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Open Thread 79.25

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

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778 Responses to Open Thread 79.25

  1. Mark says:

    Evo-psych just-so-stories are whig pre-history.

    It’s literally saying that individual choice defines human nature.

    => Red pill sexy-men are liberal cucks.

    I think this is the best argument to get the red pill sexy-men to shut up. Though I haven’t seen so much of them lately, so maybe I’m ten years late.

    • Evo-psych just-so-stories are whig pre-history.

      Whig pre-history for genes.

      But in that case, unlike the case of Whig history, we have a plausible mechanism to justify it, provided by Darwin.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think this is the best argument to get the red pill sexy-men to shut up.

      The best argument to get them to shut up is proving that their methods and way of thinking don’t work. Good luck with that.

      It’s literally saying that individual choice defines human nature.

      I have no idea what that is even supposed to mean, though.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Red pill sexy-men are liberal cucks.

      Interestingly, I’ve seen that argument in the wild.

      The traditionalist view of masculinity is defined by approval from a close-knit group of other men (the Männerbund), while the Red Pill ‘alpha’ is defined by approval from women. Fight Club versus Night Club. So by traditionalist standards most of Manosphere are painfully effeminate.

      It’s not a bad argument but it misses a key point: being a Space Monkey sucks. “Rum, sodomy and the lash” are great traditions when it comes to the military and other dangerous professions where the courage of your fellow man will keep you alive. But a stockbroker or a chemist is much better off living as a rake. Barring a reorganization of society along more martial lines it’s a losing (‘beta’) strategy.

      • Anonymous says:

        I would argue that it’s a losing strategy because all these RPSM are having lots of sex (relative to being involuntarily celibate, but probably inferior to traditional marriages, where the wife is expected to put out on demand), but having very few children.

  2. johan_larson says:

    If you like aircraft, and particularly military aircraft, you should check out the National Museum of the US Air Force. The museum covers the full history of the USAF, from its start in the US Army Signal Corps all the way to the present day. There are hundreds of aircraft from the USAF, its allies, and adversaries. The installation is enormous. There are four hangar-like spaces, each big enough to house large aircraft like the B-17 and B-52 with room to spare. It may be the biggest museum of flight anywhere.

    The museum is a bit out of the way in Dayton, Ohio, nobody’s idea of a major center, but it’s easy enough to reach if you’re in the midwest. If not, I suggest adding an extra day to your trip next time you’re in Chicago. You can drive to Dayton in the morning, enjoy the museum in the afternoon, and drive back in the evening. The museum is open 9-5 nearly every day of the year.

    http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/

  3. Mark says:

    Comment Meta Comment.

    Hi, long time reader, first time complainer.

    There is a specific type of top level comment that I really dislike: The Question With Many Topics.

    I feel like combining topics leads to a rapid multiplication in complexity, and a reduction in the probability of a useful answer.

    Example:
    “What do you think of Capital by Marx?” (good)
    “How do you think the theories of Marx as detailed in Capital explain the rise of Trump?” (bad)
    “How far was Dworkin influenced by Marx, and how does that relate to current attitudes towards Transgender people?” (very bad)

    It’s like a kind of memetic weapon. I might have a nice pat answer about Capital, as a single topic, but in order to relate it to something new I have to unpack it, examine the constituent parts and how they might relate to the constituent parts of some other complex topics.
    If you have something specific to say about one of these relations, that’s one thing. But opening it up as a vague question like “hmmm… what do you think about this almost infinite combination of topics” is bad manners.

    Does anyone else have a type of comment they hate?

    • Anonymous says:

      No.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My least favorite type of top post are continuations of discussions from previous threads. Unless it’s an explicit multi-part post, like the battleship threads, it’s irritating and obnoxious. Just let sleeping dogs lie.

      After that, I’m not a fan of “why is SSC so right wing?” top posts which pop up every other open thread. Nothing new is ever said in any of those threads, it’s just the same people having the same argument with no conclusion in sight. Even the comment scrapping gimmick was only interesting the first time.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        My least favorite type of top post are continuations of discussions from previous threads.

        After observing a couple of such continuations lately, I thought they were the preferred method of continuing discussions from previous OTs. (Because if you make a comment in old OT, it’s very likely you will not get a response. That’s hardly a discussion.)

        • Evan Þ says:

          Also, the perfect method of bringing out larger discussion topics from subthreads.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think most discussions end right before everyone understands each other. Keeping them going makes it more likely that you can at the very least, understand the point the other guy is making.

        • Well... says:

          Or run out of energy to keep disagreeing. I wonder how much of my opinion-drift over the years is really just the result of some part of my brain going “Gosh, debating this issue has really worn me out…that counterargument I keep hearing sounds stronger and stronger each time…”

          • albatross11 says:

            Or alternatively, “the counterargument sounds more and more like clever trolling every time I hear it–maybe I need a break from this argument before I start accusing everyone on the other side of arguing in bad faith.”

      • cassander says:

        Trying to follow an ongoing conversation once the new open thread has gone up is quite irritating. moving the discussion is just a logistical convenience, not thread necromancy. This is especially the case given the limits of comment nesting here, and the sheer difficulty of replying to long threads in the lowest level.

        • John Schilling says:

          How is it irritating? If everybody who wants to continue the discussion that began on Open Thread X, does so on Open Thread X, how does the existence of Open Threads X+0.25 and X+0.5 cause any irritation other than having to click an extra link for as long as you are interested in the old discussion?

          If half the people want to continue the discussion on OT X and the other half insist on doing so on OT X+0.25, that seems likely to lead to irritation and worse. So don’t do that.

          • cassander says:

            It means I have to remember which threads I’m following are on which page and repeatedly check multiple pages instead of one. Especially if you’re on a mobile, it’s a pain. Granted, it’s not gulag level of suffering, but it’s pretty close :p.

          • Well... says:

            I usually give old threads a grace period of a few days (usually not more than about 3) in which I will continue to check and respond to comments, if I feel we got interrupted by the new OT in the middle of a lively discussion.

            Why only 2 or 3 days? Because it’s irritating, as cassander said, and I won’t put up with it much longer than that.

      • Brad says:

        Another vote in the pro-continuing discussion from another open thread camp. It’s best if there is a summary of where the discussion is now or failing that a link to the prior discussion.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I also don’t have a problem with topics being taken from one open thread to another.

    • Well... says:

      Nah, I just wish there was a second “hide” button at the top of each post.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Two related questions:

    1. Is there any Red Pill literature on meeting a girl’s parents?

    2. What are some reliable indicators of intelligence and pro-sociality – in a person’s home?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      1. Not that I’m aware of. Most PUAs would probably say “don’t” if you asked, because they’re more grasshoppers than ants. You might want to look to more traditional sources of advice here.

      2. The overall expensiveness of furnishings and size of the house are a question of wealth / income, which is correlated to intelligence. Beyond that I’d say look for books and family pictures (ideally featuring the extended family). No drug paraphernalia or condoms laying around.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ad 1. Which is why I asked for “red pill”, rather than “pick-up artist”. Red pill is not just casual sex and BRUTE STRENGTH.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I guess you’re right.

          Personally my red pill lore is limited to the PUA community circa three to four years ago. They were the only ones which had anything constructive to offer: MRAs and MGTOWs seemed like all they did was whine. Things may have changed in the intervening years.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks regardless.

            I’m already looking into classical meet-the-parents advice, but I figure that red pill stuff may be more updated, if it exists already. And I’m as much looking to impress as to ascertain whether said parents are, in fact, impressive themselves.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Don’t know about 1, but traditional real estate advice probably holds for 2 as well as in buying — location, location, location. With a few exceptions (certain ministers are the main ones I can think of; maybe military families) your more intelligent and pro-social families are not going to live in bad areas.

    • dndnrsn says:

      1. Good advice for a man meeting a woman’s parents is probably “be deferential but not too deferential.” If you want to make that Redpill, throw in some evopsych just-so stories: “her father wants to remain secure that he is the Troo Alfa Mail but also that you can take care of his daughter by providing her with many dead mammoths, thus continuing his genetic lineage.”

      2. Books, magazines, papers are good in general, past that, what books? Dirtiness is bad, messiness is OK, especially if the mess consists of books and papers. What food and drink do they have available – and what do they offer you? What is the pet situation?

      • Anonymous says:

        1. Good advice for a man meeting a woman’s parents is probably “be deferential but not too deferential.” If you want to make that Redpill, throw in some evopsych just-so stories: “her father wants to remain secure that he is the Troo Alfa Mail but also that you can take care of his daughter by providing her with many dead mammoths, thus continuing his genetic lineage.”

        Reminds me of the story of the king who took out his anger on the flax plant, accidentally making linen.

        2. Books, magazines, papers are good in general, past that, what books? Dirtiness is bad, messiness is OK, especially if the mess consists of books and papers. What food and drink do they have available – and what do they offer you? What is the pet situation?

        I don’t know yet. What’s good/bad food? What’s good/bad pets?

        • dndnrsn says:

          Depends on how things are coded. Someone whose pantries are full of Kraft Dinner, that sends a different message from someone who has nothing but meat and steamed vegetables, sends a different message from someone who is a raw vegan. All send a different message from someone who has no food in there at all. It’s a value judgment. What kind of a person are you? If you love junk food, are you going to want to be with someone who is raised to talk about processed flour, sugar, etc as “white death”, etc.

          As hoghoghoghoghog notes, class hangups are a big part of this. Probably the “best” thing to see is someone who’s diet is mostly reasonable healthy stuff but with a little junk or whatever. Because that says “this person lives a healthy lifestyle but isn’t obsessive about it.” Likewise, offering you a beer is different from demanding you do shots, and seeing a couple wine bottles in the recycling bin is different from a recycling bin packed full of bottles of cheap liquor. Obviously, being a raging alcoholic is probably not good. Otherwise, it’s a value judgment on your part.

          As for pets, I mean, you can get a read on the sort of person someone is by their pets. Value judgement, again: cat is different from big dog is different from yappy little dog. The only outright good/bad thing being if animals are clearly mistreated. That’s bad.

          • Well... says:

            a recycling bin packed full of bottles of cheap liquor. Obviously, being a raging alcoholic is probably not good.

            Hah. Raging alcoholic is redeemed by still finding the wherewithal to recycle religiously.

            The only outright good/bad thing being if animals are clearly mistreated.

            Ehh…unless the person is one of those who are like amateur zookeepers, with veritable menageries in their basements (I’ve met a few like this), I’d say the presence of a pet bird is more often than not a bad sign, and certainly if there are multiple pet birds then you should be on alert.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      2) There might be an answer but you will never be able to distinguish the truth from class hang-ups.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Watch the mother. Girls become lovers, who turn into their mothers.

      How does the mother treat the father? That’s how your girl will treat you. She’ll even end up looking like her mom.

      • Zodiac says:

        Not necessarily true.
        I know at least two* examples of women who turned out to be very different from their mothers, though they actively rejected how their mothers were.

        Also on looks… well, she might also turn out to look like her father. Better not to think about that when you meet them 😉

        *I’m only including women 60+ in that.

      • Well... says:

        How does the mother treat the father? That’s how your girl will treat you.

        No, that will merely be her default frame. It will be modified by whatever tone you (the two of you, ultimately) set, and it’s possible to change the tone over time too.

      • Anonymous says:

        Good ideas, thanks!

    • Well... says:

      1. I’m not clear on how “red pill” ties in here. Does being “redpilled” change the end goal? I’d think the goal is usually pretty consistent.

      I approached this one by imagining what kind of guy I’d want my daughter to bring home, distilling that down to some essential qualities I knew I had and could convey in a “meet the parents” type setting if it came up in the natural course of things, and then making sure I didn’t do anything horribly stupid or impolite. I might even have failed at this but I still married the girl so apparently there’s some flexibility in the system.

      2. I think you’ll know the answer within 5 minutes of meeting the person, so you don’t really need to ask this, unless you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the person’s home before meeting them and you just want to be prepared.

      I’m starting to think you must be dating a girl who lives with her parents but isn’t allowed to date you, so you’ve been sneaking over there when the parents are away. You’re sick of this cloak-and-dagger stuff so you’re planning to finally meet the parents out in the open. You want advice for that, and to help stack the conversational deck in your favor you want to gather some intel beforehand so you know what to expect (or else to know whether to cut off the relationship before you wind up with in-laws you can’t stand). No other explanation could possibly make any sense.

      • If all parents were the same, there would presumably be an optimal pattern to project in order to get the girl’s parents to approve of you as her boyfriend and perhaps eventually husband. But parent are not the same.

        I’ve been on the parent side of this, genders reversed–my older son has a fiancee, of whom both I and my wife strongly approve. But a lot of the explanation of why is based on what we are like, and the parents that Anonymous wants to impress are unlikely to be us or very similar to us.

        • Well... says:

          I was figuring there’s probably a stronger pattern concerning the types of boyfriend-traits that parents–especially fathers–would approve or disapprove of in young men their daughters brought home. I’d bet parents tend to be less picky about their sons’ girlfriends.

          Anyway, I don’t suggest that anyone ought to simply induce a pattern and then project it; rather, use empathy to envision the pattern, then figure out which parts of it one is strongest on and be sure to let those parts shine through, given a natural opportunity.

          This was meant to imply that the rest of the time, one should simply be some mixture of one’s honest self & generally polite/well-behaved/etc.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m starting to think you must be dating a girl who lives with her parents but isn’t allowed to date you, so you’ve been sneaking over there when the parents are away. You’re sick of this cloak-and-dagger stuff so you’re planning to finally meet the parents out in the open. You want advice for that, and to help stack the conversational deck in your favor you want to gather some intel beforehand so you know what to expect (or else to know whether to cut off the relationship before you wind up with in-laws you can’t stand). No other explanation could possibly make any sense.

        I’m starting to think that you think I’m some kind of normie. If you want to play twenty questions, I’m game, because your initial guess is way off.

        In any case, I’m not a normie, and want to read the manual before I do something preventably stupid. And like I told Nabil, I am going to be judging the parents as much as they will be judging me, as a proxy indication that the girl is quality people in a heritable way.

        • One suggestion is that, if her parents are reasonably mainstream sorts, you should probably avoid the term “normie” and similar terms from online jargon when speaking with them.

          But that’s probably obvious.

          Beyond that, assume they are probably most interested in you as a potential son in law and think about which of your characteristics would make you attractive in that role. Examples are characteristics making it likely that you would be a good provider, faithful to your wife, interested in having children and doing a good job of rearing them. Even if the odd of marrying the girl are not yet very high, the biggest downside risk from their standpoint is her marrying you and the marriage turning out badly.

          • Anonymous says:

            Beyond that, assume they are probably most interested in you as a potential son in law and think about which of your characteristics would make you attractive in that role. Examples are characteristics making it likely that you would be a good provider, faithful to your wife, interested in having children and doing a good job of rearing them.

            In which case both mine and their interests are aligned. Just the issue of successfully communicating that remains.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            Parents worry about their daughter marrying someone who’s a deadbeat or a drunk or crazy or something.

            The best way to be loved by your girlfriend’s family is to come after a guy who was a complete loser. The fact that you’re employed, not an obvious drunk or druggie, don’t seem inclined to hit her, etc., will all make you shine by comparison. (I’m thinking of a particular time in my sister’s life, when she went from a string of losers to a nice but unexciting guy and the whole family was ready to throw the guy a party every time he came over, because he was so reassuringly normal and non-creepy.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m thinking of a particular time in my sister’s life, when she went from a string of losers to a nice but unexciting guy and the whole family was ready to throw the guy a party every time he came over, because he was so reassuringly normal and non-creepy.

            This is proof we don’t live in a fictional universe. Because in fiction, such a guy turns out to be Ted Bundy or something. Unless he joins the military and gets killed leaving her with child, of course.

            Uhh, the guy wasn’t Ted Bundy, was he?

    • Barely matters says:

      Honestly, this isn’t the forum to ask for an accurate view of redpill/pua answers.

      Thus far no one has even mentioned that it depends on what you want to accomplish. Unless you’re already intending to marry this girl, having her family (especially her father) dislike you isn’t the end of the world, and depending on the girl can be a counterintuitive positive.

      The strategies the other commenters have discussed will work better if you are already considering becoming a member of the family. I particularly like your stance that the evaluation is going both ways, as I think this creates a solid, active frame (As long as you’re not going about it abrasively.) rather than defaulting to a passive role in the interaction. Aside from that, being sociable, polite, and not a pushover will get you most of the way there.

      For evaluating the family, typical class based judgements are probably the best you’ll get before you actually dig in and talk to them. Trying to play Sherlock Holmes here will probably be a lot less effective than just steering the conversation towards things you’re interested in knowing (Barring ridiculously obvious red flags like rat problems, exposed sharps left out, overpowering smells, firearms left out on the coffee table, rusted out vehicles on the lawn etc).

      • Anonymous says:

        Honestly, this isn’t the forum to ask for an accurate view of redpill/pua answers.

        I don’t agree. There are people who are familiar with it here, and at the same time not swallowing everything that infosphere produces uncritically.

        Thus far no one has even mentioned that it depends on what you want to accomplish. Unless you’re already intending to marry this girl, having her family (especially her father) dislike you isn’t the end of the world, and depending on the girl can be a counterintuitive positive.

        Well, I’m obviously considering marrying her. That’s the point of dating. If I didn’t think she were prospective wife material, I wouldn’t even start.

        Thanks for the tips!

        • Barely matters says:

          Well then, fill your boots, I guess!

          So far, there hasn’t been another comment in the thread that would pass a redpill/pua ITT.

          Well, I’m obviously considering marrying her. That’s the point of dating.

          Is it? It’s certainly one of many points of dating, but it’s obvious status as sole driving force is news to me. Best of luck to you.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is it? It’s certainly one of many points of dating, but it’s obvious status as sole driving force is news to me.

            I mean, what else? Prostitutes are cheaper, and probably more skilled for sex, internet porn is essentially free for masturbatory release, and companionship hardly requires dating. As near as I can tell, the point of dating is getting to know the other person and deciding whether to enter into a reproductive contract with them and having a brood of offspring.

            Best of luck to you.

            Thank you.

          • Barely matters says:

            Conglomeration of all of those would be the answer off the top of my head, along with the resulting synergy. Because simplifying those down to points in isolation misses out on a lot of the positives of each.

            I’d like to sleep with someone I love, respect, and trust, and having been a sex worker for years I don’t extend any of those to prostitutes in general (And further, wouldn’t recommend others to do so either). Prostitutes are good at one thing, and that is convincing you of a narrative that gets them what they want.

            The women I date pull their own weight, show me new things that I would never have known about, and we are able to mutually open up more than platonic friends in ways facilitated by the tighter bond of trust that a sexual relationship can help to create and cement.

            I personally have no real interest in marriage or reproduction at this point, but very much enjoy mid to long term partners that bring most of the other benefits.

            If your goal is wedding bells and a brood, then that’s a great goal. I have a lot of respect for the guys who are looking to do a good woman right, put a ring on her finger, and settle down. It’s not the only path though, and we all get to choose what we want out of relationships. So I hope you nail this family meeting and it all works out perfectly.

            As sort of a PSA to the other commenters here to cut down on outgroup homogenity, this is what an actual pickup artist looks and sounds like.

          • rlms says:

            @Anonymous
            It sounds like you are one of the people who doesn’t think there is a third element in a romantic relationship/marriage beyond sex and friendship. You certainly aren’t unique, but a lot of people would disagree (obviously this is a subjective thing and no-one can really be right or wrong).

            @Bugmaster
            Are you referring to yourself or Anonymous?

          • Anonymous says:

            @rlms

            It sounds like you are one of the people who doesn’t think there is a third element in a romantic relationship/marriage beyond sex and friendship.

            But I do! It’s “having offspring”. 🙂

          • rlms says:

            @Anonymous
            I was counting that under sex.

          • Anonymous says:

            @rlms

            Catholic bro-fist! 😀

  5. bintchaos says:

    I’m wondering if this article is accurate in SSC commentariat perspective, and if there is anything that can be done about it.
    Liberal bias starts long before college.
    It partially explains this to me, where children from Red Tribe families (phenotype) voted for Clinton in the scholastic poll.

    • Mark says:

      Yes.

    • keranih says:

      I can say that the experiences that individual describes are not unique to him, and that I had similar experiences twenty years earlier. (I voted for Jessie Jackson in the scholastic poll, and at the time felt I was picking the best of a bad lot.) However – I don’t know if the degree of attempted influence was as pervasive as he describes. I was a fish, swimming, what did I know about this dihydromonoxide stuff?

      I will say that there was a married pair of teachers who were quite a bit ‘blue’ in their cultural and political beliefs but who were recognized as extremely hard working, accomplished teachers, and exceptional human beings. It remains a source of deep disappointment to me that the rest of the liberal set were not as tolerant, patient, self-reflective, and quietly confident in their beliefs. I feel like Mr and Mrs G have been greatly let down by their side.

      So I don’t know if it’s *accurate*. I would not question a poll that showed that in every school district in the nation, the teachers and administrators were more liberal than the district as a whole by 1/2 to 1 1/2 sd. But I haven’t seen such a poll.

      • bintchaos says:

        I’m using the scholastic presidential election poll with student “voting” as a proxy.
        The mapping that came out showed a lot of the states between the coast and the heartland turning blue, IFF the students could vote. Half of the students represented in the poll will be able to vote in 2020.
        I have linked several analyses correlating educational attainment with voting liberal.
        The trend analysis seems to be that in general, K-12 education also turns hereditary Red Tribers blue.
        Are there any thoughts here on here reversing this trend?

        On a deeper level though, class differences may play a role here. About two-thirds of Americans do not have a college degree, but almost 90 percent of the population has a high school diploma. Therefore, becoming an “intellectual” by attending university is still somewhat of a rarity in American society. With the rise of Trump, we witnessed America’s resentment towards “elites” and “intellectuals.” Having a college degree or having years of political experience was not a selling point in 2016 because the American people, with the goading of Trump, pinned the country’s problems on these individuals. They were supposed to know better than anyone else how to get the country back on track after the 2008 recession, but many Americans were still feeling the side effects eight years later. So Trump, and many others, cast a dream-like quality over the common American man who didn’t need a fancy degree to make something of himself, and he assured his supporters that he would make that dream a reality yet again. It makes sense, then, that a majority of our population would place the blame for the cultivation of militant youth on colleges and universities—those institutions that created the corrupt and ineffective elites—instead of on the public education system, which most of them grew up in and still support.
        A final reason we focus on the issues at the university level is that the conservative movement, and some of its most famous leaders, have made a talking point out of liberal bias and indoctrination in college. From the time William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote God and Man at Yale to the present, conservatives have been the ones to place the blame on colleges instead of on the public secondary schools. Maybe that’s because most conservative intellectuals and pundits began their professional careers critiquing their own experiences in college (Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, Marc Thiessen, Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza, Ross Douthat, Rich Lowry, and Jay Nordlinger are just a few examples). Or maybe it’s easier for them, and fits their agenda better, to place the blame on bad parenting habits or mass culture.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me if the stories supporting the article’s claims are true. I tend to trust individuals and mistrust institutions.

      The author (as pointed out by several commenters) is blind to the risks of right-wing authoritarianism.

      • keranih says:

        The author (as pointed out by several commenters) is blind to the risks of right-wing authoritarianism.

        …because the author had never seen them, because the school system was/is very well set up to counter any hints of right-wing authoritarianism?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The author is an adult now, and should be capable of noticing evidence that right-wingers attempt to control both public and private schools with some degree of success.

          I think they’ve put together a good-parts version of American conservatism. I know people who have a good-parts version of Social Justice.

          • keranih says:

            The author is an adult now, and should be capable of noticing evidence that right-wingers attempt to control both public and private schools with some degree of success.

            Can he notice this as a student? Or as an outside observer?

            (I question – but don’t reject – the idea that there are right-wing/red-tribe controlled school districts in any great number in the US. More right-wing than NYC, sure. But more right-wing than the county they sit in? That I would have to see more evidence of.)

            I think they’ve put together a good-parts version of American conservatism. I know people who have a good-parts version of Social Justice.

            God, if we could just get the two good-parts versions to marry up.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            keranih, the author is an adult now, writing a retrospective and making policy proposals.

            Less importantly, the author is Maria Biery, and presumably a woman.

            On this pass, I noticed that she’s a university senior, so a bit more marginally an adult than I thought. She’s still old enough to notice that there are authoritarian conservatives.

          • keranih says:

            Nancy –

            Right, my bad on the author’s gender. But…really, what authoritative conservatives is she supposed to have noticed in schools?

            I am positive that (at least some) conservatives would act in an authoritative fashion in school districts were they able to do so. I question that the author was ever in a position to see that happen.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The article wasn’t entirely about personal experience. It’s possible to read about schools which avoid teaching evolution to the best of their ability.

          • It’s possible to read about schools which avoid teaching evolution to the best of their ability.

            Are they in school districts where most of the population believes in evolution?

            The question is not whether K-12 schooling is more right wing or more left wing than the truth. It’s whether it tends to push populations left or right of where they would otherwise be. A school that avoids teaching about evolution to kids whose parents don’t believe in evolution is in that sense neutral. A school that teaches evolution and intelligent design as alternate defensible theories in a community where the population regards evolution as a left wing plot is pushing the population left even if what it teaches is to the right of truth.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I doubt that the effects are stronger than college, but yes, it’s absolutely a trend that exists. Everyone I have ever discussed Middle and High School with on this subject can list quite a few “consciousness raising” exercises and overtly political assignments (e.g. An English teacher ‘giving’ 2 students in a class of 40 all but 2 of the desks for a week and encouraging us to negotiate out an arrangement to illustrate the psychological impacts of resource and income inequality ; A biology teacher organizing all her classes to write letter campaigns to manufacturers to push for more recyclable packaging; A history teacher who organized a letter-writing campaign to the local state rep. on a gun control bill.), while the ones with countervailing conservative activist stories are relatively rare, though not non-existent.

      Of course, then you run into the problem of social conservatives who latch on to things like the letter writing campaigns and so on mentioned above and attempt to organize collective push-back, which in my mind falls squarely into “two wrongs make a right”, and misses that a lot of the more effective and pervasive inculcation of cultural values is happening through more subtle means, in many cases not even deliberately.

      • bintchaos says:

        Also…I hadn’t thought about this before– the narrow focus on standardized testing enforced by NCLB just spreads liberalism via content.

        It was frustrating that the only reason we learned certain things was so that we did well on statewide standardized tests. Every aspect of our education revolved around these tests.

  6. Matthew S. says:

    Here, have some new Swifties (reposted from Tumblr):

    Who’s a good puppy? Is it you?” asked Tom impetuously.

    “Sometimes people mistake the way I talk for what I am thinking” said Tom quotidianly.

    “Guards in the real Shogun’s palace would never strike such a low blow” squeaked Tom in a falsetto.

    “IF ONE MORE PERSON BOILS A KID IN ITS OWN MOTHER’S MILK I SHALL ENLIST IN THAMIEL’S ARMY MYSELF” Tom said mercurially.

    “Cannibalism doesn’t have to be kinky” Tom said voraciously

    Sigh. “Serves me right for buying a time machine on the cheap” lamented Tom miserably.

    “Who rolled this joint?” Tom asked dubiously.

    “I can distinguish voiced from unvoiced consonants by my sense of smell alone!” Tom exclaimed effervescently.

    “I can’t stop talking about the Albigensian Crusade,” said Tom catharticly.

    “Put all your money into Bitcoins!” exclaimed Tom ebulliently.

    • Alejandro says:

      “Decapitate the monarch of Iran!” said Tom, shaking his head.

      “Dong, dong, dong, went the bell” said Tom nodding.

  7. Zodiac says:

    Does anyone here have an opinion on the G20 summit? I’ve recently heard a lot about how it doesn’t matter at all and is just a waste of money but no real arguments.

    • Brad says:

      It’s no terrible thing if world leaders get some face time with each other even if there isn’t any specific accomplishment that comes out of a particular meeting. How much are we really talking about in terms of cost?

      • Zodiac says:

        I’ve found a few estimates from a month ago.
        The interior ministry thinks it will spend 32 Million Euro.
        The foreign relations office will spend additional 49 Million.
        The federal state which hosts the summit will spend 50 million more.
        I don’t know how exactly the collateral damage to the city will be handled but the insurance companies will probably spend a bit of money too, if not they then the state will shoulder the bills.

        Edit:
        The summit 2010 seems to have cost 380 Million

      • It’s no terrible thing if world leaders get some face time with each other even if there isn’t any specific accomplishment that comes out of a particular meeting.

        Totally agree.

      • cassander says:

        As ever, Yes Minister got there first.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve seen a claim (in conversation, no cites) that US vets are better at updating than US people without a military background. In particular, they react better to a claim they’ve made a mistake– they don’t get automatically defensive.

    Anyone have experience suggesting how much truth there is in this?

    Any other groups which might be better than average at updating?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Color me skeptical, if only on the grounds that as a vet it sounds too good to be true. I can write a just-so story for it in my head but I’d want to see evidence (not anecdote) for it before I believe that US vets are particularly different in that respect from their peers.

      The selection effects of an all-volunteer force may skew that a bit (skew younger, skew male, skew physically healthier, etc), but again, show me the data.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      For what it’s worth, all 5 ROTC students I’ve taught have handled being wrong exceptionally well. Students never get defensive, but they do get frustrated or emotionally exhausted. But the ROTC students just keep coming back for more.

      • albatross11 says:

        I wonder if having a clear status hierarchy helps here. I’m an old, well-established guy in my field. I find that it’s a lot more socially uncomfortable for younger people in my field to explain something to me or (worse) correct me on some technical issue than it is the other direction. (When I started noticing this, I also started making an extra effort to get my younger colleagues to be willing to do both.)

        I speculate that this is about where you perceive yourself to be in the pecking order. The clearer the hierarchy, the less face you lose when someone above you makes you accept that you’re wrong.

        Thoughts? I’ll admit this may be all wrong, it’s just the explanation that comes to mind.

        • Matt M says:

          Generally agree with this.

          Hierarchy is strict. If your superior officer says “you made a mistake” or “you’re wrong” then, in every possible way that actually matters, you did make a mistake or you are wrong. I think people in the military have internalized a lot of this and therefore are more comfortable with it.

    • Brad says:

      You can break down “better at updating” into two parts:
      1) willingness to realize you are wrong and accept new information (which is something like a virtue), and
      2) ability to take a piece of new information and recognize what implications that’s going to have on entire web of beliefs

      The second part is, I think, related to counterfactual reasoning. Lawyers are trained in such reasoning and in my observation, are all other things held equal (e.g. raw intelligence), better at it than non-lawyers. On the other hand I don’t know that lawyers are especially likely to have the attribute described in #1.

    • keranih says:

      I’m with the others that I can make up a just-so explanation for this, but still need actual data that this is so.

      I will say that the military people I interact with are (personality wise) a curious mix of fantastic idealism (I swear to God, scratch them and nine of ten start bleeding red white and blue, whilst claiming they are disillusioned cynics to the core) and hard-nosed practicality, where demands for demonstration (not just documentation) are taken as a matter of course.

      I will say that I’ve had several academic say that the (US) military is far superior to most academic groups in debate and open decision making, and allows for much greater dissension in opinion. Perhaps the lack of defensiveness to being told one is wrong is linked to a lesser importance of “I think you’re wrong.”

      But again, that’s just a “just so” story.

      I’m wondering how I would measure this. One would have to test both reaction to being told “you’re wrong” and reaction to *being* wrong (or inaccurate.) One of these trials is a lot easier to set up.

    • Space Viking says:

      Average American IQ: 98

      The floor for enlisted men is 100, and the floor for officers is 120.

      The American military does not deserve its reputation as an employment option of last resort. I wonder if that comes from the Vietnam War era, when recruiters were desperate.

      • dndnrsn says:

        According to this Wikipedia article

        At various times in its history, the United States military has recruited people who measured below specific mental and medical standards. Those who scored in certain lower percentiles of mental aptitude tests were admitted into service during World War II, though this experience eventually led to a legal floor of IQ 80 to enlist. Another instance occurred in the 1980s due to a misnormed Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

        The article itself is about a program to recruit men into the military who would not have gotten in for various reasons, to make up for Vietnam-era shortfalls. I’ve read that the aftermath of the war saw some real difficulties with recruiting for the all-volunteer military, so it’s possible standards were dropped or kept lower than ideal then also. If in the 80s there was misnorming… Stereotypes are often a few decades out of date.

        Plus, “the military recruits desperate people and takes advantage of them” is an emotionally strong narrative, even if it isn’t true at a given place and time, and it’s emotionally stronger if it is true in other places and times.

      • albatross11 says:

        Space Viking: Citation?

        • skef says:

          [Note: I am attempting to supply relevant citations, not necessarily in support of the OP’s claim]

          The sub-portion of the ASVAB that somewhat correlates with IQ is called the AFQT. The claimed correlation is documented here. According to this, category 3A makes it relatively straightforward to join any branch, and does correlate around 100 IQ. The Army generally has the lowest minimum, which is 31 for someone with a diploma. That supposedly correlates to around 92.

          • skef says:

            According to this, legally no more than 20% of “accessions” can be category 4, and category 5 is barred.

          • bintchaos says:

            Dr. Haier says 90 in his new book.
            All the “categories” are just probably ways of saying the “floor” is 90 IQ points without actually saying 90 IQ points.

          • keranih says:

            I am…curious about the social/cultural acceptability of a de facto ban on lower-intelligence people enlisting in the military (and there by gaining both employment and a supportive social network, plus fulfilling their own life goals) vs, say, a ban on women, homosexuals, or any other otherwise ‘protected category.’

            It seems to me that one would have to work pretty hard to make a bar based on intelligence work that would not also apply to other sortings of humans.

          • Anonymous says:

            @keranih

            An IQ-based meritocracy is already disparate impact vs many protected classes (women, blacks, Hispanics, etc). The military is, AFAIK, only able to get away with it by obfuscation (“it’s an ASVAB, not an IQ test!”) and being Actually Important for the Powers That Be to cripple too much.

          • rlms says:

            Blacks are overrepresented in the US military.

          • Matt M says:

            keranih,

            I wonder if this is just the government codifying something that would probably exist in practice in a similar private sector equivalent.

            Contrary to popular belief, the military is (or at least can be) a fairly cushy job and a very well paying career path for people of average intelligence with no college education.

            Therefore, they should have some ability to be somewhat selective in who they hire. And like any place that has this ability, they will tend to prioritize certain things. Given that they are taking 18 year olds out of high school, they can’t really prioritize things like education, qualifications, work experience, etc. So you might as well just sort by a reasonably strong IQ proxy, right? (I mean, sorting by “prestige of university” and/or GPA is also sorting by a reasonably strong IQ proxy, is it not?)

          • Anonymous says:

            @rlms

            They’re overrepresented overall, but underrepresented among officers. Which is sort of my point.

          • rlms says:

            Yeah, and? Apparently enlisted personnel still have an IQ floor. It’s almost as if there might be some relevant cultural factors. Theoretically, the same thing could even be true for other issues of disproportionate representation.

          • Anonymous says:

            @rlms

            And the higher you go in the hierarchy, which is at least partly merit-based, the fewer of some protected classes (such as blacks) you are going to see. The relevant factor I can see that leads to the overrepresentation on lower levels is interest, since the US does not draft its soldiers right now. I would certainly expect more aggressive people to be more likely to pursue a career in the military than less aggressive people, ceteris paribus.

            Counter-argument?

          • skef says:

            I am…curious about the social/cultural acceptability of a de facto ban on lower-intelligence people enlisting in the military (and there by gaining both employment and a supportive social network, plus fulfilling their own life goals) vs, say, a ban on women, homosexuals, or any other otherwise ‘protected category.’

            It seems to me that one would have to work pretty hard to make a bar based on intelligence work that would not also apply to other sortings of humans.

            Do you not see a distinction between (broadly speaking) intrinsic versus extrinsic qualities? As in “Fred isn’t capable of doing X” versus “Fred has quality P, which other people hate”?

          • keranih says:

            Oh, sure, I can see that these *could* be different things.

            What I don’t see is any assurance that measuring intrinsic values couldn’t be demonized as in fact measuring extrinsic values, or that “having quality X which other people hate” is a non-trivial issue which people should be expected to ignore. Especially in the context of bonding into a functional small team group.

            Or, even, that “being incapable of performing task X” isn’t something that other people – especially those who will then have to step up and do task X – hate.

            To be clear – I’m not sure that I’m correct here. I welcome the efforts of people to convince me that I’m wrong.

          • skef says:

            Oh, sure, I can see that these *could* be different things.

            What I don’t see is any assurance that measuring intrinsic values couldn’t be demonized as in fact measuring extrinsic values, or that “having quality X which other people hate” is a non-trivial issue which people should be expected to ignore. Especially in the context of bonding into a functional small team group.

            Ah … I misread your original question.

            Isn’t it the predominant view that virtually all skills correlate with IQ somewhat? So any non-trivial evaluation for a position (or all but a few positions) would be a “de facto” IQ test? I think culturally speaking most people grok the concept of evaluating people’s ability to do a particular thing.

            The “hate” issue isn’t ignored, it’s just not seen as a very honorable or efficient long-term reason for something.

          • albatross11 says:

            skef:

            I gather this is a serious practical issue in hiring police and firemen. If you make an objective test of the subject matter, that will correlate with IQ (stronger correlation when youre dealing with people who have studied the field a lot), which means your neutral race blind test hires mostly whites and you end up back in court for discrimination.

            I suspect another variant of the same issue comes up with occupational licensing laws, which often use a written test as oart if the qualifications for getting into the occupation. Quick, without looking, tell me which racial/ethnic group tends to get screwed over by having to take a written test that correlates with IQ before being allowed to do something they’ve been doing for years already!

          • The Nybbler says:

            Quick, without looking, tell me which racial/ethnic group tends to get screwed over by having to take a written test that correlates with IQ before being allowed to do something they’ve been doing for years already!

            My first thought was white people (black people being rejected as “too obvious”), having met a few white tradespeople who could certainly do their job but couldn’t understand written instructions at all, nor even diagrams. And they weren’t illiterate. But on second thought I’d go for Hispanic; I imagine the same sort of person exists among the numerous Hispanic tradespeople, but then you add a language barrier for many.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          In practice, the Army was exceeding that minimum by a fair amount in the 90s, but started taking more Cat IVs again from 2004-2012 or so (no points for guessing why).

      • BBA says:

        I’ve heard that recruiters were similarly desperate during the later phases of the Iraq war, but it could just be the usual left-wing memeplex gone mad.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Not nearly as desperate, but they did lower standards relative to the 90s. A lot more waivers were issued and, they actually started taking Cat IVs again in small numbers (as in <5% of the total accessions per year 2006-2008, which was still up quite a lot from previously).

        • Matt M says:

          I’m pretty sure it also varies from branch to branch. Anecdotally I’ve heard of times when the army and marines were desperate for bodies, while the navy and air force were looking for any excuse to kick people out because nobody was leaving voluntarily

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          @Matt M

          The CBO Report in my link above covers all Active and Reserve components 2000 through 2005 with provisional numbers for part of 2006.

          It varies widely by both branch and reserve vs. active.

        • Sfoil says:

          Trofim has a good source. I’d add that the qualitative effects were absolutely noticeable.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I seriously doubt that the military having a limit on how low an IQ they will accept in their recruits (whether explicitly or in effect) is enough to explain the strong difference in the ability to accept correction I’ve seen described. I still don’t have anything like enough data points to decide whether the difference is real, or if real, whether it’s the whole US military.

      • Matt M says:

        How about high IQ plus culture that pounds into you the value of submitting to authority.

        Perhaps the military takes smart people and then teaches them “It doesn’t matter how smart you are, you still have to do what the person in charge says.”

        So if someone gets out of the military and goes to college, gets a job, whatever, they are already somewhat bright, but also comfortable with the concept of “when the person in charge says to shut up and do it their way, you shut up and do it their way, even if you still believe you are right, it is pointless and a waste of everyone’s time to argue” whereas many of their peers may have been taught things like “stand up for what you believe in!” and “question authority!” and things like that.

        • Matt M says:

          And to expand a bit, I think the military tries very hard to sell the idea to everyone that it really is a meritocracy, and that your superior officer deserves to be your superior officer, and he probably really does know better than you. IME, brute force “I am in charge and you do it my way or I throw you in jail” situations are actually quite rare.

          So I should say it’s not just “submission” to authority due to power dynamics, it’s a culture of truly believing that the authorities know best, and if you disagree with them, you are likely the one who is in the wrong. Obviously this doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it is a cultural value that is actively promoted.

          • schazjmd says:

            During 20 years active duty, I met very few who truly believed – more often, it was recognition that the person bearing the ultimate responsibility in a situation was entitled to make the call. And with rank comes responsibility.

            A more subtle lesson that we learn in the military is that you (the individual) almost never have all of the information that your superior does (and so on up the chain), and that a decision that doesn’t make sense to you or seems wrong/misguided would likely make more sense if you had all of the information. So, you’re trained to have faith that the higher ranks with more information are making the right choices. (That’s the theory, at any rate.)

            I did meet a true believer after I retired. He was also retired from the military. At our company, once a year we’re asked to fill out extensive surveys on our company’s leadership. He never would take it. When I asked him, he said it wasn’t his place to criticize his superiors.

            ETA: At our company, we’ve done group exercises to make the point that the more information everyone in a group has, the more effective they can be. I think sometimes in the military, they can go too far in the “withholding” direction, but they do have to instil the have-faith-and-obey-without-questions response because anything else can kill people in some situations.

          • keranih says:

            I’m not so sure how this “submit to the obvious correctness of your appointed superiors” is actually reflected in practice.

            At lower levels, “you’re wrong, it’s done this way” (such as between a private and a sergeant) is connected by a practical demonstration by the more experienced person to the less experienced lower ranking one of the correct way. Furthermore, there is a constant experimentation between peers on “better ways”, so the chance of a person with less experience actually being more correct is not that high.

            At higher levels, I think it’s important to recognize that a commander will assign problems to staff in order for a set of alternative solutions to be created. The commander would then review the solutions and the pros and cons of both, and make a choice that the whole unit would then follow. In which case it’s generally recognized that there were pros and cons of various choices (plus the possibility of incorrect facts) but that *a* choice must be made by *someone*, and it’s the job of the commander to make that choice (and take on the responsibility of the consequences.)

            There is also the matter of inter-service competition between peers (generally done in full view of all) where the correctness of a particular choice or statement or action is under…emmm…not so much “attack” as “pressure to demonstrate objective truth.” The services seem to encourage this sort of conflict, whereas personality conflicts are strongly discouraged (as much as possible among humans).

          • keranih says:

            Another thought – where I come back to thinking that Matt is on to something –

            There are disagreements on “what” to do and disagreements on “how” to do it. To some extent, the US military avoids conflicts between ranks by booking no disagreement on *what* to do and allowing a great deal of latitude on *how* to do it.

            Everyone in the military works for someone else. That someone else dictates the mission – the “what”. (A for instance – in 1941, the USA had three options for dealing with Germany – ignore them, ally with them, or try to defeat them. There were civilians both in and out of government who held each of these positions. However, the military was only given the option “Beat the Germans”. Much less to get into conflict over.)

            Accepting this hierarchy creates a place for strong agreement and allows people to think they share a common goal, which decreases resentment to disagreement over the “how”.

            Given the cultural pluralism of the US as a whole, I am not sure that this is possible for the broader population, and I am not sure I would want it to be so.

          • Matt M says:

            Another thing I just thought of. One particularly clever way the military institutionalizes respect for hierarchy is by making everyone a part of it. People think of the military as a bunch of officers bossing around a bunch of enlisted people, but that’s a very simplistic model. The hierarchy is so deep that almost everyone has both at least one superior and at least one subordinate. The only people who have zero leadership responsibility are the fresh out of boot camp enlisted with 0-3 years experience. By the time you complete a regular enlistment, you’ve almost certainly been at least given a chance to have some responsibility over at least one other person.

            This also gives you an incentive not to rebel/talk back, because you depend on respect for authority as well. If you get to argue with your boss, what’s to stop your juniors from arguing with you? “Shut up and do it my way” is not some privilege reserved for elite flag officers. It’s a privilege that can very well be exercised by a 21 year old corporal as well, just not on quite as many people.

  9. nimim.k.m. says:

    OT79 subthread on Chicago meetup moved on to discuss men’s hatwear.

    @ hoghoghoghoghog:

    A fedora in this day and age would have to be some sort of fancy counter-signalling and I can’t imagine Scott taking such a sophisticated approach.

    …I know that some years ago fedoras were a meme (*tips fedora*). And I occasionally see people still wearing short-brimmed / bit small fedoras; I guess they still insist on 2010s hipster look.

    Wide-brimmed (“Bogarts”, Borsalinos, their ilk) are rarer. However, the metal music festival season provides opportunity to spot more varied and interesting outfits: last summer (I think it was the last summer?) I saw a gent with awesome Western-themed heavy metal look (long leather coat, bullet belts, shiny metal trinkets) and cool Indiana Jones-y fedora (yes, I’m fairly sure it was more of a fedora than cowboy hat), and I was immensely jealous.

    However, what ’bout the rest of them hats?

    I, for one, would welcome the rebirth of the bowler hat.

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Welcome to Iliad 3&4! In the future, I’ll try to get these up earlier in the OT.

    We left off with the catalogues of ships and Trojan allies. Book 3 opens with the two sides in combat. Menelaus, Helen’s first husband, is leading from the front. Hector and Paris are in front of the Trojans, and when Menelaus sees the wife-stealing jerk, he attacks him. Paris melts into the ranks in fear. Hector calls him a coward who doesn’t care how his affairs affect the polis, or in short, an idiot. Stung, Paris offers to settle the claim to Helen and her treasure in single combat. Everyone is thrilled that the war is one duel from being over and Agamemnon offers a sacrifice (showing that priestly and warrior functions weren’t totally separated in this culture, unlike Hindus or Romans).

    Meanwhile, Iris the messenger of the gods, tells Helen to go to the ramparts. I don’t recall Iris showing up in later epics or in tragedy. She’s basically an angel, and you usually don’t see the Greek gods of myth sending an angel instead of great Hermes.

    Up on the ramparts, Priam and his courtiers are watching the battle. No one likes Helen except for her father-in-law Priam. She doesn’t even seen to like herself.
    There’s an interesting bit in the passage where Helen identifies Achaean princes. She wonders where her brothers Castor and Polydeuces are and the narrator says they’re both dead and buried near Sparta, contradicting the cult of the Dioscuri and the associated myth of their end.

    The duelists break weapons on each other’s armor and Menelaus resorts to grappling Paris by the helmet strap. Aphrodite intervenes by breaking the strap then teleporting Paris to his bedroom in a cloud. She tells Helen that Paris is clean and handsome in bed, go to him. Helen chews Aphrodite out for controlling her. Aphrodite says “obey me or else”, so she goes to Paris. They make love, only after Helen addresses him with withering sarcasm about not looking like a warrior.
    Note that Aphrodite is described as a daimon, and daimones is used elsewhere to describe the theoi. In later belief, demons would be the intelligent beings of the air, intermediates between gods and men. When Christianity came along, it basically said “Yeah that’s true, and those gods are devils”, whence the purely negative meaning of demon. It would be interesting to know where the Homeric gods fit into the systemizing of intellectual pagans, who as Platonists tended to identify the gods worshipped in temples with either the planets or things outside the material universe.

    In Book 4, the Achaeans argue that Paris disappearing counts as a loss, so surrender Helen. The Trojans hem and haw peacefully until Athena disguises herself as a Trojan soldier and shoots an arrow at Menelaus’ s groin, his blood coloring his white thigh like when ivory is dyed. I don’t recall how common it was to refer to people as white in Archaic Greek, but it’s at least the case for the Atreides (Menelaus is also a redhead).
    So the war is back on, and it’s Athena’s fault, as well as Hera’s, as revealed in a scene on Olympus. I assume Homer’ s split of the goddesses between Achaeans and Trojans was informed by the myth of Paris and the golden apple.

    • Kevin C. says:

      showing that priestly and warrior functions weren’t totally separated in this culture, unlike Hindus or Romans

      Um, as to the Romans, wasn’t Gaius Julius Caesar the Pontifex Maximus from 63 BC to 44 BC? While waging the Gallic Wars from 58 BC to 50 BC?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Oops, I need to unpack that:
        The Roman Republic had inherited a religion where the king outranked the flamins in the sacrificial hierarchy (hence the creation of a rex sacorum when the monarchy was abolished), along with a novel office of pontiff (“bridge builder”). The pontifex maximus was important enough to outrank 12 of the 15 flamins, but was seated below those of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus at sacrificial feasts.
        Each flamin was surrounded by taboos that prevented him from serving in the army. When Julius Caesar was flamin of Jupiter, he couldn’t touch iron, mount a horse or even look at the assembled army. The flamin of Mars wielded spears before the army in rituals, but could not join them as it would anger the god for him to sleep more than one night outside the city.
        For the Caesar to lead the army while being pontifex maximus, either a pontiff was subject to fewer taboos than a flamin or Julius flouted them and the emperors took this as a valid precedent.

        If you’re into Indo-European stuff, Dumezeil compares the Romans to Vedic Hindus at length. Also noteworthy is the Italo-Celtic hypothesis, which if correct lets us infer that the proto-Celts had a priestly class called flamin, brahmin or something cognate before the druids came to be (dru-ved translates to “oak wisdom” or “oak Veda”).

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    An example of feminist critique working to improve a male author’s writing. This took a lot more work and good will on both sides than people usually put into the issue.

    • Odovacer says:

      When he writes about letting her review his next book it reminds me of this scene from Hail Caesar! where Josh Brolin as a studio executive talks to various religious leaders about the depiction of God and Jesus in the film he’s making and its potential offense to believers.

    • bintchaos says:

      I would be very interested in knowing what Kevin thinks of some really extreme writing…like say, John Norman’s Gor: Tales of the Counter Earth.
      I myself have only read PriestKings of Gor and Tarnsmen of Gor but there are 34 books according to wikipedia…
      Not the sort of thing to be found in my parents library but these two books were on a shelf of tattered paperbacks in the Walloon Lake camp cabin we stayed in one summer.
      I thought they were amazing– slavery and sex were the most fulfilling aspects of womanhood. Books written by, for, and about men.
      I was 12.

      • schazjmd says:

        Wow, haven’t heard a Gor reference in years. I’ve met a few couples who roleplay as Goreans in their relationships. The books are so terribly terribly bad that they inspired a delightful parody, Houseplants of Gor. Definitely “by, for, and about men” but a specific subset of men; I’d venture to say a disturbed subset of men.

        My first husband had the collection. If only I’d read one before we got married…

        • Orpheus says:

          From what I gather, this basiclly sounds like the guy version of 50 shades of Grey.

          • bintchaos says:

            this basiclly sounds like the guy version of 50 shades of Grey.
            hahaha, sounds about right.
            Well…it was enormously kinky for 12 year-olds.
            Just bizarre.

        • bintchaos says:

          Holy Smokes, all 34 books? I didn’t know there were that many until I googled it.
          I’ve never seen any Gor books anywhere but in that old cabin…I think there were a lot of edgar rice burroughs paperbacks there too, and murder mysteries, but we never read books unless it was raining because it was sail camp.
          But those two books made a huge impression on me– they were mind-bending.
          Just so awful that I could not believe anyone would ever buy them. And plus they have to be the antithesis of feminism.
          Some people were saying Kevin should read some really bad fiction and those jumped into my mind.
          Really terrible fiction can be made into decent tv though– I never read any of the Leftbehinder books, the premise just seemed awful, but I like the Leftovers a lot.
          Formulaic fiction can really sell very well…I think I had about a hundred saddle club books when I was in third and fourth grade…they could have easily been written by a computer.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The first two Gor books were made into movies. Budget constraints turned the dinosaurs and tarns into horses and a Priest-King into Jack Palance.

        • I disagree. Norman was a good storyteller with a fair amount of historical knowledge put to use in his backgrounds. In the first few books there was a real tension between the attitudes of the society and the protagonist.

          The problem, after the protagonist converted to the society’s views, was that as the series went on he was more and more using the books to preach his bizarre views about sex and related matters in ways that got in the way of the story telling.

        • Zodiac says:

          Please don’t tell me that is accurate to how those books are actually written. It would defy all reason if that was the case.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve met a female Gor fan.

        • bintchaos says:

          oh my goodness I didn’t know there was a MST3K of Gor…now I HAVE to watch it!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            According to the movie-only character Whatney Smith, the reason to become a history teacher is that you love men like Napoleon and Hitler but can’t emulate them.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Did 50 Shades have a bunch of claims that this was the intrinsically right way to have a relationship?

          • BBA says:

            Having first encountered Gor through MST, I got the initial impression that most Gor fans are Watneys who think they’re Cabots. Nothing I’ve read since has dissuaded me of this.

    • Zodiac says:

      Inspiring. I am somewhat prejudiced against feminism after delving too deep in the fringe, so this is a nice counterpoint.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m going to underline how *much* work and good will I think was involved.

      Firstly, he was exposed to a lot of feminism which wasn’t ideally clear to him. It’s plausible both that the feminism wasn’t precise and that he wasn’t ready to fully understand what was being said. We may also assume that there was a good bit of emotional noise on both sides.

      Still, he made an effort to do a good job with the female characters in the first novel.

      And got feedback which indicated that there was a problem, but didn’t make the problem clear.

      A woman put in the effort to really explain matters, and it wouldn’t surprise me if part of the reason was that he’d made a decent try with the novel.

      Just guessing from the way my mind works, but she might also have been incentivized by the fact that other people hadn’t been able to explain the problems clearly.

      He was in a mental state where he could understand what she said, and incorporate her ideas into the second novel.

      This work can be that hard.

      More generally, it takes time to think. A good explanation requires intellectual work, and is unlikely to be created on the first try.

      I’ve noticed online that the fastest reactions tend to be emotional and/or cached, and the really thoughtful stuff shows up more slowly.

      • John Schilling says:

        I agree that it’s a lot of work. I am wondering what the payoff is.

        “Song of the Orphans” has unfortunately only been out for a few days, so I suspect most of the reviews so far have been from the heavily biased preorder/buy-on-sight crowd. Will be interesting to see how they start stacking up over time. But if the original comes in with ~3% of the female readers saying “sexist book stop talking about boobs all the time” and the rest giving four- or five-star reviews, I’m not sure there’s much room for improvement.

        That’s not exactly fair, because about 25% of the reviews came in at two or three stars. But from a quick skim, even among female readers those are mostly about standard new-author problems like sloppy worldbuilding and plotting and non-gender-related weak characterization. So there may be more effective avenues for Price to work on improving his writing.

        I’d really like to read that 2,000-word email. Probably lots of people would, and given the amount of effort that went into it I suspect there would be lessons useful to authors who aren’t Daniel Price and aren’t writing about the Silvers. But it would probably also draw petty sniping if it were posted online, so maybe not. Up to Price and “Erin”.

        Clearly there is a segment of the audience that is eager to buy what Price is selling, but sees problems that need to be (and can be) corrected. But no book can be all things to all people, and if it really takes this much effort, how do you know when you’ve gone past the point of diminishing returns in trying to sell to that audience segment compared to the apparently much larger ones that either like the work as it is or are looking for different improvements?

        I should probably read “Flight of the Silvers”, which didn’t quite make the cut first time I saw it. Fortunately, I do have an inner teenage boy I can channel to get through the excessive focus on Awesome Boobies, but now I’m going to be self-conscious about that.

        • Evan Þ says:

          FWIW as an amateur author who’s never read Price, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “non-gender-related weak characterization” had a lot to do with the unintentional sexism. At least, it probably would have in my case if my early stuff ever got published. I’m remembering one plot arc in an early novel which my sister rightly criticized as having Female Lead be far too passive in the midst of a whole array of bad circumstances – and it wasn’t because of sexism; it was because at that point I had all my characters go mildly out of character and be passive when the plot required it of them. (To make things harder, I don’t think either of us realized that – I sure didn’t till a couple years later.) She didn’t accuse me of anything worse than “you need to write Female Lead better,” but if it’d gotten published, I can imagine readers being less restrained.

          This was Price’s first novel, so maybe he hadn’t completely conquered that flaw?

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      That article demonstrates how stupid and counterproductive the “it’s not my job to educate you!” attitude is. If your objective is to change people’s minds, then yes, God damn it, it is your job to educate them, as happened in the article.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t think people have an unlimited obligation to educate– it’s at least time-consuming and can be very emotionally wearing.

        On the other hand, I think it’s good for people to educate to the extent that they can afford to, and definitely wrong to discourage other people from educating.

        • Nornagest says:

          The phrase “unlimited obligation to educate” is a curious one. It seems to imply that the situations necessitating explanation are just part of the environment, like gravity.

          But whenever I’ve gotten “not my job to educate” pulled on me, which fortunately has not been that often, it’s been in the context of pushing back on a demand, usually a politically charged one. Meaning that that obligation is limited, if nothing else, by the desire to issue demands.

          • BBA says:

            There’s usually an implication that there’s an obviously correct take on whatever issue we’re discussing, that all the enlightened people have already agreed what it is, and therefore if you disagree you’re either willfully ignorant or outright evil.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The first time I saw “Educate yourself!”, at the beginning of racefail*, I knew the world had fallen apart (sounds overblown, but this the most psychologically accurate way I can think of to phrase it)– I’d assumed fandom had a reliable “gladly learn and gladly teach” ethos, and all of the sudden it didn’t.

            *Racefail was when anti-racism (something very like SJW) came to sf (print) fandom, including professional writers and editors, mostly on livejournal. It wasn’t pretty.

            This was in 2009, and there are much better public explanations of SJW ideas now. Back then, educate yourself! with no guideposts seemed like an impossible demand.

            I’ve got more sympathy now, though not complete sympathy. The thing is, minorities in fandom were in a very literal numerical minority, and could feel very swamped by people who were curious, but didn’t care a lot, and expected a lot of attention. Speaking from personal experience, it can be very hard to try to explain emotional issues to an unsympathetic audience.

            On the other hand, if you’re not up for teaching, it seems rather low cost to offer a link or two with a firm statement that you’re not discussing them.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            BBA, I think “woke” is bad terminology– it should at least include woke [about]. English is very frustrating sometimes.

          • Jiro says:

            This was in 2009, and there are much better public explanations of SJW ideas now. Back then, educate yourself! with no guideposts seemed like an impossible demand.

            It’s still an impossible demand. Not because you can’t find anyone to talk about it, but because of two problems:
            1) It’s often a motte and bailey. You can find plenty of places giving you an academic definition of “privilege”, but it probably isn’t going to get used that way when accusing you of privilege.
            2) A lot of what you’ll find is deeply flawed, but nobody who tells you to educate yourself will be satisfied by “I already tried to educate myself and this subject seemed to be nonsense”.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Jiro, there’s another problem with “educate yourself”.

            For example there’s the idea of listening to black people. I think it’s worth doing– there’s definitely a difference between my “police abuse of black people is a bad thing” and a lot of black people’s “police abuse of black people is an urgent bad thing”. Fortunately, I don’t call myself an ally. I’m more of a traumatized fellow traveler.

            However, listen to enough black people, and you’ll find that they don’t all agree with each other. Some of them are conservatives. Some of them aren’t SJWs.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            To steelman that a little, the stronger claim/bailey is that race causes people to have certain experiences. So the interpretation may differ, but the experiences are similar.

          • keranih says:

            Oh, I entirely agree that Racefail (and the grievance industry side of lj even before then) was a very hard place to explain one’s emotional stance to a bunch of people who didn’t want to hear your POV.

            But trying to explain that *all humans* feel battered in situations like that was, and I quote, “making this about you, and not about the POCs who are the real victims here.”

            Where I will disagree is with the idea that things got any better when resources like “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” became widely advertised – the resources were *still* to be taken as gospel, and not investigated or debated on grounds of logic or universal application. (Another quote from that time: “I am not interested in what you might think would qualify as “black privilege” – there isn’t any such thing.”)

            @ Aajpe –

            To steelman that a little, the stronger claim/bailey is that race causes people to have certain experiences. So the interpretation may differ, but the experiences are similar.

            I’d like to see that strengthened a bit more, or else it still doesn’t do much good. Either person X is treated differently by other people (of race Y? by people of many/all races?) differently than person Y, who is a different race, *OR* person X is treated the same as person Y, but interprets it differently because of a difference in the mindset (perhaps cultural) between person X and person Y.

            To me, both of these allow person X to have different experiences than person Y. However, the cause of one lies within the (outward) actions of other people, and the cause of the other lies with the (inward) actions of person X and person Y.

            I am willing to entertain both as possibilities, but observe that outside verification is essential for figuring out where the cause is. Throw in social encouragement for taking the worst possible interpretation of another’s actions (“victim culture”) and it becomes very difficult to figure out how to solve the problem of different experiences. Assuming the problem needs solving.

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            I agree that my steelman is still pretty weak, but it is a lot stronger than arguing that everyone of the same race has the same belief, which no on will claim when called out on their motte.

            My opinion is that many of the anti-racists expect hostility and act with anticipatory hostility to certain groups, which actually makes members of those groups act badly in return. So that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I also see this group often jump to the conclusion that unpleasant experiences are due to discrimination, even when other explanations are possible (and/or more likely).

            Some other members of minority groups default to assuming that an individual they meet is not going to be hostile and these people generally seem to have a better life.

            The former group probably severely exaggerates the level of discrimination and the later group probably tends to underestimate it a bit.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I was there for Racefail and it was… the strangest, most horrible thing. Douglas Adams had that line about “The Galaxy reeled like a man being mugged in a meadow,” and it was like that.

            A bunch of literal nobodies who had been biting at ankles for years and being ignored went after the biggest names in SF based on deliberately malicious reading of Moon’s perfectly anodyne essay that, really, was advocating for better and more respectful representation. And rather than dismissing it, for some reason those big names — veterans of a thousand bitter flamewars, too — capitulated! Folks like Stross, Scalzi, et cetera, after taking a little bit of abuse they surrendered and joined the mob, becoming some of the most enthusiastic enforcers, tossing away every principle they had seemed to have.

            Anybody who didn’t like it was silenced. The whole superstructure of a totalitarian regime, complete with enemies lists, informants, ideological crimes, public apologies, censorship committees, and forced confessions, materialized out of the ether. Within a year or two the entire upper level of prominent SF figures was either assimilated or had been ejected from the field for, often, bizarrely trivial offenses against social justice. And a tradition of pluralism and strident but tolerant disagreement going back decades was gone, just like that: you were with them, or you were with the bigots. The end.

            The whole ant thing played out exactly the same way, just kicked off a little differently and with more anonymous shitposting. Same with various webforums, with tech, with role-playing games. Given all that Racefail really deserves more attention than it gets.

          • John Schilling says:

            Within a year or two the entire upper level of prominent SF figures was either assimilated or had been ejected from the field for, often, bizarrely trivial offenses against social justice.

            Nit: Ejected from what, for lack of a better term, I will call “High Fandom”. I don’t know of anybody who was in the business of writing science fiction who suffered any great professional handicap – possibly some marginal diminution of sales due to no longer being able to hang out in a particular corner of the blogosphere to generate favorable buzz, and possibly being forced to publish with Baen rather than Tor. It is only if hanging out with science fiction fans and writers was a major part of your social as well as professional life that I think this was any sort of big deal.

            Hanging out with science fiction fans kind of was a big part of my social life at the time, so it mattered to me. But I’m pretty sure it didn’t matter at all to e.g. David Weber or Jim Butcher, or Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Neal Stephenson et al.

          • Jiro says:

            Is there any place that has a good summary of Racefail? There are plenty of summaries, but they tend to read like a summary of the ants written by anti-ants and are basically useless.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I don’t believe a good summary of Racefail is possible. Aside from issues of partisanship, there’s too much scattered material, some of which has been taken offline. Also, while Racefail is the name of the public dispute, I suspect there was a lot of important conversation which was never public.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @John Schilling: I’ll modify my statement a bit and agree that there are indeed people like, say, Jim Butcher who are at a fundamentally higher level, careerwise. They don’t need to worry about anklebiters on Livejournal. But then again he writes that tacky popular stuff, don’t you know, and so he doesn’t count. Most SF authors, even the relatively big names, have surprisingly small print runs/audiences and the publishing industry is tiny and incestuous, so whisper campaigns can do a lot of damage. Also, it’s nice that there’s still one witch-friendly publisher in the form of Baen, but surely one can agree that being limited to working with one publisher while the other four stop returning your phone calls because some nobody called you a racist isn’t optimal, career-wise?

            Also: yeah, this did the most damage to the layer of people who interact with fans. But interacting with fans has long been a thing in SF. If that’s been made painful or impossible, science fiction is, in a real sense, the poorer for it.

            @Jiro: Will Shetterly wrote up a thing about it which is probably the best summary you’re going to find that wasn’t written by the new revolutionary regime’s propaganda ministry.

          • keranih says:

            Will Shetterly’s work is pretty good. But it’s also not complete in all details…and he is very far from being a neutral observer.

            For those who are more familiar with reddit and tumblr than LJ – LiveJournal had/has privacy functions which allow a person to limit visualization of posts to a pre-selected list. Person A might be able to see posts by Person C that Person B could not. Person B might be included in conversations with A & C but be carrying on other convos with D&E that the first two never saw.

            Plus, there were pockets of LJ that were geographically based, and IRL convos were going on outside the interawebs.

            The ability for conflict to arise and explode into drama in a very short fashion, taking bystanders completely unaware, should not be underestimated.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most SF authors, even the relatively big names, have surprisingly small print runs/audiences and the publishing industry is tiny and incestuous, so whisper campaigns can do a lot of damage.

            “Whisper campaign”?

            Racefail mostly took place in broad view of the (interested) public, in places like the Nielsen-Haydens’ livejournal. Yes, there was email traffic on the side and private-mode posts, but is it really your contention that an economically significant fraction of the SF market was receiving private messages saying “Author X is problematic and we shouldn’t read their stuff”?

            But then again he [Jim Butcher] writes that tacky popular stuff, don’t you know, and so he doesn’t count.

            OK, so do Jack McDevitt, Ken Macleod, Bruce Sterling, or Gregory Benford count?

            The vast majority of midlist “I just write the stuff” SF authors, as far as I know, never posted at the N-H livejournal or on rasfw or anyplace else that Racefail happened. And they were only posted about w/re the books they wrote, with their social politics left out of it unless blatantly obvious through their writing. They jut wrote the stuff, and they still write it, and I haven’t noticed any change in what they are writing. What is the “field” that you claim they were ejected from, and when were they ever part of that field in the first place?

            Scalzi, Stross, and a few others, seem to like hanging out with fans and other writers online for mostly non-professional reasons. And I’m not sure why Scalzi took the gig as SFFWA president, but I’m guessing it wasn’t the money. To the extent that they wanted to keep doing those things – and I liked hanging out with Charlie Stross online, so I wanted him to keep doing that – yes, that small subset of writers had to toe the Social Justice line if they didn’t want to be run out of town. That was a bad thing.

            But I’m not seeing the case for the average professional SF writer being “ejected from the field” or suffering any great professional harm as a result of Racefail. That was more of a fannish thing.

          • BBA says:

            I was only vaguely aware of the fringes of Racefail – I don’t read much SF and though I saw a few of the LJ posts in question, my main takeaway at the time wasn’t that SF is particularly racist, or that the critics were particularly unreasonable, it was that I don’t have the composure to handle that kind of situation so I should never become a writer.

            That said, I just have some difficulty believing that a bunch of outsiders and anklebiters could force an ideology on a community that’s hostile to it. I suspect that the social justice party line is a hell of a lot more popular among writers and fans than one would think.

          • John Schilling says:

            It was that I don’t have the composure to handle that kind of situation so I should never become a writer.

            Fortunately, one can avoid that situation by practicing some profession that allows one to make a living while holed up in their study and almost never interacting with anyone one doesn’t want to. Crafting novels for publication is one such profession, often confused with “being a writer”.

          • BBA says:

            Yeah, well, I’m just too much of an egomaniac to go full Pynchon.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            That said, I just have some difficulty believing that a bunch of outsiders and anklebiters could force an ideology on a community that’s hostile to it. I suspect that the social justice party line is a hell of a lot more popular among writers and fans than one would think.

            That was part of why the takeover was successful: many of the major figures (in this particular subsection of the field, okay? Jeez) had been loudly and performatively left-wing for a while, and — this being at the tail end of the Bush years and just after — the “Right-wingers are Nazis, nobody who opposes them could be bad” mentality was already congealing. So they had a total blind spot for an attack coming in from the left. I don’t think a bunch of right-wing anklebiters would have had any such success doing the same thing.

            The attackers also weren’t outsiders, per se. They were generally people who had been fans or wannabe writers for some time themselves, so many of the names/pseudonyms would have been familiar to the targets. That helped them get in under the radar.

        • keranih says:

          I don’t think people have an unlimited obligation to educate– it’s at least time-consuming and can be very emotionally wearing.

          This ties into something Scott said on tumblr…let me see…ah, here:

          Part of my job as a psychiatrist is to try to figure out what’s causing abusers to abuse, and then see if that cause can be stopped. [snip] This is the job of psychiatrists, and not of victims. Victims have no job except to deal as best they can. If it’s helpful for you to hate your abusers, go for it.

          (Emphasis mine)

          (Scott asked that the conversation not be reblogged, so I’m not linking to it. I don’t think the context is all that relevant.)

          And I think I’m more with you, Nancy – yes, it is a tremendous amount of work to “educate” people, and to endure abuse(*) without lashing out, and to take the high road, and to turn the other cheek. It’s hard and draining and esp online, you can’t see people silently listening and thinking and scowling because you’ve made a point and they have to go away and think about it.

          But I think that *yes*, we have an obligation to “educate”, to advocate, to persuade, to attempt to change people’s minds. A broader obligation to tolerate as much as we can, but then to attempt to engage on what can’t be tolerated.

          For me, advocacy breaks down when it stops respecting that other people have other opinions and starts acting offended that other opinions actually *exist*. A failure to engage with those other opinions is a failure to put your money where your mouth is, and help make change happen.

          In yet another “both sides do it too” I do hate to see it in action when people on my side fail to acknowledge reasonable stances on the other side. I also hate it when I decline to do the hard work of engaging with reasonable stances that are in opposition with mine, (esp when the person has put the hard work to meet me halfway) and would instead prefer to hang out with unreasonable people who agree with me.

          • John Schilling says:

            And I think I’m more with you, Nancy – yes, it is a tremendous amount of work to “educate” people, and to endure abuse(*)

            There seems to be a missing footnote there.

            And it really needs one. Because if Daniel Price writing Flight of the Silvers or even Elizabeth Bear writing Whatever you’re doing, you’re probably wrong counts as “abuse”, then I’m not seeing how there’s anything more to talk about.

            It is nobody’s job to stop anybody from writing things like those. If someone considers it “abuse” to have to live in a world where they are written, if they need to hate the writers in order to endure the existence of their words, then we’re done.

          • keranih says:

            @ John –

            Yes, there was. Sorry about that. It would have gone something like this:

            (*) And by “abuse” I mean…pretty much whatever slings and arrows fate throws your way. Even if fate’s using human hands to do the throwing. People can overhear a remark not directed at them, clutch that remark to them, ruminate on it for days, and let a largely imagined microggression poison their whole being. At the same time, people and do endure a tremendous amount of actual verbal and emotional abuse. I don’t think there is a clear line between ‘does damage’ and ‘does no damage’ – I just think a lot of space exists between the ends of the spectrum.

            I do think that there may be an immune system analog going on, so that people do have to deal with some degree of friction with fellow humans in order to figure out what is really damaging and what’s clearly not.

            I do think that learning to bear up under whatever is happening to one is extremely important, and that it’s a mistake to try to off load the work onto the rest of humanity and convince them that they should never place the least straw on our backs.

            (And to be clear – I’m not excepting physical damage here, either. I think it’s easier to draw lines with physical actions, rather than verbal blows, but anyone who has trained martial arts knows that there is a spectrum there as well.)

          • albatross11 says:

            keranih:

            The thing is, taking offense about the very existence of some POV is both a genuine emotional response and also as part of a particular strategy: Establiish a social norm that people who disagree with you are not merely wrong on this one question, but are bad people who should be shunned, and in fact, so are people who refuse to shun those bad people who disagree with you on that issue.

            That tactic is (IMO) socially destructive–the more widespread it is, the more unfixable polarization you get, since you can’t agree to disagree or calmly talk over your differences anymore. It’s also very bad for any attempt to understand the world, since it explicitly creates big incentives to come to the “right” set of conclusions.

            I find myself agreeing with the social positions of SJWs pretty often, but I very much oppose this strategy. And I think the emotional response and the strategy encourages an outlook in which otherwise decent people find themselves justifying all kinds of really awful behavior from their side, because even having those awful opinions means you had it coming, and anyway, the other side is worse.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            albatross11

            Another part of current polarization that I detest is the idea that people on the other side are intrinsically bad, so there’s no point in trying to convince them.

            I find left-wingers much easier to read than right-wingers, so I’m very clear that they have this problem. Anyone have thoughts about whether it’s as bad on the right?

            During the GWB years, I noticed that Democrats were posting as though Republicans were a kind of person, so I would post about Republicans who had become liberals as counter-evidence. It never seemed to register.

            http://www.salon.com/2017/06/29/how-i-became-a-man-without-a-party_partner/

            Same thing still going on.

          • keranih says:

            @ Nancy –

            I think it depends on the particular group you hang with. I cross-read and have several close friends on the left side, so my left-leaning exposure includes a lot of people who are okay with right wingers.

            More of my rightwing circle are people related to me whom I will not throw over on accounta obnoxious opinions, so the level of partisan intolerance is higher there. I also *think* I see a higher tolerance for outgroup thought among rightwingers – people who are committed to their own opinions, and voice them, but who will reject other opinions without rejecting the person speaking them.

            But – and I think this is important to my calibration/calculations – the people on the right that I hang out with are lower class/ruder than the left wingers. So what gets thought and what gets expressed could be different among those groups.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          I’ll agree that nobody automatically has an obligation to educate. Somebody who does not want to spend their time educating has the option of not making strident demands for social change, and finding some other hobby instead.

          But I am strongly asserting that if your thing is changing society… then you can either educate, or you can fail to change society. That’s it. (Well, there’s a third option: seize control by force and march your opponents into camps. But that’s really it.)

    • JulieK says:

      In general, what do you think are the odds that if you write a professional author an intelligent 2,000-word critique, they will pay attention to it?

  12. Salem says:

    I would be interested to hear from the regulars here about the Qatar crisis. What do you think?

    From my perspective, the Qatari government have behaved appallingly, but the allied demands are clear overreach.

    What’s the endgame here? A coup? What pressure can they bring to bear?

    • bintchaos says:

      I’m not a regular but its just purely demonstrative of Trump’s inexperience and ignorance of complex situations.
      Trump’s vanity and ego have allowed him to be manipulated into taking sides on a 30 year old slap-fight between Qatar and KSA for control of the GCC.
      State and the military commanders are trying to walk it back without much luck.
      The “endgame” as you so naively put it is likely collapse of a fragile equilibrium system where Pax Americana is eroding really fast in high population growth epicenters like ME and North Africa.
      Heres what the military thinks.
      Heres what State thinks.

      • Salem says:

        Just so you know, you are incredibly boring when you make everything about America.

        I don’t even necessarily disagree with you on the US’s role here, but it’s approximately the least important or interesting part of it.

        • bintchaos says:

          But I’m not incensed about Trump’s domestic policies– I think Trump damage is extremely limited domestically because the Founders built really well. I think liberal hysteria is over the top on this.
          And I think the Heartland has every right to elect their own choice. The pendulum will swing back.
          The Founders feared an elected demagogue so there are plenty of protections built in.

          The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

          Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy—not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, … —despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”
          Alexander Hamilton

          However, the international damage a stupid and inexperienced man with poor advisors can do as president is pretty much limitless. Consider OIF and GWB.

    • Brad says:

      It’s hard to take the ultimatum parties’ complaints seriously when they have such dirty hands themselves, not just in general, but in many of the same areas that Qatar is accused of bad behavior.

      • Salem says:

        The allied countries may support some dubious groups, but they aren’t friendly with Iran, they didn’t pay $1bn to Iranian-backed militias, and none of their rulers made a speech to the military praising Iran (then ludicrously claim the whole thing was a hack when foreign media picked up on it). It’s hard to have much sympathy for Qatar.

        But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who’s in the moral right here. What matters is how they’re able to exploit their leverage.

        • John Schilling says:

          This argument seems to assume that “Iran” is a synonym for “Evil”.

          • Salem says:

            No, just that Iran is the enemy of the allies. If the Qataris ally themselves with the enemies of the GCC, they should expect the other members of the GCC to take measures against them.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the Qataris ally themselves with the enemies of the GCC, they should expect the other members of the GCC to take measures against them

            What does that have to do with the alleged difficulty of sympathizing with Qatar?

            Again, take Iran=Evil out of the equation, and what’s left? “Qatar is friendly with not-Evil Iran, Qatar paid $1bn to not-Evil militias, and Qatar’s rulers made a speech to the military prasing not-Evil Iran. But the GCC is the enemy of Iran – if tiny little Qatar allies itself with the not-evil Enemies of the GCC, they should expect the GCC to take measures against them. It’s hard to sympathize with Qatar”.

            I find it very easy to sympathize with Qatar under that framing. And that’s before I remember that the bloodiest unprovoked attack on American soil in the past century was conducted by citizens of the GCC’s dominant state.

          • Salem says:

            Hang on, Iran may not be a synonym for evil, but that doesn’t mean its motives in the Gulf are benign from the point of view of Iran’s neighbours.

            “Qatar defected from the defensive alliance against Iran, judging (probably correctly) that this is in its narrow self-interest; that way, Iran will steal the islands and subvert the governments of Qatar’s neighbours and leave Qatar alone. Qatar’s neighbours are therefore giving it a crash course in a broader notion of enlightened self-interest, including such game-theoretic concepts as pre-commitment and altruistic punishment.”

            Yeah, still not feeling much sympathy.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hang on, Iran may not be a synonym for evil, but that doesn’t mean its motives in the Gulf are benign from the point of view of Iran’s neighbours.

            Yes, and neither are the GCC’s motives benign from the point of view of the GCC’s neighbors. So what? We aren’t any of their neighbors; when it comes to deciding who we should feel sympathetic for, why should we prioritize Iran’s neighbors over the GCC’s neighbors or either of them over the ones caught between them?

            Yeah, still not feeling much sympathy.

            Do you have any reason for this other than a world view in which the Saudis are the Good Guys and those who would oppose them, even those who would stand neutral in the conflict between the Saudis and those who would oppose them, must be the Bad Guys?

            Way I see it, there are the Bad Guys and the Other Bad Guys. And in assessing relative Badness, let’s still not forget which of these are the Bad Guys whose government turned a blind eye to some of its high-profile citizens murdering three thousand of my fellow citizens. Also, there’s Donald Trump playing at Middle Eastern Diplomacy. Then there are the Little Guys caught in the middle, trying not to commit to any of the Bad Guys.

            I’m inclined to give Qatar a share of my sympathy.

          • Salem says:

            We aren’t any of their neighbors;

            Well, that depends who “we” are. You aren’t any of their neighbours. I’m pretty sure there are SSC readers living in the Gulf. As an Iraqi, albeit living in Britain, my feelings may be more complicated.

            Do you have any reason for this other than a world view in which the Saudis are the Good Guys and those who would oppose them, even those who would stand neutral in the conflict between the Saudis and those who would oppose them, must be the Bad Guys?

            I never said Saudi Arabia are the good guys. I don’t think this language is remotely helpful. And I explained my reasons, both here and below. Iran keeps trying to steal the islands of the small Gulf countries and become their hegemon, so they need to stick together. Saudi Arabia isn’t a small Gulf country that Iran can easily bully, but it’s decided to ally with them as part of its own desire for self-aggrandisement. Qatar has betrayed its neighbours – no sympathy. That doesn’t mean I have to feel sympathy for Saudi Arabia, which, in a world without Iran, would be the major threat to the independence and territorial integrity of the small GCC nations!

            I guess I’d compare this to the Delian League. The Gulf emirates, like the Greek city-states, have to stick together against the Persian menace. Qatar is Thasos, defecting to Persia – hard to have sympathy. But the maximalist allied demands look like a way to destroy Qatar, much as Thasos was destroyed and made a tributary. And Saudi Arabia, like Athens, would dearly love to establish a hegemony over its neighbours.

            Yet, for now, you’ll note that the “little guys caught in the middle” are all on the side of the Saudis, except for Kuwait which is trying to play mediator.

        • Brad says:

          “At least they aren’t friendly with Iran” presupposes that Iran is much worse than Saudi Arabia to being with.

        • bintchaos says:

          Thats my point– Qatar is just a shiny object to distract Trump and his apologists from the KSA masterplan which is wahhabism for all muslims.
          All soon-to-be nearly 2 billion of them.

          • James Miller says:

            You greatly overestimate how much Americans care about Qatar. I doubt more than 25% of us even know that Qatar is a country.

          • qwints says:

            That is a surprisingly hard question to get data on. There have been a number of different foreign policy and geography surveys of the US population, but I can’t find one that asks about Qatar or an equivalently sized one. I’d guess much lower, but it has gotten a lot of news coverage over the last decade.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Actually I’d like to see a steelman of the anti-Qatar side. From a US point of view they seem really nice (funding Al Jazeera, hosting a base for us, keeping channels open with Iran), so much so that I feel I must be missing something.

        • Salem says:

          Not intended as a steelman, but the allied position is roughly:

          1. The small GCC countries are terrified of Iran, because it makes irredentist claims (e.g. that Bahrain is rightfully Iranian), and keeps seizing small islands when no-one is looking. So they need to stick together against Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia sees Iran as its rival power, so the GCC was always solidly against Iran.
          2. Since the mid-90s Qatar has been pro-Iran, breaking its unity with the rest of the GCC. This is terrifying for its little neighbours, who need a united front against Iranian aggression, and annoying for Saudi Arabia. And now they have a young emir who has thrown off all restraint. So Qatar is seen as a traitor – in SSC terms they have defected in the prisoner’s dilemma.
          3. The GCC countries have made a bunch of deals with Qatar before, but Qatar keeps breaking them. So there’s no trust, and no hope of getting back to co-operate-co-operate. So instead, they are being punished. In fact, the GCC have made incredibly maximal demands that would strip Qatar of any future leverage. This makes me think that the aim isn’t regime change, but I could be wrong.
          4. The reason it’s precipitated now is Qatar just paid $1bn cash to Iranian-backed militias as a ransom. This appears to have outraged its neighbours for the spendthriftiness as much as anything – demonstrating that the emir is not a serious person.

          How “nice” any of these countries are to the USA is not part of the dispute.

          • bintchaos says:

            OMG please stop using the iPD for everything.
            Axelrod’s tournament was based on artificial societies– which don’t actually exist…its far too oversimplified for any existing strategy space.
            The Obama admin was trying to reduce US involvement in MENA because he was smart enough to know we cant win there after 30 years and x trillions of dollars spent.
            The reason we cant “win” is some actual game theory, John MaynardSmith evolutionary games-– Islam is a regional Culturally Stable Strategy which is immune to invasion and mutation.
            That is what the Iran treaty was all about, a tent pole like the French put up in Nam before they skedaddled.
            KSA is pissed off because of Obama FP prioritizing the Iran deal.
            The fight for control of the GCC has been going on for 30 years.
            Enter Trump.

          • Salem says:

            OMG please shut up about the USA whose involvement in this is peripheral at best.

          • cassander says:

            @bintchaos

            The Obama admin was trying to reduce US involvement in MENA because he was smart enough to know we cant win there after 30 years and x trillions of dollars spent.

            How is blowing up Libya, deposing the leadership of Egypt, and doing whatever the fuck you want to call what we’re doing in Syria “reducing involvement”? I’ll give you that the Obama administration had some instincts in the direction of reducing involvement, but they got more involved almost everywhere, and the one place they objectively got less involved (Iraq) was a disaster that blew up in their faces.

            Islam is a regional Culturally Stable Strategy which is immune to invasion and mutation.

            What on earth is this supposed to mean?

          • bintchaos says:

            @Salem
            OMG please shut up about the USA whose involvement in this is peripheral at best.
            Trump SAID he kicked off the hostilities
            What’s wrong with you?
            Are you really this pig-blinded ignorant of 30 years of US FP history?
            Read Bacevitch.

            The long twilight struggle with the Soviet Union had involved only occasional and sporadic fighting. But as this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent. From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, U.S. forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like “permanent war” and “open-ended war” have become part of everyday discourse.

            Connecting the dots in a way no other historian has done before, Bacevich weaves a compelling narrative out of episodes as varied as the Beirut bombing of 1983, the Mogadishu firefight of 1993, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the rise of ISIS in the present decade. Understanding what America’s costly military exertions have wrought requires seeing these seemingly discrete events as parts of a single war. It also requires identifying the errors of judgment made by political leaders in both parties and by senior military officers who share responsibility for what has become a monumental march to folly. This Bacevich unflinchingly does.
            A twenty-year army veteran who served in Vietnam, Andrew J. Bacevich brings the full weight of his expertise to this vitally important subject. America’s War for the Greater Middle East is a bracing after-action report from the front lines of history. It will fundamentally change the way we view America’s engagement in the world’s most volatile region.

          • bintchaos says:

            @cassander
            I’m sorry…explaining EGT is probably just too much heavy lifting for me today.
            Heres the book– JMS: Evolution and the Theory of Games
            The concept of a Culturally Stable Strategy(CSS) is introduced in chapter 5, Learning the ESS.

          • Iain says:

            @Salem:

            OMG please shut up about the USA whose involvement in this is peripheral at best.

            Is that true?

            Most of the complaints about Qatar appear to be about issues that have existed for years. The $1B ransom does not seem like the sort of thing that rationally precipitates this kind of action, although I freely admit that I am not an expert on the politics of the region. To me, the most plausible explanation for this situation seems to be:
            1. The US has interests in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and does not want them to fight.
            2. Previous administrations applied diplomatic pressure to both countries, threatening some sort of consequence for taking their quarrels too far.
            3. Trump went on his tour to the Middle East, engaged in some chummy glad-handing with the Saudis, and left them with the distinct impression (intentionally or otherwise) that he was not interested in slapping anybody’s wrist if the Saudis started pushing Qatar around.
            4. Saudi Arabia decided to take advantage of the opportunity to settle some old scores. A few weeks and one thin pretext later: boom!

            @Cassander

            How is blowing up Libya, deposing the leadership of Egypt, and doing whatever the fuck you want to call what we’re doing in Syria “reducing involvement”?

            Did you see the previous guy? Not talking about a high bar here.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So, the US can act as a restraining or enabling force in an existing feud.

            Which could be considered a peripheral role if you’re interested in examining the feud itself, but a critical one if your angle is more concern about what will happen if it is unrestrained?

          • Iain says:

            Yeah. I think the US has very little to do with the feud itself, but (potentially) everything to do with why it is boiling over right now.

            Epistemic status: speculative, and very willing to be corrected.

          • cassander says:

            @iaian

            Did you see the previous guy? Not talking about a high bar here.

            The previous guy at least made an effort to clean up his mess, and did a decent job of it by the end. the Obama guys shat all over the carpet, then praised the result as high art.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Cassander: I assume you are talking about Libya. But Wikipedia’s maximum estimate for deaths in the Libyan civil war is 25,000, while for the Iraq war it is 500,000. I don’t mean this to whitewash the Obama administrations mistakes, but it is important to keep a sense of scale.

          • cassander says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Cassander: I assume you are talking about Libya.
            But Wikipedia’s maximum estimate for deaths in the Libyan civil war is 25,000,

            1) the libyan war is not yet over and shows no sign of ending any time soon.

            2) The libyan civil war contributed directly to making syria worse

            3) even were it not for point 2, I am not just talking about syia. The obama administration ran around the Arab spring pouring gasoline on any fire they could find.

            while for the Iraq war it is 500,000.

            that number is wrong
            , especially when you exclude the death that have occured since the obama administration’s disastrous withdrawal.

            I don’t mean this to whitewash the Obama administrations mistakes, but it is important to keep a sense of scale.

            Yes, you should. Syria today is exactly the sort of disaster that people were saying was the worst possible case for Iraq in 2006. The Bush administration averted it from happening in Iraq, the Obama administration has not averted it in Syria. The Obama administration, objectively, made a worse mess of the middle east than their predecessor.

          • bintchaos says:

            @Cassander
            Dear lord…you ARE stupid.
            I was so wrong…my model is so wrong…I assumed parity in IQ and g between tribes.
            We are still paying for OIF…and it will never stop.
            Bush wrote the SOFA– we HAD to leave, because 6 million Iraqis signed a petition for US to go home.
            That is 1/5 of the Iraqi population.
            The tragic flaw of Bush’s dumbass democracy promotion doctrine…was that when muslims are DEMOCRATICALLY empowered to vote, they NEVER vote for secular democracy– they vote for Islam.
            They like Islam.
            I bet you think the US “won” the VietNam war too.
            JKMN

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            bintchaos, please don’t insult people’s intelligence. I don’t think it helps them think better.

          • bintchaos says:

            @Nancy
            sorry for the Unkindness but this is both NECESSARY and TRUE.
            Its appalling that cassander has no idea of the history surrounding the US withdrawal from Iraq.
            Bush wrote the withdrawal conditions– Muqtada al Sadar got 6 million Iraqis (1/5 of Iraq population) to demand US withdrawal. Obama tried to negotiate a force to remain in Iraq– Maliki and Sadr refused Obamas demands that US forces be immune from prosecution.
            US created the ISIS insurgency.

            The arrival of ISIS in Mosul, on 10 June 2014, exposed the fragile state that was established after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The United States and Iraq’s political elite failed for nine years to build a robust political system and adequate security forces that would defend the country against the horrific threat of terrorism, both domestic and foreign. Iraq’s neighbors from all sides of the border meddled to their hearts’ content in the country’s internal affairs and virtually all Iraqi political blocks, each according to its ethno-sectarian background and respective interests, served as proxies for these regional evil-doers.

            After the humiliating fall of Mosul, both Iraqis and Americans started a blame game. The Iraqi leadership blamed their American ‘allies’ for not giving them the military support, training, and weaponry to secure and defend their country, while many Americans who were involved in the re-building of Iraq’s armed forces blamed the Iraqi government, especially former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for weakening the Iraqi military by appointing incompetent and corrupt commanders. The truth is: both arguments were correct. The US has not spent anything close to adequate efforts to build a strong and functional Iraqi military, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s policies gave the fragile military he received from the Americans a final push into the abyss.


            The reason the truth is NECESSARY is so that this doesn’t happen AGAIN.
            On this very blog I see commenters arguing for a pre-emptive strike on NK.
            This happened in VietNam, in Iraq, in A-stan, and I can see it happening in NK, or Nigeria, or South Sudan.
            So yes, cassander IS stupid if he refuses to learn the history of the US Grand Misadventure in Iraq.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            bintchaos, if someone calls you stupid, does it make their argument more convincing to you?

            I strongly recommend trying to convince people– especially here– that they’re wrong on the facts, rather than telling them that they aren’t thinking well.

          • cassander says:

            Bush wrote the SOFA–

            Yes, and like all SOFAs, it had a time limit. It.was not intended that the US would just leave, at least according to the US ambassador to iraq, the iraqi ambassador to the US, and several other national security officials in office at the time, and the vice president himself, who called it a great achievement. Obama was not forced out of iraq, he chose to leave, and repeatedly bragged about that choice. the “well it was bush’s SOFA” meme only came about once things started going to hell.

            we HAD to leave, because 6 million Iraqis signed a petition for US to go home.

            Ah, yes, silly me, I forgot that iraqi petitions were legally binding on the US government.

            The tragic flaw of Bush’s dumbass democracy promotion doctrine…was that when muslims are DEMOCRATICALLY empowered to vote, they NEVER vote for secular democracy– they vote for Islam.
            They like Islam.

            This is true. It’s also completely irrelevant to what we’re discussing.

            sorry for the Unkindness but this is both NECESSARY and TRUE.
            Its appalling that cassander has no idea of the history surrounding the US withdrawal from Iraq.

            This is false. As discussed, you’re repeating talking points.

            “The arrival of ISIS in Mosul, on 10 June 2014, exposed the “

            Arrival in 2014. Where was isis before 2014? In Syria. Why did the Syrian regime tolerate their existence? because it was engaged in a civil war that the obama administration inflamed and had no choice. the Iraq war did not create ISIS in any meaningful sense, the Syrian civil war did. It was only that war which allowed a bunch of car bombers the physical and political space to literally build themselves into an actual army. To claim otherwise is simply gross ignorance.

            Now, you can be arrogant, or ignorant, but not both. You’ve repeatedly demonstrated your ignorance, stop being arrogant.

          • bintchaos says:

            @CASSANDER

            Yes, and like all SOFAs, it had a time limit. It.was not intended that the US would just leave, at least according to the US ambassador to iraq, the iraqi ambassador to the US, and several other national security officials in office at the time, and the vice president himself, who called it a great achievement. Obama was not forced out of iraq, he chose to leave, and repeatedly bragged about that choice. the “well it was bush’s SOFA” meme only came about once things started going to hell.


            False.

            The U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (official name: Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq) was a status of forces agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the United States, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008. It established that U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all U.S. combat forces will be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.[1] The pact required criminal charges for holding prisoners over 24 hours, and required a warrant for searches of homes and buildings that were not related to combat.[1] U.S. contractors working for U.S. forces would have been subject to Iraqi criminal law, while contractors working for the State Department and other U.S. agencies would retain their immunity. If U.S. forces committed still undecided “major premeditated felonies” while off-duty and off-base, they would have been subjected to an undecided procedures laid out by a joint U.S.-Iraq committee if the U.S. certified the forces were off-duty.[2][3][1][4]

            the Iraq war did not create ISIS in any meaningful sense, the Syrian civil war did.


            Also false.

            NARRATIVE SUMMARY
            The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) is a Salafi-Jihadist militant organization in Syria and Iraq whose goal is the establishment and expansion of a caliphate. The group has its origins in the early 2000s, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi began training extremist militants. The group was a major participant in the Iraqi insurgency during the American occupation, first under the name Jama’at al-Tawhid wa’al-Jihad and then, after swearing fealty to Al Qaeda, as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Facing backlash from the community and increased pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces, the group declined until 2011, when it began to grow through its involvement in the Syrian Civil War. In 2013, it changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Over the course of 2013 and 2014, ISIS quickly took over territory in Syria and Iraq. In addition to its rapid expansion, the group also drew attention for its public beheadings of Western captives and its large contingent of foreign fighters. On the ground, ISIS fought the Assad Regime and allied Shiite forces, Syrian opposition groups, the Iraqi military and militias, and the Kurdish peshmerga. The U.S. began airstrikes against the group in fall 2014.

          • cassander says:

            @bintchaos

            False.

            What part of “Yes, and like all SOFAs, it had a time limit” did you not understand? I know the SOFA expired. In fact, I SAID it expired. pointing out that it expired does not prove me wrong. You continue your habit of repeat talking points and buzz words without understanding.

            Also false.

            do you even read what you post?

            “Facing backlash from the community and increased pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces, the group declined until 2011, when it began to grow through its involvement in the Syrian Civil War. In 2013, it changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

            your own evidence explicitly supports my claim.

            Like I said, arrogant or ignorant. You only get one.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Cassander: I’m not knowledgeable enough to be able to interpret your metaphor of throwing gasoline on the Arab spring. Do you have links to a low level description of what you are referring to?

            In any case Syria is partly a consequence of Iraq – isn’t ISIS officer corps disproportionately former Iraqi nationalists?

            Incidentally, this question isn’t just a tribal spat: Trump claims to support an obama-esque, intervention-without-nation-building policy. If that really is worse than the Bush doctrine it’s relevant to how we should think about the current administration.

          • cassander says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I’m not knowledgeable enough to be able to interpret your metaphor of throwing gasoline on the Arab spring. Do you have links to a low level description of what you are referring to?

            the US encouraged the arab spring in pretty much every country it appeared. Most prominantly, we told the egyptian military we bankroll to get rid of Mubarak, armed “moderate” syrian rebels and encouraged our regional allies to do more, and bombed Gadaffi’s army into powder.

            In any case Syria is partly a consequence of Iraq – isn’t ISIS officer corps disproportionately former Iraqi nationalists?

            Partly in the same sense that it’s also partly a consequence of Sykes-Picot or the battle of manzikert. in 2010, isis was a few guys in syria that, IIRC, didn’t even have that name yet. What allowed them to become more than that, something anyone cared about, was the syrian civil war, something the obama administration deliberately and continually inflamed.

            Incidentally, this question isn’t just a tribal spat: Trump claims to support an obama-esque, intervention-without-nation-building policy. If that really is worse than the Bush doctrine it’s relevant to how we should think about the current administration.

            There is a probably apocryphal story about reagan that I like to tell because it makes a good point. When he was briefed on the invasion of Grenada, he listens to the generals tell him their plan, then at the end says “that’s good, do that, but send twice as many men.” The general is confused and asked why, and Reagan says “because we have them, and if you’d sent 12 helicopters instead of 6 to Iran, Carter would still be president.”

            The only thing worse than a war is a war you try to win on the cheap. The US’ biggest advantage over any other country is our massively greater resources, it is foolish not to use them. This is especially the case since, because the US has global interests, any conflict we get in will almost invariably be with people who care more about the outcome than we do. The US, as a matter of course, should over-invest in places it puts its military credibility on the line, because anything that’s not a decisive victory tends to end up looking like a loss.

            One of the few good things I said about trump during the campaign was that I thought that, for reasons of pure ego if nothing else, if he got into a war, he would get in it “bigly”. My faith that he’ll take that approach has diminished a little, but only a little. Syria is now an ongoing problem, not a new problem, which makes a major change in strategy very difficult. but Trump as at least avoided expansive rhetorical commitments, and what mattis has been saying has been focusing on getting rid of ISIS and shoring up iraq, which is encouraging.

            In sum, I agree with your question. If Trump keeps tossing in cruise missiles now and then but not actually doing anything that might be decisive, I’ll absolutely criticize that. It’s too early to tell if that’s going to be his M.O. though.

          • cassander says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog

            If you want a fuller explanation of the strategic calculus I’m describing, see my post here. Sorry, I don’t know how to link to specific comments, but search for “aggressive minimalism” and you’ll find it. It’s nominally about Hillary Clinton, but lays out the issues I discuss here in more detail.

            Edit: Thanks evan

          • Evan Þ says:

            (@cassander, BTW, the timestamp under your username is a link to that specific comment. It’s true on a lot of other blogs too, not just here.)

          • albatross11 says:

            cassander:

            The CNN article you linked didn’t at all say that the US had told the Egyptian military to get rid of Mubarrak. Instead, it said we’d suggested[1] that Mubarrak announce he wouldn’t run for re-election. And my impression (I tried to follow this stuff, but I could be mistaken here) was that at that point, it was pretty clear that Mubarrak wasn’t going to keep power.

            Do you think the US could have put the lid on the Arab Spring? We might have been able to encourage the Egyptian military to replace Mubarrak with someone else while also crushing the popular revolt, but that’s not 100% clear to me. The actual military coup happened later, after the Muslim Brotherhood had been elected to power and had begun to draw large-scale protests itself. (Which meant there was a split between the MB-supporters who had protested Mubarrak, and the more liberal protesters.)

            What do you think Obama should have done w.r.t. the Arab Spring? For example, should he have leaned hard on the Egyptian military to crush the protesters and keep Mubarrak in power?

            [Added]
            Once the Syrian civil war started up, what should we have done? It’s certainly not clear to me that the Syrian civil war would have fizzled out without US assistance to rebel groups. Is there good data somewhere on this? Assuming we couldn’t have prevented the civil war, we’d have had the rise of Isis inside Syria.

            We pulled out of Iraq after more than a decade of occupation. How much longer do you think we should have stayed? If ten years and however many gazillion dollars weren’t long enough to build up a stable country and army, why would another ten years and another gazillion dollars have left things any better?

            [1] It’s not clear how strong a suggestion this was.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11 says:

            The CNN article you linked didn’t at all say that the US had told the Egyptian military to get rid of Mubarrak. Instead, it said we’d suggested[1] that Mubarrak announce he wouldn’t run for re-election. And my impression (I tried to follow this stuff, but I could be mistaken here) was that at that point, it was pretty clear that Mubarrak wasn’t going to keep power.

            you’re confusing diplomatic niceties with what’s actually going on. I grant you, this particular article doesn’t phase it the best, but “the transition must begin immediately” is state department speak for “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The US absolutely pushed the rest of the military to get rid of mubarak, and he “graciously” resigned.

            Do you think the US could have put the lid on the Arab Spring? We might have been able to encourage the Egyptian military to replace Mubarrak with someone else while also crushing the popular revolt, but that’s not 100% clear to me. The actual military coup happened later, after the Muslim Brotherhood had been elected to power and had begun to draw large-scale protests itself. (Which meant there was a split between the MB-supporters who had protested Mubarrak, and the more liberal protesters.)

            Egypt is run by its military. The military deposed mubarak in response to American insistence, then it allowed Morsi to come to power, then it decided to get rid of Morsi when he proved to independent. It’s hard to call any of those things a coup because most of the real power has been held by the same group of people continuously.

            What do you think Obama should have done w.r.t. the Arab Spring? For example, should he have leaned hard on the Egyptian military to crush the protesters and keep Mubarrak in power?

            I don’t think it should have leaned on them one way or the other, particularly in public. In private, I would make it clear that the US was indifferent to who was the nominal head of state of egypt but that massacres of civilians would come with consequences.

            Once the Syrian civil war started up, what should we have done? It’s certainly not clear to me that the Syrian civil war would have fizzled out without US assistance to rebel groups.

            Let Assad win. Lament how terrible he is, but let him win. The reason you let him win is that there is no non-assad alternative that’s better for the US. Violent revolution almost never leads to democracy, so whomever runs Syria post-revolution is going to be a nasty dictator. That dictator will face the same wider geo-political incentives that Assad does, and will thus almost certainly continue to ally with Iran and Russia. There was no upside to getting rid of him, and the potential downside of, well, exactly what has happened.

            Is there good data somewhere on this? Assuming we couldn’t have prevented the civil war, we’d have had the rise of Isis inside Syria.

            If Assad wins the war quickly, ISIS never grows, and if it does, is crushed as part of that process. Instead we gave them billions of dollars in weapons and aid, and our allies gave more. Now, you can argue that syria would have fallen apart anyway, but no one can really say for sure. There is not good data.

            We pulled out of Iraq after more than a decade of occupation. How much longer do you think we should have stayed?

            Well, we pulled out of iraq officially at the end of 2011, so that was more like 7.5 years of occupation. We’re still in Germany and Japan. Would you have advised pulling out of either in June of 1952?

            If ten years and however many gazillion dollars weren’t long enough to build up a stable country and army, why would another ten years and another gazillion dollars have left things any better?

            We had built up a relatively stable country and army. It only got unstable after we left. Maliki started firing the non-crony generals and arresting rival ministers AFTER we left, not before, because before, we had a de facto veto over such actions.

            Three US brigades that spent their time training iraqi forces were enough to give us a lot of leverage over the iraqi security apparatus and keep american senior political leadership paying close attention to iraqi politics, and were not an expensive or onerous commitment.

          • bintchaos says:

            @CASSANDER

            Let Assad win. Lament how terrible he is, but let him win.


            yeah, sure.
            Never mind that Assad has killed 500,000 of his own citizens and and caused displacement of 14 million or so more.
            Isnt 500k enough for you? Or is it that it was muslims being killed instead of jews or christians?
            Stuff like this makes the Red Tribe pretty hard for me to empathize with.
            My CCW instructor said several times in class that more people had been killed in Chicago than in Iraq. I said, wait a minute, nearly a million people died in Iraq– he said, oh, I was just talking about Americans.

          • pontifex says:

            Yeah. I think the US has very little to do with the feud itself, but (potentially) everything to do with why it is boiling over right now.

            The Economist seems to agree, for what that’s worth.

            Personally I was hoping for more discussion about the feud itself, and less tedious rants about Trump. These countries are going to be at each other’s throats long after Trump is yesterday’s news.

          • Aapje says:

            @bintchaos

            1. Those deaths are due to the war. A dictator who is secure in power doesn’t kill that many people.
            2. We’ve seen what happens when the kind Islamists that are currently fighting Assad get to power and it’s a lot worse.

          • bintchaos says:

            @Aapje
            I think both of those statements are observably false.
            There is a lot of evidence that Assad is deliberately starving and decimating his Sunni population, much like Assad père killed 40,000 MB dissidents in the Hama massacre.
            And the greatest threat from ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa was always that they governed better and distributed civil welfare better than the extremely low bar set by corrupt and sectarian leaders and militaries.

            A dictator who is secure in power doesn’t kill that many people.


            ??
            This whole thing is happening because the Arab Spring caused Assad gov to destabilize and he’s trying to REMAIN in power.
            The big enduring headache Assad has caused for western civ is the Islamic diasphora. 6.5 million IDP and 3 million external refugees from the Syrian conflict by 2014.

            So what do you have to say about my CCW instructor’s comparison of Chicago and OIF?

          • rlms says:

            @bintchaos
            “There is a lot of evidence that Assad is deliberately starving and decimating his Sunni population, much like Assad père killed 40,000 MB dissidents in the Hama massacre.”
            Could you provide some of that evidence?

            “This whole thing is happening because the Arab Spring caused Assad gov to destabilize and he’s trying to REMAIN in power.
            The big enduring headache Assad has caused for western civ is the Islamic diasphora. 6.5 million IDP and 3 million external refugees from the Syrian conflict by 2014.”
            It takes two to have a civil war (or several in the case of Syria). If the US had backed Assad from the outset, there would have been a very short war, with far fewer deaths and refugees. Then Syria would’ve continued approximately the same way as before the Arab Spring. Obviously the Syrian government of ~2005 was pretty bad by Western standards; nevertheless, the situation was vastly better than the current one. The actual situation is a terrible n-way civil war. If Assad had stepped down, the situation would be a marginally less terrible (n-1)-way civil war. Of these cases, the first one (the US supports/doesn’t oppose Assad and he remains in power) is in hindsight the best (of a bad lot).

          • keranih says:

            @ bintchaos –

            There is a reason CNN reporting on dictators is not completely trusted.

            As for what your CCW instructor said – it’s a regrettable example of the sort of thing that humans do all the time: fail to count the downsides that don’t apply to themselves.

            It’s even easier to discount those downsides when people are ignorant of the very existence of people being harmed.

            One of the best things about the rationalist community, in my mind, is the on-going attempt to base decision-making on “total harm to all involved sides” by both action and inaction. I often don’t agree with specific arguments (both sign and weight), but IMO the overall intent is pretty much the only correct one.

            One of the best things about the SSC commentariant is that there is a vocal enough mix of sides to prevent the group as a whole from being ignant of harm done to “others”. In a more protected bubble, we would have to resort to listening to those ‘others’ breathing silently in the theater.

            And on edit, because you changed your post whilst I was typing (not a knock this time, it was a fast revision) – woops, that was not an edit, it was me getting ninja’d by two posts. My apologies for implying otherwise.

            He doesn’t care a whit about any lives other than American lives, and like Kevin he privileges Red Tribe lives.

            You might well be *astonished* how frequently people in Iraq (and the rest of the world) privilege the lives of their own tribe. To the point where nepotism is not the failure of ethics it is seen as in the West, but instead the idealized version of how proper humans are supposed to act.

            Also – I question your math on the 1 million casualties figure.

          • rlms says:

            @bintchaos
            Were you intending to respond to my comment? Do you disagree with anything I said? If so, what (please quote) and why?

            I’m not particularly interested in what your CCW instructor thinks about Iraqi casualties. Personally, I think the high numbers of civilians killed are horrific, and often use them as a factoid when people criticise Israel’s military actions by facetiously suggesting that based on casualty figures, the BDS movement should be focusing on the US and UK instead.

          • bintchaos says:

            @rmls
            No, I’m just going to delete what comments i can and shut up.
            I have an 800 page book to finish reading today.
            @keranih
            nevermind.

          • Orpheus says:

            @rlms
            Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t the USA founded on the principle that a people have a right to overthrow an opressive government?

          • bintchaos says:

            @rmls
            The more I hang out here, the more I’m convinced that Hoschild is wrong and Rich is right.

            So hold the empathy and hold on to the anger. If Trump delivers on his promises to the “poorly educated” despite all indications to the contrary, then good for them. Once again, all the Trump naysayers will be proved wrong. But if his administration crashes into an iceberg, leaving his base trapped in America’s steerage with no lifeboats, those who survive may at last be ready to burst out of their own bubble and listen to an alternative. Or not: Maybe, like Hochschild’s new friends in Louisiana’s oil country, they’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether. Either way, the best course for Democrats may be to respect their right to choose.


            I should just respect your right to choose.
            According to Sewell Wright we are undergoing speciation anyways.

          • rlms says:

            @Orpheus
            What the founders of the US thought has little bearing on anything.

            @bintchaos
            Is that in response to anything I said? FYI, I can’t choose anything; I’m not American.

          • bintchaos says:

            @RMLS
            No, it really doesn’t. It relates to the original reason I tried to become an SSC commenter– Hoschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land.
            I wanted to scale the “empathy wall” for the high IQ high SES cohort of the Red Tribe.
            I’m just saying that I’m giving up on that.
            It isn’t possible to change anyones mind anymore.
            I can’t muster empathy for the Red Tribe, because they are choosing extinction over adaptation.
            Its their choice.
            I have to respect that.

            EDIT:

            Personally, I think the high numbers of civilians killed are horrific, and often use them as a factoid when people criticise Israel’s military actions by facetiously suggesting that based on casualty figures, the BDS movement should be focusing on the US and UK instead.

            Can I assume you are anti-BDS from that comment? Israel is demographically unsustainable in its current environment. Israelis are also choosing extinction over adaptation. I have to respect that too. Just like you have to respect moral push-back on Israeli actions.

          • cassander says:

            @bint

            Just in this thread, you’ve made numerous false assertions, had numerous people tell you they’re false, and have been forced to retreat from them. You’ve repeatedly misrepresented the arguments others have made, and been called out on that. And rather than admit this, you’ve instead gone on some morally superior tirade about how everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot and you’re just trying to understand the monkeys so you can sympathize with them. Pro-tip, it’s not our minds that are refusing to change in the face of facts, get off your damned high horse.

          • bintchaos says:

            Whatever.
            I respect your decision.

          • I wanted to scale the “empathy wall” for the high IQ high SES cohort of the Red Tribe.

            Then you came to the wrong place, unless you were aiming at the small minority of commenters here who are members of the Red Tribe. A lot of people here, including Scott, are critical of aspects of left wing culture. Very few fit the Red Tribe pattern.

            You might learn things from arguing with me, although probably not, but all you could learn about the Red Tribe would be my views of it as an outsider.

          • Mark says:

            I’m definitely not a member of the red tribe, but I think I might be a red-brain.

            But if “red-brain” means something like “feels loyalty to be important and doesn’t particularly enjoy novel experience”, I’m not sure how much you can really predict about the political positions I will take.

            For example, I was saying pretty much exactly the same as:
            “The tragic flaw of Bush’s dumbass democracy promotion doctrine…was that when muslims are DEMOCRATICALLY empowered to vote, they NEVER vote for secular democracy– they vote for Islam.”
            15 years ago when the whole idea first turned up.

            As a red brain, I’m not fond of Bush, Blair, or Trump. My major political gripe at the moment is that I don’t like the attempted gas-lighting involving open borders. Yes, border controls are a possibility, no they aren’t completely insane.

            The most you can probably say is that the red brain reacts against blue brain openness when it may endanger those they love. That the educated are more open to ideas, and are therefore more likely to be infected with them.

            The fact that the current (or perhaps we’ve moved on now?) blue-brain obsession is “red brains are evil/irrelevant/stupid” worries me. It means that they’re even more likely to slip into dangerous territory than usual.

            I think you need a bit of a mixture in a community. You need the soldiers, the explorers, and the guy who says, “wait a sec, what the fuck are you doing.”
            That third guy is a red brain too.

          • Bintchaos wrote:

            I wanted to scale the “empathy wall” for the high IQ high SES cohort of the Red Tribe.

            I have just argued that this isn’t the place to do it.

            What is? If she, or anyone else, wants to observe and interact with a bunch of smart, educated, well off Red Tribe types, where, in particular where online, should she go?

            Nothing immediately occurs to me. The obvious candidates are, like this, places critical of Blue Tribe/left wing ideas, but I can’t think of any where, to take a simple measure, a majority of the participants would be Trump supporters.

          • Brad says:

            I’d say you’d want to find something that is: a) intellectually difficult and b) strongly associated with the red tribe (as opposed to associated with anti-left politics which forums seem to attract as many blue tribe dissidents as it does red tribe folks). Maybe some kind of gun theory forum or something like that.

          • cassander says:

            @Mark says:

            I find this interesting, because I’m sort of the opposite. I was born blue tribe, my ancestry is midwestern and east coast jewish. I was raised blue tribe, I grew up in Palo Alto, spent most of my life in blue tribe institutions, and attended impeccably blue tribe educational institutions. the only person in my life who didn’t go to college is my ne’er do well sister, and she tried a couple times. The only red tribers I know, and they are few, have similarly spent their lives in bluistan.

            My moral instincts are almost pure blue tribe, which is exactly why I can’t stand what they’ve become. I want what blue tribe wants, but I realize that their methods will never get them there, are actually making things worse (by their standards) not better.

            I like Bush and Blair, my criticism of their wilsonianism isn’t that it was wrong, it’s it was implemented poorly (much like Wilson’s was, actually). Had Iraq gotten to where it was in 2010 by 2006, it would have been a great victory. The world is a worse place for that failure.

            @DavidFriedman

            My first thought is to try the industries where red tribers are more likely. Go to industry conferences, or something, though I’d bet that the sales and BD types at such conferences are a lot less red tribe than the line workers, and the conferences aren’t online.

            Maybe the junior officers’ wives forums at various military bases? Enlisted if you want a broader SES swathe. Explicitly Christian, and preferably Protestant, charities?

          • bintchaos says:

            @Mark

            red brains are evil/irrelevant/stupid


            wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!
            Red brains are just non-adaptive to the current fitness landscape.
            Now this non-adaptive behavior gets interpreted as “stupid” by Rich when he presents the argument that

            “Maybe, like Hochschild’s new friends in Louisiana’s oil country, they’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether.”


            My sub-argument is it is “stupid” to try to interpret ME current events without accurate history and without excising the seemingly obligatory red brain filter system, yes, exactly.

            The most you can probably say is that the red brain reacts against blue brain openness when it may endanger those they love. That the educated are more open to ideas, and are therefore more likely to be infected with them.


            But the problem is the entire non-American population of the world gets devalued by this trait. That is what pre-emptive war is all about, what VietNam and the Mossadegh coup and Gulf I and OIF and OEF were all about– what drones and bombs and SOF forces in 70 countries in the world are all about. And its what “letting” Assad remain in power is all about.
            But I dont even think racism is evil— its instinct (Tomasello 2006). Institutionalized racism is probably evil. And the Red Tribe is not irrelevant. But it may be soon if it can’t adapt.
            I was raised in a red brain, red phenotype family, in a red brain, red phenotype world– the opposite of CASSANDER. In college I became a blue brain…or at least a blue phenotype. Did my brain biochemistry change? maybe…or maybe it was just my environment.

            Yes I’m sure I would be warmly welcomed at those alternative forums.
            Not.

            EDIT: maybe its not just the non-American population of the world that gets devalued…maybe its the non-Red Tribe population of the world.

          • Mark says:

            So, what’s the argument here? That there is some test of fitness that you can only pass if you, as an individual, possess a global humanitarian impulse?

            The only test I can think of where that would be the case, is a cultural one. In that, our culture *is* blue brain, so if you aren’t, you’re out.
            But, now the question is what is the test or tendency that leads to blue-brain friendly culture?
            And, if red-brain is characterised by dull obedience, is it going to be possible for there to be a culture that selects against them?
            It sounds as if you’re saying that the future will select against culture, against social cohesion and only blue-brains will thrive in the chaos.
            Maybe the red brains should just hide in a bunker somewhere and wait for the blues to transcend themselves out of existence.

          • bintchaos says:

            @ MARK
            You are close.
            The

            only test I can think of where that would be the case, is a cultural one. In that, our culture *is* blue brain, so if you aren’t, you’re out.


            So yes, the contemporary cultural fitness landscape.

            fitness landscape: In evolutionary biology, fitness landscapes or adaptive landscapes (types of Evolutionary landscapes) are used to visualize the relationship between genotypes and reproductive success. It is assumed that every genotype has a well-defined replication rate (often referred to as fitness). This fitness is the “height” of the landscape. Genotypes which are similar are said to be “close” to each other, while those that are very different are “far” from each other. The set of all possible genotypes, their degree of similarity, and their related fitness values is then called a fitness landscape. The
            The idea of studying evolution by visualizing the distribution of fitness values as a kind of landscape was first introduced by Sewall Wright in 1932.


            Now think of a cultural fitness landscape– memotypes instead of genotypes. The original proposal for “meme” was “culture gene”.(EO Wilson I think)
            In visualizing the relationship between memotypes and reproductive success, the Red Tribe/soldier/anti-globalist/etc has reduced reproduction rate (fitness) in a globalist, connected, educated, pop-cultured, coastal-centric environment.
            That is simply– not generating as many reps.
            EDIT:
            pardon, I should have said urban-centric instead of coastal centric.

          • cassander says:

            @bintchaos

            Again Bint, you demonstrate how you’re not listening.

            But the problem is the entire non-American population of the world gets devalued by this trait. That is what pre-emptive war is all about, what VietNam and the Mossadegh coup and Gulf I and OIF and OEF were all about– what drones and bombs and SOF forces in 70 countries in the world are all about.

            You just listed a half dozen conflicts that took place over more than 60 years, every single one of which was launched by different people, for different reasons. You’re basically attributing 60 years of not just US, but global history to “red brains are defective in the modern environment.” Arrogance is one thing, but a monocausal explanation of the entire world? That’s just gross sophmorism.

            And its what “letting” Assad remain in power is all about.

            I support letting assad stay in power precisely because of concern for Syrian lives. When the Syrian revolt first started, I put forth the following question as a discussion topic.

            “Assume that the US can find no reliable partner in Syria, and that anyone who will win the conflict is likely to be an enemy of the US. If that’s the case, should not the US seek to drag out the conflict as long as possible, because it’s better for us if no one is in charge of syria than someone we don’t like.”

            I got some interesting answers, but my answer was that even if you accept that realpolitik calculus, I could not endorse such a strategy, because the gains were too small to justify the suffering such a plan would inflict on the Syrian people.

            Unfortunately for me, the results of Obama administration policies have been precisely that, endless war, chaos, and syrian suffering. Had the US not armed the syrian rebels, Assad would have quickly crushed them. Tens of thousands would have died, and that’s bad. But it’s better than hundreds of thousands dying, which is the result of policies you are supporting. And that’s not a hypothetical here, that is the concrete history.

            If anyone is disregarding lives because of insufficient tribal regard for ‘furners, it’s you, who seems to prefer an ineffectual effort to replace a dictator that has gotten hundreds of thousands killed to “letting the dictator win”. So please, try turning that tribal lense on yourself and your own actions and learn to have some introspection.

          • bintchaos says:

            @MARK
            So now we come to the difference between adaptive and non-adaptive behavior. The population of America is transitioning from majority white to majority grouped minorities. White is projected to be 47% of US population by 2050.
            An adaptive behavior for the Red Tribe could be recruiting hispanics– Bush and Romney both proposed this. But Trump and his wall are a fierce rejection of that idea, and he is truly the avatar of the base– they love him.
            A different adaptive behavior would be the Red Tribe increasing TRF. But Kevin C’s approach of scolding and yelling and trying to bully people into having more children is unlikely to work.
            A way to incentivize larger families would be larger taxcredits, free college, larger parental leaves with pay, free childcare, free reproductive healthcare, etc. But all those strategies are contra the advertised small government– no freeloaders– personal responsibility– austerity policies of the GOP.
            So yeah– I don’t see any adaptive behavior occurring.
            As I see it its a choice between adaptive behavior or extinction.

          • bintchaos says:

            @CASSANDER
            Ugh.
            And if Obama had implemented his red line, Assad would have been toppled by “pinpoint strikes” at the start of the conflict. Assad will fall eventually– he cant kill/displace all the Sunnis in Syria. Alawhite (a Shia sect) are a tiny minority, and even smaller now that many Alawhite officers have been killed in the fighting. UN speculates as many as 1/3 males of fighting age. Keeping Assad has ensured unending unrest and a ceaseless flow of refugees.
            You seem to think Chaos is a bad thing…I love Chaos like the War-Nerd loves War.
            Chaos is how we get Self-Organizing Criticality and emergence of new complex forms.
            This thread is too long.

          • albatross11 says:

            David Friedman:

            Steve Sailer’s blog is probably majority Trump voters and tends to be fairly bright people, often with extremely uncommon worldviews. West Hunter’s comment threads have a similar vibe, but with Greg Cochran willing to tell people they’re idiots when they’re saying factually wrong things.

          • cassander says:

            @bintchaos says:

            An adaptive behavior for the Red Tribe could be recruiting hispanics– Bush and Romney both proposed this. But Trump and his wall are a fierce rejection of that idea, and he is truly the avatar of the base– they love him.

            Given how long you’ve been here, if by now you can’t understand that there’s a difference between the GOP and red tribe, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

            And if Obama had implemented his red line, Assad would have been toppled by “pinpoint strikes” at the start of the conflict.

            First, obama made his red line comment about a year into the conflict, and failed to follow up on it almost a year after that, so your timing is completely off.

            Two, you are attributing downright magical powers to the US military, it’s ability to find and kill assad, and its ability to find and kill anyone who might have taken Assad’s place. You’re also completely denying the agency of any other actors in the conflict, most importantly the Russians.

            Three, even if the US military could do that, killing Assad solves NOTHING. it still leaves you with an ongoing multi-sided civil war. I’d have thought you might have learned that from watching the exact same thing happen in Libya, but that might have been expecting too much. Are you even aware of what happened there? because you’re advocating literally the same foolish strategy used there. Your analysis is, quite literally, “kill the baddy and democracy will break out” something you have repeatedly mocked others for believing.

            Assad will fall eventually– he cant kill/displace all the Sunnis in Syria. Alawhite (a Shia sect) are a tiny minority, and even smaller now that many Alawhite officers have been killed in the fighting. UN speculates as many as 1/3 males of fighting age. Keeping Assad has ensured unending unrest and a ceaseless flow of refugees.

            No, the WAR has caused those refugees. A war you are actively cheerleading. Assad is a party to that war, but he is far from the only one, and your focus on him is myopic. The multiple warring tribes in syria are not going to come together and sing kumbaya once assad dies, but that hope seems to be pretty much your entire plan.

            You seem to think Chaos is a bad thing…I love Chaos like the War-Nerd loves War.

            It’s only a bad thing if you have a problem with dead Syrians. I do. You don’t seem to. But nice of you to flat out admit my point about it being people like you who are disregarding the lives of non-Americans, not red tribe. A wiser woman might learn from that.

          • bintchaos says:

            @CASSANDER

            “kill the baddy and democracy will break out”


            lol, democracy will never break out in MENA majority muslim countries.
            Theres no substrate to support it.
            An islamic government could certainly emerge, or a pluralist government, or something entirely new– but not judeo-xian “secular” democracy.
            And Chaos doesn’t cause dead humans– war causes dead humans.
            Chaos causes dis-equilibriation of periodic equilibrium systems.
            And emergence.

            This thread is too long…end of discussion.
            EDIT:

            if by now you can’t understand that there’s a difference between the GOP and red tribe,


            I dont see any difference.
            At the time of the red line statement, the Russians had not yet gotten involved, and I said nothing about assassinating Assad. I said he would have been toppled by US strikes. That was the cw at the time.
            And why would you report that comment? Its both necessary and true.
            Last thing…I respect your choice for extinction over adaption.
            Its for the best.

          • cassander says:

            @bint

            Chaos causes dis-equilibriation of periodic equilibrium systems.

            Sophistry, but if you prefer, the equilibrium before the chaos spread by your policies was no civil war, no mass death. The new equilibrium is yes to both of them. Good work!

            I don’t see any difference.

            Then you aren’t paying attention.

            >At the time of the red line statement, the Russians had not yet gotten involved,

            Once again, you demonstrate you have no idea what you’re talking about. Russia was never not involved in syria, but by the time of the redline remark (just the mark mind, you, not the failure to follow up a year later), they’d explicitly and repeatedly backed not just the regime, but the person of Assad. They’d even sent troops So please, stop acting like you know anything about Syria, because you clearly don’t.

            and I said nothing about assassinating Assad. I said he would have been toppled by US strikes

            And how’d that work out in libya?

            Last thing…I respect your choice for extinction over adaption.

            I don’t respect your embrace of comforting ignorance over uncomfortable learning. But you’ve made it clear you have no desire to change.

          • albatross11 says:

            As an aside, I think understanding the Syrian civil war requires thinking in terms of the religious/ethnic minorities involved, and how they are likely to fare under a post-Assad government. My impression (I’m very far from being an expert here) is that Assad’s people, the Alawites, would probably not do very well under any likely alternative to Assad[1]. (Assuming the alternative to Assad wasn’t himself an Alawite.)

            If Assad and his faction are looking at genocide or ethnic cleansing for their people in the event they lose the civil war, that’s a pretty strong motive for being unwilling to accept a settlement short of victory. (And similarly, for selling their souls to the Russians and Iranians in exchange for help staying in power, use of nerve gas, etc.) That’s true even if we somehow could offer Assad and his immediate family a comfortable exile in Switzerland or something.

            Does anyone have better information on this?

            [1] I gather Syrian Christians would probably also do pretty badly.

          • pontifex says:

            @bintchaos

            You have this weird idée fixe about how red tribe is “headed for extinction.” But you yourself admit that red tribe is not a specific set of people, it is a way of thinking. It will never go away– any more than envy or pride will go away!– unless the nature of humanity itself changes.

            You also have this fascination with Islam, which you describe in glowing terms as an “evolutionarily stable solution.” (I actually do know what an ESS is, and I think you are misusing the term here, but that’s another rant.) But the current Islamist revival is the ultimate red-brain cultural conservatism. Islamists see themselves as defending the unchanging verities of an 800-year old book against decadent progressive ideas. It’s not really that different from how evangelical Christians see themselves fighting against progressives in the US. Of course framing it that way obscures a lot of other interesting cultural differences, but it’s still a fundamentally true way of looking at it.

            If we assume that red-brain and blue-brain are heritable traits, we should expect red-brain to win. More red-brain women will stay in the kitchen and pump out babies. Blue-brain people are richer, and that is correlated with having fewer children. Personally I haven’t seen any strong evidence that red-brain or blue-brain are heritable. But if you’re going to keep talking about “extinction” over and over again, it bears repeating that blue-brain is correlated with lower fertility and less evolutionary success.

            Oh, and one last thing. If the US does become majority hispanic in the next century, I expect a lot more religion. Especially Roman Catholicism. And that will lead to more conservative social policy. Remember how Proposition 8 banning gay marriage passed in California? It passed because Barack Obama was on the ballot, and that got a lot of blacks to vote. And– surprise!– their culture is red-brain. Kevin C may be extreme, but he is not the only one to suspect that progressives are kind of like the scorpion in the story of the scorpion and the frog.

          • bintchaos says:

            Pardon, I didn’t make myself clear.
            I meant electoral extinction– aka the liberal supermajority.
            I refer to the hyperdimensional fitness landscape of culturegenes interacting with reproductive rate, and please dont forget conversion is another way of generating reps.

          • albatross11 says:

            In terms of reproduction, the blue tribe[1] loses to the red tribe. To the extent that blue tribe/red tribe is heritable, we should expect that red tribe will win simply because people who stick with the red tribe tend to have more kids. To the extent a subset of red tribe culture manages to evolve to effectively transmit itself to its kids (including its high-achieving kids), that subset will have even more success.

            The blue tribe advantage is in specific areas of society, like academics, entertainment, and the computer/internet technology industry[2]. (By contrast, most business, medicine/dentistry, and the military are mostly red tribe.) The process here is that high-functioning red-tribe kids go to a top university, go into a blue-tribe-dominated chunk of the world, and end up blue tribe. You can imagine this ending up long-term with most of the smartest and most influential people on the blue tribe side. You can make a pretty good argument that the increasing education/IQ meritocracy plus the increasing centralization of power in US society might lead to this outcome.

            One complicating factor (pretty much the subject of Murray’s _Coming Apart_) in this story is that people at the top, red or blue tribe, tend to live by pretty conservative social values. They don’t watch a lot of NASCAR or spend a lot of time at Wal-Mart, but they almost always get married before having kids, have a really good work ethic, make their kids do their homework, attend church, are involved in the community, etc. So you have this weird thing where upper/middle class blue tribe families actually live by red tribe values better than lower/working class red tribe families. And people tend to grow more conservative[3] as they leave school and buy homes and have kids.

            [1] I am not convinced that blue tribe and red tribe, as used in this conversation, is a much better model of the world than the PUA/redpill terms alpha and beta.

            [2] Though there is a lot of gray tribe there, much of it being currently beaten on by blue tribers winning the local status games. I am not at all convinced this is a stable situation, but who knows?

            [3] Though this is also mixed–many a committed red-triber has found himself quite comfortable with environmentalist NIMBYism that preserves his property values, just as many a committed blue-triber has found himself comfortable with efforts to block subsidized housing in his community or bussing into his kids’ school.

          • bintchaos says:

            In terms of reproduction, the blue tribe[1] loses to the red tribe.


            Just not true.
            Conversion and migration are also reproduction.

            And people tend to grow more conservative[3] as they leave school and buy homes and have kids.


            citation needed.
            Look…everting has changed since the Cambrian Explosion of Internet connectivity.
            And its not going to stop.

            [2] Though there is a lot of gray tribe there, much of it being currently beaten on by blue tribers winning the local status games. I am not at all convinced this is a stable situation, but who knows?


            There is no grey tribe.
            Human nature is fractal, not continuous.

          • @albatross11:

            One point about the Alawite situation that I think most people miss is that they are not merely one more Shia sect. They have decided to call themselves Shia for what are pretty clearly political reasons, to get support from Iran. But their actual views appear to be sufficiently heterodox so that it isn’t clear they are Muslims at all, let alone Shia Muslims–the nearest Christian equivalent I can think of would be the Mormons. Or, if you prefer, they are about as close to being Muslims as Muslims are to being Christians.

          • Islamists see themselves as defending the unchanging verities of an 800-year old book

            ???

            Mohammed died in 632 A.D. The Koran is almost fourteen hundred years old–a little less if you believe that the compilers modified it a little after his death.

            Of course, many Muslims believe it is very much older than that.

          • bintchaos says:

            Sunnis believe Quran is outside time and space.
            That may be true because of information theory and linguistics.
            😉

        • pontifex says:

          Actually I’d like to see a steelman of the anti-Qatar side.

          I think a steelman would be something like this:

          Qatar hosts Al-Jazeera, which has promoted political instability in the region in a bunch of ways. During the Arab Spring it supported the Brotherhood and other Islamists against the Arab governments in the region. A lot of governments fell, and a lot of other governments wobbled. Lately they published emails hacked from the account of the UAE’s ambassador in Washington.

          Qatar is closed to Iran, which Saudia Arabia hates. In particular, Qatar jointly operates a huge offshore oilfield with Iran. If you believe that Iran is bad, then this is bad. (We could get into why, but first you’d have to get into the whole Shia vs. Sunni thing…)

          People believe that Qatar financially supports terrorism. At least Donald Trump claims to believe this. It’s… uh… complicated. Certainly Saudia Arabia are no saints either…

        • skef says:

          I’m not particularly interested in what your CCW instructor thinks about Iraqi casualties. Personally, I think the high numbers of civilians killed are horrific, and often use them as a factoid when people criticise Israel’s military actions by facetiously suggesting that based on casualty figures, the BDS movement should be focusing on the US and UK instead.

          “The principle of double effect™: Ask your local priest!”*

          * oil revenues may vary

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      My assumption is that the ultimatums are a run-up to a war, but I may be over-influenced by Iraq invading Kuwait.

      Maybe the odds favor sanctions dragging on indefinitely, since boring things are more likely than exciting things.

      I can’t find it, but the BBC did a rather efficient half-hour portraying Qatar as a small, wealthy, vulnerable country which has been using soft power to be a regional player.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if the countries harassing Qatar are at least partly doing it to mollify the US. “Look, we’re doing something about terrorism!”

      A major reason I think the blockading countries are being disingenuous about their goals is the suddenness of the blockade. This isn’t normal diplomacy, and so far as I know, there’s nothing urgent about stopping Qatar’s behavior.

      • bintchaos says:

        Heres the timeline
        You can see my other two links about the military and state reactions.
        Also this.

        Riyadh and Abu Dhabi clearly feel that they have sufficient leverage in Washington to go on the offensive against Qatar. They may be doing so in the hope that the Trump administration, not known for its nuanced foreign policy thinking, picks a side in the fight. Their end goal remains unclear, but there is muttering in the region that the best-case scenario for the Saudi-Emirati axis is regime change, with a more agreeable (and perhaps malleable) member of the ruling family brought in.

        That isnt going to be Prince Reckless.
        If the Saud regime begins to undergo destabilization I could see Prince Reckless having to go full Ottoman to hang on to power.
        And that is a trouble you have not known.

      • bintchaos says:

        Qatar is kind of the nexus of the anti-wahhabists– journalists and dissidents exiled from KSA, the MB, shia activists protesting their treatment in eastern KSA, Bahrain, Yemen.
        One KSA demand was that al-Jazeerha stop calling the Sisi coup a coup.
        Y’all are freaked about ISIS plan for global domination…KSA is executing on its plan right now– that all muslims be wahhabis.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’m curious about theories about the availability of jobs.

    It seems to me that jobs require enough capital (tools, knowledge, reputation) for the job-holder to make enough to be self-supporting, and ideally, to live reasonably well. (Vague, I know.)

    It seems to me that education usually isn’t the bottleneck– you can have people with a lot of education (even good education) without jobs for them. What’s needed is something like the right kind of social web.

    The other half is for the job-holder to have enough status to get paid reasonably well.

    What conditions make good jobs more likely?

    • andrewflicker says:

      “What conditions make good jobs more likely?”

      High labor demand / low supply – means employees have better BATNA positions, and can more easily capture their marginal value.

      Perceived high economic growth / industry growth – makes employers hire faster / pay better than raw market conditions demand, because they think they’re setting themselves up for future success.

      Strong competition between firms – drives down profit margins and means employers will pay more attention to the “inputs” that they can micromanage for success (which includes employees). This one is more mixed, since some firms will try to micromanage by reducing labor costs, but I think in general this is usually positive for the labor market.

      Cultural norms of reciprocity and “sharing” – Firms will be more egalitarian, with a higher number of “good” jobs and a lower number of “exceptional” jobs. Firms that don’t play along get shamed or lose good employees due to “bad culture”.

      I imagine you could go on in this vein for some time.

  14. multiheaded says:

    Corbyn will never run

    Corbyn will never get elected by the Labour members

    Corbyn will never find any frontbenchers

    Corbyn will never hold on to power

    Haha, Corbyn

    Corbyn will never win re-election

    Corbyn will never win re-election with an increased majority

    Corbyn will never bring the party out of debt

    Corbyn will never sing the national anthem

    Bahaha

    Corbyn will never come back from 25%

    Corbyn will never prevent the LibDems from becoming the new opposition

    Corbyn will never support Article 50

    Corbyn will never support a GE in 2017

    Ahah.. ha..

    Corbyn will never support Trident

    Corbyn will never support hard Brexit

    Corbyn will never pledge to abolish tuition fees

    Corbyn will never fully cost his manifesto

    C-Corbyn?

    Corbyn will never breach 30%

    Corbyn will never win over the working class

    Corbyn will never win over Liberals

    Corbyn will never win over Conservatives

    CORBYN NO

    Corbyn will never win over lost UKIP voters

    Corbyn will never bring his party ahead in approval ratings

    Corbyn will never gain after Manchester

    Corbyn will never rally the North

    Corbyn will never close the gap to 5%

    Corbyn will never breach 40%

    Corbyn will never destroy the Tory majority

    You are now here

    Corbyn will never form a progressive alliance

    Corbyn will never be PM

    AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH

    Corbyn will never reverse tax and spending cuts

    Corbyn will never establish a National Education Service

    Corbyn will never renationalise the rails without compensation

    Corbyn will never federalise the UK

    Corbyn will never provide free heating and solve the ageing population by setting all the old people on fire

    Corbyn will never get a good Brexit deal

    Corbyn will never dismantle the EU

    Corbyn will never cement the channel tunnel

    Corbyn will never abolish the monarchy

    Corbyn will never declare himself Chairman head of state

    Corbyn will never send the SNP to the gulags

    Corbyn will never send Dianne Abbott to the glue factory fuck off /leftypol/ she is secretly ok I think

    Corbyn will never blast mummy May out of a howitzer

    Corbyn will never detach the UK from the sea bed and turn this island into a giant battleship

    Corbyn will never use said battleship to spread the revolution to other countries

    Corbyn will never “nationalise” Europe

    Corbyn will never “nationalise” Russia in the winter

    Corbyn will never “nationalise” the USA and China

    Corbyn will never “nationalise” outer space

    Corbyn will never make anime real

    • bean says:

      Corbyn will never detach the UK from the sea bed and turn this island into a giant battleship

      Obviously not. The UK doesn’t have the heavy gun or armor production facilities any more to make this possible.

  15. bintchaos says:

    Also…is Kevin C possessed by the daemon spirit of Eeyore?
    He certainly seems fond of thistles.

  16. bintchaos says:

    @Charles F

    so maybe we should pause the process of making those tools bigger and bigger and focus on the people using them for a while?


    I guess I didn’t make that part clear.
    That’s not an option.

    Related: How does one slay a basilisk?
    Hard to do (without dying) according to Bullfinches.

    “What though the Moor the basilisk hath slain,
    And pinned him lifeless to the sandy plain.
    Up through the spear the subtle venom flies,
    The hand imbibes it, and the victor dies.”


    Subtle venom…thats good. I will try to remember that.

    • Charles F says:

      Related: How does one slay a basilisk?
      Hard to do (without dying) according to Bullfinches.

      Appropriately, we need a wake up call. All these roosters generated by big data and crowd sourcing have to go. The work may seem petrifying at first, but if we plan carefully and don’t cock it up it will be done in a trice.

      • bintchaos says:

        Social algorithms grew out of the business world, not academe.
        There are already commercial programs like Cynefin and Endor out there evolving in the wild amoral frontiers of the businessland. The original algos were designed to sell you stuff, based on your mined data.
        So while I loved your punning, good luck with that.

        Just imagine what governments could do to control their citizens with social algorithms…

        Mal on how the Alliance created the Reavers–

        Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better.

        • Charles F says:

          [Reposting a comment that got ‘et. Slightly more ominous (in multiple directions) in light of your added quote.]

          Just to clarify. In my original (deleted) comment, I was saying that a la “Raising the Sanity Waterline,” the questions that seem most interesting and relevant to this community are about the people using the social networks. Not so much about interesting ways to distort the network and make things better on the margins by hiding bad posts on fb.

          I agree that pausing the business world is a fantasy. But if we could make people saner faster than social networks’ algorithms are getting better, that would be a pretty cool achievement.

          • bintchaos says:

            That what the Math Babe wants to do– I recommend her book– and she has a column at Bloomberg.
            My secret plan is to find ways to educate and/or train people, and spread tolerance and encourage diversity (diversity in the Dr. Pentland sense, not the affirmative action sense) and innovation.
            Also analysis of evolution of social structures and cultural transmission and…
            the Holy Grail– prediction.

          • Charles F says:

            Sounds pretty great. I hope it works.

      • smocc says:

        Holy moly, man, I didn’t even know ‘trice’ was a word.

  17. rlms says:

    Are there any studies on the extent to which legacy admissions for elite colleges (which benefit white students as elite college alumni are disproportionately white) counteract affirmative action? The Wikipedia page for legacy preferences has one, but it only covers three colleges, doesn’t analyse race of legacies, and presents the results on the scale of the SAT which I don’t think is especially helpful.

    • gbdub says:

      Unless the legacies are really, really, disproportionately white compared to the current applicant pool, wouldn’t legacy admits mostly displace other white students?

      • rlms says:

        According to the Wikipedia page, they are 97.5% white (at Princeton), so I think they can basically be treated as a group of advantaged white students.

        • gbdub says:

          Right, but even if they were 100% white, if the rest of the student body is still 90% white, it takes 10 legacy admits to “displace” one nonwhite student, assuming the displaced students are selected randomly.

          In practice affirmative action exists, so they are likely massaging the criteria such that legacy admits mostly displace white students anyway.

      • Brad says:

        Kids matriculating in September were born in 1998. Their legacy parents mostly graduated in the 80s and early to mid 90s. They in turn was mostly born in the mid to late 60s and 70s.

        Affirmative action was already in place so we should expect some African-Americans but because of democratic shifts since then much lower Asian and Latino percentages in the legacy pool than the current applicant pool.

        • gbdub says:

          So legacy admissions, like other affirmative action, comes down hardest on Asians.

          • Brad says:

            I’d think it would hit Latinos the hardest. In 1998:

            Among students enrolled in college, 70.8 percent were non-Hispanic White, 12.6 percent were non-Hispanic Black, 6.5 percent were non-Hispanic Asian, and Pacific Islander, and 8.8 percent were Hispanic.

            [1]

            Whereas current k-12 demographics:

            Of the projected 50.4 million public school students entering prekindergarten through grade 12 in fall 2016, White students will account for 24.6 million (48.8%). The remaining 25.9 million will be composed of 7.8 million Black students (15.5%), 13.3 million Hispanic students (26.4%) , 2.7 million Asian/Pacific Islander students (5.4%), 0.5 million American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 1.5 million students of Two or more races.

            [2] (percentages added)

            It looks like Asians are actually slightly over-represented while Latinos are underrepresented by a factor of 3.

            [1] https://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p23-205.pdf
            [2] https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372

          • gbdub says:

            In terms of disproportionate relative to the general population maybe, but I believe studies have shown Asian applicants face the longest odds for getting in, at a given level of objective academic performance measured by e.g. SAT scores (that they are still “over represented” in spite of this is of course interesting). That’s what I was referring to.

            But I was also being imprecise by lumping both together. For the particular effect you mention (demographic shift relative to legacy alumni), yes, that’s clearly biggest for Latinos.

  18. bintchaos says:

    I cited Kate Starbird’s work in the Clive Thompson Wired article on social media.

    Consider [redacted], an area where, as scholars have shown, algorithmic analysis could help identify crap. Software created by Kate Starbird, a professor of design and engineering, was able to distinguish with 88 percent accuracy whether a tweet was spreading a rumor or correcting it when analyzing chatter about a 2014 hostage crisis in Sydney. And Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics at Indiana University, has found that Twitter accounts posting political fakery have a heat signature: They tweet relentlessly and rarely reply to others.


    Here is another article by Starbird that I found very fascinating.
    Abstract–

    This research explores the alternative media ecosystem through a Twitter lens. Over a ten-month period, we collected tweets related to alternative narratives—e.g. conspiracy theories—of mass shooting events. We utilized tweeted URLs to generate a domain network, connecting domains shared by the same user, then conducted qualitative analysis to understand the nature of different domains and how they connect to each other. Our findings demonstrate how alter- native news sites propagate and shape alternative narratives, while mainstream media deny them. We explain how political leanings of alternative news sites do not align well with a U.S. left-right spectrum, but instead feature an anti- globalist (vs. globalist) orientation where U.S. Alt-Right sites look similar to U.S. Alt-Left sites. Our findings describe a subsection of the emerging alternative media eco-system and provide insight in how websites that promote conspiracy theories and pseudo-science may function to conduct underlying political agendas.


    I’m interested what SSC commenters think of Starbird’s work and the emergence of alternative media ecologies.
    Especially since (as I pointed out) social algorithms developed by social physics researchers now have the capability to alter behavior of social networks and individuals on social media.

    • bintchaos says:

      well…
      I thought Starbird’s description of alt-left as globalists and alt-rite as anti-globalists was an interesting mapping of Blue Tribe/ Red Tribe characteristics.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        In which case you may be interested in this from our host, largely about global culture vs local culture.

  19. bintchaos says:

    @James Miller
    ??? Dr. Hsu was the reference that i cited/quoted.
    can’t you read the link?
    Or is it that you didn’t check the link because I cited it?

    • James Miller says:

      Yes, I didn’t check until after I posted and then it occurred to me that the “Internet is small” and you might be using the same source as I had and I saw and deleted my post shortly before you posted this.

      • bintchaos says:

        Dr. Hsu has been writing about this since February.
        Bean should post a correction over there.

        • bean says:

          I plan to write a fairly comprehensive takedown of the whole DF-21/”the carriers are doomed” thing, because it’s pretty widespread. But that’s going to take a couple of weeks.

  20. James Miller says:

    Confirmation Bias in Action. I recently received an email which reads in part:

    The Massachusetts legislature is now considering raising the state’s minimum wage from its current level of $11 per hour to $15 per hour by 2021, in four annual increases of $1.00. We, along with a few other colleagues, have prepared a letter to be signed by economists working in Massachusetts giving support to this legislation….We hope you will add your signature to this letter…You will probably note that the attached letter makes no mention of the two studies that have recently come out regarding the employment impact of the minimum wage increase in Seattle, one from researchers at the University of Washington and one from researchers at UC Berkeley. The two studies offer very different results regarding the impact of the wage increase on employment…We decided not to include a consideration of these studies in the letter because, first, we think it is too early to draw strong conclusions from the Seattle experience, and, second, because to discuss seriously the differences between the two studies would require a much longer letter. We are, however, persuaded by the Economic Policy Institute’s critique of the University of Washington study that it has serious problems.

    Here is Megan McArdle on Seattle’s minimum wage increase and the two studies.

    • J Mann says:

      Here’s Bryan Caplan’s take.

      I have to admit that I’m predisposed to be convinced, but I’m mostly convinced by Caplan’s a priori argument, which he quotes at the bottom of his post.

      As he points out, the curve for employer demand for low wage workers is assumed to be close to horizontal when judging the effects of immigration, but close to vertical when judging the effects of wage floors.

      It’s pretty astonishing to think both – I can sort of think of a story to explain it, but it hurts my head a little.

  21. baconbacon says:

    Have we had a discussion about the minimum wage studies in Seattle?

  22. The Red Foliot says:

    [cont. from OT 78.75]

    Re: writing advice, Poul Anderson’s essay, and so forth.

    @Kevin C.

    My point wasn’t so much that you should create an adventure serial of your own; rather, the section quoted was for demonstrating aspects of my analysis, showing off the kind of things I might look for if I were wanting to write in the adventure serial tradition. If adventure serials aren’t your thing, you could analyze a different tradition in the same way. That is, making lists of what vital things stories in that tradition have in common, then inferencing some generalized rules on what you would need for your own story to work. You could do the same sort of analysis for ASOFAI, which takes itself far more seriously and would better suit Poul Anderson’s supposed taste (indeed, I did provide a little bit of analysis of it, when I used Jaime’s dismemberment to illustrate my ideas about characterization and character growth).

    But Poul Anderson doesn’t actually use much logical argumentum to support either the idea that fantasy always benefits from historical accuracy or that adventure serials are necessarily bad (the parody at the start of his essay is bad, but it’s bad for more reasons than historical inaccuracy…).

    Obviously, there are stories that require a reasonably high level of historical accuracy, but there are others, like the two series of stories I listed in the quote you bash me for (Conan and Elrik) which have very little of it. And even in the most ‘realistic’ fantasy works like Lyonesse and ASOFAI, you find a variety of anachronisms like knights jousting in the 6th century and expensive castles being maintained in functional condition for hundreds of years regardless of whether the social conditions would actually incentivise such maintenance.

    So the fact that there are successful fantasy stories with astoundingly little in the way of historical accuracy, and others with only a bit, doesn’t really sell his point that historical accuracy is hugely important. Not that he even really argues the point.

    I do think that fantasy benefits a lot by being inspired by history. History and myth are the two main inspirations behind most fantasy. But that’s different from what the essay says, or what you deride me for.

    So overall, neither of your points are sustained. I wasn’t saying you ought to create adventure serials; but even if I was, Poul’s essay doesn’t actually provide any reasons for why that genre is bad.

    • Kevin C. says:

      My point wasn’t so much that you should create an adventure serial of your own; rather, the section quoted was for demonstrating aspects of my analysis, showing off the kind of things I might look for if I were wanting to write in the adventure serial tradition. If adventure serials aren’t your thing, you could analyze a different tradition in the same way. That is, making lists of what vital things stories in that tradition have in common, then inferencing some generalized rules on what you would need for your own story to work.

      And I’m saying your “analysis” looks like nothing more than finding a “tradition’s” most widespread clichés and paint-by-numbers-style replicating them. It’s taking a genre — adventure serials, high-fantasy-masquerading-as-low-fantasy, space opera, whatever — and identifying the most used (overused?) tropes, character archetypes, and so on, and replicating them because it’s What’s Done. It’s saying: Genre A usually contains elements X, Y, Z, and I’m writing an A story, so it must contain X, Y, Z. Do you get what I mean by “paint-by-numbers”?

      And I have no reason that this “method” of yours is at all actually effective. Because, as you admit, it, and all your practice with it, has yet to turn you into a publishable author; why should I belive that it ever will turn you (or me) into one? How do I know that all your “practice” isn’t just you spinning your wheels and going nowhere?

      Plus, when you say that Anderson is wrong, well, why should I believe you over him? He’s the famous author, and you’re a random internet nobody.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        Adventure serials are actually a very special case because they really are a highly formulaic genre. Lester Dent, Frank Gruber and various other successful pulpsters are on the record for having used ‘paint-by-the-numbers’ approaches in their fiction. It can easily be verified through a quick google search. If you look at, say, the character Geralt of Rivia, you can certainly see the similarities between him and other famous pulp characters, most notably Drizzt D’Urdan and Elric of Melnibone. You would be hard pressed to find a pulp hero who isn’t formulaic or highly derivative. So, hypothetically, if you were looking to create a pulp action hero of your own, you would do well to look at what all of these successful characters have in common. It is, to some extent, what each of their creators did, some more than others. It is what you need to do to be successful. Think about things, analyze them. Don’t just say: “it’s all a matter of intuition so if I’m not immediately talented at it I’m just going to give up!”

        But this has no bearing on what I originally talked about. You accuse me of giving you faulty advice for how to create a pulp action hero. Not so. I was only giving you an example of how I, personally, might analyze a genre, as that is what you were asking for. It wasn’t meant to be an end-all method you could copy down and instantly begin turning out short stories with. It was meant to be instructive for how you might spend time practicing your own analysis–if you were so inclined (which I don’t believe you were).

        How far my methods get me is a matter for time to tell. It is more difficult to become published in the modern age, as there’s no longer much of a pulp market for beginners to get their training in. When I look at my own work, however, I see much progress. And when I look at the work of writers such as Jack Vance, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Moorcock, I see they, too, had to progress to become good. Their early work was rather shabby. The obvious deduction: good writing often requires practice.

        The reason you shouldn’t trust Anderson, by the way, is because he provides no evidence or argument to support his idea, and the idea is so vague as to be useless, anyway.

        • Nornagest says:

          similarities between him and other famous pulp characters, most notably Drizzt D’Urdan and Elric of Melnibone

          I’ll give you Elric, although it’s a pretty loose correspondence, but Drizzt? Aside from “white hair, two swords, good at using them”, I’m drawing a blank.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            Elric and Geralt are both morally conflicted anti-heroes loathed by their own people wielding both sword and magic in order to make grim choices that go wrong either way. Admittedly, there are a few notable differences, but I’m pretty sure Geralt was consciously based largely on Elric (and probably some crime fiction heroes, if not someone like Batman). He also fulfills one of Gruber’s rules, that the hero have a really cool job.

            Yeah, I was overly hasty in implying Drizzt as an inspiration. I should have been more clear with my thought, that Drizzt and Geralt both derive heavily from Elric, rather than that Geralt derives from both of them. The point is that there is a lot of honest theft in the realm of literature, especially pulp literature, that you can practically make a genealogy tree of it all.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        I think I see your problem: you figure that if you can’t write like Poul Anderson right out of the gate, it’s not worth doing.

        Everybody starts out writing crap. Cheesy, cliched, tropey, derivative wish-fulfillmenty crap. If you’re just starting now, you’ll write crap. You’re just going to have to put your head down and power through it. Write the crap.

        • Nornagest says:

          They say everyone has a thousand bad paintings in them. Probably a thousand bad stories, too.

          • Charles F says:

            Wildbow’s advice was to just get the first million words out of the way as soon as possible. Though, his first million words were way better than Pact, so I’m not 100% sure what to make of that.

          • Nornagest says:

            I liked Pact, but yeah, Worm was better. And Pact was better than Twig, or at least more engaging for me.

            If the stories about how long Worm was in development are true, though, he might have gotten his million words of bad fiction out before publishing anything.

          • rlms says:

            Yes, I think he wrote quite a lot before starting Worm, and most people would agree that the first few chapters of Worm aren’t as good as the rest (in terms of prose quality at least).

        • Everybody starts out writing crap.

          You might want to look at Heinlein’s first story.

          I don’t think he is the only exception.

          • Matt M says:

            As a random analogy, rappers best work generally appears early in their careers, and tails off from there. I believe the working assumption is that their first album consists of all the best rhymes they’ve written throughout their entire life up to that point, while future albums they have to keep coming up with brand new material in shorter windows of time.

            Not sure if this applies at all to fiction writers or not.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Re: Rappers. I think some of it also has to do with source material. Rappers get started writing about what they know, which is generally life in the underclass. This connects well with the audience. Once they’re rich and famous, well, club songs don’t usually have the emotional impact of rhymes about street hustlin’.

            Sci-fi/fantasy authors don’t have a similar disconnect with their source material and audience as their careers progress.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Okay, Heinlein said that was really the first story he wrote. But with a lot of other authors, their first published work probably isn’t their first written work. Lewis had his Boxen, Tolkien his Book of Lost Tales, Alcott her Flower Fables (which, okay, was published but didn’t receive anywhere near as much success), and other authors other things which we probably never even hear of because they never got so famous.

      • carvenvisage says:

        Plus, when you say that Anderson is wrong, well, why should I believe you over him? He’s the famous author, and you’re a random internet nobody.

        This is beyond braindead. Anderson isn’t the only published author with an opinion.

        • Kevin C. says:

          And how many of those “published authors with an opinion” have the opinion that “the one true key to writing fiction is stringing together nothing but a series of highly-distilled genre clichés and two-dimensional cardboard-cutout stereotypes passing for characters in a paint-by-numbers pastiche adhering strictly to formula”?

          • carvenvisage says:

            A disappointing amount say things like that, but that really isn’t the point.

            You can’t dismiss someone’s opinion based on someone who outranks them having a different opinion, if opinions among people who outrank them vary so wildly. -Obviously it’s not that kind of field.

            And the whole construction of ‘if you can’t prove to me that your approach will be a success, it will certainly be a faiiilure’ is just ultra wrong in itself. Lots of people have thoughts of exactly that kind- “if I can’t prove this will work, it won’t.” “I’m not worthy” etc, so playing the ‘who are you, little fish’ card is fairly serious aggression in most contexts.

            The fact that it’s bullshit (-there is no consensus among the great), and that you don’t have the standing to make it, are really secondary. Status shit tests inherently deserve escalation and retribution.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Kevin C, I’ve read the thread about you and writing here and at the previous OT, and I’ve come up with some advice.

        I think you need advice, not just about how to write, but how to write when depressed. Some writers are very depressed, and yet the drive to write doesn’t get shut down.

        Actually, it might be a good topic generally– depressed people generally aren’t totally paralyzed by it, so they’re able to do some things. How does that work?

        It might help to read some really bad published fiction. Some writers have been motivated by “I can do better than *that*!”.

        Tentative: Think about what you love in fiction. Look at ways to make those features front and center.

        This is extreme, but Olaf Stapledon and Borges write their best fiction without using characters.

        What’s the most popular fiction that has the weakest characters? How did those authors get away with it?

        You’ve got people in your life– if you could tell when one of them behaved out of character, then you’ve got some way of modelling people. Also, do you expect those people to reliably behave differently than each other?

        Tentative: you may be expecting to know with certainty what a character would do. How about coming up with a character, probably a stock character, and several possible but very different actions for the character. Ask yourself whether some of the actions are more plausible than others.

        Write something really bad. If you’re stuck on the idea of writing something good but you can’t figure out what that good story is, then writing something deliberately bad might break the impasse.

        • Aapje says:

          Indeed.

          Also, because he has no job and is unhappy with his current life, there is downside to doing something. It may not work out, but not doing anything is certainly not going to change Kevin’s life.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Re how to work when depressed: I’ve never been depressed but I have been down enough to accomplish nothing, and I tried using self disgust to motivate myself to work. KC, I suspect you are attempting this strategy, and describing yourself as a failure is part of it.

          It can work but it’s a dangerous game. It’s great for getting yourself to accomplish goals with short deadlines, but it’s crap for projects that require patience.

        • Kevin C. says:

          @Nancy Lebovitz

          You’ve got people in your life–.

          Very few.

          if you could tell when one of them behaved out of character, then you’ve got some way of modelling people.

          That’s the thing: I can’t readily tell what’s “in character” or “out of character” even for people I’ve known most my life.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Also, I asked the original question about how do I “get in a character’s head” and figure out their behavior on another forum I frequent (if only rarely comment) where plenty of people write (if mostly fanfiction, though with some published folks), and the answer there seems to be that I probably shouldn’t be writing.

      Yet another thing that’s outside my abilities, another way that I’m a grossly defective specimen of humanity, with my lack of a functional version of the “software”, as Dr. Friedman called it, that other people have. And if I was truly smart enough, wouldn’t I be able to consciously “recreate” that software from the ground up, doing with conscious deliberation and brute computational force what other people do subconsciously and automatically? The fact that after three-and-a-half decades of life I’ve been unable to do much along those lines is yet another demonstration that I’m really not all that smart.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        That’s kind of harsh, innit? The ability to get inside other people’s heads is a special talent that the best writers have; if it were one of the standard abilities of (neurotypical) humans, there’d be a lot less trouble in the world.

        • James Miller says:

          Yes, and knowing that you lack the ability “to get inside other people’s heads” puts you far ahead of the numerous people who falsely think they have this ability.

        • Kevin C. says:

          That’s kind of harsh, innit?

          Not in light of all my other failures as a human being, and present existence as a useless parasite on society, the kind of which no proper, functional society that wants to survive would tolerate.

      • bintchaos says:

        @Kevin
        I imagine I will get shot down on this in your usual hail of bullets, but I think you are excellent at getting inside SOME peoples heads– the heads of your own tribe.
        I just think writing is the wrong medium for for you.
        You are passionate about the endangered species aspect of your own tribe. I know that isn’t a widely held view even among Red Tribers, but there seems to be a consensus on “Cthulu Swims Left” even here.
        So…make a documentary about your passionate belief– show what people like you are thinking. Whole indie films have been done on an iPhone, with really low production budgets. Pitch your documentary to AEI or the Manhattan Institute for fundage. Like the Red Tribe version of Michael Moore.
        Start small– just do Alaska, or just do your home town, or just do your neighborhood.
        Make an exploratory mini-video, a “short” for proof of concept. Or do like Blomkamp is doing with Oats Studio and Steam teaser shorts to drum up interest.
        Take a film class at your local community college.
        You could even meet A. Girl. that shares your interests.

        • Kevin C. says:

          So…make a documentary about your passionate belief– show what people like you are thinking.

          “People like me” don’t appear on camera, because they generally don’t want to be unemployable pariahs. As “NotPaxDickinson” on Twitter put it:

          Being non-anonymous in the Right counterculture in 2017 selects for lunatics and charlatans. Our best potential leaders are still anonymous.
          For our best potential leaders, the costs of namefagging are too high. But if we build institutions worthy of being led, they’ll emerge.

          Whole indie films have been done on an iPhone, with really low production budgets.

          I don’t have a smartphone; can’t afford one.

          Pitch your documentary to AEI or the Manhattan Institute for fundage.

          Pitch it as what, exactly?

          Start small– just do Alaska

          Alaska is far from “small”.

          or just do your home town

          Anchorage has over 40% of the population of Alaska.

          or just do your neighborhood

          From what little I know of my neighbors, “my tribe” they’re not.

          Make an exploratory mini-video

          Exploring what, exactly?

          Take a film class at your local community college.

          Can’t afford to. And even if I could, which one of these classes would be the appropriate one? The one about making outdoor adventure films, the one about “previsualization and preproduction” with a focus on storyboarding, the one about “the technical and aesthetic aspects of nonlinear digital video editing”, or the advanced “hands-on filmmaking research” in outdoor adventure films?

          • skef says:

            “People like me” don’t appear on camera, because they generally don’t want to be unemployable pariahs.

            Oh come on! You’re already convinced you’re an unemployable pariah for other reasons entirely! You’re one of a tiny number of people positioned do this with no apparent negative consequences. You’re free!

          • Kevin C. says:

            @skef

            Read more carefully. I’m not talking about me, but about the people I’d be documenting. Who watches a “documentary” where the filmmaker is the only person who appears on camera?

          • skef says:

            I believe the conventions are silhouette and voice modulation, depending on level of paranoia.

            I haven’t seen any of Dinesh D’Souza’s long-form work, but from what I understand a lot of it is taken up by either him or stock footage and the like.

          • bintchaos says:

            I would take the class with the focus on storyboarding, because that could also help with your writing if you wind up writing. Storytelling is key. I think you passionately want to tell the story of your tribe. Passion is good. I see you here passionately defending a culture that is going extinct– you have strong ideas about how to reverse that– at least, when you aren’t morosely chewing your daily ration of thistles.

            I thought you were on disability…and you live with family? Won’t your case worker help you get a smart phone or enroll in a community college class? Can you borrow a smart phone occasionally? Or could you rent/buy/borrow a video camera? The community college probably has cameras to use for coursework. How do you interact on the web? Desktop? Laptop? Tablet? You could use that for editing and mining stock footage off the web.
            Just do one family– or even just yourself to start– or just do your family, but anonymize them. Do a short introducing yourself and your project. Many documentaries use anonymity for on-camera vignettes.
            You went to college– how did you do that? Scholarship? You were functional enough to graduate– I just dont believe you are as helpless as you make out.

          • One disagreement with Bintchaos’ advice. Writing is easier than making a movie. Kevin already knows how to write–he does it regularly here, although not fiction. So try writing something instead of making a movie.

            You know your mother. Could you write a scene with her or a character based on her? Are there other people in your life you know well enough to have a feel for what they would or would not do? Can you imagine two such people interacting, perhaps ones who don’t actually know each other?

            As an entirely different idea, have you tried writing poetry? Hard for some people, easy for others. There’s essentially no market for it, but if it works it feels good, and there’s lots of poetry online that you can read to learn. My advice would be to ignore contemporary stuff done by other amateurs, read good old poets such as Kipling or Millay or Hopkins, find one you like and see if you could write something similar. And if you eventually write fiction, poetry might be good practice.

            One part of Bintchaos’ advice I agree with is that you have strong feelings linked to your very odd political views. I’m not sure there is a market for nonfiction arguing for them, but fiction that takes them for granted in the background might be interesting precisely because it would be from a different world view, in some sense a different world, than usual.

            Mary Renault wrote about ancient Greece from a world view arguably closer to theirs than ours, and produced some very good historical novels.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @bintchaos

            I thought you were on disability…

            Yes.

            and you live with family?

            No, I live in an apartment by myself, but my immediate family is all in the same town, and I visit my parents about once a week or so.

            Won’t your case worker help you get a smart phone or enroll in a community college class?

            Don’t actually have a case worker at the moment, and have been having to go through all the paperwork to become a patient of the local Community Health Center so that I’ll have someone who can prescribe me more of my psych meds before I run out because the Community Mental Health Services are no longer providing psychiatric/prescription/meds services (they look to be “downsizing” in general).

            You went to college– how did you do that? Scholarship?

            Yes.

            You were functional enough to graduate

            But I had my suicide attempt during my fourth year, and had to return for part of a fifth after a medical leave of absense to finish up my degree and graduate.

            @DavidFriedman

            You know your mother. Could you write a scene with her or a character based on her? Are there other people in your life you know well enough to have a feel for what they would or would not do?

            Not really, no.

            As an entirely different idea, have you tried writing poetry?

            When I was younger.

      • Orpheus says:

        Is it possible you antagonized them, prompting this dickish response?

        You seem to get discouraged quite easily. Just keep at it, surly you will improve at some point?

        • Kevin C. says:

          Is it possible you antagonized them, prompting this dickish response?

          What’s “dickish” about saying that maybe I shouldn’t be writing, which was the response?

          Just keep at it, surly you will improve at some point?

          Typo, or Freudian slip?

          Also, should a kid in a wheelchair “just keep at” trying to walk, because “surely he’ll improve at some point”?

          • Orpheus says:

            What’s “dickish” about saying that maybe I shouldn’t be writing, which was the response?

            Well, usually when someone expresses interest in learning a craft on a forum dedicated to said craft, it is customary to offer encouragement and helpful advice, not to try and turn him off it completely.

            Also, should a kid in a wheelchair “just keep at” trying to walk, because “surely he’ll improve at some point”?

            Yes, it is called physical therapy.
            Unless of course he is physically incapable of walking, but you are clearly not physically incapable of writing, are you?

      • And if I was truly smart enough, wouldn’t I be able to consciously “recreate” that software from the ground up, doing with conscious deliberation and brute computational force what other people do subconsciously and automatically?

        Not unless your “smart enough” makes the claim true by definition.

        I am, on various evidence, unusually smart–I entered Harvard at sixteen and the first math course I took there was advanced calculus. But there are skills other people have that I have been unable to acquire. As an undergraduate I took a course on music, since it was something other people obviously found interesting and enjoyable. That may have been my only C. My reaction to music, now as then, is that it sounds beautiful but basically boring, unless it is being used to support good poetry–I like poetry. Pretty clearly that is not the reaction of other people, including my wife and daughter, to music–they can hear something in it that I cannot.

        For a simple example, I have taken to saying that the real value to me of playing WoW is an exercise in humility, doing something that I am worse at than the people I am doing it with, not better. Different people have different skills, and brute intelligence doesn’t substitute for all of them.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve lost interest in a fantasy series before when I got far enough in to realize it was a retelling of Central European affairs circa the breakup of Charlemagne’s kingdom with a thin fantasy gloss, so that’s one data point in favor of the idea that historical accuracy doesn’t always help. I have nothing against historical fiction or dramatized history — I have some on my desk right now, in fact — so I’m not totally sure why I had such a negative reaction; it felt cheaty, though, like the many inferior retellings of Lord of the Rings.

      • The Red Foliot says:

        I once made a list of all the good fantasy epics I had read, and most of them had some kind of ‘cosmic rebirth’ type story at their heart (rather than just some random political dilemma). Karl Marx and the Bible are the same. So I guess to provide an adequate basis for an entire epic, you need a really profound ambition at stake.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Kevin, I was in a somewhat-similar boat. I enjoy writing, but I’ve seen people criticize my characters as unrealistic and dull. I still haven’t totally solved that, but one thing that helped was pulling character traits from other stories and from people I know – e.g. “Let Bob Protagonist have Peter Whimsey’s zen for popular quotations, HPJEV’s sense of heroic responsibility, my sister’s love of animals…” – and then thinking through those character exercise sheets that some writing books show. At first, it can seem like working through logical deduction (“what would someone with Bob Protagonist’s traits naturally do with a free evening…”). Sooner or later, it does seem to me like I’m running a natural model of Bob in my head, even to a greater degree than most of my real-life friends – but that might come with practice writing.

      Another thing that really helped was fanfiction, where I’m working with characters who already have been defined over a long series. Do you feel like you have any sense of characters from a series in your head? When you read some bad fanfiction which has them acting out-of-character, do they seem different to you?

      (And about genre tropes – yes, they’re tropes. But they’re tropes for a reason, because it’s easier to work within them, and because people often like them. Why not write a couple of tropish stories while you figure out how to write?)

      • Kevin C. says:

        I still haven’t totally solved that, but one thing that helped was pulling character traits from other stories and from people I know – e.g. “Let Bob Protagonist have Peter Whimsey’s zen for popular quotations, HPJEV’s sense of heroic responsibility, my sister’s love of animals…” – and then thinking through those character exercise sheets that some writing books show.

        Do you know which writing books you’re referring to here? And again, how do you compute a specific action from something like “HPJEV’s sense of heroic responsibility” (whoever that is)?

        At first, it can seem like working through logical deduction (“what would someone with Bob Protagonist’s traits naturally do with a free evening…”).

        See, what I’m asking is how you do that “logical deduction”. How, exactly, in fine detail, do you figure out from “Bob Protagonist’s” traits what he’d do “with a free evening”?

        Sooner or later, it does seem to me like I’m running a natural model of Bob in my head, even to a greater degree than most of my real-life friends

        See, I don’t really have much of a “natural model in my head” of even my real-life friends.

        Another thing that really helped was fanfiction, where I’m working with characters who already have been defined over a long series. Do you feel like you have any sense of characters from a series in your head?

        Not really, no.

        Edit: On second thought, there is a character who I had a fair bit of a feel for, the titular protagonist of one of my favorite movies of my childhood, D.A.R.Y.L. Of course, said Data Analysing Robot Youth Lifeform is a robot brain installed in the cranium of a lab-grown human body as a child-sized prototype for an eventual adult sized synthetic soldier project.

        When you read some bad fanfiction which has them acting out-of-character, do they seem different to you?

        I don’t really read much fanfiction, so I can’t really say.

        Why not write a couple of tropish stories while you figure out how to write?

        Because the tropes don’t tell you what specific action a characted takes in a specific situation, or what specific words come out of his or her mouth.

        • Charles F says:

          “HPJEV’s sense of heroic responsibility” (whoever that is)?

          I strongly suspect it was meant to be HJPEV, for Harry James Potter Evans-Verres, from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. And that’s actually a pretty easy thing to compute, it’s basically, Is there a problem? Yes. Is anybody else already working on it? Doesn’t matter, they’re probably incompetent so it’s my responsibility now. Repeat every time any problem comes up.

          My impression of this thread is that it’s an amalgam of the monad burrito fallacy applied to writing, and you not wanting to try. I don’t know if you actually want to write fiction, but if you do, and you’re currently getting nowhere at all on your own, why not make a good-faith effort to try some of the advice before deciding it can’t work?

          And now for my take on writing advice ideas. You don’t know how to model individuals, but you do spend a lot of time thinking about group dynamics, right? Could you write a story where the most relevant entities are tribes, not people?

        • Evan Þ says:

          Okay, it’s possible you don’t have a natural model of your friends in your head. But, I might’ve said the same thing some years back, just because I hadn’t noticed it yet… and also because I’m not as involved in my friends’ lives as in the lives of the fictional characters I’m making up.

          I’m not sure whether to recommend working through a full character sheet where you fill out any number of traits about a character, or picking some traits and running with them for a short story. In general, my inclination would be to say “go ahead and write,” but in general I’m talking to people who’ve already been writing and are just suffering from writer’s block. So, if you want to start with character sheets – IMO, they’re generally interchangeable; pick whichever sort of character sheets work better for you. Here are three from a quick Google that look decent.

          From the character traits I’ve defined, I then think about what a character would do at some point in the plot. For instance, to pick a story I was working on earlier this week: John Protagonist is at college in a fantasy world, he’s enthused by finally getting at so much knowledge, but his little sister’s come along and he’s sort of concerned about her being out of place. So, say he’s got a free evening; what would he do? Well, he might spend it in the library reading (to play out Character Trait #1), he might talk with his friends about the topics a professor was covering in class (another way to play out Character Trait #1), or he might go exploring with his sister (to play out Character Trait #2). (This can vary with the circumstances – e.g. if his sister yelled at him this morning that he never has time for her, he’ll probably pick the last one.) I can then pick from this list which one would be best to move the plot forward. Or, if nothing really works out, I can reach “back in time” and tweak circumstances so that, for example, maybe he doesn’t have a free evening because of some homework.

          Within that, as in exactly what John Protagonist talks about with his friends or his sister, is more complex – but you can approximate it as “what the plot demands, filtered by what he’d be interested in based on those character traits.” And then, once you’ve written a story or two, you might understand it more?

          (Yes, I was talking about Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres in my last post – have you read HPMOR? Or what things have you been reading lately – it might be easier to talk about some protagonist we both know rather than one whose story I haven’t even finished yet?)

          • Kevin C. says:

            IMO, they’re generally interchangeable; pick whichever sort of character sheets work better for you. Here are three from a quick Google that look decent.

            Thank you.

            So, say he’s got a free evening; what would he do? Well, he might spend it in the library reading (to play out Character Trait #1), he might talk with his friends about the topics a professor was covering in class (another way to play out Character Trait #1), or he might go exploring with his sister (to play out Character Trait #2).

            How exactly did you figure those out, from those numbered “Character Traits”?

            Yes, I was talking about Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres in my last post – have you read HPMOR?

            Not just no, but hell no.

            Or what things have you been reading lately

            For fiction? 1636: Mission to the Mughals by Eric Flint & Griffin Barber (from the “Ring of Fire” series), Gone by Johnathan Kellerman (from his “Alex Delaware” series), and Frederik Pohl’s Demon in the Skull.

          • Evan Þ says:

            How do you like the latest 1632 books, by the way? I started the series but stopped somewhere around 1635: Gustavus Adolphus Finally Wakes Up After A Full Book when it seemed like Flint was dragging plot points out for too long.

            Anyway, to return to my unfinished example for a moment… What does John Protagonist want? When I built his character, I said that he wants (1) to learn as much as he can from the university, because he likes learning; and (2) to make his sister happy. Then, when I’m planning a scene, I ask how he might try to achieve these things in this scene. For point (1), he could study, he could talk with friends about the subject, etc. For point (2)… well, that’s more complex, but it basically boils down to what his sister wants, which I’ve defined along with her character.

            For short stories (which is where I recommend you start), it generally works to just pick a list of two or three “Things This Character Wants” for each character. In longer works, though – and for sequels – you want to pick things that tie in, or are at least compatible with, what the character wanted in previous works. Take the 1632 series, for example – whatever Mike Stearns wants in the next book, we already know that he’s not going to want to become dictator. He’s not going to suddenly want to retire, either. He’s going to want to encourage a republican Germany, because that’s what he’s wanted all along.

        • The Red Foliot says:

          Most people who don’t take writing seriously have outrageous pretensions about the craft. They think it is all about being ‘lifted by the wings of inspiration’ and just one day realizing their talent in a sudden burst of passion! (and of course, they all have this raw talent, the pretentious farts!)

          It is an impossible ideal, one that flies in the face of almost all evidence. Those who cling to it are more often than not those bad one-time-novelists from New York who write their one solitary novel set in Brooklyn and then disappear (‘into the night’, because they are poetic). Their novels are sans characterization and sans plot, sans everything that requires practice, because of their disdain. For these untutored dilettantes, anything that can be studied or learned is beneath them. Expertise is not for them, and so into the night they go when their impractical ideas fall short of reality.

          I have already told you the only thing you absolutely need to know about characterization: it is all about consistency. If you are able to define a character as ‘fractious’ and then have him behave in a fractious manner, consistently, then you have created a functional character. How far you go beyond raw functionality depends on other things, but the first step is just to maintain consistency.

          Probably you will be shit at this at first, because even consistency is hard. It is doubtful you will ever become good, as you do not seem inclined to practice. But if you do practice this one concept, and then slowly accumulate other concepts, you can improve your work gradually. That is what I did; but as you deride me, forget about that. It is what Jack Vance did. He progressed from rather drab characters in his first decade as a professional writer, to the wonderful, humourous beings who populated his work in the latter years. It is about gaining expertise so that you can reach greater complexity. Few people can write good characters without knowing anything concrete about the process. And those who do not try, are like those liberal arts college poofters.

          Your idea that you need to model characters in your head for them to be good is stupid. You can already model them, unless you are literally insane (and not even your maudlin tears have convinced me of that). Even if they are absurd (Jack Vance’s characters were absurd) you can still model them. There is no one ‘correct way’ of doing it. What’s lacking is not your ability to model them, but other things. Concrete know-how. Your problem is that you don’t even know what you don’t even know, and you don’t even know that much.

    • JulieK says:

      I’m going to go against the crowd and point out that earning a living from one’s writing is a very risky career choice, even for people with lots of natural talent. If Kevin is looking to make money (as opposed to just writing as a hobby), he ought to focus on field that involves his strengths (e.g. math).

      • keranih says:

        I will back up JulieK. Making money from writing is a Job. One should expect to put Job hours into it – probably salaried Job hours, which is where you work 60-80 hours a week (for 40 hour week pay).

        Starting out working at writing is like no-stipend interning – you’re doing it, but (almost certainly) so badly that no one would actually exchange money for the end product. And once you’ve gotten the basics down, there is still all the others working at the same job, competing for the same customers.

        Having said that – a steady occupation at which Kevin has some talent might be the sort of thing he needs, even if it doesn’t start to earn him a paycheck for most of a decade.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I agree on all points. Here’s a blog post series where a rare successful novelist, who’s said he almost could quit his day job if he wanted, talks about his income.

          • I also agree. Making a living as a writer isn’t impossible but it’s hard, and we have no evidence that Kevin has any particular talent for doing it, some evidence, from him, that he doesn’t. On the other hand, attempting it is virtually costless, many people enjoy writing even though they do not expect to make money doing it, and Kevin, by his account, is unemployed and expects to remain unemployed, so has time to fill.

            And successfully producing fiction, even fiction not good enough to make a living at, even fiction not good enough to get commercially published, would still be an accomplishment that might reduce the sense of individual worthlessness and despair that comes through in his posts.

          • Zodiac says:

            And successfully producing fiction, even fiction not good enough to make a living at, even fiction not good enough to get commercially published, would still be an accomplishment that might reduce the sense of individual worthlessness and despair that comes through in his posts.

            Or it aggravates these feelings by failing and not living up to his standards.
            A minor issue for most, but I’d advise for caution as to not trigger a spiral into another suicide attempt.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Or it aggravates these feelings by failing and not living up to his standards.

            I guess it’s possible – but (N=1) writing’s never made me feel more worthless; I’ve always felt like I’ve accomplished something, even when I’ve been at my greatest despair about commercial success.

            (It’s made me feel really weird once or twice, when I realized I’ve written a piece of two-dimensional message fiction that I energetically disagree with, but…)

  23. dndnrsn says:

    What do people think about modelling addiction as disease?

    • skef says:

      Not a terrible idea for third parties, quite likely a terrible idea for addicts.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I think this is how I feel in large part. It’s bad to model it as exclusively a failure of will (perhaps, in general, it is bad to model will as something that can succeed 100% of the time if you try hard enough). However, overcoming addiction (or keeping it at bay, or however you think of not doing whatever it is you’re addicted to) requires willpower.

        My personal experience is that people who treat their addictions as impositions willpower cannot possibly defeat give into their cravings incredibly easily. To exercise agency (to not do the addictive thing, to not lie about it, etc) one must conceive of one’s self as having agency. To behave responsibly, one must recognize one’s self as having responsibility.

        • Charles F says:

          Huh. What do you think of modeling various mental illnesses as diseases? Would you say it’s similar? It seems to me that it’s possible to understand that your emotions and decision making can be distorted by something beyond your control, while still recognizing that you’re the one doing the feeling and making choices. You can’t just will yourself into not being depressed, but it’s a choice to keep doing the things you (normally) care about. Similarly, you can’t will yourself into not being addicted to something, but you can choose not to indulge in whatever it is.

          Would people be better off if they thought of their depression/anxiety/whatever as largely personal failures while third parties treated it as a disease?

          • dndnrsn says:

            This is the difficult part. How do you walk the line between being too compassionate (which I think is possible) and being too harsh (which is certainly possible)? With mental illness, there’s the whole genre of “can’t believe these neurotypicals saying just to get better”, and that’s highly accurate – “have you tried not being sick” is profoundly unhelpful – but some people really do wallow in a way that is also unhelpful.

            With addiction, people who do not recognize how hard it is – eg, who do not see the problem with placing people in situations where they would be tempted, who enable people, etc – are unhelpful (really, worse). But some addicts adopt a position where they essentially consider themselves free of any obligation to even try – to not do whatever it is, to tell the truth, to not harm others en route to their addiction or due to the effects of alcohol or drugs, etc – and adopt a mindset that, to an external observer, seems oriented around relieving themselves of any feelings of guilt or shame.

            I think you are right to draw a line between not being able to choose not to be affected by something, and being able to try not to respond in a certain way.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It depends on how the person frames “disease”. Do they think disease=hopeless or do they think disease=can be managed with meticulous care.

        • gbdub says:

          It seems as though we want to treat addiction as either a “disease” OR as a “failure of willpower”.

          But why not both? I say both addiction and mental illness are diseases that require willpower (among other things) to successfully treat.

          For example, most people seem pretty on board with treating schizophrenia as a disease. But certainly, treating it requires willpower to e.g. stay on your meds. Or something like arthritis or a ligament injury – obvious physical disease / damage, but for best results you need willpower to do your PT exercises. Heart disease is an obvious physical degeneration, but you need willpower to stick to a diet that won’t make it worse.

          So addiction is a disease, in that it’s ultimately driven/exacerbated by a root cause you don’t have direct control over. But lacking a magic bullet cure, any successful addiction treatment is going to require substantial willpower on the part of the patient.

          • dndnrsn says:

            This is a good way of modelling it. It seems like a good balance.

          • johnjohn says:

            What about modeling lack of willpower as a disease?
            If you don’t have the willpower to fix your issues, it’s not like you can will yourself to have more willpower

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It’s complicated?

      I think one common thread in most of Scott’s psychiatry posts is how much of a fubar the understanding of what exactly is going on when we look at a cluster of symptoms we then term a “condition”. Because the brain continues to be a black box, one which changes dynamically in response to stimulus, it’s very hard to say for most of these “conditions” what the real, true, one cause is (or, more commonly, that there even is a one, true cause).

      Given the strong genetic links to certain forms of addiction, I’d be very surprised if disease models of addiction were completely wrong, but I’d also be surprised that if every addiction was a disease state and not simply the results of “normal” feedback loops in the brain/body.

    • Zephalinda says:

      Founders on the lack of clear cultural definitions for “disease” and “health”, particularly where mind-body interactions are concerned.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Depends on the addiction. Addictions involving physical dependence certainly seem to fit a disease model. Addictions which are purely psychological not so much; you risk modeling anything people like as a a disease, and while there’s a certain amount of “you know it when you see it” which can divide healthy activity from compulsive, there’s not a lot in the way of objective tests (unfortunately this characterizes many mental illnesses).

    • rahien.din says:

      I would take the same line as the judge in this episode of Radiolab. A man has brain surgery which causes him to have Kluver-Bucy syndrome, a symptom of which is compulsive browsing of child pornography. It is definitely a symptom of his disease because it can be treated with medications.

      At his trial, the judge says that, yes, the behavior was entirely a symptom of his disease and his successful treatment proves that. But the behavior also caused harm. The man had a responsibility to seek help, and given that he was otherwise quite lucid, he had the capability to do so. Because he did not seek help, he was responsible for the harm caused by his disease symptoms.

      So it is both 100% disease, and it is also the patient’s responsibility insofar as they are capable of seeking help.

      I compare it to a person with a cold. Their cold makes them infectious, with runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. No one can blame them for being infectious. But we can still require them to cover their mouth, wash their hands, not sneeze on our food.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Basically that’s the lycanthropy argument, right? Sure, it sucks that you got bitten, but if you don’t lock yourself up every full moon, you are responsible for all those eaten villagers.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Our host had some interesting things to say about this sort of question.

      • Zodiac says:

        Thanks for the link. That was an interesting read, though its conclusion opens up just more questions.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This is good!

        So here, at last, is a rule for which diseases we offer sympathy, and which we offer condemnation: if giving condemnation instead of sympathy decreases the incidence of the disease enough to be worth the hurt feelings, condemn; otherwise, sympathize.

        The discussion of treating things like alcoholism and obesity (as in medical treatment, not considering) is good too. If drugs or surgery could shore up willpower or replace willpower, that’s great: gastric bypass surgery is different from not keeping chips in the house by degree, not by kind.

  24. gbdub says:

    (Content warnings – transgender transitioning / detransitioning)

    An interesting piece on transgendered people who decided to detransition and return to living as their assigned-at-birth gender.

    And a response to the really over the top blowback for the author of what I thought was a very interesting, well balanced piece.

    This is frustrating: these “detransitioners” are clearly real people who deserve a voice, and yet they are being told to shut the hell up, because nasty people might abuse their stories.

    And there seems to be compelling, if not quite conclusive, evidence that there is a high rate of “desistance” among children/adolescents who identify as trans but ultimately choose to detransition/not transition in adulthood.

    Critics of the piece slammed the author as transphobic, criticizing her inclusion of the “desistance” studies because one of the scientists had been “discredited” and therefore the whole thing was clearly propaganda for transphobes (never mind that the author gave just as many lines to the critics of desistance studies, and said critics could not supply contradicting scientific evidence or actual reasons the studies were discredited, other than criticism by trans advocates).

    I understand there’s danger in supplying evidence to people who want to deny that any transgender people are “real”, or to people who want to deny support for trans youths because it’s “just a phase”.

    But there has to be a better way than to deny the personhood of detransitioners and suppressing scientific inquiry into desistance. Gender transition is clearly an effective treatment for a lot of people with severe gender dysphoria – but the fact that it’s not right for everyone is really important information! In particular, if desistance really is common That seems like a really friggin’ important thing to know before putting a 10-year old on puberty blockers. Suppressing this information is definitely not harmless – if “it’s just a phase” (or really, “it’s gender nonconformity but not of the kind for which gender transition is a good solution) is a distinct possibility, then yeah, it can definitely harmful to make irreversible physical modifications. Draconian “gate keeping” can hurt the people who really do need to transition, but too lax of gate keeping could be equally harmful for those who ultimately would be better off not transitioning. This is an obviously tough balance, but you can’t fix it without admitting there’s a balance to be weighed!

    Critics want to draw parallels to acceptance and support for people coming out as gay, and they have something of a point regarding the harms of “gay conversion therapy”. But at the same time, until we can physically transition bodies between biological sex characteristics perfectly and at will, there’s an irreversible cost to gender transition that doesn’t have an exact parallel in homosexuality.

    Anyway the episode is disturbing for its illustration of purity spirals and how common it is for allies to “eat their own”. Also for another example of being for science until you don’t like the answers it gives.

    • Well... says:

      Your brain and hormones frequently do weird things when you’re an adolescent. How many trans people are adolescents? If it’s a high proportion, there might be a lot of noise to signal.

      I agree with the OP: I don’t want to deny the experience of a trans person if it’s real. But I also don’t want our society to [continue to?] move in the direction of granting lots of authority and gravity to every whim had by teenagers.

      Therefore it’s important to talk about this kind of stuff so that distinctions can be drawn and the general issue better understood.

    • rlms says:

      Interesting stuff from ThingOfThings tumblr:

      “Respondents were asked whether they had ever “de-transitioned,” which was defined as having “gone back to living as [their] sex assigned as birth, at least for a while.” Eight percent (8%) of respondents reported having de-transitioned at some point. Most of those who de-transitioned did so only temporarily: 62% of those who had de-transitioned reported that they were currently living full time in a gender different than the gender they were thought to be at birth.

      Transgender women were more likely to report having de-transitioned (11%), in contrast to transgender men (4%). Rates of de-transitioning also differed by race and ethnicity, with American Indian (14%), Asian (10%), and multiracial (10%) respondents reporting the highest levels of detransitioning (Figure 7.28).

      Respondents who had de-transitioned cited a range of reasons, though only 5% of those who had de-transitioned reported that they had done so because they realized that gender transition was not for them, representing 0.4% of the overall sample.42 The most common reason cited for de-transitioning was pressure from a parent (36%). Twenty-six percent (26%) reported that they de-transitioned due to pressure from other family members, and 18% reported that they detransitioned because of pressure from their spouse or partner. Other common reasons included facing too much harassment or discrimination after they began transitioning (31%), and having trouble getting a job (29%) (Table 7.6).”
      (source is page 111 of this)

      Not that this is detransition from living as non-birth gender, which is a superset of detransition from non-birth sex back to birth sex. The second one is all we really care about (given liberal assumptions) in terms of gatekeeping hormone/surgery access. I think the upper bound of ~5% this gives for permanent biological detransitioners is enough to say that detransition isn’t an enormous problem that necessitates severe restrictions on hormone/surgery access, but it isn’t low enough that it can just be dismissed (although it could be a loose upper bound, in which case detransition might be fairly irrelevant).

      • Aapje says:

        The study seems to have asked people who currently have a transgender identity (which includes genderqueer, non-binary, and crossdresser), so this would surely exclude many/most people who transitioned back permanently and now identify as cis.

      • skef says:

        Transgender women were more likely to report having de-transitioned (11%), in contrast to transgender men (4%).

        That thing where moralized terminology becomes question-begging terminology.

        • BrickLayer45 says:

          I sort of get the impression that the whole point of the new terminology is to obscure obvious truths, and make them hard to talk about.

          Does anyone else dream of a world where “Politics and the English Language” stops being relevant?

          • Charles F says:

            Yeah, seems like a pretty common sentiment. http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2494

          • skef says:

            I sort of get the impression that the whole point of the new terminology is to obscure obvious truths, and make them hard to talk about.

            These are two very different things.

            I didn’t quite capture what I meant by saying “moralized terminology”, but I suppose that phrase gets fairly close.

            One motivation for the choice of “transgender woman” is that it is supposed to express that people so described are (fundamentally? actually?) women, of a particular sort. Some people dislike the term because they think this is false. But that isn’t my point.

            This is my (narrower) point: Accept, for the sake of argument, that there are such people, and that this is a good, sensitive term to describe them. Now, in that light, consider the phrase “Transgender women were more likely to report having de-transitioned (11%), in contrast to transgender men (4%).” This sentence is either analytically false, or insensitive. To the extent that those people who “de-transition” to male are not (fundamentally? actually?) women, it is false because the descriptor is wrong. So to be true, a number of women must be superficially transitioning to be man-like, and a number of men must be superficially transitioning to be woman-like. That is, the same insensitive implication the terminology is designed to avoid is being imposed by Ozy on the people she cites, without her seeming to be aware of that.

      • gbdub says:

        I read into this a bit more, and it sounds like the “desistance” studies were using as their sample “children who had been diagnosed as gender dysphoric” (but not necessarily children who had already begun transitioning), finding that most did not end up as transgender adults – they mostly were gay or bisexual cisgender people.

        There are some criticisms of the studies – in the largest and most recent, there was a chunk of patients who never came back to the clinic counted as “desisting”, but then again it was apparently the only gender dysphoria treating facility in the country, so not seeking treatment was probably a good indication of no longer having serious dysphoria. There was also critique that the children may have been only “gender nonconforming”, but apparently the diagnostic standard really was stronger than just minor gender nonconformance.

        Anyway there don’t seem to be studies actually contradicting the results, so it sounds like best data is that gender dysphoria as a pre-pubescent is far from a perfect indicator of being transgender as an adult. Then again detranstioning as an adult does seem real but rare. So early-transitioning children may ultimately end up with lower desistance rates.

        So a tough question, but seemingly worth asking.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I’m 40 years old.

        When I was in college, in the late 90’s, there was a lot of pressure in the gay communities to conform to being “purely gay.” My bisexual friends were often deeply unwelcome (a friend bitterly recounted a BGLU (they hadn’t added the T back then) meeting in which the leader of the group started the meeting by saying “this is a safe space,” and then following up with a diatribe about how she hates bisexual people, and they’re fake gay).

        The rhetorical and political strategy that gay people took at the time, in order to gain acceptance, was that being gay was a biologically fixed aspect of yourself. In contrast to it being a “choice.” That framing created the possibility that someone who was “sort of gay,” or “might be gay” was a weapon for the other side.

        Eventually, and especially as the gay movement won more acceptance, I think that they’ve largely unwound a lot of that nastiness towards people who are not purely and strongly homosexual. You see a lot more tolerance of bisexuality, you see the addition of “questioning” as part of the spectrum of sexuality, you see explorations of the idea that people might have exceptions to their usual gender preferences and so forth. This is, I believe, to the credit of the gay community.

        One thing that still is maybe a little outside the bounds of acceptable conversation, though, is that of course there is a social component to sexuality. Yes, there are people who flirt with homosexuality in one form or another and ultimately find that they end up in a life that at least from the outside is more-or-less indistinguishable from heterosexuality. It is not clear to every person through simple examination of their feelings where they land in terms of sexuality, and, like literally every other part of your life, it’s hard to separate external influences from internal influences (indeed, perhaps that framing is itself deceptive).

        I feel like the trans movement is in a similar place to where the gay movement was 20 years ago when I was in college. For so long, being trans was so overwhelmingly rejected by society that the only people who really transitioned were the most extremely dysphoric people. Now, as tolerance grows, there are people who previously would have rejected transitioning who will flirt with it, and it won’t be for all of them. And they will become rhetorical weapons for the other side, and will be attacked by the trans community that is, like the gay community before it, trying to win acceptance in large part by claiming that trans identities are purely innate.

    • Björn says:

      I think there are definitely aspects of the current transgender movement that deserve criticism. The most striking aspect is in my opinion that they have a really weird notion of gender. Because on the one hand, they see gender as a social construct, and wand society to move beyond it, but on the other hand, you get many stories of people transitioning where they say “I always knew I was transgender, because I liked the colour pink/wanted to play soccer/wanted long hair/etc.”. The latter are of course aspects of femininity/masculinity that are very much influenced by society.

      So I find it not so surprising that there are people regretting transitioning, who would maybe been better off with learning to accept their non-standard gender expression. I think at the moment, when you present at a clinic with gender disphoria (which btw is a real symptom, the question is more what to do with it), you can start your transition quite fast without a differential diagnosis. So there is definitely room for people transitioning for the wrong reasons. Also, of course, transsexuality has been a big topic in the media for the last 5 years or so, so much more people are having experiences with transitioning right now.

      • Nornagest says:

        Because on the one hand, they see gender as a social construct, and wand society to move beyond it, but on the other hand, you get many stories of people transitioning where they say “I always knew I was transgender, because I liked the colour pink/wanted to play soccer/wanted long hair/etc.”.

        I certainly agree that there are things to criticize in the modern gender discourse, but I think you’re running into some outgroup homogeneity issues here. The people that see gender as a pure social construct are generally not the same people that you see talking about their dysphoria.

        There are political groups encompassing both, but that’s not surprising.

        • Björn says:

          It is correct that the two views of gender I mentioned are often not held by the same person at once, but I would say that is exactly the problem. Because what you get is that on the one hand there is all the scientific theory, from the social sciences stuff to the more psychological oriented things, but on the other hand you get at least some people who don’t fit into those theories, one might even say thay are diametrically opposite. Now when all the counseling and the treatments they get are based on theories that have nothing to do with their experience, I would say the chance is rather high that they are useless or even dangerous.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            This reminds me. I figured out that there is so such thing as dressing like a woman or a man. There is only dressing like a woman or a man of a particular culture. So far as I know, transexuals want to transition in their own culture. I assume there’s imprinting involved.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy

            Can Saudi men even cross dress given that the men and women wear similar clothing?

            I guess so.

    • BrickLayer45 says:

      I think part of the problem is that the needs of the political movement are very different from those of the individual sick with gender dysphoria.

      Imagine if the symptoms were easily treated with Gallium or something. It would be great for the individuals suffering, but it would kill the political movement of “Men who pretend to be women are the same as actual women.”

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        It’s an interesting thought experiment. Note that [insert problematic religious minority here] are already in this position; they could simply convert, and yet discriminating against them still seems wrong, even though the cure exists.

  25. Matt M says:

    Inspired by a conversation in the previous thread. I don’t want to re-hash the same example, but I will keep it general.

    Do you think it is better to have a major problem where you cannot identify the source/root cause, or to have a problem where the source/root cause is known, but you are powerless to fix it?

    • Vermillion says:

      I would prefer the later, but I can’t really offer a satisfactory reason why that is. Maybe because even if I couldn’t fix my problem, the more I knew about the situation the better I could organize my life around it.

      Like if a rhinoceros was charging and I knew it’s acceleration and top speed, that’d tell me if I had time for the lord’s prayer or just a quick sign of the cross.

    • Aapje says:

      @Matt M

      The former may allow you to fix your problem by doing semi-random things, so that seems preferable. You may still not know the cause if a fix works, but then you no longer have the problem.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The former. I have a surfeit of the latter already.

    • Well... says:

      Depends on what you mean by “powerless to fix it”. Do I necessarily feel powerless to fix it, or might I really just be powerless in some cosmic sense?

      A lot of times we feel powerless even when we aren’t. So if I feel powerless to fix a problem, how do I know when it’s one of those times when I really am powerless?

    • carvenvisage says:

      to have a problem where the source/root cause is known, but you are powerless to fix it?

      If you’re truly powerless to fix it isn’t technically a problem, it’s part of the environment. But you don’t necessarilly know that 100% even if it’s 100% true. There’s almost always ambiguity, and imo that’s the only thing that allows for this to be a coherent idea. As phrased I find this thought experiment much too difficult.

      • albatross11 says:

        If you know the problem and know it’s beyond your power to fix, you have three advantages:

        a. You don’t have to spend more resources trying to find the cause of the problem.

        b. You may one day find yourself with the means to do something about the root cause, and then be able to fix it.

        c. Knowing the root cause may give you some idea of how to better mitigate the problem or live with it.

    • Charles F says:

      As a software developer, I’m always going to go with the second one. I’d rather be able to point to what’s broken and explain why we just need to work around it than try to fix something that’s broken for some unknown reason, slowly and irreversibly making everything more fragile.

      In relationships, it still seems better to go with the second option. If I know the problem and know the cause, and I know not to hope it’s going to improve, I can evaluate whether it’s worth continuing and if it is, I’m at least prepared in advance for the problem when it comes up.

      For personal problems, physical and emotional health, problems with skills (writer’s block, weights plateauing, issues focusing, etc.) I think I’d pick the first option for basically the reason @Aapje describes.

  26. Chalid says:

    A standard piece of career advice here is to learn to code and (either independently or through a bootcamp) and then go into tech. And as far as I can tell that’s good advice for smart young people.

    Is it good advice for smart older people? I know someone who is thinking about reentering the workforce after being out for a few years to raise her children, and she’s not really interested in her old career. She is definitely smart enough and has some impressive credentials demonstrating it, but she’s in her mid-40s, and I wonder if companies would actually have any interest in hiring someone with that background.

    • Brad says:

      If the question is: should she learn Ruby on Rails and then go apply for webdev jobs in SF, the answer is no. Age discrimination is absolutely brutal in that part of the the industry. There’s some sex discrimination too. An older woman married with kids looking for an entry level job will have an extremely tough time on the job market.

      A better bet would be working for a non-tech dinosaur in a programming job. The problem there is that they are much more credentialist than the web-dev shops. Self learning or bootcamp may not cut it. Though she may be able to substitute certificates for a degree to satisfy HR. It depends on the employer. For this market she’d want java or c# rather than ruby or python. (Javascript is unfortunately necessary everywhere.)

      • Chalid says:

        Thanks. Would the outlook be similar in data science too?

        • Brad says:

          Don’t know much about that field. My pretty ignorant impression is that it is a doctors and nurses or lawyers and paralegals type area. If you don’t have a Phd you are always going to be a second class citizen.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I have a friend that went to a bootcamp in her mid-thirties and proceeded to get a nice slightly-north-of-$100k job at a bank (doing their website). She’s not pulling $200k at Google, and her employer is kind of frustrating, but the bootcamp paid for itself pretty quickly and she can always look for another job.

      Mid 30’s might be different from mid 40’s, though.

    • rlms says:

      Brad is correct. This situation is slightly odd, because while “learn to code” is good advice in general, the flavour of that advice in the rationalistsphere is “learn to code and do front end web development for a cool company in Silicon Valley” isn’t so good for older people. I don’t think it’s necessarily that good for younger people either: SV is a good place for smart people with strong computer science backgrounds to try and get rich in a startup, and possibly a good place to get certain kinds of entry level job for bootcampees and similar, but I don’t know if it’s the best place to get a decent-paying (relative to cost of living) job in a generic company.

      Older people retraining as programmers isn’t that common, but it’s not unheard of. My father got a part-time job in programming/database administration at that age with a partial distance-learning CS degree and no other relevant credentials (e.g. other science degree) so it’s definitely possible. There is a possible complication that programming aptitude is separate from general intelligence; there are a lot of very smart people who can’t program. I wouldn’t invest heavily in a programming career (e.g. by paying for a bootcamp) without spending a few weeks learning independently first.

      • Nornagest says:

        It might be worth mentioning that of all the CS sub-specialties, front-end web development is the one where knowledge is the most ephemeral, buzzword-driven, and non-transferable, because it’s all about mastering one of literally hundreds of competing technologies with completely different architectures and each one tends to have a relatively short day in the sun. That makes it easy to find a job in if you put a couple of months into buzzword compliance, but it also makes a career relatively hard to maintain.

        Of course, I’m a systems guy, so I have my own bias here.

    • pontifex says:

      A standard piece of career advice here is to learn to code and (either independently or through a bootcamp) and then go into tech. And as far as I can tell that’s good advice for smart young people… Is it good advice for smart older people? I know someone who is thinking about reentering the workforce after being out for a few years to raise her children, and she’s not really interested in her old career. She is definitely smart enough and has some impressive credentials demonstrating it, but she’s in her mid-40s, and I wonder if companies would actually have any interest in hiring someone with that background.

      Ugh. I had a long reply here, which got eaten by the reply grue.

      TL;DR is that she needs to find a way of drawing a line between what she used to do and what she is going to be doing. For example, if she was a mathematician originally, she could go into data science. If she was in journalism, she could go into technical writing.

      Having a certification or going to a boot camp will help, but not fundamentally change people’s idea of what kind of person you are. You say her qualifications are impressive. So figure out what is impressive about them and how they can get her her next gig. At 40 your career is not a tabula rasa. You have to come up with a story about why things happened in the past and how awesome you can be for the company in the future. (Note: the story doesn’t have to be true, but it helps if it is.)

      As far as sexism goes, that’s not only wrong, but the exact opposite of the truth. Most companies are desperate to hire more women. A lot of big companies have internal mandates to do so. I’m tired of the tedious culture wars so I will leave it at that.

      Ageism is… sort of true, in the sense that people expect more of you when you
      are older. And a lot of shitty jobs conflict with having a family or a life, which older people generally do.

      P.S. Don’t go into game development or web development. They are dominated by thoroughly unpleasant slave shops these days

  27. onyomi says:

    So… uh, Hobby Lobby hoarding cuneiform tablets… in preparation for the apocalypse or… sign of the apocalypse? The plot of Nicolas Cage’s next film?

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      The founder is opening a museum and wants lots of old stuff in said museum?

    • Jordan D. says:

      It’s in preparation for the grand opening of their newest store, where all craft materials are also ancient artifacts. Cuneiform tablet backsplashes for your kitchen! Quilting material made from mummy wrappings! Native American arrowhead beadwork! Tyrannosaur skull Adirondack chair! 50% off everything more than 50 decades old!

    • Civilis says:

      Charitable explanation: wants to preserve old stuff, doesn’t think it can be done legally and aboveboard.

      Uncharitable explanation: wants a really awesome private museum.

      Lizardman Quotient explanation: tablets contain either unrevealed prophecy relating to Armageddon, summoning instructions for a great old one, or instructions to reconstruct the language of Asherah.

      [Added] Hollywood explanation: one founder wants them smuggled out to save them, the other secretly wants them for his own museum… but, secretly, the one that wants to save them is actually secretly a cult leader that thinks they contain a hidden spell with the power to make him a god… but really the spell will summon an ancient entity into the casters body which will destroy the world.

    • skef says:

      Who do they think they are, Murray Gell-Mann?

    • kenziegirl says:

      I’m confused by this story, can anyone clarify? Why do the news reports keep saying it was Hobby Lobby that purchased the artifacts, and not Steve Green or David Green the individuals? Was it really Hobby Lobby the company who is opening a Bible museum? It seems very odd to me.

      • qwints says:

        It was the business entity that actually purchased the artifacts and that will pay the fine. The complaint (amusingly titled UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. APPROXIMATELY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY (450) ANCIENT CUNEIFORM TABLETS; and APPROXIMATELY THREE
        THOUSAND (3,000) ANCIENT CLAY BULLAE)
        explains that the entity made the purchases starting at paragraph 19.

        • bintchaos says:

          the smuggled Iraqi artifacts need to be repatriated now that Mosul has fallen, as a gesture of goodwill from US.
          This is a long standing practice of christian expropriation of antiquities.
          I immediately thought of the mummy “unwrapping” parties of victorian England.

          • bintchaos says:

            @Kenziegirl
            To answer your question–
            From the linked article:

            Hobby Lobby, the US crafts supply company known for its pro-Christian branding, apparently has a side interest in smuggling rare archaeological artifacts.
            The company made headlines when it won a Supreme Court case in which it argued that the family-owned company should not have to pay for birth control for employees under the ACA, because doing so violated the owners’ religious freedom as Christians. Apparently their Christian values did not extend to concerns about smuggling rare artifacts from the dawn of Western civilization.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Is it more “Christian expropriation” or “Western expropriation”?

      • random832 says:

        Does this distinction really matter for a private company, especially one that uses that private status to gain special privileges (i.e. the right to have religious beliefs and therefore not provide their employees with certain kinds of health care)?

        There is nowhere that Hobby Lobby ends and Steve Green and David Green begin, and they fought hard in court to make that true.

        • qwints says:

          It really does. It provides limited liability – The Greens aren’t personally liable for any debts incurred by the entity. It allows a much cleaner form of collective ownership and control of company assets. Finally it provides the Greens much more flexibility in selling or transferring the business.

          In exchange for these privileges, Hobby Lobby has to pay a franchise tax in its home state of Oklahoma and corporate income tax in some states (assuming it does business in the states that impose an income tax on S-corps). They have increased record keeping requirements over an individual, and are much easier to bring into court.

          • random832 says:

            Okay but none of that is a reason to build a reputational wall between its brand and its owners’ actions. This is a cultural question, not a legal one.

            If being a “closely held” corporation gives you special advantages (like the ability to, turn your religious beliefs into corporate policies that would otherwise be illegal – all of the things you said come with being a corporation at all, not being “closely held”), being subject to scandals for what the owners get up to in their spare time is the special disadvantage that comes with it.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m picturing National Treasure meets MacGyver, but with yarn instead of duct tape.

  28. Vermillion says:

    I’m going to start this series of ASD posts talking about the genetics of the disorder, and also about Simon Baron-Cohen’s request for cheek swabs from the last OT. To make things conceptually a little easier let’s start with the genetics of Head Explosion Syndrome (HES).

    Scenario 1) HES is caused by a single gene, with 100% penetrance, meaning if you have the gene, your head will explode. This is unlike say, the BRCA1 gene; women with BRCA1 have an 80% lifetime chance of developing breast cancer, giving it a penetrance of 80%. All the usual mendelian rules of inheritance, dominance and so on apply. Given these conditions, how hard do you think it might be to identify this gene in the human genome?

    Scenario 2) HES is caused by 100 genes, each of which confer a 1% risk of head explosion. Someone with only 5 HES genes might be indistinguishable from normal, aside from some especially vigorous sneezes. Other individual’s heads might not explode until they’re in their 80s, on their death beds, surrounded by friends and family. Or they might succumb to kidney implosion before their heads even begin to throb ominously. Further complicating matters is that HES might be associated with non-genetic causes, e.g. excessive consumption of nitroglycerine. Given these conditions, how hard do you think it might be to identify these genes in the human genome?

    Scenario 1 is something like Huntington’s disease. It was first described in the 1800s and the mutant gene responsible (called Huntingtin, natch) was identified in 1993. A lot of the techniques they used to identify and eventually sequence this gene would be used in the human genome project. Every one of us has genome of about 3 billion base pairs (A-T, G-C), encoding 20,000 genes. Any two individuals would be expected to differ on about 1% of those pairs, but most of these differences will not be in the part of the genome that encodes a gene, or even if it is, not in the part of the gene that gets turned into a protein, called the exome. BP variations can either be inherited or de novo, spontaneously arising in the egg or sperm and present just in that one offspring. Given the size of the human population, and a de novo mutation rate of about 1 BP per exome, every single non-embryonic lethal de novo mutation probably exists, somewhere out there.

    Autism meanwhile, according to resources like the Simons Simplex Collection (the other SSC), has about 800 candidate genes and counting, all of which are associated with various levels of certainty to the disorder. For further reading I’d suggest this review (if you have access) it’s in The Lancet so pitched more to clinicians and maybe a bit more readable than the typical fair.

    Some of the earliest genome wide association studies for ASD were designed under the assumption that there were around 15-30 genes that caused it. They would collect maybe a 100 affected individuals with ‘identical’ diagnoses (an issue I’ll get to later), 100 controls, swab their cheeks and sequence the results. They were also working from the assumption that because this was a relatively common disease it would be the result of common variants (BP differences that are present in >1% of the population). These might be expressed in the general population at a level below diagnoses, but that collectively they’d give rise to autism. Long story short, all these studies were way too underpowered to detect any differences at a genome wide level (because you need to correct for ~20,000 comparisons, and several magnitudes more if you’re sequencing at the level of base pairs, not just if genes are expressed or not), and almost none of the genes they identified were replicated in other studies. This was how things stood around the mid 2000s.

    So researchers turned to non-standard collections processes. I mentioned simplex’s before, these are families with one child diagnosed with ASD, but with two parents and at least one sibling who are all neurotypical. With this kind of sample you’re now enriched for de novo variants that might be rare but have a very high penetrance. Because any mutation you see in the ASD kid, but not in rest of the family, is much more likely to contributing to ASD, and any variation that is shared is likely unrelated. The SSC I mentioned above has 2600 families who’ve all undergone not only gene sequencing but extensive phenotyping, and based on these and other databases they’ve confirmed several dozen genes with high confidence. All together de novo mutations probably contribute between 10-30% of ASD cases.

    So that still leaves quite a lot of ASD that is inherited, and not associated with rare de novo mutation. Fortunately, there are other ways to enrich your sample and increase your chances of finding genes. Let’s say clinicians treating HES notice that a lot of their patients are very attractive, more so than would be expected by chance. And even though HES is quite rare in the general population a lot of models, actors, and so on wind up with exploded heads, again, more than would be expected by chance. By restricting the sample just to models or other individuals who are exceptionally good looking, you may catch a lot of genes that are most likely unrelated to HES, like the ability to pout or walk fiercely, but again, compared to the typical population you’ll have much more power to detect genes that are related. What’s more, by sampling models who don’t have HES, you can narrow down the relevant genes even further. vV_Vv noted that the SBC study of autism and mathematical ability would be confounded by sampling bias, but actually, that bias is kind of the point.

    A final note, Kosmicki in 2017 looked at the largest cohort yet of simplex ASD families (9,246) and controls (60,706). It’s a dense paper with a lot of findings but there are two I want to tease for future entries. 1) There was a very strong, negative association between the number of de novo mutations, specifically those mutations that disrupted vital protein formation, and IQ. 2) The very highest rate of mutation was in females with ASD and intellectual disability, 8.71 times higher than unaffected siblings, compared to 4.45x in males with ASD + ID, or 2.95x in males with just ASD.

    • Zephalinda says:

      Thanks for doing this series, Vermillion! A few things I’ve always wondered re: the methodology of these gene association studies– hope it’s OK if I ask the questions here.

      –I get that the simple additive-probabilistic model of ASD genetics you describe (Gene A=+1% risk, Gene B=+3% risk, with independent assortment) is just a working assumption necessary for this type of investigation. But it seems like there are an unusual number of potential complicating causal factors in this particular disorder (not only gene-environment interactions, but maternal genetics; epigenetics (both generations); maternal environment; gut flora; possible time-dependent factors like a specific viral insult only during a particular critical window of development, etc., all also potentially interacting complexly with one another) that might make this simplified model an unusually bad fit for ASD causation. If the disorder really does end up arising from a complex interaction of like 40 different factors, only ~10 of which are located in the literal genome of the affected individual, then are the studies you describe still powered to tease out the genetic component accurately?

      — Corollary: Are you aware of any other examples of complex developmental disorders whose causal pathways were successfully elucidated using similar methods? Would love to see a case study of this type of investigation working at its best.

      — I feel so very, very dumb for asking this, but… I’m guessing folks are confident in the level of genetic consistency between e.g. cheek epithelium and brain or endocrine tissue? Mechanistically, it seems as though only de novo mutations that occur before the very first cell division would be universally present in all the tissues of the body: with anything subsequent to that, couldn’t you expect some sort of (possibly local or even tissue-specific) chimerism that might further confound this sort of investigation?

      — And finally, it seems like you’re hinting toward a later discussion on this, but… are researchers appropriately certain that “ASD” broadly described is a single disorder and not a cluster of related but causally distinct conditions?

      • caethan says:

        > I feel so very, very dumb for asking this, but… I’m guessing folks are confident in the level of genetic consistency between e.g. cheek epithelium and brain or endocrine tissue?

        You’re talking about germline vs. somatic line mutations. There are definitely somatic line mutations, which would result in some very mild chimerism between different tissues. We don’t generally concern ourselves too heavily with that for a couple of reasons. First, de novo mutations are pretty rare – on the order of a couple of dozen across the genome in each individual. Most of that is due to cell divisions during parental gamete production, particularly the father, since sperm are produced through ongoing cell division throughout the father’s life. Post-zygotic mutations during developmental cell division happen, but are less common than other kinds of mutations. Second, we’re often not as interested in de novo mutations anyway, but instead in more common population-wide alleles, which are much easier to detect.

        We’ve actually found a couple of cases of this kind of chimerism from family testing – parents and two siblings tested for some genetic disorder both children share. Children both test positive for the same allele, parents both lack it. That implies some level of mosaicism in one of the parents where the gametes had the mutation but the blood or cheek epithelium didn’t.

        There’s also an interesting effect when you’re doing blood-based testing thanks to selection among progenitor cells. For blood, you’re sequencing white blood cells that are produced in the bone marrow from a population of stem cells. The mother cell divides and produces a daughter stem cell and a white blood cell. Now, that continuous division of the stem cells can cause mutations that are cell-specific. Part of the noise that you see in sequencing blood samples is likely due to this one-off mutations. It’s not very informative because it’s specific to a particular cell and its parent that you picked up, but you can see a very low allele balance mutation from the sequencing.

        Suppose there was a particular mutation that caused a stem cell to sometimes divide to produce two stem cells instead of a stem cell and a white blood cell? Well, then the population of stem cells with that particular mutation would grow over time, as there would be more and more cells descended from that parent. And when you do the sequencing, now you see a surprisingly common mosaic variant that doesn’t appear to be transmitted in a Mendelian fashion. Neat!

        You can see the same kind of thing happen with spermatogenesis, where it’s more impactful because it can cause higher rates of de novo mutations in children in particular genes.

        • Vermillion says:

          That was a much more complete answer than I was going to offer, thanks!

          I’d just add that absent even mosaicism, there will still be substantial differences in terms of gene expression. This makes sense, a blood cell is not a brain cell and it’s pretty hard to turn the one into the other. But to answer your question in terms of how far apart is the cheek cell, it’s closer than a lot of other easily accessible tissues. According to this review by Loke et al. buccal tissue shares more methylation marks (one of the stronger forms of epigenetic modification to the genetic code) with brain tissue than blood, but honestly the significance of even a small difference might be quite large.

          • caethan says:

            Yeah, I think if you’re interested in methylation and gene expression, you’ve really just got to use the tissue you’re actually interested in. Which presents problems if you’re interested in CNS expression. Not insurmountable ones, though! You can actually sequence the cerebrospinal fluid. There’s RNA there, so you can do some RNA sequencing, and it’s a recognizable tactic for infectious disease diagnostics.

        • qwints says:

          We’ve actually found a couple of cases of this kind of chimerism from family testing – parents and two siblings tested for some genetic disorder both children share. Children both test positive for the same allele, parents both lack it. That implies some level of mosaicism in one of the parents where the gametes had the mutation but the blood or cheek epithelium didn’t.

          I assume the obvious explanation (a different biological father) was ruled out?

          • caethan says:

            Yeah, that shows up very obviously as differences at a lot of loci, as opposed to this, where the children obviously share a haplotype with the father — except at this single locus.

      • Vermillion says:

        @Zephalinda

        By all means ask questions, I’ll do my best to answer them!

        But it seems like there are an unusual number of potential complicating causal factors in this particular disorder (not only gene-environment interactions, but maternal genetics; epigenetics (both generations); maternal environment; gut flora; possible time-dependent factors like a specific viral insult only during a particular critical window of development, etc., all also potentially interacting complexly with one another) that might make this simplified model an unusually bad fit for ASD causation. If the disorder really does end up arising from a complex interaction of like 40 different factors, only ~10 of which are located in the literal genome of the affected individual, then are the studies you describe still powered to tease out the genetic component accurately?

        Each of those things (and a lot more probably) may well be causing a big portion of ASD. That’s where the estimation of “All together de novo mutations probably contribute between 10-30% of ASD cases.” comes in. So these studies are powered to tease out the genetic component for this subset of cases but if you were to add in the 70-90% of ASD cases with unknown etiology, it’s very likely that a lot of that signal would be lost.

        The hope is that by identifying the genetic mutations in this subset you’re also going to be identifying the mechanism that at least some portion of the causes you listed above work through. So while an individual with autism might not have an actual mutation in a gene that was identified as being a de novo cause of ASD, it might be imprinted, or downregulated, or silenced or something else. It’s a place to start looking basically.

        — Corollary: Are you aware of any other examples of complex developmental disorders whose causal pathways were successfully elucidated using similar methods? Would love to see a case study of this type of investigation working at its best.

        I think the realization that early GWAS studies were underpowered is fairly widespread in other disorders too. Studies of schizophrenic individuals are also up in the 10,000+ level now. This meta-analysis of ADHD genetics concluded that the 800 cases 2000 trios and 2400 controls were insufficient, no genome wide associations reached significance (although some were close). It’s possible there have been other studies that have been successful, I don’t do much reading outside of ASD.

        are researchers appropriately certain that “ASD” broadly described is a single disorder and not a cluster of related but causally distinct conditions?

        Oh no, they are the opposite of that. Here’s a direct quote about the research value of an ASD diagnosis, “ultimately a convenient fiction from the biological perspective.” It’s just that not having the label is even less useful. Basically they underline how necessary it is to have very large sample sizes to find all the different clusters within it, and yeah I’ll be getting into this in more depth soon.

        • caethan says:

          Heritability studies can be useful here as well. (Caveats: I am a professional genetics/bioinformatics guy, no specific expertise in autism.) Classic quantitative genetics approaches can give you an estimate of the fraction of variation in a population attributable to additive or overall genetic effects. (Interesting
          article from 2007 on autism genetics
          ) Twin studies, which get you total genetic heritability, come in at around 40-90% heritability depending on how you measure the phenotype. Non-twin studies, which are generally additive only, get lower. That gives you an upper bound of what you can expect to find from GWAS studies, and when you don’t find much (the “missing heritability” problem) that suggest pretty strongly that your GWAS is underpowered and that there’s a lot of loci responsible. It’s funny reading old genetics papers about how there may be as many as ten different loci interacting to cause these phenotype!

    • bean says:

      I don’t really have any questions, but I figured I’d return the favor by saying that this was very interesting, and thank you for doing this series.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      confirmed several dozen genes with high confidence. All together de novo mutations probably contribute between 10-30% of ASD cases.

      Do those numbers make sense? If ASD is 1%, then 10-30% of ASD is 0.1-0.3%. If I interpret several dozen as 100, and each person has one de novo mutation in a gene, then 0.5% of people have their de novo mutation in one of those 100 genes. But is it plausible that 20-60% of de novo mutations in those 100 genes have such a large effect? If you push it up to 800 genes, that can only help, but when you said “levels of certainty,” it sure made it sound like 800 variants, not 800 genes.

      Why is identical twin concordance only 25%? If that’s because of de novo mutations, then identical twins might be a good place to search for them. But if it’s due to low penetrance, that makes the above numbers even more difficult. (Unless the 25% of concordant ASD is due to high penetrance de novo mutations, while the rest is due to low penetrance common variants. But then identical twins would be useful as a test for penetrance.)

      • caethan says:

        De novo mutations are almost always from the gametes, prior to twinning. You couldn’t use identical twin discordancies to identify de novo mutations of impact.

      • Vermillion says:

        When I said levels of certainty I meant how certain researchers were that those genes were really linked with autism. Those few dozens are associated across multiple studies, they may have animal models that also recapitulate parts of ASD, and so on. The less confident genes might have shown up in a single screen or be linked to just a few cases.

        At any rate a lot of the best guesses are just that. That’s one of the reasons the estimates bound such a large area.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Where do the numbers 10-30% come from? I guess the twin concordance gives an upper bound, but whence 10%? The range is not “a large area”; on the contrary, it is implausibly small.

          The paper you linked says that it is estimated that 25% of cases are estimated to have a single variant that contributes substantially, but that it is low penetrance, and thus probably not de novo. That claim is a lot more plausible.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Side note, I know it wasn’t your actual point, but Exploding Head Syndrome is an actual thing.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploding_head_syndrome

  29. Frequently, in conversations about universal healthcare, the hypothetical of “so why don’t you call for nationalizing the food industry then?” is raised, but the real reason that universal healthcare is superior to private healthcare is because the private healthcare market will never ever ever ever be as free as the food market is.

    With food, you need to make sure that it meets hygeine standards, but apart from that, it’s not really difficult to make, discounting the occasional bad cook, but the point is; it’s not exactly open heart surgery to bake a tray of cookies. The range of failure allowed for food is also wider, and we’ve all just sort of accepted that we might eat something that upsets our stomach sometimes, but there are other markets which can be even freer than the food market, such as the market for cheap gadgets. As the inherent risk of something goes down, and the skill needed to keep it safe goes down, the more willing human beings are to accept price vs quality trade-offs.

    We can accept that a cheap toy will be crappy whereas an expensive one will be high quality, and to a lesser degree we can accept that cheap food will be unhealthy for us, but we cannot accept the idea that a cheap doctor will kill us, whereas an expensive one will save us.

    Imagine a true free market, in which there were services that required credentials where doctors had to go to medical school and get a degree after 7 years or however long, and then there were services where a guy who looked up brain surgery on wikipedia could operate on you for the price of a coffee. Foolish and/or risky people in dire straits would die all the time.

    Back to the real world, and we see that most of the people who support a private system who are conservative, outside of the libertarian fringe, still support the credentialism necessary to avoid cheap and deadly doctors, and the bureaucracy needed to minimize the risks involved in medical practice. A true free market has a price vs quality scale, which in this case is a price vs risk scale, and the vast majority of people, including the right, wish to cut off the bottom end of that scale with state action.

    Libertarians are correct that the government makes healthcare more expensive than it would be in a free market, but this is because the rest of humanity, ideologically speaking, will not accept trade-offs when it comes to healthcare. This means that instead of people risking themselves with cheap doctors, they get into massive medical debt instead. Then healthcare becomes an issue of the poor missing out altogether, and being uninsured, rather than the poor having the opportunity to take a gamble when they’re sick as they would in a truly free market.

    As soon as you have this state of affairs, it is better for the government to step in and make the rich pay for the healthcare of the poor (or the healthy pay for the care of the sick as in the insurance pool based schemes). You may have the kind of mindset in which you can accept price vs risk trade-offs just so that the poor are able to afford care at all, but since that will come at the cost of lives, the rest of humanity (including the mainstream right) cannot accept it, and likely never will. Arguments could be made that general improvements to the field of medicine caused by absolutely free competition would lead to medicine being so advanced that even an idiot could successfuly perform surgery, but that would not happen overnight, and the trial and error involved would claim many lives before we come up with the EazyGeneralSurgeryBot5000™, so it’s way too much of a gamble.

    So, to re-iterate, the real reason healthcare should be free at the point of use is because healthcare is ridiculously expensive, and the reason it’s ridiculously expensive is because most ordinary human beings cannot accept the idea of trade-offs in medicine. Most ancap type arguments require a fundamental change to our risk profile, so we can accept massive short term risks (the trial and error of the free market) for massive long term improvements (free market utopia of flying bitcoin taxi services and nanobot bacta tanks that can heal all illness). I don’t think most people dispute that free experimentation leads to a greater potential for discovery than restricted experimentation, but that’s a long term gain for potentially unlimited short term disarray. Instead of arguing that things like healthcare will be more “efficient” in a free market, ancaps/market anarchists should be trying to promote a cultural change in risk priorities, since that’s what is actually preventing people from taking their ideas seriously on a fundamental level.

    • Anon. says:

      most ordinary human beings cannot accept the idea of trade-offs in medicine

      Hanson has a nice paper that tries to explain why this is the case: https://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/showcare.pdf

      Spoilers: it’s signaling

    • rlms says:

      Empirically, I don’t think healthcare needs to be free at the point of use. Japanese healthcare (for instance) has regulated, subsidised prices, but patients still have to pay 10-30% of them. It seems to work fine. More generally, I think the evidence suggests that “be a rich country and do anything other than what the US does” gets you a sensible healthcare system; nationalised systems are in the minority and don’t perform notably better (or worse) than the various insurance systems most developed countries have.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        Yes, paying some small amount at the point of use is a pretty common strategy to reduce moral hazard. Both doctors and patients are likely to get quite a lot of debatably-necessary care if it’s free.

    • Salem says:

      1. Air travel is also an area where the inherent risk is high, the skill needed to keep it safe is high, and customers find it hard to assess the hidden risks. Does your thesis apply there too? Are consumers better off now, or in the past when air travel was more regulated? Indeed, many countries had government monopoly airlines – the airline equivalent of your proposal. Were consumers better off then?

      2. You seem to take it as given that loosening regulations in healthcare will lead to more deaths, and view it simply in terms of a price vs risk trade-off. This is an incomplete story. For example, many people think that loosening regulations to bring more drugs to market will save lives on net. Similarly, it may be that allowing more people to become doctors will save lives on net. It is possible (but by no means certain) that the marginal additional doctor will be lower quality than the average of present doctors, but it may well be that a patient treated by him will still be better off than going without treatment at all.

      3. You point out a number of drawbacks to a free market in healthcare. Your comment would be more persuasive if you contrasted them with the drawbacks of a government-run healthcare system. Surely, both have advantages and disadvantages. Many SSC readers, including me, live in countries with government-run healthcare systems, and it is not utopia!

      4. There are lots of markets for complicated and risky goods. Nationalisation is rarely proposed for them. Nationalisation is frequently proposed for simple and safe goods, such as the water supply or the train network. How confident are you that public desire for heavy regulation/nationalisation of healthcare has anything to do with your thesis, as opposed to, say, Hansonian reasons?

      • rahien.din says:

        The point of the original post is : inherent to each industry is a risk:benefit ratio, a degree to which it is essential to life, and a resource cost. Health care is the trifecta of essential, dangerous, and expensive. If the consumer has no choice as to whether they engage with that industry, their choice is either between expensive-and-safe or cheap-and-dangerous. This is microeconomics at its most basic.

        Nationalization can make things expensive for everybody, but it guarantees a certain level of safety, and it allows for distributed costs. When we think of other things that are essential, dangerous, and expensive, they are often nationalized : the military, the police force, fire companies, foreign intelligence services…

        2.

        many people think that loosening regulations to bring more drugs to market will save lives on net.

        it may be that allowing more people to become doctors will save lives on net.

        Non-sequitur. The original post pertains to nationalization of healthcare. You can have a nationalized health care system that employs more doctors and brings more drugs to market, too.

        4. … Hansonian reasons?

        Hanson. Hanson is skeptical that medicine even works. He thinks it’s merely signalling on the level of the selling of indulgences. In service of this aim, Hanson is willing to discount the very idea of expertise.

        Did you know that bathwater is even less potable if it contains a baby?

        • Salem says:

          The OP is making a far more subtle point than your distillation. You’re obviously wrong that the cost/benefit ratio, necessity or resource cost of an industry are inherent to it – they’re functions of available technology, the state of other industries, etc, and as such are subject to change. If you nationalise/privatise/de/regulate the industry, you change those factors.

          > If the consumer has no choice as to whether they engage with that industry, their choice is either between expensive-and-safe or cheap-and-dangerous. This is microeconomics at its most basic… Nationalization can make things expensive for everybody, but it guarantees a certain level of safety

          No, it doesn’t guarantee anything. But let’s steelman. Perhaps you mean it in fact achieves better safety levels. Do you have statistics demonstrating that, say, medical negligence is comparatively rarer in the NHS than in private medicine? (My understanding is the reverse, but maybe you’ll surprise me).

          You’re also confused about the microeconomics. Your seem to be assuming that medical costs come from the need to achieve safety, hence your purported trade-off. In reality, the most expensive medicine is the most risky. What’s good about the NHS is it makes dangerous treatments available. People don’t go with BUPA because they think the NHS is too risky, they go because they don’t want to spend a year in a waiting list, they want the consultant’s full attention, and they want their own room. That’s expensive, but the effect on the risk is marginal.

          > Non-sequitur. The original post pertains to nationalization of healthcare. You can have a nationalized health care system that employs more doctors and brings more drugs to market, too.

          Again, the original poster is far more subtle. He says that a free market system needs so much regulatory intervention for safety, that a nationalised system winds up as better. If in fact those regulations are counter-productive, then his argument seems far shakier.

          If the theory works, why don’t you engage with the examples I offer? Did national airlines work well? Was deregulation a disaster? OK, but maybe medicine is a special case. Is the NHS actually safer than private medicine? Are the tradeoffs worth it?

          The funny thing is I rather like the NHS, in a not-broke-don’t-fix-it kinda way, and because I assume there must be good arguments in its favour, but reading the arguments of people who support nationalisation make me incline more and more towards privatising it.

          • rahien.din says:

            Eh, I just think you straw-manned the original post. I’ll let its author correct me if needed.

            Your seem to be assuming that medical costs come from the need to achieve safety, hence your purported trade-off.

            Medical costs are dizzyingly multifactorial. Safety is a major factor, but notably, there are non-risky treatments that are expensive purely because the patient is in medical extremis. Consider ACTH for the treatment of infantile spasms.[1]

            I think that the risk:benefit ratio and the cost of a treatment are major drivers of the patient’s decision. The patient’s decision is the fundamental unit of health care.

            We must consider the patient’s options in comparison. Medical treatment on the whole has demand inelasticity, but, different treatment options for a particular disease may have positive cross-elasticity.

            An example from my practice : I have a patient with bad epilepsy and want to start clobazam. In my experience it is very effective and well-tolerated, but it can be very expensive. If the patient’s insurer will not pay, it is thousands of dollars every month out-of-pocket. Clonazepam is less effective and less well-tolerated, but it is pretty cheap. Sometimes my patients will opt for clonazepam instead of clobazam. They are usually worse off – less seizure control, more sedation – but that’s the best they can afford.

            [1] $28,000 a vial for a byproduct of the meatpacking industry. We now use the much-cheaper and just-as-effective prednisolone, thanks in large part to research performed by employees of a nationalized healthcare system in the UK.

            If the theory works, why don’t you engage with the examples I offer? Did national airlines work well? Was deregulation a disaster? OK, but maybe medicine is a special case.

            I don’t know much about nationalized airlines. I don’t consider them germane -and seemingly you allow that they are not germane. Thus, I feel justified in ignoring them until you explain why you think they are relevant.

      • Iain says:

        The information asymmetry of healthcare is significantly higher than the information asymmetry of air travel, and its elasticity of demand is much lower than healthcare. If every citizen could potentially be required to purchase a crushingly expensive plane ticket on short notice, and a large number of planes crashed unpredictably every day despite the heroic efforts of the airline industry, and the process of identifying the best plane for your journey required years of education to perform at a respectable level, then we might treat the airline industry rather differently.

      • beleester says:

        1. AFAIK, airplanes are still as highly regulated as ever when it comes to safety. The deregulation of the industry has mostly been about letting airlines set their own fees and routes and so on. Which makes sense: airplane crashes are vivid and consumers aren’t willing to accept increases in risk there, but that has no bearing on how many planes are flying, where they go, or how much they should charge.

        4. Water and transport get calls for nationalization for a different reason – they’re natural monopolies. It’s impractical and inefficient for two competing water companies to run parallel pipes to the same houses, or for two competing railroad companies to run parallel tracks for their trains. It might even be impossible, depending on how much land there is to build on. For the same reason, nobody complains that the government has a monopoly on building roads.

        • Salem says:

          It’s impractical and inefficient for two competing water companies to run parallel pipes to the same houses, or for two competing railroad companies to run parallel tracks for their trains.

          And yet multiple water companies can supply me through the same pipes.

          nobody complains that the government has a monopoly on building roads.

          ?!?!

          • random832 says:

            And yet multiple water companies can supply me through the same pipes.

            How do they stop their water from mixing together?

          • Brad says:

            I’ve heard of electricity being sold that way, and oil on a commercial basis, but never water.

          • random832 says:

            Phone service is another one, which is interesting because we also really do have parallel communication networks.

            And ultimately the scope of competition in these cases is limited by the real network operator: if they don’t allow it or charge too much, there’s no room for these ‘resellers’ – and the fact that they do is AFAIK largely enabled by regulation in all of these cases.

          • Randy M says:

            @random832: One company supplies the hot, another the cold.

          • Salem says:

            I’ve heard of electricity being sold that way, and oil on a commercial basis, but never water.

            In the UK we also have gas, telephony, internet, etc, sold this way. Yes, including water.

            And ultimately the scope of competition in these cases is limited by the real network operator: if they don’t allow it or charge too much, there’s no room for these ‘resellers’ – and the fact that they do is AFAIK largely enabled by regulation in all of these cases.

            This is largely true.

          • Brad says:

            Is the water treated as fungible? That’s how the electric market works. You aren’t really buying electricity from a specific provider, more like offset credits by ensuring that somewhere on the grid someone is using that amount of “green” energy.

            In the oil case, I believe it is non-fungible but the quantities are very large and so mixing is only an issue at the ends.

            In the telecom case it’s a packet switched network.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            In the telecom case it’s a packet switched network.

            The wireless companies also have their own networks (at least where I live), so it’s like having separate pipes.

          • random832 says:

            The wireless companies also have their own networks (at least where I live),

            As I mentioned, there are parallel communication networks, but there are also resellers of the big four (in the US, AT&T/Verizon/Sprint/T-Mobile) wireless companies’ services.

        • Matt M says:

          For the same reason, nobody complains that the government has a monopoly on building roads.

          Hi, I’m Matt, aka the first libertarian you’ve ever met in your life, apparently.

          • beleester says:

            Okay, “nobody” was hyperbole, but the set of people calling for the government to get out of the road-building business is pretty small compared to the people calling for them to get out of the airline business or the healthcare business. Airline deregulation got through Congress, but I don’t know any city that’s gone for pavement deregulation.

        • baconbacon says:

          they’re natural monopolies

          Luckily not true, but sadly not updated in econ texts.

          It’s impractical and inefficient for two competing water companies to run parallel pipes to the same houses, or for two competing railroad companies to run parallel tracks for their trains.

          Natural monopolies are not defined by impracticality or efficiency, they are defined by the ability to use monopoly power to extract consumer surplus and to prevent competition without government support.

          • beleester says:

            Luckily not true, but sadly not updated in econ texts.

            Can you give me a source, then, since you apparently know better than my econ textbook?

            As for the definition of a natural monopoly, that’s an accurate definition, but the reason a business is able to prevent competition without government support is usually because it’s impractical for a second company to enter the market. For instance, because of the extreme startup costs involved in laying down a second set of power lines or water pipes.

      • bean says:

        Air travel is also an area where the inherent risk is high, the skill needed to keep it safe is high, and customers find it hard to assess the hidden risks. Does your thesis apply there too? Are consumers better off now, or in the past when air travel was more regulated? Indeed, many countries had government monopoly airlines – the airline equivalent of your proposal. Were consumers better off then?

        Sorry, but beelster is right on this one. Deregulation had absolutely nothing to do with safety. My current job is part of the airline safety complex, and things have gotten more strict since the 70s, not less. Customers have definitely benefited from lower fares and more options. They haven’t gotten the opportunity to do safety trades, except maybe in flying Allegiant, and even then the FAA sets fairly strict limits on what can be done. (Of course, unsafe brain surgery is only going to hurt you. A falling airliner might hurt people on the ground, and looks a lot better on the news.)

        • Salem says:

          I’m aware that the US has not yet privatised air traffic control for some reason, but many countries have (over here it’s part-privatised). That’s privatising (part of) safety.

          • bean says:

            Not really. ‘Privatized’ ATC is not run on a competitive basis like privatized medicine might be. Airlines don’t get to chose which ATC provider they work with. There may or may not be competition for the contract to do ATC, but whoever ends up with the contract has a monopoly on whatever services they are providing, and the users of the airspace have to follow their directions.

            And there’s a lot more to the safety work than ATC. My job is basically to write documentation on how to look for cracks in the airframe and what to do if you find them. I work for the manufacturer, but my stuff gets mandated by the FAA. The airlines are free to chose to buy from the other guy, but the other guy also has to appease the FAA, and while I’d say that our planes are a little safer, the difference is very small and dwarfed by noise. Flying within the US or EU, you have very little ability to trade between safety and price. International gives you a bit more flexibility on that, but even then, it’s not something airlines can or do compete on.

          • gbdub says:

            It seems like health care is already at least as privatized as air travel is ever likely to be – most medical practices, insurance companies, drug companies, etc. are already non-government, just that there’s a ton of regulations to meet that tend to set a price floor (just as “deregulation” ended price-fixing for the airlines, but taxes, safety standards, and fuel costs set a hard floor on prices)

            I guess we don’t have the equivalent of Medicare Airlines, but that’s about it.

            So the question is less about “privatization” and more about “degree of regulation”.

          • BBA says:

            I guess we don’t have the equivalent of Medicare Airlines, but that’s about it.

            That would be Essential Air Service. It’s government-subsidized flights on privately owned planes, but then Medicare doesn’t own any hospitals either.

            But I’m generally agreed that if you aren’t going full ancap (and only about ten people want that, and they all post here) then we’re just haggling over the price.

          • cassander says:

            It seems like health care is already at least as privatized as air travel is ever likely to be – most medical practices, insurance companies, drug companies, etc. are already non-government, just that there’s a ton of regulations to meet that tend to set a price floor (just as “deregulation” ended price-fixing for the airlines, but taxes, safety standards, and fuel costs set a hard floor on prices)

            For this to be the case, it would have to be be all but illegal to actually buy tickets directly from airlines on an as needed basis. Instead, everyone would be required by law to buy massively subsidized “airline insurance” that will buy them as many tickets as they need to buy, but which is required to charge 90 year old grandmas on ventilators as much as traveling salesmen.

          • skef says:

            For this to be the case, it would have to be all but illegal to actually buy tickets directly from airlines on an as needed basis. Instead, everyone would be required by law to buy massively subsidized “airline insurance” that will buy them as many tickets as they need to buy, but which is required to charge 90 year old grandmas on ventilators as much as traveling salesmen.

            “all but illegal”: LOL.

            You can walk into any doctor’s office and negotiate a cash price for a service. Whether they can legally provide that service to you is governed by the same medical rules as if you were in an insurance relationship. If they won’t deal with you, it’s likely because they are out-right employed by an organization that doesn’t want to do business this way, or have signed exclusive contracts.

    • Jiro says:

      This argument implies a certain level of nationalized health care, but not necessarily the level we have. For instance, it doesn’t imply forcing people to buy “insurance” that covers routine care (and certainly not calling it insurance instead of taxation and redistribution.)

    • @rlms

      You’re right, actual universal healthcare is a minority. I retract that. In all these cases, health costs are high, so the government steps in to correct that, even if it’s subsidization and insurance pools rather than outright paying for everything, so it’s completely free at the point of use. Mandated insurance is different than universal healthcare, but in both cases the government is trying to ensure that poor people don’t get in massive debt from medical expenses.

      I think universal healthcare in America is inevitable, because the insurance pool shenanigans aren’t going well, and it’s the next rabbit to pull out of the hat.

      @Salem
      1: The risk is high, and the skill needed to keep it safe is high, but the cost of training pilots to attain that skill, and the cost of designing planes to be safe, while very expensive, apparently is not as high a percentage of total costs as the equivalent training is in the medical field, which is why there are more complaints about expensive healthcare than airlines. Airlines can afford (relatively) low prices, whereas the medical industry cannot.

      Consumers were worse off in the past with government run airlines because the eventual lowered costs did not lead to massive increases in fatalities, but lower prices instead. They didn’t throw out all the safety regulations though. It was simply the case that the airlines were privatized and opened up in terms of their ownership structure. They were still subject to safety rules.

      If you completely deregulated the airlines, then there could be terrible pilots flying around in terrible planes for low prices, though there are a number of inherent differences that would intervene in the comparison, such as terrible pilots endangering their own lives and random people they could crash into, whereas a terrible doctor is only endangering the lives of his immediate patients. In addition, there are minimum mechanical and fuel costs to get into the air, which are large, whereas in theory, a doctor just has to get some cheap cutting tools, and some cheap quack medicine pills, as well as it being easier to hide medical mishaps than airline mishaps. Deregulated airlines would be a lot more disasterous as they would introduce an externality element that is less present in the medical case.

      2: I did mention this, but the problem is that it’s a massive gamble. It was a gamble deregulating the airline industry too, but I have to assume they didn’t massively deregulate the parts of the airline industry that had to do with safety when they privatized them.

      For example, many people think that loosening regulations to bring more drugs to market will save lives on net. Similarly, it may be that allowing more people to become doctors will save lives on net. It is possible (but by no means certain) that the marginal additional doctor will be lower quality than the average of present doctors, but it may well be that a patient treated by him will still be better off than going without treatment at all.

      These things are all possible, and I actually think would happen in the long run, but since we live in the short run, what actually matters is the moral saleability of an idea. Your average person isn’t running the statistics on these things. If complete free market healthcare gave us 2 negative outcomes for every 6 positive outcomes, the negative outcomes and horror stories would be seen as more significant somehow. Certain things shouldn’t be allowed to happen at all.

      It’s easier to reduce the horror if the negative and positive outcomes are more abstract. Loosening drug regulations is more abstract than allowing cranks to do surgery and carve people up.

      It’s also possible this is totally wrong, and on net, it’s actually worse! Without doing the experiment we don’t know, and it’s too risky for anyone to want to try. In the long run, the trial and error experiment should walk its way towards better net outcomes, but that trial and error has a human cost.

      3:

      It’s not that government run healthcare doesn’t have disadvantages. It’s more that government run healthcare is less morally fraught, so it’s kind of an attractor for rich enough countries, and as my thesis goes, once we are compelled to make healthcare safe, we make it expensive, and then the government starts to take over more than just liscensing, so that the high costs created by liscensing don’t freeze people out. At the end of this process you either get government mandated insurance, massive subsidization, or universal healthcare.

      This has disadvantages such as increased wait times, slowness to innovate and so on, but people can be assured that no one will accrue life ruining debt after a medical mishap, and that’s all that matters politics wise, which is why all developed countries have these protections, be it universal or other, and will probably have them until the capacity to fund them runs out.

      4: Just to be clear, I’m not saying that people want healthcare nationalized because it’s risky, I’m saying that we wanted healthcare to be regulated heavily because it’s risky, and this regulation in turn made it expensive, and it’s the expense that leads to calls for nationalization at most, or subsidization at least.

      It’s popular to want rail subsidized in the UK because it’s perceived to have been cheaper back when it was nationalized, even though IIRC there’s a big meta-study of studies saying otherwise somewhere (although it could be more expensive relative to other modern expenses).

      I’ve never heard anyone propose water supply subsidization (water is cheap), and it’s certainly not a popular proposal, which is what I’m getting at.

      I’ll read that Hanson article now.

      • Salem says:

        It was simply the case that the airlines were privatized and opened up in terms of their ownership structure. They were still subject to safety rules… I have to assume they didn’t massively deregulate the parts of the airline industry that had to do with safety when they privatized them.

        But it’s more than simply opening up the ownership structure, isn’t it. They removed huge swathes of regulation that were ostensibly about safety, but really about feather-bedding and incumbency protection. And why do you assume they didn’t privatise the safety-related parts? Lots of countries have private air traffic control (here in the UK it’s partly privatised). When I talk to Americans about it they act shocked that we could compromise safety in such a way. But they fly here (or to Canada!) just fine.

        It’s this insensitivity to the evidence that makes people talk mockingly about a National Food Service. There are countries with different safety regimes. Does that evidence not count? Why is deregulation a “gamble” but maintaining the regulations is not? Why is denying patients potentially life-saving drugs not a human cost? Why is it not morally fraught to make me wait a year in agonising pain when I need a hip replacement?

        I mostly agree with you on a descriptive level – people have an anti-market bias and a fantasy of control that makes them think that negative outcomes can be entirely eliminated if only the government decrees it. Any negative outcome is blamed on a “lack of regulation” – even if it happens in a government-run service, such as the Grenfell fire. Because healthcare is seen as a sacred value, this means that the private sector gets bogged down in huge regulation, which makes it super-expensive, and sometimes leads to nationalisation.

        Re-nationalising the water supply is part of the Labour manifesto, and is broadly popular. The original privatisation was very controversial (how dare you make a profit out of selling what’s necessary for all life!) and if you’ve never heard anyone propose that no-one should have to pay for water, you’re a luckier man than me.

        But the difference is that I don’t see this as inevitable. That’s like saying that we’re stuck paying the corvee because people are too blinded by respect for the aristocracy. Ideas change. We were bequeathed a mostly-market system by our forbears, and we need to hold onto as much of it as we can, while trying to educate people so the tide turns. I don’t think we need to change people’s risk profiles – people genuinely think that if we didn’t have government schools, only the rich would be able to afford education. If we could get past the anti-market bias, and make them realise that education would be better and cheaper without government interference, the alleged “risk” wouldn’t be a serious point. I think you are straining too much to explain in terms of risk what is a simple fantasy of control.

        The public don’t support regulation because they’ve noticed that medical negligence is more common in countries with less regulation. They simply think that if you declare that doctors must be super-qualified, everyone will have a super-qualified doctor. Similarly with the minimum wage, affordable housing, etc. We don’t need to change their risk profiles, we need to educate them about systems.

        • bean says:

          But it’s more than simply opening up the ownership structure, isn’t it. They removed huge swathes of regulation that were ostensibly about safety, but really about feather-bedding and incumbency protection.

          Such as? Again, I do this for a living, and have read a fair bit about deregulation, at least in the US. All deregulation here did was repeal the authority of the CAB to set fares and routes. This may not be the case in the UK/Europe, but the airlines are still hugely regulated. I’ve heard that it’s easier to put something in a human body than it is to put it on an airliner. I’m not sure it’s true, but it’s not incredible based on my experience.

          And why do you assume they didn’t privatise the safety-related parts? Lots of countries have private air traffic control (here in the UK it’s partly privatised). When I talk to Americans about it they act shocked that we could compromise safety in such a way. But they fly here (or to Canada!) just fine.

          This is one American who is excited that we’re looking at going the same way, but it’s still more like privatizing road construction/maintenance than privatizing the whole network.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’ve heard that it’s easier to put something in a human body than it is to put it on an airliner.

            Heyooooooo!

          • Aapje says:

            I’ve heard that it’s easier to put something in a human body than it is to put it on an airliner.

            Some people would argue that it depends on your looks, height or social skills.

        • pontifex says:

          The reason why a National Health Service makes sense and a National Food Service does not is simple: healthcare will never be a real market.

          To have a market you have to have at least people choosing freely from multiple providers, and people choosing knowledgeably rather than randomly. Neither of those are true in health care. If you are having some kind of medical emergency, they’re just going to take you to the closest hospital most of the time. There is no choice there. Even in cases where you could theoretically choose, almost nobody has the required information to do so competently. Most people will never do the research to make an intelligent choice between different treatments or hospitals. And even if those two things were met (and they almost never are), government regulations mean that what’s being offered by different providers is pretty similar.

          So you have this fake Potemkin Market and people telling you that it’s “the free market.” Guys, it’s about as free as the election for Comrade Stalin in the USSR. There’s no choices, and even when there are, nobody choosing intelligently. You need some other non-market mechanism. It may or may not be single-payer, but it’s sure not going to look like the market for food.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Those flaws might be serious, but they aren’t always the case.

            Real medical emergencies, where every minute counts, are rare. If I get crushing chest pain, sure, I’ll call an ambulance to go to the closest hospital. But if I’ve got something a little less urgent – say, the time a couple years ago when I broke my collarbone – I can spend fifteen minutes or so to get to one that takes my insurance. I think there’re a lot more cases in the second group than in the first.

            Also, I’d be lost if I tried to compare every detail of medical providers, but there’re a lot of other markets like that. What’s the advantage of whole wheat flour over white? What’s the advantage of this plumber over that plumber? Well, I might look at brief overview articles, or I might ask my friends for recommendations, or I’m lucky enough to know a dietician so I might ask her advice. It wouldn’t be a perfect choice, but I’m glad I can make it.

          • skef says:

            Also, I’d be lost if I tried to compare every detail of medical providers, but there’re a lot of other markets like that. What’s the advantage of whole wheat flour over white? What’s the advantage of this plumber over that plumber? Well, I might look at brief overview articles, or I might ask my friends for recommendations, or I’m lucky enough to know a dietician so I might ask her advice. It wouldn’t be a perfect choice, but I’m glad I can make it.

            If this sort of comparison is valid, doesn’t it extend right through all the diagnostic aspects of medicine? What’s the advantage of this drug over that? Which tests are called for given my symptoms, and what should I do as a result? It’s just a matter of research, right?

          • Evan Þ says:

            It’s very imperfect, and making it better can require taking a lot more time, which is why I almost always defer to the doctor’s opinion on diagnosis and treatment. (The one big exception is that I still apply isopropyl alcohol to pimples and scratches. Despite the doctor saying it probably won’t help, I have the long experience on that one point to know that it does.) However, it’s still better than nothing, and probably better than the government making the choice for me.

            What’s more, I could say the same thing about plumbers, or landscapers, or home contractors, or pillow manufacturers, or any number of other fields where we know the free market works. If my argument is invalid in medicine, why shouldn’t it be invalid there? But if it works in those fields – as we’ve observed it to work – why shouldn’t it work in medicine too?

          • skef says:

            What’s more, I could say the same thing about plumbers, or landscapers, or home contractors, or pillow manufacturers, or any number of other fields where we know the free market works. If my argument is invalid in medicine, why shouldn’t it be invalid there? But if it works in those fields – as we’ve observed it to work – why shouldn’t it work in medicine too?

            With plumbing, landscaping, and home contracting, it can be difficult to judge value for money. But for the most part, it is less difficult to judge what counts as success aside from cost. Not always, but generally.

            With medicine, people outside of the field are often not in a position to accurately judge what a very good doctor could do about their situation, so that they can compare it to what a prospective doctor will do, or what their current doctor has done.

          • Evan Þ says:

            But for customer choice, how important is the difference between “nope, can’t cure your disease” and “sure, we can stop your foundation from slipping, but it’ll cost several hundred thousand that you can’t afford”? In each case, the customer can’t get a practicable solution from this doctor/contractor, but might be able to from a better one.

          • skef says:

            “I am in a maze of generic libertarian arguments, all alike”

          • Evan Þ says:

            Hey, there’re decent arguments against a libertarian approach to healthcare. The big one is unpredictability: I in my twenties have absolutely no idea how much healthcare I’ll require ten years from now, let alone fifty. Any health insurance plan I sign onto now will just be a guess, and if something goes wrong… well, after one broken collarbone, I can get on a better plan for the next one if I need to. But if I get a chronic illness – which IIRC is the majority of healthcare costs – it’ll probably be with me for the rest of my life and excluded as a preexisting condition if I try to get a better insurer, so I’ve no chance to correct errors there.

            I’d love to see any libertarian response to this (Dr. Friedman?). But let’s point to the real market failures, not places where the market is already working in analogous fields.

          • skef says:

            What we were discussing was the potential difficulty with aggregate quality judgments for different doctors or medical facilities, as a result of how things generally go. Someone not in a position to judge what treatment they should receive (the diagnostics argument) may also not be in a position to judge what a good outcome is (unless they can be completely cured, which is often not the case, particularly for problems other than not-too-severe injuries and common communicable illnesses — although with the latter doctors frequently don’t help anyway). This is a potential problem challenge for “Yelp for Doctors” as opposed to “Yelp for Plumbers”.

            In “response” you said a version of “OK, what about this kind of not all that common case”. That isn’t responsive to the earlier concerns. You’re not tracking the debate so much as taking me on a tour of the libertarian Stations of the Cross.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Someone not in a position to judge what treatment they should receive (the diagnostics argument) may also not be in a position to judge what a good outcome is

            Ah, thanks for clarifying! I think I see what you’re pointing to now – are you talking about something like “my hip is hurting; I’ve no idea what’s the problem; my doctor says it’s probably X and recommends Y,” where the patient not only has no idea whether Y is a good idea for X, but no idea whether X is the right diagnosis? Yes, I think I can see a difference between medicine and other things here – everyone can see what foods have whole-wheat flour even if they disagree on what that means, and I don’t think it’s that hard to tell whether a foundation is settling (or, at least, I think contractors will come out to give you a quote.)

            I don’t know what to say, in part because I’m not sure how big an issue this is in healthcare, or how good care people with these tough problems are getting under the current system anyway. Sometimes the pain is due to something doctors really will agree on (e.g. a broken hip or an inflamed tendon) but even there quality can very (e.g. does the doctor need to do an expensive X-ray before telling you your tendon’s inflamed). And if it isn’t (are there any stats on how often?)… maybe you’ll luck into a good doctor, or maybe not, and it seems to me that’s just as true under the current American system as the Canadian or British? But then, I really don’t have any basis for comparison there; I’ve seen someone try to navigate the American system, but never any other country’s.

            Thanks for explaining; it’s a tough question.

          • skef says:

            are you talking about something like “my hip is hurting; I’ve no idea what’s the problem; my doctor says it’s probably X and recommends Y,” where the patient not only has no idea whether Y is a good idea for X, but no idea whether X is the right diagnosis?

            That kind of direct problem, and also the indirect one of “Fred went to this doctor and died, and his wife says he’s a quack and is suing him, so maybe he’s a quack?”

            I don’t know what to say, in part because I’m not sure how big an issue this is in healthcare, or how good care people with these tough problems are getting under the current system anyway.

            Once source of evidence that I find relevant is that there is already (and probably perpetually) a parallel economy of supplements and other forms of alternative medicine that, when studied, seem to be of dubious benefit at best. So one risk of significant deregulation is that the overall healthcare system devolves into something that is much more in that direction.

            One of the libertarian arguments against that happening is that your insurance company is supposed to prevent that. But before people get to their 70s, serious medical conditions (beyond broken bones and the like) are relatively rare, and how are individual members supposed to judge whether Fred died because of an incurable disease or because his treatment was botched. (Not to mention strategies like rescission, which is the private contract version of making sure everyone is always guilty of something and prosecuting whoever becomes inconvenient.) The idea that it’s easy to avoid signing a contract that looks like it includes care in the face of serious illness, but doesn’t, seems naive to me.

          • pontifex says:

            What’s more, I could say the same thing about plumbers, or landscapers, or home contractors, or pillow manufacturers, or any number of other fields where we know the free market works. If my argument is invalid in medicine, why shouldn’t it be invalid there? But if it works in those fields – as we’ve observed it to work – why shouldn’t it work in medicine too?

            I don’t think it’s reasonable to compare the difficulty of figuring out whether your plumber was successful at unclogging the toilet with the difficulty of determining if a doctor’s diagnosis was correct. Or to compare whether a landscaper was successful at trimming the hedges and mowing the grass to evaluating cancer treatments.

            Also regulation is not a binary dichotomy. In a lot of industries we accept some government regulation but not full government control. For example, you are not allowed to sweeten bread with lead acetate, even if the market thinks it’s OK. But we don’t want to buy burritos from USGov (even when the Dems are in power)

          • Evan Þ says:

            @pontifex, unclogging a toilet is easy mode, more or less like giving someone an antibiotic which, after several days, they can see for themselves that it worked. There’re tougher plumbing problems, and tougher landscaping problems that only show up after a few really heavy rains, just like there’re tougher medical problems.

            And then, as skef points out, there’re even tougher medical problems that don’t really fit the analogy.

          • skef says:

            @pontifex, unclogging a toilet is easy mode, more or less like giving someone an antibiotic which, after several days, they can see for themselves that it worked.

            If you’re given an antibiotic for a virus that clears up after several days, you might also “see” for yourself that it worked.

          • pontifex says:

            @pontifex, unclogging a toilet is easy mode, more or less like giving someone an antibiotic which, after several days, they can see for themselves that it worked.

            For hundreds of years people fed each other liquid mercury, applied leeches and hot wax, and consumed literal snake oil because they could “see that it was working.” Of course, what they really saw was the body’s natural healing mechanism at work, plus randomness with sample size = 1, and their own sloppy epistemics. Similarly, no doubt someone could take a completely useless antibiotic and conclude that their doctor was a genius at curing the flu a few days later. Except the flu is a viral infection which is not affected by antibiotics.

            There’re tougher plumbing problems, and tougher landscaping problems that only show up after a few really heavy rains, just like there’re tougher medical problems.

            Plumbing is simply much better understood than medicine. The results of plumbing work are simply easier to inspect and understand than the results of medical work. The market has more useful information to report back from consumers to producers and less misinformation and noise.

            In any case, plumbing is regulated. For example, I can’t just dump my sewage into the local river, even though it would be convient for me. I can’t install new lead pipes even if I have a bunch sitting around and it’s a sunk cost. There are even building codes specifing how downward-sloping sewage pipes have to be.

          • keranih says:

            @ skef –

            With plumbing, landscaping, and home contracting, it can be difficult to judge value for money. But for the most part, it is less difficult to judge what counts as success aside from cost. Not always, but generally.

            With medicine, people outside of the field are often not in a position to accurately judge what a very good doctor could do about their situation,

            Skef, I find this unconvincing. People outside of landscaping have no clue what sort of total transformation a really good landscaper could do, either – vs creating a goddawful mess that dies completely the next winter and invades all the pipes in five years and falls on your house in ten years.

            People keep trying to come up with reasons that customers shouldnt be allowed to make choices for human medicine that they make for all other parts of their lives, and it continues to not make sense.

            I suggest instead that there is perhaps not that much difference in outcomes between really good docs and mediocre, uninspired ones, given the (relatively) high caliber of humans-who-want-to-be-physicians, and the licensing scheme we have in the USA.

            Furthermore, did people *start* discriminating on cost, I think that the various medical centers would come up with ways to offer consumers easily understood quality discriminators in order to convince consumers that paying the extra cost was worth it.

          • Iain says:

            Skef, I find this unconvincing. People outside of landscaping have no clue what sort of total transformation a really good landscaper could do, either – vs creating a goddawful mess that dies completely the next winter and invades all the pipes in five years and falls on your house in ten years.

            If your landscaping invades all your pipes in five years, then in five years you will probably have a pretty decent clue about the quality of your landscaper. If you have back pain five years after surgery for a herniated disk, what does that mean about the quality of your doctor?

            One important difference is the expected frequency of failure. If a landscaping job ends in tragedy, then the landscaper clearly did something wrong; if a cancer diagnosis ends in tragedy, then frequently there was nothing more the doctor could have done.

          • keranih says:

            If we’re talking expectations management, and how difficult it is to convince people that there are limits to what can be done…sure, I agree that’s an issue.

            But the makeup industry seems to chug along pretty well as it promises the moon and leaves most of us looking, well, average. And landscapers really can’t turn deserts into jungles.

            Which trails back around to what do we want from health care – do we want people to be objectively healthier than they would be under another type of care? Do we want them to be able to make more choices? Do we want them to be happier with the care they get? How about giving them the same care that they get now, but it’s cheaper? Something else?

            I suggest that a) we don’t have a common agreement on what the end goal is, b) that what maximizes one goal will not maximize others and c) given the variety of goals, the free market is really the only one that will supply a variety of goods so that most people can get what they most want.

            (Some people have pointed to what they see as a lot of goal post shifting on the part of health care reformers – arguing first for “healthier people” and then moving to “cheaper care” or “more equal access” as the opportunity arises. I think that in reality there are a variety of people with different goals and what sounds conflicting is just a variety of voices.)

          • skef says:

            People keep trying to come up with reasons that customers shouldnt be allowed to make choices for human medicine that they make for all other parts of their lives, and it continues to not make sense.

            I suggest instead that there is perhaps not that much difference in outcomes between really good docs and mediocre, uninspired ones, given the (relatively) high caliber of humans-who-want-to-be-physicians, and the licensing scheme we have in the USA.

            So our regulation scheme is a large part of what neutralizes what would otherwise be bad outcomes of consumer choice, but harnessing market forces within that scheme is the key to cost savings? Usually the market arguments are paired with pleas for deregulation.

          • keranih says:

            @ Skef –

            Regulation creates a floor to decreasing cost, which is why cost reduction efforts generally include a section on reducing inefficent regulation. I am not such a libertarian that I think we should do away with all regulation – I think that at a minimum, a regulation concerning truth in advertising is a good one (the state can’t force customers to make good choices but it can complicate the efforts of the seller to mislead the customer.)

            However, it’s pretty much true that regulations tend to codify a particular response to a quality issue. When other alternatives are invented to improve the quality at lower cost, the regulation may force the industry/seller to keep to the previous method even though better options exist.

            (As an example – in the US, food code sets limits on what is the ‘danger zone’ for food – the temperature zone where (within a set time) pathogens can grow. This temperature range is a cornerstone to food safety. And the regulation has shifted over time because of new data that indicated a better refinement.)

          • John Schilling says:

            If you’re given an antibiotic for a virus that clears up after several days, you might also “see” for yourself that it worked.

            Is this not a thing that doctors routinely do today, even when employer-provided health insurance, medicare, or the NHS is paying the bill? Doesn’t seem so much like a market failure as a universal medical failure.

          • skef says:

            Is this not a thing that doctors routinely do today, even when employer-provided health insurance, medicare, or the NHS is paying the bill? Doesn’t seem so much like a market failure as a universal medical failure.

            I don’t have data for you, but this is one thing I would expect to see less (but not none) of with more centralization. That impression may be based on the corresponding change in educational models, in which students seeing themselves and being seen as customers leads to a lot of practices that cost more and don’t really benefit them. In the end it’s a social change, leading to the question “what am I paying you for”, that is the big motivator.

            But that wasn’t the point. Stipulate that it happens everywhere: it’s still the sort of effect that interferes with accurate patient evaluation of doctor quality. Far more common than unneeded antibiotics is that by the time a person seeks treatment for an infection, including a bacterial one, no treatment is going to make a difference because their immune system is already on it.

          • keranih says:

            Far more common than unneeded antibiotics is that by the time a person seeks treatment for an infection, including a bacterial one, no treatment is going to make a difference because their immune system is already on it.

            Emmm. Could you unpack this? Because when most health types talk about “innappropriate use of antibiotics” they mean wrong drug, wrong dose, wrong duration, wrong patient, wrong indication, the whole shebang – of which “antibiotics for an uncomplicated viral infection” is just a subset.

            (And this goes into how we measure “good health outcomes” – a doc who gives a bottle of pills could make the patient happy, if no healthier, and also (fractionally) decrease the health of the population by increasing pathogen resistance. (He’s also going to save a few lives by stopping a not-yet-apparent bad bacterial sequali to a viral infection, which is why “give antibiotics even when you’re pretty sure it’s just viral” was a thing in the first place.) A doc who sold no bottle of pills is going to protect the population (a little) probably piss off the patient (a lot) and (rarely) lose a life when the (not yet apparent) infection goes nova overnight and the patient is seriously ill by the time they get to the hospital.

            Balancing the various upsides and downsides through this is very tricky. The metrics are not very tight and there is a wide latitude among providers about what “looks” appropriate. As we increase both knowledge and treatable conditions, we develop formal guidelines that help provide the best care for a larger and larger portion of the population while increasing the “looks right” margins of uncertainty for other, more rare conditions. And all of these feed back on each other in conjunction with culture, genes, environment, etc, etc.

          • skef says:

            Emmm. Could you unpack this? Because when most health types talk about “innappropriate use of antibiotics” they mean wrong drug, wrong dose, wrong duration, wrong patient, wrong indication, the whole shebang – of which “antibiotics for an uncomplicated viral infection” is just a subset.

            Once again, the issue I am discussing is the ability for actual or prospective patients to make judgments about the quality of their doctors. The subject of antibiotics originally came up in this context:

            unclogging a toilet is easy mode, more or less like giving someone an antibiotic which, after several days, they can see for themselves that it worked.

            In the reply you’re referring to, I’m not making claims about inappropriate use of antibiotics. I’m referring to the facts that 1) viral infections such as colds generally get better on their own, so whatever the doctor does (such as recommend cold medicine, or prescribe antibiotics) doesn’t contribute, and 2) bacterial infections often would get better on their own on roughly the same time-scale as without antibiotics.

            Prescribing antibiotics in type 2 cases is not using them inappropriately (assuming the selection is reasonable), because of the chance that the patient won’t recover on their own. But that doesn’t mean that if the patient infers a causal effect, they will be right.

          • pontifex says:

            keranih: People keep trying to come up with reasons that customers shouldnt be allowed to make choices for human medicine that they make for all other parts of their lives, and it continues to not make sense.

            I agree that people should have choices. They should be able to get second opinions from other doctors, or even choose to pay for their own care out of pocket if they truly want to. They should be able to refuse “heroic” treatments for cancer in favor of dying with dignity and so forth.

            I just disagree that increasing patients’ choice of doctors would lead to a meaningfully better system than what we have now in the US or to what exists in e.g. Britain with the NHS. You’re asking people to choose between things they don’t understand.

            Of course we should be trying to measure patient outcomes and hold the government / insurance companies / whatever to account. And we should be making this information available to the public. But this more likely to take the form of acadmic studies of various treatments or medical centers. And it’s going to be very hard to interpret. For example, a hospital located in a poor area might have worse outcomes just because more patients are diabetic or drug- addicted, not because the care is any better or worse.

          • You’re asking people to choose between things they don’t understand.

            We make a lot of choices between things we don’t understand. Almost no parent has the information to evaluate different colleges for his kids on his own. Almost no purchaser of a car or computer knows enough about cars or computers to evaluate for himself which to buy. Similarly for many other expenditures.

            We solve that problem by using a variety of intermediaries and reputational mechanisms in all of those cases. They are not perfect. The question is whether that decentralized system works better than the alternative of using a very imperfect political mechanism to make the decisions for us.

            In fields other than health care, I think there is massive evidence that it does, most obviously from the history of the USSR and Maoist China, more generally from the comparison of fields dominated by political provision with fields dominated by market provision.

            If that’s right, then the argument comes down to the claim that health care has some special features that make providing it harder on the market but not through the political system, or at least have a much larger negative effect in the former context than in the latter.

          • pontifex says:

            Heh, you are tenacious!

            I agree that people often make choices they don’t understand. But I’m not sure that proves what you are trying to prove. Arguably we often make bad choices, like voting for political candidates whose foreign policy is bad, or eating foods based on fads like gluten-free, paleo diet, low-fat, etc. And those bad choices have bad results!

            To really prove what you’re trying to show (healthcare should be a free market) you have to either show that the bad choices lead to good results (which you have not shown) or that there is a moral dimension to the choosing. In other words, we have to let people choose to consume mercury pills and get leeches applied because not letting them do so is contrary to their basic human liberty.

            I think getting stuck in a rut of “free market vs. not free market” misses the point that we really ought to be getting to, which is setting up reasonable incentives to make health care better. Some of those will be market-based, but some of them will not. Certainly costs will never get under control until we measure patient outcomes intelligently and get malpractice lawsuits under control– two things I haven’t seen anyone mention in this (at this pint quite long) discussion.

          • Arguably we often make bad choices, like voting for political candidates whose foreign policy is bad, or eating foods based on fads like gluten-free, paleo diet, low-fat, etc. And those bad choices have bad results!

            In the case of voting for the wrong candidates, my bad choice has almost zero probability of producing a bad consequence for me, since if the candidate won he would almost certainly have won without my vote. Your other examples are legitimate. But that one is important, because voting is what ultimately is supposed to control the alternative to the market system, and the same problem exists there.

            To really prove what you’re trying to show (healthcare should be a free market) you have to either show that the bad choices lead to good results (which you have not shown) or that there is a moral dimension to the choosing.

            That is not correct. All I would have to show is that the choices made, some of which will be bad, lead on average to better results than the choices made under alternative institutions.

            Isn’t it obvious that your claim of what I have to show was wrong? The question is not “will these institutions never have bad results,” because we don’t have any set of institutions that we can be confident will never lead to bad results.

          • keranih says:

            I just disagree that increasing patients’ choice of doctors would lead to a meaningfully better system than what we have now in the US

            I don’t think it will necessarily result in better health outcomes (ie, people living longer, more physically capable lives) because I think that we do a *pretty good* job at that.

            (Before people start jumping down my throat, it’s not that I think that people are “healthy enough” in the USA, it’s that I think that there is not that much that “more free health care” is going to do to make people live longer, more physically capable lives. There is room to change/improve, but not a whole lotta room to improve via direct patient care.)

            What I *do* think the free market/greater choice will do is rather drastically reduce the cost of providing the care level that we currently have. Which is the primary distinguishing factor between all facets of the US “national system” – INCLUDING THE GOVERNMENT PROVIDED ONES – and that of all the other nations. Even our government provided care is not cheap.

            People can claim that if the US implements a single payer system that we’ll end up with the NHS. We won’t – we’ll end up with the VA, which doesn’t even provide the entirety of care consumed by vets. And is still crappy and expensive.

            I accept the premise that the cost of US health care needs to come down. I reject the suggestion that we need single payer or anything of the sort to do so.

      • cassander says:

        1: The risk is high, and the skill needed to keep it safe is high, but the cost of training pilots to attain that skill, and the cost of designing planes to be safe, while very expensive, apparently is not as high a percentage of total costs as the equivalent training is in the medical field, which is why there are more complaints about expensive healthcare than airlines. Airlines can afford (relatively) low prices, whereas the medical industry cannot.

        Training pilots is at least as expensive as training doctors, and talking about an industry being unable to afford low prices is nonsensical.

        If you completely deregulated the airlines, then there could be terrible pilots flying around in terrible planes for low prices,

        Who would fly on those airlines? What company, having spent hundreds of millions on planes, would hire such terrible pilots? Your entire argument is premised on the assumption that people are totally un-risk averse.

        2: I did mention this, but the problem is that it’s a massive gamble. It was a gamble deregulating the airline industry too, but I have to assume they didn’t massively deregulate the parts of the airline industry that had to do with safety when they privatized them.

        No it wasn’t. It was an entirely sensible move that had exactly the predicted result, much lower costs. You’re trying to argue that evidence against your point is evidence for it.

        I’ve never heard anyone propose water supply subsidization (water is cheap), and it’s certainly not a popular proposal, which is what I’m getting at.

        If you’re in the US, your water is already controlled by rules that are basically communist, with government controlling the distribution and setting prices by fiat. We’ve already had that debate, and the free marketeers lost.

        • bean says:

          Training pilots is at least as expensive as training doctors, and talking about an industry being unable to afford low prices is nonsensical.

          One pilot’s salary can be spread out across a lot more customers than a doctor’s can. On even the smallest mainline planes, you have 70+ people per pilot. (Smaller regional planes are sort of farm teams for pilots, and the salaries are often low because the pilots are expecting to move up.) Yes, there’s more overhead than a doctor’s visit, but the spread is a lot thinner. (Also, pilot training is cheaper than current doctor training by a fair margin.)

          Who would fly on those airlines? What company, having spent hundreds of millions on planes, would hire such terrible pilots? Your entire argument is premised on the assumption that people are totally un-risk averse.

          Not quite. Allegiant is a pretty good example of people coming as close to this as they can under US regulations, or it was before they started buying A320s. You can pick up old MD-80s or 737 Classics for a few million apiece. Yes, they burn a lot of fuel and they’re noisy, but noise is presumably not an issue any more (with more deregulation), and when you’re paying 10% of what your competitors are for airplanes, the ROI is pretty good. And one of Allegiant’s MD-88s had as many safety incidents as Delta’s entire fleet of 117 did in a 15-month period. Yes, people can and do try to get away with things. I’d point to ValueJet as an obvious example. I’ve heard of several that were even more hair-raising (outside the US), but can’t share details. There are people who will try to fly with big holes in their airplanes, and given the general public’s proclivity to buy tickets only on price, I’m really, really not sure that LibertarianAir wouldn’t make a bunch of money before it killed a plane full of people. And then start up under another name and try it all again.

          • cassander says:

            One pilot’s salary can be spread out across a lot more customers than a doctor’s can. On even the smallest mainline planes, you have 70+ people per pilot.

            Yeah, but you have a lot more than one pilot per plane, a lot more than one per flight, even.

            >the ROI is pretty good

            My understanding is that the ROI in commercial aviation is almost universally terrible,

            >Yes, people can and do try to get away with things. I’d point to ValueJet as an obvious example.

            An obvious example of the market working. They basically went out of business within a year.

          • bean says:

            Yeah, but you have a lot more than one pilot per plane, a lot more than one per flight, even.

            Yes. Which is why I said 70 customers per pilot. A typical load on a small mainline plane is ~140, with two pilots. If we look at customers/hr, a doctor is going to get maybe 4, and a pilot is probably going to average somewhere on the order of 50. Less for longhaul routes, but those have higher ticket prices to compensate, and usually run bigger planes. (Both times don’t count time not spent doing the direct job with the customers, but that’s when the hospital/airline gets paid, so I’m comfortable with the comparison.)

            My understanding is that the ROI in commercial aviation is almost universally terrible,

            Warren Buffet’s jokes aside, the airlines have been making quite a bit of money lately. Allegiant has made the model of old planes cheap work quite well, as have several other airlines before them.

            An obvious example of the market working. They basically went out of business within a year.

            Really? ValueJet did not go out of business. It merged with AirTran and took AirTran’s name. (ValueJet was much larger, but laundered their name to fool people. It clearly worked.) AirTran survived until Southwest took it over to get more 737s. Yes, there were reforms made. But ValueJet’s management also went and started Allegiant, which used a similar business model. And what carrier did I single out as having bad safety practices?

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, but you have a lot more than one pilot per plane, a lot more than one per flight, even.

            Didn’t you just deregulate? Why can’t they then fly with just 1 pilot? It would usually work out.

          • albatross11 says:

            Why, if they were really careless and evil, they might get down around the same number of fatalities per mile as driving.

    • IrishDude says:

      Libertarians are correct that the government makes healthcare more expensive than it would be in a free market, but this is because the rest of humanity, ideologically speaking, will not accept trade-offs when it comes to healthcare.

      As a keyhole solution, allow people to opt out. Allow people to sign an affidavit saying they accept the risks of using non-government regulated health care and then allow them to do so. Let non-government regulated health care providers then serve the opted-out population. Similar to how I signed waivers at my rock climbing gym and hang gliding school accepting the increased risks of injury and promising not to sue for injuries I’d potentially sustain while climbing or flying.

      This way, the ‘rest of humanity’ can continue to only use government-regulated health care, which they find to be value-added, and the small portion of people who disagree can use their non-government regulated health care.

      • Matt M says:

        If they won’t let us do this for retirement savings, they’re never gonna let us do it for health care…

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Is healthcare a ponzi scheme like nationalized retirement “savings” is?

          • Brad says:

            Medicare looks a lot like Social Security but even worse in that costs per beneficiary are increasing faster than the rate of inflation while for Social Security only increases by CPI.

      • This is what I would personally support. I generally support “government doing stuff”, but allowing stupid/daring people to make intrepid leaps for the sake of the rest of us. Except for areas with massive externalities, or things that I truly think could go almost 100% free market, I support multi-tiered systems. I like this sort of libertarian compromise, as it appeals to my innate moral sense, and also my pragmatic streak.

        I devote my concern and empathy to innocents who have been wronged through no fault of their own. I can relate to that. It’s hard to blame someone for suddenly falling down a sinkhole that appeared under their feet, but easy to blame someone who climbs over 17 fences with barbed wire, warning signs, and blazing sirens in order to toss themselves down an abandoned mine shaft. I have approximately zero concern for Darwin award winners, but I do understand that this makes me a “sociopathic” aberration.

        Normal people have massive objections because they believe that people should be saved from their own stupidity, so it’s not going to happen.

        • Matt M says:

          It sounds nice in theory, but I’m not sure government systems and market-based systems can legitimately function side by side.

          Either the market will dramatically out-compete the government such that nobody will ever use the government version and it will collapse under its own weight, OR the government (in fear of/response to this) will so heavily subsidize the product with tax dollars (you don’t think that just because you choose to not send your children to public school you get out of paying taxes for public school, do you?) that the market can’t possibly compete on real terms and is only viable for the super rich (private school) or super-principled (home-schooling) and will never attract a mass market.

          • rlms says:

            You’re talking about something different to IrishDude. He is proposing to let people use unregulated services; the problem with this is it weakens the power of regulation to pretty much nothing if you can just opt out.

            You are suggesting opting out of using government-run systems, not government-regulated ones. This is perfectly possible (except in certain parts of Canada). It’s not that common, because government-run ones generally work pretty well.

            For the purposes of fixing the US system though (since that is the implicit subject of all discussions of healthcare), this isn’t really relevant. There’s no reason that the US should choose a nationalised system; given its traditional antipathy to the government doing anything (except blowing people up) it would make more sense to go for a German/Japanese/etc.-style insurance system.

          • baconbacon says:

            the problem with this is it weakens the power of regulation to pretty much nothing if you can just opt out.

            Only true if the perceived value of the regulation outweighs the costs.

          • rlms says:

            @baconbacon
            The regulation is weakened regardless. Whether this is a problem does depend on the value of the regulation, but since the people with the ability to change that are assuming it is beneficial that is the only relevant case. If you can persuade them that the regulation is net harmful, they will just scrap it altogether.

          • baconbacon says:

            The regulation is weakened regardless.

            Your statement was that regulation would be weakened to nothing, not that it would be weakened.

          • baconbacon says:

            If you can persuade them that the regulation is net harmful, they will just scrap it altogether.

            This is absurd on several levels. First who am I supposed to convince? The guy enforcing the regulations? The judge ruling on them? The bureaucrat writing them? Congress? The voters? There is no “they”, which is a large portion of the problem.

            “Look I have evidence that a 1 ppt standard is onerous!”
            Guy at the EPA ” Hey, I don’t set the standards, take it up with my boss”
            His boss “I don’t have the authority to alter what is in the law”
            Congress “do you carry 100,000 votes in my district? No? Go fuck yourself”

            Even in scenarios where individual bureaucrats have the power to change the standard you have to convince them not of a new standard but to accept a decrease of their power while simultaneously getting them to admit that the previous one that they had been enforcing is wrong.

            Secondly there is no standard, every situation is different, what is harmful in some scenarios is neutral to good in others.

            Finally proving that a regulation is harmful is basically impossible when the evidence you would need to collect is never created thanks to the regulation itself.

          • rlms says:

            Oh, I didn’t realise that was your issue. Let me justify that claim.
            Consider the three cases for a piece of regulation: it is either significant and beneficial, significant and detrimental, or insignificant. In the first case, it only affects edge cases, because good companies will abide by it anyway. If you can persuade someone to buy snake oil, you can also persuade them to fill out a regulation-opt-out-form. So the existence of such a form makes the regulation basically nonexistent. In the second case, unregulated companies will provide a significantly better service than regulated ones, so customers will flock to them despite having to fill out a form, and they will capture the market just like they would with no regulation. In the third case, the difference between the regulation existing and not is insignificant anyway, regardless of whether it is possible to opt out.

            Edit:
            In response to your second comment: you have to convince the lawmakers. But you seem confused. The difficulty of persuading lawmakers to deregulate is irrelevant. The situation is this: you, a libertarian, want minimal regulation; the government disagree. So you propose an opt-out system, where the government can still regulate most things but you get some of the advantages of deregulation. Given this, logically they must perceive regulation to be beneficial. Otherwise you would be in agreement that it is harmful, and they would already have removed it. So it doesn’t matter if my statement is “only true if the perceived value of the regulation outweighs the costs”; that’s the only case it is logical to consider.

          • Government and private systems already operate in parallel in areas like housing, transport and education. Out competition doesn’t occur because the price/ quality points are different.

        • @Matt M

          Either the market will dramatically out-compete the government such that nobody will ever use the government version and it will collapse under its own weight

          This sounds more like a feature than a bug. If the government version is genuinely needed by the poor, then they’ll use it. If the market is outcompeting the government service to that extent, it’s probably a sign the market has (in the long run) trialed and errored its way to being safe at a low cost.

          Also, there’s no reason for a government program to just collapse so long as it was solvent to begin with, budgetary wise. If we were mad, we could pay public sector workers the exact same amount to just stand around doing nothing, though it would just be a tremendous waste. If they really were standing around doing nothing, that would be a sign that they have become obsolete.

          OR the government (in fear of/response to this) will so heavily subsidize the product with tax dollars (you don’t think that just because you choose to not send your children to public school you get out of paying taxes for public school, do you?) that the market can’t possibly compete on real terms and is only viable for the super rich (private school) or super-principled (home-schooling) and will never attract a mass market.

          The government could crowd out the private sector, yes, but this would be a sign that taxes are too high, or weighted regressive, and is a problem for our regular society where there is a public and private sector, but not a regulated and unregulated sector as in IrishDude’s scheme.

          Most restrictions on the private sector are due to outright regulations and not people having no money left to spend there because it’s all been taxed out of them. At least taxes aren’t crippling for low incomes in the UK, so if the government continues the same fiscal behavior under the new system then things should be okay. I think we are assuming that the government would respond to the opt-out system by trying to create a Super Duper Ultra Hyper NHS or something. I don’t know why they would want to do this, since they are not a company trying to attract demand, and assuming that voters were in the mindframe to support a system of well sign posted opt-in regulation waivers, they are probably in a more libertarian mindset than today to begin with, and massively increasing the funding of government programs isn’t at the top of their checklist.

          There are too many things that would have to change about the current demographics in variations on the human psyche in order to predict what kind of incentives would be created for government. Voters would be very different people in this hypothetical society.

          EDIT: I actually think the biggest barrier discounting psychology would be bureaucracy costs to make sure the deregulated things are well signposted.

    • Corey says:

      Food is also much more substitutable than healthcare.

      If someone’s starving, then (modulo food allergies) you can feed them whatever happens to be cheap and available.

      If someone has advanced hepatitis C, then they need Sovaldi, a liver transplant, or a coffin; it doesn’t matter to them that metformin is $4 for 30 pills.

      • baconbacon says:

        If someone has advanced hepatitis C, then they need Sovaldi, a liver transplant, or a coffin; it doesn’t matter to them that metformin is $4 for 30 pills.

        It matters a huge amount if then entire industry is open to competition or not.

        • Corey says:

          We disallow competition in name-brand drugs intentionally, for policy reasons, to provide funds for their R&D. For generic drugs (e.g. metformin) competition works pretty well, better than in most healthcare fields actually, thanks to the FDA’s high quality floor and that the shoppers are insurers and pharmacy purchasing managers rather than end customers.

          There are other ways we could fund drug R&D but none more market-y than the current temporary-monopoly system AFAIK.

    • baconbacon says:

      Imagine a true free market, in which there were services that required credentials where doctors had to go to medical school and get a degree after 7 years or however long, and then there were services where a guy who looked up brain surgery on wikipedia could operate on you for the price of a coffee. Foolish and/or risky people in dire straits would die all the time.

      This is very dishonest Why in the world would a true free market end up with a choice between a 7 year degree and a guy performing surgery from a wikipedia article?

    • cassander says:

      Imagine a true free market, in which there were services that required credentials where doctors had to go to medical school and get a degree after 7 years or however long, and then there were services where a guy who looked up brain surgery on wikipedia could operate on you for the price of a coffee. Foolish and/or risky people in dire straits would die all the time.

      As opposed to now, where people never decide on foolish medical procedures? Now, if you want to argue that such things will happen more on the margin, then fine, but then you have to look at the marginal befit of overall cheaper care.

      >, but this is because the rest of humanity, ideologically speaking, will not accept trade-offs when it comes to healthcare

      Of course they can, they just don’t want to. How is perpetuating people’s delusions good policy?

      > but since that will come at the cost of lives, the rest of humanity (including the mainstream right) cannot accept it, and likely never will.

      Again, only if you ignore the lives saved by cheaper care.

      >So, to re-iterate, the real reason healthcare should be free at the point of use is because healthcare is ridiculously expensive,

      This is a circular argument. Healthcare is expensive BECAUSE it’s free at point of use.

      • rlms says:

        “This is a circular argument. Healthcare is expensive BECAUSE it’s free at point of use.”
        What healthcare is expensive? The relevant difference to me seems to be US vs rest of developed world, where freeness at point of use seems to broadly anticorrelate with expensiveness (in that it is very unfree and very expensive in the US compared to everywhere else; variation in freeness has comparatively little effect within the “everyone else” category).

        • Corey says:

          Well, in rest-of-developed-world there’s usually price controls of one form or another – Singapore has prices directly set by fiat, single-payer countries use the resulting monopsony power to set prices, UK NHS directly delivers the care so they set the prices they pay themselves, etc.

          We have some patchwork versions of this in the US via Medicare and private-insurer network contracts. This is the major value in using insurance for routine care – you’ll pay much less because of the negotiated network rates. (It doesn’t help that you usually can’t find out or haggle on the rates before the service is delivered, leaving you with no leverage other than the threat of default and/or bankruptcy).

          There are areas where that can’t apply, because the upside to the provider of being in a network is that moire patients will choose them. So for any provider who doesn’t get chosen by the patient (e.g. any service performed in a hospital) they won’t be on a network, because there’s no upside for them.

          • cassander says:

            The major value of using insurance for regular care is that insurance is massively subsidized by the government, not negotiated rates. This is proven by the fact that in no other industry are rates so negotiated.

        • cassander says:

          (in that it is very unfree and very expensive in the US compared to everywhere else)

          Not really. US healthcare is freer at point of use than almost all other countries.

          • rlms says:

            That table says that out-of-pocket expenditure in the US is not abnormally large as a percentage of overall expenditure in comparison to other developed countries. They are the relevant point of comparison, and I don’t think the figures are lower for the US than “almost all” developed countries: the US is higher than some but lower than the Netherlands, France, Qatar, the UK and Luxembourg (and the same as New Zealand). I’m also not sure about the accuracy of that table; a lot of African countries have weirdly low rates. But in any case, freeness at point of use as an absolute value is also a relevant thing to compare, and I think that is a lot higher for the US than comparable countries.

          • cassander says:

            That table says that out-of-pocket expenditure in the US is not abnormally large as a percentage of overall expenditure in comparison to other developed countries.

            No, it says out of pocket expenditure is abnormally SMALL compared to other countries,

            >hey are the relevant point of comparison, and I don’t think the figures are lower for the US than “almost all” developed countries

            We both count maybe 5 developed countries lower than the US. that’s lower than the vast majority.

            >a lot of African countries have weirdly low rates

            .

            I wouldn’t trust those numbers either, but they aren’t relevant to the conversation.

            But in any case, freeness at point of use as an absolute value is also a relevant thing to compare, and I think that is a lot higher for the US than comparable countries.

            Only if you’re considering absolute wealth at the same time.

          • rlms says:

            @cassander
            “No, it says out of pocket expenditure is abnormally SMALL compared to other countries”
            Where are you getting that from? There are 5 reasonably-sized developed countries with expenditure lower than or equal to the US, ranging from 5.2% (Holland) to 11% (New Zealand), and I can see about 20 with higher expenditure. Most of those are clustered around the 13% mark. Granting perfect accuracy of the data, the US is perhaps moderately below average. If you’re calling its expenditure “abnormally small”, you should describe the height of 5 ft 6 men and an IQ of 85 in the same way. That’s not the way I’d use that phrase.

            But in any case, if you’re proposing a causal link where the 2% difference between the US and the majority of developed countries accounts for the >>2% difference in overall cost between the same groups, you need to explain the 5% difference in the other direction between the US and France/the Netherlands.

          • cassander says:

            @rlms

            Most of those are clustered around the 13% mark.

            From italy, 21%; spain 24; german 13; canada, 13; switzerland, 26; south korean, 36; ireland, 17. I deny that “most” are clustered around 13%.

          • rlms says:

            @cassander
            I count ~10 from 11% to 15%, and ~15 above 15% (I missed a few on my earlier look). So I’ll say “a lot” or “about 1/3 of all developed countries” rather than “most”. I don’t think that impacts anything else I said.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      In my health economics course, we started off by listing differences between healthcare and most market goods. Looking at my notes, our list was:

      1. There is no direct demand for health care. Consuming “health care” is generally unpleasant, and only arises as part of a derived demand for health.
      2. Demand is highly uncertain. You don’t know when or how severely you’ll get sick; you also don’t know if a given treatment will make you better.
      3. There is strong information asymmetry: care providers know much more about the options available than patients do. On the flip side, patients generally have a more comprehensive view of their personal information than their care providers.
      4. On top of that, individuals are vulnerable when making choices; patients and families in crisis aren’t rational agents.
      5. There are huge amounts of externalities. Particularly in communicable diseases, but in public health in general (i.e. social spread of diet/exercise behaviour).

      All of these mean that, while you can talk about health care in market terms, some major assumptions of standard neoclassical economics don’t apply, and they have to be addressed somehow.

      • In my health economics course, we started off by listing differences between healthcare and most market goods. Looking at my notes, our list was:

        1. There is no direct demand for health care. Consuming “health care” is generally unpleasant, and only arises as part of a derived demand for health.

        There is no direct demand for flour, or dried beans, or yeast, or quite a lot of things in the grocery store. The demand for those things only arises because they are inputs to producing things people want. Like health care.

        2. Demand is highly uncertain. You don’t know when or how severely you’ll get sick; you also don’t know if a given treatment will make you better.

        Sounds like demand for the services of plumbers. You don’t know when a toilet will get stopped up or pipes develop a leak, and the plumber might fix the wrong problem (I’ve just been through several days of trying to fix an irrigation problem myself, to finally have it fixed by a professional. It seems likely that the first two things I did involved replacing a working unit with a new working unit in the mistaken belief that it was the source of the problem).

        3. There is strong information asymmetry: care providers know much more about the options available than patients do. On the flip side, patients generally have a more comprehensive view of their personal information than their care providers.

        The second part is a problem for insurers, not care providers. The patient has no incentive to misinform the provider. The first part would be true of many consumer goods. How many purchasers of cell phones have an adequate knowledge of what is available and how it differs? Automobiles?

        4. On top of that, individuals are vulnerable when making choices; patients and families in crisis aren’t rational agents.

        That covers only a fraction of medical care. The obvious solution is to make the relevant decisions in advance–for instance in deciding what your medical insurance will cover.

        5. There are huge amounts of externalities. Particularly in communicable diseases, but in public health in general (i.e. social spread of diet/exercise behaviour).

        Communicable diseases involve a real externality, but since a large part of the benefit of vaccination goes to the person vaccinated it’s not clear that the result is a seriously suboptimal level. The second part extends “externality” widely enough to cover practically anything. Consider the social spread of clothing styles. Automobile styles. Religious and political beliefs. Food fads.

        All of these mean that, while you can talk about health care in market terms, some major assumptions of standard neoclassical economics don’t apply, and they have to be addressed somehow.

        Alternatively, the list means that the professor was trying to justify the policies that exist and/or he approves of, not trying to use economic theory to discover what policies were justified.

        For a much longer and old discussion of the relevant economics with the opposite bias, see this.

        • maybe_slytherin says:

          The list was definitely partly historical, for sure, starting from Arrow. I think much of the bias, if anything, was that she wanted to push more in the direction of behavioural economics.

          More to the point, the list was to indicate that in health care, all 5 of these factors are present, while generally only some of them are for other products.

          You definitely know more econ than I do, so I’ll respond more in the spirit of clarifying what I meant than trying to make a bulletproof argument.

          1. Part of the point of indirect demand, from a policy perspective, is that there things that improve health besides health care, and you can do well by targeting those. I’m not sure that indirect demand is that big a deal, though, because it’s common to a lot of services (though I’m not sure that basic foodstuffs count).

          2. For anticipating future demand, I think the magnitude of uncertainty is higher for health care than plumbing or automobiles. For uncertainty in effectiveness, it is very common to administer the same treatment and get different results —
          which isn’t true of your plumbing example, even though there’s clearly expertise in identifying the correct problem. I think with health care, the expectation/good practice of continuity of care reduces the ability to shop around as you can for, say, plumbers.

          3. Patients’ incentives to misinform providers doesn’t have to be rational, nor deliberate. It’s common to not know that something might be relevant medical information, or be too ashamed to admit it. In the other direction, yes, it’s common for sellers of all kinds to know more about various products and solutions. What’s less common is for them to know more about what the problem is.

          4. “Patients being irrational” isn’t just about crisis situations or emergency procedures; it can also apply to decisions made on behalf of children/parents/spouses, or concerning mental health care, and so on. Yes, the context of insurance does remove some of these factors.

          5. For communicable diseases, this externality is actually enough to get a seriously suboptimal level. In short: if there’s a disease present, and a vaccine against it, then it’s obviously rational to vaccinate yourself. But once everyone has done that, the population has herd immunity, and the disease can’t spread much. So even a trivial inconvenience of getting a vaccine — let alone a major cost, either financially or in perceived risk of e.g. autism — changes the optimal strategy to free-riding. And then the disease can spread again, whereas we could have eradicated it by a few years of getting people to vaccinate. A reasonably good open-source paper is here.

          As for weaker & more indirect externalities: well, yes, they are weaker. I think there’s some useful distinction in externalities that are driven by social signalling versus those that are not, but I’m not sure what it is or that I have good examples for health care.

          I didn’t read all of the linked piece, though the assertion that private markets work better than public ones at absorbing various inefficiencies is an interesting one, and closer to the heart of the matter than arguing to what extent inefficiencies exist. I will say that I find arguments on risk pooling, and selection effects/cream-skimming within risk pools to point fairly strongly towards public healthcare.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            2. Home repair is somewhat more uncertain than you might think. Repair can be based on assumptions about the rest of the house, and it’s possible to be wrong.

          • I think much of the bias, if anything, was that she wanted to push more in the direction of behavioural economics.

            Did the behavioral economics tell you anything interesting, anything more than you would get from “people act rationally plus random error”? Kahneman’s book is fascinating and convincing, but I haven’t yet seen any useful economics come out of the ideas.

            I will say that I find arguments on risk pooling, and selection effects/cream-skimming within risk pools to point fairly strongly towards public healthcare.

            The public involvement in health care, especially but not exclusively since Obamacare, acts to sharply increase the problem, since insurance companies are not allowed to use the information they do have to set rates accordingly. Adverse selection normally happens because one party knows relevant information the other can’t learn, the classic lemons problem. But in this case, one party knows and uses information that the other knows but is forbidden to use–most obviously and simply the relation between age and health care costs.

            In arguing for government provision of health care or anything else, you have to allow for market failure on the political market as well as on the private market, for governments doing what it is in their political interest to do, not what a clever and benevolent economist would advise.

          • Tibor says:

            Ad 2: In the last decade or so my parents had martens in the attic who dug through most of the insulation and made a nest there, there was a really bad fungus growing from the cellar, the walls specifically and at one point it seemed like the house was going to have to be abandoned (it is really difficult to kill something that lives in walls without demolishing your house). Eventually the solution was to dig a bit into the living room floor, get rid of all wooden parts essentially make a new base floor with cement and put a new floating floor over that. So far it looks like they killed it. But had the fungus been discovered even later, they’d probably actually have to buy a new house. Or tear down this one and build another one in its place which would be difficult since it shares one wall with to the neighbouring house.

            Something like that can be financially just as demanding as a major disease and equally unexpected.

            The martens were a smaller problem but it still required removing all of the insulation from the attic. My parents don’t live in the countryside or in the middle of a forest by the way, although it is at the edge of town, almost but not quite a suburb.

            …and my colleague’s fridge here Germany broke down six weeks ago and so far the company that administers that flat for its owner has not replaced it. It is the middle of summer so basically he has to go shopping every day now. Of course this is not that big a deal and also I think it is somehow specific to Germany, everything takes much longer than I’m used to, I had to wait 2 months for a radiology screening (MRT) and I actually had to go to another town about 50 km away since here I’d have to wait 4 months for an appointment. For regular doctor visits which don’t require any special equipment the waiting time is usually about a month, which still strikes me as a lot. Even though the Czech healthcare is socialized (about as much as the German one from what I can tell), you tend to wait about half the time you do in Germany.

      • John Schilling says:

        1. There is no direct demand for automobiles. Aside from a minority of gearheads, driving automobiles (especially in traffic) is a tedious chore and only arises as part of a derived demand for transportation.

        2. The demand for automobiles is highly uncertain. You don’t know when or how severely your current automobile will break down, you don’t know if it can be cheaply repaired or needs to be replaced.

        3. There is strong information asymmetry. Less so in the internet age, but car salesmen traditionally knew far more about the true costs of the options available than the purchasers, and then there’s the used-car market.

        4. Less so than in health care, but irrationality in automobile purchasing abounds and is traditionally exploited by car salesmen.

        5. There are huge amounts of externalities, particularly in pollution, but in public health and safety generally.

        All of these mean that, while you can talk about automobiles in market terms, some major assumptions of standard neoclassical economics don’t apply, and they have to be addressed somehow. Presto, fiat, we must have nationalized public transportation,a market of private automobile sales will never work.

        ETA: Ninja’d in part by Dr. Friedman, of course.

        • Corey says:

          Damn, I better take better care of the family cars, then. Apparently, nowadays prices for cars vary fivefold depending on who your employer is, and you can’t find out the prices in advance, instead every dealer requires you to agree to unlimited financial liability then bills you later.

          The car-buying process was annoying enough before all this. Ugh.

          • Charles F says:

            Apparently, nowadays prices for cars vary fivefold depending on who your employer is

            Literally true though, if you buy into the idea that a certain lifestyle is essentially required for many high-status jobs.

            every dealer requires you to agree to unlimited financial liability then bills you later

            Are we looking at the same industry? If you have insurance, you have a MOOP for the year, so your financial liability is capped at some number you decide on in advance, right?

            (Also literally true, I’ve heard, when you hire a mechanic.)

          • Loquat says:

            @ Charles F

            Maximum Out Of Pocket limits were by no means universal before the ACA, and in fact if you’re on Medicare (the default version from the US government, not a private Medicare Advantage plan) you still do not have one. And if you get some service that your insurance won’t cover, you are of course liable for the full charge, and whether or not your insurance will cover a given service is not always easy to find out. Not to mention, if you can’t know the price up front, you can’t shop around for a better price, and providers then have no reason to compete on price.

            (Also, I don’t know about you, but when I go to the mechanic I can generally expect to be given a list of everything they want to do to the car and what it’ll cost me before they actually do any of the work.)

          • Charles F says:

            @Loquat
            Fair. The part about MOOPs isn’t universal. And I agree that knowing about prices beforehand in advance is at least as important. But I’m not entirely sure either of them could be considered a really important driver.

            Even if people can compare prices, does that affect their decisions about health care much? Sure Joe Healthy and I can see that our provider is charging $150 for a lipid panel and find a walk-in lab in protest. But somebody who was in a car crash is going to the nearest ED, and if there’s just the one dialysis center where I live, I’m probably not going to let my blood go unfiltered on principle. If a policy helps the young and healthy make better healthcare spending decision, that’s nice, but you’re playing with, what, 1-5% of what we spend on healthcare?

            Healthcare providers offering to take care of an insurance companies customers for a capitated payment seems like a better market solution than relying on patients to understand anything about health care. But of course there are some problems with that model too.

            (Forgive my ignorance about mechanics. I’ve never needed one. I’ve just heard a lot of stories of surprise bills.)

          • Loquat says:

            If a policy helps the young and healthy make better healthcare spending decision, that’s nice, but you’re playing with, what, 1-5% of what we spend on healthcare?

            Weren’t we talking about things from the point of view of the individual just now? The bit about “requires you to agree to unlimited financial liability then bills you later” certainly sounds like an individual complaint – no matter how much a given hospital charges me for a service, it’d be a drop in the bucket of overall US healthcare costs even if it’s enough to drive me to bankruptcy.

            Anyway, lots of people who aren’t young and healthy need non-emergency health services for which more than one provider is available, and unless they have a really really good health plan they’re going to be paying out of pocket for most such services. Up to the MOOP, if applicable, but MOOPs are usually several thousand dollars so unless you’re sick enough that you know you’re going to use the whole thing no matter what it still pays to economize. Which is the whole point of having the patient pay a deductible and/or copay to begin with.

            (ETA: You can certainly get a surprise “hey, your car needs $5,000 worth of work” from a mechanic, due to the same asymmetry of knowledge that exists in medicine, but they usually don’t go ahead and actually perform said work without your approval.)

          • The discussion here seems to mix inherent features of the healthcare market, such as uncertainty about what care you will need when, with features observed in that market as presently organized, such as the lack of transparency about prices. I don’t see any reason why the latter should be more a feature of health care than of other services, and I’m pretty sure I have seen a description of a provider who made a point of having explicit prices for services.

          • albatross11 says:

            A good counterpoint to this is to look at vetrinary practices, where insurance is uncommon and there’s nothing like medicare. How many of those features are present there?

          • Charles F says:

            @albatross11
            Related to that, there’s a paper “Is American Pet Healthcare (also) Uniquely Inefficient” that might be worth a read.

          • rlms says:

            I think veterinary medicine is sufficiently different from the human kind that you can’t draw any conclusions from it. A huge proportion of money is spent on humans with terminal or extremely expensive to treat diseases, but animals in the corresponding situation are generally killed. An animal is also much less likely to sue if you mess up its treatment.

          • IrishDude says:

            @David Friedman

            I’m pretty sure I have seen a description of a provider who made a point of having explicit prices for services.

            It may have been the Oklahoma Surgery Center, as I’ve seen them discussed a few times for their price transparency for medical procedures.

        • qwints says:

          I’m reminded of the short story recommended in this comment:

          https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost-disease/#comment-465201

  30. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    If you wanted to do math which would be unlikely to have any practical use in the reasonably near future, what strategy would you use?

    • biblicalsausage says:

      I’d calculate progressively high powers of two by hand: 2, 4, 8, 16 . . .

      But I’m guessing that’s not what you’re asking about. 🙂

      • Charles F says:

        There’s also the option of just working your way through project euler (or old putnam problems), if you want something basically equivalent to that, but a little bit more fun.

    • Orpheus says:

      Do a degree in mathematics? I am not sure I understand the question. Quite a lot (maybe even most?) of the reaserch in math lacks any kind of practical application.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The question was inspired by hearing about someone who was disappointed to find that his work on high-dimensional sphere-packing had applications in cryptography.

    • bintchaos says:

      In mathematical physics it would be time crystals– no practical use for those yet.
      In theoretical mathematics, anything to do with Max Tegmark’s mathematical universe probably.

    • rlms says:

      Hardy was famously wrong when he claimed “Nothing I have ever done is of the slightest practical use.” and “No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity, and it seems unlikely that anyone will do so for many years.”, but I think you could easily find a specific area of number theory that is unlikely to ever have practical implications.

    • Erasmus Kradle says:

      Andrej Bauer’s recent, free-as-in-freedom survey “Five stages of accepting constructive mathematics” (Bull. Amer. Math. Soc., 2017) is an accessible introduction to a fascinating mathematical discipline that has a unblemished track-record of demonstrating no practical utility whatsoever.

      From a psychological point of view, learning constructive mathematics is agonizing, for it requires one to first unlearn certain deeply ingrained intuitions and habits acquired during classical mathematical training.

      In her book On Death and Dying, psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages through which people reach acceptance of life’s traumatizing events: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

      We shall follow her path.

      (emphasis as in the original)  Kudos to Doron Zeilberg’s Opinions weblog for drawing attention to Bauer’s work, albeit Zeilberger’s review is not uncritical:

      I just finished reading (parts of) a fascinating, beautifully written, sermon, by Constructive Mathematician Andrej Bauer, preaching the merits of constructive mathematics, and showing how one can get almost everything dear to the classical mathematician without the pernicious law of excluded middle.

      While I admire the eloquence of Bauer, I, being an ultra-finitist, could not relate to it. It read like Martin Luther’s critique of Thomas Aquinas. Suppose that you an atheist, or agnostic, or Jewish, or Buddhist, then they are both wrong, and their quibbles over minutiae are at best amusing.

      Fun! 🙂  In greater breath and depth, Michael Harris’ book Mathematics Without Apologies: Portrait of a Problematic Vocation (2015), in particular the discussion of the crucial role of intention in mathematical practice — per Harris’ chapter 7 “The habit of clinging to an ultimate ground” — provides an accessible sociological / cognitive deconstruction of mathematical / philosophical constructivism.

      SSC readers who appreciate literary-mathematical-philosophical puns, aphorisms, and heresies — e.g., “All Hilbert spaces are alike; every variety has its own ulterior motives” — will enjoy Bauer’s, Zeilberg’s, and Harris’ surveys of constructivism.

      Is there good mathematics here? One central intention of constructivist mathematical formalisms is eminently respectable: to more clearly understand, and more constructively delineate, the mysterious boundary that separates provable from unprovable mathematical propositions.

      Caveat  The US military does fund constructivist mathematical research, in support of the stated objective:

      The computational proof assistants being developed … will facilitate the large-scale formalization of logic and mathematics, with far-reaching practical implications for mathematics and information science. …

      As this new foundation becomes better understood and better implemented, it has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the relation between mathematics and computation, and to underlie the development of powerful, practical tools for the working scientist in fields farther removed from pure mathematics such as hardware and software verification, cyber-security, artificial intelligence, robotics, and human-computer interaction.

      Needless to say, these mathematical objectives are of central concern to the broader rationalist / MIRI / LW / transhumanist (etc.) community. Conversely, a precondition of the mathematical community’s respect is reciprocal evidence of respect for the mathematical literature. The above works — with their extensive contextual references — present a helpful start! 🙂

      • Iain says:

        This is somewhat covered by your caveat, but I feel the need to emphasize: in the context of the Curry-Howard correspondence, which demonstrates a one-to-one relationship between formal proofs and computations (“A proof is a program, and the formula it proves is the type for the program”), constructive mathematics could turn out to be very practical indeed.

        • bzium says:

          Example application of proof assistants: CompCert.
          Even if somebody thinks that proof assistants in themselves are still pure math toys, you can hardly get more down to earth than a C compiler.

    • Charles F says:

      I think the strategy I would take is to work on a really hard problem. Probably the Riemann Hypothesis. Considering how many smarter people are putting time into it, it’s vanishingly unlikely anything I do will be of practical use. And if I do happen to solve it, I at least get a $1M consolation prize. The problem, of course, is accidental useful discoveries that fall short of solving it, but hopefully those are being picked fairly clean by the other people working on the problem.

      • bintchaos says:

        Oh I misunderstood Nancy’s question…she was really asking if there was a branch of theoretical mathematical research that couldn’t ever be used for war or to dominate other humans with opposing views.
        I dont think that is possible– even Dr. Bar-Yam spends most of his time scheming up ways to create artificial emergent systems to “defeat terrorism”.
        Its what caused Alexander Groethendieck to exile himself.

        Grothendieck’s first lectures – which he describes as “general orientation talks” – were given in Hanoi. But because of intensified bombing of the capital, a high-level decision was made tomove everyone to the secret location of the Faculty of Mathematics of Hanoi University. Grothendieck writes: “I then spent a week and a half at Hanoi University in evacuation outside the city (about 100 km from the capital); this time was largely devoted to a more specialized seminar on categories and homological algebra, with thirty to forty listeners, most of whom had followed me from Hanoi after attending the general orientation lectures.” It was a remarkable event in the history of mathematics: one of the giants of 20th-century mathematics delivering a short course on homological algebra in a remote forest hideout in a desperately poor country that was being “bombed back into the stone age” (U.S. Air Force General Curtis Le May’s phrase) by the most powerful military force the world had ever known.


        He left the IHES in 1970 after he discovered that some of their funding came from military sources. He discovered this in 1969 and, along with the other professors at the IHES, he persuaded the director, Léon Motchane, to take no further funding from the French military. However, when a few months later the IHES budget was very tight, the director went back on his word. Grothendieck tried to persuade all the professors to resign in protest but the others refused to follow his example. Grothendieck’s letter of resignation was dated 25 May 1970. However, Grothendieck had other problems for he wrote that at this time he was suffering a “spiritual stagnation”. He abandoned mathematics as the main focus of his energies and turned to political protest, particularly against nuclear proliferation. However, in contrast to the amazing impact of his mathematical work, his political campaigns were rather ineffective. In 1970-72 he held an appointment as visiting professor at the Collège de France, then a similar appointment at Orsay for 1972-73. In 1973 he accepted an appointment as professor at the University of Montpellier. He lectured and has some graduate students in Montpellier. He lived in Villecun near Lodeve from 1973 to 1980, then he moved to live in Mormoiron near Carpentras. He took leave during 1984-88 to direct research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. He retired at age 60 in 1988 and the publication [2] was produced to honour that 60th birthday. In contrast to his acceptance of the 1966 Fields Medal, Grothendieck declined the Crafoord Prize in 1988.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          “Oh I misunderstood Nancy’s question…she was really asking if there was a branch of theoretical mathematical research that couldn’t ever be used for war or to dominate other humans with opposing views.”

          No, that’s not it, but you’ve supplied some angles which makes the question clearer in my mind.

          I believe the desire to do useless mathematics isn’t about avoiding complicity in dominance so much as it’s about wanting to get away from tiresomely complex, ill-defined, and painful world of ordinary experience. Mathematics (at least for those who have that sort of love) is beautiful, clean, and solid by comparison.

          This means that such a person wouldn’t just be avoiding military applications, they’d be avoiding commercial applications, too.

          I have no idea whether the use of Penrose tiles in toys and quilts would be practical enough to be annoying.

          It wouldn’t necessarily be a matter of finding a whole branch that couldn’t be applied, just an area of research.

          There wouldn’t be a problem with taking military money, I think, so long as the mathematician is sufficiently sure that the results won’t be applied.

          It seems to me that I see more about unexpected applications of discrete(?) mathematics (number theory and geometry), but that might be more a result of that sort of math being easier to write about for a general audience.

          Question for utilitarians: The desire to do useless mathematics is anti-utilitarian except to the extent that people enjoy the mathematics. Still, some of that mathematics turns out to be useful, and might not be discovered if it weren’t for people who don’t want their math to have applications, or at least they want to work in territory that doesn’t have applications.

          Should utilitarians support useless math?

          • bintchaos says:

            It seems to me that I see more about unexpected applications of discrete(?) mathematics (number theory and geometry), but that might be more a result of that sort of math being easier to write about for a general audience.


            Oh…pardon–something like the Bourbakians maybe?
            But instead of teaching math, relating math to general audiences?
            But Number Theory and Geometry do already have practical applications. Fractal geometry modeling is common today.
            Maybe the theoretical mathematics of MUH like I said before.

            In physics and cosmology, the mathematical universe hypothesis (MUH), also known as the Ultimate Ensemble, is a speculative “theory of everything” (TOE) proposed by the cosmologist Max Tegmark.


            Or maybe M-theory.

          • Erasmus Kradle says:

            The “ravelry” (pun!) of mathematician Daina Taimina’s Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes — the book that won the coveted Diagram Prize for 2009 provides pretty much exactly the relief-from-reality that Nancy’s comment requests.

            For visually oriented SSC readers, there’s a TedX talk by Taimina too (video here, transcript here).

            Bill Thurston wrote an entirely impracticable yet widely quoted Preface for Taimina’s book (page 9 of this PDF).

            Many people have an impression, based on years of schooling, that mathematics is an austere and formal subject concerned with complicated and ultimately confusing rules for the manipulation of numbers, symbols, and equations, rather like the preparation of a complicated income tax return, where there are myriad unexplained steps, rules, exceptions, and gotchas.

            Good mathematics is quite opposite to this. Mathematics is an art of human understanding. …

            Our brains are complicated devices, with many specialized modules working behind the scenes to give us an integrated understanding of the world. Mathematical concepts are abstract, so it ends up that there are many different ways they can sit in our brains. A given mathematical concept might be primarily a symbolic equation, a picture, a rhythmic pattern, a short movie — or best of all, an integrated combination of several different representations.

            The non-symbolic mental models for mathematical concepts are extremely important, but unfortunately, many of them are hard to share.

            Mathematics sings when we feel it in our whole brain. People are generally inhibited about even trying to share their personal mental models. People like music, but they are afraid to sing. You only learn to sing by singing. …

            I hope this book gives you pause for thought and changes your way of thinking about mathematics.

            From the above Taimina-Thurston perspective, there’s scant difference between the objectives of mathematical practice and the objectives of (at least some varieties of) psychiatric practice, is there?

            Aside:  in high-tech / high-IQ / analytic communities, a psychiatric practice explicitly centering upon “Dialectic Mathematical Therapy” (DMT) — conceived as a rationalism-friendly Taimina-Thurston-inspired variant of Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) — might well be oversubscribed from the get-go! 🙂

            More broadly, if it is true that “strategy is about radical cognitive transformation; everything else is tactics”, then the objectives of Taimina’s work, as perceived through Thurston’s cognition-centric lens, are strategically transformative in both their mathematical and therapeutic aspects.

            ————

            Q (from Nancy)  Should utilitarians support useless math?

            A To the degree that radical cognitive transformation, both individual and social, is a desirably “utilitarian” outcome, the Taimina-Thurston answer is “yes, definitely”.

            Conversely, alt.conservatives should sustain their present-day tactics, of deprecating and/or minimizing the practice of “useless” mathematics — e.g. by mockery, personal abuse, doxing, and quenching of mathematical research resources — on the grounds that an enhanced capacity for useless mathematics is inseparably associated to progressive cognition. We mustn’t tolerate that, surely? 🙂

            The broader point of this comment is that any variety of mathematics whatsoever, to the degree that it is creatively fun, will foster modes of human cognition that oppose alt.boeotian social objectives.

          • bintchaos says:

            But by Erasmus own argument even “mathematical whimsy” serves a practical purpose…psychotherapy and pleasure?

          • Erasmus Kradle says:

            Yes.

            Nancy opined (in her comment above) “The desire to do useless mathematics isn’t about avoiding complicity in dominance so much as it’s about wanting to get away from tiresomely complex, ill-defined, and painful world of ordinary experience.”

            Countless human quests — including both psychotherapy and creative mathematics, and also life-adventures like romance, marriage, parenting, religion-embracing, professionalism, and even the thoroughgoing embrace of innumerable ideological “isms” (including rationalism) — are motivated by the same innately creative human desire, namely (in Nancy’s well-conceived and well-turned phrase) “to escape a world that is tiresomely complex, ill-defined, and painful”.

            Hence, Gryffindor forever! 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            Alt.boeotian? You’re not even trying, John.

          • Erasmus Kradle says:

              alt.Boeotian   … instead, maybe alt.Slytherin? 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            alt.anything would be a tell, to be honest.

          • Erasmus Kradle says:

            “Tells” play different roles in different games (notably, Blind Man’s Bluff Poker) 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            If you’re trying to say that you don’t care about being identified as John Sidles, I figured that out about a dozen bans ago.

            You are not welcome here. Please go away and never come back.

          • random832 says:

            @Nornagest

            I haven’t been around long enough to know the whole history, but I do remember that the last time he was banned there was substantial discussion, and no real conclusion (except in the sense that it’s Scott’s blog and therefore nobody else’s decision, either on tolerating when he comes back or finally banning him again when he crosses some threshold), on the proposition that maybe he shouldn’t be.

    • Brad says:

      If you wanted to do math which would be unlikely to have any practical use in the reasonably near future, what strategy would you use?

      String theory 😉

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Set theory is super useless. Homotopy theory is probably useless (it describes real things but is too sensitive to approximation errors, and is mostly interesting in very high dimensions). Finite group theory is surprisingly useless; those intricate symmetries don’t show up in nature I think.

      Many big conjectures (above all the Hodge conjecture) seem very useless but who knows what will be involved in solving them.

  31. Aapje says:

    One of the things that I haven’t seen a discussion of before here is what the Dutch call an autonomous administrative authorities, what seems to be called QUANGO (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) in English.

    These are very common in The Netherlands, where an organization gets a legal mandate (and usually a budget). It is not under full control of the executive though, although they can replace the managing board, set salaries, veto decisions and reject the budget.

    Examples of Dutch QUANGOs (out of a total of 122):
    – the Cadastre
    – the Electoral Council, which oversees the elections
    – the Dutch Central Bank
    – the Authority for Consumers and Markets which deals with competition oversight, sector-specific regulation of several sectors, and enforcement of consumer protection laws.
    – Air control
    – Social Security
    – Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers

    Dutch law requires that three conditions are met to institute a QUANGO, although it requires that reasons exist beyond just these three:
    1. There is a need for independent judgments based on specific expertise.
    2. It involves strictly rule-based decision making for a large number of individual cases.
    3. It’s important to have participation of civil society.

    Advantages of QUANGOs include:
    * Depoliticized, so if the executive changes, you don’t get sudden changes in policy (the law usually has to be altered to change the mandate)
    * The executive can’t be held responsible for each individual decision, reducing the chance of unfair decisions (or pork) based on who can influence the executive better
    * Separation of concerns. The QUANGO can really focus on their tasks, instead of being part of a hierarchical organization that has a lot of fairly unrelated tasks.

    Disadvantages include:
    * Less transparency, so there is less parliamentary oversight
    * The QUANGO can form an island, where they optimize their own task at the expense of other parts of the government
    * No competition

    A QUANGO is a intermediate step between the government being doing a task completely vs letting a private organization perform the task (after a bidding process). It can be preferable over the latter when you really don’t want to have certain information in the hands of a private party or when a profit motive gives bad incentives.

    • Civilis says:

      Wikipedia defines a QUANGO as an ‘ostensibly non-governmental organization performing governmental functions, often in receipt of funding or other support from government’ and lists ICANN as an example of a US QUANGO. I think the US tends to farm out things which might be governmental responsibilities to government-sponsored corporations rather than NGOs, and so the term has relatively limited use on a blog which is sometimes US-centric. As examples (all referenced via Wikipedia, which is good for picky details):

      The United States Postal Service is officially a part of the US government (a status explicitly spelled out in the Constitution), but is supposed to be revenue-independent.

      The Federal National Mortgage Association (often referred to as Fannie Mae) is a government sponsored enterprise, a publicly traded corporation created by and regulated by the government.

      The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as Amtrak, is responsible for most US passenger rail service, and is partially government funded yet theoretically operated as a for-profit company.

      [Edited] I’m still not 100% sure on the difference between an NGO and a non-profit organization.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure QUANGO is a British term. As an American, I’ve only encountered it from British sources (the sitcom Yes, Minister and a few nonfiction books).

        The regional Federal Reserve banks are also examples of government-sponsored corporations. The claim you sometimes hear in libertarian circles that the Fed is a private corporation is oversimplified and incomplete, but there’s a basis to it. The mistake is that the Federal Reserve System is a network of organizations that work together but have distinct purposes and organizational character. The Board of Governors and the Open Market Committee (which oversee banking regulations and set monetary policy) are independent agencies of the federal government. The Regional Federal Reserve Banks (which implement the policies of the federal agencies and which perform the “banker’s bank” functions of the Fed) are government-sponsored entities. And Federal Reserve Member Banks are private businesses (regular banks like JP Morgan Chase, BofA, etc) which own shares in one or more regional Feds, giving them a vote in the leadership of the regional Feds (a choice that the Board of Governors has veto power over), and giving them the right to do business directly with the regional Feds rather than having to go through an intermediary.

        In addition to Government-Sponsored Entities, a lot of regulatory systems set up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are based in part on delegating regulatory authority to industry and professional associations. The American Medical Association is probably the most conspicuous example, but there are a bunch of others.

        • Brad says:

          Independent agency of the federal government is also a category with comparing to QUANGO. The rules are different for each one, but many of them have staggered terms that cross Presidential administrations. They tick a lot of the boxes listed in the definition.

      • cassander says:

        NGOs are a subset of non-profits. The best definition I’ve ever found of an NGO is “a bunch of people who aren’t technically part of the government, but think that they should be.” Tongue in cheek, perhaps, but it accurately sums up their quasi-governmental role.

    • Randy M says:

      It is not under full control of the executive though, although they can replace the managing board, set salaries, veto decisions and reject the budget.

      This sounds like full control. Is it just precedent and social disapproval (and time constraints, of course) that prevents the government from micromanaging it or countermanding anything that they disapprove of by threat of replacement or veto?

      • Aapje says:

        It would defeat the entire purpose of the construct and it would make a lot more sense for the executive to then (try to) change the law to make the QUANGO fully part of the government.

        But technically you are correct.

        • Randy M says:

          It would defeat the entire purpose of the construct

          If it were an American construct I’d venture that the purpose of it is plausible deniability–the executive isn’t technically responsible for anything the agency does, but if he wants anything from it, he can get it, and they know it, so he doesn’t have to actually exercise the privilege in practice.

          • Aapje says:

            Sure, but that they gives the QUANGO the power of (threatening) publicity, so it you’d expect a balance of power that is not total control.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I had never heard that acronym until just now. I don’t think it’s common in English but rather a piece of obscure polisci jargon.

      The most important organization which fits that bill here in America would be the Federal Reserve. The Fed is our central bank, whose seven-member board of governors are appointed by the President in 14-year terms to keep any one administration from being able to appoint more than four governors.

      The Fed also has one of the lowest approval ratings of all branches of the government, with only the IRS to challenge it for the bottom. There’s a certain sense in which being universally hated means that you’re depoliticized but it’s probably not what people mean. As an allegedly technocratic body its track record of crashing the US economy once a decade doesn’t convincingly justify the lack of public accountability it enjoys.