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OT84: Threadictive Processing

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

1. New sidebar ad for Relationship Hero, a phone-in help line for social interaction related questions. Liron Shapira – whom many of you probably know from Quixey/CFAR/etc – is a co-founder, which makes me think they’re probably pretty reasonable and above-board.

2. In fact, thanks to everyone who’s emailed me about sidebar ads recently. I’m trying to walk a careful line here, where I’m neither so selective that it looks like I’m endorsing them, nor so unselective that actually bad or scammy companies make it in. If you ever feel like I’m erring on one side or the other, let me know.

3. Several good comments from last week’s thread on developmental genetics vs. evolutionary psychology. See eg Sam Reuben on how different animals implement instincts, TheRadicalModerate on the connectome, and Catherio on how across different individual animals, novel concepts seem to always get encoded in the same brain areas for some reason. Several people also brought up claims that some animals seem innately afraid of eg snakes, or innately susceptible to learning those fears, suggesting that genetics has managed to find a way to connect to the concept “snake” somehow. But it confuses me that this can be true at the same time as eg the experiment where kittens were raised in an artificial environment with no horizontal lines and weren’t able to see horizontal lines when grown up. I know there’s a difference between having a hard-coded concept and having a biased ability to learn a concept, and I know it makes sense that some hard-coded-ish concepts might need data before they “activate”, but it still seems weird to both have “snake” hard-coded enough to produce behavioral consequences, and “horizontal line” so un-hard-coded that you just might not learn it.

(also weird: trap innocent kittens in a freaky bizarro-dimension without horizontal lines and you win a Nobel, but try to give people one fricking questionnaire…)

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978 Responses to OT84: Threadictive Processing

  1. willachandler says:

    The movements today known variously as “Progressivism”, “Liberalism”, and “Leftism” — movements commonly ascribed by alt.SSC commenters to the machinations of “elites” — found early expression in the 17th century pamphlet The Light upon the Candlestick (written circa 1661-3).

    The ideas and authorship of this pamphlet have been variously ascribed to Benjamin Furly, Peter Bolling, Adam Boreel, and even (or especially) to the then-young Baruch Spinoza (for details, see Richard Popkin’s “Spinoza’s earliest philosophical years, 1655-61”, Studia Spinozana, v4, 1988, see also a comment above).

    It was this small-but-vigorous community of freethinkers, Collegiants, Mennonites, and Quakers, (along with heretics of varieties unclassified) who first conceived, advocated, and pacifically practiced the elements of Radical Enlightenment. As summarized by Jonathan Israel, these elements are:

    Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:

    (1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;

    (2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;

    (3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);

    (4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;

    (5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;

    (6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;

    (7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.

    (8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.

    Not uncommonly, opponents of the Enlightenment imagine — utterly wrongly — that Israel’s cardinal progressive elements have been chiefly imposed by illegitimate elite-led revolutions; and moreover these self-same opponents not uncommonly fantasize that the Radical Enlightenment will someday (soon!) be defeated by violent counter-revolution.

    The historical truth, rather, is that the cardinal elements of the Radical Enlightenment arose from pacifistic and democratic philosophies, and have been advanced most effectively by peaceful means. Nowadays these peaceful means include philosophic grounding in cognitive science, scientific grounding in evolutionary and molecular biology, literary grounding in deconstructive analysis, political grounding in democratic republicanism, and finally — of especial relevance to SSC readers — medical grounding in psychiatric practice.

    In summary, for the past 350 years and more, the cardinal elements of the Radical Enlightment have been most effectively advanced by means that are morally pacifistic, politically democratic, and pragmatically incremental; means that (nowadays) are increasingly well-grounded in ever-broader scientific understanding and inexorably advancing medical practice.

  2. Matt M says:

    Another example of Title IX insanity: A fraternity is in trouble for hanging a banner offering “free house tours” because the banner faced a sorority and therefore implied that women could come over and hang out. Which creates a hostile environment, or something.

    Of particular note is this comment:

    With recruitment starting Thursday night, Hall said the incident brought “a chilly climate to campus.” While the banner was “absolutely inappropriate,” Hall said, the timing escalated the incident, both with recruitment beginning and with the apparent rollback of Title IX by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

    “I think we’re all a little more sensitive because of the statements Betsy DeVos made (Thursday),” Hall said.

    In relation to earlier suggestions by some on this board that all of this stuff would go away because Trump is President now, this quote would suggest the opposite may occur. Rather than saying “The Secretary of Education told us to knock this off, so we’re going to knock it off,” the position of the college is “The Secretary of Education told us to knock this off, therefore we’re going to double down and be stricter than ever because #RESISTANCE or something”

    • Matt M says:

      One more quick note, this happened at Wichita State University, not some small/elite blue-state liberal arts college.

      • BBA says:

        My prior is that the administrators at the #3 state school in Kansas are of a lower caliber than those at an elite liberal arts college, and thus don’t realize that you don’t have to automatically treat every student complaint like it’s the end of the damn universe.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Rather than saying “The Secretary of Education told us to knock this off, so we’re going to knock it off,” the position of the college is “The Secretary of Education told us to knock this off, therefore we’re going to double down and be stricter than ever because #RESISTANCE or something”

      Indeed, I expect this to be the primary “accomplishment” of electing Trump: provoking the (unbeatable) Cathedral to crack down on us even harder.

      • Nornagest says:

        If the Cathedral is as unbeatable as you say, why the hell are you making yourself a target by whining about it?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        And you the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems slip through your grasp or whatever.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Is that true in the real world? The cruelest despots are best at keeping their populations in line.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            For certain types of despots, I think so. If you read Lou Keep’s series on social states particularly the one about Laffer curves it explains the phenomenon. If you insist people obey increasingly onerous social rules they will eventually defect because the cost of compliance is too high.

            Also manifests as “they’re going to call you a racist sexist nazi no matter what you do so stop caring about it” (which is not the same thing as then deciding to be a racist, sexist, nazi, it just means you’re going to stop caring about opinions of people who call everyone a racist, sexist nazi). Every time they demand compliance over something like a cheeky banner to flirt with the sorority girls one more person says “these people are nuts,” until eventually a critical mass of people agree “these people are nuts.” And then the social system dissolves. Kevin does not believe the system will dissolve, but I don’t see how it can not dissolve.

          • Charles F says:

            If you insist people obey increasingly onerous social rules they will eventually defect because the cost of compliance is too high.

            “What’s the penalty for being late?
            Death.
            What’s the penalty for rebellion?
            Death.
            We’re late.”

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Every time they demand compliance over something like a cheeky banner to flirt with the sorority girls one more person says “these people are nuts,” until eventually a critical mass of people agree “these people are nuts.” And then the social system dissolves.

            I’ve never understood how this bit is supposed to work, save as pure magical thinking: the idea that somehow, if we just get enough of the powerless peasant masses on our side, then suddenly the elite is overthrown and we win. It’s nonsense. Like Ken’ichi over at Dreher’s once said:

            Only in the West could “the Emperor’s New Clothes” have such an absurd ending. In reality, were the child to declare the Emperor’s nakedness, the response would not be people suddenly agreeing, it would be the child and his parents being publicly executed for treason.

            Whereupon everyone else then goes back to praising His Majesty’s fine rainment. There’s an old Chinese proverb, 杀鸡儆猴, “kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” Elites don’t have to crush literally everyone who opposes them, they just have to make enough visible examples of people to cow the rest into submission, which really isn’t that many examples.

            Peasant revolts were practically once-a-generation in Medieval Europe; how many of them accomplished anything? Even when they managed to kill a local lord, said lord’s son or brother or cousin or whatever who inherited would just take their place, crush the rebellion with their knights, and prove no better, possibly even worse. Sure, it didn’t matter if 90% of (Orthodox) Ruthenian peasants hated their (Catholic) Polish-Lithuanian overlords, or whatever. Oderint dum metuant. You know what happened when somethin like 300,000 German peasants revolted in the Deutscher Bauernkrieg? About a third of them were killed, and it failed utterly.

            Iron Law of Oligarchy: society is always ruled by a small elite. The mass of the population is naught but utterly powerless peasants, who only ever matter as pawns of one or another elite or proto-elite. It doesn’t matter how many Trumps we elect, the “swamp” will never be drained, because in reality (as opposed to how it’s supposed to work on paper), the “swamp” is more powerful than the president. We can “primary” out all the “GOP Establishment C**kservatives” (or whatever you want to call them) in Congress, and vote in fresh new faces who promise up and down they’ll be different; once in office they’ll become another bunch of John McCains and Lindsey Grahams. Because that’s the only thing a Republican Congress-critter is allowed to be, it’s the job, to put up a valiant show of opposing the Left, and then lose, all the time maintaining kayfabe, to prop up the illusion that Congress is anything other than a mostly powerless, vestigial appendage of the true government, one of “the last remnants of the Old Republic”, to quote Wilhuff Tarkin. I’m just waiting to see how long before Gorsuch becomes another John “PPACA is Schrödinger’s Tax” Roberts, because it’s just a matter of time; right-wing appointees to the Supreme Court moving leftward once on the bench is practically a law of nature.

            It doesn’t matter how many of the people agree “these people are nuts”, so long as “these people” are the elites, the ones who hold all the power, who make the laws and have the power to punish those who disobey. The ones who decide which masked men are in violation of the law and which are free to hide their faces as they set about their mob action; who the cops are to arrest for the “hate crime” of defending themselves from “youths” who “dindu nuffin'”, and who the cops are to give “space to destroy”. The ones who make soldiers march in bright red high heels. You get the idea. And there’s nothing us mere peasants can do to stop them, no matter how numerous or angry we are, how many “pitchforks and torches” we stock up on. The only thing that defeats an elite is another elite, and we have no elites. Academia, the schools, and the rest of the system are too effective at “brain-draining” away any potential elites and converting, or otherwise neutralizing, them.

            And in addition, as Moldbug noted, “There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency.”

            Kevin does not believe the system will dissolve

            Not in the short term, for all the reasons I listed above. It’s the historical norm of human civilization for a small elite to rule over vastly larger disempowered masses, no matter how much the masses hate and loath their overlords and their overlord’s insane, heretical religion.

            Yes, in the long run, because these people are adherents to an insane religion incompatible with reality, they will eventually collapse. But “the market can remain irrational”, “lot of ruin in a nation”, etc., etc. Much as Venezuela drained away the necessary funds to maintain their oil extraction operations in proper order so as to pay for socialist projects, expect the West to do the same thing on a much larger scale, with all the long-accumulated industrial and societal capital; to expropriate bit by bit the vital “seed corn” needed to maintain industrial civilization, to prop up their rule, to hold together the system against dissolution, and to further pursue the impossible project of their insane Religion of Equality, so that when they do finally collapse, they take the entirety of industrial civilization with them, never to be restored (as the industrial revolution is a once-per-planet event).

            @Charles F

            Need I remind you that the Dazexiang uprising failed, and that Chen Sheng and Wu Guang both ended up killed by their own men?

          • Nornagest says:

            Peasant revolts were practically once-a-generation in Medieval Europe; how many of them accomplished anything?

            Wikipedia has a handy list.

            “There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency.”

            There aren’t many successful insurgencies, period. Those that are successful tend to be those that receive outside assistance, and since in the Cold War period it was mostly the Soviet Union that was in the business of sponsoring insurgencies, it’s no wonder that those tend to be left-wing. Still, the Taliban might count as a counterexample depending on what your threshold for success is, and note that their predecessors were armed by the CIA. Might also be worth mentioning that the playbook for modern insurgency warfare largely grew out of Maoist ideas.

            If you broaden your scope to include coups or civil wars, there are tons of cases where the right-wing side won.

          • hlynkacg says:

            “There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency.”

            There aren’t many successful insurgencies, period.

            A lot also depends on how you define “right wing”.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest, hlynkacg

            Let me exerpt the broader passage from Moldbug:

            Here’s a fact that may have escaped your attention. There has never been a successful right-wing insurgency. That is, there has never been any successful movement employing the tactics of guerrilla or “urban guerrilla” (or “terrorist”) war, in which the guerrilla forces were to the political right of the government forces. To some extent you can classify Franco in Spain as a successful right-wing rebel, but his forces were more organized and disciplined than the government’s – Franquismo was a coup that turned into a rebellion, and it succeeded in the end only because, for unusual reasons, England and the US declined to intervene against it.

            For example, if oppression and injustice really are the cause of insurgent movements, why was there never anything even close to an insurgency in any of the Soviet-bloc states? Excepting, of course, Afghanistan – a rather suspicious exception. You may be a progressive, but you can’t be such a progressive that you believe there was no such thing as Communist oppression. Yet it never spawned any kind of violent reaction. What up with that, dog?

            The obvious answer is just Defoe’s. “When they had the Power in their hands, those Graces were strangers in their gates.” The cause of revolutionary violence is not oppression. The cause of revolutionary violence is weak government. If people avoid revolting against strong governments, it is because they are not stupid, and they know they will lose. There is one and only one way to defeat an insurgency, which is the same way to defeat any movement – make it clear that it has no chance of winning, and no one involved in it will gain by continuing to fight.

            Further, Nornagest, as to your words

            There aren’t many successful insurgencies, period. Those that are successful tend to be those that receive outside assistance

            I agree; I often bring up Max Boot’s Invisible Armies An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present. In addition to rarely suceeding, and to generally requiring outside assistance, there’s additional conditions. Insurgencies have only ever worked against “foreign occupiers”, and never in a more straightfoward civil war situation. Also, they pretty much depend on having figures sympathetic to the insurgents highly placed in the power structure of the “occupying power”. Which leads into another passage from that same Moldbug post:

            So insurgency in the modern age is not what it appears to be. It is an illusion constructed for a political audience. If Fisher is right, it was not the Continental Army that prevailed in 1783, but the alliance of the Continental Army and the British Whigs. Together they produced a new Whig republic to replace the old one that had collapsed with Cromwell’s death. Neither could conceivably have achieved this mission alone.

            Insurgency, including what we now call “terrorism,” is thus a kind of theater. Guerrilla theater, you might say. It exists as an adjunct to democratic politics, and could not exist without it. (I exclude partisan campaigns of the Peninsular War type, in which the guerrillas are an adjunct to a war proper.)

            Either way, it’s clear that no matter how many “ordinary Americans” come to agree that “these people are nuts,” force of arms will still be useless to dislodging “these people” from the power they hold. And Trump is yet another illustration that neither will elections dislodge them.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            Further, let’s take a look at that Wikipedia list and some of those “victories” listed for peasant rebellions, most of which seem to be in East Asia.
            The fall of the Qin had several failed rebellions, like the Dazexiang Uprising, before Liu Bang, who I will admit was a rare exception in arising from humble stock.

            The Lülin rebellion: Liu Xiu was a descendant of the Han imperial family, and the “Xin dynasty” he overthrew was simply reign of one man, the userper Wang Mang.

            The Anti-Sui rebellions: that very page describes the rebel forces as including “Defected military forces under several rebel generals, officials and nobles”, so very much an example of “led by rival elites.”

            Overthrow of the Yuan dynasty: yes, Zhu Yuanzhang was much like Liu Bang.

            The Samogitian uprisings: the Teutonic Knights against whom the Samogitians uprose were, per Wikipedia “soundly defeated by the joint Polish–Lithuanian forces” (see also the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War), and so “suceeded” only by it turning into a regional war between multiple powers.

            Shōchō uprising: per the wiki page on it: “In the end, the Muromachi shogunate did not release a debt cancellation order, but because proof of the farmers’ debts had been destroyed during the looting, the “independent debt relief” had effectively achieved the same situation.”

            Kakitsu uprising: a number of local lords were involved:

            While the shogunate at first intended to get a handle on the situation by promulgating a debt relief order for peasants only, the rebels were trying to get the support of members of the establishment by demanding comprehensive debt cancellation at a flat province-wide rate that also included the kuge and buke. Furthermore, the kanrei Mochiyuki Hosokawa had accepted a bribe of 1,000 kanmon from the storehouse money brokers before he released an order to dispatch troops for their protection, and the daimyo who knew about the bribe refused his order.

            The Rebellion of the Remences was in many way a king-versus-nobles conflict:

            In the mid-15th century, Alfonso V of Aragon, “the Magnanimous”, allowed the peasants to form a sindicat remença, a peasants’ guild or primitive trade union, granted them their liberty and intervened in several other ways against the abuses. However, the Bishop of Girona sided with the nobility; along with the Generalitat, controlled by the nobles, their opposition led Alfonso to reverse himself.
            Alfonso’s successor, John II, sought the peasants’ help against the nobility. By May 1461, the peasantry had declared themselves in favor of the king against the nobles.

            If you look at most of the European ones, it’s a list of “Suppression of the rebellion” after “Suppression of the rebellion”, between the Royalist-backed “Rebellion of the Remences” in the late 1400s until the “mixed” outcome of the 1846 “Galician slaugher”, which was “sparked” and backed by the Austrian authorities: “The Austrian government used the uprising to decimate nationalist Polish nobles, who were organizing an uprising against Austria.” Another high-low alliance against the middle, suppressed by the very Austrian authorities who fomented it once it did it’s job of decimating those “nationalist Polish nobles”.

            Then, it’s more “Suppression of the rebellion” until the 1917 October Revolution.

            So again, unless you have a Chinese peasant military genius like Liu Bang or Zhu Yuanzhang, it generally looks like the pattern holds of “peasant revolts fail, unless the tool of some rival elite faction against another elite faction, or one state against another.”

          • INH5 says:

            For example, if oppression and injustice really are the cause of insurgent movements, why was there never anything even close to an insurgency in any of the Soviet-bloc states?

            Do Hungary and Romania not count for some reason?

          • Nornagest says:

            Moldbug is mostly right in the first quote and mostly wrong in the second. Weak government is a necessary condition for an insurgency; it’s probably not a sufficient one, but blaming it on injustice and oppression is barking up the wrong tree. Certainly insurgents feel oppressed, but people have never been unimaginative about thinking up justifications for giving themselves power.

            But insurgency doesn’t come only out of democratic systems. The most significant modern insurgency, the one that literally wrote the book on asymmetric warfare, was the Chinese Civil War; the ROC was basically an autocracy at the time, and controlled only part of China with the rest being held by warlords. And of course we know all about the Japanese role. It isn’t a purely modern phenomenon, either — the Romans fought against a number of recognizable insurgencies in the late republican and early imperial periods, for example.

            Psychology really is central to insurgency strategy, far more so than material damage, so calling it a form of theater isn’t too far off base. But calling it an adjunct to democratic politics is. It’s certainly been used as such, but it doesn’t have to be.

          • John Schilling says:

            Still, the Taliban might count as a counterexample depending on what your threshold for success is, and note that their predecessors were armed by the CIA.

            The people armed by the CIA were the Northern Alliance, who were figuratively and in the end literally the anti-Taliban. (spoiler) They lost.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            None of this in any way detracts from the point, though, that an insurgency by right-wing Americans against Conrad Honcho’s “these people” would be doomed to failure, no matter how many people decide “these people are nuts”.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure it does. Your analysis rests on Moldbug’s view of insurgency as a modern form of political theater functioning to prop up a fundamentally progressive process, and it isn’t, it’s an ancient style of largely psychological warfare that can serve any number of political needs. In order to succeed, it needs external support and a central government that can’t effectively maintain an monopoly on violence, but — though I know you’ve already drawn your bottom line here — that doesn’t add up to automatic doom. (I didn’t discuss this above, but Boot’s wrong about “foreign invaders” — again see China.)

            But more importantly, what makes you think an insurgency is the only option?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            But more importantly, what makes you think an insurgency is the only option?

            I don’t think it’s an option at all; that’s my point. To return back to the beginning, Conrad Honcho said

            Every time they demand compliance over something like a cheeky banner to flirt with the sorority girls one more person says “these people are nuts,” until eventually a critical mass of people agree “these people are nuts.” And then the social system dissolves.

            My argument is that this is magical-thinking nonsense, and there’s no such “critical mass”. Because Iron Law of Oligarchy: society is always a powerful few ruling the powerful many, and the ruling elite remains such no matter how much those they rule resent them, hate them, think “these people are nuts” about them. That it doesn’t matter how many common folk think “these people are nuts”, there is no point where, suddenly, miraculously the insane elites cease to be ruling elites just because enough of the peasant masses became “woke” to their flaws.

            So if it doesn’t happen “automatically, by magic” that enough angry peasants causes “the social system” to dissolve, then by what mechanism could this work? Only two come to mind: elections, or rebellion. My point in the talk about insurgencies is to point out that rebellion is futile here. And I think Trump is yet another piece of evidence that elections don’t accomplish anything. No matter who the American Right votes into the White House or Congress, the Cathedral and the permanent bureaucracy will do as they will, rule as they will, unanswerable to either the peasant masses or their figurehead tribunes.

            My point is that it doesn’t matter how many people get fed up with the Cathedral, they’ll still be in charge. “Ballot box” or “bullet box”, we cannot win.

          • Nornagest says:

            So if it doesn’t happen “automatically, by magic” that enough angry peasants causes “the social system” to dissolve, then by what mechanism could this work? Only two come to mind: elections, or rebellion. My point in the talk about insurgencies is to point out that rebellion is futile here.

            “Rebellion is futile” is bogus, partly for the reasons I’ve already given re: insurgencies and partly because insurgencies are not the only form of rebellion, nor even the most common. But that’s not even the worst problem with your analysis.

            The worst problem is your take on “elections, or rebellion”. These can cause social change, but it’s equally correct to think of them as a lagging indicator of change: if the conditions on the ground are such that an opposition party can be elected or a rebellion can succeed, the bulk of the social change they aspire to at that time must already have happened. The social system isn’t the formal system of government. The social system is people, what they think and how they behave toward each other.

            Honcho is perhaps being overly dramatic when he talks about the social system dissolving, but it’s absolutely possible for it to change dramatically if you change enough minds. It happens all the time.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            On the insurgency end, Max Boot isn’t enough?

            On the voting end, that Trump is about to see passed a version of the DREAM Act worse than Obama’s isn’t enough? That all signs point to “the wall” never being built? That it’s only a matter of time until Mueller’s ever-widening investigative “net” dredges up enough “dirt” that our Mass Media can cobble together into a supposed “smoking gun”, to thereby give cover to the “establishment conservatives” and NeverTrumpers among the Congressional GOP to “reluctantly and with great sadness” join the Democrats in impeaching and removing Trump (and thereby establishing GOPe control of the party)? That when Trump ordered transgenders out of the military, Mattis began the bureaucratic foot-dragging by “commissioning a study” (rather than, say, actually obeying his supposed “Commander-in-Chief” by immediately starting the issuing of discharge papers)? By the mess the courts made of the so-called “Muslim Ban”?

            Or how about how all the Republicans in Congress who, when Obama put DACA into place called it unconstitutional and terrible and postured about how they were against it (but could do nothing about it), who have since turned around and criticized Trump for overturning it (see here)?

            How about that Robert Lewis Dabney observed in 1897 of “Northern Consevatism”:

            This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader.

            And since then, “conservatism” has continued to fail to conserve anything, always merely standing athwart history saying “slow down a little!”

            How is all that not enough? What more do you need, really? Honestly, what would convince you that electing Republicans is no way to stop the Leftward march of the Cathedral? What evidence would suffice to show that a right-wing rebellion or insurrection would be doomed to fail in the face of the Establishment and its loyal troops? Is there, really, anything that would convince you?

            Honcho is perhaps being overly dramatic when he talks about the social system dissolving, but it’s absolutely possible for it to change dramatically if you change enough minds.

            Only if by “enough minds” you mean elite minds. Because only the elites matter. Changing the minds of mere peasants has never made a difference, and will never make a difference. There is always a small ruling elite, and their opinions are the only one that matters. The system is changed when their minds are changed, and only then.

          • Nornagest says:

            Just looks like tea leaves to me.

            I’m not even going to touch most of that, because it tells me nothing new. I know all about your theories and I don’t find them convincing. I don’t even find Moldbug convincing, and he’s making far more interesting arguments. But I will say one thing, which is this: the Iron Law of Oligarchy predicts the existence of an elite. It does not predict its continuity; it just says that there’ll be a new boss, just like the old boss.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            So, I ask again, and will keep asking, what would convince you? What would you not dismiss as mere “tea leaves”?

            it just says that there’ll be a new boss, just like the old boss.

            But where could this “new boss” possibly come from? It’s certainly not any part of the American (or even Western) right-wing? And how exactly will this new elite manage to displace the old one? Because I see no ready mechanism available either.

          • Nornagest says:

            Honestly? You’re probably never going to convince me of your entire worldview in the space of SSC comments. I believe the things I do about society because I’ve been thinking and reading about politics for *mumblemumble* years, and come out the other side with a certain set of interpretations and heuristics. That doesn’t move quickly or easily.

            But you know what’s not going to budge me at all? Sitting me down with a laundry list of current events and saying “checkmate, atheists!”. My ancap friends do that for ancap, my SJW friends do that for SJ, my crazy uncle does it for crazy-uncle-ism. My moderate friends would probably do it for moderation if I could find any that were still talking about politics. You can always cherry-pick some dumb crap to support your position.

            If you want to be persuasive, I need to believe that your bottom line isn’t already written. That you haven’t just decided based on some internal process that all hope is lost and your culture is irrevocably doomed, and gone out looking for stuff to support that, but that you’re coming to your conclusions through sound logic, considering valid alternatives and based on evidence that isn’t just talking-point drek. Right now? Right now, I think you’re wallowing.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            So, you’re admitting your view is totally unfalsifiable and and literally nothing will ever change your mind.

            You are familiar with the concept of “burden of proof”, yes? Russell’s teapot, “invisible pink unicorn”, Luna and Hermione discussing the Ressurection Stone? It’s absurd to hold that one should believe in leprechauns until someone provides enough evidence they don’t exist. Rather, one should not belive they exist until sufficient evidence is shown that they do.

            You are the one making the existential claim, namely that there exists a path for the broad, lasting defeat of the Left and an end to our current unsustainable system. So the burden of proof is on you to provide sufficient evidence that this path does exist, rather than it’s existence being taken as given with the burden on me to disprove it. So, what is your convincing evidence that this path does, in fact, exist?

            And I’ll tell you something that would falsify my theory of doom. That would be an example of significant rightward movement — movement toward the Ancien Régime, not merely managing to halt some portion of leftward movement, conserving (for now) some piece of our already unsustainable system — that shows solid signs that it will not simply be undone in a few decades, but of truly lasting. Say, repeal of the 19th amendment. Or Donald Trump carrying out a Caesarist takeover and starting a Trump dynasty. Those would disprove my position.

          • Nornagest says:

            So, you’re admitting your view is totally unfalsifiable and and literally nothing will ever change your mind.

            No, I’m saying there’s a lot of proof here to be burdened with and you’re probably not capable of forcing me into a 180-degree change of heart in the limited time we have available to us, same as I’m probably not capable of doing it to you. We both know that if I gave you one of the recent examples of significant rightward movement in American politics — guns, let’s say — you’d dismiss it as a temporary correction in a consistent leftward trend or as an invitation for the scary, scary Left to crack down even harder, so let’s not pretend our worldviews are as fragile as that.

            You could probably change my mind incrementally, but the type of “evidence” you’ve given in this thread so far — which is not really evidence at all from where I’m standing — is poorly optimized for doing that. The thing where the hero busts out with “but look, X, Y, and Z are happening right now!” and the villain hangs his head in shame and throws away his entire philosophy only happens in Chick tracts and Lifetime Original Movies.

            I am quite familiar with the concept of burden of proof, and I’m not interested in playing reference class tennis with you.

          • That it doesn’t matter how many common folk think “these people are nuts”

            Why do you assume it is only the “common folk” whose minds are changed?

            More generally, what is your model of the elite? At the moment it sounds like the sort of class theory that I have always found unconvincing, because it requires individuals to act in the interest of their class rather than in the interest of their own objectives.

            If you think of the elite as a bunch of individuals with varying views, then stupid things done by institutions that the elites support can result in some members of the elite concluding that those things are stupid and they should support doing different things, shifting the distribution of views. The current elite includes some people with views inconsistent with current leftist orthodoxy as well as lots of people whose views are consistent with it.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            You could probably change my mind incrementally, but the type of “evidence” you’ve given in this thread so far — which is not really evidence at all from where I’m standing — is poorly optimized for doing that.

            So what kind of evidence would help convince you? And you still haven’t put forth what would falsify your worldview.

            @DavidFriedman

            More generally, what is your model of the elite?

            Essentially, Moldbug’s “Cathedral”. The movers-and-shakers of the unelected Federal bureaucracies (who decide which laws and presidential orders are put into reality and which end up mysteriously delayed, underfunded, and unenforced), the Courts (where every right-wing appointee moves left over the course of their career, but left-wing appointees don’t move rightward), academia, and the Mass Media Megaphone. The people in those institutions most pushing “equality”, “privilege theory”, and the rest of “the Discourse”. The people who say we need to have “a conversation”, but mean ‘they talk, everyone else listens and obeys.’ The high priests of the “New Orthodoxy” against which Haidt and the rest of Heterodox Academy (futily) protest.

            In short, those most promoting, from positions of influence or authority, what Scott calls the Universal Culture, and particularly the New Progressive Religion of Equality that is its de-facto official religion. The chief worshippers of the eldritch horror summoned from the void, to borrow our host’s own metaphor.

            The current elite includes some people with views inconsistent with current leftist orthodoxy

            Who? For how long will they stay included? And are their views inconsistant because they lie to the right of the orthodoxy, or even further to the left?

          • I asked:
            “More generally, what is your model of the elite?”

            Kevin replied:

            Essentially, Moldbug’s “Cathedral”. The movers-and-shakers of

            I should have been clearer. I wasn’t asking who was in the elite, I was asking how you modeled their behavior. Are they acting in a way you disapprove of because the individual members are cooperating to achieve some joint objective, and if so what makes it in the interest of the individual members to do so? If not, why do they act as they do and why does your explanation of their behavior imply that it will continue in the way you expect it to?

            So far as your list, I can’t tell if you are including in the elite influential people who do not agree with leftist orthodoxy or excluding them by definition. Were Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand members of the elite? They were influential writers, read by millions, who affected the ideas of many. Bill Buckley? Peter Thiel? Ron Paul?

        • The Red Foliot says:

          Fear can instill obedience but it can also inspire resentment, and as much as it does either of those things it impairs the efficiencies of those subject to it, as they are no longer incentivized to act freely in accordance with their own reason but only to obey the diktats of some central committee.

          So there may be a tendency for fear to increase fragility in systems which utilize it, even if it can sometimes be vital to their very existence. It is like a drug that sustains life but increases the risk of future collapse.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Yes, but when the “future collapse” is the irreversible end of industrial civilization, and possibly the end of the human race?

    • Charles F says:

      Huh. This seems a bit too outrageous? I can’t help but think this is related to some local in-joke and we’re all missing that. Even the other members of the frat were pretty quick to condemn it, and it was such a low-effort/quality banner that it makes me think they must have been relying on a reference to something? I wish one of the people who called it clear sexual baiting or whatever would explain the context so we could forget about this and move on to the next scandal.

      • Matt M says:

        Even the other members of the frat were pretty quick to condemn it

        Maybe they just don’t feel like getting expelled and being blacklisted by elite employers for the rest of their lives?

        Title IX tribunals have already established that attempting to defend yourself is essentially an admission of guilt.

        • Charles F says:

          Sure, that’s definitely a possibility. I think it’s a little unlikely, since without all these people saying it was sexual baiting, I wouldn’t say something like “their actions absolutely don’t reflect our values” since I would be clueless about what values they did reflect. I’d say something like “our members put up a sign without consulting us, we removed it as soon as we heard and we’re deeply sorry for whatever harm you experienced.”

          ^Admittedly very weak evidence. But the whole situation just seems very confusing if I don’t assume there’s some unknown-to-me context motivating/informing them.

          Tentative guess. There’s a genre of porn about this sort of thing, right? Maybe the sign was similar to something in a video that happened to be popular at the school recently.

          • rlms says:

            I was similarly confused. Reading the article linked in the Reason piece, the key fact is that the sorority house opposite was recruiting, but the fraternity wasn’t (i.e. they were ostensibly jokingly trying to trick sorority recruits into visiting them instead).

          • Randy M says:

            Ah, modern society. You can assume everyone will get a reference to a clip of pornography, and therefore an invitation is tantamount to assault.

          • Charles F says:

            @rlms
            Is that the right article? I read that one, and just read it again, and didn’t see anything about whether or not the fraternity was recruiting. Seems pretty plausible though.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It’s a good thing I’m way out of college life. My response would have been “Their actions absolutely reflect our values: we value sorority girls coming to our house to have sex with us.”

          • Matt M says:

            Ah, modern society. You can assume everyone will get a reference to a clip of pornography

            Another one of the most common examples of abuse of this system is about a student who was asked to write the name of his TA on his paper. He couldn’t remember the name and guessed a fairly generic/common female name, which happened to match the name of a female porn-star (not like a hugely famous one or anything), for which he was accused of sexual harassment and received a failing grade.

          • rlms says:

            @Charles F
            Yes, I inferred that the fraternity wasn’t recruiting from their response (presumably if they had been, they’d have said the sign was a perfectly reasonable advert for their potential recruits).

        • John Schilling says:

          Maybe they just don’t feel like getting expelled and being blacklisted by elite employers for the rest of their lives? Title IX tribunals have already established that attempting to defend yourself is essentially an admission of guilt.

          Failing to join in the daily Two Minutes’ Hate is, I believe, still safe. Has any university ever blanket expelled the membership of an entire fraternity for “failure to condemn”? Is this even a realistic possibility?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            My understanding is that punishment for “failure to condemn” could be implemented through soft power. Frat gets passed over once again for a featured article in the college paper. Departments drag their feet on processing paperwork. Things which would normally get approval from officials now require formal justification. The local police seem to turn up at parties due to “complaints” more often. In general, the campus sits its fat bureaucratic ass on the frat until it comes around.

            Determining whether all of this ever actually happens, or if it’s just crank accusations by various fraternity members, is left as a futile exercise for the reader.

          • Matt M says:

            Even softer, put the frat as an organization aside for a minute.

            Perhaps someone in the fraternity leadership is currently taking a course from an SJ-leaning professor and needs a good grade. He can’t afford to fail to publicly condemn.

            “Expelled” was probably an exaggeration, but there are strong social pressures to immediately concede on something like this, rather than to stand up for common sense.

          • John Schilling says:

            You all are trying to prove too much here. People with local knowledge and affinity for the accused say that they were over the line, and it’s somehow obvious that the All-Pervasive Cult Of Social Justice is making them say that under penalty of mumble something OK lifetime blacklisting was an exaggeration?

            It seems to me that, by this standard, it is literally impossible for any accusation to ever be upheld as accurate or valid because clearlythe accusers and the supporting eyewitnesses are liars being put up to it by Social Justice. No matter what, the accused bros must be innocent.

            If you’re going to claim anything remotely like this, you really need to avoid the gross exaggerations from the outset and support what arguments you do have with more than “could be” or “perhaps”.

          • Matt M says:

            John,

            You’re not wrong, but I think your own argument relies on a whole lot of “could be.”

            On the face of it, a banner saying “free house tours” is almost certainly completely and totally harmless, and, at worst rises to the level of sexual innuendo-based hi-jinks.

            You are the one then saying “It could be that this seems like harmless innuendo, but is actually some secret code acknowledged at the university for something highly outrageous and offensive.” Yes, the fact that other frat guys quickly disowned these people might be evidence that it truly was some horrendous crime, but it also could potentially be explained by the scenarios myself (and others) are outlining.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Eh? I wasn’t trying to prove there was a reign of terror going on here. All I said was that if one wanted to punish frats for failure to condemn, it could be done rather quietly, and even with plausible deniability.

            by this standard, it is literally impossible for any accusation to ever be upheld as accurate or valid

            …well, yeah. And this happens. For any accusation, there will easily exist people who believe it’s false, that it’s just the SJ talking. Same principle leads to concluding that people’s innate racism is what is causing them to refute accusations that they’re racist.

            It’s an insidious conclusion to draw, not just because it undermines certainty, but also because such reigns of intimidation and inertia have actually happened in the past. It might be true, this time. Or the next time. This one case here strikes me as one big load of “I’ll never know for sure, since I wasn’t there”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            We already know there’s a reign of terror, given that they’ve opened a conduct and Title IX investigation.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            You’re referring to the frat that put out the sign. We’re referring to all the neighboring frats.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            I have received messages from industry peers who have expressed “concern” for my career and for my personal safety for my lack of condemnation of “Nazis” on my under my real name social media accounts, and the absence of my signature on various open letters regarding Nazis, Trump, and DACA.

            I’ve been pivoting specialization over the past few years, because my previous specialization, which I used to love and which was a perfect fit for my skills, filled full of explicitly entryest women and women PoC with no technical skills, who are now just about done with completely corrupting it, by the numbers.

          • rlms says:

            @Standing in the Shadows
            That sounds sad, but I don’t really see the relevance.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Standing in the Shadows

            I’ve been pivoting specialization over the past few years, because my previous specialization, which I used to love and which was a perfect fit for my skills, filled full of explicitly entryest women and women PoC with no technical skills, who are now just about done with completely corrupting it, by the numbers.

            And how long do you expect it to take before the same thing happens to your new specialization?

            @rlms

            John Schilling up above in this thread said:

            Failing to join in the daily Two Minutes’ Hate is, I believe, still safe.

            Standing in the Shadows is saying that, at least in his case, that “failure to condemn” is not, in fact, “still safe”. That’s how it’s relevant.

      • The Nybbler says:

        “Apologize but don’t change” is a pretty common fraternity defensive reaction.

        The banner “Free House Tours” facing the sorority recruitment probably means exactly what it appears to mean: “Hey, sorority pledges, come over and have sex with us”. In a ha-ha-only-serious way of course — that is, they don’t expect the girls to actually come over, but if they do they’ll hit on them. Oddly, if they’d phrased it as “Zeta Aleph Lu invites all sorority pledges to a party at the ZAL house” nobody would have remarked on it, though it means the same thing.

        • Charles F says:

          So, that interpretation of it isn’t just a local quirk? My impression of what “free house tours” appeared to mean was that they would show you around the house, for free. Like, they’re neighbors, and they attend each others’ parties, and learning where stuff is and meeting people is a normal part of joining a local community.

          I’m perfectly willing to accept that I’m hopelessly clueless, and this is like netflix and chill actually not meaning that*, round 2. But I’d just like to make sure that’s what you’re saying.

          *Thanks, Barely Matters, by the way.

          • Brad says:

            I think that’s a reasonable interpretation. But it is so plausibly deniable that it shouldn’t have been looked behind. If the administration is going to look behind that, they might as well look behind “Our fraternity is about brotherhood, service, leadership, and upholding the highest values of our nation” and not have them in the first place.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            This is definitely a “Netflix and chill” situation. There’s almost no way they mean anything other than “come have sex with us 😉 ;)”

            How this can be construed as an honor code violation on a college campus utterly eludes me. Thank God I am out of college, and, as a married man, I don’t have to deal with this stupid crap.

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I think we are pretty close to where male sexuality is a honor code violation by itself.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I think we are pretty close to where male sexuality is a honor code violation by itself.

            Reminds me of the story of U Of M telling guys not to wank in the dorm showers because it clogs the pipes. And that doing so is an honor code violation.

          • Charles F says:

            Why make something up when the real reason (nobody wants to stand around in your jizz) is probably perfectly acceptable to everybody?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      “It’s that other person’s fault I’m beating you.”

  3. Incurian says:

    Bryan Caplan responds to Scott’s thrive/survive model. I think they mean different things when they say “left.” Maybe it would have been clearer if Scott had used the “liberal/conservative” framework?

    • Sam Reuben says:

      Even so, the core of Caplan’s criticism remains: Scott’s model seems to be more a just-so story about an extremely contemporary political opposition which then tries to press its conclusions on the past. His refutation is to look closely at the past and see that the modern categories of “liberal” and “conservative” fail to hold as we would like for those earlier periods. This obviously destroys the claim that rightism is somehow universally better-suited for harsh conditions, or we’d see the characteristics we expect of contemporary American conservatism throughout history (we don’t). Same goes for leftism and good conditions. Even if we maintain that the results somehow hold for precisely this current part of history, we run into the “who cares?” problem. It’s just not interesting that you can get an incredibly simplistic description of a highly contextual situation. “American liberalism is caused by optimization for times of plenty.” Let’s grant that, but we know there were other times of plenty in the past, and American liberalism didn’t show up in them outside of some hilariously revisionist history. That means that even if the times of plenty explanation were true, it wouldn’t be interesting. We’d be interested in the other factors which created precisely American liberalism, instead of whatever else showed up at those other points in time.

      For that matter, I find Caplan’s explanation dubious as well. The French Revolution was beyond a shadow of a doubt leftist (it invented the term!), and it wasn’t particularly about markets. It was about the nobility and the clergy, at least to my understanding. Did markets figure? You can always make that argument. However, anti-market sentiment wasn’t the driving force. I have a sneaking suspicion we can find pseudo-leftist movements earlier in history as well, if we look – what about peasant revolts, say? Caplan falls into the same trap, which is to describe something too contemporary. We need to figure out what’s going on at a deeper level, and neither account does it. They’re too rooted in the present.

      • willachandler says:

        Sam Reuben says:  “The French Revolution was beyond a shadow of a doubt leftist (it invented the term!), and it wasn’t particularly about markets.”

        Yes. See (e.g.) Jonathan Israel’s recent — and warranted 100% Spinoza-free! 🙂 — historical survey Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (2014), which is a prelude to Israel’s forthcoming just-released-this-week The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775-1848 (2017).

        Caveat: the “revolutionary ideas” that presently are “igniting the world” are (as it seems to me and many) neither inherently market-driven nor traditionally leftist … in these respect the Caplan / Alexander debate rehashes arguments that are irrelevant to the 21st century’s flood-tides of novel conceptions.

        Rather than arguing sterile left-versus-right dichotomies, it is capacity-centric historical and moral analyses — see (e.g.) Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, and Species Membership (2007) — that nowadays engage most naturally, relevantly, and unifyingly, with the frontiers of 21st century mathematics, economics, cognitive science, and medicine.

      • Incurian says:

        His refutation is to look closely at the past and see that the modern categories of “liberal” and “conservative” fail to hold as we would like for those earlier periods.

        His refutation substitutes a more economic left/right for Scott’s more cultural one. The USSR was poor and economically left, sure, but did it have the qualities of liberalism? That harsh leftist regimes tended to rule during “survive” times is an argument in Scott’s favor – these leftist regimes were authoritarian, not liberal.

        Even if we maintain that the results somehow hold for precisely this current part of history, we run into the “who cares?” problem. It’s just not interesting that you can get an incredibly simplistic description of a highly contextual situation.

        I think it is useful to a have a good model of the other team, especially when the alternative is to assume bad faith.

        Let’s grant that, but we know there were other times of plenty in the past, and American liberalism didn’t show up in them outside of some hilariously revisionist history.

        Scott says we should tend to see more people with the liberal switch flipped in times of plenty. He doesn’t say just how plentiful things need to get, or crucially, who will end up with political power.

        We’d be interested in the other factors which created precisely American liberalism, instead of whatever else showed up at those other points in time.

        We can still be interested in the origins of liberalism as a movement while accepting explanations for individual preferences.

        • INH5 says:

          His refutation substitutes a more economic left/right for Scott’s more cultural one. The USSR was poor and economically left, sure, but did it have the qualities of liberalism? That harsh leftist regimes tended to rule during “survive” times is an argument in Scott’s favor – these leftist regimes were authoritarian, not liberal.

          I think Caplan anticipated and pre-responded to this well enough:

          4. You could deny that Communist regimes were “genuinely leftist,” but that’s pretty desperate. When Communism was a viable political movement, almost everyone – including moderate leftists – saw it as part of the left. An extreme, fanatical part of the left, yes. But very much a part of it.

          Or to tie it into something that Scott wrote a while back, if the Stalinist USSR wasn’t “really” leftist or liberal, then why were so many Western leftists and liberals such big fans of it back in the day?

          • Incurian says:

            Because they were delusional, hypocrites, or liars. That doesn’t mean that the USSR wouldn’t fall under the conservative heading in Scott’s framework.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Caplans narrow definition of Leftism might actually work in his favor. 100 years ago, if you asked someone what the essence of leftism is, they might say socialism but that’s clearly different today. The fact that government control of the economy was seen as defining while today it’s more about social views inidicates that “leftism” is a moving target.

      • hyperboloid says:

        In common usage Leftism means something like egalitarianism, and rightism means something like anti-egalitarianism. They are very vague terms. This explains how both fascists, and libertarians can be rightists, and how both anarchists and Stalinist can be leftists. It also explains how ideas that are leftist in one time and place can be rightist in another. Capitalism is to the left of feudalism and to the right of communism.

        I’m not sure that “socialism” and state control of the economy should be thought of as the same thing, as many of the people who founded the socialist movement did not think of it that way at all.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You’re right that “government control of the economy” is too specific. The main point is that they were all anti-market.

          As far as egalitarianism is concerned, I think today’s leftist(who aren’t socialists) are less egalitarian than their predecessors. Socialism when implemented does result in lower inequality(Cuba has pretty low levels of inequality) and formerly socialist countries(The Soviet Union and China) have increased inequality when they go capitalist. But leftists are ok with this because, to a certain extent, they believe that increased wealth > equality.

          Who is more leftist: the racist, sexist, homophobic communist or the socially liberal capitalist? The fact that the answer is non-obvious is suggestive.

          • onyomi says:

            the racist, sexist, homophobic communist

            Are there any of those?

            That said, while I largely agree with Caplan’s criticism of Scott’s model, if not necessarily his alternative, I think they’re both onto something in defining “left” and “right” in terms of psychological types instead of historical particulars. I feel right wing in America and kind of left wing in China, but I’m the same sort of person… only the type of person I am is more likely be right (correct) in America and wrong in China (because of different circumstances)?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Are there any of those?

            There were in the 19th century. If Marx was alive today, he would be called a bigot.

          • onyomi says:

            There were in the 19th century. If Marx was alive today, he would be called a bigot.

            Those don’t count because everyone in the 19th century would be called a bigot if alive today. Which further confirms my suspicion that psychological types are what we’re really talking about when we talk about left and right, certainly about liberal and conservative. Also may explain why even the rabid anti-bigotry police are able to forgive someone like FDR. He may have done something terrible by our standards, but he was on the “right (left)” side of his day.

          • CatCube says:

            Are there any of those?

            There were in the 19th century. If Marx was alive today, he would be called a bigot.

            19th Century?! China, the Soviet Union, and Cuba all put gays in camps. Hell, our resident trans communist sought to get out of Russia, but didn’t go to any communist countries due to fears that he’d be persecuted there.

  4. BBA says:

    So, about Equifax…

    I’ve read some commentary about Equifax failing at its “one job”, which is to keep our information safe. But that’s not what we pay Equifax and its competitors for. In fact, “we” don’t pay them at all, they gather information about us without our permission and then sell it to businesses who want to know how trustworthy we are. As such, I don’t think this breach will hurt them much in the long run, considering the main value they provide is in up-to-date credit information and the leaked data is growing increasingly stale. Sure, we might be victims of identity fraud, but that doesn’t hurt the credit bureaus.

    A creditor is more sensitive to type II errors (granting credit to someone who’s going to default) than to type I errors (refusing credit to someone who won’t default). Thus the incentive for a credit bureau is to make your score look worse than it really is – but not that much worse, because eventually the creditors will catch on that they’re missing out on reliable customers. Supporting this is that (I’ve been told) it’s extremely difficult to get a demerit off your credit report, to the extent that the bureaus have automated systems to reject most consumer grievances unread.

    On the other hand, this is obviously a necessary service in any society with more than N people (where N is a function of Dunbar’s number I haven’t bothered figuring out) and given their business model I don’t see how to realign the bureaus’ incentives with what they “ought” to be. I’m not even sure what the incentives ought to be.

    What do you think, sirs?

    • willachandler says:

      I for one welcome our new AI/ML-guided markets and the ensuing — hellishly efficient — societies over which our machine overlords will dispassionately rule (if we permit them).

      Personal privacy being inherently incompatible with market efficiency, said privacy must be sacrificed, as far as humanity’s new AI/ML market-masters are concerned, at any rate.

      Hmmm … so maybe Bernie’s right? Or, if not Bernie, perhaps the Swiss?

    • skef says:

      Given this leak, can anyone comment on the later viability of a libel suit against Equifax, on the “reckless disregard for the truth” standard? The theory being that a leak leading to widespread identity theft will lead to widespread credit issues that are not tied to the identity being reported on?

      Even if this wouldn’t fly, is there an opening for this in a more specific context? If you inform a credit reporting company that the information they have on you is wrong, and you have good evidence to that effect, and they keep reporting it, would a libel suit be viable? Things seem to have evolved in a direction where these companies can have a crappy level of accuracy without much recourse for the reported-on.

      • Sam Reuben says:

        What any legal suit is presuming is that you can convince a sufficient subsection of the educated population that what your target (defendant, whatever) has done shouldn’t be allowed. The law is quite important to it, but not so much the textual structure as what people understand it means as a guideline for conduct. This is how old laws get interpreted in new ways.

        So, what does this mean for libel? Simply, “reckless disregard for the truth” is understood to mean “you shouldn’t say things that you don’t or shouldn’t believe are true to the extent where it hurts others in measurable quantities.” Further, it’s generally understood that this is a restriction on certain kinds of press. It’s not generally understood that this is a restriction on credit reporting. As such, you won’t be able to convince an educated subsection of the population that libel was committed against you, unless you have an ungodly brilliant lawyer. However, it’s a fairly easy sell to argue that the credit reporting company shouldn’t be allowed to ignore your claim that your credit be adjusted to fit the information which you’re providing. In fact, it’s such an easy sell that I believe you don’t even have to go to court over it, but just follow FTC rules. They even have a nice guide on their website. If the credit reporting companies don’t comply, then I expect the FTC will want to know why.

        So no, libel isn’t a proper avenue. There are proper avenues. If you think an issue in which you have standing falls outside the most common avenues, then talk to an actual real-life lawyer instead of people on the internet. However, do note that unless you have an incredible team of lawyers, being clever with words doesn’t go far in a court of law.

        • skef says:

          The reason I’m not going to consult a lawyer is that I haven’t had this problem personally, so I have no case. My interest in this question is general. (Although, we’ll see when it comes to the Equifax hack … )

          I see a general trend towards U.S. corporations using cheap, sloppy information management schemes that wind up causing harm, with little or no financial recourse for the harmed. The most striking example of the past decade has been mortgage documentation. There is reasonable recourse in the legal system for similar problems, so I don’t see why things couldn’t evolve to a more balanced state.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      and the leaked data is growing increasingly stale

      As far as we know, it wasn’t the records that leaked. It was SSNs, names, DOBs: things that are likely to stay accurate even after you are dead (although their usefulness drops off at that point).

      The Fair Credit Reporting Act describes ways to get things off your record. It’s not that hard to get even legit demerits off of your credit report if the people handling your debts don’t do the proper paperwork (and they often don’t). The FCRA has statutory damages of between $100 and $1000 if they fail to obey these procedures.

    • Brad says:

      On the other hand, this is obviously a necessary service in any society with more than N people (where N is a function of Dunbar’s number I haven’t bothered figuring out) and given their business model I don’t see how to realign the bureaus’ incentives with what they “ought” to be. I’m not even sure what the incentives ought to be.

      I think this is somewhat exaggerated.

      I think the ability to lend and borrow generally increasing flourishing, and underwriting is an important enabling technology for lending. As far as that goes, I agree that would be lenders need to be able to get relevant information about would be borrowers.

      But I don’t think that the credit reporting agency model that we currently use is the only way to solve that problem. I could imagine many other ways. Some might be less efficient, and so lead to less lending on the margin, but that’s different from saying that without this model we couldn’t have modern society.

      In particular, the credit reporting agency model seems especially suited to the hypercompetitive credit card market, where issuing banks want to streamline the process of opening new accounts as much as possible.

  5. HFARationalist says:

    The key weakness of the liberal racial narrative

    The key weakness of the liberal racial narrative is that it fails to explain why certain groups can develop and improve despite racism and other kinds of persecutions.

    Let’s take Ashkenazi Jews as an example. No amount of persecution managed to crush Ashkenazi intellectual achievements and their abilities to earn income. The same applies to Poles. Nazis destroyed Warsaw yet Poles rebuilt it. Nazis killed so many Poles yet Polish intellectual and economic achievements still exist. We can also talk about China and Japan. Nuking Hiroshima did not result in a perpetually destroyed city. Instead Hiroshima was rebuilt. It has become something better than the pre-war city.

    People still talk about SJ and racism. However I fail to see why we should talk about it. Instead of focusing on racism we should focus on building resilient cultures.

    • Incurian says:

      This only serves to highlight your privilege.

      • HFARationalist says:

        LOL.

        Yeah. Assume that suddenly Ashkenazi Jews, Poles, the Irish, Chinese, Japanese and Koreans suddenly gained some weird privilege! What’s that? What’s the “Japanese privilege” of being able to endure racism and nuking and then rebuild everything? There has to be some Japanese privilege in being able to become rich in Brazil despite racism in Brazil! (LOL what is it? IQ?) What’s the privilege in Ashkenazi Jews rebuilding their lives after antisemites expelled them and confiscate their property? What’s the Polish privilege in being able to handle Nazi persecution, fight back and rebuild Poland? I guess the existence of good Serbian scientists despite wars is because of Serbian privilege. The high score of Vietnamese students despite poverty is due to Vietnamese privilege. There are so many Indian STEM people because of Indian privilege. Do these even make sense?

      • Nornagest says:

        Is this your thing now?

        • HFARationalist says:

          You are talking to Incurian, right?

          Ultimately SJ does not matter. East Europe and Northeast Asia will be great and they will put an end to it.

          Blacks will eventually find their way to prosperity. However liberals aren’t going to be their guides, nor will conservatives. They need to find their own unique way into prosperity and science. It takes time to educate enough people and build a decent science-loving community. They are already on their way there, with or without SJ.

        • Incurian says:

          Would that be ok?

          • Nornagest says:

            Not my call to make, but I think it’d probably get old fast.

          • beleester says:

            It’s exactly the sort of low-effort, not-kind-or-necessary post I would report, if the report button still worked.

          • Incurian says:

            What if I told you it made me extremely happy, and I giggle for a couple minutes every time?

          • beleester says:

            I would say you’re not denying what I said.

            I would also point out that everyone thinks their own jokes are funny, so the fact that it makes you laugh doesn’t say anything about whether you should share it with the rest of us.

          • Aapje says:

            @Incurian

            Doesn’t causing frustration in others for your own amusement make you are troll?

          • Incurian says:

            It’s not causing frustration that tickles me, it’s the elegant stupidity of the kafkatrap. It is my hope people will become inoculated against it.

            But I’ll take your feedback and knock it off.

    • Charles F says:

      So, building resilient cultures seems like a very worthy goal. But right now, don’t we have some cultures that are damaging others? For instance racist attitudes in the US creating or exacerbating problems in minority cultures. Even if you think that the lack of success in the face of hardship from those cultures is evidence that they aren’t *that* great, they probably have some positive qualities, and you can agree that the cultures (at least partially) resulting from the aggression of other cultures, have some problems.

      So there’s an argument that we should come at this from two angles. 1) make some changes to the cultures that are currently harming other cultures in order to stop that, and 2) work on making resilient cultures that can withstand some aggression.

      And 1) is the one that seems more tractable to a lot of people, since we have made some progress with civil rights and whatnot.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I do agree that we should work on both angles. However 2) is currently much more important than 1) because we tried a high dose of 1) without 2) and the problem isn’t improving a lot. The level of racism in any given society is never going to be 0. However a sufficiently resilient culture is going to be able to withstand racism and thrive. 2) without 1) has already worked for Jews, Poles, the Irish and Northeast Asians. 1) without 2) on the other hand has never worked. Hence instead of getting more 1) we have to work on 2) which has to be done if good global race relations are ever going to be preserved.

        I don’t care about how difficult it is to improve 2). We have to do whatever it takes to prevent genocidal race wars.

        • Nornagest says:

          We’ve been over this. You’re trying to solve a problem which has never existed before and does not currently exist except in the minds of a few highly marginal ethno-nationalists. WWII is probably the closest thing to a global genocidal race war we’ve ever had, and even it functioned primarily as a conventional war of conquest on all but one of its many fronts.

          Local genocides are unfortunately common, but they almost always take the form of Small Ethnicity A deciding that their territory would be better off without any of their neighbors, Small Ethnicity B, with whom they’ve been feuding for centuries. Sucks for the Bs, but this sort of dynamic doesn’t scale up to an existential threat.

          If this is keeping you up at night, you can try to save the world or you can stop hanging out with ethno-nationalists. I know what I’d choose.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest The main problem here isn’t American White Supremacists. If global race wars happen the main culprits will be Chinese nationalists, Russian nationalists, German nationalists, Japanese nationalists, Jewish Kahanists and Islamists. American ethnic-nationalists simply don’t have what it takes to be a problem beyond another Jim Crow. The people I listed above the other hand can be real problems.

            The problem of non-resilient groups not thriving does not directly threaten the ethnic groups mentioned above. However it is harmful to race relations even among groups that are resilient and nuclear-armed because non-resilient groups not thriving despite affirmative action threatens the very idea of racial egalitarianism.

            There are two changes we might make about race relations:
            1.Try to get all racial and ethnic groups to thrive and save egalitarianism.
            2.Officially divide the world into developed groups and developing groups. Developed groups need to get along and not nuke each other. They also need to help developing groups. Once a developing group is sufficiently strong it can graduate into a developed group. Eventually we will reach racial egalitarianism when the class of developing groups is empty.

          • Nornagest says:

            The main problem here isn’t American White Supremacists.

            Didn’t say it was. Why do you think any of the groups you mention would be inclined to kick off a global genocide?

            Are you modeling them as self-maximizers? If so, you’re wrong. Nationalists put a high priority on national interest, Islamists want to create a global Islamic state, but neither one wants to tile the world with copies of themselves.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest No, I’m not modelling them as self-maximizers. It is the cultures of these groups that are truly problematic.

            The global genocide in my imagination would probably be ignited by nuclear-armed Islamists in Pakistan or Iran as a frenzy genocidal attack on Israel, the West and maybe India. Then Israel will retaliate against the Muslim world, Russia and China may be dragged into the war and eventually a global genocide of most if not all highly civilized groups may be a consequence with everything from Lisbon to Beijing a nuclear wasteland filled with nuclear waste, grey goo, biological weapons and killer robots. Just having these nationalists without future technologies or Islamism won’t actually be that much of a problem. I believe unless neo-Nazis of any nation is certain that it can afford to fight and win a genocidal war without their own ethnicity getting genocided in it they won’t launch an.attack.

          • Nornagest says:

            It is the cultures of these groups that are truly problematic.

            How?

            You’re drawing a vivid picture, but just repeating the words “neo-Nazi” and “Islamist” doesn’t make it any more credible.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest The problem with Islamists is that we have no idea what they want to do. Who knows whether their beliefs can lead to a real apocalypse?

          • Nornagest says:

            Didn’t you just get done saying that you understand Islamists better than normal people, because you can just look in the book to find out what they want?

            Granted, you can’t actually do that, but the problems with the idea don’t exactly push them in the direction of being less comprehensible. They’re fundamentalists. They want to spread what they believe to be authentic Islam. Mutually turning themselves and a few million of their enemies into radioactive ash doesn’t help them do that.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nornagest Oh I see. Yeah. No matter how murderous an extreme racist is they love their own race! As long as there are nukes in US, Russia and China no racist would dare to start a genocidal attack.

            As for Islamists at least they mostly at least want the right version of Muslims to exist. Hence unless convinced that the attack will succeed they won’t do it. So it is mostly about how lunatic they are. However if racists don’t use nukes several nukes used by lunatic Islamists won’t lead to a global extermination of humans even though many will die.

        • Charles F says:

          1) without 2) on the other hand has never worked

          I think the weak form of your point — that increasing resilience is the higher-value tactic if (big if) we can figure out how — is plausible. But this is just silly. Feminism has gotten a lot done by focusing one ((1), the good friday agreement was a hugely successful case of using (1), the first amendment has worked out reasonably well. Sure, there are cultures that it seems really hard to save. Combating alcoholism in Native Americans is probably not going to succeed via non-intervention alone, for example. But saying non-aggression never solves anything just doesn’t make sense.

          And it seems strange to me that you would associate (2) with preventing race wars. (1) is basically why we don’t have inquisitions, crusades, gulags, etc. (2) could certainly affect how likely it is that any particular culture will be wiped out by a race war, but it’s not going to prevent the war from starting in the first place, probably.

    • RobJ says:

      It may be a weakness, but I don’t think it is a fatal one. You bring up a lot of countries/cultures that have thrived through adversity, but all these situations are very different from each other in so many ways that making any generalized conclusions based on their particular culture is reaching. Plus the Ashkenazi Jew example is the only one that is really related to racism, the others are just hardship of some sort or other. And it’s not like anti-semitism is ok because Jews are, on-the-whole, successful. Limiting opportunites of a group because of unfair negative attitudes toward that group is bad, even if it isn’t successful at oppressing that group.

      Not that I would say culture has no bearing on how groups respond to oppression. I’m sure it can and does. But any attempt to impose cultural change from the outside of a group seems bound for disaster, analogous to failed attempts at “nation building” around the world. Efforts to limit the effects of harmful externalities (racism) seems like a reasonable course of action to me.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I’m not saying that racism is harmless or morally ok. However we are not going to stamp out immorality any time soon. Immoral behaviors, including racial persecution, is here to stay, just like mice, mosquitoes and traffic jams.

        Maybe you forgot that Poles were massacred by Nazi Germany and persecuted by the Russian Empire but they managed to have a nice math community in the 1920s and another nice one right now. Maybe you forgot that Japanese laborers who suffered a lot in Brazil had descendants who thrive there. Maybe you forgot the Chinese coolies whose descendants own businesses.

        If black Americans behaved like the Japanese laborers we would not need to discuss the issue of racial diversity today. Of course some racism would still be around but probably race relations would be much better. As I said before, “Black Businesses Matter”, “Black Income Matters”, “Black STEM People Matter” and “Safety in Black Communities Matters” have to go before black lives matter. When these things are achieved BLM will simply be a reached goal. However trying to get black lives to matter without these things doesn’t work.

        I’m really worried that SJWs are being counterproductive. As I said before non-thriving groups not thriving is disruptive to race and ethnic relations even among those who aren’t non-thriving because it is destroying the current foundation of race and ethnic relations.

    • hyperboloid says:

      There is an obvious difference between Ashkenazi Jews, and say American blacks. On the eve of WWII Jews in most western European countries were a prosperous and generally well integrated minority. That’s not to say they didn’t face prejudice, it’s just that it was by that point the prejudice of social convention, and held no force of law. In 1789 when the Count of Clermont-Tonnerre, a moderate monarchist and opponent of the Jacobins, made his speech before the French national assembly calling for the Jewish emancipation: saying in his own words that they should be “denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals”; most African Americans still faced another 76 years of chattel slavery.

      Even at the height of (Pre-Nazi) state sanctioned antisemitism in Europe, the situation was never one of uniform oppression. Europe’s Jews enjoyed the benefits of strong trade and commercial ties back to their ancestral homelands in Palestine. This extended web of social networks made the Jewish communities of Europe in effect the western terminal of the silk road, a vast network of trade that stretched across Eurasia all the way to India and China. As valuable economic middlemen Jews contributed to the tax base of many European states; and accordingly while some monarchs bowed to religious pressure and enforced antisemitic laws, others did not.

      The situation in Poland is indicative. As early as 1264 Bolesław the Pious, the duke of greater Poland, issued the Statute of Kalisz , guaranteeing Jews religious liberty, the personal freedom to travel across the realm, and protection from false accusations by Christians. This liberal attitude continued through the era of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, all the way until the first partition of Poland in 1772, after which the Jews now under Russian rule faced increasing oppression.

      Compare this history of waxing and waining tolerance punctuated by periods of repression with the treatment meted out to vast majority of American Blacks; who were brought over through the middle passage, and basically treated as beasts of burden until their emaciation at the end of the civil war.

      Your comments about China and Japan are even harder to defend. With a few exceptions like Singapore, and Hong Kong, which had very privileged positions as trade hubs in the British empire, the relative prosperity of Asian nation seems to have a very strong negative correlation with European rule. India which was ruled by the British for a hundred and ninety years, remains largely impoverished, with a GDP per capita $1,709 in 2016. China which subject to a a long period of indirect domination by foreign powers is a middle income developing country, with a GDP per capita of $8,123. And Japan, which was subject to only a brief and relatively benevolent period of foreign rule, is a first world country with a GDP per capita of $38,894.

      Now, it would be foolish to claim that the degree of oppression was the only factor that determined the differences in national and ethnic accomplishments (after all their must be a reason why Europe colonized Africa and not the other way around), but it is a major factor. One of the first things we must do to make sure that the disadvantaged have a chance to advance is to make sure that those at the top are not kicking down the ladder.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I’m not saying that racism and persecution have no effects. However they have almost no long-term effects.

        Let’s just talk about Japan and China. They are thriving. Western colonialism is just some temporary setback that does not matter in the long run. It took Japan several decades to recover. For China it took about 150 years. However in the long run these won’t matter. For example China is way less drugged than the West despite the Opium Wars and will be richer than many Western countries despite the fact that it was once exploited. Japan has much better infrastructure compared to the States despite the fact that it was bombed and even nuked. As for India and the Middle East they will be thriving again because their high culture has never been destroyed. The West, Russia or China won’t be able to destroy Arabs no matter how much they try. They can slow down their development for decades and maybe even several hundred years but Arabs will rise up again.

        Why don’t we talk about Poles?

        • hyperboloid says:

          I disagree that China is thriving, at least by historical standards. In 1700 China and India together constituted a bit more than forty six percent of world GDP, by the middle of the twentieth century they constituted a bit more than nine percent. Since then the number has climbed to around eighteen percent. Only in the last few decades have the giants of Asian managed to begin making up the ground lost over the early centuries of the modern era.

          In the sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, European states underwent a cultural and economic revolution, transforming themselves from global backwaters into the first true world spanning empires. This had two major effects; one: by brining new technology and trade routes, it massively boosted productivity, and brought a great increase in wealth; and two: it gave Europe the ability to subjugate and pillage much of the world.

          The relative balance between these twin forces of plunder, and progress shaped the fates of nations. India fell under the sway of the British empire early, and consequently whatever benefit it gained from European innovations was largely wiped out by imperial expropriation. China manged to remain independent, while adopting much from the new race of barbarians menacing it’s sores. Nevertheless it found itself weakened, and forced into a subservient relationship with the great powers.

          Japan was until the second half of the nineteenth century an obscure nation of fisherman, and warlords, that had made little mark on the international stage. In spite, or perhaps because, of this insignificance to world affairs Japan was able to prosper in the aftermath of the coming of the west. After commodore Perry forced the Shogunate to open the country to foreign trade, Japan was able to stay free of the European yoke, while at the same time adopting almost all of the technological and social innovation that had made European powers strong.

          Consequently, to this day Japan is rich, India is poor and China is somewhere in between.

          Japan has much better infrastructure compared to the States despite the fact that it was bombed and even nuked

          Well for one, you kind of answered your own question there. I remember hearing, a possibly apocryphal, story about an American businessman who upon seeing Tokyo commented with amazement on how the Japanese had managed to build such a modern city. His Japanese host dryly replied that they had gotten some help with urban renewal from the US air force. For another, all you have to do is compare Japan’s GDP per capita to a country like the United States, or Sweden, that survived World War Two without suffering aerial bombardment to see that they do still bear the economic scars of war.

          The question of the African, and for that mater native American, and Australasian peoples, is a bit more complicated. These areas were isolated, either by ocean (or in the case of Africa, the Sahara) from the great centers of trade and civilization in the Eurasian mainland, and consequently were much less advanced at the beginning of the European imperial era. In Africa this had two effects; one: Africans obviously had much more ground to make to reach parity with Europe; and two: the military disparity between the colonists and the native population allowed Europeans to be far more rapacious than they had been in Asia. Sorting out how much of African poverty is due to Africa starting the modern era in much more primitive state, and how much is due to the effects of colonialism
          is hard.

          Why don’t we talk about Poles?

          Okay. Using statics gathered by economic historian Angus Madison, In 1929 (the first year he has economic statistics for the second polish republic) Poland had a per capita GDP of $2,117 measured in 1990 Geary–Khamis international dollars, the same figure for Ireland was $2,824. I chose Ireland as a point of caparison because both countries had recently exited a period of foreign rule and, unlike Poland, Ireland remained neutral during world war II. Now, a comparison in complicated by the fact that Ireland had a population of around four million at the time, whereas Poland had a population of twenty seven million, but if anything that should biases the comparison in favor of the Poles. By 2010 Ireland had seen 81 years of independence, whereas Poland had seen thirty one years of independence, and fifty years of, either rule by Nazi Germany, or subjugation by the Soviet block. Ireland had a per capita GDP of $22,013, and Poland $10,762. If you expect that Poland should have followed the same economic path as Ireland than you must conclude that Poland’s years of foreign rule decreased it’s potential GDP by slightly more then half, even after twenty years of independence from the Warsaw pact.

          • Nornagest says:

            For another, all you have to do is compare Japan’s GDP per capita to a country like the United States, or Sweden, that survived World War Two without suffering aerial bombardment to see that they do still bear the economic scars of war.

            I’m pretty hesitant to say that the war has much direct effect on present-day economies. Germany’s infrastructure got flattened as thoroughly as Japan’s did and now its GDP/capita is within spitting distance of the US’s. Britain saw less damage but its economic performance wasn’t as good postwar. Spain was neutral (its civil war happened a few years earlier, but that killed about a half-million people all told and involved very little strategic bombing; by WWII standards that’s practically intact) and its performance after the war is on par with Italy’s, which was a major theater. Plus, you look at GDP curves for Japan and you find rapid acceleration from the Fifties through the Eighties followed by stagnation: that’s not what war damage looks like.

            Indirect effects of the war are still important — the European states that ended up in the Soviet bloc are uniformly doing worse than nearby ones that didn’t, and you could spin that as a consequence of WWII. But communism’s gotta take some of the blame for those, and that fell much later.

        • Sam Reuben says:

          Your argument is kicking the can down the road and then pretending it’s still sitting right at your feet. Your key points appears to be that persecution has almost no long-term effect, if we look past the period where persecution does have an effect. This is a tautology. Of course persecution will have no effect in the long run, when the sun goes out and the surface of our planet freezes over for good. Nobody was ever worried about the long run. They’re worried about today. Your argument admits that persecuted groups have varying “recovery times,” and then ignores the fact that being “recovering” is probably not a good state. Sure, in the long run the communities popularly glossed as “African-American,” “inner-city,” or any other such term, will probably be okay. That doesn’t mean things aren’t good for them in the short term. Moreover, if “recovery” is something which is needed, your argument accepts that there is something to recover from, namely, the evils of persecution.

          You should also be aware of precisely how ignorant you are on many of these historical matters. Nobody is saying this outright, and they should be. “Ignorant” here does not mean stupid, nor does it mean morally culpable. You are not evil because you don’t know things. You don’t know things as a consequence of not knowing things, and not knowing things results in judgments based on false premises. hyperboloid above has already given you much more context on Jewish oppression than you had before, as well as some details on China and Japan. I can give you more, if you’re willing to listen. (You probably should also know more about the Islamic Empire, up to the sack of Baghdad, and realize that the Middle East still hasn’t recovered from that.) What you should recognize is that you’ve taken a massive and complicated topic, which has been condensed to the vulgar shorthand of “oppression,” and then treated it as if all instances of “oppression” are identical. I would hate to see you cook rice, if you can’t tell the difference between long-grained and short-grained rices. The same applies here, to oppression. The atomic bomb had little which it shared in characteristics with, say, Jim Crow laws. No Jim Crow laws have ever caused nuclear fallout, from what I’ve heard, and the atomic bomb has famously failed to segregate schools. The only thing the two shared was that they were “bad” to specific ethnic groups, and “bad” is a slippery word indeed. By equating the two, or even trying to relate them in a distinct way, you are showing ignorance for what the two are. You might as well be treating each as words that don’t refer to anything at all, as components of an empty syllogism. That’s not logical. That’s not reasonable. That’s just, well, fallacious.

          What you need most is humility. There are many things you do not know, and you’re acting as if you do know them. Worse, you’re acting as if you have power you don’t have. The propositions “build more resilient bridges” and “build more resilient societies” have nothing in common, insofar as methodology is concerned. Steel and timber don’t make their own decisions. They can be controlled by a single architect, but humans can’t. The only way to have a resilient society is to have a society composed out of resilient people, who are willing to act together. The only way to have that kind of person is for them to create themselves. You can’t tell someone how to be. The best you can do is provide some of the intellectual items they can use to make themselves better. None of this can be engineered in any absolute way. Indeed, engineering it is the worst one can do. Can you imagine that treating people like objects will result in them acting like better people? That can’t happen.

          In any case, I don’t expect to convince you. The only way you, or me, or anyone else can be convinced by another is if they wish to allow that person to convince them. I’m not so stupid as to believe I have any status in your life whatsoever, and as such, you have no reason to allow me to convince you. All I want to do is lay the words in front of you, such that when someone who you do give that power convinces you to broaden your view, you can work with the concepts more easily. That’s all. (Why do I care? Well, why do you think I would?)

          • HFARationalist says:

            Thank you very much for this post!

            The main problem with the moral approach is that the universe is amoral. Instead I believe the realistic approach is better. Cruel things happen. I agree that they are harmful. However crying about them without improving makes things worse. I don’t even try to make the world a more fair place because it is simply impossible. SJWs try to introduce SJ but there is no such thing. You have to survive in this cruel world.

      • Wrong Species says:

        This argument works for Black people vs other minorities. But what about Asian vs Hispanic? Do you think Hispanics have faced more discrimination than East Asians? There is clearly something distinct about Asians that makes them thrive wherever they go. The question is what is that?

        • HFARationalist says:

          Northeast Asians are an ancient, civilized, high-IQ group comparable to whites. So it is just natural that they thrive.

          South Asians in America are a highly selected group with ancient civilizations. Of course they thrive.

          Southeast Asians don’t necessarily thrive at all. Filipino Americans do but many Vietnam War refugees don’t. Vietnam doesn’t have any acivilizational problem. Not sure about Cambodia or Laos.

          As for Hispanics I think acivilization is a serious issue. Mestizos do not have either a full Spanish civilization nor a full Native American civilization. They haven’t invented a new civilization either. Hence many of their problems may be a consequence of acivilization instead of racism, low IQ or poverty. Crime rates usually correlate with single motherhood rate which indicates the degree of acivilization.

          Without a civilization people don’t necessarily know what to do. Hence we have ghettos. Ghettos are actually very weird globally speaking. I think they are caused by acivilization of a minority population sustained by the majority. In civilized societies there are poor neighborhoods and even slums but not extremely dangerous ghettos. Ghettos probably aren’t caused by racism or racial inferiority. Instead they are caused by both poverty and acivilization.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I didn’t make this clear but many people(myself included) conflate the terms “Asian” and “northeast Asian”. I wasn’t referring to Indians and southeast Asians.

        • INH5 says:

          One obvious factor is that Asian immigrants face far greater levels of immigrant selection than Hispanics do. Asian immigrants have to cross the world’s largest ocean to get to the US, and most have come through a legal immigration system that specifically selects for skilled workers (the Chinese-American population that immigrated during the 19th century has been totally swamped by post-1965 Chinese immigrants). Even the Vietnamese boat people were selected to some degree since they fled from a Communist regime and as such had a disproportionate number of economic elites. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of Hispanic immigrants to the US either come from countries where you can reach US territory by traveling over land (in the case of Mexico and Central America) or from a place that literally has open borders with the US (in the case of Puerto Rico).

          Native-born Cuban-Americans, whose parents were mostly refugees from a Communist regime and had to cross water (though not nearly as much water as any Asian immigrant groups) to get to the US, have greater average household income and educational attainment than non-Hispanic US whites.

          I’m not saying that immigrant selection effects are the whole story, but they clearly are a major factor and it seems foolish to ignore them.

          • HFARationalist says:

            I agree. However immigrant selection can not explain the economy of NE Asia proper though.

            Furthermore the Cuban American crime rate is still much higher than both the native white American one and the Mexican American one.

          • INH5 says:

            I agree. However immigrant selection can not explain the economy of NE Asia proper though.

            True, but the economic fortunes of countries in both Northeast Asia and Latin America vary considerably. For example, at least 15 countries in Latin America and the Carribean have an equal or greater per-capita GDP than China.

            Furthermore the Cuban American crime rate is still much higher than both the native white American one and the Mexican American one.

            Actually, in Florida non-Hispanic whites have much higher per-capita incarceration rates than Hispanics after you control for age and gender. (Graph comes from this article by Ron Unz.)

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t have any numbers but…

            Asians did pretty well for themselves in the 19th century

            They still do well for themselves everywhere they are in the world.

            Cuban refugees are probably more white than other Hispanics. That doesn’t necessarily imply causation but it could be either.

            Those Latin American countries currently doing better than China have much lower growth rates compared to a typical East Asian country at their level.

            What exactly would you consider as falsifiable evidence against your theory? I’ve given mine below.

          • INH5 says:

            Asians did pretty well for themselves in the 19th century

            Assuming you’re referring to the US: in the 19th century Chinese immigrants mostly ended up working manual labor jobs for much lower wages than whites. This led to the passing of laws specifically restricting Chinese immigration with the intent of preventing them from undercutting the wages of poor whites. That might fit some definitions of “doing pretty well for themselves,” but it’s not something that we typically associate with “high achieving” immigrant groups.

            Cuban refugees are probably more white than other Hispanics. That doesn’t necessarily imply causation but it could be either.

            True, but I highly doubt that they are more white than the non-Hispanic US whites that their children outperform.

            Also, Colombian-Americans are apparently even higher achievers than Cuban-Americans. 42% of adult US-born Colombian-Americans have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, compared to 36% of Non-Hispanic whites. I haven’t been able to find any hard data on the racial genetics of Colombian-Americans, but just glancing at these pictures of a Colombian Independence Day parade in Queens, New York makes it clear than a lot of Colombian-Americans have a significant amount of Non-European ancestry.

            Those Latin American countries currently doing better than China have much lower growth rates compared to a typical East country at their level.

            What do you mean by a “typical East country at their level?” Going by Wikipedia’s definition of East Asia, there aren’t any countries in that region with a similar level of economic development to, for example, Chile, because it is significantly above China and Mongolia but significantly below South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

            If we compare middle-income Latin American countries with similarly middle-income Southeast Asian countries, we find that, for instance, from a similar starting point 30 years ago Chile has done significantly better than Malaysia while Brazil did about the same until its 2015 economic crisis. Comparing Chile to South America’s two majority-white countries, Uruguay’s economy has done about the same while Agentina has done a bit worse. So I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see here.

            What exactly would you consider as falsifiable evidence against your theory? I’ve given mine below.

            What theory do you think I’m espousing? If you mean the theory that immigrant selection positively correlates with the success of immigrants and their descendants, then to me that seems to be plainly and obviously true. If you want to simultaneously deny that and argue that the economic troubles of Sub-Saharan Africa are due to intrinsic qualities of black Africans, then that would make the success of recent black African immigrants to the West extremely hard to explain.

            I want to reiterate that I’m not arguing that immigrant selection is the only factor behind the different levels of success of different immigrant groups, only that it is a very significant factor, and that taking it into account makes the argument that “Asian immigrants have turned out a lot better than Hispanic immigrants” much weaker.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Also, I’m fairly certain(but not completely) that China was just as poor as Subsaharan Africa 50 years ago. Why do East Asian countries experience breakneck economic growth but Subsaharan African countries don’t?

        • HFARationalist says:

          That’s because the natural level of development of NE Asia was much higher. Hence the breakneck economic growth.

          In fact even North Korea is civilized. It is poor but still highly organized.

        • INH5 says:

          Also, I’m fairly certain(but not completely) that China was just as poor as Subsaharan Africa 50 years ago. Why do East Asian countries experience breakneck economic growth but Subsaharan African countries don’t?

          Botswana’s GDP-per-capita curve looks a lot like China’s, and is much better than Mongolia’s. (And if you want to blame Mongolia’s economic troubles on Communism, keep in mind that it has had a market economy for more than 20 years at this point.)

          And yes, these examples are cherry-picked, but I still think that they’re enough to disprove a blanket statement like this.

          • Wrong Species says:

            China is one of the poorer East Asian countries right now. It really only started its breakneck economic growth in the last couple of decades and is already as high as it is. Botswana didn’t have a Mao. In fact, it probably has had one of the best institutions in Sub Africa and even then, its economy has grown in spurts over the last 60 years. If Botswana reaches First World Status then I’ll consider that a strong argument but I’m betting it stalls out. The Middle Income Trap hasn’t historically been a problem for East Asian countries but it has for others.

            Don’t you think it’s just a little odd how much more East Asia has grown compared to Subsaharan Africa? Why do you think that is? Just plot South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and then look at any African country. What’s the chances that these small number of East Asian places would all be rich while 50+ Subsaharan African countries are poor if all we looked at were institutions and historical oppression? It would be shocking if it was chance.

          • rlms says:

            Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan (to a lesser extent) are tiny island nations adn should not be counted. The Seychelles and Mauritius also do decently (they a higher GDP/capita than China).

            As I see it, discounting outliers, in East Asia Japan and South Korea are rich; China and Mongolia are middling; and North Korea is poor. In sub-saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea is oil-rich but not developed; approximately Angola, Botswana, Congo, Gabon, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, and Swaziland range from moderately richer than China to moderately poorer than Mongolia (looking at GDP/capita graphs rather than current values); and the others are poor. I don’t think that’s an overwhelming evidence for some inherent factor that makes sub-saharan Africa poor and East Asia rich.

            But even if you think it is, why are your subset of East Asia and sub-saharan Africa the relevant points of comparison? If we include the rest of East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos etc.) and limit our African countries to the strip on the West coast from South Africa to Nigeria, things look very different.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @rlms If we want to test the idea of H.BD or culture can not include Southeast Asia because they are very different from NE Asia both culture-wise and H.BD-wise.

            SE Asian crime rate in America is also very high.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Like HFA said, NE Asia is very distinct from SEA. There’s not that many countries in the region so I had to choose some small ones. But you’re saying that I’m nitpicking while you pick the only six or so countries in SSA that aren’t dirt poor,(excluding the island countries*) and in fact are simply middle income. How can you look at this map and not be curious why that region is so poor? There are only a small number of countries in the rest of the world that are as poor as the typical SSA country. Can you seriously say with a straight face that you don’t notice anything distinctive about the region compared to everywhere else?

            *Seychelles and Mauritius both had no native population before European colonization and have people that are either majority Indian ethnicity or a mix of SSA and Austronesian. Again, the only countries with high GDP per Capita in SSA are the ones with smallest percentage of SSA.

            I’ll ask what I asked above: What would you consider falsifiable evidence in either direction? If China doesn’t become a developed country, I would consider the “East Asia is special” model sufficiently falsified. What about you?

          • rlms says:

            @Wrong Species
            But why is North-East Asia different from the South-East? Aside: if Singapore is North-East Asia, so are Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines.

            My whole theory is that in both regions, the success of a country depends on many specific historical factors rather than some general property of the region. So it can’t be falsified in the same way as yours; it is essentially the null hypothesis. Details of it (civil war and colonisation make countries poor, being a tiny island on global trading routes makes them rich) could be falsified if e.g. Japan was colonised but still ended up successful, or Swaziland drifted of into the South China Sea but remained poor, but I don’t think that kind of thing is very likely to happen.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Singapore is majority Chinese population. Grouping it with the rest of NEA is as reasonable as grouping the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as Anglo countries. If you aren’t willing to come up with some falsifiable evidence to prove your idea right or wrong, it just shows that you aren’t really justified in holding the beliefs that you hold. It’s not even wrong.

            After doing more research, the situation in SSA is actually worse than I originally thought. All of those middling countries hold either oil or mineral wealth that isn’t distributed to the population. So the people in those countries are about as poor as the rest of the region. If we look at SSA countries that aren’t doing terrible, we’re limited to two island countries that have populations which aren’t majority SSA and Botswana. Botswana has good institutions and mineral wealth but is still only a middle income country. That’s probably the best the other SSA countries can aspire to.

            My whole theory is that in both regions, the success of a country depends on many specific historical factors rather than some general property of the region.

            Why do you think Gdp per capita lines up so well by region? Russia has terrible institutions but it’s about the level of a typical Eastern Europe country. Botswana has good institutions but is barely above the rest of its region. If you were right, it’s remarkable how well the world can line up economically by region. Latin America, Subsaharan Africa, Western Europe, Northeast Asia, Eastern Europe, MENA, and Central Asia have outliers but under your model, it should be pretty remarkable how cohesive they are. And yet you don’t seem the least bit surprised. You need a better model than “historical factors” if you want to understand why these countries are so different from each other. It doesn’t have any exploratory power.

          • INH5 says:

            @Wrong Species:

            Personally, in this context I’m not terribly impressed by a theory being “falsifiable” in the sense that it can be falsified if we wait for a couple of decades and see which countries have succeeded in comparison to others.

            Botswana has good institutions and substantial mineral wealth, but it is also landlocked and had a lot more ground to cover in terms of development than, say, many Asian countries. Taking all of that into account, I’d say that its development has been pretty impressive.

            The Caribbean has several small island countries with majority-black populations that have comparable or greater incomes than Seychelles and Mauritius. And yes, their success is largely due to tourism, but that’s also the case for Seychelles and Mauritius.

            Incidentally, Madagascar is a large island country where the population is genetically roughly half-Sub-Saharan African and half-Southeast Asian, and it is one of the poorest countries in Africa.

            But leaving all of that aside, the 5 East Asian countries that you keep pointing to clearly had especially favorable historical circumstances. Hong Kong and Singapore were major trading hubs of the British Empire. Japan happened to be in exactly the right position during the 19th century to obtain the benefits of European contact without the usual drawbacks. South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan all received a lot of investment from the US after World War 2 in an attempt to counter the influence of Communist China and North Korea in Asia.

            The only circumstance in Africa that I can think of that is remotely comparable to any of the above is the recent Chinese investment in many African countries. Which seems to have had the effect of…significantly improving economic development in those countries. Funny how that works.

            Why do you think Gdp per capita lines up so well by region?

            Could this perhaps be because countries in the same region tend to have similar characteristics, including but not limited to similar historical circumstances?

            —-

            I’m not actually of the opinion that historical circumstances are the only or even the main determinate of the success of different countries. For example, I think that geographic disadvantages such as high parasite load, the tsetse fly, and the difficulty of constructing and maintaining transportation networks through tropical rain forests have been significant contributors to Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic troubles. But your arguments that historical differences have “no explanatory power” aren’t very convincing.

    • Well... says:

      This is basically a rehashing of one of my recent blog posts. Admit your crime, plagiarist!

      • HFARationalist says:

        That is just a coincidence. I posted something similar some time ago in another open thread.

        Furthermore I in fact hint that H.BD is a possibly legit hypothesis that can partly explain why certain groups are more resilient than others.

        Edited: Unfortunately my posts about Poles did not precede yours. They are here. https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/27/ot83-slippery-slopen-thread/ However I indeed had this idea before your post. I didn’t even read that post of yours at all before you posted that link.

        I can give you links to my posts on /ratanon . They are more radical than what is allowed here. You will see that basically I believe that sexual promiscuity lowers IQ and tropical weather evolutionarily promotes sexual promiscuity. Humans started out roughly equal but evolution has made humans unequal. To restore equality we have to curb promiscuity, cut excessive welfare and get eugenics started. Do you have such beliefs? I consider sexual morality a serious evolutionary issue along the lines of the reactio.nary forum Coalpha Brotherhood.

        You aren’t remotely as alt-right-ish as me. It is easy to see that my ideas aren’t a plagiarized version of yours.

        • Well... says:

          I was just messing with you. I think it’s totally plausible that we had the same idea about liberal racism and explored it via similar paths.

          Do you have such beliefs?

          I don’t have the epistemological certainty to say for sure that tropical climates evolutionarily promote promiscuity, or that promiscuity lowers IQ, but neither claim seems obviously unreasonable to me.

          I’m not sure what you mean by “humans started out roughly equal.” If humans started out roughly equal but became unequal through evolution, how did our hominin ancestors get to the state of equality from which humans started if those hominin ancestors were subject to the same process of evolution?

          I can’t say I’m interested in any concerted effort to “restore” (or, more likely, attain for the first time) equality on a genetic level. (Hey, didn’t you have a thread earlier about genocide…??)

          I’m also not sure what you mean by eugenics. I favor smart people getting together and having lots of kids…is that eugenics? Isn’t it “eugenic” to find females attractive for having features that suggest fertility? Because I definitely do that too. But I have a feeling you meant something else.

          You aren’t remotely as alt-right-ish as me.

          True, not anymore. But I was once more All Tritish than you. In fact, my blog post in question was inspired by something I heard John Derbyshire say, and even references a phrase I heard him use. (I don’t agree with Derbyshire all the time but even toward the very end of my travels with the All Trite I found I still agreed with him most of the time.)

          • HFARationalist says:

            Oh..I got trolled lol. We do share the same sentiment about non-Western European powers though.

            Despite not being Jewish I like Jews and other dominant trader minorities. I like Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Avraham Stern, the leader of Lehi. I believe high-IQ trader groups should always be armed. Furthermore high-IQ minorities in less developed societies should be heavily armed to defend themselves against threats from a massacre commited by the majority and if possible should always call on their home countries to stop majority pogrom mobs if they ever form.

            You used to read Derbyshire? Cool! I think he is really moderate.

            I have the view that the world is divided into civilized groups (All Caucasians in Europe, India, the Middle East and Northeast Asians) and uncivilized groups. Civilized groups have always been historically great and will perpetually remain great even though sometimes a civilized group may temporarily not perform well. On the other hand, uncivilized groups are not great and need to become civilized or they will remain poor and dysfunctional. Hence the problems in India or Iraq, both civilized nations are much easier to solve than the ones in the Philippines or Mexico regardless of IQ or socioeconomic status. For the former two nations the problems can be because of poverty or some parts of their civilizations going haywire while for the latter two founding a new civilization needs to be done which is much harder. Civilizations also cause people to be less seductive evolutionarily so for uncivilized groups beside founding new civilizations they also need to genetically curb seduction. The level of seduction naturally increases in a wet, tropical climate unless it is artificially curbed by people. Hence the uncivilized tropical people really have to undo the evolutionary damage done by the environment so that they are prepared to be civilized.

            Groups resilient to racism are usually civilized while groups sensitive to racism are usually uncivilized. Enslaved new world blacks have it worse than African blacks because new world blacks don’t even have any memory of Africa and anything close to a civilization there left. They don’t like the white civilization that enslaved them either. Hence they are utterly acivilizational. Here I need to criticize the slavers but not their descendants. The slavers are partly responsible for this mess by mixing slaves from all over West Africa together. This does partly explain why West African blacks sometimes perform better than native American blacks which goes against the racialist theories. When one criticizes problems in the black community black Americans frequently scream racism without actually trying to fix these problems while Nigerians usually actually listen and then try to correct the problems. What black Americans need to do is to try to connect with relatively developed East African cultures which they are already doing (e.g. Kwanzaa). Racists like to mock Kwanzaa but I think this is a good idea. Kwanzaa will help correct the acivilizational problem of the black American community by instilling some values in it. Let them learn Swahili or Amharic. That’s at least not going to hurt.

          • HFARationalist says:

            Problematic groups aren’t usually who H.BD people believe are particularly problematic.

            For example racists like to talk about black and mestizo crime. Blacks in America are utterly acivilizational just like other new world blacks and mestizos are also pretty acivilizational. Middle Easterners who supposedly have lower IQ than them according to H.BD usually outperform them a lot.

            So it’s really hard to say how much of the NAM underperformance problems came from genetics, how much of them came from racism, how much came from economic problems and how much came from acivilization. We can’t claim that H.BD explains what’s going on before considering these factors.

            Maybe liberals, conservatives and H.BDers are all wrong. Civilizations or lack thereof might be more important than IQ, racism and socioeconomic conditions in predicting group success.

          • Charles F says:

            I think it’s totally plausible that we had the same idea about liberal racism and explored it via similar paths.

            Considering you’re both readers here, I’d assume you were each riffing off Scott’s post on the subject.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            HFARationalist:

            ” Blacks in America are utterly acivilizational.”

            What are you talking about? They have a higher crime rate, but a lot of them aren’t criminal and work for a living. A good many of them are intelligent.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            “Acivilizational” simply means being without a civilization. It doesn’t imply that one is evil, stupid, inferior or a criminal. Black Americans are culturally cut off from anyone else, so it makes sense to say that they are very acivilizational which isn’t a criticism of their genes.

            You have an enslaved population that is later mixed so much that not a single African tribe accepts them. As a result new world blacks basically have no history before slavery. Slavery frequently happened in history but this rarely happens. I dont believe slavers are mostly responsible for this shit because it was likely to be accidental but it is indeed very shitty.

            What does “acivilization” mean{Well assume that you are Jewish here is what that means: You have a Jewish history that goes back to at least the First Temple and myths that are much earlier. However the cultural and civilizational memories of new world blacks are completely empty other than slavery and racism. You have Jewish sages such as Hillel and Maimonides, they don’t. You have good values that have existed for a long time such as the idea that knowledge is great, they don’t have any of these. You have Hebrew, Yiddish and other Jewish languages, they only speak English or some creole. You have lox, bagels and chicken soup while they have no food other than the food of their former masters. People can persecute Jews but they can’t destroy the Jewish civilization which is why Jews can always rebuild their lives after persecution. The same feature allows Lebanese Maronites, Chinese, Iranian and Indian merchants to survive and thrive in foreign lands. You might be horrified after reading my paragraph. In fact it horrifies me. I can not imagine how life in an acivilizational group is like. However new world blacks simply have no civilizational guidance from anyone which is why they seem to be prone to squandering opportunities. This isn’t due to racial inferiority but acivilization instead.

            For example let’s talk about another acivilizational society, the Philippines. Its culture is basically a mixture of what Indians, Muslim Malays, Chinese, Spaniards and Americans gave them with basically nothing from themselves. In fact even the word “Philippines” came from a Spanish King instead of anything natives had. The islands aren’t even a cultural or ethnic entity at all, instead it is just whatever the Spaniards and later Americans included in “the Philippine islands”. In fact the term “ethnic Filipino” makes less sense than than the term “Native Hawaiian” because at least Hawaiians had a single identity. Now of course their society isn’t as good as that of other people around them. Civilizations can correct many social problems. Hence acivilization is correlated with social problems. The same problem exists in Latin America and Africa.

          • John Schilling says:

            Sitting here in North America, I can’t help but notice what appears to be a thriving civilization, which includes many black people as full participants. From my study of this civilization’s history, these black people and their ancestors helped build it, almost from the beginning. There was thus little need for them to build their own separate, blacks-only civilization, and I don’t see any great need for a term for people who didn’t build their own separate racially-segregated civilization.

            Also, “acivilizational” absolutely is derogatory in any context in which civilization is a virtue.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @John Schilling “Acivilizational” is merely descriptive but not derogatory especially since new world blacks did not cause their own acivilizational status. It is as derogatory as the term “patient”. It is certainly undesirable but it shows nothing about moral status of a person or a group. The solution to acivilization is the same as the solution to an illness, namely treatment.

            Furthermore a separate black civilization is necessary unless America is 100% integrated which hasn’t happened. They need something to fall back to in case America rejects them. Sorry but slaves with few rights or understanding of a civilization aren’t full members of it regardless of how much they did to build it.

            Finally the idea of acivilization is a nice alternative to the idea of racial inferiority. Acivilization is a temporary cultural status caused by circumstances, not an inherent racial characteristic that can not be fixed. It also fits reality better than racialism. Hence I’m not sure why you do not like this explanation.

          • Aapje says:

            @HFARationalist

            Furthermore a separate black civilization is necessary unless America is 100% integrated which hasn’t happened. They need something to fall back to in case America rejects them.

            This makes no sense. First of all, a fully separate black civilization simply doesn’t exist. It’s not like all black people only work at black businesses, they have fully segregated institutions, etc. So if they are rejected, whatever you call ‘a separate black civilization’ isn’t going to protect them.

            Secondly, it is circular logic. A separate civilization obviously precludes full integration, but you argue that black people can’t let go of a separate civilization unless they are full integrated. So by your reasoning, no group that is not fully integrated at the beginning, can ever allow themselves to be fully integrated. Yet Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc did fully integrate and we now see them as a lot safer than African-Americans. So the common sense approach for them is to integrate as well.

            Anyway, you seem to be demanding perfect solutions/engaging in extremism, but your model is inconsistent with history and modern reality. You seem to just ignore the many things that conflict with your beliefs to create a clean theory. However, by doing that your theory may be logically consistent, but it is also totally worthless.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Aapje When I wrote suggestions for a community I usually truly thought as if I were its member. If I were black do you think I would ask white liberals for mercy and love? No! Because I would still consider racism and harsh realities a part of life that won’t disappear any time soon! Do you know what I would do if I led a major black African nation? Make nukes and missiles to defend the black race from genocidal Nazis of whatever race! I don’t believe in mercy, love or compassion. Instead I only believe in the world being amoral and cruel. I only believe in obtaining rights through strength and deterrence! What about black Americans then? My idea is already in my posts. It’s not about appealing to morality to encourage people to respect black lives. Instead it is about making the black community respectable, indispensable and powerful to the point that people have to respect black lives. Hell if I were a black leader and H.BD sounded plausible to me I would try to get all black kids to take nootropics. I’m serious here. Improvement by whatever legal means is good.

            Integration does not necessarily work well when people look too different from each other.

          • Aapje says:

            @HFARationalist

            That is totally unworkable. The North Koreans can only use that strategy because they live in a separate country. Any leader that tries to be Kim Jong Black will be locked up in prison long before he gets anywhere close to a single tested nuke. It can’t even realistically be used, because any targets being hit would include many black people, which the black community won’t appreciate. So it would destroy black solidarity (which you probably can’t understand the value of, given your radical individualism, but it really matters a lot, trust me).

            It’s also a stupid strategy, because there is absolutely no indication that a genocide is particularly likely. The racism indicators are lower than ever in US history and the Nazi’s are just a small segment of the population.

            But if the black community would choose terrorism en mass (which would be the case if they would try to get nukes as deterrents), that would actually fuel great existential fear among other ethnic groups. Existential fear is a/the common reason for genocides.

            So your strategy can’t protect black people from genocide in any realistic way, but can only increase the chance of it.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Aapje I wasn’t saying that black Americans need nukes. I was saying that Nigeria and Ethiopia need nukes.

            As for black Americans what they need to do ASAP is to strengthen their economic power as much as possible and make their own communities safe. H.BD is not a legit excuse here for black underachievement because they do much worse than those who supposedly have lower IQ, nor is racism or poverty. Start businesses, repair infrastructure and most importantly excommunicate thugs and chase them out of the community now. When inner cities can become safe race relations will naturally improve.

          • Nornagest says:

            Why would Nigeria want a nuke? It pretty much owns western Africa already. It’s got the largest population, the largest economy, the largest army. It’s politically stable by African standards. It has no local rivals and it’s not being threatened by any global powers.

            Nuclear weapons are expensive and developing them pisses some very powerful people off. Things were different in the Sixties and Seventies, but right now there is only one good reason for a state to put in the effort: if it needs a deterrent more than it stands to lose from the inevitable diplomatic blowback. That can happen if it’s a regional power in a hot enough rivalry with another regional power (India and Pakistan, formerly Iraq and Iran), or if its geopolitical situation is so precarious that it has nothing to lose (Israel, North Korea), but it’s not common.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            HFA:

            I don’t believe in mercy, love or compassion. Instead I only believe in the world being amoral and cruel. I only believe in obtaining rights through strength and deterrence!

            So, what you’re saying is…

            😛

  6. Andrew Hunter says:

    Whoa, this is interesting: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/09/gender-gap-stem-not-think.html

    TL;DR: new data suggests a very novel explanation for the STEM gender gap (at undergrad level, which pipelines upward): men who aren’t good at STEM are considerably less likely to get into college, because they’re not good at other things either. Women who aren’t good at STEM often can make it on the back of their lit/art/music/history grades. So in college we see only men who are good at STEM and a mix of good-at-STEM and good-at-other-things women, hence a lower fraction of STEM-y women. Interesting.

    Thoughts?

    • rlms says:

      Seems unlikely. In the UK at least, there is still a gender imbalance in subject choices before university, and there are a lot of non-STEM university courses that have even gender balances.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are three different definitions of the STEM gap. This paper uses a nonstandard one and quietly asserts that the usual one has no gap; it “explains” a gap that no one else ever measures, p(STEM|sex). (Although maybe this is the one that people talk about.) It says that actually this is independent of sex and people don’t notice because they condition on college attendance, p(STEM|sex,college).

      The usual STEM gap is p(sex|STEM). This paper asserts that it is close to even. I think that is correct. Lots of people assert that it isn’t. But they never quote numbers; instead they play a slight of hand and look at specific fields, eg, p(sex|engineering). This is far from even because women in STEM are all in biology and psychology.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There’s at least two sleight-of-hand games with P(sex|STEM). One is to quote P(sex|TE) as if it’s P(sex|STEM), as you mention. The other is even cuter — it’s to claim P(sex|STEM) should be equal to P(sex|college). Since women are overrepresented in college, parity in STEM is actually underrepresentation, according to this argument. Here’s one from the Society for Women Engineers which combines both.

    • Charles F says:

      I’m having quite a bit of trouble following his logic and figuring out what’s novel here. I think it’s a shell game.

      We start out talking about the gender gap in STEM, and specify that we mean the phenomenon usually seen as women being less likely to study STEM, as in, there are fewer women than men in STEM fields/classes.

      We find that at the end of high school, we can split uni entrants into four groups: STEM-ready men and women number about the same. Non-STEM-ready women are a much larger group than non-stem-ready men. Or, if a man can’t go into STEM, he won’t bother with uni, but if a woman can’t get into STEM, she’s much more likely to go and do a BA.

      Then with that distraction out of the way, we abruptly stop talking about numbers studying STEM, and start talking about differences in STEM readiness. If we cut back the non-STEM-ready female group to the size of the non-STEM-ready male group, we find that the difference in average STEM-readiness between men/women drops from 14% to 2%.

      But we already knew that, it just said earlier that the numbers of STEM-ready men/women at the end of high school were about the same, so why go through that tangent?

      The post (I haven’t read the paper) doesn’t do anything to address that if you take two groups of STEM-ready entrants, and there wasn’t a difference in interests, you would expect similar numbers going into STEM, and adding a bunch of non-STEM-ready women shouldn’t remove that first group of women from the engineering classes. So if there are fewer women in STEM (and that is what we were saying, fewer in absolute terms, not just ratios), and similar numbers of women/men with aptitude for it entering uni, then something else (discrimination, people/things interests, preferring classes with more than one other woman, whatever) must be going on.

      And then it closes with this gem:

      Thus, among university students, women dominate in the non-STEM fields and men survive in the STEM fields. (The former is mathematically certain while the latter is true only given current absolute numbers of male students. If fewer men went to college, women would dominate both fields).

      It’s great that even if we can’t dominate the way women do outside of STEM, inside it we can just manage to hang on and survive… in our 75-90% male classes. Reaaally just barely still in the game there. And yes, of course if you drastically reduced the number of men in college, you’d drastically reduce the number of men in STEM classes and women could dominate there.

      (ETA: @Douglas Knight above mentions something I’m definitely guilty of, which is ignoring Bio/Psych fields when talking about STEM and instead focusing on CS/Engineering. Sorry about that)

      ——————————

      But, I generally trust Cowen to be better at this sort of analysis than I am so what am I missing? Can anybody fill in the steps from the data to the conclusion for me?

    • Deiseach says:

      men who aren’t good at STEM are considerably less likely to get into college, because they’re not good at other things either

      Well, I’m sure that will come as a surprise to my nephew currently half-way through a university degree in the humanities who is only slightly better at STEM-y things than I am.

      I’m not entirely sure of what point you are trying to make; women who don’t go into the sciences go for other courses instead? Because women can be all-rounders? Whereas men only go to college for STEM courses and if they suck at STEM subjects they equally suck at things like languages, music, art, business and so forth, therefore there are no men in these courses? I think we can all see that is not so, but what are you saying then?

      Or, if a man can’t go into STEM, he won’t bother with uni, but if a woman can’t get into STEM, she’s much more likely to go and do a BA.

      I don’t get this at all and I think Charles F is right that there’s some kind of Find The Lady (ha!) trickery going on here, because I’m kinda sure that there are men doing non-STEM courses at third level, even if they’re only lone wallflowers trampled beneath the (high) heels of all the women grabbing places on law, accountancy, and business courses. (Does medicine count as STEM for these purposes?)

      EDIT: then something else (discrimination, people/things interests, preferring classes with more than one other woman, whatever) must be going on.

      Okay, I think I can spin some gold out of this straw, but it’s less to do with “men only go for STEM courses” and more to do with “women in general do better at completing education”, at least in this 2009 report on gender balance in Irish universities:

      43 per cent of full-time students in the seven universities are male and 57 per cent are female. The School Leavers’ Survey 2007 finds that gender differences in educational attainment are apparent at second level with more males than females leaving school early. Eight per cent more males than females leave secondary school without completing the Leaving Certificate (Byrne et al, 2009). The gender divide is also evident in Leaving Certificate results. Of those accepted for study on an Honours Bachelor Degree in 2006, 61 per cent of females had scored at least 450 points in comparison to 39 per cent of males (HEA, 2007). The statistics discussed above indicate the different progression of men and women through the Irish education system from primary school to third level. Even though more males than females enter the Irish education system due to the Irish demographic structure*, more females than males complete secondary education, achieve higher grades at Leaving Certificate level and progress to university. However, the female advantage appears to disappear in the labour market in terms of earning expectations, the gender pay gap and the over-representation of women in part-time work and lower paid jobs.

      So it’s perhaps more true to say that, of the men who do go to university, they tend to cluster in the STEM fields or have a numerical advantage there because of the whole “men in general on average better at maths” thing, not so much that men only go to university if they are good at/intend to study STEM subjects.

      More women than men go on to third level education because girls do better in their exams; not all those women are going to be interested in/able for STEM fields; men may be better at maths because [you all know the arguments already], so the men who do end up going to university tend to dominate numerically the STEM fields while the women are spread out over all the courses/subjects on offer.

      *Sex ratios at birth and under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female

      • The Red Foliot says:

        I’m not entirely sure of what point you are trying to make; women who don’t go into the sciences go for other courses instead?

        I think the implication is that you can’t balance the gender gap in STEM by encouraging non-STEM women to go into STEM, because the non-STEM women are incapable of doing STEM work. So the only way to get a gender balance in STEM would be to find women who are capable of doing STEM but not yet going to university.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Because women can be all-rounders? Whereas men only go to college for STEM courses and if they suck at STEM subjects they equally suck at things like languages, music, art, business and so forth, therefore there are no men in these courses?

        I think it’s more like if a man is good at STEM, he goes to college for STEM. If a man is not good at STEM, he does not go to college and instead goes into trades. If a woman is good at STEM, she goes to college for STEM. If a woman is not good at STEM, she goes to college for non-STEM.

        This makes sense because earning potential is correlated with male status. If plumbers make more than art history majors, men who can’t hack engineering are going to opt for plumbing rather than art history.

        • bean says:

          This still doesn’t make sense, though, because it answers the wrong question. The question everyone is asking is why the majority of people in STEM are men. This would, all else equal, predict that STEM is 50/50 and non-STEM is majority women. The first is not true, and it offers no answers for why more men than women go into STEM.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Rather, according to the paper, if a woman is good enough at school to get into college, she goes into either STEM or not-STEM.

            The men who can get into college and hack STEM do so because money, which will allow them to attract a woman and raise a family. Women do not have such pressure because men are less likely to qualify women by their jobs/studies.

          • Matt M says:

            Conrad,

            For a man who is say, just good enough to hack it in any field, is STEM really the highest-paying choice? As I said below, my perception is that business, law, medicine can all pay at least as well, if not better.

            Doubly so if instead of “good enough” for any field, you’re so talented that you’re “exceptional” in any field. Aside from the occasional tech entrepreneur, most billionaires aren’t scientists or engineers…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Am I not just echoing the findings of the study? Perhaps I misunderstand. Is the study wrong, or is my understanding of the study wrong?

          • Matt M says:

            I didn’t read the study itself, but its conclusions would seem to imply significant female majorities in the fields I mentioned (business, law, medicine, etc.) which, as far as I know, is absolutely not the case.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            For a man who is say, just good enough to hack it in any field, is STEM really the highest-paying choice? As I said below, my perception is that business, law, medicine can all pay at least as well, if not better.

            One factor could be that STEM requires less initial investment. Law and Medicine require 4+ additional years of competitive study and student debt. Business, AIUI, generally requires a lot of ladder-climbing time and effort before you make the big bucks. Whereas one can qualify for a well-paying gig right out the gate with a B.S.

        • rlms says:

          “If a man is not good at STEM, he does not go to college and instead goes into trades.”
          Is that actually true? The British stats I use for reference for this kind of question show a 40/60 male/female balance in the humanities, in comparison to the 80/20 split in the subjects people are talking about when they refer to the STEM gender gap. I can’t imagine the US is that different.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, I’m not buying that. There are a large amount of high-status/high-earning fields that aren’t STEM: business, law, medicine, etc. It’s not as if engineering and art history are the only options here…

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Where do you get your numbers? Your last link didn’t have a number for STEM, only for individual subjects, and not very many of them.

            If I add all A-level sittings, STEM is 52% male and other is 41% male. Removing psychology bumps STEM up to 57% male.
            (This is hardly different than if I used just the top 10 A-levels at your link, covering 2/3 of the sittings. But it isn’t possible to get that out of your link because it doesn’t list the sex ratio for the those exams, only unbalanced ones.)

            the subjects people are talking about when they refer to the STEM gender gap

            That is a really suspicious phrasing. If you mean STEM, say STEM. If people mean the CS gap when they say the STEM gap, they are lying. It makes a big difference if you count psychology as a social science vs a real science, but little else is ambiguous.

          • rlms says:

            @Douglas Knight
            A-level choices are probably misleading, because A-level Maths is popular even among non-STEM people. My usual source is pages 12 and 13 here, which show STEM being 64/36 (including psychology, medicine and veterinary medicine).

            I think it’s usual for people talking about the STEM gap to mean maths, physics, computer science and engineering (i.e. discounting psychology, biology, chemistry and medicine). That might not make sense, but it’s how the phrase is used.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thanks!

            Elite schools may not be representative. For example, in America, humanities are rare except at elite schools. I think math has a gap at elite schools, but not at most schools. I don’t know that the overall STEM ratio is any different, though.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m not good at STEM and plenty of men I know aren’t good at STEM, but we went to university nevertheless. If you’re from a certain background, not going to university is barely in the cards.

    • rahien.din says:

      Even if their thesis is correct, all they have demonstrated is that the ratio of STEM to non-STEM enrollees is lower in women than in men, even though a roughly equal number of women and men enroll in and graduate from STEM programs. It’s not clear why it is even a problem with respect to STEM.

      And based on their numbers, STEM enrollees are 1:1 female:male, and nonSTEM enrollees are 3:2 female:male… why is that a problem for STEM? Their data show that women have a comparative advantage in non-STEM, and are even in STEM.

      I am also skeptical of one of their premises : they include nursing and midwifery as STEM professions, and they do not report how much of “biology” is comprised of “nursing/midwifery.” Is this really what people mean by STEM, when they lament that not enough women go into STEM? I worry that this confounds their analysis.

      A central idea of their paper is that the source of the gender gap is merely due to a large gender gap in raw admission rates to university. But, they describe that mix of STEM related courses taken by male and female high schoolers is different, with a higher concentration of women in biology and chemistry and a lower concentration in physics and calculus. This suggests that men and women are already choosing different paths in high school, which weakens that central idea.

      Also they make broad intergroup comparisons without using statistics at all. Come on.

    • bean says:

      That doesn’t seem to make any sense. If men and women were equally likely to be good at STEM, with men who are bad at STEM less likely to get into college than women who were bad at STEM, then STEM school would be about 50/50, with non-STEM school dominated by women. IIRC, the gender balance in non-STEM is closer than STEM.
      On closer inspection, there’s an conflation of STEM-readiness with actually studying STEM subjects. In other words, as many women as men have the grades in STEM subjects to do the work. They just choose not to.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Do you have a source for STEM not being close to 50:50? People just don’t talk about that statistic. The most popular majors, biology and psychology, are 2/3 female.

        • bean says:

          I don’t have that statistic, but it’s beside the point. It’s not exactly controversial that whatever subset of STEM is dominated by men (math, CS, engineering) is dominated by men. This model has no explanatory power for that case. Even if we assume psychology is STEM (it isn’t) and that bio/psych people and CS/engineering people are fungible (they aren’t), it still doesn’t explain why women are in bio and psych instead of CS and engineering.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, you can draw the lines wherever you want, but so long as there’s a single well-paying white-collar field or specialty that is male-dominated, this is going to be a controversial issue.

      • rahien.din says:

        If men and women were equally likely to be good at STEM, with men who are bad at STEM less likely to get into college than women who were bad at STEM, then STEM school would be about 50/50, with non-STEM school dominated by women.

        Well… their data show that STEM enrollment was 1:1 female:male, and non-STEM enrollment was 1.4:1 female:male. So in some sense their conclusion is definitely in keeping with their dataset.

        But that only proves Ontario’s problems are the opposite of the rest of the world’s (excepting maybe Japan).

        • bean says:

          I think that depends on classifying psychology and biology as STEM. So far, the various people talking about ‘women in STEM’ do not seem placated by that. At the very least, we’ve just moved the problem from ‘women in STEM’ to ‘women in CS’, which is the core problem. And this still has no explanatory power for why so few women go into CS.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If they want to talk about STEM, they’ve got to talk about STEM, all of it. If they want to talk about just the “TE” (CS & Engineering, basically), they should talk about just that. If they switch from one to the other according to whatever’s convenient (e.g. “Women are equally good at STEM but they’re only 30% of CS grads”), they’re never going to get anything with explanatory power.

          • rahien.din says:

            Agreed – and worse, they classify nursing and midwifery as STEM! And go to great lengths to do so!

            It’s just insane. They evade the important questions and then pretend they’ve answered them.

  7. INH5 says:

    This paper was cited in the Damore memo, and in discussions on this site before it, as evidence that more prosperous and gender egalitarian countries have greater sex differences in personality than poorer and less egalitarian countries. I’ve recently taken a closer look at it and, unless I’m reading it wrong, it seems to have some serious methodological issues.

    The biggest issue is how they measure “sex difference in personality.” Here’s the paper’s explanation of their method on page 174:

    As in the study by Costa and colleagues (Costa et al., 2001), the magnitude of sex differences on different personality dimensionswas correlated across cultures: Those cultures in which sex differences in one domain of personality were prominent tended also to have large sex differences in other domains. Correlations between domains varied from .05 to .51, only three of which did not reach statistical significance. On the basis of these strong intercorrelations, we formed a General Sex Difference Index (GSDI) as the mean average of sexual differentiation on four dimensions—Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness—for which we found that women, on average, scored higher than men did (see Table 1 for nation scores). Averaging differences across the four women-dominated dimensions gave an overall index of the extent to which sex differences were emphasized in a particular culture (see Costa et al., 2001).

    That sounds fine in theory, but when you look at the data in the table on page 173, it’s clear that this can be very misleading. Take India, for example. It has a GSDI of 0.01, which would seem to imply that in India women and men have almost identical personality traits on average. But here are India’s mean z-score sex differences for the Big 5: Neuroticism 0.60, Extraversion -0.38, Openness to Experience -0.46, Agreeableness 0.09, Conscientiousness -0.27. This is clearly not a sample where men and women have almost identical personality traits on average, but because the sex differences on some of the Big 5 traits are in the opposite direction of others, it averages out to an GSDI score of almost 0 anyway.

    Compare that to Finland. It also has a GSDI score of 0.01, but here are its Big 5 sex difference z-scores: Neuroticism 0.32, Extraversion -0.19, Openness to Experience -0.24, Agreeableness -0.05, Conscientiousness -0.06. On each individual trait, Finland has smaller sex differences than India, but because, again, some of them are in opposing directions it averages out to the same GSDI score.

    Moving up the table, let’s look at Germany, a country with a much greater GSDI score of 0.23. Its Big 5 sex difference z-scores are: Neuroticism 0.48, Extraversion 0.12, Openness to Experience 0.11, Agreeableness 0.09, Conscientiousness 0.23. Compared to India, sex differences in Agreeableness are the same and the differences in all other traits are of a smaller magnitude. But because the differences in Extraversion and Conscientiousness are in the opposite direction as those in the India sample, Germany gets a much greater GSDI score.

    I could go on and on, because almost the entire table is like this. It’s clear that averaging together the differences in 4 different personality traits paints a very misleading picture. The only countries that seem to actually have both a low GSDI score and low magnitudes of sex differences in personality traits are Ethiopia and Japan. All of which would seem to undermine their final conclusion that, “In summary, we have found that differences between men and women in their personality traits become more extreme with the increasing development of human society.” (page 180)

    In addition, there are a number of other things in the paper that smell like p-fishing. Their analysis found that sex ratio in smoking has a much greater predictive value for GSDI than traditional/secular-rational values (page 178). Then there’s the paragraph on page 176 that talks about how countries with a high Human Development Index have greater sex differences in blood pressure, of all things.

    I admit that I’m a novice at statistics, but the methodology here seems very questionable to me. Am I missing something?

    • Nornagest says:

      You’re right, that would give misleadingly low GSDI values in cases where some of the inputs are negative, and it sure looks like that’s what’s going on in the India and Finland cases. From eyeballing the data, though, that seems rare — most of the negative correlations are in Openness, which is being excluded from the GSDI stat for some reason (though that’s kinda weird in itself), and most of the non-Openness negative correlations are small.

      I don’t know if this is enough to change the conclusion — the lowest GSDI countries are a grab-bag of high and low development, so the negativity issue might self-cancel to some extent. It would be interesting to reanalyze the data if you redefined GSDI as the sum of the absolute values of sex difference rather than of their signed values.

      EDIT: Y’know, I think I’ll do that.

    • Nornagest says:

      Okay, so I fed the data into Excel and constructed new composite statistics GSDI’ and GSDI”, consisting respectively of the average of absolute values of differences in N, E, A, and C and the average of absolute values of differences in all five personality aspects, respectively. The original conclusion mostly seems to hold up when you plot them against GDP/capita: the trendline is shallower for GSDI’, but there’s less variance. It’s shallower still for GSDI”, though, and the variance is closer to what we see in GSDI. I think however that all three would achieve statistical significance (though Excel can’t tell me that). Haven’t tried correlating against any measure of gender egalitarianism yet.

      There are weak positive correlations with GDP/capita for gender differences in all five personality dimensions: they appear strongest for Neuroticism (though there’s some crazy outliers, like Morocco with middling-low income and a whopping +0.81 N) and weakest for Openness. When I get home I might try feeding this into some real statistical software and see if I can come up with P-values and all that good stuff. Might also be interesting to use some measures of development other then GDP and see what I can come up with.

      • INH5 says:

        Did you ever get around to putting the data into statistical software to get the P-values?

        Btw, I decided to repeat your analysis on my own using Excel. I found the same results: GSDI has a positive correlation with 2008 (the year of the study) GDP with a R2 value of around 0.15. This decreases to ~0.11 for GSDI’ and ~0.07 for GSDI”. So correcting for negative inputs and the exclusion of Oppenness to Experience decreases but does not eliminate the pattern.

        However, while I was looking at the data I found something else: the pattern seems to be primarily if not entirely driven by regional differences. If you remove the Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries (note that I included Turkey in the “Middle East” category, though including it under “Europe” doesn’t change the results significantly), the trendlines become even shallower to what I’m pretty sure is an insignificant level: the R2 values are ~0.01 for GSDI, ~0.03 for GSDI’, and ~0.01 for GSDI”. The trendlines for the Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries by themselves are also pretty flat: the R2 values are ~0.03 for GSDI, ~0.01 for GSDI’, and ~0.0016 for GSDI”.

        While I am wary of drawing any conclusions from the second subsample since it is pretty small (21 countries) and lumps together 3 very different parts of the world, the first subsample contains 34 countries with per-capita GDP ranging from under $5000 (Bolivia) to over $45,000 (the Netherlands). So this would seem to be evidence against the hypothesis that there is a significant “greater prosperity = greater overall sex differences in personality” effect in Western countries (here “Western” is understood broadly enough to include Latin America), at least within that range of economic prosperity.

        When you look at individual personality traits, there are some correlations within the “Western countries” subsample. Neuroticism has a negative correlation with GDP/capita (R2 of ~0.074) Extroversion and Conscientiousness have positive correlations with GDP/capita (R2 of ~0.038 and ~0.065, respectively), and Agreeableness and Openness to Experience are pretty much flat. I don’t know enough about statistics to determine whether these correlations are the product of chance or not, though.

  8. Deiseach says:

    Looking up something about the BBC Test Match Special commentary, I found one article from 2007 which included this glorious example of the BBC’s Reithian attitude (“inform, educate, entertain”) at its zenith during the 1940s and 50s (bolding mine):

    From Arlott, his incomparable Hampshire accent eventually as thick as his favourite clarets, the programme gained its high regard for unconventional voices, capable of light and shade, and for commentators with hinterland. (“Your voice is vulgar but you have an interesting mind,” said the BBC’s then head of outside broadcasts, Seymour [Joly] de Lotbinière.)

  9. Aapje says:

    Even though there are no aggregate statistics, it seems likely that Title IX cases are very disproportionately conducted against non-white male students. For example, at one university, 4.2 percent of the students are black, but 25% of the investigations and 15% of the convictions were against black male students during a three year period. If those statistics would be somewhat similar on the national level, it might cause some who now support Title IX based prosecutions to reconsider.

    Furthermore, it may also result in an opportunity to get the courts to require better protections of the rights of the accused, because although men are not a protected group and thus can freely be harmed disproportionately, that is not true for black men.

    PS. The linked article is the third installment in the examination of Title IX cases by The Atlantic. We have discussed the other articles here recently.

    • Charles F says:

      It seems strange that they completely avoided going near the topic of whether different demographics offend at different rates. Like, they’re deliberately allowing people to read into that whichever way their bias leads them and providing no numbers or even subtext to inform that decision at all. Maybe it’s the smart thing to do if they want to avoid letting the Title IX discussion devolve into a culture war on two fronts, but it was still somewhere between jarring and surreal.

      ETA: some numbers here. Worth taking any correspondences with a grain of salt, since the Atlantic article does mention that the numbers they’re looking at are often in the single digits. (ETA2: and of course, similar dynamics could lead to crimes being over/under-reported depending on demographics in both cases.)

      • Aapje says:

        Addressing that would immediately cause a large number of people to regard the article as racist, so I consider it smart that the writer didn’t go there. From a SJ perspective, the article as written pits institutional racism against toxic masculinity, which creates cognitive dissonance that undermines the belief that breaking down the protections of the accused and lowering the standards of evidence will only affect the ‘oppressors’. Of course, one can assume that those people will go to their standard solutions: require reporting of the racial differences in prosecutions/convictions, strongly criticize the institution/persecutors when they act unfairly to members of ‘oppressed’ groups and demanding that the persecutors are replaced by non-whites, who supposedly won’t be biased and thus persecute proportionately.

        Their first solution is a win for those that care about fair treatment of innocent men, want actual predators to not just be kicked out so they can freely target other women, etc; because we’ve seen in the past that SJ solutions tend not to work (as the theory behind them is rarely consistent with reality). When studies show no reduction in rape or assault due to Title IX prosecutions, the logical response of SJ people is to double down. There is no incentive to change tactics, since they don’t care about collateral damage to men*, so there is no point where they will consider the tactics not worth pursuing. When they see that black people get harmed disproportionately, suddenly the math changes.

        Their second solution is also a win for rational people, since scrutiny of the prosecutors can be expected to result in them covering their ass, by treating the persecuted much more fairly. I think that most persecutors are not going to be so racist to treat white and black suspects differently.

        The third solution is also a win, since it can be expected to result in (even more) conflict between white feminists and black feminists/anti-racists. White feminists tend to lead the charge against men, so if they get burned out, pushed out or such, you can expect the anti-racist activists who move in to want to use the courts against racism or such. So making the Title IX courts a battleground for inter-SJ warfare might destroy them from within, by making them ineffective, removing enough of their support so reformers get a chance, etc.

        The way I see it, playing into traditional narratives doesn’t convince enough of those who actually control the Title IX courts, but main speaks to those who are already on a part of the political spectrum that gives them no real way to change this. So that is mostly useless.

        * My very strong perception is that the default mental image of ‘men’ in SJ circles is a white man, who can be righteously be disadvantaged. Disrupting this by pointing to examples of non-white men who are hurt by SJ solutions can go a long way to disrupt the simplistic model where it is assumed that any mistreatment merely reduces undue privilege and thus doesn’t really cause damage.

  10. HFARationalist says:

    Introduction to the non-autistic world for us autists?

    Non-autistic rationalists, would you please introduce what we autists usually fail to recognize about your world? Really thanks!

    • Mark says:

      Rationalism is an autistic world-view, isn’t it?

      Excessively focused on external sense data, rejecting the value (existence?) of the internally generated stuff…

      Ethically, it seems like people without a firm grasp of empathy trying their best to adhere to what they’ve been told is the right thing to do – gamification based on external data.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I agree. At least for me the internally generated stuff (you mean emotions? Desires?) is usually suppressed for being irrational.

        My ethical view is completely centered on help/harm and liberty/oppression. I don’t care about fairness as a separate value from helping people which separates me from SJ people, authority as something morally relevant which separates me from authoritarians, in group loyalty which separates me from cultural nationalists. I care a bit about ideological purity but not much because most people are too far away from my values for this scale to be useful. Basically I only hate two kinds of behaviors morally, harming people and forcing people to obey or conform. I also cringe at people not believing or doing what their ideology requires.

        • Deiseach says:

          Basically I only hate two kinds of behaviors morally, harming people and forcing people to obey or conform. I also cringe at people not believing or doing what their ideology requires.

          Again, can’t you see your internal contradictions here? “I do not want people to be forced to conform!” versus “Argh, why don’t people conform in every last jot and tittle to their stated ideology?”

          If you don’t want forced conformity, you will have to accept (or at least learn to tolerate) that there will be slight disjunctures between “every last rule in the book on this subject” and “what I do in my ordinary life” for average people. Nobody keeps the law perfectly. Nobody at all, not even saints.

          • Nick says:

            Nobody keeps the law perfectly. Nobody at all, not even saints.

            Actually, it’s really to keep the law if the law makes no demands of you. This is absolutely not the case for Christians like us, but for someone who tries to figure it all out for himself, he may create a code which doesn’t challenge him at all.

            (Necessary disclaimer that this is a tangent and I don’t mean to imply this applies to anyone here.)

          • I don’t see any internal contradiction in what he wrote. He is objecting to people being forced to conform. He also disapproves of people not choosing to conform to their (presumably stated) ideology. His disapproval doesn’t force anyone to do anything.

            Is there any inconsistency between not believing that bacon should be illegal and disapproving of people who claim to be believing Jews or Muslims and still eat bacon?

          • Deiseach says:

            Is there any inconsistency between not believing that bacon should be illegal and disapproving of people who claim to be believing Jews or Muslims and still eat bacon?

            I see the contradiction more as HFAR wants people to be free to make their own choices (not forced to conform). Well and good. But he then objects to people exercising choice over what parts they will and won’t keep in an ideology they claim to follow, and while there certainly are cases where someone so waters down, avoids, or flat-out contradicts what they claim to believe that they really are “in name only”, at the same time you can’t be simultaneously declaring “nobody has the right to say you have to do this thing” and “if you don’t do every single thing in the way I assume the logical consequence of these beliefs to entail, you are not really a Whatever”.

            HFAR doesn’t get to make that decision unless he is himself a Whatever who really is sticking to all the rules of Whateverism.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Deiseach Here is the problem. I process ideas way better than humans. Hence I would rather there be a set of rules that can predict the behaviors of a human so that I can reduce the problem of understanding a human to the easier problem of understanding an idea.

            When one claims to believe in some ideology I usually tend to understand the human using the ideology. Hence a human who claims to abide by an ideology but does not actually abide by everything in it is a contradiction. I usually don’t think about the human lying first. Instead I tend to find the human self-contradictory and irrational.

            However as Nornagest said, unfortunately even Nazis, Communists and ISIS members aren’t the robots I wish they were, let alone regular people.

          • I process ideas way better than humans.

            I am guessing that you mean “I process ideas way better than I process humans.”

            But my first reading, and I think the most natural, was:

            “I process ideas way better than humans process ideas.”

            At which point one naturally wonders about your views on paperclips.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @DavidFriedman Sorry for the confusion. What I meant is “I process ideas better than I process humans”. I usually attempt to reduce humans to robots or ideas in my mind. Hence to me a human is simply a list of data such as “The human’s name is Juan Carlos Sanchez Lopez, “Juan” is pronounced as “huan” and is a Spanish form of Yochanan. (some information about the rest of his name). Juan is a white Argentinian from Buenos Aires. He is a computer scientist working in North Carolina…..”. I don’t really care about Juan as a human but instead he is just a set of characteristics that are more interesting than the human himself.

            As I said before, your hometown, your job and your name are probably more interesting to me compared to you. Before I went arelationshipal I talked to a Filipino lady by phone in an attempt to get married for religious reasons. I was more interested in her hometown and what her name means in Tagalog than her. Then I realized that human relationships are not for me. She has so many FB friends and past relationships despite being younger than me. Hence I wasn’t even sure whether she was just talking to one person at all.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t see any internal contradiction in what he wrote. He is objecting to people being forced to conform. He also disapproves of people not choosing to conform to their (presumably stated) ideology. His disapproval doesn’t force anyone to do anything.

            The object-level debate here is settled, but I want to point something out: it’s genuinely difficult to tell whether HFAR is really making this distinction. A lot of his language shifts freely between “this is wrong” and “I don’t like this,” and to my recollection it’s not something recent, rather he’s been doing this as long as he’s commented. For instance, his actual language wasn’t that he “objects” or “disapproves,” it was that he “hates” and “cringes.” It’s not at all clear to me that cringing is mere disapproval, especially since he connects the two thoughts with an “also.” Downthread, he writes,

            I don’t like people breaking written rules. However I’m also against people establishing unwritten rules through consensus. I can be even more mad if people use unwritten rules established by consensus to overrule the written rules.

            Again, “I don’t like” is connected to “I’m against” with an also, then followed with “I can be even more mad.”

            My advice to HFAR is be more careful about delineating his emotional reactions from the content of his beliefs. Sure, digust or revulsion of a sort is caught up in our formation and expression of beliefs about ethics; but most of us believe it’s not the sum total of them.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I usually attempt to reduce humans to robots or ideas in my mind.

            This is not Rational. Rationalism is supposed to iterate toward correctness, whereas this attitude will inevitably yield inaccuracy.

          • Charles F says:

            @Gobbobobble
            Eh, sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got. Sure it would be more “rational” to model humans using a neurotypical brain’s human-processing capabilities than to think of them as robots or instantiations of an ideology. And it would be even more rational to model humans using a near-perfect simulation run by a superintelligent AI to figure out exactly how to interact with them. But if you can’t do either of those things, but you can try to model a person as a status/pleasure-maximizer with some social/ideological rules imposed, maybe that’s better than just never trying to predict any behavior.

            I don’t think HFA was saying his model was great or that people who do have person-processing units should use it. Just that it’s what he tends to do.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Deiseach: I’m reminded of a scene from The Golden Age by John C. Wright, about why the Sophotechs encourage humans to be moral:

            “No matter how great a creature’s intelligence, if one is guessing one’s own future actions, the past self cannot outwit the future self, because the intelligence of both is equal. The only thing which alters this paradox is morality.”
            Phaethon was distracted. “Morality?! What an odd thing to say. Why morality?”
            “Because when an honest man, a man who keeps his word, says he will do something in the future, you can be sure he will try.”
            “So you machines are always preaching about honesty just for selfish reasons. It makes us more predictable, easier to work into a calculation.”
            “Very selfish–provided you define the word ‘selfish’ to mean that which most educates, and most perfects the self, making the self just and true and beautiful. Which is, I assume, the way selves want themselves to be, yes?”

            So yes: I think HFAR dislikes hypocrisy because it makes it harder to understand and predict people. He has that in common with some superintelligences, if nothing else. 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            Hypocrisy doesn’t necessarily make people that much harder to predict, because the hypocrisy tends to be quite predictable if you understand the deeper mechanisms. However, it does make it harder to convince people with facts and makes dark triad manipulations more effective.

        • Mark says:

          When I say “rejecting internally generated stuff” I’m thinking of two things:

          (1) Attempting to define morally significant entities, as far as possible, with reference to external appearance, rather than accepting some more egotistical basis.

          (2) Metaphysical realism.

          • Nick says:

            (1) Attempting to define morally significant entities, as far as possible, with reference to external appearance, rather than accepting some more egotistical basis.

            Do you just mean moral realism? If so, grouping it with metaphysical realism under “internally generated stuff” is pretty odd, but I take your point that many rationalists reject such things. I’m not sure that that has anything directly to do with autism though… in my experience, plenty of autistic folks like big, abstract, complex systems, and there are lots of big, abstract, complex moral and metaphysical realist theories.

      • Nick says:

        rejecting the value (existence?) of the internally generated stuff…

        If you’re talking about emotions (it’s not really clear), then no doubt some rationalists are guilty of this, but the folks from Less Wrong have always and widely been suspicious of the Straw Vulcan.

        • HFARationalist says:

          I’m a proud Vulcan stuck on the Earth..Humans are so unpredictable that they frequently give me surprises.

          • andrewflicker says:

            Thank goodness for that. Imagine a life with no surprises? (Which means no learning, etc.) Horrible.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            The surprisingness is not a property of humans, it’s a property of your mind.

            If you don’t like surprises, it is you who should adapt your model of humans, not humanity adapt to your model.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @andrewflicker I’m not talking about surprise in a usual sense. Instead I’m talking about non-autistic humans being unpredictable to me. You folks make no sense. I think after reading some posts I begin to see the logic of non-autists.

    • shakeddown says:

      I think the brain theory post describes it pretty well. Non-Autistics are better at just ignoring low-level stimuli and distractions. I think it’s partly because we feel less mental pain at misresonance between our expectations and reality, so we’re not too worried about just following our high-level systems to a wrong guess.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Sure. This varies from person to person though. I can block out some low-level distractions. However I really can’t tolerate others’ negative emotional responses, people promoting untruths for social reasons or behavior that violates predetermined written rules. To me shouting angrily is a form of violence which makes the angry person a dangerous malfunctioning robot, social consensus about reality is so horrible that I don’t ever want to have a partner because I don’t want to be forced to pretend to adopt her views , I challenge social consensus all the time as long as I can and I have little tolerance towards rule-breaking.

        Basically I feel like a creative robot and feel that the only way to be rational is to be robotic. l don’t really understand non-robots. Non-robots are unpredictable and make little sense to me. For example I literally cringe at the idea that a religion is more of a community than a finite set of beliefs and moral rules defined in a holy book which is just like a C or Java source file to me. Totalitarian ideologies such as Nazism, Communism, Islamism make a lot more sense to me than the average inconsistent person and their inconsistent views. At least I think I can model them as Clippy-like single issue optimizers. A devoted Nazi behaves according to Nazism and a Wahhabi Islamist behaves according to Wahhabi Islamism. To me both ideologies reduce the problem of predicting the behavior of unpredictable people to the problem of predicting how an ideological robot behaves according to the ideology.

        • Deiseach says:

          I challenge social consensus all the time as long as I can and I have little tolerance towards rule-breaking.

          …Totalitarian ideologies such as Nazism, Communism, Islamism make a lot more sense to me than the average inconsistent person and their inconsistent views.

          Isn’t there a bit of a contradiction there? Social consensus does have a set of norms about what is and isn’t deemed acceptable behaviour. You don’t like the behaviour of rule-breaking but you challenge/break the social consensus rules because you don’t like them.

          If you can understand why, for you, this is not contradictory then you can extrapolate to other people as to why they are not being contradictory in their beliefs-versus-behaviour.

          And you can perhaps then understand why your dream utopian future is a nightmare for others; too much inclination towards the totalitarian “these are the rules set in stone and you will be broken, rather than these will break” in your views on sex, useful beliefs, individualism, and other matters.

          • HFARationalist says:

            I don’t like people breaking written rules. However I’m also against people establishing unwritten rules through consensus. I can be even more mad if people use unwritten rules established by consensus to overrule the written rules.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Where are you getting this idea that totalitarian ideologies are consistent from? It’s absolutely incorrect.

          • Saint Fiasco says:

            I think he means he is the sort of person who for better or worse takes ideas seriously.

          • dndnrsn says:

            He seems to be juxtaposing inconsistent ordinary people with (consistent) devotees of (consistent) totalitarian ideologies. But totalitarian ideologies aren’t consistent. National Socialism was a dog’s breakfast of flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants decisions, and many different communist regimes have put a lot of effort into justifying policy changes as still completely consistent.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Saint Fiasco Yeah. I indeed take ideas very seriously.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @dndnrsn I think it is my wrong idea of totalitarian movements being more consistent in the sense that their true adherents are more observant of the written rules of the movements at work.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But, are they? Totalitarian ideologies tend to follow the ruling class, and go to the written stuff to justify what the ruling class just did. Look at western communists whiplashing back and forth in the 30s based on what Stalin was doing.

        • andrewflicker says:

          Just to be clear, HFA, I think you’re over-generalizing when you say things like “I don’t ever want to have a partner because I don’t want to be forced to pretend to adopt her views”. I think not wanting to have a partner is a totally acceptable choice, but this is a poor reason for it.

          Ask most of us married folks- there are plenty of views our partners differ on, that we acknowledge as differing and don’t pretend to accept personally. As a personal example, I’m an atheist and my wife is not- a fairly serious mismatch in worldviews, I’d say, but the reasons we’re together have very little to do with our views on the supernatural, so this disagreement has little bearing on our relationship. (Far less than our tastes in music, for instance!)

        • Nornagest says:

          I literally cringe at the idea that a religion is more of a community than a finite set of beliefs and moral rules defined in a holy book which is just like a C or Java source file to me. […] a Wahhabi Islamist behaves according to Wahhabi Islamism.

          If you think the foundational texts of ideologies behave like source code, even for fundamentalist ones like Wahhabism, then you don’t understand those ideologies no matter how hard you cringe.

          Every ideology gets filtered through human inconsistency and hypocrisy, and these are probably more important to the day-to-day dynamics of totalitarian systems than they are to more liberal ones, because the more politicized daily life becomes, the more advantageous it is to get good at spinning your daily needs as politically necessary. Read about the personalities involved in the Nazi high command sometime: it was like a damn high school!

          • HFARationalist says:

            I see. We should teach all autists stuck in totalitarian movements such as ISIS this truth. Seriously. How many autists are stuck in cults or totalitarian movements? Totalitarianism provides a facade that it actually abides by its written rules and is hence autism-friendly but this is just a facade.

          • CatCube says:

            @HFARationalist

            It’s unlikely that there are too many autists in totalitarian movements. Any in ISIS are likely to have been beheaded by this point, because not reading the room and understanding the people around you well enough to know when to shut up is deadly. Under totalitarian governments, interpersonal interactions are a full contact sport.

    • rahien.din says:

      It’s so hard to know how to respond to this. Autism is a syndrome with fairly wide phenotypic variability, and some definitions of the spectrum bleed over into the nerdy-normal end of the neurotypical spectrum. It’s difficult to say which of the ways in which autistic and non-autistic minds differ are the most salient.

      Plus, the degree to which an action is natural/inborn/embodied is inversely proportional to one’s ability to describe it. Compare to swimming. Michael Phelps’s body is constructed for swimming, and it comes so naturally to him that (aside from broad concepts and certain technical details) he probably can’t communicate the ineffable essence of his swimming. It’s totally inaccessible to you and to me. So it’s mary-and-the-black-and-white-room all over again.

      I want to help, but what could I even say?

      shakeddown is probably right that your best bet (aside from combing the literature) is Scott’s brain theory post. Also, this guy seems to describe his own personal n=1 crossover study. Granted, he was on the less-autistic end of the spectrum to begin with, but, it’s the only account I could find of somebody experiencing both worlds.

    • Sam Reuben says:

      You’re making a big mistake: you’re asking the wrong people. Never ask a group of people what their own experience is like, at least, not directly. They won’t tell you what it’s like; they’ll tell you the cultural expectation of what their experience is like. If you want to learn from a group of people what their experience is like, then just talk to them about ordinary things and see where they have radically different thoughts from you and where they treat them as normal. That doesn’t explain the details, though, seeing how hard it is to get outside your own head. A better question: autistic people who’ve gotten more used to handling the non-autistic world, can you give me an introduction?

      Why certainly, I’d love to.

      The big secret to non-autistic dealings is that people lie all the time, and that the lying is okay. Consider a play or another theatrical performance. Everyone in there is “lying,” but the lying is okay. Most of the non-autistic world is that way. If you want to understand the underlying mechanisms to most non-autistic functioning, the last thing you should do is listen to what they have to say about their deepest beliefs. Look at what they do, and how those things they do and the expressed beliefs interact with one another to produce a system. Once you do this, you’ll be able to figure out the real logic to what they’re doing, and believe me, there is a sincere logic. (There’s also a genuine conflict, where sometimes the non-autistic will break with the general code of conduct because they believe something so strongly. Don’t pretend like they’re robots, or sheep, or random actors, because they’re none of those.)

      This, when understood, will give a better understanding of things like churches and religions and everything else which currently confuses you. If you see someone acting in what you think is a stupid manner, there is a very high chance that you are the one who is being stupid by ignoring it. No, I’m not talking about someone who puts their coffee in the fridge and brings the carton of milk to the car. I’m talking about someone who acts in what looks like a completely contradictory fashion or against their own self-interests or for no purpose whatsoever. Your instincts are correct for simple mathematical systems and for traditional computer programming, but they are wrong for almost any social interaction. That’s what basically is going on in autism.

    • willachandler says:

      HFARationalist wonders  “What we autists usually fail to recognize about [the non-autistic] world.”

      A crucial aspect of non-autistic reality — that took me (at least) years to appreciate — is that Ginger and Fred aren’t consciously thinking about how to move their feet.

      Generalizing this dance-insight to mathematical practice, in their article “`Theoretical mathematics’: Toward a cultural synthesis of mathematics and theoretical physics” (arXiv:math/9307227, 1993), Arthur Jaffe and Frank Quinn argue that a principle both unique and crucial to mathematical practice is “never take a false step”.

      In contrast, Bill Thurston’s celebrated response “On proof and progress in mathematics” (arXiv:math/9404236, 1994 — an essay that is recommended to students by Terry Tao (among many) — argues for a larger view of mathematical practice, as follows:

      What we are doing is finding ways for people to understand and think about mathematics … If what we are doing is constructing better ways of thinking, then psychological and social dimensions are essential to a good model for mathematical progress.

      Here we perceive common grounds between dance, mathematics, and psychotherapy — we are led to regard psychotherapy, for example, as a science-guided search for effective therapies that “construct better ways of thinking”, such that patients experience everyday life less as joyless (solitary, exclusively ratiocinative) “marching” and more as joyful (affective, creative, and shared) “dancing”.

      What’s wonderfully exciting (for me and many) about modern AI/ML research — and extraordinarily dangerous too (needless to say) — is the accelerating pace at which these insights are being reduced to concrete practices that offer new hopes for progress in many spheres of human endeavor (medicine most especially).

      We thus have good reason to hope that for coming generations, personal journeys like Marsha Linehan’s will be less arduous, lengthy, painful, and risky.

    • rahien.din says:

      Epistemic status : the other name for “just-so story” is “hypothesis,” so, begging-of-charity. And probably biased because, being a engineering-trained epileptologist, I tend to think the entire world is a Fourier transform.

      Something occurred to me based on some of the other things you’ve written here.

      – You espouse a certain kind of hyperindividualism, whereby a society’s cultural resolution is so fine that each “culture” therein contains about one person. When we describe this for the individual, then rather than cultural resolution, this could be seen as the resolution of one’s associations.

      – You also describe totalitarian ideological states as making sense to you. If we exclude the cultural aspects of such states, then what is left is the ideas/policies/practices therein. And those ideas/policies/practices have a very coarse resolution, in that the policy encompasses all persons within the state.

      What if autism specifically relates to the ratio of these resolutions? Autistic persons may have a resolution-of-associations that is much finer than their resolution-of-policies. And this mismatch could be a good way to describe some of the difference in behavior.

      Moreover, resolution problems are just sampling problems. What if the difficulties in autism arise due to some form of sampling problems? The brain is digital, after all.

      So here’s my hypothesis :
      1. What emotion does is alter sampling rates on inputs, to induce adaptive aliasing*. One example of emotionally-induced aliasing could be “time flies when you’re having fun,” a form of temporal aliasing induced by positive emotional inputs.
      2. Autistic persons are oversampling their environments, eliminating the ability to produce adaptive aliasing, producing a totally-overwhelming degree of (and based on predictive processing, a requirement for) experiential hyperfidelity.

      That idea could feed back into brain processing mechanisms. And we could discover direct evidence thereof, if for instance we find that the amygdala’s chief job is altering sampling rates. And informally, it fits with Sam Reuben’s statement that “people lie all the time, and that the lying is okay.”

  11. Luke Somers says:

    On the kittens, it could be that the system makes detectors for every possible pattern, and then after things have gotten wired up, recycles those that don’t appear to correspond to features in the real world. That way, the ‘address’ of any given pattern is the same each time so snake-detection knows what to ask for, but ‘horizontal lines’ can fade away from disuse.

  12. HFARationalist says:

    How easy it is to recognize someone’s posts online?

    Assume that a poster here begins to use another identity here or somewhere else. How easy it is to recognize who that person is?

    For example if I want to post something on Quora without letting people there know that I’m actually HFARationalist, is this easy if I always manage to avoid certain topics such as transhumanism and antisexuality?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      It depends on the person.

    • Charles F says:

      Depends heavily on the poster. Some people (you, bint, sidles…) are very distinctive, and unless they were making a special effort to change their style, it would be pretty easy to notice them posting under multiple accounts. Most other posters could change their ID and they might remind me of their old nick, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to be sure they were actually the same.

      Bruce Schneier wrote about this a while back. But it’s an old post and I’m sure there have been interesting developments since.

      Edited to address edit:
      If you make just a few posts anonymously in a different venue, I would say the chances of somebody noticing are minuscule (assuming your quora posts aren’t making you interesting to a nation-state or something). But if you really want to be paranoid there are tools for disguising your style. And keeping away from the extreme individualism would help a lot.

      You could also ask somebody to draft the post for you so that it wouldn’t even be your writing style.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Thanks! I’m a bit concerned about privacy and the thought police (currently it’s mostly SJWs who are the worst offenders. In a Nazi world it will be Nazis. I don’t agree with any orthodox school of thought hence all forms of thought police are my enemies). I usually test out new, controversial and probably dangerous ideas on rationalist boards. Hence I absolutely do not want to be traceable.

        It’s pretty funny that I can be identified on /ratanon within 5 posts but it does make me a bit concerned.

        • Charles F says:

          Ah, yeah I should have specified unrelated venues. I would expect places with lots of overlap to notice you very quickly.

          My take on what makes you distinctive, apart from the obvious weird ideologies:
          – you write using way more short declarative statements than normal
          – Relatedly, basically no punctuation but periods and question marks
          – you use simple and formal language
          – I think you tend to start your replies with something conciliatory (very often “I agree”) right before semi-contradicting that in the part where you disagree
          – You reference yourself a lot in your writing. It’s most noticeable in the way you approach uncertainty/subjectivity, by nearly always using a construct like “to me”, “I believe” or similar, instead of either just talking about it or using “maybe”, “probably”, “it seems” etc.
          – A small tendency towards weird asides, like the bit about Nazis/SJWs

          • HFARationalist says:

            Thanks! I never intend to be anonymous to fellow rationalists except for thought police officers anyway. I’m not surprised that my views aren’t the only characteristics that can identify me.

            As for my views, they are easy to identify unless I explicitly hide them because they are usually very atypical. For example my view on racism is that it does not even matter at all and almost all my arguments on racism involves some successful non-Western European group such as Ashkenazi Jews, Poles or one of the three Northeast Asian groups. I also demonstrate almost no knowledge of popular culture or non-alt-right popular views. I like Jews and like to defend them despite my familiarity with the entire far right.

            Maybe I should simply not say anything unusual outside in the rationalist community.

          • Well... says:

            @HFARationalist:

            To what Charles F said, I’d add that you come off as very young.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Well.. That’s interesting. I’m certainly not very young unless the term “young” mean not being at least 30 years old. Some people underestimate my age. Others overestimate it because I don’t behave like a young man either.

            What region, ethnic group, class etc do I appear to be from? I’m just curious. Where do I appear to post from? Do I appear to be of WASP origin? German? Slavic? Jewish? Korean/Japanese/Chinese? Indian? Iranian/Lebanese/Arab? Or something else? Do I appear to be from the underclass, lower class, lower-middle class, upper-middle class or upper class? Do I appear to be sometimes drunk or do I sound like someone who would never touch drugs or alcohol? What are my true political views? Am I expressing all my views here or am I hiding some less palatable ones? Do I appear to be a happy person, a depressed one or neither?

          • Well... says:

            Under 30 I could have guessed easily…the question is are you more like 23 or more like 27. To me, 23 would be more plausible unless you are lacking in life experience, in which case I’d say 27 is at least not gasp-inducing.

            It’s hard for me to answer those other questions with fresh eyes because stuff you’ve written before has kind of already given (some of) the game away. But I’ll try:

            Region: No clue, this one has never been easy for me to tell through writing. Online in a text medium, you could be from Louisiana or New York City, I’d have no idea.

            Ethnic Group: You’re white. If you hadn’t said stuff to make me think otherwise, I’d say it’s possible but not overwhelmingly likely you’ve got some Jew in you.

            Class: You come from a middle-class background. Where in the middle class I’m less sure, could be anywhere from upper to lower. If I hadn’t seen you say once that you work in mathematics (am I remembering that right?) I would guess you’re a student in a STEM major but without assured prospects.

            Drug use (including alcohol): You don’t seem like a drug user. Maybe some prescription drugs for your autism?

            True political views: All Trite inclinations tempered by contrarianhood and an internalized acceptance of mainstream stuff like “Nazis/racism/violence is bad”, maybe with some hardcore libertarianism influencing that mixture too.

            Holding back true views: You are careful to avoid saying things that would get you banned but it doesn’t seem like it requires huge effort on your part. I don’t think anything you’ve said suggests that you’re holding back views, but if you were holding some back I wouldn’t be surprised if it was “the age limit at which we define adulthood is arbitrary; repeal child labor laws” or something like that.

            Happy/depressed: Generally you don’t come off as depressed.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I consider my style to be among the more recognizable ones, but with one caveat: I have a style twin. Or did, anyway. I knew someone whose messages were so close in style to my own, _I_ would confuse them with mine. In some cases their reply to a message would be almost word for word identical to mine, but they sent theirs before I sent mine, and I sent mine before I read theirs.

    • Mark says:

      Easy enough to test.

      I think it’s going to be really difficult to identify someone if they avoid their personal pet themes/ opinions, unless they have really idiosyncratic spelling or something.

      But, in the interests of science, I propose a test. Everyone create a new account and let’s see how many people we can identify.

    • rlms says:

      John Sidles is recognised almost immediately after he switches accounts, but he has a memorable style and doesn’t try to hide it. If you are less distinctive, no-one will be paying enough attention to notice; I don’t think anyone realised when I switched handles.

      • Iain says:

        I can confirm that I, for one, did not notice. Why/when did you switch handles?

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          rmls just didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

        • rlms says:

          I switched roughly when registration became mandatory (OT61). The intention was to change my other “serious” discussion accounts to this username (my initials) but there turned out not to be any. If anyone works out my old handle (and possibly thence my real name) I’ll give them an Internet Point.

          Interesting thing I saw when trying to find out when I changed handles, top comment on OT 60.75:
          “[This post has been deleted, with the consent of the original author, due to the Unabomber’s lawyers threatening to sue for copyright infringement (which is not a sentence I expected to be writing today). I’m just grateful that the cease-and-desist letter arrived via email – SA]”

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      Depends on your threat model. A sophisticated adversary could try to tell you apart from your vocabulary choices, sentence structure, formatting and so on.

      Those methods often work, but are not infallible, otherwise Satoshi Nakamoto would have been found already.

    • Skivverus says:

      Depends on how much they’ve said. At one end of the limit, one zero-character poster is much like any other zero-character poster. Since the other end (absolute certainty) is an infinite number of posts, no one ever gets that far, and we make do with reasonable inferences.
      Mostly these are from distinctive word, phrasing, or topic choices: people tend not to change their interests (and thus their topics) terribly quickly, nor their writing style (due to force of habit).
      This is not to say that people can’t change these things, and so pass to the new name unrecognized, but that quite frequently they don’t.
      Also, by definition, we tend not to recognize the ones who succeed.

    • Nornagest says:

      Depends. Writing style — what writers call “voice” — can be pretty distinctive, and it tends to be more distinctive for skilled or prolific writers or for those who’re unusual in some way. Let’s use our own John Sidles as an example, since spotting his alts has become sort of a sport around here. How do you spot a Sidles alt?

      – Formatting. Sidles writes almost exclusively in long-form comments, heavy on links and very heavy on quotes. When replying to others, he often prepends quotes with a header along the lines of “Username [synonym for “says”] ( [condescending adverb] ):”.

      – Topic choice. Sidles likes talking about empathy, psychology, the US Marine Corps (particularly entries on the Commandant’s Reading List), and the failings of “rationalism”. Liberal politics. Social justice themes, but usually approached from different angles than the mainline SJ scene.

      – Word choice and set phrases. “Empathy”, again. “Cognition”. “Ratiocination”. “STEAM” (as extension of STEM). “Regrettable”. “Kudos”. “alt.Boeotian” (his favorite insult in the post-election period), or alt.stuff generally outside the context of Usenet. “Whence”, and other archaic words. References to early mathematicians. “The world wonders!”

      – Sentence structure. Long, meandering sentences joined up by em-dashes or ellipses. Lots of rhetorical questions. Very heavy on adjectives. Lots of mock-critical phraseology, and references to books (rarely papers) always come with the year of publication, as per academic citations. Occasional smileys.

      – Logical structure. Sidles rarely makes conventional arguments and almost never engages directly with people, instead using individual lines or phrases as prompts to hold forth about whatever’s on his mind. (Another poster described this as ‘sprinkling SJ-themed fairy dust and links’, or words to that effect.) He likes using highly charged emotional imagery, sometimes sinking into bathos. His links rarely say what he implies they do, and early Sidles posts often resorted to reaction images or .gifs.

    • willachandler says:

      How regrettable is it (if at all) that references to works like Richard Popkin’s “Spinoza’s earliest philosophical years, 1655-61” (Studia Spinozana, v4, 1988) and Marcelo Abadi’s “Spinoza in Borges’ looking-glass” (ibid, v5, 1989) — works that ground core SSC concerns in the early history of the Enlightenment, and that presciently extend these SSC concerns in directions compatible with contemporary advances in cognitive science — are prejudicially associated to just one SSC reader?

      In reading these works, the entry “Spinoza” in Evelyn Fishburn’s and Psiche Hughes’ A Dictionary of Borges (1989) is helpful:

       … For Spinoza there exists an exact correspondence between the “modes” of one “attribute” [of God] and the modes of any other, which makes the human mind a part of God’s intellect, as the human body is a part of the physical system of nature.

      Though part of the absolute intellect, human thought can experience the absolute only through intuition, an insight Spinoza terms ‘the intellectual love of God”; total knowledge is impossible since only two of God’s attributes are known to man.

      Spinoza tries to achieve this intuition of God (or knowledge; or truth) through a logically deduced system of metaphysics in which arguments are advanced like geometrical theorems; this particular characteristic of Spinoza’s method of exposition highlights the significance of the compass in [Borges” short story] “Death and the Compass.”

      Borges was attracted to the idea of Spinoza “creating” God in his elaboration of a rational system of metaphysics and wrote two poems to this effect. The juxtaposition of reason and intuition is a distinguishing feature of Borges’s own writing, as exemplified in his often used formulation “algebra y fuego” [“algebra and fire”]

      For example, in light of the 21st century’s advancing neuroscientific understanding, it is both natural and illuminating to read Borges’ “algebra” as “ratiocinative cognition”, and Borges’ “fire” as “affective cognition.”

      Indeed, as it seems to me, Spinoza’s work is (by far) more naturally compatible with the findings of modern neuroscience, than the works of any other philosopher of Spinoza’s century, specifically in the sense that sociobiologist Ed Wilson’s scathing 20th century critique

      The history of philosophy when boiled down consists mostly of failed models of the brain.

      does not apply to Spinozism.

      • Nornagest says:

        Go away, John.

      • No more regrettable than that other potentially interesting topics are associated with other specific SSC readers. There are a lot of things worth talking about out there and a lot of books that could be of interest to people here.

      • Mark says:

        I’m calling fake.
        Not enough links, and the link text isn’t long enough.

        Also, classic sidles is punchy. Remember, he was originally banned for “topic-comment structure”.

        • HFARationalist says:

          Why did he have to be banned? I’m a bit confused.

          • bean says:

            Scott asked him to stop some of his more annoying habits, and he refused. (I’m not sure if it’s just me or if he’s genuinely gotten less annoying and more amusing over time.) Since then, all rebannings have been for ban evasion.

          • Nornagest says:

            So, there are basically two ways you can get banned around here: either for insulting other commenters, or for being an obnoxious crank. Sidles is the latter.

            Scott prefers to tolerate obnoxious cranks as long as they show signs of self-awareness, though. So usually how this goes down is that once a critical mass of people get annoyed enough, Scott steps in and asks the crank to modify their style in some way: Jill was barred from referencing Ayn Rand, Sidles was barred from using boldface or topic-comment structure. Usually they do desist for a couple of weeks. Then, because they’re a crank, it creeps back into their writing and away they go.

            Sidles, uniquely, likes to recreate accounts every couple of months and come back to haunt us. He’s been banned about a dozen times now. I suspect it’s a form of trolling, since he seems to fancy himself a gadfly.

          • James says:

            Sidles popping back up every so often has reached the point where it’s become funny to me, like a running joke.

        • Sanchez says:

          I, too, think this is imitation Sidles, not the real deal.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        “Álgebra y fuego”. I clearly haven’t read enough Borges. Thanks, Sidles – or alt.Sidles!

        • willachandler says:

          For me, a crucially illuminating Borges text is Professor Borges: a course on English literature (2013).

          These lectures, which Borges delivered in 1966, have been collected, edited, and translated by Martín Arias, Martín Hadis, and Katherine Silver. SSC readers who wonder how and why Borges wrote his stories, will glean many insights here.

          Borges’ lectures assist the reader not only to a broader appreciation of Borges himself, but also to a broader appreciation of the works of (e.g.) J. R. R. Tolkien, Fernando Pessoa, Cordwainer Smith, Ursula LeGuin, and Ted Chiang; five authors whose creative motivations and fantastical writing styles share much with Borges’.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      People who know me in person say they can hear my voice when they read what I write.

      When I try to be not obviously me (this isn’t something I do often), I leave out the double dashes.

  13. willachandler says:

    Commended to SSC readers having a general interest in cognition, and a particular interest in affective cognition: a Seattle reading on Tuesday, September 12 (tomorrow night), by author/mathematician Ben Blum, from his new book Ranger Games (time/place here, NYT review here).

    From the NYT review:

    Getting to the bottom of his cousin’s role in the crime [a rationally inexplicable bank-robbery] became Blum’s personal mission. It meant alternately relying on and subduing his inner Spock.

    “Back when I was a scientist,” he explains, “subjectivity had been a manageable irritant, mere grease on the microscope lens that you wiped off as best you could before getting on with your measurements.”

    But an explanation of [his cousin] Alex’s behavior couldn’t be rendered with the elegance of a geometric proof.

    In Blum’s narrative, the rationalist bones of the protagonists are explicitly animated by living human passions. Hopefully, a literary reading well-worth attending.

  14. gbdub says:

    Has anyone else seen the Alan Tudyk series Con Man? SyFy showed the whole first season as a marathon this weekend, and I have to say I found it rather brilliant.

    In it, Tudyk (who also writes and directs) stars as a down-on-his-luck actor living off his fame from his role as a spaceship pilot on a canceled cult classic TV show, making the con circuit while secretly despising his fans and wishing he could break out into non-sci-fi work. Nathan Fillion plays the actor who starred as the captain in the show, has been much more successful while still loving the recognition from his sci-fi fans.

    If you can’t tell, they are basically playing exaggerated versions of themselves, and it’s great. The cast is a who’s-who of sci-fi (I particularly like Tricia Helfer as an attendee of a convention of people who treat their baby dolls like actual children that happens to be sharing the same hotel as a sci-fi convention). It gently (sometimes not so gently, but always lovingly) pokes fun at convention culture in a way that I think anyone who has attended one will appreciate.

    • qwints says:

      I enjoyed it, but I doubt anyone who’s not familiar with the cast or the con scene would be the slightest bit interested.

      • gbdub says:

        I mean, if you’ve watched any sci-fi in the last 20 years you’ll recognize faces. And I would think SSC would be a pretty good place to find people familiar with the con scene…

    • Well... says:

      When I read your description of the character I thought it must be based on Wil Wheaton.

      • gbdub says:

        I’ve never liked Wil Wheaton, so I’m biased, but I feel like Wheaton playing Tudyk’s character in the show would come off as smug and unlikeable. Tudyk is better able to walk that line of “kind of a horrible person, but you want to like him, and you feel genuinely bad for him”. Think Louis C.K. in his show.

        Wheaton does have a cameo in the first episode as an Air Marshal (spoiler: Ghqlx’f punenpgre vf ohzcrq sebz 1fg pynff ba n syvtug, fb, ng gur fhttrfgvba bs Frna Nfgva (cynlvat uvzfrys), ur cynlf hc uvf fpv-sv punenpgre gb trg na boivbhf pba-tbre gb tvir hc uvf 1fg pynff frng. Gur pba-tbre nterrf, ohg bayl vs Ghqlx fvtaf uvf uhtr pbyyrpgvba bs penc sbe uvz. Ohg gura gur pba-tbre erartrf jura ur svaqf bhg Frna Nfgva unf gur frng arkg gb uvz. Jurngba’f Nve Znefuny unf gb guerngra Ghqlx gb trg uvz va uvf pbnpu frng.)

        • Well... says:

          I hereby refuse to translate ROT13. I don’t care about spoilers, they “spoil” nothing for me, and if they spoil something for someone else let that person skip over reading your comment.

          There I said it!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I wouldn’t mind it if I had a firefox plugin that would translate when I highlight and right click or something but I’m not bothering to cut and paste into another website.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            [rot13 firefox plugin] turns up some possibilities.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Personally, I appreciate the ROT13, or any hack that requires me to positively accept a spoiler. It’s far too hard to carefully read comments One. Word. At. A. Time. so that I know to stop reading before it’s too late.

            (Possible alternatives — include a link to text you’ve put up on a scratchpad somewhere, or engineer something to make it easier to hide text the way TV-tropes does. But for me rot13 is fine — I’ve got a shell script that translates it, so I just mouse-copy it over into a shell window, easy as pie.)

          • gbdub says:

            I actually hate it too (it’s particularly bad on mobile, where copy-paste is more of a pain), but it’s the “standard” here so I go along with it.

            Anyway here’s the SPOILER out of ROT13 (I’ve modified it a bit for clarity, it’s not a straight ROT13 of my previous comment):

            Tudyk’s character (Wray Nerely) is bumped from 1st class on a flight, so, at the suggestion of Sean Astin (playing himself), Nerely plays up his sci-fi character to get an obvious con-goer to give up his 1st class seat, telling the con-goer that Nerely has an important mission for him (namely, to let Nerely sit in 1st). The con-goer agrees, but only if Nerely signs his huge collection of crap for him.

            Then the con-goer reneges on the deal when he finds out Sean Astin has the seat next to him. Wheaton’s Air Marshal has to threaten Tudyk to get him out of 1st class.

            Later, Nerely gets petty revenge by stealing the con-goers “lucky pen” when he shows up at Nerely’s autograph booth.

          • Aapje says:

            “rot13 chrome” turns up one too and it works very well for me.

    • Deiseach says:

      It sounds like they took the characters of Jason Nesmith and Alexander Dane from “Galaxy Quest” and devised a series around them. I don’t know if that’s an unfair description, but it is what immediately springs to me reading your post.

      Not that that is necessarily bad, and certainly Tudyk and Fillion have the example of “Firefly” behind them as the primary source to point to, but it still reminds me of “Galaxy Quest”.

      Life imitating art imitating life, perhaps!

      • gbdub says:

        It is a bit like the intro of Galaxy Quest, although obviously Galaxy Quest quickly moves to “actors being forced to be their characters for real, in space”. Con Man sticks with the actor with mixed feelings about his fans forced to pay the bills premise throughout.

  15. cmurdock says:

    FYI: The link in your “After Virtue” review to your Consequentialism FAQ not only doesn’t lead to the Consequentialism FAQ, but leads to a website that screams “You are now being infected with malware!” Might be a good idea to remove the hyperlink.

  16. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Repost: I meant to put this in the current thread.

    A claim that most of the mortgage crisis was set off by reasonably well-off house flippers, not by people buying more house for themselves than they could afford.

    This is interesting if true.

    I’ve been inclined to think that both the right and the left are over-focused on the the poor. The right thinks that the irresponsible poor are given too much. The left think that the blameless poor are given too little.

    Meanwhile, no one is paying attention to rich people defrauding each other in ways which cause a lot of damage to third parties.

    Low quality houses built for the flip market.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      As I said in the other thread, you first link just doesn’t say that.

      I think your second link is to the wrong comment.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Correction for the second link

        Article which claims it was house flippers. When I look at it with a skeptical eye, I’m not sure it proves its point.

        On the other hand, who was the problem? Might it have been reasonably well-off people who bought more house (or home improvements) for their primary residence but then couldn’t afford them when the economy went sour?

        I have no idea what’s going wrong with the comment links. Here’s the one I mean:

        We bought during this time, and what was happening was really obvious. We had a tight budget, and there was a very specific type of house/neighborhood we were going to have to buy in, and the flips were the same type of houses, but priced up by 40-60K, and you could tell even from the pictures that everything had been cheaped out with attractive veneers and they were going to be a fucking nightmare.

        We had friends during that time who could afford the flips, moved in, and then found out what you get when Brad from Marketing decides he can make a dollar if he only spends a dime doing a remodel with no experience in construction or contracting. We knew people who bought a house like the one that had the blog.

        And the sellers couldn’t afford to come down at all, or they’d lose every bit of their margin, and whole neighborhoods were sitting empty (especially the 80s McMansions developments, which I guess is where a lot of Texas Brads first tried their hands at flipping and they just made ugly houses uglier and too expensive) because if you had the money for that price range you could buy either new in nicer developments or real renos in older nicer neighborhoods. If you tried a flip in many of the neighborhoods we were looking in, you’d end up with the most expensive house on the street and the comps would kill you.

        One of the biggest giveaways would be that the back yards looked like shit. They’d spend every dime on the front and inside then you walk out back to bare fence and dead grass. They’d put in sprinkler systems in the front but not take them around to the back. If there were smaller trees or landscaping they’d cut it out so they could remove part of the fence and do all the construction work in the back. The kitchens, you could tell, had been redone by someone who didn’t cook and just liked shiny things.

        On the few occasions we ended up inside one, even our agent would be like “nope”. I suspect the sellers usually represented themselves and there was just no negotiation room, and they were probably awful to deal with. Brad just wasn’t worth it.
        posted by Lyn Never at 1:50 PM on September 10 [83 favorites +] [!]

        • Deiseach says:

          The linked tale in that comment is a real horror story, and it demonstrates the reason why building codes and all those fussy regulations are in place (remember the discussion over the guy doing amateur construction work and the one poster who was all “well I don’t see why this guy – or any interested person – can’t just slap up their own set of stairs if they can do it for $500 instead of the local council and the Stupid Money they were estimating, plainly all the regulations do is drive up the cost and nothing else”?)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The issue isn’t the building code, though. The issue is that the guy did a terrible remodeling job and lied about how good it was, and it was not detected during the normal property inspection.

            The solution isn’t more stringent building codes, the solution needs to be involved in the buying process of real estate. There needs to be a way to force more disclosure or a method to inspect homes more completely.

        • Brad says:

          Brad just wasn’t worth it.

          🙁

    • The Nybbler says:

      Revisionist economics. Ignores the idea of economics happening on the margins, ignores the (conventional) idea that the subprime crisis caused the increase in foreclosures in prime buyers, and points to the latter as proof positive that it wasn’t about the sub-prime market. I’d look at the paper but it’s NBER which tells me already it’s going to be about how rich people and/or inequality are the problem.

    • Brad says:

      The deepest cause was the principal-agent problem. Virtually every proximate cause from rating agencies to NINA loans had that as the underlying cause.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yeah, but which things actually mattered?

        The big problem was a bubble. But did subprime loans exacerbate the bubble, or were they just a symptom of it? That is a real question that deserves a real response.

        • Brad says:

          I’m not sure why those would be dichotomous choices. It would be surprising if subprime loans and the bubble didn’t form a feedback loop. If you expect strong price growth, credit worthiness isn’t as big a factor as where you don’t expect it. When demand rises, because more people are eligible for mortgages, prices rise.

          If you want to narrow down your why to one or two explanations than they are going to have to be big ones like the principal-agent problem. If you want more specific whys than you are going to get a lot of different ones interacting with each other.

          People that point to one and only one narrow thing — some the Community Reinvestment Act, others the invention of synthetic CDOs — generally have an ax to grind rather than trying to understand what happened.

    • sohois says:

      In a sense the growth in the subprime market can be traced back to rich people defrauding each other; lenders came under a lot of pressure from investment banks to offer more mortgages so they could be bundled up and sold as mortgage backed securities.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The under-reported narrative is that the financial sector over-reacted to anticipated losses in the mortgage sector, which causes a near-total freeze in the credit markets. The freeze in the credit markets had a predictable effect of stalling the “real” economy.

      The credit freeze was substantially reduced by relatively measured government actions that produced, on net, a profit to the government. The output gap was substantially reduced over time.

      It has happened before. It will happen again. It’s how a credit market works. It’s how a modern economy works.

      The major problem isn’t that the government might have to intervene again in the future. The major problem is that the government will refuse to intervene in the future and we suffer Great Depression 2.0. A secondary problem is moral hazard and the government backstopping financial sector losses, which should be made up by specific taxes on the financial sector to prevent the general fund from taking hits.

      However, even if the general fund takes hits, it’s still preferable to NOT stabilizing credit markets. It’s GOING to happen again. It even happens in those perfect little socialist paradises that my Millennial friends keep whining about: Sweden had similar problems in the early 90s.

      Subprime credit is a great way to get marginal borrowers into homes, and securitization is a great way to diversify the risks of individual subprime loans, and derivatives are a great way of further hedging the risks of these securitized assets. Getting rid of any of these will do massively more harm than good.

      I agree with this:

      I’ve been inclined to think that both the right and the left are over-focused on the the poor. The right thinks that the irresponsible poor are given too much. The left think that the blameless poor are given too little.

      I will further add that the Left is obsessed with “ebil corporations” ruining the world, particularly banks, which causes them to blame said banks for any issue, major or minor, and loving any regulation, no matter how stupid (like Glass-Steagall).

      • Brad says:

        Renting is a good way to get marginal borrowers into homes. And the swedes managed to unfreeze the credit markets without creating massive moral hazards by nationalizing the failed financial institutions. Losses to equity and bond holders are good, but if you really want to make the lessons stick, evaporate those unvested bonuses and dry up the supply of seven figure jobs for a decade. That’ll concentrate people’s minds.

        Otherwise, I agree with much of the rest of your post.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Neither nationalization nor renting is going to stop another credit bubble from occurring, so I don’t think either is going to solve the fundamental problem of “why financial crises occur.”

          IMO, Right-wingers who make decent points about mortgage interest deductions are useful idiots to political opponents who “never want a crisis to go to waste.”

  17. qwints says:

    Saw this on Vox and wanted to get some opinions.

    Luttig, Matthew, Federico, Christopher, Lavine, Howard “Supporters and Opponents of Donald Trump Respond Differently to Racial Cues: An Experimental Analysis” Research & Politics (in press).

    It’s a study with a huge effect size from priming published in a relatively unknown journal getting some press from outlets that agree with the result. Does the study seem plausible or is there reason to be critical of it?

    • sohois says:

      It’s a priming study. I forget the exact number of priming studies that failed to replicate, but I believe it was around 50% and as such you should approach this study with a low level of confidence that it will replicate.

    • Deiseach says:

      The fact that they feel the need to put “Donald Trump” in the title of the study makes me immediately relegate it to the same territory as “Is your kid into heavy metal? Then he could be a Nazi!” (Hey, if you can’t believe the Calgary Police on this, who are you going to believe?)

      Well, gee. Just read the abstract and already we’re into “grass is green, water is wet, and yup Trump supporters are racist” ground:

      We find that white Trump supporters randomly exposed to a black (versus a white) man in the context of soliciting their support for a housing-assistance polcy were more opposed to the policy, angrier about the policy, and more likely to blame beneficiaries for their situation. The opposite pattern prevailed among whites with unfavorable opinons of Trump.

      I’m not entirely sure if, by “the opposite pattern”, they mean non-Trump supporters were more likely to be blaming, angry and opposed when it was a white guy or not, but anyway, the important thing is that yessir, Trumpists is racists!

      I can’t disentangle what they describe in their study to see if these results are fair or fudged in any way, there’s a lot of “we estimated based on blah blah blah” but I need an expert study wrangler to tell me if they’re talking through their hats or not.

  18. Chalid says:

    A subway station near my home recently added a new elevator for better accessibility. Unlike every other elevator I’ve ever seen in my life, this one requires you to press *and hold* the button to get the elevator to come; if you let go the elevator stops. Once you are in the elevator you must then press *and hold* the button to make the elevator move; if you let go, the elevator stops. This is a deliberate choice; it’s obviously not just that the elevator is broken or something. Here are the official instructions. It’s really annoying.

    Anyone have any idea why an elevator might be designed this way?

    • bean says:

      This sounds a lot like the elevator we had at Iowa. It’s presumably to a different standard, probably one that lets it be cheaper than a normal elevator. But the downside is that it can’t run automatically. No idea why, given how cheap electronics are these days.

    • Brad says:

      I can’t quite grasp what they are going for, but I’d bet it has something to do with homeless people.

      See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_architecture

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      They want to make it inconvenient so only the people who really need to use it will use it. In college, I knew of a very tall building where access to the lecture hall on the second floor was locked out on the elevator unless you did things just right, because they can’t have the elevators unusable by the top 20+ floors every time the students go into and out of class.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      Hard to say the exact purpose without knowing who did the elevator inspection, the local electrical/building code modifications, and the state code modifications. It likely does not save any money or reduce control complexity by doing it this way, as elevators are very strictly legislated by code, and the means of control does nothing to offset the expensive requirements related to fire alarm system tie-in or means of disconnecting electrical power to the system.

      My guess though would be that the subway wants use trivial inconvenience to ensure that it stays free for those that need it rather than for the lazy by requiring continual effort of holding a button.

      • BBA says:

        The Port Authority, as an interstate compact, isn’t subject to local building codes (or any other state or local laws, for that matter). They claim to voluntarily apply the relevant state standards, but are responsible for inspecting their own facilities and I don’t know how well that works.

        • AnarchyDice says:

          Yep, as I was explaining to some new hires recently, it all comes down to the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). Technically they are supposed to at least follow International Building Code %Year%, whichever year has been adopted by their area/state/insurance, but AHJ’s can even provide exceptions to those in some cases. Elevators, fire alarm systems, anything with health care, and backup power are tanged messes of overlapping jurisdictions, personal interpretations by inspectors, and confusingly worded technical language.

          As to how well the Port Authority works out in those cases, I had a design job that had a local municipality’s fire department as the authority despite the building being part of the larger city’s department, all due to the way that municipality was incorporated into the larger city decades ago. So it was a mish-mash of city standards, municipality standards, and the inspectors standards, all trying to fit into the idiosyncrasies of a renovation of a sixty-year old building. All in all, it went well, and if there were any issues due to the multiple layers of jurisdictions it was in the direction of being way-over designed rather than falling through the cracks.
          Nobody wants their fire alarm system, elevator, or backup power system to be the thing that messes up, let alone results in a casualty. So it is highly unlikely something is unsafe but rather that all the CYA’ing results in inflated costs and time.

    • hls2003 says:

      Although it doesn’t seem quite as likely in this setting, some time ago I had an appointment at a medical office building with a similar elevator setup. When I asked the front desk guy about it, he said it was because they had a behavioral counseling center on one of the floors and had a problem with people (especially the kids) punching all the buttons before they got out and tying up the elevator for minutes at a time. With lots of elderly / handicapped people using the space, they couldn’t afford to have the elevator by unavailable for long stretches. Don’t know if he was right, but it’s what he told me.

    • engleberg says:

      They do that with cargo doors as a safety feature so a heavy door won’t come down on you if you hit the button and walk or drive under it. Someone probably stuck in the wrong switch.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s not an elevator, it’s a “Vertical Platform Lift”

      My guess is it was designed that way to discourage people from using it.

      Best part: https://twitter.com/PATHTrain/status/881149835449057280

    • dodrian says:

      I’ve seen a few like that – all have been designed for accessibility and not for transport. I would echo others’ suggestions that it’s to dissuade people from using it unless they have a genuine need, but add that many of the accessibility lifts I’ve seen were also less safe than elevators (the moving platform is often not fully enclosed), so there could be a safety aspect involved as well.

    • Chalid says:

      Thanks all for the responses. I find the idea that they are trying to discourage use intuitively plausible. On the other hand, most of the time this isn’t a terribly busy train station (rush hour excepted), and the elevator only goes between two floors, so it’s not clear to me why discouraging casual use would be seen as a particularly high priority at this station.

      FWIW other elevators in the system work like normal elevators do.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      This isn’t helpful, but it reminds me of the turbolifts in ST:TOS where someone has to hold a handle for the lift to move.

      (Which might itself be a throwback to old manual elevators).

  19. j1000000 says:

    In the comments section of some recent post/open thread, someone posted a link to some sort of crowdsourced/amateur-made scatter plot that posted correlations between suggested remedies for depression and changes in mood, and I was wondering if anyone remembered where it’s located. It had things like “SSRIs” but also “cold showers,” exercise,” etc. on the positive side, though many were marginal. On the negative side the only one I remember was “alcohol.”

    Anyone remember that or know where it is? Thanks!

  20. dodrian says:

    Last night The Orville premired on Fox. It’s a hour long sci-fi comedy-drama, produced, lead-acted (is there a better term?) and at least partially written by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy Fame. MacFarlane cited Star Trek as his inspiration, wanting to write a sci fi show with vision of a 25th century worth aspiring for, rather than the bleak apocalyptic themes that tend to dominate sci-fi at the moment.

    With CBS almost certain to bungle Star Trek: Discovery by alienating old fans and providing nothing to entice potential new viewers (the death knell being that it will only broadcast on their pay-to-watch online service), there’s definitely a void for thoughtful, future-positive sci-fi serials. Fox seems to be working hard to maneuver itself to take up this mantel, not only by premiering The Orville two weeks before Discovery but also by lining up a number of Trek directing heavyweights (including Robert McNeill, Brannon Brago, James Conway and Jonathan Frakes) to helm the first few episodes (last night’s pilot was directed by MacFarlane).

    The Orville borrows heavily from a the Star Trek aesthetic, including plenty of visually similar but legally distinct™ elements such as the Union of Planets, Quantum Drive, and a technology I can only presume will be called the HoloRoom. The pilot included a number of wide establishing shots of spaceships and planets with visuals and music reminiscent of the Trek openings (lets ignore Enterprise for now). The production quality is decent, a lot of CGI is used but not in an overly-jarring way (the comedy aspect of the show helps you not to take it too seriously), though one wonders if yesterday’s episode will still look good a few years down the line.

    It definitely shows a future that I would want to be a part of, but it’s by no means a utopia. Gene Roddenberry famously refused to allow inter-personal conflict between the main characters on his show, assuring us that in the future we’d have solved those problems. In contrast, this pilot opened with main character Mercer walking in on his wife cheating on him, providing most of the tension for the rest of episode.

    With my review so far it should be clear that The Orville needs to work hard, and quickly, at establishing itself as independent of Star Trek. A homage is a fine way to start a series, but unless it develops some proper independence soon it risks becoming a long and drawn out Galaxy Quest. The comedy has so far been mostly reliant on lighthearted ribbing of Trek themes which will get old quickly. But it’s not the comedy I’m worried about, MacFarlane, while not always to my taste, at least has an excellent pedigree in this field. To succeed as a hour long show The Orville needs to prove it’s sci-fi chops. The drama of the first episode was pretty shallow – a alien ship appears which they have to fight/outsmart. That’s fine occasionally, but the series it’s emulating is famous plots that dig into real issues, and good character development. Firefly showed that it’s possible to have a serious sci-fi drama give us good lighthearted comedy and quips, The Orville will have to demonstrate that the other way is possible too. This is perhaps an ominous comparison given what Fox did to Firefly.

    All in all I enjoyed the pilot. It’s nothing special but it’s entertaining enough that I’m looking forward to seeing the next episode and plan to watch a few more down the line. There’s definitely potential there for a good series. Did anyone else watch?

    • Matt M says:

      The hour-long half-comedy half-drama is a really tricky format to do well. I’m struggling to think of many successful examples. Ally McBeal had it going for a few years until they swapped out half the cast and really went off the rails.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Moonlighting.

        • John Schilling says:

          Which thrived almost entirely on the sexual chemistry of the lead actor and actress. While the Orville setting clearly allows for such a dynamic, McFarlane and Palicki are not even close to being in the same league as Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepard in that regard.

      • dodrian says:

        Yes, especially when the emphasis is on comedy and not drama (as with The Orville so far).

        Some series that come to mind (after cheating and looking at this list): Castle, Chuck, Gilmore Girls, Glee, Psych. Quite a range of genres there, with different emphases of Comedy vs Drama.

        If we allow half hour shows, there are a few definitely comedies but still treating drama and character development seriously: Scrubs, M.A.S.H, The Cosby Show, Extras and Frasier all popped into my mind without a list.

      • johan_larson says:

        Buffy qualifies.

      • Deiseach says:

        Did anybody else want to murder Ally McBeal the second she opened her squeaky little yap to maunder on about McBealisms? Giving a cutesy name to a trite idiocy doesn’t make it novel or appealing; did she also name her bowel motions? (“I call them – McBealipoops!”)

        I went from disliking that show to hating it, which is some achievement considering I didn’t even watch it that consistently. I don’t know if male viewers found Calista Flockhart attractive – to me she was a scrawny little plucked chicken – and I didn’t find the writing witty at all, but some family members loved it and so I got to see more of it than I wanted.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m interested in this but… Seth McFarlane. Does the pilot manage to avoid cheap pop-culture or political jokes?

      • dodrian says:

        Humor is highly dependent on tastes of course, but to me the jokes weren’t over the top like much of family guy. The pop-culture jokes were all Star Trek related, and most of the time they worked by setting up a situation similar to Star Trek and then subverting it (this was funny in the pilot, but will be boring if they keep it going too long). Most of the jokes were silly situations or the characters riffing off of each other.

        The only joke that came across as even vaguely political or culture-war was introducing the ship’s security officer as a small twenty-three year old female alien. The captain asks how she got the job given her young age, she replies that her species so rarely joins Not Starfleet that she was fasttracked into a more prominent position. “I’m sure that bodes well for us” quipped the Captain before moving on (she later proved herself well-suited to the role).

        Overall I thought the humor was well handled. It remains to be seen how well it evolves over the series.

        • Matt M says:

          At some point we’ll probably meet the President of the Not-Federation. Whether or not they take the temptation to make him a Trump expy or not probably says a lot about the direction of the show.

          • dodrian says:

            Yes. So far all of the characters have been serious (albeit quirky or zany), and while it’s not a world where all of humanity’s interpersonal problems have been solved, a united Earth with sensible and robust governance is implied. A Trump-like president (as he is portrayed in Hollywood) would definitely break the feel of the show. I could potentially seem them trying a Zaphod Beeblebrox type president figureheading a world council, especially if they go for the Beeblebrox of the later books who’s shown to have considerable intellect and drive underneath his happy-go-lucky exterior.

            I could see them trying a as-Hollywood-views-Trump expy for an antagonist in an episode or arc, but putting alien makeup on a modern leader and talking about their moral/purpose/drive is standard fare for sci-fi. It would depend on how thin the veneer is and how much depth the character or conflict is given.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Pretty much. I didn’t notice anything that struck me as an explicit reference to any actual details of today’s world culture or politics. [Edit: I had forgotten about the fast-tracking joke.] The funniest bits came from people saying or doing things that would be very natural in a modern workplace but which therefore were jarring (in a good way) in a setting where we’re used to somewhat more ponderous dialog.

        I had never seen Seth MacFarlane perform before, but I found him quite engaging.

        I’ve read lots of people who are deeply pessimistic about Star Trek: Discovery, but are guardedly optimistic about The Orville as potentially picking up the torch that Paramount dropped so wantonly, first with Enterprise and then with J. J. Abrams. Having seen the pilot of The Orville, I’m on board. Yes, the drama was pretty shallow, though not strikingly worse than some of the more mediocre of the original show’s episodes; and yes it doesn’t rise to the level of Firefly, but what does?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      My wife and I, big Trek fans, watched it. We enjoyed it.

      It’s not a parody or a spoof, which I thought it would be. That’s good because you can’t do that as an ongoing series; you use up your jokes too quickly.

      McFarlane cares a lot about music and hired three people with 14 Emmys amongst them to compose it, along with a full orchestra.

      It’s a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi show. Some things don’t work quite right (if you could send an arbitrary shuttle craft to the enemy ship you didn’t need to bobby-trap the time dilation device, just send a bomb) but remind yourself it’s just a TV show, you really should just relax.

      • John Schilling says:

        it’s just a TV show, you really should just relax.

        But what I will do is note that it doesn’t just take a hundred years to tebj n erqjbbq sebz na npbea, it takes about a petajoule of visible light and a quarter million tons of fresh water. Among other things.

        It’s a bad sign that I’m doing that. It means the show is doing comedy when it really needs to be doing the drama part of its alleged formula. I don’t see anything here that wasn’t done better on Galaxy Quest, or that will survive once they run out of easy comedy riffs after the first few episodes. I suppose it is possible that they will come up with something good by then, but I think that is mostly wishful thinking – and I really do wish there were a worthy successor to Star Trek on the air, but I don’t think this is going to be it.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          That’s a fair concern. I haven’t heard anything to make me believe MacFarlane plans to tap real SF writers for scripts, the way Roddenberry did with Ellison, Bloch, Sturgeon, and others.

          But I have read him saying that he wants it to have serious, human-driven stories told with humor and an optimistic view of the future. As an elevator pitch it sounds pretty good to me.

          All he really needs is to hire, even by accident, today’s Gene Coon or Dorothy Fontana.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right, but Coon and Fontana were on Gene Roddenberry’s payroll before the first episode of TOS aired. And Sam Peeples, who wrote the first broadcast episode, was an established novelist and screenwriter, mostly in westerns but with a strong interest in classic science fiction.

            The Orville, appears to have Seth MacFarlane. I don’t think he has the particular talent to pull this off, and if he’s hired people who do he’s playing that close to the chest and why?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Quite right, though from all I’ve read he didn’t know how valuable they would be at first (and in the case of Coon, even in the end — some of the classic episodes people still love were ones Coon shepherded while Roddenberry was temporarily distracted by another project, and Roddenberry was pretty annoyed when he noticed). I guess I could study the IMDB credits and see if I think there are any candidates presently on the payroll, but I’m not sure I would know how to tell — I understood what a breath of life Manny Coto was to the last season of Enterprise only post facto — and there’s no action item for me even if I could.

            So, we shall see. I won’t be annoyed if you say I Told You So, because after all you did. Meanwhile I’ll be cautiously optimistic.

          • Deiseach says:

            All he really needs is to hire, even by accident, today’s Gene Coon or Dorothy Fontana.

            Looking it up on Wikipedia, I see Brannon Braga is involved as a producer.

            Run away! Run away fast!

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Run away! Run away fast!

            Ooh, harsh. I know where you’re coming from — it’s mysterious how Braga got so influential when he frankly admits he was not a fan of the original show, and I’ve already admitted that I think he completely squandered an otherwise promising premise with Enterprise, too badly for Manny Coto to salvage when he took over. But I quite liked First Contact, and he wrote a number of TNG episodes I remember fondly, including Parallels and The Game.

            Put it this way: If The Orville turns out only as good as Voyager, I’ll be pretty satisfied. MacFarlane is clearly the auteur here, and I would expect Braga’s influence to be net positive, if it helps skew the result away from Family Guy and toward TNG.

            But I freely admit that I’m mostly just looking for reasons to be optimistic. I’ve got a lurking prior that says any TV show will disappoint me — and yes, that includes Firefly, as much as I loved it and as many times as I have rewatched it.

      • dodrian says:

        The music did impress me – I normally don’t notice music in a TV show, but it really stood out last night. The attention paid to the music shows that he’s taking the series seriously, and additionally knowing that MacFarlane is a Trek fan are what make me cautiously optimistic for the show.

        I do think he needs to find something to ground it in though. Because of the comedy aspect I’m willing to forgive it for being far to the ‘soft’ side of sci-fi, and even overlook a few of the plot aspects that don’t make sense (I don’t really buy their reasons for giving Mercer a command in the first place), but it needs to pivot, and sooner rather than later, to give itself a solid footing on the drama-side. Either some good character development (the bridge crew seems to have good balance and chemistry, which is a positive), or (ideally) some Trek-style philosophical quandaries. Scrubs comes to mind as a comedy which doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also tackles some serious topics (albeit in a half-hour format).

    • johan_larson says:

      The first episode is good, and spoofing Star Trek is a promising idea. But I kind of doubt there is more than one seasonful of funny to be had from that mine.

    • gbdub says:

      Orville seems to be trying to be an homage-bordering-on-ripoff, a serious sci-fi show, and a comedy all at once, and doing none of them well (except for the bordering on ripoff part). It needs to be funnier, and the jokes need to be more organic to the setting (though, as made famous by South Park, that’s one area where MacFarlane shows are particularly weak). Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy are some of my favorite on screen sci-fi, despite both being very funny and action packed.

      Part of the issue is MacFarlane himself – he can banter when the writing is better, but you’re never going to buy him as an action hero like post-workout Chris Pratt or Captain Tightpants Nathan Fillion. Fillion can also turn on the serious, competent leader mode that goofball-looking MacFarlane can’t. I think he also needs someone with equal chops to play off of for his comedy to really land (even if it’s himself, as it often is in Family Guy, but I thought he and Mark Wahlberg had great chemistry in Ted).

      I think they’ve hewn too close to “Star Trek TNG Clone” to pull off the serious sci-fi well – it just doesn’t have a unique identity. Which would be fine if it were straight spoof, but unless they start doing really, really good drama and differentiating it more, it’s going to feel like a knock-off with a few jokes sprinkled in.

      One part that stuck out to me as a bad indicator: The leader of the science station calls the Orville, and is put up on the Trek-standard giant viewscreen. The whole time he’s talking, his dog is on the couch in the background licking himself. Which was a great little sight gag. But then as the scene ends two helmsmen openly point this out, ruining the gag. And demonstrating that the writers don’t think too highly of the audience.

      • Matt M says:

        Part of the issue is MacFarlane himself – he can banter when the writing is better, but you’re never going to buy him as an action hero like post-workout Chris Pratt or Captain Tightpants Nathan Fillion.

        I haven’t seen the show, but isn’t this part of the joke?

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, to the extent that the show is just a big joke. If it is allegedly supposed to be a mix of joke and drama, then it helps that e.g. Fillion and Pratt can actually pull off dramatic heroism when called for.

          • gbdub says:

            At least in the pilot, they never seemed to use “Seth MacFarlane is clearly unsuited to action” as a joke, we’re seemingly supposed to take him seriously as a starship captain in the action sequences, apart from a few quips here and there. But it’s hard to take MacFarlane barking orders seriously – everything he says sounds like it’s said through a smirk.

    • CatCube says:

      I did. BLUF is it wasn’t anything to rave about, but I enjoyed it enough that I’ll give it a try for the next few weeks.

      I think it’s already been covered that it sat in a weird place between sci-fi, comedy, and drama without doing any of those really well. Nothing about it was bad, though.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Watched the pilot. The critical reviews were all pretty terrible, but mostly in a way that made it clear they didn’t get the point at all, which was hopeful.

      I enjoyed it but was not in love. I agree with John that a lot of the humor is just juxtaposition of tone and I don’t know how long it’ll last. The fake science was no dumber than actual Trek when you _really_ think about it but was much more of a side note than an actual part of the show.

      I could totally see this solidifying over a season into something pretty excellent. I could also see it continuing at the same rate and not being worth it at all. I find the second more likely than the first, but hope it gets enough of a run to try before being cancelled.

      • gbdub says:

        I guess I was kind of hoping for (and was sold) something more like “Scrubs in Space” – genuinely funny, but able to have some real emotion too. Maybe a little bit more on the drama side if you want.

        Problem was I got “pretty meh sci fi drama, with a few forced jokes”. I honestly got fewer laughs than I do from a typical episode of Firefly.

        I think there’s actually tons of storylines to mine from subverting Star Trek tropes without necessarily going full spoof. For example, in the last thread someone brought up the “humans smell bad to Vulcans” plotline in Enterprise. You could do the same thing here – plenty of obvious comedic possibilities, but also a subversion of the general Trek trope that “aliens are just humans with weird facial features” that could be explored dramatically.

        Again, Firefly did this well, e.g. Capt. Mal’s line from Serenity: “If I’m not back in an hour, you take the ship… and you come rescue me!”

        • hlynkacg says:

          What and risk the ship?

        • BBA says:

          There’s a sweet spot somewhere between Firefly and Red Dwarf that nobody’s quite hit yet. Interestingly, both of those shows shared the concept that humans really are alone in the universe, and included scenes debunking supposed discoveries of “aliens.” Red Dwarf had plenty of non-human “intelligent” life, including most of the main cast, but it all ultimately came from Earth.

          (Is post-hiatus Red Dwarf any good? I was a fan years ago, but the show took a big hit when Rob Grant left.)

          • Protagoras says:

            I didn’t like seasons 7 and 8, and 9 was terrible. I think 10 and 11 have been decent enough, though; they seem to me to have largely returned to their former form, though perhaps not quite at their highest level.

    • Wrong Species says:

      The fact that McFarlane clearly loves Star Trek helps a lot for me in overcoming any deficiencies. It’s certainly more authentic Star Trek than Nu Trek ever was, potentially more than Discovery. I do have some reservations about the humor but it wasn’t as similar to Family Guy as I thought and some of the jokes landed. If Discovery ends up being terrible, I might just watch it to get my Trek fill. If Discovery is good and The Orville doesn’t progress beyond its initial setting, I’ll probably stop watching it.

    • cassander says:

      but unless it develops some proper independence soon it risks becoming a long and drawn out Galaxy Quest.

      Would that be a bad thing? Galaxy quest is without a doubt the best star trek movie. I mean, they might not be able to pull it off, but if they did, that would be amazing.

      • dodrian says:

        Galaxy Quest is a great movie, but is the premise strong enough to continue the ~nine hours of television that Fox have ordered so far? I think it would get stale after two or three episodes.

        • John Schilling says:

          Airplane! was a great movie in almost exactly the same way Galaxy Quest was. Its sequel, not so much. Freidburg and Seltzer’s attempt to make one movie a year along those lines, even less so. The style of comedy where you mine a particular vein of popular culture for tropes to parody, seems to be good for about two hours of great comedy per twenty years of source material.

  21. nimim.k.m. says:

    Later this week, both Russia and NATO & friends will simultaneously conduct military exercises involving a considerable number of troops in Europe. Media loves to speculate that a single accident (in a moment of confusion, a aircraft strays too near hostile airspace and gets shot down) could result in a total war, as both sides respond to the incident assuming the worst, and then respond to the response, leading to nefarious cycle of continuously escalating responses.

    Reading one such speculation this morning, I started to wonder: I could not come up with examples of wars that really started “accidentally”, especially in Europe. Of course, one famous candidate would be WW1: it started with assassination of important member of Austrian royalty that could be interpreted as the required “random” accident. However, to my knowledge, this interpretation isn’t exactly true: all relevant governments had some amount of intent to willingly escalate the political situation, first into war in Balkans, and then when Russia declared that it would support Serbia, into a major European war. (And it included various game theoretic traps like after one state started to mobilize, best move for everyone else was also to mobilize; and after that, for each belligerent-to-be alone, stopping mobilization would have been strategically infeasible.)

    Then there’s the Cuban missile crisis, during which there apparently were a naval standoff involving a US ships and Soviet submarine that could have lead to a shooting war. But that was after almost two weeks of US and USSR/Cuba making threatening noises at each other with missiles and blockades.

    Instead in real life today, the scenario where NATO country shoots down a Russian fighter jet (with fatalities) results only in a very awkward diplomatic situation.

    Only plausible war-by-accident I can imagine involves nuclear weapons, MAD, and malfunctioning early warning system causing one state to believe the other has attempted a first strike.

    Am I forgetting some case of accidental war?

    • Orpheus says:

      Nope, you are right. Consider e.g. this incedent in which the USSR shot down an american spy plane in 1960 and nothing came of it.

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t have any links handy, but I think there’s no small amount of examples of various incidents that could have led to nuclear war if everyone behaved like automatons practicing game theory, rather than like individual humans with independent agency that aren’t particularly keen on starting a nuclear war for anything less than really really REALLY good reasons.

        I agree with nimim that this particular threat is wildly exaggerated. Countries decide if they want to go to war or not first. If they do, any pretext is just as good as any other (and if one doesn’t come, they’ll invent one). If they don’t, anything can be explained, forgiven, or otherwise justified to avoid an undesired war.

        • Sam Reuben says:

          This is a good rule for most behavior.

          Entities will do things not because of trigger conditions, but because they want to do those things. There are extensive reasons for them to want to do those things, and once those reasons are set up, it becomes a simple waiting game for any trigger to come through and serve as the “reason.” (Take the U.S.S. Maine, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, Fort Sumter, 9/11… the list goes on, and that’s just US war history.) On the other hand, if an entity does not wish to do something, then even the trigger conditions which they have explicitly stated as requiring certain responses in the past will have no effect or elicit a diminished response.

          The exceptions to the rule are extraordinarily principled entities, such as thoughtful and consistent humans and bureaucracies, and situations where the trigger conditions change what the entities want to do. For example, Canada and the US have a pretty good relationship. However, if Canada suddenly executed all US citizens in their borders and declared war, that would change real fast. On the other hand, if Canada accidentally detonated a secret nuclear weapon on US soil, it would massively strain relations and cause some severe repercussions, but wouldn’t trigger an automatic war declaration the way a North Korean bomb would.

          The big question, then, for act-predictions, is how to figure out what entities want (and, unfortunately for the Spice Girls, we can’t just ask them to tell us what they want, what they really really want, because they tend not to be honest about that).

    • Aapje says:

      @nimim.k.m

      And it included various game theoretic traps like after one state started to mobilize, best move for everyone else was also to mobilize

      It was actually worse. Germany thought that Russia would be very slow to mobilize, but that the combined might of the French + Russian armies would crush Germany. So they thought that they could only win if they declared war before everyone was fully mobilized, so they inferiority in numbers could be offset by rapid victories over the French.

      So once the Russians started mobilizing, the Germans issued an ultimatum for the Russians to demobilize, to restore the state where they thought they had the advantage or at least a chance of a military victory. Once the Russians refused to stand down, they declared war.

  22. Evan Þ says:

    In which Scott tells us how (according to his misreading) baseball teams have a “designated Hitler.”

    In what other ways can this very interesting concept be used?

  23. aldel says:

    The information in our genes must be extremely compressed. The most effective compression schemes are “lossy”, meaning the information you end up with is not exactly the information you wanted. But the “losses” aren’t usually just random noise; they’re correlated with the information you were trying to encode. So if you compress a JPEG image too much, you get weird wavy lines around the real features of your original image; or if you compress sound to a low bit rate, you get squeaky echoes of your original sounds.

    If this type of compression error exists in our genes, how would it manifest, particularly for behavior? I have no idea, but I be it could result in really confusing results from behavior experiments.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Compression of what?

      There is nothing for genes to compress. There is nothing whichnthey represent with less than accurate fidelity.

      • rlms says:

        The platonic ideal of a human?

        • beleester says:

          In that case, the “compression error” is probably the rather imprecise way our body differentiates cells and signals them to do stuff – by signaling them with various chemicals. For instance, the basic body plan is done with a concentration gradient – cells at one end of the embryo emit a chemical, and cells that get a lot of that chemical become the head, while cells that don’t get a lot of that chemical become the feet (grossly simplified).

          Chemicals are messy, so you’re not going to hit the exact cells you want with the “become a head” chemical, and maybe you end up with a few million more cells in your head than the “ideal human.” But who cares? Your body has trillions of cells! It’s got plenty of wiggle room.

          Plus, your body isn’t static data. It’s a process. You have all sorts of feedback mechanisms that can say “Hmm, those cells are growing a little too much. Make them stop.” So errors are likely to be kept within an acceptable range.

          Point being, there’s probably no equivalent to JPEG’s weird wavy lines. It’s going to be more like “Oh, your legs are 1% longer than the ideal human’s legs.”

  24. Jiro says:

    also weird: trap innocent kittens in a freaky bizarro-dimension without horizontal lines and you win a Nobel, but try to give people one fricking questionnaire…

    Why’s that weird? kittens aren’t people.

  25. johan_larson says:

    Let’s talk about secrets. Governments sometimes have them, and they (the secrets) can be very big indeed. “We can read many German encrypted transmissions,” was a big secret for the UK government to be sitting on back in the day. So was, “We have a working atomic bomb,” for the Americans.

    So, what secrets might various governments be sitting on today?

    For example, it is possible that the Canadian government somehow intervened behind the scenes to make the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence juuust barely land on the side of Stay.

    • shakeddown says:

      Seems unlikely. (1) IIRC the referendum was judged to be too poorly worded to count as a legal precedent, so not enough motivation. (2) If they were intervening, they could have plausibly gotten a bigger margin, which would have been much better for their goals. (3) If the Canadian government had the ability to do that, you’d think the American government could manipulate votes against Trump.

      • johan_larson says:

        If the referendum for separation had passed, even by a narrow margin, the Canadian government would have been in an uncomfortable place. Negotiate, and end up with a Canada in three pieces. Refuse to negotiate, and face a storm of legitimate protest, and probably eventually a francophone IRA (the FLQ II). And either way, watch the resulting economic uncertainty dry up investments and send the dollar into a tailspin until the issue is resolved one way or another.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s suspected NSA can break one or more common encryption schemes. The existence of highly-placed HUMINT assets (up to and including “Trump is working for the Russians”) is always a possibility. On the very unlikely side, the existence of a quantum communicator, allowing bugs to be useful in underground installations. Slightly more likely, stealth drone technology capable of undetectable close surveillance of secure areas. Rather more likely, backdoors in various pieces of commercial equipment ranging from phones to cars to industrial robots.

    • shakeddown says:

      The one piece of evidence I have for this is the time someone in IDF intelligence training told me “I just found out something really cool, on the order of “we have a nuclear bomb”, but unrelated to nukes”. I have no idea what he found out, but this makes the idea of government secrets plausible. Especially since he was just in general-ish intelligence, ad the really cool stuff would require a lot more clearance.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Tangentially related question: Suppose the US government somehow develops a very reliable nuclear defense program (>90% success), one they can keep secret if they so choose. What would be some of the considerations for keeping it secret or going public?

      • AnonYEmous says:

        a successful nuclear defense allows for a successful nuclear offence

        which then invites an all-out attack

      • Going public may provide opponents with information they need to copy the defensive system. Or give them an incentive to improve their offensive systems.

      • Aapje says:

        Making it public would probably cause opponents to find workarounds.

        Making it public allows you to test it better than if you have to keep it a secret. I consider it quite unlikely that a defense program that involves shooting down the ICMBs could be made to work without the kind of testing that Russia would notice. Even with open testing, the US couldn’t make SDI work.

        • Lillian says:

          We’ve been able to reliably shoot down ICBMs since the early 60s, we just did not make much use of it due to a combination of the ABM Treaty and defeatism in Congress. (The treaty allowed for one anti-ballistic missile site per side, the Russian one is still operational, ours didn’t last a year.) The entire point of SDI was to come up with missile defence systems that got around the ABM Treaty, that’s what we couldn’t make work. Conventional anti-ballistic missile defence, on the other hand, work just fine. That’s the entire reason why the ABM Treaty existed in the first place, people were worried that the proliferation of such systems would upset the balance of terror and lead to war. In my opinion they were wrong, i think defusing mutually-assured destruction via robust ABM defences would have made the Cold War less tense.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            We’ve never been able to reliably shoot down ICBMs. The 1960s-1970s ABM systems had a success rate of ~53%, which is neither impressive nor reliable. It was clear by the early 1990s that the more modern Arrow system can’t do much better than that: Arrow-3 might, but it’s very new and untested. The kinetic weapons that came out of the Clinton-Bush program have pretty bad issues too: as of 2010, they could not even reliably find warheads. But even if all the tests were successful, sending solitary target missiles into the air and successfully intercepting them is not a good test of how we would handle 5, 10 or 100 enemy missiles and decoys launched at the same time, designed by an enemy with appropriate countermeasures, engineered to confuse our missile defense.

          • bean says:

            The 1960s-1970s ABM systems had a success rate of ~53%, which is neither impressive nor reliable.

            Nike-Zeus did a lot better than that. Also, shooting down 50% of incoming ICBMs is a really, really big deal from a strategic standpoint.

            It was clear by the early 1990s that the more modern Arrow system can’t do much better than that: Arrow-3 might, but it’s very new and untested.

            Given that Arrow wasn’t tested all-up until 1998, this is somewhat incredible.

            The kinetic weapons that came out of the Clinton-Bush program have pretty bad issues too: as of 2010, they could not even reliably find warheads.

            Ted Postol is a dishonest nutjob, and citing him is unlikely to make me take you seriously. For the most obvious example of his dishonesty, look at his analysis of Iron Dome, where he claimed it didn’t work at all. Oddly enough, everyone (including the people protected by it) disagrees with him.

            But even if all the tests were successful, sending solitary target missiles into the air and successfully intercepting them is not a good test of how we would handle 5, 10 or 100 enemy missiles and decoys launched at the same time, designed by an enemy with appropriate countermeasures, engineered to confuse our missile defense.

            In other words, even if parts start working, you can just move the goalposts and continue to argue that it doesn’t work. Got it.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I do not see how NIKE-ZEUS can be scaled to stop thousands of nuclear warheads plus penetration-aids. Even if you can stop 90% of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, that’s 200+ warheads in the multiple-megaton range hitting you.

            That’s leaving aside their 90,000+ tactical nuclear weapons and 300 some-odd divisions.

          • bean says:

            I do not see how NIKE-ZEUS can be scaled to stop thousands of nuclear warheads plus penetration-aids. Even if you can stop 90% of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, that’s 200+ warheads in the multiple-megaton range hitting you.

            Yes, but look at the other side. Nuclear warheads are less destructive than you think, and there are more targets than you expect. I’m genuinely worried that the current US arsenal isn’t enough, and since the 60s, we’ve basically replaced megatonnage with kilotonnage and accuracy. So 200-300 warheads just isn’t enough to take out the US as a fighting force. It would hurt us terribly, certainly enough to stop us from a preemptive attack just because we can, but enough would be left that the Soviets wouldn’t risk trying to start the war either.

            That’s leaving aside their 90,000+ tactical nuclear weapons and 300 some-odd divisions.

            Not going to reach the US homeland. Sorry about Western Europe, but they can’t win the war with those, and they know it. And because they know it, they won’t try.

          • John Schilling says:

            Here in 2017, we can shoot down ICBMs maybe half the time. When we know they are coming, and if they come one at a time making no real attempt to avoid being shot down. That is very much not “reliable” in the explicitly-defined sense that is being used here.

            The idea that we had a 90% efficient ICBM defense capability in the 1960s, that was scrapped because of the treasonous ABM treaty, is straight-up Cold War jingoism. We did not then and do not now know how to shoot down ICBMs more than half the time, and not even that if an enemy as clever as us puts as much effort into having its ICBMs not shot down as we do into shooting them down.

            And the bit where we could then and can now at least get to 50%, that came as a result of extensive testing of the sort highly visible to anyone with decent satellites. If we ever do manage to develop a reliable defense against ICBMs, that is going to come from more testing, not less. So the bit where we have a reliable secret ICBM defense system, whether because we applied our Mighty Rocket Scientist Brains to the problem in isolation or because we dusted off the Sooper Sekrit ABM Plans from the 1960s, is complete bullshit.

            That’s me talking as a card-carrying rocket scientist. If we don’t get to test it, repeatedly, in the field, it won’t work reliably when you need it.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @bean: Nike Zeus certainly never did better. The fact that Arrow project won’t do better was evident in the early 1990s because the Arrow project has been going on for 5+ years then, and so the engineers knew that they don’t have designs that do better. The first launch carried out as part of the project happened in March 1991.

            It’s not like Postol is the only critic of GMD anyway: Philip Coyle, who was assistant secretary of defense when GMD was born, largely agrees with him on the system’s technical capabilities.

            In other words, even if parts start working, you can just move the goalposts and continue to argue that it doesn’t work. Got it.

            The question was about a hypothetical 90% reliable missile defense system developed by the United States. A 90% success rate in taking out a single missile does not translate to 90% reliability in a missile defense scenario.

          • bean says:

            Nike-Zeus did not do better.

            Sources? My list has 13 test against ICBM targets, with 1 failure, 3 partial successes, and 9 successes. That’s a lot better than 53%. Maybe you have a more comprehensive list, which doesn’t bring down the success rate by simply including a lot of earlier tests when we would expect it to be more likely to fail.

            The fact that Arrow won’t do better was evident in the 1990s because the engineers knew that they won’t be able to design something that does better.

            You’re begging the question. What made it impossible for the engineers of Arrow to do better than Nike-Zeus?
            (You edited after I wrote this, so I will leave this, but also respond to the clarification)

            The fact that Arrow project won’t do better was evident in the early 1990s because the Arrow project has been going on for 5+ years then, and so the engineers knew that they won’t have designs that do better.

            Still no sources, and this still doesn’t make sense. The whole reason we test is that we can’t know how well things work without it. Saying that they knew they couldn’t do better prior to testing is rather incredible.

            It’s not like Postol is the only critic of GMD anyway: Philip Coyle, who was assistant secretary of defense when GMD was born, largely agrees with him on the system’s technical capabilities.

            You’re not going to convince me by simply pointing to one other expert. Postol is by far the leading technical critic of BMD, and he’s an idiot. My priors are set accordingly.

            The question was about a hypothetical 90% reliable missile defense system developed by the United States. A 90% success rate of taking out a single missile does not translate to 90% reliability in realistic missile defense scenarios.

            You’re right. It’s higher than that, because we can fire multiple missiles at each incoming.
            Sarcasm aside, I’m aware of the system integration issues, but this kind of systems integration dates back to the 50s, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. The main difference between BMD and AEGIS is that the targets are faster and higher, and that doesn’t seem a reason to assume that AEGIS will work, but BMD integration is impossible. Should we do more testing? Absolutely. But the show-stopping issues were worked out in the 70s.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @bean:

            My priors are set accordingly.

            An ICBM is a piece of metal with no strong heat or radio signature, smaller than a Boeing 737, tumbling as it falls from space. Even the much easier problem of intercepting a rocket as it touches the ground is quite difficult, even when the rocket is designed to be easily tracked, and uses aerodynamic guidance to help you intercept it (cf. Falcon 9). Set your priors accordingly.

            The whole reason we test is that we can’t know how well things work without it.

            The Nike Zeus carried a nuclear warhead, while the Arrow carries a conventional explosive, and kinetic weapons are, well… kinetic. Accuracy has to be 2+ orders of magnitude better for the new conventional weapons to match the Nike Zeus, much less surpass it. The IAF knew that Arrow was unlikely achieve a leakage rate lower than 20 percent due to technological reasons (see page 541 in this paper).

            You’re right. It’s higher than that, because we can fire multiple missiles at each incoming.

            Good snark, but anti-ballistic missiles are ten times as expensive as ballistic missiles, not counting the much more expensive ground equipment (early warning, tracking radars, etc.) required for anti-ballistic missiles. Achieving parity with enemy missiles is expensive enough. Again, this does not take into account the fact that there will be decoys, countermeasures and other low-priority targets (e.g. SCUDs) that will confuse tracking during a larger-scale missile attack.

            Sources?

            Since I have cited an academic paper and alluded to reasonably authoritative opinions of domain experts, while you have given no sources at all, the ball’s in your court. Find experts who claim that reliably shooting down ICBMs is a solved problem, and we’ll continue the conversation.

          • bean says:

            An ICBM is a piece of metal with no particular heat or radio signature, smaller than a Boeing 737, tumbling as it falls from space. Even the much easier problem of intercepting a rocket as it touches the ground is quite difficult, even when the rocket is designed to be easily tracked, and uses aerodynamic guidance to help you intercept it (cf. Falcon 9). Set your priors accordingly.

            The two are very different problems. The issue is not predicting where the Falcon 9 lands. That’s trivial. The problem is getting it to a specific point slowly enough to not damage anything and without running out of fuel. And as for ICBMs being hard to detect, you clearly have no idea how well modern radars work. SBX has been described as being able to track a baseball over California while it’s off Virginia. And ‘no particular heat signature’ is just silly. It’s a recently burned-out solid rocket. Yes, it’s going to be hot.
            (The RVs may not be, but you’re clearly talking about the entire missile. The fact that you cannot tell them apart does not fill me with confidence in your understanding of the issue.)

            The Nike Zeus carried a nuclear warhead, while the Arrow carries a conventional explosive, and kinetic weapons are, well… kinetic. Accuracy has to be more than 2 orders of magnitude better for the new conventional weapons to match the Nike Zeus, much less surpass it.

            A fair point, but apparently some classified fraction of Nike-Zeus hits were skin-to-skin. And we’ve been doing ~50% with hit-to-kill today.

            The IAF knew that Arrow was unlikely achieve a leakage rate lower than 20 percent due to technological reasons (see page 541 in this paper).

            I unfortunately don’t have access to that, but I’ll take your word for it. But I’m not sure it supports your overall point. Getting rid of 80% of missiles seems like a big improvement over 0%, even if they have nuclear warheads. (Also, 80%>50%).

            Good snark, but anti-ballistic missiles are ten times as expensive as ballistic missiles, not counting the much more expensive ground equipment (early warning, tracking radars, etc.) required for anti-ballistic missiles.

            This is true for Iron Dome, and might be true if we take startup costs for ABMs and flyaway costs for conventional TBMs. But it’s absurd for ICBMs vs production ABMs. Both missiles are of broadly similar performance. I’d generally expect the smaller one to be cheaper. But it has a harder job. So I’ll give you interceptor-missile cost parity in general. But the ICBM is toting a nuclear warhead, which is really expensive. Also, because it’s not the 1960s and we can’t assume our enemy has as much money as we do, the cost of failure becomes very relevant. Even if the cost ratio overall is 10-1, protecting ourselves is still cheaper than rebuilding San Diego.
            As for the cost of the rest of the system, we have a lot of it already. What we don’t can be bought for money that isn’t totally outrageous so far as the defense budget goes. Particularly because of how much we’ve already spent developing the hardware. (And the ground equipment for ICBMs done properly is hardly trivial, either.)
            I’m not saying that the program is well-managed. It’s not, and they really need to bring some fresh blood into MDA. But if we deploy it on a large scale, the cost will plunge.

            Achieving parity with enemy missiles is expensive enough. Again, this does not take into account the fact that there will be decoys, countermeasures and other low-priority targets (e.g. SCUDs) etc. in the air during a larger-scale missile attack.

            Wait. What are we defending, and what is the attack profile? If I’m shooting down ICBMs, then SCUDs are literally not on my radar. I’ve heard a bunch of different things on countermeasures, but modern sensors are incredibly impressive (seriously, some of the NCTR stuff is like witchcraft), so I suspect that countermeasures are harder than they look. For that matter, look how much effort the British had to go to with Chevaline, and that was to defeat 70s-era Soviet ECCM. We’ve come a long way since then. In that era, automatic detection of radar targets was cutting-edge. I believe the first automatic radar video processing system went to sea in 1975. (Not sure about land deployment.) They were counting engine fan blades on airplanes in the 90s. Who knows what they have now.

            Since I have cited an academic paper and alluded to reasonably authoritative opinions of domain experts, while you have given no sources at all, the ball’s in your court.

            No sources at all? Like the one about the list of Nike-Zeus tests?
            I’ve done a bunch of work on this in the past, but it’s been a while. I don’t have all of my sources to hand.

            Find experts who claim that reliably shooting down ICBMs is a solved problem, and we’ll continue the conversation.

            I never said it was a completely solved problem. I said it was a solvable problem, and that even if we don’t credit it with any better performance than you do, it’s still strategically useful.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So say North Korea sends, I dunno, 3 nukes at the continental US (assume that this is within NK’s capability). US ABM systems handily dispatch them. How drastically does this shake up geopolitics? On top of the whole “holy shit someone tried to use a nuke” effects, that is.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Dunno Bean, scaling up Nike basically means creating thousands of Nikes. A saturation attack by the Soviet Union is going to cause a lot of problems and a 90% kill rate seems utterly impossible.

            The USSR can also choose to ignore any arms limitation agreements and massively expand their strategic arsenal, if they so choose. So, while in the real world, the USSR was only pointing 2400 weapons at us, they can actually be pointing 3k-10k warheads at us in an alternate world scenario.

            I understand 200 nukes isn’t enough to “lose” a nuclear war. I mean we’re literally talking mega-deaths, so who cares…but it’s not what people think of as a perfect defense.

            Your 90% effective defense also means, if you launch a successful first strike, you massively reduce damage you take. So….it encourages the OTHER side to attack first, since they are in a “use it or lose it” scenario in the vast majority of scenarios.

            Also, if we’re talking 1960s technology, any nation is going to be capable of fielding nuclear-tipped ABMs, and it really does just become another escalation in the arms race. It’s not like body armor or tank armor stopped anything from escalating.

            In the real world, I suspect the Chinese nuclear modernization is due in no small part to the deployment of US ABM systems. And it’s not a trivial modernization. They are going from single-warhead liquid-fueled missiles to MIRV’d solid-state weapons that can be rail-mounted.

          • bean says:

            Dunno Bean, scaling up Nike basically means creating thousands of Nikes. A saturation attack by the Soviet Union is going to cause a lot of problems and a 90% kill rate seems utterly impossible.

            The 90% kill rate wasn’t my number. It was a hypothetical concerning government secrets from someone else. It’s high, but not implausible, particularly when you get into multiple layers.

            The USSR can also choose to ignore any arms limitation agreements and massively expand their strategic arsenal, if they so choose. So, while in the real world, the USSR was only pointing 2400 weapons at us, they can actually be pointing 3k-10k warheads at us in an alternate world scenario.

            I’m not so sure of this. Up through the 70s, there was very little slack in their strategic arsenal. It was as big as they could make it.

            I understand 200 nukes isn’t enough to “lose” a nuclear war. I mean we’re literally talking mega-deaths, so who cares…but it’s not what people think of as a perfect defense.

            Why does the defense have to be perfect, unless you’re planning to start a war? I’m not, so I have little problem with 90% during a mass attack. It also provides excellent protection in case of accidents, or if someone with only a few weapons pushes the button. (See Korea, North)

            Your 90% effective defense also means, if you launch a successful first strike, you massively reduce damage you take. So….it encourages the OTHER side to attack first, since they are in a “use it or lose it” scenario in the vast majority of scenarios.

            I’ve never really bought this logic. The other guy is still fully dead. I’m merely badly wounded. The US had massive superiority, better than any ABM system could provide, up until the early 60s. And we didn’t push the button.

            In the real world, I suspect the Chinese nuclear modernization is due in no small part to the deployment of US ABM systems. And it’s not a trivial modernization. They are going from single-warhead liquid-fueled missiles to MIRV’d solid-state weapons that can be rail-mounted.

            Yes, that’s significant, but I’m not sure why it’s of huge concern. Assuming that MIRV actually complicates BMD (an assumption I’ve seen challenged and need to research more), they’re just catching up with where we were in the 60s. If anything, I’d describe it as a case where our complacency allowed them to continue to use obsolete systems long after they should have stopped.

          • Lillian says:

            @John Schilling: For the purposes of this sub-thread, nobody is claiming we had magical secret 90% effective ABM in the 60s. The claim i made is that we had reliable ABM in the 60s, to which i was referring to Nike-Zeus, whose capabilities are publicly available. We just never invested into as much as we could have, and only briefly deployed its descendant Spartan in the 70s, so we never worked out all the kinks in the system. Like you said, we needed more testing, but we didn’t get more testing because we gave up on it. Now we’re stuck trying to solve kinetic-kill BMD for some stupid reason, when we know it works if you use nuclear warheads.

            Also, the Safeguard system, which used a combination of Spartan for mid-course and Sprint for terminal interception, had an 86% success rate in testing during the early 70s. So you know, it’s not 90% under war conditions, but it’s still something. (http://www.alternatewars.com/BBOW/Weapons/US_ABM.htm)

            @Everyone: Since bean only alluded to it, i want to illustrate the important concept of virtual attrition. To do that consider the following toy scenario. The attacker has an ICBM that has a 90% chance of destroying its target, so if he wants to be 90% sure that his strike will destroy that target, he need only point one missile at it. Now suppose the defender puts up a 50% effective ABM system to defend it. In order to be 90% sure that the target is destroyed, the attacker now needs to aim 4 missiles at it. The defender’s ABM has successfully defended three other targets without firing a shot.

            To use a more real example, the mere existence the A-35 ABM around Moscow became a real problem for the British. The Royal Navy had 4 Resolution-class SSBNs, of which one would be drydocked and useless at any given time. The remaining three had 16 Poseidon SLBMs with MRVs, allowing them to hit 48 targets with three warheads each. However with the activation of the A-35 BMD system around Moscow made the British doubt the effectiveness of their deterrent. So they instituted the Chevaline program, which required taking out one of the warheads in each missile to fit the decoy package, and then aiming everything at Moscow just be sure. Forget about whether the Soviet BMD even worked, just its mere existence successfully neutralized 98% of the British arsenal.

            @publiusvarinius: Where did you get the notion that the defensive missiles are ten times more expensive than offensive ones? That doesn’t make any sense. The flyaway cost of Minuteman-III is $4.8 million in 1977 dollars, flyaway cost of Spartan is $3 million in 1969 dollars, which adjusting for inflation gives us 1-1 cost equivalence. That’s not including the physics packages (3 for Minuteman, 1 for Spartan), the cost of the hardened missile silo (another half million early 60s dollars for Minuteman) or the cost of launch and guidance infrastructure (very expensive for both).

            Minuteman cost: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/Mmiii.html
            Spartan cost: http://www.astronautix.com/s/spartanabm.html
            ICBM silo cost: https://www.minutemanmissile.com/lfconstruction.html

          • bean says:

            @Lillian
            I think we share another forum. If you don’t have an account, shoot me an email at battleshipbean @ gmail and I’ll get you in.

          • Lillian says:

            @bean: If you mean Stuart’s place, i’m already a member, i just don’t post there any more.

          • bean says:

            @Lillian
            I figured you probably had one, but I didn’t recognize your handle, so I thought I’d offer.

          • John Schilling says:

            Now we’re stuck trying to solve kinetic-kill BMD for some stupid reason, when we know it works if you use nuclear warheads.

            We “know” this, how, exactly? Last time I checked, the number of ICBMs we successfully shot down with nuclear-warhead ABMs was a whopping big zero.

            We’ve flown ABMs somewhere in the vicinity of ICBMs and said, “we totally would have blown that up if we had a real nuclear warhead”. Big. Fucking. Deal. How many target ships did we send Mark 14 torpedoes under, saying “we totally would have blown that up if we had a real magnetic warhead”? Or the Germans with the G7a? And it’s not just the proximity fuze; nuclear weapons effects against hardened targets are remarkably difficult to assess without realistic testing. Testing every part of a weapon except the part that actually kills the enemy, and saying “we’d totally kill the enemy if this were a real fight”, is a classic noob move in weapons development and a recipe for catastrophically embarassing failure.

            So that’s the #1 “stupid reason” we don’t use nuclear-tipped ABMs – we can’t test the most critically important parts of the system. If we can’t test it, it won’t work.

            #2: Conventional ABM requires very precise guidance in azimuth or elevation, but you can ignore ranging during the terminal engagement – just keep nulling the angle rates until you hit something. Az/El data is easy to come by, from any active, semi-active, or passive sensor, and those sensors are now adequately precise for hit-to-kill in their COTS implementations. Ranging of a small target closing at 10+ km/s is not a trivial problem, and it’s a completely different problem that requires a completely different sensor to acquire and engage the target in a millisecond or so. Screw that up, and your nuclear warhead detonates too soon or not at all.

            #3: A nuclear-tipped ABM is first and foremost a nuclear missile, and it is one whose performance makes for a very good first-strike offensive weapon – particularly if you forward-deploy it. That’s a nasty diplomatic problem even with conventional warheads; make it nuclear, and the enemy will treat it as an offensive threat. So will nations that aren’t your enemy, yet.

            #4: Even if you don’t mean it as a first strike, shooting an ABM at a missile coming from Russia to the US means shooting a very high-performance missile from the US in the general direction of Russia or China. For that matter, engaging a North Korean ICBM would mean shooting one of our ABMs towards Russia or China. Many of the most tactically useful trajectories, actually impact Russia or China if they miss the ICBM. Unless you are 100% certain that you are already in a total nuclear war with Russia and China both, the stupid plan is the plan that involves randomly impacting a nuclear-armed superpower or two with our own nuclear warheads and hoping they don’t overreact.

            #5: The missiles that do successfully destroy an ICBM with a nuclear warhead, particularly in terminal-defense scenarios, result in highly visible nuclear explosions over the US. Unless you are 100% certain that you are already in a total nuclear war with Russia, and that this has been reliably communicated across the force, the stupid plan is the one that causes e.g. US theatre commanders to see CNN reporting a nuclear detonation over Omaha at the same time their link to the Pentagon went down.

            #6. The missiles that do successfully destroy an ICBM with a nuclear warhead, produce a substantial electromagnetic pulse. While the effects of nuclear EMP are often grossly overstated, it does produce at erratic and temporary disruption of electronic systems over a broad area. Sensitive radio receivers are particularly vulnerable, almost impossible to fully harden, and vital to the operation of e.g. radar guidance systems. So the first time you destroy an enemy ICBM, you futz up all the radars you need to deal with the next hundred ICBMs. Yes, they’ll be back on line as soon as you do a hard reboot. Whee. Also, the flash blinds optical sensors that are the best alternative to radar ABM guidance and control, and you’ll get at least partial disruption of long-distance radio and satellite communications (which see #5 above if CNN’s feed works and Milsatcom doesn’t).

            #7: In part for reasons already stated, and in part because of stuff like this, US doctrine (and that of every other major nuclear power) is that we do not let random colonels launch nuclear missiles because they happen to be the duty officer under attack. Nukes get released by the National Command Authority, no less.

            #8: Considering #3-7, the stupid idea is the one where the defense of the United States of America against total obliteration, has to be put on hold until Donald Trump understands the situation and can give a coherent order.

            #9: Over the past few decades, we have successfully eliminated almost 30,000 of the nuclear weapons that used to be aimed roughly in the direction of the United States of America. That’s more than 75% of the total, achieved by pure diplomacy in cooperation with former enemies, and better than anything you’re going to realistically get with even nuclear-armed ABMs against a hostile power trying to confound your plans. And it goes away, goes back to the old rules, the moment we tell the world we’re going to be building a thousand or so new thermonuclear weapons that, trust us, aren’t really first strike weapons and don’t be alarmed if we happen to shoot some of the at you, we pinky-swear we don’t mean anything by it.

            #10: We don’t need nuclear-armed ABMs. We’ve actually got the hit-to-kill part down. Our system fails half the time, but we’ve kind of understand why, and it’s not because our guidance systems aren’t quite good enough and keep flying by the ICBM targets 100-200 meters away where a nuclear warhead would help. Instead, it’s because the maneuvering thrusters we need to get within even nuclear near-miss range of the target don’t work and we can’t be bothered to fix them. Or because the stage separation mechanism fails, or some other simple thing of the sort that’s not simple to get right when you are pushing against hard performance limits trying to make an intercept at Mach 30.

            We can probably do better than 50% – with a lot of testing and a hefty dose of humility. We do not need AND DO NOT WANT nuclear weapons to do this. That’s Cold War reactionary nonsense, from the sort of people with nostalgic fantasies of nukyuler combat toe-to-toe with the Rooskies, which of course we totally would have won if it weren’t for the pansy-ass liberals. Spare me.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            While the effects of nuclear EMP are often grossly overstated

            Have you written about this in detail and I missed it? If not, can you point me at something that would let me actually understand, say, what the effects of a North Korean nuclear EMP over the West Coast would be?

          • John Schilling says:

            I haven’t written about EMP yet, and I haven’t seen anyone do a really good comprehensive version yet. Here is my colleague Jeffrey Lewis’s short take.

            Unfortunately, his link to the EMP commission’s study of EMP effects on motor vehicles is now dead, but I’ve read it and he accurately describes the results. While the paranoids would have you believe in a Mad-Max future where the roads are dominated by 1980s diesel Mercedes and old VW Beetles because everything else has been reduced to scrap metal, the reality is that when late-model automobiles are subject to nuclear-grade EMP, about half of them suffer nuisance effects, e.g. failures of electronic dashboard displays. About ten percent are rendered undriveable – but only until someone stops and restarts them, occasionally after disconnecting the battery for five minutes. Another ten percent, some of the electronic nuisance damage is permanent. None of the tested cars were permanently undriveable, though to be fair not every car was subject to the highest level of exposure.

            Most studies of this sort deal with military hardware and are as such classified, which makes it hard to do a really comprehensive open-source report. And things like regional electric power grids are hard to fit in a simulation facility, so there’s a fair degree of speculation there as well. And some hard data from a few old exoatmospheric nuclear tests, often sensationally reported as causing blackouts and destroyed power grids over vast areas but when you read the fine print, very erratic blackouts etc. Yes, streetlights went out in Honolulu after Starfish Prime – on some streets. Most streets, no effect. EMP coupling is strongly dependent on fine details of geometry and alignment, with orders of magnitude difference possible (but unpredictable) from relatively minor changes. So you don’t want to be extrapolating from the worst reported effects.

            It is true that high-altitude EMP can cover wide areas, with 500-1000 km radius of effect possible depending on yield and elevation. So an attack on the US West Coast from a single nuclear weapon is possible. But the results, roughly speaking, is a lot of stuff will go wonky until you can power it down for a hard reboot, and a few things will get permanently broken. Working around the damage will take anywhere from minutes to weeks, depending on complexity, competence, and priority. If your master action plan (or flip side, nightmare) is “We will detonate three nuclear weapons in low orbit and Send The United States Back Into The Dark Ages, Bwuahahaha!”, then no.

            If the plan is to detonate three nuclear weapons at high altitude and then exploit ten minutes of chaos to slip in some other sort of attack, that’s more plausible so long as you understand that the US does try to harden the most critical military systems.

            If the plan is to defend the United States against enemy attack with a sophisticated technological system that depends on electronic C3I and missile guidance systems being pushed to the limits of their performance, while simultaneously detonating a few hundred of our own nuclear weapons high over the United States, that’s just doing the enemy’s work for him.

          • Lillian says:

            @John Schilling: The first reason applies equally to the nuclear ballistic missiles themselves, because nobody has ever actually tested a fully armed one. So it’s symmetrical problem, the ballistic missiles don’t work either.

            The third reason only applies to forward deployment. We already have hundreds of ICBMs and SLBMs. The threat that we’ll make a glow-in-the-dark parking lot out of any country that provokes us enough is already there, adding hundreds of nuclear-tipped ABMs doesn’t really change it.

            All your other reasons seem perfectly valid, and i thank you for taking the time elucidate them. In light of those points, it does indeed seem that in the present day, it’s better to research non-nuclear ballistic missile defence.

            However i still believe we should not have signed the ABM Treaty, or at least not taken Safeguard offline, since it did work to the extent that we were able to determine. It may even have gotten us functional non-nuclear ABM sooner. It’s easier to push for a switch to conventional BMD when you already have a BMD system in place and your pitch is, “It works, but there’s some problems because, you know, nukes.” Though nuclear tipped ABMs do still have a insurmountable advantage over conventional ones: they’re much, much, cooler.

            As for your last comment, i think you’re pattern matching me to the wrong people. Just because i share fetish for nuclear weapons and Mach 3 bombers with some liberal-hating reactionary cold warriors doesn’t mean i’m one of them. Their “hang all liberals” crap is in fact one of the reasons why i no longer hang out where they hang out.

            Also on the note of Mach 3 bombers, did you see my reply to your S-200 comment on the last thread? SRAM + Mach 3 + 80 000 feet handily beats the S-200 Dubna.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also on the note of Mach 3 bombers, did you see my reply to your S-200 comment on the last thread? SRAM + Mach 3 + 80 000 feet handily beats the S-200 Dubna.

            I saw it, but the XB70+SRAM link was dead, which made it hard to address. Also, the source you cited for S-200 range was for a crossing target (80 degrees mean azimuth), not closing. It doesn’t help that the graphic then shows a semicircular engagement envelope defined by the crossing-target kinematic limit, but it really does make a big difference at Mach 3. Back of the envelope, that engagement is fratricidal – you trade one B-70 for one S-200 site, presuming you’ve properly identified the missile base. SAM sites are cheaper than bombers, and easier to either camouflage or fake from plywood.

            And regardless of your personal inclinations, if you’re hanging around alternate wars, you do wind up with data cherrypicked to suit a perverse set of biases.

          • Lillian says:

            Of course the engagement is fratricidal, that’s why we armed our bombers with cruise missiles. The point was to illustrate that yeah the later Vega and Dubna S-200s can engage a B-70 from a hundred klicks out, too bad the bomber’s shooting first from several hundred klicks away.

            Let’s see if this link works: https://forum.baloogancampaign.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=21

            It’s a paper discussing the possibility of arming the SR-71 with SRAMs, and illustrating the hilarious range advantage it gets when launching at Mach 3+ from 80 000 feet. Given that the B-70 would have also been able to travel at Mach 3+ possibly as high as 100 000 feet, one would expect it would get that benefit as well.

          • Lillian says:

            On the note of perverse biases, i did say nuclear weapons fetish. Somewhere out there is a picture of Alternate War’s author fondling a Mk. 41 thermonuclear bomb case.

            I still remember when he told me about Project Plowshare, how it sounded like the coolest thing i’d ever heard. He knew i would understand. It too bad it was always a solution in search of a problem, atomic field engineering is a thing i wish we’d done just so we could say we’d done it.

          • bean says:

            @John

            Also, the source you cited for S-200 range was for a crossing target (80 degrees mean azimuth), not closing.

            It looks to me like the 80 degrees in question translates to the target flying 10 degrees off a course for the missile battery (mostly closing) not mostly crossing.
            (This is really hard to study. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out missile engagement envelopes, and haven’t yet found anything better than that diagram. I’m almost to the point of doing it myself in MATLAB. You wouldn’t happen to know of some shortcut?)

          • Lillian says:

            That diagram is from the manual of operations for S-200VE (export Vega, main difference is no nuclear capability). The only way you’re getting better information is to find the full manual and learn all the number crunching involved.

          • bean says:

            The only way you’re getting better information is to find the full manual and learn all the number crunching involved.

            That’s the idea, although replacing the S-200 manual with textbooks on missile design. I have the tools to do this, I just haven’t sat down and done it.

          • John Schilling says:

            It looks to me like the 80 degrees in question translates to the target flying 10 degrees off a course for the missile battery (mostly closing) not mostly crossing.

            The diagram shows a symmetry axis at 0 degrees azimuth and a cutoff to the engagement envelope at 102 degrees. That only makes sense if “azimuth” is defined such that 0 degrees is a closing target and 90 degrees is crossing, rather than vice versa.

            (This is really hard to study. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out missile engagement envelopes, and haven’t yet found anything better than that diagram. I’m almost to the point of doing it myself in MATLAB. You wouldn’t happen to know of some shortcut?)

            I’ve put together a pretty good set of tools for ballistic missiles, never had reason for guided SAMs. If you’ve got a solid performance figure for one geometry, it should be reasonably accurate to do a simple geometric extrapolation for other geometries if you’re doing proportional navigation against a non-maneuvering target, at least. The general case is going to be hard.

          • bean says:

            The diagram shows a symmetry axis at 0 degrees azimuth and a cutoff to the engagement envelope at 102 degrees. That only makes sense if “azimuth” is defined such that 0 degrees is a closing target and 90 degrees is crossing, rather than vice versa.

            I’m not quite sure of that. Looking it over, the diagram doesn’t make a lot of sense. If nothing else, it’s radially symmetrical, which is definitely not right for any sort of target.

            I’ve put together a pretty good set of tools for ballistic missiles, never had reason for guided SAMs. If you’ve got a solid performance figure for one geometry, it should be reasonably accurate to do a simple geometric extrapolation for other geometries if you’re doing proportional navigation against a non-maneuvering target, at least. The general case is going to be hard.

            I think I’m going to work out linear performance figures at different angles of elevation, then use that to drive the proportional navigation calcs. I think I can find some information on what energy state at intercept implies for endgame Pk, and I can get energy state fairly easily. The general case is probably too much for me to bother with.
            (Actually, that might even be overcomplicated in some cases. A lot of SAMs use up-and-over trajectories which should make scaling with range very easy.)

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not quite sure of that. Looking it over, the diagram doesn’t make a lot of sense. If nothing else, it’s radially symmetrical, which is definitely not right for any sort of target.

            It makes sense if you understand that Russia ~1970 didn’t have the computronium to do a complete diagram of the engagement envelope in a 4+ dimension phase space, so they just blocked out the diagram using a few detailed calculations of edge cases.

            The edge case is maximum azimuth away from a closing engagement, which they defined at 80 degrees, and got 160 km range / 29 km altitude or 80 km range / 35 km altitude, in both cases for a crossing target at 1200 m/s. Then they just swept that across the entire arc for azimuths less than 80 degrees, and said “no capability” for azimuths greater than 80 degrees. Actual capability against a closing target at zero azimuth, M=3.5, will be substantially higher, but they didn’t run that test case because it wasn’t in the requirements document.

          • bean says:

            That makes sense, although I still am not sure either of us is reading it 100% correctly. In any case, I should be able to work up a method for getting a better answer fairly quickly. If only there was a good way to export MATLAB code.

      • bean says:

        I don’t think this is very plausible. The testing required to figure out that it’s >90% effective is going to be visible to the Russians at the very least, as Aapje points out.
        It depends on what the threat we’re trying to counter is. Particularly at >90% effectiveness, this does dangerous things to the balance of power. The US launching a nuclear strike and being able to walk away from the retaliation becomes a possibility, which makes the Russians and Chinese nervous. On the other hand, this was the situation up until the mid-60s, and we didn’t pull the trigger then, either. On the gripping hand, we didn’t have good intelligence throughout the period.
        But I think they’d go public, because the consequences of a leak on international diplomacy. Probably before deployment got too far, as evidence of good faith. I might even offer to help other people with the tech.

    • johan_larson says:

      How’s this for a secret: we can bring down the internet?

      I expect every nation to speak of knows how to isolate their national networks from the wider world. And somewhere in the Pentagon is a plan for how to cut key international links whose absence would effectively disable the global system. But I am not sure even the US security agencies could do it remotely, without overt military action.

      • beleester says:

        Isolating yourself from the outside world is mostly a matter of cutting the relevant cables. And isolating the US would have ripple effects far outside it since a lot of global companies have servers hosted in the US. But making it unusable for anyone is far harder.

        Blowing up major data centers would do the job, but there’s a lot of them, and the big companies are “meteor-proof” – they have enough redundancy that if one datacenter goes down completely, the others can still provide service.

        Bringing down the DNS root servers, which would prevent human-readable addresses from getting translated into IP addresses, basically making it impossible to browse the internet in a normal way. However, this is tricky to do, as the servers are scattered around the globe, and there are several alternative DNS roots we could use as a fallback. Most of the DNS root servers are in the US, but the alternatives are not.

        Another good candidate is BGP, the protocol that lets networks share routing information, which can be abused to route traffic to the wrong places. Erroneous BGP information can propagate – Mallory tells Alice that she should route through him, Alice tells Bob to route through her to Mallory, Bob tells Carol, etc. – which means you can cause global chaos by screwing with just one ISP in your country (It’s happened before, by accident). But it’s a temporary attack. Eventually other ISPs will notice what’s going on and filter out the malicious BGP info, and service goes back to normal.

        I suppose it depends on what you mean by “bring down the internet.” Making it hard to reach popular websites for a few days is pretty easy (by nation-state standards, at least). Completely stopping global internet access is a much taller order.

      • bean says:

        And somewhere in the Pentagon is a plan for how to cut key international links whose absence would effectively disable the global system.

        This is publicly acknowledged. They occasionally talk about ‘kinetic operations’ in connection with cyberwar, which is Pentagonese for ‘we’re going to blow it up instead of trying to hack it’.

    • willachandler says:

      Some literature relevant to “secrets”:

      • Howard Morland’s “Born Secret” (Cardazo Law Review, 2005):

      The “born secret” doctrine of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 [is] a permanent gag order affecting all public discussion of an entire subject matter. There is nothing like it anywhere else in American law.”

      Example: if you know of any reason whatsoever, why the nuclear deterrent capacity of the United States might not function as designed, you are legally bound to silence (and arguably you are morally bound to silence too).

      • Phillip Rogaway’s “The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work” (25th Usenix Security Symposium, Austin, Texas, USA, 2016):

      Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension. The Snowden revelations motivate a reassessment of the political and moral positioning of cryptography. They lead one to ask if our inability to effectively address mass surveillance constitutes a failure of our field.

      Example: if you know of any reason whatsoever, why the cryptography capacity of the United States might not function as designed, you are morally bound to speak up (and arguably you are legally and/or professionally bound to speak-up too).

      • Attributed to early computer designer Howard Aiken (1900-1973):

      Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.

      Example: Stanford course “CS231n: Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition” — taught by Fei-Fei Li (Stanford professor and Google chief scientist for or AI and ML) and a team pf 21 (!) Stanford colleagues — rams down to classes of 700+ (!) Stanford undergraduates’ collective throats, a comprehensive suite of mathematical and computational tools for practically implementing the radical idea that instinctive / intuitive / empathic modes of cognition succeed, where ratiocinative modes of cognition fail, not only in vision-related tasks, but in all domains of biological and artificial cognition, and in 21st century computer science as ubiquitously as in 20th century evolutionary biology.

      Overall conclusions  Plausibly the most radical and dangerous 21st century ideas remain almost entirely unknown to the general public, primarily because these ideas are at variance with widespread preconceptions, and hence (for most people) are difficult to recognize and accept, and are widely experienced as alien and/or repugnant.

      More broadly, it not uncommonly occurs — particularly in medical practice and research, and generally in the creative professions and arts — that professional legal and moral obligations require grappling with cognitive considerations that may be personally experienced as uncongenial, distressing, or even psychologically overwhelming. Such ideas remain secret chiefly because most people don’t like to think about them.

      In such cases government-imposed secrecy may be paradoxically counter-productive, per the Streisand Effect:

      The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.

      Conversely, an indirect yet highly effective strategy for secret-protection is to reward modes of cognition that regard the protected secret(s) as irrelevant / infeasible / repugnant. Plausibly (to me at least) such strategies are particularly effective with persons who regard themselves as “rationalists”.

      Identifying instances of indirect / aversive secrecy-protection strategies is left as an exercise for the reader, for reasons whose deduction, by longstanding tradition, also is left as an exercise for the reader (see e.g., Spinoza’s caute).

      • Plausibly the most radical and dangerous 21st century ideas remain almost entirely unknown to the general public

        Nineteenth century too. David Ricardo worked out the principle of comparative advantage about two hundred years ago. Most public discussion of trade issues at present is put in terms of the preceding (mercantilist) view of trade. It is rather as if public discussion of the space program took for granted a Ptolemaic universe.

        • willachandler says:

          Agreed 100 percent. E.g., in Erik Kandel’s The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present we read

          When [the 19th century physicist Hermann von] Helmholtz turned his attention to the study of vision [circa 1850], he realized that any static, two-dimensional image contains poor-quality, incomplete information. To reconstruct the dynamic, three-dimensional world from which the image was formed, the brain needs additional information. In fact, if the brain relied solely on the information it receives from the eyes, vision would be impossible.

          He [Helmhotz] therefore concluded that vision must also be based on a process of guessing and hypothesis testing in the brain, based on past experiences. Such dedicated guessing allows us to infer on the basis of past experience what an image represents.

          Since we are not normally aware of constructing visual hypotheses and drawing conclusions from them, Helmholtz called this top-down process unconscious inference. Thus before we perceive an object, our brain has to infer what that object might be, based on information from the senses.

          Helmholtz’s remarkable insight is not restricted to perception: it provides a general principle that, as we shall see, applies to emotion and empathy as well.

          As further reading — regarding in particular modern extensions of Helmholtz’ 167-year-old insight — Michael Nielsen’s revent Quanta article “Is AlphaGo Really Such a Big Deal? is commended to SSC readers.

          I see AlphaGo not as a revolutionary breakthrough in itself, but rather as the leading edge of an extremely important development: the ability to build systems that can capture intuition and learn to recognize patterns. …

          Now we’ve got so many wonderful challenges ahead: to expand the range of intuition types we can represent, to make the systems stable, to understand why and how they work, and to learn better ways to combine them with the existing strengths of computer systems.

          Might we soon learn to capture some of the intuitive judgment that goes into writing mathematical proofs, or into writing stories or good explanations? It’s a tremendously promising time for artificial intelligence.

          In view of research enterprises like Fei-Fei Li’s and Erik Kandel’s and Michael Nielsen’s — enterprises that are concretely grounded in ever-more-astoundingly-capable open-access tools for citizen-science cognitive research — a not-inconsiderable portion of the Helmholtz-compatible rationalism here on SSC would appear to be, not wrong, but rather lagging ~1.7 centuries behind modern conceptions of cognitive capacities, including in particular those cognitive capacities that commonly are called instinctive, intuitive, artistic, creative, affective, seductive, and empathic.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t think governments have the ability to keep secrets for very long. Secretive arrangements and weapons come out sooner or later, whether by leaking or international treaty. Ex: the US and Russia probably aren’t researching bio-weapons, as they both knew about each other’s bio-weapons sites, and inspected them to make sure the experiments were ended.

      We don’t “know” Israel has nuclear weapons, but we basically know it, and it’s only a question of how capable the delivery vehicles and weapons are.

      Diplomacy might be the best case of government-kept secrets. The US and the USSR negotiated about weapons capabilities, but a lot of what we did in Iran in the 1950s has only come out recently. However, even then, rumors of US involvement and certain leaks were already in the water supply.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Ex: the US and Russia probably aren’t researching bio-weapons

        I would not be shocked at all if they were researching it, because how can you defend against weapons you don’t know how to create and use?

        We’ve had government mind control experiments, like MKULTRA (which turned Ted Kaczynski into the Unabomber) because…who knows how the mind works? Especially back in the 60s? What if there had been simple ways to control minds? We don’t do it because “evil,” the Chinese or the Russians don’t care, they discover it, the battle starts, zap all your soldiers with the mind control ray and whoopers there goes the nation and the world. Of course they research this stuff.

        I don’t think there is government mind control. But if the government isn’t research mind control, I’d say they’re not doing their jobs. Same thing with bio weapons.

        • bean says:

          Biological defense programs are allowed under the Biological Weapons Convention. The US has one, as does Russia. We destroyed all of our bioweapons in the early 70s. The Russians continued offensive work after the BWC was signed, and we still don’t have good verification that it’s been dismantled.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          My point isn’t that secrets don’t exist, it’s that secrets don’t stay secret for long. You know about MKUltra, for instance, and we’ve known it about if for nearly 40 years.

          The Snowden revelations occurred in much less time.

          • bean says:

            On the other hand, Ultra was kept for 30 years, despite being very big. The British were giving Enigmas to people after the war, and assuring them that they were safe. Much of the history of the Japanese and German atomic bomb programs are still classified, and haven’t leaked (although in fairness those can be simply locked away).

          • hlynkacg says:

            If you want to keep yourself up at night thinking about this sort of thing I recommend the book Anthrax by Jeanne Guillemin.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It depends on what the secret is. I actually agree with Sidles up there. There are self-keeping secrets. Things that if you figured them out, you would never say. Or that no one would believe you if you did.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Things that if you figured them out, you would never say. Or that no one would believe you if you did.

            Yes, like “The US is spying on everyone and everything”. First ECHELON leaked, then AT&T Room 641A, then Snowden, and you still get accused of tinfoil hattery for claiming the US government is doing such things.

  26. Sniffnoy says:

    Has there been a decrease in gambling over the past, say, 100 years or so?

    • Matt M says:

      I have no studies or data or anything (which is probably what you want).

      My guess would be no, but that we have, largely, shifted from “traditional” forms of gambling (underground card games, cock fights, etc.) to more subtle things that are sometimes not even called gambling at all (fantasy sports, short-term stock trading, etc.)

      • actinide meta says:

        Recently people have figured out that you can take money from roughly the same people without actually having to pay out winnings, by using similar stochastic reward schedules but having the rewards be entirely virtual. See F2P gaming. My guess is it has grown at the expense of the kind of gambling where you could theoretically come out ahead, on the grounds that there’s only so much money in the hands of suitable victims, but I haven’t researched the question.

    • BBA says:

      100 years ago was probably a low point for gambling. Nearly all forms of gambling were banned practically everywhere. There was the casino at Monte Carlo, and in some areas betting on horse races, but I think that’s it, and it being the middle of the Great War those weren’t particularly accessible. Illegal gambling might have been common, but I can’t imagine mob-run underground lotteries being more common than the ones selling tickets on every street corner today.

    • skef says:

      If derivatives count, then no.

  27. SUT says:

    What is the gene that makes women find tall men attractive?

    Obviously women instinctually sense that a taller man is more likely to win a fight, and that they were well nourished in upbringing. So its not a preferencr gene for a concrete trait like height, but a gene for the abstract concept of dominance. The way a gene for breast preference works is similiar but is slightly more subtle…

    Breasts, like high heels are an encumberance to athletic performance. Although men usually prefer shorter women, high heels, which make women taller, are perceived as attractive because it shows the woman is encumbering herself with impractical footwear. Mirror neuron type thoughts tell men this woman is signalling she needs a provider and defender. And likewise, where a muscular chest that you can pound on is a primitive signal of dominance, a display of large amounts of fatty (not muscular) and highly sensitive tissue is a sign that the woman will not be defiant of challenging.

    Not all large breasts are attractive either; saggy is worse than nothing at all. The key for provocative display is to push them up, in imitation of a younger, fresher woman.

    To summarize: brains will pattern match breasts as a sign of potential submission and (in the right form) as not being attached to a family yet. These abstract concepts are one of the archetypes that men are programmed to look for – “the maiden” in Jung’s system. The genes act at this abstract level, and the cognition and perception end up classifying breasts as fitting these concepts.

    • keranih says:

      Ummm. I think this is not correct on a couple of assumptions.

      A woman in heels is not sexy because she’s awkward, but because the imbalance forces a shift in the hips & pelvis, increasing the arc and rearward thrust of the butt.

      Also, the amount of tissue on breasts that is sensitive isn’t really related to the size of the breasts.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think you have this all pretty much backwards. Coding in signalling for preference for submission over dominance may work (we seem to have a lot of work on that in hierarchical rankings in packs/troupes and how males battle each other for mating privileges, also work on signalling surrender and submission so that the victor need not kill or seriously injure the losing challenger) but in sexual terms? That’s very tangled because then it would be just as easy to signal “losing male who signals submission is also signalling sexual receptivity” and probably somenone somewhere has done work on this (but I’m not really going to wade through furry porn).

      As for high heels, they started out as (1) unisex and practical; things like chopines to get your feet out of the mud. I’ve also seen something somewhere about butchers wearing them to keep their feet out of the blood when slaughtering animals but I have no idea how much of a ‘just-so’ story that was (2) indicators of high social status because being able to afford fancy shoes meant wealth and position; this was most prevalent with men wearing high heels – see Louis XIV because heels also make you seem taller and appearing tall is, as you have noted, associated with health and dominance etc. As a status symbol, noble women also aspired to them and over time high heels became, for whatever reason, associated with women solely.

      High heels extend the leg, make you look taller, as keranih says they throw the alignment of the spine and pelvis off so you get emphasis on the buttocks and the curve of the lower back and with a heck of a lot of socialisation they become associated with “this is sexy” (possibly because (a) the association in Venice of courtesans with wearing high heels and (b) the same reason stockings and garter belts are “sexy lingerie” even though these are really clothing styles that went out in the 50s and 60s with the introduction of tights/panty hose and discarding the girdle).

      EDIT: And shapely legs were, in the days of close-fitting hose, stockings, breeches and pantaloons, considered attractive on men – to the point of caricature at times 🙂

      Sure, I see that what you posit is along the same lines as the assumed rationale for foot-binding in China – that it made women helpless as in they literally could not run away – but I really don’t know how strong that line of reasoning is, when allowing for the bias in feminist readings of “it is all the fault of the evil patriarchy that wants to literally as well as figuratively restrict and tie down women’s power”.

      • SUT says:

        The heels example is simply meant to be an analogy, surely there’s no gene for shoe preference, right? Which is part of my larger point: there is a way to make a genotype – men – to have a very specific prefernce without the modern explanation of social conditioning.

        I would avoid the whole four centuries of garment history in understanding what gives Gender-X the tingles. Fantasy artists can come up with an elf or martian outfit that arouses without any real history for these societies. On the other hand, why we wear certain clothes in formal social settings I’m sure does trace back to butchers guilds and French kings. But what I wanted to examine is primitive emotions, as divorced from cultural happenstance as possible. And yes, that gets down to our lizard brain where the feminists *do* have a point about male sexual avarice.

        Based on the reality of our time and place, our Cognition asks “so what does that imply?” about anything we perceive. For your example of Mr. Tight Pants, I suspect his contemporary would say he doesn’t spend all day working or worrying about his business, he is a man of leisure (and maybe passion!). For a modern woman, who is free to wear whatever she wants, aggressive heels imply she doesn not spend all day worrying about career and chores, she is a woman of leisure and maybe passion.

        Then to tie that analogy back to biomechanics, which is more timeless than fashion, and which we are optimized to perceive differences that causes advantages/disadvantages, you might see how certain anatomies will become preferred simply as an artifact of upstream abstract mate-personality preferences.

        • Deiseach says:

          You’re trying to have it both ways now: your original argument was “women wear certain clothing items because these are considered sexually attractive because they signal submission”, and you were the one who brought high heels into the discussion.

          It’s pointed out that these were unisex and so knock back your point to needing to explain why wearing these does not then signal male submissiveness/sexual availability, and you jump off that horse and onto a different horse to talk about bio-mechanics.

          Great. But that still leaves “so why doesn’t this signal attractiveness in men?” for your proposition, which you still haven’t answered. It’s a bit chicken-and-egg to say “biomechanics reflect mate-personality preference and these clothing/shoe items mimic/effect those biomechanics”.

          If what you want to argue is “men want submissive women”, go ahead, but leave fashion as proof out of it. Argue it from biomechanics or what you will, but make an argument from it. Right now, you sound more like you’re talking about your personal kink (and hey, submissive women make your motor run? You go! That’s fine, but don’t make it a universal rule of all human evolutionary history).

          EDIT: Your argument is that mate-personality preference indicates male prefer submissive females. Okay. You then used the example of high heels as a way women – by restricting their ability to run away – signal submission and lack of aggression. Yet then when you acknowledge that this is culturally and chronologically dependent – “avoid the whole four centuries garment history in understanding what gives Gender-X the tingles” – you must therefore back up your assertion that this preference has an evo-psych explanation, and defaulting once again to “For a modern woman, who is free to wear whatever she wants, aggressive heels imply she doesn not spend all day worrying about career and chores” doesn’t explain that – what did women do in the 12th century to attract men if they weren’t wearing stilettos, and if your only response to that is that there were no hard-thrusting career women in the 12th century, all women were naturally meek, mild and came pre-packaged as submissive, I suggest you take another look at what you are saying.

          • SUT says:

            This topic is obviously a minefield and I rather regret walking into it when the actual substance could have been stated in a far less X-rated way. G-version:

            I don’t think house cats have a gene that gives them preferences for jumping in cardboard boxes. I think they have genes which create circuits in the brain that release comfort endorphins when their bodies are squeezed into tightly enclosed spaces. Perception and cognition recognize a new box in the house as a possible way the cat could achieve this pleasurable mental state. Thus cats seem to be curious and playful around boxes as they seek to asses and satisfy a very simple genetically programmed concept: enclose yourself.

            This is not meant to be theory of everything for cat behavior, human sexuality or fashion, just a sketch of how to go from genetics -> seemingly complex and remarkable behavior.

            I will say I have enjoyed the vigorous debate and challenges. A final for the record: the type of cognition I was thinking of was operating at the level seen in the animation here: http://www.atm.damtp.cam.ac.uk/people/mem/reith.htm(yes, safe for work).

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Men aren’t put off by women who dance well in heels. They don’t mind seeing women fight in high heels.

      While high heels actually limit movement and add risk, I don’t see any reason to think that’s what men like about seeing women in high heels.

      • Aapje says:

        I would say that’s it’s generally off-putting when a woman is unable to walk with heels and stumbles/falls all over the place. So I’d say that men probably like it despite limiting movement, not because of it.

  28. SUT says:

    What is the gene that makes women find tall men attractive?

    Obviously women instinctually sense that a taller man is more likely to win a fight, and that they were well nourished in upbringing. So its not a preferencr gene for a concrete trait like height, but a gene for the abstract concept of dominance. The way a gene for breast preference works is similiar but is slightly more subtle…

    Breasts, like high heels are an encumberance to athletic performance. Although men usually prefer shorter women, high heels, which make women taller, are perceived as sexy because it shows the woman is encumbering herself with impractical footwear. Mirror neuron type thoughts tell men this woman is signalling she needs a provider and defender. And likewise, where a muscular chest that you can pound on is a primitive signal of dominance, a display of large amounts of fatty (not muscular) and highly sensitive tissue is a sign that the woman will not be defiant of challenging.

    Not all large breasts are attractive either; saggy is worse than nothing at all. The key for provocative display is to push them up, in imitation of a younger, fresher woman.

    To summarize: brains will pattern match breasts as a sign of potential submission and (in the right form) as not being attached to a family yet. These abstract concepts are one of the archetypes that men are programmed to look for – “the maiden” in Jung’s system. The genes act at this abstract level, and the cognition and perception end up classifying breasts as fitting these concepts

  29. Telminha says:

    I posted a question here two or three times, but it disappeared every time. Was it deleted by a moderator?

    • bean says:

      You probably ran into the filter. There are certain banned words, intended to avoid topics that tend to cause problems. They can be worked around, if you’re clever. I think the comments post (see top bar) has at least a partial list.

      • Telminha says:

        Thank you for your replay. I believe you are right.
        I went to the Comment page and checked the censored words and terms. I did not use any of the listed ones. My question did not contain slurs or any offensive words and it was not related to politics or culture war, but I certainly did something wrong. I’ll never know.

        • Brad says:

          The other possibility is the spam filter. It has a rather overactive imagination. If you had several links that’s the likely culprit.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, and even a single link simply copy-pasted into the message (rather than using the link function) can get you in trouble as well.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      None of your posts have been deleted. One got caught in the spam filter, sorry. I’ve approved it and it should be showing now.

    • Deiseach says:

      Spam Filter Monster hungry. Needs moar delicious comments to devour.

      (That’s the most likely explanation. Too many/wrong kind of links also gets you in trouble with the Spam Filter Gods).

  30. Oleg S. says:

    I’m trying to make a short sociological survey, and am trying to use Amazon Mechanical Turk, but unfortunately it has limitations – the requester has to live in US or in a very short list of countries. Does anyone know an alternative or way around this limitation or alternative platforms?

  31. hlynkacg says:

    Naval Gazing Guest Post: The Origins of Naval Aviation
    Series Index

    As discussed previously in this series, locating and tracking the enemy has always been one of the more significant challenges of Naval warfare. From the biremes and triremes of ancient antiquity to the turn of the 20th century the primary sensor system of any warship was the Mark 1 Mod 0 Eyeball. Effective sensor range was largely a function of atmospheric conditions (weather) and height above the water *1.  To this end almost every ship designed prior to the modern era included a dedicated lookout platform called a “top” at or near the ship’s highest point (typically the mainmast of a sailing vessel) *2. For the vast bulk of history the range at which an enemy could be detected had always been many times greater than the range at which an enemy could be engaged. To illustrate, a typical vessel of the Napoleonic era had a top-height between 100 and 200 ft which equates to a horizon range between 11 and 16 nautical miles. Meanwhile, the effective range of artillery in that age (including the cannon that comprised a warship’s broadside/primary armament) was typically less than one nautical mile. This changed at the close of the 19th century. With the advent of steam power and heavy naval rifles, horizon to horizon combat became a genuine possibility, and the ability to detect and track targets beyond the horizon became a necessity.

    Aircraft were seen as an obvious solution to this problem. Observation balloons had been used to great effect on both sides of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war and a balloon at 3,000 ft could theoretically quadruple the range at which a vessel could be spotted from 16 nm to 64 nm. However two significant advances were required before Naval aviation could be of practical use, powered flight, and radio transmitter/receivers light enough to be carried aloft without the need for an extension cord *3. The British Royal Navy became the first to formally embrace airpower in 1908 with the commissioning of HMA(His Majesty’s Airship) Hermione, a rigid hulled airship based on Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s LZ-4 and built at the Vickers Naval Works in Barrow-in-Furness. Nicknamed the Mayfly (she may fly, she may not) she was never flown operationally but the lessons learned in her design and construction proved invaluable. By the start of World War I in 1914 airships were in regular service with the navies of England, France, Germany, and Italy, as scouts and commerce raiders. However their delicacy and limited endurance prevented them from operating far from shore.

    Meanwhile on the far side of the Atlantic Orville and Wilbur Wright had demonstrated the feasibility of heavier than air flight in 1903 and by 1909 had developed thier experimental Flyer into a practical two-seat biplane with a 95 nautical mile range and 35 knot cruising speed. The Wright Model B was the first aircraft to enter mass production, and the first to be made available for sale to the public. It’s design was emulated *4 and improved upon by numerous inventors including fellow bicycle mechanic Glen Curtiss.

    An avid motorcycle builder and racer Curtiss immediately set about adding a more powerful engine and experimenting with various landing gear configurations (all Wright Brothers’ designs had used skids up to this point) including pontoons for landing on water and the first example of the 2 -1 tricycle suspension used by almost all modern aircraft *5. In 1910 Curtiss met Captain Washington Chambers, who’d been tasked by the Secretary of the Navy to investigate potential uses for aviation and together they made arrangements to test the feasibility of operating from ships. On November 14, 1910, pilot Eugene Ely launched himself from the deck of the USS Birmingham (CL-2) not into the waters of Chesapeake Bay as everyone expected but into Naval aviation history. Two months later, on January 18, 1911, Ely successfully landed on a custom 120 ft long platform built on the fantail of the USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) using a Curtiss-designed tailhook to catch a series of ropes weighted with sand-bags and strung across the deck to arrest his momentum. After lunch with the ship’s captain and interviews with the press, the deck was cleared and Ely took off, returning to shore. The success of the Pennsylvania demonstration convinced the US Navy to allocate $25,000 *6 to Curtiss for the purchase of 3 airplanes further development and company and prompted Curtiss to establish the first formal training camp for pilots and aircraft mechanics on the north shore of Coronado Island in San Diego bay.

    The first nation to use an aircraft in naval warfare wasn’t actually a nation at the time. In May of 1913 a group of Mexican revolutionaries traveled to Los Angeles to purchase an airplane. They had it shipped in crates to the border town of Naco where it was reassembled and christened “Sonora”. Armed with homemade pipe-bombs and a .30 cal rifle Pilot Gustavo Salinas Camiña and Mechanic/Bombardier Theodore Madariaga set out in Sonora to break the Federalist blockade of Guyamas. Finding the Gunboat Guerrero (Warrior) anchored in the harbor the two men pressed the attack, dropping their bombs and firing on any sailors who showed themselves above deck. Several officers on the Guerrero’s bridge attempted to return fire with their sidearms but their shots had no effect. While the Sonora’s attack dealt little or no damage to the Guerrero herself, they did inflict several casualties among her crew and forced the remainder to take shelter below decks leaving her primary battery unmanned. Unable to effectively fight back (anti-aircraft guns having yet to be invented) the Federalist Navy was eventually forced to abandon the harbor and withdraw beyond the range of the Revolutionary Air Force effectively ending the blockade.

    While the navies of both Britain and Japan both took note of the Mexican Revolutionaries’ success, and responded by sending representatives to the US to be trained by Curtiss, the US Navy seems to have taken the opposite lesson. The fact that the Guerrero, a mere gunboat, took no significant damage would be cited, for years to come, as “proof” that airplanes posed no threat to armored vessels. (It would take a World War and an insubordinate general to disabuse them of this notion) As a result naval aviation in the US stagnated as Britain surged ahead.

    In spring of 1912 the British pre-dreadnought HMS Hibernia was fitted with a 100-foot long platform above her forward 12-inch turret and Lieutenant Charles Samson, became the first man to take-off from a ship while underway. Participating in a series of exercises off of the coast of Sheerness, the performance of the Hibernia and her air detachment convinced the admiralty that while airplanes were undoubtedly the future, the makeshift platforms, and the limits they imposed on a ship’s primary armament made operating them from a conventional warship impractical. As such, a new class of ship dedicated to carrying aircraft needed to be developed. The first ship to carry the designation “Aircraft Carrier” was commissioned in 1914 as the HMS Ark Royal *7. Built on a merchant’s hull she lacked the full length flight deck that we associate with carriers today and as such would be more accurately described as a “Seaplane Carrier”. Instead of taking off and landing conventionally, her complement of 9 seaplanes was launched from a platform (later a catapult) on the bow and were recovered by landing on the water alongside and being lifted aboard by crane.

    By the outbreak of World War One in July of 1914 the Royal Navy had the largest air force in the world with six rigid-hull airships and over ninety airplanes. Though their primary mission remained reconnaissance, the Admiralty encouraged experimentation and when it was discovered that the new Short Folding Seaplanes *8  had sufficient lift to (barely) carry the same Whitehead torpedoes used by Royal Navy destroyers and patrol boats they immediately ordered the development of dedicated attack aircraft to “carry the fight to the enemy”. The first two prototype torpedo bombers were embarked upon the converted tramp steamer HMS Ben-my-Chree and dispatched to the Aegean sea to take part in the Gallipoli campaign where Flight Commander (and Future Air Marshal of the RAF) Charles Edmonds would become the first pilot to successfully sink an enemy ship in combat. [Bean: The first aircraft torpedo to kill an enemy ship unaided was actually launched while the airplane was landed on the water.]  The Japanese, in partnership with the British, would follow suit one month later using their own aircraft to attack the German-held port of Tsingtao (Qingdao) China. The concept of strike warfare had been born.

    I have more but I’m running late, and the war itself along with Billy Mitchell’s efforts to convince the US military to embrace airpower really warrant their own post.

    Footnotes:
    *1 Maximum spotting range in nautical miles/minutes of latitude is roughly equal to 1.17 multiplied by the square root of the lookout’s elevation in feet above the water. (Warning: equation not valid on celestial bodies other than Earth)
    *2 The term “crow’s nest” refers specifically to an enclosed top. These were more typical of whalers and exploratory vessels than dedicated fighting ships.
    *3 The German Navy experimented with towing gliders behind fast cruisers and stringing a telephone cable up the tow rope in 1901 but somehow this failed to catch on.  
    *4 Disputes with Curtiss over the similarity of his Reims Racer to the Model B lead to the infamous Wright Brothers patent war.
    *5 Two large wheels that support the bulk of the aircraft’s weight and absorb the force of landing with a smaller “castor” wheel at the nose or tail for balance.  
    *6 Approx. 6 million dollars today
    *7 Aircraft Carriers named Ark Royal are to the Royal Navy as Starships named Enterprise are to Starfleet. Every time one goes down they build another.
    *8 Named for the company that built them, Short Brothers of Sunderland, rather than their length.

    • bean says:

      Thanks for getting this together, and good job. I wasn’t familiar with the Guerrero.

    • Aapje says:

      Why didn’t the navy just start by craning a seaplane into and out of the water? That seems to me a more logical way to start integrating planes with ships (because of low cost and because it is easy to adapt a ship for it).

      How could that first aircraft torpedo be fired while the plane was landed on the water? Wouldn’t the ship have shred the plane with her guns? Unless the target was a merchant.

      Could you please use a different way to include the footnote references? I keep doing calculations, so modern aircraft *5 is 5 planes, $25,000 *6 is $150,000, etc. Perhaps (1) is better.

      • bean says:

        Why didn’t the navy just start by craning a seaplane into and out of the water? That seems to me a more logical way to start integrating planes with ships (because of low cost and because it is easy to adapt a ship for it).

        Launching straight off the ship is a lot faster, and it’s easier on the plane. In bad weather, recovering seaplanes was very difficult. Launching is even more difficult, because you’re having to drag the floats through the water and power them into the air. With the engines of the time, that was actually quite difficult. And since planes took off fairly quickly on land, with some good use of wind, it was easy enough to just fly them off.

        How could that first aircraft torpedo be fired while the plane was landed on the water? Wouldn’t the ship have shred the plane with her guns? Unless the target was a merchant.

        It was indeed a merchie.

        • hlynkacg says:

          It was indeed a merchie.

          There seems to be some disagreement on this, I’ve seen sources label it as a freighter, tug boat, and Turkish coast guard vessel. The Mediterranean squadron’s official dispatches list it as a Turkish Navy supply/troop ship which is what I went with.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Why didn’t the navy just start by craning a seaplane into and out of the water?

        Good question; Short Answer, it was easier. Launching a seaplane is generally deicer affair than landing one in a given sea state, and airflow over the wings from the ship’s forward motion is effectively “free lift” as far as the plane is concerned. Further more craning was both time consuming required the ship to slow to a crawl where as launching from the bow was as simple as opening the throttle and hanging on for dear life.

        How could that first aircraft torpedo be fired while the plane was landed on the water? Wouldn’t the ship have shred the plane with her guns? Unless the target was a merchant.

        Details are a bit scant in this regard, according to the after action report Edmonds’ wingman had been forced to set down due to damage and they were taxiing together on the surface when a Turkish troop ship approached them. They turned towards the Turks and released thier torpedoes, before attempting to flee. The torpedoes struck thier target and the damaged aircraft, now significantly lighter, was able to get airborne and escape to friendly territory.

        Something to keep in mind is that light caliber weapons, machine guns, etc… were not yet standard naval armament at the time. I suspect the attack was successful in large part because it was unexpected.

        Could you please use a different way to include the footnote references?

        Noted.

        Edit:

        Ninja’d by bean

        • John Schilling says:

          Further more craning was both time consuming required the ship to slow to a crawl where as launching from the bow was as simple as opening the throttle and hanging on for dear life.

          Also, a floatplane can taxi at say twenty knots alongside a ship steaming at twenty knots, and be safely lifted out of the water. The reverse procedure isn’t nearly as safe to do at speed, so if you’re trying to provide scouting services for a battle fleet you really don’t want the version that requires you to ever slow to a crawl.

    • spkaca says:

      Minor correction. Short Brothers was a Belfast firm; the Sunderland was its most famous product, a mighty WW2 U-boat hunter.

      • hlynkacg says:

        *checks notes*

        You’re right, looks like I got a wire crossed between the Sunderland Boatworks, and Short Sunderland (the flying boat). Mea Culpa.

    • dodrian says:

      Since this hasn’t generated much discussion, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to your next post!

  32. Telminha says:

    I suspect that I might be autistic. I’m a woman, and I’ve heard that autism symptoms are different in women.
    I’ve taken a few tests online (I’m aware that they should not be used to make a diagnosis), but they all say that I probably am.
    I do not want to pay for an official diagnosis. I’ve been in therapy before (CBT) for something (un)related (depression and anxiety), and regret not having explored this issue.
    How do I know?

    I don’t smile much. I was looking at my pictures the other day, and I’m always serious in them, even when I was a child.
    People ask me why I don’t smile in pictures. I think I’ll look like an ax murderer, to be honest. Smiling doesn’t feel natural. I’ll laugh if someone tickles me or say something very random – “Only consume apples that really speak to you.”

    I’m shy and feel very anxious when I know I will have to interact with other people. When I do, I spend some time rehearsing in my head what I’ll say next, and due to that, I often miss what the other person has said;

    I have a difficult time starting a conversation and keeping the pace. It feels like jumping rope, and I never know when to enter it. There are always a few awkward interruptions. Perhaps this is more of a cultural thing? I’m from Brazil;

    If I have an activity on Friday, for example, I start to stress out days before; wishing and hoping that it will be canceled or trying to make up excuses. “My cat died.” I don’t have a cat;

    I don’t understand sarcasm very well;

    I’m uncomfortable with looking people in the eyes. I remember one day when I tried for more than a few seconds with someone I liked. I became extremely nervous and felt as if I had lost my legs;

    I don’t like bright lights. I replaced some of the regular light bulbs with orange ones;

    I like the texture of certain things: rubbing the corner of a broken fingernail or a few strands of hair;

    I’m afraid of driving. I’m only comfortable going to places I already know or have checked on the map – many times. I avoid freeways like the plague. I can’t understand the fluidity of driving. It feels like dancing to me.
    I have a hard time changing lanes because I don’t seem to understand distance. My reflexes are very slow;

    I like poetry and obscure, ancient philosophies;

    I like routine;

    I avoid the news as they make me sad. I seem to absorb other people’s suffering in a way that it makes me very depressed and paralyzed;

    When I go for a walk, I like to observe the houses and the trees and other things along the way. The color of the houses, the brightness of the day, and the way the leaves move with the wind, for example, gives me the impression that the day is either sad or happy. If it’s sad, I avoid that path from then on. I don’t know if that makes sense.

    I apologize if this question is out of place. It probably belongs in the bin of poor quality questions.

    • MNH says:

      I have a female friend with Aspergers who told me that people with it often experience some degree of synesthesia (and she herself does). What you say about walking sounds like it might be that to me.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Too me you sound more like a very sensitive, socially anxious person than autistic.

      I suspect that social anxiety skews autism tests, because they usually don’t specifically ask: “if social interaction were always as easy and effortless as it is with lifelong friends, would you rather take a watch apart than meet people”.

      That being said, autism is part of a spectrum over the whole population. You’ll be on there somewhere. Maybe you’re in the 97th percentile and an official diagnosis will say you aren’t autistic. Maybe you’re in the 99th percentile and and the diagnosis says you are. Will that distinction be helpful?

    • Aapje says:

      @Telminha

      Some questions that autistic women seem to answer different than average people:

      Do you feel that you have a male brain?

      Do you engage in repetitive acts, especially when under stress? For example, do you engage in hand flapping, rocking, excessive or hard blinking, pacing, head banging, repeating noises or words, snapping fingers, and/or spinning objects?

      Do you have fixations/obsessions, where you like to do the same thing a lot for a period?

      Did you have real girlfriends when you were 10-15 years old?

      Have you ever had a boyfriend?

      Here is something to read that might be helpful. And more.

      And since you like poetry, here is poetry about Asperger’s.

      PS. I consider myself a person who is more similar to autistic people than the average person, but too neurotypical for it to be useful to classify myself as a true autistic person. So I agree with BlindKungFuMaster that you may not want to make a binary choice between autistic and neurotypical.

      • Telminha says:

        I don’t know how to answer the first question because it’s very difficult for me to imagine being anyone else, either a man or a woman.

        Yes, pacing, rocking, hair twirling. If I could, I’d replace all the chairs in my house with rocking chairs.

        I do, but some don’t last more than a couple of weeks. Mountain dulcimer being the last one.

        Not really. My best friend at that age was a boy and he was gay.

        Yes, my first date was at age 21. Then, married my second boyfriend.

        Thank you for the links. The book looks interesting and I added to my reading list. I also enjoyed reading some of the poems. I particularly liked The Mask of Me.

        • Aapje says:

          My first question was not about gender dysphoria (having a mismatch between self-identity and the body), but more about being more things-oriented vs more people oriented, which is strongly gender related. Women who are very things-oriented can feel disconnected from other women and instead understand men better, which they can interpret as having a male brain. I don’t think this requires imagining to be someone else. That you had a male best friend and no real female friends is consistent with this.

          Given your additional answers as well as your earlier statements, I see a lot of things that are very consistent with Asperger’s, but also evidence that you are quite high functioning (but then again, that may be a trait of women with Asperger’s). For example, only a quarter of people diagnosed with Asperger’s can drive on their own and very few women with Asperger seem to be able to date/marry.

          It seems quite hard to diagnose and study high functioning women with autism. I hope you can find information that helps you, but I suggest keeping your expectations low.

          • Telminha says:

            Apologies. I understand now. I do believe I have more common interests with men. I have never personally met another woman who was fond of philosophy, for example.

            I’d say most people who know me would doubt I’m on the spectrum. Most of my struggles, I kept hidden from the ones I know. I observe people interacting with each other since I was young, and practiced being social. It’s not a natural thing for me, but I try.

            I ordered the book you recommended. Thank you again.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “Perhaps this is more of a cultural thing? I’m from Brazil.” – it can’t possibly be a *Brazilian* culture problem, because the vast majority of the 207 million (amount just overtaken by Pakistan, BTW) doesn’t suffer from that problem; if anything, from the opposite, “huehuehuehs”. “Autism” is the simplest explanation considering your other informations, but it might actually be worth considering whether your familiarity with Western culture contributed to hesitation about, um … talking a lot, about, let’s say, random stuff. Lastly, some would say “don’t be afraid of awkward silence”, including our host.

      ” trying to make up excuses.” – confirming the utility of the advice “only invite people you met recently to things you’d do alone anyway”.

      Did you meet Stoicism through CBT, or before?

      • Telminha says:

        I discovered Stoicism first. Then I learned about Albert Ellis and how he was directly influenced by the Stoics, and wanted to try CBT. It did not help me much. I had more success just by reading books on Stoicism and practicing the exercises.

    • Sam Reuben says:

      I’d be willing to guess that you are, in fact, on the autistic spectrum. There are a lot of people who are, and who exhibit the same general traits as you do. Note that I use “autistic spectrum,” rather than “autism.” Autism isn’t an on-off sort of deal; different people exhibit autistic traits in different magnitudes. You have a bunch of the characteristics, and as such, you are likely on the spectrum. (Actually, the diagnosis is even easier: do you post in the SSC comments? If so, you are probably somewhere on the spectrum. Things like this don’t draw the interest of most people. Another big tell is the texture-sensitivity. This is far more common in people who are on the spectrum.)

      So what is there to learn from this? Well, not a whole lot, to be honest. You already know all of those personal characteristics of yourself with or without the moniker of autism. If there are other characteristics common among those with autism, that doesn’t mean you have to try to exhibit them. The Delphic imperative is “know thyself,” and in order to list these things, you must already be doing that.

      What you can learn is that other people do not act in the same way, and learn how to bridge the gap between how they interact with the world and how you interact with the world to facilitate smooth and easy social contact. That’s a long and complicated process, but you have the tools needed to get started.

      A piece of advice you might find helpful: conversation, like everything else, is a trained skill. It takes practice to get good at it. You will embarrass yourself, as with practicing anything, and you’ll do it in public – but most people don’t really care about it, seeing as they’re too self-centered, and the ones who do care are not good practice partners in the first place. There’s seven billion people on the planet. There will always be someone else to talk to, so it doesn’t matter if you mess anything up while talking to someone. With practice, these things become easier. Most people get the basic practice done when they are very young, when it’s accepted that you’re supposed to embarrass yourself, and badly. People on the autistic spectrum tend to have less interest and talent in social affairs, and spend their time alone, meaning their basic practice comes later. That’s fine. Everyone’s different, and finding your own path is normal.

      I hope this answers the implicit questions in your post. I interpreted this as not so much being “do I have autism” as being “how should I live in accordance with the fact that I have autism,” and tried to touch on that instead.

    • willachandler says:

      Five books, by four authors, whose youthful female protagonists may speak to high-IQ, socially challenged, depressives of all genders and ages, are first, Robert Heinlein’s stoicism-grounded novels Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (1958) and Podkayne of Mars (1962, both books are written for young adults); second, Yannick Grannec’s The Goddess of Small Victories (2014, a novelization of the marriage of Adele Porkert to Kurt Godel), third, Elif Batuman’s The Idiot (2017, regarding the psychological perils of excessive introspection), and fourth, Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink (2017, reflections upon philosophical, romantic, and physical desires, in Spinoza’s era and ours).

      Blessedly, these authors leaven their narratives with plenty of comedy. E.g., in Grannec’s The Goddess of Small Victories we read:

      My name is Kurt Gödel. And you are Fräulein Adele. Am I right?”

      “Almost right, but then you can’t know everything!”

      “That remains to be seen.”

      Aye, SSC lassies and laddies, this passage gracefully reminds the reader that even the most ardent logic-lovers can “meet cute”! 🙂

      • I think highly of Podkayne, but in what sense is it stoicism grounded?

        Who do you think is the protagonist?

        • willachandler says:

          Are there any Heinlein juvenile protagonists who don’t embody — by the end of the story if not always at the beginning — the sober stoic virtues that Seneca, Epictetus, and Aurelius commend? Specifically, the four cardinal stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance?

          No such non-stoic Heinlein protagonists occur to (my) mind … the contrast with comically unrepentant delinquents like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer is striking.

          As for “who’s a protagonist”, Clark and Poddy both are, eh?

          • I think Clark is. Podkayne is the viewpoint character.

            And Clark does not demonstrate justice–he’s a psychopath who may be turning into a human being, due in part to the influence of his sister. That’s the point both of his uncle’s comment at the end and of the final bit about the fairy.

          • willachandler says:

            That older stoic role-models (Poddy, Baslim, Sergeant Zim) inspire and instruct neophytes (Clark, Thorby, Johnny Rico) is an ubiquitous theme in Heinlein’s young-adult novels … and in Kipling’s Kim too, whose stoic moral themes — and even the chief plot lines — are deftly echoed by Heinlein in Citizen of the Galaxy.

            Hence, to the (unknown) extent that Heinlein consciously wrote by recipe(s), “stoic mentoring” plainly is a much-used ingredient.

            Whereas in Mark Twain’s largely mentor-free narrative universes, characters like Huck and Tom and Pudd’nhead Wilson mostly have to figure things out for themselves … generally to comedic effect! 🙂

          • Podkayne isn’t mentoring her brother–he views her with affectionate contempt. She is influencing him by example, which is a very different thing.

          • willachandler says:

            Lol … yes indeed, Poddy and her uncle (Mars Senator Tom Fries) both appreciate the utter futility of arguing with self-absorbed high-IQ individuals like Clark! 🙂

            As Alexander Pope put it:

            Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.

            Garrison Keillor explains how this works:

            In looking down on things, we give up ever understanding them.

            Perhaps we can all learn from Podkayne and her uncle, that over the long haul, personal examples can be more convincing than abstract reasons.

            After all, aren’t personal examples and actions, rather than arguments and abstract reasons, the means by which Double Star’s self-absorbed high-IQ actor Lawrence Smith evolves into the empathic progressive John Joseph Bonforte?

        • hlynkacg says:

          Stop feeding the troll.

  33. mustacheion says:

    I am an amateur programmer who has gotten into machine learning recently and I believe I might have found some techniques which make training fully connected deep (> 10 layers) feed-forward neural networks easier and faster. I would like to talk with someone more experienced in this field than I am to help me determine whether I have actually found something useful, or am just making a mistake somehow. A few exchanges in this forum, or a five minute phone call is probably enough of your time to make this clear. I would prefer to speak with somebody professionally or academically involved in machine learning. So is there anybody out there who either is such a person or is willing to introduce me to such a person?

    One caveat: we can discuss my results and I am happy to give out publicly my trained neural networks to prove that my results are true, but at the moment I am going to keep my techniques private.

    I have only been doing this for about two months; so far I have only focused on the MNIST classification problem. My best result to date is an 18-layer net that scored 98.3% accuracy. This accuracy is good compared to most fully-connected MNIST solutions, poor compared to state of the art convolutional nets. But keep in mind that my net took only about five hours to train in a poorly optimized python program and I am missing very important techniques like algorithmic expansion of the training data simply because I haven’t had time to code that yet. I am staying away from convolutional nets at the moment only because the goal of my project is to see if I can solve the difficulties with training deep fully-connected nets. I have every expectation that convolutional nets are better suited to real world applications, and I fully expect that my techniques will apply to training convolutional nets also. I just haven’t gotten there yet.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’m not the expert you want to talk to. But it occurs to me that, since CNNs are (thought to be) better for the problem you are studying, the solutions you are comparing your work to may not really reflect the state of the art (other researchers may not have bothered to push fully connected networks to their limits for this problem). You might want to try your technique on an actively studied problem whose best known solution is fully connected, to get a better idea of whether you are doing better than existing techinques can do.

      • mustacheion says:

        I absolutely will be doing that, eventually. But it would be great to get some feedback now to help me decide whether to keep pushing my own approach or to change gears and just study what other people are doing.

    • Ivy says:

      I could be considered an expert (have published in major ML conferences). What sort of feedback are you looking for? I think it would be hard to provide meaningful feedback without understanding the technique – an accuracy number alone isn’t enough to judge that the approach is worth exploring, unless it’s a state-of-the-art result on a major dataset.

      • mustacheion says:

        The accuracy I am getting is important only insofar as it proves that I am actually obtaining a neural network that works. What I am looking for is understanding the extent to which researchers have solved the unstable gradient problem in fully connected networks. Can ML researchers actually train deep (>10 layer) fully-connected nets in reasonable amounts of time? From what I have read online the answer seems to be no. But of course as an outsider, I don’t really trust my ability to actually understand what the state-of-the-art actually is. Clearly they can train much deeper CNNs, but I am interested in the fully-connected case. I have finally cleaned up my work and have it presentable, so in a few hours I can post my 12 layer fully-connected MNIST classifier on Github.

        • mustacheion says:

          Ok, I believe I have my Github repository setup:Link
          If anyone has any problems getting this to work, please let me know.

        • Ivy says:

          I don’t actually know any applications where >10 layer fully connected nets are state-of-the-art, maybe try the /r/MachineLearning hivemind?

          Off the top of my head, ResNets should definitely let you train very deep fully-connected nets. Batch or layer normalization speed up training a lot, though I haven’t seen results on specifically deep fully-connected nets.

          If your approach beats ResNets and batch/layer normalization across a couple datasets that seems like a significant result.

          • mustacheion says:

            The link you provided about ResNets seems, as far as I was able to tell, about convolutional nets. Though that technique might work for fully-connected nets also, it wasn’t obvious to me from reading it that the researchers even tried that approach.

            But we are clearly not on the same page here, so let me provide some context. I am a physicist by trade, and about a month ago I decided to pick up a machine learning textbook, just to see what it was about. Despite not having coded seriously in several years, and having never even used python, I started going through the examples, learning as I went. As I was reading, I came upon a section about why deep nets are hard to train and thought, “oh, I have an idea, maybe I could do this to help solve that problem.” So I played around with various modifications to the net I coded as I was going through the examples in the book. And several modifications later, I seem to have solved the problem. It is completely unreasonable to expect that I could match state-of-the-art performance on my poorly optimized python code that I copied from a textbook. That isn’t what I am trying to do.

            Convolutional nets are clearly obviously a really great approach to machine learning. CNNs are so successful that probably no serious researcher in the past twenty years has bothered wasting their time on boring fully-connected nets. That is great, and I will definitely dive into that field next. But at the moment, I am not trying to do that. I am trying to see if there is another way to solve this problem that was already solved in the 90’s. Solving an already solved problem certainly isn’t very flashy or exciting. But coming up with different solution to a solved problem might still be of mild interest to some researchers. It might provide some more general insight into neural networks, and it might even generalize to modern CNNs and help make small progress there.

            So what am I trying to decide right now? I am trying to decide whether I should pat myself on the back and move on, or whether I should keep pursuing this idea. There is a tiny but nonzero chance that I managed to blindly stumble into discovering a piece of low-hanging fruit that was missed by researchers in the 90’s and hasn’t been found by anybody since then because they haven’t even been looking in this tree. If that is the case, it seems like the next step for me should be to connect with a research group and collaborate on a not-very-interesting-but-still-non-trivial paper. Otherwise, I should stop here, add this project to my portfolio of work that I am building to make myself look more employable, and move onto studying more trendy topics in machine learning. That is what I am leaning on your advice to try and decide.

          • Ivy says:

            Thanks for the clarification. The issue I guess is that there have been many ways to improve neural net training invented since the 90’s, and the critical piece of information I’m missing is how your technique overlaps with and/or compares to those.

            If your technique beats the state-of-art on some dataset, that’s clearly a publishable result. It might be fairly easy to do this – just find a recent ML paper that released their code, swap out their training algorithm for yours, and see if that improves their metrics.

            Even without state-of-the-art results on real datasets, your technique might be so original and interesting that it’s worth pursuing further. But to judge that you’d need to get an expert to actually look at the technique. I’d suggest posting the outline on /r/MachineLearning and asking if anyone’s seen related papers.

    • Tiberius says:

      Hi mustacheion,

      I am currently a researcher in machine learning and would be interested in hearing about your idea. I am not an expert but I have seen a reasonable amount of publications and I train neural networks myself, though mostly of the convolutional kind.
      There are a number of ways people have tried to solve the vanishing or exploding gradient problem, the most important I know of are the residual networks, normalization layers and Long-Short-Term-Memories.

      I don’t think any new method will break into the community without cracking any records at least for some scenarios (Either more accuracy, less training data, less training steps, smaller model size, better generalisation …). There are just too many new ideas proposed and no one has time to check them all.

      you can contact me by email at: tiberius101 (weird a-symbol) protonmail (:/2) com

    • willachandler says:

      For comedic illumination, try searching for the phrases “machine learning” and “graduate student descent”. 🙂

      More concretely, Anne Greenbaum’s monograph Iterative Methods for Solving Linear Systems (SIAM 1997) provides an accessible introduction to a vast mathematical literature whose methods the AI/ML community is perennially rediscovering.

      The point is that there is no easy, simple, or quick way to assess whether a given AI/ML method is mathematically novel. In particular, it commonly happens that the details of a AI/ML implementation are novel; far less commonly those details are grounded in a genuinely novel and generally applicable mathematical insight, and only very occasionally can new mathematical insights be expressed as theorems rigorously proved.

      For up-to-the-minute news and insights regarding these matters, Sanjeev Arora, Moritz Hardt, and Nisheeth Vishnoi host a marvelously informative weblog Off the Convex Path.

  34. Atlas says:

    Random philosophy query:

    I think most people would disagree with philosopher David Benatar’s anti-natalist view that life is so full of suffering that for most people it’s a net negative, so therefore people should have fewer kids. After extensively researching the topic listening to an episode of Very Bad Wizards about the subject, I was left undecided on whether Benatar is right or not, but with a new question for people who disagree with this view.

    Namely, if you disagree with anti-natalism…why don’t you support natalism? If you think that life is generally a net positive, so Benatar is wrong to say that we shouldn’t have kids, on what grounds aside from personal convenience can you avoid an at least vague obligation to create lots of life?

    I vaguely understand that this is something called the Repugnant Conclusion (which totally sounds like the name of a terrible band), and I did some more extensive research a cursory Google search and glanced over the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on it, which had some arguments against the conclusion that seemed unconvincing (even to the entry’s authors) at a glance. But I’m very curious to hear what folks here think about this, even though I’ll likely end up doing still more extensive research Google searching about it on my own.

    • blacktrance says:

      Namely, if you disagree with anti-natalism…why don’t you support natalism? If you think that life is generally a net positive, so Benatar is wrong to say that we shouldn’t have kids, on what grounds aside from personal convenience can you avoid an at least vague obligation to create lots of life?

      Among other reasons, because I accept the person-affecting view. Even if life is good on average, no one benefits from being created, because the counterfactual is them not existing and therefore nothing being good or bad for them. So the creation of lives worth living isn’t good on its own.

      • Atlas says:

        Interesting, but, at least playing Devil’s advocate, I’m not sure I’m convinced, because I don’t see a rigorous reason why hypothetical future people shouldn’t count as persons of some sort.

        Like, would you agree that it would be unethical to create a person that would just be excruciatingly tortured in a prison every day, and wants nothing more than to commit suicide and not exist, but is kept alive by his captors indefinitely? (Note that I’m not asking whether the torture and detainment themselves are unethical, but whether the very creation of a mind that you know with high confidence will experience that suffering is unethical, even if you are not perpetrating the suffering yourself.)

        Or, because extremism in thought experiment is no vice, consider that case, but multiplied by a factor of 100 million: creating 100 million people who you know with confidence will suffer so much that they would rather not exist/have existed.

        Because that seems obviously seriously unethical to me, but I don’t see how the person-affecting view would consider that to be wrong (not just the torture, but the creation), because if you didn’t create this person they would never have existed so we allegedly don’t have to take into account their interests. According to Wiki, this view states:

        Similarly something can be good only if it is good for someone.

        But I think it would be/is good not to create people who would genuinely much rather not have been born, even though that isn’t “good for someone” by this view.

        I want to tack on a sentence like “and thus, it would be good to create people who would be happy to have been born”, but I guess one might hypothetically accept that logic and still reject the logic of creating new life. But it seems to me that this case shows that we can still have important ethical relationships of some sort with hypothetical future minds, and from that it would seem that very strong natalist logic follows.

        • blacktrance says:

          One way to think about it is that if you create someone and they experience suffering, that’s bad for them, but if you don’t create someone who’d have a good life, they can’t experience the absence as bad. If you create tortured person X, X’s life is bad for the then-existing X, but if you don’t create blissful person Y, there wouldn’t be a then-existing Y to miss out on anything. Someone’s life might be so bad that they might wish that they hadn’t existed, but no one can wish for existence if their life would be good.
          So hypothetical people’s interests matter, but existence and non-existence are asymmetric: the former can’t be in anyone’s interest, but the latter can be.

          • Joe says:

            Your argument can be trivially reversed: if you create someone and they experience happiness, that’s good for them, but if you don’t create someone who’d have a bad life, they can’t experience the absence as good. If you create blissful person X, X’s life is good for the then-existing X, but if you don’t create tortured person Y, there wouldn’t be a then-existing Y to be spared from anything. Someone’s life might be so good that they might be grateful that they exist, but no one can be grateful for non-existence if their life would be bad.

            Basically, you’re assuming that “wish for non-existence” is a thing people can do, but “be grateful for existence” isn’t.

          • blacktrance says:

            The quality of someone’s life matters if and only if they’d exist. So tortured person Y’s bad life is a reason not to create them, but blissful person X’s good life isn’t a reason to create them. Y can’t experience the absence as good, but they don’t need to – if you’d create them, their life would matter, and it wouldn’t be worth living, so it’d be wrong to create them. In contrast, if you don’t create X, their life doesn’t matter, so its quality is irrelevant.

            Someone might be grateful for existence, but if they didn’t exist, there’d be no one to miss out.

          • Joe says:

            Again, flipped:

            Blissful person Y’s good life is a reason to create them, but tortured person X’s bad life isn’t a reason not to create them. Y can’t experience the absence as bad, but they don’t need to – if you’d create them, their life would matter, and it would be worth living, so it’d be right to create them. In contrast, if you don’t create X, their life doesn’t matter, so its quality is irrelevant.

            Someone might wish for non-existence, but if they didn’t exist, there’d be no one to benefit.

            I don’t think you are giving any reason to see your claims here as more valid than mine. Again, it seems you’re assuming that someone wishing they hadn’t been born is significant and should be taken into account, but someone being grateful they were born isn’t and shouldn’t be. But these are the same thing: opinions expressed on the fact of having come into existence. I can’t see any difference between them that would mean a negative opinion counts while a positive opinion doesn’t.

          • blacktrance says:

            The flipped argument for creating Blissful doesn’t work: to put it in different words, “Blissful should be created if their life matters” and “Blissful’s life would matter iff they’d be created” doesn’t imply “Blissful should be created”, because if they weren’t created, their life wouldn’t matter, so its quality wouldn’t be a reason to create them.

            For Sufferer, “Sufferer shouldn’t be created if their life matters” and “Sufferer’s life would matter iff they’d be created” does imply “Sufferer shouldn’t be created”, because either their life matters (so they shouldn’t be created) or it doesn’t (so they don’t exist anyway).

            As for gratitude vs regret for having been born, my point is that the two aren’t symmetrical. The hypothetical counterpart to regret would be a nonexistent person wishing they’d have been born – but obviously no one like that exists.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I’m also for the person-affecting response. The asymmetry is rooted in the fact that it’s prima facie wrong to do something against which someone has a complaint, but not prima facie wrong not to do something for which someone would have gratitude. This is highly intuitive. So yes, you can construct backwards arguments using person-affecting premises in something like the way Joe does, but the premises are not equally plausible.

            I’m tempted to think that “not acting in such a way that someone has a legitimate complaint against how you affect them” is the core of morality.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            To put it another way: in order to do something wrong, someone has to have been wronged. There is no parallel principle like “in order to do something permissible, someone has to have been permissibled”. I’m inclined to take it as symmetrically true that someone who exists and has a good life has been benefited by existence and that someone who exists and has a terrible life has been harmed by existence. But only in the case where you create someone is there a candidate for wronging.

          • Joe says:

            @blacktrance

            The reason each case looks different is because you’re using a different model in each.

            [concerning Blissful] if they weren’t created, their life wouldn’t matter, so its quality wouldn’t be a reason to create them.

            Here, you’re looking forwards, evaluating the effect that adding a happy individual will have on the morally relevant entities that currently exist, i.e. the people already alive. Since creating a new happy individual in a moment’s time won’t bring any happiness increase to the individuals here now, you categorise creating this new individual as neutral.

            [concerning Sufferer] either their life matters (so they shouldn’t be created) or it doesn’t (so they don’t exist anyway).

            But here, you’re looking backwards: examining the individuals that exist now and their happiness levels, and using this to judge whether it was good to create them. Before, you asked about a hypothetical future individual; now you ask about current individuals, explicitly excluding those who don’t exist as irrelevant. So we look at those individuals who are already alive and suffering, and ask “should they have been brought into existence?”; this obviously resolves to “no”, and so their creation is categorised as bad.

          • blacktrance says:

            It’s the same model. Let’s say in world-state w1, only currently existing people exist, but we can move to w2 by creating Blissful or Sufferer. If we choose to stay in w1, neither Blissful nor Sufferer matters, since they wouldn’t exist, so Blissful’s happiness isn’t a reason to create them. If we preliminarily choose to move to w2, Sufferer’s suffering becomes relevant, giving us a reason not to create them. Blissful and Sufferer are relevant to the choice of w2 with Blissful or w2 with Sufferer, but they don’t matter for the initial choice between w1 and w2.

          • Joe says:

            So, when we just assume we’re in w1, no hypothetical lives are relevant. When we contemplate moving to w2[Sufferer], we now include Sufferer in our calculations; since this w2 contains more suffering than w1 we shouldn’t move to it.

            But when we contemplate a move to w2[Blissful], we don’t now include Blissful in our calculations. This even though the condition that made us consider Sufferer, i.e. the preliminary choice to move to a world where they exist, holds now too.

            How is this the same model?

          • blacktrance says:

            In w2, Sufferer or Blissful would matter. If we’d create Sufferer, they’d matter, and their life would be of a quality such that we shouldn’t create them, which is a reason not to move to w2[Sufferer]. If we stay in w1, we don’t create Blissful, so they don’t matter, and the fact that they’d matter in w2[Blissful] is irrelevant. If we create Sufferer, in w2 they’d have a complaint against existing, but we don’t create Blissful, in w1 they couldn’t have any complaints since they wouldn’t exist.

          • Iain says:

            I think the underlying confusion here is that you’re working in different moral systems: Joe is implicitly utilitarian, and blacktrance is implicitly deontological.

            From a deontological perspective, the question is (as Philosophisticat put it above) whether anybody with moral standing has a legitimate complaint against you. If you create Sufferer, then Sufferer has a complaint against you; if you do not create Blissful, then there is nobody with standing to complain.

            From a utilitarian perspective, the question is which world maximizes utility: not creating a life with +X utility may be just as bad as creating a life with -X utility. That depends, though, on how you believe utility should be measured and aggregated across people. This is far from the only situation where utilitarianism leads to counter-intuitive results when dealing with people who don’t yet exist.

          • blacktrance says:

            My position isn’t implicitly deontological – how to count the utility of nonexistent or hypothetical people is an open question within utilitarianism. “Maximize everyone’s utility” is underspecified when it’s not clear who’s included in “everyone”. Increasing utility is supposed to increase well-being, but we’re not really increasing well-being by creating happy people – we’re just creating new receptacles of utility that happen to be filled well. Those kinds of concerns are why total utilitarianism isn’t the only kind of utilitarianism.

          • Iain says:

            @blacktrance:

            If we create Sufferer, in w2 they’d have a complaint against existing, but we don’t create Blissful, in w1 they couldn’t have any complaints since they wouldn’t exist.

            I am comfortable categorizing arguments like this as deontological.

            (For what it’s worth, I agree strongly with your side of the argument.)

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I think one should distinguish between a disagreement with Benatar due to difference in kind vs difference in degree. That is, one might disagree with Benatar due to believing that life, in itself, is good, and any amount of suffering cannot outweigh that. Alternatively, one might disagree that most people have a net negative life. I think this second statement is almost certainly true. Not as sure about the former.

      • Atlas says:

        Right, and I would guess that most people would disagree with Benatar on the grounds in the second statement. I think some people might claim to disagree for religiously motivated reasons on the grounds in the first statement, but faced with enough suffering would abandon their convictions.

        • Joe says:

          Something to note is that if you buy the ‘asymmetry’ argument that blacktrance makes above, this implies full antinatalism, i.e. “all births are bad and we should end life permanently”.

          The reason for this is simple. The asymmetry argument claims that creating good new lives is neutral while creating bad new lives is bad. Say you’re creating a life that has a 99.9999% chance of being extremely happy and fulfilling, which would count as 0 utility points, i.e. neutral. The life has a 0.0001% chance of being slightly worse than nonexistence, which would count as -1 utility points, i.e. bad. The expected utility of this life is therefore -0.000001, which is negative, so we shouldn’t create this life.

          Since you will never have 100% certainty that a life you create will be happy, the asymmetry argument implies you should never create any life, no matter how confident you are that it will be happy.

          • blacktrance says:

            The asymmetry argument claims that creating good new lives is neutral while creating bad new lives is bad.

            Neutral/bad for the person being created, but there are effects on other people as well. In your scenario, if you get more than 0.000001 utility out of the new life’s existence, that outweighs the disutility from the chance of their life being negative, so you should create that life.

            So the asymmetry doesn’t necessarily imply full antinatalism, only that you’re not doing someone a favor by creating them.

    • Aapje says:

      @Atlas

      Creating new people has positive and negative effects on already existing people. I consider any philosophy that merely considers the well-being of the additionally created person to be highly simplistic.

      My own opinion is basically that for a bunch of reasons (cultural, environmental, social, scientific, etc), there are diminishing returns, so the optimum number of people is more than zero and less than infinity. My analysis is that we have surpassed that number and the demographic projection puts us further and further away from that optimum every day. So seeking to reduce the number of children is a positive thing to do.

      • Atlas says:

        Creating new people has positive and negative effects on already existing people. I consider any philosophy that merely considers the well-being of the additionally created person to be highly simplistic.

        Sure, but I think literally no one holds that belief. I think most people only believe (except for some people in the case of abortion!) that actually existing people’s interests matter.

        My own opinion is basically that for a bunch of reasons (cultural, environmental, social, scientific, etc), there are diminishing returns, so the optimum number of people is more than zero and less than infinity. My analysis is that we have surpassed that number and the demographic projection puts us further and further away from that optimum every day. So seeking to reduce the number of children is a positive thing to do.

        I have some thoughts about overpopulation, but I think that this is a separate empirical question, orthogonal to the novel moral question of whether hypothetically existing people have any moral value. (I infer from your comment that you think they do, which is actually quite a big leap, even though you seem to support anti-natalism for pragmatic empirical reasons.)

        • Nick says:

          I think most people only believe (except for some people in the case of abortion!) that actually existing people’s interests matter.

          But plenty of people think that environmental damage is wrong, even if no one presently alive will live to see the consequences, and often even justify thinking so it on the grounds that it places disproportionate harm on future generations. See also similar arguments about runaway government spending.

        • Aapje says:

          @Atlas

          I have some thoughts about overpopulation, but I think that this is a separate empirical question, orthogonal to the novel moral question of whether hypothetically existing people have any moral value.

          Let’s say that you had 1000 people on this earth, then I think that the lives of those 1000 and then descendants would probably get better if you have 1 more person.

          I think that in any situation like the current, those kinds of considerations dwarf the moral value of the single additional individual.

        • Mary says:

          Do most people believe that they can burn up all the earth’s resources? After all, the future people who might need them don’t exist. (Yet.)

      • My analysis is that we have surpassed that number

        What is your basis for that conclusion? I looked at the question as best I could in a piece I published a very long time ago, and concluded that, at the then current population level, I could not sign the net effect on others of one more person.

        At the time, the conventional wisdom was the the effect was obviously negative. People holding that view made predictions which turned out to be false. The extreme case was Paul Ehrlich’s claim that there would be mass famine in the seventies, that it was already too late to stop it, and the only question was which hundreds of millions of people would die, which would be saved. That wasn’t a consensus of those worried about population but it was a position that they took seriously, and Ehrlich has never conceded that he was in any serious sense mistaken. The weaker claim that population growth would have substantial bad effects for people in poor countries was very widely accepted.

        Since then, the rate of extreme poverty has dropped sharply, calorie consumption in the third world has trended generally up–the opposite of what was predicted. People can, of course, claim that the prediction was correct, the timing just a bit off–that the terrible effects are still in the future. But we cannot observe the future, and so far as what we can observe, the predictions were strikingly contradicted by what actually happened.

        I suggest that that ought to be a reason for you to be more skeptical than you seem to be about similar claims made with similar arguments by people now.

        • Aapje says:

          @DavidFriedman

          I don’t consider the ability of the world to feed X billion people a good reason to have X billion people. Concerns about the ability to support a certain number of people are asymmetric, as they can be a reason to limit growth, but a higher carrying capacity is not a reason to increase growth unless one favors having more humans merely for the sake of having more humans. I don’t.

          It seems like a basic truth that the more people we have, the worse the natural resource to people ratio becomes. Another truth is that the more people we have, the better we are at using resources efficiently, although this is not necessarily a linear model. It’s almost certain that we at a minimum have diminishing returns. If we have one model that declines linearly and another that increases with diminishing returns, they would normally intersect at an optimum where the diminished increase for that new person is less than the downsides of having this additional person.

          So far, large numbers of people have not been able to employ their talents to anywhere close to their maximum. Nevertheless, my perception is that even the relatively limited number of people who get this opportunity are already facing substantially diminished returns. For example:
          – Crop yield growth rate is declining.
          – My perception is that real scientific advancement is plateauing (although we manage to waste incredible sums on bad science).
          – The same for R & D in the private sector.
          – People can only watch so many movies, TV series, read so many books, etc. My perception is that the level of production of these is so high and so diverse, that increases in overall production of these have very limited benefits.
          – Etc, etc

          That part of my analysis is very subjective, of course & has large error bars.

          My assumption if we were to wave a magic wand to fix the size of the world population as it is now and focus on improving the well-being of and opportunities for the existing people, we would have see far more diminished returns. For example, the West is now about 1B people, who don’t all get to fully participate, but then again there are those outside the West who do. So lets guesstimate that 2B people get the opportunities that would be feasible for all 8B people that we will soon have. So if we could give all those people decent opportunities, we would have 4 times the population that actually participate and thus cause ever increasing diminished returns. So if I’m correct that we are close to or over the optimum, we would then probably want to seek to gradually and naturally reduce the population by 1/4th to 2B. If I’m 100% wrong and the real optimum is 4B, we’d still want to reduce the population by half. If I’m 200% wrong, it would still have been a good idea to listen to me and stop the growth of the population at 8B, rather than let it grow beyond that. If I’m 400% wrong, we could still choose to take measures to stimulate population growth later. Even if a larger population size is better in the long term, it can still be preferable to first focus on improving the well-being for actually existing people.

          PS. It seems to me that one of the main reason why China, India, Africa and such have been doing better is better policies (like adopting better agricultural practices, moving to a more capitalist economy, etc), not due to population increases. In fact, population growth rates of China, India and Africa have declined just as their economies have really started growing, so the correlation is negative.

          • It seems like a basic truth that the more people we have, the worse the natural resource to people ratio becomes.

            Julian Simon, who was the one notable holdout to the population orthodoxy of fifty years ago, titled one of his books “The Ultimate Resource.” He meant people.

            If you look at different countries, ratio of natural resources to people doesn’t seem to have much connection with how well off people are. A crude measure is population per square mile. The countries for which it is high are almost all well off–I think the only exception is Bangladesh, and its density is less than a sixth that of Singapore.

            There is no guarantee that more people will mean more scientific research, more great literature and music, but, ceteris paribus, that’s the right way to guess.

            As an economist, I tend to think of the problem in terms of the question of whether individuals acting in their own self-interest will give us too much or too little population growth. From that standpoint, the effect on resources per capita doesn’t count as long as the resources are owned. A baby isn’t born with a deed to his per capita share of the Earth’s resources clutched in his fist. To get some, either he has to produce things of value to others to trade for them or his parents have to, so in either case he or they is bearing that cost, not the general public.

            Unowned resources do count–the individual who pollutes the air imposes that cost on others. But the individual who pays taxes to reduce the national debt, or to fund medical research, or for any other government activity whose cost doesn’t increase with population, is providing benefits for which he is not compensated. Similarly for the individual who produces ideas or information that cannot be completely privatized.

            As I think I mentioned, a very long time ago I tried to calculate the net externality from one more person and concluded that I could not sign the sum. I see no reason to change that conclusion.

          • Randy M says:

            If you look at different countries, ratio of natural resources to people doesn’t seem to have much connection with how well off people are. A crude measure is population per square mile. The countries for which it is high are almost all well off–I think the only exception is Bangladesh, and its density is less than a sixth that of Singapore.

            Is this linear, or are you just making a binary distinction? I’d be interested to see the graph.

          • bean says:

            If you look at different countries, ratio of natural resources to people doesn’t seem to have much connection with how well off people are. A crude measure is population per square mile. The countries for which it is high are almost all well off–I think the only exception is Bangladesh, and its density is less than a sixth that of Singapore.

            The counterpoint to this (I’m playing devil’s advocate, not really disagreeing) is that it’s fairly obvious that all of the really high-ranking places on that list (Singapore, Monaco, Macau, Hong Kong) are basically cities that are legally separated from their hinterlands. Since cities work, they are obviously not the correct unit to use for this investigation, and if we look on a regional level, Bangladesh is the first that’s clearly a proper region, and it’s very poor.
            The counter-counterpoint to this is Japan.

          • Nornagest says:

            If you look at Wikipedia’s list of nations by population density and filter out anything below 5000 km^2, the top ten are Bangladesh, Taiwan, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, South Korea, Rwanda, the Netherlands, Burundi, Haiti, and India. That’s a pretty mixed bag, development-wise.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Trade allows people to take natural resources from elsewhere, if they have something that the person with those resources values sufficiently (which doesn’t have to be (entirely) natural resources, but can even be intellectual property or time-shifted resources in the form of debt). So dense areas can exploit more natural resources than they have (or cities could not exist). However, that solution ultimately fails at the global level, since there is a distinct lack of aliens to trade with and/or a realistic ability to take resources from other celestial bodies.

            A baby isn’t born with a deed to his per capita share of the Earth’s resources clutched in his fist.

            Humans nevertheless consume a large number of resources during their life, in a way that is unsustainable if we stick to current technology. So we are driving towards a cliff already as it is.

            Now, I know that your ideology is that humanity will come up with solutions. However, the (free) market actually only guarantees incentives, not outcomes. As we see in economics, we are far enough away from a theoretical optimal free market so that incentives are not necessarily true at all times. In fact, they seem to commonly be wrong (hence: boom/bust cycles). What we’ve seen as we globalized the economy and made so much interdependent is that these busts can have domino-like effects (hence government interventions where those who created the problems are not properly punished, creating more incentive to act badly).

            I think that the same basic problem exists for natural resources, albeit on a longer timescale. Now, the more people we have, the more quickly we run out of resources. The more entrenched technology we have when the bust happens that still depends on delusions about resource availability from the boom, the higher our demand on potential replacement technology (making less of it viable if it depends on natural resources that replenish at a certain set rate). Etc. Basically, we fly closer to the sun the more people we have and are more likely to end up with a major problem to which we cannot find a solution. If we just keep expanding the population, we are like Icarus who kept flying higher until the sun melted his wings.

            Basically, my argument is that buffers are important for dynamic systems. In the animal kingdom it is common for population to rise and fall in boom/bust cycles. Most people consider mass deaths bad. Fortunately, humans have the ability to avoid this by not just depending on short term incentives like animals (mostly) do.

            There is no guarantee that more people will mean more scientific research, more great literature and music, but, ceteris paribus, that’s the right way to guess.

            I said this in the comment you replied to already, actually, but my point is that the benefits of even more great literature and music diminish with quantity. To give a simplified example: If you have 10 books total and write an 11th, it’s likely that a substantial part of the population was not well served by those 10 books. If you have already have 100,000 books, it’s likely that very few people consider that book very much more enjoyable than the (for them) second best book from those 100,000.

            I would argue that with modern storage & reproduction ability, we are actually building up a large catalog over time as well, so the incremental value of each new work doesn’t merely diminish by the level of production, but it tends to diminishes over time. For example, people are still listening to original recordings by The Beatles and are still reading Shakespeare (and much more than when it was written, actually).

            As I think I mentioned, a very long time ago I tried to calculate the net externality from one more person and concluded that I could not sign the sum. I see no reason to change that conclusion.

            My error bars are so large that I accept the possibility that the net externality is still positive, but I think that it is more likely than not that it isn’t.

            Anyway, are you willing to agree that there is likely to be a level of population where net externality becomes negative? If so, the only thing we disagree on is various subjective assessments, as well as our risk tolerance.

    • Joe says:

      My answer is that I do support natalism.

      Some claim there’s an important distinction between people who currently exist and new people, so that it can be good to improve current people’s lives without also being good to create new lives. The most fundamental problem I see with this is that the distinction appears to be bogus. That is, if we want to say things like “sleeping people still count as currently existing”, and “if a person is clinically dead but can still be brought back to life and saved, they of course should be”, and “you are still the same person even if there’s a gap in your memory after a night of heavy drinking” and “you’ll still be the same person in fifty years in spite of all the ways your mind will have changed”… Then we have basically exhausted all the principled differences between currently existing people and new people, and any distinction we continue to make is based on irrelevant details.

      I vaguely understand that this is something called the Repugnant Conclusion …

      What puzzles me is how many utilitarian folks seem unwilling to accept the counterintuitive conclusion of this thought experiment in particular. I don’t think most do this with other similarly weird hypotheticals, do they? Like the “organ transplant” scenario, where a surgeon has the opportunity to kill a random individual and use their organs to save five people. There are all sorts of reasons why this scenario would never work like this, but assuming it did I think the usual utilitarian stance is that yes, the surgeon really should kill the one to save the five.

      Seems to me the “repugnant conclusion” scenario should work the same way. It’s an intentionally-absurd hypothetical, effectively asking “what if a genie gave you access to unlimited free resources, but you can only use them to create new people and not to better the lives of existing people, even when doing so would be much more cost-effective in terms of utils/dollar, because the genie says so”. If we take it as given that we’re inside this crazy scenario, it doesn’t seem implausible to me for the right answer to be “yes, we should spend these free resources on the only avenue of utility-creation arbitrarily left open to us”.

      • rahien.din says:

        If I may incite such a digression:

        Yes, the surgeon really should kill the one to save the five.

        This question gets around a lot but it’s very badly conceived. It simultaneously stipulates that humans are mere organ receptacles and poses its central question as though humans are not mere organ receptacles. It’s a bullshit question*.

        And, even if we accept that it really does outline a genuine utilitarian ethical principle, following that principle leads to ugly scenarios.

        Imagine if a surgeon has seven patients. Patients A, B, C, D, and E have immediate needs for, respectively, a liver, a kidney, a kidney, lungs, and a heart. Patient F has multi-organ disease, most of all their acute heart failure, but if they would get a new heart immediately, it is expected that all their organs would fully recover to the degree that they could be transplanted. Patient G is a homeless, unidentifiable drifter who is not actively dying, and who has a functioning heart, but whose liver, kidneys, and lungs are not healthy enough to transplant.

        Assuming we harvest patient G’s heart, who gets the heart?
        – Pure utilitarian : if patient F gets the heart and the rest of their organs recover, they could be surreptitiously killed for their liver, two kidneys, and lungs. Patients A, B, C, and D would live, while patients E, F, and G would die. So we should kill patient G to save patient F, and then kill patient F to save patients A, B, C, and D, while patient E is allowed to languish.
        – Anybody else : if Patient E or patient F gets the heart, they will live, but everyone else will die, and that’s too bad. We only have to pick between patients E and F.

        * IE, the answer to the 1-for-5 surgical scenario is : Chevy didn’t make a 327 in ’55, the 327 didn’t come out till ’62. And it wasn’t offered in the Bel Air with a four-barrel carb till ’64. However, in 1964, the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top-dead-center.

        Edit : clarity

        • Deiseach says:

          Pure utilitarian : if patient F gets the heart and the rest of their organs recover, they could be surreptitiously killed for their liver, two kidneys, and lungs. Patients A, B, C, and D would live, while patients E, F, and G would die. So we should kill patient G to save patient F, and then kill patient F to save patients A, B, C, and D, while patient E is allowed to languish.

          As long as we’re going the Dr Victor Frankenstein Organ Transplantation Protocol, couldn’t we re-donate the heart from F to E? We’re killing G anyway, and if we’re also knocking off F for spare parts once their organs recover, can’t we re-use the heart? If E survives long enough, that is; if they need a heart, they might not survive the waiting period for F’s organs to recover but that goes for the liver and lungs patients as well.

          Is there any limit on how many times an organ can be recycled between people, or is it “you can only transplant it from donor to recipient and not from one recipient to another”?

          I agree it’s a bullshit question; push it to its limits and we could say we should then kill E to harvest organs for more patients, kill D to harvest his organs, etc etc etc until we end up killing all our original five patients as well as G.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Is there any limit on how many times an organ can be recycled between people, or is it “you can only transplant it from donor to recipient and not from one recipient to another”?

            It does sometimes happen, though it is more difficult than transplanting an organ that has not been previously transplanted because of scar tissue.

          • Aapje says:

            Also, many transplanted organs tend to last for something like 12-15 years on average, I think. So it’s unlikely that the organ would be worth re-transplanting unless the recipient gets hit by a bus shorty after getting the transplant.

          • Deiseach says:

            So it’s unlikely that the organ would be worth re-transplanting unless the recipient gets hit by a bus shorty after getting the transplant.

            We’re assuming both that F will live long enough for their organs to recover and that this will be a short enough period that A, B, C, D and E won’t die in the meantime while waiting for their transplants. So if we guesstimate anything from six months to a year until F is killed by the surgeon for spare parts has a completely unforeseen and rare tragic fatal reaction to the medication they are on, then the heart should be in good enough nick to whip it out and give it to E while we’re stripping F down for kidneys, liver and lights (insert ghoulish chuckle here).

      • Philosophisticat says:

        Many (in my experience, most) utilitarians do in fact give the bullet biting response to the repugnant conclusion.

        To the extent that they’re not, it may be because they think it’s plausible that there might be a version of the view that has the advantages of their view without being committed to that, in a way that is not true of the organ transplant case. Utilitarians are generally not committing themselves to massively counterintuitive claims just for the hell of it.

    • rahien.din says:

      If you think that life is generally a net positive, on what grounds aside from personal convenience can you avoid an at least vague obligation to create lots of life?

      The central claim of anti-natalism is “There is an ethical impediment to procreation.” The opposite of that claim is “There is no ethical impediment to procreation.” Absence of an impediment is not a directive.

      Ultimately, then, it comes down to the most basic reason of why we procreate at all : we have children to love them. That’s the directive. Have a kid if you will love it.

      Thereafter lie all sorts of utilitarian questions. I’m willing to accept that there may be situations in which it is relatively unethical to procreate. But any and all of those are subservient to that basic question of if you will love the child.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Just because one action is necessarily bad doesn’t mean the opposite is (1) necessarily good or (2) has only one quantifiable opposite.

      You shouldn’t starve your children, but that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily (1) overfeed them or (2a) feed them every single thing that they ask for, (2b) feed them every single thing you have on hand, (2c) feed them anything you can get your hards on, or (2d) feed them food grown on a toxic waste site.

      Similarly, you shouldn’t prevent your children from being born, but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily (1) have as many children as you can, (2a) have as many healthy children as your wife can give birth to (2b) have as many children as your husband can impregnate you with, (2c) have as many children as you can with multiple partners, (2d) have as many children and raise them yourself, (2e) have as many children as you can but put them up for adoption, (2f) have as many children as you can and have them raised in an orphanage…etc

      Basically, ensuring the presence of something you value involves way more discerning thought than ensuring the absence of something that you’re against. Those various positions, right or wrong, aren’t going to rally under “pro-natalism” ’cause there’s too many of them.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think the anti-natalist view as it gets expressed in practice is “nobody should have any more kids ever for any reason” (because humans evil oppressors of Mother Gaia blah blah blah better we die off and liberate the rest of the species on this planet) and natalism in practice is the default normal view of general humanity: “you can have kids if you like”.

      So it’s not so much about “ooh the suffering humanity” as it is “humans are icky”, or at least that is the general impression I get. I mean, if it was about suffering, then anti-natalists should all commit suicide to be consistent (if we’re trying to construct ‘gotcha!’ arguments along the lines of “So if you’re not an anti-natalist, doesn’t that mean you should be in favour of compulsory reproduction for everyone? Gotcha!”).

      One is an absolute command that depends on compulsion: “NO PROCREATION”, the other is acknowledgement of a freedom but with nothing mandatory: “If you want to, you have the right”.

      Everyone has the right to marry (we’ve had court cases, referenda and law changes over that) but no-one is compelled to marry (see the Free Love movement which worked to overturn this attitude about “you must marry if you want sex”).

    • Sam Reuben says:

      I’m just going to chime in with my usual anti-gnostic spiel, but try to put a bit of a different twist on it.

      Why on Earth are we trying to solve this problem, out of anything available, first? Epistemically speaking, the outcomes of having children are really, really complicated. You have to calculate their own lives (not easy), then the effects they have on the people around them, and then the effects that those people will then have on the people around them, and so on and so forth until we give up! What’s at issue here is literally the value of a human life, which is not a trivial question at all. We’d be better off starting off small and working our way up.

      First, let’s start by dispelling the absurdity that life is so full of suffering for most people. This is clearly a mistaken argument, because it uses the average to prove something about the particular. Let’s say that sure, the average human’s life is truly bad (pretending that he has the philosophical wherewithal to define suffering as only being those experiences which are bad for the human, rather than badness as being only those experiences in which the human suffers). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some humans whose lives are good, or some subsections of the population whose lives are good on average. Those people clearly, by his logic, ought to live, so if you’re in a good-outcome part of the population, you’re ethically required to have as many kids as possible! But really, a better idea would be to just examine one’s own life to decide whether to have children. If one’s life is, on the balance, good (or heading in that direction), then have kids and try to set them up the same way. If not, then don’t. That’s a much more consistent and reasonable imperative, and it’s one that a lot of people end up having. People who have children despite knowing that the children will likely have bad lives are either trying to use the children as a means to an end, like saving a marriage, or are just having the children by accident. The people who plan to have children thoughtfully, as an end in and of themselves, are already doing so with the idea in mind that the children will live good lives. The only way to convince that crowd otherwise is to try and trick them into thinking that their own lives were bad, which can’t possibly be ethical.

      As for the utilitarian styling of the argument: this is just a question about statistics and human support loads. The only thing that needs to be kept in mind, here, is that population shocks are bad. Massive increases in population are generally hard to sustain, and decreases in population are the same. Both cause a ton of damage. The question here, then, isn’t “should we have kids?” but “how many kids should we have?” It’s just a question about how many kids the average family should have in order to keep the population stable and headed in the right direction. If more can be sustained, then the average should be a little above replacement rate. If not so many can, then the average should be a little below. That’s it. (In situations where the population needs to drop massively, you’re already screwed, and we need to talk about disaster management instead.)

      Another massive question, it’s worth mentioning, is how much you value your culture. By “culture” I’m not talking about national culture, or anything on that massive scale, but the particular culture which characterizes you and the people you would consider your community. If communities are groups of humans, then cultures are groups of beliefs, and I would be comfortable saying that beliefs can be seriously good or bad, and that the good ones are worth spreading for the benefit of all. Children aren’t the only way to propagate one’s culture, but they are a fairly good way. If someone wishes for their culture to live on, then children are a solid piece of that puzzle. Other ways are, of course, to just talk to people and spread the word. That’s what goes on in the culture of SSC and the rationalists: people spread the word, and spread the culture that way. That’s an excellent solution as well.

      So, where does this put me on natalism? Easy: you should have exactly as many children as you expect that you can support a genuinely good life for while still living a good life yourself (bird in the hand is better than two in the bush), adjusted with respect to population pressure demands. For me, this is probably going to be between one and three, seeing how the first one or two go. Beyond three, I’m not sure I can give the kind of attention and care they deserve, and so I put the limit there. If, for the sake of argument, I was in a pre-medicine society, with the associated high mortality, I would adjust the number of children far higher so that population pressure could be responded to, and lean more heavily on the community (grandparents, for example) to help care for the children. If I was in a country with runaway population growth, I would adopt and try to spread my culture that way. In all cases, I try to spread my culture and ideas through conversation and influence, and for those who feel like they couldn’t raise children well while having a good life themselves, I encourage that means of branching out.

      (It’s very much worth noting, incidentally, that runaway population growth arguments have a particular flaw in their execution. The situation, generally, is that some subgroup of some population has very high growth rate, while others have lower or negative growth rate. The arguments almost without exception exhort members of the low-growth subgroups to lower their rates to bring down the average, rather than targeting the high-rate groups. There are arguments that talk about the high-rate groups, but they tend to take the view that those high-rate groups need to be forced to lower their growth if it’s at all possible. Both of these seem rather abhorrent: on the one hand, targeting the exact wrong population, and on the other, using coercion to lower population growth, which when taken to its extreme becomes genocide. I would be interested in exploring paths through which the high-rate groups can be convinced to lower population, which will handle runaway population in the most proper sense. Another idle consideration: the reason that intellectual groups have such low reproductive growth rates and yet still have their numbers increasing is that intellectualism is great at propagating through discussion and argument to members of non-intellectual cultural groups. That’s pretty reassuring, I think.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thanks. Those extremely abstract utilitarian arguments ignore natural feedback, and also have a stink of “I should get to be in charge of large numbers of people. No really, it’s not me, it’s just logic.”

    • Kevin C. says:

      on what grounds aside from personal convenience can you avoid an at least vague obligation to create lots of life?

      Related, what about those who do feel such an obligation, but generally lack the means to meet it?

      (And as a tangential aside, I learned recently that some Hindu texts, in enumerating seven “hells” (Naraka) set aside one specifically for the childless, for their failure to repay the pitr-runa (also pitri-runa or pitru-runa), the “debt to fathers/ancestors“.)

    • onyomi says:

      This actually does bother me. If it didn’t conflict with other values like respecting partners’ wishes or not having a giant family by age 25, I would probably not use contraception, and still have some qualms about it more generally (of course, there’s also the issue that disease prevention doubles as contraception).

    • Vamair says:

      Namely, if you disagree with anti-natalism…why don’t you support natalism?

      If you believe that life is a net good, you’re probably going to support whatever policy that allows humanity to spawn more well-off people during its whole history. And that does mean both supporting giving enough births to let the number of humans stay stable and recover if harmed, but not as many as to deplete natural resources too much and create an existential hazard.
      You can also care terminally about biosphere itself, even without any humans or sentience in it. I kinda do, but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion.

      • onyomi says:

        but not as many as to deplete natural resources too much and create an existential hazard.

        Julian Simon’s “Ultimate Resource” is basically human ingenuity. That is, the most important resource for ensuring the future of humanity, and that which is most lacking, is humanity itself (well, especially smart, creative, entrepreneurial humans…).

        • Aapje says:

          @onyomi

          But how is that a problem of having too few humans, rather than having many humans with too little opportunity (and/or ability)?

    • Creutzer says:

      David Benatar’s anti-natalist view that life is so full of suffering that for most people it’s a net negative, so therefore people should have fewer kids.

      No, that’s not his argument. His argument is that the presence of bad and the absence of good are not equivalent: a world in which nobody lives is better than a world in which there is only one person and that person suffers, but a world in which only one person exists and is happy is not better than a world in which nobody lives. Phrase differently: creating a person who will have an unhappy life is bad, but creating a person who will have a happy life is just neutral.

      His argument is that if you take this seriously, then world a is better than world b whenever fewer people with net-negative lives are created in world a, no matter how many people with net-positive lives are created in world a compared to world b. Basically, no number of happy lives can counterbalance a sad life. So you shouldn’t risk creating a sad life. His argument in no way relies on it being the case that most people actually don’t have lives worth living.

      It’s true that he does argue that people overestimate the positivity of life, but as far as I can tell that’s not a part of his central argument. I’ve always thought he probably does it to get people in the right frame of mind to accept the asymmetric premise as compelling.

      • onyomi says:

        Phrase differently: creating a person who will have an unhappy life is bad, but creating a person who will have a happy life is just neutral.

        Why should it be asymmetrical like this?

        • hlynkacg says:

          To justify anti-natalism.

          • Creutzer says:

            On the one hand, yes, and Benatar does seem to be a bit of a philosophical troll at times.

            On the other hand, I think it’s warranted to not be quite so flippant. The second half is just the person-affecting view, which you need to avoid the repugnant conclusion. But then surely you have an intuition that creating a person who will live out a long life in conscious torture is wrong? Why give up that intuition only to preserve symmetry? What’s so great about the symmetry (except that probably everyone who reads SSC has a strong aesthetic preference for it)?

            I don’t remember whether that’s how he argues it himself, but it’s my attempt at a steelman.

          • onyomi says:

            But I don’t have to give up my intuition that giving birth to someone I expect to be tortured for their whole life is wrong to preserve symmetry. My intuition is that giving birth to someone I expect to be miserable is bad and giving birth to someone I expect to be happy is good. That’s symmetrical.

            The idea that giving birth to someone you expect to be miserable is bad but giving birth to someone you expect to be happy is merely neutral is asymmetrical and seems more prima facie in need of justification than my symmetrical intuitions.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I feel like flippancy is warranted.

            As onyomi pointed out, it’s Benatar who’s intuitions that are asymmetrical and in need of justification.

          • Creutzer says:

            My intuition is that giving birth to someone I expect to be miserable is bad and giving birth to someone I expect to be happy is good. That’s symmetrical.

            Yes, but it arguably also gives you the repugnant conclusion unless you happen to set the threshold for “happy enough to be worth creating” in just the right place for it to be convenient for you. Most people agree the repugnant conclusion is worth avoiding. I think something got lost in your reading of my attempted steelman. The idea is that you can have two of three things: avoid repugnant conclusion, symmetry, and immorality of creating unhappy people. Benatar chooses to sacrifice symmetry.

          • onyomi says:

            @Creutzer

            I think I understand your steelman better now, but two points:

            I think the sort of symmetry sacrifice I make here makes more sense (happiness and sadness are commensurate on some level, but not at a 1:1 ratio).

            Second, I don’t think saying contraception is immoral is really that repugnant a conclusion, though it sure is inconvenient. Of course, the much stronger conclusion that everyone of reproductive age is obligated to be having sex as much as physically possible all the time so long as they guess their potential offspring might have net-happy lives is a repugnant one, but I don’t think it requires us accepting that creating happy lives is morally neutral to avoid.

            Something being morally good doesn’t obligate everyone to do it to their utmost all the time. That is supererogatory.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            but it arguably also gives you the repugnant conclusion

            You get the repugnant conclusion only if you assume utilitarianism is correct, yes? Are we taking that as given?

        • RobJ says:

          At least phrased in a moral sense it is intuitive to me that we have more responsibility to avoid increasing suffering than to increase happiness. It would follow that creating new positive lives isn’t perfectly symmetrical with creating new negative ones.

          I’m not sure it’s relevant, but I feel that instinct within myself, too. I am much more concerned about avoiding ruining my life than trying to maximize it’s happiness. I’d guess there is quite a bit of individual variation in that feeling, though.

          • onyomi says:

            It could be that a moment of agony is more bad than a moment of ecstasy but that enough ecstasy can still cancel out a little agony.

            That is, I think if I imagined having a child who was happy 50% of the time and unhappy 50% of the time, I’d have qualms about bringing that child into the world. But if I imagine said child will spend 5% of his life in worry, pain, or discomfort and 95% in relaxed comfort or happiness, then that sounds like a life worth having.

      • Mr Mind says:

        but a world in which only one person exists and is happy is not better than a world in which nobody lives.

        This is intuitively very wrong to me. Go figure.

  35. sty_silver says:

    What is the best site where you can pay to balance out a certain amount of flight miles, to make your flights CO² neutral?

    The person who asked me said they know these three: atmosfair.de, myclimate.org und goclimate.de.

  36. OptimalSolver says:

    People who use female pronouns as default, especially in extremely counterintuitive contexts, could you describe the precise reaction you’re trying to elicit in your audience?

    I find it completely derails my train of thought, as I now have to process this bit of social signalling, rather than the topic at hand.

    Another commenter here said of this practice:

    It’s like if someone stopped in the middle of a conversation to do a “Haha, got your nose!” trick and then kept going like nothing happened.

    • Well... says:

      Yeah, that drives me nuts. Steven Pinker even talked about it in his IQ2 interview about good writing.

      I use male pronouns by default. Partly because it seems to me like the best alternative in terms of clear communication, partl