"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT75: The Comment King

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. Also:

1. My serial novel Unsong will be finished next week. I’ll be doing a reading of the final chapter in Berkeley on Sunday, May 14, details at the bottom of Chapter 71, RSVP at the link mentioned there if you’re interested. There are other events planned in NYC, Tel Aviv, and Boston.

2. I’ll be visiting California starting next week. I still need to figure out exactly where and when I’ll have time for meetups, so watch for a post about that if you’re interested. Provisionally I’ll be going to the SSC Berkeley Meetup on Tuesday, May 16th at 7PM at the 7th floor of 2030 Addison St.

3. On a related note, I’ll be at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in San Diego later this month. In particular, I’ll be presenting a version of this analysis on Sunday May 21 starting 10 AM at the resident poster session, so if you’re at the conference come say hi. I don’t know how many readers are going to the APA, but if enough people are interested we can try to figure out a way to meet over dinner one night or something.

4. In a previous post, I described FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) as related to conservatives fighting liberal dominance of academia. FIRE has asked me to correct the record and specify that they are a politically neutral organization fighting for everyone’s rights within academia. I regret the error.

5. In case the subreddit and Discord aren’t enough for you, there is now an old-school online bulletin board for the rationalist community.

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868 Responses to OT75: The Comment King

  1. Well... says:

    So I’ve ordered Cryptonomicon and Gypsy at the library. Still waiting on them. What sci-fi should I read in the meantime if my favorite-to-least-favorite Neal Stephenson books are:

    1. Seveneves
    2. Anathem
    3. The Diamond Age
    4. Snow Crash
    5. Zodiac
    6. Reamde

    • Bugmaster says:

      I wanted to list off some of my favorite sci-fi books, but then I saw that you rated Seveneves higher than Anathem, and my brain shut down.

      Anyway, one book I can absolutely recommend is Constellation Games, by Leonard Richardson. It’s not exactly hard SF like the books you listed (then again, Anathem does have those quasi-fantasy elements), but it shares something with Reamde in spirit, and is IMO a better book.

    • drethelin says:

      Steel Beach and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress are both great if you like ‘humans build an alternate society on the moon’ as a premise, as is Trouble on Triton, although as you can tell from the name that one’s not actually on EARTH’S moon.

      If what you like is the disaster preparation/recovery aspect as well as knowledge preservation I recommend Lucifer’s Hammer.

    • engleberg says:

      Saturn Run by Sandford and Ctein, or any of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations it measures up to. Steven Barnes Charisma

    • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

      I like Blindsight. It’s free online.

    • Yair says:

      -Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.
      – Short stories by Ted Chiang and Ken Liu (you can find many of them free online see http://bit.ly/1euLpI9 for example.
      – Any Vernor Vinge book.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Seconding the Vinge recommendation.

        • Nick says:

          I loved A Fire Upon the Deep, but The Children of the Sky really dragged for me. I’ve heard better about A Deepness in the Sky though.

          • andrewflicker says:

            A Deepness in the Sky is his best, I’d say.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Fire Upon the Deep, and A Deepness in the Sky are certainly his most famous/critically acclaimed works but I personally preferred Eon & Eternity and The Collected Stories. The later entries in his “Bobble” series, where it becomes less about anarcho-capitalist revolution and more about the implications of (and munchkining with) the bobbles are also really good, better than most of the “Zones of thought” stories IMO.

            Edit: Seems that I was mistaken about Vinge having written Eon & Eternity, it’s thematically very similar though and still really good.

          • LHN says:

            Eon and Eternity are by Greg Bear. (Unless Vinge also has something out by those titles that I’ve missed.) Though Bear is generally worth reading as well.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ LHN
            So it is. My mistake.

          • roystgnr says:

            A Fire Upon the Deep was much better than the sequel.

            “A Deepness in the Sky” is as good as “Fire” iff you don’t mind dark/depressing/disturbing. I loved it but I know another Deepness fan who had to put it down halfway through.

          • njarboe says:

            “Rainbows End” is also good (Hugo winner). Near future published in 2006 with many trends he described progressing like he predicted. Also check out “True Names” (1981) for an early and interesting view of cyberspace.

      • Well... says:

        Vinge: I started reading Rainbows End, and actually quit about 100 pages in–and I usually never quit a book even if it annoys me. I haven’t pinpointed what it was I disliked so much about that book.

      • Well... says:

        Now reading “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” and enjoying it very much. It’s built exactly around issues in technology I’ve been thinking about for several years.

    • I’ll second the recommendation for Constellation Games though I wouldn’t really compare it to REAMDE except in that video games are a plot element.

      Have you read any Bruce Stirling? I think you might like Distraction, Holy Fire, and The Caryatids.

      And speaking again of books that feature video games as a plot element there’s Halting State by Charles Stross which I think you might possibly enjoy for non-video-game-related reasons.

      Oh, and you might enjoy Ken MaCleod’s The Star Fraction.

    • rlms says:

      I’ll reiterate my general recommendations of Too Like The Lightning and Blindsight.

    • Tuna-Fish says:

      Based on your list, maybe *Permutation City*?

    • sflicht says:

      A Canticle for Leibowitz

      • andrewflicker says:

        I’ll second this- took me far too many years to get around to reading it, and now it’s one of my favorites.

        EDIT – I forgot to mention that I unintentionally read it back to back with Anathem. They make a good pair!

        • Incurian says:

          Definitely parallels there, though I didn’t care for either.

          On the subject of books to read back to back, Starship Troopers and Forever War make for an interesting contrast (and maybe Catch-22 for seasoning).

    • Ninmesara says:

      Judas Unchained and Pandora’s star, by Peter F Hamilton. Very long and the story dances around a lot and some characters do some pretty stupid stuff for the sake of the plot but is well written, and paints a coherent vision of the future. Also, space battles done right.

      • tronpaul says:

        I highly recommend both of those. Stephenson and Hamilton both have a nack for weaving different perspectives and characters together gradually.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Hamilton is tons of fun, but I’m not sure I can endorse “well written”. He’s not Dan Brown bad, but a master of prose style the man ain’t.

    • TK-421 says:

      I’ve really been enjoying The Expanse. They’re up to book 6 now, so there’s plenty of material if you get into it. And a pretty good TV adaptation too.

      • cassander says:

        I’d love to geek out a bit with an expanse fan. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the TV series.
        It’s not battlestar galactica level, but it’s a very solid adaptation. the actress playing Chrisjen Avasarala clearly enjoys playing the stone cold bitch and hams it up just the right amount. About the worst I think you can say of any of the show characters is that they’re a bit bland. Book Fred Johnson, for example, is a fun mashup of lenin and elon musk, but on the show his assistant outshines him.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Another Expanse fan checking in.

        • Incurian says:

          +1, but I think it’s better than Galactica (because I have a feeling the BIG THING is actually going somewhere good, unlike BSG).

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, BSG was the last time I fell for the, “Hey, the writers have an actual plan for this” thing on television. The first two seasons, when it still felt like there was a plan, were pretty good. Then it went off the rails in a hurry.

            With The Expanse, and Game of Thrones for that matter, we have literary evidence that there’s more than two seasons worth of plotted material to work from (and hopefully towards).

          • Incurian says:

            I haven’t read the Expanse novels so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I have read A Song of Ice and Fire, and can tell you that having novels published doesn’t mean there’s material to work with (think Wheel of Time).

          • cassander says:

            I find BSG really fascinating. Almost every individual episode is really quite good if you evaluate it isolation, but when you look at the whole thing it’s amazing how it adds up to so much less than the sum of its parts by the lack of an overarching plan.

            I have to disagree with @john Schilling though, that it goes off the rails in season 2, or any other season. the trouble is that it was never on the rails to begin with, so when you look back on it it all feels incredibly hollow because you know none of it is going anywhere interesting. It’s like kayfabe fails, or something.

          • LHN says:

            The earlier seasons still have good things that don’t depend on the Cylons’ “plan”. Like the sophisticated contemplation of what political power is, where it comes from, and how it’s gained and lost in the ever-shifting balance between Adama, Roslin, Lee, and Tigh.

            (On the other hand, something is lost from, e.g., “33” as it becomes clear that there’s never going to be any rhyme or reason to the timed cycle of attacks in that episode, which will not be repeated or referenced again.)

          • Zarathruster says:

            The earlier seasons still have good things that don’t depend on the Cylons’ “plan”. Like the sophisticated contemplation of what political power is, where it comes from, and how it’s gained and lost in the ever-shifting balance between Adama, Roslin, Lee, and Tigh.

            Yes, not to mention the whole Pegasus arc, which is wonderfully tense and entirely believable.

          • cassander says:

            The earlier seasons still have good things that don’t depend on the Cylons’ “plan”. Like the sophisticated contemplation of what political power is, where it comes from, and how it’s gained and lost in the ever-shifting balance between Adama, Roslin, Lee, and Tigh.

            Yes, not to mention the whole Pegasus arc, which is wonderfully tense and entirely believable.

            Yes, not to mention the whole Pegasus arc, which is wonderfully tense and entirely believable.

            There’s that level of stuff all the way through. The mutiny/civil war arc in the last season is also fantastic. Each part of the show taken in isolation is very good. it just adds up to way less than the sum of its parts because it never goes anywhere. I find it fascinating.

    • Deiseach says:

      Marshayne, that is very naughty of you, you know the fuss The Iron Dream caused back in the day!

    • Anon. says:

      Check out Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, it’s a sci-fi-ish alternate history set in the late 19th/early 20th century, and focuses on the scientific advancements of the time (as well as swashbuckling adventures across the world). A bit long, but definitely worth it.

      • Nick says:

        If he’s looking for sci-fi-ish alternate history that focuses on the scientific advancements of the time and swashbuckling adventures, Stephenson’s own Baroque Cycle is a good candidate too. If one doesn’t mind reading a 2600 page novel, that is.

        (I enjoyed the first two books more than I did the third, but maybe that’s just my general frustration with his endings.)

    • Nornagest says:

      Don’t be a jerk.

  2. Well... says:

    Most house-buying sites show you scores for the public schools nearest each listing. Are there any sites where these scores are shown all together on a map or in some other helpful way?

    In other words, if I want to find a house to buy based on how good the local schools are, and not have to poke and guess by clicking on each listing and checking its school scores, what website should I use?

    • Montfort says:

      I’m not sure how well this generalizes, but around where I live such data can be found on the county’s public school system website. Local magazines and newspapers (if any) also often publish some kind of ranking annually. There’s also newsweek’s nationwide ranking (though I have some issues with their ranking algorithm, and predictably magnet schools fill up a lot of the top end). I don’t know of anywhere that arranges them on a map. Depending on local conditions, you may also want to check with some locals about how school districts are arranged – they are usually not Voronoi polygons.

      The Bush Institute came pretty close to providing a useful tool, but I think you’d have to end up downloading their raw data, since they want to compare school districts with foreign countries and the national average, not nearby districts.

    • nelshoy says:

      How much does going to a good public school matter? Aren’t school rankings based off the quality of students more than teachers/institutions? I went to a not-very-good high school but it still offered APs where you’re placed with other smart serious students. It’s easier to get a high class rank, and I think colleges are now aiming for taking more cream off the relatively worse-performing schools for diversity reasons.

      • nydwracu says:

        Yes, school rankings are based on the quality of the students. This is precisely why it’s important to check them — even if you don’t have kids and aren’t planning to.

      • Well... says:

        Good nearby school scores…

        – Make my wife feel better.
        – Are a reasonably good proxy for the quality of neighborhoods.
        – Are a reasonably not bad proxy for whether a home I buy will retain its value.

        No, I don’t personally care that much about school scores on their face. All the schools I attended as a kid are now scored 2 or 3, and probably would have been 4 or 5 at the most had this ranking system and real estate websites existed back then, and I think those schools were fine. Kids are too coddled these days, most of their meaningful education will come from their home life and peers, long-term outcomes have very little to do causally with formal primary education, etc. But, see above.

    • LCL says:

      Schooldigger is pretty good in my state. The ranks are 100% based on percent of students scoring proficient or higher on statewide exams. You’ll care about more than that but it can serve to eliminate some with a lot of non-proficient-scoring students.

      Niche
      has some info on AP/IB classes and average SAT/ACT scores, though I can’t figure out where those are sourced from originally (may be survey based)

      • Registered says:

        Citydata.com has school data. Pick a city, look at schools tab, click a school, handy map shows up along with student demographics. Then you use school location to pick a good place to live. Personal experience.

      • Well... says:

        Schooldigger was helpful, thanks.

    • Brad says:

      Trulia’s map has this feature. Only some schools have catchment areas outlined for some reason, but any can be hovered over to find the score.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Greatschools.com is what gets cited by the citydata.com NJ forum a lot; they have a map view.

  3. Furslid says:

    The FIRE mistake was easy to make. Often times single cause organizations appear to be picking sides when their cause gets pulled into a dispute.

    FIRE cares about free speech in academia, and the current climate is that right-wing speech is being suppressed more than left-wing or centrist speech. Either a right-wing or a neutral organization would defend right-wing speech. Also, rightists caring about their speech would rally to the support of whoever was defending them and leftists would attack whoever was helping the right.

    We see the same phenomenon on the Christian right with organizations that fight for religious freedom. The most common religion favored by the government is some stripe of Christianity. So Christians view support for religious freedom as anti-Christian, and many atheists who would suppress Christianity given the chance support religious freedom organizations.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      We see the same phenomenon on the Christian right with organizations that fight for religious freedom. The most common religion favored by the government is some stripe of Christianity. So Christians view support for religious freedom as anti-Christian, and many atheists who would suppress Christianity given the chance support religious freedom organizations.

      Maybe all this was the case in 1990, but not nowadays.

      • Murphy says:

        With a quick search of conservapedia and I can’t find any ACLU-like organization that fights to maintain separation of church and state that they have failed to classify as “left wing”.

        The only “religious freedom” organisations they seem to like are the sort of ones which campaign for their freedom to rename the US to the United States Of Jesus.

        • herbert herberson says:

          Religious freedom is currently a serious preoccupation of the religious right. They’re seeking to beef up RFRA and its state equivelents. Guys like Rod Dreher write about it constantly.

          • Brad says:

            It depends on what you mean by religious freedom. There’s the establishment clause and there’s the free exercise clause. Most organizations on the right fight for a broad interpretation of the free exercise clause and a narrow interpretation of the establishment clause.

        • rlms says:

          Last time I checked, Conservapedia classed Einstein’s theory of relativity as left-wing lies. I don’t think they are representative of anything. My impression (as a non-American) is that the religious right now cares about freedom of religion in the sense of freedom from gay marriage, but still tries to mix church and state frequently enough to dislike people pushing it in those cases. I think that (even accounting for bias induced by the interminable SSC comments about Brendan Eich) the former is probably bigger nowadays.

          • Last time I checked, Conservapedia classed Einstein’s theory of relativity as left-wing lies.

            That got my curious, so I checked. I can’t speak to the last time you checked, but the current article says nothing of the sort.

          • That got me curious, so I checked. I can’t speak to the last time you checked, but the current article says nothing of the sort.

            My understanding was that Conservapedia was severely discredited from the outset by trolls posting ever more extremist stuff. It is obvious that some effort has been made to clean up and police the site since I last saw it.

            Not to say that it succeeds at being fair or unbiased. I note that the opening paragraph of the article about “Bias in Wikipedia” (linked directly from the main page) cites a Wikipedia reference to Donald Trump, in his sister’s article, as “loan shark and liar”. I looked it up: it was the act of some anon vandal, and was quickly reverted as vandalism.

            (Note: the Conservapedia reference to this event, in the brief first paragraph of a highly featured article, has been there since last December.)

            The fact that open wikis are subject to drive-by trolling has been widely remarked. But it sure doesn’t help make a case that Wikipedia has such deep systematic bias that an alternative one had to be created.

          • rlms says:

            @David Friedman
            See the article “Counterexamples to Relativity“.

          • Luke Somers says:

            > Last time I checked, Conservapedia classed Einstein’s theory of relativity as left-wing lies.

            Still the case.

          • @Luke and rlms:

            I was checking the article on Einstein, which is reasonably respectful.

            I think “classed as left-wing lies” is an overstatement, but the article rlms pointed to does claim that the theory is false and is popular with liberals for reasons unrelated to its truth. On the other hand, it has a link at the bottom to a second article rebutting its claims in great detail.

            So the claim that “Conservapedia classed Einstein’s theory of relativity as left-wing lies” is false, at least as of the current version.

            A correct statement would be “one article on Conservapedia offers a long list of arguments against relativity and claims it is popular with liberals for reasons unrelated to its truth, another rebuts those arguments.”

          • Chalid says:

            @David Friedman

            So the claim that “Conservapedia classed Einstein’s theory of relativity as left-wing lies” is false, at least as of the current version.
            A correct statement would be “one article on Conservapedia offers a long list of arguments against relativity and claims it is popular with liberals for reasons unrelated to its truth, another rebuts those arguments.”

            This is not a correct statement, as the rebuttal is classed as an “essay” not an article.

            I’m not really familiar with Conservapedia culture, but on Wikipedia, “articles” aspire to represent the consensus of the community and the editors who work on the topic, while “essays” are simply things written by one or more users that do not speak for the community (and indeed may be only the opinion of one person). A minute of digging suggests a similar structure on Conservapedia; in particular the page on essays says (“if you write an essay, please attribute it to yourself”).

            The relativity article’s talk page suggests that a founder of Conservapedia is dedicated to keeping the page up, and most commenters are opposed, but the founder is the one who is in control of the content, and there are a significant number of commenters who respect his right to editorial control.

            So I expect that rlms is more correct than you are here.

          • Aapje says:

            @Chalid

            on Wikipedia, “articles” aspire to represent the consensus of the community and the editors who work on the topic, while “essays” are simply things written by one or more users that do not speak for the community (and indeed may be only the opinion of one person).

            Your statement is highly deceptive, as Wikipedia essays are merely about how the encyclopedia should be run. The only allowed topic is the Wiki rules themselves. Wiki doesn’t allow essays that describe how one person feels about Einstein’s theory of relativity.

          • Chalid says:

            @Aapje

            It’s been a long time since I did any Wikipedia editing but I think an essay about an editor’s dissatisfaction with in a particular Wikpedia page, analogous to the Conservapedia essay, would be allowed? (Perhaps you might need to make it explicit that you were using the shortcomings of the page to illustrate some broader problem with Wikipedia policy.)

            Anyway, the key point is that an essay is not an article, and that appears to be true on Conservapedia as well.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          The ACLU also thinks the 2nd amendment was a typo. Their version of religious freedom is to ban Christians from government.

          • Aapje says:

            That’s not true, they choose not to take 2nd amendment cases because there are organisations that are focused on just that issue.

          • rlms says:

            It seems odd that they’d advocate for someone whose guns had been illegally seized then. And if they are trying to ban Christians from government, they must be spectacularly ineffective.

          • keranih says:

            @ shenanigans24

            While I think the ACLU’s defense of 2A rights is incredibly weak, and it’s excuse of “oh, there are other people doing that already” even worse, I think that you’re over stating the matter a hair.

            Where I do find the ACLU much worse is in its support of attacks on Catholic hospitals –
            here for delaying aborting dead babies until the baby is actually dead, and here for failing to perform an elective surgical transgender procedure.

            On the culture war side, the ACLU is definitely on the liberal side, not neutral. I can see where some would see that as a feature, not a bug, but I ask that they at least consider why I don’t agree.

          • Jiro says:

            ACLU”s position on the 2nd Amendment

            The ACLU thinks there is no individual right to own guns.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @rlms

            Actually, yes, it is VERY odd. As the article itself points out, this is literally the first time in its 90 year history that the ACLU has actively fought to protect gun rights. I would add to this that it is only the second (to my knowledge) state level ACLU office to buck the national leadership’s stance on this issue, the first being the Nevada ACLU in 2008: https://lasvegassun.com/news/2008/jul/11/only-nevada-aclu-opposes-gun-control

            The policy of the national organization is as Jiro has stated, and they have furthermore gone so far as to issue press releases stating Heller was wrongly decided, rather than simply keeping silent because “there are other groups that advocate for gun rights”.

            So the correct takeaway from the article is not “The ACLU supports gun rights” but “post-Heller, a policy split has emerged between the ACLU’s National leadership and two of its state branches”.

            To be fair to the ACLU, there have been some peripheral cases where the ACLU has ended up on the same side as gun rights advocates, specifically mass data collection (because the ACLU opposes mass data collection in general) and the proposed SSA rule change that would’ve greatly increased the number of people barred by NICS from purchasing firearms (because it would represent unfair discrimination of and stereotyping of the mentally ill), but again, they’ve made it clear in their writing that this does NOT mean they endorse the right to keep and bear arms.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Jiro, Trofim_Lysenko — I lost a lot of my respect for the ACLU when that came out. I can respect “we don’t want to take a stand on that”, I can respect “there are others working on that, we want to focus on another policy area”. But in this context, deciding on a collective-rights interpretation of 2A as a matter of policy does a heck of a lot to justify the common conservative take on the ACLU as a progressive advocacy org in civil rights clothes.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Not even in the 90s. The case which sparked the RFRA was about Native Americans being fired for using peyote. There’s nothing in that case that would concern the Christian right besides the abstract principle of religious freedom itself, and they still rallied hard behind it.

        • herbert herberson says:

          This doesn’t detract at all from your actual point, but it’s a hobby-horse of mine: There was a lot of concern over whether RFRA would actually protect the Native American Church (after all, RFRA just reinstated the Sherbert v. Verner religious freedom framework, but even when Sherbert was unabrogated good law, there was still enough question as to whether it would protect sacramental peyote use to get to the Supreme Court in the first place). Instead, Native use of peyote was fully protected by an amendment to AIFRA a couple years after that, and the supportive coalition for that was leaner and more-left-leaning than the main RFRA coalition (which, in turn was reluctant to embrace the NAC in their own fight).

        • Not even in the 90s. The case which sparked the RFRA was about Native Americans being fired for using peyote. There’s nothing in that case that would concern the Christian right besides the abstract principle of religious freedom itself, and they still rallied hard behind it.

          That case (Employment Division v. Smith) was understood right away as a precedent for limiting, e.g., religious organizations’ exemption from zoning laws. It generated immediate alarm across the entire religious spectrum.

          This huge coalition hurried to get Congress to pass (almost unanimously) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to instruct the Supreme Court how to interpret the First Amendment.

          Predictably, the Supreme Court responded, in City of Boerne v. Flores, that Congress didn’t have that authority.

          • LHN says:

            Though RFRA is still effective with respect to federal law (unless Congress explicitly exempts a statute, which it can), it just was found not to apply to the states.

            That led to state level RFRAs (or in some cases state court decisions with the same effect), which were relatively uncontroversial until recent years.

    • Marshayne Lonehand says:

      Furslid asserts [without evidence]:”The current climate is that right-wing speech is being suppressed more than left-wing or centrist speech”

      With the help of Google Books, Amazon, and GoodReads, it was simple to verify that a paradigmatically alt.Boeotian right-wing screed, The Turner Diaries (1978) — by white nationalist and political activist William Luther Pierce writing under the pseudonym “Andrew MacDonald” — is freely available in public libraries, university libraries, and bookstores throughout the region where I live.

      Yes, there’s a Kindle edition of The Turner Diaries, and its overall Amazon sales rank is a respectable #11,240, with more than 500,000 copies sold to date.

      It’s true that the overwhelming majority of GoodReads reviews condemn The Turner Diaries, but does widespread condemnation equate to suppression?

      Might it be the case, that at least some seminally alt.Boeotian texts, are sufficiently violent and inhumane, as to merit near-universal condemnation, without however meriting outright suppression?

      What proportion of SSC readers have read The Turner Diaries? … and what proportion of SSC readers are at least partially sympathetic to the nationalistic doctrines of The Turner Diaries (which maximally extend “Muggle Realism”)? … and (most interesting question of all, as it seems to me) how many SSC readers have read the celebrated SF predecessor to The Turner Diaries, namely Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972)?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Wait, you do know The Iron Dream was a work of satire, right?

        • Marshayne Lonehand says:

          Spinrad was himself dismayed to discover that not all of his readers appreciated that The Iron Dream was satire — it fell to the white-nationalist William Pierce to demonstrate that a large population of readers unequivocally desired that The Iron Dream become genocidal reality.

          Ursula LeGuin’s scholarly essay “On Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream” (Journal of Science Fiction Studies, 1973) provides background.

          We are forced, in so far as we can continue to read the book seriously, to think […] about ourselves: our moral assumptions, our ideas of heroism, our desires to, lead or to be led, our righteous wars.

          What Spinrad is trying to tell us is that it [The Iron Dream’s dystopia] is happening here.

          How right she was, eh?

          To judge by Amazon sales rank, even today the literally genocidal Turner Diaries (#11,301 in “Books”) overwhelmingly outsells the satirically genocidal Iron Dream (#885,786 in “Books”). Yikes.

          Whence this dismaying (to me at least) reading-disparity, the world wonders?

        • Jiro says:

          I read it as satire, but with a different interpretation than what Spinrad intended.

          I read The Iron Dream as a commentary on author tracts. It’s easy to “prove” any idea you want by writing a book where your idea miraculously works.

          Having Hitler write the author tract seemed like a transparent commentary on how this practice doesn’t really prove anything at all, and any idiot can write a book where things work by author fiat.

          Sadly, I later learned that Spinrad’s intent was more like “militaristic sci-fi is fascist”. Not only was he not saying that you can’t prove something by writing a book about it, he himself was trying to prove an idea by writing a book about it.

          • Marshayne Lonehand says:

            Jiro discovers: “It’s easy to ‘prove’ any idea you want by writing a book where your idea miraculously works.”

            Well, that tore it!

            The spirits of Spinoza, Jefferson and Paine were devastated to learn of this startling insight (via Ouija board) … the NIH, NSF, and EPA have been shuttered forever … and the Library of Congress has been repurposed as the “Casino of Congress“! 🙂

          • random832 says:

            Sadly, I later learned that Spinrad’s intent was more like “militaristic sci-fi is fascist”. Not only was he not saying that you can’t prove something by writing a book about it, he himself was trying to prove an idea by writing a book about it.

            Er, it sounds to me like “militaristic sci-fi is fascist” is just a sloppy summary of something more like “some largish subset of militaristic sci-fi is, in particular, a series of such attempts to prove fascism right by writing books about it”

            I.e. it’s satire of exactly the type you read it as, but you’re uncomfortable with the idea that the stated target of the satire is guilty of the thing it is being satirized for.

          • Jiro says:

            I was thinking more of cases like Looking Backward, where the author believes in socialism and decides to show his future utopia being run by socialist principles. It seemed like an intentional attempt to trick people into generalizing from fictional evidence when, because it’s fiction, Bellamy could just ignore or explain away all the problems with his utopia.

            And no, I don’t think Spinrad was actually talking about fictional evidence or author tracts at all. People don’t sit down and say “how do I convince someone of fascism” and write a space opera. They do do this for utopian novels (or if you want a right-wing example, Ayn Rand).

          • when, because it’s fiction, Bellamy could just ignore or explain away all the problems with his utopia.

            This has long been part of my standard response to people who ask me why, if I am going to write fiction, I don’t make it a defense of libertarian or anarcho-capitalist views. It’s too easy to cheat.

      • crc128 says:

        Your post confuses me.

        You start off by pointing out that Furslid didn’t provide any evidence that conservative speech is currently under greater attack (at least in Academia, which since this is about FIRE, would be the relevant venue). Ok, admitted. He didn’t provide any evidence.

        Here is some evidence.

        You then seemingly non-sequitur into a discussion of one specific far-right book, which has not been censored or banned. Ok, so that specific book hasn’t been banned. So what? Also, an Amazon Sales Rank of ~11k translates to about 315 sales per month, hardly a huge audience.

        I’m also not understanding why you bring Greece into the discussion, since a google search for alt.Boeotian, or Boeotian more generally, only seems to refer to the Greek province of Boeotia.

        • Brad says:

          He’s a banned poster (under the name John Sidles) that continually evades his ban by registering new accounts. Best not to feed the troll.

        • Marshayne Lonehand says:

          crc128 characterizes The Turner Diaries as “one specific far-right book.”

          Strictly on the evidence, isn’t it more fair to characterize The Turner Diaries as “one paradigmatic far-right book“?

          Specifically, The Turner Diaries is a paradigmatically hateful and violent alt.work, that entirely contrary to generic claims of SJ-suppression by the SSC’s alt.commenters, is nowhere banned or suppressed. Isn’t this a fair summary?

          I was first exposed to The Turner Diaries in the 1970s, via the nationalist publication Attack! — a newsletter widely read in my rural county. There was in the entire county one remaining black family, and one remaining jewish family … all that remained after a Klan-conducted campaign of ethnic cleansing back in the 1920s and 1930s.

          Left behind were inexplicable pairs of drinking fountains outside the courthouse and empty balconies in the movie theater and in the older churches. As a child it never occurred to me to ask why the balcony seats were never occupied.

          Left behind too, in my rural county, was an immensely destructive culture of willful ignorance … in which even the reading of books was deprecated (the purpose being to sustain alt.denialism).

          Sad to say, this rural county’s thoroughgoing embrace of cultural and racial alt.homogeneity, alt.ignorance, and alt.intolerance, has not notably protected its families against the spiraling scourges of underemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, hopelessness, mental illness, and suicide.

          How is it, that the SSC’s alt.commenters are so markedly — even willfully — ignorant of their ideology’s grotesquely violent, socially harmful, and morally shameful history? The world wonders.

        • Nornagest says:

          If you’re really curious about the Boeotian thing, the explanation is in this thread. But however interesting you think it’ll be, I promise you it’ll be less interesting than that.

        • nydwracu says:

          Boeotia is an eastern region of Greece. Scott might have banned a certain term that begins with alt-.

          The largest city in Boeotia is Thebes, which is known for its *Jack Donovan voice* ancient gay army

          (*Pim Fortuyn voice* gay army)

          (did you know that Pink Pistols is a thing? I’m signing up as soon as I get around to it)

        • random832 says:

          I’m also not understanding why you bring Greece into the discussion, since a google search for alt.Boeotian, or Boeotian more generally, only seems to refer to the Greek province of Boeotia.

          Say what you will about Sidles, but the second dictionary definition of “Boeotian” is “(adj) dull; obtuse; without cultural refinement.”, and the fourth (second noun) is “a dull, obtuse person; Philistine.” Dictionary.com was the second google result, though these definitions do not appear in the summary text. Google results #4 and #5 (yourdictionary.com and infoplease.com) do include this meaning in the summary text.

  4. I’ve been working on a few philosophical ideas around the theme of:

    How Can Humanity Survive a Technological Singularity

    My thoughts revolve around the idea that each generation of AI improvements, as well as Transhumanists and Ems, might face a similar challenge as regular humans, in that we all face a rising and accelerating tide of obsolescence that we can’t outrun because in all these cases our architectures fundamentally limit the improvements we can make to ourselves, at least in comparison to a from-scratch AI-rewrite with a fundamentally new core. However, this places all entities in the same boat and means we need to master the same basic model of survival in all cases. Obviously condensing the article into a paragraph is hard so if you’re interested in the Singularity I’ll let you have a read for yourself.

    Constructive comments welcome. My old Less Wrong account is inaccessible (no longer have email either), so if anyone in the LW community thinks this is worthy I’d appreciate a link or repost with credit on there. Same applies to anyone from the AI-risk community, who is my target audience for this article.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I have no constructive comments to suggest, but rather a destructive one: I’d be interested in reading your take on something like, “Why the Technological Singularity is likely to happen”. I don’t think it makes sense to worry about surviving events whose probability is close to epsilon, and this is what the Singularity sounds like to me.

      FWIW, this article by Kevin Kelly articulates some of my objections much better than I could (although I don’t agree 100% with everything he says). That said though, I apologize if this is something you’re not interested in discussing.

      • Well I in the article that opinion on it is mixed. Obviously significant voices do treat AI-risk from superintelligence seriously, and a smaller but still significant group take a Singularity or something like it as possible.I don’t presume to be so certain either way, but I would say is that it can additionally be a useful thought experiment to consider as it emphasizes real processes we know are actually going on today for more specific consideration. In any case I felt I had some potentially useful things to say on AI-risk and the Singularity was the scenario that provided the best way to do so. I don’t think I have anything new to say on whether a Singularity could be a thing, so I planned to leave that to others to debate. It’s a fair question to raise.

      • Just in case you haven’t already seen it, I would briefly point out Scott’s article showing that prominent AI-experts, and not just general sciency voices like Martin Rees and Stephen Hawking, think superintelligence is a thing a presents real risks. I personally feel in your article the “expand without limits” thing is probably unlikely, but I think it’s plausible that the limit might be high enough to have a similar effect from a human perspective.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I think the strongest point in the article (or, at least, the one I most agree with) is point #5: there are some problems no one, not even an AI, can just think its way out of. For example, if you want to discover the Higgs Boson, you need to build a supercollider — a real one, not a simulated one, because if you could simulate it you wouldn’t need to discover it. From what’ve seen, all of the pro-Singularity AI-experts usually ignore this point, since this is the only reasonable way to get nearly instantaneous exponential growth.

          Furthermore, I am not convinced that some of the feats attributed to superintelligent AI — such as nanotechnology, or nigh-omnisicence, or total mind control through text alone — are even physically possible (again, I have not seen a good defence of these points). And without such feats, the AI is doomed to remain only very intelligent, not godlike.

          I am not sure if I agree with Kevin Kelly regarding different dimensions of intelligence, but I do agree with him that extrapolating a curve and assuming that it can go on forever is rather naive — regardless of whether you’re extrapolating intelligence or your e.g. own height.

          I absolutely agree with some of the experts Scott quoted that AI can be extremely dangerous; but then, so can nuclear fission, or fossil fuels, or chemistry, or even orbital launches. AI is dangerous in the exact same way. This is not great news, but it’s also not some sort of a brand new category of threat that demands emergency response. It’s just another step in our technological achievement, and we should treat it the same way.

      • Murphy says:

        Honestly that entire post is waffle.

        Lets run through the “assumptions” he things are required.

        Artificial intelligence is already getting smarter than us, at an exponential rate.

        The capability of AI doesn’t need to be “exponential”. Any movement at all means you’ll eventually go somewhere.

        We’ll make AIs into a general purpose intelligence, like our own.

        Once it’s possible to make smart AI’s of course nobody, anywhere ever in the billions of humans on the planet will ever consider even trying. No siree.
        Oh wait, the criticism is worse than that, it’s the standard waffle that everything is probably sort of equal.

        What matters if effective intelligence: it’s all well and good, even remarkable if you have a brain which can track every krill in your cone of vision but that’s not going to save you from an intelligence which can build a harpoon gun but can’t track every krill in it’s cone of vision.

        We can make human intelligence in silicon.

        “Well AI isn’t even possible anyway!! So there!”

        why would it need to be a “human” one? any form of intelligence that’s capable and inventive would suffice.

        But mostly he just makes bad statements on the unfounded assumption that the human brain is some kind of an engineering ideal that is maximally efficient and doing what it does in any other media could only ever possibly be slower and less efficient.

        Oh and it’s impossible to build AI’s because humans have nerves in their guts.

        Intelligence can be expanded without limit.

        Again, not a required assumption in any way shape or form.

        imagine if there was a solid limit that was merely a couple of orders of magnitude above Steven Hawking. Something which would view a humans most cunning plan like we would view the most cunning plan of a dog.

        On a related note, since there’s a finite maximum possible temperature I wonder if he’ll use that to argue that atomic weapons are impossible because they’re claimed to be hotter than normal bombs and as we know temperature cannot be infinite!

        Gotta love the “reasoning”

        It stands to reason that reason itself is finite, and not infinite.

        Once we have exploding superintelligence it can solve most of our problems.

        I’d call this a “hope” more than a required assumption but I’ll give him this. Some problems could remain quite intractable.

        It goes into great depth about the wonders of different kinds of thinking but never bothers to wonder whether there’s a type of thinking that could be labelled “skill at enhancing yourself or creating agents or functions good at solving novel cognitive problems”

        He rails against the label “superhuman” while ignoring what you might call something which might exceed humans on every axis.

        indeed he makes the utterly unsupported concrete claim that such a thing is definitely impossible

        “but no one entity will do all we do better”

        Rating: 1 star, first year philosoph-student level of self assuredness and conviction. unfortunately it’s also first year philosoph-student level on every other axis as well.

        • I think you phrase it fairly harshly but your criticisms of Kevin Kelly’s article are fairly true to the mark. I was trying to figure out the author’s background, and found a similar looking Kevin Kelly that’s Executive Editor of Wired magazine, but I’m not sure if it’s the same guy or not?

      • Soeren E says:

        If anyone is interested in further discussion of this article, come join in the discussion of this article in the AI Safety Reading Group Wednesday at 20:45 CEST.

        More details at:
        https://www.facebook.com/groups/AISafetyAarhus/permalink/450699261945928/

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, there has to be a conflict between upgrading to the next level of intelligence, and the control problem that that obviously entails. The last thing a paper clip maximiser would want to do is increase his intelligence and leave his goals in the hands of a fundamentally unpredictable entity.

      I think the reason why we have a trouble at the moment is that (1) we only have very vague or shortsighted goals (2) the human colossus itself is (currently) entirely unintelligent.

      Which is a good thing, in the sense that if we could just build one superhuman AI that was kind of friendly, chances are good it won’t evolve itself into some horrible life-eater. Progress stops with the first superhuman intelligence.

  5. AntagonisticPleiotropy says:

    I’m happy to host a meet up in SOMA/downtown SF.

  6. BBA says:

    Has anyone else listened to the podcast S-Town? (I know, it’s two months old, slowpoke.jpg, etc.) There are more than a few people I’ve met on the internet, here and elsewhere, that remind me of the central character. I see some of myself in him, as well, which scares me a little.

    Keeping this spoiler-free for now: I thought the “twist” at the end of chapter 2 was shocking but not surprising.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I have already listened to S-town (which is great) but as someone who really hates being spoiled, being informed both that there is a twist and when it comes is itself a spoiler.

    • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

      My take:
      Serial: We tried to make a podcast about this guy who was wrongfully convicted of murder, but it turns out he really did do it.
      S-Town: We tried to make a podcast about a murder that was coverered up but it turns out there was never a murder.

      • Philosophisticat says:

        Whatever the original intention, S-town morphed into something much better than a small town murder mystery. This is a very shallow take.

        It’s like describing Hoop Dreams as “we followed two promising basketball players but neither of them became famous”.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I don’t listen to podcasts but I did read the transcript of this one. (I wish more podcasts would provide transcripts.) An enthralling read.

      None of the twists were surprising, but all were sad and unfortunate. (Which makes sense, given that this is real life we’re talking about.)

  7. batmanaod says:

    Is the version of Prescriptions, Paradoxes, and Perversities you’re sharing at the conference more…doctor-friendly? I was tempted to share it with my doctor, but decided not to lest he dismiss it out of hand for appearing overly critical of the profession in general.

  8. vollinian says:

    Man, I want seventy seven Holy Bibles’ worth of Unsong *whimpers*

    (And maybe a movie franchise, or a damn good HBO series)

  9. Douglas Knight says:

    You “correct” an “error” just on their word? Are you going to issue a correction that Fox News is actually “fair and balanced”?

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      Ken at Popehat has always had good things to say about FIRE, and he’s not exactly conservative.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        It is pretty damning that you suggest Ken’s praise is purely political.

        • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

          Sorry, but I don’t understand what you mean by that. My point was that Ken’s praise of FIRE was unlikely to be political.

    • Chris Hibbert says:

      Perhaps he took their request for a correction to actually check out their site and agreed with the request? I’ve been reading about FIRE for years in libertarian media like Reason. They fight for free speech in academia, and are as non-partisan as the ACLU used to be. The correction is correct.

      • rlms says:

        Perhaps you think they are non-partisan because you generally agree with them. Why do you think the ACLU are non-partisan?

        • rlms says:

          *ACLU are partisan

          • What Chris wrote was:

            and are as non-partisan as the ACLU used to be.

            That not only is consistent with your

            *ACLU are partisan

            it clearly suggests it.

            But looking at your second comment, I’m now wondering if it is intended to correct a typo in the first and you were asking why Chris thinks the ACLU is partisan.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman:

            Huh? The thread of the conversation here seems pretty clear to me, but your post doesn’t fit at all.

            Chris Hibbert: “FIRE are actually non-partisan, like the ACLU used to be (implication: … but no longer are)”.
            rlms: “What is the basis for your claim that the ACLU have become partisan?”
            David Friedman: “rlms, you are misreading Chris Hibbert.”

            One of us is misreading the situation. Can you clarify?

            Edit: Never mind, you have clarified in an edit. I am pretty sure the typo-correction reading is the correct one; starting a correction with an asterisk is a common idiom.

          • rlms says:

            Yes, Iain is right that I was correcting a typo. Chris thinks the ACLU were non-partisan and are no longer. I think they have stayed that way, and indented to ask why he differed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think they have stayed that way, and indented to ask why he differed.

            Is it ironic to have a typo in a post explaining a previous typo?

            Although, I suppose it’s possible that the indentation was swallowed by HTML formatting.

            ;-P

          • Chris Hibbert says:

            It doesn’t appear that I can comment deeper in the tree than this, so let me mention that I’ve read the comments in this thread up to the time that I write here.

            I’d be happy to be corrected about the following, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert.

            My impression is that early in its history, free speech was a major focus of the ACLU, and they were fairly absolutist on the subject. They were willing to and did go out of their way to defend people they disagreed with in order to establish the point that the government shouldn’t restrict people’s right to speak (under reasonable limits like imminent violence, etc.)

            I think more recently, the ACLU’s membership has grown, and doesn’t support this mission as strongly. The ACLU’s focus has changed so this isn’t a central part of what they do any more. They focus more on areas where they have broad support from their liberal constituency, so they don’t spend as much time here. I haven’t read recently about the ACLU going out on a limb to protect the speech of people the left reviles.

            If I’ve missed something, I’ll be happy to revise my opinion.

          • rlms says:

            @Chris Hibbert
            What timeframe are you thinking of? They supported the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to picket veterans’ funerals in 2006, and supported Citizens United in 2010.

          • Chris Hibbert says:

            @rims,

            Those are good solid examples. I’ll revise my opinion. Thanks.

  10. onyomi says:

    I largely agree with this post by Freddie deBoer which basically argues that big franchise movies nowadays feel kind of hollow in no small part because they have to avoid any themes which are not child-friendly (I might add, “which are not going to offend any large group of people on political, religious, cultural, etc. grounds”).

    I have a lot of different feelings about how we got to this point, from my usual denunciations of copyright (incentivizes fewer, big-budget, low-risk productions rather than more, varied, lower-budget, higher-risk productions), to the general move toward “childishness” in the culture (contrast any movie or rock star from the 60s or 70s with today’s–and I say this as a 30-something who watches My Little Pony, so definitely living in a glass house here), which includes elimination of “adult” spaces and events (maybe now that fewer people have grandma or the housekeeper to watch the kids, the notion of taking kids with you everywhere has become more unavoidable/accepted/mainstream… in fact, I’m pretty sure many parents nowadays take their kids to the movie theatre so that they can take a nap), but I don’t want to go on too long with my opinions. More interested in what others have to say about whether this is true, why it’s happening, whether it can be improved upon, etc.

    • neaanopri says:

      Good article and I’m glad that this criticism is becoming part of general discourse. It’ll frustrating watching the climax of another marvel movie with nobody fucking dying!

      It would be nice if the institutional incentives lined up better. Compare Iron Giant to The Avengers. Both are “kids movies” in the level of maturity they expect from the audience, but Iron Giant has a vastly superior plot arc. It’s tragic and I cried and won’t ever forget that moment when I realized, “oh, the only way to stop the missile is for the Iron Giant to…”. I’m looking forward to watching my kids watch that movie.

      But guess what? Iron Giant bombed at the box office. It was expensive to make and didn’t get the ad budget it needed to recoup all the loving animation work, while The Avengers made over a billion dollars.

      I really despair about what would happen to the movie industry without the Oscars. Would the “Oscar Bait” movies ever get any exposure at all, or would it just be the festival circuit and art house movie theaters? I suppose if the Oscars didn’t exist, it would be necessary to create them, but since the Oscars drive movie production, we could try to influence what kinds of movies get made with Oscar categories.

      Maybe a “Best Tragedy” category would encourage Iron Giants over Avengers (although maybe the Oscar slot would be a bunch of Manchester by the Sea clones). Or perhaps go for broke and have a “best children’s movie” category? The metagaming might be constructive and shift what’s produced so that’s there’s less of the “unsatisfying action movie for people who don’t speak English really well, maybe because they’re ten” clogging the screens.

      • kusterdu says:

        Speaking of not speaking English really well, I’ve read that one of the reasons movies feel hollow these days is that largely made to be marketed to overseas audiences, so studios produce action-packed movies with simple stories that are easy to follow.

        I remember Red Letter Media said the Star Wars prequels are “visually exhausting,” and that’s I feel about Marvel and other blockbuster movies. Rather than finding them exciting, I just find them annoying.

        • onyomi says:

          I think part of this is because the action is so bad.

          Most action in most action films produced today literally makes me want to go to sleep. I’ve discussed why I think this is before, but it includes factors like preferring to hire big stars and “teach” them to fight rather than hiring action stars, preferring to fill everything in with CG in post-production, which means having actors film a bunch of generic actiony stuff rather than a tightly choreographed, plausible-feeling sequence of events (it is apparently much cheaper to have zillions of people “fix” the movie on computers than to have the big actors on fancy sets do a million takes).

          And yes, I do think the catering to international audiences has been a big problem. Unfortunately, China is a big part of this problem and has a tendency to prefer to make everything a giant, hollow-feeling epic themselves (Great Wall, etc.).

          What I have yet to understand is why enough people seem to be entertained by this yawn-inducing, interchangeable “action” stuff that they keep making money on it.

          • acrimonymous says:

            What I have yet to understand is why enough people seem to be entertained by this yawn-inducing, interchangeable “action” stuff that they keep making money on it.

            Part of the issue is that overseas audiences don’t have a lot to turn to. Most places I’ve been don’t really have readers, amateur musicians, their own high quality cinematic/dramatic traditions, etc. So the question for Hollywood isn’t whether, say, Malays will prefer to stay home and do enriching Malay activities or go to the movies, it’s whether Malays will prefer to watch enriching American movies or Hollywood dreck. Since enriching American movies are mostly culturally inaccessible, the answer is clear.

            Another part of the answer is that the one big threat to drawing people into the theater is piracy. Theaters have started offering a “theater experience”. This includes big comfy chairs but also includes overpowering sound effects and visuals that play better on a large screen. An action sequence that’s cinematically clever and actually engages the viewer emotionally can be enjoyed on a small screen, but an action sequence that has a zillion lasers flying in ever direction really works better on a big screen.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Have you ever watched the Indonesian movie The Raid? I did because it is raved about as one of those action movies that actually focuses on the action. Honestly, I didn’t find it that entertaining. There’s only so variations on punching and kicking before it becomes tiresome. People don’t watch Marvel movies because of their action. They watch them because Marvel has perfected the kind of formula that people want to see in a movie. It’s a pretty good formula but it does get old.

            Personally, I think a good action set piece is made by utilizing it’s location. Some good examples are the first scene in Casino Royale set in Africa, the sandstorm in American Sniper and the otherwise forgettable The Wolverine had a fight on top of a high speed train.

        • Brad says:

          I’ve read similar explanations for why Broadway doesn’t put on serious dramas anymore, just endless musicals — because foreign audiences could’t follow Death of a Salesman or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof but they Cats and Phantom.

        • herbert herberson says:

          Yeah, I think this is a much bigger part of it than anything else.

        • andrewflicker says:

          So, interesting thought: If much of the problem of these sort of sanitized, simplified plots is to make them more accessible to foreign audiences that speak poor English (or none at all, necessitating translation and the potential failures that go along with that)… does better and cheaper voice synthesis and computer-translation help ameliorate this problem over time?

          If Death of Salesman can be smoothly and convincingly translated, down to idiom and intonation, does the foreign “penalty” remain significant? You’d still have the appealing-to-children part, but maybe better computer translation and vocal synthesis still acts as a partial bulwark. *shrugs*

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, it’s not so much about the language (they can dub or sub them after all) it’s about cultural inaccessibility. A movie that explores deep caverns of the Western psyche won’t be engaging to a Chinese audience that has deep caverns of Chinese psyche. Giant robots punching each other, though, is understandable in any culture.

          • ThaadCastle says:

            Andrew –

            I think you would still have the problem of dealing with ‘cultural context’…especially in comedies or certain drama’s.

            It seems like it would be more difficult for a Malaysian or Lithuanian person to understand jokes about the cultural differences between the deep south and New Jersey found in ‘My Cousin Vinnie’ because the jokes depend so heavily on knowing, at least broadly, the stereotypes about the regions in America (the same can be said about dramas like 25th Hour by Spike Lee that rely on some knowledge of New York/post-9/11 america).

            Despite all of America’s dominance in the international media, a Malaysian might not know that grits is a traditionally southern food and that people from New York/New Jersey are stereotypically brash/abrasive…anymore than an American would know that people from Kuala Lumpur are stereotypically (to make a fake stereotype) huge fans of Rambo movies. However, everyone can enjoy huge robots fighting each other or a plucky raccoon fighting aliens.

          • This discussion offers reasons why Hollywood makes movies people don’t like every much. But it does not explain why it does not also make the kind of movies they do like. There is nothing preventing the studios from making one movie that is watched by twenty million foreigners and another and different movie that is watched by five million Americans, if the Americans and foreigners like different sorts of movies.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @DavidFriedman, a limited pool of actors and directors? Though there’re a lot of people who want to be actors/directors, and a lot of old movies were made with lesser-known names, so maybe the more pertinent problem is that modern movies – even the sort Americans like – require a lot more money than before, and studios have limited money and don’t want to waste it on lesser stars?

            This ties into Civilis’s point downthread about how studios want to play it safe, and are willing to make more boring films to do it.

          • andrewflicker says:

            I did try to imply that translation would involve cultural matters, not just pure word-for-word replacement… but I recognize that only goes so far. In great book translations, often jokes/idioms/puns/etc are often “translated” in a way that makes them accessible to the current reader- but that’s a lot harder if you’re hard-coded to the current visuals of a movie.

            What book was it that had movies being re-produced in full CGI for modern audiences as a new artform where the “viewer” was inserted into the film? Something cyberpunk, I think.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            There are tons of small independent films. But we’re talking about the big blockbusters here. If it’s going to be something for mass American appeal, you might as well go for mass Chinese appeal, too, or else you’re leaving several hundred million dollars on the table. None of this is going to end when you can crank out the latest CGI masterpiece and rake in a billion dollars (Star Wars, Marvel, etc).

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            DavidFriedman: This discussion offers reasons why Hollywood makes movies people don’t like every much. But it does not explain why it does not also make the kind of movies they do like. There is nothing preventing the studios from making one movie that is watched by twenty million foreigners and another and different movie that is watched by five million Americans, if the Americans and foreigners like different sorts of movies.

            Evan Þ: a limited pool of actors and directors? Though there’re a lot of people who want to be actors/directors, and a lot of old movies were made with lesser-known names, so maybe the more pertinent problem is that modern movies – even the sort Americans like – require a lot more money than before, and studios have limited money and don’t want to waste it on lesser stars?

            I’d guess the latter is more likely, but even that isn’t quite true.

            There appear to be no shortage of actors and directors and writers, at least in urban centers. In the DC / Baltimore area, for example, I’m constantly around community theater types. Stage performance is extremely robust.

            For that matter, AAA movie production money also appears widespread. Consider how many movies you see filmed in Vancouver, Atlanta, BosWash, and even Austin (thank you, Robert Rodriguez). I could be somewhat wrong on this, however – it may be that there are physical assets in these places, but they’re still all owned by Hollywood studios; I haven’t checked.

            What does appear limited is marketing money, and perhaps most importantly, public attention / theater time. Limited number of weekends every year; a subset are in prime viewing season; Hollywood gets first pick, and even has its studios maneuvering their releases so that their biggest expected draws are competing as little as possible with any others. The rest scavenge smaller theaters and arthouses and time slots that won’t interfere. Consequently, most people don’t hear of them unless they luck out and acquire a cult following.

          • cassander says:

            @DavidFriedman

            This discussion offers reasons why Hollywood makes movies people don’t like every much.

            I’d say what people are complain about is that hollywood makes movies that a lot of people like, but that almost no one loves.

            But it does not explain why it does not also make the kind of movies they do like.

            if we alter that to “love”, then it’s because each of us has particular tastes we really like, but that we don’t share, and we like it when movies tickle those tastes. Take an avengers movie and almost anyone will have pleasant time watching if for two hours, but in order to get like that it has to shear away anything that can potentially put people off, which leaves it pleasantly bland.

            There is nothing preventing the studios from making one movie that is watched by twenty million foreigners and another and different movie that is watched by five million Americans, if the Americans and foreigners like different sorts of movies.

            Each movie costs money to make. the broader your appeal, the more you can make with that movie.

          • Civilis says:

            This discussion offers reasons why Hollywood makes movies people don’t like every much. But it does not explain why it does not also make the kind of movies they do like. There is nothing preventing the studios from making one movie that is watched by twenty million foreigners and another and different movie that is watched by five million Americans, if the Americans and foreigners like different sorts of movies.

            I think one of the only ways American movie studios can get those 20 million foreigners in the seats is by getting 5 million Americans in the seats first, at least for a new and unproven franchise. Popularity sells; an action-adventure blockbuster that makes it big domestically will also make money internationally because of the hype generated here. American studios have an audience for new movies overseas because prior American blockbuster films (and the big name actors that starred in them) have a reputation overseas. There’s a reason the Chinese brought in a big name American actor for their first foray into big budget blockbusters for an international audience. And there’s nothing new about foreign audiences attracted to the hype of Hollywood, as the number of American celebrities with Japanese commercials can attest.

            Brad, down below, helpfully provided a list of the top grossing films by decade with some observations. Looking at it, I had another thought; directors have two ways to strike it big in Hollywood: have your film win a lot of Oscars or have your film set a record at the box office. As Brad’s numbers show, those rarely overlap. If you’re a producer and you have an ambitious director, the way you make both parties happy is aim for the box office records with a blockbuster.

            I also wonder how ‘Hollywood accounting’ shenanigans play into the financing of movies, and if those select for high-budget special effects laden blockbusters over Oscar bait.

          • What does appear limited is marketing money, and perhaps most importantly, public attention / theater time. Limited number of weekends every year; a subset are in prime viewing season; Hollywood gets first pick, and even has its studios maneuvering their releases so that their biggest expected draws are competing as little as possible with any others.

            I don’t think that works.

            Imagine a world with no foreign customers. The same forces you describe would imply that Hollywood would make films that appealed to the largest number of Americans. So if blah films appeal to more Americans than good films, they would make blah films. So the argument requires that the American audience prefers good films over blah films, given the choice, and that is why good films used to be made.

            But if that assumption is made, Hollywood should be making good films for the American market and blah films for the foreign market, since those markets use different theaters and, mostly, different marketing expenditures.

            The suggestion someone else offered of a limited pool of resources for making films is consistent with the claim that the rise of the foreign market lowered the quality of films available to Americans. I don’t find it very plausible, but I don’t know the industry.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @DavidFriedman: I’m genuinely unsure what you’re getting at here, though I have some guesses.

            I’m assuming Hollywood is currently making films to American tastes first, and is gradually learning more about foreign tastes and adjusting its films accordingly. I’m also assuming that even the former cohort is so numerous that films have to be blah in order to cater to enough of that cohort.

            I actually wasn’t assuming Hollywood ever made good films overall. I do assume that “good” is a relative term, and I guessed you were, too(?). Meaning: “good” will cater to some part of that cohort, but never most of it; only “blah” will. Adding a foreign market only increases the “blahness” required (compounded by a cultural barrier), but I believe the same general principle would apply.

            I’m further assuming as follows: the more “blah” the product, the larger the portion of the big cohort that will be underimpressed, and the likelier that another player will come in and make money by catering to that subset. However, that player will tend to be a non-Hollywood player, because Hollywood’s studios have put the most effort into catering to the big cohort while competing with other Hollywood studios. Since Hollywood has gathered most of the money for moviemaking over the decades, it continues to play the game by the above terms – wide release marketing, and carefully controlled scheduling – in order to ensure its rate of return. Non-Hollywood players likewise play it as they do, having less money, and therefore going for narrower release, to smaller cohorts, and being able to cater to them with a “good” movie as a result. And they probably don’t try to play in foreign markets.

            Does that make more sense? Or am I still missing your points? Also, I’m probably about as unfamiliar with the industry as you are.

          • @Paul Brinkley:

            I interpreted comments earlier in the thread as claiming that movies used to be better and had declined in quality due to the rise of the foreign market. I watch very few movies so have no opinion of my own on whether that is true.

            My point was that the existence of the foreign market doesn’t eliminate the domestic market. So if type A movies work better on the former and type B on the latter, one would expect to see both.

          • Civilis says:

            I interpreted comments earlier in the thread as claiming that movies used to be better and had declined in quality due to the rise of the foreign market. I watch very few movies so have no opinion of my own on whether that is true.

            The theory is that movie studios are chasing the box-office dollar, of which foreign markets are a component. Of course, the larger point, which is not exclusively tied to movies, is why the disconnect between ‘quality’ and what sells?

            I’d like to see numbers of how many of the movies which won non-technical Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress, etc., not Best Visual Effects) also were among the top-grossing films of the year. I think the non-technical Oscars can be used as a stand-in for ‘quality’. There have been a couple of movies that have both won a lot of awards and scored big at the box office, Titanic immediately coming to mind, but I think there is a definite disconnect.

            I think most people consume entertainment (regardless of media) to provide emotional experiences that don’t exist in their normal lives; they want to go to a film (or read a book, play a game, watch a show, etc.) to laugh, to cheer, to gasp in awe, or even to get an adrenaline rush from safe horror. It’s really easy to satisfactorily provide those emotions if people can turn off their sense of disbelief for a moment.

            A movie that gets its emotional rush from a more complex emotional theme, like sadness or bittersweetness, has to be high quality to make it worth the investment in time to watch. A mediocre action or comedy film can still emotionally reward people, but something like Schindler’s List has to reach a nearly impossible bar to make it worth people’s time to inflict those emotions on themselves.

            You’re a studio, hoping to turn a pile of money into a larger pile of money by spending it to make a movie. If everything lines up right, you have a great script, great actors, and a great director, you might be able to pull it off by making a quality Oscar-bait movie. On the other hand, if you know you don’t have that, you still have a reasonable chance to make the money back on a mediocre action-comedy-sci-fi popcorn film. There are only so many Spielburgs and Kubriks to go around, but Michael Bays seem to be a dime a dozen.

          • Jiro says:

            My point was that the existence of the foreign market doesn’t eliminate the domestic market. So if type A movies work better on the former and type B on the latter, one would expect to see both.

            If type A movies work better on the former, you’d expect to see all type A movies, since foreign+large portion of domestic would be more profit than just domestic. The existence of the foreign market doesn’t eliminate the domestic market, but it does make the domestic market relatively unprofitable (even if not absolutely unprofitable).

            The only companies selling solely to the domestic market would be ones that 1) intentionally forego profits in order to be artistic or just chauvinistic, or 2) can’t raise the capital to sell to the foreign market.

          • Civilis says:

            If type A movies work better on the former, you’d expect to see all type A movies, since foreign+large portion of domestic would be more profit than just domestic. The existence of the foreign market doesn’t eliminate the domestic market, but it does make the domestic market relatively unprofitable (even if not absolutely unprofitable).

            That’s assuming the only motivation is short-term profit margin. I should have been more clear in my arguments; I believe that profit and hence audience size is the main motivation of the producers, or, more specifically, the producers with the capital to finance a big-budget movie (I’m sure there are also people willing to finance vanity projects for non-monetary reasons like name recognition or connections.)

            We had a discussion in an earlier Open Thread (I think) about foreign movies which only open on a small number of domestic screens merely to qualify for American awards. If you have a film which you know has no chance domestically, why pay for the screens you don’t need? At that point, you need something to fill those domestic screens.

            Ultimately, there are considerations of risk vs reward and the fact that you require talent in the form of a script, a director, and actors. If all you have right now is a proposed film which is only likely to make money domestically, it might make more sense to invest in that now rather than wait for a proposed film with international potential to come along.

          • John Schilling says:

            The same forces you describe would imply that Hollywood would make films that appealed to the largest number of Americans. So if blah films appeal to more Americans than good films

            Not sure what you mean by “blah films”, because I’m pretty sure those don’t appeal to any large number of people anywhere.

            Simple movies with lots of explosions, T&A, and slapstick comedy, appeal to a very large number of people everywhere. Movies like the previously-cited “My Cousin Vinny”, while still lightheartedly comedic, are more thoughtful and perhaps more appealing to a very large number of Americans, but aren’t going to be at all appealing to e.g. Indians and Chinese because who in India or China understands the society being satirized?

            There is a class of movie that can only be made if it is economically viable to target audiences smaller than Global Humanity. This includes movies that the largest number of moviegoing Americans would like to see. It is plausible that the combination of opening the competitive cinematic market to all of global humanity, and the American market shifting its consumption to less profitable distribution channels like Netflix, has made these movies economically unviable.

          • but it does make the domestic market relatively unprofitable (even if not absolutely unprofitable

            If it is absolutely profitable, it pays someone to produce for it.

            It isn’t as if everyone can make as many blockbusters as they want, each of which brings in billions abroad. The more profitable such are the more people will make them and the more will be spent trying to make them better in whatever characteristics bring in the audience. Both of those compete down the return, whether by raising costs or reducing revenue. At some point, instead of trying for one more in that crowded market, it pays to make a movie for the (by hypothesis) empty market of people who like the alternative type of film. As long as doing so is profitable, it pays someone to do it.

      • dndnrsn says:

        A children’s movie that is also designed to appeal to the adults watching it along with their kids is probably going to be more emotionally complex than an adult’s movie made to be acceptable for children to watch too.

        • engleberg says:

          Yes, I think that’s very true. You’d be more likely to get a top-of-the-line kids movie with some good adult stuff stuck in than a flashy, mediocre adult movie with everything at all interesting deleted.

          A lot depends on what sort of children are in the movie. Swallows and Amazons or David Friedman’s Salamander have extremely sensible children and young adults in them. The last Star Wars movie begins with a girl’s mother killed because she came out of hiding to tell the death squad what she really thinks of them, and the girl spends the movie telling everyone what she really thinks of them. Inspiring to some feminists.

    • Virbie says:

      > I largely agree with this post by Freddie deBoer which basically argues that big franchise movies nowadays feel kind of hollow in no small part because they have to avoid any themes which are not child-friendly (I might add, “which are not going to offend any large group of people on political, religious, cultural, etc. grounds”).

      Huh. I guess I didn’t spend much time giving it thought, but I’m surprised this didn’t occur to me before, given how well it lines up with my experience with this sort of movie. After all of the ~4 Marvel movies I’ve had occasion to see, as well as both of the new Star Wars, I’ve left the theatre with a profound and unpleasant sense of what I can only articulate as “so what?”. So I just stopped watching them. This doesn’t mean I expect a deeper understanding of the world out of even the dumbest popcorn movie, and I’ve watched crappy B-movies that my friends happened to put on that I enjoyed more than these movies. I think Freddie might have hit the nail on the head as far as articulating the feeling I was having: there’s nothing in the movies that provide any sort of stimulation beyond shitty telegraphed “humor” and sanitized zero-stakes kids-cartoon shiny-pew-pew (which hasn’t interested me much since I was a kid). This probably also explains why the only Marvel movie I actually enjoyed was the R-rated Logan: despite its flaws, it at least allowed for good acting by good actors and an attempt at pathos.

      • sohois says:

        Just wanted to note that Logan – and the other R-rated comic book film Deadpool – were not ‘Marvel’ movies as per the typical usage, being made by Fox rather than Disney.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The entire X-Men Franchise is Fox, and “Logan” is part of it.

          The first X-Men movie was 17 years old, so this is part of the genre growing up. “Logan” was a drama within that universe.

          Within the MCU, the Netflix series are adult-oriented, despite coming from Disney.

          There’s nothing stopping people from doing “adult” movies in either universe; they won’t make as much money, but they’ll still make money. Not every trip to the plate needs to be a home run.

          From the marketing, it was pretty obvious that GotG2 was going to be friendly to kids.

        • Virbie says:

          Thanks for the clarification. I knew at some level that the X-men movies were separate from the MCU ones, which is probably why even the x-men movies I don’t like seem to be shooting higher than the toddler audience the MCU goes for.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        I mean, the original Star Wars was a kid friendly movie with kid friendly themes, the reason the new one is underwhelming is because it’s basically a rehash of episode IV that is worse in every way except for special effects.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Yeah, say what you will about the prequels, at least they had a soul. I came away from Force Awakens thinking it was just cynically monetized nostalgia.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The prequels had a soul?

            Who was the protagonist of “The Phantom Menace”?

          • Incurian says:

            Jar Jar.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Arguably Obi-Wan. Even though the prequel series is supposed to be all about Anakin, it’s just as much about him.

            With the prequels I feel like I was actually exploring the Star Wars universe. Sure, it did some silly and stupid things, but that’s an editing failure: not everything brainstormed is good. At least they frigging *tried* to do something interesting.

            The folks behind TFA decided that the concept of creativity is why everyone hated on the prequels and so they chewed up New Hope, spat out a grey mush, and liberally seasoned it with applause lights. And told us we should be grateful that the Expanded Universe was unceremoniously paved over to make room for it.

          • bean says:

            Agreed. The Prequels didn’t live up to the original trilogy, but at least they tried to do something interesting and new, and they aren’t actually that bad as movies, IMO. I grew disenchanted with the EU when it became All Sith, All the Time! with an occasional bit of something from the old EU thrown in for flavor. And TFA definitely seemed to be heading down the same path.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Obi-wan spend a great deal of Phantom Menace waiting in a ship for Qui Gon, Jar Jar and Amidala.

            Yes, The Force Awakens is derivative of A New Hope, no doubt. But it’s not as if they aren’t trying to do other things. Han Solo as a stand in for Obi-Wan is interesting. Being killed by his literal son is interesting. Showing the lead Sith as a whiny brat (as opposed to the young Jedi) is interesting (especially given why the Jedi are constantly falling to the dark side). Using the desperate incidental con man (Finn) as a stand in for Han Solo is interesting. Having Rey actually committed to her (absent) family, as opposed to Luke who is longing to leave his present family (yet balks at leaving) is interesting.

            So, I’d submit it is an interesting derivation, with some big mistakes in how the overall Empire is portrayed, the biggest being General Hux. Tarkin provided the requisite gravitas to the Empire’s machinations in A New Hope, which is even more sorely missed given how they portray Kylo Ren.

            Don’t get me wrong. I watched all of the prequels and basically found them somewhat pleasant at the time. But they don’t look to me like they were trying to do much other than string together set pieces, and the central conceit of Anakin and Amidala’s love is so badly handled it makes everything else extremely sour.

          • LHN says:

            So, I’d submit it is an interesting derivation, with some big mistakes in how the overall Empire is portrayed, the biggest being General Hux. Tarkin provided the requisite gravitas to the Empire’s machinations in A New Hope, which is even more sorely missed given how they portray Kylo Ren.

            My read is that that’s intentional: the First Order is a bunch of youngsters who don’t remember the war cosplaying the Empire, without the experience and talent pool the ancient, galaxy-sized polity had to draw on. So Hux is supposed to come off badly in comparison to Tarkin, just as Kylo Ren quickly reveals (after a fairly impressive display of Force powers at the beginning) that he’s not remotely the force of nature that Darth Vader was.

            Whether that works is another question, but I think it’s an interesting shade to use for the rebooted evil empire: Napoleon III to the original Empereur, or neo-Nazi militias to the Wehrmacht. (Albeit with the Even Deathier Star and the mysterious Snoke to give their threat some weight beyond their initially middling personal abilities.)

          • herbert herberson says:

            I think you’re giving Disney too much credit. If there was an implicit comment on the relatively shallow pool of human capital the New Order was drawing on there, then they really should have also considered the relatively shallow pool of actual capital it was drawing on, and not given them a far larger and more powerful version of a weapon that took the real Empire a number of years to build.

            But it’s one of those “fan theories that explain the facts of a piece of media in a good and sophisticated way that was probably never intended by the actual creator.” Which, by the way, I know I’ve heard a specific name for those, but can’t find or remember it–anyone care to chime in?

          • LHN says:

            “Headcanon?”

          • John Schilling says:

            My read is that that’s intentional: the First Order is a bunch of youngsters who don’t remember the war cosplaying the Empire, without the experience and talent pool the ancient, galaxy-sized polity had to draw on. So Hux is supposed to come off badly in comparison to Tarkin, just as Kylo Ren quickly reveals (after a fairly impressive display of Force powers at the beginning) that he’s not remotely the force of nature that Darth Vader was.

            But as e.g. half of Alan Rickman’s career proves, anything resembling an action movie absolutely needs a first-rate villain, because it is by the villain that the heroes are measured. Darth Vader, is a villain who defines anyone who can stand against him as someone worth paying attention to. Kylo Ren, defines anyone who can’t mop the floor with him at their first encounter as a pathetic loser. Likewise Tarkin and Hux, or Palpatine and Snoke.

            Intentionally setting up a story about pathetic losers on both sides, is appropriate only for a very narrow range of stories, none of which are properly advertised under the “Star Wars” brand. There’s nothing about the setting that requires any such thing. Timothy Zahn rather famously found a way to incorporate formidable villains into a post-RoTJ “Star Wars”; if Disney chose to do otherwise, that’s their failure.

          • LHN says:

            @herbert herberson Whether it’s intended or not will probably become clearer as the series unfolds. But Lawrence Kasdan seems to have been the main writer (I think– Hollywood screenwriting is always a tangle, but Kasdan was also a story consultant and stayed on the project after original writer Michael Arndt left), and he’d worked on Empire and Jedi, so we’re not looking at pure extruded Disney product without understanding of or reference to the originals.

            I think it’s pretty much explicit that Kylo Ren is a conflicted young man who wants (or thinks he wants) to be Darth Vader but isn’t really confident in his ability to do so– and is looking for validation from anyone who’ll give it. (Hux, Snoke, Rey…) And the movie is shot through with the idea that the younger generation exists in the shadow of the Empire and the Rebellion.

            (Sometimes literally– Rey’s entire existence before meeting BB-8 is defined by the salvage she’s getting out of old crashed Star Destroyers and the like, her goggles are repurposed Stormtrooper helmet lenses, etc.)

            I agree that whether Hux’s lack of gravitas is intentional or bad casting/acting/directorial choices is an open question. I think it’s plausible that it was intended just because it fits into the above. On the other hand, the scenes with vast legions of Stormtroopers and the even more powerful superweapon aren’t immediately undercut by anything that suggests that they’re not all they appear to be.

            Though by the same token I wouldn’t read too much into the logistics of producing Starkiller Base. I don’t think the movies– except to some extent Rogue One– have ever really cared that much about where anyone gets their resources and personnel, however much the EU authors tried to shore it up between them.

          • LHN says:

            @John Schilling Honest question, since I’m only middling familiar with the EU: are there other great EU villains aside from Thrawn?

            (Who is a fantastic book villain, but I suspect his Holmesian cerebral style might not translate perfectly to the screen of an action movie. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the first episode of “Rebels” he appears in, so maybe it’s already been done better than I expect.)

            Given the underwhelmingness of their trying to up the superweapon ante with Starkiller Base, I’m sympathetic to the filmmakers maybe deciding that trying to come up with a villain on the level of Vader or Palpatine would only have looked like a cheap copy. And so following that logic, to a character who is openly struggling with the possibility that that’s exactly what he is.

            Granted, I’m not sanguine about their ability to stick the landing. And I’m afraid that what they’re actually going for is a redemption arc for someone who killed one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, which… well I’ll believe they can sell that when I see it.

            Force Awakens isn’t the lightning in a bottle that was Star Wars, and it took a very safe route to a soft reboot. Still, it’s not as if it was a serious challenge to be the third or fourth best Star Wars movie in the series.[1] (Jedi has higher highs, but much lower lows.)

            [1] At the time. I’d rate Rogue One above it.

          • Deiseach says:

            the First Order is a bunch of youngsters who don’t remember the war cosplaying the Empire, without the experience and talent pool the ancient, galaxy-sized polity had to draw on. So Hux is supposed to come off badly in comparison to Tarkin, just as Kylo Ren quickly reveals (after a fairly impressive display of Force powers at the beginning) that he’s not remotely the force of nature that Darth Vader was.

            I read (and I have no idea how accurate this is or whether it’s complete guess-work) that Kylo Ren was meant to come across as sympathetic, to be the ‘hero’ who would undergo a redemption arc, and it was only when the movie was actually released and people starting wanting Rey and the rest of them as action figures and so on instead, that they decided to make them the heroes and downplay Ren. So if he’s meant to remind us of Anakin and how his tragic arc* (ahem) played out, maybe the soft-pedaling of the villain stature was intentional; if your ‘villain’ is going to turn out to be the real protagonist, you can’t make him convincingly villainous and evil from the start.

            *I think Darth Vader is different in that he’s pretty clearly meant to be the impressive villain from the start, and the changes in his story came about as a result of Lucas tinkering on the fly with his own story – I don’t think anyone quite expected Vader to become the cultural icon that he did, after all he was the Bad Guy, who knew he’d be cool and popular? Anakin qua Anakin comes off more as a whiny brat who is impulsive, self-righteous and destructive; yes, I feel your pain but destroying entire villages of people is not a constructive way to deal with it! And the way Palpatine plays him for a sucker is just embarrassing, even if Palpatine is a genuine Evil Genius and Mastermind Supervillain.

            But what you say about the cosplaying Knights Of Ren strikes a chord with what Tolkien said about a quickly-abandoned sequel to “The Lord of the Rings”:

            I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall, but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of
            Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless – while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors – like Denethor or worse.

            I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow – but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

          • bean says:

            Honest question, since I’m only middling familiar with the EU: are there other great EU villains aside from Thrawn?

            There was nobody who made his level, but there were quite a few very good villains. Isard and the Yevetha spring to mind, and even the Vong were pretty good, at least in the better books of the series.

          • cassander says:

            My read is that that’s intentional: the First Order is a bunch of youngsters who don’t remember the war cosplaying the Empire, without the experience and talent pool the ancient, galaxy-sized polity had to draw on. So Hux is supposed to come off badly in comparison to Tarkin, just as Kylo Ren quickly reveals (after a fairly impressive display of Force powers at the beginning) that he’s not remotely the force of nature that Darth Vader was.

            I can’t speak for the whole new order, but I do think that Kylo ren was explicitly written this way, and intended to be so. His character has a very deliberate arc. He starts off with a display intended to be literally awesome, then spends the entire movie getting less and less impressive. they even change how he looks to make him visually less impressive as time goes on. I can’t imagine it wasn’t deliberate.

          • LHN says:

            @Deiseach

            But what you say about the cosplaying Knights Of Ren strikes a chord with what Tolkien said about a quickly-abandoned sequel to “The Lord of the Rings”

            After posting, I’d actually thought about the same comparison. Darth Vader, like Sauron, really is a hard act to follow.

            Though I wonder if Sauron would have looked like an also-ran if Tolkien had published some of the stories from the Silmarillion first. After being sent skittering by both Luthien and Huan, he might not come across as such an unstoppable menace. And Sauron’s realm and capabilities in the Third Age aren’t a patch on Morgoth’s in the First.

          • Deiseach says:

            I agree that whether Hux’s lack of gravitas is intentional or bad casting/acting/directorial choices is an open question.

            I wonder if it’s a case of trying to ensure they’re politically correct. Vader became practically a hero, and even the Stormtroopers (literally named after Nazi soldiers) are popular fan figures. So they wanted to be really extra sure that they didn’t get hammered for making Fascism/Neo-Nazism (and the Empire/Revival of the Empire is pretty heavy-handed Nazi symbolism) cool and popular as they had (unintentionally) done with Vader, so they made an effort to make Hux unlikeable, incompetent by comparison with the Empire predecessors, etc. I mean, his speech of frothing at the mouth hysteria to the soldiers is clearly meant to evoke Hitler’s rallies, and if Hux is a Hitler-figure, he has to be shown as a raving loon just to hammer it home that Neo-Nazis Bad, Mmkay? Subtlety is not a value of the Star Wars universe.

            Domhnall Gleason is a reasonable actor, and I have seen a clip of him at a convention (or publicity tour) when asked “Is Hux a villain?” answering “He’s British” (the idea pretty clearly being that yeah, he’s meant to be the villain, riffing off the ‘British actors in American moves = villains’; it’s even funnier because Gleason is Irish).

          • Civilis says:

            My opinion of the TFA is that it works as an opening story for a larger set of stories if you take the unlikely assumption that the creator is pulling a bait and switch, duping people with the obvious parallels between IV and VII. After all, [begin ROT13] orfvqrf Yhxr gurer vf n frpbaq mreb-gb-ureb Wrqv cvybg cebgntbavfg sebz n qrfreg jbeyq va gur Fgne Jnef havirefr…

            …Nanxva uvzfrys. Nanxva naq Erl ner obgu zber Znel Fhr va gurve zlfgrevbhf onpxfgbevrf guna Yhxr. Xlyb Era guhf guvaxf ur’f gur arkg Inqre, ohg vf npghnyyl pnfg nf gur arkg Pbhag Qbbxh; Fabxr vagraqf gb fnpevsvpr uvz gb trg Erl gb snyy gb gur qnex fvqr. Svaa vf gnxvat Wne Wne’f cynpr nf hajvggvat qhcr (naq tvira ur’f n oenvajnfurq rk-Beqre gebbcre, vg’f zber whfgvsvnoyr gung ur fubhyq or cynlvat vagb gur onq thl’f unaqf).

            Gur perngbe xabjf lbh’er rkcrpgvat gur zbivr gb sbyybj gur bevtvany gevybtl, naq guvf vf gur zbfg pburerag jnl cbffvoyr ur pbhyq guebj n fhecevfr ng gur nhqvrapr. Bs pbhefr, sbe gur fgbel gb jbex, Erl jbhyq gura unir gb erfvfg npghnyyl snyyvat gb gur Qnex Fvqr. V whfg qba’g guvax Qvfarl jbhyq yrg gurz trg njnl jvgu guvf fbeg bs cybg, sbe ernfbaf gung svg va jvgu gur jubyr ‘gurzrf bs zbqrea Ubyyljbbq zbivrf’ qvfphffvba.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Just throwing this out as a data point, my kids (currently 11 and 14) strongly prefer the prequel trilogy over the original trilogy. I’m not sure to what extent this is an age-gap thing, vs. simple nostalgia on my part.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            As for the new superweapon, I think the idea there is not that it could be bigger than the Death Star because the New Order had more capital available, but simply because technology had moved on. Oh, and they probably didn’t have one of the head engineers deliberately sabotaging the project, either. 🙂

          • LHN says:

            If this were a different sort of story, there’d be a strong (and defensible!) constituency for the Republic to build its own Death Star purely to destroy any and all future planet killers deployed by its enemies without losing a wing of fighter pilots every time.

            (“Three times is enemy action!” “They were all enemy action.” “Well, yes…”)

          • John Schilling says:

            As for the new superweapon, I think the idea there is not that it could be bigger than the Death Star because the New Order had more capital available, but simply because technology had moved on.

            I think the idea there is that if you use bigger superlatives to describe this year’s MacGuffin compared to last year’s, the audience will care more. If the death ray the size of a small moon that could destroy a planet made Star Wars an awesome movie, then a death ray the size of a planet that can destroy a star will be even awesomer!

            Which completely misses the point, as it wasn’t the scope adjectives that made the original Star Wars awesome. By the time I left the theater after TFA, I had already forgotten the name of the planet that “Starkiller Base” destroyed. But I did remember Alderaan, the peaceful planet with no weapons, wherein millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

            But even at the fanwanking level, no – if your technology “moves on” by six orders of magnitude in a generation, then you’re depicting a technological singularity, not telling a swashbuckling adventure story.

          • LHN says:

            Though scope inflation is something space opera comes by honestly from its progenitor Doc Smith. Starkiller Base winds up kind of boring instead of breathtaking, and the movie seems to be at least divided about whether that’s intentional. (On the one hand, “Look! Many planets destroyed at once, while we watch in horror!” On the other, Han Solo casually assuring everyone that these things always have an Achilles heel, don’t worry so much.)

            Either way, if we hadn’t seen something Even Bigger than the Death Star in the new trilogy I’d have been pretty surprised, and there’s no reason it couldn’t have worked whether or not it did.

          • Fahundo says:

            are there other great EU villains aside from Thrawn?

            Kreia

        • onyomi says:

          Besides the total plot rehash, I think part of it is just, for lack of a better term, the shininess.

          Movies from the 70s and 80s have a rough edges and a tangible, lived-in quality. The CG is just way, way overused at this point, imo, but I don’t know if there’s much going back.

          • andrewflicker says:

            The only way out is through- as CGI continues to improve, evolve, and grow cheaper, they’ll start to be able to more convincingly fake the “lived-in” feel- we’ll get better CGI dirt, textures that include realistic grime, etc.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            See also: Neill Blomkamp.

        • Virbie says:

          Yea, it’s tough for me to be objective about the original star wars movies because I actually _was_ a kid when I saw them, and my memories of the universe are colored by all the EU stuff I read as a kid (which could be a lot darker). The most I can say is that I still think the actors were far more charismatic and the writing was probably a bit more cringeworthy but was a lot less soulless.

      • Spookykou says:

        both of the new Star Wars

        A little surprised to see someone equivocating between the quality of Rogue One and TFA. Also calling Rogue one a “sanitized zero-stakes kids-cartoon shiny-pew-pew” seems a bit off to me.

        • keranih says:

          I completely agree that R1 was neither a sanitized kids flick nor to be lightly equivocated with TFA.

          I myself rank it right below the first StarWars, (with ESB being at the top) but my judgement is suspect. I was so disappointed in the prequels (which I did go see in the theater) and so torn about TFA (several awesome things, completely screwed up the stormtrooper character – *completely*) that I went to see R1 with weary resignation.

          (It wasn’t like I was going to *not* watch it…)

          And so starting from that very low expectation, it blew me away. Far from flawless, yes, but still very, very good.

          • Incurian says:

            ROT13:
            Gur punenpgre qrirybczrag jnf ernyyl ynpxvat va gur ortvaavat, whfg vzntvar ubj zhpu zber gentvp gura raq jbhyq unir orra vs lbh pnerq nobhg gur punenpgref! Gur ovt onggyr ng gur raq gubhtu.... rnfvyl gur orfg va gur Fgne Jnef senapuvfr. V ernyyl nccerpvngrq gur gehyl punbgvp srry, naq gung vg jnfa'g dhvgr fb ureb-pragevp. Vg qrsvavgryl yvg hc zl erpbtavgvba sbe "onggyr" zber guna sbe "fgne jnef," juvpu V guvax vf n tbbq guvat. Fgne Jnef cvrprf fubhyqa'g fgevir gb or fgne jnefl (shpx lbh, FBR!), gurl orpbzr pnaba snasvpf. Ebthr Bar haqrefgbbq gung, vg jbhyq unir znqr sbe n tbbq fgbel va nal frggvat.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I agree with the author of the article that there is an issue, that big Hollywood franchise genre films feel lacking exactly in the sense they describe. (This is one reason why only twos films of that category that I went actually to see was the two new Star Wars films, and I am unsure if I want to see the next one.)

      I disagree with the author about many details about their idea of children’s fiction. First, what exactly is considered appropriate for children is malleable. Second, different age groups exist: there is difference between “baby’s first picture book” and the fiction 13-year old kid should be reading and watching (I think many older literature classics would be appropriate if the kid is interested). But thirdly (my main point): with our concept of “children’s fiction”, we are implicitly far too often underestimating kids. However, writing good (children’s) fiction that intelligently handles ‘dark themes’ with being gratuitous about them is difficult.

      Now, the author claims that the reason why the films are boring is that they are written for children:

      Darker emotions and feelings of loss are as fundamental to the human experience as happiness and victory, so art that excises the former will inevitably start to seem stale and played out. And adults tend to be preoccupied by adult ideas. It’s not complicated.

      The point’s not about quality. Many works of art that were written for children are masterpieces and rank among my very favorite. [..]

      I claim that major part of the issue is that people (including the author and the Hollywood people) assume that there is a fundamental categorical difference between “fiction for kids” and “fiction for adults”, and that the “watered down” nature of children’s fiction is natural and given and dark themes are only for the entertainment in the category “for adults”. I also want to note that the author is weaselly when talking about “sure there can be quality art written for children”, while complaining that fiction is boring because it’s “mom approved”. Guess what, I’m not sure the stereotypical moms of that phrase would approve some of the classics of “children’s literature” if they were given appropriate treatment, but the children might benefit of them (an adaptation of Wind in the Willows could go much further than “Toad is silly”; Tove Jansson is outright distressing and depressing). And on the other side of the traditional aisle between “kids” and “adults”, I think Dickens makes very good reading for a literary-minded kids.

      They also point out that of the films in theaters today, the R-rated films are likely to be the most interesting. I guess the implicit claim is that R-rated stuff would make films more interesting; I disagree on that particular point. It may be true that the writers and directors are able to experiment more in a film that they know will be R-rated from get go, instead of “safe” teen blockbuster. But on the flip side of the coin, (I’m not the first out to say this) because of the whole framework of looking at films the through the lens of ratings, there’s often also a perverse incentive to add stuff to make films R-rated — because R-rated is “not for kids” and therefore, it is cool. But often it does not make them any more profound or deep or interesting. (I’m using “R-rated” as a shorthand for a certain kind of fiction. MPAA does not rate books, but I think the literary version Game of Thrones is an example of a work in this category. Grim [x], dark [x], entertainment [x], but ultimately also empty [x].)

      And thus curiously enough, every one of us probably remembers the kids who to find these restricted because R-rated is cool. (For example, some memories from middle school. The “cool boys” were very excited about a VHS copy of Robocop for “blood and guts and gory” bits. I was the boring kid and my parents were strict about that sort of stuff, so I did not see it then, but I saw that film later as an adult. I was surprised that the interesting thing about the film that it was more or less satire, that was there was sort of an intellectual attempt at making critical remarks about the society. Judging by what I remember the boys talking about it on schoolyard, it appears those parts flew right above their heads. I wonder what Verhoeven thought about that.) In general, often it works better to hint about things than explicitly portray them.

      And of course, sometimes it makes sense to include stuff that warrants the R-rating. But it isn’t exactly the root of the issue why the blockbuster films are boring. Consider the film adaptation of the Watchmen. Sure, like in case practically all of Alan Moore’s work (and Watchmen isn’t particularly gross compared to League or From Hell), any true adaptation would include stuff that would get it an R rating. Yet while Snyder did include them and got that R rating, and still mostly managed to miss the comic’s point, creating a film that is absolutely as boring and empty as your stereotypical franchise superhero film.

      I’d like to contrast that kind of fiction with some works by Clouzot that I’ve seen recently, like Le Salaire de la Peur, or Les Diaboliques. Or Hitchcock, to whom Clouzot is often compared. On surface level, Vertigo is quite mild by modern standards. It’s also quite distressing film, and also very interesting.

      Also, I’d like to specifically remark on one particular thing:

      Some absolutely basic elements of storytelling that are forbidden in big franchise movies include:

      Sex, in almost any form.

      The flip side of coin is that in the works “for adults” where sex is present, it’s often of the form what I’ve seen someone call “HBO sex”: it is to be there either to titillate or to shock (if not the audience, then the presumed moral guardian). The end result is surprisingly infantile.

      Summary: I agree modern Hollywood genre franchises are boring, and maybe part of the reason is that executives are making them what they’d call “kid-friendly”. But the problem is the executives’ concept of the kid friendly fiction (and the attached baggage of MPAA ratings), not that they are for children. Even many of our films that are purportedly written for adults are written for children; these children just happen to be older than 18 years.

      • Deiseach says:

        But the problem is the executives’ concept of the kid friendly fiction (and the attached baggage of MPAA ratings), not that they are for children. Even many of our films that are purportedly written for adults are written for children; these children just happen to be older than 18 years.

        To quote Tolkien on fairy stories:

        I will now turn to children, and so come to the last and most important of the three questions: what, if any, are the values and functions of fairy-stories now? It is usually assumed that children are the natural or the specially appropriate audience for fairy-stories. In describing a fairy-story which they think adults might possibly read for their own entertainment, reviewers frequently indulge in such waggeries as: “this book is for children from the ages of six to sixty.” But I have never yet seen the puff of a new motor-model that began thus: “this toy will amuse infants from seventeen to seventy”; though that to my mind would be much more appropriate. Is there any essential connexion between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? Reads them as tales, that is, not studies them as curios. Adults are allowed to collect and study anything, even old theatre programmes or paper bags.

        Among those who still have enough wisdom not to think fairy-stories pernicious, the common opinion seems to be that there is a natural connexion between the minds of children and fairystories, of the same order as the connexion between children’s bodies and milk. I think this is an error; at best an error of false sentiment, and one that is therefore most often made by those who, for whatever private reason (such as childlessness), tend to think of children as a special kind of creature, almost a different race, rather than as normal, if immature, members of a particular family, and of the human family at large.

        I agree with the point about sex, too; cinematic sex is about titillation and what is deemed the most appealing to a certain demographic. It has to be dramatic in some form, whether that is impossibly blissful or dangerous, ‘edgy’, semi-abusive relationship.

        And that ‘dark’ themes are ‘adult’. My God, 90s comics turned me away when they decided to get all grimdark and “adult”, where “adult” did not mean “some philosophical depth to the world” but “swearing, as much nudity and intimations of SEXXXX as we can get away with, and endless ammunition resulting in rivers of red ink blood” and “heroes” or anti-heroes or ‘same as the villains’ were killing with abandon – I have never found The Punisher either an interesting or a particularly deep character, and definitely not “the kind of revamped, rebooted hero modern comics need to be relevant”.

        Big franchises have a set form that they stick to, because it’s successful, it’s proven, and the various movie executives can’t be blamed for sticking to ‘giving the consumers more of what they want’ if the next installment isn’t as successful, while they can and will be blamed if they try something novel and the box-office profits don’t roll in.

      • caethan says:

        These kinds of films are less realistic and more consequence-free than the Beatrix Potter books I read my two-year old. The first page of Peter Rabbit has the mother explaining to her children that they shouldn’t go into the garden because their father was killed there. One of the later books has the baby bunnies kidnapped and nearly eaten because their caretaker was careless and fell asleep. A different book we got from the library was about a snake counting up the mice it was going to eat; they escape, and it ends with the snake (explicitly) going hungry that night. These kinds of movies are worse than juvenile – it’s not that they’re aimed at children, it’s that they’re aimed to do nothing but titillate, on all different topics.

    • Enkidum says:

      I largely agree with the post as well, despite being very much the target audience for the MCU films (I grew up reading thousands of Marvel comics, and have two kids now who are at the appropriate age). I’ve seen all the MCU films, enjoyed all of them (yes, even Thor II), and have probably actually paid to see more MCU films at the theatre in the past decade than all other films put together. But I’m perfectly aware that they’re limited and fundamentally empty. What they are is a perfect capturing and distillation of what the comics were trying to be, which is a very limited target. However they hit that target almost perfectly every time, and that’s good enough for me, for the time being at least.

    • gbdub says:

      Not sure Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the best one to spark the critique. Actually had some fairly dark stuff in there, and some loss. Not super deep, but more so than the Avengers flicks.

      I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Star Loerd doesn’t die – but that’s an issue with super hero franchises since there have been super heroes, they have to be around for the sequel.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I wouldn’t describe Guardians of the Galaxy 2 as “soulless.” It probably has more going on in that department than most action or superhero films. The action itself, however, was mostly yawn-inducing for me, but nowadays it’s a rare Hollywood action film that isn’t yawn-inducing for me (this wasn’t always the case; many slightly older films like Die Hard and Terminators 1 and 2 hold up quite well).

        • gbdub says:

          I don’t know, I thought GotG2 went out of their way to lampshade that, with almost the entire opening fight sequence taking place in the background of a Baby Groot dance number, an asteroid chase scene where most of the action is an argument between Rocket and Star Lord over who is the better pilot, and much of the final battle happening behind Rocket trying to explain the McGuffin bomb to Groot (and sending Star Lord off to find some duct tape).

          But I agree a lot of superhero movie action has gotten pretty bland. The fact that the Marvel movies need to spice it up with sight gags says something. I did find Logan to be notably intense. And Fury Road. Those are probably the only recent great fight scenes I remember.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Not just superhero movies, of course. Jackson’s LOTR had interminable fight scenes.

          • gbdub says:

            Eh, I liked the scenes in LOTR. For the most part they weren’t the over-chaotic I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on stuff that makes me yawn through superhero action. The only parts I objected to were the add-ons (whatever was going on in Two Towers with the Wargs, and the not really necessary Osgiliath stuff). Also, Sean Bean has stated his scene at the end of Fellowship is his favorite on-screen death, and he’s an expert.

            I forgot a recent scene. The Battle of the Bastards in Game of Thrones Season 6 is excellent.

          • Nornagest says:

            I wasn’t terribly impressed with the fight scenes in Logan. It was a superhero movie that wasn’t doing stereotypical superhero fights, but that was about all it had going for it in the action department; the final battle was especially underwhelming. It wasn’t a weak movie, but its real strength was in the drama scenes, and especially in the relationship between Jackson’s and Stewart’s characters.

            Fury Road was amazing, though.

          • gbdub says:

            Eh you’re probably right, Logan’s weren’t great fight scenes from a fight choreography standpoint. But they were intense and brutal, so I found them emotionally affecting in a way unmatched by other super hero movies.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t know, I thought GotG2 went out of their way to lampshade that

            That is an interesting way to interpret that, though I wonder if you’re not giving them a little too much credit.

            I interpreted the opening dance number+fight scene to be an attempt at incongruous comedy+”the minions” effect (the minions were everyone’s favorite part of the first Despicable Me movie, so they took an an outsize role in Despicable Me 2, and eventually got their own, bad movie).

            That is, bad action scene+comedy=/=good action scene. I see what you’re saying, but I’d still rather have good action scene+comedy.

            I still liked the film as such films go, but the action qua action was still pretty forgettable. Though full of CGI, I think Dr. Strange was a bit better on this score because it at least tried to get creative within the bounds established by the plot.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      Has he considered the hypothesis that it’s because big-budget movies are paint-by-numbers?

      From what I hear, that was Guardians of the Galaxy 2 down to a T…and the total opposite of Logan. After a while, watching the same thing over and over again has to get hollow.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        From what I hear, that was Guardians of the Galaxy 2 down to a T.

        I mean, as far as Marvel movies go, GotG 2 is one of the least “paint-by-the-numbers” movies they have put out recently, even if it has a whole bunch of flaws and is still very child-friendly.

    • cassander says:

      Not just children, but the also need to avoid any sort of nuance that won’t translate well for an international audience, which leaves them all sort of bland.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The obvious counterexample is _The Hunger Games_, which still seems recent enough. Two movies about teenagers fighting each other (and the environment) to the death, then two about them fighting a revolution. Definitely violated his rules about politics and violence, and at least tried to violate tragedy and moral and political complexity.

      I think he’s identified one formula, perhaps the most popular one, but it isn’t the only one out there.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I think it’s significant that Hunger Games started with a bestselling book trilogy, and a teen trilogy at that: the studios already knew that it would be a success, and that parents wouldn’t be too horrified at their kids watching, so they could afford to follow the books’ themes.

    • tomogorman says:

      Agree with much of the above re: international audience – but have two additional thoughts.

      1) How much of this is just bias? I am looking back at the 80s and seeing some pretty similar movies — I certainly love Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but they seem to be pretty kid friendly in the same ways and not really qualitatively better than the MCU product. What is the period where blockbuster movies were regularly better?
      2) Netflix/HBO original series/generally better TV + specialization – Movies have a comparative advantage at spectacle, as TV is better able to compete outside of spectacle, particularly ability to craft quality long form drama – movies have to shift even more to spectacle to compete. Unfortunate sometimes as some things really would be better in movie timeframe (under 2 hours) than TV (8-13 hours and preferably capable of generating multiple seasons), but I do think is responsible for some of the shift.

      • Brad says:

        The highest grossing films of
        The 1970s: Star Wars, Jaws, The Exorcist, Grease, The Sting, Animal House, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Godfather, Superman, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

        The 1980s: ET, Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, Batman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

        The 90s: Titanic, The Phantom Menace, The Lion King, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Independence Day, The Sixth Sense, Home Alone, Men in Black, Toy Story 2.

        The 00s: Avatar, The Dark Knight, Shrek 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Transformers, Finding Nemo, Revenge of the Sith, Return of the King, Spider-Man 2.

        The 10s (so far): The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, The Avengers, Rogue One, Beauty and the Beast, Finding Dory, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Dark Knight Rises, Catching Fire (Hunger Games), Toy Story 3.

        A few comments:
        1) The first outright children’s move is in the 90 — the Lion King. Since then there’s been at least one in every decade.
        2) The last comedy is Home Alone in 1990.
        3) Every single move since the turn of the century has had a supernatural, science fiction, or other fantastical element.
        4) The 1980s and 2010s had no overlap between top grossers and Oscars for Best Picture. The 1970s had two (The Sting and The Godfather), the 1990s had two (Titanic and Forrest Gump), and the 2000s had one (The Return of the King).
        5) Subjectively the 1970s is by far the most eclectic.

    • Civilis says:

      I think the article is missing the big picture. Yes, Hollywood movies are increasingly formulaic and therefore feel lifeless, and one element of that formula is a reduction of the viable themes (or plots). The problem is that I think it misses the big picture to look at a smaller piece, and most of the comments in this thread pick out other pieces of the big picture.

      The big picture is that Hollywood is increasingly focused on what looks to a business perspective as short-term financial safety, and most of the decisions here can be viewed in that light (note that this might be a personal fixation; please critique my logic).

      Yes, family friendly themes have more of a potential viewing audience than darker, more adult themes. But studios are often willing to make minor changes to movies which don’t effect the overall theme of a movie to get the movie to a PG-13 rating, suggesting in many cases it’s the rating itself rather than the theme of the movie which the studio is avoiding. If the same theme is viable at PG-13 and not R, then it suggests that theme and rating may both factor into potential audience / profitability; they’re related but not the same thing. Something interesting to consider is the market share of PG-13 movies ( http://www.the-numbers.com/market/mpaa-rating/PG-13-(US) ). The PG-13 market share is over 50% of the market for 2011-2015. I’d suspect that rather than making movies more childish in tone, the goal from a production standpoint is to make the movies PG-13; mature enough to attract adult audiences, yet not so mature as to lock the size of the audience by making it R. Movie studios want movies to appeal to as wide an audience as possible to maximize revenue (ie, everyone), and they’re ending up with generic mush.

      There’s been enough of a mention that more family friendly themes appeal better to foreign audiences for me to not repeat the argument, though I do want to add that it might be equally applicable that family friendly themes might better get past foreign censors, for whom encouraging proper morals may be an important task. Either way, audience maximization seems to be the point.

      I think this is why so many movies seem to be based on established franchises in other media, sequels to movies that made good at the box office, or old media properties with nostalgia value: there’s a built in audience base. Movies based on established non-family friendly franchises in other media (the Hunger Games was mentioned below; Fifty Shades of Gray seems to be another non-family friendly property) would again suggest that having a guaranteed audience overrides any need to make the potential audience as large as possible.

      Neaanopri, below, compared the theme of the Iron Giant to Avengers, and raises another point. Ironically, I think the one of the most family friendly movie studios has the most creative freedom to address difficult themes, and they’ve been successful because of it. Most adults I’ve talked to about movies we’ve enjoyed, when the topic of movies comes up, consider Pixar to still be the standard against which other movie studios are judged for creativity. Pixar’s ‘bombs’ (depending on who I’ve talked to, usually one or more of Ratatouille, Cars and/or Wall-E) are generally met with a ‘meh, I don’t think I’d watch it again, but it wasn’t too bad, and I can see why it got good reviews’. Pixar has creative freedom because it has a good track record, and it has a good track record because the creative freedom it’s been granted has paid off; time will tell if that continues.

      And that’s the ironic takeaway from all this. We want meaningful, deep, creative movies. To get the freedom to create those movies you need an established track record. In order to establish that track record from scratch, you need to make movies that aren’t creative, that are focus-group derived cookie-cutter audience maximization pieces, pieces that end up being meaningless and shallow.

    • Catlick says:

      Thanks for linking! It reminded me of this great piece by Christopher Beha on Henry James and Y.A. fiction. It also wrestles with the fact that an increasing amount of entertainment is targeted at both children and adults.

      One apt passage:

      It is obviously possible to give a subject a treatment that is more appropriate for a young audience. For the most part, this involves simplifying things—first the diction and syntax, but finally the whole picture of life. There is nothing dishonorable about this simplification—it is a way to make material accessible to children. Nor does it strike me as shameful for adults to spend a lot of time reading these simplified treatments. But it does strike me as strange. If someone told you that he was an American-history buff and that his favorite work of American history was “Johnny Tremain,” you might not think this a cause for embarrassment but you would probably suspect that he didn’t know as much about history as he thought he did, and you would wonder why his interest in the subject had not led him to adult treatments of it. In some sense, you might even think he was missing out, that the simplified treatments of history that we give to children are not just less true but less interesting because of their lack of complexity.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      How terrible, that kids movies are suitable for children. We’re talking about franchises from mainstream comic books and giant advertisements to sell toys like Star Wars and Transformers here. Not Crime and Punishment and The Gulag Archipelago. With respect to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, exactly what adult themes would he like the talking racoon and the baby plant to explore? Man’s inhumanity to man? Reconciling a just God with a fallen world? What exactly?

      I could see his point if we were talking about films that should be adult-oriented, like say historical war dramas, and that they have been made kid friendly. But Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge were not kid-friendly. Call me when they remake Philadelphia but this time Tom Hanks’ character is a CG rapping ninja.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The problem isn’t that kids movies are made for children. It’s that they crowd out all the adult movies. Look at the highest domestic grossing movies of 2016. In the top 10, only one of those movies wasn’t made with kids in mind and that’s Deadpool, which is only adult for being provocative, not in its themes. Hacksaw Ridge is all the way at 46 and a fantastic movie like Silence only made a measly 7 million. The Godfather probably would have failed in today’s environment.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Do people want to make predictions for Get Out? It’s doing well, and it’s definitely an adult movie.

          • Wrong Species says:

            As far as its rank at the end of the year? Right now its at 5. There are three Marvel movies, two DC movies and a Star Wars movie coming out this year. Christopher Nolan will probably do pretty well with Dunkirk. There will be at least one, probably two animated movies that do better than 200 million. Add in a surprise hit and a couple of movies that I’m not thinking about and Get Out comes out to 16. I highly doubt it will remain in the top 10 or leave the top 25.

        • Wency says:

          At first, seeing The Godfather on that list makes me think that the ’70s were a different world.

          Related, R-ratings by decade on that list:
          ’70s: 3
          ’80s: 1
          ’90s on: 0

          Of course, the standard response is that TV has transitioned to being the primary vehicle for serious adult drama. As The Godfather perhaps marks the height of blockbuster cerebral drama films, so The Sopranos marks the passing of this torch to TV. The ’70s weren’t quite so different as that list makes it appear. The Godfather could be made today, but it would be a TV series.

          A point can also be made for comedy: Home Alone came out just a year after the debut of both the Simpsons and Seinfeld, and television has owned comedy ever since.

    • DrBeat says:

      Never in my entire life have I seen someone say “art shouldn’t be afraid to be political” and not mean “art should be afraid to not be political and should be afraid to express political messages that I do not agree with”.

      Never in my entire life have I seen someone say “art should grow up” and not mean “art should be made so that it makes the unpopular upset and cannot be enjoyed by them.”

      At the most charitable reading, the piece is useless: “I don’t like movies of this genre. I wish they were movies of a different genre.” If we’re allowed to notice patterns of behavior, then it’s probably worse than useless.

      And yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is a terrible choice to use as an example, that movie was engaging and heartfelt.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Makes sense, but I’m a bit annoyed by this vibe I get that the between-the-lines message is “therefore, Society is Wrong” rather than “therefore, you should check out some indie movies if you’re tired of blockbusters”.

    • cthor says:

      This thread sort of reads like a fat person blaming McDonalds and Lays for being fat.

      Like, yeah, it’s perfectly manufactured to be tasty and profitable, and it’s not really good for you, and people have been telling you that for a while now, but you’re still eating it.

      The fresh produce section is still there. You just have to look.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I actually somewhat disagree. The bifurcation in film-making created by the Oscars vs. mass global audience divide affects the way serious films are made, as well as silly ones. It’s increasingly fashionable for artier pictures to reject the idea of satisfying narrative rhythms entirely (Moonlight being perhaps the clearest case in point this time around). It’s as if some part of the culture has decided that good pacing and good art are incompatible, rather than orthogonal and both desirable, which means we are less likely to get an Unforgiven or an American Beauty on the arty side as well. Hell or High Water is an honourable exception (and would have been my easy pick for Best Picture this year) but films like that do seem to me increasingly rare.

    • Wander says:

      Hopefully we’ll always have studios off on their own course, like Laika. Kubo and the Two Strings was a masterpiece, which was so effective at not underestimating what children could understand that it ended up with greater depth and impact than a lot of nominally adult films.

    • Tekhno says:

      A more inclusive society is going to create more inoffensive mass media. Societies that are inclusive and individualistic (the West) are going to allow for alternatives, but the big budget mass entertainment is going to end up inoffensive due to needing to please everyone. There’s the age effect, where things are becoming more inclusive to children, but deBoer’s post also touches on inclusivity by making references to politics or religion vague and abstract. The fact that China is an enormous market for Hollywood now to the extent that a movie can fail in the USA, and recoup its losses in China, means that movies are incentivized to be inclusive internationally as well.

      To be a little reactionary; this is the “mass man” winning. To be a little commie: everything gets smoothed over and homogenized in late capitalism big business. There is some hope, however, because matured AI will pretty much destroy the entertainment industry, and individualize it, as good artificial intelligence combined with real life quality CGI/physics will one day allow a computer to use certain parameters plus randomization to spit out more movies than you could watch in a (non-extended) lifetime. Assuming we aren’t killed by WW3/barbarians before then, we will get to enjoy Hollywood and all other entertainment industries flail about helplessly trying to ban intelligent entertainment generators.

      • Civilis says:

        How much of this is confined to the unique economic circumstances of movie production (and, to a lesser extent, TV production)? Movies and TV are by nature reliant on big projects due to the relatively limited number of slots for distribution (movie screens / TV slots). Most other media are getting to the point where they are already nearly individualized, where a small producer with limited resources (or just an individual) can enter the ring and compete.

        If you focus on the video game industry, the major players put out big-name games that frequently follow the pattern that DeBoer cites in movies; they have high production values, yet feel hollow. Yet the advent of internet-based distribution methods have allowed smaller players to enter the market and compete. The second highest selling game of all time, Minecraft, is a personal project. Most small games won’t outsell the big ticket major producer games, yet taken as a group they’re a significant force in the market, and exert pressure on the big producers to step up their game.

        I could cite the same process with books, and I think the rise of indie and web publishing is even further along in reducing the ability for a small group of powerful producers to dominate the industry. We have a great example in this thread in the form of Unsong.

        I think services like YouTube and Netflix producing and web-distributing their own content and making content distribution more widely available for others is the start of the individualization of ‘film’ and ‘TV’.

      • Tekhno says:

        This is true. Indie games are a big deal, because the gameplay is more important than what a big budget can provide generally (budget is generally used to turn games into half-movies funnily enough). Movies are definitely slanted towards providing a spectacle, so budget goes further at the moment.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I think you you and the farmer deBoer are overselling the “child-friendly” limit.
      I think a bigger reason that blockbusters feel so hollow is that they’re built around action scenes with expensive special effects which are structurally required to be meaningless: the hero(es) WILL survive them without long-term injury, to leave open a sequel if this expensive film is profitable. A movie franchise is not a saga with a beginning, middle, and end: it begins (if we’re lucky) with a self-contained film, then the sequels are just more middle and the end is an accident of ticket sales rather than an integral part of the characters’s saga. This power of protagonists to warp the laws of physics around themselves may have started in 1977 with Star Wars (“Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.”)
      From Aeschylus to Wagner, non-comedic theater was usually not only tragic, but also based on folk tales or history. If a hero wasn’t in real danger in a fight scene, at least it was because their survival was part of a known story that did have a beginning, middle and end. Though this could easily lead to meaningless fight scenes, the best directors and actors used them as an opportunity to show elements of characters’s personalities. Look at how Errol Flynn and his opponents emote in The Adventures of Robin Hood fight scenes.
      Of course that last part doesn’t require that the film being telling a folk tale or episode of history. You could say that Errol Flynn was Robin Hood with different motivations and time period in every role, and Jackie Chan made a career out of similar elan. I think green screens/CGI have to carry some of the guilt for hollow action.

      • LHN says:

        Protagonist immunity was a feature of serial storytelling long before Star Wars. Sherlock Holmes was never in any danger as long as Doyle wasn’t tired of writing him, and in the event even that proved no match for reader demand for stories post-Reichenbach Falls. Ditto Captain Kirk, Batman, Philip Marlowe, etc.

        Even where a character has a canonical death, that just serves to underscore the fact that they’re not going to die before that. No matter what peril is facing Thor, if the calendar doesn’t say “Ragnarok” you can be pretty sure he’s going to get out of it somehow. Ditto Arthur in any story not involving Camlann, Robin Hood as a young man, etc.

        Where the story is building to a known tragic end, even so most fight scenes in an action story happen in earlier acts. The story of Arthur is going to contain things like his initial battles to establish his kingdom, his challenge to Lancelot, etc. where he’s no more likely to die of an errant sword blow than Batman is to have his grappling hook slip off the roof of a skyscraper. Giving those fights tension and emotional weight has to depend on something other than uncertainty about his fate. The danger may feel viscerally real if the creators weave their spell correctly, but not because the viewer or reader can’t step back and say “well, of course he’s not going to die now” if they choose.

        (Sure, it’s possible to get some shock value out of killing the apparent hero in act one. But only in a context where that’s almost never done.)

    • Spookykou says:

      I am not sure if I agree with this. My biggest problem with movies lately is that they lack ‘causality’ it seems like we jump randomly from one scene to the next, it is often unclear where we are or how we got here, there is no distance, no space, no reality to the series of actions as they are presented. However, if Freddie is right and we are in a simplicity optimization spiral to appease foreign audiences, shouldn’t causality be improving? Sure a foreign audience might not understand all the subtle nuance, but it seems to me that Die hard would be easier to follow, in terms of this happened because of that, now they are doing this, etc, than say Age of Ultron.

      I don’t think he is wrong about the foreign audience targeting, but I am not so sure what they are actually optimizing for. If it really was easier to follow narratives, I would probably be happier with these movies than anything from the late 90’s early 00’s. It seems to me that they are instead optimizing for lots of scene changes, more action, faster pace, etc. Which creates confusing hollow meshes of big explosion filled fight scenes only loosely connected to each other in that one happens before the next.

      • Fahundo says:

        I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Age of Ultron was intentionally written to have the Avengers visit as many continents as possible.

  11. Harry Maurice Johnston says:

    There’s a bias I’ve always thought of as the “emergency-room bias”, but a quick Google search suggests that it is not well-known by that name. Can anyone give me the correct name?

    I saw this originally in the context of technical support newsgroups – specifically, helping people having trouble with Microsoft’s Windows Update technology. Every so often someone would come in and say something like, “dear me, look at how much trouble everyone is having, this must be a dreadfully bad technology, I’d better turn it off immediately” and someone else would say “well, nobody whose computer is working is going to come to a technical support newsgroup to say so” and then perhaps draw an analogy with spending time in a hospital emergency room and thinking everybody in the city must be incredibly accident-prone.

    Help please?

    • Evan Þ says:

      Selection bias?

      • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

        That would certainly be a superset of emergency-room bias but I was hoping there was a more specific phrase.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          It also vaguely resembles the Anthropic Principle. “The fact that we are here having this conversation constrains the universe such that it is unusually likely we might be the sort of people who would be here having this conversation”.

          So we shouldn’t be surprised to find an abundance of iPhone owners when standing in a Apple store, or sick people at a hospital, or people with tech problems on a tech-support forum.

          • Luke Somers says:

            I think Selection bias is about 100x clearer than Anthropic bias, if not more.

  12. onyomi says:

    I see some value in Scott Adams’s idea of the “confusopoly“: basically that both private companies and the government can take advantage of consumers/voters by making all available options needlessly complicated (his go-to example being cell phone plans).

    I am also a huge hater of long legalese which you have to agree to for everything nowadays, and which no one ever reads, with the result that they can just keep adding more of it, because seemingly no one ever says “never mind, I won’t buy this good/service since there is too much to read and sign”; quite the contrary, the probability of anyone caring probably goes down the longer it gets because the probability of reading it goes down.

    Other than just passing a law which says “all laws must be no more than x words long” or “it’s not lawful to demand agreement to a document of more than x characters as precondition on offering a good or service” (the latter seems especially problematic, as it limits the kind of private contract free individuals can enter into), is there any other way to have less of this?

    Related, does anyone who actually understands the new health care bill want to tell me what the really salient differences are as compared to ACA?

    • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

      Well … I don’t think you’ll like this idea, but FWIW you could take care of, not the entire problem, but a large subset of it, by having a small number of standard contracts for various types of services, and mandating that only those contracts (perhaps with some explicitly spelled-out permissible variations) are legal. Software EULAs would be a good example of the sort of field where I think this would help.

      You could also somewhat reduce the impact on freedom of choice by not making other contracts illegal, but by requiring that the contracting party obtain legal advice on what they mean, and perhaps something like requiring a physical signature and a counter-signature by the advising lawyer. Basically it seems to me that the main problem is click-through or shrink-wrap contracts, which this would take care of while still allowing more complicated arrangements when it is worth the cost of making sure there is actually a “meeting of minds”.

      You might also be interested in the rules on tenancy agreements in New Zealand.

      • neaanopri says:

        As a follow up to that, there might be some work a motivated individual could do in standardizing EULA’s to make them saner. But, if the purpose is to obfuscate, only adversarial tactic vs. corps will work

      • Deiseach says:

        Software EULAs would be a good example of the sort of field where I think this would help.

        So far as I can make out from reading (okay, skimming) through these when I’m trying to download something, they all say “1. We don’t care where you live, anything is going to be decided under Californian law* (and that’s on our side, so good luck there, suckers!) 2. We want an arm and a leg and a pint of blood from you if you so much as entertain the thought ‘hey, I already paid for this, wonder if it’s possible to use it on another device I own without buying a second full-price licence?’ (see point 1 for clarification) 3. If this software makes your computer explode and your house burn down and your gerbil dies and you are left naked and penniless in the street, too bad, we accept no responsibility whatsoever (see point 1 for clarification)”.

        *To the point where I was actually surprised when skimming a EULA and seeing a reference to Polish jurisdiction, because this was software from a European country 🙂

    • With tens of thousands of terms and conditions style contracts flying around, you’d think there’d be some scope to standardize them. Then you could become familiar with the contracts you are willing to sign and which you are not, or you could see well established reviews of them from reputable consumer groups, or friends, or whatever. You could even use them as a starting point so a product would be under Standard Contract 12 with a couple of lines of specified variation. That way you get customized contracts but you have a reasonable chance to assess them carefully against your own needs.

    • onyomi says:

      Has there been already/how long before we see a major, sensational legal case in which the defense is “nobody reads that stuff”? And how long do these agreements have to get before it’s accepted?

      • Linvega says:

        As far as I heard, here in germany it’s not just a sometimes-used defense, but actually a guiding principle for legal disputes involving customer agreements.

        Basically it says that the average customer not only doesn’t read it, but that he can’t be expected to even understand the fine details. Instead, the customer has a general sense of how other products in the same industry operate and based on that has a “reasonable expectation” what the agreement entails.

        So if you find out a product where you agreed to the customer agreement does something that you don’t want it to do, and you can proof that this is highly erratic for its industry and unfairly disadvantages you, the agreement becomes void.
        On the other hand, if you don’t like it but it’s actually the norm in the industry, you ARE expected that you should have read the fine print. After all, you’re obviously NOT their average customer.

        Unfortunately, I can’t find anything on it right now, so I can’t verify whether this story was actually true or not.

        • Egalisator says:

          I can confirm this. It’s part of the AGB-Recht in § 305c BGB (German Civil Law).
          The official translation can be found here:
          link text

          305c
          Surprising and ambiguous clauses

          (1) Provisions in standard business terms which in the circumstances, in particular with regard to the outward appearance of the contract, are so unusual that the other party to the contract with the user need not expect to encounter them, do not form part of the contract.

          (2) Any doubts in the interpretation of standard business terms are resolved against the user.

      • Protagoras says:

        I know that contracts are not automatically enforcable; there are some explicit legal as well as common sense constraints on what the court will enforce. Since I’m not a lawyer, and anyway in the U.S. there’s the annoying thing where the laws are different in every state, I can’t provide specifics on how that affects crazy EULAs, but I’m sure a lot of elements of them are not enforceable. I know that nearly all states have tenant protection laws that make many elements commonly included in residential leases unenforceable, which doesn’t prevent landlords from including those clauses (presumably in hope the tenants won’t realize they are unenforceable and will just follow the rules); this seems to be a not uncommon pattern in contract law, and probably true of many EULAs.

      • MNH says:

        I’m no lawyer, but there is a wikipedia section that addresses this directly:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End-user_license_agreement#Enforceability_of_EULAs_in_the_United_States

    • Luke Perrin says:

      What would be the coordination mechanism for cell phone plans being too complicated? Did all the telecom CEOs sit around a big table and say “Let’s make our prices too high and our plans really confusing”?

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, I assume that’s how they do it if there’s only a handful of them operating in a given country. Not sure what the situation is in the US.

      • onyomi says:

        There are only a few major carriers in the US.

        I don’t imagine it being so much “CEOs from every major carrier get around a table and all say: let’s make the plans super confusing and nobody defect by offering a simple plan!”

        Rather, there is probably a general tendency for the companies to gradually make the options more convoluted because they find that doing so optimizes profitability up to a point. That point seems to be rather high at the moment in part because, yes, there isn’t much competition between carriers, and what competition does exist seems to occur more at the level of network coverage, which phone supports which network, and, to a lesser extent, overall price point.

        The average consumer cares most about two things: how much is my monthly bill and how good is my coverage. “Could I, in theory, be getting a better deal, given my current usage patterns,” doesn’t seem to be something people think much about, since the plan options are presented to the consumer as rather set in stone. And it is to their advantage to present it that way.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          There are a few mobile players out there competing on simplicity and transparency, actually. I use Ting (a bit shill-y, I know, but their chart is illustrative of the point) but I know there’s others like it out there too. They piggyback on the existing networks, though, so maybe they can only get away with it due to being small players?

    • cassander says:

      Adam’s idea is too conspiratorial. It makes more sense to think of a confusopoly as a sort of market failure where competitive pressures break down because consumers aren’t capable of distinguishing between products.

      That said, the solution is clear, such complications are the inevitable result of thickets of regulation. cut down the thicket.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I think there’s room on the margin for confusology even so. Consider that any large organization’s legal team will be significantly more familiar with the legal terrain than the average consumer. That familiarity breeds exploitation; legal advises corporate on what it can get away with, while the consumer can afford less familiarity for all products the consumer consumes. Even Warren Buffett probably doesn’t optimize his toothpaste.

        Cutting down the thicket is a possible reaction to this, but it probably works about as well as it does on taxation: rare major purges punctuating an otherwise upward trend on complexity.

        One dream of mine was to automate the processing of such regulations by fitting them into a formal semantic model, and then people could develop software that parsed contracts into the model, or even cut out the intermediate step and had legal staff issue their contracts in the model. More software could analyze contracts for vulnerabilities, support their modification, alert either party to clauses they would find objectionable, and so on. My vision of QoL improvement was, for example, getting an instant map of all housing in an area that provided a specific type of maintenance agreement, allowed dogs as pets, and fell within a given price range, with an alert for any places with a contract clause that didn’t fall within the set of concerns that the consumer had specified a preference for (“you didn’t say how you felt about free cable internet with a data cap”).

        • cassander says:

          given how people respond to the paradox of choice, I tend to assume that non-legally mandated confusion will be out-competed, or at least there will always be money to be made in non-confusing options. “pay us 20 bucks month, end of story” might not be the most efficient way to buy something, but enough people will throw up their hands at complexity that it can be sustained.

        • Kevin C. says:

          One dream of mine was to automate the processing of such regulations by fitting them into a formal semantic model

          But what about cases where the “formal semantic model” fails. Either because it fails to clearly cover the case (incompleteness), or else generates conflicting or contradictory requirements or outcomes (inconsistency)? Because, based in my understanding of Gödel, I expect that for any such “formal semantic model”, there will exist cases for which one of the two above occurs.

          • rlms says:

            Your understanding is wrong. Gödel only applies to certain kinds of model (a model that just e.g. considered whether or not a contract contained certain phrases would be a different type of thing), and even then only to sufficiently powerful ones. But even supposing that the model was complex enough, there is no guarantee that the “unprovable theorems” Gödel gives (in this case I suppose they would be facts that could be deduced intuitively from a contract but not found by the model) would be important. In maths, unprovable statements are rarely found “in the wild”. For contracts, it is implausible that writing one with unprovable implications would ever be necessary.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The ambiguity creates a difference in cost that is comparable with the cost of removing it. If the former is greater, then at least one party will seek to remove it. If not, both parties will give up on it and either ignore the discrepancy, or agree to (cheap) arbitration if it becomes an issue.

            This happens all the time. A consumer shopping for beans likely isn’t going to sweat the 5-cent difference between two brands of beans, or a 0-cent difference between two brands that may or may not be using GMO material, etc. In larger negotiations, two corporations reading a $1M contract aren’t going to spend $400k haggling over a line item worth 5%. If they do, it’ll be a one-time thing (perhaps to establish reputation); if it’s a habit, at least one of them will not stay solvent for long.

            This can work even if the ambiguity is hard to measure. If an obscure clause in a contract has an probability curve of X% chance of making $f(X) of a difference, and one party doesn’t know X or f(X), they’re going to take their best guess at both, and spend no more than that on finding out, and if both are low enough, they’ll not sweat it. If the other party knows, then it’s because they spent the money to find out, perhaps because it’s worth more to them to know X and f(X) since they’re in that business.

            If so, then I look at that as a numeric expression of the value of the division of labor. It’s a subtle improvement in society overall, to have multiple players figuring out these curves, with a built-in limitation: if a player does a good enough job at this, then all the other players have to do is copy whatever that person does, or discover the pattern.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            For contracts, it is implausible that writing one with unprovable implications would ever be necessary.

            I’m now amusedly wondering what such an analog would be. Party of the first part is to be paid for damages in arbitration if and only if arbitration cannot settle on an interpretation of the contract?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @rlms

            Gödel’s theorem may not strictly apply completely, but similar reasoning should; analogies to the halting problem could be considered as well. And consider the story told about Gödel, Einstein, and the US Constitution. It relates back in ways to Carl Schmitt’s theory of the “exception”. In short, it seems pretty clear to me that “algorithmic government” cannot be complete; no finite algorithm and rule set (implementable in finite time) can unambiguously cover every possible situation. Now, if you wish to argue that the set of all plausible contracts between human beings are a sufficiently restricted subset that contract interpretation and enforcement can be fully “automated” (and human judgement and discretion replaced completely), but I don’t think that can merely be assumed, and if true, then it implies severe limits on “contractualist” theories and models.

            @Paul Brinkley

            If the former is greater, then at least one party will seek to remove it.

            But how do you — or more accurately, your automated contract system — determine whether or not this party succeeds in doing so?

            If not, both parties will give up on it and either ignore the discrepancy

            Which is to say, human beings ignoring the output of the algorithm.

            or agree to (cheap) arbitration if it becomes an issue.

            Which is again human judgement substituting in for “the computer”. So, in fact, you then haven’t fully “automated” and replaced all human judgement in contract interpretation. Which is my point.

          • rlms says:

            @Kevin C.
            There is no reason to think that Gödel’s alleged constitutional flaw is at all connected with his theorem, any more than there is to think that either of these is connected with his marrying a stripper.

            You can’t just vaguely wave at Gödel to argue that something is incomplete. Many complex models (e.g. first-order logic) are complete and consistent. But even if you assume that the contract thing is sufficiently powerful that Gödel applies, that doesn’t mean it will actually affect anything. There are very few naturally occurring true unprovable mathematical statements. If you think that there will be a significant number in a contract system (despite the fact that that system would be less introspective than mathematics) then that is a very bold claim, and the onus of justifying it is on you.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Kevin C: But how do you – or more accurately, your automated contract system – determine whether or not this party succeeds in [removing ambiguity from a contract]?

            My automated system wouldn’t. Well, not in its first iteration. It wouldn’t know enough to even be able to recommend a possible solution. Removing ambiguity requires consideration of the real-world scenarios the parties care about. The key is that in many cases, you only have to do this once, and then it works for many future cases.

            For example: I offer you insurance against lung cancer. In pseudo-formal terms: I offer to pay for up to $200k in lung cancer treatment for you alone, in return for $20/month, for the period of months in which you’re paying it. Very simple terms, but what if you’re a smoker? I care about this enough to alter the terms – the cost of altering the terms is less than the difference I expect if I go around covering chronic smokers – so I say that if you’re a smoker, you have to pay $40/month for the same coverage. Now there’s ambiguity the other way. What if you only smoke cigars, and only at parties, say, once about every three months? This makes enough difference to you to offer another amendment to the formal terms, and let’s say I agree, and you’re back to $20/month. And now I’m worried about the chance that you’ll get lung cancer anyway, but after a quick check with my actuary, I find the chance to probably be so low that it’s not worth amending the formal contract further, so it goes through and now we’re both better off, after three iterations of looking at scenarios.

            Which is to say, human beings ignoring the output of the algorithm.

            Nah. The algorithm says I pay for up to $200k of your cancer treatment, despite your cigar smoking having made it more likely, because I decided I didn’t care enough about how much more likely it actually was, because it would have apparently cost me too much to find out exactly how much.

            [Cheap arbitration] is again human judgement substituting in for “the computer”. So, in fact, you then haven’t fully “automated” and replaced all human judgement in contract interpretation. Which is my point.

            So what? You’re arguing as if this is worthless just because it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be; it just has to reduce the number of cases where someone realizes an unfavorable contract they’d signed, because they lacked time to manually read and analyze the terms. It can miss a few and still be better than status quo.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            It looks like I misread you. I’ve seen a number of “the law code is a set of rules, so if we ‘code’ them properly, they can be implemented by machine, and we can completely replace all judges, lawyers, courts, etc. with a computer” arguments before, and I read you as arguing the same for contracts: that we can remove the human element altogether and have The Computer Decide Everything. Apparently, that’s not what you meant.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Oh, right then. Yeah, you had no reason to know this, but I tend to treat nearly all innovation that way. None of it eliminates a trade entirely, except in exceedingly rare cases. Usually, it just allows one person to do the work that required ten before.

            An “automatic lawyer” would fall into the latter category. Much like how Grammarly doesn’t make editors obsolete. It just eliminates a great deal of the boring scutwork, and also gives ordinary schmoes affordable access to the power of a decent specialist.

    • tomogorman says:

      You can make the laws/contracts shorter – but that just means you shove the decision on those cases out to a future judge when the edge cases come up, which is if anything more obscure. Frex, you didn’t specify a choice of law provision then the court deciding the case applies its legal precedent to determine choice of law. You didn’t specify if arbitration – you de facto specified any State court that has jurisdiction. You didn’t specify venue (physical location where the proceedings will happen) – you de facto give the plaintiff choice of any appropriate venue. And so on and so on.
      U.S. law has already heard the challenge of no one reads the fine print (usually referred to as adhesion contracts), and has generally decided as long as the contract term is not simply ridiculously unfair (in U.S. legalese unconscionable) then you are stuck with it. You bargained for a contract written by the big company and therefore written to favor the big company within reason in exchange for a lower price. It simply wouldn’t be commercially reasonable to have individual bargaining. And for most contracts most people really don’t care (as you said below for cell phones people care about their price per month, phone options and coverage)

      As to the AHCA v ACA; its obviously very complicated at the margins, but major differences are:
      1) offer less in subsidies for the very poor (cutting Medicaid, especially the ACA’s expansion thereof but also capping regular Medicaid’s future growth).
      2) within the exchanges have less of the young/healthy subsidizing the poor/old by;
      i) fewer conditions that must be covered; and further allowing States to request waivers that allow insurance companies not to have to cover pre-existing conditions
      ii) changing the age band so that insurance can charge old people 5x the rate for young people (under ACA it is only 3x)
      3) instead of subsidies there are refundable tax credits (also the schedule for these changes such that there is a shift in favor of higher incomes)
      4) instead of a mandate (tax penalty owed annually if you don’t have insurance that year) there is a premium penalty (if you go without insurance for 2 months when you do buy insurance again the company is required to charge you 30% more)
      5) repeal of various ACA taxes that mainly hit higher incomes
      6) as what many believe is the intended effect of all of this spends roughly 1 trillion less over 10 years which gives the Republican Congress budgetary room to cut that much in taxes through reconciliation.

      So in sum; costs less, but provides less coverage. May be good if you are young and healthy as your insurance rates could go down when insurance companies are allowed to offer you coverage and price that takes into account you are young and healthy. Bad if you are old and/or sick as insurance companies can offer you coverage and price that takes into account you are old and/or sick. Is bad if you are poor – you get less money from the government to help. Is good if you are richer, pay less in taxes/get better refundable tax credits.
      (* there is also a fear that will just destroy the individual market as the premium penalty is far to weak to do the work of the mandate, which many believe is already too weak)

      • My interpretation of what is going on is that a complicated contract written in favor of the seller is a way of substituting reputational constraints for legal constraints. I’m pretty sure that Blizzard, under their contract, could do lots of things to me as a WoW player that I wouldn’t like, but if they did such things very often people would stop playing WoW.

        That makes sense if the legal system is sufficiently badly designed or biased that a seller can’t write a short contract that it can expect to be interpreted reasonably when a problem comes up and someone sues it.

        • gbdub says:

          How much of it is that the manufacturer has much more to lose in litigation than any individual consumer? From that perspective, it might make sense to cover their butts with a lot of legalese, giving them a lot of anti-consumer rights that they never plan to actually use but protecting them against edge cases that could hurt them a lot.

        • tomogorman says:

          it probably makes sense even if the legal system isn’t badly designed or biased just because reducing uncertainty is worthwhile

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Two very SlateStarCodex-y suggestions:

      1. For laws

      We need another level of law! We currently have statutory law and Constitutional law, right? Constitutional law is shorter, less technically written, and less detailed, and trumps statutory law which is incredibly long, incredibly technical, and incredibly detailed.

      We need a “superior law,” which stand between statutory law and Constitutional law, and is intermediate in those respects. It would articulate principles and intents, not at the super high level of the Constitution, but not at the highly detailed level of statutory law, either. So while the Constitution has, I believe, one sentence on the subject of copyright (To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.), and I presume statutory law has 857,923 pages on copyright, you might devote like… a page of superior law to copyright.

      Courts would strike down statutory law if it was in conflict with superior law, and superior law if it was in conflict with Constitutional law.

      2. For contracts

      LAW-BOTS

      I think that we are at a point where you could have a service that you could submit your contracts to and it would read them, using AI to parse out typical legal language, and then essentially bottom-line it for you, call out things that are unusual or inappropriate, give you good advice about what to object to, maybe rate it or whatever.

      We are certainly at the technological capability to do this if people were required to structure their contracts a little more formally. I think that law-bots would possibly create very healthy incentives to people not to try to sneak bullshit into their contracts, too.

      • Skivverus says:

        I like 1 in particular, though I’m tempted to expand it to numbered ranks – tier 3 law overrides tier 2 and tier 1 law but not tier 4+, that sort of thing (though as a libertarian I’m leery of anything that’ll allow the government to get bigger, and that sort of structure very likely will).
        It’s sort of like commenting one’s code.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        We need another level of law! We currently have statutory law and Constitutional law, right? Constitutional law is shorter, less technically written, and less detailed, and trumps statutory law which is incredibly long, incredibly technical, and incredibly detailed.

        Why not state within each law for every section, paragraph, sentence, and number the aim it is to accomplish (i.e.: why was it made into law)? And courts must give them priority over the explicit detailed rule. A great number of cases would not be taken to court then because the exploit of loopholes and edge cases becomes impossible. Much less micro-/nano-regulations, less dense legal thicket, less bigger-fool-economy….

        • LHN says:

          @TheEternallyPerplexed We see how well that’s worked to avoid disagreements over, e.g., the Second Amendment.

          Late last century, I took a course that touched on the application of formal logic to law. The professor had a standing bet that any law beyond a (very short) minimum length contained identifiable ambiguities. As far as I know, no one ever collected.

          Partly because natural language is just like that. Partly because ambiguity is probably necessary to any law being passed by a legislature full of people with conflicting interests. (In practice, the legislative intent behind many laws may have been “get this thing off the table so we can break for lunch”.)

          (One reason constitutional originalism has evolved from “original intent” to “original public meaning”– a group of people passing a compromise can hardly be said to have had a single intent. The latter isn’t immune to similar criticisms, but it’s at least possible on the level of researching how a stock phrase like “well-regulated” or “the press” was generally used and what it encompassed.)

          That doesn’t mean it’s never worthwhile to attempt clear drafting. And of course lots of times it works– most applications of the law are never challenged. But as long as the law is being disputed by smart individuals with strong incentive to engage in motivated reasoning, trying to avoid the need for interpretation with added explanatory language will tend towards turtles all the way down.

          Especially in the likely case that different legislators at different stages of the drafting and amendment process had different ideas what the law was trying to accomplish.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Oh, I forgot to mention another property of superior law in my proposal: it would be harder to pass, requiring a supermajority of legislators (but not as difficult to pass as a Constitutional amendment).

          So that’s why not make it just part of statutory law, and also I think it would be better and easier to organize if you had it as a separate document. Easier for congresspeople to defend it as a separate document, I think.

          (You could reasonably ask your congressperson to actually read the superior laws they wanted to pass.)

      • LHN says:

        Re types of law, there’s also case law (in common law jurisdictions) and regulatory law.

        I’m skeptical of the lawbot idea. Identifying boilerplate (and what isn’t), sure. But correctly interpreting the implications of contract terms in an adversarial negotiation is something I’m guessing we haven’t quite reached.

        I did a short CLE course on entertainment law contracts by someone who’d been on both the artist and record company side, and the main thing I learned is that if you’re ever involved you want not just a contract lawyer but someone familiar with those sorts of contracts. They’re just as ruthless as rumored, and experts in hiding an innocuous-looking term that happens to massively shift how much money is going where and who owns what rights.

        So I’m pretty confident that if there were a TurboTax for contracts, there’d be highly paid staff running sample clauses all day looking for (and finding) its blind spots.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Law-bots could definitely be defeated by using novel phrasing with current AI technology (at least, current commonly-available AI technology, god knows what Google or the NSA have in their labs). That’s why I added a proviso that says that we definitely have the technology if people are forced to enable law-bots to a certain degree.

          They’d also learn pretty quickly, and I think with a non-zero but pretty small amount of human intelligence backing them up. It would be easy for a law-bot to tag a piece of text as “I don’t understand this,” and bring it to a human backup’s attention.

          It would definitely be a tool for helping lay people with common, mostly-boilerplate agreements, not the domain of highly customized, highly technical contracts.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        When I look at the current state of law, few things are farther from my mind than the idea that the courts just don’t have enough tools available for striking down statutes.

  13. bean says:

    No battleship post today, sorry. Yesterday, the time I might have spent writing it was instead spent at a lecture by Nicholas Jellicoe, the grandson of Admiral John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet at Jutland. So instead, I’ll link to his website. I’d recommend the animation as the best way to understand what happened there.

    • neaanopri says:

      Hi Bean, this isn’t about battleships but it’s not far off.

      I’m a big fan of a specific World War 2 Grand strategy game, and one of the important parts of it is “fleet composition”: the ratio of Battleships/Carriers/Heavy Cruisers/Light Cruisers/Destroyers in a fleet. In the game, the fleets serve various roles, but I’m going to focus on the “Search and Destroy” role in which two fleets are trying to win a Mahanian decisive battle.

      Some quick googling gives me some answers: at Jutland, the Germans seem to have very few screens compared to the British, and they got the better of the fight. But at the Battle of Tsushima, the Japanese have far more screens and far fewer capital ships than the Russians, but the Japanese won decisively. I think this paradigm breaks down in WW2 because of carriers, so these two battles are all the data I know of.

      So how was a battlefleet “balanced”, so to speak? What were the general approaches to questions of “screens vs. capital ships”, and what would screens do in a fleet action?

      • bean says:

        The answer is that it depends on when and who. In WWI and earlier, the screen was there to keep out scouts and submarines, and in battle would deliver torpedo attacks on the enemy. (Usually. Some navies planned other things.) Light cruisers were the usual scouts, counters to scouts, and killers of destroyers, which were quite lightly armed.
        In WWII, the scouting issue had gone away with the arrival of the airplane. The screen now focused on AA and ASW, with a minor in torpedo attacks and a bit of surface gunfire. The problem is that destroyer gunfire wasn’t quite heavy enough to be really effective. The preferred US combination for a night action was 6″ cruiser guns and destroyer torpedoes.
        The general approach was to figure out how many destroyers you needed to protect your main body, and try to get about that many to your fleet. This is usually 4-6 per capital ship, to provide a sufficient anti-submarine screen, and to have some chance of torpedo attack. The ratios of available ships had a lot more to do with industrial capacity than anything else, as destroyers were about the largest ships that could be built cheaply in general-purpose shipyards, while cruisers and bigger took specialized resources. On the other hand, destroyers were also used as escorts for other ships, which bigger ships usually weren’t.

  14. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Tyler Cowen has published a big philosophical essay. So far, I’ve only listened to the podcast, so I don’t know how he defines or describes sustainable economic growth, nor how complete or defensible his list of rights is.

    Also, in the podcast, he says that philosophers only talk about redistribution and neglect the question of how production happens. Is this an accurate claim about the field?

    • Philosophisticat says:

      “Philosophers only talk about X” is probably going to be false for just about everything. I haven’t listened to the podcast so I don’t know what exactly he has in mind with “how production happens” and can’t judge whether that particular problem is one philosophers have neglected.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Cowen’s point is that economic growth as a moral good is less emphasized as opposed to redistribution and it shouldn’t be like that. He thinks that philosophers should be more attuned to the question of what makes economic growth possible and what we can do to influence it.

        • bobbingandweaving says:

          Yeah but those people would probably become growth economists (with the implicit value judgement that growth is good) instead of applied ethicists lol, also because of the contentious equal weighting of each dollar of production in the GDP calculation you can say that you don’t know the size of the economy until you know it’s distribution. Coleen wants people to analyse growth as distributively neutral productive value but philosophers want to weigh the productive value according to where it goes then add that up together and see it’s summation only then. It’s a tough one though, since there’s no end to redistributive arguments I have some sympathy with Coleen who just wants to get on with things and enlarge the distributively neutral pie, on the other hand he should understand that studying where growth comes from is pretty difficult without running into philosophical dilemmas like the Ramsay equation of the Non Identity Problem which acknowledge the ethical underpinnings of putatively vale free economic concepts such as GDP growth.

  15. onyomi says:

    Does this particular corner of the “Rationalsphere” endorse the so-called “RationalWiki”? I feel like every time I Google some term to find out e.g. whether “Cultural Marxist” is really a slur meaning “gays, Jews, and degenerates,” it pops up to tell me that yes, in fact, term I thought was a fairly neutral descriptor is actually a horrifying snarl word (or at least has, at some point, been used that way).

    The overall perspective there is definitely more left-wing and “I Fucking Love Science”-y than mine, but then, maybe so is that of “the Rationalist community” more generally. They do seem to aim for some sort of balance–including, for example, a long section on “Stalin atrocity denialism,” though I can’t help but feel somehow that their relentless war against tendentious language is itself somehow tendentious, in addition to feeling a bit preachy?

    • Anonymous says:

      Those guys are just squatting on the namespace. The closest analogical equivalent I know of is Conservapedia. IIRC, the lesswrong rationalists are quite annoyed that it exists.

      • Peter says:

        The analogy with Conservapedia is no coincidence – Rationalwiki was created when a bunch of people trolling Conservapedia got banned, so they set up their own site as a counterweight.

        Our genial host is on record as disparaging Rationalwiki – see https://twitter.com/slatestarcodex/status/346851748243206144?lang=en. Incidentally, it seems that he got his Tumblr six years ahead of when he predicted, so watch http://getstungbymillionsofwasps.com for Scott some time in mid-2019 if current trends hold. At least it’s not RationalWiki!

        Edit – there used to be a “real” website – OK a placeholder joke – at getstungbymillionsofwasps.com but alas it seems to have lapsed.

    • Aapje says:

      RationalWiki is a wiki by a bunch of people who considered Wikipedia too neutral and informative about uncontested facts & most importantly, not snarky enough when someone is wrong on the Internet. So they made RationalWiki as an ammunition depot to aid in winning debates and to be fun to read if you share their bias.

      It’s not very rational however, since they just collect information to support their existing beliefs and are hostile to evidence against them. Furthermore, the snark often consists of making factually incorrect statements where the reader is supposed to know that they are false. It’s a poor source of information if you can only tell which parts are true and which parts are false, if you already know what is true and what is false.

      • onyomi says:

        That articulates exactly my problem with it, now that you mention it. Setting aside how accurate or inaccurate its information may be, the tone and presentation are such that, yes, it feels not designed to convince or educate anyone, but rather to provide convenient “checkmate, [theists, anti-vaxers, creationists, Republicans…]!” talking points, which themselves will only help with point-scoring among the sort of people already inclined to agree with the RW viewpoint (at the expense of whichever foolish Republican wandered into your Facebook comment space).

        In other words, it’s a Your Republican Uncle-type resource.

    • sohois says:

      I do remember that it was never particularly popular on LessWrong, as Aapje points out, and the feeling appeared to be mutual given their wiki on LW.

    • RW is pretty much my belief system from a few years ago…i still agree with some parts of it. After spending a week reading what the intellectual cream of the US right have to offer, I believe even more that the US right are fact hating crazies as per RW.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Oh? Which did you read first? Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative? Sowell’s A Conflict Of Visions? Maybe something from William F. Buckley?

        Or maybe you’re one of those who sees Libertarians as Right-Wing, and you were reading Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom? Hayek’s Road To Serfdom? Nozick’s Anarchy, State, & Utopia?

        I know you weren’t just talking about arguing with random first time posters on a comment thread on the internet.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      How on earth would “Cultural Marxist” be a fairly neutral descriptor? Most of the times it’s used it describes people who are not Marxists of any sort with a term that carries a large amount of baggage.

      • herbert herberson says:

        Before it was seized upon by Breitbart (and the paleocons before him, to some extent) as the ur-theory for everything that he disliked about the left, Cultural Marxism was a real, endonymic academic tendency within critical studies.

        • Brad says:

          A small one in terms of numbers of adherents and limited in time largely to the 1970s. There’s almost no legitimate reason for anyone to have used the term in the last 20+ years.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What word should be used to describe the phenomena of “the tendency of leftists to enforce equality via cultural institutions when direct governmental power is unavailable?”

            What is the non-snarl word for this?

          • Brad says:

            I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

          • Skivverus says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            “Social pressure” or “peer pressure” come to mind, but those aren’t left-specific. Also “soft power”, but that’s again not left-specific.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Brad:

            “I can’t use the government to punish people who say the races or sexes are not biologically equivalent, so I will push for Codes of Conduct at the schools and HR departments to punish racists and sexists at school or at work.”

            “I will negatively critique all western cultural and economic institutions through the press so that people may lose faith in them and no longer support them.”

            “I will establish Gender Studies departments at universities that will give theoretical support to ideas that undermine traditional marriage and gender roles.”

            You understand these things happen, right? What should one call the distributed effort to bring about Marxist revolution through large-scale cultural shifts rather than acute insurrection?

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            You understand these things happen, right? What should one call the distributed effort to bring about Marxist revolution through large-scale cultural shifts rather than acute insurrection?

            No, I don’t “understand” that these things happen. It’s pretty apparent between this and your other comment about Muslim immigration that have zero insight into how left leaning people think.

            A good name for your wild conspiracy theory is the last thing you need.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Brad:

            So the idea that leftists want a more leftist culture and work to make it so is a “conspiracy theory.” What exactly are culturally active leftists doing then, if not working for a leftist culture (and thereby eventually leftist politics?)

            Does the right do anything to influence culture their way? Do we have any culture conflicts at all or am I simply a crazy person imagining some kind of cultural conflict in the united states that doesn’t exist?

          • dndnrsn says:

            First, “left-wing” and “leftist” aren’t really synonyms. Second, there’s a pretty big gap between “making the culture more left-wing” and “bringing about Marxist revolution” eh?

          • Iain says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            You are trying to have your cake and eat it too. If the right also engages in this activity, then it’s unclear why you need a specific term for the left-wing version. Skivverus gave a number of reasonable options that are not left-specific.

            If you are asking for a specific term for the broad-based effort on the left to bring about Marxist revolution through the power of Gender Studies and Codes of Conduct, then you need a better question. The fact that you dislike multiple things is not proof that they are all secretly interconnected.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            “left-wing” and “leftist” aren’t really synonyms

            Which bucket does “gaslighting people who notice Cthulhu swimming left” fall into?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @dndnrsn

            Politics is downstream from culture.

            I would say Cultural Marxism is about as real as The Patriarchy. No, there is no shadowy group of white Christian males who meet biweekly to plot the oppression of all non white Christian males. But there are cultural institutions and media representations that perpetuate traditional gender and sexual norms.

            There is no secret Committee of Cultural Marxists plotting the downfall of the west. But there are feminists, anti-racists, queer acceptance groups, etc, who produce art, literature, social science studies, etc, to promote a radical egalitarian (i.e., Marxist) culture.

            This is kind of the whole “Culture War” thing people on SSC talk about only all the time. “Cultural Marxism” is just basically a snarl-word for the people opposed to “the White Supremacist Patriarchy.”

            No one identifies as a cultural marxist. No one identifies (unironically) as The Patriarchy. I don’t think anyone even identifies as a White Supremacist (white nationalism isn’t the same thing). Yet, these things exist. I would highly recommend tabooing them to avoid mindkill, but I don’t think you can say concepts don’t exist. Again, you might as well argue The Patriarchy doesn’t exist because there is no Patriarchy, Inc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Gobbobobble

            Oh no! The jig is up! I’ll have to alert my handlers in Berkeley and Davos!

            I’m not denying that western society has moved to the left considerably, socially speaking at least, in the last hundred or however many years. But this isn’t the result of a conspiracy, there’s no centralized control, and it isn’t to bring about Marxist revolution.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            What’s the difference between ordinary egalitarianism and “radical” egalitarianism? How is the former by definition Marxist?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Iain

            Right-wing cultural domination: The Patriarchy; White Supremacy.

            Left-wing cultural domination: Cultural Marxism.

            I don’t understand why this is a difficult concept. We have a Culture War. “Cultural Marxism” is a descriptive term for the common cultural ideology and methods of those on the left.

            You don’t have to use the word. I don’t recommend using the words. But either explain to me why there is not, in fact, a culture war going on and I’m just a crazy person thinking there is, or give me a different phrase for “the left-wing side of the culture war.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Expect something in a couple hours about the whole “cultural Marxism” thing. I’ve talked about this before but I don’t have the time at this moment.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @dndnrsn:

            Edit: Saw the “expect something” message after I posted the below. I look forward to your reply. Thanks!

            What’s the difference between ordinary egalitarianism and “radical” egalitarianism? How is the former by definition Marxist?

            I would say the later is Marxist. Ordinary egalitarianism would be equality of opportunity. Radical egalitarianism would be equality of outcome.

            It’s Marxist because that’s what Marx advocated for: equality of outcome. It’s cultural instead of political because there is no seizing of the political system to forcibly redistribute resources. Instead, heavily influence or take control of cultural institutions like universities and HR departments and push the agenda there.

            I really don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept.

            Please help me identify where I’m wrong in my chain of reasoning here:

            1) There are people who strongly believe in equality of outcomes.

            2) One reasonable description of a desire for equality of outcomes is “Marxism.”

            3) Some who seek to establish a condition of Marxist equality do so via cultural means, for example feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, “Celebrate Diversity” campaigns at work. Note these are cultural phenomena, not political (no one’s seized control of the government and is forcing you to celebrate diversity, but it’s heavily pushed onto the workplace culture).

            4) A reasonable term for the application of Marxist ideas of equality via changes in culture instead of political system is “Cultural Marxism.”

            Which of these points is wrong?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But this isn’t the result of a conspiracy, there’s no centralized control, and it isn’t to bring about Marxist revolution.

            Uh, Brad, and now you, are the only ones to mention centralization or conspiracies. It’s part of what I was referring to as gaslighting.

            I mean really, this shit just shows an utter contempt for charity:

            What word[, if not Cultural Marxism,] should be used to describe the phenomena of “the tendency of leftists to enforce equality via cultural institutions when direct governmental power is unavailable?”

            I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

          • random832 says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            I would say Cultural Marxism is about as real as The Patriarchy

            Right-wing cultural domination: The Patriarchy; White Supremacy.

            Left-wing cultural domination: Cultural Marxism.

            So is it hypocritical to use the latter while objecting to the use of the former?

            Also in what way is “Marxism” plainly descriptive of it in the same way that the others are (if uncharitably, and let’s not pretend they’re not also “snarl words”) descriptive of the things they refer to? What has the modern left to do with Marx?

          • herbert herberson says:

            2) One reasonable description of a desire for equality of outcomes is “Marxism.”

            I don’t think this is a reasonable definition of Marxism. Marxism is a theory that workers are economically exploited when non-workers own the means of production, and a political program that advocates for that exploitation to be ended by putting the means of production in the hands of workers. Marxists do typically advocate for peoples’ basic needs to be provided equally, but the ideological basis for that is that lacking basic needs makes one far easier to exploit (while the practical basis is the obvious). The premises aren’t designed to achieve an equality-of-outcome end; the ends flow down from the original premises.

            This kind of leads into the problem with trying to use the term the way you are here: a ton of these people aren’t Marxist at all. They’re just left-liberals. Indeed, I think you dramatically overestimate the number of people who are seeking equality of outcomes at all, Marxist or otherwise. Instead, I think the most common belief in these circles is that you need to take certain re-compensative actions to overcome past injustices and achieve true equality of opportunity.

            I don’t think the tendencies you’re talking about are sufficiently coordinated or uniform to warrant a single term beyond “the left” (and I’d say the same thing about the other side of the oppositional pair you propose–I don’t blame the Patriarchy for white supremacy and its legacy, for example). Perhaps “left-wing hegonomy over X, Y, and Z” could work, if you really needed something more specific than “the left” but less specific than “academic feminists” or whatever.

          • random832 says:

            @herbert herberson

            Instead, I think the most common belief in these circles is that you need to take certain re-compensative actions to overcome past injustices and achieve true equality of opportunity.

            With a side order of the belief that equal outcomes will naturally arise once equal opportunity is sorted out. Huh, put that way it does sound a tiny bit Marxist.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            So is it hypocritical to use the latter while objecting to the use of the former?

            Yes, I think so. I don’t think any of these words are charitable, because no one identifies themselves that way. If we have feminists saying “Patriarchy” and right-wingers saying “Cultural Marxist” we’re now just screaming ideology at each other. I can’t argue with a feminist attacking The Patriarchy because that is a whole general mish-mash of “stuff feminists don’t like in society,” parts of which I may or not agree with, shouldn’t be lumped in with, and have never self-identified as. However, if feminists are talking to each other about examples of the stuff they don’t like in society, “Patriarchy” is pretty useful shorthand for them.

            Similarly, if someone starts accusing you of “Cultural Marxism” there’s not much useful discussion to have unless you identify as a Cultural Marxist, which no one does. However, when talking among like-minded folk, it’s a pretty useful shorthand for a wide variety of behaviors.

            Objecting to the existence of one description and not the other is essentially playing “my political allies get to use short descriptions for common concepts but your side is crazy unless you write 12 paragraphs describing each individual issue.” i.e., an isolated demand for description.

            What’s most ridiculous in this discussion though is the accusation of “conspiracy theory.” That’s not even a weak-man, that’s a complete strawman as I don’t think anyone, anywhere, has ever described Cultural Marxism as a conspiracy of active participants. If someone thinks it is, they must be incredibly confused about The Patriarchy. I’ll enlighten them: feminists talking about The Patriarchy are not talking about a shadowy meeting of white Christian cishetero men in a castle in Bavaria plotting the oppression of all non-white Christian cishetero men, and they are not suggesting such a group exists. If I’m wrong about this, and feminists are suggesting such a group exists, please let me know where it is so I can join it because that sounds awesome.

            Similarly, no one is suggesting a Shadow Politburo of Cultural Marxists is plotting “Celebrate Diversity Day” at your office. To pretend that they are suggesting that is uncharitable. Someone asked for a definition of Cultural Marxism, I gave it to them, and at no point did I suggest any kind of organized conspiracy or central control.

            Also in what way is “Marxism” plainly descriptive of it in the same way that the others are (if uncharitably, and let’s not pretend they’re not also “snarl words”) descriptive of the things they refer to? What has the modern left to do with Marx?

            Because the equality of economic outcome Marx advocated for is extremely similar to the equality of racial/gender/orientation/etc outcome the modern Culture War left advocates for. Feminist theory, anti-racist theory are heavily influenced by Marx. The first person we know of to use “racist” as an epithet was Leon Trotsky, a prominent Marxist theorist. (Note, I’m not saying he invented the word “racist.” I’m saying he first used it as a pejorative rather than a neutral description of “one who evaluates the differences between races.”) As these concepts are all closely linked, “Marxist” is not a completely out of left field description.

            Again, though, this is not a self-description. This is a critical description of political opponents. It seems odd to take particular exception here, but have no problem describing wide swaths of people on the right side of the political spectrum as “Nazis,” despite them not being National Socialists in 1930s Germany.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @herbert herberson

            I don’t think this is a reasonable definition of Marxism. Marxism is a theory that workers are economically exploited when non-workers own the means of production, and a political program that advocates for that exploitation to be ended by putting the means of production in the hands of workers.

            Cultural Marxism is the theory that minority groups are exploited when majority groups hold the levers of power in society, and a cultural attitude that advocates for that exploitation to be ended by putting the levers of power in the hands of at least a proportional number of minorities.

            Do you see the similarity?

            Indeed, I think you dramatically overestimate the number of people who are seeking equality of outcomes at all, Marxist or otherwise.

            Feminists advocating for an end to the gender pay gap? Dismayed at the disproportionately small number of female CEOs? Racial advocacy groups trying to solve the income inequality between blacks, hispanics and whites? The lack of minority participation in the tech industry?

            Am I merely imagining that these are topics of much discussion in US politics, and were among the central themes of both major Democratic presidential candidates’ campaigns in 2016?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            So:

            Before we begin, you may be using an atypical definition of “Marxism” but the problem with defining Marxism is that someone is always going to say “no, you need to read more Marx/books about Marxism”.

            My understanding of the “cultural Marxism” concept is that it is basically a certain, quasi-conspiratorial, overwhelmingly negative interpretation of stuff that has happened in academia and has percolated out to the culture at large.

            It seems to have gone like this: Marxist analysis is actually pretty useful. Academics started applying it to other things, with varying degrees of success, and it percolates out into the real world, as things do. It’s important to note that using Marxist analysis does not make you a Marxist, a communist, whatever. It’s become a basic part of the toolbox of academics in various disciplines. You can certainly see a certain mode of thought in a lot of stuff: exploiter vs exploited, a lot of focus on power dynamics, etc. Then a funny thing happens: class starts to matter less and less in these analyses, and other factors (race, gender, etc) a lot more. People who put class first get criticized: see “brocialist” – putting class first is now seen as the province of cishet white men. You start to see some ugly stuff – my “favourite” is seeing a woman from an upper-middle class family, with a top-notch education, posting an article about blue collar white men in places with crap economies due to the factories leaving, planning on voting Trump, along with a snarky comment along the lines of “oh their lives must be so hard.”

            Why did this happen? Well, first, academia is not the kind of place you really find actual poor people. I can’t think of anybody I knew in university who was poor. Lower-middle-class, maybe. But “oh shit textbooks are expensive” was about the extent of it. All women are going to have stories about getting catcalled or worse. Being well-off isn’t going to protect a black guy from getting stopped and asked what he’s doing in this neighbourhood. But in a group of middle-class people, nobody’s going to have a story about hoping they can get enough hours at their minimum-wage job that week so utilities won’t get cut off again. Beyond this, for the people who have it good, pinning the “why I have it (unfairly) good” on things that can’t in and of themselves be changed doesn’t have to do anything material. “I feel guilty because I’m rich” raises the obvious “then just give it away”. Whereas, consider the stereotypical “white guy who complains about how white guys suck” – he puts in, at most, some self-centred self-flagellation, and gets out of it some thumbs-up Like clicks. (And it’s not really self-flagellation anyway, because it’s usually posturing as “but I’m one of the good ones; look how woke I am”).

            Second, as herbert herbertson points out, many of them are really just left-liberals. I think of them as pseudo-leftists. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. (Lest anyone think I’m some brocialist hating on identity politics, I consider myself a liberal). Saying “we need to change society and make it fair” along any lines is just going to find an easier road because, well, it doesn’t threaten the most powerful people in society. Actual Marxist revolution is serious business: the Czar and his family get shot in a basement, for starters. In comparison, “more women in the boardroom” does not threaten the existence of boardrooms. Even in the belly of the beast, it is not as though you won’t find cishet white men thriving in academia on left-wing campuses. They just have to do a little performative song-and-dance about their general iniquity and how they are working super hard to be better (actually being better is largely optional; the periodic “big name Male Feminist turns out to be rapist/abuser” scandals are a great example of this). Actual class-based revolution is extremely threatening to society and thus to the powers that be. Those into identity politics, in comparison, can be easily bought off: just give them some jobs.

            (This has given rise to a whole ecosystem of professional and semi-pro activists. I don’t know how it is in the US, but in Canada, they get into the hilariously corrupt and basically feudal student union system, and then go on to work for unions, nonprofits, etc.)

            The point of all this is that this is not a victory for Marxism or leftism. Insofar as those things are a part of this, they’ve been completely coopted. It’s energy that once upon a time might have gone to something that would seriously threaten society and threaten those with power in society being diverted to stuff that threatens neither society nor those on top of it.

            “Cultural Marxism”, as a theory, models identity politics as a sort of stealth Marxism. It’s more like pet Marxism, unthreatening to the ruling classes. Sure, it might piss on the rug every now and then, but it’s not gonna maul anybody.

            Uh, Brad, and now you, are the only ones to mention centralization or conspiracies. It’s part of what I was referring to as gaslighting.

            What am I supposed to be gaslighting? There’s been a clear movement to the left in the last century plus on the social front. It’s not disputed that something is swimming left.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            dndnrsn,

            My impression is that there are people in academe who grew up really poor, but they tend to hide it until/unless they’re really established.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There are some, definitely. But if they’re hiding it, then they don’t really contribute to the general sense of what society’s problems are (which, after all, we all base to a large extent on our own personal experiences).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @dndnrsn

            I don’t disagree with much of any of that. I think the only point of contention between us would be the applicability of the word “Marxism.” I think you object because you see Marxism as strictly class-based.

            But as you said, the things described as “Cultural Marxism” are using Marxist critique and power dynamics. “Marxist” is basically an adjective in that sense, not a noun. “My teacher made us write some Cultural Marxist essay about how Super Mario Bros perpetuates outdated gender norms and ‘otherizes’ Italian masculinity.”

            Now if you do want to get conspiratorial about it, the methods of Cultural Marxism closely match KGB subversion techniques used against societies they were attempting to destabilize and foment revolution in. You can’t just get 1950s America to throw off capitalism and embrace communism. You need to attack the cultural pillars of their society first so they will want to throw off their capitalist oppressors. Subvert support for their religion, their government, their economic system, law enforcement, history, etc. How do you do this? Criticize, criticize, criticize, criticize. It’s no secret that the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movements, etc in the US were of great interest to the Soviet propaganda machine.

            Again, I’m not saying the KGB is behind “Celebrate Diversity Day” at your office. I’m just saying the whole pattern of culture war, propaganda, and Marxism are closely related enough that calling such efforts “Cultural Marxism” is not insane, certainly not any more so than Patriarchy Theory.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The biggest problem I see with the whole “Cthulhu swims left” shebang (which “cultural Marxism” as you’re describing it plays into) is that being coopted is not victory. The last hundred-odd years have seen a huge movement to the left socially, but in a way that has fit into the whole capitalist system, and has been coopted by that system. It’s seen a huge expansion of social welfare systems, but little systemic change. It’s seen a movement towards crony capitalism – the system makes capitalists happy, by and large, but it doesn’t make laissez-faire advocates happy.

            Now, I’m a left-winger, so I think a lot of the social changes that have happened are good, and I think social welfare systems are pretty good (with the caveat that badly-designed social welfare systems create significant social problems – a lot of the social changes that have been bad as opposed to good are due at least in part to bad incentives created by poorly designed social programs).

            There is undermining of pillars of society, little to no building of new pillars (my preference would be for newer, better pillars, by and large), but without any movement whatsoever to throwing off the capitalist oppressors. Even if it is a KGB plot (which neither of us is saying it is, and in any case, I think that human nature is vastly more powerful than any plan, friendly or malicious) – modern capitalism destroyed the Soviet Union, not the other way around.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It’s energy that once upon a time might have gone to something that would seriously threaten society and threaten those with power in society being diverted to stuff that threatens neither society nor those on top of it.

            The idea that undermining the pillars of society doesn’t threaten society strikes me as extraordinarily naïve.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            The claim that feminists are trying to undermine society is obviously false. All the various sub-groups clearly believe that their changes will improve society for everyone.

            However, there is a suspicious similarity between the broken parts of Marxism and the broken parts of SJ.

            In Marxism, there is a clear separation between the oppressors (bourgeoisie) and the oppressed (proletariat). People are born into a class, but are not automatically aware of it. As Georg Lukács argued, the proletariat can only achieve class consciousness as the result of a permanent struggle to understand the “concrete totality” of the historical process. In contrast, the bourgeoisie are limited to a false consciousness.

            The same model is common in SJ, with a clear separation in oppressors vs the oppressed, where the oppressors can never truly understand their privilege, while the oppressed can see the true nature of the oppression. So the oppressors are limited to a false consciousness, which means that they can never act as more than allies. To solve oppression, they must be replaced, not educated (see the typical demand by SJ activists to have ‘oppressed’ people in positions of power).

            Marxists have also claimed that SJ is consistent with Marxism, although they (of course) chastise it for not focusing on economic class (enough).

            Of course, there are also differences, but Marxism is not a single ideology, it is a spectrum.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “Now if you do want to get conspiratorial about it, the methods of Cultural Marxism closely match KGB subversion techniques used against societies they were attempting to destabilize and foment revolution in. ”

            Is there a better source for this than one guy saying guys for a Youtube video?

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            The point in this whole discussion is that people insinuate that Cultural Marxism is like Marxism without focusing on economy and class, which is kind of like saying something is like Christianity except without focusing on Jesus. Economy and class are the whole point! Marxism is, of course, radically egalitarian, but there have been radical egalitarians who have preceded Marx and not been Marxist in any way – “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman” etc. There doesn’t seem to be any point to using the term Marxism here, except because 1. it is extremely emotionally charged and makes people predisposed to take a hostile attitude, especially in the US and 2. it allows for conspiracy theories about communist influence, such as with the KGB defector video.

          • herbert herberson says:

            +1 to Tatu. Well put.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The claim that feminists are trying to undermine society is obviously false. All the various sub-groups clearly believe that their changes will improve society for everyone.

            That’s far too strong a statement. There are certainly those who are openly supportive of the idea of the “privileged” being harmed. They may think their changes will make society better off overall, but not that there will be no losers.

          • Anonymous says:

            Also: Motte and bailey.

            Any given movement can claim that the changes will benefit everyone, but be mostly concerned about helping some segment, which coincidentally includes mostly themselves.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            which is kind of like saying something is like Christianity except without focusing on Jesus.

            Replace “Christianity” with “Puritanism” or “Calvinism” in the above statement, and don’t you get the Moldbuggian model of Progressivism?

          • Brad says:

            @Tatu Ahponen
            Well put. A usage of Marxism completely untethered from Marx is nonsensical.

            @Gobbobobble

            I mean really, this shit just shows an utter contempt for charity:

            You are going to accuse me of a lack of charity in a thread that includes:

            “I will negatively critique all western cultural and economic institutions through the press so that people may lose faith in them and no longer support them.”

            What ever happened to avoiding assuming that people that disagree with you are evil mutants?

            and, at the risk of further accusations of showing utter contempt for charity:

            Which bucket does “gaslighting people who notice Cthulhu swimming left” fall into?

            I have no idea what this is supposed to mean either. I gather by osmosis that it is reference to some essay Curtis Yarvin wrote, but there’s no way I’m going to read one of those 30,000 word impenetrable screeds.

          • random832 says:

            http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/02/23/in-favor-of-niceness-community-and-civilization/ has some commentary on the four-paragraph bit that this particular phrase is a reference to.

            Personally, I suspect that this is mostly an artifact of the fact that the political spectrum is generally defined such that any discredited ideas of the past end up on the right and any forward-looking “progressive” ideas are on the left (even the ones that don’t pan out, like eugenics), rather than ‘Cthulhu’ ‘swimming’ in any particular objectively definable direction.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @The Original Mr. X

            The idea that undermining the pillars of society doesn’t threaten society strikes me as extraordinarily naïve.

            It doesn’t threaten society enough to threaten to unseat those on top of society. Take, for example, the increase in children born out of wedlock: there’s a good argument to be made that this has negative material effects. But it harms the people at the bottom of society far more than the people at the middle, let alone the top.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @dndrsn

            What am I supposed to be gaslighting?

            My apologies for not being clear: Brad is the one gaslighting. Your posts have been quite reasonable and I thank you for making them. Your bit on Davos drifted in the direction I took issue with, but I can see it was mostly my fault for not unpacking my original accusation better.

            It’s not disputed that something is swimming left.

            Um, that’s precisely how the top of this subthread’s max-nesting started. Conrad Honcho asked what to call some various leftward-swimming phenomena and was dismissed as a crazy racist with “wild conspiracy theories”. That is what I am accusing of gaslighting.
            (And now I’m being accused of Moldbuggery for calling it out. Lovely.)

            Luckily the thread has evolved in a much more constructive direction since I was last online.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            The point in this whole discussion is that people insinuate that Cultural Marxism is like Marxism without focusing on economy and class, which is kind of like saying something is like Christianity except without focusing on Jesus.

            But we get this all the time when people are talking about ideas influenced by past thinkers. I’ve been frequently told that “Jesus would be a socialist” because caring for the poor or something (I disagree with this: Jesus’ call to charity was personal, and cannot be outsourced to the state. When you die, God judges your soul, not your government’s soul). Lots of right-wing movements are called “Nazi” despite not having anything to do with the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party in the 1930s. I expect that next time someone calls a white nationalist a “Nazi” you’ll correct the person because Richard Spencer has nothing to do with gaining power for Adolf Hitler and NSDAP in Germany.

            The point of the term “Cultural Marxism” is that the activities and methods are inspired by Marx’s economic ideas, but operate in the cultural domain. No one is suggesting Marx invented modern feminism, anti-racism, queer acceptance, etc. Just that “Marxist methods and goals except applied to culture and identity groups, frequently with economic goals in mind” is a useful lens through which one can examine these movements.

            You’re right, it’s not purely economic, but to say Marxist thought can only be applied to the specific economic conditions Marx wrote about it seems silly, like saying the teachings of Jesus apply only to ancient Judea and the philosophies of Hitler apply only to 1930s Germany. One can take the core ideas and methods of an author/leader and apply them to a different societal context.

            Economy and class are the whole point!

            Except pure Marxist economic ideas are kind of a hard sell given the 100 million corpses piled up in the 20th century in pursuit of equality. So the point of Cultural Marxism instead is to go for economic and power equality between different groups in society.

            So, do you understand the similarities between economic Marxism and Cultural Marxism? It’s just applying the class ideas to identity groups. I think that makes sense. At this point are you just upset about the co-opting of the name? Ideological appropriation?

          • Brad says:

            @Gobbobobble

            Conrad Honcho asked what to call some various leftward-swimming phenomena and was dismissed as a crazy racist with “wild conspiracy theories”.

            I never said anything at all about racism. Interesting that you would make that specific thing up.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Aapje

            The claim that feminists are trying to undermine society is obviously false.

            But they are trying to undermine traditional gender and family roles, no? To some extent or another, certainly. Some want to abolish marriage altogether. What’s the difference between “undermining society” and “undermining the foundational unit of society?”

            All the various sub-groups clearly believe that their changes will improve society for everyone.

            I don’t think that’s true at all. I do not at all think the Nazis thought their changes would improve society for Jews, for example.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I never said anything at all about racism. Interesting that you would make that specific thing up.

            It’s pretty apparent between this and your other comment about Muslim immigration that have zero insight into how left leaning people think.

            Is anti-Muslim sentiment not considered racism anymore?

          • Brad says:

            If you had read the comment, rather than assuming its content, you would have seen that what I objected to was the sweeping nature of claims about why the left supports immigration. Not any sort of accusation of racism. That’s even alluded to in the part you quoted.

            You were saying something about charity?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It reads an awful lot like ad hominem tarring-by-association (with a side helping of cross-threading), like your little blurb on Yarvin.

            But whatever, take your pedantry win. It’s still shitty gaslight-y behavior to treat someone as a “crazy racist person with ‘wild conspiracy theories'” when they comment on society moving leftward.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “Lots of right-wing movements are called “Nazi” despite not having anything to do with the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party in the 1930s. I expect that next time someone calls a white nationalist a “Nazi” you’ll correct the person because Richard Spencer has nothing to do with gaining power for Adolf Hitler and NSDAP in Germany.”

            So do you think this is a neutral description? Is it something you would endorse yourself? Do you think white nationalists should be all called Nazis? The whole “gaining power for Adolf Hitler and NSDAP in Germany” is rather beside the point, BTW – there are communists despite there not being Lenin and Soviet Union, after all. The whole discussion started by me asking how on earth “Cultural Marxism” is a neutral descriptor. The people who call white nationalists Nazis would probably agree that the descriptor is not neutral in any way, and it’s not meant to be so.

            Likewise, you seem to believe that saying “Jesus would be a socialist” is wrong, but somehow, saying “Cultural Marxism” is then right, despite you comparing the two. Which is it?

            “The point of the term “Cultural Marxism” is that the activities and methods are inspired by Marx’s economic ideas, but operate in the cultural domain. No one is suggesting Marx invented modern feminism, anti-racism, queer acceptance, etc. Just that “Marxist methods and goals except applied to culture and identity groups, frequently with economic goals in mind” is a useful lens through which one can examine these movements.”

            So do you think that the only reason for modern feminism, anti-racism, queer acceptance etc. is the utilization of Marxist methods and goals? What would these methods and goals be, here, anyway? Marx’s methods and goals were intimately connected to economy and class – ie. the intent was abolishing the class society and the method was the workers wielding the power given by the necessity of their labor for production. These are not directly transferrable to the fields of race, gender etc. Again, the economy and the class are the whole point – and the lens is, in fact, not useful at all.

            “You’re right, it’s not purely economic, but to say Marxist thought can only be applied to the specific economic conditions Marx wrote about it seems silly, like saying the teachings of Jesus apply only to ancient Judea and the philosophies of Hitler apply only to 1930s Germany. One can take the core ideas and methods of an author/leader and apply them to a different societal context.”

            Nobody said that they can only be applied to specific economic conditions Marx wrote about, but rather to the relationship of labor and capital in general.

            “Except pure Marxist economic ideas are kind of a hard sell given the 100 million corpses piled up in the 20th century in pursuit of equality. So the point of Cultural Marxism instead is to go for economic and power equality between different groups in society.”

            Again, this seems like a conspiracy theory – like there’s some group of “economic” Marxists just hiding behind a “cultural” shell. If there’s a conspiracy like this, well, where’s the proof?

            What do you gain by using the term “cultural Marxism”? As a model of explanation for why people support certain causes, it’s not useful at all, and the only point still seems to be causing people to associate causes you don’t support with words that cause negative emotional reactions.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Marxists weren’t strictly about economic matters, at least not as we would understand them (they probably would have said that everything is economic, in the same way that some would now say everything is political right down to random github projects). A lot of the things being pushed by the “Cultural Marxists” now were pushed by the actual Marxists back then, too.

            See, for example, this contemporaneous report on “The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage.”

          • random832 says:

            @Gobbobobble

            (And now I’m being accused of Moldbuggery for calling it out. Lovely.)

            It reads an awful lot like ad hominem tarring-by-association (with a side helping of cross-threading), like your little blurb on Yarvin.

            If you’re going to use a phrase that everyone knows who coined it and that has not particularly caught on, please don’t pretend to be utterly baffled when people associate you with the person who coined it.

            Anyway, whether it suggests a “conspiracy” or not, things like “cultural marxism” do suggest you are accusing leftists of having a goal of ‘undermining society’ beyond the value-neutral object-level ‘racism/sexism/whatever happens to be part of society as it exists today, so fighting against that undermines (part of) society’

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            So do you think this is a neutral description?

            No, I said repeatedly that it’s a snarl-word that should be tabooed for useful discussion. The comment under which sits the Reply button you hit to make your comments reads:

            What word should be used to describe the phenomena of “the tendency of leftists to enforce equality via cultural institutions when direct governmental power is unavailable?”

            What is the non-snarl word for this?

            This then turned into Brad apparently being entirely unaware that there’s some sort of culture war thingy going on? And that maybe some people are kind of pro-gender and racial equality? And sort of use power and influence in cultural fields to attain it? Some sort of whacky nutjob conspiracy I guess.

            So, yeah, back to my question, what is the non-snarl word for feminists + anti-racists + gay acceptance + trans rights + diversity + etc etc etc stuff people generally on the left in the culture war do via cultural influence and control of cultural institutions?

          • random832 says:

            @ Conrad Honcho

            What word should be used to describe the phenomena of “the tendency of leftists to enforce equality via cultural institutions when direct governmental power is unavailable?”

            Why is this a “tendency of leftists” in particular? Isn’t it natural for anyone to try to accomplish whatever their individual object-level goals may be by whatever fair means are available to them? Why do we need a word for it applied to one particular group of people, one particular set of means, and one particular set of goals?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @random832

            Anyway, whether it suggests a “conspiracy” or not, things like “cultural marxism” do suggest you are accusing leftists of having a goal of ‘undermining society’ beyond the value-neutral object-level ‘racism/sexism/whatever happens to be part of society as it exists today, so fighting against that undermines (part of) society’

            What do the feminists mean when they say they want to “smash the patriarchy?” What does BLM mean when they say they want to “smash white supremacy?” And the gender activists who want to “end gender?” And are these not fellow travelers?

            If all of the sex and race oppression is “structural,” that is, built into the structure of society, how do you fix the racism and sexism without restructuring the society?

            It seems like having your cake and eating it to. “We don’t want to undermine society, we just want to change everything about it at the most basic structural levels.”

            Also, it doesn’t seem like there’s a real clear vision for what to replace “patriarchy” and “white supremacy” with. So if you’re going to fundamentally change the deep structure of a society but don’t really know what you’re going to change it to, that sounds an awful lot like “undermining.” Also, knocking down a working but imperfect system and just kind of hoping everything works out magically great sounds awfully Marxist.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @random832:

            Why is this a “tendency of leftists” in particular? Isn’t it natural for anyone to try to accomplish whatever their individual object-level goals may be by whatever fair means are available to them? Why do we need a word for it applied to one particular group of people, one particular set of means, and one particular set of goals?

            Because I’m asking for a name for the stuff done by leftists. The feminists call the stuff done by the right “The Patriarchy.” Which is also a snarl-word. The non-snarl word I would use for “The Patriarchy” is “Western Civilization.”

            What’s the non-snarl word for the common phenomena that produces Celebrate Diversity Day at my office, anti-hate speech codes at the University, “refugees welcome” signs on FaceBook, and only evil Christians on TV and never evil Jews or homosexuals?

            What do you call that?

          • random832 says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The non-snarl word I would use for “The Patriarchy” is “Western Civilization.”

            Really?

            If all of the sex and race oppression is “structural,” that is, built into the structure of society, how do you fix the racism and sexism without restructuring the society?

            Do you honestly believe that there are no parts of society that can be kept while reducing the sexism and racism? You sound like a radical feminist.

            Slavery was part of western civilization from the beginning of recorded history all the way up to the middle of the 19th century (and by all accounts it was worse towards the end than it had been in previous eras). Was “western civilization” destroyed and replaced by something wearing its skin, or did it simply evolve to be better? Were the people who worked against slavery “undermining society”?

            (I don’t think I’m out of line bringing this up – regardless of value judgements, your fundamental position is that “western civilization” is indivisible, and working to change any part of it is inherently destructive. If we can’t agree on value judgements of present aspects of it, I think it’s fair to get past that by bringing up past aspects that I expect us to agree were bad.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            If you’re going to use a phrase that everyone knows who coined it and that has not particularly caught on, please don’t pretend to be utterly baffled when people associate you with the person who coined it.

            What the what? Do you mean “gaslighting”? That is absolutely not a Moldbugism. “The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film.” Jesus Christ, I first learned the term from the frigging online dating scene. It’s caught on pretty hard there.

            Or do you mean “Cthulhu swimming left”??? That’s common parlance around here. FWIW I think I learned it from this one.

            Care to explain what you’re referring to?

            Okay so when I bother to read my own damn link (hastily slapped in from googling “cthulhu”-on-SSC and only reading the abstract), apparently “Cthulhu swimming left” is actually a Moldbugism. I maintain it’s used frequently enough on SSC to the point where invoking it is not sufficient evidence of Moldbuggery.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Because I’m asking for a name for the stuff done by leftists. The feminists call the stuff done by the right “The Patriarchy.” Which is also a snarl-word. The non-snarl word I would use for “The Patriarchy” is “Western Civilization.”

            But, like I said before, feminists don’t use “The Patriarchy” as a catchall for all cultural influences from the right. If the left wants to talk about reactionary gender views, we might mention the patriarchy, but if we want to talk about racism, we say “white supremacy”; if we want to talk about malign military adventures and other disliked foreign policy, we might say “imperialism”; if we want to talk about corporate offenses, we say capitalism. All of those tendencies have obvious antonyms (feminism, anti-racism/pro-diversity, anti-imperialism/post-colonialism; socialism/Marxism). So, uh, use those, and when you really need to put them all in the same basket, there’s nothing wrong with “the left” or “the activist left.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @random832

            Do you honestly believe that there are no parts of society that can be kept while reducing the sexism and racism? You sound like a radical feminist.

            No, I don’t believe society is “structurally racist and sexist.” But the radical feminists do, which is why I sounded like a radical feminist when describing the consequences of their argument. Am I accurately describing their position, or am I mistaken?

            Slavery was part of western civilization from the beginning of recorded history all the way up to the middle of the 19th century (and by all accounts it was worse towards the end than it had been in previous eras). Was “western civilization” destroyed and replaced by something wearing its skin, or did it simply evolve to be better? Were the people who worked against slavery “undermining society”?

            That’s an interesting question. I would argue marriage, family, and traditional gender roles are central to western civilization. Do you think slavery was central to western civilization?

            Meaning, attacking slavery is not a direct attack on western civilization, as many, many parts of western civilization had no slavery, but none lacked marriage and traditional gender roles.

            (I don’t think I’m out of line bringing this up – regardless of value judgements, your fundamental position is that “western civilization” is indivisible, and working to change any part of it is inherently destructive. If we can’t agree on value judgements of present aspects of it, I think it’s fair to get past that by bringing up past aspects that I expect us to agree were bad.)

            No, you’re not out of line. This is a fun discussion, thanks for having it with me. No, I don’t think “changing any part of it” is destructive. I think changing the core parts of it are destructive. That is, structural issues. And when we’re talking about feminism and modern anti-racism activists, I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that structural issues are core to their efforts. Would you agree that there is little overt racism and sexism in the west today? Meaning if there is still significant racism and sexism in the west, it would be structural, rather than overt?

            I’d still like a non-snarl word for Cultural Marxism, though.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @herbert herberson says:

            So, uh, use those, and when you really need to put them all in the same basket, there’s nothing wrong with “the left” or “the activist left.”

            Then you get arguments over whether or not “the left,” “left-wing,” and “leftists” are different things, accused of painting with the broad brush, etc. Of course, the entire purpose of the term is to describe a broad range of activities.

            Anyway, I stand by my statement that it’s a snarl-word that should be tabooed for across-aisle discussions, but it’s a useful term for right-wingers for describing a wide range of leftist activity, and does not imply central coordination or conspiracy but rather a mindset and toolset that results in similar activity in different domains.

            Also, you’ll notice that most of your words for opposition behavior (imperialism, patriarchy, racism) are not things the opposition uses to describe themselves. They’re all also snarl-words.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Ya know, if there’s not a non-snarly term for something, you can just resort to talking it in terms that don’t condense it to one term at all, such as explaining what you mean in a longer form. That’s better than using an inexact snarl description, anyhow. Not everything urgently needs a snappy term.

            “See, for example, this contemporaneous report on “The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage.””

            As you can see, the source is not exactly particularly balanced, and even it states that all of this was quite a controversial development and, I would argue, has a lot to do with the general breakdown of social order during the period ranging from the start of the WWI to the consolidation of the Soviet state. The most important Marxist in Soviet Union at that general period certainly took a rather fuddy-duddy view on these things.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            That seems like an isolated demand for rigor. “We’ll call your activities ‘white supremacist imperialist service to the Patriarchy’ in public discourse and expect to be taken seriously but you have to criticize each of our activities in detail without naming any overall patterns of behavior or you’re a crazy conspiracy theorist.”

            “Cultural Marxism” as a description of behavior isn’t any nuttier than “The Patriarchy” but is just as emotionally loaded.

          • herbert herberson says:

            That seems like an isolated demand for rigor. “We’ll call your activities ‘white supremacist imperialist service to the Patriarchy’ in public discourse and expect to be taken seriously but you have to criticize each of our activities in detail without naming any overall patterns of behavior or you’re a crazy conspiracy theorist.”

            It’s not isolated, though, because there is no left-wing equivalent to “Cultural Marxism,” as demonstrated by the fact that when you attempted to provide one here, it required a seven-word clause that you just made up.

            Also, you’ll notice that most of your words for opposition behavior (imperialism, patriarchy, racism) are not things the opposition uses to describe themselves. They’re all also snarl-words.

            I’m not really here to object to the snarlness of “Cultural Marxism,” and if you want to propose uncomplimentary right-wing synonyms for those feminism/antiracism/anti-imperialism/socialism, I’m not going to stop you. I just think it’s an empty term that completely misunderstands Marxism, suggests a conspiracy where there is none (I understand that you’re not saying this, but there’s a reason you’ve had to repeatedly say you’re not saying this) and offers nothing that existing terms and concepts already don’t. It was born as a propaganda term and it cannot be redeemed, because there’s really nothing else there.

          • Nornagest says:

            How about “privilege”?

          • psmith says:

            It’s not isolated, though, because there is no left-wing equivalent to “Cultural Marxism,” as demonstrated by the fact that when you attempted to provide one here, it required a seven-word clause that you just made up.

            “Kyriarchy” seems about right to me.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Yeah, that one does fit the bill in every sense except commonality of use (privilege kind of does too, but it feels unwieldy to use it as that kind of noun).

            It is derived from the Greek words Greek: κύριος, kyrios, “lord, master” and Greek: ἄρχω archō, “to lead, rule, govern”.[5][2] The word “kyriarchy” in Greek (Greek: κυριαρχία, kyriarchia, a valid formation, though it is not found in ancient Greek) can now be used to mean “sovereignty”, i.e. the rulership of a sovereign.

            So maybe something like “diakonarchy” or “doularchy” could answer Conrad’s question (although I still don’t see any advantage over “the left”)

          • Nornagest says:

            “Kyriarchy” is in live use on the Left; it’s not as common as e.g. “patriarchy”, but I’d say it’s in the same ballpark as “cultural Marxism”. Similar pattern of use, too: it was coined to be a more intersectional/inclusive version of “patriarchy”, just as “cultural Marxism” integrates over all the various attempts to apply Marx-style class reasoning (only sometimes explicitly Marxian, more commonly going through later Marx-influenced thinkers like Foucault) to different demographic groups.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “That seems like an isolated demand for rigor. “We’ll call your activities ‘white supremacist imperialist service to the Patriarchy’ in public discourse and expect to be taken seriously but you have to criticize each of our activities in detail without naming any overall patterns of behavior or you’re a crazy conspiracy theorist.””

            “We?” Have I used that term? I don’t quite think you caught what I was trying to say – I wasn’t talking about “criticizing each activity in detail”, just that it’s better to use a few more words than one term to talk about what you are talking about instead of resorting to one snappy but inexact term that’s tailor-made to poison the discussion.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            Do you agree that “The Patriarchy” is a snappy but inexact term tailor-made to poison the discussion?

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Conrad,

            That’s an interesting question. I would argue marriage, family, and traditional gender roles are central to western civilization. Do you think slavery was central to western civilization?

            Personally, I would imagine that the people supporting slavery believed that it was, while those opposing it thought that it wasn’t. Exactly the same as is now the case with marriage, family, and traditional gender roles.

            What’s the difference between “undermining society” and “undermining the foundational unit of society?”

            Whether or not you believe that something is in fact foundational. I can understand your argument that certain groups are undermining society, even if I don’t entirely agree with it, but I think the point being made was that they don’t intend to undermine society.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad

            If all of the sex and race oppression is “structural,” that is, built into the structure of society, how do you fix the racism and sexism without restructuring the society?

            It seems like having your cake and eating it to. “We don’t want to undermine society, we just want to change everything about it at the most basic structural levels.”

            I don’t think you can equate restructuring with undermining. If you run a company, then restructure it and end up with 20% more profit, did you undermine it?

            You can argue that radical feminists/SJ people want to destroy the fundamentals of our society, while the liberal feminists don’t. But even then it’s not very productive to use the term ‘undermining, ‘ as it has too much emotional baggage.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Personally, I would imagine that the people supporting slavery believed that it was, while those opposing it thought that it wasn’t. Exactly the same as is now the case with marriage, family, and traditional gender roles.

            Can we agree that something common to every part of western society and that faced essentially no opposition throughout the history of western society until now (traditional gender roles and marriage) is far more likely to be foundational than something that existed in only some small portions of western society for limited times and was extremely contentious whenever it existed (slavery)?

            If you’re going to claim slavery has been just as important to western civilization as marriage then I think you’re going to need to back that up. It is non-obvious.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            dear god this is a long thread

            but uh

            The point in this whole discussion is that people insinuate that Cultural Marxism is like Marxism without focusing on economy and class, which is kind of like saying something is like Christianity except without focusing on Jesus.

            Cultural Marxism absolutely focuses on class. It’s just a class constituted by race and racial privilege instead of wealth and wealth privilege, with a complementary argument that racial privilege creates wealth privilege or even in certain cases (justice system, possibly politics) supplants it in most meaningful ways. “The proletariat” is replaced by “the oppressed minorities”. And others in this comment thread have laid out many similarities to traditional Marxist thought replicated by so-called cultural Marxists.

            As to not focusing on the economy; sure, cultural Marxism focuses on culture instead of the economy. That’s why it is called “cultural”. I think you need a stronger claim than this to dismiss a very reasonable argument; namely, that traditional Marxism posits a zero-sum economic game between the oppressed class, the oppressors, and occasionally an in-between middle class, and cultural Marxism posits a zero-sum cultural game between the oppressed class(es), the oppressors, and occasionally an in-between middle class. This argument establishes pretty solid similarity between the two.

          • Anon. says:

            Cultural Marxism is like Marxism without focusing on economy and class, which is kind of like saying something is like Christianity except without focusing on Jesus.

            Coincidentally? Marxism is like Protestantism except without focusing on Jesus.

          • herbert herberson says:

            that traditional Marxism posits a zero-sum economic game between the oppressed class, the oppressors, and occasionally an in-between middle class, and cultural Marxism posits a zero-sum cultural game between the oppressed class(es), the oppressors, and occasionally an in-between middle class.

            Marxism doesn’t posit a zero-sum economic game. The fact that capital expands both itself and develops increased productivity is well understood in his writings, and an important part of many of its components.

            All these things you guys think are obvious and uncontroversial characteristics of Marxism are straw men of straw men filtered through the books written by the victors.

          • keranih says:

            @ AnonYEmouse

            You said it, brother.

            @ the rest

            And it took y’ll forever to get to “Kyriarchy” – which I have seen to be used as the non-snarly slightly clinical term for “all the oppressive forces which proper people are in opposition to.”

            Kyriarchy is the core of the…err…anti-liberty, ant-justice and anti-progress stuff that the liberal/progressive side of the house is here to fight. Unfortunately, while I think many are of pure heart and mean to attack the core/root stuff, there is a great deal of flailing and flaws, which ends up hitting not kyriarchy, but people.

            IMO, “Cultural marxism” is a term for the flawed flailing, or at least one version of it. What to call the utopia-seeking impulse at the heart of cultural marxism, I don’t know.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Kerinah:
            But kyriarchy isn’t used to self-appellate. It’s a description of what is oppressive (as a replacement for patriarchy). So when some refer to “cultural marxists” they are referring, perhaps, to people who believe in the concept of kyriarchy, but not the kyiarchy itself.

            Although that maps to “feminist”, and isn’t “cultural Marxist” meant to encompass more?

          • random832 says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Do you agree that “The Patriarchy” is a snappy but inexact term tailor-made to poison the discussion?

            The difference between “The Patriarchy” and “Cultural Marxism” is that “Patriarchy” is at least somewhat indicative that it’s talking about specifically the problem of gender inequality, whereas “Cultural Marxism” mostly evokes the idea of KGB conspiracies to sabotage other states (and even if you don’t mean it that way, there is no shortage of rightists who do explicitly believe this and aren’t shy about saying so – if they’re feeling charitable, leftists are the victims of “soviet memetic warfare” rather than its soldiers EDIT: Huh. That comment I wanted to link as an example and couldn’t find on another blog was actually you/here) and isn’t really very descriptive at all.

          • keranih says:

            @ HBC –

            You’ll forgive me as I suss out what I’m thinking here.

            Most of the activist feminists that I have dealt with socially/on social media stopped being strict feminists about 12-15 years ago, and became “cultural marxists” in that they were in opposition to all sorts of oppression (*) and not just the patriarchy.

            So to me, feminists vs ‘people against the ‘Kyriarchy’ is a false distinction.

            You are right that people don’t go around calling themselves “Kyriarchists” but I think that was more because when the term came out, “fuck you” wasn’t yet the go-to response to accusations of sexism/racism/Kyriarchism. (And Pepe peps are still not quite in the same academic circles as the people who use kyriarchy as a term.)

            And you’re right, that one could/should(?) talk about a system, not people. Would it help if people used “cultural marxism” rather than “marxists”? I’m not sure.

            As for “non-snarly words” I think that gets hung up on the framing. “Cultural Marxism” is a problem. Kyriarchy is a problem. Those opposing either self-identify as “right thinking people fighting the good fight.”

            So I am not sure what to do here, for the sort of word that is wanted.

            (*)excepting the sort that hit me (a southern ‘white’ gal) or my male relatives.

          • Brad says:

            Cultural Marxism absolutely focuses on class. It’s just a class constituted by race and racial privilege instead of wealth and wealth privilege, with a complementary argument that racial privilege creates wealth privilege or even in certain cases (justice system, possibly politics) supplants it in most meaningful ways.

            Marx’s project wasn’t to ensure that a proportionate number of children on the proletariat got to be exploitive capitalists.

            There’s no way to square the social left’s deep and unreflective acceptance of capitalism with Marxism, regardless of what kind of adjective you shoe-horn in there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @kerinah:
            I wasn’t drawing a distinction between feminists and the social justice movement, I was saying they are largely overlapping.

            If all that is meant by “cultural Marxism” is social justice, then isn’t that the non-snarl term? (And note, I completely agree that any term can be turned into a snarl term, euphemism treadmill, etc.)

          • John Schilling says:

            The difference between “The Patriarchy” and “Cultural Marxism” is that “Patriarchy” is at least somewhat indicative that it’s talking about specifically the problem of gender inequality, whereas “Cultural Marxism” mostly evokes the idea of KGB conspiracies to sabotage other states

            “Patriarchy” is somewhat indicative of what more reasonable speakers are talking about, but mostly evokes smoke-filled rooms wherein a cabal of Evil White Males plots the subjugation of women. “Cultural Marxism” is somewhat indicative of what more reasonable speakers are talking about, but mostly evokes the idea of KGB conspiracies to sabotage other states.

            Language where one has to ignore the obvious derogatory connotation and steelman a reasonable interpretation assuming a reasonable speaker, is bad language that should be excised from political debate.

            (and even if you don’t mean it that way, there is no shortage of rightists who do explicitly believe this and aren’t shy about saying so)

          • John Schilling says:

            Personally, I would imagine that the people supporting slavery believed that it was [central to Western civilization], while those opposing it thought that it wasn’t.

            “Peculiar institution” as a euphemism for slavery, was invented by antebellum Southern slave owners defending slavery in the antebellum South. So I’m thinking that they didn’t believe it to be central to Western civilization in general, but rather peculiar to one corner of that civilization. One can defend a thing without believing that the thing is the right choice in all circumstances and environments.

          • ChetC3 says:

            “Cultural Marxism” is even more blatantly about signaling ideological purity at the expense of logical or persuasive value than local bugbears like “patriarchy” and “rape culture.” It is, of course, entirely expected that so many regular commenters are tripping over themselves to defend a feeble reflection of the ideas they claim to hate.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            But kyriarchy isn’t used to self-appellate. It’s a description of what is oppressive (as a replacement for patriarchy).

            Kyriarchy is actually a claim that we live in a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission.

            If you believe in that, you do have to rationalize very hard to not advocate the revolution, so I can see why Conrad believes that the believers want that.

            As for myself, I choose not to believe that most SJ people actually believe the things they say they believe and/or understand & support the consequences of their beliefs, which I have found makes my predictions/analysis of their actual behavior much better. It also reflects better on them. For example, the common belief that rape is more common on campus than elsewhere for women of the same age, combined with the support for special scholarships for women and the fight for less gender segregation in colleges, would result in more raped women, if their beliefs were true and their actions effective. If you assume that they just can’t connect the dots, you can avoid the conclusion that they hate women.

          • Iain says:

            I’ll stand in defense of “kyriarchy”.

            “Patriarchy” is the claim that, all else being equal, it is easier to gain power in society as a man than as a woman. The inevitable comeback is: “Well, things aren’t always equal. Is it easier to gain power as a poor black man than a rich white woman? Checkmate, feminists!” In response, you get intersectionality, which basically just says “Hey, so, there are lots of axes along which one end gets better treatment — man/woman, gay/straight, rich/poor, and so on — and they all interact in complicated ways, so instead of fighting about which of those axes is most important, why don’t we just work on improving the situation?” There’s a tendency on SSC to use “intersectionality” as an epithet, which seems deeply weird to me, because it is precisely the direction that you should want social justice to be moving: less focused on a single explanation for all problems, more interested in nuance, more willing to respect people who are disadvantaged along a less traditional axis. It may well be the case that the current discourse, as Keranih says, does not recognize oppression against a “southern ‘white’ gal” or her male relatives — but intersectionality is the kind of framework that can (and should!) include that kind of thing.

            In an intersectional framework, “patriarchy” no longer really makes sense as an overarching term. Hence, “kyriarchy”.

          • herbert herberson says:

            It is, of course, entirely expected that so many regular commenters are tripping over themselves to defend a feeble reflection of the ideas they claim to hate.

            No one is doing this.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Iain

            This is a good steelman, thank you. I’ve updated to “oh, intersectionality could actually be a useful tool if more people would use it as more than a cudgel for beating up outgroupies”

          • Kevin C. says:

            @aapje

            Kyriarchy is actually a claim that we live in a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission.

            If you believe in that, you do have to rationalize very hard to not advocate the revolution

            Or else be in favor of “domination, oppression, and submission”.

            And to this thread in general, thanks for the introduction to the term “kyriarchy”. I’ve been looking for a shorter political self-descriptor, and “kyriarchist” should work pretty well.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            Marx’s project wasn’t to ensure that a proportionate number of children on the proletariat got to be exploitive capitalists.

            There’s no way to square the social left’s deep and unreflective acceptance of capitalism with Marxism, regardless of what kind of adjective you shoe-horn in there.

            Yes, this is a good way of putting it. I like to think of it as, there’s a segment of the left that doesn’t mind inequality – they just want the inequality to be distributed equally.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Aapje

            I don’t think you can equate restructuring with undermining. If you run a company, then restructure it and end up with 20% more profit, did you undermine it?

            You can argue that radical feminists/SJ people want to destroy the fundamentals of our society, while the liberal feminists don’t. But even then it’s not very productive to use the term ‘undermining, ‘ as it has too much emotional baggage.

            But does feminist restructuring of [right here I’m not sure if we’re talking about “society” or “traditional gender roles and marriage” or both] result in 20% more profit? What is profit in this context? I would think that would mean “the society perpetuating itself into the future, creating children and transmitting its values to them.” Is that likely to happen via feminism?

            As you said in your later post, if one sees a relationship as “oppressive” then “destroy” or “undermine” are expected responses.

            Where does “get married and have a family” rank on the feminist value stack? I’m thinking it’s not very high, as I only ever hear feminist critiques of marriage and not praise. I don’t think that family and career are equally valued, either. Try an experiment: in front of an average feminist, tell a little girl one of these two things:

            1) “Are you excited to grow up, get married and have babies?”

            2) “Are you excited to grow up, go to college and get a job as a computer programmer?”

            Which one gets either an approving nod (or silence), and which one gets a “well, actually you know you have other options” correction and a stern talking-to later?

            And this is not counting the radfems who explicitly say stuff like “marriage is rape” or whatever.

            If you’re at work, and one of your coworkers rolls their eyes or sighs at everything you say in a meeting, quickly provides “helpful alternatives” to all of your plans, and talks about all the problems with you and your ideas (while ignoring or downplaying any of your positive attributes), would you not say they are “undermining” you?

            And today in the US we have 70% of young men 20-34 unmarried and birthrates below replacement across the west. Feminists seem to claim this as a feather in the cap. I’ve frequently heard that low birth rates are a beneficial consequence of education and economic mobility for women.

            If this isn’t “undermining,” what exactly is it? More importantly, what would “undermining” marriage and traditional gender roles look like, so I’ll know it when I see it if feminism isn’t it?

            Finally, if the argument is going to be that encouraging young girls to seek education and employment at the expense of marriage and family is correcting a historical imbalance, then given the low birth rates, low marriage rates, but female education outstripping male education, they can stop now, because mission accomplished, right? We seem to have an overabundance of women in the workforce instead of the home now.

            Finally finally, if part of the feminist argument is that “marriage and family are just as good as career” and it’s simply a social construct to prefer one over the other, and the objection to “Cultural Marxism” is the reference to Marx, then how about “Applied Postmodernism?” Now we have a direct link between Derrida’s deconstructionism that explicitly rejected western logocentrism as establishing illusory hierarchical binaries in every aspect of society, including but in no way limited to race and sex, and by exposing them seeks to undermine them? Now we can’t say “it’s just about class.” Of course, the French intellectuals were Marxists who finally had to acknowledge the stacks and stacks of corpses growing up around them, which is why they switched from “economics” to “power” and “class” to “identity.” Ya know, kind of like Marxism, except for culture.

            So, is “Applied Postmodernism” okay? Non-snarly. Definitely opposed to power imbalances. Definitely applied to all aspects of society rather than just economic class. And the word “Applied” means “we’re going to actually install Celebrate Diversity Day in your office instead of just writing in French about how all cultures are equally awful.”

          • Brad says:

            @dndnrsn
            I should note that I’m thinking specifically about the United States here. The composition of the left in Europe and Latin America–and presumably Asia and Africa, though I’m far less familiar with those regions–is very different.

          • psmith says:

            Nobody seems to have mentioned “structural oppression” yet, which would also be apt.

            But kyriarchy isn’t used to self-appellate

            I don’t see why not! Perhaps we ought to reclaim it.
            (Edit: Kevin beat me to it, that’s what I get for commenting before posting.).

            See also:

            The word “kyriarchy” in Greek (Greek: κυριαρχία, kyriarchia, a valid formation, though it is not found in ancient Greek) can now be used to mean “sovereignty”, i.e. the rulership of a sovereign.

            and cf “archism.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Brad

            I should note that I’m thinking specifically about the United States here. The composition of the left in Europe and Latin America–and presumably Asia and Africa, though I’m far less familiar with those regions–is very different.

            Probably the whole “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” effect.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @dndrsn

            they just want the inequality to be distributed equally.

            Forgive me if this is an elementary question, but could you unpack this a little? Like a material inequality axis is okay as long as it’s completely orthogonal to various social axes (gender, race, etc)?

            The other interpretation I can think of is a tongue-in-cheek, almost Animal Farm-y, phrase to accuse them of losing touch with their proletarian roots.

            I suppose it could be both, depending on whether you think it’s a good or a bad thing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Gobbobobble:

            Bit of column A, bit of column B. A lot of them don’t seem to mind income inequality anywhere near as much as they mind that some demographic groups are disproportionately represented on the bottom and some are disproportionately represented at the top. Most of them do this, however, without acknowledging that what they are arguing for is not leftist or radical or whatever – it’s just arguing for the same capitalist game to be played, only fairer – while still presenting themselves as leftists, radicals, etc.

            An argument can be made that society is always going to have inequality – you’re always going to have some people on the top and some people on the bottom – but that (some, most, all) differences in this regard along demographic lines are due to discrimination. That if society was fair you’d still have some people living paycheque to paycheque and others with private jets, but that each group would resemble society in general in its demographics more than each group currently does. However, the people who seem (based on their actions, revealed preferences, etc) do not have this as their stated preference – they rarely, if ever, make this argument.

            They (“they” being a certain variety of left-wing activist) use the language and make the claims of leftist radicalism, but when you look at what they do, it’s liberal reformism, minus some of the good bits (eg, they tend to have little respect for freedom of speech as a value, and I think that’s one of the better bits of liberalism, being a liberal myself). They also tend to argue for things that will benefit themselves personally as though it is something that will benefit a group as a whole (eg, when a bunch of group x people, x studies majors mostly, storm into the university president’s office and demand more hiring of group x professors, and an expansion of the x studies faculty … where are those profs going to come from? is the obvious question, and it’s far from clear how any of this will help the most downtrodden and impoverished members of group x, despite their being front and centre in the rhetoric).

            What bothers me primarily is the hypocrisy. It’s the best-off members of groups that are, as a whole, oppressed, talking the talk but not walking the walk of radicalism. They’re surfing to personal success on the backs of the worst-off members of those groups, while doing little to nothing to materially help the worst-off members.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            You have to keep in mind the distinction between intent and outcome. The intent of SJ is to make things better for everyone. However, the pseudoscience and bad logic means that mainstream SJ policies generally have different outcomes than predicted and/or desired by them.

            Whether the end result is actually undermining Western society to such an extent that will ruin us, is subjective and speculative. The human population is increasing pretty rapidly and the West is still growing. Whether the increase in lifetime expectancy, combined with few young people will stagnate the West is speculate. Might be true, might not be true.

            Whether young men will start checking out in really large numbers is speculative.

            There have been bad crises in the past, people often found a way. I do think that we are heading for a major crisis (although neoliberalism is much more to blame than SJ) and the longer people keep their head in the sand, the worse it will be. But the worse it gets, the harder it is to keep your head in the sand, because the signs will get pretty big. No one missed Brexit or Trump, although there is still major denial. But denial is just the first stage in grief.

          • (Question)

            Do you think slavery was central to western civilization?

            (Reply)

            Personally, I would imagine that the people supporting slavery believed that it was, while those opposing it thought that it wasn’t.

            When?

            Southerners before the Civil War may have believed it was central to their civilization, but it had been effectively eliminated in most of Europe about six hundred years earlier and entirely eliminated from English law in England in the previous century. So I don’t see how the supporters could believe it was central to western civilization.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Conrad,

            Can we agree that […] traditional gender roles and marriage is far more likely to be foundational

            That’s an argument about whether or not SJ beliefs are reasonable, which is at most only weakly related to whether or not they are genuinely held.

            (Reading your later post, it seems to me that you’ve shifted from “they are intentionally undermining society” to “they are undermining values that I personally think are essential to society”. I don’t have any strong objections to the latter formulation, so if that’s what you meant all along, never mind.)

            Personally, I’m in favour of marriage in much the same way that I’m in favour of gravity; I’m not worried that either is likely to be “undermined”. Gender roles, on the other hand, are and IMO have always been contingent on the nature of the economy, and I see no value whatsoever in futile attempts to preserve or re-establish pre-industrial gender roles in a post-industrial society.

            (Yes, I’m probably heavily influenced by Scott’s work here. At least, that last sentence doesn’t sound much like something I’d have come up with entirely on my own. The overall sentiment is mine.)

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Marx’s project wasn’t to ensure that a proportionate number of children on the proletariat got to be exploitive capitalists.

            I hate to be *that guy*, but isn’t this precisely what ended up happening as a result of Marxism? Certainly hardcore communists seemed to think so, with the appellation “state capitalism” given to the Soviet Union and similarly constructed entities.

            A better analogy would be that social justice warriors are attempting to fight exploitative white men, and aren’t trying to make a proportionate amount of minorities into exploitative “white men”, except lol because that’s exactly what will happen.

            There’s no way to square the social left’s deep and unreflective acceptance of capitalism with Marxism, regardless of what kind of adjective you shoe-horn in there.

            yes there is

            it’s called: regular marxism focuses on the economy, cultural marxism focuses on culture. They use similar forms of rhetoric, probably the same tactics, and even draw from the same political wing generally.

            Yes, this is a good way of putting it. I like to think of it as, there’s a segment of the left that doesn’t mind inequality – they just want the inequality to be distributed equally.

            this quote is here only to poke a bit of fun at you 😉

            They (“they” being a certain variety of left-wing activist) use the language and make the claims of leftist radicalism, but when you look at what they do, it’s liberal reformism, minus some of the good bits

            However this quote is placed here to resolve a larger dispute; namely, I think that they are simply radical on a cultural level, insofar as they wish to totally alter the dynamic between the two genders and within each gender, which then alters much of human behavior, including work, education, sexual relationships, and so forth; they also wish to silence a large group of critics and so forth.

            In other words, they’re fine with corporations existing, so long as those corporations say only what they want them to say. The fact that this is said cynically means little, so long as it isn’t exceedingly obvious, because this establishes a propaganda echo chamber where everyone knows the right thing to say; couple that with many corporations and institutions outright disemploying those who speak out against feminism, and you have a tool for policing what everyone says, which has a larger trickle-down effect on what they think (so long as everyone’s saying it). As I had explained to me once, every society has a ton of propaganda, but pluralistic secular societies have many different forms of propaganda which roughly act to counterbalance one another. But totalitarian societies have only one brand, and also silence all others, which not only brainwashes many but also leaves those un-brainwashed unable to get their message to the masses. That…is radical. It’s simply not economically radical. They’re not interested in transforming the idea of a CEO; they want to transform the CEO himself, or at least assert significant control over his public actions.

            Marxism doesn’t posit a zero-sum economic game.

            I would argue that there is some type of zero-sum thinking inherent in the battle of the classes, but I could legitimately be wrong. I’ll admit that I have never read Marx, because I am both busy and lazy (mostly the latter).

            I’ll stand in defense of “kyriarchy”.

            Yes, ignoring the truth or falsity of the concept, the kyriarchy is an entirely logical concept. Especially insofar as it is simply a way of saying “the white cis patriarchy”, and I hope no one is offended by me saying that.

            “oh, intersectionality could actually be a useful tool if more people would use it as more than a cudgel for beating up outgroupies”

            Yeah. I mean, I think it would lose part of its usefulness if the progressive stack were removed, insofar as there would be no easy way to determine a victor. But that’s just saying that oppression, as a “number”, is hard to measure; that doesn’t mean that you can’t add the numbers, assuming you knew them.

          • keranih says:

            I’ve been looking for a shorter political self-descriptor, and “kyriarchist” should work pretty well.

            *facepalm*

            Well, when I show up on Old Nick’s doorstep, at least I’ll know why.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @John, David,

            It certainly seems that they felt it was central to their particular corner of western civilization. Did they particularly care what the rest of the world thought? (I didn’t know that “peculiar institution” was an expression of approval, though. Interesting.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It certainly seems that they felt it was central to their particular corner of western civilization.

            The herring trade was once central to the economy of Denmark, but I doubt any Dane, however devoutly patriotic w/re his nation’s place in the civilized West, would ever have said “the herring trade is central to Western civilization”

          • LHN says:

            @keranih

            Well, when I show up on Old Nick’s doorstep, at least I’ll know why.

            I can relate. Back in the 90s, I contributed to a gaming supplement that contained various alternate histories. On the Usenet newsgroup soc.history.what-if, there was a poster who espoused what, in retrospect, was a proto-Death Eater political philosophy. (Something I never ran into between then and rediscovering it here.)

            At one point, he explained that he’d been substantially inspired by one of the histories we’d included in the book. (Not even the central thrust of that history! It just happened to have an authoritarian Hohenzollern Germany as one of the states in the background.)

            He used a pseudonym then that I haven’t seen used since. (Though I found it cited in an academic article, years later, that quoted some of the group’s discussion around the time.) So if he turned out to go on to be one of the formative intellects of the modern movement, I’m at least spared the knowledge. (And of course there’s no reason to think so.)

            But still, as indirect influences I might have had go, it’s not one that I would look forward to defending on my life’s balance sheet. 🙂

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            I’d like to remind you of the documents written in the run up to the civil war, the defenses of slavery and Sothern culture, and the various declarations of secession. These do show that they found Slavery to be foundational and essential for the values of their society. In particular, the existence of slavery made every white an aristocract, freeing them from the requirement to engage in base labor. At least, these were the arguments that were made.

          • keranih says:

            @HBC –

            You might find this Ann Althouse column on Andrew Jackson interesting.

            @LHN –

            I’ll save you a seat next to the fire.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @AnonYEmous

            this quote is here only to poke a bit of fun at you 😉

            ?

            However this quote is placed here to resolve a larger dispute; namely, I think that they are simply radical on a cultural level, insofar as they wish to totally alter the dynamic between the two genders and within each gender, which then alters much of human behavior, including work, education, sexual relationships, and so forth; they also wish to silence a large group of critics and so forth.

            But part of my point is that there’s frequently a gap between stated preferences and revealed preferences. When a bunch of Martian Studies students say that they are acting in the name of the oppressed Martian underclass, half of whom drop out of high school, and then their demand is an expanded Martian Studies program (and thus jobs for themselves), and nothing that reasonably would help keep those Martian kids from dropping out…

            Likewise, when someone says they want to alter the dynamics between the genders, but everything they actually propose just reinforces the dynamics that currently exist…

            In other words, they’re fine with corporations existing, so long as those corporations say only what they want them to say. The fact that this is said cynically means little, so long as it isn’t exceedingly obvious, because this establishes a propaganda echo chamber where everyone knows the right thing to say; couple that with many corporations and institutions outright disemploying those who speak out against feminism, and you have a tool for policing what everyone says, which has a larger trickle-down effect on what they think (so long as everyone’s saying it). As I had explained to me once, every society has a ton of propaganda, but pluralistic secular societies have many different forms of propaganda which roughly act to counterbalance one another. But totalitarian societies have only one brand, and also silence all others, which not only brainwashes many but also leaves those un-brainwashed unable to get their message to the masses. That…is radical. It’s simply not economically radical. They’re not interested in transforming the idea of a CEO; they want to transform the CEO himself, or at least assert significant control over his public actions.

            Plenty of non-totalitarian – not even authoritarian! – states have had personal beliefs that would get your ass fired, from both public and private sector jobs. Unless the US in the 40s and 50s was totalitarian.

            You see, say, feminism coopting the corporations – I see the corporations coopting feminism and other social movements. The corporation pays Tim Wise or whoever some money to come in, talk about white privilege or whatever, mostly so that they can point to it and say “see we aren’t creating a hostile work environment” in case equal opportunity lawsuits happen.

          • onyomi says:

            I avoided commenting here because I already participated in an earlier, long thread on the topic. But because this one went on so long, I’ll provide a note of explanation as a point of reference.

            What initially caused me to start looking into the term “cultural Marxist” was the fact that I was using it in an apparently idiosyncratic way that was neither of the ways being discussed here (one being basically a “snarl word” for what I’d call the post-90s “intersectionality” trend in academia, or, more colloquially, “social justice,” and the other being what Brad calls a minor trend largely limited to the 70s–though I think the narrower definition of “cultural Marxist” would probably focus more on the Frankfurt School specifically, most active prior to that time).

            I was using it to refer to the larger trend in academia of studying culture from a Marxist perspective, beginning especially with “the Frankfurt School,” but also including people like Brecht, Barthes, and Bourdieu, and also related to the more general tendency Jaskologist mentions for Marxists in e.g. the USSR and PRC to view art/culture and politics as intimately bound up (the Cultural Revolution’s “model operas,” for example).

            Although I was aware that Republicans had recently begun to use the term as a general attack on left-wing cultural politics, I had considered that to be the more non-standard, idiosyncratic usage, rather than my own. The problem being, people sympathetic to the viewpoint I was talking about would tend to describe it simply as something like “the Frankfurt School” or “cultural analysis,” and those unsympathetic rarely talk about it in much detail except as part of a larger attack against the general left-wing tendencies of the academic humanities.

            The conclusion I came to was that probably the best neutral term for what I was talking about is “Marxist cultural theorist” (also keeping in mind, of course, that not every Marxist who writes about culture does so from a Marxist perspective).

            To my mind, “Marxist cultural theorists” did, in fact, lay the ground work for Queer Studies, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and most of the other academic disciplines currently lending support to SJ, but are still distinct in that, as others have mentioned, the original focus was on economic class, whereas now the focus is on solidarity of others sorts of identity.

            I also think that if I were an economic Marxist, I would be unhappy about these developments because “workers of the world” have more trouble uniting when other people are telling them about all the ways they face oppression along lines of race, gender, etc., even if Intersectionality assures them they can be oppressed in an exciting variety of ways.

            Edit to add: these two articles on the contested and varied uses of the term make me feel a little less crazy for having used it as I did.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            ?

            You’re using inequality to mean “being poor”, its generally understood meaning, but its literal meaning, “people not being equal”, is obviously reduced by everyone being equally poor (not that I endorse this, and not that I should have to say this either)

            But part of my point is that there’s frequently a gap between stated preferences and revealed preferences. When a bunch of Martian Studies students say that they are acting in the name of the oppressed Martian underclass, half of whom drop out of high school, and then their demand is an expanded Martian Studies program (and thus jobs for themselves), and nothing that reasonably would help keep those Martian kids from dropping out…

            They’re interested in seizing cultural power such that institutions will do what they say. Or does that not count if they benefit from it? Don’t most communists and socialists assume that they will be the ones in positions of power within the state apparatus?

            Likewise, when someone says they want to alter the dynamics between the genders, but everything they actually propose just reinforces the dynamics that currently exist…

            What feminists do is both reinforce the dynamic in some cases and radically break it in others, depending on which gives women more power. In situations where they want to be treated as weaker, that is reinforced. In situations where they don’t, that is completely disallowed. Power uber alles, and power power always. Also still a significant shift in the gender dynamic.

            Plenty of non-totalitarian – not even authoritarian! – states have had personal beliefs that would get your ass fired, from both public and private sector jobs. Unless the US in the 40s and 50s was totalitarian.

            edit: missed the link, guessed right for the wrong reasons

            I think what happened in the case of the Red Scares was frighteningly totalitarian. But at least it happened in regards to a specific and very murderous ideology. Even so, as non-authoritarian as America can be in peace, in war that all seems to slip away, so I don’t think this is a great example. Especially given that anti-feminism has been linked to no one worse than Elliot Rodger.

            You see, say, feminism coopting the corporations – I see the corporations coopting feminism and other social movements.”

            It is both simultaneously. And I will show you why:

            The corporation pays Tim Wise or whoever some money to come in, talk about white privilege or whatever, mostly so that they can point to it and say “see we aren’t creating a hostile work environment” in case equal opportunity lawsuits happen.

            And then everyone within the company receives yet another message about white privilege, or whatever piece of propaganda the propaganda-pushers are attempting to push, all while pushback is rendered near-impossible. Do you really think this doesn’t shift the margins?

            I don’t think people are dumb enough to just fall for any bad argument they hear. But when you’re forced to mouth along, those arguments take root, and in the absence of counter-arguments, with one side of the story having prepared and found whichever facts suit them… meanwhile, the corporation’s officers must also mouth along to the dogma of, in this case, white privilege. They have given up that power in exchange for profit.

          • Aapje says:

            @AnonYEmous

            Yes, ignoring the truth or falsity of the concept, the kyriarchy is an entirely logical concept. Especially insofar as it is simply a way of saying “the white cis patriarchy”, and I hope no one is offended by me saying that.

            It’s more the ‘white cis Western heterosexual non-handicapped rich male hierarchy.’ It’s like a pyramid where the fewer axes of oppression a person is subject to, the more unearned privilege they experience.

            You call it logical, but the way it is used in SJ is as an unfalsifiable concept, where no outcomes are treated as falsification of the concept; and where there is no room for the possibility of unearned privileges for ‘oppressed’ people. The entire concept falls apart if you don’t start with the assumption of certain groups being oppressed and always lacking privilege.

            An example is women doing better in education right now. According to kyriarchy, you’d think this would be impossible. Except…feminists now argue that women in college profit from the lack of toxic masculine conditioning, while men experience ‘patriarchy/kyriarchy backfiring.’

            So the argument is that women are simply earning their better outcomes. However, SJ advocates generally treat any disparity in outcome where designated ‘oppressed’ groups do worse as sufficient evidence of oppression and are thus not willing to accept that better outcomes for men may be due to them earning these better outcomes.

            So…the end result is that all situations where ‘oppressed’ groups do worse is taken as proof of the kyriarchy, while any situations of ‘oppressor’ groups doing worse is taken as proof of the underlying mechanism of kyriarchy existing (oppressors being conditioned to demand special treatment and being unable to cope if society doesn’t allow them to be oppressive, as they never learned to compete on an level playing field).

            So what we see in practice is that SJ resorts to victim blaming in every situation where ‘oppressors’ do worse and ignore the sacrifice that ‘oppressors’ make that result in better outcomes*.

            * And even the SJ concept of ‘better outcomes’ stacks the deck, as it is centered around achieving positions of power, not happiness, agency, a lack of suffering or unearned benefits. If you take one of the latter as indicating ‘better outcomes,’ then some of the ‘oppressed’ groups seem quite privileged.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ HBC:

            I’d like to remind you of the documents written in the run up to the civil war, the defenses of slavery and Sothern culture, and the various declarations of secession. These do show that they found Slavery to be foundational and essential for the values of their society. In particular, the existence of slavery made every white an aristocract, freeing them from the requirement to engage in base labor. At least, these were the arguments that were made.

            Again, though, the claim was that defenders of slavery thought slavery was integral to Western civilisation, which is a different and far broader entity than the antebellum USA. Pro-slavery apologists might have said that slavery was essential to their (southern US) culture; they didn’t, as far as I know, say that it was essential to Western culture as a whole, and if they did they’d have been demonstrably wrong, since there had been plenty of unambiguously Western countries without it.

            @ dndnrsn:

            Likewise, when someone says they want to alter the dynamics between the genders, but everything they actually propose just reinforces the dynamics that currently exist…

            No-fault divorce, free love, encouraging people to marry later, denigrating child-rearing as an alternative to paid labour, 50 genders, rape culture hysteria, etc., have in fact altered the dynamics between the genders, and seem likely to alter them further in the future.

          • Iain says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            From the introduction to Mississippi’s declaration of secession:

            Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            The entire concept falls apart if you don’t start with the assumption of certain groups being oppressed and always lacking privilege.

            Like I said, it’s not always possible to calculate oppression a as a numerical value. And progressives aren’t exactly talented mathematicians. I’m just saying that if you assume the ability to calculate the numbers, the ability to add them makes perfect sense.

            Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

            I fucking knew it

            I was literally going to address this argument and say something like “well maybe they would say it because cotton” and lo and behold they fucking did.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @AnonYEmous

            You’re using inequality to mean “being poor”, its generally understood meaning, but its literal meaning, “people not being equal”, is obviously reduced by everyone being equally poor (not that I endorse this, and not that I should have to say this either)

            What I mean is that a lot of them, in their revealed preferences, seem to be fine with a society where there is a clear stratification of socioeconomic classes. They just aren’t happy about the fact that some demographics are overrepresented at the top and some at the bottom.

            They’re interested in seizing cultural power such that institutions will do what they say. Or does that not count if they benefit from it? Don’t most communists and socialists assume that they will be the ones in positions of power within the state apparatus?

            But look at the institutions they have seized: in Canada (I don’t know about the US) student unions are basically owned by left-wing activists of a certain type, and they seem far more interested in setting up their successors for power, providing sinecures for themselves and their buddies, and basically running a quasi-feudal apparatus. Sure, they have their marches where they demand this, that, and the other thing, but what they actually succeed at doing is making sure that the Vice President Whatever goes on to be the President of the student union next year.

            What feminists do is both reinforce the dynamic in some cases and radically break it in others, depending on which gives women more power. In situations where they want to be treated as weaker, that is reinforced. In situations where they don’t, that is completely disallowed. Power uber alles, and power power always. Also still a significant shift in the gender dynamic.

            If this is true, though, then their revealed preferences are different from their stated preferences, which is part of the point I’m trying to make.

            I think what happened in the case of the Red Scares was frighteningly totalitarian. But at least it happened in regards to a specific and very murderous ideology. Even so, as non-authoritarian as America can be in peace, in war that all seems to slip away, so I don’t think this is a great example. Especially given that anti-feminism has been linked to no one worse than Elliot Rodger.

            What war? I don’t think the US can at any point in history be called truly authoritarian, let alone totalitarian.

            And then everyone within the company receives yet another message about white privilege, or whatever piece of propaganda the propaganda-pushers are attempting to push, all while pushback is rendered near-impossible. Do you really think this doesn’t shift the margins?

            I don’t think people are dumb enough to just fall for any bad argument they hear. But when you’re forced to mouth along, those arguments take root, and in the absence of counter-arguments, with one side of the story having prepared and found whichever facts suit them… meanwhile, the corporation’s officers must also mouth along to the dogma of, in this case, white privilege. They have given up that power in exchange for profit.

            But does it work? Is it successfully spreading the message, or is it just letting companies say “look how we’re working for a better world”, make some jobs for the Tim Wises of the world, etc, while everyone rolls their eyes?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @AnonYEmous:
            I’m sure you can find plenty of numbskulls who will argue any old thing, but I don’t think there is much disagreement that one reason plantation holders didn’t want slavery to end was because it enriched them.

            And I think you could also get broad agreement that, if slavery was not enriching, you would not have had (American and Caribbean chattel) slavery.

            If you want to stipulate that you think they reasoned backwards from this to all of their other conclusions, I think you are mostly right.

            But it doesn’t change the argument or the evidence that they held those other beliefs sincerely. Not all of the individuals, but most of them. It’s an example of the frequently mentioned Sinclaire aphorism ” “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Original Mr. X:
            I jumped in after John attempted to rebut the following statement:

            It certainly seems that they felt it was central to their particular corner of western civilization.

            I was just rebutting his rebuttal. I don’t think your objection applies to this exchange.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            they seem far more interested in setting up their successors for power, providing sinecures for themselves and their buddies, and basically running a quasi-feudal apparatus.

            *looks at Communist party of Soviet Russia*

            *looks also at Title IX show trials and other stifling political correctness*

            in other words they created a fair amount of radical change and then entrenched themselves at the top of the system. Fuck, who is a left-wing radical by your definition? Only the failures?

            If this is true, though, then their revealed preferences are different from their stated preferences, which is part of the point I’m trying to make.

            So again, like every single communist and socialist party so far, more or less?

            What war? I don’t think the US can at any point in history be called truly authoritarian, let alone totalitarian.

            I think the Red Scare itself belies that. This makes my argument a bit circular, but true nevertheless.

            But does it work?

            Radicals are famous for doing really stupid stuff that has no chance of working, so this question is irrelevant. Plus, I’d say it absolutely is, because

            while everyone rolls their eyes?

            some people don’t roll their eyes, and the eye-rollers can’t explain to them why. Heck, most totalitarian regimes had plenty of dissenters; they just suppressed their speech so no one else knew about it. What was that old saying, about Rome, slaves, and slave markings?

            and to HBC: yeah yeah I know, cognitive dissonance is a hell of a drug. I just didn’t think it was quite that powerful, but shrug.

          • Brad says:

            @AnonYEmous

            Marx’s project wasn’t to ensure that a proportionate number of children on the proletariat got to be exploitive capitalists.

            I hate to be *that guy*, but isn’t this precisely what ended up happening as a result of Marxism? Certainly hardcore communists seemed to think so, with the appellation “state capitalism” given to the Soviet Union and similarly constructed entities.

            Does it matter to the argument? If the Russian Revolution never happened the word ‘Marxism’ would be much more obscure but it would still mean something.

            There’s no way to square the social left’s deep and unreflective acceptance of capitalism with Marxism, regardless of what kind of adjective you shoe-horn in there.

            yes there is

            it’s called: regular marxism focuses on the economy, cultural marxism focuses on culture. They use similar forms of rhetoric, probably the same tactics, and even draw from the same political wing generally.

            It doesn’t even make any sense to have a marxism “focused on culture”. It’s a category error. As for the second part, I disagree with the first two and the third is by convention rather than any sort of independent variable.

            Look I’m a descriptivist, so I’m not going to say that you can’t call it Cultural Marxism because it lacks internal logic. But on the other hand it lacks internal logic, so when you say “we aren’t being totally obnoxious and unfair with this usage it actually makes sense” you aren’t convincing me (or I’d think much of anyone else). If enough people use it, it should go in the dictionary, but it should also get the pejorative tag and a usage note.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @AnonYEmous

            *looks at Communist party of Soviet Russia*

            *looks also at Title IX show trials and other stifling political correctness*

            in other words they created a fair amount of radical change and then entrenched themselves at the top of the system. Fuck, who is a left-wing radical by your definition? Only the failures?

            The student union sinecure crew haven’t created radical change, not in the slightest.

            So again, like every single communist and socialist party so far, more or less?

            I did note that a big part of what bothers me is the hypocrisy.

            I think the Red Scare itself belies that. This makes my argument a bit circular, but true nevertheless.

            Is “people working in the government and film industry lost their jobs if they were maybe commies” hugely authoritarian? By the standards of authoritarianism that’s weak tea.

            Radicals are famous for doing really stupid stuff that has no chance of working, so this question is irrelevant. Plus, I’d say it absolutely is, because

            some people don’t roll their eyes, and the eye-rollers can’t explain to them why. Heck, most totalitarian regimes had plenty of dissenters; they just suppressed their speech so no one else knew about it. What was that old saying, about Rome, slaves, and slave markings?

            Is this really the case? Plenty of stuff on the internet. People who disagree with feminism are hardly resorting to samizdat.

          • John Schilling says:

            I was just rebutting his rebuttal. I don’t think your objection applies to this exchange.

            The claim under debate is, “people supporting slavery believed that it was central to western civilization”, as distinguished from “…central to a particular society that is a small subset of western civilization”.

            I do not believe that any great fraction of slavery’s supporters have ever held the former, as opposed to latter, position. You seem to be claiming that “Not all of the individuals, but most of them” did hold the former position.

            The best and only evidence presented for your case so far, has been the Mississippi declaration of secession, and conspicuously not those of any of the other members of the Confederacy, and even that wasn’t your work. All I’ve seen from you is arguments for other, weaker propositions which are not under debate. So I’m not seeing you as successfully rebutting anything.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            I am responding to this exchange:

            It certainly seems that they felt it was central to their particular corner of western civilization.

            The herring trade was once central to the economy of Denmark, but I doubt any Dane, however devoutly patriotic w/re his nation’s place in the civilized West, would ever have said “the herring trade is central to Western civilization”

            Southern slaveholders did not describe the institution of slavery as merely central to their economy, but central to their civilization aside from economic concerns. So merely pointing out that it was an economic necessity, and that other economic necessities weren’t considered the foundation of a civilization, is a bit like arguing that Ray Charles is God.

          • John Schilling says:

            Southern slaveholders did not describe the institution of slavery as merely central to their economy, but central to their civilization aside from economic concerns

            You don’t see a distinction between “their civilization” and “Western civilization”? You don’t understand that people might in some contexts describe as their civilization, something smaller than all of Western civilization? And you didn’t notice me, at every opportunity, explicitly clarify the distinction between Western Civilization and specific cultures within Western Civ, even as you conspicuously avoid such clarification?

            I do not believe you are arguing in good faith.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            “Cultural Marxism absolutely focuses on class. It’s just a class constituted by race and racial privilege instead of wealth and wealth privilege, with a complementary argument that racial privilege creates wealth privilege or even in certain cases (justice system, possibly politics) supplants it in most meaningful ways. “The proletariat” is replaced by “the oppressed minorities”. And others in this comment thread have laid out many similarities to traditional Marxist thought replicated by so-called cultural Marxists.”

            But that is not what Marxism means by class. Marxist classes are by definition related to production relations, not privileges. You are trying to shoehorn an ideology originating from the 1800s to current discussions.

            I have not yet seen similarities to traditional Marxist thought that were unique to traditional Marxism and “cultural Marxism”, instead of radical egalitarian thought in general.

            “namely, that traditional Marxism posits a zero-sum economic game between the oppressed class, the oppressors, and occasionally an in-between middle class, and cultural Marxism posits a zero-sum cultural game between the oppressed class(es), the oppressors, and occasionally an in-between middle class.”

            That’s like saying “nationalism posits a zero-sum economic game between nations and ethnicities, and thus, nationalism should instead be called nation Marxism”. (Of course, we have NatBols etc., but we don’t call all nationalists “nation Marxists” or whatever.)

            “Coincidentally? Marxism is like Protestantism except without focusing on Jesus.”

            No it’s not.

            LHN: Do you mean Quonster, or was there someone else?

            Also, apropos of everything: https://theredphoenixapl.org/2011/08/26/debunking-william-s-lind-cultural-marxism/

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            a) I’m very tired of you accusing me of arguing in bad faith.

            b) “It certainly seems that they felt it was central to their particular corner of western civilization.

            I am trying show that the bolded part of the quote is true, which then doesn’t require a an applicability to all of Western Civ. That’s the part you seem to be studiously ignoring.

            In fact, I’d venture to guess that they thought their society was superior to the rest of western civilization. An improvement upon what had come before.

          • LHN says:

            LHN: Do you mean Quonster, or was there someone else?

            That’s the one. IIRC, he also went by “Feudalist” for a while. (Though what he was talking up wasn’t really feudalism.)

            I’m told by a friend who frequented talk.bizarre that C. Yarvin was a regular on that group around the same time. Whether his and Quonster’s paths ever crossed, I can’t say.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Pro-slavery apologists might have said that slavery was essential to their (southern US) culture; they didn’t, as far as I know, say that it was essential to Western culture as a whole, and if they did they’d have been demonstrably wrong, since there had been plenty of unambiguously Western countries without it.

            I think a very similar argument could be made regarding at least some of the culture-war claims upstream of here. There are parts of western civilization that are considerably further to the left than the US is, and they haven’t suffered thereby.

            It is nonetheless true that I spoke imprecisely, and David and John’s corrections on that matter were entirely justified.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Does it matter to the argument? If the Russian Revolution never happened the word ‘Marxism’ would be much more obscure but it would still mean something.

            I think it matters because you either have to admit that there are no radicals or that this is as radical as it gets. Radicals often end up turning moderate once they’ve secured power for themselves. In other words:

            Fuck, who is a left-wing radical by your definition? Only the failures?

            It doesn’t even make any sense to have a marxism “focused on culture”. It’s a category error.

            And I disagree, because the part of Marxism I’m talking about is Marxist tactics, namely class conflict, but simply applied to cultural class rather than economic class. In other words, cultural Marxism is the tactics of Marxism applied to culture (race and sexual class) rather than economic class.

            As for the second part, I disagree with the first two

            There is a clear attempt to create a division between a privileged upper class, which oppresses an oppressed lower class to benefit itself, and to say that this should be upended to create equality among the classes. It’s just that they talk about cultural status and stereotypes instead of cold hard cash.

            and the third is by convention rather than any sort of independent variable.

            I mean…as fucked as politics are right now, and as fucked as they’re going to get…you know what, I’ll allow it I guess.

            The student union sinecure crew haven’t created radical change, not in the slightest.

            The telos of the university, is diversity.

            That’s a fucking radical change, my guy. An institution which was once about education, is now about benefiting minorities, and states this as one of their core missions to which they devote many, many resources. I don’t care if they actually believe in it or not, so long as their actions are in this direction. Because that’s what power is all about.

            I did note that a big part of what bothers me is the hypocrisy.

            Sure, but isn’t the discussion about radicalism vs. not? If most radicals are hypocrites, that’s a hole in the argument. If you just want to condemn them for being hypocrites, go ahead and I’ll join you.

            Is “people working in the government and film industry lost their jobs if they were maybe commies” hugely authoritarian? By the standards of authoritarianism that’s weak tea.

            I suppose it really depends on how far you think it extended into the culture and general views, as feminism versus anti-feminism does currently. If you think it extended far, then authoritarianism, and if you think it didn’t, then it’s not the same as what’s happening now.

            Is this really the case? Plenty of stuff on the internet. People who disagree with feminism are hardly resorting to samizdat.

            There’s certainly been a resurgence of anti-feminism, but let’s not forget that internet comments are often anonymous; an anonymous wordpress blog is an OK modern analogue to samizdat (and I do know what that was, so I recognize some of the issues with the comparison, but hey).

            Marxist classes are by definition related to production relations, not privileges. You are trying to shoehorn an ideology originating from the 1800s to current discussions.

            wikipedia sez:

            By “relations of production”, Marx and Engels meant the sum total of social relationships that people must enter into in order to survive, to produce, and to reproduce their means of life.

            Marx and Engels typically use the term to refer to the socioeconomic relationships characteristic of a specific epoch; for example: a capitalist’s exclusive relationship to a capital good, and a wage worker’s consequent relation to the capitalist;

            Sure sounds like the capitalist has capitalist privilege, due to being of a higher economic class. Look, I don’t want to come off as an asshole, but if you think the concepts are significantly different, can you expand on why?

            That’s like saying “nationalism posits a zero-sum economic game between nations and ethnicities, and thus, nationalism should instead be called nation Marxism”.

            But nationalism doesn’t have an oppressed class and an oppressor class, whereas both forms of Marxism under discussion draw heavily from the idea of an oppressed class and an oppressor class. I guess you can maybe find some examples of nationalism that complains of oppression (though such may veer close to National Bolshevism as well), but honestly nationalism cares only about one class, their favored nationality, to the exclusion of all others.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tatu Ahponen

            But that is not what Marxism means by class. Marxist classes are by definition related to production relations, not privileges. You are trying to shoehorn an ideology originating from the 1800s to current discussions.

            Georg Lukacs clearly went beyond mere production relations when he argued that capitalism results in the objectification (reification) of social relations and those involved in social relations. This mirrors the feminist concept of objectification very, very closely.

            Secondly, his claim that different social classes can achieve different maximum levels of social consciousness is very similar to the SJ claim that the privileged can’t see their own privilege and the common belief by radical SJ people that no ‘oppressors’ can achieve enough awareness of the kyriarchy to speak for the oppressed.

            Of course, you can argue that the commonality is insufficient to call it Marxism, rather than merely call it inspired by Marxism, but you even seem to argue against the latter claim, which seems very silly given the strong similarities in some core concepts.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @AnonYEmous:

            The telos of the university, is diversity.

            That’s a fucking radical change, my guy. An institution which was once about education, is now about benefiting minorities, and states this as one of their core missions to which they devote many, many resources. I don’t care if they actually believe in it or not, so long as their actions are in this direction. Because that’s what power is all about.

            Ask people at a university what university is for, and you’ll get several different answers. The resources devoted to that – how significant are we talking? Is it a core mission thing, or a “let’s buy off those annoying kids” thing?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Ask people at a university what university is for, and you’ll get several different answers. The resources devoted to that – how significant are we talking? Is it a core mission thing, or a “let’s buy off those annoying kids” thing?

            let us say that, because bureaucracy rules, “buy off the annoying kids” becomes the chief purpose, by way of their chief purpose being “retain our jobs”

            but in practice, this cedes immense discursive power to them, and quite some real power as well.

    • rlms says:

      It has no connection with internet rationalism (other than the name). Culturally, I think it’s part of the internet skepticism movement (think atheism, getting annoyed by homeopathy etc.) with a little more politicisation. I think they get unwarranted levels of hate from internet rationalists. The link Aapje gives is kind of missing the point in my opinion: they’re not trying to be like Wikipedia or LessWrong and present unbiased truths about everything. They do one thing (chronicling people being stupid in particular directions) and they do it pretty well.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      It’s a wiki edited by the people conservatives think liberals are.

      So not a great place, in my opinion.

      • Evan Þ says:

        As opposed to Conservapedia, which is a wiki edited by the people liberals think conservatives are.

        (I was on Conservapedia as a sincere contributor for several months when I was younger and more trusting; then I got banned for – of all things – IIRC leaving a message on someone’s userpage “Hey, you might want to join in the debate on this talk page.” But if not that, I probably would’ve been banned anyway in a week or two when I finished my Letter of Admonition against their new Bible “translation” [sic].)

    • BBA says:

      At the time it started, “rational” was just internet code for anti-Bush, nothing more or less.

  16. neaanopri says:

    It’s concerning to see the Left getting more hawkish with Russia and China. Is there any chance we could get to a world where there are no Great Powers and everyone gets along about as well as Europe does now? Is the detente in Europe because of US/Soviet hegemony during the cold war, and US hegemony afterwards, or is it because of the individual states being prosperous liberal democracies with well-set ethnuc and Linguistic borders and thus nothing to fight over with neighbors?

    • Sandy says:

      or is it because of the individual states being prosperous liberal democracies with well-set ethnuc and Linguistic borders and thus nothing to fight over with neighbors?

      Which individual states are you thinking of?

      Not sure how much hawkishness there is re: China, certainly there’s a lot re: Russia, but part of that is because liberals are still mad about Russian interference in the 2016 election and they have to vent somehow. Hard not to blame Russia for that. Although I note that the latest spending bill allots $100 million to a fund dedicated to “promoting democracy in Russia” and $0 to funds dedicated to “promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia”. Leftists should realize the State Department fits the Great Satan appellation much more than the CIA does.

      • Deiseach says:

        Although I note that the latest spending bill allots $100 million to a fund dedicated to “promoting democracy in Russia” and $0 to funds dedicated to “promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia”.

        There was some minor fuss raised at home over the Irish vote (did we or didn’t we vote for them?) when Saudi Arabia was given a place on the UN Commission on Women’s Rights, but nothing more seems to have come of it.

        Has there been any reaction in the USA about this, or are all the usual suspects too busy firing off approving tweets about how the new TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale is exactly what is going to happen women’s rights in America today under Trump?

        • hlynkacg says:

          Has there been any reaction in the USA about this

          Yes, but it seems to be getting buried under the second sort, and people attacking the cluelessness/hypocrisy of the same. (at least as far as talking heads and 24-hour news aggregators are concerned)

      • neaanopri says:

        I was thinking of the European states: Germany, France, Britain, Poland, all of the states west of Ukraine and Belarus and north of the former yugoslavia have no hint whatsoever of armed conflict amongst themselves. They went through two incredibly traumatic world wars, eventually found borders that match the ethnic groups on the ground (with some ethnic cleansing and forced migration at the end of WW2), and are all some sort of democracy (though Hungary and Poland’s current governments are pretty illiberal, there seems to be no militarism directed at their neighbors).

        I was putting up for debate which of the factors was most important:

        1. Exhausted by the World Wars
        2. Well-drawn borders
        3. Prosperous liberal democracies

        • John Schilling says:

          Germany, France, Britain, Poland, all of the states west of Ukraine and Belarus and north of the former yugoslavia

          Isn’t that basically just the European part of NATO? I don’t think you can exclude that from your analysis, particularly insofar as the conflict rate takes a dramatic jump as soon as you step outside NATO’s bounds, and I don’t think you can say “See, look how wonderful it is that there are no Great Powers!” about anything that involves NATO.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Once you get east of Berlin, the well-drawn borders are almost all a consequence of end-of-WWII ethnic cleansing. Multiethnic and minority communities dating back centuries were vanished in months, with people told (or all-but-told) to move inside their assigned borders.

          This is not a central example of ethnic cleansing because (a) nobody was murdered in a coordinated fashion, and (b) everyone was already exhausted thanks to the war, daily life was horrendously disrupted, and I’d guess at least half the population under consideration was already refugees. However, it still happened. The borders were not drawn to match the population on the ground; the population on the ground was moved to match the borders.

          I’d agree with John Schilling’s implication that the real causes for peace in Europe are (a) cherrypicking what you count as “Europe” (e.g. excluding Yugoslavia), and (b) a half-century of being divided into two armed camps held back by superpowers, preparing for a nuclear war that never came.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is coordinated murder required for something to be a central example of ethnic cleansing? Your second point also would explain why it is not brought up much (also, for obvious reasons, people have a hard time finding much sympathy for the ethnic Germans, and they were a big chunk of the expelled) but not why it’s not a central example.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @dndnrsn, with the current popular connotations of “ethnic cleansing,” yes. Absolutely.

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty sure “ethnic cleansing” was a term we invented because we were upset that people were causing ethnic groups to disappear from their traditional homelands in non-murdery ways that we couldn’t get away with calling “genocide”.

            The official UN definition is “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove from a given area persons of another ethnic or religious group”. No murder required, and if present murder may be uncoordinated and non-systematic.

          • dndnrsn says:

            What are the current popular connotations of ethnic cleansing, then? I have always seen it used to mean a sort of sub-genocide: the paramilitaries (or whatever) rob, rape, burn stuff down, beat people, do some killing, and thus drive the targeted ethnic group away. Or, outright force them from one place to another.

        • juribe says:

          3. A little bit, 1. and 2. make no sense. The many, many wars between European powers before the World wars did nothing to stop them from fighting. The borders are not well drawn in ethnic or linguistic terms. People in border towns speak both languages (or a mix of them). Ethnicity is basically meaningless in those places.

          The main reason there has been no European conflict is the European Union. Open borders, free trade and some political integration make petty political squabbles seem pettier and very costly.

    • Brad says:

      It’s concerning to see the Left getting more hawkish with Russia and China.

      I don’t see the left getting more hawkish with respect to China. As for Russia, it boils down to their domestic drift back towards illiberal dictatorship and on the international stage their invasion of Ukraine (for Wilsonians) and to their latent interference in Western elections on behalf of far right candidates (for everyone not on the far right).

      • gbdub says:

        Russia has been drifting toward illiberal dictatorship for a while now, and they invaded Georgia in 2008 – Ukraine is just the sequel. 2016 was not their first attempt to meddle in US politics.

        Yet Romney was mocked for being worried about them in 2012, and hawkishness toward Russia on the left was not a major theme prior to the 2016 election.

        There are legitimate reasons to be concerned with Russia, but right now liberal hawkishness comes with a helping of sour grapes and wishful conspiracy theorizing. (In short, they weren’t hawkish enough pre-2016, and are more hawkish than they probably should be now. Not sure which version is closer to correct)

        • Brad says:

          It may not have been their first attempt, but it was certainly the most successful so far. And not just the United States either.

          I agree that the democrats probably were probably insufficiently concerned about Russia since the early to mid-aughts but I disagree that the left, by and large, is too hawkish now. I see very little in the way of suggesting escalation that risks open military conflict. The mainstream left position is more sanctions and ostracism. I doubt that would accomplish anything, but it isn’t too hawkish.

          • gbdub says:

            How much of the success was actually due to anything different the Russians did this time though? Seems like a lot of luck – a surprisingly close election and someone high enough up with enough embarrassing material to leak taking the phishing bait.

            In retrospect I agree that Democrats aren’t too hawkish now. I guess I what I was really thinking was that they are now overstating (rather than ignoring) the scope of Russian involvement in US politics. I also worry that, if their reasons for being hawkish now are poor (sour grapes) the prudent hawkishness won’t outlast the Trump administration (or even the first time Trump takes a hawkish anti-Russian stance).

          • JayT says:

            Well, the Democrats did just run someone for president who explicitly called for a no fly zone in Syria, which would mean possible attacks on Russian planes if they didn’t go alone with the no-fly zone. That was a very hawkish stance.

        • cassander says:

          They didn’t invade Georgia, Georgia invaded them. They provoked Georgia, a lot, but it was still Georgia that first crossed borders.

          • gbdub says:

            Assuming South Ossetia was part of Russia sort of begs the question though doesn’t it? Russia definitely invaded and bombed Georgia proper.

            In any case it was basically a prelude to Crimea, which followed more or less the same script.

          • herbert herberson says:

            Except that Crimea didn’t attempt to separate from Ukraine at pretty much the moment that Ukraine became sovereign, and didn’t maintain de-facto independence since that time

          • gbdub says:

            I’m not sure the relative validity of claims to the autonomy and Russian-ness of the disputed regions is all that important to the Russian script. The point from the Russian perspective was to have a pretext for aggression against an aggravating neighbor.

          • herbert herberson says:

            I think it matters! It’s the difference between a Russia that wants to forcibly reform the Warsaw Pact no matter how little the likes of Estonia and Lithuania want them to vs. a Russia that is picking up easy sphere-of-influence baskets by supporting local populations that like them more than their own governments.

        • episcience says:

          In what sense was the American left between 2012 and 2016 not sufficiently hawkish? How many more middle east land wars or drone campaigns should it have been involved in to be sufficiently hawkish, in your view?

          • gbdub says:

            Hawkish regarding Russia, specifically. And hawkish may not even be the right word, but it was the one being used in this thread – have you read the rest of the thread or are you just hopping in here?

          • John Schilling says:

            It may obscure something important that we use “hawkish” to refer to,

            A: An eagerness to use our powerful military against whatever polite liberals would have us call “wogs” these days, who can’t hurt us back and who need to be Taught A Lesson in how to live like civilized people, and

            B: A willingness to use our powerful military against people who can cause us great, possibly nigh-apocalyptic, harm, because we believe leaving them unconstrained would be even worse.

          • rlms says:

            When has meaning B ever been used? I think the general meaning is “an eagerness/willingness to use our powerful military to Spread Freedom, and/or further our interests”.

          • LHN says:

            B covers the primary meaning of “hawk” during the Cold War, where it was mainly focused on the Soviets. Hawks supported military buildups and brinksmanship, but (with very rare exceptions) aimed at deterring war with the USSR, not engaging in it.

          • rlms says:

            But while hawks then didn’t commonly advocate war against the Soviets, they did frequently advocate war against other groups who couldn’t cause “great, possibly nigh-apocalyptic, harm”. So they would not have been characterised by B.

          • John Schilling says:

            they did frequently advocate war against other groups

            Which were almost exclusively proxies of the Soviet union waging war to expand Soviet influence.

            As the originator of the “Type B” classification, yes, this is exactly the sort of thing I meant by it. Faced with a powerful adversary capable of either destroying you or ignoring you, it is classically hawkish to call them out, explicitly threaten total war against them if they step out of bounds (and mean it), and wage actual war against their allies who are trying to expand those bounds by proxy.

            The bit where you wage wars against various tin-pot dictators who have no allies and pose you no threat, because they didn’t do what you said about human rights and democracy and whatnot, we can call that “hawkish” too, but it’s a very different thing.

        • If it were just a matter of invasion then the US would wouldn’t have freaked out so much given that we’ve also invaded a bunch of countries. The big difference is that with Crimea the Russians invaded and then annexed the territory they conquered. That’s only happened a few times anywhere post WWII.

      • shenanigans24 says:

        There’s no legitimate reason to worry about Russia. The “interference” consists of complaints that Russian news wasn’t nice to Hillary and unproven accusations that a basic phishing scam could only be masterminded by an evil genius in Russia. It’s just bluster to rile the base. The US offers more interference on every foreign election the President cares to comment about.

        Russia has an economy smaller than North Carolina. The entire hysteria is manufactured from a need to assuage the anxiety from learning a bunch of Americans didn’t like Hillary more than Trump.

        • John Schilling says:

          Russia has an economy smaller than North Carolina

          North Carolina has a GDP of $400 billion. Russia’s GDP is $1.4 trillion at current exchange rates or $3.7 billion by purchasing power parity, putting it in the same league as California. And, living in California, I am constantly reminded of how the state’s economy qualifies it as a great power on the global stage in its own right even if we aren’t allowed to spend it on nuclear missiles.

          Who is telling you that Russia’s economy is smaller than North Carolina’s, and why are you listening to them?

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      “It’s concerning to see the Left getting more hawkish with Russia and China.”

      Again, seeing “the Left” and liberals as two different concepts is useful.

  17. Deiseach says:

    (1) Everyone who bet against Le Pen, how did you fare on the prediction markets? Make a nice few bob or was everyone betting she’d lose so there were no real gains?

    (2) “Veganism is better for the planet” – it may be slightly more complex than that:

    A growing body of research is pointing to the role of reducing or eliminating meat consumption in order to tackle climate change. Research conducted by the Oxford Martin School found that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would lower global emissions by 63pc while the adoption of a vegan diet would reduce emissions by 70pc.

    The theory is based on the scientific evidence that livestock-based products have a higher carbon footprint than fruit, vegetables or grain-based foods, mostly due to the high levels of methane emitted by cows. However, recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stresses the importance of looking beyond the calorific value of food stuffs.

    The study found that while meat and dairy products have a higher carbon footprint per 100g or 100 calories consumed than plant based foods, the difference is reduced substantially when measured using nutritional density which accounts for the vitamin and mineral content per calorie consumed.

    Furthermore, a recently published index linking the nutrient density of beverages to greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production found that milk performed highly in terms of the nutrient density per carbon equivalent emitted, relative to other beverages.

    Within an Irish setting, recent research conducted by UCC and Teagasc examined the carbon footprint of the diet of Irish adults.

    Distinct dietary patterns within the Irish population were examined in terms of their emissions profile. The study found that red meat was the food group that contributed most to emissions.

    However, the more complex and interesting finding was that those who ate the most red meat did not differ significantly in their carbon footprint compared to the group that consumed the least amount of red meat.

    Instead, the total quantity of food consumed was the important factor as was the quantities of processed meat, carbonated beverages, savoury snacks and alcohol within the diet.

    The conclusion of the research was that a holistic assessment of diet is required when making dietary recommendations based on climate change rather than focusing on one food group alone.

    • Mark says:

      I got about a 25% return on my anti-Le Pen bet which is mad considering that she has been a massive outsider from the very beginning, and (AFAIK) didn’t come closer than 15% of any potential opponent in the head-to-head polls for the second round.

      I also got a 50% return on my bet on Macron, which was made after the (Belgium) exit poll for the first round suggested he’d be going through to the next round against Le Pen, which, again, seemed like mad odds.

      I think I might be missing something with respect to the odds that were available, but, in this case at least, ignorance is bliss!

    • gbdub says:

      Re: veganism and the environment, a couple things I’ve wondered about accounting for:
      1) At least in theory, there may be a niche where livestock can be raised on free calories – cattle can graze on marginal land that would require intensive improvements to grow human edible food. Pigs can eat food scraps that would otherwise be wasted. May not apply to how livestock are raised now, but might mean the ideal amount of meat consumption isn’t zero.

      2) Vegan foods can vary a lot in terms of carbon output per calorie. E.g. lettuce takes a lot of energy to grow and transport, but has very few calories.

      3) One of the issues with livestock is their methane output – but how much more methane does a vegan human output vs an omnivore? Most measures I’ve seen only go up to the point of human consumption, but I think you have to consider human output as well.

      • random832 says:

        Re #3, I think the general idea is that even if a human vegan would have the same methane output as, say, a cow (a very small cow, to weigh the same as the human), the human omnivore will eat multiple cows in their lifetime.

        • gbdub says:

          Humans live much longer than cows raised for beef and most of the presentations I’ve seen are something like A amount of GHG emissions per B calories, so I’m not sure your objection is relevant.

          Maybe a cow outputs X GHG to produce 100 calories of meat, and a human outputs x GHG while digesting 100 calories of beef. Meanwhile 100 calories of spinach requires Y GHG to produce, and releases y GHG when digested.

          I’ve seen a lot of comparisons of X > Y. What I’ve not seen is whether / how much X+x > Y+y.

  18. Zodiac says:

    I just read Prescriptions Paradoxes and Perversities.
    As somebody who might have to take an antidepressant (and/or get other therapy) in the near future that article is very relevant to me but I’m not certain if at all useful. Just superficially going through the comments it looks like there are far too many factors that might influence the data.
    Does anyone have any recommendations on how I should approach the matter of finding the right antidepressant? Given how long some of them take to be effective it seems like I could save a lot of time (and spare me a lot of suffering) by a lucky guess.

    • acrimonymous says:

      I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing that your first issue is going to be whether the MD has a strong opinion.

      And this implies yet another issue I don’t remember reading about on the previous comment thread, which is… If doctors don’t like the older anti-depressants, how are the patients getting them? In other words, maybe the patients who are getting access to the older medications have more control over their treatment, more knowledge about what’s available, are more pro-active because at a different stage or different degree of depression, etc. In other words, maybe access to the type of drug is a kind of selection effect.

    • anon1 says:

      When I was in this position a while back, one of the main things I considered was how quickly I’d be able to evaluate a given drug so I’d waste the least time. The largest variation there seemed to be in how soon the more common deal-breaking side effects would show up if they were going to. On the grounds that if I got horrible insomnia and anxiety I’d notice pretty quickly and be able to try something else, I went with bupropion over whatever SSRI they were going to default to.

      One other thing to differentiate antidepressants is their set of non-depression-related, possibly off-label, uses. Going back to my anecdote, it turns out that if your depression is related to being a flaky, disorganized underachiever who can’t keep their mouth shut and who is constitutionally incapable of finishing anything before it’s exactly one minute late, it may be very convenient if your antidepressant is also fairly effective on ADHD (bupropion, and also at least some some tricyclics for example).

  19. Odovacer says:

    Are there any words that really bother/annoy you?

    When I was younger I couldn’t stand the word, “hella”. I found it very grating to my ears. Thankfully, people don’t say it as often as they used to. However, currently words like, “doggo”, “pupper”, and “doge” to mean dog or puppy annoy me. I see them used often on reddit. Just call it a dog or puppy. It’s cute already, you don’t need to “cutify” it’s name.

    I’ve always turned against the word, “dude” because I’ve seen it used online in multiple places as an affectation of humility.

    • Brad says:

      ‘Anyways’

      Drives me up a wall.

    • onyomi says:

      What the fuck is a pupper?

      (I have to admit I like that one).

      I can’t stand “on fleek.”

      Less millennial, I hate the word “academe” instead of academia.

      • RDNinja says:

        I agree about “on fleek.” Americanizing foreign phrases is always ugly. I prefer the original French spelling, “en fleeke

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I had never heard “on fleek” but now I hate it too. The Urban Dictionary entries on it are quite entertaining, though.

    • Urstoff says:

      feels (as a noun)

      • JayT says:

        I hate this one as well. Especially when it is phrased something like “hit you right in the feels”. Just typing that was like nails on a chalkboard for me.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      The abbreviation “ppl” is absolutely disgusting. I don’t really know why, but it pisses me off like no other.

      • acrimonymous says:

        Pisses me off, and other combinations with piss. The worst is the British-ism “taking the piss”.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Not a fan of appropriation of lower class affectations and figures of speech in the languages I speak (moreso, though less relevant to this thread in my native one).

    • FactsLittleKnown says:

      I’ve always been annoyed by abbreviations that either lose their meaning or are longer than the actual idea. (For instance, LOL – I’ve never once seen that used to actually indicate the speaker genuinely laughed.)

    • Yakimi says:

      “preggers”

      I win the thread.

      • Chalid says:

        I find “knocked up” to be far worse. Why would such a violent-sounding phrase be used for it?

    • Mark says:

      “Me other half”
      “My partner”

    • Gobbobobble says:

      “Content” and “leverage” both make me immediately start tuning out. Grossly overused these days.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Working in business, while both of those get annoying, “synergy/synergize” is still worse.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Agreed. At least I feel like we’re at least past the point where everyone recognizes that’s a meaningless businessese term, though. People still use “content” and “leverage” and expect to be taken seriously. Maybe they still do with “synergy” by you, and if so I’m sorry 🙂

          • andrewflicker says:

            I work with a lot of people who started working in the industry before I was born. “Content” as a word is still cutting-edge to them, and has to be explained/taught to be used in context.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Synergy has a perfectly good meaning in Magic: the Gathering deckbuilding. Mercifully, my career choices mean that’s the only context in which I encounter the word.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Heh, I’ll defend the use of synergy and synergize in the original and appropriate contexts. Thankfully I usually only see it in the context of video game discussions figuring out which units/powers/abilities compliment and enhance one another, so that’s fine 🙂

      • Luke Somers says:

        Leverage has a mathematical definition, but it IS massively overused by (generally very poor) analogy. In its proper place, I see no problem.

      • bobbingandweaving says:

        I agree

    • gbdub says:

      Normalcy and overexaggerate.

    • Zodiac says:

      90% of English words taken into German when they are supposed to be pronounced in a German way. Especially when the second half of the word is still English. Contactlinsen, Actionspreise,…

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        German has its own ‘Kontakt’ and ‘Aktion’; they are not imported (and apart from wannabe-fancy ad people, nobody spells them with ‘c’).

        ‘Kekse’, though, is another story (‘cakes’ (pl.) became ‘keks’ (sg.)), although I doubt you’d have something so transmorphed in mind.

        • Zodiac says:

          and apart from wannabe-fancy ad people, nobody spells them with ‘c’

          Problem is that it won’t be long until normal people will follow the fancy ad people. My local Müller, Aldi and Rewe use Actionspreise and the Fielmann I go to has Contactlinsen.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            Zodiac, go visit the country while it doesn’t hurt so much yet… 🙂

          • Zodiac says:

            Visit Germany? I already live here though.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            Should have been obvious. ‘Müller, Aldi and Rewe’. ..

          • Creutzer says:

            I find this both baffling and ironic.

            There is nothing whatsoever about the German words “Kontakt” and “Aktion” that suggests to a native speaker that they are loans from English. There is a loan “Action” (as in “action film”), which is pronounced entirely differently and has different morphological behaviour as well. Of course, the meaning of “Aktion” in “Aktionspreise” doesn’t even exist in English, either.

            So to be honest, I don’t know what’s wrong with these people. But here’s the ironic bit: as Latin loanwords, these words would have been spelled with c instead of k two hundred years ago. I’m in favour!

    • IrishDude says:

      I’ve always turned against the word, “dude” because I’ve seen it used online in multiple places as an affectation of humility.

      : (

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      The special Internet meaning of “insipid”, which makes it nearly a synonym for “offensive”. In real life, it continues to be not far from an antonym.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I hate it when people say “I” when it should be “me” (the other way around doesn’t bother me in the slightest).

      Niche, but I also bloody loathe “theatre maker”. “Vibrant”, too. That can fuck right off.

  20. Kevin C. says:

    A prediction on where free speech in America is headed.

    This is not entirely a racial issue. The seeding for speech restrictions starts early, just like any other large political propaganda campaign… In America, the seed meme was anti-bullying. Anti-bullying was so strong a school movement that it made it to state legislation. Bullying has been with humanity forever but formerly was something dealt with between the bully and the bullied. Overcoming a bully, simply by standing up to the bully, was once a test of one’s mettle or a moment character development for young people. No more. Rather than have the bullying be dealt with by the two student, or even the students’ parents, school authorities took over.

    The generation that grew up with anti-bullying messaging is now of voting age. Each year, new voters enter the pool with even more years of prime propaganda. This lower-level indoctrination does not compare to the effect universities can have on forwarding the anti-bullying and therefore anti-speech idea.

    The Supreme Court will have a wealth of academic output to fall back on, millions of Americans will support it, and your corporations and businesses will already have codified them for decades. The era of progressives saying that the freedom of speech only protects you from the government limiting you, not from you starving due to blacklisting, is upon us. After all, we all don the mask of the anon when online.

    • beleester says:

      Overcoming a bully, simply by standing up to the bully, was once a test of one’s mettle or a moment character development for young people. No more.

      Maybe it was for you, but I suspect most bullied students would disagree. See, bullies try to avoid targeting the kids who will fight back. Not every kid is going to discover their Inner Warrior and have a character-building moment where they stand up to their bullies. Some are just going to break under the pressure and have several long, miserable years at school. Schools shouldn’t be okay with their students breaking.

      (This viewpoint pisses me off on a personal level, because one of my bullies used exactly this excuse. “Oh, we’re just toughening you up. You can handle a few insults, right?” I don’t know if he honestly believed that or it was just a handy justification, but I did not leave school a better person for knowing him.)

      I’m having trouble paying attention to the rest of the article because there’s the massive stumbling block that this guy is defending bullying. Not even arguing what counts as bullying, which would be pretty normal for this discourse, straight out defending it!

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        It’s not that bullying is “good” it’s that the cure may be worse than the disease. You end overt bullying but lose freedom of expression. And probably doesn’t really “cure” anything anyway, it just changes the methods and targets of attack. You’re never going to stop kids from being mean to each other.

        Establishing dominance hierarchies is built into human nature, so kids are going to express these hierarchies in whatever social paradigm you put them in. Sure, you end overt bullying and then you get cyberbullying, or creepshaming, or whatever. The popular or those who want to be popular are always going to be looking for a way to punish those of low status.

        • Wrong Species says:

          What exactly do you consider bullying? Because beating people up is not a legitimate means of freedom of expression.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The bullying in question tends to be social, mental, or emotional.

          • Aapje says:

            and/or violent.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m pretty sure “anti-bullying” endeavors are about punishing behaviors beyond physical attack, which has always been verboten.

            I could be mistaken. When I was growing up in the 80s-90s punching other kids was not allowed in my school. Was it allowed in other schools and only banned in the 2000s, and am I’m completely mistaken about what “anti-bullying” means?

          • caethan says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            I wouldn’t go so far as “allowed”, but tacitly permitted, yeah. Minor stuff, usually – shoves, noogies, indian burns, all the fun minor indignities. Drawing blood would usually get the attention of an administrator. Of course, when the zero-tolerance stuff came in, then you had the bullies who start fights and the bullied fighting back getting the same punishment – my sister once got 2 weeks detention for punching a guy who was groping and violently restraining her friend.

          • cactus head says:

            I live in Australia so zero-tolerance was never something explicitly put into place in the schools I went to, there was only generic don’t-bully stuff. From what I hear of it, it always fails because the bullies can just game the system really easily and bait the victim into fighting back hard enough that it crosses the line.

            Is it really this bad? It seems to me like zero-tolerance policies in particular are easily gamed above and beyond other anti-bully policies–if so, why is that? Or maybe it works fairly well and there’s a silent majority of cases where teachers suss out who the real bully is, and appropriately punish them according to the policy?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            caethan & cactus head, thanks for the information. I think that still supports what I said, though. The bullying doesn’t stop it just changes forms. The social dominance hierarchy is the product of millions of years of evolution. Jockeying for position doesn’t end because the school board makes a rule. The lesson is “don’t be at the bottom of the hierarchy.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            From what I hear of it, it always fails because the bullies can just game the system really easily and bait the victim into fighting back hard enough that it crosses the line.

            Bullies aren’t that smart and the adults aren’t that stupid. It appears that way because the line is set to “whenever the victim fights back”. As a school administrator told me and my parents when suspending me for fighting, “It takes two to fight”.

          • Aapje says:

            I had adults merely give the advice to fight back. I’ve had teachers punish both bully and bullied, without any attempt to identify the guilty. I’ve seen teachers ignore pretty severe bullying that happened in their class, pretending it was not happening under their nose.

            It led me to conclude that the rule of law, human rights and such are not applied to children, which made me wonder how people are supposed to gain trust in these institutions if they are taught otherwise in their youth.

            It also made me wonder about the rather arbitrary distinction between the ‘allowed’ amount of violence vs kids who kill. If one doesn’t condemn violence or give a non-violent path for kids to end severe bullying, then what is the justification to condemn a kid who takes effective measures to ensure his safety?

            The thoughts of a child…

            PS. I think that zero tolerance goes overboard in the other direction.

          • Zodiac says:

            The lesson is “don’t be at the bottom of the hierarchy.”

            Given that per definition somebody will be at the bottom of the hierarchy I consider this a horrible view of reality.
            Am I really the only one who didn’t see these hierarchial structures like that? Even in my elementary school there were more complex social dynamics at work that just don’t map to the idea of a hierarchy.

          • Mark says:

            The idea of a hierarchy doesn’t really describe most social settings I’ve been in in my life – it’s normally more of a group dynamic – you’re in the group or you’re out, and within the group there are sort of shifting interactions rather than strict hierarchies.
            The one exception to this is that there is often one person who gets the blame for everything and who everyone hates. I think this normally happens in the absence of an “out group”.
            So, that’s the person you don’t want to be. An out group of one.

            I suppose you get into trouble in high school because people are sorted into groups according to charisma/popularity etc.

            Where this isn’t the case, you don’t have the “hierarchy” problem, and I’d say most of the time, proximity is more important for forming relationships than success in the personality market.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Given that per definition somebody will be at the bottom of the hierarchy I consider this a horrible view of reality.

            It’s not the _view_ that’s horrible.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Given that per definition somebody will be at the bottom of the hierarchy I consider this a horrible view of reality.
            Am I really the only one who didn’t see these hierarchial structures like that? Even in my elementary school there were more complex social dynamics at work that just don’t map to the idea of a hierarchy.

            I’m not advocating for it. I’m saying that’s how it is. The stinky kid nobody liked and everybody picked on was at the bottom of the hierarchy. The popular kids everybody knew and who pretended they didn’t even notice anybody else were at the top of the hierarchy. And the hiearchy is shaped more like a diamond than a ladder, with a few people at the very top and a few people at the very bottom and lots of people in the middle. And you can tell where you are in the hierarchy by where you can sit and where you shouldn’t sit at lunch, and which girls you’re allowed to talk to.

            Banning bullying doesn’t stop bullying. The bullies just get more creative.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or maybe it [Zero Tolerance] works fairly well and there’s a silent majority of cases where teachers suss out who the real bully is, and appropriately punish them according to the policy

            Zero Tolerance means teachers aren’t allowed to distinguish between “real bullies” and “not real bullies”, because we know they can’t be trusted to do that because they are lazy/incompetent/on the bullies’ side/whatever. So there has to be some objective criteria like “student hit someone”, and anybody who does that For Any Reason Whatsoever Whether They Are A Real Bully Or Not, has to be punished.

            If there are cases where it is working out all right because the teachers identify and punish only the “real bullies”, that’s happening in spite of Zero Tolerance, not because of it. Zero Tolerance, is practically made to be gamed by people who study the rules so they can dance right on the edge of what is Tolerated and provoke the other guy in his ignorance to cross the line. And it does not allow teachers who know full well that is exactly what is going on, to do anything about it.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            @Conrad

            I believe a hierarchy is slightly wrong word for any informal social dynamics. I don’t say it does not exist (it does), but “hierarchy” sounds too rigid. I would not have been able to sort my classmates in a topological order by popularity. In my experience, such “hierarchies” are more like interconnected fuzzy clusters, connected by wildly varying relationships (ranging from friendships to rivalry to romance to “invited to parties” to “I copy homework” to anything really).

      • John Schilling says:

        Maybe it was for you, but I suspect most bullied students would disagree. See, bullies try to avoid targeting the kids who will fight back.

        Which may not be a fixed population. If, say, 40% of students enter first grade as easily-bullied wimps and only 10% graduate as such, then there’s a steady supply of kids who won’t, for the moment, fight back, and bullies would be performing a useful service in selectively targeting kids in that demographic until they learn better.

        Not every kid is going to discover their Inner Warrior and have a character-building moment where they stand up to their bullies. Some are just going to break under the pressure and have several long, miserable years at school.

        But what are the numbers? That’s critical to this analysis.

        It is awkward for me to be the one offering even a qualified defense to bullying, but there is a Chesterton’s Fence aspect to this. The side of the story where childhood bullies serve as a vaccine against adult bullying isn’t completely wrong, so it probably is worth quantifying how wrong it is and figuring out how else to capture any benefits, somewhere along the way to the idealized bully-free world.

        Schools shouldn’t be okay with their students breaking.

        Some students will be broken by nothing more than insisting that they learn to read and do simple math. So at some point, we have to figure out which subgroups of breakable students need to be pulled aside for special treatment, rather than insist that the general educational experience be tailored to the lowest common denominator.

        • Jiro says:

          If you’re serious about this, you could start by figuring out what behavior is considered unacceptable by adults, and assume that such behavior should be unacceptable bullying when done by children. Most childhood bullying applied to adults would be assault, stalking, or harassment and the subject of a restraining order.

          • LHN says:

            And quite a bit of “it takes two to fight” would be reasonable and proportionate self defense on the part of the person attacked.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But kids, by definition, don’t have the maturity to behave like adults. I have small children. You can rationally explain to them all you want why they should sit still and eat their dinner but that doesn’t make them sit still and eat their dinner.

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Kids actually have a lot of maturity if they have to, just look at kids who have to deal with (mentally) ill parents or kids who have a bad illness. That kind of fast-tracking to adulthood is probably not very healthy, but the idea that they can’t be corrected to behave better is silly.

            Also, the French do seem to be able to get their children to sit still during dinner.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            Regarding maturity:

            Isn’t there some amount of social history literature which argues that childhood as we now understand it is a relatively modern concept? While physical development has not changed too much, the what kind behavior is expected (and how it is enforced) has changed.

            The British navy used to have 12 year old midshipmen. In countries with armies, kids would enter the officer cadets corps at about the same age or earlier.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Bullying has long-term bad effects for those who were bullied

      I haven’t heard of any research about people who have fought back sucessfully against being bullied, but I think they’re far from the majority of those bullied.

      Also, the model of fighting back doesn’t include bullying that isn’t violent.

      ****

      I was bullied/harassed from 4th grade through 12th. It was far from the worst– I was physically attacked very rarely, and at least no one pretended to be my friend and then laughed at me for believing it.

      However, it took a long time for me to recover, and I’m not sure I’ve done so completely. I think I was in my 30s before I more or less calmed down about my height.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        What makes you think that “people who have fought back successfully against being bulled” are far from the majority? Serious question.

        My interpretation of “fought back” would include non-physical methods of fighting back.

        Anecdote of perhaps some interest, not intended to indicate that this is the usual experience: I was bullied in 2nd grade a bit. Nothing incredibly tough, but I was in the outgroup and knew it and people made fun of me and maybe shoved me somewhat (memories are a bit hazy at this remove). I deliberately set out to ingratiate myself with the alpha boy (I am also male) in our school, flattering him and inviting him to things and generally being sycophantic (despite finding him not personally appealing as a friend). I succeeded in becoming his friend, used that position to avoid being bullied, and as I recall fairly ruthlessly tried to maintain my standing in the group against anyone else who might supplant me in my position (mainly just by sticking to alpha boy like glue and sidetracking conversations where other people seemed like they were gaining status. It’s not like I shivved anyone).

        This worked pretty well. After a year or two, alpha boy changed schools or something and I occasionally was teased and bullied again.

        My main anti-bullying tactic was to go to very small schools.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think successful responses to bullying are fairly rare because the stories seem rare compared to stories about the bullying just not stopping. On the other hand there could certainly be both reporting bias in general and/or perceptual bias at my end.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          Yeah generally speaking bullies will target people in the out group. Kids learn how to not be in the out group. It’s a useful social function. Some kids never learn and the parents may have to step in, but that may stop the bullying of a certain sense but they will still be people who cannot merge into a group. I know it sounds great to say just be yourself don’t worry about the group but I think humans need interaction, even those who can’t figure out how to get it.

          Studies that show bullies harm could be just showing that people that struggle to fit in have a tough time with life. Or the inability to fit in is the variable causing bullies and other problems in life, not vice versa.

          • Chalid says:

            Kids already have plenty of incentive to not be in the outgroup even if they’re not being beaten up for it.

          • keranih says:

            @ shenanigans –

            What you say rings true. I’d like to see studies or broader perspectives, though.

            Kids learn how to not be in the out group. It’s a useful social function. Some kids never learn and the parents may have to step in, but that may stop the bullying of a certain sense but they will still be people who cannot merge into a group.

            Yes. Also – Jesus Christ, I wish I could have learned earlier how to do the “group merge” thing, or, failing that, learn how to do the “go my own way serenely” thing (which is what I eventually sorta got the hang of, decades later.)

            And unlike Nancy L, I did have people pretend to be my friend in order to better mock me.

      • Chalid says:

        Let’s not forget that there are probably long-term bad effects on the bullies themselves, too; they aren’t exactly learning useful lessons for adulthood either.

        • dndnrsn says:

          “You can use a combination of violence, threats of violence, and social manipulation to get what you want, as long as you pick your targets well” seems like a useful lesson for adulthood, if not a good one.

    • BBA says:

      Oddly, one figure on the extreme left has also made the point that anti-bullying laws are counterproductive. Without bullying some obnoxious behaviors are never stamped out in the schoolyard and survive to wreak havoc in adulthood. Well, okay, it’s Sam Biddle who said that, he was bullied into retracting (oh, the irony), and he’s driven more by his extreme hatred of the tech industry than by any sort of coherent worldview. Still, there might be some merit to it.

      (Yes, I was bullied. Funny how almost everyone remembers being bullied and almost nobody remembers being a bully. Funny.)

      • cactus head says:

        I have vivid memories of both being the bully and being bullied from primary school. I feel much worse about being the bully.

      • Zodiac says:

        I’ve avoided being bullied for the most part, eventhough I was probably at risk.
        I think I can honestly say that I wasn’t a bully. There were however two or three cases where I accidentally contributed to the bullying.
        Once by inventing a mean nickname that stuck, once through bringing up an annoyance about somebody which sparked an avalanche of gossip and verbal abuse about that person and once by participating in a shoving game which wasn’t really bullying but was certainly very close. I feel especially guilty for the first one since that kid was really all alone and I tried supporting him but just couldn’t.

    • Machine Interface says:

      If the choice is between, on the one side, having censorship, and, on the other side, letting children torture other children in a rule of honor setting, for *possibly* a bit less censorship, well I for one welcome our new [redacted] overlords!

      • DrBeat says:

        The problem is antibullying laws do not and can not work. Bullies are popular and their victims unpopular; teachers and administrators will consistently side with the bullies and against their victims. This is why when you are attacked with no provocation in school, and do nothing, you will be punished more harshly than your attacker every single time. All antibullying laws are is another tool to be used by bullies.

        • LHN says:

          Leaving aside the overall thesis, in my personal school experience my bullies weren’t particularly popular, and the popular kids didn’t tend to be the bullies.

          Nor did the teachers or school administration much like the kids who bullied me, and they did like me (probably more than the kids) since I was a goody goody smart kid.

          None of it helped much, since the problem was that the administration didn’t have a lot of power to stop it. We weren’t under constant watch, the power to punish was limited (especially since it was pretty clear that the parents either didn’t believe or didn’t care what the kids were up to) and the bullies knew how to get away with stuff. But popularity was pretty much orthogonal to the problem.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The bullies don’t have to be the most popular. They merely have to be more popular than their victims.

          • LHN says:

            @The Nybbler I’m not even sure that was true in my case.

            It was a long time ago and my observations were obviously skewed, but my recollection is that it tended to be mostly a bully and maybe a couple of cronies, with the mass of kids largely ignoring it except when there was a fight or an entertaining outburst provoked.

            (Several different bullies with different sidekicks over the years from first grade through mid-ninth, across four schools and two towns. So it was at least a repeating pattern.)

            On the one hand, it was clear that there weren’t any heroes to keep you safe and that authority wasn’t particularly able or motivated to enforce justice.

            (And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my longstanding interest in superheroes has some connection to the desire for that absence to be corrected. Though in fact I think the interest predates my experience with serious bullying.)

            But more often than not, at least in retrospect, the main problem was institutional and public indifference to (or impotence with respect to) the Hobbesian interpersonal dynamic, far more than any active social support for the bullies.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The only account I’ve seen of a school with an effective anti-bullying policy was in Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back by Frank Schaeffer.

          He went to British public school in the 50s which happened to have a headmaster who hated bullying.

        • Wrong Species says:

          How do you know that antibullying rules don’t work?

        • Zodiac says:

          Yeah, I’m gonna second what the others said. My first reaction to your comment was disturbing my cats sleep with a loud “Bullshit!”.
          The bullies in my schools weren’t just unpopular they were hated. By the other students as well as the administration. The reason they could still continue was that they had their own groups within the classes where they validated each other as well as the administrations and other students indifference and inability to do anything against them.

          • DrBeat says:

            The administrators’ “inability to do anything against them” was due to their popularity. They could not find it in themselves to do anything about it even if the social scripts they instantiate demand they provide superficial performance about not liking bullying.

            When a student was unpopular, they DID find the ability to do things against them. Like punishing them for being victimized.

          • Zodiac says:

            The administrators’ “inability to do anything against them” was due to their popularity. They could not find it in themselves to do anything about it even if the social scripts they instantiate demand they provide superficial performance about not liking bullying.

            No, they couldn’t do anything because the bullies were usually smart enough to commit the greater part of the bullying when they were not looking. They DID get punished for what they did but only when they were seen. The bullies just didn’t care enough about the punishments they were given and the stronger punishments (like expulsion) didn’t seem warrented because they only knew about ~20% of the bullying.

            When a student was unpopular, they DID find the ability to do things against them. Like punishing them for being victimized.

            No, they frikkin didn’t.

            What you’re describing doesn’t match my experience of 13 years in education at all.

          • The Nybbler says:

            When a student was unpopular, they DID find the ability to do things against them. Like punishing them for being victimized.

            No, they frikkin didn’t.

            Yes, they frikkin’ did. Typical situation would involve multiple bullies attacking one victim. Authority would show up to find a fight or result of one. All bullies would say victim started it. Authority would either punish everyone, or punish only victim. Administration’s attitude was that if a person had trouble with a bunch of other people, that person must be the problem.

          • Zodiac says:

            Yes, they frikkin’ did. Typical situation would involve multiple bullies attacking one victim. Authority would show up to find a fight or result of one. All bullies would say victim started it. Authority would either punish everyone, or punish only victim. Administration’s attitude was that if a person had trouble with a bunch of other people, that person must be the problem.

            Okay, two against one. In that case I was lucky.
            In my case the better teachers usually were able to tell what was going on. The worse ones would either just stop what is happening and not care beyond that or collectively punish everyone (even bystanders) which would often later be repealed after a lot of discussion.

          • Brad says:

            Clearly a few posters’ memories of unhappy childhoods are overwhelming evidence of what happens in every school across time and space.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Zodiac

            Forgive me for crossing threads, but didn’t you say you’re from Germany? Might be a better system over there.

            I can second DrBeat & Nybbler’s experience with administrators punishing the victims here in the US. It’s not universal but it very much does happen.

          • Zodiac says:

            @Gobbobobble

            That might be the case. I have a hard time imagining the described situations.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Understandable. It’s pretty fucked up.

          • At a considerable tangent but a possibly relevant anecdote …

            I remember being bullied by one kid somewhere around ninth grade or a little earlier. I cannot remember any teachers ever getting involved. I am pretty sure that one incident involved rubbing chewing gum into my hair.

            The odd part is that the bully left the school for some reason for a few years, came back, and became a friend of mine, having apparently reformed.

            I have no clear picture of where I was in the school hierarchy at the time, probably because, from my standpoint, I was outside it. Judith Harris somewhere comments that one rare situation which doesn’t fit her model is the one in which the family is the peer group, and I think that was my situation. I presume that in high school there were parties, dating, and the like, but I was mostly unaware of them, aside from things such as the junior and senior prom. For one of those I remember some helpful person matching me up with a girl who was, I presume, also a social outsider–I think the only kid in the class younger than I was. I took her to the event, but nothing came of it.

            I had friends, but at the individual level not as part of school society and its related hierarchies.

            I should probably add that that was at a relatively small and elite private school, where each year’s class was a little over a hundred.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I gather that one way bullies can get away with it is by having aggressive high status parents.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Maybe this is true in the US school culture, but I doubt it. And as a blanket statement “the every single time” is very easily falsified with any particular example. (For example, does not match my experiences; the bullies I remember from school were not popular outside their own small group. The popular students made at least a token effort to be decent towards everyone, even the outgroup-ish kids that bullies targeted, while not being friends with them either.)

  21. ksvanhorn says:

    I would be interested in reading Scott’s take on this article:

    Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness
    https://www.madinamerica.com/2013/08/societies-little-coercion-little-mental-illness/

    • herbert herberson says:

      Initial, gut response: if a society lacks coercion, wouldn’t it be much less likely to formally identify people as mentally ill whether or not the actual rates have changed? That is, the main way we find out that people have mental health problems is that they aren’t doing the things that Rational People Are Supposed To Do, and if your society happens to have a shorter list of such things, then you’re going to have a larger number of people getting by under the “merely eccentric” label

      • neaanopri says:

        I think this may be a feature rather than a bug, the rules of a society being easy to follow should reflect well on it. Of course this view discounts the idea that society could cause mental illness.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      And a claim that a supportive environment without coercion is good for people with mental illness.

      http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/496/an-open-mind

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, I stopped reading when he started approvingly quoting from a 1921 quasi-anthropological treatise on the Pacific Islanders. Have we learned nothing from Margaret Mead being taken for a ride by Samoan teenagers?

      Plus, my own amateur opinion is that mental illness in such societies may not be regarded as the “okay, obviously nuts” that it would in our society. You go to your doctor and say you’ve been in regular communication with the fairies living in the tree stump at the bottom of your garden, you’ll get a bottle of pills. Do it in a less ‘modern’ society and people will think of you as “oh yeah, the guy who can talk to the fairies, and everybody knows and accepts that fairies exist”. Ditto if you complain of being tormented by evil spirits who want to burn down your house – here the doctor will wonder if you’re maybe schizophrenic, there people will recommend you see a good shaman to get rid of the malign forces.

      That is, it’s not so much “less coercion = less mental illness” as it is “different categories for what we would consider mental illness”.

  22. acrimonymous says:

    I’ll be presenting a version of this analysis on Sunday May 21 starting 10 AM at the resident poster session

    I just read through the old post and comments. I thought there were some good points made in the comments that you didn’t address, so I’d be interested to see what you’re presenting now. I hope you post it on the blog.

  23. GregS says:

    How much can physicians slack off in writing their notes? My wife is a pediatrician, and she has to document every office visit. She spends probably a full work-day doing these notes each week. She told me that her partner at the clinic writes extremely short notes. That could come back to bite him if he gets sued or if he hands off a patient, because the documentation isn’t thorough enough. She had been praised for her diligent note-taking, while her partner had been criticized for being too lax. I suggested she could probably do something between her current diligence and her partners and be fine, rather than spending (wasting?) so much time getting her notes perfect. I thought I’d put the question out there. “More documentation is better” in some ideal, all-else-equal sense. But it seems like there’s a lot of variation in note-quality, which seems to imply the diligent note-takers could get away with doing less. (And the slackers should probably be more thorough.)

    • acrimonymous says:

      I think over time, she should be able to apply detail less consistently, becoming more aware of when it is warranted.

      There ought to be some research out there that identifies what characteristics are associated with lawsuits, whether of cases, patients, or families. These would be the situations to take more care in.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Is she literally writing notes? I thought most doctors dictate and have someone else type them up.

      • GregS says:

        Some doctors do this, but they have to hire their own transcriptionist.
        The clinic’s computer system documents all the patients names and visit times and maybe some other stuff (prescriptions, hospital admissions?). The physician has to add notes to capture all the details.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Have speech-to-text tools gotten much traction? I know healthcare tech companies love to brag about having it, but that’s never been a good bellwether for actual adoption.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            1. Even 20 years ago, transcription was good for a system a) trained on the doctor’s voice and b) the doctor trained to speak in a recognizable matter.

            2. Even if not, transcription services are cheap compared to a doctor’s salary.

  24. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but I was really disappoint that the “old-school online bulletin board” was web-based.

    • maintain says:

      Yeah, same here. I heard “old-school”, and I was thinking I’d dust off my modem and dial in.

  25. eyeballfrog says:

    Is there going to be any attempt to get Unsong published or will it remain an online-only thing?

    • Evan Þ says:

      According to Scott on the /r/rational subreddit, he’s been approached by a couple publishers, is considering what to do, and will tell us one way or the other when he decides.

      (Go Scott!)

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Does approached by a publisher mean “hey you should submit this to us for consideration” or “we’ve already decided to publish it if you let us”?

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’m taking another crack at Unsong in the hopes of getting caught up before the end. Previous efforts have failed because I felt compelled to Read All the Comments. I’ve been told that the comments don’t add that much, and I should just read the novel.

    Anyway, I remember a listing of other books Unsong resembled, and Scott saying he hadn’t read them, or at least hadn’t read most of them. Anyone remember the list?

    • gwern says:

      Two of the comparisons would be Illuminatus! and Foucault’s Pendulum, so I would start hunting in site searches with those keywords.

      • yodelyak says:

        Stories of your life and others is a 2002 short-story collection by Ted Chiang. The short story “Seventy-Two Letters” has a very similar play on deliberate divination of words of power. I didn’t see the original list, so I don’t know where to refer you, but as Gwern notes maybe this will help a keyword search.

        • Wander says:

          Adding to this: Hell is the Absence of God in the same anthology also has some similarities.

    • Anon. says:

      Sam Hughes’ Fine Structure and Ra have quite a few similarities.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        I found Fine Structure too confusing. Its author is planning to rewrite (or wrote so somewhere).

        Highly recommended: Ventus by Karl Schroeder.

    • Luke Somers says:

      Aside from the connections already mentioned, the very first few chapters had a vague resemblance to the premise of A Beginner’s Guide to Magical Site Licensing, but Unsong goes in a completely different direction. ABGMSL has nothing particularly rationalist about it; as a consumer of web fiction I say it’s ok but misses a lot of opportunities to be better, while its premise isn’t actually a tenth as interesting as Unsong.

    • Marshayne Lonehand says:

      A very recent, ultra-short, ultra-nerdy, notably Unsong-compatible work is last week’s Dinosaur Comics #3131, “Attention Wizards“.

      Also very recently, Dinosaur Comics #3129, in which G*d threatens “If this is a setup for an atrocious pun, I will destroy the universe” (hint: the G*d of Dinosaur Comics always speaks in bold-face) is plenty scary for Unsong fans. 🙂

  27. Kevin C. says:

    So, I’ve seen people on both sides of the political spectrum who think it probable that sometime in the near-future, President Trump will “go Jacksonian” on the courts — as in “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”* I’m much more skeptical. How do folks around here rate the likelihood of such a thing happening, and what sort of scenario does one see unfolding in its wake?

    *The quote itself is likely apocryphal.

    • herbert herberson says:

      It was always my biggest concern, and one that I felt needed to be taken very seriously–this is a person who took great joy in dismantling political conventions and was repeatedly rewarded for doing so–but when he didn’t do it to protect a signature policy like the Muslim ban at when his electoral mandate was at its strongest point, I became much less concerned. At this point, I don’t expect it to happen absent a big terrorist attack, an event which could raise multiple such problems, and could do so under any president.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Less than 10%, but one can always dream.

    • rlms says:

      Attempt to do so, or succeed?

    • Drew says:

      How do folks around here rate the likelihood of such a thing happening, and what sort of scenario does one see unfolding in its wake?

      This seems like a matter of degrees. Any President could drag his feet when complying with an order from SCOTUS. They all will, at some point or another.

      So, “Going Jackson” isn’t about ignoring SCOTUS. Instead, it’s about ignoring SCOTUS and giving a speech about how you’re ignoring SCOTUS.

      Trump has a slightly better-than-average chance of trying “evil” policies, and a profoundly worse-than-average chance of pulling them off successfully.

      Trump is an AMAZING foil for his opposition. He’s boorish, culturally-offensive and tactically sloppy. He’s malicious, but only in extremely petty ways.

      I couldn’t have designed a more-convenient opponent.

      —-
      Consider the “Muslim Ban”.

      Trump could have gotten this passed if he’d just shut up about his motivation. But he went and told everyone that it was a Muslim ban. Then he wrote a sloppy executive order that pissed off the courts.

      You’re a mid-level functionary. The memo arrives on your desk, “ignore SCOTUS, block the visas anyway.” Do you follow the order? I’d expect not. Why would you?

      Refusing would be easy. It would feel moral. And it would make you popular. A simple choice.

      Virtually any other president would have a better chance of getting functionaries to go along with blatantly illegal orders.

    • LHN says:

      Was just reading a piece arguing that, at least thus far, Trump has been more restrained by his legal advisors than the author (or I) had expected given his threats and tweets. “Time after time, Trump has tweeted boorish and inappropriate messages after courts halted his executive orders. And time after time, Trump’s bluster was nothing more than bluster, as his Justice Department took the same prudent course that previous Justice Departments would have.”

      http://joshblackman.com/blog/2017/05/07/all-the-presidents-lawyers/

      It’s still early days. But I’d certainly feared worse sooner, so to that extent it’s a relief.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      What I would prefer to see him do is dissolve and re-create the 9th Circuit Court. The only court established by the constitution is the Supreme Court. Every other court is established by legislation signed by the executive. Congress could just pass a law and the president sign it that says “As of X date the Ninth Circuit Court is dissolved.”

      The judiciary has far, far overreached its power and is acting like it has a political veto over any law in the land. It doesn’t work that way, and we need the other two branches of government to check the power of the third.

      • LHN says:

        They can reshuffle the circuits and choose not to replace them when they retire, but as far as I know the other two branches can’t use a circuit reorganization to strip appellate judges of their lifetime tenure. So the advantage to the administration over just replacing them with judges the President and Congress like better as they retire would be relatively small.

        (And would depend on whether the major effect of scattering them was to dilute the effect of their en banc decisions, or to make binding opinions by those judges in standard appeals more widespread across more circuits.)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          but as far as I know the other two branches can’t use a circuit reorganization to strip appellate judges of their lifetime tenure.

          I’m almost certain they can. If the circuit to which you are appointed no longer exists, you no longer have an appointment.

          We’re supposed to have three co-equal branches of government, and neither branch is supposed to be able to stand up to the other two. How else do the legislative and executive check the judiciary when it’s seized powers it shouldn’t have?

          • LHN says:

            Impeachment, if they’ve actually seized powers extralegally– the lifetime appointment is only “during good Behavior”.

          • LHN says:

            It looks like there is a precedent of sorts for abolishing circuit judgeships in the Judiciary Act of 1802. But it’s not clear that it would be found constitutional today, particularly if new vacancies were created and filled. (Making it a clear end-run around lifetime tenure.) Matthew J. Franck addresses a proposal along those lines in this 2011 National Review piece:

            http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/286040/gingrichs-awful-proposal-abolish-judgeships-part-2-matthew-j-franck

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Conrad, you’re absolutely right. Cf. when the new Republican Congress repealed the “Midnight Judges Act” passed by the previous lame-duck Federalist Congress: the new circuit courts vanished, and the judges recently appointed to fill them lost their jobs without any compensation.

            EDIT: Franck’s arguments (linked by LHN above) do weigh against the constitutionality of abolishing the Ninth Circuit one day and recreating it the next. But if we divide it among the Eighth and Tenth Circuits, that seems almost exactly analogous to the Judiciary Act of 1802 – which’s been acquiesced as Constitutional for over two centuries. It seems to me if we establish multiple new circuits, that’d also be Constitutional.

            Alternatively, a shrewd President Trump could divide the circuit into two or three divisions – as has been advocated by people from both parties – appoint a couple dozen new judges, and dilute the existing liberal judges that way.

    • Trump would need a lot more popular support than he has to pull something like that off. Jackson could do it because he was genuinely very popular (and had just replaced pretty much the entire bureaucracy with cronies).

  28. colonel_trick says:

    W.r.t. point 3: This might be a silly question – is there any reason why one might be suspicious of the validity of reviews on the drug review sites being analyzed? I know that large companies using user-generated product reviews, such as Amazon, have had to take action against fake reviews in the past. I’m not very familiar with online medical resources, but I have at least heard of WebMD – would that possibly be a big enough target to try to buy reviews for? Or are those sites sufficiently unrelated to the majority of patients’ actual prescriptions to not be worth any particular proponent’s time?

  29. FactsLittleKnown says:

    Hi guys! Long time lurker here who thought this audience was a great place to get feedback on a new idea. Me and a few friends have been exploring whether it’s possible to solve the problem of biased news by leveraging technology to quickly filter through news and then allowing humans to just convert the lists of facts into a readable story. We’re really excited about the possibilities here to massively improve people’s ability to absorb true (and ignore false) information. But we want to make sure we’re not the only ones interested in this sort of thing, so we’ve put together a brief (5 min) survey. If you’re interested in helping us build up a source of unbiased news, please take the time to offer your thoughts! Thanks!

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’m very dubious about this. Anyone putting together a list of facts will need to decide what to include and what to leave out, and anyone writing it up into a readable story will need to decide what vocabulary to use. For a less culture-war-dominated example, say a car hits a bicyclist, who dies from his injuries. Do you call it an “accident” (which is traditional but implies lack of motive), a “collision” (saying absolutely nothing except the physics), or “homicide” (which is also correct)? Do you mention whether the cyclist was or was not wearing a helmet (which helps in some collisions but not all, and can lead to a whole lot of victim-blaming)?

      Your news source could definitely improve on the current sites – but if it waves the flag of objectivity too hard, it could also make things worse.

      • FactsLittleKnown says:

        Disclaimer: Please don’t read this until you’ve taken the survey!!!

        Totally agreed that this is hard! There are a couple of responses to your specific concern, but first I’ll say that I agree that flag-waving poses a risk in and of itself. The goal for this platform is for it to be marketed as (and maintained in actuality as) as jumping-off platform for people who actually want to be informed. In other words, this is where you go to learn “what has been going on that’s valuable for me to know about at all”, and then we would provide basic context as well as potentially guidance on how to do further research. (For instance, on the topic of “Is X constitutional”, our article would like like “Person A did/would like to do X. There are some legal questions about exactly how much authority they have to do this – here’s the relevant link to the Constitution or appropriate amendment, as well as links to cases that have had similar questions.” We’ll try hard not to inject our own beliefs about what’s right/wise/moral, and just focus on stating objective facts.

        Of course, we’ll still fail sometimes. But personally I believe we’re really far on the “everyone’s in their tribal bubbles” side of the spectrum, and so fighting to push us more towards equality, even if true equality is impossible, ill-advised, etc, can still be a powerful force for good.

        Finally, in terms of “decide what to leave in/leave out” – we believe that 90% of what people here isn’t news, in the sense that it doesn’t actually convey information that would lead a reader to update their model of the world. (For instance, “Random guy says random hateful thing”, “a car crash happened”, etc is generally not news in the way we care to define it.) We also intend to avoid “research” stories, and focus only on reporting events that have occurred in the last 24 hours. Our expectation is that a typical day would only include ~2 news stories, and those stories would pretty explicitly be things everyone would agree were news. If you want yet more stories about things we don’t cover, there will always be ways to obtain that, but we want to start with a very tight filter where we only include what we think is truly valuable.

        Thoughts?

    • Well... says:

      Took the survey. I hope you actually read all the responses and don’t just skim for a general sense of how people reacted. I had very specific high-level answers.

  30. Yakimi says:

    Your predictions, please, as to whether the victory of Macron—now the avatar of the perverse neoliberal–social justice alliance that Clinton was meant to become—over the nationalist yet socialistic Le Pen will accelerate the rise of an ecological National Bolshevism as the only coherent challenge to the depredations of open-borders, gender-free, late-capitalist McBugworld.

    • Kevin C. says:

      I doubt it. Primarily because it’s questionable how well National Bolshevism translates out of the specifically Russian context. I note first its Smenovekhovtsi roots, with those who, like Nikolay Ustryalov, initially opposed communism, but became reconciled to Bolshevism on the grounds it could be directed to serve as a vehicle for Russian nationalism, the only thing left after the civil war capable of “restoring greatness to Russia”. And examination of modern leading figures like Limonov reinforce the view that it remains a vehicle for “the creation of a grand empire that will include the whole of Europe and Russia, as well as Northern/Central Asia to be governed under Russian dominance.”

      There’s also the strong association with Aleksandr Dugin (whom I became familiar with mainly through Nick Land’s repeated mentions), and there looks in the present context to be set heavily in his theories of geopolitics, with the core opposition between “mercantile, modernist, and materialist”, “seapower”-based Atlanticist civilization —embodied in Anglo-American hegemony — and “traditionalist, spiritual, and heroic”, “landpower”-based Eurasian civilization. In terms of “Bolshevism”, what “anti-capitalism” is present looks to be an outgrowth of the anti-liberalism, rather than belief in a specific (communist) alternative. Some Dugin quotes:

      The liberalism affirms only individual identity and prohibits any kind of collective or organic identity. So liberalism step by step refuses religion, nation and gender belongingness in order to set individual completely free from any kind of holism. Gender is the core political problem because the liberals insists on the optional nature of gender, a gender as individual choice (before the struggle was around religion as individual choice or nation as individual choice). The other crucial point is immigration. The liberalism refuses to acknowledge religious or cultural identities as well as gender one: so immigrant is not considered as the bearer of different identity but one numerical atomic individual more. So liberalism destroys any collective identity. Logically liberalism destroys European identity (with so called tolerance and human rights theories). Together with intensive destruction of sexual identity it accelerates the end of society as such. The end of Europe is granted by the very fact of acceptance the liberalism as mainstream ideology.

      The last step in developing liberalism will be negate human identity as collective one. So welcome to trans-humanism. That is liberal agenda for tomorrow.

      (source)

      “But how does this relate to merchants, traders, and usurers?,” you ask. In no way. Such kinds were despised in Indo-European societies. Capitalism appeared only once Indo-European values began to be rapidly forgotten, degraded, and degenerate. Indo-European societies also did not know equality, a sign of degeneration. They did not know feminism or sodomy, by which differed the matriarchal lands and non-Indo-European cults such as the cult of Cybele.

      European modernity, which abolished religion, faith in the King and the Heavenly Father, the castes, the sacred understanding of the world, and essentially patriarchy, was the beginning of the fall of Indo-European civilization. Capitalism, materialism, egalitarianism, and economism are all the revenge of those societies against which the Indo-Europeans waged war, subjugated, and strove to remedy, which composed the essence of all Indo-European peoples’ history. Modernity was the end of Indo-European civilization. It naturally corresponds to the nadir. This is not an abstraction, for it affects us in the most direct ways.

      No compromises will help us. Either we will disappear and be dissolved, or we must restore our Indo-European civilization in its entirety, with all of its values, ways, and metaphysics. If we want to preserve ourselves as a people, as an Indo-European people, we must wake up and be reborn in contrast to all that has been taken for granted in the world of modernity. To hell with this world of modernity.

      (source)

      The West believes that only its path of development, only its logic, and only its values are universal and common to all of mankind, and that all other peoples have simply not yet understood this. This means that the West, albeit temporarily (until they understand this), can and is even obliged to rule others. With such a blatant agenda, the West has in practice managed to colonize the East. This is no easy feat, but it managed to. But the West faltered in the face of Russia, Eurasia. We, Russians, opposed the West with something that stopped it in its tracks. It repeatedly tried to take us by force and ruse, but we held on. The East fell, but we didn’t. And we are holding out to this day. This is Eurasia as an idea.

      Eurasia means not succumbing to the West’s claims to universality, rejecting its hegemony, and insisting that no one has a monopoly on truth, especially not the West. Eurasia is the possibility for peoples and civilizations to follow their own path and, if the logic of the path demands such, not only a non-Western one, but even an anti-Western path. This is Eurasia. This idea was understood by the first Eurasianists, Trubetzkoy, Savitsky, and Alekseev in the 1920’s. We too understand it. And Vladimir Putin understands it, since there is no other meaning of Eurasia.

      (source)

      There’s a lot here that I am highly sympathetic to, and find congruent with my own views… which immediately makes me highly skeptical as to its odds of finding any sort of success, even as an “alternative” to the “neoliberal–social justice alliance”. And there’s the contradictory position wherein they defend particularism, cultural self-determination and opposition to homogenization… but not for, say, Ukraine, because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning. It has no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness” (Foundations of Geopolitics, p 377). It looks like traditionalist opposition to the “Universal Culture” demon from beyond married to distinctively Russian expansionist nationalism. Not my personal cup of tea, but far better than the alternative.

      Or else, I could be misunderstanding you, Yakimi. Perhaps by “ecological National Bolshevism”, you mean something like trying Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” all over again. That the primary point of opposition to “the perverse neoliberal–social justice alliance” of which Macron is now “avatar” is that this system has made its peace with private ownership of the means of production, and with (mostly) free markets and economic inequality only partially ameliorated by limited redistrubution of monetary wealth. Here, we have instead an opposition between two forms of egalitarianism… or at least differences in focus, with one placing first addressing ethnic, gender, etc. inequality, including with the globalist weakening of borders both geographic and cultural; and the other placing first class and economic inequality, with an eye on environmental “sustainability” as holding a role in limiting wealth and consumption. This reading would be a bit more plausible as a pair of views to which the space of “plausible, coherent alternatives” could become reduced, but I don’t particularly see how Macron’s victory accelerates this process.

      If you could clarify which you meant, I would be appreciative.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Also, as a follow-up, Dugin on Macron’s victory. The start:

        Marine Le Pen lost the elections. Globalist Macron won. Transnational (and transgender) elites defeated the People. Welcome to Hell! The fall continues. Defeat of the People is our defeat. And the blow must be taken as a blow. It makes no sense to grumble: “We said …” Life – including political life, and political life in the first place – is a war. The battle is lost, but the war is not. Everything is ahead. The world’s scum will not give up and try to drag the whole of humanity into the abyss. But we do not lose our hands. Now it is clear that Resistance with necessity must be global. After all, the enemy is global.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t think so. People like Bannon and Le Pen only care about economic issues secondary to the culture wars. They might be less approving of free trade and might be willing to put more regulations on banks but that’s about it.

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      I don’t think MLP can be classified as socialist – her economic policies hew back to old-school European conservatism, which was generally protectionist and often quite favorable to state interventionism. Many parts of the European welfare states bear strong conservative influence.

  31. Tekhno says:

    1: Would lie detector tests as part of citizenship tests be effective?
    2: Would the left care more about preventing Islamic fundamentalists from emigrating to the West if we could A: reliably detect them, and B: make that just a small part of rejecting the application of anyone who had socially conservative opinions? Essentially, marketing it as an anti-right wing immigration policy. Could you sell “we need to limit the immigration of conservatives” to the left?

    • andrewflicker says:

      My understanding is that lie detectors are basically only useful in inducing confessions- they add no reliable truth-biased information other than scaring out voluntary confessions.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Lie detectors measure anxiety which is only very loosely related to lying.

      • Tekhno says:

        I was under the impression that they were really effective so long as the test is administered by a professional.

        • Eltargrim says:

          Not a primary source, but from here:

          The panel’s report to NRC found no evidence of polygraph validity.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes and no. In very specific tests they work better than chance, but mostly they work on a psychological level; the impression given that “this machine can tell if you’re lying!” coupled with “This is Real Science and Real Science always works, look at all the crime shows!” and the whole ritual of putting on the leads and setting up the machine and the gravitas of the situation etc. is partly designed to make the nervous even more nervous so they will not try and bluff it out but will instead confess.

          Because there are tricks to get around them, and because there is such a thing as “white coat effect” (i.e. where the stress of having your blood pressure taken in an Official Setting by a doctor or nurse causes your blood pressure to go up), they aren’t much good as evidence – any half-way competent lawyer can work out ways to throw doubt on the results and it’s up to the individual judge to decide if they will or will not admit them as evidence.

          Naturally, both the companies that make and sell polygraphs and their expertise in operating them, and the police, prefer to emphasise that oh yes there’s no reason this can’t be used in court and oh yes, if it’s operated by a professional it’s nearly infallible but this ain’t necessarily so. For the police – who, remember, in America are legally permitted to lie to suspects – it’s a tool to trick encourage a confession out of someone, or at the least an agreement to a plea bargain.

          Personally, I’d rely as much on polygraph evidence as I would on casting someone’s horoscope to see if they’ll win their case or not.

        • cassander says:

          tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of of trained professionals to administer lie detector tests to millions of immigrants in hopes of capturing a few terrorists sounds prohibitively expensive.

          • shenanigans24 says:

            The entire immigration office has less than 20,000. Why would it take hundreds of thousands of people to do something that’s no more consuming than the application processes. Not that I think it would work for other reasons.

        • Tekhno says:

          @Eltargrim
          @Deiseach

          Thanks for the sources.

          @cassander

          I’m assuming you keep a cap on immigrants per year to begin with.

        • Aapje says:

          I suggest reading this free book, it’s really informative.

          Short summary:

          The assumption of the polygrapher is that people lie on some ‘control’ questions (like: have you smoked weed? Have you ever stolen anything?). Then the polygrapher compares the anxiety reaction for those questions to the real questions (like: are you a spy?).

          So the lie detector won’t work for people who never tell white lies (sorry, autistic people). It also can’t distinguish between lying and other causes for anxiety. For example, you might be upset over being asked a question about drugs if a family member OD’d. And some people can lie without stress (psychopathy does have some advantages).

          The lie detector can be defeated intentionally by figuring out the control questions and giving yourself a major bodily reaction for those. For example, by putting a tack in your shoe, biting your tongue/cheek, solving a quick math problem before answering, etc. You need to make sure that the polygrapher doesn’t figure that out though. They don’t like that.

          In practice, the main use of the lie detector is what andrewflicker said, to scare people into believing that they can’t hide the truth and then confessing.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        Psychopaths who don’t get stressed by lying go undetected.

    • rlms says:

      No. No. No.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      1. No.

      2. No. The left doesn’t really care whether muslims are extremists or not. They support muslim immigration because any non-European immigration dilutes the political power of the right.