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OT85: L-DOPEN Thread

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. Bay Area SSC meetup today (Sunday September 24th) in San Jose, 3806 Williams Rd, starting at 2. I probably can’t make it but I hope you all have a good time.

2. New advertisement: The Greenfield Guild, a network of independent software contractors you can call for help with various software-related business needs. Free online 60 minute consults available via their website.

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806 Responses to OT85: L-DOPEN Thread

  1. themikemachine says:

    Anyone down to meetup in Davis, CA? I’m a huge fan of SSC but too lazy to drive to San Jose. Reply here if so.

  2. bean says:

    Naval Gazing:
    Net-Centric Warfare Part 2
    Series Index
    I started talking about net-centric warfare a couple of weeks ago, and am now continuing. You should read Part 1 before this, as I basically broke a long post in half.
    The British were also responsible for the other strand that lead to modern picture-centric warfare, the Dowding system set up to manage the air defense of the UK during the Battle of Britain. In this system, reports from radar, the Royal Observer Corps, and direction-finding were passed to a central Filter Room, which would turn them into tracks, separating friend from foe and estimating size. These tracks would then be passed to the Fighter Groups responsible for vectoring intercepts. This system improved interception rates from the 30% typical during the Battle of France to 75% at the start of the Battle of Britain and 90% by the end.
    This system was copied at sea, both by the US and the British, and proved very successful through mid-1944. The biggest problem was that it was easy to saturate. It could handle no more than 12 raids an hour, which was adequate for conventional air attacks, but not enough to deal with the Kamikazes, which came in singly. The response was decentralization, with radar picket destroyers each controlling a group of fighters and a specific sector. This was less efficient in theory, but worked in practice. The USN never gave up the idea of integrating the entire fleet, though.
    Another important development in the closing stages of WW2 was AWACS, Airborne Warning and Control (the S came from the land of military acronyms, where the ghost of HP Lovecraft lives.) It began with a radar mounted on an airplane, with the radar video transmitted back to the carrier, where it was processed by the carrier’s CIC. Today, the processing can be done onboard.
    After the war, both the USN and RN tried to automate the CIC. Initial analog approaches were insufficient, and the US developed the first digital combat system. Interestingly enough, it, like the beginnings of controlled air defense, was on land. It was the US SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), developed to control fighters defending the US against Soviet bombers. It was the first major real-time digital computer, and it was in fact capable of remote-controlling its fighters to intercept. The USN was brought into SAGE to extend coverage over the oceans, using converted destroyer escorts, and began to develop an equivalent system that could be deployed at sea. (SAGE was one of the major contributors to modern computer technology, although that’s somewhat outside my area of expertise).
    The navy’s system became NTDS, Naval Tactical Data System. It was a transistorized system (SAGE used vacuum tubes), but still required the operators to manually enter tracks (up to 256). Using a high-frequency radio system called Link 11, it allowed the ships in a fleet to form a net, sharing tracks between them. However, this required all of them to share coordinates, which was not accounted for particularly well due to system design. Poor gridlock would result in duplicate tracks, overwhelming the system. This wasn’t really solved until the 1980s. There were also serious human-interface problems, as the lack of automated radar processing meant operators had to monitor tracks after they had been entered, greatly limiting system throughput. The first major test of this was off of Vietnam, where the US Navy was responsible for air control over North Vietnam. They found that a given operator could only handle five tracks. Because the vast majority of tracks were friendly, a technology called Beacon Video Processing was used to track US Identification Friendly-Foe (IFF) beacons automatically. In the mid-70s, improved computers allowed automatic processing of all radar data.
    Another problem was that the symbology was designed for the cold war, and only had options for ‘friendly’, ‘enemy’ and ‘unknown, assumed enemy’. This was one of the major contributors to the shootdown of an Iran Air Airbus by the USS Vincennes in 1988, when the crew of the cruiser acted based on the displays which did not have a symbol for ‘neutral’. A second major contributor to that incident was another faulty design assumption. Both Vincennes and the frigate Sides detected the airliner, and assigned separate track numbers. NTDS merged the tracks, as it was supposed to, and chose the track number assigned by the Sides. The crew of Vincennes did not realize this, and at about the same time, their net merged with another about 100 miles away, which reassigned the number to a fighter landing on the carrier Saratoga. The display did not show the track numbers, so when they wanted to find out what the airliner was doing, they asked for the original track number. It reported the contact descending, and the crew decided that it was an Iranian F-14 and shot it down.
    All of that said, NTDS was a revolution, and paved the way for later systems, most notably AEGIS. Many nations developed their own systems, either compatible with NTDS or filling many of the same functions. I’m not even going to go into detail, as it would take much more space and even I don’t care about it. The British used a parallel system and a different datalink, Link X. They were much more concerned with radio silence than the US, and thus did not want to allow automatic transmission of data. However, this distrust of networking might have cost them the destroyer HMS Sheffield. Her radar warning system was switched off when the Argentinians attacked, as her satcom system (which was in use) would have set it off. The Tactical Action Officer had left for a break, assuming the ship could not fight with the sensors off. In fact, Sheffield received warning of the attack over Link X, and could have taken action.
    AEGIS was not exactly a successor to NTDS. NTDS was originally designed as an aircraft control system, which meant that it did not need the precision of a weapons-control system. However, weapons-control systems quickly came to track targets in much the same way that NTDS did, and systems were developed that kept pictures based on weapons control systems. These applied not only to air warfare, but also submarines and anti-submarine systems. AEGIS includes both a weapons-control system and a command & decision system, which not only tracks targets, but also evaluates options for the best ways to engage targets. The integration between the two allows extremely quick reaction to pop-up targets, in some cases automatic unless vetoed by the operator.
    There’s probably more to come on this, but I’m going to stop here for now.

    • Deiseach says:

      Thank you for that very lucid explanation of what happened with the Vincennes. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by a technical screw-up, huh?

      • bean says:

        I haven’t made a really through study of the incident, but I wouldn’t discount the captain/crew being aggressive as a large part of it. But yes, there were some technical drivers that lead to that aggressiveness being taken out on a civilian target. Most failures are a combination of several separate problems, interacting to make something worse than the sum of the parts.

    • jrdougan says:

      You missed a step in the tactical data system development sequence: DATAR


      It predates both the RN and USN digital implementations and was actually working and demonstrated to both the USN and RN. Granted, being tube based they would have had difficulty deploying it as is, but that was recognized at the time and transistorization probably wouldn’t have been too hard given the later success Ferranti had with converting the design.

    • tmk says:

      > Her radar warning system was switched off when the Argentinians attacked, as her satcom system (which was in use) would have set it off.

      Would have set what off?

  3. bean says:

    On a separate note, I’ve continued work on the Effort Post Index. If you have written an effort post (basically a blog post in the comments, see link for more details), or know of a good one, the Google Docs file is commentable. Put it there, and I’ll check it and add it in.

  4. Taymon A. Beal says:

    We’re having an SSC meetup at MIT on Saturday! If you’re in the Boston area, we’d be happy to see you there.

    • Taymon A. Beal says:

      On a related note, Scott, what do you think of the idea of advertising upcoming meetups on the sidebar or in the biweekly open thread posts? If you wanted to do this, I could find a way to extract the data from the meetup site. Presumably only individual meetup occurrences that had been scheduled should be included, so that you’re not advertising defunct recurring meetups.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Sounds reasonable, but maybe we should wait until LW 2.0 Meetups is functional.

        • Taymon A. Beal says:

          To clarify, I meant SSC meetups in particular, not other rationalist meetups. It seems at least potentially valuable for these to be advertisable in different spaces for different audiences, although in practice there’ll be heavy overlap. But I would be curious to know what others would think about this.

  5. CatCube says:

    Huh. I just posted a response to rlms, talking about the increase in male life expectancy if you reduce accident, homicide, or suicide to female levels. I was thinking about whether I’d post it to the new OT, expecting it to appear sometime tomorrow, and then it appeared while I was drafting the post. So, what the hell:


    I don’t know enough about the UK’s life table data system to download and work with it, but I pulled a bunch of data from the US’s Centers for Disease Control website here: https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html Given that [rlms] had started with 2013 data, I continued to do the same.

    I built a life table for ages 0-85 (85 and over being the last bucket). I didn’t get it to match the actual tables found here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_03.pdf but my overall, male, and female life expectancy at birth numbers are about 0.1 year off from them. For some reason I just cannot chase out, I’m overestimating the Probability of Dying Before next Birthday (qx) for males centered around 9 years of age, and consistently underestimating for both sexes later in life. I didn’t do the population smoothing adjustments, so maybe that had a bigger effect than I thought, or maybe I have a methodological error. I haven’t dug out my actuarial textbook from 15 years ago (though I should, because I need it for work) to read up on that calculation in more detail. Everything after the probability of dying before next birthday should be good, because if I steal the CDC’s qx numbers, I can generate the rest of the CDC’s table.

    I broke out the deaths per year into three buckets for each male and female: Accident, Suicide, Assault, and All Other Causes. The accident, suicide, and assault numbers were easily found on the CDC WONDER site, and they’re often held out as “male problems” so this was a reasonably quick data set to get to look at this.
    I then looked at what happened to life expectancy at birth if I made the male accident, suicide, and assault numbers match the female ones after a certain age, and left all other causes constant. I picked the ages to do this by eye. For suicide, the first major year with suicides was 9 years old, so I made them match after that. (And for your “Jesus H. Christ” moment of the day, in 2013 there was a 6-year-old who committed suicide.) For accidents, I picked 15 years old because there was a major uptick then and that’s about when teenagers really start getting out on their own away from adult supervision and are probably starting to really be responsible for the accidents befalling themselves. For assault, I picked 14 years old, because the number occurring basically start doubling for each year of age then.

    Here were the results, for life expectancy at birth:
    All Male Female
    CDC 78.8 76.4 81.2 (This line is the actual CDC numbers for reference)
    Mine 78.9 76.5 81.3 (Mine, which should theoretically match the CDC)
    Accident 79.2 77.1 (+0.6) (Adjusting male accident numbers to match female)
    Suicide 79.1 76.8 (+0.34) (Ditto)
    Assault 79.0 76.7 (+0.19) (Ditto)
    All 79.5 77.6 (+1.14) (Adjusting all three at the same time)
    (Edit: Sorry, I forgot it strips out extra whitespace. The first number is for the whole population, the second male, and third female. Since the female numbers didn’t change for the adjusted, I left them out.)

    I might revisit this, especially to figure out what I’m missing on generating the life tables. If anybody else is interested (or might be able to tell me what my error could be), I can look at posting the Excel file.

    • So, if I’m reading your numbers right, women’s life expectancy is 4.8 years greater than men’s (a smaller difference than I thought). If the accident/suicide/assault death rates for men are equalized to women, that reduces the 4.8 year difference by 1.2 years, or 25%.

      Presumably, that leaves 75% of the gender difference to be explained by other factors.

      Is that a fair statement?

      • rlms says:

        Yes. I came to a broadly similar conclusion in my analysis last thread on UK numbers: the majority of the gap comes from differences in heart and liver disease, and a significant minority comes from suicides/homicides/(traffic) accidents. It would be interesting to look at the extent to which the difference in disease prevalence is biological versus the extent to which it is caused by variation in lifestyle, but I think that’s beyond my skills.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I suspect that most of the accident rate difference comes from differences in work patterns related to cultural gender roles. Primarily, more exposure to traffic accidents due to more commuting (in the US, about 70% of working-age men are in the labor force vs about 60% of working-age women, and men who commute to work report spending about 15% longer commuting than women who commute to work), and secondarily due to many higher-accident-risk professions (logging, fishing, construction trades, etc) being mostly male.

          • rlms says:

            I think it’s more likely to be that men are more reckless. According to my data in the last thread, 5-19-year-old men (in the UK at least) are around 3x as likely to die in traffic accidents as women in the same age range. That can’t be accounted for by a small difference in work patterns, both because that wouldn’t be enough to explain the gap an because most 5-10-year-olds aren’t employed. Deaths from work-related accidents are very disproportionately male, but the absolute numbers of them are low, and they occur in older demographics, so I think they probably have a relatively small impact (according to this there was a 15000 deaths/year gender gap in traffic accidents, this gives 2000 non-traffic-accident work-related-accident deaths/year, 93% of which were men).

          • Eric Rall says:

            Agreed for those points. Commuting patterns and workplace accidents would only be significant for roughly ages 20-65, and the commuting figures in particularly would only explain about a 30% gap (70/60 * 1.15 = ~1.3), and the total gap from your first link is 150%, so commuting only explains about 20% of the difference in traffic accident deaths.

            17k is about 0.65% of total annual deaths in the US. Assuming an average remaining life expectancy of 40 years just prior to a fatal accident (e.g. falling off a fishing boat or dying in a car crash at age 40 when you otherwise would have lived to 80), that explains about a 0.25 year difference in life expectancy (0.22 from traffic accidents and 0.03 from workplace accidents).

      • Eponymous says:

        Presumably people who die from homicide, suicide, and accident are not typical for men, and likely would die relatively young from other causes, so this 25% is more like an upper bound.

        For instance, maybe a lot of people who commit suicide do so because they’re depressed, and they’re depressed because they’re physically unhealthy. And maybe people who die in accidents are more likely to drink or use drugs, and would otherwise be more likely to die early from medical problems related to this substance abuse.

        Or, more broadly, a lot of early deaths are ultimately related to obesity, which is partly caused by lack of impulse-control. So if people who die from {homicide, accident, suicide} have lower impulse-control on average, they are likely to die young from these other causes as well.

    • rlms says:

      Interesting! When you adjusted the rates, did you increase deaths at old age to balance the decrease in deaths from suicide etc.? If you didn’t, I think that might have caused some of the difference between our numbers (although I think I over-adjusted, so the true figure should be somewhere in between).

      Your numbers for accidents/suicides/homicides are generally a bit below mine, and the values for each category differ (I had more suicides than homicides and accidents). But the overall result is in the same ballpark, so we can probably be confident that those factors account for a significant minority of the life expectancy gap.

      • CatCube says:

        Interesting! When you adjusted the rates, did you increase deaths at old age to balance the decrease in deaths from suicide etc.?

        No. This was build on a period life table, which is built from a current population. That is, you’re not analyzing a cohort of people from birth to death, where reducing a death in one year means that it’ll have to be “made up” somewhere else so the cohort reduces to zero at the end. Since the “normal” way of talking about life expectancy uses this method, I think it’s appropriate to use here.

        Here, the table is built from calculating the probability of dying before your next birthday, termed qx. (for example q55 is the probability of a 55-year old dying in the next year before age 56) To do this, the number of deaths occurring at each age group Dx is divided by the population at that age group Px plus half the deaths (because each death on average is assumed to live for 1/2 year during the year of their death.) That is, the probability of dying before your next birthday, qx = Dx / (Px + 0.5 * Dx).[but see Note 1]

        If I can digress to explain the whole method, the rest of the table is built from this; once you have qx at each age, you assume a cohort of l0 = 100,000 people at age zero, and reduce that cohort by “exposing” them to the probability of death, so the population living at each age is lx = l(x-1) – (1 – q(x-1)). For example, there were q15 = 0.000252, and the number of the original 100,000 who made it to 15, l15 = 99,174, so l16 = (99174) * (1 – 0.000252) = 99,149. Then the number of man-years lived at each age is determined, and these numbers are summed from the bottom of the table to find the numbers of man-years lived beyond that age.[3] Then the life expectancy, or the mean number of years lived beyond that age is simply the number of people living at that age divided by the number of man-years lived beyond it.

        Circling back to your question, I basically just reduced the Dx term at each age, which in turn reduced the qx for that particular age. I think the causes of death under discussion here can be assumed to be independent of disease that kills the elderly; that is, a 17-year-old shooting himself in the head doesn’t increase the probability of an 80-year-old woman dying of heart disease.

        Your numbers for accidents/suicides/homicides are generally a bit below mine, and the values for each category differ (I had more suicides than homicides and accidents). But the overall result is in the same ballpark, so we can probably be confident that those factors account for a significant minority of the life expectancy gap.

        I’m not sure what you mean. The data set I used had 41,155 suicides, and 16,131 homicides; accidents did dominate, with 130,583. The one you pointed at had only 4843 suicides explicated in it, and I think it missed a lot because suicide wasn’t one of the top causes of death for all females. That is, it only counted suicides for females when they appeared in the top 15 causes in each age bucket, with no total rollup. (I don’t know if the table on the website had the actual UK-wide total numbers in the bar chart, but they definitely don’t show up in the .csv file download)

        [1] Now, the place to be careful in trusting what I’m saying here is that this equation for qx is what I got from the methodology section of the CDC’s publication; however, I couldn’t get my numbers to match theirs, despite using what I believe to be the same feeder data. I just looked over the methodology for smoothing population, and it is more extensive than I thought; I also didn’t think to graphically look at it, and that probably explains it, their graph is very smooth, where mine jitters around theirs a little bit. The smoothing method is explained, but pretty in-depth, so I don’t know if I’ll get around to doing this correction.

        [2] It’s also a little more in-depth to calculate q0, that is, qx for infants less than one year of age. This is because the data used is for a particular calendar year, while–for example–and infant dying on January 2 may have been born on December 30, or January 3 of the year prior, so bucketing them all as having died on July 1 isn’t the best answer. I just copied q0 from the CDC table where they already did this math, since what I was looking at shouldn’t change it at all.

        [3] I also cheated at ending the table; at 85 years old, I just assumed that the life expectancy from the CDC was the “right” answer, and used that to back-calculate the number of man-years lived above 85.

        • rlms says:

          Thanks for the explanation!

          “I think the causes of death under discussion here can be assumed to be independent of disease that kills the elderly; that is, a 17-year-old shooting himself in the head doesn’t increase the probability of an 80-year-old woman dying of heart disease.”
          I’m not sure about this (I’m not very knowledgable about this subject, so I may well be wrong). A 17-year-old shooting himself doesn’t affect anything to do with people who are 80 years old at the time of the shooting, but it does mean that in the future there will be one fewer 80-year-old man dying of natural causes (or more accurately, one fewer man dying at the life expectancy of a 17-year-old). That the data being used is drawn from from the current year is irrelevant; an assumption in any method of calculating life expectancy is that mortality rates remain constant (or at least so sayeth Douglas Knight last thread). So any change you make to them has to maintain equilibrium. You can’t say “imagine what would happen if fewer 17-year-olds committed suicide this year”, you have to imagine what would happen if fewer 17-year-olds committed suicide every year. Hopefully someone with more knowledge will weigh in on this.

          “I’m not sure what you mean. The data set I used had 41,155 suicides, and 16,131 homicides; accidents did dominate, with 130,583. The one you pointed at had only 4843 suicides explicated in it, and I think it missed a lot because suicide wasn’t one of the top causes of death for all females. That is, it only counted suicides for females when they appeared in the top 15 causes in each age bucket, with no total rollup. (I don’t know if the table on the website had the actual UK-wide total numbers in the bar chart, but they definitely don’t show up in the .csv file download)”
          Oops, I meant “more *of a change from* suicides than from homicides/accidents. My point is that our results are broadly similar, so unless we’ve both done something majorly wrong we can conclude that suicides/homicides/accidents are responsible for a substantial minority of the life expectancy gap.

          • CatCube says:

            …an assumption in any method of calculating life expectancy is that mortality rates remain constant…

            Exactly, which is why you don’t want to try to “replace” those deaths lower down. Life expectancy at birth as stated in news reports is a theoretical construct assuming that a baby born this year (or, in our discussion, in 2013) is exposed to the same probability of death in each year of its life as those that existed at the time of calculation. This probability of death is calculated from the actual numbers in the population (which is why the CDC or the UK equivalent are always a few years behind the calendar; they have to wait for the actual numbers to get percolated upwards to the national level)

            For example, using the 2013 US data: there were 2,028,536 41-year-old males (on July 1 per Census Bureau estimates) in that year, and 4,565 41-year-old males died in the year. So the probability of a male who’s exactly 41 years old dying before reaching 42 is 4564/(2028536 + 0.5*4564) = 0.002247 [1, 2]

            You do this for every year of life using the data from the year. Then you run a theoretical cohort of people through (100,000 is traditional) and calculate the number of survivors at each year of life and those survivors in the theoretical cohort are used to calculate life expectancy at each year of life.

            Basically, the table I’m using here has “two halves” of sorts. The left half is the raw data, and is used to generate those probabilities of death at each year. The right half is taking the probabilities of death and figuring out the life expectancy for any population with those probabilities. So the actual, real-world “number of deaths” at any age gets stripped out at that probabilities column.

            So imagine if you did replace deaths from earlier and “moved” them to a later age: you’re going to increase the probability of death at that age, which will violate your assumption of constant mortality. For our theoretical 2013 baby, if he’s less likely to kill himself at 20, that itself doesn’t increase his chance of dying at 41–it’s still going to be 0.002247.[3]

            To be honest, I still don’t totally follow what you did in your post to make you think that’s necessary. You seemed to assume that there were 670,952 deaths in 2013, and if say, 40 less 5-19 year old males committed suicide, you had to “make them up” to stay at the constant 670,952? Basically, calculating the life expectancy of the cohort of people who died in the UK in 2013 of the top 15 causes? Because to my little mind, knowing that 112 males 5-19 years old in the UK in 2013 committed suicide isn’t all that useful unless you know that there were 5,233,429 males 5-19 years old in the UK in 2013. [4]

            Edit to add:

            (I’m not very knowledgable about this subject, so I may well be wrong)

            I’m not, either, and as stated I can’t quite get my numbers to match those of statistical agencies done by professionals. I’m interested in actuarial lifetime calculations on a very amateur basis, and I do have to now deal with them on a limited basis at work for discussing the probabilities of dam and levee failure. That’s kind of what brought me into the discussion originally.

            I think we might have a couple of real actuaries floating around here if any of them want to make any corrections to what I wrote.

            [1] Real statistical agencies do some correction to the death and population numbers, so the CDC has 0.002253 for 41-year-olds in 2013; I actually picked 41 because the difference between the “real” numbers and my numbers was the smallest for the whole population. BTW, the example numbers discussed here are those from the unadjusted table, not making any modifications. Soooo, if you’re 41 and male in the US, you now know that you have a 0.23% chance of dying before 42. You’re welcome.
            [2] Adding half the number of deaths in the denominator is based on the assumption that each person who died lived on average 1/2 year in that interval
            [3] Note, however, that the fact that I reduced the suicides at 41 as well does decrease the probability of death at that age, but that’s not the same as moving a death around. The theoretical 20-year-old is now just alive at 21 to be exposed to further risks as he continues to move through life.
            [4] Finding that “5,233,429” number was a pain in the ass. That was the point where I said “fuck this, I know where to at least find the raw data for the US” and switched countries.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      What is to be made of the big disparity in the right tail? 95% of the world’s oldest people are female. To me, that strongly suggests that there is a good deal more going on than the disparity in violent deaths. My guess is that it’s because women have superior immune systems and also men have faced selection pressure to be bigger and taller than the ideal size for a human.

      • CatCube says:

        Well, there’s definitely more going on than just the three I looked at; they were picked as much for convenience in finding the data as theoretical concerns. Also, the total death rate in the US in 2013 was 821.5 per 100,000, whereas, for example, the death rate due to suicide was 13.0 per 100,000. So in terms of raw numbers, the three that I picked were pretty small. However, they also kill the young, which has a larger effect on life expectancy at birth due to each death losing more years per person from the total lived.

        I think the context of the original discussion was the effect of issues that men tend to face vs. women. That is, men have specific social problems in that they take more dangerous jobs, are victims of violence at greater rates, etc. rlms split the life expectancy discussion off into its own thread, with a small data slice from the UK. I decided to do a workup with the full-blown data set from the US, partially because I’ve got to start doing some life calculations for equipment at work and this is a good way to get spun back up on the math. However, I’ve split it into another OT, so we’re about 3 levels of indirection from the original discussion (which I didn’t actually follow–or even bother looking up before my comment–because that kind of men/women culture-war nonsense bores me).

    • robert says:

      I’m curious how height/size might figure into it. Data on how long men or women of a given height live would be very interesting. Bigger people, more cells to get cancer in, more stress on a circulatory system built for a certain size.

    • sinxoveretothex says:

      Tangentially related: the sex ratio at birth is generally 105 boys : 100 girls (see here[1] for Canada). Also from statcan, this[2] chart which shows the sex ratio per age group for 1982 and 2012[2] (the bars would all be at 105 if the same percentage of males and females died for each age group).

      The most important drops seem to happen around 65 years and above. These facts lead to interesting conclusions: currently, many older women are lonely because there are very few men (and according to people I’ve met who work in elderly care, old people do fuck more than one would expect). But given the sex ratio imbalance, if death ratios were proportional (or even worse equal), there would be many lonely men.

      It’s interesting to me (even if quite morbid) that what’s preferable is not very obvious: do we want more lonely old men or women? Also I wonder if maybe this could explain −at least in part− things like Louis CK saying that his life gets amazing after 40 (at 1m30s): 40 is about the time when the male:female ratio gets around or below 1.

      [1] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-215-x/2012000/part-partie2-eng.htm
      [2] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-215-x/2012000/ct007-eng.htm

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        It’s interesting to me (even if quite morbid) that what’s preferable is not very obvious: do we want more lonely old men or women?

        We want more people living healthy lives longer, regardless of how sexually lonely they are.

        • vV_Vv says:

          We want more people living healthy lives longer, regardless of how sexually lonely they are.

          And post-menopausal women are sexually unattractive to men and presumably uninterested in sex anyway, for obvious evolutionary reasons.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Your comment strikes me as reportable, though I won’t.

          • And post-menopausal women are sexually unattractive to men

            That might be true if our genes did a perfect job of programming our minds to do their will, but they don’t. And the fact that a woman is no longer fertile isn’t visible.

            and presumably uninterested in sex anyway, for obvious evolutionary reasons.

            I don’t think that holds. If men are willing to provide benefits to women who sleep with them, for obvious evolutionary reasons, and willing to do so even for women who are no longer fertile, because the male programming is imperfect and infertility not observable, the there are benefits to sex even for infertile women.

            Beyond which, female programming is also imperfect, and it may not be good enough to shut down behavior patterns that made sense for a fertile woman when she becomes infertile.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            That might be true if our genes did a perfect job of programming our minds to do their will, but they don’t

            Agreed. The widespread use of birth control, pornography, sex dolls, VR Porn, etc. is a testament to that observation.

            That said, there is definitely a huge bias in men’s sexual attraction towards women who are (or who appear to be) in their most fertile years. Women have a similar bias but it’s much less pronounced.

          • vV_Vv says:


            Your comment strikes me as reportable, though I won’t.

            What rule do you think it violates?


            And the fact that a woman is no longer fertile isn’t visible.

            You can’t observe the exact moment she becomes infertile, but surely you can visually estimate her age and guess from that. The probability that sexual intercourse with a woman who looks like she is over ~45 will result in a viable child is virtually zero.

            I suppose that most men do this unconsciously, and visibly post-menopausal women don’t even register as people it is plausible to mate with. At least that’s my personal experience, I don’t know if I’m atypical. I might have a somewhat lower-than-average sex drive in general, but between my anecdotal observation of lonely >40 years old women who complain that they can’t find anybody, and the all the manosphere talk about women “hitting the wall”, I’m inclined to think that my lack of sexual attraction towards post-menopausal women is not unusual.

          • and visibly post-menopausal women don’t even register as people it is plausible to mate with. At least that’s my personal experience, I don’t know if I’m atypical.

            I think that older women tend to be perceived as less attractive, but there isn’t any bright line. A fifty year old woman with a good figure and a warm personality is going to be more attractive, in my judgement, than a thirty year old woman with neither. And I still find my wife attractive, although she is well past menopause.

            Benjamin Franklin argued for taking an old mistress rather than a young one.

            It may be partly a function of the man’s age. If you are mostly associating with people who are twenty, thirty starts looking old and fifteen a bit childish–not just in the sexual context but more generally.

          • Telminha says:

            How old are you? Are you in your twenties? I am not surprised that you are not attracted to >40 women. I would say that the same is true for most women in their twenties; they normally don’t find >40 men attractive.

          • Telminha says:

            I can’t edit my last comment, but it’s @ vV_Vv.

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            You know that some post-menopause women are interested in sex (from the mere fact that they have it, or desire to have it, as demonstrated in the opener for this topic). You should also know that some post-menopausal* women are considered generally attractive (not even just for their age), and that regardless some men are attracted to significantly older women (and that there’s no reason to think that this attraction would change after the men themselves grow older).

            These facts are all part of common knowledge. So you should know that your statement is not true, or you should have phrased it as a question given you obviously hadn’t tried to verify its truthiness.

            Therefore your statement:

            And post-menopausal women are sexually unattractive to men and presumably uninterested in sex anyway, for obvious evolutionary reasons.

            Is neither “true and necessary, true and kind, or kind and necessary.” In fact 1) by targeting the entirety of a particular group with absolutes it is inflammatory, so would have to be “true and necessary” to pass muster on reportability; and 2) It is not even an indirect response to the part of my comment that you quoted, so cannot at all be considered necessary (perhaps it would have been in response to someone else’s comment, but not to mine).

            Your statement thus fails all three prongs of the “True, kind, necessary” two-pronged test. http://slatestarcodex.com/comments/

            * – Completely ignoring the fact that some women hit menopause in their 30s.

          • Creutzer says:

            These facts are all part of common knowledge.

            To be honest, they really aren’t. Neither are their negations, of course. These questions are usually not discussed, and I, for one, really want to know the truth about the extent to which the age of women men can find physically attractive rises as a function of their own age.

            The effect that men find a long-term partner whom they have known young attractive for a long time strikes me as quite plausible, and so the shape of the above function is hugely important for decisions such as when to marry.

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            The first statement (that post-menopausal women should want sex) should be fairly widely known.

            For the second (post-menopausal women looking attractive) I give you a common-knowledge link: http://www.stylebistro.com/The+50+Most+Beautiful+Women+Over+50/articles/U6u2FgceUt9/Catherine+Keener

            You don’t have to agree with all of the examples to see that some are true. You don’t have to agree with any of them to know that some are true of some men (so I assert on my part).

            I have to go to work now or I’ll miss the bus.

          • bean says:


            Your statement thus fails all three prongs of the “True, kind, necessary” two-pronged test. http://slatestarcodex.com/comments/

            Seriously? I don’t think it fails any of those in an obvious way. It’s borderline on truth (he’s right about the evolutionary effects we should see in an ideal world, but evolution isn’t perfect), he’s 100% fine on kind (“in that you don’t rush to insult people who disagree with you.”) and not particularly bad on necessary (“it’s on topic, and not only contributes something to the discussion but contributes more to the discussion than it’s likely to take away through starting a fight”). He probably should have phrased it as more of a question than a statement of fact, but that’s a very different criticism from ‘reportable violation of the comment policy’.

          • Brad says:

            I think if you substitute in a different group — perhaps one that you have more empathy for — in place of post-menopausal women, the unkind part should be pretty to easy to see.

            How about if instead of “And post-menopausal women are sexually unattractive to men … for obvious evolutionary reasons” it was “And men on the spectrum are sexually unattractive to women … for obvious evolutionary reasons”?

          • Mark says:

            Young, fertile women are at least somewhat attractive when in the non-fertile stage of their cycle, so i would assume it’s possible for some of that magic to continue post-menapause.

            Also, old men may still father children, but are not generally considered as attractive as young. Though they still get by with people of their own age.

            I think something similar happens with women.

          • bean says:

            I think if you substitute in a different group — perhaps one that you have more empathy for — in place of post-menopausal women, the unkind part should be pretty to easy to see.

            I don’t think that’s what ‘unkind’ means in this context, and I quoted what Scott wrote on the subject to support that position. It’s about dealing with the people you are talking to, not the world in general. It’s possible that anonymousskimmer is a post-menopausal woman, but I don’t know that, and I’m not sure how vV_Vv was supposed to. If it was well-known that the other party was a post-menopausal woman, then I’d be a lot less lenient, due to the possibility of it being a coded insult.

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            vV_Vv is also saying that men don’t find post-menopausal women attractive. I identify as (and have the chromosomes to back it up) a man who finds some post-menopausal women attractive.

            vV_Vv’s statement can thus be taken as an insult against me (am I not a man, or am I less of a man)?

            (he’s right about the evolutionary effects we should see in an ideal world, but evolution isn’t perfect)

            No he’s not. An ideal world only has women fertile at a particular time which is easily visible to men. If this wasn’t evolutionarily ‘ideal’ it wouldn’t exist in the majority of primate species.

            And anyway, given the sheer ability of men to productively mate with women, why would evolution ever select against men mating with non-reproductive women (who are still physically capable of providing material support to their mates and their mate’s children [by themselves or by other mothers]- e.g. not bedridden)?

            Now the entire topic of some people not getting enough sex to maintain their happiness (and whether this is important to sexual ratio balancing) has been completely derailed by an evolutionary ‘question’ which can’t be answered because there’s too much conflicting factual evidence (not to mention ‘evopsych’ opinions).

            NO ONE is talking about the point I brought up in this sub-thread, which vV_Vv quoted as the intro to his points (“We want more people living healthy lives longer, regardless of how sexually lonely they are.”). My point has been derailed. It would have been fine if no one commented at all, and vV_Vv had posted his comment elsewhere where all and sundry commented on it, but instead my point has been hijacked to start a discussion I was not discussing. UNNECESSARY!

          • bean says:

            vV_Vv’s statement can thus be taken as an insult against me (am I not a man, or am I less of a man)?

            That seems a gross overreading of his point.

            And anyway, given the sheer ability of men to productively mate with women, why would evolution ever select against men mating with non-reproductive women (who are still physically capable of providing material support to their mates and their mate’s children [by themselves or by other mothers]- e.g. not bedridden)?

            Maybe because it’s time and energy you’re spending on not mating with fertile women? This seems to be in total contrast to my understanding of evolution.

            NO ONE is talking about the point I brought up in this sub-thread (“We want more people living healthy lives longer”). My point has been derailed. It would have been fine if no one commented at all, and vV_Vv had posted his comment elsewhere where all and sundry commented on it, but instead my point has been hijacked to start a discussion I was not discussing. UNNECESSARY!

            This, I absolutely and categorically reject. You do not have a right to have responses to your topic, or to have responses stay on the topic you want them to. This OT, I did what I think was quite a good post on net-centric warfare, at a much greater investment in time and effort than what you did here, and got about three responses, none of which was what I was hoping to talk about. If I got annoyed at that, I would have stopped the series ages ago. I don’t owe them content, they don’t owe me replies.
            Yes, you say, but vV_Vv was a distraction, and if not for him, you would have gotten on-topic responses, which didn’t happen to you here. I reject this, too. This is the internet, not an audio conversation. There is nothing stopping someone from replying to your initial comment, particularly as it’s not bottom-level. sinxoveretothex did. vV_Vv did not monopolize anything. Sure, he may have decreased the probability of a good response, but unless you have a viewer into the alternate world where he didn’t, this can’t be remotely quantified. And it wasn’t a complete tangent, either.
            Seriously, calm down. I have no idea why you got so worked up over this, but it’s not helping anyone.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The use of all caps and exclamation points doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m at a point that needs calming down.

            I’m trying to emphasize my points.

            Top-level comments are a host of a different matter. vV_Vv directly quoted me as if responding to what I said and wrote something completely unrelated to the point I was making. What vV_Vv wrote is tangentially related to the point I was addressing (synposized after the comma in my original sentence), and thus has some claim to being necessary in reply to sinxoveretothex’s original post, but has no claim to necessity in response to mine.

            If it had been a misplaced comment that’s one thing, but it directly quoted me as a launch-off point to a fractiousness-prone claim (which all absolute generalities outside of the banal [every living human uses oxygen] are).

            This is rude. I’ve been guilty of such rudeness myself, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is plain rude.

            I should care more about this than you. I started it. And if I’m going to care about something I’m going to try to give it my all (within reason, and I have not yet gone outside of my limits on reason, though this final post hits that limit). I hold this as a moral imperative (it also fits into my general way of processing and dealing with the world).

            You disagree, that’s fine. Neither of us is a moderator here. Our opinions are thus equally useless, and all either of us can do is make our point the best we can, and express our sincerity the best we can.

            Thanks to how deep this reply thread got (and the sheer abundance of comments in this OT which exceeds my ability to timely process), I had actually missed that sinxovertothex had responded to my actual point. Thanks for pointing that out.

            You have no idea how much effort or time I put into anything I write. Probably Likely not as much as you (especially when it comes to your long posts), but interacting with, and paying attention to, people does take genuine effort on my part. I am asocial, with a need I don’t fully understand the reasons for to interact with others.

          • rlms says:

            “It’s about dealing with the people you are talking to, not the world in general.”
            If that’s meant to distinguish between the vV_Vv’s comment and Brad’s hypothetical, you are assuming that the people involved are all male and on the spectrum. That is more likely than that they are post-menopausal women, but I don’t think it’s certain.

            To address the main question, I think the original comment definitely fails true (and in an especially bad way; false appeals to evolutionary psychology are more annoying than blatantly false statements); fails kind in the same as calling any other group unattractive would (even if true); and probably fails necessary because that one always seems fairly ill-defined.

          • Nick says:


            Well, Scott actually defines the necessary condition as:

            Necessary in that it’s on topic, and not only contributes something to the discussion but contributes more to the discussion than it’s likely to take away through starting a fight.

            This seems like a pretty solid example of taking away from the discussion by starting a fight, although arguably that’s only because it fails true and/or kind.

          • bean says:


            This is rude. I’ve been guilty of such rudeness myself, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is plain rude.

            This is sort of my point. I’m not defending what vV_Vv posted as being good or high-quality. It wasn’t. But the correct response was to say “less of this, please” or something of that sort, and extend charity. Not suggest that what he had done was an actual rules violation.

            You have no idea how much effort or time I put into anything I write. Probably Likely not as much as you (especially when it comes to your long posts), but interacting with, and paying attention to, people does take genuine effort on my part. I am asocial, with a need I don’t fully understand the reasons for to interact with others.

            That was not meant as any sort of criticism. I was pointing out that the harms here were only potential, because there wasn’t an ongoing discussion that was derailed, and that you weren’t alone in having something you hoped to have discussion on not have the response you wanted. I’d be more sympathetic if he’d hijacked an ongoing discussion, but given that he wasn’t even on the bottom when he replied, that wasn’t really the case.


            If that’s meant to distinguish between the vV_Vv’s comment and Brad’s hypothetical, you are assuming that the people involved are all male and on the spectrum. That is more likely than that they are post-menopausal women, but I don’t think it’s certain.

            No, that wasn’t quite it. I think that defining kind as “avoiding possible insult to anyone” is ludicrously overbroad, and not in line with Scott’s statements on the comments policy. If we read it that way, it quickly becomes a sword and a sharp limit on discussions. “Don’t specifically insult the people you are talking to” is a much more limited reading with a lot better results. Otherwise, someone making a statement like “spectrum men have low romantic success” has already used up their one strike on the rules, and anyone who can come up with a good reason for them to fail the others (well, necessary, as true is unambiguous) has grounds for report. This is a bad thing. I’m not saying that truth is absolute defense from the requirement for kindness, and knowing that the other guy is spectrum and bringing it up in a way that looks like a specific insult is still a bad thing and should be punished. But I think there needs to be at least some space for comments which are bad but not violations of the rules.

          • rlms says:

            Brad’s hypothetical involved a general comment about the unattractiveness of spectrum men, not a specific insult. I understand that you wouldn’t consider that general comment to be unkind (although you give the example of someone saying “spectrum men have low romantic success”, which I think is a lot less unkind than “spectrum men are sexually unattractive to women”), but I think a lot of people would disagree. If someone made the latter comment in a clearly unnecessary way (say as a top level comment), I definitely would report it. Of course, these discussions are somewhat irrelevant since Scott’s moderation mostly involves occasionally banning prolific annoying commenters, regardless of which rules they break (I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing).

          • vV_Vv says:

            @DavidFriedman & @Telminha

            I’m in my mid 30s, and so far I didn’t notice a significant change of my sexual preferences since I was ~16. On average, I tend to find women in their early 20s the most attractive, and in fact I’m usually not very attracted to women my own age, with some exceptions. Whether this is going to change when I’ll get older, only time will tell.


            The first statement (that post-menopausal women should want sex) should be fairly widely known.

            Sex drive decreases gradually with age in both men and women, but women are two to three times more likely to be affected by a decline in sex drive as they age.

            For the second (post-menopausal women looking attractive) I give you a common-knowledge link: http://www.stylebistro.com/The+50+Most+Beautiful+Women+Over+50/articles/U6u2FgceUt9/Catherine+Keener

            A collection of women who were exceptionally beautiful to begin with, and have undergone god knows how many cosmetic surgery operations. And even then, most of them only look attractive for their age, not attractive in general, which is evidenced by the fact that despite their fame, they don’t get cast in the typical “love interest” or “action girl” or “femme fatale” roles that they used to play when they were younger.

            Therefore, I stand by my statements, amended with a couple of NotAllX qualifiers.

            NO ONE is talking about the point I brought up in this sub-thread, which vV_Vv quoted as the intro to his points (“We want more people living healthy lives longer, regardless of how sexually lonely they are.”). My point has been derailed.

            You derailed your own point by making veiled threats of reporting my comment. If you think that a comment is worth being reported, then report it. If it’s not worth being reported then don’t report it, but please don’t pollute the thread with passive-aggressive complaints.


            “spectrum men have low romantic success”, which I think is a lot less unkind than “spectrum men are sexually unattractive to women”

            I find the two statements essentially equivalent.

          • Brad says:

            Therefore, I stand by my statements, amended with a couple of NotAllX qualifiers.

            If you had just made them to begin with, instead of prizing tight phrasing over anything approaching correctness then much of this could have been avoided.

            A statement like:

            post-menopausal women are sexually unattractive to men

            is utter crap.

            It’s not that there’s one lonely exception somewhere in the billions of people that exist on the planet and it is some sort of persnickety gotcha to point out that exception. Rather you are talking about a very real phenomenon that shifts the equilibrium significantly but is nowhere close to large enough to justify your unqualified claim. Gesturing in the direction of pop evo psyche is just the cherry on the top.

            If you can’t take the time to caveat appropriately then maybe you don’t have time to be commenting here.

        • sinxoveretothex says:

          I think that loneliness is an important cause of unhealthiness (mental or otherwise). Assuming the seeming consensus in comments that older men have a higher libido than older women (and assuming on my own that men are more affected by sexual loneliness), it could be that the way to maximize your criteria is to make sure the gender ratio keeps dropping below 1 male:1 female at some point before or around menopause.

          What this comes down to is that while yours is perhaps a better lens to look at the issue, I don’t think it necessarily dispels the issue entirely.

          Lastly, I’m also not convinced that maximizing the number of healthy long lives is the right objective owing to the mere addition paradox. I think your comment is meant to defend against that, but unless I misunderstand, I don’t think it does it successfully. That is, if everyone is a perfect clone of one another (or are somehow exactly as healthy and live exactly as long as one another) then I can think of reasons to maximize their number: because knowledge, standards of health and aging technology should advance faster, because people generally seem to like living.

          But none of these reasons is actually a reason to maximize life on its merits: even serial killers seem to want to live, yet I wouldn’t want to maximize their number, even if the whole population were clone serial killers.

          Even knowledge advancement isn’t quite the correct lens IMO: really, there is a finite amount of entropy in this universe. Once an advancement is discovered, it should be spread as fast as possible. In economics, there is an idea that sometimes the way to advance things (in the face of a limited resource be it space, energy, capital or something else) is to wait for a later time when the improvement has had time to feed on itself and be more resource-efficient.

          Applying this to knowledge advancement, if say we find a way to tweak human knowledge advancement power (I think this would be mostly brain power, but perhaps there is also something to “dancing/emotional/etc IQ” and all that that’s useful to advance knowledge) then we would want to fill every livable planet to carrying capacity with the “best herd” (maybe they’d all be max IQ people, but maybe they’d be a diverse group of max “emotional IQ” with max IQ mixed in with jack-of-all-trade in-betweeners, etc). At any rate, once an improvement is found, we’d want to spread it as fast as possible and if that means discarding the obsoleted humans to make space for improved fetuses (under the assumption that some genetic improvements may more time-efficient to apply to fetuses than adults) then, under the assumption that knowledge advancement is the aim, that’s what should be done. In other words, the actual aim is really how to use available resources in the most time-efficient manner before the heat death of the universe.

          At the end of the day, I’m just not sure that I can find a reason (emotional or otherwise) to maximize the number of living people, at least not as an end in itself.

          It just seems to me that as an end in itself, it is too convenient as a cover for wanting to preserve the self (which I think is a more prevalent end goal for perhaps evo psych reasons). And I think that few people would agree to the proposition of “getting voluntarily discarded” in favor of 2 ems that are as space and energy efficient (and, say, both live at least as long as the person would have), together, as the person in question (which AFAICT anyone in favor of maximizing the number of long-living healthy people should agree to, in principle).

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            I agree that this is an ethically difficult task.

            My priors are that life is a necessary predicate for all emotions, and that happiness (or anti-loneliness, your pick) can be gained via means other than sexual relationships. As has been mentioned elsewhere, mere libido can be easily satisified for most people in a manner which is both easy, and unharmful to closed relationships. So the primary issue in my eyes is the lack of one-on-one relationships, and likely mostly the decrease in opposite-sex couple relationships (same-sex for those so inclined)

            This becomes a psychotherapy issue to an extent. And a general adaptation of expectations issue. Individuals have to adapt their entire lives, which takes a toll, but the relationship of this adaptation to liveable quality-of-life is alterable.

            the mere addition paradox. I think your comment is meant to defend against that

            My philosophical basis for maximizing the number of healthy long lives (of those already living – I do not care to maximize those yet born), is that life is the fundamental predicate of all meaning. It takes a living organism to assign meaning and value. And all such assignments cease upon the cessation of the person. I see this as a trajedy which cannot yet be avoided, but should still be screamed against and striven against as much as possible (until the value judgements of the individual themself fails to find overbearing meaning with existence).

            But none of these reasons is actually a reason to maximize life on its merits: even serial killers seem to want to live, yet I wouldn’t want to maximize their number, even if the whole population were clone serial killers.

            I understand. This is difficult in that I personally see a tautological error in reflectively assigning value to the very thing which generates value (though I do the same throughout this reply), and even an error in assigning relative value to values generated by different sources* (since there is no objective lens from which to view these values, merely subjective assertions or giving-way). I’d guess at this point I’d say that maximizing lifespan is maximizing existent value (the existent is very important as non-existent value generators obviously generate no values whatsoever to measure), and maximizing QoL lifespan is maximizing positive existent value.

            * – by “source” I mean living being.

            In other words, the actual aim is really how to use available resources in the most time-efficient manner before the heat death of the universe.

            I don’t see the point to this (I see that you’re using it as an example of trying to find a lens to generalize around). My aim is to, if possible, avoid the heat death of the universe, and then go on to create new universes with new beings who create things the inhabitants of our universe never could have imagined, possibly including new values. If not possible, then satisfaction for those who exist (i.e. maximizing existent value) is what’s important.

            My happiness would increase upon seeing these new vistas, just as it would increase if I could talk to those who were born thousands of years ago about what today is. I think these motivations are common enough.

            It just seems to me that as an end in itself, it is too convenient as a cover for wanting to preserve the self (which I think is a more prevalent end goal for perhaps evo psych reasons)

            That’s why it’s necessary to add an altruistic (or otherwise idealistic) goal, preferably as open-ended as possible. Or if that fails, some sort of banal virtue as a continuation. To make mere existence an intermediate, not an endpoint. A solitary value generator tends to going up it’s own ass, with nothing but its own thoughts and relation-to-self to value. 😀

            Very interesting thoughts. Thank you. I’ve reached my psychological limit in this entire open thread though so won’t be willing to read or respond further at this time (need a break).

      • fortaleza84 says:

        and according to people I’ve met who work in elderly care, old people do fuck more than one would expect

        That may very well be true, but I think it’s about to change due to the obesity epidemic and the availability of porn. Today’s 75 year olds are probably not that facile with computers, but I’m pretty sure that today’s men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s — in 30 or 40 years — would rather make use of today’s pornography than have sex with an obese 75 year old woman. Let alone the pornography of the future. Probably in 20 years or so, there will be extremely realistic sexbots.

        So let me amend my prediction: In the future, old people will have plenty of sex but not with each other.

        • Wency says:

          I already have a bit of experience with an elderly man who discovered Internet porn. The volume was always set to maximum.

          My guess is that it’s a small but visible portion of the 75+ population that is having sex with any frequency. You will probably remember every incident in your life that relates to old people having sex, and perhaps tell the story again and again, so people get this perception.

          So a few will move from sex to porn, but a much larger number will move from incel to porn-watching.

  6. Atlas says:

    A comment of mine from earlier seems to have been deleted; may I inquire whether it was deleted manually or automatically? And in either case, might I also inquire which rules or norms it broke, so I can avoiding accidentally breaking them in the future?

    (Oh also and of course—I’m sincerely sorry for breaking the rules if I’ve done so, I realize that having rules is important to having a good community.)

    • bean says:

      Almost certainly automatically. Scott generally says when he manually deletes something. Probably causes are either an excess of links or the use of banned words. Or, occasionally, a sacrifice to the Gods of the Great SSC Filter.

      • Atlas says:

        Right, thanks for the info. I tried to avoid including direct links for that reason, but I may well have used banned words. In that case, I’ll repost, with controversial-seeming words redacted. (If it was in fact manually deleted and I’m accidentally being a pest by posting it twice, my shame will know no bound.)

    • Art Hoc says:

      There’s a description of the SSC comments policy on the comments page. Regrettably there isn’t an exhaustive list of the banned words, but some of the less obvious ones are mentioned.

    • Deiseach says:

      Probably the spam filter – it has a twitchy trigger finger for what it considers Bad Naughty Words or Too Many Links.

  7. Atlas says:

    (This is sort of tongue in cheek and contrarian, but mostly serious. I haven’t done the kind of thorough research on this stuff that I try to do when being Really Serious when making an argument, so I can realistically see my mind being changed here. I’m probably being somewhat uncharitable and epistemically lazy here, and maybe I deserved to be skewered and crucified for it. But not so much so that I don’t think this argument is worth making. Admittedly long, conjectural, rambling and not very well composed, but I hope I’ve communicated something worthwhile somewhere in here.)

    (Edit: a version of this comment was posted earlier and deleted; it seems to have been because it automatically triggered the banned words filter, so I removed some controversial sounding words, but if it in fact was because it was manually deleted I am extremely sorry and will be happy to delete it and never post any version of it ever again. And indeed comply with any punishment/sanction deemed appropriate.)

    Contra Meditation, Buddhism and Enlightenment (or, “enlightenment”):

    (Comment part 1/2)

    I have always been a little skeptical of the idea of enlightenment through meditation, and the related memes/ideas. When people whose work I generally quite enjoy, like Sam Harris or Robert Wright (and now Scott Alexander), say really nice things about how great meditation is, I feel kind of guilty for not automatically agreeing with them. On just a purely intuitive level, as a kid I really hated hermetic mentor characters like Guru Pathik in ATLA and Yoda in Star Wars who were obtuse and snooty about imparting the relevant info/skills to the hero, and always talking about how True Wisdom is some unfathomable state of mind that a young grasshopper like you could never possibly truly understand. And then, a little later, when I was really into the works of Carl Jung and thought that perennial philosophy was the coolest thing ever, I found Buddhism the least interesting of all the (allegedly) parallel spiritual/intellectual traditions that those kinds of writers talk about. The recent review of MTCB made me think a lot about this stuff, and now that my views have changed quite a bit, I hope I can articulate a persuasive case for at least some considerable skepticism about the putative wonders of meditation and inner knowledge.

    This requires some discussion of a very simple factual issue: namely, the meaning of life. Judging from Scott’s review of MCTB, people who really believe in Buddhism/meditation think something like: “the meaning of life is to achieve a certain higher state of consciousness/level of inner knowledge [use non-English words for dramatic effect as necessary] that comes from extensive, largely internal contemplation. The external world is a distraction from this secret knowledge, and ‘success’ in it is an endless, unsatisfying hamster wheel that you should avoid. The aforementioned consciousness/type of knowledge cannot be truly described to those who have not experienced it.” For instance, by his own admission, the best recommendation the author of MCTB can give for meditation is: ““Highly recommended, can’t tell you why.””

    And this isn’t limited to Buddhism/meditation by any means: please read the SSC post “Against Anton-Wilsonism” for more on this, because it explains quite well a lot (though not all) of what I’m trying to get at here. I used to believe something very similar to this—if only I studied my dreams and read Joseph Campbell books and watched for Jungian themes in movies enough, eventually I would have some profound revelation about the nature of my psyche that would explain everything.

    But I have come to think that is actually a profoundly wrong answer to the question of how to find meaning in life. Or, at the very, very least, a really incomplete one that does serious harm by omission. Gnostics, Buddhists, New Agers, etc. say that the external world is an illusion and a distraction from beautiful inner truth. Maybe that’s true sometimes, but I think it’s at least equally likely that the quests for inner spiritual knowledge such people think you need to go on are illusions that distract you from the beauty of the external world.

    This is because I think there is a much more convincing answer to this question, encapsulated in something Freud reputedly said: “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanity.” (Note that I’m not endorsing Freudianism as an effective means of reaching these goals.) That is to say, I think developing relationships of mutual love (both romantic and brotherly) and doing work (both professionally and for hobbies) that is valuable and satisfying to yourself and others are really what make people happy. It is the lack of these things, not the lack of some esoteric, unexplainable mystical knowledge that you only get after your 16th year of meditating and fasting as a hermit on a mountaintop, that I think makes many people in the modern world unhappy in the face of material abundance.

    And I think that both love and work have a deeper core element that is key here: they are about accomplishing things in the external world that other people value. This is obvious in the case of work: employers/customers don’t really care about your inner state of mind, they care about what valuable things you can produce for them. This is less obvious in the case of love, but I think it’s still very true: a really important part of getting other people to love you is producing stuff that they value, in a gift exchange rather than marketplace kind of trade. (I was persuaded of this by the very useful book Mate by Geoffrey Miller and Tucker Max, which feels like the instruction manual to the video game of life that finally explains how the controls and mechanics work after you’ve been running around in circles and dying repeatedly. Despite having only read it recently, it has already helped me with a ton of stuff.)

    This was explained really well (in part) by an article I saw shared on Facebook from Afropunk (of all places), called “AN OPEN LETTER TO “UNDATEABLE BLERD MEN”: IT’S NOT US, IT’S YOU”. (Be advised that there was a lot of terrible, mean-spirited stuff in the article as well, of the sort of [redacted] [redacted]-bashing discussed in “Untitled”.) It’s like Episode VI of the [redacted] vs. [redacted] Wars, where the producers decided that to retain the edgy culture war angle, [redacted] had to be mixed in. The author, in a nasty but honest way, makes the point that to attract women, you need to provide value for them— e.g. if your only hobbies are isolating, boring (to women) and sedentary, it’s harder to attract women than if you can offer to do fun and exciting social activities with them.

    The core element is that success in love and work is based on external evaluation. (There was a great quote by LBJ in the Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary where he said to the South Vietnamese leader: “Don’t give me empty rhetoric. Like we say in Texas, I want to see racoon skins on the wall.”) Like, your performance can be largely objectively evaluated and independently verified by other people. Of course, you can say that by counting your breaths, you understood some profound and beautiful truth about the universe by breath 612 that you can’t communicate to me. But that’s a really easy to fake signal—I can just as easily say that, by playing the combat challenges in Batman: Arkham City a bunch of times, I also achieved some profound flow state of consciousness revealing eternal truths that I could never possibly explain. Unless there’s some real world test of the alleged inner wisdom that only someone with it could pass, there’s no way for anyone to judge which if either one of us is telling the truth.

    • Atlas says:

      (Comment part 2/2)

      This is a really important point, for more and better on which one should see the writings of Nassim Taleb previewing his upcoming book “Skin in the Game” and a characteristically perceptive column by [redacted] titled “the Density Divide”. There’s a fundamental difference between people like bureaucrats and academics who are judged by the evaluation of their peers on kind of wishy-washy metrics like writing “good” academic papers and people like explorers or natural scientists who are judged by reality on objective grounds like surviving a trek through the jungle. (Note that I’m not saying society doesn’t need people in the former category, or that they don’t produce anything valuable.)

      A way to illustrate this might be with an example of a person who actually demonstrates the kind of life I’m describing. Someone who, at least to me, exemplifies the good life is Jocko Willink. Jocko was a Navy SEAL for something like 20 years; he led the awesomely named “Task Unit Bruiser”, which apparently included Homeric-tier battle heroes like Chris Kyle and Michael Monsoor, in intense combat in Ramadi during the height of the Iraq War. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his valorous service, and after retiring from the military became an author/public speaker/podcaster, which he seems to have been pretty successful at, despite not having any prior media experience. He’s married with kids, lives in California and judging from his podcasts he seems to have lots of awesome friends, especially from the SEAL teams. For fun, he does really intense weight lifting, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (he’s a black belt) and surfs. (Jocko did interviews with Joe Rogan, Tim Ferris and Sam Harris that are worth checking out.)

      To me, this is within spitting distance of the Platonic ideal of the good life. At least to me, someone like Jocko embodies an ideal about a million times more desirable and admirable than that embodied by some celibate Buddhist top master who lives on a mountaintop in India and allegedly has reached a really high state of enlightenment that can only be communicated via paradoxical statements.

      This is partly because it seems to me that war is the ultimate, though not the only, example of a domain where [redacted] is not allowed. Super high skin (literally) in the game. If a Zen master, or a pundit, or a history professor, gets something wrong…well, really, so what? How do you even tell with certainty whether they really got it wrong or not most of the time? Like, if a Zen master says (as Scott quotes the Buddha) “I gained nothing whatsoever from Supreme Enlightenment, and for that reason it is called Supreme Enlightenment”, but actually the truth is “I gained everything from Supreme Enlightenment, and thus it is aptly called Supreme Enlightenment” how would I know?

      Whereas a soldier suffers really, really high, measurable consequences for being wrong. You just can’t afford to fake being a courageous and competent battle commander the way you can fake being a mystical guru with secret wisdom. It seems like one needs to just be really good at actually accomplishing challenging stuff in the real world to be an effective soldier: moving from point A to point B, making sure that machinery works the way it’s supposed to, gathering information and making accurate judgements about the enemy’s plans, accurately aiming your weapons so they damage the enemy, being in good enough physical shape to move and carry stuff around, etc. I think this is part of why, from Homer to Julius Caesar to the Crusades to A Shropshire Lad to Top Gun, martial heroism has been such a high virtue in Western culture.

      (Relevantly, Taleb had a pretty sharp quip in the wake of his dispute with Mary Beard, where he said something like “there are classicists who study men like Caesar and Alexander so thoroughly that they could tell you what they ate for breakfast, but never show a shade of such valor themselves.”)

      And what does this much vaunted meditation help to accomplish that other people value? This isn’t a rhetorical question; if someone makes a good case that it does something valuable, I’m certainly willing to change my mind. I mean, it does in fiction—like, Aang masters some mystical thing with his chakras that lets him do crazy elemental magic that [redacted] Fire Nation forces, so, okay, fine, Aang should meditate. But unless you can shoot some frickin’ lazer beams from your awakened third eye, you need to show me good evidence that the alleged “enlightenment” one gets from meditation is worth the time and effort one apparently has to put into it to convince me that it’s worthwhile.

      Furthermore, there’s the opportunity cost to consider. At least from my perspective as a college student, and even as nowhere close to the hardest working student out there, it sure seems like being an adult is so demanding and stressful that you need to make good choices about how you spend your precious time. An example of an activity I would consider superior to meditating to find inner wisdom is taking a dance class. You meet other people in a dance class, importantly including women, with whom you do a goals-directed activity that is good (as opposed to aimless “shooting the [redacted]” conversation) for building bonds. You improve a real world skill that you can use to impress and have fun doing with other people, again notably including women. This skill can actually be objectively evaluated by other people (even if part of the metric is the subjective opinions of other people); you can devise a “test” that separates someone who is graceful and relaxed while dancing from someone who is clumsy and awkward. (And, importantly, other people place some value on how well one scores on that “test”.)

      I think someone who does something like that for a few months will see real, tangible rewards for the effort, time and money they put into it; I am much more skeptical that someone who, say, pays for a meditation retreat for two weeks with meditation “experts” will see such results. Again, maybe they do, maybe they enjoy it and learn stuff and meet people, and if so all the better for them.

      I guess I’m kind of worried that there’s a…whatever the opposite of being overly dismissive of foreign cultures and ancient traditions is…problem here. Because Buddhism and meditation are Ancient Spiritual Traditions from The Far-Away Orient, I worry that people are overly uncritical in examining their putative benefits and being skeptical about others’ unverifiable claims that they’re totally awesome. (Though I guess Sam Harris is a pretty important counter-example.) It’s maybe not apples to apples, but I feel like people who would apply really critical lenses to claims about the deep and profound, but incommunicable and unverifiable, truths allegedly revealed by Scientology treat analogous claims about Buddhism and meditation with kid gloves. “Well…I personally didn’t get Enlightenment™ from this meditation practice…but you say you did…so I guess it’s just my fault for not trying hard enough to understand this form of esoteric mysticism.” (The whole emperor’s new clothes problem.)

      Scott and many commenters included disclaimers about meditation like “Relevant? I’m not sure…Parts of it are ultimately unsatisfactory, but apparently this is true of everything, so whatever.” and “Unless of course I’m full of shit.” and “And these benefits by no means require enlightenment, whatever that is. Haven’t been there yet, but the ROI is already quite high.” These frequent disclaimers seem really different to me than the ones in e.g. the review and discussion of Seeing Like a State. That book raised a lot of really complex issues, and Scott ended his review with some hedged statements about how things could be this way, or they could be that way, or they could be this way and that way…But I still strongly feel that everyone there got meaningfully closer to the truth about politics. It’s like we’re knights on a quest for the Sangreal, and while we don’t know exactly where it is, and the journey is arduous and confusing, we still get occasional signs that we’re made some correct steps. Even if we aren’t 100% sure and have to qualify them.

      Whereas I feel, with all due respect, that the disclaimers in conversations about meditation/Buddhism/mysticism are of the sort where they leave us in a profoundly frustrating superposition of truth and falsity. This could be profound truth, or, of course, it could be total [redacted]…how can we tell, really? Unlike the search for truth in complex issues in e.g. politics or science, where even though we have to make caveats and be cautious we can still feel that we’ve sometimes made real progress over the past, I feel that with mysticism it’s just an agonizing, Sisyphean task where meaningful enlightenment is always out of reach. Somehow, everyone knows someone who was enlightened by mysticism, but no one is enlightened themselves. And that thus seems to me to be a line of inquiry that one is better off moving away from.

      • Yosarian2 says:

        This is a very good point.

        Personally I can point to some pretty practical things I gained from meditation. I actually first learned it from a psychologist I was seeing for some issues I was having at the time with anxiety, social anxiety, ADHD, and depression, and it helped a lot. I get that that’s a subjective gain that’s hard to prove, but the same is true for any kind of psychological treatment.

        • Seppo says:

          I have those same issues. What kind of meditation did you do, for how much time per day, and how long did it take before it noticeably improved things?

          I did Sōtō Zen “just sitting” meditation around 30 minutes a day for a long time; after about a year family and friends started commenting that I seemed a lot calmer and less nuts, and after about five years the “chronically suicidal” aspect of my depression disappeared essentially forever. Other the other hand, it had no effect on the social anxiety or ADHD fronts, and might even have made them worse.

      • [Thing] says:

        I was mostly with you through part 1—I have found meditation, and mindfulness techniques more generally, to be pretty useful for coping with the various negative emotions that come up in life, which for me have never been in short supply, but I haven’t ever been tempted to pursue enlightenment as my highest purpose. I suppose the fact that lots of people throughout history have somewhat independently arrived at more or less the opposite conclusion ought to count for something, but I’m suspicious of their premises, and their objectivity, and the generalizability of their experiences.

        I must admit, though, that I was quite taken aback by your apparent endorsement of the valorization, even romanticization, of combat, in part 2, as well as the lack of pushback from any of the other commenters on stuff like this:

        Jocko was a Navy SEAL for something like 20 years; he led the awesomely named “Task Unit Bruiser”, which apparently included Homeric-tier battle heroes like Chris Kyle and Michael Monsoor, in intense combat in Ramadi during the height of the Iraq War. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his valorous service …

        To me, this is within spitting distance of the Platonic ideal of the good life.

        I mean, You make a valid point about how combat efficiently pierces illusions and punishes incompetence, but then, so do financial markets, disaster relief work, stand-up comedy, and many other less horrible things. And while any given civilization requires expert practitioners of violence for its continued existence, this is only because of the existence of hostile foreign and amateur domestic practitioners of same. We do all recognize that the world would be a better place if there were no practitioners of violence against fellow humans … right?

        This has been on my mind lately, because it also came up in the comments to the last couple of posts on Otium. The best rebuttals I’ve seen to the romantic view of war (including the romantic view that’s trying really hard to sound like hard-headed realism) are found in the writings of Paul Fussell, who was wounded while serving as an infantry officer in WWII (examples here and here). Gunter Grass’s memoir of his time in the Waffen S.S. is also instructive. Sending however many tens of millions of WWII casualties off to mountaintop monasteries to contemplate their navels for 20 years sounds to me like a vast improvement on what actually happened to them.

        • psmith says:

          The best rebuttals I’ve seen to the romantic view of war (including the romantic view that’s trying really hard to sound like hard-headed realism) are found in the writings of Paul Fussell…

          Can’t say I find this all that convincing in light of the various sources who went there, did that, and came back with a “romantic” or at worst mixed view of the whole business. Storm of Steel, Guns Up!, A Rifleman Went to War, etc. I suppose it depends on the reader which batch makes a bigger impression.

          • [Thing] says:

            Fair enough. Some people really do see their combat experiences as making a net positive contribution to their own personal human flourishing. I still feel confident in claiming that such activities are not conducive to the flourishing of the majority of humans who experience them first-hand, particularly those who get killed. And even if we were to suppose that the Good Life were only truly accessible to (a subset of) those who have triumphed in battle, we would have to weigh it against the sacrifice of all those fallen adversaries and civilian bystanders and survivors with PTSD, in assessing the net contribution of war to human welfare. Personally, I’d just as soon let all of the Ernst Jüngers of the world feel bored and disappointed with life if it meant that more of the rest of us got to pursue whatever allegedly second-rate version of the Good Life we’re pursuing with minimal risk of dismemberment.

          • John Schilling says:

            But the Ernst Jüngers of the world would prefer not to give up what they know (as surely as you do, at least) to be the Truly Good Life, for no better reason than that a bunch of wimps can live a second-rate Mediocre Life. What makes your competing preference any more relevant than the desire of the mice that the cat be properly belled?

          • [Thing] says:

            Does your argument carry any less force if we replace “Ernst Jünger” with, say, “Albert Fish”? At this point, it seems we are just asserting contradictory preferences. I don’t see the difference between saying “I prefer X for the following reasons …” and “My preference for X is more ‘relevant’ than other people’s contrary preferences for the following reasons …” Maybe there’s some subtlety of metaethics that I’m missing here, but that takes us far enough from where this thread began that it would probably merit a fresh thread.

          • John Schilling says:

            Any meta-ethical issues are irrelevant compared to the pragmatic issue that if you tell Ernst Jünger and a few of his buddies that you’re having a problem with Albert Fish and you’d like them to take care of it, you very quickly won’t have an Albert Fish problem any more. Doing it the other way around is much less likely to work out for you, or for Fish.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          There’s a difference between a war where you can be the idealized professional warrior (US Navy Seal working in situation where US has air superiority and overwhelming technological and material edge), and a war where you can do everything right, possess and demonstrate valor and martial skill and whatnot, and yet spend most of your time waiting for something to happen or marching from place A to place B and then get blown to smithereens by artillery or air strike, or worse (my idea of not unlikely experience of a regular infantryman in most of modern warfare).

        • The Red Foliot says:

          Hitler, who had a dangerous role in the German army in WWI, was purportedly really enthusiastic about war even while he was in the midst of it. He seemed never to lose sight of the romantic ideals associated with fighting for his fatherland. When his team lost, he was disappointed–aggrieved, even–that they lost, but he did not shed his romantic views of the affair, not in the abstract. I think that many people come preconditioned to view war one way or the other regardless of their experiences. Perhaps it was even the struggle, the suffering that Hitler liked. Genes and memes are apt to settle a person’s mind on the matter in spite of their vicissitudes.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            I recall Hitler was a courier; badmouths say that it implies he spent lots of time in safe places behind the frontlines, but it might also simply be more exciting and feel more purposeful than sitting in trenches waiting for the order to go over the top and be mowed by the enemy machine gun.

          • John Schilling says:

            In WWI, battlefield couriers were mostly needed in places where you couldn’t just call up your subordinates on the telephone because enemy artillery kept destroying the phone lines faster than your signal corps could lay new ones. As a soldier, Hitler was twice wounded in action, by gas and artillery, and twice awarded the Iron Cross. He pretty clearly understood what war was about when he sent a new generation of Germans off to fight a new one.

            He may have enjoyed it, or at least found it a vital character-building experience. Some people are wired that way, even for the ugly WWI style of warfare. See also Ernst Jünger. And Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to prove that this wasn’t just a German thing, though their wars were of a more easily romanticized nature.

          • cassander says:

            to add to what John Schilling said,being a courier was a fairly dangerous job and Hitler’s decorations were very impressive. The exact records were destroyed in WW2 bombing, but the Iron Cross second class was a fairly common reward in ww1. Some 5 million were won, putting it on the order of something like a Bronze star. Hitler, though, had an iron cross first class, which was far less common, only about 200,000 were issued. Hitler’s reward is especially impressive because he was an Austrian lance corporal serving in the Bavarian army.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I’d like to add that while it’s very true that for every Gunther Grass there’s an Ernst Junger, it goes even further than that. For each matched set that finds the war horrifically traumatic/transcendental and fulfulling, there are many who find it somewhat pleasant/unpleasant, go home, and get on with their lives. And yes, I mean specifically front-line fighters who engaged in regular close contact with the enemy.

            As for “the world would be a better place if there were no humans who engaged in violence against humans, obviously”…er…no, it isn’t? Because such a world is, practically by definition, a world scrubbed clean of anything vaguely recognizable as a human being. Anyone who fantasizes of a world of peacefully coexisting human beings in perfect harmony forever doesn’t understand humans. To say nothing of the fact that even if it were possible to create that world without altering humanity so drastically as to render it an entirely new and distinct species, such a world also requires us to have achieved perfect post-scarcity for all individuals.

            Otherwise you have the seeds for disagreement and conflict over resources. And once you have those seeds, sooner or later, whether on an individual or a collective level, someone will get violent. Unless of course you posit some far out possibility like simply re-writing the minds of the troublesome to be good citizens, something I find more morally repugnant than killing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If we’re sticking to authors, if for every Fussell there’s a Junger, there’s also at least one Milligan.

          • [Thing] says:

            @ Trofim_Lysenko

            As for “the world would be a better place if there were no humans who engaged in violence against humans, obviously”…er…no, it isn’t? Because such a world is, practically by definition, a world scrubbed clean of anything vaguely recognizable as a human being. Anyone who fantasizes of a world of peacefully coexisting human beings in perfect harmony forever doesn’t understand humans. To say nothing of the fact that even if it were possible to create that world without altering humanity so drastically as to render it an entirely new and distinct species, such a world also requires us to have achieved perfect post-scarcity for all individuals.

            I suppose it always invites controversy to posit that the world would be a better place if we just made a radical change like that by unspecified means, so let me walk that back a bit: I think the point I was gesturing at was that, considering the lengths nations are willing to go to in order to deter violent crime and foreign military aggression, it would seem that, at the margin, most people place a lot of value on diminishing the amount of life-threatening violence in the world, even if that means depriving people like Jocko Willink of opportunities to test their valor in anything remotely resembling a fair fight. That doesn’t necessarily mean people would or should endorse any given method of deterrence, such as coercive mind-control technology. Whatever means we use, we must continually evaluate the trade-offs we’re inevitably making, which may change as the rate of violence changes.

            The thing I was reacting to in Atlas’s original post was the idea that a superior capability for violence might be desirable not merely as a lesser evil cultivated for the purpose of preventing some greater evil, but as an end in itself, integral to the Good Life. Maybe that’s just me reading between the lines, but it’s alarmingly close to the idea that war itself can be a good thing, because how else would we test and refine our capability for violence? Supposedly there was a lot of that sort of thinking going around in the run-up to WWI.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            The thing I was reacting to in Atlas’s original post was the idea that a superior capability for violence might be desirable not merely as a lesser evil cultivated for the purpose of preventing some greater evil, but as an end in itself, integral to the Good Life.

            Yep, I’d say “capability for violence is integral to a Good Life” is a pretty supportable claim. If you don’t have it, everything good in your life exists only at the sufferance and goodwill of those that do. These days, due to specialization of labor, many people are able to enjoy the fruits of violence enacted on their behalf without having to dirty their hands personally, but make no mistake, you DO benefit from it, every day.

            Can we reduce violence on the margins? Maybe some, but I think there’s a lower bound and I think that the least violent first-world countries are pretty close to it right now. I am very confident given the combination of Free Will + Non-Infinite Resources, that violence will always be an inextricable part of the Human Condition, with the only way to escape it completely being to escape being human, one way or another.

          • [Thing] says:

            Yep, I’d say “capability for violence is integral to a Good Life” is a pretty supportable claim. If you don’t have it, everything good in your life exists only at the sufferance and goodwill of those that do. These days, due to specialization of labor, many people are able to enjoy the fruits of violence enacted on their behalf without having to dirty their hands personally, but make no mistake, you DO benefit from it, every day.

            I don’t see anything that I specifically disagree with in your reply, if we interpret “integral to a Good Life” broadly enough to include instrumental as well as terminal values. Admittedly, that is not a straightforward distinction to make in practice, but I think it’s clear enough when I say that shooting and bombing people can sometimes be justified as an instrumental value, for the reasons you give, but not as a terminal value, which is what I meant when I said a superior capability for violence is not desirable “as an end in itself.”

    • Atlas says:

      Random miscellany: there was a really cutting critique of mysticism (at least in the modern West) in general, including meditation in particular, in Michel Houellebecq’s excellent novel the Elementary Particles. (I think Taleb says not to recommend books you haven’t, or at least wouldn’t, read twice, so for the record I’ve read it 2-3 times, for the first time earlier this year.)

      • Deiseach says:

        I very much agree with you if the popular notion of meditation, enlightenment, etc is “sitting around on your backside contemplating your navel”. But then again, I’m not a huge fan of the “meditation will make your life better in these ways!” notion, since that is not what it is for. If you do it, you do it for its own sake, not because it will sharpen your concentration, make you calmer, and get you into a state where you can run the rat race of striving at work to be even more successful and work 90 instead of 80 hours a week. That’s like trying to use a Lamborghini to plough a field (they have their own range of tractors for that, don’t use the sports car!)

        Thing is, (a) your priorities change as you get older. I loathe Maslow’s Pyramid, but it’s true that once you’ve done (to the best of your ability) the ‘career, kids, material success’ bit, you then have years (maybe three decades) worth of life to use, and that’s where the Wise Old Elder bit comes from.

        (b) sometimes the only way is to sit on your backside and contemplate your navel. It’s like running a marathon or lifting weights: you have to do the slog of “run so many miles every week/do X sets of repetitions over and over again and then some more” to get at your goal. Getting to look at how your mind/brain is working does need sitting down and concentrating on this, not something you can do in the middle of doing other things.

        To be contrarian about the contrarianism,and your example of the ex-SEAL, here’s the Yeats poem:

        His chosen comrades thought at school
        He must grow a famous man;
        He thought the same and lived by rule,
        All his twenties crammed with toil;
        ‘What then?’ sang Plato’s ghost. ‘What then?’

        Everything he wrote was read,
        After certain years he won
        Sufficient money for his need,
        Friends that have been friends indeed;
        ‘What then?’ sang Plato’s ghost. ‘ What then?’

        All his happier dreams came true —
        A small old house, wife, daughter, son,
        Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,
        poets and Wits about him drew;
        ‘What then?’ sang Plato’s ghost. ‘What then?’

        The work is done,’ grown old he thought,
        ‘According to my boyish plan;
        Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
        Something to perfection brought’;
        But louder sang that ghost, ‘What then?’

        So you had a successful career, you have a family, friends, cool and interesting hobbies, you’re happy. And yet – old age, illness, the loss by death or separation as you grow apart, your family will leave, the triumphs of your career are dusty photos on the wall of the building where new heroes strive and win new triumphs and in the end, inevitably, death.

        And what then? All you did and built and won and obtained slips through your fingers like sand or water. So is that all there is? Is there more? What more? What have you left to conquer except the last and greatest mystery: an understanding of yourself?

        That’s when you sit on your backside and contemplate your navel, and have to do it for years to git gud, and can’t distill the experience into Ten Handy Tips for the impatient youth who want fast, easy answers now 🙂

      • backpacker says:

        One standard meditative technique is to “watch” your thoughts and feelings as though they were clouds just floating by. The idea being that you want to cultivate a certain space between yourself and what are, in many cases, compulsive thoughts and feelings over which you have basically no control. That space helps lets you better see them, which helps you find better strategies for dealing with them.

        Something that comes up all the time in romantic relationships is that the person you love will suddenly have strong negative feelings towards you for reasons that you either can’t understand or that you think make no sense. One day I was in one of those situations with my wife and thought I would try “watching” her feelings float by. The results surprised me. Her feelings felt less like “her” and less directed at me, which helped to dampen my own feelings of annoyance and resentment. This, I realized, is super valuable, because it helped put me in a better position to figure out what was going on.

        I kept this up for several weeks and then, one day, my wife told me “I’m not sure why, but I feel like you’ve really been doing a good job listening to me lately.” That made me feel good.

        So meditation has all sorts of ordinary benefits, I think, that are “external” and “create value for other people”. Whether there is any such thing as enlightenment, I have no idea, and I doubt that it matters much.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      Obviously I’m not Scott, but this seems entirely within the normal bounds of this place, so I’d suspect the word filter.
      Also, for what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly agree, except for your emphasis on validation through other people. Much of my life has been rather close to your platonic ideal, but I do things because I want to and don’t care much what other people think. I strongly believe that mastering a new skill is it’s own reward and that validation through other people is more or less a free bonus.

    • maxaganar says:

      The core element is that success in love and work is based on external evaluation. (There was a great quote by LBJ in the Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary where he said to the South Vietnamese leader: “Don’t give me empty rhetoric. Like we say in Texas, I want to see racoon skins on the wall.”)

      Just skimming your post this jumped out at me.

      I haven’t seen the particular documentary, but my knowledge of the context of that quote is that it is an exemplar of the wrongheadedness of focusing too much on metrics and external validation. The military was so focused on metrics like kill-counts and kill-ratios (as well as external validation like avoiding humiliation) they lost track of the big picture. And so the Vietnam War.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        If I recall, the context was pacification. They needed the South Vietnamese to like the government in Saigon so as to see the point of resisting the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. So it’s not enough to just say the farmers in the villages like the South’s government, he wants to know how many villages are getting electrified, plumbing, etc, so they see the benefits of their government.

        Yes, they then came up with all sorts of metrics so they could say “this village is 37% pacified,” and while that is not entirely meaningless, at least that was a goal that could lead to winning the political war, whereas I agree that kill count was a metric far, far less meaningful in terms of winning the war.

    • aliennavigation says:

      Interesting you chose to use dance as an example of something you could be doing instead of meditating. I started weekly tango lessons about a year ago and I started meditating more regularly around the same time. These two activities complement each other nicely. Tango is all about connection and control, so it requires focused attention on your partner and on your own body. This is especially true as you’re learning, where it really helps to consciously attend subtle differences how it feels to start a motion from your core and hips rather than the feet or arms, for instance. And meditation is all about consciously training yourself to focus on the subtleties of your experience. I find improving in either makes the other slightly easier.

      My therapist once said, “Meditation makes you better at life”. I haven’t reviewed the literature with any skepticism, but the claimed documented benefits include increased longevity, better health, and more tolerance of pain. It may also be useful in coping with anxiety and depression. I’ve occasionally found it useful to meditate when I’m suffering insomnia. I think it’s helped me focus more easily and sustain focus for longer, though that could be a placebo effect or confirmation bias. Attending the finer details of your experience in a state of curiosity can also simply be an interesting experience.

      That said, I agree that love and work are the real keys to a fulfilling life. I tend to think of meditation as a tool for character growth that will help me achieve other things I want, and so I discount them importance of enlightenment. In many ways I think of it as another form of exercise. And one can get some of these benefits with a 20 minute (or less, even) daily practice, without week-long retreats.

    • ignamv says:

      Where do you get that Buddhist meaning of life? From what I’ve gathered, the main point of practice is to reduce suffering by seeing through the illusion of being a permanent separate self. And helping others is the logical conclusion of that change. This is right there in the 4 noble truths.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Your post reminded me of the way people talk about depression as a “chemical imbalance”. We’re “supposed” to treat depression as if it’s any other disease. We don’t moralize against the person who has it, we just figure out what’s wrong and give them the appropriate medicine to fix it. But it’s very different. If someone has cancer, it doesn’t really matter how they got it. You just give them radiation therapy or do surgery and hope for the best.

      But while some people may get depressed for no reason many of them(I would say most) have some specific thing they can point to as a reason for their depression. The “appropriate” reaction is to point to something about the hedonic treadmill and say that even if they got what they wanted they would still be unhappy. And that may be true for having a higher income or being better at sports. But it doesn’t work for love, friendship and family. These are not just frivolous extras. They are essentials for most people. The best way to help these people is not to give them a drug cocktail that keeps them from thinking of suicide or give them therapy that tells them to be content with their life. It’s to make their life better. And we don’t really see that given as an option. How many therapists leave the office to go help their clients interact with the world? Maybe they should.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The best way to help these people is not to give them a drug cocktail that keeps them from thinking of suicide or give them therapy that tells them to be content with their life. It’s to make their life better. And we don’t really see that given as an option. How many therapists leave the office to go help their clients interact with the world? Maybe they should.

        I think leaving the office to help clients interact with the world would be a major ethical violation. But I do think you’ve hit on a problem with therapy and therapists (and mental health professionals in general, so including psychiatrists and psychologists as well). They can only work with the client; the only changes they can make are to the client. The therapist can’t change the world, or your friends (or lack thereof), or family. They can only change you. So they are predisposed to see you as the problem. If you’re dealing with an intolerable situation, a therapist can only make you more willing and able to tolerate it; they can’t make it better. If you go to a therapist you’re conceding the problem is with you.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I think leaving the office to help clients interact with the world would be a major ethical violation.

          How so? I just think that most therapists wouldn’t want to do it as it’s too much an imposition on them.

          • [Thing] says:

            I’ve had therapists go out in the world with me to practice life skills, face anxiety triggers, etc., including visiting my apartment. I’ve also had them arrange for family members to join our meetings so they can help mediate interpersonal issues (and not just when I was a child). That’s a pretty significant intervention in my life, but they never acted as though it was a big deal ethically (though I’m sure there are guidelines). I think the main reason they don’t do it more often is that they need to have lots of clients to make ends meet, and can only spend so much time per client, because insurance only pays for so much (source). It helps if you can pay out of pocket for at least some of it.

      • Matt M says:

        But it doesn’t work for love, friendship and family. These are not just frivolous extras. They are essentials for most people.

        Hmm, I think I kind of agree with this, but I don’t think you’re paying enough attention to the “for most people” part of it.

        Yes, there are people who are depressed solely because of a thing that is lacking, and solving what’s lacking will solve the depression. But there are definitely also plenty of people who THINK this is true about them, but then when the thing materializes, find out that it didn’t actually solve their problems at all.

        How to tell who is who without solving the problem is the tricky part.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I think a lot of it depends on what it is they are depressed about. If you take a guy who is completely alone and give him a girlfriend and friends, I have a hard time believing that it won’t at least perk him up a little bit. It’s in our nature to want to be around others. Even people who are introverted generally want some form of human contact.

          Do you remember what Scott Aaronson said in his infamous comment about his life? He loved doing math but he hated how alone he was and how guilty he felt over his urges. He was suicidal and wanted to castrate himself so he could focus on math. Later he found success in his career, gained confidence and was able to find a wife. Now he seems generally happy. It wasn’t a therapist that helped him. It was succeeding in life.

          I know that these people who have outwardly perfect lives but are suicidal inside exist, but it really seems difficult to believe that they make up anything but a small share of depressed people.

      • Deiseach says:

        The best way to help these people is not to give them a drug cocktail that keeps them from thinking of suicide or give them therapy that tells them to be content with their life. It’s to make their life better.

        Maybe, but for a lot of that, you can’t make someone love someone else (even hitting them over the head, stuffing them in a bag, and dumping them on the doorstep won’t work), and “yeah your problems stem from your bad relationship with your mother, but since she’s in her grave the past ten years, not much to be done there, though I guess I could drive you to the cemetery so you can yell at her gravestone about You never loved me!” and “Okay, crappy job, but your age, skills, and the job market mean that even if you quit, you’re not likely to get one that’s much better”.

        Since therapists have not been issued with Fairy Godmother wands, sometimes all that can be done is “here, these pills will help you not think about killing yourself”.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I know that there is only so much that can be done but off the top of my head:

          Give people more social skills education when they are in school. This used to be something picked up automatically but in the age of smartphones, it’s easier than ever to ignore uncomfortable situations, spirally in to a feedback loop until people are adults and don’t know how to talk to others.

          Explicitly train more people in taking others out in the real world and living their lives better. Make it a degree program. Maybe someone who has problems in their life can go to the shrink. But if that doesn’t work they can go to this other person instead. The closest we have right now is Life Coaches and they aren’t very scientific about what they do. Maybe some kind of (voluntary) credentials could help give it a sense of legitimacy.

          Maybe some kind of matching apps for friends? I’ve heard many people say that they wanted to see a movie in the theaters but they didn’t have anyone to go with them. Why isn’t there an app for that? There is Meet-up.com, which is great, but I think it could be more. I remember someone on here saying that it was easy for a man to find a girlfriend in New York City but it was hard to make friends. The reason for that is the ubiquity of dating apps.

          And most speculatively, find a way to destigmatize trying to find someone to be your friend. I don’t know how to do that, but people are prideful and don’t want to admit that they are lonely. The more people admit their problem, the more likely they get help for it.

          These ideas aren’t perfect but it’s clear that there is far more that could be done than has been done.

        • [Thing] says:

          you can’t make someone love someone else (even hitting them over the head, stuffing them in a bag, and dumping them on the doorstep won’t work)

          Indeed not … 😐

    • chernavsky says:

      Atlas wrote:

      And I think that both love and work have a deeper core element that is key here: they are about accomplishing things in the external world

      I agree with your post. There is a big opportunity cost associated with spending thousands of hours meditating. You could have used that time to make the world a better place (and yeah, I realize that meditation might make you more effective or productive, but what’s the return-on-investment?). My goal is to leave some lasting, positive legacy in this world. I don’t particularly care if I can become really good at clearing my mind, or focusing exclusively on my breathing, or mentally counting sensory vibrations.

      Also, I have a heuristic that I use to quickly evaluate spiritual / mystical / ethical / religious frameworks. Does your enlightenment (or whatever you want to call it) cause you to have compassion for all sentient beings, including animals? And, in particular, does it cause you to stop eating animals? If not, I have no interest in it.

      • Deiseach says:

        And, in particular, does it cause you to stop eating animals? If not, I have no interest in it.

        You brute! Think of all the thousands of hours you wasted on veganism that you could have used to make the world a better place! Instead, you preferred to read up about veganism, think and talk about veganism, learn how to cook vegan foods, spend extra time when shopping to select vegan products, spend more money on vegan foods, etc. when you could have put all that time, effort and money into raising global IQ, giving poor Chinese rice farmers good jobs working in Apple component factories, or other worthy causes instead of indulging your personal pet favourite projects!

        Anything you pick can be given the “wasting your time on this is wasting time that could have gone to make the world a better place” treatment and that way lies the scrupulosity trap of “Maybe I should donate 90% of my earnings to altruistic charities and live on cold water and gruel with the other 10% and see if I can’t cut that down to 5%”.

    • James says:

      Good post. I think about this kind of thing quite often.

      In practical terms–how I actually spend my time right now–I’m more or less aligned with the “work and love” formulation of the good life that you mention. (I even think about that specific Freud line fairly often.) I have the work–difficult, important-seeming work on which I work hard–but I have to admit I want for the love side.

      But as I industriously busy myself away away I often quietly despair about the usefulness of it all, and whether it’s really the best way to spend my effort, and so on. I think I’m always searching for something of “true value”–whatever that means. It always seems to be tied in my mind to permanence, which causes trouble, because [citation needed] everything one can achieve in life is transient.

      Perhaps this is despair is just because my project (the “work” above) hasn’t borne fruit yet, and because I haven’t found love yet and am very, very lonely (in both the romantic and brotherly senses). Perhaps if and when these two things come to fruition, I’ll be happy. Or maybe this is just dukkha, and the same sense of sad transience will always remain, no matter how well those projects go. I have no idea.

      One thing I would note is that you seem to leap from the fact that there isn’t any external, objective metric of enlightenment, and that it’s an easy to fake signal, to the belief that it’s bullshit. I don’t feel we can be so sure that it is, though I agree that we can’t be sure it isn’t. Certainly it’s hard to place much confidence (“faith”?) in this kind of claim without evidence, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it isn’t true–just that it’s hard to know that it’s true. I admit it’s hard to know what to do about this, when getting to the bottom of it firsthard (by doing the practice) would take years and years of effort.

      I would also make a point about your formulation of meaning as “accomplishing things in the external world that other people value”. I suppose I would question how someone else valuing something makes it valuable, if one valuing it onesself doesn’t. If X happiness isn’t meaningful to me, why does it become meaningful when I give it to someone else? Is two people giving each other X amount of happiness more meaningful than two people each separately seeking out X amount of happiness for themselves? (I admit that it seems so, but why?) The value can’t be endlessly deferred–the buck has to stop somewhere!

      In a funny way, this is a kind of inversion of an Ayn Rand argument: if something is good, she says, why is it immoral for us to have it for ourselves and yet moral when we give it to someone else? My version: if something isn’t meaningful when we seek it for ourselves, why is it when we give it to others? I’m not sure whether I’ve expressed my argument very clearly here or whether it’s any good, but there you are.

      Feel free to email me if you want to carry on this conversation–you can find my email address at the URL linked to by my username here.

    • But I have come to think that is actually a profoundly wrong answer to the question of how to find meaning in life. Or, at the very, very least, a really incomplete one that does serious harm by omission. Gnostics, Buddhists, New Agers, etc. say that the external world is an illusion and a distraction from beautiful inner truth. Maybe that’s true sometimes, but I think it’s at least equally likely that the quests for inner spiritual knowledge such people think you need to go on are illusions that distract you from the beauty of the external world.

      That’s your version of what they are saying, not their version. It’s perhaps fair about the gnostics, and maybe the original Quietists, but not of many others. If you ask Buddhists what they see as the goal of like, they tend to say something like the salvation of all sentient beings, which obviously some engagement with the world.

      The core element is that success in love and work is based on external evaluation. (There was a great quote by LBJ in the Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary where he said to the South Vietnamese leader: “Don’t give me empty rhetoric. Like we say in Texas, I want to see racoon skins on the wall.”) Like, your performance can be largely objectively evaluated and independently verified by other people.

      I don’t think success-in-the-world is anything you are being asked to wholly give up. Most mystical traditions have “householder” versions that can be practiced by non-monks. Tantra is all about making use of the world, and Sufism insists on its practitioners being in the world. You also seem to be taking Love and Work to be the last word on how to live the good life, excluding the possibility that it is possible to discover better values than someone else’s positive appraisal of you.

      Whereas a soldier suffers really, really high, measurable consequences for being wrong. You just can’t afford to fake being a courageous and competent battle commander the way you can fake being a mystical guru with secret wisdom. It seems like one needs to just be really good at actually accomplishing challenging stuff in the real world to be an effective soldier: moving from point A to point B, making sure that machinery works the way it’s supposed to, gathering information and making accurate judgements about the enemy’s plans, accurately aiming your weapons so they damage the enemy, being in good enough physical shape to move and carry stuff around, etc. I think this is part of why, from Homer to Julius Caesar to the Crusades to A Shropshire Lad to Top Gun, martial heroism has been such a high virtue in Western culture.(Rationalists in general tend to disregard the possibility of making discoveries about values).

      Your example is flawed in just the way i need to make my point: your soldier is good at killing people and assists nation A to dominate nation B, but what’s the ultimate point of that? Is it ultimately a good thing? Everything you say works fine so long as value is just someone’s opinion, but do you know that? You can;t be sure of the value of mysticism, but you also haven’t verified your alternatives.

  8. HFARationalist says:

    Can we build a moral society without virtue?

    Here by a “moral society” I’m talking about actions. By “virtue” I mean internal morals of humans. I believe we should use regulations to make moral actions profitable and immoral ones unprofitable. That’s it. We should not care about evil minds if they don’t lead to evil actions.

    My question is: Does that work?

    Here is my motivation. As a moral non-cognitivist I believe morality is simply a set of arbitrary actions considered moral and another set of arbitrary actions considered immoral with some compatibility relation. Hence “murder is the most moral action and not murdering is the most immoral (lack of) action” constitutes a moral system even though it is something I wish to stamp out.

    Through reason alone we can not determine which moral system to adapt. If we want to impose values on humans that would be oppressive. Hence instead of imposing any values on humans we should use regulations to force people to behave in certain ways (e.g. don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t steal, etc) without changing their internal moral system.

    There are also real life examples of the idea. There is freedom of religion in America. However in many states you can’t go completely haywire due to your religion. For example you can’t actually execute someone for religious reasons legally even if it is required by your religion. As long as people don’t break the laws it does not matter whether some religious texts endorse bad behaviors and call them moral.

    • 1soru1 says:

      > My question is: Does that work?

      My answer: No.

      You need to make regulations about not merely actions, but the enforcement of those regulations, their interpretation to deal with context, and their adjustment to deal with new developments. And the immoral people who want to profit from breaking or bending the regulations are as smart as you.

      If you have good laws, but bad cops and bad politicians, you will not prosper. The best you can hope for is laws that help replace the occasional non-virtuous policeman (or President).

      About the closest you could do is Bank’s Culture, where human can display virtue or not, as they choose; no-one is ever assumed or required to be able to do so. But that just moves the required the virtue to the Minds who are near-universally paragons of virtue.

    • Deiseach says:

      How do you decide what actions you want and don’t want? You yourself give the example of the “murder is moral” as a workable system that you nevertheless want to stamp out.

      Why? What are your reasons? If the system is workable, then you can’t say “but it is inefficient, doesn’t work, reduces flourishing, is contrary to evolutionary goals, etc”.

      Your definitions, as I’ve pointed out before, are also sloppy. If “morals” are actions, and “virtue” is internal morals, then virtue is “internal actions” and your query devolves into “can we build an action-taking society without internal actions?”

      Plainly, the answer there is “no”. That’s like asking “can we build a society that is vegan without eating vegetation?”

      Stop being so sloppy with your terms. Until you tighten that up, all your provocations are only that – needless poking of the wasps’ nest.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Thanks for your constructive criticism! 🙂

        A society can never be free from sociopathy unless we identify all sociopaths and give them forced treatments to stamp out this trait. As a consequence sociopaths will always exist.

        Similarly dissident values and people who hold dissident values will also always exist. Even racial and ethnic homogenization isn’t going to completely stamp them out and I’m glad that they won’t be stamped out.

        However for a society to function with a variety of moral values and people who don’t have moral values at all we have to have a set of rules everyone has to obey regardless of whether they agree with them. They are laws.

        My question should be rephrased as: Can we have a safe (i.e., few murders, few rapes, few thefts, etc) and prosper society without indoctrinating its members with certain moral values?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Can we have a safe (i.e., few murders, few rapes, few thefts, etc) and prosper society without indoctrinating its members with certain moral values?

          No, because politics is downstream from culture. If the culture doesn’t value not-murdering, then eventually laws against murdering will be ignored or re-written.

          When raising children, you brainwash them. There is no option to “not brainwash.” “I’m going to teach my kids to be open-minded and think for themselves!” is still brainwashing, and I’m willing to bet if your open-minded kid thinks for himself that rape and robbery is okay, you’re probably going to correct him.

          Since not brainwashing is not an option, you need to choose to brainwash your kid to adopt strategies that are long-term successful for him and for the society he inhabits. You can choose not to do this, of course, but, well, then you get something like this.

    • Wrong Species says:

      A moral society is more economically efficient. If people only care about their self interest, then they will opportunistically take what they want when they can. This dramatically raises transaction costs. Compare a Walmart in a nice suburb vs a Walmart in a crime ridden inner city. The surbaban walmart will have very little in the way of security. It’s fairly easy to steal something but the company is willing to take the hit to make shopping easier. In the inner city, they might have security at every door checking every item to make sure no one is stealing. They are losing customers who don’t want to be hassled but the alternative is that the place becomes a massive money sink. That’s a microcosm of society.

      There’s a book called The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens . I’ve never read it but it seems like a thorough response to your question.

    • Viliam says:

      We should not care about evil minds if they don’t lead to evil actions.

      That means you will be always one step behind the evil people. You are giving up your ability to predict their actions and thus reduce the possible damage at least sometimes.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I agree. However the alternative is moral indoctrination and the loss of individual freedom of thought.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          You start with moral indoctrination of children. Then they become teenagers, hate all of your stupid rules, rebel, and wind up failing and making themselves and others miserable. Then they grow up and say “oh, maybe the old man was on to something!” and come to understand why the moral laws exist. This is called “wisdom.”

  9. shakeddown says:

    Scott, do you go to bay area meetups? I’ve been to a bunch in SF and one in Berkeley since moving here, but I don’t think I’ve seen you at them.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t think I’ve seen you at them

      “I followed you.”
      “I saw no one.”
      “That is what you may expect to see when I follow you.”
      — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Foot”

  10. liskantope says:

    I remember a popular Quora answer some time ago which addressed the question of what genetic advantages some people have over others, saying that one of the most significant possible disparities is in how much sleep one needs to function well. Some rare people, including probably most world leaders, do just fine in the long term on only 5 hours of sleep per night. Surely that is an advantage in achieving great things.

    I don’t think I know anyone who is that much less sleep-dependent than average. But I do constantly have the impression that a particular subset of my friends somehow have the sufficient mental energy and focus that they are just able to do so much more with their waking hours than I can (and while I’m generally not great at being productive, I don’t feel like I’m abnormally weak in this regard either). This is not a matter of someone being 10% more capable and therefore having a subtle edge; I’m talking what looks to me like two or three times as much productivity as what I can conceive of managing. (These people are clearly not all neurotypical or especially mentally healthy, by the way.)

    Has anyone noticed a similar thing? Does anyone have any thoughts as to what creates this disparity, or if it is mainly an illusion or exaggeration on my part?

    • Fossegrimen says:

      I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately because people keep asking me how on earth I find time for all the things I do. For a long time, I assumed this was just polite noises, but it turned out that it is a genuine question and that they would like an answer…..

      The best explanation I’ve come up with is that I focus on one task at a time and finish said task before moving on to the next. I also very rarely do nothing. (at least this seems to be the largest differences from the behaviour of my peers)

      A second point may be that I do very different kinds of things, so that my mind can work at full speed when my body is tired and vice versa. Scott appears to be evidence against this being relevant as he seems to be able to do a ‘mostly-mind’ job while having a high ‘mostly-mind’ output of blog posts.

      And yes, I seem to get about twice as much done as many of my colleagues, I was just assuming that they didn’t want to rather than couldn’t. (oh, and I never claimed to be mentally healthy, it’s just that I like my particular brand of madness and want to keep it 🙂 )

    • Deiseach says:

      I am extremely sceptical of the “Winston Churchill/Margaret Thatcher only slept five hours a night!” thing, as that relies heavily on self-report and I imagine people who say that don’t count day-time naps, sitting around doing nothing much except maybe reading the paper, drinking tea, or having a chat, going to bed late and getting up early so they can’t sleep for longer, lying in bed awake for an hour or two before going to sleep/after waking and before getting up, and various other ways of making up for rest that they don’t count as “lying in bed fast asleep”.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        I am extremely sceptical

        I agree, and besides, 16 hours a day is plenty of time to get a lot done. For me, the limiting factors are (1) akrasia; and (2) mental fatigue from intellectual tasks. Not the number of hours I am awake. I would imagine it’s the same with most people.

      • liskantope says:

        Yeah, there’s usually going to be some degree of doubt about such reports. But I imagine that a more recent political leader (e.g. Barack Obama, who reportedly slept only 5-6 hours a night as president) doesn’t get a lot of downtime during their waking hours and that their staff members can attest to their sleeping habits pretty well.

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, so Barack Obama was wandering the White House at 3 a.m. every morning. Did he actually get anything substantive done? Because most of his staff would have been in bed, and those he dragged out of bed to meetings would have been three-quarters asleep still anyway.

          Catching up on paperwork? Probably. But that’s also a way of getting bogged down in detail – there’s a fine line between “read all the briefing documents and can pull a relevant fact from that” and “wastes five hours debating about a 0.3 mm difference in spec that makes feck-all difference in the end”.

          Early birds may get stuff done personally, but all that extra work ends up on the desks of normal people who only have so many hours in their day to wade through the piles, so I don’t think the total efficiency is increased.

          Though it does seem to have given Obama plenty of time to go for jogs, eat nuts, and talk about his favourite foods 🙂

      • rlms says:

        I don’t think it’s that implausible. I know quite a few people (although admittedly they are all under 25) who function fine on 6 or 7 hours. So 5 doesn’t seem unreasonable. But I agree with fortaleza84 that waking time is rarely a limiting factor.

      • Matt M says:

        Eh, I dunno. My dad has gotten by with 5 hours of sleep pretty much his whole life. I require 8 for basic functioning.

        And it also makes sense that high-achieving people are likely to fall into that camp. If I could adjust to his sleep schedule, I’d increase my available productivity by nearly 20%

      • LibertyRisk says:

        This is anecdotal, but I’ve met enough people that get by on less sleep to not be skeptical of this. I have no idea if it applies to particular historical figures (e.g. Churchill/Thatcher), but when I worked in finance I met quite a few people that seemed to be extreme outliers in terms of the sleep they need to function. I had a boss that routinely slept 4 hours a night for months in a row, never took any stimulants (including coffee), and seemed to always be alert and sharp. It’s always possible he was doing things I wasn’t aware of, like snorting cocaine in the bathroom, but that behavior would jar pretty strongly with the rest of his personality and the mental model I developed of him over the years.

        That’s one example, but I have quite a few others. I think it’s rare, but I do think it exists.

        • liskantope says:

          I might as well add, as my own anecdotal report, that I know someone who once went through a period (of a year or two) of such severe insomnia that she reported only 1-2 hours of sleep on a typical night (and she was often taking fractions of sleeping pills, to no avail), sometimes a little more than that, but 5 hours was considered an exceptionally good night. She was visibly unhealthy during this period and was obviously slipping into microsleeps during the day (including behind the wheel) but remained active and surprisingly functional throughout. Somehow she got through and, after a crisis and change in medication of which I don’t know many details, has become completely healthy and now gets 8-9 hours regularly and complains on the occasion that by some circumstance she only manages 5.

          That is only one example, but I would say it suggests a high level of variability of sleep requirements within the population and even in individual people.

        • [Thing] says:

          I remember several years ago reading a story in The Wall Street Journal, “The Sleepless Elite,” about people like your former boss. The upshot was that such people make up something like 1-3% of the population, and being one of them is pretty awesome, but there’s nothing the rest of us can do to join their ranks, and trying to do so is ruinous to our health and happiness.

          Not only that, it tends to undermine our mental performance (and thus work productivity) without us even being aware that we’re handicapped. (A quick skim of the WSJ article didn’t turn up any reference to that exact phenomenon, but I’m sure I’ve read about it in multiple other more-or-less credible sources.) I’m not surprised it was in finance that you met outliers like your boss. I have a pet theory that a lot of potential productivity gains from allowing people to work reasonable hours (i.e. 40/week) and get enough sleep at night (~8 hours) remain unrealized, because members of the Sleepless Elite are disproportionately represented in the higher echelons of the meritocracy, from which they look down upon the rest of us and see (courtesy of the typical mind fallacy) a bunch of shirkers who just don’t want it bad enough. They therefore ignore evidence-based advice on optimal working conditions and instead set policy to try and impose their own insane schedules on everyone else.

          And if there were a Hell, I would want it to have a special circle for people who do that, in which they are kept awake for eternity by non-sleep-requiring devils who taunt them for being lazy and promise to let them take a nap if they just solve a few math problems that are slightly too difficult for them in their drowsy state. (Why yes, I do have Baggage about this, why do you ask?)

          • Randy M says:

            Your lament reminds me of this Sci-fi series featuring genetically engineered “sleepless” people, Beggars in Spain.
            I don’t recall the details of the series, but from the Wiki it deals with several recurring SSC topics.

          • Matt M says:

            but there’s nothing the rest of us can do to join their ranks, and trying to do so is ruinous to our health and happiness.

            While I think this is probably true for like, <5 hours, I did manage to switch my routine from 8 to 7 without really disrupting my life significantly.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        I used to be similarly skeptical. And then I met one, and then another. I’ve worked closely with them. They exist, and they are scary.

        Being able to work 18 hours a day 7 days a week for years at a stretch is not (6552 / 2000) 3.3 times more productive than the usual 8*5, the advantage is compounding, probably due to lower time switching costs. The two are know are easily 10x more productive at intellectually rigorous work than equivalently IQed people.

        There is a cost to this quirk, at least for the 2 I know. If they are awakened during their 4 hours of sleep, they are unproductive unfocused low-IQ zombies for the next few hours, and they are productivity wrecked for the next one or two sleep cycles.

        It’s a tradeoff that is worth it, if one is a safe stable predictable wealthy context with no nighttime interruptions. For most of human history, and for people with kids, and for people with interrupt-0 level occasional obligations, not worth it.

    • toastengineer says:

      Six-out-of-twenty-four seems to be natural for me, dipping down to four occasionally. That is, if I lie down to sleep under ideal circumstances with no chemical assistance, generally speaking I’ll wake up feeling excellent pretty exactly six hours later.

      Which caused a lot of problems as a child when my father demanded I spend the entire dark half of the day sleeping… locked in a perfectly dark soundless room.

      I also find that when I’m not really doing anything, i.e. on long bus trips, I can go around 38 hours (a day, a night, and the light part of another day) without any tiredness or detectable degradation in awareness. If I’m programming all day I can spend about eight hours out of twenty four at full focus and then immediately become dead tired.

      As for effects on productivity, the extra two hours doesn’t really help as much as having more options about when I interrupt what I’m doing to sleep.

      Think of it less like having two hours to dedicate to tasks and more like being in “work till 1 AM because this is due in two days” mode as the default with no ill effects.

      But then again, two hours a night adds up; I basically get an extra day for free every week!

    • anon1 says:

      I felt that way and it turned out my friends’ main superpower was not having untreated ADHD. Apparently being able to reach (usually, barely) adequate productivity by being in a constant state of panic implies being abnormally weak, it just never occurred to me.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Does anyone have any thoughts as to what creates this disparity, or if it is mainly an illusion or exaggeration on my part?

      If a significant number of the population is sleep deprived enough to not have the energy and focus to work at their peak average functioning on average, then any decrease in the amount of sleep needed to function at this peak average will increase the fraction of the population who can work at this level.

      Ergo those who need less sleep to maintain peak average functioning will have a greater tendency to function at peak average functioning.

      I know that the difference between my average peak functioning and chronic tired functioning is greater than 2-3 times productivity.

      Also more hours in the day means more time, and more time means the need to fill it. Perhaps those who need less sleep have a greater tendency to exercise, which can create a positive feedback loop in terms of productivity during their regular hours. I also know that feeling tired decreases the ability to exercise.

    • Ketil says:

      There was a Freakonomics podcast on the benefits of getting enough sleep, the conclusion is that getting enough (i.e. more than you typically get with early working hours and long TV nights) increases productivity. That’s not to say your proposition is wrong, of course, if you actually need less sleep and are able to be equally productive, that will net you some extra time. But trying to arrange things to sleep less is probably counter-productive.


      From my own experience, I can get by with less sleep by being regular – i.e. going to bed and getting up at fixed hours every day (night). Also, physical exercise makes me sleep better/deeper, and I feel rested after fewer hours, while mental exhaustion has the opposite effect – I need more hours and feel I get less rest out of them. And interrupted sleep is costly (i.e., don’t have children if you want to be productive). I think these are fairly non-controversial observations, but YMMV.

    • sohois says:

      I recall reading a study on minimum possible sleep times a while ago; I believe I found it on Less Wrong but cannot remember what it was called. For participants in the study, no one could do fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night and still function to a reasonable degree, no matter what changes were made to other variables. However, everyone in the study was capable of reducing their sleep amounts to 6 hours without negative effects, so it didn’t seem to be a genetic advantage.

      If I recall correctly, the method to reducing sleep times was to do it in 30 min increments, rather than simply adjusting your alarms to 6 hours or something. Slowly ratcheting down sleep times in this manner was what enabled everyone to hit the 6 hour sleep mark.

      If anyone else can remember this study it would be much appreciated to have a link

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I have read somewhere that required sleep is also dependent on age. Newborns need somewhere around 20 hours, and it curves downward, possibly at varying rates; 70-year-olds require as little as 5 hours on average.

      Obviously this is rife with counterexamples. I’m not even sure I could find the source for this, or whether it’s a refuted theory.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Any mushroom-pickers hereabouts?

    I had heard that the popularity of forest mushroom picking and consumption varies wildly even in neighbouring countries.

    • Sfoil says:

      I did regularly when I lived in the Northeast (United States) for a while. I’ve been moving around quite a bit since then though and haven’t picked anything for a couple of years now.

      I’ve never met anyone in real life who thought I was anything other than a weirdo for doing it.

    • johan_larson says:

      I remember picking mushrooms (and blueberries and lingonberries) in Finland as a child. It was a perfectly ordinary thing to do there. But then my family moved to Canada, and there no one seemed to do it.

      Not sure why there’s such a difference. Wealth perhaps? Or maybe it has something to do with Finland’s common access rights, which let you wander through privately owned woods without permission.

    • liskantope says:

      Grigori Perelman, celebrated for having solved one of the greatest open mathematical problems of all time (the Poincare conjecture) is now somewhat of a recluse in St. Petersburg and rumored to have a passion for mushroom-picking.

    • onyomi says:

      When in the south of the US (where I grew up), I pick chanterelles, because they’re super yummy, expensive, and hard to find in groceries. City people do seem to think it’s weird, primarily because they imagine they’d poison themselves if they tried to do it. Country people who are not recent transplants think it less weird.

      I do not hunt for any other type of mushroom, however, and I guess it probably has to do with a. it’s my favorite and b. my grandmother taught me how to find and identify them as a kid (and them being my favorite probably has some emotional resonance, too, though I feel like they can certainly contend among the objectively best mushrooms). So it’s probably very much a “what you’re comfortable with,” thing.

      People imagine I’ll poison myself, but it’s like: I not only know what these look like, I know what they smell like, I know what the ones you might possibly mistake for it look like, and I also know those other ones will not kill you anyway, so even being a somewhat paranoid, OCD person, I am still very comfortable picking and eating at least this one type of mushroom.

      Related example: I grew up with cats and dogs and so cats and dogs do not scare me, because on the rare occasion I encounter e.g. a dog who is potentially dangerous, it is really obvious to me. But I could understood that if I had not grown up around them, I might not have that level of confidence I can “read” them. Related, I never really feel super comfortable around large birds as pets, maybe because I never encountered them in that capacity until I was an adult.

  12. Mark says:

    My theory of Ian Banks:

    Ian Banks is very bad at plots, very good at striking ideas. All of his books start well, with a striking idea or situation – here is a man who can change his face with poison teeth fighting for the rhino men against the computer civilisation being drowned in a pot of poo… here is a man surgically altered to resemble satan who rules over 100 billion people who has had the head of his enemy mounted in a life support machine and uses it as a punching bag, enjoying it when the insane head cries… here are some activists who have uploaded themselves into hell, which is a “real” computer simulated environment on their world, in order to document the suffering of those trapped there….

    It’s all great stuff – but invariably gets bogged down in boring *plot*. And really bogged down – you really would be better off stopping reading most of his books at about the 100 page mark (or maybe sooner).

    The only exceptions to this, IMO, are the books where you don’t know what the hell is going on until the last few pages – The Wasp Factory, Use of Weapons – essentially he sticks with the interesting ideas and reveals the actual plot in a couple of pages – and player of games, which is a bit of an anomaly.

    • Anatoly says:

      My impression is almost the opposite. Use of Weapons is one of the weakest Culture books precisely because of the gimmick of the last few pages, which, while very striking on the surface, cheapens the rest of the book and robs it of its life-force.

      Banks does have striking ideas, but so does everyone else (*). The secret sauce is the execution. Banks’s ideas are so memorable because of his detailed yet effortless-looking world-building, and complex, three-dimensional believable characters. Compare with e.g. Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief, which has amazing ideas, but, to me anyway, is largely forgettable compared with the Culture novels. And I’m not saying this to denigrate TQT, which I liked; I just think that Banks is a class above what I’d call “normal” high-quality SF.

      I’ll agree that he does have overly long or intricate plots in some of the novels, though I wouldn’t call them boring. It’s possible to run out of steam reading Banks.

      (I haven’t read any of the non-SF novels yet, and I think the non-Culture SF novels are good but not as good as the Culture ones)

      (*) not really, but very many people

      • Tarpitz says:

        Wow. I couldn’t disagree much more. In particular, the twist in Use of Weapons is absolutely central to the book’s primary thematic focus, namely personal identity. Use of Weapons and Surface Detail are fundamentally about the question of what it means for a and b to be the same person.

        I find the plots pretty consistently compelling, but plainly that’s a matter of taste. It has also just occurred to me that Banks is to sci fi what Sondheim is to musicals, which I guess makes Excession Follies…

        • Unsaintly says:

          I would agree that Use of Weapons is a very weak book. It’s actually the one that made me stop reading the Culture books after being kinda meh about the previous two. My reaction to the twist was n fbyvq zru. Jung n crefba’f anzr vf qbrfa’g ernyyl znggre, naq ur’f orra cerfragrq va n pbafvfgrag jnl guebhtubhg gur obbx. Ubarfgyl, ur’f qbar jnl zber qnzntr guna zheqrevat n fvatyr crefba, naq gheavat gurz vagb n punve nsgrejneq qbrfa’g ernyyl znxr vg jbefr. Gung pbzovarq jvgu gur gvzr-whzcvat aneengvir fgehpgher znqr vg uneq gb npghnyyl sbyybj be pner nobhg jung jnf tbvat ba.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I am another fan of Use of Weapons’ plot. It actually has two twists in the last pages: the obvious one, naq gur vqragvgl bs gur punve.

        Gur aneengbe bofrffrf nobhg “n punve” guebhtubhg gur obbx. Gur ernqre vf yrq oryvrir vg vf Mnxnyjr orvat nfunzrq bs n gur punve, ba juvpu ur jvgarffrq uvf fvfgre Qnepxrafr orvat encrq ol Ryrguvbzry.

        Va snpg, vg vf Ryrguvbzry srryvat thvyg nobhg uvf jne pevzrf, va juvpu ur xvyyrq Qnepxrafr naq znqr ure obarf vagb n punve.

        (VVEP Mnxnyjr jbhyq’g unir unq nal ernfba gb svkngr ba gur punve ng gur gvzr bs gur encr–vg’f Ryrguvbzry’f bofrffvba.)

    • MrApophenia says:

      Which book is the one with Satan and the punching bag? I thought I had read all the Culture novels, but that doesn’t sound familiar.

      As regards the general post, I don’t agree, but I have a hard time putting into words why I don’t agree. I always found the plot of Banks’ books quite engaging, but I feel like it’s probably a pure subjective taste question.

      • toastengineer says:

        The Algebraist, I think? That’s the only one I read and yeah, I barely got past the unnecessarily horrific imagery and didn’t survive the boring plotting after it.

  13. johan_larson says:

    One of the problems with art is that it’s easy to get caught up in fads and distracted by trivia. A good way to get critical distance is simply time: flash fades, but quality lasts. With that in mind, let’s look back fifty years to 1967 and try to discern what good stuff was being produced back when our parents were young.

    1967 was a good year for film. A whole bunch of films were released that are still talked about today: The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, The Jungle Book, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, The Producers and The Dirty Dozen. Two of those (The Jungle Book and The Producers) have been remade since then. And the year saw two James Bond films released, Casino Royale and You Only Live Twice. Of course not everything lasted. A Challenge for Robin Hood, anyone? Island of the Burning Damned? Perhaps not.

    Pressed for a pick, I’d go with The Dirty Dozen, a great adventure that still holds up. I respect Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, but oh my do they ever look oldfashioned now. Some things reallly have changed for the better. I wonder, is there a group in our society so perched on the edge of respectability that you could make a version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 2017 without looking ridiculous?

    • Deiseach says:

      Oh, I think you could still make a version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with the same characters in the same situation; after all, Jordan Peele’s Get Out revolves around the idea of white liberals being so gracious and welcoming yet when a real black guy shows up in their community he feels out of place and uneasy with what turns out to be good reason. That the villains here are not the expected rural redneck Klan types is what makes it novel: the parents’ generation of liberals and the children being the generation of “allies”.

      is there a group in our society so perched on the edge of respectability

      In the wake of all the bathroom laws brouhaha, you could re-do it with a trans character in the Sydney Poitier role, though probably a movie studio would prefer to cast Katherine Houghton’s character as the trans woman (the actress Jamie Clayton could play this role, if she’s not considered to be too old at the age of thirty-nine).

      And I see they remade the movie in 2005 as a gender-flipped comedy called “Guess Who”. Well, of course they did 🙁

      • johan_larson says:

        I think an effective way to remake Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner would be to make the male character a white ex-con. The parents would be in a real bind as they support rehabilitation and all that good stuff on paper, but have to grapple with just how far they trust this man when the stakes are high. Oh, and make him a well-paid blue-collar worker too, so there’s a bit of class sensitivity in the mix, too.

        • Deiseach says:

          make the male character a white …well-paid blue-collar worker

          You mean make the guy a *shudder* presumed Trump voter? Unless it ended with him having a 180-degree conversion to all that is right and good, this would never get made! 🙂

        • CatCube says:

          If that movie was well done, I’d probably go see it. However, I’m not sure that a white, blue-collar felon is exactly equivalent to the situation in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” I’d have a lot more sympathy for parents upset about their daughter bringing home a guy who beat someone to death in a bar, as opposed to people upset about their daughter marrying a black doctor. I mean, in the former they’re judging the new fiancé for something he actually did, not on a stereotype of something he might do as in the latter.

          • johan_larson says:

            If order for the central moral conflict to work, the male character needs to be someone decent people are supposed to be accepting of, but which they in practice have difficulty accepting, for whatever reason. In 1967, a black man fit the bill. In 2017, a female-to-male transsexual would probably work, as Deiseach mentioned.

            But I think an ex-con works too. We are supposed to accept that people who have served their time are at least potentially ready to rejoin society. But we don’t quite seem to believe it; that’s why a felony conviction bars you from so many professions and activities. I think the key here is to carefully calibrate the crime the character did. It needs to be bad enough to give some cause for concern, but not so bad as to let the parents off the hook.

            Murder and rape are obviously out. I’m thinking this guy stole cars. He spent a couple of years in his early twenties stealing cars, making good money. He and his crew got caught and he was sentenced to five years, but was out in three. With the help of his family, he got training in a respectable trade, and has been living quietly since then. He’s now thirty, and an electrician.

          • willachandler says:

            A film that tackles these themes realistically, insightfully, and compassionately — including the difficult theme of forgiveness for crimes of violence — is Robert Duvall’s The Apostle (1998).

            As a real-world example of these themes, during a Quaker “sharing of joys and sorrows” in unprogrammed worship, I have heard a Friend, having attained to their 60th year, powerfully testify to the illuminating joy of now having spent more than half of their life out of prison.

            Varieties of rationalism that are well-informed by empathic engagement, cognitive science, and behavioral psychiatric therapies, will more readily appreciate these works.

        • willachandler says:

          What, does the SSC cognoscenti include no Tyler Perry fans? A Madea Christmas (2013) is a modern-day, gender-reversed, race-reversed, class-reversed Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner … highly recommended! 🙂

      • MrApophenia says:

        Side note – “Guess Who” wasn’t gender flipped, it was race flipped. The gimmick isn’t that it’s a white guy bringing his black girlfriend home, it’s that it’s a black girlfriend bringing her white boyfriend home to her black family, with Ashton Kutcher in the Sydney Poitier roll.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      To broaden the time frame a little, one thing about film in the 1960s is that experimental European film set up a lot of the “non-linear plot” conventions that didn’t really return to popularity until recently. “Solaris” in 1972 preceded 2016’s “Arrival,” dealing in memory but plays a similar trick, where the characters you are watching are not living out their lives in the way that the movie made you think they are.

      I’d also note that films like 1966’s “Persona” (even though it used two different actresses instead of the same one) was an early doppleganger-swapping, quasi- same-sex tragic romance, similar to parts of “Alien: Covenant.”

    • BBA says:

      At DragonCon I saw a panel by some ex-MST3K people on movies they thought were unfairly maligned. Frank Conniff’s entry was 1967’s Doctor Dolittle, a big splashy period-costume musical produced just when the public’s tastes were turning away from that sort of thing and towards grittier, more relevant fare. Compare it to the other Best Picture nominees that year and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Frank admitted that it’s too long, the plot is a mess, some sequences just don’t work, and the special effects but a few of the songs were perfect examples of that old-time Hollywood magic.

      Personally I found myself siding with the rest of the panel – the movie looks really tiresome from the handful of clips they screened, and Anthony Newley as the doctor’s assistant is incredibly unctuous. But as a last hurrah for the old style of movie musicals (it had a roadshow release with an intermission and everything) it’s interesting to consider.

    • Well... says:

      Hah, I thought you were about to talk about art. You’re talking about a bunch of silly movies.

      Sorry to be pretentious, but the special topic of “how to avoid fads in art/how to discern quality that lasts” sort of demands it.

      I won’t say art was dead by the 1960s (we in this comments section are not all kids of baby boomers by the way, although I am), but what was considered great art from the 1960s, if you compare it to great art from the 1890s, is just not even a comparison.

      • johan_larson says:

        … what was considered great art from the 1960s, if you compare it to great art from the 1890s, is just not even a comparison.

        That’s quite a claim, but I’ll take it seriously. Off hand, I would expect the artistic summits of the 1960s to be somewhat higher than those of the 1890s, since society was wealthier and technology had advanced significantly, giving artists more options. Why don’t you list some of the great accomplishments of the earlier decade, and we’ll go from there?

      • The Red Foliot says:

        It might surprise you to learn that realism in painting lives on. Its relative popularity may have diminished, but the techniques for it are immortal and there are yet talented artists dedicated to its form.
        like this
        and this

        One reason for its drop in relative status is that it is no longer novel. Art, literature, film, etc. have traditionally relied a lot on novelty to generate interest. They have relied on exploring new areas, new ways of doing things.

        However, this development is probably finite: at some point almost every possible form will have been explored, and at that point all modes of art will become less interesting. I suspect we are somewhat at that point right now.

        So in a sense art really is dead, or at least moribund, in our current age. It is not growing as it used to. Neither is literature. But on a purely technical level I think there is a higher absolute number of talented artists today, and that basically every obscure mode, form, genre, etc. of art has its adherents. Our knowledge is broad and diffuse and while new forms aren’t, perhaps, possible, the old ones are still applied.

        • Aapje says:

          There is a painting style called Hyperrealism, for example, like this. The problem is that it’s often so good that it’s hard to believe it isn’t a photo.

        • rlms says:

          I think that many art forms have two-stage life cycles. In the first stage, they develop sequentially. At any point, there is one main style that eventually develops into the next main style. Then in the second stage, they develop in parallel. Their artists can choose any past style to work in, and frequently mix in ideas from other art forms.

          Classical music and fine art had a long run in the first stage, but moved to the second stage sometime in the early 20th century. Jazz switched in the 70s. I can’t think of any large art forms or genres that are clearly still in the first stage, but hip hop and musical theatre probably are.

  14. OptimalSolver says:

    CMV: All genetically possible humans should be brought into existence.

    If we imagine the set of all genetic combinations that result in something that could be conceivably thought of as “human,” only an infinitesimal fraction of humans will ever be born through traditional sexual recombination. To be born is to win a lottery with astronomically long odds.

    As biotechnology advances, we will be able to conceive and grow humans using completely artificial means (eg artificial wombs). Do we, the relatively tiny population of humans who have had the luck to be born, have a duty to the much more vast population of “genetically possible humans” to bring them into existence?

    I think we do if we ever reach a post-scarcity society.

    Three obvious problems: genetic mutations that would make a life unbearable, the phenomenon of twins, and the astronomical number of resulting humans.

    I’m sure we’ll be able to identify extremely negative mutations and either fix them or abandon those genomes. The issue of twins means we’re not generating every possible human mind, but creating a reasonable sampling of that space (we observe twins have very similar life outcomes). To the last problem, I have no solution, I’m just assuming the Universe is spatially infinite with an even distribution of matter and energy.

    BTW, it might be simpler to just simulate these humans, but I’m still extremely uncertain as to what extent a human in a computer = a human in meat-space.

  15. OptimalSolver says:

    Also reading Eliezer’s post on the space of possible minds, Roman Yumpolsky’s Universe of Minds, and Aaron Sloman’s structure of possible minds, it’s unclear to me what is meant by “mind.”

    I tend to define it as control program for an embodied system, but I could do with a more rigorous definition.

  16. fahertym says:

    Go watch American Vandal on Netflix. It looks really stupid, but it’s amazing. Just give it 2 episodes to get going. To say any more would be a spoiler.

    • Well... says:

      Just write the friggin spoilers. Let people skip over them if it spoils anything for them.

      Gosh, this is really getting to be a recurring frustration for me, something I might get on a soap box about.

      • quaelegit says:

        Im probably not going to watch this so it doesn’t matter here, but I want to address the general point that I appreciate people’s efforts to avoid spoilers here (rot13 and others). Some of us don’t realize we’re reading spoilers until we’ve already spoiled it for ourselves.

        Well… If you want to know what happens, I find that A.V. to be pretty good for plot summaries and analysis. Imdb and Wikipedia sometimes also work.

        • Well... says:

          But it gets to be ridiculous.

          OK, maybe there’s a few stories with big significant M. Night Shyamalan-style twists in them–“they were dead all along”–but for the most part it’s “he gets the girl” or “the blue team wins” or something, and usually the spoilers in question are less significant than that. More fundamentally I’d say if the plot is so important to you that “what happens next” has to be guarded at the expense of potentially interesting discussion about “what happened next” then you’re not taking it in with the level of analysis that you’d appreciate that discussion once you saw it in the first place. That’s how I feel about it anyway.

          I come here to read about stuff and discuss it. I shouldn’t have to go somewhere else for something as basic as “Why American Vandal isn’t as stupid as it looks.”

        • Montfort says:

          @quaelegit Strongly seconded.

        • Well... says:

          Does a spoiler REALLY spoil anything for anyone? I find this hard to believe. You seriously get a plot element “spoiled” for you, then go and watch the thing, and think “damn, I’m not enjoying this because I know the plot element that’s coming up”? There’s nothing else there you’re interested in and get enjoyment from but the plot?

          A spoiler for me is when Bruce Willis stops what he’s saying, turns toward the camera, and says “It’s hard being Bruce Willis.” That’s a spoiler. If someone tells me beforehand that he’s a ghost, I don’t care. I’d have found that out eventually, and finding it out might have been interesting–no less so when someone told me!–but it doesn’t titillate me. And being titillated isn’t what I’m watching for anyway.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m aware of the research, but I don’t trust psych studies. The field has been spoiled for me.

            In any case, even if most people (many people?) prefer spoilers, I’d rather read a book fresh. The first reading is precious to me.

            I really regret knowing in advance what Focus is in Vinge’s _A Deepness in the Sky_.

            For some reason, I went into Mieville’s _Un Lun Dun_ with a complete “tell me a story” attitude. I didn’t even read the book jacket. And it worked very well that way.

            While I don’t know how it fits into hedonic theory, I read King Lear on my own in high school, and while I was shocked and sad about how it worked out (possibly even crying, I don’t remember for sure), I would much rather not have known in advance.

          • James says:

            I have a fanatical, dogmatic aversion to spoilers for things I know I’m going to see/read and go further than most in avoiding any information at all about those movies/books/whatever, once I know I’m going to see them. Not just what are commonly considered spoilers, but anything about the plot, the setting, who’s in it, whatever.

            Going to see something that you know almost nothing about is, to me, a totally different experience, and much more fun–all these things I mentioned above are really enjoyable surprises. I recommend everyone try it once.

            Of course, determining that you want to see/read something without already being exposed to at least some of this information is tricky, but it can happen if you know you like the director or writer.

            I also do something similar with critics’ scores: if I already know I’m going to see something, then I’ll deliberately avoid reading what critics have to say about anything or checking its rating on metacritic/rotten tomatoes/whatever. It lets me make my own mind up about whether it’s any good or not without my judgement being polluted by others’.

            The hardest part is that book blurbs are frustratingly hard not to read. Many times I’ve (what I consider) spoiled a book I’m reading by accidentally glancing at and reading a few pages of the blurb of a book lying face-down.

        • Aapje says:

          The science says that people actually get slightly more hedonic pleasure from spoiled stories.

          Caveat emptor: the study looks lazily done, so I don’t really trust it (for instance, they had mostly female test subjects, so probably a pool of psychology students. They don’t divulge that or the average age of the subjects. They also don’t check for gender differences, even though the known differences between the genders, like risk avoidance and more people vs system-oriented thinking, may change susceptibility to spoilers.)

        • John Schilling says:

          I would prefer not to be spoiled about anything I am going to read/watch and enjoy, and to be massively spoiled for the rest so that I may avoid wasting my time and/or participate to some extent in the discussion. This being an unreasonable thing to request of any community not primarily dedicated to my personal pleasure, I accept the burden of avoiding unwanted spoilers and ask nothing more than that they be reasonably foreseeable (e.g. after a warning or title drop) and not gratuitously highlighted. If it’s necessary to make your point, go ahead and spoil.

          It probably is reasonable to avoid or rot13 spoilers until after first broadcast for a TV show, opening weekend for a movie, or the first month or so after release of a book, on the grounds that a significant fraction of the audience will still reasonably expect the discussion to center on spoiler-free reviews and not expect a title drop to be followed by spoilers.

          Also, don’t imagine you are doing me or anyone else any favors by gratuitously spoiling things for us, no matter how much you like being spoiled or how many people you find who agree with you. If I want to be spoiled I can always ask. If it happens in passing, my bad for not staying clear of that discussion. If you do it to me deliberately, then may you forevermore eat nothing but pizza with your most-hated toppings, cheerfully served by someone who insists you will enjoy them if only you open your mind to the experience.

  17. Whalefallen says:

    Does Scott or anyone else have any advice for my situation? I’ve developed a very stubborn psychological aversion to my girlfriend’s scent due to mold 🙁 The short version of it is that without any of us realizing, her pillow grew mold inside sometime during autumn 2015. So whenever she slept, toxic mold spores would cling to her neck and hair, and then I’d breathe them in along with her regular scent whenever we were intimate. This manifested as me inexplicably finding her scent more and more repulsive and anxiety-provoking, but since I didn’t understand what on earth could cause it, and no doctor I saw could offer any explanation, I put it down to just some weird fixation and tried to ignore it as best I could.

    Over time, however, the discomfort grew worse and worse, and when we finally found the cause and threw out the pillow (and not just perfumes and other things that might have caused it), my brain and nose had developed an incredibly stubborn aversion to any scents emanating from her. It’s now been 1,5 years since we got rid of the mold (we are 100 % sure the actual physical irritant is gone), and the aversion still causes me daily pangs of instinctive anxiety from just interacting with her normally, even as our relationship in all other respects continues to be strong. It’s the weirdest and most difficult problem I’ve ever had to deal with.

    The anxiety reaction is incredibly automatic – it just instantly floods my brain with fear upon smelling her, leaving no opportunity for higher brain functions and mental coping techniques to take the edge off it. This research really captures my experience:

    Most people – including scientists – assumed we can’t just sniff out danger.

    It was thought that we became afraid of an odor – such as leaking gas – only after information about a scary scent is processed by our brain.

    But neuroscientists at Rutgers University studying the olfactory – sense of smell – system in mice have discovered that this fear reaction can occur at the sensory level, even before the brain has the opportunity to interpret that the odor could mean trouble.

    I’ve also started noticing new, strong scents in situations surrounding her that I never could detect prior to the whole mold episode, so it seems my sense of smell has been heightened in response to the ”danger”. The fact that I now pick up a ton of strange smells combined with my brain being highly suspicious of any new and unexpected smells from her is very, very nerve-wracking.

    Other than this issue, I am generally healthy and function well in all other parts of my life. I’ve had physical check-ups to rule out things like brain tumors, but nothing.

    It was really difficult to broach the subject with my girlfriend at first, when I had no idea what was going on beyond that I suddenly had started finding her scent really repulsive, and had no clue as to the reason. But now she knows as much as I do, and while we both find it extremely unfortunate, she also understands that it’s caused by the situation, not by anything intrinsic to her. Still, it’s a very tough issue and kind of a Sword of Damocles for our relationship, even though we try to attack it as a team most days.

    As for treatments, I’m seeing a reputable hypnotherapy practitioner soon. The list of things I’ve previously tried includes CBT, meditation, exercise, hours of concentrated exposure therapy, l-theanine, black seed oil, ashwagandha (didn’t tolerate this well, had some weird side effects that still remain after cessation), vorinostat (HDAC inhibitor. May have used it incorrectly) and general talk therapy, but nothing has provided lasting relief. I suspect that since we had almost six months in which almost every single physical interaction I had with her involved the mold, my brain was fed an incredible amount of ”data” that scents emanating from her are fundamentally dangerous.

    I’ve previously written about this problem on Reddit, there’s some more information there if someone is interested. Feel free to ask me anything about the whole thing.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I would dump her. In my non-professional opinion, the male sex instinct ought to be strong enough to overcome any kind of learned aversion to your sexual partner. So you have probably lost interest in her romantically and sexually for whatever reason. In fact, this business about the mold might very well be just a rationalization you have subconsciously constructed to avoid facing the real reasons you are averse to her.

      • Whalefallen says:

        Both sex and general love feelings can sometimes suppress the aversion when things are particularly great between us – but only temporarily. It’s as though the aversion resurfaces whenever things settle a bit more on the oxytocin front or something. Still, the love and anxiety seems to manage to co-exist, generally.

        Yeah, many people I’ve spoken to have tried coming at it from the angle of something else being off about the relationship. I can see how that might seem to be the case but as for my subjective experience of our relationship, it was really good and loving in all respects, until suddenly, being close to her became the most anxiety-provoking sensation in the entire world, and later started hurting my nasal passages (i.e. the mold). If the post-mold aversion is caused by a subconscious dislike of the young, pretty girl I love and previously had a really fun, healthy relationship with, that dislike must be incredibly strong.

        Sorry if this is all a bit muddled, thanks for your input.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          How old are you? How many relationships have you been in which were serious to the point of living with the person?

          • Whalefallen says:

            29. This is my first relationship where I live with them. Only had a few casual relationships before.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            My impression is that you don’t really appreciate just how much a man’s sexual/romantic interest in a girl can drop after a couple years of regular sex.

      • Well... says:

        I think you should dump her too but for different reasons. I think basically the association which has formed in your brain is irreversible. You guys can just be friends, but a physical relationship is no longer possible. Dump her so she can get on which her love life and you can get on with yours. Don’t waste any more time.

        • liskantope says:

          I see the reasoning behind this suggestion, but I’m a little put off by how flippant-sounding the “dump her” advice sounds, both here and above. If a romantic relationship has a lot of things going for it, just throwing it away even due to a major difficulty is easier advised by an outsider than done by one of the people involved. This is obviously a serious problem for Whalefallen and their girlfriend, and not knowing anything more about the relationship I can’t say whether its strength elsewhere outweighs the likely difficulties in overcoming the problem, but I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that it’s not worth it to continue trying.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Seriously. It’s like reading r/relationships. “Flawless or bust!” is a dogshit attitude to approach relationships with.

          • Whalefallen says:

            Thanks both of you for your input. It’s been really hard to know whether to keep trying or just break up.

            I guess I feel that it’s just this one infuriating circumstantial issue that’s keeping me from living life normally with the woman I love, and that there surely must be some way to fix it. But there may not be. Even so, I want to feel that I’ve tried everything (within reason) before calling it quits. I have a hypnotherapy appointment on Wednesday, and if that doesn’t help, I’ll start running down the list of things I haven’t tried yet (some good suggestions in this thread). If none of those pay off as well, I guess there’s just not much else to do but go our separate ways.

          • Well... says:


            If there’s kids, that’s the one thing I’d say should overrule it. Otherwise I put this in the same category as “Girlfriend loses arm/I have a legitimate incurable phobia of all things related to amputation.” I’m not being flippant. A physical relationship is essential to the health of a boyfriend/girlfriend thing. They can amicably split and remain friends, but I don’t see how they can have a physical relationship. Maybe if there’s a medical breakthrough that allows Whalefallen to get over the mental association?


            This isn’t “flawless or bust,” it’s the opposite: “Incurable visceral aversion or chance of a future together.”


            I’d say keep trying if you think there’s some remedy that might yet work. I wasn’t getting the impression there was one from what you said, so I gave the advice I did. I want to re-emphasize, you can always stay friends.

            To all three of you:

            Romantic relationships are valuable and precious, but it’s possible to move on and find others. You can get more than one in this life. If there’s no kids in the relationship, then there’s nothing lost but memories.

    • rlms says:

      Could you ask her to try to change her scent?

      • entobat says:

        This seems like the obvious low-cost first attempt, and I was surprised to see it unmentioned in the OP. Why not have her buy a nice perfume, and for good measure also switch body wash / shampoo? (Shampoo is probably particularly important.)

        Maybe after a while your aversion to her original scent will be dampened due to a long period of non-exposure, and she can even go back if she wants.

        • entobat says:

          Can’t seem to edit comment, but want to say that “have her buy a nice perfume” should be worded in a way that does not necessarily suggest that the gf bear the entire cost of this scent-change plan.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes. It also probably couldn’t hurt to change your own shampoo/deodorant/cologne as well, just to have different scents around you all the time in general.

        • Whalefallen says:

          Sorry, forgot to mention it. We’ve tried introducing new hygiene products before, but there seems to be a strong contextual element to the aversion, where even previously neutral or pleasant smells become anxiety-provoking as they become associated with her. For instance, a new shampoo that I enjoy the smell of in the store can become a trigger for the anxiety a few days after she starts wearing it.

          It’s positively ridiculous at times. I’ve even had anxiety attacks from smelling my own dried saliva on her neck after kissing her!

          I didn’t explain it well in the OP, but when I talk about her scent/s, it actually seems to be just about any scent that emanates from her. Some become stronger triggers than others, though.

          • entobat says:

            That…seems tough. Perhaps try exposing yourself to those smells intentionally while doing activities that you enjoy? Other than that I’ve got nothing.

            This sounds weird enough to be “ask beg a doctor” territory.

    • Mark says:

      Exposure therapy. Take a holiday together and sniff her continuously whilst in otherwise relaxing surroundings.

      Or clothes peg on nose until you forget the association?

      • Whalefallen says:

        Yeah, we’ve done a ton of concentrated exposure therapy, though only at home. We also did visit Paris together recently, but we only interacted normally while there. Might be worth trying some focused exposure the next time we’re on a trip together.

        Heh, I actually bought a few swimmer nose clips to use whenever the anxiety became too overwhelming. It felt as though it would worsen the anxiety in the long run by avoiding it, though, plus they hurt my nose. Also not particularly socially accepted to wear in public.

    • Creutzer says:

      I get the impression that psychedelics have the potential to enable rewriting of habits and associations to some degree. No idea what the neurological basis for that is and whether it would even touch such things as smell, but taking psilocybin together with your girlfriend might be worth a try.

      • Whalefallen says:

        Yeah, I’ve heard that as well. I have had some bad experiences trying other substances though, most notably vorinostat, and I’m pretty squeamish in general with drugs, so I haven’t dared try anything else since.

        Disclaimer: Really rickety unqualified neuroscience ahead. Anyone who actually knows this stuff is super welcome to correct me.

        So the explanation I’ve heard is that there’s an epigenetic component to many forms of psychological trauma. Supposedly the brain has these mechanisms where it can turn off the genes normally responsible for fear extinction in order to safeguard specific memories and behaviors in order to avoid really, really dangerous things. So that would be why some forms of PTSD and such can be highly resistant to exposure therapy.

        It’s also the reason I tried vorinostat, which is FDA-approved for cancer treatment but is also being studied for fear extinction alongside other histone deacetylase inhibitors. They induce greater epigenetic plasticity, and thus while they’re active, the epigenetic ”locks” on aversive memories are relaxed, allowing fear extinction to take place.

        (There are a few threads about this on Longecity and r/nootropics, which is where I learned about it)

        Anyway, so I participated in a group buy of vorinostat and tried it a few times. I couldn’t get it to work though – all it did was give me increased anxiety and a night of heart palpitations. I kind of suspect it interacted with the ashwagandha I was taking during that period though, as the effects were very similar to rebound anxiety from ashwagandha. And HDAC inhibitors seem to have the ability to ”prune” the epigenome of lingering effects of various substances, which is why they’re also being studied for addiction cessation, so my best guess is that the vorinostat just instantly removed the built-up effect of ashwagandha in my system, and the resulting rebound anxiety blocked any fear extinction that might otherwise have taken place.

        I have no way to be sure though, and I was kind of freaked out about the whole experience, so I haven’t worked up the nerve to try vorinostat again without any other substances in the picture. I had a really weird and bad time getting off the ashwagandha afterwards, as well, and some lingering effects so I don’t know if I accidentally did something dangerous to myself. I also seem to have become weirdly sensitive to even mildly serotonergic substances(?). Feel mostly okay though.

    • Deiseach says:

      Did desensitisation therapy not work for you?

      I can only suggest something like pick a scent – say a new perfume – and first expose yourself, and yourself alone, to it in situations where you feel calm, happy, relaxed and so on so that you associate this smell with good feelings.

      Then take a piece of her (laundered) clothing, spray the scent on it, and again expose yourself to it by yourself (i.e. she doesn’t wear this article of clothing) in the same conditions so you associate good things with this.

      She wears the clothing so it picks up her scent, she or you sprays the scent on it but not enough to overpower her scent, gives it to you, do as above.

      Then move on to she wears this scent while you’re with her. See if that can overcome with “new good associations” the “danger, danger!” associations of her scent. If that works, then move on to she doesn’t wear that scent and see if that has helped any.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Just to underline: the original post mentioned exposure therapy, which is an effort to overload the phobic response. This can backfire.

        Deiseach is describing *desensitization* therapy, which is a matter of approaching the phobic trigger gradually, and calming oneself after each exposure.

        Also, is there anything which could numb the sense of smell?

        • Whalefallen says:

          Ah, interesting. Yeah, I think I’ve only tried the flooding variant of exposure. I’ll add Deiseach’s method to the list of things to try if my hypnotherapy appointment on Wednesday fails. Thanks.

          I have some nose clips that I tried for a while, but it felt as kind of an unhealthy crutch in that it facilitated avoidance rather than exposure. They were also really uncomfortable.

    • Telminha says:

      Something similar happened to me, but it was related to food.
      You may find this interesting:

      Aversions can also be developed to odors as well as to tastes.

      The way I was able to overcome my aversion was by avoiding that particular food for a certain period of time, and then reintroducing it slowly.

      • Whalefallen says:

        How long did you avoid the food in question? The longest I’ve been away from my girlfriend since the whole thing began is only about a week.

        I wonder how conditioned taste aversions relate to conditioned anxiety in PTSD and various anxiety disorders. Hmm.

        • Telminha says:

          I am sorry you are going through this. I hope you can find a good therapist.

          The food in question was beans. One day, I became very ill after eating beans. I stopped eating them completely for about two months, but because it was something I had really enjoyed for most of my life, I decided to reverse my aversion. Even the mention of the word beans would make me feel nauseous.

          First, before I reintroduced beans, I moved the couch to a different position. Strange? Indeed. But the reason I did that was because I remembered spending the day I became ill lying on that couch. I stopped using the clothes I was wearing that day. I cooked the beans in a different pan. These things sound silly, but I feel that the changes helped somehow. I also believe that taking a small break from the trigger food/situation was important in the process.

          I have used this “technique” in different situations. For example, after a car accident, I become very fearful of driving. I took a little break (a month or so), changed a few things in the car, and gradually started driving again.

          My non-professional advice would be: Spend some time apart (if possible). Move to a different house (if possible). Get a new bed. Buy new bed sheets, covers, pillows, etc. You could clean or wash them with hot water, but this is about removing triggers and lessening the intensity of those memories. Ask her to change perfume, shampoo, deodorant, soap, creams, and laundry detergent to neutral, low scent or no scent versions. She may get upset with all the requests, so be careful.
          Wish you well.

    • [Thing] says:

      Have you tried applying Vick’s VapoRub to your nostrils to overwhelm your sense of smell? Someone already suggested this in the Reddit thread, but I didn’t see a response. The reason it occurred to me is that I recalled reading that this technique is used to trick mother bears into adopting orphan bear cubs whom they might otherwise kill because of their unfamiliar scent. A quick Google search suggests this technique is still in use, so I guess it’s legit. If it can trick a bear into mistakenly thinking she has one more cub than she was previously aware of, maybe it can trick your subconscious into thinking your girlfriend doesn’t have any distinctive scent for long enough to unlearn your fear. To maximize odds of effectiveness, I suggest first using the VapoRub (or perhaps there’s some other way to neutralize your sense of smell for a prolonged but finite period of time) at the start of a period of at least few days away from her, and continuing it for at least a few days after your reunion, during which you try to take it easy and have fun together.

      • Whalefallen says:

        Interesting about the bears! I actually tried to find VapoRub to deaden my sense of smell back when the mold was still in the picture, before I’d realized that my nasal discomfort wasn’t just something all in my head. But I’m Swedish and I couldn’t find any store that carried VapoRub here, so I never got a chance to try it out.

        The closest analogue I’ve got is using nose clips meant for swimming while interacting with her. They completely shut out any and all scents. I wore them on and off for a week or so before I realized it wasn’t a sustainable solution for everyday interactions, but perhaps they could be worth trying while doing focused exposure? Maybe I should dig them out again and give it another shot.

        • Nornagest says:

          It looks like Vicks VapoRub is just some diluted essential oils, mainly camphor, eucalyptus and menthol. You can probably find all of those in hippie shops or online, even if VapoRub isn’t sold as such.

    • Dog says:

      I would say vorinostat as a treatment for fear extinction is still somewhat speculative at this point, and it’s definitely not the only thing with clinical evidence. What about propranolol?

      • Whalefallen says:

        Yeah, I think it seems pretty promising but I guess the same can be said for a lot of things pre-clinical trials. And regardless of the reason, it didn’t work for me.

        I tried propranolol as well but I didn’t understand the method of administration in the studies, so I just took it immediately after interacting with my girlfriend normally (triggering the anxiety), which had no particular effect that I could discern. Do you know if there’s a more efficient method?

    • yodelyak says:

      A friend I know always describes himself as “olfactorily blind” because, since as long as his family has known anything about his sense of smell, they’ve known he basically doesn’t have one.

      Is it possible to just “go blind” from time to time, smell-wise? You hear about people for whom holding their nose while eating makes all the difference for things like blue cheeses… could you just try nose plugs? Your food might get less tasty, but it might be a solution.

      • Whalefallen says:

        The only effective solution I’ve found along those lines is using nose clips meant for swimmers to close off the nasal passages completely, forcing you to breathe through the mouth instead. They do work, it just didn’t feel like a long-term solution since you can’t really live like that, but perhaps it could be worth experimenting with them some more to see if they could be useful for exposure therapy. Thanks.

  18. rlms says:

    Does anyone else think the Spanish government is responding very badly to the Catalan referendum? Suppose they let the referendum go ahead, and the result was a moderate majority in favour of independence. I expect that the consequences would be a lot of talk, but not much action. Instead, they’ve decided to send in thousands of armed police. That seems like a surefire way to massively increase both support for independence and resolution to actually achieve it if the referendum favours it.

    • Matt M says:

      Suppose they let the referendum go ahead, and the result was a moderate majority in favour of independence. I expect that the consequences would be a lot of talk, but not much action.

      Why? Wasn’t Brexit technically a non-binding referendum? And wasn’t it only a moderate majority in favor? And isn’t it leading to direct action?

      If you let people vote and then ignore the consequences, you look like a dictator, and the separatists will become increasingly emboldened and perhaps pick up more followers, upset at the corrupt national government. If you simply refuse to let them vote, you can talk about the proper process and the importance of national sovereignty or whatever else, while strongly implying that the vote would have failed anyway because it was only supported by extremists who want to destroy the nation (and nobody can really prove you wrong)

      • rlms says:

        I think the Brexit referendum was widely viewed as binding, whereas I don’t think there is a consensus in Catalonia about their referendum, and the Spanish government certainly doesn’t see it as binding. Brexit is happening, but pretty slowly. In a world with an unsympathetic British government and EU, I expect it would be proceeding at a speed of approximately zero.

        I’m not suggesting that the Spanish government just ignore the referendum. But responding to a vote for independence by saying “it was illegal and hence meaningless, and anyway you’ve not really thought out how independence would work even if it did happen, and what about this vague compromise position” seems to me to be a better plan than arresting politicians (which will turn previously sympathetic politicians against you), shipping in riot police (which will displease the general population), and censoring Catalonian websites (which upsets the EFF).

        • Wrong Species says:

          a better plan than arresting politicians (which will turn previously sympathetic politicians against you), shipping in riot police (which will displease the general population), and censoring Catalonian websites (which upsets the EFF).

          Catalonia makes up 16% of the Spanish population. The government doesn’t need the support of Catalan people. They just need the support of Spanish people. And of course, Catalonia itself will be split on the question even with the crackdown.

          • rlms says:

            “The government doesn’t need the support of Catalan people.”
            Only in the sense that the US government doesn’t need the support of black people — they don’t, but if they reject it they’d better find a similarly sized bloc to replace it if they want to be elected.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            Despite only accounting for about 16 percent of the Spanish population, Catalonia represents about 25 percent of all Spanish exports, and it accounted for 23 percent of all Spanish industry, according to the regional government.
            2015 figures
            No wonder the would hit hard to keep ’em.

        • apollocarmb says:

          actually the vast majority in catalonia support the holding of a referendum

        • Matt M says:

          In a world with an unsympathetic British government and EU

          What? Is this not the exact world we live in?

          • rlms says:

            No. The EU have not yet arrested any Conservative politicians or declared Brexit illegal, and it seems unlikely that they will do so in the future.

          • quanta413 says:

            No. The EU have not yet arrested any Conservative politicians or declared Brexit illegal, and it seems unlikely that they will do so in the future.

            Unsympathetic != Violent Repression. If you wanted to say “in a world where the British government arrested its own politicians for supporting a slim majority of the people” or “in a world where the EU had serious military force and the countries inside it were like California is to the U.S.” you should have said so. It’s pretty clear most of the ruling class didn’t think they’d actually lose a referendum and then have to contemplate actually engaging in Brexit. Brexit really is proceeding at a glacial speed. There’s no guarantee yet it will actually happen although I think it probably will.

        • Eric Rall says:

          My understanding is that the Brexit referendum was not formally self-executing, but was generally understood as and intended by Parliament to impose a duty on the government to implement the results of the referendum. This duty carries a fair amount of weight under British political culture, and moreover could be enforced by the Queen (probably by using her reserve power to dismiss the PM) if the government refused to respect the referendum.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Don’t know anything about this story, but making a prediction now that Russians were involved in this too (not a joke).

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Wait, were the Russians (allegedly) involved in Brexit?

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          I don’t know, but would not surprise me. The Russians have a clear game plan with the West, which they will enact to the best extent they are able. Russia is quite poor, and can’t really project force, but their spy game is the best in the world.

          The other thing is, Russians don’t create things ex nihilo, they opportunistically exploit found weaknesses.

          • Aapje says:

            I really think you are being paranoid and are seeing a nefarious plot of Jews communists Russians behind everything. Spying can merely be used to selectively expose information that benefits an agenda. It doesn’t magically make people upset with the EU or the Spanish central government, where otherwise they would be perfectly content.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My current handy generalization about Russians is that they’re bad at government and business, but brilliant in small specialties– and you can’t predict which specialties they’ll be.

            Spying might be predictable…. but there’s also ballet, exercise physiology, space…. There might be some others I’ve forgotten, and I’m sure there are more I haven’t heard of.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Aapje: that’s exactly what I am saying, spying can’t create major issues ex nihilo, some sort of underlying problem needed to be there to be exploited.

            Nancy, the way you are phrasing things sounds kinda racist. Russia is a society with poor cooperating norms, which leads to a lot of bad things. To the extent that you can carve a cubby hole for yourself and create, that you can do just as well as in the West.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It is kind of racist, but if I can’t say that sort of thing here, where can I say it?

            It’s interesting that that communism only made for a temporary stop to business in China, and overseas Chinese are a middleman minority.

            I have no idea whether the difference is (mostly) genetic or (mostly) cultural.

          • John Schilling says:

            but would not surprise me.

            Where espionage is concerned, “it would not surprise me” ought to point to a nigh-infinite number of potential conspiracies, for each specific one of which your prior should be “pics or it didn’t happen”. The only winning strategy in espionage is to not be surprised by anything but to also not believe anything without solid evidence.

            If instead your bias leans to “X is to the benefit of Y, Y is a bunch of malevolent conspirators, therefore Y did X”, that way leads to the Protocols of the Elders of Whatever, and to madness, and to near-universal disdain. Particularly by Z, who actually did X and are amused by how easily you fell for it.

          • It is kind of racist

            I don’t think so. It was a statement about Russians, who are a nationality, not a race.

            Is it racist to say that French are good at cooking or Germans at engineering or Italians at art?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Nancy you can do whatever you want, here or elsewhere. Even be an asshole.

            How many Russians do you know, personally?

            “Russians are bad at government” sounds like “women are bad at math.”

            John, you should read up on Russian spying after Yeltsin (and before, for that matter). It’s interesting reading.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            here’s an edit:

            I don’t like beating a drum of “false racism accusations are bad”, but you yourself acknowledge that:

            Russia is a society with poor cooperating norms, which leads to a lot of bad things.

            Of course, if you leave the nation you’ll still have those norms more-or-less impressed on you, unless you integrate / assimilate successfully, which would arguably make you not Russian any more. What was this all for ?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Ilya, you’ve previously linked to websites tracking retweets of videos put out by RT as an example of what I assume is an unacceptable form of propaganda. What’s your opinion of Al Jeezera America?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Do you not understand the difference between “the country has problems” and “oh, and it’s due to the people”? See also the difference between “there are too few female mathematicians, compared to male mathematicians” and “women are bad at math.”

            But again, this is all fairly obvious, and I am sure you are aware of the difference. So I am not sure what you were trying to say.

            Since Nancy seems to know a ton about Russians, I thought I would ask how many she personally knew.

          • Nornagest says:

            There is not really a bright-line distinction between white propaganda (that is, information openly propagated by an actor, not anything race-related) and regular news, especially state-run news. Every newroom on the planet has its biases, and they’ll spin stuff towards them if they can or refuse to run stuff if it can’t be spun. Al-Jazeera America is no exception, and its biases do have a lot to do with Qatari state interests, but you could say similar — though maybe subtler — things about NPR or the BBC.

            Some of the stuff Russia Today does, though, verges on gray or even black propaganda.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Conrad, can you be more specific, re: AJ? Did you have some specific questionable thing in mind?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Some of the stuff Russia Today does, though, verges on gray or even black propaganda.

            Can you give me an example or two?


            Ilya, not really. I don’t watch AJ or RT. I was wondering if you had an opinion on AJ, because I was curious if it was all foreign news/propaganda you disliked, or just that from Russia. Nornagest believes there’s a difference between AJ and RT, though, and I’m interested in what that is.

          • Nornagest says:

            Can you give me an example or two?

            Let’s take it as given that the Russians were involved in the 2014 Crimean Peninsula takeover (note the well-documented presence of Russian-speaking troops in Russian vehicles wearing unmarked Russian uniforms and carrying Russian weapons). Let’s also take it as given that the Russian government is the only major actor that’s interested in spreading FUD. Now, if RT broadcasts a Kremlin representative denying Russian involvement, that would be white propaganda: they’re openly acting as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. If they dig up an “independent expert” who says he’s done an analysis that disproves Russian involvement, then that’s gray propaganda: covertly acting as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. And if they put someone on camera who falsely claims to be a CIA agent and says there’s no Russian involvement, then that’s black propaganda: falsely attributing the message to its targets. (In practice there are often differences in style and methods as well as attribution.)

            RT definitely did the “independent expert” thing in that case; black propaganda is more debatable. But the Crimea’s an unusually clear case, because usually there’s more than one significant actor taking a given line on a story, and so it’s usually possible to get the spin you want without lying about your sources. If we were talking about Occupy, for example, it’d be possible to take just about any angle, because there are plenty of legitimate sources on every side that’re just dying to tell you their stories. This is more the MO of conventional state news.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Presumably AJ:A might push some sort of angle. Folks who own AJ are from Qatar. I don’t know what the status of Qatar and US is, they used to be allies at one point, but perhaps this is changing now?

            Presumably even allies try to lobby and influence public opinion in their favor, using things like the media. To the extent that this conflicts with US interests, it might be bad.

            The problem with Russia is, it’s clearly a hostile power. That is, we have very few shared interests.

            I am not Vladimir’s close personal friend, but based on stuff he said, I rather expect his foreign policy is something like “sow discord in the West, and try to reestablish the USSR borders while the West is distracted or fighting itself.”

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Do you not understand the difference between “the country has problems” and “oh, and it’s due to the people”?

            Russia is a society with poor cooperating norms, which leads to a lot of bad things.

            Societies are made up of people, so it’s clearly possible to argue that it’s the people in a cultural sense; indeed, you have already done so. But you know what, let’s agree that statements like this are unequivocally racist and everyone who makes them should really re-think their life choices. Wait, what type of statements are we talking about, again? Ones like this?

            The other thing is, Russians don’t create things ex nihilo, they opportunistically exploit found weaknesses.

            Wow, are you saying Russians don’t create things? And they exploit weaknesses? This is a really offensive quote, I sure hope this Ilya…Shpitser, character, feels bad about himself. You should give him a stern talking-to.

            Seriously man…I’m sure you can find some type of difference between you and Nancy’s statements if you want, but the bottom line is you said that expecting us to understand that it wasn’t a DNA-driven assertion. From Nancy’s original message there wasn’t any proof of a DNA-driven assertion either, so why blow the whistle?

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Look, I don’t know what you want me to say. Communication is complicated. We can argue about how people should express themselves, and we can disagree on where the line ought to be.

            For me the line is on statements isomorphic to “women are bad at math.”

            For any sort of statement like that, the real thing that’s true is very complicated, and if you phrase it as above, you are just thoughtlessly blurting things out.

            So, for example, you wrote a paragraph about cultural issues in Russia, and tried to link it to “Russians-as-due-to-cultural-emergent-phenomena.” But — communication is complicated. If you say “Russians are bad at X” you are hiding a ton of this detail, because lots of other complicated paragraphs map to that sentence above. Onus is on the person talking to speak clearly.

            There is all this personal growth advice on not saying “I am bad at X”. Tabooing that type of phrasing is advised precisely because of how people typically interpret that phrasing, in an essentialist and immutable way.

            I don’t think people who speak like this should be silenced or punished, but I think they are assholes. That’s all.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            That’s interesting, but I don’t think much different than anything western news agencies do. The New York Times doesn’t say stuff much contrary to the interests of Carlos Slim and WaPo editors align with the interests of Jeff Bezos. They cite “independent experts” to “explain” their positions.

            What I’m really looking for with regards to “Russian propaganda influenced the US election” is what, exactly? “Thing A about the US or Hillary is false, but here’s a story started by RT that picked up traction in the US media.”

            I’m not sure such a thing exists. If it does, I doubt it’s distinguishable from every other small-time propaganda outfit, which makes it noise, compared to the massive signal from CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NYT, WaPo, etc.


            The problem with Russia is, it’s clearly a hostile power. That is, we have very few shared interests.

            Hostile to whom? I don’t feel any threat from Russia. Russia mostly seems to be acting in Russia’s internal and regional interests. I think it’s more troublesome that NATO seems intent on surrounding and isolating Russia.

            I’m sure you can argue that Russia is a “hostile power,” but if you put the modifier “clearly” in there I think you’re assuming to much. They may be outgroup to you, but they’re fargroup to me. I don’t really care much what Russia does, and I don’t understand the left’s obsession with them. There are many other nations that are more hostile and/or more active in US affairs than Russia that do not provoke such ire.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Of course Russia is acting in its self-interest. But it’s self-interest includes things like starting wars, grabbing land, and screwing with Pax Americana.

            We had a really long cold war with Russia’s predecessor state.

            “You” are just some guy, and “your feelings” don’t mean much to how the US operates on the international stage. What you are probably interested in is winning the culture war by any means necessary, a bunch of dead Ukrainians, world history and USSR, and the kind of stuff Russia gets up probably don’t mean very much to you. You are probably worried about the Democrats more than about Russia — which is precisely what Putin’s exploiting.

            Fortunately, there are folks who worry about geopolitics in the US who have more foresight than you do.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            no offense dude but you have a very unpleasant attitude and it’s not based on very much

            for example, the argument you had with me basically ends with you admitting that your ideas about ‘isms’ are based around one emotionally-charged example and have no objective basis outside of this

            and then you have this

            Fortunately, there are folks who worry about geopolitics in the US who have more foresight than you do.

            “foresight”? If oil prices drop much lower Russia may well collapse, but I guess they’re a big threat we need to worry about. Even if they do kill a lot of Ukrainians…is this our business, as such? What about the India-Pakistan war, in which credible (at least I think they are) threats are being made about tactical nuke usage?

            Speaking of nukes, that’s the only reason we should care – we asked Ukraine to give theirs up in service of nonproliferation, and they agreed for some godforsaken reason, which sort of makes their defense our responsibility. Give them their nukes back and move on with it, is my opinion.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s interesting, but I don’t think much different than anything western news agencies do. The New York Times doesn’t say stuff much contrary to the interests of Carlos Slim and WaPo editors align with the interests of Jeff Bezos. They cite “independent experts” to “explain” their positions.

            Fabricating an expert, not finding one. Everyone in news has their line to push, and one should expect them to find sources consonant with it, but as long as those sources are legit it’s at worst white propaganda (which, as I’ve said, is not clearly distinguishable from ordinary communication). It starts to drift into gray territory when you start making sources up or lying about their credentials.

            What I’m really looking for with regards to “Russian propaganda influenced the US election” is what, exactly? “Thing A about the US or Hillary is false, but here’s a story started by RT that picked up traction in the US media.”

            Can’t help you there. I follow geopolitics stories, but I’ve been doing my best to avoid anything that touches on domestic politics since the election. But by the same token, domestic politics isn’t how I know about RT.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Also the ants. (A joke, but I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see a mainstreamish article claiming it)

    • Wrong Species says:

      If Catalonia passed a vote in favor of independence then that gives the movement a sense of legitimacy it otherwise would not have. By denying them that vote, the Spanish government is denying them that opportunity and preventing them from trying again if they fail(which the Scottish will probably attempt at some point). Better to nip the whole thing in the bud sooner rather than later. If people think there is a chance, then some of them will keep pushing for it until they get it

    • apollocarmb says:

      If independence is accepted via vote independence will be declared regardless of the spanish reaction to the holding of the vote. Back in 2014 the government pledged to set up a catalan republic by 2017.

      But yes they are handling it very badly, not only are they opressing the catalan people but they are increasing the chances of a majority voting in favour of independence. This blatant disrespect of self determination will not only make pro-independence catalans more likely to actually vote but they will also possibly convince those who are undecided to vote for independence

  19. OptimalSolver says:

    I have it on good authority that the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita Muscaria, which is unrelated to the more common psilocybin family of hallucinogenic mushrooms and contains a completely different psychoactive compound (muscimol, as opposed to psilocybin), causes lucid dreams.

    I’ve been told that when taken at small doses of less than 1g (optimal range = 500-750 mcg), in the form a stew at bedtime, it usually has following effects:

    -Increased sleepiness
    -Extremely vivid dreams
    -High awareness and self-reflection that are usually missing in the dream state.

    Just putting this rumor out there as a curiousity. I, of course, do not recommend the consumption of hallucinogenics of any kind.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t care if your good authority is the Archangel Gabriel, messing around with amanita mushrooms unless you very feckin’ well know exactly what you’re doing is not going to end well. Maybe I’m too old-fashioned and nowadays practically nobody at all gets poisoned, but I don’t think running the risk of that for the sake of lucid dreaming is a good risk.

      Even the non-lethal side effects don’t sound too great. If you’re going to use them in a stew, the safest thing sounds to be that you parboil them first and throw out the water, then put them in the stew – don’t throw them in as a raw ingredient:

      Drying and cooking convert most of the ibotenic acid in these amanitas to muscimol. Only blanching and throwing out the cooking water significantly lower the toxicity.

      Amanita muscaria has been eaten without symptoms in small quantities after boiling and throwing out the water. Eaten raw or nearly so, Amanita muscaria acts as a “poor man’s hallucinogen” and was very fashionable in the 60’s. However, it is far less potent in this respect than psilocybin mushrooms and much more likely to have unpleasant results. Recreational use of Amanita pantherina in California has been less frequent than in the PNW.

      “Mushroom the Journal” had an educational story in its summer 1991 issue. A busload of high-school students, coming back from a jazz competition mushroomed in woods near their dinner stop. Thinking to get high from Amanita muscaria they picked Amanita pantherina. They shortly began to vomit and hallucinate and even a few became semi-comatose. Three boys ended up in an intensive care unit, two others were kept overnight in hospital and six more were treated and released after ipecac and activated charcoal treatment. Oregon State police rushed the samples to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. The university in turn got Janet Lindgren, chairman of the Toxicology Committee of the Oregon Mycological Society, out of bed at 2 a.m. The symptoms, the time of year and the fragments clearly identified the offending mushrooms as Amanita pantherina. The school temporarily suspended those who poisoned themselves; the others hopefully learned by example.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        If you are going for the poor man’s stuff: It is excreted via urine and thus can be recycled several times (in diminishing concentrations). As did Siberian shamans.

        • Deiseach says:

          Which is why I think if you’re desperate enough to get high that you will drink pee, just forget it and go for good old traditional brain-cell killing booze. The traditional apéritif (which has long since lost any “tonic” qualities) to achieve such a state is this one, although more modern choices are cheap lager, cheap knock-off vodka, and cheap ‘sherry’.

  20. Wrong Species says:

    Why do people believe that repression doesn’t work? Not only does it defy common sense but there isn’t really strong evidence that it works either. If people rise up against your government, then giving them what they want simply increases the demands. If you make something illegal, people will use less of it than before. This shouldn’t be anything controversial and yet somehow it ends up being the minority position. Why?

    • OptimalSolver says:

      It depends on how well the repressors can contain the situation. A lot of time, it ends up in a tremendously violent explosion of anger. Just ask the Romanovs.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I thought one of the problems with the Romanovs is that they were gradually allowing more freedoms, and that blew up on them following WW1.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The fall of the Romanovs was a combination of WWI, and inconsistent repression. It’s a bad idea to be mean enough to piss people off, but not mean enough to keep them down. And inconsistency means nobody knows what the reaction will be to any given thing.

    • . says:

      Selection bias? With modern political technology, most governments are both feared and loved. The ones that need to use fear exclusively have messed up pretty bad already, so repression and collapse are correlated. Past states with crappier technology might not show this correlation.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Because the people who say repression doesn’t work tend to be either the folks getting repressed, or folks who might get repressed if a government turned against them. Claiming that repression fails is both an attempt to convince governments to not try it, and a way to rally followers. “See? This violent response is really a sign of weakness and if we all stick together the government is doomed!” Thus this is less an empirical argument about what tactics produce results a state desires, and more part of a counter-strategy.

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      Because history? See data here.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’ll have to take a look at it. But from what I know of history, it doesn’t seem that way to me. Basically whenever an autocrat decides to make concessions, people demand more. When he cracks down, they might get enraged at first. But generally, if it’s brutal enough, people begin to fear more than hate and they disperse. I think the archetypal example would be Syria in 1982 when the President massacred the people in the city of Hama. The islamist insurgency effectively ended. Some would say that the beginning of the current Syria Civil War is a challenge to the repression narrative. But Assad initially cracked down on the protesters much less than Bahrain did. By the time he started a full on crackdown, the protesters became an insurgency.

      • John Schilling says:

        I think the archetypal example would be Syria in 1982 when the President massacred the people in the city of Hama.

        Well, except here we are one generation of Assads later, and Syria is in the middle of a bloody civil war, so maybe not the canonical example.

        Also from the 1980s, Tiananmen square. “No, we are NOT going to have a democracy here. We aren’t even going to allow you to know how many people we killed to make sure of that, but you’ll be vaguely aware that there are some questions you DO NOT ASK. Here, go make some money. Make a lot of money, if you’re up for it, but make sure you do it as a loyally apolitical subject of the Communist Dynasty. Or Else.”

        Pretty sure we’re not going to be seeing a civil war in China any time soon. Or a democracy.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      People generally seem to bring up Prohibition in the US to support the idea that banning things doesn’t work, so I’m guessing the reason is overgeneralising based on a single data point.

      • Nornagest says:

        Oh, Prohibition “worked” in the sense that it cut down on drinking a lot — seriously, if you look at alcohol consumption statistics from the 1800s we were all a bunch of lushes. It just did so at an enormous material cost — and an enormous moral cost too, if you have an issue with any of (a) massive expansion of coercive state power, (b) making criminals out of a huge slice of the population, or (c) the creation of modern organized crime and all the bad stuff that goes with it. And it still didn’t get the figure anywhere close to zero.

        Whether or not that’s all worth it depends on how bad you think the thing is that you’re banning, and what you think its growth prospects are.

    • beleester says:

      If you make something illegal, people will use less of it than before.

      Prohibition says hi. When the need is strong enough, people start looking for alternative ways to do the illegal thing. And those alternatives might well be worse than the thing you want to ban.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        When the need is strong enough, some people start looking for alternative ways to do the illegal thing

        So the question is what percent of the people P who partake of bad thing X “need” it enough to risk punishment Y. And whether internalities and externalities Z for this portion X and the other externalities for P-X are equal, less than, or greater than internalities and externalities W which existed before.

        • Loquat says:

          Also important: ease of doing X without getting caught. One of the problems with Prohibition was that the enforcement agents were often paid badly enough that accepting bribes from alcohol smugglers was a very attractive option, and another was that it’s actually really easy to make your own alcohol from such common legal ingredients as fruit, sugar, potatoes, grain, etc. This may be more difficult to measure numerically, though.

      • Evan Þ says:

        On the other hand, prohibition worked. Alcohol consumption fell from 2.6 gallons per capita per year shortly before the Eighteenth Amendment, to 1.2 just after the Twenty-First.

        Some people look for alternatives; others don’t.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Right. To say that Prohibition worked doesn’t mean that literally ever person stopped drinking. It just means some did. If not a single person lowered their consumption in response to repression it wouldn’t just be shocking. It would defy everything we know about incentives. It would be saying that incentives don’t matter in the slightest. I don’t think people realize the implications of what they are saying.

          And yes, Prohibition had bad effects and probably wasn’t worth it. But that’s completely different than saying prohibition didn’t work.

          • beleester says:

            Hence why I said “Those alternatives might well be worse than the thing you want to ban” rather than “it didn’t work.”

            However, I think “It was technically successful but had such bad side effects that we stopped doing it” is pretty much equivalent to saying “It didn’t work,” so I’m not sure why you’re splitting hairs here.

            (By your criteria, Soviet communism “worked” – it brought equality between rich and poor, it built an economy that did pretty much exactly what the central planners wanted, it just had a few unwanted side effects.)

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s not splitting hairs. It’s the difference between saying that incentives don’t matter and that policies can produce unwanted side effects. Only one of those is a reasonable statement. And no, the Soviet Union didn’t work because they were trying to accomplish more goals than equality. They genuinely thought their economy would be stronger than ours. Once everyone saw the undeniable strength of the Soviet system, they would agitate for revolution until everyone was heading for communism. That was obviously a failure meaning the Soviet Union was a failure.

            Also, you quoted the part where I said that prohibition will make people use less of that thing than before and tried to dispute it so I’m not sure why you’re now saying that you were right.

          • beleester says:

            I brought up Prohibition because it’s an obvious case where banning something failed to improve matters. Whether it succeeded in the stated goal of reducing alcohol consumption is pretty much irrelevant.

            I think “It accomplished the stated goal, but failed at accomplishing the actual goals we wanted, which the stated goal was merely a means towards” can be safely rounded off to “it didn’t work.”

            For a very clear-cut example: If my house was on fire, and you extinguished the fire by bombing the house into rubble, I would be justified in saying “Airstrikes don’t work for firefighting.” The intended goal was obviously not just to put out the fire, but to prevent further damage to the house, and saying “Well, it did work, because it put out the fire” is missing the point.

            To bring this around to your original post, I don’t think anyone’s arguing “Repressing protesters increases the number of protesters on the streets.” That’s pretty trivially false – obviously if you throw enough police and guns at a protest it’ll eventually stop. (Or become a civil war, but either way it’s no longer a protest.)

            The argument is instead that, while repression can accomplish the stated goal of reducing the number of protesters, it’s not going to accomplish the actual goals of the state – maintaining political stability, not starting a civil war, etc. So arguments of the form “If you make something illegal, people will use less of it than before” aren’t useful because they only address the stated goal, not the actual goal.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Do you think alcohol prohibition works in Saudi Arabia? They obviously have less consumption of alcohol than they otherwise would have and it doesn’t look like they have high crime rates from bootlegger gangs.

          • rlms says:

            “They obviously have less consumption of alcohol than they otherwise would have”
            Do they? What are consumption rates like in similar countries that don’t ban alcohol? I expect they do have less, but not by much.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I love that beelester said no one would deny that repression works at its stated goal and then someone immediately does just that.

            My prior is pretty strong on incentives mattering. If prohibition didn’t lower consumption by a noticeable amount, it would actually be shocking. I decided to look in to some data just to see what it said and what do you know, countries with alcohol bans have less alcohol consumption than other countries. Shocking. Bahrain as a muslim country has low consumption but it’s 10 times higher than in Saudi Arabia. I’m sure someone can come up with a way to fit the square in the circle but it’s going to take a lot more than a plausible sounding argument to convince me otherwise.

          • rlms says:

            Why would you compare Saudi Arabia (officially 100% Muslim, in practice probably 90-95%) to Bahrain (70%)? Making more appropriate comparisons, Iraq (85%) and Egypt (90%) have a slightly higher consumption level than Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait, Libya etc.), but a slightly lower one than Iran and Brunei. I don’t think that table provides compelling evidence for the effectiveness of prohibition, especially when you consider that the causal arrow surely goes the other way to an extent: people in countries which ban alcohol are probably less inclined to drink anyway.

          • Wrong Species says:

            If you want to go ahead and do a regression analysis, be my guest. I’m sure alcohol prohibition has nothing to do with the fact that the lowest countries in alcohol consumption are ranked where they are.

            I’m also curious what your explanation is for alcohol consumption dropping during Prohibition in the United States. Did everyone just decide to stop drinking less and then immediately resumed drinking more during that time period for completely unrelated reasons?

          • rlms says:

            The six countries at the bottom of the table do all prohibit alcohol, but the other five countries that totally prohibit it are not at the bottom. Obviously they’re not at the top either, but that’s irrelevant. My point is that within the group of countries with >90% Muslims, prohibition of alcohol doesn’t seem to have a very strong effect. Yemen prohibits it and has 0.3 litres/capita consumption, Egypt doesn’t and has 0.4, Afghanistan does and has 0.7, Jordan doesn’t and has 0.7, Iran does and has 1.0.

            Why do you think I disagree with you about the effectiveness of US prohibition in reducing alcohol consumption? I don’t.

          • Nornagest says:

            It might also be worth mentioning that Saudi Arabia is one of the scarier regimes in the world, repression-wise. If we were willing to do the kind of stuff it does in the Thirties, we’d probably have stamped out more alcohol use than we did, though at a correspondingly higher social cost.

            (We still wouldn’t have gotten into Saudi Arabia territory, because we are not 95% Muslim.)

          • By your criteria, Soviet communism “worked” – it brought equality between rich and poor, it built an economy that did pretty much exactly what the central planners wanted

            I don’t think either of those statements is correct. Inequality was not eliminated and may well have been higher than in developed capitalist societies. For one striking detail, city highways had a lane which only high level party members were allowed to use.

            Here’s another, I think from the book The Russians. People sometimes arranged fake marriages in order to get permission to immigrate to the U.S. In the USSR, they did it in order to get permission to move to Moscow, which was a (poor) first world city in the middle of a mostly third world country.

            And the economy did not do what the planners wanted. They wanted to catch up with, and eventually surpass, the capitalist West. They invested a sizable fraction of the national income and did not get the economic growth that investment was supposed to produce.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think talking about Saudi Arabia is particularly useful here, because they don’t have a long cultural history of drinking alcohol, only then to have it taken away. Alcohol consumption has been frowned upon for hundreds of years in their culture. Similarly, I would guess that if prohibition were brought back that the drinking rates of Mormons wouldn’t change much.

            Also, as far as prohibition working, it did drop alcohol consumption in the early years when the breweries and distilleries were first shut down, but after a few years the illegal supply got the country close to back up to pre-prohibition levels. Also, I would guess that we have more accurate statistics about the pre-prohibition amounts drunk than how much was drunk during prohibition. I’d guess there was a lot of bathtub gin made that no one ever knew about.

    • yossarian says:

      Repression does work. For a time. Then people (especially people with useful skills) start leaving the place, people start finding ways around the repressive measures, people start being depressed and less motivated (because of the repressive measures), sometimes repression causes people to miss opportunities that would have been explored in less repressive environments and so on. So in a long run, it doesn’t work very well (for example, Soviet Union, which was not defeated in a military struggle, but instead sort of crumpled all by itself). Plus, if you want to have a repressive government that represses just the bad things – you might run into a problem right there. So far, I haven’t seen one.

      • Wrong Species says:

        China figured out how to do political repression with economic growth. And if you think that they are destined to fail you are going to be waiting for a long time. People have been saying it for years.

        • yossarian says:

          Well, as far as I understand the situation in China, they are not just doing repression – they are slowly and carefully (so as not to follow the way of USSR) unrepressing ever since the Mao times. Plus, they might be politically repressive, but economics-wise – far less, like, those dudes don’t give a shit for the copyright laws and whatever (here in Russia, we still get quite a lot of… ahem… original Chinise Abibas sneakers and such. Plus, (just personal experience, but still), I know about 20 good scientists, programmers, etc who emigrated from China to US, Russia, Europe, but I only know one or two dudes who went the other way, which probably isn’t good for China. And China does have a billion of people and a lot of untapped economic potential, so it might be growing for quite a while still, repressions or not.

          • onyomi says:

            What is strange about the Chinese case is that, thus far, at least, they seem to have succeeded at liberalizing economically, without liberalizing all that much in terms of civil rights. Though one can certainly speak more freely now in China than one could forty years ago, they are, if anything, cracking down on e.g. VPNs, anonymous internet commenting, and that sort of thing recently.

            I’m optimistic that you can’t allow people to travel and communicate relatively freely around the world and not have them eventually demand the kinds of rights they see others enjoying; what is depressing, is that so long as they are enjoying the same level of material wealth they see others enjoying, seeing others enjoy e.g. greater freedom of speech is seemingly not as big a deal.

            Supposedly the USSR eventually fell in part because everyone could see on e.g. TV and movies that people in the West were enjoying such a vastly superior standard of living: average people could afford cars, etc. Now imagine the USSR had liberalized the economy enough that many could enjoy a standard of living that compared favorably to that people saw on US TV and movies, but managed not to allow political freedoms. That’s sort of the situation the Chinese are in now.

          • johan_larson says:


            I’m optimistic that you can’t allow people to travel and communicate relatively freely around the world and not have them eventually demand the kinds of rights they see others enjoying

            I suspect the target the Communist Party is aiming for looks a whole lot more like Singapore than like the Netherlands or the United States. They want a prosperous nation run by a self-perpetuating technocratic hierarchy, perhaps with some vaguely democratic elements.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Economically they are less controlling than they used to be. What makes you think politically they are less repressive than 20 years ago? And how slowly does liberalization need to happen to count as evidence against your hypothesis?

          • nimim.k.m. says:


            What if they don’t observe that much difference in the level of political liberties?

            I don’t know much about the Chinese system, but I once argued with a Russian elsewhere on the internet, who argued that in Russia, the sane opposition works within the Putin’s political party, and in the end, having all of the establishment inside one large party isn’t fundamentally so different from having multiple equivalently eternal establishment parties taking turns in sitting in the opposition. If you subscribe to this view of world, everyone attempting to act outside the one-party-state platform in an authoritarian state is comparable to a lunatic who wants to circumvent the parliamentary institutions of the Western democratic system.

            Now, there’s many issues with this interpretation of things: If you follow or participate actively in the politics you notice that sometimes it truly matters who or what the people vote for; and anyway, many of the best parts of the liberal democracy are not the “voting for political parties” part but things like pursue of rule of law and bureaucratic transparency and predictability, and so on.
            But it has enough of meat — often the political process does not affect many drastic changes; you seem to never to get rid of high-level political corruption; all the reasons why intellectual people still quote Yes, Minister decades after the end of the show; Gitmo and secret CIA prisons in Poland; Western intelligence services spy on everyone already at will; when a BigCorp wants something done, your protests will often amount to nothing — that it appears to be superficially true, especially given a tactful propaganda effort by the official media to portray the Western politics in a certain light.
            And if you believe in that, maybe you don’t then observe many significant differences in political liberties, especially if you only visit foreign countries or even immigrate but don’t take much active interest in politics.

    • yossarian says:

      Plus, to add to my previous comment – the repressive government usually doesn’t end up repressing just bad things, like actual crime – it ends up repressing other, not so bad things more. Hells, if the government managed to be repressive just towards the actual bad shit – I would totally sign up for that (a strange thing to hear from an anarchist, is it not?) But it doesn’t. Like, for example, in Sharia law countries thieves might get punished by having their arm cut off. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? But you might get stoned (in a bad meaning of this word) for fucking (in a sexual meaning of this word) a wrong person or for saying that you don’t want to worship Allah any more. Or, for a stereotypical example, Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union. When I read the books by or about the concentration camp prisoners, I always wonder – why the hell do the actual criminal criminals get the nicer treatment, but the political prisoners get the worse one? Axe-murder your neighbour – you get 5 years of jail, and you might get a nice cozy position like a cook or a brigadeer. Wipe your ass with a newspaper with Stalin’s face on it – and you get 20 years without parole…

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t endorse repression. I’m just realistic about it. The “inevitability” of freedom is part of the reason why North Korea is as problematic as they are today. Our government thought they would just collapse on their own when totalitarianism can actually be very resilient. That’s the kind of problems that come from peoples naiveté.

    • cassander says:

      Because confusing “is” and “ought” is a universally popular human pastime, especially about somewhat esoteric philosophical questions that don’t directly impact their daily lives.

    • moscanarius says:

      I think this happens for the same reason people say things like “free market has failed” or “taxation is theft”: the rightful criticism has grown out of its valid limits during its metamorphosis into a group-widespread meme.

      The thing is that very few policies will “work” 100% of the times in a 100% of the cases under all reasonable definitons of the word “work”, so there will always some valid criticism of any policy. Then, if start with a society that firmly believes the validity of a certain policy (“repression works”), it won’t take long for some smart (or better say, smarty) people to find the limits of said policy’s efficiency and trumpet them to everyone willing to hear them – initially, mostly other smarty people. It’s not difficult for them point the cases where policy A loudly failed; it is certainly easier than counting the silent cases of success.

      Smarty people punch above their numbers in terms of cultural impact; and since smarty people love to band with other smarty people, and love to sound smarty by spreading things other smarty people believe, you often get that criticism of any given policy will start to spread among them and from them to the masses. It starts with a few thoughtful observations, then moves to some rants, then to some supposedly edgy inside jokes. At this point someone writes a definitive text condemning whatever-policy-is-in-discussion due to its five or six shortcomings, gets widely read, and the meme is born.

      As it becomes more widespread, the criticism gets diluted as more smarty people try to write more edgy texts against policy A, sobby stories about how policy A destroyed the author’s life, novels where policy A is the root of all the story’s conflict, long articles detailing why policy A is bad because of the five examples the author gathered, university lectures about the challenges to policy A, and finally TV shows and movies and the like. Soon what we have is a short meme that contains one grain of truth amid many layers of bad assumptions and group signalling. Eventually some of this reaches the masses, where it becomes the new traditional truth until it be displaced by a new cycle edgy smarty criticism.

  21. . says:

    What sort of technology could help accommodate NIMBYism more cheaply? Looks like the US spends somewhere from 10% to 50% on accommodating NIMBYs (through housing restrictions in productive cities) as it does on healthcare, so this is a big deal.


    • . says:

      Just spitballing:

      1) One reason current residents don’t like development is increased congestion. There’s existing technology to reduce vehicle congestion, like busses, but what about pedestrian congestion? Maybe some sort of one-size-fits-all mass-produced double-decker sidewalks? I know that UIC experimented with double-decker pedestrian paths but they were torn down for some reason.

      2) Another problem is noise. If you could cheaply detect noise pollution without spying on everyone, you could charge people for it (or more likely, charge the owners of the buildings that it comes from). Is there a noise-detector sweet spot, that can measure the direction and intensity of noise, but is really unlikely to be able to decipher speech even with future machine learning progress? Maybe if there is some way to guarantee on the hardware level that it can’t measure pitch?

    • Ivy says:

      It’s my impression that NIMBYs’ fundamental concern is that new housing will reduce their property values.

      There’s a clear win-win solution here: “formalize” the rents they are extracting, and bundle any new housing with an explicit payout to nearby homeowners.

      Alternatively, make developers bundle new housing with a free insurance policy for all nearby homeowners that protects against a fall in their property value relative to some reasonable baseline.

      • . says:

        Along the same general lines: deregulation would make buildings less valuable but would make the land more valuable. Maybe splitting land ownership and building ownership would be politically useful.

      • tmk says:

        But development also increases property values. Property of the sme size in a bigger city tends to be worth more after all. The effect may just be slightly further away. I would be unfair for new developments to have to reimburse any negative effect without capturing positive effects.

    • John Schilling says:

      Cheap space travel gives us access to a nigh-infinite amount of Not Anyone’s Back Yard. The Commercial Space Transportation Study looked at doing high-level nuclear waste disposal in outer space back in 1994 and found it to be within an order of magnitude of practical at 1994 prices, and of course science fiction has a long history of putting maximum-security prisons in various extraterrestrial locations.

  22. Error says:

    PSA: It is possible to quasi-killfile commenters, using uBlock Origin rules of the following form:


    Where {{ name }} is usually the user’s display name, in lower case, with punctuation omitted and spaces replaced by dashes. Hence “J. Random Commenter” becomes “comment-author-j-random-commenter”. Some seem to be different, e.g. Scott is ‘admin’, not ‘scott-alexander’. You can dig the correct name out of the DOM using your browser’s developer tools, if needed. Note that the effect is recursive; it nukes all posts by the offending commenter and all descendants of those posts.

    You can kill a subthread rather than a user with slatestarcodex.com###li-comment-{{id}}. You can find the ID in the comment’s permalink. Hover on the comment’s date/time and your browser should display the link URL in the status bar; the digits at the end are the ID. (edit: this is very similar to what the Hide button does, and is really only useful if you don’t trust yourself not to un-hide a thread next time you notice its stub)

    Feature request: A button to show a comment’s ID and author class, to make life easier for non-techies. Alternately, display them when reporting a comment. Even better, support built in persistent killfiles for logged in users.

    (Scott, I experimented with the report button by reporting one of your own posts. I thought there’d be a confirmation dialog. Sorry.)

    While I use uBlock Origin, the same technique probably works for similar filtering tools. The syntax may be different. Anyone who uses a different tool, please take a moment to describe the equivalent method.

  23. Nick says:

    What are your favorite “truly alien” aliens from fiction?

    I have in mind the sorts of races that aren’t just rubber-forehead aliens or a planet of hats. I imagine that most of the examples are science fiction, but fantasy can certainly explore this as well.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m going to give my top vote to the Moties from “A Mote in God’s Eye”, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1974. No rubber foreheads, and at least half a dozen very distinctive hats (does anyone have a canonical list of Motie castes?). A lot of thought went into a very alien physiology, with psychology and culture to match, and some very good storytelling followed.

      The same team also have us the Grendel from “Legacy of Heorot”, if you’re interested in seeing a ravenous predator that can out-alien “Alien”.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Lowbrow for sure, but Piers Anthony’s Cluster series has some fairly alien aliens, at least as far as ‘weird biology’ goes. Sadly, no one seems to have put a description of all the species up on the internet.

    • Anatoly says:

      Stanislaw Lem is really good for this. “Solaris” and “Eden” both feature very “truly alien” aliens.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        Seconding. Impossibility of communication was sort of Lem’s thing.

      • James says:

        Is Eden any good? Solaris is one of my favourite novels, but the fragments I’ve read of some of his other books, and the summaries I’ve read of the rest, all seemed dull to me. Not sure I’ve heard of Eden, though.

      • C.J. Cherryh’s Chanur books have some very alien aliens, but you never get a clear picture of how they work, just of the problem of interaction between species so different that communication is very limited. Her Foreigner books have a detailed picture of aliens, but they are not much more different than a very odd human culture might be.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Peter Watts is pretty good at those, especially in Blindsight.

      • DrBeat says:

        Absolutely not. They are from a Spaceborne Entity of Hats, and their Hat is “enforcing the author’s message, no matter how little sense it makes”.

        Fuck Blindsight.

        • Deiseach says:

          Seconded. The vampires might be interesting except the author carefully wrote them so they can’t have any kind of meaningful society (the instinctual territorial fighting if two adult vampires encounter one another) and because of that, we only get from the human point of view that they are scary, so scary, really really scary ooh they make you wet yourself and run away they’re so scary, and we don’t get to see the post-vampire conquest Earth because I think Watts realised that he’d either have to break the rules he set up for it to work or it would all devolve into vampires without consciousness now slaughtering each other because of that instinctual territorial drive, which knocks on the head his point about “a species doesn’t need consciousness to survive and thrive”.

          The aliens aren’t even noteworthy or memorable because they’re the author’s puppets as well.

          For weird creation, there is David Lindsay’s 1920 Gnostic SF novel, A Voyage To Arcturus. He creates new primary colours, all kinds of various humanoids (only to destroy or murder the representative characters), and the climax of the book is that the material universe is a trap and a net to get the food of the Demiurge, the living elements of what could be called souls.

          In one chapter he describes a new sex, the phaen:

          Then he experienced another surprise, for this person, although clearly a human being, was neither man nor woman, nor anything between the two, but was unmistakably of a third positive sex, which was remarkable to behold and difficult to understand. In order to translate into words the sexual impression produced in Maskull’s mind by the stranger’s physical aspect, it is necessary to coin a new pronoun, for none in earthly use would be applicable. Instead of “he,” “she,” or “it,” therefore “ae” will be used.

          He found himself incapable of grasping at first why the bodily peculiarities of this being should strike him as springing from sex, and not from race, and yet there was no doubt about the fact itself. Body, face, and eyes were absolutely neither male nor female, but something quite different. Just as one can distinguish a man from a woman at the first glance by some indefinable difference of expression and atmospheres altogether apart from the contour of the figure, so the stranger was separated in appearance from both. As with men and women, the whole person expressed a latent sensuality, which gave body and face alike their peculiar character…. Maskull decided that it was love — but what love — love for whom? It was neither the shame-carrying passion of a male, nor the deep-rooted instinct of a female to obey her destiny. It was as real and irresistible as these, but quite different.

          As he continued staring into those strange, archaic eyes, he had an intuitive feeling that aer lover was no other than Shaping himself. It came to him that the design of this love was not the continuance of the race but the immortality on earth of the individual. No children were produced by the act; the lover aerself was the eternal child. Further, ae sought like a man, but received like a woman. All these things were dimly and confusedly expressed by this extraordinary being, who seemed to have dropped out of another age, when creation was different.

          Of all the weird personalities Maskull had so far met in Tormance, this one struck him as infinitely the most foreign — that is, the farthest removed from him in spiritual structure. If they were to live together for a hundred years, they could never be companions.

          Maskull pulled himself out of his trancelike meditations and, viewing the newcomer in greater detail, tried with his understanding to account for the marvellous things told him by his intuitions. Ae possessed broad shoulders and big bones, and was without female breasts, and so far ae resembled a man. But the bones were so flat and angular that aer flesh presented something of the character of a crystal, having plane surfaces in place of curves. The body looked as if it had not been ground down by the sea of ages into smooth and rounded regularity but had sprung together in angles and facets as the result of a single, sudden idea. The face too was broken and irregular. With his racial prejudices, Maskull found little beauty in it, yet beauty there was, though neither of a masculine nor of a feminine type, for it had the three essentials of beauty: character, intelligence, and repose. The skin was copper-coloured and strangely luminous, as if lighted from within. The face was beardless, but the hair of the head was as long as a woman’s, and, dressed in a single plait, fell down behind as far as the ankles. Ae possessed only two eyes. That part of the turban which went across the forehead protruded so far in front that it evidently concealed some organ.

          Maskull found it impossible to compute aer age. The frame appeared active, vigorous, and healthy, the skin was clear and glowing; the eyes were powerful and alert — ae might well be in early youth. Nevertheless, the longer Maskull gazed, the more an impression of unbelievable ancientness came upon him — aer real youth seemed as far away as the view observed through a reversed telescope.

          • Bugmaster says:

            That sound exactly like a whimsical hat to me — though I haven’t read the full book, so perhaps I’m missing some context.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I was talking about the actually alien aliens, not vampires.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yes, but Watts’ vampires and aliens are both pushed as having solved the problem of intelligence without consciousness and as being superior to poor ignorant possessing self-hood humans. The ending strongly implies that what awaits the protagonist back on Earth is nothing more than a vampire-victory planet, with maybe then the aliens turning up for a tussle with the vampires over the solar system – or not. Anyway, humans have had their day.

            They’re both meaningless to me, since they only exist to exemplify Watts’ point, and yeah that’s what most aliens are there for in novels and TV shows and movies, but I don’t even find them interesting because there’s no there there, as it were: they’re cardboard figures whose main point is “not humans, see how not humans they are? yup, definitely not humans” but we never see what they are as vampires or aliens.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I was genuinely confused by the implication that the vampires, or for that mattter, anyone, would be able to do jack-all. The entire point of the story is that consciousness and intelligence don’t matter. And Earth, presumably, has been filled with security drones to watch over the sleepers in simul-space. Any vampire who popped up and tried to use their Superior Consciousless Mind to start feeding would presumably catch a plasma bolt to the forehead in short order via an Even More Consciousless security drone, built by modern tech to be better than anything organic.

            As in many cases, the story did not carefully examine where its premises would lead if you didn’t assume the conclusion the author wanted. And given that human consciousness created science and industry and lead directly to Humanity dealing with the cthuloid aliens according to their traditional meiter (namely, crashing a big goddamn boat into the Big C until he’s not a problem any more), it seems really disengenous to claim that scramblers or vampires are superior to humanity, when we have the capacity to make technological murder-drones, and they apparently do not…well, the proof is kind of in the pudding as to which cognitive layout is superior.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Everyone Else


            I find the “I don’t like the book so I’m not going to warn people about spoilers or ROT13 it” thing mildly annoying, but the damage is done by now. Just don’t read the rest of my post if you don’t want details of the ending spoiled. I strongly recommend the books.

            @Robert Liguori

            Not “Intelligence and consciousness don’t matter”. Intelligence clearly matters. Rather, “Human or level intelligence and technological, tool-using behavior does not require consciousness and in fact may be able to achieve greater heights without it”. The scramblers are tool-users and technology-creators too, so I’m not sure where the emphasis on humans having science and industry while scramblers don’t thing comes from, unless you just meant the vampires. Even then, it’s clear that Vampires can be technological innovators. They never had the chance due to the ‘crucifix glitch’. With that evolutionary quirk corrected, they’re golden.

            As for Earth’s security situation, your security drone theory is directly addressed in the text multiple times: Yes, in this setting security drones WOULD be more efficient and effective without a human in the command and control loop, but human governments have explicit refused to allow that sort of arrangement. As Bates puts it:

            “Run themselves just fine. Response time actually improves without spam in the network. I’m more of a safety precaution.”

            And later, Siri thinking about the setup:

            Amanda Bates wasn’t just a head: she was a bottleneck…How much more deadly would those grunts be, once every battlefield reflex didn’t have to pass through some interminable job stack waiting for the rubber stamp? Szpindel had had it all wrong. Amanda Bates wasn’t a sop to politics, her role didn’t deny the obsolescence of Human oversight at all. Her role depended on it.

            Humans of this setting do have some level of AI, but that AI is deliberately NOT given control over weapons systems like the drones, which are instead tethered to the brains human soldiers like Bates so that a human controls them (The Captain never had control over Bates’ “Grunts”, for example). The “grunts” are referred to in at least a few instances as having no initiative on their own. That to me doesn’t look like “the story didn’t examine its premises”. Instead, that’s another example of the story’s point: You’re right, IF humanity had FAI security drones guarding them, they probably would be ok. But they deliberately chose not to.

            Finally, it’s not clear if the humans came out on top or not in the final clash with Rorschach. Keeton says he’s “pretty sure the scramblers went up along with my own kin”, but at the same time admits that he didn’t actually see the final engagement as it happened behind the curve of Big Ben. Given the power of Rorschach’s attack (an X-ray blast on the scale of a similar flare from a brown dwarf observed in 2000), and the lack of any evidence given for his “pretty sure”, that seems thin beer to me.

        • . says:

          Thirded. The problem is that philosophical zombies are very interesting, but this means that intelligence-without-consciousness is interesting in inverse proportion to how much it affects the plot.

          Nest by Bruce Sterling does a great job of “maybe intelligence isn’t good.” The oenva-ercyrgr is brilliant and grotesque.

    • C_B says:

      The Tines from A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.

      (Sorta spoilers follow – not plot points, but not all of the features of the Tines’ minds are explained to the reader immediately, so reading this might spoil some of the mystery of how they work.)

      The tines are pack minds built from 4-8 individuals who communicate through auditory signals between members. Lots of discussion in the book of the consequences of this:
      -It’s very hard for packs to think clearly when their members are too spread out, or when it’s noisy.
      -Sex between packs involves temporarily putting identity on hold because of auditory interference from the other pack’s members.
      -Radio is a revolutionary technology because it allows a pack to spread out but retain its identity.
      -Pack personality is a mostly-but-not-entirely-unpredictable emergent property of the traits of its members; the species’ first scientists are working on learning how to build better packs, some gently and some ruthlessly.
      -Exotic mind-states are achievable via weird pack setups; e.g., a sentry line, where members are strung out in a line within thought-distance only of the nearest member. The “pack” as a whole ends up being very dumb, and being a member requires lots of training to handle the mental stresses, but it lets the pack transmit info about intruders at the speed of sound along its length.
      -Prey animals from their world have evolved “shriek really loud in thought frequencies” as a defensive strategy to confuse hunters.
      -Cultural differences about how you should adopt new members – some Tines try to “keep their souls pure” by only taking in their own within-pack offspring, but others view this as perversion (and it has obvious inbreeding consequences). “Pilgrims” are known for adopting new members willy-nilly, and therefore rarely being the exact same person they were a few years ago; other more typical packs wonder at how they can bear having such a lack of stable identity.

      By far my favorite aliens.

      • Nick says:

        Vinge is actually an interesting semi-counterexample in my opinion. One character, I think it was Ravna, says early in A Fire Upon the Deep that she thinks all races are capable of seeing eye to eye and being friends, or something to that effect, and this seems more or less borne out by the sorts of aliens we meet. While we get some strange and cool psychology from the Tines (and the skroderiders, for that matter!), they still seem largely to think in ways mutually understandable to each other.

        I do love the Tines as well, and I’m curious to see what Vinge has planned with the Tycoon’s stuff in the tropics. We’ll see where the series goes.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        This is reminding me of a Poul Anderson novel whose title I can’t remember.

        The aliens a triple symbiosis– they form triples of a bird, a monkey, and a rhinoceros. As with the Tines, there’s personality which is a composite of the three animals. There’s cultural variation in how much trading of partners is permitted.

        • engleberg says:

          The Rebel Worlds, Poul Anderson. Good stuff- the simple ‘Captain Flandry kicks butt’ plot allows Anderson to throw in a lot of complex world-building, and of course it’s very well-written.

          The Handicapped aliens in Known Space especially impressed me- intelligent beings, no grasping appendages, yearning to be sold artificial limbs. Niven’s always done great aliens.

    • . says:

      Not at all what you asked for, but the far-future humans in Book of the New Sun are pretty alien.

    • keranih says:

      Sooo…I think there’s an ‘uncanny valley’ or some sort of ‘exotic’ spectrum at play here – it’s likely that truly alien beings would be creatures we could not communicate with, and whose motivations would be so strange as to prevent ordinary humans from being engaged in their stories. (*)

      There is also the issue of people being averaged out over a group, and for someone to get past the “omg all so very different” to “all different from *me* but also different *from each other*” takes both time and a variety of examples of “other” to observe.

      Having said that:

      Both B5 and Farscape did what I thought was a bang up job showing ‘other nations’ with motivations and outward appearances that were very different from Terran standard.

      Tanya Huff postulates several races with both consistent generally similar traits and cultural/individual variation. CJ Cherryh remains an acknowledged master of this. (She’s also one of those who shows humans as the ultimately infinitely adaptable sorts of the universe – at least in so far as humans are better than most others.)

      (*) Not that different sorts of *humans* don’t have this trouble.

    • pipsterate says:

      The Puppeteers from Ringworld are fairly alien. Three legs and two heads, along with some interesting psychological differences from humans.

    • Sfoil says:

      The…whatever it was in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch that introduced Can-D to the Solar System.

    • Björn says:

      The planet in Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. The book is about a planet that is covered by a goo that has very intristing properties, which is why humanity has built a space station researching the planet. Mysterious things happen on the station which seem to be the planet reacting to an experiment, but communication with the planet turns out to be futile.

      • mtraven says:

        Jn the same vein — the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. A very alien (to the point of incomprehensibility) place, not even clear if there is an alien entity to interact with, let alone a forehead.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I enjoy the aliens from A Crucible in Time- but it has a bit of the same problem as Vinge, where the aliens are very physically different, and implied strongly to have different mental machinery, but still end up having fairly similar social outlooks and ability to form human-like relationships.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m not sure whether that’s worth reporting, but I’m less likely to recommend ssc than I used to be.

        • Randy M says:

          Likewise Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, surely?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Randy M, I’m not seeing how your comment is connected to what I said.

          • Randy M says:

            You apparently found something objectionable in Jaskologist calling women an alien species, despite that being a well worn cliche at this point. This seems rather overly sensitive.

            Or possibly to the low brow, low effort, off-hand nature of the comment. If so, then yeah, it wouldn’t have a connection to my point.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Here’s the original question: “What are your favorite “truly alien” aliens from fiction?”

            It does seem to me that Jaskologist was writing from the point of view of “we’re all men here, so women are very strange”.

            A cliche can get more tiresome from getting repeated rather than blending into the background.

          • quaelegit says:

            Jaskilogist’s comment was not truthful, helpful, or kind. Maybe its just a dumb joke, but I can go to Reddit for those. I expect a higher bar for SSC.

            For a similar reason I have a low opinion of incurian.

          • Randy M says:

            It does seem to me that Jaskologist was writing from the point of view of “we’re all men here, so women are very strange”.

            It seems to me he was writing from the point of view of Jaskologist, which, given that for him, the word “you” refers to Jaskologist, seems fair.

            It’s true that women exist in real world, but since they’re in fiction as well [citation needed] I’d say he’s not off on that part either. Obviously, any implication that female identifying creatures are a different species is a wild exaggeration unbefitting the current year.

            But, to whatever extent 1 more of the approximately 108,120* open thread comments being trite andronormism mitigates whatever you expect your acquaintances to get out of it, recommending it that much less is doubtless a proper Bayesian thing to do. It just seemed to me that that was about the same rate as objecting to one book featured in a bookstore and shunning it for it.


          • Jaskologist says:

            It was just a dumb joke, and I’m sorry I offended people, but it’s past the edit/delete window now.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:


          • Brad says:

            Obviously, any implication that female identifying creatures are a different species is a wild exaggeration unbefitting the current year.

            Even more obnoxious than the original comment. Well done!

          • Randy M says:

            Even more obnoxious than the original comment. Well done!

            I’d say I try, but that’s a pretty low bar, after all.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Maybe its just a dumb joke, but I can go to Reddit for those. I expect a higher bar for SSC.

            Man, there goes like 95% of my comment output.

          • Iain says:

            I would encourage people who think this is silly to consider a hypothetical alternate universe in which one of the board’s lefties had replied “Trump supporters”.

            It’s a joke, sure — but it also signals certain attitudes and assumptions about the other parties in the conversation, and serves as a way of marking territory: “Those Trump supporters! They sure are the out/far group, aren’t they!” One of SSC’s selling points is that it generally does a good job of avoiding that junk. It is fair to expect better.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Outgroups aren’t generally the “favorite.”

          • quaelegit says:

            Outgroups aren’t generally the “favorite.”

            Ah, this revealed to me a different interpretation of the original comment. In responding to “FAVORITE ‘truly alien’ aliens”, the statement could be taken as “I like women”. I (and I think Nancy) interpreted it with emphasis on “truly alien”, and I at least was disheartened to be called inhuman. (Yes, this is overinterpreting it, everyone has already agreed this was a flippant comment that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I’m just overexplaining to show/attempt to understand the original disagreement.)

            @Jaskologist — also thank you for the apology.

            @Whatever Happened — I looked at your posts in the past couple Open Threads and didn’t see anything that seemed out of line. Mostly short comments, but on topic, and none struck me as unkind (although maybe I just wasn’t the target of any of your jokes). Not that my opinion matters, as mostly-lurker, but offering a second opinion for calibration if you want it.

            @Iain — Thank you.

            @ Randy — Why do you say “citation needed” that there are women in fiction? If you’re actually asking for an example, Amanda Bates was brought up in the Blindsight discussion above. In other threads, people have been discussing female officers in Star Trek and Ellen Ripley from Alien.

          • Nick says:


            Why do you say “citation needed” that there are women in fiction?

            It’s very probably to mean the claim is so obvious as not to need a citation. I think people get it from xkcd, which has been doing that for years.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Nick, Randy M — Thanks! I was a regular reader of What-If so I should have gotten that…

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I can get behind the object-level annoyance. “I’m less likely to recommend ssc than I used to be” is an awfully passive-aggressive way to tell someone to knock it off. Please don’t.

    • Iain says:

      As a rare example of linguistics-centric science fiction, the aliens in China Mieville’s Embassytown probably qualify.

    • lvlln says:

      I’m a big fan of the space monsters from the 1980s anime Gunbuster/Aim for the Top! Their origins aren’t explored too much in the show (and is obviously completely impossible IRL), but the general gist is that they’ve evolved to survive in space like fish survive in the sea. They lay eggs in stars to reproduce and use supernovae as nests. They traverse through space like spaceships, including some biological form of hyperspace. They seem to have some social structure but it’s pretty much incomprehensible to us humans; in the show they’re clearly antagonistic, but for no explained reason.

    • Well... says:

      The monolith from 2001. Is it an artifact put there by aliens? Is it the aliens themselves?

      Also, the eponymous Sphere.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I was quite impressed with Kosh from Babylon 5. I find Kosh quite well done as an actually-alien alien for a few reasons:

      * For one thing, almost all the aliens on the show are typical Trek-style rubber forehead aliens (or in the case of B5, Stupid Hair aliens.) So I appreciated that they did throw in one actual alien and make them a major character.

      * When Kosh first shows up, the alienness is mostly in the form of being hidden inside a weird spacesuit and oh-so-enigmatic weird comments that just don’t seem to make sense. What makes it more impressive is that because of the (revolutionary at the time) serialized nature of the show, they are able to build and develop it past that. What starts as just sort of incomprehensible mysterious wisdom actually does get developed into a proper character, which is impressive. What makes it more impressive, though, is that even after Kosh becomes a real character, he never actually becomes human. He becomes comprehensible once you begin to understand the basic idea of what the Vorlons are and what is driving them, but he never stops being really quite legitimately different from everyone else in how how thinks.

      Also, what starts out as just a weird looking spacesuit actually has just enough articulation and detail, and the show put enough effort in, that after a couple seasons of the show, what at first just appeared to be random animatronics movements actually start to convey meaning to the audience. You start to actually read expressions into the title of the head-camera-thing, or the way the lens on the front telescopes open or closed.

      There have been a fairly decent number of truly alien aliens in scifi literature, but I think Kosh might be the only one to be a recurring character in a long running television show.

    • Nornagest says:

      Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition (basically an ersatz National Geographic coffee-table book on the ecology of a fictional planet) did a pretty good job with this. Most animal life is blind, tripedal, hermaphroditic, and sees by echolocation, and a lot of it is liquivorous, feeding by injecting digestive enzymes into its prey and sucking up the digested gel. If it isn’t, it’s probably a filter-feeder, eating by horfing up clouds of tiny flyers into gill-like anatomy. Few animals have what we’d recognize as a head or a mouth, and a lot of the flyers use air-jet rather than flapping wing propulsion.

      There’s no intelligent life in the book, though, except possibly for one encounter with something that seems roughly caveman-level.

      • Well... says:

        Maybe I’m misunderstanding the “planet of hats” trope, but isn’t this just that?

        – Blind/uses echolocation – yeah just like bats.
        – Hermaphroditic – yeah just like slugs.
        – Liquivorous – yeah just like a lot of insects.
        – Filter-feeding – yeah just like whales.
        – Air-jet propulsion – yeah, a sky octopus.
        – Tripedal – yeah, we know bipedal and quadrupedal, so tripedal is supposed to be weird and different…but it’s just another -pedal.

        Are my standards for “truly alien” too high?

    • Witness says:

      I’m fond of Planet, from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

    • Seppo says:

      The Tlic from Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is one of my favorite examples of this. The aliens themselves don’t even feature in it, but the trash they left after them alone is fascinatingly weird and alien.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        the trash they left after them alone is fascinatingly weird and alien

        If that’s even what it is! As Dr. Pilman points out at one point, we don’t actually know what all the stuff in the Zone is, or why the aliens left it, or why they came, or if they came, or… anything. The “roadside picnic” hypothesis is just that; in fact we don’t really know anything.

        So, yes, seconded: an excellent example.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Many of the examples I’d give have already been listed, but I’d like to posit a couple more.

      First, and I’m surprised nobody mentioned this, but there’s always The Colour Out of Space.

      Also, in the “not so alien as to make communication impossible, but still convincingly Not Human in psychology and morality” category, particularly done in a non-written medium, there’s the Incubator from Madoka Magica.

      • Nick says:

        First, and I’m surprised nobody mentioned this, but there’s always The Colour Out of Space.

        Yeah, cosmic horror is generally a good place to find this.

      • Wander says:

        I don’t think Kyubey’s morality is that strange, all things considered. They’re taking a very straightforward “sacrifice these people for the benefit of everyone” sort of deal.

        • beleester says:

          It’s a little more alien than that. Kyubey thinks that the system benefits humans as well. “If it weren’t for us, you would probably still be living in caves.”

          (There are some schools of utilitarianism that think on similar lines – arguments that cattle farming is a net benefit to cows because it leads to more cows being born – but it’s definitely a weird one.)

          He also considers the deal to be a fair trade at the individual level – magical girls are paid for their hard work by getting a wish granted. Never mind that he’s lying by deception in nearly all his interactions with the girls, and that they wouldn’t take the deal if they knew all the consequences. In his eyes, he never lied to them and gave them a fair deal.

          • Nick says:

            I have to wonder whether Kyubey thinking he’s offering a fair deal is just programmed into him. Or on a Doylist explanation, it’s just to make him more like a literal evil genie. I wonder because his morality would be way more understandable if it were just “sacrifice these people for the benefit of everyone,” and it’s not like he’s actually answerable to the magical girls, so it’s odd he would have such a strained belief.

          • beleester says:

            Yeah, the Doylist explanation is definitely that the story is Faust with magical girls and Kyubey is playing the role of Mephistopheles.

            But despite being a manipulative bastard, I don’t think he’s totally wrong about it benefiting both of them. You have to admit, in a typical magical girl show, the girl doesn’t get anything in exchange for her hard work, just gratitude and some lessons about the power of friendship. And not fighting witches isn’t really a good option either; somebody’s gotta do it.

            (Yuki Yuna is a Hero approaches this from a different angle, with less Faustian bargaining, but the protagonists reach a similar conclusion – they’ll have to continue their fight, and just help each other past the awful parts.)

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It seems to me that an author has to tread a fine line with truly alien aliens. If their behavior is incomprehensible, then they’re merely arbitrary. I suppose that’s still interesting if they’re scary enough.

      A few adjacent thoughts….

      What’s the Lafferty story where the aliens turn out to be practical jokers?

      King’s The Tommyknockers has UFO aliens which a lot like scary traditional fairies.

      I’ve noticed that in urban fantasy/paranormal romance, the more plot you have about elves, the less chaotic they become.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Surprised nobody’s mentioned the Pequeninos from Speaker for the Dead.

    • Wander says:

      Personally, I’m extremely fond of the creatures in Nemo Ramjet’s “All Tomorrows”, despite the fact that they’re technically humans. Some end up extremely incomprehensible despite starting from the same point.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The Endurium aliens from Starflight.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      I liked the Zang in Brin’s Uplift series, though we don’t get to see much of them (or of their behavior, I guess). You could say they’re mostly background scenery, considering how little they interact with the more-normal aliens.

      Oh, hey, I forgot those stack-of-wax-rings aliens from Uplift: different combinations of rings can drastically alter personality or identity. They reminded me of Vinge’s Tine (discussed above).

  24. KG says:

    I was thinking about Unsong’s character of Thamiel and that basilisk thought experiment, and I came up with this question.
    What are good or rational reasons one would want to maximize suffering–in a particular setting or in general?
    Mostly what I thought of were deterrence-related reasons–“if you are bad, you go to Hell/Naraka/Tartarus/etc.”, and for this place to be maximally deterring it needs to be maximally unpleasant.
    There could also be some kind of weird cosmic order thing, wherein you believe that suffering and happiness are necessarily balanced, so the more suffering there is for one half of the universe, the more happiness there is for the other half. But I find this much less appealing and believable.

    • C_B says:

      If you’re being consequentialist, I don’t think there’s ever a good reason to “maximize suffering.” Instead, there are cases where causing some amount of suffering will cause a greater amount of good. In that case, the correct thing to do is to cause the minimum amount of suffering required to achieve the greater good, up to an upper bound of (n-0.0…01) utils, where n is the amount of good the greater good is worth.

      In terms of applications to real-world behavior, this trades off against all the usual “your prior for inflicting suffering being a good idea should be very, very low, so think long and hard about all the consequences, and then still probably assume you’re wrong” arguments against inflicting suffering for the greater good as a heuristic.

    • beleester says:

      Is there a consequentialism variant that rewards punishing evildoers per se, instead of using punishment only because it deters future evil?

      I feel like that lines up with our moral intuitions. We like to see bad guys get punished. You could formalize this as “Seeing an evildoer get punished provides positive utility to the people watching the punishment, which outweighs the suffering of the victim.”

      But even that’s not quite right, to my intuitions. It’s not that we think that making Hitler burn in Hell is a regrettable but necessary component of serving justice, we think it’s a good thing, full stop. We want Hitler to lose utility from being in Hell, or at the very least, we don’t care. Under such logic, maximizing suffering for people in Hell would be a good thing – any extra utils we can squeeze out of them, by any means, are pure profit.

      But the trouble is this doesn’t universalize beyond Hitler – as soon as we start disagreeing on who counts as an evildoer and how much suffering they deserve (and the victim themselves will always disagree), we can’t argue that it’s purely beneficial any more. From behind a veil of ignorance, if we went to Hell, we would want other people to care about our suffering.

      So I guess this framework would only work in a setting where you have some sort of perfect moral judge that you all agree is correct (say, the God that created Hell). In which case, you’d be able to say “I know there’s no chance I’ll end up in Hell unless I deserve it, so I’m okay with torturing people in Hell.”

      • roystgnr says:

        Consequentialism combined with some kinds of decision theory ought to do it. I want evildoers deterred, which requires me to want evildoers punished. However, after the fact, punishment is purely costly, both to implement and because a priori hurting people is bad, even if those people did evil. I won’t do something purely costly, so my threat of punishment is ineffective, so I have no deterrent.

        This is bad, so a decent decision theory requires me to precommit to do things differently: I will carry out punishments even if they’re costly. But this is equivalent to changing my utility function: I now see punishing evildoers as a benefit, not a cost.

        Perhaps evolution has already made this precommittment for us, which would explain why so many people empirically desire the suffering of evildoers.

        Things are easier if you have a perfect moral judge, but if not then perhaps you could model punishment under uncertainty: punishing an “evildoer” has an N% chance of punishing an evildoer and 100-N% chance of punishing an innocent, and since we generally hate the latter much more than we like the former, we try to avoid criminal punishment unless there’s so much evidence that N is quite large and our expected value goes positive. (Whereas in civil punishment, where the damages done to the accused are typically just paid back to the victim, we’re much more comfortable with a loose “preponderance of the evidence” standard)

        I’m not as confident about any of that last paragraph, because it gets back to decision theory and game theory again – if you just do a straight expected value calculation regarding each accusation, then you may create incentives for criminals to strike when they know the evidence against them will be weak or for false accusations to be made when accusers have a chance of “framing” the accused. This might require another level of decision theory to come into the picture, which might lead to e.g. restrictions on circumstantial evidence, hearsay, etc.

  25. David Shaffer says:

    Random question-if I want to get into AI work, what’s the best way to do so? Learn computer science, learn math, what exactly does it entail? At present, I have a BS in geology, math through calculus 2 and no computer background. Is there a good route from here to working with someone like Google Deep Mind, Open AI or MIRI?

    • . says:

      I know someone who went from PhD in useless non-computational pure science to getting paid to do machine translation. He just did kaggle competitions (and whatever background reading seemed immediately relevant to whatever he wanted to accomplish that second).

    • johan_larson says:

      Deep Mind, huh. That’s setting your sights high.

      A master’s degree in computer science, focused on AI, would be a solid stepping stone to what you want to do. Did you do well in your undergraduate studies? You’ll need good grades to get into a decent graduate program. And you’ll need to learn how to code, and more importantly, convince CS professors you know how to code. To that end, you should take some programming courses at your local college. You don’t need a complete CS undergrad curriculum, but it would be really useful for you to have taken at least a couple of third-year courses, probably in data structures and algorithms (and their prerequisites.) A single first-year course in programming isn’t going to be enough to do well in a graduate degree in CS.

    • Brad says:

      As far as I know / can tell you need a Phd to get an interesting job in AI. You can work around the edges without one, but the heart of the teams have doctorates.

      I don’t think you could get into a reputable CS Phd with your current background. So the first step would either be a masters in computer science or the equivalent knowledge and experience (in math and CS) gotten in some other way.

    • Björn says:

      For the current neuronal network stuff, I think knowledge about stochastics, numerical mathematics and programming is the most important. So I think getting a mathematics degree where you focus on the things above would be very helpful. You can maybe work with neuronal networks if you only learn to program, but I think coming up with appllications of neuronal networks that are very similar to excisting applications is rather low level work every computer science graduate can do.

  26. robinkulle says:

    Hi Scott (and whoever might be interested),
    Do you have any thoughts on the german election? And do you see paralleles between Trump and the AfD? While I dislike the AfD, I feel like there are a lot of paralleles between the treatment towards Trump during the US election and them, regarding the approach the media and the other parties take on them, i.e. painting them as racist instead of criticizing their “normal-but-appalling” somewhat-right-wing views. I fear we’ll get into a situation similar to the US in polarization, if we continue to not engage in debate.
    On the other hand, most germans seem to favor centrism. This is obviously in part a result of a culture change following WWII, but is also, I think, thanks to the german election system.
    Often big and bold approaches are being discussed here, neo-reactionanaries vs. democracy for instance, but why not push a debate on if the US can improve their democratic system? When Germany created their constitution in 1949 they, after all, could draw from 200 years of experience. A priori, Germany’s system should be better?

    • pontifex says:

      I haven’t been following Alternative for Deustchland (AfD) closely. But I do remember reading that the party specifically prevented people they viewed as crazy (like fascists etc.) from registering as party members. I remember thinking that it would have been wise for Trump, Breitbart, et al to do something similar to avoid getting painted as Nazis.

      Often big and bold approaches are being discussed here, neo-reactionanaries vs. democracy for instance, but why not push a debate on if the US can improve their democratic system?

      There have been some discussions of things like open primaries and preventing gerrymandering here. Those seem like positive developments. But in my opinion, the biggest problem is the toxoplasma of rage on Twitter and Facecbook these days (plus the hollowing out of the press), and tweaking the electoral system doesn’t seem to do much to help that.

      When Germany created their constitution in 1949 they, after all, could draw from 200 years of experience. A priori, Germany’s system should be better?

      Do you mean proportional representation? I think a lot of Americans are afraid of that because they feel that it would mean giving a voice to extremists. Like we would have a Breitbart party and an SJW party, rather than factions witihin the Dems and the Repubs trying to push the big tent parties in those directions.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I haven’t been following Alternative for Deustchland (AfD) closely. But I do remember reading that the party specifically prevented people they viewed as crazy (like fascists etc.) from registering as party members. I remember thinking that it would have been wise for Trump, Breitbart, et al to do something similar to avoid getting painted as Nazis.

        I don’t think it would work. Lots of people seem to be saying/insinuating that AfD are just modern Nazis, their membership restrictions notwithstanding.

        • Aapje says:

          Many Germans are logically very wary of Nazis, so taboos are strong (for example, they draw the line for euthanasia at active intervention, merely allowing the doctor to provide the poison, to have a strong Schelling fence against euthanasia of undesirables).

          The AfD are trying to destroy some of these Schelling fences which means that they will be called Nazis for that, regardless of whether they have any actual Nazi members.

    • blame says:

      I fear we’ll get into a situation similar to the US in polarization, if we continue to not engage in debate.

      Before the elections, I noticed something that struck me as very odd and reminded me of the situation in the US.

      In Germany it is common for universities to organize panel discussions with local members of the main parties. (Actually, I think they are organized by student groups, not the university itself…)
      I have heard of many cases where no AfD member was invited for the usual “no-platform” reasons. These organizers are probably the same people that were shocked about Trump winning the US election and are now surprised about the AfD getting ~13% of the votes. Well, duuh… you could almost think that simply ignoring them doesn’t solve anything.

    • Deiseach says:

      Just going off what I heard this morning in the news, but they seem something like UKIP with maybe a smattering of the BNP types, and they’ve already started tearing themselves apart in squabbles over their success, so way to go, guys!

      This reminds me of the similar way the Irish Green party reacted to electoral success, which meant the really pure True Believers all walked away, the moderate/pragmatist types remained, the deal for getting into government in a coalition with Fianna Fáil was done, and then the majority partner made the Green Party their bitch, to use the vernacular term, over the four years of the government and the Greens got hammered in the next election due to everyone being unhappy with them for selling out their principles yet not getting a good bargain on passing policies in return.

      If AfD follows the same path, things may not be so troubling as people are forecasting.

      • tmk says:

        Merkel is not going to form any kind of coalition with AfD, so that exact failure mode is unlikely. Internal fighting is likely, and their parliamanet members may turn out to be both disloyal to the party leadership, and generally embarrassing idiots. Compare for example with the Swedish “New Democracy”, that gained 6.7% of votes and 25 seats in 1991, then imploded before the next election.

        • Deiseach says:

          Merkel is not going to form any kind of coalition with AfD, so that exact failure mode is unlikely.

          Unlikely but not impossible, though I grant it would need catastrophic circumstances before it can happen. But going by news reports, she’s going into a three-party coalition, one of which is the Greens, and in cases like that (from Irish experience anyway) it gets very shaky when one party decides it can hold the coalition to ransom by demanding concessions or else they’ll walk out and cause a snap election. I think the Greens may be likely to do this, but naturally this is a complete ignorant outsider’s view.

          AfD being the third largest party gives them some leverage, but the infighting and quitting as soon as elected and the rest of it is likely to piss away their advantage, and if there’s a rump of ‘moderates’ left, Merkel might be in a desperate enough situation to do a deal with the Devil. Maybe not coalition, but voting pacts on getting bills passed? Slight shifts in the direction of things that might appeal to AfD voters, which can be passed off as minor policy adjustments?

          Look at Theresa May and Arlene Foster after the ill-judged election in Britain, where the 10 DUP MPs made all the difference.

      • Aapje says:


        They were infighting even before the election.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        This is reminding me of something Harold Feld says: Remember to prepare for success.

        • Aapje says:

          They couldn’t. The same happens everywhere. It’s unavoidable.

          The problem is that:
          1. The very nature of an anti-establishment party is that it attracts people that have a problem with authority.
          2. It’s always easier for people disagree with something than to agree on an alternative. Since it’s harder to get into power than to stay in power, it makes sense to postpone resolving this until later, rather than have a very nice consistent platform with support by so few people that they don’t get into parliament in the first place.
          3. Open populists get heavily discriminated against and they know it (hence people lying on polls, refusing to be interviewed, keeping silent to their friends/family, etc). So the type of people that you want (somewhat moderate, societally successful, tactful, etc) are the type of people who usually know better than to enter the outgroup of much of society. The people who are left are exactly the type of people who create trouble.

          • Peffern says:

            so, Whale Cancer

          • Aapje says:

            For those who didn’t get that.

            The issue is that the discrimination often creates strong resentment. If the other parties keep denying that there is an issue, these people will often still keep voting for politicians they deem incompetent, as they desperately want the mainstream politicians to adopt their concerns. At that point it’s more signalling than that they actually want the people they vote for in power.

  27. GregS says:

    I thought this might be of interest to some SSC readers. I have a long blog post suggesting an alternative to the standard narrative of the “prescription opioid epidemic.” I’m using a Vox piece by German Lopez as a foil. The whole thing is here. Feel free to read, offer critiques, suggest other things I should read, etc. I’ve been looking into this for the past two years. I’ve commented here and on Tyler Cowen’s blog whenever this subject comes up. Thanks.

    • Matt M says:

      Didn’t read word for word, but did skim and appreciated the piece. I think the part about how “the doctors really are best positioned to make the decisions here” cannot be emphasized enough. The notion that we need government policy to enforce blanket bans on entire (effective) courses of treatment in order to maximize the avoidance of drug-dealing doctors selfishly forcing opioids onto patients who don’t really need them is absurd.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        My wife cut her thumb almost to the bone with an immersion blender a few weeks back and after they stitched it up the ER docs would not give her any pain pills. Yes, I understand they don’t want to hand out oxy to everybody who stumbles into the ER and say “uh my back hurts,” but she’s clearly not faking the sliced-open thumb to get pills.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Some people will actually do themselves serious harm to get prescribed pain pills. And ER docs are some of the most jaded about such things.

          Here in NJ, the state has been running a campaign implying you shouldn’t allow opoids to be given to children in severe pain due to surgery or injury, a campaign I consider morally equivalent to advocating torture. And they don’t allow an initial opoid prescription to be more than 5 days supply for any reason (adults or children), which having broken my hip a few years ago (it takes months to heal, and when you first start putting weight on it a few weeks in, you can reach really high pain levels) I also consider tantamount to torture. Theoretically you can get a further prescription; in fact you have to consider the possibility that asking for more pain pills is going to get you labeled as drug-seeking, and then you never get them again.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sounds like this is a highly regional issue.

            A couple years ago I went in to a hospital in Oregon for some minor surgery and they practically threw opioids at me — they prescribed me a couple weeks’ supply of two different types (along with some non-opioid topical stuff) with instructions to fill the milder one immediately, try it, and then get the stronger one filled if that didn’t work. I ended up using about a week’s worth of the milder one, and then the rest of the pills sat in my medicine cabinet until I threw them out in a move.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            This was the first time my wife had been injured in any way that would justify pain pills in probably 15 years. You would think they could give somebody 2-3 days worth of pills just until the worst of the pain is over. So, yes, I think they’re going too far in the fight against over-prescribing opioids.

          • Matt M says:

            Some people will actually do themselves serious harm to get prescribed pain pills.

            You know, in cases this extreme, maybe the optimal outcome is just to give them the fucking pills? Or refer them to psychiatric help?

            Or is this one of those moralistic “we do not negotiate with terrorists” sort of policies?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The latter, I think. Drug warriors put essentially zero value on pain relief and extremely high moral value on not taking drugs.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If you read the study, it says nothing about the causal link between prescription painkillers and subsequent heroin use. Recall that there were 85 million prescription opioid users in 2015. If any of them subsequently become heroin users, they will be counted in the 75%.

      Do you really think that they would say something that stupid? JAMA isn’t Vox.

      It is unclear, but in some parts it says that 75% of heroin users previously abused prescription opioids. This article is unequivocal, spelling it out in the title.

      • Nornagest says:

        What does abuse mean? Serious, long-term recreational use, or any off-prescription use?

        If I were interested in opioids, I imagine it’d be easier for me to buy some pills off a friend’s prescription supply than to go out and find a heroin dealer. I likely wouldn’t keep doing that if I decided I liked them (or they decided they liked me), but that doesn’t necessarily make them a gateway drug in the conventional sense.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The 75% is for any nonmedical use. I think people ask that to inflate the numbers, but also because it is a sharp delineation, comparable across studies.
          Only half of heroin users are considered dependent. The study I linked cited a study finding that 39% of Seattle heroin users (addicts?) were dependent on opioids before starting heroin.

          • Nornagest says:

            That number sounds more believable to me.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It sounds like the same number to me. If half of heroin users aren’t addicts, you wouldn’t expect them to previously have been pill addicts. If addiction (1/2) and prior pill use (3/4) are independent, then 3/8 of heroin users were pill addicts.

            (But if the study is only of heroin addicts, then it is a substantially smaller number.)

          • Nornagest says:

            I assumed addicts, which on rereading might not be the right assumption. It’s what you’d get if you’re using the most straightforward ways to get a large sample of heroin users (i.e. drawing from substance abuse programs, where you don’t end up unless you’re an addict or else very unlucky), but it’s not what the wording says strictly read, and they might be doing something more ambitious.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The Seattle study surveyed syringe exchanges. I have no idea if that ends up meaning addicts.

            The 50% not addicts figure requires that some studies not restrict to addicts.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        How many people who “abused prescription opioids” later used heroin? That’s the more interesting and predictive number.

        And, real “abuse”, not legal technical “abuse”.

        By the legal technical definition, I’ve “abused” prescription opioids. For just one example, decades ago, after some moderately painful dental surgery, was given a bottle of percocet to cover “two pills every 12 hours for 14 days”. I only needed two a day for half a week, one a day for a week, and then didnt need it anymore. The rest of the bottle lasted for a few years, dealing with other occasional painful injuries, no more than one or two at a time. I think finally I threw the last 3 or 4 down the toilet, prior to a move.

        Legally, that’s “abuse”.

        Practically, do I have any sort of addiction, cravings, or destructive habits regarding opioids? Nope.

    • Garrett says:

      I volunteer in EMS. All of the opioid overdoses I’ve dealt with have been from street drugs (in stamp bags).
      All of the prescription drug overdoses I’ve dealt with have benzos and similar (notwithstanding one case where a pt. got their medication mixed up with their wife’s, but that was mostly cardiac meds).

      On a personal note, I finally got the probation-like treatment of a “controlled substances” contract from my rheumatologist. See, the FDA, in their infinite wisdom decided that they needed to reduce the amount of acetaminophen/paracetamol/APAP in Fioricet because of accidental poisonings. So they mandated that it go from 325mg of APAP to 300mg. Concurrently, they decided to move it from being an unscheduled drug to being DEA schedule III (or not – there’s a possible exemption on this which is confusing). So my request for 10 Fioricet (I use about 1 every 6 months) for treatment of breakthrough arthritis pain required me to agree to random urinalysis and to not get any controlled substances from any other practice. Because clearly my rheumatologist is going to take over my psychiatric care as well.

      Needless to say, I turned that down and will be trying to address this through other channels. And in the event of breakthrough pain I’ll just go to the ER. I’m sure they’ll just love me. 🙂

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      Top notch blog post re. the opioid “epidemic”! (Just reverse that color scheme! Black on white bg is easier to read.)

      I recommend this article to other SSCers. Thanks for sharing.

    • GregS says:

      Thanks analytic_wheelbarrow. That is exactly the kind of practical feedback I am looking for. I had read an argument once that light text on dark background was more readable. I’ll reconsider.
      Garrett, much appreciated. I also have anecdotal evidence that people aren’t able to get the opioids they need. In this case, it’s a doctor I know with a pinched nerve in his neck. He wasn’t offered opioids (though probably should have been) for his nagging pain, and he certainly didn’t want to ask for them.
      Douglas Knight is correct about the 75% figure. It refers to past misuse, not any past use including legal use. It is stated near the beginning of the paper (which apparently I didn’t read carefully) and not at all clear throughout the body (which I thought I had read carefully). IMO this is not material to my argument, but I added an edit. It’s important to get the details right.
      Matt M, that is quite similar to my take.
      Really appreciate the feedback from the SSC community. The motive-impugning I see on other comments section is (mostly) absent here.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I like dark backgrounds, less eye strain. White text in most fonts is not as sharp as black, though. It’s a tricky situation – I usually edit sites I’m reading to color-on-dark for those reasons, but it would probably look gimmicky as a default.

  28. There was an interesting discussion just getting started on the last thread between me and nimim.k.m about the effects of parents or previous ancestors on one’s current behavior. It was part of a thread started by HFARationalist, where he was saying that the dead should have no rights, but I am mostly interested in this sub-thread.

    @ nmim. Interesting comments. I can identify with them more than your initial comments.

    1) First of all, guilt for doing something wrong. Yes, I do think that the guilt I feel if I do something wrong (presumably by harming someone), partially comes from engrained guilt picked up as a small child, being told in no uncertain terms by a parent NEVER to do that again. Although I think it also comes from two other places: a) I have empathy for others when they are harmed, which I think is built into my genetic make-up, and b) I have a bit of fear that the person harmed will sometime confront me with my mis-deeds. But I agree that part of my current behavior probably does come from my parents, even though I don’t feel the direct connection.

    2) Maintaining a legacy from one’s parents, such as holding onto keepsakes. I have nothing like this in my personal life, but I can understand the point. I think this is partly that one feels more valuable as person if one is part of an ancestral chain that stretches back (and hopefully forward) into time. I assume there is also the parental guilt instilled in one as a child, as I discussed in #1, that this keepsake is IMPORTANT. As I said, I haven’t experienced this myself, so I could have it slightly wrong.

    3) Your third example was maintaining the ancestral real estate, which I agree is less important for most these days than it would have been 200 years ago. This tie to the land may explain why some people won’t leave their ancestral homeland, sometimes seemingly irrationally, such as when a very hostile army has invaded. I think this tie to the land is for the same reasons as #2.

    I suppose this does tie back to HFA’s original point of the rights of the dead. I think your point, nimim, is that these emotional connections have nothing to do with the rights of the dead per se, but instead, the rights of the living to keep these connections? I certainly agree that when we do give rights to the dead, the point is to benefit those still alive. At least that’s how it should be.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I think your point, nimim, is that these emotional connections have nothing to do with the rights of the dead per se, but instead, the rights of the living to keep these connections?

      This sounds about right, but I may have to think about this more before writing a longer response.

      (Pending that longer response…. To clarify my positions in the previous thread, [or at least what I think my position was]: I tried to make explicit the various reasons why it feels to me very natural to have these connections, practically a direct consequence of the connections one has with the living people.)

  29. AntagonisticPleiotropy says:

    Another example of an Agloe-style map-summoning-terrain situation: the EURO banknotes.

    They feature seven different bridges. To be even-handed, these are European-styled bridges that do not exist in real life. Or they didn’t. In 2011, “town of Spijkenisse in the Netherlands built seven bridges of colored concrete after the designs on the seven euro banknotes”.

  30. Wrong Species says:

    Star Trek Discovery impression: It’s basically Game of Thrones in space. Spoilers:

    Oheaunz qrpvqrf gb ynhapu urefrys ng gur bowrpg, rira gubhtu gurer vf ab ernfba sbe vg naq cyragl bs ernfbaf abg gb. Gur Pncgnva nyybjf ure gb naq fur raqf hc pnhfvat n jne. Ohg jr’ir frra guvf xvaq bs guvat orsber ba Fgne Gerx fb gung’f abg gung ovt bs na vffhr. Ubjrire…

    Gur svefg bssvpre qrpvqrf gb zhgval ntnvafg gur Pncgnva sbe varkphfnoyr ernfbaf. V xabj fbzr zrzoref bs gur perj unir abg sbyybjrq beqref orsber ohg arire nalguvat fb oenmrayl greevoyr. Ubj ner jr fhccbfrq gb flzcnguvmr jvgu ure?

    • DrBeat says:

      “It’s basically Game of Thrones in space” is enough to tell me I’m right to be watching the Orville.

    • John Schilling says:

      Can we compromise on the proposed solutions to the crisis and launch Lt. Burnham out a photon torpedo tube at the Klingon ship?

      More to the point, can we get a reading on who the target audience is, that is supposed to see her as in any way a sympathetic character after all that? Because this is making me revise my opinion of J.J. Abrams’s arrogant rebel Kirk, slightly upward by comparison.

      • Deiseach says:

        J.J. Abrams’s arrogant rebel Kirk

        Oh, I was hopping mad over that! There is no way Kirk should have retained command of the Enterprise after the first movie; battlefield promotion is all very well but they’re still a crew of just-graduated cadets and moving him back down to Junior Lieutenant for his first posting, like the original Kirk started out, is the way any ordinary military-based organisation is doing it.

        As for his conduct in the second movie, throwing a hissy fit over his First Officer doing his job, expecting to get away with the stunt he pulled (falsifying mission reports) and being “punished” by “we’re only busting you down a rank and you can still serve as First Officer on the ship under my captaincy” was silly. I was glad Pike tore a strip off him in the debriefing but Kirk plainly (and we plainly also should have) thought he was in the right and was being unfairly treated.

        One of the few things I appreciated about the second movie was the way Marcus played Kirk like a fiddle: giving him back captaincy of the Enterprise, encouraging him on his vengeance for Pike mission, flattering him and taking him into his (seeming) confidence, all the while winding him up and setting him off to start the Federation-Klingon war without Kirk tumbling to any of it, being too blinded by his own anger, grief, and over-confidence.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      What does “basically Game of Thrones in space” mean? What are the qualities of Game of Thrones that this series shares? High production values? Lots of sex? Kills seemingly important characters?

      I ask without agenda; I don’t really care about either show.

      • cassander says:

        my take on the comment, and I had a similar criticism, was characters doing things that make little to no sense because the plot demands it in order to set up big dramatic set pieces.

      • Wrong Species says:

        High production values, killing characters, making characters not good people and focusing the series on war. Basically, they wanted to make Star Trek certified Dark and Gritty.

        Also, what cassander said.

    • Deiseach says:

      Haven’t seen any comments to that effect in the few cautiously positive reviews I’ve seen online. As to your question, I think the answer there may be going for the B5 factor I mentioned before – Sheridan revolts against the chain of command in effect but is supposed to be so charismatic and plainly In The Right we should not question it.

      Now, if the show comes down on them like a ton of bricks for this and doesn’t let them get away with it, that will be a good sign.

      • John Schilling says:

        Babylon 5 spent about a season of B-plots showing us that the President was a murderous usurper engaged in the violent repression of political dissent, before expecting us to agree that mutiny was a good idea. Discovery expects us to buy that it’s appropriate for the first officer to mutiny because her captain didn’t accept her tactical advice when after all she’s the star of the show and the captain is just supporting cast.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I’ve only watched the first episode so far, but based on that I don’t see any evidence that we’re meant to think she was right to mutiny. On the contrary, it’s portrayed as a pretty messed up, and I read the whole situation as clearly being on the captain’s side of things.

          Of course, that may prove to be wrong as I watch more episodes, but so far I didn’t see a problem there.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The problem isn’t whether she is properly punished(based on the previews CBS showed us, the new Captain seems to give her an out). The problem is that she did it at all. There have been times on Star Trek when the characters went against the Captain but that was usually because they thought something was mentally wrong with the Captain or he was being influenced by an alien. But we haven’t seen anything so brazenly terrible before. Star Trek is supposed to be about good, maybe flawed, people, not anti-heroes bordering on villains that every new drama is trying to conjure up.

          • Matt M says:

            not anti-heroes bordering on villains that every new drama is trying to conjure up.

            One of my biggest problems with modern TV. The pendulum has swung way too far. Yes, shows where everyone is a goody two-shoes model human being are boring, but shows where everyone is an evil, conniving, self-serving, egomaniacal jerk are JUST AS unrealistic, and even harder to put up with, because I don’t want to spend 60 minutes of my life every week virtually hanging out with a bunch of jerks.

          • John Schilling says:

            where everyone is an evil, conniving, self-serving, egomaniacal jerk…

            Lt. Burnham was a naively overconfident well-meaning jerk. That’s completely different. Well, slightly less dark, at least. Enough to maybe justify a night light for her oubliette.

          • MrApophenia says:

            True, I guess in Starfleet, officers do typically attain the rank of Admiral before they begin taking ethically dubious actions that go against Federation values in the name of a good cause. (See: Basically all episodes involving Admirals.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Captains can also sometimes get away with it. And there’s historical precedent for that. But it’s one thing to turn a blind eye to an order conveyed from a distant authority that may not understand the facts on the ground; physically assaulting the superior officer who is standing right there, listening to your proposal and your explanation and saying “No; on due consideration we are going to use my chosen tactics for achieving our shared goals” is right out even by Star Trek’s traditionally loose standards.

            Stealing the Enterprise to go on a Search for Spock would also fall into that category; to be fair, they did actually save the world on their way home and were nonetheless all sentenced to appear in “Star Trek V” for their penance.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Stealing the Enterprise…

            Is about the only ship they could have stolen that would have allowed the Federation Council to be as lenient as they were: a highly damaged obsolete wreck that was about to be decommissioned, that nearly every officer in the fleet and every citizen of the Federation would agree “belonged” to that crew metaphorically if not legally, and then they destroyed it before it could be captured.

            It’s also interesting that they were tried by the Federation Council. This is like being tried by the US Senate or by the UN General Assembly. The Watsonian explanation is for crimes as major as “mutiny by a command officer with a capital ship”, the Federation does not trust the Fleet’s own Military Judiciary or the Admirality to adjudicate it. One can even construct Watsonian backstory as to why that would be the case.

          • Seppo says:

            Also a bit like being tried by the House of Lords.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I was referring less to questionable orders from the admiralty and more to the fact that it seems like practically one in four Starfleet admirals is actively seeking, at any given moment, to secretly foment a war, stage a military coup, back a rogue black ops agency, or otherwise be the “surprise” villain of any given episode where an admiral appears.

            Always with the greater good in mind, of course!

          • cassander says:

            I was referring less to questionable orders from the admiralty and more to the fact that it seems like practically one in four Starfleet admirals is actively seeking, at any given moment, to secretly foment a war, stage a military coup, back a rogue black ops agency, or otherwise be the “surprise” villain of any given episode where an admiral appears.

            Always with the greater good in mind, of course!

            This is just part of the genius of the star trek universe. The basic conceit in star trek is that humans have basically solved all their problems and then gone out into the stars. One of the most basic human problems, of course, is organization theory.

            The people that set up star fleet knew that some humans will always be excessively ambitious, so they wrote the rules of star fleet to put most of the power in the hands of the people out on the front lines, then designed the promotion system to rapidly elevate anyone more concerned with getting ahead than with doing a good job to the admiralty. That way, everyone wins. The people who care more about getting shit done stay captains and stay out in ships doing good work, and the people who just want power and prestige become admirals where they get to enjoy endlessly and ineffectually plotting against each other instead of wrecking things for the productive people.

            It’s a brilliant system, putting the Peter Principle to work for good! Or, at least, that’s my head canon explanation.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            back a rogue black ops agency

            Section 31 is not “rogue”.
            They have almost never exceeded the scope of their charter.

            The fact that they do not have a history of using their power to increase the individual powers and luxuries of their individual members makes me suspect they do brain surgery on their command staff and on their own internal investigations operators. Which is something that sounds exactly like something they would do.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s also interesting that they were tried by the Federation Council.

            I think part of the reason there was that they had fled to Vulcan and were seeking/had been granted political asylum there, so it was no longer an in-house Starfleet matter, it was now dragging in civilian administrations. Plus they’d involved the Klingons, so for political reasons having a court-martial where they were tried by Starfleet would not have looked good (the Klingons would doubtless have complained that this was as good as letting them off scot-free, because their own military is unlikely to condemn its officers for fighting Klingons, right?)

      • Iain says:

        A number of online reviews (written by people with early access to future episodes) mention that Burnham doesn’t get away scot-free. You may be pleasantly surprised.

        • John Schilling says:

          If she winds up as the first officer of the starship “Discovery”, she got away scot-free. If she doesn’t, there’s no television series.

          I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be surprised by which choice CBS makes. Also not going to be surprised when they spend an episode or two trying to make us pretend to believe that she might actually go to prison or something before sending her back to be second officer of a starship with a really stern talking-to. Nor when a key reason for that is that Captain Jason Isaacs insists that her combination of initiative, moxie, and/or Klingon-murderyness is just what he needs in his Number One.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            If she winds up as the first officer of the starship “Discovery”, she got away scot-free. If she doesn’t, there’s no television series.

            What if she dies and someone else takes over?

          • John Schilling says:

            Then much of their PR investment is wasted, a significant segment of the fanbase is offended, and really nobody is going to invest production or advertising money on somebody taking that sort of risk with such a valuable franchise. So there’s no series, retroactive past the point where we know there is a series.

          • Protagoras says:

            Considering the way things end at the end of episode 2, and some of the previews of future episodes they flash at the end, I still feel like you’re being premature. Maybe I’m just knee-jerk contrarian when it comes to the opinions of the SSC commentariat, but I still have both severe doubts that Orville will turn out to be worthwhile in the long run, as well as cautious optimism that Discovery might.

    • dodrian says:

      The first officer saw a solution to a huge problem, the solution would likely save many lives (or so we would think from what we know about the Trek universe). That solution also went against one of Starfleet’s core values.

      That’s great potential for a new Trek show (especially as it seems like this is a set up to a multi-episode arc). It was a horribly botched execution.

      The production values were high, and there was glitz everywhere, but it felt like the flashiness was there to drive the plot forward. There was no time to appreciate anything, nor to think about the conflict. I think it hinted that they were at a standoff for several hours after the ‘flash’, yet the show felt the need to heighten tension by rushing things.

      My wife commented afterwards that we only learned about three of the characters on the bridge. We know more about the admiral from a brief 30s conversation than anyone else on the Shenzou, though I think this is because after another episode or two we’re going to get a new ship and new crew. Could this episode have been done better through flashbacks (potentially in a court-martial scene or similar)? We’ll see if this particular approach pays off, but it doesn’t indicate to me that the writers care about the cast as an ensemble.

      The United Klingon storyline has potential, I’m not a huge fan of the new Klingon aesthetic, but I’m willing to wait and see what direction it’s taken in. But there’s a big danger that it will detract from the series as a whole. This is supposed to be Star Trek: Discovery, will the cast be out exploring and discovering, or will they be focused on a war with the Klingons?

      Of course I’m not actually going to watch any more episodes until it’s put on something I already pay for.

      • cassander says:

        I was surprised, actually, by how good the secondary characters were. Sarek was great, the admiral was great, even that redshirt ensign who got wounded was great. All of them were more sympathetic and interesting that any of the klingons or main human characters. I do not think this bodes well for the future of the show.

        • dodrian says:

          I liked the captain, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing much more of her. Sarek was good too, but I think they could have chosen a vulcan other than an already established character.

          • cassander says:

            The captain wasn’t bad, but she was extremely bland. Compare her to the admiral, who gave a greater impression of competence and humanity in 30 seconds on screen than the captain did in 30 minutes. She’d have been fine as generic captain who our heros rescue, but couldn’t sell great captain and mentor.

      • Deiseach says:

        The little bit I saw of it has one problem, so far as I’m concerned: the tech is way ahead of anything we see in TOS (that ‘walking around the bridge’ hologram of the Admiral for a start) but the timeline is supposed to be just before (fuzzy on how long that is) the start of TOS.

        Okay, I know the outside-universe reason for this is because this is 2017 and audiences expect up to date flash tech, and would not accept the traditional Trek technology, also the show wants to be new, different and special so it’s throwing all this fancy eye-candy at us to hook us and make us sign up to pay to watch.

        But how the heck are they going to explain it in-universe (“yeah we had all this cool stuff on our starships but um, something happened and now we don’t”), or will they simply ignore it? Are we supposed to think this is yet another split-off timeline, one where Spock had a human step-sister etc? I think I would have preferred if they’d just gone “Discovery: in between the end of TOS and the start of TNG” and not dragged in characters like Sarek (I love Sarek! But please don’t keep re-using and retconning his family!)

        So yeah – looks great but will the writing hold up over a season? Or will they fall back on the tired old “let’s break most of the rules of Starfleet/the Federation just to establish that our heroes are always right and 21st century American-centric liberal/centre-left social values are the ultimate bestest in all of history! It’s not colonialism or cultural appropriation if, for example, we break the Prime Directive in order to liberate a world suffering under the yoke of sexism, homo- and transphobia, and wearing MAGA hats!” (I think the Prime Directive is a tough rule, and having a tough rule like that where it’s very tempting to meddle is a good thing because it does set up real moral dilemmas, but solving that by breaking the rule every time because you are convinced your values are the right ones, and always having that gamble work out, is cheating).

        • Nick says:

          (I think the Prime Directive is a tough rule, and having a tough rule like that where it’s very tempting to meddle is a good thing because it does set up real moral dilemmas, but solving that by breaking the rule every time because you are convinced your values are the right ones, and always having that gamble work out, is cheating).

          Breaking it when it’s convenient is bad, but very pointedly not breaking it to stop the long suffering and death of an entire species is unarguably worse.

          ETA: Enterprise, giving us the worst Prime Directive story of all, before there even was a Prime Directive!

        • MrApophenia says:

          The fact that this is set in the new timeline gives them their official out for the more technologically advanced TOS-era. Remember, this isn’t just a universe where history was changed a few decades earlier – it’s a universe where a bunch of century-ahead future tech showed up, and was promptly captured and studied by the locals for 25 years. (The backstory for the Abrams movie is that Kirk’s dad crippled the bad guys’ ship, and it and they were captured by the Klingons and studied before they got free again.)

          To be fair, this explains the Klingons having much better technology, but it’s not obvious how this would get to the Federation, given that it’s a big plot point that the humans have had almost no dealing with the Klingons. On the other hand, the Vulcans absolutely have, and it seems plausible that some of the technology could have spread from there.

          I don’t expect they’ll ever go super in detail about it, but the presence of a TNG-era ship getting dumped into the timeline and studied for decades is plausible enough for me to handwave away why the tech is different.

          • Don P. says:

            “The fact that this is set in the new timeline…”

            — I don’t think that’s true, although I’m having trouble finding a from-the-horse’s-mouth statement. Time Magazine’s recent article says:

            “The writers have said that Discovery will maintain continuity with the old series, and events from Discovery will explain plot points in the original Trek…the writers say all the discrepancies between Discovery and the original show will be explained.”

            I also have read that the movie IP is contractually separate from the TV IP, or at least not included in the TV contract, but I can’t find that either right now so take that as a rumor.

            (From http://time.com/4952491/star-trek-discovery-timeline/)

        • thepenforests says:

          The little bit I saw of it has one problem, so far as I’m concerned: the tech is way ahead of anything we see in TOS (that ‘walking around the bridge’ hologram of the Admiral for a start) but the timeline is supposed to be just before (fuzzy on how long that is) the start of TOS.

          Okay, I know the outside-universe reason for this is because this is 2017 and audiences expect up to date flash tech, and would not accept the traditional Trek technology, also the show wants to be new, different and special so it’s throwing all this fancy eye-candy at us to hook us and make us sign up to pay to watch.

          Haven’t watched much Star Trek in general, and haven’t seen Discovery at all, but: sounds like a similar situation to Star Wars. And if the way the prequel trilogy was handled is any indication, they probably won’t address it at all (beyond at most a few extremely unconvincing hand-wavy explanations). So…I’m guessing it’ll pretty much be left up to the fans, who have the option of going full-on Doylist, coming up with slightly less unconvincing retcons, or just trying not to think about it too much.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Star Trek Discovery was one of those rare shows that I was physically unable to watch. All the random camera angles, combined with pointless jump cuts every 1..2 seconds, made it totally impossible for me to follow. Made me dizzy, too. And that’s even before the lens flares…

    • BBA says:

      I’m just a little upset I missed it, and even the “free preview” episode needs a subscription to stream online – which I have no intention of doing. WTF, CBS.

    • Elephant says:

      Having now watched the first two episodes, and the teaser for the rest of the season, I’m not excited about watching more. The whole thing looks like it’s going to be Dark and Gritty Space War, with maybe some Dark and Gritty character arcs. What happened to discovering new worlds and new civilizations, and even having a little fun?

      • Matt M says:

        I mean that’s basically what DS9 was, and everyone praised it…

        • toastengineer says:

          DS9 wasn’t really that dark, and it was in a time when the market was hungry for that, not saturated with it.

          And I suspect it was more praised for having people realistically react to extreme and dramatic situations than for being generically “gritty.”

        • John Schilling says:

          Also, it was an inferior knock-off of Babylon 5 in every way except the production values, so not all of us were praising it.

          “We’re not some Deep Space franchise – this place is about something!”, S. Ivanova and P. David, S2E14,

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I really liked the visuals. The show looked great. And it had promise up until it looked like the plot is going to revolve around War among the Stars. That’s a different franchise. I was hoping Discovery would be about exploring strange new worlds and new civilizations, but I guess not.

      On the other hand, I really enjoyed the third episode of The Orville.

  31. BBA says:

    The first science fiction convention (and thus the first fan convention of any kind) was held in the 1930s. As with most other topics within fandom, which event was the first convention is up for debate. The contenders are the First Eastern Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia, held October 18, 1936, and the First British Science Fiction Conference in Leeds, held January 3, 1937. I don’t believe anyone who attended either convention is still living, but we have their linked reminiscences to record what went on at each convention.

    The central point of contention is that the Leeds Science Fiction League had started planning their convention in September ’36 and to that end had rented a convention hall, organized a program of speeches, etc. The American convention, meanwhile, had only been planned a few days in advance as a visit of New York’s main SF club at the time, the NYB-ISA, to meet with their Philadelphia counterparts, the PSFS (which unlike the other clubs I mentioned, still exists). After some sightseeing, the two cities’ groups gathered in the living room of a Philadelphia fan and spontaneously proclaimed themselves a “convention.” This was apparently the idea of Don Wollheim, who had read about the planned British convention and wanted to beat them to the punch.

    There are cases to be made as to both events being called the “first convention.” From a modern viewpoint, they both seem very similar. Notably, they both were tiny compared to modern cons, with 9 and 14 attendees respectively. Neither had any guests (although Arthur C. Clarke gave a talk at the Leeds con, he was just a fan at the time!) or a dealer’s room. True, there was no set program at the Philadelphia con, but there are unstructured “relaxacons” being held to this day. The main point in favor of Leeds is that they had announced and advertised their event, while the Americans had done neither. But fandom being as small as it was at the time, I doubt that there was anyone who would’ve wanted to go to Philadelphia but hadn’t heard about it in advance.

    Personally, I give the edge to the Philadelphia convention, because I’m a jingoist, America fuck yeah because of the later history of conventions that sprang from it. The main result of the “business meeting” in Philadelphia was to organize a “Second Eastern” convention in New York for the spring of 1937. At that somewhat larger convention, the decision was made to hold a “World” convention in conjunction with the New York World’s Fair of 1939. And thus Worldcon was born, and the rest is history. In addition, the PSFS held the “Third Eastern” in the fall of 1937, followed by another con in fall of ’38, and what they’ve since named “Philcon” continues to this day.

    The Leeds group also made plans for future conventions, and established the Science Fiction Association as a national club to organize fan activities. The SFA sponsored the second and third British conventions in London, in ’38 and ’39, before the war put a halt to their activities. After the war, Worldcon and the American fan groups resumed, with the planned hosts of the 1942 con in Los Angeles going ahead with it in 1946. The SFA, sadly, did not reform, and it was an entirely different fan group that restarted the British national conventions in 1948.

    In some sense, then, every mob of cosplayers that’s terrorized a major city over a weekend can trace its heritage back to the handful of nerds who proclaimed themselves a convention in 1936.

    (Side note: according to Fancyclopedia, from the first Worldcon until 1960 or so the standard usage was to reserve the name “convention” for a national or international event. Smaller regional events like Philcon were called “conferences,” and even smaller gatherings could be deemed “conclaves” or “confabulations.” This usage is basically defunct, although it does explain why so many events call themselves SomethingCon.)

  32. Chouchani says:

    I am going to start teaching to inmates next weeks (not in the US): do you have some advice ?
    More specifically, what should I do /not do so as to assert my authority over tougher and older people ?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      That sounds like a question we as a group are uniquely unqualified to answer.

      Side note, what are you teaching them?

    • You don’t say what you are teaching or in what context. My only suggestion is that you should make it clear why what you are teaching is of value to them. That will be more persuasive if attending is voluntary–you don’t say if it is.

      • Chouchani says:

        Sorry for the lack of precision – I haven’t myself been fully briefed yet. I’ll be teaching HS-level Maths and Physics mostly, in a French prison. The inmates there will be serving either short sentences or awaiting trial which implies a lot of turnover, and complicates teaching conditions.

        Attending is voluntary, as I won’t be teaching juveniles. I’ve been told, however, that for a non-negligible minority of inmates the motivation for attending classes is that it can reduce prison time: some therefore don’t feel an incentive to actually learn.

    • willachandler says:

      Inmates have stories … understand and respect those stories … you have a story too … insist that your inmate-students understand and respect it.

      In or out of prisons, successful classes nurture and strengthen the hopeful elements of shared stories — the resulting diverse-yet-compatible commitments power the class.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I lack sufficient information both about you and the inmates to give any detailed advice, and as Nabil notes, this is probably the wrong crowd to ask anyway (talk to your fellow teachers, the prison chaplain if applicable, or any guard who doesn’t appear to be complete d-bag).

      That said, the most common mistake I saw from newly promoted Lts and NCOs was not following through on threats. IE if you tell someone that you’re going to “write them, up” or kick them out of the class, for being disruptive YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO IT, and do so with the absolute minimum of hesitation or ambiguity. You also need to remember that you’re not there to make friends, (which isn’t to say you can’t make friends) you are there to teach and they are there to learn and this must come before all other considerations

      • CatCube says:

        To add to this, a corollary to hlynkacg’s advice is to be judicious with threats. Because you’ll have to carry them out to be credible, be sure you don’t make threats that you aren’t willing or able to carry out. The prisoners are likely to know as well as or better than you what a teacher can or can’t do, and if you threaten to do something that you can’t do it’ll destroy your credibility.

        Also remember that it’s better to be a little too strict at first, then lighten up. People get really resentful of people who establish start out easygoing and then try to tighten the screws when things get out of hand. They mind it a lot less when people start with too strict a classroom/workplace/etc. and then loosen up when it becomes apparent that they don’t need to be that strict. I don’t mean like Captain Bligh, just make sure your rules are fair and known and that you will enforce them to the letter.

      • Carolus says:

        Having taught at San Quentin for years one of my favorite memories was a student exclaiming “You aren’t here to make friends, are you?” To which I responded “No, I’m not!”

        He had just asked whether something was going to be on the exam and my response was something like “Just learn the material.” His response was delivered with a grin – as was my retort! A good classroom is based on mutual respect, but not friendship.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I have family in corrections, and family in education, and have done a lot of paid adult tutoring.

      Keep your word inviolate- everyone respects this, but inmates especially so. Don’t make threats or promises you cannot or will not keep- that includes things like “if you work hard, you’ll be great at this!” if they might not be even with effort, as well as the more prosaic “if you disrupt class again, I’ll report you to the officer”.

      Since your sessions won’t be guaranteed to build on themselves (due to high turnover), focus on standalone “puzzle-style” topics that introduce and solve a problem in one session. Lots of this in algebra and some in physics- though with physics it will be tougher to introduce problems without teaching some definitions/vocabulary first. I’ve had some success with tutoring physics (I got an AS in it before I switched to math) by pitching it as better understanding how the world works, and by trying to tie it to future topics that require it and might appeal to the student (say, engineering, or sports medicine, etc.).

      General tips for teaching adults: Respect their life stories, accomplishments, and challenges, but don’t let them use it as baggage to excuse failure. Do not encourage “group discussions” or other student-to-student interaction where you aren’t directly mediating it until well after you’ve got a read on the relative status dynamics and likely personalities. Project knowledge and self-confidence: You want to give the impression that the time they are spending with you is valuable. Do not give out additional personal information that would dox/connect you to the students, but don’t hesitate to make up stories that demonstrate principles you want to teach- many people respond better to concrete past-tense experiences rather than hypothetical thought experiments, even if it’s just a matter of phrasing.

    • Carolus says:

      I volunteered at San Quentin for years during grad school via the Prison University Project .
      Surprisingly with that population, asserting authority wasn’t an issue. I can’t remember ever having to deal with disruptive behavior beyond talking in the back. The most common misbehavior was simply not doing the work. That, I would let slide (even though I failed the worst offender). You have to decide whether you want to let the slackers slack or spend time motivating them. I found it was better to focus on those who wanted to get something from the class. You’ll need to feel out your classroom and determine what the best approach is, but I don’t think you will find it to be a battle of wills.

      Most of the time just be consistent in what you say and do. Think of them as students and treat them with the same respect you’d give to any other student. You are there to teach, you aren’t there to rehabilitate. Rehabilitation comes from the confidence they’ll gain by doing something they thought they couldn’t do and by being treated as a member of the classroom and with respect.

      Part of treating them like a student is not asking them about their personal lives. You wouldn’t ask a traditional student invasive questions – same applies here.
      They’ll share, if you do it long enough.

      Good luck, it’ll be a great experience if it is anything like mine. Please share what your impressions were like on your first day. I remember being more intimidated by the guards than the students!

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      If you are a woman with male inmates:
      Look, dress, speak, move as unsexy as possible.

  33. johan_larson says:

    Red River Valley is a whole lot of fine melody per unit of difficulty. Do any other pieces of music manage to do better, when adjusted for difficulty?

    • Zorgon says:

      It’s certainly heartwarming, but I’m so poisoned by the culture war at this point I can only see it as “BLM activists given free publicity after expressing the motte version of their position to the usual rapturous applause”.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:


        Getting beyond Social Justice to looking for peace with people.

        • keranih says:

          As a person adjacent to those Wilson is trying to convert/understand, I think his approach needs a bit more work. He’s still stuck in the idea that he’s got all the right answers.

          (But perhaps when he’s talking to altright (rather than to ctl left, as he is in the ted talk) he phrases things differently.)

          I do appreciate the effort, though. And I am completely stealing the concept of internet trolls as those beings who dwell under the overpasses of the information superhighway.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Good talk, but I agree with keranih. He didn’t quite understand the people or issues he was talking about.

          1) Grouping Milo Yiannopoulos with Richard Spencer and David Duke is an outgroup homogeneity bias error.

          2) He responded to “white genocide” fears with an allegory to nature, but a steelman of white genocide casts it as a political problem, not a natural selection problem. Responding to a political process that enslaves or exterminates blacks with “lol I guess nature doesn’t like black people” would not be a persuasive argument, certainly not to black people. If his goal is to engage with people who hold this view and change their minds, he needs a better argument.

          3) On echo chambers, I get the impression he believes the situation is symmetric. He was in a liberal bubble, and assumed the right or the alt right is in a right-wing bubble. One would have to be very dedicated to establish a right-wing bubble, and would therefore obviously be aware of it. Blue Tribe cultural values are pumped into the homes of everyone with a television set, are enshrined in every school curriculum and every HR department. To not get messages like “racism and sexism are bad” and “diversity is our strength” you would have to not watch TV, movies, the NFL, attend school, or hold down a job. It’s far more likely that right-wingers have heard left-wing arguments and reject them than that right-wingers exist in a bubble and have never heard left-wing arguments, and that left-wing conceptions of right-wing arguments are filtered through left-wing sources. Listening to what the Daily Show says about a Donald Trump speech is not the same thing as listening to a Donald Trump speech.

          4) Too much focus on facts. There’s this idea that “my side has the facts and the other side believes lies and slanders, and if we just get them to see the facts they’ll agree with me!” No. What matters is which facts are relevant to you. An unarmed black man is shot by police on the same day a pretty white girl is raped by an illegal Mexican. CNN devotes 24/7 coverage to the shooting, while Breitbart devotes article after article to the rape. Liberals get really worked up about the shooting and police brutality and don’t give much concern to the rape or illegal immigration, and conservatives are up in arms about the rape and illegal immigration and mostly indifferent to the shooting or policing issues. Which group is ignoring the facts and wallowing in lies? The world is full of facts, the vast majority of which are irrelevant to us. Agreeing on the facts is far less important than agreeing which facts are relevant.

  34. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    It’s a description of the anatomy of the heart and how it relates to movement. There are exercises to give the heart more room– the heart sits on the diaphram, is between the lungs, and is suspended from the top at the back and front.

    The heart and lungs form a large ball joint in the middle of your chest (ok, a little to the left), and it feels good to appreciate movement in that area. To be more exact, it feels good to me, and I expect it would feel good to most people.

    There’s a plausible argument that it’s good for the heart to have room, and this takes a relaxed, upright posture. Hunching or slouching means the heart has less room.

    This is me speaking, not Franklin– aiming directly at being more upright isn’t necessarily helpful because it’s possible to just add more tension. There are a lot of systems that aim at freedom of movement rather than correct shape, and I think they’re more sensible.

  35. Mwncsc says:

    Art & entertainment by controversial artists:

    After getting involved in a moderator-truncated conversation on another site about Top Gear and Woody Allen, I would like to further discuss if it is possible to appreciate and analyze art without acknowledging the personal failings or exploits of the creator.

    In my opinion, it is possible to enjoy a show or a film without giving any thought to the character of the artist. Roman Polanski is a rapist, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy Chinatown any less. Further, I don’t think it is necessary to preface any discussion of Chinatown with a rote restatement of the facts against Mr. Polanski and an assurance that the critic finds him totally reprehensible. Obviously if you are writing about how Polanski’s status as a fugitive impacted his directorial vision, bring up whatever is relevant.

    I was taught that authorial intent was not the sole prism through which art could be understood. What, then, is authorial character?

    • Randy M says:

      Perhaps an analogy can be made to a criminal trial for something like self-defense. Character isn’t relevant if you know the intent, but that can’t always be known. In some circumstance, intent isn’t even relevant, but it can be in others, like an ambiguous work with some possibly immoral (for whatever criteria matters to the critic in question) implications, and character can be a clue to what that intent likely was.

    • Montfort says:

      I tend to agree with you. I don’t think discussions of most shows or films really hinge on authorial intent, much less character. But since these works are usually for mass consumption, and so are the discussions of them, it probably saves time and effort for the critic to repeat the standard disclaimer rather than have to deal with every fifth person chiming in with it like it’s new and pertinent information.

      If you had a more closed format, like an academic journal or at an industry event or similar, it would be easier and productive to discard that kind of boilerplate. Or, for an example maybe closer to your experience, I’d expect a forum specializing in media criticism (of a more serious kind than just quick reactions) would be more sympathetic to your ideas than if you posted in the media criticism/discussion area of a more general forum.

    • keranih says:

      I would like to further discuss if it is possible to appreciate and analyze art without acknowledging the personal failings or exploits of the creator.

      I think it is not always easy, but nearly always preferable. I am not always able to do this – Polanski is a great example.

      For me, it’s easier if I focus on the art, rather than the creator of it. I’m not entirely ok with this approach, as it ‘cheats’ the creator of my appreciation of their effort and talent. But at least this way I can appreciate the work itself.

      As to the larger (and unasked) question of how much we should honor people for the good they do, and how much of the bad they do we should ignore/forgive – that I don’t have any answer for.

    • BBA says:

      If the artist’s identity is intimately associated with the work, then it can become impossible to enjoy. The Cosby Show – named after its creator/star/producer/quasi-autobiographical subject – was one of the most successful shows ever, but is likely to never appear on television or be available commercially again.

      What becomes harder is if a work is a collaboration. Phil Spector is a murderer, but should this ruin our enjoyment of songs he co-wrote or produced? Should Darlene Love stop singing “Baby Please Come Home” each Christmas, even though the song is much more closely associated with her than with Spector?

      The trivial answer is to simply refuse to enjoy anything with a contribution from someone who’s done something morally unsavory, but then we’d be down to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and maybe not even that if you start combing through every name in the credits.

    • A lot depends on whether something is meant to be cosily family entertainment, or dark and transgressive…rock starts and the like get away with a lot.

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      Can you read the sex scenes in any book by MZB without vomiting?

      I feel ill just remembering I had read them, decades ago, before I knew.

  36. HFARationalist says:

    Defending Merchants and Merchant Cultures

    Merchants or at least some merchants are vilified in many moralistic traditional cultures. So are merchant cultures. However I don’t believe there is anything wrong with either. Merchants are a healthy part of a society. Earning money is morally good.

    Here I would like to mention antisemitism which is basically a prudish, jealous or lunatic response to legitimate trade and legitimate merchants who just happen to be good at their jobs.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      You might be interested in Jane Jacobs’ Systems of Survival.

      • HFARationalist says:

        Thanks! I have bought it. I fully identify as someone who largely behave in a commercial manner which explains many of my behaviors. In fact I even desire that traditionally guardian issues be dealt with in a commercial manner.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I think you’re mistaken on a couple of grounds here.

      First, a culture need not be moralistic or traditional to dislike a group perceived as both merchants and foreign. They just need to be envious, feel that they’re getting ripped off, whatever. “Those people who aren’t us are doing awfully well, they must be pulling some sneaky tricks” with a possible side of “also there’s fewer of them than there are of us, so…” doesn’t need moralism or traditionalism.

      Second, anti-Semitism is a lot more complicated than that. Consider all the religiously-based European anti-Jewish traditions (blood libel, etc). That occurred whatever the role the Jews in a given place played in the local economy.

      • HFARationalist says:

        I agree that antisemitism is more complicated than that.

        As for your first point, I already included “jealousy” into a cause of antisemitism. A foreign group that does really well in trade is very likely to either be cognitively much better than natives, culturally much better than natives or both. There is a reason why cats can cause extinction of birds on small islands. And..this is not the cats’ fault. Similarly there is a reason why Indians can dominate trade in Uganda and it is not Indians’ fault. The only legit way for natives to take back their market is to be as good as the foreign ones. Using violence to achieve it is illegitimate and does not actually cause natives to retain the market. Instead the businesses tend to fail or new foreigners who are as competent as the old ones take over the market returning the situation to square zero. For example Zimbabwean blacks believed that there is a white problem. When many white farmers are gone black Zimbabweans do not really take care of the farms that well. The same applies to Indonesians expelling Chinese. That did not make natives more capable of running businesses.

        As for your second point I included “lunatics” and “prudes” as well. People who invented well poisoning etc were insane.

        • Mark says:

          Using violence to achieve it is illegitimate and does not actually cause natives to retain the market.

          Would you describe Sakoku as a success or a failure? If the Japanese have the same cognitive potential as Europeans (or greater) is violence against foreign merchants justified?
          How can we tell?

          Also, you had the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, which I don’t believe had any long term major economic consequences?

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Mark Sakoku was overwhelmingly a bad idea. Japan needed to make sure that Catholicism does not become a problem by instigating people to revolt against Japan in favor of Spain and Portugual. That’s it. Trade itself on the other hand is good.

            If violence against foreign merchants has no long term major economic consequences then it did not need to happen in the first place because this implies that natives could more or less compete with them.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is a history of how non-Jews have seen Jews, and it’s a sad story of people just making stuff up.

          One thing that came as a surprise to me was how frantic the situation was for early Christians– they had what they thought was the true Messiah, but He didn’t resemble the Jewish prophecies (which expected real-world victory) or the Greek philosophy of an impersonal God.

          Jews not accepting Christ was a hard problem for Christians. I can’t say the Christians handled it gracefully, but then I wouldn’t.

          • dndnrsn says:

            To a large extent Christianity became a thing due to this weirdo Jewish cult sect having to answer the question “so the guy who was supposed to be the new hotness just got humiliatingly executed by the occupying colonial power – what’s up with that?”

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          As I understand it, part of what went wrong in Zimbabwe was that the farms which were confiscated from white farmers didn’t go to black farmers, they went to black people (in the military, I think) who were getting favors from the government.

          • HFARationalist says:

            Neither would help black Zimbabweans though. You don’t just know how to manage something by being offered it.

            Managing a farm requires a lot. And..this is what many black Zimbabweans haven’t learned yet. You need fertilizers. You need to constantly take care of the crops, etc. Most black Africans really haven’t learn that in history maybe because their population density was seldom high enough due to diseases to require intensive agriculture. I don’t consider it a form of racial inferiority or something because mere lack of knowledge doesn’t imply stupidity.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I don’t know enough about black Zimbabwean farmers to have a strong opinion. My guess is that at least some of them would have risen to the occasion, and they generally would have done better than people who weren’t farmers and had just been handed the land as corruption.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz Sure. However this isn’t the most important factor. There are enough lands in Africa that can feed everyone if properly taken care of.

          • . says:

            @HFAR: I don’t think this is central to your point anyway, but I strongly suspect that you are wrong about this. The Bantu have been farming since 400 AD at the latest. As for fertilizer, even if we assume that Black Zimbabwe didn’t have the industrial base to produce lots of fertlizer, surely they could just buy it.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @. I agree with you that Bantus indeed knew how to harm which is one reason why there was a Bantu expansion.

            However merely farming is no longer sufficient to feed Africa which has more people than before. Efficiency matters. Leaving too much arable land gathering dust is no longer a good idea. Pickling and drying food is a good idea for famines can occur. And..if you want to sell anything you’d better learn how to compete against your global competitors.

            As for fertilizers the cheapest ones are free. They are called manure. I’m glad that many people in Africa are already trying to make their land more productive. That’s a good start.

            Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa is indeed awful. However if they try I think they can produce some fertilizers on their own. The main difficulty is infrastructure instead of technology for an average high school student can already understand how to manufacture ammonia but without adequate energy supplies you aren’t going to get ammonia production finished.

          • Aapje says:

            The white Zimbabwean farmers had black workers and if the farms had been handed over to them, they might plausibly have done a decent job.

          • HFARationalist says:

            @Aapje Sure.

    • Mark says:

      I don’t know.

      I was going to say that a useful distinction might be drawn between anti-merchant sentiment owing purely to jealousy of wealth gained by performing some useful social function, and jealousy of power, and that Evil May Day might be an example of the former.
      That’s how Evil May Day was taught to me at school. But, having a look at it:

      Several prominent aliens became infamous for both their political power and scandalous behaviour… the king granted him licence to trade overseas without paying customs duties. Most notoriously of all, de Bardi persuaded the wife of an Englishman to come and live with him, leaving her husband but bringing his silver and gold plate along with her. Remarkably, de Bardi then sued the Englishman and had him arrested for failing to pay the cost of his wife’s lodging.

      Man… those merchant tricks.

      Another especially well-known immigrant was John Meautys…he lived at a large house called Green Gate on Leadenhall Street, where he sheltered some of his countrymen from English law. According to a chronicler of the time, Meautys’ home became a prominent sanctuary for French pickpockets and wool-carders, who flouted London’s rules on trading. His royal favour ensured that Green Gate remained largely outside the law.

      Maybe we can say that merchants are a valuable part of society, but that there has to be a limit to how far they can control society. (Or that there will be a reaction from other groups if their power is seen to extend too far.)
      If I remember correctly, David Graeber’s argument in ‘Debt’ was that Judaism emerged as a reaction to debt peonage – a reaction against mercantile ethics.

      So, yeah. There’s a place for merchants, just as there is a place for warriors. We don’t want society run purely for either of these groups’ benefit, though. We want them in their place.

  37. HFARationalist says: