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OT66: Thread Lang Syne (+ Irvine Meetup)

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. Happy new year! And thanks to everyone who read, contributed to, and supported this blog during 2016.

2. I’ll be in Irvine, California early next week. If anyone there wants to meet, I can make the Peet’s Coffee at 4213 Campus Dr, 7:00 PM on January 4th. Don’t expect many posts during that time.

3. I’ve updated the Mistakes page with a few new mistakes and metamistakes.

4. I know that raikoth.net is down. I think I am going to let it disappear quietly. It was poorly organized and too linked to my real name. I’ll repost the non-libertarian FAQ and other interesting stuff here sometime soon. Thanks to everyone who pointed this out to me.

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959 Responses to OT66: Thread Lang Syne (+ Irvine Meetup)

  1. dndnrsn says:

    Slate did an article promoting the claim that North Carolina is not a democracy but has now put up an article by Andrew Gelman attacking that. I think that this is good and Slate is worthy of praise for putting something undermining a point they had previously been making. Not just a retraction of a factual issue, either. And they put the Gelman article at the top of their front page. I would like to see more media outlets being this good about this sort of thing.

    • IrishDude says:

      +1 for praising media accountability.

    • IrishDude says:

      Thinking about this, I feel a news company that made an explicit policy to try to link to critiques to its pieces, without necessarily agreeing with the critiques, would be very appealing to me. Good faith effort to find the most credible critiques would be especially appealing. I’m not sure how this would work as a business model, though.

    • tscharf says:

      The entire meme of “democracy is in danger” seems to have miraculously showed up once the cosmopolitans started losing elections. The cynic would say all this really means is “democracy that results in my preferred outcome is in danger”. Ever since Brexit there has been a continuous temper tantrum in the media and an alternate rephrasing would be “the ability of the “experts”/media to control democracy is in danger”. I see very little threat to democracy and articles like this are woefully short on making the case.

      But your point that the media is occasionally, maybe more than in the past, is willing to walk back some of their own outlandish claims is on point.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I don’t know if they’re more willing to in general, but it was at least heartening in this one case to see a fairly major news-ish site put what amounted to a correction at the top of the front page. Less a “this is a general trend I see” and more a feel-good story of a news site doing the right thing.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I dropped Slate a while ago, but definitely props to them for publishing Gelman’s criticism, even if he had to call them out on it first.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I find that Slate is one of those sites where it’s good if you know which writers to avoid. There are a lot of sites like that.

        • Urstoff says:

          It’s like Vox; anything of actual value will eventually filter down to me through twitter or other websites, but it’s definitely not worth checking on myself.

      • CatCube says:

        I gave up on Slate when Emily Yoffe left as Dear Prudence. I actually was a Slate Plus member for a while due to her writing. I really liked both her advice columns and her long-form stories, despite not usually agreeing with her (although her writing on the dangers of campus drinking was a high point for the site, and she got a *lot* of flack for it)

        Now I can barely stand the bubblehead that took her place.

        • dndnrsn says:

          While Malory Ortberg isn’t as good as Yoffe was – she’s too nice, and she has a habit of missing stuff, especially stuff you would expect a young, with-it left-wing person not to miss (example – woman’s boyfriend dumps her because sex is painful for her for medical reasons, doesn’t give much more detail – Prudence doesn’t respond with request for clarification or note that there’s plenty that isn’t penetrative sex) I think she is a lot better than some people give her credit for.

          Her comedy writing varies between amusing (when the topic is literature, art, history, etc) and phoned-in on-the-nose (when it’s something more “political”). She manages to restrain the latter impulse where the advice column is concerned.

    • John Schilling says:

      That original article is so abysmally bad I’m not sure any rebuttal can really atone for it, though. I mean, it scored a whopping 98/100 on the Schilling Scale of Journalistic Pure Evil, a higher score even than Fox News, according to an analysis by the Media Integrity Project run by Dr. Schilling and widely recognized as a standard for how evil various journalists are.

      Seriously: there may be more to the EIP’s work than that, but you won’t find it in Slate and you won’t find it in any of the first-order links from the Slate piece, so what’s the point? Slate claims to be all about helping people “analyze and understand and interpret the world”; does simply inventing a numerical scale with no explanation beyond an applause-light label now count as analysis or promote understanding?

      • the Media Integrity Project run by Dr. Schilling and widely recognized as a standard for how evil various journalists are.

        I would be interested in your brochure, sir.

        More seriously, while I realise you were satirising the article, I admittedly actually do think it would be nice to have a checklist or sheet to go through to grade these things. Realistically, the problem strikes me as likely too heterogeneous for this to work out, though. Alternatively it will just end up looking like a 1:1 copy of a fallacy/bias checklist, and/or various Wikipedia guidelines. Nonetheless, a widely accepted scale of likely credibility would be such a delightful addition to conversational repertoire. I can’t even see it surviving long as a useful tool if it did exist, culturally speaking, but that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming about it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Agreed on both the desirability and the impracticality of such a thing; pursuing this past a fairly trivial level would run into a pretty clear “who watches the watchmen?” problem.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Well, there’s at the very least this, though it’s too lengthy to be of much use in a day to day basis.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I think about this media accountability issue a lot.

      The obvious approach to start with is for an outlet to put Get the Whole Story as its highest priority; articles with headlines like “The Case For and Against Trump” would be the routine, rather than “Twenty Racist Things Trump Said Last Week” or “Everything You Need to Know About Clinton’s Legal Shenanigans”.

      The obvious limitation to this (other than that one is pretty permanently giving up the ability to scoop) is that every venue is inherently limited. There’s only so many minutes in a TV or radio segment, so many square inches on a broadsheet, and even a website has only so many seconds to command the reader’s attention. That said, the website seems to have the best shot, so I keep wondering how it might arrange information so as to give the most complete picture – probably presenting any issue as a sub-web of documents, each giving points and counterpoints, malleable over time as new information comes in, with tools to assist readers in visualizing it all.

      • suntzuanime says:

        This is what Vox was supposed to be. Contrast with what Vox is, and that’s how this plan ends up.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I haven’t followed Vox enough to say. Coming at it cold, I would have assumed Vox was yet another outlet in the tradition of Salon, Slate, HuffPo, etc. Skimming its WP article, I note it was founded by Ezra Klein, whom I’ve always known to have a progressive lean, even if he’s thoughtful about it, and so I’d expect Vox to “explain the news” in a way that validates his progressive priors, rather than to present everyone’s side of a story.

        • Matt M says:

          I wonder if this a mere artifact of the people out there who are willing to contribute to blogs. Who out there, in the world, is an aspiring professional writer? Probably leans heavily towards college graduates in liberal arts majors, a group of people who lean heavily left.

          So let’s say I decide to start a website to cover news (which inevitably includes politics) and my intention is for it to be neutral and representative. So I go out to the world and say, “Aspiring journalists of the world! Submit your best work to my new site!” I’m probably likely to get 10x as many “Trump is a racist” submissions as I am “Hillary is a pedophile” submissions. The left-leaning submissions are probably likely to be of higher average technical quality (if we assume left-leaning people are more likely to posses journalism degrees, which seems reasonable).

          So as the new site editor, I say “I’ll publish the best writing I get from contributors” which ends up meaning I publish five pretty good anti-Trump pieces, but only one good pro-Trump piece. Then I open my site to the public and what happens? People notice the anti-Trump strongly outnumbers the pro, and the audience self-selects. Trump supporters bash me as biased and stop coming. Trump haters love the site and start sharing my links on Occupy Democrats.

          And now I am Vox. Despite no intentional effort to create a left-wing opinion site, I now have one. I’ll never get the right-wingers back on my side, but if I stop running left-wing stuff my core audience abandons me.

          • John Schilling says:

            Seems to me that one of the most obvious criteria for the newsworthiness and journalistic value of a story is, that the story do something more than just duplicate something you just said yesterday. So, yeah, you get one good and five bad “Hillary is a pedophile” submissions every week, ten good and fifty bad “Trump is a racist” submissions, and you publish one good example of each.

            If you wind up publishing all ten (or sixty) redundant “Racist Trump” pieces, that only indicates that your blog/newspaper/whatever can’t create or attract enough unique content to justify its existence; any consequent bias is secondary to that general inadequacy.

            If you get one good anti-Hillary piece and eight good different anti-Trump piece, say because you live in the alternate universe where Hillary’s only negative is abysmal COMSEC discipline whereas Trump is an incompetent, thin-skinned, ignorant, boorish, fraudulent, omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, each element of which merits an article in its own right, then you actually do get to say that it isn’t the media but rather reality itself that has the anti-Trump bias.

          • Matt M says:

            “If you get one good anti-Hillary piece and eight good different anti-Trump piece, say because you live in the alternate universe where Hillary’s only negative is abysmal COMSEC discipline whereas Trump is an incompetent, thin-skinned, ignorant, boorish, fraudulent, omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, each element of which merits an article in its own right, then you actually do get to say that it isn’t the media but rather reality itself that has the anti-Trump bias.”

            And this is probably what would happen. Not in the sense that this is actual reality – but in the sense that this is reality as interpreted by the class of “aspiring journalists” who are the people that are going to submit things to a new site.

            So unless the editor very explicitly says something like “No, no more anti-Trump pieces, I don’t care how good they are, until we get some quality anti-Hillary pieces up” then it’s probably going to be a long wait. Because there simply aren’t that many quality/trained anti-Hillary writers.

          • John Schilling says:

            And this is probably what would happen. Not in the sense that this is actual reality – but in the sense that this is reality as interpreted by the class of “aspiring journalists” who are the people that are going to submit things to a new site.

            If you live in the actual reality where there was more than one thing wrong with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, why are you not getting at least one decent article on all of the others? The “class of aspiring journalists” is not that small or monolithic, and while ideological conservatives may be rare there are also the purely mercenary and the generically anti-authoritarian.

            If you’re not publishing a full spectrum of negative articles about the Hillary Clinton candidacy as well as Trump’s, I do not believe it is because there is nobody willing to write those articles. Either you are rejecting even the good ones, or you are conspicuously signaling that it would be a waste of time to submit them to you.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The tendency in media today appears to be lying by omission rather than commission, and playing to people’s tendency to not want to notice things that are inconvenient. At least in Slate’s case they’ve brought up a correction of sorts that hurts the narrative they were pushing.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Strong agreement with the claim that lying by omission is the more common practice. I was interested also by the fact that such omissions are unavoidable even if the reporter is sincere, because the venue space is limited.

          This makes lying by omission even more insidious, because to a newcomer, it’s hard to tell whether an omission was malicious or an honest mistake.

  2. sty_silver says:

    I just had a really frightening idea. I hope someone can chime in and tell me why this is ridiculous and can’t possibly be true.

    If there are lots of parallel worlds, which is my current understanding of quantum physics (based on reading Eliezer’s sequence), then I suspect that an event with, say, 70% reasonable subjective probability actually just occurs in 70% of all worlds going forward, and doesn’t in 30% of them. So it would make more sense to always think “how frequently does this happen” and not “how likely is this to happen”

    What if the only reason why humanity hasn’t gone extinct yet is that “humanity hasn’t gone extinct yet” is a necessary condition for a consciousness to exist right now, so of course, for all of us, humanity hasn’t gone extinct yet, and never will, but in truth it did in fact go extinct in most worlds?

    This could also explain why we haven’t actually come into contact with alien life, for one of two reasons.

    1. the chance for a species to not go extinct until it colonizes other planets is actually really low, so for each individual world where we haven’t gone extinct, it is unlikely that any specific alien race also hasn’t gone extinct. Perhaps so low that, in most of them, all other races have gone extinct.

    2. this is simply another filter: in worlds where there is even just one other species which hasn’t gone extinct before reaching singularity, we don’t get to live

    Has it really been luck that we avoided nuclear war?

    Again, not a sufficient understanding of quantum physics to be confident that any of this even makes sense. If it does, I’m sure someone has said it before.

    • lvlln says:

      I’m not sure what’s frightening about this? Just sounds like the anthropic principle.

      • rlms says:

        I think it’s different. The anthropic principle explains why exist currently, even if it seems very improbable, but it doesn’t guarantee that we will very improbably survive in the future.

    • shakeddown says:

      Scott Aaronson mentions some similar thought experiments in his book (but ironically, with the role of quantum physics replaced by God).
      I’d say the main reason not to worry about it is that, whatever your interpretation of quantum physics, it ultimately all adds up to normality. I’m also against the “naive MWI” interpretation of quantum physics, where you think of it as multiple full worlds like ours interacting – there’s a wide range of ways to imagine MWI (or other interpretations). The only reason to prefer that one is that it’s more intuitive for us, and quantum physics doesn’t have a history of being predictable by considering what would be most intuitive.

      I also find this MWI somewhat reassuring – no matter what happens, humanity (and you!) lives on in some world, so you’re practically immortal, in a way.

      • sty_silver says:

        I do find it reassuring. It solves the argument of “you can’t live forever because there is always a non-zero chance that you die in an accident so there exists a finite amount of time after which you do.” I ultimately think it would be a good thing, but it still also frightens me.

        What interpretation of multiple worlds do you think of as most likely?

        • shakeddown says:

          I imagine it as multiple planes interacting, but not in a way that’s really separable – instead of discrete worlds, Dark-Materials style, they’re linked in a way that makes asking which world you’re in meaningless most of the time.
          But I’m not particularly confident in that (and I don’t know quantum physics well enough to be sure it’s technically reasonable). I’d regard quantum mechanics interpretation (to the degree that interpretation is even meaningful, since it’s hard to come up with a thought experiment to distinguish between them) as an antiprediction – you can try to guess, but you’ll probably be wrong just because there are a lot of possible answers and there’s no reason the right one would be at all intuitive to humans.

    • StellaAthena says:

      This view of the probability of an event is common, but is not really supported by MWI. Maybe with a lot more theoretical work, but it’s very possible to believe in MWI and not believe this. The main issue is that the MWI is about quantum-level events and there’s no particular reason to think that the macro-level event “the coin comes up heads” will be true in precisely half of the worlds. You can partially get around this by redefining probability to make this true by definition, but I don’t think that’s the right move because I want to say that a coin comes up heads with probability one half. It’s also unclear what intuitions and theorems about bayesian probability hold for MW probability.

      Taking a measure on the set of possible worlds is complicated and highly depends on if you have a model in which there are finitely many or infinitely many possible worlds, as well as how to appropriately partially order them. Plus you have to start worrying about 0-1 laws as soon as you hit infinitely many worlds.

  3. sflicht says:

    Tech question for security folks:

    I just went through the experience of an international move, which entails switching cellular carriers and necessarily changing one’s phone number. This is quite painful if one makes an effort to secure one’s most important online identities using 2FA and with backup recovery to ensure (or make more likely) access in a wide range of compromise or factor-loss scenarios. Indeed, it’s sufficiently painful that when I originally moved abroad a year ago I was never able to configure 2FA on my account at a major American bank, since their system is apparently incompatible with internationally formatted phone numbers; I went so far as to escalate this issue to their CIO via LinkedIn stalking and although I eventually got a response, the issue was never fixed.

    I want to know if there are theoretical models that should guide the construction of a secure, robust network of which identities should back up and verify which other ones. Assume anonymity is neither required nor particularly desired. Assume an average joe level of threat severity; i.e. I’m ultimately concerned about attacks from people looking to steal credentials that enable them to steal money from me, not nation state actors or industrial spies seeking to learn my secrets. Assume such a typical user will interact with online identities in roughly the following categories. This is a long list but I think it is close to comprehensive (for the level of abstraction I care about) and representative of the current landscape of possibilities:

    * Primary personal computing device, which in practice for most users is associated with an Apple or Microsoft account, and for most other users with an account on a mailing list or support messageboard for their hardware or OS vendor (even if opensource).

    * Primary personal communications device, which in practice for most users is associated with an Apple (iOS) or Google (Android) account, and has an additional identity layer associated with a communications service provider, which may or may not (but in practice almost always does) involve a separate online identity.

    * “Primary” digital identity or identities — main personal email address, FB account, twitter address, Amazon account, etc. — which may or may not coincide with the accounts associated with computing and communications devices.

    * “Trusted but contingent/uncontrolled” digital identities — mainly I mean one’s work email, work phone, etc. There may be no guarantee of reliable access to this under all circumstances (because of firing, or due to lack of access to authentication tokens generated in other identities that might become compromised; if your employer has stronger security requirements than you do as an individual, you can’t assume you’ll get an exemption and be able to access your work email if the shit hits the fan).

    * OS/platform-specific password manager accounts

    * Cross-platform password manager accounts

    * Subsidiary computing devices (home LAN, TVs, tablets, wearables, Alexa), each associated with a hardware or OS vendor identity, not necessarily identical to the primary’s.

    * Subsidary communications devices (backup phones, parent’s landline, etc.) each associated with a hardware or OS vendor identity, not necessarily identical to the primary’s.

    * Subsidiary online identities — Yahoo! email accounts, online shopping accounts at random stores you don’t frequent regularly, etc. Because of OAUTH etc, these can and likely do coincide with identities from somewhere higher up on this list. Some of these identities may be particularly security sensitive — e.g. online banking — and yet NOT coincident with any identity higher on this list (e.g. because no online bank I’ve interacted with uses OAuth).

    * Any service or identity above has the ability to provide a “safe deposit box” list of 1 or more backup codes (effectively one-time pads) that grant identity verification to anyone who posseses a valid, unused code.

    Remember that each bullet point (except, by definition, the “primaries”) might expand into a handful — from 1 to dozens — of individual identities. If one is relatively “faithful” to a particular platform, the total set of independent “important” identities might conceivably be as small as 5, but it’s hard to imagine it much smaller, and easy to imagine it substantially bigger.

    Each purely digital identity should be associated with a primary email address, a password (optionally generated by or at least tracked within a password manager), a 2FA identity (physical or digital), and a backup identity. Each password manager must have a master identity or master password. Each non-digital identity (e.g. a specific SIM card) will generally be associated with at least one primary digital identity. Each backup code must be stored either literally in a safe deposit box, carried physically on one’s person, and/or stored digitally on a personal device or cloud platform.

    Each password must be remembered, recoverable from a backup device/identity, or stored in a password manager. Each master password or password for a master identity must be remembered or recoverable from a backup device/identity. Each device/identity must be upgradable, replaceable, and the cost of doing so scales roughly linearly with the number of other devices using it as a backup and the difficulty of obtaining its password (via memory, manager, or subsidiary recovery) as well as access to a second factor.

    So one ends up with a very complicated set of information that I think can probably be *most simply* modeled as a weighted directed graph. Nodes are identities and/or devices. An edge from identity A to B means A verifies or backs up B, either explicitly or de facto (because the passwords or accounts are either literally identical or because the password for B is guaranteed assuming access to A, e.g. a backup code for Google stored on an iCloud account). An edge weight represents something like the “cost” of maintaining the backup relationship, reflecting factors such as the likelihood of losing control over identity A, and the time cost of updating the backup relationship if one upgrades or replaces identity A. The node weights (possibly vector valued) encode factors about each identity, such as importance (utility loss from compromise), perceived security (on the vendor side), derived value (discounted present value of the future utility earned from the node provided it remains uncompromised), etc.

    This graph is very unlikely to be completely acyclic. It’s possible that it might be *directed* acyclic, if you’re careful about how you set it up.

    And so finally we come to my question, which seems like it could conceivably have a mathematical answer. Assuming all of the above, can one confidently say *anything* about the relationship between the properties of this weighted directed graph and one’s “overall security / identity robustness”? For example, does directed acyclity increase security? Does it it reduce robustness? Is there a sensible way to model this tradeoff, assuming it exists?

    • StellaAthena says:

      The only relevant bullet to this problem is

      * Any service or identity above has the ability to provide a “safe deposit box” list of 1 or more backup codes (effectively one-time pads) that grant identity verification to anyone who posseses a valid, unused code.

      All of the others are just paramter setting and instantiation, which is ignored in a theoretical framework. There is a major issue with these kinds of directed graphs though: they cannot model non-degenerate 2FA. If I have 2FA set up on two devices and no single device is able to grant access to both of them, then the fact that I need simultaneous access to both is fundamentally important. I’ll put more thought into this later, but my initial thought is that what you want is to introduce weighted threshold functions that indicate when access is achievable. There are some cool applications of things that sound like this in electronics, but I don’t know much about them.

    • beleester says:

      The first thing that comes to mind is to look at the tree for each node: i.e., given that I’ve compromised this node, how many other nodes can I compromise? The accounts that give the most access need the most security. Your Gmail account can compromise everything, your forum account can compromise very little. And I can imagine someone coming up with rules like “If your account can compromise N important things, then it needs to use two-factor authentication.”

      The other thing to look for is nodes with no incoming edges – they have no backup if you lose their password, except maybe the safe deposit code. Actually, it probably makes more sense to model the safe-deposit box (or wherever you keep those codes) as a separate node, since access to them can be controlled separately.

      Cycles aren’t necessarily bad – they mean that you can never lose access to anything in the cycle so long as you still have control of at least one node in it, and by the same token, access to one gives you access to all of them. It might make sense to simplify these cycles by using a shared login for all of them. However, cycles will be rare unless you deliberately set one up – say, storing your computer password on your phone and storing your phone’s password on the computer.

      That said, most people probably don’t have very interesting-looking graphs. Most websites allow only 1 form of backup – an email account. Or they don’t even do that, they just have a “Connect with Facebook” button. So your online identity graph consists of a couple of authentication providers – Facebook, Google, etc. – and everything else just asks them to authenticate their users.

      • StellaAthena says:

        I would go one further than saying “cycles aren’t bad” and say “cycles are necessary in a world in which you regularly utilize recovery options.”

        I agree that most people’s networks will look pretty much like a few overlaid stars.

        It’s worth noting that if I’m hacking you, trying to deny you access and trying to gain access will cause me to attack different nodes. Probably the same in practice, but to deny you access I want to target chokepoints of your flow network. If I wanted to gain control of your online identity, I would attack high degree nodes (-ish. I really want to attack nodes with a high shadow of the sort you describe). I don’t see any reason to assume that they are the same in general.

        It’s possible to make an email address you never use, turn it into a password manager (attachments to drafts you never send) which makes the network more interesting. But I mostly think people will have superimposed stars.

  4. HeelBearCub says:

    Is it just me, or are their ~30 either new or very infrequent commenters on the Trump post, mostly pro-Trump?

    • Brad says:

      Probably got linked by MR. SA should reach out to TC and ask him not to do that. His posts are sometimes pretty good, but his commenters as a group are awful.

    • TenMinute says:

      Three open threads in a row without dissenting opinions was just enough to whet the appetite for more. I agree it’s a problem.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      No, it’s not just you. I lean towards “new” for most of them, because I don’t remember any of the names from the Election Posts (like Scott’s endorsement) and Trump-related OTs. If they were merely infrequent posters I would’ve expected to see at least some of them in those discussions, given how aggressively some of the pro-trump supporters were posting.

    • Anon. says:

      The Trump posts get a lot of traction on twitter, I think that’s where they’re coming from. The latest one hasn’t been linked by MR (yet).

  5. onyomi says:

    I saw this website advertised on my Facebook feed. It seems basically to be a site for facilitating a barter economy, albeit including the use of some kind of “credits” which presumably function sort of like money.

    Isn’t this just a way to get around dealing with taxes and regulations related to real money changing hands? Because I can see no advantage to it other than that. The whole point of money is to solve the double coincidence of wants problem. This website states that “the economy isn’t working for us.” Doesn’t this really mean government regulations on the economy aren’t working for us? Because I can’t see any point to this other than their avoidance (of course, there’s probably a hipsterish notion that trading your time and energy for others’ time and energy is somehow more virtuous than trading it for dirty money). Is it kind of sad we have to revert to a quasi-paleolithic form of exchange because our government have done so much to ruin one of humanity’s greatest inventions (money)?

    • Matt M says:

      “(of course, there’s probably a hipsterish notion that trading your time and energy for others’ time and energy is somehow more virtuous than trading it for dirty money).”

      This is almost certainly their entire value proposition. The town I grew up in developed a “credits” system that was basically this – it grew in popularity more than I expected it to, until virtually all of the “credits” ended up concentrated in the hands of a small handful of the more entrepreneurial-minded dirty hippies of the town who were able to scale their free-range egg and hemp basket businesses. So a few left-leaning business owners who were willing to accept the “credits” ended up with a crap-ton of them and virtually nothing they could spend them on.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @onyomi:
      Usually the drive behind barter economies is left-wing and the objection is to the non-locality of federal money, specifically the dominance of national and international corporations. The idea is that if I spend money in the local community, much of it will eventual flow into the coffers of Walmart, but barter has to remain local.

      I doubt it works very well in practice, because at some point you will get to durable goods that can be sold for currency …

      My sense is these do tend to be driven by left-libertarian types who don’t like “the government” either, but mostly because the government is doing things they don’t like, like propping up Exxon or waging war, but also not somehow making so that all food comes from small, organic farming.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, that makes a certain amount of sense; I certainly don’t think the creators or most of the users of this site are thinking “ah hah, a way to get around taxes and regulations!” I think their motivations are probably more like you describe–to create some notion of a “fair” economy. My point was that I feel like they are doing arguably a very right-wing thing (getting around the government) for left-wing reasons (though if you frame it in terms of “getting around big corporations” that could be considered “left wing”). That is, I don’t think they’d get the sense that “the economy isn’t working for them” if, for example, hiring someone to do something didn’t require figuring out a W2 and all that implies.

        It sounds like the system Matt M describes above functioned like you describe–a way to “keep money local,” though it’s a bit odd to “keep things local” within an online community–you want to make sure benefits flow only to like-minded hipsters and not those faceless corporations (and the third-world workers they employ and the old people’s pensions who buy their stock), I guess? Though I do see how, in either case, it also works to discourage any one person from accumulating too many “credits” (and therefore from working too hard…), because at a certain point they become kind of useless.

        But this again strikes me as a regression disguised as innovation: the global economy provides too many cool things you can do with your money; let’s replace it with Itchy and Scratchy money, which is only good for buying organic produce and hand-made soap, thereby forcing people either to have two jobs, or else to participate only in a severely limited economy (though to the extent you think people participating in a limited economy is an end in itself, this might be a good commitment strategy to prevent defection).

        Don’t get me wrong–to the extent it’s a way to, in effect, make money off of skills without a lot of red tape, I support it; like seasteading, however, it strikes me as a good idea which is also kind of sad–because of how limited options must be for it to get to the point people would suggest it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Eh.

          I don’t think of it as much more than a marketing program for the local economy. Roto-rooter won’t take those credits but the local plumber might.

          And the local plumber who will take them is the one who also happens to like fresh from the hen free-range eggs and local grass fed beef and likes to use pure copper pipes because plastic is toxic.

          Left-libertarians think the government is in thrall to corporate special interests, but I don’t think that makes them conservatives.

          • onyomi says:

            Considering how much my local plumber charged to fix my drain last time, I wish I could have paid in eggs… unless it were $250 worth…

        • Aapje says:

          @onyomi

          I believe that another reason is to introduce inefficiencies into the system, so the labor of the local poor becomes comparatively more valuable. As such, there is a redistribution element.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The first barter system I heard of Ithaca Hours had a rationale that people who had trouble getting paid in dollars were brought into beneficial trade. There was also a claim that circulating money locally was good for the locality, perhaps an anti-Moloch argument.

        There’s a claim in the article that local currencies need someone to promote them actively, which is probably evidence that local currences are a bit more trouble than they’re worth.

    • dndnrsn says:

      If you’re doing a lot of this, it probably would not be a way to avoid taxes. I don’t know American taxes, but there are jurisdictions where barter can be taxed:

      5. In the case of services bartered by a taxpayer for either goods or services, the value of those services must be brought into the taxpayer’s income where they are of the kind generally provided by him in the course of earning income from, or are related to, a business or a profession carried on by him. Examples are a dentist or the owner of a plumbing business who agrees to fix someone’s teeth or drains (respectively) in return for services or property provided by the other party. Where the taxpayer is an employee, e.g. a mechanic, occasional help given to a friend or neighbour in exchange for something would not be taxable unless the taxpayer made a regular habit of providing such services for cash or barter.

      6. In the case of goods bartered by a taxpayer for either goods or services, the value of those goods must similarly be brought into the taxpayer’s income if they are business-related. For example, the value of groceries given by a grocer to someone in exchange for something else must be brought into the grocer’s income. In addition, other goods bartered may give rise to a capital gain. Such would be the case if capital property in the form of a valuable painting, a sailboat or land is bartered for goods or services.

      7. In arm’s length transactions, where an amount must be brought into income or treated as proceeds of disposition of capital property, that amount is the price which the taxpayer would normally have charged a stranger for his services or would normally have sold his goods or property to a stranger. The cost of the services, goods or property received by him is the same amount as the total value of the goods, property or services given up, plus any cash given as part of the barter, and minus any cash received as part of the barter. The same rules would apply in non-arm’s length transactions, subject to the provisions of section 69 which would override them where appropriate, e.g. by restricting the cost of goods received to their fair market value.

      It also looks like credits on barter sites that use them can be taxed, and Bitcoin is taxable.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        If you’re doing a lot of this, it probably would not be a way to avoid taxes. I don’t know American taxes, but there are jurisdictions where barter can be taxed:

        Oh yes, barter is definitely subject to taxation in the US. You have income for the fair market value of the object you give up (or the object you receive, if that is easier to value). But barter may be more difficult for the IRS to track, if your aim is to evade taxes.

        I remember being at a tax conference where the head of the IRS spoke (for non-Americans, the IRS is the federal tax collection agency). He talked about having a plumber come to his house and ask that he be paid in cash for tax purposes (that is, so he could exclude it from his income). I kind of suspect that plumber was audited soon afterwards.

        • Matt M says:

          I’ve seen various libertarian circles promote the idea that you should always tip service industry personnel in cash, so that they can more easily not report it for tax purposes and keep it themselves, rather than handing it over to the government.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Doesn’t work that way for service personnel a lot of the time. Depending on state law and industry, tips often have to be turned in and counted by the employer so they can be taxed appropriately and/or for a toke share system (some places pool tips and distribute them evenly across all tipped positions).

            In those situations since the employer can get slapped with tax fraud penalties for inaccuracy in tip reporting, they respond by firing anyone caught pocketing tips.

    • IrishDude says:

      You lose in efficiency from a dollars perspective, but gain from the being part of a community perspective. It’s a kind of modern commune with the web facilitating connections at a larger distance than living in the same compound. It’s not for me, but I can see the appeal to some people.

  6. I keep trying to respond to John Schilling’s personal account of journalism to thank him, since it’s a data point I find really valuable and encouraging, but the comment is not showing up in any variant, so I’m trying my luck with a top-level comment. Sorry about this! This is the comment:

    @John Schilling:

    The stories they subsequently wrote, and the quotes they chose to highlight, were fair and balanced, and of particular importance to me, they didn’t misrepresent anything I had said to support someone else’s agenda.

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m glad that happens. (And I hope it happens more than its opposite.)

    • Scott helped me out, but now all of my comments have appeared and look predictably weird and obnoxious. Sorry about this. 🙂 I can’t delete them any more since they’re from yesterday. (Apparently SSC was convinced I was a spambot for some reason, Scott was so nice to convince it otherwise.)

  7. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I got some Bragg apple and assrted fruit vinegar on a whim, and found it was very tasty.

    Then I found that a lot of people using Bragg’s just plain apple cider vinegar for their health, and happy with it.

    There’s at least some reason to think that vinegar is good for people.

    For some reason, vinegar for health has barely shown up for me previously, so now I’m wondering what folks here think of it whether from looking at the evidence or trying it yourselves.

    • TenMinute says:

      Honey and apple cider vinegar in hot water (with a pinch of salt) is by far the best thing to drink when you’re sick, or especially if you’re congested/coughing.

  8. rlms says:

    I found this headline amusing: “Leaked emails reveal Bush and Blair planned Iraq war before the invasion“. As opposed to what? The honourable and expected strategy of just making things up as they went along?

    • Matt M says:

      I recall during the Bush years there was once some sort of controversy when it somehow got leaked to the media that the Pentagon had “already developed plans for an invasion of Iran.”

      Even as a pretty anti-war person, my response was basically, “Who cares? It’s their job to plan, isn’t it? What are we paying everyone in that building sitting around at desks for if not to make plans?”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I don’t know. Those emails read not like “We have contingency plans for war in Iraq”, but rather “We have decided to go to war in Iraq but we need to know how to convince the MPs”. There is also the framing that “the war on terrorism” and “Iraq” are separate (when they were eventually sold as a package.)

      • gbdub says:

        Should they not strategize on how to build support for the policy they’ve agreed on?

        Insofar as they are doing so dishonestly, fine – but the mere fact that they are planning it doesn’t seem problematic.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The storyline at the time was that things hadn’t been pre-decided. It was all based in “emerging information”. Those who were against the war Iraq tended to say this was B.S. and were essentially shouted down by the post 9/11 fervor. Hussein was blamed for being involved in 9/11, etc.

          As such, I don’t see it as particularly surprising when people are finding information and publishing an argument that is essentially, “See, I told you it was pre-decided”.

          • gbdub says:

            I think you’re reading deeper than the OP, who I took as mostly bemused by the headline. Which is indeed bemusing: “SHOCKING NEWS: Bush Had a Plan!”

            Also I’m not sure “Hussein was blamed for 9/11” is really accurate, if you’re talking about actual administration rhetoric. “9/11 proves how dangerous a man like Hussein could be, because he’s willing to sponsor terrorism”, sure. A nuance, but still a distinction.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            gbdub, if you’re not really sure, maybe you should look it up.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Hussein was responsible for 9/11” was part of the cultural memeplex that led to any criticism of the justifications for going to war with Iraq being shouted down. It wasn’t part of the official justification, I agree.

            But I seem to recall it being fluffed quite a bit by various people who were quasi-official in the run up to the decision.

          • rlms says:

            @gbdub
            Correct, I make no judgement about the contents of the article.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            OK, Bush and Cheney never said that Saddam was behind 9/11. They only said that said that he was currently supporting Al Qaeda.

  9. tscharf says:

    An unusually balanced, unhysterical, and refreshing view of Trumpism from the New Yorker:

    Intellectuals for Trump
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/09/intellectuals-for-trump

    This is one of the few I have read that rings true.

    • onyomi says:

      With Vox and Reason quoting SSC, and the New Yorker reporting on this guy (and many other examples), I think it’s become the case, weirdly enough, but I think without hyperbole, that the best new political thought now comes not from polisci departments nor the traditional news media, but from frequently semi-anonymous blogs. The traditional media rarely introduces any interesting new perspectives or ideas themselves; it merely reports on them; and increasingly it’s not professor-so-and-so’s new book; it’s Scott Alexander’s new blogpost.

      • Riothamus says:

        I do not see this as weird. Professors tend to formalism and analyzing current politics, not innovating new politics. Journalists report on events for the benefit of our analysis, and their real job is selling advertisements.

        It seems like we should expect the best new thought to come from intelligent people making a good-faith effort, in context, and with a minimum of competing incentives. A quality blogger cuts right to the intersection of those qualifications.

        • Aapje says:

          It’s also easier than ever to find out people’s past statements and hang them by it, so the best strategy for career advancement today, in prominent positions, seems to follow the herd.

      • Oh, that isn’t new.

        The most cogent thoughts on the role of Catholicism in the world during the 1300’s were not from the common popular preachers that had plenty of utility motives for their public words, but from some generally quiet scholar who (may) have contributed something intelligent to a town pamphlet, worded carefully.

        Now those scholars have blogs.

        And Vox and Reason are very…VERY different places then CNN and Fox, and those places have quoted a wide variety of sources not often heard of online.

        • onyomi says:

          That is an interesting way to look at it. Speaking about the Chinese tradition just because it’s the one I know best, the writers who, in retrospect, turn out to have been the most creative or long-term influential are usually not part of that period’s cathedral, or, if they are, the stuff they end up famous for isn’t all the official bureaucratic memorials they wrote. Seemingly the best thing for your output was to get all the training of an elite bureaucrat and then be exiled to somewhere with nothing to do but write and correspond. That is, blogging may be new, but the intellectual “space” it occupies isn’t. But what is the early 20th c. equivalent of a blog? 19th c.? 18th c….?

      • tscharf says:

        I’m obviously too old, but I really don’t understand this entire “I need to be anonymous to speak out on this subject” thing that has been going on much more frequently in the past decade.

        I suppose there is great fear that they will be held accountable later for supporting a position that becomes unpalatable socially or professionally. I’m still amazed that the Internet is being used more effectively as a tool of what I view as social conformity than it is for social expression. Conscious and unconscious enforcement of group think seems to be a real problem and I guess Twitter (not a user) and Facebook (not a user) with their immediate feedback are a big issue for people who highly value social acceptance?

        I believe the media would be much different, and much more interesting, if they weren’t monitoring Twitter and Facebook like hawks and getting daily ratings on every thing they write.

        • Matt M says:

          I think this sort of mindset changes, both depending on your age and depending on your intentions.

          More and more people these days start their internet experience as young children with stern lectures from their parents on how they must NEVER give their real name or pedophiles will come rape them.

          Then you become a teenager, where social media can get you mocked and ostracized from various cliques and factions in high school, or – if you’re more of a nerd, you take up trolling and appreciate the ability of anonymity to shield you from the consequences of using racial slurs or whatever.

          At some point you pass into early adulthood, at which point shedding anonymity might potentially help you… if your intention is to become a journalist or develop “fame” to some particular extent. Or if your online presence is exclusively professional and uncontroversial, it could help your career prospects if say, you use your real name LinkedIn profile to comment constructively on articles and blog posts related to your industry.

          BUT, if you just post online “recreationally” and you occasionally address controversial issues, it might still help to be anonymous. This category probably includes our host on this blog. While he could undoubtedly parlay this blog into a column on some website or maybe even a book deal – there’s also no question that some of the stuff here could harm his career prospects within the medical field.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Is there increased conformity?

          Be careful interpreting what you see. When people say “I have to say this anonymously,” that might be a sign of increased conformity. But if the alternative is not saying it at all, it is a sign of decreased conformity. And if they didn’t used to say it at all, how would you know about the conformity?

          Past telecommunications have increased many types of conformity, so that is the way to bet for the internet. I’m not sure what you mean by “social expression,” but I don’t see much conflict with conformity. Telecommunications imposes conformity on only a few attributes, leaving increased diversity on the rest. Much of the conformity is on attributes that were already subject to severe conformity, but now the capital imposes its fashion on the provinces.

          held accountable later…becomes unpalatable…
          …people who highly value social acceptance

          The New Yorker article is quite explicit that the fear is not of a twitterstorm, but of being fired; and the fear is of being fired today, not of potential future shifts.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          I’m obviously too old, but I really don’t understand this entire “I need to be anonymous to speak out on this subject” thing that has been going on much more frequently in the past decade.

          Man, I envy your job security.

          Douglas Knight hit the nail on the head. Even leaving aside commentary on politically radioactive issues like race or gender, there are a lot of dumb mistakes which can end your career if someone decides to pass them on to your boss and/or HR.

          • Back in Usenet days, my wife used to worry that someone I had offended might heave a brick through our window, but it never happened.

            The only time I can think of when anything undesirable happened due to the pubic nature of my posts was when I carelessly gave my true opinion about a fellow libertarian intellectual who I didn’t think was very smart, forgetting that he would see it and naturally be offended.

          • John Schilling says:

            Just about every example on the linked reddit is about someone losing a job, probably not a career, for inappropriate social media posts explicitly about their job. Usually grossly unprofessional ones, e.g. releasing customer information.

            That’s a fairly specific sort of concern that shouldn’t call for a pseudonym in one’s general social-media persona.

          • Fahundo says:

            At least two that I saw claimed someone refused to hire them because they either didn’t have a Facebook account or didn’t post on it enough.

            Also like the one about the guy getting fired after preventing some old man from abducting a kid. I bet all the good stories in that thread are made up though.

          • US says:

            One thing that might be worth keeping in mind is that many implicit sanctions are the result of social activities online which may go unnoticed by the individual who was sanctioned, but the sanction may nevertheless be potentially important in specific contexts. This makes everything a bit more sinister; in some contexts it may be hard to tell if your online activities hurt you, because you may never know that they did. You may for example fail to get a job interview because HR googled you and found an unfortunate Facebook post which indicated that you might not be a good fit to the organization (first impressions can be very important, even if – or perhaps especially if – those impressions are wrong), a former friend/acquaintance/colleague may stop talking to you because of something you wrote unthinkingly online using your own name, but he or she may never tell you that’s why they stopped interacting with you, or people may use things you write online against you in conversations with others without your knowledge. This is hardly an exhaustive list. A somewhat serious if presumably uncommon example could also be mentioned in this context: In Denmark a far-left organization was for example a few years ago found in possession of a server including personal details (including data likely obtained through hacking such as bank account information and emails) of almost 6000 political opponents. Many of them presumably featured on the lists because of things they had written online, and most of the people on those lists naturally had no idea that they had been included in such a registry. Many of them presumably still do not. The existence of the registry is perhaps perceived as more relevant when it is kept in mind that the people charged were people who either had previous convictions of- or were simultaneously charged with violent assault, vandalism, illegal arms possession, and possession of material to be used for bomb-making. Will the ISIL sleeper cells in Germany be making lists like these in the future, to complement the indiscriminate killings they seem to prefer at the moment? Who knows? These examples are admittedly somewhat unusual and may not apply to many people, and unless you’re highly involved in a specific sphere of online activities I think it is unlikely that your activities will be important enough to ‘merit offline attention’ by your ‘opponents’ in any sort of targeted manner, but I do think it’s an important consideration that there may be a lot of dimensions which are potentially important when one engages online, and one may not be aware of all of them at the time one engages, or even afterwards. Many of the risks taken by not making it hard for others to identify you will be hard to quantify at least partly because you may not get any feedback of relevance, even when an effect is there.

          • tscharf says:

            I’m self employed, so of course this is one of the reasons I don’t understand it as well.

            I guess I find it abhorrent that one could be fired for taking stances unrelated to work on my free time. I know there have been a few high profile firings but it seems very rare and more of a CEO public facing position that got mobbed on social media (not a fan of this either).

            But a professional can’t take a pro-Trump position without going anonymous, but they can be openly hostile to Trump? Something is really broken there. Bizarre and worrisome.

          • John Schilling says:

            Being fired for one’s non-work-related facebook postings seems to be at least a three-sigma rare event, thought not limited to CEOs.

            As US points out, the real question is whether the rare events are exerting a chilling effect on what should be tolerable behavior. That’s how most heavy-handed social engineering is done, after all. When our ancestors passed laws against gay sex, it wasn’t with the expectation that every gay person would wind up in prison, but that they would all hide so far back in the closet that they could never find another gay person to have sex with. If the unforgivable offense is now refusing to bake a cake for someone’s gay wedding, or tweeting anything vaguely homophobic, same deal – it’s a big expensive hassle to arrest all those people, or sue them, fire them, drive them out of business, whatever, and it makes whoever is doing it look like bullies. The greater victory is making them all afraid to do anything but smile and claim that they agree with us about everything we care about.

  10. itsabeast says:

    Does anyone have recommendations for transhumanist fiction?

    • cassander says:

      Blindsight, by Peter Watts, the best Sci-Fi novel ever written.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        the best Sci-Fi novel ever written.

        Blindsight seems to have gotten a bit over-hyped.

        The core concept is very good but the execution was poor. In particular, it seems like setting and characterization bends to the needs of the narrative rather than the story flowing from believable interactions between the characters and their world. The best science fiction starts with an alien world and explores it while the world of Blindsight reads like it was built in reverse order.

        A good example of that is pretty much everything to do with the vampires. There are clear plot and thematic reasons why they needed to be around and to have the traits that they did. But it was extremely unclear why humans would deliberately bring them back in that form, given how humanity was otherwise portrayed. It’s not an unsolvable problem but it’s one that came about IMO because the author just wasn’t interested in their backstory beyond what was needed to establish them.

        I tried to read it a while back and that sort of thing was what prevented me from getting all the way through it despite otherwise liking the writing and ideas on display.

        • Riothamus says:

          Have you tried reading Echopraxia? They address the how and why of the vampires in considerably more detail.

          believable interactions between the characters and their world

          I would go as far as to say that any book which meets this standard has not done a good job portraying transhumans or aliens.

          Normally readers are asked to accept the ridiculous nature of the characters or aliens, and to consider their actions. In this case we are asked to accept the incomprehensibility of their actions, and consider their nature.

          Much better method for treating the subject, in my view.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Count me in the “Blindsight is overhyped” camp. It’s pretty good but seriously…

      • Riothamus says:

        I second this suggestion, as well as the follow-up Echopraxia. As a bonus, the author has notes and citations for the inspiration for his concepts, and was a marine biologist before doing writing full time. It is considerably harder than the usual fare as a consequence.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I would also strongly recommend Blindsight and Echopraxia. YMMV as to whether it’s overhyped, but the first book is by far the best actual Hard SF I’ve come across or even heard of in years. The second softens the SF somewhat, and I think it is because what the author’s wanting to talk/think about in terms of philosophy and theory of mind is driving the bus more. Still a very interesting read.

        • caethan says:

          Greg Egan does better Hard SF. I haven’t read Echopraxia, but I wouldn’t rate Blindsight as Hard SF at all.

      • rlms says:

        I’d recommend heartily, but probably not go that far. It might be the best sci-fi novel I’ve ever read, but that would be mainly because I’ve not read that many sci-fi novels.

      • moridinamael says:

        I second this recommendation. It is my favorite science fiction story.

    • Brad says:

      I enjoyed The Nexus Trilogy.

    • hlynkacg says:

      It’s more humanist than “Transhumanist”, but I can not recommend Transmetroplitan highly enough. Consider how mad today’s society would look from the perspective of someone born in 1700, now try to imagine the kind of future that would produce a similar effect in us.

      Yes it’s a comic, but the densely illustrated cityscapes and advertisements for (cloned) Irish “long-pig” hamburger patties are part of the package.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Aside from the Farsight Reservation and Foglets I agree that it’s not very Transhumanist, but yeah, it is a damn fine comic and gets my hearty endorsement.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Don’t forget the Transients and the simple fact that it’s exploring a future where things like body-modification and cloning are common enough to be considered mundane.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I really need to dig out my old trade paperbacks and see if I enjoy it as much as I did way back when. One thing I will say without reservation is that the art is great – the level of detail in backgrounds is splendid.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I re-read it about a year ago and think it holds up pretty well.

          • dndnrsn says:

            My worry is that stuff that me in my mid teens thought was cool or just ignored will come off as needlessly XTREEM to a grownup.

          • hlynkacg says:

            There were parts (especially some of Spider’s early monologues) that read that way to me, but once the main political plot-line got rolling those moments fell by the wayside while the art and characterization remained strong throughout.

            Like I said, I think it holds up pretty well.

  11. Tekhno says:

    A thought just came into my head (oh-oh!).

    “Let prisoners buy chainmail to lower incidences of prison murders.”

    Is that nuts?

    • Montfort says:

      I agree it would be nice if we could make prisoners’ life a little bit safer and better, but I see a few problems:

      1. I think most of the time if you’re getting killed by stabbing in prison it’s not really a fair fight, and someone may well have the opportunity to e.g. hold you down and take off your armor, target vulnerable areas (neck, face, thighs, groin)
      2. You can still get killed in a lot of ways chainmail doesn’t really prevent – blunt force trauma, suffocation, poisoning/chemical attack, etc
      3. Prisoners make shivs out of paper. What are they going to do with chainmail?
      4. Could make things worse for the have-nots if the prisoners who can afford it become less conflict-averse

      I don’t have data to back these concerns up, some may not apply.

      • Tekhno says:

        and someone may well have the opportunity to e.g. hold you down and take off your armor, target vulnerable areas (neck, face, thighs, groin)

        You can’t just take somebody’s mail off, and sure someone could stab elsewhere, but it means that there are less targets they can hit. A lot of shankings are quick and it helps someone fend off strikes until the guards break it up. In the cases where people are going to be able to hold you down for extended periods of time, almost nothing would help you.

        This Italian HEMA guy actually wears mail in every day life under his clothes.

        I watched his vid and then later was reading an article about prisons and it made me connect the two.

        You can still get killed in a lot of ways chainmail doesn’t really prevent – blunt force trauma, suffocation, poisoning/chemical attack, etc

        True, but it closes off the common way of being killed in prison assaults, which is getting stabbed in the torso repeatedly (people are better able to defend their head and neck at the expense of their arms).

        3. Prisoners make shivs out of paper. What are they going to do with chainmail?

        I’m not sure. They can’t actually melt it down and recast it into daggers, but I’m probably underestimating the ingenuity of prisoners here.

        The ability to turn armor into a weapon is the thing that would make it not workable in the end. I guess the only way to protect prisoners while making sure they don’t create more makeshift weapons is to either have more solitary confinement, or hire more guards which is probably too expensive.

        (Though lots of countries ESPECIALLY AMERICA could empty their prisons of non-violent offenders and drug offenders and cut costs enormously).

        • Well... says:

          Didn’t any of you people see “The Wire”? Omar’s buddy who looks like Paul Mooney (actually played by Donnie Andrews, who was the inspiration for Omar’s character) meets up with him in prison and duct-tapes a couple phone books to his abdomen. Since it happened in “The Wire”, I confidently assume this means it actually happens in real life all the time.

          • Montfort says:

            I did actually read an account from a medium-security(?) prisoner that I think was posted here long ago of the one prison dispute he had to show up for, and the participants all armored themselves with magazines in a similar way (they didn’t actually end up fighting, though).

        • Montfort says:

          A lot of shankings are quick and it helps someone fend off strikes until the guards break it up.

          …it closes off the common way of being killed in prison assaults, which is getting stabbed in the torso repeatedly (people are better able to defend their head and neck at the expense of their arms).

          I guess I’m just questioning the assumption that this is the common means of deadly assault in prison. Certainly the few anecdotes I’ve read and much popular media lead me to believe it, but I don’t have data on the subject. Do you? I tried looking at the ncjrs website, but couldn’t find anything useful.

          You can’t just take somebody’s mail off, and sure someone could stab elsewhere, but it means that there are less targets they can hit

          Yes, for some reason I was picturing just a loose hauberk over the prison jumpsuit, which could have the hem yanked up. But this concern is easily solved, I expect, especially if they get the same kind of stab vests corrections officers wear.

        • Tekhno says:

          I’m just going off all accounts of shankings I’ve heard of. I haven’t seen any data on this.

          • People interested in reducing prison violence may be interested in David Skarbek’s The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System.

            He never actually says that he is in favor of prison gangs, but pretty clearly he believes they have resulted in a sharp reduction in prison violence.

          • Tekhno says:

            Well, the one obvious thing a gang would do is make a set of known people who probably won’t shank you, and who will retaliate in your favor if somebody from another gang does so, meaning that the whole gang is liable for the behavior of individuals. There’s an incentive to keep members in line.

            If they reduced violence though, then that implies there was a period before prison gangs to make a comparison to. I find it hard to believe that there was a period in prisons when people weren’t bunching up into protective groups. Maybe it’s a cop out, but isn’t that just “human nature”?

    • Aapje says:

      And SSC gets mentioned in the MMA community too. Clearly, SSC is approaching the ‘famous’ singularity.

      It’s only a matter of time before Scott gets to run for president (getting my prediction in early, at 0.00001% likelyhood).

  12. IrishDude says:

    Markets as a Discovery Process

    One of the things I appreciate about markets is how new ideas are discovered for products and services, ways of living, and rules of interaction. An idea has to survive market tests, like how well it appeals to people, and how much it costs to acquire it. If it passes the test then people’s lives are made better off and it becomes more widely adopted. Better ways of living are found through experimentation and acquiring more and better knowledge*.

    This can sometimes go wrong, when ideas I consider morally wrong or inefficient are widely embraced. When the actual consequences of a rule or way of living are not widely known, people might incorrectly prefer rules and life styles that make them worse off. And people might have preferences that are incompatible with mine, like wanting to steal from me. But by and large, private property and voluntary exchange improve the lot of human kind.

    One AnCap adjacent idea is that just as markets work well as discovery process for TVs it also works well for security services and law. So, therefore, we shouldn’t have coercive monopolies for these services as it would have poorer incentives and opportunities to improve than you’d find in a market. Better security services and rules of interaction can exist, and we’ll better discover what they are when we have more market-oriented processes for them (emigration/immigration is a constraint on coercive monopolies and subjects governments to a market process, and the easier it is to exit and enter jurisdictions the more likely you are to find better government).

    *It makes people that can discern truths and are good at spreading their truths very valuable. It’s one reason I love Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs are shown as they think they’ve figured out ways to make people’s lives better off. And it makes it important to have good thought leaders for ideas that will make people better off. Here’s a thought leader I look to, Balaji Srinivasan, giving an excellent talk on Voice and Exit that I highly recommend if you have 15 minutes to spare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOubCHLXT6A

    Any critiques you guys have of my ideas that can improve my knowledge is appreciated!

    • Tekhno says:

      I agree that “markets are good” but remain a staunch and firm statist. What really distinguishes Ancap is polycentric law, and it would ultimately mean that you are encouraging a competition in deciding what counts as initiating force and what doesn’t, and disagreements would frequently lead to law agencies using force on each other. I don’t think anarcho-capitalism has sufficiently solved what I call the “illegal law problem”.

      Competition in law is different from competition in other markets because you are empowering the law with the ability to shut others down. A polycentric law system would probably end up extremely bureaucratic due to law system A being paid to attack law system B based on different interpretations of the NAP in that situation. This would end up stifling peaceful market competition.

      REDACTED IDEOLOGY always struck me as a more realistic version of Ancap, because instead of proposing statelessness and overlapping laws, it proposed decentralized but monocentric jurisdictions, which essentially means a load of states ruled by sovereigns. Still deeply flawed, since democracy is a pressure valve, and it was not focused enough on making Exit function by providing enough Entrance, but still a step up. Of course, then problem is that as soon as you add Voice, unfettered Entrance rights become a bad idea for existing citizens, since they are subjecting their future to the decisions of potential masses of unknown or even hostile elements, freely invited in, but that’s a different discussion.

      Markets function within a scope provided by authority. Make a market in authority and you just have war. States can and should delegate powers of self-defense down to citizens, but if citizens were paying for their own private armies private law systems, historical precedent (such as Ancient Rome) suggests things would spill over into violent competition, which is something Ancap ideology has a problem with. The only case where this would not be so would be where a monocentric system delegates some security powers to subservient private entities, which may actually turn out to be more effective, but wouldn’t exactly be polycentric, since it’s still clear who the boss is, and it is a delegation of legal force rather than of law making capacity.

      Markets are certainly a discovery process, but that process requires failure, and feeds off of it in order to produce success. Most people don’t want society to be such a constant meat grinder, so they trade a slow down in the discovery process for some level of security, and defer failure to later. Socialists take it too far and try to completely shut down the discovery process, leading to paralysis.

      There’s no right answer, however. Which area in the the trade off you want to be depends as much on emotional appeals as evidence, since history cannot be completely exposed to the scientific method. The result of this is that Ancap seems doomed to fail, because it lacks emotional resonance with the majority of people. They simply don’t want failure. Of course, it’s not the case that you can hold back failure, but you can defer it, and if people can defer it, they will.

      • IrishDude says:

        I appreciate the response!

        I think it’s possible that overlapping laws in the same jurisdiction can create difficulties, but we already have that nowadays. Where I am now, I’m subjected to local, state, and federal laws. I’m subjected to the rules of my workplace. The rules of interaction even vary from person to person, as the level of formality of conversation varies among my coworkers. I’m subjected to the rules of SSC: https://slatestarcodex.com/comments/. And if I hop onto Ebay to purchase something I’m subjected to their rules. All these rules overlap within a 100 foot radius of my current location, and chaos doesn’t ensue.

        There are certainly unique challenges having different rules on what constitutes aggression within the same geographic area, but Machinery of Freedom provides a reasonable proposal for how that could be solved (subscription to rights enforcement agencies with disputes resolved through arbitration). To the extent that some types of overlapping laws within geographic areas are inefficient, I think the market could resolve that somewhat through having consistent rules determined a la your referenced ‘sovereigns’ or property developers. Wealthy people could purchase large tracts of land and attach their own set of rules to people buying into their area, just like how HOAs form in newly developed neighborhoods or condo rules in apartment buildings. Smaller polities reduce the costs of exit (it’s relatively easy to move to a different neighborhood) creating strong market incentives for good rules. Voice gets channeled through Exit instead of voting, similar to how I’ve seen David Friedman refer to his preference for competitive dictatorships: no choice on what’s on a restaurants menu, but choice on which restaurant to give your dollars to.

        You say “Make a market in authority and you just have war.” But, we do have markets in authority at the international level, and it’s never been more peaceful. Interconnected markets among nations, with high costs for conflict, make diplomacy (arbitration) more highly desirable than war. It’s one reason the World Trade Organization exists, so disputes can be resolved peacefully rather than violently. It’s why international trade law Lex Mercatoria developed through voluntary bottom-up agreements among merchants: https://fee.org/articles/the-law-merchant-and-international-trade/.

        You say “if citizens were paying for their own private armies private law systems, historical precedent (such as Ancient Rome) suggests things would spill over into violent competition, which is something Ancap ideology has a problem with.” Historical precedent doesn’t factor in the growth in technology, such as in communication, that reduce frictions for cooperation. Models that might have struggled to work in the past may have a better chance today. We also seem to have better morals today than we did in the past (see Steve Pinker’s talk on the decline in violence: https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence), which also makes cooperation rather than violence more likely.

        You say “Markets are certainly a discovery process, but that process requires failure, and feeds off of it in order to produce success. Most people don’t want society to be such a constant meat grinder, so they trade a slow down in the discovery process for some level of security, and defer failure to later. ” I agree that many people are risk averse, which is why I’d prefer to see unpopulated geographic areas carved out for AnCap experimentation, where only those comfortable with the risks emigrate. If shown to be successful, it would be easier for risk averse people to adopt more widely.

        You say “The result of this is that Ancap seems doomed to fail”. I’d point to Bryan Caplan’s essay in response:
        “…
        Since we’ve never had anarcho-capitalism, this peaceful equilibrium sounds like wishful thinking. But it’s no more wishful thinking than stable democracy. Both systems sound crazy when first proposed. Neither can be stable as long as people expect them to be unstable. But both can be stable once people expect them to be stable.

        You could object: The expectations necessary to sustain anarcho-capitalism are highly unlikely to ever arrive. But the same was true for democracy a thousand years ago. Yet somehow, expectations radically changed and stable democracy arrived. How did expectations change so dramatically? It’s complicated. But can expectations change dramatically? Absolutely.”

        http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2013/04/crazy_equilibri.html

    • Riothamus says:

      Whether this is a good idea depends on how markets serve their function. The critical distinction between domains where the market is a good solution or a bad one is the acceptability of failure, because the mechanism of the market is failure: firms and products which do not appeal fail and exit the market.

      So while the market could almost certainly find one or more firms that are better in terms of performance or efficiency for security and law than current government agencies, this necessarily means large groups of people will experience a total collapse of law and order as their chosen firms and products fail and exit.

      The question is not whether we can find a better way via the market, but whether we can tolerate the failures the market requires. It is really unlikely that people will accept a high chance of violence and chaos in the name of a better Pinkerton or Blackwater.

      • IrishDude says:

        So while the market could almost certainly find one or more firms that are better in terms of performance or efficiency for security and law than current government agencies, this necessarily means large groups of people will experience a total collapse of law and order as their chosen firms and products fail and exit.

        As their chosen firm fails, they can instead consume services from the more successful, robust firms. Total collapse of law is not necessary.

      • So while the market could almost certainly find one or more firms that are better in terms of performance or efficiency for security and law than current government agencies, this necessarily means large groups of people will experience a total collapse of law and order as their chosen firms and products fail and exit.

        Groceries in the U.S. are produced on a competitive market. Your argument seems to imply that we have famines due to the occasional collapse of producers.

        And that places where food production and distribution was controlled by the government didn’t.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    On the post about the bad NYT piece about economists and education, I saw commenters saying that the left-wing press is unreliable.

    I’d like to see more detailed analysis.

    Is the NYT unreliable about everything, or are there some topics where you consider it reliable?

    Speaking of, my impression is that Al Jazeera is good, but I wouldn’t trust it for anything related to Jews. This might be an excessive reaction to one article about hate crimes in the US that didn’t mention anti-Semitism.

    I’ve been mostly reading the Washington Post, but not as a result of careful analysis. They just seem to have more information per reading time than the NYT. They also get credit for employing Radley Balko, but by that standard I’d also be following the Huffington Post and Fox News. How do people rate WaPo? I’m also interested in people’s favorite journalists.

    Even if the leftist press is unreliable, this doesn’t mean the rightist press is reliable. Recommendations for best sources?

    More generally, are there issues which make it easy for you to see bias?

    Here’s one of my recent ones– NPR has been reporting a lot on the risks of self-chosen painkillers, but almost never mentions lack of access to pain medication.

    Recommendations for a balanced media diet?

    • Jiro says:

      Speaking of, my impression is that Al Jazeera is good, but I wouldn’t trust it for anything related to Jews.

      It is common that people find the news reliable for all subjects except those that they know a lot about. There is a reason for this.

      • shakeddown says:

        Yes, but this can be both that the news is often wrong, and that people are just more nitpicky about things they know a lot about (or have a hard time imagining how ignorant the average person is – think someone arguing that an article about the earth being a ball because he knows it’s an ellipsoid, without realizing the average reader thinks it’s flat). Anecdotally the latter seems more common.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Nitpicking definitely happens, but you also see cases where the reporting is entirely in opposition to the facts. In the same quote that coined Gell-Mann Amnesia, Michael Crichton called them “Wet Streets Cause Rain” articles.

          A good example of this is anything to do with epigenetics. The media understanding of genetics is on par with X-Men comics at the best of times, but lately they have been using the (controversial) idea of heritable epialleles in humans to justify outright Lamarckism.

          That’s not a small thing! The press have in many cases essentially applied Lysenko’s theories of horticulture to eugenics: expecting kids of parents with this or that lifestyle change to flourish the same way he expected the seeds of vernalized plants to. It defies common sense and more than a century of established science. Not to mention it’s not a view any serious epigenetic researcher holds.

    • dndnrsn says:

      What does it mean to say that a news source is “unreliable”? Most news sources – even ones that people have good reason to be leery of – rarely or never tell lies of commission. Lies of omission are more common. Presenting things in a way that is misleading is most common of all. Sneaky little tricks like equivocating between absolute numbers and relative numbers. Presenting a situation where there are multiple possible explanations, and taking the explanation they find most favourable as a given. Etc.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Recommendations for a balanced media diet?

      This is kind of a “do as I say, not as I do” bit of advice. I try to follow this strategy in real life but fail frequently.

      Read news about things which you’re already familiar with and which have a direct effect on your day-to-day life. So, follow professional journals for your work and local news for where you (plus family and friends) live. Whenever possible, click past the news story and directly to the source literature.

      Ground-shaking national and international news will find you even if you’re actively avoiding it, and it’s difficult enough to check for accuracy that it’s a suckers game. Keeping your ear to the ground makes more sense when it’s for events that impact you directly and which you can personally verify.

    • sflicht says:

      I don’t think the NYT — or really any general interest media entity — is reliable for any topic related to anything close to a science. Fortunately this problem was solved by Aaron Swartz when he invented RSS — just find specialist bloggers or publications on each scientific subject that interests you and follow them instead. I don’t think you’ll miss any “news” this way that you’d get from reading the Times.

      The parts of the NYT that I trust most are the Sports, Dining and Crossword sections. You can probably throw in Real Estate and the local coverage about NYC events (below a certain, vaguely-defined level of global significance).

      In terms of balanced media diet, I’ll focus on a single topic area that I happen to focus on. This year I found that the best way to keep what I think is an accurate perspective on foreign affairs specifically is the following strategy, which is probably overkill but I find the the subject matter intrinsically interesting ever since I started playing EU4.

      * Scan the usual suspects for headlines periodically. NYT rarely breaks important foreign policy news, but it’s a good meta-source for gauging relative importance of events and their editorial stance on issues as reflected in the style of coverage. Especially recently I enjoy scanning the front page of RT, which is actually fun procrastination because they often have great viral content like meteor strikes in Siberia. (Propagandist know their business when it comes to generating traffic!) Anyhow the point is to have convenient access to the statements of so-called adversary states not filtered through either the State Department or the NYT/CNN headline writers.

      * Watch the daily State Department press briefings as often as possible (they’re only on weekdays and I can absorb them pretty easily at 2x speed on youtube, by ymmv), paying particular attention to the questions not the answers. The AP correspondent is the best person to focus on, even if their written coverage usually ends up very dry (which is the remit of a wire service I suppose). I often skip past certain ritualistic questions from reporters with “pet” issues/regions and from n00bs, and you’ll quickly get a sense for who’s who and the the rhythm of how these things go after watching just a few briefings. It’s all actually good fun, especially when there is confrontation or drama (more common than you’d think).

      * I find value from following certain link aggregation sources that are tuned to non-MSM sources of foreign policy news (/r/syriancivilwar is a great example).

    • tscharf says:

      NYT is unreliable on culture issues, but can be generally excellent on other things. It’s a bit hit or miss. Climate science is straight left dogma there but other stuff is generally fine.

      Personally I look at WSJ, NYT, WP, NPR, Fox, and lately The Guardian because I strangely found it more fair on the election than all US papers. If I feel like trolling to feed my outrage addiction then Vox, Slate, and Salon. I may not like Fox that much but I think it is required because they will sometimes cover things the other media sites will ignore because it doesn’t fit a current narrative.

      I also really like Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest, Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, and Megan McArdle at Bloomberg View.

      CNN for major breaking news, everything else is pretty mediocre there.

      I had to stop reading the WP for about 6 weeks during the election because they got a bit extreme. In a sense being a DC paper and a major media source they were ground zero for the election backlash and they were super defensive. On the good side the WP was all over the Rolling Stone rape fraud early and often.

    • John Schilling says:

      Is the NYT unreliable about everything, or are there some topics where you consider it reliable?

      I’ve given background interviews to NYT reporters several times, as have some of my colleagues, on the subject of North Korean strategic weapons systems. The stories they subsequently wrote, and the quotes they chose to highlight, were fair and balanced, and of particular importance to me, they didn’t misrepresent anything I had said to support someone else’s agenda.

      And since you bring it up, I’ve given one interview to Al Jazeera on the same (conspicuously Jew-free) subject, with the same result.

      It probably helps that this is a subject ultimately dominated by engineering facts, but some of the key facts are as difficult to verify from here and now as are e.g. climate forecasts. So that’s probably not the distinguishing factor.

      I suspect the key is that North Korean strategic weapons are not a subject of anyone’s political or tribal narrativete in the United States. Everybody agrees that it’s a Bad Thing that North Korea has nuclear missiles, nobody has a real plan for what to do about it, and the obvious Bad Guy isn’t even weakly linked to any of our parties or factions.

      Mostly, nobody wants to talk about this. Sometimes events require credible news sources to acknowledge that, yep, North Korea is still building nuclear missiles and we still don’t have a solution, which is the sort of thing that even left- or right-leaning journalists can handle at an unbiased and factual level. Well, usually.

      • sflicht says:

        Depends how weakly linked you’re willing to consider as nonzeroly linked.

        Modern progressivism — Leftism — Socialism — Marxism — Communism with Chinese Characteristics — Communism with North Korean Characteristics — the North Korean state

        Yes, this is kind of a shitpost.

        Edited to preempt what I think is the second most likely objection: the link between the PRC and the DPRK is of course partly historical, and partly realpolitik in nature, but I don’t think the deep-rooted ideological connections should be dismissed. At this point the DPRK is a pretty big diplomatic liability for China in many ways, and I think there’s a good chance they would dissolve the alliance were it not for the ideological factors.

        Obviously the most likely objection — the long and tenuous nature of this chain of connections — is perfectly valid and repudiates it completely.

        • TenMinute says:

          How about “Khmer Rouge–>Harvard Crimson–>Dean of Columbia Journalism School?” 🙂

          The stories they subsequently wrote, and the quotes they chose to highlight, were fair and balanced

          I’m actually more impressed they were at least reasonably accurate. No english-major-induced misunderstandings?

          • John Schilling says:

            Fortunately, I usually deal with one of their science editors who I believe has a science-ish MA, which is at least three steps above an English major in that regard.

            Also fortunately, the bit where we compare anyone in the American political spectrum to e.g. Kim Jong-Un is, like Hitler comparisons, mostly limited the seedier parts of the blogosphere and still beyond the pale for mainstream journalism.

      • John Schilling says:

        Modern progressivism — Leftism — Socialism — Marxism — Communism with Chinese Characteristics — Communism with North Korean Characteristics — the North Korean state

        Yes, this is kind of a shitpost.

        It is indeed. Fortunately, neither the New York Times nor any other newspaper I know of seems eager to publish that sort of shit, and I’m not sure what it is supposed to accomplish here.

      • tscharf says:

        Right, ask anyone to name two countries you don’t want to have nuclear weapons:

        1. Pakistan
        2. North Korea

        I worry much more about two van loads of terrorists attacking a Pakistan nuclear site more than anything, I’m sure this has crossed their mind. It’s quite unclear how hard a Pakistan nuclear weapon would be to detonate if it was stolen. They could just use it as a dirty bomb in which case the mental effect would be just as severe.

      • The stories they subsequently wrote, and the quotes they chose to highlight, were fair and balanced, and of particular importance to me, they didn’t misrepresent anything I had said to support someone else’s agenda.

        Thanks for sharing this! I’m glad that happens. (And I hope it happens more than its opposite.)

        [ I posted this once before and it seems to have gotten eaten, so I hope it doesn’t end up appearing twice. ]

        • John Schilling says:

          You’re welcome, I’m glad I was helpful, and don’t worry about your comment appearing twice. OK, thrice. Can happen to anyone.

      • Thanks for sharing your personal experience! I’m glad that happens. (And I hope it happens more than its opposite.)

        [ Tried to post this with the quote, but it doesn’t seem to want to go through. Sorry if it ends up appearing thrice or something. ]

        • Whoops, sorry, looks like all of my comments have appeared now in retrospect, ironically looking super spammy now that they’re here! (The blog software thought I was a spambot for some reason, Scott fixed it.)

          Sorry to pester. 🙂 I kept trying to post the comment since it’s really important for me to get out thank yous on things that tangibly make me update. Going back into lurk mode now!

    • shakeddown says:

      NYT is generally pretty good. Op-eds are usually partisan and occasionally stupid, but are also clearly labeled. The article on education is unusually bad for them, but also actually contained the graphs used in Scott’s counterargument, so do read the content and not just the headlines on anything that seems like it’s out to convince you rather than just giving bland information.

    • rlms says:

      Related question: do Americans consider the BBC to be biased, due to the UK being more left-wing than the US in general?

      • sflicht says:

        We consider it to be biased because it is state-sponsored, in addition to the much less liberal (in the classical sense) media landscape in the UK versus the US, when it comes to things like libel laws etc. Obvi the BBC does some great stuff and some decent reporting, but when it comes to topics important to Britain’s national interests — such as national security or Brexit — I would never even consider relying upon the BBC as my sole source of information. My confidence that MI6 (or possibly MI5) has direct or indirect control over a majority of BBC management (probably both the day-to-day folks and — for really important stuff — the Trust) is north of 75%. Replace “control” by “strong influence” and my confidence rises to 90%+.

        What do Brits think about this question?

        • rlms says:

          Speaking for myself, I think it is largely unbiased (at least more so than any other news source I can think of). I agree that I wouldn’t rely solely on it for subjects I think a secret service might interfere with, but that goes for pretty much any news source. I doubt that MI5’s ability to stop a British newspaper publishing something is much less than its corresponding ability on the BBC. I am fairly confident that no secret services exert day to day influence on it. What do you think that influence looks like? I.e. what are some stories you think MI6 has made the BBC present in a certain way (in comparison to other media)?

          • sflicht says:

            To give examples, I’m virtually certain that MI5 influenced the BBC coverage of Waterfate, Iran-Contra, 9-11, the Iraq War, and the 2011 Qadaffi intervention. And of course they are currently influencing the coverage of events in Syria.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’y know about Americans in general, but I mostly like the BBC. They’ve got pretty good information density and tend to choose interesting topics.

        The main thing I have against it is that their reporters tend to be emotion junkies– too much of a habit of asking people who’ve been through some awful thing how they feel. I don’t know whether anyone has simply said “I hope you never find out”. I also don’t know whether the BBC would broadcast it if someone said that.

        And I wish they would take an occasional break from “America’s so-called war on terror”. If you don’t think it should be called a war on terror, then say what you think it should be called. Same for “the so-called Islamic State”.

        They’re also apt to end their stories with a portentuous sentence. I’ll include one later when I’ve got something handy. You’d think there’d be parodies of that habit, but I can’t say I’ve heard one.

        I did notice they became less biased against Israel some years ago. It wasn’t that they stopped talking about bad treatment of Palestinians, but they started doing stories about normal life in Israel. I later heard that Al Jazeera was largely staffed with people from the BBC, so that took away anti-Israel bias. Anyone know whether this is actually true?

      • shakeddown says:

        I find the BBC incredibly biased on Israel, but generally okay otherwise (it’s been a while since I’ve read them much, though).
        Edit: According to Nancy Lebovitz, apparently this has changed since I’ve stopped reading them.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          shakedown, you might still find the BBC biased on Isreal, just not incredibly biased.

      • Tekhno says:

        I’m not American, but I just wanted to say that the BBC should be burnt with the cleansing fires of privatization.

        Good documentaries though.

      • Urstoff says:

        Print seems to be ok, but BBC radio (at least the hour-long news program that gets broadcast in America) is simply terrible, both in terms of reporting and production.

    • Hetzer says:

      Recommendations for a balanced media diet?

      I never trust anything from a site that doesn’t have comments. Especially lately, I’m noticing more and more news sites are turning comments off after a long period where commenters were routinely blowing the author’s narrative out of the water.

      Also, Unfilter is amazing. It’s like Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the news, with a new episode every week. The presenters are a couple of vaguely left-libertarian IT guys who are especially good at pointing out dilettantes who know nothing of “cybersecurity”. Warning: It will make you hate TV news.

      Here’s an episode from a couple weeks ago about Russia and the US elections. I watch their shows through the Youtube mirrors since their own video streaming service skips and stutters a lot on my 10-year-old toaster of a computer.

      http://www.jupiterbroadcasting.com/105436/russian-to-conclusions-unfilter-217/
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc1z5sE32Lo

  14. Mr Mind says:

    In a twist of fate, I’m finding myself compiling a list of mysterious flashes associated to (rogue?) nuclear explosions.

    So far I’ve collected:
    – the Vela incident
    – the flash at Banjawarn Station.

    Anyone knows of any other registered event associated to a possible nuclear explosion, which are today awaiting an explanation?

    • hyperboloid says:

      There is a very good chance that the Vela incident was a South African and or Israeli nuclear test. On the other hand the idea that the “Banjawarn bang” was nuclear is nonsense, for as good overview of why check out Brian Dunning’s article here. To summarize:

      – While Aum Shinrikyō was a genuinely frightening group that did try to acquire WMDs, they didn’t move into the property in Banjawarn until after the blast.

      -The United states maintains the Integrated Operational Nuclear Detection System, at network of satellites that succeeded the Vela constellation, and are capable of detecting the distinctive double flash signature of a nuclear blast anywhere in the world.

      -Nuclear blasts have a distinctive seismic signature that was not present in Banjawarn.

      -Banjawarn station is remote but it is not inaccessible to the Australian government or it’s allies; after the Tokyo subway attacks the Australian Federal Police examined the site and found no evidence of a nuclear blast. Even after a few years there should have been detectable fission products.

      -It is extremely unlikely that group like Aum could build a nuclear weapon from scratch; and if they purchased, say, an ex Soviet weapon it’s not clear what the point of the test was, as Soviet weapons used proven designs.

      It was likely just a meteor exploding at high altitude.

    • tscharf says:

      I was very surprised to learn that the audio in most nuclear weapons video clips is either highly edited or faked entirely.

      Here is an actual audio of a test from 1953. They apparently sound a lot closer to a shotgun blast than the typical long low rumbling which is commonly used.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_nLNcEbIC8&feature=youtu.be
      See approx 2:54

      • hlynkacg says:

        That makes sense actually, real gunfire has a very distinct sound/feel that typical audio equipment completely fails to capture, ditto for all sorts of other complex high intensity sounds (aircraft, heavy machinery, etc…). It stands to reason that this would apply to large explosions (nuclear and otherwise) as well, as there are hard signal processing limits on what sort of sounds a given microphone can capture.

        As for the “low rumble” I blame movies. Needing a “foley artist” to generate the soundtrack opens the door to a track being chosen on the basis of “cinematic impact” rather than fidelity, leading to a case of reality being unrealistic.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        The audio in that clip was interesting, and it definitely sounded different from the traditional “nuke sound” you hear in media.

        I will say though that I heard the long rumbling sound in that clip. After the blast you could hear a noise which I’m assuming is air being sucked into that huge column of smoke after the explosion (someone light the John Shilling signal!). The guys were cheering over it but you can distinctly hear it in the background.

        Maybe that’s the sound we think of? Not the actual explosion, but the sounds afterwards.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I imagine like lightning and thunder; an initial crack (probably a lot more impressive in person than on that recording; I’d expect it to have components all the way from infrasonic to ultrasonic) followed by rumbles (including an infrasonic component).

          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2174289/Ever-heard-sound-nuclear-bomb-going-Historian-unveils-surviving-audio-recordings-blast-1950s-Nevada-tests.html

          Murmurs in anticipation; the slow countdown over a megaphone; the reaction at the flash of the bomb; and finally – a sharp bang, followed by a long, thundering growl. That’s the sound of the bomb.

          But the sound we think of is probably just a Hollywood creation.

        • John Schilling says:

          Aren’t you supposed to say my name three times to invoke me? And for the really tough questions, I’m inclined to start requiring a virgin sacrifice or a hefty consulting fee.

          Fortunately, this isn’t one of the tough ones. To a distant observer, the acoustic experience will have three phases. First up is the shock wave itself, which as noted is going to be heard as a shotgun-like crack if you and your eardrums survive the experience long enough to register sound at all.

          Next up, the pressure phase, an outward displacement of air at roughly hurricane-ish speeds.

          Finally, the suction phase, as equilibrium is restored by all that air flowing back into the void. As you note, at the very center this leads to the forced-convection column that is the stem of the mushroom cloud.

          Shock waves travel faster than sound, so from any significant distance any sound you hear immediately after the shock cannot have come from the detonation itself. That low rumble is the accumulated noise of the hurricane-force winds rolling across all the terrain between you and the bomb. A wall of sound somewhat compressed and accelerated by differential air movement in the pressure phase but unable to overtake the primary shock wave. There are also likely to be reflected secondary shock waves in the mix. And you’ll hear it in reverse order, the first sounds being the ones generated closest to you, anything from the actual detonation will come last.

          I don’t know whether there is a distinct auditory experience associated with the suction phase, or whether it just sounds like a continuation of the pressure phase. As noted elsewhere, this isn’t the sort of thing microphones are good at even under the best of circumstances – which is a phrase not normally applied to sensitive measuring instruments that have just experienced a nuclear blast.

          • sflicht says:

            This begs the question: what sort of audio recording equipment has been set up at what sorts of distances from nuclear tests, and what useful information has been recovered? Granted, I’m sure this isn’t the sort of thing DoD would care to spend *much* money on, but fer chrissake you’re detonating a nuclear bomb, so it’s maybe worth blowing up some microphones and sending in some grunts in space suits to pick out the tape recordings from the rubble to see what you can learn from them.

            Conclusion: it’s virtually certain that this has been done multiple times but the answer is classified.

      • S_J says:

        I don’t think theater audio systems are very good at reproducing the sounds of an explosion.

        Some time ago, I heard a recorded version of the 1812 Overture, which had cannons that sounded realistic to my ears at the time. The concussion-followed-by-rumble sound seemed accurate. I enjoyed the piece, and learned the rhythm and flow of the music. I liked the effect of the building tension, the cannons, and the musical climax.

        This past summer, I was at an outdoor venue where the 1812 Overture was played by an orchestra. Supported by real cannons.

        Each cannon shot was loud and sharp. Somewhat reminiscent of a shotgun, but much louder. No long rumble of any kind afterwards.

        The punctuation of the cannons during the climax was much more shocking than I expected it to be. The loud crack of the gunpowder punched through the music, and vibrated through my body.

        It was a sound effect that could not be reproduced by a speaker system, as most speakers systems can’t produce pressure-spikes as intense as that of exploding gun-powder.

        I suspect the same is true of larger explosions.

        • hlynkacg says:

          This is certainly a factor, but I’ve also seen movies that manage to get pretty close.

          For example, I don’t who Michael Mann’s sound designer/editor is, but the gunfire in his movies somehow manages convey a lot of the shock and complexity of the real thing even though it lacks the raw “slap in the face” of the overpressure effect.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Michael Mann is pretty famous for being a stickler for firearms believability in his movies, so his technique is deceptively simple. It’s not true for every effect (there are some cat fart suppressors and the like), but in general he just uses really good mics that are designed to be able to catch high impulse, low-duration sounds and records actual gunfire, either from range practices (he also likes to run actors through their action sequences on live fire courses if he can) or from the actual filming if blanks are being used.

        • The Nybbler says:

          You don’t get a rumble from cannons (not enough air displacement), but if fired in hilly country you do get echoes that can continue for a while. I can only imagine in a battle with multiple cannons being fired from either side you might get a continuous rumble.

        • Sfoil says:

          I wouldn’t call it a rumble, but cannons/howitzers definitely have a “lingering” sound beyond the initial report, probably mostly echo but I guess also from powder continuing to burn quite a bit outside the tube. And while the bang isn’t a single frequency, larger-bore weapons do seem to have a generally lower-frequency report, like different sized organ pipes.

          I suspect part of the reason that the cannons at your concert sounded a little disappointing is that they were blanks, the projectile exiting the muzzle and then traveling at high speed definitely adds acoustic effects to the report of any firearm.

          High explosives, which produce supersonic shock waves, sound much different than the movies up close even for smaller stuff like hand grenades in addition to being literally as loud as it’s possible for you to comprehend directly. Theater speakers don’t come anywhere close to capturing the experience of the overpressure effect.

          • TenMinute says:

            >The loud crack of the gunpowder punched through the music, and vibrated through my body.

            This did not strike me as an expression of disappointment.

            Relatedly, this seems like a great way to add smell to a concert experience.

  15. onyomi says:

    I’m interested in discussing this Paul Graham essay a bit more, especially given Scott Adams’s contention that appeals to identity are the most powerful form of persuasion, which feels vaguely correct.

    On the one hand, I find Graham’s idea pretty persuasive, and I think I have somewhat done it myself, consciously or unconsciously, for a long time (not much of a “joiner,” tend to resist labels, though I don’t mind admitting, even feeling proud of areas I know I identify with: man, libertarian, Southern, American, weeaboo, etc.). Having a lot of strong identities does seem to make one vulnerable to cognitive biases, as well as forms of persuasion which play upon those biases.

    Suntzuanime reacted rather strongly, if cryptically to the Graham essay, stating that identities are good and humans need them. I could certainly see this: first of all, I’m not sure it is possible to not to have identities, or even to keep them “small”–there may be such a thing as “preservation of identity,” where, if you don’t invest it in one thing, you invest it in another. But then again, like I said, there does seem to be variability among people, maybe even in the same person across time, in the extent to which they create and invest in identities for themselves. Also, I can believe that identities are psychologically healthy, at least to a point, which also introduces the question of whether “strong identities,” like religious faith, might be one of these things which is literally good for you, whether or not it’s good for the pursuit of truth.

    One other solution is, like rationalists, to try to invest one’s identity in avoiding the pitfalls of cognitive biases, or in “niceness and community”; but once that becomes an “identity,” I think it can also result in some weird forms of myopia itself.

    I’m also not certain how chooseable/transferable they are–is it possible not to have a political identity? I think so, in theory, but it sure seems hard. The closest thing seems to just be apathy. It seems really hard to both pay attention to politics and not develop a particular slant of some kind. Then again, I’ve read a fair amount about religion and don’t have a strong identity of any kind (including atheist) in that realm. Also, even if it’s possible to invest one’s identity in e. g. a fandom, is that sort of like attempting to choose one’s fascination, i. e. not very much under one’s control?

    And this also brings up the old issue of: if you want to know about x, should you ask people directly involved with x, or are those the last people you should ask? The problem is the people who spend the most time on x know the most about it, but are also the most likely to be invested in a way which makes them not objective. And if we all chose to invest our identities in unimportant things maybe that just results in everyone, well, being super knowledgeable about, and caring deeply about, unimportant things, while ignoring more important things. At which point maybe fandoms become proxy wars for real political struggles and… well, let’s just say I know which side I’m on in the Apple-Google War of 2046.

    So, is it really possible to “keep one’s identity small” and/or shift one’s identity to areas where bias don’t hurt, like fandoms and hobbies? If so, is it a good idea? For the individual? For society?

    • tscharf says:

      Dawkins stated he thought religion was exploiting evolution’s programming to make people blindly believe things for self protection (your parents tell you not to jump off cliffs, and you never test their theory).

      Identity politics in all its forms seems to exploit evolution’s programming of forming tribes for self protection. This seems to be built in, but using it to form arbitrary political tribes doesn’t seem particularity helpful. Evolution misfiring.

      There clearly seems to be a need for people to do this, and I find it difficult to resist. Don’t get me started on the evil of Apple, but this is from ancient Apple/Microsoft wars, ha ha. The zealous attachment to topics seems to be much more prevalent than can be explained logically. Emotional entanglement is almost universal.

    • Anatoly says:

      1. To have an “identity” is a modern expression. People in the 19th century or before also had many ideologies, beliefs, religions, political factions to choose from. How would you phrase an advice “keep your identity small” so that they could understand it?

      2. People in the earlier ages understood the idea of the relative importance, to themselves, of some ways to think of themselves over others – what we’d call identities today. But they didn’t have (I think?) a metaphor of this tightly defined set of discrete “identities” which they “identified” with. Is there a difference between “I identify as an atheist” and “I am an atheist”? If there’s a difference, how would a 19th century person phrase these two sentences?

      3. Consider three proclamations:
      a) I identify as an X
      b) I am an X
      c) I tend to agree with what X authors are saying and usually find their ways of looking at the world more correct and virtuous than the ways of Y, Z and other belief-sets that compete in the same belief-space.

      Which of the three is more dangerous in terms of leading one more easily to biases shared by many other X-believers, or to endless online flamewars about X vs. Y,Z? Graham appears to say that a) is more dangerous in that sense; but is it possible that it’s “merely” a different way of self-contemplating essentially the same attitude towards X? Maybe a person with the same attitude towards X and the same likelihood of sharing biases and conducting flamewars would use a) b) or c) depending on whether they’re a 21st century person, a 19th century person, or a pedant? And then blaming the “identity” part for the biases and the flamewars is an ex post facto rationalization that’s easy to make because the discrete set of “identities” is within easy mental reach?

      4. Perhaps even going to the past isn’t necessary. My native language is Russian and I don’t know how to say “keep your identify small” in it (except by using a lexical borrowing that would only be understood by people familiar with this concept in English). When I read Graham’s advice in English, it seems to make sense and appears profound. When I try to think of it in my native language, I can rephrase it elaborately, but it seems to lack the punch and the appeal of the original exhortation. What does that mean?

      • onyomi says:

        I think the difference between the 20th-21st centuries and all prior times is that we’ve been made more aware of the fact that there is at least something somewhat arbitrary, contingent, chosen, or artificial about identities, where people in the past tended to see them as relatively immutable.

        It wouldn’t make much sense for someone in the past to say “I identify as a man”; the response would be “you mean, you are a man” or, if speaking to someone without a Y chromosome “what are you talking about? You can’t just decide to be a man when clearly your vagina makes you a woman??” This makes it hard even to explain the idea of “identity” to the premodern, because he views it simply as “what is,” not something layered onto what is.

        Related, in the past, identities seem to have been more tightly bundled, while now we have something more of an a la carte menu. For example, you could chose to renounce the religious identity of your family, but in the past, this would probably mean them renouncing you as a family member, being excommunicated, shut out of society, etc.

        Interestingly though, one of the strongest and most prevalent identities today was largely absent in times past–that is, the identity as citizen of a nation-state. I personally think we were better off without that, because it lends itself so easily to rhetoric about “the government is just ‘us’ and anything it does, even bad things, ‘we’ do to ‘ourselves.'”

        Unfortunately, in the absence of nation-state nationalism, there may be a tendency for ethnonationalism or other potentially worse forms of identity to fill the void, though, so I wouldn’t mind identifying as a citizen of a country which claimed to represent values I agreed with. This is sort of true of me and the theoretical values of the US in the abstract–federalism, decentralization, self-determination, multiculturalism–but often not in the tangible.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      appeals to identity are the most powerful form of persuasion

      Identity is likely important to a great majority of people, to various extents and at various times, as you state.

      But the extent to which persons care about anyone else appealing to said identity is another thing entirely, and probably varies depending on one’s need to relate to (affiliate with?) others.

      is it possible not to have a political identity?

      For those of us who do not naturally, easily categorize ourselves or other people, it is very natural to not have a named political identity. Though I’m sure the natural categorizers of the world have their own boxes into which they place us.

      The problem is the people who spend the most time on x know the most about it, but are also the most likely to be invested in a way which makes them not objective.

      On some issues objectivity is far less important than subjectivity. And an over concern with objectivity actually blinds one to salience. In my own favorite example, education, the student is often seen as a minority stakeholder in their own education, with two or three other groups considered more important stakeholders.

      So, is it really possible to “keep one’s identity small” and/or shift one’s identity to areas where bias don’t hurt, like fandoms and hobbies? If so, is it a good idea? For the individual? For society?

      Beats me, and I don’t know that I particularly care, as in aggregate I don’t see this as all that malleable on the individual level (as you say in paragraph third-to-last).

      How about areas where bias helps?

      From the Graham article:

      More generally, you can have a fruitful discussion about a topic only if it doesn’t engage the identities of any of the participants.

      On personal experience I disagree with this. Even when things get to argument and rage, lessons can still be learned and points taken.

    • sards says:

      not much of a “joiner,” tend to resist labels

      This also describes me pretty well. I’ve always viewed having any kind of group identity with suspicion. But I still, at times, feel the irrational yet natural human impulse towards tribalism. I think rooting for a sports team is a good harmless outlet for the tribalist impulse if you keep it in proper perspective.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        yet natural human impulse towards tribalism

        I think calling it a “human” impulse is overly constricting. Given my own personal biases and knowledge of personality theory I also think it might be overly expansive if the definition of “natural” tends to mean “universal”.

        Though I, too, am personally happy when my former co-worker’s son does well in tennis.

    • Aapje says:

      @onyomi

      So, is it really possible to “keep one’s identity small” and/or shift one’s identity to areas where bias don’t hurt, like fandoms and hobbies?

      I think one such way is to make ‘values’ your identity, rather than a tribe.

      The big advantage is that when part of a tribe is corrupted and goes against the values they claim to uphold, you are (more) resilient to this.

      • onyomi says:

        I think that makes a certain amount of sense, but I’m not sure it avoids the inevitable conflict between one’s “values” and the actions of those you formerly thought shared them. For example, the American government in practice largely fails to uphold the ideals on which it was founded, as I perceive them, and with which I largely agree. And American citizens, on the whole, don’t seem to think this is that big a deal. Do I stop identifying as an American?

        • Aapje says:

          Do I stop identifying as an American?

          Well, that is the part where you start worrying about your tribe and not your values, so are ‘breaking’ my rule.

          Ultimately, you get to choose where you want to live, based on many variables (where your family is, where you have best prospects, where you like the culture, where you like the government, where they let you in, etc, etc). If you can find a much better place based on these criteria, does it matter that you stop being ‘American’ (which you probably won’t even, as a 1st generation immigrant). And if you think that America is the best place for you, does it matter that you don’t feel 100% at ease? Do you think it is reasonable to demand this, as a non-average person (which most people are)? You will always have to compromise, unless you isolate yourself from others or become a dictator, both of which are problematic options.

      • One of my values is caring about truth. Once in a while I encounter someone on the opposite side of some argument who clearly shares that value, so he is part of my tribe for the relevant purposes. Not uncommonly I encounter someone on my side of an argument who doesn’t share that value, and so is not part of my tribe.

        That is a solution to the “what if your tribe becomes corrupt” problem.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          One of my values is caring about truth

          This statement is why your clear right-wing tribal sympathies provoke such strong reactions from me.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      It’s certainly possible. I try to make a point of doing it. Though the politicization of hobby spaces means that shifting your identity THERE doesn’t actually help and you should avoid over-investing in them as well.

    • lvlln says:

      Steven Novella had a post recently on his blog NeuroLogica that was sorta tangentially related to this, though it was specifically about motivated reasoning. In his Conclusion section, he mentioned his strategy:

      My strategy has been to focus my emotional investment in being skeptical. Take pride in being detached when it comes to factual claims, in following a valid process of logic and empiricism, and on changing your mind when necessary. It is important to focus on the validity of the process, not on any particular claim or set of beliefs.

      So in terms of identity, I think he tries to put his identity as “skeptic” as dominant over whatever other identity he has with respect to politics. I think this is a good strategy, one I’ve attempted to adopt since I started listening to his podcast many years ago, and one that would benefit society quite a lot if everyone did so.

  16. hyperboloid says:

    Just in case anybody forgot that Nixon was despicable; according to notes recently released by the Nixon library, during phone call on October 22 1968 Nixon ordered HR Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the Paris peace process. For those who don’t understand the context, Nixon ran in part on the idea that he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam that would guarantee America “peace with honor”. As we now know that was a lie.

    In collaboration with Henry Kissinger the Nixon campaign persuaded the South Vietnamese to walk away from the negotiating table under the pretense that they would get a better deal from the Nixon administration. The following transcript from august 3rd, 1973 makes clear what Nixon’s Vietnam policy actually was:

    Nixon: “Let’s be perfectly cold blooded about it. If you look at it from the standpoint of our game with the Soviets and the Chinese, from the stand point of running this country, I think we could take in my view almost anything, frankly, that we force on Thieu[Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, president of the republic of Vietnam from 1965 to 1975 ]. Almost anything. I’ve just come down to that. You know what I mean? because I have a feeling that we would not be in doing, like I feel about the Israeli , I feel on the long run we’re probably not doing them an in-uh… disfavor due to the fact that i feel that the North Vietnamese have been hurt so badly that the south Vietnamese are probably going to do fairly well. And also due to the fact that as a look at the tide of history, out there, South Vietnam is probably never going to survive anyway. I’m just being perfectly candid-i- ”

    kissinger: “-In the pull out area.”

    Nixon: “There’s got to be -if we can get certain guarantees- so that they aren’t ….as you know looking at the foreign policy process, though, I mean, you’ve got to be – We also have to realize, Henry, that winning an election is terribly important. It’s terribly important this year, but can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam? That’s the real question.”

    Kissinger:” If a year or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam, we can have a viable foreign policy if it looks like it’s the result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we now sell out in such a way that, in say a three to four month period, we have pushed president Thieu over the brink – we ourselves- I think there is going to be- even the Chinese won’t like that. I mean they’ll play verbal -verbally they’ll like it ”

    Nixon: “But it’ll worry them”

    Kissinger: “It will worry everybody, and domestically in the long run it won’t help us because because our opponents will say we should have done it three years ago. ”

    Nixon:”I know”

    Kissinger: “So we’ve got to find some formula that holds it together for a year or two, after which -after a year, Mr president Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January ’74 no one will give a damn.”

    To be clear, 21,194 Americans died in Vietnam between 1969 and 1975; and people who protested the war got accused of spiting on soldiers.

    • cassander says:

      The South Vietnamese were not the important partners in the talks, the North was, and the north was not willing to make peace prior to 74. And they were only willing to make peace then because they believed in the sincerity of the US security guarantees to the south, guarantees the US would abandon in less than a year. Any treaty signed in 69 would have been a short ceasefire, nothing more.

    • quanta413 says:

      and people who protested the war got accused of spiting on soldiers.

      Although this is clearly still a point of disagreement between people, I would say the weight of the evidence is that some protesters did spit on some soldiers. It also seems probable that some people spit on protesters. Not that it was some sort of universal experience but that it did happen a few times, and more importantly that there was definitely a significant amount of disdain for returning troops from some segments of U.S. society. Or see some of the answers to this quora question (you can also see the disagreement), https://www.quora.com/Why-were-the-Vietnam-War-veterans-treated-so-badly-after-their-return-to-America. To claim that it never happened is to apply a standard of evidence way higher than is applied to most other claims. Or see On Killing by Lt. Dave Grossman. I don’t agree with everything Dave Grossman says, but I have little reason to believe he’s lying about hearing a lot of accounts of protesters spitting on veterans and cursing at them. And it’s not like spitting on someone is a significant event, so it’s not surprising that after a very unpopular war there weren’t news accounts all over about it.

      More interestingly though, it seems pretty clear to me that the fight over the stories is largely an irrelevant struggle to control the narrative and paints one side as all good and the other as all bad. It’s interesting how much time is spent arguing about a relatively minor point in order to try to make claims about how righteous one side was and the other wasn’t. Honestly though, it’s a very minor point compared to how hard our elected leaders fucked us over, fucked the South Vietnamese over, etc. All the lying by Johnson and Nixon; Nixon sabotaging the 1968 talks, etc. Or on the other side of things, Cronkite portraying the Tet Offensive as a successful military maneuver; the weather underground engaging in a bombing campaign.

      Personally, I fall on the side of believing our leaders going to war made enormous mistakes at best and were downright indefensibly immoral in their behavior at worst. But I also think the anti-war movement had both people who were honest and nonviolent, but also a much smaller but very loud and violent contigent (not talking about spitting but about bombings and riots) that only didn’t manage to do anything horrible of scale because they simply lacked the power and competence.

    • S_J says:

      You quoted from the 1973 conversation, but I can’t seem to follow the link to the 1968 conversation.

      From the quote, I see that Nixon would most likely call himself a hard-nosed realist. The title of “despicable” depends on a moral judgement, and one I’m not 100% confident in making.

      Who was the important holdout at the talks in 1969? Was it South Vietnam, or North Vietnam? What kind of actions did Nixon propose? Were there other reasons that the peace talks failed?

      I had thought that the “secret plan” was to turn the war into a war fought by Vietnam with American support, not a war primary executed by American soldiers. (American soldiers were present in Vietnam as early as 1956. Under the Johnson administration, American involvement escalated heavily in 1963.)

      The alternative was immediate withdrawal, which was apparently much less popular with voters than Nixon’s then-secret plan. Do we blame Nixon, or the voters?

      Per the table in Wikipedia, a total of 36958 American soldiers died in Vietnam between 1956 and 1968. Most of these were in the years 1967 and 1968 (11363 and 16899 casualties, respectively).

      The same table adds to 21194 for American casualties between 1969 and 1975. Most of those (11780) were in the year 1969.

      How do we assign meaning to these casualty numbers? Johnson comes off worse than Nixon. But they had different challenges, and pursued different priorities as both Head of State and Commander in Chief.

      Can someone argue that most of the casualties in 1969 were during the time when Nixon was implementing his new plan, and the soldiers on the ground kept being killed while the old plans from the Johnson era were wound down and phased out?

      Would the immediate withdrawal proposed by McGovern have been better for Vietnam, or worse, than the eventual peace accords? Does the 1975 attack, and fall of Saigon, alter that result?

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ hyperboloid
      Nixon ran in part on the idea that he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam that would guarantee America “peace with honor”.

      I remember hearing Nixon say he would withdraw troops but would not tell the details of which group was leaving on which day and from where, as that would invite attacks. Ie, his schedule would be ‘secret’. Immediately the commentators came on and said he had a ‘secret plan’.

  17. ruelian says:

    A question for Scott/anyone else who may happen to want to discuss it: do you think this blog could cover issues with Israel without all hell breaking loose in the comments?

    • Aapje says:

      No.

      Politics is the Mind-Killer.

      The Israel-Palestine conflict is the mind-killiest mindkiller of mindkillers.

    • cafemachiavelli says:

      I can only talk about myself, but I take a fairly grey/grey or grey/black stance on the issue and wouldn’t particularly mind having my perception of what the shades should be challenged. Similar discussions happen on Reddit fairly often and if you ignore the low-effort circlejerk, there are some fairly fruitful comment chains, sometimes involving people who actually experienced the conflict.

      I’d expect the mindkilling to start when/if the conflict gets presented as black/white, triggering the “But the other side is problematic, too” cascade of reactions and counterreactions and everything goes to hell. Whether that’s likely for SSC commenters, I don’t know, I rarely check these, but I’d be cautiously optimistic.

      I still think it’s probably a bad idea for PR reasons, but there goes.

      • ruelian says:

        I can only talk about myself, but I take a fairly grey/grey or grey/black stance on the issue

        I’m not quite sure what you meant by that and I’m curious. Is it a terminology I don’t understand, or am I missing some other context?

        • rlms says:

          Presumably white=uniformly morally good, black=uniformly bad, grey=somewhere between. So cafemachiavelli takes either the stance that both sides are pretty bad, or both sides are pretty bad but one is really bad.

        • cafemachiavelli says:

          What rlms said. It’s a TVTropes term and to be more precise, the most relevant one would be Lighter Shade of Grey. Since conflict is a very popular vehicle for morality in stories, I think the terms can be quite useful to describe stances on real events as well.

          In this case, Black&White morality (“if Palestine is bad, Israel is good” or “Israel does many good things, there are only two boxes, and it clearly fits the white one better”), refusing to contrast (“Both have acted cruelly, so they’re equally bad”) or contrasting to elevate one side (“Israel behaves far more responsibly than Palestine, so they’re the good guy by contrast”) come to (my) mind as the biggest hurdles to a decent discussion.

    • rlms says:

      We seemed to give it a go last open thread, I don’t think it was a complete disaster. Personally, I view the Israel-Palestine conflict (presumably that is what you are talking about, rather than distinct Israeli domestic politics) very distantly and I think I could discuss it without being mindkilled. I think many people are more emotionally involved with it though.

      • ruelian says:

        We seemed to give it a go last open thread

        I was unaware of this, so thanks, I’ll go have a look at that now.

        And yeah, I did mean the Israel-Palestine conflict, I’m pretty sure it would be hard to have a productive conversation on Israeli domestic politics with non-Israelis.

        • rlms says:

          Last paragraph: you’d be surprised! I bet we could have an interesting discussion about e.g. why Likud has been so dominant in recent elections and whether that will change any time soon (I think I know enough about Israeli domestic politics that I’d find that productive, and I think the median non-Israeli commenter probably has similar or greater levels of knowledge).

          • ruelian says:

            Alright, fair enough. Why has the Likud been so dominant in recent elections? I have a few different hypotheses on this, but I’d like to hear yours.

            And on a different note: could you explain why you think the median non-Israeli commenter is somewhat knowledgable about Israeli domestic politics? Because I don’t see a reason why that would be the case.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            could you explain why you think the median non-Israeli commenter is somewhat knowledgable about Israeli domestic politics?

            We probably have more US domestic coverage of Israeli national politics than any other country, save the U.K.?

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Alright, fair enough. Why has the Likud been so dominant in recent elections? I have a few different hypotheses on this, but I’d like to hear yours.

            It seems like it could be explained fairly easily by some combination of demographics (post-Soviet immigration, the population explosion of settlements), increased Palestinian aggression, and a string of feckless Labor leaders.

    • John Schilling says:

      If by “cover issues with Israel”, you mean argue about whether it’s all Israel’s fault or no, the Arabs are the bad guys, then we could probably do that here with a higher level of civility and reason than is the norm for that debate.

      Anything else, will degenerate into that argument. And it’s not an argument either side will ever win.

      • ruelian says:

        That’s depressing, and probably also accurate with high probability, which is even more depressing. *sighs*

      • John Schilling says:

        I suggested in the last go-around that it might be interesting and even productive to conduct such a discussion with a strict rule of absolutely no mention of anything that happened prior to 2017. I still think that would be interesting and maybe even productive, but I don’t think it is practical, alas.

        And if it were done, I think it would converge on the depressing conclusion that this is an ugly problem with no realistic solutions in this generation or the next.

        • ruelian says:

          a strict rule of absolutely no mention of anything that happened prior to 2017

          So, nothing that happened more that two days ago? I’m not quite sure what that would accomplish…

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            So, nothing that happened more that two days ago? I’m not quite sure what that would accomplish…

            Forces people to think about an achievable future rather than tally up unquantifiable provocations.

          • John Schilling says:

            It would allow people to discuss the current state of affairs and potential paths forward while, at least in principle, preventing the discussion from being derailed into accusations of whose past acts led to the current state of affairs.

            I don’t think it is practical; I do think it would be useful if it were.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            That would be like starting the history of Germany from scratch in February, 1945. Why are all those horrible invaders burning German cities with incendiaries and rampaging across the country in mechanized armor formations? We must stop this at once!

          • John Schilling says:

            The allies were invading and bombing Germany in 1945 because a state of war existed between the two, because it was the policy of the allies to prosecute that war to the point of unconditional surrender, and because their belief in the generally aggressive, untrustworthy, and vengeful nature of the Nazi-type Germans then in power was sufficiently buttressed by their memory and historical records of such behavior that they would be exceedingly unlikely to adopt any lesser policy.

            All of this described the present state of affairs in 1945, and this is all that really matters.

            But the human tendency to want to fix the blame before they fix the problem makes it generally impractical to limit the discussion to what really matters. Even here, I am afraid.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            All of this described the present state of affairs in 1945, and this is all that really matters.

            If you’ve erased your memories of everything that happened before today, February 1, 1945, the day you are going to impose a settlement on the two parties and then go home… what is going to tell you that it’s probably not a good idea for the world to force a ceasefire and let the Nazis catch their breath? “The Allies really, really hate and mistrust the Axis” is hardly a justification all by itself to go ahead and wipe out the Axis, once you’ve erased all your knowledge of what justification either party might have had for their actions.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The same thing tells you that imposing a ceasefire from the outside is a bad idea in February 1945 that tells you that it is a bad idea just about everywhere in space and time. At the very least, the history of all those other ceasefires.

          • beleester says:

            Imposing a ceasefire in 1945 Germany might be a bad idea, but the one in 1953 Korea worked out pretty well. I don’t think there’s a general rule of “Cease fires never work.”

          • John Schilling says:

            The Korean ceasefire of 1953 merely postponed the ultimate decision on the fate of the peninsula until such time as North Korea would have a nuclear arsenal, so the jury’s still out on that one.

            At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but that was for purely local reasons. The war was at that point between China and the US/UN; the Korean governments were largely irrelevant. China unambiguously controlled the territory it cared about, but lacked the logistical means to decisively end the conflict by invading the enemy homeland. The battlefield was thus defined by perpetual stalemate. The US/UN were fighting a limited war and had bigger concerns than insisting on a victory in Korea.

            None of which apply to Germany 1945. So perhaps the general rule is that cease-fires in total wars never work. Or perhaps it is more complicated still, but in any event it is defined by the facts at hand at the time of the proposed cease-fire. Perhaps including the mental states of the combatants, but it hardly matters how they came to those mental states.

            Also, I am pretty sure that it is never going to be helpful to the negotiation of a cease-fire for either side to come to the table with an attitude of “…and of course you lot are the Bad Guys whose actions were Never Justified, so shut up and quit it already”. For best results, focus on where things stand now and what future you hope to achieve.

          • CatCube says:

            The other piece is that the ceasefire in Korea wasn’t “imposed” by an outside force–both sides came to the table willingly. That’s different than what’s going on in the ME, where the UN is under the impression that they can grab both sides by the ear and make them sit at the negotiating table.

            In 1945 there was no nonbelligerent force capable of attempting to impose its will on the warring parties this way, and if one had tried it probably would have broken down in short order.

    • Deiseach says:

      No. I think people on here are generally honest enough not to play the “Any objections means you’re anti-Israel, and anti-Israel is anti-Semitism, you Nazi!” card, but there is no way to argue this out without treading on somebody’s corns.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      I suspect one of the reasons Middle East-related discussions get so heated is that analytical blue-sky analyses of it tend to have a really bad habit of turning into real-world horrible ideas that lead to real-world death and destruction (cf. neoconservative war policy if you’re a leftie, or anything John Kerry has ever said in his life if you’re a rightie.) Perhaps this is because unlike, say, China vs. Taiwan or something, it’s because all of the parties involved are small and relatively easy for major powers to bully around, whether financially, diplomatically, or militarily. So terrible ideas have a genuine chance of becoming reality.

      Yes: paradoxically, it is the fact that this could theoretically be solved which makes people more angry about speculation on how to solve it. Nobody’s going to invade China to resolve the China-Taiwan dispute. Is somebody going to invade Israel to impose a settlement? Well, the American ambassador to the United Nations proposed that once, and it’s been invaded lots of times before, so who knows. Or is somebody going to push all the remaining Arabs out of the West Bank? Well, there are millions of refugees in the ME right now testifying to the fact that it is possible for an army to show up out of the blue one day and chase you out of your house, so who knows! Anything is seemingly on the table, anything really could happen, so if you don’t like a proposal you are going to fight extra hard to shoot it down.

      • AnonEEmous says:

        no, it’s just the moral dimension

        people seem to agree that Taiwan is good and China is bad. People do not agree that Israel is one and Palestine is the other, and I refuse to tip my hand in this message as to which I believe, though my past messages might end up giving it away regardless.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          people seem to agree that Taiwan is good and China is bad.

          I can think of a minimum of 1.4 billion people who might disagree with you on that. But quibbling aside, I’ll half-agree: you need a combination of a situation where there are fair points on both sides (something I will grant, admittedly with my teeth grinding) and where it might be possible for a sufficiently assholish external power to barge in and impose a solution. Then you’ve created the maximum possible risk that said assholes actually will barge in and impose a solution should public perceptions lean too far in one direction or the other, so ceding even an inch of argumentative territory could literally mean the end of your nation.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            i do not believe that the latter aspect has anything to do with it in the slightest

            maybe in the public sense, but these debates are hardly less heated among private individuals

            if we discussed the issue with native Chinese regularly, then the debate might be similarly heated, though I also think that palestine v. israel is something people care about viscerally a lot more than Taiwan, probably because Taiwan isn’t undergoing the same thing, also because neither of the countries is western

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ve gotten in trouble just for using it as an analogy based on what I considered obvious aspects of the situation (like “this could lead to a long-term ethnic conflict along the lines of Israel/Palestine”, with a bunch of Israelis and Arabs showing up in the comments to tell me that was a completely unfair description for one reason or another). So I’m guessing no.

  18. atbuss says:

    I and two friends will be at Peet’s on Wednesday!

    • cube says:

      If this sounds like an adequate quorum for an Irvine meet-up, I shall plan to attend as well.

    • bean says:

      I’ll try to make it as well, although we do have the SSC Pathfinder game scheduled for that night, and I already postponed it last week.

    • John Schilling says:

      Weather and health are both looking marginal for me at this point, but I’ll try to make it as well.

  19. grendelkhan says:

    Does anyone have any experience with the OTRS/CP (Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome/Cassandra Phenomenon) discourse? I just stumbled on this, and it seems like it’s opposed to the usual neurodiversity discourse, i.e., “high-functioning autistic people have trouble navigating a harsh and unforgiving world, and deserve accommodation and understanding” versus “high-functioning autistic people cause damage to anyone unfortunate enough to be in a relationship with them; they are inherently poisonous”.

    See also. “They are incapable of empathy. And because of their lack of empathy, their spouses, partners and children suffer extreme emotional neglect, abuse and significant trauma.”

    • suntzuanime says:

      People can be unpleasant to be around for lots of reasons, many of which are within their rights. I’m not sure there’s a coherent theory of what constitutes “abuse” once you get out of the realm of “hitting people with heavy objects”, but classifying “not giving me enough empathy” as abuse seems like an entitled person with an ax to grind. Or even an abusive mindset in itself.

      • grendelkhan says:

        I think what gets me is that you can easily draw a straight line to things like this.

        • suntzuanime says:

          People can have unsatisfying marriages for lots of reasons! Not every unsatisfying marriage is abuse! Holy shit!

        • Deiseach says:

          You may end up permanently depressed or build a life of your own within the context of what society calls a marriage.

          OF COURSE YOU BUILD A LIFE OF YOUR OWN WITHIN YOUR MARRIAGE.

          You and your spouse are two individuals. There are going to be things you like they don’t and vice versa. You are not going to be some kind of conjoined being. You are not a parasite or even a commensal; you married that person because you liked them and felt you could live together, but you did not cut off a chunk of your brain and replace it with a chunk of theirs.

          This is the end-result of the over-emphasis on “marriage should be all about and only for Twu Wuv” and the ideal of the soul-mate who will complete and satisfy you in every area of your life. One person is not going to be the all-in-all; that is why family, friends, people you work with, people you argue with on the Internet, are all going to be in touch with the parts of you where you don’t and can’t get the same thing from your spouse.

          • nyccine says:

            OF COURSE YOU BUILD A LIFE OF YOUR OWN WITHIN YOUR MARRIAGE.

            And thus guarantee your marriage ends in divorce; or alternatively, two people who loathe each other but don’t go through the hassle of ending the marriage.

            Not sure how you of all people missed this, but “building a life of your own within the marriage” isn’t an antidote to “twu wuv”, it is in fact the logical consequence of the same; because you entered the relationship based entirely on narcissism – “this is the kind of person the person I believe I am/want others to believe I am would be with”, when they inevitably turn out not to be, you retreat further into yourself.

            No, you and your spouse are not two individuals; if you cannot replace the ego ideal of “you” with the shared concept of “us” then your relationship is doomed, and shouldn’t be entered into. What one needs is a sense of sacrifice for others, the belief that what makes me “happy” (read: assuages my ego) is not what is “good.” You don’t withdraw inward, not because at the moment you don’t need to, but because what kind of message would it send to your spouse? To your kids?

            Contra Suntzuanime, genuinely withholding empathy is in fact a form of abuse; the only question is whether the accusation is genuine or manipulative. If one is incapable of fully meeting the relational needs of another due to their own issues, then yes, it is bad to enter into a relationship with that person.

          • Well... says:

            Seems to me both can be true: you can have a shared concept of “us” and also each cultivate separate interests/hobbies/tastes/etc.

            My wife and I are “ride or die” for each other, yet we have many separate interests/hobbies/tastes/etc.—and also a few shared ones. Importantly, our children fall into the latter category.

          • Deiseach says:

            By “building a life of your own”, I do not mean “carrying on as if you were still single and the only purpose of your spouse was to provide sex/money/housekeeping services”.

            But people can be separated by death. If you are a widow or widower, you will have to live without your spouse. If both of you were so wrapped up in each other that you can’t take being apart because you don’t know how to function as an individual person, that’s not good for you.

            In marriage, both spouses become one flesh. This does not mean they become a two-headed monster. If all your emotional needs are wrapped up in one person, you rely totally on them for gratification, this becomes unfair and even abusive. Taken to an extreme, it is jealousy, and the extreme of jealousy becomes violence and unreason – your spouse cannot have friends, cannot visit or speak to family without your permission, may have to give up their job because you don’t want them interacting with others, has to account for every interaction to your satisfaction (‘why did you smile at that person? were you trying to get their attention? do you want to be with them?’) and worse. Plenty of men have performed murder-suicides on the basis of “if I can’t have her, no-one can”.

            You have to have a reason for being together, for being in a marriage. But you don’t merge into one blob or give up who and what you are, either.

          • rahien.din says:

            nyccine,

            In marriage, sacrifice does not mean excising parts of yourself or constricting yourself to the mere intersection of your personalities. That would make marriage into a kind of emotional suicide pact. And if we are to continue conflating things with abuse, I think it is abusive to say “If you love me you will no longer seek to be yourself.”

            Sacrifice means doing what you can so that your spouse can become everything they want to be and are meant to be.

            Speaking personally, I married my wife because of who she was, is, and will be, not because she was willing to concede who she was, is, and will be. That would be creepy – she’s not my emotional servant, and I have not absorbed her as an organ of my body or mind. She is my partner. I would be devastated if she excised some important part of herself in order to preserve our marriage. I’d feel like an unwitting abuser-by-proxy, and a failed husband.

    • quanta413 says:

      At a passing glance, those sites seem kind of like the flip side of the extreme belief that neurotypicals should mostly cave into the demands of not neurotypicals. Unsure what language to use. And on further inspection, their sourcing does not inspire confidence.

      Psychology is not my field, but it seems a bit extreme to me to claim that asperger’s involves the complete and utter lack of any empathy. I’m honestly a little suspicious of any psychological claim about someone’s mind that is that strong. Even among “normal” people there’s a huge range in empathetic ability and I’m definitely on the low side of it. But most people I’ve chosen to interact with closely seem to like me well enough, and I think I’m able to largely compensate for my deficit by other means.

    • The Nybbler says:

      People with AS have no idea they lack empathy. Their disorder not only prevents them from having empathy, but from knowing they don’t. This is the reason they become so angry at any claim that they are empathy-deficient.

      Nice kafkatrap. I think I can stop reading there. Since I’m not a licensed medical professional, I’ll label the writer with borderline personality disorder at this point.

      OK, snark aside, I read further… and it didn’t help. The website seems dedicated mostly to bashing people with Aspergers. If you believe its general thrust of “people with Aspergers are incapable of empathy and therefore intolerable to be close to”, the solution is 100% clear: don’t be in a relationship with such a person. It won’t, after all, be subtle. Yet I don’t see an explanation of how these relationships get started or why breaking them off (where’s the divorce attorney links?) isn’t the right answer.

      I would go with suntzuanime’s last theory — the website is reflective of an abusive mindset in itself. I’ve found that those on the internet demanding “empathy” are actually not merely demanding that their target model their feelings accurately, but that they put the feelings of the demander in first priority strictly above their own feelings.

      • Matt M says:

        ” I’ve found that those on the internet demanding “empathy” are actually not merely demanding that their target model their feelings accurately, but that they put the feelings of the demander in first priority strictly above their own feelings.”

        Just want to reiterate that I’m finding this increasingly common. People who accuse someone of “lack of empathy” often seem to take it as a given that, if someone really understood their feelings, it would be required for them to change their behavior in such a way as to benefit them personally, even at the expense of one’s own self.

        Given that I feel 100% certain you doing X would make me happy, you refusing to do X must be indicative of your inability to fully appreciate my feelings on X.

        • kaminiwa says:

          (Thinking out loud, and thus being a bit meandering here…)

          “People who accuse someone of “lack of empathy” often seem to take it as a given that, if someone really understood their feelings, it would be required for them to change their behavior”

          If I say “hey, you keep punching me in the face and that really hurts”, it seems like reasonably you lack empathy for my suffering, because if you had empathy you’d stop punching me in the face?

          Now go to something simpler, like never doing dishes: I do dishes because them not being done *bugs* me. If you empathically felt that same sense of being-bugged, or even just understood intellectually that this is a thing that causes me suffering… presumably you’d do the dishes more often, instead of only when I spend 30 minutes of emotional labor dragging you out of whatever video game you got caught up in?

          And, conversely, if *I* had empathy, presumably I’d understand why you’re prioritizing the video game over dishes in the first place – but that could just as easily be Executive Dysfunction, ADD, laziness, or that you just genuinely don’t care about my feelings and are hardly going to go out of your way to do something at your *own* expense just because I’d benefit.

          (And on the third hand, maybe I’m a narcissist who expects you to always do dishes with no effort on my part, because I was raised that dishes are women’s work and why should I do it?)

          I think empathy sometimes is a useful complaint, but like anything it can be misused. I’ve certainly had a lot of relationships where it felt like if I happened to have a good time, great, and if not, that was entirely on me – there was no real empathy, and thus no real relationship?

          Or, at least to me, when I have a relationship, I have the sort of empathy that says “making you happy, makes me happy, so I want to make you happy” and can do that even at an expense to myself.

          “Gosh, you got cancer? Well, that’s a bummer, TTYL” is perfectly reasonable on a first date, much less so from a husband of ten years who promised “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.”

          • Matt M says:

            “If I say “hey, you keep punching me in the face and that really hurts”, it seems like reasonably you lack empathy for my suffering, because if you had empathy you’d stop punching me in the face?”

            What if the reason I’m punching you in the face is because I just caught you in bed with my wife?

            I’m not punching you because I don’t understand your suffering – I’m doing it because I think you *deserve* to suffer.

          • kaminiwa says:

            My intuition is that if you feel that someone *deserves* to suffer, then the question of empathy is out the window.

            My intuition is also that if you resort to physical violence in response to adultery, you’re probably a scary, violent person who I should avoid.

            I also note you just said “caught in bed with your wife” and didn’t specify that I *knew* she was your wife, or even married at all…

            So, because you didn’t bother to understand that your wife mislead me and didn’t mention she was married, you’re now kicking my ass.

            Yes I think you lack empathy, and yes I think it’s reasonable to tell you to stop kicking my ass. The correct target of your anger is your wife, and physical violence is still not an acceptable response to adultery.

            (That said: shit, dude, I think I’d be pretty empathic towards a few punches and getting being thrown out, if it turned out a woman I was dating was married and got caught. That’s the whole point of empathy – I should at least try to understand where you’re coming from, instead of swinging back in “self defense”)

          • Matt M says:

            “I should at least try to understand where you’re coming from, instead of swinging back in “self defense””

            If proper empathy requires you to not swing back when some angry dude is repeatedly punching you, then I think the overwhelming majority of people lack empathy. And I don’t think most people would define the concept as strictly as you do.

          • kaminiwa says:

            I mean, if someone screams “WHY ARE YOU FUCKING MY WIFE?!” I feel like I have a pretty clear clue what I’ve stumbled in to and why I’m being attacked?

            If you’re actually trying to hurt me (which, speaking from experience, is a VERY different thing from throwing a few angry punches in my direction), yeah, I’ll defend myself. Note, though, *defend* myself: not counterattack. The goal is to minimize the damage I take, and the damage overall; it’s not retaliatory.

            I think empathy AND expedience tell me that my best bet here is to lay low, absorb a few angry blows, and get the hell out so that the dude can process what just happened.

            And the usual media portrayal here is not the adultering guy attacking the husband, but instead meekly leaves… so I don’t think I’m being that unusual?

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t want to get hung up on the details of exactly how things are expected to play out in an adulterous encounter.

            The general point here is this: Just because someone doesn’t do what you want them to do does not necessarily imply they lack empathy. They could very well understand your feelings on the matter, but choose not to comply with them for various other reasons.

          • kaminiwa says:

            Oh. Yeah. On that we agree.

      • Fahundo says:

        People with AS have no idea they lack empathy. Their disorder not only prevents them from having empathy, but from knowing they don’t.

        Serious question: how do you know if you have empathy or not?

        • Aapje says:

          If we assume that most people ‘create’ empathy by imagining themselves in the place of a person and imagining how they would react; then isn’t the actual issue a mismatch between their own mental model and that of others?

          If so, isn’t it more accurate to say that they merely lack empathy with neurotypicals, but not necessarily with other AS people? And similarly, that neurotypicals lack empathy with AS people?

          And don’t we all have an issue where our empathy is less for people who are more different from us…

          [Edit] Sorry, Anonymous, changed my post since I thought I could phrase it better this way.

        • Anonymous says:

          Serious question: how do you know if you have empathy or not?

          Mostly by visceral feelings copied from people you witness experiencing something, even though you do not experience it yourself. Reflexively protecting your crotch when you see a man struck in the groin, becoming saddened when a friend tells you their parent died, feeling happy when surrounded by happy people, etc.

        • US says:

          “People with AS have no idea they lack empathy. Their disorder not only prevents them from having empathy, but from knowing they don’t.”

          Excuse my bluntness, but I have to mention that I think this is simply wrong (I could use stronger language than that, but see no need to do that). Most people with AS know how to read, ‘no language delay’ is/was one of the distinguishing criteria for AS. A lot of books have been written about AS and a lot of studies have been published on topics related to autism; many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are perfectly able to read those and realize that they’re not good at modelling other people’s thought processes, that the way they respond to emotional input from others may differ from the way other people respond to similar input, that they’re bad at interpreting body language and that other people are much better at that than they are, etc., etc. I should know, I have a formal AS diagnosis and I’ve read more than a few of those aforementioned books and papers. They might also obtain the information via other channels, e.g. through communication with support providers of various kinds; many of them obviously do, as social skills training is part of the repertoire of many interventions aimed at this group. Autistics at the milder end of the spectrum can be quite self-aware even if they’re not good at modelling others, and in fact anxiety disorders are quite common in people with AS (“Anxiety is considered by some to be the most common comorbid psychiatric concern in ASD”, Lubetsky et al.). They probably know more about the ways in which they differ from others than do people who claim they have no idea that they lack empathy. They might for example be aware that: “The interaction between empathy and autism is a complex and ongoing field of research.” (The coverage in that article incidentally makes it clear (see the ‘Types’ sub-section) that a distinction is made in the literature between affective- and cognitive empathy (each of which can then again be subdivided further, to account for relevant distinctions of interest); i.e. empathy is perhaps not best thought of as a unidimensional contruct, and so there may be multiple answers to Fahundo’s question, depending upon which dimension of the empathy construct in which one is interested).

          Related to Aapje’s second paragraph, Denise Edwards put it like this in her book: “Neurotypical people (NTs) are as lacking in empathy towards people with ASD as vice versa.”

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh, holy Jerusalem. I wanted to know why the heck they were using “Cassandra Phenomenon” (apart from Ye Olde School Of Freudian Mythological Naming to give their makey-uppy syndrome some borrowed credibility) and the first thing on that horribly designed webpage was this:

      NT family members, over time, begin to reflect the persona of AS behaviors we live with, 24/7. We are isolated, no one validates us, we lose friends and family, and we feel like ‘hostages’ in our own homes.

      Listen, missus: unless your autist family member is tying you to a chair and locking you in the house, you have other family members, you have friends, you have work colleagues, you have interests of your own outside the home – what is this isolation and lack of validation? How do you “lose” friends and family? Bob your husband is high-functioning autistic, he doesn’t like get-togethers and parties, so you go on your own or with a friend to these shindigs. Maybe Aunt Mabel is insulted that Bob didn’t come to her 50th anniversary celebration, but mostly the family will understand “Well, Bob’s a bit weird, Susie is going to be on her own at these things” and they manage fine. WHAT THE HELL IS STOPPING YOU FROM “I’M GOING HOME TO MOTHER, SHE WAS RIGHT I SHOULD HAVE MARRIED WILFRID AND NOT YOU”?

      I dunno. As I’ve said, no formal diagnosis but the majority of my father’s family are all somewhere on the autism (or Asperger’s as it used to be, before it all got folded back in) spectrum, and we manage somehow, even if that is “ten minutes interacting with people means I need eight hours solitude to recover”. I can recognise (not empathise, of course, since I’m one of those empathy-lacking monsters) that if you have an autistic kid you will feel disappointed that they don’t respond to you as you hoped and that they will disappoint you in some way by not being the son/daughter you expected and planned to do things with and share common interests.

      Having a sibling/parent/child/spouse who is emotionally distant and doesn’t want to do the things you do or share the same interests or act in the kind of supportive manner you expect them to act is hurtful, I do see, but it’s not something intentional. Not liking crowds, loud noises, over-stimulus, and finding other people hard to read and hard to share things with is just as tough on the AS person.

      By the same token, though, constantly badgering your child about “But don’t you love me? Why don’t you tell me you love me? Why don’t you act like you love me? Why do you want to hurt me?” is every bit as emotionally abusive as not getting your validation from your pet child or spouse.

      Honestly, that page reads less like “families traumatised by AS members” and more like “Narcissists Anon”. They don’t validate me! I feel isolated! Nobody is telling me that I am the centre of their world and they can’t live without me!

      • Matt M says:

        “Oh, holy Jerusalem”

        You mean Al-Quds? Stop being such a partisan! You’re chasing all the moderates away! (I kid, I kid)

    • Cadie says:

      I just saw a post elsewhere that clarified something: empathy, sympathy, and compassion are different things. Empathy is being able to feel what others feel, sympathy is caring about and knowing what others feel, and compassion is wanting to and trying to help (this is paraphrased). They often come together, but they don’t have to; a lot of people who don’t feel empathy, for whatever reason, do feel sympathy and compassion.

      I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here with the jump from lack of empathy to emotional abuse. Maybe they’re playing motte-and-bailey, using the “this condition causes lack of empathy” which is often true and then using empathy as shorthand for “empathy, sympathy, and/or compassion” which doesn’t work here. Or maybe they really are confused and think that an inability to immediately mirror someone else’s emotions implies that they don’t and can’t honestly care.

      • Riothamus says:

        The obvious case of lacking empathy is never having been in a similar situation. There are a variety of tragedies for which I have no actual empathy, but do have sympathy and compassion: losing my family in a natural disaster, fleeing my home as a refugee from war, or sexual assault, by way of example.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ Cadie
        I just saw a post elsewhere that clarified something: empathy, sympathy, and compassion are different things. Empathy is being able to feel what others feel, sympathy is caring about and knowing what others feel, and compassion is wanting to and trying to help (this is paraphrased). They often come together, but they don’t have to; a lot of people who don=’t feel empathy, for whatever reason, do feel sympathy and compassion.

        I see a (slow) treadmill here.

        com = with
        passion = feeling
        compassion = feeling with

        sym = similar, together with
        pathy = feeling
        sympathy = feeling with

        em = with, near
        pathy = feeling
        empathy = feeling with

        • Deiseach says:

          Language nitpicking here! 🙂

          Compassion comes from Latin roots, “com” and “passio”, which is the same root in “passion”, meaning in whole “to suffer with” – to bear the other’s burdens, to help them in their difficulty and need.

          Empathy and sympathy come from Greek – “pathos” meaning “suffering, grief; experience, feeling” – so “empathy” means “to experience with” (from “en” in, at) and sympathy is “fellow-feeling” (from “syn” with, together).

          Compassion is more “a motivation to action on behalf of the suffering person”, sympathy “to acknowledge from the outside of how they feel or that the situation is bad” and empathy “to express understanding from the inside of what their emotions or pain is like”.

          A superhero can empathise with a villain while disapproving of what they did (“I know what it feels like when your mother has been eaten by an alien plant, but blowing up the entire planet where those plants come from and killing all the people there is not the right response!”)

          Calls for empathy can mean “I want more than verbal acknowledgement that yes, it must be difficult, I want you to feel what I am feeling”; that is, you want the other person to react as if they have an emotional connection to you and that your pain hurts them, not just that they comprehend on an intellectual basis that you are hurt but they appear unmoved. I think that is the problem there: the autistic person may not be unsympathetic or not be compassionate, but they don’t react with the emotional (rather than dispassionate) reaction the other person wants. This looks like “they don’t care”, which is not so, but the autistic person doesn’t see or feel the necessity to do the whole “oh my god, this is awful, come here and let me hug you” bursting into tears routine to go along with “Yeah, you must feel sad that your dog died, sorry to hear that”.

          But calls for empathy can also be excessive if misused: “I want you to always be thinking of how I am likely to feel and to feel obliged to make me happy by doing what I want the way I want it”. Wanting to be always told “I love you, I need you, you are wonderful, I couldn’t live without you” is abusive.

    • rahien.din says:

      “high-functioning autistic people have trouble navigating a harsh and unforgiving world, and deserve accommodation and understanding” versus “high-functioning autistic people cause damage to anyone unfortunate enough to be in a relationship with them; they are inherently poisonous”

      Seems like these can be summarized as “Some people can tolerate the emotional demands of a relationship with a highly-functioning autistic person, and some people can not.”

      Here’s the other side of that coin, if you buy the story.

  20. Noah says:

    Does anyone know how often medical studies publish their complete data (something like a table of the age, sex, and all relevant information for each patient)? If this happens, how does one find the data? I’ve been running into issues trying to estimate things like the probability of someone having a disease conditioned on his sex, age and symptoms.

    • rahien.din says:

      It’s common for a case series to publish all the data in the paper, when you can fit everything into a table at most page-sized. Much less common for the kind of studies you would want to access in order to answer your particular questions.

      I think a lot of researchers would be hesitant to give away large datasets, if only because their human subjects had agreed to a certain and particular use of that data which likely did not entail widespread distribution. I could be mistaken.

      Why not use actuarial tables? Honest question.

      I’ve been running into issues trying to estimate things like the probability of someone having a disease conditioned on his sex, age and symptoms.

      Sounds like you’re practicing medicine.

      • Noah says:

        Why not use actuarial tables?

        They don’t contain the information I need.

        Sounds like you’re practicing medicine.

        I’m being practiced on. I think I’m better at statistics than the average doctor, and willing to spend more time digging up studies and data relating to my symptoms and analyzing them. I do understand that doctors have a lot more actual medical expertise than me, but this seems like a useful way to see whether it’s worth pursuing possibilities they are ignoring.

        • rahien.din says:

          You probably are better at statistics than the average doctor. I say that as a physician! But you might also be better at fluid dynamics than the average plumber.

          Good luck and be careful.

  21. Going on my list of “Favorite things that have happened in the academic world” here is the Sokal Affair. Namely, a physics professor submitted a totally bogus analysis paper of quantum gravity, littered it with postmodernist terms and praised the political left, and had it published.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

    http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html

    Lovely quotes from it

    ” And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic: “mathematics is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other.”103 104 Thus, a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics”

    His thoughts on it

    “The results of my little experiment demonstrate, at the very least, that some fashionable sectors of the American academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy. The editors of Social Text liked my article because they liked its conclusion: that “the content and methodology of postmodern science provide powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project” [sec. 6]. They apparently felt no need to analyze the quality of the evidence, the cogency of the arguments, or even the relevance of the arguments to the purported conclusion.[9]

    • Tekhno says:

      Sokal, of course, was a leftist himself, just a member of the materialist Old Left, rather than the more modern intersectional critical theory left, or “SJWs” in cruder parlance.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think of Sokol’s experiement as kind of disappointing– so far as I know, he didn’t choose a major journal, and he revealed his hoax fairly quickly. It was a test that showed some problems, but didn’t give people a huge chance to find out on their own whether he’d published nonsense.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      I find this affair, where Sokal was brought on as a ringer, even more interesting. A widely-cited paper in positive psychology had perpetrated the most childish mathematical fraud imaginable, stealing the famous butterfly graph of the Lorenz attractor and inserting it senselessly into a paper on interpersonal dynamics. It went unchallenged for eight years before a French graduate student, Nicholas Brown, enlisted Sokal and succeeded in exposing the imposture.

      • Bakkot says:

        I am weirdly proud to have noticed that paper was nonsense the last time I came across someone citing it, before the above paper was published.

        Here’s the original paper which the above is critiquing, by the way.

        Edit: also, I feel a need to point out that the paper Earthly Knight links is hilarious. It is full of sentences like

        But let us once again put aside all the foregoing criticisms and suppose, just for the sake of argument and contrary to all evidence, that Losada (1999) had adequately demonstrated that the time evolution of emotions within his teams’ business meetings was governed by the Lorenz system.

        It also contains a joke made via the medium of citations.

  22. Cheese says:

    I’ve been thinking about punditry and predictions since Scott’s predictions post and also a lot of post-US election stuff.

    What matters more? Method or Results.

    I ask this because in following a lot of blogs and discussion related to sports prediction, the general takeaway is that score attempts > actual scores > results of the game. When you control for extremely well defined factors (e.g. home vs away and current game score, not stuff like injuries or player strength which generally make your predictions worse), it’s pretty much always the score attempts that come out on top as the metric with the most predictive validity. Sometimes it’s scores (depending on how your sport works). In many cases you get a lot of push back from people’s who’s main criticism is that results are the only thing that matter. Which is true in a sense that if you win the final game you win the championship, but not really in that if you win game 1 and 2 of the season with bad underlying metrics you’re probably not a good team and shouldn’t behave like one.

    Bringing that to the election (which has probably been done to death here so i’m sorry), I saw a few comments that people were either rubbishing people with detailed predictions methods (e.g. Nate Silver) or updating their priors on certain pundits who happened to get the result right even if the details were wrong (e.g. Scott Adams).

    How do people generally approach n=1 events or n<required power events like this? I tend to very much prefer a method based approach, with the qualification that methods (and indeed final predictions) are only as good as your data. It just opens you up to such easy criticism in that in the strictest sense of things, you're just wrong.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Results over methods, always. You could contend that in the past being data driven has performed better than relying on your intuition, but then you would again be relying on (past) results to validate methods.
      Also, the newer the situation, the less relevant are past results.

      In the case of truly n=1 events with no prior data, it seems that the only reasonable approach is to throw up your arms in aporia. Obviously one could debate over which hypothesis fits the one event better, and sometimes there might even be a good answer, but I argue that it does not really matter at this point. Any model built on observing very few events needs to have extremely wide prediction intervals for the likelihoods of different hypothesis, so even if Model A says that Hypothesis A is 0.51 likely while Model B claims Hypothesis B is 0.51 likely, the difference is meaningless in practice, as we should look to Models if we want help predicting the future, and deciding between Model A and B makes no difference.

      This is the general answer, but in the case of the election, I see no reason why we should assign much more weight to the final prediction than we do to the details leading to the prediction (even . If Scott Adams really has a mental model that is able to explain and predict the 2016 election, he should not only be able to predict the final result but also the way leading there. Trump did not win in a landslide (which Adams was pretty confident in, though my memory might be spotty), and also I am not sure that his idea of Trump as Master Persuader fits the fact that he was the most disliked candidate in the history of US elections (this is not snark, I really am not sure if this hypnosis thing includes making you more likable).
      Thus, I would update on Adams knowing some stuff other people don’t, but not very drastically.

      On a side note, would you mind linking the blogs you mentioned? Although I never managed to find interest in American Sports, I admire the wealth of available statistics and the data-drivenness of fans and managers.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Did Adams get the prediction right? He was predicting a Trump landslide, not just a Trump victory. In sports prediction, or at least in betting, if you go beyond “team X to win” and start betting on props (“team X will win by such-and-such a margin”), you will lose your money if team X wins, but narrowly.

      On the other hand, Adams and so on got a better result than the pundits and so forth who were predicting that Hillary would squash Trump. And a lot of those people were working based on a method that seemed strong. The people who were predicting Trump would win, by a landslide or otherwise, were generally not using methods based heavily on crunching the numbers, etc. I thought Hillary was probably going to win, but by a fairly narrow margin – but I can hardly say that I had a strong method; I was just looking at all the polling aggregates and such predicting a Hillary win, and having a gut instinct that it was going to be closer than that – based in part on seeing the populist right wing option do better than expected in various European elections.

      Something clearly went wrong with the data-heavy models. Is polling less reliable – is the “shy Tory” effect becoming a factor that must somehow be accounted for?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Did data driven models do poorly vs. punditry?

        It seems to that the more data driven you were, the less you predicted Trump as a sure loser. I think there were far more pundit driven “Trump can’t win” statements than “Trump will win” statements. I think you are discounting those because the data driven models mostly agreed Trump was likely to lose.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Let’s assume you’re right and most pundits were saying “Trump can’t win”. In fact, Nate Silver was catching flak before the election because he was giving Trump a better chance of winning than a lot of pundits thought was realistic. On the other hand, Silver’s model was the “friendliest” to Trump, wasn’t it?

          • Matt M says:

            But the objection to Silver was not data-based, it was pundit-based. People weren’t accusing Silver of somehow doing the math wrong. IIRC it basically came down to “come on, it’s obvious Trump can’t win, by saying he can you’re obviously just being a partisan who is trying to help him win!”

          • dndnrsn says:

            I thought the criticism of Silver was that he was putting his thumb on the scale to make it look like a horse race, more than that he was trying to put Trump over? And, surely, accusing him of fudging the numbers is accusing him of doing the math wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, Silver’s model was friendlier to Trump than many (although not all, I believe). I believe 270 to win had Trump winning?

            But that doesn’t tell us anything about how often pundits, absent a model, said “Trump can’t win”. No does it tell us how many pundits said “Trump will win”, or anything in between.

            You need the actual numbers, and some way to evaluate who “counts”, in order to actually make the statement that straight pundits did better than models.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Are you replying to me? I didn’t say that pundits outperformed polling aggregates. The pundits who called Trump to win were mostly doing so based on reasons other than polling.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn:
            I may have misinterpreted what you meant here “Something clearly went wrong with the data-heavy models.”

            That’s why I asked whether (you thought) punditry actually outperformed data driven models.

            We may just be talking past each other.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I suspect that’s what happened here.

            Looking at 270towin, I can’t figure out what their “official” prediction was. Everything on their Forecast page appears to be other peoples’ predictions or aggregates, but I’m fuzzy-headed right now and may be missing something.

            Models where Trump won, going by Vox(which was the first Google hit I got) were not poll-based. The model of the six they list which used ordinary polling predicted a Clinton win.

            As you point out, it’s hard to qualify who is a “pundit” for the purposes of asking questions like “what % of pundits said Trump would win?” But punditry employment doesn’t really seem connected to successful and precise predictions.

            The person I can think of who called it best was Michael Moore. Right-wingers predicting a Trump victory fell either into hedging mode or, for the less moderate right wingers, predicted a “Trumpslide”, which did not happen. Skimming his article on why Trump would win, Moore didn’t predict a landslide or anything.

            I was wrong to say data-heavy. Polling-based is a better way of putting it. Something has been wonky about polls lately. The LA Times prediction did well, and even it failed to get the popular vote right.

          • Matt M says:

            “Yes, Silver’s model was friendlier to Trump than many”

            Well somebody HAS to have “the model most friendly to Trump” and my proposition is that, whoever that was, would have received a ton of backlash and skepticism.

            They didn’t go after Silver because of anything specific thing in his model – they went after Silver because his model was the one friendliest to Trump – and therefore “problematic”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            I find that comment to be essentially content free. It’s just an excuse to take a shot at people who use the word “problematic” (which, not that it matters, is not limited to SJ”W”s.)

            At some point I am going to spend two weeks and call out every single instance of these kinds of posts, and then people will be very irritated with me and call me a scold.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I don’t see how you can assume that he was referring to SJWs, rather than mere tribalism which makes people unquestionably accept outcomes that they like and find fault in things which have inconvenient outcomes.

            You say yourself that ‘problematic’ is not limited to SJWs, so shouldn’t you extend good faith to Matt by assuming that he meant the most generous reading of his comment, which seems perfectly consistent with his beliefs (and common SSC beliefs about tribalism).

          • Matt M says:

            I’ll admit that the use of the word problematic was a snide reference at SJWs, sure.

            But the overall point of the post was to advance my theory that people targeted Silver solely because his was the model most favorable to Trump, that by definition, SOME model must exist that is most favorable to Trump, and that whichever model that happened to be would be the one targeted by people looking to express outrage at some model or another.

            The real reason they targeted Silver wasn’t because they didn’t like his data – it was because they didn’t like his conclusion. Even though he was the closest to being right. Had Silver given Trump a 1% chance and the NYT given him a 35% chance, people would have bashed and attacked the NYT instead.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The real reason they targeted Silver wasn’t because they didn’t like his data – it was because they didn’t like his conclusion.

            You know who also didn’t like the idea that Trump could win? A good chunk of the conservative intelligentsia.

            So who is the scary “they” in your quote, again?

            It was a pointless sideswipe that confuses SJWs, anyone involved in social justice, the left and anyone who opposed Trump. You weren’t trying to make a point, you were trying to score a point.

            @Aapje:
            Apology accepted in advance. Yes that is slightly belligerent, but I am annoyed by both those who are promulgating the sideswipes and those who defend them unless it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

          • Matt M says:

            “So who is the scary “they” in your quote, again?”

            The “they” is whoever denounced Silver. I suspect this came mainly from the left, but if the Bill Kristol crowd was doing it too, feel free to lump him in there as well.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @MattM:
            Did they all think it was “problematic”?

            Seriously, just have the grace to accept that snide, pointless, remarks about SJ”W”s are contrary to meaningful discourse. If you want to have an actual discourse about the illiberal left, actually have it. Don’t inject it into analyses where it doesn’t belong.

            Karl Rove spit the bit on national TV election night 2012. Confirmation bias has nothing to do with “the left” and “the left” aren’t entirely composed of SJ”W”s.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I still believe that your assumption of bad faith didn’t improve the discussion and thus was misplaced, even if you were right.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M:

            The LA Times model called a Trump win – but Silver got more flak.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            I know that if I was consistently throwing out the initialization “RR” (for racist right, which isn’t the whole right, just the actual racists on the right). And then was making statements like “The problem with the RR is that have no human decency. That’s why Trump is president.” And I started throwing out words like “realists” that obliquely referenced the RR…

            People would call my shit right quick. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be defending me against charges I’m arguing in bad-faith when I say “realist” as a reference to the right in general.

          • Aapje says:

            @HBC

            ‘Racist right’ would be a term with a relatively unambiguous meaning, while ‘problematic’ is merely a generic English word that doesn’t necessarily refer to SJ. I used it yesterday in these comments with no intent to refer to SJ issues*. So I find your analogy not really applicable.

            For your specific example, I would similarly argue for reading your comment in good faith if it was not clearly directed at the entire right. In your example, where you draw a direct link between the election of Trump and the RR, you would be smearing the entire right with the brush of racism, so I would not defend that (especially in the context of the current discourse, where claims that all Trump voters are racist are relatively common, so IMO it’s reasonable to require that you should be more specific if you didn’t intend this meaning).

            * And there is a more general issue where SJ tends to repurpose established terms to give them a different (and IMHO objectionable) meaning, where there is the risk that a certain framing becomes the default through language manipulation. One may want to push back against such tendencies by ‘reclaiming’ these words, which would be in opposition to fairly common SJ discourse norms, yet would not be an attack (but rather a defensive move).

          • Iain says:

            @Aapje: The fact that HBC could correctly identify “problematic” as being a snide dig at SJWs, while you remained oblivious, should give you pause here.

            (Also, you are not engaging with HBC’s hypothetical. To start with, the imagined point of comparison for “problematic” is not “racist right”; it’s “realist”.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            One, Iain is correct that you have incorrectly matched the relevant words in the hypothetical. The fact that you did so should also give you some pause to consider how motivated your reasoning is here.

            Second, arguing about how “bad” SJ”W”s are is extraordinarily beside the point. On the one hand, I could say that racists are also bad and also use words incorrectly. But, more to the point, if your argument is “but you guys on the left deserve it” … well, that’s really not an argument at all, is it?

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            One, Iain is correct that you have incorrectly matched the relevant words in the hypothetical. The fact that you did so should also give you some pause to consider how motivated your reasoning is here.

            I do admit that I have great trouble finding the commonality between your example and what Matt said. “Problematic” seems to be an accusation of double standards/tribalism. A good faith interpretation of this is that Matt mimicked how some SJ people might justify this tribalism.

            A proper right wing analogy would be to argue that some Trump supporters would always cherry pick the poll that most favored Trump and dismiss the other polls as “liberal media bias.” In fact, this is exactly what we saw, during this election.

            In neither case would I see it as a claim that everyone one that side is guilty of this, but rather, as a claim that (quite a bit of) tribalism exists on that side. Nor do I see it as a claim that this is exclusive to that side. Do you think that it is unfair to claim that there is a decent amount of tribalism on the left (and on the right too, of course), which causes people to favor the polls where their candidate does best and dismiss polls where their candidate does badly, regardless of actual quality of those polls?

            IMO, this was Matt’s argument, but I see no indication in this thread that you ‘got’ that. What I see is that you got triggered by a term that you considered to be insulting, but completely missed the greater argument, which was not insulting (except to tribal thinkers, who are fair targets for scorn, IMO).

            Second, arguing about how “bad” SJ”W”s are is extraordinarily beside the point.

            I’ll grant you that using “problematic” does imply that SJ people are especially guilty of this, rather than hardcore Clinton supporters in general, which is a little unfair, but I really think that you overreacted to this.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            So using terms like “problematic” and “realist” as short hands for the entire left or right is perfectly fine because it’s “just pointing that people are tribal”? I don’t think so.

            As to whether I got MattM’s point let me quote myself:

            Karl Rove spit the bit on national TV election night 2012. Confirmation bias has nothing to do with “the left” and “the left” aren’t entirely composed of SJ”W”s.

            If MattM wanted to make a point about either confirmation bias or motivated reasoning, he could have done that. He failed to do so because he wanted to make sure he got a dig in against the left. These things in know uniquely impact the left and they aren’t driven by the ideology of the left.

            It had nothing to with whether Silver was “problematic” and everything to with the fact that people in the broad Dem coalition took solace from Silver’s prediction in 2012 and were scared by his predictions in 2016.

          • Jiro says:

            I know that if I was consistently throwing out the initialization “RR” (for racist right, which isn’t the whole right, just the actual racists on the right).

            “Yeah, I talked about scum-sucking greedy Jews. But that isn’t all Jews, it’s just the scum-sucking, greedy, ones.”

          • Matt M says:

            dndnrsn,

            I was unaware of that. If true it does pretty much disprove my overall thesis.

            HBC,

            You are not wrong to suggest that I was engaging in a subtle dig of the left. I feel like plenty of people do in fact engage in similar such digs against the right, and I’m okay with that. I dish it, and I can take it as well. If you want to take digs against the right that’s fine by me.

            As an aside, I have no particular love for Karl Rove. Yes, he was an idiot in 2012 – as was everyone in 2008 who was saying “sure Obama is dominating all the polls but we all know that’s only because people are afraid of being perceived as racists by the poll givers.”

            I explicitly rejected the “shy Trumpkin” theory advanced by Scott Adams and others because it had already been wrong in previous elections vis-a-vis Obama. I personally thought Hillary would outperform her polling averages. I was obviously wrong on that.

            All that said, I do think it’s fair to suggest that there was a certain strain among the left (not ALL leftists surely) whose position on Trump, from day one, was “He can’t possibly win, ever, period.” This might have originated as their genuine heartfelt opinion on his odds, but I think at a certain point (after he won the GOP nomination) it shifted from “something we believe” to “something we say to discredit Trump and discourage his supporters.” I have no particular proof of this theory, it’s just something that makes sense to me given my interactions with a whole lot of virulently anti-Trump people.

          • Iain says:

            @Jiro: You might want to unpack that, because right now it looks like the point has flown completely over your head.

            Imagine a slightly different comment section where the SJW outgroup has been replaced by, say, HBD. Imagine that HeelBearCub finished a comment about the right-wing in general with: “So much for being ‘realists'”. Imagine that Matt M called him out on it, and HeelBearCub acknowledged that he was indeed making a thinly veiled dig at HBD.

            If you would not attack Matt M for assuming bad faith in the hypothetical world, then you should think twice about making the same claim in the real world.

            @Matt M: Although I disagree that your original post had no other content, I think HBC is correct to say that this particular dig was gratuitous and did not advance your argument. Insofar as SSC tries to encourage rational, civil discussion, I think it would be better without that kind of dig. (Obviously, if I ever make such a dig myself, please point it out to me.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M:

            It could be that Silver was higher-profile as a prediction guy than whoever did the LA Times’ prediction. He’s the only predictions person most people know by name – certainly the only one I know by name – and people use “Nate Silver” as shorthand for “FiveThirtyEight”. So your explanation isn’t necessarily kiboshed.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            So using terms like “problematic” and “realist” as short hands for the entire left or right is perfectly fine because it’s “just pointing that people are tribal”? I don’t think so.

            I see no indication that Matt was referring to the entire left when he said “problematic.” It seemed to me that he was clearly referring to those who dismissed Silver due to tribalist reasons, who were the subject of his comments. He never even used the word ‘left’, so he never said that the entire left was doing this. This is what I mean when I talk about assuming (a minimum of) good faith.

            IMO, Matt’s ‘problematic’ comment can be reasonably interpreted in two ways:
            1. As a characterization of all people who dismissed Silver due to tribalist reasons
            2. As an example of the kind of tribalist accusation that was used to dismiss Silver’s model

            When I read back Matt’s comment, I still see no reason to declare that one of these interpretation was clearly intended, merely from the actual text. There is simply no clear indication.

            However, you still deem to classify my interpretation (#2) as evidence for my hatred of the left, with your accusation that I suffer from motivated reasoning. IMO, an equally valid interpretation is that I don’t think ill of people. However, I can see how people with a siege mentality wouldn’t come up with that reason.

            However, I fail to see how and especially why people should walk on eggshells around those who go out of their way to assume that others are mean. They can never be appeased.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:

            As a characterization of all people who dismissed Silver due to tribalist reasons

            What tribe do you think he was talking about? Just SJ”W”s? Just SJ?

            By your premise, he was talking about everyone who objected to Silver’s prediction, which was certainly not limited to those two actual groups. Seriously the vast majority on the left, and some chunk of the right, wanted Trump to lose really badly and were super anxious about it as evidence by the mass freak out when he won. How does it make sense to to think that the people who gave Silver backlash was limited to people who can be accurately characterized as using the word “problematic”?

            When MattM admits he was acting in bad faith (your words for the behavior he has self-admitted), how is it then my problem for accurately calling him on it?

            It seems to me what you are doing here is encouraging people to post snarky content and then deny that is what they are doing. Then you would be fully on the side of the snarker.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            What tribe do you think he was talking about?

            He didn’t specify, so I projected my own beliefs, which is that there were/are different tribes in the Clinton camp (and the same for the Trump camp).

            The best way to reason about this is probably to visualize a Venn diagram, where people tend to be part of one or more subcultures with their own tribal characteristics, which includes simplistic oppression narratives.

            Let me use Trump as an example. If Nate Silver’s model had predicted that Trump had a worse chance of winning than other polls/methods, I’d expect the following:
            – Anti-liberal people to dismiss him as part of the liberal MSM
            – Anti-socialist/communist people to dismiss him as a communist due to his communist mother
            – Stormfront people to dismiss him as part of a Jewish conspiracy as he is half-Jewish

            These are three different narratives by three different tribes. However, an individual may identify with (for example) the latter two tribes and denounce Silver as a communist Jew, applying both oppression narratives.

            Of course, this is my narrative, not Matt’s, but I saw nothing in his comments that was inconsistent with my beliefs on this and thus no reason for me to challenge him for stating something that I believe is incorrect.

            Just SJ”W”s? Just SJ?

            My opinion of Matt’s initial comment is that it was pretty clearly focused on the tribalist mechanism. In hindsight I think that he got a little upset at that comment being ignored and he rewrote with a little snark to get a reaction, which is a bit childish. However, …

            How does it make sense to to think that the people who gave Silver backlash was limited to people who can be accurately characterized as using the word “problematic”?

            I still disagree that the only reasonable interpretation is that he called the entire left out on using a ‘problematic’ oppression narrative, rather than call out the left for having a tribe that uses that narrative. IMO, it is reasonable to think that his snark merely consisted of picking an example that he knew would irritate you, as it clashes with your oppression narrative (which he was quite successful at, clearly).

            When MattM admits he was acting in bad faith (your words for the behavior he has self-admitted), how is it then my problem for accurately calling him on it?

            When someone admits to doing X, this doesn’t just mean that you can state that he admitted to Y, which is a different kind of bad. I believe that you inaccurately called him out for Y, while he did and admitted to X.

            Let me be frank: I think that you are so wrapped up in your oppression narrative that you engage in simplistic pattern matching, where you eliminate possible interpretations of comments, because you have preconceived notions that people here equate the left to SJ(W). So if that interpretation is possible, you assume that it was meant, rather than apply either a proper Bayesian probability model or a good faith model, based on the specific phrasing of the comment.

            It seems to me what you are doing here is encouraging people to post snarky content and then deny that is what they are doing.

            Treating ‘he said X, not Y’ as a defense of X is exactly the kind of thing that Scott has spoken out against in the past.

            That kind of argumentation vilifies people who favor accurateness over virtue signaling and is a major force that creates tribes/echo chambers/etc; where people stop speaking out against falsehoods because doing that is seen as evidence that they belong to the other tribe.

            PS. This is exactly what irritates me about the complaints that this forum is anti-SJ or anti-left or whatever, as the complaints are often tribalist themselves.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            We both agree that there are many reasons and sub-tribes who all got mad at Silver for his prediction, each of whom could have their own narrative.

            We also agree that MattM inserted the word problematic as a way of being harmful (you added childish and irritating, I just said snarky).

            We both seem to agree that MattM didn’t actually think that Silver was being problematic nor that he was being given flack for being problematic.

            We both agree that problematic was MattMs reference to SJ”W”s.

            You say MattM was mocking the left for including SJ”W”s, rather than tarring the left as SJ”W”s. Frankly, that looks like a distinction without a difference to me, as the content in question had nothing to do with SJ”W”s. Randomly mentioning the outgroup when they aren’t applicable is just a means of reminding people that whole group is bad because they have the outgroup in it.

            I correctly identified “problematic” (in scare quotes no less, so it’s not like it was hard) as a content free smear designed to be harmful. I didn’t hypermatch anything. You actually appear to be the one over pattern matching your idea that I am falsely accusing people, therefore you can’t admit this was an easy call.

          • Iain says:

            IMO, it is reasonable to think that his snark merely consisted of picking an example that he knew would irritate you, as it clashes with your oppression narrative (which he was quite successful at, clearly).

            Great. Matt M was getting a dig in at the left. Everybody in this conversation agrees. Now that Aapje has conceded the entire argument (which was, if you can remember that far back, about whether it was “bad faith” to accuse Matt M of snark), can we please lay this to rest?

    • Riothamus says:

      A bit of a false dichotomy, but in terms of priority I say method. Without a method you cannot improve or generalize. If you never get good results, then you do not have a good method. A methodless result would be like a coin toss. A pundit is just someone who always picks heads, or always picks tails.

      Nate SIlver’s results were pretty good – within the margins of error they set down. In particular, their defense of why they continued to offer better odds than everyone else was borne out by the results: when they were off on a state, they were most likely off in the same direction in similar states. The Midwest, in this case.

      • rahien.din says:

        I agree. The question could be rephrased :

        How do we achieve the best results, with a method or without one?

        If we can iterate to any extent, then refining a method is obviously preferable.

    • shakeddown says:

      A metaphor I like about Nate Silver: Assume you have a die. Your default is that it’s fair, but Nate Silver examines it and tells you it’s a special die – it has a 1/3 chance of being 2 and 2/3 chance of being 5.

      You play a game with it where you win if you get a 4 or higher, but you get a 2 and lose. Naively, you could say “Nate silver said I had a 2/3 chance of winning, the prior said 1/2, so since I lost I should lower my confidence in him”. But actually, the result you got is more likely under Silver’s model, so you should still increase your confidence in him.

      (Scott Adams, meanwhile, said “you’ll 99% get a 1, except maybe not and really it could be anything. He was right in that you ended up losing, but not in a way that inspires confidence).

      I’ll mention the LA times poll here – they get credit for sticking to their method (which predicted a trump victory when no one else did), but they also predicted a popular vote of Trump+3, while Silver predicted Clinton+4 – so while they were right on the binary result, their error was actually larger.

    • rahien.din says:

      Here’s a different question : are election forecasters truly spectators?

      There is likely a feedback loop between the methods of forecasting elections and campaigning strategies. If every strategy has its weakness, and if a certain method of forecasting produces a certain strategy, then every method of forecasting will lead to its particular exploitable weaknesses.

      My gut is that this is somehow the way Trump won. It would reconcile rightist narratives (“liberal media”) and leftist narratives (“politically neutral data”).

      If this is true, I wonder if this system of forecasting/strategy could ever reach equilibrium.

  23. Mark V Anderson says:

    I have a question for the SSC commentariat. Do you think you have duty to follow the law? We touched on this slightly in the discussion on whether people would turn in illegal immigrants in Europe and the US.

    I believe I have zero duty to follow the law. I will follow the law if I think it is a good law, or if I think I will be caught. I guess I also follow the law as a default; I only break the law if I have thought about the issue and decide it is best not to.

    When I have brought up this issue in other forums, I find that I am in a small minority (actually I don’t think anyone has ever agree with me). And there are always some folks who are aghast at my attitude. The usual response is “What if everyone did that?” To which I answer, “I wish every one would act under their own conscience and not blindly follow laws.”

    I think almost everyone would agree that there are cases one should not follow the law, such as the classic case where you are a guard being told to shoot the prisoners. But I think this should also follow in more mundane cases. I will definitely go through a red light in the middle of the night if there is no traffic. I will go through a red light as a pedestrian or biker is there is no cross traffic. I won’t do this in a car simply because no one does that, and it would be too dangerous if I missed a car, which would definitely not expect me to do it. I smoked pot in my younger days, and would still do it if I wasn’t concerned about getting caught and if I still had my connections.

    • AnonEEmous says:

      i feel the same way, but it’s probably bad for society that I do

      this may be a function of socialization as well; in Israel, people don’t give a shit about the laws and will, as you say, go through a red light if there is no cross traffic.

    • cafemachiavelli says:

      My perspective is fairly similar to yours. I haven’t done anything that would get me in serious trouble, so my current “I will violate this but happily accept the consequences if there should be any” approach serves me pretty well.

      On the other hand, I try to make sure I do my homework before convincing myself that I’m right and the law is wrong. Before I touched steroids for instance, I read a fair number of endocrinology papers, found a lab to get relevant health markers checked regularly and made sure I had a way to check product quality and rule out contamination.

      I don’t know if Murray is right in saying that a lot of people like simple rules and adding caveats or free passes can make a legal or moral system look unfair, but it would explain a lot of behavior I encounter, and maybe your lack of agreement so far, too.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Everyone has a different idea of what their conscience tells them is good. And it is very good at rationalizing selfishness.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      Because you freely chose to remain in the country after having attained your majority, you have entered into a contract with the body politic binding you to its constitution and obliging you to follow its laws. As with any contract, this obligation is only pro tanto– it can be overridden if this is the only way to satisfy other, stricter moral duties– but it extends to every law, no matter how trivial or misguided they may seem to you.

      The usual response is “What if everyone did that?” To which I answer, “I wish every one would act under their own conscience and not blindly follow laws.”

      You are both mistaken. The questioner is falsely presupposing that there is some connection between whether we ought to do x and whether x-ing can be universalized, which there is not. You are wrong because you do not actually believe that someone should follow her conscience if, for instance, it urges her to murder a philandering partner or bomb an embassy.

      • Wrong Species says:

        “Because you choose to continue living with this man after he raped you, you have entered a contract where he is allowed to have sex with you as much as he pleases.”

        It’s funny how the rules governing social contracts have pretty much no relation to rules governing actual contracts.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          “Because you choose to continue living with this man after he raped you, you have entered a contract where he is allowed to have sex with you as much as he pleases.”

          This is a bizarre analogy, because (a) the right to sexual autonomy can’t be ceded in contracts like other right can be, (b) the government doesn’t go around raping people, and (c) laws must be publicly promulgated to bind. Suppose instead that a theater owner posts a list of rules which take effect at, say, 8 PM every night. Doesn’t everyone who lingers on the property past that hour have an obligation either to abide by the rules or to leave?

          • Anonymous says:

            (a) the right to sexual autonomy can’t be ceded in contracts like other right can be

            Not anymore in our legal system. On the camel’s back and all that.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The main difference between most private property rules and the state is that you don’t live in a movie theater, which means that you must go out of your way to go to it.

            On a fundamental level, there is a similarity between states and property in this regard. If Bill Gates decided to buy Cuba he would both be the country’s owner and ruler. In practice, it doesn’t usually work like this and most people move out of their family homes and sign explicit contracts when renting or buying.

            Of course you would see the analogy as bizarre but the point I was making was that just because someone doesn’t fight back or leave doesn’t mean they consent. Lets imagine that Bill Gates bought the entire world except for Syria. He turns everyone in to slaves, stripping them of their autonomy and making them follow his arbitrary whims unless they leave. I have not left this place for war torn Syria, does this mean I consent to all of this?

          • Controls Freak says:

            (a) the right to sexual autonomy can’t be ceded in contracts like other right can be

            Why not? Westen’s book has an entire section opening the theoretical door to prospective consent, and despite the current politicized discourse on the matter, I think it’s a good one. He uses a couple analogies of other prospective consent. The first is from classical literature – Ulysses tied to the mast. He prospectively ceded his negative bodily autonomy, that is, he gave others the right to decide at a later date what he could not do. Normally, tying someone up like that and refusing to let them go might be some form of kidnapping, but his prospective consent could provide a defense for such a charge.

            The second example I recall him using was skydiving. Suppose a person had gone up in an airplane a few times, each time chickening out at the moment of the jump, and returning to the ground inside the plane. Finally, she tells the instructor, “No matter what I say when I’m up there, I want you to throw me out of the plane.” Normally, throwing someone out of plane would be some form of assault, but we are likely to accept her prospective consent, ceding her positive autonomy to perform the jump and providing a defense to such a charge for the instructor.

            He gave a few factors from these examples (and others that I don’t recall offhand) that would make us more/less likely to accept prospective consent, but I see very little reason to draw a bright line around the category of sexual activities in order to make it uniquely immune. The easier case is prospective consent to cede negative sexual autonomy – “You’re my friends, girls. No matter what I say later tonight, don’t let me go home with him again.” We get closer to politicized shouting as we move toward prospective consent to cede positive autonomy.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Controls Freak

            It used to be the case in western Europe until about the middle 20th century that you did cede sexual autonomy when you got married. Adultery and fornication was illegal, and forcible intercourse with ones spouse did not count as rape.

            Come to think of it, you didn’t have sexual autonomy in the first place. Just mostly whether you chose to pair-bond with someone for life, and who that was if so.

          • Controls Freak says:

            First, I think the marital rape exemption gets an unfairly bad rap. I think it’s more similar to discussions we have today about the proper scope of the term ‘rape’. It’s fairly common for people to complain that if we expand the definition too widely, it dilutes the power of the word to describe acts which uniformly have at least some threshold of ‘badness’. While the old discussion of the marital rape exemption didn’t quite follow exactly this line, I don’t think it was ever, “Forcible intercourse with one’s spouse is not wrong.” It was just that the word “rape” did not include it. There are various ways you could go down this path and not be insane. However, they’re mostly foreign if we start from one of the various modernist perspectives.

            I think actual criminal laws against fornication were few and far between. Instead, laws tended to be focused on the legitimacy of children depending on marital status. I think there was less, “If you want to have sex at all, you have to get married,” and more, “One set of the State’s rules will apply to sex (and the possible results of that sex) if you are not married, and another set of the State’s rules will apply to sex (and the possible results of that sex) if you are married.” Remember, much of this law was born out of the Roman tradition, and they were very remedy-focused. There was less focus on, “The Crown v. Individual,” and more on the idea that if you bring a claim to the State, here is the list of things that we’ll intervene in. Much of it was, “Look, if you have sex outside of marriage, here is the set of rules you should expect. You’ll be very vulnerable to rape claims. If you produce children, they will be considered illegitimate (which had its own implications). And so on.” Instead, if you are married, we have a different set of rules/remedies.

            Then, over time, we’ve seen struggles over the necessary formality. There is some drive to, “If we’re going to change State action based on whether or not there is a valid marriage, we need an explicit, formal procedure to make sure we don’t chase our tail trying to figure out if so-and-so’s claim that so-and-so married him to so-and-so is valid.” At the same time, the long history of common law marriage embraces the idea that maybe not everyone wants to go through those formalities, yet we should use Ruleset Two rather than Ruleset One, because it’s just more applicable to their situation. In fact, the very existence of common law marriages pretty much seals the claim that the state was (usually) less concerned about your sexual autonomy… and more just concerned about how to respond to the consequences.

            In sum, while there have occasionally been some laws truly targeting positive sexual autonomy in its purest form, I don’t think they were as all-encompassing as we often imagine. A large part of Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence was trying to show that there wasn’t such a history.

            On the other hand, I think you’re right that enforcing prospective consent to ceded negative autonomy is pretty clearly illustrated in a long history of various treatments of adultery. I also don’t think this difference is insane. Like I said above, it’s generally easier for us to accept ceding negative autonomy… especially when it involves an explicit promise to a known party who might bring claims to the State… and we also throw in the aforementioned interplay between marriage and child legitimacy. Even today, a large portion of people who think that adultery shouldn’t be a legal issue think that it is a moral issue, and that there is some moral way to cede negative autonomy in this way.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Anonymous

            Not anymore in our legal system.

            We are speaking here of “rights” subscripted “moral”, which are, let’s pretend, timeless and unchanging, and exist somewhere up in Plato’s heaven.

            @ Wrong Species

            Lets imagine that Bill Gates bought the entire world except for Syria. He turns everyone in to slaves, stripping them of their autonomy and making them follow his arbitrary whims unless they leave.

            No, but the problem in this analogy is again that there are limitations on what rights you can cede in contracts. My own view is that contracts which are highly exploitative do not give rise to moral obligations, although obviously individuals closer to the libertarian end of the spectrum will not agree. When it comes to the social contract, this will probably require that (1) the constitution respects the individual rights of the country’s citizens, (2) the government’s charter is continually renewed through the democratic consent of the governed, and (3) the government passes and administers laws through processes which respect reasonable standards of procedural justice.

            @ Controls Freak

            I have this idea that when one of the parties revokes his or her consent, sexual activity must cease immediately, no matter what preceded it. Crazy, I know.

          • Controls Freak says:

            So what, exactly, would you say is doing the work to make sexual activity unique apart from other areas where we perhaps can give prospective consent? I’d prefer something other than ipse dixit this time.

            EDIT: You also seem to only be taking such a strong stance on prospective consent to cede positive sexual autonomy. Would you like to take an explicit stance on prospective consent to cede negative sexual autonomy, or would you rather just argue via signalling slogans?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think there are some categories of rights so fundamental that they cannot be forfeited prospectively and can only be waived by continual, ongoing consent. In addition to the right not to be forced to engage in sexual activity, these will include the right to life and the right not to be subjected to conditions tantamount to slavery. If you are looking for a principled explanation for what sets these rights apart from others, I have none to offer. I just I have a moral intuition that this is so, and am confident that you do as well.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @EarthlyKnight

            You keep conflating “voluntary” with justice. An understandable mistake since almost everyone in contemporary society does it but these are separate concepts. Something can be good and involuntary or bad and voluntary. An obvious example would be children never giving consent to being under the rule of their parents. Another might be a doctor giving a lethal injection to a suicidal patient.

          • Controls Freak says:

            @EK

            Let’s focus of the former example rather than the latter (lest the conversation devolve into determining what precisely qualifies as “conditions tantamount to slavery”). The right to life is so fundamental that they cannot be forfeited prospectively and can only be waived by continual, ongoing consent. I think this sounds pleasant, however, we already have a massive, glaring exception to it codified in law – living wills. Do you oppose these under this rationale?

            The living will likely brings to mind the positive right to life. Do you think there is a corresponding negative right (as there is with sexual activity)? If so, would you also be against, say, a person’s ability to sign documentation when entering drug rehab stating that no matter how much she expresses the will to commit suicide over the next 30 days, her caretakers will attempt to intervene so as to prevent it?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Wrong Species

            I have nowhere used the word “voluntary,” so I’m confused about what you’re saying.

            @ Controls Freak

            I think this sounds pleasant, however, we already have a massive, glaring exception to it codified in law – living wills. Do you oppose these under this rationale?

            I certainly think that it would be murder to kill someone who in sound mind does not consent to being killed no matter what documents they had previously signed. If, on the other hand, someone consents to die under certain conditions at some future time and becomes totally incapacitated by dementia or brain trauma in the interim I have no objection to executing the earlier instructions. Here the individual’s directive in their last period of lucidity can be taken as a substitute for ongoing consent.

            I do not think the distinction between negative and positive rights carves moral reality, such as it is, at any joints, and so I have nothing to say in response to questions formulated in those terms.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I count one acceptance of prospective consent and one question avoidance. I’ll take that as agreement. You may think that you deftly divvied it up into the cases where you wouldn’t accept prospective consent and the case where you can squint really hard and rename prospective consent, but you really just said that you sometimes accept prospective consent.

            And that’s not bad. I really do think we’re in agreement. One of the factors that makes us more likely to accept prospective consent is if it is believed to apply to a time at which the individual is going to be of diminished capacity or otherwise impaired in their ability to stay true to their “real” desires. This vein runs through Ulysses (he would be driven insane by the siren song and would die if let loose), the skydiver (she is paralyzed by fear), the case of the living will, and the case of the rehabbing drug addict who wants to live. It makes no sense to imagine that we can start drawing circles around some situations of diminished capacity and then squint that into ongoing consent. It’s prospective consent… just of the type you’re alright with.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            This is going to depend on how we define “ongoing consent.” Obviously, this is going to have to be something less than ceaselessly chirping “yes”. It seems to me that the following conditions together should be sufficient:

            S’s consent to phi at t is ongoing at t if:
            (1) She explicitly consented to phi at t some time prior to t (while of sound mind).
            (2) She never subsequently revoked her consent to phi at t (while of sound mind).
            (3) Were she of sound mind at t, she would still consent to phi.

            Someone who consents to euthanasia in the event that she suffers catastrophic brain trauma and then goes on to suffer catastrophic brain trauma will satisfy these conditions, and so can be said to offer her ongoing consent to the procedure.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @EarthlyKnight

            In common speech, consent occurs when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal or desires of another.

            The two are intrinsically tied together. Do you actually believe in “involuntary consent”? What kind of bizarre abomination would that be?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Your original accusation was that I was improperly conflating voluntariness with justice. This is strange, because I do not think there is any particular connection between acting voluntarily and acting justly. You seem to have meant that I was improperly assuming that consensual contracts are automatically just, which is at least an intelligible complaint. I do believe, like most people, that consensual contracts are prima facie morally binding unless the consent is obtained under conditions of duress or exploitation. This means that the social contract, like any other contract, will have to be non-exploitative to be valid.

            I outlined above three conditions that I think a non-exploitative social contract must meet: first, the constitution must protect individual rights, including the rights of minorities and dissenters; second, the government’s charter must be continually renewed by the consent of the governed through fair elections; third, the processes by which the the state passes and administers laws must abide by standard canons of procedural justice. Do you agree that this is enough to ensure that the social contract is non-exploitative, or do you think additional safeguards are needed?

          • Controls Freak says:

            Stop squinting. We already have a term that works just fine. It’s called “prospective consent”. It’s in all the academic literature and everything. Again, I highly recommend Westen’s book. It’s a fantastic introduction to current thought and terminology (and it’s far more clear than Wertheimer’s book from the year before).

            Anyway, not only does your terminology run counter to the literature, it’s also misleading. For example, we’re shuffling off important aspects to a parenthetical in order to hide how misleading the term is. Consider Ulysses or the skydiver again. Both are actively non-consenting in the moment – Ulysses really wants his crew to untie him, and the skydiver really wants to sit back down and strap into her seat. Nevertheless, we let their non-contemporaneous, prospective consent override their current non-consent. Sure, you can technically say, “But that case is handled by my parenthetical,” but surely you can also see that the term “ongoing consent” is highly misleading here.

            While I think “ongoing consent” may be a fine term for explaining why one doesn’t have to constantly be reciting, “Yes,” at every moment, it’s just not suitable here.

          • Wrong Species says:

            You are taking the idea of the social contract as a consensual contract for granted when that is exactly what the argument was about in the first place. For the purposes of this debate, I don’t care how exploitive or non-exploitive the government is. I’m not answering the question about what makes a good government or what standards of justice it should have. I’m only concerned with one question: does the fact that I remain in the country automatically mean I have voluntarily consented to this social contract? The answer to me is quite plainly no, which is the purpose of my rape scenario as a metaphor.

            Libertarians often ask what’s the fundamental difference between a government and the mob. The answer is that one provides services we like and the other doesn’t. But what they’re really asking is what makes a social contract with the government consensual when there is no such thing with the mob. The answer is that both are involuntary. That doesn’t mean that government is inherently bad. It just mean that we don’t automatically consent to its existence by the mere act of living here. And that’s ok because like I said before, not all consensual acts are good and not all non-consensual acts are bad.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Controls Freak

            We already have a term that works just fine.

            I do not agree. Based on what you’ve said, it appears that your version of “prospective consent” conflates cases where the agent subsequently revokes her consent while of sound mind with cases where the agent does not subsequently revoke her consent while of sound mind. This elides a crucial moral distinction.

            To make the problem more concrete, imagine a man with Tourette’s syndrome accompanied by a tic where he says “No no no!” every so often, regardless of what cognitive state he is in at the time. Suppose this man consents to sexual activity at 6:00, then experiences the tic at 6:01. Your proposed taxonomy of consent classifies his consent at 6:02 as prospective but not ongoing. This is clearly wrong: the man’s consent to sex is ongoing, because the tic counts for nothing.

            Both are actively non-consenting in the moment

            This is not so for Odysseus. Odysseus is incapacitated by the siren’s song, which means nothing he could do could count as giving or withholding consent. Whatever words he mouths amount to nothing more than a tic or reflex with no rational agency behind it.

            I don’t think the skydiving case is very helpful here, just because it’s not obvious to me that it would be permissible to push the skydiver out of the plane.

            @ Wrong Species says:

            I’m only concerned with one question: does the fact that I remain in the country automatically mean I have voluntarily consented to this social contract? The answer to me is quite plainly no, which is the purpose of my rape scenario as a metaphor.

            But we saw earlier that your analogy was flawed. We find implicit consent to a contract which cedes the rights to one’s future sexual autonomy objectionable not because there’s a problem with the implicit consent part but because rights to one’s future sexual autonomy can’t be transferred in contracts. When this defect in the analogy is repaired, we are left with the case of the theater owner who posts a bill of rules which take effect after a certain hour of the evening. Do you have any objection to saying that theater patrons who linger on the premises after that hour implicitly consent to and become bound by the rules? If not, you have no quarrel in principle with the notion of implicit consent.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Like I said earlier:

            The main difference between most private property rules and the state is that you don’t live in a movie theater, which means that you must go out of your way to go to it.

            When you go to a movie theater, that is a fairly good line to draw for implicit consent. Where is that moment when you consent to the state?

            I don’t want to really get in to it but you’re point about sex being different isn’t really helping your case. It just seems to confirm that you view the idea of consent as just being an extension of what you view as just, rather than the separate concept about what people voluntarily agree to. If some women decides to sell her body for sex, then I can say that she consented to the agreement without it being just. You’re telling her that she doesn’t consent to the contract even if she knows exactly what she’s getting in to and explicitly signs up for it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Okay, then imagine instead that the list of rules is being posted by the owner of an apartment building, or the homeowner’s association for a pod of condominiums.

            If some women decides to sell her body for sex, then I can say that she consented to the agreement without it being just. You’re telling her that she doesn’t consent to the contract even if she knows exactly what she’s getting in to and explicitly signs up for it.

            The point is that the prostitute’s consent must be sustained through the duration of sexual activity or else it becomes rape, no matter what she had antecedently agreed to. This is different than in the case of property rights, for example, if I lease you a pen for the duration of an exam in exchange for $5, I do not retain the right to cancel the deal and snatch back the pen at any time, even if I agree to refund your money.

          • Wrong Species says:

            There’s the point where someone signs a contract to rent the place or buy it. Now lets say that you grew up in one house and live there all your life. At what point do you consent? We have no idea and we can’t tell just by the fact they still live there. This is the fundamental problem of the Social Contract and also, in theory, private property.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Suppose that you are orphaned at age 14 but your parents bequeath you a condominium. Until you turn 18, you are bound by the rules of the homeowner’s association because your parents, acting in their role as guardians, agreed to its terms on your behalf. Once you turn 18, you become bound to the HOA’s rules by your own agency, in virtue of continuing to occupy the condo. This is exactly parallel to the mechanism by which we implicitly consent to the social contract in our nation of birth. There is nothing, so far as I can tell, which is mysterious or vague about either case.

          • Controls Freak says:

            it appears that your version of “prospective consent” conflates cases where the agent subsequently revokes her consent while of sound mind with cases where the agent does not subsequently revoke her consent while of sound mind.

            No, it doesn’t. There can be subdivisions. There is no, “You have to accept all prospective consent or no prospective consent.” Instead, we accept some cases of prospective consent, depending upon various factors that are involved. I mentioned this way back in my very first comment in this thread. Diminished capacity is one of those factors. Prospective consent is merely the term which describes consent that is non-contemporaneous with (in fact, before) the event (retrospective consent is the opposite; note that we accept retrospective consent even less often than we accept prospective consent).

            imagine a man with Tourette’s syndrome accompanied by a tic where he says “No no no!” every so often, regardless of what cognitive state he is in at the time.

            In that case, that particular expression is not related to his factual consent, nor does it come into play for prescriptive consent, which is why

            Your proposed taxonomy of consent classifies his consent at 6:02 as prospective but not ongoing.

            is false.

            Odysseus is incapacitated by the siren’s song

            This is false by, uh, the definition of incapacitated.

            I don’t think the skydiving case is very helpful here, just because it’s not obvious to me that it would be permissible to push the skydiver out of the plane.

            You need to stop handwaving cases away. Not because you’re wrong about them being permissible/impermissible, but because they’re useful to determining our terminology and providing distinguishing features and reasons why we come to a conclusion that something is permissible/impermissible. Again, “prospective consent” is not, “You have to accept all cases of this.” Instead, it’s merely defining terminology, and then we have to go figure out which cases are permissible/impermissible and why. We have to, ya know, do philosophy of ethics.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The age of 18 is for legal purposes, not based on any objective feature. This contract never included my agreement to it. Also the government frequently changes it rules but if the homeowners association decided to enforce a completely new set of rules in this scenario, then it’s more obvious that no, I never agreed to this.

            But if you wanted to go that route, if in a similar situation except it was the mob instead of a homeowners association, then you would have to admit I consent to the Mob’s extortion by the fact that I continue to live there.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Controls Freak

            Prospective consent is merely the term which describes consent that is non-contemporaneous with (in fact, before) the event

            So if I consent to phi-ing two milliseconds in advance of phi-ing, this counts as prospective consent, by your lights? It’s hard to see how so broad and heterogeneous a category could be useful for anything. The important distinction, so far as I can tell, is between consent which is revoked before the act occurs and consent which is sustained through the act (what I am calling “ongoing consent”).

            In that case, that particular expression is not related to his factual consent, nor does it come into play for prescriptive consent,

            Why is this true of the man with Tourette’s but not of Odysseus?

            This is false by, uh, the definition of incapacitated.

            Oh, well, if the dictionary says so. See instead:

            An incapacitated person is defined as someone who “for reasons other than advanced age or minority, has a clinically diagnosed condition that results in an inability to receive and evaluate information or to make or communicate decisions to such an extent that the individual lacks the ability to meet essential requirements for physical health, safety, or self-care, even with appropriate technological assistance”.

            Odysseus is incapacitated by the siren’s song, and hence incapable of giving or withholding consent. Consequently, his consent to being tied to the mast is never genuinely revoked, and his case should be assimilated to whichever category includes the man afflicted with Tourette’s.

            @ Wrong Species

            But if you wanted to go that route, if in a similar situation except it was the mob instead of a homeowners association, then you would have to admit I consent to the Mob’s extortion by the fact that I continue to live there.

            I agree that if the mob behaves exactly as if they were a homeowner’s association with respect to your condo, including being incorporated contractually into the purchase of the unit, having publicized bylaws, holding elections, and so on, that you are bound by the mob’s rules just as you would be bound by the HOA’s rules. I’m not sure why you think this is a problem, though.

          • Wrong Species says:

            But you said the mere fact that I continue to live there proves my consent. What if the mob didn’t do any of those things like hold general elections, by what you just said, I’m still consenting because I haven’t moved. If simply continued living in a place doesn’t imply consent then you are undermining your own argument.

            You keep using all these other variables other than voluntary agreement to mean consent when they are simply non-sequitors. Elections don’t mean anything unless I already consent to them. If two wolves go up to a sheep and say we’re going to hold an election and decide what to eat, the sheep hasn’t consented anymore than if they simply ate it. Robert Nozick has a good elaboration on this idea.

            http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/nozick_slave.html

          • Earthly Knight says:

            But you said the mere fact that I continue to live there proves my consent.

            Yes, with the caveat that your consent will be invalid if the contract is exploitative. As I noted above, elections and respect for individual rights are ways of ensuring that the social contract is not exploitative. The same holds true for condo boards.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Again, you’re failing to differentiate exploitation and non-consent, with exploitation being defined as “things I think are bad”. You can define words however you want but you should at least be honest about your nonstandard definition when talking about how we all consent to the Social Contract. Because the government may be exploitative or it may not be, but by using the term to mean that when other people think it means “voluntarily agree to” you are obfuscating the entire debate.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think most people would agree with me that contracts entered into under conditions of duress or exploitation are not morally binding (although many libertarians would not). I am not sure what else your objection amounts to.

            The claim that you implicitly consent to the terms of the social contract by virtue of continuing to reside in a country after attaining your majority turns out to be pretty strictly analogous to the claim that you implicitly consent to the rules of the homeowner’s association by virtue of continuing to reside in the condo after attaining your majority. Do you think that homeowner’s associations are by their very nature unjust? If not, by parity of reasoning, you must also perforce view the state as legitimate.

          • Controls Freak says:

            So if I consent to phi-ing two milliseconds in advance of phi-ing, this counts as prospective consent

            Sure. It’s unlikely that we have to consider such prospective consent, because you probably have contemporaneous consent in this case, too.

            The important distinction, so far as I can tell, is between consent which is revoked before the act occurs and consent which is sustained through the act.

            No doubt that this is often important. However, the point continues to be that sometimes we accept prospective consent.

            Why is this true of the man with Tourette’s but not of Odysseus?

            For the man with Tourette’s, the particular utterance has literally no relation to his mental state. Odysseus’ mental state is non-consenting. We don’t have to appeal to a particular utterance (though we could; if we asked him, “Hey buddy, do you want us to untie you,” he’s probably shout, “YES! BLOODY YES! WHY DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN BEGGING YOU AND ORDERING YOU AND THREATENING YOU TO UNTIE ME FOR THE LAST TEN MINUTES?!”). We just have reason to let his prospective consent override his contemporaneous non-consent.

            If you’re really hung up on the factual/expressive distinction, we can simply state his factual non-consent as an assumption of the hypo. But just in case you’re still really confused about the distinction, let me mention Westen’s Sleeping Beauty Hypotheticals. Both Sleeping Beauty A and Sleeping Beauty B are conscious, yet unable to provide any expressions of consent/non-consent. They are different in that Sleeping Beauty A has a mental state of consenting to the prince kissing her, while Sleeping Beauty B does not. This is factual consent. Factual consent doesn’t necessarily provide prescriptive consent.

            In any event, we can clearly have a hypo where Odysseus (or a variant of Odysseus) has contemporaneous factual non-consent paired with expressions of that non-consent (“BLOODY UNTIE ME, DAMNIT!”). The entire point of the hypo is that in the face of that contemporaneous non-consent, we have reason to accept his prospective consent instead.

            See instead…

            I’m sure you can find non-standard definitions in law. Remember, the Dictionary Act says that corporations are people. 😉 Either way, let’s just taboo “incapacitated”, because we’re just about to get to what you really mean.

            Odysseus is … incapable of giving or withholding consent.

            You’re missing a qualifier. This is a major reason why Weston wrote his book. Notice that the subtitle is, “The Diversity and Deceptiveness of Consent as a Defense to Criminal Conduct.” People often conflate factual consent, expressions of consent, prescriptive consent, legal consent, etc. We pack a lot of different things into the word, and it’s extremely easy to deceptively hide one or the other concept in an unqualified use of the term. Here, you’re struggling with the distinction between factual consent and legal/prescriptive consent. Usually this comes up in discussing laws against sex with minors, so I’ll use that example (in part because I can copy/paste things I’ve written before…).

            It’s very common for people to say, “Youth are incapable of giving or withholding consent.” At first glance, it really sounds like they have factual consent in mind. However, this is probably not true across the board. Most states have exceptions for underage sex in various forms (e.g., Romeo/Juliet laws, marital exceptions where marital age can be surprisingly young with parental approval). In these cases, the State may think that youth shouldn’t be punished for the infraction (maybe more likely in the case of Romeo/Juliet laws), but they are likely also acknowledging that it is possible for youth to factually consent to sex (this is quite evident in the marital exceptions). This is also not surprising! Teenagers have quite a bit of autonomy in many cases, and they seem to be capable of consenting to all types of things.

            Nevertheless, States may think that sex involving minors is troublesome for a variety of reasons. They may be concerned about exploitation. They may think that some number of minors do not possess the requisite knowledge to factually consent. They can choose to say, “The best across-the-board rule is to make it illegal to have sex with a minor. It’s possible that some minors who are capable, willing participants will have their positive autonomy violated, but it is outweighed by protecting many other youth.”

            Now, it’s important to note that there are multiple ways of structuring the law (and Westen gives examples of the various ways states actually do it). We often assume that the law is structured as follows:

            1) It is illegal to have sex with another person without his/her consent.

            2) For the purposes of (1), individuals under the age of 18 are not considered capable of consenting.

            Here, (2) is referring to legal consent. We could put the qualifier ‘legally’ in there, and it would make sense. We could also structure a law as follows:

            1) It is illegal to have sex with a person under the age of 18.

            2) Consent of the individual in question shall not be considered a defense for the charge of (1).

            Here, (1) doesn’t talk about consent at all. We don’t actually need to. (2) talks about factual consent, for it wouldn’t make sense to think it refers to legal consent. Both structures are capable of accounting for the idea that some minors may be capable of factually consenting (or could actually factually consent), while still rendering such consent invalid.

            Bringing it back to Odysseus, we could probably structure a law either way (and cite different definitions until the cows come home), but the point is that your statement about him being incapable of withholding consent is almost certainly that of the legal (or perhaps more precisely, since we’re not actually drafting laws here, prescriptive) consent. Again, the whole point is that in this particular case, whether he factually non-consents in the moment or not, we have reason to accept his prospective consent as the relevant prescriptive consent.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I’m not making any kind of argument about justice. I still believe that states are a good thing to have. What I am arguing is that the continued residence cannot properly be called “consent” defined as “voluntary agreement not obtained under duress”, simply because there is no moment that we can point to and say that is when they agreed to the contract. The root of our disagreement can be reduced to two questions. If there is no single moment of consent to a resident, can we easily say that he consents? This is what I’m concerned about. The other is about the validity of exploitation in contracts, which is what you’re talking about. Exploitation is such a subjective concept, at what point can we say that it makes a contract void?

            Lets say that you are an alcoholic who buys liquor from my liquor store. Am I exploiting you? Sure. Let’s say that you are an average guy who goes to my store to buy for a party that you’re throwing with friends. Am I exploiting you? Probably not. Now lets say you are an alcoholic but I don’t know and don’t care. Am I still exploiting you? How addicted do you have to be to alcohol before we can agree that it is exploitation? But regardless of all that, you still don’t have the right to come up to me and demand your money back because even though I exploited you, you still consented to the agreement of cash for alcohol.

            This is why I’m clearly separating the question of exploitation from the concept of consent. While the notion of consent has some subjectivity to it, it is still much more objective than notions about justice. There are two main ways we can determine consent. One of these of course is an explicit contract, where we write down specifically what we can and can’t do and rely on courts for any ambiguities. There’s also the idea of revealed preferences. When I go to the movie theater, I implicitly agree to the rules there on my arrival. The problem comes when neither of these is at play. In both the situation of the homeowners association and the state(which I agree is analogous), there is the problem that someone who was raised there never has a moment of consent. This is why we can’t just look at their continued residence and claim they consent because we can never pinpoint the moment when that consent happened.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Controls Freak

            For the man with Tourette’s, the particular utterance has literally no relation to his mental state. Odysseus’ mental state is non-consenting.

            I seriously doubt there is a meaningful distinction to be effected between a man whose brain has been hijacked by a tic and a man whose brain has been hijacked by sorcery. It is probably not the sort of distinction you want your account to hang on, in any case. Here is wikipedia on tics:

            Immediately preceding tic onset, most individuals are aware of an urge[13] that is similar to the need to yawn, sneeze, blink, or scratch an itch. Individuals describe the need to tic as a buildup of tension[14] that they consciously choose to release, as if they “had to do it”.[15]

            This sounds pretty damn identical to Odysseus, to me.

            Bringing it back to Odysseus, we could probably structure a law either way (and cite different definitions until the cows come home), but the point is that your statement about him being incapable of withholding consent is almost certainly that of the legal (or perhaps more precisely, since we’re not actually drafting laws here, prescriptive) consent.

            My view is that Odysseus is not capable of consenting sans phrase, because his rational agency has been crippled by the siren’s witchcraft. I do not see his mouthing the words “untie me” or what have you as appreciably different than a man shouting “No no no!” in the course of a tic or seizure.

            @ Wrong Species

            What I am arguing is that the continued residence cannot properly be called “consent” defined as “voluntary agreement not obtained under duress”, simply because there is no moment that we can point to and say that is when they agreed to the contract.

            It will also be true of many sexual encounters that there will be no precise instant we can identify as the moment where consent was exchanged. Do you think that all such encounters are rape?

            Exploitation is such a subjective concept, at what point can we say that it makes a contract void?

            Your complaint here is not that exploitation is “subjective,” whatever that might mean, but that it’s vague. I agree that it is vague. Why do you think that’s a problem?

          • Controls Freak says:

            We can probably consider many examples in the spectrum (again, refer to the skydiver and the suicidal drug rehabber… or at the risk of injecting a whole ‘nother contentious bit, think about various other influences on mental states like alcohol/drugs), but I don’t find it problematic to tie factual consent to mental states and then allow external factors to influence mental states. I think we both agree that such factors can rise to the level of us not accepting some factual consent as prescriptive consent.

            For Odysseus, we’ve lost the plot a bit, because it’s not enough to merely not accept his contemporaneous factual non-consent as prescriptive non-consent. It’s not even enough if you simply take the view that he doesn’t even have contemporaneous factual non-consent. Instead, in order to provide a defense for his crew keeping him tied to the mast, we have to accept his prospective consent.

            In any event, I disagree with your identification between Odysseus and Tourette’s. There is nothing in the section you quoted that links the content of the tic to a relevant mental state. Everything about the tic is precisely the same whether the content of the tic is “no no no” or “yes yes yes”. Everything is precisely the same regardless of the context in which the tic is uttered. It is merely, “I felt compelled to say these words,” not, “I felt compelled to want or not want something (in accordance with how you could interpret the words ‘yes yes yes’/’no no no’ in the setting which I uttered them).” I believe the content of the tic is truly unrelated to the individual’s mental state of consent/non-consent.

            And I believe that this is different from Odysseus. Odysseus didn’t just feel compelled to say some words that were disconnected from his desires. He felt compelled to actually desire being untied. Similarly, fear doesn’t compel the skydiver to merely say some words which could be interpreted as not wanting to jump; fear compels her to actually not want to jump. Withdrawal doesn’t compel the drug rehabber to merely say some words which could be interpreted as wanting to commit suicide; it compels her to actually want to commit suicide.

            Finally, I’ll note that I’m not even sure if viewing these things as a total incapacitation is sufficient, anyway. I think there are multiple factors we use in evaluating whether to accept prospective consent. For example, I think one could consider foreknowledge of the nature of the future influence. Consider an instantiation of unconsciousness during sex. I think we can imagine different causes of spontaneous unconsciousness that are previously unknown to the individual… and regardless of how you come down on those cases, I think you would agree that there is a much stronger case for accepting the prospective consent of a narcoleptic who says, “I’m fully aware that I may fall asleep uncontrollably. In that event, I want you to continue.”

          • Wrong Species says:

            There is a single moment of consent to sex, it’s just subtle and varied. It could be the moment when one person invites the other person up for “coffee”, it could be the moment they start kissing, it could be the moment that one touches the private parts of the other. Of course, just because they initially consent doesn’t mean they can’t take it back. And a lot of people get in trouble because of these subtleties. Sex is still a one-off event, just like going to the movie theater. The exact moment may be ambiguous but the general time frame isn’t.

          • Jiro says:

            If the theater owner posts a list of rules which take place at 8 PM, the reason people have to abide by those rules is that the theater owner is an owner, and therefore can eject you from the theater for any reason or none at all unless you have an explicit contract that lets you stay. If the theater owner ejects you, it’s not for “violating the contract”, it’s for not agreeing to one.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ Controls Freak

            In any event, I disagree with your identification between Odysseus and Tourette’s. There is nothing in the section you quoted that links the content of the tic to a relevant mental state. Everything about the tic is precisely the same whether the content of the tic is “no no no” or “yes yes yes”.

            If you like, we can modify the case so that the electrical activity from the seizure induces a fleeting aversion to sexual activity. I do not see that this makes any difference– what transpires in an agent’s brain over the course of a tic or seizure just has no bearing on what she has or hasn’t consented to.

            He felt compelled to actually desire being untied.

            You’re making a couple of questionable assumptions here. First, it is not obvious to me why we should take an agent’s mental states rather than her speech acts as constituting consent. Normally, if someone wants to have sex but says “no,” we judge that they have not consented, and if someone doesn’t want to have sex but says “yes,” we judge that they have. If it is the speech acts and not the mental states that matter, Odysseus and the original tic case will indeed come out analogous. Second, and more importantly, I do not agree that Odysseus genuinely wants to follow the siren’s call and perish on the rocks. What Odysseus truly wants it to make it home to Ithaca, and Penelope. The siren’s enchantment is a sort of simplistic, alien stimulus-response mechanism grafted onto his psyche, not genuinely his and not sufficiently integrated with the rest of his cognitive states to count as a bona fide desire.

            @ Wrong Species

            There is a single moment of consent to sex, it’s just subtle and varied.

            You have done nothing to show that this is so. It is not enough to list some times when consent to sex might take place, as I could just as readily list some times when implicit consent to the social contract might be given. So, again, what reason do you have for thinking that there is always a precise instant where each of these sexual encounters is consented to which would not apply, mutatis mutandis, to the social contract?

            @ Jiro

            If the theater owner posts a list of rules which take place at 8 PM, the reason people have to abide by those rules is that the theater owner is an owner, and therefore can eject you from the theater for any reason or none at all unless you have an explicit contract that lets you stay. If the theater owner ejects you, it’s not for “violating the contract”, it’s for not agreeing to one.

            It’s not so clear to me that a paying customer at a theater could be thrown out for, say, using chapstick on the premises if this was not explicitly forbidden in a rule somewhere. Purchasing a ticket presumably gives you some protection against arbitrary treatment by the theater owner, even without a written contract.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Continued in the new open thread here.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The only relevant clause in the “social contract” is “The Sovereign may change any clause in the contract, retroactively, without notification or consent, at any time”. Calling the relationship between the State and an individual a “contract” is merely a way of painting that which is involuntary as voluntary.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            The US constitution forbids both the federal government and the states to pass ex post facto laws or bills of attainder. I expect this a general requirement on valid social contracts.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The ink was barely dry on the constitution before it was decided that the prohibition on ex post facto laws didn’t apply to civil cases. Later it was decided taxes based on past income were perfectly OK. More recently the Supreme Court has ruled the State can change the law to add additional punishments (including indefinite confinement) after conviction. The provision is basically dead.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Which leaves the obvious question…

            So what?

      • “Because you freely chose to remain in the country after having attained your majority, you have entered into a contract with the body politic binding you to its constitution and obliging you to follow its laws. ”

        That argument assumes that the “body politic,” presumably meaning the government, owns the country and so can obligate you to leave if you don’t accept the contract. How did it obtain that ownership?

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Well, as far as history goes, in my case it can summarized as follows: there were these guys with swords who said there was this guy called ‘king’ who now ruled over this particular stretch of land, and my ancestors decided to stay instead of moving in some other direction (not that it would have helped much in the long run). The more detailed history of how which various pieces of geographic areas and people were ruled by whom and when would take quite much time.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Let us call the sort of authority that governments exert over their territories “dominion,” and stipulate that the government having dominion over a piece of land is compatible with it also being privately owned but supersedes the private owner’s claims to the property. The US government’s assertion of dominion over all private property in the US can be found in the takings clause of the fifth amendment. This gives the federal government a number of licit paths to acquiring dominion over a parcel of land:

          (1) Explicit consent at the country’s founding. Anyone who voted for a representative who participated in the ratification of the bill of rights thereby ceded dominion over their lands to the federal government in perpetuity.

          (2) Explicit consent through the accession of states. Anyone who voted directly or through a representative for the state they inhabit to join the union thereby ceded dominion over their lands to the federal government in perpetuity.

          (3) Explicit consent through subsequent oaths of allegiance. Anyone who has ever freely sworn allegiance to the US government and its constitution has thereby ceded dominion over their lands to the federal government in perpetuity. This will also include all naturalized citizens, all past and present members of the military, all peace officers, and so on.

          (4) Acquisition by a licensed agent of the state. Naturally, any land purchased or first laid claim to by an agent of the federal or state government acting in his or her official capacity falls under the dominion of the federal government.

          (5) Acquisition through just conquest. Any territory conquered by the federal government in the course of a just war falls rightfully under its dominion (I have in mind here all of the former Confederacy).

          (6) Acquisition through intestacy. The land of anyone who dies heirless and intestate reverts to the dominion of the state to be disposed of as best suits the common good.

          The one big hitch is that all of the country’s land was initially stolen from native americans and so could never have been legitimately ceded to the federal government by its “owners” in the first place. Ah, well. Ignoring this pretty significant complication, though, it seems to me that the federal government will by now have acquired dominion to virtually all of the country’s territory through one or more of channels (1)-(6). Consequently, native americans aside, it has every right to demand that citizens either abide by its rules or vacate the premises.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is entirely circular. The very question at issue is whether or not “dominion” has legitimacy. There’s no question that governments assert it, but that’s might rather than right.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Do you think that property can be transferred from one party to another by the explicit consent of its current owner? If so, you should have no objection to the legitimacy of the government acquiring land through channels (1)-(3).

            Do you think that property can be acquired by first discovery, purchase, or just conquest? If so, you should have no objection to the legitimacy of the government acquiring land through channels (4)-(5).

            Do you think that property with no rightful owner should revert to the community, to be disposed of in accordance with just procedures in whatever way best suits the common good? If so, you should have no objection to the legitimacy of the government acquiring land through channel (6).

          • Garrett says:

            By that same argument, I’m also justified in going to war with the state in order to establish a positive claim of dominion over territory. Is there a particular member of the government workforce that this doesn’t apply to?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            By that same argument, I’m also justified in going to war with the state in order to establish a positive claim of dominion over territory.

            I’m sorry, I do not see why you think this.

          • IrishDude says:

            Homesteading seems to me the most justifiable way to initially acquire ownership of land, with consensual trades transferring ownership thereafter. Homesteading requires working with and using the land, and not just proclaiming by fiat ownership over vast swaths of land.

            I suspect the vast majority of land the government claims to own was claimed by fiat, not by homesteading, and therefore I don’t find its ownership claims justifiable. Unjust conquest of the other portions of the land also is not justifiable. Given its unjustifiable ownership claims, I don’t think there is any duty to obey government issued rules within its claimed property.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            @ IrishDude

            You seem to have two objections. The first is that the government cannot acquire dominion over a parcel of land by laying first claim to it, because land existing in a state of nature belongs by rights to whomever first mixes their labor with the soil, so just planting a flagpole is not enough. This is a reasonable objection, but it extends only to part of (4), leaving the other 5 pathways to dominion unaddressed. But the other 5 pathways alone are more than enough to give the federal government dominion over virtually all territory in the US, in most cases many times over.

            The second is that the government cannot acquire dominion over a parcel of land confiscated in the course of an unjust war. This is not an objection to anything I’ve actually said, because (5) specifies that the conquest must be just, as, for instance, with the Union’s victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            (1) Assumes those who consented had just ownership of their property. Many property owners probably unjustly owned their land due to either unjust conquest or fiat claims without homesteading, and so couldn’t give government dominion over their lands since they didn’t justly own them.

            (2) Assumes states had legitimate dominion. If they didn’t, their representatives couldn’t cede it to the federal government.

            (3) If the mob takes control of a town unjustly, then newcomers to town give the mob fealty, that doesn’t make the mob’s claims to dominion over the town any more legitimate.

            (4) That works if the land purchased is justly owned when it is purchased, or justly acquired. The Lousiana Purchase, as a big example, does not fit this description.

            (5) As you note, land stolen from native americans was not legitimately ceded to the federal government. I don’t think the Confederacy had legitimate dominion, so there was no dominion for the federal government to gain control of.

            (6) If the land was not under dominion of the state then they don’t get to lay claim to it when people die there. I don’t think very much land has ever been under the legitimate dominion of the state based on (1)-(5).

            Aside from my objections above, any place where explicit consent wasn’t given in (1)-(3) means the federal government had no legitimate claims to dominion. That’s a significant amount of land.

            Also, there’s discussion above about prospective consent, which you seem to be wary of, and ceding dominion to an entity in perpetuity, where consent can never be withdrawn, seems like something you’d be skeptical of as well. It’s certainly something I don’t agree with.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            (2) Assumes states had legitimate dominion.

            The idea is that individual land owners ceded control over their estates by voting directly or indirectly for the state to join the union.

            (6) If the land was not under dominion of the state then they don’t get to lay claim to it when people die there.

            I don’t think this could be right. How would you deal with intestacy in a state that’s already heavily populated? Do you think that each such death should set off a mad scramble to see who can start tilling the deceased’s soil first and so gain right to it by homesteading? As far as I can tell, the only sensible way of dividing up land under these circumstances is to treat it as a windfall for the community and have their representatives distribute it by fair and democratic procedures for the general good. But in so doing, it will pass through the dominion of the state.

            Aside from my objections above, any place where explicit consent wasn’t given in (1)-(3) means the federal government had no legitimate claims to dominion. That’s a significant amount of land.

            This isn’t true. (3) encompasses all land belonging by rights to anyone, living or dead, who ever said the pledge of allegiance as an adult, or took an oath of enlistment, an oath of office, a law enforcement oath… This alone is going to give the government dominion over most of the country many times over.

            Also, there’s discussion above about prospective consent, which you seem to be wary of, and ceding dominion to an entity in perpetuity, where consent can never be withdrawn, seems like something you’d be skeptical of as well. It’s certainly something I don’t agree with.

            There is no prospective consent involved in any of these, only explicit contemporaneous consent. And what is the objection to permanent transfers of land? Aren’t most sales and gifts of land effectively perpetual?

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            You didn’t address the objection in (1) that most land initially owned was not gained in just manner, and therefore the owners couldn’t legitimately give dominion over it to the state. Nor did you address that large tracts of land that were purchased were never justly owned to begin with, like the Louisiana Purchase and Alaska, which combined is over 1/3 of U.S. land mass.

            You instead seem to make the bold claim that any adult that ever said the pledge of allegiance gave dominion over their property in perpetuity to the state. That they ceded their right to autonomy over their property for the rest of their lives, and any new owner’s lives, by just saying the phrase: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”, a rote set of words almost exclusively said by kids in schools. Can you flesh this claim out in more detail, since it seems to be the one you’re most hinging your claim for state control over the entire country?

            I never said the pledge of allegiance as an adult, so are the state’s claims over my property illegitimate?

          • IrishDude says:

            (2) Assumes states had legitimate dominion.

            The idea is that individual land owners ceded control over their estates by voting directly or indirectly for the state to join the union.

            If a state only had legitimate dominion over say 20% of the land mass of a state, based on explicit consent and original just ownership, then that is the only portion of the state’s land that can be given as dominion to the federal government at best. Even for that 20%, it depends on what type of dominion the original owners gave to the state (did they give authority to transfer dominion?), and which owners voted for or against the representatives that actually got elected, and which owners abstained from voting.

            EDIT: I think it would also be helpful to more clearly define the terms. You see ownership and dominion as distinct concepts, so can you define what you mean by ownership and what you mean by dominion?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I never said the pledge of allegiance as an adult, so are the state’s claims over my property illegitimate?

            Given how strictly you’ve set the requirements for just acquisition of property, it’s doubtful you own any land in the first place, because it’s extremely likely that the first link in the chain of possession by which you acquired that land will be (by your lights) defective. And, if you do own any land, it won’t be any of the land you think you own. What’s more, if the rightful owner of a property is indeterminate or cannot be identified, it seems to me we are in the same situation as with intestacy and the property should fall to the dominion of the state. Your argumentative strategy here might succeed in blocking some of the state’s claims to dominion, but it actually turns out to be too powerful and deprives you of most of your possessions in the process.

            Can you flesh this claim out in more detail, since it seems to be the one you’re most hinging your claim for state control over the entire country?

            Sure. Pledging allegiance to the republic commits you to respecting the claims made in the US constitution, the republic’s central charter. The fifth amendment to the constitution asserts dominion over all property falling within the territory of the United States. Hence, a pledge of allegiance to the republic cedes dominion over whatever property you own to the federal government.

            EDIT: I think it would also be helpful to more clearly define the terms. You see ownership and dominion as distinct concepts, so can you define what you mean by ownership and what you mean by dominion?

            I don’t know that there’s much more to say beyond what I set down at the start, that dominion is compatible with private ownership but supersedes it. A helpful analogy is to the authority a homeowner’s association exercises over a pod of condominiums; the owner of the condo is obliged to abide by the HOA’s rules and can be fined or dispossessed of the unit if she violates them.

          • IrishDude says:

            Given how strictly you’ve set the requirements for just acquisition of property

            Do you disagree with what I think is required? Which part?

            What’s more, if the rightful owner of a property is indeterminate or cannot be identified, it seems to me we are in the same situation as with intestacy and the property rightfully falls to the dominion of the state.

            It seems to me that in the absence of the original just owner making a claim to the property, the next best thing is to give ownership to the people currently using the property.

            If a king claimed fiat ownership over 10,000 acres of unclaimed land, a claim I find unjust, and then sold 10 acre parcels to 1,000 people who then actually used and transformed the land, I think the best claim to ownership and dominion over that land are the people actually using it, not the king. The king got lucky that anyone even thought he actually owned the property, and got a windfall of cash based on his spurious claim, but the claim was never valid and the property rights are really only initially claimed in a just manner by the new occupants once they start using the land.

            Your argumentative strategy here might succeed in blocking the state’s claims to dominion over some property, but it actually turns out to be too powerful, and ends up depriving you of all of your possessions in the process.

            I think there’s a decent probability I have a less than fully just claim to my current property, given that it probably was unjustly acquired and sold through a chain on down to me. I think my claims to it are still more just than the state’s.

            If a thief steals a painting from Person A and then sells it to Person B, with Person B having no knowledge of the theft, I think the order of justness for claims to the painting go Person A > Person B > thief.

            Pledging allegiance to the republic commits you to respecting the claims made in the US constitution, the republic’s central charter. The fifth amendment to the constitution asserts dominion over all property falling within the territory of the United States. Hence, a pledge of allegiance to the republic cedes dominion over whatever property you own to the federal government.

            I disagree. I don’t think such a contract binds as I don’t think most people saying the pledge of allegiance, school kids, actually think they’re agreeing to ceding dominion over their property to the state (I don’t buy your interpretation of the fifth amendment, anyways). In fact, they most likely don’t even own any land when they say the pledge, so they don’t have any authority over property that they can then grant to the state. The pledge is mostly mindless regurgitation based on prompting from school authorities.

            If the state wants to claim dominion in a way I’d find just, they should go to all property owners with an explicit contract that states its terms clearly and get an explicit signature. It’s what HOAs actually do, but states don’t, which is one reason why I find HOAs legitimate and states not.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Do you disagree with what I think is required? Which part?

            I reject the view that land can be justly acquired through labor-mixture but not flagpole-planting. Two reasons why. First, this seems to me to arbitrarily privilege sedentary agriculture over all other forms of life. Why should a farmer be entitled to so much more land than, say, a weaver or a cobbler, who needs only a small shop to ply her trade? (I am also suspicious that this line of thinking is designed to exonerate colonists for stealing land from tribes of native hunter-gatherers). Second, I think there are serious problems with applying this view retroactively– if early settlers of this country had known that they could only justly acquire land by homesteading, they would undoubtedly have acted differently, and it seems unfair to change the rules on them after the fact.

            It seems to me that in the absence of the original just owner making a claim to the property, the next best thing is to give ownership to the people currently using the property.

            This can’t be right– it would mean that if I had robbed you yesterday all of the stolen possessions would today rightfully belong to me.

            If a king claimed fiat ownership over 10,000 acres of unclaimed land, a claim I find unjust, and then sold 10 acre parcels to 1,000 people who then actually used and transformed the land, I think the best claim to ownership and dominion over that land are the people actually using it, not the king.

            This is a different and more sensible proposal than the previous one: the land belongs to whomever first mixed their labor with the soil, or to whomever acquired it from them by a chain of just exchanges. Unfortunately, because this is not historically how property rights worked in the law, it will be either indeterminate or impossible to identify the owner of most of the country’s land. If we adopt my suggestion that property should, under these conditions, be disposed of by the community in accordance with fair and democratic procedures, the government will wind up with dominion over all this land in any case.

            I don’t think such a contract binds as I don’t think most people saying the pledge of allegiance, school kids, actually think they’re agreeing to ceding dominion over their property to the state

            I am speaking only of adults here, but this is still enough to ensnare most teachers and a large number of high school seniors. Let’s take stock. By channel (3) alone, the state has dominion over:

            (I) All property which has ever belonged to any schoolteacher at a time when they said the pledge of allegiance.
            (II) All property which has ever belonged to an 18-year-old high school student at a time when they (freely) said the pledge of allegiance.
            (III) All property which has ever belonged to any police officer at a time when they took the law enforcement oath.
            (IV) All property which has ever belonged to any non-conscripted service member at a time when they took the oath of enlistment.
            (V) All property which has ever belonged to a politician or civil servant at a time when they took their oath of office.
            (VI) All property which has ever belonged to any naturalized citizen at a time when they took the oath of citizenship.

            I can’t guarantee this is going to get the federal government control over all of the land in the country, but it’s going to be an awful lot of it. Note that pathway (3) is also independent of whether first acquisition goes by flagpole-planting or labor-mixture; even if everyone is confused about what property they actually own, they still cede whatever belongs to them by rights when they swear to uphold and defend the constitution.

            (I don’t buy your interpretation of the fifth amendment, anyways).

            It reads:

            [P]rivate property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.

            Surely this implies that private property can be taken for use with just compensation! How could this be possible, though, if the government did not claim dominion over all private property within the nation’s borders?

            It’s what HOAs actually do, but states don’t, which is one reason why I find HOAs legitimate and states not.

            Are HOAs obligated to secure the explicit consent of owners who acquire their units by sale or bequest?

          • IrishDude says:

            @ Earthly Knight

            Before I continue arguing, I want to make sure that your claim that saying the pledge of allegiance once is sufficient to give state control over ones property in perpetuity is a sincerely held belief. I’m not interested in arguing with sophistry, and I think you have to admit that this claim is very suspicious. If you believe it deeply, I’ll continue to state further objections but I’m not interested in debating a claim not actually held by someone. So, just let me know.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Don’t people often cede property rights by signing a contract after skimming it, or by checking an “I Accept” box at the end of a list of terms and conditions that, proverbially, no one ever reads? I don’t see why swearing a solemn oath wouldn’t also suffice. It’s not as though the state is trying to conceal the terms of the social contract or something, in most places it requires high school students to study the constitution as part of compulsory civics curricula.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            You didn’t let me know if this belief is sincerely held by you. I’m aware of the superficial similarity between the pledge of allegiance and a binding contract, but am not interested in going into a more detailed rebuttal unless I know you’re arguing in good faith. So again, just let me know.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            My view is that anyone who thinks we can relinquish property rights just by checking an “I Agree” box must a fortiori accept that we can relinquish property rights by swearing a solemn oath. Since you and I both sincerely believe the former, you and I must also sincerely believe the latter as well, on pain of inconsistency.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            “My view is that anyone who thinks we can relinquish property rights just by checking an “I Agree” box must a fortiori accept that we can relinquish property rights by swearing a solemn oath.”

            I don’t agree with the claim that all that’s need to relinquish our property rights in a just way is to check an “I Agree” box, so your second claim doesn’t follow.

            I’ll list some important ingredients I think are needed in a just contract that transfers property rights from yourself to another. Transactions can have more or less of each of these elements and can slide contracts towards something I consider consensual and binding or something I consider unjust.

            Some elements of a contract that shift it toward more just:
            *Not entered into under duress. If you point a gun at me and get me to check an “I agree” box I consider that a less just contract. I should have the option to walk away from the contract without any threats of aggression against me for failure to enter the contract. I should be able to say “No” to the offer and not have the contract terms imposed on me.
            *No fraud. If you write in invisible ink or some intentionally misleading way on the contract a clause I’m unaware of when I check “I agree” then this is a less just contract.
            *Each party has clear mutual understanding of the terms of the contract+. One reason we don’t allow minors to sign legally binding contracts is that we think they have less capability to understand what they’re agreeing to. Their cognitive function and reasoning ability is less developed. They may have less understanding of what they’re getting and what they’re giving. Similarly, people with a mentally ill state, or under the effects of drugs, are protected when they sign contracts. Contracts can also be written with obscure terms that may mean different things to each party, even when they’re competent adults, making enforcement of the contract less just.
            *The terms of what should happen in the event one party breaches the contract are clearly spelled out. E.g., specifying that Arbitrators R Us will be used to handle contract disputes and agreeing to adhere to its decisions.

            After writing out my above response, I found this nifty website that lists out the elements of a contract:
            “The requisite elements that must be established to demonstrate the formation of a legally binding contract are (1) offer; (2) acceptance; (3) consideration; (4) mutuality of obligation; (5) competency and capacity; and, in certain circumstances, (6) a written instrument.”

            The elements overlap some with what I wrote and I’d just add that giving dominion over your land in perpetuity to the state is one of those circumstances where a written instrument seems like an important requirement to me.

            The vast majority if not all of the kids in school saying the pledge of allegiance (including 18 year olds) do not think that they are agreeing to give dominion over their property to the state in perpetuity, violating the competency and capacity requirement for contracts. This ‘contract’ is not written, and falls under the types of contract that I think should be in writing so as to be clear of the terms. The terms of breach of this ‘contract’ are not well-specified and understood. No members of the state that I’m aware of believe a school kid saying the pledge of allegiance is giving them dominion over that person, so there’s no other party to the contract that we can hold in breach if the terms of the ‘contract’ are violated. Kids not saying the pledge of allegiance will still have the state claiming dominion over their property, creating duress since they’re made an offer they can’t refuse.

            So no, I don’t think checking an “I Agree” box necessarily creates legitimate contracts, and I definitely don’t think saying the pledge of allegiance once gives the state legitimate claim to dominion over the land and property of the ‘oath’ speaker.

            +One reason the CFPB was formed was to have better informed consumers. They’ve created rules to simplify mortgages so the terms are more easily comprehended by borrowers. I actually think the CFPB performs an important role, and when I was a minarchist I thought one of the few proper roles for government was to ensure transparency and mutual understanding in contracts. As an AnCap, I’d prefer to see private competition for the role it plays instead of it having a coercive monopoly.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Here are some of the conditions you listed on valid contracts:

            (A) Absence of duress
            (B) Absence of fraud
            (C) Comprehension of the contract
            (D) Explicit penalties for non-compliance
            (E) Mutuality of obligation
            (F) Competence
            (G) Written signature

            All of these conditions are met for the various oaths I listed except for (C) and (G), which is okay, because (C) shouldn’t be on the list and (G) doesn’t strike me as terribly important. I stipulated that the oaths must be taken freely, by adults, which gets us (A) and (F). The constitution does not defraud anyone, which takes care of (B). (D) is satisfied by the criminal law code for the oath-taker, and by democratic elections and judicial review for the state. The constitution clearly outlines the government’s duties to its citizens, so there goes (E).

            (C) should really require only that the parties to the contract have had ample opportunity to understand it, which will be satisfied by our compulsory civics classes and the universal availability of the constitution to anyone who wishes to read it. Ultimately, though, it is the contracting parties’ responsibility to make sure they understand the contents of the contract they are signing or the nature of the republic they are swearing allegiance to, and the state has done more than enough to discharge that duty.

            (G) is almost certainly there because of the importance in law of having evidence that the agreement took place. But we are not concerned with evidence here, and it’s hard to believe there could be any real moral difference between solemn oaths and signatures.

            I think, then, that according to these standards any adult who freely says the pledge of allegiance does indeed, by way of the fifth amendment, cede dominion over her property to the federal government.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Earthly Knight

            The Pledge of Allegiance ‘contract’ is missing acceptance (among other elements). Per the contract link above “Acceptance of an offer is the expression of assent to its terms. Acceptance must generally be made in the manner specified by the offer. If no manner of acceptance is specified by the offer, then acceptance may be made in a manner that is reasonable under the circumstances. An acceptance is only valid, however, if the offeree knows of the offer, the offeree manifests an intention to accept, and the acceptance is expressed as an unequivocal and unconditional agreement to the terms of the offer.”

            I don’t think any high school 18 year old knows of the offer you think the state is making, and therefore can’t accept the offer. You’re the only person I’ve ever met who thinks the pledge of allegiance is a binding contract between the state and individual where the individual gives dominion in perpetuity to their property. Perhaps you went to a unique high school where this interpretation was made explicit, but I’ve never seen the pledge described in those terms anywhere else.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I think most 18-year-old high school students either know or could reasonably be expected to know that pledging allegiance to the republic commits you to following the constitution, its central charter, and that the fifth amendment asserts that the government reserves the right to take private property in exchange for fair compensation.

          • IrishDude says:

            If you polled 18 year olds after they said the pledge of allegiance in school, what percent of them do you think would agree that their saying the pledge gave the state dominion over their lands and property in perpetuity?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Roughly the same percentage of 18-year-olds who would be able to recite to you the contents of a passage take at random from any other lengthy contract 18-year-olds sign. This problem is not really restricted to teenagers, older adults often sign contracts without having any idea what they’re getting themselves into, too. I am more diligent and cautious than most, but lord knows I don’t read every EULA I agree to.

            This means, though, that if we apply your scruples to every contract and not selectively just to political oaths, it would destroy our existing system of property, and likely lead to the demise of all commerce. There is a substantial fraction of the population who cannot be prevailed upon to carefully read and understand a contract of any length before signing it. Would you have them excluded altogether from the ownership and circulation of property?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Because you freely chose to remain in the country after having attained your majority,

        Out of curiosity, how would one leave a country such as the US, upon obtaining their majority, without violating the immigration laws of the nation to which they are moving? And who pays for this often prohibitively expensive trip?

        • Matt M says:

          It’s not even JUST a matter of violating the laws of the host nation. In order to escape US law/taxation, you have to formally renounce your citizenship, which is a very long and expensive process – the FIRST (but not even close to final) step of which is “prove another country is willing to host you.” I’m pretty sure that U.S. consulates in foreign countries are the only places you can even apply for it.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I didn’t mention this since practically all you have to do is never travel back to the US again.

            Though apparently the possibility of extradition for tax crimes is increasing: http://blogs.angloinfo.com/us-tax/2013/06/03/can-i-be-extradited-for-commiting-a-tax-crime/

          • Matt M says:

            “I didn’t mention this since practically all you have to do is never travel back to the US again.”

            I mean yes, practically this is true in that they won’t extradite you just for not paying taxes. But you ARE still in open defiance of the law and they COULD theoretically extradite you.

            And “sure you can leave but you can never return for any purpose even just to visit family” is pretty darn harsh and not exactly what most people probably have in mind when they say “if you don’t like it, you can just leave.” Most immigrants TO the U.S. frequently travel back to their home countries without having to worry about being thrown in jail.

          • Rosemary7391 says:

            That’s not quite correct. Since so many companies, particularly financial institutions, have parts operating in the US and overseas, there are plenty of sticks to make US citizens pay up. Have a look here:
            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24135021

            It isn’t just the paying up, it’s the paperwork you have to do as well. I still haven’t quite figured out if I’m supposed to be filling in tax returns even – last time I checked, it wasn’t exactly straightforward to figure out.

          • Matt M says:

            Rosemary,

            Indeed. I also recall that a whole lot of foreign financial institutions simply refuse to do business with U.S. citizens, out of fear of running afoul of some sort of law or regulation.

          • Controls Freak says:

            some sort of law or regulation.

            FATCA.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Out of curiosity, how would one leave a country such as the US, upon obtaining their majority, without violating the immigration laws of the nation to which they are moving? And who pays for this often prohibitively expensive trip?

          Here are some suggestions. You will be responsible for the moving expenses; fortunately, for some possible destinations these will be trivial.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Ok.

            For Candada the average 18 year old is unlikely to qualify: “Points are awarded based on your skills, education, languages you speak, and whether you have a job offer waiting for you in Canada.”

            Mexico might be possible for an average 18 year old, though I can’t figure out if the FMM Tourist Card would allow you to get a job (if not, living expensive would be prohibitive, not to mention FMM renewal), or how easy it is to qualify for a permanent resident visa.

            Good luck surviving in Svalbard (or Antarctica).

            Sweden has it’s own hurdles (an interview only available at certain locations).

            And again, for a typical 18 year old, New Zealand’s hurdles will be similar to Canada’s.

            The 18 year olds who could emigrate the easiest would be those who have applied to, and been accepted by, foreign colleges. AKA the privileged.

            With Mexico the only semi-feasible option for the rest, this is basically a Hobson’s choice.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I agree that you might not be able to maintain your current standard of living if you elected to immigrate to Mexico or Svalbard. I do not see how this impugns the validity of the social contract, however. Do you think it true, as a general rule, that contracts are only binding if the contracting parties have an abundance of good alternatives on offer?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Do you think it true, as a general rule, that contracts are only binding if the contracting parties have an abundance of good alternatives on offer?

            As a personal ethical rule, yes.

            As a categorical imperative, yes, within the bound that the other party to the contract is also similarly constrained or free. (E.g. “You have item X, I have item Y. So let’s agree to work together instead of attacking each other until we’re both free of this active volcanic island.” would be an acceptable contract, even though neither party has realistic alternatives.)

            As a legal rule, obviously not in this nation.

            My argument about moving to Mexico is that you have no legal way of making a living down there, and will thus be violating the social contract (of Mexico) which you speak of in your initial post.

            And that Svalbard will likely leave you dead just trying to get to it.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Securing a work permit in Mexico does not seem terribly burdensome, although some facility with spanish would probably be helpful.

            I had friends in college who had no trouble getting jobs teaching english in South Korea. If you’re not picky about living in a liberal democracy, China and Singapore are also possibilities. This will presumably require a college degree, however.

            Svalbard can readily be reached by plane. Great place to go if you’re fond of seeds, they’re up to their ears in seeds.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Svalbard can readily be reached by plane.

            At at price a typical 18 year old can afford? Maybe.

    • baconbacon says:

      When I have brought up this issue in other forums, I find that I am in a small minority (actually I don’t think anyone has ever agree with me). And there are always some folks who are aghast at my attitude. The usual response is “What if everyone did that?” To which I answer, “I wish every one would act under their own conscience and not blindly follow laws.”

      Everyone does do that. I drive on roads, most people don’t go at or under the speed limit, depending on polls close to 50% of people have admitted to smoking pot, way more people drive over the legal limit for alcohol than admit to themselves, lots of people skirt taxes- and these are just laws that almost everyone knows about. If you included laws on the books that are rarely enforced almost everyone is a habitual law breaker, they just like to keep their illusions.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        If you included laws on the books that are rarely enforced almost everyone is a habitual law breaker, they just like to keep their illusions.

        Exactly. I think most people agree with me in practice. It’s just that they feel guilty about it. I think it is a better thing for folks to admit to it.

        • baconbacon says:

          I think the explanation is more “I’m not a law breaker I’m X, the laws I break are incidental to who I am, those guys, all I know about them is they broke law X, that is who they are, lawbreakers”.

          But as I note elsewhere I have been binging on TLP.

    • Matt M says:

      “I believe I have zero duty to follow the law. I will follow the law if I think it is a good law, or if I think I will be caught. I guess I also follow the law as a default; I only break the law if I have thought about the issue and decide it is best not to.”

      This is basically my opinion as well.

      I differ with you on red lights though. I will virtually never go through a red light, only because I’m worried about developing “bad habits” wherein I give the red light less “respect” than it probably deserves. If it’s the middle of the night in a deserted area, I will still come to a complete stop, look closely, and then I MIGHT proceed through the light if I’m 100% convinced that nobody is around. But I always stop first.

      Of course my hesitation to go through the light has nothing to do with it being “the law” as it is being “the thing that’s designed to keep you from dying in a fiery car crash.”

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Of course my hesitation to go through the light has nothing to do with it being “the law” as it is being “the thing that’s designed to keep you from dying in a fiery car crash.”

        Yes, it isn’t about obeying the law. I didn’t say I wouldn’t stop first, or at least slow down, because other folks don’t expect you to blandly drive through the red, you need to be careful.

    • I agree with your general position.

      At one point in my teens, I thought there was a problem. I could see no good argument for why one was obliged to obey law qua law, but I thought that if people did not believe that the society would not work. My temporary solution was to obey laws until I adequately resolved the conflict.

      Eventually I noticed that other people viewed my policy of obeying laws, for instance not offering a drink of wine to an underage friend, as weird, and I concluded that most people felt free to disobey laws they did not think were important, or morally justified, or likely to be enforced, and the society had not collapsed.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        society had not collapsed

        Out of curiosity, what are your standards for a collapsed society?

    • quanta413 says:

      I believe there is a duty to follow the law as long as the law is not strongly morally objectionable or overly burdensome. So a guard shooting prisoners on just an ordinary day fills the strongly morally objectionable example. As for burdensome, I’d probably give an example of following every rule of the road exactly to the letter. Most humans can’t remember and measure by eye exactly how far away they have to stay from a school bus when children are crossing or whatever. I want people to make a good faith effort to fulfill the spirit of the law here, but I wouldn’t want the government crack down on every minor technical violation.

      However, how strong the duty to follow the law is vs moraltiy etc. I’m pretty fuzzy on. I don’t know how to draw a bright line ahead of knowing the scenario at hand.

      But I definitely don’t want everyone following their own conscience instead of the law. A lot of people strike me as pretty amoral if you only consider their own volition. Leaving aside people who are not merely amoral but downright malicious; a very small number of malicious people can do a lot of damage when unchecked. Also importantly, the lack of law can create huge coordination problems. Is vigilantism ok or not ok? What are the accounting rules? Torts? To some extent these things can be custom or industry/cartel practice, but I wouldn’t want to take a crack at all law being in the from of custom or agreement. I wouldn’t want all custom or agreement to be replaced by law either.

      However, I certainly want people to have a higher morality than the law so to speak if that makes any sense; so I kind of get the sentiment. With what I would think of as ideal humans, law would be much more circumscribed.

      • But I definitely don’t want everyone following their own conscience instead of the law.

        How about everyone following the law when law enforcement is adequate to make it in their interest to do so or when they agree with it, and otherwise not? I think that’s a pretty good description of what I see around me.

        • Garrett says:

          What if the law is unethical? It’s one thing to claim that a law is merely annoying (say, a ban on recreational marijuana) if it’s something you don’t care about. What about laws banning beneficial things (like medical marijuana) or taxation where you are being deprived of your property?

        • quanta413 says:

          How about everyone following the law when law enforcement is adequate to make it in their interest to do so or when they agree with it, and otherwise not? I think that’s a pretty good description of what I see around me.

          In practice, I think that’s not too far off the mark. Although I think that in well functioning areas, Americans are at least a little bit more well behaved than that. For example, in a lot of cities I don’t see as much littering as their could be even though there’s an obvious benefit to the litterer and a very low chance of being caught.

          Part of it may be it’s more like I think people should have an at least deontological view of following the law. Like it may benefit you to litter at a given moment and it’s often obvious you won’t get caught, but you’d be worse off if everyone littered.

          I think enforcement is important for incentives. But I also think that people should still follow the law when it’s relatively neutral or they even mildly disagree. People are not going to agree on every detail of the law, but by having some respect for it outside of threat or self benefit you encourage a social norm of cooperation from others who might not agree with a law you like.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        But I definitely don’t want everyone following their own conscience instead of the law. A lot of people strike me as pretty amoral if you only consider their own volition. Leaving aside people who are not merely amoral but downright malicious; a very small number of malicious people can do a lot of damage when unchecked. Also importantly, the lack of law can create huge coordination problems. Is vigilantism ok or not ok? What are the accounting rules? Torts?

        I wasn’t saying that I don’t believe in laws. I am not an An-Cap. We need to have laws about driving for example. And for things like murder, theft, fraud, etc. There are malicious people out there. I assume they are kept in check because they are concerned about the consequences of their bad acts, such as getting caught by the police. Are we being protected from malicious people because they respect laws? Perhaps sometimes, but I don’t think there is much protection there. I think there is more downside to people following laws blindly when they don’t make sense, than the rare occasion when a bad person doesn’t do a bad thing not because he thinks he’ll get caught, but simply because he feels he must respect the law.

        Someone upthread mentioned Murray. Was this a reference to Charles Murray, and his book “Coming Apart?” He did have a somewhat convincing theory that the upper classes have revolted against blindly following cultural rules, but that they still do follow most of those rules, presumably because they are mostly rational. I think the cultural rules he referred to were things like don’t have children before getting married, don’t commit crimes that will get you put in jail, and study in school. The problem is that the lower classes have followed the lead of the upper classes in not following the rules blindly, but don’t have the discipline or the rationality, or something like that, to still do the right thing when it is needed. Thus the lower classes are a lot more dysfunctional than they were decades ago. There may be some truth to this, but not enough that I am willing to change my mind on this issue. For one thing, crime has decreased a lot in the last couple of decades, so it seems maybe the lower classes are as bad off as he says.

        • quanta413 says:

          I wasn’t saying that I don’t believe in laws. I am not an An-Cap. We need to have laws about driving for example. And for things like murder, theft, fraud, etc. There are malicious people out there. I assume they are kept in check because they are concerned about the consequences of their bad acts, such as getting caught by the police. Are we being protected from malicious people because they respect laws? Perhaps sometimes, but I don’t think there is much protection there. I think there is more downside to people following laws blindly when they don’t make sense, than the rare occasion when a bad person doesn’t do a bad thing not because he thinks he’ll get caught, but simply because he feels he must respect the law.

          I assume respect for the law doesn’t matter for the case of thieves, etc except as avoidance of punishment. But among the more average citizen, I think respect for the law helps decrease things like littering, may encourage people to do jury duty even though it’s a pain, may be the nudge they need to at least use their phones a little less while driving etc. It’s more public goods type problems or laws/customs that exist that humans tend to ignore because they are famously bad at understanding the cost of low probability risks with huge downsides (doctors not washing hands, texting and driving, etc.) that I’m hoping some amount of respect for the law will make be a bit easier.

          I’m honestly having a really hard time though thinking of a law I wish people would routinely break instead of blindly following. And my thought process in this sort of case runs more towards the side of trying to understand what the responsibility of lawmakers is, law vs. custom, complexity of law etc. so as to avoid making bad laws and knowing how to repeal them. Off the top of my head, I suppose segregation laws are an example of laws that I’m glad people made a concentrated attack on including things like ignoring them in protest, but those laws and white Southern custom were largely self-reinforcing. I don’t think that segregation laws didn’t align with what many Southerners thought of as moral. Could you give me a different example of a law you wish people would break more? Ignoring laws that most people of that society would find strongly morally objectionable as I already have a caveat for defying those. I’d appreciate it if the example was contemporary, but it doesn’t have to be.

          EDIT (half baked thoughts): As for Murray, it wasn’t I who mentioned him. I don’t think that much of what Murray said had to do with law, but I see the connection between respect for law and respect for custom. I would argue that falling crime is not the thing to focus on in Murray’s case. Instead look at the stagnation of income in the lower social strata over the last several decades. There’s a strong argument to be made that having kids earlier, out of wedlock etc, is a pretty obvious factor contributing to poverty across multiple generations.

          But as far as crime goes, the U.S. justice system also became much harsher in backlash to the earlier rise in violent crime in the 60s and 70s, so the drop shouldn’t be assumed to show a degradation in respect for the law (anyone have a way of showing such a drop does or doesn’t exist?) doesn’t matter. I don’t think the following causal chain is actually true, but if there really was a drop in respect for the law that caused a crime wave and we compensated by drastically ratcheting up punishments that strikes me as a pretty good argument for respecting the law.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Good question. I’ve been thinking about this. I have two answers, one concerned about people doing BAD things, and one more mundane.

            1) I don’t want people to get in the habit of doing things just because they are the law. Have you heard of the Milgram experiment done in the ’60’s? In that experiment, researchers induced participants into torturing subjects with electricity based on authorities saying it was okay. I don’t have an example where people are doing this, but it can happen.

            2) On a more mundane level, I want people to stop feeling guilty about walking against red lights because it is illegal. I don’t want people to say smoking pot is a bad thing because it is illegal, even though drinking is worse for you in so many ways. I tell my kids not to smoke pot because the consequences of getting caught are bad, not because breaking the law is a bad thing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Mark V Anderson:

            History’s full of cases where people did awful things, even things they put up some resistance against, based on authority figures telling them to do that. Milgram’s experiments provided some level of lab support for what already appeared to be the case based on anecdote.

      • Tekhno says:

        @Mark V Anderson

        I wasn’t saying that I don’t believe in laws. I am not an An-Cap

        At the risk of being a pedantic off-topic interjector, I just want to say that I think Ancaps, at least in theory, do believe in laws, they just believe that those laws should be private and market exposed. Sometimes they behave as if they oppose law altogether, but theoretically, the issue is about what basis the law should be structured upon.

    • suntzuanime says:

      You do not wish every one would act under their own conscience and not blindly follow laws. Society has its problems on the margin but it beats the hell out of anarchy.

      See also http://lesswrong.com/lw/3h/why_our_kind_cant_cooperate/

      I mean, strictly speaking everyone is always acting under their own conscience. It’s just that their consciences are saying “blindly follow laws”, and that’s a good thing. And note that there are levels of blindly following laws; people who speed by 3mph will not necessarily rob convenience stores. What people blindly follow is much closer to “social norms” than “laws”, but there’s a norm to broadly follow the law.

      • Matt M says:

        “And note that there are levels of blindly following laws; people who speed by 3mph will not necessarily rob convenience stores. What people blindly follow is much closer to “social norms” than “laws”, but there’s a norm to broadly follow the law.”

        I wonder if any studies have been done on this – I would guess that people who speed by 3mph probably are more likely to rob convenience stores than people who never, ever, speed (assuming we can find enough of these people to constitute an experimental group).

        As I said from my own experience above, I think habits can be formed with stuff like this. Things like “It’s okay to speed a little because most cops don’t even care and everyone I know does it” could easily morph into “It’s okay to steal from a convenience store” if you happen to live among a peer group where stealing is glamorized. It’s easy to say “if people just follow social norms everything will be fine” if you’re looking at the social norms of your ingroup, but some other groups have strikingly different ones….

    • Not A Random Name says:

      As you pointed our there are clearly situations where not following the law seems to be the better choice (for me anyway). So while it is my default as well I don’t think anything’s wrong with breaking it per se.

      That said I often see people breaking the law in what I think to be stupid and dangerous ways. A good example of this is people who want to drive faster then I’m currently going and then start getting really close to my car. So close in fact I’m confident they’d crash into me if I had to perform an emergency break. I’m sure they think they’ve got it under control. But I’m fucked as well if things go wrong. It really annoys me.

      So I try not to be like that. If I’m confident I know better I’ll ignore the law and not feel bad about it. If I’m unsure I tend to err of the side of cautious, especially if I feel a desire to chose the more dangerous option.
      All in all this makes me a pretty law-abiding citizen I’d say. Probably more so then average, at least on mundane topics like going over the tempo limit or crossing red lights.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        All in all this makes me a pretty law-abiding citizen I’d say. Probably more so then average, at least on mundane topics like going over the tempo limit or crossing red lights.

        I suspect I may be more law abiding than the average person also. But only when those laws make sense to me. I hate tailgaters too, but I suspect that those people that tailgate don’t think they are dis-obeying the law. They are dis-obeying common sense, and that is the rule I try to obey.

    • sflicht says:

      I’m interested to know what people think about this in the international law context, i.e. replace the individual perspective with the national one. Very topical given the recent brouhaha over Israel.

      • Controls Freak says:

        I tend to do a universalization-like calculation, because I think that my behavior has (maybe marginal) effects on (perhaps just the local) culture. As a matter of coincidence, I recently made an analogy to international law to my hockey team on the issue of ringers. “We should internally enforce the norms we wish to project externally.” I like to use the example of Kosovo. It was called “illegal but legitimate”. Sure enough, it came back round to be Item Number One on Russia’s list of why their activities in Crimea are justified.

        I think the disconnect comes in because people feel, uh, disconnected from the process of making culture… and especially the process of making law. They view law as something that is merely imposed by others rather than a joint endeavor. Sometimes, it kind of is, which is also why I care more than others about norms and legitimacy in process. As I’ve opined here before about the structure of federalism, the point of legitimate process (if we structure it well) is to minimize this disconnect. So, while I wouldn’t commit to an absolute duty to follow the law (I don’t think anyone would; there are plenty of examples of law which is expressly written for the purpose of setting a line from which exceptions are intended to be made), I would claim that absent extremely compelling reasons (and I have a high barrier for this), we have a duty to follow laws enacted by legitimate process so as to not aid in delegitimizing that process (and possibly begin tearing down the benefits we get from a legitimate process).

        All that being said, international law is an interesting realm. In many ways, it’s more like a local culture or a small hockey league than a nation of laws. For all the outside commentary involved, there are really just a relatively small number of actual State actors, norms develop fluidly over time, and it seems to be incomprehensibly difficult to agree on legitimate process beyond explicit all-party agreement to terms. For example, this is why we see noise every so often about what the ICC “wants” to do with respect to some US official or act, and the US response is always, “Lol, don’t care.”

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not sure “international law” is directly comparable to national law in this way. It seems that violations of international law are very inconsistently prosecuted and enforced – that often, it boils down to either military supremacy or political concerns rather than objective evidence in similar courts with similar standards.

        International law is, at the end of the day, based entirely on a tangled web of various agreements that are only binding to the extent that they can be enforced, and unlike the state in the national picture, there is no one entity that has the power to enforce these things on say, the U.S., China, Russia, or various countries that one of those three chooses to maintain very close relationships with (Israel comes to mind – I’m sure there are others).

        I almost feel like it’s a term that shouldn’t even be used – because it’s so different than any other form of “law” we typically recognize.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        If international law was anything but a sick joke, the UN wouldn’t spend all its time attempting to enforce it upon only one nation that is not even remotely the worst offender.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you think you have duty to follow the law?

      Yes, per the 4th Commandment.

      OTOH, legislation of late in recent decades has become so prolific and fluid in some places that I physically cannot know what the law even is. I’d have to have a full-time speed-reading lawyer advisor just to keep up, and that’s outside of the reach of all but the most rich. So I mostly default to Christian morality and ethics, because that at least has the virtue of not changing much, and any human laws contradicting God’s law are invalid anyway.

    • Tibor says:

      I think that laws should change so that people follow them, not the other way around. Laws can be very strict and always enforced if almost everyone can agree on them. In this, the 51% kind of democracy is just a too low a standard. I would prefer a state where you’d need something like 75% support to pass a new law, but only 51% support to repeal an old one”. The result would be a country with very few laws which almost everyone would find important and would follow them. Switzerland seems to be close to that model since if you want your law to last, you have to make sure people don’t repeal it in a referendum a few months after – unlike in other countries you can get your laws repealed even during the same term you introduced them. This also makes legislation very slow, but I think that’s a feature, not a bug.

      David’s example is a nice case – 21 is a ridiculous minimum drinking age, so almost nobody respects this law. In Germany, you can drink weaker alcohol from the age of 16 and all alcohol when you’re 18. That is something that is much easier to follow, since there’s a much bigger consensus that it makes sense. The result might as well be that you have fewer 14year olds drinking in Germany than in the US.

      If there are a lot of laws a sizable minority of people disagrees with and disrespects, it reduces the respect for law in general and that’s a bad thing. Conversely, if almost everyone is on board with almost every law, people tend to follow even the laws they are not so sure about, because they believe that by and large the legal system makes sense and because everyone else seems to follow them which is a form of peer-pressure. Of course, this does not hold for laws you find completely immoral and wrong, but in the system I mentioned there should hopefully not be many of those.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think that laws should change so that people follow them, not the other way around.

        I think laws shouldn’t substantially change, and fads-of-the-current-generation shouldn’t make it into law in the first place. Also, there shouldn’t be as many laws that an average intellect cannot memorize the whole thing with some effort – certainly not more than a Koran’s worth – because people will obviously not follow stuff they don’t know.

        • Tibor says:

          “Fads of the current generation” should be avoided by the requirement that you need significantly more than 51% support to pass a new law.

          • Anonymous says:

            Fair enough.

          • Matt M says:

            Constitutional amendments are a lot harder than that, and yet…

            Noteworthy in that it was one of the few fads which made it into law but was eventually successfully repealed, rather than simply sticking around forever because “It’s the law!”

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think this has come up at SSC before, and I’d say there’s no duty to follow the law just because it is the law. If the law proscribes something that is wrong in itself, then the duty follows from the duty not to do wrong. If the law sets a standard which may be arbitrary but makes things work better than without it, there is a duty to follow it (usual example here is which side of the road to drive on). But if the law is (as is so often true) just something a bunch of politicians in a room somewhere decided on with the connivance of various interest groups….well, a law set down by a king chosen by a watery tart throwing a sword has as much legitimacy.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I would say it is more of an “obligation” than a duty, as there are higher obligations and considerations that can take precedence. That said, yes I have an obligation to follow the law, and I’m actually somewhat surprised and disturbed to find so many people saying otherwise.

      At the most basic level I view wider society and coexistence with those outside my in-group as an iterated prisoners dilemma where respect for the law is essentially an agreement to pick the “cooperate” option, with all the implications that follow.

      I feel that a lot of people in “WEIRD Countries” take their prosperity for granted and thus fail to appreciate / ignore the social norms that make it possible.

    • Jiro says:

      To which I answer, “I wish every one would act under their own conscience and not blindly follow laws.”

      I don’t wish this at all.

      Don’t assume that everyone’s conscience says the same things as your own. There are ways in which many people’s conscience tells them to act that I would really rather not have them act.

      • hlynkacg says:

        IKR?

        This is a large component of why I say that a lot of people (too many IMO) take our prosperity and social norms for granted.

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, I typed (then elected not to post) “Huh. It’s not often you see somebody defending Kim Davis. Good on you.” (For the record, I actually agree with her on a personal basis. Also think that people should obey the law regardless of their feelings.)

      • IrishDude says:

        I think the big ideas like don’t hit and don’t steal are very widely shared with rare exceptions. There’s always border cases that people have different thoughts on though.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Don’t assume that everyone’s conscience says the same things as your own.

        Of course not. There is plenty of conflict in society because people do believe different things. Most interactions with other folks have nothing to do with the law.

        I think other people’s consciences will match mine as often as the law does.

      • caethan says:

        There’s a bit from one of the viking epics where a fellow goes out raiding at a farmstead, but gets captured and placed under guard by the farmer and his family. In the middle of the night, the guard falls asleep so the raider grabs all the loot he can and sneaks away in the darkness. Before he’s gotten too far, he thinks to himself “No, this isn’t right, I’m acting like nothing but a common thief.” So he heads back to the farmhouse, sets it on fire, and kills everyone as they flee. Then he picks up the loot again and goes home, happy that he made the right decision and acted honorably.

        • You are thinking of a bit in Egilsaga. You have most of the details wrong, but your essential point is correct.

          Theft, secret taking, like murder, secret killing, is shameful. Robbery and killing are not. Egil, being an honorable fellow, insists on going back to the village that he and his comrades escaped from, setting the feast hall where the villagers who captured them are celebrating ablaze, standing in the door announcing who he is and that he took their stuff, and killing anyone who tries to come out.

          Later in the saga Egil himself is saved when his friend Arinbjorn persuades Eric Bloodaxe to postpone killing Egil until morning because “night killing is murder.” Egil, who is a great skald as well as a great warrior, spends the night composing a poem in honor of Eric and offers it to Eric in payment for his head, thus giving Eric a reasonable excuse for not killing him.

          Which Eric can use, since Arinbjorn, who is one of his chief retainers, has offered to fight on Egil’s side just to make it interesting. And Eric, having been driven out of Norway by his brothers, presumably due to Egil’s curse (although Eric may not know that), doesn’t really want to have two thirds of his retainers fighting the other third. Especially with Egil on the side of the third.

          My favorite saga.

    • grendelkhan says:

      I think this is a poorly-framed question.

      Imagine a spectrum: on one end, the belief that there is not the merest glimmer of an injunction to follow the law; on the other, the belief that following the law is the highest moral good in and of itself. Somewhere in the middle, the idea that ‘it’s the law!’ is an moderately strong argument for do-that or don’t-do-that on coordination grounds. A nudge.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I agree it is a spectrum. I’m at the side where “it’s the law” is a poor argument.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The answer that I was raised with is sort of a riff on the idea of a social contract.

      You have a duty to obey the law and to generally be a good citizen beyond the strict letter of the law. But it’s not a one-sided obligation. Law-abiding citizens are owed good treatment, especially compared to criminals, and if society can’t hold up it’s end of the bargain then the contract is null and void. It’s like the (false) impression most people have of social security: you pay in when you’re young and you get your money back when you’re old.

      As far as I’m concerned, my social contract is very much in force. Things have been moving in a troubling direction lately but staying on the straight and narrow has still left me in a fairly good position.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Basically this, although I would phrase some things differently.

        I think if we look at the concept of “civil disobedience” vs. “rioting” its probably useful (although in these part I feel like I may not get a charitable hearing on this particular point.)

        True civil disobedience is a willful disobeying of the law in order to make society aware of injustice. There is an assumption people engaged in the disobedience are willing to be charged under the law as a means of drawing attention to parts of the law or execution of law. Those who engaged in civil disobedience want to draw attention to themselves and frequently do so in a conspicuously non-anonymous manner.

        The behavior of rioters may look in some ways similar, and sometimes they accomplish the same ends because the riot does draw attention to injustice, but they are mostly acting outside of the social compact. Civil disobedience is preferable to rioting.

        • IrishDude says:

          People who avoided obeying the fugitive slave laws and were unwilling to be charged under the law were still acting justly, IMO, even though this wouldn’t satisfy your definition of civil disobedience. If they tried to stay inconspicuous I would still condone their actions.

          • Jiro says:

            I would be willing to accept such things in roughly the same situations where shooting people is justified. A fugitive slave is justified in shooting someone to keep from being returned to slavery; along with this, people are of course justified in using measures short of shooting, including law violation.

            Also, the Fugitive Slave Law is odd in that it probably would not have been passed if all the slaves could vote. If you are prevented from changing the law (and if this has substantial effect–for instance, I doubt that letting criminals vote would really change our jail system), the justificiation for following the law is much weaker.

      • Garrett says:

        If, in the US you mean the past 200 years or so, I’ll agree. The over-reach of the Commerce Clause, ignoring of the General Welfare and the violations of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 10th Amendments all seem to me to be a breach on the side of the government.

    • rahien.din says:

      I wish every one would act under their own conscience and not blindly follow laws.

      This is a false dichotomy.

      The world we live in is stupendously complex, and our actions have local and distant consequences. I may have a good conscience, and I may endeavor to follow it, but if I am insufficiently-informed, my conscience might lead me into actions that have ill effects. As a single person, I have no claim on the information bandwidth required to sufficiently inform my own conscience. So, my conscience requires that I follow some laws that I do not necessarily understand or even agree with.

      Even if we could possess the necessary information bandwidth, conscience alone is insufficient to solve all problems or guide all interactions, and it is hard to envision how we would organize ourselves with no freestanding agreements as to what behaviors and outcomes we each must accept from one another.

      From a more ethically pragmatic standpoint, no one will follow their conscience to a degree sufficient to produce an oversight-free world that is at optimal functioning. They just won’t. Especially if a critical imperative is that we establish no rules for one another. The unscrupulous will achieve dominance – will enact laws – by violence and subterfuge. It follows that, from a legal/political standpoint, conscience-driven anarchy is a temporary destabilization that collapses immediately into tyranny and gradually re-evolves toward some centralized -archy. Thus, even if laws are tyranny, they are an inoculation against greater forms of tyranny.

      If I conclude that laws are a necessary micro-tyranny necessary to prevent a macro-tyranny, this further compels my conscience. Granted, some laws are worse than others, sometimes so obviously that conscience compels disobedience. But if I do not have the information bandwidth to conclude that a given law is so very tyrannical, then the default position most in line with conscience is – as you say – blind obedience.

      So I think that to follow one’s conscience is to obey the law unless one has good reason not to. This is essentially your praxis, on which we don’t seem to disagree. I only disagree with your assertion that obedience to the law and obedience to conscience would be competing or incompatible modes.

    • IrishDude says:

      I agree that there is no duty to obey laws, we should follow our conscience, but we should also use our heads about disobeying laws we disagree with if the consequences are likely to be terrible for failure to obey.

    • Riothamus says:

      I served in the United States Army. In this environment there are many regulations, and your duty to uphold all these regulations is explicit and far more frequently enforced than in civilian contexts.

      It is also literally impossible to accomplish any given task while observing all of the regs. Usually this is because there is some conflict with two standing orders, and we are required to get the permission of the ‘X’ Officer but there is no officer of X assigned. To literally follow the regs would lead to a lot of Asimov-like failure modes.

      Fortunately we had a concept referred to as “end state,” which meant that as long as the results were good no one would examine the process for getting there.

      I conclude that the ethics of how you approach the law are useless without considering how you approach the aims of the law.

      • sflicht says:

        I’m curious for you to elaborate upon “Asimov-like failure modes”. It seems clear to me this is a reference to I, Robot conflicts among the 3 laws, of which there were a variety. But what made the stories so compelling was the creative manner in which Asimov conceived of such possible conflicts. (Reminds me that I really need to re-read I, Robot.) Is there any pattern you can discern in the types of rule-conflict failure modes that most often arose in practice, at least in the Army?

        I ask mostly because I found this article a bit terrifying, even though I’m generally a Yudkowsky skeptic. (I trust the Pentagon less than Google to be wise in its deployment of autonomy, and I think it’s self-evident that DoD will be vastly more aggressive in actually developing the technologies. Optimistically, they’ll probably also be far less competent and creative.)

        • Riothamus says:

          I don’t recall which story it was in, but the example I was thinking of was one where the robot was sent out with instructions not to return without fuel. It found a small lake of the stuff, but to try and get any would destroy it. Because it could neither disobey nor destroy itself, it just ran around the edge of the lake in circles.

          It is common in the military to be told “don’t come back until you have done X,” where you do not have the resources or authority to do X. In such cases, we improvised.

          Thus it is said: if you aren’t lying, cheating, and stealing you aren’t trying hard enough.

          • beleester says:

            The story was “Runaround.” Speedy was a valuable experimental robot, so it was given a higher priority on self-preservation than most, in order to stop the owner from carelessly damaging it. In reality, the selenium was important enough to be worth the risk, but the robot didn’t know that, so it just stalled out.

          • Urstoff says:

            I miss that golden-age sci fi type of story: a technology creates an easily comprehensible logical conundrum that is not so easy to solve. Asimov was the master at these, obviously.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Stories like “Runaround” baffled me a bit even when I first read them as a kid. The wording of the Three Laws indicates pretty clearly that the lower-numbered laws have lexical priority over the higher-numbered ones– not merely a higher weighting.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @ Cerebral Paul Z.

            Which was why Asimov changed things a little; as @beleester points out, the robot in question had a slightly beefier Third Law, enough to override the Second unless you phrased the order particularly strongly. As I recall, to make things worse, for implementation reasons, the conflict made the robot malfunction in other ways (so they couldn’t just give it a stronger order).

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Much of this depends on what is meant by ‘duty’. For example, all the commentators above who explain that “no, but one should follow it by default when I don’t have enough information” and so, could described actually agreeing, given a suitably broad definition of the word ‘duty’.

      I believe that in general, yes, in the current political system where I live, there is some degree of duty. Because the legitimacy of representative democracy hinges on the idea that we have right to elect representatives and the representatives have right to craft laws and the elected government uphold them, and I believe in that legitimacy. Only coherent position that for most issues, one should follow the law, unless by following the law one commits a moral wrong.

      One could argue in the spirit of the general idea of social contract that if you consider the law and the government unjust, then you’d have a duty to try to change the law and the government. But even in that case, one should take into account that it’s a good for society to have a norm of citizens who follow the norms of the society, and the most formal norms are codified as laws, so if it’s only something you disagree with and not something inherently wrong, you should probably do it nevertheless. Especially so because by observation I have noticed that most of the people don’t think this through, don’t care, and will generally act selfishly if they think they can get away with it. Establishing a social norm is something everyone can do, every day.

      Of course, there is such a thing as reasonable tolerances and such. If the court would throw the case of driving 2 km/h above the speed limit out, and it will, I will take that into account. I think the traffic code even has specifies leeway for obvious situations such as crossing a zebra walk even if there’s a red light in the middle of night with no traffic.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @ nimim.k.m.
        Of course, there is such a thing as reasonable tolerances and such. If the court would throw the case of driving 2 km/h above the speed limit out, and it will, I will take that into account. I think the traffic code even has specifies leeway for obvious situations such as crossing a zebra walk even if there’s a red light in the middle of night with no traffic.

        Lets suppose a less obvious situation. You’re a bike/foot
        medical courier with the immediate duty of delivering a life-saving medicine to a small doctor’s office. You’re at a complicated intersection. To follow all the rules would take several minutes, during which the patient would be in increasing danger. You take a quick look around, grab your moment and zoom through illegally. It works: the medicine arrives in time, and there is no glitch in traffic.

        Someone filmed the incident and you are charged with violating traffic rules whose official purpose is to “Guard Public Safety”.

        How severe should your punishment be?

        • rahien.din says:

          The punishment should be severe enough that the law functions as a Schelling point on bike/foot crossing behaviors at complicated intersections.

        • Jiro says:

          That is the non-violent equivalent of defense of others, so the law should cover that case without explicitly mentioning medical couriers. This seems to be covered mostly by the necessity defense.

        • Jordan D. says:

          Now hold on, though. If your timeliness was essential to the life-saving-ness and you could demonstrate that in court (and you have an attentive judge instead of a bored traffic judge), you could use the defense of justification to get yourself acquitted.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          Maybe some kind of “efficient breach” would be called for in that situation. The punishment should be a fine large enough that most people wouldn’t do the crime unless it was life-or-death, but they would do the crime if it is life-or-death.

        • The Nybbler says:

          IMO, a better question is how severe should the punishment to the busybody who reported you be. Freelance enforcement of malum prohibitum rules should be discouraged.

          @Saint Fiasco
          Efficient breach doesn’t work because the punishment lands on the courier while the benefit lands on the patient. Why should I as a courier take a significant penalty to save someone else?

          I’ve heard a version of this scenario that I suspect most people would decide differently — a drunk hiker in the woods comes upon a man who has had a car accident on a forest road. He is unconscious and injured and clearly in need of a hospital, but the car is still driveable. There’s no cell phone reception and the nearest land line/ranger post/whatever is too far to walk to and bring help rescue the man in time. The hiker drives the man to the hospital without incident, he is saved… but the hiker arrested for drunk driving on arrival. Do you convict the hiker?

          (I suspect the real-world answer is the hiker isn’t even permitted to introduce the necessity defense)

          • IMO, a better question is how severe should the punishment to the busybody who reported you be.

            Oddly enough, this links to a passage I have just been writing in a chapter of my current book–the chapter deals with ideas from other legal systems that we might want to adopt.

            In 18th century English law, criminal prosecution was private. One advantage of that is that crimes the government approves of can still get prosecuted. That’s also a disadvantage, since some crimes don’t get prosecuted not because they are committed on behalf of the government but because there is no good reason to prosecute them, as in some cases in this thread.

            Allowing private prosecution–I was assuming as a supplement to public prosecution rather than, as in the 18th c. case, a substitute–opens the possibility of prosecuting someone because you don’t like him or in order to get paid off to drop the prosecution.

            Is it on net a good or bad idea to allow a private citizen to prosecute a crime that the government has declined to prosecute?

          • Jiro says:

            Considerting that the Wikipedia example actually mentions drunk driving, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be allowed to introduce the necessity defense.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Given that our legal system is so complex and open ended that pretty much everyone can be said to break the law quite often (are you going for a walk or ‘loitering?’), it opens you up for harassment if you have a neighbor who doesn’t like you for some reason, but has a lot of time to monitor you.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Jiro

            Drunk driving comes out of traffic law, which traditionally lacks protections afforded for other crimes. At one time the lack of such protections was compensated for by the relative lack of punishment (generally a small fine) for such offenses, but lobbying on drunk driving has pushed the penalties way up, and discouraged the application of any sort of legal protection.

            Even if the necessity defense were to be allowed, I expect the continuing hysteria around drunk driving would result in it failing on the grounds that drunk driving is a greater danger than allowing one person to die. This seems to be the common opinion when the hypothetical is discussed.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Even if the necessity defense were to be allowed, I expect the continuing hysteria around drunk driving would result in it failing on the grounds that drunk driving is a greater danger than allowing one person to die.

            Leaving aside the legal technicalities, this is the sort of thinking that I wanted to explore. Assume that the trial was ‘in the court of public opinion’ and that either the courier or the hiker would be punished, but not both.

            So in effect it is a choice of which principle to support: MADD’s … or well, there isn’t a neat familiar term for the courier’s action. (It’s not a Schelling point, though I expect there are several
            terms for it at TVTropes.)

          • Jordan D. says:

            @Aapje-

            I’m not a big fan of private enforcement of criminal law, but a neighbor who wants to harass another neighbor by way of the courts already has plenty of ability to do that with. Some of the negligence and interference claims I’ve seen would be totally inexplicable if not for pure neighborly malice.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jordan

            I agree, but if I understand Friedman correctly, in his system the judge would be obligated to sentence any time the law is broken and someone files a complaint. In our current system, in theory a judge can dismiss a claim if (s)he thinks that it is harassment.

          • The judge only sentences if he convicts, and is only supposed to convict if the defendant is guilty. But I am assuming that the judge doesn’t have the option of saying “he is guilty, but I’ll let him go anyway.”

    • Jordan D. says:

      Well, I’ll begin with the disclaimer that I took an oath to uphold the law, and I take my oath very seriously. There was even a nice ceremony, which makes it, like, double-binding. And a stamp! So I don’t consider myself to be in a position to tell people to ignore laws when they don’t like them. But I’ve interacted with a lot of people being exposed to legal processes, and I think I have a map of how they feel.

      So, I haven’t developed this very far yet, but I think there are several types of laws, which I’d classify roughly as ‘Normative Mandatory’, ‘Behavior-adjusting’, ‘Regulatory’ and ‘Last Resort’. Possibly I could think of more categories, but these seem most relevant to me.

      1. Normative mandatory – Laws which exist to enforce a broad societal norm. Laws against murder, or theft, or driving in the opposing lane and dodging oncoming traffic. These laws are reflective of something on which society has reached a broad consensus. I think you can say a law is normative mandatory when even legally expressing opposition to the law is outside the Overton Window.

      2. Behavior-adjusting – Laws which exist to try to alter some aspect of society which the powerful element(s) of that society dislike. Laws against taking photos of farms, or against smoking weed, for example; these laws have plenty of defenders (believe it or not!) but there’s no real stigma to opposing them, and in fact some of them probably have more public support for abolition than against.

      3. Regulatory – I don’t just mean agency regulations here, but any law which establishes a baseline standard of conduct for something, but only penalizes departure with mild economic sanctions. These are laws which people mostly see as “price of doing business” laws, often designed to fund some part of the government rather than actually motivate behavior in a certain way.

      4. Last Resort – One of the underappreciated roles of the court system is that it will eventually render a decision, and there is a surprisingly broad segment of society which needs this. Things like laws which govern contract interpretations, or UCC sections, or property-line disputes, or custody battles. These are laws which take a private dispute which the parties are unable to settle themselves and point to the person who wins.

      I think that, in general, society looks at the laws like this:

      1. Normative Mandatory laws have to be followed, and those who break them are bad people.
      2. Behavior-Adjusting laws probably should be followed, but failure to do so isn’t the end of the world.
      3. Regulatory laws are eh, and breaking them is morally neutral unless this negatively affects me.
      4. Last Resort laws, once a court has weighed in, absolutely have to be followed, and those who break them are bad people.

      I think this fits the model which says that people care about breaking laws insofar as those laws hold a mirror to society. Where they fall outside of what ‘society’ cares about, people also don’t really care about them. The last one is a weird kind of exception- people can and will acceptably argue bitterly about which of two neighbors should be found to own a shared driveway, but once the last court of appeals weighs in, pretty much everyone seems to accept that the issue is decided and that it would be wrong (or at least gauche) to keep fighting about it.

      Anyway, I think that’s what was happening in the famous series of cases Justice Kennedy wrote, leading up to Obergefell. At some point in the past, laws regulating sexual behavior were normative mandatory laws, and a court striking down a law against gay sex would have been seen as invalid in the same way as a court striking down a law against theft. Over time, society changed, and the law became behavior-adjusting, and it’s fair game for courts to strike down behavior-adjusting laws.

    • Fahundo says:

      How many federal laws are there, in the United States exactly?

      • BBA says:

        Mu. What is “one law” for purposes of your count? I could give you the number of Acts of Congress passed since 1789, but that’s not a very useful count. Public Law 83-591 (the Internal Revenue Code) is a single act, as is Public Law 111-50 (naming a post office in Long Island City after Geraldine Ferraro). Sections of the US Code is a little better but not much: there are many sections that have been superseded by newer law but remain on the books due to congressional sloppiness and, of course, they differ a lot in length and importance. You could also count Supreme Court decisions, documents published in the Federal Register, etc., etc., many of which straddle the boundary between law and not-law, but it’s not clear where that boundary is.

        And then there are lots of important laws that aren’t federal. The law against murder is in your state’s penal code, local zoning ordinances are much more restrictive than the EPA about what you can do with your property…I could go on. Somehow lots of people have gotten it into their heads that the United States federal government is the only government that does anything significant anywhere on earth, but it isn’t so.

        • Fahundo says:

          I said federal to simplify things a bit, and because federal law would probably apply more broadly to a larger number of posters.

          What is “one law” for purposes of your count?

          Whatever counts as a law in the kind of mental checklist one might run possible future actions by. If you’re the kind of person who believes it’s your duty to follow
          every law, I would imagine you’ve read every word of every relevant law passed in any jurisdictions that apply to you, then I guess converted them into some kind of mental shorthand which you reference every time you do anything. I suppose such a list would necessarily include not only Supreme Court decisions, but also a lot of decisions by lower courts.

          If you follow every law without doing something similar to this, then I guess I am interested in hearing about which methods you employ.

          • Brad says:

            I do not currently run a factory producing fluorine gas. I am not familiar with the laws government the operation of a factory that produces fluorine gas. However, I am aware that if I wanted to open a factory producing fluorine gas that the are laws that govern such a situation and I’d either need to familiarize myself with them or hire someone that was familiar with them.

          • Fahundo says:

            I threw the word “relevant” in there, hoping it would cover things like that.

          • BBA says:

            Here’s a more concrete example. Section 155.25 of the New York Penal Law defines petit larceny as stealing property and designates it as a misdemeanor. Section 155.30 defines grand larceny* as stealing property under one of eleven different conditions – the property is worth more than $1000, or it was a motor vehicle worth more than $100, or it was a firearm regardless of value, or it was obtained by extortion… – and then designates it as a felony. Is section 155.30 a single law describing a single crime, since these are all “serious” forms of stealing property deserving of higher punishment than petit larceny? Or is it 11 laws describing 11 crimes, since any of the 11 behaviors is separately a crime itself? Or is it not a separate law at all, since stealing property is already a crime (albeit with a lesser punishment) under section 155.25? I suspect different people will have different answers to this, and so I maintain that “how many laws?” is a question that cannot be meaningfully answered.

            *in the fourth degree, but the same logic applies to the subsequent sections defining the three higher degrees.

          • Brad says:

            It’s seems like this is a rhetorical move instead of a real problem. It’s easy to say “look at the size of the federal code, no one could possibly read all that. It’s impossible to follow the law!” and then turn around and do something you know damn well is against the law even if you can’t cite chapter and verse.

            When I worked at legal aid, I never had a client prosecuted for something that he genuinely had no idea was forbidden.

          • Fahundo says:

            @ BBA

            thanks for giving my post more consideration than it was worth, I guess. I was just clumsily fishing for an answer the likes of “no one knows.” I guess I would consider something like stealing to be one crime though.

            @ Brad

            Did you ever see anyone fined for flying a kite too close to a cloud? Or imprisoned for water skiing in a clockwise circle?

      • Skivverus says:

        Taking into account BBA’s concern on “law is a fuzzier concept than it sounds” – perhaps this could be rephrased as “how many clauses are there, in total, in US federal laws and regulations?”
        Akin to “how many lines of code are there in this program?” Obviously not all lines are equally important, but it does make for a useful benchmark for estimating things like technical debt.
        Something something Kolmogorov complexity applied in reverse.

        • bean says:

          It’s not even that simple. This would work well if all of the clauses involved actually mattered as law, and if the whole thing was self-contained. Neither is really true. Above, a law was mentioned which set the name of a Post Office. I don’t think that should count. It’s not really possible to violate it.
          The other issue is what to do when the law calls out other documents and gives them force of law. This happens quite a lot in certain areas (the FAA uses this to legally mandate manufacturer-recommended actions on airplanes). Do the incorporated documents count as law?

          • CatCube says:

            Almost all building codes are done this way–they’re documents developed by private organizations that get incorporated into law by reference. And the documents often reference each other.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And you can’t legally get a copy of the building code (incorporated by reference into law) without paying hundreds of dollars to the standards organization. It’s a racket in more ways than one.

          • Skivverus says:

            “This code references the standard C, Python, and Haskell libraries, plus this one legacy module written in Cobol. Do we count those libraries towards the total length of the program?”

            It’s not an unreasonable question, and not one with an obvious answer, but it’s not obviously unanswerable either.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I’ve written my thoughts about this in a lot of other places, but never on SSC as I recall. What follows is a dump of my current high-level philosophy on law.

      I see the law in a functional, amoral sense as some agent of society declaring that if it finds out you did X (which the law forbids) or didn’t do X (which the law mandates), then that agent will try to put you somewhere on the penalty treadmill (fine, incarceration, violence). The caveat here is that the agent has to spend resources finding out, and then more resources on the attempt to put you on the treadmill. If those costs are too high – it would have to spend too much on surveillance, or on collecting evidence, or the utility to society of putting you on the treadmill is in any way lower than that of letting you go – then that law will simply not be enforced, no matter how morally driven.

      The utility calculation can vary a lot across nations. In the US, the law is often seen as an enforcement of morality – that is, if you break the law, then you’re seen as having done something morally wrong. “We went through a great deal of trouble to settle on this law, and for you to break it is a betrayal of our society!” In such cases, the utility of putting you on the treadmill is very high. I imagine this is an artifact of the great expense we typically go through to pass laws. In some other places where the process is a lot cheaper, abiding the law is probably seen as commensurately less moral. (One reason to limit immigration.)

      Indeed, while I believe law does not correlate absolutely with moral behavior, it does so strongly enough in the US that we enjoy a high level of obedience for what I think is miraculously low cost of enforcement. Most people don’t steal in the US, even a little bit, not because it’s the law, but because they believe it makes their world worse by their own standards. Which really means this isn’t obedience of the law; the law is just expressing in writing what people already want to do.

      The law also often correlates with current economic interest. If a law mandates a $10/hr minimum wage when labor is either scarce or trending that way and all employers already have to offer $12/hr, then that law is being followed for zero enforcement cost. If a law sets the tax rate to 35% and the public already sees that as probably necessary, then that law is being followed for very little cost, if any – auditors are then working only to find people who make honest mistakes.

      I’ve talked about “is” so far. But I also believe this is an “ought” – the law ought to correlate strongly with public moral and economic interest. To the extent that it does not, the cost of finding and punishing non-followers rises. That cost comes out of resources otherwise expendable on other pursuits that would have made the society better off.

      This necessarily carries over into the process by which law is produced. If people believe the process is designed to increase this correlation, then they will abide the product, and the cost of enforcement will drop.

      The process is itself more law, to be abided by lawmakers, and so likewise ought to correlate with their moral and economic interest. If the process does not, then disobedience will go up – lawmakers will seek to avoid the process. And then the public who witness this will follow only whichever laws they already felt like following. This includes whichever laws they think will be strongly enforced, but only as long as they are strongly enforced (presumably at some expense).

      If the process is seen as in step with moral and economic interest, and the lawmakers as abiding, then the public may often follow the law even if they find them counterintuitive. They may reason that such law factors in concerns they are unaware of, but probably still in their interest. Such reasoning may move them to pay taxes they do not understand, comply with regulations that seem somewhat annoying, or fight in wars in places they would otherwise never visit.

      Good law is self-enforcing. If everyone’s conscience (and information) were in sync, there would be no need for law; everyone would simply follow their conscience, enforcement would be free, and society would be a streamlined anarchy. If consciences synced but information did not, laws might be seen as mnemonic shortcuts, reminding the individual of something they would do, if only they knew what the lawmaker knew. (Or, a reminder to inform the lawmaker of what the individual knows, in order to change the law.) I believe this captures the reasoning of, for example, hlynkacg; it is my personal default reasoning as well, typically threatened when I have reason to believe the process is being subverted. (I have a strong minarchist streak nowadays, but I also believe that a transition to a US minarchy would carry a great deal of current law with it, by popular acclaim.)

      If consciences vary widely, as they appear to in international context, then law illustrates my first paragraph very overtly, in my opinion. Society has multiple agents, all making such declarations, and their ability to put any lawbreaker on the treadmill is an open question.

      If a person (or organization, including a nation) breaks the law without remorse, their conscience clearly does not correlate with the law. Some agent of society can (try to) put that person on the treadmill. Again, I see this as amoral; it’s just many consciences vs. the one. And most lawbreakers in the US appear to be remorseful – if I get pulled over for speeding, or am shown a mistake I made in my taxes, I will probably feel bad, and pay the fine. That society will likely survive if such conflicts are consistently that lopsided – or at least, if it collapses, it won’t be due to civil disobedience. Which naturally may be a function of the design of its lawmaking process.

      In all cases, moral and economic interest are basic, albeit variable across people; law is only derivative, and as I opined earlier, merely a declaration of some agent’s intent to try to prosecute it. I believe this applies to systems modern and medieval, Western or Eastern, pacifist or militaristic, poor or wealthy, threatened or stable, bureaucratized or feral, corrupt or honorable, democratic or authoritarian.

      • Aapje says:

        If everyone’s conscience (and information) were in sync, there would be no need for law

        That’s never going to happen though.

        Also, people don’t necessarily act their conscience. If you believe in a clean living environment and everyone around you just dumps their garbage on the street, you probably stop making an effort because it seems to have no utility. The street is full of garbage no matter what you do.

        Anti-social people who dump a lot of garbage everywhere can be the beginning of a downward spiral, where more and more people flaunt these social norms.

        One way that the law works is by disrupting these outliers who have a hugely disproportionate effect.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          For the record, I’m well aware conscience and information would never be in sync. My purpose in stating what would happen was to explore the hypothetical, and reveal one extent to which laws end up being necessary in certain contexts.

          It is certainly true that people do not always live up to their conscience. However, my point is that a law that forces them to do so, works, because that is where their conscience resides. The law reinforces what they believe to be right, and so they abide it, even when things turn punitive.

      • The Nybbler says:

        And most lawbreakers in the US appear to be remorseful – if I get pulled over for speeding, or am shown a mistake I made in my taxes, I will probably feel bad, and pay the fine.

        Most lawbreakers appear to be remorseful because the system encourages appearance of remorse. I think it was Heinlein who pointed out that the man who humbles himself before the judge gets a slap on the wrist, while the man who stands up for his principles gets the book thrown at him. Nevertheless, there’s no real remorse among most of these minor lawbreakers; we know this because they typically continue to commit the violations.

        Don’t mistake being cowed by the might of the law, or appearing to be so to escape punishment, for actual conscience. That’s just a way the state keeps people under control and demonstrates its legitimacy. (And gives cops and judges an ego trip)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Eh. Circumstances vary.

          If I get pulled for doing 79 in a 55, because I am running behind on my four hour car trip to get to the beach golfing trip and I am trying to make the tee time, I pretty much know I deserve it. My humility there isn’t fake, however beneficial it is to me.

          If I get pulled for doing 64 in a 55 and I am being passed left and right, now any humility I show is merely calculated.

          And of course different people react differently to authority, etc.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Quite so. If I were pulled over for speeding to a golf game, I’m not sure I’d even show humility. I’d probably show irritation. But the point is that I likely wouldn’t contest the ticket, let alone bellyache to my friends at the club and plot a rebellion.

            And this is, I’m guessing, the norm for vastly many Americans, when you count all the misdemeanors, small fines, court hearings followed by a settlement, etc. Recidivists are a stark minority who command almost no popular sympathy. Can anyone recall an American Robin Hood?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Recidivists command no sympathy but they’re anything but a minority. People commit the offense, they pay the fine… then they go right out and commit the offense again, maybe trying harder not to get caught this time.

            We don’t have a system of good law. We have a system where the government is so powerful that there’s so little chance of doing anything about the bad law that people just accept it as a fact of nature.

  24. PDV says:

    I brainstormed some thoughts about seasonal rationalist community rituals beyond Winter Solstice on my blog. The ones I think are most promising are Tarski Day in the spring (mental spring cleaning) and Prepper’s Day in November (taking old seasonal traditions of stockpiling for the winter and spinning them into preparedness for broader classes of bad). I’d like thoughts, feedback on which sound most interesting, alternate suggestions, etc.

  25. AnonEEmous says:

    Off Topic:

    I recently comprehended the idea of the garden of forking paths as it relates to P-hacking, and apparently Scott wrote a piece on it. So is the idea of the garden of forking paths basically that, by looking at a data set in several different ways, you are essentially performing several different experiments, then picking out the one that’s wrong – which should cause the P-value to go up? Assuming it is, does anyone have any objections to this notion being taken seriously?

  26. 27chaos says:

    Please preserve:

    1. The WW2 is unrealistic post.
    2. The nth meditation on X series.
    3. The Timecube steelman.

    • PDV says:

      #ENDORSED

    • Montfort says:

      I thought 1 and 2 were on his livejournal, which isn’t going away as far as I know.

      Incidentally, the internet archive’s robots.txt policy works retroactively, so if there’s something on raikoth (or any other recently/soon-to-be dead website) that you want to archive, consider saving local copies.

  27. sflicht says:

    Mad props to Tyler Cowen for turning me on to this phenom: Alma Deutscher, a genius (I don’t say it lightly) composer, aged 11, whose first full-length opera (orchestrated on her own) just debuted in Vienna. I recommend this video interview with a famous Israeli music pedagogist, especially if you have at least the pre-K level Hebrew skills I have and can tolerate the incomplete subtitling. Right now I’d say she’s the living artist whose work I find the most interesting in the entire world. And she has only 25K youtube followers.

    Bonus: her father is a linguist who performed an experiment on her, not teaching her that people say the clear sky is blue, in an effort to understand why various cultures come up with alternate conventions for this. (She spontaneously described it as white, and he wrote a 2010 book about it.) So it seems there’s a good chance not only that we have a new (at least) Schubert-level prodigy composer in the Classical tradition, but also that a good book will be written about her gifts, her musical education, etc. from a modern scientific perspective.

    • Creutzer says:

      The fact that her name is Alma is obviously amazing. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to diagnose nominative determinism, because there are much more suitable names; but still.

      • komponisto says:

        The name is neither sufficiently rare nor Alma Mahler sufficiently important for it to qualify as “amazing”.

        However, it does fit insofar as she seems to have some hope of developing a soul.

        • Creutzer says:

          I was under the impression that the name is extremely rare. I may have been mistaken.

          You don’t have that wide a choice if you want to be named after a woman who is known for composing. Though Cecile or Clara would obviously have been much better from the nominative determinism angle. Now, she seems mostly predestined for unhappy marriages.

          • komponisto says:

            Alma Mahler isn’t known for composing; she’s known for being the wife of Gustav Mahler (and, to a lesser extent, Walter Gropius etc.). She wouldn’t make the top ten female composers.

            To be sure, the person to blame for this might well be Gustav.

          • Deiseach says:

            You don’t have that wide a choice if you want to be named after a woman who is known for composing.

            Fanny, then, for Fanny Mendelssohn? Though perhaps “Frances” would be a better version of it for modern ears.

    • komponisto says:

      I agree that Alma is interesting phenomenon, but if you think she’s the most interesting artist in the world, that’s mostly a commentary on the world, as seen by you.

      She may grow up to become an important composer, but it won’t happen by default, and it certainly hasn’t happened yet. Prodigies rarely have much of an impact on the history of musical composition (and virtually never while they’re still children).

      (I find it the Schubert comparison especially odd given that when I last checked, she had yet to get as far as Schubert’s chronological era in terms of assimilation of musical history as reflected in her compositions.)

      None of this changes the fact that she seems to provide a good model for how to live life.

      • Creutzer says:

        Prodigies rarely have much of an impact on the history of musical composition

        This sentence got me thinking. Prodigies of musical performance are almost a dime a dozen, it would seem. Do you know anything about how frequent composing prodigies are?

        • komponisto says:

          Do you know anything about how frequent composing prodigies are?

          It depends on what you mean. Maybe try making the question more specific?
          If it’s “what proportion of major composers in the Western art music tradition have written at least one acknowledged masterpiece in pre-adolescence?”, the answer is zero to within rounding error. (I can’t even think of a single example offhand.) Indeed, we would have to extend the range to high-school age (historical adulthood) before the matter even becomes arguable.

          There are other possible interpretations of the question, but I want to emphasize this one in light of the claim people are always making to the effect that music contrasts with e.g. literature in the extent to which great achievement is possible in childhood. I think when you compare apples to apples, the asymmetry disappears.

          Incidentally, having listened to a bit of the new opera, I should take back what I said above about Alma not having reached Schubert’s era in terms of musical idiom. That seems to be where she now is. (I remembered her previously as writing in a decidedly eighteenth-century style, which of course would make sense given that she was apparently trained on partimenti.)

          • Creutzer says:

            You’re right, I should have been more specific. Let me try.

            There are, in the world as a whole, quite a lot of children who perform music at a level vastly beyond what could normally be expected at their age and who are “prodigies” in this sense. This does not mean that their performances, taken by themselves and not in relation to their age, are truly masterful. (I have not researched the latter point, and you might know much better than me. My judgement is mostly based on hearing a somewhat confused psychologist’s talk about musical prodigies, which involved being shown a bunch of recordings, some by child prodigies and some by famous adult pianists, of which I guessed every single one right and thought it was pretty obvious.)

            What I wonder is, how many children are there who can compose above the level of their age in the same precocious way that they perform above the level of their age?

          • rlms says:

            @Creutzer
            I used to know someone who was both a performing prodigy and a composing prodigy (I never heard any of his compositions, but a local (music) professor apparently liked them so they can’t have been terrible). I think it is probably unsurprising that child prodigies don’t generally sound as good as famous adult pianists, since I expect a high proportion of famous adult pianists are child prodigies (or something close) who have had a few decades to practice more.

            Possibly relevant is Joey Alexander, a jazz piano prodigy. I don’t think his playing is distinguishable from an adult’s. He might also count as a composing prodigy, in the sense that improvisation is like composition without writing, and in the sense that he clearly has a fantastic understanding of harmony, melody etc.

          • komponisto says:

            @Creutzer:

            I think rlms is right to essentially point out that “what could normally be expected at their age” is not a concept that makes sense in this context. As Charles Rosen says, virtually all pianists start when they are very young children. In that kind of domain, the age criterion can only be viewed as inverted: it is more impressive the later someone starts.

            Nevertheless, one can still discuss the relationship between composition and performance in this respect. Rosen’s statement isn’t true for composers — more typically they begin in adolescence, whether early or late — so one could imagine that the concept of “prodigy” makes more sense in that case. However, this may be mostly due to the occupational separation of composition and performance that is specific to “our time” (i.e. since the Romantic period). That is, young children who both perform and compose are a relatively small subset of those who perform, because current musical culture doesn’t expect performers to be trained in composition by default.

            Composition (in the high-art tradition) isn’t considered a mere skill anymore; it has become an identity. To present oneself as a composer is to claim a magical aura of destiny as a Creative Artist (TM). (This is no doubt why people become composers at the stage in life where they develop identities.) Alma Deutscher is exceptional in that she is practicing composition as a skill, like they did in the eighteenth century. She can get away with it because she is young and there is a novelty element, making her into a kind of circus act; but (regrettably) no one would care about the music she is producing if she were older. (At least, not without considerable ad-hoc culture creation — what is variously known as marketing or Assertion of Artistic Identity (TM) depending on the level of cynicism connotationally desired — on her part.)

          • komponisto says:

            @rlms:

            I can’t resist registering an observation about this statement:

            He might also count as a composing prodigy…in the sense that he clearly has a fantastic understanding of harmony, melody etc.

            It implies, of course, that a mere performer would not be expected to have a fantastic understanding of these things, which are nevertheless (a stand-in for) the basic elements of music. This should be very disturbing to whatever extent it is true.

            Alas, I think it is true to a significant extent. Each year legions of music students resent being subjected to instruction in music theory, on the grounds that they have no compositional aspirations themselves. This is the exact opposite of the reason they should be resenting those courses of instruction, which is that they provide far too little insight into composition.

            (Incidentally, I think these are connected: the students expect compositional insights to be incommunicable to them, and so, not possessing them out of the box, they never consider compositional aspirations as an option for themselves in the first place. This is no doubt a very general problem across many fields. But I digress.)

            I should nonetheless point out that it isn’t true at elite levels. I would expect virtually all concert pianists, for example, whether or not they identify as composers, to have an understanding of musical construction that would be considered “composer-level” by the unambitious students referred to above. You simply can’t play their repertory convincingly otherwise.

          • rlms says:

            Eh, I think it’s easily possible to be a very good performer with only very little theory knowledge. I agree that elite levels, performers probably mostly know a lot of theory, but I don’t think that’s necessary to perform well. A good ear and intuitive feel go a long way, especially at levels other than the very top.

          • komponisto says:

            It is equally possible to be a good composer with only very little theory knowledge.

            When I said “knowledge of musical construction”, I was deliberately leaving unspecified whether that knowledge was explicit (“theory knowledge”) or tacit (“good ear and intuitive feel”). It is a fallacy to suppose that composers, but not performers, require knowledge in explicit form.

  28. Christian Kleineidam says:

    I put a question on the statistics stack-exchange about how to choose the best metric to measure calibration: http://stats.stackexchange.com/q/253443/3807

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Calibration is a technical term, which should know from reading Tetlock. Brier and logarithmic scoring are not measures of calibration.

      Maybe you want to measure accuracy, not calibration, but I think the general advice is to become calibrated first. Calibration basically means that you know what probabilities mean. If you aren’t calibrated, there is a free lunch of improving your predictions just by translating out of your confusion.

      When it’s time for accuracy, I’d choose logarithmic scoring for its good formal properties, but it doesn’t make much difference vs Brier, except that it penalizes extremes.

      • suntzuanime says:

        You can’t just focus on calibration, calibration on its own doesn’t buy you anything. “Go not to the well-calibrated for counsel, for they will say both no and yes”. Contra Socrates, knowing that you know nothing is just not all that impressive.

        On questions like this, though, where the answerer gets to pick the questions, measuring calibration is just about all you can do, because obviously it’s easy to boost your accuracy by just picking easy questions.

      • rlms says:

        “Brier and logarithmic scoring are not measures of calibration.”
        Are you sure? Quote from Tetlock here: “Calibration is when I say there’s a 70 percent likelihood of something happening, things happen 70 percent of time… Resolution, or discrimination as it’s known in the literature, is another statistical component of the Brier score, and that refers to my skill at assigning much higher probabilities to things that happen than to things that don’t happen.” (my emphasis). He seems to be saying that Brier scores do measure calibration, in the sense that they depend on it and accuracy.

  29. Well... says:

    Question for homeowners/people with plumbing knowledge:

    Is flushing one gallon from a water heater once a month better than, worse than, or about the same as flushing the whole thing once a year?

    • S_J says:

      Not really knowledgable on this…your question inspired me to have a look at my hot-water-heater, and hot-water-based home heating system. It’s been about five years since any flush was done on either, so I’m probably overdue.

      I’m not really sure…my first response would be that a complete flush once a year is better, since the idea is to remove sediment from the tank. But a partial flush ought to remove most of the sediment from the lower part of the tank, near the heating elements.

      However, the work involved in flushing the tank appears to be the same, for both partial flush and complete flush.

      For a complete flush: Close supply valve, turn down tank thermostat, let tank cool, open spigots in rest of house, drain water from tank, close drain valve, close spigots, let tank refill, turn tank thermostat back up…

      The cool-down step may not be necessary for a partial flush, but the rest of the steps appear to be necessary.

      With that amount of work being done, I don’t see the time saving in a partial flush once-a-month.

      • Well... says:

        I’ve read instructions in several different places for doing a full-tank flush. The cool-down step wasn’t listed in any of them.

        Presumably, draining a gallon takes a few seconds, and then maybe a minute for the tank to refill when I’m done. Draining the whole tank takes maybe upwards of 5 minutes, and I’m guessing it could take as long as a few hours to refill the tank afterwards (during which I’ll have no hot water). That could be significant.

        Also, to drain a gallon I just need a bucket, which I can dump in the laundry sink when I’m done. To drain the whole tank I need to unwrap the hose from my hose reel (currently in my garage) and then snake it through my basement making sure one end is over the drain in my garage and the other end is secured to my water heater. Then when I’m done I have to reattach and rewind my hose onto the hose reel, and do so without scalding myself on any hot water still left in the hose–and not spill any out into my basement.

        In fact that difference is the main reason I’m asking in the first place: the gallon-at-a-time thing sounds way easier, but I want to know if it will get me results that are as good or almost as good.

  30. Randy M says:

    On the one hand, I’d like to say hi in person and you don’t seem to get to S California much.

    On the other hand, driving across orange county at rush hour is a chore I dread.

  31. Acedia says:

    Why is there no grand, coordinated, extravagantly-funded scientific effort to discover the reasons for and combat biological aging and death?

    I know that there are some people working on it, but the number of people and amounts of money involved don’t seem commensurate with the degree to which most humans desire to prolong life and avoid aging and death. Even people who are comfortable with their own mortality tend to be quite bothered by the prospect of their loved ones dying.

    Why no Manhattan Project for senescence?

    • The Nybbler says:

      There is, but the billionaires are trying to keep it on the down low because they definitely don’t want the rest of us to stick around forever; we’re disposable labor, and if they ever get the AI robot thing going they’d rather shrink the population organically rather than get involved in messy genocide.

      Basically the method is that they openly fund these life extension efforts but they make them sound vaguely crackpotty, so no one is surprised when there are no publicly-visible results. Example : http://www.calicolabs.com/

      (Epistemic Status: paranoid)

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        This makes a lot of sense. Although you write this as if tongue in cheek, I would not be surprised if there are various secret research projects going on. Because it doesn’t make sense to greatly extend everyone’s longevity — we wouldn’t have enough space on Earth to put everyone. But if just you and me get to extend our lives — no downside to that.

        • Because it doesn’t make sense to greatly extend everyone’s longevity — we wouldn’t have enough space on Earth to put everyone.

          There is an awful lot of space on Earth.

          The critical question is whether people keep having children, whether after bringing up one family you produce another and another. If they do, you get exponential growth with a pretty fierce exponent, which pushes even my optimistic view of the carrying capacity of Earth.

          If not, all you get is linear growth, which I don’t expect to be a big problem.

          • Matt M says:

            We could have some massive wars to thin out the excess population? That’s how this stuff works, right?

          • Anonymous says:

            It would almost certainly work out that way. Am uncertain whether it’s preferable to aging or not.

          • shakeddown says:

            You’d also get exponential population if the average couple wanted more than two kids (Or in some other conditions, like if there was a significant divorce/remarriage rate and most new couples wanted kids even if they already had them). Of course, this is true even if people die.
            OTOH, if the average couple wants fewer than two kids*, you could get a finite number of people total, which is sustainable.

            *This assumes you don’t start genetically/socially selecting for families that want more kids somehow.

          • roystgnr says:

            You don’t even end up with linear growth if couples all want one child, or if they want less than two children on average and the variance in this desire isn’t correlated from generation to generation.

            (Digression: Is there any less awkward way to say “correlated from generation to generation”? The biologists seem to have appropriated “heritable” to refer solely to correlations with genetic causes.)

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Is there any less awkward way to say “correlated from generation to generation”?

            Socially heritable, environmentally heritable, non-genetically heritable (as the catch-all).

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ shakeddown

            *This assumes you don’t start genetically/socially selecting for families that want more kids somehow.

            Social selection has been going on for millenia, and GKC was predicting (and gloating about) the More Children RCs burying the rest of us. Mid-century SF authors were making the same prediction, anti-gloatingly.

          • Deiseach says:

            if there was a significant divorce/remarriage rate and most new couples wanted kids even if they already had them

            That seems to be the more likely route; with longer lives (or even the same lifespan* but no aging so that up to the age of eighty or ninety you are still in the physical state of your thirties), people are going to be breaking up and forming new partnerships even more. If “till death do us part” has already gone the way of the dodo, staying with the same partner for fifty or sixty years is also going to be increasingly rare.

            If fertility is maintained with the anti-aging, then new couples = new kid seems likely, as it does appear to be the first thing that happens when a relationship breaks up – new girlfriend gets pregnant, if she’s not already pregnant (mind you, this is going by social housing client experience, so YMMV).

            But it seems to me more likely that it will go along the lines of Joe had a kid with Sue then they split up after twenty years and he partnered with Jill and she wants a kid, while Sue is having a child with her new partner etc.

            *That’s a point I’d like cleared up: are we assuming anti-aging means indefinitely extended lifespan, or are we saying “you still only live up to a maximum of one hundred years but you don’t get feeble and lose physical and mental capacity as you would if normal aging happened”?

          • @ Deiseach:

            The model I’m mostly going with is one where you get to be in functional physical condition, say somewhere between twenty and fifty, for an unlimited length of time, although of course you can still get run over by a car or have a heart attack.

            Ideally, if you are past that point when the technology is invented, as I already am, it lets you get physically younger again, but that’s only an issue at the beginning.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t think any public figure can take much advantage of secret life extension methods. They could live to be ninety or so in spite of having bad genes, but anything interesting would be conspicuous.

        Maybe they could pretend to be their own heir, but that’s going to get harder as the amount of surveilance increases.

        Even popping into the world as a new person with an inconspicuous financial safety net is going to get harder.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Maybe they could pretend to be their own heir, but that’s going to get harder as the amount of surveilance increases.

          Harder, but likely a problem money and well-connected allies who also want their life extended can’t solve.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Because Aubrey de Gray won’t shave his God damned beard.

      I’m kind of serious. Dude has a thoughtful and intelligent plan for approaching the issue that gets around the seeming impossibility of ending aging — break the problem into smaller ones that are more approachable, even if you don’t like his specific choices, this is a complicated issue with various parts of the body failing in different ways and there may be lots of small solutions we can quickly progress on instead of one big one — but because he looks like a crackpot, people don’t take him seriously, and because someone who looks like a crackpot is the most prominent advocate of the issue (thanks to the media loving to point their cameras at weirdos) people don’t take the issue seriously.

      Elon Musk bangs on about cities on Mars and AI risk. He also combs his hair and wears a nice shirt. This is important.

      • Eh, more quack then anything else.

        You might as well say “Nanomachines, Son” for lots of his remedies. Actually accomplishing the “live-forever” correctly in any meaningful sense implies having post-singularity technology…and who knows what our stupidly arranged atoms can be arranged for.

        For non-post singularity tech, seems like most/all of his ideas are sub-sets of research already being done around the globe. Who isn’t trying to create molecular nano-tech that better interacts with cellular tech these days?

        He isn’t a total quack…which is why he is successful. Another non-total quack who has too much quack for me to recommend is Tim Ferris.

        I disagree that his odd appearance is hurting him. I think it makes him a distinctive media figure.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          It’s not the remedies that he proposes which make sense, so much as just the very, very high level approach and how that would be introduced to the public. Most people imagine anti-aging as some kind of magical fountain of youth formula, which is hard to take seriously. But treating the various aspects of aging as individual diseases? Divide and conquer, in a calm, non-flashy manner? Now you’re talking.

          I disagree that his odd appearance is hurting him. I think it makes him a distinctive media figure.

          It works for him, yes. But it doesn’t work for the respectability of the field.

          • Ok. I think the word “Quack” is unfair in his case. If he didn’t ask for donations, what he is doing could be inspiring.

            Ok. If there was a budget vetted by trusted third parties of where any donations, that was verifiable as to where the money was going to, then it would no longer be quack status.

            I may be a bit cynical, but a mental heuristic for a great deal of anything in medicine is “scammer/quack” status, when perhaps the word doesn’t apply.

            Maybe some of the money in his organization actually *does* go into real research.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Elon Musk bangs on about cities on Mars and AI risk. He also combs his hair and wears a nice shirt. This is important.

        Is it? I just got through Ashlee Vance’s book, and the overwhelming theme is that Musk didn’t really get taken seriously about his non-software stuff until Tesla shipped the Roadster (really, until they shipped the Model S) and until the Falcon 1 launched (really, until the Falcon 9 delivered cargo to the ISS). And really seriously once it landed.

        Results speak louder than clothing, and I think that’s the way it should be. Just speaking about Musk here, it was extremely easy to found an electric-car or aerospace startup; it was much harder to perform the feats of management and engineering required to get it to actually work.

        tl;dr, talk is cheap; if de Grey did something fantastic, no one would care about his weird beard.

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t know, I think having a nice appearance is “necessary, but not sufficient” for being taken seriously.

          Basically, nobody is going to even bother analyzing the credibility and reasonableness if you look like this. Of course some people with sharp suits will still be dismissed as quacks, but people are more likely to at least look at the evidence before doing so.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          And how did Musk get to the point where he was shipping electric cars and launching rockets in the first place? Not by having a weird beard, that’s for sure.

          • rlms says:

            I dare say that he would’ve still got to the same point if he’d had a weird beard when he founded a company that merged into PayPal.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why is there no grand, coordinated, extravagantly-funded scientific effort to discover the reasons for and combat biological aging and death?

      Because it’s very damn complicated and where do you even start? Also, trying to make sure people don’t die of cancers, diseases and disorders in the first place before getting into “there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just getting older, how do we stop that” takes precedence because unless you get that surgery for appendicitis when you’re thirty, you’re not going to be around to worry about “hey, now I’m ninety-five, how much longer do I got?”

      • Matt M says:

        Makes sense. The #1 killers are still things like cancer, heart disease, and auto accidents. Why spend a lot of time and effort on the aging process when the vast majority of people die from other things before they get to the aging process?

        • MF says:

          If we cured “cancer”, life expectancy would only rise by 3 years, as far as I’ve read. I haven’t looked too much into the research behind the exact number. (source, source)

          Heart disease doesn’t kill that many more, or so a quick Google search is giving me. I think you’re overestimating the impact we’d get fixing those things.

          Cancer and heart disease are also linked to aging, so if we “fix” aging we’re likely to mostly fix a ton of diseases which are “caused” by it.

        • MF says:

          Curing cancer only gains you 3.3 years extra life expectancy according to most sources I’ve read, and cancer/heart disease are often “caused” by aging. I think you’re overestimating the impact of those diseases, and underestimating how much would be helped if we understood and could deal with aging better.

          (I had sources in this post but SSC hated them. Sorry about that. Don’t care to figure out which ones it hated.)

          Edit: But try here: http://asserttrue.blogspot.ca/2013/02/taeubers-paradox-and-life-expectancy.html#

        • MF says:

          Curing cancer only gains you 3.3 years extra life expectancy according to most sources I’ve read, and cancer/heart disease are often “caused” by aging. I think you’re overestimating the impact of those diseases, and underestimating how much would be helped if we understood and could deal with aging better.

          (I had sources in this post but SSC hated them. Sorry about that. Don’t care to figure out which ones it hated.)

          Edit: Found this really nice table of life expectancy vs disease limited, but SSC hates it. Have a mangled link:

          http://asserttrue dotgoeshere blog removespacehere spot.ca/2013/02/taeubers-paradox-and-life-expectancy.html#

          Not sure if link mangling is against the rules. I feel uncomfortable having done it. Someone please tell me if doing this was in bad taste.

        • Why spend a lot of time and effort on the aging process when the vast majority of people die from other things before they get to the aging process?

          Do you think that’s true in modern developed countries? U.S. life expectancy is currently about 79. By 79 the aging process is beginning to have a significant effect, in part by making more likely the things people die from thereafter.

        • Mary says:

          Cancer is chiefly caused by the accumulation of mutations over a lifetime. (Or so I was told when I went in for genetic testing.) So there’s going to be no way to handle the aging process that doesn’t tackle cancer.

      • Mary says:

        One also notes that time was that senility was “you’re just getting older.” More and more of the “aging process” might be solved by slipping free of it to become first a disease and then (one hopes) a treatable one or even a curable one.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        There’s a substantial genetic component to aging.

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898394/

        I’ve heard that there are people who are healthy into their nineties and then die fairly quickly, which is about as good a deal as the universe generally offers at this point. They’re being studied. I hope it turns out to be something that can be bottled.

        Substantial gains in longevity– even something modest like living to be 200– are a much harder problem. I believe that most medical ethicists who are alive today won’t live long enough for the question to be a practical problem.

        How much do I really believe that last sentence? Fair-to-middling. I very much doubt that an eighty-year-old medical ethicist will live that long, and I find it conceivable that a thirty-year-old medical ethicist might. I don’t know the age distribution of medical ethicists.

    • Well... says:

      There are some ethical/philosophical/spiritual arguments why it’s a bad idea. I’m not qualified to represent any of them myself, but good arguments should be easy to find.

      • albertborrow says:

        There are plenty of better (personal opinion) arguments for researching medical immortality, I’m not qualified to represent any of them myself, but you could throw two stones in the rationalist community and hit ten of them.

        • Well... says:

          I don’t imagine the rationalist community has any spiritual arguments in favor of medical immortality, since isn’t that community an atheistic one?

    • MF says:

      The big factors I can think of, though people seem to have already mentioned most:

      * It seems weird, the people who support it seem weird. It’s not ‘cool’ to support it. Look at how people who support cryogenics are mocked. (Edit: Cryonics, not cryogenics. Woops.)

      * People don’t believe it’s possible, and it is in fact very hard.

      * (Note: not super confident.) If you believed death was bad and scary before modern science, you were kind of fucked and set up for a life of existential dread.

      (Not that I think it’s very likely we’ll fix aging in my lifetime. The current state of scientific research in general is depressing.)

      Therefore, there’s been strong incentives for belief structures to spring up which explain why death is fine/good. Said systems mean next to no one wants aging cured.

      • Eh. I am very negative on the current state of cryogenics. As I wrote before to another comment, all this “eternal life tech” is all post-singularity tech. Your atoms can be arranged more productively then whatever form *you* take…if it ends up that everything isn’t pointless.

        Cryogenics right now is a million dollar scam for the desperate. I don’t view it more charitably then I would someone offering a million dollars for a ritual of American Indian dancers to take you to the afterlife.(though maybe the Egyptians have something to offer. The Mummy was a good movie)

        • Tedd says:

          The person you’re replying to made the same mistake, but…

          Cryogenics is the science of cold things. Cryonics is the speculative pursuit of preserving humans and other animals for later revival. Cryogenicists will get mad at you if you mix them up.

          It’s also considerably cheaper than a million dollars. As to whether it’s a scam… well, what odds would you give of it working, either in its current state (that is, such that people preserved today could eventually be revived) or in fifty years’ time? One in a thousand? A million? At what odds would it stop being a scam?

        • MF says:

          I agree – and I think most people interested in it do – that cryonics is a longshot. I wouldn’t give it more than 5-10% chances of working at most. But for the incredibly cheap cost ($80k USD for Alcor), I would certainly say it’s worth it.

          Perhaps you’d disagree, and that’s fine – obviously people are going to have different thresholds for when it becomes “worth it”. 5% for $80k just happens to be in the right league for me. Mocking people, like I’ve seen in many places, goes too far in my personal opinion.

          • I’m not talking about it being a longshot or not being a longshot. The technology will work eventually given some rate of scientific progress that isn’t asymptotic, or some catastrophe destroys civilization.

            The technology will work eventually, I believe that. I critique it on other grounds.

            Namely..nobody will revive themselves just to die in another 30 years due to your body breaking down in a variety of ways. Nobody will want, given other options, to live their life as a person with damaged memory, bad knees, if tech can reverse/repair/improve that too.

            The tech to really give eternal life in the way we ask for it gives super-intelligence, physical capabilities around super-power levels…and the both of those in conjunction give…a level of control of the physical world that’s unpredictable, but very very high.

            If your atomic structure can’t be used in some other way better then your measly body and memories…then that’s a worst case scenario, and besides genetic forcing of survival instinct I would not want to live in a world like that.

            If the atoms in your body can be used in some better way then you are now, then the super-intelligences(perhaps made from humans) will do so with them.

            If that singularity tech can’t be made, its someone scamming you.

            If it can be, *you*, in any meaningful sense that anyone talks about… you won’t revive.

          • Tedd says:

            TheBearsHaveArrived:

            I dispute “If it can be, *you*, in any meaningful sense that anyone talks about… you won’t revive”, but that’s a philosophical question. Moreover, it looks like what you’re suggesting is that people will choose a better alternative, instead of merely being revived and cured of whatever killed them. If that’s the case, isn’t that better than the thing people are currently hoping for (mere revival), and so worth more, not less?

            But also, those are some strong assertions about the future. How confident are you in them?

          • The ability to successfully accomplish all the goals of cryonics are nothing less then eternal healthy youth, and a reverse engineering of the brain in order to restore and repair those algorithms and outputs of data structures (memories) within an acceptable boundary.

            With the nano-tech and absurd technology involved in doing that…all you have to do is replace the slow circuitry in the brain with electric circuits 1,000—1,000,000 times faster, with possibly 1,000,000 of those in parallel. Or 1,000,000,000 — 1,000,000,000,000 variants of the smartest human brain of all time working together. That’s not saying about finding algorithms of the same purpose that are more powerful and more efficient then evolution could find.

            With technology that great, that’s when people are asking questions like

            1. Will these absurdly intelligent computer *gods* use all material in the solar system for various purposes? What would they use it for? Have they found a meaning to life, a great meaning to life worthy of pursuit of planetary resources….or have they found the nihilists were right. Or even is 42 the answer?

            Or a slight variation, assuming human life is (somehow) relatable to the current age(and still it would not be at all)

            “Will there be a global moratorium on having babies since people can live forever. Or people now buy years of life (somehow) from those who have been unlucky in an accident or decided to end it all.”

            Not

            “Old jimmy is gonna wake up except now he will be in his early 20’s prime! Lets go listening to our favorite music”

            You can’t really …compute probabilities of waking up normally again of the sort we typically do in real life like “X said he will go the movies. its raining today. Based on what I know about X, I think he has >50% chance of going to the movies” Or even “Country Y and Z chance of war this decade. If so, who wins(an easier question)?”.

            Life in the future with those requisite technologies and capabilities from them will be so removed from life now that you might as well not plan any real decisions anyways relating to now for then. Or, not sign up for cryonics.

            I do view the people involved in the industry a bit negatively. Cryonics is the thing most commonly mentioned in sci-fi to revive the dead, kindof makes sense of a surface level, and regardless of intelligence level human desperation will ensure lots of people sign up…for a hefty price.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I think that the most likely outcome for those buying into cryonics, aside from it simply not working (let’s face it, anyone selling cryonics in this day and age is unequivocally full of shit), is something akin to Warrren Ellis’ “Revivals”, and while Ellis works it into a good story it’s hardly what most people would call a desirable outcome.

    • Mark says:

      Well… there are hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in the field at the moment.

      Why not more?

      I think the best example of something like this is probably global warming. You have some people screaming at the top of their lungs that more needs to be done or it’s the end of the world, it becomes a bit of a buzzword, gradually the idea begins to hold some sway over the minds of those in power, but inertia means that not much gets done.
      Meanwhile the rest of us just kind of shrug our shoulders. We’re perfectly happy to accept that global warming is a terrible problem (at least intellectually) but it just doesn’t excite us. Sorry.

      I guess most people feel the same way about ageing.

      • There are arguments purporting to show that global warming will eventually do bad, perhaps terrible, things. Aging is killing fifty to a hundred million people a year, including lots of rich and influential people. I don’t think those are comparable situations.

        • I am convinced by the “eventually” claims. It just doesn’t seem likely that the trends *this* century will be terrible.

          Forgetting about the ocean acidification issue(which I can’t analyze,but everyone says its a really bad thing) my bets would be that for this century, the (slight) temperature increase and increased CO2 levels would be good for overall food production.

          Aging eventually kills every person alive, or will kill every person alive if not killed by another cause. They are not really in the same ballpark of evils right now.

    • Riothamus says:

      The Manhattan Project is a really bad way to conceptualize the problem. It was a single, convulsive effort to solve an all-or-nothing problem that had just materialized in a period of crisis.

      By contrast, people have always aged and died, and the problem is currently the least it has ever been. Why would people even consider an emergency effort to combat it?

      • cassander says:

        It’s worse than that. For the manhattan project, the theoretical basis of a bomb had already been worked out and proved mathematically. The engineering was difficult, but it was engineering, not raw science. Engineering problems can be solved by throwing enough money at them, science problems not so much. Manhattan would only be analogous if we already had, and knew how to make, knew how to make a longevity serum, the problem was just to mass produce it.

      • orangecat says:

        the problem is currently the least it has ever been

        Can you explain that? My impression would be that aging is an increasing problem, because a smaller percentage of people are dying from non-age-related causes.

        • Deiseach says:

          That’s probably the first part of the solution: get people living long enough so that aging becomes a problem. You can only worry about “when I’m eighty I will be wracked with arthritis” if you can be sure of getting to eighty and not dying in your forties.

          And secondarily, people probably are healthier now than they used to be; sixty was considered “elderly” (or at least getting there) but a lot of sixty years old people nowadays are much more active and physically able than they would have been in previous generations.

        • Riothamus says:

          In absolute terms, I agree; a larger population that lives longer makes aging a bigger problem in absolute terms than it was previously. There is also the possibility of average lifespan technically dropping in the U.S.

          I mean this rather in the sense of least worrisome to individuals. Longer lifespans are generally considered a victory. The places in the world where aging affects individuals for the longest period are also the places in the world where the most options are available to combat, treat, and reduce suffering from it. There are also a lot of independent projects that address the big concerns associated with it, like organ failure or Alzheimer’s disease.

          I like the idea of solving the problem of aging, but I am much more preoccupied with the problems of pestilence, famine, and war. Aging is not an emergency, merely inconvenient.

          • I like the idea of solving the problem of aging, but I am much more preoccupied with the problems of pestilence, famine, and war. Aging is not an emergency, merely inconvenient.

            The problem of famine has been solved, except in the special case of engineered famines, generally due to war.

            The other two have not, but neither of them kills as many people per year as aging does.

          • bean says:

            I think we’ve come nearly as far as we have in solving war as we have in solving famine. Wars between major powers used to happen every couple of decades, but we’ve been 70 years without one.

      • Acedia says:

        Why would people even consider an emergency effort to combat it?

        If personal immortality isn’t enough of a draw, not wanting their kids to die, maybe. Most parents I know seem extremely upset by the thought of their children dying, including the ones whose children are adults. The only comfort they have right now is knowing that unless they’re unlucky they won’t be around to see it.

  32. Anonymous Colin says:

    Any Recommendations for books (or other media) on constructing polls and surveys, or using survey data?

    I’m not looking for anything too heavy. I have a stats background but have never had to get my hands dirty with actual research methods along these lines.

    As a rough signpost towards what I’m looking for: I know what a Likert-type scale is, but I only know that because I stumbled across it in some psych literature, looked it up, and went “oh, yeah, I recognise that”. I would like something that introduces me to relevant terminology and best-practises. I presume there are research method handbooks that will do this, but I don’t really know what to search for.

    • Well... says:

      I’d think a beginner textbook on social research would do the trick. Just use caution, because apparently they are often fraught with the political views of their authors. (The one I’m reading through is by a guy named Rubin Neuman [edit: got the name wrong].)

  33. Anonymous says:

    I’m reading De Jouvenel’s On Power, and it got me thinking.

    How would one design a government structure if the goal was to a) maximally reduce the frequency of law changes (so for example, a generation or two could pass without substantial changes in what is legal or illegal to do), b) have this type of government be competitive against existing real-world governments (so it could defend itself successfully, rather than be annexed by the first president to look at it funny).

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      My uninformed thoughts:

      1) Make most laws of permanent duration, but adapting to changing circumstances (e.g. adjust for monetary and life-span inflation any laws/fines pertaining to money or incarceration time, respectively). Otherwise a period of inflation or deflation would substantially change things vis-a-vis real-world equivalencies.

      2) As per the US Constitution: Up the relative percentages of aggregate groups which would have to vote in favor of a law change.

      3) A) Keep this relative percentage sufficiently less than unanimity such that a significant enough proportion of the population doesn’t feel the need to revolt.

      B) Allow escape mechanisms (e.g. even up to emigration) for the part of the population that truly will not tolerate unchangingness.

      • albertborrow says:

        I think you’re on to something. I mean, the laws of physics seem to be constant, and yet they allow for variation by being functions of time (roughly). If we had a good enough understanding of the human psyche to create a formula that predicts what legislation we need and when we need it, we can use that formula to keep a single set of established rules for an indefinite period of time.

        Like psychohistory, only even more implausible.

    • Furslid says:

      I think this would require limiting the scope of law significantly. There are lots of societal changes, such as increasing acceptance of homosexuality. There are a lot of social movements with pet causes, like stopping factory farming. You would have to make these changes not require changes in law.

      If each societal change requires changes in law, that’s not good. Also any group that is lobbying for a change in law will need an alternative course of action to advance its goals.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think this would require limiting the scope of law significantly. There are lots of societal changes, such as increasing acceptance of homosexuality. There are a lot of social movements with pet causes, like stopping factory farming. You would have to make these changes not require changes in law.

        Removing the power of people to advance their pet cause of the day by putting the force of state power behind it is the point of this exercise. If these interest groups cannot make due without enforcing their will from on high, they get to take a hike.

        If each societal change requires changes in law, that’s not good. Also any group that is lobbying for a change in law will need an alternative course of action to advance its goals.

        Ergo decedo, suggested above by anonymousskimmer, seems adequate.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          An EU-like confederacy of small governments, some of which are legally conservative, some of which are legally changeable. With no such governments “land-locked” by governments of the same orientation as themselves.

          Have them be large enough that people can live their lives entirely within one government, without significant constraints, but small enough that they can travel to at least a couple of neighboring governments within two hours.

          So something between gated communities and a small US state in size.

          This would largely prevent people from being upset about constraints such as abortion and marriage laws (you’d just move to a neighboring state while retaining your job in the state whose laws you don’t like, or vice versa).

          • Jiro says:

            That has problems with governments that tax people at one point in their life and use it to pay benefits at another point. People will get educated in the free education states and work in the no-school-tax states.

            You could force people to pay back the “benefits” before moving, but that has its own problems.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            People will get educated in the free education states and work in the no-school-tax states.

            Currently, at least everywhere I’ve paid taxes in the US, you pay school taxes in the school district in which you are domiciled, and you also send you kids to school in the same district.

          • Deiseach says:

            you’d just move to a neighboring state while retaining your job in the state whose laws you don’t like, or vice versa

            Where are you taxed? State of domicile or state of employment? Unless there were a standard law, you could end up double-taxed (I can see a lot of tax lawyers becoming very busy with everyone trying to find loopholes in how much and what state they pay tax; I’m thinking of all the Irish businessmen who became citizens of Monaco for tax purposes).

          • John Schilling says:

            Currently, at least everywhere I’ve paid taxes in the US, you pay school taxes in the school district in which you are domiciled, and you also send you kids to school in the same district.

            You send your kids to school for approximately fifteen years of your life; you pay income and/or property taxes for about sixty years of your life. There is no requirement that you spend all sixty years living in the same district. My parents, for example, moved to the congenial suburb with the great public schools when I was about two, and left about a year after my younger brother left for college.

        • Furslid says:

          Right, so how are people who are advocating change going to advance their agenda? Those people aren’t going to go away. I’d love a cultural change from trying to pass laws to trying to convince people. Without that cultural change, I don’t think it could work.

          I’d love to have a society with much less laws and very static ones. However, I think that a majority of the population has a cause that they like well enough to allow legal changes.

    • cassander says:

      Give relatively small minorities the power to repeal laws, but not pass them. After an initial adjustment period, you’d settle into a lower change equilibrium. Probably…..

      • HeelBearCub says:

        That sounds like a really bad set-up. Super majorities to pass, maybe.

        Minorities can repeal is just a call for hostage taking and general bad blood.

        • cassander says:

          Super majorities to pass leads to endless logrolling over basic functions like passing budgets. It also leads to stasis, because once passed, changing laws remains difficult. Minority repeal achieves the same beneficial effect (large degree of consensus needed to sustain legislation) but only if the a substantial minority can be organized around the issue, meaning many fewer opportunities for rent seeking holdouts.

          • hlynkacg says:

            This is my sense as well.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not seeing how supermajority support to pass a budget is worse than minority repeal of the same budget from an “endless logrolling” perspective?

            I pass a budget. You immediately repeal it. Unlike “supermajority required” we have to go through all of the logrolling for the budget before we can know whether you are going to repeal it. Its the same requirement as “supermajority to pass” but with more steps.

            In addition, any sort of “I will vote for this thing if you vote for that thing” is compromised and unstable because those who are dissatisfied can take many bites at the repeal apple.

            To argue against my own side, there is a small difference in acts of commission and omission, but absent norms against voting to repeal (which you probably don’t want) I’m not really seeing it making a big difference.

          • hlynkacg says: