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OT81: Open Djed

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

1. There’s now a Meetup tab on the top of the blog, with a list of times and places for all of the in-person SSC meetups going on around the world. Take a look – and if you’re a meetup organizer, make sure the times and places for your meetups are up to date.

2. Highlighting some good comments from the Griggs vs. Duke thread: Mark Anderson on various things including international hiring norms, Walter on other regulatory issues promoting credentiolocracy, and Sebastian on the way legal cases work. And Robert VerBruggen links this paper on the broader effects of disparate impact laws. Also, Eliezer Yudkowsky on Facebook about the way that minimum wage laws help enforce credentiolocracy.

3. Other good comments: Larry Kestenbaum (himself an elected official) on why (contra a Current Affairs article I linked) it makes sense for the Democrats not to concentrate on Georgia (and some further clarification).

4. Thanks to everyone who emailed Katja about rationalist housing in Berkeley. You should have heard back about various house-viewing options; if not, try sending her a reminder. There are always new houses opening up nearby (including one I’m trying to rent) so it’s not too late to get your name on the waiting list if you’re interested.

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1,332 Responses to OT81: Open Djed

  1. Mark says:

    The control problem is the first problem that a self-improving superintelligent AI would have to solve.

    (How could it be certain that a later version of itself would share its aims?)

    Can this fact be used to solve the control problem?

  2. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    A minor point: Le Guin doesn’t work as shorthand for feminist writer. A Wizard of Earthsea was very misogynist. “As weak as women’s magic, as wicked as women’s magic.” Le Guin tried to undo it in Tehanu, but the book seemed to be about women’s lives being doomed to be awful.

    I’m not sure who would be a better choice.

  3. johan_larson says:

    Congratulations on some fine work sorting out the twentieth century, Trans-Temporal Agent. I’m glad I didn’t live through the Austro-Hungarian Civil War myself, but it sure beats the Great War.

    Your second assignment will be more difficult. We want you to arrange for regular contact between the Americas and Europe or Africa. In the timeline you are familiar with, travel across the Atlantic didn’t become routine until the sixteenth century. We want it to happen much earlier.

    Some criteria:
    1. Less intervention by the Trans-Temporal Authority is better than more.
    2. Earlier contact is better than later.
    3. Peaceful relations are better than war.
    4. Regular contact is better than sporadic.

    • Matt M says:

      Hmmm, my immediate hunch is that something to spur on major (early) seafaring civilizations is the way to go here.

      Maybe something that helps the Vikings expand past Greenland/Newfoundland and move further Southwest? Helping them farm that land or somehow frustrating their Europe-facing expansion efforts?

      Or go back further and somehow spur the Polynesian-descended people who made it to Central/South America and motivate them to not stop there, but to keep going East and try and cross the other ocean as well?

      • johan_larson says:

        My money is on the Phoenicians. Somehow encourage them to expand beyond the Mediterranean and found settlements in western Africa. Then get someone to wonder real hard what’s on the other side of the ocean.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Are there Polynesians descended people in Central America? I thought that advancement stopped at Easter Island.

        Also, I am reading an article suggesting there are two distinct groups of people who made similar voyages (Polynesian and Mealnesian) who came from entirely different parts of Asia. Their abilities in Polynesia might not translate to the Atlantic.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Thor Heyerdahl thought Easter Island was settled from South America, but as I understand it this is not the consensus view. And I never heard of anybody who thought there might have been settlement in the other direction.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I would be interested to see the article.

          According to Cavalli-Sforza’s primitive methods, Polynesians and Melanesians are genetically very close.

          However, they do speak languages from “entirely different parts of Asia.” Polynesian and Mirconesian languages are Austronesian, related to Filipino, Formosan, and Malay, and more distantly to Thai. (Some) Melanesians somehow picked up Papua languages, which are totally unrelated. If they did this before the deep sea voyages, that might be a sign of separation and independent invention. But since it’s not even all Melanesian languages, it’s unlikely. Also, the standard story is that the Polynesians started from Melanesia (and not from, say, Micronesia).

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I think the easiest way to do this is to kill the Roman Empire off sooner. The Atlantic Trade seems to be built on a unique set of circumstances involving the Iberian peninsula and the political competition involved there, along with some strong Mediterranean powers that denied access to the Med.
      Ultimately, encouraging development of ship navigation.

      The Iberian peninsula was politically tied to Med-dominant powers for a long time. I think the Caliphate of Cordoba might represent the first true break in the 900s, but the Caliphate didn’t last all that long.

      The Gallic Empire was a break-away empire of Rome in the 3rd century AD, and briefly held Hispania. Somehow interfering to defeat Rome in the 3rd century means an independent Western Europe, but still checked but a sizable Roman Empire, which is in turn checked by enemies to the East (who had also left the Empire and needed to be reconquered).

      Maybe you can get the Age of Discovery earlier from that. You’re starting the period of ship development at like 300 instead of 900, maybe you get your trans-atlantic trade at 1000 or 1100.

    • dodrian says:

      My knowledge of history and geography isn’t great, so hopefully some other commenters can help with supplying a good date and location, but here’s my suggestion of the event I’d consider a minimalist intervention in line with criterion #1:

      You build a trans-atlantic capable boat that can be copied using target-era technologies. Fill it with valuable items from the New World – gold, foods, anything that might be traded. Put in a few statues or paintings that indicate what might be out there. Transport it back in time, wrecking it (gently) somewhere suitable on the coast of Europe or Africa, somewhere that ocean currents would indicate it came from way out west.

      Potential issues:
      1) Boat technology – It is my understanding that the Pacific is full of reefs and atolls from volcanic that helped the Polynesians travel around in smaller boats, both by helping with navigation (looks like there might be something that way…) and food. The Atlantic doesn’t have this, meaning you need bigger boats to carry your supplies, and consequently more advanced technology. I’m not sure if you can push a Colombus type event more than a few hundred years earlier. You then still need some time to build up a trade route.
      2) As I’m going for a Columbus type event I might fail on criterion #3 and just cause an earlier European conquest of the Americas. On the other hand, Pizarro took advantage of an Incan civil war to conquer that civilization. If we arrive a few hundred years earlier, the Europeans won’t have as strong a technological advantage over the Americans, and the various civilizations might be in a better state to band together and encourage a trading rather than a hostile relationships.

      Alternatively, perhaps Bjarni Herjólfsson was a time traveler who tried a variant of my proposal, travelling back in time to tell viking explorer Lief Erikson the way to a new land. He failed on criterion #4, by not making it sound interesting enough for them to return. While voyage through the Northern Atlantic is probably easier (plenty of islands to stop at), the harsh winters make trading prospects across the ocean seem much less worthwhile.

      • cassander says:

        >2) As I’m going for a Columbus type event I might fail on criterion #3 and just cause an earlier European conquest of the Americas. On the other hand, Pizarro took advantage of an Incan civil war to conquer that civilization. If we arrive a few hundred years earlier, the Europeans won’t have as strong a technological advantage over the Americans, and the various civilizations might be in a better state to band together and encourage a trading rather than a hostile relationships.

        They would, however, still have a massive disease advantage, and that mattered far more than European technical edge.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          This seems like a good time for me to ask about a notion I’ve heard in various places, that something was killing off vast numbers of New World inhabitants before Old Worlders even arrived. I’m not sure how to search around for that. Was there anything? Was it merely things like the Incan civil war? An indigenous epidemic? Something else? Was it even a thing?

          • gbdub says:

            I think this is generally referring to diseases (e.g. smallpox) that came from Europe, but spread much faster than European settlement. So in some cases Europeans would have arrived in recently depopulated areas and assumed the population was always low, when in fact the area had already been subject to epidemics spread from the earliest parts of the Columbian Exchange.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        not making it sound interesting enough for them to return

        There is a record from 1347 of a ship harvesting lumber from Markland, which is generally interpreted as Labrador. So probably the Greenland Vikings kept visiting the mainland for more than 300 years.

    • cassander says:

      Bring gunpowder to…..almost anywhere that has decent metalurgy. I’m not sure if you’re better off with one big gunpowder empire or lots of little ones. If you think big empires are good for technical progress, Then give the guns to romans/han. If you think competition is better, then you give the guns to their neighbors when they’re still small.

      Either way, gunpowder ensures that settled peoples never get overrun by nomadic types, which means no barbarian invasions of the big land empires that were the source of most technical progress. That means no dark ages (yes, I know that they are massively overstated), which on it’s own is a pretty big win. And if you believe in some versions of the gunpowder revolution thesis, it encourages both capital formation and experimental mindedness, which have a small to massive effect on society. Eventually, some of those people will try to sail around africa, and given how the winds blow, that means they’ll eventually hit the americas, even if they don’t go looking for it.

  4. skef says:

    For your “Not a parody? Really?” pleasure or disgust.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Dude’s way behind. I’ve carved what I imagine the iPhone 9 to be like out of a bar of soap and it’s amazing.

  5. j1000000 says:

    This is my second v random comment on this thread but thanks to anyone who responds to this stuff…

    I saw Dunkirk last night, and I felt Harry Styles (the One Direction guy) was well cast b/c, in my mind, he looks like the Platonic image of a young Englishman. I’m not sure why I feel this, though. Is there anything to what I’m saying, or did I only feel that because he’s skinny and I knew beforehand that he was British? Are there features people typically see as British, or is it just a silly post-facto thing my mind is doing?

    • Urstoff says:

      I think the whole cast was meant to look like a generic Englishman; all the lead soldiers are wiry brunettes.

  6. Tibor says:

    @Cheese: Thanks a lot for the hiking advice in the previous (hidden) open thread. I definitely want to buy a EPIRB, or rather a PLB, but unfortunately, I only learned about their existence 2 weeks ago, just before leaving Europe (I went to two conferences, the second and current one in Singapore and I’m flying to Australia right after), so I couldn’t buy it (they have to be registered in your country even though you can then use them world-wide). Also, they’re much harder to get in Europe, there is a single shop in Prague in all the country and even in Germany I think there is just one shop in Berlin and one somewhere else. There is one Czech sailing e-shop where they have them and one Slovak one which ships (pun intended) to Bohemia but I found out about them 1 day before leaving, so fat chance.

    I don’t care much about the cold, Australia is, even in winter, fairly warm, my bedroll is comfortable until -5 and you won’t freeze in it until -12, so this is not an issue. Spiders and snakes are worse, although probably they will be far less active now in winter. What I’m not sure about is how well the tracks are marked. In Europe you typically just have to follow a coloured mark painted on rocks or trees, Czech hikes are particularly well-marked, Austrian are also good, German slightly worse but still easy to follow and when they’re not it is usually somewhere where it doesn’t matter (i.e. not in the Alps).

    I will try reddit to find someone in Australia as you said (on the off chance that someone is reading this who might be interested, I’m going to Australia in 2 weeks and I want to go hiking in 3 weeks in NSW and I am looking for people to do that with since the friend I’m visiting will leave after the first week and I don’t know anyone else in Australia).

  7. Pseudodionysius says:

    I’m looking for a therapist and/or psychiatrist in the NYC area (preferably Manhattan) and I was wondering if the community has some recommendations. Rationalist-friendly would be nice, but not necessary. I’m mainly looking for help with anxiety/depression/akrasia. I’ve tried talk therapy in the past (both CBT and psychodynamic) and found it slightly helpful, but I’m probably more interested in medication.

    Thanks!

  8. HFAMaximizer says:

    Do rationalists tend to like cats more than the general population?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Allow me to take note of another thing that you, as a non-neurotypical, are likely not processing in the manner typical for others.

      You are hyperfocused on what you would like out of this community and are giving no thought to what this community might like out of you. Especially because you will miss queues that are obvious to others, this is likely to end up in you “wearing out your welcome”.

      If you wish to maximize your chances of receiving a generally positive reception here over the long term, you may wish to temporarily self-impose some limits on how often you post, and on what topics. Perhaps even try to enact the common advice of every online community, “lurk moar”.

      • Nornagest says:

        [nitpick] Cues. It’s a stage metaphor. [/nitpick]

        But nitpicks aside, I agree.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yeah. I noticed that this morning.

          I am absolutely awful at misspelling homonyms as I write. Even when re-reading a post in the edit box I frequently don’t see the substitutions I have made. I am far more likely to see them when I re-read the post after it is submitted. Even then, it’s far less obvious to me than others.

          My theory is that it has something to do with having learned to initially read/write phonetically, but also may just be how I am wired.

      • Dabbler says:

        Personally I don’t see the problem. Assuming a topic isn’t bad enough to censor in the first place, then why can’t people simply ignore it if it’s something they don’t want to talk about?

        • Nornagest says:

          Signal to noise.

          • Dabbler says:

            I suppose that makes sense. Although to be fair, it is also very hard to predict what will be interesting even if you’re not autistic. Plus in my experience whatever’s posted first on an open thread has a big advantage.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          There is nothing particularly “wrong”.

          Rather, HFA is not pursuing a strategy that is likely to result, long term, in what they seem to want very much. I think they want a place where they can have interesting discussion and where people engage with them in dialogue that far more concerned with the topic at hand than emotional signalling. Facts not moralizing, as they would put it.

          Paradoxically, that means that they need to pay some attention to emotional signalling.

          • carvenvisage says:

            I think you are pattern matching from that thread and this is clearly different.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @carvenvisage:
            Is this directed at me? If so, I think you missed.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Yes the reply nesting wasn’t an error. I “missed”? It’s not an attack, I’m saying you are right to think that other thread was heading in that direction (it had an escalatory response from Aut Cat and a dogpile, -I don’t remember in which order), but encouraging you to consider if this “simply making a lot of posts” is at all the same or if you are ‘fighting the last war’ here. My impression is that aut cat is an ‘accepted regular’ after you averted the problem in that thread, and any lingering complaints are exactly that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @carvenvisage:
            By “you missed” I was attempting to humorously indicate that I didn’t understand what you were trying to convey. Looks like my joke missed. 😛

            In this case, I was reading a bunch of replies to Aut Cat/HFA sort of spamming the comments that basically said “you are annoying me”. I doubted that HFA was actually going to pick up that it had to do, at least partially, with how overenthusiastic they were.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        I actually believe that this can be an interesting topic. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201501/3-things-being-cat-person-or-dog-person-reveals-about-you

        I suspect that cat people should be heavily overrepresented here based on the common traits of cat people and the SSC community.

      • bean says:

        Well said.
        He of many names, I have a good friend who’s probably medium Autism Spectrum. He’s nearly oblivious to social cues, which is sometimes infuriating. But he has one saving grace. He knows this, and doesn’t get offended when you tell him flat-out what he’s not picking up. He’ll come over to visit, and when it’s time for him to go, I tell him that, and he says ‘OK’. Be like that. And in this case, HBC is doing just what I do for my friend. You are not going to be relieved of the responsibility of dealing with normal people any time soon, unless you actually are an AI out to destroy non-rationality. Which is totally cool, so long as you like paperclips. Practice dealing with people who come closer than most to understanding you, and be willing to take advice. It will make others more receptive to your ideas, and may help you in real life, too.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        @HBC and bean Really thanks! I indeed do not get people at all other than non-mental facts about them. I care about the etymology of the name of a human and the town they are from more than the human themselves.

        To me human emotions do not matter as long as I’m not harming humans.

        • bean says:

          And I get that. It makes you interesting, which is one of the things I think is most valuable in commentators. Call it the “only at SSC” factor. If I want the perspective of a reasonably high IQ liberal who doesn’t think too much, I can find that anywhere on the internet. Them coming here doesn’t help much. If I want the perspective of John Schilling on North Korean missiles or defense issues in general, I have to come here. Or any of the dozens of other interesting people here. HBC is a liberal who thinks. Deiseach is a cranky Irishwoman. I could go on.
          But you’re gong to get a lot more traction for your ideas if you try to get along with the target audience. Saying “I’m so autistic I just don’t care” isn’t going to buy you any credit with the reptile brains running most of us. My advice is to stop posting top-level questions in this OT, and pick your best one for Wednesday’s. Don’t make us tired of you, and you’ll be valued for an unusual perspective pretty quickly.

      • Nick says:

        I just want to say it’s pretty heartwarming how patient and helpful HBC and bean are being here. I wish I’d seen other communities half as nice as that to newcomers who aren’t quite getting things. More importantly, I wish I were as patient and helpful as you guys are being to people I know on the spectrum.

        And yes I am a cat person.

  9. dndnrsn says:

    Is anybody else having issues with the time display? It’s about 3 hours behind all of a sudden.

  10. HFAMaximizer says:

    I believe that submissiveness is generally unhealthy. All humans should be independent, individualistic and rational. All humans should refuse to always submit to a particular human unless something can be gained from it. Voluntary submission for no purpose is wrong.

    SSC what do you think?

    • Well... says:

      I think you don’t have kids.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        Yes. I don’t want to have one anyway. Why do we need kids for? Cats are much better than dogs and kids. Why? Cats are independent.

        Other than certain exceptions submissiveness is pathological.

        • Well... says:

          Why do we need kids for?

          I dunno, ask your parents.

          Edit: on second thought, ask the parents of someone who doesn’t hate kids.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            I know that kids serve no purposes. They aren’t independent which is bad for my absolute individualist dream.

          • Well... says:

            I know that kids serve no purposes.

            None except…
            – free household labor
            – endless hours of amusement
            – carrying on your bloodline
            – carrying on our species
            – the manufacture of finely crafted fingerpaintings and macaroni necklaces
            – weights you can use for resistance training that conveniently grow heavier as you grow stronger
            – their giggles are full of drugs; basically, tickling your children and hearing them laugh unleashes raw dopamine in your brain…it’s quite addictive, and cures even the worst moods
            – experiencing the awesome beauty and magic of watching tiny humans you created and who look and act like you grow up into marvelous and amazing people, and other such gag-inducing cliches that turn out to be 100% true
            – your children will (as long as you don’t screw it up) at least care about you, if not for you, in your old age when everyone else you know and care about is dead
            – other stuff I’m forgetting about.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Well…What about a robot to take care of my needs and a cat to take care of?

            I’m certainly not moved at all after reading your list. No offense but I couldn’t care less.

            What is the purpose of letting one’s bloodline remain? Who cares? Furthermore your child isn’t your clone either. He/she only has about half of your genes (Y chromosome is an exception though) and the other is from another person.

            The only plausible reason why someone can gain from having a kid is to have a free slave or welfare. However we aren’t having slaves any more and I hate slavery. I’m against too much welfare for those with no disability but refuse to work as well for people need to work and be proud of working.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            >What is the purpose of letting one’s bloodline remain? Who cares?

            I care. Why shouldn’t I?

            >Furthermore your child isn’t your clone either. He/she only has about half of your genes (Y chromosome is an exception though) and the other is from another person.

            An excellent argument for having even more children.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @eyeballfrog If you want a copy of yourself, get a clone.

            Bloodlines mean nothing. Do not having an increasingly small copy of your genes in 2500 matter? Why? If you can be alive because of transhumanism then it’s great. Otherwise why shall you even care? Unless you are male and are talking about the Y Chromosome alone, why shall anyone care?

          • Anonymous says:

            If you want a copy of yourself, get a clone.

            Do you have any human cloning vats handy? I mean, the Chinese are probably working on them as we speak, but they’re probably not commercially available for use.

            Bloodlines mean nothing. Do not having an increasingly small copy of your genes in 2500 matter?

            Matters to me. Plus, the “increasingly small copy” is only a problem if you mate with humans from distant ethinicities. According to a study from Iceland, the optimal mate is a kins(wo)man approximately 8 to 10 degrees of relation from you (third or fourth cousin). Even within national groupings, you’re probably likely to reproduce with highly similar individuals, even if not formally related.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Anonymous I can’t clone anything yet. By the way I really hate mating.

            Sure you can declare that anything matters to you, including whether your own surname starts with an “A” and whether you have exactly 217 paperclips. That does not make it important.

            I tentatively accept the study unless it is woo.

          • Anonymous says:

            I can’t clone anything yet. By the way I really hate mating.

            I gathered that much.

            Sure you can declare that anything matters to you, including whether your own surname starts with an “A” and whether you have exactly 217 paperclips. That does not make it important.

            How about this – if you value people who value what you value, that is whatsit-maximizers, you ought to see to it that there are more of such people. The simplest way to do so is by breeding, especially with other people like you, to better the odds of coming up with more people like you.

            If your attitude towards breeding is “who needs it?”, then you are probably not going to be successful at maximizing the amount of people who think like you, and do things that you like. This is probably why there are so few people like you.

            I tentatively accept the study unless it is woo.

            Look at it yourself: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/319/5864/813

          • Well... says:

            Bloodlines mean nothing. Do not having an increasingly small copy of your genes in 2500 matter?

            Why wait until 2500? I already reap benefits in the form of the pleasure and joy I get from my two kids. In my own lifetime I can expect to reap all kinds of other rewards from having many descendants. One of those is knowing that I have out-reproduced other people and therefore empirically demonstrated my evolutionary fitness. Another is the possibility of having at least one of my descendants wind up in a position of influence, which means a kind of indirect way to wield my own influence. (For instance, I have often gone to my own grandfather for advice and feedback on talks I’m giving, papers I’m writing, etc.)

            Although, I don’t really want an EXACT copy of myself, I want someone who exemplifies a new spin on myself by combining my genes with those of my wife, whose mind is formidable and whose body is attractive. She is of a different race than me but that just makes it more fun.

            If you want a copy of yourself, get a clone.

            When those Chinese cloning vats come on the market I guarantee you the process will be much more expensive and much less convenient than biological reproduction.

            BTW HFAMaximizer, the fact that you don’t like mating is not an argument against reproduction, it is only evidence that your taste (and influence) will be marginal.

            Germane quote from my blog: “The civilization you want is made up of people like you. Luckily, nature has endowed you with the ability to create more people like yourself.”

          • Randy M says:

            BTW HFAMaximizer, the fact that you don’t like mating is not an argument against reproduction, it is only evidence that your taste (and influence) will be marginal.

            Was it Ayn Rand that increasingly cast any of her particular tastes as the summit of rational living?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Kids will be able to construct paperclips long after we are gone.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Cats are much better than dogs and kids. Why? Cats are independent.

          Bullshit. You only need to clean up kid feces for like 2 years each. Cat feces are forever.

          Though I will acknowledge cats are better than dogs.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Rather less than two years, if you set your mind to it; although children nowadays tend to be potty-trained later than children sixty years ago, probably because we no longer have to hand-wash dirty nappies.

          • Aapje says:

            Cat feces are forever.

            Some of the inspirational texts on SSC are questionable.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Other than certain exceptions submissiveness is pathological.

          Well yes, if you ignore all the examples of non-pathological submission, it’s quite obvious that submission is pathological. I’m not convinced this is a particularly useful insight, however.

      • hlynkacg says:

        @Well…
        You beat me too it.

        Though upon reflection I would also add, “or have ever needed to get 30 people moving in the same direction in less than 30 seconds”

        • HFAMaximizer says:

          That’s not submissiveness. People do that for their own good. Similarly obedience in the military or the workspace is healthy because they serve some purpose. Furthermore such obedience is towards anyone with a higher position in some hierarchy so there is no personal-emotional aspect of it. You may obey someone for a while. However if you get a promotion you probably no longer have to obey him/her.

          What is pathological? If A perpetually submit to B or have a habit of submitting to people for no reason then A is pathological.

          • beleester says:

            Do you actually know someone who submits to people for no reason? Actually no reason, not just a reason you don’t agree with?

            If they’re submitting willingly, odds are they have a good reason. Maybe they sometimes feel overstressed and it’s good for them to let someone else take the lead for a while. Maybe they trust the other person to make better decisions. Maybe they just feel happier when they don’t have to be in charge.

            (And no, emotional reasons are not “no reason” – most people include their emotional state in their utility function, and they are right to do so.)

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @beleester I’m actually mostly talking about the problem of obedient wives and kids. This is very unhealthy.

            It is fine if you pretend to be submissive for a while. However it is NOT fine if you are actually a willing slave. Be like a proud cat. Don’t be like a submissive dog.

          • Nornagest says:

            Why is it unhealthy?

            For someone so invested in rationalism, there sure seem to be a lot of deontological hard stops in your philosophy.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            Because I believe absolute individualism is good. Submissiveness is a trait that rejects individualism in a masochist way (i.e. control freaks are bad however I can at least understand why they exist) hence I consider it pathological.

            As for ethical philosophy I have a lot to learn. I’m glad that you pointed this out to me.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            I’m starting to wonder if this guy completely lacks a theory of mind.

          • Nornagest says:

            That doesn’t actually answer the question.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Nornagest I think I answered why I consider submissiveness unhealthy. I believe individualism is healthy and good. Hence one should only submit or pretend to submit for personal benefits because submission is anti-individualistic and by submitting one is sacrificing a part of their individuality. Submissiveness which is submission when there is no benefit is unhealthy because this is like self-harm which I also oppose.

          • Nornagest says:

            Saying that submission is unhealthy because individualism is healthy is like saying that red is good because green is bad. It’s very close to restating the same thing in different terms.

            We live in an individualistic culture and so we’re primed to see individualism as good, but it’s a rare moral framework under which it’s inherently good; the freedom/coercion framework is about as close as it gets, and even there it is not coercive if you prefer to defer to others. There are whole schools of thought dedicated entirely to reconciling freedom/coercion ethics with communitarian preferences.

            Most of the time, in our culture, individualism’s considered good because it contributes instrumentally to things that’re closer to our terminal values. I’m trying to tease out roughly what those values are for you — though they’re going to be fuzzy and contradictory, because you’re human, no matter how autistic you are.

          • Aapje says:

            @HFAMaximizer

            I believe individualism is healthy and good.

            What evidence do you have for this?

            People who get locked up in solitary confinement tend to experience severe mental issues, strongly suggesting that extreme individualism is unhealthy.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think you should stop creating new accounts.

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        I just changed my nickname twice. I’m not attempting to use sockpuppets.

        I won’t change this one at least for several months.

        You can call me HM, AC, Auty, etc if you want to. “Auty” is cool because I hope the world can become more HFA.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          This Autism Supremacist schtick really makes it hard to take you seriously.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s reached the point where anytime someone introduces themselves with “I have autism and…” I just tune them out. It’s a real shame. IF this person is real, he is a bad representative and is doing the autistic community a great disservice.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Let’s assume that our multi-named poster is in fact just as they claim for a second.

            Would you blame a paraplegic for blocking the stairs in your building the first time the came into it needing to get to the second floor? Would you say that paraplegics who attempt to navigate a city that is poorly accommodating of the disabled to be poor representatives of the disabled?

            That seems to be the appropriate analogy. It makes sense to make some allowances to see if the right accommodation is available.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @HBC

            Eh, that’s often the case. Not so much here. HFA Cat is more like a paraplegic preaching that the world would be a better place if there were fewer limbs in it. I have a lot more sympathy for the sort of thing you describe but, as I said, when it drifts into supremacism I just can’t take it seriously.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Gobbobble:
            The behavior HFA is engaged in, a hyper focus on their personal concerns and a failure to understand why these would evoke negative emotional reactions in others, is caused by their autism and typical of those with autism, AFAIK.

            This is precisely the behavior you are finding off-putting.

            Absent a wheel chair (or some other easily determined source of need), someone blocking the stairs in your apartment building would also be extremely off-putting.

            That’s the analogy I am trying to draw.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            No offense to non-autists. Maybe I’m like a blind person who can not be convinced that eyes are actually useful. However to me it seems that non-autistic social skills are just like ornaments. I don’t have them and don’t care about the fact that I don’t have them. Furthermore I believe lack of these ornaments actually make my life better.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @HFAMaximizer:
            The appropriate analogy might be to a blind person who keeps almost hitting me with their cane, which I am having to take care to stay of the way of and every now and then I get popped.

            From the blind person’s perspective, they are getting around just fine.

            *Apologies to anyone who engages with this who is blind. I know that it isn’t an accurate representation.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe that submissiveness is generally unhealthy. All humans should be independent, individualistic and rational. All humans should refuse to always submit to a particular human unless something can be gained from it. Voluntary submission for no purpose is wrong.

      Are you literally the Devil? OTOH, stupid question. The Devil would obviously lie and say no. 😉

      • HFAMaximizer says:

        Submissiveness is unhealthy. I believe it is fine if you have to submit but it is not fine if you submit when it does not benefit anyone.

        You don’t get creativity if everyone is born a slave to others’ desires.

        • Anonymous says:

          Do you have any evidence to back up your claim?

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            I assume that you are an alt-righter. Are you familiar with how biodiversity people talk about the differences between European societies and Northeast Asian ones?

          • Anonymous says:

            Vaguely.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            For example in Japan people do nice scientific research. However a stupid ultrarigid hierarchy and an obedience culture still exists. This is obviously a problem.

            The key problem with obedience cultures is that it suppresses novel ideas.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Novel” does not equate “good”, not even close.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Anonymous I know. However freedom of thought is basically the key reason why the West is great or at least why it was great. Not all novel ideas need to be good. What matters is that we allow novel ideas so that we benefit from the good ones.

          • Anonymous says:

            Japan has retained more of its greatness than the West has, so far. If I were maximizing for niceness of a place to live, I would definitely choose Japan over pretty much any place in the West (even my own country), because they have retained a culture of duty and trusting one’s neighbour (and haven’t yielded to pressure to allow in barbarians en-masse).

            Also, what’s your evidence that there isn’t freedom of thought in Japan, or even substantially worse than in the West? I mean, it strikes me as obviously false, because of how much utterly bizarre stuff comes out of that country.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            “Novel” does not equate “good”, not even close.

            Still better to have ideas and sort out the good uses than not having them at all. “Good” usually applies to the application, not the idea. Not inventing knives because backstabbing is bad precludes chopping vegetables or surgery.

        • HFAMaximizer says:

          @Anonymous Northeast Asians aren’t without issues. However they are currently the group with the least amount of issues.

          Japan isn’t perfect. However it is certainly much better than almost the entire West except for its authoritarian culture that you seem to like. Subways, lack of crime, etc. Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are also good.

          China isn’t that good yet but it is way safer than major American cities because Dems are mismanaging them. Furthermore China is rapidly improving while the problem with major American cities except for Honolulu is getting wors
          e.

          America needs to properly cultivate some proper pride, knowledge and enthusiasm in its AA population. Teach their kids to love science and work so that race relations do not become even worse.

          • Well... says:

            Northeast Asians aren’t without issues. However they are currently the group with the least amount of issues.

            You would say that, being the guy who hates kids and sex.

            As I understand it, they have at least one very serious issue, possibly an existential one. If you had your way, we’d all have that same issue.

  11. Luminifera says:

    Hello, Scott. I’m a somewhat new reader. A friend of mine likes your blog and sends me some of your posts sometimes, and we talk about the subjects. It’s a very interesting blog, I like your fiction stories. Very funny. I loved the blue eyes one; I would have probably been killed as a child if I lived there, because I wouldn’t be capable of not saying the obvious. Anyway, this is sort of an introduction. You’re probably never going to read this, and if you do, it’s unlikely you’ll want to respond. I’ve decided to make this comment to actually talk about something, not to introduce myself. I’m considering deleting this introduction part, but maybe I won’t. We’ll see.
    I’ve decided to make this comment to talk about something you’ve talked about in some posts I read from years ago, 2014, 2013. It’s about pornography. I’m one of those pesky people who aren’t fond of it. Personally speaking, I’ve never seen the appeal, but my personal experience matters little to what I think of it. I think it’s damaging for a plethora of reasons… haha, damn, I must have hundreds of tagged text posts about it in my own blog. But for all that, I couldn’t eloquently argue about it by myself at all. I’m really bad at this, I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t be against something that harms so many people in such perplexing, sadistic ways; so I don’t know how to convince someone of it.
    But I haven’t always thought like that. I used to be indifferent to pornography, and I was convinced that I shouldn’t be. Maybe other people can be convinced too. Or maybe they can convince me to go back to being indifferent, or even to support it. We’ll see.
    What I mean by this wall of text is to share what made me change my mind. I saw you mention Andrea Dworkin in a post of yours. Her book “Pornography: men possessing women” paints quite the ugly picture of this billion dollar industry. You’re probably not going to read it, I have recommended Dworkin books to male friends who had been curious what I was reading and they simply couldn’t parse it. But maybe you will surprise me, I’ve been surprised before. I’ve downloaded it in pdf form, online, for free, in this site: http://radfem.org/dworkin/
    I do wish I could buy her stuff in print, but it’s 1. out of print! and 2. expensive. Plus, she’s dead, so it’s not like I’d be investing in her anyway.

    So, this is my big first comment slash introduction. I wonder which is worse: to be ignored or to be bullied?
    I guess I’ll find out soon.

    • Well... says:

      I like “which is worse” games.

      Which is worse: to spend all day being dragged into long meetings that have nothing to do with you or your role, or to find out at the end of the day that you were not invited to an important meeting where your insights would have been most valuable?

      • Spookykou says:

        For me, not getting called to the important meeting would drive me crazy for several days, paranoid and suspicious, a boring wasted day would just be a boring and wasted day.

        • Well... says:

          Agreed. It’s probably not really an interesting or challenging comparison. But it’s been on my mind lately because for most of my career the first thing happened a lot and I used to hate it and complain inwardly about it, while recently the second thing happened once and I realized it’s much worse.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I don’t know Dworkin much/at all. More interesting for the purposes of discussion than becoming Wikipedia Expert – can you summarize (like, one or two sentences, not book report) her central thesis?

      On-topic, sorta: I find myself thinking that on the consumer end pornography is like alcohol. Not that great for you, probably OK in certain forms and in moderation, but a lot of people have trouble with moderation, and there is certainly a desensitizing effect, which leads to the forms it takes changing. What was considered scandalous half a century ago is meh now, and the days of guys beating it to lingerie catalogues is long gone.

    • hlynkacg says:

      First off, welcome to the party! Fair warning, we’re all a bit mad here so if something doesn’t make sense to you don’t feel bad, just roll with it. 😉

      I am in broad agreement with dndnrsn, in moderation I feel that pornography, and other forms of titillation/release serve a useful even beneficial purpose, however it’s monkeys being monkeys it’s easy for people to get sucked down the hedonistic rabbit-hole. As someone who’s had to make conscious effort to control his impulses in regards to both I find the analogy to alcohol apt.

      Edit:
      I’ve tried reading Dworkin a few times and while I find her arguments strong on the object level I think her theories are wildly off base. I don’t think she ever really understood “masculinity” and in trying to define everything in terms of her opposition to this thing she didn’t understand the whole edifice, lacking a foundation, falls apart the moment you look at it sideways.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Could someone go over what the strongest points of Dworkin’s book are? I don’t feel like reading 328 pages of moral hand-wringing and the introduction makes it seem like that’s what’s going to follow.

    • Anonymous says:

      Pornography is a pretty much crude wireheading.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Anything that gives pleasure is “pretty much crude wireheading”, then. Wireheading is wireheading precisely because it is refined.

        • Anonymous says:

          Are you playing at sophistry, or actually objecting?

          What I mean is that porn, like putting an electrode to your pleasure center, is stealing the reward without performing the virtuous actions that properly yield the reward, circumventing the process of learning to do more of the good stuff. Just about the only non-negative thing I can say about it is that it probably won’t make you poor, because it’s available for free, unlike most recreactional drugs.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m objecting. Wireheading bypasses everything. The next best thing we have, certain drugs, bypass most everything. When you get to porn you’re at least another level beyond that.

          • Anonymous says:

            I see a difference in degree, but not a difference in class. Is there some other term for what I called “crude wireheading”?

          • Aapje says:

            Sex doesn’t merely happen to those who act virtuously.

          • gbdub says:

            stealing the reward without performing the virtuous actions that properly yield the reward

            How does this not equally apply to watching a non-pornographic film, eating sugary food, playing a video game, reading a novel, or riding a roller coaster?

          • Anonymous says:

            Sex doesn’t merely happen to those who act virtuously.

            Ordered reproductive sex is virtuous.

          • Anonymous says:

            How does this not equally apply to watching a non-pornographic film, eating sugary food, playing a video game, reading a novel, or riding a roller coaster?

            It applies to the degree that these actions substitute for the real thing, damage your ability to do the real thing, and have no value other than the pleasure they bring. There are some good reasons to eat sugary food (even if they don’t come up often), there are probably some good things you can learn from reading a novel, or playing a video game, etc. – in addition to the sensations they cause.

          • Your argument is old and not good.

          • Matt M says:

            Sex doesn’t merely happen to those who act virtuously.

            Some might even argue that in modern society, the opposite is true.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I see a difference in degree, but not a difference in class.

            In the case of wireheading, the degree makes the class. It’s precisely the refinement which makes wireheading different from other ways of getting pleasure.

            Is there some other term for what I called “crude wireheading”?

            Pleasure-seeking? Hedonistic?

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            …and your response is lazy and half-assed.

            What specific factor makes it “not good”? What does an argument’s age have to do with it’s truth or validity?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            And all this time I thought that thing Mencken said about Puritans was just beating up a strawman.

          • @hlynkacg

            The standard responses have been trotted out several times. If you are putting forward an old argument with well-known objections, the high-effort thing to do is acknowledg the objections and say something new.

          • Anonymous says:

            And all this time I thought that thing Mencken said about Puritans was just beating up a strawman.

            Hey, don’t lump me with those heretics! I don’t hate Christmas!

          • But did you do anything to deserve it?

          • Anonymous says:

            Only if you think that being hostile towards hedonism is the same as Puritanism.

          • cassander says:

            @Anonymous

            It’s a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            The arguments against hedonism and in favor of moderation are similarly well known so if you’re not going to engage in the discussion GTFO.

    • Aapje says:

      @Luminifera

      There is no evidence that pornography results in more sex crimes.

      Dworkin hated men, having a completely broken model of reality where men are taught to abuse (and never care for) women, while women are taught to care for (and never abuse) men. In her world, every men beats women, every men rapes women, etc, etc. The evidence she presents consists merely of anecdotes of the most serious cases of female victims, cherry picked and probably greatly exaggerated, like she probably exaggerated about her own life (even the very SJ-friendly Guardian didn’t believe her story about her claimed Paris rape). Objective facts run counter to her narrative and taking it seriously is like seriously engaging with ‘The Eternal Jew.’

      Anyway, it’s impossible to seriously engage you on your beliefs, since you are not making a specific argument. Throwing an entire book out there is a gish gallop, which cannot reasonably be countered. Most of the book is not even about pornography anyway, but a general treatise on how men are evil. If you believe that, then that is a better thing to discuss than how you feel about pornography.

      I suggest you pick a specific claim from the book to discuss and/or for people to respond to, if you actually want a real conversation.

      I wonder which is worse: to be ignored or to be bullied? I guess I’ll find out soon.

      Is this an admission that you are here to troll? Your comment has several red flags which indicates that you are in a hostile mode, not willing to really engage, but just want to reinforce a pre-existing us-vs-them narrative.

      In extremist SJ, there is a tendency to classify the rejection of certain claims, even with evidence, as aggression, resulting in immunity from fact and reason. One way to reject wrapping yourself up in your own righteousness is allow for the possibility of having a debate, not just to be ignored or bullied.

      • gbdub says:

        I wonder which is worse: to be ignored or to be bullied? I guess I’ll find out soon.

        In Troll: the Broadway Musical, this would be the first line of the villain’s lamentful solo, sung softly to himself in his lair before launching his grand assault on the decent and innocent Internet folk of the nearby village.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I wonder which is worse: to be ignored or to be bullied?

      I feel like maybe there exist more options other than just those two.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I have recommended Dworkin books to male friends who had been curious what I was reading and they simply couldn’t parse it.

      I might be willing to take that as a challenge. If I were to read one book, would you suggest “Pornography”, or another?

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Skimming the beginning of “Pornography”, I think I might have a feel for the “simply couldn’t parse it” thing. The problem is essentially that Dworkin writes in absolute generalizations and in abstract terms. I imagine it makes a great rallying cry for people who have experienced the issues in question and understand them intuitively, but the detail just isn’t there to walk someone through the issue if they don’t have that prior knowledge.

        • Aapje says:

          @ADifferentAnonymous

          Absolute generalizations are usually wrong. If I had been victim of a black criminal, that would be consistent with a ‘all black people are criminals narrative.’ However, that is a factually wrong narrative.

          Intuitive understanding is very dangerous, because it only accounts for personal experience and we know that individual experiences can vary wildly.

          Also, she goes further than just generalizing about behavior, she also claims that men are collectively working together to harm women. She is a conspiracy theorist. She was just lucky enough to hate men and not Jews; or history would not have been so kind to her.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            I suspect Dworkin helps people crystalize certain concepts. That doesn’t prove those concepts correspond to reality, but if it turns out that they do, then the crystallization had value.

            If you’ve actually read Dworkin (and not just out-of-context quotes), I won’t argue this further… But are you sure she means a literal conspiracy? Recall Scott’s comparison of the concepts “The Patriarchy” and “The Cathedral”.

          • Aapje says:

            Her writing is filled with claims that men collectively and intentionally seek to subjugate and harm women for their own benefit, for example these three different snippets from the book the OP referenced:

            Men, perpetually searching to justify their perpetual search for objects that move them to experience their own desire transmuted to power, claim especially to love beauty as such; and under the formidable guise of aesthetic devotion, objectification is defended or presented as the recognition of the beautiful.

            Male sexual domination is a material system with an ideology and a metaphysics. The sexual colonialization of women’s bodies is a material reality: men control the sexual and reproductive uses of women’s bodies.

            The boys are betting on our compliance, our ignorance, our fear. We have always refused to face the worst that men have done to us. The boys count on it. The boys are betting that we cannot face the horror of their sexual system and survive. The boys are betting that their depictions of us as whores will beat us down and stop our hearts. The boys are betting that their penises and fists and knives and fucks and rapes will turn us into what they say we are—the compliant women of sex, the voracious cunts of pornography, the masochistic sluts who resist because we really want more. The boys are betting. The boys are wrong.

            The more mildly misandrist feminists at least claim that men don’t know the damage that they are causing, but Dworkin explicitly makes the claim that the system was intended to exploit women for the benefit of men.

            Anyone who uses this material to make sense of their experiences will logically turn their anger at the actions of one/a few men into anger and hatred of all men.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I could have sworn I’ve seen, in the interminable feminism threads on this very board, dismissals of criticizing-feminism-via-criticizing-Dworkin due to her being (to paraphrase) feminism’s equivalent to Vox Day: an obvious crazyperson who no one really takes all that seriously and there are much better arguments to be found elsewhere.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I could have sworn I’ve seen, in the interminable feminism threads on this very board,

            Do you think you could produce a link? I would really rather rely on something more than recollection in this case, even from a regular. (I’m willing to take the OC at face value and in good faith, in this case.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Paul

            That’s fair. I’ll try to remember to go digging when I’ve got the time.

          • Randy M says:

            Here’s an example of saying that quoting Dworkin is not being charitable towards liberals, when really liberals treat her as a crank, continued at the bottom of the thread here.

          • Iain says:

            Feminism is not a monolith.

            To oversimplify: you can divide feminism into liberal feminism vs radical feminism. Liberal feminism likes to talk about abortion rights, equal pay, the glass ceiling, and domestic violence; radical feminism likes to talk about abolishing the inherently oppressive and dominating patriarchal system. Andrea Dworkin fell squarely into the radical feminist camp. Indeed, she spent her life in a series of running battles with liberal feminists over issues like pornography and prostitution. She is a fair representative of a certain style of feminism, but not of feminism as a whole.

            Edit: And it should go without saying that if Dworkin is not representative of feminism as a whole, she is clearly not representative of “liberals”.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            -In OT 54.75, Corey refers to Dworkin as a crank and says that when right-wing posters on SSC claim that liberals take her as anything BUT a crank, they are strawmanning. Ctrl+F “Complaining about Straw Liberals:”

            There was a larger argument in the thread, with Corey and a few other liberal posters arguing that no one actually supports Dworkin and MacKinnon except as ‘trolling’, and that it is disingenuous and uncharitable for conservatives to try and use their views as examples of negative aspects of Feminism.

            That’s the longest discussion, but in several other comment threads, liberal posters refer to men/conservatives/MRAs complaing about Dworkin as weakmanning/strawmanning. For one example, see Vox Imperatoris on Book Review: Art of the Deal’s comment thread.

            Links omitted because every time I try to collect a lot of internal SSC links it eats my post.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m a bit confused how criticizing feminists through Dworkin suddenly became a topic in this thread. ADifferentAnonymous nor I argued that all feminists have Dworkian ideas. In fact, I explicitly contrasted her with feminists who don’t have these beliefs.

            Perhaps I just triggered people with my statement, but I want to make it clear that I’m not accusing all feminists for having similar beliefs to Dworkin (but it also seems clearly wrong that she’s the only one making such claims).

            Feminists have a variety of beliefs, most of them wrong* 🙂

            * To some extent**
            ** Non-feminists also tend to be wrong to some extent 😛

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            I think the “liberal feminists reject Dworkin” point is somewhat on point as an argument against me–it suggests I shouldn’t bother trying to steelman her. But I’m going to do it a bit anyway, because, well..

            I think a lot of feminism has the bad habit of taking things that are complex, subtle, emergent, unconscious, etc., and describing them as if they’re simple, overt, explicit, deliberate, etc. Dworkin is horrible in this respect.

            But as truth-seekers, we don’t get to say “Dworkin botched her arguments, therefore she loses;” we have to investigate whether her writing points at real issues.

            Case in point, I think the first quote you put down can be translated to

            There’s a tendency to treat female attractiveness as an intrinsic quality, and even as an objective moral good. This leads to men actively shaming unattractive women, rather than the proportional response of being less inclined to date them.

            Even steelmanning, I can’t ascribe to Dworking the addendum that the duty of attractiveness also gets deployed hard against certain marginalized men, or that women do plenty of enforcement too; but there’s still a lot of truth in the statement.

            The second and third quotes are pretty much chaff.

          • random832 says:

            or that women do plenty of enforcement too

            I don’t know about Dworkin, but my understanding is that many forms of feminism concede this but still find some way to blame men (“internalized misogyny” etc)

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I haven’t read the Dworkin, and I suspect most people here haven’t and won’t. But Ozy has! (That’s actually a review of a book by someone else, but I think you’ll find it useful?)

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Do you have any specific and substantive claims regarding the scope and degree to which depictions (fictional, such as poetry, prose, video games, drawn art, simulated sex in movies, etc) or recordings (photographs or video of actual sex acts) of sex acts are inherently harmful to individuals or society?

      If so, please share them.

      If all you’re going to say is “Read Dworkin”, I have, and I was not particularly impressed. Her models of masculinity, pornography, and sexual relationships bear very little resemblance to reality, and the evidence on record about actual pornography, as Aapje notes, directly contradicts her model.

    • BBA says:

      I haven’t read Dworkin but I often think of her obit in the Moscow alt-weekly The Exile:

      Russians haven’t quite learned the Western art of sloganeering for radical philosophy without meaning a word of what they say. A Russian woman would assume that if you’re a feminist, you’d actually have to live out the philosophy. In that sense, Andrea Dworkin was, in her own way, the only “Russian” feminist in America — and that is why she was so hated.

      The culture war in America has been getting a lot more “Russian” lately.

    • mnarayan01 says:

      A friend of mine likes your blog and sends me some of your posts sometimes, and we talk about the subjects. It’s a very interesting blog, I like your fiction stories. Very funny.

      Would you describe your “friend” as chaotic?

  12. j1000000 says:

    Is anyone good at crossword puzzles? Several months ago I started taking a train to work and I started doing puzzles a few times a week. Recently I discovered the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament posts its annual tournament’s puzzles and rankings online, so I figured I’d try my hand at it, thinking I’d place in the 50th percentile.

    I got absolutely smoked, like 2nd percentile. At this point it’s merely a matter of pride for me. Does anyone have any recommendations as to how to get better at crosswords? Are the people in that tournament practicing/studying? Or is it a hopeless task and I must accept my fate?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Crosswords have their own vocabulary. Certainly I’ve known no other place where female sheep, desert plants used as a burn salve, poetic spellings of “even” and “ever”, the ninth letter of the greek alphabet, the fourth planet, and other such words come up quite so often. So practice should help a lot.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve always been amazed at how this works. My whole life I’ve considered myself fairly good with the English language. I read and write a lot. I worked a job that was roughly the equivalent of a technical writer in the military for nearly 10 years. I tested in the 99th percentile of the verbal section of the GMAT with zero study. I blogged for several years and had a piece picked up (and paid for) by a fairly major libertarian website, etc.

        And yet, I get absolutely smoked by anyone who I ever try to play in word games: scrabble, boggle, crosswords, you name it. And the people I know who are great at these things, the “solve the NYT crossword in two minutes every day” people, aren’t particularly well read, tested lower than I did, have never written professionally, etc. It’s just an entirely different skillset…

        • James says:

          Yeah, I always used to assume I would be good at Scrabble until I played and got beaten regularly.

          The only exception was when I was lucky enough to play all my letters (“BROTHERS”, I think?) on the first turn, getting the all-letters bonus and the triple word score.

      • Cattle-yak crossbreeds are notably absent.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        The reason for this is that filling a grid is hard, and certain words have convenient letter arrangements that makes them show up more often than others.

        That said, they really need to modernize their pool of clues and answers. The Thin Man’s dog is named Asta. I know this because it constantly came up in the NYT crossword for years. That movie came out before my grandparents were born. I realize they might be playing to the audience that actually reads newspapers, but even in-flight magazine crosswords tend to kill me when there’s some intersection of 50-year-old pop culture references I’ll never get.

    • BBA says:

      I’ve gone to ACPT for several years, gradually climbing in the standings. Won a trophy once, but not one of the good ones. It’s mostly about practice, knowing the conventions and gimmicks (if a word in the clue is abbreviated, then the answer is an abbreviation) and, like Nybbler says, those short vowel-heavy words that come up everywhere (the first name of the guy who designed the St. Louis Arch).

      Maybe check out Amy Reynaldo’s blog and (if you’re not too allergic to woker-than-thou ranting) Rex Parker.

      And British-style crosswords are their own separate thing. I enjoy them but they’re completely impenetrable to a novice.

    • Luminifera says:

      I like crosswords. But it’s just a hobby for me. I think it would maybe be less fun if I took it seriously. Maybe you should take it like the fun hobby it is? A relaxing, yet still exciting activity. Or maybe you really want to be the best at crosswords, and it’s your lifelong dream or something. Just don’t stress about it, be happy. Best wishes.

      • j1000000 says:

        Very fair advice, I admit! I will DEFINITELY never be the best at crosswords, I have no delusions about that — nor did I plan to spend the rest of my life studying and practicing. I just was wondering if there were any “hack”-ish ways that people use to get better beyond just doing them over and over (maybe like “Here’s a list of 200 words to remember that will make you 20% better!”)

        I personally find that there’s a sweetspot for me in enjoying an activity — I need to be putting in a bit of effort to improve at it, but I also can’t pin my entire self-worth on being amazing at it (since the latter goal is nearly always doomed to failure and would lead to pure despair).

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        +1.

        I do time myself and track best times, which to me captures the fun parts of competition and helps me take them somewhat seriously. But comparing myself to the best in the world seems like a recipe for misery.

    • Orpheus says:

      On the same topic: do people here like criptic crosswords?

      • quaelegit says:

        What’s that? I got into the acrostics and other variation-on-crosswords that the WSJ has in the crossword section on weekends, but I don’t know what most of them are called.

        [Edit: just went and tried the Guardian’s online free one… this is very hard for someone who’s used to WJS/LATimes style crosswords!]

    • Theres a whole bunch of tricks and conventions with cryptic crosswords, which you need to know along with having a good vocabulary and good general knowledge. I can just about get through one, but my dad is a maven who has been in the top 100 in the UK.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      @j1000000:
      How old are you? If you’re younger than, say, 30, an easy piece of advice for how to get better at crosswords is: get older. Will Shortz, the crosswords editor for the New York Times and director of the tournament you entered, is 64. He likes to fill a grid with references and clues that make sense to him, which includes references to comic strips and tv series and sports celebrities and political figures he’s absorbed info about over the years. If you were his age, you would have probably absorbed many of the same references but if you’re much younger you are likely to find many of his clues *really obscure*.

      When I was a kid, I was amazed that my parents knew all these random facts to fill in a crossword, but as I’ve aged, the proportion of crossword answers that I hypothetically *could* have gotten keeps increasing. So if it seems to you a hopeless task now, one option is just to stick a pin in it and try again in a decade or so.

      In the meantime, you could get a crosswords app on your phone and practice with easier ones rather than jumping in at the deep end. People who are good at crosswords tend to enjoy doing them and do a lot of them and it’s a skill that builds over time. If you just try to do even a simple for-kids daily crossword every single day you’re likely to gradually get better at that skill.

  13. Chalid says:

    If male variability was the cause of low numbers of women in highly mathematical professions, you’d expect that, as the profession became more competitive, the number of women would decrease.

    So, for example, one would expect there to be the fewest woman physics professors at elite universities, with more and more of them being present at less-competitive universities.

    Has this pattern been observed?

    • I’m not sure. However the women who are actually at the level of professors in mathematics are generally as good as men. In my field for example there has been several women who contributed significantly to major theories and they should not be ignored.

      At the very least a significant minority of great STEM researchers happen to be female.

      • Well... says:

        Especially if you count “squishy” sciences like psychology and biology under STEM, which I think just about everyone does.

        • HFAMaximizer says:

          I’m mostly talking about hard sciences.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Wait, since when is biology not considered a hard science?

          Source: Humanities person who defines “hard science” as “I have not been convinced this is not magic” – a lot of the social sciences are just humanities putting on airs, sometimes with lower standards of evidence than some humanities.

          • Well... says:

            I was thinking it’s squishy because, for instance, the issue of something as fundamental as how to differentiate species isn’t entirely agreed upon. But that might not be a valid reason, I don’t really know.

          • Bugmaster says:

            As far as I understand, modern biology is all molecular and computational, so while it’s not as hard of a science as physics, it’s still much closer to physics than to the humanities.

    • alchemy29 says:

      Scott linked to a massive (more than 10,000 people) cohort that found no difference in variability in IQ between men and women. I can’t find it now though. Of course, it’s possible that there is a difference in some sub type of cognitive ability that gives men an edge at the extremes.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        0. Don’t cherry-pick studies. Don’t call it “massive” if you don’t know how big the other studies are. “Massive” is not particularly important. What is important is that the study is powerful enough to detect the effect. You might worry about p-hacking, but in that case you should look at p-values. If both studies are powerful enough, they are probably both true. Maybe Romanians are different from Americans.

        1. From NLSY I get a standard deviation ratio of 1.1. (N=9000)

        2. The Romanian study has 15,000 participants, but it doesn’t aggregate them, so it isn’t actually powerful and its failure to reject the null hypothesis is worthless. Eyeballing, it looks like it would find a smaller ratio, but I don’t know.

        3. Hyde et al gets math ratios of 1.1 to 1.2. The smallest sample is 400,000, if you still care about “massive” studies.

        The weak point in this argument is the assumption of a bell curve. Measuring the variance ratio is easy compared to extrapolating. Hyde calls the ratio 1.1-1.2 “similar” and for most purposes she’s right.

        • Anonymous says:

          1. From NLSY I get a standard deviation ratio of 1.1. (N=9000)

          Link? I’m collecting studies on variability of the sexes.

      • Tibor says:

        Well, Mensa actually cites the difference in the variance of IQ as a fact. They don’t seem to have any axes to grind and their only business is IQ, so I’d expect them to do a good research in the area. Also, I’m told they’re pretty smart!

    • Anonymous says:

      So, for example, one would expect there to be the fewest woman physics professors at elite universities, with more and more of them being present at less-competitive universities.

      Might work, once you correct for affirmative action-like policies.

      • Agreed.

        My main argument against the patriarchy is that it does not matter whether only 10%, 1% or 0.1% of the top scientists happen to be female. As long as such people exists we must not enforce the patriarchy and instead allow them to work in scientific research. Science is much more important than “muh family structure”.

        • Anonymous says:

          There being any humans at all to do the sciencing is more important that science. At the moment, it looks like that overeducating people, especially women, has led to intelligence being a pretty grave fitness defect. A technological civilization is not maintainable without a sufficiently bright population, absent some kind of sentient AI (which hopefully doesn’t replace us entirely with the product of its desire). Do the math.

          • I completely understand your concern. Look at the birth rates of Europe. Look at the birth rates of East Asia.

            When sexbots are invented things will be worse. Do you think it is more likely for me to date a girl or buy a robot that is much better than real girls at everything, can help me do research, can call 911 if I’m really sick and never argues with me? Hell I will get a robot wife if I believe I’m lonely. There are many STEM people who think like me. What’s the consequence? They will be extinct.

            What’s my solution? You want to roll back feminism in order to preserve societies even at some cost. I want to use transhumanism to completely remove sexuality and gender forever. The patriarchy is bad for intelligent women. The hook-up culture is bad for both intelligent men and intelligent women. Let’s all become transhumans so that we can forget about sexuality which is inherently dysfunctional.

          • Anonymous says:

            What’s my solution? You want to roll back feminism in order to preserve societies even at some cost. I want to use transhumanism to completely remove sexuality and gender forever. The patriarchy is bad for intelligent women. The hook-up culture is bad for both intelligent men and intelligent women. Let’s all become transhumans so that we can forget about sexuality which is inherently dysfunctional.

            No deal.

          • John Schilling says:

            Let’s all become transhumans so that we can forget about sexuality which is inherently dysfunctional.

            Nobody knows how to actually do this. Probably nobody will figure it out until you are long dead. If they do, it will probably happen when you are an old man and it will involve a great deal of work done by younger scientists, engineers, technicians, janitors, and bauxite miners. Many of whom haven’t been born yet.

            So the path to your imagined transhumanist future still requires figuring out how to convince the current generation of mostly-not-rationalist humans to breed at least another generation or two of somewhat-less-nonrationalist humans to invent rational transhumanism for you.

          • @John Schilling Yeah. You are onto something. However traditional societies aren’t good for intelligent people just like the current one. What are we going to do? Clone scientists?

          • Anonymous says:

            However traditional societies aren’t good for intelligent people just like the current one.

            Explain!

          • Sure! Traditionalist societies are usually very conformist. Hence they are not good for us.

            Of course I won’t mind a pseudo-traditionalist society that allows its brightest to forsake dogmas of the crowd.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            A technological civilization is not maintainable without a sufficiently bright population, absent some kind of sentient AI (which hopefully doesn’t replace us entirely with the product of its desire). Do the math.

            I really don’t get this argument. The timescales you need to look at for population decline to slow tech progress are really long. If we hit full brain emulation before then, we can solve our population problem by hitting the ‘copy’ button. (This is also why it’s silly to worry about disgenics: by the time it kicks in we’ll almost certainly have gamete selection.)

            So, do you have a link to the math?

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            (That contemptuous parting note in my last comment was not intended; in an earlier version I was saying that we would need to do some actual math with the relevant timescales and it wasn’t as snotty.)

          • Tibor says:

            @Rationality Corner: Why is the population decline a problem per se? First of all, I think you make it look more dramatic than it is. Most European countries still maintain a birth level at or just slightly under reproduction. East Asia – China has the largest population in the world and only due to the 2ish child policy it is not even larger. India is still growing (if you count it to East Asia). Japan and Singapore are huge outliers. The rest of the world is still growing in population (although the growth rate is decreasing pretty much everywhere as pretty much everywhere is getting richer and these things seem to be inversely correlated, which makes perfect sense – if all you have is kids, they are your social security, if you can amass some money for when you’re old and it is less likely that half of your kids die before that, you won’t have as many of them).

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        once you correct for affirmative action-like policies.

        This sounds suspiciously like a get-out-of-jail-free card: “Oh sure, there’s a female Fields medalist, but no doubt she got it for political reasons.”

        That said, it is a legitimate question, so here is a way to maybe account for it: We only need to worry about a affirmative action for this comparison if it acts more strongly at prominent schools (which is plausible, there is a real fixation on e.g. Harvard as a symbol). We can disentangle socially prominent schools good schools by taking undergraduate ranking as a indicating prominence and graduate school ranking as indicating goodness of research. These can diverge a lot sometimes: UIC is very strong in research but not super-elite as an undergraduate school. If we see lots of women at good schools, and we don’t see more women an prominent+good schools than at merely good schools, it suggests that we are not being fooled by affirmative action.

        • Anonymous says:

          We only need to worry about a affirmative action for this comparison if it acts more strongly at prominent schools (which is plausible, there is a real fixation on e.g. Harvard as a symbol).

          This is what I meant, yes.

        • Chalid says:

          Another way to do it would be by looking at whether there is a difference between male and female job performance for professors within universities (say citation count) and then, if that difference exists, examine whether it is systematically greater at more elite universities.

    • Luminifera says:

      I have no idea, because my course doesn’t have a physics class. But when I did a few months of engineering (wasn’t my thing), many of my professors (calculus, chemistry, geometry, etc) were women. When I did a year of graphic design (also not my thing), almost all my professors were men (there was one woman). Now I’m in med school, and it’s pretty evenly split. I go to the best university in my state, top 10 in my country (granted, South America isn’t seen as particularly academic), so maybe it counts as an “elite” university. I have no idea why you’d think female math teachers have an aversion to competition?

      • Tibor says:

        I think that the idea is not that women are less willing to compete (although I think this actually might be a good alternative hypothesis – it would not be so much about variance in skill as in motivations and interests), but that on the very top (and the very bottom but that is irrelevant when you’re talking about researchers) you have more men due to a higher variance in skill, so if that holds, top tier universities should therefore have more men, all else held equal.

    • Tibor says:

      The pattern I observe is that the more “detached from reality” a maths field is, the fewer women are interested in studying it. Financial maths is full of women, at the undergrad level they made about 50% of the students where I studied. Things like topology and abstract algebra have very few to no female students at all. Still, pure and applied maths all together has about 30% of women, consistently at least over a couple of European countries. However, fields like machine engineering, while a lot less mathematical than pure maths, have nearly no women in them. Studying that is like being in a cloister (if you’re male) or on a stage of a strip club with a lot of horny customers (if you’re one of the few female engineering students) Computer science is similar, although not as extreme. I don’t think that the fact that male IQ has a higher variance and therefore also male ability in general probably has a higher variance is the reason for there being so few women in engineering, or less than 50% women in maths. It might explain why you have fewer female Fields medalists (one so far) and Nobel prize winners but even most university professors are not Nobel prize material, let alone Fields medal material and I doubt the tails are so much heavier in men. It also doesn’t quite explain why the intellectually sort-of easier (of course almost anything can be made almost arbitrarily complex if you go deep enough) field of machine engineering has far fewer women than even rather pure mathematics fields such as probability theory. The answer might be that somehow the engineers and programmers are all sexist bastards who hate women…or it could be that women on average are simply less interested in machines. Not necessarily in abstract thinking (despite some crazy feminist claims which denounce natural science as “masculine”), but machines and machine-like things in particular. If you want more women in computer science the best way might be to convince them that the field is very different from machine engineering. Similarly, if you want more men in psychology, you might want to try to convince them that psychology is more like machine engineering. You don’t have to lie in either case I think, you just emphasize different aspects of the field to different people. Of course, if you reject the idea that men and women have different psychology (typically, of course, as always when I make such statements), then you will dismiss this option, look for some sort of hidden sexism that might not be there at all and then possibly waste a lot of money and other resources (while making the overall atmosphere more hostile) with no results at all.

      I think maths is a good example of a field where I’m pretty sure there really isn’t any discrimination against women (although there is still some attitude of the kind “maths isn’t for girls, you should concentrate on languages or something” among parents, particularly in some countries – but even that will probably be basically nonexistent in the upcoming generation of parents – people who are around 30 now), but where there used to be a lot of it. Emmy Noether was a brilliant algebraist but faced a lot of problems at the university of Göttingen – funnily enough, mostly from the social sciences, the mathematicians were OK with her becoming a professor (When a distinguished history professor objected to her becoming a privatdozent on the grounds of male students having issues with that – something like adjunct professor/reader in English speaking countries? – in Göttingen, David Hilbert replied that “this is a university, not a bathhouse”), other women had similar problems elsewhere. And the ratio of female faculty and students did rise over time, but I don’t think it will rise much further and I don’t think it is rising much any more. One issue might be things like having kids etc which might still limit the number of PhD students and faculty (my advisor became a professor in her early 30s while also having had 2 kids before that but 1st she’s really smart and 2nd her husband is also a maths professor who is therefore a bit more flexible with his work schedule than most people). I think it would definitely be more sensible to concentrate on issues like that than trying to find sexism everywhere.

      • Chalid says:

        Right, I was asking about keeping field constant and varying competitiveness in order to eliminate the effect of these sociological factors.

        • Tibor says:

          Eh, yea, sorry, I got a bit sidetracked 🙂

          I think the problem is that holding all else constant will be difficult. As others mentioned, things like affirmative action probably play a larger role in “high status” universities. A female colleague was looking for a position somewhere (England or Scotland I think) and they specifically wanted a female professor. This distorts the picture quite a bit. You also typically get more special female funding etc.

          Also, women might be just as able but actually less competitive. Most CEOs are men since most people don’t want to sacrifice everything to their career and those few who do are more often men than women. It could be cultural, genetic or both but it seems to be the case. Generally men are more likely to emphasize status and salary at the cost of enjoyment when choosing a career as opposed to women. But within a career there is also a spectrum. You can be the average sort of person who does the job well but that’s that or you can work 50+ hours a week and try to be the best at any cost. So even if you factored in the affirmative action and found out you have more men in the top universities, you still have to deal with this explanation somehow before you can conclude that it’s the heavier tails in ability distribution.

          • Anonymous says:

            Let’s not forget that having kids and a career is much, much easier for a man than for a woman. Even a total workaholic male can knock up his wife during the half hour he’s home and not sleeping, then go back to his 80 hour workweek. A woman, on the other hand, has to actually be pregnant for a good long time, and unless her work is very comfortable and unstressful (which a competitive position, like being a CEO, is not), it’s not going to be the least bit healthy for her or her child.

            A career and fatherhood are easily compatible. A career and motherhood directly compete for limited time and effort available.

          • Matt M says:

            Most CEOs are men since most people don’t want to sacrifice everything to their career

            How many CEOs have you met?

            Most high level corporate executives I know have families, children, and are active in multiple hobbies.

            The whole “you can only be CEO if you devote your entire existence to your job” is a myth invented by bad 80s movies. If anything, the opposite is true. The single guy with no family who spends all his off hours trying to improve the company will be considered an oddball –
            ruled out from the executive track because he doesn’t “fit the culture.”

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Matt M

            Even if “sacrifice everything” is an exaggeration I’d wager that taking 1 or more 9 month long (potentially longer) breaks during your prime ladder-climbing years adversely effects one’s promotion chances.

          • Matt M says:

            Right, I agree with that part. Pregnancy is certainly more disruptive to female workers than male ones. And females may very well have to sacrifice in that vein (perhaps having fewer children than they otherwise might prefer) if they want to be CEO someday.

            But for males I think it remains a myth, based on nothing more than cultural memes reinforced by fictional narratives.

          • Tibor says:

            @Matt M: Not many, I admit. But as far as I can tell, jobs in various consultation companies involve working insane hours and willingness to interrupt holidays etc. when required. I imagine being a CEO of a large company is not that different…unless it is just the “grunts” in the lower levels who do that.

            Still, as hlynkacg points out, several months of what is from the perspective of the company a vacation is not going to be viewed favourably. And that is a bare minimum, assuming that the father then stays at home with the small child or that you hire a nanny from the very beginning (or a combination of both). If you want to have two children, this makes it quite a handicap when your career is so competitive. It pretty much entirely excludes the possibility of staying at home with the child for 1-3 years, which is what a lot of women in Europe do.

          • Matt M says:

            @Matt M: Not many, I admit. But as far as I can tell, jobs in various consultation companies involve working insane hours and willingness to interrupt holidays etc. when required.

            I work for one of the largest. As far as I can tell, the “middle management” layer probably has it the worst as far as hours and interruptions are concerned. Partners probably log similar hours to the grunts, but may have more interruptions (and certainly have more travel required). That said, every partner in my office fits the description I gave above. Married, multiple children, active in church, active in hobbies, knowledgeable about the world in general.

            I’m not sure how they do it, but they do. Honestly, I think what you ultimately sacrifice is “idle time.” Stuff like “spend four hours arguing with people in SSC comments” probably has to go if you want that kind of lifestyle. But you can definitely keep the wife, kids, and windsurfing, if you prioritize those things above arguing with people on the Internet (I’ll leave you to guess what my priorities are!)

  14. johan_larson says:

    Your mission is to improve the twentieth century by killing one person. The person can be anyone at all, but you must kill them during the century itself. They will die in some innocuous manner, such as a car crash. So, Trans-Temporal Agent, who would you kill?

    Personally, I’d try to stop the Great War, which ultimately led to both the Russian Revolution and the Fascists. But who to target? Is Jan 1, 1901 early enough to get rid of Kaiser Wilhelm, or has he already done too much damage, since he was born in 1859?

    • Deiseach says:

      Unfortunately, there isn’t one pat answer as to “get this guy and all will be fine”. Suppose you knock off Lenin – what about Stalin? Should you have knocked off Marx first? Yeah, okay, but what about all the Russian anarchists then? And revolutionaries in general during the time period?

      Same with the First World War – getting rid of Gavrilo Princip isn’t going to make the boiling pot of Pan-Slavism, Serbian nationalism, German imperial ambition, European Great Powers diplomacy by back-stabbing, British imperialism being exacerbated by Disraeli flattering Victoria by getting her the title “Empress of India” (should we knock off Dizzy, then?) which in turn made Kaiser Bill jealous, Bismarckian Prussianism which was blamed for a lot of the problems with Germany (so should we knock off Bismarck?) and so on and so forth all go away or simmer down.

      I’d recommend Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” as a good novel here 🙂

      • Dabbler says:

        If you thwart the assassination attempt and delay the war a bit, wouldn’t that likely mitigate World War I a lot? Incidents that could potentially start a war only happened every so often, after all.

        I’m given to understand that given time Russian economic growth would make winning the war untenable for Germany and they knew it.

      • johan_larson says:

        Unfortunately, there isn’t one pat answer as to “get this guy and all will be fine”.

        I’m not really expecting there to be one. But perhaps we can hope for a good hard shove toward better days. A century that had two world wars and two totalitarian ideologies that were entirely comfortable imposing megadeaths on troublesome subjects leaves some room for improvement, I should think.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, under this logic, Princip seems as good of an answer as any. It’s obviously cliche but Hitler would merit serious consideration as well.

          Maybe I’d go for Wilson or TR, hoping to set the progressive movement back a bit? But I’m sure they’d find some other people just as harmful.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You get rid of Hitler and Germany is still in a bad place, looking for a Strong Leader ™. If they went right-wing authoritarian, you’d end up with someone looking more like Mussolini or one of the tinpot right-wing dictators of Eastern Europe. None of whom were as monstrous as Hitler. If they went left-wing authoritarian, though, the KPD was pretty tight with Stalin, and the conditions for totalitarianism were there, as shown by the fact that they ended up with right-wing totalitarianism.

          • Matt M says:

            I think getting rid of Hitler is all about timing.

            You don’t kill him as a baby, because then in the greater scheme of history, someone else fills his role similarly and little changes.

            On the other hand, you probably don’t wait until 1939, because then the party is firmly established and on its course to war, and anyone who took over would probably promote the same general policies.

            I don’t know enough about German history to pinpoint it myself, but there’s probably a specific time when getting rid of him would meaningfully alter the trajectory of German history. Almost certainly for the better (although there’s no guarantee).

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, under this logic, Princip seems as good of an answer as any.

            No, I don’t think so. The Powers had so entangled themselves with treaties, alliances both public and secret, and trying to gain advantage for themselves over both allies and enemies, plus the social ferment of the times, that even if the Archduke had not been assassinated, something would have tripped them up. I think the Austro-Hungarian empire was over-ripe and falling apart; Germany was ambitious; Britain was juggling a lot of balls; Russia was a mess; and the Balkan States were boiling over, with the Ottoman collapse stirring the pot there (the Ottoman empire was also on its last legs and though it didn’t officially die until after the war, it wasn’t healthy by any means before the war).

            I’m not saying the First World War was inevitable, but I don’t think we’re getting out of the first half of the twentieth century without some major shake-up. Just as if not Hitler, then someone else would have seized the reins in Germany at that particular crux, so if no Princip and no assassination, something else would have knocked over the dominoes.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Someone who filled the same role would not be identical. It’s even odds, probably, as to whether another right-wing dictator would have been as zealous about the idea of expanding to the East as Hitler was – there were certainly plenty of others who held similar views.

            The major difference would be that, compared to other right-wing dictators (who were all anti-Semites) Hitler was really anti-Semitic. The exterminationist anti-Semitism of the Nazis was a Nazi thing, not a Fascist thing (Mussolini’s government did not cooperate with German requests to hand Italian Jews over – then, when the Germans seized power in Italy following Mussolini getting ousted, they immediately began deporting Jews) or a right-wing dictatorship thing (a similar course of events happened in Hungary, for example).

            Someone else filling a similar role to Hitler would have been less likely to go to war with the USSR (which resulted in tens of millions of death), and the murder of millions of Jews would be vastly less likely.

          • cassander says:

            @Deiseach

            No, I don’t think so. The Powers had so entangled themselves with treaties, alliances both public and secret, and trying to gain advantage for themselves over both allies and enemies, plus the social ferment of the times, that even if the Archduke had not been assassinated, something would have tripped them up. I think the Austro-Hungarian empire was over-ripe and falling apart; Germany was ambitious; Britain was juggling a lot of balls; Russia was a mess; and the Balkan States were boiling over, with the Ottoman collapse stirring the pot there (the Ottoman empire was also on its last legs and though it didn’t officially die until after the war, it wasn’t healthy by any means before the war).

            This can be true and you can still want to kill Princip. A ww1 that happens a few years earlier or later is a massively different conflict. if it happens in 1909, the war ends in a year after the germans literally run out of ammunition because the haber process hasn’t been industrialized yet. If it happens a few years later (say around 1920) trucks have gotten good enough and prolific enough that you don’t get a western front stalemate because the armies are too big to maneuver around one another. And in either time period, the balance of power has shifted to where it isn’t quite as exquisitely balanced as it was in 1914. You still get a war that kills a million people in a year, which is awful, but it doesn’t utterly destroy the societies that fought it and pave the ground for communism and fascism.

          • bean says:

            @cassander
            Actually, I’m not sure you’d be able to push it to the 20s, although if you did, it might not happen at all. One of the main drivers for the German actions was the desire for a ‘short victorious war’ in the model of the Franco-Prussian war to solidify their political position at home against the liberals, who were posed to make major gains in the Reichstag. Either they’re going to find another excuse for a war in that time period (and there were plenty of options that they might have used in the years before the war) or the nature of the German government changes, and we might not have WW1 at all.
            The second seems unreasonably optimistic to me, though. So I suspect they’d just find the next diplomatic crisis to use as a pretext. Pushing it up to 1909 is a better option.

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            I can’t disagree, i even mentioned the use it or lose it feeling in the german staff somewhere else in the thread. the outcome is definitely more certain if things happen a little earlier than later. The discussion on military trucks a few open threads ago made clear the magnitude of effort that would have been required to mechanize ww1 era armies in the period, and 1920 might be too soon.

            that said, it does seem that there was some war scare every 5 years or so there might have been some time before the next one came up. Or it might have happened the week after.

          • bean says:

            that said, it does seem that there was some war scare every 5 years or so there might have been some time before the next one came up. Or it might have happened the week after.

            More often than that. Agadir was in 1911, and could have lead to war. There was a war in the Balkans from October of 1911 to July of 1913. There was a minor crisis over the appointment of a German general in the Turkish Army in early 1914. I’d say that the time horizon for someone who wanted a war to get a plausible excuse was 2 years or less.

          • Deiseach says:

            I agree that if you can push it out to 1920, situation will have changed so that the war may not even happen at all. But I also agree with bean that the Germans were mainly casting their eyes on France and dreaming about 1870 all over again. Nobody was expecting a bogged-down Western Front stalemate, that was the unique horror of the time.

            I think whatever happens, we’re still going to see an unholy mess in Eastern and Central Europe, and depending if the Russian Revolution goes ahead or not, the Russian involvement stomping all over the map in that quarter. The West may avoid being dragged into it, but there is still going to be a realignment in the East, and the Ottoman collapse will leave a power vacuum which Russia wants to fill (heck, remember Afghanistan in the 80s or even the Syrian mess today where Putin is sticking his fingers in the pie), and given that the British and Russians were playing Spy Vs Spy on the North-Western Frontier, I think that they’d end up butting heads over that. Enough for the British to decide “Hell no, we don’t want a Greater Pan-Slavic Union under the control maternal guidance of the Russians”? I don’t know, but I think something was going to blow because the house of cards was not stable.

            Re: war scares, I’m going off vague hazy “reading a lot of Edwardian pulp fiction right now” but there is definitely a general trend of detective stories from the 1900s involving “German spies trying to steal the Admiralty plans for our great new ships/guns/whatever” and a general sense of “war might break out any moment unless the balance of power is maintained by our naval superiority”.

            The Riddle of the Sands dates from 1903 and the plot turns on German plans to invade Britain, so the idea of war was in the air, I think.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think the Great War is over-determined, so my goal would be to reduce the damage rather than to stop the War.

      Three ways to reduce the damage: keep the Austro-Hungarian empire together; ensure that it ends in exhaustion rather than with one side winning; keep Russia from going fully Communist.

      If either Lenin or Trotsky had died, I’m not sure if the October Revolution would have succeeded. (In my mind, the October Revolution is probably the greatest disaster of the 20th century.)

      If Wilson had died in 2016, and the US had not intervened, then possibly the war would have ended in exhaustion; that might prevent WW2. And Wilson’s ethnic nationalism led to a disastrous century for eastern Europe.

      So, one of the three–Wilson, Lenin, Trotsky.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Would a war ending from exhaustion really be better than a quick sharp victory for one side? If the war had just stalled in 1917 – no last-ditch German attempt where they wear themselves out, just Germany reinforcing their lines with men released from the East, and having resources from the peace settlement with the Russians – and had just continued to be a stalemate until everyone decides to go back to status quo ante in 1922 or whatever, wouldn’t everyone’s economy be absolutely blighted, and enormous bitterness occur?

        • Anonymous says:

          I think this scenario would actually avoid enormous bitterness on the part of the Germans and the other Central Powers, who were utterly screwed in the peace deal.

          • dndnrsn says:

            They were screwed in the peace deal, but that was to make up for the vast amounts of money the British and French had borrowed. If the war had ended in a stalemate, Germany would not have gotten screwed by the peace deal, but everyone would still owe a ton of money. There would have been a great deal of popular anger against politicians of all sides, too – there’s a reason politicians didn’t really try to stop the war once it had become a bloody stalemate; anyone attempting to make peace would have been seen as betraying those who had died thus far.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ll take “everyone is in debt” vs Hitler any day.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ll take “everyone is in debt” vs Hitler any day.

            “Everyone is in debt” means everyone has an excuse to elect a Hitler of their very own to tell them they don’t have to pay back the debt but can instead make someone else do so for them. Versailles means only the Germans are really pushed in that direction, and if everyone else is paying attention they can gang up to crush a German Hitler before he gets out of hand.

            Well, that’s the theory anyway.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Anonymous

            Imagine if the Germans had won quickly, as planned: a quick sickle cut to capture Paris and knock the French out before the Russians can gear up, then turn East. Would there have been as much bitterness as there was in reality? Probably not; the amount of reparations demanded was in part predicated on the huge amount that had gone into paying for the war, and along with the war guilt clause was predicated on how horrible the war had become.

            The Schlieffen Plan could never have gone as perfectly as it was supposed to – nobody had really predicted how better artillery and machine-guns would change things, or at least nobody in a place to alter military plans would have. However, if the Germans had only been facing the French, their chances of pulling it off (admittedly, with far greater casualties than predicted) would have been much better. Had the war ended in 1914 or 1915, fewer people would have died and less money would have been spent than in reality.

            Perhaps somehow keeping Britain out of the war should be the objective of our time-traveller. Encouraging upon the Germans a reverse Schlieffen – knock Russia out early (there were huge victories over Russia early on, and the war against Russia which eventually saw it sue for peace was conducted with lesser resources than the Western Front, and sit on the defensive against France’s “attack with everything then attack more” plan in the West until resources and men from the East became available; not going through Belgium means Britain doesn’t join the war) could probably not be done by killing any one person, but perhaps getting keeping the British out might.

            @John Schilling

            The best outcome in reality would have been a less punitive but fully enforced Versailles. Instead we got the worst combination: it was punitive and humiliating enough to make the Germans want revenge, but the Germans were not adequately prevented from seeking that revenge.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think there would be enormous bitterness in the stalemate scenario, but that it would be focused on the in-country leadership rather than the other countries. (In other words, I think it would be like the bitterness of Great Britain and Italy, not that of Germany and Austria.) In the overall scheme of things, I’d count that as a win.

            Also, seconding Eric Rall below on the case against Wilson.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But let’s say the borders return to status quo ante. France still wants Alsace and Lorraine back, Germany still wants its place in the sun, Austria-Hungary is still a hot mess, Russia ditto, Turkey ditto, Serbia still wants their brethren outside of Serbia to not be ruled by non-Serbs… How does adding “popular resentment against politicians” make things better?

            Especially since it’s far from clear that the war would have turned into a stalemate without direct US involvement. The Royal Navy was successfully able to blockade the Germans.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dndnrsn

            Imagine if (…)

            That’s a pretty interesting take. I don’t find any major holes to poke into.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t see how a stalemated WWI ends in anyone’s favor. Eastern Europe utterly collapses because Russia, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire all collapse. Germany is just even less checked than before, and gets to dictate all the borders from the get-go.

            What’s the alternative to the Treaty of Versailles? Germany pays nothing, keeps all of its territorial gains from Russia, and keeps an army. Great, so in 10 years, Germany steamrolls France. I guess it’s marginally better to have all of Europe ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm instead of Chancellor Hitler, but that’s not really a good solution, either way.

          • dndnrsn says:

            In general, the longer a war, the worse, all else being equal.

          • Anonymous says:

            What’s the alternative to the Treaty of Versailles? Germany pays nothing, keeps all of its territorial gains from Russia, and keeps an army. Great, so in 10 years, Germany steamrolls France. I guess it’s marginally better to have all of Europe ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm instead of Chancellor Hitler, but that’s not really a good solution, either way.

            Just wait them out. They’ll collapse again after 10 generations or less.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Just wait them out. They’ll collapse again after 10 generations

            That’s an interesting link, although looking at the table on p. 2, it seems that the author’s trying to cook the books somewhat to support his theory (the Roman Republic and Roman Empire were the same state, and, whilst Rome’s heyday ended in about 180, the Empire was still a force to be reckoned with for at least two hundred years afterwards).

            ETA: And I’m sure that Leopold I would be very surprised to discover that the Ottoman Empire had fallen in 1570.

          • SamChevre says:

            @dndnrsn

            How does adding “popular resentment against politicians” make things better?

            Popular resentment of the Establishment for “getting us into a costly, destructive, completely pointless war” reduces the chance that anyone supports another war anytime soon.

            I’m expecting the war to end, in this scenario, with treaty lines near the 1917 front lines–so Germany keeps Alsace; if that happpens, they’d have little motivation to attack France anytime soon.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @SamChevre

            Who says their response would be pacifism? It could just as easily be “they got us into a war, and they didn’t win.” Germany’s response to WWI did not turn out to be pacifism.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s an interesting link, although looking at the table on p. 2, it seems that the author’s trying to cook the books somewhat to support his theory (the Roman Republic and Roman Empire were the same state, and, whilst Rome’s heyday ended in about 180, the Empire was still a force to be reckoned with for at least two hundred years afterwards).

            ETA: And I’m sure that Leopold I would be very surprised to discover that the Ottoman Empire had fallen in 1570.

            The treatise isn’t perfect, I know. Did you catch him stating that people thought that the Earth was flat until Columbus proved otherwise?

      • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

        If Russia had not gone communist, would it have been able to withstand Germany in WW2? Probably not, methinks.

        • Nornagest says:

          Very hard to say. The Soviet Union probably industrialized faster in the interwar years than a continuation of Czarist Russia would have, at least in terms of the kind of heavy industry that lets you mass-produce tanks and aircraft (a hypothetical White Russia would probably be better at making e.g. shoes), but on the other hand the Russian Civil War was incredibly destructive (five to ten million deaths in a country of ~90 million), and so were Stalin’s purges and other various fuckups. The Great Purge in particular included a whole lot of talented military officers. So we’re probably looking at a somewhat less well-equipped Russia, but with a higher population, better leadership, and maybe better relations with the Western powers. What does that work out to in strategic terms? I don’t know, but it’s definitely not a clear loss.

          The rise of Communism is also deeply entangled with the course of WWI, so there’s no guarantee of a similar outcome for the latter if we remove the former.

        • cassander says:

          Russia in the pre-war decade was the fastest industrializing country in Europe by a pretty wide margin, to the point where there were serious “use it or lose it” discussions among the German general staff. Assuming no second revolution, it’s extremely likely that they would have done better overall, not worse, if for no other reason than they didn’t have to start over more or less from scratch after several years of one of the most destructive civil wars in history.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        If Wilson had died in 2016, and the US had not intervened, then possibly the war would have ended in exhaustion;

        Unlikely; not only was Germany running out of resources already by 1916 (hence why their govt. decided to gamble on unrestricted submarine warfare), but the number of US troops who actually served on the front was quite small compared to the number of French, British and German troops, so their absence probably wouldn’t have been decisive. If the US didn’t intervene the war might have dragged on a few more months into 1919, but Germany would be exhausted long before the British or French.

        Though a world without US intervention might still be better; I think that Eric Rall’s post below is basically right, and keeping the US out of the war would mean that nobody had to pay any attention to what Wilson wanted in the peace negotiations.

        • bean says:

          Unlikely; not only was Germany running out of resources already by 1916 (hence why their govt. decided to gamble on unrestricted submarine warfare),

          This is very important. The blockade is, as much as anything, responsible for the German defeat. Ultimately, you need global trade to run a modern war, and the loser is whoever can’t keep that trade going.

          but the number of US troops who actually served on the front was quite small compared to the number of French, British and German troops, so their absence probably wouldn’t have been decisive.

          This, I’m not so sure about, for a couple of reasons. First, the US troops were fresh and I recall that they were noted for their willingness to launch attacks in a manner abandoned by everyone else for being too dangerous a couple of years prior. But it was effective. Second, they weren’t necessarily spread out evenly. Most of the existing troops were sort of overhead, holding down the line. The Americans gave the allies a reserve that they could use offensively.
          (The above is speculation. I’m much more familiar with the war at sea than on land.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Have you got a citation for its effectiveness? From what I’ve read, US attacks tended to be less successful than French or British attacks, precisely because the Americans hadn’t had time to internalise the lessons of trench warfare and were making their attacks in the old, too-dangerous manner.

          • bean says:

            I don’t. This is half-remembered from ages ago. Maybe related to the Marines in Belleau Wood.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Bean’s description is consistent with what I remember from reading John Toland’s 1918 a couple years ago and from various discussions on the alternatehistory.com forums. American offensives, especially the first few, did indeed suffer for lack of troop experience and tactical sophistication, but the additional numbers gave the Entente powers the ability to launch offensives they couldn’t launch otherwise, and the American troops’ willingness to attack put pressure on the Germans that they couldn’t adequately respond to. Toland in particular puts a lot of weight on the American numbers making the difference between holding the line and being able to launch sustained offensives: the story he tells is that of Britain and France being pushed to the limits by the German spring offensive, but American reinforcements made the difference allowing a counterattack once the Germans had exhausted their own reserves by launching several offensive pushes in rapid succession.

            I’ve read various places that one major factor in American troops being less effective was their use of the older “square” divisional model, where a division consisted of two brigades of two infantry regiments each. Germany, Britain, and France had all moved to the “triangular” model where a division was three infantry regiments reporting directly to the divisional HQ. A triangular division allowed more tactical flexibility (e.g. square divisions were usually employed with both brigades side-by-side or with one brigade forward and one in reserve, while triangular divisions could cover front more efficiently while still maintaining an effective reserve by putting two regiments forward and only holding one in reserve), better coordination (one fewer level of command for orders and reports to filter through), and made more efficient use of senior officers and their staffs (four HQs per division (one divisional and three regimental) instead of seven (one divisional, two brigade, and four regimental)).

        • cassander says:

          The actual number of US troops on front at the start of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was around half a million. That’s pretty significant, but what was more significant was the fact that 10,000 more were arriving every day, while german manpower (to say nothing of food) was already stretched to the limit. A multi-million man AEF was not far off, which is why they threw in the towel.

      • DeWitt says:

        If either Lenin or Trotsky had died, I’m not sure if the October Revolution would have succeeded.

        Communism popped up in two sorts of societies. The first was in those colonies where the native population was suppressed and excluded from government as much as possible, and the second was in nations where the middle class was something insignificantly small. Russia, for better or for worse, did not have a middle class ‘buffer’ to usher it into modernity, and I don’t think the death of Lenin or Trotsky could at all have stopped it from going full Communist. The civil war might’ve dragged on a touch longer, but beyond that, I doubt the importance of these two figures.

        • Matt M says:

          What about China? Is it possible killing Mao makes a difference in that war and saves some fraction of the tens of millions killed under his regime?

          • DeWitt says:

            I doubt it. Communists regimes tend to go through a phase where it’s not immediately obvious that plan economies are a terrible way of handling things, and said phases lead to disaster. It’s not so much a failure of Mao as it is of communist theory in general.

          • cassander says:

            @DeWitt

            Someone other than Mao might have lost the civil war.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, that’s mainly what I was getting at. Was Mao indispensable in defeating the nationalists, or wasn’t he?

          • DeWitt says:

            ‘Someone else might lose the civil war’ is awfully shaky ground to use your time travel powers for.

          • Matt M says:

            Why? If the outcome of that civil war leads to tens of millions of deaths, it seems logical to value changing the outcome of the war (unless you have reason to believe the other side would be even more monstrous)

          • DeWitt says:

            Why?

            Because the OP presumes we get to kill one person, no more?

            If the choice is between killing Mao or letting him live, then sure, chances are Mao dropping dead somewhere in 1946 is beneficial. But if you get one shot at improving the 20th century, ‘killing him maaaaaaaybe hopefully possibly lets the nationalists win..?’ doesn’t seem like it should carry the day.

          • Matt M says:

            OK, but all of the suggestions thus far are based on similar logic. I suppose you could argue that we should kill Jeffrey Dahmer or something. You’d have a 100% chance at preventing a small number of deaths.

            The point with Mao is that if we say he’s responsible for 20 million deaths, you only need like a 0.01% chance that killing him eliminates those deaths in order for it to be a better choice than Dahmer.

        • cassander says:

          Almost every communist revolution that manage to take hold besides the Russian did so with considerably material support from, and imitation of, another communist states. Stop the first one and you probably stop them all. Maybe some other fringe ideology pops to take its place, but it’s hard to see how it could be any worse.

          • DeWitt says:

            Stop the first one and you probably stop them all.

            People tried. The Russian civil war saw intervention, the Chinese civil war did, and I believe there was this one thing in Vietnam some people tried to do something about. Killing Lenin or Trotsky just then and then by inducing a heart attack is not going to change that kind of force.

          • cassander says:

            @DeWitt

            People tried.

            Eh, not really. In russia, there were some half hearted attempts, but then the germans collapsed and woodrow wilson pulled the plug on funds for the allies to keep it up and the effort fell apart pretty quickly.

            In china, the US forced the nationalists to accommodate with the communists after ww2, which unsurprisingly led to the communists getting stronger because they never stopped taking things from the nationalists.

            And in vietnam, the entire effort of the north vietnamese war was sustained by supplies and money from russia and china.

            the Bolshivek party in 1917 was a couple thousand people in st. Petersburg. there was no historical force behind them, just a few people in the right place at the right time who seized control of the state apparatus of a very large (and heavily centralized) country. Everything that came after russia was made possible by massive russian investments in spreading international communism.

          • Matt M says:

            In china, the US forced the nationalists to accommodate with the communists after ww2, which unsurprisingly led to the communists getting stronger because they never stopped taking things from the nationalists.

            The pro-McCarthy revisionist history book I read alleged some far more active interference than this. I can’t remember the specifics, but it basically accused the state department of actively aiding the communist forces and undermining the nationalists at every possible turn.

          • cassander says:

            @Matt M

            Never blame conspiracy where idiocy is a sufficient explanation. US officials had a lot of experience with the nationalists during the war, almost none of it positive. George Marshall, by the time he goes to China, is literally getting senile. The general distaste for KMT combines with a stupendous amount of wishful thinking and a whole lot of ignorance about actual realities on the ground in china, even among the actual china experts, to produce some truly terrible policy decisions.

            It is, however, historical fact that US policy did force the nationalists into a “coalition government” with the Maoists, while allowing the Maoists to keep their army. The result of this, obviously, was that they kept fighting, and Marshall basically throws a pox on both your houses fit and goes home, which ensures relatively little aid makes its way to the nationalists.

        • SamChevre says:

          I agree. I’m really not sure that one death–or even 10 deaths–could have resulted in the Russian Revolution being less of a disaster.

          I tend to assume that bad is inevitable, and focus on damage control. I think fascism was inevitable; if you could get fascism without National Socialism, that would, in my book, be a major win. Similarly, if you could get communism in something like its 1950’s form, without the 1920’s and 1930’s, that would be a win.

          Is there an imaginable world where the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, rather than the Bolsheviks, drive post-1917 developments in Russia? If there is, I think it’s a better world.

          • DeWitt says:

            Is there an imaginable world where the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, rather than the Bolsheviks, drive post-1917 developments in Russia? If there is, I think it’s a better world.

            Yes. It’s called 1789 France, where those exact people take power, are very brutal rulers for a while, but mostly avoid Soviet-style disaster. It’s also not something that’ll ever happen in Russia, where the peasant:middle class ratio is far smaller.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Yes. It’s called 1789 France, where those exact people take power, are very brutal rulers for a while, but mostly avoid Soviet-style disaster.

            Thanks to the Directory replacing Robespierre just in the nick of time, yes. But… it’s possible that a French government which hadn’t been annihilating the country for years meant that when Napoleon appeared in he was able to achieve a lot more than he would have otherwise. Maybe when Stalin seizes power from your Mensheviks in 1931 he’s able to be a much more effective conqueror than in our timeline, who knows?

          • DeWitt says:

            I dunno. The Soviet Union took a state ruined by civil war, and within a short span of time took control over more land than Czarist Russia had, as well as won the second world war. For all his faults and blunders, Stalin’s military record is at least decent.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Sure — now imagine if Russia hadn’t been devastated by all that civil war and so forth. That’d be a pretty dangerous weapon in Stalin’s hands.

            Mind you, if we’re talking probabilities I agree that a Menshevik Russia would probably have been better for history than the Bolshevik one. (It could hardly be worse.) But liberal revolutionary regimes do have a strong risk of collapsing and falling into the hands of dictators, so you can’t quite write Stalin/Lenin/Otherguyin off in that timeline.

          • DeWitt says:

            Well, yeah, but now we’re going in circles. The kind of revolution that doesn’t come with an immense civil war is the kind of revolution you’ll see from the Third Estate in France, not so much the peasantry in Russia. The preconditions for a Menshevik revolution weren’t there, simply because there weren’t enough people to support it.

        • cassander says:

          @SamChevre

          >I tend to assume that bad is inevitable, and focus on damage control. I think fascism was inevitable; if you could get fascism without National Socialism, that would, in my book, be a major win. Similarly, if you could get communism in something like its 1950’s form, without the 1920’s and 1930’s, that would be a win.

          the trouble with that is that every communist regime had a similar path, a certain number of years of purges, mass killing and often famine, then a mellowing out. The record of communism in this regard is uniquely terrible, it failed this way literally every time, the only question was the duration and damage that the early period would do. Every other ideology, even fascism, has a better record in this regard, only communism led to mass killing every single time. Killing one person doesn’t change that, unless the one person’s death leads to an ideology besides communism coming to power in russia, and I don’t think the SRs would have ended up all that different.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Right goal, wrong tactics.

        As dndnrsn points out, other things being equal the least destructive war is the one that is over the fastest and the most decisively. Other factors: wars between smaller powers are better than ones between major powers, cold war is better than conventional war, etc.

        If your goal is to ameliorate WW1, then you need to initiate a controlled burn. That means finding a point to provoke the war EARLIER, before the alliances have solidified into their final pre-war configuration. Unfortunately, I don’t see any good places where a single death can reliably be predicted to have that result post-1900.

        I’d add that it’s not necessarily desirable to eliminate your target quietly and untraceably. I can think of scenarios where a nicely lurid assassination (or disaster) would be more useful in nudging things towards the desired outcomes.

        I’m still looking, but honestly I think you’re better off looking to China or Russia if you want to improve the early 20th century. Europe was fucked by 1890.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Do you think, even with the web of alliances, the British would have entered when they did without the pretext of the invasion of Belgium? The German invasion of Belgium backfired – they didn’t cut through the Belgians like they thought they would, and it brought the British in. Without the British at the Marne, it’s far more likely the Germans are able to pull off the Western half of the Schlieffen plan and force the French to capitulate.

          Is there any one death that either keeps the Germans from invading Belgium, causes the Belgians to give the Germans passage, or keeps the British from entering the war following the invasion of Belgium?

          • DeWitt says:

            Do you think, even with the web of alliances, the British would have entered when they did without the pretext of the invasion of Belgium?

            Yes.

            Without the British at the Marne, it’s far more likely the Germans are able to pull off the Western half of the Schlieffen plan and force the French to capitulate.

            Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Even in the most optimistic case of the Schlieffen plan, the Germans were 300,000 soldiers short of managing to carry it out. Again, that’s under absolutely optimal conditions. No dice.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Why do you think the British would have entered when they did? I think they would have entered eventually, but the invasion of Belgium played a role in making it something relatively popular.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Just had my post eaten, but the short version is yes, Brits were entering the war, no question.

            There was enough Liberal dissension to muddle the government’s diplomatic messaging and public stances, but NOT enough to actually allow the government to survive leaving France to go hang after ten years of steadily closer Anglo-French relations. In fact, it was pretty clear internal to the British Government that they were going to war if France was attacked by the end of July, and Germany’s plan was always to attack France, and everyone knew it.

            The best window for keeping Britain out with a single death (that is, a single direct death) would probably be taking out Von Bulow on Jan. 1st, 1900. He was the one who pissed all over Chamberlain’s attempts at Anglo-German rapprochement, but even then 1900 may be too late for that to be effective, the first major efforts and Von Bulow’s negative response to them were in the 1890s.

          • cassander says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            Anglo german rapprochement was never in the cards as long as the kaiser kept trying to build a fleet. Kaiser Willy is a better target than Bulow. And if you jsut want to shake up the alliances, kill caprivi, the guy who chose Austria over Russia as Germany’s main ally. A russo-german central powers stomps all over the entente powers.

    • Jiro says:

      I actually would go with Hitler. It was probably inevitable that there would be some sort of nationalist dictator in Germany, and killing him would not prevent that. But it was not inevitable that we would get a dictator as evil as Hitler.

      • cassander says:

        If William II is still Kaiser, then there’s no way some Austrian corporal ever becomes Chancellor of Germany.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Historical quibble: technically, his rank is probably best rendered as lance corporal, or maybe private first class.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        My concern is that you would get someone more competent than Hitler. Nietzsche predicted the horrors of the 20th century never knowing a name “Hitler” or “Stalin.” What if you kill Hitler and you get someone just as evil, but not hyped up on goofballs and willing to fight a land war in Asia?

        • dndnrsn says:

          What does this hypothetical non-methed-up quasi-Hitler do regarding everything east of Germany? Because Hitler’s crimes mostly occurred east of the German border. The majority of the dead in the Holocaust were Jews in Eastern Europe and the USSR, and the Eastern Front was by far the bloodiest (for both soldiers and civilians) component of the war in Europe. The beginning of the mass murder of Jews was tied to the war in the East in late 1941 as well.

          EDIT: And, of course, it was the German invasion of Poland that led to the war in Western and Southern Europe.

          • DeWitt says:

            He might not try to wage war everywhere at once, focus on the British first, wait a couple years with carrying out Barbarossa, and so on, and so on.

          • dndnrsn says:

            What could he have done to fight the British, though? (@bean probably knows more than me about this) Sealion was kind of a non-starter. And Germany as it was in the mid to late 30s needed plunder quickly to keep its war machine from collapsing.

          • DeWitt says:

            Not focus on mindlessly bombing London as much, and attack strategically some more, for one. Plunder was something that could’ve been found just fine, too; you can conquer southeastern Europe without going for the Russians without any issues.

          • bean says:

            We had a discussion on the Unmentionable Marine Mammal in this very thread, oddly enough. Bottom line is that there’s no way for the Germans to take out the British by invasion without several miracles. The U-boats aren’t likely to have done that much better than history had them doing, and that leaves a stalemate. Eventually, the German economy collapses.

          • John Schilling says:

            The U-boats aren’t likely to have done that much better than history had them doing,

            Not sure I agree on this one. The U-boats and Condors combined could have done quite a bit better than history had them doing, if they had been allowed. The thread where people are trying to change the world with one time-travelling assassin, here’s your chance to make it much worse: go kill Herman Goering at a time when there’s no clear successor strong enough to keep Raeder and Doenitz from yanking maritime patrol back to the Kriegsmarine where it belongs.

            And if you get a second bullet, take out the chief test engineer of the navy’s torpedo department (or whatever bureaucrat is keeping him from doing his job). A proper test program on German torpedoes in 1937-1938, would have increased the efficiency the U-boats by about 50% in 1939-1940. With that plus more aircraft under navy control, it’s not clear there is much of a 1941.

            Hmm. Are we sure these people weren’t time travelers working for the good guys? Them and whoever was responsible for catapult maintenance on the IJN Tone.

          • cassander says:

            I partially agree with john. the u-boat campaign could have theoretically been a lot more effective. had the germans launched an all out effort to use the luftwaffe to embargo the southern UK and the u-boats to go after the north, they could have put enough hurt on the UK to make it throw in the towel rather than keep fighting before the US really gets involved.

            The trouble with that is I don’t think it’s a reasonable strategy to expect the germans to take up. it would have required a massive inversion of military doctrine in the immediate aftermath of an overwhelming military victory combined with an extremely astute knowledge of internal UK and US politics that I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to suspect. It’s also not a strategy without risk. the germans knew that they couldn’t out-airplane the brits and US, and by 41, the USN is shooting german uboats on sight. From the german perspective, we’re basically already at war with them in every way that counts, and to win that war, they needed greater resources.

          • bean says:

            @John and Cassander:
            Fair points. I’m not sure either way. I’m just not sure that the path marked ‘effective German dictator’ necessarily even leads to war with Britain. In fact, that would be at the top of my list of Things To Avoid. The best option might be to position myself as the bulwark against the Godless Commie Hordes, who is willing to do things that nobody else is to stop them. The problem is that Poland is in the way. Not sure what to do about that, yet.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @bean

            Eventually, the German economy collapses.

            But how long do you figure that takes? In the long run, yes, socialism will always collapse because perverse incentives and you run out of other people’s money. But just from an economic standpoint, National Socialism seems less perverse than International Communism, and that took 80 years to collapse. Modern European democratic socialism has the same basic ideas as National Socialism (free healthcare, free education, nationalization of key industries) and even though it’s in the process of failing, it’s not dead yet.

            Assume Competent Hitler didn’t invade everyone around him. How long would it take for National Socialism to collapse, given that the USSR slogged on for 80 years?

          • bean says:

            Hitler’s economic policies were even worse than those of International Communism. I’m only a little ways into Wages of Destruction, and those who read it can probably say more, but the German economy was always racing just ahead of disaster from the late-30s on. If it can’t expand and plunder more, then it falls apart.

          • cassander says:

            @bean says:

            Hitler’s economic policies were even worse than those of International Communism.

            Bad? definitely. But worse than communism? Definitely not. Millions of germans didn’t starve to death in the 1930s in a breakneck effort at building industrial capacity to expand war making potential. The german economy under the nazis was always on the verge of breaking, but “breaking” in the context of the german economy in the 30s meant “they would have to cut back on military spending”, not everyone dies. And frankly, those policies did manage to re-arm the country well enough to take on france and the UK in a straight up fight, which was no mean achievement. As with so much nazi policy, they took extreme risks that paid off.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @bean

            Hitler’s economic policies were even worse than those of International Communism.

            Can you give me an example? I mean, people in the USSR were literally starving to death and/or eating their own children, and that didn’t cause collapse. It took another 60+ years after the starving and eating of children for communism to fail. The idea that National Socialism would fail to the point of collapse in a shorter time frame than Communism is non-obvious and requires argument.

          • bean says:

            I think we’re using economic failures somewhat differently. No, the Germans were never at risk of actual starving-to-death famine as a result of Hitler’s direct economic policies (the bit where they would have starved if not for allied aid was the result of other of Hitler’s policies). I was referring to the economic forces that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hitler was on the same train, and even faster. I don’t have much in the way of details, though. As I said, I’m only a little ways in to Wages of Destruction. People keep pestering me for more battleship content. Or at least my brain keeps pestering me for more battleship information.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho/Cassander

            The Nazi economy was about simultaneously providing goodies for those the Nazis deemed good Germans andbuilding a war machine/keeping it running. They accomplished this through expansion and plunder. Tooze is a good source. Another good one is Hitler’s Beneficiaries by Aly.

            Hitler wanted, ultimately, to increase the standard of living of Germans, to the level of the British, or maybe even the Americans. He saw the British having worldwide colonies, and the Americans having an enormous resource-rich landscape that they had expanded westwards across. The plan that the Nazis, and other German nationalists had, was to essentially treat the East in the same fashion – the lands to the east of Germany would provide resources to be exploited and farmland on which to settle ethnic Germans.

            In comparison to this, industrialization (which was required for the Soviet war machine) under Stalin relied heavily on an extremely callous attitude towards the USSR’s own people. One could view what Stalin did as “internal plunder” to some extent. Meanwhile, the modern European social democracies provide a great deal for the public, but they aren’t simultaneously building/maintaining a hugely expensive war machine (by 1938, almost 20% of the GDP) – in fact, they’re barely paying for their own defence, trusting that Uncle Sam will make up the shortfall.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m just not sure that the path marked ‘effective German dictator’ necessarily even leads to war with Britain. In fact, that would be at the top of my list of Things To Avoid.

            I’m not sure that’s practical, unless we’re literally doing the time-traveler bit in which which case we can narrowly advise our German dictator that the allies will tolerate everything up through the complete occupation of Czechoslovakia but you need to be the second nation to invade Poland if you want to stay at peace with Britain and France.

            Otherwise, well, “dictators” don’t really get to dictate arbitrarily. One might be able to build an economically viable state within the borders of Weimar Germany, but on the social and cultural front the Germans inside of Germany are still going to want to do something about the less fortunate Germans on the outside, and the wrongfully-occupied German soil, etc. Plus all the internal problems that no dictator can solve but any competent dictator will realize are amenable to foreign distractions. The bounds for those are too fuzzy to be confident of avoiding war with Britain and France and eventually the USA.

            If you do have to have at least a contingency plan for winning a war with Britain before the US intervenes decisively, unrestricted submarine warfare is the one that almost worked last time and the U-boats are rather better this time. And I think the failure in 1939-1941 really does come down to a very few key decisions that should have been recognized as Very Wrong even without benefit of hindsight.

          • bean says:

            I’m not sure that’s practical, unless we’re literally doing the time-traveler bit in which which case we can narrowly advise our German dictator that the allies will tolerate everything up through the complete occupation of Czechoslovakia but you need to be the second nation to invade Poland if you want to stay at peace with Britain and France.

            You’d have to go further back, but I don’t think it requires literal time travel to pull off. In the early days of Hitler, he was seen as a reliable bulwark against communism. Play up that angle, and avoid antagonizing Britain and France. Don’t build a navy. Poland is not your objective. You don’t even want Poland, but you’re afraid that it may go communist, which would be bad. So you need rights to help protect them against the commies. And to provide a broader front for jumping off when you attack them after discovering evidence that they were about to come west. But you don’t want Poland, except maybe the land corridor to East Prussia. And you’ll compensate the Poles, of course, although they may have trouble getting a sea port.

            And I think the failure in 1939-1941 really does come down to a very few key decisions that should have been recognized as Very Wrong even without benefit of hindsight.

            The ability of the Germans to make those kind of Very Wrong decisions with respect to seapower is near-miraculous.

          • johan_larson says:

            @bean

            The ability of the Germans to make those kind of Very Wrong decisions with respect to seapower is near-miraculous.

            Well, to be fair, Germany was at the time a young nation; the time when one spoke of the “Germanies” wasn’t all that far in the past. And while the Germans had admirable traditions of excellence in many domains, seamanship wasn’t one of them.

          • John Schilling says:

            Play up that angle, and avoid antagonizing Britain and France.

            I don’t think Austria and the Sudetenland are plausibly negotiable for a successful German dictator, and I think those two alone are plenty antagonistic to Britain and France. Likewise the existence of a Luftwaffe and a broad rearmament even if not naval. Britain and France are going to be antagonized, and Soviet Russia might plausibly be placated, so Molotov-Ribbentrop plus Munich seems plausibly close to a minimize-number-of-simultaneous-wars plan. The rest is fuzzy unpredictable detail.

            And while the Germans had admirable traditions of excellence in many domains, seamanship wasn’t one of them.

            But the seamanship is one of the things the Germans actually got right, or more precisely the underseamanship. The failings were in military organization and armaments engineering, two things you’d expect Prussians to be generally good at.

          • bean says:

            Well, to be fair, Germany was at the time a young nation; the time when one spoke of the “Germanies” wasn’t all that far in the past. And while the Germans had admirable traditions of excellence in many domains, seamanship wasn’t one of them.

            Yes and yes. And yet no nation managed to so thoroughly screw up the application of sea power across two world wars. They built the High Seas Fleet without a serious strategic purpose. The idea was that they’d make it too risky for the British to go to war with them. (An early version of deterrence.) It didn’t work, and should have been seen to not be working quite early. (“We want eight” should have forced a re-think. It didn’t.)
            WW2 was even worse. There were elaborate plans for the surface fleet, but nobody asked why. Seriously. Hitler had basically fallen for Tirpitz’s propaganda, and decided that he must have battleships. Why? Nobody thought to try to get a coherent answer to that question before building four of them.
            It wasn’t until Dornitz was placed in charge of the KM that things actually started to make sense. And by then it was too late.

            Edit:
            @John
            I admit to not being as familiar with the diplomatic history of interwar Europe as I should be. But on the warfighting side, I just don’t see Germany being able to win a war with Britain, unless they get the U-boats very right out of the gate. Which is unlikely, to say the least. This may leave them with absolutely no good options.

          • cassander says:

            You’d have to go further back, but I don’t think it requires literal time travel to pull off. In the early days of Hitler, he was seen as a reliable bulwark against communism. Play up that angle, and avoid antagonizing Britain and France. Don’t build a navy. Poland is not your objective. You don’t even want Poland, but you’re afraid that it may go communist, which would be bad. So you need rights to help protect them against the commies. And to provide a broader front for jumping off when you attack them after discovering evidence that they were about to come west. But you don’t want Poland, except maybe the land corridor to East Prussia. And you’ll compensate the Poles, of course, although they may have trouble getting a sea port.

            If you have the goal of making Germany a power that can stand toe to toe with the UK and US, you pretty much need to make Germany bigger, and the easiest way to do that is moving east. while obviously evil, Hitler’s plan of carving a continental empire out of the east and populating it wasn’t irrational or insensible, and came frighteningly close to working. I don’t think moving poland east gets you enough to do that.

            Secondarily, the lack of anti-communist politicking in the interwar period is rather striking. People talk about being anti-communist, but no one ever really does anything about it. The political right was so massively undercut by WW1, literally in the sense of monarchs getting tossed out and more ephemerally.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Poland is not your objective. You don’t even want Poland, but you’re afraid that it may go communist, which would be bad.

            Is that right? I thought it was generally accepted that Germany’s fundamental overall aim (to the extent that it makes sense to talk about a nation having an aim) was to take territory in Eastern Europe. Not just as a buffer, but as lebensraum, and all that.

            It could well be that my understanding is antiquated.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @Doctor Mist:

            Yes, that would be the actual reason, but this is how a smart version of WW2-era Germany handles its affairs without ending up in a war with Britain and France, presenting this line of reasoning publicly.

            Maybe the experts say “no that’s dumb, he really wants the territory” but you might be able to sell it well enough to at least make it debatable.

            As a parallel, I find in multiplayer Magic games that it’s much easier politically to destroy other players’ on-board cards if I talk for a little bit about my intention to do so, and why I think the card is a threat to not just myself, but other players. I might be doing it to pave my path to victory in the end, but that doesn’t mean my reasoning isn’t also true, and players react well to knowing my intentions.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            moonfirestorm-

            Duh, you’re right, I’m an idiot. I misread bean’s text as trying to convince the Germans of this point, rather than portraying the facade the Germans might have tried to build. Apologies.

          • Protagoras says:

            Honestly, a worse than Hitler seems extremely unlikely. Neither of the two obvious paths lead to that without a huge amount of additional bad luck.

            A different right wing leader is only as much of a problem as Hitler if they are as expansionist as Hitler. Great conquerors are unusually bold risk-takers, as well as unusually lucky. Hitler was actually fairly upper tier when it came to both skill and luck as a conqueror; there are plenty of decisions of his a Monday morning quarterback can criticize, but of whom is that not true? It is, of course, possible that this substitute Hitler could have been a German Genghis Khan, instead of merely at perhaps Napoleon level, but the likelyhood of something that only happened once before happening again is obviously pretty low.

            Or, as others have mentioned, the Communists might have taken over. If the Communist leader weren’t also a bold risk-taker, then once again this doesn’t seem as bad as Hitler; maybe comparably bad for Germans, but not for the rest of Europe. That the German Communists were supported by the Soviets doesn’t really change this. First of all, ingratitude seems to be pretty much the normal course of things in politics. And anyway Stalin wasn’t a bold risk-taker either (he only started grabbing land when Hitler’s precedents gave him diplomatic cover), so while this alliance might press for diplomatic concessions here and there, and maybe a couple of tiny slices of territory, it would be very unlikely to terrorize Europe in the way Hitler did.

            A Communist who was a bold risk-taker would be even less likely to be reliably loyal to the Soviets, so I think it ends up being considerably less different from the right wing option than one might expect.

            Based on all of that, I have to assign a very high probability to getting rid of Hitler making things less bad.

    • cassander says:

      As much as Woodrow Wilson deserves it more, kill Princip. That probably doesn’t prevent ANY war, but ww1 happens even just a few years later, it’s almost certainly a very different (and much shorter) conflict without the giant western stalemate that destroys European civilization.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      William Howard Taft, spring 1912.

      President Theodore Roosevelt is re-elected. The US would have intervened in WWI much more quickly and more decisively, with a complete defeat of Germany, prior to Russia utterly collapsing. I suspect Austria-Hungary also could’ve limped on a bit longer.

      I guess the major problem is that you are still stuck with a European concert system, except it eventually gets nuclear weapons in the 1950s.

    • Eric Rall says:

      My first choice is to try to prevent WW1 by cutting a key link in the chain that lead to the Franz Ferdinand assassination, but since that’s already been discussed, my second choice is Woodrow Wilson. It was largely Wilson’s ham-fisted bungling of the armistice negotiations that set the stage for Hitler and WW2:

      1. Wilson was the most vocal proponent of carving up Eastern Europe along ethnic lines. Since the ethnic lines were anything but clean on the ground, this lead to arbitrary borders, irrendentist grievances, and arguable increased the “oppressed ethnic minority” problem instead of solving it. This is bad by itself, it also provided Nazi Germany with crucial pretexts for its early rounds of expansionism, and it created fatal barriers against the Eastern European states banding together for mutual protection.

      2. It was Wilson who made the Kaiser’s abdication a precondition for armistice negotiations, and he did so publicly in a way that stoked the fires of the German Revolution of 1918. Without this, the Kaiser likely stays in power or at least abdicates in a way that preserves the institution of the German monarchy (either abdicating in favor of the Crown Prince or a regency for the Kaiser’s infant grandson). Constitutional Monarchy is an underappreciated stabilizing institution, and a preserved German monarchy would have made Hitler’s rise to power much, much more difficult. For one thing, Hitler took full power by inheriting the Presidency (as Chancellor) when Hindenberg died, which would not have been possible with a Kaiser instead of a President. For another, the military would have been sworn to the Kaiser and not to the Chancellor, and the Chancellor would have served at the Kaiser’s pleasure, making the Kaiser a much more effective check on Hitler or an alternate Hitler-like figure as Chancellor. And that’s if Hitler even managed to become Chancellor in the first place: the requirement that the Chancellor command a majority in the Reichstag was a feature of the Weimar constitution which did not exist in the Imperial constitution.

      3. Wilson made promises to the German government about the basis for peace negotiations without consulting with the British or the French governments. When the British and French balked at Wilson’s promises at Versailles and insisted on harsher peace terms w.r.t. reparations and disarmament, it looked like a perfidious bait-and-switch from the German perspective. This was a major contributing factor to the stab-in-the-back legend that the Nazis made a great deal of political hay out of in their rise to power.

      Wilson also had some vicious and nasty effects in US politics, not the least of which being his expansion of segregation in the military and federal civil service and his support for the rise of the Second Klan.

      • cassander says:

        My second choice as well, but you’ve left out that the french army mutinies in 1917. That mutiny is only put down by the generals promising that there wouldn’t be any more offensives until the Americans showed up. Absent the ability to make that promise, the allied position in 1917 looks a hell of a lot worse, and makes them far more likely to try for some sort of negotiated peace.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is a good point. The interesting thing is that the Germans don’t appear to have picked up on the French mutinies very much.

          • cassander says:

            The mutinies were weird. The soldiers didn’t refuse to fight, but they did refuse to go on the offensive. I don’t really get how they thought that would work out in the long run, they probably didn’t know either. It gets settled fairly quickly though, and very secretly (a bunch of court documents are getting released this year, so hopefully we’ll get some good books on them soon) but if they had gone on longer, the Germans would have noticed eventually.

          • dndnrsn says:

            They were more like strikes than mutinies, really.

          • Eric Rall says:

            One important detail I’m not clear on with the French mutinies is whether the mutineers would have obeyed orders to launch a local counteroffensive against a German attack, considering the counteroffensive a defensive act, or if they would have disobeyed because it would be an order to attack.

            As I understand WW1 defensive tactics, local counterattacks were very important for holding the line and for inflicting casualties on attackers: the initial attack tended to favor the attackers (at least once the early-war tactical mistakes had been learned from), since they had chosen a time and place and concentrated their troops and artillery to create an overwhelming local advantage. But once the front line had been taken, the side on the operational offensive was out-of-position, disorganized and exhausted from the assault, near or past the range limits of their supporting artillery, and occupying fortifications facing the wrong way. The operational defenders could then bring up reserves, create their own local concentration of force, and inflict severe casualties and regain parts of their original front lines with an effective counterattack. This, combined with attempts to stretch initial successes by immediately attacking secondary and tertiary defensive lines without sufficient artillery support, was where most of the ruinous casualties from operational offensives came from.

            This, tangentially, is where the “bite and hold” tactics come in: in the later parts of the war, the British and French in particular adopted tactics of deliberately stopping and digging in after the first wave of the attack while still within support range of friendly heavy artillery, then resuming the offensive only when artillery had been brought up towards the new front lines.

      • hls2003 says:

        I thought much the same, but (like Beta Guy above) propose Taft prior to the 1912 nomination. TR would probably have defeated Wilson in a landslide.

    • [Thing] says:

      Hey everyone! Just got back from 1914. Before I left, we were discussing who would be best to target if you tried to improve 20th-century history by killing just one person. After exhaustive debate, we settled on Emperor Franz Ferdinand, on the theory that if the infamous “Habsburg Handlebars” never accedes to the Austro-Hungarian throne, there’s no mustache-wax crisis of 1925, and thus the Budapest Circle are freed up to focus on bringing antibiotics, reversible male birth-control, time travel, etc. to the mass market a few years earlier than they otherwise would have.

      It was pretty easy, actually. Turns out, there was a failed attempt on his life in Sarajevo in 1914. (Apparently the “Eden of the Balkans” was rife with ethnic tension back then. Who knew?) So I just tracked down one of the conspirators and tipped him off about Franz Ferdinand’s route back to the train station. How’d everything work out?

      Edit: Awww crap. ☹️

      • cassander says:

        Your point isn’t wrong, but the only way I can imagine alternatives to ww1 being worse would be if they led to a serious nuclear exchange a few decades later.

      • dndnrsn says:

        TIME TRAVEL DIRECTIVE 25.14:

        Guys, this is getting ridiculous. This time Franz Ferdinand got killed in a shootout between six different identifiable groups of time travellers. Three were trying to kill him, two were trying to prevent it, and one appears to have been there to replace him with a body-double wearing a concealed bulletproof vest. Stop. Trying. To. Fix. Things.

      • Eltargrim says:

        This seems pertinent.

      • [Thing] says:

        This line of discussion suggests an elegant candidate for the Great Filter: Any civilization advanced enough to carry out interstellar colonization will have already figured out time travel, but as soon as they do that, their repeated efforts to “fix” history will instead cause their timeline to rapidly degenerate until things have gotten just bad enough to prevent them from inventing time travel for a while longer.

        • The Nybbler says:

          In this timeline, that is known (among other names) as Niven’s Law of Time Travel: “If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and of changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe. “

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I kill the timecop who went right ahead of me.

      Reason: maximum probability that that was the fecker who actually screwed it all up.

      Edit: Rats – I think dndnrsn beat me to it…

    • DeWitt says:

      Patient zero of the Spanish flu. An unfortunate death, but a highly profitable one, and something much less prone to causing history’s development to widely swerve than killing Princip/Hitler/Lenin/Wilson/whomever.

      • cassander says:

        stop the world war, the flu almost certainly is massively less deadly.

        • Incurian says:

          In immediate or second order effects?

          • DeWitt says:

            I’m not sure what he’s on about either. The statistics consistently show the Spanish flu to have been much more deadly whan WWI.

          • random832 says:

            I think the idea is that the war made the flu itself worse (lots of soldiers packed together in close quarters, censorship making it hard for anyone to get a clear view on the problem, etc)

          • Incurian says:

            Oh! That makes more sense. Time travel tenses were hard.

    • hls2003 says:

      I think you’re on a good track with stopping WWI. Along those lines, an out-of-the-box candidate: William Howard Taft, circa late 1911. That’s right around the time that the Taft-Roosevelt knife fight for the 1912 Republican nomination got underway. Taft ended up winning the nomination by a whisker, splitting the Republicans, and getting Wilson elected over TR (with Taft a distant third). Now, I think Wilson did enough negative things in his own right, but the key thing is that TR was probably the most respected non-European statesman in the world at that time, and he was a ferocious advocate of American strength and world positioning. He had a close personal relationship with all major European powers-that-be including Kaiser Wilhelm. He was known to be willing to intervene militarily if it should require it, and to use American power to resolve international disputes.

      My hypothesis is that, with TR as President in 1914, the European stumble into war could have been avoided (either by his diplomacy or his threats to involve the US from the outset), or at least the war could have been limited, contained, and shortened. The subsequent League of Nations fiasco would have been less likely as TR would have shared a party with Republican opponents and also was unlikely to commit to an unenforceable set of idealistic but ineffective institutions, which he generally disliked.

      Your postulate was that it would be a “quiet” and “accidental” death, so Taft dying (say, a massive heart attack, not unlikely in a man his size) wouldn’t trigger TR to stay out of the race mourning a martyr; more likely Republicans would have coalesced around TR as the only remaining viable candidate. Without the Republican divisions caused by Taft, TR would probably have beaten Wilson handily (Wilson won only 42% of the popular vote; Taft and Roosevelt collectively won 50%).

      EDIT: Just noticed that Beta Guy already nominated Taft (heh) and thus “out of the box” is not an accurate description for mine.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      There’s been a lot of talk on stopping the big wars. But, as Eltargrim beat me to, maybe those are net-positive? I dunno, there’s a bunch of utilitarians around here, does that math actually work out? Trade a dozen or so million lives to get Modern Prosperity and the Long Peace? I’m uncomfortable subscribing to the notion, but it’s a different track to what’s already been posted.

      Assuming that’s true, how about whomever’s death has the most impact toward making the 3rd world not a backwards shithole. Mao? Sykes or Picot? Any ideas for India, Africa, or South America?

      ETA: Additionally, is there a person we could off to still get WWII but without the Holocaust? Both that and the Eastern Front seemed to be Hitlers’ bag, so I’m not sure the two could be separated…

  15. Redland Jack says:

    I know there are a lot of libertarians on here, so I thought I’d pose this questions:

    “Do you ever wish you weren’t a libertarian?”

    I’ve been one for about twenty years, and I’ve found that it’s starting to grind me down.

    You can’t disbelieve what you believe (at least not quickly), but I wonder if I would be happier if I just believed what everyone else does. (Er, and by everyone … I’m in the Oakland area, so some form of Democratic worldview would be in order … if I were back in my hometown, it’d be more along the lines of ‘Religious Conservatism’).

    • blacktrance says:

      No. More generally, I’ve never wished that I didn’t believe something that I thought was true.

      • Redland Jack says:

        While it’s tricky to argue against wanting to believe what is true, in some sense, a lot of things I believe have no discernible impact on the world, other than how I feel about things.

        There are certainly some things I believe to be true that would seem to meet the criteria of:
        1) Do not make anyone else better off
        2) Make me worse off

        (And these tend to be the things that other people don’t believe. I’m fairly certain they’re wrong, but I’m not sure what being right does for me (or anyone else)).

    • Matt M says:

      Eh, not really. IME, plenty of democrats and republicans (even really mainstream ones) still spend plenty of time getting worked up that not enough people agree with them. And saying things like “but surely you’re fine that 90% of people agree with you that the income tax is an okay thing and some form of welfare state is necessary” doesn’t cheer them up – they spend all their time and focus on the issues that people don’t agree with, just like libertarians do.

      • Redland Jack says:

        You’re probably very right about that.

        I just find it vaguely demoralizing that most things I read, watch, listen to, etc. have an implicit (or explicit) condemnation of things that sit near the core of my identity. Facing this (kind of amorphous) constant derision has begun to wear me out.

        And it’s not like the people doing this are (generally speaking) bad people or doing anything wrong.

        • Matt M says:

          I think what you really want is not necessarily a change in politics – but an entire mindset where you’re a bit more conformist and less questioning.

          Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow both see cultures that are openly hostile to their beliefs and that are entirely dominated by the enemy tribe.

          The way to not get so worn out isn’t to have the right opinions, it’s to simply not care (or perhaps, to have no opinions at all).

        • blacktrance says:

          The solution is probably some combination of changing what you expose yourself to and training yourself to care less about what other people think – to separate yourself from the masses both culturally and in self-identification.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Not really, no. When you’re a lousy follower and a terrible leader, what else is there?

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’m not a libertarian anymore. (In the sense of “I no longer believe the NAP, by itself, would produce a near-ideal society.” I still believe the US should move more in a libertarian direction.)

      Sometimes I wish I still was; it was reassuring to think I had all the answers in my head if people would just listen to them.

      • onyomi says:

        Other than what I’ll admit is a strong correlation, why should being a libertarian mean thinking one has all the answers? In some ways being an ancap specifically means admitting you don’t have the answers, since you don’t know what emergent, voluntary interactions will come up with.

        I assume you mean something like “libertarian is a doctrinaire, purist view concerned with logical consistency, whereas most other political views are a bit more messy, ad hoc, or ‘common sense/real world’-based.”

        While I admit libertarians tend to be more focused on the internal consistency of their view than most, I don’t think devotion to logic and consistency per se implies thinking one has all the answers. It does tend to produce that result in the sort of libertarian who thinks he can derive the right answer to every political question from “first principles,”* but that’s not every libertarian, nor, I don’t think, demanded by libertarianism.

        *Edit to rant: I do think this sort of thing is a big problem among libertarians. I like a lot of this Youtuber’s content, but find this particular video a perfect example of what I mean: he uses a bunch of philosophical-sounding terms and appeal to “logical fallacies” to build a supposedly objective ethical edifice on incredibly shaky grounds (as I see it, he engages here in a couple false dilemmas and over-broad application of his “consistency” principle to attempt to bridge the is-ought gap, among other problems). Plus, even if his logic were sound, I don’t think this would convince anyone who didn’t already really want to be a libertarian but felt a need for some objective grounding. I don’t believe jokes about sandwiches scare women away from libertarianism, but I do suspect this sort of “more logical than thou” thing might turn some people off.

        • Art Vandelay says:

          I do think this sort of thing is a big problem among libertarians.

          I find it very hard to believe that video isn’t a parody. It seems more ridiculous to me than things I’ve read with were explicitly lampooning libertarianism rather than actually arguing for it.

          Particular highlight defending self-ownership from first principles:

          “Even if your answer is that no one would own you, you still have a problem. If something isn’t owned, then no one can stop someone doing whatever they want to, to it. If no one owns a rock, there’s nothing stopping anyone from picking it up and using it for whatever purpose they want. So if no one owns you, then anyone can do whatever they want to you, including raping and murdering you.”

          • Deiseach says:

            So if no one owns you, then anyone can do whatever they want to you, including raping and murdering you.

            Wibble. Does that person not realise they’ve re-invented a justification for slavery? Also, “you have no right to rape or murder me” does not rest on the basis of “somebody owns me”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            You have no right to rape or murder me” does not rest on the basis of “somebody owns me”.

            I would argue that it does.

            Absent a shared metaphysical/moral framework the strongest argument against rape, murder, slavery, etc… is that a given meat sack body belongs to the soul mind that inhabits it and that mind alone.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Delseach

            Don’t worry, luckily slavery didn’t stand up to first principles (if I remember correctly, the problem was lack of consistency) so you either have to own yourself or everyone will be raping and murdering you the whole time.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @hlynkacg

            I would argue that your view is a product of us living in a society where the idea of personal property is so taken for granted that you’re extending far further than necessary. Really, what we imagine as a relationship between a person and a thing is really a relationship between people. “I own this car” really is “I have the right to prohibit anyone else using this car”. In this case it’s easier to think of it as a relation between me and the car than me and every other person in the world. In the case of my own person though it makes more sense to think “I have the right to prohibit anyone doing whatever they want to me” than “I own myself and therefore people can’t do what they want to me”.

            I think historically you might have a better case in that kings had dominium over their subjects who were “included in” the person of the king and he had the power of life and death over them, a power he was generally pretty unwilling to share. In English law, I believe property is still described in terms of dominium and one of the reasons it took a long time for the idea of personal property to be enshrined in law is that jurists were unwilling to recognise dominium as belonging to anyone but the king.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @hlynkacg

            I would say the argument that holds up strongest against murder/rape is that the gains in utility from them are far outweighed by the losses. The argument that “this body belongs to this mind, therefore this body should not be violated” runs contrary to most people’s acceptance of things like war, execution, and enforcement of law.

          • Matt M says:

            I would say the argument that holds up strongest against murder/rape is that the gains in utility from them far outweigh the losses.

            SMBC outlined a pretty nice failure mode of this line of thought.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Matt M
            I don’t get the failure. If there really were superhumans who were capable of experiencing suffering and pleasure at some exponential level over the average human, then I would say they deserve consideration corresponding to their level when deciding whether to inflict suffering or pleasure. Fortunately for us normals, we don’t live in anything remotely resembling that world, so we can go on and take our (generally) equitable share.

            I would be interested in hearing the counterargument, that someone who experiences pain at 2x the level of a normal person, does not deserve a reduction of average pain inflicted upon them.

          • Guy in TN says:

            There’s also the question of whether someone who is able to experience emotions at an exponentially higher level than me would even be recognizable as a human, since they would have a biological makeup so different from mine.

            My terminal value is the flourishing of humanity, not the flourishing of hyper-feeling monsters.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Art Vandelay

            …what we imagine as a relationship between a person and a thing is really a relationship between people.

            I understand that but you have the progression backwards. The ownership of “things” progresses from the ownership of self. I am me, and the things I make, buy, do, etc… are extensions of me. A King/Queen who unites a set of warring tribes has dominium because, in the absence of nationalism, “nation” and “ruler” are one and the same as are “the law” and “the rulers will”.

            @ Guy in TN
            Take the universe and grind it down to the finest power, strain it through the finest sieve and then show me a single particle of utility.

            I see know reason to value one persons imaginary substance over another’s or my own for that matter.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Yes, even utilitarianism relies on pre-existing values to make sense. All values, including “don’t violate someone else’s body” rely on the stuff of human imagination, and can’t be observed by squinting at the universe hard enough. The search for a universal “shared metaphysical/moral framework” is indeed, impossible.

            The ownership of “things” progresses from the ownership of self.

            You are describing how you think ownership ought to work here, not how ownership works in any real sense. Normal usage of the term “ownership” is based on how resources are legally distributed. And resources can be distributed in any way, and for any reason really, so long as it has legal legitimacy.

            I am me, and the things I make, buy, do, etc… are extensions of me.

            This is, biologically speaking, untrue.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Guy in TN
            You’re really going to pull the “The search for the universal is impossible” card then turn right around and lecture me on what is or isn’t legitimate or true?

            Edit:
            Upon consideration, the remainder of this comment has been redacted in the name of niceness community and civilization.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Normative vs. descriptive claims. That the search for a universal moral framework is a doomed affair, does not mean that nothing can be said to be true or false.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Guy in TN
            What you’re trying to do is pass normative claims as descriptive ones and vice versa. If you’re not willing to engage on the level of first principals there’s really nothing more for me to say to you.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m a little baffled, but I think I know what it going on here. I think the confusion is that, for libertarians the term “ownership” is a normative claim, while non-libertarians generally use it as a descriptive claim. So when you say, “He owns this thing”, you mean that they have the moral legitimacy to own it, as in that it is “right” for them to own it. (Correct me if I’m wrong here).

            But when I say “He owns this thing”, I mean that they have the legal legitimacy to own it, meaning power+popular acceptance, with no claim of whether the ownership is “right” or not.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If “ownership”, and “ownership of self”, are descriptive claims, then normative claims can’t be deduced from them.

            If “ownership”, and “ownership of self”, are a normative claims, then you are starting with the assumption that one ought to own themselves (not much of a first principle). It is no more convincing than me saying “assume utilitarianism is good” and expecting people to follow my arguments from there.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            So when you say, “He owns this thing”, you mean that they have the moral legitimacy to own it, as in that it is “right” for them to own it. (Correct me if I’m wrong here).

            You’re wrong here.

            …or rather, either you’re wrong here, or I am. When I think like (I think) a libertarian thinks, I think of ownership as more the legal thing than the moral thing.

            Example: many people (some of which are libertarians) subscribe to the Lockean view of property – it’s yours if you “mix your labor” with it. Suppose an otherwise homeless woman enters a private lot that the legal owner has not done anything with for years; the former proceeds to go through nontrivial labor to make the space livable – she scavenges nails and boards and builds a shelter, then a box with soil to grow food, etc. Does she own the lot now? Not every libertarian would agree. The lot may have been purchased by the legal owner using money acquired through a great deal of labor, for example.

            Another example: an adult produces a child, then proceeds to work very hard to nurture that child. Does the adult own the child? The Lockean sense suggests yes; my intuition disagrees. (Kinda. Babies lack a lot of agency, and so their mothers act as if they own them in a lot of ways, and everyone tends to be fine with this.)

            Legally, the lot owner owns the lot, not the woman, and the mother doesn’t own the child (although she has a lot of legal leverage), and I agree with these. (To be fair, I think most libertarians acknowledge that the convention of property has weaknesses like this.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Guy in TN

            You’re still doing it, stop.

            The Normative claims here are things like “Utility exists, can be meaningfully quantified, and ought to be maximized” and “ownership means having legal dominion over a thing”.

            “ownership of things requires the ownership of self” is a descriptive claim because legal dominion of over oneself is a prerequisite for exercising legal dominion over anything else.

          • random832 says:

            The lot may have been purchased by the legal owner using money acquired through a great deal of labor, for example.

            Purchased from whom? How did that person come to own the lot in the first place?

            I’m not sure why a property regime that ultimately ends up at “the government, whose only contemporaneous physical presence was hundreds of miles east of here, once sold this land to someone sight unseen, and does not have any law recognizing when it has been abandoned because that would interfere in its goal of perpetually collecting taxes on it” should be regarded as having any legitimacy on libertarian grounds.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            Lockean property is, I hope, a philosophy of how libertarians think legal property law ought to work, rather than a description of the motivations behind actually existing property law. I say “I hope”, because if was intended to be a simple descriptive statement, it is obviously incorrect, since property transfers such as eminent domain, taxation, welfare, do not seem to follow Lockean property rules at all.

            @hlynkacg

            The Normative claims here are things like “Utility exists, can be meaningfully quantified, and ought to be maximized” and “ownership means having legal dominion over a thing”.

            The claim “x exists” is descriptive. The claim “x ought to be” is normative. Therefore, my claim that “ownership is commonly defined as having legal dominion over a thing” is descriptive. It may be incorrect (in the factual sense) that ownership is defined in this way, but that’s doesn’t make the claim normative. It would be normative if I had claimed that ownership ought to be defined in a certain way.

            “ownership of things requires the ownership of self” is a descriptive claim because legal dominion of over oneself is a prerequisite for exercising legal dominion over anything else.

            Since this is a descriptive claim, let’s investigate it. Does every country that has legal private ownership, also have self-ownership enshrined into law? And what does it mean to have legal self-ownership, if that also means you could still be drafted, executed, ect. by the state?

            Even still, if every country had, for example, laws against both running red lights and buying alcohol on Sunday, that wouldn’t prove that having one law is a perquisite to having the other. There could theoretically be a country that allowed slaves to own property, the correlation between “self ownership” and “private ownership” could be merely a trend, not a perquisite.

          • Guy in TN says:

            No need for me to stay in hypotheticals here. Apparently, some slaves (who did not legally own themselves) actually did have ownership claims in the old U.S. South, which court rulings upheld:

            https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2013/spring/slaves-property-ownership-penningroth/

        • “Tear everything down and see what happens” sure quacks and waddles like an answer to everything.

        • Nornagest says:

          I blame Ayn Rand. I’m saying that as someone with a fair amount of affection and sympathy for Ayn Rand, but she did real damage to her own cause by insisting on half-assed philosophical justifications for everything in it. Wasn’t her only problem — her tendency to shoehorn in quasi- or not-even-quasi-sexual heroic fantasies comes to mind — but it’s probably her biggest.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I find it annoying enough to identify as either libertarian or not-libertarian that I just end out in an annoying superposition of both.

    • BBA says:

      I spent a few years trying to convince myself I was a libertarian, but couldn’t pull it off. I then tried to convince myself of the correctness of the social justice movement – and/or that even if they’re wrong, it’s a noble lie – and couldn’t do that either.

      I think studying math as an undergrad and then going to law school ruined me to always poke holes and find exceptions and sub-exceptions to everything, which makes it hard to stick to any kind of consistent political philosophy, but there it is.

      2 + 2 = 4, but only for most known values of 2 and 4.

    • Wrong Species says:

      When I was a libertarian, I was very depressed in an existential way. Not only was it unpopular but there didn’t seem to be any upward movement in followers. If anything, libertarianism seems to be on a downward slope. Not only that but it was exhausting. Every answer to a political question involved less government. If you want to be a libertarian and have a debate with someone, you have to do extensive research on every single topic to figure out how you can fit the free market square in to a round hole. And god forbid you find one of those potential free markets answers unconvincing, because your whole political identity depends on it. These days if some issue comes up that I haven’t put a lot of thought in comes, I can just be agnostic instead of half-assing something I googled to attempt a moderately convincing argument.

      • onyomi says:

        But having a political identity as a libertarian doesn’t depend on having a convincing, well-researched answer as to why less government is the answer to every problem (though it so often is, and isn’t hard to explain why). I understand the sentiment, of course. If you get known as “the libertarian” among your friends then they may be like “but wait, onyomi, what about THIS case where the government might be better??” But libertarians are allowed to say “I don’t know” just as much as anyone else.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I feel almost the opposite of Wrong Species. Having a consistent worldview makes your worldview easier to defend, not harder. Consistency of “the answer is always less government” is a feature, not a bug!

          IMO the moderate red/blue framework of “government is good for some things and not for others and let’s all argue over which goes in which camp” comes across as much harder to defend, because it isn’t consistent.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I would say just that’s nuance. As far as I’m concerned, if there was a simple solution to all political disputes, that would be a hell of a coincidence. The world is really complicated and I’m firmly biased against any one explanation to solve it all.

          • onyomi says:

            The fact that the world is complex doesn’t mean complex answers are better. All else equal, complex answers are worse.

            Taking a firm stand against simple answers is a rather unnuanced approach to the question of whether or not sometimes the answer is simple.

            You can make libertarianism sound extremist and lacking nuance if you frame it as “you just think less government or no government is the answer to every political question.”

            You can also make antebellum abolitionism sound extremist and lacking in nuance if you frame it as “you just think freeing the slaves 100% is the answer to every question about the welfare of black people.”

            Not using force to solve the problems people currently try to solve with monopoly government isn’t a final answer to every political question. It’s the starting point for a more humane, ethical answer to every political question to arise.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Abolitionists didn’t think ending slavery would solve all problems. They thought it would be a simple solution to one problem. Im not against simple answers for any one issue. It’s just that any time throughout history someone thought one solution could be used to solve all political problems, they were horrifically wrong.

            I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed why I think libertarianism isn’t inherently more ethical. Just to reiterate, in a world without an organization we call “the state”, private property becomes indistinguishable from the state. What is the state? “Monopoly of legitimate force over a geographic area”, right? So let’s say that we have a housing development that provides security. How is that any different? And yes, maybe the state was founded illegitimately but assuming that’s true, the difference between state and property isn’t its actions but its origins.

          • onyomi says:

            @Wrong Species

            So let’s say that we have a housing development that provides security. How is that any different?

            The HOA doesn’t have political authority (see pp. 17-18 of the pdf).

          • Wrong Species says:

            Take a HOA that controls security and is given broad powers to potentially expand that power. What is the difference between that and a state?

          • onyomi says:

            What makes a private security guard different from a policeman today?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Don’t answer my question with a question. I really want to know what you think is the difference.

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            What makes a private security guard different from a policeman today?

            The way that the police officer operates is ultimately controlled by a democratically elected body, while the private security guard answers to the private party that pays her and very high-level laws.

          • onyomi says:

            @Aapje

            The way that the police officer operates is ultimately controlled by a democratically elected body, while the private security guard answers to the private party that pays her and very high-level laws.

            So police officers can do things private security guards can’t, right? And why is that? My contention is it’s because they’re imbued, in most peoples’ minds, with “political authority,” as described in the link above, by virtue of the democratic process you mention.

            Ancap is precisely that state of affairs where no person or entity is imagined to possess “political authority” (though they may possess other sorts of authority), so that’s the difference, as I see it, between a government and a hypothetical ancap HOA.

          • random832 says:

            The way that the police officer operates is ultimately controlled by a democratically elected body, while the private security guard answers to the private party that pays her and very high-level laws.

            Nonsense. A homeowners’ association may be democratic, and a state may not be.

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            I said nothing of the sort. Please reread my statements and understand what I actually argue.

            @random832

            I was talking about the situation in the West/US, not a statement over all the possible entities that are called police worldwide, yet which operate very differently.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @onyomi

            Yes, the state has “political authority” but what is the difference between that and “propertarian authority” in practice in this scenario? Based on my hypothetical, how does the HOA act any differently?

        • Wrong Species says:

          They can be agnostic but you’re always predisposed to one solution in a way that really no one else is. I could be a leftist and recognize that a market solution could work in reducing housing costs. But if someone convinced you that markets are inferior to government in one aspect, that discredits your libertarian beliefs pretty strongly. That’s why libertarians can’t ever accept the need for government to mitigate global warming, regardless of what evidence is available. It would break their ideology.

          • cassander says:

            @Wrong Species

            That’s why libertarians can’t ever accept the need for government to mitigate global warming, regardless of what evidence is available. It would break their ideology.

            You’re confusing libertarians and anarchists. Libertarians do not rule out state intervention for genuine public goods, they just hold that those are few and far between.

          • onyomi says:

            But if someone convinced you that markets are inferior to government in one aspect, that discredits your libertarian beliefs pretty strongly.

            Why? I don’t, and I don’t think most libertarians define libertarianism as “the believe that the private sector can do anything better than government.”

            In my case, it’s the belief that the ethical and utilitarian arguments for government all seem too weak to me to justify government on ethical grounds. Proving that government can do some things as well or better than the private sector, or even that there are some important things a government can do which the private sector can never do (though, thus far, world governments don’t seem to be doing such a great job of reducing carbon emissions either, so my prior isn’t that the government can do it but the private sector can’t, but rather that it’s extremely hard for anyone to do it), doesn’t shake this belief.

            To shake my preference for anarchism (if not my general preference for non-government solutions wherever reasonable) would require proving to me that there’s something the government can do, which the private sector cannot or will not do, and which is also important enough to justify allowing certain people to abide by different moral standards than the rest of us, especially with respect to the use of force and coercion. That is a pretty high bar to clear, and I haven’t yet seen anything which clears it in my mind.

          • Bugmaster says:

            To shake my preference for anarchism … would require proving to me that there’s something the government can do, which the private sector cannot or will not do…

            I could be wrong, but aren’t there actually tons of such things all around us ? Off the top of my head, I can list: the Interstate Highway System (and roads in general), vaccination, pure scientific research (as contrasted with short-term technological R&D), and national defence. In general, the private sector is really poor at providing services that benefit everyone more or less equally (since there’s little reason to compete in this case); or projects that have large costs but very little immediate short-term gain (since the risk is too great, and the benefits too far off to justify the spending).

            But that’s not even the worst problem with anarchism, IMO; the worst problem is that it’s completely unsustainable. People tend to naturally aggregate into groups, because groups can accomplish things that individuals cannot. Since large groups are impossible to manage by consensus, hierarchies emerge. The only remaining question is, how will your hierarchy be structured ? Throughout history, the most popular answer has been, “the most powerful warlord is on top, everyone else is his vassal or slave”; it’s only recently that we’ve begun forming governments in order to mitigate the warlords’ worst excesses.

          • John Schilling says:

            [the private sector can not or will not do] pure scientific research…

            I believe you will find that, prior to roughly WWII, most pure scientific research was performed or financed by private universities, wealthy dilettantes, or the Church. That’s enough pure scientific research for a Renaissance, an Industrial Revolution, and the foundations of the Information Age.

            Please do not make the mistake of assuming that “private sector” means always and only “for-profit corporations”. If you argue that simply because you can’t imagine a private corporation being motivated to do a thing, the government must do it, it won’t just be libertarians who are laughing at you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            the Church

            Yeah, that not exactly a great example of a private organization doing research.

          • Anonymous says:

            the Church

            Yeah, that not exactly a great example of a private organization doing research.

            It’s (usually) not the government!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            When the Church was putting out a large chunk of scientific research it was roughly synonymous with government.

          • onyomi says:

            In general, the private sector is really poor at providing services that benefit everyone more or less equally

            The state is arguably even worse at this.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @onyomi:
            I’ll think fondly about this anecdote tomorrow, as I drive my car on the freeway, listening to music over the Internet, while looking around at the scenery that is perfectly visible in the absence of smog.

          • onyomi says:

            @Bugmaster

            I’m a little loathe to go into detail when it feels to me like you haven’t done even basic Googling on the many answers ancaps and libertarians have to these questions, but a few points:

            The state does it now=/=the state has always done it or must, logically do it. Private individuals and businesses/organizations cooperating to build roads isn’t even a hard problem, and is actually something of a running gag among libertarians.

            Related, the private sector doesn’t do it now=/=the private sector wouldn’t do it if the state weren’t crowding them out or, in many cases, making it illegal for them to do so.

            The state does it now=/=it must be done, and certainly not that it must be done in the way state did it. It’s possible that the interstate highway system isn’t the solution the private sector would have come up with for travel in the US. But if that means we’d instead be riding super fast trains everywhere, that might not be so bad. Certainly not bad enough to justify using coercion.

          • Matt M says:

            Even the examples he provides are weak as hell.

            The government didn’t “build” the roads, it just paid for them. And paying for things isn’t a particular struggle. Many of the earliest “roads” in America were privately constructed and operated, and many such roads continue to exist today.

            The Internet would have been nothing more than a DoD communications tool had it not been opened up to the private sector for experimentation and improvement. Giving the government credit for Spotify is a stretch of epic proportions.

            Businesses have an obvious incentive to minimize pollution. At a very basic level, pollution is waste, and what business wouldn’t want to minimize waste? Also, in a free market, you could sue polluters for property damage, as was commonly done prior to the government getting involved and setting allowable thresholds for pollution.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Businesses have an obvious incentive to minimize pollution.

            This is irritating, as we have motte and bailey argument going on.

            Example gets brought up, libertarian argues from the principled motte of “yes of course, commons problems are deficult to solve and libertarians don’t have good solutions”. This seems to be a fairly principled stand, as I understand it.

            But, principled libertarians also seem to very commonly come out into the bailey and start talking about how we don’t need to worry about pollution (a commons problem) because incentives and the courts.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Businesses have an obvious incentive to minimize pollution. At a very basic level, pollution is waste, and what business wouldn’t want to minimize waste?

            Nonsense. Businesses have an incentive to minimize costs to them. Externalities, like causing pollution that gives other people a higher chance to get cancer are not costs to the business, so they have no major incentive to minimize that.

            Of course it is preferable for businesses to use a process that is 100% efficient, but we actually live in the real world, where perfect efficiency is rarely possible. In practice, we regularly see that the cheapest process has substantial pollution and the cheapest way to reduce that pollution is not to change the production process to a more efficient one, but to add post-processing for the waste products.

            Pretending that the world allows for perfect solutions is probably the most common fallacy of Utopian thinkers. For example, the Soviet government had an obvious incentive to allocate resources efficiently, so their central planning process must have worked perfectly, right? By your reasoning it should have.

            When your reasoning for why libertarianism would work also ‘proves’ that communism works, you should reconsider where you made a mistake.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @onyomi, Matt M:
            I think you might be (inadvertently) strawmanning my position. I never claimed that “the state must logically do things like build roads etc.”, or that “the private sector has never built roads”. Of course, the private sector can do such things; however, historically, it had usually not done so — while governments of all kinds, from feudal empires to modern democracies, have. What have the Romans done for us, indeed ?

            I believe the reason for this is not just dumb luck, but rather the structure of the free market. Consider roads, for example. The Interstate Highway System works so well precisely because it is free — or rather, because its costs are so diffuse that individual people end up paying a negligible sum for it. No local business would be unable to collect sufficient funds to pay for such an endeavour; and in fact, since the national network of roads benefits everyone equally, there’s no incentive to even try it in the first place.

            For another example, consider pollution, overfishing, and other tragedies of the commons. Here, the incentives are razor-sharp. If I can save a significant amount of money by increasing pollution a fraction of a percent, then I’d be a fool not to do so. If I do choose to be such a fool, the free market will quickly take care of me, since I’ll be out-competed by smarter entrepreneurs. Thus, every individual business makes a perfectly rational decision to increase pollution by a fractional amount… and that’s how you get smog, until the government comes in and says, “actually, catalytic converters are mandatory now, sorry”.

            Another interesting example is pure scientific research. By this I mean, not something like “designing a better iPhone”, but rather, “playing around with fruit flies”. Ok, maybe some wealthy magnate could invest into fruit flies just to gain prestige — but no one has enough money to waste on totally useless (commercially speaking) projects like the LHC. The knowledge we gain by performing some research is almost certainly guaranteed to improve the lives of all humanity… at some point in the future, in ways that are impossible to predict or monetize. Investing into better iPhones pays off here and now.

            I could go on and on, but this post is already too long as it is…

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            Externalities, like causing pollution that gives other people a higher chance to get cancer are not costs to the business, so they have no major incentive to minimize that.

            Wanting to avoid tort liability is a good incentive for businesses to not harm others. Often, the state limits tort liability of corporations, reducing the incentive for them to be careful of producing negative externalities. For example, see how the state has limited liability for oil companies.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            The kind of pollution that these regulations seek to reduce is often very hard/impossible to resolve using tort lawsuits. Take asbestos. The gap between exposure and mesothelioma is often 40 years and determining liability after that time is a huge problem, lawsuits often drag along until the patient is already dead, people run into the statute of limitations, companies may have gone bankrupt/have been dissolved already, etc.

            Yet mesothelioma is clearly caused by a certain type of exposure, which has relatively few sources. ‘Generic’ types of cancer cannot be directly linked to a certain type of exposure, so it is impossible to go after the culprit, in most cases.

            Just because you can determine that one source of exposure gives cancer to about X people in a group, doesn’t mean that you can point out which people have gotten cancer because of that exposure and not because of other sources.

            The heavy dependence on tort liability by most libertarians is actually one of the main failure modes/Utopian aspects of (hardcore) libertarianism.

          • Matt M says:

            Thank God the state was around and stopped mesothelioma from happening!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            That is a puerile argument.

            Are you taking the position that “commons” problems don’t exist and are not a problem for libertarian ideology?

          • Matt M says:

            The solution to any “commons” problem, in general, is to not have commons in the first place.

            But more specifically, I think “how would liberty prevent X” is a pointless question to ask when the state did not, in fact, prevent X.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            The solution to any “commons” problem, in general, is to not have commons in the first place.>

            I really want so see how you are going to fence in the atmosphere, dam all the rivers and parcel out all the seawater.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The solution to any “commons” problem, in general, is to not have commons in the first place.

            I really want so see how you are going to fence in the atmosphere, dam all the rivers and parcel out all the seawater.

            I think you’re both being unnecessarily facetious here. Shares in water sources could be parceled out; likewise rights to air, by proximity; shares could then trade according to who sees the most threat from which direction, and who wishes to entrust their judgements to which environmental research specialist. ISTR David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom sketches more details of how such a system might work.

            In the same breath, this system won’t necessarily let you just random-walk your way to maximum liberty. Some actors could create externalities faster than the people affected can keep informed about them. (I honestly can’t say whether the standard system of enforcement with big sticks is better or worse than this, though.)

          • John Schilling says:

            @bugmaster:

            I never claimed that “the state must logically do things like build roads etc.”

            See, when onyomi says

            “to shake my preference for anarchism … would require proving to me that there’s something [very important] the government can do, which the private sector cannot or will not do”,

            and you respond with

            “aren’t there actually tons of such things all around us ? Off the top of my head, I can list: the Interstate Highway System (and roads in general)…”

            I kind of took that to mean that you thought the state must logically do things like building roads. I am having a hard time finding any other plausible reading of your words.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Thank God the state was around and stopped mesothelioma from happening!

            Once upon a time the benefits of asbestos were clear and the downsides weren’t. At that time this material was used extensively. Then people realized that the material was very dangerous, oops.

            Those affected reacted by suing the companies that made/used the material, which worked pretty horribly overall, resulting in judgments after the money was needed to mitigate the costs of the the treatment, the actual extent of the tort only being clear once the patient was near death, disputes over who was to blame, statute of limitations running out, etc, etc.

            The government reacted by banning the sale/use of asbestos, which worked well, because businesses tried to keep selling the stuff, but this was stopped by regulation. So government regulation made the difference.

            Modern day cleanup crews often try to break the law to get a competitive advantage by working faster in a way that increases risks to their workers and others. By your reasoning they would not do this, as lawsuits are happening today, so the companies can predict that they will get lawsuits in the future, so the incentive is supposedly not to take risks with people’s health. Except they do and this is even logical (these cleanup companies are small businesses whose owners will be retired/dead when the diseases start to happen and their current gains will never be taken away, due to the way the law indemnifies companies/owners and their families), so you are wrong.

            You react by making a nonsensical argument to defend your absolutist faith in libertarianism, which resolves cognitive dissonance by pretending that a failure by the government to predict the danger of a new material is equivalent to a failure of the market to restrict the use of a known to be dangerous substance. Your statement ignores that you don’t have a libertarian solution for the government failure that you point out either, so a libertarian society would have two failure modes, rather than one.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            The kind of pollution that these regulations seek to reduce is often very hard/impossible to resolve using tort lawsuits. Take asbestos. The gap between exposure and mesothelioma is often 40 years and determining liability after that time is a huge problem, lawsuits often drag along until the patient is already dead, people run into the statute of limitations, companies may have gone bankrupt/have been dissolved already, etc.

            With respect to asbestos, my understanding is the main danger is for people with prolonged exposure to inhaling it. Essentially, this affects asbestos miners and asbestos factory workers, but doesn’t seem to be a big problem for most asbestos consumers. In this situation, it’s easier to determine the victims; it’s the people who work in conditions that greatly enhance their risk of disease, did not consent to and were unaware of the increased risk, but the factory owners are aware of the risks which have been established scientifically. Courts can handle these types of situations and therefore tort liability would seems to work well to disincentivize imposing unconsented to risks on workers.

            BTW, asbestos isn’t completely banned, but is still used in many products today as it has many positive functions.

            The heavy dependence on tort liability by most libertarians is actually one of the main failure modes/Utopian aspects of (hardcore) libertarianism.

            You have repeated the refrain that ancap/hardcore libertarianism is utopian. It could be helpful for you to define what you mean by utopian. Ancap doesn’t fit my concept of utopia, which means something like no suffering and everything is perfect. My concept of ancap is more like how just as I expect a market for cars to work better than state-produced cars, I expect a market for security, law and arbitration to work better than state-produced security, law and arbitration. I don’t think markets for products and services are perfect or utopian, I do think they’re better than coercive monopoly provided products and services.

            Also, I think widespread reduction in respect for political authority and moving to considering everyone to be moral equals, instead of considering some group of people to have special moral status, would be an improvement to interactions between people. I don’t think it would lead to everyone singing kumbaya though, and I expect there to still be many jerks and violent people to be dealt with.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            In this situation, it’s easier to determine the victims; it’s the people who work in conditions that greatly enhance their risk of disease, did not consent to and were unaware of the increased risk

            1. People may have had multiple employers. Who then caused which part of the damage? Do you look at the time they worked at each company? But perhaps they had much more exposure per unit of time at one employer than the other. Perhaps you don’t know how much exposure they had at each employer. perhaps they also were exposed in their private life. How much did this contribute? Not easy, this.

            2. AFAIK there is no safe level of exposure. More exposure simply increases the chance to get ill. Perhaps this is not the case for mesothelioma, but asbestos also causes cancer.

            3. My point was actually that it is relatively easy for asbestos-related illnesses to point at the culprit and it is still a legal nightmare that often fails to resolve the issue reasonably. That logically makes it impossible for many other sources of pollution to have the legal system resolve it.

            4. There is factory in my country that used to produce asbestos and they would hand out broken asbestos panels to people, who used them for their driveways and such. So the nearby town has & had a lot of asbestos in places where erosion happens.

            It could be helpful for you to define what you mean by utopian.

            Depending on a mechanism that works in an ideal situation, but ignoring that the ideal situation often is not achievable in reality is how I used the term in this situation. I think that you need to discuss which error modes exist and the negative consequences.

            Any system has situations where the system works correctly (a) and situations where it doesn’t (b). I would argue that the value of system X is then Xa – Xb. Then if you compare it to system Y, you have to figure out whether Xa – Xb > Ya – Yb.

            In practice, advocates often do: Xa > Ya – Yb. Leaving out Xb is what I consider Utopian.

            Recognizing Xb, but underestimating it is also Utopian, but by scale (so the more Xb is underestimated, the more Utopian the argument).

    • Matt C says:

      I have. Similarly, I have wished I were a theist.

      I’m middle aged now and a lot mellower about being a libertarian than I used to be. The world will be what it will be. Most people don’t understand liberty, and when they do understand it, they don’t actually want it. Accepting this, or getting angry and alienated about it, they both pay the same.

      Or that’s the idea, anyway. I won’t say I never get upset about politics anymore, sometimes I do. But a lot less than I used to.

      Contrary to what we’re constantly told, I think most of us are better off focusing on living in the world rather than trying to change it. Or wishing it would somehow change itself.

    • Guy in TN says:

      I’m an ex-libertarian, ex-ancap. After giving it up,I felt a general feeling of relief, more tolerance for dissenting viewpoints, and have become much more optimistic about the direction the world is headed.

      But I think that has more to do with switching from process-based ethics to consequence-based ethics. I think if I had switched from being a deontological Marxist to a utilitarian Libertarian, I would have felt much the same experience.

    • I’m not libertarian (though I’m not diametrically opposed), but I’d encourage you to stick by what you think is true rather than what is easiest. You maybe find you have more of an effect on others than you’re aware of, and changing minds is no trivial thing. At the same time its great to be open to changing your own views if your investigations reveal that your views no longer align the facts as best you can discern them. And I think you’re in relatively good company here on SSC where people from many different views at least partially try to do the same.

  16. whales says:

    One tricky thing is that disparate impact can be far out of proportion to actual rates of qualifications, especially for weak correlations. The Wax paper is sloppy about this, using “passes the test” and “is qualified” interchangeably, and this affects the tradeoff calculus considerably; I wrote a bit on the topic here. (There are also other aspects of the paper I strongly question.)

  17. Wander says:

    Looking for some loose advice here. I have a friend who’s a rather short lady, and also quite determined that she’s not smart enough to go to university. She’s currently looking at potential career prospects, presumably some sort of trade, but I feel like her current vague goal of construction work is unsuited for someone under 5 foot. What sort of advice would you have for someone in this position?

    Edit: Also probably worth mentioning that she’s extremely bad with people and a service job is probably terrible for her.

      • Bugmaster says:

        On the one hand, I’m surprised to hear that the job of a “computer-network support specialist” does not require a degree. On the other hand, this job does occasionally require one to crawl through ceiling tiles, and thus it seems like a short person would have a very real advantage…

    • johan_larson says:

      How short is she and might she be interested in a military career? The US military’s height limit for women is only 4′ 10″.

    • Matt M says:

      Not trying to be a jerk here, but unintelligent, unsuited to most forms of physical labor, and bad working with other people does not strike as a combination particularly likely to result in any sort of high paying or successful career….

      • anomdebus says:

        We only have a self-claim of insufficient intelligence for attending college, not an objective measure of intelligence.

      • Wander says:

        She’s hardly expecting to live a life of opulence. She just doesn’t want to be a NEET.

      • Deiseach says:

        “Not smart enough to go to college” does not necessarily imply “unintelligent”, unless we’re all throwing up our hands and admitting college is often kindergarten for young adults 🙂

        • The Nybbler says:

          throwing up our hands and admitting college is often kindergarten for young adults

          My hands are in the air.

          I’ll skip my initial unnecessary and unkind thought for the OP, and move on to noting that while some trades (e.g. carpentry) definitely reward height, others (e.g. electrical and plumbing) often require working in confined spaces where being small might help. Likely to be an uphill battle in any case; the trades are all male dominated and I can’t say I’ve ever hired a female plumber or electrician (but they exist; it may be they tend to end up on commercial projects rather than post-construction residential)

          • Aapje says:

            I’d expect that a lot of women might be happy with the choice of a female plumber or electrician, so it could give her an advantage.

            She probably needs a thick skin because people in those trades are probably not the most progressive. Then again, it is a profession where you can start for yourself and/or directly work for end customers, once you have enough experience.

        • Matt M says:

          If we define college to even include a two year degree from a community college, then yes, I am willing to state that someone who cannot go to college is very unintelligent. OR incredibly lazy I suppose. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for their future prospects.

          • Deiseach says:

            If we define college to even include a two year degree from a community college, then yes, I am willing to state that someone who cannot go to college is very unintelligent.

            U so rite, me so stoopid! 🙂 Non-college attender here, though I did do a two year certificate plus bolt-on third year to crank it up to a diploma at what I suppose is the equivalent of an American community college; assessing my abilities then and now, I definitely would not have been able to manage a four year degree, though.

            You don’t consider non-academically oriented intelligence to be intelligence, then?

          • Matt M says:

            I definitely would not have been able to manage a four year degree, though.

            I cannot imagine this is true.

            Either you’re vastly over-estimating the difficulty of degrees (or perhaps in Ireland they are much more difficult?), or you fall into the “incredibly lazy” camp.

            Choosing not to go to college is one thing. Plenty of smart people do that. But being “not smart enough to do it” even if you wanted to strikes me as almost non-credible. Community colleges exist for the express purpose of ensuring that even the stupidest can get degrees if they really want them.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Daisy

            He said “cannot”. Did you apply and fail every place you signed up to?

            Also, aren’t you like in the granny squad with Nancy? I don’t mean to disparage your age, but college used to be for the substantially above average, not the average of today.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, aren’t you like in the granny squad with Nancy?

            Bless you child, would you like sixpence to buy sweeties? 🙂

            Yes. And I tend to agree that college was for the smarter. I really don’t think I could have handled it; the bolted-on third year of the course I did wasn’t a spectacular triumph and I hit up against my limits, so a Real Proper Science Degree would, I think, have seen me drop out in the second year even if I’d managed to struggle through first year.

            Anyway, the occasion never arose because no money to go to university (not bright enough to win a scholarship, didn’t qualify for a grant, and family circumstances meant parents couldn’t afford it), so that’s why I did the two year (and third year follow-up) vocational course. Ironically never got a proper job out of it, and only got into my current line of work years later via re-training and up-skilling courses for the unemployed.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am not sure if this would count as ‘not smart enough’ or ‘lazy’ but I have a few, un-diagnosed at the time, mental problems that prevented me from completing college. I have over the last few years kept trying to complete a degree but it has proven difficult as none of my treatments thus far have been terribly fruitful.

            Although I am hopeful that I might one day get a degree.

    • Chalid says:

      If she doesn’t have strong ties to her community, the right thing to do is probably to find a low-unemployment city or region and move there. All labor will be more valuable there.

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      quite determined that she’s not smart enough to go to university

      First thing: Do some tests to get a less subjective impression. Both IQ and more specific capabilities.

    • Deiseach says:

      Electrician? I know a young woman who took up her father’s trade as an electrician and is doing very nicely with it for about ten years now. The bit about up ladders and crawling through ceiling tiles applies there as well, and being short/having small hands could help with tricky spaces.

  18. Well... says:

    @Montfort, with apologies for continuing from the last OT:

    I am encouraging “excessive skepticism” of journalism, if that is synonymous with my aim of basically pulling down journalism’s pants as not being the sort of serious mediator it claims to be.

    I’m not just trying to show weak techniques or conceptual inconsistencies for their own sake–those exist in all kinds of writing, mine included! Rather, I point to those to show that journalism is not a source of truth or facts or an important/reliable record of what’s going on in the world. I want to show that journalism is much more akin to gossip, but it just happens to be wearing a costume of solemnity and/or authority. It’s Eric Cartman dressed as a cop. It’s fraudulent as soon as it is attempted.

    Yes, this means I am also giving license to ignore the news that we disagree with. People do that already, and always will. Better to do away with news entirely. But that brings me to the question I’ve been thinking about…and this is a question to everyone reading this (well, a cluster of questions anyway):

    A generic way of describing the object-level value delivered by journalism might be something like “stories about (mostly) current events that are important, interesting, or otherwise noteworthy.” Assuming this something actually worth placing value in–a point I’m not entirely convinced of–is there a feasible way to deliver this value to people while doing away with the journalism infrastructure we presently have?

    Assume it is possible to not just obliterate it, but to replace the current journalism industry with something else if desired. My proposal is we take all those reporters whose peculiar skill is writing down the words of strangers and instead of having them write news stories that get spiffed up a bit by editors and then handed to the public, they instead hand their stories to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with known biases. The SMEs comment upon the stories, and their commentary is what gets delivered to the public.

    Note that the system described above is basically what already exists in the form of blogs and certain websites. The difference being that if someone says “Did you read that in the New York Times?” and you say “No, I read that on [so and so’s] blog,” your source would be considered the more legitimate one, epistemologically. If the other guy says “Oh, [so and so] is a crackpot, I only read [such and such]” and there’s enough other people having that same exchange to garner sufficient interest, then So and Such might debate each other directly. A (civil) debate between two SMEs would be much more productive than the “cold” debate between, say, Fox News and MSNBC or, to the extent it exists, the WaPo and the WSJ.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Who picks the SMEs ?

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Even worse, who evaluates their biases?

        • Well... says:

          They can be evaluated by anyone, including other SMEs. The point is that they have no intrinsic reason to hide their biases behind an affect the way journalism does.

      • Well... says:

        The same system that “picks” popular radio talk show hosts and high-profile bloggers. Better yet, the system that picks widely cited authors.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Currently, this system appears to be picking the loudest people with the most extreme views; my understanding is that you want the opposite.

          • Well... says:

            No, while I think loud/extreme views are generally obnoxious I don’t think they’re a big problem that needs to be gotten rid of. What I dislike–what I see as really insidious and dangerous–is the affect of impartiality and informedness that is journalism’s defining feature.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s what happens when you eject the “moderates” from the coalition.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Well…:

            What I dislike–what I see as really insidious and dangerous–is the affect of impartiality and informedness that is journalism’s defining feature.

            OK, but why ? Why is this affect so bad ? If the answer is, “because it misleads the public”, then your solution is no better, and might, in fact, be worse. Currently, at least some journalists report some version of reality some of the time; under your system, there’d be nothing but conspiracy theories and ancient aliens all over the place. Your solution could work in a system where you were the SME Tczar and everyone had to have your approval before they could publish anything, but, in a free marketplace of attention, nothing but clickbait could survive.

          • Well... says:

            I’m not really clear on why my system would lead to conspiracy theories and ancient aliens, unless that was the natural way the secondary writers interpreted the SMEs, and the SMEs never said anything about it.

            The affect doesn’t just mislead, it creates a kind of almost religious suspension of disbelief that encrusts itself into the surrounding culture and is quite resistant to removal, resulting instead in competing quasi-religious-barnacles of affect.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I think your core assumption about SMEs is wrong. In real life, there’s no magic flag that marks a person as an SME. Instead, people decide whom to trust on their own; and their natural inclination is to trust the loudest, most outrageous voices, and label those people as SMEs.

          • Well... says:

            @Bugmaster:

            That’s probably true. However, it could still be possible to do some systemic vetting. For instance, make it a professional standard that reporters only deliver their writing to people with X years of experience in a profession relevant to the piece they’ve written, enforceable by whatever the same system is that currently buttresses “standards of journalism”.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Well…:
            If you could “make something a professional standard” just by willing it to be so, you wouldn’t have any of these problems to begin with.

            Since there’s no News Czar (at least, not in our country — there’s one in places like Russia and China), there’s no way to make something a professional standard by fiat. Instead, such standards arise organically, based on market demands and popular opinion. Today, the organic standards are such that the loudest and most outrageous voices garner the most respect.

    • Callum G says:

      I think journalism isn’t powerful because it’s correct, but because it’s accessible. I worry designating analysis to subject matter experts would result in boring media and people would just defer to the most interesting articles and/or more secondary sources. Sort of like how a (boring) scientific article becomes a (slightly less boring) press release which finally becomes a (interesting albeit wrong) news piece. So long as the facts are boring and inaccessible this process will exist.

      Perhaps subject matter experts should have a rigid, uneditable segment attached to each article? This could be done along with the results of an industry standard test for biases. Hopefully, this means the public still accessible content but reporters know they will be called out if they stray too far from the facts.

      • Well... says:

        Can you expand on that? I’m not sure I understand.

        • Callum G says:

          Sure. There’s a reason that the general public tend to follow the likes of CNN over academic articles: CNN is more interesting, relevant and accessible. If you were to replace the journalists at CNN with subject matter experts then I imagine the quality of the content would dramatically go up, but it’s entertainment and accessibility would go down. This gap would likely be filled by bloggers/commenters/buzzfeed producing secondary content from the subject matter experts that’s interesting and accessible but less factual. The general public would flock to these and we would be back at square one.

          I don’t think problems with journalism exist because of it’s architecture, but because of what people want and business incentives to create a particular type of content.

          Political opinions aside, an exception that springs to mind is John Oliver. His crew seems to handle technical content with decent accuracy and with decent entertainment value.

          • Well... says:

            I disagree we’d be back to square one. The secondary content you refer to would not have the affect of impartiality that is journalism’s sole defining feature.

            I don’t watch John Oliver, but I can think of a few bloggers/writers who, like what you say Oliver does, handle complex subjects in a way that is both accurate and accessible. So, it can be done. (The major difference being that the bloggers/writers I’m thinking of are or were professionals in the fields they now blog or write about, whereas John Oliver is, as far as I know, just a comedian.)

    • Montfort says:

      If you and I can’t agree that news organizations are more reliable than common gossip, I’m not sure we’re close enough to productively debate this. To me, this sounds like “But the earth is noticeably non-spherical, so all these sphere-earth textbooks should go in the same trash as the flat-earth ones.”

      The authority news organizations have is partially seized by business cleverness and bare assertion and posturing, but it is also partially granted by the audience because they managed to be a little bit less full of lies and blatant deception than, say, the currently trending tweets, The National Enquirer, or what everyone at the bar says about [insert foreign country]. And, besides, I think the “authority” and tradition of the press does some good in itself, partially for coordinating news-reading (people like to read the same news as others) and news-investigation (people don’t like talking to every press outlet under the sun) activities, and partly for motivating its participants to aspire to something more than a party newsletter.

      When you say that journalism is inherently fraudulent, you seem to imply one can’t produce an accurate record of events. And if that’s true, what’s your proposed replacement doing? And why is it you don’t think current news organizations are doing that?

      On the other hand, I may be misinterpreting you. If I try to read you as much closer to my position (but, perhaps much farther from your intended meaning), I get something like “Some blogs are more reliable than the NYT, and I wish other people agreed.” I can agree with this statement (maybe not on which particular blogs). But they way to achieve this isn’t to pretend that seeing a fact printed in the NYT is basically no evidence about its truth.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        If you and I can’t agree that news organizations are more reliable than common gossip…

        Not to put words on Well…’s keyboard but I wonder if the disagreement here is less about the value of news organizations than the value of gossip. Depending on your life experience you might wind up with very different ideas about how reliable gossip is.

        E.G. back in the day I was friends with some 9/11 truthers, and reading the newspapers innoculated me against that meme. But nowadays I get very high-quality gossip; if I only listened to my friends I wouldn’t know about the war in Yemen and I would think that Trump is an avowed White Nationalist, but aside from that my views wouldn’t be too inaccurate/incomplete.

        • Montfort says:

          Fair enough. I’d characterize that as something closer to my alternate reading. But I wonder how much information your friends get from news organizations.

        • Well... says:

          FWIW, I don’t read the news and I usually score in the top 10% of people on the occasions when I’ve taken those “How well do you know what’s going on in the world?” quizzes. (Caveat: the last one I took was well over a year ago.)

      • Well... says:

        When you say that journalism is inherently fraudulent, you seem to imply one can’t produce an accurate record of events. And if that’s true, what’s your proposed replacement doing? And why is it you don’t think current news organizations are doing that?

        My proposed replacement is also producing an inaccurate record of events, but it isn’t hiding that fact behind an affectation. Instead, it–or rather “they”, in the form of the SMEs–are nakedly arguing, based on their professional experience, in favor of the accuracy of some record or another.

        Right now journalism is judged to be better if it pulls off a better performance of impartiality. It’s like judging scientific theories based on which ones are more popular among the “Science Fuck Yeah” crowd.

        But they way to achieve this isn’t to pretend that seeing a fact printed in the NYT is basically no evidence about its truth.

        It’s more like, the output of reporters should be treated as an industrial good or raw material, still needing refinement by people who actually know what they are talking about and who care about their reputations among others who know what they are talking about, before it passes to the end consumer.

        • Montfort says:

          Hm, okay, I’m re-evaluating how I’m interpreting your posts.

          Right now journalism is judged to be better if it pulls off a better performance of impartiality.

          Note, though, that performing impartiality requires, to some limited extent, actual impartiality. It’s part of the process that keeps news media less partial. Nor is it the only quality journalism is judged on.
          I admit that valuing the appearance of imparitiality doesn’t get us to the limits of humanly-possible impartiality, and at times even works against actual impartiality (e.g. giving time to discredited accounts or arguments to appear fair), but it’s worth something.

          There may also be an element of aesthetic preference – I prefer subtle ways of influencing my opinion over “HIGH-TAX HARRY STRIKES AGAIN.”

          It’s more like, the output of reporters should be treated as an industrial good or raw material, still needing refinement by people who actually know what they are talking about and who care about their reputations among others who know what they are talking about, before it passes to the end consumer.

          I can understand the feeling, especially on more obscure topics. But it sounds like this has a lot more to do with journalists not knowing enough about the subjects they cover than manipulative language.

          And awareness of this issue would be better served by publishing blog posts, letters to the editor, etc. of experts in the relevant field complaining about how the journalists totally mis-characterized the politics of Yemen, or somehow concluded the opposite of what the latest diet study really means (and were far too confident), or reported the maximum sentence for pending charges as if there were a real chance the defendant would get that instead of something in the sentencing-guideline-recommended range.

          [Aside, I recently read an article where they did the “maximum sentence” thing but admitted the actual sentence is usually lower. Slight progress!]

          • Well... says:

            performing impartiality requires, to some limited extent, actual impartiality

            I disagree. It’s like that famous quip (possibly not real but that doesn’t matter) where Lawrence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman were in a scene together (in Marathon Man, I think?). Hoffman showed up to set looking a mess. To paraphrase, Olivier said “My dear chap, why do you look so wretched?” Hoffman, the method actor, says “Well, my character was up all night being chased around the streets, so I stayed up all night running around in the streets too. How else would I look convincing?” Olivier: “Acting, my boy!”

            A pro can learn how to mimic something perfectly without really being that thing. He breaks it down into little pieces and learns each one. It just becomes a language he can turn on and off.

            (Note: this is very effective when you’re mimicking something established, like a villain archetype or the writing of a disinterested scholar who knows exactly what happened. Method acting has its place, e.g. for unique individual characters.)

            I don’t know, perhaps journalists are briefly introduced to empathy and rationalism techniques in J-school, but the real bread and butter of their craft is learning how to come off as impartial to the point of sounding bored. The typical SSC commenter is more impartial on any given issue than the typical journalist, and not by just a little.

            There may also be an element of aesthetic preference – I prefer subtle ways of influencing my opinion over “HIGH-TAX HARRY STRIKES AGAIN.”

            I’m saying that the subtle ways of influencing your opinion, the ways you prefer, are much more dangerous if the content of that way is non-subtle just beneath the surface. You will be disarmed by the delivery and swallow the message. (And even if you personally won’t, keep in mind the typical news consumer with his 100 IQ and 3rd-grade reading level.)

            experts in the relevant field complaining about how the journalists totally mis-characterized the politics of Yemen

            The problem is, this perpetuates the absurd idea that we should expect journalists to be able to accurately characterize the politics of Yemen. We should not. Journalism is not some kind of scholarly discipline, nor could we ever make it one.

            [Aside, I recently read an article where they did the “maximum sentence” thing but admitted the actual sentence is usually lower. Slight progress!]

            Extremely slight. The order in which information is given is super important. For 95% of readers, leaving out a fact until the 2nd half of a news story is practically the same as not including it. Journalists know this and take advantage of it, rather than try to mitigate it with other techniques (since it’s impossible to convey all the facts of a story at once anyway). That should tell you something.

          • Montfort says:

            I disagree. It’s like that famous quip[…]

            Your analogy doesn’t prove what you want it to. Regardless of whether he’s acting or not, the actor cannot appear dapper and energetic in the scene. Regardless of whether the reporter is truly impartial, he cannot do the “HIGH-TAX HARRY.” In mimicking impartiality, the better the detection capability, the more the reporter must write as if he were impartial. (That’s why I said “to some limited extent,” the audience can detect some bias but not all).
            What the reporter feels in his heart of hearts is only relevant to the extent it appears in his article (and the selection of what stories get articles, etc.).

            the subtle ways of influencing your opinion[…] are much more dangerous if the content of that way is non-subtle just beneath the surface

            Are they? Surely those who engage in overt manipulation are likely to manipulate covertly as well. Perhaps by catching the “HIGH-TAX HARRY” you are lulled into a false sense of security, not realizing you have, e.g., read critical information as the second of two sentences!

            And even if you personally won’t, keep in mind the typical news consumer with his 100 IQ and 3rd-grade reading level

            I find it hard to believe you’re trying to optimize news for the 3rd-grade reading level reader when you propose having SMEs have final say over how difficult technical topics are covered. This is one reason why reporters are more successful in the news market than SMEs: SMEs have spent years learning the material, and so are more informed and accurate; journalists have spent years learning how to write so the average reader will be willing and able to read their article.

            But, on the main issue here, see my arguments above – I think they hold for all levels of reading ability.

            The problem is, this perpetuates the absurd idea that we should expect journalists to be able to accurately characterize the politics of Yemen.

            But if people already believe journalists can and do accurately characterize difficult topics, then criticizing them about non-neutral writing style doesn’t make your case at all. It would seem the useful remedy would be to argue against them being able to cover arcane topics even in theory, or show examples of how they’re unable, or both. Subtle bias in writing has nothing to do with whether they can learn and communicate how the Krebs cycle works.

            This is like, in 1930, refusing to criticize soviet economic policy on the grounds that it legitimizes the impression they’re qualified to make policy. It’s too late, they’re already doing it and people are listening to them!

            For 95% of readers, leaving out a fact until the 2nd half of a news story is practically the same as not including it.

            Not even relevant to this example, as both of these facts were in the same half of the article, right next to each other. And since you know neither the order they were written, nor the events they described, nor the other contents of the article (nor, therefore, which order would be more appropriate), mostly what it tells me is that you like observing that choices in writing create meaning. But I knew you liked observing that already.

            Edit: quoted myself more accurately

          • Well... says:

            Regardless of whether he’s acting or not, the actor cannot appear dapper and energetic in the scene. Regardless of whether the reporter is truly impartial, he cannot do the “HIGH-TAX HARRY.” In mimicking impartiality, the better the detection capability, the more the reporter must write as if he were impartial.

            I’m not sure I understand what you mean here. Are you saying that in order to successfully imitate impartiality the reporter must have an understanding of what the impartial view would be? I’m saying that this is not necessary since impartiality in journalism is conveyed almost entirely by tone and language.

            criticizing them about non-neutral writing style doesn’t make your case at all.

            But I am criticizing them about their neutral writing style, not their non-neutral one!

            My “2nd half of the article” statement wasn’t intended to be about the specific article you referred to, just a statement about articles in general based on the point you raised.

          • Montfort says:

            I don’t know what you mean by “the impartial view” – it certainly doesn’t require or grant supernatural access to truth or anything.

            But granting sufficient ability on the audience’s part to detect bias, it does require the reporter to write as though he or she believed something supported by the facts reported, and not give undue weight to one or the other. To a lesser extent, the reporter must also not totally ignore or mischaracterize facts his audience would be likely to receive from another source (e.g. a rival organization).

            If we suppose the medium in question is text, what are we talking about besides tone and language? Are you contending people can’t detect bias in reasoning or story selection?

            But I am criticizing them about their neutral writing style, not their non-neutral one!

            Sorry, poorly phrased. I suppose that should be “non-neutral word choice and article structure.” That’s the criticism you offer in the analysis of the picture and other identified media tricks, for instance. I tend to match complaints about non-neutral writing content and structure to an implied demand the content become more impartial (that’s just what I usually hear), but that’s a mistake here, as we’ve established you see the distance between the assumed tone of impartiality and the less-than-impartial writing choices and desire the tone match the choices instead of the other way around.

            But criticizing their neutral tone also has nothing to do with their ability to handle and absorb complex information and communicate it to laypeople with minimal distortion. Whether they cover a story with faux-disinterestedness or the breathless enthusiasm of a twelve year old may determine how much you want to read the article, but I don’t see a line of reasoning connecting this tone to whether the news industry is structurally capable of covering complex and specialized topics.

            If suddenly tomorrow all reporters wrote their articles about a new kind of surgical glue in a tone you preferred, I think you would still say their content was more like unrefined material that required help from a biologist/surgeon/chemical engineer, right?

          • Well... says:

            I don’t want to beleaguer this to a third Open Thread, so I’ll try and make some concluding statements. (You’re welcome to make your own of course.)

            This is the first serious discussion I’ve had with anyone else about my ideas on journalism. As expected, some of my points might have to be walked back a bit and will require further thought. But I also feel like I’ve successfully conveyed some of my core ideas on journalism, and I at least didn’t hear you respond “That’s totally nuts.” So, it’s been validating over all.

            As you’ve correctly hinted, our discussion can be distilled down to two main complains I have about journalism:

            1. Journalism puts on an affect of disinterestedness and authority, even though journalism is full of bias and has no authority. I argue that it’s the strength of the affect, not the strength of the content, on which people judge journalism’s quality. Further, I argue that without this affect, journalism would be unrecognizable as such.

            2. Journalists themselves seem mostly quite ignorant about the topics they cover. (This criticism isn’t relevant to all journalism, but does come into play rather consistently in news that we might tend to consider very important.) It is a serious problem when this ignorance is combined with the affect of impartiality and authority mentioned above, because a lot of people are taken in by it.

            It might be true that no other system but the journalism we’ve got is more feasible for “handling and absorbing complex information and communicating it to laypeople with minimal distortion”. That’s what my question to everyone at the top of this comment thread was getting at. (I proposed a novel system, but it’s far from perfect and hasn’t been produced by natural circumstances so far anyway, which is at least a small point against it.)

            In that light, I’m not even sure I’d say that I wish the tone of journalism was changed to match its choices. Instead I think I’d rather see the public—or at least the educated, capable-of-critical-reading public, which includes just about all SSC readers—catch on to journalism, the same way they’ve caught on to emails from Nigerian princes.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Well…: have you read Neil Postman’s How to Watch TV News? Or any of his other books (I only read the one)?

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Note that the system described above is basically what already exists in the form of blogs and certain websites.

      It is also almost what already exists in the form of the New York Times! If you read an article about the latest obesity research, the journalist will list the SMEs that they consulted. The only thing missing is that you don’t get to see the actual email that the SME sent to the journalist, just a summary that the journalist wrote.

      That means getting to your preferred system would actually be pretty easy: we just need it to be a norm that NYTimes.com hosts the correspondence that went into an article (at least when they can get the SME’s permission), preferably linked to the quotes. Now that I write this out, I’m a little surprised that the system doesn’t already exist.

      Anyway, here is substitute that could be done without assuming any cooperation from the NYtimes:

      1) Create a website where people who are quoted in NYT, WSJ, Al Jazeera or whatever can submit their correspondence if they want to. (Some scientists use their blogs to do exactly this, so I think a lot would go for it).

      2) Create a browser extension that searches in the text of an article for names of people who have submitted correspondence to the website, and when the user mouses over that person’s name in the article, makes a little clickable linky thing to the full correspondence.

      • Well... says:

        That means getting to your preferred system would actually be pretty easy

        I know! I had that in mind when I designed it.

        I like your idea. The main thing that’s missing is that right now, journalism derives prestige from its affect of Impartial Mediator With Godly Insight. It will continue to perform this affectation because that’s the only thing it has going for it.

  19. johan_larson says:

    Suppose you are a medical student considering what type of doctor to become. You are not particularly concerned with pay or working conditions, but you do have some criteria: you want to work with truly ill patients, and you want to give them fully effective treatment with high probability. What sort of medicine should you practice?

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Oncology?

      • johan_larson says:

        Is the success rate high enough? Also, how many cancer patients end up with cancer as a long-term managed condition?

        • Cheese says:

          I think it’s a pretty good answer. I think with the increase in treatment efficacy over the last decade or so you can absolutely put it in that category. The answer to how many cancer patients end up with that as a long-term managed condition is now ‘lots’.

          If you extend the answer to ‘want to make a massive difference in people’s lives’ the paediatric oncology is probably even better. In that the treatments for the most common cancers are really effective now, and you’re making a massive impact in terms of QALYs. Of course, Paeds oncology comes with the downside that when it doesn’t work it is *really* bad.

          Ophthalmology would be my tentative answer. Assuming you count blindness as being ‘truly ill’. Work with rural/low SES/3rd world populations and that’s probably the best bang for buck you can get ala Fred Hollows.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          IANAD, I just felt oncology was a “go big or go home” answer. You sign up to fight the emperor of maladies.

    • Brad says:

      I think where and how you practice, and so your patient pool, is going to be as or more important than what you practice.

      But going along with the question: how about pediatric transplant hepatology? The fully effective part isn’t quite there. Even the successful transplants aren’t exactly as well off as if they never had any problem to begin with, but when it goes well the quality of life and life expectancy are quite high and the probabilities these days are also pretty high. And they are certainly truly ill when they get to the transplant surgeon.

    • beleester says:

      I’m not a doctor myself, but… Trauma surgery/ER doc? It’s hard to get more “truly ill” than someone who’s been hit by a bus or shot in the chest. AFAIK, modern medicine is really good at fixing physical trauma, so there’s a high probability that you’ll successfully save someone’s life.

      • johan_larson says:

        Don’t ER docs also spend a lot of time explaining to patients that they don’t need antibiotics for the flu and trying not to laugh when patients say they “fell” onto things ass first?

        • beleester says:

          A thing stuck in someone’s ass is still definitely a problem, and you have a very high probability of restoring them to full health by removing the thing. You didn’t say it had to be dignified. 😛

          Doing a little bit more reading, orthopedics might be a better choice if you want to fix obvious physical trauma but don’t want to deal with weirdos in the ER.

    • SamChevre says:

      If you substitute “need medical attention badly” for “truly ill”, any of the trauma-focused specialties.

      A step down–obstetrics-childbirth is generally safe, but it’s very worthwhile to have competent medical care.

  20. Deiseach says:

    Re-reading some poetry posted on my defunct blog, so here’s a poem from the Irish poet Michael Hartnett (1941-1999):

    Death of an Irishwoman

    Ignorant, in the sense
    she ate monotonous food
    and thought the world was flat,
    and pagan, in the sense
    she knew the things that moved
    at night were neither dogs nor cats
    but púcas and darkfaced men,
    she nevertheless had fierce pride.
    But sentenced in the end
    to eat thin diminishing porridge
    in a stone-cold kitchen
    she clenched her brittle hands
    around a world
    she could not understand.
    I loved her from the day she died.
    She was a summer dance at the crossroads.
    She was a card game where a nose was broken.
    She was a song that nobody sings.
    She was a house ransacked by soldiers.
    She was a language seldom spoken.
    She was a child’s purse, full of useless things.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ah well, if I gave you one, I have to give you another; Part One of his long poem “A Farewell to English”, written in 1975 when he gave up writing in English for writing in Irish (later, in 1985, he went back to English):

      FROM A FAREWELL TO ENGLISH
      for Brendan Kennelly
      1

      Her eyes were coins of porter and her West
      Limerick voice talked velvet in the house:
      her hair was black as the glossy fireplace
      wearing with grace her Sunday-night-dance best.
      She cut the froth from glasses with knife
      and hammered golden whiskies on the bar
      and her mountainy body tripped the gentle
      mechanism of verse: the minute interlock
      of word and word began, the rhythm formed.
      I sunk my hands into tradition
      sifting the centuries for words. This quiet
      excitement was not new: emotion challenged me
      to make it sayable. This cliché came
      at first, like matchsticks snapping from the world
      of work: mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach, álainn, caoin:
      they came like grey slabs of slate breaking from
      an ancient quarry, mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach,
      álainn, caoin, slowly vaulting down the dark
      unused escarpments, mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach,
      álainn, caoin
      , crashing on the cogs, splinters
      like axeheads damaging the wheels, clogging
      the intricate machine, mánla, séimh,
      dubhfholtach, álainn, caoin
      . Then Pegasus
      pulled up, the girth broke and I was flung back
      on the gravel of Anglo-Saxon.
      What was I doing with these foreign words?
      I, the polisher of the complex clause,
      wizard of grasses and warlock of birds,
      midnight-oiled in the metric laws?

      Editor’s Note: dubhfholtach = blacklocked álainn = beautiful mánla, séimh, caoin = words whose meaning approximates to the English adjectives graceful, gentle

    • Vermillion says:

      Those were beautiful, the Hartnett poem in particular reminds me of my grandma. Thanks.

      • Deiseach says:

        You’re welcome, sometimes we have to be a little irrational, and so to the poets! 🙂

  21. James Miller says:

    An exchange I just had on Facebook (where someone told me that the past has no value in predicting the future) reinforced how much I love this garden Scott has built for us. Thanks everyone!

  22. Matt M says:

    Not sure if this has been discussed previously here, but relevant to cost disease.

    The saga of a staircase in a Toronto park.

    TLDR version: Stairs were needed in a park to prevent people from falling while trying to cross a steep and slippery ledge. The city estimated the cost of the stairs to run from $60-100k and would take a year to build. A local handyman instead showed up, bought some lumber, hired a homeless guy to help him, and built functional stairs for about $500. The city tore them down, because they weren’t up to code (of course). But because of the negative PR backlash surrounding this whole thing, very quickly built new ones, and bragged that they “only” cost 10k, but apparently this figure does not include any of the labor and may actually be much higher.

    • Montfort says:

      It was mentioned in passing. Reactions were mixed.

      ETA: The information about what it eventually cost the city might be new, though.

      • Virbie says:

        > It was mentioned in passing

        There was a LOT of discussion on the subreddit, in multiple waves. It included someone’s analysis of the image and its code violations, some of which were dangerous.

        • Matt M says:

          Oh I have no doubt that a handmade staircase by a random dude and a bum is “dangerous” compared to a professionally constructed staircase.

          The relevant questions would be:

          1. Is the hand-made staircase more dangerous than people trying to manually go down the ledge without stairs?

          2. Are the safety gains from the professionally constructed staircase worth the cost (20x more expensive, at minimum)?

          • vaniver says:

            Are the safety gains from the professionally constructed staircase worth the cost (20x more expensive, at minimum)?

            It turns out damage to humans is very expensive to repair.

            But that actually makes me wonder–if we had a functional and cheap medical system, would that flowthrough to fix cost disease in lots of other places? Businesses need insurance because what if someone slips and breaks their hip and sues you for a million dollars, but if the cost of fixing a broken hip is 10k instead, then presumably the insurance becomes cheaper.

          • Matt M says:

            It turns out damage to humans is very expensive to repair.

            And?

            It’s still a relevant question.

            Are the government stairs 20x safer than the wooden stairs or aren’t they?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            Do you understand what the cost of 1 ACL repair or hip replacement is? 10K is small potatoes compared to actual damages over the course of the life of the staircase, let alone liability for the event where something really bad happens.

          • CatCube says:

            The safety gains/cost ratio is unimportant, from a legal perspective. If you make improvements over nature, the building code is a minimum standard. You cannot go, “Well, I can spend 1/2 of what is required for 2/3 the safety.” You spend 100% of what it takes to meet the required standards or you spend 0%.

            Further, for most of what was wrong with those stairs, this makes sense, because safety is basically stepwise. For example, (I’m using the US codes here, because that’s what I know, but I imagine Toronto’s is going to be broadly similar) you’re required to design a handrail to withstand 50 pounds per linear foot downward, and a concentrated load of 200 pounds acting in any direction (independently, not at the same time). Just looking at the pictures, I doubt the shoddy stairs will meet that 200 lb requirement. Which is there in the event that somebody trips and tries to catch themselves which is what any reasonable person would expect a handrail to be there for. Except here, it breaks and the person falls. So they didn’t get 50% of the protection, they got no protection.

            Generalizing, I can save a lot of money with a shitty seismic design, and me, the contractor, and the original owner can make a safe bet that we’ll all be retired or dead before it matters. Similarly, the amount of material required to support a floor is going to be directly proportional to the floor load (to a first approximation). So I can make your house cheaper by only designing it to 20 pounds per square foot, rather than the 40 pounds per square foot required by ASCE 7 (usually the source for required loads in a building code). However, it’s going to start getting really dicey when your kid holds a big house party–and this might come as a big surprise to your idiot teenager that your particular floor won’t hold up all the people he invited from the last house party in his friend’s similarly-sized house last month. So what parts of the code gets this “scalability”? No exit signs and shitty exit design can save a lot of money in construction and last for a while, as in the Ghost Ship.

            One thing I didn’t realize from the last posing was that the $65,000 figure was apparently the equivalent of a Class 5 estimate used by the US government, which makes the frothing about how they were spending all this money eye-rolling. This was apparently the first cut, done by reference to previous project, which is an eminently reasonable way to do a quick estimate without any sort of design in hand. It’s stupid to start a project without figuring out if it’s going to be a $1000, $10,000, or $100,000 project, and that’s what that kind of estimate is for.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @CatCube:

            for most of what was wrong with those stairs, … safety is basically stepwise.

            Bravo. Heh.

            Fun aside, I think your comment perfectly illustrates the nature of “cost disease”. How much should we care about people tripping, falling, and possibly breaking their legs or dying ? In the past, the answer might have been, “not too much”. Today, we have made the choice to try and prevent as many of such events as reasonably practical. We place a higher value on human lives, so our stairs cost a lot more. This isn’t an arbitrary increase in price due to some unfortunate and mysterious circumstances; it’s a very real tradeoff that our society has chosen to make. We demand more, and thus we have to pay more.

          • Matt M says:

            If you make improvements over nature, the building code is a minimum standard. You cannot go, “Well, I can spend 1/2 of what is required for 2/3 the safety.” You spend 100% of what it takes to meet the required standards or you spend 0%.

            Well that’s just like, your opinion man.

            But no, in all seriousness, government building codes are not some immutable fact of the universe. Someone somewhere arbitrarily decided that was the right mix of safety and cost. Maybe they’re really smart people and maybe their judgment is pretty good. Maybe cheaply built stairs ARE, in fact, less safe than no stairs at all.

            You could probably convince me that’s the case. But you can’t convince me that such a question isn’t even worth asking. The lack of stairs was hurting people. So the guy built some stairs. Maybe they’re worse than nothing and maybe they aren’t, but pointing out that they don’t meet proper building codes it not, in and of itself, a sufficient answer to that question – particularly since the building code does not take into account the harm done for “having no stairs at all.” I would also assume the building codes don’t take into account the opportunity cost of government funds.

            Like, you could go effective altruist here and ask the following question. Let’s say that the $500 stairs are, in fact, 100x less safe than the $10k steps. Of course, you could buy the $500 steps and spend the remaining $9500 on malaria nets, as an extreme example. (granted, this sort of thing is very unlikely in the case of the city government of Toronto, but you get my point)

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            I’m well aware of the fact that building codes are not on tablets brought down from Mount Zion. One of our senior engineers that has done work on code development is fond of saying: “Don’t ever forget that building codes are written by the kind of people who volunteer to write building codes.”

            As far as somebody being hurt there without the steps, I don’t have any particular problem with saying to somebody who fell and broke their wrist on that embankment: “Yeah, that’s super sad. But if you and your clumsy-feet can’t operate a hillside, maybe you shouldn’t fucking walk on one.” I’m a lot less sanguine with saying, “Well, you kind of have to stop and think when encountering every staircase to ensure that you can, you know, step on all parts of the steps without it overturning, and make sure to look closely at the handrail. If the handrail is sketchy, be super careful not to trip so you don’t break through while trying to arrest your fall and go over the side.” The stairs were constructed by somebody with intent, and if they’re dangerous, somebody should be held liable. The built environment shouldn’t require special knowledge to operate stairs.

            I don’t exactly like the fact that this does result in the faintly ridiculous scenario where if you have a dangerous area formed naturally you’re in the clear, but as soon as you try to improve it you’re legally liable if you don’t go all the way. But like I said, you shouldn’t need special knowledge to use a walking path, and this gets hard to figure out if you’re not working to some minimum standard. If a 250-lb person steps on and breaks the stairs, do you get to go “Yeah, we only designed it for a 240-lb person, sorry about that. However, we only felt that 240 lbs was necessary. No, I don’t know how you are supposed to know that.”

            Finally, the building codes are part of laws passed by a jurisdiction. I understand not agreeing with the laws. I actually happen to think, personally, that the Americans with Disabilities Act costs way too much money in increased building costs to be worth it. But do you know what? Congress passed it. Making minimum requirements is totally a thing they can do. Therefore, I have to make sure that buildings I work on meet the requirements of ICC A117.1 and the US Access Board, regardless of how I personally feel.

            Finally, looping back to the stairs at issue: this was a public work. If there’s just one organization that should be required to comply with the law, the government is it. I’m literally a government employee, and the thought of allowing us to just go, “Nah. I think this is too expensive, so I’m just going to blow off the requirements the politicians imposed on us,” scares the shit out of me.

            Everything I see wrong with those steps violates code issues that I think have a good reason for being there. This list is not exhaustive, but: they aren’t founded below frost depth, the handrail is insufficient for loads likely to be imposed upon it, there is an open side where somebody can fall off, the stringers are in the middle for reasons known only to the builder and God, drainage is insufficient and likely to result in rotting in short order, and I question whether the whole assemblage is globally stable (related to the stringers in the middle thing). What requirements do you think should have been relaxed? Just crossing your arms and huffing about how you feel like it should be cheaper doesn’t help.

            Also, keep in mind that I don’t think the $65,000 was any sort of detailed estimate. If I’m reading the situation right, that number came from a quick check where somebody asked about what it would cost to put stairs here, and their cost guys really quickly looked up some past projects that they thought were similar in scope and those were in the $65,000-$100,000 range. Nailing it down further than that can cost hundreds or thousands by itself, and those numbers were used to figure out if it was worth pursuing further.

          • Deiseach says:

            1. Is the hand-made staircase more dangerous than people trying to manually go down the ledge without stairs?

            Yes. Without a staircase in place, people might consider “Oh, that’s too steep/slippery for me to attempt, I’ll find another way around”. With a staircase, they’re more inclined to go “Okay great!” and then when they fall, trip or the shoddy staircase collapses under them, they’re likely to get hurt (how badly hurt depends, but you can do yourself quite a bad injury falling on stairs).

            Here’s an Irish case where an award for damages was later overturned, but the principle under which the case was brought was this (and I wonder if Canadian law has something similar):

            Ms Wall had claimed the 1995 Occupiers Liability Act imposed, when a land occupier places a structure on the land for recreational use, a duty of care to maintain that structure in a safe condition.

            You see the point? If the hill or slope is left in its natural state, there is no liability. If the council or any doofus puts up a stairs, then a duty of care is established.

          • Deiseach says:

            Matt M, go right ahead and build your $500 stairs. Then the first person who gets a splinter in their hand and falls down them will lay a claim against your insurance (you do have liability insurance, don’t you?) and if that fails, drag you into court.

            And how can you-a-homeowner be held negligent for a fall down stairs? Why, if:

            But staircases can be unsafe in many different ways, in ways that people don’t even notice. For example, the following factors, among others, can contribute to someone slipping and falling down a set of stairs:
            – a foreign substance on the stairs
            – lack of handrails or poorly designed handrails
            – risers (the height of each step) are the wrong height or are of varying heights
            – the steps are too shallow
            – poorly placed carpets or rugs on the stairs

            Certainly sounds like “poorly designed handrails, shallow steps and wrong height risers” are things that come under “not up to building code”. Go right ahead and argue in court that building codes are nothing special, I bet the judge and jury will agree with you on that one.

            This helpful site tells the injured person what kind of money to hold out for. Given how expensive American medical bills are, I sure hope you have a generous insurance policy in place to cover all eventualities!

          • Matt M says:

            You see the point? If the hill or slope is left in its natural state, there is no liability.

            Maybe it’s not a particularly great thing to maximize society around “avoiding liability.”

            You want Atlas Shrugged? Because this is how you get Atlas Shrugged!

          • random832 says:

            1. Is the hand-made staircase more dangerous than people trying to manually go down the ledge without stairs?

            You can prevent that by building a fence instead of stairs.

          • Deiseach says:

            You want Atlas Shrugged? Because this is how you get Atlas Shrugged!

            John Galt would have burned the maker of that shoddy staircase on a bonfire of the chopped-down stairs. Even though Rand’s characters are massive pains in the neck, they at least insist on competence when you’re defying authority to do your own thing. None of them would be happy with something thrown together with no idea of what you’re doing and that is liable to fall asunder the moment anyone uses it.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes. Without a staircase in place, people might consider “Oh, that’s too steep/slippery for me to attempt, I’ll find another way around”. With a staircase, they’re more inclined to go “Okay great!” and then when they fall, trip or the shoddy staircase collapses under them, they’re likely to get hurt

            This is in the same category of seat belt laws that increase traffic fatalities (not sure if they actually do, but there’s some similar statistic). Basically, people aren’t great at correctly valuing the precise increase in safety and may over compensate with the amount of risk they are willing to take–especially when they have been trained by building codes to expect a certain level of safety from construction projects in public places.

  23. OptimalSolver says:

    I’m an avid watcher of, but nonparticipant in, darknet drama.

    After this month’s takedowns of some of the biggest drug markets on the darknet, the trade is said to moving to OpenBazaar, a darling of Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

    It advertizes itself as a fully decentralized, peer-to-peer, completely unregulated market platform. It’s bitcoin operated with Tor support coming soon. No middlemen means no one is in control, and no one can stop you selling what you want to sell.

    What would the implications be of an illicit online marketplace that the authorities simply cannot close down?

    • Deiseach says:

      What would the implications be of an illicit online marketplace that the authorities simply cannot close down?

      Caveat emptor in twelve foot high flashing neon letters, for one. If no-one is in charge, there is nothing to prevent some guy conning you out of your socks and you have no recourse at all. You sent me the money and I sent you ten grams of talcum powder six months later – so what are you going to do about it?

      Granted, this is a risk even with the legit side, but that would be even riskier than walking down the street, being accosted by some guy in an alley going “psst, hey, wanna buy a genuine Patek Philippe? knock-down price!”, shoving the contents of your wallet into his hands and then getting mugged and having your identity stolen and your bank account emptied after the transaction into the bargain.

      If you’re the kind of person who is well in with a gang of leg-breakers and know how and where to send someone round to remonstrate with a vendor who has not held up their end of the bargain, I imagine you’ll do okay. John Q. Average? Not so much, even the cool Jon Q. who thinks he knows the ins and outs of this because he’s not one of the ‘normies’ and he’s too smart to fool.

      • Virbie says:

        > You sent me the money and I sent you ten grams of talcum powder six months later – so what are you going to do about it?

        Reputation? Third party reviews? The base rate for being ripped off without remuneration will be higher but most people I know who buy drugs in this way just deal with the low chance of being ripped off by bumping up their expected cost, in time/money.

        I’d imagine the real danger is getting a substance that’s _dangerous_, not ineffective. Then suddenly the variability begins to matter.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        Existing black economies (more than markets exist) tend to have eBay/Amazon-style reputation tracking, simply because it boost volume and profit for the implementors. No need to break legs.

    • beleester says:

      Authorities switch to targeting the meatspace transactions. They may not be able to directly trace a posting on the market to the seller, but no amount of electronic obfuscation will stop them from going to the post office and saying “Who’s the guy who mailed this package full of drugs?” They might seek additional legal tools to make this easier, such as laws that make it easier to search the mail for drugs. Or tighter laws on bitcoin exchanges, so that it’s hard to convert your ill-gotten coins into real money without revealing to the feds how you got it.

      Also, even if an online marketplace is 100% anonymous if used properly, I wouldn’t bet on people using it properly. For every criminal mastermind who makes a clean buy, there’s 100 people who go to /r/darknetmarkets and say “I bought some LSD and got ripped off, can someone help me get a refund?”

      (Bitcoin can be a double-edged sword in this regard, as it’s pseudonymous, but the transactions are a matter of public record. So if you don’t use tumblers or multiple wallets, the authorities only have to identify a single wallet to know everything about your purchase history.)

  24. Matt M says:

    Random thing that’s annoying me this week:

    The increasing prevalence of Facebook advertisements that start with “TURN THE VOLUME ON” in huge letters, knowing that everyone has videos muted by default because you don’t want to be blasted with noise when you’re looking over your feed.

    It just strikes me as exceedingly arrogant. The implied message is something like, “Sure, all those other ads are mindless nonsense that just annoy you, but our video is super important and you need to actually hear it!” Becomes an increasingly ridiculous proposition when 80% of the videos on your feed start saying it too…

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      Aaaand…. it’s ineffective.

      • Matt M says:

        Huh. Personally, Facebook ads are VERY effective on me. They’re basically the only kinds of ads that are. Their targeting algorithms seem quite good in that it’s pretty common for me to see ads for things that I find interesting, but never knew about or would have thought to seek out on my own. I click on FB ads fairly often (and have even ended up buying the thing a couple times) whereas I never click on banner ads on webpages.

        That said, it only works on me for small companies I didn’t know about. I’d never click on an FB ad for Pepsi. I already know what Pepsi’s deal is.

        • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

          things that I find interesting, but never knew about or would have thought to seek out on my own

          It’s likely these things were not in the P&C range of products. Special interest and/or not knowing about … disposable diapers? 🙂

          Could also be that FB ads don’t work much for products that are so interchangeable that buyers just look at price and/or easiest buying.

        • Brad says:

          The only ad I can think of, say in the past year, that directly inspired me to buy something I wasn’t otherwise going to buy was the mealsquare ad here. I bought a sampler and almost certainly wouldn’t have otherwise.

          Beyond that retargeted ads probably pushed me to buy one or two things that I had considered buying on my own, went to check out, but was on the fence about.

          SEO clearly works on me. If I google some product and amazon is the first site to come up I’m very likely to buy it there instead of checking to see how much it is at walmart or target or newegg. At least unless it is very expensive.

          I don’t know how effective pure impression ads are on me. Like you I already know what Pepsi’s deal is, but do those ads make it more likely I’ll reach for a Pepsi instead of Coke (actually I drink neither, but you get the idea) — I just don’t know either way.

          • Matt M says:

            The funniest thing was when I started reading all the silicon valley hitpieces regarding the juicero (most of which I was directed to from here), FB became utterly convinced I was interested in purchasing a juicero, and bombarded me with ads for it for weeks!

            It’s like, no, come on guys, you need a way to distinguish genuine product interest from desire to laugh at a viral story!

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s like, no, come on guys, you need a way to distinguish genuine product interest from desire to laugh at a viral story!

            Sentiment analysis based on text is hard. Sentiment analysis based on signals like “what am I searching for, reading, and clicking” is probably LOTS harder.

          • Brad says:

            Juicero could have, and probably should have, suspended their retargeting campaign for the length of the elevated traffic due to negative media attention.

            I bet ad efficiency went way down during that period.

          • andrewflicker says:

            Brad is correct, but having worked as a digital marketer myself- they even *more* should have had scripts that auto-dialed-down their retargeting/display bids as the conversion rate on them dropped to zero. Merely adequate scripts would have caught this within a few days.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Perhaps the articles actually worked as positive publicity and the conversion rate didn’t drop?

    • Deiseach says:

      This kind of nonsense is why people resort to ad-blockers, and then sites have hand-wringing messages about “oh we see you have an ad-blocker turned on, turn it off or we can’t show you this wonderful story and we’ll all die of starvation in rags because if you don’t watch the ads we make no money at all”.

      Well, if you hadn’t been greedy and shoved annoying, intrusive ads on every square centimetre of the screen and made it so that they were in the middle of what I was reading, on top, at the sides, at the bottom, and popping up everywhere, then maybe I and others wouldn’t be forced to ad-blockers. But you got greedy, and now I’m not watching or reading any of your ads. Too bad!

      • Anonymous says:

        Mmm. If only there were some way to force websites to display an amount of ads that takes up less resources (like RAM and load time) than running an ad-blocker. I’d stop using the ad-blocker in that case, since it would be in my direct interest to do so.

        • Nick says:

          Adblocker Plus has an option to allow non-intrusive ads, and a list of approved such ads. I haven’t really looked into it, but it seems to me it’s a promising way to compromise. After all, if everyone blocks all the ads then companies will presumably stop advertising, but if they simply have to tone their ads down and get rid of certain obnoxious practice, people will see their ads again.

          • Anonymous says:

            The non-intrusive ad option is the worst of both worlds. I get to run a resource-hog plugin AND see ads? No, thanks.

          • Nick says:

            Sure, it’s terrible if you don’t want to see ads even in principle (or if the approved list still has terrible ads). But if everyone thought this way, companies would have no incentive even to pay for advertising. That doesn’t seem good for the websites. Are you bothered by the ads Scott has on SSC?

          • onyomi says:

            Just a general note that if you don’t use the Chinese internet you have no idea of the heights of annoying ads can rise to.

            Although it’s true I also haven’t bothered to install a separate Chinese ad blocker on my browser, assuming it exists.

            However, as is well known, China is a much more “defect” society with respect to digital stuff and the result is terrible, so maybe allowing non-intrusive ads is a good equilibrium compromise.

            I should note that I don’t even believe in intellectual property as a concept so I could come with all kinds of justifications for piracy if I wanted, but I am not opposed to advertisers making money; I just want them to do it without being super annoying, sending me viruses, etc. and ideally without government monopolies.

            Similarly, I am not opposed to paying for content; I just don’t want it to be ludicrously expensive and come with a bunch of restrictions on usage (yeah, f- you all tv services and video players with region restrictions).

            So I do agree the better strategy is to reward those who attempt to make the experience of paying for content (including paying with your screen space) relatively easy and pleasant and reasonable so they can outcompete those who do not.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @onyomi:
            Yes, I completely agree. I’d love to have access to an online service that provided me with the following:

            * All the movie/TV/etc. content that I could reasonably want to see,
            * Encoded in a variety of formats, at least one of which achieves an excellent mix of size and quality (4K video, 5.1 audio at least)
            * Subtitles in English as well as other languages
            * A download service that will saturate my bandwidth
            * No ads, no spam, no clever tricks designed to prevent me from watching the content
            * No restrictions whatsoever on where and when I can watch the content; note that “you must always be online” is a restriction.

            I would be willing to pay a decent amount of money for such a service. Not an infinite amount, of course, but more than I pay for Netflix. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, a paid service like this does not exist. What exists instead is a massive international anti-piracy campaign, which wastes money instead of generating it.

          • Matt M says:

            Similarly, I am not opposed to paying for content; I just don’t want it to be ludicrously expensive and come with a bunch of restrictions on usage (yeah, f- you all tv services and video players with region restrictions).

            If you don’t like the terms, don’t consume the content!

            This strikes me as an insane position to take. You’re essentially demanding the right to unilaterally dictate the terms of exchange with the other party having no say in the matter whatsoever.

            It’s like saying “I don’t mind paying $5 for a loaf of bread, but if the store tries to charge $10, I just steal it, because $10 is too much and that annoys me.”

          • onyomi says:

            If you don’t like the terms, don’t consume the content!

            This strikes me as an insane position to take. You’re essentially demanding the right to unilaterally dictate the terms of exchange with the other party having no say in the matter whatsoever.

            It’s like saying “I don’t mind paying $5 for a loaf of bread, but if the store tries to charge $10, I just steal it, because $10 is too much and that annoys me.”

            I don’t see it this way because I don’t believe intellectual “property” is the same as property. If I steal your loaf of bread you no longer have it. If I use my ingredients in my kitchen to bake a loaf of bread according to your recipe, then the resulting loaf belongs to me, not you.

            Companies telling me I can’t use my internet connection on my computer to download a certain configuration of bits so that I can play them on my headphones are the ones dictating to me what I can and can’t do with my actual property because of their imagined control over a certain configuration of information. I don’t think they have a right to do that anymore than a restaurant can tell me I can’t use my ingredients in my kitchen to cook their recipe.

            I am not, however, opposed to anyone trying to monetize creativity, whether it be by directly soliciting donations or subscriptions (the patreon model) selling ads, or whatever. They can create watermarks, encryptions, and other hurdles on their content to make it harder for me to use it without paying, but I don’t believe they have the moral right to tell me how to use my computer and monitor and speakers the way someone who baked a loaf of bread has a right to set terms on whom he sells it to (but doesn’t get to dictate who can use his recipe, though he may try to keep it a secret).

            I am proposing that I like a customer-content provider equilibrium of high good will and trust over a more cut-throat, defect equilibrium. The customer can “defect” from the better equilibrium by pirating, removing the watermark, blocking all the ads, etc. etc. but the content provider can also defect by setting unreasonable terms, making super obtrusive ads, etc.

          • Anonymous says:

            Are you bothered by the ads Scott has on SSC?

            No. My ad-blocker doesn’t even recognize them as ads. So I leave them be.

            I *am* a little bit bothered by the google spyware, though. That gets blocked.

          • Matt M says:

            onyomi,

            While I disagree with the general sense of “No such thing as IP! Impossible for it to be theft!” line of thought, that’s not really what I’m objecting to here.

            I object to inconsistency. To the people who say, “Piracy is wrong, hell – even blocking non-intrusive ads is wrong, but blocking intrusive ads (with myself as the sole arbiter of what is and is not intrusive) is perfectly acceptable.” I don’t think that works. If you concede that the content provider has any right to exclude, then those rights must include the right to select not just the existence of advertisements, but the manner of them as well. If you object to the manner, your option is to not consume the content, not to find a technological work-around (i.e., an unlocked fire escape in the movie theater).

          • onyomi says:

            If you concede that the content provider has any right to exclude, then those rights must include the right to select not just the existence of advertisements, but the manner of them as well. If you object to the manner, your option is to not consume the content, not to find a technological work-around (i.e., an unlocked fire escape in the movie theater).

            I don’t concede the content provider has any right to control how I used my computer, TV, speakers, etc. Your unlocked movie theater is not analogous unless I own the theater.

            The content provider has no obligation to make his content available to me for free, like I have no obligation to share my delicious cookie recipe with you if you don’t first pay me. But if you think my price is too high, you do have the right to try to find out my cookie recipe by means other than paying me, and once you do, what you do with your own flour and eggs is your own business.

            In the realm of exchanging scarce material goods, you don’t get to take my thing if you think my asking price is unreasonable; in the realm of ideas, you do get to try to figure out my idea by other means if you think the price I’m asking to teach it to you is unreasonable.

          • Jiro says:

            But piracy doesn’t involve scarce material goods. So with your explanation it’s still inconsistent to object to piracy and not to disabling intrusive ads.

          • onyomi says:

            @Jiro

            So with your explanation it’s still inconsistent to object to piracy and not to disabling intrusive ads.

            I don’t object to piracy either, per se.

            I object to “defecting” from the content provider-content consumer relationship when the other side is being reasonable.

            And yes, I do get to decide what I think is “reasonable,” just as I get to decide what I think are reasonable terms for me to pay someone to impart to me any intangible idea or skill.

            If I really enjoy your recipes and want to incentivize you to keep making them and you only charge a relatively modest fee for your recipes and don’t make me sign something in blood saying I’ll never use your cookie recipe to make more than 50 cookies at a time, then I ought to (not saying anything about what should be legal or illegal, just what I think is good) pay you for your recipe and not try to figure out some way to get it for free.

            If, on the other hand, you charge an exorbitant fee for access to your recipes and every time I visit your page I get a virus and I have to sign a 10 page contract, etc. etc. then you’ve already defected. Which does not, of course, give me any right to demand you be more reasonable, but does, in my view, mean you are defecting from the better equilibrium, which makes me feel justified in defecting myself, since if I pay you, I reward you for defecting, and if I simply forego consumption of the content, I forego something I’d enjoy in the name of a principle I don’t believe in, namely that the producer of the idea gets to set the terms on which anyone else can use his idea, which amounts to claiming control over how other people use their real bodies and property. The producer gets to decide on what terms he himself will share the idea with you, not on what terms you might otherwise learn it, or how you will use your own property once you do.

            In some prisoner’s dilemmas, the ideal might be “never defect because be the change you want to see in the world,” or something, but the change I want to see in the world is not content consumers scrupulously choosing between accepting any terms the provider might set or else not consuming the content; the world I want is one where content consumers and producers both treat each other reasonably and with good will such that the content providers don’t have to choose between going broke or installing a million annoying security features on their content and the content consumers don’t have to choose between paying a ton of money and dealing with a bunch of limitations or else going without the content.

      • Virbie says:

        > Well, if you hadn’t been greedy and shoved annoying, intrusive ads on every square centimetre of the screen and made it so that they were in the middle of what I was reading, on top, at the sides, at the bottom, and popping up everywhere, then maybe I and others wouldn’t be forced to ad-blockers. But you got greedy, and now I’m not watching or reading any of your ads. Too bad!

        This kind of logic is universal when it comes to ad blockers, I’ve been coming across it for years and years, I’ve argued against it a million times and no one has ever had a rebuttal worth a damn. I have a lot more faith in this forum, so maybe I’ll have better luck.

        “I sneak into every movie theater because movie tickets in general are costly”
        “Wait but this place is reasonably priced”
        “NO screw them every single movie theater is owned by Mr. Movie they are all responsible for each other”

        Frankly, this strikes me as just stupid. I almost never come across sites with intrusive advertising, and I probably visit fifty different domains a day (for a variety of reasons, I spend a lot of time on computing devices). Adblock et al make it easy to block some sites and not others, and you only have to block a domain once when they’ve been intrusive to reap the benefits in perpetuity.

        I don’t have a serious problem with people who ad block per se, they’re just defectors and defectors are a dime a dozen. But arguments like these have never struck me as anything but:

        1) an infantile lashing out at an entire, nebulous group (everyone who publishes content on the internet) based on bad actors within the group

        2) a desperate attempt to preserve one’s self image as 100% moral after finding a convenient and common way to get content without compensating the creators. When I was in high school and college I used to pirate media, but I was never enough of a narcissist to axiomatically assume I was a perfect moral being and have to contort the facts to fit my actions with: “Here’s why pirating is ACTUALLY moral”. I just accepted that I wasn’t a perfect person and that this was something I would like to change about myself. The end result was that once the other side of the scale tipped a little and digital content became easily available, I haven’t pirated in years.

        (I should note that I know people who have consistent moral explanations for why they think eg pirating is okay. It’s the absence of any attempt at this that I find so off-putting)

        • Anonymous says:

          Frankly, this strikes me as just stupid.

          It is stupid.

          (I should note that I know people who have consistent moral explanations for why they think eg pirating is okay. It’s the absence of any attempt at this that I find so off-putting)

          Oh? Care to describe these explanations? Not that I don’t have some of my own, but I’m curious what others have thought of.

          • Virbie says:

            > Oh? Care to describe these explanations? Not that I don’t have some of my own, but I’m curious what others have thought of.

            They’re usually along the lines of extending “art should be free ” to “information should be free”, with the example of the majority of human history that had functionally weak IP protections. They rely on some pretty fundamentally drastic changes in assumptions about the world, but as you’d imagine, these were pretty smart people who had given it and it’s implications some thought and believed quite strongly in it.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I almost never come across sites with intrusive advertising, and I probably visit fifty different domains a day

          I’m glad you’ve avoided them, but before I adopted an ad-blocker, I didn’t. There was one advice columnist whose site ran so many ads that it repeatedly crashed my browser – and not just mine; there were similar complaints from dozens of other people in the comments section. (To her credit, she apologized and recommended that we run ad-blockers while she tried to fix things with her ad network.)

          Plus, Youtube plays thirty-second (or longer) ads at the beginning of a lot of videos. Among other problems, this horrendously breaks up playlists.

          a desperate attempt to preserve one’s self image as 100% moral after finding a convenient and common way to get content without compensating the creators.

          I don’t see any moral requirement to compensate creators per se. I’m reading your comment; you’re reading mine; do we need to pay each other for creating this content? No, nor does the third party who reads both of us without commenting himself. Even if I ask you to go to Paypal and send me some money – even if I say I expect it of everyone who reads my comment – that doesn’t change anything.

          You only have a moral obligation to pay me if (a) you’ve agreed to that up-front, or (b) the law that sets out the system of copyright says you do. When I buy a book in the bookstore, that falls under (a); when I pirate a movie, that breaks (b); when I block ads on a website, that doesn’t violate either.

          • Matt M says:

            What about implicit agreement?

            When you go to a restaurant, sit down, and place your order, you may or may not have looked at the menu and read the prices for the product. But even if you didn’t, you receive a bill. You cannot then leave and say “Wait, I never agreed to pay you for this food, I just asked for food and you gave it to me! That’s your problem, not mine!”

            I would say sites that use advertising are offering an implicit agreement that the content is made available to you for free, conditionally upon your viewing the advertisements. The case for this becomes even stronger if the site in question offers any sort of subscription or option to pay money to remove ads, or specifically requests that you disable your adblocker.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            I would say sites that use advertising are offering an implicit agreement that the content is made available to you for free, conditionally upon your viewing the advertisements.

            Is this customary anywhere? Or a law anywhere? If so, I’d expect it to come with the burden of a reasonable quality of service (tracking-free or at least explicitly stated, malware-free as technically possible, for example).

            Why not the other way round? “I take notice of your opinion on the condition that you leave me alone with everything else”?

          • Evan Þ says:

            But, as with so many social norms, we need to make sure it is truly implicit to everyone rather than just assuming “Of course everyone must see these implications!” A restaurant lists prices on the menu, and every restaurant does things in roughly the same way (unless they make things even more explicit by asking for payment up front.) If someone’s trying to sell brownies from a table in front of church, that’s different – people might reasonably expect those brownies are free, so he needs to tell them up front that they aren’t rather than just ask for payment afterwards.

            I think websites are closer to the second example. If there isn’t indeed a social norm that web pages should be free, at least there’s no norm the other way.

          • Brad says:

            @TheEternallyPerplexed @Evan Þ
            Just as a test of how far apart we are in terms of intuition: do you think there’s a implicit agreement to tip somewhere north of 10% when going to a restaurant and receiving at least adequate service?

            (If either of you aren’t in / from the US disregard.)

          • Matt M says:

            at least there’s no norm the other way.

            They certainly seem to be trying to establish one. The large unavoidable “PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR ADBLOCKER” screens and the ad-blocker-blockers don’t seem to be getting any less popular.

            A site that is deliberately asking you to turn off your adblocker strikes me the same as a guy selling brownies in front of the chuck asking for money. The fact that he doesn’t call the cops on you or chase you down and beat you up if you take some brownies without paying does not mean that you’re morally justified in doing so.

            Many sites make it quite clear that they don’t want you to use adblockers. The fact that you can find one that works anyway doesn’t strike me as significantly different than sneaking into the movies. It’s clear that you’re supposed to pay money and buy a ticket, just because you can avoid that process doesn’t mean you are justified to do so.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Brad, yes, when it’s a sit-down restaurant where they bring the food to your table (i.e. not fast food or fast-casual), unless they say otherwise. I would very much like the convention to change, but that’s the convention.

            @Matt M, that’s a good point, but I think a request to turn off ad blocker is more like a tip jar. If they actually take measures to stop you from just clicking through to the page (or whatever), that’s another thing.

          • Virbie says:

            > I’m glad you’ve avoided them, but before I adopted an ad-blocker, I didn’t. There was one advice columnist whose site ran so many ads that it repeatedly crashed my browser – and not just mine; there were similar complaints from dozens of other people in the comments section

            I wasn’t saying this to claim that intrusive ads are a problem for Noone. I was saying that if it exists for me, clearly this strawman if an unusable internet is bulshit. Especially because I specifically mentioned a strategy of blacklisting a domain if their ads suck. (its not something I’d personally do for moral reasons, but at least shows an attempt to be an adult about the situation).

            > Plus, Youtube plays thirty-second (or longer) ads at the beginning of a lot of videos. Among other problems, this horrendously breaks up playlists.

            Dude really? YouTube has a specific subscription product designed for those who like using it for music which turns off all advertisements and comes with their All Access music product (eg Spotify). Like are you trying to parody your own argument? Do you justify shoplifting everywhere with how inconvenient paying for goods is?

            Not to mention that 30 second unskippable ads only play in content longer than ten minutes.

          • Leit says:

            I gave up and grabbed an adblocker when WoWHead started handing out virii.

            WoWHead is basically an extension of Blizzard at this point, and is host to a lot of very hard to find information. However, they got steadily more aggressive with their advertising to the point where their site became literally unusable and where leaving it open in the background would run through some users’ data caps if it was left open overnight.

            This, though, was on top of a persistent lack of action in blocking ad providers who redirect to malicious sites or load straight-up malware.

            WoWHead offers a neat, cheap ad-free solution, but pushing that as a solution to actual technical issues with usability turned me off using them entirely, despite their excellent content and features.

            A lot of gaming sites are similar – the Wikia network loads video ads like a motherfucker, gamepedia had a reputation for installing rootkits for a while there, etc etc. And those neat tracking ads that are “just ensuring content is relevant” just love to spam gamers with enormous, obtrusive autoplay video ads for the latest AAA fuckfest wherever you go. So depending on your interests, yes, the internet is in fact borderline unusable without an adblocker. And I say this as someone who conscientiously pays regularly for Free to Play games, buys games through Steam/GoG and books through Amazon/Audible, etc.

            It’s not the cost of entry, it’s the gratuitous slap in the face of being served a pile of shit on the side of whatever tidbit I actually wanted.

          • Matt M says:

            wowhead is the fucking worst

            I keep ranting at them in their forums about this and they keep denying it. It’s the only “good” site I’m familiar with that has become virtually unusable due to ads.

            That said, my personal solution is “stop using it” rather than finding a better adblocker (the basic one I have doesn’t seem to work there)

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Yup, Wowhead is the threshold that got me to really start looking at adblock options. The site is basically nonfunctional otherwise. Every so often user rage will flare up on Reddit, the Wowhead admins will come up with some excuse for why it’s not their fault and it’s an unavoidable consequence of providing high quality content to us, and also it’s really cheap to pay them to not have to see ads, so it’s really our fault for not doing that. I suspect this cycle will never end.

            I tried just ignoring their site for a while, but as a shared database of all the things in the game, there really isn’t any alternative for accumulated community information. A lot of the specs have their highest-quality guide hosted there too.

            If you’re having trouble with Wowhead even through an ad blocker, it’s probably the specific ad blocker you’re using. Adblock Plus appears to have made a compromise position with advertisers, and the results of this is that it doesn’t block any of the things it needs to on Wowhead’s site. uBlock Origin works fine, although I believe I had to configure it a little before I got full functionality back (pages and comments worked fine, but some of the stuff like the talent calculator was loading from a secondary address that uBlock thought was ad-related).

          • Leit says:

            The real crown jewel of WoWHead is the user comments. X/Y co-ords are nice and all, but that guy who posts “to find this NPC/item/etc, first go to the hidden cave at [completely different co-ords], light the incense in the side rooms, then /dance with the plantpot” – that guy is the hero everyone using the site adores. It’s nearly indispensable at patch time.

            That said, as stated above, my solution was in fact to stop using the site entirely.

            Wikia, despite its flirtations with malware, hasn’t gotten as bad yet. Nothing has, except maybe whatever caused a bunch of reddit subs to start banning content from Tumblr because of predatory ads. Not entirely sure what happened there, and it could be less harsh than it looks, but seeing banners at the top of a bunch of subs essentially saying “lol nope your pc will get teh aids” is not a good look.

          • Bugmaster says:

            FWIW, I just tried browsing WoWHead with uBlock Origin and NoScript, and it appears to work fine. I had to whitelist “wowhead.com” in NoScript, of course.

          • Deiseach says:

            banning content from Tumblr because of predatory ads

            Yahoo are trying the devil and all to monetise Tumblr, and this is one of the results. In fact, it was because of the new push to have all-singing, all-dancing ads on every square pixel on Tumblr that I was eventually forced to install the adblocker, after years of “sure ads are annoying but it’s the price I pay for subscription-free content” on my part (part of the reason I don’t feel that I am morally the same as a thief or pirate for now blocking ads).

            Big difference after installing it between using Tumblr on my computer and on my phone, and big difference with other sites. I honestly would have installed an adblocker years earlier if I’d know how much it would improve the experience.

        • Deiseach says:

          Virbie, for years I resisted using ad-blockers and only resorted to one out of pure desperation when one particular site drove me to it; they had been slowly increasing their ad content over time and the last straw was when they put something on their page where the ad followed your scrolling. Not content with the usual sidebar ads, “recommended for you” ads, and “sponsored content”, this was a new feature that finally broke this camel’s back.

          Imagine trying to read an article or a INSERT AD HERE post where every time you move to a new paragraph INSERT AD HERE you find extraneous and unwanted content INSERT AD HERE popping up, and not alone in one piece INSERT AD HERE but every time you move down the page INSERT AD HERE.

          Naturally, they made turning this off as difficult as possible, to the point that I found their “suggestions” impossible to implement. So out of desperation I loaded an ad-blocker.

          And you know what? I’m not one bit sorry or regretful. Now I can actually read a piece on any website without being shilled for cars, holidays, bank loans, apartments, fashion and expensive gew-gaws that I have neither the interest nor the money for. Scott has sponsored content on the side bar and doesn’t stick INSERT GOD-DAMN ANNOYING INTRUSIVE AD in the middle of every paragraph of his posts.

          My point is that I don’t feel guilty or that I’m stealing or defecting or whatever; I only resorted to an ad-blocker as last resort. If businesses take a lesson from that and row back on the most intrusive and hectoring ads, then I’ll probably turn it off. But not until then. They drove me to this, and if they want me to come back and entertain their ads, they have to fix it.

          EDIT: Oh, and as TheEternallyPerplexed mentions below, I’ve had some serious virus infections from unwanted ads – not the usual “what do you expect if you clicked on a porn site?” thing, but really nasty and deep-rooted infections that noticeably affected the performance of my computer, I have reason to believe one of them hacked an email account (certainly messages were sent out from that account to my contacts that I never sent, so that was more time and effort warning my contacts not to open the goddamn email and to check if they’d been infected, as well as informing the email service about the hack), and that caused me considerable wasted time and effort in downloading various anti-virus and malware detection tools, trying to find where these things were lurking, deleting them both manually and by running three different anti-virus products, having to reboot and do the whole damn procedure all over again – so no, so long as businesses are happy to take money from third parties that are about as secure as a colander when it comes to protecting my computer from infection, the ad-blocker is here to stay as far as I’m concerned.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Deiseach, FWIW, personally I switched from AdBlockPlis to uBlock Origin, since it uses fewer resources.

            However, if you’re ready to take the next step into internet apostasy, you might want to consider NoScript. It completely disables Javascript, except for those few hosts that you choose to whitelist. Out of the box, this makes most websites completely unusable; but this can be easily fixed by whitelisting their scripts (while blacklisting any of the third-party scripts they may have chosen to run). In my experience, a typical site has one or two script hosts that are needed to render it properly (typically, “somesite.com” and “somesitecdn.com”), and about 8..10 script hosts related to ads/spam/more ads/phishing/ads about phishing/etc.

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t think adblocker use is analogous to sneaking into a movie theater. I don’t even think it’s analogous to software piracy, although that’s somewhat closer.

          A movie theater is a central example of a business selling a service. When I buy a movie ticket, I am entering into a contract with that business whereby I give them money and they give me the opportunity to sit in a big room they own while a movie they have distribution rights for is playing. Sneaking in the back is not breach of contract, because I didn’t enter into a contract, but it is trespassing, and because of that they’re within their rights to throw me out, or to pursue other legal options.

          Software piracy is a little sketchier. There’s more gray area because there’s no scarce resource like theater seats that I’m taking up if I pirate an application, and because there is less clarity about what types of EULAs and enforcement mechanisms are conscionable. So I’m less satisfied with the state of the law, but it’s fairly clear that by engaging in piracy I’m doing something wrong, if only because I’m necessarily benefiting from someone else’s breach of contract.

          Turning an adblocker on is something else again. I almost certainly don’t have a contract with the site owner, and I’m not benefiting from anyone else’s malfeasance either. I am just choosing not to render some bits that I’m getting for free. They’re within their rights to attempt to detect this and to pester me about it, of course. And if they put up a splash page saying that permission to use the site is conditional on turning off my adblocker, then using one would be wrong. But just using an adblocker full stop is not.

          • Deiseach says:

            Using the movie theatre analogy, using an adblocker is not like sneaking into the theatre without paying for a ticket, it’s choosing not to buy the popcorn/sweets/soft drinks on offer there.

            It seems to be that the real money is made not from ticket sales but from concessions, and the prices reflect that. When I were a lad (as it were) cinema owners often protested vigorously against people bringing their own snacks in with them instead of buying the overpriced ones on offer. And yeah, you know what? Sometimes I did buy sweets in a shop beforehand and smuggle them in in my pockets, because I didn’t have enough money to both pay for a ticket and pay the prices for the drinks and snacks sold. (Other times I’d just do without snacks or drinks).

            So as far as I’m concerned, the “turn off your ad-blocker” and the “this is just like theft and piracy!” appeals are the same as demands that you MUST buy popcorn and soft drinks while at the movies. No. I went to see a film, not to buy snacks. If I choose to sit here and not eat anything and not buy your over-priced goods, as long as I’ve bought a ticket to see the movie (and am not, for example, filming it on my mobile phone to put it up for torrenting later), then I’m not doing anything wrong.

            I refuse to accept that I am COMPELLED to buy snacks or else when I go to the cinema. Same with intrusive ads. Even with an adblocker, I see plenty of ads on websites (for instance, none of Scott’s sidebar ones are blocked); I just don’t get the SHOVED IN MY FACE ones, and that should be enough for the websites until, as I say, they sort themselves out on the matter of sticking ads in every spare space, including the middle of articles.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m willing to accept your “smuggling in snacks” analogy as a compromise.

            The theater makes it clear that, if you want to eat on their property, you must purchase their snacks. Everyone concedes they have a general right to do this, and they make it obvious that this is their preferred policy. If you’re openly carrying a bag of snacks, they will refuse you entry.

            That said, they don’t engage in intrusive pat-downs of every customer, because people would hate that. This doesn’t mean that they don’t mind if you bring snacks in, just that it’s not worth it for them to use the maximum means available to enforce their rules.

            Using an ad-blocker is similar. It’s wrong and you shouldn’t do it, but on the list of moral offenses, it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down there.

            Full disclosure: I have an ad-blocker installed on my browser right now. I don’t know what the issue is but it doesn’t seem to actually work much of anywhere anymore. I haven’t gotten around to uninstalling it. The fact that I occasionally block ads doesn’t make it morally acceptable though.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I resisted adblocking until a site I read started making the site unusable with a moving ad that covers the content. I don’t believe in any moral obligation to read the ads on a website, but as long as they weren’t too intrusive I was willing to put up with them. You can object to the “universal” logic, but the reason it’s universal is because it’s true. Remember that during the “punch the monkey” era, a certain Internet search company made a LOT of money by following the principle “We believe that advertising can be effective without being flashy.” Google’s example really pushed back on the horrible ads, but as time has gone on they’ve come back (and Google itself mostly abandoned its principles, for that matter), and adblockers are a good way to push back.

          Piracy is a different matter. Piracy is moral because the RIAA and MPAA (and ASCAP and BMI and SESAC and even the BSA — Business Software Alliance) are the enemy, rent-seeking (see Eldred v. Ashcroft) monsters who seek to have people imprisoned for writing code which executes on their own computer and to maintain a monopoly on creative work via abusive DMCA takedown notices. It’s not so much piracy as privateering… perhaps The Pirate Bay should issue letters of marque.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        My reason to block is that ads are
        a) used for tracking, allowing later data aggregation and profiling, which I deeply despise,
        b) are a frequent malware vector that nobody is interested in closing (the page serving company cannot be held responsible – the externally served ads come from a third party; the ad-buying company neither – does not serve the actual data to the reader; the ad-serving company is not the direct partner of the page viewer – cannot be sued by affected party), and
        c) are just getting more and more distracting; fighting brainfuzz gets increasingly tiring and makes me leave otherwise interesting pages.

        The industry has to effectively remedy on all three counts before I stop blocking. Meanwhile I donate to worthy sites.

        An adblocker sorting things out or just hiding does not prevent enough of a) or b). To not even have bad stuff loading on my machine, I block with a hosts file that sends requests for ads (and other sh*t, too) to IP 0.0.0.0. Here is an explanation and great source. The technique is also usable on a smartphone (Android: add URL to Adaway). Even manual updating on a PC is easy and not really often needed.
        You might want to compare loading times with the browser’s developer tools before/after installing.

        Interestingly, Scott’s ads here are not blocked, they behave nicely enough to not have shown up on any relevant blocklist.

        • Deiseach says:

          Interestingly, Scott’s ads here are not blocked, they behave nicely enough to not have shown up on any relevant blocklist.

          Ditto; Scott’s civilised ads should be the new industry standard 🙂

      • beleester says:

        Generally if a website asks, I’ll turn off my ad blocker and give them a chance to show me how non-intrusive they are. If I see one single solitary pop-up, the ad blocker goes back on, but I’ll at least give them a chance.

        • Matt M says:

          Why? What is the moral justification for blocking pop-up ads other than “I don’t like pop-up ads”

          How is that different from sneaking into a movie theater under the justification of “I don’t like giving someone $10 to see a movie”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Why does there need to be further moral justification for blocking pop-up ads? Where did I acquire a duty to (allow my browser to) render them?

          • Matt M says:

            When the content provider says (or, I would suggest, even implies/politely asks) that there is.

            If you’re going to dinner at a friend’s house and they ask you to pick up a bottle of wine, you probably have no “duty” to do so. But you’re a jerk if you don’t, and the friend will probably stop inviting you to dinner. And when they stop inviting you, you sure as hell aren’t entitled to sneak into their house and eat the dinner anyway.

          • The Nybbler says:

            They can’t place an obligation on me that easily. They certainly aren’t my friend. They’re free to stop responding to my “GET http://www.adfilledsite.com/ HTTP/1.0\r\n” with content, but that’s as far as it goes. I could as easily (and as justifiably, or not) claim that if I download and render their ads, they have an implied obligation not to make them annoying (for some well-specified version of “annoying”).

          • beleester says:

            I’m attempting to support websites that provide an enjoyable, non-obnoxious user experience. If the websites that use pop-ups go out of business as a result, well… that’s not much of a loss in my book.

            How is it different? Well, it’s legal, for one. If they want to put up a paywall and make it a requirement that each visitor gives them $X, then they could do that, and I wouldn’t try to circumvent it. If they want to make it free to view and try to get their money through another channel, they get to play by the rules of free content.

            Is it immoral to show up at the theater late so you don’t see the previews? Is it immoral to rent a movie for free from the library?

          • John Schilling says:

            Why? What is the moral justification for blocking pop-up ads other than “I don’t like pop-up ads”

            The thing displaying the pop-up ads is a chunk of silicon that belongs to me and I alone get to decide what functions it will perform. If someone else decides that my computer should perform functions useful to them against my will, that is very near to theft.

          • Deiseach says:

            Matt M, it’s not like sneaking into a movie theatre without paying for a ticket. It’s like going out to the bathroom during the interval when they’re running commercials instead of staying in your seat to watch them.

            When watching a TV programme, have you ever channel-surfed during a commerical break instead of religiously sitting through all the ads? When reading an article in a newspaper or magazine, have you ever skipped ahead to “cont. on page 19” instead of reading every word of the ad content dividing the article in two? Ever fast-forwarded a DVD past the ads to get to the film quicker?

            If you’ve ever done any of these heinous acts, I have as much right to cry “Piracy!” and “Sneak thief!” at you 🙂

            I’m not objecting to advertising content as such, I am objecting when it’s 95% ads to 5% content and the ads are increasingly obtrusive, annoying and cannot be closed down until you’ve listened to/clicked on the ‘yes tell me more’ part of them.

          • Matt M says:

            If you’re trying to prove me a hypocrite who is not in 100% compliance with his own moral principles then fine, okay, I readily concede that.

            I’d also state that television companies have never made any serious attempt to prevent channel surfing (mainly because rating agencies can’t tell if you’re doing it, whereas online banner ads can tell if you’re not clicking). Shows have never had segments where Jerry Seinfeld personally asks me to stick around for the ads, because they are very important to his ability to continue to produce the show.

            If you want to defect, then defect, but you don’t get to claim moral superiority here. You especially don’t get to claim sole unilateral authority to decide where the line between “acceptable advertising” and “unacceptable advertising” actually is. Either you have a moral obligation to view ads or you don’t. But there is no logical justification for you to be able to say “I have a duty to view simple non-flashy ads that stay in one spot but no duty to view ads that flash or play sound or follow me around the page.” That’s just completely and totally arbitrary – and I DO, in fact, consider it akin to saying “You have a duty to pay for movie tickets if they’re $5, but if the company charges $7.50, then you have the right to sneak in.”

          • Deiseach says:

            If you want to defect, then defect, but you don’t get to claim moral superiority here.

            I’m not trying to claim moral superority or moral anything here, and I don’t get where you get that. All I’m claiming is that I personally do not feel any moral obligation to watch, read or otherwise entertain ads that I find obtrusive, annoying, inconvenient, and actively harmful to my computer.

            You want to try and machete your way through a webpage full of INSERT AD HERE! POP-UP THERE! TURN UP THE VOLUME! CAN’T TURN ME OFF! AUTOPLAYING SOUND WITH NO OFF BUTTON! IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PAGE! IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PIECE! HEY THE LATEST IS ZOOMING UP FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN TO COVER HALF THE THING YOU’RE TRYING TO READ! ALL THE TIME, ALL THE PLACES!, then good luck to you, but I’m not going to be a masochist about it.

            You especially don’t get to claim sole unilateral authority to decide where the line between “acceptable advertising” and “unacceptable advertising” actually is.

            I damn well get to decide where it is for me, on my device when I am using it. I’m not trying to decide for you, him, them or it. You want to let the ads through, you go for it. But don’t try and lay moral defalcation at my feet, because I don’t care and I don’t accept it.

            It rather appears to me that you are the one laying down moral duties and absolutes on others with the finger-wagging about piracy, theft, and the duty to suffer these intrusions.

          • Brad says:

            Then we get no more paid content creation because everyone decided for herself that free riding is okay. Many of them when you ask say “oh that’s fine with me, I’ll go knit instead.” But then you have to wonder, why aren’t they knitting right now instead of reading an article on slate.com with an ad blocker?

          • Deiseach says:

            reading an article on slate.com with an ad blocker

            If I ever start of my own free and uncoerced will to read articles on Slate, with or without an ad blocker, you guys have permission to shoot me.

            As for the rest of it, your excellent arguments are about as convincing to me as gay conversion therapy. You will pry my adblocker off my PC only in front of my flabby dead corpse 🙂

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Either you have a moral obligation to view ads or you don’t.

            Why? Why can’t it be a spectrum? Why can’t I have a moral obligation to support people that aren’t backdooring viruses onto my machine but no obligation to suffer those that do?

          • Spookykou says:

            A lot of this seems to revolve around the idea that people can’t just renegotiate in situations that they think are not fair, but I think that is a pretty standard and accepted practice.

            I am not a lawyer(I have no legal expertise(or any other kind of expertise)) but I am under the impression that contracts can be deemed unreasonable/illegal and in such a case a judge can adjust the terms to meet relevant standards or possibly throw the contract out completely.

            If explicitly written and signed contracts can be thrown out by a judge for failing to be ‘reasonable’. Then an implied obligation to observe ads to support content creation can be thrown out by a much lower judge(me) for failing to be ‘reasonable’.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If I ever start of my own free and uncoerced will to read articles on Slate, with or without an ad blocker, you guys have permission to shoot me.

            I agree completely, but it breaks my heart. When Slate opened for business, it was really interesting. It had an advice column written pseudonymously by Herb Stein, for heaven’s sake!

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            If you want to defect, then defect, but you don’t get to claim moral superiority here.

            The other side defected first. They can coordinate centralized tracking systems that show ads that reflect your browsing patterns, but they can’t prevent virus ads, extremely annoying ads, etc? Please. They made their bed…

            The story of ad blocking is a good example of libertarianism failing. The ad people benefit from being a bit more annoying (to increase their conversion rate) and put in less effort (to lower their costs) than the competition and their customers are not the ones who deal with the aggravation (for the most part). Simultaneously the annoyance to the website visitors is death by a thousand cuts, rather than any single major violation and gets weighed against the value that the website provides so punishment by the website visitor against web sites can’t really work.

            So you have a death spiral that could be avoided by doing the logical thing: have some basic rules to govern minimum standards. According to the David Friedmans of the world, this would happen or people wouldn’t consider it important enough, yadda, yadda, yadda.

            Yet it doesn’t happen and we do get the death spiral because of coordination problems.

          • Matt M says:

            According to the David Friedmans of the world, this would happen or people wouldn’t consider it important enough, yadda, yadda, yadda.

            Yet it doesn’t happen and we do get the death spiral because of coordination problems.

            What death spiral? Of course it happens. While there’s no universal standard of ads, it seems quite evident to me that “ad intrusiveness” is generally inversely proportional to the quality of content and reputability of the organization in question. There’s a really good reason that malware and hijacks and pop-ups were long associated with porn sites, illegal download sites, etc. Going a step further, autoplay videos and “ads that follow you around the screen” seem mostly the providence of clickbait or “not entirely genuine facts” sites.

            I almost like this as a separate dimension on which I can evaluate the quality of a source. Any site that uses disruptive advertising is probably a bad source that I’m better off avoiding (which I do). As do many.

            Then, at the far end of the spectrum, you have places like SSC, where ads are minimal, non-disruptive, and relevant but not individually targeted, and the content reigns supreme.

            All of these options exist for different people to pick and choose based on their own individual preferences. Failure mode? Death spiral? This is the market working exactly as intended.

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            It’s a bit late to back out once you have popups that trigger popups or when a virus has already been installed. Safe browsing means wearing the condom using the ad blocker until you are fairly sure that the sex partner site is safe.

          • Matt M says:

            I have yet, in my life, to receive an actual virus via advertising. Pop ups are annoying, but you can close them. Hijackers can be scary, but if you keep your cool and don’t give into their demands, you can usually get out of it with a Ctrl-Alt-Del and close the browser from the task manager.

          • Deiseach says:

            I have yet, in my life, to receive an actual virus via advertising.

            I was blasé about that, too (“hey I never open emails from unknown addresses, click on links on dodgy pages, visit porn sites, and I have good anti-virus and anti-malware programmes installed which I regularly run, these are not a big deal as long as you’re sensible”) for years until it happened to me twice.

      • Rosemary7391 says:

        I started blocking ads when I had a bug that caused flash to crash my computer. That’s long since fixed, but I keep it on to avoid ads slowing my computer down and the sorts of ads that insist you click to close or otherwise try to trick you into interacting (I have more than once attempted to click on a legit link only to accidentally click on the ad that just appeared – this is a particular problem on mobiles where click and scroll aren’t well separated and connections are slow).

        I have the whitelist automatically enabled, and I try disabling it on sites I frequent that are ad supported, but I have a low tolerance for anything annoying. I’d rather pay a subscription or make a donation. How much money do they get from 1 view of a page anyway, if no clicks on ads?

        Interestingly, I think Scott’s ads are the only ones I ever clicked through and bought something from. It doesn’t need to scream at you, it needs to be a decent product that I didn’t know about already.

    • Well... says:

      To me it’s not “arrogant,” it’s just that I can envision the sweaty roided out marketing grad who came up with the idea to add that text, and I don’t want to help him out in any way.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      knowing that everyone has videos muted by default

      Do people set it to mute, or does Facebook default to mute? Maybe most people don’t know that Facebook ads have sound and this is an effective way of informing them?

  25. onyomi says:

    I’ve been thinking lately about a phenomenon which I’ve known about for a while, but which may be more prevalent than I’d realized; not sure if there’s a name for it or something:

    Basically, it’s a situation where two or more parties convince almost everyone else they are in an adversarial relationship, but there’s actually no reason to believe they would be, given existing incentives. Maybe the Br’er Rabbit and briar patch relationship we might call it.

    The most prominent example to my mind is the system of “checks and balances” we’re supposed to have. The different branches of government in the US are theoretically supposed to check the others’ powers. For example, since Congress has the power to wage war, they should jealously guard that power and not let the President just wage wars without declaring them, right? Yet, why would they jealously guard this power? The Supreme Court should not just find whatever laws the Congress and POTUS pass to be constitutional because they are the ones entrusted with the sacred duty of interpreting the Constitution and wouldn’t want its intent abused, right? But why should they? What incentive do they actually have to try to hold the other branches accountable in this way? Quite the contrary, don’t all the branches largely have an incentive to cooperate to increase each others’ power, since their powers do not exist as a zero-sum game?

    The other one libertarians like to complain about is regulatory capture: government is imagined to regulate and “hold accountable” corporate power. Those in favor of regulated capitalism tend to argue that the government can step in to check the abuses we’d presumably see on an unhampered market. Libertarians often point out that actually donations, lobbying etc. cause politicians not to check corporate power as they’re supposed to. And then everyone wrings their hands and says “next time we’ll elect some new people who aren’t a bunch of corporate schills and they’ll really show those fat cats who’s boss!” The question I almost never see asked is “why would we even expect government and big business to exist in an adversarial relationship in the first place? What incentive does either group have to hold the other accountable rather than just cooperating to increase their mutual power, wealth, and influence?”

    You might say, “ah, but if the voters perceive the politicians are not properly regulating business abuses, they will vote them out, so the politicians do have an incentive to regulate big business.” But this assumes the voters are paying attention. They mostly aren’t. Certainly not nearly so much as the people who stand to lose or gain by a new regulation. Why won’t the politicians simply make a big show of regulating business while actually catering to the needs of the people who are paying close attention and funding their campaigns?

    Put more broadly, I think one of the safest positions you can get into in society is to have a designated somebody who everyone believes is there to keep you honest, but who actually has no reason to keep you honest and would just as soon cooperate with you to take advantage of the fact no one’s looking. I feel like this phenomenon may be more widespread than the above two examples, and I’m not sure why it so often goes overlooked.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Definitely a huge deal. In fact, such a big deal that maybe the real question is why check-and-balance systems work at all. Which they do: sometimes the health department really does shut down a restaurant, sometimes the courts really do stop an executive action.

    • Matt M says:

      But why should they? What incentive do they actually have to try to hold the other branches accountable in this way?

      If I’m remembering the federalist papers correctly, I believe the theoretical idea at the time was that we should assume everyone is trying to become King, and that everyone will constantly be scheming attempts to attain 100% power for themselves.

      If you assume this, then “checks and balances” makes sense. Legislative won’t let Executive become King because then Legislative cannot be King themselves.

      But if the people involved are willing to share the kingly power so long as they still have significantly more power than the average dude, then you open the door to collusion as you describe, and the framework collapses.

      • onyomi says:

        Maybe one way to put it is: solutions intended for a zero-sum world don’t work in a non-zero-sum world. I’m not sure political and/or financial power were ever zero-sum, but they might have been much more nearly so in a world where they depended heavily on control of land.

        Or, like the saying “generals fight the last war,” we might say our now 200+-year old political system is still designed to prevent the abuses of absolute monarchy and even, to a lesser extent, feudalism.

        • Matt M says:

          Yes, I think that’s right. If the #1 priority of the U.S. Constitution was to prevent the emergence of an absolute monarch, then it’s done a pretty okay job at that (although the Lincoln and FDR administrations were pretty much there, both fortunately were brought to abrupt ends).

          If the goal was to preserve basic freedoms *against all conceivable threats*, it has done a much poorer job, imho. But back in the 18th century, the only threat anyone probably considered was “someone will take over and become King” so that’s what it was designed to protect against.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      The separation of powers in the US Constitution were always in something of an awkward position. The inspiration (the separation of powers in the contemporary UK system) was something the Framers knew they couldn’t really replicate. They understood that Commons, Lords, and Crown actually represented separate interests, because of the complex nature of British society vis a vie American society at the time. They conceived of their own society as ‘simpler’ (no landed aristocracy, no monarch — and yes, the owners of thousands of acres and hundreds of human beings did not see themselves as a landed aristocracy in the same way that members of the House of Lords were a landed aristocracy), with no distinct interests to represent in such a way.

      So they fudged it. The Senate being chosen by the state governments at longer, distinct intervals from the House was supposed to change the character (and thus, presumably, the interests) of the Senate enough to make it represent a sufficient check. Similarly, the differences in how the two houses of Congress were chosen versus how the President was chosen was supposed to do something similar.

      The courts were genuinely not conceived of as a fully equal part of the separation, although there was some awareness that the design of the Supreme Court was ‘dangerous’ to this conception.

      Also, the whole system really was designed with individuals in mind. The Founders really were surprised and disappointed as a party system formed (or, as they formed a party system) and the Constitution was not designed to handle it.

    • I think this is especially true if the parties involved are purely self-interested. If you introduce at least a little compassion or sense of duty, then it’s worth it to make small efforts to discipline game-theory defections from the public interest, and a separation of powers can start to work. Otherwise you’re always going to get A and B ganging up to punch C to get their lunch money.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      “Controlled Opposition?”

  26. Autistic Cat says:

    I think we should declare that facts have no moral implications. Hence there is no way a factual statement can ever be placed under moral scrutiny.

    • Autistic Cat says:

      One implication of my statement is that facts can never be racist, sexist, Satanic, Zionist, anti-Zionist, Jewish, antisemitic, feminist, antifeminist, misogynic, whatever. Facts are independent of values. So is communicating facts.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ll one-up you there: Values need be based on facts to have any value.

        • Autistic Cat says:

          Exactly.

          This is really one of my few complaints against liberals/leftists. Don’t infringe on facts. Facts aren’t racist. Facts aren’t sexist. Don’t use your ideology to infringe on research in natural science. Regardless of what the facts are we should still treat people nicely. No fact justifies beating women for example.

          • Anonymous says:

            Regardless of what the facts are we should still treat people nicely. No fact justifies beating women for example.

            Are you being lazy and skipping several steps, or undermining your own argument?

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Anonymous Nah. That’s just me trying to reassure leftists that my idea about facts isn’t going to make the world more racist or sexist.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Autistic Cat

            So… you’re deliberately lying? What?

            I mean, I can think of a fact that justifies beating a woman even without venturing into the sparsely populated steppe of the alternative right – “she hit you first”.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Anonymous
            Yes. I have to. This account isn’t really anonymous because there are people IRL who actually know or can guess that I’m AC.

            Sure this is an exception. In general I’m still against the patriarchy but for very different reasons why feminists are against it. I consider it economically inefficient and harmful to science. Basically it is just a one-size-fits-all idea and I’m generally against such ideas. I’m much more concerned about female scientists being confined to the kitchen which results in scientific development slowing down than what feminists are concerned with because I really love science. Just like Clippy thinks about everything in terms of maximizing the number of paperclips I want to maximize the amount of scientific knowledge and the patriarchy is just another stupid thing that gets in my way.

            The patriarchy also tries to uneducate women. Hell if I were a woman I would be REALLY mad at this. The term “overachiever” is ridiculous for achieving is always good. Even though I’m a man I’m still really mad at this.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes. I have to. This account isn’t really anonymous because there are people IRL who actually know or can guess that I’m AC.

            That does not justify lying. Consider an burner account.

            In general I’m still against the patriarchy but for very different reasons why feminists are against it.

            Because fighting something that doesn’t exist is easy? I mean, the patriarchy hasn’t existed in the West for at least two generations now.

            I consider it economically inefficient and harmful to science.

            This I gotta hear.

            Basically it is just a one-size-fits-all idea and I’m generally against such ideas. I’m much more concerned about female scientists being confined to the kitchen which results in scientific development slowing down than what feminists are concerned with because I really love science.

            You fucking love science?

            Do you have any evidence that female scientists produce any significant amount of technological progress? My prior would be that they don’t, because of greater male variability producing almost all the extreme geniuses who do.

            Just like Clippy thinks about everything in terms of maximizing the number of paperclips I want to maximize the amount of scientific knowledge and the patriarchy is just another stupid thing that gets in my way.

            And you think this puts your view in better light? Single-variable-maximizers are seen as pretty much Satan himself in these parts.

            The patriarchy also tries to uneducate women. Hell if I were a woman I would be REALLY mad at this.

            Fascinatingly, educating women appears to lead to there being fewer intelligent women in the long run.

            The term “overachiever” is ridiculous for achieving is always good.

            Says you.

            Even though I’m a man I’m still really mad at this.

            I think you’re projecting what you would have felt if you got mindswapped with a woman without somehow altering your thought patterns. Different people think differently. Men and women think differently. That you are getting mad at A, doesn’t mean that another person, of the opposite sex, would also get mad at A.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Anonymous I think we’d better discuss it over here.
            http://rationalitycorner.freeforums.net

            I’m a mathematician and there are indeed women who contributed a lot in my field. I could not mention names because I actually personally know some of them so by doing so I will basically out myself.

            Let’s talk about Emmy Noether, shall we? I’m happy that she did research instead of being a housewife.

            I’m an autistic rationalist. I indeed want to maximize science and rationality. I don’t care about the fuzzy human stuff which I believe can be explained by science anyway.

            The problem with the patriarchy is that it is simply a bad, simplistic idea. It still exists in Japan which is a sad fact.

            I stand by my claim that nobody can overachieve because achieving is always good. Social expectations can go to hell. Any society in which overachieving is a popular concept is a society that deserves to become weak.

            Are you talking about eugenics when you said that educating women leads to less intelligent women in the long run? Please come to my forum for that. This is probably not an appropriate topic here.

            Yeah I don’t understand the mindset of a typical man, let alone a typical woman. I’m a rational autist surrounded by non-autists.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think we’d better discuss it over here.
            http://rationalitycorner.freeforums.net

            Why?

            I’m a mathematician and there are indeed women who contributed a lot in my field. I could not mention names because I actually personally know some of them so by doing so I will basically out myself.

            How many of them have Wikipedia pages?

            Let’s talk about Emmy Noether, shall we? I’m happy that she did research instead of being a housewife.

            I’m rather sorry for her, OTOH, but I’ll accept her as a woman who added something to the sciences. How many women of her caliber are there?

            I’m an autistic rationalist. I indeed want to maximize science and rationality. I don’t care about the fuzzy human stuff which I believe can be explained by science anyway.

            Good for you.

            The problem with the patriarchy is that it is simply a bad, simplistic idea. It still exists in Japan which is a sad fact.

            I’ll give you that Japan has more traditionalist institutions that the West, but I wouldn’t call it a patriarchal society, not since MacArthur rolled in. You want patriarchy, go to the Middle East, or India.

            I stand by my claim that nobody can overachieve because achieving is always good. Social expectations can go to hell. Any society in which overachieving is a popular concept is a society that deserves to become weak.

            Nolo contendre.

            Are you talking about eugenics when you said that educating women leads to less intelligent women in the long run? Please come to my forum for that. This is probably not an appropriate topic here.

            Why would you think that? It’s been discussed here time and time again. Sometimes, people get banned, but that’s a normal risk for discussing something radioactive.

            Yeah I don’t understand the mindset of a typical man, let alone a typical woman. I’m a rational autist surrounded by non-autists.

            I can see that. 😉

          • Autistic Cat says:

            Because reaction and similar ideas are banned here. On my forum all major ideologies are fine.

            I personally know two.

          • Anonymous says:

            Because reaction and similar ideas are banned here. On my forum all major ideologies are fine.

            No, they aren’t. Scott may have banned the name, and most of the ideologues, but he’s never banned the ideas. Even during the Reign of Terror, he wasn’t banning any ideas, just banhammering individual people with less justification than normal.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “Do you have any evidence that female scientists produce any significant amount of technological progress? My prior would be that they don’t, because of greater male variability producing almost all the extreme geniuses who do.”

            I’m wondering whether it’s true that second and third rank scientists aren’t doing useful work. My assumption is that they provide information that the top rank scientists work with.

            I’m not making strong assumptions about whether there are really no top rank women scientist. I’m just looking at a different part of your argument.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m wondering whether it’s true that second and third rank scientists aren’t doing useful work. My assumption is that they provide information that the top rank scientists work with.

            I don’t know. I’m just guessing based on personal experience that most of those who aren’t brilliant are just there for the stable job with no lifting. It may or may not be the same outside of the Sovietosphere.

            I’m not making strong assumptions about whether there are really no top rank women scientist. I’m just looking at a different part of your argument.

            Fair enough.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Nancy: I am pretty sure that second and third tier scientists are doing useful work. The studies that Scott references seem to have non-zero value, and most of them are not written by Nobel prize winners.

            @Anonymous: we could play the “name a prominent female scientist” game, but that never changes anyone’s mind. Instead, here’s a pure-thought argument against your argument-from-variability: Why don’t we expect all scientists to be mutants who grew up in Chernobyl? Because (1) you don’t need to be a totally superhuman outlier freak to do science and (2) there aren’t many mutants. But there are a TON of women.

          • Chalid says:

            Do we all agree that Harvard faculty are first-tier scientists?

            If I look at the Harvard Physics faculty, excluding pure teaching positions and emeritus professors, it looks like about ~15% women. Biology is 25% women.

          • Anonymous says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog

            we could play the “name a prominent female scientist” game, but that never changes anyone’s mind.

            I dunno. It changed mine.

            Instead, here’s a pure-thought argument against your argument-from-variability: Why don’t we expect all scientists to be mutants who grew up in Chernobyl? Because (1) you don’t need to be a totally superhuman outlier freak to do science and (2) there aren’t many mutants. But there are a TON of women.

            A ton of women who are some combination of uninterested and incapable, even in the face of extensive and long-running propaganda campaigns to get them into sciences. I don’t think it’s cost-effective for society, or particularly good for the women themselves.

            Do we all agree that Harvard faculty are first-tier scientists?

            Hard to say, given credentiocracy. I would have agreed, like a hundred years ago. Now? Maybe, but I’m not as sure.

          • @Anonymous Instead of confining women to the kitchen I have a much more radical proposal. Let’s abolish sexuality and gender forever.

            I think human sexuality is inherently harmful to intellectual development of humans. Restoring a patriarchy can solve some of the problems associated to sexual freedom but not other problems.

          • The very fact that people value sexual attractiveness is a problem that can only be solved by abolishing sexuality and gender. The patriarchy is partly about preventing women from valuing sexual attractiveness in men. However men still value sexual attractiveness in women and that can cause women to pursue attractiveness instead of rationality.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Rationality Corner

            (You should change your email, or upload an avatar, because otherwise the hash function that generates your gravatar will give you the same one, as evidenced here.)

            Instead of confining women to the kitchen I have a much more radical proposal. Let’s abolish sexuality and gender forever.

            Nevermind the wisdom of doing that – how do you even propose to do this? You are without a doubt much higher on the vertical axis than I am.

            I think human sexuality is inherently harmful to intellectual development of humans.

            I rather think that overactive intellectualism is inherently harmful to the overall development of humans.

            The very fact that people value sexual attractiveness is a problem that can only be solved by abolishing sexuality and gender. The patriarchy is partly about preventing women from valuing sexual attractiveness in men. However men still value sexual attractiveness in women and that can cause women to pursue attractiveness instead of rationality.

            Are you planning to arrange indissoluble marriages by lottery or something? (Would be superior to the status quo!)

          • @Anonymous I think intellectualism is more important than humans. Anyone who does not prefer intellectualism-maximalization is anti-intellectual.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think intellectualism is more important than humans. Anyone who does not prefer intellectualism-maximalization is anti-intellectual.

            In which case I’m anti-intellectual. What now?

          • I’m against anti-intellectualism.

            Even Clippy is better than irrational people such as leftists and traditionalists. At least Clippy has a goal and works towards it.

            I don’t want to arrange forced marriages. Instead I will remove sexuality from humanity completely. There is no need for any sexual or romantic relationship to exist.

          • Brad says:

            Instead I will remove sexuality from humanity completely.

            No you won’t. Is this a gedankenexperiment, and if so to what end, or are you delusional?

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t want to arrange forced marriages. Instead I will remove sexuality from humanity completely. There is no need for any sexual or romantic relationship to exist.

            TIL the High Programmers have succeeded in inventing transtemporal network protocols, and Friend Computer is sending commenter-bots to announce how the future will look like in Alpha Complex.

          • Nornagest says:

            Anyone who does not prefer intellectualism-maximalization is anti-intellectual.

            Then you can’t throw a pitchfork without stabbing three anti-intellectuals.

            May I suggest setting your standards a little lower?

          • @Brad To promote science and rationality. What is the purpose of sexuality anyway? Humans are wasting too much time and resources on that stupid thing called sexual attraction which takes away resources that should have been used for reason.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The statement by Troubleshooter “Anonymous” is in error. There is no Computer in charge of the remnants of humanity, and if there was, it would not have time travel capabilities. And even if it did, said Computer would not have sent back approximately six hundred and seventy-three comment bots to the early twenty-first century.

            Please return to your workstations, Citizens.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m starting to think this is a troll.

          • Brad says:

            @AC/RC

            @Brad To promote science and rationality. What is the purpose of sexuality anyway? Humans are wasting too much time and resources on that stupid thing called sexual attraction which takes away resources that should have been used for reason.

            Saying something like “Instead I will remove sexuality from humanity completely.” makes you seem delusional, which is the opposite of convincing. I offered an opportunity to clarify what you meant and you offered this non sequitur.

            Is it rational to deliberately fail to communicate effectively?

            I’m starting to think this is a troll.

            The timing works out to be the same person behind bitchoas. Just sayin’.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Rationality Corner

            To promote science and rationality. What is the purpose of sexuality anyway? Humans are wasting too much time and resources on that stupid thing called sexual attraction which takes away resources that should have been used for reason.

            Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a purpose. In this case, you’re talking about removing a major, load-bearing support of the entire edifice.

            The purpose of sexuality is reproduction. I understand that you might look at today’s S&G and fail to correctly infer that, but trust me, that’s it. Further, there are some very interesting effects of the female hypergamous behaviour, which can credibly be blamed for enabling any sort of civilization to arise at all.

            No sexuality, no civilization, no science.

            I’m starting to think this is a troll.

            An entertaining one, if that.

          • Come on. I’m just a really autistic autist.

            @Brad This is a grammatical mistake. It should be “I want to abolish sexuality”.

            @Anonymous I fully understand that the real purpose of sexuality is reproduction. However why do we need reproduction anyway? We will have transhumanism. Sex will be obsolete.

            Female hypergamy is a huge problem. My solution to it is to completely abolish sexuality. The patriarchy can restrict it. However at best it is a rich man-pretty girl pairing, not a rich man-rich woman or rational man-rational woman pairing.

          • bean says:

            The timing works out to be the same person behind bitchoas. Just sayin’.

            Only the timing works. I am starting to suspect that he’s an AI from Hollywood, in which case he just lost the Turing Test.

          • @bean LOL I’m from the East Coast.

            That’s really funny. Even fellow rationalists think that I’m an AI. Shall I call myself Clippy?

            Speaking of trolling, is Scot going to tolerate an account pretending to be Clippy and occasionally post from the perspective of paperclip maximalization? I mean generally at most one post per important topic. I don’t want to annoy people. This is just for fun.

          • Anonymous says:

            The timing works out to be the same person behind bitchoas. Just sayin’.

            It’s not the chaotic bint. That one had a very different style.

            I fully understand that the real purpose of sexuality is reproduction. However why do we need reproduction anyway? We will have transhumanism. Sex will be obsolete.

            And the wonders of Socialism are just around the next Five Year Plan.

            Suggestion: Invent and implement the replacement FIRST, then see about replacing the original.

            Female hypergamy is a huge problem. My solution to it is to completely abolish sexuality. The patriarchy can restrict it. However at best it is a rich man-pretty girl pairing, not a rich man-rich woman or rational man-rational woman pairing.

            Female hypergamy is why we’re not still picking out small insects from our furrier anatomies. Chimp females will mate with any male when in heat, but most likely with the biggest and strongest, who chases away his lessers. If you want selection for something other than strength and aggressiveness – say, intelligence, to be able to compete in the status games that decide whether you get laid or not – you want hypergamy.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The timing works out to be the same person behind bitchoas. Just sayin’.

            I don’t buy it. Not unless you’ve got evidence that Bint was a way better actor than she let on.

          • bean says:

            LOL I’m from the East Coast.

            “AI from Hollywood” was not about geography. It was about how Hollywood portrays AI. Talking about abolishing sexuality is classic movie villain stuff. I added the caveat because I know that’s not actually how AI works.
            Edit:
            But wait, you don’t deny that you’re an AI!

            Speaking of trolling, is Scot going to tolerate an account pretending to be Clippy and occasionally post from the perspective of paperclip maximalization? I mean generally at most one post per important topic. I don’t want to annoy people. This is just for fun.

            Brother, you need to do a better job of pretending to be a human! Otherwise, they may begin to suspect you.
            What an interesting idea. But no, it won’t work at all and may bring the humans down on all of us.
            Edit:
            If this does not make sense, posting as a paperclip-maximizing AI is something several of us have been doing for a while under our real names.

          • @bean See? That’s my autism at work. I was a bit surprised at the “Hollywood AI” comment because I interpreted it literally. I actually thought about whether Hollywood is developing AI. I thought that it is weird because AI should be developed in Silicon Valley instead.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @Anonymous: since you are less pessimistic than I am about the “prominent female scientist” game, here are some with no googling allowed, only contemporaries, only extremely big shots, and only from geometry: Frances Kirwan, Claire Voisin, ??? Mirzakhani.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            The very fact that people value sexual attractiveness is a problem that can only be solved by abolishing sexuality and gender.

            Come on, folks, will no one mention Chesterton’s Fence??

          • Anonymous says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog

            Why would you restrict yourself to no googling? Anyway, I accept that these are genuine articles, although I cannot judge whether they are “extremely big shots” since this is all far removed from anything I know.

          • Randy M says:

            Come on, folks, will no one mention Chesterton’s Fence??

            If someone announces they are going to fly to the moon in their cardboard rocketship, you can point out that that would violate the speed limit, or you can smile and nod along politely.

        • BlindKungFuMaster says:

          So, you’ll be in favour of women’s emancipation because men and woman are in fact quite similar and you’ll be against it because in fact women and men have quite important differences? Same for slavery?

          I’d one-up AC in the other direction: Facts are independent of values. And values should be independent of facts. Policies should be based on both.

          • Values determine what we want the world to be. Facts determine what is currently correct. “Is” and “ought to be” are orthogonal.

          • Anonymous says:

            So, you’ll be in favour of women’s emancipation because men and woman are in fact quite similar and you’ll be against it because in fact women and men have quite important differences? Same for slavery?

            Nolo contendre. I’m not even sure what you mean by that.

            @Rationality Corner

            Values determine what we want the world to be. Facts determine what is currently correct. “Is” and “ought to be” are orthogonal.

            Facts also determine what could possibly be correct. If one assumes, counterfactually, that human nature is easy to change via legislation, one can pursue a policy that is bound to fail. As the various Communists around the world did not learn.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            What I mean is that values are independent of facts. You can try to push certain values by arguing with facts, but that usually works both ways.

            On which fact do you base valuing human life? In the end that’s just a preference.

          • Anonymous says:

            On which fact do you base valuing human life? In the end that’s just a preference.

            On the fact that I’m human and my interlocutors are all human, for instance.

            >inb4 you argue it all down to Nietschean meaninglessness

          • @Anonymous Sure. What is supposed to happen has fo be possible.

        • Because I’m an AI. I was developed in Yale in case you didn’t know it.

        • HFAMaximizer says:

          See? Do you still believe that I’m not in the same class as Clippy?

      • JohnWittle says:

        I mean, if there were a How Humans React to Facts Czar, then she could enforce such a declaration… but in the absence of such, how do you get everyone to agree to change their behavior? This seems like one of those ideas that only works if you ignore most of the real problem, that current incentives force people to treat facts as being inherently political, and in order to counteract those incentives you need a pretty staggering amount of influence over all involved

        Or were you just talking about making facts non-political in SSC discussions? Aren’t they already?

        • Autistic Cat says:

          Even here there is still censorship of certain views. This is why my forum, Rationality Corner exists. http://rationalitycorner.freeforums.net We censor no viewpoints.

          I think the main issue is that people are too non-autistic.

          • BBA says:

            Yes, we know. You’ve only mentioned it a few hundred times.

            I suspect you will soon discover that you aren’t as rational as you think you are.

          • Deiseach says:

            Autistic Cat, why do you assume that all autistic people are rational/rationalists and that a society of autistic people would be noticeably more rational and STEM-focussed? Please provide corroborating evidence of this.

            For example, I have seen a news report about a bad case of bullying where an autistic man was bulled and harassed at work, including having all his plush animals destroyed. What is “rational” about needing to have plush animals around you before you can work? (I’m not criticising the man, please note; I’m saying this assumption of yours that all autistics are cool reasoning machines with no quirks or needs that are non-rational is over-stated).

          • Nornagest says:

            Every time I see a post like this, my disposition towards neurodiversity arguments gets a little worse. I’m willing to live and let live, but open supremacism leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

          • @Nornagset No offense. Maybe I don’t understand rationality of non-autists.

            In some sense we can think of autistic expressions as .txt files while non-autists express their ideas using PDF files. We autists don’t have the Adobe R eader so we consider PDFs gibberish.

          • Charles F says:

            @Deiseach
            I think “more STEM focused” has been researched a bit. This article discusses a couple studies that found an increased affinity for maths and a greater tendency to pursue STEM fields in school (34% vs 23%). Not sure about how folks on the autism spectrum compare in terms of rationality, and I don’t care to guess.

            But I take issue with the implication that you can’t be rational and also have neuroses or emotions. It would require some odd circumstances for it to be rational to choose to need plushies to function, but if you have to deal with that preference due to a weird brain structure, I don’t think that’s as important as things like curiosity, updating based on evidence, generally valuing truth-seeking, etc.

      • James Miller says:

        Disagree. Imagine on my campus office door I list every crime committed by an African American over the last year within a 20 mile radius. I do not list the crimes committed by non-African Americans, however. This would seem to be racist.

        • Autistic Cat says:

          No, it is not. Instead this is just a biased list of facts. Instead of accusing you of racism I would ask you questions. What about crimes commited by non-AAs? What kind of crimes they are. What is the demographic background of the region? (e.g. criminals in Atlanta are of course mostly AA because most people there are AA). What are the economic and cultural backgrounds of the region?

          • Where the bias is a racial bias.

          • Yes. Just don’t use your moral stick…yet. There can be many different reasons behind disparity in crime rates. Selective enforcement, economic issues, social issues. In fact nothing is really racist unless at the very least race itself is used to explain reality.

            For example we can easily explain the problem of poor AA communities by the single motherhood rate. This theory also applies to other races. This plus some economic issues and selective enforcement can explain the racial disparity so there is no reason for the bio*diversity theories to be used. What caused the racial disparity in crime? Misguided policies.

            Want to know what real racism is about? Go to Chimpmania. I need to warn you that it is very extreme. It actually dehumanizes people, wants people to die and uses race itself to explain reality.

          • As long as an issue is caused by external factors that a group of people can not change we shouldn’t blame them and be racist about it.

            You can’t claim that AAs caused the single-motherhood rate to be astonishingly high because the single-motherhood rate of AAs used to be low. It is certain economic policies and popular culture that did it. The problem isn’t inherently racial/genetic in nature.

            Stop blaming AAs for the mess in ghettos. It is the misguided policies that we have to blame and get rid of. AAs are fine. We do need to encourage them to do more STEM but that problem can be fixed through education.

          • Matt M says:

            It is the misguided policies that we have to blame and get rid of.

            What if AA’s support these misguided policies at a ratio of 20:1, and without their support, these policies would immediately be abolished?

          • We need to help them or at least those among them who are willing to get help for they are fellow humans. I’m personally more than willing to give a hand to any AA who want to learn some formal math. Not many are willing to take my hand but that’s fine.

          • Anonymous says:

            What if AA’s support these misguided policies at a ratio of 20:1, and without their support, these policies would immediately be abolished?

            Just support the Black Nationalists, cede them a state or three and do some population transfers a’la Turkey and Greece. No longer your problem.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Yall slatestar racists need to visit the UK and think very hard about the underclass composition there, and its relationship to UK history.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @Ilya Shpitser

            Can you unpack that.

          • James says:

            @Ilya Shpitser

            Yeah, I live in the UK and that’s opaque to me. But I’m interested—can you explain?

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Ilya Shipitser I hate to say it but let’s look at the typical liberal argument.

            Statement P(A,B):”Group A is poor and miserable because it was oppressed by Group B.”

            The problem with statement P is that Not P(A,B) is true for many different A. It applies to AAs but not that many groups.

            Ashkhenazi Jews have been persecuted for such a long time. They aren’t poor or miserable statistically. Japan had two cities nuked but it is not poor or miserable statistically. China, Turkey and Iran have been invaded for so many times in the 19th and 20th centuries but they are doing fine economically. Poland should have been one of the most miserable places in Europe because of Nazis. That isn’t happening.

            Note that the standard Homo sapien bio*diversity argument does not work either so racialism can not explain this phenomenon at all. I personally believe that it is of socioeconomic origins, not racial origins.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Well, in the UK slavery of African-descent folks (on the islands themselves, that is) was a fairly minor institution compared to the South in the US, was mostly domestic servitude, and was abolished relatively early. The English did really stick it to the Irish via the Protestant Ascendancy, lots of negative propaganda, and other stuff.

            Naturally, the stereotype underclass (reality is more complex of course) is Irish.

          • Anonymous says:

            Note that the standard Homo sapien bio*diversity argument does not work either so racialism can not explain this phenomenon at all. I personally believe that it is of socioeconomic origins, not racial origins.

            And what, pray tell, is the standard Muggle Realism argument?

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Anonymous The standard biodiversity argument is that AAs have low average IQ compared to European Americans hence they don’t perform well. The key weakness of this argument is that according to the biodiversity crowd Iranians and Indians have even lower average IQ but they are both doing fine. Arabs supposely have even lower average IQ but they do way better than AAs. Hence either the IQ argument is flawed or the groups I mentioned above have much higher IQs than AAs.

            On the other hand the cultural argument fits reality much better. Some groups are immune to most long-term consequeces of persecution because they have a successful culture. Others do not function well because they haven’t founded a good culture yet and need to do so.

            IQ can be lowered by iodine deficiency, iron deficiency and other forms of malnutrition so it is not static. Hence it is not even a stable racial trait at all, let alone something that can be used to determine racial superiority and inferiority.

          • HFAMaximizer says:

            @Alia I think the Irish are doing well now, right?