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OT64: Openn Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. There are hidden threads every few days here. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Thanks to Brendan Long for doing some work to make the blog appear better on cell phones. Cell phone users, please let me know whether it’s actually better now.

2. I would like to do a new SSC Survey soon. If you have any ideas for interesting questions, let me know. I’m not going to include very many reader-requested questions, but if someone comes up with a really good one I find really interesting it might make it in.

3. I will be at this meetup in New York City on December 18. If anyone else wants to come, I’ll see you there. ADDED: Also, we are still looking for a location, so if anyone has a big house in New York City and wants to help us, we can figure out some way to make it worth it for you. Please let me know or email schnaigs@gmail.com

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674 Responses to OT64: Openn Thread

  1. shakeddown says:

    Thanks to Brendan Long for doing some work to make the blog appear better on cell phones.

    Possibly related?: Some of the posts don’t wrap around on computer screens now.

    • JulieK says:

      This post looks good (so far) on my laptop, but “Contra Robinson” is too wide.

    • Andrew G. says:

      The problem is that long words (in the case of the non-shared-environment post it’s an URL in the comments which has a very long component with underscore separators and no hyphens or other word-breaking characters) are pushing out the width of the comments column; presumably something that previously fixed a width or maximum width for this has been removed for the benefit of the mobile users.

      The word-breaking rules must be at least partly browser-dependent, because unlike JulieK, the “Contra Robinson” post looks fine to me (it has a lot of long URL components, but they all seem to break at hyphens).

    • Brad says:

      This comment section looks pretty terrible on my desktop computer (1280×1024 maximized Chrome window). I believe the failure to wrap this post is to blame: #comment-441573. When I delete it the page looks much better. I tried inlining word-wrap: break-word on that element but it didn’t help. I would dig more, but the css box model gives me a headache.

  2. doubleunplussed says:

    Aha. So that’s what changed.

    Certain posts on slatestarcodex now have poor text wrapping both on mobile:

    http://i.imgur.com/L1lmtuU.png

    And not on mobile:

    http://i.imgur.com/PfA7xMV.png

    Not all of them. Just some. Can’t zoom in to read them without having to scroll horizontally to read each line.

    • Tim Martin says:

      Same here. I didn’t have a problem reading on mobile before. I used to read in vertical mode. Now I read in horizontal mode, and I still have to scroll horizontally to see everything.

  3. Alexandre Zani says:

    Reading on a smartphone is much worst than before. Really long lines don’t wrap which means I have to either read everything in a tiny font or pan back and forth.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Seconded. I also have more trouble finding open threads.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Based on everyone’s comments to this effect, I’ve reverted to the old theme until this can be fixed.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I have problems with ot63 on both desktop and mobile, both before and after the reversion. And doubleunplussed’s suggestion, which is old, so probably isn’t the fault of caching.
        So it probably broke Before Long.

      • wireheadwannabe says:

        Is there any way you can get comments to show up in the wordpess app for iOS? They work for other wordpress bogs but for some reason they don’t work for SSC.

      • MugaSofer says:

        The comments-on-school-choice post is still too wide on desktop for me.

    • Brendan Long says:

      Yeah, comment wrapping wasn’t working and I’ve been trying to get the fix applied. It’s a one-line CSS fix. I was under the impression that the new theme was still better than the old one though, since the old one is always over 1000 px wide. Hopefully people will like this once the wrapping CSS is fixed :/

  4. gronald says:

    I have no opinion about the new smartphone features. I mean, it would be nice to be able to reach the open thread in fewer clicks, but I can deal.

    I’m pretty surprised that Scott apparently doesn’t use a smartphone. Is that a principled stand against the digital distraction epidemic, or…?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have a smartphone, but I never had any problems with SSC on it before, and so I didn’t know what everyone else was complaining about.

      The blog looks worse from my smartphone, but I hate every change to websites, and I figured everyone else just uses/views smartphones differently than I did, so I wanted second opinions.

      • AnonEEmous says:

        i was just hoping the comments would load better on phone

        can’t say if this is a function of the phone’s lack of processing power or whatnot, though

        • Brendan Long says:

          I’ve been thinking about the slow loading thing too, but I didn’t want to ask Scott if it could mess with anything else until the mobile theme fix was done.

          The weird thing about the comments is that they load fine on a laptop, but slow on a phone (on the same network connection). My suspicion is that either the phone browser isn’t pipelining network requests as much, or doesn’t have the CPU power to render thousands of comments quickly. Lazy loading of images would help if it was the pipelining issue, but make it worse if it’s not the CPU power issue. If it’s the CPU power issue, we could lazy-load comments in JavaScript, but that would be fairly complicated :\

  5. Daniel Frank says:

    Can anyone add to the pro/con list of buying vs renting a house?

    Buying:
    Your asset is non-diversified
    Your asset is illiquid
    You can’t break your capital up without selling your home/getting a mortgage incase something comes up where you want to spend money (i.e. sudden business investment opportunities)
    you have to pay mortgage interest + mortgage insurance
    huge cost of buying/selling house
    you are less likely to move, and thus limit yourself from potentially valuable opportunities/shorter commutes
    you pay property taxes
    you are responsible for any problems/accidents that happen on your property
    you have to pay for repairs/construction
    home owner insurance
    your house depreciates
    historical growth rate of real estate market in North America is less than 1.5% after inflation (but you don’t have to pay capital gains on it)

    +
    it forces saving
    you own your home and get to feel secure in knowing that its yours for as long as you want to live there
    you get access to some houses that otherwise wouldn’t be available to rent

    vs renting

    you have to pay rent indefinitely
    you don’t have as good security incase you need a large loan
    you can be kicked out of your home quite easily
    you’re limited in the types of homes available to you
    you cannot customize it to it make it “yours”
    historical growth rate of the stock market is 6+%, but you have to pay capital gains tax.

    • sflicht says:

      I don’t believe you can do a “generic” pro-con list and expect to come to a good decision. You need to consider costs of renting versus buying in your chosen jurisdiction, based on your credit and associated factors. But generically, two pros for buying you didn’t list are substantial government subsidies:

      * mortgage interest on your primary residence is tax deductible;
      * imputed rent on owner-occupied housing is untaxed (whereas rent paid to a landlord is taxed as income, and this tax is reflected in the cost of renting).

      These two factors can easily be worth tens of thousands of dollars per year, or more, depending on circumstances. Which means they are of comparable magnitude to things like property tax, maintenance, and discrepancies between the cost of homeowner and renter insurance.

      Also if you discover oil in your back yard, it’s only a windfall if you own rather than rent.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        Seconded for there not being a generic answer here. The right answer here is to look at specific properties you’d be mortgaging or renting, and do the pros-and-cons of those properties, with these factors weighing in, but quite potentially being outweighed by others. If you live in an area where renting or buying is overpriced, you’ll want to do the other, and for most people, the long-term effects are pretty much a wash, so look at specifics.

        • AnonEEmous says:

          i think he’s just looking for pros and cons to put on his pros and cons list

          that way he can do what you guys are telling him to and check out the specifics of each pro and con depending on the situation, as can anyone else he might give the list to

          • Robert Liguori says:

            But each of those pros and cons is modified by the specifics of where you are. Got a great job? A house close to it is a good thing. Got a great job in a dying city? Maybe not so great.

            For each of those items, as well as specific things like features of the locations, you should sit down and estimate (or wildly make up, in the absence of other options) a numeric value, then play with your assumptions based on when you’re likely to move, when you might be forced to move, etc. If you get a great mortgage and pay it off aggressively, you’ll get very little value from the mortgage insurance tax write-off, but that’s not a reason not to go for a great 10-year mortgage if you can get it.

            Basically, I’m arguing against the idea of a generic pro/con list as anything other than a very general starting point, but for most people, the actual properties of the properties will overwhelm most generic effects.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, but if his list was incomplete, he might completely neglect to investigate some important issue. So it’s useful to ask for input, especially when making a gigantic life-altering decision like this.

    • Cheese says:

      I would say that the largest positives for renting surround flexibility. A lot of people obviously rent because they are forced – they don’t have the up front capital or a long-term secure income of sufficient size. But for some, usually the young, there may be no sense buying when career/life options may crop up and require a move.

      Spitballing, but in the majority of cases, you’d probably find that rental income + tax advantages of such wouldn’t cover additional rent + mortgage + rates and other additional costs of ownership unless the markets are extremely different.

      Also, quality of housing. Short term, I can afford a significantly better location and quality of house via rent than I could if I bought. Long term it is of course very different but that comes back to the flexibility point.

      Agree that a generic pro/con list is useless without a lot of context.

      • Rosemary7391 says:

        I’d go so far as to say a generic pro/con list is dangerous without at least defining the place it relates to – precisely enough that regulations are the same across the area. In the UK, housing laws are different between Scotland and England for instance. I’d imagine they differ from state to state based on that experience. We don’t have to pay for mortgage insurance (you mean to pay it if you lost your job?), so that wouldn’t appear on our list, but it might be mandatory wherever Daniel is as he’s included it? Definitely no tax deduction for mortgage interest on your home (from sflicht). Also some sorts of renting in the UK are very secure, others really not.

        • Mary says:

          Mortgage insurance is for the bank, in case the foreclosure is less than the value of the house.

          I didn’t have to pay, because my down payment was big enough.

          • Rosemary7391 says:

            Interesting. I’ve never heard of such a thing in the UK. As far as I was aware, the deposit was that insurance for the bank. If it didn’t turn out to be enough, they could in theory chase you for it afterwards, but that might not be productive for the bank.

          • andrewflicker says:

            One of the big innovations in US real estate credit was loan products that required *very* low or non-existant down payments. In those cases, the bank has no “deposit” as insurance against a default. The Mortgage Insurance Policy provides that, at the cost of an additional monthly bill to the lendee. For me, it’s around $109/mo right now, and can be dropped once I achieve 20% equity in the house, because at that point the bank has enough value to claw back if I default and they foreclosed.

          • Cheese says:

            @Rosemary7391

            In the UK it’s called “Mortgage Indemnity Guarantee” or a variation on that name. Lender’s Mortgage Insurance for us down under. I’m fairly certain it’s common in most western countries – generally used where a borrower has a deposit <20% of the property value.

            Most of my peers who have bought have had LMI on their first property. It's practically a necessity in the Australian property market unless you have parental help, no one under 30 can really stump up the 80-100k you'd need for a 20% deposit.

    • Kevin_P says:

      Another major advantage vs renting is that you’re insulated against price increases. Rent in the area I live has more than tripled over the last 10 years, so people that could just about pay to live there a decade ago now can’t afford a place. Meanwhile a mortgage is the same price as it was, or even cheaper after you adjust for inflation.

    • Brad says:

      Own +
      You join the most politically powerful interest group in the country. Governments at all levels will do everything in their power to try to make sure your investment pays off. Among other things this translates into loan terms that makes Warren Buffet jealous and tax advantages that would make Jim Simons blush.

      On the downside any existing giveaways have already been capitalized into your purchase price. But they are illustrative of the kind of goodies you can your rent seeking coalition to garner in the future.

    • Leonard says:

      For the plus column:
      * You can improve your house and the gains thereof are yours.
      * You can customize your house in ways that a landlord would not approve.
      * Working on things you own to maintain/improve them is very satisfying to some people.
      * Owning embeds you in a community in a way that renting does not.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        I’d question that last one. I went from renting an apartment in one development to mortgaging a townhome in the next one over without any noticeable change in my community status.

        I’m sure that you can leverage home ownership into community stuff, via getting involved with the HOA and so forth, but it hasn’t been an automatic thing for me, at least.

    • Salem says:

      Some of your pro/cons aren’t really what they seem. For instance “you have to pay for repairs” is not a “con” of buying – if anything, it’s a “pro.” If you rent, you are going to (implicitly) pay for those repairs anyway, plus the adverse selection/agency problems involved.

      Other people are right that whether to own or buy is a specific, not a generic decision. But at least in the UK, the tax treatment makes owning very attractive by comparison. For example, when my wife and I went from renting a 2-bed flat to buying a 4-bed house in the same area, our net outgoings went down about 20%, and we got to live in a far nicer home. That’s even without taking into account the fact that our mortgage payments are partially savings.

      • Chalid says:

        Depends where you rent. Due to greater expertise and economies of scale I’m pretty sure the large company that owns my apartment building fixes stuff more cheaply than I would myself.

        And if you value your time highly then having your landlord deal with repairs becomes a win even if you live in a single-family home.

      • baconbacon says:

        Some of your pro/cons aren’t really what they seem. For instance “you have to pay for repairs” is not a “con” of buying – if anything, it’s a “pro.” If you rent, you are going to (implicitly) pay for those repairs anyway, plus the adverse selection/agency problems involved

        This is true for inexpensive repairs and cosmetic stuff, but bigger issues require a different calculation. There are lots of large ticket items that a house needs repaired either periodically or completely randomly (roof, boiler, windows, plumbing), renting acts as a form of insurance where you are paying a small premium to not have to shell out a large semi random expense, while the landlord acts as an insurance company.

        • gbdub says:

          If that really bothers you, you can get home warranties that cover the stuff home insurance doesn’t (mostly appliances and HVAC). My house came with a warranty and when the water heater leaked, the warranty covered the heater and home insurance covered the dry-out service and drywall damage. When the kitchen pipes clogged, that got fixed. When the garbage disposal broke, that got replaced.

          It’s a bit of a sucker bet (as are most warranties), but honestly I about broke even on the two years I had it and it was no harder (actually easier) to deal with than landlord repairs when I rented.

          Main reason I went away from it was that I didn’t like not being able to choose contractors and the model of replacement appliances. Anyway it’s a real option if you like the “call the landlord and they fix it” model.

        • Loquat says:

          On the other hand, some landlords will drag their feet on repairs, always go for the cheaper short-term fix, and actively avoid fixing things properly. I recently got to hear a horror story from friends who rent – there was some sort of water damage resulting in mold and structural weakening to a particular area of the house, the landlady told the contractor to basically just paint over it, the contractor told her that would actually be illegal, so she fired that contractor and got some not-officially-licensed acquaintance to do it. Our friends were already in the process of being kicked out for complaining too much, so they didn’t pursue it further, but if they’d been stuck there I imagine they’d have had to threaten, or even actually file, a lawsuit.

          If you own your own house, nobody but you decides when repairs happen or what standard of quality you’re going to buy.

          • Rosemary7391 says:

            This is very true. Even if they only do it for cosmetic stuff, where you have no comeback, the cumulative effect of many years gets to you. The flat I own is ~ 130 years old; even in it’s shorter rented life it’s acquired a lot of bodge jobs I’m slowly fixing up. And holes for cables. So many TV cables!

    • meltedcheesefondue says:

      Don’t forget macroeconomics. When interest rates are low, mortgages are good. When they’re high, renting becomes more appealing.

      • baconbacon says:

        Don’t forget macroeconomics. When interest rates are low, mortgages are good. When they’re high, renting becomes more appealing

        This is far to superficial. Prices should move (to a degree) with interest rates. Low interest rates would then imply risk as if they rise then prices should fall which would damage equity.

      • ThrustVectoring says:

        That’s backwards. Houses are priced by how big of a mortgage the cash streams of prospective buyers can afford. When interest rates are low, this is a bigger mortgage, and house prices are high. When interest rates are high, this is a smaller mortgage, and house prices are low. You want to buy the house low and sell high.

        Or in other terms, your monthly payments are going to be roughly the same, regardless of the prevailing rates. When rates are high, they might fall and let you refinance.

        • The Nybbler says:

          > When rates are high, they might fall and let you refinance.

          The possibility of that should already be priced in.

    • baconbacon says:

      I would say the largest issue is the chances that you will move in the near term (say 5 years or less). Selling a house is very expensive. A realtor might take a 2% commission, but if you have 25% equity then that commission represents 8% of your equity. Along with lots of other small expenses involved in selling as well as some other modest downsides (can’t sell for a few months and end up paying two mortgages, housing prices fall a little) you can wipe out a lot of the advantages of owning very quickly.

      The longer you plan to live in a house the better buying should look vs renting, but buying a house that fits multiple future paths is difficult. My wife and I bought 7 years ago, and have a 3 and a 1 year old, our house is fine for a married couple, OK with two small children and will be very cramped if we have a 3rd. It will not work with our plans when the current kids (boy and a girl) are old enough to make sharing a room somewhat awkward. We will probably end up living here for 10-12 years total before moving to a place where we will (plan to) live for 30 years.

    • The Nybbler says:

      You can make a long list of factors like that, but chances are some of them just plain dominate and some are terribly minor. If you’re trying to make a decision, find the dominant ones for your situation.

      Some dominant ones:

      1. You can’t afford a down payment.

      2. You expect to move again within a short timeframe.

      3. The sort of house you are looking for is scarce or unavailable on the rental market.

    • Brendan Long says:

      buy

      – Can improve house efficiency (add insulation, replace refridgerator, add solar panels)
      – Can cheaply invest your own time to improve the house’s value (painting, re-tiling, replacing fixtures, repairing floors)

      rent

      – Might not have to pay utilities

    • Incurian says:

      Being able to rent out a house that you own is a really big plus.

      • Rosemary7391 says:

        It’s also a massive hassle. So many more rules and regulations to comply with, tax returns to do… I’d think about it very carefully indeed.

      • Incurian says:

        I have not found it to be a hassle at all. We have a company manage it for us. As for taxes, it’s something like “rental income” and “maintenance expenses.”

        • Rosemary7391 says:

          I frequent an online housing forum. A fair number of people don’t even realise they need to file one, let alone how to do it (a common assumption is that they can take the whole mortgage payment as an expense instead of just the interest, for example). And getting a company to manage it doesn’t stop you being liable if they don’t do it properly. Can be an expensive lesson for some, sadly. I’d always recommend keeping an eye on it and being aware of what should be happening, even if you think you’ve found a reputable agent.

    • Jon S says:

      This was touched on in other replies, but I’d like to make the point in slightly more finance-y terms.

      Traditionally, people who own a house think that they’re very invested (and leveraged if they have a mortgage) in the housing market. But you need a dwelling to live in. Renters are short the real estate market (their future rent liability increases along with the value of the real estate market). When you own a house, you have bought as much housing as you will need to consume in the future (excepting changes in your household size, etc.), and you net have no exposure to the overall real estate market (though of course, you do still have a lot of exposure to your specific house or neighborhood over/under-performing the broader housing market).

  6. As you may know, Green Party candidate Jill Stein filed for a recount of the presidential race in Michigan (including a filing fee of nearly $1 million). The Trump campaign raised objections, and separately asked that, if the recount was held, that it be done by machine instead of by hand.

    The State Board of Canvassers held a hearing last Friday to consider those objections. I spoke there, representing the county clerks’ association.

    I wrote an account of what I saw and said.

    • MugaSofer says:

      and separately asked that, if the recount was held, that it be done by machine instead of by hand.

      What possible justification could they have for this?

      • Incurian says:

        I can think of at least 2 without trying very hard.

      • What possible justification could they have for this?

        This is bewildering to me, too.

        Trump won the state by more than 10,000 votes. That’s a thin margin out of more than four million votes, but orders of magnitude more than the number of votes a typical recount would change — even projected out to statewide.

        Michigan’s optical scan tabulators have a history of being very accurate. Machine errors which did occur are likely to be in random directions. Under ordinary circumstances, hand recounting of ballots gives totals that are almost identical to the original machine count.

        But, to some, this is not “ordinary circumstances”. The tabulators, though not connected to the Internet, are theoretically hackable, and an attacker with vast resources and sophistication (Russia) had a stake in the outcome.

        I myself am almost 100% certain a recount will show that the presidential race was correctly tabulated. Invisibly faking a Trump win in the Electoral College via spoofing votes would be an awfully heavy lift, even for a major government.

        Trump won because he did far better than expected, not just in Michigan, but all over the Midwest and much of the Northeast, both inside and outside swing states.

        (Can you imagine how many Russian operatives it would take to simultaneously change votes, in dozens of technologically distinct election systems, in every state of a vast region like that? Even former superpowers don’t have infinite resources and infinite ability to keep things secret.)

        Still, there are a significant number of Democrats and others on the left who fear, or hope, that the official numbers are wrong. That’s why Stein was able to quickly raise millions of dollars to finance recounts.

        So, here’s the game. If Stein succeeds in getting the recount, the ballots are examined, and it turns out that Trump really did win, then the stolen-election theory is disproven or at least discredited.

        Alternatively, if Trump succeeds in stopping all recounts, or doing recounts only with “potentially hacked” tabulators, then the conspiracy theories will become more popular, and maybe even harden into conventional wisdom.

        (This has happened before: consider the persistent belief that JFK won just because of Mayor Daley’s Chicago vote fraud, when Kennedy didn’t actually need Illinois’ electoral votes).

        To Democrats, Trump would be the puppet that Vladimir Putin installed through a stolen election: in other words, inherently illegitimate.

        Maybe that’s how Trump wants to be seen by the opposition.

        • Chalid says:

          A recount might also reassure some of those on the right who believe that voter fraud is common. Anyone who believes that sort of thing ought to be supporting recounts (call them “audits”, maybe), as they’d be the most likely way to catch offenders.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The majority of voter fraud expected by those on the right isn’t affected by recounts. If votes are manufactured either by allowing ineligible voters to vote or by recording votes for people who didn’t vote (and perhaps do not even exist), a recount will still count those manufactured votes.

          • Chalid says:

            So that seems like a reason to support an even more thorough audit, right?

            If there really were millions of fraudulent votes, as Trump claims, that is a *really big* problem and it’s well worth spending some serious money to measure the scale of the problem and to put some of the offenders in jail. But I don’t see anyone who claims to believe in widespread voter fraud supporting that sort of thing.

          • YehoshuaK says:

            I live outside the United States and vote absentee. If someone shows up at my official polling place, claims to be me, and casts a vote in my name (nullifying my absentee ballot), how will a recount fix the damage? My vote’s been stolen and it stays stolen.

            This does not mean that I oppose recounts, audits, whatever, in principle. Of course, in some cases they can’t be done, and we always have to stop eventually and declare a winner. My point is just that recounts/audits are, at best, a remedy to one kind of electoral fraud, not to every kind.

        • gbdub says:

          The problem with counting by hand is, if that result doesn’t match the original machine tabulation, which do you believe?

          The machines are almost certainly more accurate, unless they are hacked. Hand counters can’t be “hacked”, but they could maybe be dishonest or just sloppy.

          Without evidence to actually indicate hacking, why should a hand count be more trustworthy?

          • Chalid says:

            It’s an independent measurement. If they *agree* (as they almost certainly will) then you can basically trust the result – at that point you can mostly rule out a large class of theories about vote-stealing.

            If they disagree, then you’ve got good reason to go dig deeper.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s very likely that they won’t agree, down to one vote across the state.

            It’s also very likely that, even though the two counts will be different, they will still be closer to each other than they are to any margin that would matter, by at least an order of magnitude.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          If Stein succeeds in getting the recount, the ballots are examined, and it turns out that Trump really did win, then the stolen-election theory is disproven or at least discredited.

          An interesting outcome would be if a recount shows that Trump did win but that there was also fraud in his favor (making him win by more than he otherwise would have).

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          If Stein succeeds in getting the recount, the ballots are examined, and it turns out that Trump really did win, then the stolen-election theory is disproven or at least discredited.

          I suspect you have too much faith in political partisans if you think merely being thoroughly discredited will quiet them down…

          Maybe that’s how Trump wants to be seen by the opposition.

          I’ve never bought the “six-dimensional chess” argument in regards to Trump, so I doubt that’s the case here. But it’s not inconceivable. I find it highly plausible, for example, that Obama and his people deliberately dragged out the process of releasing his birth certificate in order to lure as many people on the right out on the crazy limb before sawing it off.

          • I suspect you have too much faith in political partisans if you think merely being thoroughly discredited will quiet them down…

            Sure, some people spout discredited ideas. But that tends to limit how many people take them seriously.

            I find it highly plausible, for example, that Obama and his people deliberately dragged out the process of releasing his birth certificate in order to lure as many people on the right out on the crazy limb before sawing it off.

            Yes, that is plausible. The seeming cluelessness certainly could well have been feigned. “No, really, this is the REAL birth certificate, why are you so skeptical? It’s the official document we got from the state of Hawaii. Oh! You want the LONG FORM birth certificate! My bad, I had no idea, okay, here it is.”

      • J Mann says:

        My take on the recount is:

        1) A hand recount is expensive – you need people standing by every vote counter.

        2) There are a lot of opportunities for fraud, either intentional or as a result of implicit bias. If you’re the Trump observer and the vote counter decides that there’s a second mark in another box so a Trump vote shouldn’t count, and you think the mark is so faint that it’s probably an accidental scratch, you basically have to go to an appellate authority, and if you lose there, you lose.

        3) There’s an opportunity for litigation – once the challengers see the data set, they can argue for a rule that they think helps them. Should you count overvotes, where someone votes the democratic straight line ticket, including Hillary, but then also checks a second box for president, on the theory that those voters probably meant to vote for Hillary? Probably not, but if you’re Trump, can you guarantee that some Democratic judge somewhere won’t rule that you should. Should you count overvotes where someone fills the box for Hillary and fills in the write in box, but writes in “Hillary Clinton” Probably yes, but it depends on election law.

        Basically, if you’re Trump, a hand recount randomizes the count a little, because you can’t guarantee what retrospective rules will be applied based on perceived voter intent, and in introduces the opportunity for bias, which you may or may not be able to challenge successfully, and it costs a lot of money. There’s really no upside.

        • 1) A hand recount is expensive – you need people standing by every vote counter.

          Every recount team is two people, who count ballots together. They are in turn watched over by partisan people, who are volunteers trained by their respective parties.

          In this county, the ballot counters (experienced election workers) are paid $140/day, and as a team, they can do two to four precincts in a day. Therefore, the labor cost per precinct is from $70 to $140. The petitioners paid $125/precinct for the recount, and that money goes to counties to reimburse the cost.

          2) There are a lot of opportunities for fraud, either intentional or as a result of implicit bias. If you’re the Trump observer and the vote counter decides that there’s a second mark in another box so a Trump vote shouldn’t count, and you think the mark is so faint that it’s probably an accidental scratch, you basically have to go to an appellate authority, and if you lose there, you lose.

          Almost every ballot is completely straightforward. For the few ambiguous ones, there are clear, long-established rules for resolving them.

          For example, a solid vote in the Trump oval, with a faint mark in the Clinton oval, would almost certainly count for Trump, because in such cases, you look to the votes throughout the ballot, and the faint mark is unlikely to be typical.

          There are many other such rules, which are institutionalized to the point where they are in training manuals used by the Bureau of Elections and both parties.

          If a ballot that should count for Trump is put on the wrong pile, the Trump challenger would raise an objection. Counting would stop immediately. If the counter and the challenger continued to disagree, that specific ballot would become a “challenged” ballot, sealed in an envelope, and queued for review by the Board of Canvassers, which consists of two Republicans and two Democrats. There are further levels of appeal after that which can be invoked simply by disagreeing with the decision.

          Recounts are relatively frequent and contentious events, and the process is designed to be prevent either party from controlling it.

          There’s an opportunity for litigation – once the challengers see the data set, they can argue for a rule that they think helps them.

          The “data set” is not news to anyone with experience in recounts. The rules have survived decades of controversies, and are unlikely to be bent on behalf of some new candidate.

          Should you count overvotes, where someone votes the democratic straight line ticket, including Hillary, but then also checks a second box for president, on the theory that those voters probably meant to vote for Hillary?

          You write as if nobody had ever thought about these issues. In actual fact, all the rules for handling those cases are clear, long established, widely understood, applied in real recounts year after year, and unlikely to be overturned by some random judge.

          because you can’t guarantee what retrospective rules will be applied based on perceived voter intent

          Michigan is not a “voter intent” state, and that’s a good thing. Rather than puzzling out what a voter intended, we apply clear rules.

          Yes, that means there are situations where clear voter intent is disregarded, because discerning intent is a swamp where nobody wants to go.

          And in any case, the number of ambiguous ballots is tiny. Today, in my county, we recounted 45 precincts, with a total of probably 50,000 votes, and I think the number of challenged ballots (sealed and placed for adjudication by the Board of Canvassers) was either 1 or 2. In all other cases, the counters and the challengers were able to agree.

          Basically, if you’re Trump, a hand recount randomizes the count a little, because you can’t guarantee what retrospective rules will be applied based on perceived voter intent, and in introduces the opportunity for bias, which you may or may not be able to challenge successfully, and it costs a lot of money. There’s really no upside.

          The count is “randomized” slightly, because a few ballots are counted differently by humans than by the tabulator. That ballot you mentioned, with the solid mark for Trump, and the faint mark for Clinton, might have been counted as an overvote by the tabulator, but would definitely be assigned to Trump in the recount.

          The recounting method is intended to counteract bias, but it is not impervious to human error. Leaving aside the few ambiguous cases, the tabulator will do a more accurate job counting ballots than humans will.

          In any case, there have been two days of recount so far. Hundreds of thousands of ballots have been examined and taubulated. The hand count results are, as usual in a recount, almost identical to the machine counts.

          Therefore, the theory that Trump won Michigan with hacked tabulators is not supported by the data. In fact, I’d call it disproven.

          As it happens, due to court rulings this afternoon, the recount will probably be halted tomorrow.

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks for replying, Larry!

            My post was based on my impressions of the county level disputes in the Bush/Gore Florida recount, where it appeared to me from the coverage that people were creating ad hoc standards to determine voter intent, often seemingly based on which test was likely to lead to a desired result on that data set.

            Since you’re an expert and I’m not, I’ll assign a high probability to either (a) the Bush Gore fight wasn’t as bad as I thought or (b) things have gotten better since then, or both. Either way, that’s good news!

          • Since you’re an expert and I’m not, I’ll assign a high probability to either (a) the Bush Gore fight wasn’t as bad as I thought or (b) things have gotten better since then, or both.

            Both of those things are true to an extent. But perhaps more important is the difference between Florida election law and Michigan election law.

            Florida is an fine example of the pitfalls of making “voter intent” the prime factor in adjudicating an ambiguous ballot.

            As I wrote above, Michigan is not a ‘voter intent’ state (a little catechism we repeat for unbelievers). The policy here is to have clear rules for what constitutes a vote. It’s the most practical approach.

            You could write “Hillary Clinton for President” all over the ballot, underline it and add exclamation points, but if there’s no mark in the specified oval, it doesn’t count.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Thank you for your very informative account – and for your testimony itself.

      Do you have any opinion on Chris Thomas’s comments as to how long the recount will take? When’s it now scheduled to start? What would happen if it’s still in progress by the 13th (or, perish the thought, the 19th)?

      • Do you have any opinion on Chris Thomas’s comments as to how long the recount will take? When’s it now scheduled to start?

        A federal court ruled last night that the recount shall start immediately. We’re doing training today, and will start counting ballots tomorrow morning. At least in this county (6th largest in the state), we expect to be completely done before the 12th.

    • Deiseach says:

      Thanks for that account, Mr Kestenbaum. Sounds like the usual – the politicians squabbling and making decisions that mean the bureaucratic minions have extra work landed on top of them and nobody thanks them for it 🙁

      I’d love to know what Jill Stein thinks she’s doing – getting publicity for the Greens? appeasing all the angry people blaming third-party voters for Hillary losing? sucking up to Hillary/the Democrats? trying to position herself for another run in 2020 by setting herself up as “The People’s Crusader against the Evil Trump and His Evil Band of Evilness”?

      • I’d love to know what Jill Stein thinks she’s doing – getting publicity for the Greens?

        I’d say getting money and publicity for herself: she’s probably better known now than before the election.

        appeasing all the angry people blaming third-party voters for Hillary losing?

        I literally don’t know anyone taking that attitude. Very few people thought the election would be close. Democrats are blaming the Trump voters, not the Stein voters.

        sucking up to Hillary/the Democrats?

        Hillary is now politically dead, and Stein sucking up to Democrats doesn’t gain her anything.

        trying to position herself for another run in 2020

        Repeating her role as irrelevant Green Party candidate for president is something she could easily have done anyway.

        setting herself up as “The People’s Crusader against the Evil Trump and His Evil Band of Evilness”?

        Unless she uncovers genuine election fraud, her role as crusader against Trump will be quickly overshadowed by people in Congress who will be constantly in the news, opposing his doings, day after day.

        But whatever she does in the future, she’ll have more money and fame to do it with. And a big mailing list of people who donated money to her.

        • sierraescape says:

          I literally don’t know anyone taking that attitude. Very few people thought the election would be close. Democrats are blaming the Trump voters, not the Stein voters.

          My Facebook feed is still full of people saying things like, “I’m sure that every marginalized society thanks you for being too good for the two party system and protest voting.”

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I literally don’t know anyone taking that attitude. Very few people thought the election would be close. Democrats are blaming the Trump voters, not the Stein voters.

            Same with my feed. I have very diverse friends – about 50/50 Hillary/Stein voters on my newsfeed – and they’ve spent the last two weeks tearing the hell out of each other, especially when it was pointed out that Stein’s votes were greater than Trump’s total margin of victory in the decisive states. This, of course, renders Trump’s victory All Their Fault (as opposed to Clinton, for running a subpar campaign, the DNC, for nominating her, Trump voters and Johnson voters, for not voting for her, the FBI’s, for investigating her email server, etc).

          • Spookykou says:

            very diverse friends – about 50/50 Hillary/Stein voters on my newsfeed

            I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but I imagine a look at Steins total vote and Steins name recognition should give you a pretty good picture of how unlikely it is that your experience reflects the broader narrative of the election.

            I am inclined to agree with Larry on this one.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I forgot that it’s hard to do sarcasm on the internet.

          • sierraescape says:

            @spookykou

            Most of my facebook friends are moderately conservative or liberal, with many extreme conservatives and a few extreme liberals. I made the mistake of commenting on one friend’s third-party-blaming post and now my feed is full of all the similar posts from his friendgroup he likes, shares, etc.. I have yet to see any posts endorsing Stein to any degree but I’ve heard plenty attacking her for splitting the vote–or more accurately attacking the people who voted for her. So most of the politics on my feed is exactly what Chevalier is talking about.

        • Deiseach says:

          I literally don’t know anyone taking that attitude. Very few people thought the election would be close. Democrats are blaming the Trump voters, not the Stein voters.

          I have seen a lot of angry blame flung around, though that was in the immediate aftermath of the election, when all the Hillary supporters could not believe the result. It’s quietened down since, but there were several posts of the model below floating around:

          Votes for Trump in state A: X amount
          Votes for Hillary in state A: Y amount
          Votes for Stein and/or Johnson: Z amount (greater than the difference between X and Y)

          Repeat for states B, C, D etc.

          Conclusion: IF YOU STEIN/JOHNSON VOTERS HAD VOTED FOR HILLARY, THIS ELECTION WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT! IT’S YOUR FAULT!

        • YehoshuaK says:

          I thought Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions were permanently extinguished eight years ago, when then-Senator Obama defeated her in the D party primaries. She surprised me–she may surprise us again.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Hopefully the damage she’s done to the party is clear enough that we can finally, hopefully, have a real primary. Plus a horrible candidate. Every race that wasn’t given to her (Senate seat) she lost.

            She’ll also be 73 years old in 2020.

          • Deiseach says:

            Running in 2020 would be a massive embarrassment to the party, to whatever shreds of reputation she has left, and probably to the nation. Three-time loser wanting to make it four times? Grandma, why don’t you come sit down inside and have a nice cup of cocoa instead? Tell little Charlotte all about the time you were senator for New York, okay?

    • Brad says:

      Do you have an estimate of what a hand recount will cost (including the weighted time cost of any salaried employees that will participate)?

      Optical scan provisional tally + hand counted official tally seems like a good way to run an election if the costs aren’t entirely outrageous.

      As a distant second best I’d take far more transparency with respect to the electronic voting machines (i.e. available source code and schematics, signed and reproducible builds, public memory dumps.)

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Brad:

        Optical scan provisional tally + hand counted official tally seems like a good way to run an election if the costs aren’t entirely outrageous.

        I’m not sure how Michigan is, but if it’s like other places I am familiar with, hand counting every single race would be quite pricey. Most states have many dozens of contests with 2+ candidates in each one. You aren’t talking about one hand count of ballots, but one for each race. Take the cost for doing a statewide hand recount of one race and multiply by something like 24. And that is just this election. Think of the other 3 years in the cycle, where statweide recounts are even more rare.

        Machine counting plus random audits, with hand recounts when vote totals are close enough, should be sufficient to prove fidelity in adhering to voter intent.

      • Do you have an estimate of what a hand recount will cost (including the weighted time cost of any salaried employees that will participate)?

        As to the recount of the presidential race: in this county, which is roughly 1/30 of the state’s population*, we’re hiring 40 experienced election workers at $140/day. We expect the ballot counting to take six days or less. If so, the cost should be completely covered by the recount petitioners’ $125/precinct filing fee.

        Normally, when calculating the cost of an election (e.g., for reimbursement from the state or the agency that caused the election to happen), we’re not permitted to include the cost of regular staff.

        As to a hand-counted official tally, that would be wildly impractical, given that more than 400 possible choices appeared on this county’s ballots alone.

        What I prefer is optical scan, with hand-count audits of random precincts. That’s what we have now.

        * I use 1/30 as a round number, but that understates the county somewhat. Based on 2015 census estimates, my county is 1/27.6 of the state.

        • Brad says:

          Thanks for responding and for continuing to post informatively on this subject.

          It sounds like roughly $10MM $1MM for the state. Maybe a million or two more million Somewhat more if you were allowed to count regular staff.

          Did you have any control over the RFP for the election machines? If so, did you consider insisting on any transparency?

          Edit: My mistake on the math!

          • Are you talking about the cost of the presidential recount? $140 times 40 times 6 times 30 equals about one million dollars. Of course, there are supplies and such on top of that.

            All of the tabulators in the state will be replaced next year. There are three different vendors/systems, and each county will choose. The state Bureau of Elections wrote the RFP. I don’t have time right now to dissect that particular piece of sausage, but code transparency was not on their minds.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          hand-count audits of random precincts. That’s what we have now.

          Do you have a citation for that? It is widely reported in the press that MI does not do audits, in contrast to, say, WI. eg, here

          • Here’s a link to the Post Election Audit Manual from the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

            Edit: this is the new October 2016 revision, and to my surprise, it has no mention of examining or counting the ballots. That was part of the precinct audit originally; I will find out how/why it got deleted.

            My guess is this: the hand count of votes was conceived primarily as a check on the performance of the equipment. Since all of our tabulators, statewide, are scheduled to be replaced next year, there is less concern about how they’re doing. By the same token, the new tabulators will need to be scrutinized carefully, including auditing the physical ballots.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Actually I previously skimmed that document [or just the checklist?], which is why I asked. I still don’t see anything in it about counting votes. Maybe counting total ballots, but I’m not sure I understand any of it.

            The 2013 edition looks pretty similar.

          • Hmm. Well, that needs to be changed, then.

    • tscharf says:

      My question is: Isn’t it more likely that there will be fraud in the recount vs the original count?

      Nefarious forces know exactly what’s on the line and exactly where to inject fraud after the election takes place, an advantage they don’t have before the race. It is very unclear to me that you would automatically trust a second count more than the first count.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Pretty hard if my understanding is correct, and there are basically observers from all interested parties standing there over the shoulders of the people doing the hand recount the entire time.

        Given a sufficiently high recounter-to-observer ratio you could probably try to fudge things while the observer hostile to your cause was checking the other side of the room, but at that point we’re back to “could it be a big enough difference to -matter-?”

        • Pretty hard if my understanding is correct, and there are basically observers from all interested parties standing there over the shoulders of the people doing the hand recount the entire time.

          Yes, exactly.

          Given a sufficiently high recounter-to-observer ratio you could probably try to fudge things while the observer hostile to your cause was checking the other side of the room

          No. At every table, there are two counters who work together on one entire precinct at a time. Each ballot is examined by both counters, and they jointly decide to which pile it belongs. Each party can have one or two people, called “challengers”, assigned to watch the counters, and entitled to see every ballot.

          There is generally a lead person for each party, who makes sure that all the tables are covered at all times.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            At every table, there are two counters who work together on one entire precinct at a time. Each ballot is examined by both counters, and they jointly decide to which pile it belongs. Each party can have one or two people, called “challengers”, assigned to watch the counters, and entitled to see every ballot.

            There you go then, the challengers will never have to watch more than one count at a time.

            I do hope the recount is able to proceed. It’d be a nice data point to have the next time the “russian/republican hacking” stuff gets trotted out.

      • Deiseach says:

        My question is: Isn’t it more likely that there will be fraud in the recount vs the original count?

        There aren’t the American version of tallymen to keep an eye on hand-counting of ballots for their candidate?

        • There aren’t the American version of tallymen to keep an eye on hand-counting of ballots for their candidate?

          Interesting links, thank you.

          We have so many elected offices on our ballots that electronic counting is a necessity. Tick marks or tallies are not used.

          When we do a hand recount, it is of a single race. Rather than doing tally marks, the ballots are sorted into piles, one for each candidate, and then the piles are counted and stacked criss-cross in groups of 25. All this is done under the watchful eyes of people assigned by the parties or candidates.

      • tscharf says:

        I expect the fraud would occur between the end of the first vote and before the second vote count starts. Break into the ballot room, alter digital records, etc.

        I highly doubt that there will be any fraud of significance here, but my point is there is an assumption that the second count is somehow pure and I don’t see any reason to believe that. If the counts differ, then there is chaos, not a valid result.

        • I expect the fraud would occur between the end of the first vote and before the second vote count starts. Break into the ballot room, alter digital records, etc.

          If the seals of a ballot container were tampered with, if there are any breaches in the container large enough to add or remove a ballot, or if the number of ballots does not match what is expected, then the precinct is declared “unrecountable”, and the original count stands. There is no second count.

          I highly doubt that there will be any fraud of significance here, but my point is there is an assumption that the second count is somehow pure and I don’t see any reason to believe that. If the counts differ, then there is chaos, not a valid result.

          I have been through many recounts, and the second count is never more than a few votes from the first count. Some of that difference is caused by applying rules that are a little more subtle than what the machine can do, and the rest is human error.

          Hypothetically, if the second count were substantially different from the first count, that would cause tremendous consternation, and likely prompt some kind of investigation. But in forty years, I have never seen it.

          In the old days, when results from multiple precincts were added up by hand or adding machine, sometimes errors were made. A recount was an opportunity to revisit that arithmetic, and sometimes corrections would change the numbers by tens or dozens. In a very close race, that could easily be outcome-changing.

          • tscharf says:

            Thanks for the info, very helpful. It seems obvious to me now that large scale changes in votes are almost impossible.

        • John Schilling says:

          If the seals of a ballot container were tampered with, if there are any breaches in the container large enough to add or remove a ballot, or if the number of ballots does not match what is expected, then the precinct is declared “unrecountable”, and the original count stands. There is no second count.

          And if the tamper-proof seals on the glass vials are unbroken, then the Russian athletes at Sochi weren’t doping.

          I really hope there was a proper team of thieves, spies, policemen, and stage magicians involved in the design of those ballot boxes and associated safeguards, but I’m not optimistic.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I seem to recall in the 70s, the CIA figured out a chemical that would reversibly release envelope adhesive without staining the paper, for purposes of opening mail. Given that most seals I’ve seen are plastic film applied to an impermeable surface with adhesive (hence no true bonding of the seal to the protected material), attacking the adhesive would be my bet.

    • The recount is over, stopped last night by court order — but I think it achieved its purpose.

      (News story: Federal judge halts Michigan election recount.)

      Here’s what I posted about it (lightly edited):

      Tonight, a federal judge in Detroit dissolved his earlier order, and ended the recount of presidential votes in Michigan.

      This matter is already on remand from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, so I doubt an appeal will change anything. We’re done.

      I do vigorously disagree with the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that forced tonight’s action, but I’ll leave the legal intricacies for another time.

      The alleged $5 million cost of the recount (in the attached news story) is a gross exaggeration, in my opinion.

      Here in Washtenaw County, after two days of recounting, we are over half done (some 100,000 ballots). Had we been allowed to continue, we would have completed our recount on Friday, well before the deadline.

      The scattered problems and irregularities you have probably heard about are concerning, but even all together, they did not drive the outcome. Examination of a large portion of the state’s ballots did not reveal any systematic fraud.

      Finishing the recount would have provided more satisfying closure than this moment offers. But to be frank, it would have changed nothing.

      All that being said, the statewide recount, even unfinished, did achieve some important purposes:

      (1) Among hundreds of thousands of ballots, hand counted, the totals were very nearly identical to the machine counts. There was no systematic error favoring either Trump or Clinton. The theory that pervasive hacking of tabulators changed the outcome in Michigan has been disproven.

      (2) It is now clear to almost everyone that the law covering recounts needs work. In particular, the concept of a precinct being “unrecountable” (a folkway unique to Michigan) should finally be revisited. Security of ballot storage should be addressed. Allowing one party to impose an extra two-day delay, simply by filing an objection, seems counterproductive when time is already limited. The pair of official ballot counters should be required to be of different parties, just like election workers handling any other sensitive task. The fee schedule is obviously a sore point with some. The definition of “aggrieved” should not be left for judges to decide arbitrarily.

      (3) Receiving boards and boards of canvassers need to be considerably more diligent about resolving unbalanced precincts. If Wayne County [Detroit and vicinity] is really too big for one board of canvassers to handle all of its issues during the 14 days after the election, then there should be provision for multiple boards to pick up the slack.

      (4) It shouldn’t be necessary to call a recount to audit the accuracy of tabulators. The state’s post-election audit of random precincts should include at least some attempt to compare machine counts with actual ballots, as many other states do. That was in the original concept of precinct audits, but it seems to have gotten lost along the way.

      The state Bureau of Elections sent out a message to all clerks. Here’s an excerpt:

      On behalf of Chris Thomas and the Bureau of Elections – we cannot thank you enough for the amazing effort you all put forth to move forward with this monumental and unprecedented effort. We have no doubt that without interruption, we would have completed a full statewide recount in slightly over a week; an amazing feat that we can all be very proud of. Your assistance in getting this plan organized and operational in a matter of days speaks very highly of your ability to accomplish just about any task. While this was not without its challenges, the recounts completed thus far were well-organized and productive, as acknowledged by all parties involved.

      Your efforts also provided us the opportunity to gather valuable information about this year’s election. For those of you who were still recounting today, please continue to get us your final results as soon as possible. Also know that your efforts were a major help in extinguishing the ongoing debate involving alleged fears of election fraud and hacking. As expected, we uncovered information showing us where we have things to work on; but no evidence emerged that would support the types of allegations that were being circulated prior to and after the election.

  7. Alejandro says:

    For the survey, maybe there could be a question asking something like: “Approximately how many comments per month do you contribute to discussions on politically charged topics?” You know, to close once and for (though the correlation with politial affiliation) all the meta discussion about the political skew of the commentariat.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, good idea, this is already the plan.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I mentioned this in an earlier OT, but is there any way to tie this to user names to provide a basis more robust than self-report, even if only on a voluntary basis? No user names released in the final dataset obviously, just a way to catch someone who says they post 3-4x a month and actually posts 15x a month, and vice versa.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Well, the comment data is available on a public website in quite parseable HTML format, everyone and their dog can just take look at it.

          If they survey respondent is willing to provide their nick, this data can be matched.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I didn’t want to assume that writing a script to retrieve and sort a year’s worth of comments by user name would be trivial.

            That, and to be honest when I said “tie this to user name”, I really meant at least “gravatar/wordpress/site account”, if not actual IP Address. Otherwise you have no way of distinguishing anons and alts, thus my concerns about privacy. My bad for not being explicit there.

            That said, even a user-name-only sort is probably better than nothing.

    • MarginalCost says:

      Treating this as the generic top-level comment for survey-related ideas.

      I would be interested in something that asks about either 1) what people think this blog is “about” – psychiatry, rationalism, social justice, etc. I think you (Scott) have tried to remain pretty ambiguous on this front, but it would be interesting to see how people’s views have started to coalesce in the past few years. OR 2) what people think is a reasonable approximation of the boundary of this community. Can you be a Christian and feel part of this community? An evangelical? a Young-earther? A flat-earther? Do reactionaries consider themselves a part of this space, or visitors crashing the party? Not sure how best to word this. Maybe a follow-up if you ask people if they consider themselves rationalists – ask the detractors if they feel this way for religious reasons, AI risk objections, other intellectual reasons, social reasons, etc.

      I suspect you may not particularly like having answers to these questions (preferring the blog to be about anything, and anyone to be welcome), but that may be particularly why it would be useful to see the community blindspots.

      Also, I’d be interested in a question like “do you think you take an above-average number of voluntary surveys?” Then see if those individuals differ from the (hopefully) far broader pool who honestly answer “yes.”

      • Aapje says:

        Instead of asking what the blog is about, I would ask what people value most about this blog. I can see that it is frequently about psychiatry. I have no special interest (or disinterest) in psychiatry. So a person could answer ‘psychiatry’ to your question and yet not care about it that much.

        I don’t like your second question, as it is not necessary to feel part of a community to find value in it; nor is it up to me to declare that people are part of the outgroup based on a simplistic summary of their beliefs.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Why not ask both?

          • Aapje says:

            The more questions, the fewer people will finish the questionnaire, so you should only include the questions you really want the answer to.

          • Spookykou says:

            With that concern in mind, what about a long and short form of the survey, the short form with the ‘best’ questions, the long form with any random thing Scott can think of, for those of us with too much time on our hands.

      • Deiseach says:

        Maybe a follow-up if you ask people if they consider themselves rationalists – ask the detractors if they feel this way for religious reasons, AI risk objections, other intellectual reasons, social reasons, etc.

        “All of the above” 🙂

        Also, I’d be interested in a question like “do you think you take an above-average number of voluntary surveys?”

        Well, first tell me: what’s an average number of surveys taken voluntarily? How do I know if I take more, the same, or fewer? Is Survey-Taking Georg the outlier skewing the results? That’s rather like asking “Do you think you eat an above-average amount of bacon in the year?” Unless you’re a vegan or have strict dietary criteria that mean you’ll answer “I never eat bacon”, what is the average amount of bacon consumed annually and does it depend where in the world we each of us live? (American average is 18 lbs but global data seems to be sorted under “pork” which includes more than bacon in that category).

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I don’t think this is very easy question to ask in a survey, at least if we want very reliable answers that would tell much about commentariat. For example, now I can only say that some of my comments are on politically charged topics, I’m not even sure how many times I comment at all per month.

      I think it would be easier to scrape all the comments and try to do some elementary analysis on them (for example, how many of them are by a couple of prominent posters). Extracting the political affiliation might not be so easy, though. Of course if the commentators using nicknames reveal their political colors on some thread, it might be easier.

  8. Wrong Species says:

    To people who believe in the Bundle theory of self, do you think there are practical consequences to this belief? Should there be and if so, what?

    • mrcogmor says:

      There aren’t many practical considerations it mostly applies to hypothetical scenarios.

      If you have a perfect copy made then they are you untill you start to diverge in the next moment.
      Brain-uploading is perfectly fine provided you approve of your virtual self and it preserves the key aspects of your mental state.
      If you get teleported by being destroyed and remade at your destination then that is fine.

      In a sense every moment you cease to exist and are replaced by a new transient mental state. In common language a person refers to a sequence of related mental states.

  9. AnthonyD says:

    How dangerous are these tweets by Trump?

    “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into..”

    “their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”

    These tweets were psoted earier today. Recently Trump spoke to the President of Taiwan which caused China to lodge a complaint with Washington.

    • shakeddown says:

      Best case scenario here is that the world’s governments learn to stop taking the US government seriously.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Regardless of Trumps intelligence, it’s obvious he has no idea how to handle these sensitive situations. Of course, the Chinese seem to believe the same thing which is why their response has been muted but he needs to pull it together before he causes a serious diplomatic crisis.

      • roystgnr says:

        I’m not convinced that the status quo was as intelligent as you suggest.

        Two months ago we had a couple open threads discussing the claim,

        “If I were to try summarize very briefly why Trump’s remarks on NATO crossed a HOLY SHIT line, it’d be along the lines of: “If you read the history books, you realize that it is REALLY REALLY bad to have any ambiguity about which minor powers the major powers will defend; that is how World War I *and* World War II both started.”” – Eliezer
        Yudkowsky, Facebook

        Yet if we were to try and name the most dangerous ambiguity in the world today, it wouldn’t be Estonia, it would be Taiwan, don’t you think? We sell them billions of dollars of weapons every few years, which they use to defend themselves from a nation which we officially claim is sovereign over their territory, and nobody’s ever going to misinterpret this one way or the other? The balance of military power is tipping toward China anyway, making invasion more and more tempting, and if it ever does happen, we’re officially expected to sit back and watch. Can anyone else make that sound entirely plausible? I’m failing:

        “Good job violently crushing that rebellious democracy!” we’ll say. “We were just wondering when you’d get around to that! Let us just get these ten carrier fleets out of your way for you; I’m not even sure why we still keep those around. Try not to kill too many photogenic civilians with camera phones. I’m not sure how many baby-murdered-by-communist-dictatorship videos it’ll take for our voters to demand World War III, but you’ll want to try to err on the low side.”

        • Jiro says:

          Two months ago we had a couple open threads discussing the claim,

          If Trump is ambiguous, then ambiguity is something that jeopardizes the security of the nation and world. If Trump is less ambiguous than the existing policy, then a reduction in ambiguity jeopardizes the security of the nation and world.

          It’s a form of isolated demand for rigor.

          • Iain says:

            Isn’t this just Chesterton’s fence?

            If the current policy involves ambiguity, then you should maintain that ambiguity until you understand why it exists. If the current policy seeks clarity, you should avoid ambiguity until you understand why the clarity was seen as important.

          • Spookykou says:

            Trump seems non-trivially different from every other president we have had in my lifetime. Trump has no political experience, so when he makes a political move, and if we assume politics is hard, then it seems reasonable to just assume he made a bad one.

            Consider watching a Go match between a 1 dan and a magic the gathering world champion. When the magic the gathering player makes move after move that nobody expects, is it unreasonable to assume he is just bad at Go? Maybe he isn’t, maybe he will win at the end of the game, but in the opening rounds of a very complicated game, just being ‘different’ can often be safely equated with being bad.

          • DavidS says:

            Both Iain’sand Spookykou’s points seem very strong to me! Although a lot of this amounts to how good/bad you think the status quo is. I work on the basis that it’s an incredibly complex system where a lot could go wrong and so like other such systems a sudden dramatic change is more likely to harm than help.

          • Jaskologist says:

            But in this case, we’ve already seen the Magic player win multiple Go matches again major players while making move after move that nobody expects.

          • dndnrsn says:

            However, there are reasons beyond “secret master Go player!” to explain this unexpected success.

            The whole “master persuader” hypothesis takes something that has a bunch of different explanations and pins it all on one explanation.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am not convinced, in general, that the ability to win an election is a good test of fitness for the skills needed at the elected position.

          • DavidS says:

            @Jaskologist: that assumes that winning an election campaign is the same skill or at least has very significant overlap with running a country.

          • “I am not convinced, in general, that the ability to win an election is a good test of fitness for the skills needed at the elected position.”

            But it is the test that results in someone getting an elected position. The question isn’t whether Trump is better than someone selected for being good a the job of President. It’s whether he is better (or worse) than someone else also selected for being good at getting elected.

          • DavidS says:

            @DavidFriedman: yes, but there can be different routes to the same goal. Most people’s route to being a Presidential candidate never mind elected involve actual experience in lesser political roles, building coalitions of support from amongst some of the sort of people they’ll be working with directly (Senators, Governors etc). Trump’s was different, and the route matters as well as the goal. This cuts both ways and people who think anything is better than the status quo will say his unusual background is a boon.

            This is assuming his route is particularly relevant and that he didn’t win because the Democrat establishment underestimated Hilary’s popularity.

          • Spookykou says:

            @DavidF

            My position is that skill at getting elected is, somewhat or completely orthogonal to skill at governing. People who govern all have to get elected, but a lot of people who get elected turn out to be bad at governing. So just getting elected is not proof of much of anything IMO, but when you add on the zero experience governing, and I assume governing is hard, then my default is that Trump is probably a bad governor.

            I understand that my belief that getting elected is mostly orthogonal is not common, in as much as most people seem to think that Trump getting elected represents a more general political skill. To directly address that idea instead of just walking around it, I mostly agree with DavidS. Even if getting elected normally represents a more general political skill, the populist mode of Trump’s election seems particularly bad for displaying this political skill.

        • baconbacon says:

          “If I were to try summarize very briefly why Trump’s remarks on NATO crossed a HOLY SHIT line, it’d be along the lines of: “If you read the history books, you realize that it is REALLY REALLY bad to have any ambiguity about which minor powers the major powers will defend; that is how World War I *and* World War II both started.”” – Eliezer
          Yudkowsky, Facebook

          This is a pretty terrible description of the causes of WW1 and WW2. WW1 saw most parties honoring (fairly quickly) mutual defense pacts, if you read German centric analysis the pro war contingent was basically saying “war is going to happen, we can’t be the last in and find ourselves surrounded by enemies, better to be first and strike a strong blow”. From their perspective it was a lack of ambiguity that lead to their actions. For WW2 it was the opposite situation, Germany was at first “appeased” and their was a question of how far they would go and where the British and French would draw the line. Still got war.

          The major failing is in treating the outbreak of war like a bullet wound, that has a single direct cause which, if prevented, would prevent war. Instead the situation has to be looked at during the build up stage.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, that’s a poor reading of history. The trouble with the First World War was precisely that the major powers did live up to their treaties re: the minor powers, and since all the major powers had been making secret treaties/alliances/agreements/understandings in order to stab one another in the back, they got tangled in a web of “if x then y then z then a then b then oh brother”.

            Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” was a reaction to this; nobody wanted to kick off another European war by rushing into action over “you have violated the treaty and so we are at war!”, which is why Hitler felt emboldened to keep pushing. The Second World War happened anyway.

            You could say the proximate cause of the First was being too ready to live up to the agreements and the Second was being too reluctant, whereas matters might have turned out differently if the reactions had been switched, but that’s hindsight – it’s always easier to say “This is where they went wrong” when you’ve had fifty years to kick the topic around.

            But whatever the causes, they certainly weren’t down to “ambiguity over what minor powers the major powers would defend”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think a defensible case can be made that ambiguity contributed to WW2, inasmuch as the Allies caved in on so many occasions that when they finally did grow a spine Hitler didn’t believe them.

            Imperial Germany sent its armies through Belgium in 1914 because it didn’t think that Britain would actually honour its treaty with Belgium, so British involvement in WW1 was plausibly due to diplomatic ambiguity as well. WW1 itself, though, had already started by that point anyway.

          • rlms says:

            I agree. If we’re discussing causes of the First World War, my amateur opinion is that it was all France’s fault. Ango-French, Austro-German etc. alliances make geographic sense, but the only purpose of a Franco-Russian alliance is to aggressively surround Germany (and therefore turn an Eastern European conflict into a World War by involving France, Britain and colonies).

          • James Miller says:

            The original Mr. X “Imperial Germany sent its armies through Belgium in 1914 because it didn’t think that Britain would actually honour its treaty with Belgium” I think by the time Germany invaded Belgium it knew this would mean war with Britain, but Germany thought it could defeat France before Britain could move a large number of troops into France.

            rlms “If we’re discussing causes of the First World War, my amateur opinion is that it was all France’s fault.” Without a French/Russian alliance, Germany could have easily beaten France so France would have been at Germany’s mercy. The only way around this would have been if Britain had been willing to station a huge number of troops in France.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            >Imperial Germany sent its armies through Belgium in 1914 because it didn’t think that Britain would actually honour its treaty with Belgium

            While this is true, in retrospect it’s more “wishful thinking” on Germany’s part rather than ambiguity on Britain’s diplomatic position.

            One major driver for WW1 escalating into a world war was the sheer amount of time the mobilization would take, especially Russian but also of other nations – if the war looked possible enough that the situation warranted a mobilization, you would want to start as soon as possible because you would be doomed if you mobilized late, but the step from mobilization to the initiation of the actual warfare was small.

            Another hypothesized reason was the lack of regular diplomatic conferences or other similar means prior to the war that would prevent the need for actual war to break out.

            But my personal opinion is that very main reason was the willingness of all parties to enter a war. Well, one possibility is that if France miraculously would have turned 180 degrees and clearly and soon enough indicated that they were out and would not honor their agreement with Russia, maybe Germany would have chosen the “concentrate in East” mobilization plan and wouldn’t have attacked in the West, and the conflict maybe would have been localized to Eastern Europe. But as the July crisis unfolded, at that point A-H, Russia, and Germany had already decided to start a war, and Germany was sure that France would support Russia so they needed to attack France first and what reason France had to believe that Germany would not attack them too…?

          • Nyx says:

            > the only purpose of a Franco-Russian alliance is to aggressively surround Germany

            Well, there is one other, quite obvious purpose; to deter Germany from invading France or Russia and being drawn into a war on two fronts. Since this course of events actually happened, I would say that France was justified in seeking that alliance.

            You might as well say that the only purpose of an Anglo-Polish alliance is to “aggressively surround” Germany, and so Germany had to invade Poland.

          • rlms says:

            @Nyx
            It seems more likely to me that Germany invaded France because of the alliance, not despite it. They predicted that, as a consequence of the Franco-Russian alliance (and France’s bitterness about territorial losses in the Franco-Prussian war), France would get involved in an Eastern European conflict they really had no business with. They therefore tried to strike a pre-emptive blow (but did so incompetently).

            I’m not saying that Germany had to invade France, but I think it was an expectable consequence of the Franco-Russian alliance. In comparison, since the invasion of Poland only occurred after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, it is difficult to view that as an expectable consequence of any alliance between Russia and non-German states. Although I do think that some German aggression was an expectable consequence of France’s desire for more German territory (but that issue is difficult to disentangle from the whole evil Nazi thing).

          • Deiseach says:

            But the French only wanted an alliance with Russia to surround Germany because of 1870; they wanted to never again be in the position where German forces could just march in and roll them up. If we’re going to blame any one single cause for the First World War, we may just as well blame the Prussians for being the militaristic German element that made a lot of Central and Western Europe very uneasy.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Theories that don’t address the powder keg situation with all the alliances are of course dumb … but let’s not forget that Serbian military intelligence was kind of out of control, and played a significant role in assassinating an important foreign royal – it’s unlikely that it was ordered at the highest levels, but that’s still pretty egregious.

          • Montfort says:

            If I were to try to strengthen the case of ambiguity as a contributing factor to WWI, I’d look at Serbia again.

            Especially early in the process, it was quite plausible that France and Great Britain would decline to go to war to defend Serbia (even with Russia war was foreseeable but not certain). When Germany gave Austria their guarantee of support I don’t think it would have been hopelessly naive to expect a regional war.

            Once the ultimatum “timed note” was issued and positions solidified it was not really a realistic option for Germany to back down. If they had managed to get Austria to back off, they almost certainly would have fallen out with them (and/or Austria would have collapsed in one way or another) and been left completely encircled in short order.

            In the counterfactual world where Serbia is in Entente-flavored NATO, Germany probably restrains Austria from war (and, actually, FF probably doesn’t visit Sarajevo in the first place, but that’s not the point). On the other hand, it doesn’t really address the underlying factors that were creating tension in Europe.

            As an aside:

            The trouble with the First World War was precisely that the major powers did live up to their treaties re: the minor powers

            (and similar, not as quotable sentiments from others that the problem was too little ambiguity (maybe they mean “flexibility” which is related but different?) )

            In the first world war, of course there were no relevant formal treaties or alliances with Serbia. There was the London treaty which declared Belgium neutral in perpetuity. It seems to us now that Britain saw article 7 as justifying a military response, but it can also be seen as placing an obligation on the Belgians, not the guaranteeing countries. One might say it was ambiguous (text in English here). We can see that despite the 1839 treaty, Britain found it necessary to sign another pair of treaties specifying that it would guarantee Belgian neutrality with force in 1870 – and the 1870 treaties were no longer in effect in 1914. The violation of Belgium’s neutrality was a violation of the Hague convention, but that did not mandate British intervention – in the end it came down to Britain’s inclination, and that was only resolved after a serious debate in parliament.

            As for the treaties among the major powers, Great Britain had no military treaties tying her to Russia or France, and the Franco-Russian treaty was not only secret, but also only obligated mutual defense if either party were attacked by the triple alliance directly (leaving the consequences of a war in Serbia undetermined).

            The terms of the triple alliance were also secret and generally defensive in nature, and Italy did not, in the end, hold up their end faithfully.

            As for various “understandings”, etc. these are not exactly an antidote to ambiguity – even the parties to the understanding often find such agreements dangerously slippery, much less foreign powers not privy to their details and/or existence.

            The various alliances and promises can look unambiguous now because we can see all of them (that were documented and not later destroyed) and we have the benefit of hindsight to guide our interpretation of diplomatic communications and which agreements really mattered. But it’s a very different thing to be in Bethmann-Hollweg’s (or Grey’s, or Berchtold’s, etc) shoes. It is not like NATO/CSTO which very publicly affirms all the time that an attack on one is an attack on all.

    • James Miller says:

      Donald Trump is a master persuader and negotiator and his China Tweets are no exception. The U.S. President not talking with the head of Taiwan doesn’t serve the interests of the United States and so Trump brilliantly overturned this strange practice in a way that China could write off as being a ‘‘little trick pulled off by Taiwan.’’ If President-Elect Obama had called Taiwan, it would have been cited positively when he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

      • Reasoner says:

        I’m prepared to believe that Trump is a master salesman. But it seems implausible that a man who spent his entire career in real estate has some kind of undiscovered genius for international diplomacy.

        What evidence would convince you that your interpretation of events is false?

        • James Miller says:

          Evidence that Trump didn’t realize that the U.S. President wasn’t supposed to talk with the President of Taiwan. (Although according to Business Insider he knew)

          • Deiseach says:

            Didn’t realise or did know but thought it was better to cut through all the bullcrap? It’s hard to tell at this stage; if it were someone other than Trump, would we be praising the pragmatic, clear-thinking, take-charge guy? American presidents have been liked and praised for such qualities before – is Theodore Roosevelt an overgrown man-child rampaging around the globe on ludicrous adventures to prop up his cowboy fantasies (Rough Riders? Really?) or is he the vigorous, straight-talking, cut through the obfuscation, worthy winner of the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his intervention in the Russo-Japanese War?

        • Evan Þ says:

          On the other hand, it seems somewhat plausible to me that real estate financial negotiations in an area with thousands of vested interests have some crossover skills with international diplomacy.

      • MugaSofer says:

        What does this have to do with the tweets?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Hard to say. Are they more or less dangerous than Chinese generals and official party newspapers casually threatening to nuke Los Angeles?

    • Stefan Drinic says:

      Remember, everything Trump tweets is all part of a Great Master Plan. If it seems to pay off, that’s proof! If it doesn’t? You’re just too smallminded and evilly leftist to see reason. The Donald works in mysterious ways.

      • Jiro says:

        The same applies to “everything Trump says is a disaster which can destabilize carefully ambiguous diplomatic relations and lead to nuclear war”.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Yes, it does.

        • erenold says:

          There doesn’t really appear to be anything wrong with your quoted sentence, at least before “and lead to nuclear war.” Perhaps you might argue ‘everything’ is too strong, and reduce it to “many things” instead. But if you don’t think Trump’s inexplicable and quite frankly strange habits are seriously and immediately affecting American credibility in both the short and medium run, causing measurable damage to diplomatic relations, I think you’ll quite quickly find you might be mistaken.

          That said, you remain a price setter in geopolitics within the foreseeable future, so – at least for now – it’s reasonable to reply to that with “so what, we don’t care”, of course.

          • albertborrow says:

            I really, really doubt Trump’s any more disreputable than Bush was. I was too young when the Bush presidency ended to really know, but according to Wikipedia:
            “Opinions of Bush from outside the U.S. are less than favorable. For example, a global sampling in 2005 of 21 nations found that 58% of those sampled believed that the president’s reelection would have a negative impact on their peace and security; only 26% believed it would have a positive one.”
            After his reelection in 2004, Bush was viewed favorably by 38% and unfavorably by 53% in Italy, but much worse in other countries: “Three-quarters of those in Spain and more than 80% in France and Germany had a negative view of President Bush’s role in world affairs.”

            Relevant links:
            Wikipedia article in question.
            1, 2
            article dating from Bush’s presidency
            second article dating from Bush’s presidency
            (good quotes from that article:
            “What is evident from the results of the election is that half of the American population are easily manipulated. Their intellectual poverty favoured Bush.”
            “Bush’s re-election is a disgrace for the world and for all American people.” (this one’s from some person in Cuba)
            “Unfortunately I think that he will remain faithful to his authoritarian politics, punishing all who are against the US, as that is exactly what has guaranteed his re-election.”(person in brazil))

            That isn’t to say Trump is good for foreign policy, but I feel like if America’s relationship with the rest of the world didn’t crumble to pieces in response to Bush, it probably won’t completely fail in response to Trump.

          • sflicht says:

            Why should Bush’s favorability ratings among Americans — or among foreigners, for that matter — be considered a useful datapoint for evaluating his presidency?

      • Deiseach says:

        Trump is definitely not a career politician. It would be much better if he stopped tweeting.

        On the other hand, it does give unfiltered access to what he is thinking and saying, unlike the carefully curated, focus-group tested, and polished output the usual social media team would provide for their candidate which would not be what they are thinking, it’s what their image management consultant would recommend they should be perceived as thinking.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Why would these be “dangerous”? The US complaining about Chinese currency devaluation and expansionism is nothing new. As I recall the US and allies have been conducting military exercises through areas which China claims to control for quite a while; this is not without its dangers, but the alternative is to cede control of those areas. I just did a search and it appears the UK is going to sail the HMS Queen Elizabeth right through the South China Sea; that’s ‘dangerous’. Tweets? Not very.

      • onyomi says:

        Actually, I think the subsequent Tweets may, in fact, be reason to worry less about the phone call.

        Three common explanations for why Trump accepted the phone call:

        1. He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to

        2. Opening move in a more aggressive pro-Taiwan policy

        3. Opening move in a plan to extract some concessions, probably mostly economic, from China

        I think 1 is definitely wrong. The call was planned and approved by his advisors. Maybe you can say advisors are taking advantage of Trump’s inexperience, but in that case the worry isn’t “loose cannon Trump,” but rather “GOP puppet Trump.” Trump doesn’t show many signs of being willing to be a GOP rubber stamp thus far, though.

        2. is what should cause one fear. As John Schilling noted in the last thread, Taiwan, despite being a de facto independent country, is, strategically and symbolically, at least as important to China as Hawai’i is to the US. If Trump thinks the PRC won’t go to war, maybe even nuclear war, over it, he could be disastrously wrong. A combination of 1 and 2 where a naive Trump is manipulated by someone very hawkish, like John Bolton, is probably the nightmare scenario.

        3. is what Scott Adams and even some Chinese netizens I read on Weibo suggest. Trump campaigned on “getting tough” on China in terms of trade and economic matters, not in terms of territorial claims. Most Americans don’t care about the official status of Taiwan. They do care about the perception that China is cleaning our economic clock. Conversely, most Chinese care about Taiwan on a gut level, but not about the details of the currency peg.

        As something which the CCP cares about deeply, but which Americans don’t care that much about, Taiwan could, arguably be a good bargaining chip for Trump: before he’s president, he judges the PRC won’t go to war over a phone call, but, by taking it, signals to China that he also can’t be counted on to simply maintain Obama’s status quo with respect to this issue of major importance for them. Sometime soon after he’s sworn in, he publicly reaffirms America’s commitment to uphold the “one China policy” in exchange for a few economic concessions, and, perhaps, a slowdown in military buildup in the South China Sea. If it works out this way, he gets to claim a big diplomatic, negotiation “win,” without actually having to do much of anything but maintain the status quo.

        The subsequent tweets are arguably setting the stage for 3. If he were setting the stage to support a more independent Taiwan, as in 2, then we’d expect his tweets to be more about what a wonderful, thriving democracy Taiwan is.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          Sometime soon after he’s sworn in, he publicly reaffirms America’s commitment to uphold the “one China policy” in exchange for a few economic concessions, and, perhaps, a slowdown in military buildup in the South China Sea.

          I’m not seeing China’s motivation here. Why would they offer Trump concessions just to return to the status quo? If Trump and Tsai want to start inching towards diplomatic recognition, China has many ways to retaliate that fall short of war. They could end direct flights and travel permits, restore bans on trade and investment, conduct some provocative drills like they did in the 1990s. All of these would hurt Taiwan far more than they would hurt China.

          • onyomi says:

            “Why would they offer Trump concessions just to return to the status quo?”

            Assuming America’s continued non-recognition of Taiwan has some value to them, why wouldn’t they be willing to offer something for it?

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Personally, I’m actively trying not to form an opinion on the Trump administration’s foreign policy. At least until after the inauguration and ideally not until after his first 100 days in office. It’s really weird to start evaluating a presidency that hasn’t actually begun yet.

      I get why people are worried. This post-election media narrative of Trump aggressively blundering on the world stage perfectly matches the pre-election media narrative that Trump would make aggressive blunders. But it’s not clear whether that’s because he actually did blunder and the media is accurately reporting it or just because the mainstream media won’t give up on campaigning for Hillary until the electoral college votes actually come in.

      So for right now, my answer is “mu.”

      • onyomi says:

        “The mainstream media won’t give up on campaigning for Hillary until the electoral college votes actually come in.”

        I think they have already transitioned into “make sure Trump’s presidency is a big failure” mode. I’m pretty sure they just can’t stand to see our first orange president succeed.

        • gbdub says:

          What I’m seeing is mostly claim Trump’s presidency is going to be a failure as loudly as possible.

          Nearly every cabinet pick has been spun as “The End of America!” (deVos will “gut” public education. Sessions will “destroy” civil rights. Mattis “loves killing people” and will lead us to nuclear Armageddon).

          The problem is that this is still crying wolf. All it’s doing is feeding red meat to blue tribers who hate Trump already, and making red tribers ignore the media even harder.

          By setting extremely low expectations, the media is making it easier for Trump to exceed them (and easier for Trump 2020 to laugh off media criticism as histrionic). As someone who thinks Trump will be bad but not disastrous, I’d prefer not making it easier for Trump to win re-election, but that seems the more likely outcome of this type of coverage.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            All it’s doing is feeding red meat to blue tribers who hate Trump already, and …

            … I was so much hoping that you were about to figure out a way of making ‘feeding blue meat to red tribers’ a meaningful thing to say 🙂

        • Deiseach says:

          I think they have already transitioned into “make sure Trump’s presidency is a big failure” mode.

          No, I don’t think that’s what they’re doing. They’re merely sticking to their guns: in the run-up to the election, we told you he was terrible; for the election, we told you he was terrible; after the result, we told you he was terrible; so now, for everything he does, we’re going to keep telling you why it’s terrible.

          If they go “Well, maybe he won’t be terrible”, they’ll be accused of being two-faced or abandoning their principles or trying to get on the right side of the guy now he’s in power or turning a blind eye to the rise of neo-Nazis, etc. So they have to keep on saying “He’s terrible” or else face the unpleasing prospect of perhaps having been wrong in their evaluation of him all along or at least in some aspects.

          Nobody likes to eat humble pie. I agree with Dr Dealgood, the man hasn’t even been inaugurated yet, so all this flapping is silly. Wait until he actually sets foot inside the White House!

          (And could that be a way of off-setting the phone call to Taiwan? He’s still only President-Elect or President-Designate, he’s not actually formally The President yet until he’s sworn-in, so anything he said or did has not been in a really official official capacity?)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            He has not yet been inaugurated doesn’t really apply. It is highly annoying to see this kind of bullshit argument employed here.

            He is engaging in what amounts to de facto diplomacy without having talked to the state department. He is making choices for his cabinet. He is bribing or arm-twisting a corporation or both for a PR win on jobs (but not really much of an actual win). He and the congress elect are giving indications about what legislation they are wanting to pass.

            The criticisms of Trump are all motivated by the things he is doing, which as president elect are far more, looked at in one way, infinitely more, consequential than when he was merely a candidate.

            Paul Ryan has a plan to privatize future Medicare and he wants to do it through budget reconciliation and he wants to do it within the proverbial first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. They already passed it and Obama vetoed it in this Congress. This shows how narrow the window can be to major changes.

            Highly consequential things are happening right now, and Trump is getting criticism for them, because there isn’t any other time to attempt to affect them.

          • onyomi says:

            I would agree that Trump is already acting like he is the president to a greater degree, seemingly, than most president-elects. In fact, I thought he was acting like he was already president before he even got elected (meeting with Mexican president), which probably helped him win (nothing proves you can do the job like being doing it already). Therefore, it seems perfectly legitimate to criticize any consequential actions he takes as president-elect.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            It would have been perfectly fair to criticize Obama’s picks for Cabinet 8 (or 4) years ago. If he started talking to foreign dignitaries about the financial crisis (say) without being briefed by State, Treasury and the Fed it would have been fair to criticize him.

            On the other hand, I think it would also have been fair to criticize him for NOT signalling appropriately to world interests. He was the PEOTUS, and people needed to know where he stood. Stonewalling with “I’m not President until Jan. 20” isn’t really an option. (There is nuance there as well, and you aren’t actually president until 1/20, so I’d prefer not to be straw manned on that point.)

            Trump is the (presumptive) President Elect. He can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid being that, so it isn’t that he is “acting like the President” that I mind. It’s his specific actions that I am objecting to.

          • Matt M says:

            I remember the conservative media howling a bit in 2008 when Obama went to Europe and gave what amounted to campaign speeches during the campaign – something to the effect of “someone who isn’t even president yet has absolutely no right to go overseas and talk to foreigners as if he’s someone important”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            That’s just an example of IOKIYAR. Republicans did’t make such complaints when Romney or Trump did it (or any of the other Republicans who have gone to foreign countries or met with foreign leaders during their campaign).

          • onyomi says:

            “It’s his specific actions that I am objecting to.”

            Yes, I understood that.

          • “Highly consequential things are happening right now, and Trump is getting criticism for them, because there isn’t any other time to attempt to affect them.”

            I agree for most of the things you list. I’m not sure that applies to the phone conversation with Taiwan. Presumably Obama communicated with the government of Taiwan in some form, just not a form that amounted to a symbolic statement that the U.S. government recognizes the government of Taiwan. Trump isn’t yet a representative of the U.S. government.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            i would like to submit a feeling vis a vis taiwan

            obama’s doctrine is to do what seems logical currently which quickly runs afoul of game theory or prediction theory or whatever people call it

            basically, if china threatens nuclear war in case of X, don’t do X. Cool, but China can now threaten nuclear war at zero cost. So, if it seems likely that they’re just bluffing and not going to do anything, it might be a good idea to tweak their nose, especially if it serves our interests. And also, because their expectations may harden, i.e. what they only claimed earlier to bluff, later becomes important to them, emotionally, so suddenly innocuous stuff hardens into declarations of war.

            obviously the downside to this behavior is that you may provoke war. but I feel like Obama came down a lot too hard on the other side because he neglected game theory and used basic ass logic.

          • onyomi says:

            “but China can now threaten nuclear war at zero cost”

            Yes, I think this is the point of asserting “China doesn’t tell us whom we can and cannot talk to.”

            China realizes that America really, really, really doesn’t want a war with them. But the more apparent that fact is, the more leverage they have over us. And they, have, in fact, been emboldened to push the status quo in their favor: military buildup and exercises in the region, etc.

            Even if all we really want is just to maintain the status quo, that status quo may take some pushing to maintain, assuming the other side is also nudging, which they are.

          • Matt M says:

            “China realizes that America really, really, really doesn’t want a war with them.”

            Yes, and sane Americans (read – not the mainstream media) also realize that China really, really, really, really, doesn’t want a war with us either.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, though China has done a better job thus far of making it look like maybe they wouldn’t mind.

          • Matt M says:

            Are you sure? Or does it just seem that way because we’re biased Americans?

            My guess is the rest of the world looks at our foreign interventionism and says “if ANYONE is going to start some giant war with little pretext, it’s those guys!”

            China building an airstrip on some rock in the South China Sea is nothing compared to our record of wars and regime change over the last couple decades or so…

          • onyomi says:

            Well, no American cab driver has asked me, excitedly, “so, who do you think would win in a nuclear war between America and China, huh, huh, huh??”

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve seen people on forums ask that.

            But I’ll concede it’s also possible that I have an anti-America bias because I get to interact with many of its low-information lower-class citizens on a daily basis, whereas the only Chinese I interact with are educated professional immigrants.

    • moridinamael says:

      I’ve been looking for a good explanation for why this is anything other than a pretty smart move.

      In any competition between powers, it’s foolish to cede ground to the opposition unless the cost of holding the ground exceeds the gain — and even then, in some cases, the symbolic act of holding “worthless” advantage can be worth more than the specific advantage in and of itself.

      That is all extremely basic and uncontroversial.

      A steelmanned secret genius version of Trump realizes which diplomatic conventions he doesn’t “really really” have to abide by, and thus flaunts those, pretending not to be aware of what he’s doing.

      A more-probable somewhat canny but largely tactically ignorant Trump realizes that letting other powers dictate who he is and isn’t allowed to call on the phone is “bullshit” and decides he’s willing to just pay the price, rightly understanding that “the price” will be a strongly worded letter.

      Whichever Trump we have, I’m not seeing how this phone call was the crime against humanity that it’s being made out to be.

      • hlynkacg says:

        A more-probable somewhat canny but largely tactically ignorant Trump realizes that letting other powers dictate who he is and isn’t allowed to call on the phone is “bullshit” and decides he’s willing to just pay the price, rightly understanding that “the price” will be a strongly worded letter.

        This would be my bet.

    • tscharf says:

      Trumps tweets are only dangerous when they result in dangerous outcomes, otherwise they are Internet ether.

      I don’t think it is going out on a limb to say there has been a bit of hysteria that everything Trump has done recently is being interpreted as the apocalypse by the usual suspects. It is quite clear that Trump is going to pick a fight with China over trade issues, and this is an opening to that. There are many people who support a re-examination of trade with China and don’t see this as “dangerous”.

      It appears China is about 1000x smarter than their liberal counterparts in the US because they aren’t taking the twitter bait. China getting their panties in a wad over a phone call to Taiwan will only serve to prove how irrational they are and further build up an anti-China mentality in the US. I would say the Chinese are probably thinking much more strategically than emotionally, and this will serve them well against Trump.

    • onyomi says:

      This take on the high historic probability of a rapidly rising power ending up in a war with a competing dominant power, however, does seem like reason for concern.

      • Sandy says:

        Eh — all of the “war” scenarios on that list are pre-atomic, three of the four “no war” scenarios are post-atomic, and as for the one “no war” that isn’t post-atomic, I think it’s questionable whether there was ever a serious chance that the US and Britain could have gone to war in that 1890-1914 period, given the distance between them as well as their intertwined history and culture.

        • onyomi says:

          Well, we don’t have a closely intertwined history and culture with China, though we do trade a lot with them. It is a good point that nuclear weapons seem to have been great for world peace in general, by virtue of dramatically increasing the potential costs of war.

          That said, the result of nuclear deterrent often seems to be conventional proxy war in places like Korea and Vietnam. That is, there’s a sense in which we’ve already fought two proxy wars with rising power China. Though it’s much better than outright, nuclear war between the US and China, I also hope it doesn’t portend conventional proxy war in Taiwan.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Being pedantic here (but what are SSC comments for if not being pedantic), but Korea was a straight-up war between the US and China, not a proxy war.

            As for Vietnam, I’m not an expert, but in what sense was North Vietnam an ally of China? I don’t recall exactly where most of their arms and material came from, but I thought most of it was Soviet-sourced, not Chinese. Plus, you’ve got the Chinese-Vietnamese war following closely on the heels of our own withdrawal from the region (not to mention Nixon’s famous rapprochement with China in the middle of the Vietnam war).

          • onyomi says:

            Well, yes, I guess I am imagining a hot, conventional war fought on Taiwan and/or the surrounding ocean between China and a Taiwanese military openly or open-secretly supported by the US military. Whether that would count as a “proxy war” or just a straight-up war fought on behalf of an ally, I guess, would depend on the openness of US involvement.

            China did provide material aid to the Viet Cong, though you’re right not nearly as much as the USSR. But I was also thinking of the looming implied threat something along the lines of “you better not fight an all-out offensive war or use nuclear weapons in our neighborhood.”

          • tscharf says:

            Fortunately the Washington Post is doing the heavy lifting for us and has determined that it is actually “Nazi haircuts” that will bring about the total end of American civilization.

            It’s too bad that the non-authoritarian liberal regime didn’t get elected so we could all enjoy or freedoms (except of course having hairstyle dictated to us by the fashion elites).

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/11/30/does-this-haircut-make-me-look-like-a-nazi/?utm_term=.87d32a6de7e2

          • Sandy says:

            I hate that haircut, I hate that it’s fucking everywhere now, and I will gladly support any effort to stigmatize it.

          • gbdub says:

            That’s just a modified (longer on top) “high and tight” and it’s not Nazi, it’s just military.

            Much more loathsome is the one-shaved -side-long-everywhere-else Skrillex thing, especially on women. Seriously, who decided that looks good?

          • “but in what sense was North Vietnam an ally of China? ”

            In fact, after the U.S. pulled out, China fought a war with Vietnam, widely viewed as a China vs USSR proxy war.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Gdub – “Much more loathsome is the one-shaved -side-long-everywhere-else Skrillex thing, especially on women. Seriously, who decided that looks good?”

            You are now being made to realize that the hairstyle you describe is in fact a sideways mullet.

    • onyomi says:

      Well the Taiwanese don’t seem to be too worried. I just hope getting China to agree to a peaceful settlement will be as easy as suplexing a panda (wait, that’s actually probably really hard…).

  10. Controls Freak says:

    Ok, now that we’re far enough away from the election that people have calmed down a bit (you have, haven’t you?), I’m going to pose a question about Hillary Clinton’s server consequentialism. But I want to use Hillary Clinton’s server as a hook. The remainder of this comment assumes that things which are morally permissible/impermissible are not necessarily legally permissible/impermissible due to a variety of factors. I want to probe a couple particular ones.

    As everyone knows, the FBI recommended against indicting Hillary Clinton in large part because they felt unable to prove the mens rea element. This is a question about her mental state, whether she was grossly negligent/reckless. Mens rea translates literally to “guilty mind”, and this idea permeates nearly the entirety of Western criminal law. Some strong intentionalists make exceptions for needing a mens rea requirement (Peter Abelard famously said that it was just to require penance from a woman who we think accidentally smothered her baby in her sleep in order to deter others from using such a pragmatic loophole maliciously). If you’re a strong consequentialist, do you have a rationale for letting any mens rea requirement into the law… much less letting it be as substantial as it currently is?

    Secondly, there was a lot of noise about estimating the actual damage – did a foreign country actually hack the server? Would it have mattered if they did (i.e., what was the value of the information)? Does this instead just point to a dangerously lax security culture at State which will eventually have consequences (according to some probabilistic assumptions)? I’m curious how the consequentialists here handle all this uncertainty. This is really just another variant of the, “We don’t have a cosmic calculator,” complaint, but I think it’s in practical terms that are useful for helping me understand your daily intuition. Do you feel like you should estimate all these various probabilities? Is it worth doing with made-up statistics? Most importantly, especially if you were the type to want to forgo mens rea entirely, do you think this process can be formalized enough to be put into practice in the exercise of the law? Would you like a hypothetical universe where instead of trying to gather evidence about Hillary Clinton’s intentions, the FBI was trying to put together a probabilistic argument that her actions were at least X% likely to cause damage amount greater than Y>0?

    Finally, if there are any who took an anti-mens-rea stance coupled with a pro-probability-assessment stance, do you think that getting rid of intention-based, mens rea requirements in the law is enough? Are you fine with action-based statutes coupled with a probability assessment, or would you like to get rid of action-based elements as well? My understanding is that some consequentialists accept action-based heuristics in lieu of a cosmic calculator, so I guess my question can be distilled to, “Do you prefer (1) Action-based elements + mens rea element, (2) Action-based elements + probabilistic consequence element, (3) Only action-based elements as proxy for probabilistic consequence, or (4) Only probabilistic consequence element?”

    • Andrew Cady says:

      A truly consequentialist approach would be to ask, “what are the consequences of strict liability?”

      And one obvious answer is that it puts people into a situation where they cannot realistically obtain certainty as to whether they are obeying the law (or put otherwise: whether they are subject to legal penalty). This is a very stressful situation for people to be in! It’s generally considered bad governance (and in another context, bad parenting). People are much more comfortable, able to act, and feel more free, when boundaries are clearly defined (even if the boundaries are arbitrary or even irrational). The alternative is often paralyzing.

      In any case, “consequentialism, therefore strict liability” does not seem to follow at all.

      BTW, you might be interested in the wikipedia page for strict liability which notes:

      “The doctrine’s most famous advocates were Learned Hand, Benjamin Cardozo, and Roger J. Traynor.”

      Maybe their advocacy is worth reading.

    • sflicht says:

      I lean consequentialist, anti-mens-rea, and pro-probability-assessment. But I don’t have great answers to your questions.

      There are cases in the law where consequentialism and mens rea seem compatible to me. For example (IANAL) my understanding is that sentencing law distinguishes between, say, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, using mens rea (possibly in addition to other factors?). Insofar as one consequentialist objective of law is to improve how we model one another’s actions, I don’t think this is a terrible thing, because some factors that affect mens rea (e.g. mental health) also figure into how one is treated legally. It seems like we have a social contract that says that people who go dangerously crazy are sort of expected to be prevented from harming people (e.g. via involuntary commission), so to the extent they still harm people that reflects a broader societal failure in addition to individual responsibility. Without judging whether this social contract functions particularly well, it seems morally coherent even from from a consequentialist perspective. (Moderately low confidence about this who paragraph.)

      In terms of damage estimates, your questions seem to me to raise enough questions related to the classification system in general, for the answers to be highly non-obvious. For example, I believe it’s entirely possible that NSA principals “know” (to whatever degree of confidence) that a foreign country did hack the server, but withheld this information from everyone (except the Intelligence Committee chairmen, POTUS, etc) to protect sources and methods. On the other hand, I also believe it’s entirely possible that we don’t really “know” the things ODNI claims we know, such as that the Russian government was involved in the DNC hack. While I recognize that in some cases we need to accept a greater degree of epistemic uncertainty than we would like for consequentialist reasons (sources and methods and all that), when it comes to cyberwarfare and cybersecurity, there are secrecy/overclassification problems, not just the lack of a cosmic calculator. Is it possible to simultaneously have an action- or effect-based legal code, even one based on probabilistic or heuristic estimates, that accurately targets consequentialist objectives, while simultaneously abiding by the principle of “(almost) no secret law”?

      Setting that aside, with respect to your final paragraph, I think that even if consequentialism makes one lean away from mens rea in general, and even if I think the law should make more effort to incorporate explicit probabilistic assessments (as opposed to “reasonableness” type standards), I’m fine with a pragmatic cocktail of (1), (2), (3), and (4).

      A final, mostly unrelated point, is that I think most of the State Department’s business, including normal, day-to-day diplomatic cables, could and should be conducted in a completely unclassified way. (Even if it has the potential to cause embarassment, diplomatic inconvenience, etc., if someone happens to FOIA a cable containing an account of some foreign official’s philandering, say.) And unclassified stuff shouldn’t be subject to any distribution requirements (SBU, U/FOUO, etc) that weaken the boundaries between stuff we’re “serious” about keeping secret and stuff somebody would just rather not get posted on facebook. More tentatively, there maybe should be a “no-backsies” principle banning retroactive classification completely. These changes would make the decision *not* to classify very costly, and hopefully minimize type II error. On the other hand, to minimize type I error, the government should enforce very strict zero tolerance policies, with consequences ranging from demotion / firing to prosecution / imprisonment, broadly determined by a probabilistic assessment of the expected outcome of the security breach in question. I think using a market-based approach could also be valuable, whereby each agency has a congressionally-determined budget for the amount of classified information it produces, abidance by which is used as one factor when agency officials’ performance is evaluated (by superiors, by Congress, etc.).

      That last paragraph was sort of shooting from the hip and is probably dumb in various ways. But it was what I started thinking about in relation to the lax security culture at State.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        Involuntary manslaughter still requires mens rea. (Criminal negligence is a form of mens rea. It requires that you are intentionally doing something, and that you did not fulfill your duty to ensure that the thing you did intentionally was safe.)

        If you kill someone without any criminal intent, and without any criminal negligence (say you trip on an obstacle and, in falling, knock someone off a subway platform, causing them to be killed by a train), then you are simply not committing a crime.

        • Aapje says:

          Negligence is the opposite of mens rea. Criminal negligence is a legal fiction to fix the obvious problems with mens rea: that an extremely careless and selfish person can cause major damage by not caring about the high risks of his choices.

          To make this fiction work, the actual defendant is replaced in the argument with a ‘reasonable person’ and it is argued that a ‘reasonable person’ would not not have taken those risks.

          There is no objective definition of ‘reasonable person,’ it is just a legal fiction to disallow everything that cannot be criminalized under mens rea, but that society is also not willing to accept.

        • Brad says:

          The mens rea of involuntary manslaughter is generally not criminal negligence. Rather it is usually recklessness.

          The ladder of non-intent homicides in most US jurisdictions is:
          criminal negligent homicide (criminal negligence)
          involuntary manslaughter (recklessness)
          depraved indifference murder (depraved indifference)

          Sometimes there are different names, but there tends to be one crime for each of those mens reas. Depending on how you want to think about it felony murder can also be fit in there.

    • dwietzsche says:

      I’m not sure I’m a consequentialist, so you may be indifferent to my opinion here. I will say as a person who flirts on occasion with eliminative materialism that I find legal concepts based on psychological states to be, well, kind of crazy, but not out of an Abelard style concern that people with bad intentions can disguise themselves as people without them. It’s just not a fertile ground for making strong inferences in the first place, so I think it’s prudent to find other ways of making whatever legal cases we’re trying to make. I also find punitive regimes based on subjective assessments regarding how evil a criminal supposedly is to be kind of disturbing.

      So, if I understand what you mean by an “action-based statute,” that would be something I would probably find intuitively more appealing in all cases where laws can be fixed that way. Like, I’m not sure I care about the difference between 1st and second degree murder, for instance (where first degree murder is defined as “premeditated” murder). I’m not completely indifferent to psychological states here. I think there are cases where it makes sense to have a manslaughter category. But I’m not sure in what circumstances I would tolerate a lesser punishment for it. Deliberately killing a person seems like a useful distinction from accidentally killing a person. But we should punish each case at least nearly equally severely because a dead person is a dead person.

      At any rate, I would regard any attempt to prosecute a person on the basis of a probabilistic assessment of the harm they *may* have caused to be insane. In the first place, this is clearly an issue that is even prior to consequentialism, and just has to do with standing and how courts actually work. If I can’t point to the actual harm a person may have caused, even if I can make a very strong probabilistic inference that such a harm was definitely caused, how the hell am I supposed to make a case in the first place? The judge asks, “Who was harmed?” You say, “I don’t know who, your honor. But I definitely know with a high degree of probability these specific harms happened to somebody. Look at these charts!” I don’t think so. The rituals of the trial are, however feckless they may be, an exercise in epistemology and *justice*, and they require at least some fixed facts about the world and who in particular has been harmed to be conducted properly. This is before we get into just how incredibly speculative the idea of such a thing is in the first place. If you know for sure that a bad thing happened based on some data set, you should regard your inability to find concrete examples of that bad thing you know happened as a serious challenge to whatever your model is in the first place. People do math badly all the time. The way you prove that you know a thing like this is by finding and pointing to the thing you claim you know. It’s a kind of accusatory question begging to insist that part can be skipped, regardless of how analytically sound the justification is.

      Now, that’s talking about things like murder which are easy enough. Clinton’s server is totally different for the simple reason that expectations regarding information security are simply not credibly enforceable in this manner at all. The government is a sieve that is constantly leaking classified information in myriad ways. If we started trying to throw officials in jail based on guesses about the impact of their leaks on national security we would end up firing nearly every public official appointed to run everything. It would destroy constitutional democracy. I’m not even sure if you actually knew that Clinton had accidentally leaked, I dunno, pick your poison here, advanced rocket propulsion systems to the Chinese or whatever, that it would make sense to throw her in jail over it. Not just because measuring the supposed impact of such a thing isn’t really possible (are we going to throw Clinton in jail on the basis of imaginary casualties created in an imaginary war with the Chinese now armed with an imaginary set rockets?), but because effectively keeping secrets is not, in fact, the main function of our laws regarding information security in the first place. Neither is, as popular as this idea widely is, the safety of our covert operatives overseas. We try to keep programs secret so they can continue to produce information which can be used by policy principals like, for instance, the Secretary of State, to make better decisions for the country. At a minimum we should expect such people to have extremely wide latitude regarding the methods they use for passing such information around, and we should also expect, along with that latitude, less than perfect OPSEC performance.

      • Jiro says:

        The judge asks, “Who was harmed?” You say, “I don’t know who, your honor. But I definitely know with a high degree of probability these specific harms happened to somebody. Look at these charts!”

        What’s wrong with that? There’s no identifiable person harmed when you release radiation that gives a million people a 1/1000 chance of causing cancer.

        There’s also no identifiable person harmed when the government says you need a permit to do X and you do it without the permit. Assuming for the sake of argument that the permits are required for a good reason, this probably means that not going through the permit procedure causes harm on a statistical basis (for instance, if the permit process also involves verifying your safety precautions, it may be that not requiring permits leads to fewer safety precautions. Can you say “in this case, see, I have good safety precautions anyway, so I shouldn’t be punished for not getting the permit”?)

        There’s also no identifiable person harmed if you drive drunk and happen not to hit anyone.

        • dwietzsche says:

          Yes, but how is that consequentialist exactly? Obviously not all laws are constructed in the same philosophical spirit. A guy who says that he shouldn’t go to jail just because he was caught driving drunk because he’s never hit anybody while driving drunk, it seems to me, is making a consequentialist case in his own defense. Right? We might throw him in jail anyway. But a consequentialist justification for that would be tortured at best.

          • Randy M says:

            Wouldn’t the consequentialist care about the outcomes of his own actions (instituting punishment for certain behaviors in this case)–not about giving justice to others based on the consequences of theirs?
            That is, he doesn’t care about treating the defendant fairly based on the results of that defendant’s behavior, he cares about treating the defendant in such as a way as to minimize the negative results stemming from the verdict societywide. If harsh sentences for risky behavior that didn’t result in any harm (but may have) reduces harm by creating additional disincentives, moreso than the suffering of meting out punishment to these lucky law-breakers, than institute that. If hanging murderers literally has zero deterrent effect, strike that punishment (as a consequentialist understood by this commenter).

      • Andrew Cady says:

        I find your statements about “who was harmed” very confusing. Criminal law doesn’t even require anyone be harmed. It requires that you violated the law. You are prosecuted in court by the state, not the victim, even if there is one. In a sense the offense is always the same: disloyalty to the state.

        What you are saying makes sense if you are talking about civil law and legal “standing,” but criminal law is different.

        • dwietzsche says:

          If you can prosecute a person on the basis of actions that do not cause harm, whatever your justification for that prosecution may be, it is probably not consequentialist.

          • Iain says:

            We prosecute people for driving drunk, even when they do not personally cause harm, because the existence of that law deters people from driving drunk and reduces harm overall. That is a consequentialist justification.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Ooooh, boy, that seems like it would prove to much.

            “You did nothing wrong, but someone else might, so we are putting you in jail” seems like a the kind of argument that allows, say, imprisoning political dissidents.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            HBC:

            that seems like it would prove to much.

            I’m not sure that it does. The consequences of being hit by a car are bad in a way that pretty much everyone can agree on. The probability of hitting someone with your car is raised by alcohol in a similarly hard-to-deny way. Even the least totalitarian government would still have a large fraction of its electorate asking to use the criminal justice system to strongly disincentivise risking people’s lives. And to the extent that laws against drunk driving do act as a deterrent (and are not disproportionately harsh), then it is perfectly compatible with consequentialism to want to have them.

            Whereas a government that throws dissidents in jail … well, is there any good reason to believe that disincetivising peaceful political dissidence saves lives on average?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Winter Shaker:
            Well, that seems to be the position of every communist and theocratic government. Really, any “law and order” conservative society will have those who want to jail people like, say, flag burners because they think they are deleterious to the fabric of society, encouraging more flag burning, and then civil unrest, etc.

            Before you know it people are doing things like dancing to rock and roll.

            I understand that the argument is more direct in the case of drunk drivers, but given that we don’t know how well a particular drunk driver is at getting home without crashing, …. can we really say that we have prevented harm by jailing that particular driver? It just seems to let in a whole bunch of “greater good” arguments that I’m not sure are ones that someone thinks they are signing up for as a consequentialist.

            Mind you, I’m guessing there are probably different flavors of consequentialism that take different stances on this kind of question.

            Frankly, I’ve always found the not/consequentialist debate to be kind of like nature/nurture.

            If the question is nature or nurture, then my answer is yes.

          • Jordan D. says:

            The traditional reasons for a criminal penalty are all pretty consequentialist:

            1) Specific Deterrence – Punish someone who has done the bad thing so that they will fear doing the bad thing again.
            2) General Deterrence – Punish someone who has done the bad thing so that others know that doing the bad thing could hurt them.
            3) Incapacitation – Remove a bad actor from society so that he cannot continue to do the bad thing.
            4) Retribution – Punish someone who has done the bad thing so that the victim and his tribe do not seek vigilante justice in return.
            5) Restitution – Fine someone who did a bad thing so that the money can be used to mitigate the effects of the bad thing.

            If you drive drunk and hit somebody, you’re punished to stop you from doing it again, as a warning to others, to take you off the streets so that you don’t kill people and to provide some closure to the victim or their estate.

            If you drive drunk and don’t hit anybody, you’re punished to stop you from doing it again and as a warning to others. It’s not that your specific actions hurt anyone, it’s that if your actions became normalized a lot of people would be hurt.

            Whether that’s a bad idea, you can debate. But the law was indeed enacted in the belief that it would have certain beneficial consequences.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            4) Retribution – Punish someone who has done the bad thing so that the victim and his tribe do not seek vigilante justice in return.
            5) Restitution – Fine someone who did a bad thing so that the money can be used to mitigate the effects of the bad thing.

            That seems like a pretty implausible reading, TBH. I mean, sure, you *can* justify those things on consequentialist grounds, but those aren’t the most obvious justifications, and I doubt that most people would give the justifications you give here.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Well, that’s what’s written in my old criminal law textbook. And I think it’s a justifiable statement- whether you agree with them or not, look at some of the stated motivations of BLM. When people think that normatively-criminal behavior is going unpunished, they start to think that the law has failed them and the time has come to take things into their own hands. And even that feeling, I think, is sort of game-theoretical: if I’m a Pastafarian and it doesn’t appear that the law is punishing defections against other Pastafarians, I have to take that into my own hands or risk everyone defecting against me whenever they want with no penalty.

            I mean, sure, plenty of people would say that we punish criminals because they “deserve” it, and plenty of legislatures have established laws against things on the basis that they’re “wrong” rather than because of any explicit harm. I’m not saying that all laws are consequentalist; I just think the framework in which penalties are assessed often is.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jordan D:
            “the bad thing”

            But consequentialism is a way of defining what is bad and what is not. You are burying that by assuming it is bad. It is essentially begging the question.

          • Spookykou says:

            @HBC

            It just seems to let in a whole bunch of “greater good” arguments that I’m not sure are ones that someone thinks they are signing up for as a consequentialist

            Huh, I thought the “greater good” was basically the whole point? Isn’t that what the Trolley problems are all about?

            But consequentialism is a way of defining what is bad and what is not.

            This is not how I understood consequentialism either, I thought it had to be paired with some kind of metric of desirability. How else do you know that five people dying is worse than one?

            Maybe I really don’t understand consequentialism?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            the “greater good”

            Shut it!

          • Jordan D. says:

            I’d been assuming that we meant ‘consequentialism’ in this context to mean ‘having a criminal justice system worked out according to the consequences of enforcing laws’ rather than whether or not we have a coherent metric for measurement. I certainly wouldn’t claim we have a utilitarian or egoist justice system.

            I read the OP as asking what the consequentialist justification for mens rea is (as opposed to a deontological system in which we say ‘we punish the guilty for guilt should be punished’), rather than an examination of whether those consequences are justifiable per se.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @JordanD:

            Controls Freak (OP) specifically talks about mens rea and how it plays into whether something is illegal or not, which is the antithesis of a consequentialist approach. In a pure consequentialist approach (as I understand it), it doesn’t matter why you do something, it only matters what effect it has, mens rea would cease to matter in the law.

            So, one question is, is drunk driving wrong under a consequentialist framework if no accident occurs? What if you cross the yellow line 3 times but recover before an accident occurs? What if you are not drunk and cross the yellow line 3 times but don’t have an accident?

            I’d argue that in a strict consequentialist framework the level of wrongness of drunk driving is only to the extent of actual actions which caused harm. Being drunk and crossing the yellow line is just as wrong as being sober and crossing the line.

            Iain is the one who brought in a consequentialist reasoning for prosecuting people even if they had done “nothing wrong” from a consequentialist perspective. Basically he is saying its not wrong to prosecute people who have done nothing wrong because the consequence is fewer deaths from drunk driving.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @spookykou:

            Huh, I thought the “greater good” was basically the whole point? Isn’t that what the Trolley problems are all about?

            As I understand it, the trolley problem is more of an intuition pump. It’s not arguing for a particular system of morality, but asking us to examine the scenario and evaluate using various frameworks.

            I don’t know that the action/inaction divide is necessarily part of a consequentialist framework. So, for example, if you push the fat-man, your action would cause his death. Not pushing him doesn’t cause anything, so … did you do anything wrong?

            Examined another way, take it is a given that pushing the fat man will stop the trolley, but now posit that this thought never enters your mind. Would any strict consequentialist framework that holds you responsible for not pushing the man if you do think of it, also hold you responsible even if it never even occurs to you to push the man? As state of mind and intent isn’t supposed to enter into it, it would seem to be so.

            I’m sure there are different schools of thought and various different frameworks that all fall under “consequentialist”, but I’m not sure that all of them (or perhaps any of them) could be short-handed as “for the greater good”.

          • Jordan D. says:

            @HeelBearCub

            In that case I still maintain that mens rea could be (is?) part of a consequentalist system for reasons related to Iain’s, because the system needs to account for the effects it has on all behavior, not just spot-check it.

            For example, if we take the present case where it’s illegal for a person working at State to recklessly transmit classified data over e-mail, taking away the mens rea requirement makes it either too costly to e-mail people or unworkable to prosecute anybody. Since we can’t expect each person to know all subjects which are classified, we’d end up prosecuting basically everyone or else not prosecuting anybody at all.

            Assuming that we think people who recklessly or intentionally send classified data should be prosecuted, then, it makes more sense to do it this way so that we discourage bad actors and people willfully ignoring all protocol but people simply trying to do day-to-day work don’t worry that they’ll end up targeted.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @JordanD:
            I’m not sure you are grokking consequentialism (or, I suppose, I am not).

            In any case, you still seem to be making the argument that it is perfectly fine to punish people who did nothing wrong, while simultaneously maintaining that they did something wrong.

            Because you referred to “bad actors” assuming they are subset of people who transmit classified data, but in a consequentialist framework they are either all bad actors or none of them are.

          • Spookykou says:

            @HBC

            Sadly the link to Scotts Faq seems to be down.

            This whole thread has been kind of weird to me though, so my use of consequentialism is probably very non-standard.

            For example, I think quarantine procedures are very ‘consequentialist’ but I am curious how you see them.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @spookykou:
            I think people are confusing pragmatism and consequentialism.

            Both are concerned with outcomes, but only one of them is only concerned with the actual outcomes of an individual act.

            A pragmatist would say that you should not violate quarantine, and it’s still wrong to break quarantine even if no one actually gets sick.

            A consequentialist would say it’s wrong to break quarantine if someone else gets sick, but perfectly fine if no one does. And this would be true even if you were running a fever and coughing up blood (i.e. showed signs of having active tuberculosis).

            The saying associated tightly with consequentialism is “The ends justify the means”, implying that it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get to a good outcome.

            Again, maybe I am misunderstanding something about consequentialism, and if so I hope someone jumps in and corrects me.

            The wikipedia article mentions, among other things, Utilitarianism as a form of Consequentialism, which perhaps argues against my take.

          • Protagoras says:

            HBC has consequentialism wrong. Consequentialism does not say to punish based on the consequences of someone’s action, as he implies. It says to punish based on the consequences of punishing.

          • Spookykou says:

            Well reading the wikipedia article, our confusion is not surprising, the various forms of consequentialism seem to vary significantly.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Protagoras:
            I think you are misstating my argument.

            I am first and foremost saying in consequentialism, that the morality of an action is determined by its actual consequences, not the intentions or state of mind of the actor, nor by whether codified rules were or were not violated.

            I think I am actually open to the argument that Consequentialism may be fine with punishing the innocent as long as enough bad consequences are permitted prevented. But that is probably where I want clarity on the part of everyone.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am first and foremost saying in consequentialism, that the morality of an action is determined by its actual consequences

            I am still confused by what this means, how are the consequences of an action being evaluated if not by some list of rules?

            I think I am actually open to the argument that Consequentialism may be fine with punishing the innocent as long as enough bad consequences are permitted. But that is probably where I want clarity on the part of everyone.

            This is an interesting idea, because it would seem that if the punishment is warranted based on the consequences of the punishment, then those carrying out the punishment are ‘good’ even if they are punishing somebody who is ‘innocent’.

            Of course I still have no idea how they could determine that the punishment is on net good without some sort of external(to consequentialism) metric of goodness.

          • “In a pure consequentialist approach (as I understand it), it doesn’t matter why you do something, it only matters what effect it has, mens rea would cease to matter in the law.”

            If you view the purpose of punishment as deterrence, then one of the relevant question is to what degree the behavior can be deterred.

            If I ran someone over by very bad luck after taking all reasonable precautions, punishing me for doing it isn’t going to change my behavior much–I might drive a little less–because there is no inexpensive to me way of keeping it from happening.

            If I ran him over by negligence, failing to take cost justified precautions, then punishing me gives me a reason to take those precautions.

            If I ran him over on purpose, then all I have to do to prevent it in order not to get punished is to choose not to do it.

            So mens rea provides a proxy for deterrability.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @HBC

            If we were omniscient and knew that my drunk driving would not lead to deaths while you were drunk driving would, then the consequentialist position would be to punish you and not me. But since we are in a world of uncertainty, then the consequential position would be to deter both, assuming the goal was to punish unnecessary risks to other people. Comparing drunk driving to flag burning is very strange, since the dangerous consequences of drunk driving are a lot more obvious than flag burning. Why else do you think we punish it besides the usual consequential reasons? Because we want to signal our superiority to people who drink? I’m almost certain you are using a very nonstandard definition of “consequentialism”.

          • Iain says:

            I think the two sides of this discussion boil down to act utilitarianism vs rule utilitarianism. Very broadly, act utilitarianism says that you should perform the act with the best consequences, and rule utilitarianism says that you should follow the rules that lead to the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism was designed to get around this sort of drunk-driving objection (“But what if by smashing his kneecap I cause him to go to the hospital, get an x-ray, and discover the cancer that would have otherwise killed him?”) As a moral framework, rule utilitarianism has the problem of figuring out how specific the rules should be. As a basis for a consequentialist legal system, however, rule utilitarianism seems like the obvious choice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Iain:

            Rule utilitarianism

            Doesn’t that start to look an awful lot like Deontology?

            Let’s suppose we have someone with a tolerance for alcohol who is not an impaired driver at 0.08 BAC. Shouldn’t a consequentialist believe that this person is not doing anything wrong when they drive (as they are not impaired)?

            One could say that they might not find anything wrong with still imprisoning them, as the net consequence of applying this punishment is still positive to society.

            Maybe I am just talking myself into the idea that (some) consequentialists are fine with punishing the innocent as long as the net effect is positive.

          • Iain says:

            Maybe I am just talking myself into the idea that (some) consequentialists are fine with punishing the innocent as long as the net effect is positive.

            This is, in fact, one of the classic attacks against utilitarianism. The claim that punishing the innocent is wrong is deontological; from a hardline utilitarian perspective, if punishing one innocent person leads to better outcomes overall, it is not just permissible but mandatory to punish the innocent.

            Your question about people who are not impaired at .08 is an example of how rule utilitarianism often edges towards act utilitarianism. There is no generally accepted metric for how specific a moral category should be. Is the reference class “drivers”? If it is, driving with a BAC of .08 is immoral. Is it “drivers who are above average at holding their liquor”? In that case, it’s morally fine. The reductio ad absurdum ends up with a rule saying “Okay, Steve, Julia, and Leo can drive after three beers, but Mike and Janet can’t”, which is just poorly disguised act utilitarianism.

            In practice, the law has to be rule-based. It’s not feasible to assess each citizen’s liquor tolerance independently and assign a personalized BAC limit, so a line is set that attempts to maximize overall utility, even if it means that some people have to pay for taxis they didn’t actually need.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Doesn’t that start to look an awful lot like Deontology?

            Rule utilitarianism and deontology can look very similar in practice, although they’re still considered different because the justification given for the rules is different.

          • If you can prosecute a person on the basis of actions that do not cause harm, whatever your justification for that prosecution may be, it is probably not consequentialist.

            You can punish people on the basis of expected, not actual consequences.

            Right? We might throw him in jail anyway. But a consequentialist justification for that would be tortured at best.

            I’m not seeing the problem. You create laws reflecting the expected consequences of actions. Then you punish people primarily for breaking the law, and not just the for the actual consequences. That kind of consequentialism leads to different object-level outcomes to naive consequentialism, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t consequentialism at all.

    • Brad says:

      It’s worth noting that negligence / gross negligence as a criminal mens rea is relatively rare. I think before considering expanding strict liability crimes, we should consider expanding negligence crimes. For example, the famous and close but not quite true “no bankers went to jail for blowing the global economy” was down to several things, but among them were the need to prove knowingly or intentionally in the relevant criminal statutes.

      Perhaps the tie in to consequentialism is that the more severe the damage, the weaker mens rea we’ll accept. There’s criminally negligent homicide, but there’s no criminally negligent arson (at least in NY).

    • The consequential purpose of punishment is to change people’s behaviors. If a person does not have mens rea, they aren’t aware that their action is wrong or potentially wrong, then they won’t be aware that it could carry a penalty and hence the penalty won’t dissuade them.

    • Background: I’m not a pure consequentialist, but I think that the vast majority of deontological and virtue-ethics rules are actually consequentialist in disguise. To more specific, I think that many rules like “Don’t kill. Don’t lie. Don’t steal” are rules because of their negative consequences. For example, if it turned out that societies with a healthy level of stealing had better of citizens, I’d expect the rule against stealing to gradually die away. That being said, I think its valid for people to prefer rules above and beyond the actual consequences of those rules – that is, you can’t just dismiss these values as “irrational” and not care about them.

      1) I think mens rea is fairly important from a consequentalist perspective in law. As I see it, the primary purpose of the legal system is to reduce future acts of crime (weighted, in theory, by severity) while minimizing the number of people in prison. Due to the nature of these two goals, there are naturally tradeoffs. Let me give two possible worlds:

      1a) In world A, we can never determine someone’s mens rea any better than chance. In this world, it shouldn’t be used by the legal system.

      1b) In world B, we can always determine someone’s mens rea perfectly. In this world, it is extremely important for the legal system to account for it. In world B, imagine that we punished everyone who killed someone else. Now imagine, we punished only those who intentionally killed someone else. In both cases, only the people who intentionally killed someone else would be deterred, so the punishment of the unintentional killers would have no deterrent effect. Moreover, people who kill accidentally presumably are less likely to kill again, so the “take criminals off the street” argument is much weaker too. [note: I’m simplifying between completely intentional and completely accidental – in reality, it’s a spectrum]

      Obviously, reality is between 1a and 1b, so we should care about mens rea to some degree – though I have no idea just what that degree should be.

      2) As with part (1), my primary concern would be preventing future harm. Thus, the FBI’s investigation’s primary goal would be to find out about all possible security holes and whether they were worth the cost to fix. Of secondary importance is determining whether Clinton should be punished to deter future Secretaries of State. Determining that would be (as with part 1) a combination of mens rea and naive consequentialism. I will say that there is a mitigating factor here, which is that we don’t just want to deter people from becoming Secretary of State in general, because that would be a net-negative for America; so I think the mens rea part would be particularly important to push for criminal charges and imprisonment.

      • Skivverus says:

        For example, if it turned out that societies with a healthy level of stealing had better of citizens, I’d expect the rule against stealing to gradually die away.

        …or maybe you’d get some linguistic drift where the better-outcome stealing was called something else; I’d fill in examples, but the ones that come to mind are a bit partisan.

    • moridinamael says:

      What about a consequentialist who finds the idea of holding people responsible for their actions absurd? Rather than punishing Hillary Clinton for making a bad choice, a sane society would examine the set of incentives that led her to make that decision and restructure them such that the next person who finds themselves in her situation doesn’t make a that choice. And I don’t mean that the new incentive is punishment for transgression, we’ve already establish that that doesn’t work.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ moridinamael
        a sane society would examine the set of incentives that led her to make that decision and restructure them such that the next person who finds themselves in her situation doesn’t make a that choice.

        Hey, good sense. (Aside from the implication that Hillary did something wrong.)

        I wish I could find again an excellent article about why, to do their important, real job, diplomats did need cell phones outside the clunky official channels.

      • a non mouse says:

        Rather than punishing Hillary Clinton for making a bad choice, a sane society would examine the set of incentives that led her to make that decision and restructure them such that the next person who finds themselves in her situation doesn’t make a that choice.

        That’s already what happened.

        Hillary set up a private server to circumvent FOIA requests. Then when her emails were subpoenaed she ordered them deleted. Doing that is a crime (obstruction of justice) specifically for the reason that it’s a really really good way to cover up other crimes.

      • Deiseach says:

        Rather than punishing Hillary Clinton for making a bad choice, a sane society would examine the set of incentives that led her to make that decision and restructure them such that the next person who finds themselves in her situation doesn’t make that choice.

        What if part of the incentives are a personality that says “I am above the petty rules for little people; I always make the right choices all the time; I can never be at fault because I can never do anything wrong”? How do you ‘restructure’ the incentives at work in such a personality type, other than not voting in the next person if they have a mind-set like that?

        I’d love a society like that: why did you take €30,000 out of the company bank account? because I wanted to buy new furnishings for my house and my wages aren’t high enough to let me pay that sum! well, plainly we’re not paying you enough to incentivise you not to embezzle, so here – have a 500% pay increase! and don’t worry, we’re not going to punish you for making a bad choice, so you don’t have to refund the money you stole needed and took!

        I just wonder how well it would work in practice?

    • Controls Freak says:

      For various reasons, I was unable to engage with this thread as closely as I had hoped after starting it. Thanks everyone for giving your perspectives and giving me some things to chew on!

  11. Dr Dealgood says:

    What’s the etiquette on anonymous randos showing up to meetups?

    I’ll be in town when the Solstice is going on anyway, and meeting other ratfolk IRL sounds interesting. But I don’t know any of these people and given that a good chunk of the stuff I say on here could get me fired I’m not about to wear my username as a nametag.

    So is it better to skip or just show up under my true name or what?

    • Reasoner says:

      You are much more worried than you need to be. Just show up and give people your true name. Most likely this topic will not come up, and if it does, say that you prefer to keep your real life identity and your online identity separate. Or just lie and say you never post. I’ve talked to at least two ratfolk who explicitly keep their LessWrong username secret. It’s not a big deal at all. Also, due to the spotlight effect, you notice yourself much more than others notice you. I’m a pretty loyal SSC community member, and your username kinda rings a bell but I can’t recall anything specific about you.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Thanks for the helpful answer. This goes for the other folks downthread as well, I just don’t want to have three identical replies.

        I just wasn’t sure whether this was the kind of thing where people go “Hey you’re $poster, nice to meet you!” or what. It sounds a lot less formal than I was imagining.

    • albertborrow says:

      Why would a meetup be any different from any other meatspace interaction? You don’t walk up to strangers and say: “Hey, my username is Dr Dealgood and I said this really stupid thing on the internet.” I don’t see why an SSC meetup would have fundamentally different principles, because the whole point of online anonymity is that you’re free from (real life) accountability for your opinion. Judging you for your post history would be like judging someone on their masturbation habits or how many times a day they brush their hair – it’s nobody’s business but yours.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      My own feelings (as you can probably infer) is that people drastically overestimate the risk of their words online affecting them IRL, especially if there’s no easy-to-drum-up-outrage-over link between you and what you say.

      However, you have my permission to show up and claim to be me instead if it makes you more comfortable.

    • amuchmoreexotic says:

      This is the first time I’ve heard the term “ratfolk”. Not sure it’s great from a community branding perspective. It makes me think of the Skaven.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I’m pretty sure I’d seen it before.

        Personally I like it because it’s mildly self-deprecating. Back before my time the term was apparently “aspiring rationalists,” which sounds like it was a good way to remind people that just being aware of a cognitive bias on it’s own doesn’t make you immune to it. But that was dropped in favor of rationalist as part of the general ego-tripping on LW.

        A ratman isn’t going to be part of a Baysean Conspiracy or practice Heroic Responsibility. At most, he’s a cunning guy who knows a few tricks and is willing to play dirty to win. It’s a more humble and IMO realistic posture.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s a more humble and IMO realistic posture.

          A bit like the atheists/freethinkers/non-supernaturalists/secularists who suggested “hey, instead of letting our opponents define us with pejorative terms, why don’t we choose a group identity for ourselves? why don’t we call ourselves ‘brights’? because that is not going to be taken the wrong way or mocked by anyone!” 🙂

  12. nimim.k.m. says:

    I asked this in the previous hidden fractional-OT and got some recommendations (thank you again), but let’s try again in the case more people will see this here on the “visible” open thread…

    …I’d be grateful for references (books, internet resources, anything) for learning statistics and experimental design. Specifically, stuff that helps me learn not only to do statistical analysis, but ideally also to judge when the pscyh/health/socsci/similar papers are bullshit. My major sources for acquiring that kind of practical knowledge currently are SSC and Andrew Gelman’s blog.

    Background: I have done (university) intro-level courses for statistics and probability, also Bayesian stuff (but majority of the current research follows classical/frequentist framework still). Gelman is often on the verge of “too advanced for me” / “challenging but I can follow if I am study hard when there’s something I don’t understand”.

    • ADrunkMana says:

      I don’t have much advice to offer on this front (SSC & Gelman are my main sources on this topic as well), but I am also very interested in this topic. I would love to have a better set of heuristics for judging the quality of social science research when I read papers.

    • Reasoner says:

      Gelman himself wrote a book called Bayesian Data Analysis that was recommended in this thread. I haven’t read the book myself, so I can’t say whether you’d find it helpful or not. There are other stats book recommendations in the thread too; maybe one of them would be better.

    • Wander says:

      Not exactly related to your request, as you’re probably already far past it, but I would consider “How to Lie with Statistics” as mandatory reading for all humans.

    • StellaAthena says:

      There are a few very good pop-statistics books. Naked Statistics, the Tea Tasting Time, Freakenomics, as well as the books recommended at this Stats Stack Exchange thread. They might be more accessible to you, more enjoyable to read, and give you some grounding to read “real” statistics books as follow-ups.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Oh, I don’t mind being on the level where things are difficult and I need to look things up because that’s what learning is about. Some time ago I read Salsburg’s Lady Tasting Tea, and while the history portion was interesting, I was annoyed by the “pop sci” attitude of skipping the maths.

    • shakeddown says:

      I haven’t used it for statistics, but I generally find MIT’s open courses to be a great way to learn stuff (generally much better than using a textbook, since they’re built with specific goals and interesting examples).

  13. grendelkhan says:

    Good news, everyone! (Sorry if someone’s already noticed this.) Sarah Kliff has a new post up on Vox, all about the tradeoff between price controls on drugs and fewer new drugs as a result, and it feels like a response to the Reverse Voxsplaining posts on the subject from late August/early September.

    It’s certainly missing some pieces–for example, there’s nothing about the influence of competition on generic drugs (seriously, there’s a kickass graph on that; how hard would it be?), or even an acknowledgement that generic drug pricing is very different, policy-wise, than new-drug pricing. Still, it looks like Kliff really did change her mind, which is a lot to ask from a reporter on a politically-charged beat. (Am I being patronizing? Am I expecting too little from Vox? I can’t quite tell.)

    • albertborrow says:

      >…am I expecting too little from Vox?

      No, you’re not. Remember, Vox is still a website that makes money from people clicking on articles.

    • Wrong Species says:

      When getting in an argument, we all want the other person to essentially give up and declare that you are the superior debater. What actually happens is that they quietly contemplate what you said, and assuming you made good points, will gradually and probably begrudgingly move a little closer to your position. Small concessions are victories.

  14. Said Achmiz says:

    Is the location of the megameetup still TBD…? It’s two weeks away…

  15. OrneryOstrich says:

    What’s the difference between finding a real Simpson’s Paradox and p-hacking? How do I know dividing my population by class or kidney stone size is more correct, and that I’m not just slicing my treatment groups and populations until I get the results I want?

    • Aapje says:

      I think that it is more what you call significant. A really solid Simpson’s Paradox requires that you find a pattern for most/all of the sub-groups. P-hacking is when you simply select a fraction of the sub-groups and ignore the other sub-groups that don’t show a desired result.

      Take the UC Berkeley example:

      In this case, Simpson’s Paradox is used to argue against the aggregate outcome being significant, because there is a pattern in the subgroups where two parameters interact. This argument is solid, because they base it on all the data. There is no cherry picking of some sub-groups.

      P-hacking would be to pick the 6 departments significantly biased against men or the 4 significantly biased against women and ignore the 75 other departments that showed no bias. Now, 10 out of 85 is still a bit bigger than the 4.25 departments that you would expect to show significantly bias by random chance (given p=0.05, so 85/20). However, at most that is reason for further research, if one would declare: department A is biased against men, that would be p-hacking, IMO.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      P-hacking and Simpson’s paradox have little to do with each other. P-hacking as a practice is due to not saying in advance what your hypothesis is.
      Simpson’s paradox is people being confused about the difference between conditioning and interventions.

      The only relationship I can see is both have something to do with conditioning on strata.

  16. Tekhno says:

    What would reddit be like if…

    …Upvotes were limited in supply, you got a site wide centrally administered basic income of tokens to upvote with, people could trade upvotes, subreddit owners could apply “taxes” on posts, and mods could apply financial penalties to discourage less severe crimes instead of just banning people?

    How would the site and its culture change, taking aside it being a terrible business decision that would make it massively less popular?

    • Rowan says:

      The limited supply of upvotes might decrease how highly-upvoted low-effort content tends to get, but casual users and serious users would get the same supply of tokens, and those users casual enough that the limited supply didn’t affect them would still be upvoting the low-effort content that appeals to casual users.

      Complicated mechanics like trading upvotes would promote using the site more seriously, but not necessarily in a way that promotes good discourse, unless “good discourse” is actually the dominant strategy for getting highly upvoted.

      The effects of giving powers to subreddit owners and to mods would vary, of course, depending on who those people are and what they would do with those powers, which would vary between subreddits. I don’t know what the “typical” mod would do with such powers.

      I think this would be very interesting to try with a Reddit clone, and “experimental Reddit clone” seems a good idea in the current environment considering the free speech issues and the problem that a simple “like Reddit but with a firmer stance on free speech” project attracts mostly scoundrels and consequently starts to repel non-scoundrels.

    • albertborrow says:

      Mods would go nuclear (or at least, more nuclear than they have already). Anything that is slightly off-topic is obliterated, along with anything that ideologically opposes whatever pet bias the subreddit mods have. Subs like The_Donald would have more /r/all posts for a little while, as the radical left is less willing to waste downvotes brigading them – until one of the admins finally gets fed up with the negative rep and bans the subreddit altogether. Subreddits devoted to stealthy ideological censorship like /r/science and /r/askhistorians get worse. The only good subreddits are the ones that have good mods and have hard policies against political censorship. In those subreddits, life continues as normal, but they slowly find better and more interactive forums to depart to.

      Eventually reddit would be two barely-connected websites – one is a non-stop stream of propaganda, and the other is a non-stop stream of medium-tier pornography. Communities like /r/anime and /r/potatosalad take their discussion to separate forums, essentially restoring the diaspora that happened after other aggregators fell. The age of random web forums is restored, at the price of the unity that reddit once offered. 4chan traffic doubles in the first month. Casual users get fed up with political bullshit and go back to Facebook until a better social media website fills the vacuum.

      Keep in mind, all of the symptoms of this are present now too, just in smaller numbers. We’re falling out of a delicate balance already, and I don’t think the administrators and site-owners know what keeps the blood of reddit warm and flowing. I would check if your old accounts on other forums haven’t been deleted, sometime in the next few years.

      • Hircum Saeculorum says:

        >Subs like The_Donald would have more /r/all posts for a little while, as the radical left is less willing to waste downvotes brigading them

        Do you actually believe that people downvoting r/The_Donald content that makes it to the front page is “brigading by radical leftists”? What do you think that those terms mean?

        >Subreddits devoted to stealthy ideological censorship like /r/science and /r/askhistorians

        What? Those are both exemplary subreddits, because they ruthlessly delete off-topic and undersourced answers. That’s not “ideological censorship.”

        • albertborrow says:

          /r/askhistorians is really bad. They face the same problem Wikipedia has, where they don’t allow original research. I’ve seen verified historians answer vague questions with specific answers, then get banned because they don’t have citations. It’s certainly not a bad subreddit, but it’s mods have their own agenda that does conflict with others. /r/science will ban any people that cite research that doesn’t conform to their own racial bias. Without a doubt, most pro-racist studies are wrong, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss them. The idea that anything lies outside of the view of science is patently absurd, and even if it wasn’t, the ban on political issues should also extend to economic studies or racial that obviously lean left (which it doesn’t).

          The Donald has an absurd downvote ratio, and I don’t think anyone who isn’t radical would waste their time there. It’s not that I like Donald, but there was a lot of effort put into suppressing that particular sub. Granted, now that I’m reviewing SRS and ETS, I don’t see much brigading targeting that sub in particular. (not that SRS is particularly tolerant towards Donald voters in the wild)

          This is without my own political bias (EDIT: me trying to compensate for my political bias, rather) – notice, I’m not yelling or calling them fascists. I’ll try not to inject toxoplasmic words in if I don’t have to, from now on.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Do you have an example, preferably non-hypothetical but I can live with hypothetical, of this “racial bias” in /r/science?

          • Evan Þ says:

            I think /r/askhistorians’ policy is much better than you’re painting it, though.  AskHistorians explicitly allows drawing original conclusions from cited facts, and judging some citations as more trustworthy than others, while Wikipedia doesn’t. And while citing to hard-to-find hardcopies is technically allowed in both places, AskHistorians’ culture is much more open to it.

            If the historians you’re talking about cited verifiable facts for their specific answers, they shouldn’t have gotten banned, even if other parts were uncited. If they didn’t cite anything at all… Well, on the internet, you usually don’t know if someone really is a historian or is just pretending to be one; all you can see is what they post, including citations.  And even if an actually-verified historian thumbs his nose at the subreddit culture and rules and refuses to name papers actually describing what he’s talking about, is it really that huge of a loss?

            (Also, do you have links to the incidents you’re talking about?)

          • albertborrow says:

            Sources for AskHistorians, also from SRC (although most of these are backed up pretty well). Only have like 3 minutes to post this time, so…

            I couldn’t find as many sources on this one, so maybe it’s not as justified for me to pick on them (as opposed to something like SRS):

            https://www.reddit.com/r/subredditcancer/comments/4na6al/banned_from_askhistorians_after_getting_gilded/

            I remember seeing something there a little while ago, but I can’t find it now, so that’s it. In general, though, I dislike the policy of being absolutely anal over sources, unless you’re a journal.

          • StellaAthena says:

            You’ve definitely increased my skepticism about /r/science. I’m not sure I buy the /r/askhistorians example though. Certainly it can be called an extreme response, but and perhaps the person should have been warned first, but i find it hard to fault the moderators factually here. It was a clear rules violation and they do have a posted zero-tolerance policy.

          • Hircum Saeculorum says:

            The_Donald’s content gets downvoted when it reaches the front page because people are sick of being called cucks in smug alt-right memes. r/Politics and r/EnoughTrumpSpam posts that reach the front page have similar downvote ratios, I suppose due to “brigading” by Trump supporters.

            r/AskHistorians is a little draconian, but the harshness with which they enforce their rules has done wonders for the quality and respectability of the subreddit. In history, citations are extremely important, because factual accuracy is difficult to verify as a non-specialist (as in, non-specialist in the specific period and area in question; of course, reading a lot of history gives you a pretty good nose for bullshit, but well-put-together falsehood can still be deceptive). Having uncited claims would lead to bad answers getting through, which would degrade the credibility of the subreddit and mislead users.

      • EarthSeaSky says:

        Methinks you’re letting your ideological bias get in the way a little bit. Or a lot. Definitely a lot.

    • beleester says:

      Taxing your subreddit seems like a bad idea – that’s basically punishing people for posting in your subreddit, which is likely to kill your community. Maybe there’d be some value if you’re making one of those serious “effortposts only” subreddits and you only want people to post when they think it’s worth it. Or if you’re already an established subreddit and nobody is willing to leave. But remember, if people decide they don’t want your taxes, it’s not that hard to get the community to move en masse from /r/subreddit to /r/subreddit_taxfree.

      Applying a financial penalty seems like a useful moderator tactic – you’re effectively taking away someone’s voting privileges for the next N days – but a lot of times when you take moderator action you have a problem with their comments, you don’t really care about their single up or downvote. Still, as a tangible slap on the wrist it’s not a bad idea.

      There’s one other issue with fining upvotes – it would allow a moderator on one subreddit to punish someone who’s never posted on that subreddit, because you have a single upvote pool and many subreddits. At the moment, any random subreddit, like /r/Pyongyang, can ban me at will, and that’s fine because I don’t care about being banned from places I don’t post. But if /r/Pyongyang could grab my upvotes at will, that would be terrible design.

      I think an option more in-line with Reddit’s ethos would be to have a per-subreddit pool of upvotes, and let sub owners decide if they want to limit a user’s votes per day on that sub, how many votes a post should cost, and so on.

      Also, you might take a look at Stack Overflow’s reputation system, which locks you out of various features of the site until you’ve answered enough questions to prove you’re a good member of the community.

    • EarthSeaSky says:

      You correctly identify that reddit couldn’t implement this, but Rowan is right that this could pretty easily work well with a reddit clone. I’d be really interested to see what kind of communities would spring up. I’d imagine the level of quality would increase overall. It would also be interesting if downvoting could get you tokens as well, essentially equivalent to “shorting” a post. Not sure how you’d implement that though.
      Also, it would be fascinating to see how sitewide distribution of upvotes became distributed over time. Quality idea, have an upboat.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Contrarian Posit: “Sites which takes some expenditure of resource to post to” already exists in myriad forms, but are not nearly as popular as reddit. Therefore, this proposal really just amounts to saying “I don’t want reddit to be popular and/or exist at all”.

    • IrishDude says:

      I don’t use it, but Steemit sounds similar to what you’re talking about: “Steemit is a social news service[2] which combines a blogging site/social networking website, and a cryptocurrency, known as Steem.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steemit

  17. Michael_S says:

    How about running a small RCT on effective altruism messaging in the survey? My suggestion would be to include donation links to EAish charities at the bottom of the survey as the dependent variable (whether or not they clicked). Trying multiple small effective altruism related messages might be useful, but if you want to keep it simple, you could stick with a very short version of Singer’s pond analogy. Eg. you might ask something on the lines of
    “Imagine you are walking by a pond and see a drowning child. You have to move quickly to save the child, but to jump in and save her would be to ruin your nice clothes. Would you save the drowning child?”
    to 50% of respondents before offering them a chance to donate.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Imagine you are walking by a pond and see a drowning child. You have to move quickly to save the child, but to jump in and save her would be to ruin your nice clothes. Would you save the drowning child?”

      (a) No, because I can’t swim that well and it’d end up with two people drowning

      (b) No, because it’s better to use the ringbuoy nearby

      (c) No, because I hate these kind of smug set-up situations that are designed to arm-twist you into agreeing with a completely different conclusion the person wants to promote, so if saying “yes” means I’ve just agreed to turn vegan (because “If you’d do X in the set-up I introduced, then you have agreed in principle that you should do Y”) or something, then stuff you, Imma let the kid drown and it’s all your fault, Mr or Ms Ethicist

      • Skivverus says:

        Pretty sure that’s the point of doing a study – figuring out what proportion of people are primed in favor of EA (for the reasons you’d expect) as opposed to against it (for the reasons you mention). Just how effective is moralizing at people, anyway? (And, no doubt, “how can we target the propaganda moralizing to people actually affected by it in the way we want?”)

        • Jiro says:

          When asked a question like that, most people will give an answer that fits the general case, without adding all the qualifiers that would make their answer cover all the edge cases and be 100% precise. The person who is asking will then take advantage of the fact that they didn’t exclude those edge cases, in order to argue for vegetarianism or whatever.

          If you asked me whether I would ruin my clothes to save a drowning child, I’d answer yes. But, in fact, there are circumstances where I wouldn’t, and some of these circumstances, unsurprisingly, map to EA. For instance, if there was an endless stream of drowning children such that I would be able to do nothing else for the next 20 years other than ruin my clothes to save them, I would at some point refuse to save drowning children. Likewise if someone were to deliberately search the entire world for drowning children and teleport me to them just so that they are in front of me and I am faced with having to save them, I would refuse to save them at some point.

          Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that almost everyone who would answer “I would ruin my clothes to save a drowning child” would refuse to save a drowning child under similar circumstances. They just wouldn’t think of such edge cases when answering the original question.

    • eighty-six twenty-three says:

      I would totally save the drowning child, but if there are fifty million starving children half a world away, my answer changes. I start saying things like: “It sounds like the people half a world away are reproducing beyond their food supply, which seems sort of irresponsible of them. It would be more irresponsible of me to support this pattern of behavior, especially if I’m supporting their expansion-beyond-the-food-supply in a finite way which will eventually be withdrawn and make their starvation collapse worse. Do these people have enough access to contraceptives? Would that help them more in the long term than food?”

      Maybe this makes me a bad person. 🙁

      • Adrian says:

        Maybe this makes me a bad person.

        It doesn’t make you a bad person. Instead, it shows that imagining a hypothetical, simplified situation and generalizing the response to very complex, interwoven, real-world problems in a naive way, might not be the correct approach to a solution.

        Compare also the utter mess that is Yudkowskys dust-speck-in-the-eye scenario.

  18. Deiseach says:

    I don’t do anything on smartphones except make calls and texts (and sometimes check the weather) and take photos with my crappy cheap phone camera because they are impossible to do anything else with – sure, go ahead and look up a website, we’ll show you the ads just fine but try reading the text? ha ha ha! sucker!

    The blog looks fine on my PC – WHICH IS HOW GOD INTENDED US TO USE THE INTERWEBS 🙂

  19. albertborrow says:

    Is /r/rational on the list of SSC affiliated places on your survey? I’m not sure if I remember it on the last one, or if that was the Diaspora Survey. I ask because, as one of the tens of active users there, it would be interesting to see if there is any overlap. (argh, I almost accidentally posted a duplicate comment. Why is the WordPress comment system so slow compared to stuff like Reddit?)

    Double edit: Holly crap – lowercase P in “WordPress” autocorrects to the proper capitalization!

  20. Tekhno says:

    Could you “fire” a bullet from a bullwhip?

    Muzzle energy of a .38 Special: 420 J
    Kinetic energy of a Karate punch (4kg arm traveling at 15m/s): 450 J

    Does this suggest that with the right leverage (bullet has that amount of energy after a shorter distance, meaning higher force because energy = force x distance), human power could accelerate a bullet to the same velocity as it leaves the barrel of a handgun at? If you removed a bullet from its regular cartridge, placed it into a thin paper capsule, and attached it to the end of a bullwhip, would the bullet tear out of the capsule at supersonic speed (it would tumble afterwards and lose speed)? Obviously the tip of a bullwhip is very light, so it might not be able to travel at as great a speed as normal. It’s hard to find figures on this, but this pop sci article cites a tip speed of Mach 2 and an acceleration of 50,000g, so there’s room for a whip to get heavier.

    • evan_white says:

      That’s kind of how David killed Goliath, so yes. More seriously, “slingers” were a military unit that existed in ancient Greek warfare (and I’m sure other places).

      • rlms says:

        From personal experience I don’t think slung stones are as fast as bullets (or at least if they are they decelerate very quickly).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          How a) massive, b) dense, c) aerodynamic are sling stones in comparison to rifled bullets, though?

          As to the original question, I think it’s probably asking the wrong question. Or the right question in the wrong way. Bullets depend on more than simply energy to be deadly.

          It’s an interesting question though. Given the right mechanical set up, not involving a stored energy like a flywheel or bow, can a human body generate enough dynamic force to “fire” a bullet?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Doesn’t the slinging action add some extra energy beyond the muscle power of the slinger?

          • Randy M says:

            In the same way that a lever would add extra energy. Mechanical advantage provided by the increased velocity from being on the outside (and thus faster moving) position on the circle.

          • rlms says:

            Mine tend to be whichever were lying on the ground nearby, so they vary. I think the issue with aerodynamism is that with a sling you don’t have control over the orientation of the projectile when launchd.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Just to give some points of reference:

            Jai Alai involves a ball moving at up to 188 mph. The record for a golf ball is 204 mph. Both are about double the speed of an MLB fastball (no machine).

            Mixing my system of measures, the Jai Alai ball is about 140 grams. A golf ball about 45 grams. A baseball 149 grams.

            A bullet travels at about 1,700 mph, which is about twice the speed of sound. Apparently a whip also reaches about twice the speed of sound.

            Although there are bullet weights and loads that are subsonic.

            ETA:
            Apparently arrows from compound bows only reach 200 mph.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Quick searches for data on roman-style sling bullets (peak sling bullet design sophistication) and various reconstructions and a bit of back of the envelope math returns a range all the way from 55 to 120+ joules at 10-20 yards.

            (For the curious, I came up with an average weight around 30 grams and a BC of about 0.10 for the football-shaped bullets. Reported modern speeds ranged from a low of 50-ish meters per second to a high of 90)

            So my pseudoscientific and not terribly rigorous conclusion: YES… in about the same ballpark as a .25 ACP pocket pistol in pure kinetic energy terms.

            EDIT: or on a very good day, a low-power .22 LR load.

            I suspect but cannot prove that the terminal ballistics are better than that comparison implies for the same reason large bore, low velocity black powder firearms produced wounds far nastier than their pure KE stats would lead you to expect.

            That said, despite the claims being floated around on some websites I would be very surprised if even a very skilled slinger could reliably hit a moving, man-sized target in real world combat conditions at 100 yards. Of course I suspect most slingers in the Greek/Roman era were used like medieval archers and engaged formations, not point targets.

            So, if you have 20+ years to practice with a sling, you can probably be downright deadly at 25, 50 yards.

            Not bad at all, but you can see why bows proliferated, even without addressing their superior armor penetration.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          Serious question — is there a more user-friendly neolithic-tech accessible way to sling a stone than a sling?

          • rlms says:

            Slings aren’t that inaccessible. You just whirl them around a bit and then let go of the string that isn’t tied to your fingers. It requires more practice than I have put in to be accurate enough to hit anything, but it is easy enough to have enough accuracy not to be dangerous.

          • evan_white says:

            As actual history happened, not that I know of.

            Crossbows are user friendly and some of them fired round projectiles, but require metallurgy for the trigger.

            Bows are at least more user friendly than slings and don’t need metallurgy, but fire arrows not round things.

          • “Crossbows are user friendly and some of them fired round projectiles, but require metallurgy for the trigger.”

            I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I have seen crossbow designs that could be done as all wood. Possibly a bone insert in the nut to reduce wear.

            Nobody has mentioned the atlatl/woomera, a primitive weapon that’s basically the equivalent of a sling for spears.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I can’t think of a *more* user-friendly method, but there are probably *less* user-friendly ways. I think I could design a neolithic-accessible proto-potato gun, for instance. It would be way more complicated and almost certainly less deadly than a plain-ol’ sling.

          • Wander says:

            As a quite experienced slinger – not really. Slings are extraordinarily simple technology which made them ubiquitous in the ancient world, but the next piece of technology that could fire round things was probably a catapult or trebuchet thousands of years later.

          • “but the next piece of technology that could fire round things was probably a catapult or trebuchet thousands of years later.”

            I believe the catapult predates the trebuchet by well over a thousand years.

          • Wander says:

            That would make sense. Trebuchet’s have some complicated physics behind them. Similarly, staff slings didn’t show up until the ancient era, while slings dominated for almost all of prehistory.

    • Deiseach says:

      Could you “fire” a bullet from a bullwhip?

      I’d be inclined to say “no”. Somehow wrap a bullet up in the tip of the lash and ‘fire’ it that way? Doable. ‘Fire’ it with the same effect as if shot from a gun? No.

  21. dndnrsn says:

    Another roleplaying game thread!

    GMs: What level of “fudging” is appropriate/are you comfortable with? Would you save a PCs life for story reasons? Adjust damage or whatever up or down to make things more exciting? Have NPCs fail rolls they would have succeeded on or vice versa, to keep the story moving?

    Players: What level of fudging are you comfortable with? Would you prefer your GM roll everything out in the open, no fudging? Are you OK with the GM rolling behind their hand or the screen or whatever, and nobody asks too many questions?

    I have to admit I am inconsistent on this point: as GM, I will fudge to keep the story moving, adjust the perceived difficulty up and down, etc. But as player I would not be happy if I knew that the GM had their thumb on the scale.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      What level of fudging are you comfortable with? Would you prefer your GM roll everything out in the open, no fudging? Are you OK with the GM rolling behind their hand or the screen or whatever, and nobody asks too many questions?

      I actively prefer (rather than just being OK with) the GM to have 0 transparency, while hoping that they will atually fudge the numbers sparingly.

    • StellaAthena says:

      I DM two D&D 5E groups. The short answer to your question is: everything anything. I am willing to fudge everything anything.
      EDIT: Very important word change.

      I know some of people view D&D as a kind of competition between the DM and the players, but I really don’t. My job as DM is to 1) make sure my players are having fun and 2) tell an awesome story. In the works of Terry Pratchett, the Law of Narrative Causality is a physical law of the universe. In the Discworld universe, this basically means that storybook tropes have real power, but in my universes it means “things that make bad stories don’t happen.” Sometimes this means that an underpowered final boss gets a secret boost. Sometimes it means that I choose who to hit with Power Word Kill based on my knowledge of their HP. Sometimes it means that the PC’s come up with a plan too badass, too redoculous, or too awe-inspiring to fail. The only reason I roll dice and use monster stats at all is that I trust WotC’S balancing better than I trust my own, and dice make a better RNG than I do.

      I think using this power sparingly is extremely important. Furthermore, it requires the right group of players, because sometimes the best possible story demands that you die. It also requires players who can know that this is happening and not try to abuse it. That said, if your character’s thing is rediculous plots and you’re fine with them going horribly wrong as often as they go horribly right, be my guest! I’m currently playing a Wild Magic Sorcerer whose main plan is to make Wild Magic happen as many times as they can, and then be better at improvisation than the enemies.

    • Randy M says:

      I would expect, short-term, it’s hard to maintain the excitement and suspense the dice are intended to provide it there is a high expectation that their results are adhered to. Long-term it is hard to do is if they aren’t in fact being adhered to–eventually the players won’t be able to fool themselves that they are getting by on luck and making bets that manage to pay off, stuck instead with the revelation that they will succeed when the GM wills it. Once the illusion of the dice-as-arbitrator is gone, they players are not, as much, making decisions based on the consistent rules and the world they represent, but based on what will please the GM.

      So I’d go with more transparency and fidelity to the dice, but probably fewer rolls on average.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I probably fudge more about things that don’t matter and that could lead to campaign disaster. PCs go off on some stupid red herring? OK, so they’ve decided that Random NPC is important and are breaking into their office – the night watchman is going to fail every Listen check, because this could spiral out of control. While it would be funny to have a campaign derail as the characters get into a running battle with the police and flee for the border, it would wreck the campaign.

        However, if something is a planned part of the campaign where success or failure matters, I’m not going to make the PCs’ lives easier. There were a few times last session where if the dice had gone slightly differently a PC might have died. I wouldn’t fudge that.

        • Randy M says:

          Hmm, good example. Probably in the moment, I’d figure that the henchmen there just suck and either give the players easy target numbers or flat out success. If that isn’t plausible (“I bet the president has files on this! Let’s break into the White House!”) maybe have an npc they trust let them know in no uncertain terms that they’re barking up the wrong tree. If they persist, it’s probably better to say “Hey, it looks like you want to play more of a heist campaign, that’s not really where I’d expected this to go based on your characters and the backstory.” And discuss in ooc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            My players (OK, I do this too when I play) have a habit of using break-and-enter as a major investigative tool. So, when I prepare an adventure (my own or a published adventure) I keep an eye out for anything that seems like they might go down that road, and use it to either introduce a clue they haven’t found another way, or just throw them some kind of minor goodie.

            When I’m running a game, I want them to think that what I spitball was part of the plan, or that what I added the night before was part of the published adventure, or whatever, but not have some random thing I threw in to avoid breaking the fourth wall by basically saying “guys, there’s nothing in the secretary’s apartment, please don’t waste everybody’s time”, while ensuring that their red-herring chasing wastes a minimum amount of time.

          • Randy M says:

            Don’t change what works on my account, but the reason they go back to breaking and entering is because they don’t face consequences for it. If you just want to use it as a brief interlude before getting back to the dungeon, it’s working fine, but maybe they do so because they want more stealth or investigation scenes. If so, maybe getting caught once in awhile will add more suspense and make the scenes more meaningful. Also it might add to the depth/verisimilitude for an npc (local authority type) to question just how they happened upon such information. Maybe they get a reputation for being willing to bend the law, and some cops have a use for allies outside the law, and others might decide to try and catch them in the act for being above the law.
            Of course, if the plot you are trying not to distract them from is sufficiently world shattering, maybe the city chief will help them override the red tape in order to stop the bbeg, cursing them for giving him such a headache, but just get out there and stop the cyber-wizard from hacking the aetherium while he covers for their sloppy work.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, I’m running Cthulhu, so I doubt a lack of investigation is the problem. The issue is more that they do it because it works, and it works – as you point out – half because they plan stuff out well and burglaries are rarely high-priority for the police, and half because I let them do it. Basically, I run fairly high-powered, not-entirely-serious, pulpy Cthulhu (as, honestly, Cthulhu usually ends up) and I try to minimize the degree to which “mundane” obstacles obstruct the PCs. As long as they make a nod towards plausibility – they aren’t getting into public gunfights in broad daylight, for instance – I tend to err on the side of letting them skip town after getting into private gunfights at night or whatever. That way they’re free to get eaten by shoggoths or go mad as they realize the horrors that lurk behind the facade of reality, which is more fun than playing out the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid every few sessions. For “lower-powered” stuff (so, puttering around Arkham instead of commandeering a zeppelin to get to Machu Picchu before the bad guys do) I’m a lot more restrictive.

            An aside: a lot of Cthulhu writing seems to assume that everyone wants method acting-level seriousness, but Cthulhu seems almost always to get kind of goofy. Gaming in general does. A bunch of friends sitting around a table and having fun, as it turns out, leads to people being goofy.

          • Randy M says:

            A bunch of friends sitting around a table and having fun, as it turns out, leads to people being goofy.

            Nevertheless, talking about it online is serious business.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How dare you! Pistols at dawn!

          • Randy M says:

            Replica flintlock pistols, right?
            Now where did David Friedman go, I need a second…

          • For bows or swords, maybe. Not sure about these newfangled flintlock gadgets.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @David Friedman – “For bows or swords, maybe. Not sure about these newfangled flintlock gadgets.”

            Not even touchhole guns and siege cannon?

          • Cannon are not well suited as dueling weapons. Matchlocks maybe.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Let’s have dueling where the duelists get their friends and family together and they all try to load and aim an old-timey siege cannon before the other team can. It will build community.

          • Randy M says:

            We had to destroy the community in order to build the community. By “build the community” I’m being metaphorical. The destruction part, not so much.

          • Deiseach says:

            Cannon are not well suited as dueling weapons.

            Only girls fight with swords these days 🙂

    • eighty-six twenty-three says:

      As a GM, I roll all my dice in the open, but sometimes I lie about hit point numbers and other things I don’t think the players can track as easily.

      I don’t like it when PCs die, so I declared some house rules that make it really hard to die from random combat damage. That works better than fudging things ad-hoc.

      I like the “GM Intrusion” thing from Numenera, where you can pause the action and say to the players: “I think this would be a better story if the monster survived that attack. I’ll give you two bonus experience points if you let the monster survive, or you can pay me one experience point and it dies as planned.” I think there’s a similar mechanic with Fate stones. I’ve tried using it a couple times in D&D with not as much success, but I still think there’s promise there.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I use fiat rulings but I rarely if ever fudge. I think there’s a meaningful difference that goes to the heart of what the resolution mechanics of the game mean.

      To me, the point of a die roll, coinflip, Jenga tower, etc is to resolve an uncertain situation. If I know that the chest has a pile of 30 electrum pieces and a magical harp then I don’t need to roll anything and I don’t pretend to. It’s only when I’m not sure what’s in the chest that the treasure tables come out. The same applies to, say, the party Fighter stabbing an unarmed peasant. There’s no reason to roll attack or damage, the guy just gets stabbed.

      If there’s a situation where we’re rolling it’s because any rolled outcome is possible. If something like player death was supposed to be impossible I wouldn’t have left it up to a roll to begin with.

    • I’m just going to drop a link to this essay. Really, what you should look to do is look for a system where any outcome can be fun for the players.

    • Charlie__ says:

      I’ll answer as a player, since I’m a pretty bad DM.

      In the normal course of play, every single encounter should be either appropriate for our party ability, or if too hard, there should be some way to escape the encounter. Maintaining this unnatural state of affairs should be where most of the DM rigging goes on.

      On the other hand, if the players are idiots, it should be possible for them to get themselves killed, otherwise there’s no suspense. So if you’re the DM and your players are in fact idiots who go up and punch the local war golem just to see what happens, they deserve what they get.

      As a player, I am honestly okay with losing and having to roll a new character. For gameplay reasons, everyone should still be within ~1 level of everyone else, rather than starting back from the start, or perhaps everyone should die and we can start anew. I like the character I’m playing now, but I’d probably have just as much fun playing someone else next week.

      Due to the nature of dice, sometimes the players get really bad rolls and the DM gets really good rolls. Sometimes failure is just an opportunity to go in an interesting new direction. And sometimes it’s not, and maybe you should fudge the stats a little bit if the players are close to success. But total failure should be an (unlikely) possibility, and it’s really not the end of the world.

      In combat, note that there’s several things you can do to keep bad rolls interesting. Make sure that the entire party doesn’t go down within just a few rounds, to give people time to react. Use a rule-set where there’s time to heal downed party members, avoid enemies with save-or-die abilities. Give people healing potions and other consumables that they can spend to catch back up when things are going pear-shaped. Be more willing the use very-hard encounters when the consequences are capture or K.O. rather than death.

    • bean says:

      It varies by situation. I know of at least one time when a missed shot by one of the PCs resulted in another PC getting hit by the bullet. The dice said ‘skull’ and the gun was easily big enough to kill him. I said ‘absolutely not’ because it was a really good character, and a stupid way to die. (No, the PCs weren’t doing the sort of thing you probably expect. It was a really stupid fluke.) Nobody objected.
      When it’s less critical, I tend to follow what the dice say as far as reasonable. Some of the best memories come from times when the dice came up unexpectedly.

    • stillnotking says:

      This dilemma is precisely why I prefer systems that generate less-than-fully-quantitative results, i.e. “very good result” or “very bad result” rather than “your character takes 50 points of damage”. Dice are properly used to add a random element to the story, to force the GM and the players to improvise and ad lib, not to instantly kill someone’s character with a single bad result that they might not even have been able to avoid. Purists may like playing “XCOM: the RPG”, but it really isn’t fun for most people, especially the type of players I enjoy playing with and GM’ing for.

      Except Paranoia, of course. 🙂

  22. Silverlock says:

    Riding on the coattails of the recent “Contra Robinson” posts by Scott, there is a different Robinson — Sir Kenneth Robinson — who is very influential in educational circles. It has been a long time since I watched his TED Talk about reinventing education, but I remember wondering if his ideas have been tested with any great rigor. Anybody know?

  23. Alex Zavoluk says:

    I can’t make the solstice thing on the 17th, but I should be able to make the related event on the 18th!

  24. Randy M says:

    Is anyone else annoyed by the modern holiday ritual of mutual gift card exchange? It seems irrational in a way that gifts don’t have to be.
    Ask a lot of younger adults like my grown siblings and in-laws what they want for Christmas (or presumably other holidays with an expectation of gift exchange) and quite often I’ll hear the request is a gift card to a store or restaurant. But in situations where the social expectation is that gifts of equal value would be exchanged, like with siblings or friends of similar age, this really just leaves both parties worse off. Instead of us both having x & y dollars, now we have assets worth x & y, 20$ worth of which is non-fungible. Unless you’re hoarding Amazon cards as a hedge against inflation (joke), what it boils down to is essentially giving each other absolution for spending more on ourselves than we would otherwise feel is wise.

    Which isn’t to say that I’m bah humbug on all types of gifts! In asymmetric relationships (to use a silly term to encompass things like parents or uncles giving gifts to children, or employers to employees) cash-equivalent presents might make sense. Otherwise, actual physical items under the wrapping provide an opportunity to employ insight into the recipient to find them something they don’t know they value more than the $x they would have spent on it, excess time to stretch the price for their benefit, or skills to give them an item they couldn’t necessarily get for cash, like the the Christmas candy from the family recipe.

    Gift cards might be better than both parties buying items neither wants at all, but when you get to the point of admitting that the giver can offer nothing beyond the cash value and you want to maintain the pretense of financial equality between the parties, it’s time to retreat to a greeting card or phone call.

    • gbdub says:

      Gift cards seem useful as a way to signal a little bit of thought without being too personal and without risking a potentially useless gift. I.e. I noticed you come in every morning with a Starbucks cup, so I bought you a Starbucks card.

      Amazon card or Visa gift card? Just give me cash.

      Only upside of “fungible” gift cards is it produces a paper trail (if I’m expensing gifts – I do this as treasurer for my local AIAA), and also you can sometimes get gift cards at a discount through a rewards program (my uncle’s credit card gives him 1% cash back, or he can spend his points on Amazon cards for the equivalent of 1.25% cash back, so he hands out Christmas cards with Amazon gift cards (plus a couple of small thoughtful gifts)).

      • sflicht says:

        Despite the paper trail, fungible gift cards seem to be quite useful for tax evasion and circumventing capital controls. I suspect the total volume used for these purposes might surpass the total volume used for actual gifts.

    • JayT says:

      The one plus side to a gift card over money is that since you are locked into spending that gift card at a specific place, you are more likely to use it on something you want, versus something you need. If give a person $25 they might feel obligated to use it to pay the gas bill. If you give them a $25 Starbucks gift card that will buy them coffee for two weeks, and it will feel like they are getting a luxury for free.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s what I was trying to get at by saying it’s basically just giving absolution for spending more on ourselves (because these gifts are reciprocated in equal amounts or else face is lost) than we otherwise think is wise.
        But if someone needs $25 for the gas bill, I would rather they don’t buy me a present, so that they pay their gas bill, and if they still need more money to pay their bills, I’d rather contribute to that than their coffee. Unless they prefer to have coffee than hot water etc.

        • JayT says:

          That is all true, but I think the absolution for spending is really where all the perceived value of a gift card comes from. Unless you are independently wealthy, there is always something practical you can spend a windfall on, but if the gift giver wants to give the person something that will be used frivolously, then it is an easy way to do that. And that can go both ways. It’s like a get out of jail free card to spend some amount of money on yourself.

          Personally, I am not a fan of gift cards, but I understand the appeal.

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve pretty much reached the point where I refuse to tell people what I “want” for birthday/christmas, and never ask the question of anyone else.

      To me, the whole fun of gift giving is the attempt to creatively show you know someone at a level well enough to be able to correctly identify things they might want. And from the recipient standpoint, if I really want something, I’d have already bought it for myself. The fun in gift receiving is being given something I didn’t necessarily know about or was aware of but might enjoy anyway.

      I’d rather give or receive a dud gift where the two parties were misaligned, but at least an honest effort was made than exchange cash or gift cards or whatever.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Gift cards say “I don’t know what to give you, but I’m still signalling that I care about you.”

  25. StellaAthena says:

    Over time, fields of science tend to emerge that didn’t exist before. Recent examples would be psychology, computer science, neuroscience, and linguistics, none of which (as fields of science) are more than 100 years old. There is a tendency for new sciences to emerge out of either existing sciences, or philosophy. Physics, linguistics, and psychology all have philosophical roots, while chemistry emerged from physics, neurosience emerged from psychology and biology, and computer science emerged from mathematics.

    Does anyone have interesting thoughts/know interesting papers on the process by which fields of science come into being?

    Does anyone have ideas about what the next science might study? I’m thinking that it might study what we currently call “internal subjective experiences” though that might just be a psychology thing that we get better at.

    Does anyone have examples of fields of science that either stopped existing (“racial science” maybe?) or came from something that wasn’t a field of science or philosophy?

    • lvlln says:

      I wonder, would fields like women’s studies, gender studies, ethnic studies, etc. count as new sciences that are attempting to study what we currently call “internal subjective experiences?” As best as I can tell, they’re new in the sense that they weren’t around a century ago, and they do seem to have a lot of focus on internal subjective experiences.

      Could be argued that they’re not sciences, I guess, but they do seem to make empirical claims about reality in a way that, say, literary criticism doesn’t.

      • Randy M says:

        Could be argued that they’re not sciences, I guess, but they do seem to make empirical claims about reality in a way that, say, literary criticism doesn’t.

        Provided they also test them and update based on the results, that might count.

      • StellaAthena says:

        That’s a really interesting thought for a couple reasons. Firstly, I guess that term isn’t in as wide usage as I had thought. I meant something more along the lines of the internal experience of a phenomena. The experience of blue, or of pain, or of boredom. We can talk about these things from an “outside” POV, but I’m not aware of any scientific way to talk about the “sensation of ______” or “the feeing of _____”

        That said, identifying those fields as potential proto-sciences make a lot of sense I think. I’m not very familiar with the history of the development of fields of science (weirdly there doesn’t seem to be much philosophy of science written about it, or perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places) but from my outside POV it seems like these fields might be a subdivision of sociology. I’m suddenly very curious what the interaction between them and sociology is.

        • Skivverus says:

          Well, there’s not all that much in the way of instrumentation for recording qualia, so far as I know; the closest we’ve got right now are surveys and MRIs, and I’m not sure anyone’s yet done work in synthesizing the two (e.g.: “when you go into the MRI, could you please imagine a skunk? And, before you do, could you write down a few top-of-your-head word associations with ‘skunk’?”). Then again, I haven’t exactly been following linguistics or neuroscience since graduation, so it’s quite possible someone has.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Ah yes, qualia. I keep forgetting that word. That’s a good word for what I’m thinking of. Or “scientific phenomenology.” I don’t discount the measurement issue, i just feel like it’s a solvable problem, and probably solvable with the kinds of research into human and artificial cognition that I see accelerating not right now.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Eh, I suspect that by the time it’s solved, “qualia” is going to end up in the same conceptual dustbin as phlogiston and the luminiferous aether.

            That’s if anyone will even admit that much. From what I’ve read of the debates people are already arguing that qualia are by definition unquantifiable (After all, they’re not quantia!), and that if you can measure it scientifically, it’s not -really- qualia.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Eh, I suspect that by the time it’s solved, “qualia” is going to end up in the same conceptual dustbin as phlogiston and the luminiferous aether.

            “Qualia” are just what it’s like to subjectively experience something. Unless you’re secretly a P-zombie, I don’t think their existence can be regarded as anything other than self-evident.

            That’s if anyone will even admit that much. From what I’ve read of the debates people are already arguing that qualia are by definition unquantifiable (After all, they’re not quantia!), and that if you can measure it scientifically, it’s not -really- qualia.

            People have been arguing that since the seventeenth century. In fact, the scientific revolution was largely predicated upon separating off “the objective, mathematically quantifiable aspects of the world, which are the proper object of scientific study” from “the subjective, qualitative aspects of the world [i.e., qualia], which science doesn’t concern itself”. IOW, qualia weren’t some sort of rear-guard action by people trying to stop the inexorable march of science, but were a fundamental part of the scientific revolution itself advocated by the very people who were promoting the scientific method. That’s also why a scientific description of qualia is and always will be impossible: the scientific method was designed specifically to ignore the non-quantifiable aspects of the world, and you can’t explain something by ignoring it.

          • StellaAthena says:

            There’s an interesting semantic debate hidden behind this. The question is: are qualia are immune to description or transmition (as in, incommunicable), or are qualia things like the taste of wine that we don’t currently know how to communicate? We can define it as one or the other, but it’s quite plausible that “the taste of this glass of wine” might be something that we can study scientifically at some point in the future.

            It’s possible that in 1,000 years “qualia” will be considered an empty category (though I think not, see wittgenstein on private language), but it’s highly likely that it will contain different things than what it currently does.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            That’s just it, though, Mr. X. I tend towards a fairly strong materialist stance that if something is truly unquantifiable (as opposed to “quantifiable but our measurement tools need work), then the concept of that “thing” is an error, and in fact that thing will eventually turn out not to exist at all.

            Heck, I think Metzinger already a strong argument that consciousness/self is a contingent, phenomenal process rather than a “thing”.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Trofim:

            That’s just it, though, Mr. X. I tend towards a fairly strong materialist stance that if something is truly unquantifiable (as opposed to “quantifiable but our measurement tools need work), then the concept of that “thing” is an error, and in fact that thing will eventually turn out not to exist at all.

            On what grounds do you make such a claim?

            @ Anon:

            Take a look at this: http://www.fflch.usp.br/df/opessoa/Dennett-Quining-Qualia.pdf

            So Dennett is a zombie? That would explain a lot.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @ Mr. X

            Qualia isn’t just a term for the feeling of “what it’s like to”. It smuggles with it the idea that “the feeling of what it’s like to” is a metaphysical property, irreducible and ineffable, impossible to measure, test, or truly communicate.

            I’m saying that I think the ineffability and irreducibility of Qualia are not going to survive continued neurological experimentation and research, any more than the concept of luminiferous aether survived the combination of theoretical breakthroughs and new empirical data of the early to mid-20th century.

            Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned since the 1600s, it’s that most of the things we thought of as “Unquantifiable”, quantify JUST fine as we advance our knowledge and the tools used to expand it.

            Science IS concerning itself with the underlying physical workings of the brain, of human conscious experience, and has been for some time now. I will freely grant you that when it comes to our own neurological workings, it’s early days yet, but whenever I talk to people who are firmly convinced of the metaphysical status of the mind as separate from the brain, of “qualia” and the “Self” as properties irreducible to physical properties, I’m reminded of junkyard tornadoes, watches on the beach, and how in the end “irreducible complexity” turns out to be not so irreducible after all.

            Regarding my stance on metaphysics? I can’t claim knock down proof, but given that we have pretty strong evidence that the traditional models of god (that is, pretty much ALL of the models of god or gods), souls, etc are bunk, my priors are that any given metaphysical claim will turn out to have a physical explanation with more correlation to observable reality, or will turn out to be incoherent.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Trofim:

            But, as I said above, the existence of qualia is a logical corollary of the scientific method, and therefore qualia will never be “explained away” by science. Basically, what the early scientists did was to draw a distinction between primary and secondary qualities, and define science such that it ignored all secondary qualities and focused only on primary qualities. But then, of course, you can’t explain secondary qualities (including qualia) by ignoring secondary qualities; you can only, well, ignore them. That’s why all the attempts to come up with a “scientific” account of consciousness end up denying, explicitly or implicitly, that consciousness actually exists.

            Plus, the scientific method, if it is to have any validity, requires the existence of inherently non-physical things — universals, mathematical propositions, and the like. If materialism is true, science is invalid. Hence any attempt to use science to prove materialism is self-refuting.

            As for neuroscience, people have know that the physical affects the mental ever since Ug the caveman drank some grape juice that had been left out for too long and discovered inebriation. The notion that you can change someone’s mental state by changing their physical state is nothing new, and was known to all prominent dualists throughout history.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I don’t follow your argument about early science at all. Since then, we have determined that many secondary qualities are in fact contingent upon primary qualities. To use just one example, taste, not only have we developed our understanding to the point that we can generally identify what given chemical or group of chemicals produces a specific taste sensation, we have even started to determine physiological and neurological bases for idiosyncratic reported taste sensations (a classic one would be why a sizable minority of people report the popular herb cilantro tastes disgusting).

            Consider the possibility that investigations into consciousness are determining that consciousness does not exist in the traditionally conceived way…because consciousness does not exist in the traditionally conceived way. Have you had a chance to read Metzinger’s arguments for the “Phenomenal Self-Model” model?

            the scientific method, if it is to have any validity, requires the existence of inherently non-physical things — universals, mathematical propositions,

            On what basis are you supporting the proposition that mathematical truths are “inherently non-physical”, as opposed to contingent upon the physical properties of space-time and the nature of observed reality?

            As for “universals”, the assertion that they must exist and therefore materialism is false is by no means certain. There are whole bodies of work dedicated to arguing that Universals are best understood as either group labels or as concepts in the minds of thinking beings. For my part, I subscribe to the last theory, and we’re back to arguing over whether things in the mind are physical, metaphysical, or both…

            As far as math goes, consider that while we can -conceive- of mathematical models that hold up to logical rules and do not conform to the observable universe, these are effectively mental games. At most, playing with them may help a person’s brain approach a set of empirical facts from a different angle and come up with a new technique that turns out to have some use, some predictive power…

            …but only insofar as the new model or approach can be applied to the observable, -physical- universe.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I don’t follow your argument about early science at all. Since then, we have determined that many secondary qualities are in fact contingent upon primary qualities. To use just one example, taste, not only have we developed our understanding to the point that we can generally identify what given chemical or group of chemicals produces a specific taste sensation, we have even started to determine physiological and neurological bases for idiosyncratic reported taste sensations (a classic one would be why a sizable minority of people report the popular herb cilantro tastes disgusting).

            Yeah, but none of those things actually tell us what it’s like to taste something.

            As for “universals”, the assertion that they must exist and therefore materialism is false is by no means certain. There are whole bodies of work dedicated to arguing that Universals are best understood as either group labels or as concepts in the minds of thinking beings. For my part, I subscribe to the last theory, and we’re back to arguing over whether things in the mind are physical, metaphysical, or both…

            A universal is simply a single property that is instantiated by multiple objects. There is, as you say, a whole body of work dedicated to arguing that they don’t actually exist outside the mind, but none of this work is very plausible. For example, if the universal “redness” only exists in the mind, individual red things don’t actually have anything in common, in which case our labelling things “red” or not-“red” would be utterly arbitrary. But this is seems clearly false — blood, a “stop” sign, and red wine obviously seem to share a colour, whereas blood, snow, and orange juice obviously don’t. Attempts to explain universals as merely existent in the mind inevitably lead to absurdities such as this, and therefore cannot be accepted.

            Now, as for science, the scientific method depends on our being able to generalise from and replicate experimental results. If your experiment shows that heating a piece of iron to 1,538 degrees causes it to melt, this should work with any other piece of iron you might choose. But, if universals don’t exist, there’s no such thing as another piece of iron; you’ve just got these wholly different objects which we arbitrarily lump together under the category “iron”, although in reality they’ve got nothing in common outside of our own heads. But if they don’t have anything in common, how can you generalise from your experiment? The answer, of course, is that you can’t.

            On what basis are you supporting the proposition that mathematical truths are “inherently non-physical”, as opposed to contingent upon the physical properties of space-time and the nature of observed reality?

            Mathematics deals with universals, not particulars. A mathematician dealing with Pythagoras’ theorem doesn’t really care about a particular right-angled triangle, but what is true of all right-angled triangles. That is, he’s dealing with the universal “right-angled triangle”; and since universals are non-physical, it follows that he’s dealing with something non-physical.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          For example, if the universal “redness” only exists in the mind, individual red things don’t actually have anything in common, in which case our labelling things “red” or not-“red” would be utterly arbitrary. But this is seems clearly false — blood, a “stop” sign, and red wine obviously seem to share a colour, whereas blood, snow, and orange juice obviously don’t.

          Not if “redness” is mental short-hand for the observed property of reflecting and absorbing specific wavelengths of the EM spectrum, as I’d claim it is. How can we really “know” that my redness and your redness are the same? We can compare their best known correlates in terms of brain imagery. If you process an emission of photons in the 650nm wavelength similarly to me , then we can conclude that the experiences are at least broadly similar. If on the other hand you process it differently from me (for example, if when you look at 650nm light, your brain activates closer to the way mine does when I look at 400nm light than when I look at 650nm light), we could conclude that we DON’T in fact experience redness the same.

          Finally, if we can’t measure those similarities, then the only rational conclusion is that no, we cannot know or say anything meaningful about the experience of “redness”, and that therefore the concept of “the experience of redness” as separate from “EM radiation in the 620-740nm range” is useless and can be safely discarded.

          But, if universals don’t exist, there’s no such thing as another piece of iron; you’ve just got these wholly different objects which we arbitrarily lump together under the category “iron”, although in reality they’ve got nothing in common outside of our own heads.

          Except they’re not arbitrary. We categorize iron by a combination of -physical- properties. We’re able to generalize because of the strong degree of correlation of those physical properties.

          “So far, all the other substances with an atomic weight of 55.842 AND a density of 7.874 g/cm3 AND so on and so forth have had a melting point of 1811K. I am therefore more confident that this new substance I am looking at which matches on weight, density, and various and sundry other physical properties, will also match in terms of melting point.”

          There is no requirement to introduce a metaphysical category of properties to explain the ability to correlate these physical observations.

          And with mathematics, you’re back to asserting, rather than demonstrating non-physicality. To use the example of a triangle, there aren’t any “universal” right triangles, because the properties vary depending upon the space you’re working on. Euclidian space, the angles must add up to 180 degrees. Working in curved space, they can add up to more than 180 degrees.

          You can create intellectual models with arbitrarily different “triangles” to satisfy arbitrarily rigorous standards of logic (say, modelling them in arbitarily high n-dimensional spaces)…but the only ones we can talk about in terms of “truth” are the ones we can relate empirically to the space of the observed universe.

          • Anon. says:

            >How can we really “know” that my redness and your redness are the same?

            Even the same person’s redness is inconsistent through time. Metzinger mentions a simple experiment using two color swatches that are the nearest possible neighbors on the color chart. You can tell them apart when they are next to each other, but not when they are shown by themselves. It follows that there does not exist a 1:1 relation between wavelength input and experience of color, even for the same brain.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Not if “redness” is mental short-hand for the observed property of reflecting and absorbing specific wavelengths of the EM spectrum, as I’d claim it is.

            If this property is found in more than one object, it would be a universal.

            Finally, if we can’t measure those similarities, then the only rational conclusion is that no, we cannot know or say anything meaningful about the experience of “redness”, and that therefore the concept of “the experience of redness” as separate from “EM radiation in the 620-740nm range” is useless and can be safely discarded.

            That seems like a rather implausible, not to say question-begging, conclusion. Why is this the “only rational conclusion”, as opposed to, say, “Since we all have a good idea of what it’s like to experience redness, even though it can’t be quantified, clearly we can meaningfully think about things that can’t be quantified”?

            Except they’re not arbitrary. We categorize iron by a combination of -physical- properties. We’re able to generalize because of the strong degree of correlation of those physical properties.

            Again, if these -physical- properties are found in more than one object, these objects are instantiating universals.

            To use the example of a triangle, there aren’t any “universal” right triangles, because the properties vary depending upon the space you’re working on. Euclidian space, the angles must add up to 180 degrees. Working in curved space, they can add up to more than 180 degrees.

            If you’re claiming based on that that mathematics deals with physical objects, either you haven’t fleshed your argument out enough or your conclusion’s a complete non sequitur.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Anon:

            Even the same person’s redness is inconsistent through time. Metzinger mentions a simple experiment using two color swatches that are the nearest possible neighbors on the color chart. You can tell them apart when they are next to each other, but not when they are shown by themselves. It follows that there does not exist a 1:1 relation between wavelength input and experience of color, even for the same brain.

            Which is, of course, a point against the idea that the quale of redness can be reduced to wavelength measurements.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            If this property is found in more than one object, it would be a universal.

            Chunk of Elemental Iron A is composed of atoms with 26 protons each. Chunk of Elemental Iron B is also composed of atoms with 26 protons each. The property of having 26 protons is a physical property. So are the properties of weight, density, ferromagnetism, chemical reactivity, orbital structure, and so on. And yet these are properties that are shared across multiple objects.

            So, either “universals” are in fact physical, and not metaphysical, and you’ve created a fancy name for something that doesn’t require it. Or you’re multiplying entities unnecessarily by introducing an entirely new category of concept where one is not needed. Either way, I don’t find this terribly persuasive.

            Why is this the “only rational conclusion”, as opposed to, say, “Since we all have a good idea of what it’s like to experience redness, even though it can’t be quantified, clearly we can meaningfully think about things that can’t be quantified”?

            Because I don’t accept that “we all have a good idea of what it’s like to experience redness”. We all THINK we have a good idea of what it’s like FOR US to experience redness. The best evidence available is that we are generally very bad at evaluating our own perceptions, motives, and thought processes, and thus self-reports on these things are best taken with massive grains of salt and correlated against more reliable measures.

            The light of rational, logical inquiry is handy in many circumstances, but it tends to fail badly when pointed inward, which is why empirical verification is so important. Absent that empirical validation you absolutely do NOT have any rational basis for being confident that your redness and my redness are identical.

            It is precisely the correlation between our perceptions a shared physical reality that allows us to communicate these concepts, to refine them, to expand upon them. Absent that empirical verification, you can think all you want about these concepts, but the thoughts will in no way be meaningful in any sense beyond an indication that you are a creative and imaginative person.

            If you’re claiming based on that that mathematics deals with physical objects, either you haven’t fleshed your argument out enough or your conclusion’s a complete non sequitur.

            I’m disputing the idea that just because you can imagine something to an arbitrarily rigorous or internally consistent degree, that means it “exists” as an object, as opposed to existing as a physical configuration of states within your brain.

            Let me approach it from another angle. I’m running Pillars Of Eternity, a video game, in another window right now. I take the position that everything my computer is doing is reducible to the physical patterns and changes in its hard drive, CPU, GPU, RAM, and motherboard created by the flow of electrical current through the system.

            The computer is performing mathematical equations. Is it your contention that it is simultaneously operating metaphysical objects?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Chunk of Elemental Iron A is composed of atoms with 26 protons each. Chunk of Elemental Iron B is also composed of atoms with 26 protons each. The property of having 26 protons is a physical property. So are the properties of weight, density, ferromagnetism, chemical reactivity, orbital structure, and so on.

            Those are properties instantiated by physical objects, but they are not themselves physical. Unless perhaps you can give me a sample of ferromagnetism to look at?

            Because I don’t accept that “we all have a good idea of what it’s like to experience redness”. We all THINK we have a good idea of what it’s like FOR US to experience redness. The best evidence available is that we are generally very bad at evaluating our own perceptions, motives, and thought processes, and thus self-reports on these things are best taken with massive grains of salt and correlated against more reliable measures.

            If my mind is so untrustworthy that I can’t even know what it’s like for me to experience redness, a fortiori I shouldn’t trust it when carrying out the far more difficult task of evaluating scientific theories.

            It is precisely the correlation between our perceptions a shared physical reality that allows us to communicate these concepts, to refine them, to expand upon them.

            Communication, of course, is another thing that requires universals. For us to communicate, it is necessary that we can both entertain one and the same proposition. This means that the proposition must be present in two places, which means it must be a universal. If propositions aren’t universals, meaningful communication is impossible. (If propositions don’t exist, thought itself is impossible.)

            I’m disputing the idea that just because you can imagine something to an arbitrarily rigorous or internally consistent degree, that means it “exists” as an object, as opposed to existing as a physical configuration of states within your brain.

            Then can exist as both. That’s kind of the whole point of universals.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            EDIT: BTW, thanks for this. Haven’t had a good discussion on this sort of thing in quite some time.

            Those are properties instantiated by physical objects, but they are not themselves physical. Unless perhaps you can give me a sample of ferromagnetism to look at?

            I certainly can. I can hand you a chunk of magnetized iron. That is the only kind of ferromagnetism there is to be had. Let’s go ahead and resolve the triangular ambiguity now:

            -ferromagnetism, a property possessed by certain materials with specific patterns of spin on their electrons. Physical.

            -‘ferromagnetism’, the symbolic representation of ferromagnetism, in this conversation latin characters arranged in a specific pattern, formed by physical interactions in the monitor of whatever device you are accessing this website from, or by physical material stuck onto paper or plastic if you’re deciding to print everything out. Physical.

            -“ferromagnetism”, the pattern of physical states (whether electrical, chemical, structural, or some combination of the above) in your brain when you parse ‘ferromagnetism’ and pull up the associated concepts. Again, Physical.

            This model is internally consistent, and requires no reference to a wholly new and separate class of objects. This makes it more consistent with our observed experiences and shared observations about the external world, and thus more likely to be true than a model which requires metaphysics.

            I will freely admit I’m not a fully trained bayesian or philosopher, but I think that holds up relatively well, and I think that occam’s razor is a pretty useful heuristic here as well as elsewhere.

            I’ll close this point by noting the irony of you, the guy and/or girl arguing FOR a class of things independent of physical reality, are demanding that I provide you with examples of things independent of physical reality in order to support my position.

            If my mind is so untrustworthy that I can’t even know what it’s like for me to experience redness, a fortiori I shouldn’t trust it when carrying out the far more difficult task of evaluating scientific theories.

            There’s no if about that, X. We have pretty solid evidence about the fallibility of pure a priori human perception. That is why we buttress it with things like recorded measurements, photographs, written statements, multiple witnesses, replication…in short, we buttress it with empiricism.

            You’ve got the chain backwards. We don’t proceed from pure reason and a priori logical constructs outward to empirical reasoning. Philosophers and thinkers do this as adults, as a thought exercise, but what they are really doing is walking the dog back.

            I would argue that in reality we come to our first, groggy, sloppy understanding of inference and (even prior to that) the axioms on which our thought processes function based on a combination of the physical mechanisms of thought itself and the empirical data feed into those physical mechanisms from the point we start getting sensory input.

            The neat thing about this hypothesis? It’s falsifiable, testable, or will be given time and the freedom to experiment with developing minds, human or AI.

            For us to communicate, it is necessary that we can both entertain one and the same proposition.

            The first person just has to have a proposition that overlaps enough with the other person’s and/or the external world to give the first person a rough approximation of the other person’s proposition.

            Communication doesn’t have to be 100% accurate to be meaningful. And a good thing too, or the vast majority of all human interaction would not be meaningful.

            And I’ll note that you never answered my question about computers. Are computers Universal Manipulation Machines in addition to their physical processes?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            EDIT: BTW, thanks for this. Haven’t had a good discussion on this sort of thing in quite some time.

            And the same to you, too.

            I certainly can. I can hand you a chunk of magnetized iron. That is the only kind of ferromagnetism there is to be had.

            Well, no, because then you’d be giving me iron, not ferromagnetism. What your position amounts to is that ferromagnetism doesn’t actually exist.

            -ferromagnetism, a property possessed by certain materials with specific patterns of spin on their electrons. Physical.

            Well, no, because ferromagnetism is found in multiple objects at once, but no physical object can be in two places simultaneously.

            -‘ferromagnetism’, the symbolic representation of ferromagnetism, in this conversation latin characters arranged in a specific pattern, formed by physical interactions in the monitor of whatever device you are accessing this website from, or by physical material stuck onto paper or plastic if you’re deciding to print everything out. Physical.

            The marks themselves are physical, but the meaning they convey can’t be reduced to the marks. After all, suppose that neither the human race nor any other sentient being existed, and by some random chance a rock happened to be eroded with the pattern FERROMAGNETISM. The marks in the rock would appear exactly like the letters in the English word, but, in the absence of any intent to communicate, or indeed of any sentient being to interpret them, it seems implausible to treat the rock as an actual instance of the work “ferromagnetism”.

            There’s no if about that, X. We have pretty solid evidence about the fallibility of pure a priori human perception. That is why we buttress it with things like recorded measurements, photographs, written statements, multiple witnesses, replication…in short, we buttress it with empiricism.

            Strictly speaking, I think any perception would be a posteriori rather than a priori. More importantly, though, you need to put at least some trust in your senses in order for empiricism to work, since empiricism is after all built on observations of the world around us.

            The first person just has to have a proposition that overlaps enough with the other person’s and/or the external world to give the first person a rough approximation of the other person’s proposition.

            Communication doesn’t have to be 100% accurate to be meaningful. And a good thing too, or the vast majority of all human interaction would not be meaningful.

            For communication to be meaningful, there does at least have to be the possibility for you and I to entertain the same thoughts. Otherwise we’d all just be trapped in our own little solipsistic worlds, like Descartes with his demon.

            And I’ll note that you never answered my question about computers. Are computers Universal Manipulation Machines in addition to their physical processes?

            I don’t know what a Universal Manipulation Machine is, although I suspect you’re making a category error: all physical objects instantiate universals, meaning that universals, though not themselves physical, are still part of physical processes anyway.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Glad you’re deriving some satisfaction too, given that the extent of my philosophical education is self-directed reading and one freshman predicate logic class when I was in college 10 years ago. I am well aware that in many respects other people have made the points I’ve made first and much more eloquently.

            What your position amounts to is that ferromagnetism doesn’t actually exist.

            In the sense of a “thing”/”Object”, no, it doesn’t. See below.

            ferromagnetism is found in multiple objects at once, but no physical object can be in two places simultaneously.

            Properties are not -objects-, and I think it is a category mistake to try to manipulate them in object terms. When we say that something “has” the same property, we’re not describing one object being in two places simultaneously. We’re pattern-matching identical or (in many cases) “close enough” patterns of information.

            In the case of ferromagnetism, it is the property of a material wherein all the ions in the object with a magnetic moment contribute positively to the net magnetic moment of the object.

            There’s some complexity because at the macro level of human interaction and perception, there are few if any “objects” in the colloquial sense of the term that are not in fact collections of a massive quantity of smaller objects in a complex and mostly stable relationship to one another.

            But we approximate. Strategic IMprescision is one of the things that allows our minds to function as well as they do, even as it works against us when we try to use that mind in a more precise way.

            suppose that neither the human race nor any other sentient being existed, and by some random chance a rock happened to be eroded with the pattern FERROMAGNETISM. The marks in the rock would appear exactly like the letters in the English word, but, in the absence of any intent to communicate, or indeed of any sentient being to interpret them, it seems implausible to treat the rock as an actual instance of the work “ferromagnetism”.

            I don’t think that -intent- is really relevant here as humans are pretty infamous for our ability to find meaning in naturally occurring patterns that lack intent (man/rabbit in the moon, jesus on toast, etc).

            That said, I think you raise an important point that without the mind to generate the concept when it perceives the symbol, the symbol cannot be said to contain meaning. Therefore, I will concede that meaning is an extrinsic property and requires at minimum two objects or clusters/patterns of objects, the physical pattern of the symbol itself, and the mind with associated sensory apparatus to first take in the input of the symbol’s pattern, and then generate the physical states of the concept.

            I’m going to have to go back and check, but I think we have evidence for this in MRI studies where they distinguished “think about a dog” from “read this cue card with the word DOG on it”, but I will concede that MRI studies are still very crude.

            In any case, am I understanding correctly that you’re driving at ALL extrinsic properties being nonphysical? Or metaphysical if you prefer? So, for example, the property of Object A being Distance X from Object B is a nonphysical property?

            Strictly speaking, I think any perception would be a posteriori rather than a priori.

            You are correct. I should have said “reason”, and distinguished it from the (also fallible) perception.

            More importantly, though, you need to put at least some trust in your senses in order for empiricism to work, since empiricism is after all built on observations of the world around us.

            Some is doing a lot of work there. We trust a measurement of a ruler more than eyeballing it. We trust multiple observers more than we trust a single observer. And even then, there are cases where we still maintain doubt.

            We place SOME trust in our senses, yes. But that’s a much stronger qualification than I think you appreciate.

            For communication to be meaningful, there does at least have to be the possibility for you and I to entertain the same thoughts. Otherwise we’d all just be trapped in our own little solipsistic worlds, like Descartes with his demon.

            If by “the same” you mean perfect, 100% copies of each other’s thoughts, I don’t think we CAN achieve that. What allows us to escape the trap you describe, the ONLY thing that allows us to escape the trap you describe, is that we are lucky enough to share an objective physical reality to use as a reference point when interacting with one another.

            I don’t know what a Universal Manipulation Machine is, although I suspect you’re making a category error: all physical objects instantiate universals, meaning that universals, though not themselves physical, are still part of physical processes anyway.

            Would it be fair to say then that in your model, universals are contingent upon physical objects?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Properties are not -objects-, and I think it is a category mistake to try to manipulate them in object terms. When we say that something “has” the same property, we’re not describing one object being in two places simultaneously. We’re pattern-matching identical or (in many cases) “close enough” patterns of information.

            What exactly are these “patterns of information”, and what is their ontological status?

            In any case, am I understanding correctly that you’re driving at ALL extrinsic properties being nonphysical? Or metaphysical if you prefer? So, for example, the property of Object A being Distance X from Object B is a nonphysical property?

            I’m not sure that A’s being a certain distance from something is strictly speaking a property at all, because it can change without A itself changing.

            Some is doing a lot of work there. We trust a measurement of a ruler more than eyeballing it. We trust multiple observers more than we trust a single observer. And even then, there are cases where we still maintain doubt.
            We place SOME trust in our senses, yes. But that’s a much stronger qualification than I think you appreciate.

            I suspect that any level of trust which excludes being able in normal circumstances to recognise that something’s red (i.e., in the absence of cleverly contrived optical illusions or the like) whilst still keeping enough trust for us to properly do empiricism.

            If by “the same” you mean perfect, 100% copies of each other’s thoughts, I don’t think we CAN achieve that.

            I think you’re being too pessimistic here. If a maths teacher is thinking “l=2πr” and her pupil is thinking “l=2πr”, it seems a bit overly sceptical to doubt that they are in fact thinking the same thought.

            Would it be fair to say then that in your model, universals are contingent upon physical objects?

            Personally I’d say no, although there have been people (e.g., Aristotle) who thought that they were contingent.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Properties are not -objects-, and I think it is a category mistake to try to manipulate them in object terms. When we say that something “has” the same property, we’re not describing one object being in two places simultaneously. We’re pattern-matching identical or (in many cases) “close enough” patterns of information.

            This seems to accord with my understanding of what universals are, to the point that I’m forced to ask what you think you are arguing against. I (and I presume Mr X.) would say that “the collection of red things” is a correct term, insofar as it refers to something. That something is non-physical, which is why Mr X asked for a ferromagnetism. You can’t give someone a ferromagnatism any more than you can give someone a red or a Being. Yet “the set of red objects” is clearly a thing, or else you would object to me referring to it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            To touch on an earlier point:

            Mr. X: If my mind is so untrustworthy that I can’t even know what it’s like for me to experience redness, a fortiori I shouldn’t trust it when carrying out the far more difficult task of evaluating scientific theories.

            I claim that you can know redness, even though you can’t tell apart two close shades of red, because you can tell between red and green. So it is with measurement: you can tell between 8 and 9. You will have more trouble telling between 8.333 and 8.334, but you may be able to tell even that, if you are sufficiently confident that your instrument is sufficiently sensitive. Likewise, if you were confident that your eyes were that sensitive, you could even tell between two close shades of red, or between two sounds on a piano, two weights in your hands, etc.

            In general, then, you can think of your senses as having a certain resolution, beyond which your certainty drops that you are sensing accurately. It is why we prefer digital readouts to analog when we’re measuring.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Mr. X

            When we say something has a “pattern”, we are recognizing congruence between things or between parts of things. This shape is similar to that shape. If you fold this shape in half, the outlines line up with one another, this object shares physical traits with that object, etc. Relationships.

            In some ways, I think “patterns of information” may actually be redundant, but I need to refine my thinking on this and do some more reading to educate myself. All information is pattern, and vice versa. Whether you’re reproducing physical relationships by taking an analog chemical picture of a face, vs. drawing a face, vs. storing a .jpg of a digital photo of that face by grooving metal foil vs. the memory in a human mind. Which again, comes down to the evidence that memories are encoded by physical patterns in the brain.

            The part where information/data/facts get unintuitive is that brains and are in a sense just pattern manipulation machines. They don’t deal with truth value. So you can feed someone “the set of red objects”, and someone else “the set of red objects”, and you won’t get FATAL_ERROR: Set “Objects:Red:All” Not Valid.

            But the only reason we can talk about it at all is that our minds are sloppy and tolerant of error, the degree to which can ignore accuracy, precision, and truth value. To use Stella Athena’s example, You can think of “the set of red objects”. I can think of “the set of red objects”. But do our sets contain the same objects? No. I’ve seen red things you haven’t. You’ve seen red things I haven’t.

            So I would say that “the set of red objects” does not exist. We are able to slap that label onto many different things, and we achieve mutual understanding to the degree that we’re able to basically ignore or elide all the errors and imprecision.

            This gets us to Mr. X’s Math teacher and student (I’d type maths, but ‘murican) example. Mathematical thought and communication is more precise than spoken language and the usual baseline flow of our mental processes because it has been carefully and meticulously crafted in order to achieve that precision.

            It’s a tool, a construct that we use in order to improve our understanding of the outside world. And yes, that means that I view “pure math” as being basically the very high IQ version of “Who would win in a fight between Superman And Goku” arguments: stimulating imagination and entertainment. Thankfully, sometimes we find ways to make use of it despite them.

            I suspect that any level of trust which excludes being able in normal circumstances to recognise that something’s red (i.e., in the absence of cleverly contrived optical illusions or the like) whilst still keeping enough trust for us to properly do empiricism.

            I’d say we have a rough approximation of those limitations. Look at what the most brilliant minds of various generations could come up with in terms of models of the world, natural philosophy, etc given the mental and physical tools they had available.

            We can’t know for certain, but I doubt that Einstein was way smarter than Newton who was way smarter than Aristotle. The advances of our understanding are the advances of the tools used to supplement and correct for our senses and our reason.

    • Levantine says:

      Does anyone have interesting thoughts/know interesting papers on the process by which fields of science come into being?

      David F. Noble, historian of technology and science, had interesting thoughts about that, and closely related to that. To be sure, I don’t recall a detailed discussion from him about how this or that particular field of science came into being, but he definitely made fascinating expositions on the influence of social factors in development of technology and science research. They aren’t limited to a particular book of his. I’ve read Forces of Production and I can recommend it.

    • Jonathan says:

      I’m not an expert on the history of science but I have serious misgivings on how you portray this history. Chemistry, did not “emerge from physics,” it emerged from alchemy and early metallurgy, following a similar “scientification” process as physics. Modern chemistry certainly borrows an awful lot from physics, but elements of modern physics (e.g. quantum mechanics) have an evolutionary history that pass through chemistry. And neither of them bare significant resemblance to the modern disciplines sharing the same names as their ancient roots (philosophy and theology).

      A “science” is somewhat of a categorization issue. In what way is “climate sciences” fundamentally different than “earth science?” In what way is “neuroscience” not just a branch of biology focusing on one specific cell type? It’s just a specialization that has significant international coordination and money being thrown at it. And while people sometimes think the borders are as clean as the Canadian/US border, they are frequently more like Kashmir. Condensed matter physics is generally considered part of physics (hence the name) but could just as comfortably live in the chemistry department. (That’s assuming the school’s EE department doesn’t take it over due to their strange fascination with semiconductors.)

      A real interesting example in all of this is Computer Science. It’s probably the closest to an ex nihilo science we have, a mirror that tells as much about the speaker as the field itself. The early practitioners came from a variety of fields and it integrates elements from a variety of fields, but in the beginning, most universities set it up with their Electrical Engineering departments. CS is generally seen as an application of digital electronics, which is the domain of EE. Many universities (e.g. MIT, Berkeley) still maintain this association.

      • rlms says:

        As you say, CS is interesting. In the US it has electrical engineering roots, but in the UK it came out of maths (although the association between the two, and the idea of the purpose of a Computer Science department being to provide computing services to mathematicians has now disappeared).

      • StellaAthena says:

        Thank you for the correction about chemistry. I like the term “scientificating” a lot, and very likely undersold the extent to which fields other than philosophy scientificate. Do you have other examples of fields that came about due to scientification of fields that aren’t philosophy/theology (the difference between these two is pretty modern)?

        Alchemy is a great answer to my question about fields that no longer exist!

        Yes, “correctly” categorizing science and sciences is a tough question, but on a day-to-day level we seem to get by just fine. People are clearly able to consistently separate topics by field, even if the delimiters between those fields is influenced by things exteinsic to the pure search for knowledge. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the complaint

        I don’t think you’re born out very well on the CS point however. Computer science as a field started before multipurpose computers were built. In fact, someone (Gödel perhaps?) remarked that it seemed unlikely that we would ever build a universal computer. After all, you don’t expect your car to make you coffee! I think that the scientific analysis and study of computation pretty solidly sits under the heading of “mathematics.” Here’s a short list I’ve compiled of major figures in the development of computer science and the fields they have degrees/appointments/associations with (excepting compter science). Am I leaving off a lot of electrical engineers? This looks pretty solidly “mathematicians, and also philosophers” to me.
        Boole was a mathematician and philosopher
        Von Neumann was a mathematician physicist, and economist
        Church, Turing, and Gödel were all mathematicians with various amounts of interest in philosophy
        Erdös was a mathematician
        Hopper was a mathematician
        Shanon is a mathematician and an electrical engineer.
        Dijkstra was a physicists by degree, became a programmer and held an appointment in mathematics
        Wiener was a mathematician
        Lamport is generally considered solely a computer scientist.

        It tends to be housed in engineering departments (apparently? I went to a university without any engineering majors) but I don’t see a particular reason to think of that as important in a historical discussion of where it’s founders came from.

        • Jonathan says:

          Do you have other examples of fields that came about due to scientification of fields that aren’t philosophy/theology (the difference between these two is pretty modern)?

          It’s all based on how far back you want to trace the lines of descent. Even if we describe chemistry as the scientification of alchemy, it’s not like alchemy emerged in a vacuum. We could simply call alchemy early chemistry and then say chemistry branched off of whatever alchemy did (presumably, natural philosophy).

          I mean, maybe Geology started out from reasonably scientific principles from the very beginning.

          Yes, “correctly” categorizing science and sciences is a tough question, but on a day-to-day level we seem to get by just fine. People are clearly able to consistently separate topics by field, even if the delimiters between those fields is influenced by things exteinsic to the pure search for knowledge. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the complaint

          I’m attacking the original question, Does anyone have ideas about what the next science might study? I can almost guarantee the “next science” is already being practiced as a specialization within an existing scientific discipline. It just hasn’t been recognized as a distinct field of study within society as large. At best, we will assign a “start date” retroactively.

          I don’t think you’re born out very well on the CS point however. Computer science as a field started before multipurpose computers were built.

          I’ll start by falling back on my original statement that CS is a mirror that tells as much about the speaker as the field itself. As rlms pointed out, we already have a big UK/US divide going on here. We also have to agree on what constitutes the field of study.

          Computer Science wasn’t generally recognized as a distinct field of study until the 50’s. By then, programmable computers were already beginning to be widely deployed. Further, you have already pointed out individuals (e.g. Leibinz) who contributed to the field currently recognized as computer science centuries before the existence of the computer. At the time, this wasn’t recognized as a new field of study but as an esoteric corner of mathematics/philosophy/whatever.

          I would argue that the biggest motivating factor to the recognition of CS as a new discipline was not intellectual development but the establishment of the computer as an enormous economic and strategic asset (i.e. practical concerns).

          From what I saw at school, the CS program tended to be very practical (granted, this was just after the popping of the first bubble): languages, computer architecture, data structures, etc. Sure, they taught things like Boolean logic and set theory, but they frequently spent less time on those topics than even the EE’s did. The research the CS school focused on tended to be rather practical, too (granted, US research funding tends to be very practicality-focused).

          The more central point is that it’s hard to trace specific lines of descent. Areas of research are increasingly interdisciplinary and it’s difficult for any one area of study to dominant them. Many of the new science programs are based around teaching the cross-section of skills/knowledge applicable to that specific field of endeavor.

          but I don’t see a particular reason to think of that as important in a historical discussion of where it’s founders came from.

          Let’s use chaos theory as an example. Today, it is generally considered a field of mathematics. However, it’s original practitioners were primarily physicists and one lone meteorologist.

          This specific example is, again, to point out how messy the lines of descent can be.

          It tends to be housed in engineering departments (apparently? I went to a university without any engineering majors)

          At my university, CS was rolled in with math and the physical sciences, but the EE and CS departments spent more of their time palling around with each other than the other members of their respective schools. As per above, this can be extremely school-specific, typically revolving around when the CS program started and for what reasons (e.g. offshoot of EE vs services to math/science, distribution of CS-aligned faculty at the time, status of CS as an established field, etc.).

          Cavets: I was an EE major (BS, MS, Ph.D. dropout, focus on microelectronics/electrophysics), not CS. Most of my experience with CS comes from hobby, friends who studied CS, and my current employment at Google. This was a mid (second?) tier state school (#15 for graduate per US News rankings).

    • skef says:

      The only possibly interesting observation I have to add to this is that sub-fields don’t always develop in the way one would expect. Linguistics was well established as a field by early in the 20th century, but it’s methods (including the Chomskian tradition) couldn’t be (or at least weren’t) adapted to the problem of semantics. Contemporary semantics really comes out of a combination of philosophy (adaption of work on formal languages in the logical positivist period, and in some ways stemming back to Frege) and mathematics (Church’s work on the Entscheidungsproblem resulting in lambda calculus). I would expect this sort of thing to be higher probability over the next 50 years than the creation of whole new fields. Aspects of cognitive science seem like candidates. (For example, a theoretical framework for characterizing larger (100,000+) neural structures that don’t only or primarily feed-forward might need contributions from other fields.)

    • Wrong Species says:

      Depending on what you mean by new science, my first guess would be cultural evolution. The former can be thought of as an offshoot of sociology and anthropology but it seems like they are using a different methodology to connect genetics and human culture. If we’re lucky, we might be able to finally have some kind of rigorous way of quantifying culture.

      If memetics ever becomes scientific then that would be a good candidate.

      Another would be future studies. Things like The Good Judgement Project can be thought of as taking the idea of predictions seriously instead of simple signalling and more scientific than simple market research for a company.

  26. Mark Lu says:

    Scott, please bring back the The Non-Libertarian FAQ (currently a blank page).

  27. nate_rausch says:

    An idea for surveys would be to test people’s beliefs about some interesting topic, and quantify their uncertainty. Topics could be: when we get AI, different explanations of consciousness, free will. What do you believe, from 1 to 10, how much to you believe that, why is that the right number for you, when were you first introduced to the topic.

  28. albertborrow says:

    The theme doesn’t work on my computer still, guys. Getting a wraparound error.

    • Evan Þ says:

      What’s more, I’ve had a few problems with the comment-since-timestamp cookie not updating when I close the page and come back later.

  29. williamdooling says:

    hello again everyone,
    long time lurker, new poster.

    I thought I’d use the open thread to solicit suggestions on good in-class examples. I’m a librarian, and I’m often invited to classes in order to explain the basics of how to do academic research, which includes explaining what a journal article is, how to access them.

    Often this involves an activity where I have students, in groups, analyze a journal article and try to summarize it and identify certain characteristics (the methodology employed, and so on). I try to pick articles that are:
    – interesting, surprising, counter-intuitive, or funny
    – relatively simple or easy to read (these are mostly freshman, obviously challenging them is good, but still..)
    – methodologically interesting, ideally methodologically sound as well

    the subject matter isn’t relevant for now.

    Some examples I’ve used in the past (which you should look up if you can get access because they’re all interesting)

    Gaston, Kevin J., and Tim M. Blackburn. “How many birds are there?.” Biodiversity & Conservation 6.4 (1997): 615-625.

    Dressel, Sabrina, Camilla Sandström, and Göran Ericsson. “A meta‐analysis of studies on attitudes toward bears and wolves across Europe 1976–2012.” Conservation Biology 29.2 (2015): 565-574.

    Ferraro, Paul J., and Laura O. Taylor. “Do economists recognize an opportunity cost when they see one? A dismal performance from the dismal science.” Contributions in Economic Analysis & Policy 4.1 (2005).

    Sinnott, Joan M., et al. “Perception Of Scary Halloween Masks By Zoo Animals And Humans.” International Journal Of Comparative Psychology 25.2 (2012): 83-96.

    Williams, E., Francis, L. J., Billington, U., & Robbins, M. (2012). The psychological-type profile of practising British Druids compared with Anglican Churchgoers. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 15(10), 1065-1075. doi:10.1080/13674676.2012.681483

    Maguire, Eleanor A., et al. “Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97.8 (2000): 4398-4403.

  30. FishFinger says:

    I don’t know a lot about game theory and I never had a particular interest in it that I wanted to cultivate, except for this thought experiment that came to my head last summer and still pops up from time to time.

    I had concocted a very convoluted scenario involving diamond thieves on motorcycles, barricades, gliders and mountain tunnels, before only a few days ago when I realized that game theory works best when expressed in game terms (imagine that).

    Basically, it goes like this:

    Alice and Bob are playing a game. They’re both rational agents of equal intelligence who want to win (fairly).
    This is how the game works:
    1. Bob goes into the other room.
    2. Alice is presented with three dice – a green d10, a yellow d6 and a red d2. She must pick one of them and roll it.
    3. If she rolls a 1, Bob wins.
    4. In the other room, Bob is trying to guess which die Alice has chosen. If he guesses correctly, Bob wins.
    5. If she rolls 2+ AND if Bob guesses incorrectly, Alice wins.

    Since both players would try to think like the other, it makes little sense for Alice to pick one of the dice deliberately because then she would know that Bob will figure out she did so and pick the same, so she will lose. The only strategies that make sense for both sides is picking a die at random from all 3 or some combination of 2 of the 3, right?

    The problem is that, when thinking what I would do in Alice’s place, my thought process goes like this:

    “I should just pick a die at random — but wait, if Bob thinks I will do that then he will also pick one at random, so why don’t I just pick the green one and have the best chances — but wait, if Bob thinks I will do that then he will also pick the green one, so for the best chances I have to pick the yellow one — but wait, then Bob will also pick the yellow one, so I can go back to the green one — but wait” and so on, and so on.

    The game reminds me of Prisoner’s Dilemma as players may see it as a choice between committing to a “honorable” rule of picking dice at random or “cheating” by breaking that commitment and picking one deliberately, except there’s absolutely no real reason for cooperation here since the game is entirely zero-sum.
    It also reminds me of Newcomb’s problem, since the players are making a decision based on what the other thinks their decision will be. I’m not sure if the similarities don’t end there, either, though.

    What do you think? How would you play the game?

    I’m sure I didn’t think of this first and that it involves existing game theory concepts I don’t know about, so I’d be glad if you pointed me in their direction.
    The number of dice and their values have been chosen at random, feel free to alter them.

    • Iain says:

      I don’t have time to work out the math, but the answer will end up being a weighted random selection of the three options for each of the players. The key phrase is “mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium”. Note that you can model the value of each die to Alice according to its probability of winning the game: so the d10 has value 9/10, the d6 has value 5/6, and the d2 has value 1/2.

      • “The key phrase is “mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium””

        The key phrase is “Von Neumann solution to a fixed sum two person game” or something similar. It’s the one part of game theory that Von Neumann actually solved.

    • beleester says:

      The answer is to pick a die at random, but to choose the probability you pick each die very carefully. Alice wants to pick at random so that Bob can’t predict her action, but she may not want to pick the d2 with the same probability as the d10, because the d2 gives Bob a higher chance of winning even if he guesses wrong.

      The term you’re looking for is minimax – Alice wants to minimize the maximum probability of Bob winning across all his choices. That way, Alice has the best chance of winning no matter what strategy Bob chooses. As the saying goes, don’t expect the enemy to cooperate with your battle plans.

      I think that for this particular game, choosing the dice with equal probability is the minimax, or close to it, but I didn’t look at it for very long.

    • dtsund says:

      For what it’s worth, the numerical solution I got (rounded to one decimal place) was: Alice should choose (Green, Yellow, Red) with probabilities (31.1%, 32.2%, 36.6%), and Bob should choose (Green, Yellow, Red) with probabilities (52.8%, 47.2%, 0%). My post-hoc intuition here is that Bob has little incentive to choose Red because he wins half the time anyway if Alice chooses it.

      I’d appreciate it if someone with more experience with asymmetric games could check my numbers, though.

      • stevenj says:

        I solved the game using Gamit (http://gambit.sourceforge.net/) and got
        Alice picking (Green, Yellow, Red) with probabilities (25.77%, 27.84%, 46.39%).
        Bob picking (Green, Yellow, Red) with probabilities (48.45%, 44.33%, 7.22%).
        (I rounded 5/6 to 0.83333 and 1/6 to 0.16667.)

        Below is the Gambit NFG file for the game, in case someone wants to check my coding:

        NFG 1 R “Untitled Extensive Game” { “Alice” “Bob” }

        { { “1” “2” “3” }
        { “1” “2” “3” }
        }
        “”

        0 1
        83333/100000 16667/100000
        1/2 1/2
        9/10 1/10
        0 1
        1/2 1/2
        9/10 1/10
        83333/100000 16667/100000
        0 1

        • dtsund says:

          I don’t have any experience with Gambit and can’t properly evaluate the correctness of your script, but that doesn’t look like a Nash equilibrium to me; with Bob playing that strategy, Alice can gain by switching to 1/3 across the board.

          If we denote Alice’s (G,Y,R) probabilities as (x,y,z) and Bob’s as (p,q,r), then the probability of Alice winning is (unless I messed up somewhere):

          9/10 (1-p)(x) + 5/6 (1-q)(y) + 1/2 (1-r)(z)

          Since 1-p, 1-q, and 1-r are all positive, Cauchy’s inequality lets us find optimal (x,y,z) in terms of (p,q,r) easily (under the constraint x+y+z=1).

          x = (9/10(1-p))/(9/10(1-p) + 5/6(1-q) + 1/2(1-r))

          and so on. With this (p,q,r), x=0.3333.

          On the other hand, though, those numbers for Bob’s strategy look exactly like what I got during what I considered to be an initial botched Lagrange multipliers attempt at the problem (47/97, 43/97, 7/97).

          • stevenj says:

            I double checked my math, and it appears correct.
            Given Bob’s strategy, Alice gets a payoff (probability of winning) of 0.464 for all three of her strategies (she is indifferent between her choices, as is required in order for her to mix). In particular, the stategy (1/3, 1/3, 1/3) yields the same payoff as her equilibrium strategy.

            Your approach (finding the optimum (x,y,z) in terms of (p,q,r)) is flawed. For most (p,q,r), the optimal (x,y,z) is degenerate — the optimal response is to place probability 100% on one of the options and 0% on the others. Optimization methods that assume an interior solution will not work. Your method (Cauchy inequality) handles this case fine. At very specific (p,q,r) (including the (p,q,r) corresponding to a mixed equilibrium) the optimal (x,y,z) is degenerate for a different reason — there are multiple optimal responses (and all convex combinations of the optimal responses will also be optimal). Methods that assume a unique solution will fail.

            That’s why the method I sketched is the standard one taught for solving for MSNE in 2×2 games. (It works, and makes the intuition clear. But it is computationally inefficient, so other methods are used for larger games.)

    • stevenj says:

      As Iain said, you’re looking for a mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium (MSNE).
      I’ll walk you through the logic and math, but I’m going to simplify your game by dropping the red die.
      Alice and Bob are just have to chose between red and green.
      As you’ve already figured out:
      1. Neither player can pick a pure strategy (100% probability on a single choice).
      But
      2. If either player had a strategy that led to a higher probability of winning then their other strategy, they would pick that strategy with a probability of 100%
      And that’s where you got confused, thinking that #1 and #2 form a contradiction.
      But they don’t contradict, they can be reconciled by
      3. In a MSNE, all strategies which player plays with probability greater than 0% must have the SAME expected payoff (i.e., lead to the same probability of winning). Moreover, that expected payoff must be greater than or equal to the payoff from any strategy to which the player assigns probability of 0%.
      #3 is the key to solving for the exact probabilities each player assigns to each of their strategies in a MSNE.
      (And now you can see why I dropped the third die — it save a lot of calculation from having to consider cases where one or both players randomize between two of the dice and assigns zero probability to the third die).

      Now let’s solve for the equilibrium.
      Let p be the probability the Alice picks the green die.
      Let q be the probability that Bob picks the green die.
      Let a player earn a payoff of 1 if they win and a payoff of zero if they lose.
      Alice’s expected payoff from green is
      (1-q) * (9/10)
      And her payoff from picking yellow is
      q * (5/6)
      For her to be willing to mix between her choices, these must be equal:
      (1-q) * (9/10) = q * (5/6)
      q = 27/52
      Similarly, for Bob to mix, he must get the same payoff from each of his actions.
      If he picks green, he gets
      p + (1-p) * (1/10)
      If he picks yellow, he gets
      (1-p) + p * (1/6)
      Setting these equal gives us
      p + (1-p) * (1/10) = (1-p) + p * (1/6)
      p = 9/14

      (Someone should check my math, I did this quickly and may have made an error.)
      This gives us a MSNE:
      Alice picks green with probability 27/52 and Bob picks green with probability 9/14.
      Taking the strategy of the other player as a given, neither player can strictly improve their expected payoff by deviating from this mixed strategy.
      (There are unilateral deviations that give the deviating player the same expected payoff, but those are not equilibria because the other player would deviate in response.)
      In this case, this is the unique Nash equilibria (i.e., there are no other equilibria in pure or mixed strategies.)
      (The proof is left as an exercise for the reader.)

      Exercises for the reader:
      1. Prove that there are no other NE (easy difficulty)
      2. Solve for all of the NE with the red die added to the game (medium difficulty, but tedious).

      (Does it show that I’ve taught game theory to grad students before?)

      • The Nybbler says:

        I did it with Gambit and came up with 25/52 for green for Alice, and 27/52 for green for Bob. This matches your calculation; q is the probability Bob picks green, not Alice, and of course 27/52 = 9/14. This was whether or not I included red; red is dominated.

        I messed up the one with red; with red included, Alice picks green with 25/97, Yellow with 27/97, and Red with 45/97. Bob picks Green with 47/97, Yellow with 43/97, and Red with 7/97. Just as stevenj and dtsund got.

    • AnonEEmous says:

      well

      this is pretty interesting

      the thing is, Red’s a 50% loss, so you would assume disqualification. But, it’s extremely unlikely to be picked by Bob. If you assume Yellow / Green as a 50 / 50, AND that they still have a chance to lose by rolling a 1, then both have a higher than 50% chance of losing. Which means Red is in the game. (of course, Yellow and Green aren’t quite a 50 / 50, but you get my point – Red has to be better than other options at certain points, or at least potentially so).

      besides that it is like Iain says; you will probably find some type of equilibrium because in a vacuum the d10 is the best but it’s the most obvious so d6 is the best but it’s also kind of obvious. I don’t know if there’s some way to reverse-engineer a system, because you know what moves are best and you know what moves are predicted as best, so there might be. Not sure how that aspect of it would work.

  31. tscharf says:

    Very interesting watching the identity politics debate take place on the left after the election. The responses have been from “stop calling people names” to “call them white supremacists instead”. The question is whether this movement has peaked and whether this election was a seminal moment for that peaking. I’m going to say yes, and yes.

    The short answer to that interpretation is that the left isn’t stupid, and the left likes to win elections, and this is a justifiable scapegoat. I don’t pretend that identity politics will be thrown under the bus any time soon, but expect a kinder, gentler version will be brought out for the next few election cycles. My guess is that is going include a shift from overt demonization of (red tribe) white voters to a more economic equality for all message. The more virulent race baiters will likely be asked to take a back seat.

    It seemed like a tactical error when the shift occurred to attack Trump voters and it is hard to see how that passed muster in anyone’s strategic playbook. Perhaps I am wrong, but the power of group shaming is stronger on the left than the right, possibly substantially so. I expect voters memories are pretty short but the WWC will be up for grabs again and there might be a hangover from being broad brushed as racist knuckle draggers in 2016.

    It is hard to imagine that the right’s current hold on federal/state government can get any stronger (although Senate 2018 is favorable) so the good news on the left is it is all pretty much upside for the next decade since they get to be agents of change.

    • liskantope says:

      From my observations it seems to me also that the American left is strongly reconsidering the way it attacks people as racist and so on. It’s very plausible for me to imagine the Democratic party refocusing its emphasis on economic issues and helping the working class, especially since there appears to be a lot of overlap between the Social Justice side and those who lament that the party has turned away from the concerns of workers.

      It seemed like a tactical error when the shift occurred to attack Trump voters and it is hard to see how that passed muster in anyone’s strategic playbook.

      I can kind of see how this naturally occurred, given that American culture is on high alert when it comes to issues potentially concerning race (makes sense, given our history) and so racism holds the status of Supremely Evil Ideology in many people’s minds. At times it has shared this status with Communism (or “soft on Communism”) and pro-terrorism (or “soft on terrorism”), but concerns over the former have fallen by the wayside, and concerns over the latter are getting somewhat eclipsed by resulting discourse over Islam, xenophobia, etc.

      • stillnotking says:

        It’s very plausible for me to imagine the Democratic party refocusing its emphasis on economic issues and helping the working class, especially since there appears to be a lot of overlap between the Social Justice side and those who lament that the party has turned away from the concerns of workers.

        Although the people who care about one of these mostly also care about the other, there is a large difference in priorities: which one wins if they conflict? That’s pretty much the fight going on in the Democratic Party right now.

        The social justice side overplayed its hand, and now we’re seeing national attitudes swing away from them. The status of racism as the Supreme Evil is crumbling; unfortunately, that may also signal the end of America’s 50-year racial detente, which would be a much bigger problem for the Democrats than for the Republicans, but really would be a huge problem for everyone.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If you mean this detente: http://thefederalist.com/2016/11/14/election-marks-end-americas-racial-detente/

          Yeah, it’s over. It wasn’t so much a detente as a stable local equilibrium, which SJ kicked us out of. And it’s unlikely to be restorable; it’s a product of a civil rights movement happening with an overwhelming white majority and where the whites really were on top. The reduction of the white majority was already making it less stable. Now we’re out of equilibrium on race issues, and what the new equilibrium will look like is pretty hazy. Will the various races (including “whites”, however defined) end up as interest groups with no special stigma or privilege attached to any of them, and racial politics become the norm? Will some race or alliance of races end up on top and dictating terms to the rest? Or will the minority blocs fracture and political issues be divided on other lines? The last is probably a pipe dream. I expect something closer to the first.

          • tscharf says:

            Another theory is that the left is sensing a fundamental shift from identity politics to class warfare. At the moment the left is not very well positioned to be the party of the working man (Clinton / Pelosi / et. al. are poor standard bearers). This threatens the very foundations of the master plan to political hegemony through identity politics. Sensing the scary tremors, the answer is to stir the racial pot to a boil to keep the natives in line. It is noted that many of the people applying the heat and doing the stirring are upper class whites.

          • stillnotking says:

            Yep, that’s the exact article I was referencing.

            Whites are still overwhelmingly economically dominant in the US. (Along with Asians, who are de facto “white” as far as politics is concerned, and who may soon be joined in this by Hispanics.) The only thing that’s been restraining them from the political dominance naturally accompanying that is the racism taboo, which is the white part of the detente, essentially. If a significant number of whites no longer feel bound by it, we’re likely to see some highly racialized politics — I don’t mean dog-whistle stuff, but explicit appeals to racial interest. The urban/rural split will become more pronounced at the same time, with a possibility of open conflict between state and federal authority, and even secession — since urban coastal whites aren’t going to be re-evaluating the moral valence of racism anytime soon, if ever.

            This has been high on my list of potential endings to the United States ever since I read Greg Bear’s near-future novels.

          • The article contains the phrase “whose publication Breitbart has traded in vile explicit racism.”

            Can someone give me an example? I see lots of accusations along those lines. The one I followed up, about anti-semitism not racism, was pretty clearly bogus. Others seemed to be about who was posting not what they posted on Breitbart. Are there statements on Breitbart that are explicitly racist in some sense stronger than saying unfashionable things about race that might be true?

            I don’t read Breitbart so am seeing this mostly at second hand.

      • Brad says:

        It’s very plausible for me to imagine the Democratic party refocusing its emphasis on economic issues and helping the working class, especially since there appears to be a lot of overlap between the Social Justice side and those who lament that the party has turned away from the concerns of workers.

        Refocusing on the working class and actually helping them are two different things. It’s unclear to me exactly how a party could both help working class in both an objective and subjective sense. Seems like they’d have to pick one or the other.

        The crux of the matter is that no one can create large numbers of “good jobs” — which seems to be the chief demand. At least not without such severe side effects that everyone, including the putative beneficiaries, would be worse off. People just seem unwilling to accept that post-war America was the result of a confluence of events that can’t be replicated on demand if only those jerk politicians wanted to.

        • shakeddown says:

          To some degree it’s about the narrative emphasis, not policies. Trump’s policies probably won’t help most of his voters, but he talked about helping them a lot. I imagine a white man* midwesterner Democrat who talked a lot about building up the midwest (and not identity politics) could win back a lot of working-class voters.

          *White man, because then the narrative about him wouldn’t be first female/minority president.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It looked for a second like Jim Webb might go that route but then the identity politics reasserted itself.

            He caught a flack for the “who is your enemy” question but IMO he was the only person on that stage who had a remotely moral response.

    • shakeddown says:

      My impression of the 76/80 Republican elections is that Ford lost by running unpopular conservative economics, but then Reagan passed him from the hard right, and won big due to a combination of an unpopular Carter and his personal charisma. I’m worried of something like this happening with Identity politics – what if 2020 (or 2024) manages to use an unpopular Trump to run someone charismatic with a hardcore identity politics platform?
      (This seems unlikely for various reasons, such as identity politics having limited appeal, but could happen eventually due to demographic shifts).

    • rolfandreassen says:

      Assumes a high level of coordination on the left. I don’t think, actually, there is a Sinister Central Committee that could give the order to tone down the racist-misogynist stuff and concentrate on economics, or whatever; and if there were, why would the people who write those clickbait articles obey? What sanctions can be imposed on them that compares to the sweet, sweet money they get by exploiting the toxoplasma to bait clicks?

      • lvlln says:

        But it’s not like a Sinister Central Committee handed down an order to clickbait thinkpiece writers to start concentrating on calling people racist/misogynist 3 years ago either. Or shaming Trump supporters. People were just following incentives. I think tsharf’s point is that incentives may have now shifted, thanks in large part to Trump’s unexpectedly successful election campaign, so that clickbait thinkpiece writers may be nudged away from focusing on identity politics to focusing on being more inclusive with economics.

        • The Nybbler says:

          But it’s not like a Sinister Central Committee handed down an order to clickbait thinkpiece writers to start concentrating on calling people racist/misogynist 3 years ago either.

          Are you sure? There was Journolist which ended in 2010, and GameJournoPros which ended in 2014 (and included some non-game journalists). There might well be or have been other such groups.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Are you sure? There was Journolist which ended in 2010,

            In what sense was Journolist a “Sinister Central Committee”

      • tscharf says:

        I agree to a certain extent, but most of the toxoplasma (ha ha) writers passionately care about winning an election. The power of social group think that enabled them to open both barrels on the electorate in a massive Olympic event of virtue signalling can also shut it down just as fast.

        It’s not going to disappear, as you say, because Trump rage is highly profitable for the media and everyone just loves a big dish of moral superiority. The definition of racism has been so diluted and is so confusing that people just assume they are racists now and never talk about it.

        I think there are two secret safes in NYC and SF where the current definition of racism is kept along with the secret speech codes one must use to prevent an accusation. These documents are viewed only by the Moral Illuminati in a secret ceremony that involves a sacrifice of a virgin pickup truck that plays country music. But maybe I’m just paranoid.

        • DrBeat says:

          I agree to a certain extent, but most of the toxoplasma (ha ha) writers passionately care about winning an election.

          No they don’t. They care about having ingroup status, getting emotional rewards, and punishing unpopular people. Nobody actually cares about winning anything if it conflicts with getting ingroup status and emotional rewards.

          The entire societal edifice of Popularity, which is utterly invincible and inassailable, has aligned itself in this way. It will be emotionally rewarding to do these things, so they will continue to do these things. They will not stop. And they will not be stopped.

          • hlynkacg says:

            They care about having ingroup status, getting emotional rewards, and punishing unpopular people. Nobody actually cares about winning anything if it conflicts with getting ingroup status and emotional rewards.

            If that is the case, they will almost certainly be out-competed (electorally) by those who do care about winning.

          • DrBeat says:

            Nobody cares about winning.

            And losing electorally doesn’t reduce the power they have from being The Popular People and controlling all our cultural institutions and re-purposing them to the task of “saying things that are emotionally satisfying to their controllers”.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            sorry Doctor Beat but I do think there is a portion of the Left who cares about winning

            and they will start warring with that side

            think about all the people in the Democratic Establishment reliant on donors, who won’t donate to a perpetually losing establishment. Now think about all the media people freaking out and getting blown away by Trump on the daily. Now think about all the people who actually care about certain issues. They will start cleaning out those who don’t care, believe me.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m gonna half agree and half disagree.

            With regard to the clickbait writers – not random people on the internet, but people who at least are getting paid, or even working for “exposure” – their incentive is profit. Eyes on page, advertising clicks, etc.

            They “win” by getting people to read it. It’s called clickbait for a reason. Doesn’t matter if someone reads it because they agree, because they’re neutral but curious, or because they’re hatereading it.

            It’s why the “liberal media” is doing a better job of spreading white nationalism than white nationalists do themselves: because giving a platform to a white nationalist means people will click, watch, whatever.

            Some people, of course, are driven by emotional incentives. White nationalist posters go up, lots of people share them on Twitter, so they can say “look how awful this poster is! I am the sort of person who finds this awful! I have good opinions, unlike these people, who have bad ones!” But then when the newspapers and news sites and TV shows start showing the poster, they’re doing that for the money.

        • tscharf says:

          Here is an example of a beat back of virulent identity politics on the left from Van Jones at Salon (DeVega is pretty close to a militant).

          http://www.salon.com/2016/12/06/van-jones-on-how-he-saw-hurricane-trump-coming-and-why-both-parties-suck-right-now/

          I was no fan of Van Jones (aka Mr Whitelash) but his recent Messy Truth series on CNN was actually very good where he sat down with Trump voters.

          Also Jon Stewart seems to be hinting at cooling down the rhetoric as well.
          http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jon-stewart-the-daily-show-former-host-election-2016-donald-trump-republicans/

          “I thought Donald Trump disqualified himself at numerous points. But there is now this idea that anyone who voted for him is — has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric,” Stewart said. “Like, there are guys in my neighborhood that I love, that I respect, that I think have incredible qualities who are not afraid of Mexicans, and not afraid of Muslims, and not afraid of blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums. In the liberal community, you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. Don’t look as Muslims as a monolith. They are the individuals and it would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country.”

  32. liskantope says:

    A question for anyone who knows something about dermatology, whether from the patient’s or the doctor’s point of view: what exactly are the risks and potential benefits of going on Accutane? It’s clear that (1) I can’t stay on antibiotics forever; (2) whenever I go off them my skin goes to hell; and (3) probably the only plan that dermatologists will suggest for me at this point is Accutane. But I’ve always really hated the idea of starting a treatment that is so heavy-duty that there’s a list a mile long of potential side-effects, some severe and permanent. A friend of a friend was admitted to the hospital at one point with what looked like symptoms of stomach cancer (or something other life-threatening stomach condition; I don’t remember what), only to find out that it was a symptom of Accutane. I also remember it being taken off the market a few years ago because of similar incidents. And yet, since then, I’ve had a dermatologist suggest it to me, saying that it gets a bad rap.

    From individual experience or knowledge of empirical data, what do you think? Are the actual risks less than what they appear?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I had a course of roaccutane (which from a cursory googling seems to be a brand name of the same thing) when I was in my, I think, late teens or early 20s, and it cleared up my acne with no noticeable side effects, but then again, maybe I just got lucky.

    • bja009 says:

      I had a course of Accutane at the age of 17, and did mild but permanent damage to my lower digestive tract. It improved my acne, but not by enough to justify the damage; I was certainly not cured. And the side effects during treatment were not pleasant. Notably, I had significant skin dryness and peeling, and I used an awful lot of Aquaphor.

      I suspect that the Accutane course had no long-term positive benefit for me. My skin is clearer today (12 years since the treatment), to the point that my acne is manageable with OTC benzoyl peroxide treatments, but my general impression is that for nearly all people, acne problems fade with age.

    • NatashaRostova says:

      The reality is you need to study the probability of side effects and making a choice. The reason they offer such a dangerous ‘cosmetic’ drug, is because severe acne really fucking sucks. It sucks so bad people kill themselves over it, have severe depression, and frankly it can materially lower your choice of high-value s/o.

      I took it at age 19 after the same realization as you (antibiotics long-term may have its own set of side effects e.g. gut bacteria). I did one relatively short course. It didn’t solve my acne outright, I still use vitamin A derivative creams and some antibiotic ointments, but it stopped all boils and nasty cystic acne.

      Actually — on that note — I’m assuming you’ve used drugs like Retin-A (vitamin A derivative face creams) to their full potential? If not, that is the logical next step, and they are useful and potent creams as well. They can take 3-6 months to start fully working, and come in varying potencies.

      If you can get your acne under control with a vit-A/Antibiotic derive cream, you can go off oral antibiotics, and can stay on those indefinitely. Having said that, if you have severe cystic acne you might want to just roll the dice and take Accutane.

      PS: For all the bad shit correlated with Accutane, the suicidal/depressive thoughts stuff has very very very little robust backing. It turns out people with severe acne who go on Accutane are more likely to kill themselves (shocking). Actually, I am not familiar with the literature, but I’ve heard second hand from people I respect that they have never done a robust randomized control. Which isn’t surprising. Suicide rates are so low that you would need a pretty huge n to get the statistical power to detect suicidal ideations with any significance. From what I understand they weren’t able to do that, but had to put suicide on anyway because: Teen Suicide. Don’t do it.

      • Dog says:

        I took a course of Accutane as a teenager. It mostly cured my acne for about 5 years, after which it started to wear off. It also seemingly permanently increased my propensity for nosebleeds. I became quite depressed around the time I took it, but I’m not willing attribute causality for the reasons mentioned above.

        NatashaRostova has covered some of the more common Accutane alternatives, but there are other less known options you may not have tried. Nicotinamide is safe for long term treatment and shouldn’t have any side effects. It’s available topically specifically for acne, but may work orally as well. Megadoses of pantothenic acid also seem to work very well for a subset of people, especially those with oily skin. Both of these are available as vitamins. I am not a doctor etc. etc., just bringing these to your attention. There seems to be a lot of interplay between the B vitamins and the condition of the skin, with some of them improving acne and some of them worsening it.

      • liskantope says:

        antibiotics long-term may have its own set of side effects e.g. gut bacteria

        Actually I’m not sure what you mean here: isn’t it probiotics that create an overload of gut bacteria? Or maybe you mean that in the long term, antibiotics kill off too much of the helpful gut bacteria.

        Unfortunately, after having been on and off many different treatments over the course of 15 years or so, I have neither a clear memory nor a clear record of everything I’ve tried and to what extent. I’m pretty sure I was using Retin-A at one point, but it may have been one of several topicals which seemed to irritate my face if anything rather than clear it up. So far, the only thing that has ever had a strikingly positive effect for my face has been oral antibiotics. But even that didn’t work the first time I tried (in high school), so I guess it doesn’t hurt to try some things again.

        • NatashaRostova says:

          >Or maybe you mean that in the long term, antibiotics kill off too much of the helpful gut bacteria.

          Yeah, kill off the helpful stuff. Research is still mapping this stuff out.

          Also I recommend you try a vitamin A derivative cream again (Retin-A). There are different concentrations and types. Yes, it might irritate your skin at first. You can ameliorate this by using a lower concentration %, and using it every other day. Over time, anecdotally, I hear bodies adjust and respond better.

          Their efficacy is high enough that it’s probably worth playing around/testing for at least 4-6 months before you give up — unless the side effects are untenable under any circumstances.

          Having said that, if you have tried it and others for 15 full years now, and still have what I assume is severe acne that is limiting your life in some way, Accutane might be the right move. These days they make you get weekly blood tests (or is it monthly? It might be monthly) to track important levels. It’s a personal choice though, since really related to risk preferences.

          • liskantope says:

            Thank you for your frank and useful input. I think the last I heard it was monthly blood tests (hopefully), not weekly.

            I will look into getting hold of vitamin A creams, which is certainly more feasible for me at the moment than going on a regimen of Accutane. Although both may be difficult given that I currently live in a country where most doctors don’t speak English (don’t know for sure that I’ll be here for many more months, though).

    • Joeleee says:

      Completely anecdotal personal experience, with a disclaimer that probabilities are potentially more helpful:

      I found Roaccutane to be something of a wonder drug. I was on it for a pretty reasonable length of time at age ~16-17. I had side effects of relatively severe muscle soreness, similar to doing a fairly tough workout, and pretty sever dryness. There were definite side effects, but the result was massive in terms of confidence boosting, and general happiness. I would do it again for sure.

      I think at the end of the day, you need to do your best to weigh up the potential costs in terms of side effects with how much you think being relatively acne-free would improve your life. Best of luck with whichever route you take 🙂

  33. liskantope says:

    Anyone up for starting a conversation on a different Black Mirror Season 3 episode each open thread? It was suggested several open threads ago, but apparently nothing came of it; doesn’t hurt to suggest it again, though. Mind you, I’m not sure I have time this week for any well-thought-out contribution, but nevertheless I’d enjoy reading some back-and-forth on it from SSC community members. (Or is it already happening in the invisible open threads? I haven’t been checking.)

  34. Stationary Feast says:

    Elsewhere on the Internet, there are people who’re into gematria. Posted without a link since most people here would rather cut off their right arms than visit the site I saw this at:

    Mr Derbyshire:

    A bunch of Trump supporters here in Israel have been bandying something else about that I think you’ll find amusing.

    First, do you know what a gematriah is? In the Hebrew language, each letter is assigned a numerical value; the first ten get 1-10, then the next nine go at jump of ten (thus 20-100), then the last three get 200, 300, and 400 respectively. This means that any Hebrew word has an easily calculable numerical value, called a gematriah, which the commentators sometimes exploit in noting relationships between different Biblical passages.

    Anyways, some overexcited people have been noting that Donald Trump, spelled in Hebrew, has the same gematriah as Moshiach Ben David, the Davidic Messiah. To which someone else (allegedly Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, but as he passed away several years ago, that’s probably not true) responded that Donald Trump (and Moshiach Ben David) both have the same gematriah as “chatzi mana falafel” — a half serving of falafel. So let’s all just calm down a little bit.

  35. Wander says:

    On the ideology of the very rich: which way do they swing? I know the stereotype seems to be something like Republican oil tycoons, but it seems like for every Koch there’s a Soros. Is there any good data about this stuff?

    • rlms says:

      I think it probably depends greatly on the source of wealth. Tech billionaires presumably hold similar beliefs to the general population of potential tech billionaires. It might be more interesting to speculate about “old money” types who have inherited most of their wealth.

  36. Doctor Mist says:

    I made a comment on “Contra Robinson” that attributed some of the disenchantment with public schools to the feeling that

    There was a time when part of what schools taught was the context and values and culture that we all share, and must share for our nation to endure. In today’s terms, these were conservative things, though at the time they were pretty universal.

    I’m curious whether this ship has already long sailed: Are there in fact still any values we all share?

    I try sometimes to come up with some normative statement such that (a) 99% of Americans believe it, (b) 99% of Americans believe that 99% of Americans believe it, and (c) some significantly smaller fraction of, say, Frenchmen or Saudis or Russians believe it. If 99% is too stringent, maybe reduce it to 90%.

    If there is no such statement, I would argue that the American experiment has failed. But I have not yet come up with one that convinces me. Is there even such a statement for the SSC commentariat?

    • Randy M says:

      99% is definitely too high; shoot for 80% maybe.
      Trouble is, values are not entirely compatible; there is conflict, and the distinctive character of a nation is in the sorting and working out of edge cases rather than the binary ranking of a trait as good or bad (save some fringe issues like “duty to sacrifice captives to the Sun God”)
      For example, you won’t probably see many fewer people saying “Americans should be free” or something than a century ago (some will be along shortly to prove me wrong, no doubt) but the agreement on trade-offs of freedom versus safety (in terms of regulations, terror or crime prevention) will be different, as well as freedom versus civility (say what you feel like or restrain yourself) or freedom versus duty (taxation, for example).

      In other words, I think we have probably changed overtime and diversified in what we think are the most important values and how we conceptualize these values, in ways that are not easy to express in simple statements.

    • rlms says:

      What percentage of Americans think that having the Pledge of Allegiance in schools is a relatively reasonable and normal thing to do? If that counts as a normative statement, and the percentage is high, then I think that counts. It certainly seems very odd from the UK.

      • Hircum Saeculorum says:

        Ramussen Reports claims “68% [of Americans] Think School Children Should Say Pledge of Allegiance Every Morning.” Article claims 95% confidence, 3-point margin of error. 7% of respondents not sure, 25% do not think it should be required. Published September 2013.

        Good on them, too.

        Out of curiosity, would you be in favor of a similar practice (daily recitation to country/flag/monarch) in the UK? How do you think your compatriots would feel about such a practice?

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Speaking as a British person, I would have, I expect, found it just one more annoying thing they made you do at school, that I would have resented at the time but not gotten too philosophical about, like playing rugby, or having daily religious assemblies. As an adult, though I would be profoundly weirded out by anyone now seeking to impose such a requirement on our children.

          I think, actually, that I did have to take part in a creepy recitation like that when I went to Beaver Scouts/Cub Scouts, though that was so long ago that I can’t even remember which of those two age ranges it was, and I can’t remember who we were pledging to – might have been God, might have been the Queen, might have been both, all I can remember is that I hated it, but that towards the end of my time there I won a game of dodgeball (the sort where the few adults try to throw the ball at the children, not the two-teams-of-roughly-equal-stature type) which was pretty much my only sporting achievement to date, which I find appropriate 🙂

          (I mean, say what you like about our monarch, but at least you can say what you like about our monarch, and anything looking like moving us even slightly in this direction would surely trip a lot of people’s creeping totalitarianism detectors)

        • rlms says:

          Disregarding the problems it would likely cause in Northern Ireland (and to a lesser extent Scotland), where people might not like showing respect to the flag of a union they want to leave, I would be against it (and I think most other people would be as well). I doubt that it would actually have many negative consequences, but it seems creepy.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Which pledge? The original one? Or the modified one?

        Maybe the original one, but adding “under God” made it divisive to anyone who takes the establishment clause to be sacrosanct (to be oxymoronic).

        • Evan Þ says:

          Meanwhile, I think I would personally refuse to say the pledge if “under God” were removed, for religious reasons.

          (N=1, but I suspect there’re a lot more like me.)

          • shakeddown says:

            Why? Do you not believe in loyalty to a country independent of religion? Is it something about swearing in someone else’s name?

          • gbdub says:

            “Under God” makes it explicit that your allegiance to the U.S. of A is not your highest allegiance, which could be important to religious people.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I have a feeling that if the pledge had never had the words added, mostly no one would say boo about it. I think this is motivated reasoning.

            Obviously, I can’t prove the counter-factual. But the idea was only really formulated post WWII, it’s not as if this was a burning concern for the ~50 years of the pledge.

            It is interesting, given that JFK had to make a point about where his allegiances lay, that the Knights of Columbus were the second organization to adopt that wording.

          • Randy M says:

            But the idea was only really formulated post WWII, it’s not as if this was a burning concern for the ~50 years of the pledge.

            You mean during the two world wars? Seems reasonable, if not entirely justifiable, for them to emphasize the country as the highest allegiance during the largest struggle between countries.

            Later, seeing the aftermath of WWII and the communist governments, a new emphasis was placed on subordinating the government to higher principles or powers (which was already a very dominant strain of American political thought, perhaps one of the unifying themes that Doctor Mist is looking for).

          • Evan Þ says:

            @shakedown, yes, what gbdub said.  I don’t think I can in good conscience pledge my unqualified allegiance to anything on earth, be it the USA or anything else. And logically speaking, a pledge of allegiance without any explicit saving clauses like “under God” is a pledge of unqualified allegiance.

            On the other hand, many Christians through the millennia have pledged loyalty to monarchs or other leaders without such explicit saving clauses, so it’s definitely possible that I’m missing something.  (For that matter, Francis Bellamy, who wrote the original Pledge without “under God,” was a Christian himself.) If the phrase ever looks seriously in danger of being removed, I’ll probably study their reasoning about the issue.

          • shakeddown says:

            Even if we disregard religion, isn’t it implicit that pledging your loyalty comes with caveats? No one’s going to put their country above, say, their immediate family in a clear dispute.

          • Randy M says:

            isn’t it implicit that pledging your loyalty comes with caveats?

            Hard to say what is understood implicitly, given we have so few comparisons (modern day) for pledging allegiance. Being non-military and not having testified before a court, I’ve made one other vow, at my wedding. I’m not sure if there is conflict here, but in any event the state did approve of the wedding, so I think I did due diligence.

            Hard to say what the words actually obligate one to. Is it obedience? Obviously a flag can give no orders, but the government of “the republic for which it stands” can do so, lawfully, unlawfully, or ambiguously. Did I, for instance, violate this oath when speeding? Well, luckily I’ve made no such vow to the state of California, so my honor is safe there…

            Explicitly, “Under God” is clearly intended as a caveat. Is “with liberty and justice for all” also such a caveat? If the nation does not provide liberty and justice, is the oath then nullified?

            Once one is no longer swearing fealty to a specific person, the concept is rather muddled.

          • Evan Þ says:

            No one’s going to put their country above, say, their immediate family in a clear dispute.

            In a lot of cases, we expect exactly that… otherwise, we’re opening the door to all kinds of nepotism and corruption, and at worst, the anti-Federalist propaganda saying that President Adams was obviously going to hand the office down to his son John Quincy.

          • smocc says:

            I feel weird about saying the pledge for religious reasons with or without the “under God” bit. The notion of swearing allegiance to something besides God is uncomfortable, as is performing religious-ish rituals towards something that is not God. Even standing in silence for the flag feels vaguely idolatrous to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @RandyM:
            The pledge was first formulated in 1896, so I don’t think WWI is really the reference point.

            And post WWII adding God was, I always understood, a reaction to “Godless Communists” which were the bugaboo of the time. People wanted a litmus test against “card carrying” communists.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            @smocc

            >Even standing in silence for the flag feels vaguely idolatrous to me

            It is called a civil religion for a reason. If you want to press further, you can even have examples straight from the origin mythology of Christianity: Christians would not accept certain parts of the Roman civil religion over their Christian concept of God and deity.

            Curiously enough, it’s also an argument I’ve seen wielded by anti-immigration folks, that the certain religious elements will not accept the local civic and legal traditions (the local civil religion, if you will) over their own religious teachings.

          • I interpret “under God” as describing the nation, not modifying the allegiance. The U.S. is being described as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Yeah, David Friedman’s take is pretty much what I interpret it as well. It’s the difference between “I pledge allegiance to the USA, which is a country in a universe presided over by a god” and “I pledge allegiance to the USA, which is a country. I am not stating any position vis-a-vis any gods”.

            If you’d be uncomfortable with the second version, I think you ought to be uncomfortable with the first version too. And of course, if the USA turns out to have a large number of people who would refuse to say the pledge as currently formulated *and* a large number of people who would refuse to say the original formulation without reference to any gods, then doing away with it would surely be the simplest solution.

            Unless you’re willing to entertain an awkward kludge, like “Subject to my right to reserve an overriding allegiance to such god or gods as I see fit, I pledge allegiance to …”

      • hlynkacg says:

        Hard to say what “percentage” but anecdotally I don’t think it’s unreasonable and most of the people I know seem to view it as perfectly normal. I understand some people getting hung up on the “under god” bit of the old pledge but that strikes me as a minor quibble overall.

    • Hircum Saeculorum says:

      99% is way too high a threshold, I think. That said, I think that the vast majority of Americans would not explicitly disavow shibboleths (and I use the word in the kindest, most affectionate, most positive possible way) like “democracy,” “separation of church and state,” or “individual liberty.”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Ah, but Liberty as in that stupid, silly old sense of freedom from external interference in the exercise of one’s will in pursuit of one’s self-chosen goals…

        …Or the new, much BETTER Liberty, the Liberty to pursue more goals more effectively, granted to you by the redistribution of wealth and other assets by the government?

        To say nothing of establishing the constitution as a living, breathing document, its meaning forever in flux, shaped by the needs and views of a vibrant, changing society…

        I’m sure you could get a supermajority of Americans to say they believed that America was all about Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness, but that glosses over the fact that at this point there are philosophical rifts on each and every one of those terms running right down the middle of our polity.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But “no one” is going to dispute that we are held together as one people by our constitution. It captures something essential about America.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, yeah, the fact that it is a single coherent political entity.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not just any coherent political entity.

            We are the oldest extant democracy, with a guarantee of individual rights for our citizens. Our Declaration of Independence asserts that “all [men] are created equal”. The Constitution recognizes itself as an imperfect attempt to achieve in reality what we assume of our creation, and serves as a record both of how imperfect that creation was, and our attempts to perfect it.

            An America without democracy and individual rights for all is not the America we are bound together in today.

          • Salem says:

            We are the oldest extant democracy

            No, that’s either the UK, or New Zealand, depending on how you define your terms.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I understood the “with a guarantee of individual rights for our citizens” bit to be part of it – i.e. any older democracies did not acquire an explicit Bill of Rights equivalent until after the USA did. But I’m not sure if that’s the case.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            LEADING EDIT: I want to make it clear I’m not trying to attack you or calling -you- “UnAmerican” as an insult, HBC. But I think that the dissonance between your views of what the Constitution says and means as a fundamentally “American” document, and my own are very illustrative of what Mist is getting at. There’s a pretty big conflict there.

            See, that’s just it, HBC, what you just said?

            “Our Declaration of Independence asserts that “all [men] are created equal”. The Constitution recognizes itself as an imperfect attempt to achieve in reality what we assume of our creation, and serves as a record both of how imperfect that creation was, and our attempts to perfect it.”

            I would characterize that as a fundamentally UN-American reading of our Constitution and our foundational mythology. That’s the European (and especially French) tradition speaking, to my mind: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”.

            Whereas the American version is much less concerned with perfecting/achieving equality, but rather with protecting the unalienable rights granted by “nature and nature’s god”.

            To be clear, I am not saying that it is necessarily evil or wrong. It does, I think, illustrate that there has been a fundamental shift in the definition of what American Political/Cultural Values are.

            And that there are fundamental differences that are eventually going to need to be addressed one way or another. Whether or not they are reconcilable remains to be seen.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko:

            To me it seems like you are agreeing with this part:

            Not just any coherent political entity.

            We are the oldest extant democracy, with a guarantee of individual rights for our citizens.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            Still trying to put together my thoughts, I’ll try to reply after work. Short version, I think my emphasis is less on the democracy (American democracy isn’t really THAT different from english parliamentarianism pre 1776) and more on the philosophical approach to rights.

          • Salem says:

            The US Bill of Rights is so named by reference to the 1689 English Bill of Rights, and many of its terms are lifted straight from it. Again, not the first.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Thank you, Salem, you made my response to HBC easier. Because the 1689 Bill Of Rights in fact is rather strikingly different from the American Bill of Rights. I won’t contest that the American documents weren’t an amazing unicorn descending out of a clear blue sky on a rainbow road, unprecedented in human thought.

            But neither were they “Avé! Bossa Nova! Similis Bossa Seneca!”

            To start with, it explicitly states that it authority comes from God, through his instrument the Prince of Orange, then to the “Lords Spiritual and Temporal” and to those representatives of groups that the Prince of Orange saw fit to invite to send a representative to the Commons. The origins and derivation of the rights that follow are not enumerated beyond being “ancient” (old, therefore traditional, therefore good).

            I don’t think I really need to lay out how this differs from the US constitution’s preamble that HBC quoted above, or the statement about the origin and nature of natural rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

            So let’s compare and contrast:

            Speech, 1689 England: The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament

            Speech: 1789 USA: Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;

            Arms, 1689 England: The subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.

            Arms, 1789 USA: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

            The US versions, while they obviously identify some of the same areas of concern, are much more sweeping in their scope of both the people who have the rights AND in the way they constrain the powers of the state.

            And that has carried through in the philosophical approaches. Compare judicial review (or the lack thereof) in the UK and US prior to the formation of the EU.

          • Salem says:

            “The U.S. is the world’s oldest democracy.”

            Nope.

            “What I meant was, the U.S. is the oldest democracy with an explicit Bill of Rights.”

            Nope.

            “But the U.S. Bill of Rights is wider in scope in some respects than the English Bill of Rights, plus some stuff about the Declaration of Independence and preamble to the Constitution which are not part of the Bill of Rights.”

            Errr… sure I guess?

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I understood the “with a guarantee of individual rights for our citizens” bit to be part of it – i.e. any older democracies did not acquire an explicit Bill of Rights equivalent until after the USA did.

          Ahem.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t know about 99%, but you’d probably get significantly higher agreement with the statement “It shouldn’t be a crime to wear a cross or headscarf in public” in the US than in France or Saudi Arabia. Not sure about Russia.

    • shakeddown says:

      If there is no such statement, I would argue that the American experiment has failed.

      I wouldn’t say that – a lot of American values, like personal freedom, relatively restricted government, and individualism are no longer uniquely american in large part because America did a great job convincing other countries they were a good idea. In a hypothetical world where we went from 100% of Americans believing in democracy (and 0% of everyone else) in 1776 to 80% of americans and 80% of everyone else believing in it now, the american experiment has won.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      The entire point of the “American experiment” was how to permanently join very different cultures & ideals (e.g. Quakers versus aristocratic slave owners) into a mutual defense & economic federation.

      The only time “shared” values have captured 80%-90%+ of the population is during war (and possibly only during WW2).

      The similarities in polls such as this are good enough for me:
      1) http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/section-3-political-polarization-and-personal-life/
      2) http://www.gallup.com/poll/159881/americans-call-term-limits-end-electoral-college.aspx

  37. Sandy says:

    So I wanted to compare Trump’s cabinet picks so far to Obama’s original cabinet, to see how closely it hews to Scott’s predictions.

    “Chief Strategist/Counselor to the President” – Not a real Cabinet position but one various Presidents have made up anyway

    Obama: Pete Rouse (white man)
    Trump: Steve Bannon (white man)

    Chief of Staff

    Obama: Rahm Emanuel (white man)
    Trump: Reince Priebus (white man)

    Attorney General

    Obama: Eric Holder (black man)
    Trump: Jeff Sessions (white man)

    Director of the CIA – Seems to be a Cabinet position now under Trump, so I’ll include it

    Obama: Leon Panetta (white man)
    Trump: Mike Pompeo (white man)

    National Security Adviser

    Obama: James Jones (white man)
    Trump: Michael Flynn (white man)

    Deputy National Security Adviser

    Obama: Tom Denilon (white man)
    Trump: KT McFarland (white woman)

    White House Counsel – again, sort of a pseudo-Cabinet position depending on the President

    Obama: Greg Craig (white man)
    Trump: Donald McGahn (white man)

    Ambassador to the UN

    Obama: Susan Rice (black woman)
    Trump: Nikki Haley (Indian woman)

    Secretary of Education

    Obama: Arne Duncan (white man)
    Trump: Betsy DeVos (white woman)

    Secretary of Transportation

    Obama: Ray LaHood (Arab man)
    Trump: Elaine Chao (Chinese woman)

    Secretary of the Treasury

    Obama: Tim Geithner (white man)
    Trump: Steven Mnuchin (white man)

    Secretary of Commerce

    Obama: Gary Locke (Chinese man)
    Trump: Wilbur Ross (white man)

    Secretary of Defense

    Obama: Robert Gates (stayed on from Bush appointment, followed by Panetta) (white man)
    Trump: Jim Mattis (white man by day, lycanthrope scourge by night)

    Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

    Obama: Shaun Donovan (white man)
    Trump: Ben Carson (black man)

    Secretary of Health and Human Services

    Obama: Kathleen Sebelius (white woman) – Obama’s first choice was Tom Daschle, a white man, but that nomination failed
    Trump: Tom Price (white man)

    Trump’s Cabinet is still incomplete, but I’m just going off these sets for now. From these sets, Obama nominated two women (13.33%) to these fifteen positions (Rice and Sebelius). Trump has nominated four women (26.67%) so far (McFarland, Haley, Chao and DeVos). Obama nominated four minorities (26.67%) to these positions (Rice, LaHood, Holder and Locke). Trump has appointed three minorities (20%) so far (Haley, Chao and Carson).

    Again, this is still an incomplete list and Obama appointed women to several other high-profile roles, like Hillary to the State Department and Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security, but right now there isn’t a huge gulf in diversity between Trump’s picks and Obama’s picks. That could change quickly depending on the remainder of Trump’s picks, but I’m not sure anyone really knows whom Trump is going to settle on.

    • hlynkacg says:

      It should be noted that Jim Mattis identifies as “canine” rather than “white”. 😉

    • Incurian says:

      Ashton Carter?

    • Bryant says:

      Yeah, it’s a big incomplete. Consider the rest of the Cabinet positions:

      State: Clinton (woman)
      Interior: Salazar (Latino)
      Agriculture: Vilsack (white male)
      Labor: Solis (woman)
      Transportation: LaHood (Arab)
      Energy: Chu (Asian)
      Veteran’s Affairs: Shinseki (Asian)
      Homeland Security: Napolitano (woman)

      The accurate statement is “Obama appointed women and minorities to all but one of the Cabinet positions Trump has yet to nominate people for.”

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m glad we’re all focused on their most important qualifications.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        This. I despise race/gender bean-counting to determine whether or not someone has shown Sufficient Respect to Marginalized Groups. I don’t consider someone’s genitalia or general level of melanin to be qualifications for office.

  38. dave35 says:

    Has anyone else seen the Canadian government’s electoral reform survey at MyDemocracy.ca? It’s so bad that it belongs in a textbook of how not to write survey questions. Play around with it if you dare (but please don’t finish it if you’re not Canadian).

    Also check out the hashtag #rejectedERQs for some absurdity.

    My favorite example:

    Voters should be able to express multiple preferences on the ballot, even if this means that it takes longer to count the ballots and announce the election result.

    Is this really the concern people have about ranked ballots?

    Meanwhile there’s no mention of actual voting systems or their specific effects, and instead some weird leading questions about how coalitions work in countries with more parties.

    And then it tells you a sort of “democratic reform personality type” kind of thing at the end. Weird.

    And I’m not even that supportive of electoral reform necessarily. But a government survey designed to color people’s perceptions of alternative voting systems is not a good way to start.

  39. bean says:

    I have a theory to explain a lot of the liberal “I’m in fear for my life now that Trump has won” pieces floating around, and why we didn’t see nearly as many of them 4 years ago.
    Basically, liberals are more invested in government that conservatives. The sort of conservative who thought that Hillary’s election would bring the apocalypse is skeptical of the government at the best of times. Yes, Hillary’s election would make it much worse, but it’s not hyper-competent, so even she can’t do too much damage. Also, they have lots of guns, and they’re secretly a bit excited about being part of the Second American Revolution. And even if everyone in the country turns against them, they’re able to go out fighting.
    A liberal who is going to read the apocalypse in Trump’s election is in a rather different place. They’re philosophically more likely to think of the government as powerful and effective, and they’ve spent the last 8 years thinking that the government is their friend. Now, that’s changed, and they don’t have individualism to fall back on. They can’t go clean their guns, because they don’t have guns. If government is the bulwark against right-wing tyranny, then when the government apparently stops, they’re thrown back on the same drives that turn people into survivalists. But they’re unable to be survivalists, so they just freeze up in fear.
    I think this ties in to Scott’s Thrive/Survive Theory. Liberals are currently trying to figure out how to operate in survival mode, but their basic philosophy is very poorly suited to it. So we get articles about how they’re afraid for their lives. To be honest, every time I read one, I sort of wonder why they don’t just go buy a gun. But I think that marks me as incurably conservative. (No, I don’t own a gun. I live in California, which makes them hard to get, and I don’t think the end of the world is near.)

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      With regards to the “if you’re so scared why not buy a gun?” suggestion, I think part of the reluctance comes down to a difference in expectations. You could call it personal responsibility versus civic responsibility.

      It’s very common to hear people say “well I shouldn’t have to do that!” in response to safety advice. Yes, people shouldn’t have to lock their doors or not drink to excess or carry a lethal weapon. Conservatives and liberals agree that it would be a better world if those things were unnecessary. But they differ when it comes to how they respond to that.

      Conservatives, in the US anyway, will generally take an individualist approach. You can’t fit a policeman in your pocket. If there are thugs (fascist or otherwise) lurking about then you need to be ready to face them.

      Liberals will generally take a collectivist approach. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. If everyone disarmed (or was disarmed) then the so-called cycle of violence would stop.

      So I can see why they’re reluctant to arm themselves. It contradicts their worldview if the only viable solution is to deal with problems one-at-a-time on a personal scale. Better to reach out to an even bigger community, such as the international community, than to shoulder the burden themselves.

      • bean says:

        I can understand that intellectually, although it seems very odd on an instinctual level.
        But I think the individual/collective aspect explains a lot of things. The attitude towards campus sexual assault springs most prominently to mind. If you’re a collectivist, then someone drinking to excess should be protected from consequences. An individualist would say that they should avoid doing the thing that causes the problem in the first place, even though it’s obviously terrible that it happened.
        This goes further, though. An individualist is going to view government as something you only deploy to deal with problems which you can’t deal with on an individual level (defense is the best example), while a collectivist is going to try government first, and only rely on other mechanisms when that doesn’t work. This also explains a lot of various attitudes on national security.
        Libertarians seem like extreme individualists under this model, which explains why they seem to have found their general home in the GOP, and why the Democrats seem unable to court them.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          If you’re a collectivist, then someone drinking to excess should be protected from consequences. An individualist would say that they should avoid doing the thing that causes the problem in the first place, even though it’s obviously terrible that it happened.

          (Bolded for emphasis.)

          I think this is actually a useful illustration of the difference.

          I’m fairly sure a lot of people on the left would take issue with that phrasing because in their view what caused the problem is environmental. Rape culture, in this case.

          Your phrasing makes perfect sense when you see the world from the perspective where consequences are determined primarily by your own actions. It makes no sense if you see it from a perspective where consequences are determined primarily by the environment around you.

          • bean says:

            I’m fairly sure a lot of people on the left would take issue with that phrasing because in their view what caused the problem is environmental. Rape culture, in this case.

            To me, that seems like a particularly perverse form of reasoning. Yes, environment obviously plays a part in such things. But environment is hard to change, and largely external to a given person. You chose to put yourself in a place where you were vulnerable to “Rape Culture”. Nobody made you go there.

            It makes no sense if you see it from a perspective where consequences are determined primarily by the environment around you.

            Sort of. Let’s say that you decide to go swimming in shark-infested waters in only a bathing suit while carrying a large sack of fish guts. Are the consequences determined by the environment or your choices? Well, both. If you went swimming with the fish guts in a pool, the consequences would be very different. If you wore chain mail and/or left the fish guts at home when in shark-infested waters, then the consequences would also be different. But there are choices involved all the way down.
            To accept that it’s the fault of rape culture, and the victim is totally blameless seems to require that there is no choice but to go to the party and drink to excess. I’m not sure why or how someone could think that way.
            (Just to be clear, I’m not being libertarian here. If there are cheap ways to fix the environment, then by all means use them. If there’s the potential for serious harm to others, then maybe regulation is necessary. But this kind of thing seems like a maximally clear case of direct harm only to the self and a very tough environment to change.)

            (This is a really interesting experience, actually. My model of the liberal mind isn’t as good as I thought it was. I would have sworn that this was an error nobody could actually fall into.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            This isn’t really a fair comparison – it is probable that some % (people differ on what they believe that % is) of prospective rapists could be convinced or otherwise induced not to commit rape, informed that what they do not consider to be rape is in fact rape, etc, regardless of how easy a target. They, being humans (and thus having moral agency) can be held responsible for their acts.

            In comparison, no % of sharks can be led to not behave as sharks do, and sharks are not morally culpable for behaving as sharks do.

          • lvlln says:

            bean, in your analogy, you compare going swimming with sharks & fish guts with going to a party and drinking in excess. But that’s the wrong comparison when it comes to rape culture. The proper comparison is to being born. That’s because the whole point of rape culture is that it’s unavoidable in our society, and no action you take or don’t take can possibly let you avoid it. That’s why so many proponents of the concept cite examples of rape happening in non-stereotypical circumstances.

          • bean says:

            @dndnrsn

            This isn’t really a fair comparison – it is probable that some % (people differ on what they believe that % is) of prospective rapists could be convinced or otherwise induced not to commit rape, informed that what they do not consider to be rape is in fact rape, etc, regardless of how easy a target. They, being humans (and thus having moral agency) can be held responsible for their acts.

            Sort of. Leaving aside the object-level issues (does drunken consent count?), it still seems very odd to me to focus entirely on one end of the equation when we can probably gain more from the other end, at least in the short term. Yes, the rapists have agency, but so does the victim, and she can take actions which reduce the risk.

            @lvlln

            bean, in your analogy, you compare going swimming with sharks & fish guts with going to a party and drinking in excess. But that’s the wrong comparison when it comes to rape culture. The proper comparison is to being born. That’s because the whole point of rape culture is that it’s unavoidable in our society, and no action you take or don’t take can possibly let you avoid it.

            Yes, there is some chance of being raped that you get just from being born, and which cannot be avoided no matter what degree of care you use. I’ll even grant that there’s a further degree of risk which you can’t avoid without extreme and excessive care (never going out at night, maybe). But you’re trying to use that to rebut the point that there are things you can do which greatly increase your chance of rape. I’m genuinely having trouble believing that you believe that. And to get me to even think about believing it, provide a study showing that binge drinking is not correlated with chance of this kind of rape in college.

            That’s why so many proponents of the concept cite examples of rape happening in non-stereotypical circumstances.

            Classic motte and bailey.

          • Randy M says:

            @lvlln
            Strikes me as rather overwrought. The problem with “rape culture” is that it heightens the odds of being raped. Rapes are specific actions, and even if one were to grant that our culture essentially has everyone swimming with the sharks, there are still tangible actions that can be done to lessen this risk.

            It’s like you are saying “You tell people to be careful with matches because they could start a fire–we live in a combustible atmosphere! Oxygen is literally unavoidable!” Yeah, sure, but that doesn’t mean fire risk cannot be mitigated.

          • lvlln says:

            Yes, there is some chance of being raped that you get just from being born, and which cannot be avoided no matter what degree of care you use. I’ll even grant that there’s a further degree of risk which you can’t avoid without extreme and excessive care (never going out at night, maybe). But you’re trying to use that to rebut the point that there are things you can do which greatly increase your chance of rape. I’m genuinely having trouble believing that you believe that. And to get me to believe it, provide a study showing that binge drinking is not correlated with chance of this kind of rape in college.

            Well yes, that’d be a reasonable way to look at it, by empirically inspecting the way one’s behavior affects one’s probabilities of being victimized by certain crimes, and encouraging avoidance of behaviors that have been shown to increase the probability by too much or above a certain threshold.

            But that’s all rejected by the rape culture narrative & concept. The idea is that, merely by being born into our current society, you are already being exposed to unreasonable risk of being raped, and any behavior you engage in will only push the needle from UNREASONABLY HIGH to SLIGHTLY MORE/LESS UNREASONABLY HIGH BUT STILL UNREASONABLY HIGH.

            You might scoff and say that such a belief is easily refuted by empirical evidence. Unfortunately, proponents of the idea of rape culture also tend to reject empirical evidence as being a useful way of discovering things that are true about the world.

          • lvlln says:

            RandyM:

            Strikes me as rather overwrought. The problem with “rape culture” is that it heightens the odds of being raped. Rapes are specific actions, and even if one were to grant that our culture essentially has everyone swimming with the sharks, there are still tangible actions that can be done to lessen this risk.

            It’s like you are saying “You tell people to be careful with matches because they could start a fire–we live in a combustible atmosphere! Oxygen is literally unavoidable!” Yeah, sure, but that doesn’t mean fire risk cannot be mitigated.

            Sure, but what if you model behavioral advice as zero-sum? That is, every ounce of effort taken to tell people to protect themselves against sharks is an ounce of effort that actively fights any efforts to just take the sharks away? This is why the whole “don’t teach women to protect themselves, teach men not to rape” slogan is repeated so often. There is a genuine belief that doing the former counteracts doing the latter. And there’s the belief that a world where the latter advice wins out is both more desirable and just as achievable as the world where the former advice does.

            Whether those beliefs are justified… well, regardless, they unfortunately don’t seem open to being changed by empirical evidence.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean:

            However, “there are things you can do to protect yourself against criminals, who nevertheless bear the entire criminal and moral guilt of their decision to commit a criminal and immoral act against you” is a different statement from “there are things you can do to protect yourself against forces of nature”. Rapists aren’t sharks, burglars aren’t avalanches, hit-and-run drivers aren’t sinkholes, etc.

            Now, the focus on one end of it makes more sense if you take a few things into account about the people putting forward the idea you are disagreeing with here. First, there is concern for the psychological well-being of those who have already been victimized. “You could have kept this from happening to you!” is something that victims of crimes of all sorts will put on themselves – it makes it worse to have others putting that message on them. I do not know how you could balance spreading information about how to avoid predators (see below) with minimizing the psychological damage to victims.

            Second, a lot of the “this is how you protect yourself” messages are spreading information that is not even correct. How someone dresses, for instance, does not seem to affect the risk. So, a lot of the messages make life worse for victims, without even making anyone safer.

            Third, a lot of the people who are against attempts to affect the behaviour of anyone except predators tend to have a very nurture-heavy mindset: they believe that it is possible to teach all people who might do something wrong – in this case, rape – not to do it. Further, an unspoken assumption – I can’t remember who I saw posit this – is that something bad can only happen if it is in some way allowed or enabled by wider culture.

            (For what it’s worth, I agree with them on the first two points – the first especially is an awful dilemma – but disagree with them on the third point. I think there’s evidence ranging from suggestive to compelling that a large % of violent crime, theft, etc are committed by a small % of people who don’t care they are harming others, or enjoy harming others. That is not to say there is no value in teaching about consent, changing sexual culture to value consent, etc – there are some people doing bad things or who might do bad things who can be taught not to, and with regard to sexual assault changing the culture will make it harder for predators to get away with it – but there are always going to be some people who are, for lack of a better word, evil, and the rest of us need to protect ourselves against them. I further don’t think that something needs to be openly or tacitly accepted by society to happen – and think that’s a downright strange belief to hold.)

          • Randy M says:

            If I can correctly paraphrase dndnrsn as saying something like “advice to potential victims is valuable iff it is tactful and factual” I can definitely agree.

          • bean says:

            @lvlln
            I apologize for misreading you as advocating for the “Rape Culture” view, instead of trying to explain it. We’re in agreement on this.

            @dndnrsn

            Rapists aren’t sharks, burglars aren’t avalanches, hit-and-run drivers aren’t sinkholes, etc.

            I picked sharks intentionally, because I was specifically talking about date rape after binge drinking, not all rapes. It’s a specific environment with a specific set of risks.

            First, there is concern for the psychological well-being of those who have already been victimized.

            I could respect this if it felt like they were thinking in a vaguely utilitarian manner, and not using it as a weapon. “I agree that what you are saying is true, but feel we should not publicize it because…” is a reasonable stance. Screaming “Victim-blaming!” isn’t.
            (I’m actually at least a bit sympathetic to this point. Almost any bad thing can be in some way blamed on the participants, but nobody is perfect. At the same time, this fact shouldn’t be used to shut down the giving of advice.)

            Second, a lot of the “this is how you protect yourself” messages are spreading information that is not even correct. How someone dresses, for instance, does not seem to affect the risk. So, a lot of the messages make life worse for victims, without even making anyone safer.

            True in some contexts, totally irrelevant in the one I brought up. “You will not get raped while very drunk if you do not get very drunk” is 100% true, and has a more than tautological meaning.

            Third, a lot of the people who are against attempts to affect the behaviour of anyone except predators tend to have a very nurture-heavy mindset

            Strongly in disagreement with this. Some predators will always exist (I know you agree on this), but it doesn’t explain why they don’t attempt to attack the problem from both ends, unless they expect their solution to be totally effective very soon. (Or they just want social power).

            Further, an unspoken assumption – I can’t remember who I saw posit this – is that something bad can only happen if it is in some way allowed or enabled by wider culture.

            Hmm….
            This actually ties in with my OP quite well. But, as you agree, it’s a very weird position to hold.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I remember a few years back, some people announced that they’d invented a kind of nail varnish that changed colour when it came into contact with common date-rape drugs. The idea was that a girl at a party who wanted to check if her drink had been spiked could find out simply by discretely dipping a finger into it. One of my friends on Facebook shared the article with the comment “Oh no, another way for society to victim-blame victims of rape 🙁 🙁 :(”

            Which I thought was a totally bizarre thing to say. I mean, how could anybody possibly think that making it easier to identify rapists is a bad thing? About the only explanation I can think of is that she thinks that, no matter what a woman does, her actions make zero difference to her chances of being raped, and that pretending otherwise is just going to make rape victims feel guilty unnecessarily. This seems like a rather ridiculous belief to me, but then I suppose ridiculousness isn’t necessarily a barrier to an idea’s becoming widely held.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Well with the nail polish, there is a real reasonable concern buried under there.

            Date rape drugs are actually pretty rare out in the wild and for good reason. If a girl is drunk or rolling on molly already then adding extremely illegal and incriminating roofies on top of that doesn’t seem wise. Not that rapists are paragons of wisdom that is.

            So it’s a product that’s probably not terribly helpful and simultaneously gives the user a false sense of safety (“all ten of these shots have been drug-free! Yay!”).

            It also reminds me of the Rape aXe. It’s not anywhere near as insane a concept, but they both seem to require a similar level of deliberate planning to be raped that’s absent from carrying a pistol in your purse. When you’re applying your anti-roofie nail polish I’d imagine that would raise some serious mental questions about how fun your night is really going to be.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s a difference in opinion on what one’s considerations should be when dealing with moral actors (that is, people rather than sharks or inanimate objects) who violate their own responsibilities.

            One view is that you have some obligation to protect yourself from the consequences of such actions. Another is you have no such obligation and it’s an unreasonable burden on you to ever do so. A third (fortunately not very popular) is that you _always_ have such obligation and if you miss any possible precaution you have the blame. The last is sometimes used situationally in an attempt to fix blame somewhere it doesn’t belong. (it’s also a comedic trope)

            For a less charged example than rape, car theft is an example. If you leave your car with the keys in the ignition, unguarded, on a city street, and someone takes it, most people would assign you some responsibility. This adds to that of the car thief, who is not any less responsible as a result. But if it is stolen while legally parked and locked on a city street, most people would not assign you responsibility.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @llvn:

            This is why the whole “don’t teach women to protect themselves, teach men not to rape” slogan is repeated so often. There is a genuine belief that doing the former counteracts doing the latter. And there’s the belief that a world where the latter advice wins out is both more desirable and just as achievable as the world where the former advice does.

            If it were this rational, one could have reasoned arguments about it. Even supposing it’s zero sum, you reach diminishing returns along either path (teaching women to protect themselves, or convincing men not to rape… I deliberately do not say ‘teaching’ because I’m including things like ‘threaten to jail them if they do’). So at some point you’ll reach an optimum where the least rape for a given effort is achieved through a combination of deterring rapists from even trying and women protecting themselves from the remainder. But that line of thinking is similarly verboten. Instead, we’re supposed to spend an unlimited amount of effort (and collateral damage, as long as it falls on men) deterring rapists, and none teaching women to protect themselves.

          • lvlln says:

            @The Nybbler

            I think the issue is that their goal isn’t maximizing reduction in rape per unit effort. If that were the case, your reasoning seems sound, and they would indeed be open to finding the optimal balance of methods.

            Their goal is to create a world in which all people everywhere are taught not to rape in all places and circumstances. A nice vision, perhaps, if we ignore the logistics of creating and maintaining such a world. But, as they say, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M: I don’t know what I think, to tell you the truth. It’s a really complicated set of problems, and if there was some easy solution, I don’t think a noted internet random such as myself would be the first one to figure it out.

            That said, I think that an obvious problem – easy to notice, hard to fix – is that the “popular sexual culture” today is messed up in ways that result in people thinking what is wrong is not, result in situations where there is not mens rea but there’s still a victim who ends up traumatized, and provides smokescreens for the small % of predators who know exactly what they’re doing and who seem to commit a large % of rapes.

            There’s a disastrous mix of promiscuity and prudishness – I know people who have casual sex with near strangers, but don’t like talking about sex, think that affirmative consent is weird/awkward, and are not comfortable enough with what they’re doing that they don’t need to anesthetize themselves with alcohol first. It’s a worst-of-both-worlds situation, and it is a perfect hunting ground for serial rapists.

            @bean:

            Well, it comes down to worldviews. Most people aren’t utilitarians. Additionally, the sort of people who are really strongly pushing that the focus be entirely on perpetrators tend to be both very strong believers in nurture over nature, and believers in the concept that things only happen because society, in one way or another, lets them. As lvlln has pointed out, they also view prevention as a zero-sum game, or so it would appear.

            I suppose I agree far more with the stereotypical “campus-type left wing activist” sorts on the object level far more than the meta level. I think that they’re ultimately right more often than their opponents, but their worldview seems profoundly off to me. And, when I disagree with them on the object level, it seems to me to be because their understanding of the world is wrong in some basic way, due to their worldview.

          • Randy M says:

            the “popular sexual culture” today is messed up

            It’s a conflux of instinct, reason, and myriad contradictory social norms running head first into each other.

            Which isn’t to say it’s impossible to give good advice to individuals.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M:

            It’s very, very hard to give people advice that runs counter to the general culture, though. Which is an argument for at least trying to change the culture.

          • Randy M says:

            What, you can’t convince one person so you expect to convince most people? How does that work?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Same way the Change Bank does: volume.

            Seriously though, I can see it working for the same reason the Prisoner’s Dilemma might go better if both prisoners can communicate. If everyone is informed that everyone would be better off if we all did X, even though we’ll be worse off if only some of do X and the rest of us default to Y, and then we get a show of hands of how many people would be willing to commit to X and it turns out to be nearly the whole group, and then we actually try it and everyone makes good on their commit, then we’ve taken the leap and landed on the other side. If we then keep committing to X, then we’ve changed the culture.

            The catch is that getting everyone together to share information like this generally takes much more effort than getting one person at a time to listen. But the latter only results in that one person not being willing to commit, since he has no reason to believe everyone else will without that show of hands.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M:

            Paul Brinkley has hit on it, to some extent.

            My view is that people are rarely convinced into whatever cultural standards they hold. They just go along with the crowd. I’ve had a woman tell me that men explicitly asking for consent would be “weird” and that she “just doesn’t say no” and this happens after several drinks. Which is a fucking terrible standard for establishing consent, and along with men adopting “just keep pushing until she doesn’t say no” (which is actual advice I have gotten – I didn’t take it because it was creepy) it’s quite clear that the culture is a problem.

            I don’t think that anybody was convinced into having consent to sexual activity be a fog of guessing at the other person’s intentions and plausible deniability and not knowing until you try and awful gendered shit. (Speaking of which, I imagine that the rules are different for interactions with other gender combinations, but have no direct experience there).

            If sex-positive people got their way, and the rules became “anybody can ask anyone for a date, anyone can initiate sex, and it is done by clear verbal request and negotiation with affirmative consent” or something similar, most people would go along with that.

          • “If sex-positive people got their way, and the rules became “anybody can ask anyone for a date, anyone can initiate sex, and it is done by clear verbal request and negotiation with affirmative consent” or something similar, most people would go along with that.”

            Do we know of any societies that did it that way?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Not that I know of, but we’ve seen a great deal of social change, accelerating, fairly recently, haven’t we? Our society is weird enough by most human standards over the course of history – switching over to affirmative consent would hardly be the most unusual thing we’ve done. My larger point stands: people mostly go with the flow.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Weirdly, I side partially with Randy on the object level – I don’t think clear formal consent is necessarily the way to go. I’m ok with it being for some, and I’m in favor of them being able to adhere to that, but I also think it’s not for everyone. Some people like the ambiguity, perhaps for the same reason we like poetry where words can mean more than one thing. It’s its own game, and a lot of people enjoy games, and are attracted to others with the same enjoyment.

            If some people prefer the game, and others prefer the clear distinctions, then we have a problem where one has to figure out which mode the other prefers. You can’t be clear about finding out, because that would ruin the game. You can find out that clarity is desired by playing the game, but if you’re not good at the game…

      • shakeddown says:

        With regards to the “if you’re so scared why not buy a gun?” suggestion, I think part of the reluctance comes down to a difference in expectations.

        Yes, but you missed the expectation of results. If you’re Texan Strawman and you buy a gun, you expect to be able to defend yourself. And if the government comes to get you, you expect, at worst, the american revolution – where you win and get to control your own government, and maybe John Laurens dies at the end but he was a minor character anyways.

        If you’re, say, Jewish, and you buy a gun, you expect it, at best, to end up like the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion, or Masada – maybe you deal your oppressors some damage, but they kill you all horribly. This perceived danger from a Trump administration is to various minorities, who have historically had a pretty terrible time when they had to defend themselves and only really survived when there was a strong government that could impose rule of law.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          If you’re, say, Jewish, and you buy a gun, you expect it, at best, to end up like the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion, or Masada – maybe you deal your oppressors some damage, but they kill you all horribly.

          Or maybe you beat five Arab armies and reunify Jerusalem. It could happen.

          • shakeddown says:

            Right, and not the distinction – in the cases where the Jews won, it was by running the government (the one sorta-exception being 1948).

            I don’t think it’s likely that a Trump administration will start launching antisemitic pogroms or anything. But if it did, I wouldn’t trust being personally armed to protect me, since nothing unites people against the Jews (or, well, any minority) as well as one of them shooting back.

  40. pseudon says:

    Any SSCers at NIPS right now? We could organise some kind of meet up.

  41. onyomi says:

    Should libertarians and other free market types support or decry something like Trump’s Carrier deal?

    On the one hand, it feels a bit like the sort of “crony capitalism,” “corporate welfare,” “state-directed capitalism,” and/or outright economic fascism of the sort many on the right and left decry.

    On the other hand, however, we like to talk about how governments are, in fact, or, at least, should, function as, competing jurisdictions. Ancaps take this to the extreme by saying those competitors need not be geographically bound or monopolistic, but even assuming you think at least part of the function of governments (and governments within governments, i. e. state and local in the US case) is to competitively provide systems that make people want to live and work there–which I think encompasses a lot more people, left and right–then is there anything inherently wrong with a government negotiating with a private company to try to get or keep them there?

    In the private sector, for example, I don’t think anyone would see anything wrong with the following scenario: tenant informs landlord he is planning to move. Landlord says, “wait, is there anything I can do to get you to stay? Maybe lower the rent or improve the facilities somehow?” They strike a deal and tenant stays.

    Of course, it would be a bad idea to literally pay a private company to keep jobs, because that would be tantamount to turning the company into a privately run jobs program. But I don’t think that’s what’s being talked about here–more like special tax incentives, etc. Agreeing to tax a company less isn’t “paying” them to stay; it’s just enticing them to stay with a “better deal.”

    The problem this introduces, of course, is that of favoritism: maybe only the companies which donated to the last campaign get the special tax waver. This is indeed a problem, but could possibly be addressed by saying that whatever terms the federal or state government offers to one company have to be available to any? Some might say this sets a bad precedent, but I’m not sure: the federal or state government is always free to turn down any demands a private company makes with regard to the tax code etc. as a condition on staying.

    Also there is the question of tariffs: not offering a positive incentive to stay here, but rather threatening that you can’t sell to Americans without a big tariff if you decide to go elsewhere. Libertarians and free marketers are generally against tariffs, and for good reason–they ultimately hurt the consumer of whichever country is levying them, and I don’t like the idea of my government basically telling me I can’t buy a foreign product without paying a heavy tax. That said, insofar as “free access to American markets” is something the US government can use as a carrot in bargaining with companies, I’m not 100% sure the negatives outweigh the positives if the result is a lot more business being done here.

    • Brad says:

      Should libertarians and other free market types support or decry something like Trump’s Carrier deal?

      The problem this introduces, of course, is that of favoritism: maybe only the companies which donated to the last campaign get the special tax waver. This is indeed a problem, but could possibly be addressed by saying that whatever terms the federal or state government offers to one company have to be available to any?

      Maybe the concern could be addressed that way, but in this case it almost certainly won’t be. Whatever “libertarians and other free market types” might think about a system with that feature is not particularly relevant to whether they should support or decry the Carrier deal.

      I’m not 100% sure the negatives outweigh the positives if the result is a lot more business being done here.

      That’s the whole whole kit and caboodle. If you are okay with this use of tariffs, then you aren’t generally against tariffs.

      • onyomi says:

        “That’s the whole whole kit and caboodle. If you are okay with this use of tariffs, then you aren’t generally against tariffs.”

        Yes, in some sense this latter question is just about whether or not tariffs can ever be used productively. Of course, if you define libertarians as “anti-tariff” then they can’t support them, and it certainly seems a stretch to describe tariffs as “free market.” Internationally speaking, they’re close to the opposite.

        Though this also raises the question of whether non-libertarians and non-free market types should support Trump, as, indeed, I guess many in places like Michigan have? There is a way in which he’s really occupied the protectionist, pro-worker ideological territory previously occupied by the party of FDR.

        • Brad says:

          There is a way in which he’s really occupied the protectionist, pro-worker ideological territory previously occupied by the party of FDR.

          I would say ostensibly pro-worker since as a fact of the matter many of us believe protectionism is anti-worker.

          It goes back to what I was saying up here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/12/04/ot64-openn-thread/#comment-441703

          You can look at who is giving lip service to a particular group and you can look at who is proposing policies that would benefit that group. They aren’t necessarily one in the same.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, as a libertarian, I am highly accustomed to explaining that just because I am against the latest piece of legislation designed to help poor people doesn’t mean I don’t like helping poor people.

            By “pro-worker” I just meant something like “the sort of policy I’d expect labor unions traditionally to support.”

      • tscharf says:

        There are time when tariffs are necessary regardless of one’s tribe membership. For example the Japanese colluded to dump DRAM’s on the market below cost to put US companies out of the memory business, which pretty much worked. In this case punitive tariffs are a good idea. China is likely to also be coordinating this type of stuff, proving it is difficult.

        Implementing tariffs for an amorphous public good is a much more difficult concept. Your typical libertarian would say that even where the goals were good, the execution by government is likely to be corrupt and counterproductive. It is easy to argue that protectionism is a bad long term plan. Forcing companies to become productive in the face of global competition will ultimately produce a better outcome. Unfortunately if that means workers are paid $3/hour or the work must be automated out of existence this nicely worded verbiage fails the public good test. The Soviets had lots of factories staffed by lots of people producing world class terrible stuff.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Should libertarians and other free market types support or decry something like Trump’s Carrier deal?

      I won’t shed a tear for a company getting jawboned over their military contracts. That’s no different than any other big-ticket client in the marketplace making demands of their supplier and getting them. I’m also okay, in the abstract, with DoE regulatory reforms being a part of a negotiating process, although they should be publicized and debated, and any reforms should be industry-wide. The tax breaks, I draw the line, because those are directed specifically to Carrier and give it a clear competitive advantage over competitors who are not in the process of offshoring jobs. This leads to obvious moral hazard.

      Agreeing to tax a company less isn’t “paying” them to stay; it’s just enticing them to stay with a “better deal.”

      In a fiscal and economic sense it is the same thing. Non-collection vs. payment means the same thing on the government’s balance sheet and leads to the same consequences. It’s only different if you adopt some non-consequentialist framework where taxes are inherently evil and any tax breaks, even special breaks for one company or one individual, are valued more than equitable tax laws.

      That said, insofar as “free access to American markets” is something the US government can use as a carrot in bargaining with companies, I’m not 100% sure the negatives outweigh the positives

      “Free access to American markets” isn’t just a benefit to companies, it’s also a benefit to consumers. To the extent we can shove companies out of the market for the crime of TURKURJURBS, we’d be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

      • onyomi says:

        “In a fiscal and economic sense it is the same thing.”

        I don’t think this is quite right. Yes, it’s true that, from the government’s perspective, payments and a drop in tax receipts have the same effect on the balance sheet, but from a broader economic perspective they could indicate two different situations.

        If, for example, it’s only profitable for a company to operate in a given jurisdiction because the taxes and regulatory burden there are low, that would be a very different situation from one in which a company was only profitable because it received big, annual grants from the government. In the former case consumers are, by their willingness to buy enough of the good or service to make the company profitable, signalling that the company is, in fact, meeting their needs in an efficient way, even if that efficiency is predicated on an assumption of a low-tax, low-regulation jurisdiction. In other words, this company isn’t e. g. a banana plantation in Canada, i. e. something which really shouldn’t exist at all because it fundamentally doesn’t make economic sense, regardless of the tax and regulatory environment.

        Put another way, tax cuts are less likely to cause an economic distortion than direct subsidies or government “investments,” because you can’t tax a net income of <0, but you can add a subsidy to it.

        • Anonymous Bosch says:

          Taxes and regulatory burdens being low in a general sense is not what I’m concerned with. I’m concerned with taxes being low for a specific company. In your hypothetical, it would be if that company’s taxes are low because of a specific tax credit applying only to that company. In these cases the economic distortion is very clear; people will be more likely to buy their HVAC equipment from Carrier and not Carrier’s competitors.

          • onyomi says:

            One could argue that it’s the tax which is the distortion, not the removing of it, even for only one company.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            One could argue that it’s the tax which is the distortion, not the removing of it, even for only one company.

            Yes, that’s what the Mises article I linked argues. But we don’t live in Ancapistan, and Trump is not proposing to take us there. Therefore the next-best thing to do is minimize the distortion through fair application.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s clear to me that uniformly low taxation and regulation is better than unevenly low, but it isn’t clear to me that uniformly high (or moderate) taxation and regulation is the next-best thing, ahead of low taxes and regulation for some and high (or moderate) taxes and regulation for others, even if the some are chosen politically.

            Put another way, if you think of the economy as a race, it makes sense to say “better to force everyone to wear a lead jacket than to only force some to wear a lead jacket.” Because competing to see who is the fastest runner is the purpose of a race. But competing to see who can best deal with taxes and regulations isn’t the point of an economy. Producing stuff for consumers is. So, it’s more like, “I’d like to take off everyone’s lead jacket, but if I can only remove some, it’s better than everyone running with a lead jacket.”

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Because competing to see who is the fastest runner is the purpose of a race. But competing to see who can best deal with taxes and regulations isn’t the point of an economy. Producing stuff for consumers is.

            Efficient allocation of production depends on price signaling.

          • onyomi says:

            “Efficient allocation of production depends on price signaling.”

            That is a good point, but I also don’t think it could be the case that any level of taxation, so long as it’s applied very evenly will cause less distortion than a much lower level, applied unevenly.

            Because the effect of increasing or decreasing a tax x amount will be more complex than just “all companies now make x more or less profit.” There could be whole industries rendered non-profitable by a give tax hike, or which are able to profitably exist, for the first time, thanks to a cut.

      • “Non-collection vs. payment means the same thing on the government’s balance sheet and leads to the same consequences. ”

        The are not the same thing if you introduce the alternative of the company leaving the jurisdiction, with the result that no taxes are collected from it. Reduced taxes are better for the government balance sheet than that, net subsidies, subsidies larger than taxes, are worse.

    • tscharf says:

      If Obama would have done this, conservatives would have howled. The public sector directly intervening in private sector affairs like this was a very bright red line. At least it was last week. Of course there lots of shades of gray here, but the optics of Obama personally directing a company to do something would make a million heads explode.

      Many of the much decried “government tax breaks” for companies come from a company negotiating with different cities/states to locate a factory or headquarters somewhere. The public sector must compete for this business and they do this though incentives. It’s a dirty game, but basically it isn’t bad politics to let someone build a factory tax free just for the jobs. Right to work laws are just such an incentive.

      The last 40 years have been little intervention and that has hollowed out parts of the manufacturing sector, Apple phones being a poster child. The thinking was that as long as free trade was an overall win (increased GDP) than it is a good thing and should be continued. The long term accumulation of these deals ended up with a lopsided winners/losers ratio and the losers….just voted.

      The free trade supporters get a total absolute epic fail in communication this cycle for not even trying to explain the benefits of free trade (e.g. cheap crap at Walmart). I cannot even begin to say they even had a strategy except screaming racist or something else equally indecipherable. It was startlingly incompetent politically.

      The private sector still wants free trade (and it still might be the best answer), but they don’t have an answer to more equitable benefits to that trade. They must answer this beyond “open trade is good, good, good and here is a government retraining program for you”.

      I have always been a free trade proponent, but I now recognize defects to uber-open-trade exist.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        The private sector still wants free trade (and it still might be the best answer), but they don’t have an answer to more equitable benefits to that trade. They must answer this beyond “open trade is good, good, good and here is a government retraining program for you”.

        The answer is redistribution. Private sector just wants to have its cake and eat it too.

      • Brad says:

        The last 40 years have been little intervention and that has hollowed out parts of the manufacturing sector, Apple phones being a poster child. The thinking was that as long as free trade was an overall win (increased GDP) than it is a good thing and should be continued. The long term accumulation of these deals ended up with a lopsided winners/losers ratio and the losers….just voted.

        Not sure how that makes sense. It seems to completely ignore both growth and technological change. 40 years ago zero smartphones were manufactured in the United States. Apple can’t be a poster child for hollowing out, because it was never here to begin with.

        It’s the steel mills that actually picked up and left. But the alternative world where we had protectionist policies doesn’t involve the same number of domestic steel workers as there were in 1976 and it doesn’t involve the same number of domestic steel workers as there are currently in Chinese factories that are manufacturing steel for sale into the United States.

        Technological progress keeps marching on and it allows for the substitution of capital for labor. That substitution is favored when the costs of labor are high. In addition, higher costs means less quantity demanded, means even fewer jobs.

        On top of all that, Anshan in China isn’t the only place that steel mills in Pittsburgh and Youngstown could move to. They could also move to Mississippi, Alabama, or South Carolina. Away from the power of the unions jobs in those mills would still pay decent enough for the regions they were in but they wouldn’t be the famed “good jobs” of yore.

        Free trade agreements make for convenient scapegoats but they aren’t the whole story or even a particularly big chunk of it.

        • Evan Þ says:

          At least as much as steel mills leaving, the problem is automation. Several years ago when I last looked, US manufacturing production was higher than in the 50’s, even with free trade… but US manufacturing employment was way down.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, this was going to be my objection as well.

            Steel jobs left, but I’m not sure steel production really did. There was a period where I think Japanese steel was much higher quality than US Steel though. Could be wrong. Not sure.

            I mean 90% of the nation used to be employed as farmers. This is no longer the case. but we still have massive agricultural output (and are a net exporter of agricultural products, I think) because we are much more efficient in agricultural production. Sure, people have been decrying the loss of small and family farms (not so much anymore), but no one seems to be suggesting that avocados from Mexico are an issue.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Steel jobs left, but I’m not sure steel production really did.

            It did, just not as dramatically. Steel production in raw tonnage peaked in the 1970s.

          • Brad says:

            @Evan thorn
            That’s what I was trying to get at with “Technological progress keeps marching on and it allows for the substitution of capital for labor. “

        • tscharf says:

          This all may very well be true, but academic verbiage that can be translated to “shit happens” doesn’t win you an election. In pure economic terms the Rust Belt should be allowed to wither on the vine, many have stated this, and most of them have nice jobs in DC, NYC, etc.

          There are people tasked to govern their citizens in the Rust Belt and the Feds aren’t tasked with making the world more efficient at the expense of its own citizens.

          What are they proposing to improve these conditions? Is a coherent long term plan even feasible? I read a lot of news over the past 8 months and didn’t get the impression anybody cared much so I’m not surprised that driving the Trump truck bomb into DC and setting it off made it to top of the list for many voters.

          • nyccine says:

            @tscharf:

            There are people tasked to govern their citizens in the Rust Belt and the Feds aren’t tasked with making the world more efficient at the expense of its own citizens.

            Surely you recall the famed quote, said by Franklin to Jefferson, after the securing of independence after revolting against the Crown: “And let us hope our descendants obtain no unfair advantages from these sacrifices. That would most assuredly be unjust.”

            That bit in the preamble to the Constitution about securing “the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” is, I am certain, a typo of some sort.

          • Brad says:

            This all may very well be true, but academic verbiage that can be translated to “shit happens” doesn’t win you an election.

            I’m not trying to win any elections. As far as I know you aren’t either, or at least aren’t openly campaigning here.

            If lying is the best strategy than perhaps politicians should lie. Not my problem. I responded to a post of yours that was erroneous. It isn’t of any moment here that a lot of ill informed people believe those erroneous things.

            What are they proposing to improve these conditions? Is a coherent long term plan even feasible? I read a lot of news over the past 8 months and didn’t get the impression anybody cared much so I’m not surprised that driving the Trump truck bomb into DC and setting it off made it to top of the list for many voters.

            What if the answer to the second question is no? Isn’t an important part of becoming a functioning adult learning to come to grips situations where there are no good answers and how to move forward anyway instead of throwing a temper tantrum?

          • tscharf says:

            If the situation is hopeless than nobody should offer false hope. I’m no big fan that government is the answer to struggles in most cases. If all the eggheads have to offer is “stop whining” then perhaps they aren’t as useful as they think and taxpayers shouldn’t be supporting them.

            It’s a hard problem, but its not like we have never solved hard problems before.

          • Brad says:

            Is this anti-intellectualism, here of all places, supposed to be ironic? I can’t tell.

            As for the difficulty of the problem, given that the demand is at bottom that people with either few skills, or skills that are obsolete, somehow be made to be not only be productive but near the top in productivity, I’d say calling it a “hard problem” is understating it a bit.

            We can redistribute money, we can create make work jobs, but I don’t see how we can create “good jobs”. Certainly not in the numbers being demanded. Maybe that makes me useless egghead, but happily(?) taxpayers aren’t supporting me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:

            Is this anti-intellectualism, here of all places, supposed to be ironic? I can’t tell.

            Scott has described himself as a contrarian. Sometimes he is referred to as a blue-tribe apostate (or gray-tribe). One of the most salient features of the blog is pointing out the failures of intellectuals. It is the rare post (outside of links posts, perhaps) that celebrates the successes of science, academia or government.

            It really shouldn’t be surprising that you will find non-ironic tilting at intellectuals here in the comment section.

          • Brad says:

            HBC: what you say has some truth to it, but nonetheless “egghead” seems rather out of place. At least since what’s-his-name the Eastern European bodybuilder got banned.

          • tscharf says:

            I was unaware that egghead was a slur, I won’t use it anymore. Sorry.

            You can probably put me in a very conflicted position regarding academia. I wholly support the sciences, particularly space science, but wish they didn’t make it so hard sometimes by taking some rather public activist positions I don’t agree with.

        • tscharf says:

          Apple is the poster child for a company that could afford to manufacture on shore. Apple doesn’t have the same level of economic pressure to force it to low cost labor countries. It may eventually need all that cash to weather a future storm but if I was to choose the most greedy corporate entity on planet earth it wouldn’t be a very difficult choice. Also see tax avoidance schemes in Ireland. The free range chicken crown strangely gives these guys a free pass.

        • nyccine says:

          @Brad:

          Technological progress keeps marching on and it allows for the substitution of capital for labor.

          I’m, like, 85% positive that Apple has a whole hell of a lot of labor tied up in the production of iPhones, working in dirt poor conditions for little to nothing. While giants in the field of economics, like Bryan Caplan, assure me that these are purely voluntary transactions, made by people who clearly know their own condition and have negotiated a better wage than what they would have had, and that state coercion is in no way, no how involved, I just can’t shake these nagging thoughts that the rumors about these “sweatshops” might have some validity to them.

          @The Nybbler:

          I think it’s generally a bad idea; it provides an incentive for other companies to move, threaten to move, or (if moving in) hold out for incentives. It also means companies who didn’t get the incentives are at a disadvantage with similarly-situated companies who got them; by saving jobs at Carrier maybe you’re going to end up hurting some other company in the same field.

          Perhaps. Maybe there’s a scenario in which such incentives, coupled with threats of punitive tariffs against those who move jobs, end up creating job growth. Perhaps not.

          But the alternative offered is that the middle and lower classes really ought to just lie back and think of the GDP. Perhaps console themselves with cheap plastic crap they can get at Walmart, never mind that they won’t have jobs, nor will they be able to buy cheap homes shipped from China, built on cheap land manufactured in India. Well, I suppose that can take Tom Friedman’s advise and create their own job…

          • onyomi says:

            I’m, like, 85% positive that Apple has a whole hell of a lot of labor tied up in the production of iPhones, working in dirt poor conditions for little to nothing

            I disagree that these people are being coerced and are working in terrible conditions (relative to average job conditions in the places they came from), but agree that, in fact, a lot of people are still involved in making iPhones an air conditioners–just not Americans. Because it costs $22/hour to hire Americans and $3/hour to hire Mexicans.

            Of course, Americans have higher expectations about standard of living than Mexicans, but I still think we need to ask: with all this technology automating everything, why isn’t everything even cheaper? Why can’t an American live in America on $3/hour? If robots are doing all the grunt work, why aren’t they also driving prices down to a commensurate degree?

            My view is that the gains get largely eaten up by inflation and regulatory compliance cost. Given how rapidly technology has progressed, we should actually be experiencing strong price deflation. And all the things that are getting cheaper are, of course, not manufactured in the US, where regulatory compliance costs make it impossible to produce things cheaply even if the technology is there to do so. The fact that we still get a CPI rise of a couple points a year even according to official measures (and much higher in reality, I think), is actually a huge loss when you take into account that things shouldn’t just be staying the same. They should be getting much cheaper.

          • tscharf says:

            Americans can live on $3/hour, they just have to live like a Mexican, ha ha. Of course they actually can’t due to rules making things more expensive as you stated.

            My vision of the future with robots was always that everyone still works, but works less. Instead we seem to have some people that still work full time for a lot of money and other people who don’t work at all.

          • nyccine says:

            Why can’t an American live in America on $3/hour? If robots are doing all the grunt work, why aren’t they also driving prices down to a commensurate degree?

            I touched on this in the post. You don’t get robots manufacturing cheap residential homes, on manufactured soil, passing all permits and with sufficient space for utilities, on $3/hour. There’s a lot of things you’ll never get robots to cheaply make.

            Of course, the more obvious question is “why is the populace obligated to find a way to live on 3 buck an hour?”

      • CatCube says:

        If Obama would have done this, conservatives would have howled.

        http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442665/trump-carrier-bailout-economically-unsound

      • “Many of the much decried “government tax breaks” for companies come from a company negotiating with different cities/states to locate a factory or headquarters somewhere. ”

        As best I could tell, what Trump did was negotiate a state tax reduction for the company. It wasn’t a reduction in a tax he himself had control over.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      tenant informs landlord he is planning to move. Landlord says, “wait, is there anything I can do to get you to stay? Maybe lower the rent or improve the facilities somehow?” They strike a deal and tenant stays.

      There is a hidden assumption in this, that the landlord owns the property.

      The Carrier deal is more like the buildings management company, hired by the coop board, cutting a deal for reduced coop maintenance fees with one owner who is going to sell their stake otherwise.

      Tariffs (especially company specific ones) would be like threatening to charge a “visitors fee” to tenants if their friend came over to visit after he moved out.

      • Matt M says:

        There is a hidden assumption in this, that the landlord owns the property.

        The entire concept of property taxes makes it clear that the government claims ultimate ownership to all property within its physical boundaries.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          No more and no more less than HOA fees imply ownership of the property by the HOA. The community is bound together.

          • Matt M says:

            I agree with this point in principle, except that HOA fees are often microscopic in compared to property taxes. I own a house in an HOA area – my yearly tax bill is about $2,500 – my yearly HOA dues are like $120.

            Also there are usually bylaws where you can get enough people to vote the HOA out – theoretically this is true of government as well but the scale is so different it’s much more difficult. I only need to convince 100 of my neighbors to abolish the HOA, abolishing the state government is a bit trickier…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            The services your HOA provides are far less than those provided by government. It has no police force, doesn’t collect garbage, doesn’t pave roads, doesn’t provide K-12 education, etc.

            If the local government did not provide these services, you would likely find your HOA dues vastly elevated.

            And depending on how the charter is written, the HOA can’t be abolished either.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t think it’s crony capitalism unless Carrier is somehow a friend of Trump and there’s some hidden personal benefits for Trump. This is possible, but separate from the deal itself. The deal is local politics writ large; it’s very common for state and local governments to offer tax incentives to keep companies around (or bring them in).

      I think it’s generally a bad idea; it provides an incentive for other companies to move, threaten to move, or (if moving in) hold out for incentives. It also means companies who didn’t get the incentives are at a disadvantage with similarly-situated companies who got them; by saving jobs at Carrier maybe you’re going to end up hurting some other company in the same field.

      It also means you could be hurting your government budget if you’ve now made the value of having the company around a net negative. So it’s unsustainable… unless your taxes were so high that you still make positive net revenue on them with the incentives. In which case, a much better idea would be to lower taxes across the board and make it generally more attractive for businesses to locate in your jurisdiction.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I don’t see how free-marketers can do other then decry it. Everything else looks like rationalization to me.

      Fall-back option is to talk about how it is good politics even while being bad policy, which has the advantages of being true, criticizing it enough to still feel like one has integrity, but not criticizing it enough to take a political toll on one’s team.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Decry, obviously. However, it’s not especially different from zillions of other examples in this country of companies receiving inducement from government to stay in a particular location or move to a new one, and so it’s not worth getting hugely more upset about.

  42. shakeddown says:

    Question to pro-gun people, since my mental model of you doesn’t have a good answer: Do you think it should be legal for private citizens to have nuclear missiles? If not, where do you draw the line? Should they be able to have tanks? Fighter Jets? Conventional missiles? What’s your principled approach to this question?
    Conversely, if they should, is there any level of theoretically powerful superweapon they should be restricted from having?

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      If not, where do you draw the line?

      At the very least, anything less deadly than a car.

      • Randy M says:

        Cars do require registration to operate in public, and are taxed annually, at least in my state, even if not operated. Things gun rights activists are generally against for firearms.
        What’s the most dangerous non-weapon item citizens are currently permitted? Something like a fertilizer bomb (obviously only legal to use in a non-bomb manner, but the potential exists). Or ingredients for Cl gas?

        • AnonEEmous says:

          But we don’t require any form of background check on car buyers. Most of the restrictions around cars have to do with insurance and avoiding accidents; there are very few that would pre-empt murder or violence.

          Of course, soon enough self-driving brake systems will probably do that. So, there’s that.

        • Eltargrim says:

          Acetone peroxide is trivially easy to synthesize, and was (to the best of my knowledge) the explosive used in the Belgium attacks. The ingredients are the nouns in the name. Cl2(g) can be synthesized from potassium permanganate and muriatic acid, both found at pool supply stores. You can buy glass etching cream at craft supply stores. I find this horrifying, as glass etching cream contains HF and NaF, both of which are horrendously toxic.

        • Evan Þ says:

          AFAIK, cars only require registration (and taxation) to operate on the public roads; it’s entirely legal to own and use an unlicensed and untaxed car on your public property, or to jack it up on a trailer and bring it over to your friend’s property to use there.

          And if it turns out that for some weird reason you needed to briefly drive your unlicensed car onto the public roads to save your life, I don’t think the police would be that upset with you.

          • Randy M says:

            Planned non-operation registration fee is $20 in CA. I don’t think this is something you are going to have a warrant issued to investigate if you fail to pay it, but I think it is technically mandatory.

          • psmith says:

            This is all quite accurate. No age limits, no licensing requirements, no safety features or catalytic converters required (except as the property owner may mandate), hell, you can even run leaded gas.

            Rolling without a plate on public roads can get you a ticket, but not usually much more unless you get up to some serious goon shit in front of the cops.

        • Hetzer says:

          What’s the most dangerous non-weapon item citizens are currently permitted? Something like a fertilizer bomb (obviously only legal to use in a non-bomb manner, but the potential exists). Or ingredients for Cl gas?

          Probably a pathogen like a virus or bacterium. I’m not totally sure what the legal situation is for that, but the death toll from even individual infectious diseases is really up there, into the hundreds of millions. You would be hard-pressed to cause as much death with even a 50 megaton nuclear device as was caused by the infection of patient zero (whoever it was, I don’t think people know, even today) in the spanish flu outbreak (50-100 million worldwide, if I recall correctly).

          Is it legal for a private citizen to have stores of smallpox or cultures of the bacteria that causes bubonic plague? How about a synthetic virus or genetically-engineered bacteria?

          Practical considerations probably (hopefully) make this only a hypothetical, however.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Is it legal for a private citizen to have stores of smallpox or cultures of the bacteria that causes bubonic plague? How about a synthetic virus or genetically-engineered bacteria?

            No.

            Even if you just want to work with lentivirus that means getting a Biosafety level (BSL) 2+ lab. If you’re working with anything serious that’s a BSL 3, and for the crazy stuff like smallpox you’re looking at BSL 4. That means airlocks and positive pressure suits, plus enough paperwork to fill a small warehouse I’m sure.

            It’s not something you can buy off Amazon anyway. You’d need to convince a PI at some high security lab to loan you a sample, and if you tried to avoid going through the legal hoops people would absolutely ask questions as to why an aliquot of bubonic plauge was missing.

            The anthrax guy back in the early oughts worked in a lab and was able to pocket some but if you’re a regular joe then you’ve got a slightly better chance of that than of getting your hands on a nuclear warhead.

          • Hetzer says:

            @ Dr Dealgood

            Interesting. Do those Biosafety levels and the associated paperwork cover all pathogens, whether they already exist or not, or just those already known to and catalogued by science?

            I’m thinking of a hypothetical case where an individual designs and synthesizes a pathogen that does not exist in nature.

            I’d agree that it sounds unlikely, bordering on practically-impossible, but I wonder if it fulfills the conditions that Randy M put forth.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @Hetzer:

            This is not a realistic scenario. Home chemistry labs are easy: everything is chemistry, and converting from A to Z involves (usually) straightforward steps requiring buckets and glassware.

            Genetic engineering anything involves significantly advanced techniques that are outside the resources of the private citizen, and anything remotely pathogenic will fall under a blanket category that forbids possession.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Interesting. Do those Biosafety levels and the associated paperwork cover all pathogens, whether they already exist or not, or just those already known to and cataloged by science?

            Every lab doing serious biological research is at least BSL 1. And that’s if you’re working with stuff like baker’s yeast. If you have anything you can’t prove is non-pathogenic you’re at the absolute minimum looking at 2.

            If you try to run your own unlicensed biohacking lab you can expect a ride in the FBI party van. Yes, even if you’re using the same harmless stuff as a BSL 1 lab.

            I’m thinking of a hypothetical case where an individual designs and synthesizes a pathogen that does not exist in nature.

            That would be very expensive and time consuming research even when one isn’t trying to lay low from the feds.

            I’m not saying that it’s impossible. But I wouldn’t worry about it for the time being.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Question to pro-gun people, since my mental model of you doesn’t have a good answer: Do you think it should be legal for private citizens to have nuclear missiles? If not, where do you draw the line? Should they be able to have tanks? Fighter Jets? Conventional missiles? What’s your principled approach to this question?

      I think the capability of a weapon to discriminate between individual human targets is a good enough criterion. A nuke or missile or tank cannon or jet autocannon (I don’t mind people owning tanks or jets without the cannons!) is impossible to be used “responsibly” in the same way a gun is.

      Obviously this still has grey areas, e.g., full-auto fire on conventional rifles, but it’s much less grey than “pistols to nukes.”

      • Wrong Species says:

        Lets say I could build a weapon that could kill everyone in the world with the press of a button. However, it is perfectly capable of discriminating against people and if I wanted to I could simply kill all but one person in New York or all of California except for Beverley Hills for example. Would you be ok with me building this weapon?

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Wrong Species – There is a set of things we might call discriminate, personal weapons. These weapons enable an individual to employ discrete, decisive force against specific individuals in their immediate area. Modern firearms are pretty close to the apex of this set; it’s hard even in theory to improve on them.

          Modern firearms are highly efficient discriminate personal weapons. Using them indiscriminately and impersonally involves sacrificing a lot of that efficiency. All firearms rely on precision for their lethal effect; that is why the worst mass shootings are the ones where the killer traps his victims and can execute them, rather than when someone shoots randomly into a crowd. It’s also why tactics dominate weapon type and caliber in determining how lethal a spree killing is.

          Flamethrowers are weapons, but they are not discriminate, and they are much less personal than even a belt-fed machine gun. Flamethrowers cannot be aimed the way a firearm can, and they do not rely on precision for their lethality. Flamethrowers essentially make a large volume of space intensely lethal to anything inside it, and the volume stays lethal and can even spread significantly after the user stops firing. They offer the user orders of magnitude less control over the damage they inflict. As a result, despite them being super cool and very good at killing things, they haven’t caught on as a tool for self-defense.

          In your example, when you say “everyone on earth” or “everyone in New York”, that’s the indiscriminate volume-of-space effect coming into play. Ditto for the “press of a button”; firearms are not much more “press of a button” lethal than knives or rocks, while flamethrowers are actually pretty close.

          Flamethrowers and dynamite have existed for well over a hundred years. A lot of the practical arguments against gun control work for flamethrowers and explosives as well; they’re useful for resisting tyranny, they’re pretty simple to make so laws banning them are pointless because bad people get them anyway, and so on. And yet, you notice how there’s not really much of an argument over restrictions on them? That is because there really is a disconnect here; modern firearms are actually about the terminus of discriminate, personal weapons, and the physical and technological limitations are such that it’s actually a pretty well-defined boundary. Big guns, little guns, powerful guns, weak guns, guns that shoot fast or have a lot of ammo or have the shoulder thing that goes up, none of these factors actually do much to bridge the gulf between firearms and flamethrowers, much less bombs.

          Our current model of Civilization can thrive despite proliferation of discriminate personal weapons. It cannot survive proliferation of indiscriminate, impersonal weapons. The former should be allowed, and the latter must be restricted.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Notice that I said “all but one person in New York”. You can’t get more precise than that, which is what my point was. Let’s say I had a smart missile which could track anyone in the world and blow up at the precise time when they were alone. Would you be ok with private ownership of this?

    • bean says:

      No, nuclear missiles should not be legal for private ownership. I’m undecided on the nuclear part, but that’s because part of me hopes that Plowshare can be resurrected.
      The more through answer is based on the following questions:
      1. How will most buyers use this thing?
      2. How effectively can we keep it out of the public’s hands if we want to?
      3. How effectively can we regulate it if the public does have it?
      4. What are the consequences if someone does misuse it?

      Some samples:
      Guns:
      1. Legitimate uses. Fun, hunting, self-defense.
      2. Not very. DC and Chicago are not exactly utopia despite their strict gun laws.
      3. Not very. Guns are small and portable.
      4. Not actually that huge in most cases, compared to what you could do elsewhere.

      Hand Grenades:
      1. To do bad things.
      2. Reasonably well, based on evidence.
      3. Not well. Grenades are very small.
      4. Could be quite bad.

      Tanks:
      1. Fun. A tank is big and expensive, and someone who is intent enough on badness will probably find another way.
      2. Very well.
      3. Very well. It’s a tank, and will be noticed if someone misuses it. Also, don’t allow explosive ammo for the gun.
      4. Tanks take multiple people to run, and I can think of many more effective ways to cause havoc than buying a tank, so misuse potential is pretty small.

      So I’d ban grenades, but allow guns and tanks.

      • rlms says:

        This sounds like you are deciding things completely arbitrarily. If we can simply not allow explosive ammo for the tank gun, why can’t we just not allow hand guns? Why is the misuse potential of a tank smaller than that of a grenade (I imagine it is possible to kill far more people with a tank than a grenade)?

        • bean says:

          If we can simply not allow explosive ammo for the tank gun, why can’t we just not allow hand guns?

          Because hand guns are next to impossible to practically ban, and have legitimate uses. A tank really only has one legitimate use (fun), and that use isn’t really impacted by banning explosive ammo.

          Why is the misuse potential of a tank smaller than that of a grenade (I imagine it is possible to kill far more people with a tank than a grenade)?

          Because a tank is more expensive and less portable. And to use it effectively, you need 3-4 people. All of these make it harder to misuse. A grenade can be concealed in a large pocket and kill a bunch of people. A good terrorist weapon. A tank would probably not be road-legal, so killing a similar number of people with it seems difficult. Particularly when you need to stop to use the guns, or get an accomplice.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Why is the misuse potential of a tank smaller than that of a grenade.

          Because the chain of events required to “successfully” misuse a tank is longer and more complex than that of a grenade.

          Edit:
          Ninja’d by bean.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        2. How effectively can we keep it out of the public’s hands if we want to?

        2. Not very. DC and Chicago are not exactly utopia despite their strict gun laws.

        2. Reasonably well, based on evidence.

        I suspect your disparate answers to handguns and grenades are eliding a complication. If we really wanted to keep pistols out of the public’s hands, we could. It would just take some sort of national action. Grenades are hard to find because they’re illegal everywhere, not just DC and Chicago, so you can’t drive across the county line and buy them in Alexandria or Kenosha. Unless “how effectively can we do this” is inclusive of political efforts, in which case it sort of becomes a catch-22.

        • bean says:

          And how do you plan to gather up all the handguns that are already in circulation? Even when people are trying to evade the ban? And what about people smuggling them in from Mexico? Unless you have a good plan to get all of the guns, I’ll stand by my distinction.
          I’ll also reiterate that there are other reasons to allow handguns (self-defense, fun) which don’t really apply to grenades, so I don’t even really need to use that.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Grenades, or the equivalent, are rather easy to make. (Ever heard of a Raid bomb? Or even a pipe bomb?)

          I suspect the main reason they’re easy to ban is because if they’re found, it’s because someone is carrying them around, and there’s no practical reason to carry a grenade around other than comparatively indiscriminate violence, which no one has any problem banning. It’s really hard to use a grenade for self defense, since muggers do not have a habit of moving in bands, seeking cover, establishing defensive positions, etc.

          Grenades have uses against an oppressive government, but if you’re out to resist the government, you’re already by definition against the law. And in practice, you would be keeping your grenades well out of sight, not carrying them around and insisting on your right to carry them.

          • bean says:

            Grenades, or the equivalent, are rather easy to make. (Ever heard of a Raid bomb? Or even a pipe bomb?)

            Yes and no. A relatively small explosive is not impossible, but I’d guess (not an expert) that a pipe bomb equivalent to a grenade will be at least twice the size of the grenade, take more work to make, and a lot less reliable.
            The inconvenience involved should not be discounted. I bet that if someone intelligent was tasked with killing as many people as possible using stuff from their local Wal-Mart, the guns wouldn’t even be on the list. But killing with a gun is a lot easier than using whatever chemicals that person would pick, and that’s why most mass killers use guns.

            Other than that, though, well-said.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            grenades have a few problems that I will elucidate

            unlike guns, they are single use, obviously. arguably a gun needs bullets whereas a grenade is of itself the whole package, but bullets are tiny and sort of easy to smuggle. whereas a grenade… is not only large, but pack it wrong and it could blow up. you’d need to go full smuggler on that one. Ah, upon editing I note doctor beat has come to the same