hmong nor Cambodian or Filipino being from cultures with heavy Confucian influence) makes a lot of sense and would go a long way towards fixing “Asians” nonsense. Discuss?

    • onyomi says:

      The cultural relationship of Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese to the Chinese, and to each other, is arguably analogous to that between e. g. the English, the French, and the Spanish to the Italians–united by a shared connection to an ancient empire and common administrative language–literary Chinese here being the analogue of Latin. Though some others, like the Thai, who probably, on average, look more “Asian” to Americans than Indian, arguably belong more to the Sanskrit cosmopolis, which overlaps to some degree with the “literary Chinese cosmopolis,” especially in places like Tibet.

      • Might a relevant distinction be between those who come from states and those who come from stateless societies? I’m thinking of James Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed, which argues that large parts of SE Asia have historically been stateless–areas where population was too low and/or transport and communication costs too high to make it profitable to incorporate them in the adjacent states.

        • onyomi says:

          I was going to say, actually, that a major obstacle to any sense of “pan-East Asian” identity would be that, for example, though most Vietnamese have a lot of linguistic and cultural and genetic similarities to Southern Han Chinese, saying to any Vietnamese “so, you are basically Chinese-ish, right?” would tend to go over about as well as saying to an Irish or Scottish person, “so, you are basically English, right?” and for many of the same reasons.

          I should read that book. Thanks for the reference. I am not very knowledgeable about SE Asian history, and don’t know to what extent actively resisting incorporation into any state, as opposed to just say, resisting incorporation into larger empires, like the Chinese or Khmer, was part of some groups’ identity.

          This may go too far (or be totally obvious?), but I do wonder whether there is an extent to which US failure in Vietnam could be attributed to a long cultural memory of playing a patient long game of guerrilla warfare against would-be foreign occupiers?

  5. Mark says:

    Do you think that there should be a focus on the correlation between IQ and age at which people first have sex within schools’ personal/social education lessons?

    I was just having a look, and my position on within the distribution for ‘age at which people lost their virginity’ is pretty much the same as my position on within the IQ distribution.
    Maybe that’s a coincidence, but, when I was at school, sex education basically consisted of “here is how to put on a condom.” I always felt as if the implication was that we should, really, be having sex.
    I began to feel a bit peculiar about having sex much later than my peers.
    Maybe it would have been a bit more bearable if I could have said, “well of course I’m a virgin, I’m clever!” (Perhaps not.)
    Are young people more relaxed about that kind of thing these days? Less of a worry?

    Also, is the phenomena really culturally specific, or is it more universal?
    If the latter, I really think it might be worthwhile to teach children about this. (If the former, maybe the culture needs to change.)

    • Anonymousse says:

      My initial reaction to this suggestion is not reassurance, but discouragement. As in, “If I’m smart I can’t have sex.” I don’t think further bludgeoning the self-esteem of intelligent youngsters is a bully move.

      Also, for the record, when I first read “position” in your second sentence I thought you meant “my views on” rather than “my location on.” This led me to consider that it was possible you supported an abstinent population of idiots or an orgy of savants.

      Edit: I found this, and I’m curious what happened to men born in 1970.

      • Mark says:

        It depends on how you spin it – like, you know, for most of us “I’m saving myself for God” doesn’t really have much cache, especially if you aren’t religious.

        But, “Intelligent people are more empathetic, more likely to consider the implications of their actions (etc. etc.)… Unlike the rest of you fucking troglodytes, rutting like pigs…”
        It might have been nice to hear that.

        • Anonymousse says:

          That is a nice spin, but do you think the knowledge would be more effective for you or for the people who might exploit it?

          • Mark says:

            Who is going to exploit it?

          • Anonymousse says:

            Since you suggested it be taught in sex ed, I expect your more sexually-active, malicious schoolmates might feel they have even more ammunition to convince you that your lack of sexual prowess as a function of your intelligence is, in fact, a very bad, very personal failing on your part.

            Although upon re-reading, I read your argument as that if this information adds equal ammunition to both sides, the intelligent side is so poorly armed to begin with that it will help more than hinder.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Rather than hearing some reassuring platitude from a bored authority figure, wouldn’t you have preferred to just have some sex, though? That’s kind of where it all falls apart.

          My ideal world would have some kind of aggressive (but positive in tone!) education in social skills for those weaker in that department. But I’ll admit I have no idea how that would work and would have less than zero trust in existing American educational institutions to do it.

          I was going to use the phrase “cheerfully admit” but thinking about it now I’m not that cheerful about it.

          • Mark says:

            The story I tell myself about my own life is that I didn’t have sex because I didn’t want to.

            When I was 17, I was waiting at a bus stop, and a girl started calling to me from out of her window and asked me if I wanted to come over. I just ignored her. She shouted out “fuck you, that was your one chance with me”, or something to that effect.
            (Not that it meant that anything would have happened, but… it’s not going to happen unless you do, right?)
            I think that was really the pattern for me – desperate avoidance of anything sexual.

            I’m not asexual, but, for me, putting my penis into someone is kind of a weird thing to do. If I’m going to justify doing such an unusual thing it’s either got to be because “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck” or because of, love or something. And I don’t really feel like sexually objectifying another person is a good one.

            So, that’s what I say now. Love is the way. But, when I was 16, I hadn’t really ever been told that that attitude was an option, and so I just kind of got confused and avoided the whole thing by being desperately embarrassed whenever anything sexual came up. I honestly never even considered the fact that (despite having a sex drive) I might not want to have sex. So… yeah, it might have helped.

            Building social skills – I think preventing people from forming their own groups. Things seem to get a lot better for the vaguely awkward when they’re sort of forced together with the more socially adept. So, in schools, they should send off groups of 5 or so into the woods for a few months, make team formation and cooperation necessary. They’ll bond.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I haven’t dived into the data, but just a glance at some of the charts seems to have demolished the half-formed idea I had about >125 IQ people being a bit off in general: it’s too smooth and the inflection point is too early.

      Anyway, as someone who rationalized away my problems with “this is only happening because I’m so damn smart!” a few times too many, it might be better to keep from putting the idea in kid’s heads explicitly. A more productive line of thought that I stumbled on was along the lines of “if I’m so smart, why aren’t I popular?” If even an idiot can figure out the social script then what kind of worthless intellect is it that can’t even memorize the lines I overheard every single day? I’m still not normal exactly but a whole lot less awkward and significantly less lonely.

      Also, sex ed sounds like a bad solution because it relies on kids learning something in school. I’m only being slightly facetious here. It would probably be easier and more effective to start a YouTube channel.

      As a final note: do we actually want kids to have sex earlier? Seems like a remarkably counterproductive idea. I’m sure horny teenagers would appreciate it but then again the world doesn’t and shouldn’t revolve around the whims of children. Considering what’s best for the community has to come before any individual person’s desires.

      • Mark says:

        Well, my assumption would be that if having sex early were just a matter of learning the script, intelligent people would already be doing it.

        I suspect that they probably don’t want to, or that something is stopping them. Like, “an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex”?
        If that’s the case then it might be worthwhile to let intelligent youngsters know that their inclination is normal and valid.

        Otherwise, if it is just the case that our culture somehow discriminates against the intelligent when it comes to relationships/sex – the horny nerd trope – I think the culture needs to change.
        Perhaps, the culture also needs to shift so that *everyone* is having sex later.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Well, my assumption would be that if having sex early is just a matter of learning the script, intelligent people would already be doing it.

          I suspect that they probably don’t want to, or that something is stopping them. Like, “an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex”?

          Well if we’re accepting anecdotes, then no. I absolutely wanted to but struggled immensely learning what the rules were. It took until simultaneously running into the PUA / Game blogosphere and befriending a group of gymrats in college before I actually figured any of that shit out.

          Otherwise, if it is just the case that our culture somehow discriminates against the intelligent when it comes to relationships/sex – the horny nerd trope – I think the culture needs to change.

          I’m not sure that I buy anti-nerd discrimination as an answer.

          I’m not any less nerdy, or even any less openly nerdy, now than I used to be. If anything, when women find out that I run D&D games or whatever they’ve generally been amused and pleasantly surprised.

          If you aren’t awkward about it then you can be as big of a geek as you want. And a lack of geek interests definitely isn’t going to save you if you are.

          • Mark says:

            Right, but it seems strange that intelligent people should have lower social skills in general. Especially when, as you were saying, we’re starting from a relatively low level of high intelligence.
            I would say that, if intelligent people really want to have sex in exactly the same way as everyone else, it’s more likely that our culture is somehow discriminating against them, than that intelligence is really strongly correlated against being able to get along socially. (Though it’s also quite difficult to separate motivation from capability.)

            Perhaps it’s wrong to say discrimination, maybe it’s just a culture that doesn’t suit a certain type of mind.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Right, but it seems strange that intelligent people should have lower social skills in general.

            This is definitely not true. Intelligent people have higher social skills than general. However, it is true a large subset of intelligent people have poor social skills, and apparently you (and me too) belong in that subset. I think it is noticeable because social skills are one area that is much more difficult to develop using the intellect (a script, as you say) than other skills. For example, I was pretty hopeless as an athlete in my younger childhood, but with effort I got to be better than average as a teenager. On the other hand, my social skills took decades to develop. The ones you should feel sorry for are those guys with poor social skills that aren’t smart either. You never hear about them because they aren’t articulate.

          • One obvious possibility is that high IQ people get along best with other high IQ people, and the higher your IQ the fewer potential mates, short term or long term, are out there. It would be interesting to observe environments such as camps or schools for gifted kids and see if the pattern still holds there.

          • Mark says:

            @Mark V Anderson
            I agree with that. It doesn’t really seem to me that more intelligent people tend to be less socially able, but there are definitely intelligent people who aren’t so sociable.

            @David Friedman
            Yeah, I suppose you could also look at how quickly female Math students lose their virginity once they reach college – whether they normalise quite quickly.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The skills for being popular are far different from learning a script. A nerd can try a script he’s overheard and the results will be entirely different than when a popular person does. It’s not enough to ape the popular people; you have to look the part, have their mannerisms, respond like them. If you’ve spent too long as a pariah, you cannot do this unless you are a great actor; your mannerisms and reactions will be that of the pariah and that’s how people will respond to you.

          • Mark says:

            Are there enough nerds to make a difference? And are they really that intelligent?
            The most intelligent people I know have a spark – they are lively and interesting to be around.
            They aren’t necessarily cool or extroverted, but they’re not normally socially backwards either. Quite the opposite.

            Of course, there are some highly intelligent people who are just fundamentally socially incapable, but I don’t really think they are that common?

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s enough nerds to have created a well-known stereotype, and for nerds to have later formed a subculture.

            If you made those groups of five you talked about elsewhere and sent them out in the woods, and one of the five was a nerd, only four would come back together. The nerd would have been subject to some humiliating treatment and perhaps would resurface separately, perhaps would have to be found.

          • DrBeat says:

            The only way to be a popular person is to be a popular person. Popularity is inherent; you can mimic literally every single thing about how popular people act, but if you are yourself unpopular, you will be hated and reviled and punished for it. “Social skills” are not things that make you popular, they are things the popular are permitted to do and the unpopular are not permitted to do.

          • suntzuanime says:

            That seems like overstating the case; it’s true that there are some things currently popular folks can get away with and currently unpopular folks can’t, and it’s true that the optimal behavior for maintaining status is not the same as the optimal behavior for gaining status, but to say popularity is inherent and unchanging is to minimize the actual horrors of interpersonal interaction.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            >The most intelligent people I know have a spark – they are lively and interesting to be around.

            This argument seems quite prone to at least two two biases or fallacies whose names I can’t exactly remember… But the point one:

            Would the intelligent people who lack that “lively” spark be recognized as such, if your criteria for recognizing intelligence is the presence of that lively spark? Do you know the g score of the people who you deem “not sparky”?

            Anecdote: I haven’t done an I Q test myself, but by the proxy (reasonable but certainly-not-stellar success in grad school in a very mathematical field) I estimate my IQ above 100 but probably not enough to qualify for Mensa. I’ve also found that being excited about stuff I’m excited about usually bores people to death, because if I don’t stop myself, I’ll start giving arrogant one-way mini-lectures and apparently I’m not very good keeping those interesting or I don’t have the ability to let them evolve naturally into a two-way discussion or the topics are not match with the recipient’s areas of interest or all of the three. By sticking to the boring stuff, I can at least maintain a semblance of polite chat by relying on the rituals of societal niceties, but because I’m a piss-poor actor, it’s often too obvious that I’m just following the script of “polite chat about nothing of importance”.

            Of course this might be a product of the underlying cause that I’m simply not as bright as the brightest people Mark has met (who, given the demographics of the commentariat here, might very well be world-class geniuses), and there’s maybe a certain IQ point that after you pass it, your thoughts simply are original enough to be interesting.

            But this brings us to the point two: there’s significantly more mid-range intelligent people than super-intelligent people, yet even the mid-tier is often noticeably smarter than the half of the population who score <100 on a standardized test… which might be easy to forget if spend most of your time in academia or SSC/LW social scene or similar spheres that attracts bright people. But still, the comparison to the highest 0.1% seems a bit unfair to the members of the high 5%.

          • rlms says:

            I think very intelligent people can fall pretty much anywhere on the spectrum of social skills, although introverted/unskilled STEM types are especially noticeable because they fit the “nerd” stereotype. However, at least in my experience, even socially-lacking intelligent people are usually quite likeable; if they e.g. don’t have many friends that is due to their own choices/inability, not ostracisation.

          • Mark says:

            Would the intelligent people who lack that “lively” spark be recognized as such, if your criteria for recognizing intelligence is the presence of that lively spark?

            Perhaps not. I almost certainly don’t know any world class level geniuses (I don’t think I’d be able to tell just through conversation, but by reputation, I don’t know anybody like that) but if I think about the people whose jobs suggest high intelligence (professors, researchers, doctors, lawyers…), I only know one guy, a researcher, who even comes close to conforming to the “socially inept nerd” stereotype.

            I guess it’s a lot less likely that I’ll know the people with those jobs who are less sociable though.

            Or maybe I’m just so nerdy I don’t see it.

            Certainly, the people in ‘intelligent’ jobs (that I know) don’t seem to be any worse socially than the people in normal jobs (that I know). If anything, better.

            I would certainly say that the most popular people I’ve met have always been reasonably intelligent (wild guess 110 – 120 IQ).
            Middle school might have been an exception to that, but, in general, it holds true.

            [Edit: Perhaps there is just higher variance in social skills as you become more intelligent]

        • Murphy says:

          From the book “hackers and painters”:

          And that, I think, is the root of the problem. Nerds serve two masters. They want to be popular, certainly, but they want even more to be smart. And popularity is not something you can do in your spare time, not in the fiercely competitive environment of an American secondary school.

          Alberti, arguably the archetype of the Renaissance Man, writes that “no art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.”1 I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity. Navy SEALS and neurosurgery residents seem slackers by comparison. They occasionally take vacations; some even have hobbies. An American teenager may work at being popular every waking hour, 365 days a year.

          Nerds don’t realize this. They don’t realize that it takes work to be popular. In general, people outside some very demanding field don’t realize the extent to which success depends on constant (though often unconscious) effort. For example, most people seem to consider the ability to draw as some kind of innate quality, like being tall. In fact, most people who “can draw” like drawing, and have spent many hours doing it; that’s why they’re good at it. Likewise, popular isn’t just something you are or you aren’t, but something you make yourself.

          They’re like someone trying to play soccer while balancing a glass of water on his head. Other players who can focus their whole attention on the game beat them effortlessly, and wonder why they seem so incapable.

  6. Tibor says:

    What do people on the left think of Singapore’s social policies? To be more concrete, Singapore is a very ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse place. At the same time, it seems to have policies designed to promote a sort of Singaporean “overculture” which overlooks all the actual diversity and creates a feeling of unity (and not in a flimsy way like “united in being diverse” but simply “we are Singaporean first, anything else alter”).

    Based mostly on reading Jonathan Haidt, I am quite sympathetic to the idea that some amount of cultural unity is helpful for a society and that this is an insight of conservatives that both the left and (perhaps even more) the libertarians tend to miss (the aim of the radical left seems to be to replace all cultures with something new of their own creation and libertarians simply tend to ignore culture completely). But while Singapore is socially not quite the nicest/most free place, at least for the left or for the libertarians (who might like its economic policies), it doesn’t seem for me that one has to be as radical as Singapore to reap the benefits of this conservative approach. It would probably be enough to shift from emphasizing the differences to emphasizing the similarities between people.

    A typical example of emphasizing (and exaggerating) differences are gay pride parades. Those events seem to be designed to draw sharp differences, often even where there are none. I know a couple of gays who are nothing like the exhibitionists who tend to attend those parades (and who actually dislike them), but the message is clearly “look at how different we are from you straight people!” instead of “we are on average the same as you straights except that we sleep with people of our own sex”. I kind of understand that historically those might have helped some gays to come out in times when it was not quite so easy, but nowadays it seems to actively work against its stated purpose.

    Another thing that comes to mind was this picture from a scandal de jour from a US campus I saw the other day where a group of “minority students” blocked a path to all whites. When I saw the picture, to me it was pretty much just a bunch of white people on both sides. Some of them looked like Spaniards or southern Italians, some probably had some native American ancestry but it still seemed obvious to me that they are white. In this sense, the radical left seems to have the same approach to race as H.P.Lovecraft – if your skin color isn’t lily white or if even if it is but your background is not roughly Northern-European (Lovecraft would require you to have English ancestry in particular), you’re not white and therefore a “minority”. Again, there seems to be an emphasis finding differences instead of similarities (btw, I also find it a bit strange to say that Obama is black…he’s no more black that he’s white).

    • Iain says:

      That is a weird take on Pride parades, and does not at all match my experience. Have you ever been to a Pride parade?

      At the parades I’ve seen, everybody and their dog has a float: LGBT groups, yes, but also banks, big companies, small companies, the police, schools, churches, and pretty much anybody else who feels like it. The Canadian Prime Minister marched in the Toronto parade last year with a gay Syrian refugee, waving Canadian flags. It’s a huge party. People throw beads and spray water pistols. It’s like Mardi Gras, except with equal-opportunity flashing.

      Pride isn’t about showing difference. It’s about the LGBT community showing itself off, and the rest of society coming out to show their support. Fifty years ago, the police were raiding gay bars. Now they’re dancing to ABBA in the parade. If you think that’s a sign of increased division, I don’t know what to say to you.

      • keranih says:

        I’ve not been to an LGBT pride parade, but I’ve had (non-straight, for the record) friends send me pics, and describe their experiences.

        I’ve been to “regular” home-town-pride parades (aka, 4th of July, Town birthday, etc). In those ‘all purpose’ events I’ve never seen the number of bare tits, elephant speedos, and bare asses hanging out of costumes that seem typical for (90’s and 00’s, and from what I hear the 70’s and 80’s were *worse*) LGBT events. Hell, I’ve never seen that much mockery-through-titillation at Dragon*con. (*)

        Maybe it’s better in Canada, maybe the American versions have grown the hell up in the last 10 years. But if that sort of event is all you’ve known of gay pride events, I think you’re missing context.

        (*) Okay, so mostly that’s because the 501st doesn’t roll like that, even in Atlanta.

        • Iain says:

          There are bare tits at Mardi Gras, too. Is Mardi Gras divisive?

          • keranih says:

            Is Mardi Gras divisive?

            Oh, you have no idea, I think, if you have to ask the question. Just look at the different expressions of pre-Lent celebrations through the Catholic world – Italy, Rio, N’Leans, elsewhere. Hedonism and those po-poing hedonism have long been in conflict over this.

            If one wants to point to popular support of events that draw large crowds of tourists as signs of approval, I’ll just say that “yankee go home and leave your money behind” isn’t exactly a note of thematic endorsement.

          • Iain says:

            Let me rephrase that. Is Mardi Gras “designed to draw sharp differences, often even where there are none”?

        • skef says:

          (Ugh, I hope I’ll keep this mistake of coming back to a minimum.)

          You don’t understand (or don’t care) what the displays of sexuality were/are for.

          It seems like a natural thought that the sexual part of homosexuality could be a private thing. It’s really just “homoromance” that would need to be public — all the cultural contexts where straight couples show up as couples could just be extended to allow gay couples. Turns out that doesn’t work out so well. Public gay relations of any sort tended to be viewed as “flaunting”. (“I don’t mind that there are gay people in the world, I just wish they wouldn’t flaunt it!”)

          It isn’t very hard to trace the problem. Lots of straight people tended/tend to think that homosexuality is deeply gross. But think for a moment — do gay people think heterosexuality is deeply gross, and if not why not? And just what is a gay couple out for brunch “flaunting”, anyway?

          This stuff isn’t complicated. Straight people looked at that brunching couple and thought about guys having buttsex. Possibly even themselves having buttsex with a guy and being grossed out by it. Gay people (who actually vary quite a bit in what kinds of sex they enjoy) don’t tend to imagine straight sex this way. It’s everywhere, so we’re desensitized to it.

          And that’s really what it boils down to. Straight folks really needed a lesson about what “flaunting” is, and some serious exposure to build up some basic thought filtering skills. Brave men on floats with little clothing have been providing it.

          (Alright, that’s it; sorry to interrupt. You all can get back to treating each other’s religious convictions with kid gloves and “bravely” debating the extent (if any!) to which those who aren’t straight and of European descent are human garbage.)

          • Mark says:

            I kind of object to heterosexual public displays of sexuality too.

            Isn’t the danger that gayness is being associated with mad liberal penis gourd/ in your face (literally) sex obsessiveness? According to the OP, even conservative gays feel the need to conform to this culture.
            I don’t really care one way or the other about homosexuality, but I care a great deal about the ethical back-story of society. If homosexuality is just another liberal fancy, then I think we would probably be better off without it.

            Ideally, we’d have a homosexual culture mainly based on love, rather than sex.

            (Some have argued that the original drive for gay marriage was more to undermine the institution than emulate it. That’s kind of the only reason I can think of to oppose gay marriage.)

          • keranih says:

            @skef –

            As you’re not reading deeply when you do come back, perhaps not coming back is the better option. And if you’re reducing “I don’t think you should be doing XYZ” to “You are human garbage” I’m not sure you’re communicating much in the first place.

          • skef says:

            @keranih

            I was thinking more of e.g. the fraught question of whether tolerating homosexuality is really worth it (see whole sub-thread).

          • keranih says:

            @ skef –

            Oh, that’s not even the first time we’ve debated whether – and how to figure out – if particular social norms are a net positive or negative to the group.

            I’m a college educated woman and I think it’s worth debating if we should be encouraging higher education in its present form for women – I think we shouldn’t just assume that because an individual wants something that it is a good thing for them to have it. And that if the group is going to pay for this thing (or prioritize that thing over other things) then definately the group should know if it is going to be a net harm or benefit.

            So I still think jumping straight to “omg you hate me and want me to die” is a bit much. Especially the jumping part.

            What with all the jumping to conclusions, throwing tantrums, stabbing people in the back and heaving them under the bus, it’s been an exhausting year.

          • skef says:

            @keranih

            In what sense is that “worth debating”? In the sense that you’re going to start a thread for it? Or in some abstract sense that wouldn’t be worth troubling the people here with?

            Actually, that seems kind of tame. Seems like with the crowd here we could get a real barn-burner going about Christian domestic discipline. Libertarians: probably “nay”, but who knows — there could be surprises. But we have some fairly conservative Christian folk here; what do they think? What level of injury (or … evidence) does the first amendment protect? But oof — yes, the year has been so exhausting. Better to stick with more neutral subjects, like adventure gaming and what is to be done about those other people.

            If you think this community is as exhausting for you as for the out-groups of preoccupation, go back and do some channel analysis.

          • Tibor says:

            @skif: I know this was not addressed to me, but let me clarify my views – I have nothing against weird sex-related parties per se. There’s this “Hell Party” event in Prague every year which is mostly about body suspension, modern primitives, but also about BDSM. You can meet all sorts of unusual and weird people there and that’s kind of the point of it. Nobody actually has sex there, but at least the BDSM part obviously has a lot of sexual overtones (and it’s not like everyone is straight there either).

            The people at gay pride parades (perhaps the canadian ones are different) do not actually look all that different than the people at the Hell party. But the message to outsiders is “this is representative of gays” while it most certainly isn’t. Say you come from a distant planet where relationships are strictly homosexual and heterosexual intercourse takes place for procreation only. Then you come to Earth and you go to a carnival at Rio. You conclude that this is what these weird heterosexuals are all about. That’s the kind of impression that people might get from a typical gay pride parade.

            In both cases (Rio carnival, gay pride parades) you have something highly sexualized and highly public (the hell party does not take place in a public space btw). Now, most people are not from outer space [citation needed] so they realize that the carnival in Rio is not quite what heterosexuals are all about. The gay pride parade, on the other hand, has the word gay in its name, so it is easier to make a similar mistake. And I have to say, if I were gay I’d be really annoyed that I am associated to an event like that whether I like it or not.

            This has nothing to do with repressing homosexuality or whatever. It’s somehow the opposite. After all, you mention it yourself – if when people see gays and they immediately think “butt sex”, then the kind of a display you see at a gay pride parade is not going to be very helpful in changing that attitude. It does exactly the opposite – it paints a picture of gays as sex obsessed exhibitionists.

            There’s this old South Park episode where Mr. Garrison learns about a case of a primary school teacher who was sacked for being gay, then sued the school and got awarded a huge amount of money. He (Mr. Garrison) then tried to go out of his way to get fired himself and collect money from a subsequent litigation. Being gay is not enough since nobody has a problem with that so he makes himself appear more and more weird in order to get fired. But everyone just keeps commenting on how brave he is for being himself. At the end of the episode he bursts out (when awarder some kind of a tolerance prize) and tells the parents of the South Park elementary that they should not be ok with someone who puts a live gerbil into an ass of his assistant (called Mr. Slave) during class (etc.). He then gets sent to a “tolerance camp” (to which the south park kids were sent to before, since they were not comfortable with the way Garrison acted in the classroom) for being intolerant to his own subculture. This kind of captures my impression of the whole gay parade thing.

          • skef says:

            @Tibor

            Yes, well, all those Confederate flags make many people think that most white people in the south hate black people. Given the history, this is kind of understandable. That seems like a good reason to get rid of them. The people who like them always seem to disagree.

            I understand that, from the space alien standpoint, you don’t see (one part of) what happens at a gay pride parade as part of a culture, with a history and a path of development partly determined by other people’s shitty attitudes over time. You see it just as a sort of plea for tolerance to you and people like you, to be modified for effectiveness in that regard as needed. “Whatever happened to the Mattachine Society, anyway? That really worked well! Look, I have all these gay friends who think this stuff is icky and counter-productive. (And all these women friends who are so tired of hearing “feminist” this and “feminist” that. And my god, the civil rights movement was back in the 60s. Get over it!).”

            But I’ve gotten all confused here. Are we talking about how episodes of South Park really get at the heart of society, or about the cultural advantages of a “Singapore Light” political system that would ban overt displays of gay sexuality? I notice you don’t actually mention banning overt displays of straight sexuality, but as you say, those don’t “reflect poorly” in the same way. But the couple of gays that you know, have you run this whole Singapore-light idea by them? That the idea — we’re just spit-balling here — is to have the government making these decisions? Backed by the threat of force? “Don’t worry — it’s Singapore Light! I have some really practical ideas about what you people should and shouldn’t be able to do!”

          • Tibor says:

            @skef: Who says anything about banning gay parades? I am not advocating banning anything. I was talking about changing attitude but that is rarely achieved by changing law. If they banned gay pride parades, my first reflex as a libertarian would be to go march in one.

            Most real and lasting change achieved by slowly persuading people, not by forcing them to do something. My point is that a good way to persuade anti-gay conservatives that gays are ok is to try to show them that gays are not all that different from them. And the same with everything else (I am not entirely happy this turned into a gay parade threat instead of a more general discussion, but I guess I have myself to blame). Whenever there are two groups of people and you want them to get along well, it is a good idea to emphasize their similarities, not their differences. That’s not to say they should all “fall in the line” and be exactly the same – I don’t think that’s needed, since they usually have enough in common to build on that.

            To also punch the right – I find the recent burkini bans in France idiotic for the same reason I would find banning confederate flags idiotic. It is banning a symbol of something undesirable (the way many muslim women are treated by their husbands and families in the burkini case, racism in the confederate flag case) instead of dealing with the causes.

          • Iain says:

            Gay pride parades are not for anti-gay conservatives. People in the LGBT community have no duty or reason to organize their parties to satisfy people who hate them and would never think of attending their parade. Gay pride parades are optimized for appealing first to LGBT people themselves, and second to their allies.

            This is like complaining that church services have too much God in them, and would be much more palatable to atheists if you’d just tone it down a little.

          • Tibor says:

            @Iain: Church services are rarely held in the streets though and they don’t have a sense of activism about them. If there were a “Christian pride” march full of self-flagellating people and whatnot I would actually tell them the same – if you don’t want the atheists (accidentally, atheists+agnostics are a majority where I am from) to see you as a weird sect, maybe tune it down a bit. That does not mean you should stop believing in god but since most of you are probably not in it for the self-flagellation thing, it probably does produce the best PR.

            And if it’s not about PR, why make a parade out of it?

          • skef says:

            @Tibor

            “And if it’s not about PR, why make a parade out of it?”

            The “pride” aspect of the parades is in opposition to “shame”. Not accepting the asymmetric judgment of straight people (c.f. Mardi Gras) is an essential part of that opposition.

          • Iain says:

            When the Pope delivers his Easter Mass from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, should he tone down the Jesus stuff because he is in public?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            …. and what’s up with those Catholics shoving their religion down my throat on Ash Wednesday?

            (that’s sarcastic, just so we’re clear)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I think there’s some miscommunication here. The message is not “you must stop having gay pride parades,” it’s “if your sole objective is to normalize homosexuality among people who are currently leery of it, make the gay pride parades less weird and flashy so it doesn’t turn them off so much.” You could say the exact same thing to, I dunno, anime fans or rationalists or libertarians or any group considered strange by the broader culture: if you want people to think you’re “normal,” you put the normies in your movement front and center, not the weirdos.

            Of course, if you don’t care about that, then hey, go nuts. It’s a free country.

          • “You could say the exact same thing to, I dunno, anime fans or rationalists or libertarians”

            One of the candidates for the LP presidential nomination did something weird at the convention, I think stripped down (not sure how far–I wasn’t there). A lot of people thought it was a mistake, and it got picked up by media and used to make libertarians look nutty.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @ThirteenthLetter – See the discussion of similarities with Open Carry elsewhere in the thread. It’s pretty obvious that transgressive gay pride parades aren’t about trying to look normal in the conventional sense; it’s a tactic they adopted after realizing that “looking normal” wasn’t a workable solution.

          • Tibor says:

            @ThirteenthLetter: Exactly. Thank you.

            I don’t know what Mardi Gras is about, it is not celebrated here. Googling it reveals that it is a Christian festival turned into a public feast which has little to do with Christians and possibly is not even seen as specifically Christian today? I’m just guessing.

            It doesn’t seem to have any cause and that’s my whole point that a lot of people here are missing. If you do have a cause (like promoting gay rights which seems to have at least originally been the point of these parades), you should promote your cause effectively. If you’re just interested in partying, fine, but then get rid of the cause.

            The example David mentions with the Libertarian Party is essentially the same. A lot of people still either don’t know who libertarians are or have wild misconceptions of what they are about. When someone clearly associated with libertarianism does things like that at an event clearly associated with libertarianism, it does not help with correcting those misconceptions.

          • onyomi says:

            You are correct that Mardi Gras doesn’t have any cause, other than to be a celebration (of the last party time before Lent), though floats not infrequently include political parodies.

            Their racy reputation notwithstanding, these are actually family events, with most parents bringing their children, especially to the daytime parades. The riders’ outfits are not skimpy but meant to hide the wearer’s identity, looking if anything, more like an elaborate mix of faux European royal garb and KKK wizards (don’t think there is an explicit historical connection; rather, when 19th c. Southern Americans wanted to play dress up, there was a limited vocab for them to draw on; the carnival organizations are, however, historically racist and sexist: until they were forced to do so to use public streets, most did not allow non-white or female members, though there have long been black and all-female organizations and parades).

            Anyway, I have never been to a gay pride parade. Their reputation in my mind is sexualized–people wearing very skimpy outfits and acting suggestively. I don’t know if this reputation is still, or ever was, accurate, but Mardi Gras is really not like that, though certainly college girls do sometimes pull up their shirts to get beads.

            Note that almost all parades almost everywhere outside New Orleans, sexualized or not, are intensely boring because nobody throws anything.

          • Tibor says:

            @onyomi: So it seems a version of Mardi Gras is actually celebrated in the Czech republic (it’s called masopust – literaly “meat fast”, which is essentially a literal translation of the original meaning of the word carnival…we use “karneval” for kind of a general public festive happening much like carnival is used in English) as well, although it is not such a big deal . It is mostly celebrated in the countryside and in the more religious Moravia. I think I went to one as a kid but it is a lot more modest and a lot less party-like than the Mardi Gras photos from the US. In any case, there is nothing even remotely sexual about it.

          • onyomi says:

            Versions of Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday/Carnival are celebrated many places, Rio and New Orleans being the most famous. The riders in Rio are much more scantily clad than in New Orleans. There are smaller-scale versions of it in many places, including France, and it is considered a religious holiday, though also a chance to be unfettered before the austere season of lent. I think it also has some connection to European traditions of mummers, etc.

            Despite New Orleans’ association with Cajun and French culture, I think some aspects of our Mardi Gras have more in common with the Spanish or Latin American versions than the French. Our “King Cake,” for example looks more like a Mexican rosca de reyes than a French galette des roix.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The main Toronto parade has a growing reputation for being very corporate – I mean, TD and Bud Light are major sponsors. As I understand it, the smaller marches that take place beforehand are still more political, etc.

      • Tibor says:

        I wish you were a bit more charitable to what I wrote.

        I’m not sure what gay pride parades are like in Canada. My point is that it really is showing something very different. Are all (or even a large majority of) gays or transsexuals exhibitionists who wear strange costumes and are obsessed about sex all the time? No? Well, but that’s exactly the kind of idea you get from a gay pride parade if you don’t know much about it. Imagine that someone renamed the carnival in Rio to “heterosexual pride parade” (I know it is not explicitly heterosexual, but it is very explicitly sexual) and someone concluded:”OK, so this is what heterosexuals are about.”

        I don’t get the comment with the police. Where did I say it was ok for the police to raid gay bars? My point was not that it is a good idea to go back to the 50s, my point is that it if the goal is to get more acceptance from people who have problems with gays or transsexuals then the message should be “we’re actually pretty much like you” and not “look at how strange we can be”. Homosexuality grew way more accepted in the society at large since the 50s, but I doubt it was largely because of pride parades. I think the main reason is that many well known people came out of the closet (and as I mentioned, the pride parades might have been some encouragement then, they definitely are not any more) and everyone could see “well, if XY is gay then I guess gays are not just those latex-clad weirdos* you see in gay parades, they might be quite ordinary people too”.

        *nothing against latex-clad weirdos by the way, but if you have something like that, you should not call it a gay pride parade.

        • skef says:

          ‘Homosexuality grew way more accepted in the society at large since the 50s, but I doubt it was largely because of pride parades. I think the main reason is that many well known people came out of the closet (and as I mentioned, the pride parades might have been some encouragement then, they definitely are not any more) and everyone could see “well, if XY is gay then I guess gays are not just those latex-clad weirdos* you see in gay parades, they might be quite ordinary people too”.’

          The speed at which folks wound up coming out of the closet indeed doesn’t trace primarily to gay pride parades, which have always been a mix of activism and celebration. It instead traces more any anything to the activism prompted by the AIDS epidemic, which was itself prompted by a combination of psychological characteristics (some probably innate) and cultural changes that decriminalized sex while keeping any kind of long-term commitment culturally unacceptable. That’s the origin point of wide-spread gay culture, and it’s more recent than the civil rights movement. One would think given that history that continuing to complain about guys on floats might be a bit petty, but …

    • Murphy says:

      Re: gay pride parades, you may notice that they’re particularly popular with some of the older crowd. They started for a good reason, when gay people were seen as bizarre rare deviants there was major value in holding them and it let quite a lot of young people know they weren’t alone.

      Would there be as much point in starting gay pride parades if they didn’t already exist today? not so much.

      But they already exist, in many places they’re already a tradition and they don’t need to have value to the people who stay inside grumping about all the people out at the parade. The people who actually go to the parades enjoy them no less than people enjoy St Patrick day parades and you don’t have to be gay to enjoy them any more than you need to be irish to get hammered in public.

      • shakeddown says:

        Another thing: while being gay is largely normalized, there are still places where it isn’t. While I support letting people not bake wedding cakes for whoever they want, I think pride parades are a good way of pushing for normalizing homosexuality in the good way – you don’t have to take part, but you do have to accept that gay pride is a thing.

        An example: You may have heard the story of a guy stabbing a bunch of marchers (and killing one sixteen year old girl) in the Jerusalem pride parade last year. The Israeli pro-LGBT people’s response was to double down and talk loudly about how terrible it is that anyone can still be anti-gay. As far as I can tell, this was the right reaction.

        • Aapje says:

          I think that the more overt displays of gay sexuality during pride actually put gay people in the most anti-gay societies more at risk. So I see it as a double edged sword, it may create more acceptance in the West (although I’m not sure about that), but it may also hurt acceptance elsewhere.

        • Tibor says:

          But that’s exactly my point. The gay pride parades, at least the ones I’m acquainted with, do a very bad job at “normalizing homosexuality”, because just from the parades you get an impression that homosexuals are exhibitionists who like to dress up strange in public and are obsessed about sex. Most gays are not like that.

          If you want to convince someone who is anti-gay that he’s got no good reason to be, then making yourself look as strange to him as possible while demanding that he be not just ok with that but actively cheer for you else he’s a damned bigoted bastard is not quite the most efficient approach IMO.

          • shakeddown says:

            I don’t think they’re supposed to normalize it by making it relatable*, they’re supposed to normalize it by shoving it in your face. The idea is to shout “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” until everyone either does or just decides to ignore the gay thing.
            In general, I don’t really like that sort of approach. I prefer people to respect gay rights because they genuinely get it. But before you can get to that stage, you have to get people who are willing to violently oppose them to just give up, to not want to mess with you. And that may be a useful way of doing that. A parade is easy to opt out of, and it could have the effect of forcing people who violently hate homosexuality to opt out of the whole debate.

            *From what I’ve heard, the Jerusalem pride parade is actually pretty modest and unexhibitiony, but I haven’t actually been.

          • Aapje says:

            AFAIK, the gay prides in very conservative nations tend to be very conservative as well. In places like Russia, it’s a win to be able to walk 100 meters without being beaten by the police.

          • Tibor says:

            @shakeddown: It seems to be a strategy which leads to an increase in the number of people who are violently opposed to it. They might give up on a debate because they get shouted down, but then it’s like with the confederate flags or burkini bans – you’re not actually solving any problems, you’re just making them less visible, but potentially more severe (I’m not denying that there hasn’t been a real growth in acceptance of gays over the past few decades but I think it is largely in spite of this strategy and due to other factors).

      • Tibor says:

        @Murphy: Fair point. Except for one thing – I get the feeling that other parades and festivals are kind of more “optional” and gay parades are a much bigger thing politically. The idea seems to be that if you are not enthusiastic about it, then you’re a bigot.

        Another thing, which I already mentioned before – if I were gay, I really would not be happy about being implicitly associated with gay parades. The fact that this parade somehow presents itself as representative of a group of people is what irritates me about it. I always hated it when some kind of a student’s association held a protest against something somewhere and the media would them say “students want/don’t want this or that”. I really hate it when someone speaks in my name (even if only vaguely) without my consent.

        • StellaAthena says:

          Speaking as an LGBT person who has been attending Pride for years, I can’t imagine anyone ever saying that, especially to a straight person. Most people are vaguely weirded out by the number of straight people who show up.

          You’re entirely missing the point. It matters zero to me what you think of Pride. To be blunt, the whole point of the damn thing is “does this make you uncomfortable? Too bad, fuck you, I’m not going anywhere.” What’s more, even if you weren’t comically missing the point, I don’t see any particular reason why any group should particularly care what you think. The people doing it obviously enjoy it, and if that makes you sad then that’s too bad.

          • “I don’t see any particular reason why any group should particularly care what you think. ”

            If you don’t care what other people think, perhaps engaging in online conversation is not the optimal way to spend your time.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @DavidFriedman – Pretty clearly, this is in reference to caring what anyone thinks about a hypothetical event, not about the current conversation.

          • John Schilling says:

            To be blunt, the whole point of the damn thing is “does this make you uncomfortable? Too bad, fuck you, I’m not going anywhere.”

            Except to the camps, if you make people uncomfortable enough. Or to the grave. Or maybe they’ll just dose you up with those nice drugs they gave Alan Turing.

            The LGBT community is positively eager to at least pretend that those things are realistic near-term prospects if the wrong president is elected or the wrong judge gets on the supreme court, or if people are allowed to read alt-right fake news on the internet. Yet, given a whole list of strategies for laying low and living through such periods (see e,g. most of Jewish history), the LGBT community goes out of its way to refute them all and effectively wave a red flag in front of an alleged bull that outweighs them thirty to one.

            This smacks of hypocrisy, and isn’t terribly convincing.

          • skef says:

            @John Schilling

            Except to the camps, if you make people uncomfortable enough. Or to the grave. Or maybe they’ll just dose you up with those nice drugs they gave Alan Turing.

            The LGBT community is positively eager to at least pretend that those things are realistic near-term prospects if the wrong president is elected or the wrong judge gets on the supreme court, or if people are allowed to read alt-right fake news on the internet.

            I really wish people would base this kind of assertion on polling data or something similar. People say things on the Internet! What is the basis for attributing these views to “The LGBT community”? My guess is it’s something like “they seem unhappy, and beliefs about terrible near-term prospects are the only things one could be unhappy about in this situation.”

            Many people on this board seem convinced that there won’t be a roll-back of legal protections. Someone has offered the argument, several times, that a reversal Obergefell, a case of 2015, is very unlikely because that wouldn’t be conservative, which sounds to me like something an alien with a dictionary might say. Others have argued that it won’t happen because Trump says he doesn’t want it to happen, despite the fact that he’s pointed to a list of judges who do not obviously share that view.

            Then there’s the “look, it’s over.” argument, which seems to be one of political realism. Let me ask everyone: Suppose you were a Republican operative and decided that tactically you needed overturn Obergefell or Roe to keep your base in good graces. Which would you choose? Which one of these would more likely to energize the opposition? Which one of these is the other side more hypocritical about, because when they make use of it they go into a fugue state of self-absolution?

            I don’t think it’s likely, but I fail to see how it isn’t more likely, and the confidence of those on this board that it’s epsilon seems to be based on reasoning that would be quickly torn to shreds if it were about a different issue.

          • BBA says:

            Reversing Obergefell would be messy and complicated. Do existing marriages continue in force, or does every same-sex couple in all but a handful of states get an involuntary divorce? And how will local courts deal with a divorce when they retroactively never recognized the marriage to begin with? The tax consequences alone are a nightmare.

            Reversing Roe, on the other hand, we know what that would look like. Abortion gets banned in twenty to thirty states, while the rest keep it legal with varying levels of restrictions. A big change, but unlikely to tie up the courts in ongoing litigation if the ruling is clear enough.

          • skef says:

            @BBA

            I really don’t know what to say in response to the suggestion that those considerations would be what makes the difference in such a decision. I don’t think it even stands on its own strange assumptions: the legal consequences of reversing Roe include dealing with all the abortions that would keep happening.

          • ChetC3 says:

            @John Schilling: So what you’re saying is, you don’t find the arguments of your political opponents convincing, and you feel strongly that they’re in the wrong. Do you really think any of that is not immediately obvious to everyone? Or do you sincerely believe there is any political faction whose behavior could not be fairly characterized the same way?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Schilling – “The LGBT community is positively eager to at least pretend that those things are realistic near-term prospects if the wrong president is elected or the wrong judge gets on the supreme court, or if people are allowed to read alt-right fake news on the internet. Yet, given a whole list of strategies for laying low and living through such periods (see e,g. most of Jewish history), the LGBT community goes out of its way to refute them all and effectively wave a red flag in front of an alleged bull that outweighs them thirty to one.”

            …Ye another parallel to the gun community, I think.

          • BBA says:

            @skef: Courts have gotten pretty good at sending lots of people to prison for things that shouldn’t be crimes. (Oops, did I just let my political sympathies show again? Oh, how embarrassing.) They aren’t as good at sorting out property claims that may or may not have retroactively become invalid. If you don’t see the distinction I’ve been making here, well, maybe my brain was eaten by law school.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            …Ye another parallel to the gun community, I think.

            Well, to some of the gun community. There’s another part of it which talks about burying unregistered weapons in PVC pipes (and how to prevent discovery), how to transfer guns without paperwork getting filed, etc.

            @BBA:

            Courts have gotten pretty good at sending lots of people to prison for things that shouldn’t be crimes. (Oops, did I just let my political sympathies show again? Oh, how embarrassing.)

            No to the parenthetical, unfortunately.

          • skef says:

            @BBA

            Ah. Based on that caveat, our differing assessment may trace to the question of whether the Supreme court is really a court.

          • John Schilling says:

            I really wish people would base this kind of assertion on polling data or something similar.

            So do I, but AFIK nobody has yet performed the relevant polls. I am not comfortable with an implied standard that nothing contentious can be discussed unless there is relevant polling data at hand, and I do not believe you would wish to be held to that standard yourself.

            People say things on the Internet! What is the basis for attributing these views to “The LGBT community”? My guess is it’s something like “they seem unhappy, and beliefs about terrible near-term prospects are the only things one could be unhappy about in this situation.”

            Your guess is uncharitable, and wrong. The basis is things like this, which I suppose you could dismiss as “people saying things on the internet!”, but is a highly noncentral example of such.

          • skef says:

            With respect to that article, if we’re categorizing distortions of perspective, I wouldn’t trace the author’s “issue” to the attitudes of the LGBT community.

            We live in this weird time where members of certain groups — Jews, LGBTs, women — who are public in certain ways* receive lots of angry and offensive abuse from “the internet”, such as it is. From a third-person perspective it’s easy to brush that off as “ironic” or think that “none of those people would actually take action”. For someone who is actually the target of that abuse (such as the author describes in his article), I personally think it’s completely understandable that trying to keep a detached perspective might be futile; I doubt I would in the same situation.

            In fact, I see the weird fixation on “Social Justice Warriors” here as tracing to the exact same problem. What those folks do is a problem — one among many similar problems. It should stop! But for probably more than half of the people posting here SJWs are somehow a qualitatively different phenomenon that’s going to somehow lead to the End of Discourse. My god, a single-digit list of people were fired or disinvited to conferences — society is collapsing!

            * Obviously for the very large category of women, the relevant ways are narrower, such as writing on video game issues.

    • curious says:

      Tibor, you addressed your question to only one subset of a spectrum, but if I may correct a point of information, you seem to have misunderstood what you call “the message” (and later the “stated purpose”) of gay pride parades. You wrote that “the message is clearly “look at how different we are from you straight people,”” but that is clearly incorrect. At most, part of the message might be celebrating internal diversity (look at how different we are from each other, including different colors and occupations and religions and sensibilities). At this point, “straight people” are not even really the target audience. The particular floats that seem to have got your attention and piqued your interest are fairly similar to American beer commercials, with the main difference being the beer commercials tend to have more females and the gay pride parade floats tend to have more males. The corporate sponsor participants are advertising to the mostly gay audience, showing support and building team spirit among employees who are gay (or now LGBTQIA+) and their friends. The overall message is (1) to celebrate the tremendous progress that has occurred since the parades began almost 50 years ago in New York, (2) to support equality, including especially legal equality, regardless of which political parties happen to be running the government.

      Regarding divisiveness in Singapore, I would refer you to the astute advice of Singapore’s late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew: “We can integrate all religions and races except Islam.” The inherent problem with Islam is, it says to kill and/or terrorize all who don’t submit to it. (Read chapters 8 and 9 of the Koran for examples, though there are more examples in other chapters and in the hadiths.) NOTHING in a gay pride parade matches the inherent divisiveness of Islam, which says ‘Allah hates the disbelievers,’ ‘strike terror into the enemies of Allah,’ ‘kill the disbelievers wherever you find them’ and so on. Read about the Pakistani blasphemy case of Aasia Bibi, now on death row, and the assassination of Punjab’s late Governor Salman Taseer for blasphemy, for examples of how Islamic law (Sharia) silences dissenting voices, banning “divisiveness” and imposing a phony “peace” more accurately described as tyranny. Note also that in most countries that have Muslim majorities, most Muslims demand Sharia. If you watch some of the videos from the “Islamic State,” you can see Muslims reading from their “sacred” texts to explain why they are executing gay people, and whole villages join in the fun of stoning former neighbors to death. Since you addressed your question to “the left”, I conclude with the irony that in America “the left” have hijacked the term “liberal” and embraced Islam, which is probably the most illiberal doctrine on earth. If they read what Islam says and most Muslims believe (see, e.g., https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Main_Page), they would see that Lee Kuan Yew was correct.

    • abecedarian says:

      I went to a gay pride parade in San Francisco once. I’ll admit I was hoping to see something scandalous, or at least something fabulous. Instead it was mostly advertising. “Ford has a float in the gay pride parade — gay people should buy Ford cars! Coca-cola has a float in the gay pride parade — gay people should drink Coca-Cola!” I never felt any interest in watching a gay pride parade again.

      So, as far as my experience at least, gay pride parades are not about emphasizing differences.

      • curious says:

        SF is a comparatively early city. The parade starts in the morning and includes hundreds of contingents, with start times scheduled into the afternoon. Publicly traded corporations tend to sponsor contingents that start in the afternoon; they can sometimes be fabulous, but they are never scandalous. If you want to see the Dykes on Bikes, for example, then you should arrive earlier next time 🙂

      • Tibor says:

        Given yours and other replies I guess the gay pride parades differ a lot from place to place too, being very “divisive” somewhere and “inclusive” elsewhere.

    • skef says:

      In case you are thinking that my reactions on this thread are unfair, or maybe even irrational, let me try to clarify.

      You say “I am quite sympathetic to the idea that some amount of cultural unity is helpful for a society and that this is an insight of conservatives that both the left and (perhaps even more) the libertarians tend to miss.” I certainly don’t see anything wrong with discussing that prospect. For example, here’s an idea: One thing that unifies a culture is a set of common experiences and beliefs, which is possible to some extent even in the face of diverse backgrounds. So one way of pursuing that end is in virtue of a common school curriculum, and mandatory institutional schooling. That doesn’t preclude private schools — although there would need to be appropriate regulation, but it argues against the option of home-schooling. So how about we discuss that plan? It would leave the federal government making some important decisions, but that seems like part of the premise of using Singapore as the point of comparison.

      Now, set aside the possible virtues and vices of this proposal for a moment. It has a property that yours lacks, which is that it isn’t limited in scope to a group that doesn’t hang around here in any great numbers. It’s not about group X or Y with their statistically lower IQs and the problems that purportedly causes. It’s not about the gays and which of their tiresome foibles are worth tolerating. It’s a big change, one that could piss off a lot of [inoffensive characterization of in-group here].

      I suppose anything is possible, but I don’t believe, at all, that present properties of X, Y, or G are all that stand in the way of American cultural unity. And more generally I don’t believe that the reason those groups keep coming up here has much to do with “rationalism”. Nor does dislike explain it (although there are plenty of people here who dislike homosexuals — I’ve peeked at your blogs). It’s more that it’s a lot easier to divert trolleys when there’s a good amount of emotional distance. It can be “morally entertaining”, even. The way that kicking off a war might fill one with awe and profundity of a very different sort than the feelings of losing one.

      Tibor, the guy on the float with the hot pants also has opinions and feelings, and they differ from those of your gay friends. You probably think you’ve done a complicated social calculation to determine that his feelings and opinions don’t win out in this instance. The truth is probably a lot less rational. It’s written all over the comments on this site.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        You realize that guilt is an exhaustible resource right?

        A guilt trip can be effective on it’s own. But when it’s the second one you’ve read before noon, after a year-long deluge of them… it loses it’s kick.

        You might want to try an actual argument next time.

        • skef says:

          Hey, look. I’ll go ahead and prep a conversation about Christian domestic discipline for an upcoming thread so we can have a productive, rational discussion about it. It seems very much like a topic that the different perspectives in this community can shed light on. The view that women are less happy now is commonly expressed, but no one has much delved into the practical aspects of what it would take to fix the problem. It’s also topical in the way that white nationalism is, given that the same folks seem to be in favor of changing the available life choices of women of their community. And there are, of course, significant legal issues.

          I can do this on my own, but do you have any thoughts at present that might be helpful?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Hey, look. I’ll go ahead and prep a conversation about Christian domestic discipline for an upcoming thread so we can have a productive, rational discussion about it.

            You might want to ask a Christian tbh. I won’t be much help there since I’m a total outsider.

            IDK, maybe something about sex relations among the Mennonites / Amish / Plain Folk might help? They seem like the Christian subculture which is doing the best in modern America in absolute terms. Mormon culture might be worth a look too since they’re more active in the public sphere even if they’re less reproductively successful.

            That’s the best I’ve got. Looking to the example of successful presently-existing traditions in the US and how they handle the question.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Neither religious, nor a traditionalist/conservative, but it’s an interesting topic. One area worth looking at would be – how do gender relations and the comparative and absolute happiness of men and women differ from one ultra-conservative/traditionalist religious community to another?

            Mennonites are not Ultra-Orthodox Jews are not fundamentalist Mormons. How does it differ from community to community?

          • Aapje says:

            The Amish seem to be very happy on average:

            https://www.technologyreview.com/s/403558/technology-and-happiness/

            Their society is obviously extremely traditionalist with strong classic gender roles.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m spitballing based on a medieval studies course I took more than half a decade ago, but it might be a trap to assume that “traditional” societies necessarily had strict, repressive, heavily codified gender roles, rules of conduct, etc. For one thing, there’s no one “traditional”, and for another, to some extent it’s a triumphalist social liberal position – “everything used to be so awful until we saw the light in 1965!”

            To put it another way: drunk medieval peasants could get up to some shenanigans.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @skef – “Hey, look. I’ll go ahead and prep a conversation about Christian domestic discipline for an upcoming thread so we can have a productive, rational discussion about it.”

            Sure, if you like? But I am a Christian, and this is the first I’ve heard of it. Wikipedia says it’s apparently an S&M thing?

          • skef says:

            @FacelessCraven

            No, it’s the physical punishment of wives who are not submissive to their husbands in order to correct that behavior. Here is one guide.

            Edit: Which isn’t to say that people of a certain psychological profile might find it attractive. But I think it’s fair to say that the S&M community has taken pains (heh) to avoid the conundrum of “Non-consensual consent

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @skef – First bit from that website:

            This website is intended to be a haven for married couples who practise safe and consensual Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD).

            This website is intended to provide a refuge for those interested in a Christian Domestic Discipline marriage. Here they might find information and share fellowship with other CDD couples without having to wade through pornography, warped practises, or distorted ideals of what we believe God created for marriage. This site is not the typical “spanking” site prevalent on the web. This site focuses mainly upon improving marital relationships by sharing the guidelines and marital roles listed in God’s Word.

            Wikipedia’s take:

            There is a subculture called “Christian Domestic Discipline” that promotes corporal punishment of wives by husbands. While its advocates appeal to the Bible to support their views, the movement has also been described as a form of S&M and there is a FetLife page devoted to it. It has also been described as inherently abusive and as primarily appealing to mentally disturbed individuals. [10]

            …The more I read of the site you linked, the more convinced I grow that this is totally a sexual fetish, albeit one aimed squarely at conservative Christians. I guess it’s sorta like bubble porn? In any case, I’m given to understand that regular S&M is argued to be “inherently abusive” by some as well.

            “But I think it’s fair to say that the S&M community has taken pains (heh) to avoid the conundrum of “Non-consensual consent“”

            Sounds like playing with fire, and a damn stupid thing to get anywhere near to. But what is your actual objection to this, beyond it being a very stupid thing for very obvious reasons?

          • skef says:

            @FacelessCraven

            Well, i kind of think of white nationalism along those lines too, but that’s been entertained here as recently as … this open thread. So I’m curious about this in all sorts of ways, like

            1) Who if anyone here feels this is protected by the first amendment, between a husband and his wife (non-consensualy consensual?), or maybe the couple and their pastor?

            1a) Is it obviously laughable that anyone on this board would think we should be moving towards norms that include physical punishment for disobedient women? What’s your confidence in that and why? (Remember that women’s decreasing unhappiness comes up regularly, and the presumption is that any punishment would ultimately be for their own good.)

            2) Given the basis of objection to homosexual sex shared by some people on this board, and the scriptural evidence, is this pattern of obedience optional, and if so why? And if it isn’t optional, what biblical passages clearly take physical enforcement off the table?

            3) Is this model compatible with libertarianism? A contract can obligate you to all sorts of things, why not physical punishment? Or just occasional physical abuse at someone’s discretion? I’m especially interested in @DavidFriedman’s take on that, for this reason: The common argument for such theoretical cases is that no one would sign such a contract, but he doesn’t usually use that out. Maybe a business owner pays fairly well but occasionally likes (or feels it appropriate) to beat his employees. Or maybe only a few employees among many, letting people take their chances (which people will). Is that fine? Would someone who tried to intervene then be liable for tortious interference?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Skef – “Who if anyone here feels this is protected by the first amendment, between a husband and his wife (non-consensualy consensual?), or maybe the couple and their pastor?”

            well, the website definately is. Are you asking whether the actual behavior is covered under freedom of religion grounds? …I would imagine if no one involved complains, how would the question come up? If the woman involved complains, my guess is that the husband gets found guilty of battering. I’d be very, very surprised to find a pastor/preacher/priest advocating that website or anything on it to any member of their congregation, but if one exists, I’d imagine such advocacy falls under freedom of speech/religion too.

            “1a) Is it obviously laughable that anyone on this board would think we should be moving towards norms that include physical punishment for disobedient women? What’s your confidence in that and why?”

            Yes, I think that is obviously laughable. My evidence for that would be the society-wide push for Affirmative Consent, which I see as pretty much the bizarro-double of that link. CCD is apparently an extremely fringe movement; AC is being argued for on Vox, and is already the rule in a great many colleges and universities.

            “(Remember that women’s decreasing unhappiness comes up regularly, and the presumption is that any punishment would ultimately be for their own good.)”

            Arguments about the decreased happiness of women in the modern era are a subset of a more general argument: a lot of people seem to be concluding that what we’ve been doing for the last 30-40 years hasn’t worked, and we need to do something else. It seems to me that this is pretty much the same starting place for Social Justice as well; left and right are obviously diametrically opposed on their solutions, but I don’t think CCD is actually in the running for the right; again, I’m pretty sure this really is a fetish thing. Arguments that women should be discouraged from working/encouraged not to work seem far more likely, since there’s a fair number of women who are actually willing to argue for that. I don’t think women who want to be spanked for misbehaving is a significant part of the population, so I don’t expect CCD to become an appreciable cultural force.

            “2) Given the basis of objection to homosexual sex shared by some people on this board, and the scriptural evidence, is this pattern of obedience optional, and if so why? And if it isn’t optional, what biblical passages clearly take physical enforcement off the table?”

            From the CCD website:

            3, Eroticism:
            Whilst we recognize by its very nature this can be an erotic subject, we will keep this website as clean and wholesome as possible. However, we will not seek to deny the erotic nature of some CDD marriages as we believe it is a natural consequence of following God’s plan. After all, He created eroticism and sexuality to be enjoyed within the healthy, safe, and exclusive boundaries of marriage.

            4, Things What God Defines as Evil:
            Though some in today’s culture may call CDD an “alternate lifestyle”, the Bible gives no clear command either way. Marital discipline is neither commanded nor condemned in Scripture. However, God’s word clearly defines some other “alternate lifestyles”, such as homosexuality, as evil. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other sites. We will not accept posts glorifying such lifestyles. We are here to glorify God, not to be politically correct or lauded by the masses.

            …Near as I can tell, even that website isn’t claiming that this is “scriptural” behavior, merely that it isn’t explicitly prohibited, which homosexuality is. To my knowledge, there is no scriptural basis in the bible for corporal punishment of ones’ spouse, though there is for children. This appears to be a website for Christians who want to dip their toes into a bit of hedonism, but are squicked out by all the normal trappings of the hedonist lifestyle and so are attempting to build their own private entrance into the pool. The problem with that is that in attempting to build their own entrance, they’re missing out on the hard-learned lessons the hedonists acquired through bitter experience, like the fact that no police officer is going to give a crap about how “consensual” your non-consensual assault and battery was if your wife decides to she wasn’t into it after all and calls the cops.

            “3) Is this model compatible with libertarianism?”

            I think Scott’s actually written about this a fair deal, and I know I’m sympathetic to it. I went to a Christian college back in the day; one of the rules was that premarital sex was grounds for expulsion, no exceptions. I’m not sure that’s a good rule; there was a case where a couple who’d been getting it on went forward of their own free will after a sermon and confessed (not catholic, public confession rather than private), and got expelled. You get obvious, ugly conflicts between Christian duties to forgive and bureaucratic duties to uphold the rules. On the other hand, in the abstract, I wanted such a rule to exist even though in the moment, I wanted to break it and not get caught.

            We do have “unbreakable” commitments in our society. You can’t on a whim opt out of military service after volunteering, you can’t opt out of some of your duties as a doctor or lawyer, to name a few. I’m sympathetic to the idea that we could use more such commitments in our society, not less, that we’ve gone too far toward atomistic individualism.

            On the other hand, I think the best counter-argument to that idea is company stores and slavery contracts to people dying of thirst in the desert, not CCD.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Huh ok, turns out this was a specific thing and not a general comment on “biblical headship” or whatever.

            So yeah, this looks like an unusually unsexy form of BDSM. Which I personally disapprove of. I have a strongly held conviction that bondage should be sexy.

            As for beating disobedient wives, I don’t think you’ll find people in favor here. Jim Donald (don’t look him up on a work computer) used to comment here a few years ago and is vocally in favor of that, among other things. But Scott banned him a long time ago and it doesn’t seem like anyone picked up his torch.

          • skef says:

            @FacelessCraven

            “Yes, I think that is obviously laughable. My evidence for that would be the society-wide push for Affirmative Consent, which I see as pretty much the bizarro-double of that link. CCD is apparently an extremely fringe movement; AC is being argued for on Vox, and is already the rule in a great many colleges and universities.”

            Let’s say 70% of society now supports Affirmative Consent, which I think would be an extreme exaggeration of a fairly recent social development that has gotten a bunch of press attention. Even then what you’re saying here wouldn’t follow. We have plenty of people here who a) don’t support Affirmative Consent and b) argue that the cultural power of the people making such proposals is a terrible social problem. Grant that it is a fringe movement. Is white nationalism not a fringe movement? What about an-cap?

            And anyway, putting women back into “traditional gender roles” is another openly stated theme of the alt-right. Do you imagine they’re thinking that would be entirely optional? Is your conviction that no one here thinks in these terms based on a presumption that all the alt-righters have been banned?

            The question of what might become an “appreciable cultural force” is entirely different, and not what I’m asking about.

            On #2, you’re dismissing question very quickly. It had two parts and you’re only addressing the second one. How do you interpret the normative requirement of Eph. 5:22-24. (for example) in your life?

            [Also, your immediate placement of everyone who might have these beliefs in a liberal-emulating camp seems about as quick and uncharitable as someone thinking of Christians “they just hate us because they think gay people are gross.” Defensive, in other words. Some Christians really just do hate gay people, and really enjoy hating them! Others have what they take to be principled reasons.]

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Skef – “Even then what you’re saying here wouldn’t follow. We have plenty of people here who a) don’t support Affirmative Consent and b) argue that the cultural power of the people making such proposals is a terrible social problem. Grant that it is a fringe movement. Is white nationalism not a fringe movement? What about an-cap?

            I would say that White nationalism, An-Cap, and CCD are all fringe movements, with An-Cap probably being the least fringe and CCD the most. An-Cap is mostly ignored, but has rare high-status supporters; White Nationalism isn’t ignored, but conveys a massive status penalty to anyone so labeled, and doesn’t seem to have any high-status supporters, though there’s clearly people who are trying to change that. CCD is ignored, has no champions, and near as I can tell doesn’t have anyone trying to champion it. I think it’s safe to ignore CCD, because solutions to it are already in place and I don’t expect it to grow much. I don’t think we can afford to ignore White Nationalism, because the old solutions seem to be failing and it does actually seem to be growing. Affirmative consent has very high-status champions, and does appear to be growing very quickly, or was as recently as a year ago before the election devoured everything.

            “The question of what might become an “appreciable cultural force” is entirely different, and not what I’m asking about.”

            You asked: “Is it obviously laughable that anyone on this board would think we should be moving towards norms that include physical punishment for disobedient women?” Norms changing to that state would involve CCD or something like it to become an “appreciable cultural force”.

            …and now I realize I misread that, not as “is it laughable that anyone might argue for this”, but as “is it laughable that anyone on this board thinks they should be worried about this”. I would be very surprised if there were any CCD adherents on this board at all, or even anyone who’d ever heard of CCD before now. I’d be very surprised if anyone here were willing to defend it on grounds other than toleration of kink in general. I think we’ve had people argue in favor of assumed consent for sex inside marriage/against the idea of marital rape, though, so maybe it’s not so far-fetched.

            “On #2, you’re dismissing question very quickly. It had two parts and you’re only addressing the second one. How do you interpret the normative requirement of Eph. 5:22-24. (for example) in your life?”

            I dismissed it because there is no scriptural basis for spanking one’s spouse. Eph 5 certainly has nothing to do with anything of the sort; if you’re curious about that, we’ve left the question of CCD and gotten into biblical gender roles. I’m not married, and when I was I was an Athiest, so I have no firsthand experience on the matter, and biblical gender roles are not something I feel I understand well at all. But to the best of my understanding, here goes.

            Both my brother, sister, and parents are conservative Christians, and from indirect observation, Eph. 5:22-24 works out pretty well due to Eph. 5:25-33. The way they see leadership and submission does not seem at all the way you seem to think of leadership and submission. It is not an adversarial system, but a cooperative one. Leadership is not about keeping your spouse under your heel, it is about caring for and serving them. Submitting is not about being a slave, it is about respecting your spouse and being the one who backs them up. This is an alien idea to me, but I observe that of the four marriages in question, mine was the one that didn’t follow this model, and mine was the one that failed. My parents had a lot of fighting in their marriage for some years, and they both agree that this was due to my father’s failures at being a good leader, not due to him being a tyrant. My siblings’ marriages are very happy, though my sister sometimes complains that her husband doesn’t take the lead enough; she sees this as a lingering habit laziness on his part. I do not think she is being oppressed; in fact, knowing my sister, I pity her husband a bit.

            There’s a vast rabbit hole we could go down regarding differences in what men and women want from a partner, and I have no proof that biblical gender norms reflect an objective truth. All I can say is that modern atomistic individualism and radical egalitarianism do not seem to be universal values.

            “[Also, your immediate placement of everyone who might have these beliefs in a liberal-emulating camp seems about as quick and uncharitable as someone thinking of Christians “they just hate us because they think gay people are gross.” Defensive, in other words. Some Christians really just do hate gay people, and really enjoy hating them! Others have what they take to be principled reasons.]”

            I don’t really understand what you’re saying here. Is this referring to my claim that CCDers are trying to dip their toes in the hedonist pool? I don’t think they’re trying to emulate liberals; in fact, I was explicitly saying that emulating liberals is exactly what they’re trying to avoid; hence the “private entrance”. It’s possible that I’m being uncharitable to them, and if there are any around, I apologize, but I really do think this is a sex thing. I don’t mean that as a pejorative; Song of Solomon’s in the book for a reason after all, and I’m happy to quote Screwtape on how God is a hedonist at heart, but that website seems pretty clearly to be about kink. Maybe some left-wing atheists check it out and see what you think?

          • “Is this model compatible with libertarianism? A contract can obligate you to all sorts of things, why not physical punishment?”

            As long as the parties are free to back out of the contract, I don’t see any problem from a libertarian point of view. It isn’t my preferred style of life.

            The general issue of contracts you can’t back out of is one libertarians usually talk about in the context of whether it’s legitimate to sell yourself into slavery. Some go one way, some another. My standard example of a situation where such contracts served a useful purpose and things would have been worse if they had been banned is the use of indentured servitude in the 18th and early 19th century by immigrants to pay the cost of coming to America. On the other hand I’m not sure I would have been willing to participate in enforcing the contract.

      • rlms says:

        Thank you.

      • Tibor says:

        I think you keep misunderstanding my point. I think my gay pride parade was a bit unfortunate because it derailed the whole discussion and it was not my main point anyway. I would also not say I dislike homosexuals, but I suppose that bit was not addressed to me.

        And to reiterate – I am not for banning anything or actually making any legal change in a direction of more unity. I was talking about general attitudes. People seem to be getting ever more divided into isolated group and see others as something strange. When I talk to rightwingers I usually try to find something I agree with them, the same for leftwingers. It is amazing how receptive people can be when you actually reach out to them with something you have in common (there are some people with whom this is a waste of time, but they are much less common than people think). But this is an opposite of emphasizing “diversity”. Which is not to say you cannot disagree with people’s views and I definitely don’t mean to say you cannot have different interests than them, however strange they may find them. But when you interact with them (and you should make an effort to interact with them) you ought to look for a common ground first. The reason why I am singling out the left is that it seems to me that the right has a tendency to seek out unity. They are however also quick to condemn something when it does not seem like close enough to them. At the same time, the left seems to be busy making everything look as “diverse” and fragmented as possible.

        And I am not calling for conformity either. I am just saying – if people focus on what they have in common, they will get along a lot better. It sounds almost banal. But it is probably not since most people seem to be doing the exact opposite and often intentionally so.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If conservatives would just shut up about gun rights and religion, liberals would like them more.

          That might be true in a facile sense, but it’s not going to feel like acceptance to the conservative. At the end of the day, unless you feel comfortable being yourself in your own society, you feel oppressed and you will voice that.

        • skef says:

          If I misunderstand your point, it’s because I’m failing to see what this this “almost banal” point has to do with “Singapore’s social policies”. I’m confused about what “general attitudes” have to do with “social policies”, and in particular with Singapore, which is known for the heavy-handed approach its government takes to social issues.

          So help me understand 1) just what does the first paragraph of your OP have to do with the rest of your point and 2) if you’re just talking about “general attitudes”, do you think that the people who participate in the relevant ways in gay pride parades just haven’t thought about any of these issues, and will just voluntarily change their stance on hearing that some gay people disapprove? That this is all just a matter of confusion? And if possible 3) what would be similar cases of confusion on the part of members of other groups at other points on the political spectrum who should change their behavior for the sake of social unity? You’ve mentioned burkini bans, which a) isn’t about “general attitudes” so much as government policy and b) is a French rather than US issue anyway, and therefore not really about our cultural unity.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If I misunderstand your point, it’s because I’m failing to see what this this “almost banal” point has to do with “Singapore’s social policies”.

            Singapore’s social policies are based on the idea that diverse groups of people are more likely to get on when you emphasise the things that unite them rather than the things that divide them.

            Tibor thinks that a lot of people in modern society focus on what divides us rather than unites us, and that society might be better-off if we instead try and focus on what unites us.

            Seems pretty simple to me, and I’m honest having difficulty why so many people seem not to get the point.

          • Iain says:

            Because “what unites us” depends very heavily on the speaker’s own priors. Tibor apparently thinks that open homosexuality is divisive. Shockingly, others disagree.

            It’s easy to plead for unity. It’s a lot harder to figure out what to unify behind.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Put another way, that’s all very well and good until it’s your ox being gored.

          • “Tibor apparently thinks that open homosexuality is divisive. ”

            I do not see how you could possibly get that from what he posted.

            He thinks that open homosexuality presented in a way that makes it look weird is divisive, open homosexuality presented in a way that makes it look normal is the opposite of divisive.

          • skef says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Singapore achieves that in a certain way, which has certain costs.

            If the point is so simple, why would it be difficult to make a quick list? I mean, here are some things that divide us: abortion, gun ownership, stem cell research (less now maybe), animal rights, and pornography. So we should focus less on these things. Not emphasize them. What does that mean in practice? No more protests at abortion clinics? Sounds good to me! No more abortions? That’s, um, well, more of a substantial change, isn’t it? We already talked a bit about gun ownership, but one reason gun enthusiasts are vocal is because they’re worried about loosing their rights — the relevant substantial point of disagreement.

            So what does this proposal mean in practice for those who aren’t gay?

          • skef says:

            “He thinks that open homosexuality presented in a way that makes it look weird is divisive, open homosexuality presented in a way that makes it look normal is the opposite of divisive.”

            And this is a safe thought, given that it’s basically a tautology (except in bizarro world where people are all angry over normalcy). But as a substantial point it begs the question of the link between “presentation” and perceptions of normalcy. Bottom line: the perceptions of deviance long pre-date public displays, and the assumption they won’t long post-date it would benefit from more support than “my gay friends don’t like this either.” Maybe your gay friends don’t know what they’re talking about.

            Might it be at all relevant to this conversation that I’m personally not thrilled about all that either? It’s just one of many things I’m not thrilled about but implicated by one way or another. Like being a citizen of the country that just elected Donald Trump president. Turns out my not being thrilled about those things isn’t really a reason for people who are to change their behavior.

            But barely a week goes by here without the persecution of Brendan Eich by the force of SJWs that must be resisted. The folks fired by InterVarsity, not so much. And if the idea is supposed to be that those firings trace to parade sluttiness et al, I’m pretty sure I’m being more charitable to Tibor than y’all are to InterVarsity.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman:
            The difference between Pride and Mardi Gras or Rio is homosexuality. Tibor does not think that Rio is divisive:

            Now, most people are not from outer space [citation needed] so they realize that the carnival in Rio is not quite what heterosexuals are all about. The gay pride parade, on the other hand, has the word gay in its name, so it is easier to make a similar mistake.

            Calling Pride “open homosexuality presented in a way that makes it look weird” is begging the question. If it is fine when straight people do it, but “weird” and “divisive” when gay people do it, then what else am I supposed to conclude?

            You will note that I did not say that Tibor is personally offended by open homosexuality.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Skef – “If the point is so simple, why would it be difficult to make a quick list? I mean, here are some things that divide us: abortion, gun ownership, stem cell research (less now maybe), animal rights, and pornography. So we should focus less on these things. Not emphasize them. What does that mean in practice?”

            Let’s take gun ownership. Do you like it when protesters open carry? …It seems to me that this is pretty analogous to the Gay Pride parade issue; Open Carry is explicitly legal, and at the same time a very in-your-face confrontation toward people who fundamentally disagree. There’s even a pretty sizable split within the gun community over whether it’s a good tactic or not, with proponents claiming it’s an effective method of protests, and opponents claiming it just stirs up trouble and alienates bystanders for no good reason. Your thoughts?

          • skef says:

            @FacelessCraven

            I don’t like it when people open carry. But to assess whether and how my not liking it is relevant I would need to understand more about the motivation.

            You’ve noted that it’s a “protest” and that “There’s even a pretty sizable split within the gun community over whether it’s a good tactic or not”. But what specifically is being protested, and is the object of the tactics? The right to own the gun? The right to carry it openly? The existence of people who disagree with those rights? If it’s the last, then my not liking it is the object of the protest, so it can’t be a reason for them to stop. If it’s the right to carry openly, I don’t think my mind would change/I would vote differently if people exercised the right less; I don’t like it counter-factually either. If it’s the right to own the gun, then that does seem culturally counter-productive to me; I don’t see how you square “we’re responsible about our gun ownership” and “it’s fine to carry this around to make a political point”.

            I suppose the place where the parallel you’re drawing is most salient is in the perception on the other side of almost total defeat, which can make any “protest” seem like rubbing it in. I mean really, what do they have to protest? On the other hand, that defeat framing entails an objection not just to the protest itself but to the larger phenomenon: in my case the ease of obtaining guns, in their case marriage rights and regulations on businesses*. So that’s a different premise than “everything would be pretty OK without the behavior in question”. Is that framing inaccurate, or should we shift this debate in that direction?

            * On the one hand I feel like a more consequential handling of that issue would have been more productive, with people just arranging for their cakes at other establishments when necessary. On the other, we seem to have a deontological legal system when it comes to this sort of thing, so I’m not sure how that would even work. If the radius gets long enough, maybe there’s a lottery and the looser sucks it up?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Skef – “But what specifically is being protested, and is the object of the tactics?”

            I’m not an open-carrier, but near as I can tell the attitude is a fairly straightforward “you may not like this, you may find this scary or shocking or distasteful, but it’s my right to do it, I’m not in fact hurting anyone, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop me. Maybe the problem is you, not me.” So yes, I’d say it’s a pretty straightforward attack on people who don’t like guns/disagree with gun rights.

            “I don’t see how you square “we’re responsible about our gun ownership” and “it’s fine to carry this around to make a political point”.”

            Nobody ever gets shot due to Open Carry, so it seems like it can’t help but normalize firearms ownership. Every time someone freaks out about it, they just make themselves look silly, I think is the idea.

            “So that’s a different premise than “everything would be pretty OK without the behavior in question”. Is that framing inaccurate, or should we shift this debate in that direction?”

            I’m not sure, honestly. Open Carry makes me smile slightly, and Transgressive Gay Pride makes me frown slightly, but both seem to me to be well into the “useful and very probably necessary” side, and I’d argue in favor of both. Mostly, I mentioned it as a way of bumping the discussion outside a neat partisan divide; I think the two are close enough that one either has to argue for both or against both. I choose for.

            The conservative argument here has been that people should focus on what unites, rather than what divides. I don’t think that works without a baseline level of respect. One could argue that there’s enough respect now, for both gays and gun owners, that it’s time to ease off the gas pedal and start working on healing a bit more than fighting… but I doubt that’s an argument that can be made effectively from outside the group.

          • skef says:

            @FacelessCraven

            “Nobody ever gets shot due to Open Carry, so it seems like it can’t help but normalize firearms ownership.”

            If this means “accidental open carry discharges are very rare and have so far only resulted in non-life-threatening injuries”, that’s right as far as I know.

            On the general point, I think we agree. I would emphasize what I’ve already implied: the protests on both sides (to the extent that’s an accurate characterization) are symptomatic of a deeper disagreement that wouldn’t go away if the protests did. Remove one sticking point there are others to choose from.

            [Actually, i do want to add one thing to this. Part of my discomfort with U.S. gun culture is the rationale of their being a check on the government, which might need to be overthrown. That “overthrow” rationale seems integrated into the “culture wars” (for lack of a better term) as an implied threat: “If things slide too far to the left, we’ll have to deal with it by force.” Maybe that’s an inevitable subtext of every profound cultural disagreement, but it seems awfully textual in recent years, which doesn’t feel great.]

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Skef – Yeah, I think I’m on your side on this one for the most part.

            “That “overthrow” rationale seems integrated into the “culture wars” (for lack of a better term) as an implied threat: “If things slide too far to the left, we’ll have to deal with it by force.” Maybe that’s an inevitable subtext of every profound cultural disagreement, but it seems awfully textual in recent years, which doesn’t feel great.”

            Not just to the left. This is an effort to organize free Concealed Carry and general gun safety and shooting training free of charge to anyone, with a special emphasis on LGBT people in the wake of the Pulse shootings. More generally, while I feel that the liberal response to Trump’s election has been profoundly stupid, if your tribe really does think the Red Tribe are gearing up to massacre you, guns are not actually that expensive, and can actually be obtained by most adults. I do not say this in the hope of some sort of apocalyptic tribal war; I think it’s possible that if your side armed itself better, it would freak out less. And on the off-chance some cretin decides they want to bash them a queer, I want them to eat hollowpoints and their target to walk home unscathed.

            We can’t live in peace if we’re afraid of each other, but we can’t live in peace if we don’t respect each other, either.

          • skef says:

            @FacelessCraven

            I think apocalyptic expectations increase the likelihood of bad things happening. I agree that the reaction of many liberals to the election was hyperbolic. But for the most part, they (and I, to the extent I fall in that category) are not the ones prepping, which if it isn’t “freaking out” is a pretty strange way of not doing so.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @skef – “But for the most part, they (and I, to the extent I fall in that category) are not the ones prepping, which if it isn’t “freaking out” is a pretty strange way of not doing so.”

            I’d agree that the people buying pallets of MREs in fear of Obama deporting them to FEMA camps were also freaking out, and doing so made them look very stupid. On the other hand, isn’t that kind of stupidity better than riots?

            One could call what the Black Panthers are doing in that picture I linked “prepping”. They are armed, but note that they are also orderly; the one tends to encourage the other, both because being armed gives you less reason to be afraid, and because once armed, being disorderly suddenly has much worse consequences. Compare, say, the various race riots from the same era. Did people like the Black Panthers make race riots more likely, or less? If the Black Panthers had been a real nation-wide mass movement, millions strong, would there have been more race riots, or less? I tend to think less, but I could be wrong.

          • Jiro says:

            The difference between Pride and Mardi Gras or Rio is homosexuality. Tibor does not think that Rio is divisive:

            Mardi Gras is a much less central example opf a heterosexual parade than the pride parade described is of a homosexual one.

          • skef says:

            I would consider most riots I’m aware of as bad. That includes the recent Portland riots (which I feel I can note were not pervasive, given that I live in Portland and have only been aware that anything happened from the news). But their significance is a blurry area for me, given that regularly have pretty large riots linked not to sides of the culture war, but sporting events. As I recall, the post-Sandusky Penn State riots were particularly large.

            Portland has a lot of anarchist types. I know a couple of them here and in Seattle, and it’s one of those deals where my politics should be completely unacceptable to them but they make an exception because they know me. I wish they wouldn’t, and would instead accommodate me within their politics, and therefore accommodate other people as well.

            Every exposure I’ve had to prepping through the culture paints it as an individual or family-level phenomenon, so I don’t see the word stretching to that use of it. I also don’t believe that guns transform behavior in the way you suggest. They might in the short term, and I understand there’s a culture sees them as transformative in that way, but people tend to revert to their mean in the absence of novelty. But that doesn’t matter much in the general case, because guns are at worst a modest risk when it comes to accidents.

            If I were black, though, I think I would feel better without a gun if I had an interaction with the police. I mean, you’re probably not going to use the gun on a cop and have that end OK for you, no matter what the circumstance. And “he had a gun” is an understandable explanation for a defensive shooting in the eyes of more than a few. (Not that things will necessarily go well if you don’t have one.)

          • At a bit of a tangent …

            Being able to fight the government is a common argument for gun rights and probably part of the reason for the 2nd Amendment. But I think it makes much less sense at present than it did in the 18th century, given the much greater difference between military and civilian armament.

            On the other hand, if ordinary citizens are disarmed they are almost entirely dependent for protection against criminals on the police, which makes them reluctant to restrict what the police can do, which is dangerous. I think a society where most people assume that most of the time they can protect themselves and the police are only a backstop for particularly difficult situations is likely to be more attractive.

            I’ve long argued that the modern equivalent of the right to bear arms is unregulated encryption, since modern conflicts between the state and the people it rules are likely to be mostly information warfare rather than physical warfare.

          • Aapje says:

            @Stef

            And this is a safe thought, given that it’s basically a tautology (except in bizarro world where people are all angry over normalcy).

            I very much disagree that this is a tautology or ‘safe.’ Quite a few hard conservatives are very opposed to normalizing things that they consider deviant.

            The point is that more moderate people tend to:
            A. Have stereotypes
            B. Dislike open sexuality and such
            C. Have empathy with people who are very similar to them (boring) and with ‘I just want the same as what you have’ arguments, rather than ‘I want things that you don’t want.’

            Turning them to your side works best if you show them people who are just as boring as them, but also gay. Reinforcing their negative stereotypes, linking gay people with things they already dislike (open displays of sexuality) and such are the opposite of that.

            This is also why NCAAP made Rosa Parks an icon of their movement. She was ‘boring’ and safe and a woman (thus safe from the worst stereotypes about black people).

            IMHO, much of the modern left has become so insular that they have no understanding of proper marketing of their ideas anymore and as a result, they often rally around people/cases that merely unite those who already support them, but drive away moderates.

            But barely a week goes by here without the persecution of Brendan Eich by the force of SJWs that must be resisted. The folks fired by InterVarsity, not so much.

            The difference is that InterVarsity is an evangelical ministry, which means that all their goals revolve around their faith. When they fire people for not supporting their interpretation of their faith, that is not the same as getting Eich to step down from a position for reasons that have nothing to do with his ability to do that job. If Eich had denounced HTML as the devil’s work and people would have tried to get him fired for that, that would be somewhat comparable situation to InterVarsity (although in the Mozilla case, the pressure came from without and with InterVarsity, from within, which also makes a difference).

            It’s actually very telling to me that you cannot distinguish between ideological cleansing of ideological organisations vs society-wide ideological cleansing. Much of the left does not make this distinction anymore and this makes them so dangerous.

          • Tibor says:

            @skef: I mentioned Singapore as an example of a culture which emphasizes unity. One could possibly choose the Nordic countries as well, although Singapore seems to be particularly striking because of the amount of actual diversity there. They promote unity politically, which is not something I advocate but it as much as I don’t like to admit it, it seems to produce good results in some respects (notably, in Singapore you don’t have ethnic and religious clashes like you do in many other places which are similarly diverse). My point is that you can probably replicate that without state involvement just by a slight change of attitudes. The “I’m here, get used to it and if you don’t like me you’re an asshole!” is exactly the attitude that I would like to see changed to something more like “look I’m in many ways different than you, sure, but we have so much common in spite of that, let’s build on that instead of actively trying to piss each other off for its own sake”.

            One example would be for someone from the south of the US to go about waving confederate flags just so that it is seen by everyone, especially those who think it is a racist symbol (I don’t think I can judge whether that is a correct interpretation, I’ve never been to the US let alone to the south and there does not seem to be anything quite equivalent in Europe – Nazi Swastikas seem to be a bit different thing).

            Another example is almost everything Donald Trump said in his campaign – I can understand people being annoyed by too much PC and cheering for someone who ignores the taboos but if you want the left to understand you instead of just pissing them off then there are more constructive ways to do that than to try to be as divisive as possible and say things with the sole purpose of pissing of the left.

            I was also talking more generally, I am not specifically interested in the US, although the US seems to be more divided and have a culture which promotes this divisiveness than countries in Europe (or probably Canada as well), which is why my second example in the OP was US specific.

          • Tibor says:

            @Iain: See Aapje’s comment. I don’t think Rio is divisive because it is not political. Pride parades are explicitly political and their political strategy is to make gays look “strange” instead of “boring”. This is especially inefficient since most people, gay or straight, are pretty “boring”. Rio carnivals are “strange” too, but they are not associated with any group of people in particular and they don’t have any political statement.

            Similarly, say that you’re a staunch defender of gun rights in the US. I’m not saying you change your opinions to appease the left or whatever* , but maybe try to present yourself not as a freak who carries 5 loaded guns at all times and likes to shoot in the air because you know this kind of stuff pisses the left off (it is also pretty stupid IMO) and you like them being pissed off, but as someone who’s really quite “boring” except that you think that you should not legally restrict gun ownership (more than it already is, or perhaps you want it to be even more liberal, doesn’t matter to my point). Essentially, you show the people who disagree with you something they can relate to and only then do you start discussing your disagreements (in a civil way). Think about this – say your brother or a cousin is someone who believes that there should be no restriction on gun ownership any more than there are on lawnmower ownership and you’re for prohibiting privately owned guns completely. That’s about as far as it gets from each other on this issue. But since you’re close in other ways, him being your brother and all, you’re more likely to be nice to each other and like each other despite the differences in political convictions. Maybe you’ll even be more open minded about each other’s opinions on gun rights because of that and then you’ll more easily reach something you can both agree on, or at least you’ll understand why someone might disagree with you on this issue. Trying to reach out to people who disagree with you can create this sort of amicable atmosphere where you might still disagree but you do it in a much more civil way. You will also find it easier to reach some kind of a compromise with someone who you generally like but disagree with on issues than with someone who hates you and who you hate.

            *which is also why many people here completely miss my point when they talk about changing policies, such as those on abortion or whether people talk about that or not, I am strictly talking about presentation and the way you approach those who disagree with you

    • ChetC3 says:

      As a general rule, the answer to these sorts of questions is almost never “nobody has really thought about this issue until you did, just now”, and is almost always “a lot of people have been thinking about this issue for quite some time, but came to different conclusions than you would like.” While a hypothetical 5000 IQ super AI might be able to pull it off, no human, no matter how intelligent, can produce anything worthwhile out of a knee-jerk reaction followed by superficial research and navel-gazing speculation. If you sincerely want to know why gay pride parades take the form they do (or whatever), do the damn research. It isn’t that hard, and it can’t be less productive than the lotus eater approach of trolling the internet for social reinforcement of your preconceptions.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        There was a really good article linked in one of these discussions some months back, talking about how the transgressive parts of the Gay Pride parades were looked down on by the more conservative suit-and-tie gays. The author argued that they were an expression of defiance by the gays who survived the AIDS epidemic, which cut an unmerciful swath through the gay community while the rest of society either shrugged indifferently or actively cheered their annihilation. His position was that the suit-and-tie types were more or less spineless, that they were cowering, trying to stay on the good side of a society that actively hated them. Essentially, if your tribe’s survival depends on you not being inconvenient to those in power, that’s not really survival. Better to get in their faces, better to force them to accept you at your worst, to force the issue now rather than cringing back and hoping they’ll leave you alone just a bit longer.

        I can sympathize with that sentiment entirely.

        • ChetC3 says:

          Yes, thank you. If people here want to know why gay pride parades take the forms they do, there’s already an internet full of queer activists willing to bore you to death on the subject. And the same goes for almost any politically charged topic you can think of. Why do the equivalent of asking a stereotypical reddit atheist to explain the finer points of Catholic theology?

          • John Schilling says:

            If people here want to know why gay pride parades take the forms they do, there’s already an internet full of queer activists willing to bore you to death on the subject.

            Is this not a part of that internet? A part with a reputation for a higher than average ratio of polite, informative discussion to needless snark?

          • ChetC3 says:

            Do you see any queer activists commenting here? Because I sure don’t. This part of the internet certainly has a reputation, but it may not be what you think it is.

          • StellaAthena says:

            With the frequency of comments like

            I believe Gray is now seeing an influx of refugees from Blue thanks to the sociopolitical takeover of Blue by the SJWs.

            On this board, I think identifying it as anything other than “actively hostile to leftist activists” is rather foolish. FWIW this is pretty much the only place on the internet that I go regularly where I’ll see that non-sarcastically. This website (rightfully) does not have a reputation for being accepting and kind to people of all opinions.

          • Aapje says:

            @StellaAthena

            I’ve seen equally or more uncharitable comments directed against groups on the right, in these comments. However, it is certainly true that this website draws a certain audience, which means that certain criticisms are more common than others.

            However, I don’t see how your tribe is treated worse here, aside from the consequences of being a minority. So I can only interpret your comment as a claim that a website is not accepting and kind to people of all opinions unless people that agree with you comment here more often. However, I don’t see why this website is not accepting and kind to people of all opinions, just because Scott’s writings tend to appeal less to your tribe.

            I also strongly have my doubts that the other places you visit don’t have vitriol against certain groups. Could it be that the vitriol in those places is directed at others, so you personally don’t feel offended by it? Or that the stereotypes that are being expressed in those places match your own stereotypes, so you don’t consider them equally offensive as similar statements directed at your tribe?

            If so, are those places more ‘accepting and kind to people of all opinions’ or are they merely more accepting and kind to you personally?

          • StellaAthena says:

            I have not been here for a huge amount of time (and it’s easier to notice such stuff when it’s aimed at you or people you like) so it’s possible my perspective is skewed. Comments like the one I quoted are something I see every few days. I don’t feel like I see anti-right comment she every few days.

            I feel like youve made my comments out to be something it’s not. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing, or that other places are better. I would not and did not claim that. John implied that queer activists were common here and I pointed out a typical quote to support CherC3’s comment that they’ve are generally unwelcome here. I was not making some grand point about how people here at bad, or worse than people in other places.

            This website is “not accepting and kind to people of all opinions” because the people here are not accepting an de kind to people of all opinions. I don’t see why you’re tryingto explain that in terms of other facts. It’s interesting to me, the crowd that this blog has attracted, because I perceived Scott as being further to the left than the average person here. But maybe I’m misreading Scott.

            I don’t think there are many I places that are accepting and kind to people of all opinions that aren’t clear chats with ~10 people in them, TBH. But I think John is confusing “usually kind” with “kind”

          • The Nybbler says:

            I am not sure why you consider my remark “actively hostile to leftist activists”

            I surmised that

            1) The group Scott calls “Blue Tribe” now has as its standard bearers the group called “SJWs”. An SJW is a type of leftist activist, but not the only type of leftist activist. This is not hostile to leftist activists or to SJWs (except in as much as they don’t like being called that; on the other hand, there is no neutral term identifying them).

            2) The SJWs are driving other members of the “Blue Tribe” out. It is not hostile to leftist activists to say so. If it is not true, it could be considered unwarrantedly hostile to SJWs to say so. (If it is true, it is perhaps still hostile, but certainly warrantedly so)

            3) Some of these members of Blue Tribe are finding they can fit in better with the group Scott has labeled “Grey Tribe”. This is obviously not at all hostile to leftist activists.

            This is not hostility, this is the description of a phenomenon. It might be a bad one.

            This website (rightfully) does not have a reputation for being accepting and kind to people of all opinions.

            Most commenters here are kind to people of all opinions. At least initially; hostility often begets hostility. It is not, however, kind to the opinions themselves. One of the characteristics of “SJWs” is that they take disagreement with their opinions as an unacceptable challenge to their identity. If you accept this, there cannot be a website or any other forum which is “accepting and kind to people of all opinions”.

          • StellaAthena says:

            The only experience with the term “SJW” I have is people on the right and center who have built a characteature of activists that they then equate with the people themselves as a form of character assassination or ad homenin. I would characterize any use of the term as actively hostile to activists, and I see it here all the time. See “tumblrina”

            Wikipedia reads:

            “Social justice warrior” (commonly abbreviated SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views,[1] including feminism,[1][2] civil rights,[1] multiculturalism,[1] and identity politics.[3] The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction,[4] and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.

            If you’re not doing that, you’ll have to explain the term as you are using it to me because I don’t know what you mean by it. Or are you saying that you are using it this way, but only talking about people who “really deserve it.”

          • Aapje says:

            @StellaAthena

            Before Moon was banned, she made such unpleasant comments daily. IMO, she was treated more kindly by Scott than other commenters, as her ‘good argument to snark/conspiracy theory ratio’ was very poor and Scott seemed to allow her more leeway in this respect.

            I think that a very common belief by commenters here is the idea that the average person is not very rational, but rather, is likely to get caught up in a ‘tribe’ that builds a world view based on cherry picked & distorted facts, bad reasoning, etc. Now, this clearly is a somewhat misantropic view, but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily wrong.

            I think it is fair to argue that some groups are way worse at being rational than other groups. For example, I would argue that this is true for anti-vaxxers, creationists, Nazi’s, etc. There are also differences in the willingness by different groups to use authoritarian or even violent means to get their way. I don’t see how it is unfair to points any of these differences out or to express dislike for groups that have these tendencies to such an extent that one considers them a danger.

            I believe that ‘SJWs’ are such a group and unlike say, creationists, they are growing in influence in places that I care about (like academia). If you disagree or doubt this (or are unclear on how the group is defined), you can discuss that with the person who made the comment (as for definitions, arguments, evidence, etc). On thing that I don’t appreciate, is that I’ve seen criticisms like your that don’t respond to the person making the claim, but later make a fairly generic complaint about a hostile climate in the comments. I see this as a request to exempt some groups from rational criticism.

          • Aapje says:

            @StellaAthena

            As for SJW being a pejorative: I’ve noticed that any label, that groups people about whom many negative remarks are made, becomes regarded as a pejorative. This is true even if the label is clearly merely a factual term with no inherent negative connotations. Examples are ‘black people,’ ‘Nazi,’ ‘handicapped,’ etc.

            In my eyes, a lot of complaints about such labels are because people don’t want the negative aspects of their (sub)culture to be pointed out, which I don’t consider legitimate. I do agree that criticisms are often insufficiently hedged or that groups are poorly defined, which is unfair. But the proper response to that is not to call the label a pejorative or dismiss the entire criticism as discriminatory, but to criticize the specific misuse.

            As for the definition of SJW, I think that there are some key traits:
            – Identity politics
            – Illiberalism/moral purity, ‘wrong’ ideas/things/people must be purged from society, even if they do not provably cause harm
            – Enormous double standards. For example, reasoning like: ‘negative things that happen to ‘oppressive’ groups are not oppression because they are not oppressed’.
            – Acceptance of violent tactics, such as bullying, harassment, doxxing, etc, as long as it is for the ‘good cause.’
            – Extreme black & white thinking. An example is that SJWs tend to classify Islam as being oppressed and then refuse to allow any criticism of Islam, including things like bad treatment of women that they do criticize when non-Islamic people do them.

            I agree that the term is not always used for people who behave like this, but also as a general criticism of people who care about social justice. However, such abuse of terms is not limited to just SJW and is something that all sides engage in. I’m sure that you wouldn’t accept having your vocabulary gutted by no longer being allowed to use terms that others misuse (you wouldn’t be able to talk about ‘leftist activists,’ for example).

          • StellaAthena says:

            Thank you for most of your first comment.

            All I said was that you’re not likely to find queer activists here, and that the frequency with which pejorative terms are used to refer to activists should make this obvious. The only criticism I enjoy made I see “pejorative terms are bad and you shouldn’t use them,” so I’m really not sure what the last paragraph is going on about. You don’t seem to be denying that it’s a pejorative term, nor that it is commonly used here. I don’t think I have an obligation to reply to every person who says “SJW” saying “using pejorative terms is mean and you shouldn’t do it” because that’s 1) fucking obvious 2) a waste of my time and 3) not my problem. I did not criticize you, and I did not say that you shouldn’t criticize whoever the hell it is you think you’re talking about (more on this later). I quoted you and said that queer activists would see the frequency of quotes like this and assume that they are not welcome. That’s true. I didn’t even say it was bad that this environment is hostile to social justice and queer activists. I just said that it is because that’s really fucking obvious. And if that’s a problem for you, maybe you shouldn’t use pejorative terms.

            But let’s put some context on this word: Let’s say that some anti-LGBT people got together and said “LGBT people suck, let’s turn LGBT into a term that means “partake in sexually depraved behavior.”” And then they got people to start widely using the term LGBT to mean that’s and the original meaning disappeared, but the use of it as a label for that’s group didn’t. And then the people formerly referred to as LGBT go to together and said “this is bad, let’s start going by queer instead of LGBT.” Because that is what the history of the term is. Yes in principle one could use the term LGBT to refer exclusively to sexually depraved queer people, but given that the vast majority of people are going around using it to mean “queer people” and, deliberately or not, conflating sexual depravity with queerness, I would think that the word would be one to avoid. I also think that using pejorative terms to refer to people is mean and shouldn’t be done, and don’t see why that argument alone isn’t convincing to you TBH.

            Now, let’s talk about your definition.
            – Identity politics: most activists engage in identity politics because that’s the current mainstream paradigm in both common and academic thought. If you think this is /bad/ you should clarify, but I’m going to assume that this just denotes the sphere of interests of the people you’re complaining about and isn’t bad.
            -Moral purity: you’ve bundled a lot of things into one bullet here. Wrong ideas should be purged from society. People who believe wrong ideas shouldn’t. Not sure what in particular you have in mind though.
            -Enormous Double Standards: Double standards are bad, and some leftist activists do employ them. However, your example is not a double standard and your description of it as such represents an extreme lack of familiarity with basic tenants of social justice thought. The thought is that “oppression” is not something I can do to another person. Oppression is something that is done /by society at large/. I can participate in and perpetuate oppression, and for that action we often shorthand and say “Stella is oppressing.” So yes, black people can’t oppress white people. LGBT people cannot oppress cishet people. That’s not a double standard: it’s a social fact. That’s not to say black people cant treat white people poorly, which they totally can do. Relatedly, terms like “racism” “sexism” and “homophobia” likewise are one directional. One can be bigoted, intolerant, or prejudice against white people in America, but it’s exceptionally hard to be /racist/ because that would require a societal factor that doesn’t really exist. There is interesting debate and little consensus about how small “society” should be considered in this context. Certainly if one thinks it should be considered in small groups then there can be anti-white racism, but only in very specific contexts.
            – Acceptance of violent tactics: Examples? I don’t see this being advocated for more than I see extreme right people advocating for such against activists and minorities, and I know a hell of a lot more leftists.
            – Extreme black & white thinking: I think this is an important critique of a lot of the left very generally actually.

            I don’t know who this definition is trying to talk about. If I take it seriously, it fundamentally doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me as an attempt to describe an important subset of the activist movement on the left. Most of it seems either misapplied or applies to basically the entire left activist movement. Which brings us back to the fact that you, like many people on this board, appear to be perfectly happy to speak pejoratively of activists as a whole.

            Again, no wonder they stay away.

          • Aapje says:

            @StellaAthena

            You don’t seem to be denying that it’s a pejorative term

            My point is that any term that talks about a controversial concept will get a negative connotation in the eyes of the people who disagree with that concept. That negative connotation can mean that the term can be used as a pejorative, for a certain audience (the more extreme opposition).

            However, that doesn’t make the term into a pejorative, nor can it be solved by replacing the term with a new term, because the same negative feelings will just transfer to the replacement term and then to the replacement term for that.

            Finally, just because some people use a term as an insult, doesn’t mean that all people do so. So your kneejerk anger at people who use the term as a descriptive term, rather than assume they simply try to express their opinions in good faith, is very destructive to the debate and is severely polarizing (especially as this political correctness is often selectively applied, where people only object to terms that apply to them, but not to similar terms for their opposition).

            Oppression is something that is done /by society at large/.

            The nonsensical distinction between individual actions and ‘society at large’ is actually a key example of the hypocrisy that I am talking about.

            The normal modus operandi is that all misbehavior that matches the belief about whom are oppressed is considered systemic, while all misbehavior that doesn’t is considered an incident. As such, it is circular reasoning, where evidence is interpreted differently based on the conclusion that is supposedly based on that evidence, but which in reality is based on dismissing the evidence that doesn’t support the desired conclusion.

  7. onyomi says:

    So Trump and Ryan are pledging to “repeal and replace” ACA, but are open to “keeping the good parts,” i. e. the politically popular parts, i. e. the incredibly expensive parts. Is there any way this works out, or is it just another inevitable example of the pattern: “Dems pass some huge expensive thing, along with some attempt to pay for it through, e. g. tax hikes and penalties; Republicans get in and repeal the tax hikes and penalties, but not the expensive thing, since it’s politically popular to give people stuff, but not to pay for it”?

    • keranih says:

      I think it’s largely dependent on the particular good parts – for instance, “keeping adults on their parent’s policy until the age of 26” turned out to be less premium expensive and more popular than I figured.

      Other parts – like keeping highly expensive patients (ie, those with preexisting conditions) in the same pool as very cheap healthy patients is only going to make the whole thing go down hill faster.

      [snips rant about cash/first payer funded health care being the only way out of this]

      We really, really need to get away from the habit of only emphasizing the upsides of things. TANSTAAFL, and all that.

      • Garrett says:

        Does anybody know why the up-to-age-26 requirement got added, and why it didn’t exist before?

        Given how popular this provision has become, I would assume that it would remain with private insurance policies even if the ACA was repealed. At the same time, much like the proverbial $20 in the street, I don’t understand why something so popular wouldn’t have been common before the ACA.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Until fairly recently, 26 year olds were adults who could take care of themselves.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Health insurance available through employers is getting less common. More and more employment is gig, contract or part time. The adult children of middle class parents are probably most affected by this change (in terms of change in likelihood that they have insurance).

            Tieing insurance to employment has perverse affects which are well known. It would be optimal if we could move away from that completely, but our best chance to transition to that is the ACA, which is being actively undermined.

          • onyomi says:

            Health insurance as a perk of employment is a stupid relic of old wartime wage ceilings which caused employers to look for other ways to compensate people. Then it got baked into the tax system and is now seemingly impossible to get rid of.

            Moving to decouple health insurance from employment is, imo, one of the few good things about ACA, though ACA as a solution to that theoretically simple but politically difficult problem feels very much like “mole whacking.”

        • Brad says:

          It’s really popular because it fills in one of the few ways the supremely narcissistic upper middle class were ever exposed to the terrible brokenness of the system. That hole fixed, they can continue to blissfully assert that we have the best healthcare system in the world without any of that unpleasant cognitive dissonance — America, fuck yeah.

          • onyomi says:

            That is a good point.

            Re. “best healthcare in the world,” my sense is that it is the best in terms of outcomes, but far from the best in terms of outcomes relative to costs. I’m not sure anyone thinks we have the best healthcare in the world in the sense of “most logical, efficient, and well functioning.” Though maybe some do? Or is there somewhere you’d rate better in absolute terms, as opposed to just outcomes versus costs?

          • rlms says:

            Best in terms of what outcomes? It certainly isn’t best in terms of absolute measurements such as life expectancy. Maybe you can argue that life expectancy would be even lower (due to factors such as diet) if it wasn’t for fantastic healthcare, but that seems unobvious, to say the least.

          • onyomi says:

            I was thinking more in terms of outcomes of particular cases: for example, let’s say you have stage III lung cancer. How likely are you to survive, say, 5 years, getting your treatment in the US as opposed to say, Canada or India? Like, if Americans smoke more than Canadians and eat more red meat than Indians, or are just genetically more predisposed, they could be more likely, on average, to die of lung cancer. Yet any individual existing case of lung cancer could be more likely to achieve remission in the US healthcare system than others.

          • Brad says:

            Re. “best healthcare in the world,” my sense is that it is the best in terms of outcomes, but far from the best in terms of outcomes relative to costs.

            You think the United States has the best outcomes integrated over the entire population?

            It’d be tough to know how to measure a such thing, even in principle. You’d have to correct for a lot cofounders. But it would probably end up being some sort of adjusted QALY per captia number. What exactly to hold constant is a tricky thing — for example are the smoking or obesity rate entirely exogenous?

            In any event, I don’t have the sense that US would come out on top of such an exercise. Switzerland, Norway, or Japan would be my guesses.

            I was thinking more in terms of outcomes of particular cases: for example, let’s say you have stage III lung cancer. How likely are you to survive, say, 5 years, getting your treatment in the US as opposed to say, Canada or India?

            But what if someone in the United States is more likely to have stage III lung cancer, rather than stage II lung cancer because the US system is worse at early detection? Surely that should against it?

          • rlms says:

            What are you actually comparing? I agree that if money is no object, you can probably get better treatment in the US than anywhere else (by virtue of it being the most populous developed country). But that probably isn’t a very useful thing to measure, since money is an object for most people (but if you compare treatment per money you are back to measuring efficiency again).. Or are you just assuming that the middle 90% of hospitals/doctors/whatever everywhere are equally good, so you can just compare them?

          • Aapje says:

            AFAIK, the top healthcare is better, but due to the bad coverage, the average healthcare that Americans receive is worse than much of the West. Of course, it is subjective whether you care more about the average or the top outcomes.

            But either way, it very expensive for what it offers.

          • onyomi says:

            “if money is no object, you can probably get better treatment in the US than anywhere else.”

            There is certainly a sense in which a healthcare system providing 8 out of 10 care for everyone is better than a healthcare system providing 10 out of 10 care for the wealthy and 6 out of 10 care for everyone else.

            But there is also a sense in which, if your country is the only country in which 10 out of 10 care even exists, you can say “our country has the best healthcare in the world.” Which is different from saying “our country has the most logical, efficient, just healthcare system in the world.”

            My point is, I could be wrong, but I don’t think many people really think the US healthcare system is best in terms of the latter criteria, though a case can be made it offers the best possible care if money is no object.

            This may seem like a semantic quibble hinging on different definitions of “best,” but I think it is relevant here, because I think the American healthcare apologist’s position is not that the American healthcare system is currently the most logical, efficient, or even just system out there, but rather that any reforms made to the system should not come at the expense of continuing to also offer the best possible care in absolute terms.

          • Aapje says:

            The problem with that 10 out of 10 is that you often get diminishing returns, especially as some medical treatments can be considered over-treatment.

            If you pump a terminal cancer patient full of chemo and they live for 6 months, rather than 4, you will have ‘better’ care according to the accountants. But if that period has way worse quality of life, it may actually be worse healthcare from a QALY point of view.

          • skef says:

            @onyomi

            If “10 out of 10” is the point of comparison, would it be accurate to say we’re talking about things like the Mayo Clinic vs real versions of the strange Swiss clinics from James Bond movies? At that point isn’t the country largely irrelevant, because the people who make use of such facilities just travel to where they are?

          • Brad says:

            But there is also a sense in which, if your country is the only country in which 10 out of 10 care even exists, you can say “our country has the best healthcare in the world.” Which is different from saying “our country has the most logical, efficient, just healthcare system in the world.”

            It seems like a fairly meaningless sense. I mean, would you still say it was a valid meaning if that 10/10 care was only available for one single individual?

            This may seem like a semantic quibble hinging on different definitions of “best,” but I think it is relevant here, because I think the American healthcare apologist’s position is not that the American healthcare system is currently the most logical, efficient, or even just system out there, but rather that any reforms made to the system should not come at the expense of continuing to also offer the best possible care in absolute terms.

            In other words “fuck you, I’ve got mine.” Which is exactly why I referred to them as “supremely narcissistic”.

            The one correction I should make is that it isn’t just the upper middle class (or even all of the upper middle class). It’s public sector workers, the remaining private sector unionized workers, employees of gigantic companies with high revenue per employee (e.g. google), tenured professors, retirees that have medicare gold plated medigap plans paid for by their former employer, and similar.

            People that think the system is working for them — whether that’s accurate or not. In some cases those gold plated benefits are coming right out of their pockets and they’d be outraged if it showed up on every paycheck.

          • onyomi says:

            @Skef

            I agree that consideration of super-exclusive, super-expensive clinics is largely irrelevant, since, as you say, there is a sense in which, if you are the type of person with a private jet, geographic location isn’t that important.

            Speaking of top-of-the-line care in the US, I mean something like the sort of care you’d receive if you have a good insurance policy, adequate income/savings to deal with incidental costs/copays, time off work, etc. and proximity to a major city/ability to travel and stay there if necessary.

            The economic cutoff for this sort of care is probably around middle class or maybe upper-middle class, which may support Brad’s notion that the healthcare system in America seems generally good, like maybe you don’t want to mess with it, IF you happen to be upper-middle class or above.

            For example, I know a retired professor who recently had a successful prostatectomy. He lives within driving distance of Johns Hopkins, where there are top-of-the-line facilities and doctors who are among the top in their field in the world. This is a guy who probably made about 70k before retiring, so definitely doing well, but not “wealthy” by any US definition (and, as Brad implies, there is a sense in which a 70k professor job is really worth a lot more than say, 2 35k part time jobs because of all the benefits). Yet I don’t feel like a Saudi prince would get significantly better treatment than he did, except in terms of amenities. The point is, the Saudi princes will fly all the way to Baltimore just to get access to basically the same treatment this 70k/year American gets.

            This could be why someone above that 70kish threshold might say something like “we have the best care in the world,” even as the system seems ludicrously broken to people below it.

          • skef says:

            @onyomi

            That’s helpful. But by that standard I don’t think I agree with your premise. I was at Sun for a while (quite a few years ago now), where most folks would probably have been in the top 15% of incomes (and probably top 10% unless pretty close to out of college). But while the health plans were generous financially, there wasn’t anything special about the networks. If you had a muscle or skeletal problem and were well informed (and didn’t pick an HMO) you could go to the Palo Alto clinic, which was quite good for that. But for the most part you just had the big list of doctors on the website to work with, and who knows?

            And wrt the insurance itself, it wasn’t automatically great once costs got high. I knew one person who was largely incapacitated for months as she argued with her insurance over coverage for a doctor-recommended hysterectomy. I experienced the usual problem of going to a clinic on the official list but being charged out of network because the doctor there didn’t have a contract (like I got to choose?)

            So it’s more like “if you have good insurance and you can somehow determine for yourself what doctors are more likely to provide good outcomes and your insurance doesn’t decide to give you coverage trouble” then the US has good healthcare available.

    • Brad says:

      I knew Trump wanted to keep the “good parts” but I hadn’t heard Ryan did. Given that he wants to turn Medicare into a voucher system, I’m kind of surprised he thinks any of ACA is “good”.

      That said, if you look at what Trump wants to keep, as far as I know there are two things he’s specifically mentioned: 1) kids on their parents’ insurance until 26 and 2) ban on denying coverage for preexisting conditions.

      #1 doesn’t seem problematic at all. It can stand on its own.

      #2 can be broken down into two parts: 2a) a rule that says that insurers must write a policy for anyone that applies for one and 2b) a rule that says that an insurance policy must not exclude expenses that arise out of preexisting conditions. It isn’t clear, at least to me, whether Trump means both of these, or just one or the other.

      Even if both are meant, the rule is completely meaningless if insurance companies are allowed to engage in medical underwriting. I.e. “Sure, we’ll write you a policy Mr. Cancer Haver and of course we won’t exclude coverage for your chemo treatments. Your monthly premium will come to $100,000. Have a nice day!” For similar reasons you also need to keep some kind of minimum coverage rule, otherwise the insurance company could just say — “Sure we aren’t excluding care for preexisting cancer, we just don’t cover any cancer.”

      So there are a lot of ways that Trump could pass a law such that he wouldn’t really be “keeping the good parts” while claiming he was.

      On the other hand, if you kept all the rules necessary to actually make the preexisting exclusion rule stick, but withdrew the subsidies and withdrew the mandate (the subsidies being the more important of the two) then insurance companies would exit the individual insurance market even faster than they already are. They’d be no way to make money in such a world.

      ACA was kind of broken plan to begin with, start pulling legs off it and you quickly get something that doesn’t even begin to work. Furthermore, if the Republicans enact the allow insurance to be sold across state lines rule that they’ve been talking up (including Trump) than it will kill many of the state measures that were in place before ACA as attempts to band-aid our shitty healthcare system.

      The only person that could possibly be an optimist about what is going to happen with healthcare in the next few years is an accelerationist.

  8. Murphy says:

    I just noticed that the raikoth.net domain has expired.

    There were a few SA’s on there which it’s kind of a pity to lose to the depredations of time.

    For example The Non-Libertarian FAQ and dead children as a unit of currency.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20160318104428/http://www.raikoth.net/deadchild.html

    Anyone mirroring the best items from raikoth in any organized fashion?

  9. The original Mr. X says:

    I’d like to ask for advice from anybody who’s been to grad school/sat on a grad school admissions board:

    I’m applying for a Master’s degree at the moment. One of the courses I’m looking at wants an average overall score of 67, which is kind of annoying because my score was 66.5. I think this had something to do with health problems that I was suffering at the time (I ended up getting so sick I had to take a year off), and that without these problems, I’d have done better. My questions are: (1) Do you think it’s worth me applying to the course in question? and (2) What would be the best way to say that my grades suffered due to ill health without sounding like I’m just trying to make excuses?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Aapje says:

      1. It seems to me that a .5 deficit is something that can be waived if there is a good reason to assume that the score is not representative of your quality.

      2. I’m a bit confused about why your grades suffered if you took a year off. Did it cause you to forget some material, making you perform worse later on? Or did you perform badly in the period before you took a year off? I’d say that you need to make a clear case, better than you did in this post.

      The most persuasive to me would be if you produce a graph with your average scores for various periods, where a clear drop in scores is visible during the time where your illness would have an impact. Then you could calculate an average without that period and argue that this average reflects your actual ability.

      However, that is a very STEM type of argument. If your field of study is ‘soft,’ you may be better of with a nice sob story.

    • Eltargrim says:

      1) Apply. Doesn’t hurt, doesn’t cost a lot, and better to be rejected than to not try.

      2) You had to take a leave of absence due to your illness? While not extremely common, it’s not unusual, and most every program has dealt with a similar situation. If you have documentation in support of your illness you’ll be fine bringing it up.

      I’m a little confused by your terminology. Are these 66.5 and 67 grades your average score over your entire undergraduate program? If your early courses are weighing you down and your later courses are significantly better, the program will absolutely take this into account, it’s a very common pattern.

      You say you’re applying for a course. Do you mean a degree program, or a single class within a greater degree program? If the latter, just talk to the professor responsible. I’ve had nearly all my prerequisite requirements waived in my program, either on the basis of having taken a similar course elsewhere, or because the professor is ok with having unprepared students decide for themselves if they’re ready.

      Good luck!

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I meant “course” as in degree programme, and yes, the 66.5 and 67 are the average grades over the entire programme.

        At the moment on my application I’ve just got that I fell ill during my third year and had to drop out of studies, but was able to overcome my health problems and return to university the next year, gaining a high 2.1 mark. I figured that at best the admissions tutors might end up feeling a bit more sympathetic towards my application, and at worst they’d just shrug and move on to the next sentence.

        Good luck!

        Thanks!

    • shakeddown says:

      Worth applying – a lot of the time you can just call someone and they waive requirements even when you clearly fail (depends heavily on your field/institute). For an extreme example, in my undergrad there was a story about a guy who came in with none of the requirements, went to see the student adviser, who immediately let him in as a “second-year” student (because he had the authority to accept people directly into second year). Also, I graduated undergrad while missing a lot of requirements by asking the department head to sign off on it.

  10. Mark says:

    Are there any US states where laws against cannabis possession are strictly enforced? It looks to me like Kansas is far stricter on cannabis than Colorado with correspondingly lower rates of use, but maybe there is some other reason for that?
    Are there any states that are likely to continue with stricter punishments, long term?

    I think, ideally, I would like to live in a jurisdiction where possession of cannabis resulted in six months of hard labour, but also that it isn’t reasonable to establish that universally. People should be free to disagree and live elsewhere (or I should be free to disagree with legalisation and live elsewhere).

    So, do you think it would be possible, in the long term, for two jurisdictions, between which there is freedom of movement, to maintain very different drug laws and outcomes?

    • Eltargrim says:

      Well, given that cannabis is legal in Colorado on a state level, we’ve got a good experiment happening right now. If Canada ever gets off its ass and legalizes it, there’s sufficient short-term freedom of movement between the US and Canada that we should get some good data as well.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      This article from 2011 cites Oklahome, Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Arizona as the most draconian-on-cannabis states. Since then, of those, Florida has just voted 71-to-29 to legalise medical cannabis, and Arizona voted only narrowly, 51-to-48 against legalisation for recreational use. I think we are seeing a turnaround on public opinion analogous to the turnaround on support for same-sex marriage, so I do not expect any states in the US to hold out for very long.

      This seems to be largely driven by the widespread access to information that, whatever the risks of cannabis are, they do not seem to be as worrisome as the risks presented by alcohol (and that governments have been systematically misrepresenting those relative risks for decades) – and hardly anyone thinks that prohibition of alcohol was worth the costs it imposed on society.

      If you have good evidence that cannabis is considerably more dangerous relative to alcohol than the current medical consensus holds, then your best bet is to spread that information far and wide. But if you just have a strong cultural preference against drug use, then you are probably better to move to an area where there is a strong religious consensus that intoxication is a wrong in itself regardless of the actual consequences – maybe a Mormon-majority area would be your best bet?

      If you have a strong cultural preference against cannabis in particular, but don’t particularly object to the use of other drugs such as alcohol, then your choices look tougher. Russia might be good for that*, but may have downsides that make it a less attractive choice.

      *not that they are less draconian on other currently-illegal drugs, just that they probably have about the highest enthusiasm-for-alcohol to antipathy-to-other-drugs ratio of any major country.

      [Edited to add: even if cannabis does turn out to be more dangerous than the current medical consensus holds, that would of course not necessarily be good evidence that criminal penalties against its use were a humane or even effective way of mitigating those dangers – so really, if you want to convince people, you would need to be able to make a good case for why 6 months’ jail time (plus, depending on jurisdiction, the potentially lifelong negative effects of a criminal record) is actually a proportionate and net-beneficial-to-society response. If it is just a strong cultural preference that you have, I think you’d have a hard time arguing for jail time in that case.]

      • Mark says:

        I’m a bit worried that the utilitarian calculation isn’t based on particularly good evidence – we can’t really tell the extent to which the utility gained from cannabis consumption is dependent upon the social structure/culture (peer pressure), and there isn’t really any way to demonstrate the costs to people who really dislike being surrounded by cannabis users, don’t want their family members to become cannabis users etc.

        In fact, I think the best way to get the evidence is to have the option of living in “cannabis-county” or “prohibition-ville” and see how the two areas get on.

        Perhaps, if the option was available, I would choose to live in a “dry” jurisdiction – I’m not sure.

        If people have good options for avoiding a jurisdiction with strict punishments for certain behaviour, are aware of those punishments, I think there is less of an onus to be certain that the punishments match the crime than if we’re trying to create a more universal system. The punishment is designed to deter. So go and do it elsewhere.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Like Winter Shaker says, I think your best bet is to move somewhere like Utah, then.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          In fact, I think the best way to get the evidence is to have the option of living in “cannabis-county” or “prohibition-ville” and see how the two areas get on.

          Fair enough. But in that case, to maintain a separation of policies long enough to get good data, I think they are probably going to have to be quite far away from each other, and have strong pre-existing religious or cultural differences that would make it difficult to have a properly controlled experiment.

          I mean, the risks of cannabis are what they are. If they are as terrible as the median Kansas prohibitionist thinks, Colorado will discover this fairly quickly when Kansas starts to look like a beacon of civilisation and tranquility by comparison. And conversely if cannabis is only as dangerous as the median Coloradan antiprohibitionist thinks, then Kansan prohibitionists are going to have a hard time justifying their harsh treatment to Kansan cannabis enthusiasts if they can just point next door and say ‘look, none of your doom-laden scenarios are actually panning out’.

          I am kind of sympathetic to people who don’t want to live next door to cannabis users, just as I am to people who don’t want to live next door to alcohol users – we all find annoying what we happen to find annoying. But to the extent that people’s use of a drug merely causes someone aesthetic annoyance, rather than actual significant endangerment, I am deeply skeptical that it can ever be morally justified to jail someone for using it, rather than, say, setting up small voluntary no-smoking or no-drinking neighbourhoods, and escorting people out if they refuse to cooperate.

          • Mark says:

            I am deeply skeptical that it can ever be morally justified to jail someone for using it, rather than, say, setting up small voluntary no-smoking or no-drinking neighbourhoods, and escorting people out if they refuse to cooperate.

            Maybe.
            Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with jailing someone for being really annoying, especially where they are free to engage in their annoying behaviour somewhere else.

            But, yeah – I could be wrong.

            I suppose if someone said to me, “right Mark, we’ve decided to ban hats in this city, so if you wear a hat you’re going to be sent to prison for six months,” I’d be pretty unhappy about that.
            I suppose there would be a bit of an obligation for the stricter society to start somewhere new. But then you get generational stuff as well – would the children in the strict city want to continue with the strict laws etc.

          • Martin says:

            Mark:

            Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with jailing someone for being really annoying

            Well, I find you really annoying. So I guess you should be jailed.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if there was a city somewhere with a “no Marks” policy, though I would, of course, be a little disappointed.

            Isn’t that a bit like how Mecca works? I can’t say I lose too much sleep over that.

        • Aapje says:

          @Mark

          There seems to be fairly little correlation between cannabis use and prohibition (for example, the US has substantially higher levels of usage than The Netherlands). So I would argue that your concerns are unwarranted.

          • Mark says:

            Wouldn’t it be fairly remarkable if increasing the cost of taking something (while holding benefits constant) didn’t lead to a reduction in use?
            [I suspect that the ‘cultural’ benefits vary quite alot between countries]

            From memory, Sweden has harsher laws relating to cannabis and lower rates of use than other Scandinavian countries.

            Also, I think there is some difficulty in knowing exactly what the real punishments are – for many countries (such as UK) there is already de-facto decriminalisation.

            [Edit: Sorry, I think I might have missed the point here – are you saying it’s easy to tell how far culture is responsible for use?]

          • Aapje says:

            Wouldn’t it be fairly remarkable if increasing the cost of taking something (while holding benefits constant) didn’t lead to a reduction in use?

            Cigarettes are legal in my country, but they are taxed so heavily that smuggled cigarettes are actually cheaper. So your assertion that legalizing lowers the prices is not necessarily true. It is a political choice (although you lose some of the benefits of legalizing if you run up the price too much, as you still get a black market).

            From memory, Sweden has harsher laws relating to cannabis and lower rates of use than other Scandinavian countries.

            This does not appear to be correct. The data shows that Swedes are frequent consumers a little more than Finns and substantially less than Norwegians. The data strongly suggests cultural factors, for instance, weed is way more popular among Norwegian men than women, while Finnish men and women use it at almost the same level.

            If legislation was a major factor, you wouldn’t expect those huge gender differences between nations, if we assume that drug policing is not severely gendered in some nations.

            Sorry, I think I might have missed the point here – are you saying it’s easy to tell how far culture is responsible for use?

            My argument is that the case for criminalization to curb use is so weak, while the obvious disadvantages of criminalization are so big; that it makes most sense to legalize and curb use through other means.

            Again, we made cigarettes thoroughly uncool in the West, gradually reducing their use over the past decades, without criminalization.

            Common sense is to do what has been proven to work in the past, rather than use methods for which there is little evidence of them actually working.

          • Mark says:

            Punishment for possession itself is a cost (to the consumer). I wasn’t talking about the price of the product.

            The data shows that Swedes are frequent consumers a little more than Finns and substantially less than Norwegians.

            Well, yes. The information you’ve given is from the early nineties, but the stricter Swedish drug laws seem to date from the early 2000s, and use appears to have dropped since then.
            Even so, having had a quick look at it, the punishment for possession seems to be a fairly weak fine in Sweden.

            I don’t think anyone has really looked into the effects of drug laws because it isn’t fashionable or politically expedient to do so. For example, Japan has stricter laws against cannabis and lower rates of use, but is normally dismissed as being too culturally different to serve as a good example for other countries. We’re all really just making it up as we go along.

            Peter Hitchens goes over this in his book “The War We Never Fought” – massive growth in drug use in the uk only followed the de-facto criminalisation of drug use which followed from the collapse of establishment support of drug laws. (Dating from 1967 ‘Redlands’ case and – “who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel’ editorial in the Times.)
            Cannabis has been effectively decriminalised throughout much of the Western world for more than forty years. Have the results of that been good, or bad?

            Rather than the interminable discussions/applause lights, I’d rather just go off and test it to be honest.

            If legislation was a major factor, you wouldn’t expect those huge gender differences between nations, if we assume that drug policing is not severely gendered in some nations.

            Wouldn’t you? Doesn’t that just depend on the culture?
            I mean, can’t I just make up any story about culture, to explain whatever I want?
            Bottom line – I think punishment can influence behaviour and that you’d have to have quite an unusual model of human behaviour to think otherwise. I mean, we might argue as to whether the punishment is *worth* it – but to say it can’t have an effect is surely to abandon the one agreed principle of social science – that people respond to incentives.

            we made cigarettes thoroughly uncool in the West, gradually reducing their use over the past decades, without criminalisation.

            Hmmm… yeah. Fair point. I think that the law can be part of that though, look at drunk driving. Combined penalties with the message that it wasn’t clever, or acceptable.

  11. shakeddown says:

    Is raikoth.net gone for good? Looks like the links/pictures that were hosted there are all broken.

  12. Aevylmar says:

    Question, if anyone can help: I’ve considered that I should probably learn coding, since this is a useful skill that I would like to do things with and I don’t have enough of those, and from what I’ve been hearing online, the best way is probably to go to one of those dedicated learn-to-code programs like the ones Scott discusses in Floor Employment and Against Tulip Subsidies.

    I’m in the South Bay. Based on peoples’ personal experience, what are the best programs to go to? Scott mentions App Academy and Dev Bootcamp, but I don’t know anyone who has personal experience with any of these programs. If anyone does, or knows someone who does, is there any advice they can give me?

    Thanks.
    Aevylmar

    • Jugemu says:

      It might be best to try an online programming course for beginners first to see if you like it before committing the time/money to a boot camp.

      • Aevylmar says:

        Any recommendations as to a specific course? I tried… I think it was Codeacademy… and it was somewhat interesting, but I didn’t have the willpower to actually complete the course and learn to code. I thought external pressure might help me actually do it.

        Thanks,
        Aevylmar

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Speaking as a programmer by trade, by default, external arbitrary pressure will not be enough to make you produce any valuable code. You have to enjoy doing it to at least some extent. You also need to envision specific problems you want to solve. And then you need to envision at least one language as being the key to your solving that problem, and then envision some online course as being your key to learning that language. Online course -> language(s) learned -> problems solved.

          I can say that Codecademy is about as easy as it can get. Try again, very deliberately, to finish one or more courses; if those aren’t enough to hold you, then again I can say as a programmer that you won’t last long enough to solve any real problems.

          That said, I can tell you that in the grand scheme, Codecademy is mainly going to teach you web development skills. Web development is indeed extremely useful, both for personal stuff and for making a living off people who need that work done. But if you’re looking to do mobile development, it’ll only help you about as far as getting you to learn Java and Git. (And Java, in turn, mostly only helps you if you’re working Android; Apple uses Objective-C.) Codecademy also won’t teach you CS theory, which is more likely to tell you things such as that your app runs slow because you keep doing lookups in arrays instead of in hashmaps. A more solid foundation can be had in Coursera, whose material I believe you can audit for free (you pay for the test taking and accreditation).

          • Aevylmar says:

            Thank you for your advice and recommendations!

            My interest is specifically that I have fairly simple game design projects I’d like to do; I’ve made complete maps for Starcraft and Warcraft III, way back in the Days of Yore when people played them, but that’s limited to games you can simulate with an RTS, and I have ideas I want to make real. And learning to code looks like the best way to do that.

            (I’d also like a skill I can fall back on if my idealistic plans to make a career out of some type, any type, of creating writing falls through, but that’s secondary.)

            (And, yes, I am aware that there is no way any single person can do the design and development work for an at all complex game in an at all reasonable amount of time. Even Warcraft III maps take quite a lot of work, and I’m sure they’re vastly simpler than real coding.)

          • Aapje says:

            A big mistake is to be too ambitious at first. Programming is hard and so is figuring out why something doesn’t work.

            It’s best to start with something small that works and then to add little things, so at each point, if something fails, you know where to look.

  13. tgb says:

    I’m very interested in the subject of internal dialogue and generally “what it feels like to think”. It comes up occasionally here and on LessWrong and elsewhere (eg: typical mind fallacy) but I’m always disappointed by the lack of specific details. (I recall an old LW thread where I swear I was the only one who wrote more than one sentence on what it felt like to think as they did – very frustrating because I really wanted to compare with other people!) I’ve only found Feynman’s story (like here) about experimenting with how trying multiple tasks simultaneously messes them up, such as counting to 100 seconds while also trying to count out socks while doing laundry). I’ve never seen discussion of thought like that before or since!

    There must be good literature on the subject from somewhere since the start of history. But I don’t know what to look for. I tried wikipedia pages on intrapersonal communication and all the see also links, but the articles were short and non-descriptive and research dead-ends. None of the classic theories about this seemed relevant. I want something much more specific about how people feel when they think. So what are the right keywords to search for or authors to read about inner monologues and the experience of thinking itself?

    This came up from The Running Conversation in Your Head article in The Atlantic. The only specific thing in the article is a supposed clocking of the rate of inner monologue at 4000 words a minute. I found this shocking as I feel like I think at almost exactly the same speed that I talk at, just with less hesitation, certainly far below 4000 wpm, probably below 800wpm by any reasonable way to count. Is that not how other people feel?

    Questions I’d like to know how people answer:
    1) Can you imagine your hand touching, say, the table in-front of you without actually doing it and how closely related is that to the experience of touching the table in actuality? Can you imagine touching the moon with your hand, while keeping your body in place? If so, is it as vivid as the imagination of touching the table? If not, what’s the furthest distance away you can concretely imagine your hand?
    2) When I think to myself, I hear more-or-less complete sentences. The experience is remarkably similar to that of actually hearing the sentence spoken. When I imagine or recall a sound, I ‘hear’ not that sound but the sound that I would make if I were to try to mimic that sound with my voice. (Recalling my favorite song is essentially me mentally humming it.) This one I’ve actually asked people about and everyone else has always said that they can ‘hear’ their favorite songs as if they were actually listening to them. What about you?
    3) Assuming you ‘think’ primarily in sentences, how does the formation of a ‘though sentence’ compare to actually saying a sentence aloud? Can you think thoughts without expressing them to yourself as sentences? If so, what is that like?
    4) What’s the maximum number of points in space you can mentally keep track of, all of which are moving arbitrarily but independently? Eg: I assume you can imagine a single point in space and have it fly like an insect around before you. Now try two, three, four, etc. making sure that they’re all moving constantly and independently (don’t cheat by placing two things next to each other and moving them in tandem).
    5) What’s the most number of distinct kinds of things you can do mentally simultaneously? Eg: sing your favorite song to yourself, count numbers, and visualize climbing a tree all at once while finding 31*31.
    6) Can you stop your inner monologue? Can you stop yourself thinking? (I suspect some people will answer that meditation does this – I’m not entirely sure, haven’t done enough myself.)

    (I’d really like answers from someone who hasn’t read my answers first.)
    My answers:
    1) Touching table is slightly similar to imagining it; I’m still aware of my actual hand location of course but I have a distinct “knowledge” of where my mental projection of my hand is and while I can’t feel the texture of the table I have a sense of the geometry that I would be feeling. I can’t reasonably imagine touching my hand on the moon. I can imagine with no loss of vividness touching objects at least ten feet away and I get kinda confused as to what I can do much beyond that.
    2) My answer is included in the question.
    3) It’s a very similar experience to me: in both speech and thought I feel like I know the sentence ahead of time but have to say it for it to be meaningful. Since I ‘know’ it already, I ought to be able to skip the subvocalization part when talking to myself, but trying to do so gets me kinda stuck. It’s like I need to spit out what I’ve already thought in order to have room for the next thought. I can ‘think’ lots of things without words but they’re all about physical space: where things are, how a motion goes.
    4) Only 2 is truly comfortable for me, but I can do 4 by ‘half cheating’. Essentially I imagine two sticks with the 4 points on their ends. The sticks can grow/shrink and rotate and move arbitrarily and so the end points move arbitrarily too, but it’s a bit of a clutch. I feel like I’m really just using my proprioception-type imagination where I’m picturing my index finger and thumb of each hand as pinning down the four points, and 2 is so much easier because I can just use my hands and not fingers.
    5) I kinda surprised myself by being able to do all three of those tasks at once (singing, arithmetic and mental climbing). I’m sure my arithmetic would be faster if I weren’t doing those. Trying to also watch a youtube video at the same time meant I couldn’t do the arithmetic.
    6) Not really, no. But I can kinda quiet things down and focusing on something physical can help reduce the need to interject something verbal (probably related to the classic “focus on your breathing”).

    • The Nybbler says:

      I can imagine touching the table; it’s not much like actually touching it. More like “watching” (not seeing, just being aware of) a ghost image of my hand touching it.

      I can imagine touching the moon, but it’s the moon as it appears, basically a small round thing in the sky, not the moon as it is. Here I imagine my arm stretching to reach it.

      I think in sentences, but I don’t think that’s all the thinking, just the part I’m conscious of and can describe. I usually remember songs as if I am hearing them played.

      A thought sentence is just like saying it out loud except without saying it. I can think other ways; some I cannot describe. I can think visually but I have to do it deliberately.

      Only one point independently.

      I can only do one active mental thing at a time, but I can listen to something while reading something else and manage to get most of both.

      I can stop myself thinking, sometimes. Staring off into space. A combination of chlorephrine maleate and pseudoephedrine sulfate (once sold as green Drixoral) can help induce this state.

      • tgb says:

        Thanks for legit replies! I’m very surprised that one point moving independently is your max – I’m assuming you can actually move both of your hands independently before you? Does that not translate to imagined motion?

        Your description of touching the table is probably a better way of describing how I feel about it. I emphasized it’s similarity to actually touching it because for me imagining a motion is much more similarly to actually doing that motion than imagining an image is to actually seeing that image – but I think I’m unusually incapable of imagining images.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I can visualise three points moving simultaneously, but it makes it a lot easier to cheat and visualise them as dancing a reel of three, i.e. all following the same figure-of-eight shaped path just with different starting points. With a more concentration, I can just about get them to do a reel of four, slowly (that same dancing figure might be called a ‘hay’ in American money), but that’s about my limit. I presume that an indefinite number of points simply orbiting around a circle wouldn’t count for ‘independently’.

          Trying to actually have all the points move randomly, I can definitely manage three, I think I can manage four, and I think I can’t manage five, but it’s actual hard to keep track of how many I’ve failed to keep track of 🙂

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s quite difficult for most people to do two independent things with their hands. A typical challenge is to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time. I can do that but it’s still not independent; the motions will be synchronized. Same for imagined points.

          Some piano players can play different tunes on each hand; I don’t know if they can do different time signatures.

          • rlms says:

            Independence of hands (for pianists and drummers) in my experience means working out how to feel the different things you are doing as somehow dependent (or at least feeling how they fit together). In terms of playing in different time signatures (or rather playing triplets against quavers, sextuplets against quintuplets etc.), the first level is relatively easy and after that it is a rare (but pretty pointless) skill.

          • Creutzer says:

            Playing simultaneously notes with non-integer length ratios (2:3, 3:4, etc.) is trivial for pianists. This seems to extend to pretty much arbitrary ratios (to be found copiously in Chopin’s work). 2:3 is even possible with one hand. I’ve never heard of a piece that requires simultaneous play at different time signatures (e.g. one hand in 3/4, the other in 4/4). I doubt such a thing is truly possible – it’s also going to be unparsable for the listener.

          • tgb says:

            Certainly a challenge to do two things, but to just move them in random-ish loop-de-loos? I don’t find it the least bit challenging and doubt I would even when extremely drunk, say. Maybe I’m doing a poor job of communicating my expectations: for example when I do two points they like to make sharp turns at the same time so there’s still *some* dependence, but they’re not doing something trivial like both tracing out the same circle.

            Anyway, count this is as a point surprising me of how people differ.

    • Fahundo says:

      Can you imagine your hand touching, say, the table in-front of you without actually doing it

      Yes.

      and how closely related is that to the experience of touching the table in actuality?

      Not sure what you mean. I can see myself touching the table or knocking things over or whatever, but I can’t feel anything.

      Can you imagine touching the moon with your hand, while keeping your body in place? If so, is it as vivid as the imagination of touching the table?

      I imagined it similarly to one of those paintings that plays with perspective, like I’m plucking the moon out of the sky and it’s simultaneously revealed to actually be really close and the same size as a grapefruit.

      When I think to myself, I hear more-or-less complete sentences. The experience is remarkably similar to that of actually hearing the sentence spoken.

      Same. If I consciously try I can change the voice to any voice I imagine, but the default voice is my own.

      When I imagine or recall a sound, I ‘hear’ not that sound but the sound that I would make if I were to try to mimic that sound with my voice. (Recalling my favorite song is essentially me mentally humming it.)

      I hear the actual sound, and the song as if I was really listening to it (to the extent that I know all the words and music)

      Assuming you ‘think’ primarily in sentences, how does the formation of a ‘though sentence’ compare to actually saying a sentence aloud?

      My internal monologue is an order of magnitude more articulate.

      Can you think thoughts without expressing them to yourself as sentences? If so, what is that like?

      Memories play like watching a movie, except with certain details distorted, altered, or obscured.

      Most thoughts are just my voice with maybe an occasional image to illustrate.

      What’s the maximum number of points in space you can mentally keep track of, all of which are moving arbitrarily but independently?

      Just going to say one. If I try two, I can’t get them to move in ways that are independent of each other.

      What’s the most number of distinct kinds of things you can do mentally simultaneously?

      Usually one, unless one of the tasks requires no concentration like chewing gum.

      Can you stop your inner monologue?

      Only by focusing my attention on something else.

    • Cadie says:

      1. I can imagine it, but it’s always a much stronger sensation when I actually touch the table (or whatever) than when I’m thinking about it. So they’re not similar, although the imagined table-touch doesn’t have anything that the real one doesn’t and vice-versa. It’s just a pale shadow of the real thing.
      2. Not really. I can “hear” words in my head but unless I know the original speaker very, very well (like, I’ve known them closely all my life) or I heard them talking within the last hour or two, I’ll hear it in my own voice or a generic voice belonging to no one in particular. I have very poor auditory recall.
      3. I’m not sure. I’ve had the odd sensation of having a long-seeming conversation in my head through several topics and then realizing only 15-20 seconds have gone by, which leads me to believe that I do, in fact, think faster than I can translate into recognizable words. Speaking slows me down even further because my thought-sentences are mostly being read, not listened to. If I say them out loud, I’m basically reading out loud.
      4. Not sure. 2, maybe 3?
      5. Two if I have to follow their motions exactly. More if I only have to have a vague idea of what they’re doing.
      6. Nope. In fact, I feel like I have multiple “trains of thought” going on at once, though I’m probably only cycling through them rather quickly. For me, focusing and calming my mind means bringing that number down to one. I can never get it to zero. I’m unable to meditate for that reason, though sometimes vaguely-similar-but-not-really relaxation videos and such do work for me. (I also find simple coding projects to be calming… yes, bug-searching and all… because it helps me reduce the number of thought tracks to one.) Physical things don’t help much because they force me to focus on that thing while NOT really stilling my mind, so I end up switching back and forth rapidly. I’m always thinking, even when I’d rather not be.

    • phisheep says:

      1) Can you imagine your hand touching, say, the table in-front of you without actually doing it and how closely related is that to the experience of touching the table in actuality?

      Yes I can. But it isn’t at all a closely related experience. The imaginary experience includes the sensation of moving my arm and hand, and the resistance of the table, and the exact positioning of my hand on the table; but it misses the sensations of of resistance *in my hand*, of heat and cold and of the subtle texture of the table.

      Can you imagine touching the moon with your hand, while keeping your body in place?

      No. I can only imagine touching the moon by being on the moon and crouching down to the surface.

      If so, is it as vivid as the imagination of touching the table? If not, what’s the furthest distance away you can concretely imagine your hand?

      About as far as the end of my arm I think. I’ve tried imagining touching familiar things at various distances, and it only works if my (body) and the (thing) are very close to each other. If I imagine touching my daughter’s car (which is about 200 miles away), the touching takes place either in a specific place, like my driveway, or in some vague non-space.

      2) … When I imagine or recall a sound, I ‘hear’ not that sound but the sound that I would make if I were to try to mimic that sound with my voice. (Recalling my favorite song is essentially me mentally humming it.) This one I’ve actually asked people about and everyone else has always said that they can ‘hear’ their favorite songs as if they were actually listening to them. What about you?

      I find this differs between spoken words and music. Spoken words tend to come as content and meaning only, shorn of any regional accent, though spoken *poetry* tends to come with the accent, tone and rhythm of whoever I last heard recite it, and which I can change in my imagination to give different deliveries.

      Music comes as performed, but usually not as a whole thing. Rather, I find myself attending to a particular line or harmonic structure with the rest as background, though I can flip around between them – which is exactly the way I listen to music in real life.

      3) Assuming you ‘think’ primarily in sentences, how does the formation of a ‘though sentence’ compare to actually saying a sentence aloud? Can you think thoughts without expressing them to yourself as sentences? If so, what is that like?

      I’m not sure that I think in sentences. More like tentative formulations, done very quickly, but only tending towards being sentences. It is sort of like mentally drafting and redrafting paragraphs at a time.

      4) What’s the maximum number of points in space you can mentally keep track of, all of which are moving arbitrarily but independently?

      One. Or at a pinch two, but only if one of them is moving very slowly and the other one very quickly – which I guess means I am cheating somehow.

      5) What’s the most number of distinct kinds of things you can do mentally simultaneously? Eg: sing your favorite song to yourself, count numbers, and visualize climbing a tree all at once while finding 31*31.

      One. More precisely, I can do more than one thing only if I can somehow persuade myself they are parts of the same thing – like harmonising to a tune.

      6) Can you stop your inner monologue? Can you stop yourself thinking? (I suspect some people will answer that meditation does this – I’m not entirely sure, haven’t done enough myself.)

      Yes, very easily, but only by paying full attention to something in the real world – like a novel, or music, or the feeling of sand running through my fingers.

      • tgb says:

        Very interesting, thanks! Your reply seems like the most distinct from mine. I hadn’t considered that musical recall would be much different from non-musical auditory recall. I’m kinda shocked that anyone would particularly struggle to sing to themselves while imagining climbing a tree.

        (Though I messed up my text on #5. I didn’t mean to include “counting numbers” alongside “singing to yourself” as I assume that for many people those both are using the ‘same part’ of their brain (if you count auditorially and not visually, see the Feynman experiment). I hope people didn’t get discouraged after attempting just those two first.)

    • Glen Raphael says:

      @tgb:

      When I imagine or recall a sound, I ‘hear’ not that sound but the sound that I would make if I were to try to mimic that sound with my voice. (Recalling my favorite song is essentially me mentally humming it.) This one I’ve actually asked people about and everyone else has always said that they can ‘hear’ their favorite songs as if they were actually listening to them. What about you?

      I’m confused: Does that mean you can’t recall a song that has harmony parts? When you think of, say, a Simon & Garfunkel song, do you only mentally hear one voice, or can you “mentally hum” the harmony hearing it as if two people were humming? Do you (a) not remember instrumental parts that are outside your vocal range, (b) “mentally hum” in registers or timbres you can’t vocally reproduce, or (c) somehow transpose everything to fit within the parameters of what you *can* vocally reproduce?

      Me, I usually hear songs in my head as if actually listening to them, which includes being able to pick out individual instrumental lines. If I “mentally hummed” I’d have to pick a specific harmony or melody line, which would be weird.

      I find it hard to read and listen to music at the same time, as bits of my brain will go out and analyze what the music is doing – it’s a distraction. When I’m driving a car I will turn off the radio when I get to parts of the trip where I have to make difficult navigation decisions. Listening to music is soothing when I’m driving on autopilot – on a freeway or a route I’ve driven before – but distracting when I have to make active decisions.

  14. IrishDude says:

    I’m curious if Scott will make You Are Still Crying Wolf a top post. I agree with his four current inclusions and I’m curious where the total views on the Wolf post rates with them. Not that views would be the only criteria for a top post.

    On reasons not to be a top post, it’s very seemingly person specific and perhaps too politically tinged.

    On reasons besides total views to be a top post, it accurately gets at how the media exaggerates issues in the pursuit of eye balls, and also occasionally due to the politician persuasion of the commentators. It’s an example of a general reason why we might distrust the major and conventional media on other issues, possibly causing us to question our assumptions on things we thought we knew.

  15. Iain says:

    Those of you who were shocked and appalled by Clinton’s handling of classified information: how do you feel about Michael Flynn being named as Trump’s National Security Adviser?

    Flynn broke rules he thought were stupid. He once told me about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the “insane” required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden. There was also the time he gave classified information to NATO allies without approval, an incident which prompted an investigation, and a warning from superiors. During his stint as Mullen’s intelligence chief, Flynn would often write “This is bullshit!” in the margins of classified papers he was obliged to pass on to his boss, someone who saw these papers told me.

    • hyperboloid says:

      There is also this tweet he sent out after the FBI finished reviewing the newly discovered Clinton emails.

      IMPOSSIBLE:
      There R 691,200 seconds in 8 days. DIR Comey has thoroughly reviewed 650,000 emails in 8 days? An email / second? IMPOSSIBLE RT

      *headdesk*

      …this guy was in charge of the defense intelligence agency.

      I think it was Tom lehrer who said that the the US army takes the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion; not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Less than thrilled, though less about specific instances of mishandling of information and more general personality and the manner in which he seemed to handle (and MIS-handle) his duties at DIA.

      From what I’ve heard he did really well at JSOC and CENTCOM, but pretty much completely failed at both the more bureaucratic and political aspects of his position in washington. He also seems to be one of those personalities that responds to political or philosophical conflict by doubling down, then doubling down again, and again, and again, which makes him a terrible candidate for anything involving analysis.

      I don’t like anyone whose response to being criticized for saying “X is Bad” is to then go to “X is very bad” then to “X is literally the worst thing ever”. That’s a pattern of shifting positions that should be familiar from other topics under discussion here.

      So far, the only potential Trump appointees I’m unambiguously positive about would be Mattis and Thiel, though I have the worry that in Mattis’ case he’d be damaging his potential political future with other administrations both Dem and GOP by agreeing.

      • hyperboloid says:

        He also seems to be one of those personalities that responds to political or philosophical conflict by doubling down, then doubling down again, and again, and again, which makes him a terrible candidate for anything involving analysis.

        That sounds like a good proxy for “should have never been made a general in the first place”. I’m sure the man has other redeeming qualities, but being able to analyze strategic problems is kind of a requirement to be an effective O-9.

        Which segues into my rant of the day.

        I know we have one or two semi regular commentators here who have military experience; so for the love of god can somebody please explain to me the logic of the US military promotion and retention rules?

        You would think that when lives are on the line meritocracy would be a priority, but instead it seems
        like we have a system that is based on seniority, and box checking, as much as anything else. On top of that the “up or out” mandate that requires that officers twice passed over for promotion be dismissed from the service is asinine. Different people have different skill sets, there are great captains who will never be great generals.

        When we need to select personnel for elite special operations units it’s done through extremely rigorous
        qualification courses, from which most of the candidates wash out. Why can’t we devise some similar qualification system for general officers? We could for instance bring together potential candidates for promotion and have them compete in a series of war games, both computer simulations, and “live action” exercises, to test their ability to handle various strategic challenges. when the testing is over the top performers get stars on their shoulders, and everybody else continues their career at their previous rank, no harm, no foul.

        • sflicht says:

          No military experience, so I’m looking forward to responses from others who do have such experience.

          That said, isn’t “up or out” what you get if you take the Peter Principle very seriously, and believe that a military is the sort of bureaucratic organization where the need for competence supersedes the downsides of the policy in question? I’m sure that high level military officers, being smart people and good managers, recognize those downsides and have probably quantified them.

        • hlynkacg says:

          It is as they say, a known problem. Fact of the matter is that there are selection pressures in promotion and in a garrison environment the candidates will get selected for garrison-ness.

        • CatCube says:

          The promotion system evolving towards “box-checking” is, to a certain extent, a result of Goodhart’s Law. (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”) The remainder of it is simply an artifact of centralized promotions in a massive organization.

          A lot of the boxes they demand to be checked sound pretty reasonable. For example, I was in the Army, branched Engineer. For lower officer ranks, the Army uses what’s called “Key Development” positions, which you’re required to hold before you’re eligible for promotion. The KD positions are different for different branches. For example, Engineer branch has company command, where you have to have served in that position for 12 months before you’re eligible for promotion to major. (Other branches use other KD positions depending on their place in the force structure; for example, company command wouldn’t be a reasonable KD position for an Adjutant General officer, since they have so few AG companies.)

          For promotion to higher ranks, the “box-checking” is having Joint assignments–i.e., that you’ve done something other than your own Service. Again, this is pretty reasonable. Generals deal with other Services all the time, including subordinates. It’s not a bad thing for them to have at least worked with somebody from, say, the Navy before they get put in charge of Navy guys. Also, it gets the culture shock out of the way earlier. I mean, it’s sort of amazing how different the culture is between branches of the Army, much less other Services.

          Where the Goodhart’s Law part of this box-checking comes in is that there really aren’t enough, say, “purple-suit” joint assignments for everybody. Who often has an easier time getting them? People who are good at positioning themselves.

          The other part–large centralized promotion system–is simply because they judge you based on your written Officer Efficiency Reports. Being able to play political games and hide failure can go a long way towards an officer of marginal competence getting a good OER, and therefore a promotion.

          I actually think the promotion system does a decent job on the whole. Most of the officers and EMs I dealt with were competent, and some were superstars. A few were bad. What you’re seeing is that you really don’t hear about the solidly competent, or even the marginal people. The only people who you, as an outsider, hear about are the complete duds or the rock stars. And, frankly, you don’t usually hear about the rock stars, either.

          • keranih says:

            What you’re seeing is that you really don’t hear about the solidly competent, or even the marginal people. The only people who you, as an outsider, hear about are the complete duds or the rock stars. And, frankly, you don’t usually hear about the rock stars, either.

            I think this is the largest take away. News reports don’t talk about people who manage their staff so as to prevent crippling personality conflicts (*) and who channel challenges into cooperation and team spirit. They don’t talk about people who look forward far enough (and with enough luck) to prep successfully for contingencies and prevent outright disasters. And they don’t talk about people who are mild, pleasant, and unwaverable in pursuit of their mission.

            They talk about people who are in the midst of conflict and a failure of the job, and in the case of the military, the newspapers talk about the military in conflict with the administration.

            And with the last administration, there was no way in hell the miltary was going to get cast as “the good guys.”

            (*) often by not hiring the conflict in the first place

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          EDIT: I almost forgot the Obligatory Song. How could I?!

          Add to all the factors above that anything over O6 (Colonel / Naval Captain) is effectively a political appointment (selected by the President, confirmed by the Senate). The services draft a list of good candidates (Good Candidates, mind you, chosen by The Pentagon) , and the service chiefs, secretaries, and secdef all provide their opinions and advice, but ultimately it comes down to a political decision.

          Finally, let me just say that hlynkacg’s point about the difference between peace-time and war-time soldiers (Garrison and Field if you prefer, but really, even garrison in wartime is different) absolutely CANNOT be overemphasized.

    • CatCube says:

      Assuming the story is true, most of what you’re saying is appalling. Again, I’d expect to be led out in handcuffs if I had a secret internet connection installed, or handing classified information to NATO allies without permission.

      I wish I could say it surprised me that Trump is letting something like that slide; the fact that it doesn’t is why I didn’t vote for the man. Clinton and her pack of weasels was political cancer for the Democrats. I really do not understand the people who looked at what her and her husband did and said “Hey, we need to duplicate that in the Republican Party.”

      The only thing that puzzles me is why the “This is bullshit!” thing is thrown in there with everything else. I mean, I’d expect an intelligence officer to tell his boss if he thought a report was bullshit. That’s his whole job. MacArthur, after all, said that 90% of an intelligence report is wrong; the art is in figuring out which 90%. Was Flynn unusually bad at figuring out what was bullshit, or is this from somebody who’s butthurt about being called out on bullshit?

      • shakeddown says:

        I read that as evidence of him being unprofessional (random “this is bullshit!” exclamations instead of a detailed explanation of which parts are wrong and why).

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Flynn is, to put it charitably, a “character”. Given to strong opinions and outbursts formed in haste and requiring a fairly firm-hand from a commanding officer and good senior subordinates and aides to help level him out, according to everything I’ve read and heard about him. Apparently given those conditions he was in fact very very good at his job, and he had those conditions at his last few purely military postings, especially JSOC (Gen. McChrystal).

        However, once he was Da Boss at DIA he didn’t have that sort of guidance/restraint any more, and he apparently lacked the self-awareness compensate for his weaknesses and surround himself with that sort of strong subordinate staff. Alternate possibility: he was slotted into an existing staff he couldn’t just replace and had to deal with, and failed at that. That possibility would still reflect poorly on him but in a different way.

        As a result, he started to fall back into his bad habits of outbursts, poorly supported but strongly voiced opinions, etc, and all this in an environment where instead of the military relationship between a commander and his immediate subordinates (which has a level of mentoring to it), he had more distant political bosses who absolutely did not want to hear some of the things he had to say.

        The interesting thing to me is that AFAICT he did not start out nearly as extreme or shrill on the subject of Islam/Muslims as he is these days. He shifted there as part of the ongoing process of his interactions with the Obama administration, and then continued that drift even faster once he was forced out.

        My read (and be clear this is ONLY my read) is that he found himself in the position of being the guy with the unpopular POV, the guy in meetings no one wants to listen to. There are different ways to handle that: You can be mindful of your audience and try to moderate your tone and your style of delivery without overly diluting your message in the hopes that it sinks through anyway….or you can do what he apparently did, which was to get bitter, double-down, and get even more pugnacious, shrill, and combative.

        That dynamic gave the administration ample reason to want to replace him with someone they could work with, and the aforementioned issues about personality and management style gave the administration the cause they were looking for.

        Flynn then responded to the ouster by…doubling down some more. From my point of view, he is a textbook example of the sort of person whose response to coming under first private (sort of, aside from strategic leaks to the press) and then public attack for his views is to radicalize and shift more and more towards the only people saying “Yeah, man, we’re totally with you!”

      • The Nybbler says:

        If his job routinely involved sharing classified information with allies and he shared something which hadn’t been approved yet, it probably wouldn’t be an arrestable offense. Screwups happen and don’t always result in loss of clearance.

        Knowingly setting up a clandestine internet connection seems much worse.

  16. Wander says:

    I’m looking for a book to get me into making little population simulations. Things like the grid of dots where each dot wants to be near x number of dots the same colour, that then end up self-segregating into neat patterns, or ones where you have corruption and prisoner dilemmas and ultimately all of society simultaneously becomes honest at some point. Scott linked to an article about these sorts of simulations a very long time ago.
    Any recommendations on resources to learn to code these sorts of things?

    • Aapje says:

      A simulation where elements react to elements near them is called a Cellular Automaton. They allow you to examine the long term consequences of decisions made by people with limited information, who react to the people close to them (where physical closeness in the program can represent various forms of ‘closeness’ in reality). This seems like a good introduction (with links for further research at the end):

      http://code-spot.co.za/2009/04/09/cellular-automata-for-simulation-in-games/

      For your first problem (each dot wants to be near x number of dots the same color), a possible solution is to create a grid/array with randomly colored dots (where you can make some colors less common, if you want to simulate that some dots are ‘minorities’). Then you create a separate set of N colored elements that are not on the grid.

      Each iteration you iterate over that separate set and for each colored element, you generate M random positions in the grid. These represent houses that are for sale and which the person can afford to rent/buy. Then you place the colored element in the grid position that best matches your rule (each dot wants to be near x number of dots the same color). This represents people choosing the house they like best.

      Of course, this grid position already had a color ‘living’ in it, so you take that color and put in in a separate set of displaced dots. You will place these colors back into the grid in iteration 2 (who will then displace colors that you will place back in iteration 3, etc).

      You visualize this with a very simple ‘table’ where you give each cell the appropriate background color.

      Over time, I would expect that various groups of one color emerge on the grid, where the size of these groups will probably depend on the number of elements with the same color that elements want to be close to.

      Of course, the real fun with these things is playing around with the parameters. There ought to be a turning point where, if you make the minority color a bigger percentage of the total, they stop creating groups. You can try to figure out at what % that changes. Making M bigger ought to result in fewer, but bigger groups and vice versa. It’s best to make these kinds of predictions first and then check if your simulation proves you right.

      PS. I would strongly suggest keeping it simple at first. Only two colors, for example. Don’t get fancy with trying to simulate housing values or such, that just makes your simulation too hard to understand and debug & you probably don’t need that for what you want to examine.

      • Wander says:

        Those are some interesting sources, but I don’t think I have the programming skill to implement these ideas without guidance.

        • quanta413 says:

          For doing agent based simulations, an easy way to get into programming them is NetLogo. https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/

          It’s easy to install, saves you a lot of programming effort because it’s a language specifically for agent based simulation, and it’s got a very nice graphical interface for visualization and measuring model output. It’s also got a lot of built-in example models from various fields of science and social science.

          It’s got very user-friendly documentation here. Definitely read the introduction and tutorials sections and follow along with them. https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/docs/

          It this is still overwhelming, I can answer basic questions and probably find some other tutorials.

          • Wander says:

            Huh, as it turns out, everything I was going to try and make is already in the library of NetLogo. Seeing as my original intention was sort of as a programming challenge to myself, I think I’m at a dead end overall.

          • quanta413 says:

            To Wander:

            Is your goal to program a model from scratch using the core of a programming language? If so, that might be a short or long road depending, but like Aapje said, “it’s hard to give guidance without knowing more about your level and knowledge of languages.”

            But even if Netlogo already has the models you’re interested in, it can be a good exercise to try to code them without looking at their code tab. Re-implementing something from known behavior is not trivial. You could also learn something by modifying the code of the models in the library you are interested in to add new details or complications. Like adding another species to the wolf-sheep model or modifying the rules of how the self-segregating colored dots decide when to move. Maybe they will only move if one of the patches within a certain radius of them better suits their preferences? How does the size of this radius affect the ending pattern?

        • Aapje says:

          It’s not very hard to program a simple case with no performance optimizations, but it’s hard to give guidance without knowing more about your level and knowledge of languages. I normally program in Java.

          Where I would start is to make a class that holds a 2D-array of Color objects:

          public class ColorGrid {
          private Color[][] colorGrid = new Color[CAProperties.gridWidth][CAProperties.gridHeight];

          public init() { … }
          public Color getColor(int x, int y) {…}
          public setColor(int x, int y, Color color) {…}
          public ColorGrid clone() {…}
          }

          Then you make a runner class which creates a ColorGrid, initializes it with random Colors and then clones it. That gives you your starting grid and the target grid in which you make your changes. After you do an iteration, the target grid becomes your starting grid (and you clone that to have a new target grid to do the changes in for the next iteration).

          However, before you start implementing the actual behavior, I would first visualize the grid. In Java, you could use a JTable for this, which allows you to make a simple visual grid. Then you add some code to the runner to iterate over the ColorGrid and set the background color of the corresponding grid element in the JTable.

          Once that works you can run your application a few times and see how your random color initialization will create a different starting grid each time.

          Then you can create that additional set of Colors in your runner, and start placing them on your target grid using your logic. So you create some random x and y coordinates and for each, you look at your start grid to count the number of dots of the same color within a certain radius. You save the count with the coordinate and separately keep track of the highest count you have found so far, UNLESS that count is bigger than the the number of colored dots that people demand. After all, dots want at least N dots with the same color near them, but don’t choose N+1 over N. So you save N if the count is bigger than that.

          Once you are done, you select all coordinates with a count that is equal or greater than your saved ‘highest’ count. If there are multiple, you should randomly pick one. Once you have picked a spot, you make the change to the target grid (not the starting grid). You keep the old value of that spot and save it in a set of colors. Just like you have two grids, you have two sets of colors. You take from the starting set and put ‘old’ values in the target set. At the end of the iteration, you swap the two sets, so next iteration, your starting set has the values you removed in the previous iteration, while the target set is empty and ready to be filled.

          Once it seems to work and you see colors being changed, you add the actual iteration code and run it a 100 times or so to see if the behavior seems OK. Then you start fixing your bugs and testing different settings.

          I would store all settings in separate place/class like CAProperties, so you can easily set different parameters for a new run, without having to make changes in different places.

          EDIT: While I was typing this, quanta413 may have given a better answer.

  17. EricN says:

    I would be interested in purchasing an SSC t-shirt. Are other people interested? Is there any prospect of SSC t-shrits existing anytime in the near future?

  18. Tibor says:

    How easy is it to switch fields after a PhD (while staying in the academia)?

    Background:

    I am doing my PhD in maths, probability theory to be specific. I am going to be finished / very close to finishing next autumn and so I am starting to think about what to do next. I don’t think I’m good enough to continue with theoretical maths in the academia. I might manage to get a full position eventually but I think I would be mediocre at best (my PhD is going to be in the range of acceptable to moderately good, but it will definitely not be excellent…I think I could write a better dissertation if I started now – I am 27 btw, so there are actually surprisingly many people who are starting a PhD at my age, although usually not in pure maths – but that is probably always true). That would probably not be very fulfilling, plus I feel that if I am going to be paid by tax money, I should be really good so that taking away that money from other people to pay me is at least partly justified (and there are basically no private research universities in Europe).

    So I would rather do something where I feel I could have a better potential. It might be a theorist’s arrogance, but it seems to me it would be easier for me to do a bit more applied stuff – most of my current work is motivated by genetics and evolutionary biology (even though strictly theoretical – I’ve never worked with any data), which is also a topic I am interested in personally so that would be a possible direction. While I enjoy doing pure maths (when I don’t get stuck for a couple of weeks and completely frustrated…but that’s just a part of it I guess), I observe that I am perhaps more enthusiastic about questions that arise in more applied fields (applied from pure maths point of view…i.e. pretty much everything that is not pure maths).

    Of course, another option for me is simply to find a job in the industry, it is also the most likely direction but I want to consider other options as well.

    • shakeddown says:

      I’m finishing my PhD in math this year and transferring to industry. At least for the getting jobs/passing interviews part, my theoretician’s arrogance seems to be fairly accurate.

      About switching fields in academia, it might be easier to look for an applied project that needs more math help (ask around – I’m sure there are a few), and then build on that.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      A few thoughts:
      – It seems like you’re in a good position, discipline-wise. By virtue of the respect for maths & theory, especially working on applied problems, you should have opportunities.
      – You seem very stuck on remaining in academia. I would advise against this attitude; many careers in applied fields include lots of transitions to and from industry. It’s not only viable but often a good idea — in terms of expertise, connections, and retraining in an environment with less pressure — to work in industry for a few years, without considering it a permanent transition.
      – What specific opportunities, if any, do you have in mind? If you have a willing mentor who believes in your abilities, you may be able to make the academic transition directly (as I plan to do), but just assuming “yes, I could do applied work” will not be sufficient. Build connections and a portfolio of more practical work as much as you can.

      Of course, all of this is just my opinion, etc. But I hope it helps.

      • Tibor says:

        My ideal job would probably be in research, outside of academia but with a relatively free atmosphere (although probably a little more focused than at the university).

        Good point with the transition – there’s a professor at our institute who’d worked in the industry for some 10 years after doing a PostDoc (I think) only to return to the academia afterwards. On the other hand, he is really brilliant. But as I mentioned, I am not particularly keen on staying in the academia per se. Until rather recently I did not even consider it a serious option, but I think I might enjoy doing basic research in more applied fields. Of course, that can be done outside of academia as well, although it is probably easier in some fields than in others. Generally, there are some things I like about the academia, some I dislike (some that I dislike a lot, but I imagine I would find some such things in the industry as well). Which is why I want to consider all options.

        You’re right that I should probably come up with something more specific, my question was more along the lines of – “does it even realistically make sense to think about that or would I first have to do a PhD in a different field”? Also, right now I really do not have the time to start new projects, I have to finish my dissertation and there probably won’t be much room to add entirely new things (not anything major anyway).

    • I got a PhD in physics then switched to economics.

      A friend of mine had a philosophy PhD, chased temporary positions for a few years, then switched to computer science, her specialty being in the logic end of philosophy. It seems to have worked for her.

      • Tibor says:

        How difficult was the switch for you? Philosophy to computer science seems an even bigger jump than physics to economics or anything I would be considering (on the other hand the logic end of philosophy is basically mathematics, so perhaps it is not such a big jump).

        Also, how did you go about it? Did you just come to an economics department looking for a PostDoc (or something equivalent)? Do you think that having a Nobelist economist father helped with the transition in the sense of the people being less dismissive to you as a physicist or was it not a factor?

        Sorry for the question overload 🙂

        • Iain says:

          A lot of the early formal logic work underlying computer science was done by people who called themselves philosophers. For example, George Boole developed what we now refer to as Boolean logic while trying to systematise Aristotle. If you tunnel deeply enough into the parts of philosophy that talk about possible worlds and modal logic, you pop out again in the middle of a bunch of computer scientists writing formalized proofs in Coq.

        • I was a somewhat special case, since I had grown up with economist parents and initially stayed out of economics only because I didn’t want to spend my life being identified mainly as my father’s son.

          While I was a post-doc in physics I wrote my first book, which is economics and political theory from an extreme libertarian point of view. I also wrote a piece for the Population Council on population issues from a pro-market point of view. People I respected, mostly my father and Gary Becker, thought well of it, which encouraged me. So I was already doing economics.

          Someone who was running a semi-independent center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Fels Center for State and Local Government, which was largely economics, offered me a post-doc position there while I made the shift–I think he my have seen the population piece. I was a post-doc there for two years, a lecturer at Penn for a third year. During that period I wrote an article, an economic theory of the size and shape of nations, which was published in the JPE, a top journal.

          I also met Jim Buchanan, who was doing work along similar lines, the economic analysis of political institutions, for which he eventually got a Nobel prize. He was the de facto dictator of the econ department of VPI at the time. He invited me to apply there and they hired me as an assistant professor of economics.

          Over my time there I taught a wide range of courses. My suspicion is that Buchanan deliberately set it up that way. Whether or not that is correct, it’s a good way of learning the field.

          In my case, at least, the approach was not to see what everyone else was writing about and then add one more detail to the literature but to explore my own ideas. That may make more sense for someone coming from outside the field.

          Relevant story:

          I didn’t get tenure at UCLA. Ed Leamer, who was the chairman of the department at the time, commented that since I was a bright guy, if I just followed the literature and contributed things to it for a few years I would get the sort of vita that would get me tenure at a place like UCLA.

          My response was that that might well be true. If he was in my situation would he do that?

          His answer: No.

    • StellaAthena says:

      This seems like a decent place to look for career advice from people my elder.

      I am a recent graduate with a BS in mathematics and a BA in philosophy and have done a lot of coursework and research in Theoretical Computer Science (I style myself a combinatorist). I wasn’t interested in academia but wanted to do math/cs research and joined a consulting firm building computer models for the US government. I don’t foresee myself staying in this job for more than 4 or 5 years, because I want to do science and not manage people. There’s no particular field I feel strongly about working in… I just want to do cool math and cs for science.

      I’m currently applying to MS programs in CS, but I’m trying to decide if it’s worthwhile to pursue a PhD. It’s a lot of time, and would be around a half million dollars in foregone wages, so I’m thinking that even if it would be better on my CV to have the PhD than 6 years of work experience, big picture it might not be worthwhile anyways. What do you guys think?

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        My short answer would be: finish the MS in CS, and you probably don’t even need that, either to make loads of money programming, or even to do research.

        Companies on both coasts, plus scattered tech centers in Chicago, Austin, etc., need bodies so badly they’d dig them out of the ground. Machine learning and data science are especially hot, and both need math; if either interests you, then I my sense is that the master’s will be enough. You’ll be expected to pick up new techs as you go, of course.

        I’ll venture that a PhD would probably be a lot of time and effort for relatively little additional gain. If I had to guess, I could see it as something you sort of collect by way of inventing the next JavaScript or something. It’s signalling that you could build this sort of stuff on your own. The main draw would be in whatever you’d actually built.

  19. dndnrsn says:

    Another RPG thread:

    I usually run low-power, low-magic stuff. Or at least the PCs have limited/no magic, in a way that is internally consistent (eg in Call of Cthulhu, it makes sense that the bad guys have more magic, or any magic).

    For people who run standard D&D – which is, by the standards of most fantasy writing, extremely high-magic – how do you make the world make sense?

    For instance: a fairly low-level cleric can instantly cure any disease. This would be a big deal in our world. In a medieval world, why would any cleric be bumbling around in dungeons? Every noble would have one, to keep them and their family alive, and dole out that daily cure as a reward for loyalty. Likewise, what happens to ranks upon ranks of spearmen when a wizard can just huck a fireball into the middle?

    Fantasy in general seems really bad at grappling with what a world with magic in it is like, and those settings that do try to grapple with this – Planescape, Spelljammer – end up distinctly weird.

    How do you deal with this?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Back when I ran 3.5 and Pathfinder, I generally ran more Eberron-like settings where high magic was an accepted part of daily life. Not full Tippy-verse nonsense or elemental powered trains but a realization that, say, a flying ship with a few wands of fireball can circle a battlefield laying down fire like a Spectre Gunship.

      Now I prefer old school games where the logic of the system doesn’t tend that way. When a +1 Sword is actually a rare and precious object and there’s at most a handful of Clerics who can cast 7th level spells in a continent-spanning Empire there’s a lot more room for a medieval or early modern setting. By the point you have the sorts of magics that would wreck settings, you’re probably running an entire kingdom or scheming to become an Immortal.

      Actually I tend to have more difficulties with modern games where modern technology and magic both exist. Systems like nWoD have what I call the “the Judge problem” where players quickly realize that hitting the BBEG with a rocket propelled grenade is a much better idea than squaring off in a mystical duel. So the game derails into players desperately trying to get access to military-grade weaponry until I tell them to knock it off and play properly.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’ve found that Call of Cthulhu is an offender for that – the book talks about how guns are useless but if you examine the rules, if you get your hands on enough dakka you can take on fairly serious monsters.

        A major issue I’ve had in lower-powered settings is that players will try to take mooks along with them. In a high-powered setting, a company of the Duke’s house guard are probably kind of useless against serious opposition. In a low-powered setting where a serious character is at most worth 3 or 4 mooks in a head-on fight, a company of the Duke’s guard/a platoon of National Guardsmen/whatever is actually quite powerful. I broke my players of this once and for all by running a mass combat and having them realize, no, it isn’t as fun as doing it yourself.

        The two combine when players figure the solution to big ol’ Cthuloid monstrosities is heavy weapons and military support. Which is where Sanity rules kick in: that platoon of National Guardsmen can, by the rules, likely fuck up a Dark Young or two real bad, but also by the rules, likely about 1/5 of the unit they have with them will go insane, which is a bad proposition when combined with heavy explosives.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I like the ACKS solution to mooks hired by the PCs.

          If you want to hire a company mercs to go fight a dragon, then so long as you have the gold for hazard pay and a high enough Charisma to keep them all in line then that’s entirely within the expectations of the rules. You might have to break out the mass battle rules but those aren’t too hard to wrap your head around.

          Just don’t expect any of those guys to climb down into the lair with you: you’ll have to flush the beast out yourselves if you want the batteries of artillery to finish it off. And so the PCs still have a dramatically appropriate role in the fight even if they’re not slugging away at the dragon themselves.

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      I, too, deal with it by running a low-magic campaign. My players got a bunch of (awesome) martial classes to choose from, and magic is the domain or either legends, fools, or villains. Certainly it is something which is generally considered Bad News, and then for a good reason.

      If settings are more your thing, you might want to take a look at Dark Sun, since it deals with this excellently well. It’s a very sad thing that it’s not a more popular setting also, but such is life.

    • gronald says:

      I like the idea of E6 which means, basically, play D&D but mortals are capped at level 6.

      Usually what I actually do is to start the campaign at level 3, and play until level 9. At level 9, I expect the player characters to get the Teleport spell and initiate the final boss battle, ending the campaign. The next campaign starts over at level 3.

      NPCs are usually first-level but might be as high as seventh-level if they’re the leader of a major organization. Anyone high-level has their own goals which are distinct from the party’s goals — ie, I make sure I have a built-in reason for why the party can’t just bring them along as heavy artillery.

    • Spookykou says:

      I am a big fan of playing D&D with no full progression casters as a character creation guideline. I like it in 3.5 because casters are too strong, in 5e casters are actually kind of weak and in my experience a lot of people actually don’t have very much fun with them in game. Which in part is my fault, because they just don’t know the rules very well and casters in 5e are actually very limited so I am constantly telling them no which isn’t very fun.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Conversely: Has anyone ever tried to do a full-on, magic-does-everything-technology-can-and-then-some setting? It would probably be weirder than Spelljammer.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I think the problem there (for values of problem) is that you get the old Reversed version of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any Sufficiently Analyzed Magic Is Indistinguishable From Technology”, and you end up with a setting like Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence.

        He took it in the direction of Magicians as Lawyers and Bankers rather than “Magicians as Scientists”, but either way that’s not the sort of setting most people sitting down for a D&D or Pathfinder game are interested in.

        If they were, they’d probably be picking up some other system. (SIDE NOTE: Read those books. They’re much more interesting than “Wizards As Lawyers and Bankers” may make it sound at first blush)

    • suntzuanime says:

      What happens to ranks upon ranks of spearmen when a siege catapult can just huck a big rock into the middle? D&D doesn’t let wizards spam large area-effect spells all day, which means there’s a hard limit to how much damage a single wizard can do, and you can’t mass produce high-level wizards very easily. So if your army has, say, three level 7 battle mages, each of them might annihilate 60 foot soldiers if you’re lucky before they need to go take an 8-hour nap. Reducing your opponent’s forces by 180 soldiers is not nothing, but it’s not going to turn the tide of a major battle, much less a war.

      When it comes to things like clerics curing disease, I like D&D 4e’s take on it. Basically, most spells that have important logistical effects are “rituals”, and rituals require substantial amounts of material components. (Generally you use “residuum”, which is sort of a universal material component obtained by recycling magical items.) So, for example, the material components of the Cure Disease ritual cost 150gp, which is an awful lot of money, the equivalent of two riding horses or a year’s lodgings at an inn. My ordinary rule of thumb is to treat 1 gp as a rough equivalent to $10, so you’re looking at $1500, just for materials. In the modern first world we’re wealthy enough that we can routinely pay that sort of money or more to cure important illnesses, but the masses in the assumed setting of D&D can’t afford it. So basically all that happens is that the wealthy don’t need to worry as much about plague. (Not *none* about plague, because the Cure Disease ritual can fail and even kill the patient if used by an unskilled cleric on a particularly tough disease.)

      The one ritual in D&D 4e that I think can’t be reconciled with the assumed setting is Raise Dead. The ability to shake off any sort of fatal accident, even if it does cost $5000, would have just too huge an impact on the way society works for it to be recognizable. I’ve always banned Raise Dead and similar effects in my games. Death is death.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        I am reasonably sure that eliminating the 180 soldiers holding pikes in front of your archers (slash command staff slash clerical support slash etc.) seconds before the heavy cav comes thundering in would turn a battle. Hell, I’m fairly sure that dropping 3 fireballs on top of the command tent would also do the same.

        Of course, that’s an amateurish use of your battlemages. Instead, you tell them “Look, Fireball is great, but I want you to learn Detect Thoughts, Invisibility, Disguise Self, and Alter Self. Stopping an army on the field is amateur hour. We’re going to drop Magical Doppleganger-Emulation onto their capital, and within two weeks, they won’t have the organizational capacity to field another army.”

        Now, armies are great and useful for some things. But they’re the wrong tool to conquer a nation with even moderate caster support, just like they’re the wrong tool to slay a dragon.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Using wizards for espionage can be efficient, but in Good editions of D&D, wizards are given limitations as to the extent that they can completely dominate non-combat encounters. In 4e, Disguise Self has a duration of 1 hour and requires you to pass a Bluff-vs.-Insight check (with a bonus). You can wreak some havok, but 1 hour per day of one defeasible disguise isn’t going to be the Doppelgänger Apocalypse. Invisibility can be sustained for 5 minutes per day, during which you can’t do anything too strenuous (anything that would require a standard action) and you can still be heard or otherwise spotted. Again, very useful, but not totally gamebreaking. I’m not sure 4e even has an equivalent to Detect Thoughts. There’s the Discern Lies ritual, but that is, again, much less gamebreaking.

          Basically, it’s not that you can’t fit wizards into the assumed setting, it’s that 3e wizards were stupidly overpowered and broken. 4e wizards more or less work fine.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I don’t disagree that 4E is Good; it’s far and away my favorite edition for actually playing the game and running the encounters. However, it’s also profoundly uninterested in any kind of world simulation; you can ask 4E “How will my party affect this battlefield?” and get back entirely different answers based on how the battlefield is constructed. If the battlefield is full of minions with the elite forces represented as normal monsters and the leaders as elites, then you have once answer; if you throw two dozen underleveled-but-not-minion monsters at a party, that’s an entirely different answer, and the question “What ranking are these NPCs?” is entirely answered by “What role and level of importance are you, the GM, assigning them?”

            And anyway, if you want to do this kind of shenenigans in 4E, you just send a Changeling Bard who’s picked up all of the skill-boosting Utility powers and items. It’s not quite the “I win, no save.” of 3E/PF, but it does mean that either the GM goes way outside the recommended range of target numbers or lets you solo every skill challenge that anyone could conceivably talk their way out of.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah, but you can extrapolate how NPCs would interact with footsoldiers by how PCs of the same level interact with them. A “minion” is not something a particular creature is, it’s a way of relating to a particular creature. I ran a campaign that spent a fair bit of time on the battlefield dealing with ordinary troops even as the PCs gained levels, so I’ve put some though into how to handle it in a satisfying way that maintains some degree of meaningful simulation. Pardon my incoming wall of text.

            So basically, characters of low-heroic level see footsoldiers as ordinary creatures that they interact with in ordinary ways; a low-heroic mage is basically like an upgraded archer on the battlefield. Once you reach mid-to-high heroic tier, footsoldiers are more like minions, and mages can rip through them with their spells. That was what I was thinking of when I said a level 7 battlemage might kill 60 soldiers, although in 4e wizards get at-will AOEs, so they can actually pop multiple minions a turn all day if they line up right. Once you get into paragon tier, the characters are too powerful for soldiers to even be minions relative to them. So the solution I came up with was to treat a whole platoon of soldiers as a single “swarm”-type creature, using the same rules as for, like, a swarm of rats. This still leaves battlemages as a powerful battlefield force, since AOE attacks deal much more damage against swarms. This makes paragon characters feel more like Musou game protagonists or MOBA characters, treating small-fry enemies not individually but as a collective stream to be dealt with. At this level, battlemages are making significant differences in a battle by themselves, but this is okay in terms of setting, because paragon-tier characters are pretty rare, and you can’t build your nation’s military around one guy, even if he is named Lu Bu. My game never got to epic tier, but at that point I was figuring I would have platoons become minions themselves to give the players a feeling of whole armies being cut down by their might like blades of grass. But again, this doesn’t have negative impacts on the setting, because there are only a few epic level characters on the Prime Material, and they’re like, an ancient dragon sleeping under a mountain, or the BBEG in his fortress. So that’s how I think 4e’s combat rules cash out in terms of in-setting military.

            As for your other point, Eberron-specific races don’t count for these purposes, because Eberron isn’t the assumed setting. We know what happens to a world when you let Changeling Bards waltz around. It gets all steampunky and gross.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            That is an interesting set of assumptions, and I remember reading something very similar done with minion-swarms in one of the articles back when Wizards was on their old site.

            Did you go so far as to, e.g., hand out the persistent Dazed condition if the Paragon party attacked a platoon from ambush or while they were in camp and could alpha-strike the leadership?

            Also, what was the relative number of paragon PCs to, for example, nation-states? In a massive war scenario with dozens of battles going on, the ability to deploy PCs to any one of them might not turn the tide against an army that outnumbers yours 20 to 1, but on the other hand, if you can set your army to doing 100% delaying tactics while the PCs run around and gobble up the largest concentration of forces (or just run for the other empire’s capital and do horrible PC things to its infrastructure).

            This gets to kind of a meta-level thing I’ve found. I always want to have at least a conceptual framework for anything I can anticipate the PCs doing; it complicates my world with needing to re-evaluate everything from festivals to civic organization to small unit tactics, but when you don’t do the work and leave it to “PCs are rare enough that they don’t noticeably change the optics of the setting”, when the PCs do intervene, there’s no framework for making them not kick the setting over in the specific place they’re intervening.

            Plus, come on. Busting on Changelings (which are perfectly-servicable PC-level Dopplegangers) for being setting-specific material when you’re making up your own detailed setting-specific rules for handling huge numbers of CR five-less-than-party-level is a little hypocritical. (Plus, there’s at least one in the Dark Sun setting.) And if you do want to go full simulationist, Hats of Disguise and Imposter’s Armor exist; you can get almost the full monty of Party Team Changeling, you just need to spend money to do it at lower levels.

            Of course, since outfitting and supplying an army takes huge amounts of money as well…

          • suntzuanime says:

            Just because the PCs could treat platoons as swarms doesn’t mean they could solo whole concentrated armies: get enough swarms together, sit long enough in the stream of bodies, and it will eventually grind you down. The “fight defensively while waiting for the PCs to pick off all the armies in the field” strategy is best saved for epic level.

            The reason I fall back to the idea of high-level characters being too rare to significantly change the optics of the setting is that my key concern for worldbuilding is that it should make sense in a static manner, in the steady state. If the dynamic actions of the PCs upset the balance, good! At paragon-tier, the players should be having a real impact on the world, that’s something they generally enjoy. Now I can understand how in 3e, you’d need to think through all the implications in order to understand what sort of magical wards every important person has to have up at all times to keep from turning into the mind control slave of every passing wizard, but 4e is a lot less broken like that, and “kicking the setting over” feels more fun and agenty than stupid and overpowered.

            And, I dunno, I think you may be overvaluing the possibilities of a good disguise. If you take a wizard, of at least level 6, and specially train him as a spy (bluff isn’t a class skill so you might need to burn a feat), and then you deck him out in 14,000 gp in magic items ($140,000), you can get a disguise that will definitely stand up to ordinary scrutiny by random idiots, and has a decent chance of standing up to strong scrutiny by key lieutenants. A large portion of how strong this is going to be depends on how far you let “disguise” carry you; I would say that if you act seriously out of character for the person you’re disguised as you’d need to make a Bluff check without the disguise bonuses to keep people from realizing something was wrong, even if they didn’t realize you were an impostor per se. Yes, a specially-trained decently-high-level magical spy with magical item support can do some real work. I don’t know that it would be enough that you shouldn’t bother investing in an army, though. Especially since level 6 wizards don’t grow on trees so there’s a cap on how large your infiltrator army can get.

    • DrBeat says:

      This is similar to a question I had: given a game where the assumption is PCs are doing good things, and they can have healing powers, how do you stop them from, say, spending all of their time at a hospital healing people instead of going on adventures that are interesting to play out, but also not make them feel guilty about not doing so?

      I think this is way harder in, like, a modern setting game, where they know more about and thus interact more with society, and you can’t change society because then the setting isn’t the same. In D&D, you can just say “Yeah, day-to-day life is very different from how it was in Ye Olden Dayes due to magic. But since the only time you spend in town is when you’re re-supplying or hunting a monster, it’s not actually that important to you. You can go out adventuring because there is a third-level cleric in the town who cures diseases and casts Cure Light Wounds on people injured in accidents, it’s not like you’re wasting a huge opportunity for them or anything.”

      • gronald says:

        Usually in my games, part of character creation is a reminder: “make sure that you create a character that will want to do the adventure!”

        If someone ignored that reminder and created a character that wanted to spend all their time in the hospital healing people, I suppose I’d tell them that their character was now an NPC, and I’d invite them to bring in a new character that was more interested in doing the adventure.

        Of course it’s also partially my responsibility to generate an adventure that reasonable characters will want to do. Generally I tell them that the village is in danger and they’re the only ones who can save it. I think that would cause most rational characters to be interested in doing the adventure.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I’m now slightly intrigued by the idea of a medical (melo)drama themed DnD scenario.

  20. Scott Alexander says:

    Earthly Knight has been banned for two weeks for comments like the following:

    “Is that a serious question or are you vying for a spot in one of those compilations of ridiculous shit slatestarcodex commenters say?”

    “Congratulations, that’s got to be one of the most profoundly stupid things anyone has ever said on this website.”

    “I feel like I’m talking to one of my relatives with dementia.”

  21. Mark Lu says:

    What happened to the The Non-Libertarian FAQ? It’s currently a blank page.

  22. Mark says:

    When I was at school, an Arabic boy called my a rude name, so I responded, “You are shit.”
    He then accused me of racism, because, “shit is brown.”

    I agree with the SJW aim of showing consideration to others, and of recognising that we might not have fully understood their experience.

    The idea behind ‘cultural appropriation’ is basically good – don’t do stuff that is going to massively offend other people, or at least try to consider their feelings on the matter.

    The problem is, that these worthy principles have been hijacked by people like my Arabic friend above. They are either (1) cynically using the concepts as a lever to gain social power, or (2) making calls for consideration while having no consideration for others what-so-ever (always assuming the worst of others).

    So, as far as I’m concerned, SJW’s are guilty of conceptual appropriation. It makes me feel sad when they use concepts that are so important to me, to such disagreeable ends. In fact, where I come from, we don’t really have any special hats or snacks with which we strongly identify. All we have are our attitudes to life and the way we treat others.
    So, yeah. “Cultural Appropriation” is cultural appropriation.

    • Aapje says:

      I think that there is a nr (3) where people are conditioned to be oversensitive, which causes them to see discrimination too easily.

      I’ve noticed that many examples of discrimination that people tell us/me that they experienced are actually merely possible discrimination. In my newspaper there was a black woman who explained that she experienced discrimination on a flight when the person next to her assigned seat looked unhappy when she took her seat. I could not help but notice her weight in the picture next to the article, which suggested another reason why people might be unhappy to be seated next to her, when economy airplane seats tend to be designed for Twiggy (a model with the weight of a twig).

      Similarly, in many other cases I feel that these people have a negative stereotype about white people/men, which causes them to assume bad faith, which causes them to draw negative conclusions about why white people/men say/do things, which makes their stereotypes stronger.

      This in turn can cause self-destructive behavior, like refusing to consider how their own behavior can have caused a bad outcome.

      I’ve also noticed that in Social Justice, there is a tendency to not actually talk directly to the person that people feel offended by, but complain on Twitter or such. The result is that these assumptions about why people do things never get corrected by actually talking to people and giving them a chance to explain.

      • keranih says:

        One behavior that seems to get people upset is “when (white) women hold onto their purse tighter when (black) men get into the elevator”.

        Leaving aside that yes, some people get more spooked by AA strangers than by Caucasian strangers, and that (in my experience) AA guys are more likely to give an eye-rake to gals than Caucasian guys –

        – leaving that aside, a bulky purse takes up a lot of room. Shifting it closer to the body is polite in the narrow space of an elevator. I do wonder how much “rudeness” is just over-sensitive perceptions, +/- a lack of willingness to shrug and go on with one’s life.

        (“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to fold their hands and do nothing” – this is true, but that doesn’t mean that folding ones hands is *never* called for.)

      • ChetC3 says:

        I think that there is a nr (3) where people are conditioned to be oversensitive, which causes them to see discrimination too easily.

        Many of whom express the belief that Christians or “straight white males” are the most persecuted minorities in modern America.

        • Aapje says:

          I never claimed that this was limited to SJW. In fact, as victim behavior is often rewarded with automatic sympathy and it is hard to defend your rights against people who claim to be victim and demand that you help them, more and more people are adopting victim rhetoric to get their way or defend their rights.

          I would also argue that there is a middle ground between ‘has no issues’ and ‘most persecuted minorities,’ where groups can have legitimate issues that ought to be addressed, even if they are not the worst of the worst. After all, as a society we can do more than one thing.

    • ChetC3 says:

      The problem is, that these worthy principles have been hijacked by people like my Arabic friend above. They are either (1) cynically using the concepts as a lever to gain social power, or (2) making calls for consideration while having no consideration for others what-so-ever (always assuming the worst of others).

      Curiously, I feel the same way about most anti-SJW and anti-PC types I’ve encountered. Of course, since I am self-evidently unbiased and highly rational, I can only conclude that while my feelings are justified, yours are merely the result of being an oversensitive bully.

      • Mark says:

        Yeah, I guess that’s where the scale and tone becomes important – if you’re being considerate you’re likely to have to moderate your views to some degree, present them in a certain way. Perhaps sometimes remain silent.

        So, we can probably tell who is being considerate by… hmmm.

        I’ll say no more.

        [Edit: I would say that we should respect the views of rabid SJWs, and do as they ask, but I’m increasingly worried that they’re actually dangerous. Look at all those attacks on Trump supporters. Perhaps they need a good shake to snap themselves out of it?]

        • Anonymousse says:

          Which do you think tracks better with considerateness: word count or post count?

          • Mark says:

            Inversely related to (controversial) post count. If I write a massively offensive screed, it won’t have the same impact as six snappy little offensive nuggets.

      • The Nybbler says:

        “I know you are but what am I” is an easy argument but not an especially useful or convincing one.

  23. Acedia says:

    It took about half a day after the publication of some articles about a group of white separatists and neo-Nazis who support Trump for the plebs on social media to start equating any sympathy or reasonableness towards Trump with white supremacism. I really hope that trend dies off quickly, or a year from now accusations of white supremacy are going to have about as much emotional impact as calling someone a big poopypants.

    • Reasoner says:

      +1, FFS.

    • shakeddown says:

      Maybe that’s for the best. We burn out the use of calling people white supremacists, and get back to talking more reasonably.

      OTOH, it might just lead to constant escalation. That would be exhausting.

  24. keranih says:

    In the spirit of the season, cross-aisle cooperation, and all that happy horse pucky –

    Vegan EA/LW types! Please to name and/or point me at recipes for your favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

    (*pinkie swear no arguments this thread about why Your Veganism Is Wrong. Just…tell me of your awesome food*)

    • Spookykou says:

      My brother is Vegan and I try to make sure he always has something good to eat for family meals because everyone else just spends the whole time asking him what exactly he can and can’t eat.

      I am making him Refried black bean and breakfast potato enchiladas in ‘creamy’ jalapeno salsa(google pollo regio verde salsa), along with a sauteed mushrooms Mexican rice pilaf, and some pineapple empanadas for desert. Which, is in line with what the rest of my family will be eating for Thanksgiving, but might not actually be what you were asking for.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I’m not vegan, but I have a go-to dish that I think fits the bill:

      Dice one butternut squash, one red onion, and one large russet potato into a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 375 until the edges of the potato pieces start to char. (Watch carefully. Cook too long and the squash gets mushy and less appetizing.)

      Sprinkle with thyme and/or parmesan to taste.

      • That would be a fine idea if my adult children were willing to eat squash.

        • Spookykou says:

          As an adult child, I normally refused to eat squash as well, but butternut squash was, to my surprise, delicious, and not at all like ‘normal’ squash. I don’t know if you have already tried and failed with it in the past, but if not, it might be worth a shot.

          • sflicht says:

            Squash is also, in my opinion, much better when it’s grilled or roasted (in a caramelizing way rather than a steaming sort of way) than when it’s cooked via other techniques.

          • Anonymousse says:

            Thirded! We enjoyed some baked butternut squash tonight, which I think works quite well.

    • Loquat says:

      I’m not a vegan and didn’t serve this at Thanksgiving this year, but this has sweet potatoes in it so…

      Sweet Potato/Beet/Lentil Soup:

      Roughly chop some sweet potato, beet, onion, and garlic (and/or ginger if you prefer).
      Saute in olive oil the onion and garlic (and/or ginger) until onion is translucent.
      Add beets and sweet potatoes, lentils, and water or broth. Add salt, and any herbs you think would improve the soup.
      Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until done.
      I like this pureed, but whatever floats your boat.

      Haven’t made this in a while, so I’m really not sure about quantities of anything.

  25. Trofim_Lysenko says:

    EDIT: Did the parent comment for this get deleted?

    Personally, I wish we could all just agree to ostracize both these people and people with this type of attitude*, and all go back to bastardizing every culture’s food and music. Forget the “salad bowl” and bring back the “melting pot.”

    Hear, Hear. Of course, the standard rejoinder to that from the SJ side is of of course we want that, it massively favors “our” culture over everybody else’s, and we are secretly being every bit as blatant in our identity politics as anyone else, we’re just pushing White America’s identity.

    I think this isn’t entirely correct, but I also don’t have an eloquent rebuttal for it beyond “American philosophical and cultural values are what they are based on history and tradition. Assimilation will change them, but slowly, and I value them too highly to want to shatter them for the sake of some fucked-up separate-but-equal multiculturalism that reduces social trust, increases political polarization, and in the long run is likely to be toxic to core values like individualism, prioritizing negative liberty over positive liberty, and so on”

    • Spookykou says:

      I think Scott’s universal culture idea could be used to push back on the idea that the culture of the melting pot is ‘white american culture’. If you are looking for a potential additional rebuttal to add to your position.

      • Anonymousse says:

        I thought of this too. Though I’ve been reconciling the universal culture idea with the Moloch idea and am not convinced that they aren’t too closely related for my comfort.

        That is, it may not be “white american culture” but that doesn’t mean it’s desirable.

    • onyomi says:

      Hey, sorry about that. I deleted, thinking no one had yet replied. Here’s the original, or I can put it back where it was:

      Since we’ve opened this can of worms:

      I used to think that the “control left,” a. k. a. SJWs, et al. were people on the right track but who went too far. People who got overzealous about laudable goals like gender and racial equality. Maybe they are that, but I am increasingly seeing the effect of their actions and ways of thinking as being not just sort of annoying or “too much of a good thing,” but actually directly counter to what I had always assumed was their end goal–a world in which people of different races, cultures, genders, etc. could live, work, and flourish side-by-side in peace.

      When I grew up, the message was always “treat everyone equally! Don’t judge by a person’s exterior! We’re all the same inside! A woman can be a scientist and a man can stay at home with the kids! Black people are just like you and me! Gay people are just like you and me! Here, try some sushi! You want to put cream cheese in it and make it taste like a bagel? Sure! Everyone can enjoy this culture in their own way.”

      At some point it shifted toward “historical injustices and imbalances must be redressed. You may not have inherited wealth, but you still benefit from historical power structures of privilege. You may not be a rapist, but if you question a rape victim you are supporting a culture of rape. Did you just tell me how to eat sushi, white boy? This is OUR cultural heritage.”

      I won’t wholly deny the premises of the latter views: obviously we still live with the legacies of many deep historical injustices perpetrated against women and minorities. But as soon as you switch your conclusion from “so now just treat everyone the same” to “so now treat some better than others” you are just dooming yourself to repeat the cycle from another direction. “Now it’s OUR turn” is no way to achieve peace. In fact, it’s a guarantee of initiating repeating cycles of conflict.

      Some would say I’m strawmanning the SJW position: one can be cognizant of, and work to redress, historical injustices without hating or harming the group blamed for the injustice. You can walk and chew gum at the same time. I would say that, on a societal level, at least, “no, you cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.” You cannot expect the average person to internalize a complex, nuanced ethos, or for such an ethos to be a uniting factor amongst diverse people.

      I think the advocates of racially or ethnically homogeneous states discussed above take as their premise that diversity doesn’t work. I don’t think that’s true. I think diversity can work, but not without an ethos of “everyone is the same, morally, legally, and on some fundamental human level transcending cultural, racial, linguistic, etc. differences.”

      Though I have an obvious preference about what choice I’d like to see America, and most places, make (though I’ve argued in favor of a balkanized US, I want it to balkanize according to preferred modes of government, not racial or cultural lines, though there would unavoidably be some overlap), I intend this as more of a descriptive argument than a normative argument: if you insist on continuing rhetoric and policies which try to “balance” historical injustice by giving special preferences and treatment to the oppressed groups, you’re going to get a backlash. You can’t have radical feminism without giving power to MRA. You can’t keep pushing for affirmative action-type policies for non-whites without giving power to white nationalists. And you can’t have people living in harmony while constantly telling them that one group is responsible for the others’ problems. There is no “nationalism for me, but not for thee.”

      This may not be fair in some world-historic sense and many individual women and minorities still suffer as a result of histories of discrimination. Sure, it’s easy for me, a straight, white man to say. But, I’m certainly not saying, “don’t continue to fight discrimination,” nor “don’t expect straight, white men to support you in the fight,” I’m just saying, fair or not, when you take it past “fight for equality,” “judge not by color of the skin but content of character,” etc. and to “redress historical injustice,” the backlash seems just to be unavoidable. You should add Toni Morrison to the syllabus, but leave out the part where you say “and this is because we read too many dead, white men.”

      Personally, I wish we could all just agree to ostracize both these people and people with this type of attitude*, and all go back to bastardizing every culture’s food and music. Forget the “salad bowl” and bring back the “melting pot.”

      *no, I’m not drawing moral equivalence between The Young Turks and neo-nazis, but the former is also much more influential and representative of a currently much more influential in society; I’m saying, if you insist on making everything about identity, identity, identity (and really, if you watch the whole video, it’s striking how their entire epistemology seems identity-based), you can’t be surprised when the hated group starts saying “me too!”

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        You deleted this? It is a very good essay. I especially liked these:

        “Now it’s OUR turn” is no way to achieve peace.

        Forget the “salad bowl” and bring back the “melting pot.”

        It might be tough to have a discussion on this, because the SJW thing is one area most commenters are strongly against. But it would be nice if we could have some arguments around the edges. For example, I am firmly against affirmative action because of issues you discussed.

        I also believe the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and especially of 1991 have been net negatives for the US. I think the over-use of those laws has caused much of the opaqueness in hiring where no one will admit to why they declined to hire someone or give references, and has also caused much of the “college as signaling” phenomenon, which has resulted in billions of wasted people hours in colleges, for people that didn’t really want to go to college. These laws have also increased racism, by making it appear that Blacks can only go to good colleges or get good jobs through tokenism.

        It is my opinion that racism will only decrease if it becomes a cultural belief that we should try to be color blind in most situations. Any law that treats one ethnicity different than another may sometimes have short-term beneficial effects, but will always result in more racism long-term.

        There, I think there will be disagreement on some of that.

      • Atlas says:

        I won’t wholly deny the premises of the latter views: obviously we still live with the legacies of many deep historical injustices perpetrated against women and minorities.

        I would suggest that “historical injustices” against minorities are not the most important source of the profound feelsbadman that many on the cultural left today feel. I think that the observable, real world, present day existence of racial and gender inequality, and the kind of folk knowledge that generates, is what really bothers them. Because they’ve been programmed with blank slate-ism, they then assume that these differences are the result of present and/or past discrimination, and then the fact that they aren’t being addressed makes them really angry.

        I hope this doesn’t come off as condescending, because that isn’t my intent, but regarding your comment in general I used to have similar views, and I associate what you’re saying with a sort of Jon Chait/Jonathan Haidt contrarian anti-political correctness liberalism. (And I would say that even some open hereditarians like Steven Pinker and Charles Murray fit in with this crowd. Also Scott Alexander is kind of like this himself.)

        But what I came to realize over time is that it’s really not enough to just be criticizing the norms and rules of current discourse, instantly equating different sides (“muh horseshoe theory”) and wishing that we could all just get along. There are really important substantive issues at hand, and they need to be explored instead of wished away. “Social Justice Warriors” are identifying real fissures in society, and at some point one needs to ask himself whether they’re right or wrong on the merits of their views instead of criticizing them for being loud and aggressive in promoting them.

        In other words, I agree with you that you can’t have social justice identity movement A without eventually producing reactionary identity movement B; I just think that there’s a confounding factor of real world problem C that’s leading to both. (As opposed to A leading to B.)

        • cassander says:

          >In other words, I agree with you that you can’t have social justice identity movement A without eventually producing reactionary identity movement

          why can’t we have a social justice movement that’s not obsessed with identity then? Why do we have to have one that calls proposals to de-identity it (e.g. class based instead of race based AA) racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.?

          • Atlas says:

            why can’t we have a social justice movement that’s not obsessed with identity then? Why do we have to have one that calls proposals to de-identity it (e.g. class based instead of race based AA) racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.?

            Because, as I said in the earlier comment, I think some real world issue is generating the identity issue. For example, you mentioned (race as opposed to class based) Affirmative Action; AA is an (ill-advised) response to the very real fact of persistent, large gaps in standardized, IQ-proxy, test scores between ethnic groups. Because people identify as parts of groups and care about how those groups do, ignoring this issue isn’t really feasible.

            That is to say, the thing Haidt calls for of divorcing identity politics from class politics doesn’t make sense to me because both identity and class issues are important and there’s really no reason that addressing one prevents you from addressing the other. So I feel that when people say stuff like this they’re (knowingly or not) avoiding confronting a difficult issue.

          • cassander says:

            >large gaps in standardized, IQ-proxy, test scores between ethnic groups. Because people identify as parts of groups and care about how those groups do, ignoring this issue isn’t really feasible.

            it’s certainly not feasible when you run around screaming about how everything is a racial issue and deliberately elevating racial consciousness. The original dream of the civil rights movement was integrationist and colorblindness, after all.

            But my complaint isn’t that the swjs have considered and rationally rejected race free alternatives, it’s that they actively condemn them as evil, and that is problematic. it makes the sort of good faith resolution of problems impossible.

            >there’s really no reason that addressing one prevents you from addressing the other.

            People only have so much political attention span. focusing on race, or any other issue, DOES drive class out of the discussion.

          • Atlas says:

            The original dream of the civil rights movement was integrationist and colorblindness, after all.

            I might respond to the other parts of your comment later, but for now I just want to make what I feel is an important point regarding this:

            The civil rights movement, and more broadly 1960s Great Society liberalism, was fundamentally based on the expectation that once legal barriers of segregation were removed racial gaps in metrics like crime rates and academic achievement would close naturally. They thought that by, say, 2016, there wouldn’t be any need for identity politics because the substantive differences between blacks and whites would have disappeared. That hasn’t really happened, to say the least.

          • cassander says:

            @atlas

            > They thought that by, say, 2016, there wouldn’t be any need for identity politics because the substantive differences between blacks and whites would have disappeared. That hasn’t really happened, to say the least.

            Integrationism cannot be called a failure because it was never tried. It was was dropped in favor of identity politics almost the instant the integrationist goals were achieved. The civil rights act is signed in 64. In 65, an executive order is issued coining the term “affirmative action” and we start getting quotas not long after that.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            And to add to that, you can’t expect that a law immediately solves the problem.

            Many civil rights are primarily won because the culture changes, not because the law enforces something on a completely unwilling population. In most cases, you see gradual societal changes over time and somewhere along the way, there is enough support to make a law. Then this law often accelerates the culture change, but it fundamentally keeps being a gradual process, as it was before the law.

            When it comes to race, we do see that white people have become more and more accepting of black people. For example, in 1988, about 20% wouldn’t vote for a black presidential candidate. That dropped to about 5% in 2010. About 68% of Americans objected to an interracial marriage of a close relative in 1990, that dropped to about 24% in 2010. Those are pretty big drops, which were still happening 30 years after the civil rights act.

            I would also argue that a major reason why integration is not going so well is that policies have been adopted that greatly reduce social mobility (aka the American Dream) for everyone, but that these disproportionately hit black people as these changes came just as many of the oppressive policies against the black population were abandoned. At that point black people were already disproportionately poor and their situation didn’t improve because of this barrier, but the same is actually true for poor white people. Because we notice that rich white people stay on top and notice the poor black people not being very upwardly mobile, it looks like integration failed, but really, black poor people are actually doing quite similarly to poor white people. The lack of representation of black people in the upper echelons is not so much that they are held down, but rather, that everyone is kept in their place. If you would change the genes of all currently poor white people so that they would have green skin color, we’d be talking about how there is a permanent underclass of green people in 20 years time. It’s just that we can’t see this now, because poverty correlates strongly with black skin color due to historical reasons, but not with white skin color, as many white people managed to escape poverty when this was much easier than during the last decades.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The civil rights movement, and more broadly 1960s Great Society liberalism, was fundamentally based on the expectation that once legal barriers of segregation were removed racial gaps in metrics like crime rates and academic achievement would close naturally.

            Who said so at the time? My impression is that ending such legal barriers as segregation were an end in themselves, not merely a means to an end.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Neither SJWs nor their white supremacist opposites are interested in exploring the substantive issues at hand. They both already claim to have the answer and that anyone questioning that answer is part of the problem. Until neither is able to dominate the field of discourse the way SJWs do, there can’t be a lot of substantive discussion.

        • onyomi says:

          @Atlas

          I won’t complain about comparisons to any of those people!

          When I say we need an ethos of “everyone is the same on the inside,” I mean on some fundamental level of moral value, not that every group is literally the same. I do think there are average differences in traits among groups and that those differences affect outcomes.

          However, I think the stories we tell ourselves (“folk wisdom”) make a big difference in how we go about potentially addressing those issues. The key point for me is that focus on group identity as defined by race, sex, and sexuality, has a toxic effect: you are stuck in an unending battle where you try to figure out why there aren’t e. g. more women physicists and Asian basketball stars. Doesn’t mean you can’t report with extra excitement when a Jocelyn Burnell or Jeremy Lin comes along. It does mean that your go-to explanation shouldn’t be “I guess the NBA is just biased against Asians” in the absence of evidence other than the fact of their under representation.

          That is, I think you can have a society in which not every group is equally represented in every pursuit, yet which still functions harmoniously, but not if you keep interpreting that fact as prima facie evidence of something nefarious. Which is not to say one shouldn’t fight individual cases of discrimination, but when you have this race-gender-sexuality-based group identitarian epistemology, everything becomes evidence of something nefarious. I am currently leading a task force to determine why the fashion industry is biased against straight men.

          Regarding substantive underlying differences and how to solve them: firstly, they may not need to be “solved” per se, for reasons stated above. Secondly, though I think average differences exist among groups, I think that having good laws and institutions is much more important than say, IQ, in determining whether or not everyone can achieve a level of success and prosperity they’ll be happy with: look at North versus South Korea: same genetics, same culture, very different outcomes.

          That’s an extreme example, of course, but I also think we’re far from having picked all the low-hanging fruit in terms of making US laws and institutions more conducive to flourishing, especially for the poor of all races, as Aapje describes.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            onyomi wrote: When I say we need an ethos of “everyone is the same on the inside,” I mean on some fundamental level of moral value, not that every group is literally the same.

            The way I usually address this point is to say that “everyone is the same under the law”. That is, everyone is naturally different, but in a formal societal system, the approach ought to be to assume sameness. This usually suffices for the average Westerner.

            (Obviously, for ancap advocates such as yourself, “under the law” has a sense in which it wouldn’t apply well. But in this case, I read your calling for a common ethos as your declaration for what rights enforcement system you would prefer. The rest of my argument then works out the same way, I think.)

            More generally, then: given that a rights enforcer encounters any case as a blank slate, that enforcer should assume all humans have equal rights, and equal obligations imposed upon the enforcer.

            Obviously, when resolving a case, there will be differences in how each individual is treated. If I knock over my neighbor’s fence, the enforcer will not bill both of us for the cost of repairing it. We will not get equal treatment under the law in the end. But the intent here is clearly that the enforcer should weigh information about the act much more than information about the personal attributes of the actor. The fact that I am white should have virtually no weight; the fact that I knocked over the fence should have virtually all weight.

            I think this is consistent with most Western intuition about justice and the law. But I can already tell you of at least one strong counter to it. In many cases, the cause of the broken fence is not a finding of fact, nor the reasoning of the actor, if there was one. Suppose my neighbor claims I knocked over his fence, and I claim that I did not, and the enforcer cannot find any physical evidence of my doing so (footprints from my doorstep, for example). One explanation is that I am lying; another is that my neighbor is; a third is that either or both of us is mistaken (a stray dog hit his fence; I overwatered the grass and weakened the ground near it).

            Determining which explanation is most likely is the enforcer’s job, and the enforcer must be efficient. What if the most efficient / likely explanation is that one of us is lying? And what if that’s based on the enforcement agency’s detailed statistics about who had been lying in previous cases? …and what if those statistics suggest that lying strongly correlates with some phenotype readily observed in the parties involved, such as gender or financial well-being?

            My characterization of such a state of affairs is that there’s a conflict for the enforcement agency between being efficient and therefore saving its constituents’ money, and avoiding heuristics that, if known or even suspected, would lead to erosions of public trust, manifesting ultimately as rights infringements that would likewise damage the agency’s capacity to provide its services efficiently. Both would impact its bottom line. In practice, I don’t know how those balance out. I know that if I were advertising enforcement, I would make a bet on avoiding such policies being cheaper in the long run, but there honestly could be confounders.

      • Anonymousse says:

        Thanks onyomi, this was an interesting read! Sorry you deleted earlier. Your bit about the message when you grew up reminds me a bit of this. The difference between “different things are interesting and fun to learn about” and “you can’t have different things, and also shame on you for not knowing things are different”. I have been reluctant to inquire about things out of fear that my ignorance will be mistaken for something more insidious.

        if you insist on continuing rhetoric and policies which try to “balance” historical injustice by giving special preferences and treatment to the oppressed groups, you’re going to get a backlash

        What do you think of the idea of initiatives like affirmative action as a shortcut?

        I understand the validity of arguments on the efficacy of such programs, whether the pros outweigh the cons, and how much of the problem is attributable to the issues purportedly addressed, but I am curious if you think the premise of implementing programs for addressing current systematic biases (which I do believe contribute a non-trivial amount to imbalances) in pursuit of a more expedient path to a more egalitarian society is worthwhile. That is, achieve a faster response at the expense of some overshoot.

        To your melting pot point, which I am pretty on board with, I am curious how cultural trading shifted toward cultural stealing. Preservation is important to understanding context, but progress (via cultural comparison shopping, in this case) should be the primary goal.

        • onyomi says:

          “What do you think of the idea of initiatives like affirmative action as a shortcut?”

          That used to make sense to me: we’ll just use this idea as a temporary measure to give historically disadvantaged people a “leg up.” When things equalize, we’ll get rid of it.

          Thing is, I think this is, in reality, both rhetorically and practically harmful. Rhetorically, it keeps the focus on “redressing historical injustice, which, by the way, are the reason this group has worse outcomes” rather than “let’s create a system which treats everyone the same*,” which is, imo, the only real basis for a harmoniously diverse society.

          Additionally, like most education related initiatives, I think it confuses cause and effect and distorts things in a way which only delays people actually finding a place in society they can be happy with. As I say here, I don’t think you need every group equally represented in every pursuit in order for a diverse society to be harmonious. I think you just need a perception that the outcome is fair–that everyone has the opportunity to compete on a level playing field if they want to.

          The cause and effect problem is the notion that people who go to Harvard become rich and successful because they went to Harvard, rather than the reality, which I think is closer to “Harvard is really good at letting in people who are likely to become rich and successful.” It’s like saying “successful people in our society all seem to wear expensive watches; let’s start a program subsidizing fancy watches for poor people.” It’s true that, upon seeing your watch, employers might be impressed, but it doesn’t change the fact that what was keeping you from a good job wasn’t the lack of a watch.

          I think that, generally speaking, anything cited as a “temporary measure” for changing society is probably not going to be a good idea and may even delay or prevent the change you’re hoping to see, since, even if it comes about, it may be dependent on the temporary measure. For example, let’s say your physics department only gets 20% applications from women. You institute a program of big scholarships for female applicants. The number jumps to 50%. Huzzah, misogyny defeated! Ten years later, you phase out the scholarship and female applicants drop back to 20%. Huh, I guess misogyny ran deeper than we thought…

          You dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And I think you should have the laws of the society you want, not the one you have.

          Edit to add: *Though I have previously argued against overpoliticization of entertainment, sports, etc. and still think that can be harmful, I do also think this meme makes a good point, which is that now, at least, the right has started to reflexively dismiss seemingly all identity-related protests, even peaceful protests about specific cases of perceived unequal treatment, as just obnoxious PC whining. I think this is the wrong attitude to have. At the same time as I want to reject more unequal treatment as a solution to past unequal treatment, I think we also have to respect peaceful protests against perceived unequal treatment as a legitimate part of getting to the place where everyone can feel they are treated equally–maybe not fairly, but equally.

          • Anonymousse says:

            I think you correctly identify that arguing over “when things equalize” is getting in the way of implementing anything close to a working strategy. If you can’t decide on the end goal (ie, requiring 50% women in the physics department vs providing women with equivalent opportunities to obtain positions in the physics department), you’re never going to reach a solution.

            I am most in favor of the latter, but I see some merit in pushing the former initially to build a new norm. Perhaps your physics department is at 20% women, and you artificially push it to 50%. After removing the band-aid, instead of falling back to 20%, it falls back to an intermediate value (say, 34%) which is more representative of a natural equilibrium.

            I don’t know if this is the best solution, but it’s what I meant by a faster response with overshoot. Or, for another metaphor, jump starting the equilibrium.

            Do you have any methods that you think would function better to alleviate systematic (not preferential) disparities? Or are the two issues too coupled, such that results from any attempt to address the first (which I generalize as a messaging/environment problem) will be obfuscated by noise?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Two problems with affirmative action until things equalize.

            1. What if things don’t equalize (e.g. black or female representation in engineering). In practice what we get is unending demands for more affirmative action.

            2. What if they do, and even overshoot? (e.g. female college admissions). Do we actually see calls to end programs attempting to advantage the formerly underrepresented minority? No, we do not.

            Therefore any call for affirmative action as a temporary measure should be taken similarly to a temporary tax proposal.

          • Aapje says:

            One of my issues with social justice is that they tend to believe in 100% nurture, which results in the assumption that any field would have a 50/50 distribution without ‘oppression.’ So they tend to reason back that any non-equal distribution proves that oppression still exist.

            In actual fact, we have very strong evidence that men’s and women’s brains are biological different (this is seen in babies who already display gender-typical preferences for gendered toys, which are the same preferences shown by humanoid apes).

            We also see greater gender-typical choices of occupation in the most feminist countries, like Sweden, while way more women choose STEM in highly oppressive countries like Iran. This strongly suggests that 100% equal choices for each gender can only be achieved through oppression.

            So I believe that Social Justice has adopted a world view which will make them eternally discriminate against/’in favor of’ people to force them to make similar choices, making both men and women unhappy.

            PS. Fun fact: women’s happiness has been going down over the last few centuries, as women have become more liberated. I’m certainly not a traditionalist who wants women back in the kitchen, but I think that we are doing the equality thing wrong when people get less happy.

          • Iain says:

            PS. Fun fact: women’s happiness has been going down over the last few centuries, as women have become more liberated. I’m certainly not a traditionalist who wants women back in the kitchen, but I think that we are doing the equality thing wrong when people get less happy.

            I have no idea how you would measure women’s happiness across centuries in any meaningful way. I suspect that you are misremembering something you read about decades, which has the advantage of at least being plausible, but the disadvantage of probably being untrue, or at least misrepresented.

          • Aapje says:

            That was a brain fart, I meant decades.

            As for your link, it supports my point. The link dismisses the claim that ‘in postfeminist America, men are happier than women,’ but my claim was that ‘in postfeminist America, women are less happier than before.’

            The data in that page shows that substantially fewer women are ‘Very happy’ than before; and more ‘Pretty happy’ and ‘Not too happy’ women. So your data shows a decrease.

          • Iain says:

            My point is that five percent of women replying differently to a survey today than they did fifty years ago is the sort of thing that could be easily be caused by changing norms about how important it is to put on a happy face, rather than any underlying change. It’s an awfully weak straw on which to rest any broad conclusions about societal happiness. Furthermore, I hope I don’t have to point out that correlation is by no means causation.

            Broader responses to your earlier post, now that I have a spare moment: claiming that “SJWs tend to believe in 100% nurture” is about as useful as claiming that “sexists and racists tend to believe in 100% nature”. You can certainly find people on either side who will argue that, but taking shots at those people is unlikely to be productive. A less weak-manned version of the “SJW” stance: 50 years ago, I could tell any number of just-so stories about how law and medicine were naturally more appealing fields to men than to women; now, nearly 50% of graduates in those fields are women. It used to be that there just weren’t enough good female violinists – then orchestras started doing blind auditions, and suddenly the caliber of female musicians improved. This is not the sort of change that happens overnight. It takes time. Why should we assume that the gender balance in any given field has reached its “natural” level, when that claim has been so unreliable in the past?

            (A similar argument also applies in discussions about the wage gap. Why should I believe that the current wage gap simply represents different priorities between men and women, if the same argument was being deployed twenty years ago in defense of a larger gap?)

          • “claiming that “SJWs tend to believe in 100% nurture” is about as useful as claiming that “sexists and racists tend to believe in 100% nature”.”

            “Believe” may be too strong. But a lot of people, most of whom are not SJW’s, reason as if they believed in 100% nurture. That’s the only way I can see of getting an argument of the form “there are fewer women than men in field X, therefor women are being discriminated against,” and similarly for racial groups.

            The pattern in law schools over time is strong evidence that women are not innately less good at law, or at least not by much, than men, hence that the extreme disproportion as of fifty years ago was due to environmental rather than genetic effects.

            But the usual claim is not merely “women have been discriminated against in some fields” but “if there are not equal numbers of women (blacks, hispanics, …) in a field, that demonstrates discrimination.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Iain, 50 years ago someone could have said women were less interested in law and medicine and that’s why there were fewer in those fields, but did they in fact say so? And was there the obvious lack of legal and traditional barriers to women entering those fields that there is now with technology fields?

            Blind auditions seem to be as close to an overnight change as you can get. But you are unlikely to find anything similar in technical fields because the disparity occurs before anything similar to auditions. Feminists have a bingo card for ‘pipeline’, but it is true nevertheless.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “Believe” may be too strong. But a lot of people, most of whom are not SJW’s, reason as if they believed in 100% nurture.

            Yup. Cf. Larry Summers.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            The others have addressed the ‘what do they believe issue’ (and note that I said ‘tend’ so I allowed for exceptions, although I believe that the mainstream of SJ use theories that are based on 100% nurture).

            Why should we assume that the gender balance in any given field has reached its “natural” level, when that claim has been so unreliable in the past?

            My argument is not that we have necessarily reached the natural level, my claim is that the natural level is unknowable, so when we force the issue, it is quite likely that we overshoot.

            Furthermore, the ‘they were pushed into it against their natural inclinations’ is not necessarily done only by traditional gender norms. Feminists are spreading their own gender norms, which can cause the same thing, but in reverse. For example, we may end up with women unhappily in CEO positions, STEM or whatever, because they feel that they have to do so for womanhood/feminism/whatever. I don’t see how this is better than erring in the other direction. In both cases, people end up in jobs that do not maximize their happiness.

            Now, I’ve never seen a SJ person talk about this possibility, which is just one example of why I believe that they tend to be extremely biased in only allowing some possibilities in their analysis, which severely compromises the trust I can place in them, to recognize overshooting.

            In fact, in education we appear to have already overshot and they don’t show anywhere near the same concern as when women were doing worse and instead they generally just move on to the next place where women do worse, which shows me (again, with a ton of other evidence as well), that most SJ people are not egalitarians but advocates for one group. Advocates cannot be trusted to do egalitarian things.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman: Lots of people reason poorly on all sides of an argument. I question, though, how frequently people point to statistics about under-representation of a group in some profession without also making some sort of claim about the cause of that discrepancy. Commonly, they will point to a person who feels they were poorly treated in that field. You might disagree with that characterization, but in that case the argument is not based solely on the assumption of 100% nurture.

            To frame the argument in a different way: we don’t know what percentage of the discrepancy is caused by sexism, and what percentage is caused by differences in natural aptitude or inclination. We are, empirically speaking, quite unreliable at assessing natural aptitude and inclination. So let’s start by taking a shot at fixing the parts we can control (reducing discrimination, making sure that young women have role models and mentors, and so on), and let the chips fall as they may.

            In practice, the actual point of disagreement in this debate is about whether we have Solved Racism and Sexism yet.

            @Aapje: The idea that somebody could accidentally become a CEO does not pass the smell test for me. I am not concerned about that, any more than I am concerned that feminism will push men into daycare jobs that they end up hating. There are lots of possible career paths, and most people only end up taking one. Social pressure can plausibly cause a person to rule out their top pick in favour of their second or third. It is much harder to convince somebody to abandon all of their personal inclinations and go into a job that doesn’t suit them in the slightest.

            Also: isn’t it interesting that as soon as women make up the majority of college students, it is suddenly clear that we have “overshot”. Revealing, that.

          • onyomi says:

            Warren Farrell is an interesting, if seemingly rare, example of a feminist who switched to advocating for men’s issues when he perceived that many feminists had basically “overshot” in shifting from a presumption of equal custody rights to advocating for women to be privileged over men in that area.

            I especially like him because he didn’t switch to being acrimonious toward feminism; he basically just says, “I think this is where more of my attention is needed now,” and tries to consistently advocate for equality across the board. That is, his seems to me the ideal response to a perceived overshoot: not to overshoot in the opposite direction, but to just sort of calmly try to pull things toward the center.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Also: isn’t it interesting that as soon as women make up the majority of college students, it is suddenly clear that we have “overshot”. Revealing, that.

            If having less than 50% women is prima facie evidence of misogyny (which a lot of people think it is), why wouldn’t having more than 50% women be prima facie evidence of misandry?

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            The idea that somebody could accidentally become a CEO does not pass the smell test for me.

            I don’t understand where you read that ‘accidentally’ in my comments. It is very apparent to me that people have choices in their lives and that they often base these choices on social pressure.

            One such choice is whether or not to climb the corporate ladder or not. I am merely arguing that there are two failure modes: people who more suited for a CEO job choosing to not climb the ladder and people who are not very suited for a CEO who choose to climb the ladder.

            Of course, the career ladder is highly selective, so in practice, most people in that second group would not make it to CEO* (they can still end up miserable on that ladder, though).

            * Just like the people who are actually suited

            I am not concerned about that, any more than I am concerned that feminism will push men into daycare jobs that they end up hating.

            The opposite is happening, actually, because feminism frequently enforces the ‘women are nurturers narrative’ and especially, because they tend to spread the ‘men are dangerous to women and children’ narrative. For example, NOW supports the primary carer model and argued against shared parenting as the default, by implying that men are a threat to children.

            Feminism is not actually 100% anti-patriarchal, it usually adopts patriarchal ideas when that benefits women.

            There are lots of possible career paths, and most people only end up taking one. Social pressure can plausibly cause a person to rule out their top pick in favour of their second or third. It is much harder to convince somebody to abandon all of their personal inclinations and go into a job that doesn’t suit them in the slightest.

            That still results in suboptimal outcomes. Furthermore, I feel that you overestimate how suited people already are for the jobs that they consider viable. Many seem to have pretty vague ideas about what suits them and end up making a short list based on bad criteria, like social pressure. My guess is that within that short list, their choice is considerably better, although it can still be impacted by social pressure.

            That second or third choice may then be considerably worse choices on average than the first choice that they would make with less pressure.

            Also: isn’t it interesting that as soon as women make up the majority of college students, it is suddenly clear that we have “overshot”. Revealing, that.

            I strongly suspect that women are as intelligent as men. Also, preference for a certain field doesn’t influence the total population of college students.

            If way more men choose STEM and way more women choose to study to be veterinarians, you can still have a 50/50 distribution of college students overall. Those things are not the same at all, as the field of preference is a completely different variable than a preference for college vs non-college.

            In any case, I currently see evidence for discrimination against men in education, which I want to see reduced. If that is addressed and there is still an education gap, I am perfectly willing to entertain the idea that the gap is natural.

            However, my criticism stands that the same people who argue that worse outcomes for women are proof of oppression of women and must be addressed, rarely use the same logic when the situation is reversed. The college situation shows that hypocrisy the clearest, as it was a major feminist issue when women did worse, but they moved on once men did worse.

          • Anonymousse says:

            @ Mr. X

            Otoh, if having greater than 50% males in field X is not evidence of misogyny, why does having greater than 50% females in field Y automatically serve as evidence?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Otoh, if having greater than 50% males in field X is not evidence of misogyny, why does having greater than 50% females in field Y automatically serve as evidence?

            It doesn’t, and I personally have never claimed otherwise. I just want to see a little consistency on the part of people who do say things like “Of course this field is sexist, only a small proportion of academics in it are women.”

          • “However, my criticism stands that the same people who argue that worse outcomes for women are proof of oppression of women and must be addressed, rarely use the same logic when the situation is reversed.”

            A much more striking case is the difference in life expectancy.

            So far as social pressure pushing people into the wrong field, my main worry for women would be that some who would be happy in a career as housewife/mother avoid it because they see it as low status or failing their sex.

            On the case of college students, I don’t see any presumption that the natural division is 50/50. But I think it is arguable that K-12 schooling as it now exists is biased towards women in the sense of being done in a way that works better for girls than for boys.

            Going back to my general point, how often do you see anyone on the left say “there are more men than women in this field, that might be due to innate differences, but … ?”

            You might consider the response Larry Summers got for saying essentially that.

            If the implicit assumption is not 100% nurture, why don’t people arguing for the existence of discrimination focus on the evidence for such discrimination rather than the observed difference of outcome?

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Whatever you may think of its quality, or the extent to which it is threatened by the replication crisis, there is in fact a large literature in support of the existence of (gender and other) discrimination that doesn’t involve making flatfooted inferences from unequal representation, and this literature is cited all the time by people trying to argue that discrimination exists.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman

            So far as social pressure pushing people into the wrong field, my main worry for women would be that some who would be happy in a career as housewife/mother avoid it because they see it as low status or failing their sex.

            I assure you that this is an area that feminists have spent a long time worrying (and arguing) about amongst themselves. There is lots of internal disagreement on the matter – feminism is not a monolith.

            On the case of college students, I don’t see any presumption that the natural division is 50/50. But I think it is arguable that K-12 schooling as it now exists is biased towards women in the sense of being done in a way that works better for girls than for boys.

            I think this is at least plausible. I think it’s worth some introspection, though, to consider why this argument often seems compelling to people who reject the argument in the other direction (whether in schools or, say, in terms of employment opportunities). There are plenty of people who like to call feminists hypocrites for their purported lack of concern, but people who weren’t concerned when the shoe was on the other foot have forfeited the moral high ground.

            I endorse Philosophisticat’s answer to your general question.

      • keranih says:

        I largely agree with this.

        My best preference is that we have a stewpot of different cultural “chunks” – different sorta discrete cultures that are not the same, but that have their own preferences and best practices, all flavoring the others (and flavored by them) just by existing in the same space.

        We should be able to talk about the positives each sort of people brings to the table. And we should be willing to say that we can do this melting pot *because* of a Western Caucasian ideal of Enlightenment thought.

        I like my particular Caucasian American subculture, and I think it’s the best (although not without downsides), but I’m perfectly willing to allow other people to say that they think theirs is best. So long as we can all do that, and argue about particulars on the edges, I’m good.

        We start saying (as the ctrl-L has been saying for a while) that all others can have a distinct culture, but not me, or that my culture is the cause of all the downsides to the other cultures, that I’m not cool with.

        One thing that the ctrl-L says that I think has some merit is that past injustices take time to dissolve, and so people whose grandparent’s homes were redlined are going to start at a lower economic level, and therefore in places with crappier schools, etc. I am open to discussion of how to deal with this, but I think most attempts to address this have turned out similar to Pigford – handouts/lottery tickets for those who can not justify receiving that remediation, and so reduces the wealth of the nation without actually helping anyone.

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, I like my melting pot “chunky,” as well, but the key point is that it’s all still bound together by a cheesy fondue sauce/set of core shared assumptions.

          I think there probably is/should be space in the world for places which intentionally try to stay out of “universal culture.” “Keep Iceland Icelandic!” may be a justifiable slogan. But if anywhere seems like it should be a melting pot, it’s the US (because of its size, history, and existing high level of diversity).

        • Anonymousse says:

          Being open to a discussion about addressing “dissolving injustices”, do you have any ideas about systems that might work better, or know anyone who is considering these things in detail that you might be able to share?

          • Aapje says:

            I would argue that (more or less) maximizing social mobility would maximize the ability of anyone to convert their talents into societal success.

            The big advantage of that is that everyone who is born into poor circumstances benefits, not just those with a certain skin color, gender, etc. Ultimately, I don’t see why a child born in poverty partly due to being descended from slaves has drawn a worse lot in life than a child born to drug addicted parents in a trailer park.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Aapje

            Agreed, and to my mind that gets right back to public education. NOT necessarily college (there’s an average, what, 4 million skilled trade job openings that go unfilled for over a year in the US?), either, I think that the post WW2 GI Bill and later reforms have inflated job requirements to the point that bachelor’s degrees are simply overly expensive (and often not even ACCURATE) signalling tools for most employers.

            So, National Education Reform, another of the perennial wrangles, but definitely one where I think there’s room for significant improvement.

            Any other areas you’d identify?

          • Aapje says:

            I’m not American, so I don’t really focus on specific fixes to American law.

            When it comes to education, there is a lot of evidence that the disadvantaged have difficulty making huge upward jumps and are better off with a system where they can gradually up their game. They are often quite afraid of failure (sensible, given their knowledge of how low one can sink), so it works best if there are many smallish steps that work sort of as save points in a game, where they can go back to that point and easily branch off in a different direction, without their ambition costing them hugely. Of course, this also means that educational feature should preferably not cause debt.

            Another issue is to prevent low expectations from holding people back, for example, in my country we found that teachers put too much stock into the background of the children when giving advice about what school level they can do, so smart children from a poor background get advice that is too low and dumber children from a rich background get advice that is too high. Using objective test that merely measure ability improves on this.

            I would also argue that it is important to prevent ghettos. Research shows that mixing of different classes doesn’t actually provide much interaction, but it does help prevent major concentrations of problems where the local authorities become totally overtaxed and you get hopeless us vs them scenarios that you see in certain American and French enclaves. For example, the police becomes so afraid of this concentration of problems that they both overpolice and underpolice, by often giving up on trying to police minor issues within the area (that often do matter a lot to citizens there, like neighbor disputes), but when they do act, they overdo it out of fear and because no one assists them in figuring out what happened. So they assume the worst. Then the people in the area lose faith in the police even more, which makes them refuse to assist the police even more, etc. The citizens and police in the surrounding areas and become fearful of the bad neighborhood, so they start reporting & detaining every black person that ventures into their neighborhood, which results in the people in the bad neighborhood becoming even more insular and ingroupy, etc, etc.

            And then there is the issue of the disappearing middle class, which traditionally allowed a gradual path from lower to upper class and vice versa.

          • Anonymousse says:

            I’m on board with all of that.

            Unfortunately, what little I’ve read about the nominee for education secretary does little to inspire confidence. From what I’ve heard of school vouchers, they sound very inefficient for improvements per student.

        • Brad says:

          Changing the metaphor from the original metallurgical meaning to the modern cooking version is already a shift in the manner you suggest. Metals almost always form solutions while soups and stews rarely do.

  26. HeelBearCub says:

    Before the election various people were very concerned about the possibility that giving money to the Clinton Foundation (which did not personally enrich the Clintons and did genuinely good charity work) offered the possibility of corrupt “pay-to-play” scenarios where money that went to the foundation could be assumed to sway Hillary as SOS.

    If you did feel this was a legitimate line of thinking, do you still?

    How concerned are you about the fact the Trump’s businesses allow for directly enriching Trump and his children? How much do you care that Trump has absolutely shattered the norm against this kind of conflict of interest?

    • cassander says:

      >If you did feel this was a legitimate line of thinking, do you still?

      Yes and yes. The foundation is corrupt. and it did personally enrich them, to the tune of millions in travel expenses at the very least.

      >How concerned are you about the fact the Trump’s businesses allow for directly enriching Trump and his children? How much do you care that Trump has absolutely shattered the norm against this kind of conflict of interest?

      Trump didn’t shatter that norm, the Clintons already did. And even they weren’t the first. LBJ was literally dirt poor growing up, worked for the government his entire life, yet managed to be one of the richest people ever to be president, largely by getting the the government to give his radio station special favors. but that is behavior that has happened. Trump has not yet done anything objectionable, and while he might, you can’t condemn him for things he might do, while letting off people who actually did those things.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        He most certainly has done objectionable things already.

        Putting his kids in the same room as Prime Ministers and fielding calls from business partners in foreign countries, his hotel pitching itself to diplomats, … he isn’t even trying to avoid conflict of interest.

        And he has recently given the Nixon line “if the president does it, it’s not a conflict of interest.”

        • cassander says:

          >Putting his kids in the same room as Prime Ministers

          Like the Kennedys and Bushes did?

          >calls from business partners in foreign countries,

          Like the clintons did?

          > he isn’t even trying to avoid conflict of interest.

          like the clinton foundation didn’t?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      In order.

      Yes;

      Somewhat concerned, watching to see how it plays out;

      I think the norm was already showing cracks (at best) and if Trump turns out to take advantage of it, that will represent the progression of an ongoing trend rather than a shattering of an intact norm.

    • Spookykou says:

      I would still be worried about Trump abusing his political position in any way he could to make money, even if he did do all the normal, blind trust, other things I don’t know about, provisions for a president with considerable assets.

      His whole, “of course I abused the system to make money, the real problem is the people who made the system abusable!” arguments from the debates doesn’t exactly inspire trust.

    • Did and do.

      The foundation’s tax document are online. Going over them for 2014, I ended up with the following summary. Someone who has looked more carefully is welcome to correct it:

      p. 18 shows
      Salaries and benefits: $96 million
      Professional and consulting: $17 million
      Conferences and events: $14 million
      Travel $21 Million
      Meetings and training $14 million
      Total of the above: $162 million

      Direct program expenditures $34 million

      Current year revenue (p. 24) $178 million

      I probably don’t have all of that correct–my previous attempt to extract data got noticeably different numbers and I haven’t figured out why. But the basic point is that the first set of things could be expenditures to support doing good things but could also be expenditures to pay Clinton loyalists in order to maintain a political team, wine and dine potentially useful outsiders, and the like. It’s controlled by the Clintons and it looks like an enormous fraction of revenue goes to overhead, at least relative to the direct grants.

      One interesting test will be to see what happens to contributions for next year.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        And the second part of the question?

        • Sorry, I missed that.

          That doesn’t worry me as much as other potential problems with Trump. Politicians abusing their office to make money isn’t anything new and I think it would be hard to do it on a scale that had much effect on the overall performance of the administration without being obvious about it.

          One worry is that he might be what I described on my blog as Hillary plus–support the sort of policies she did because he thinks they are politically popular (big infrastructure expenditure, free college, higher minimum wage) and get them through because many of the Republicans will support them. Another is that he might follow through on policy proposals he made that I disapprove of, such as trade barriers, immigration barriers, even a serious attempt to get illegal immigrants out.

          Another is that he might be incompetent and irresponsible, which is one way of interpreting his history, although the fact that he won reduces my confidence that he is incompetent.

          And he might well do bad things for the ego boost, attention.

    • Anonymousse says:

      I am more worried about Trump’s conflict of interest rhetoric is that he doesn’t appear to believe it exists.

      “The law’s totally on my side,” Mr Trump said. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

      I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

      I think his stance allows him to make his businesses more of a priority while in office, which is not a direction I prefer. I won’t be surprised if he ends up putting a portion of his holdings in a trust and paints it as a more moderate position and an olive branch.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It means Federal conflict of interest law doesn’t apply to the President. This is a legal truism; see 18 USC 208(a) and 18 USC 202(c). A fact I assume Trump will take full advantage of.

        (note it also doesn’t apply to Federal judges or members of Congress)

        • Anonymousse says:

          So he can’t have a Conflict of Interest, but he can have conflicting interests. The latter still bothers me.

          Perhaps I should have taken his comment more literally.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Taking a moment to review that was interesting, since it indicates that several of the points conservatives held against Clinton, Clinton, and Gore in the past would likely have been impossible to prosecute in any meaningful sense even if they’d been able to come up with the combination of political capital and hard evidence to get a grand jury going.

          That said, I note that congress apparently explicitly affirmed that the president was exempt over a decade after a legal opinion suggesting as much.

          Ah, congress: Is there anything you CAN’T do wrong?

  27. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    Bring out the pitchforks! Matt Viser, a reporter for the Boston Globe, is the founder of the alt-right and questions whether Jews are people!

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      OK, this is getting darkly hilarious. We’ve gone from such small gatherings as tech conferences no-platforming Moldbug for seeming adjacent to white nationalism to the mass media requiring us to find clips of white nationalist Richard Spencer to figure out what the heck is going on.
      What a rapid change of strategy.

    • Zorgon says:

      Everyone is the leader of G****G***. You should know this by now.

  28. asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

    Since there was a lot of bible chat in the previous open thread, I was wondering who here is religious, how they came to be so, how they approach the question of the existence of God.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Man, the open thread is lit today.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        We just need something on gender now.

        • Eltargrim says:

          There’s a brewing wage gap controversy in professional Counterstrke right now; we could bring in gender and “ethics in game journalism” in one sweep!

          • shakeddown says:

            I really want to see the ant fight reversed: “It’s not about misandry, it’s about ethics in game journalism.”

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’ll take this over 90% of the open threads being about Trump.

    • shakeddown says:

      Not really religious, but unsong has done a lot to make me feel connected to my jewish side. In particular, I find this scene spiritually reassuring.

      “Las Vegas’ name means fallen bird,” I blurted out.

      “What?”

      “The name of the star Vega comes from the Arabic word waqi, meaning ‘fallen’ or ‘falling’. They named it that because the constellation looked like a bird falling from the sky. So Las Vegas could mean ‘the fallen birds’. And the Other King’s secret is that not a bird falls to the ground without God’s decision. There is providence in the fall of a sparrow.”

      “Huh,” said Jane, and upon her features flashed very briefly that look I had seen when I figured out the angels’ filing system. As if briefly remembering I was a human being instead of a pet or object, and seeming a little uncomfortable with the fact. “That’s…interesting.”

      “But not very actionable,” I said.

      “No,” Jane agreed. I imagined she’d been hoping for some secret weakness that Colorado could use to turn the tide of combat. A kabbalistic connection between the Book of Matthew, the city of Las Vegas, and divine providence didn’t seem immediately helpful.

      “Will you be safe in Vegas?” It wasn’t a good place to be a Coloradan operative.

      “No,” she said. “Neither of us will be. I’m sorry I had to bring you here, Aaron. Really, I am.”

      And then we passed out the belly of the last little valley, and before us loomed the towers of Las Vegas, capital of the Great Basin. Jane looked more nervous than I’d ever seen her. We switched places; she took the wheel. Beggars and prostitutes and drug dealers started knocking on our car windows at the stoplights, making their respective pleas.

      The sun set behind the Red Rock Mountains as we checked into the Stratosphere Hotel. I repeated Jane’s secret to myself, like a mantra. Even in a falling bird, there is providence. Even in Las Vegas, God is with us. Somewhere.

      • JulieK says:

        I’m not seeing the specifically Jewish content in this scene – could you elaborate?

        • shakeddown says:

          This part really isn’t jewish (except for the emphasis on wordplay, which is culturally pretty jewish) – they’re talking about the new testament – but Unsong on the whole is pretty jewish.

    • onyomi says:

      I belong to that most weaselly and new-agey denomination of the “spiritual but not religious.”

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m the opposite: religious but not spiritual 🙂

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        How would you characterize that? My impression is that spirituality can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people; are you spiritual in the sense of believing in some sort of dualistic connection between people, in the sense of valuing emotion as a perceptual lens, in the sense of subscribing to a particular new-age-ism (Wicca, healing crystals, etc.), or something else?

    • beleester says:

      Jewish (Conservative). I was born Jewish, went to a Jewish day school, go to synagogue every week. I’ll admit that intellectually, there’s not much evidence for God’s existence, but I’m still fairly observant. It’s a big part of my identity and you can’t really walk away from that. And I have a good community at the synagogue, a good rabbi who gives interesting sermons, and some pretty good songs at services – all good things to have whether or not God exists.

      (My go-to analogy when people ask is, it’s like being a sports fan. Do I stop rooting for the Bengals just because they haven’t won a playoff game in years?)

      • BBA says:

        I’m an out-and-proud atheist, but ethnically/culturally Jewish. I stopped attending synagogue years ago, but the synagogue I don’t attend is Conservative, for much the same reason you describe.

        • onyomi says:

          The Catholic mass I don’t go to is pre-Vatican II style, though I’d consider converting to lapsed Eastern Orthodox.

        • Brad says:

          @BBA
          This describes me perfectly, other than perhaps the “out-and-proud” part. I don’t go out of my way to talk about my non-belief.

          • BBA says:

            Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t announce it to everyone I meet. Frankly every time I read something by the Dawkins crowd I’m tempted to convert to Christianity out of spite.

            What I mean is, I don’t think my atheism is something to be ashamed of, and I will freely admit it rather than weaseling around the question with “non-observant Judaism” or whatever. Now where I live that’s acceptable – if I lived in another part of the country, or another country, it might be different.

    • Spookykou says:

      I was raised Catholic but I don’t remember ever actually being religious. Which is not to say that I was some sort of r/atheism edge lord when I saw seven. I didn’t have a problem with Church mostly still don’t, I went through all my sacraments and stuff, I just didn’t have, or felt like I didn’t have any ‘Faith in God’ where Faith was always present to me as this, spiritual or emotional or something else. I felt like I just didn’t get it, or I was confused about it or something. I didn’t learn about atheism/define myself as atheist until much later in life.

      In retrospect I am glad I was raised Catholic though, I like the aesthetics of Catholicism a lot more than the other forms of Christianity(Orthodox is pretty cool as well).

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t really understand Catholicism, probably because I was raised Evangelical. Their whole thing with the Eucharist seems so unnecessarily literal minded. It’s like someone reading the part about being able to move mountains through the power of Christ and being outraged when they can’t actually do that.

        • Spookykou says:

          I love it, it is exactly the kind of magical thinking I want from a Religion! What’s the point of believing in a god if your god is just ambiguous feel good philosophy.

          Although my appreciations of Catholicism might be atypical.

          It actually reminds me of my weird love for the American Military. On a totally rational practical side blah blah blah we probably spend too much on defense or something. But seriously, we spend too much on defense, and I kind of really love it. I just get this visceral emotive excitement and pride just thinking about the awesome might of the US military.

          In retrospect, my strange obsessions with Catholicism and the Military probably have something to do with all the Warhammer 40k…

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Hate to break it to you, Spooky, but our Chaplain corps boasts relatively few folks like this.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Don’t get me wrong. I can’t stand ambiguous, feel good philosophy. When it comes to religion, go big or go home. I disagree with evangelicals on whether the Garden of Eden was a real place but I understand why they hold on to it. I just don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that wine is literally the blood of Jesus. The truth of Christianity doesn’t rest on it, it seems incredibly obvious that it was supposed to be a metaphor and I can’t see how it matters on a consequential level. Out of all the parts of the Bible to take literally why this one?

          • Spookykou says:

            So you seem to be hung up on the word literally, you might already know this, but they don’t think that the matter, the physical perceptible qualities of the Eucharist turn into blood, Catholicism believes there is a substance or essence that is ‘more real’ or ‘gods truth’ to things, and this essence or substance, changes from wine to the blood of Christ.

            It strikes me as similar in concept to holy water, or consecrated ground. It is actually very similar to the idea of the ‘good’ key word as used in D&D on the stat block for a celestial, they are ‘good’ as a matter of reality, such that the way they interact with other objects is fundamentally changed through this property.

            It is far more ‘mystical’ or ‘magical’ as I said before, it sounds more like something from a fantasy book than a modern religion, but that is what I think is so great about it, in fantasy, the gods are real. The out dated practices of Catholicism, to my mind, come from that kind of thinking, from people existing in that kind of reality.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            it seems incredibly obvious that it was supposed to be a metaphor

            Well, the usual course of events in the NT is that Jesus says something, people take him too literally (“Wait, you’re asking us to climb back inside our mothers’ wombs and be born again???”), and Jesus has to correct them. With the Eucharist, the opposite happens — Jesus tells people to eat his body, people think he’s speaking metaphorically, and he then doubles down, emphasising the point that he’s actually talking about actual eating and drinking.

            Plus, there’s the reaction of people to this teaching. We’re told that “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6.66). This would be a rather odd thing to leave over, if Jesus was really just making a fairly unremarkable point about how we need to believe in him or think carefully about the Scriptures or whatever other symbolic meaning people have come up with.

        • Deiseach says:

          Sorry, I’m just smiling at the idea of Evangelicals going in regard to the Eucharist (and it would seem, the Eucharist alone, in distinction to really important that it’s taken literally word-taking of the Epistles of St Paul) “Man, those Catholics are so literal minded when it comes to Scripture! Can’t they see it’s meant as a metaphor?” (Not just Catholics but the Orthodox as well, both Eastern and Oriental).

          What knocks the “it’s only a metaphor, like ‘I am the vine and you are the branches'” interpretations on the head for me is that we do have examples in the Gospels of Jesus teaching via parables and explaining them further to the apostles, or making things clear when they got it wrong (like my favourite example of “He’s mad because we didn’t bring a packed lunch, right?”)

          But we don’t get that in the Bread of Life discourse, when some of the disciples leave because “this is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” There’s no “hey guys, come back, it was only a metaphor!” Instead, there’s “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

          And then there’s the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist, so it plainly is something important, more than a mere ordinance. The “accidents/essence” distinction is an attempt to use the philosophical tools of the time to attack the doctrine from the position of using human reason and understanding, and I’m not going to hold that in contempt because reason is also a gift of God. But it’s a Mystery, is the ultimate word. I don’t know how it can be. I don’t know how God can be Three and One. I don’t know how God can become incarnate. Mysterium Fidei.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      My militant atheism (when I was 16-24 or so I firmly believed that the religious were stupid, evil, or stupidly evil) has mellowed out a TON, and I now see religion as a mixed and in many cases even positive social force, but I haven’t really softened on my atheism.

      I doubt that there’s anything metaphysical (90+%), and if there is, I am fairly confident (80+%) it bears about as much resemblance to any existing theology as the Standard Model bears to the Greek concepts of Atomism and Apeiron, several steps down from the blind men trying to describe the elephant.

      Answering mainly because I’ve been told multiple times that the only justification for assigning so high a confidence level to those beliefs is faith.

      • Mark says:

        “I doubt that there’s anything metaphysical”

        The mind?

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I think that right now the various varieties of physicalism have a better track on the truth of the matter, but I don’t want to hijack the thread, so perhaps we should move to a new thread to discuss it?

          But the short version is no, epiphenomenonalism is about as far as I’m willing to go.

        • Zorgon says:

          Information patterns do not require metaphysics.

          • Mark says:

            If the physical is equivalent to an information pattern, then the metaphysical is the structure that enables information to exist.

            (If the information patterns are entirely unrelated to the physical, I wonder how they could be information)

          • Zorgon says:

            … Nope. You’re playing semantic games.

            Information is a property of the physical universe, as well as a measurable quantity. Nothing about information requires the metaphysical at all. There is no “structure that enables it to exist”, that’s just playing word games.

            Therefore, if one assumes “mind” to be within the set of emergent results of information – which seems a very likely prospect – then “mind”, in turn, does not require anything other than the physical to exist.

            Since we can easily observe that information appears to exist, and since we live in an era in which emergent informational properties routinely produce mind-like results (albeit at a far lower level of complexity than the concept of “mind” we’re talking about here), our priors should therefore be strongly for wholly material concepts of “mind” and against any additional levels of meta provided as an explanation.

          • Mark says:

            There is no “structure that enables it to exist”, that’s just playing word games.

            So, if there are no rules regarding fundamental “physical” information patterns, the apparent rules of observed reality must be imposed by our minds.

            To me it seems like you are saying – “There are real relations that exist outside of our observation of reality, but there are no rules that determine how those relations can exist.”

            If there are no rules determining fundamental reality or its relations, then I’m not sure we can usefully say anything about them, except to assert that they exist.

            And, in that case, the “metaphysics” of observable reality will be determined by the structure of the mind.

            [Edit: So, I guess you’re right – the metaphysical doesn’t necessarily “enable” the physical to “exist” – it determines the form that it takes?]

      • Aapje says:

        @Trofim_Lysenko

        I am fairly confident (80+%) it bears about as much resemblance to any existing theology as the Standard Model bears to the Greek concepts of Atomism and Apeiron, several steps down from the blind men trying to describe the elephant.

        The religions that define God as all- or very powerful also generate obvious paradoxes, like how it is possible for God to be good and yet allow things such as the Holocaust to happen.

        Then you get such rationalizations that we can’t see the whole picture and that what happened is actually better for humanity in the big picture, but at that point, the defense for this passive, powerful God becomes that the Holocaust was good for humanity, which is…not good.

        Fortunately, many religious people don’t try to be consistent and just tell themselves that God wants them to be nice to people, which makes them act more nicely to conform to the imagined demands placed on them, which is good.

        • Spookykou says:

          There are better and worse responses to the problem of Evil, and it’s not exactly a solved problem, but my favorite response to the problem of evil is something of the form, God is all powerful and all good and the world is as good as God can make it while also meeting other requirements, like giving us free will.

          I love this position, because you can just rephrase it as the problem of good.

          God is all powerful and all evil and the world is as evil as God can make it while also meeting other requirements, like giving us free will. Which really puts a positive spin on Humanity, IMO.

          • Aapje says:

            @Spookykou

            At that point, you are arguing that God considers free will more important than preventing the Holocaust. It also leads to the obvious complaint that God could just have given Hitler a heart attack or otherwise manipulated the world in a way that is invisible to us, but would prevent really bad outcomes.

            You are also just painting God out of the picture as a powerful being who chooses not to intervene. At that point, what difference is there with a non-existing God who (obviously) also doesn’t intervene?

            You are getting very close to the ‘God = nature’ atheist Christian position, which solves the issue by just defining God as nature, which makes the entire issue moot (as God has no will at that point, but simply exists and does nothing metaphysical).

            If God is actually evil and has unknown requirements that you do not know and where nothing you do necessarily makes him act less evil, what is the point of faith? At that point is only seems useful as a rationalization to commit suicide.

          • keranih says:

            At that point, you are arguing that God considers free will more important than preventing the Holocaust.

            Yes.

            Also more important than keeping my cousin from committing suicide and devastating my aunt and uncle, keeping my brother’s friend from getting shot in a stupid argument, and also preventing the Atlantic slave trade, the Rwandan genocide, the Arab slave trade, Pol Pot, Stalin, and a thousand other things.

            God also didn’t tweek Creation so as to prevent the Colombian Exchange and HIV.

            Nor the San Andres Fault. Nor the Dust Bowl. Nor any of the Khans.

            I can easily postulate worse outcomes for all of these tragedies than the ones which actually happened. I suggest that perhaps God could as well, and just as He created a universe where pi is an infinite number for no reason that we now know, He created us with free will that allowed us to do horrors to each other and the rest of the world for reasons which we do not now understand.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Aapje

            I was just explaining the Best of all possible worlds, idea, and my favorite counter argument, which I like in particular because it is totally charitable, it accepts 100% of the assumptions of the Best of all possible worlds idea, and still turns it on its head.

            I don’t actually believe it and I don’t actually believe in God so I am not particular interested in defending the assumptions of the theory, but I know that Leibniz had answers for most of your criticisms if you are interested.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Other people mentioned free will but in addition to that, I think of God as a utilitarian who takes a very long term view. Maybe the Earthquake in Haiti was something with terrible short effects but in the long run will lead to a better world in ways we can’t understand. Of course, this sounds pretty cold hearted but one of the problems with utilitarianism is that people can’t see all of the various consequences to their actions. God doesn’t have this problem.

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            The issue is that free will automatically exists if God does not. Without God, I get all those choices that in your story, God lets me make by not restricting me.

            So Occam’s Razor lets us remove God entirely from the equation.

            I can easily postulate worse outcomes for all of these tragedies than the ones which actually happened.

            There is no evidence that God intervened to keep those tragedies from getting worse. The fact that he didn’t intervene to prevent them from getting this bad suggests that he didn’t intervene at all.

            He created us with free will that allowed us to do horrors to each other and the rest of the world for reasons which we do not now understand.

            Sorry, that is not good enough. Why would I believe in or even worship a God whose terminal values are completely unclear and where I see no evidence of him seeking to protect me in any way from the horrors that can happen?

            I prefer to invest my time in creating systems within society that help people, which I can see, know what their purpose is and actually measure that the interventions worked.

          • Brad says:

            Some (most?) materialists account of the universe have neither God nor free will.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @brad
            I think most philosophical materialists are compatibilists about free will, certainly Hume was.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            OK, but not all religious doctrines allow for free will either. So choosing God doesn’t ‘guarantee’ free will anymore than atheism.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          One way around this, and one I like because it’s pretty much just Christianity-flavored Stoicism, is that fortune and misfortune don’t actually matter at all. Whether what happens to you is pleasant or unpleasant it’s an opportunity to be virtuous or vicious. And that’s the part that’s good or evil, not the sensation but how you react to it.

          When you experience the outside world, whether that’s a punch in the gut or a hug, there is some degree of choice in how you respond. If despair is a sin and turning the other cheek is righteous, then in what way is an opportunity to be righteous and reject sin an evil? From that perspective, hardships are a gift because they are that many more chances to show your quality before God.

          I’m not quite sure I believe that, after all I’m an atheist, but I do think that stoicism is extremely comforting when you’re going through a rough patch for that reason. Viewing the things happening to you as neutral and valuing your own responses to them allows you to take more positive action rather than wallowing in self-pity.

          • Aapje says:

            @Dr Dealgood

            If God does that, he is a pretty sick manipulator, IMO.

            What you are describing is the stereotypical villain from ethical experiments who ties 1 person to the left train track and 2 people to the right train track & then gives another person the choice to choose who gets run over.

            Your argument merely makes sense to me if we are talking about giving people a hard challenge that they can meet, but only if they stretch themselves or develop moral character.

            If anything, the Holocaust is the opposite of this. As Primo Levi argued, the truly virtuous didn’t survive the concentration camps. It was the people who helped with the genocide, those that stole, those that acted selfishly who tended to survive.

            Furthermore, this celebration of suffering can be used as a rationalization to treat people badly. So it is very dangerous.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            If you’ve got an afterlife, what does it matter if the evil survive longer? Even a thousand year life would still be nothing compared to eternity.

            I think that’s the point of confusion: Christianity, very explicitly, puts little stock in the World and in worldly things. The virtuous suffer and bear their suffering in life, and then gain an infinite reward in death. While the vicious can take joy in their lives but will be shocked to discover a quite different sort of reward afterwards. Because the point isn’t about physical pain or pleasure but about choosing whether or not to be good.

            I personally quite like the world, and I agree with Nietzsche that tossing material life aside in favor of a fantastical afterlife is diseased thinking. But that’s not the Christian perspective: it’s explicitly anti-Christian.

          • Aapje says:

            The problem is that I see no evidence of an afterlife, so it may be idle hope. Why not make my current life as happy as possible, rather than betting one of the many inconsistent stories told by religious people?

            It especially doesn’t make sense to assume that God is willing to let us suffer here and then somehow gives us paradise afterwards. That sounds more like a hustler conning someone (‘I am a Nigerian prince, give me 1000 dollars now and you get to share my 1 billion dollar inheritance later’) than a serious proposition.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I went from atheist, to agnostic, to trying-to-be-religious, to agnostic, now back probably to atheist. I studied religion quite heavily in university, mostly Christianity and Judaism around the period Christianity developed and split off. In grad school I was in class with a lot of religious people, who honestly were by and large kind and decent people, and that’s when I tried to be religious, but I couldn’t get it to stick.

      Even when I was trying to be religious I could never quite deal with the existence of God. Trying to prove the existence of God seems to be a fairly recent thing. Most religions seem to have just known God, or gods, existed. I never found the traditional arguments very convincing, and could never make the jump from “this argument maybe proves the existence of some greater power” to any specific deity or group of deities.

      • Cadie says:

        That’s my big objection too. I can’t make myself believe that God exists, not as anything recognizably resembling a specific deity at least. A very vague handwavy concept of a higher power, maybe. There’s a lot about how the universe works that we don’t know, and the mathematics behind it that are currently beyond human knowledge could be considered a higher power in some sense. But that’s as far as I can go with the concept before it starts to sound made-up and I can’t entertain the idea as a serious possibility with any application to my life.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Raised fundamentalist, turned agnostic at 14 from exposure to Bible criticism, at 18 I became Hindu for a few years, then reading Augustine showed me that the Bible criticism I’d accepted was only arguing against a weakman.

      So yeah, I believe in God. He/it is the Ground of Being, and also a person*.
      *This part is debatable, with a long tradition in both Greek and Sanskrit that inclines me to believe it’s a serious question about reality, not just a language game.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Reading Augustine was a watershed moment for me as well, though I wasn’t outside the fold at the time. It connected me to much, much deeper and broader roots than I’d previously known existed.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @Le Maistr Chat
        Raised fundamentalist, turned agnostic at 14 from exposure to Bible criticism, at 18 I became Hindu for a few years [….]

        My route was similar: CS Lewis; Rand; Swami Muktananda; Patanjali; now miscellaneous sorted by General Semantics and the crumbs that fall from the Bayesian table. I didn’t stay Hindu-ish long enough to learn much about it, so I’d like to hear more.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I don’t want to say that the existence of God is a side-question, because it is obviously foundational. But it’s so foundational that most religious people don’t think about it much, having built over it so long ago.

      The real question for the Christian is how you approach trusting God (loving Him being an even more advanced move). That is the hard thing to do. That is what we spend all our lives practicing. Can you pray, “God, make me a better (wo)man. Do whatever it takes,” knowing that “whatever it takes” could very well include, just as an example, the deaths of everyone you love? How much are you really willing to put out of your control and into God’s?

      (The short and excessively clinical answer to your existence question is that the historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection is compelling, and the rest flows from that. The more grounded answer is that God has dealt with me in a variety of ways throughout my life that I would be foolish to ignore. And I’m not talking about blissful mystical experiences; I have as often found God inconvenient and even annoying. But He’s there and He’s good and I would be a fool not to accommodate myself to that fact.)

      • Aapje says:

        The more grounded answer is that God has dealt with me in a variety of ways throughout my life that I would be foolish to ignore.

        Can you explain this more?

        Do you attribute things that happened to you to divine intervention? Do you find that the religious practices (like going to church) help you? Do you believe that God speaks to you directly? Do you find guidance in the Bible? Etc.

        I’m unclear how this works for you.

        • Fahundo says:

          Seconding Aapje’s question. Having been raised Christian I didn’t find any inner sense of fulfillment in performing rituals or professing my faith, and never witnessed anything that could only be explained by divine intervention. I don’t feel like any of my prayers were answered and I never felt the presence of God. Genuinely curious in what ways God might deal with someone that they would be foolish to ignore.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I’m trying to figure out how to answer this without launching into pages and pages of life story. I think I can at least touch on what’s on the top of your mind.

          God does not speak to me directly. Nor do I believe in simply sitting back and waiting for a sign from God for all my life decisions. I think it is incumbent on us to use our best judgement and wisdom to act. There *have* been occasions where it was clear that God wanted me to do a specific thing, but those are rare, and not usually realted to major life decisions I’ve had to make.

          Nor have I witnessed things which would clearly be supernatural. Everything in my life could be explained if I looked at it through a materialistic lens. However, what I find I would be doing there is not so much explaining things as explaining things away. When I look at my life through the Christian lens, there are clear narrative reasons why things unfolded as they did. The difficulties I encountered were expected, even predicted (and, as I learned later from reading biographies, very, very common). Teachings that made little sense to me in my youth become clear and make sense as I grow and learn more about the world. I am able to look back and say “ah, so *that’s* why it’s that way.”

          When I look at my life through the materialistic lens, all of that explanatory web goes away and instead I am left with merely “yes, this was all physically possible.”

          To give the very shortest version I can, when I was young I prayed “God, make me a better man, whatever it takes.” As a result, I was tested over the course of the next several years and essentially given a choice between the desires of my heart (mostly sex at the time) or God. It was very clear to me that I had to choose, and that following God may well mean giving up the things that I wanted, and I was not happy about this. I did ultimately choose to cling to God (this may sound like a sudden turning point decision, but in fact it was a drawn out, gradual, habit-forming experience).

          Anyway, after becoming willing to do without my hopes and dreams, God said “ok, you can have them now” and I got everything I wanted and have been on a rather long streak of success. I know that I could indeed lose it all tomorrow, but I also know that in the end, it will be okay. C.S. Lewis described this as God always giving back with His right hand what He has taken away with His left (as I said, my experiences with God are well in line with what others report).

          Anyway, I would recommend to everybody that they give the prayer above a try. Just be clear on the “whatever it takes” clause.

          • Jiro says:

            There’s a reason why people look at things through a materialistic lens: If you don’t, it’s easy to fool yourself.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Jiro – Indeed. But that doesn’t make it the only view with value, and the use of one lens doesn’t require you to discard the other.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jaskologist

            As an atheist, I believe that faith is a human invention to make sense of our existence, which fully explains why you can find ‘life lessons’ in religious material. Especially as there is a wide variety of it, that regularly can support both one view and the opposing view.

            So from my perspective, you attribute to God, what I attribute to people shaping faith to be helpful in their lives. It is unsurprising that what helps others, could help you.

            The risk with a religious view is that one can become stuck in a ‘local optimum,’ where certain ideas have become dogma because they more or less work for some humans in one context. Then when the context changes, religious people can become ‘stuck’ with bad ideas.

            Furthermore, sometimes we need a paradigm change. In science, many major advances happened when people replaced a view that was pretty good at explaining most things with a different view that explained more things. So you cannot always keep building on the same framework.

            Finally, many religious theories have strong normative elements, which are not neatly separated from the descriptive elements. Thereby, they can deceptive, by not clearly explaining which parts are speculative about how one might try to get better outcomes by getting people to behave non-naturally and which parts are supposed to tell us how people actually are.

            When I look at my life through the materialistic lens, all of that explanatory web goes away and instead I am left with merely “yes, this was all physically possible.”

            Humans and (other) animals don’t merely act in ways that are physically possible, they act on their ‘programming,’ which is:
            – Highly complex
            – Variable within certain bounds

            It’s especially interesting how emergent behavior happens when humans interact.

            I have found many non-religious sources of information that explain this complexity and which improved my understanding of society and myself. I would find it stifling to limit myself just to religious interpretations of these things.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Evangelical Christian. Raised Christian, turned Atheist not too long after leaving home, because I sucked at being a Christian and trying not to be a bad one made me miserable. About a decade later I realized that switching to Atheism hadn’t actually solved anything for me, I was still miserable, and I’d badly misunderstood what Christianity was actually about. I switched back, and am glad I did.

      When I was a Christian the first time, it was obvious to me that God existed and anyone who thought differently was an idiot. When I became an Atheist, it was obvious to me that God didn’t exist and anyone who thought differently was an idiot. Having experienced the switch twice, it seems to me that our ability to evaluate evidence is fundamentally downstream of our will; simply put, humans believe what they want to believe, nothing less and nothing more. If you want to believe in God, no disproof will be fatal; if you want to disbelieve, no proof will be sufficient. I think God has set it up that way intentionally to let us live as freely as possible.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I’d caution against typical mind fallacy.

        Absent FSM actually reaching into my mind and touching it, I can’t believe in God. The cognitive dissonance required makes it impossible.

        Whereas my Mother, even if she had a crisis of faith, she’d still believe.

        I think evangelical Christians like to think every atheist is someone in the midst of a crisis of faith.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @HeelBearCub – “Absent FSM actually reaching into my mind and touching it, I can’t believe in God. The cognitive dissonance required makes it impossible.”

          Likewise, it would probably take action by weakly godlike agencies to get you to flip your political views 180 degrees on the spot. On the other hand, if you changed where you lived, what you did, who your social group was, changing your political opinions to match the new set would probably be considerably easier. Choosing what to believe may be many small choices more often than one big one, but I am convinced it is a choice all the same. If reason was deterministic, if evidence truly *forced* us to conclusions on the truly complex and important questions, I do not think we would see the differences in conclusion we do.

          “I think evangelical Christians like to think every atheist is someone in the midst of a crisis of faith.”

          I don’t really know what this means, so feel free to elaborate. I don’t think the choice to not believe in God is the result of a crisis, any more than the choice to be a libertarian or an environmentalist, republican, democrat, EA or anti-EA, worried about FAI or not, etc. It’s one of many choices we make about how we’ll look at and interact with the world around us.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m saying that Christians think that atheists are like Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”: angry at god, rather than not actually believing in God.

            As to the rest of it, theodicy was a deal breaker for me was I was 10 and going through the rigmarole for confirmation (Catholic). I was never confirmed due to my own choice. I took the promises, etc. seriously, so I wasn’t going to do that without believing in it.

            I was sufficiently uncomfortable taking that stance that I wouldn’t call myself an atheist for another 35 years. So, I don’t think we can chalk it up to just being in an environment that somehow encouraged atheism.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m saying that Christians think that atheists are like Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”: angry at god, rather than not actually believing in God.

            Or looking to fill a spiritual ‘hole.’

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HeelBearCub – “I’m saying that Christians think that atheists are like Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”: angry at god, rather than not actually believing in God.”

            That is certainly not my impression of Atheists generally, and it’s not what I’m trying to describe above.

            “So, I don’t think we can chalk it up to just being in an environment that somehow encouraged atheism.”

            I am not attempting to chalk it up to environment, because people pretty clearly aren’t programmable. I am chalking it up to choices that encouraged Atheism, or in my case Christianity, whether or not they had anything to do with the question on the object level. To be clear, I am saying that the exact same process underlies all belief of any kind, so this is explicitly not a weird thing Atheists are doing wrong. We could argue this same idea about any subject people have opinions on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @FacelessCraven:
            You seemed to have been saying that either a) if I had grown up red tribe, or b) I moved to red tribe tribe territory now, that the social influence would have had me believing in God. I’m not sure if you mean both, but it seems like at least one or the other was indicated. Are you saying that isn’t what you meant? Because if not, I have no idea what you did mean.

            I confess I am really confused by the “not environment, but choices” statement. What are choices that encourage Atheism if not environment?

            At age 10, attending Catholic Church, I rejected religion on logical grounds (and felt like a very odd duck doing it). I didn’t know anyone who admitted to not believing in God, and I sure as hell wasnt going around saying it out loud.

            If I was raised in a family where religious observance was required, then I certainly would have observed the rituals, but it wouldn’t have made me believe, and no argument by humans could make me believe today.

            The only thing I can think that would have affected me is being denied intellectual pursuits. Although, I suppose that I can’t really argue against the possibility that the proper propaganda applied from birth to later years might have induced me to feel like God had touched my mind.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HBC – the new thread’s up, and I’m crashing out for the night, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for most of the year, so I’ll try to come back toward it tomorrow in the new thread. Thanks for the replies, and sorry for the frustration!

        • Deiseach says:

          Absent FSM actually reaching into my mind and touching it, I can’t believe in God.

          Yeah. Faith is a gift, but we tend to say that too lightly or flippantly. In the end, it’s a grace of God, and why some get it and others don’t is the big question (and I disagree with Calvinist election as the answer here).

          When I was eleven, I asked myself why did I believe what I believed; did I really believe it, or did I only believe it because I’d been raised to believe it. So I decided to give it a fair test and go a week as if I didn’t believe in God and the whole thing.

          But I didn’t last out the week because I couldn’t make myself not believe. It doesn’t work for me. It isn’t a satisfactory answer. And to those who think having a strong belief is comforting (or even a crutch): heh. Not so much. Not when you also believe in Hell, the justice of God, and free will which means you can achieve your own damnation. And you can’t blame God for it.

          I don’t know why I have this sense that “yes, God exists, this is true”. Do I have the gift of faith? Maybe, but I fall very far down in actually practicing it. But I can never convince myself “Ah well, you know you don’t need God, there are sufficient material explanations for everything, and when you die, you simply cease to exist in every sense”.

      • Jiro says:

        If you want to believe in God, no disproof will be fatal; if you want to disbelieve, no proof will be sufficient. I think God has set it up that way intentionally to let us live as freely as possible.

        That amounts to saying “atheists act like straw atheists because that’s the way they have to act for my belief system to work”.

        For a lot of atheists, the reason that no proof will work is not that there is nothing that can prove it, it’s that the proofs we’ve seen are pretty terrible.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          +1

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Jiro – “For a lot of atheists, the reason that no proof will work is not that there is nothing that can prove it, it’s that the proofs we’ve seen are pretty terrible.”

          I agree that the proofs are terrible. There is no actual “Checkmate, Atheists” argument. I don’t think there’s a “Checkmate, Christians” argument, either, if for no other reason than there’s still a ton of smart Christians around. I think there are relatively weak arguments on both sides, and people’s choices shape which they find compelling. I’m pretty sure this is the same process for politics and the rest of the really contentious questions as well.

          I don’t think this observation is straw-manning anyone; I think this is pretty obviously how people think.

        • Aapje says:

          @FacelessCraven

          I don’t think there’s a “Checkmate, Christians” argument, either, if for no other reason than there’s still a ton of smart Christians around.

          Historically, whenever proponents of God made a falsifiable claim and this claim was falsified, the result was that they abandoned the claim and/or altered their definition of God.

          The result is that ‘God’ became less and less falsifiable over time.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Aapje – “Historically, whenever proponents of God made a falsifiable claim and this claim was falsified, the result was that they abandoned the claim and/or altered their definition of God.”

            …What would you prefer them to do?

          • Aapje says:

            My point was not to criticize their strategy, but to argue that it makes it silly to demand that atheists disprove God, as it is an eternal game of whack-a-mole.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Aapje – “My point was not to criticize their strategy, but to argue that it makes it silly to demand that atheists disprove God, as it is an eternal game of whack-a-mole.”

            That would indeed be silly.

            I think arguments for or against the existence of God are interesting and possibly even useful, because they reveal much about how we see the world, but I do not think sufficient evidence exists to prove the point either way. It seems pretty clear to me that if God exists and wanted to make his presence known unambiguously, he would have done so; therefore, “proofs” of his existence from the Christian side are highly suspect to me. On the other hand, the basic Christian idea of a God existing entirely outside the physical universe goes way, way back, and forms a “gap” that is not retreated to, but rather (foolishly, in my opinion) sallied from. Therefore, Atheist arguments about the God of the Gaps are suspect to me.

            I think the existence of God is an area where decisive proof does not exist at all. Like other areas where decisive proof does not exist, such as politics and other matters concerning human life, I think each side has arguments good enough that they can be believed, but not arguments good enough that they must be believed. People sort to either side depending on which is more attractive to their worldview, and worldviews are constructed as a consequence of choices made.

          • Aapje says:

            On the other hand, the basic Christian idea of a God existing entirely outside the physical universe goes way, way back, and forms a “gap” that is not retreated to, but rather (foolishly, in my opinion) sallied from.

            Christianity (and pretty much all other religions) has a creation myth, which is the opposite of ‘existing entirely outside the physical universe.’ So I don’t agree that this was the default that people seek to break out of.

            Humans are intelligent and thus seek to abstract their experiences into theories that they can use to predict the future, including the outcomes of their actions. I would argue that humans do so very aggressively, presumably because it is better to sometimes do things that don’t help and/or do very speculative actions, than to not do things that will help you by being too conservative.

            We also see that humans are very prone to superstitions, which provides strong evidence that humans do this. Other evidence is how hard science is for humans, as they tend to see causation that doesn’t exist.

            The result is that we see creation myths in pretty much every culture as it reassures people that the world won’t suddenly end. Many cultures have the concept of an intervening God that can be triggered to help by certain rituals (filling the void where people have no good theory that tells them what to do).

            I would also argue that religion is used by humans to cope with negative aspects of life, like death and suffering. The former is generally handled by the concept of eternal life, where the ‘soul’ is thought to remain. The latter can be handled most simplistically by arguing that suffering is rewarded in the afterlife or in a more complex way by detachment (like Buddhism teaches).

            And of course there are other things that religion is used for.

            IMHO, the evidence strongly suggests that religion is a consequence of the peculiarities of the human mind and that the many different religions were made up by mankind. It seems weird to then draw an arbitrary distinction where part of religion (for which we have no proof and which is not consistent between religions) is then suddenly supposed to be real.

    • keranih says:

      Roman Catholic. Cradle-Catholic, in a family where maintaining the faith was a role of the women. By the time I got out of high school I was pretty much atheist.(*) Found God got found by God again in my mid-late twenties, and have been struggling to follow the Man (through the Church) ever since. I get better at it most years. Looking forward to being much better in line with God in the future.

      Existence of God? *shrugs* He exists – like air, like the ground. I don’t go round *testing* for air all the time, and I surely never asked a scientist to demonstrate “air” to me.

      (Come to think of it, though, it’s fairly easy to demonstrate where air isn’t – like a vacumn bottle – and likewise a lot of modern society seems an exercise in excluding God from a venue. With similar effects on the living things there-in.)

      (*) A lot of my rejection of the church was rejecting the particular social roles associated with it (and a lot of that was because, well, teenager) but even more due to 1)lack of contact with Biblical scholarship at the five-grade-levels-above-my-own that I was reading at, and 2) excessive contact with really dumb anti-straw-man anti-evolution arguments. It seemed like all the smart people were atheists, and everyone said I was smart, and no one was going to encourage me to study for the priesthood, so atheist it was.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Existence of God? *shrugs* He exists – like air, like the ground. I don’t go round *testing* for air all the time, and I surely never asked a scientist to demonstrate “air” to me.

        That sounds to me like a bit of a convenient hand-wave. Sure, we don’t go around demanding scientists prove that air exists all the time, but if we wanted to, we could easily do so. And if we want to be able to have confidence in our belief in air, that is absolutely something that we should take the time to do at some point.

        The hypothesis that we live surrounded by an invisible, flavourless fluid that has mass – that ‘exists’ in the same way that, say, water or wood exists, is a scientific hypothesis just like the hypothesis that we live in a universe created by, and presided over by, a supernatural sentience. The latter hypothesis is a lot more complicated, but if we are to assign the god hypothesis equal confidence with the air hypothesis, we ought to have evidence as strong as we do for the air hypothesis – and so far as anyone can tell from the outside, we don’t.

        I appreciate that this is probably not something you wanted to get bogged down in arguing, but I hope you appreciate how frustrating it is to see people treat the from-the-outside-extremely-far-reaching-and-implausible claim that a non-zero number of gods exists as just something that can be blithely assumed, rather than something that ought to be rigorously demonstrated before we take it seriously.

        • keranih says:

          I appreciate that this is probably not something you wanted to get bogged down in arguing

          Yeap. 🙂 Especially not on Thanksgiving.

          so far as anyone can tell from the outside

          …why do you think you’re on the outside?

          I take air very seriously, and have never held that it be treated to rigorous “outside” demonstration in order for me to do so.

          I also don’t use the same instruments to measure air as I do to measure the motion of the earth, the clotting ability of blood, or the grace of God.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I mean, on the outside of any particular religion. Like, if you’re not already a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew or a Yazidi, there does not appear to be any particular reason to consider any one of those religions significantly more likely to be correct than any of the others.

            And regarding the several instruments, I’m not quite sure what you mean by bringing in the motion of the air or the clotting of blood. Both of those are like air in that we do have reasonably reliable ways of measuring them, and unlike gods in that we don’t, so far as I’m aware have a working theometer or other reliable ways of testing for the existence of gods, or any other supernatural beings for that matter.

            There may be good reasons that I’m not aware of to infer the existence of one or more gods from what we currently can test about the reality, but to hold that the existence of gods-in-general is as demonstrably true as the existence of air appears a real stretch – and to hold that the existence of the specific god or gods of any particular religion is as plausible on current evidence as the existence of air, well, I’m afraid I can’t wrap my head around that at all.

    • Wander says:

      I always wished to be religious, but I could just never actually feel that spark of belief. And I’ve looked widely through beliefs, spent a lot of time looking at dozens of strains of occultism and hermeticism, the different Christian sects, various theological arguments about the nature of the world, etc. I know that I have a hole that religion would fill, but I just can’t make it fit. I’m so totally rooted in the physical world, and it’s upsetting.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        “If there is a god-shaped hole in your heart, the obvious inference to make is that somebody shot you with a gun that fires gods”
        (source)

    • S_J says:

      Grew up in a Protestant household.

      My parents were strong readers, and read a variety of biography and history to my siblings and me. They also had a family liturgy of Bible-reading, with special liturgies for the seasons leading up to Christmas and Easter. [1]

      The church that they attended was from one of the lesser-known branches of Protestant belief in the United States. [2] In this church, we regularly dealt with the tension between In-the-Holy-Book-Teaching, and Spiritual-experience-connecting-with-God. We also spent a lot of time learning–implicitly–the culture that was in place when various sections of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures were produced.

      Somewhere during my teenage years, I indulged in an itch to read serious thinkers, and big names from the history of Christianity. My bookshelf has an odd smattering of 20th-Century authors and much older names. (G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Oswald Chambers, Thomas a Kempis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer… but no John Calvin.) [3]

      I was strongly attracted to C.S. Lewis’ description of Christian belief in Mere Christianity. I was also intrigued by the philosophical descriptions of God’s Being that Augustine gave in his Confessions. [4]

      Shortly afterwards, while studying logic and mathematics at the graduate level, I ran into Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. Essentially, in any logical system that is consistent, it is possible to construct statements that are true-but-unprovable inside that system.

      The details of applying this theorem to the world of mathematics are interesting, but kind of off-point. (I also have a simple proof related to the Incompleteness Theorems that won’t quite fit here…)

      I hold that a similar observation can be made about religions/worldviews/philosophies. In any such system of thought, there exist statements that are held to be True, but cannot be proved from inside the system. I’m familiar with many arguments, pro and con, about religion and Christianity. Most of the time, I pick the argument apart to figure out what Axioms the argument is assuming, and how well (or poorly) the argument works inside that set of Axioms. Then I see what part of the argument remains if I place it inside the set of Axioms that the argument is being used against.

      Anyway…few discussions of religion touch one of these questions.

      (A) Is there a Transcendent Being whose relationship to the visible Cosmos is that of Originator and Creator?
      (B) Is this Being also the author of the Idea that we humans call Morality?
      (C) Has this Being tried to communicate with any humans, and does any particular human religion have an approximate description of this Being?

      And, an additional observation, plus a big question.

      (D) It’s not that odd that a controversial Rabbi who grew up in Nazareth during the Roman Imperium might end up charged with heresy (by the Sanhedrin) and insurrection (by the local Roman governor). But how did his followers become convinced that he died, and then returned to life? And how did this Rabbi spawn a new religious movement that has remained strong for two millennia since?

      In case you can’t tell: I have a particular answer in mind for each of those questions.

      I am convinced of the existence of God, as revealed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremian, Ezekiel, Daniel, and a host of other prophets, priests, and kings of the people descended from Jacob.

      And I think that Jesus of Nazareth is the Incarnate Deity, as described in the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.

      Yet I’m also strongly aware that this combination of thought and belief is only valid under a certain set of assumptions or Axioms. And that most people who want to discuss the subject are unaware of what system of assumptions they are bringing to the discussion.

      There is another piece of my story. While I was honing my mind about what I believed, and why I hold those things to be true, I wandered a long way from anything that could be called a Belief as a way of life, or a lifestyle of Belief.

      I did follow a path that led me to a better lifestyle of Belief. Even if that testimony is part of my reason for belief, it is a personal story. It is not an argument for or against belief.

      —————————————
      [1] Advent leads to Christmas, and Lent leads to Easter. Somewhere along the way, I learned that all the materials my parents read over the breakfast table during Advent or Lent were from Catholic bookstores.

      This was almost as surprising as the knowledge that none of my Protestant friends knew anything about either Advent or Lent.

      I still think that all branches of the Protestant world, no matter their attitude towards Catholic liturgy, should find a way to incorporate some form of Advent and Lent into their preparations for these two holidays.

      Even the lesser liturgy of simply reading through the entire Bible during my childhood is rarer than it ought to be.

      [2] If you know the difference between the Pentacostal and the Charismatic strands of Protestantism-in-the-United-States, then my childhood church is a member of the latter group.

      Large parts of the secular culture in the United States don’t seem to know much about the Pentecostal/Charismatic strand of Christianity. These strands of belief are either ignored, or treated as a bunch of weirdos.

      Pentecostal/Charismatic practice does have many odd features. But it is definitely connected to realms of human experience that have long been minimized by mainstream culture.

      [3] I chose, of my own free will, not to study the teaching of John Calvin. However, one of my siblings was pre-destined by God from before the foundation of the world to study the teachings of Calvin.

      We don’t argue about this often, but the discussions are always interesting. I ask him whether he freely chose to believe in pre-destination, and he tells me that God pre-destined me to believe in free will.

      [4] Much more recently, I found a good description of Thomas Aquinas, and his Argument from Motion.

      It’s a strand of thought that I’d never pursued before. I find it affirms my beliefs.

      • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

        Shortly afterwards, while studying logic and mathematics at the graduate level, I ran into Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems…

        I hold that a similar observation can be made about religions/worldviews/philosophies.

        This is interesting, I’m always confused why something like the incompleteness theorems aren’t a death blow for anyone who wants to do abstract reasoning about the existence of supernatural beings. When you concede that your beliefs are entirely dependent on a particular set of assumptions, have you any justification for choosing this particular set of assumptions?

        Going further back, I think Russell’s paradox is reason enough to abandon proofs of the existence of god. If it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions, I don’t understand how anyone expects to produce truth from statements about unmoved movers and what have you.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Going further back, I think Russell’s paradox is reason enough to abandon proofs of the existence of god. If it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions, I don’t understand how anyone expects to produce truth from statements about unmoved movers and what have you.

          Do you apply similar reasoning to the more esoteric branches of science and mathematics, or are you more selective in your scepticism?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. I don’t know of esoteric branches of maths that don’t have rigorous foundations, and I don’t know of esoteric branches of science that purport to ‘prove’ things in the way that mathematics does.

          • rlms says:

            Indeed. Incompleteness theorems aren’t a general argument against logical arguments for anything.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            This is interesting, I’m always confused why something like the incompleteness theorems aren’t a death blow for anyone who wants to do abstract reasoning about the existence of supernatural beings. When you concede that your beliefs are entirely dependent on a particular set of assumptions, have you any justification for choosing this particular set of assumptions?

            Have you any justification for choosing assumptions that lead to a belief in atheism?

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. I don’t know of esoteric branches of maths that don’t have rigorous foundations, and I don’t know of esoteric branches of science that purport to ‘prove’ things in the way that mathematics does.

            I’d like to see a principled reason for why the fact that “it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions” means that we can’t expect to “produce truth from statements about unmoved movers”, but has no affect on our ability to produce truth from statements about mathematical objects, or wave/particle entities, or any other abstruse and difficult-to-understand topic.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Have you any justification for choosing assumptions that lead to a belief in atheism?

            No, but I don’t think my beliefs about the world follow from some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions. I also doubt that it’s possible for this to be the case.

            I trust that my beliefs about maths do, because this is what the people who study the foundational stuff say.

            I’d like to see a principled reason for why the fact that “it’s not safe to do fairly innocuous set-building constructions” means that we can’t expect to “produce truth from statements about unmoved movers”, but has no affect on our ability to produce truth from statements about mathematical objects, or wave/particle entities, or any other abstruse and difficult-to-understand topic.

            Mathematical objects, however abtruse, are still ‘well-defined’ in that they’re constructed in a certain way. Despite the fact that mathematics doesn’t even attempt to talk about the world we actually live in (e.g. ‘the set of objects in motion’ is not something you get to say), there are still subtle pitfalls you need to avoid if you want to work in a consistent system. A ‘true’ statement in maths is some statement in some model that follows from the axioms. It does not imply anything about the world we live in.

            When physicists want to think about a wave, they come up with an appropriate (well-defined) mathematical object to represent it with. There is a difference between wave-as-physical-phenomenon and wave-as-mathematical-object. A proof about the latter does not necessarily have any bearing about the behaviour of the former. ‘Truth’ for physicists tends to come from experiments.

            Metaphysical proofs on the other hand, seem to rely on the premise that there is some collection of axioms and rules of inference for producing true statements about the actual world we live in. This presupposes that you can actually refer to objects in the world we live in in some well-defined way (e.g. objects which are in motion.) The incompleteness theorems suggest that the idea of a perfect set of axioms is hopeless. But I think far more objectionable is this idea that you can have a consistent logical system that talks about the world we live in, that’s going to allow statements like consider the collection of objects in motion, and somehow not run into foundational troubles like Russell’s paradox.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, but I don’t think my beliefs about the world follow from some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions.

            So what do they follow from, guesswork?

            When physicists want to think about a wave, they come up with an appropriate (well-defined) mathematical object to represent it with. There is a difference between wave-as-physical-phenomenon and wave-as-mathematical-object. A proof about the latter does not necessarily have any bearing about the behaviour of the former. ‘Truth’ for physicists tends to come from experiments.

            If that’s the case, then (a) why do most scientists talk and act as if their findings do in fact tell us about the real world, (b) why do so many scientific findings have and real-world application, and (c) what the hell is the point of science, anyway?

            Metaphysical proofs on the other hand, seem to rely on the premise that there is some collection of axioms and rules of inference for producing true statements about the actual world we live in. This presupposes that you can actually refer to objects in the world we live in in some well-defined way (e.g. objects which are in motion.) The incompleteness theorems suggest that the idea of a perfect set of axioms is hopeless. But I think far more objectionable is this idea that you can have a consistent logical system that talks about the world we live in, that’s going to allow statements like consider the collection of objects in motion, and somehow not run into foundational troubles like Russell’s paradox.

            If you’re going to argue that we can’t produce true statements about the world we live in, that would itself have to be a statement about the world we live in. Unfortunately it would also have to be self-refuting: if it’s true, it’s false.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            So what do they follow from, guesswork?

            Something between the two I guess, though I myself am probably not in a great position to judge that. I don’t think it’s controversial that people don’t make decisions via theorem-proving though.

            If that’s the case, then (a) why do most scientists talk and act as if their findings do in fact tell us about the real world, (b) why do so many scientific findings have and real-world application, and (c) what the hell is the point of science, anyway?

            (a) and (b) Because they’re empiricists that believe experiments are a good way of determining how the real world works.

            (c) Because empiricism seems to work pretty well.

            If you’re going to argue that we can’t produce true statements about the world we live in, that would itself have to be a statement about the world we live in. Unfortunately it would also have to be self-refuting: if it’s true, it’s false.

            I’m not formulating some metaphysical statement that metaphysics is impossible, I’m pointing out why it’s probably a waste of time. I personally think empiricism seems to be a pretty good idea. I don’t know much about philosophy, and so don’t spend much time worrying about justifying this, but I’m told Popperian falsificationism is popular.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Something between the two I guess, though I myself am probably not in a great position to judge that. I don’t think it’s controversial that people don’t make decisions via theorem-proving though.

            We were talking about beliefs, not decisions.

            (a) and (b) Because they’re empiricists that believe experiments are a good way of determining how the real world works.
            (c) Because empiricism seems to work pretty well.

            Wait a minute, though: you said that physicists operationalise things as mathematical objects and study those, and that mathematical objects don’t tell us anything about the real world. But if that’s the case, then physicists can’t tell us anything about the real world either. Now, though, you seem to be saying the exact opposite, that physics does tell us about the real world. So which is it?

            I’m not formulating some metaphysical statement that metaphysics is impossible, I’m pointing out why it’s probably a waste of time. I personally think empiricism seems to be a pretty good idea. I don’t know much about philosophy, and so don’t spend much time worrying about justifying this, but I’m told Popperian falsificationism is popular.

            If you don’t know much about philosophy, what gives you the confidence to dismiss entire philosophical branches as “probably a waste of time”?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            We were talking about beliefs, not decisions.

            Ok, I don’t think I, or anyone else, forms our beliefs via theorem-proving.

            Wait a minute, though: you said that physicists operationalise things as mathematical objects and study those, and that mathematical objects don’t tell us anything about the real world. But if that’s the case, then physicists can’t tell us anything about the real world either. Now, though, you seem to be saying the exact opposite, that physics does tell us about the real world. So which is it?

            I said that a mathematical proof about a mathematical object that a physicist chooses to model a physical phenomenon with, does not necessarily provide any information about the physical phenomenon. For example, a physicist might model a solid ball in space as the set of triples (x, y, z) in R^3 with x^2 + y^2 + z^2 <= 1, and he might model the rotational symmetries of this object as the group SO(3), and he might model decompositions of the ball with finite partitions of the corresponding set. While you can prove that you can choose a finite partition that, when acted on by SO(3), produces two copies of the ball, this does not imply anything about *actual* balls.

            Again, as I said above, physicists use the results of experiments to tell us about the real world. It's a completely different framework than mathematics.

            If you don’t know much about philosophy, what gives you the confidence to dismiss entire philosophical branches as “probably a waste of time”?

            I did say ‘probably’.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Ok, I don’t think I, or anyone else, forms our beliefs via theorem-proving.

            I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “theorem-proving”, but I think most people do in fact come to some of their beliefs via “some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions”. At any rate, it seems to me that I come to some of my beliefs this way, and other people say that they come to some of their beliefs in this way.

            I said that a mathematical proof about a mathematical object that a physicist chooses to model a physical phenomenon with, does not necessarily provide any information about the physical phenomenon.

            So what’s the point of using objects in physics, if they can’t actually tell us anything about the physical world?

            Again, as I said above, physicists use the results of experiments to tell us about the real world. It’s a completely different framework than mathematics.

            So how many scientific theories get formulated and tested without using mathematics?

            I did say ‘probably’.

            So? It was still a dumb statement to make.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “theorem-proving”, but I think most people do in fact come to some of their beliefs via “some set of axioms together with a series of logical deductions”. At any rate, it seems to me that I come to some of my beliefs this way, and other people say that they come to some of their beliefs in this way.

            I mean theorem-proving in the sense of mathematics. This is my point, that the reason mathematics can hope to be without contradiction is because it concerns itself with carefully constructed abstract objects in a very particular way. I don’t believe you can prove things about the real world this way, where I’m putting as much emphasis as I can on the word prove there as I think we might be talking past one another.

            So what’s the point of using objects in physics, if they can’t actually tell us anything about the physical world?

            Empirical evidence suggests it’s a good idea.

            So? It was still a dumb statement to make.

            I was being more modest in my claims than Hume, for one.

          • Jiro says:

            (c) Because empiricism seems to work pretty well.

            Justifying empiricism, which is that we should do things that work pretty well, on the basis that empricism itself works pretty well, is circular reasoning.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Justifying empiricism, which is that we should do things that work pretty well, on the basis that empricism itself works pretty well, is circular reasoning.

            I don’t think physicists are very concerned about that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I mean theorem-proving in the sense of mathematics. This is my point, that the reason mathematics can hope to be without contradiction is because it concerns itself with carefully constructed abstract objects in a very particular way. I don’t believe you can prove things about the real world this way, where I’m putting as much emphasis as I can on the word prove there as I think we might be talking past one another.

            Maybe it would help if we back up a bit. Which axioms, precisely, do you think metaphysics uses that are problematic?

            Empirical evidence suggests it’s a good idea.

            So wouldn’t that count as empirical evidence that mathematics does in fact tell us about the real world?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Maybe it would help if we back up a bit. Which axioms, precisely, do you think metaphysics uses that are problematic?

            It’s more that metaphysics doesn’t have axioms in the same sense that mathematics does. Most of modern maths can be regarded as statements that can be interpreted within ZFC, where from the outset there is a well-defined ‘universe’ of sets with which you’re allowed to work. The axioms of ZFC are taken to hold for this universe of sets.

            In metaphysics, the ‘universe’ of things you can talk about is usually, well, the universe. And the universe doesn’t come with any sets unfortunately.

            So wouldn’t that count as empirical evidence that mathematics does in fact tell us about the real world?

            Sure, there’s empirical evidence that maths is very useful at guiding our analysis of things. But we also have empirical evidence that things that hold for abstractions of physical objects don’t necessarily hold for the physical objects themselves. For example, you can prove things about rotations of the set of (x, y, z) in R^3 with x^2 + y^2 + z^2 <= 1, that, when you try and interpret such statements as statements about physical approximation, seem absurd. Moreover, there's no such thing as the 'correct' abstract mathematical concept with which to represent a physical object in the universe. You might argue that a ball is better off modeled as points in Q^3, for instance, but because we have empirical evidence that calculus is quite useful, we don't do this (or rather, we use both concepts).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m afraid I’m still not seeing how you came to the conclusion that doing metaphysics is pointless.

            Maybe you could lay it out for me:

            1.) Russell’s paradox
            2.) ????
            3.) Metaphysics is useless

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m afraid I’m still not seeing how you came to the conclusion that doing metaphysics is pointless.

            People have been interested in using logic to prove facts about the world for a long time. Metaphysics is a very early attempt to make a sort of science out of it. Whereas mathematics tends to start by defining an abstract object (e.g. the set of natural numbers is…), and for a mathematician’s purpose the abstract object is the definition, metaphysics tries to reason about fuzzy concepts (e.g. human being, motion, red, god) with the first step being an attempt at a suitable definition (e.g. “featherless biped”).

            For a long time both metaphysicians and mathematicians believed that there were ‘correct’ foundations on which to base their theory, and people debated whether “essences exist” or whether the parallel postulate was ‘true’ or not.

            In terms of progress, maths fared a lot better. People were able to prove theorems about abstract objects, and it seemed that if you had a convincing proof that a certain object couldn’t have a certain property, then you could rest assured that you really wouldn’t be able to find a counter-example. Most of metaphysics on the other hand, seemed to be concerned with asking what the right definitions were — what is motion, what is red, etc.

            In the late 19th/early 20th century lots of work was done on putting maths on secure foundations. Russell discovered that the sort of seemingly innocuous statements that mathematicians commonly used could lead immediately to contradictions, his example being the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves. Mathematicians were worried by this because if you have a single contradiction in your system, for instance if you can prove both A and not-A, then you can prove anything you wish. And there was no need to introduce any wacky concepts to get this contradiction, you just needed to be able make statements along the lines of “the set of X”, i.e. it arose from simply trying to talk about things.

            This led to a very careful consideration of what exactly you’re allowed do when doing mathematics, and what a ‘proof’ of something looks like. Modern mathematics assumes you have a ‘universe’ of well-behaved objects to begin with, together with (your choice of) axioms that talk about these objects. A proof says something about the objects in your universe, and nothing else. One consistent system is no better or worse than another.

            This careful consideration doesn’t seem to have taken place in metaphysics, and people like Ed Feser still present Aquinas’ arguments essentially unchanged. No one seems to have attempted to formulate metaphysics in the terms modern maths is, and I don’t see how it could be possible.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Also, according to http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl , platonism/nominalism is about 50/50 among working philosophers, so ‘metaphysics is probably a waste of time’ isn’t the edgy statement you’re making it out to be. Pre-crisis in foundations of maths people like Hume still thought it was hopeless, and at the moment it’s a bit of a dead field.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations:

            I’m sorry, your argument if far too waffly and rambling for me to clearly understand. From what I can tell, it seems to rest on a vague sense of chronological snobbery and a lack of understanding of the terminology (like, you seem to think that nominalism isn’t a metaphysical view???). Maybe you could try laying your reasoning out in a Premise 1 — Premise 2 — Conclusion format to make it clearer?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Personally, I thought Michael Loux’s anthology of work in Metaphysics does a good job of laying out the terrain for various issues in the field, such as metaphysical realism vs. nominalism, endurantism vs. perdurantism, what are the truth-bearing objects, etc. I also found Parts and Places to be a pretty solid work on mereology.

            It’s a young field compared to physics, but even it is finding some toehold in practical application. I previously worked on a software product attempting to apply some principles from ontology; it enjoyed some success.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I’m sorry, your argument if far too waffly and rambling for me to clearly understand. From what I can tell, it seems to rest on a vague sense of chronological snobbery and a lack of understanding of the terminology (like, you seem to think that nominalism isn’t a metaphysical view???). Maybe you could try laying your reasoning out in a Premise 1 — Premise 2 — Conclusion format to make it clearer?

            To be honest I get the impression that you’re not very interested in my reasoning. If you want a shorter version, it would be “we’ve got a pretty good idea of what a ‘safe’ way of proving things looks like, and metaphysics doesn’t look like this”. Perhaps you’d like to defend your view instead. What exactly are the axioms of metaphysics? When is a string of characters a meaningful metaphysical statement? In what sense does a metaphysical statement refer to actual physical objects in the universe?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            To be honest I get the impression that you’re not very interested in my reasoning. If you want a shorter version, it would be “we’ve got a pretty good idea of what a ‘safe’ way of proving things looks like, and metaphysics doesn’t look like this”.

            Metaphysics “looks like” logical deductions drawn from certain agreed-upon premises. How is this very different to maths, or logical argument in general? (And are you really going to throw out logical argument as an unsafe way of proving things?)

            Perhaps you’d like to defend your view instead. What exactly are the axioms of metaphysics?

            Oh, that’s easy: the rules of logic, plus a few self-evident statements (“Some things change sometimes”, and the like).

            When is a string of characters a meaningful metaphysical statement?

            When the string of characters (a) form a meaningful statement, and (b) relate to metaphysics.

            In what sense does a metaphysical statement refer to actual physical objects in the universe?

            In the same way that most non-metaphysical statements refer to actual physical objects? I’m not sure why this should be a problem?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            (And are you really going to throw out logical argument as an unsafe way of proving things?)

            The point is that having some logical seeming axioms isn’t enough if you don’t qualify what they’re talking about. For example, proof by contradiction is usually expressed as
            (1) not-A => ((not-B => A) => B)
            In words, we’re saying that if you know not-A, and you know that not-B implies A, then you can conclude B. A consequence of truth tables says that
            (2) C => (D => C)
            Now let A be the statement ‘X ϵ X’ where X is the set of all sets that don’t contain themselves. We have (3) A => not-A.

            So for B any statement, if A is true we have
            A => not-A by (3)
            A => (not-B => A) by (2)
            B (by 1 and modus ponens);
            and similarly for if not-A is true.

            While we’ve only used agreed-upon logical-seeming axioms, we haven’t been careful about what we’ve applied them to and the result is that we can prove anything we want. Despite removing all the ambiguity that a non-formal language introduces, we’ve still lost.

            Oh, that’s easy: the rules of logic, plus a few self-evident statements (“Some things change sometimes”, and the like).

            So let’s so you want to express this formally, you might define P to be the property that a thing changes sometimes, and you might write your statement as ‘There exists X with P(X)’. Since what I’ve written above shows that you have to be very careful about what you’re allowed substitute for X, let me ask now what X can be? Do the possibilities for X form a set? Moreover, does is there a necessary and sufficient condition on X for P(X) to hold, or do you simply define P(X) by the X’s for which P(X) holds?

            When the string of characters (a) form a meaningful statement, and (b) relate to metaphysics.

            I don’t think this answers my question. How does one determine when a string of characters satisfies (a) and (b)?

            In the same way that most non-metaphysical statements refer to actual physical objects? I’m not sure why this should be a problem?

            Because if you want to talk meaningfully about certain objects in the universe having certain properties, well the objects really better ‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense. Suppose you want to reason about the universe with the axiom that red things are good, i.e. you might say you have properties R and G and that R(X) implies G(X). What are the X’s for which R(X) is true?

          • Mark says:

            X would be sense data, wouldn’t it?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Follow metaphysics enough, and you find that the very notion of things having properties is tricky. (Hence, trope theory being a thing – claiming that the redness of this cherry is different from the redness of that cherry.)

            There’s also the issue of considering which properties are essential to an entity, and which are contingent. If you have a red ball, it will have various properties – its diameter, its mass, its redness, whether it’s hollow, etc. Suppose you alter those properties – paint it red, deflate it, etc. At what point, if at all, does it cease being what you began with? Cue the sorites paradox, Ship of Theseus arguments, etc.

            One of the things I found useful about metaphysics is that it produced questions one could ask about one’s entities, answer systematically, and thus produce a formal model of them that turns out to make a critical difference in how you build a database to track them, or how that model would map onto existing databases.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations:

            You still haven’t actually given us a specific problem with metaphysics, still less one serious enough to render the entire field a waste of time. I’ll cut you a deal: I’ll answer all the questions you ask once you give an actual, specific consideration that invalidates the field of metaphysics, and an argument to back this us. Deal?

          • Mark says:

            I guess the question of what X is, how it relates to redness, what redness is – that’s metaphysics.

            My inclination would be to say that X is an anonymous object, a word that has no meaning except so far as it serves to relate different pieces of sense data, or relates different abstract terms that ultimately relate to sense data.

            If metaphysics is the act of determining how our statements can relate to imposed sense data (“external reality”), then simply talking about reality is a metaphysical position.

            Saying that metaphysics is a pointless exercise is a bit like saying, “the statement ‘I have a book’ tells me nothing about the content of that book, so it is useless.” Well, not really – because unless you can recognise something as a book, you can’t read it, there are many other things it could be apart from a book, and there might be some things you know about a book that allow you to find out some things about the nature of the story etc.

            But, I agree, at the moment, it seems more worthwhile to just read the book than to try and guess its content by looking at the cover.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            You still haven’t actually given us a specific problem with metaphysics, still less one serious enough to render the entire field a waste of time. I’ll cut you a deal: I’ll answer all the questions you ask once you give an actual, specific consideration that invalidates the field of metaphysics, and an argument to back this us. Deal?

            What? I don’t see how I can get more specific than the first part of my previous post. If I wasn’t so charitable I’d think you were searching for a way to avoid responding to my questions.

            @ Paul

            One of the things I found useful about metaphysics is that it produced questions one could ask about one’s entities, answer systematically, and thus produce a formal model of them that turns out to make a critical difference in how you build a database to track them, or how that model would map onto existing databases.

            This sounds interesting, can you give an example?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Mark

            I guess the question of what X is, how it relates to redness, what redness is – that’s metaphysics.

            Saying that metaphysics is a pointless exercise is a bit like saying, “the statement ‘I have a book’ tells me nothing about the content of that book, so it is useless.”

            Sure. I should make clear that the issue I have is that metaphysics purports to be able to prove things. This is what modern proponents like Ed Feser maintain. Insofar as metaphysics concerns itself with just discussing what the correct definitions for things are, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a ‘correct’ definition, but I do think it can be interesting to think about.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What? I don’t see how I can get more specific than the first part of my previous post. If I wasn’t so charitable I’d think you were searching for a way to avoid responding to my questions.

            You said that “having some logical seeming axioms isn’t enough if you don’t qualify what they’re talking about”. OK, great. So what? You need to show that metaphysicians actually do fall into these traps, and moreover that they cannot avoid doing so, not just that they might, theoretically end up doing so. Right now, your argument is a slightly more maths-y equivalent of the “Well, scientists might believe in evolution, but scientists don’t have all the answers” canard. Sure they don’t, but that doesn’t prove that they’re wrong in this particular instance.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            You said that “having some logical seeming axioms isn’t enough if you don’t qualify what they’re talking about”. OK, great. So what? You need to show that metaphysicians actually do fall into these traps, and moreover that they cannot avoid doing so, not just that they might, theoretically end up doing so.

            Let me put it this way. Does proof by contradiction exist in your version of metaphysics? Does modus ponens? Can you refer to sets? Does Russell’s paradox arise? If not, why not?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Let me put it this way. Does proof by contradiction exist in your version of metaphysics? Does modus ponens? Can you refer to sets? Does Russell’s paradox arise? If not, why not?

            (1) Yes.

            (2) Yes.

            (3 & 4) Most metaphysics doesn’t make use of set theory, so even accepting Russell’s paradox, I don’t see what how it’s particularly relevant.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            (3 & 4) Most metaphysics doesn’t make use of set theory, so even accepting Russell’s paradox, I don’t see what how it’s particularly relevant.

            Do you mean most theories of metaphysics do not allow reference to sets? Or are you saying most metaphysical arguments don’t involve sets. I’m asking what you’re allowed refer to when you sit down and start doing metaphysics. Can you refer to ‘collections’ of ‘things’?

          • rlms says:

            @asmallpost
            If you consider the version of set theory that contains Russell’s paradox to be a fruitful thing to study (which evidently it was up to 1901), then why makes metaphysics unfruitful? If you think only ZFC (or your favourite other kind of set theory) is worth using (because it avoids Russell’s paradox), why can’t metaphysics just use that?

            In general, I think you are correct that metaphysics suffers from the same problem of “what does it actually mean for something to be true, if it just depends on what axioms you pick” as maths, and so if you claim that metaphysical axioms are “just there” then anything you “prove” will be somewhat meaningless (in the same way that if you pick a random set of symbols and mechanism for shuffling them, you are unlikely to end up doing interesting mathematics). But I would argue that metaphysical axioms are not arbitrary, they stem from intuition in the same way as the mathematical axioms we actually use do.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Do you mean most theories of metaphysics do not allow reference to sets? Or are you saying most metaphysical arguments don’t involve sets. I’m asking what you’re allowed refer to when you sit down and start doing metaphysics. Can you refer to ‘collections’ of ‘things’?

            You can refer to collections of things as a useful shorthand for the things themselves, although the collections aren’t independent entities in their own right. So the answer to your question is “Yes, but only with qualifications”.

            And now, since you’ve held up your end, I’d better hold up mine as well:

            So let’s so you want to express this formally, you might define P to be the property that a thing changes sometimes, and you might write your statement as ‘There exists X with P(X)’. Since what I’ve written above shows that you have to be very careful about what you’re allowed substitute for X, let me ask now what X can be? Do the possibilities for X form a set? Moreover, does is there a necessary and sufficient condition on X for P(X) to hold, or do you simply define P(X) by the X’s for which P(X) holds?

            Well, if I understand you properly, X would be the things that unarguably undergo change. As Mark said, sense impressions would be one example; so would mental operations like reasoning (you think about one premise, then about another, then come to a conclusion, at different times), emotions (you feel happy at one time, sad at another), and things of a similar nature.

            Because if you want to talk meaningfully about certain objects in the universe having certain properties, well the objects really better ‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense. Suppose you want to reason about the universe with the axiom that red things are good, i.e. you might say you have properties R and G and that R(X) implies G(X). What are the X’s for which R(X) is true?

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by “‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense”; Platonism might be one of the most famous metaphysical theories out there, but it’s by no means the only one. As for your question, I’m afraid I don’t quite understand it, so you might have to unpack it a bit for me. From what I can tell, the things for which R(X) is true would be red things, but that seems kind of tautological, so I assume there’s some aspect of your question that I’m not picking up on.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            If you consider the version of set theory that contains Russell’s paradox to be a fruitful thing to study (which evidently it was up to 1901), then why makes metaphysics unfruitful?

            It’s more that Russell’s paradox is evidence that you need to be careful what you allow your axioms to refer to, if you want your system to be consistent. It doesn’t wipe out pre-1901 maths because all of it could be very easily rephrased in the new, safer way of doing things. If metaphysics was a collection of mostly banal statements about finite sets but just phrased a bit differently, there might not be much need to worry, but instead all it wants to talk about are things like ‘unmoved movers’ that should have you worried whether that’s really something you should be allowed talk about.

            If you think only ZFC (or your favourite other kind of set theory) is worth using (because it avoids Russell’s paradox), why can’t metaphysics just use that?

            Metaphysics can’t be phrased in terms of ZFC because ZFC talks about sets, whereas metaphysics talks about the universe we live in. Theorems in ZFC are statements about sets.

            In general, I think you are correct that metaphysics suffers from the same problem of “what does it actually mean for something to be true, if it just depends on what axioms you pick” as maths, and so if you claim that metaphysical axioms are “just there” then anything you “prove” will be somewhat meaningless (in the same way that if you pick a random set of symbols and mechanism for shuffling them, you are unlikely to end up doing interesting mathematics). But I would argue that metaphysical axioms are not arbitrary, they stem from intuition in the same way as the mathematical axioms we actually use do.

            Sure. What I’m trying to get at is that even if you bite the bullet and just pick some axioms, you still have a long way to go before you should feel confident that you’re actually able to prove things. You need to be able to say what these axioms are actually talking about, i.e. if you believe that A=>(B=>A) you need to say what you’re actually allowed substitute for A and B.

            The original post that started all this referred to different religious outlooks as examples of godel incompleteness — that each religion has a different logical system, with resulting statements that are independent of the system. But incompleteness is an extremely technical result that applies to dry, formal systems. Where everything is crystal clear in terms of what you’re allowed say and do. Where you’re just manipulating symbols that have no real world interpretation. I don’t think this is in any way applicable to metaphysics or religious argumentation because none of these in any way resemble dry, formal systems.

          • Iain says:

            Sure. What I’m trying to get at is that even if you bite the bullet and just pick some axioms, you still have a long way to go before you should feel confident that you’re actually able to prove things. You need to be able to say what these axioms are actually talking about, i.e. if you believe that A=>(B=>A) you need to say what you’re actually allowed substitute for A and B.

            To riff on this: math is basically a game. Given this set of axioms, what is it possible to prove? You have your pick of axioms; if you don’t like ZFC, you can take HoTT for a test drive. Sometimes the results of the mathematical game happen to be useful, which is a nice bonus — but the metric for evaluating the correctness of a mathematical result is not usefulness, but simply whether it follows from the axioms.

            It is perfectly fine for metaphysics to play the math game with different axioms. Sometimes that will even be useful, as in Paul Brinkley’s comment about making practical use of ontology. But if metaphysics wants to make claims about the nature of reality, it has to go a step farther: it has to show that its axioms are true. That isn’t a concept that maps on well to math; you can talk about whether ZFC is consistent, but it’s not even clear what it means to ask whether ZFC is true.

            So: there are lots of ways to screw up your axioms and end up with an inconsistent system. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that even a consistent system of axioms actually maps to reality. And unlike physics, where it is possible to test predictions via experiment, metaphysics has no external source of verification.

            Therefore, when two theories of metaphysics disagree, it’s likely to be based on the axioms. The axioms that a person finds intuitively true will vary depending on that person’s other philosophical commitments. In practice, then, metaphysics is frequently an exercise in trying to provide retroactive justification for previously held stances by disguising them as math.

            This explains why people so rarely change their minds based on metaphysical arguments.

            (A religious philosopher trying to formalize the ontological argument would not, upon realizing that the existence of God was not provable using his starting axioms, abandon his religion and become an atheist. He would start adding new axioms. It’s like a metaphysical equivalent of p-hacking.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Iain:

            Your argument seems to throw up a paradox. If we can’t know things about the real world using logical arguments, that would apply to your argument as well, which if it is to have any force would itself have to apply to the real world. Hence, if your argument succeeds, it fails.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Well, if I understand you properly, X would be the things that unarguably undergo change. As Mark said, sense impressions would be one example; so would mental operations like reasoning (you think about one premise, then about another, then come to a conclusion, at different times), emotions (you feel happy at one time, sad at another), and things of a similar nature.

            Sorry if it was a bit unclear. I mean that for X you should be able to substitute anything you want to be able to consider, and that P(X) records some truth value, true whenever X is something that changes sometimes, and false when X is something that doesn’t. So when I ask what X can be, I’m really asking what are you allowing yourself to consider as having properties, say.

            So you’ve said that X can be things like mental operations, sense impressions, and emotions. But these things belong to some greater collection of things you’re allowing yourself to consider, this is what I’m inquiring about. (In particular I’m curious how you can disallow considering collections as independent entities but not ’emotions’).

            I’m not quite sure what you mean by “‘have’ these properties in a Platonist sense”; Platonism might be one of the most famous metaphysical theories out there, but it’s by no means the only one. As for your question, I’m afraid I don’t quite understand it, so you might have to unpack it a bit for me. From what I can tell, the things for which R(X) is true would be red things, but that seems kind of tautological, so I assume there’s some aspect of your question that I’m not picking up on.

            Sure. If you say R(X) holds for ‘red things’, I’m going to ask ‘well, which things are red’. Do you see where this is going?

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            Your argument seems to throw up a paradox. If we can’t know things about the real world using logical arguments, that would apply to your argument as well, which if it is to have any force would itself have to apply to the real world. Hence, if your argument succeeds, it fails.

            Not at all. Iain isn’t laying out a proof of anything. An argument doesn’t have some underlying truth value. We typically say an argument succeeds if it convinces people, but that’s just a matter of terminology.

          • Iain says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            No, that’s silly. I’m not denying the possibility of knowledge – for example, I explicitly mentioned the ability of physicists to test hypotheses through experiment. I’m challenging the power of metaphysics in particular.

            If you require a pithy summary of my argument: Metaphysics is unique among “proofy” fields in that it claims as its universe of discourse our actual universe. Unlike mathematics, the axioms of a metaphysical theory don’t just have to be reasonable and consistent; they also have to be correct. Unlike the physical sciences, metaphysical theories are not amenable to empirical verification.

            My argument does not apply to itself because I’m not claiming to have a formal and rigorous proof of my own correctness. Do you disagree with my claim? Why? While it is possible that, upon further discussion, our disagreement might boil down to fundamentally different axioms, I think it is more likely that we share sufficient axioms to (in principle) come to an agreement on this issue.

            It’s the “rigorous proofs” branch of metaphysics that I’m addressing.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Iain:

            It’s the “rigorous proofs” branch of metaphysics that I’m addressing.

            Do you mean “rigorous proofs” as in “written out in formal logic”, or “rigorous proofs” as in “proofs that are rigorous”?

            If you require a pithy summary of my argument: Metaphysics is unique among “proofy” fields in that it claims as its universe of discourse our actual universe. Unlike mathematics, the axioms of a metaphysical theory don’t just have to be reasonable and consistent; they also have to be correct. Unlike the physical sciences, metaphysical theories are not amenable to empirical verification.

            Well, what sort of axioms does metaphysics use that you think are wrong or contentious?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Unlike the physical sciences, metaphysical theories are not amenable to empirical verification.

            I think this is only partially true. It’s true in that metaphysical theories appear to have acquired a level of discipline only recently that physicists had been grasping for since the 1600s and had at least by reputation since around 1900. (Although even this is shaky – consider how many people still have trouble with the concept of a velocity.)

            In some ways, though, metaphysics gets some falsification cred. For example, the theory: “groups are identifiable by their members” is handily shown as refuted if you define a band as being an instance of a group, its members as being its stage performers, and consider a situation where a band’s drummer is replaced. In some sense, yes, it’s not the same Def Leppard when Tony Kenning leaves, but everyone still identifies Def Leppard as the remaining members. By contrast, the theory “groups are identified intensionally” is strengthened.

            This in turn impacts how groups are identified in a database, should you choose to track them. In practice, I suspect anyone would choose to identify bands the same way – by their name. But wait! That theory turns out to be bogus as well, if you want to say that Mookie Blaylock and Pearl Jam are the same band. And in general, names turn out to be a very fraught way of identifying anything. This is both obvious and not, if you’ve ever considered someone who changed their last name and inexplicably disappeared from several parts of the bureaucratic machinery. People know names are terrible at identifying people – and then promptly forget that when building schemas.

            Identity criteria issues also mesh with temporal issues. Some entity properties change over time; some never do. If you ever hear a metaphysical realist talk about rigidity, this is what they’re referring to. People change their professions. Databases get away with tracking only one, because they often only care about “now”. Database integrators and analysts, however, have to work from a model where these things change over time.

            Hopefully this also addresses a question asmallpost[…] asked earlier.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            In some ways, though, metaphysics gets some falsification cred. For example, the theory: “groups are identifiable by their members” is handily shown as refuted if you define a band as being an instance of a group, its members as being its stage performers, and consider a situation where a band’s drummer is replaced. In some sense, yes, it’s not the same Def Leppard when Tony Kenning leaves, but everyone still identifies Def Leppard as the remaining members. By contrast, the theory “groups are identified intensionally” is strengthened.

            “groups are identifiable by their members” is a statement that hinges entirely on your definitions of ‘group’ and ‘identifiable’, and becomes a tautology when you choose to allow two groups to be the same despite having different members. Which you seem to do immediately after making the statement — you don’t say what a group is, and then you declare that bands are groups and that bands are the same if you switch a not-so-important member. Place your statements in the correct order and it becomes clear that it’s uninteresting.

            This in turn impacts how groups are identified in a database, should you choose to track them. In practice, I suspect anyone would choose to identify bands the same way – by their name. But wait! That theory turns out to be bogus as well, if you want to say that Mookie Blaylock and Pearl Jam are the same band. And in general, names turn out to be a very fraught way of identifying anything. This is both obvious and not, if you’ve ever considered someone who changed their last name and inexplicably disappeared from several parts of the bureaucratic machinery. People know names are terrible at identifying people – and then promptly forget that when building schemas.

            This isn’t metaphysics so much as thinking carefully about how you want to store things in a database. You don’t need to make any sort of ontological commitments about ‘essences’ or what-have-you to do this.

            Identity criteria issues also mesh with temporal issues. Some entity properties change over time; some never do. If you ever hear a metaphysical realist talk about rigidity, this is what they’re referring to. People change their professions. Databases get away with tracking only one, because they often only care about “now”. Database integrators and analysts, however, have to work from a model where these things change over time.

            Again, this isn’t a case of ‘how to I intuit the identity this being possesses’, rather it’s ‘how do I track entries in a database in such a way that has some tolerance for certain attributes changing’.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I guess I left some stuff out.

            Yes, if I define groups by example, and make that example be bands, then as you say, yes, it’s true to the point of uninteresting that groups are defined intentionally.

            What I left out was the bit about how people often try to use one example on one day and then another example on another day, and the two turn out to be incompatible. So if, tomorrow, I tried to say groups include any arbitrary set of people, someone else could easily interpret that to mean “everyone in accounting, plus Jack, who tends to hang out on their floor most of the day”, and then they remove Jill from that group and wonder why it’s still matching their former group when, to them, it clearly should not.

            Identity criteria are very much a part of metaphysics, as are rigidity and dependency constraints. And identity is especially important to the problem of database integration, as it plays a central role in determining whether two references to an entity refer to the same or different entities. One of the most common problems we had to deal with were different schemas using the same term with different senses, and not documenting that because it didn’t occur to them at the time that they would have to.

            I also think of metaphysics as including how carefully you think about how you build formal models, including database schemas, not just so you use your own database correctly, but to also prevent other users from putting dirty data into it.

            For a while, we had a list of questions to ask about every entity type in a model before designing it, to head off such problems. That list was heavily informed by metaphysical concerns.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Paul
            Right, this less metaphysics qua proving things about the world and more metaphysics qua thinking carefully about how to choose to define things. And if that’s what you want to call metaphysics and you think it helps, that’s no problem. But I believe you could instead call what you’re doing ‘thinking carefully about how to choose to define things’, and that this carries a lot less baggage than ‘metaphysics’. In the same way that a voodoo practitioner might have a ritual for a high temperature involving taking some paracetemol, the fact he finds this beneficial is more a statement about paracetemol than voodoo.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Mr. X

            Do you mean “rigorous proofs” as in “written out in formal logic”, or “rigorous proofs” as in “proofs that are rigorous”?

            I’m very curious as to what the latter is.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m very curious as to what the latter is.

            http://www.dictionary.com/browse/rigorous?s=t

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ Mr. X:

            Linking to a dictionary definition is hardly a useful response.

            I don’t know what asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations thinks, but I am of the opinion that no metaphysical argument can ever be rigorous, because the concepts deployed in such arguments are inherently imprecise or ambiguous.

            So, link us to the metaphysical argument that you personally consider to be the most rigorous, or the best exemplar of rigor in metaphysics.

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            @ Mr. X
            What I mean is your idea of a proof that’s ‘rigorous but not formal’. How might one recognise one of those? Is there a means of verifying that a string of characters is such a thing?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Right, this [is] less metaphysics qua proving things about the world and more metaphysics qua thinking carefully about how to choose to define things. And if that’s what you want to call metaphysics and you think it helps, that’s no problem. But I believe you could instead call what you’re doing ‘thinking carefully about how to choose to define things’, and that this carries a lot less baggage than ‘metaphysics’.

            I suppose this is true. But if so, then it sounds like your beef with metaphysics isn’t so much with what metaphysics is as it is with what laymen seem to think it is.

            I do think this is a legitimate concern. A few years ago, I wrote an article for a potential blog; the article was titled “Ontology: why it’s more than just proving that chair is real”. We were big on the O-word; we spent a fair bit of effort hyping the value of little-o ontologies, only to have every Tom, Dick, and database dinosaur promptly begin saying they were all about ontologies, too, except that their ontologies were just the dusty database dictionaries they had been hawking for decades, lacking the richer formalisms we were claiming distinguished ontologies from the CRUD-focused tech of the past. They co-opted the word and made it meaningless. Maybe the same happened to “metaphysics”.

            To be honest, some of metaphysics is indeed pretty hokey by formal standards. But some of it isn’t – you really can write a computer program based on some of it. Particularly some of the stuff we seem to be talking about here. Which ought to mean that I could refer to it in this thread and not have to worry about its baggage…

          • asmallpostaboutgrouprepresentations says:

            I suppose this is true. But if so, then it sounds like your beef with metaphysics isn’t so much with what metaphysics is as it is with what laymen seem to think it is.

            As a layman, this is entirely possible. My beef is with adherents of metaphysics that purport to be able to prove things about the world we live in.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Raised Methodist. But I never really believed in what seemed like a glorified collection of faerie stories – by the time I was a teenager I was an atheist, and quite content to remain that way.

      There are nagging problems that it’s tough to resolve about God – why isn’t His presence in the universe more visible? How would one even choose between Christianity, Islam, Hinduism (to name just the major religions)? And there is a distressing lack of miracles every day, unless you’re one of those lunatics describing the birth of every child as a suspension of Nature’s Law.

      However, more than anything else, I have always been devoted to history, particularly classical and ancient history. And I found the evidence that something fishy was going on in 1st century Palestine very compelling. Every alternative hypothesis I floated eventually was shot down (Jaskologist, and if he’s still around, Troy can talk more about this), so in the end I found myself returning to the fold.

      That, in turn, led me to C. S. Lewis, and from there to Augustine and Aquinas. It was a revelation from the tired charismatic stuff I’d been fed as a youth – this was religion married to reason, and it cleaned up many of the lingering problems I’d been having explaining the universe. So now I go to a Methodist church again, but I’ve been meaning to walk into the Catholic church across the street and investigate how one goes about joining.

      • Dahlen says:

        Hey, that’s interesting. It always is, when a person goes through an atheist phase and then back again to religion, having resolved the tension between it and the usual atheist arguments. Not sure whether you’ll see this reply — but would you mind talking a bit more about this?

  29. knownastron says:

    Are there any good explanation for why Asians-Americans overwhelmingly vote democrat? The most dominant Asian values are: fiscal responsibility, family, and education. Besides the focus on education, fiscal responsibility and focus on family are very Republican ideals.

    Can anyone share any insight?

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      I posted this Charles Murray piece awhile back (in one of the Trump threads?) and people seemed to find it insightful.

    • Iain says:

      There was a decent subthread in the comments starting here, marred slightly by contributions from a since-banned Trump supporter. A couple of good external links from that thread: one, two.

    • John Schilling says:

      Besides the focus on education, fiscal responsibility and focus on family are very Republican ideals.

      The focus on education is really, really important to Asians.

      Really, it’s important to everyone – do you want or expect your dose of fiscal responsibility to be delivered by someone who can’t do math? The problem is, while maybe 80% of the population is focused on education as a Good Thing, the 20% who see it as a Bad Thing(*) are now mostly Republicans and figure more prominently than they deserve in the public face of the GOP. The more you care about education as a positive good, the less likely you are to trust a Republican to actually deliver any of the other goods you and he might mutually agree on.

      * “I learned enough math to balance a budget in middle school; college is just braniacs who don’t understand the Real World and spread commie secular humanist propaganda to people who ought to know better”, or the like.

    • shakeddown says:

      Education is a huge predictor of voting, and asians tend to be highly educated. Asians used to be more nonpartisan (or even lean republican), but as the republican party skews anti-education (It feels like it’s been leaning that way for a while, but the establishment only realised it this election), asians start tending democratic.

    • Sandy says:

      My family has a negative view of Republicans because they consider them the party of stupid people like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. They admire Ted Cruz for literally no other reason but that he’s a brilliant lawyer, but they still wouldn’t vote for him because he’s a Republican and thus belongs to the party of stupid people. They’re pro-market and they hate Muslims, but they won’t vote Republican until the stupid people are purged.

      • erenold says:

        They’re pro-market and they hate Muslims

        On the assumption there was indeed somewhat of a swing towards Trump amongst Asian-Americans in this election, I do wonder if there wasn’t more to the above point than we thought.

        It seems clear that if you thought Muslims pose an existential threat to the country, or at least a significant and real one to your livelihood, then there was really only one candidate in the race. For various reasons, I can imagine different Asian-American populations would take different positions on that issue. North-east Asians like Japanese and Koreans probably not so much, but south/southeast Chinese, Indian and other various southeast Asian folks maybe.

    • erenold says:

      I posted a little bit in the last thread, so just a couple of quick observations:

      There’s some evidence – and Scott at least seems convinced, since he used the same source in his recent Wolf post – that Trump did an amazing 11 points better with Asian-Americans than Romney did. This is the second largest swing among all demographic groups, with the exception of Whites without college (14 points). If true*, it’s clear that much of what we thought we know about As-Ams must surely be wrong.

      * Now caveats – these were based on exit polls, the same exit polls that were so reliable that they thought inter alia that Clinton would win and that it would be a short night, that consistently got the primaries wrong, that obviously exclude Dem-leaning early voters, and so on. And of course smaller population groups equals noisier. But they’re comparisons of 2016 exit polls to 2012 exit polls, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Ultimately I think it’s hard to believe Trump didn’t at least do a little better than Romney, and quite probably a lot better.

      What happened? I know, or at least strongly suspect, what happened for me personally, at least – I got caught up in my own, college-educated bubble, and for that I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I probably misled. As I noted, I have almost no American extended family – certainly none born after the 50s – without college, many of whom were Ivies. This led me to overestimate the impact of a smaller shift further towards Clinton of an already Dem-leaning group, Asians w/ college, while ignoring a potentially much greater shift in the opposite direction elsewhere.

      We think of Asians as being stereotypically educated and white-collar. And, of course, there’s some truth there, this source says 54% of Asians have college relative to 33% gen. pop, the highest in America. But this teaches us – or at least me – to remember, of course, the fact that this means that 46% of the population don’t have college degrees. That’s about 4.5m votes right there! It seems quite plausible to me that there was a massive pro-Trump swing amongst these folks, similar to what we saw among the WWC.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There are Asian-American groups like the Vietnamese who traditionally vote Republican; there was a big hoo-hah before the election about how they were all turning to the Democrats.

        e.g.

        http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/asian-american-voters-are-diverse-but-unified-against-donald-trump/

        It appears this did not actually happen. Or perhaps it did; NBC suggests believing the election-eve polls over the exit polls:

        http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/analysis-how-exit-polling-missed-mark-asian-americans-n682491

        They say the same about Latinos. I expect this is denial, but on the other hand there’s at least one exit poll backing up the pre-election figures

        http://www.atimes.com/article/asian-americans-backed-wrong-donkey-us-poll/

        • erenold says:

          Yep, agreed. I totally buy that exit polls suck. What I’m not prepared to believe is that they conjured an 11-point shift from thin air. The one exit you cited that didn’t show Asian underperformance for the Democrats was conducted by the “Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund”; I’m not convinced that such explicitly minority-organization outfits can produce good work, much like Latino Decisions with their 89% Latino Democratic polls and what not.

          I think this is one of those times the sheer vastness and therefore meaninglessness of the term “Asian-American” really shows itself. I suspect that the Asian-Americans that reporters knew personally really did swing Dem, or at least further did so. Chinese-diaspora roommate from college. Indian colleague at work pulling six figures, Taiwanese doctor. But this doesn’t prove anything until you’ve controlled for the college/working-class shift within the general population! What about the Fijians, 20% of whom don’t graduate HS let alone college? What about the 40% of Laotians for whom that’s true, or the 45% Cambodians?

          If you’re a national reporter, you can probably ballpark that Asian-Americans make up about 5% of the population. If you then have Asian-Americans as 1 in 20 of your friends – not a hard ratio to achieve, I suspect – then you might have fooled yourself into thinking you understood As-Am thinking in this cycle. But you really just didn’t. You got fooled by the overrepresentation of Korean (53% college), Indian (70% college), yonsei Japanese (46% college) in your social circles into thinking they were the entirety of the 5%. They weren’t. There were entire demographic populations you failed to account for, maybe didn’t even know existed. You had no insight into the phenomenology of what it is to be a second- or third-generation Hmong who works with his hands, struggling to keep your kids from running with the street gangs, competing with Mexican legal and illegal immigrants for daily work. That’s how they got it so badly wrong. (And, of course, as did I.)

          • knownastron says:

            Do you think that Asians’ tendency to be apolitical hurts their ability to vote according to their deeper core values?

            I feel like your analysis about Asians viewing Republicans as “crazy” is correct. But it seems like rather shallow reasoning. Do Asians vote on such a shallow reason because Asians don’t care enough to analyze beyond that initial impression?

            You’d expect someone that is deeply engaged in politics to get past that initial impression and realize that the deeper values of family and fiscal conservatism is more important factors to vote on.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think the standard argument against trying to parse exit polling for minority groups is simply that most of the exit polls specifically say that they aren’t designed to grab that data accurately.

            Given that the exit polls were fairly wrong anyway, and we don’t know why, it doesn’t make much sense to do anything than assign very large error bars on the measures.

          • erenold says:

            @knownastron

            Hmmm… let me do something very unwise, take off my descriptive hat and put on my normative one.

            I’m not sure we share sufficient premises here. Why do you believe it’s a ‘shallow’ or superficial reason? I have to respectfully say that from where I’m sitting, it does appear to be the correct one.

            Trump is Trump, and Palin is Palin, and we need waste no more time on that. But long before 2016 you had Rick Santorum suggesting that only snobs want to go to college (yes, I know I’m shorthanding this.) Rick Perry threatened to secede from the Union as a break from threatening Helicopter Ben Bernanke personally with mob violence. Joe Wilson screamed that the President of the United States was a liar in the middle of SOTU. Herman Cain thinks only the effete elite care about knowing who U-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan’s President is. Birtherism. These things matter cumulatively. I don’t think this is a mere stylistic affect. I think they imply something about the modern Republican party. I think the shift from R to D of college-educated voters generally, is also a product of that same shift.

            @HBC

            Certainly plausible. We know elex-day vote trends R anyway due to early voting, and as you said we know, and they themselves know, that polling small groups produce large error bars. But 11 points? From exit polls that heavily leaned D in the first place? Not beyond the realm of possibility, but a bit too high for me to write off.

            Not to mention, we’re comparing exits to exits. If you believe the 2004, 2008, 2012 figures are historically plausible, then you need to explain why there was a failure – such a massive failure – only for the 2016 version.

          • knownastron says:

            @erenold

            You nailed it, I see the craziness as a stylistic expression. However, when you put it the way you did with those examples. I’m inclined to agree with you that it may be more than a stylistic expression of “craziness.”

            I think I also made the mistake of thinking that this was an Asian-only problem (if the “shallow” problem exists at all). I think the general consensus is that most of the population votes for tribal or related reasons and not deep analysis of core values.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        What happened?

        (Caveat: I live thousands of miles away and haven’t set foot on the good ol’ US of A for many years now, so take my ideas with an appropriately-sized grain of salt.)

        Asian-Americans tend to be better-educated, have better jobs, etc., than the national average, so they don’t tend to do very well in the identity politics stakes (cf. affirmative action programmes in universities making it harder for Asians to get in). The Dems have been pushing identity politics pretty heavily for a while now, and this only got more pronounced in the run-up to the election, when the idea that people should vote Hillary so that America could have its first female President was a prominent one. Conversely, the Repubs have traditionally been more in favour of individualism, and Trump himself didn’t seem like the sort of person who’d have much patience for affirmative action proposals. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump did better with Asian-American voters than previous Republican nominees had.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I’m not Asian, so this is all second-hand anecdotes, but it seems like there are a few big cultural differences that put them off.

      Guns are a big one. Asians, particularly new immigrants, are scared to death of guns and cannot understand American gun culture at all. Obviously that’s not universal: Asian small business owners in inner cities can be quite well armed. But it seems like a big factor in seeing the R’s as a bunch of lunatics if you can’t fathom why someone would consider the second amendment as one of our cornerstone rights.

      Christianity could well be another. A lot of Asian Americans are Christians, and some like Koreans are even pretty serious about it. But they’re not quite the same sort of Christians. They have their own churches, their own interpretations of scripture, and their own attitudes on how belief should enter into the public sphere. I just don’t see them getting along easily with American Evangelical culture very well even if on paper a lot of them are the same denominations.

      The respect for received knowledge versus experience seems like another. It’s a stereotype that Asians are unquestioning robots, and obviously untrue in the extreme. But I’ve definitely noticed that East Asians (particularly new immigrants) are very reluctant to question information which comes from on high while Americans are a lot quicker to point out when the official story doesn’t make sense. If you’ve ever done a journal club with a group of Chinese scientists it’s exhausting because they hate saying that the data doesn’t support the author’s preferred conclusion, even if that data is a gel that looks like someone wiped the floor with it.

      Conservatism in the US is still very focused on the rights of individuals and small communities to do their own thing without undue interference, which is at odds with most of the world’s understanding of conservatism as a single centralized tradition. It’s closer than American liberalism but not by very much.

      • keranih says:

        This was going to be sort of my reply but you said it better. I think the culture of anti-state individual liberty that trumps top-down social order which is a stronger part of the right than the left (at least in practice) spooks East Asians to some degree. Makes us look like crazy unpredictable people.

        • erenold says:

          Heh. Well, it should be noted that historically in East Asia, when the state was weak, that didn’t mean you were free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it meant things were about to really fucking suck for you and yours. Although one of the great classics of Chinese literature is about a bunch of libertarian bandits hiding out in the mountains from the oppressive central state!

          I’ve talked before about the idea of 乱 luan, chaos/disorder, and its not an idea that’s easy to translate fully, or explain how deep a hold it has even on the modern Chinese mentality. There’s a reason they fired on the poor kids in Tiananmen – as Lee Kuan Yew puts it, “If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.”

          • Reasoner says:

            Google indicates that your quote is from Deng Xiaoping (Chinese ruler), not Lee Kuan Yew (Singaporean ruler).

  30. Dr Dealgood says:

    So since we’re already talking about global warming, white nationalism and other napalm-level flamebait… is anyone interested in having an alignment thread instead?

    In my recent heavily-houseruled D&D Rules Compendium game, I’ve been running the Moorcockian one-axis Law-Neutrality-Chaos system. Mainly I like it because it evokes a strong pulp aesthetic. You have the ancient but borderline-decadent Law of civilization, the barbaric Neutrality of nature, and the mad teeming Chaos of the unknown. I’m a bit of a sucker for Thud and Blunder and cosmic horror so it’s a really good fit.

    But I know a lot of people prefer the Good-Evil axis, a dual-axis system, or to just discard character alignments altogether. What approaches do the guys and gals here take, and why?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Back when I played D&D, I just ran it as-is, because a lot of the magic system and all that is keyed into it. However, the nine-alignment system doesn’t really work.

      For one thing, everybody thinks they’re good! It’s possible to spot Law vs Chaos much more easily. The bomb-throwing anarchist and the secret policeman are clearly Chaos vs Law – but each thinks they are Good and the other is Evil. In games, it’s common for Law and Chaos to team up – but IRL, it’s the other way around.

      Something that would be fun to do would be to have Good and Evil presented to the players … but it’s fictional; they function as game mechanics but not for the reasons given. You’re just seeing how the players respond morally to thinking that they are the good guys and that they can easily identify the bad guys. OK, your cleric of Corellon Larethian’s Detect Evil spell does identify those orcs as evil, but that’s just because Corellon Larethian hates orcs. Maybe don’t even have Law and Chaos be real either. Present the players with a moral system that is presented as objective but is actually subjective.

      Lately, I’ve only been running and playing in games that neither have nor need an alignment system, so the point is moot, but I still enjoy presenting players with moral dilemmas, and it’s especially fun when they don’t realize they’re moral dilemmas.