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OT73: I Lik The Thred

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

1. I’ve already gotten reports of successful SSC meetups in Austin and Oslo. The Austin one was bigger than my quarter-of-people-will-actually-show-up rule would have predicted (more like half), so future organizers be warned. If you’re interested in going to a meetup, check the meetup thread for times and places in your city. If you already went to one this weekend, let me know how it went!

2. Comments of the week: K explains the bizarre ways scuba divers act when they’re running out of air. John Nerst uses meetup data to calculate different cities’ SSC readers per capita. And SomethingElse on what it means to criticize fields.

3. In Chesterton On AI Risk, the, uh, Chesterton manuscript was kind of mean to Maciej Ceglowski and said he talked a big talk about helping the poor but probably didn’t donate much to charity himself. He notes that he actually donates a lot to charity, including a $15000 donation to MSF last year. Although the whole thing was kind of a joke, it crossed the line insofar as it insulted real, named individuals. The, uh, Chesterton manuscript regrets the error, and I’ve added this (and some other things) to the Mistakes page.

4. Some people have complained that the comment section here fills up so quickly that they’re discouraged from participating. One crazy suggestion is to split it in two – figure out some way to mirror the site with half the commenters going to one version and the other half going to the other, so that each one has a manageable number of comments. Then the best comments from both can be highlighted in the open thread. I don’t know how to do this technically right now and before I try to figure it out I want to see if people actually think this is a good idea, so please take this short survey to vote.

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907 Responses to OT73: I Lik The Thred

  1. I was wondering if anyone here could provide good criticisms of Shawn Achor. A friend of mine is impressed by the idea that life/work/etc is all about focusing on being positive and happy, and feels that Shawn Achor provides sufficient scientific evidence to support this idea.

    I have no doubt that workers being relatively happy results in much better productivity than miserable workers, and that balanced positivity can be ok, but as a general life philosophy I have deep problems with it. I find people who focus a lot on positivity rather than realism are almost universally difficult to deal with and tend towards uselessness in most fields that require rational thinking (massive pessimists). I also feel like our culture’s strong philosophical tendency towards positivity makes people oversensitive to criticism, unable to self-correct their faults, and prone to shy away from difficult truths and difficult tasks. However I am not able to provide any strong refutation of the claim that “the scientific evidence shows that positivity makes people more effective” because of lack of familiarity with this particular topic.

    I was wondering if any rationalists or others could provide some thoughts on this topic, as I feel this view might be harmful to my friend at times? I’m willing to move on my view in the face of strong arguments/evidence.

    • In above it should read (massive pessimists can also be difficult). For some reason I am unable to edit it :-/

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      So I googled Shawn Achor, and now I have a scientific observation:

      There is a large overlap between Positive Psychology proponents and people I have an urge to punch in the face.

      Edit to add some substance:

      So I watched his TED Talk (and I think if you give a TED Talk, you’re implicitly claiming that your important points can be summarized in a TED Talk, and therefore it’s permissible to judge them/you by your TED Talk), and there’s this slide near the end:

      • 3 Gratitudes
      • Journaling
      • Exercise
      • Meditation
      • Random Acts of Kindness

      …and I could swear I’ve run across some institution somewhere (that’s not a psychology department) that promotes 4/5 of those, but is not very popular on college campuses.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Replying more directly to your question:

      I think the Rationalist response would be something like, “If something is positive, I desire to feel positive about it, and if something is negative, I desire to feel negative about it—to the degree that it’s actually positive or negative.” Anybody who’s ever been depressed, known someone whose been depressed, or been on the same planet as someone who’s ever been depressed has seen catastrophizing in action: taking some small setback and interpreting it (incorrectly) as a much larger, catastrophically bad, problem. This is one type of cognitive error.

      You may also know people who don’t seem to realize how bad their circumstances are and how much they need to make a change; they’re the kind of people who fall off a hundred-story building and, when you ask them from a 50th-floor window how they’re doing, they yell, “So far, so goooooood!” Reckless drivers, some drug addicts, over-spenders—all suffer from cognitive errors in this direction.

      The key is to accurately perceive reality, and then, if it’s positive, to make sure you feel positively about it; in Achor’s example, you shouldn’t feel negative about finding a class hard for the first time, you should feel positive about the fact that it’s at fricking Harvard.

      In technical fields, there’s a lot of negative stuff: impossible schedules, unavoidable errors, reality not behaving the way you want. Relentless focus on feeling positive leads you to cheerfully accept the death-march schedule of Project Baton, happily assume if there were bugs in your code you would have noticed them by now, or optimistically predict that one of those compounds we’re investigating must be effective. I work with lots of different software-development teams, and it’s frequently difficult to get them to realize how bad their circumstances are, which in turn means it’s hard to get them to start thinking about solutions.

      The case of software bugs is personally interesting; I started using developer-written unit tests years ago. I initially felt very negative about the number of bugs I was finding in my own code: look at all these dumb mistakes! I’m not as good as I thought I was!

      I quickly came around to the view that those bugs would be there whether I tested or not, and that bugs that are caught before anyone else sees the code have essentially no negative effects. Therefore finding all these bugs was something to feel positive about. Talking to other developers who unit-tested revealed that I was actually pretty average in the number of bugs I was creating, and that over 90% of all bugs are simple, stupid mistakes.

      (In addition, the fast feedback finding bugs led me to start noticing them just before I wrote them, rather than just after, which made me slightly more efficient, and made me notice that some styles of development were less bug-prone than others, which made me significantly more efficient. But that doesn’t have anything to do with positive psychology.)

  2. Zorgon says:

    On the subject of skulls lining the roads, here’s one of the current top stories from Huffington Post (South Africa version):

    “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise?”
    https://archive.fo/LN5fV

    • The Nybbler says:

      On the subreddit, some suspect this is a hoax.

      • Kevin C. says:

        On what evidence/basis?

      • Kevin C. says:

        As an addition, let me add Huffington Post South Africa’s Editor-in-Chief Verashni Pillay’s follow-up defense of the piece against the pushback mail they received.

        Garland’s underlying analysis about the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world is pretty standard for feminist theory. It has been espoused in many different ways by feminist writers and theorists for decades now. In that sense, there was nothing in the article that should have shocked or surprised anybody (or so we thought.) It would appear that perhaps much of the outcry derives from a very poor reading of the article — or perhaps none at all. Dismantling the patriarchal systems that have brought us to where we are today, a world where power is wielded to dangerous and destructive ends by men, and in particular white men, necessarily means a loss of power to those who hold it. A loss of oppressive power. Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.

        • Matt M says:

          Garland’s underlying analysis about the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world is pretty standard for feminist theory. It has been espoused in many different ways by feminist writers and theorists for decades now. In that sense, there was nothing in the article that should have shocked or surprised anybody (or so we thought.)

          I’ve never agreed more with a Huffington Post editor.

          Edit: And the AnCap in me is absolutely delighted to hear her refer to voting as “oppressive power.”

        • Zorgon says:

          I come away from that link with the overwhelming sensation that the writer of that response is in possession of more actual privilege in every conceivable real-world metric than any white male in the last 3 generations of my family.

  3. p duggie says:

    Does Neil deGrasse Tyson see the skulls lining the roads? or are skulls eliminated in the virtual country Rationalia?

    • Nornagest says:

      Not that “Rationalia” didn’t deserve mockery, but I don’t see the relevance here. That’s not the same kind of rationality.

  4. zmpster says:

    Does anyone have a concise convincing rebuttal of Charles Murray’s work on intelligence/ The Bell Curve? I started reading up on him after Clarifications to Sacred Principles as Exhaustible Resources, and everything he says sounds very sensible. But also, a lots of people think he’s wrong. What can I read to decide for myself?

    • crescentsmom says:

      I don’t have the concise convincing rebuttal, but I want to second this comment/request!

      In general, I have been wondering for a while what the SSC community thinks about Charles Murray, and would like to see those opinions grouped together in a relatively prominent position. Would this be an appropriate use of the reddit?

    • Protagoras says:

      Ned Block seems to exaggerate in places, and I’ve been told that there is subsequent research addressing some of his points, but he identifies a number of what seem to be genuine mistakes in The Bell Curve itself, some of which continue to be made by its advocates. It may be that the most sophisticated HBD types do not make any of those mistakes, but in my experience their discussions are more likely to ignore these issues than to have convincing counter-rebuttals.

      • keranih says:

        Protagoras –

        Thanks for that link. I enjoyed it for the red-headed stepchild analogy in and of itself, and I think he does a good job of separating out heritable and genetic determination.

        It was very hard for me to get past his initial set up of a strawman argument, though, and I would be glad of another source if anyone has one.

  5. HeelBearCub says:

    There is an article on Slate by a vision researcher about the white&gold/blue&black dress.

    It’s interesting and it has a link to a short survey that will help further this research.

    It also includes the sentence”The brain cannot be accused of epistemic modesty.”, so I had to link it.

    • random832 says:

      I love that this actually mentions the perception that the dress was in shadow.

      Too many contemporaneous analyses (including xkcd) just put the colors of the dress on a dark and white background and called it a day, without accounting for why when the dress was in fact blue and black, and in the picture in fact had it against a white background, was seen by anyone as white and gold.

      • acrimonymous says:

        The other problem with the xkcd comic is that the dress against the white background still doesn’t look like the same hues as the actual dress–not enough blue saturation and too much pigment in the “black”.

  6. acrimonymous says:

    Here’s a question I posed to my vegetarian friend: why can’t you eat pigs’ ears?

    Pigs’ ears are prepared because they are available, but no one would kill a pig in order to obtain pigs’ ears–they are simply a biproduct of manufacturing pork meat. Since no one kills pigs for the ears, what’s wrong with eating them?

    • Aapje says:

      1. Eating any meat may make you desire more of it
      2. Not all vegetarians refuse to eat meat because they are against animals being kept for food. Some are for health reasons or other reasons.
      3. Vegetarians who would still enjoy eating meat, might not want to eat what they perceive as second-rate meat
      4. It may be confusing to the people they interact with if the self-proclaimed vegetarian eats some meat and not other meat & can result in irritating debates that they don’t want to have
      5. Vegetarians presumably already get dismissive comments about their choice and presumably people who admit to eating pigs’ ears get dismissive comments about that. So it seems likely that many vegetarians won’t want both types of dismissive comments.
      6. Research shows that a very large percentage of self-proclaimed vegetarians do regularly eat meat (about 1/3rd), while I don’t think that there are a significant number of people who don’t eat meat, but who don’t identify as vegetarians. So the identity of ‘vegetarian’ seems quite valuable
      7. Schelling fence: vegetarians may be worried about brand dilution if they allow people to call themselves vegetarian and still eat some meat.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      I’m thinking you’ve never tasted pig’s ear, if you had, you wouldn’t ask what’s wrong with eating it. (given anything else edible is available.)

    • Philosophisticat says:

      If you are paying for a pig’s ear, then you are still increasing the profitability of raising pigs for slaughter, which encourages the practice.

      In addition to the forward looking reason, many people think that you have backwards-looking reasons not to partake of the product of deeply immoral practices even if they do not have any effect on that practice going forward.

      • acrimonymous says:

        You must be using “encourage” as a form of ethical jargon. Looks like ears retail for about $2.50 per pig, but what is the farmer getting? $1-$2? When the whole pig is, maybe, $600, it seems like the profit from the ears could easily be made up by a marginal rise in the price per pound of the parts people actually kill the pig to get. It’s hard to accept eating the ears actually encourages the practice.

        It’s not a pressing concern to me, but I should look into backwards-looking reasons more sometime. I think there’s actually a possibility that the effect of a single person becoming a vegetarian is to decrease animal welfare going forward. (Industrial production and distribution is too complex to say no steak today equals more cow tomorrow.–>The price system is imperfect information. The market is likely to interpret a dropped customer as a economic decision rather than an ethical one and try to provide the product at a lower price.–>The easiest way to reduce costs in animal production is making conditions worse for the animals.)

        • keranih says:

          @ acrimonymous –

          I was confused by your examples of cost at the retail vs what the farmer got.

          Looks like ears retail for about $2.50 per pig, but what is the farmer getting? $1-$2?

          No, they’re not getting 50 cents on the dollar for retail prices. See this Texas livestock sale page.
          (Granted, this isn’t what the whole industry is getting paid, but it should give you an idea of the actual numbers at play.)

          A butcher-size pig is about 250 pounds, and is sold for around $0.35 per pound, live weight, for a total return to the farmer of about $85-90/pig. Most of that goes back into feed, most of the left over goes into transport, most of the left over from that goes into land taxes and facilities, with something for medical care thrown in.

          • Nornagest says:

            Huh. If you have a big freezer and you’re handy with a knife, it sounds like you could save a lot of money on meat by buying live.

            Of course, that does leave you with the problem of getting a 250-pound pig home and humanely killing it.

          • keranih says:

            Yes.

            If one is interested, can I recommend this volume?

            The issue is that about 40-50% of the live weight is waste. So one would have to dispose of 100-120 lbs of damp stank. And of the non-waste, a non-trivial amount should only be served as sausage heavily cut with sage and pepper.

            Butchers earn their wage, and the markup.

    • Matt M says:

      Well you end up with something of a perverse incentive in that, if you actually did convince some critical mass of people to become ear-eating vegetarians, there IS a point at which pigs WILL be slaughtered primarily for their ears, and then all the people who became vegetarians conditional upon still being able to eat meat in pork-ear form will be told they suddenly have to go cold turkey.

      • acrimonymous says:

        Ah, but the likelihood of converting vegetarians to orrechiatarianism is much greater than the likelihood of converting omnivores, so this not likely to happen.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I generally agree with him, but I also hew to what he calls the “classical” view for presidential war powers. I think the Syria strike is pretty easily argued as legal if you’ve already adopted the Yoo interpretation of war powers, which he glosses over in a footnote.

      • Brad says:

        Not specifically about the Syrian strike, but when John Yoo is writing op-eds saying the Republican President is going too far on unilateral Presidential actions, you know something is wrong:
        https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/opinion/executive-power-run-amok.html

        • Randy M says:

          But is this any different from things the last 3 presidents have done?

          • Brad says:

            By ‘this’ do you mean the Syrian strike?

            Assuming so–

            Marty Lederman distinguishes Libya on the basis of the security council resolution. To him this fits within his “third way”. Iraq and Afghanistan had AUMFs. He does mention Kosovo as “troubling” and that’s probably the closest conflict on point.

            For myself, I think the Libyan action was illegal as a domestic matter because it was not accompanied by the notification required to Congress required by the War Powers Act, and in the absence of the War Powers Act would have been flatly unconstitutional. Given my view of the Libyan attacks, I find the protests of illegality of the Syrian action from those that supported the Libyan actions (like Lederman) to be substantially weaker than they would be coming from someone who condemned both.

          • Randy M says:

            UN–bad treaty, not in America’s interest. Sad. Need to renegotiate.

            /s
            Makes sense, thanks. I was also thinking of this, which has some parallels (justified by illegal weapons, limited to bombing, no specific authorization) but also differences (target not in a state of war, target not allied with major powers?).

          • Brad says:

            I think the legal argument for that one was that it was pursuant to security council resolutions. The Lederman position seems to be that if you have either a AUMF from Congress or a UNSC resolution you are okay. But if you have neither you probably aren’t.

  7. Kevin C. says:

    Relevant to SSC interests: Sir Tim Berners-Lee lays out nightmare scenario where AI runs the financial world.

    The architect of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee today talked about some of his concerns for the internet over the coming years, including a nightmarish scenario where artificial intelligence (AI) could become the new ‘masters of the universe’ by creating and running their own companies.

    • Matt M says:

      I have a really smart coworker who used to work in the tech department for an investment bank. He is 100% certain that the first human-level intelligence AI will be developed by a bank, and not by Google or IBM or whoever. Claims they’re spending a ton of effort and money on this and just keeping it quiet because nobody really wants to hear that Goldman Sachs already has a better AI than Watson, but that it’s only being created to manipulate the stock market, not to cure cancer or play chess or whatever.

      • Reasoner says:

        Can you tell us more? Which companies are doing this? Wouldn’t we hear about it if they were able to attract leading researchers? E.g. it was a big story when Andrew Ng went to Baidu and when Yann Lecun went to Facebook.

        • Matt M says:

          I can’t really, he was fairly secretive about it. A lot of the stuff he was saying seems ridiculous, but I know him somewhat well and find him generally credible on most things. Some of the basic claims were that they’d never SAY they are investigating AI, it would always be hidden in a “technology development department” or something like that.

          He claimed the major advantage banks have to Google is that they aren’t trying to make a general AI that can do everything. That they are focused on making an AI to maximize investment returns, and that limiting the scope makes the goal more achievable.

          My pushback was obviously “Well if all it can do is buy and sell stocks, it’s not a real AI in the sense that anyone cares about,” and his response (and I’ll admit to getting a bit lost here) was something like “But once they get it, they can expand it to other things. They don’t just want an efficient trading algorithm, they want it to be able to replicate the human experience of having a “hunch” based on intuition and experience. They want it to be able to say “based on various ratios, X appears to be a good buy, but it actually isn’t for various non-numeric reasons” with the idea being that if they can do that, someone else could take the same AI and modify it to do other different tasks as well.

          Assuming they want it to stay secret, they’d presumably be careful about NOT hiring any major names, not having their people participate in conferences/meetups/whatever. I know it sounds like a crazy conspiracy but I generally trust my source to be directionally accurate here.

          • Iain says:

            It’s easy to say that you want to replicate intuition and hunches. It is a lot harder to actually do so. It is especially hard to do so in secret, from scratch, without hiring big-name experts, and without engaging in constructive dialogue with the rest of the field.

            On the other hand, the stock market is a domain that requires you to model yourself, and other actors, and how those actors model you, and so on. My personal uninformed speculation is that this kind of agent-based environment is where consciousness (in the “self-aware” sense) is most likely to arise. I am unconvinced, though, that there is a necessary correlation between self-awareness and problem-solving ability, and I think it is quite unlikely that the problem will be cracked in a secret Goldman Sachs lab.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            An algorithm that attempts replicating outcome of “hunches” does not really sound like a sufficient property of a strong AI to me, even it were a successful attempt. Or even much stronger than our domain-specific ML/DL algos can do.

            First, according to my very limited understanding of cog sci concepts, intuition is very difficult thing to characterize (not to mention replicate), and I am not really sure if there’s even a consensus how it relates to the other requirements of “strong” or “human-level” AI.

            Second, even a perfectly “stupid” but sophisticated algorithm (like our current domain-specific “AIs”) can make correct/good decision that humans would characterize obscure, mystical, or otherwise sufficiently intuition-like. [In other words, it is certainly possible to image a miraculously good stock trading algorithm that utilizes history and various heuristics it has learned, but is still as “dumb” as your average image classifier]

            From your description it sounds more like some people involved underestimate how hard problem a strong AI / AGI is.

      • Chalid says:

        I don’t think it would be a bank. AFAICT banks haven’t really been pursuing that sort of thing, largely because of the Volker rule and increased regulatory scrutiny generally. Goldman Sachs’s quant asset management business, for example, is now focused on “smart beta” which is essentially unsophisticated but low-cost quant investing. Equally important, it’s hard for a bank to get the really top-tier talent in technology. In an investment bank, technology is generally a “support” role which doesn’t get as much respect as the traditional revenue-generators, and really brilliant people will tend to be unsatisfied with that. And you can’t publish your work!

        When I was at an investment bank a few years ago, I went to a few internal “meetups” on machine learning and AI and no one was doing anything particularly sophisticated. I doubt it’s changed since I was there.

        A hedge fund might be another story, though. They’re essentially unregulated, and there is much more diversity of firm cultures, ideas, and strategies.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Equally important, it’s hard for a bank to get the really top-tier talent in technology. In an investment bank, technology is generally a “support” role which doesn’t get as much respect as the traditional revenue-generators, and really brilliant people will tend to be unsatisfied with that.

          None of this is true of groups doing high-frequency trading, however, which is where I’d expect AI to be used.

          • Chalid says:

            HFT isn’t done by investment banks anymore. It’s mainly in specialized HFT firms these days. And, while I have no direct experience in it, I don’t think HFT is compatible with the kind of complex reasoning one would expect from an AGI – it’s likely to be too slow.

            I’d think a low-frequency quant hedge fund or prop shop would be the place to expect an AI (if it comes from within finance, which I find unlikely).

      • Brad says:

        If you wanted to know one way or the other you could ask professors (or secretaries for that matter) at top Phd programs in ML. They’ll know who is courting their students — whether it is shadowy government agencies, tech companies, banks, or anyone else.

        You can get by without hiring people that are already big names in the field, but you can’t forgo recruiting out of Phd programs.

    • acrimonymous says:

      The real question is whether the AIs will demand server farms in Greenwich, CT, or the Upper East Side.

  8. sandoratthezoo says:

    Am I the only one who compulsively watches the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo teaser trailer and then the Thor Ragnarok teaser trailer back and forth?

    I am?

    Okay.

    It’s an unfair comparison anyway: the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo teaser is the high water mark of the art of the trailer.

  9. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    http://www.metafilter.com/166272/A-legal-alternative-to-academic-publishing-paywalls

    Unpaywall is a web browser extension which finds free versions of paywalled or fee-to-view articles. Launched in early April, it provides an interface to a database of 86+ million digital object identifiers (DOIs). When an Unpaywall user lands on the page of a research article, the software scours thousands of institutional repositories, preprint servers, and websites like PubMed Central to see if an open-access copy of the article is available. If it is, users can click a small green tab on the side of the screen to view a PDF. The developers say Unpaywall doesn’t ask for, track or store any personal information. Developed by Impactstory and funded by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Alternatives are available…”

    There are lots more links at metafilter.

  10. Randy M says:

    So, it doesn’t seem like we’re talking about the United flight forcefully pulling a man off of an overbooked plane. General thoughts? What could they have done instead?
    Obvious answer is “don’t sell more tickets than you have seats” but then, it seems to have worked out economically to over-sell then pay people to leave in the occasions that every single ticket holder showed up–except that this time no one was willing to delay in return for a voucher. Airlines can no longer sell stand-by tickets at the departure gate, since without a ticket you can’t make it into the airport. Perhaps with enough boarding time there could be a stand-by area at the ticket counter–but scheduling is so tight with the planes that I doubt the average passenger could pay, go through security, find the departure gate, and board in the interval between the airline determining and announcing the opening and the plane needed to leave.

    My attempt to think like an economist was to have everyone write down an amount of money they would pay to stay on board, then the lowest amount would leave with the pot–but that would require people to actually carry cash with them, and that’s less common, and even still the passenger might throw a fit in the end.

    • Nornagest says:

      Airlines have credit card readers on board; the cash thing is not really an obstacle. But it’s probably breach of contract or something to charge people to stay on board.

      • Randy M says:

        You’re right, but it has to be better than dragging off the plane kicking and screaming?
        Anyway, they could practically do it by raising the ticket prices and then either not overbook or increasing the reward.
        Assuming that they actually aren’t profitable without overbooking.

        • bean says:

          Anyway, they could practically do it by raising the ticket prices and then either not overbook or increasing the reward.
          Assuming that they actually aren’t profitable without overbooking.

          They could do that. But then everyone would switch to their competitor, and complain about the service there.
          Seriously, the only thing most people buying tickets seem to care about is the sticker price. People then complain that they don’t get as much of whatever they used to have back in the days before deregulation, when airlines had to have good service because they weren’t allowed to compete on price.
          I work for an airline manufacturer, not an airline, but I’m part of the industry.
          Yes, it would be nice if your seat was wider, but then it would cost more. You didn’t care about that when you were on the internet buying your ticket. If you want more legroom, then the airline will be delighted to sell it to you. We’ve delivered a very cheap and fantastically safe way of moving about at speeds that were first reached by humans in 1941. You’re welcome.

          • Randy M says:

            They could do that. But then everyone would switch to their competitor, and complain about the service there.

            What’s going to happen now, though? Don’t you think this will cause them some significant loss?

            You’re right about leg room, as a tall man I detest airline seats but don’t pay for better. I wouldn’t turn down meals but prefer cheaper tickets. But this is another matter–not being able to rely on the tickets. We’ll see if it matters.

          • bean says:

            What’s going to happen now, though? Don’t you think this will cause them some significant loss?

            It will cause United a significant loss this time, yes. But overbooking happens all the time, and has never caused this sort of problem before.
            (I never cease to be amazed at how many people propose auctions as the solution to this sort of thing. That’s already how it works in the vast majority of cases, and I’ve seen them do it several times in my not-particularly-extensive history of air travel.)

            You’re right about leg room, as a tall man I detest airline seats but don’t pay for better. I wouldn’t turn down meals but prefer cheaper tickets. But this is another matter–not being able to rely on the tickets. We’ll see if it matters.

            Have you seriously never seen them do the overbook auction? In some cases, it’s not going to work, and they can’t take off with people standing in the aisles. And you can’t expect the airlines to spend more money than they have to trying to buy people off, which is why United capped at $800 or $1000. If Congress raises the compensation cap, it will help some, but involuntary bumping is going to happen thousands of times a year unless they ban overbooking entirely.

          • Jiro says:

            People only notice the ticket price because the ticket price is visible and easy to determine accurately, while other things are hard to compare and obfuscated by the companies as much as possible.

            Also, this was not an overbooking case. The passenger was forcibly removed to make room for one of four airline employees, not paying customers. Worse yet, the airline employees had to get to a place which was only a four hour drive away.

          • bean says:

            People only notice the ticket price because the ticket price is visible and easy to determine accurately, while other things are hard to compare and obfuscated by the companies as much as possible.

            So it’s the airlines fault? What should they do? Bring back airline regulation?

            Also, this was not an overbooking case. The passenger was forcibly removed to make room for one of four airline employees, not paying customers. Worse yet, the airline employees had to get to a place which was only a four hour drive away.

            It’s at least 5, and a friend who knows the area says more like 6-8. And that time doesn’t count against crew rest, so flying is important. Yes, let’s cancel a flight tomorrow to keep four people from being inconvenienced today.

          • CatCube says:

            No, most things I’ve read is that most people notice the ticket price because that’s really the only thing they care about. A lot of people will bitch about no legroom, baggage fees, etc., but when it comes time to actually pay more money to get them, airlines have been notably unable to actually put asses in seats.

          • Randy M says:

            Have you seriously never seen them do the overbook auction?

            I’ve seen an escalating travel voucher offered. I have seriously never seen an auction. I was a frequent flyer on continental a few years back, not so much recently.

            And you can’t expect the airlines to spend more money than they have to trying to buy people off, which is why United capped at $800 or $1000.

            They can spend or not spend what they like. I realize they don’t want to set a precedent of beggaring themselves for every time they need to buyback a seat and have to compete on price. But this does seem like the kind of situation that indicates a pendulum too far.

            There’s a saying to the effect of “If you never miss a flight you are arriving at the airport too early.” Maybe if you never drag a passenger off kicking and screaming you aren’t selling enough tickets to full flights, either–or maybe that’s underestimating the consequences.

          • bean says:

            @Randy M

            I’ve seen an escalating travel voucher offered. I have seriously never seen an auction. I was a frequent flyer on continental a few years back, not so much recently.

            I’m not sure why this is different from the proposed auction, except that the airline is bidding for passengers instead of the passengers themselves bidding. Either way, market forces usually take care of this. I’m not sure why people are so dead set on making sure that they always do, as opposed to the current rate of 9 out of 10 or more. (That said, I need to look into the denied boarding stats more. They may include things like cancelled flights, as the numbers I’m seeing don’t add up.)

            There’s a saying to the effect of “If you never miss a flight you are arriving at the airport too early.” Maybe if you never drag a passenger off kicking and screaming you aren’t selling enough tickets to full flights, either–or maybe that’s underestimating the consequences.

            But the consequences have never been this bad before. Not even remotely. The current rules have been in effect since 2011, and I believe they made it harder for the airlines to pull people involuntarily. (I’m not going to wade through the federal register to find out, and it looks like the previous rules dated from 1983.)

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure why this is different from the proposed auction

            In my thought experiment, the money to avoid the disembarking was coming from the pockets of the people on the flight; but on reflection I agreed that you are probably right, it would end in the same place.

          • bean says:

            I did some digging, and found the statistics on this stuff. A couple of rather interesting things:
            1. Southwest, an airline with generally very high customer satisfaction scores, has a higher percentage of involuntary denied boardings than almost anyone else.
            2. Delta is significantly lower than any other major carrier for involuntary bumps.
            3. United is actually in the middle of the pack for 2017 at 4.3 per 100,000, ahead of American, and below the national average of 6.2.
            4. For all carriers, the voluntary:involuntary ratio is 10.7:1. SWA’s is 5.9:1, while United is 16.7:1. Delta is 104.9:1. American is at 6.5:1.
            5. The numbers aren’t terribly consistent year-on-year. American and Delta were tied for involuntary bumps per passenger in 2015, and American had a much lower voluntary bump rate. They’ve both gone down, while JetBlue has gone way up.
            The bottom line is that this isn’t a new problem, and I’m really not sure what all the fuss is about.

          • Randy M says:

            I was wondering if there was a solution that would work in every case. Given what you point out about how often this occurs, it seems likely that the status quo does to as close to always as is realistically possible.

          • Brad says:

            @bean

            Either way, market forces usually take care of this. I’m not sure why people are so dead set on making sure that they always do, as opposed to the current rate of 9 out of 10 or more.

            What would you think about a legal cap on what airlines could charge on a particular route? One high enough so that 9/10 of current fares are under the cap?

          • bean says:

            What would you think about a legal cap on what airlines could charge on a particular route? One high enough so that 9/10 of current fares are under the cap?

            I think you’re confused as to what I meant. I was referring to voluntary vs involuntary denied boardings, not anything to do with fares.
            For fares, any regulation will be very complicated because of the number of different options we have today, and those options will get more complicated. For example, Southwest is $20 more than other airlines on a given route, but you get two free bags, which will cost you $50 on the other airlines. So do we force Southwest to implement baggage fees to stay competitive? And what about business class? Or premium economy? Regulated airlines had both minimum and maximum fares. This basically removed price competition. Since it went away, prices have gone down a lot.

          • Brad says:

            No, I’m not confused. You support price controls on behalf of airlines in circumstances where they bargain with customers. You apparently don’t support price controls where customers are paying airlines.

            Why the asymmetry?

          • Garrett says:

            I don’t think you’re right about cheap tickets only mattering. I think that what’s happening is that airlines aren’t able to influence the experience enough for the money they are asking.

            There are two standard models of pricing (of which I am familiar) given the type of goods: capturing surplus, and luxury pricing.

            Surplus capturing is where incremental prices decrease based upon what you are buying. Buying a large order of french fries might only cost 30% more while getting 100% more food. This is because the cost of the food is negligible, and few people are likely to buy 2 small fry in order to get more fries. So to get more profit a substantial discount is offered for the larger order.

            Luxury pricing is why a Rolls Royce costs more than a Toyota Camry, despite being not-much-better as far as being a car goes. The Toyota’s likely to be more reliable, fuel efficient, etc. The main reason to buy the Rolls Royce is as a luxury good.

            Let’s look at a hypothetical flight. I just did the pricing based on my personal flight preferences. Hypothetically, going from Pittsburgh, PA to Seattle, WA, from about June 1st to June 13th. It so happens that the lowest fees are with United, but this was not intentional.
            The lowest round-trip cost I can find is $404. This involves a departing flight at 6:25am which is insane, and a 12:25 travel time, which is also awful.

            For an extra ~$35 I can get a flight that departs at 7:25 am with a 1-hour connection in SFO. Great! Return flight is pretty unremarkable.

            Combining data from SeatGuru and United’s website, going from economy to Economy Plus Essentials would cost me about $170 each way! A total of $343 out of the base fare plus taxes plus upgrade fee of $852.60. It’s about an additional 75% on top of the base fare. And for this, what do I get? I get to sit a little bit more forward in the plane, an extra free checked bag, and I go from 30″ to 34″ seat pitch. This is perhaps 20% more leg-room.

            The problem is that the airline doesn’t control the whole experience. In the departure case (where they have the most to impact), the schedule is for 8h 37m total. Of that, there’s about 8h which is on the airplane (subtract 1h layover, add additional time for pre-departure boarding). However, the flight experience takes an extra how to arrive, check in, go through security. Plus the layover. Plus destination baggage collection. Of the experience, the airline doesn’t control the airports themselves (including the annoying lack of outlets, overpriced food, restrooms which are inconveniently located, and the idea that connecting flights should be as far away from each other as possible), the TSA (why I currently won’t fly).
            All-in-all, I’d consider about 10h to be my travel time for this itinerary, 8 h on the plane, so about 75% of the total day’s experience. Of which I know that the parts on all ends of the flight are going to be miserable.
            So I can roughly double my costs to reduce one dimension of the misery by around 20% for 75% of my time. Or I can save that money and buy a case of beer and good meal at the destination.
            Make the price difference $20 and I’m totally in.

          • bean says:

            Worst system except for all the others, basically. There are only a couple of ways to solve the problem of more confirmed ticketholders than there are seats:
            1. Ban overbooking entirely. This will raise ticket prices. The traveling public does not like this.
            2. Allow the airlines to do whatever they want, and put whatever involuntary removals they want in their contracts. In this system, you basically have a bidding war for seats right up until the door closes, and if you’re lucky, they give you back your money if you lose.
            3. Require that the airlines get people off voluntarily, and mandate that they can’t include involuntary removal clauses in their contracts. In this case, you get more expensive tickets as airlines overbook less to reduce the number of bidding wars.
            4. Set what the airlines are required to give passengers if they bump them involuntarily. Make these high enough to discourage serious overbooking, and low enough to balance against the increased costs of not overbooking.
            4 seems the best option. It’s cheaper for the passengers than 1, and the inconvenience rate is empirically pretty low. (I was very happy the one time it happened to me.) It’s better for the passengers than 2, and better for the airlines than 3.

          • Brad says:

            3. Require that the airlines get people off voluntarily, and mandate that they can’t include involuntary removal clauses in their contracts. In this case, you get more expensive tickets as airlines overbook less to reduce the number of bidding wars.

            Or in other words the costs are diffused across all customers instead of picking customers by lot to suffer a concentrated losses.

            That seems preferable to me. I can see why it might not to someone else, but what I can’t see is why this is some unique situation that calls for an exception to one’s general philosophy of economic regulation.

          • bean says:

            I don’t think you’re right about cheap tickets only mattering. I think that what’s happening is that airlines aren’t able to influence the experience enough for the money they are asking.

            I think we’re in violent agreement on this. United isn’t selling you the upgrade for $20 because they simply can’t afford to. To a first approximation, a Premium Economy seat must cost at least 13% more than a regular Economy seat to pay for the extra space it takes up. So unless they can make a profit on the base seat at $150 (unlikely), then the Premium seat has to cost more than an extra $20. Given what the airlines can do to make flying better, the general public is only interested in cheap tickets.
            You’ve just demonstrated my whole point, though. Did you look at SeatGuru on the other options, and see if they had better seats? What about JetBlue, who has 34″ pitch as standard? Southwest offers 31″ pitch and two free bags, but aren’t in the travel search engines.
            United is going to be pricing Premium Economy to capture as much revenue as possible. The seats are in the airplanes, and they can’t swap them for regular economy overnight. Better to fill them at some relative loss than to fill them by giving surprise upgrades for free.

          • bean says:

            Or in other words the costs are diffused across all customers instead of picking customers by lot to suffer a concentrated losses.

            Diffuse losses are easy to hide, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

            That seems preferable to me. I can see why it might not to someone else, but what I can’t see is why this is some unique situation that calls for an exception to one’s general philosophy of economic regulation.

            I’m not a libertarian. My philosophy is basically utilitarian, and in this case, I think this is probably the best compromise. Is there room to change the exact formula? Yes. IMO, the current system doesn’t provide the airline enough incentive to get the passenger to their destination reasonably promptly. They’re not responsible for hotel or meals if it turns out that they can’t get you there until tomorrow, and they pay you the same whether they get you there 2.5 hours late or 24 hours late. Changing the thresholds would give them incentive to minimize the total time cost to the passengers. But that only works if we stick with something that looks a lot like the current system.

          • Brad says:

            I didn’t think that utilitarians generally bit the omelas bullet, I thought there was generally some attempt to specify a form of utilitarianism that avoids it. Granted this isn’t a small child being tortured, but still and all we have a situation where an innocent third party is suffering a concentrated harm for the diffuse benefit of a large group of people. The voluntary only solution doesn’t have this problem.

            Even within the framework of strict utilitarianism are you sure the diffuse benefits sum up to more than the concentrated loss?

          • bean says:

            @Brad
            How much harm do people really suffer from the current system, though? It’s not like they’re thrown out into the cold with no recourse at all. They get paid, granted less than they’d probably say they needed to make it worth it. And there are definitely ways to avoid getting bumped. Southwest basically just bumps the last people to check in if they have no other option. They’ll check you in automatically for, IIRC, $20. Or you can do it yourself, and provided you do it ahead of time instead of waiting until you get to the airport, you’ll be fine.
            As for the actual costs, I don’t have hard numbers, but I’m going to make some estimates. Nationwide, 6.2 out of 100,000 passengers were involuntary bumps and 66.3 were voluntary. To put this into perspective, if you flew once a day for a whole year on an average airline, you’d have about a 1 in 4 chance of being affected by either type (assuming they chose voluntary bumps at random, of course).
            Now, obviously the airlines don’t make money on bumps. I’ll assume that they pay an average of twice the cost on a voluntary and four times on an involuntary. So that means that they have incentive to hold the rate down (and the rates of voluntary bumps are half what they were 20 years ago, despite the fact that load factors are way up.)
            But how much money are the airlines making on the no-shows? Well, the best estimates google can give me is a no-show rate of 5-10%. That’s pure profit, and goes straight to reduced ticket prices. The fiscal losses due to bumped passengers are going to be more like .2%, which is basically noise at this level. Most of those passengers are going to be voluntary bumps, so it doesn’t cost them anything. (I was very pleased when it happened to me.)
            For this to come out to a net societal cost, we have to assume that the average involuntary bump takes losses of something like 1000x ticket price. The only way I could see that happening is if you’re racing to meet a desperately ill loved one, and in that case, if I’m sitting next to you, I’ll get off instead.

          • Brad says:

            Are you comparing all the benefits of overbooking with the costs of involuntarily bumping? I don’t think that’s the right comparison. If you removed the cap it would cost the airlines more money (and I’m willing to concede that would go to ticket prices) but it wouldn’t cost them the entire amount that they make by overbooking.

          • bean says:

            @Brad

            Are you comparing all the benefits of overbooking with the costs of involuntarily bumping? I don’t think that’s the right comparison. If you removed the cap it would cost the airlines more money (and I’m willing to concede that would go to ticket prices) but it wouldn’t cost them the entire amount that they make by overbooking.

            I think the complete removal of the cap would have other bad effects on air travel which would add up to make the flying public as a whole worse off. For instance, Delta claims that one of the big advantages of their system of getting people to pre-bid for bumping is that it makes it easier for them to get their planes out on time because they don’t have to negotiate with passengers, and this outweighs the direct fiscal savings. (I assume that nobody has copied this because they have a method patent.) The cap being removed means that the delayed flight rate goes up, and that in turn costs everyone on the plane, and they don’t get any compensation for that. Or the airlines reduce overbooking to hold down the delay rate, and that drives up ticket prices more. The whole field is full of second-order effects like that. What about the suggestion of fraudsters trying to extort ludicrous amounts of money out of the airline?
            Is this a problem with the entire concept of a cap, or would you be OK if the cap was, say, 2-4 times higher than it currently is?

          • Garrett says:

            Did you look at SeatGuru on the other options, and see if they had better seats?

            I looked at other airlines at comparable price-points and found little. In comparison to the $434 for a purely-United flight, a 12h itinerary on American with a long layover in Charlotte had a base price of $655 with a seat pitch of 32″ for the long leg of the flight (more than the United Economy+ fee, with otherwise mostly worse travel conditions).

            Alaska has a nice itinerary for $700 with 32″ seat pitch, though reduced width compared to United and American.

            JetBlue would fly via Boston with a less-nice itinerary for $733. Nice seating, though.

            Southwest would be $675 for a 2-stop flight, 31″ seat pitch.

            One thing to consider is that by having fewer passengers per floor area, it provides greater weight capacity for cargo. I have no idea what kind of revenue can be earned from that, though. If more than passengers, providing greater seat pitch might be a better idea (though they probably would have done that already).

            Ultimately, Airlines need to decide if they want more revenue or happier passengers. My bet is on more revenue made from more and more angry passengers.

          • bean says:

            One thing to consider is that by having fewer passengers per floor area, it provides greater weight capacity for cargo. I have no idea what kind of revenue can be earned from that, though. If more than passengers, providing greater seat pitch might be a better idea (though they probably would have done that already).

            Cargo is a major source of revenue, but I think they usually bulk-out on that before they hit the weight limit. I do know that’s one reason US carriers have given for not adopting the A380. The increase in passengers is not matched by an increase in cargo space, and that would eat into their air cargo revenue.

          • Brad says:

            Is this a problem with the entire concept of a cap, or would you be OK if the cap was, say, 2-4 times higher than it currently is?

            I don’t see any compelling reason for a cap. The natural limiting principle is treating involuntary bumping as a breach of contract which gives rise to expectancy damages.

    • Iain says:

      Here’s an analysis from an airline pilot. Standard operating procedure is to offer increasingly large travel vouchers until somebody takes the bribe and volunteers to leave. In this case, apparently, the airline staff hit some sort of limit on how much they could offer without getting enough volunteers.

      Delta is particularly clever about this and asks people to submit their bids in advance: “How much money would we have to pay you to take a later flight?” This speeds up the entire process and significantly reduces the number of involuntary bumpings.

      • Matt M says:

        I heard on Twitter (have not verified) that the FAA limits the amount airlines are allowed to offer in compensation.

        • bean says:

          The FARs (laws regarding air travel) mandate how much airlines are required to offer in compensation to involuntarily-bumped passengers. It caps at $1350, or $675 if they get you there within 2 hours of schedule. I can’t see why the FAA would limit voluntary compensation, but they do all sorts of crazy things. I can see the airlines limiting their employees to hold down their total costs in these cases.

          • IrishDude says:

            It caps at $1350, or $675 if they get you there within 2 hours of schedule. I can’t see why the FAA would limit voluntary compensation, but they do all sorts of crazy things.

            So the airlines can’t legally offer more $1350 in compensation to bumped passengers? If so, who lobbied for that cap?

          • Iain says:

            @IrishDude: I think you’re reading it backwards. Airlines can’t be required to pay more than $1350 for involuntarily bumping you. As far as I have been able to determine, any restriction on offering more than $1350 is self-imposed. Why would you pay somebody $1400 to be voluntarily bumped when you could bump them involuntarily and save $50? There’s no way it could backfire.

          • bean says:

            So the airlines can’t legally offer more $1350 in compensation to bumped passengers? If so, who lobbied for that cap?

            Iain has it right. The airlines can offer you more if they want to, but it’s up to them. The FARs (or wherever this is spelled out in law) cover what they’re required to give you if they bump you involuntarily. This explains the $800/1000 cap that United imposed on its employees. That’s about the point where using the relevant cap will become cheaper. I expect that everyone is raising their auction caps right now, but they’ll come back down unless Congress changes the law.

          • IrishDude says:

            To make sure I understand:
            FAR mandates the minimum amount that airlines must pay for bumped passengers. This minimum amount varies by some factors, such that in the most expensive scenario the minimum amount required to be paid to a bumped passenger is $1350. Is that right?

          • Matt M says:

            I think the hangup here is that FAA requirements probably affect involuntary bumping, but may not have any affect at all on, let’s call it “voluntary negotiation.”

            Voluntary negotiation would include everything that happens right up until the point where someone from the airline says, “I’m sorry, but you HAVE to get off this plane, period.” So the airline could, before that moment, offer you $5,000 or whatever, but the knowledge that, if they order you off and switch into “involuntary” mode, their liability is capped at $1350 probably serves as something of a ceiling on offers that gate agents are allowed (by company policy) to make.

            I may have this wrong but that’s my current understanding of the situation, based on things I’ve read here and on other forums.

          • bean says:

            @IrishDude
            It’s actually in 14 CFR 250.8, but that is correct.

            @Matt M
            That’s also my understanding on this.

          • gbdub says:

            On the one hand, airline SOP seems to be “no reason to offer more than the mandatory for an involuntary bump”.

            But it may be the case that it would make sense to offer more, for a couple reasons. One, voluntary bumps are going to be less pissed off. Two, the $1350 has to be offered in cash (well, a check). Whereas voluntary compensation can be in whatever travel vouchers/airline miles/first class upgrades/monopoly money the airline wants. So possible savings there.

            On gbdub airways, I would first announce my criteria for picking involuntary bumps (to prime the people likely to get picked into accepting). I’d then run the usual auction. I’d announce exactly which flight volunteers could expect to get on. As I approached the mandatory involuntary minimum, I’d start phrasing my offer like “If you take a voluntary bump now, I’ll give you $2000 in travel vouchers. But if you wait, and get an involuntary bump, you only get $1350”.

            There’s also the issue here that the passenger was pulled after boarding, and to accommodate crew, not due to an oversold cabin. It’s not clear this type of involuntary bump is actually allowed under the carriage contract.

          • Aapje says:

            If there was no cap, a team of fraudsters might want to buy all the tickets and then make sure that everyone shows up, requiring people to be bumped. Then they could collude to all refuse any offer below (pinkie to mouth) 1 billion dollars.

    • Brad says:

      If they had done this at the gate it would have been a non-story. People get really pissed but it happens regularly. Pulling people already seated on a plane is not a good idea. If they couldn’t get their logistics together before boarding they should have found alternative means of getting their employees to Louisville. Barring that they should have kept escalating the offer. They’d have gotten bites eventually.

      I’m not sure why you think the passengers should fund the bribe, its the airline that gets the upside of overbooking they should pay the downside.

      • Randy M says:

        I sure hope they agree with you in retrospect, at least. I was aghast when I heard the detail of it being only a four hour driving distance away.

        • bean says:

          That’s probably with clear roads. I’ve heard it’s more like 6-8 with traffic.

        • Matt M says:

          I have yet to hear exactly why the employees needed to be in Louisville. Can we not presume the answer is likely: “To work a Louisville-based flight”, in which case, their delayed arrival would in turn delay or cancel arrangements for an entire plane’s worth of Louisville passengers?

          In which case, yes, the employees are far more valuable than four random customers whom you might annoy. Better to annoy four people than 100, right?

          • bean says:

            That’s about the only reason an airline would even think about pulling people off of a plane. They hate bumping revenue passengers. I was recently told that another major carrier would only prioritize a non-revenue passenger (airline employee flying for free) above a revenue passenger in the case of a serious family emergency.

          • Randy M says:

            I assume that’s true. It would also behoove an airline which operates out of two nearby airports to have some sort of alternate transport between them. Maybe the employees were essential for another flight, that’s understandable, but do they have a van or bus that they could offer the passengers a ride on if there are no alternate flights? Or a taxi?

            Given that the delay in waiting for the next flight + the flight time + disembarking is going to be about 3-6 hours it seems like there should have been a solution involving alternate transportation if the distance was so trivial, relative to destinations overseas or across the country.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve also heard that the traditional way of determining who gets bumped is based on who paid the least for their ticket. In other words, make sure you annoy the cheap low-income people rather than your super-valuable business travelers.

          • bean says:

            I’ve also heard that the traditional way of determining who gets bumped is based on who paid the least for their ticket. In other words, make sure you annoy the cheap low-income people rather than your super-valuable business travelers.

            This is true. Why would you be surprised that companies are acting to maximize their revenue?
            Also, the amount of compensation for involuntary bumping is based on the amount you paid for the ticket.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Better to annoy four people than 100, right?

            Seen versus unseen.

          • Brad says:

            You book them on another airline, perhaps at midway. Or as I said keep escalating the offer past $800. What you don’t do is involuntarily bump people already on the plane and buckled in. It’s just a terrible idea.

            Yeah the guy bears some responsibility for what happened to him but I have zero sympathy for United. They screwed up every step of the way. The post incident PR alone would justify firing a major executive.

          • Matt M says:

            What you don’t do is involuntarily bump people already on the plane and buckled in. It’s just a terrible idea.

            What if you’ve already done it hundreds of times and it has never ended this badly?

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            That’s one of the dangerous things when you either stop following rules, or have bad rules. You can get away with doing stupid things for a very long time before it bites you. This is that “defining deviancy down” thing. One of my favorite–maybe favorite isn’t the right word, go to?–statistics is that the average drunk driver drives intoxicated 88 times before being caught, whether by getting pulled over or getting into an accident.

            Similarly, this is why OSHA inspectors can be such assholes–because they see people cutting corners all the time. But why do workers cut corners? Because they do it a lot and nothing bad happens. Just this time, I’ll not wear my fall protection because it takes forever to get on, and I’ll just be out there for a minute.

            I’m not immune to this, either. Back in January, I had a bad attitude while conducting a gudgeon inspection on one of our lock gates, because it took two weeks to schedule due to the fall protection requirements. My internal thinking was, “Fuck me, can’t I just not step outside the eyebars and be careful, so we can do this thing?” Really, though, it was a 70 foot drop like 3 feet from where I was standing, so the answer should be “no.” Nobody plans on falling, so you just wear the stupid harness. I still didn’t like having to screw with it.

          • bean says:

            @CatCube
            I have to disagree on this one. The number I’ve seen for involuntary denied boardings is 46,000/year. For United, it’s something like 11 per 100,000 passengers. That’s going to be several thousand for United at O’Hare alone. Obviously, most of them would have been before boarding, but I’d guess they have to pull people who have boarded off a couple times a year at that one airport. While the optics in this case are rather bad, it’s mostly due to the perfect storm of poor airline PR, an idiot, arrogant doctor, and incompetent cops. There are limits to what you can plan for.

          • BBA says:

            incompetent cops

            No, that’s just the Chicago way. “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I’ve heard that there are three levels of non-revenue flights:

            “Non-Revenue Space Available”- airline employees or their families flying for leisure/as an employee perk, like the people in the recent leggings case. They only get to fly if there are unsold seats.

            “Non-Revenue Positive Space”- airline employees flying for business purposes. Treated like someone with a normal ticket, can be bumped if the flight is overbooked, but unlike a Space Available flight they do have a reservation.

            “Non-Revenue Must Ride”- cannot be bumped without approval at very high level. There are a few cases in which people get these tickets- as well as airline employees who need to get somewhere to operate another flight (as in this case), it can apply to time-sensitive couriers (for instance with donor organs). I’ve also heard that the seats given to people who were bumped from their previous flight are Non-Revenue Must Ride so they don’t get bumped again.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Barring that they should have kept escalating the offer. They’d have gotten bites eventually.

        Exactly. If it turns out it costs more to pay people to give up their seats than they save over-booking, then they should stop over-booking. No need to ban over-booking as long as it is volunteers who give up their seats.

        Of course this particular situation wasn’t technically over-booking, but in principle it was the same thing, since the airlines seem to need to move their own people on their planes too. Of course the whole thing was a morass of bad planning, by letting people on the plane when they needed those extra spaces, to the requirement of suddenly needing four employees somewhere else. I think some managers are going to get fired for this fiasco.

    • bean says:

      I suspect that United was flying out the crew because the crew they had scheduled had gotten delayed, and the FAA has fairly strict rules on rest periods and such, which meant that they’d probably have to cancel a flight the next day if they didn’t get the people out there. This might be a reason why the crew in question had to go on that specific flight, because reading the rules, at least 8 of the 10 mandated crew rest hours must be for uninterrupted sleep. Removing people after boarding is a bad thing, and United should have made sure it was done before they boarded (or at least had offers in hand before they let people board). The one time I got bumped, I volunteered so long as they could get me to my destination that day, and was told to board and they’d call me off if they needed the seat. It turned out that they did, so I got off. Of course, there was the standby passenger yelling at the gate agent because the person they’d called me off to let on had gotten on and he hadn’t. I almost told him what an idiot he was being, but let him go. As it was, I got there two hours late and with a $450 voucher.
      The passenger in question was an unmitigated ass, and they were right to throw him off, as opposed to finding someone else when he refused to leave. I don’t know why the flying public is so easily annoyed, given that they’re getting exactly what they want, which is cheap tickets.
      In terms of involuntary bumping, I’ve seen that the number is 46,000/year. That’s enough that I’m pretty sure this kind of incident isn’t totally unknown and this one just happened to blow up for some reason.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I don’t know why the flying public is so easily annoyed, given that they’re getting exactly what they want, which is cheap tickets.

        Because they want cheap tickets, and then to act shocked if they aren’t treated like luxury citizens given guaranteed travel. All we need to do is get angry enough and post #BoycottUnited and we will get the best of both worlds. Right? Right?

        (I just typed “boycot” into google to double-check my spelllling, and it autocompleted to “boycott united.” Wonderful.)

        The passenger in question was an unmitigated ass, and they were right to throw him off, as opposed to finding someone else when he refused

        Well, by that time they couldn’t pick someone else. If it’s a given that if someone puts up a fight and gets injured that you lose, then deplaning everyone and then replaning would work better. And you don’t have 20 witnesses for the people who try to stick on board.

    • Matt M says:

      General thoughts? What could they have done instead?

      It’s an unsatisfying answer, but my thoughts here are that this is simply a perfect storm of really bad luck and unfortunate circumstances, and does not speak to some sort of fundamental flaw in airline booking policy and procedures. Almost all flights are overbooked. Hundreds of people are bumped every day. 99.99% of overbooking situations do NOT end this way. For something like this to happen, you need ALL of the following things to go wrong:

      1. Some sort of error that prevents the overbooking from being noticed until after the customers have boarded
      2. Poor communication by the crew (apparently some people report they announced people had to be bumped to make way for employees, which makes everyone less sympathetic)
      3. Selecting customers to remove who were SO opposed to removal that they were prepared to physically resist (my guess is the vast majority of people normally bow to authority here, and if the flight crew says “get off the plane” they get off the plane)
      4. Police who were entirely too overzealous about their job, such that they gave the guy a concussion and a bloody nose
      5. The bizarre situation in which the guy somehow ends up back on the plane, and then at the end of the day everyone is kicked off and they cancel the flight anyway

      The probability of any one of those things happening is low enough, and if any of them go according to plan, this situation isn’t a big deal. When you get hit with bad PR I guess you have to make some token statement that your policies failed you and need to be changed, but surely SOMETIMES a cascade of failure/bad luck just happens and it doesn’t necessarily mean your system isn’t well designed, right?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        5. The bizarre situation in which the guy somehow ends up back on the plane, and then at the end of the day everyone is kicked off and they cancel the flight anyway

        This one seriously needs more attention. How did he get back on? Was no one guarding the door? This is an essential security measure.

      • beleester says:

        The fact that all of those things did go wrong at the same time could be evidence that a failure cascade is more likely than you thought. Maybe one of those steps is more likely than you think. Maybe it’s common for passengers to get bumped after they’ve boarded, but you don’t notice because they usually leave quietly instead of making a scene. Or maybe the police are generally shitty in that city, but the first two layers mean that you generally don’t have to call the police, so the third layer hasn’t been tested enough for you to realize how it can fail. Or maybe you wrote your policies before every passenger had a smartphone with video, and now the probability of police brutality making headlines is higher than it used to be.

        Or maybe the events are correlated – you have a badly-trained gate agent who pisses off the passengers, and that increases the probability of someone refusing to leave quietly and resisting the police.

        Before you write it off as bad luck, review what happened, and make sure the probabilities are what you think they are.

    • BBA says:

      Something not mentioned in much press coverage: this wasn’t a United-operated flight. It was a United Express flight operated by Republic Airways, which is also a subcontractor for AA and Delta. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around between both airlines for this snafu, but the boycott may be missing its target if lots of people trying to avoid United end up on [Republic dba] American Eagle or Delta Connection instead.

    • CatCube says:

      Don’t forget: United Breaks Guitars too.

      Overall, this seems to be a consequence of an overly rules-bound culture where they’re terrified that somebody might make a decision. The flight crew probably ran out of incentives they were allowed to give, but still had to get the flight off as soon as they could, so choose people according to whatever the specified algorithm is and kick them off. Then once the cops got involved because one guy refused. And once the cops get involved, they do not deal well with somebody refusing to move when they say to do so.

      As far as driving goes, I read somebody talking about how if they drove them from KORD to KSDF, that travel time doesn’t count as crew rest. So the airline wants to move them in the fastest way possible to avoid them running out of hours of service on one of their working flights. I’ve heard conflicting things about the flights that the crew was supposed to work, to include that it was next morning, so I don’t know if that actually applies here. Or, frankly, if the whole “deadheading doesn’t count as crew rest under the law” thing is actually true. But it is food for thought.

      • Jiro says:

        In other words, it’s the airline’s fault for creating a system that doesn’t have enough built-in slack to accomodate unexpected problems.

        • bean says:

          Or, frankly, if the whole “deadheading doesn’t count as crew rest under the law” thing is actually true. But it is food for thought.

          The law requires that 8 of the 10 hours of crew rest be available for uninterrupted sleep. So the ability of deadheading to count is pretty limited.

          @Jiro

          In other words, it’s the airline’s fault for creating a system that doesn’t have enough built-in slack to accomodate unexpected problems.

          Or it’s the customers fault for demanding low prices. Yes, an airline that didn’t have to fly crew out wouldn’t have had this problem, but they’d have been bleeding money for years.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It’s Chicago to Louisville. With flying, assume roughly:
            ~30-40min home -> ORD, unless traffic is anomalously pleasant at the time
            Arrive 1 hour before boarding to deal with security, and with ORD that’s if you like to live dangerously
            Boarding (supposedly) 30min before takeoff
            75min in the air (rough average of quoted times on Google Flights)
            20-30min from touchdown to the gate to ground transport
            30min from SDF to your actual destination (I don’t know Louisville, maybe this is 10-15min too high)

            So, if you don’t get delayed (big if w/ United, IME), that’s still roughly 4.5hours travel time.

            Google maps quotes 4.5-5.5hrs driving time from ORD to SDF. Let’s round up to 6 to fit in the range you’re asserting.

            Flying vs driving only saves 90 minutes? Spending most of that time either dealing with bureaucratic bullshit or crammed into a tiny jumper jet? You bet your ass I’d want it cheap.

        • CatCube says:

          Well, the slack is that they kick people off a flight to make room for a last-minute deadheading crew. The terms of their contract with ticketholders allow this.

          How much more for a ticket are you willing to pay to avoid some people getting bumped? Are you implying they should keep crews sitting around tossing pencils into the ceiling tiles to avoid the slightest possibility of bumping passengers?

          This was incompetently handled, and United probably needs to give their customer service reps more power to handle* disgruntled passengers. The video I posted was made because a customer service rep didn’t have the authority to recompense the band for damaged luggage, so it’s not a new problem. But note that after making a splash some years back, the complaint was forgotten by the flying public, because cheap seats.

          *Edit: By “handle” I mean provide recompense. Not “handle” like they manhandled that guy off the plane.

          • Matt M says:

            I think it’s not even “cheap seats.” First of all, it’s “who flies the route you need at a time that accommodates your schedule.” Unless you’re taking a routine flight between two major hubs (note: does not include freaking Louisville), you probably only have 1-2 choices and they’re all probably priced roughly similarly.

            And the services is always roughly similar as well.

            I fly a decent amount with a variety of US based airlines. I’ve had great experiences with all of them, and I’ve had terrible experiences with all of them. I generally have strong opinions on brands but I can’t for the life of me figure out any real difference between them. They’re all interchangeable. People’s revealed preferences seem to back this up. My prediction is that this does no long term damage to United whatsoever.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Airline management is the most difficult resource management system you’ve ever played, and it’s against AI-assisted human players with you losing your job if you get it wrong, and with consumers who will take another airline at the slightest chance.

          Or, as Matt Levine says, “United could have thrown its surplus passengers off the plane mid-flight and you’d still be back on United tomorrow if its fares were $5 cheaper than Delta’s.”

    • John Schilling says:

      What could they have done instead?

      Chicago to Louisville is about an hour by Beech King Air or Pilatus PC-12, and that’s a $3000 charter even if (as is likely for the case of a last-minute request) you have to pay to send the plane back empty. Four maximum-rate vouchers for bumped passengers is $3200. The negative optics for dragging a passenger kicking and screaming off the plane, priceless.

      This would require that a bureaucrat A: accept that a mere civilian can actually say “No”, and B: exercise initiative. Bureaucrats probably will do more than $200 in obstructionist damage if you make them exercise initiative or take “No” from a civilian, so the charter probably doesn’t lead to cost savings.

      Also, as has already been noted, pretty much everyone who is today tweeting #BoycottUnited will by next week buy airline tickets on United if The Internet(tm) puts them on top of the price-sorted list. They’ll bitch and whine about it, but they won’t pay the $20 delta for e.g. Delta. The ones who care enough to pay extra, are already paying extra for premium economy and largely immune to bumping.

      United should have accommodated the revealed preferences of its people and its customers by doing exactly what it did.

      • Matt M says:

        This would require that a bureaucrat A: accept that a mere civilian can actually say “No”,

        I think there’s a lot to this, in terms of game theory. The airlines can’t afford, literally, to have their authority questioned in matters like this. If the one guy can get away with saying “No I’m not leaving” then how the hell are they going to make anyone else who didn’t volunteer leave? If this becomes common knowledge in society, that if you just hold your ground they won’t force you off, the entire system collapses.

        This guy tried to call United’s bluff. He believed they wouldn’t resort to physical force to remove him. He was wrong. They’re not bluffing here. The comparable financial damage here isn’t the market cap hit from bad PR vs $3,000 for a plane. It’s the market cap hit from bad PR versus a total shift in power dynamics where the inmates now run the asylum because they’re afraid of the bad PR in using force against you (even when they are lawfully allowed to do so). How effective would someone be in an iterative prisoners dilemma where everyone knows all they are ever going to do is cooperate?

        • random832 says:

          It’s the market cap hit from bad PR versus a total shift in power dynamics where the inmates now run the asylum because they’re afraid of the bad PR in using force against you (even when they are lawfully allowed to do so)

          Which isn’t priceless either – it amounts to, at some level of approximation, some number of future instances times $3,000 for a plane (or whatever other costs they’d have to pay to accomplish their goals without beating people up).

          And this is why the lawsuit arising this should result in millions of dollars of punitive damages – to make sure that the amount of real concrete financial costs (because some people just don’t care about bad PR) are higher than “cost of doing business” levels.

          • Brad says:

            It’s over anyway now. The above posts have misunderstood the incentives going forward. It’s totally worth being beaten up to get to appear on the talk show circuit and get your god-given right to five minutes of fame. Not for everyone, sure, but for enough people that the airlines can’t use this tactic anymore without risking lots more cell phone videos — the next time probably a twenty something photogenic college woman.

            And yes, it won’t kill the airline or have any effect on their bookings two years out. But it’ll impact this quarter’s results and for a company with $36B in revenue and 88,000 employees that’s a big deal.

            Corporate received wisdom – 1
            Steely eyed contrarianism – 0

          • random832 says:

            That’ll last until they figure out an excuse to ban cameras.

        • Matt M says:

          What lawsuit? What case does this guy have against United? The possibility of involuntary bumping is explicitly made clear when you buy the ticket. In a lot of airports, they have large signs explaining it further posted at the gates.

          He may have a case against the police for excessive force, but what can he possibly sue United for?

          • Matt M says:

            I have a really tough time believing either of those things are true, but I admit I have not researched this to any significant degree. It would seem like a weird and arbitrary point of differentiation. The potential damage suffered by the victim (inconvenience of rebooking) is essentially the same whether you are bumped before you get on the plane or after you get on. The reason you are bumped does not affect the damage done either.

            So yes, it would have to all be punitive damages, and the punitive damages would end up being like several orders of magnitude higher than the actual damages (because the actual damages, assuming United is not held accountable for police brutality, is like, a few thousand bucks at most).

          • random832 says:

            My comment mysteriously disappeared when I tried to add a link to a Federalist article. Maybe it will reappear. In any case, you can google “Did United Airlines Violate Its Own Contract By Forcing That Passenger Off The Plane?”

            The potential damage suffered by the victim (inconvenience of rebooking) is essentially the same whether you are bumped before you get on the plane or after you get on.

            Yes, and it’s also the same no matter what the reason you’re bumped is. But whether it is a breach of the contract is not the same.

            Clearly reputational consequences are not a sufficient mechanism for enforcing contracts, and neither are ‘actual’ damages. So it comes down to whether we want to live in a world where corporations are required to follow the terms of their contracts or not. (I also don’t agree with the premise that they shouldn’t be held accountable for police brutality. The police won’t, so someone might as well be.)

          • bean says:

            @random832
            My understanding is that ‘boarding’ in US airline law is not used in the plain sense of the term. No, I don’t know why. Also, there’s a force majure clause in United’s Contract of Carriage which specifies that they can remove passengers at any time due to, among other things, labor shortages.
            In any case, the passenger in question was not an aviation lawyer. He didn’t do what he did because he’d read all the applicable rules, and knew that United was breaking them (assuming that they were, that is). He was a selfish idiot who had decided that he was too important to get kicked off the plane.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            He was a selfish idiot who had decided that he was too important to be held responsible for United’s fuckups.

            The dude had done nothing to deserve being kicked off. United could have resolved the issue in so many other ways if they were a competent organization. Notably, offering passengers better incentives than a dozen shitty non-combinable vouchers.

            If your options get reduced to forcing people off the plane, telling them they’re entitled to min(fare*4, $1350) also might make them more cooperative. But then people might actually exercise their legal & contractual rights so we can’t have that.

          • bean says:

            The dude had done nothing to deserve being kicked off. United could have resolved the issue in so many other ways if they were a competent organization. Notably, offering passengers better incentives than a dozen shitty non-combinable vouchers.

            I don’t have details on what United offered, although I’d be interested to see them. But I do question the assumption that if United was a better organization, they wouldn’t have needed to move the crew. Let’s say that the scheduled crew wouldn’t make it to Louisville in time to get their rest because they were grounded by bad weather. United has no control over that. Or maybe it was a mechanical failure. Whose fault is that? United? The manufacturer? Murphy? Do we delay or cancel that flight to avoid annoying a few people on this flight?

            If your options get reduced to forcing people off the plane, telling them they’re entitled to min(fare*4, $1350) also might make them more cooperative. But then people might actually exercise their legal & contractual rights so we can’t have that.

            They’re legally required to tell passengers who they offer voluntary bumps what they’d get for involuntary bumps.

          • random832 says:

            My understanding is that ‘boarding’ in US airline law is not used in the plain sense of the term

            The argument that I saw included that the specific definition was in the contract of carriage, was satisfied, and that United employees had already declared the flight to have been “fully boarded”.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But I do question the assumption that if United was a better organization, they wouldn’t have needed to move the crew. Let’s say that the scheduled crew wouldn’t make it to Louisville in time to get their rest because they were grounded by bad weather. United has no control over that. Or maybe it was a mechanical failure. Whose fault is that? United? The manufacturer? Murphy? Do we delay or cancel that flight to avoid annoying a few people on this flight?

            You handle the bumps at the gate. If your organization is not competent enough to do that, and no boarded passengers are gracious enough to bail you out, take your lumps and move on.

            They’re legally required to tell passengers who they offer voluntary bumps what they’d get for involuntary bumps.

            Can’t say I’ve ever heard that included in the requests for volunteers. Might be a lack of paying attention, but my priors are that airlines are scumbags and would do everything they can to not tell people they could get a better deal by not volunteering.

          • nyccine says:

            The possibility of involuntary bumping is explicitly made clear when you buy the ticket.

            Only in cases of overbooking – i.e., he was bumped for a paying customer.

            This guy was tossed for an employee of the company; nothing in United’s carriage policy allows for this.

          • bean says:

            @Gobbobobble

            Can’t say I’ve ever heard that included in the requests for volunteers. Might be a lack of paying attention, but my priors are that airlines are scumbags and would do everything they can to not tell people they could get a better deal by not volunteering.

            Based on my memory of being voluntarily bumped, combined with some guesswork:
            The applicable rule probably only applies when they’re dealing with people one-on-one about volunteering, not when they’re looking for people who might be interested in volunteering. They give you a piece of paper with all of this on it. You glance it over, then take the deal, because if you wait too long, they’ll give it to the person in line behind you. Yes, you can hold out for more, but only if you’re very sure that they won’t find anyone else who is willing to be bought off. Oh, and if they do go to involuntary, you probably won’t get the money anyway.
            What I don’t understand is why the airlines take so much flack for what is fairly normal business behavior. If any company is giving you things they don’t have to, they’re planning to get the money back some other way.

            @nyccine

            This guy was tossed for an employee of the company; nothing in United’s carriage policy allows for this.

            Actually, it does. Labor shortages are mentioned under the force majure clause, which also says that people can be removed at any time.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @bean

            Makes sense. Does rather strongly imply that this guy was not informed he would be compensated before they decided to go straight to concussively removing him. I maintain that people would likely be more cooperative if so informed.

            Oh, and if they do go to involuntary, you probably won’t get the money anyway.

            Why is this? I was under the impression that compensation was legally mandated. Are you just likely to get dicked over by their lawyers in such cases? If so, that should be a big clue over why people are pissed at airline behavior.

          • bean says:

            @Gobbobble

            Makes sense. Does rather strongly imply that this guy was not informed he would be compensated before they decided to go straight to concussively removing him. I maintain that people would likely be more cooperative if so informed.

            I would say I doubt this, but I’m just going to flat-out disbelieve it. The airline employees have to know what the procedure is, and would have told him he’d get money. (A theory. His ticket was cheap, and he knew that he’d get less than $800 under under the involuntary offer. That might be what set him off.)

            Why is this? I was under the impression that compensation was legally mandated. Are you just likely to get dicked over by their lawyers in such cases? If so, that should be a big clue over why people are pissed at airline behavior.

            Compensation is legally mandated. I was referring to the risk that they’ll pick someone else, in which case you get no money. That’s a pretty high risk. I doubt you could be more than 10% sure you’d get picked.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @bean
            Ah, thanks for the compensation explanation. That makes sense now.

            I think we’re at a point where our beliefs on what airlines will and will not do as standard procedure are at an impasse here, so there’s probably not much worth discussing unless a record or testimony surfaces of what happened leading up to the passenger’s removal.

    • beleester says:

      NPR had a game theorist talking about it, and they had a few interesting suggestions:

      1. Always bump passengers before they’re actually seated – once they’re settled and they think “this is my seat,” it’s harder to convince them to leave.

      2. Instead of making a small offer and escalating, start by offering a large amount of money and scale back until you have exactly as many people accepting the offer as you need. That way, you get people thinking “Yeah, I might leave for the right price…” early in the process and they’re open to negotiation. And if people refuse the huge offer, you know that they’re probably people who really need to get to their destination now, and will make a huge scene if you force them to leave.

      3. Don’t make the offer in public – people will compare their behavior to others and think “Well, if I’m willing to accept $400 and nobody else is, I must be getting suckered. I should hold out for more.” Pick out the passengers you think are most likely to accept and offer it individually. Or send it by text message, the same way airlines already tell you about delays and cancellations. That way you can negotiate with all your passengers in parallel.

      • Matt M says:

        2. Instead of making a small offer and escalating, start by offering a large amount of money and scale back until you have exactly as many people accepting the offer as you need.

        Strikes me as a horrible idea that could backfire a lot. If you “offer” someone $1,000 they will feel (whether this is legally true or not and regardless of how you phrase it) that they are then entitled to the exchange. If you then come back and say “Whoops, we had too many offers, the price is actually now $600” people will feel outraged. You just told me you’d give me $1,000 and now you’re backing out? What a rip-off. What kind of dishonest company would do such a thing?

        Pick out the passengers you think are most likely to accept and offer it individually. Or send it by text message, the same way airlines already tell you about delays and cancellations. That way you can negotiate with all your passengers in parallel.

        This is a logistical nightmare. I guess maybe you could code some sort of automated system to do it, but I have little faith in the airlines to get that right given all the constantly shifting variables involved (such as, say, the ability to re-schedule you on a different carrier’s flight). Any proposed “solution” to this problem CANNOT result in making the process take longer or become more complicated for the gate agents.

  11. ignition says:

    I could imagine something like “On Guided by the Beauty of Our Weapons” being written by a 4th century Christian discussing the unconverted pagans.

    Obviously, Christianity had some sort of major memetic advantage over European paganism. Our early Christian author notices this, and reasonably concludes that open and rational debate slightly favors Christianity on balance. (You know, because it’s absolutely true and the pagans just haven’t figured it out yet.) Simply promoting general philosophical competence and logical thinking tools would therefore lead to greater adoption of Christianity as people become better at sorting correct ideas from incorrect ones. A perfectly reasonable strategy, from this author’s perspective.

    If you are not a Christian (probably most of this commentariat), you’d agree that the advantage existed but have different explanations that don’t hinge on Christianity being true. If you had to advise this author on how to best promote Christianity, you’d probably advocate symmetric weapons, or at least asymmetric weapons not centered around truth. You certainly would not advise the mere promotion of general clear thinking and expect that the proper use of reason would automatically guide everyone towards the light of Christ.

    It seems pretty clear to me that non-truth-related asymmetric advantages exist, and people benefiting from them are going to think the advantage mostly comes from them being correct. I think people are very capable of pressing non-truth-related advantages as hard as they can while thinking the good results come mostly from truth. This is not to discourage investing in the pursuit of truth, just to say that investing in truth so your side can win because you’re correct comes off as very naive. That’s probably why people *don’t* commonly invest in truth as a way to win ideological conflicts.

    Let’s see why in the 4th Century example.
    Pagan: The planets are the physical forms of gods.
    Christian: No, the planets are perfected forms placed upon the celestial sphere by God.
    Both: Okay, let’s put tons of honest effort into finding the actual truth, which will vindicate me because I’m right.
    ***research happens***
    Incredibly Well-Funded Astrologer: Uh, I think they’re giant rocks. They go around the Sun in lopsided circles.

    Both the Pagan and the Christian can probably digest this new discovery into their respective worldviews. It may even be useful to know. However, it was completely unhelpful for the purposes of promoting either one’s worldview over the other. This is the sort of unsatisfying result I expect when applying honest inquiry into an active cultural conflict, and that’s fine if you’re seeking truth. However, if seeking truth and winning an active cultural conflict seem too closely aligned, it’s more likely you’re pressing non-truth-related advantages and mistaking them for pure investigation.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Both the Pagan and the Christian can probably digest this new discovery into their respective worldviews. It may even be useful to know. However, it was completely unhelpful for the purposes of promoting either one’s worldview over the other.

      It was unhelpful for promoting worldviews because both sides were making testable claims, but both claims turned out to be false. A lot of active cultural conflicts consist of one group insisting “A is true” and another insisting “A is false”, rather than the Christians and Pagans who were debating which of A and B were true. If you could prove the nature of the correlation between guns and murders, it would be almost impossible not to solve the gun control debate.

      Do you think that the majority of cultural conflicts are A vs B debates, or do you have a reason for thinking truth-seeking isn’t terribly useful even in A vs !A debates?

      • ignition says:

        I definitely think the majority of cultural conflicts are A vs B.

        Real A vs !A conflicts exist, but I see that framing used most often for marketing.
        Like how abortion is either “killing babies vs. not” or “respecting women’s’ rights vs. not”

        The pro-gun folks would not suddenly fold if “guns cause murders” were proven correct. In general, they are not highly averse to violence and are certainly not universalist consequentialists. They don’t care much about a statistical reduction in the aggregate national murder rate. They like being able to take personal responsibility for their defense and get a creepy Orwellian feeling about the government disarming them for the greater good.

        It’s pretty rare for cultural conflicts to be directly about testable claims. I usually think of each side as primarily promoting an ethos and a general narrative. Most narratives don’t hinge on any single fact, and arguments over them tend to involve flinging lots of tiny pieces of Bayesian evidence in the hopes that one narrative collapses. (“The planets are giant rocks” is not logically connected to “Jesus Christ dies for your sins”, but it can be a small point against a broad narrative that has something to say on both. The latter can be salvaged by constructing a new narrative that includes both Jesus and space rocks in a vaguely coherent fashion. If the new narrative isn’t good enough either a different army of tiny facts might collapse it later on.)

        Promoting an ethos or moral outlook is even less fact-oriented, it’s a usually difference of axioms, so you can’t really argue from evidence to the usual extent.

        Rare: An effective altruist tells some guy he could stop a lot of suffering by giving to Africa, and he doesn’t do it because he disagrees on their data collection or statistical methods.

        Common: An effective altruist tells some guy he could stop a lot of suffering by giving to Africa, and he doesn’t do it because deep down he feels that $10 spent on his own kid is worth a faceless Nigerian dying of malaria.

        This isn’t to say truth-seeking doesn’t provide you with valuable information, but most useful facts are pretty neutral to most personal narratives, and people don’t conflict the same way about bare facts.

  12. howardtreesong says:

    There’s a reasonably interesting slate article on Anna Stubblefield’s appeal. For those of you that don’t remember, she’s the Rutgers professor that worked with the disabled via “facilitated communication.” She slept with one of her disabled clients and was then prosecuted for sexual assault.

    Link here: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/04/will_anna_stubblefield_get_a_new_trial_in_her_facilitated_communication.html

    • Deiseach says:

      This whole thing is an awful mess. I get that the defence have to use whatever experts they can get who are willing to testify for them, but when the question at hand is “is this method legit or snake oil?” and the consensus is mostly “it’s snake oil”, you’re doing yourself no favours by using the original inventor and brewer of the recipe of the snake oil batch as your expert on “no, this works!”

      Why were these tapes recorded in the first place? Three times before, experts had assessed D.J. and made reports about his competence. All three concurred on some basic impressions: that D.J. is nonverbal, that he can make his feelings known through high-pitch sounds and grunts, and that his language comprehension is at best quite modest, roughly equivalent (if such equivalencies have meaning) to that of an infant or a toddler. After Stubblefield’s arrest, her lawyers argued that these conclusions were mistaken. Through negligence or prejudice, they said, the experts had confused D.J.’s physical impairments for mental ones. Since D.J. couldn’t talk or hold a pencil, evaluators wrongly assumed that he had nothing to say. So the defense asked Crossley, as well as a second expert practitioner of facilitated communication named Marilyn Chadwick, to provide a more open-minded and inclusive test of D.J.’s skills and capabilities.

      Okay, so they’re saying he is mentally the equivalent of a toddler? Then find the people who assess disabled children and infants and get their opinion on what’s his capacity, for crying out loud! Part of the story was that D.J. was going to a day service for those with special needs (where allegedly one of the sexual encounters took place between him and Stubblefield) – what do the staff there who interacted with him have to say about his capabilities?

      I’m only a year in the place, but I’m working in the office of an early intervention service for kids between the ages of eighteen months to ready for preschool (around five); there is one child who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal (but is noticeably bright and will be going to mainstream school in the autumn), two toddlers with Down Syndrome and others with diagnoses from autism to speech and developmental difficulties. They have to be recommended by the health board to get a place and there are ways of assessing and diagnosing them – it’s not “well we think something’s wrong but we’re not sure” or “one doctor says he has this, another doctor says he’s fine”. It can be tough to get a diagnosis but there are standards to assess intellectual disability.

      If a two year old with Down Syndrome can be taught simple sign language to communicate, surely even a cerebral palsy sufferer with a mental age of a toddler can be taught something similar? Surely there is some means of testing that can be used that doesn’t rely on a disputed method?

      The whole crux of the matter is the mental capacity of this man and nobody seems to have a satisfactory answer as to what testing has been done or how he’s been assessed.

      Aside from that, even if he is fully compos mentis, Stubblefield behaved in an enormously unprofessional way. She’s married with two kids and older than he is, not to mention in a position of trust, influence, authority and power regarding him, and frankly some of the communications that she says he produced about wanting to be in a sexual relationship sound more like fantasies she had (“you’re more beautiful than any porn star” for one). She’s wrecked her marriage, she’s wrecked any relationship she had with that family, she’s made a mess of her career (except for those who think she’s a Martyr For Science regarding Facilitated Communication), she’s thrown immense doubt on the guy she was supposed to be helping (all the things he produced – were they really his, or did she ghostwrite it all?) and this is folie d’amour at its worst.

      If he’s not compos mentis, she’s a rapist on top of all that.

      I’m not sure she should be locked up for twelve years, but I am sure she badly needs help to burst this fantasist’s bubble of a Romeo and Juliet romance and get her back to reality.

      • howardtreesong says:

        There is in fairness another legal issue lurking here: “to convict, the jury had to find that D.J. was unable to consent to a relationship with Stubblefield and that she “knew, or should have known” that fact.”

        This looks to me like both a subjective test (“knew”) and an objective test (“should have known”) wrapped into one. I don’t have much if any doubt that Stubblefield believed in facilitated communication, and I think it’s pretty clear she subjectively believed that DJ was capable of and did in fact consent. The objective validity of facilitated communication really goes to the second part of that language, i.e. whether she “should have known” DJ was incapable of consent.

        I’m deeply skeptical about hard-to-replicate mechanisms such as facilitated communication. But it’s clear that Stubblefield spent much of her career on facilitated communication, both using it and seeking to show its validity. Those points are separate from DJ’s actual ability to consent, except insofar as he’s a test case for the technology.

        But yeah, this case is a mess.

        • Brad says:

          Do note it is knew *or* should have known. The prosecution only needs to prove one as part of its burden on recklessness.

          • howardtreesong says:

            Yes, good point. Interestingly, the Slate article uses “and” in place of “or.” I would imagine the prosecutor would have had a heck of a time trying to show that Stubblefield did NOT personally believe DJ consented, and I thus suspect that the case focused on the objective portion.

  13. Jack V says:

    I’ve sometimes thought of arbitrarily dividing comment sections. Sometimes based on something completely arbitrary (eg. hash of username, or ip), sometimes based on geography, sometimes something inbetween (eg. divide people up by country, but mix the countries between continents or something). It wouldn’t need to be *enforced*, to be like, “here’s your default comment section, but feel free to read the others if you like”.

  14. Mark says:

    What technologies have there been that were bad?

    I’m thinking agriculture, given the nutritional problems and social difficulties associated with mass society, was fairly bad for the first few thousand years, other than that, I’m having a hard time thinking of any.
    Cars?

    Is there anything bad about windows (glass)? If not isn’t that one reason to be optimistic about technological development?

    • Chalid says:

      Leaded gasoline? Trans fats?

      • Mark says:

        Yeah – good one. Asbestos, thalidomide too?

        I suppose things with unexpected health impacts/side effects.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Glass has a few potential issues, though I don’t think there were any particular large-scale health impacts. The three of concern are leaded glass, uranium glass (though this is niche), and whether nuclear waste glasses will hold up as a proper waste storage medium in the long term.

      Over the course of hours, lead silicate glass (aka “crystal”) will leach lead ions into acidic solutions (e.g. wine). Uranium glass has the risk of uranium exposure, though “vaseline glass” is much more chemically durable than lead glasses. And nuclear waste glass is intended to sequester high-level nuclear waste daughter ions for millennia. Personally, I think it’s doing a fine job, but we won’t be sure until waste storage facilities face their first crisis.

    • Salem says:

      It’s hard to know, because (1) the effects of any given technology are unclear and (2) people don’t agree on what “bad” means. But here are some technologies that have often been called bad:

      * Ranged weapons
      * The cotton gin (US slavery)
      * Refined sugar
      * Weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, biological…)
      * Recreational drugs
      * Television

      Each claim has to be evaluated on its merits, but it would be very surprising if no technology were ever harmful.

    • Elmore Kindle says:

      Machine guns as a bane of warriors:

      Whatever happens, we have got
      The Maxim gun, and they have not.

         — Hilaire Belloc
             The Modern Traveller (1898)

      On a parallel track, Bayesian reasoning as a bane of human cognition:

      Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death. …

      Before the curse of statistics fell upon mankind we lived a happy, innocent life, full of merriment and go, and informed by fairly good judgment. We knew when the weather was cold and when it was dry; we knew what public opinion was; we knew what was good for us and what was bad for us, and all the rest.

      That state of affairs lasted for centuries. It was too good to last. The statistician was let loose.

         — Hilaire Belloc, in “On Statistics”,
             The Silence of the Sea and Other Essays (1940)

      In light of recent, ongoing advances in cognitive neuroscience, machine intelligence, and psychiatric practice, perhaps Hilaire Belloc’s insights deserve recognition as being appreciably in advance of their time?

    • keranih says:

      How on earth are you measuring “bad”?

      Cause this:

      I’m thinking agriculture, given the nutritional problems and social difficulties associated with mass society, was fairly bad for the first few thousand years, other than that, I’m having a hard time thinking of any.

      Makes me think that you’re saying fewer people starving to death in the winter as *bad*, and I’m not up to putting those words in your mouth.

      (Had you asked “what widely adopted tech advances have had larger than usual downsides” I would have fallen back on that SSC favorite example, the stirrup.)

      Window glass allowed for houses to be built with less ventilation without sacrificing as much light, which helped spread TB.

      • Wander says:

        Well, at least one study seems to conclude agriculture actually resulted in more people starving to death for quite some time. Hunter-gatherers generally had fairly comfortable lives, especially compared to early agricultural ones where they were giving up the ability to just move somewhere with more food in lieu of struggling to grow low-yield crops.

        • Deiseach says:

          Does the ease and success of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle depend on climate? I’m thinking of Egypt’s reputation as the Classical world’s bread-basket because the climate and fertility of the Nile meant bounteous crops, but the fertility was very much limited by the river itself.

          So hunting-gathering in a warm climate without severe winters, where sleeping out in the open isn’t likely to get you dying of cold, wet or eaten by bears and there’s plenty of fruit on the bushes year round so you have lots of free time sounds great, but is it so great when you’re slogging through mud in the rain and the bushes are barren because it’s the wrong season?

          • Nornagest says:

            Probably. It’s hard to say much with confidence about the details of ancestral hunter-gatherer life, though, because most recent hunter-gatherer populations live in marginal environments; pretty much everywhere that can be used for farming or grazing, has been. The studies Wander’s talking about use proxies, like height and bone composition.

            If recent, marginal hunter-gatherers do okay, though, it’s probably safe to conclude that ancestral ones living in fertile areas did okay too.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        In addition to Wander’s post, I seem to recall that people who dug up skeletons found that in the places where hunter-gatherer skeletons could be compared with farmer skeletons from around the same time, hunter-gatherers had longer life expectancy generally, and less disease. Not sure where I read this; I have a vague memory it may have been Jared Diamond’s Collapse or Colin Tudge’s The Day Before Yesterday, but in any case I understand that it is a widely accepted position that farming allowed a much larger number of people to exist, at the cost of them having a significantly crappier standard of living by comparison with hunter-gatherers.

        • keranih says:

          So, farming allowed more people to have more babies that would survive past childhood, and to reproduce better, and to survive longer with diseases (to the point that diseases patterns showed up on skeletons) (both of these things would lower the average age of death)…

          and this is *bad*?

          We’re not talking about modern ages here, where the lack of kids means one is wealthy and has resources.

  15. aqs says:

    A short report on Helsinki meetup. Turnout was far better than anticipated: I was expecting ~5, we had 20 persons present at the peak. Discussion topics included: common characteristics of LW community, the quality of Finnish dubs of children’s cartoons, the usefulness of ICT education, and much, much more.

    To gather feedback and comments on future meetup plans I’m now publicly distributing this Google form: https://goo.gl/forms/PELx8wYtCfG0MSz93. A tentative / suggested date for the next meetup: Saturday, May 13.

  16. pontifex says:

    It’s great to see so many comments here. Having a big community is a “problem” a lot of other sites would love to have, I bet 🙂

    I have to say, like the comments section the way it is, though. It’s nice to load a lot of comments for when you’re getting on a plane or some other place where there is not internet. I’m pretty good at skimming to find the things that are interesting to me.

    I also hate moderation, karma systems, whatever you want to call it. It turns discussion into a game where people want to score points– the exact opposite of what I think most people here want. The echo chamber effect is also very real. Web 1.0 systems like Usenet were in many ways healthier and better than what followed (someday I will write a longer rant about this).

    • Matt M says:

      Agreed. Most of us like this place quite a bit. I would error strongly on the side of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The minor annoyances can be dealt with if sufficiently motivated, but changes like upvoting and more frequent bans and paying to post have the real potential to completely alter the dynamics that make the place worth coming to in the first place.

    • cactus head says:

      If and when you write that rant, will you talk about anonymous imageboards? That criticism of upvote/downvote karma systems is in line with what I always see anons write about the topic on chans, but the anons tend to mention something extra, which is that even having a persistent name across threads is bad. Two common reasons given:

      1) It encourages the type of big name forum poster who accumulates 10000+ posts over the course of a few years,
      2) If you start off as a bad poster and become better, the bad reputation attached to your name is a hindrance which is better off not being there.

      As much as I like web 1.0 forums without karma systems, I’m inclined to agree with the anons there.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Contingent upon the assumption that most people parse web forums like I do, I’m going to propose that there are actually two types of non-anonymous web forums.

        The phpBB model is the sort where users tend to have recognizable avatars, profiles, signatures, a PM system, and their post count is displayed next to each posts.

        The second type is more common to comments sections, like this one: Usernames, avatars are either nonexistent or indistinct procgen affairs, no post count or profile.

        I comment on several forums of each type, and I feel like the reputation effects are greatly minimized on SSC-style forums. I think the complaints of the anons are only valid for the first type.

        The complaint of the anons isn’t about usernames, but that having a reputation is bad. Enforced anonymity certainly solves the problem, but usernames do provide nonzero value (it’s harder to have a back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth conversation with one specific person on 4chan), so I think there’s a reasonable argument for the low-reputation approach of SSC.

        • pontifex says:

          I feel like the ideal computerized discussion system was Usenet, and everything else has been downhill since then.

          Usenet was decentralized and open. As a consequence, there were many clients available to browse it. If you wanted a bigger font, a different appearance, or whatever, you just used whatever client you wanted. Messages were retained for a very long time– there are still Usenet messages from the 1990s you can read online.

          In contrast, modern messaging systems like Facebook or Google+ are centralized and closed. If you don’t like the Facebook app or website, too bad! If you don’t like the latest website redesign, too bad! You don’t get a choice. Message boards can and do shut down, like IMDB’s. When they shut down, they often destroy all of the history. You will not necessarily be able to read those messages in a few years.

          You often encountered people with different opinions or beliefs on Usenet. While some groups were moderated, many more were not. When groups were moderated, there was normally only a small group of moderators, and there was no upvote or downvote system. So rather than a mob mentality encouraging groupthink and gamification, you had a small group of people who mostly just thought about whether the message was bad enough to drop. Banning people was more or less not technically possible (when it was attempted, it was done because the user was a serious abuser of the technical system, not because of their opinions.)

          In contrast, “modern” places like Slashdot or /r/the_donald, etc. are circle-jerks where having the “wrong” opinion gets you banned. I am terrified to express any political opinion on systems like Facebook or Google+, because those systems are tied tightly to my identity. I don’t know who will look at it in the future.

          Usenet could be used for either short or long messages. Or even binary data. Some messages had everything you needed to know in the subject line, Twitter-style. Other messages were long essays, some as long as this one. You were not constrained.

          Modern messaging systems often add arbitrary constraints on message length. Twitter is the most famous one, but there are many others. This makes it impossible to have an in-depth discussion without splitting the discussion into many different tweets.

          • Brad says:

            Despite the lack of moderation in many cases, it still wasn’t the free for all that exists on the imageboards because newsreaders had killfiles and there were mechanisms to distribute and sync killfiles.

            They were fairly effective because, at least in the golden age, it wasn’t trivial to get a new email address.

          • Jesse E says:

            The Usenet worked because for the most part, it was a self-selecting portion of people who usually had similar academic and socioeconomic backgrounds, even if they were of different races, sexes, or religions.

            Plus, even if you could evade bans, communities were small enough that a ban evader returning could easily be pointed out due to their writing style.

            Unless you’re saying Usenet was good past Eternal September in which case you’re an insane person.

  17. Ninmesara says:

    Splitting the thread? Israel-Palestinian anomaly for the win! Bonus points for a way of doing that according to ideological boundaries or IP addresses.

  18. J Mann says:

    What do people think are the three biggest accomplishments of philosophy over the last 30 years, and should any of them be impressive to a non-philosopher?

    • andrewflicker says:

      I think your time horizon is too short to get a really good judgement. I think this is one of those things that it takes a few more decades to get a good feel for second-order effects.

      • Jaskologist says:

        100 years, then.

        But then, what do we count as philosophy? The parts that get solved are reclassified as science instead, right?

        • J Mann says:

          Does 100 years get you Communism? Hegel, Marx and pre-revolutionary Lenin are all earlier, but a lot of their accomplishments occur under Stalin and Mao.

          • Protagoras says:

            If that kind of indirect influence counts, then due to the point Jaskologist alludes to you have to give philosophy most, if not all, of the accomplishments of science as well.

          • quanta413 says:

            If that kind of indirect influence counts, then due to the point Jaskologist alludes to you have to give philosophy most, if not all, of the accomplishments of science as well.

            And I’d think vice-versa as well unless you can give me a pretty convincing argument otherwise since there was once no clear distinction between philosophers and scientists.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Science was clearly the spin-off from philosophy. Dudes loved wisdom (and then knowledge), and only later did some of them try meticulous empirical experimentation as a way of getting to that knowledge.

          • quanta413 says:

            Science was clearly the spin-off from philosophy. Dudes loved wisdom (and then knowledge), and only later did some of them try meticulous empirical experimentation as a way of getting to that knowledge.

            Although we are getting pretty far from original specified time period (like half a millenia to several millenia) let’s keep going. At what point are we considering philosophy as starting? Aristotle dissected a lot of animals so clearly even some early philosophers has interest in empirical study. And engineering and craftsmanship is often forgotten as being a source of science in favor of the highbrow philosophy, but is easily just as critical (if not moreso).

            Also one thing I missed.

            The parts that get solved are reclassified as science instead, right?

            The parts where people learn to ask the right questions are reclassified as science instead.

            Kidding, kidding… the boring practical and engineering knowledge matter too much to science for that to really be how the classification works.

          • Protagoras says:

            Yes, quanta, I was making the point that J Mann was being silly, not seriously trying to give philosophers credit for everything. The influence of Marx is vastly overstated (as any good Marxist historian would tell you; only the worst of Great Man historians would think he actually played a critical role in the developments that he managed to get his name attached to).

          • J Mann says:

            @Protagoras

            Thanks – Assuming I understand you, I think you’re right that without Marx and Hegel, communism or something very similar still develops, but then I can just give credit to “Communism” (which in fact I did!) and avoid the great man theory. Without a philosophy similar to Communism., I’m not sure that the Russian rebels have as much success making a run at world revolution.

            I’m honestly curious what people see as the greatest philosophical achievements of the last 30 years – both academics and otherwise.

            I can’t think of any, but I agree that might be too short a period. Prior to that, I’d put the development of communism, feminism, and a bunch of stuff that collectively gets called postmodernism (pragmatism, critical legal and literary theory, actual postmodernism, etc.)

            Alternately, if someone from the academic side of things wants to say “they solved the grue-bleen problem and it’s changed the way everyone views philosophy!” that would be interesting too.

          • Protagoras says:

            But if you just credit it to communism, why connect it to philosophy? Does philosophy get credit for western democracies too, because Locke (and many others, of course) were pro-democracy philosophers? Even though Locke seems to have been more a product of England becoming more democratic than a cause of it? There were socialists before Marx, too (before Locke, even; in the English Civil War there were the True Levelers, and I’m sure there are earlier examples that have eluded my patchy knowledge of early modern European history).

          • J Mann says:

            Well, to be super reductive, I asked what people’s opinions are, and those are my opinions. 🙂

            To go into a little more detail, I think that all human thought is a product of its environment, and I agree it’s all a continuum, but sure, I would chalk democratic ideas up to philosophy, whether it’s some classic Greek figure or Locke or Thomas Paine or Emerson or whomever.

            I’ll grant you that saying that “this philosophical idea emerged on this date” is misleading precision, so if somebody wanted to say that the biggest philosophical developments of the last 30 years have been increasing public acceptance of an earlier idea, that would be interesting.

            Or if they wanted to say the world was shaken by the grue-bleen problem, also interesting.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Protagoras

            Yes, quanta, I was making the point that J Mann was being silly, not seriously trying to give philosophers credit for everything. The influence of Marx is vastly overstated (as any good Marxist historian would tell you; only the worst of Great Man historians would think he actually played a critical role in the developments that he managed to get his name attached to).

            I’m a total dope. Somehow I missed that.

            Does philosophy get credit for western democracies too, because Locke (and many others, of course) were pro-democracy philosophers? Even though Locke seems to have been more a product of England becoming more democratic than a cause of it?

            It feels like there should be some sort of partial credit for justifying or exploring things even if the things that to justify are pre-existing structures.

          • Jaskologist says:

            At this point, I’m wondering if anybody can come up with “accomplishments” that are actually to the philosophers’ credit.

        • JohnBuridan says:

          1. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s take down of logical positivism in Philosophical Investigations has had far reaching effects for debates about language, truth, and logic. Our contemporaries have more complex (and I would argue far better/ more true) views about language and how it relates to describing reality than ever before. This is hugely important if you are in the truth business. One’s philosophy of language and philosophy of signs largely determines what outlook a person or people could have.

          2. Game Theory. Perhaps the new underpinning framework for certain social studies (ask Herbert Gintis, he thinks so)? Makes for better history books, anthropology books, and SSC posts [citation needed].

          3. Since I kind of cheated by saying Game Theory, since it’s supposedly ‘math.’ I’m going to cheat again and say something which isn’t normal and far too expansive: there’s been a lot of good conversation about religious questions (qualia topics, man’s experience of the cosmos, I don’t know what to call it) in the past 100 years. Dostoevsky and Walker Percy are two existentialists, who ‘get’ my individual experience of depression. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is worth reading no matter your persuasions. Etienne Gilson and Thomas Merton have been really insightful Christians about beauty and ‘meaning of life stuff,’ and both are especially good at incorporating secular humanism and buddhism respectively. If you’re like me and think religions do have something to offer us, and don’t think Harvard is effing stupid for having a divinity school etc., then it’s good to seek out the respected academic religious writers in the major faith traditions of zeeentireworld.

          • Urstoff says:

            Within philosophy itself, Quine’s critiques of positivism have had a much greater influence than Wittgenstein’s. Indeed, as far as analytic philosophy goes, Quine was the philosopher of the 20th century (followed by Kripke and then probably Wittgenstein). Outside of philosophy, the PI has obviously had a much bigger influence.

        • skef says:

          One kind of philosophical accomplishment is arriving at a way of looking at things that stands on its own, and becomes all or part of another discipline. On a 30 year time-frame, I’m not aware of anything that fits that category, although we might just not know yet.

          On a 100 year basis, though, there’s at least one example: the study of semantics, which is now mostly done in Linguistics. These questions are always arguable, but from what I understand the key transitional figure is Richard Montague, who (among others) started using tools developed for “ideal languages” to model natural ones. The ideal language program arguably starts with Frege and was developed by the positivists, with Carnap and Church being prominent figures. (Semantics is still full of lambdas, which come (mostly unmolested) from lambda calculus.)

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      A decent discussion is here; the comments are very much part of it too.

      As to whether any of them should be impressive, I think the answer is yes, though I admit it’s hard to justify concretely. My loose reasoning is 1. You probably care about some of these issues, since most *humans* do, let alone humans who have heard of this site; 2. These questions to a certain extent define the era we live in, so progress on them does to some nontrivial extent mean that we’re no longer living in the 18th century. (As I said, not super convincing. But I have another question for you: should solving problems in higher mathematics be impressive to non-mathematicians?)

      • J Mann says:

        Thanks – that’s the kind of thing I was looking for.

        I’m not crazy about the links – the author seems to review questions as settled because he is convinced. (See for example, his link to #2.) Granted, he has no obligation to prove either proposition to me, but I’d like a little more proof that (a) #2 was a live question prior to some agreement; and (b) there’s now a consensus that 2 is settled.

        As for math, I would be interested for someone to tell me what the 3 greatest advancements in math were in the last 30 years – I’m sure I couldn’t fully understand it, but I’d still be interested to know. (And I wouldn’t rule out real-world impact of mathematical breakthroughs, although I wouldn’t guarantee it.)

      • Unsure says:

        Frankly, I’d dispute most of that. I think some of the others deserve further scrutiny, but briefly speaking:

        On point 11: There is an objective, verifiable difference between me and not-me. And although I don’t believe in objective person-independent value, concepts such as friends and family are such that I can coherently choose to treat people as more or less valuable, and thus as more or less persons, to an extent I choose based on such concepts, on emotional connection to myself, or similar.

        I personally consider this mostly relevant with respect to the amoralist challenge, which deserves a lot more ethical attention than it gets. But it leads quite nicely into:

        On point nine: It is an empirical question if replacing M with R can achieve better results. And while there are some real world efforts at coordination which do just that, cultural and psychological factors make doing this on so wide a scale as to make it worth an ordinary person’s time to replace M with R.

        On point five:
        “More generally, it’s daft to think that God’s existence is necessary to ground normative ideals, because the whole point of ideals is that they float free from the mess of our actual reality..”

        This flies in the face of the amoralist challenge- if we are going to make a rational morality, what makes this morality more than just irrational whim? How could we rationally persuade someone who simply decides “I don’t give a f__k” that they are somehow acting irrationally?

        Though Chappell does try to address the amoralist challenge, he does it badly and does not realize that he ought to do it here.

        ——————-

        I have suspicions on other parts of it, so I will make a followup to that extent. Also, my argument here is not that he is totally wrong (though I do believe he is definitely wrong on the points where I said he is), but that these issues are very far from solved.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I really dislike Chappell’s engagement with the amoralist challenge. He seems to base his whole argument upon this:

          in not having [genuine friendship, love, comradeship], [the immoralist] loses a lot — loses more than he could ever gain in a tradeoff with the goods he gained by his immoralism

          That assertion is probably unprovable, but he doesn’t even try to prove it, he just takes it for granted that genuine friendship is objectively better than any attainable material wealth.

    • Urstoff says:

      I don’t know what counts as a philosophical accomplishment, but I doubt non-philosophers will find them impressive. Although laypersons are nominally interested in the perennial problems, contemporary philosophy is technical and very, very laden with previous arguments that not having that context will render most philosophy both unintelligible and seemingly pointless.

      • J Mann says:

        I’d still be interested to hear what people think. I haven’t done much with philosophy since undergrad, so if there are any substantial advances or developments, I’d be interested.

        If “nominally” means what I think it means, I think that’s a little unkind.

        • Urstoff says:

          As for accomplishments, I don’t think that’s what we look to philosophy for. In my view, philosophy is in the business of conceptual clarification and development (not analysis in the traditional sense), particularly in drawing connections between concepts and their variations and determining what’s at stake in accepting one set of interconnected concepts versus another set. So I see philosophy in terms of trends and various focuses rather than accomplishments or solved problems.

          In that vein, several trends have emerged in the last 30 years. The emergence of consciousness as a dominant topic in philosophy of mind, the emergence of philosophy of cognitive science as a field, a resurgence of metaphysics (some bordering on speculative metaphysics) after the dark night of the logical positivist soul, virtue epistemology becoming a dominant strain of epistemology (perhaps second only to naturalized epistemology), the scientific realism debate settling down into recalcitrant camps, Bayesian everything, formal epistemology, deflationism with regard to truth still being at the top of the heap after 50+ years, and tons I’m forgetting. Someone more well informed would have to talk about the trends in ethics and political philosophy.

  19. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    General rationalist-diaspora question: how did Eliezer Yudkowski and Robin Hanson meet and decide to blog together? I was wondering this in the context of noting the weird historical accident that the GMU economics department is now kind of rationalist-adjacent.

  20. neaanopri says:

    In RE the comments split idea (amusingly this will probably get buried):

    I think that “being first” is a lot more important to comment quality than people think. I think this would be more obvious if SSC had reddit-style “upvotes”. People are not likely to read more than the first five comments they see, and upvote one or all of them, which means that early upvotes count much more than later upvotes.

    So why not display comments in a random order?

    • AnonYEmous says:

      Same idea I had. Looks like it got a bit buried too ;P

    • bean says:

      So why not display comments in a random order?

      Provided that we keep the thread system, that’s not a bad idea. I’d ask that the new comments sidebar be kept chronological (as it makes keeping track of what you’ve read across multiple devices a lot easier), but in the main screen it would make things a lot more interesting.
      Alternately, could we just have the top-level comments load newest at the top instead of oldest?
      I’d definitely endorse either of these as an experiment, with the implementation to be done based on how things turn out.

      • Skivverus says:

        Seconding the newest-to-oldest sorting for top-level comments (or, for a bit more ambitious coding, having that as an option). Random ordering, preferably randomized client-side, wouldn’t necessarily make comments more manageable, but they’d avoid a couple perceptual biases plus the issues that have been brought up about sharding.

      • dodrian says:

        Actually, reversing comments so they appear newest first may do a lot towards the ‘too many comments hard to be seen’ problem, and would [probably] be a really easy change to make.

        A while back I was a member of an online community loosely based around a comic strip. Every day the new strip went up, give a blank board (like a SSC open thread) and as people commented threads would appear, newest first. If you posted a new thread, you knew you’d get an audience (like SSC they were tree-threads up to a certain depth), if you were already involved or interested in a discussion that got pushed down the page it was pretty easy to ctrl-f and keep contributing to it. Though, another difference with was that comments usually had both subject line and body text, with options to show just subjects, expand all top level, or expand all comments by default.

      • Iain says:

        I like newest-first. Random-order seems overly complicated, and has finicky edge cases when people switch devices, or post a reply while catching up.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Especially since the page reloads whenever we post a comment. Currently, I can keep reading down and only miss whatever gets posted while I’m reading (I generally reset the new-counter when I’m done and go back up to check for them), but that won’t work if every top-level comment is randomly resorted whenever I post.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Preserve the random seed when commenting? It already has logic there to preserve the `new comments since X` value.

          • Iain says:

            What are the advantages of randomized post order that would justify that extra work, though?

            (Edit to clarify: relative to newest-first, which I am totally fine with.)

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Less chance of shouting into the void, without a way to guarantee firstness by commenting at a given point.

            Commenting first is fine by me though, to be honest.

      • zolstein says:

        I realized while browsing the subreddit that I really wish Reddit provided a “recursive-newest” sorting. I.e. it would show first the comment with the newest child, with that child comment’s children counting toward its recency, and so on. (Or, to put it another way, it would sort by most-recent sub-comment activity.) It may not work perfectly here; it privileges threads with a lot of activity and so doesn’t show people new top-level comments as effectively, and I don’t know how well it would interact with the max reply depth, but for people who try to follow the bulk of the conversation in these threads it helps push any sort of new activity to the top.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I’m not sure what the unintended downside of this are, but at first blush its got some attraction.

      Combine this with the ability to auto-collapse all completely read sub-threads and it could certainly address the feeling of being buried.

  21. andrewflicker says:

    We had eight (8!) people show up to the Phoenix meetup, definitely more than was expected. It was great meeting a few locals, though, and I’m hoping we’ll be setting up some future local events as well. Apparently two of those that showed up were previous Less Wrong Phoenix organizers, so we can borrow a little previous organizational experience.

  22. Marko says:

    The SSC/LW meetup in Zurich only drew two new people, but was fun anyway. If you want to be informed about future meetups in Zurich join the facebook group or send me an email (thiel.marko[at]cantab.net).

  23. Error says:

    I don’t know if there’s going to be a separate meetup-reports thread once they all happen, but in case not, I’m reporting in from Atlanta.

    Around ten people showed up last night. We met at a cafe; we stayed till closing, and then those of us that didn’t have somewhere to be in the morning walked to a local park and kept chatting. It’s hard to point to any specific Thing of Awesome, but it was one of those events that’s fun mostly because the people you’re with get the jokes that no one else does.

    I wasn’t quite the oldest person there, but I was close. Age range was roughly 20-35, I think (I’m 34). The population was somewhat more mainstream and less nerd/geek/dork centric than I expected. I still found it easier to fit in than at Mensa meetups, which were mostly people in their 50s that I had little in common with.

    All in all it seemed to go well. This morning is a bit of a different story, because my social anxiety module (which stayed mostly silent last night) is busy telling me I spent half the night acting stupid. But that’s a me-problem, not a meetup-problem. The organizer collected everyone’s email addresses and it seems the tentative plan is to do this every month.

    • David_Robert_Jones says:

      The Atlanta meetup was a lot of fun, I agree. Looking forward to the next one. You were just fine, try not to worry about it too much.

  24. anaisnein says:

    This won’t help with the high-level issue, but one small incremental improvement step would be to split up the links posts so they’re more frequent and contain fewer links each. It’ll only help with the comment threads on links posts, i.e., a minority of overall posts, so the benefit would be limited, but it would still be a benefit, and it would have extremely high ease of implementation and literally no downside that I can come up with (if anything it might actually up the degree of currency on the links posts, not that that’s the only or even most important quality metric, but it’s something). Could be a worthwhile near-term small action step while you continue thinking about the larger problem.

    • Deiseach says:

      With all the grousing we’re doing, we should recognise that this is a problem of success: we have enough regular commenters and enough people who would like to be regular commenters that a regime change in the commenting system is necessary 🙂

  25. bass says:

    Scott,
    I was reading back through your blog archives (big fan of your writing) and I was curious to how you would evaluate your support of a Libyan intervention knowing what we know now. At the time you were extremely forceful in advocating for intervention.

    We know now that the threat was likely exaggerated http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2011/04/14/false_pretense_for_war_in_libya/

    And of course predictably the US mission morphed into a regime change operation beyond the scope of the original mission and Libya is left in bloody chaos.

  26. bean says:

    One crazy suggestion is to split it in two – figure out some way to mirror the site with half the commenters going to one version and the other half going to the other, so that each one has a manageable number of comments.

    I see so many problems with this. I regularly read the comments on three devices, and comment on two of them. Unless you can link which ‘room’ we get sorted into to login, then this is just going to be frustrating. Actually, it will be anyway. I often don’t log in on the third device, and that will also need to be linked to the right room. Also, it would probably be annoying for the battleship addicts who got sorted into the other room from me. I recognize that that’s a unique case, and I should probably just get my own blog at this point, but I like it here.

    Then the best comments from both can be highlighted in the open thread.

    How is this supposed to work? Who does this selection? You probably don’t have time to do it yourself, and even if you did, your tastes aren’t a perfect mirror of the SSC community. So we’re back to upvote/downvote, and I think the general consensus is that that’s a bad thing. I don’t know. Maybe we hide the upvote status until after the thread has died down, then promote the best comments and lock the voting or something.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Honestly, if Scott wants to spread the zeitgeist he is fostering, he probably should be actively encouraging and helping specific people to start their own communities.

      SSC meetups seems like one thing along that line.

      Perhaps some sort of “this blog mirrors SSC (allowed via something like a contract) but I also add my own content” would do some of what he wants.

      • Evan Þ says:

        That’s a very good idea: try to spread the SSC spirit and tone, motivate us to self-segregate by additional content, and provide more opportunities to converse in the SSC way.

        (Plus, that way bean and all the people who link their own blogs here could get Officially Endorsed Slate Star Library Blogs!)

        • bean says:

          Part of the reason I’m reluctant to get my own blog is that I view the stuff I’ve been doing as an extension of my work as a tour guide. If I had a battleship blog, I’d probably get mostly battleship people, which is a very different audience than I have here, and not particularly the one I want to reach. There are a couple of commentators here who keep me on my toes, which is a good thing, but most people are like the people I interact with in person on the ship. They know a little bit, but not a lot, and are interested in learning. If I wanted to argue the finer points of battleship design, I’d go to Warships1. If I could come up with an arrangement that would give me some confidence I’d continue to get the same kind of audience, I’d look more seriously at going independent. If there was a Slate Star Library affiliation deal, that might be the answer.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To be fair, I wasn’t thinking of your battleship content as content that Scott would want to specifically encourage and promote.

            There is absolutely nothing wrong (IMHO) with you posting it here. I’m not particularly engaged with it, but I actually like that it is here.

            But Scott has a particular worldview he is aiming to spread (which isn’t battleship knowledge). I’m basically saying he could consider “franchising” as one means of getting more market presence.

          • bean says:

            @HBC
            To some extent, my comment was me thinking through my motives on this. I agree that ‘battleships’ (which might morph into general defense/history) isn’t really what Scott would want to support, and that the translations between him and me would be really, really jarring.
            The big appeal of the wider SSC-verse is that it’s filtered by the sort of people Scott’s writing attracts, and my current thinking is if we can find a way to make it broader.

          • Zodiac says:

            Very important question you two bring up: Is this about what Scott wants or what the community wants?
            I know that Scott ultimately will remain our host and will have the last say but I don’t think his goal here is promoting anything but rather make the comment section better for us all. Which means there isn’t that much to consider on discouraging content like the battleship stuff if is doesn’t take over the whole site, right?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Zodiac:
            I think the chain of thought starts with this post in “Guided by the Beauty of Our Weapons”.

            Scott is trying to convince more people, to proselytize, what have you.

      • quanta413 says:

        I think this is a great idea. It basically leaves the core alone, but gives room to expand and buff out more viewpoints.

        Maybe one requirement for blogs could be that people who run an affiliate blog with comments agree to a similar style of comment moderation as here? I think the strict BDFL model works pretty well.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          BDFL?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Bayesian-Dubstep Free License.

            Or, I’d guess, Buddha Something Something Light (which I thought was actually Buddha-Victorian Sufi Light? But that doesn’t fit with the initials.)

          • quanta413 says:

            Oops, forgot is not common acronym. BDFL stands for Benevolent Dictator for Life.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, my choice of the phrase “actively encouraging and helping specific people to start their own communities” was meant to imply that Scott was needing to pick the right people to push, because at the end of the day the blog owner will be the ultimate authority.

            And if Scott is going to invest resources in them, he needs them to be the kind of people who will do things in the way he does.

            That’s why I mentioned the word “franchise” at some point.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I endorse this recommendation; the SSC moderation policy is IMO one cause of this blog’s high standard of discourse.

          • Evan Þ says:

            … and based on quanta413’s explanation, I retract my endorsement and instead endorse the Buddha-Victorian Sufi Light policy which I thought he was talking about.

          • quanta413 says:

            and based on quanta413’s explanation, I retract my endorsement and instead endorse the Buddha-Victorian Sufi Light policy which I thought he was talking about.

            Damn.

      • Yes, spread the zeitgeist! Actually I think he could best do this by morphing the site, or a directly related site, into a something that is split by topics with each administrated by a few folks carefully handpicked by Scott.

        • bean says:

          That seems like it would at least be worth giving a try, and was more or less what I was thinking of.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Like an SSC Newsletter?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          I do really like the idea of other sites similar to this one. I worry about this site dying off, if Scott gets sick, or bored with this, or simply decides he needs to try something else for awhile.

          The downside is that I don’t have time to read everything here, so how would I have time for another site? I think the best thing I think would be each blog would concentrate on specific sub-topics the members find interesting: for example: 1) military science, 2) US politics, 3) European politics, 4) identity politics / social justice, 5) law, 6) pharmacology.

          Oh I need to add something else here. In my opinion it is the commenters that are most valuable. Scott’s postings are worth reading, but I mostly come for comments. So I don’t think ongoing posts by the host are necessary.

          • Well I really like Scott’s writings, but I definitely agree. It would be great to see Scott do some kind of statement of principles and have a brainstorm on how to grow the whole thing into a long term community with some structure.

  27. baconbacon says:

    The issue with comments is that they are virtually free to make, but comments are not of uniform quality. There are a few ways to address this.

    A. Pay the top posters by charging those that post badly. There are a few ways to do this- the basic outlines.

    1. Charge a small fee for posting rights. $5 a year and define a quality post through a chosen metric (ie like a reddit style up vote/down vote, but probably with limited voting rights where only paying users get to vote). At the end of the year the annual subscription fee is split among the top X% of posters (posters who don’t care about the money can have it donated to a charity of their choice). This can be adapted in a bunch of ways (ie having open threads truly open and anyone can post, but the subscription fee is for those that want to comment on the more specific posts), keeps the vast majority of the content free (anyone can read the comments and any post) but costs low content contributors at the expense of high content contributors.

    2. Charge people to post (yearly subscription) but refund the top Y% and don’t refund the bottom X% of posters by whatever metric, do whatever you want with the leftover money.

    3. Allow people to buy their way out of bans. If you get banned $20 gets you reinstated, split money between top posters by metric of your choice.

    B. Limit comments per person based on quality. Every registered user gets 3 comments a day to start and 3 up and down votes a day. Posters in the top 10% of up to down votes get 6 comments a day, people in the bottom 10% get 1, with appropriate tiers. Perhaps even super users with no limit if their rating is high enough (always keep a cap on up and down voting to prevent a clique of hyper users overwhelming with their preferences).

    Criticism for splitting threads. The main problem is avoiding increasing the signal to noise. Some of the best portions of comments sections are always going to be the back and forth between a few users. Because the best exchanges are somewhat selected for splitting comments threads will separate some combinations and probably increase the noise ratio.

    • Jiro says:

      If you thought downvote systems are shitty, they’ll get shittier when downvoting someone costs them real money.

      The same goes for baiting people into being banned. If you could make someone lose $20 simply by making a troll post that’s slightly under the radar and getting him to reply with something that’s slightly over the radar, I expect trolls to be encouraged.

      Not to mention that not all posters have equal access to money, not even $20 or $5.

      • baconbacon says:

        If you thought downvote systems are shitty, they’ll get shittier when downvoting someone costs them real money.

        No, because the act of down voting will also cost money.

        The same goes for baiting people into being banned. If you could make someone lose $20 simply by making a troll post that’s slightly under the radar and getting him to reply with something that’s slightly over the radar, I expect trolls to be encouraged.

        No one down votes troll posts?

        People who respond to troll posts with such, er, vigor as to be banned- are these the people getting involved in rich back and forth? Posting unique viewpoints? Or are these the people who, along with the trolls, make comment sections unwieldy with immediate reactions “he said this, he is wrong, must reply now, and reply to every reply!” every time a political figure/train of thought/new idea is promoted.

        Not to mention that not all posters have equal access to money, not even $20 or $5.

        This is easily remedied via a voucher or charity system, or a free trial period.

        • baconbacon says:

          Additionally some of the above proposals will benefit those who struggle to afford 20 or even 5$ a year. If the top 10% of posters split the annual contribution evenly then they all get $50 bucks at the end of the year. While this is peanuts for most, the people it would actually impact are those that struggle with paying $5 a year.

          • Jiro says:

            It would harm such people. If they can’t afford $20, they also can’t *risk* losing $20. And just because it is likely they will come out ahead, and just because on the average they will come out ahead, that doesn’t mean they can bear the risk.

          • baconbacon says:

            There is limited risk involved, if you get banned you don’t have to pony up the $20 (and again you can make it pretty dirt cheap by going $1, $10, $100, then the only case becomes “don’t get banned 2+ times in a year” which seems like a pretty good heuristic in general).

            Really there are plenty of ways for non horrible posters to get in for “free”, ie having open posting in open threads and having quality posters there get a free subscription if they ask for it.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      As Jiro points to, I have more than $5 in forgotten pennies in my house. This is not a barrier for me or most people. There’s really no reason to think this is an effective filter against poor comments. You think John Sidles won’t spend $20 a day on evading bans?

      In addition, have you actually examined the quality of participation that market forces tend to generate? We are here because the content generated by market forces is not satisfying to us.

      • baconbacon says:

        As Jiro points to, I have more than $5 in forgotten pennies in my house. This is not a barrier for me or most people. There’s really no reason to think this is an effective filter against poor comments. You think John Sidles won’t spend $20 a day on evading bans?

        These are very easily remedied points. You can have repeat offenders pay more, or have a “X bans and no rebuy” rule, or a combination. Heck make it a Fibonacci sequence just for fun.

        The other point is that this is already a quality comment section, we don’t want major changes, I don’t want regulars to say “I need to change my posting style”. This type of system does two things.

        1. Provides an incentive to be a better poster, even if small, and even if only for the pride/shame factor of being consistently in the top X or bottom Y%. Many people will just pay the $5 and go on as always which is a strength of the system, because we want to maintain the core of how this place operates.

        2. Allows for feedback and self reflection. A while ago i got into it with someone about narcisissm. I knew my POV and his POV and maybe 2 other posters who jumped in. This type of system would allow me to also know if the average reader thought I was being a dick, being interesting or didn’t care at all. Maybe I change, maybe I don’t change but it is unlikely that the average change is for the worse which probably means a marginal improvement, which is what the goal should be.

      • quanta413 says:

        In addition, have you actually examined the quality of participation that market forces tend to generate? We are here because the content generated by market forces is not satisfying to us.

        Largely agree with this point. Even as far as ads etc. goes, Scott’s market motivation is pretty low. All the places that have free comments but are serious paid journalism (TM) have comments sections that are a horrifying abyss.

        Let’s be conservative and not insert weird incentives that are poorly understood at best. I don’t even want to try to guess how things would change with money involved.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      I couldn’t dislike these ideas more.

      The central concepts seem to be

      Charge people to post

      or

      Limit comments per person based on quality.

      and I don’t like either. Why? Well, charging people to post, as I recall from some psychology research I read, would replace the original incentive, of posting good content for good content’s sake, with a financial incentive, and probably have a negative effect as a result. This is about my third edit of this comment, because I want to produce good content for people who read it. If this felt like a job, I’d go to a different platform.

      Meanwhile, limiting comments causes people to vie for upvotes and budget their comments. If you’ve got something worth saying, just say it, instead of worrying that you’ll have to wait a day if you make this comment and a few others. Not to mention the various problems you run into; for example, if you’ve got a percentage-based system that determines quality, and “lower quality” posters leave, then a new group of people will become “lowest quality” by default. If you try to avoid that with a numeric system, of total upvotes or similar, than newer posters are disincentivized to an even greater degree, having the innate disadvantage of starting from zero upvotes. So you’d need a confusing system that balances new posters and older posters, probably. Oh, and let’s not forget that this still runs into the problem of bandwagoning, upvote-whoring, and other deeply unpleasant activities. Anyone else down to mass downvote dissenters like HBC and Brad? Hey, just a couple people making a concerted effort could limit them to three comments a day.

      By the way, Scott seems to think the problem currently is that people are discouraged from participating. But how do any of your suggestions encourage participation? You address this by saying

      The issue with comments is that they are virtually free to make, but comments are not of uniform quality. There are a few ways to address this.

      And I suppose these suggestions might stop the comments from filling up so quickly, and make them of higher quality, but they’d certainly do so by discouraging a lot of people from posting.

      By the way

      3. Allow people to buy their way out of bans.

      Near as I can tell, this is to balance out the money paid in by posters, and that makes a lot of sense from a business perspective, so I see why it’s there. But in this case, given that Scott doesn’t run his blog as a business now and probably won’t in the future, there’s no need to balance out money paid in; Scott can just refund however much of it he chooses without needing an additional revenue flow (which, by the by, also produce an additional flow of terrible content.)

      • baconbacon says:

        The central concepts seem to be charge people to post

        No, none of the schemes involved have people paying Scott for the privilege of posting on his site. They involve transfer of money from bad posters (by definition X) to good posters (by definition X).

        If this felt like a job, I’d go to a different platform.

        We are talking nominal amounts here for the overwhelming majority of posters. Again at $5 a year with the top 10% splitting evenly means $50 a poster.

        This is about my third edit of this comment, because I want to produce good content for people who read it

        There is no penalty for doing so, and no incentive not to do so, unless you value the small amount of money highly AND think that an unedited version gets you better results. The only negative effect should be if you want to think that you are posting quality content but also don’t respect the average reader’s opinion at all or don’t want the feedback saying that you aren’t putting out the quality you think you are.

        Meanwhile, limiting comments causes people to vie for upvotes and budget their comments. If you’ve got something worth saying, just say it, instead of worrying that you’ll have to wait a day if you make this comment and a few others

        Is literally everything you think of equal value to everything else within your own brain? Do you think that your personal judgement reflects broader judgement accurately? Do you think that the average person’t individual judgement follows perfectly as well? Are these innate traits in people that sort themselves out absent of feedback?

        Near as I can tell, this is to balance out the money paid in by posters, and that makes a lot of sense from a business perspective, so I see why it’s there

        These are 3 separate ideas that can be combined or not combined, tied by the basic idea that it is just as cheap to made bad posts (and in fact cheaper since they require less effort) than good posts, which is why most posts on the internet are bad in a way that most books aren’t bad.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          No, none of the schemes involved have people paying Scott for the privilege of posting on his site. They involve transfer of money from bad posters (by definition X) to good posters (by definition X).

          This seems like a nitpick. You’re charging people to post, and then possibly refunding them, or even in very rare cases paying them. Later on in the comment I state that Scott probably isn’t keeping the money, so it’s pretty clear that I’m not talking about Scott getting paid, so much as people getting charged.

          As to the rest of your objections on the first idea:

          http://freakonomics.com/2013/10/23/what-makes-people-do-what-they-do/

          In my opinion, similar things will happen in response to “good content”. The urge to enlighten and enliven, will turn to the desire to make a bit of extra money. Worse, it’s not even enough money to make it worth the effort, and it probably never will be.

          Is literally everything you think of equal value to everything else within your own brain?

          The question is whether something I think is worth posting. If it is, then value has been lost by it not being posted. Even if every additional comment has a marginal cost, there’s still going to be a lot of things worth posting that aren’t being posted.

          These are 3 separate ideas that can be combined or not combined, tied by the basic idea that it is just as cheap to made bad posts (and in fact cheaper since they require less effort) than good posts, which is why most posts on the internet are bad in a way that most books aren’t bad.

          And that one specific idea, independent of everything else, is bad and unnecessary.

          • baconbacon says:

            The question is whether something I think is worth posting. If it is, then value has been lost by it not being posted. Even if every additional comment has a marginal cost, there’s still going to be a lot of things worth posting that aren’t being posted.

            This only sums up one side, it assumes that post not made have value that is lost, and that no posts not made have negative value, which is basically the basis of the discussion (people have mentioned that they don’t post because of how many posts their are already).

          • baconbacon says:

            In my opinion, similar things will happen in response to “good content”. The urge to enlighten and enliven, will turn to the desire to make a bit of extra money. Worse, it’s not even enough money to make it worth the effort, and it probably never will be.

            The freakonomics link has two well known flaws, it didn’t distinguish levels of bad behavior and it put a price on bad behavior, . If you want to punish bad behavior you (typically) need to punish based on the level of bad behavior. A fine for being 10 mins late that is the same as 30 mins late causes a screwy incentive system. More importantly it put a price on bad behavior. It said here is the cost of being late, made your decision based on that cost. It robs the ability of the day care to say “we said be here at X, not X:30” because the reply is “you said be here at X or pay $5 to be here by X:30” (it also normalizes the bad behavior, but htat is neither here nor there).

            It doesn’t hold that the opposite style system holds the same flaws. Does Scott’s “comments of the week” section cause bad behavior? Probably not because it doesn’t directly address bad behavior, it simply acknowledges good posting and moves on. Look at the basics of the system proposed, a handful of posters get a visible credit for the quality of their posts, and that is basically it.

            The nominal cost is mostly there to stop people gaming the system. Spam bots are basically auto stopped by implementing such a system, people who create multiple accounts to troll, make themselves look good, or pile on to posters they don’t like pay more to do so. People who act in the ways that are generally accepted as decent pay the least. People who are exemplary posters get recognition as such. If you are really worried the the payment scheme screws up how people write you can experiment. The top 10% get a star next to their name and all proceeds go to charity (or whatever).

            This seems like a nitpick

            The central concept is not to charge people to post, but to highlight what is and what isn’t good posting. There is no current equivalent of a guilt or judgement on most sites because the generally community feeling towards a poster is mostly opaque, except in the cases of trolls who reveal in the reactions that they generate. Ignore the monetary aspect and think about relationships. You get lots of feedback in life not just from people who respond to you, but from those that ignore you. Standing up in the middle of a room talking and having people walk by and ignore you is major feedback, which is largely absent on the internet. If you can’t see people’s heads nodding, and faces engaged with what you are saying the main recourse becomes “who engages back” which pushes towards posts aimed at eliciting a response. How do we get the “heads nodding in agreement” portion of society into comment sections, is largely how you solve issues with comments sections.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            This only sums up one side, it assumes that post not made have value that is lost, and that no posts not made have negative value, which is basically the basis of the discussion (people have mentioned that they don’t post because of how many posts their are already).

            I think that assumption was made because of your aggressive framing. I’m perfectly willing to concede that some worth will be gained by bad posts being removed and that the marginal cost created by having too many posts will drop. But whether or not everything in my brain is equal doesn’t mean that I should only say the best possible things.

            The freakonomics link has two well known flaws, it didn’t distinguish levels of bad behavior and it put a price on bad behavior,

            As opposed to a system where you either have 3 or 6 posts and have to pay 5$ or 0$? I suppose if you’re factoring in the extreme option of 1 post for very bad users there might be two whole levels of bad behavior. Somehow I doubt that would’ve made such a large difference.

            What the study indisputably showed is that the previous emotional incentive for avoiding bad behavior was now replaced by a financial incentive. After all, it’s not like the daycare worker was any less inconvenienced, right? And bean’s post shows, anecdotally, that a similar process can and will happen in regards to creation of good content.

            In other words, you go from getting good behavior out of a desire for goodness, to enforcing good behavior by hitting people in the wallet. Parents aren’t early because they are kind but because they are greedy; posts may be good but only for a financial motive. And of course, people who aren’t interested in posting for financial motive but for the sake of good posting will stop making good posts.

            Does Scott’s “comments of the week” section cause bad behavior? Probably not because it doesn’t directly address bad behavior, it simply acknowledges good posting and moves on.

            Now imagine that everyone chipped in 5 bucks and the best commenters got 10 bucks. You don’t think that changes the dynamic a little bit?

            The nominal cost is mostly there to stop people gaming the system. Spam bots are basically auto stopped by implementing such a system, people who create multiple accounts to troll, make themselves look good, or pile on to posters they don’t like pay more to do so.

            Spam bots don’t seem to be a problem at the moment, and neither do trolls. And I have a feeling an upvote / downvote system is going to enable far more piling-on behavior than the current system does.

            The central concept is not to charge people to post, but to highlight what is and what isn’t good posting.

            But people are still charged cash money. Sounds pretty central to me. Especially when upvotes and downvotes already do what you’re talking about – not that I’m suggesting them, but you sure are.

          • Mark says:

            Virtue ethics vs. utilitarianism re: comments systems.

            Um… yeah, maybe it’s a good idea for bad commenters to pay good ones.

            I’m kind of looking for a place where bad but well intentioned comments are welcome, though.
            I feel like if someone is making an honest effort to say what they are thinking, or making an honest attempt at thinking, or even designing a crafty troll – I like that.

            For example, John Sidles – I kind of like that John Sidles exists. I don’t really understand what he is saying, but I like the fact that he is trying to say it. I like the fact that their are people out there trying something different. And I think I gain something from trying to understand out of left-field perspectives.

            And, for me, the cost of skimming through unusual comments is about the same as the cost of skimming through high quality content that simply doesn’t interest me.

            But, I think to the extent that the “high quality” commenters were actually engaging with the low quality commenters, or to the extent that the low quality commenters were welcomed and benefited from posting here, it kind of makes sense for there to be a monetary payment.

            Like paying for Socrates dinner, or something.

            [What about Diogenes, though?]

          • Mark says:

            Also, googling suggests that John Sidles was a pioneer of magnetic resonance imaging and is a University Professor.

            I love the fact that he is a highly credentialed probable genius and everyone is just like “oh, no… John Sidles”.

        • bean says:

          tied by the basic idea that it is just as cheap to made bad posts (and in fact cheaper since they require less effort) than good posts, which is why most posts on the internet are bad in a way that most books aren’t bad.

          1. There’s nowhere near enough money in your system to compensate people for the work involved in good posts. I’ll hold up my battleship stuff as an example of those. Each one of them takes me a couple of hours. If I assume that I end up in the top 10% and get that $50, that’s maybe enough money for one of those at my current salary. I’ve done 16.
          2. Money has a tendency to turn things serious. If money is involved, my economic calculation systems starts up, and tells me that I’m not getting paid enough for what I’m doing while I’m writing that good post. When no money is involved, I do it for fun, and the economic system is turned off.
          3. This is going to be death on new commentors. $5 isn’t a whole lot, but for at least the first 6 months I was commenting here, nothing I had to say was worth spending that amount. And it’s worth it now because I got to start for free.

          • baconbacon says:

            This is going to be death on new commentors. $5 isn’t a whole lot, but for at least the first 6 months I was commenting here, nothing I had to say was worth spending that amount. And it’s worth it now because I got to start for free.

            This one is easy, a tiered system with open threads with totally open commenting and closed threads with paid commenting only.

            There’s nowhere near enough money in your system to compensate people for the work involved in good posts. I’ll hold up my battleship stuff as an example of those. Each one of them takes me a couple of hours. If I assume that I end up in the top 10% and get that $50, that’s maybe enough money for one of those at my current salary. I’ve done 16.

            So nothing changes for you? The goal of the system is too tweak it a little, not to overhaul.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            This one is easy, a tiered system with open threads with totally open commenting and closed threads with paid commenting only.

            This solves the problem, but only by making the change basically meaningless. What do the closed threads provide?

            So nothing changes for you? The goal of the system is too tweak it a little, not to overhaul.

            2. Money has a tendency to turn things serious. If money is involved, my economic calculation systems starts up, and tells me that I’m not getting paid enough for what I’m doing

            coincidentally what the link I posted was about:

            http://freakonomics.com/2013/10/23/what-makes-people-do-what-they-do/

          • bean says:

            So nothing changes for you? The goal of the system is too tweak it a little, not to overhaul.

            Please read all of my points instead of cutting out the ones that are inconvenient to reply to.

  28. theodidactus says:

    Hey SSCers, I’m the librarian that’s posted here a few times, but I’m not gonna be a librarian for much longer*…I’m going to law school (probably minnesota)

    I know there are a few lawyers here. Any tips about law school? living in minnesota?

    • Brad says:

      Are you absolutely set on going to law school?

      • theodidactus says:

        Yes.

        Assume for the purposes of this discussion that I am well aware of the risks inherent in the system.

        • Brad says:

          Okay, I won’t try to convince you otherwise.

          Jordan D. and herbert herberson both give good general purpose advice, what I would add is keep your eye on the ball. Whatever ball it is that you’ve picked. I know someone that went to law school in order get involved in public interest law, was flattered by Big Law’s attention, went to Big Law, and is now miserable. I know someone that went to law school a late 20 something married professional in order to kick her carrier into a higher gear, regressed a decade, started partying like a college kid, and ended up with no spouse and mediocre grades.

          I’m not saying don’t be open to opportunities, but you are spending a large amount to precious time (and probably a bunch of money too) — make sure you get what you want out of it.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I think I’m obligated to offer the standard warnings against going to law school, but you’re probably already aware of them so this reference will do.

      1) Law school is really easy for some people and really hard for others. This doesn’t correlate very strongly to how much those students will enjoy being lawyers afterwards- I hated my Property class with a great passion, but since I never have to do any property work that hardly matters now.
      2) Engagement with the material really helps. Believe it or not, most of the cases in the case books are chosen because they’re interesting in addition to being important, and the more you’re interested in the material you’re studying the better you’ll be when it comes to study for finals.
      3) You absolutely must acquire work experience after the first year, either through clerkships, working at a firm or volunteering at a clinic. Those are actually quite enjoyable, and they’ll teach you much more than any individual class can.
      4) Try to join an honor society, but if you don’t make law review or just can’t handle it, don’t sweat that too hard. Law review might make-or-break an appellate judge’s decision on clerkships, but it won’t matter half as much as GPA points. The most enjoyable honor societies imo are moot court and trial ad, so I encourage you to try those out.
      5) This might be down to taste, but I much preferred classes taught by active and former judges and prosecutors to those classes taught by esteemed academic writers. The former will have much better stories to tell you. The latter tend to get excited by fringe issues that will not come up in your career.
      6) Grapes are ideal snacks for all-nighters.
      7) Take some time in the first week to try out all the chairs and find the most comfortable places to study. That way, if you join a study group, you can drag them over and keep your butt firmly in the most luxurious perch.
      8) Everyone repeats the old canard “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know” and we all nod, but secretly we don’t exactly believe it. It’s literally true. Nearly half the people I know who had jobs right after graduation got them because they knew someone who knew someone. If you’re already well-connected, great. If not, try to make a lot of friends during your work- the people who employ interns and clerks are either the people who can employ a new attorney or will know a couple of people who can.
      9) Similarly, be really receptive to opportunities as they arise. I know perhaps three lawyers who have a career path that looks like what they envisioned at the start. Taking the time after class to chat with professors, getting to know the speakers who come to events, volunteering- all of these can lead to unexpected opportunities. I know a guy who got a really amazing job because a friend heard him lamenting his fortune at a party and offered to give his resume to the appellate judge he’d once clerked for.
      10) Be polite. It doesn’t cost anything, but a badly-placed comment to the wrong person can get you unofficially banned from entire sections of practice. You don’t have to be a saint, but don’t be an ass either.
      11) All law school parties involve drinks. I strongly recommend limiting yourself to one or two, and just nursing it throughout the night.
      12) Stress relief – I actually went through 3.5 years of law school, not because I failed any classes but because it let me take just a little bit less every semester. The amount of stress that allowed me to avoid was incredible. I know it’s not feasible for every student, but I don’t regret that decision for an instant.
      13) Try to have someone in each class that you enjoy discussing the class material with. I got through my patents course because I made a friend with a computer engineer and traded jokes with him constantly- even though we never did any formal study together, having someone you can bounce a casual question off of, who has a second perspective on things, is really nice.
      14) You instantly make friends when you provide food.
      15) Don’t listen to specific advice about how interesting class material is! I loved administrative law and insurance law, but I thought property was terrible. It’s all down to personality.
      16) Do listen to specific advice about professors. Some of them are terrible and you can avoid them. If you do poorly in a class and you think the instructor is part of it, do not take their other classes. It matters!
      17) GLHF

      I can’t help you at all with Minnesota.

      • theodidactus says:

        Much appreciated. #5 especially.
        Your advice is considerably more helpful than most. It is very difficult to seek good advice online about this sort of thing…one of the reasons I went to the SSC community.

        I usually get the “don’t go to law school unless” cautionary dump…and yeah, that stuff needs to be said, but this is a decision many years in the making and I’ve heard (and considered) all that advice. I’m significantly older than most law students and my situation is highly unusual for a number of other reasons.

        What kind of law do you do?

        • Jordan D. says:

          I work in administrative law, doing work that is like-but-not-exactly-like FOIA stuff for the state. I do submit things like a brief or a motion filing to a court every few weeks, but it’s mostly doing research to respond to filings. This has the advantage of being a relatively narrow field of law (so it didn’t take me long to gain expertise) but being so factually different in each case that I’m rarely bored. Importantly, the office I’m in is the best office environment I’ve ever worked in, and I don’t hate any of my co-workers.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        6) Grapes are ideal snacks for all-nighters.

        Die, heathen!

        (I recognize my hatred of grapes is irrational. I don’t care.)

        😉

    • herbert herberson says:

      1. Watch “the paper chase,” then understand that it is a relic of a mostly bygone method of teaching. Worth seeing for the historical value but also because there are a lot of other relics that some people will tell you are very important but aren’t actually all that important unless you have a particular professor who still utilizes aspects of that bygone method, and knowing how things used to be will help you recognize them

      2. Consider leaving the laptop at home, its harms as a source of distraction can outweigh its advantages as a note-taking facilitator

      3. Similarly, don’t get too bogged down in note-taking. Note-taking should be viewed more as an aid to memory and a list of things to check out later more than it should be viewed as an attempt to make a complete record of everything said during the lecture.

      4. If you want to work for a big, prestigious firm (BigLaw) then make sure you jump through all the OCI hoops, attend all the networking events, and generally chase down the structures offered to you by the school and the bar. If you don’t want that kind of job, you can ignore most of that shit. Note that if you want to do any kind of do-gooder law, volunteering is your networking and you should do as much as possible

      5. Don’t work a non-law job during school

      6. Consider trying to find other law school students as roommates. As a 1L, you will be an alien creature who normies will not always want to spend time around.

      7. Give a very good hearing to Brad and everyone else who tries to talk you out of law school. If you post here, the trap you want to avoid is doing it because you’re pretty sure you can and you can’t think of anything better to do. This trap is deadly because there’s so much emphasis on how intellectually challenging and rigorous law school and the law are–but temperament and subskills is an equally important filter. Do you like to stay busy? Are you good at staying organized? Keeping track of appointments? Dealing with unpleasant people? Navigating bureaucracies? Dealing with losses and failures? Some of these matter more or less depending on the subspecialty, but they all need to be taken into account.

      8. For the Twin Cities in general, find a place in the relevant city; outside of downtown proper the rent is still very cheap compared to most cities and there are a lot of great, walkable neighborhoods. Internal traffic is not bad but the interstates regularly get locked up with suburban commuters.

      9. If you’re looking at U of MN specifically: Hard Times Cafe has great, cheap food just down the road from the school. Triple Rock has great nightlife and amazing poutine (plus your walk through Little Somalia will allow you to more efficiently laugh at creeping sharia people). Don’t live at the Grand Marc or any of the other apartment buildings right next to the school unless you have money to burn; they’re rip-offs and there’s too much parking around the school for it to be worth it (dunno if they’re still there, but there used to be a cheap lot behind Bullwinkle’s, another one in a city park down by the river, and free two-hour street parking on the other side of the softball fields)

    • James Miller says:

      Reading legal cases is probably the best preparation for the first year of law school.

    • Odovacer says:

      I can’t help you with law school, but I did live in MN for many years and even attended the U of MN for undergrad. Do you have any specific questions about MN?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      It’s cold here in Minnesota. But not as cold as it used to be. Global warming isn’t all bad. Yeah, talking about the weather is pretty stupid, because you already know, but I’m not sure what else to say. Maybe I’ve been here too long to say anything useful. I originally decided to stay in MN after college because I thought the people were so nice (maybe it was the contrast with NJ where I grew up). But lots of people that moved to MN tell me the opposite — that folks here aren’t really nice, it’s just on the surface. So your mileage will vary.

      The U of M campus is nice, being in the middle of a city, so you get culture beyond just the campus. But maybe having a giant campus in the middle of the city is why Minneapolis is so leftist and social justicy. That I don’t like, but it may be a plus to you.

  29. maybe_slytherin says:

    Further to the theme of “difficult ethical questions around consent”: dementia.

    Say you’ve been married for 50 years, and your spouse gets dementia. Can they consent to sex?

    Again, no clear solution. A flat “no” follows current standards, especially if you ask the staff at an elder care facility. But this seems harsh, especially within a marriage, and if they appear to enjoy it.

    This will become an increasing problem, with an aging population (and the continued availability of viagra).

    More here: https://uwaterloo.ca/stories/can-people-dementia-consent-sex

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, moment-to-moment consent is impractical and silly. The previous version, where you gave permanent consent at the altar, is much more practical.

      • caethan says:

        The previous version isn’t really permanent consent, it’s default consent.

        • Anonymous says:

          What’s the distinction?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Permanent, to me at least, implies that consent cannot be denied in the moment. With default you can assume permission to initiate but can still be told to stop.

            Do you have a different interpretation?

          • caethan says:

            Default consent can be revoked. If I wake my wife up with a kiss in the morning, it’s ridiculous to treat that the same way as if I did that to a random stranger. It’s assumed that my wife implicitly grants consent to a whole host of things that random strangers don’t. At the same time, kissing her when she explicitly tells me not to is a violation of consent. Marriage doesn’t grant permanent consent to all things intimate, because spouses can still validly refuse consent, but it does change the default assumptions on the ground.

      • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

        You don’t need to legalize slavery and rape to have a notion of ongoing consent or a more nuanced view of consent in the intellectually disabled.

        • Anonymous says:

          Just as you don’t have to regard doing one’s sworn duty without enthusiasm as slavery and/or rape.

      • andhishorse says:

        I think that the real distinction to be made here is that the premise “a person who has mental disability X cannot consent” ought to be unpacked as “a person who has mental disability X probably does not understand their surroundings well enough to give informed consent; it is not impossible that they do understand, but we cannot tell the difference easily, so in the face of this uncertainty we choose to err on the side of cautious restriction”.

        This seems like a very useful framing when asking “did this patient consent to sex with their doctor, whom they do not know personally” and maybe even “did this patient consent to sex with another patient”. In these cases, the probability that the patient knew what was going on might be lower, and presumably their ability to voice an objection might be similarly impaired. If one wants to use a different framing, the probability that a hypothetical, unimpaired version of the patient would have consented is low.

        If the patient has sex with a long-term partner, however, there are other factors to consider: they may be more likely to recognize their partner, their partner may be more likely to recognize the subtleties of their comfort or discomfort, the patient would be more likely to consent in the counterfactual case in which they were unimpaired. These are not obviously true of all long-term partnerships, and not exclusively true of marriage; I would consider a 20-year compassionate romantic and sexual relationship to better quality for “probably OK after impairment” than would a 10-yesr abusive marriage.

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          Yeah, I like this framing. Partly because it seems to appropriately respond to nuance, and partly because…

          …Bayesian consent!

    • James Miller says:

      An Iowa jury found 78-year-old Henry V. Rayhons not guilty of raping his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

      The case has gotten global attention because it’s believed to be the first in which a jury has considered when a person with dementia loses the mental ability to consent to sex.

  30. MartMart says:

    I’ve seen passing references here that the mechanics of comment systems (upvotes, sorting, quoting responses, etc) has a significant effect on the nature of discussion. This seems really interesting, and should have wide ranging implications. Where can one learn more on the subject?

  31. JASSCC says:

    Re: comments, rather than sharding, what about comment budgeting?

    I see this working like this:
    Everyone gets a comment budget of two comments a month. You can comment over budget, but your comment will be in some way deprecated (maybe those would default to hidden and readers have to click on a button to show the un-budgeted comments?).

    A budgeted comment should be open to be liked or endorsed or praised or whatever, and upon some amount of likes, the commenter earns another comment for her budget for the month. Everyone also has a budget for comment likes, but it’s say 50 times more expansive than their budget for commenting.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This only works if you don’t want open conversations between multiple people.

      You can see a similar dynamic at work in reddit, where anything other than a surface level conversation quickly becomes nested past the max display level. That becomes essentially a deprecated comment past the comment budget (in your words). Those conversations become effectively hidden to all but the two people participating in them.

      That would effectively destroy the culture of the SSC comment section.

      • bean says:

        I’ll second this. 2/month only works if you want lots and lots of people making a few comments. That’s not really how things work here, and while I would like to have more new blood, I don’t think it’s worth the damage that radical solutions would do to get it.

        • JASSCC says:

          Well, my hope was that people would spend more (or much more) time *reading* the comments, and generously bequeath their likes upon comments they found interesting, so that anyone with anything interesting to say would soon find their budget multiplying by dozens or hundreds of times.

          But if 2 / month is too stingy, how about 2 per day? Or 10 per day?

          The main point is to make it so that there’s a felt need on the part of everyone to read everyone else’s comments to participate in growing the comment budget pie.

          • bean says:

            I’m not sure that ‘reading most of the other comments’ is a good or achievable goal. There are always some comments going on that I just have no interest in. Deiseach’s stuff on her sports teams springs to mind, although I usually skim it because she’s one of the commentators I try to at least glance over. (No offense meant, and I’m certainly not asking her to not post it. I imagine that a lot of people think the same of my battleship stuff, but they’ve all been polite enough to just say nothing and move on.) Trying to reduce the volume of comments by making people read them all is primarily going to reduce the sheer diversity of this place. I don’t think that’s good.

          • Matt M says:

            I skip the battleship stuff, but I do appreciate that it is there.

            All of this stuff seems to me like solutions in search of a problem. A bunch of smart people trying to design a 100% perfect comments system forgetting that most of us are highly appreciative of the system as it stands.

            Perfect is the enemy of good.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, no problem bean! I like to read everything that gets put up, but I too skim over things that don’t particularly interest me/I have no knowledge about and don’t want to know about.

            I suppose, if there is such a volume of comments that it’s stopping new people from commenting, something has to be done, but my objection to the “split it in two” is (a) can you only read the comments of the group you are in? in which case you might miss something interesting in the other group that you would like to talk about, and there’s the danger of duplication if someone in group A is talking about turnips at the same time someone in group B is talking about them (b) on the other hand, if you can read the other group but can’t comment there, what if you really need to add or correct something factual someone has said? But if you can comment on the second group, then we’re back where we started.

            I did think Scott adding in more frequent Open Threads was an attempt to reduce the volume of comments and it seems to have worked a little (we’re not regularly getting 1,000+ comment threads anymore) but if more needs to be done, I have no idea what would work.

          • JASSCC says:

            I want to clarify two things:

            1. I’m starting from the ground belief that the sheer number of comments is excessive even from the point of view of many a typical commenter, because people duplicate each other in their hurry to get their points out before the deluge. If this cascade were slowed down in favor of reading or skimming what others wrote first, there would be less commenting, but also less duplication.

            2. I’m also imagining that people would apply this to the major threads within each article’s comments, rather than the whole. In other words, if an article leads to, say, five different major strains of comment reply, the key thing for anyone weighing in to do is skim for the articles relating to the one strain that applies to what he or she is trying to say to see if the point has already been made.

            This would be easier if people could start a subject heading for their comments, as a supplemental improvement.

          • Bienne says:

            @Deiseach

            I did think Scott adding in more frequent Open Threads was an attempt to reduce the volume of comments and it seems to have worked a little (we’re not regularly getting 1,000+ comment threads anymore) but if more needs to be done, I have no idea what would work.

            What about increasing the frequency of Open Threads? Instead of having Open Threads twice a week, could it work to have an OT every day or every other day?

      • JASSCC says:

        Well, my thought was most comments would get enough likes or whatever that people would get a far bigger budget. But if it helps the system could start off by giving almost everyone more than enough comments in their budget and then decrease to the point that the system bites. Another possibility (and it can be both/and, not either/or) is to allow people to give their budget to others, since we have so many lurkers (based on the survey).

        The point of this is not to force people to limit what they are posting so much as to create a culture of reading and liking other peoples’ comments. Ideally, we would slow the commenting down to the point where most people are reading most of the other comments.

        The problem we have now is that it’s too cumbersome to read the comments to see if your point has been made before and there’s something of a race to get your take on things out if you feel you have something to say and don’t want it to be lost like a drop in a bucket. But if there are good reasons to read the comments (because you can actively encourage more of the kind of commenting you want to see), this might slow the pace to a comfortable walk or trot.

        Either way, I highly doubt this change would turn SSC comments into reddit-like comments, just because the nature of the readership is different.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          This incentivizes people to brigade up/downvote based on their preferred ideological position, because it actually works to silence the opposition and amplify the adherents.

          That system doesn’t have a good track record.

          • baconbacon says:

            This incentivizes people to brigade up/downvote based on their preferred ideological position, because it actually works to silence the opposition and amplify the adherents.

            This is basically the nature of political arguments. Blaming it on the up vote/down vote system is blaming the wrong issue. Also claiming that it doesn’t have a good track record when multiple popular sites use it is odd.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            This is basically the nature of political arguments. Blaming it on the up vote/down vote system is blaming the wrong issue.

            No one’s saying the proclivity wasn’t already there. But it’s obviously much easier to carry out with upvotes and downvotes.

            Also claiming that it doesn’t have a good track record when multiple popular sites use it is odd.

            Depends on how you feel about the word “popular”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @baconbacon:
            Not at all meant as a request or even a suggestion, but, if you think up/downvoting works well, why don’t you just go comment on the subreddit then?

          • JASSCC says:

            Not the way I would do it, it wouldn’t.

            I would like comments that I find interesting even if I disagree with them. Also, not all discussion are political.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @JASSCC:

            You are talking about developing and enforcing a culture about when to upvote/downvote.

            Theoretically reddit was intended to have that culture. Not that downvotes are reserved for comments that “do not add to the discussion”. I don’t believe it works out that way in practice.

            The only place I know of (a small sample, to be sure) that has a strong particular culture around voting is LittleGreenFootballs. This is accomplished because every single upvote and downvote is exposed (and the regular commenting community is small enough).

    • Skivverus says:

      Had a similar idea myself, but was more along the lines of 1/day rather than 2/month, and wasn’t SSC-specific (also split upvotes into “agree” and “respect” to encourage voting for good opposite-side arguments). Haven’t thought about it in a while, but the clique problem (e.g.: a dozen spambots all upvoting each other) was one I don’t remember finding a solution for.

  32. Matt M says:

    Question for John Schilling re: North Korea

    I recently attended a right/libertarian conference and during a panel discussion, an audience member asked the following question:

    “Why are we so sure North Korea has nuclear weapons? Critical mass for a nuclear weapon is considered to be 15 kilotons, but their tests have only been 1 kiloton, which can be achieved with a really large fertilizer bomb” (I may be messing up the numbers/units here)

    The response from a member of the panel who described themselves as a lifelong member of the “intelligence community” who still had many high level contacts in various agencies replied “Many people in the intelligence community are not convinced they have nuclear weapons, for the reasoning you just described. It’s entirely possible all of their tests so far have been of conventional weapons.” (I’m paraphrasing here)

    Is this plausible? What are your thoughts here generally?

    • bean says:

      No, it’s not. Their first tests were failures (and they failed in a way previously considered impossible) but their most recent tests have in fact has the seismic signatures of ~15 kT weapons. Of course, they’re claiming more because they don’t want to admit that they screwed up the first couple so badly, but they do have the weapons.

    • Nornagest says:

      The minimum yield for nuclear weapons isn’t 15 kt; 15 kt is what we could squeeze out of very early nuclear weapons with very smart people working on the problem. I can find references to small tactical weapons yielding 0.5 kt on Wikipedia, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen yields as low as 200 t elsewhere but I can’t find the reference.

      • bean says:

        Not exactly. 10-15 kT is sort of the natural yield of an early nuclear weapon. To get a lower yield, the easiest way is basically to take a high-yield weapon and then make it less efficient. There’s no reason to expect the Norks to do that intentionally. They’re interested in strategic weapons (and yields), not tactical ones, and even if they were interested in tactical yields, they’d probably test full-power first to make sure their data is clean. Efficient low yields take a lot of design art, which they simply don’t have, and have no reason to develop.

    • John Schilling says:

      First, “critical mass” for a nuclear weapon isn’t 15 kilotons, it is exactly zero kilotons. In order to achieve any nuclear yield at all, you have to have a supercritical mass, with the yield depending (among other things) on the degree of criticality. Note in particular that the United States has produced and still maintains many nuclear weapons with yields of less than 15 kilotons and even less than one kiloton.

      Second, North Korea’s nuclear tests have had yields of (roughly) 0.5 kilotons, 5 kilotons, 10 kilotons, 10 kilotons, and 20 kilotons. There are reliable reports, that I haven’t quite been able to confirm, that the North Koreans preannounced their first two tests to China as “expect a four-kiloton blast today”. That’s quite a bit more than one kiloton.

      Third, the easiest sort of nuclear device to develop, will have a yield of about twenty kilotons. It will also be too heavy to use as a weapon in the modern era. Nor will it have any other utility – in particular, it will not be useful as a learning experience, because it tells you nothing that isn’t already tabulated in textbooks and it doesn’t resolve any of the difficulties associated with building lightweight, deliverable nuclear weapons. Also also, it is almost impossible to screw up if you try to build such a device, and almost certainly impossible to screw up twice – if your first attempt produces any yield at all, your next will produce twenty kilotons if that’s what you are really after.

      There is nonetheless a minority opinion that says Ignorant Commie Peons can’t build any sort of nuclear weapon unless they first build a duplicate of the Trinity Gadget, and if they keep setting off explosions smaller than 15-20 kilotons they must be persistently failing to build a Trinity Gadget. This is roughly as absurd as saying that nobody can build an aircraft of any type unless they have first built a wood-and-fabric biplane.

      North Korea has to the best of my knowledge never built a wood-and-fabric biplane; they have built an unambiguously successful satellite launch vehicle. They probably have not attempted to build a copy of the Trinity Gadget; the evidence is most consistent with their having decided from the outset to build an actually useful nuclear weapon, small and light for missile delivery, making minimal use of scarce fissile materials, and with a yield appropriate for destroying military and logistics facilities without needlessly killing fellow Koreans or destroying cities they want to ultimately rule. The first time they attempted to perform this somewhat more difficult feat, they came up short. The second time, they appear to have done exactly what they said they were going to do.

      They may now be trying to build thermonuclear weapons, which is far more difficult still (especially if you need them to be lightweight). If so, their first attempt failed. But simple atomic bombs are another matter; they have probably had the ability to put working atomic warheads on missiles since 2009, almost certainly since 2013. That is the official assessment of the Defense Intelligence Agency as well, and I will refrain from speculating as to the motives of the skeptics save to note that their evidence, as you cite, is inadeqquate.

      • bean says:

        North Korea has to the best of my knowledge never built a wood-and-fabric biplane

        They flew Po-2s back in the 50s. I’m sure that at least one got banged up badly enough that they had to essentially rebuild it. Does that count?

  33. J Mann says:

    I would be sad if I wasn’t in the same half as my favorite commenters, whether it was by chance or by schoolyard pick.

    I’d much rather see Reddit style sorting and a client that could collapse and expand threads, but my next best choice is status quo.

  34. gww says:

    The Birmingham (UK) meetup went well, we had 6 turn up which is way more than 25% of the survey’s 10, partly because we became kind of a catchment area for the north of England. We mostly just chatted; topics included introductions, SSC/LW/other-rationalist-blogs-communities-and-fiction, AI/ML, Trump/Brexit/etc as well as general chat.

    There will hopefully be another meetup in a month or so. Is there going to be a way of announcing these? Perhaps Scott is planning a regular meetup thread or something? I have emails for people who attended, but more than one person came because they just so happened to be nearby, so something like LW’s map might be useful.

  35. Trofim_Lysenko says:

    So, I tend to come to a lot of these Open Threads several hundred comments late, and due to internet restrictions at my workplace I can -read- them on my breaks, but can only post about once per day (once I get home) except on days off. I had wanted to raise a point with HBC and other pro-feminist posters here and feel them out. To avoid spamming the bottom of that thread, I am reposting it here. It started with my reaction to the assertion that the goal of Feminism was fundamentally and explicitly egalitarian. That is, as I understand it, equality of legal status/social treatment/career choices for men and women.

    Repost begins:

    Do you sincerely believe that 21st century western society is so inadequately egalitarian on gender grounds that it requires a national movement of professional full time activists to fight for it? I specify 21st century western society for a simple reason: It’s where I live, and presumably where the overwhelming majority of you live. It’s where discussion ends up centered. It’s where we’re talking about when people debate over whether there is or isn’t a wage gap, whether abortions are too easy to get nor not easy enough, depiction of women in entertainment media, gender representation in STEM fields, whether or not Tech (meaning Austin, Silicon Valley, and so on) is a hostile environment, and so on.

    It’s all very well to point out that things are still truly fucked up for many women in places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Central Africa, but the discussion is still going to end up fixated on where we all live because it takes a lot of conscious effort for humans to care more about lots of strangers far away than a few ones closer to home, and because all but the most extreme MRA type is going to agree with feminists that the sort of treatment that goes on in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Central Africa is not acceptable. “It shouldn’t be ok for husbands to tune up their wives” has become (and yeah, feminism deserves credit for this!) the default norm for us here (western liberal democracies) and now (early 2017), to say nothing of female genital mutilation, etc.

    If egalitarianism is the goal, what are the metrics by which that goal is measured, and at what point do you declare victory and go home?

    For example, on the issue of gun rights, I can be very specific: If we were to get to a point where there was nationwide reciprocity for a robust system of shall-issue CCW licensing schemes, a repeal of most of the provisions of the GCA of ’68 and almost all of the NFA of 1934, and there was sufficient popular support that attempts at reinstating them were…well…about as likely as someone repealing Roe v Wade…

    …I’d call that fight “over”, and I’d roll my eyes at groups like the NRA and GOA and so on still existing. I wouldn’t attack them, but I wouldn’t view them as fighting the good fight…and to be honest that’s pretty much how I feel about feminism in the context of day to day American life most of the time.

    I know you guys (HeelBearCub, anyone else who wants to articulate a pro-feminist position, considers themselves an “ally” or a Feminist Male Auxiliary or what have you) don’t “speak for the movement”, but can you clearly articulate what the victory conditions are? Surely, there is some point where you would agree that further policing is counterproductive, leading to purity spirals, circular firing squads, and blowback, and the goal would be to stop short of that point, right?

    To make my own position clear, I think that here and now while we may not be AT that point of “declare victory, everyone can relax”, we are much closer to it than is generally acknowledged by those labeling themselves as Feminists. I think that a lot of the activism at this point is not actually that effective in addressing what -does- remain, and there are issues and places where we’re already well into purity spiral mode.

    At the same time, I am well aware that most people who are sympathetic to modern movement feminism and/or who self-identify as “Feminists” or “Feminist allies” disagree, so I am trying to elicit more information from them on this point with an eye towards sparking a more general discussion. I’m happy to go into the weeds from there, but again I have to warn that I can only post a couple times a day at best.

    …and with that I have to run or I’ll be late to work.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      Not HeelBearCub, but I generally consider myself feminist, so I’ll take a shot. (Also, I appreciate the phrasing of your post — curiosity is always a great framing for disagreements!)

      I’ll say off the bat that I’d say the goal of defining endpoints for feminism is much more difficult than gun rights, because while with gun rights you’re talking about legal status, with feminism we’re mainly talking about individual & cultural attitudes. I’d say that legally, gender equality is fairly well enshrined (though queer rights are often much less so).

      But: say guns have exactly the legal restrictions you describe above. But anyone who owns a gun is considered violent and untrustworthy. Additionally, there’s high expectations for how you clean, care for, and display your gun, such that even your fellow gun owners might unpredictably shun you. Gun owners are passed over for promotions, because management find them alien and unrelatable and they spend too much time cleaning and polishing their guns to be reliable workers. Besides, even if they were promoted, it’s hard for them to do their jobs, because customers talk to them like they’re violent children, and who could blame them? Instead, gun owners are more likely to be asked, and more likely to accept, low-reward tasks. Because of their shameful actions, gun owners are frequently stabbed by domestic partners. Also, no one wants to sell ammunition — it’s seen as kind of vulgar, only sold in sketchy areas, and costs 5x more than it currently does, because companies can afford to charge that much. Does that sound like the society you want?

      Now, that may be a bit extreme. I’m not saying that’s exactly the situation with the status of women in Western countries, just trying to give a gut sense of why this is more cultural than legal.

      Actually, scratch that. Those examples are pretty directly based on the treatment of women. Then the question is: what’s the real prevalence? How much am I exaggerating based on a narrative that never dies?

      Experiencing physical violence at the hands of domestic partners is 3x more common for US women than men. I believe (I’m at work, not going to hunt down *too* many links for now) that while there is some outright discrimination in hiring/promotions, more of it comes via gender differences in accepting & receiving tasks with low promotability. (Incidentally, I’m really curious for more analysis of this. I’m a bit statistically skeptical because social science, but from skimming it seems pretty thorough. I’d say it offers quite a credible explanation of lots of workplace gender effects, and how they are cultural rather than malicious.)

      These statistics changing, in addition to a few other things such as media representation, would be persuasive criteria for “declaring victory”.

      Finally, on the issue of “how close are we” I think that in Western countries, gender equality is very unevenly distributed. There are liberal places, especially in cities, secular circles, and highly educated fields, where things are very egalitarian. I think that in those circumstances, “purity spiral mode” is a real threat.

      (I also think it’s worth mentioning that as a guy, it’s easy to not see a ton of gender issues. I find that too facile & unverifiable to give that as the only answer, but still: believe women. This doesn’t mean “believe unconditionally everything every woman says”; it means “believe women more often than you think, especially with the weight of experience.” I follow many female scientists on Twitter, and it’s always really shocking to read e.g. the stories of “it’s field season, here’s how to go into the wilderness and make sure that your own staff that you hire don’t try to rape you.)

      However, there are places that are much less egalitarian; typically though not always, these are not cities, not secular, and have lower levels of education. I think that much of the reason for feminism to exist in Western countries should be to make these environments more equal. But feminists are less likely to be found in these places, and I think that’s really unfortunate — both for the potential good they can do, and for making dumb purity spirals elsewhere. It’s pretty clear how selective pressures work — in addition to feminism just being popular among liberals, if you’re a radical feminist lesbian from a small religious town, life is going to be a whole lot easier in SF.

      Honestly, now that I phrase it that way, I think that (in this specific way — would be weird as hell more broadly) feminism could benefit from explicitly adopting the trappings of religion, and designating “missionaries” to work in these areas. Hopefully, that could be done in such as way as to provide an outlet for purity death spirals.

      • Matt M says:

        But anyone who owns a gun is considered violent and untrustworthy. Additionally, there’s high expectations for how you clean, care for, and display your gun, such that even your fellow gun owners might unpredictably shun you.

        This may be closer to true than you perhaps realize.

        Everywhere I go in Texas it seems like most businesses (virtually every national chain) have large signs pointing out that regardless of relatively permissible state laws, they have (and are choosing to exercise) the right to ban guns from their premises.

        I grew up in Oregon which famously has “surprisingly” friendly gun-laws for a state that has been virtually taken over by the blue tribe in every other policy area.

        There has been controversy over doctors and insurance companies asking about individual gun ownership by patients/applicants.

        Within the sub-group of “enthusiastic gun owners” there’s definitely a divide over open carry, particularly as an antagonistic method of protest. Some people believe open carrying whenever possible is a great way to advance the cause, others believe it’s stupid and harmful.

      • Iain says:

        I endorse maybe_slytherin’s post. In particular, I want to second this part:

        I also think it’s worth mentioning that as a guy, it’s easy to not see a ton of gender issues. I find that too facile & unverifiable to give that as the only answer, but still: believe women. This doesn’t mean “believe unconditionally everything every woman says”; it means “believe women more often than you think, especially with the weight of experience.” I follow many female scientists on Twitter, and it’s always really shocking to read e.g. the stories of “it’s field season, here’s how to go into the wilderness and make sure that your own staff that you hire don’t try to rape you.

        • Barely matters says:

          A truly depressing number of my friends have confided this year that they’ve started audio recording their sexual encounters with new partners to head off the possibility of an accusation.

          One has even gone as far as to detail that once they have the microphone running they specifically go through the motions of bantering about the girl’s driver’s license (asking “Is that seriously how you spell your last name?”) to get them to verify name and age before asking something that would demonstrate active consent. They know that it’s illegal, but most of them say they’d take a charge for illegal recording to stop a rape allegation threat.

          This absolutely cuts both ways.

          • Matt M says:

            A truly depressing number of my friends have confided this year that they’ve started audio recording their sexual encounters with new partners to head off the possibility of an accusation.

            I’ve heard rumors of frat houses where everyone is required to use video recording of any encounters in their own rooms. Unofficially of course. Because that’s probably illegal.

            Also it’s not always enough. The victim can still claim they were drunk or that the video doesn’t show the entire context of the encounter or whatever.

          • Iain says:

            Okay, sure — but how many of those friends of yours have actually experienced a false rape accusation?

            I am willing to believe that there are men out there who are just as worried as most women. I am not willing to believe that the incidence rate of false accusations of rape is anywhere close to equivalent to the incidence rate of rape itself. It’s hard to get concrete numbers, but the FBI and the British Home Office both report that police classify 8% of rape accusations as false. False rape accusations all get counted, by definition, as rape accusations, whereas plenty of incidents of rape never get reported to the police, so the actual ratio is necessarily going to be lower.

            It may cut both ways, but one side of the blade is pretty clearly sharper.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I don’t disagree that Rape is a bigger risk than false rape accusations, but:

            1. Numbers of false rape accusations usually only include those that are proven false.

            2. Current figures are based upon the high bar that exists to prove those charges, changes on that regard will probably change incentives and therefore rates. It’s hard to determine how much, but we should consider it when proposing a modification of the system.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Iain:
            I take your broad point, and I think it’s correct, especially as regards the usefulness of recordings.

            False rape accusations all get counted, by definition, as rape accusations, whereas plenty of incidents of rape never get reported to the police, so the actual ratio is necessarily going to be lower.

            I’m not really sure that is a correct.

            As an example, did the infamous UVa incident get reported to the police? My recollection was that it was only reported to the administration.

            More generally, given that false rape accusations exist, and given that we are looking at a rape accusation that is false, there are a variety of reasons for them, many of which won’t result in a report to the police.

          • Iain says:

            @Whatever Happened To Anonymous:

            1. Numbers of false rape accusations usually only include those that are proven false.

            This also happens in the other direction: sometimes the police decide that a real rape accusation is false. If you click through the link in my previous post, you can see that both the FBI and British Home Office studies have been questioned on those grounds. It seems reasonable (in the absence of more detailed data) to guess that the two effects are of similar magnitude and roughly cancel each other out, which is part of why I picked those two studies. (In retrospect, it probably would have helped if I had mentioned that in my previous post.)

            @HeelBearCub: Fair. It is certainly possible that the rate of false accusations is higher in on-campus accusations handled by the administration. I will point out, though, that the police did investigate the UVa incident.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Police have a bad incentive to declare accusations false, pressure people into withdrawing them, etc – they can declare the case closed, so there isn’t the chance of an unsolved case, which can look bad. The highest estimates of what % of rape accusations are false tend to come from asking police officers what % they think are false, and are dramatically (and unbelievably high) – like, up to the 50% range.

          • Aapje says:

            The police also have bad incentives to ignore exculpatory evidence.

            The bad incentives go both ways.

          • Barely matters says:

            Okay, sure — but how many of those friends of yours have actually experienced a false rape accusation?

            In the last year, 3.

            This always ends up being a jerk circle, because the next step is that the person asking says “So how do you know they’re *Really* false, huh? Maybe you just know a lot of rapists.”

            In one of the cases the accusation came a week after the woman was caught by the guy’s roommate having a tantrum, threatening to self harm and then call the cops if he didn’t come outside to talk to her. The roommate told her she was never welcome around there again, and phoned her in as a noise complaint. (The terrifying part of this one is that after telling this story, the response from people who know her is that she in fact *has a known history of doing this*, and they still just laugh it off as if these are just youthful indiscretions)

            The other two I have to take as an article of faith, with emphasis on the timing. Both happened only after the couples had broken up from multi year relationships, and the accusers had recently seen the guys with their new girlfriends (Along with the accompanying public facebook shitstorms preceding the accusations). So we have a pattern, for sure.

            As for total numbers, I’ll relink Douglas Knight’s contribution to the following thread. 15% of cases that have convictions based on DNA evidence.

            Seriously though, I wouldn’t even want an unreported, social false accusation. Seeing the breakdowns these guys went through was enough to convince me on that. I’d be downright amazed if the false accusation rates on those were lower than the rate of accusations that went to trial and conviction.

      • cassander says:

        I’ll say off the bat that I’d say the goal of defining endpoints for feminism is much more difficult than gun rights, because while with gun rights you’re talking about legal status, with feminism we’re mainly talking about individual & cultural attitudes. I’d say that legally, gender equality is fairly well enshrined (though queer rights are often much less so).

        I’d say this is evidence to Trofim_Lysenko’s point, you only fight over culture once you’ve won everything else. And speaking to your example of culture, I would argue that it’s basically impossible to have that disparity between legal gun rights and cultural attitudes towards guns, that if people felt that way, the first thing that would happen is politicians would start trying to ban guns in order to win brownie points. That people aren’t doing that for feminism is proof that feminism has basically won, not that it has lost.

        Experiencing physical violence at the hands of domestic partners is 3x more common for US women than men.

        And? men are about 10 times more likely than women to be perpetrators of violence than women generally, If anything this stat speaks to men restraining themselves vis a vis their women relative to everyone else.

        These statistics changing, in addition to a few other things such as media representation, would be persuasive criteria for “declaring victory”.

        This presumes that there is no non-discriminatory basis for such statistical disparities. Do we not accept that we have achieved gender equality until the fastest female sprinter is as fast as the fastest male sprinter?

        • Spookykou says:

          And? men are about 10 times more likely than women to be perpetrators of violence than women generally, If anything this stat speaks to men restraining themselves vis a vis their women relative to everyone else.

          Couldn’t this also be explained by single men being more violent?

          • Nornagest says:

            It could be, but that would be a pretty weird result.

            On the other hand, young men are more violent than older men, and young men are probably also less likely to cohabit. I’m not sure if this gets us to the observed 3:1 ratio, but it’s probably responsible for some of it.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @Maybe

        So far as I can tell, the best data set we have for a contemporary discussion in a US context is the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS). I see it’s already been linked below since I couldn’t post all day. If anyone else has strong feelings about the methodology used to produce this report, feel free to chime in, but I think this is still the best basis for discussion of prevalence of victimization in the US.

        There are various issues I could take with some of the definitions, but I am willing to mostly accept them for the sake of argument at this stage of things (we can always get into that later). Regardless of whether you use more conservative definitions, it seems quite clear that women are victimized at a rate several times that of men overall, especially in terms of rape vs. other forms of sexual violent victimization. The disparity closes somewhat, but only somewhat, if you note that this survey files all incidences of a male being forced against their will to penetrate another person (male or female) as “other sexual violence”, not “rape”. I can’t really update that conclusion based on AnonYE’s paper because it’s paywalled. AnonYE, do you have a non-paywalled link?

        However, leaving aside the possible definition issues mentioned above, I’m STILL not sure that this tells us we’re failing to make things better for women. How much of this disparity is due to biological differences between the sexes, starting with the obvious things like mean physical strength? My understanding is that right now the research on the role of, say, testosterone on aggression is really muddled and inconsistent, but are the feminists here satisfied that this disparity in victimization rates is actually 100% -cultural-? Once again, to be clear, I am not making the claim that “our work here is done”, but I think that the changes in society between 1960 and today are so incredibly dramatic (grab any issue of Life, Time, or People from the early 60s vs. today and compare the advertising content) that the narrative DOES require a significant revision.

        Furthermore, I’ve been looking at the ground-level programs for dealing with issues of domestic violence that were created on a feminist framework, and the results have…not been particularly encouraging, and while this includes the “Duluth Model” it doesn’t appear to be limited to it. This is the best summary I’ve found, the money quote being (emphasis in the original):

        The overarching observation in reviewing the literature is that the more rigorous the methodology of evaluation studies, the less encouraging their findings.

        The results of the rigorous individual studies reviewed here, as well as most meta-analyses and systematic reviews conclude that there is no solid empirical evidence for either the effectiveness or relative superiority of any of the current group interventions. Across many rigorously conducted studies, treatment effects are small, if an effect exists at all, when comparing intervention to no intervention (control). Likewise, there is no significant, scientifically-verified difference between the effectiveness of different program models.

        What, then, at this point are the further changes that we make that will actually be effective in reducing victimization rates without excessive collateral costs? I’ll go ahead and categorically reject any lowering of the evidentiary standards or streamlining of due process for sexual violence cases, and I’ll say that I am at best profoundly skeptical of the argument that the content contained in popular media (to include advertising, films, video games, television, etc) contributes in any statistically significant and causal fashion to sexual violence in society for the same reason I’ve been profoundly skeptical of pretty much the exact same argument applied to plain old generic violence in society.

        Now, that said, I make it a policy to believe a woman when she tells me about some experience she’s had or at least to express as much empathy as possible. I’m well aware that as a male I’m not going to see or be aware of all incidences of sexism, and I’m certainly aware of more instances of it in my workplace than I would have suspected prior to working at my current job. Note that this conduct is in the form of inappropriately forward comments and ogling on the part of customers to employees. And in the case of people who have failed to take a verbal warning, we -have- had to bar some guests from the casino entirely.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          lucky for me I have the help of more, ahem, competent posters, so I’ll just copy Quanta’s reply to me

          That’s gated, but people can read the underlying survey at the cdc. You can see a lot of the tables here. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e#Table6

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Yes, I found that on my own and actually linked it in the post you’re replying to. I think you missed what I was saying in the body of my post, though, which is probably at least partially my fault for having logorrhea of the keyboard.

            I can’t find in those statistics anything that supports the claim contained in the title of the study. The closest I can come to is “about equal, and even then not entirely, with regard to annual victimization -other- than rape”.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I’ll go ahead and categorically reject any lowering of the evidentiary standards or streamlining of due process for sexual violence cases

          Not sure if you mean this as a matter of principle or just for the purposes of this discussion, but if it’s the former I take issue. One of my main feminist premises is that our current institutions were evolved and optimized with essentially no selection pressure for treating women decently, and so even our bedrock institutions must be up for questioning (albeit with a high burden of proof for changing them).

          And changes to due process don’t have to mean anything as dramatic as presumption of guilt or something. The right to face one’s accuser, for instance, doesn’t seem that essential–suppose victims could testify via one-way teleconference, receiving cross-examination questions in text form only to minimize intimidation by the lawyer.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            IANAL, but in criminal cases, one’s accuser is the State, isn’t it? (Alleged) Victims aren’t required to testify for the trial to go forward.

            If you open the door to anonymous civil suits… well, you’re ludicrously naive if you don’t think it’d be primarily used by monied parties looking to beat up political/business/social opponents.

          • Brad says:

            Theoretically the state is in the driver’s seat and can even compel testimony from an unwilling victim. Practically it is very difficult to win a criminal case where the victim is uncooperative.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            The last time we tried doing without the right to confront one’s accuser, we ended up with a bunch of preschoolers abused by robots and clowns in secret rooms. Even if you don’t see the use of it, this particular gate is best left in place.

          • Aapje says:

            @ADifferentAnonymous

            One of my main feminist premises is that our current institutions were evolved and optimized with essentially no selection pressure for treating women decently, and so even our bedrock institutions must be up for questioning (albeit with a high burden of proof for changing them).

            How do you account for traditional rape laws only applying to women, women not being drafted, alimony laws, etc, etc.

            You have to work pretty hard to rationalize away all the evidence of women’s interests being considered, I think.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, that’s an easy rationalization. You just assert that in the bad old days before feminism, women were treated as Literally Property. Thus, anything that appears to have been protecting women’s interests, was really just protecting the valuable property of men.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            A matter of principle. And the right to face one’s accuser means precisely the ability to have a witness’ testimony cross-examined, and for a jury to be able to observe that witness in order to make their own determination about their credibility.

            Solutions like testifying via one-way teleconference can certainly preserve that ability, and in fact I’m pretty sure that is already provided for in sexual abuse cases in at least some jurisdictions, though IANAL.

            As far as receiving cross-examination questions in text form, I think that may be going too far in limiting the options of the cross-examining lawyer.

            Consider as another example of this same right the disputes over the use of classified sources, testimony, and other evidence during terrorism trials and tribunals post 9/11. It’s the same mechanism.

      • Matt M says:

        “I follow many female scientists on Twitter, and it’s always really shocking to read e.g. the stories of “it’s field season, here’s how to go into the wilderness and make sure that your own staff that you hire don’t try to rape you.”

        What if I told you Twitter is also filled with men giving cautionary advice to college-aged males of “Here’s how to host a frat party and make sure you don’t get falsely accused of rape,” or “Here’s how to make sure your girlfriend isn’t lying about being on birth control.”

    • JonathanD says:

      I consider myself a feminist and will reply later when I have more time, but I have a quick question. What is a purity death spiral? Google, surprisingly, doesn’t provide a quick answer.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        My interpretation, based on seeing it in a few SSC-type discussions, is an endless cycle of finding faults in people’s words/actions being insufficiently progressive, especially when played alongside “oppression olympics”.

        • dndnrsn says:

          A purity spiral is a generic thing and can happen regardless of the specific community values.

          • Brad says:

            Perhaps in the abstract. But like “virtue signaling” the meaning of the phrase has been changed by the overwhelming pattern of usage.

            In both cases I find the meaning shift unfortunate.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I agree. There are terms that are useful, but have become marked, so you can’t really use them to mean the original meaning without at the very least giving the (possibly false) signal “I am one of this kind of person”. Another example would be “problematic”, although that marks you as a different sort of person.

      • Skivverus says:

        The mechanism is roughly similar to a dollar auction: the top bid (read: lifestyle choices, public positions/posturing, etc.) gets the dollar (read: authority), but the top two bids both pay in. Each participant has to keep escalating lest they get second place, but the amount they “win” doesn’t escalate to match.

        Generalizing that with a bit of math: the top X bids get the dollar, the top Y bids pay in. X = Y is a standard auction; X Y has the free rider problem instead: “why bid more for X when you expect to be one of the Y anyway?”

      • Deiseach says:

        My understanding of it, and I’m taking examples from some stuff I’ve seen, is where a group gets together and agrees on a laudable aim. Not everybody in the group has the same opinions and values about a lot of stuff, but they all agree that (say) there should be more public parks in the town.

        So they work and organise and lobby and finally they get the town authorities to build a new park. Mission accomplished, right?

        No, now we have to decide what trees and shrubs and flowerbeds and so on are going to be in the park.

        And this goes on and on and gets more into petty details (will dogs be allowed? benches?) until eventually you end up with a small group willing to cut each other’s throats over whether one particular flowerbed will be planted with narcissi or daffodils. Everyone could at first agree on “I like/don’t like flowers/dogs/ponds whatever, but what we all have in common is we want a new park and we’ll work to get one”. As that aim was achieved, the goal changed, and people dropped out or were driven off for not being in sufficient agreement about the new goal and the aims. And the goals get more and more fine-grained, and the ideological demands of complete and total agreement on the fine points get more stringent, and you end up driving out most of the original large group for their lack of ‘purity’ until you destroy what you started out with, nothing gets done, but the two people left are absolutely 100% in line and think the correct thoughts on the topic of narcissi.

        • Aapje says:

          Yeah,

          Basically a purity spiral happens when people gain status by direction pushing. If a group rallies around increasing X, then any success in achieving X causes the people in the group to lose status, since they are now mainstream and no longer valiant activists fighting evil. So they can only maintain their status by demanding more X than before.

          Such purity spirals can be externally directed or internally. An example of the former is people who build their identity around beating people with another identity up. If they can’t find ‘pure’ enemies, they have a tendency to just loosen their standards, until they are beating up people who are extremely moderate.

          An example of internal focus is communities that favor eradicating bad statements/behavior/etc from their community, where people gain status by calling others out, kicking them out of the group and such. These kind of communities have a tendency to just keep kicking out fringe members, until the community evaporates like a small black hole.

        • Machina ex Deus says:

          …eventually you end up with a small group willing to cut each other’s throats over whether one particular flowerbed will be planted with narcissi or daffodils.

          Seriously? We’re supposed to just blithely accept your equating a narcissus with a daffodil? This is just the kind of underhanded rhetorical move I’ve sadly come to expect from you daffodil partisans.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      As a mostly-progressive, I endorse maybe_slytherin’s response, but to add my own:

      I agree that how to measure success is a troubling question. I do believe in enough innate gender differences that I accept complete outcome equality is unreasonable. We’ll pretty much never have wives hit husbands as often as husbands hit wives, and we’ll likely never see women equally likely as men to focus fully on their careers. So the obvious answer, hoping for all measures to be equal, is no good.

      But really my approach is to take feminist issues on a case-by-case basis, rather than trying to assess the overall state of gender equality, and I find myself persuaded by a lot of cases. Ask me about a specific one, and I can do my best to define an endpoint.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        We’ll pretty much never have wives hit husbands as often as husbands hit wives,

        http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/17596591211244166

        hooray for egalitarianism

        • neciampater says:

          Especially in shelters!

        • quanta413 says:

          That’s gated, but people can read the underlying survey at the cdc. You can see a lot of the tables here. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e#Table6

          I was somewhat surprised to find that the CDC’s data do indeed have 12 month survey data for 2011 that show roughly equal rates of physical violence committed against men and women (overlapping confidence intervals). The lifetime prevalence rates are higher for women. Possibly a sign of a cultural shift? Possibly due to differences in how people of different genders are trained to view/remember these things?

          Another serious confounder across the data is that men are more often victimized by men than women are by women, and the perpetrator/victim gender/gender proportions vary across the categories of victimization. (due to differences in fractions of population which are gay compared to lesbian? Due to prison? Very unclear to me why this would be) so while the received rates of violence are roughly equal, men are probably more likely to be perpetrators. It maybe be possible to get the full breakdown from the raw data of F/F, F/M, M/F, and M/M violence for each category.

          • SomethingElse says:

            It could very well be that women have always been more prone to hit their partners and any disparity in e.g. police reports is merely an artifact of men and women having different average capacity to inflict the kind of harm that requires medical attention.

            My prior for culture war related stereotypes such as “conventionally masculine men beat up their partners” is that they tend to be believed mostly via the availability heuristic and as such are strongly influenced by popular media tropes.

            So i don’t take it for granted that the widespread belief that women are disproportionately the victim of DV is is or ever was empirically justified.

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          Yay, thanks for data! Even if it’s depressing.

          I had thought that rates for physical violence were still pretty skewed, but it was close to equal if you included verbal & psychological components. Apparently I was wrong!

          Thanks to quanta for pointing out more confounding factors, though.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @ADA

        Well, I have a whole list, but since Maybe_Slytherin started with discussion of the comparative rate of sexual violence, let’s start there. I figure we can save the other questions for later and maybe get the other pro-feminist posters to speak.

        On that note, at this point I pretty much Know what the common critiques are. Honestly, at this stage I’m most interested in figuring out where the goalposts are for the -individuals- here who would consider themselves “a feminist” or “pro-feminist” or “allies” or what-have-you.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          So there are two ways to look at this. One is in terms of the identifiable factors affecting the sexual violence rate, the other is in terms of the rate itself.

          In terms of the first, the main answer is “no Brock Turner shit.” As long as there’s even one sitting judge who would give a sentence like that, there’s cause for feminist advocacy. I’d also require that rape victims are asked to consider what they’re doing to the perpetrator’s life, no more often than robbery victims or murder witnesses. And people everywhere, including fraternities, treat signs an acquaintance may have raped someone the way they treat signs an acquaintance might have EDIT: killed ( not ‘liked’) someone. These are hastily-constructed goalposts, but I think they’re in the ballpark

          On the other view, the results-based one–I might set some arbitrary numbers and say that 10% lifetime rape rate are each cause for feminist advocacy on the issue to exist. Even if it were conclusively proven that no known policy measure would help with these stats, someone ought to be brainstorming new policy measures.

          • CatCube says:

            The problem is that people are also willing to disbelieve murder or theft accusations–or really, accusations of all types–against group members. Look at murder by US troops in Afghanistan, for an example. People disbelieving bullying charges in the workplace for a more minor example.

            Disbelief of victims and lenient sentences happen in a lot of different kinds of crime, but right now sexual violence is in the spotlight. I don’t know that it’s actually waved off by bystanders more than any other crime.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know that it’s actually waved off by bystanders more than any other crime.

            Well things get complicated when you have a crime that can, theoretically, leave no evidence. In the cases of theft, there is a missing item. Generally speaking, to be believed, you would have to prove that you owned the thing and that you no longer possess it. In the case of assault, you would have to point to a bodily injury, etc.

            So the relevant comparison here would be not between rape and theft, but between rape and theft where the alleged victim cannot even establish that they owned a certain thing and that it was taken from them at all. I imagine many people who come to the police and say “yes I was just robbed of $10,000 worth of gold coins that I cannot prove I ever purchased and never told anyone I had” are not taken very seriously.

            Sexual assault is somewhat unique in that the physical and material circumstances of “a horrible and grievous wrong was perpetrated here” and “the most beautiful expression of human love” can potentially be the exact same.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @ADA

            As long as you have discretion in sentencing, there are going to be disputes over sentences. That being the case, I take it that you favor national mandatory minimum sentences for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, and various related crimes?

            @CatCube

            Is it your claim then that police are refusing to investigate, or prosecutors refusing to press charges, on rape and sexual assault cases where there exists sufficient evidence to give a good chance of conviction in a jury trial?

            Or, in the case of workplace sexual harassment/quid pro quo/hostile work environment cases that managers/supervisors/HR departments are likewise refusing to investigate, or having investigated are ignoring evidence?

            For example, I am a supervisor at my job, and my team is actually almost entirely female (so for that matter are my two fellow co-worker’s, my boss, my boss’ boss, my boss’ boss’ boss, and the majority of the HR department). If one of my team members came to me claiming sexual harassment on the part of another TM or employee, I would most likely believe them (or at least that there was some inciting incident, I only have one TM with credibility issues). Whether or not I believed them I would record their claim and pass it on immediately to HR to begin an investigation.

            So, is it your contention that people are -not- taking that step? That they are, but that the investigations are often insufficiently thorough? Or that when such investigations are coming up with insufficient grounds for termination/disciplinary action that this is unacceptable and belief that the accusations are credible should be sufficient?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            @TL It’s not about the legal system, it’s about the culture (feminists think there are improvements to be had in the legal systems too, but I don’t know them well enough to comment). There shouldn’t be a judge who opts for leniency in an utterly unambiguous rape case because he doesn’t want to ruin a college kid’s future. Or at least, there shouldn’t be a jurisdiction on the country who would let him sit after that.

            @catcube: You’re right about the group thing, but there’s a threshold where someone dies something sufficiently bad that they lose that protection. I’m pretty sure frat bros would not brush it off if they see signs a bro might have killed someone.

          • CatCube says:

            @Trofym_Lysenko

            Is it your claim then that police are refusing to investigate, or prosecutors refusing to press charges, on rape and sexual assault cases where there exists sufficient evidence to give a good chance of conviction in a jury trial?

            Maybe I stated my point badly, but I think you and I are in violent agreement. I don’t think that police or prosecutors refuse to investigate or press charges where sufficient evidence exists in most crimes, and they *do* fail to press charges where there *is* insufficient evidence. What I’m stating is that I think, for the most part, rape isn’t any different on this score; however, if insufficient evidence to prosecute a thief or murderer is a problem, it pretty much stops there, where if the crime is rape, the refusal to continue gets smeared across the mediascape. This leads to the perception that rape gets “treated differently” and I don’t think it really does.

            As far as investigations in the workplace not being vigorous enough, I think that on the margins, people who are popular or who are in good with the boss can get things slow-rolled because “oh, he’s a good dude, and he’d never do that.” This isn’t just for sexual harassment, it can happen with nonsexual workplace bullying, and until it gets large enough, embezzlement and the like.

            I don’t think that sexual harassment is any more likely than the others to be swept under the rug, and I’m pushing back against the “rape culture” idea that it gets treated differently than other crimes.

            @ADA

            There shouldn’t be a judge who opts for leniency in an utterly unambiguous rape case because he doesn’t want to ruin a college kid’s future.

            If you remember the “Affluenza” case, that was where a judge gave a lenient sentence to a kid who killed someone because he didn’t want to ruin his future. What I’m saying is that this happens all the time for all kinds of crimes, but when it happens in rape cases, it gets trotted out as a product of misogynism.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @ADA

            While I tend to believe that the accused in that case was guilty, and that the judge’s leniency was…well, mis-judged and out of the same faulty reasoning as the ‘affluenza’ case CatCube mentioned, ‘utterly unambiguous’ seems strong to me for a case where the strongest charges had to be dropped, leading the legislature to later go back and broaden the definition for those crimes in order to avoid the same issue.

            And I would say that there is no functional difference between a society with legally enacted mandatory minimum sentencing, and one where the judge CAN be more lenient, but could never do so without being guaranteed to lose his seat at the bench.

            @CatCube

            We seem to be, although my confidence level is less high depending on the cases (both legal and workplace) in question. I think those margins are hard to measure and might be bigger spaces than we realize.

    • quanta413 says:

      Obviously people’s answers as to stopping points are interesting, but does someone have an a good historical explanation on some significant reform movements arc from start to finish (whether or not they succeed)? For example, on the abolition movement or the temperance movement.

      I feel like that would provide more insight than people trying to come up with some overall stopping point.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        Abolition is certainly interesting, partly because it has such a well-defined end goal. A couple others that come to mind:

        — Food safety & packaging, a.k.a. the movement to not get random noxious chemicals & tampering. While there are way more incidents documented in recent years, as a social/political issue I’d say it’s pretty much solved
        — More broadly, a lot of workplace safety stuff courtesy of the labour movement; maybe more tractable to discuss child labour as one example
        — Religious tolerance between protestants & catholics — obviously a huge historical issue, and I don’t know how much it was a “movement” in the sense you mean

        But yeah, having real historians pitch in would be great.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think it’s worth noting that it’s not a social issue because it has been broadly addressed by the existence of OSHA, state level agencies, and increased automation.

          Where government enforcement of occupation safety is weaker, I think you probably see more social activity. Mine safety seems like a possible example, although it’s probably also wrapped up with other things, including disasters being relatively telegenic.

      • Brad says:

        As I understand it, in way over simplified form:
        The Second Great Awakening -> Abolition -> Temperance + Women’s suffrage

        All four movements being notable for having much stronger involvement by women than one might expect (other than the perhaps the last).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      As you have already pointed out, I can only speak for myself. In addition, I don’t accept that everyone (perhaps anyone?) who identifies as a feminist or a feminist ally speaks for me.

      Let me unpack that a bit before I go on. Feminism is a very broad topic. I’d argue that it is similar to “liberty” as a topic. I donate to the ACLU and generally support their stances. I am not a libertarian. Nor am I the kind of person who equates liberty mostly with force (military and/or otherwise). The point being here that topics this broad don’t lend themselves to easy endpoints, and for a variety of reasons. We might as well ask, “When will the work of liberty be complete?”

      Perhaps you consider that unfair, but given the complexity of society, and the fact that we are social animals that values status, it’s hard for me to think that the work of egalitarian feminism can ever truly be complete.

      Nevertheless, I think we can see one answer to your question in the fact that intersectional feminism is ascendant. And frequently one sees this referred to simply as intersectionalism, full stop. What you see then is a movement that is continuing in pursuit of egalitarianism, and identifying that merely looking at gender will not accomplish this. Personally, I would like to see more intersectional feminists talk about class, and I think we are beginning to see a movement towards this.

      One analytical framework that I think is perhaps incompletely applied is the concept of structural oppression. In order to understand whether or how bias exists, we have to examine the power structures inside which the activity is taking place. An individual structure (say, a cultural institution) can be biased against almost anyone. That doesn’t mean we need to destroy cultural institutions in general, but simple be aware of the need to change these institutions so they are more egalitarian. The cultural institutions around parenthood have changed greatly in my lifetime, and I believe that fatherhood, as cultural institution inside parenthood, is stronger than ever.

      Much in the way rationalists talk about “raising the sanity water line”, I would say mainstream intersectionalism is about raising the egalitarian waterline.

      • Matt M says:

        We might as well ask, “When will the work of liberty be complete?”

        With the caveat that I fully acknowledge many would disagree, I would have no problem answering this question. I’ll bet you can even guess what my answer would be!

        • Protagoras says:

          When the last king has been strangled with the entrails of the last priest? No, I suppose that classic answer is probably not yours.

      • quanta413 says:

        The cultural institutions around parenthood have changed greatly in my lifetime, and I believe that fatherhood, as cultural institution inside parenthood, is stronger than ever.

        Unless I’m vastly mistaken on your social and economic class, I find it hard to believe that your views on the strength of fatherhood as a cultural institution aren’t almost certainly vastly influenced by your personal experience as a member of a particular socioeconomic class which has been doing very well overall for the last few decades. Unlike most others.

        For the U.S. as a whole the direction is exactly the opposite of your perception. In many groups, fatherhood as an institution has been declining and weakening. And these groups are much larger than your group.

        http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/17/1-the-american-family-today/

        http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2008/jun/23/barack-obama/statistics-dont-lie-in-this-case/

        https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/P60-255.pdf

        Combine the first link’s info that back in 1960, 87% of children lived with two parents. According the third link, in 2013, 25% of children lived with a single custodial parent (and from the footnote, we see that this proportion excludes joint or split custody arrangements). So the number of children with only one parent has doubled since 1960. And usually, the missing parent is the father. A doubling in the rate of children with absent fathers from 1/8 to 1/4 is a pretty severe weakening of the cultural institution of fatherhood.

        For fascinating correlations between single motherhood rates and homicide rates, see https://randomcriticalanalysis.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/racial-differences-in-homicide-rates-are-poorly-explained-by-economics/

        EDIT: just to be clear, I don’t think this happened due to anyone’s intention or due to feminists or something unless you count second order effects that can probably could have been counteracted by a different cultural arrangement. Like feminists contribute to desire for contraception -> it becomes available ->sex less linked to babies -> cultural institutions decline may be a valid chain but it’s not one that I worry about assigning some sort of responsibility for. There are too many people and institutions contributing to the chain at various points for me to think that matters much. Granted, I understand that many cultural conservatives make precisely this argument as to why the sexual revolution was bad.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, you are probably both right and wrong about my social and economic class. I’m the son of a professor and a school teacher. So, you are right on that account.

          My grandfather on my father’s side was the operator/owner of a gas-station, and died of cancer when my dad was 17. His father ran a stall in the farmers market. My grandfather on my mother’s side was among other things a carpenter and a border agent. Eventually he and my grandfather ran a preschool. Before that they were farmer’s on my maternal grandmother’s side and I’m not sure what happened up in Canada on my maternal grandfather’s side.

          The expectation in my house when I was growing up was that dinner was on the table by 5:30 and that my dad would be in the study after dinner was over, or perhaps watching T.V.

          Sure, they didn’t get divorced until after I went on to college. He was technically present in the house.

          Your numbers don’t speak to what I am talking about at all.

          • quanta413 says:

            My numbers may not speak of quality or what you mean, but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality. How likely do you think it is that improvements among present fathers are enough to cancel out the vast increase in absent fathers? This could be easily argued many ways because of how flexible subjective measures can be. Do you think all phsyically absent fathers would have been absent in any way you care about anyways? I find this highly unlikely.

            Of course, it would be difficult for me to have any numbers speaking to what you are talking about. I’ll need to know what specific things you are talking about first. I think I have some idea of what you speak, and I think it has improved for the upper class. Even then I suspect it will largely remain out of reach of most data. I think anecdotal evidence is unlikely to convince anyone of much although it may be interesting to talk about anyways.

            Given that quality is subjective, much harder to measure than presence and absence, and presence/absence correlates well with things like homicide (see last link I had in post), how confident do you feel about your belief that fatherhood is stronger across the U.S. as opposed to only inside your group(s)?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You keep putting your thumb on the scales.

            An automatic assumption that having both parents (mother or father) in the same domicile equates to a net positive is a thumb. I assume that you were cognizant of this as you wrote it.

            The fact that you have done this kind of thing multiple times over this thread and last makes me much less willing to engage further.

            Nonetheless, the thing I am talking about is the expectation that fathers as much as mothers are responsible for and capable of providing for the entirety of the needs of a child, physical and emotional, at every stage of life, regardless of the sex or gender of that child. That is the change in the cultural institution of fatherhood I am speaking of.

            In the context of the past open thread, it’s this strengthening of the cultural institution of fatherhood, and the public perception of that institution, that leads to greater incidence of shared custody and sole custody by the father in the context of a divorce.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            An automatic assumption that having both parents (mother or father) in the same domicile equates to a net positive is a thumb. I assume that you were cognizant of this as you wrote it.

            Come off it. (In addition to unwarranted personal aspersions,) the post said:

            Combine the first link’s info that back in 1960, 87% of children lived with two parents. According the third link, in 2013, 25% of children lived with a single custodial parent (and from the footnote, we see that this proportion excludes joint or split custody arrangements). So the number of children with only one parent has doubled since 1960.

            You’re the one reading “absent fathers” as “fathers not cohabiting with the mother” and claiming it’s a thumb on the scale.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Gobbobobble:
            That is not a meaningful response to what I wrote.

            The implication of what quanta wrote is that the mere presence of someone we can label with appellation father is automatically a net positive. His math does not consider that the presence of some parents in their children’s lives is net negative.

          • quanta413 says:

            You keep putting your thumb on the scales.

            You have made this accusation against other people before and it’s still not clear to me what exactly you mean or why it bothers you. The way I view it, everyone puts their thumb on the scales when arguing in the sense of usually doing their best to argue for their position. If you want me to go into a particular assumption explicitly that’s fine; I’m always happy to try.

            Anyways, at least here I think maybe I was too unclear what assumptions I was trying to come from. So let me elaborate.

            An automatic assumption that having both parents (mother or father) in the same domicile equates to a net positive is a thumb. I assume that you were cognizant of this as you wrote it.

            The fact that you have done this kind of thing multiple times over this thread and last makes me much less willing to engage further.

            In third link, I was talking about the 1/4 of children with their mother referred to sole custody by mother only and does not include joint or split custody so when I say absent fathers I don’t mean “parents are not under the same roof” I mean “the child does not live with the father ever as far as we know”. I made a note of this in that post. The first link was for comparison purposes so that we know how often the father was at least physically present in 1960.

            Fathers who are physically present (whether in the same house or through joint physical custody) may be available whereas fathers who aren’t or are rarely physically present can’t be available and so we can give a rough upper bound on how much contact fathers could have with their children. How much they actually participate may be more or less but it is much harder to actually measure, so absent the more detailed data we might like changes in physical custody should be taken into consideration when comparing the present to the past. I am not making an argument that the past was definitely better; I’m making the argument that at least one objective indicator is worse and would require compensating changes that are hard to observe in other areas to cancel.

            So in my previous post, please read the “absent fathers” in my post as referring to mostly absent from the child’s lives. Assume that joint or shared custody arrangements count as present fathers in what I said because that is what I intended to convey even if I did not succeed. I am not assuming that the mother and father have to be in the same domicile. I’m just doing my best to give an upper bound on how many fathers could be present a significant amount of the time with the actual data I have.

            Nonetheless, the thing I am talking about is the expectation that fathers as much as mothers are responsible for and capable of providing for the entirety of the needs of a child, physical and emotional, at every stage of life, regardless of the sex or gender of that child. That is the change in the cultural institution of fatherhood I am speaking of.

            I agree these things are good changes, but I think they also should be weighed against changes in things like how well the parents can provide for a child and how often both parents (whether mother and father, or two mother, or two fathers) are available to the child (where available includes joint or shared custody arrangements).

            Additionally, I think that the overall cultural view of fathers in the past is not necessarily accurate or is perhaps accurate for a short time window before modern feminism but inaccurate as regards the roles of fathers before that. See for example the brief description for this book of colonial new england fatherhood which is rather distinctly different from both our immediate predecessors of the 1950s and from today. https://www.amazon.com/Making-Manhood-Growing-Colonial-England/dp/0674010582

            I had a book I really enjoyed on the changing roles of upper class men in New England from the 18th to 19th centuries including the increasing role of fathers, but I can’t find the damn book right now and can’t remember the name. Will summarize and link to later if possible.

            In the context of the past open thread, it’s this strengthening of the cultural institution of fatherhood, and the public perception of that institution, that leads to greater incidence of shared custody and sole custody by the father in the context of a divorce.

            However, the incidence of divorce itself has risen as well. If fathers used help raise their children 20% of the time when married and 0% post divorce are now helping 40% of the time when married and 20% of the time post-divorce. That is a possiblity that as I understand it would leave your view completely fulfilled. But if fathers used to help raise their children 40% of the time in marriage and 20% post divorce and that hasn’t changed that would leave your view unfulfilled. However, absent bulk evidence on these rates, I’m not inclined to assign a large change either way in difficult to observe variables. I personally do not trust what people say is their ideal arrangement to actually reflect what they do.

            And the evidence I linked in the last open thread has sole (edit: or primary, woops) custody going to the mother about 70-90% of the time currently. Until I’m presented with time series evidence (I may have missed it earlier; I tried to find some, I can’t find it easily, and I don’t want to have to compile raw data right now), I find your claim that the strengthening institution of fatherhood has led to more shared custody unconvincing.

            EDIT:
            @HeelBearCub

            The implication of what quanta wrote is that the mere presence of someone we can label with appellation father is automatically a net positive. His math does not consider that the presence of some parents in their children’s lives is net negative.

            Our views of how terrible the past was clearly differ. It’s not that I think that some parents may or may not be negative, it’s that I see no reason to assume the past was terrible enough in this way to cancel out something I can be certain is worse now if other things largely stayed the same. Additionally, the correlation between things like single-motherhood rates in a community and homicide gives me evidence that my assumptions aren’t totally crazy.

            If you would like to explicitly argue that fathers in the past tended to be more of a negative than fathers are now, I would be very interested.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta413:
            One example: If the parent is engaged in spousal or child abuse, why do you think that the subsequent lack of custody by that parent should be assumed to be a net negative?

            Second example: If a child is a product of a brief sexual encounter that was not intended to conceive a child, and the father has no interest in parenting, why do you think a resulting marriage/cohabitation can be assumed to be net positive? (Harder to make this example gender neutral, for biological reasons).

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            One example: If the parent is engaged in spousal or child abuse, why do you think that the subsequent lack of custody by that parent should be assumed to be a net negative?

            You are claiming that I assume things that I didn’t say and that are the opposite of what I believe. I would appreciate it if you don’t do that. When I talk about bulk statistics, I’m not saying that every individual subcase is an unalloyed good or bad; I’m saying on average across the many cases something is either good or bad. I don’t assume that this case would be a net negative; I assume the loss of the abusive parent is net positive.

            However, I have already considered these cases, and what I do assume is that these cases are a rare subset of families (keep in mind that I don’t consider things like spanking a child a sign of abuse in and of itself whereas I know some people would), and that they were likely roughly as common in the 60s as they are now. Probably it is easier to get away from an abusive spouse now that it used to be since no fault divorce is easier. Less abusive parents may be good, but it doesn’t necessarily strengthen or weaken the institution of fatherhood as far as I can tell.

            So since I care about averages or medians most, I worry first about the majority of situations where people aren’t abusing their spouse or children. I think since these are the bulk of all cases and lots of damage can still be done here even with no abuse they should be considered before edge cases.

            Second example: If a child is a product of a brief sexual encounter that was not intended to conceive a child, and the father has no interest in parenting, why do you think a resulting marriage/cohabitation can be assumed to be net positive? (Harder to make this example gender neutral, for biological reasons).

            Once again, you claim I am assuming things I haven’t said and don’t believe. If the father truly has absolutely 0 interest in his progeny, then that is not a net positive. However, I believe this is also a rare case or at least it’s rare that a strong societal pressure would be… unable to change his mind.

            Even lots of cohabiting or married people accidentally have children (my recollection is it’s on the order of 1/4 children). And people seem to really like their children! (or at least develop a hindsight bias after a year of suffering), so I figure shotgun marriages might not be as terrible as the alternative given that they were once accepted practice.

            Perhaps more importantly, I have already pointed out that I wasn’t talking about only marriage/cohabiting. If a father is interested in his accidental progeny but wants to remain under a separate roof but have custody 3 out of 7 days or something, that seems like an improvement over 0 out of 7 to me.

            So would you like to either give evidence that these cases aren’t rare or an intuition as to why the rare cases matter more than the common ones?

            Or try to specify something like a utility function over the various subcases (and I can too)? Cases being something like: one parent abusive, parents together; one parent abusive, parents separated, sole custody; one parent abusive, parents separated, joint custody; both parents good, parents together; both parents good, parents separated, sole custody; both parents good, parents separated, joint custody; etc.
            And then frequencies for the various cases can be estimated.

            I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t mention that I view an increase in the number of fathers who fail to be fathers as a weakening of the institution of fatherhood whether the fathers personally want it or not. Duties exist even if you don’t like them and sometimes should be socially enforced. It’s surprising how with the right norms often you can almost force someone to do things like raise their biological offspring in an acceptable manner.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta:
            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            Now, it’s not my contention at all that every divorce is a net positive for the state of fatherhood. I’m saying that you can’t count every increase in singe-parent households as negative. For example, If half of that net increase is positive, it cancels out.

            In addition, I’m saying that, on balance, the state of fatherhood is stronger because fathers generally view themselves is needing to be more involved with all aspects of their children’s lives. A relatively small average increase in the quality of 3/4s of households with two parents outweighs the 1/8th increase in single parent households, even were those universally negative.

            As to your question about abuse, and statement that you believe it to be so rare that we can discount it as significant, I don’t think even today’s numbers, with lifetime incidences around 25% for women and 8% for men, bear that out.

            And if we want to travel back in time to 1964 we can see that attitudes about domestic violence were a little different:

            ‘The periods of violent behavior by the husband,’ the doctors observed, ‘served to release him momentarily from his anxiety about his ineffectiveness as a man, while giving his wife apparent masochistic gratification and helping probably to deal with the guilt arising from the intense hostility expressed in her controlling, castrating behavior.’

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            I find the interpretation that because I think on average the presence of fathers is more positive than their absence that therefore I must think this is true of every individual case… very unique. Absence places a hard cap of the “father contributes at most money to rearing the child” (and often not even that). Most people grow up with their parents and don’t seem to hate their fathers or mothers and even have positive relationships, so I’m willing to assume that most parental relationships although not perfect are better than an absent parent. If I was to say that “mothers just being there isn’t guaranteed to be positive and therefore it doesn’t matter if the proportion of children who don’t see their mother rises to 25% because a lot of those relationships were probably a net negative anyways” I would be making an extraordinary claim. The natural claim is that on average each parent is a net positive; otherwise, what are parents even doing?

            Now, it’s not my contention at all that every divorce is a net positive for the state of fatherhood. I’m saying that you can’t count every increase in singe-parent households as negative. For example, If half of that net increase is positive, it cancels out.

            It’s not divorces that result in joint custody that I think are a problem. And it’s not just divorces that result in sole custody either, out of wedlock births are probably a larger issue in many communities. See last link in first post on correlation between single motherhood and homicide rates across cities. Given the social pathologies we see when fathers vanish, one should have to give at least correlative proof that it is the case that the numbers of negative fathers avoided is able to cancel out the number of situations that would have had a positive father.

            And just to repeat, again, it isn’t divorces in and of themselves that I’m saying are a problem. It’s cases where the father is mostly physically absent because in those cases we can pretty much guarantee he’s absent in every other way too.

            In addition, I’m saying that, on balance, the state of fatherhood is stronger because fathers generally view themselves is needing to be more involved with all aspects of their children’s lives. A relatively small average increase in the quality of 3/4s of households with two parents outweighs the 1/8th increase in single parent households, even were those universally negative.

            The standards for fatherhood may have changed in a lot of ways for upper class people, but I don’t buy that they lead to an increase in quality on the order of 16.6% of the value of the loss of a father of the 1960s without bulk evidence.

            As a separate issue, I’m not even convinced the overall changes for fatherhood and motherhood are significant in a positive way for lower and lower middle class people for whom the economic situation has tanked hard where rather than having one parent usually available; they may now require both parents working full time or even more. The reasons for this are unrelated, but I still think those changes were not good for motherhood or fatherhood.

            As to your question about abuse, and statement that you believe it to be so rare that we can discount it as significant, I don’t think even today’s numbers, with lifetime incidences around 25% for women and 8% for men, bear that out.

            Those lifetime incidence rates are roughly equal to the ones I’ve read for victimization across everyone a person ever encounters. Not just the spouse or co-parent or your own parent. Unless you give evidence that the rates for people’s actual spouses and co-parents are that, I’m not going to take those numbers as even accurate to an order of magnitude on the question at hand. If those lifetime incidences include all possible perpetrators it makes sense to divide by something like the number of people you encounter in private enough situations who could abuse you to get parental and spousal abuse rates. That would reduce those numbers by a factor of 10 or 20.

            Plus the number of single parent households in 1960 was still 12.5% in the source I gave. The divorce rate in 1960 was about 9% according to the graph on page 65 of this document https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsus/mgdv60_3.pdf. This is not a staggeringly low number; it was clearly still possible to get a divorce in 1960. I expect abusive situations to be the most likely situation to lead to divorce. Divorce being legally easier and socially more acceptable should increase the proportions of divorces that occur for less severe reasons all else equal.

            And if we want to travel back in time to 1964 we can see that attitudes about domestic violence were a little different:

            ‘The periods of violent behavior by the husband,’ the doctors observed, ‘served to release him momentarily from his anxiety about his ineffectiveness as a man, while giving his wife apparent masochistic gratification and helping probably to deal with the guilt arising from the intense hostility expressed in her controlling, castrating behavior.’

            I do not dispute that attitudes have changed; this is a point of agreement between us. I dispute that a hard to measure change in attitudes is enough that we should expect it to cancel out the obvious massive changes in other factors we can actually measure.

            Also, the source you quoted says that it comes from a study of 37 cases of assault. That means that regardless of what the doctor said, the state itself classified all of these incidents as a crime. I’d rather not play a game of quote mining people; I could quote mine the craziest man-hating feminists in a way that makes disputing the value of fathers sound malign by trying to load any such claim with an aura of comparison to crazy people but it wouldn’t prove anything to either of us.

            We both agree abuse was probably more prevalent in 1960 than in 2015. We differ on what we expect the actual base rates are and what the change in numbers are likely to have been and how to weigh it vs more typical cases. We are at an impasse because neither is able to bring enough data to bear.

            So, I think we should either agree to disagree for now… or try to each specify utility functions to formalize our intuitions or agree to estimate rates of child abuse by parents over time or look at correlations between single parenthood and other social indicators across time and place, or something along those lines. Unfortunately all are pretty time consuming. Recommend and discuss books on the topic in a top level comment in the next open thread? I dunno. I think it’s pretty clear we’ve reduced our disagreement down to these sorts of specifics.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @quanta:
            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            When asked about it you start talking about averages. That isn’t a statement about averages. It’s akin to “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

            I’m not sure if you don’t know how I interpreted this, or refuse to address my interpretation.

            You admit that the prevalence of domestic violence was higher, and that attitudes were fairly blasé, but bring up quote mining the worst examples. That’s Time reporting on their own (positive) reporting from 1964, a decidedly mainstream a publication.

            These are more examples of why I am frustrated in my conversation with you.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ HBC:

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            Given that children of intact families to better on a whole host of metrics than children of single-parent families, this is a reasonable assumption to make, at least when considering things on the societal level.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            Again, for what feels like the billionth time, you are talking about, as quanta is now saying he is talking about, the average.

            I interpreted him saying that every single case was a net positive. That the mere absence of any individual father can be determined to be a negative.

            I assume you are not saying this now. So, I’m not sure how you are addressing what I am saying.

            And that is before we get into any counter-factuals on your specific example.

          • Randy M says:

            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”

            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            I’d say the literal and charitable reading of the sentence HBC quoted an objected to is that the ceiling on absent fathers is in every case zero. Not stated but implied by the comparison is that the ceiling on present fathers is higher.

            Whether the net is positive in every case or even on average isn’t a logical necessity of the statement.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ HBC:

            Neither Quanta’s nor my own posts require present fathers to be a net plus literally every time, just for them to be a net positive more often than absent fathers.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You said “but it is certain that fathers who are not there cannot attain any level of quality.”
            How is one supposed to interpret that as other than as an endorsement of the proposition that we are to consider the mere presence of fathers as more positive than their absence?

            You said that your father wasn’t involved much in your upbringing, as evidence for how bad the institution of fatherhood was in the bad old days and (by implication) how much better it is today. Quanta was pointing out that a large portion of children have even less meaningful contact with their fathers than you did, and suggesting that it is unlikely that the fathers who do have contact with their children are sufficiently better than their own fathers to make up for this. Quite simple, really, and nothing about it requires fathers’ presence to be a net positive in every single case without exception.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I will just say that you are incorrect about what I think about my father’s involvement in my childhood.

            There were good reasons for my parents to divorce. No, there was no physical abuse.

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            I am sorry you are finding our mismatch in style/belief frustrating. I too have been frustrated with our conversation at times, but overall I enjoyed arguing with you about this. I am fine with stopping here. I have tired out.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @HBC

        I’m not sure I follow you here, HBC. Egalitarianism, equality in treatment and options and choices and power, is the goal…but at the same time you reject the possibility that this goal can be measured in a quantifiable way or be said to be achieved?

        I’m confused because the answer to your question is “when everyone in a society has as much liberty as [philosophy] puts forth is the correct amount for each given policy area”. I can give you my personal “at this point, there is sufficient liberty” optimum for just about any given social or cultural question, though I’m happy to admit that in many cases my confidence level in my own opinion isn’t all that high. Any given progressive/left-liberal, conservative, libertarian, centrist, anarchist, fascist, etc can do the same, and while one progressive might disagree with another about exactly where that line gets drawn, they’re going to be closer to each other than they are to the fascists. Political and moral philosophies are expected to at least offer a framework for trading off the amount of liberty afforded individuals vs. [insert other terminal value here]. I find it hard to credit that you can’t likewise identify any stopping point for your own philosophy.

        There is literally NO trade-off for which a 0.0000000000…..00001% improvement in equality is not worth it? Are you an anarcho-socialist as well, then, since any hierarchical structures could theoretically place a man above a woman and thus endanger egalitarian feminism? I certainly never got that impression from your posting.

        Regarding the concept of structural oppression:

        Can you give me a concrete example of structual sexism? Or structural oppression of females if you prefer? Because I’ll be honest and admit that I am one of those people who is profoundly skeptical of the conceptual validity of “structural/institutional –ism”. My own stance on that sort of framework so far has been that it doesn’t really hold water, to be honest: that either you can reduce the “structural” bias to the bias of an individual or group of individuals (even a very large group) and address it on that level, or you can reduce it to underlying inequalities of fact (I believe that there’s such a thing as objective reality, and I don’t believe it can be –ist).

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Trofim:
          Perhaps you are familiar with the oft mis-attributed quote “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty“?

          The point I was making is that we aren’t in a natural condition of liberty or egalitarianism. That which we have is the result of work.

          Perhaps you would understand better if I put it in terms of democracy? The work of democracy isn’t ever done, either. It’s much easier to maintain democracy than to attain it, though.

          Here is one specific example of structural sexism, the default male.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Yes, the kind of structural sexism which doesn’t seem to hurt anyone at all. And that’s coming from a rabid feminist site like Wonkette.

            I personally am similarly annoyed that “woman” is a piece of extra information which if unreferenced in the joke makes the viewer think they misunderstood the joke. But let’s consider why the gender default exists: because it’s a time-saving assumption. Rather than figuring out if someone is either XX or XY, simply assume XY unless XX. So why is XY the default? Well, if you look at some of the monkey research a couple threads back, you notice that male monkeys had much weaker sex preferences compared to female monkeys; extrapolate that out using anecdotal experience and you can argue that men have much higher variance, whereas women usually have a few easily-identified signifiers. In other words, a man is a man because he isn’t a woman; men don’t really have any other universal traits.

            Still fine with the double standard being knocked down, as with many other double standards feminism is curiously resistant to knocking down. But let’s not act like this one is a big deal.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Here is one specific example of structural sexism, the default male.

            Your example involves the trivial topic of a single person misgendering an animated crocodile and involves pattern matching, which tends to just reaffirm preexisting beliefs. For example, in this case the person who misgendered might just have mixed up two of the many animals on the show in their head or it could have a typo. A single example of a person doing something where you cannot be sure why, is not good evidence that ‘default male’ even exists.

            However, I actually do agree with you that gender roles involves assumption about what men and women are like and do; and also that this can lead to assumptions about gender based on what someone likes and does. However, ‘default male’ is a really poor way to describe this.

            For example, I have heard about a father who was addressed as a ‘she’ in a letter from his school about his child. Imagine that we would do a solid experiment that would show that schools assume that the parent they interact with is a mother, even in the absence of information about the gender. Would that be the ‘default female?’ So IMO, calling the phenomenon ‘default male’ is itself sexist and pushes people into only considering one side of the issue.

            Aside from this, it seems that your definition of ‘structural’ boils down to pervasive behavior and/or the behavior being culturally acceptable. Is that accurate?

            Because I regularly see the conflation of structural with institutional, which are two very different things, if we take the above definition for ‘structural.’

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Trofim:

            I certainly understand that for some cultural standards there is “maintenance work”. However, there are dramatic differences in the approaches and tactics used when an idea is revolutionary and being pushed against the status quo, and when the idea has become the status quo and is in turn being defended from other would be revolutionary (or reactionary, if you prefer) challenges.

            At what point would you consider that feminist ideals have attained mainstream buy-in in American culture, then, if you prefer? What would your metric for success be?

            So, as far as the default male idea, have they verified that holds true with female observers? That is, that a female observer viewing a gender-neutral figure (without features that code male or female) will also presume that the figure is male?

            I note that if the photo attached to the article is accurate then it’s a poor example, since the crocodile -does- code as female (there are pretty clear breasts). I’m not sure if this makes the writer’s point stronger (questioner made the assumption of male despite the coding, thus revealing stronger implicit bias) or weaker (questioner is just bad at coding generally, and thus a poor sample).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure you read the article all the way through?

            The big point there is that writers actively resist having female characters because of the default male. They don’t write characters as female unless there is a specific reason for them to be female.

            That’s not a small thing, that’s very large.

            And yes feminists are also quite concerned about roles where the default assumption is female. They talk about this all the time. See complaints about every example of housework or child care being done is done by a female.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            but the article gives no explanation as to the real problem with this. At best, you can argue “fewer female roles”, but those roles were tiny, and women will always have enough roles because, at the least, the men need love interests (if they aren’t gay). So fewer incidental roles, but occasionally more if the writers want to make a joke about women specifically as well, something which doesn’t get talked about in the article. Who cares?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            but those roles were tiny, and women will always have enough roles because, at the least, the men need love interests

            I’m assuming you haven’t thought about the narrative structure of a typical story?

            Stories typically revolve around a protagonist and various and many roles that interact with that protagonist. Love interest is only one role.

            That means that there aren’t “enough” roles for females, depending on what you think “enough” is, but more to the point it leads to a fictional world that is overwhelmingly male. Females are love interests or nothing.

            Unless there is a specific need for a female protagonist, the protagonist will also be written as male, meaning that females are also under-represented as protagonists.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I’m assuming you haven’t thought about the narrative structure of a typical story?

            class, what do assumptions do

            Stories typically revolve around a protagonist and various and many roles that interact with that protagonist. Love interest is only one role.

            But usually every character has a love interest. And that’s not to mention that, in practice, there are plenty of female friends as well, because having that extra woman signifier lets you do things with the character.

            That means that there aren’t “enough” roles for females, depending on what you think “enough” is, but more to the point it leads to a fictional world that is overwhelmingly male. Females are love interests or nothing.

            cool but is this actually true

            no it isn’t

            at the end of the day, there is an enforced floor for women’s roles thanks to love interests, and then you have other roles that often exist regardless.

            Unless there is a specific need for a female protagonist, the protagonist will also be written as male, meaning that females are also under-represented as protagonists.

            except in cases where you want your protagonist to be female which happens a lot

            it’s stuff like this that reveals an aspect of feminism, which is not so much equalizing as it is flattening. Should the specific cases where you want a woman be nonexistent in exchange for nonspecific cases being 50 / 50 split? Even if you say so, you’re taking with one hand and giving with the other. Of course, feminism usually pretends to want both and then only ends up giving without taking, but even the idealistic side has to admit that it’s not doing unalloyedly good things.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            class, what do assumptions do

            and I’m out.

          • random832 says:

            Should the specific cases where you want a woman be nonexistent in exchange for nonspecific cases being 50 / 50 split?

            I don’t know where you’re getting that from. There are obviously always going to be specific cases where you want a character to be a woman and specific cases where you want a character to be a man, and I don’t see where anyone is saying otherwise.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            and I’m out.

            Good. This statement:

            I’m assuming you haven’t thought about the narrative structure of a typical story?

            was clearly disrespectful. If you can’t handle that level of disrespect turned back, then the logical move is to get out. Have a good one.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I don’t know where you’re getting that from. There are obviously always going to be specific cases where you want a character to be a woman and specific cases where you want a character to be a man, and I don’t see where anyone is saying otherwise.

            Yeah, you’re right. This is a lost case.

            Still, I’ll retreat to arguing that, either way, this is a minor point, mostly applicable to unimportant characters. A study the Mary Sue cites notes that 42% of television characters are women, which seems pretty damn good to be honest – yeah, OK, it could be 50, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world if it stays around 42, especially given that there may be confounders as regards number of actors or most talented actors.

          • Matt M says:

            Unless there is a specific need for a female protagonist, the protagonist will also be written as male, meaning that females are also under-represented as protagonists.

            I think you’re generally right that this is the case – but this strikes me as yet another area where matters complicate very quickly in terms of trying to specifically quantify the problem and identify a desired end-state.

            The key question here becomes: When, exactly, is there a need for a specific-gendered protagonist?

            We can probably intuitively agree that Wonder Woman has to be female, but that Rey in The Force Awakens does not. But what about something like, The Bride from Kill Bill? Obviously at some point, fairly early on in the process, it’s abundantly clear that Tarantino said to himself “The hero of this story has to be a woman.” The plot is structured such that a lot of the charm of the movie would go away if you tried to gender-flip the cast. That said, it’s not as if it would be impossible for him to write a compelling story about a man betrayed by a woman and seeking revenge against her and her various male associates.

            It almost seems like whether the role “needs” to be a certain gender or not is largely dependent on, at what point in the creative process, the gender is decided.

            At least for some genres. A lot of this may be easily explained by the fact that some of our post popular genres of entertainment essentially require male-oriented casts, for various reasons. War films have to have male protagonists, because men are the ones who actually fight wars. Super hero films have mostly male protagonists, because super heroes mostly spend their time punching people, and all but the most ardent feminists would concede that punching people is something men do better (and generally enjoy doing more) than women. Most historical dramas have male protagonists, because historical oppression of women mostly limited them to the role of behind the scenes influences, and they were not allowed to hold the significant power required to make someone relevant in a historical tale.

            But I wonder if the “male default protagonist” holds true on say, the Hallmark Channel. Or Lifetime TV movies. I would assume not, because the genre in question is female-focused.

            In any case, I feel like there’s no real way to measure this without making some pretty deep and personal judgments of content creators on a case by case basis. It requires one to look, film by film, show by show, and say “that character could have been female, but that one obviously has to be male” which just seems a little weird and icky to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            I think you’re generally right that this is the case – but this strikes me as yet another area where matters complicate very quickly in terms of trying to specifically quantify the problem and identify a desired end-state.

            I’m certainly not saying these things are easy, or that trying to address issues like this aren’t complex. Or that these considerations should override artistic vision.

            Rather I’m speaking about one particular issue, and how it affects storytelling.

            To go for a very stark comparison of how things can change in this regard, compare the cast of Quincy, M.E. with the cast of Bones.

            And yet the recurring characters in Bones that aren’t the every episode regulars run about 2 to 1 male to female (eyeballing it). Perhaps some of that is due Sweets leaving the show though.

          • Matt M says:

            To go for a very stark comparison of how things can change in this regard…

            Right. But what happened 20 years ago is not relevant, what’s relevant is what is happening now.

            I wonder, if you only go back to say, 2015, if the problem of “all default characters are male” exists to any noticeable extent. I would guess not, or at least to a very small extent. People seem to be hypersensitive about this stuff. The amount of stories written with specifically female protagonists in mind seems to be increasing. Maybe it’s not totally even just yet, but once again, it’s hard to judge. But I think the general point is that the sample of “movies from 2015 – present” looks very different than the sample of “movies from 1975 – present”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            Why are you rejecting the testimony of a writer who is writing in 2015 in saying that the default male has affected his writing?

            Why are you simply ignoring the second part of my post where, even in a show that makes a very conscious effort to have a balanced male/female characters in the lead roles, that the ancillary characters still run 2 to 1 male?

            I am both acknowledging that things have changed and showing how more improvement can be made.

            I’m not saying this is some unique evil perpetrated in a conscious manner to keep women in their place. I’m acknowledging that is complex and full of nuance.

            It seems to me that your position could (perhaps uncharitably, but perhaps not) be summarized as “It’s full of complexity and nuance, so we shouldn’t examine it”.

          • tomogorman says:

            Look at 2015 then – from top ten Grossing movies:
            Star Wars Force Awakens: 2 leads Rey and Finn 1F and 1M; major supporting Han, Chewie, Poe, Kylo Ren, Hux, Leia – 1F and 5M
            Jurassic World: 2 leads Owen and Claire (and thats being generous to give Bryce Dallas Howard equal billing with Chris Pratt) 1F and 1M; but supporting cast is solidly male – Claire’s nephews, head of security, CEO, raptor assistant, lead scientist – all males for 0F and 6M
            Avengers 2: Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Hulk, Thor, Ultron, Quicksilver male, Black Widow Scarlet Witch female 2F and 7M
            Furious 7: protagonist crew spilts 2F 5M (with focus on the men) and the vilain is male.
            Inside Out: the emotions split 3F 2M, they are in a girl, and she has two parents so 5F 3M
            American Sniper: male protagonist
            Minions: Minions may not be gendered, but are definitely coded male. Their employer in this one is a woman, but her partner is male – still a mostly male movie.
            Hunger Games 2: female protagonist with 2 male love interests. Important supporting cast is her sister and Coin (female) and Snow, Abernathy, and Heavensbee male. so 1F lead, supporting cast 2F 5M
            The Martian: Male lead, the remaining crew of the mission is 2 women and 3 men, major NASA characters are about evenly split.
            Cinderella: Female Lead, Female Villain, Female Godmother, Male Love interest 3F 1M
            So in 2015 from the top 10 movies you have 5 with male leads (Avengers and Furious 7 are ensambles, but male dominated – and with the male leads getting more screentime), 3 with female leads, and 2 with joint leads (and thats being generous to Jurassic World)
            Supporting cast has greater male representation in all but Inside Out and Cinderella.
            So even with all the feminism, women are still less represented in movies than men are.
            Things may be getting better, but that doesn’t mean feminists should stop.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I did read the entire article, that’s why I’m asking if this apparent default male phenomenon is documented as occurring in both genders, thus representing a cultural bias rather than a “typical person” fallacy. Also, on what grounds does this tendency qualify as “actively resisting”? To me, that implies that such a writer would reply to the suggestion “hey, this character should be female” with “no way!”. An answer like “I’d never even considered that” fits what he’s describing better and isn’t terribly active.

            But let’s set that aside, and assume for the sake of argument that this apparent phenomenon IS bi-gendered and thus represents cultural bias, and is extremely prevalent as claimed: can you explain why this is a very large and impactful thing? If we were in a situation with literally no or very close to no female protagonists, or where females were overwhelmingly depicted in only a single way with deviations inevitably singled out for punishment, I would agree. And we may have been closer to that point some time in the past. But I don’t think we’re they’re now, and while I know you and AnonYE haven’t been having a great discussion, as far as I can tell the studies he cited about percentage of female characters in a sample of TV and Film seem solid.

            So, can you explain why this is a “big thing”?

            And you still haven’t answered my question about metrics for success or establishing mainstream buy-in. Would you agree with Jonathan D’s, maybe?

            When gender motivated bad stuff happens and women relating said stuff to their networks are met instead with sympathy and surprise – because it’s so rare – then we’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

            As I say below it seems hard to measure, but seems a pretty good starting point for discussion in terms of social behaviors.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim:
            I asked because you were concentrated on the crocodile example, which seemed to be just an interesting example at the beginning, rather than the writer’s self report of how the default male affected the stories he wrote. And he does indicate that he actively resisted making characters female because, as he said, it was something else you had to explain about the character. He did not want characters to be female unless that had something to do with the joke.

            Your question about whether this is true for both genders misses one aspect, which is that writers rooms have continued to be majority male.

            As to why this is a big deal, to the extent that it continues, it means that the range of roles we are willing to imagine females in is necessarily truncated. The roles are predominantly ones which are stereotypically gendered.

            This then affects how we view the world. I’m sure you can think as some aspect of yourself which you find to be frequently poorly represented in media (“all nerds are like they are in Big Bang” might be a popular one around here). Reducing the female roles to only certain feminine tropes, and not making the wide range of tropes which are essentially gender neutral available, means this will smack one in the face much more frequently.

            And what does victory look like? When writing with a “default male” perspective stands out as being noticeable for its rarity, something that is done as a conscious choice, for good reason. When the default is not to assume male or female.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I am aware of the gender disparity among tv/film writers, but absent more evidence I am not sure what it signifies. I’ve never been satisfied that proportionality of representation or the lack thereof was sufficient evidence to conclude there were underlying biases (individual or ‘systematic/structural’) at work. Necessary, but not sufficient. For example, alternative explanations for something like the gender imbalance of the show Bones could be that it’s a show with a law enforcement emphasis, and law enforcement is a field with an actual ratio of around 4:1, not 2:1. Another could be that it reflects viewer demographics that the casting is optimizing for based on the assumptions that the average schmoe needs to see someone like them to identify with them.

            I also don’t see the support for the assertion that more male writers than females necessarily and inevitably means less roles for women, even if we assume that the claim about “default male” assumptions are true more in general among these writers.

            And honestly? I can think of many aspects of myself, especially politically and philosophically, that are treated as downright hostile by the majority of the entertainment media I consume. I wasn’t aware enough to notice or care until my teens, and I learned to mostly stop caring by my mid 20s. If I couldn’t handle hostile and ignorant depictions I would be restricted to consuming perhaps 10-20% of the fiction I do now.

            I would see the merit of your argument if I could look out at the cultural landscape and see that female roles were reduced “to only certain feminine tropes, and not making the wide range of tropes which are essentially gender neutral available”. I do not see that description matching well at ALL to the material I see out there.

            That’s not to say I don’t see places where improvements could be made. Speaking of female roles written by males, and in a tangent, I’m still bitterly disappointed (though not at all surprised) that the Honor Harrington film optioning went nowhere.

            As far as the default is not to assume male or female…do you mean in terms of how to choose character roles? If so, that would seem to imply that your end goal is the total abolition of the concept of gender roles in western society, as that is the only circumstance I can imagine in which that default is in any way plausible. If that is not your end goal, then can you explain how that not assuming works?

          • Brad says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            @HBC

            I am aware of the gender disparity among tv/film writers, but absent more evidence I am not sure what it signifies. I’ve never been satisfied that proportionality of representation or the lack thereof was sufficient evidence to conclude there were underlying biases (individual or ‘systematic/structural’) at work. Necessary, but not sufficient. For example, alternative explanations for something like the gender imbalance of the show Bones could be that it’s a show with a law enforcement emphasis, and law enforcement is a field with an actual ratio of around 4:1, not 2:1. Another could be that it reflects viewer demographics that the casting is optimizing for based on the assumptions that the average schmoe needs to see someone like them to identify with them.

            Given the overarching question you are asking — when is it time for a movement to declare victory — does it make sense to set the burden of persuasion this way? If there’s concededly a problem and a group is working on eliminating it, it doesn’t strike me as reasonable to insist that the group continually provide on demand proof that the problem still exists. On the contrary someone claiming the problem no longer exists ought to bear the burden to prove that it doesn’t. (And if you think there was never a problem to begin with then “when do you declare victory and go home” is the wrong question.)

            In that context, saying 50/50 might not be the natural outcome of an egalitarian society doesn’t get you very far. Sure, it might not be. But also it might be. Pointing to the numerical disparity is prima facia evidence of non-egalitarianism. It’s rebuttable but actually has to be rebutted. Generating hypothetical explanations with no evidence doesn’t rebut anything.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            […] the average schmoe needs to see someone like them to identify with them.

            I miss the days when this was the attitude that people campaigned against.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Brad

            I was conceding the “default male concept is a real trend, and is pervasive in entertainment media or at least in TV/Film” to HBC for the sake of discussion and to avoid getting bogged down in wrangling. To be honest, I am not entirely convinced that it exists as a specific gender-bias phenomenon.

            As for the burden of proof, I’m asking the questions specifically because I am open to being convinced and I am legitimately interested in the answers. Responding to that with “Don’t ask ME to prove something, you must prove the opposite or concede that our views are correct” is…less than convincing.

            If you phrased it “All other things being equal, numerical disparity is prima facia evidence of non-egalitarianism”, I would agree with the statement. But on what empirical basis do you ground the assertion all other things ARE equal? If anything, my intuition is that statistical distributions are almost never flat in reality.

            So I don’t understand how you can offer that assertion with a straight face, to be honest. We talk about all people being equal as a legal and moral principle. It’s one that I agree with strongly. I do not believe it follows that we can state that the overrepresentation of blacks in the NBA or the United States Military represents institutional racism against whites on the part of those institutions, nor would you, I suspect. Instead, we would look to other underlying factors, some of which MIGHT have origins in bias (the claim that blacks are overrepresented due to lack of other equally good career opportunties in civilian society for example), some which don’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim:
            A few thoughts:
            1) You are going very “meta” when asking why it happens and what this signifies when we don’t need to. The writer is giving you a specific statement of how bias that evolved essentially memetically was preventing him from writing female characters for no good reason. He gave you the reason. You then ignore it in favor of making up all sorts of other possible reasons.

            I think you are likely doing this (unconsciously) because it is inconvenient for your argument.

            There is a cognitive mistake, whose appellation is escaping me at the moment, wherein people tend to increase their estimated probability of a given thing occurring the more pieces of information they know about it (when this should, all things being equal, make the probability less likely). The default male strikes me as a similar problem, but in reverse.
            We assume that we have learned something new about a given character when we find out they are female, but we haven’t added any more information at all, as we were already assuming their gender.

            On a rationalist (or rationalist adjacent) site, I would think people would generally desire to eliminate this kind of bias.

            2)

            And honestly? I can think of many aspects of myself, especially politically and philosophically, that are treated as downright hostile by the majority of the entertainment media I consume.

            I’m guessing those aspects aren’t represented in 50% of the population.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I said that I was willing to accept, for the sake of argument, that this bias existed and was common, so that we could discuss why it mattered. It doesn’t follow that my willingness to accept it for the sake of argument means that I should accept it proves that gender disparities in writer’s rooms are evidence of bias.

            As far as his reasons, to be honest while I come away from that account believing that his statement that he reacted to changing the gender of a character from male to female made him uncomfortable, I do not necessarily believe his explanation as to why. Neither my experience with people in general nor my exposure to psychological and psychiatric discussions have led me to believe that people are, on average, all that good at decompiling their thought processes and debugging them. Hell, I apply the same skepticism and restricted confidence levels to my OWN explanations to myself for my OWN behavior. Similarly, it doesn’t follow that I accept that because this bias was present in this writer that it is a feature that is common, or even common in men.

            Again, as far as assuming gender goes, as I said before I think we’re more or less stuck with that unless we have a society where sexual characteristics are entirely decoupled from gender roles, and where gender roles have essentially ceased to exist. Otherwise unless we are deliberately overriding our rational functions, we’ll get a heuristic that tells us the highest probabilities, which are nearly equal (in the absence of other information or cues) are that the person (IRL) or character (in fiction) is either male or female, with a few percentage points for androgyne/agendered/genderfluid/nonbinary/etc. If you’re operating in a context where androgyny, intersex condition, and genderfluid/genderqueer persons are much more common than the global baseline of course this intuition should shift to account for that if it’s functioning properly.

            Regarding depicitions in the media, you are correct that they’re not present in 50% of society. However, your own example that you offered (geeks on the Big Bang Theory) isn’t 50% either. So was that entire line of questioning just a red herring?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Trofim:
            It wasn’t a red herring. It was supposed to provide an inroad to empathy. As a programmer, the way tech is represented in storytelling is usually annoying to me. But it’s a small part of most stories, and many/most stories don’t have any tech aspect at all.

            If every character in every story had a tech aspect to them, and it was always wrong? I hope you can be charitable here and see my point without forcing me to go into exhaustive detail.

            As to your point about gender roles, here is a question:
            If we need a character who is very annoying, this is their salient feature in the story, what do gender roles have to say about that? If we need a character who is a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or … why does writing any of those as female mean we are destroying all gender roles?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @HBC

            I have empathy for the complaint of poor representation. It’s annoying. And if it were true that every representation of females was a bad one, or even an overwhelming majority were, I would agree that there was still a big problem here. But that’s a very, VERY counterfactual comparison. I don’t think that was even a good analogy in the 1980s for film, and even earlier for print fiction (though I’d say probably 10+ years later for comics and non-drama TV). And I think it requires that level of ubiquity to have the widespread societal and individual self-image distorting effects that people inveigh against. And without that actual harm, what you’re left with is people objecting on grounds of aesthetics/propriety.

            Answer is it depends. First question, is the story set in the real-world, or a “real-world-but-with…” variant, historical or modern? If so, I am going to try and make gender ratios reflect as much as possible unless part of the “but with” twist would change that (for example, magic or technology could forcibly level the playing field for women even in older, more prejudiced societies, resulting in more women in a given field than you’d expect based on reality). If not, then what kind of a secondary world am I creating? When Kameron Hurley wrote the Bel Dame Apocrypha, she certainly did not approach it with an eye towards not making assumptions about character gender.

            Second question, what is the annoying character’s relationship with the person they’re annoying? A parent? An annoying mother-daughter relationship is different from an annoying mother-son relationship is different from an annoying father-son relationship is annoying from an annoying mother-son relationship.

            “But Trofim, you’re the writer, you can write the type of annoyance and the style of the relationship in any way you want!”

            Yes, I can, but if I were to just go through and, say, flip a coin to genderswap characters (or go one better, roll a D4 or D6 to catch various trans and agendered and nonbinary possibilities in there), and tweak them…then I have created a very specific sort of setting that may very well not resemble the world that my reader is going to find believable. Now, in genre fiction that’s can be a good thing.

            To use just two examples, one of my favorite science fiction series when I was in 7th-8th grade was the Oankali trilogy by Octavia E. Butler, and Ada Palmer did some very interesting things with narration and gender in Too Like The Lightning just last year. If you enjoy science fiction, I’d strongly recommend all those books, though if you only pick one I’d recommend Too Like The Lightning.

            In short, while we can often come up with reasons to make any given character male or female, the amount of reasons available to us and the amount of creative room we have are finite UNLESS we are going out of our way to create an arbitrarily unusual setting.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          Statistics here:

          http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2014-15_Boxed_In_Report.pdf

          In 2014-15, female characters comprised
          42% of all speaking characters on
          broadcast television programs and 40%
          of all characters on broadcast, cable, and
          Netflix programs.

          and

          http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/research/

          Females accounted for 37% of major characters, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2015, and also a recent historical high.

          So you won’t stop until everything is 50 / 50? Why? Let’s consider that there isn’t an especial shortage of female roles at this point, and as you note there were many female protagonists starring in leading roles. Why does it have to be 50 / 50? If you accept any level of gender having influence on groups (and if you don’t, you’re wrong) then you wouldn’t expect a 50 / 50 split. But given how many women and female protagonists there clearly are in movies, what is the downside to not having a 50 / 50 split? Women have representation, women have opportunities for roles, so why must it be totally split?

          • rlms says:

            Yes, women are probably genetically predisposed to not being protagonists.

          • Aapje says:

            If women are genetically disposed not to be risk-takers as much as men and if fictional media is going to have similarities with reality, then women are genetically predisposed to not being protagonists.

            However, even if risk-taking is merely a gender norm, that still doesn’t mean that fictional media has to ignore gender norms in its story telling, anymore than it has to ignore other norms.

            People produce and consume fictional media for a variety of reasons and I disagree that people should be banned from having their own reasons and instead, all fictional media needs to have the goal of re-education based on a single agenda of promoting a rather biased view on equality.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @HeelBearCub
        topics this broad don’t lend themselves to easy endpoints, and for a variety of reasons. We might as well ask, “When will the work of liberty be complete?”

        Agreed — applied to actual (ie First and Second Wave) feminism as well as to liberty.

        What you say below is one reason I don’t use the words ‘egalitarian feminism’, ‘intersectional feminism’, ‘egalitarianism’, etc.

        Nevertheless, I think we can see one answer to your question in the fact that intersectional feminism is ascendant. And frequently one sees this referred to simply as intersectionalism, full stop. What you see then is a movement that is continuing in pursuit of egalitarianism, and identifying that merely looking at gender will not accomplish this.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think what you are saying here is that the work of 2nd wave feminism isn’t “done”?

          I agree with that. Many gains have been made, but more can be, and existing gains still need to be maintained.

          I’m not sure, but it seems like might also saying that the male/female divide is the only place where there is work to do? That doesn’t seem correct to me, but again, I’m not sure if I am taking your meaning correctly.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            I think what you are saying here is that the work of 2nd wave feminism isn’t “done”?

            Right.

            I’m not sure, but it seems like might also saying that the male/female divide is the only place where there is work to do?

            It’s the only place I’m interested in.

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      @ Trofim_Lysenko

      1970s feminist here (aka ‘Second Wave’).

      If egalitarianism is the goal, what are the metrics by which that goal is measured

      Here’s a clear one. In the US, 51 female senators, 49 male senators.

      and at what point do you declare victory and go home?

      And bake cookies?

      /Sorry, must leave soon./

      • Gobbobobble says:

        That’s a respectable intermediate goal but a shitty endpoint. It would (with current demographics) be 49F/51M if whatever underlying factors that kill off men dramatically faster than women were addressed.

      • lvlln says:

        I’m not sure how having a 51F-49M split in US Senate reflects the achievement of the goal of gender egalitarianism; could you clarify?

        It seems to me that the nature of elections is so messy that it doesn’t make much sense to expect the population of US Senate winners in a gender-egalitarian world to be demographically representative of the population of voters/citizens/residents. For instance, there’s no good reason to believe that a Senate candidate of one gender would be particularly more attractive to voters of the same gender, since there are many other differences between candidates than gender, and those differences, such as party affiliation or policy positions tend to be considered more important by voters. And that’s before taking into account the incredible variability in the number of voters each US Senator needs to win over in order to win a seat, depending on the state.

        If we look at a weaker claim that it should be a heck of a lot closer to 51F-49M than the extreme male majority it is now, then there’s the question of, what sort of population is the US Senator pool drawn from? Is it reasonable to believe that in a gender-egalitarian world where males and females are equally encouraged to go into politics and other competitive fields from birth, where political parties provide equal support women and men candidates and voters vote with no consideration for the candidate’s gender, that the people who are elected should be somewhat close to the population/voter base? This is an extremely difficult question to answer, and it’s not clear to me that anyone has any idea of the answer, much less that the answer is Yes.

        Like, one of the reasons I identify as a feminist and consider feminism to be an important movement even today is that I believe women still face structural disadvantages in various areas, including politics. But I don’t think it follows that if we did succeed in ridding the world of those disadvantages (as well as advantages in other areas, obviously), that this would lead to a world where the US Senate had a 51F-49M split, or anything like that. I could also imagine such a split easily being the result of incredibly non-egalitarian means.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I could also imagine such a split easily being the result of incredibly non-egalitarian means.

          Like a number of third-world countries, which explicitly reserve some percentage of legislative seats to women or ethnic minorities.

          Also, let’s not forget that the US Senate breakdown is reflecting the culture of fifty years ago when prospective Senators were growing up, or the culture of twenty-five years ago when they were first getting into politics, at least as much as now.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            the US Senate breakdown is reflecting the culture of fifty years ago when prospective Senators were growing up, or the culture of twenty-five years ago when they were first getting into politics, at least as much as now.

            Hm? If we ever get to anything near 50/50 Senators, it will reflect/be a metric for some future culture, not our current one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @houseboatonstyxb:
            I think the point being made is that the average senator does not spring from the womb to the senate. There is a “push-me-pull-you” aspect where someone conceives of a career in politics, pursues it, and this eventually leads to becoming a senator.

            Then they are usually in the senate for a very long time, as incumbency is powerful.

            Thus the current senate makeup reflects an accumulation of societal attitudes over time and is a very imperfect reflection the current attitudes.

        • quanta413 says:

          Given “true egalitarianism” it seems to me all the factors you name (such as lack of correlation between voter gender and candidate gender, same way of raising boys and girls etc.) should theoretically cancel out be irrelevant anyways.

          So obviously, once the fight is won, we should see that the number of women in the senate behaves varies according a binomial distrubtion with p~.5 and n=100. So 50 women on average over many years with a standard deviation of 5 over each 6 year period.

          I’m kind of joking, but I think the point is valid. If you have an ideal world, and you’re pretty much within measurement error of it for a while, you can relax.

          • Matt M says:

            Does the ideal end-state see perfect gender equality in every profession? Or just politics?

            It’s a bit of a cliche at this point among MRA-leaning folks, but I think the observation of “Feminists don’t seem to mind that 95% of coal miners are men” is worth addressing.

          • lvlln says:

            That only applies if we take “true egalitarianism” to mean a world in which the only difference between males and females were that one group was labeled male and the other group was labeled female. And yeah, if that were the case, we’d expect the population of 100 US Senators to roughly reflect the gender split, with some error in either direction.

            Assuming there are no issues of biology that get in the way, this seems a reasonable goal. But that’s one heck of a huge assumption, one that we don’t get to just make. Of course, it’s equally wrong to assume that issues of biology WILL get in the way, or that they do, they will point in any specific direction – it could be that due to biological differences, in a gender-egalitarian world, the 100 Americans successfully elected as US Senators should be almost all women, but current US political system is so heavily biased against women that the current ratio is the other way around. This is why I say this is an incredibly difficult question to answer.

            Now, if what’s meant is that the method of selecting US Senators should be twisted around so that regardless of biological issues, the end result is that the 100 winners reflect the general population demographics, then I’m not sure that’s what people usually mean when they say “egalitarianism.” I think “equity” is commonly used for that.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s a bit of a cliche at this point among MRA-leaning folks, but I think the observation of “Feminists don’t seem to mind that 95% of coal miners are men” is worth addressing.

            Of course, in practice, nobody wants to follow their ideology towards disadvantage. Ideologies are tools to accomplish goals and a way of shaping goals.

            There’s also almost certainly a strong influence from the fact that feminist activists are usually either upper class or ascending towards the upper class. Working women with no degree (read: probably not feminists) might find some typically male jobs at least somewhat more attractive than their upper class counterparts.

            To me, it’s pretty obvious that it would be somewhat hypocritical to want 50% in high status areas and not in low status areas for equality reasons, but it’s also pretty obvious that this behavior is so typical of humans everywhere that it’s probably impossible to combat.

            @lvlln
            I personally don’t have any particular strong views on how much biology should feed in to results, but it’s pretty clear that a lot of feminists do and you’d be forced to argue with them blow by blow to convince whoever’s watching that the common feminist assumption that biology is 99% irrelevant is wrong.

          • Matt M says:

            To me, it’s pretty obvious that it would be somewhat hypocritical to want 50% in high status areas and not in low status areas for equality reasons, but it’s also pretty obvious that this behavior is so typical of humans everywhere that it’s probably impossible to combat.

            I feel like you’re acknowledging the complication without really answering the questions.

            Let’s say we end up achieving equality in high status areas, but men outnumber women in low status areas. Would that then indicate that society is biased against men? And then, if the work of feminism could be declared “done”, the work of MRA would still be justified and needed? And the MRAs could say “We will not declare victory until women are equally represented among the prison population as men?”

          • quanta413 says:

            I feel like you’re acknowledging the complication without really answering the questions.

            Yeah, I guess that’s true; I don’t really know how to answer it. If men and women were equal in high status areas but not low status areas, MRAs probably would be justified in a fight against that.

            Anyways, my personal preference would be to take equality in much broader groups as a sign of mission accomplished rather than just equality of representation across every groups like senators or prisoners. But I have no clue how to specify the larger segments to look at.

          • Matt M says:

            And is this not a problem?

            Like, if my ONLY critique of feminism was, “The goals are not clearly defined which leads to a constant shifting of the goalposts,” would you accept that as legitimate criticism?

          • quanta413 says:

            And is this not a problem?

            Like, if my ONLY critique of feminism was, “The goals are not clearly defined which leads to a constant shifting of the goalposts,” would you accept that as legitimate criticism?

            Sure, it’s a legitimate criticism. I weigh it against positives. I also try to keep in mind that a group’s stated goals and real goals often don’t align. It’s not an uncommon or immoral strategy to ask for X, raise hell, get .5X, wait a few years, ask for X again, raise hell, get .5X, repeat until you’ve got 10X. Wait a few decades making sure 10X never goes down, then declare victory on your deathbed.

            I’m also not a feminist or a member of any reform movement though so I probably accept the criticism more easily than they would because it’s no skin off my back.

          • Aapje says:

            Matt M

            Let’s say we end up achieving equality in high status areas, but men outnumber women in low status areas. Would that then indicate that society is biased against men? And then, if the work of feminism could be declared “done”, the work of MRA would still be justified and needed? And the MRAs could say “We will not declare victory until women are equally represented among the prison population as men?”

            It seems to me that it is impossible to achieve one without the other merely by equality of opportunity, as IMO some the same things that push men towards senator positions push them towards (the sharp end of) organized crime and non-criminal dangerous jobs & some the same things that keeps women away from senator positions also keep them away from (the sharp end of) organized crime and non-criminal dangerous jobs.

            So the only way for feminists to achieve this would be by special treatment for women, which anyone who favors equal opportunity over equal outcomes would oppose.

          • Matt M says:

            So the only way for feminists to achieve this would be by special treatment for women, which anyone who favors equal opportunity over equal outcomes would oppose.

            Which is sort of my point.

            So in order to satisfy the motte of feminism (we just want equal opportunity for everyone), one should theoretically be JUST as concerned at men occupying the vast majority of low status positions (dirty jobs, criminals, homeless, etc.) as they are at men occupying the vast majority of high status positions (CEOs, politicians, etc.)

            And yet, pointing out that men occupy the majority of low status positions typically gets one labeled as a sexist pig who is obviously serving the needs of the oppressive patriarchy.

            I think virtually all objection to feminism is based on the premise that feminists claim to want equal opportunity, but their words and actions and revealed preferences indicate that they actually do, in fact, want special treatment for women.

        • random832 says:

          It seems to me that the nature of elections is so messy that it doesn’t make much sense to expect the population of US Senate winners in a gender-egalitarian world to be demographically representative of the population of voters/citizens/residents.

          Why not? If there’s nothing in particular that makes (e.g.) men stronger candidates, it’s reasonable to expect that it’s demographically representative of the population of candidates. Assuming there’s nothing that makes men more likely to go into politics, it’s reasonable to expect that the pool of candidates is demographically representative of the population of citizens. You could expect random variation, of course, but statistically it’d probably be skewed in one direction about as often as the other.

          Either of these things being true, for whatever reason, whether the reasons are good or bad, can reasonably be characterized as a “non-egalitarian world”.

          • lvlln says:

            Why not? If there’s nothing in particular that makes (e.g.) men stronger candidates, it’s reasonable to expect that it’s demographically representative of the population of candidates. Assuming there’s nothing that makes men more likely to go into politics, it’s reasonable to expect that the pool of candidates is demographically representative of the population of citizens.

            Those are 2 huge assumptions we don’t get to just make. They might be true, they might be wrong because men actually tend to be stronger candidates or men actually are more likely to go into politics, or they might be wrong because women actually tend to be stronger candidates or women actually are more likely to go into politics.

            Either of these things being true, for whatever reason, can reasonably be characterized as a “non-egalitarian world”.

            That’s a highly unusual definition of “non-egalitarian.” Under that, an egalitarian world (wrt gender) is one in which there are no differences in political competence or proclivities between men and women on average at the population level, which is an empirical claim not only about society but also about biology. So if it turns out that there are biological differences that, say, causes a higher proportion of women to get into politics than men, then the only way to achieve “egalitarianism” is via radical bioengineering on the level of Brave New World. Or perhaps extreme authoritarianism (e.g. outlaw members of one gender from running for office if their gender is overrepresented in the Senate).

            This might be a goal worth pursuing. But that’s not what I understand by “egalitarianism,” and I don’t think most people understand it that way either. I think that’d fall more under “equity.”

          • random832 says:

            They’re not assumptions, they are definitions: things that are true of an egalitarian world. If they are not true then we do not have an egalitarian world; if they cannot be made true then we cannot ever have an egalitarian world. (the ‘extreme authoritarianism’ solution you mentioned doesn’t actually make anyone equal, it just spreads the misery around)

            This remains true even if there are only “good” reasons (inherent biologically-determined differences in capability) for them to be the case; that would just mean that being a non-egalitarian world would be value-neutral.

            Anyway, even if there are biological factors, it seems uncontroversial that non-biological factors exist, and any biological factors are difficult to measure or reason about until they are eliminated.

          • Aapje says:

            @lvlln

            If Empathizing–systemizing theory is correct, then men are more likely to prefer work involving systems and women more likely to prefer work that is more personal.

            That theory matches my perception, although there is a lack of solid evidence.

            I would argue that politics is more systems-oriented, than people-oriented, so if the theory is correct, you’d expect a permanent gender gap.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It has been said in jest that feminism is the belief that if you put all the stats in a spreadsheet with men in one column and women in the other, the two columns should be the same.

            I think this is one of those “many a truth said in jest” scenarios.

          • lvlln says:

            @random832

            Again, I think you are conflating “egalitarianism” and “equity.” Your vision of an “egalitarian world” is one in which, say, the world record holder for the 100m dash has equal likelihood of being male as female, because males and females are identical in ability on average and in the extremes. I think that may be a good goal, but I don’t think that’s what’s meant by “egalitarianism.” Rather, I think posits a world in which people are given equal rights & resources, and where luck of birth plays a role in one’s success and failure in any given field only as far as they determine their merits (obviously all merits are the result of luck of birth, such as intelligence, strength, conscientiousness, willpower, etc. – I don’t think when people say “egalitarianism,” they mean that we should flatten all of those as well so that luck of birth has literally zero impact on their success in a given field).

          • random832 says:

            @lvlln the difference is that there is clear and compelling evidence of biological differences that affect athletic results, and there is no such clear and compelling evidence regarding political success (or political participation). Maybe there are such differences, maybe there aren’t. Maybe the question is too charged for there to even be any credible research on whether there is or not. But since the non-biological factors are much more obviously present, maybe the question ought to wait until those have been eliminated. “Maybe women just naturally aren’t interested in politics” may become a more reasonable thing to say if the gap still remains after the obvious mechanisms of discrimination are gone, but we’re not there yet.

          • lvlln says:

            @random832

            the difference is that there is clear and compelling evidence of biological differences that affect athletic results, and there is no such clear and compelling evidence regarding political success (or political participation).

            I agree that there is no clear and compelling evidence regarding political success or participation differences between the genders due to biological reasons. At least, I’ve seen none that are clear and compelling, much less anywhere near as clear and compelling as related to athletic results.

            But that’s neither here nor there. What’s actually relevant is, is there clear and compelling evidence that there are no biological differences between the genders regarding political results or participation? If we can confidently answer Yes to this question, then the US Senate absolutely should be roughly 51F-49M with some error in either direction, and any significant or sustained deviation from that would be evidence that we have not achieved egalitarianism.

            But, as far as I can tell, we can’t confidently answer Yes to that question. I know I can’t. And as long as we don’t know with some level of confidence that there are no biological differences between the genders when it comes to political success or participation, setting a 51F-49M US Senate split as a goal seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

            Again, if the goal isn’t egalitarianism but rather equity, that seems just fine. For that, the mechanisms are irrelevant and we just want to get US Senate to roughly have the same demographic split as the population at large, by hook or by crook. I’m sympathetic to this point of view.

            EDIT:

            Maybe there are such differences, maybe there aren’t. Maybe the question is too charged for there to even be any credible research on whether there is or not. But since the non-biological factors are much more obviously present, maybe the question ought to wait until those have been eliminated. “Maybe women just naturally aren’t interested in politics” may become a more reasonable thing to say if the gap still remains after the obvious mechanisms of discrimination are gone, but we’re not there yet.

            This sub-thread is specifically about the assertion that 51F-49M US Senate as a specific indicator that shows that egalitarian feminism has been achieved. If the obvious mechanisms of discrimination are there, then it would make sense to point to those obvious mechanisms and elimination of them as the indicator, rather than the 51F-49M split. The US Senate population is at best a weak downstream indicator that is muddled by the big big unknown regarding biological factors. Obviously present discriminatory factors are, by definition, obvious and discriminatory, so they would be both non-controversial and properly reflect the discrimination women or men are facing in the political system.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @lvlln
            The US Senate population is at best a weak downstream indicator

            For my point, being a downstream indicator is a feature.

          • lvlln says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            Sure, but even granting that being downstream is a feature, it’s still got the fatal problem of being muddled by biological factors we don’t know and don’t get to just assume don’t exist.

            Again, that’s unless you mean that this would be the result of society-wide bioengineering in order to completely destroy any biological factors that might exist, or perhaps a radical transformation of the means by which US Senators are selected. But, again, I don’t think that’s what’s generally understood by “egalitarianism.”

          • Chalid says:

            Doing international comparisons of legislatures would seem to be an obvious next step. There is wide variation in the fraction of women in legislatures and I think it would be challenging to attribute that to biological sex differences (is there so big a genetic difference between Chileans and Argentinians?) – so it seems natural to conclude that culture and institutions do have a pretty big impact and are worth examining.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          For instance, there’s no good reason to believe that a Senate candidate of one gender would be particularly more attractive to voters of the same gender

          The mechanism I see is that in a gender-blind culture, the voters would not care what gender a candidate was. Most pools of possible candidates would be at about 50/50 already, because of equal opportunity all the way up the pipeline/s.

          • lvlln says:

            Equal opportunity all the way up the pipelines is clearly an egalitarian goal, almost by definition, I think. I think it requires a huge unwarranted assumption to believe that such a situation would lead to most pools of possible candidates being at about 50F/50M. It very well may cause such a pool split. It might also actually cause 100F/0M, in which case aiming for a 51F-49M split in US Senate would be very poor goal when it comes to achieving egalitarianism. I don’t know, and as far as I know, no one does.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ lvlln

            I’m not very interested in egalitarianism for all irt all. T_L used the term ‘egalitarian feminism’ iirc after defining it to mean egalitarian relation between men and women – what I call gender-blind/ness. I try to avoid using the e-word or related words, for reasons described in my reply to HBC a couple of hours ago.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most pools of possible candidates would be at about 50/50 already, because of equal opportunity all the way up the pipeline/s.

            In order to get 50/50, you need equal opportunity plus equal aptitude plus equal desire. When you always implicitly assert the latter two without defending them, the rest of us learn to roll our eyes and move on when you take the stage.

            Eyes rolled, moving on.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            We don’t know one way or the other. There’s no point in spending bandwidth saying “We don’t know”.

          • John Schilling says:

            We don’t know one way or the other.

            We don’t know one way or another whether the relevant physical facts make it possible for 51/49 gender equality to be achieved across professions without explicitly sexist quotas or the equivalent, yet you specify 51/49 gender equality across professions as the only acceptable victory condition in the struggle against sexism?

            We may not know one way or another, but I think you are being selectively disingenuous in pretending you haven’t firmly made up your mind.

          • lvlln says:

            @houseboatonstyxb

            We don’t know one way or the other. There’s no point in spending bandwidth saying “We don’t know”.

            Exactly. Which is why having a goal that implicitly assumes “We DO know, and the answer is there are no such differences” is so problematic.

            Again, unless your actual goal is just 51F/49M result by hook or by crook. But I think it’s clear that that’s not what’s generally understood by the idea of feminism being egalitarian.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @lvlln
            Which is why having a goal that implicitly assumes

            When you say “Which is why having a goal that implicitly assumes” — you’re making several assumptions right there. I’m not going to try to untangle, here and now, all the assumptions about assumptions in this thread.

            Speaking of assumptions, I hope no one has assumed I’m the kind of feminist that attacks geeks/nerds. We Second Wave feminists are with Marlo Thomas, seeing non-sterotypical women as natural allies of non-sterotypical men.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @houseboatonastyx

        Some of my reply below has, I think, been duplicated already. Blame my infrequent post windows. Anyway, so, senate representation as a metric:

        That makes sense as a nice quantifiable goal. I’m curious, though: Is that a predictive metric? Are you saying that you believe that, ceteris paribus, the number of men and women in high political office would match or nearly match the sex ratio of the population at large?

        Or is it a normative one? That is, regardless of whether that would be true given a natural and bias-free society, we need to MAKE it true in order to achieve proper representation of female interests in politics?

        Is it a mix of both?

        And to clarify, since I’m not sure if that last question was intended to just be humorous in general or a dig in response to me apparently saying “shut up and go away”, I was not asking “when will you shut up and go away”. More trying to elucidate the distance between your perspective and my own. If I need to explicitly state my position on various feminist issues I suppose I can, but that’s not really the point.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @Trofim_Lysenko

          Anyway, so, senate representation as a metric:
          That makes sense as a nice quantifiable goal. I’m curious, though: Is that a predictive metric?

          On a quick look-up, dunno from ‘predictive metric’. Where you say ‘predictive’ vs ‘normative’, I might say ‘descriptive’ (which it was) vs ‘prescriptive’ (which it was not).

          Are you saying that you believe that, ceteris paribus, the number of men and women in high political office would match or nearly match the sex ratio of the population at large?

          Basically yes.

          51F-49M would be getting warm, anyway. A Schelling Point for beginning to even think about considering slacking off pushing for certain 1970s goals as achieved, though they would still need eternal vigilance (ie defense).

          If I need to explicitly state my position on various feminist issues I suppose I can, but that’s not really the point.

          Please don’t 😉 That would lead into a three-way debate among you, me, and the Third Wavers.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Houseboat

            As I explained to Brad above, I am pretty skeptical in general of claims that we can confidently use numerical distributions in order to determine equality and the presence or absence of bias.

            To be clear, that is not the same thing as saying “I don’t think there should be more female politicians”. On that, I am neither opposed nor in favor, since it seems orthogonal to any of the qualities I care about in a politician.

    • JonathanD says:

      So, having let this sit for a day, more articulate people than me have made most of the points I’d want to make better than I can. I’ll start by conceding that most of the legal work is done. What we’re working at now (IMO) is cultural, and as maybe_slytherin says, therefore hard to measure.

      I’m on my second marriage. My ex-wife was a civil engineer. She would say that she had never been to a job site where she didn’t have to prove herself to the (almost exclusively male) construction crew, and that that was a common experience among the women in her role and something men didn’t have to put up with. I can offer a handful of anecdotes if you’re interested.

      My wife is a priest in the Episcopal church. She’s writing a paper right now on the gender inequity in our church. It’s extensive, though again, not formalized. But both in and out of the church, a woman in a collar gets very different treatment than a man in one.

      So here’s a victory condition. When crappy things happen to a woman, because she’s a woman, and she goes and tells her friends or professional network about it, the response is usually an outpouring of “me too” stories, because this stuff is incredibly common. When gender motivated bad stuff happens and women relating said stuff to their networks are met instead with sympathy and surprise – because it’s so rare – then we’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

      • lvlln says:

        That seems to be a very vague victory condition. How do we tell if it’s been achieved? How rare is “so rare?” Does every single network where women relating gender motivated bad stuff have to be met with surprise because it’s so rare, or is it x% of networks, or is just one network enough? And how do we observe and weigh these interactions and networks?

        Furthermore, it seems that in order to achieve that victory condition, it’s far more important to manipulate people’s perceptions of – and tendency to complain about – gender motivated bad stuff happening than actually changing the rate of gender motivated bad stuff happening. I believe studies tend to show that people are bad at determining if they’re being treated fairly, and they tend to err on the side that there is bias that is creating disadvantage for them. This indicates that even creating a perfectly egalitarian society might not be enough to cause complaints of gender motivated bad stuff happening to become rare for certain values of rare. Not unless people’s perceptions or tendency to complain were also adjusted downward.

        And maybe that’s not a bad goal, but I don’t think being less likely to perceive and complain about gender related bad stuff fits in with the egalitarian goals of feminism.

      • Zodiac says:

        Since feminism is always mixed up with equality I feel inclined to ask if we extend this standard to men.
        Duringmy school time there were many male students that felt unfairly treated by teachers fo being male. Usually when they said this the reaction was the accusation that they are bad students and deserve it (which was somewhat the case but in their perception the female students weren’t better and got a free pass).

      • SomethingElse says:

        So here’s a victory condition. When crappy things happen to a woman, because she’s a woman, and she goes and tells her friends or professional network about it, the response is usually an outpouring of “me too” stories, because this stuff is incredibly common.

        It would be good to have a base rate for this sort of thing before treating the frequency of anecdotes as evidence. It seems to me like nearly everyone I have ever known can tell a number of similar stories where their experiences are particularly trying or their achievements particularly impressive.

        What percentage of working people can tell a story of each of these types?
        “My boss is especially incompetent because…”
        “My job is particularly stressful because …”
        “The team I work on is especially competent because …”
        “People think [BadThing] about members of my profession, but what they don’t understand is [GoodThing].”

        What percentage of teenagers can come up with some kind of story to participate in a conversation of the following sorts?
        “My parents are borderline abusive, for example [Anecdote].”
        “My problems are especially complicated and deep because …”
        “Most of my peers are shallow and conventional, whereas I am more [Attribute], for example [Anecdote].”

        Now I am sure that women Civil Engineers having to prove themselves is actually a thing, but so are bad bosses and domineering parents. If people have a general tendency to construct self-lionizing narratives (and I am pretty sure they do), they will still tend to do so within a) the actual conditions of the world and b) the familiar tropes which are likely to be believed by an audience.

        So the actual signal of “Lots of women can tell a story to the effect that they are discriminated against” needs to be corrected by some factor like:
        (Feminist Culture Share) + P(Self-Lionizing Narrative)

        • Artificirius says:

          Have you considered the fact that being tested might be a fundamental part of certain fields? That this isn’t a case of women and only women are tested to see if they can hold up?

          • JonathanD says:

            @Artificirius, In this particular case, yes. Said ex-wife had a wide acquaintance, and the sort of hazing she dealt with was met with surprise and disbelief on the male side of the profession.

            Example (probably the worst): “Well, a lady engineer. Neat. It’s cold out sweetie. Why don’t you just sit up in your car and when we’re ready we’ll have you come down here and put your stamp on our work. Thanks.”

            Not only was this sort of thing not a familiar experience to male engineers, they had trouble believing someone would think they could get away with such a thing and would even try it, whereas to her female engineer friends this was a particularly bad example of a reasonably common story.

            Probably everyone does get tested in a field like that. But women get tested in more severe and demeaning ways. (For those who are curious, she had that guy off the job site by noon.)

            I should caveat here that some years have passed. The quotes are approximate and the details may not be exact.

          • Artificirius says:

            I wouldn’t call that being tested or asked to prove herself. And I am not surprised at her colleagues reactions. (Similarly, I am also astounded that someone would actually say something like that and think they would get away with it, though I suppose it does depend exactly how long ago said incident took place)

            Leaving the anecdote aside, I expect that both men and women experience testing, hazing etc by their colleagues for their suitability in their job in jobs, particularly where said jobs are formerly/currently male dominated. Some percentage of those incidents will solely be because the target was a woman, some will not, and approximately zero will be because the target was a man.

            Efforts to stamp out the first will likely fail to distinguish between the first and second, whether by intent or not. Similarities between the second and the third will be ignored. Particularly brutal forms of hazing will be stamped out across the board, though I expect more tolerance for instances when the targets are men than women.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Hard as hell to measure in an objective or systematic fashion, but I’d agree that would seem to be significant. I’ve had mostly female friends for most of my life (add in my current workplace and I think the Army was the only time I was in a traditionally male-dominated environment), and the incidence rate among them for stalker/creep behavior online and IRL is 100%, and for some form of sexual assault is at least 33%.

        My perception from combining friends’ accounts with discussions in and about the workplace is that creep behavior is fairly common in general, but is very unevenly distributed, and that Scott very much has a point in his old posts about the messaging mostly missing or bouncing off the people who are actually the problem.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        @JonathanD
        I’ll start by conceding that most of the legal work is done.

        I disagree. A lot of lip service has been passed, but some of it needs teeth.

    • Dahlen says:

      I’m a fairly atypical feminist, in that my focus is not on the usual talking points of abortion, equal representation, the glass ceiling and the wage gap, etc., and neither do I come from the privilege theory tradition, or from the side of the movement that neglects the role of biology. Still, my thoughts on gender issues lean pretty unambiguously feminist, in the broad understanding of the word, and maybe I am eligible for answering this question. Here’s why I still get worked up on gender issues, and still find it worth my while to push for some change.

      1) I believe sexism is, in some sense, innate. Males greatly exceed females in most measures of aggressiveness, lust, and desire for high status, and in exercising these drives over women they often make them suffer, from the household level to the cultural-institutional level; and, unlike the case of male-male competition, women can’t or won’t fight back symmetrically, or commensurately. Sexual conflict is a determinant of poor relationships between the sexes in many animal species (and while you’re on the page, I’d like you to pay particular attention to The Chart, which is probably foundational to my kind of feminism). The particularities of the male sexuality (high libido, extremely excitable sexual organs, desire for sky-high frequency of sex, polygamous tendencies, no compunctions about sex with strangers, occasional lack of investment in children), coupled with their exact opposites in female sexuality (moderate/low libido in most cases, low sexual excitability often up to anorgasmia, occasional pain during sex, unwanted pregnancies, higher susceptibility to STDs, sexuality often conditional on romantic attachment) means the sexes are poorly calibrated for one another, in ways that often cause women to get the shorter end of the stick. Societal factors such as concomitant slut-demand and slut-shaming (for lack of a better term), homosociality (which can cause some men to have literally no use for women other than for sex), gender roles that work towards widening the existing discrepancies rather than building bridges, androcentrism, and this weird thing humans do where male and female efforts towards attractiveness diverge (in plain English, men don’t pay enough attention to their looks despite not being sufficiently in-demand, while women obsess over looks which earns them even more unwanted attention) — these all work towards aggravating gender issues.

      When you notice these sorts of things, you may be inclined to embrace human nature and go full Red Pill, and I have no doubt that the guys who do are at least partly in it because it’s the narrative that validates their worst parts. If the red pill theory actually followed the norms of science as it likes to brag, they probably should be made to declare a conflict of interests, at the very least. But I went the other way and arrived to the conclusion that it’s probably more ethical and pro-social to side with the women here, because their interests in these respects seem to be more conducive to the interests of society as a whole.

      This is why I don’t think one can put an end to gender issues, maybe unless there starts to be some selection pressure in favour of less “problematic” men and more agenty, willful, capable women. I think that, if there is to be eugenic pressure, it might as well be in that direction, but since I’m too useless at genetics to have any right to an opinion about the possibility to select for sex-linked traits, I’m not going to talk about this too loudly or too often.

      In that sense, no, I don’t think feminism is ever going to “win”. You can’t win against nature, even when nature proves to be rather disappointing in the moral realm. It may affect some segments of society utterly disproportionately, but it can’t be anything more than a weak opposing force to the kind of sexism that does most harm. You may as well ask when we are going to stop policing, providing healthcare, or educating our children. I do think, however, that feminists could use engaging in some less stupid forms of activism.

      2) Yes, we’re in the 21st century, but by definition that means that the 19th and 20th centuries weren’t so long ago. In many countries, there are people alive who lived to see women not being allowed to vote; marital rape not being a thing, legally; arranged marriages happening constantly, etc. You can’t change mentalities on something as profound as this in just a hundred years; if it appears you did, you should look harder for what you’re missing. We still have a lot of artifacts, more or less obvious, left over from very very sexist eras. A sense of historical perspective is of much use here. A hundred years really isn’t all that much.

      3) I don’t exactly live in a Western country. One could say that it is in the process of Westernisation, but some cultural trends from the West, such as feminism, diffuse into our cultural milieu with much difficulty. A majority of our male population, and, very importantly, the culturally dominant part, is represented by douches. Gopniks, as they’re sometimes called. Chavs. Scumbag Steves. All brawn and no brain. Just the opposite of gentlemen. Even some of those who have managed to join the ranks of the upper middle class still have lots of chavish traits carried over from the environment they grew up in, the people they spend time with and so on. The good parts of the patriarchy have gone on to a better place, but the bad parts have stayed with us. Any attempt to even bring up feminism is met with relentless mockery; it’s like Breitbart the whole country over. Even much of the womenfolk have adapted so as to live in symbiosis with these guys. There’s nothing anybody can do about this, except emigrate. This makes me think I really don’t think we’ve reached peak feminism yet.

      My usual reaction when I hear feminism-related stories from America is bafflement. And what adds another layer of confusion is all the extremist backlash I see online, to the extent that it makes me wonder what is worse: a society with ubiquitous garden-variety sexism, or a society with a feminist mainstream and a Literally Taliban fringe.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        This is by far the most persuasive variety of feminism I’ve ever encountered. I wonder if right-wing authoritarians would accept a feminist matriarchy to replace the old patriarchy (as a force of order and control) if the overreach of maledom were explained to them in this way. It might be a way to effect an Anschluss between authoritarian leftists and authoritarian rightists. They both basically want the same thing, but ideology has clouded their minds and made them focus on secondary rather than primary concerns. All the rightists need is a sensical argument for why a matriarchy would be, for moral reasons, a necessary foundation for any future utopian society to be built upon, rather than a patriarchy.

  36. I suppose this is a good place to shill one’s own blog? I recently wrote a thing about government enforcement of contracts, why it’s important, and how it’s varied between different places in important ways.

    • It is. No idea if true but article seemed convincing. Have you considered adding some form of graphics to the overall design so your blog is more easily visually recognized?

      I really feel like 1000s of grey tribe bloggers all writing reasonably well on their separate blogs should organise their collective thoughts together somehow. Trying to find and read good blogs feels like sailing the ocean at night with no map, as search really doesn’t cut it for very specific styles or writing quality.

      • John Nerst says:

        Agreed. I’ve been thinking of ways to try to integrate fragmented rationalist-adjacent writing into some sort of intuitively navigable structure, but it turns out it’s difficult – the best way to organize knowledge still seems to be through human mind.

        Also, related: finding things you want to read also depends on whether what you read is read by many others like yourself (i.e community matters) because it’s more meaningful to read something that you know will become part of common community knowledge. For example, I read articles here on SSC even if they are peripheral to my typical interests and I wouldn’t necessarily read them if they were published somewhere else.

      • Yes, I probably should do some sort of visual customization. I’m not sure what I’d use off hand but I’m sure I can think of something.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I would suggest that the use of the word “shill” is doing you a disservice here.

      There is a balance that needs to be maintained between adding value to the existing SSC comment community and promoting your own blog. Generally, I would suggest providing at least the highlights in your post here as well as linking to the longer blog post.

      That said, I found the blog post cogent and interesting and I am curious if there is any more support for your musing that the greater number of officials per capita in Europe vs. China was a driver of the industrial revolution by enabling a rise in contract law and (my interpretation) capitalism.

      • I’m currently quite happily employed as a robotics engineer but if I were to change careers and become a historian this is certainly the sort of thing I could research to find more evidence for or against my thesis. On my to-read stack is The Long Divergence which, I’ve heard, argues that the Islamic world was held back not by lack of contract law but by lack of legal corporations that could outlast their initial members. You might have eight Arab merchants who pool their money for a trading expedition to India and have legal tools to sort out any disputes that arise. But in Europe you could also have eight people pool their resources for a water powered mill and pass their interest in the mill down to their heirs. That made development more of a state project in the Islamic world which, for things like mills, doesn’t necessarily allow for much innovation.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I’ve heard of the concept of a waqf in Islamic law- which difference between this and a European corporation is the important one? Is it important that a waqf is inalienable? Or was the issue that a waqf must have a single founder?

          (While they are usually charitable, it is entirely possible for a waqf to be set up to specifically benefit the founder’s descendants)

    • IrishDude says:

      Are you familiar with Lex Mercatoria? It’s merchant law that governs international trade, contracts and all, outside the purview of the state. Here’s a nice article on the subject. I’ll post an excerpt, but I highly suggest reading the whole thing:

      “Is the State necessary for flourishing international trade? Conventional wisdom thinks so. According to that wisdom, private international commerce would wither without intergovernmental treaties, State courts dealing with international affairs, and State-crafted legal practices for international merchants. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest that a world legal system is needed to ensure the continual growth of international commerce.

      Superficially, at least, the idea that State involvement might be indispensable for international trade seems sensible. Without it, how could merchants from different legal systems—not to mention cultures, languages, and religions—make binding contracts, providing the security they need to trade with persons beyond their nations’ borders? Without a world court for private international commercial agreements, what law would take precedence in commercial disputes? Which nation’s courts would handle merchants’ disagreements? And how could merchants secure a fair hearing in the courts of their adversaries? Without a supranational legal system, or at least national governments’ cooperation, these and myriad other potential problems stemming from commercial conflicts between parties from different countries would seem insurmountable.

      Yet private parties have surmounted these problems—without government. International trade first took off under a private international legal system called the lex mercatoria, or Law Merchant. It continues to thrive under private legal arrangements today.”

      • This wasn’t mentioned in your article but medieval european merchants also had their own nominal currency they used to denominate debts so that those weren’t subject to the vagaries of one prince or anther deciding to debase their currency. It was a really remarkable organization.

        You don’t need government if your operating in a sufficiently small community that personal reputation is sufficient. If you have a hundred merchant houses in Europe they can form fairly satisfactory arrangements among themselves just as you can in a farming village of 100 families. But for industrialization you ultimately need a more complicated commercial system than can be supported by one cozy clique.

        And it suffered from the same problem as modern capitalism in the third world. Only the privileged have access to those courts.

        • Matt M says:

          Eh, technology is such that you can easily track and quantify personal reputation even among large groups over great distances (ebay, uber, etc.)

          • And that might very well enable practical anarchism in the future a la Bruce Sterling’s Moderators and Regulators in Distraction, or I think Charlie Stross also did something similar in Halting State or Rule 34.

        • IrishDude says:

          You don’t need government if your operating in a sufficiently small community that personal reputation is sufficient.

          As noted by Matt M, rating systems such as the ones used by Amazon, Uber, ebay, Yelp, tripadvisor, AirBnb, etc. make tracking reputation of strangers much easier. Lots of these services such as Amazon and ebay even provide private dispute resolution if one party feels the other broke terms of the contract. It’s too expensive in time and money for most people, including the less-privileged, to go through state courts to resolve contract disputes. Lots of large (privileged) companies choose to use private arbitration instead of public courts as well, as they find if more efficient and equitable than state enforcement.

          Even before the rating systems were in place, reputation could be tracked through branding. If a large national chain such as McDonalds opens up in your small town, you can have a good idea about what quality of product and service to expect even if you haven’t been to that particular restaurant before. Same with all other national and global brands that works hard to maintain reputations for quality products/services and contract-worthiness.

          Also, other non-state methods can be used to enforce contracts even when the negotiating parties don’t have any idea about the other’s reputation. For example, each party can provide collateral to a trusted 3rd party that would award the collateral to the harmed party in the event of one party breaking the contract.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Which came first, the high trust society, or the contract?

        • IrishDude says:

          It’s easier to make contracts with people you trust. However, systems that incentivize keeping contracts can make it such that you can deal with scoundrels and they’ll still hold up their end of the deal.

          One of the big hypes around blockchains and Bitcoin is that you don’t need to trust people any more for contracts that are placed on them, you just need to trust algorithms that can be easily verified. Trustless contracts can be set-up, which has the potential to facilitate many more positive sum interactions than is possible in a world where you have to trust people.

          • Aapje says:

            One of the big hypes around blockchains and Bitcoin is that you don’t need to trust people any more for contracts that are placed on them, you just need to trust algorithms that can be easily verified.

            I think that this is way overhyped, because most transactions cannot be directly linked to the payment. For example, if I buy something online, both the buyer and seller can defect by either not sending the item or by claiming not to have received it. So even with bitcoin the system can only work if there is a decent amount of trust that the sender will send the item and the buyer will not claim to haven’t received it when they have.

            Even on the darknet people base their buying decisions on trust.

          • IrishDude says:

            I think that this is way overhyped, because most transactions cannot be directly linked to the payment.

            It could be overhyped, but what’s exciting about the future is nobody knows for sure. The distributed ledger concept is a new capability that’s never existed before, and I find that new technologies can change the way people previously did things. Perhaps people will come up with many more uses for transactions that are directly linked to payment, certain transaction types that don’t exist now due to frictions that come from requiring trust of people.

            Ethereum currently has a $4.3 billion market cap, so that’s a decent sized bet on the promise of smart contracts.

            So even with bitcoin the system can only work if there is a decent amount of trust that the sender will send the item and the buyer will not claim to haven’t received it when they have.

            Even on the darknet people base their buying decisions on trust.

            OpenBazaar is a new opensource bitcoin marketplace that allows anyone to become a 3rd party moderator to transactions, with the ability to rate moderators to build up reputations. It’s pretty early days, but it allows a marketplace like ebay or Amazon without centralized dispute resolution, with a free market for moderators.

            This system still requires trust of the moderator, but doesn’t require trust between the buyer and seller. There’s no censorship possible given the decentralized nature of the platform, so it’s possible in the future OpenBazaar will have transactions that currently take place on the darknet.

            Also, I’ve never used darknet marketplaces but my understanding is most, if not all of them, have some sort of rating system to indicate the trustworthiness of the sellers. If so, that reduces uncertainty when trusting sellers.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            Trusting ratings means that you don’t trust the algorithms to guarantee that no one will be swindled. If the algorithms were trustworthy in themselves, you wouldn’t need the ratings.

            You actually seem to be arguing that there is value in the distributed nature of the system, which may be true, but it’s not because you no longer have to trust people, as you argued.

            Anyway, I consider cryptocurrencies to be very interesting, but it’s also a very young technology that is quite immature and risky (some of my coins have been stolen, for example, and this seems far from rare).

            A major issue with cryptocurrencies and (derivates of) Bitcoin specifically is that records are public, which is a major privacy issue. Do you want everyone to be able to see what you bought (which can be used to establish a very accurate picture of your life)? Monero partially fixes this and may be the 2nd generation cryptocurrency.

            However, even then you have various risks that still need more research before it becomes feasible to move to these cryptocurrencies on a large scale.

          • Matt M says:

            A major issue with cryptocurrencies and (derivates of) Bitcoin specifically is that records are public, which is a major privacy issue. Do you want everyone to be able to see what you bought

            They can see that you paid Person X Y coins, but they don’t really know what you bought, do they? I mean I guess in some cases you could probably figure it out, if the vendor is a small business that only sells a few products or whatever.

            But I’m totally comfortable with the public knowing that yesterday, I paid Amazon $36.63. Don’t really see how that harms me in any particular way.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            That is true, although not all sellers sell such a big range. If you buy from BDSMGearForCheap.com, that gives a lot more information than when buying from Amazon.

            However, if you want to reduce the need for trust, you may want to put both the sold items and the price in the blockchain. Otherwise you have merely encoded half of the transaction and then you still need a lot of trust between the seller and buyer merely to agree on what was bought for the money you transferred.

            Ethereum puts a contract in the blockchain, so people can see exactly what you bought. So if people know your Ethereum address, they know that you bought the pink handcuffs.

          • IrishDude says:

            You actually seem to be arguing that there is value in the distributed nature of the system, which may be true, but it’s not because you no longer have to trust people, as you argued.

            Well, I was arguing two things but didn’t make that clear. First, I’m intrigued by trustless contracts and dispute that just because most current transactions can’t be directly linked to payment means that will remain the case in a future where trustless contracts are well-developed. New capabilities can change paradigms for interactions (e.g., cars/roads and development of suburbs).

            My second response was to rebut your specific claim that transactions with bitcoin require trust between buyer and seller, as there’s apps that provide 3rd party moderation.

            (some of my coins have been stolen, for example, and this seems far from rare).

            If you have bitcoin, I suggest getting a hardware wallet like a Trezor.

            A major issue with cryptocurrencies and (derivates of) Bitcoin specifically is that records are public, which is a major privacy issue. Do you want everyone to be able to see what you bought (which can be used to establish a very accurate picture of your life)?

            That’s a known issue, and there’s some solutions out there like using tumblers (algorithmic money laundering) or using ShapeShift to purchase alternative cryptocurrencies and then buying new Bitcoins that aren’t connected to your identity.

          • Nornagest says:

            you may want to put both the sold items and the price in the blockchain. Otherwise you have merely encoded half of the transaction

            You could put a hash of the confirmation page, or of some other itemized proof of purchase, in the blockchain. That provides forward verification without breaking privacy.

          • IrishDude says:

            Monero partially fixes this and may be the 2nd generation cryptocurrency.

            I think it likely for there to be multiple cryptocurrencies each optimized for different functions. Perhaps Bitcoin is best as store of value, Monero/Zcash is best for anonymity, Ethereum is best for smart contracts, etc.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            My second response was to rebut your specific claim that transactions with bitcoin require trust between buyer and seller, as there’s apps that provide 3rd party moderation.

            That just pushes the problem one level up, as that 3rd party then needs to have trust in the buyer and seller and/or vice versa. At most you can argue that the decentralized nature of the system reduces the power of central actors, which seems highly useful for the (second and) third world, but less so for the 1st world.

            I just haven’t seen any killer applications yet using bitcoin. Of course, those may still come, but I’m not going to declare the revolution until I see something amazing.

            If you have bitcoin, I suggest getting a hardware wallet like a Trezor.

            I just mined some bitcoin and litecoin myself. The bitcoin, I sold. The litecoin was stolen from the mining pool before I had it pay me out.

            That’s a known issue, and there’s some solutions out there like using tumblers (algorithmic money laundering) or using ShapeShift to purchase alternative cryptocurrencies and then buying new Bitcoins that aren’t connected to your identity.

            Yeah, I’m not arguing that the problems can’t be solved, but it’s still a decent amount of work to set everything up. It needs to become far easier to have something secure and with privacy and such.

            @Nornagest

            That is a good idea, although you’d probably want to hash a shared information carrier, like a mail. Otherwise the seller can just claim a malfunction and delete the page. Then you have no hard evidence except that there was a page with information.

            @IrishDude

            I think it likely for there to be multiple cryptocurrencies each optimized for different functions. Perhaps Bitcoin is best as store of value, Monero/Zcash is best for anonymity, Ethereum is best for smart contracts, etc.

            Yeah, Monero can’t be used for colored coins, trust networks, timestamping and decentralized digital ID, for example.

          • Iain says:

            My personal suspicion is that cryptocurrencies will turn out to be a dead-end, but that blockchain technology may end up being genuinely useful as an intermediary in various business contexts.

            The real sweet spot seems to be using blockchain as an auditable distributed database of transactions between semi-trusted parties. For example, the shipping industry is looking into the idea of using blockchain technology as a decentralized paper trail. Here’s another example of using a private blockchain to reconcile electronic transfers between banks. If there is an existing out-of-band business relationship between the relevant actors, you don’t have to burn billions of cycles on a proof of work scheme. All you need to do is guarantee that everybody can easily detect any fraud.

    • Vermillion says:

      It was a good interesting post and a wrinkle on the industrial revolution I hadn’t considered before. I found that there were a fair number of grammar/punctuation/word choices that were off though and that kinda bothered me because I am pretty pedantic.

  37. Tibor says:

    Where do you stand on free will?

    A big question, I know, but one that always seemed to me to have quite an obvious answer – I considered the possibility that there is no free will quite absurd. I discussed it with a friend who tentatively supports the conclusion that there is no free will and I ended up realizing I (well both of us) don’t quite know how to define free will in the first place.

    Her main argument was that it only makes sense to talk about free will if, when you go back in time (without the ability to keep the experience from the present) to any given moment, you decide to do something different than you did originally and you do it consciously (i.e. it does not count if you do things differently just by random chance). I agree that if you define free will this way, then it almost trivially does not exist, but at the same time I don’t like her definition very much because I feel that something is missing and that this is not quite what most people mean when they talk about free will. I am not sure how I would define it myself however. I tried a couple of things which had an opposite problem – free will trivially existed under those definitions so I think they contained too much.

    I assume that there are a lot more elaborate available to this question that what I could come up with and definitely what I could come up with in the time I am willing to dedicate to this question. I also assume that some people here are familiar with those arguments, hence this comment 🙂 Thanks!

    Btw, these sort of problems seem typical of all philosophy…I don’t think one can really discuss it very well without having a solid axiomatic basis and once one carefully defines every used term – which makes me more sympathetic to the philosophers who do this kind of “useless” philosophy (although at this level, the difference between mathematics and philosophy seems quite blurry). Discussing things like morality without these fundamentals seems to me like trying to design a space ship without having a clue about basic geometry. If that is too hard a problem then maybe morality and all other high-level questions should perhaps be discussed outside of philosophical framework and adopt more empiricism and heuristics instead (sort of the way physics relates to maths). Or perhaps I understand the term philosophy too strictly and it already includes both these things (like if both maths and physics were contained under one term).

    • Tracy W says:

      I think free will debates are mostly debates about definitions. Free-willers and determinists in my experience don’t disagree about any real-world observable consequences. The only point this debate gets meaningful is when we start talking about how to treat people who do morally bad things.

      • ashlael says:

        I struggle to understand why a determinist would argue for a particular course of action. Who are they expecting to convince?

        It’s a bit like forming a solipsist society.

        • Montfort says:

          What do you mean, “why”? The initial conditions of the universe and the laws of physics ordained it.

          • Tibor says:

            I don’t think the opposite of free will is necessarily determinism. If all non-deterministic. You could imagine that some kind of true independent randomness exists and there is a machine which has a true random generator and produces zeros and ones based on that and strings of those correspond to some actions it takes. I am not sure if it makes sense to say that that machine has a free will.

        • John Colanduoni says:

          Arguments are (demonstrably) part of the gears of the universe even if you are a determinist. It’s like saying there’s no point in aiming your shot in a game of pool because where it actually goes is up to physics.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          It’s a bit like forming a solipsist society.

          I tried forming a solipsists’ society once, but for some reason nobody else turned up.

    • liskantope says:

      The issue of free will is the topic in philosophy which I have the strongest convictions about, but even at the peak of my philosophy debating skills I’m not sure I could ever argue them effectively. Right now I’m letting myself get distracted at work, so I shouldn’t get into any long explanations, but I will summarize it this way. I am essentially a compatibilist because (as you say) it’s hard to define free will (this boils down to defining “can”), and I believe the only rigorous definitions for it must involve descriptions of physical processes. I quote myself from a long blog post as follows:

      For almost as long as I can remember seriously considering the question, I’ve always been some sort of a compatibilist. I believe that, whether or not we act completely deterministically, our intuitive notion of freedom can be explained via deterministic mechanisms, and moreover, this is the only really sensible way to define what it means to be free. There is simply no coherent way to define non-deterministic freedom. But it is possible to define freedom from a purely naturalistic and deterministic perspective: it would be something like “a free decision is an event in which the XYZ chemical processes happen in the brain”. This sounds messy and inelegant from the purely abstract point of view, but it should translate to something within the human experience that does coincide with free decision-making.

      This might look like nothing more than playing with words. Why do we care about whether or not we have free will, apart from some academic interest in metaphysical questions (which, as I’ve implied above, isn’t usually sufficient for me to want to seriously investigate something)? We care about it, because we want to know how to place responsibility (and attributes that commonly come with it, like virtue or blameworthiness) on people for their choices. And at first, my hand-wavy definition above doesn’t seem to actually give us any kind of practical answer to that.

      But now, the idea is to stop thinking of attributes like praiseworthiness or blame as somehow cosmically-ordained properties and instead consider the act of bestowing praise or blame as a physical event in and of itself, and then consider whether that event results in good or in harm. In other words, when considering whether a particular moral judgment is warranted by someone’s choice, ask yourself whether reacting according to that judgment (praising or condemning that person’s behavior in a certain manner) will result in maximum good done for the world. In this way, it boils down to an application of utilitarian principles.

      Now the naive way to make this kind of evaluation would be to say that if someone’s choice most likely resulted or will result in net harm, then you should react with condemnation, while if it most likely had or will have a net positive result, then you should react with praise. But sometimes a particular expression of condemnation (or praise) of a bad (or good) choice won’t actually maximize utility, and this is where the practical issue of degrees of… free-ness comes in. (See what I narrowly avoided there?)

    • I’ve noticed most debates about free-will are full of equivocation precisely due to the difficulties with definition. I think political or personal free will is easy enough – your ability to make choices with partially known outcomes, proportional to the absence of deterrents or incentives applied by other people (eg. absence of threats). That obviously is a thing and it’s clearly morally significant too, such as in political discussions or criminal justice proceedings. Metaphysical free-will is in my opinion not a useful concept as without equivocating to the personal or political versions it doesn’t really say or mean anything. Basically it doesn’t causally prevent or enable you to do anything, and as mentioned above it’s near impossible to define,

    • Anonymous says:

      I cannot distinguish between deterministic unknowns and free will. I am obligated by my religion to believe it exists, though, and I will so long as the question’s open.

    • themountaingoat says:

      I tend to think that determinism and free will are not in conflict. Any definition of free will that has labels my decision to not jump off a building not free because it was determined by my happy upbringing doesn’t seem to be corresponding with the intuitive concept the term is meant to be describing. Of course we get counter intuitive results when a term is defined in a way that doesn’t match our intuition.

      It seems to me that a choice should be defined as free if it if changing the mental characteristics of the person involved could change the choice. Whether those mental characteristics are themselves determined by something is irrelevant.

    • Elephant says:

      I really liked reading Daniel Dennett’s “Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbow_Room_(book)), which, at least to me, clarified a lot of the issues of what’s really meant by free will, and why determinism isn’t as constraining as one might think.

    • Wander says:

      I’ve always found free will debates somewhat redundant. It certainly feels like there’s free will, and because of that it doesn’t seem like it matters if it’s really there or not. I know it has philosophical and theological implications, but it doesn’t seem to impact the real world at all. If you punch someone in the face and say “the universe was deterministic, I had no choice in taking that action”, they can quite easily just punch you back and same “yeah, same”.

  38. Kevin C. says:

    I remember how bad (and how much I hated) the stupid “self-esteem building” nonsense (or as they dubbed it, “Positive Action”) was when I went to public school back in the previous century. And now I read this: “California high school replaces girls’ bathroom mirrors with ‘notes of affirmation’“.

    Based on a brainchild of one its students, Laguna Hills High School officials had the mirrors taken out of the school’s girls’ bathrooms … and replaced with notes of “affirmation.”

    The notes include little sayings such as “You are important” and “You are loved.”

    Sabrina Astle, a member of the school “Kindness Club,” said she came up with the idea because she wanted to “make a difference.”

    Because that’s just what our young women need to prepare them for the challenges and rigors of adulthood[/sarc].

    • Zodiac says:

      I really wonder if these people don’t understand self-esteem problems or if I’m a rare brain mutant. My usual reaction to this kind of stuff is a cynical sneer followed by a spiral of negative thoughts for why these notes are wrong or don’t apply to me.

      • liskantope says:

        I feel completely the same way. My kneejerk reaction today would be sacastic and eye-rolling, so imagine the reaction of kids who have reached the age where capacity for sarcasm and eye-rolling is typically reaching its peak.

      • Marie says:

        I am having zero luck retracking down the paper I read a while ago, and have no clue if it would survive a replication study, but it basically said that the “say affirming stuff to yourself in the mirror” tactic helped mildly a lot of its participants (at least for a bit) but backfired and had negative results for about 25% of participants (who had “this is idiotic and stupid and doesn’t apply to me oh god I’m a failure” responses). It thus cautioned against using it as a blanket strategy for boosting self-esteem. Made me feel better about having always had the eye-rolling negative-backfire response, and gave me more tolerance for people who recommended the strategy (as apparently there’s a sizable percentage of minds for whom it has neutral or positive results).

    • Maybe they should replace them with AR mirrors that blur the student’s image and automatically overlay their school test results and likely future careers. Or maybe dead people that appear behind you if you spend too long applying makeup.

      Obviously I’m joking, but more seriously, the idea is good if they’d replace the messages with something more useful, like maybe something about future careers in science etc.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Obviously I’m joking, but more seriously, the idea is good if they’d replace the messages with something more useful

        Like a mirror?

        I’m not joking: mirrors have utility, that’s why we put them there!

        • I think the idea was that mirrors might magnify the obsession/anxiety over body image that seems to develop for a lot of women in their teens. I don’t think removing a signal that emphasizes appearance is bad, I just favor a message like “science is cool” replacing it rather than “you’re a beautiful and unique snowflake” or some such rubbish.

          • Zodiac says:

            I would probably still be pissed at that since I would see this as a try of manipulating me instead trying to convince me with actual arguments. Which might actually yield a short term positive result in the body image matter since I would simply be thinking about other things.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, maybe this is different for me because I’m a man/introvert/whatever, but I’ve never really associated the presence of a bathroom mirror with thinking about my physical attractiveness. I’ve always seen it as a utilitarian thing.

            BUT, if you put up a bunch of sticky notes on the mirror saying “You are a beautiful person no matter what anyone says” that would pretty clearly be a message of “START THINKING ABOUT HOW ATTRACTIVE YOU ARE NOW” which is probably more likely to make me feel depressed than a blank mirror would.

    • rlms says:

      Chesterton’s fence!

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s a silly idea not because of the affirmation but because you want a mirror in a bathroom so you can comb your hair, fix your face, see if you have something stuck in your teeth or dropped a big blob of ketchup on the front of your blouse at lunchtime, etc. It has a practical function. If you want to put up posters and affirmative messages and little lectures about the beauty industry, knock yourself out but this is missing the wood for the trees.

      • lvlln says:

        I think the reasoning is that you couldn’t possibly care to comb your hair, fix your face, remove something stuck in your teeth or care if you have a big blob of ketchup on the front of your blouse if you already believe that “you are loved” or “you are important.” I mean, those issues all have to do with how you are perceived by others, so if you’re interested in correcting them, that means you must have an issue of self esteem, because you shouldn’t care how you appear to others, right?

        It’s rather silly, because you can’t just declare by fiat that one’s appearance to others doesn’t matter and expect it to stick, but I see what they’re getting at.

        I think there’s a stronger case for hygiene and safety. A person might have an injury or a dirty object on their face or neck that they might not notice if not for a mirror. That has to do not with how others perceive that person, but with the health of that person, and the lack of a mirror can severely hamper that person’s ability to recognize and correct the issue.

      • I basically think the opposite. I’ve used bathrooms with no mirrors before, and nothing bad happened. However excessive messages telling everyone how special they are and reinforcing mindless positivity are actively harmful to those people and others.

      • carvenvisage says:

        or missing the trees for the wood?

  39. Devin Weaver says:

    Over the past few months, I’ve been brewing on the idea of a moral system, in the same vein as Utilitarianism, Contractualism, Liberalism, Reaction, etc. I’ve discussed it some with my friends before, but they haven’t given me anything more substantial than “This feels wrong, though I can’t explain why.”

    So I’m sharing it here, in the hopes that you can give some more constructive feedback/criticism. I’d post it on my blog, but I don’t have one and don’t wanna make one.

    Since I don’t know if it already has a name, for the sake of this comment I’ll refer to it as capital-O Organism. It’ll make sense eventually.

    THE PREMISE:
    We are multicellular organisms. More specifically, a human being isn’t an indivisible, strictly-defined, singular entity, but rather a loose conglomeration of smaller entities called “cells”.

    I say “loose”, because we know that all of those “cells” aren’t always on the same page. Coordination failures still exist on this level: cancer is the result of a cell refusing to stop replicating when the others agree it should. Allergies are the result of the cells in your immune system misinterpreting what the cells in the rest of your body say is dangerous. Hiccups are your brainstem temporarily forgetting how breathing works. I’m not a doctor, but I get the impression a lot of medical conditions are the result of these type of coordination failures.

    And I say “conglomerate”, because those cells aren’t identical to each other. White blood cells are different from neurons are different from muscle cells are different from bone cells are different from red blood cells are different platelets are different from… you get the idea.

    All this is to say, it makes sense to to think of cells as organisms in their own right, rather than just as parts of a greater whole. Each cell in a human is just as much its own entity as any amoeba; the only difference is in how each meets its own biological needs.

    This isn’t to suggest that humans AREN’T also organisms. Rather, it suggests that organizations of organisms, are themselves organisms. In the same way that humans form communities to meet their individual needs, so too do cells form you. In this sense, an organism isn’t an individual entity, but a type of organization.

    This idea, in itself, isn’t new. Any idea, theory, or mindset that treats groups as individual actors – such as this blog’s observation that corporations and states fall into Molochian traps just as easily as individuals – implicitly assumes this.

    What Organism does is take this idea to its most extreme logical conclusion.

    Imagine a complex upside-down tree-like structure of organisms within organisms within organisms. At the very bottom are cells, which every organism is made out of. At the very top is some meta-organism, which we’ll call capital-L Life, which every organism is a part of.

    Organism postulates that:
    1. Life literally and actually exists, right now, in the real world, in the same way that communities and civilizations exist.
    2. Life has existed and will continue to exist, as long as more than one living cell exists in the entirety of the cosmos.
    3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

    MORALITY:
    Let’s term “Survivability” as “the total amount of time Life will exist in the universe”.

    Good is defined as something that increases Survivability. Bad is something that decreases it.

    This is judged on the largest possible scale; if an action that would normally decrease Survivability ends up increasing it, then it’s judged as good, even if that increase is only visible 40 quintillion years from now.

    It’s also judged as precisely as possible; if something only increases Survivability by 2 Planck Time, it’s still better than an action that only increases it by 1 (but not as good as something that increases it by 3).

    Note that what happens to any organisms except for Life is irrelevant. If obliterating a galaxy somehow has a net Survivability increase, then it is good.

    GENERAL PRINCIPLES
    These aren’t as strictly defined as the values above. These are more general heuristics that have, at the very least, shown useful in the past.

    1. Account for Unknowns.
    You do not and cannot know exactly how much any given action increases or decreases Survivability, nor what all factors affect it, so never assume you do. Nevertheless, make your best guess. A lot of Rationalist principles apply well here.

    2. Diversity is Accounting for Unknowns. A parable: A farmer decides he really likes a certain species of banana, since they’re delicious, and thus profitable. So instead of planting banana seeds, which might lead to bananas that have mutated away their deliciousness, he plants their branches, which ensures every banana is genetically identical, and makes a killing. Then a massive plague the cloned bananas are genetically susceptible to comes along and wipes out the entire crop, and the farmer goes out of business. Meanwhile, his competitors, who continued using seeds and selling less-delicious bananas, stay in business, since only a few of their crops were vulnerable. Note that it doesn’t matter whether or not those other farmers actually know anything about genetics or plagues.

    3. Cooperation is Competitive.
    This is similar to Meditations on Moloch, but slightly reframed.

    Imagine that inverted tree structure again, where, say, humans are at level n=1, small communities are n=2, civilization is n=3, and so on until you hit Life at n=infinity. At level n, an organism’s most competitive if it defects against other level n’s – see: prisoner’s dilemma, Malthusian trap, et al. However, organisms at n+1 are only more competitive than other n+1’s if their corresponding level-n’s cooperate; a town populated by Puritans will obviously perform better than a town populated by sociopathic anarchists. Also, level-n+1’s can compete against level n’s, and will almost always win if they do so; no matter how strong one hunter-gatherer is, they’ll probably lose a fight with a pack of wolves.

    So, under this system, even though it initially looks like it’s in an organism’s best interest to defect and go full individualist, it actually isn’t, since it’ll be outcompeted by an n+1 organism built out of cooperators. Its best interest, then, is to cooperate with other n’s to build an even more competitive n+1 organism.

    (In other words, Individuals who defect always outcompete individuals who cooperate, but groups of cooperators always outcompete groups of defectors. Also, groups outcompete individuals. )

    This continues at level n+1, n+2 — the rules apply to groups just as well as individuals, hence why I classify both as “organisms” — and so on up to n=infinity, at which point the organism’s only competitor is “things that make Survivability less than infinity”.

    IMPLICATIONS:
    There are a few reasons that I like this.

    First is that it seems to be what we’re doing already, albeit mostly unconsciously.

    Take the virus, an organism so simple that some scientists don’t even consider it one. It uses whatever “brainpower” it has to replicate as much as possible, sometimes in impressively complex ways.

    Compare, humans, who, instead of mindlessly replicating, built civilizations and language and the internet.

    Both the human and the virus are optimizing for Survivability here; the human’s just thinking about the n+1 or n+2 levels, whereas the virus doesn’t have the brainpower to see past its level n. We could theoretically imagine an organism even smarter than humanity, who competes at levels n+5, or even n+infinity (the number that comes immediately after five, as we all know).

    Which leads me to my second reason: if we did invent a megalomaniacal superintelligence that only optimizes for one value, Survivability is what I’d want it to optimize for. I’m not certain enough to say that it’s the root of all human values, but it sure does seem to correlate with a lot of them.

    KNOWN ISSUES
    1. There’s a lot of blurred distinction between “is” and “ought” going on here, eg “Survivability IS what we’re optimizing for, therefore we OUGHT to be optimizing for it”. Criticism of this seems fair, and the best I can really say to it is “If your job IS to build skyscrapers, you OUGHT to be the best at building them, or you’ll be fired and replaced by the guy who is,” and then shrug when you ask why skyscrapers specifically.

    2. Survivability is such a meta-level value that it’s sometimes hard to scale it down it down to the level of “how much should I give to which charity this month” or whatever. An exact numerical value for how long donating $537.14 to the Against Malaria Foundation will extend the existence of all organic life in the universe probably exists, but it’d take more computational power than exists on Earth to calculate it, and even then you’d probably end up missing a variable or two. In this case, I’d say “Imprecise answers are better than no answers, so make an educated guess,” but this feels insufficient.

    3. You could say that Organism’s just reskinned Utilitarianism. It pretty much is, but I think “utility” and “Survivability” are different enough values to be worth drawing a distinction, in the same way a superintelligence optimizing for paperclips is different from a superintelligence optimizing for cheeseburgers.

    4. I probably could have chosen better, less confusing names for the terminology I used here. If you have better words, I’m open to them. Consider the terms like variable names; they don’t have any value themselves, they’re just markers to help us keep track of the actual values.

    • onyomi says:

      A problem I see with this viewpoint is that individual cells within an organism are much more specialized than individual organisms, even accounting for division of labor, variable talents, etc.

      That is, even if we strain the analogy enough to say that intellectuals are like society’s neurons, manual laborers like society’s muscles, etc. the fact remains that my individual liver cells are just not autonomous moral actors in the way, e.g. garbage collectors are. Put another way, it isn’t people all the way down: my individual cells are not microcosms of me; they are very different parts of me doing very different things, most of it automatically, and what happens automatically is not generally understood to belong to the realm of ethics. I may “dislike” cancer cells for malfunctioning, but it doesn’t really make sense to say they commit evil. Similarly, a plague may wipe out a whole society just as easily as a genocide perpetrated by a dictator, but we call the latter “evil,” the former “tragic.”

      Evolution optimizes not for survival of cells, organisms, or societies, but for survival of genes. Genes come in bundles because that helps them survive. Genes for multi-cellular organisms further encode cellular specialization because that was a successful strategy. This doesn’t, however, mean that all cells have moral value in the way that most moral systems ascribe at least some moral value or agency to all thinking, individual people. If you tell me my liver is malfunctioning and must be replaced, I will not feel bad for my liver. Its existence is purely instrumental as far as my consciousness is concerned, and only consciousnesses make decisions (or, if one is purely deterministic, give rise to the subjective impression of making decisions).

      Insofar as it exists at all, morality seems only to exist at the level of decision-making (we don’t ascribe moral good or bad to unconscious acts of e.g. the weather, or cancer cells’ non-decisions to replicate out of control). My liver is no more conscious than the weather (nor can it, on its own, feel pain; those are the neurons attached to it), hence its survival or non-survival only has moral value insofar as it facilitates or detracts from the survival or non-survival of the moral agents we thinking parts of organisms care about, e.g. the thinking, feeling, decision-making parts.

      I think would-be moral systems have to account for the most common moral intuitions, among which are “happiness is good” and “suffering is bad” (though moral prescriptions can only extend to sources of happiness or suffering which result from conscious decisions). Only thinking, feeling things (i.e. neurons, or, arguably some fancy computer circuits) feel happiness or suffer. Therefore, it makes good moral sense to sacrifice any number of liver cells to save one thinking, feeling brain, but the reverse is not true even if sacrificing one brain could somehow net you a zillion immortal liver cells.

      • If we evolved our morality to have a social effect to reduce evil, it would follow that our moral stances would be limited to the subset of evil that had intent behind it. In other words, for most evil we’d simply want to take physical steps to stop it (helping out someone wounded in accident), but where a person specifically chose evil, a social-psychological reaction involving disapproval, disgust and so forth. So maybe the biological approach Devin is proposing might be compatible with the focus on choice-related evils as you suggest, because you don’t need to really think about non-sentient evils in the same way as sentient ones to stop them.

    • Alex says:

      3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      Nature knows nothing about moral imperatives. You are starting from a moral conviction and trying to frame that conviction as the way the cosmos is ™. This rhetorical trick of course has a long history.

      A charitable reading of your posts suggests that you have a long thought about your own implicit moral biases that make you believe this.

      A less charitable reading suggests the answer “nicht try”.

      • I think you’re second criticism (both readings) is a bit uncharitable and attacking the person a bit.

        I think your first criticism is far more understandable. In a way you’re suggesting there’s an is/ought problem here – the existence of some uber-life-entity isn’t the same as a moral imperative to assist that entity just because you’re a part of it. Perhaps you’ll allow me to suggest a minor variant. Say your moral intuition was literally a part of a wider cooperative process going on within life. Like let’s say the personal manifestation of the evolutionary forces of kin selection, group selection and the genetic component of reciprocity. Then when you ask “what is the moral thing to do?”, the objective answer would be something like “adopt a cooperative posture with other genetic organisms”.

        Basically, if you factually establish morality as part of something biological, there is now objective answers to moral questions, and the individual can decide whether they are moral or not (although they cannot decide objectively what morality is ie. moral relativism).

        Edit> Tired, wording reads poorly

        • Alex says:

          I meta-agree that if we’d agree on what IS, we still would have an is-ought problem (and the OP addressed this).

          However, I fear that we do not agree on what IS. Neither “life” (as an uber-entity? not sure if I read you correctly) nor evolution has an inherent intent or purpose. The life we can observe is good at being alive, yes. But that is a tautology, not a deeper truth of the “cosmos”. Were this not so, we wouldn’t observe life. There IS no force in “cosmos” that “keeps life alive as long as physical possible” (OP’s words, not yours) and therefore we have no IS from which we could (incorrectly) derive an OUGHT in the first place.

          Also I don’t understand how you think that getting your biology right leads to moral relativism. We have not proven that biology-driven moral cannot exist and if it exists would it not be absolute?

          My criticism is quite the opposite: the OP presents a morale based on convention (i. e. a relative norm) and frames it as if it were based on biology or a great cosmical rule (i. e. an absolute norm).

          • Neither “life” nor evolution has an inherent intent or purpose.

            I mostly agree with that. I guess we agree it’s basically physics and chem in action as it applies to DNA/RNA, without rhyme or reason. It’s more when I think about what purpose is, there seems like good evidence to believe its a phenomenon arising out of the evolution of life, and good reason to believe our moral sentiments are connected to this wider phenomenon.

            So to clarify I was saying not that this is a form of cultural relativism, but that it negates relativism, because although people can choose whether or not to be moral, they can’t just arbitrarily choose what morality is. That’s because it’s an objective process that you can point to, identify and study through biology (eg. we know about kin selection, group selection and genetic reciprocity).

            So the OP maybe cannot say “you should cooperate with life”, as that still runs into the is/ought problem, but he/she could say “it’s moral to cooperate with life”, and point to objective scientific evidence why morality is part of a trend to a cooperative process in life generally. I personally wouldn’t go quite as far as OP’s life-as-a-single-entity, but I definitely think it’s closer than most other philosophical systems who don’t seem to have a very sound basis for their oughts.

      • Devin Weaver says:

        Admittedly, I think I might have a really weird internal definition of “moral”. I see it as a moral imperative in the same way that “drink water every day” is a moral imperative; I doubt anyone’ll say you’re going to Hell for not doing it, but, I mean, you gotta stay hydrated, man.

        Incidentally, I think I’m actually committing the exact opposite fallacy of what you’ve described; I’m taking the way the cosmos Is™, and framing it as moral conviction. This seems intuitively strange, but I’m not sure how different in kind it is from noticing you enjoy happiness, reframing it as ‘utility’, and making it a moral imperative to pursue.

        • JohnBuridan says:

          Sounds like you are creeping towards panpsychism, which I think can be held by rationalists, although it does require belief that there is purpose… such as preserving Life, as you say.

          Belief in moral purposes which exists outside of an individual’s conviction are difficult to establish so be forewarned that your ideas will be held to some harsh scrutiny. 🙂

    • This is quite similar to my own philosophical perspective which I’ve been working on for some time. I call mine the Life Ethic, and I describe it in some considerable detail here. It looks like we do differ on a few points, but overall I’m almost shocked to discover another person with this sort of biological morality. I’ve encountered very few people who share this view beyond yourself. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places. No guarantees we agree on all issues, but we should definitely talk more! Do you have an email/reddit account I can PM you on?

      Most people’s intuition tends to feel uneasy about biologically rooted morality and drawn to psychological versions. This is hard to shake even if you point out the fundamental problems with pretty basic ideas in those versions, like impossible to define notions of “consciousness”. I suspect there is trouble seeing how autonomy and freedom operate in a social system based on biological morality, but I think that’s a lack of familiarity with how compatible they are, rather than a studied criticism. I’d be keen to hear about the reactions you’ve encountered with your friends etc.

      • Devin Weaver says:

        Don’t have a reddit or an email I’m willing to share publicly. I do have a Twitter (@patriarachnid) you can DM me at, though I realize that’s not the best medium for longform communication.

        • I won’t post it here but you can get my email off my blog. I’m trying to avoid caving in and getting Twitter if I can help it, though the fomo is a thing for us all sometimes O_o

    • liskantope says:

      I see this as basically a reframing of utilitarianism with a more concrete specification of exactly what defines “utility”, and I lean towards endorsing it. As for the potential “is vs. ought” problem, it’s occurred to me for a while now that perhaps “ought” has to rest on an axiomatic definition based in some way on what “is”, so one can’t entirely escape blurring the two.

    • Tracy W says:

      Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      How do you know? How do you reconcile this assertion with your later example of a farmer planting a monoculture to make more money?

      Criticism of this seems fair, and the best I can really say to it is “If your job IS to build skyscrapers, you OUGHT to be the best at building them, or you’ll be fired and replaced by the guy who is,” and then shrug when you ask why skyscrapers specifically.

      Isn’t this a reasonable sign that you should abandon this line of argument then? If this is the best counter-argument you can think of its pretty weak. (Other issues: perhaps you shouldn’t build skyscrapers. Perhaps no one should build skyscrapers in this particular location. Perhaps even if you should be building these skyscrapers you should also be spending some time with your family. Perhaps you won’t be fired because there’s a limit to how many skyscrapers the best skyscraper builder can build anyway.)

      • Devin Weaver says:

        I am a bit disappointed that I haven’t yet managed to empirically solve Nihilism, but I’m a bit reassured by the fact that nobody else has, either.

        A problem with most moral philosophiesis that they’re really bad at convincing outsiders to follow them, regardless of how sound they seem from the inside. Assume you met an alien species that’s equally as intelligent as humans, but biologically incapable of experiencing happiness. How do you get them on board with Utilitarianism?

        So I propose that “keeping things alive” be set as the terminal value, since I imagine that’s something even the joyless aliens could get on board with, as evidenced by the fact that most joyless life forms are already on board with it. It doesn’t cure the fundamentally absurd nature of the cosmos, but if everything from dolphins to cyanobacteria is already dedicating everything they have to pursuing it, it’s clearly the least absurd option we have.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          Assume you met an alien species that’s equally as intelligent as humans, but biologically incapable of experiencing happiness. How do you get them on board with Utilitarianism?

          I mean, it probably depends on how you’re defining “happiness.”

          But if they don’t experience joy/pleasure or pain or have any type of subjective experiences, then there’s no point in trying to convert them to utilitarianism, or to anything at all. What arguments could you use to persuade them to any point of view? They have nothing to gain or lose; even if they possess life, they’d have no particular reason to value that life.

          There seems to be an implicit assumption here that moralities should be universal and apply to all beings. I don’t see why. A being’s values will necessarily reflect that being’s nature. I mean, I think there’s a case for extending human values to some animals because they have the same emotions we do (and maybe some day that will be the case for AIs as well) but why should we have the same moral system as aliens that are wired in a fundamentally different way? Or the same “moral system” as bacteria, which probably aren’t conscious at all?

          It’s hard for anyone to imagine what a conscious lifeform with no emotions would act like. When people try to write such beings in fiction, they usually end up just writing them as if they have emotion. Even a generic “desire to stay alive” is a feeling; without that, it’s debatable whether a conscious being could really be said to have a will or motivations at all.

          That’s not to say such a being couldn’t exist, but their existence would be irrelevant to human moralities.

          it’s clearly the least absurd option we have.

          Forcing someone to stay alive when they’re suffering horribly with no hope of relief seems pretty absurd to me. Keeping people and animals breeding constantly to maximize “life” regardless of the quality of life also seems absurd. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, wouldn’t an exclusively life-based morality dictate both those things?

    • rlms says:

      What do you think the point of a moral system is?

    • Ninety-Three says:

      2. Life has existed and will continue to exist, as long as more than one living cell exists in the entirety of the cosmos.
      3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      The problem I see is that this your moral imperative can be trivially satisfied: I can fulfill it by building indestructible box which contains one living cell, and making sure the box and cell survive until the heat death of the universe.

      Instead of cooperating to build a competitive n+1 organism, we can build an isolated n=0 organism and be content when all higher ‘n’s die off. You might say that there’s a risk this plan will fail and a random gamma-ray burst kills our one cell before the end of the universe, but indulge me in a hypothetical here: if Laplace’s Demon can guarantee the continued existence of one cell in a box, isn’t it morally neutral for the entire rest of Life to die off forever?

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Agreed.

        I’d take it further and say that under Organism, the most morally valuable activity is essentially Horcrux-making–that is, finding places to put cell cultures where they’ll be unlikely to die.

        • Devin Weaver says:

          Why build one Horcrux when you can built a billion? Assuming there’s always a greater-than-zero chance that it could be penetrated and destroyed by gamma rays or some other force you didn’t account for, the best option is to develop a civilization capable of creating these black boxes, and encourage its growth and prosperity as much as possible. Let it spread to other planets, in case the one it’s on has its sun go supernova. Let it spread to other universes, in case the one it’s in suffers Heat Death. Meanwhile, have it continuously build black boxes along the way.

    • Jupiter says:

      Blog that may be of interest to you: z9s.blogspot.com

    • That utility function would value a hardy species of algae managing to hold on to existence on an otherwise barren planet for a trillion and one years over a galaxy-spanning civilization dying out in a trillion years. So instead of a paperclip maximizer, you have a primitive-life-form-lifespan maximizer, which might not be much better.

      • Devin Weaver says:

        The problem with the algae is that it has no way to escape the rock it’s stuck to, and thus will inevitably die when its local sun goes supernova. Even if the galaxy-spanning civilization itself dies in a trillion years, it can facilitate the spread of that hyper-durable algae to other planets, something the algae itself can’t do. Thus, the galaxy-spanning civilization still has considerable value.

        • Iain says:

          There’s a problematic explore/exploit dynamic here. You can plausibly keep things going for a long time with the claim that we need to learn more, but at some point that clock is going to run out, and your society will have a moral obligation to dismantle itself to preserve resources for the probes that will be spreading your nigh-eternal algae (or whatever the low-energy, high-survival answer turns out to be).

      • This reminds me of Scott’s own story stub, which is a quite a good criticism, about priests or something covering worlds with vats of DNA to optimize for a similar biological utility function. That’s a fair objection, and I think there’s several potential answers that may address them. Firstly as OP already mentioned, a lack of variety is a significant weakness throughout nature, which is one of the reasons recent branches of the the tree of life have sophisticated methods of actually encouraging it (eg. sexual reproduction). I think sophisticated thinkers like humans represent huge potential value to life as a whole too (eg. building an asteroid defense system, extending our biosphere to other planets). A happy, free society of super-intelligent humans that valued other biological species seems pretty close to an optimal end goal to me.

        I think the other possible consideration is that it’s hard to think of a utility function that doesn’t go nuts when its applied infinitely. I guess if we’re true rationalists we can try to go along for the ride, but applying moderation also seems like a reasonable approach given even a small amount of uncertainty about our goals (which is something rationalists ought to have).

        I’ve also noticed that in nature, maximizing reproduction is not always (rarely?) a good strategy to ensure survival. For example, bacteria colonies can die if they don’t limit their consumption of their food source. In a futurist context, aggressive expansion might look a lot like an ebola outbreak to any existing inhabitants of the galaxy, so an algae maximizer probably is a bad idea anyway. With survival as the goal instead of maximization, I think this utility function’s effects look a lot more sensible for more future scenarios.

    • Deiseach says:

      All this is to say, it makes sense to to think of cells as organisms in their own right, rather than just as parts of a greater whole. Each cell in a human is just as much its own entity as any amoeba; the only difference is in how each meets its own biological needs.

      This isn’t to suggest that humans AREN’T also organisms. Rather, it suggests that organizations of organisms, are themselves organisms. In the same way that humans form communities to meet their individual needs, so too do cells form you. In this sense, an organism isn’t an individual entity, but a type of organization.

      I think St Paul got there first with this metaphor 🙂

      1 Corinthians 12-26:

      12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

      14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

      21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

    • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

      I mean, utility function not up for grabs, but this morality is obviously hostile to the continued existence of any person, as being a person takes up resources that would be “better” spent defending some bacteria.

      • Humans are probably a lot better at preventing asteroid strike than bacteria, so it’s possible to imagine versions of this approach that are much more closely aligned with everyday moral intuition.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      I think the most interesting idea here is your scaling idea of Life and its relationship to the statement Cooperation is Competitive.
      This leads me to believe you would really, and I mean really, enjoy the book A Cooperative Species by Gintis and Bowles. It’s a game theoretical and experimental psychology approach to human altruism.

      I don’t think the OUGHT explicit in your moral system is a huge bug. It is accounted for in your description of what you think reality is. Let me know if I’m getting this wrong.

      Life is inherently good.
      Human Life is inherently good as well.
      Human Life has evolved such that it requires us to value Life.

      [The teleological move/ virtue ethicist move to make here is:]
      And it is inherently good to act in accordance with our humanity, whatever that is.
      Therefore, we should strive to Value life.

      I think a legitimate moral system requires first a thorough description and account of what a human is at various levels and then uses that to provide some type of system which humans can more or less use for understanding and acting out their role/place/pickyourterminology in society.

    • carvenvisage says:

      3. Every living thing in the entirety of the cosmos has exactly one moral imperative: keep Life alive for as long as physically possible.

      This is the part that ‘feels wrong’ to me. It seems to imply that eternal torture or suffering is preferable to eternal nonexistence (death). That isn’t what I’d choose for myself, and certainly not choose for someone I had a more sacred responsibility towards.

      Not surviving is bad, but there are probably worse things, and there are things so good they’re worth risking it for even to a major extent, as well as tradeoffs of very slightly greater ‘life’expectancy in exchange for loss of Qo’L’, which aren’t going to be worth it in basically anyone’s values.

       

      I think part of what this gets at is that good orders are more survivable, because arrangements which cause needless suffering or leave value on the table will be less resilient and grow/become secure etc slower than ones that don’t.

      With that in mind really looking for survivabillity might be a good way to approximate goodness, and yet more probably a useful exercise in service of that purpose.

      “Might this kill us all one day?” Is a question that can detect moral errors, which are long term security errors, as well as short term/direct security errors.

  40. atreic says:

    Big comment threads are hard to comment on, because you worry that everything’s already been said and no-one is going to read your comment. But reading 200 comments to see if your Really Interesting Point has been said is too much like hard work, and so you tend to just say it anyway. And then you have 201 slightly duplicative comments that people can’t be bothered to read before they say anything. Discussion curation is hard, people prefer the sound of their own voice to reading other people’s voices, I don’t think there’s an easy solution. But I think splitting randomly into small groups with no particular grouping is only going to make it worse – the Good People who read everything, and reply thoughtfully and don’t duplicate are not helped by it (they can’t read everything, so they duplicate even when they don’t want to). And there’s a feeling that you’re ‘missing something’, which is not very open/free internet. Splitting things out into meaningful groups, either on topic (so if it’s a linkspost, different spaces to comment about each link), or by position (so if you’re looking to see if someone has already said ‘this is stupidly unlibertarian’ you can read the ‘this is totally wrong’ comments rather than the ‘I agree with this’ comments, although I hate hate hate this idea, because I like the debate and discussion), or even in rough real life groupings, so you could chat about the slatestarcodex post of the day with people you were likely to see at your Boston SSC meetup, might work, but seems more trouble than it’s worth.

    • people prefer the sound of their own voice to reading other people’s voices

      Possibly worth mentioning: This is not universally true. For example, I need to consciously remind myself that I’ve not actually said a word in some conversations, since I’m so busy listening, and online I prefer other people making the points that are on my mind to writing them out myself.

      I’m only outspoken in contexts where no one else appears to be or where I judge the likelihood of a comment with what’s on my mind being made to be low (both in real life and online; this does mean I can get extremely outspoken in some contexts, which surprises some people).

      I suspect this is largely because quite in general, by the time I get to the discussion here, those points already tend to have been made. For this medium, that’s probably always going to be that way, since most SSCers are in a very different timezone than I am (and also more intelligent than me – which I cherish, but it does mean I’ve usually got very little to add).

  41. angerson says:

    I have a question for Scott (or anyone else in a similar situation!).

    I’d like to find a Really Good psychologist/psychotherapist(?) in the Silicon Valley area. I don’t have dangerous depression or harmful thoughts, but I do have some deeply knotted worries and emotional detachment that I’d like some help with. I want that help from a doctor whose expertise I can trust to feel Right (as SSC and LW writing tends to), but I don’t know where to look. I don’t think that I need medication, but I would not be against seeking diagnosis.

    David Small’s image of the all-knowing psychologist in Stitches is what I’m looking for — a doctor who I respect and understand that knows a whole lot about their field and the different sorts of people they treat (knowledge of internet-culture-type things would be a gigantic plus). I get that feeling about Scott, which is why I think this is a good place to ask. I’m afraid of my issues being explained away enthusiastically as “it’s your dad!” (as a therapist did recently), or of realizing that I don’t respect the doctor at all, or of realizing that I’ll have to explain imageboards and visual novels.

    Can you suggest anyone?

  42. A simple split would not improve the usefulness/readability per unit of time, though it would improve performance in a browser. I’d personally much favor splitting the OTs by topic somehow, so that it’s easier to go looking for the posts you’re likely to be interested in. Politics would be the obvious candidate to split in my mind.

    Alternatively maybe some kind of comment tagging system could be used, so filters could be applied. Not sure about implementation though.