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Open Thread 88.25

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

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711 Responses to Open Thread 88.25

  1. Calvin says:

    Is there any kind of physical book someone can recommend which fulfills the role of the “sequences” or “Rationality: From AI to Zombies” in introducing someone to the rationality sphere/community? I have a few friends who I know would be fascinated by the conceptual/epistemological aspects of the community, but who don’t want to read a bunch of random blog posts.

    And those friends need Christmas gifts…

    • Nornagest says:

      I usually recommend Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”, although some parts of it haven’t weathered the replication crisis too well. (Same’s true for the Sequences, though.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        If you assume the parts based on studies which turned out not to be replicable aren’t sound, how much is left?

        • albatross11 says:

          Kanneman has a memorable bit on priming research in his book, in which he says something like “This may seem unbelievable, but it’s been so well demonstrated experimentally that it’s rock-solid and you have to believe it.” I don’t know how the replication crisis has hit other parts of his book, but that one was pretty jarring.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The Sequences, written long before Thinking Fast and Slow, held up much better because it focused much more on Kahneman and Tversky. I’m not sure about Ariely’s book, published only slightly after the Sequences.

    • Egregious Philbin says:

      To address your question directly: I personally can’t. (edit: +1 for TFaS, per above)

      But I want to half-answer you by bringing attention to the fact that MIRI just released the ‘official’ audiobook for Rationality: From AI to Zombies as a podcast. Apparently when Castify – the company originally sanctioned to narrate the text when it was a project undertaken a few years ago – went under, they gave permission to release the whole joint. Free.

      So perhaps your friends are more willing to listen to A Bunch of Random Blog Posts instead.

      On a separate note: a sincere Happy Birthday to Scott. I’ll indulge a Betteridge headline just for your special day.

    • Nick says:

      I think this is the third open thread in a row in which this has been asked. It would be helpful if someone could just put together a “Sequences in all forms” post or something; I’d be willing to if no one else is.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I haven’t read it, but Eliezer has noted that the contents of the sequences overlap heavily with “Good and Real” by Gary Drescher.

      • sohois says:

        Good and Real crosses over only with specific parts, namely those that are more philosophical and the QM sequence. Yo’d want to also read something like Thinking: Fast and Slow, or Predictably Irrational, or The Signal and the Noise, to get the same overall content.

    • meh says:

      They had for a long time been claiming that a physical version was on the verge of being released. But it never happened, though now they are claiming Yudkowsky’s new book will have a physical edition. Have no idea what the hold up with Rationality is.

    • Anthony says:

      It is available on Kindle – https://www.amazon.com/Rationality-AI-Zombies-Eliezer-Yudkowsky-ebook/dp/B00ULP6EW2/ – but that’s not as satisfying as a physical book.

    • Incurian says:

      HP:MoR is really good. I didn’t think it would be, but I was wrong.

    • Eponymous says:

      Add me to the list of people who think that Eliezer’s failure to condense his OB posts into a decently-edited book (as people usually think of the term) was a quite bad thing. There are several people for whom I would buy this book who would not read it in its current form; and I suspect I am not alone.

  2. Odovacer says:

    Would you support a political candidate who used online or paper polls of his constituents before he voted on something? Something like he’d have a poll on his website about current bills or issues and he would weigh the results of that heavily when taking legislative action.

    Is such a thing possible? Or would it be too open to outside manipulation?

    • Nornagest says:

      If I didn’t, I think I’d quickly run short of national-level candidates to support.

      EDIT: Oh wait, online polls. Yeah, Evan’s right, those are too easy to manipulate.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Online polls? If he didn’t have very good plans in place to address sockpuppets, bots, clickspammers, etc., I would take it as a sign that he refuses to understand the Internet, wonder what other important issues he refuses to understand, and vote against him. Such huge incompetence and naivite would outweigh virtually everything else about the election in my mind.

      And it’d make no difference if he just said “I have a plan” but didn’t explain it in enough detail to convince me it actually worked. If there’re obvious holes in his plan to address something I do know about, or if he doesn’t lay it out for us voters, what does that say about his future plans to address things I don’t know anything about?

      • Aapje says:

        @Evan Þ

        If he didn’t have very good plans in place to address sockpuppets, bots, clickspammers, etc.

        Those are problems with anonymous online polls. You can mostly eliminate such issues by vetting voters before giving them a single account.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think this is two questions:

          a. Could we get some kind of real-time polling mechanism working that would be resistant to attack. (I think so. David Chaum has done some really cool work in this area, for example.) It wouldn’t be trivial to set up, but it’s possible.

          b. Given that mechanism, would I like to have some/many/all representatives using it to guide their votes. And if so, how much would I want them to follow it?

          (i) All the time–so that the representative’s vote is simply a reflection of what his supporters wanted?

          This is possible, and you could do it very transparently using something like Chaum’s scheme for random sample elections. But it’s a very different form of government than what we have. I suspect this wouldn’t work so well in our system, for two reasons: First, it makes compromise impossible–the transaction costs of negotiating between my voters and yours are too high, so it will be very hard to make deals. Second, it ignores specialization–a congressman and his staffers can spend all day every day understanding what they’re voting on; polled normal voters will have day jobs. (Even if they take a day or two off to study up on stuff they’re asked about.)

          (ii) In general, with some exceptions which he specially notes and explains. (For example, he might say he’s unwilling to go with the poll results in the case of this terrorism bill due to additional information he’s gotten in classified briefings that has changed his mind.)

          This would be better than (i), but runs into the same sort of problems. Besides, the Schelling point here is to vote with the polls, so probably congressmen would be too reluctant to dissent from the polls.

          (iii) Not really, but he’ll use it as a guide to understanding how his voters feel about issues.

          That seems worthwhile. It doesn’t undermine specialization or compromise. It’s probably going to matter whether the results of the polls are also made public or not–if they are, he’s likely to be under a lot of pressure to follow the polls most of the time; if not, the system isn’t really all that transparent.

          • Iain says:

            I suspect this wouldn’t work so well in our system, for two reasons: First, it makes compromise impossible–the transaction costs of negotiating between my voters and yours are too high, so it will be very hard to make deals.

            This, I think, is the fundamental problem with direct democracy. Good governance requires compromise and bargaining. I don’t see how you get that with direct democracy.

    • Brad says:

      To get the nub of the question, I don’t want direct democracy. I used to think it was a good idea but I don’t anymore. California initiatives played a big role in that. Brexit a smaller one.

      • Randy M says:

        I would be interested in seeing it tried. My preferred test tube would be an alternate yet observable universe somewhere. Failing that, maybe Rhode Island or something.

        • Protagoras says:

          I guess the current RI government is bad enough to make experiments seem like they might be worth trying. But given what has happened in the past when Rhode Islanders have experimented with alternatives to the usually dominant machine, I expect they’d screw it up.

          • Randy M says:

            Ah, man, now you think I know something about Rhode Island–not really. I was just going for small, modern, and low international impact.

            But I expect the trouble with direct democracy is that very much of the implementation would fall to interpretation, selective enforcement, etc.
            That is, the problem with running a good direct democracy experiment. Implementation problems may actually be features, not bugs in the end. I don’t know, I’m getting older and full of doubt. 😉

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s also a huge amount of culture and institutions and such that grow up around any form of government, and that determine a lot of how it works. Probably any new form of government will spend several years growing that stuff. Both beneficial surrounding culture and parasitic/harmful stuff will grow up. And I think it’s pretty common to have almost the same form of government on paper in two different countries, with radically different actual functioning governments, because of all that unwritten stuff and social capital and such.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I would be interested in seeing it tried. My preferred test tube would be an alternate yet observable universe somewhere. Failing that, maybe Rhode Island or something.

          Switzerland?

    • Aapje says:

      @Odovacer

      A political party that would make all their senators vote based on poll results participated in the 2017 Dutch Elections, but they didn’t get anywhere near enough support for a seat. They got 5000 votes out of 10 million total votes, even less than the Non Voters party (a party who promised that their senators would not vote on anything).

      The plan was to give every paying member of the party an account for a website where they could vote once for each poll.

      The obvious weakness is the same weakness that allows Entryism: if few people bother voting, a highly motivated subset of voters could dominate the vote.

      • The obvious weakness is the same weakness that allows Entryism: if few people bother voting, a highly motivated subset of voters could dominate the vote.

        Hm, I think that might be a feature, not a bug. I like the idea of only those interested in a particular topic doing the voting. Of course this could result in the problem of special interests only voting in areas that benefit those special interests, but if voting was relatively simple, then we’d hopefully also get those that realize it is bad to have special interests voting in favor of special interests.

        Yeah, I think we need to test this in Rhode Island first.

  3. We can build an entirely rational case for human level artificial intelligence purely by starting with a materialist axiom and observing that humans exist. Empirically, we don’t know how much room the laws of physics allow above humans. Most who seem to think true AGI is possible at all, believe that super-intelligences are the order of the (future) day, so things are generally split between people who are naysayers about the entire thing, and people who believe in AI Gods, whereas the case that “AGI can be better than humans, but not all that much better; more in line with how other technology extends human capability” seems to have few serious advocates.

    We already have existing examples of AI capabilities outstripping human ones in narrow domains; what Deep Blue did for chess, what Watson did for Jeopardy, what Alpha Go did for Go. These are suggestive of the idea that you can just add a load of these models together and then you have general intelligence that’s vastly better in all domains. In light of that, what does the case for a low ceiling above humans look like?

    Is something like “It turns out that when you try to integrate all these modules into a truly general system that can perform across the human range of domains, the overall capability of the system declines towards the human level” plausible, or can we already debunk that? (I can’t remember if Scott addressed this specific thing ever)

    Of course, computers are scalable, so even if it turns out that with the same power and volume statistics, an AGI is human level, we can just scale it up and house it in a huge building to create the supercomputer version, but that does change the landscape of AGI risk a lot, if that’s true, because it means that the points of failure are reduced from every idiot running the magic AGI algorithm on their home computer and destroying the world, to giant corporations and governments being the only ones capable of ever creating dangerously powerful intelligences by adding up human level modules.

    Another related issue is how quickly the world can be changed and how many degrees of freedom are available when doing so. There’s abstract intelligence in terms of how many hypotheses you can test every second, and then there’s applied intelligence in terms of how many steps in a plan can actually be enacted in the world per second. The laws of physics put some pretty hard caps on movement speed, and as a consequence also put caps on how large the space of available response in any given situation. A super-intelligent AGI might in theory have millions of potential options while the stupid humans are only coming up with ten, but it might be that those ten are the only physically realizable options in the search space, and so the AGI’s freedom of action is rapidly diminished. If it wants to go to Barbados, it has to take the plane; there aren’t 50,000 cleverer ways of getting there.

    EDIT:

    As physical limits are realized, you’re getting lower and lower returns on testing hypotheses. We see this in all sorts of domains that seem esoteric, such as how supergeniuses despite being part of the human general intelligence category, have a limited ability to apply that intelligence in a linearly more effective way across all domains, and the reason for that is that some domains are topped out. Being a supergenius never gives you the same magnitude of improvement in being socially persuasive as it does in being good at physics. Language conveys limited information, and you are limited by who you are talking to, and so the improvements top out. Sure you can manipulate people less savvy than you, but there’s no point where you can guarantee a “yes” just because someone’s an idiot. There’s no special cryptic combination of words that allows you to do this. The intelligence is limited by its tools.

    • We already have existing examples of AI capabilities outstripping human ones in narrow domains; what Deep Blue did for chess, what Watson did for Jeopardy, what Alpha Go did for Go. These are suggestive of the idea that you can just add a load of these models together and then you have general intelligence that’s vastly better in all domains. In light of that, what does the case for a low ceiling above humans look like?

      I don’t even think you need to add a load of these models together to get something vastly better than humans. I think you just need a narrow AI that can do language as well as a human in order to truly blow the pandora’s box wide open.

      If we had a narrow AI that could do language as well as a human, we could simply type into its query box, “What do you need to become more powerful?” And it could research the answer for itself. And even if it could not implement the changes itself, it could explain to us in detail what changes or new capabilities it needed and how these capabilities could be obtained, and we would have step-by-step instructions for giving it those new capabilities.

      That said, it might be a little disingenuous to call “human-level language” a type of “narrow-AI,” as it’s likely that human-level language is actually the product of a collection of capabilities. After all, by “human-level,” we are ruling out a chatterbot that can simply dispense a bunch of grammatically-correct and statistically-correlated words from a databank. We are talking about a bot that can take into account contextual knowledge and assumptions about the interlocutor and the world in phrasing its questions and answers. In other words, we are assuming that it possesses not just grammar (which is fairly easy to mechanically program), but also a strong grasp of the semantics of words, and for that it is likely that any language program would already need to be integrated into image-recognition and sound-recognition programs and possibly other subroutines so that the bot can have a sense of how the referents of words (the actual things themselves in meatspace) are associated with each other in a way that goes beyond simply tallying statistical correlations of how the words are used together. So, for example, a human-level bot should have the contextual knowledge that a broom and a leafblower are in some sense related to each other—i.e. they are both used by humans to “clean or straighten up spaces” (which might be perhaps gleaned from seeing both objects in “similar” situations in images, where “similar” would also have to be understood by the bot, which in turn would require pre-existing contextual knowledge), even if no human on the internet has ever used the words “broom” and “leafblower” in a sentence together.

      I would love to have a chatterbot that could intelligently answer a query like, “Explain why the labor theory of value is correct or incorrect” in a 1000-page essay with internet-accessible references that it had trawled through to help it answer its question. I think, by the time we hit that mark, we are pretty much on the cusp of AGI, even if this sort of capability might on first glance only seem like narrow-AI.

      • John Schilling says:

        If we had a narrow AI that could do language as well as a human, we could simply type into its query box, “What do you need to become more powerful?”

        Why would you assume that a “narrow” AI’s answer to to that question would be accurate and complete? That certainly isn’t true of typical NI answers to questions of that sort, even collaborative NI answers involving millions of man-years of broad-scope effort, and you don’t seem to be positing superintelligence here.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      So let’s be clear about how the various AI triumphs have worked:

      1. Deep Blue did a bunch of straightforward, uninteresting (but impressive in terms of hardware) lookahead that was its major special sauce. It could, as I recall, process 200M board positions per second and had about 10 move lookahead in the mid-game. From its first win against Kasparov to the point where it could reliably beat grandmasters, they added some more interesting actual AI to it, but a big part of its special sauce has always been straight up “I can see all the combinations of moves out beyond where any human could.”

      2. Watson is maybe the most deceptive of the big AI triumphs. Is anyone really genuinely shocked that a computer with on-board storage of, you know, all of wikipedia and considerably more, is good at trivia? Watson paired “storage of many many terabytes of data” with “some awfully cool indexing schemes” with “barely good enough natural language comprehension in a highly restricted domain” to win at Jeopardy. The NLP AI was very impressive for what it was, but seriously subhuman. The ability to be “open book” with all of wikipedia is as it turns out a significant advantage at Jeopardy, enough to compensate for its subhuman NLP.

      3. AlphaGo is the most impressive of the AI triumphs, fittingly, precisely because there aren’t obvious “cheats” that it uses to shore up subhuman cognition in half the game with stuff that’s boringly obvious that computers do better. You can’t significantly lookahead in go, so its skill is mostly about developing heuristics. Still, we should maybe consider that humans just aren’t that good at go. Trying to reason about dozens or hundreds of little identical black and white dots in near-infinitely many configurations doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that human intelligence is great at. There are few high-level abstractions that you can glom onto in go, and what high-level abstractions there are are probably particularly lossy abstractions. The crazy genius of human intelligence, the thing that we don’t really understand about it, is how it seems to be able to turn an infinitely complex world into a predictable model: that we can understand at a glance that that person on the sidewalk is going to cross the street while that person on the sidewalk will not, that these people near each other are together and those people near each other are just near each other, that when my wife says, “I’m not mad at you,” sometimes she means “I’m not mad at you,” and sometimes she means, “I am super mad at you.” And like infinitely more things. It seems to have something to do with assigning input into higher-level models that have restricted behavior and then assigning those models to higher-yet models and reasoning at various levels of your models simultaneously. It seems plausible to me that the reason computers can beat us at go is that the higher level models in go are uniquely bad (ie, that go is a hard game for humans).

      With deep learning, we have convinced computers to assign input to higher-level models. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, they’re bad higher-level models. Adversarial attacks on image classification AI are really interesting, and I think they demonstrate a key weakness in current deep learning: the higher-level models that current deep learning assigns input into are naive. While we look at a cat and look for actual features of a cat (ears, fur, limbs, eyes), an AI looks at a cat and glops pixels together in ways that don’t have the same conceptual structure. This then makes the AI’s understanding of a cat weak in ways that ours aren’t, and lets us tweak fundamentally not-that-important pixels into thinking that the cat is a dump-truck.

      The hope has been that we could just, like, throw some computing at the problem and it would self-organize, and maybe if we get another few orders-of-magnitude of computer power, it will, but my guess is that there’s something going on there that we still don’t understand.

      Epistomological status of the above: you probably shouldn’t take me too seriously. I have a computer science degree but no real specialist knowledge about AI, and I may be reading too much into my understanding of deep learning the way that people who are obnoxious about quantum mechanics read way too much into lay articles about QM.

      • Iain says:

        I think you’re ascribing a little too much impressiveness to AlphaGo.

        AlphaGo’s architecture can be broken up into two main parts: a set of neural networks, and a Monte Carlo Tree Search component. There are three neural networks involved: a value network to evaluate boardstates, and two policy networks to help suggest moves (one faster, one more precise). The neural networks are where your stuff about high-level abstractions comes in. However, the policy networks on their own aren’t that good at Go: an 85% win rate against Pachi (Elo rating: 1298) implies an Elo around 1600, which is not very impressive: the equivalent of an intermediate amateur. There are other, stronger Go programs out there. It’s only once you get the search algorithms involved that AlphaGo really becomes a beast.

        MCTS is a case of straightforward brute force look-ahead, in the same vein as Deep Blue’s alpha-beta pruning. To over-simplify: pick a move, then play out a completely random game from that point. Use the result of that game to help pick another move, and repeat. Play moves that win a lot. In AlphaGo’s case, the neural networks don’t play on their own; they are used to help direct the tree search.

        Or, in other words: AlphaGo actually does “shore up subhuman cognition in half the game with stuff that’s boringly obvious that computers do better”.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        Watson was actually worse than that for a couple reasons:

        First, Jeopardy has a rule that you can’t ring in to answer a question until Alex is done reading it. So it regularly happens that 2 or 3 players have the answer and it’s just a reflex competition. One which Watson will always win.

        Second, a lot of questions were tricky enough that Watson had no clue. But since there were 2 human players, the points from those questions were split.

        Watson was impressive to be sure. But unfortunately the deck was stacked in its favor.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Anyone replaced their incandescent bulbs with LED-based bulbs? If so, any problems with them? The current-generation LEDs seem relatively cheap, bright and energy efficient.

    • Protagoras says:

      I have found that (possibly due to buying the cheapest ones I could find) the ones I have gotten have included a couple that failed early, but most of them have been long lasting (as they are supposed to be). That they don’t get hot like incandescents can also sometimes be an advantage. Haven’t really noticed any difference in quality of illumination.

    • Nornagest says:

      Color rendering is still kinda crap, especially for cheap bulbs. But that’s a relatively minor issue.

      • roystgnr says:

        It’s a major issue if you’re trying to do some sorts of artwork under LED lights. My wife has some for her studio (you can get a lot more brightness out of the same sockets if you avoid incandescent) but we got more-expensive high-CRI bulbs.

        For household lighting IMHO even the cheap LEDs are fantastic. I’m never buying another CFL again, and I think the only incandescent bulb we have left is the one in the oven.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Have you or your wife experimented with a variety of CRI? How much can you trust reported numbers between brands?
          Nybbler?

        • Brad says:

          How well do incandescent lights work for artwork, considering that their spectra aren’t especially similar to sunlight (though far better than florescent)?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Have you or your wife experimented with a variety of CRI? How much can you trust reported numbers between brands?

          When we bought the high-CRI bulbs, there weren’t many alternatives, so no experimentation. Without a spectrometer I can’t say how much I can trust them, but these weren’t no-name bulbs, IIRC they were Phillips but could have been Osram, so I doubt they were out and out lying. They are clearly better than 85-CRI fluorescents.

          @Brad:
          Tungsten lights have a color rendering index of 100. They are warmer (lower color temperature) than sunlight, but your eye adjusts to differences in light color temperature fairly well. So they work fine for artwork, but their inefficiency means to get a lot of light you get a LOT of heat. For instance, my wife has a pair of ECA photofloods for photographing (as opposed to making) her artwork. They have a 3200 color temperature, 250 watts each. You’d need more to light the whole studio.

      • The Nybbler says:

        My wife, also an artist, has some high-CRI fluorescents (not CFLs, 4′ T8s) that we bought a few years ago for her studio. If we were to replace them, there are high-CRI LEDs we’d use instead. I bought some from Hollywood Lights LED (CRI 93+) for our closet; they fit in 4′ T8/T12 fixtures but run on 120V. They only go down to 3200 color temperature unfortunately, but there are other manufacturers now which offer 3000 at ~95 CRI

    • CatCube says:

      I had a Cree bulb that failed very early, but the other two I’ve used have worked well.

      The really nice thing about LED (and CFL) is that you can put a much brighter bulb in for the same wattage; a “150W LED” will easily replace a 60W incandescent with lower power draw through the fixture.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m more interested in keeping the light level as it is, and lowering energy expenditures.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ve replaced most of my bulbs with LEDs. In general, I’ve been happy, though I have had a few fail earlier than I expected. I like the soft-white Cree bulbs for color rendering that’s pretty close to incandescent bulbs, and that also will allow some level of dimming. (Though LEDs don’t dim as far down as incandescents.)

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I have. They’re great. No problems at all.

    • JayT says:

      I’ve had no issues, and I have never had one go out. I bought my first one in 2010 or so. The newer ones have fantastic color, way better than CFL, and, to my eye, no different from incandescent.

    • Kevin C. says:

      I definitely prefer the LED bulbs to those terrible CFLs.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Most people are making a difficult decision to transition from CFL to LED, but compared to incandescents, the decision is easy. They will quickly pay for themselves. They won’t last as long as they promise, but longer than incandescents. For other aspects you can buy samples and judge for yourself. Make sure to check the color temperature. Most people prefer 2700K or 3000K over the cheaper 5000K (blue).

    • estelendur says:

      The LED bulb we have above the laundry machines takes a ridiculous amount of time to warm up to brightness, which leads to me just leaving it on the entire time laundry is running.

      On the other hand, it probably uses less electricity over those entire three hours than the incandescent would over whatever fraction of that I’m actively interacting with the laundry machines (I have to sort out clothes into “line dry” and “tumble dry” so it requires both light and some time).

      Also, it’s an old house so the electrics might be contributing to this issue…? I really don’t know why it takes so long to come to full brightness.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah, that is strange. My LED lights don’t have any noticable warm up time at all.

        • Brad says:

          Mine either. It’s CFLs that I have that problem with. Along with having crappy color light.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, that’s not standard LED behavior. I’ve noticed a barely-perceptible delay on some lights turning on (perhaps a tenth of a second–not long enough to be a problem), but all mine come on at what looks like full brightness.

            Are you sure you’re not using a CFL instead? That’s standard behavior for a CFL bulb.

        • JayT says:

          The very first LED I ever bought almost ten years ago, which I’m still using actually, has that issue. I’ve never understood why that is,because that would go against what I know about LEDs, but it definitely takes a while to get to full brightness.

    • lvlln says:

      The one negative experience I had with an LED bulb was that it made a buzzing noise. It was basically intolerable, and I quickly replaced it with another LED bulb, which I bought after verifying that its Amazon page specifically said it didn’t buzz. I’ve been very happy with LED bulbs otherwise. I don’t know why that LED bulb buzzed, as I stopped researching once I solved my problem, but I think it had to do with bulbs being designed for dimmers or not, and also maybe something that’s no longer an issue with current-gen LED bulbs.

    • Incurian says:

      Not all LEDs are created equal. Some will buzz, click, never turn completely off, and even heat up depending on what kind of fixtures/switches you have. Read reviews before purchasing. Philips Hue bulbs are fucking great, but they are very expensive.

      • albatross11 says:

        If I understand correctly, a lot of the complexity of LED bulbs is in the conversion from 120V AC to 3V DC or so. I think if we had house wiring for 3V DC I think the bulbs could be much cheaper and more reliable (because it’s the conversion electronics that goes bad). And I wonder if we eventually will have such wiring as a normal part of houses.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Unfortunately, wiring for 3VDC is a terrible idea, because of resistive losses; the wire size would have to be enormous. Unless we get room temperature superconducting wire. There are some arguments for wiring for 50VDC and other arguments for 170VDC or 340VDC. For the latter basically the first stage in a switching AC power supply is a full-wave rectifier, and efficient ones are costly, so why not rectify just once? For the former, 50VDC is considered “low voltage” and thus has fewer constraints for safety. But it’s too low to use for everything because of resistive losses.

          Conversion from 120VAC to 3VDC is pretty much a solved problem. The issue is money. Well, heat and money, but that tends to reduce to money alone except when package size is extremely constrained.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            But the package is constrained to be about the A19 package size. My understanding is that heat dissipation in the constrained space is most of the problem. (Probably heat dissipation from the LEDs, not from the transformers. GU4 bi-pin bulbs don’t have transformers, but are much more expensive than bulbs with standard E27 sockets. But the clicking is the fault of bad transformers.)

            You could side-step that by making incompatible bulbs with a separate transformer. This allows you to amortize the transformer over many bulb. Moreover, it allows the bulbs to be spaced out and not have heat dissipation issues. So these should be easier to design and cheaper. And yet, they are much more expensive than E27-compatible bulbs, probably because they are a niche product.

          • massivefocusedinaction says:

            I’ve occasionally wondered if a small solar panel array to run low voltage things like LEDs would justify the cost of extra wiring. Seems silly to convert low voltage DC to high voltage AC just to turn it back into low voltage DC for a decent number of appliances.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      Most of my CFI’s are still going 15-20 years later. When they burn out, I replace them with LEDs. The biggest issue is LEDs tend to have a very different color temperature from my CFI bulbs. I’m not too picky about color temperature, unless I’m trying to take a photograph, but even then I can use flash to make the house lighting irrelevant.

  5. meh says:

    In case anyone missed from the last open thread, I am curious in hearing anyones negative, or ‘not worth the time’ experiences with meditation.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Not exactly what you’re asking for, but in a DBT/Mindfulness/Stress Tolerance therapy group, I was explicitly warned away from attempting meditation due to my schizophrenia; apparently meditation can have seriously negative effects on us.

    • Well... says:

      Many times over the course of my life I’ve tried meditating, both guided and on my own, and I don’t think I’ve ever really “meditated.” I’ve sat there quietly, thought about things, and then felt like I was mostly wasting my time. Occasionally (particularly when the meditation was guided) I’ve gotten irritated.

      I’m a generally calm person (maybe unusually calm?), so maybe trying to push lower than my baseline screwed up my equilibrium and resulted in energy rebound.

    • mindspillage says:

      I tried about 10 minutes a day for a few months. And what I found was that I just didn’t care very much whether I did it or not–it’s not that I didn’t get anything out of it, but I didn’t feel I got anything out of it beyond getting some time alone where I was deliberately not paying attention to anyone or anything external (which I do think is necessary to have at least some of each day). I would get occasional moments of calm and clarity but not more than any other period of relaxation. And I find that when I get undistracted time I’d rather spend it doing something else.

    • tomconerly says:

      I tried daily for a few months. It didn’t really seem worth the time. Biggest effect was that it made it obvious when something was bothering/stressing me and I should address it (because my thoughts while meditating would always seem to go back to that thing even though I was trying to keep my mind clear).

    • rahien.din says:

      Disclaimer: I really enjoy meditation, and find that it is really useful for me. It’s genuinely improved my life.

      That said, the biggest barrier to meditation is when I already feel really bad (when I need to meditate the most) the initial effect of sitting is to become terribly aware of how bad I feel. There have been a couple of sessions that were positively excruciating, like every muscle in my body was holding its breath.

      I think this means I’m doing it right – meditation is not a make-happy-drug, it’s training in awareness. Removing the veil by which I flee my sadness is a good thing and also it reveals sadness, and also revealing sadness is a good thing. I always, always, always feel better by the end of the session, and I am always glad I did it.

      Gently in response to other posters : I daresay that if you have “sat quietly while thinking” you haven’t really meditated.

    • James Miller says:

      I have spend around 100 hours meditating, and have gotten no perceptible benefit from it.

    • Creutzer says:

      Not to be annoying, but are you sure you’re not just looking for an excuse not to try it?

      I mean, certainly, you don’t want to waste your time, but it seems pretty clear that you won’t get sufficient data to predict in advance from what you know about yourself whether or not you’re likely to benefit. That information just doesn’t seem to be there, and a few anecdotes won’t help you there.

      So either forget about it, or just go ahead and try it. And if you do, make sure to do it properly and not just 15 minutes a day sitting still and trying to “quiet your mind”.

    • Reasoner says:

      I have some friends who rave about meditation and spend a lot of time doing it. None of them are very successful in life. I think it has benefits but people get overenthusiastic.

  6. Egregious Philbin says:

    @Scott Alexander:

    Paul Graham noted that the French word Essayer means to try, and believes “[a]n essay is something you write to try to figure something out.”

    I am really curious: what essays have you started in which you’ve tried to figure something out, but came to such an unsatisfactory conclusion that you ultimately decided were not worth publishing?

  7. bean says:

    New Naval Gazing out today. Part 3 of my series on the Iowa. Also, please comment on my request for what you want off my list of upcoming topics.

  8. Mark says:

    Slatestarcodex!

    What is best in life?

  9. johan_larson says:

    Bologna sausage: smooth, bland, vaguely meaty, giving no clue as to its ingredients. It’s the perfect food of science fiction. In the grim darkness of the far future where there is only war, the labouring masses get one meat ration per week, and what’s on offer is a lot like bologna. Officially, it’s pork.

    Other foods that belong in fiction?

  10. Brad says:

    I find what’s going on at GITMO right now interesting and kind of hilarious.

    An Air Force colonel, sitting as a military commission judge, just held a summary hearing holding a Marine general, acting as the head of the military commission defense attorneys, in contempt, fined him $1k and confined him to quarters for 21 days. His attorneys turned around and filed a habeas petition in a US federal court, but before the judge could make a ruling, the convening authority — a civilian — suspended the sentence while he reviews the sentence and whether or not he has the authority to review the sentence.

    All of this stems from three civilian lawyers quitting after finding out that their meetings with their clients had been bugged, would continue to be bugged, and they were forbidden from informing their client of that fact.

    Lawfare blog is the best place to go for further information and new developments:
    https://www.lawfareblog.com/why-collapse-al-nashiris-defense-team-matters
    https://www.lawfareblog.com/week-military-commissions-117-habeas-petition-response-contempt-proceedings

    • Jordan D. says:

      This case is wild.

      I read the original article last month, but the follow-up is just as crazy. How the hell are you supposed to represent a client under conditions like that? I guess you can’t.

      If I were a federal judge, I don’t know if I’d be excited or horrified to find a case like this on my docket.

    • albatross11 says:

      At this point, I have approximately the same confidence in any results of those trials as I have in the next prosecution of some Venezuelan opposition politician in Caracas. If they could prove their case against any of those guys in a civilized court, they’d have done it by now.

  11. Mark says:

    Old paperbacks are cheaper and better than new paperbacks.

    Any new paperback I read, the cover seems to come apart as soon as I try to read it in the bath. And the paper just feels bad.

    I got a book last week that was printed in 2017 – I had to put socks on my hands to read it. It felt revolting.

    • Nornagest says:

      Spoken like a man who never bought a Tor paperback in the 1990s. I still have a lot of those books, somewhere. I don’t have a lot of their covers.

      Current mass-market paperbacks feel cheap for sure, but I’ve never had a cover fall off on me in the last ten years. On the other hand, I don’t read in the bath.

    • Randy M says:

      My guess would be a change in the adhesives and/or printing ink, either to lower cost or comply with environmental regulations–probably to lower cost and compete with e-pub.

    • Urstoff says:

      Old paperbacks always feel far too stiff and brittle to me. And if it’s a mass-market paperback, I don’t really care if the cover comes off after reading it once.

    • maldusiecle says:

      Probably survivorship bias: old paperbacks that are still around are the ones that were more durable in the first place. The badly made ones fall apart and get thrown out.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Makes me wonder if there are cheaply-made paperbacks that are valuable because they have Frank Frazetta covers or whatever and few copies have survived.

  12. Kevin C. says:

    Since it was posted very late to the previous OT, I’m reposting higher up here.

    Something I found quite interesting, and far different from the usual fare, over at Status451: “Times to Die (Mental Health Part I)“, by Giancarlo M. Sandoval. (While the article is a couple months old, I only just read it now.) It talks about depression, suicide, deep philosophical questions, and personal autonomy, from an author who struggles with depression (and whose description of his first suicide attempt reads as somewhat similar to my own). Several parts stand out, most notably the final two paragraphs:

    Suicide is a personal decision, something that ruminates in the mind of the depressed person for a while, and is not to be taken lightly. As with every personal decision, it has personal particularities that are not easily extrapolatable to other cases. “They were not in a correct state of mind” is one of the usual phrases professed by those that are left behind. However, this judgement call, seen from whatever angle, is not easily assessable, and it becomes hard to process for anyone around the depressed person, let alone entertain, the notion that suicide might was the best option available for the person, at the moment. A lot of these questions come down to personal autonomy, and how much of it has been fostered throughout a person’s development process. One learns of external sources of pain, and internal ways of engaging with them, but if the phantom is haunting from the inside, what is the best way to deal with it? It does not come down to help or hell, other people can momentarily serve as tokens of forgetting, but they do not make for “sustainable solution” for depression or suicide. Because there is not one.

    One of the very first things in any sort of road to dealing with depression, external or endogenous, is to decide is these conditions are something that anyone is willing to live with. It is something I hope to be exploring in future posts. But I could not continue doing so without asserting the first principle of any kind of deal with depression: you have a right to kill yourself. It will never be pretty to write or say those words, as our progressive saviour culture has decided that anyone and everyone should continue living, even if they cannot fathom the thought of existing. The “it gets better” culture, specifically for adults, fosters the idiocy chain of a concatenating cult. If one has decided that there is no going back, there is no going back. When this has pragmatic consequences, no one can know. Yet, positivity culture and the rise of progressive values that elude any conversation about suicide that is not about saving, occlude the unthinkable truth of someone’s existence, that they simply should not be living anymore.

  13. Kevin C. says:

    A lengthy but interesting essay that attempts to grapple with the 21st century political order and the crisis of lost institutional legitimacy: “Liberal Democracy and the Unraveling of the Enlightenment Project” by James Davison Hunter, THE HEDGEHOG REVIEW: VOL. 19 NO. 3 (FALL 2017)

    So, whether from the left, right, or center, the various analyses of contemporary political life unfailingly offer practical, sensible-sounding, step-by-step suggestions for fixing the problems: “If we just try harder, we can set things aright.” Such pragmatic optimism is, of course, a widely acknowledged American trait. As the historian Arthur Mann observed forty years ago, the people of the United States have long had confidence that American know-how can always convert problems into opportunities.

    Nevertheless, while institutions tend to be stable and enduring, even as they evolve, no institution is permanent or indefinitely fixable. The question now is whether contemporary American democracy can even be fixed. What if the political problems we are rightly worried about are actually symptoms of a deeper problem for which there is no easy or obvious remedy?

    What I am driving at is made clearer by the distinction between the politics of culture and the culture of politics. The politics of culture refers to the contestation of power over cultural issues. This would include the mobilization of parties and rank-and-file support, the organization of leadership, the formation of special-interest coalitions, and the manipulation of public rhetoric on matters reflecting the symbols or ideals at the heart of a group’s collective identity. This is what most people think about when they use the term culture war. In this case, culture war is the accumulation of political conflicts over issues like abortion, gay rights, or federal funding of the humanities and arts. Though culture is implicated at every level, the politics of culture is primarily about politics.

    The culture of politics, by contrast, refers to the symbolic environment in which political institutions are embedded and political action occurs. This symbolic environment is constituted by the basic frameworks of implicit meaning that make particular political arrangements understandable or incomprehensible, desirable or reprehensible. These frameworks constitute a culture’s “deep structure.” Absent a deep structure, certain political institutions and practices simply do not make any sense.

    This distinction is essential to making sense of our political moment.

    The record of intellectual life during the past half century is, in part, the record of those often brilliant minds who found the cultural logic of the Enlightenment project and its aspirations to a liberal democratic order vacuous. Yet the ability to interrogate and highlight the imperfections and hypocrisies of that order were a luxury that intellectuals could enjoy only so long as the rest of the citizenry did not. So long as the majority of Americans—even if some of them were “deplorable” or “clinging to their guns and religion”—continued to believe in the project, there would be relative political stability.

    But now, the skepticism of intellectuals has percolated into the general public. Now, everyone is a postmodern skeptic. Now, everyone sees the hypocrisy, questions the efficacy of the government, doubts the goodwill and competence of their leaders. This widespread suspicion and, often, cynicism is in large measure what is so distinctive about our political moment.

    Furthermore, whatever else the culture war of the last four decades has accomplished, it unquestionably intensified America’s legitimation crisis. For decades now, the ideals each side of that struggle cherishes have been the very reasons each side deems the other illegitimate. Back and forth it has gone in a contest that has been less about persuasion than about denigration of the opposition. The cycle has repeated itself with great predictability on every issue: reproduction, sexuality, family life, education, immigration, the relationship between church and state, government funding of the humanities and the arts, and so on. This animus, and the challenge to legitimacy it presents, extends to the parties in power and those who sit in the seats of power. Thus, a toxic Clinton-hatred gave way to an equally noxious Bush-hatred, and eventually to an equally venomous Obama-hatred. Should we be surprised at its latest manifestation, a pervasive disdain for Donald J. Trump, who himself has perfected a toxic form of preemptive attack? This cycle will certainly continue into the future, regardless of who holds the office.

    A common cultural logic is unlikely to return because there is no credible foundation of authority upon which to rebuild it. For all of its continued vitality in personal lives and local communities, religious faith has been thoroughly weaponized on behalf of partisan interests. In the civic or political realm, it speaks no universal truths. And for all of the achievements of science in so many different realms of inquiry, the credibility of science as an enterprise has been undermined by both the skepticism of postmodern theory and the weaknesses of “peer review.” Even in the popular mind, many believe that science itself is biased toward personal and political interests—that facts don’t matter.

    • This essay is the worst kind of idealism. The general thrust of the essay seems to be that American politics are dysfunctional because Americans have the wrong attitudes and/or ideas and/or culture of politics. They have lost civic virtue. They have lost the ability to engage in shared sacrifice. They disagree about values and narratives. They are losing faith in the legitimacy of institutions like elections, the rule of law, etc. They vilify their opponents rather than treat them as a loyal opposition. If only they went back to the right attitudes or ideas, things would work again!

      But why did these ideas change? There is a very strong implication that these ideas changed simply because American intellectuals did an insufficient job of preaching and explaining Enlightenment ideals to Americans, and Americans forgot and became ignorant of these ideals. For example,

      Lippmann believed that there was an urgency to the revival of the public philosophy, without which free and democratic nations would be unable to “face the totalitarian challenge.”

      What the author seems to not realize is that Enlightenment ideals—and in fact, any ideals in general—are, for most flesh-and-blood humans, not an end in and of themselves with intrinsic value, but instead nothing more than tools with which to pursue “the good life,” which must at a minimum include (even if it is not strictly limited to) satisfaction of material wants. And furthermore, this satisfaction is generally judged not on an absolute scale, but on a relative scale of what is perceived to be possible vs. what is actual. So, it is of no consolation to Americans during the recent Great Recession that we are not starving in bread lines by the millions if there is the perception that, in the digital age, something much better ought to be easily possible, that there are unnecessary instances of (relative) poverty or foreclosed opportunities “in the midst of plenty.”

      If, when we attempt to put Enlightenment ideals into practice, those ideals leave people materially dissatisfied in comparison with what appears ought to be possible for them to achieve, then they will ditch those ideals in an instant for a different tool. This is the gist of how a “materialist” analysis would approach this problem.

      It is not out of ignorance that people dump Enlightenment ideals for totalitarianism—unless you assume a priori that Enlightenment ideals, when put into practice, necessarily deliver a better life, and anyone who entertains the thought of otherwise is ignorant. But think about it. Enlightenment ideals are taught in our schools. They are preached by most mainstream intellectuals. If Americans once believed in Enlightenment ideals, then cultural inertia alone should have prolonged those beliefs into the present day. If Americans now entertain alternatives to those Enlightenment ideals, it can only be because those ideals, when put into practice, have lately been found wanting in their results. And can you blame people for their wandering eyes infidelitously landing on other ideologies, whether it is some sort of postmodernism or Trumpian nativism?

      To blame the decline of Enlightenment ideals in America on “postmodernism” begs the question. Why does postmodern cynicism about Enlightenment ideals (or Trumpian nativism, for that matter) resonate with many Americans? If the material conditions were not conducive to these ideas resonating with people, then postmodern ideas would have remained the plaything of a minuscule intellectual minority and would be falling on deaf ears. The same goes for “Cultural Marxism.” Pornography, immigration, and most other cultural bugaboos of conservatives are not the product of some intellectual conspiracy; they are the product of capitalism itself, as are the responses to these changes (both affirmative and critical).

      The author comes close to a sort of materialist analysis in a brief section of the essay here:

      Indeed, the record of popular political opinion over the past half century is the record of a citizenry losing confidence, not so much in the ideals of liberal democracy per se or in the idea of America, but in the government that enacts those ideals. The failed war in Vietnam went far toward undermining peoples’ trust in the government to make wise decisions and speak for the interests of the nation. So did the failed war on poverty. So did decades of gridlock in which the government failed to get much of anything done.

      Reams of data collected over nearly six decades have demonstrated beyond doubt that the electorate’s disaffection with the political establishment—what scholars have called the legitimation crisis—continues to spread, and even to harden into a central feature of our national political consciousness.

      Today, the majority of Americans have little to no confidence that “the government in Washington” will actually solve the problems it sets its mind to. Indeed, the majority of Americans now believe that what the country really needs is a new political party because the current two-party system isn’t working.

      I give this a “C” grade. These are some of the many understandable, material reasons for why Americans’ ideas changed in this time period. An “A” grade materialist analysis would have also mentioned the stagnation of real wages since 1970 alongside productivity increases, the increasing insecurity of work, the raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67 (often underrated, but hugely demoralizing), the explosion of household and national debt, the immense costs of U.S. foreign policy objectives since 2001, and especially the increased competition between the sellers of labor-power as the market for labor-power became more global and capital was more easily able to shop-around for the best deal and either go to the lowest-paid labor (offshoring), or have the lowest-paid labor come to it (immigration).

      But no, the author doesn’t go in this direction. Instead, the author flips back to an idealist lens. His argument is that our politics are dysfunctional, not because there are incompatible material interests colliding (the author’s faith in the reality of some overriding, universalist, race/class/gender-neutral “national interest” precludes such suppositions!), but because our politicians are behaving unvirtuously. They are being meanies to each other. And we just need to get them to stop being meanies to each other, and compromise and progress would be possible again. Dream on…

      Just look at the ongoing debates over tax reform. What is the biggest obstacle to achieving tax reform that everyone likes? Is it incivility? Or is it the unfortunate reality of objectively-incompatible interests?—which we witness, for example, when the tax reformers think they can balance the budgetary impact of the reforms by removing mortgage interest deductions, only to have homebuilders and homeowners get up in arms about it? Or when they think the reform can be balanced by removing state and local tax deductions, which then gets wealthy urbanites and suburbanites in high-tax states up in arms. And complain about “special interests” all you want, but why shouldn’t these groups vouch for their own interests? Only if you have an unreasonably naive, idealistic, and liberal view of government as some holy communion, rather than as the bloody tool for pursuing material interests that it is, can you object to this.

      In fact, in obfuscating the very real antagonisms of material interest at play in our government, and in falsely portraying these antagonisms as essentially spiteful and unnecessary rather than founded on legitimate differences of material interests, the author of this piece comes dangerously close to echoing Hitler’s pleas for unity in 1932 Weimar Germany in his Eberswalde Speech, which then sets the basis for cracking down on this seemingly-unnecessary and spite-driven disunity and artificially enforcing some superficial semblance of national unity, as Hitler did:

      For 13 years they [other political parties] have proven both economically and politically what they are capable of achieving. A nation economically destroyed, the farmers ruined, the middle class made destitute, the finances of wealthy lands and communities rotted out, everything bankrupt and seven million unemployed. They can twist it any way they want to, but they are responsible for it!

      And it had to happen this way! Does anyone really believe that a nation can achieve overall progress when its political life is so torn by inner strife at that of Germany? I saw, for example, the election proposals for this district a few hours ago: 34 parties! The working class has their own party. And to be sure not one, that would be too few: it has to be three or four. The bourgeoisie, being so much more intelligent, needs even more parties. The middle class must have its parties, the economists their parties, the country people also their own party, and to be sure also three or four. And the gentlemen home owners must, in their especially interesting political way, express their worldview through a party. And the renters naturally cannot be left behind. And the Catholics also their own party, and the Protestants a party, and the Bavarians a party, and the Thuringers their own party, and the Württembergers yet an extra special party, and so on: 34 in a single small country. And this at a time when the greatest tasks stand before us, that can only be solved if the entire strength of the nation is pulled together.

      Our opponents call us National Socialists, and especially me in particular, intolerant, incompatible people. And one politician sharpened this by saying, “The National Socialists are not really German, since they refuse to work with other parties.” So then, is it typically German to have the country split into 30 parties? I have learned one thing: the gentlemen are completely right: we are intolerant! I’ve set one goal before me: namely, to drive these 30 parties out of Germany!

      They always confuse me with a bourgeois or a Marxist politician: “Today he’s SPD, tomorrow USPD, the next day KPD, and then a syndicalist, or today a democrat and tomorrow in the German National Party, and then the economic party.” They’re always confusing us with themselves! We’ve one goal before us: to fanatically, ruthlessly, shove all these [parties] into the grave!

      Before these 30 parties were born there was a German people, and after the parties have passed away, the people will still remain.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        And complain about “special interests” all you want, but why shouldn’t these groups vouch for their own interests? Only if you have an unreasonably naive, idealistic, and liberal view of government as some holy communion, rather than as the bloody tool for pursuing material interests that it is, can you object to this.

        And yet our political rhetoric is dominated by appeals to morality. “This is not who we are.” “Love wins.” “No person is illegal.” “Diversity is our strength.”

        I would prefer a reality like you describe, in which we’re engaged in transactional debate for our own legitimate interests, but you seem to think that’s what we’re doing. I don’t get that impression at all.

        • Good point, I agree. This is because the Left has been overtaken by Utopian Socialism and idealism and has abandoned Marxist, scientific socialism.

          Marxist socialism was premised on the strategy of appealing to the individual self-interests of workers and demonstrating that these self-interests could be most effectively advanced by advancing broad class interests. The appeal to workers to ally on the basis of any collective identity at all, and on class in particular (and not race or nation or religion or gender) was always, fundamentally, a practical and strategic one, founded upon the objective (and in principle falsifiable) claim that workers’ individual living conditions could best be furthered in this way—that interests objectively lined up along these lines, and not along racial or national lines, regardless of however workers might subjectively feel about the importance of being “working-class” vs. “white” or “American” or “male” or “Christian” or “X other identity.”

          If you abandon that appeal to practical interests and base your arguments instead on morality, one’s political claims become unfalsifiable. The universe does not provide us with objective indications of morality. It just doesn’t. So you are left with rather boring arguments. Saying “no person is illegal” boils down to saying, “Boo! Immigration restrictions are evil!” There is essentially no semantic content to that slogan. It assumes its own premise that immigration restrictions are immoral.

          At that point, what is left to discuss with your opponents who do not already intuitively feel compelled by your moral compass? The only thing left is to manipulate their emotions, to show them pictures of starving Mexicans being arrested while crossing the border, and to try to shame or coerce them into shutting up. It all becomes very anti-intellectual.

          Compare this with, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!” Although this statement might seem to point in a similar direction as “A world without borders! No person is illegal!” there is a bit more going on here.

          There are descriptive claims being implied—that workingmen of all countries will individually benefit from communist revolution (debatable), that they are not giving any advantages up by abandoning the old system (undoubtedly incorrect at the moment in the case of American workers, who own houses, have 401k accounts, and other petty-capital and relative advantages over other workers around the world, and thus a stake in the current capitalist system), and that workers’ self-interests happen to align along class lines, and that they can best strategically attain their individual self-interests by aligning as a class first and foremost.

          The lynchpin of this descriptive claim is the labor theory of value, which was supposed to mathematically demonstrate that, even with formal political and economic equality under capitalism, wage-workers would still be exploited. With the abandonment of the labor theory of value, the Left has been relegated to the illusion that, if only society weren’t so mean to women and gays and minorities, etc., everything would be great. And they don’t have any theory for what material interests sustain these ancillary inequalities, so they end up yelling about “greed” and “evil” and making unconvincing moral judgments.

          What they fail to realize is that, even if society were to treat women and transgender and minority people with complete political equality, and even if capitalists in all cases paid the full value for the labor-power of all wage-workers regardless of color, gender, etc. (in other words, no imperialism, no “labor aristocracy,” no other complications), there would still be exploitation. Class is an objective “common denominator” that gives seemingly disparate identities (such as men, women, gays, straights, whites, blacks) an objective interest in cooperating with one another.

          That is the paradox of the labor theory of value. Marx assumes, as an abstraction about the “average case,” that workers and capitalists engage in “fair trade,” exchanging equivalent commodities worth the same fundamental value. (Of course, in some cases capitalists will overpay for labor-power, and in other cases they will underpay, just as the market prices of any other commodities are sometimes above and sometimes below their fundamental values, their “natural prices” or “prices of production”) The assumption is, neither side cheats the other. Capitalists already pay workers the full value of their labor-power.

          And yet there is still exploitation, because labor-power can more than reproduce itself. This is obvious to any independent homesteader of old, whose labor-power doesn’t just keep him alive, but also gives him the ability to, after he has reaped his food for the year, make new tools, build new furniture, and generally accumulate various productive assets in order to amplify the powers of his labor-power and enlarge his own surplus even more the next year. So, whoever controls the direction and outcome of this labor-power controls the resulting surplus.

          So, why do workers ever trade this precious commodity away?! Why don’t they maintain possession and use of their own labor-power and simply trade away some of their objectified labor—i.e. the product of their surplus labor-time—the shoes and tanned leather and farm tools and services and other things that the homesteader makes or does with his labor-power after he has finished supporting his own subsistence? Are workers just ignorant? Short-sighted?

          The problem is, starting with the Enclosure Movement in England, workers started losing this option—which they briefly regained in the colonies, much to the chagrin of would-be capitalists there (see below). And now there is the further problem that, even if a worker saves up and buys his own land (which, if it is affordable, will probably be some of the worst land left at this point), every hour of an individual homesteader’s unspecialized, individual concrete labor, augmented by only the crudest of tools, now counts as much less abstract, socially-necessary labor, now that it must compete with labor augmented by advanced modern machinery. Therefore, an individual homesteader’s cost of production will be much higher than the current socially-necessary cost of production, and thus much higher than the current market price, so that the individual homesteader will now make a loss on such production.

          Note: Marx had some choice words about the hilarity of seeing would-be capitalists in the colonies foiled by the easy availability of land—and thus the unavailability of wage-laborers who would work for anything less than the full value of their labor (rather than merely the full value of their labor-power). From Vol. 1, Ch. 32 of Capital:

          Political economy confuses on principle two very different kinds of private property, of which one rests on the producers’ own labour, the other on the employment of the labour of others. It forgets that the latter not only is the direct antithesis of the former, but absolutely grows on its tomb only…

          In Western Europe…the capitalist regime has…directly conquered the whole domain of national production. It is otherwise in the colonies. There the capitalist regime everywhere comes into collision with the resistance of the producer, who, as owner of his own conditions of labor, employs that labor to enrich himself, instead of the capitalist…

          Where the capitalist has at his back the power of the mother-country, he tries to clear out of his way by force the modes of production and appropriation based on the independent labor of the producer…In the interest of the so-called national wealth, he seeks for artificial means to ensure the poverty of the people. Here his apologetic armor crumbles off, bit by bit, like rotten touchwood.

          [Marx quoting Wakefield], “…in new American settlements, [the] passion for owning land prevents the existence of a class of laborers for hire.” So long, therefore, as the laborer can accumulate for himself — and this he can do so long as he remains possessor of his means of production — capitalist accumulation and the capitalistic mode of production are impossible. The class of wage laborers, essential to these, is wanting.

          The great beauty of capitalist production consists in this — that it not only constantly reproduces the wage-worker as wage-worker, but produces always, in proportion to the accumulation of capital, a relative surplus-population of wage-workers. Thus the law of supply and demand of labor is kept in the right rut, the oscillation of wages is penned within limits satisfactory to capitalist exploitation, and lastly, the social dependence of the laborer on the capitalist, that indispensable requisite, is secured; an unmistakable relation of dependence, which the smug political economist, at home, in the mother-country, can transmogrify into one of free contract between buyer and seller, between equally independent owners of commodities, the owner of the commodity capital and the owner of the commodity labor.

          But in the colonies, this pretty fancy [wishful thinking] is torn asunder. The absolute population here increases much more quickly than in the mother-country, because many laborers enter this world as ready-made adults, and yet the labor-market is always understocked. The law of supply and demand of labor falls to pieces. On the one hand, the old world constantly throws in capital, thirsting after exploitation…on the other, the regular reproduction of the wage laborer as wage laborer comes into collision with impediments…

          What becomes of the production of wage-laborers, supernumerary [in excess] in proportion to the accumulation of capital? The wage-worker of today is tomorrow an independent peasant [homesteader], or artisan, working for himself. He vanishes from the labor-market…This constant transformation of the wage-laborers into independent producers, who work for themselves instead of for capital, and enrich themselves instead of the capitalist gentry [elite], reacts in its turn very perversely [unfavorably] on the conditions of the labor-market. Not only does the degree of exploitation of the wage laborer remain indecently low. The wage laborer loses…along with the relation of dependence, also the sentiment of dependence on the…capitalist.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Slight tangent:

            If your version of the labor theory of value was correct, wouldn’t it imply Distributism rather than socialism?

            Quite a number of blue collar jobs can be, and already are, performed by a guy with a van. An increasing number of white collar jobs, mostly related to software, are the same with van swapped out for PC. It’s hard to argue oppression when the worker and the capitalist are the same person.

            So if the goal is to reduce oppression, why is the goal always public ownership of capital instead of increasing the amount of capital which is privately owned by the self-employed and small businesses? It’s something that we know works, can be approached incrementally, and doesn’t require anyone to be shot.

            I have a cynical answer, that the goal is to shoot people and that the ideology exists to justify that. But I’m curious what the communist explanation is.

          • @Nabil ad Dajjal:

            What you are describing is something very similar to either “Titoism” in Yugoslavia (a type of market socialism centered around independent, profit-oriented worker co-ops) or some strains of anarchism.

            The reason why most Marxists aren’t too keen on this sort of literal “workers’ control” in the context of a continuation of for-profit commodity production is that Marxists see capitalism as having powerful centralizing tendencies. If we were playing Monopoly and the players were getting frustrated that a few players were accumulating all of the properties and hotels and running away with the game, the “Titoist” proposal would essentially amount to restarting the game with a clear board, which would sooner or later lead to a re-centralization of capital and a re-accumulation of the associated inherited advantages of the descendants of those initial winners (who, let’s be fair, were winners by virtue of starting from a level playing field, albeit the same will not apply to their children). This is pretty much how Titoism fell apart. The successful worker co-ops jealously guarded what they had built up (understandably), and they were not willing to treat new workers as equal partners, but instead started to increasingly insist on treating them as typical wage-laborers.

            In addition, most Marxists see some fundamental contradictions in commodity production as-such, especially when the division of labor is highly developed and yet appropriation of society’s products is still on a private basis. Overproduction, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall…I’ll have to go into this more later, I have a class to teach!…brb…

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            It is possible for the Marxist hypothesizes regarding “Falling Rate of Profit” and the theorems regarding the intractability of computing economic allocation to both be true.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @citizencokane

            Marxists see capitalism as having powerful centralizing tendencies

            It’s not at all clear to me whether they are right in this view. There are in our free market economy many business that are owned by, at least some of, the people who work there. The vast majority of law firms, private medical practices, certain kinds of finical advisory firms, advertising firms, and architectural firms are private partnerships. These businesses have certain things in common, they all have very low capital costs, they depend on highly skilled labor, and they tend to have a relativity small number of employees. Firms that do not have these characteristics are much more likely to owned in great part by outside investors.

            There seem to me to be two reasons why this might be the case. The first is that wealth was distributed in a highly unequal way for reasons that had little to do with market forces, and as such only a small number of people ever had the funds to finance capital intensive enterprises like manufacturing in the first place. The second is that large capital intensive enterprises are difficult to organize, requiring the coordinated efforts of many thousands of people spread across many different locations, and without entrepreneurs to act, as it were, as generals in the army of labor, large enterprises would never get off the ground.

            If the first reason is the primary cause of capital concentration, then there is no tendency towards centralization at all, if the second is, then any labor theory of value that is not just a restatement of marginal utility in another form is demonstrably false.

            Personally, I suspect that both factors play a role, but I don’t think we have enough information to know to what extant.

          • Nornagest says:

            One of the things to remember about Marx is that he was writing in the mid-1800s, when “the means of production” for every industry worth talking about meant vertically integrated assemblies of huge clanking steam-powered machines that cost a fortune but were fairly unsophisticated in their operation. The barriers to entry were huge, but almost entirely financial (these days regulatory barriers and institutional knowledge are just as important), and skilled workers hadn’t gotten as important as they are now. Finance wasn’t as sophisticated, either. Capital as an economic segment was newer, more alien, and more distinguishable from the rest of the economy than we’re used to.

            That shaped his conception of how capitalism worked as a political force. Hasn’t stopped latter-day Marxists from adding epicycles, but nothing ever has.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @citizencokane

            I think that very much depends on what sort of Marxist you speak to, there are many who think that the main problem with the Bolshevik coup d’etat was that they took control away from the workers and placed in the hands of a political elite creating a system that wouldn’t count as socialist by the traditional understanding of the term. Based on Marx’s writings and the writing of most socialists pre-1917, if the means of production were owned by the workers themselves, then the system would not be capitalist. The crucial factor is not making and selling things for a profit but who is in charge of this process.

          • Re: the intractability of computing economic allocation, in 1993 Paul Cockshott concluded that the problem was on the verge of becoming tractable with mid-’90s computer speeds.

            Anyways, back to “distributism vs. socialism.” One big factor that most Marxists have against market socialism where workers own their own businesses is that those self-employed workers are still dominated by the Law of Value (a.k.a. the market, the “Invisible Hand,” the desperate struggle to make the highest profit so as to not be out-competed), just as capitalists today are ultimately not free either, in that they are also constantly besieged by the Law of Value. Furthermore, the complex workings of the Law of Value, which take place “behind the backs” of workers and owners alike, are even more opaque and obfuscated than any Stalinist politburo, to the extent that people often talk about “the market” or “the economy” as if it is some incomprehensible, alien god that goes through bouts of depression and turmoil and who must be carefully placated with soothing words of confidence from time to time.

            Without accounting books that are completely open to the public, it doesn’t really matter whether it is an ensconced bureaucracy or the Law of Value itself that is in charge of assigning society’s division of labor; either way it is going to feel like people have no control and no idea of what is going on, which is not a fun feeling.

            Some people have even suggested that the Law of Value is the first superintelligence, with exchange-value in the abstract being its optimization target, rather than paperclips or any particular use-values of use to humans (even paperclips have some tangible use to humans, which is more than can be said for exchange-value in the abstract, which is only useful to humans incidentally insofar as it is a means to the end of coordinating the production of more use-values).

            Whichever way you slice it, if an individual wants to participate in the social division of labor (and not be a self-sufficient homesteader), then that society is going to insist on steering that individual’s activities and rationing that individual’s consumption habits in some way…so long as there is any scarcity at all (which we don’t have to take as an eternal given. Ernest Mandel makes a good point about how there are only so many hours in a day to consume the wealth that society produces (which implies an objective limit to how much wealth an individual is physically capable of consuming, as long as certain luxury goods like private jets are ruled out).

            Anyways, past a certain point of development where capitalist firms themselves rely more and more on firm-level and even industry-level planning and made-to-order production, most Marxists don’t want to just reset the Monopoly board (and by the way, if you do that once, there will be calls to do it again and again, and how many times can you do that before the profit incentive begins to lose meaning? It is like telling a kulak during NEP that “To get rich is glorious!” and then 10 years later rewarding all of that hard word by taking it all away).

            Most Marxists would rather play a different game entirely—especially one that can avoid crises of overproduction of commodities relative to the underproduction of the money commodity, which still plague world capitalism today despite the superficial legal end to the gold standard.

          • Marxists see capitalism as having powerful centralizing tendencies.

            If this is an empirical claim, it doesn’t seem to be very well supported. Orwell wrote that the problem with competitions is that someone wins them, but he apparently didn’t understand the concept of diseconomies of scale. The actual pattern is that, over time, some industries become more concentrated, some less, with no clear pattern.

            Alternatively, is it a conclusion of theory, and if so can you sketch the argument?

      • Gobbobobble says:

        If Americans now entertain alternatives to those Enlightenment ideals, it can only be because those ideals, when put into practice, have lately been found wanting in their results.

        An ethos of “show respect to those you disagree with, the alternative is everyone beating everyone else with cudgels” is frequently found wanting by those who desire cudgels to beat their outgroup, yes.

      • And furthermore, this satisfaction is generally judged not on an absolute scale, but on a relative scale of what is perceived to be possible vs. what is actual.

        Hence dissatisfaction might be explained either by the actual being too low or by the belief in what is possible being too high. Would the latter still classify as what you refer to as a materialist explanation?

        • Sure. But the belief in what is possible is tightly constrained by material conditions. Workers in the late 1800s did not go on strike just because they could not afford a smartphone. Likewise, Russian peasants in the year 1700 had worse lives than in 1905 or 1917, but yet they were more rebellious in the latter years. Humans are incredibly accepting of hardships as long as those hardships don’t appear to be the result of “artificial” (socially-constructed) “fetters” on society’s productivity and consumption.

          The material factors that signal possibilities being wasted or foregone that tend to incite revolt are:
          1. Massive waste of resources on wars perceived as unnecessary (and this perception of illegitimacy of the conflict itself depends on what ordinary people see that they stand to gain by victory).
          2. Corrupt use of resources by elites for blatanly nepotistic purposes (this is something that can often unite workers and petty-capitalists).
          3. Oppression/exploitation by foreign government and/or foreigners (likewise, something that workers and petty-capitalists and even national capitalists can often rally against).
          4. Massive inequality as-such (even if, in absolute terms, the plight of the worst-off is still improving. Inequality signals that things could be even better, if only most weren’t going to a small minority).
          5. Massive involuntary unemployment and underemployment.
          6. New technically-possible technologies being under-utilized for political or economic reasons.

          In order to avoid crises, capitalism simply needs to sidestep these problems. And in principle, some of these problems can be rectified under capitalism. Foreign exploitation (imperialism) is technically not an essential feature of capitalism, even if in practical terms it tends to become an important factor in late-capitalism. Likewise, if there were a one-world capitalist government, wasteful wars would not necessarily be inevitable. Likewise, corruption could, in principle, be erased from capitalism. The other factors, though, (4, 5, and 6) are inevitably recurrent under capitalism. Therefore, even if capitalism is not overthrown in the next 500 years, there will still, at the very minimum, continue to be class struggle around those three issues 500 years from now. There will never be any neat, tidy, peaceful, stable, harmonious “End of History” in that sense as long as capitalism persists.

          • Inequality signals that things could be even better, if only most weren’t going to a small minority.

            That depends on what you believe to be the source of the inequality. It’s easy enough to construct cases where the result of eliminating the high incomes is not that they are transfered to the poor but that they vanish.

            6. New technically-possible technologies being under-utilized for political or economic reasons.

            That depends both on what you believe is technically possible and on what you believe the correct utilization rate is. Consider solar power. It’s easy enough to believe that we should use lots more, since the fuel is free. But there are good reasons why it is often more costly than alternatives, rather than less, and there isn’t any way that the random layman can tell whether it is underutilized or overutilized.

            My point being that what people believe isn’t determined by what is true, although it’s affected by what is true. If some popular ideology, or even a popular book (Silent Spring, The Fountainhead, …), changes people’s beliefs, does that count as a material cause?

            There is lots of evidence that people’s beliefs about things relevant to public policy can be wildly wrong.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            What, exactly, are you proposing as an alternative?

            I may be doing you a disservice, but much of this seems to cash out as:

            “The world, under capitalism, will be less perfect than will people imagine it could be. This will incite discontent, which is unpleasant. So we should avoid it.”

            This is a fair assessment, I think: I concur with Dr. Friedman’s assessment: utopia is not an option. I suspect that this will always rankle, given that utopias are easier to imagine than to put into practice.

            So how do you propose to deal with this? If you aren’t advocating for the systems instituted by Lenin or Mao, what system are you advocating for, and how do you imagine it will work?

            (For my part, I’ve always been very impressed with the Amish. While I should not go so far as Nabil, above, I do in fact find it slightly suspicious when people who imagine themselves capable of building a better society propose to start by taking over one already in existence; Moloch may interfere with such arrangements, but he interferes also with politics, and I should at least wish to hedge my bets. I certainly don’t think you want to shoot anyone, but I wouldn’t find it shocking if your aversion to the current system was more finely detailed than your support for alternatives.

            But as I said, I may be doing you a disservice. I have a friend who is similarly situated, politically, and my conversations with him have given me this impression.

  14. Kevin C. says:

    When Men Fear Women” by Leah Letter.

    It’s been very difficult to process all the women’s stories that have come out in the last two weeks since Harvey Weinstein was revealed to be what we already knew he was, but worse. There have been a lot of feelings from everyone. Going online is like attending an Irish wake, just constant collective wailing, everyone’s nerve endings exposed. This is good, I think. Necessary catharsis. But somehow, even when women are suffering, as they have for the totality of human history while pushing new humans through their pelvic bones or being shamed about how they don’t want to push new humans through their pelvic bones, men feel entitled to let the Earth’s women know that actually, they are the ones who are suffering, even though it’s mostly (94 percent) them causing the sum total of the world’s pain (the remaining six percent is split as follows: three percent natural disasters, two percent random animal attacks, a half-percent glacial shifts, a half-percent women).
    So it’s been quite rich to watch men squirm in their seats as the Weinstein story erupted into a national cascade of everyone telling how they, too, were sexually assaulted or otherwise violated by a disgusting but powerful man. Something else also happened: Men took to the internet to apologize to women, or profess their goodness, or say that they were once bad but are now better because they don’t drink anymore, and sometimes all three. “I’m not that guy!” they all wanted say, but, of course, they are.

    For the uninitiated, Dworkin holds a very low opinion of men, which is correct, and thinks they subjugate women simply by existing and also pushing us into various gender constructs, which is also correct. “Being female in this world is having been robbed of the potential for human choice by men who love to hate us,” she writes in Intercourse. “One does not make choices in freedom. Instead, one conforms in body type and behavior and values to become an object of male sexual desire, which requires an abandonment of a wide-ranging capacity for choice.”

    The [“Shitty Men in Media”] list was completely overwhelming to look at, and I was overcome with a combination of nausea, horror, and relief as I watched it being filled out by scores of anonymous women. In its aftermath, I have rarely seen so many men so scared, so angry, searching so hard for someone to blame, and spiraling when there was no one. Men became scared of other men, of what they may or may not have known or encouraged. “Weird that the internet has facilitated the fifth wave of women’s liberation: the great doxxing of bad men,” one of my friends said. “Fear is the only deterrent,” another wrote to me.

    But with the Weinstein fallout, and the List, we saw men actually becoming afraid of what they did or did not do (and honestly, if they didn’t feel any fear, they were deluded). If there’s one thing to learn from the endless morass of emotions that has been the past few weeks it’s that it’s good to make men feel fear, and this is something women absolutely have the power to do, even if it has to come anonymously, and in aggregate. Many men wonder what to do with their entitled mouths and brains at moments like this and the answer is: shut up and go away. Fear, not common sense or respect, is the only thing that seems to drive some of them to silence. However fleeting this change may be, it is a distinct role reversal and, I hope, it is progress.

    • Nornagest says:

      Okay, so she’s a Dworkin fan, and she has the opinions I’d expect from a Dworkin fan. Unpleasant but not really surprising. Why are you reading this? And why are you quoting it here?

      • Anatoly says:

        Agreed, this is about as enlightening as say quoting Vox Day or Jim here (with the difference that this place probably has more fans of Vox Day or Jim than of the quoted article).

        CW will CW.

    • Randy M says:

      So it’s been quite rich to watch men squirm in their seats as the Weinstein story erupted into a national cascade of everyone telling how they, too, were sexually assaulted or otherwise violated by a disgusting but powerful man.

      That actually sounds like quite a useful smokescreen for Weinstein, given the timing.
      If a bad thing is widespread, that makes the problem worse, of course, but it makes any individual vector of it less culpable or unique.
      On the other hand, maybe it keeps the story in the news longer?

      even though it’s mostly (94 percent) them causing the sum total of the world’s pain (the remaining six percent is split as follows: three percent natural disasters, two percent random animal attacks, a half-percent glacial shifts, a half-percent women).

      Would be interested to see her show her work on that one.

      • gbdub says:

        “Smokescreen” – perhaps I’m being too cynical, but I had a similar reaction to the whole #MeToo campaign. Look, I’m no fan of catcalling or handsy guys in bars or any of the other legitimately bad behavior called out in the average #MeToo response.

        But what Weinstein is accused of is heinous on a whole ‘nother level, and I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of that. This was a major cover up of systematic abuse. Every bit as bad as Sandusky or the various Catholic priests or what have you. Then you add in your Polanskis and Cosbys and all the other rumors, and this is huge. Truly, if such a thing as “rape culture” exists, it exists in Hollywood.

        So it’s awfully convenient that instead of burning Hollywood to the ground we “need to have a discussion about the entire culture of masculinity #MeToo #YesAllMen”. Sorry, that ain’t my culture, never has been. We men are pigs, but I’m confident most of us have a skeeze meter that triggers well below Harvey Weinstein.

        Contrast this to the reaction to Trump’s attempts to deflect criticism of his “grab them by the pussy” comments as “locker room talk” – a stream of anti-Trump men coming out and declaring some variant if “not in my locker room” and being applauded for it. With Trump, the narrative was to denormalize his behavior. With Weinstein, suddenly the attempted narrative is to normalize his depravity. Trump is a deplorable human, Harvey’s just a symptom of toxic maleness.

        • hlynkacg says:

          This seems closely related to a half formed concept, perhaps a “concept shaped hole” that I’ve been grappling with since the different worlds post.

          Epistemological status: half-drunk rambling

          I try to imagine any of the women I know putting up with Weinstein’s alleged antics and it just doesn’t compute. I try to imagine the men I know (myself included) and it just gets weird. Why didn’t any of the women throw thier drinks in Weinstein’s face? where’s the brother/husband/boyfriend telling him to keep his hands to himself or step outside? I freely admit that I’ve been on both sides of this equation, slapper and slappee. I brought this up in the subredit and someone said something to the effect of “why don’t you find some better friends?, the sort of people who don’t judge you or resolve thier differences through violence” and it didn’t compute. Who exactly are they referring to? the sort of people who gave Weinstein cover?

          There’s something there, something related to learned helplessness. Enforcing norms is bad, so norms go unenforced. Norms that go unenforced stop being norms and that includes norms against sexual assault. “Rape culture” exists because no one was willing to tell Weinstein where to stick it. The fundamental problem is not “toxic masculinity” it’s the complete and utter absence of anything resembling masculinity.

          • Lillian says:

            While it’s true that a culture of complicity and silence played a role in keeping this quiet for so long, it’s important to remember the part where Harvey Wenstein could make or break and aspiring young actress’ career. Many of Harvey Wenstein’s victims are now pretty successful, including a number A and B list celebrities. No doubt they all would have preferred to have attained that success without fucking some sleazy fat guy. At the same time i’m also sure they prefer the reality where they fucked the sleazy fat guy and got to where they are, over the one where they did not fuck him and got nowhere. This is may even be true in some cases where it was outright rape but the victim got something out of it, though i expect that accounts for only a small minority of the victims.

            This quid pro quo complicates the whole thing. It can make it hard for both victims and bystanders to see any harm going on, because the veneer of consent, trading sex for a leg-up in Hollywood, is still there. Hell i guarantee you that in a number of cases the veneer was entirely real, and the would be starlet was perfectly happy to trade blow jobs for film jobs. Similarly it’s likely some of Weinstein accusers only feel taken advantage of because he failed to come through for them with roles. At the same time, i also fully believe he did in fact straight up rape a bunch of women. With the sheer number of accusers against him, you’ve got room for a hell of a lot of variations on the story.

            But yeah, no understanding of Harvey Weinstein is complete without taking that aspect into account.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            How Weinstein got away with it has been included in the stories. He could make plausible claims to support or ruin careers.

          • Protagoras says:

            In particular, the suggestion that Weinstein could be deterred by violence pays insufficient attention to the ways in which his wealth and power enabled him to defend himself. He was willing to use paid agents for lots of things; surely your hypothetical violent brother/husband/boyfriend would simply have ended up arrested, or perhaps even roughed up by Weinstein’s goons.

          • johnjohn says:

            Excuse the source, but I stumbled upon it literally right after reading your post

            http://ew.com/news/2017/11/08/terry-crews-police-report-alleged-groping/

            I really really think you have to reconsider your “absence of masculinity” claim when a guy like Terry Crews can end up in a situation where he feels powerless

          • CatCube says:

            @hlynkacg

            While I was logging in, @johnjohn posted one of the stories I was going to post about Terry Crews. To emphasize, one of Crews’ stated reasons for not immediately retaliating was

            ‘240 lbs. Black Man stomps out Hollywood Honcho’ would be the headline the next day,” adding, “Only I probably wouldn’t have been able to read it because I WOULD HAVE BEEN IN JAIL. So we left.

            As far as the boyfriends of women tolerating Weinstein’s antics, apparently not all did. Brad Pitt threatened to give Weinstein a “Missouri whooping” if he harassed Gwyneth Paltrow again:
            ttp://people.com/movies/inside-story-how-brad-pitt-threatened-harvey-weinstein-with-a-missouri-whooping-after-gwyneth-paltrow-incident/

          • gbdub says:

            I believe hlynkacg’s point wasn’t that men (even manly men like Crews) can’t be victims, but rather that Weinstein doesn’t happen in a world where men are actually practicing the cultural ideal of masculinity, which includes standing up for yourself and defending innocents (particularly women) from predators.

            The idea of blaming “toxic masculinity” is that Weinstein is the obvious endgame of maleness, the pinnacle that all men openly or secretly aspire to. And that’s just not so – yes, men can be celebrated for their wealth, their power, their sexual conquests. But for the conquests there’s always at least a fig leaf of consent in the idolized story. Rapists, pimps, blackmailers, and cowards just following orders have always been looked down on as sleazy.

          • albatross11 says:

            Why does anyone put up with abusive, nasty behavior from very powerful people? Because they’re powerful people–they can reward friends and punish enemies, and you know it.

            I think Weinstein could credibly have ended the career of most actors in Hollywood with his power and connections. So making an enemy of him was a pretty good way to never work in this town again. Most actors really, really want to keep working as actors rather than becoming waiters or acting teachers or going back to tiny independent films.

            Also, Weinstein had a big megaphone. Reporters wanted to keep on his good side for all kinds of professional reasons. He apparently employed private investigators to try to keep stories about his misbehavior out of the news, and I assume he or his lawyers also applied pressure to journalists w.r.t. what kind of access they’d have to him and people under his power in the future, if they started reporting rumors of his sexually assaulting women.

            And on top of that, I imagine there’s a background level of attractive actors sleeping with powerful producers/directors/studio executives all the time. The incentives and the situation seem like they make that almost inevitable. (Actors tend to be young and very attractive, and professional success is what they want more than anything else in the world. Producers are mostly older men who like attention and sex from attractive people. Solve for the equilibrium.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @hlynkcacg

            There’s multiple anecdotes of Weinstein flipping out on people in public, including threats of violence and violence. So, while he was getting away with sexual violence in private, he was also getting away with non-sexual violence in public. The most likely explanation, which others have given, is that his power and money allowed him to both actively intimidate those who might act against him, as well as passively causing people to not want to risk going up against him.

          • John Schilling says:

            I try to imagine any of the women I know putting up with Weinstein’s alleged antics and it just doesn’t compute. I try to imagine the men I know (myself included) and it just gets weird. Why didn’t any of the women throw their drinks in Weinstein’s face? where’s the brother/husband/boyfriend telling him to keep his hands to himself or step outside?

            The boyfriend is blissfully ignorant because why would his girlfriend tell him that she slept with another man to advance her career?

            I don’t think the stories we are hearing about Weinstein are entirely accurate, or if they are accurate they aren’t representative. Because Weinstein’s behavior isn’t really plausible if that’s the case. He keeps inviting beautiful young starlets to his hotel room and crudely hitting on them, and they keep walking out in disgust unless he literally rapes them? What’s in it for him, unless he’s really in to literal rape in which case why is he letting most of the women walk away unraped? Weinstein’s behavior doesn’t make sense unless at least some of the women he propositions in this manner actually do decide to have sex with him to advance their careers.

            We’re not hearing that part of the story, at least from the women who are talking. Also, we aren’t hearing from the 40-year-old dental hygenists whose acting career flamed out after one bit part and an unhappy meeting with Harvey Weinstein, we’re hearing from an awful lot of A-list celebrities and most of the rest still seem to be fairly successful in the (highly competitive) industry. That’s not a plausible ratio if Weinstein is using his power to make or break careers to have his way with young women, and the ones telling the stories are the ones who walked away in disgust.

            Probably there are stories about women who threw their drinks in Harvey Weinstein’s face, and maybe a few whose boyfriends beat him up got beat up by his bodyguard, but those stories belong to 40-year-old dental hygenists with an IMDB stub that nobody wants to talk to when we can be talking to Gwyneth Paltrow or Rose McGowan or Kate Beckinsale instead. And possibly Gwyneth or Kate actually did walk out on Weinstein like they said and then went and made the A-list on their merits. But mostly I think we’re hearing a carefully cherrypicked and even more carefully edited subset of the true stories. For good reason, given the storytellers, but it ought to be kept in mind regardless.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And possibly Gwyneth or Kate actually did walk out on Weinstein like they said and then went and made the A-list on their merits.

            Or they had another patron. Weinstein was powerful enough, but not the only powerful person in Hollywood.

          • hlynkacg says:

            So I had replied, to Lillian, Nancy and Protagoras before setting out for work this morning but gremlins seem to have eaten it, and a bunch of people have replied in the meantime.

            I will try to sum up.

            @ Lillian,
            fair point about the quid-pro-quo and you’re right that this complicates things. That said, there’s something there, especially in the advice “to find better friends, who wont judge” somehow the thin veneer of consent in some cases became presumed consent in all cases.

            @ Nancy, Protagoras and others.

            Ok, Weinstein was rich and powerful…

            …so what?

            Women could have refused to indulge him, partners could have declined to work with him, incidents involving our hypothetical brother/husband/boyfriend’s would be a matter for the police and of public record. All it takes is someone who hates the sleaze more than they fear Weinstein and the spell is broken.

            @ the rest

            Maybe “masculinity” is the wrong word but there is something, or the absence of something, that your responses all gesture towards. Crews may have felt powerless, but feeling powerless and being powerless are two very different things. What did Crews really have to fear? Are we (as a nation) really so far gone that we think sexual assault is acceptable and defending oneself against it is not?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @hlynkacg

            Crews, a former NFL player, said that the only reason he didn’t “kick his ass right then” was because he worried about the repercussions of someone of his size and race beating up a “Hollywood Honcho.”

            “I decided not 2 take it further becuz I didn’t want 2b ostracized— par 4 the course when the predator has power n influence,” continued Crews. “I let it go. And I understand why many women who this happens to let it go. Who’s going 2 believe you? ( few) What r the repercussions?(many) Do u want 2 work again? (Yes) R you prepared 2b ostracized? (No).”

            Even without the racial angle – guy beats the shit out of another guy. When the cops show up, guy who got beat says “he must have been drunk or something, he just flipped out and started kicking my ass!” There’s no evidence of the groping, but the dude clearly got his ass beat. The guy accused of assault – his wife says there was groping, but she’s easily accused of covering for her husband.

            The social consequences in that situation, the legal consequences, are more likely to fall on the guy defending himself than on the groper.

            I remember being groped by a guy who was notorious for such things – and groping me was far from the worst thing he did or is reputed to have done. The kind of guy where women whisper to each other to avoid him when drinking. Nobody would have disbelieved me had I said he groped me – but if I’d taken a swing at him, I would have been in far more trouble.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Women could turn Weinstein down… if they wanted to give up on being actresses.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What did Crews really have to fear? Are we (as a nation) really so far gone that we think sexual assault is acceptable and defending oneself against it is not?

            In a word, yes. At least for men (and especially big men, and depending on who you believe, especially big black men); women might have gotten away with hitting him, but would have likely been less effective at doing so. And of course the guy he would have hit would have denied doing anything physical.

            Basically the state is very jealous of its monopoly on violence. And doesn’t hold up its end of the deal — punishing the people who would have otherwise been the recipient of individual violence — in many cases. So the option for most people is just to suck it up.

          • Iain says:

            Also, we aren’t hearing from the 40-year-old dental hygenists whose acting career flamed out after one bit part and an unhappy meeting with Harvey Weinstein, we’re hearing from an awful lot of A-list celebrities and most of the rest still seem to be fairly successful in the (highly competitive) industry. That’s not a plausible ratio if Weinstein is using his power to make or break careers to have his way with young women, and the ones telling the stories are the ones who walked away in disgust.

            This is false.

            Here’s a list of all the people who’ve accused Harvey Weinstein: Alice Evans, Amber Anderson, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, Angelina Jolie, Angie Everhart, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Cara Delevigne, Claire Forlani, Dawn Dunning, Emily Nestor, Emma de Caunes, Florence Darel, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Barth, Judith Godreche, Heather Graham, Kate Beckinsale, Katherine Kendall, Katya Mtsitouridze, Laura Madden, Lauren Sivan, Lauren O’Connor, Lea Seydoux, Lena Headey, Liza Campbell, Louisette Geiss, Louise Godbold, Lucia Evans, Lupita Nyong’o, Lysette Anthony, Marisa Coughlan, Melissa Sagemiller, Mia Kirshner, Mimi Haleyi, Minka Kelly, Mira Sorvino, Romola Garai, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Sarah Ann Masse, Sarah Smith, Sophie Dix, Tara Subkoff, Tomi-Ann Roberts, Trish Goff, Vu Thu Phuong, Zelda Perkins, Zoe Brock.

            There are 49 names on that list. I recognized maybe 10 of them. If you think that most of Weinstein’s accusers are successful celebrities, then it’s probably because you haven’t been paying much attention, and you’ve only seen the flashy headlines — which are, indeed, far more likely to mention the A-list celebrities. If you’re looking for former aspiring actresses, you can start with Lucia Evans’s account in this article.

            I’m sure there are other successful actresses out there who are remaining silent because Harvey Weinstein successfully extorted blow jobs out of them, and they would prefer not to broadcast that fact to the world. So what? I fail to see how that changes anything. “Give me a blow job if you want a good part” doesn’t stop being reprehensible just because Harvey actually comes through on the quid pro quo.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ dndnrsn
            …this just brings us back to “Norms that go unenforced stop being norms”.

            Crews could have hit him, maybe that would have worked out poorly but I have my doubts. Crews could have also said “remove your hand before I remove it for you” or “you’ll be hearing from my lawyer in the morning”. Powerlessness is a learned trait.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Crews could have hit him, maybe that would have worked out poorly but I have my doubts. Crews could have also said “remove your hand before I remove it for you” or “you’ll be hearing from my lawyer in the morning”. Powerlessness is a learned trait.

            Not everything learned is false. He could have said “remove your hand before I remove it for you”, but if the guy didn’t do so, he’d have either had to hit the guy (or break his arm or whatever) or reveal himself as a bluffer. The lawyer thing would be an obviously empty threat; no evidence, no case.

          • dndnrsn says:

            And then he’s the guy who threatens people (the groper is going to say over nothing) or the guy who threatens to sue people (ditto). The problem with enforcing norms about things like someone putting their hand on your ass is that while the hand on the ass could be completely unproveable, it is clear to everyone that you are kicking up a fuss – and there is a population of people who manipulate this. They probably get off on knowing that they can violate other people’s boundaries and get away with it.

          • John Schilling says:

            There are 49 names on that list. I recognized maybe 10 of them. If you think that most of Weinstein’s accusers are successful celebrities, then it’s probably because you haven’t been paying much attention,

            Or because I did the math, you sanctimonious ass.

            One of the forty-nine names on your list is a pseudonym. Of the other forty-eight, I recognized fifteen offhand. Another fifteen have dedicated Wikipedia pages for their careers as actresses, models, or artists, which by definition reflects notability as perceived by the Wikipedia consensus. Many of the rest don’t seem to have been even trying for celebrity status, but OK, we can assume that every “production assistant” on the list really wanted to be an actress. Even by that standard, most (63%) of Weinstein’s public accusers became notably successful celebrities and about half of those are A-list or nearly so.

            Again, this is not a plausible ratio if Weinstein is hitting on young starlets at a stage where nobody can predict who will be the winners and it particularly isn’t a plausible ratio if Weinstein is hitting on young starlets and using his power to destroy the careers of the ones who reject him (as most or all of these claim to have done).

            I’m sure there are other successful actresses out there who are remaining silent because Harvey Weinstein successfully extorted blow jobs out of them, and they would prefer not to broadcast that fact to the world. So what?

            So, what we are seeing is a carefully edited subset of what happened. If you were paying attention rather than looking for an excuse for outrage, that was my point. If you want to be outraged at Harvey Weinstein, be my guest. If you want to understand how people behave in the face of Harvey Weinstein, you have to look beyond the stories you are being told.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ dndnrsn
            No, No, No. The person “kicking up a fuss” is whoever made the initial transgression. In this case the Honcho who violated Crews personal boundaries and then failed to apologize profusely when it was made clear that he was not welcome.

            *click*

            Wait is that it?

            Does nobody here believe in personal boundaries?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think people’s boundaries are worth defending. I’m describing “is” not “ought.” The problem is that defending one’s boundaries requires “kicking up a fuss” in one way or another, and when the person who is violating boundaries is socially popular, wealthy, powerful, and they’re violating boundaries in a way that can’t be readily proven, whatever, a lot of people do the math and figure it’s not worth it. And the people who violate boundaries know this.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Labeling it “a fuss” strongly implies that you (or rather your society) view defending boundaries as transgressive in a way that violating them is not.

          • Randy M says:

            Labeling it “a fuss” strongly implies that you (or rather your society) view defending boundaries as transgressive.

            The risk would be that whatever authority figures would ultimately be turned to (be they legal or professional or social) would be more concerned with who was causing them trouble then right or wrong.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Randy

            Granted, that is a risk. But even so, if a particular individual keeps getting involved in such incidents, that in itself becomes evidence.

          • Iain says:

            @John Schilling

            So, what we are seeing is a carefully edited subset of what happened. If you were paying attention rather than looking for an excuse for outrage, that was my point. If you want to be outraged at Harvey Weinstein, be my guest. If you want to understand how people behave in the face of Harvey Weinstein, you have to look beyond the stories you are being told.

            Instead of darkly hinting, why don’t you just come out and say what you think actually happened, and how it is different from the standard story? Everybody knows that there are women out there who aren’t talking, and that some of them probably did trade sex for a boost to their careers. (Asia Argento says as much in the New Yorker article I linked above.) Some of them, as Lillian speculates, might even hold their noses and do it again. I don’t see how any of that changes the narrative.

            Are you just trying to call Gwyneth Paltrow a liar, without actually coming out and calling her a liar?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think Randy M puts it right.

            Imagine you’re at a social function. When you’re in the washroom, some guy – you know him vaguely, he’s more important than you, he could probably mess with your career – grabs your ass. Nobody witnessed it, there’s no cameras or whatever.

            Do you start shouting, go out and inform people, punch him, ? If it’s your word against his, you might very well come out on the worse end of raising the hue and cry, or simply informing people.

            You certainly will be in more trouble than he will be if you dummy him – defending boundaries with violence is usually frowned on more than violating boundaries in a way that doesn’t leave marks.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ dndnrsn
            In the particular scenario you describe I would tell the man to keep his damn hands to himself and see how things go from there.

            Now lets flip this around;

            Just how much sexual harassment do you consider acceptable? If your husband/wife/random stranger was being harassed or molested in front of you would you say anything? How far would you be allow things to proceed before interceding. How many witnesses would you need to be present before responding.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Imagine you’re at a social function. When you’re in the washroom, some guy – you know him vaguely, he’s more important than you, he could probably mess with your career – grabs your ass. Nobody witnessed it, there’s no cameras or whatever.

            So how long until someone invents a wearable with distributed hidden cameras and strategically placed pressure sensors? Like a dashcam but for bars

          • John Schilling says:

            Now lets flip this around, if your husband/wife/anyone was being harassed or molested in front of you would you say anything?

            Harvey Weinstein, at least per the stories in the media lately, didn’t generally do his harassing or molesting in front of the victims’ husbands or anyone else; he had his assistants arrange very private meetings for the purpose.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I would try to step in, but I think if someone else was involved I would be reacting in a different way than on my own behalf. I also think the optics are different – a guy who punches another guy because guy was grabbing his girlfriend’s butt comes out, I think, looking better than the guy who claims he was the one who got butt-grabbed.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ John Schilling,
            Several of the allegations against have him doing things like exposing himself to women at parties in front of dozens of witnesses. Likewise the Terry Crews incident mentioned above was witnessed by his wife and his agent.

            Trying to paint this as an instance of the old he-said-she-said problem is dishonest.

          • Randy M says:

            a guy who punches another guy because guy was grabbing his girlfriend’s butt comes out, I think, looking better than the guy who claims he was the one who got butt-grabbed.

            I should say so! With a bit of plausible deniability on the part of the butt-grabber, it’s going to be spun as some homophobic assault.
            (eta: you didn’t specify it as a man in the second instance, though I assumed so as it was in the first. Needless to say, as Brad points out, slugging a handsy girl is not likely to win you accolades either)

            Although in the first instance, without vocal support of the girlfriend, it will come off as “overly possessive, jealous boyfriend” assault.

          • Brad says:

            @dndnrsn

            a guy who punches another guy because guy was grabbing his girlfriend’s butt comes out, I think, looking better than the guy who claims he was the one who got butt-grabbed.

            That’s a tricky one.

            On the one hand there’s still an (IMO) unfortunate idea that a guy should just shake it off. And on top of that there’s either a “gay panic” angle or a “hitting a woman” angle, both of which, again unfortunately, work against the victim defending himself.

            On the other hand though when a boyfriend/husband/male relative/random male bystander steps in to defend the honor of a woman that didn’t ask for him to do so there’s an implication of helplessness and lack of agency that can be somewhat problematic.

            The cleanest case is if a woman turns around and slaps a man across the face that groped her. I can’t think of any context where she would be thought of as in the wrong.

          • Iain says:

            @hlynkacg

            Several of the allegations against have him doing things like exposing himself to women at parties in front of dozens of witnesses.

            Link? I don’t recall seeing this, and Google isn’t turning anything up.

          • JayT says:

            I think it was James Toback that was accused of public displays of his genitalia, not Weinstein. Very possible I missed something though.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ JayT

            Upon further review, it seems that I had accidently merged two accounts in my head. Toback exposing himself to a female journalist at an Oscar party, and Weinstein threatening a female journalist at an Oscar party.

            In any case I feel my original point remains. Reading through the list of allegations we see numerous instances where other individuals were present, and the repeated refrain that “everybody knew” and that if the did object they kept it to themselves. There was a clearly a consensus that Weinstein’s behavior was acceptable.

          • Deiseach says:

            The social consequences in that situation, the legal consequences, are more likely to fall on the guy defending himself than on the groper.

            Plus if it’s a guy accusing another guy, the alleged groper can use the “this dude is trying to use the gay panic defence for attacking me” counter-accusation and spin it so the guy who hit him is accused of homophobia. Not going to make you very popular in Hollywood to be accused of being a homophobe, as well as starting whispers about your sexuality (if you’re accusing another guy of sexually harassing you, and you are claiming to be straight – are you really that straight?)

          • John Schilling says:

            Reading through the list of allegations we see numerous instances where other individuals were present,

            Oh joy, now I have to read through a list of Weinstein’s offenses again.

            But having done so, again, I only see two that occurred when anyone but Weinstein, the victim, and maybe one of Weinstein’s assistants was in the room. Alice Evans, where the publicly offensive comment was limited to crudely propositioning a woman at a bar where everyone else was probably a random stranger and so not likely to intervene over a crude proposition. And Rebecca Traister, who Weinstein obscenely insulted at a party and whose boyfriend then did rise to her defense to the extent of a physical altercation with Weinstein. Unless I’ve missed one, which is possible, the other cases all fit the same pattern of Weinstein using a pretense and/or an intermediary to arrange a private meeting in a hotel room or the like and then crossing lines.

            Yes, “everybody knew” about this, presumably excepting the newest generation of starlets who hadn’t got the message. That’s why there weren’t big confrontations, fisticuffs with boyfriends or the like. If everybody knows, then everybody decides to either trade sex for career favoritism (and presumably not talk about it), or decides to decline the invitation before it reaches the point where a big confrontation rather than a private refusal would be required. Again excluding the naive young starlets who hadn’t got the warning in time, but they have their own obvious reason to keep their responses low-key.

            This subthread began when you asked why women weren’t throwing their drinks in (specifically) Harvey Weinstein’s face, why boyfriends weren’t asking him to step outside. I’ve tried to answer that question by explaining that the actual circumstances of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior don’t lead to those sorts of outcomes, I’ve tried to be accurate and reasonable in doing so, and I think I have been both accurate and reasonable. So I really don’t appreciate you and Iain accusing me of being dishonest about this.

    • cassander says:

      But with the Weinstein fallout, and the List, we saw men actually becoming afraid of what they did or did not do (and honestly, if they didn’t feel any fear, they were deluded). If there’s one thing to learn from the endless morass of emotions that has been the past few weeks it’s that it’s good to make men feel fear, and this is something women absolutely have the power to do, even if it has to come anonymously, and in aggregate.

      If you want to see what it looks like when men are afraid of women, see Mike Pence’s policy of not meeting alone with women who work with him. Something tells me that this author is not a fan of Pence.

      • Baeraad says:

        Funnily enough, that’s something I respect Pence for.

        I’ve heard the complaints that he’s abdicating the responsibility to have self-control. But the thing is, powerful men clearly don’t have self-control when it comes to sex. I am, personally, not sure how that even works – as a perpetually no-sex-having man, I find it hard to even imagine how the intricacies of sexual courtship can be so easy for some people to get through that it’s something that can happen from a momentary lapse of discipline. I feel like there are so many steps and stages and obstacles to clear that surely at some point you’d stop and think, “oh wait, I shouldn’t be doing this.” But the sheer size of the list of powerful men caught with their pants down says otherwise, so I can only assume that for powerful men, getting sex is as easy and natural as it is for me to take another donut.

        Given that, Pence not wanting to be alone with a woman seems just like me not wanting to be offered pastries when I’m on a diet. He knows his limitations, good for him. Good for the rest of us, too, if it means that we have one fewer infidelity / sexual harrasment scandals to look forward to.

        So I’m all for the author getting what she wants. Let men be afraid of women, sure, works for me. It’s probably for the best. Of course, men who are afraid of women aren’t going to be spending a lot of time working with them and listening to them. That’s not great. But given the options at hand, it seems like the best one.

        • The Nybbler says:

          so I can only assume that for powerful men, getting sex is as easy and natural as it is for me to take another donut.

          That’s the nature of power. If you’re powerful enough, the donuts come to you.

          The men who become afraid of women as the result of this will not be the powerful ones. If the powerful ones were vulnerable to such fear they would not be powerful; Pence is an exception. What this means is the low-status, low-power drones will have to be even more afraid of being in the same building as a woman lest they be accused of looking at her wrong, while the powerful continue to behave as before… and mostly get away with it.

        • roystgnr says:

          Given that, Pence not wanting to be alone with a woman seems just like me not wanting to be offered pastries when I’m on a diet. He knows his limitations, good for him.

          Are we even sure they’re *his* limitations? The trouble with some cultural rules is you need a large culture to stand by them, or they don’t work at all. Even if 95% of people know they can behave professionally in all settings and would never be abusive or dishonest, it’s still beneficial for them to avoid settings where the bottom 5% could easily get away with something evil, because to do otherwise normalizes those settings and provides cover for the malefactors.

          There’s probably Hollywood producers who have private meetings in their hotel rooms all the time and have never done anything untoward in such a meeting… but have thereby unwittingly helped enable their Harvey Weinstein peers.

          But if we imagine people who aren’t as evil as Weinstein, who are merely afraid of being tempted beyond their self-control, then having that cultural rule in place for even their untemptable peers provides cover for them in a good way: they can just say “Sorry, I only do meetings in public” and people will assume they’re most likely in the untemptable-but-strait-laced crowd, not the struggling-with-self-control crowd.

          I’m still not sure “no one-on-one meetings except where third parties could witness” is a *good* cultural rule overall, but it’s becoming impossible to deny the upside, at least until or unless someone comes up with a realistic but less depressing solution…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’m still not sure “no one-on-one meetings except where third parties could witness” is a *good* cultural rule overall, but it’s becoming impossible to deny the upside, at least until or unless someone comes up with a realistic but less depressing solution…

            Chaperones used to be the rule. Gentlemen and ladies were not alone together, because there exist rapists and misunderstandings and drunkenness and regrettable sex. But the sexual revolution tore down that fence, and it seems like people (especially women) are really, really angry that we do not live in a world where men and women (particularly those with power differentials) can be alone together and any sex that results is enthusiastically consensual and fondly remembered.

            About 10 years ago my buddies and I went out bar hopping. Well one of them, let’s call him “Mark,” brought with him a roll of $800 in cash. I think he was feeling like a loser going through a divorce and wanted to show off, maybe? He’d already had a few drinks, and then he went up to the bar, pulled out the wad of bills in front of everybody, and ordered bottle service. So he was hammered, and later when we were ready to leave we had no idea where Mark was. We looked for him for two hours and gave up. The next day the cops found him knocked out in an alley, $800 lighter.

            I would like to live in a world where a drunken idiot can flash around wads of cash and wander through dark alleys without getting punched out and robbed, but that is not this world. I don’t know a solution to that problem besides, perhaps, don’t behave in manners that put you in a position to get knocked out and robbed in an alley.

          • Baeraad says:

            True, it might be that he’s just trying to set what he considers a good example. That still makes me respect him, though.

          • Zorgon says:

            I would like to live in a world where a drunken idiot can flash around wads of cash and wander through dark alleys without getting punched out and robbed, but that is not this world. I don’t know a solution to that problem besides, perhaps, don’t behave in manners that put you in a position to get knocked out and robbed in an alley.

            Such disgusting victim blaming here. #literallyshaking

        • albatross11 says:

          I assume Pence’s policy is at least as much to protect him from false accusations/rumors as from temptation.

          • C. Y. Hollander says:

            I’m rather surprised that by and large people don’t seem to be considering this aspect of it. Physicians are often advised to take such precautions when examining patients. Of course the situation is not the same, but the principle is similar: they’re in situations where an accusation of misconduct—be it true, false, or mistaken—would be enormously damaging to them.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, and teachers, too, especially at the high school level. Never be in your room alone with a student.

          • Brad says:

            I was told the same thing and I was only a lowly TA. I’m not even sure it would have been against the rules for me to sleep with a student (not that any offered).

          • Incurian says:

            The temptation angle never even occurred to me.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I’m a low-level supervisor (salaried, but <40K annual pre-tax) of hourly employees (slightly over min. wage), and I've been warned many times never to allow myself to be alone with a female subordinate, and to ensure that any disciplinary discussions, performance evals, and even the most innocuous shop talk happens with a second female supervisor present, and preferably in an area with security camera footage as well.

            I took the "avoid false accusations" angle as the obvious answer, and was surprised that someone would arrive at "to avoid temptation".

            I don’t think it’s a “power” thing. I think it’s a “Men and women in any environment in today’s political climate” thing.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Wow, Trofim. You make it sound like productivity could be greatly increased by sex segregating work. After all, if men and women have equally distributed talents, such a rule would get you the best applicant for the job 50% of the time and second-best 50% of the time. The margin between best and second-best is unlikely to be large enough to make up for needing a second salaried supervisor and security cameras to interact with a subordinate.

            The obvious objection would be that making it legal to test that hypothesis would take more work than reverting to an earlier political climate when men and women could be co-workers without all this cost.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Not really. After all, most of the time a supervisor and an hourly employee are together, they’re in areas with plenty of witnesses, either customers or other employees.

            Private discussions like performance evals or disciplinary discussions are relatively infrequent and usually fairly brief, so it’s easy enough to either ensure you have a female supervisor as a witness (either from your own or another department), or simply pull the TM you need to talk to far enough away from customers/other employees that a quiet discussion can’t be overheard, but where you are entirely visible.

          • Baeraad says:

            But all politicians have a theoretical cause to worry about such things, and yet he seems to be the only one who does. As such, I’d rather look for the reason in the fact that he’s uncommonly religious than ascribe any particular political genius to him.

          • Randy M says:

            As such, I’d rather look for the reason in the fact that he’s uncommonly religious than ascribe any particular political genius to him.

            In religious circles (well, make that Protestant circles) it’s well known that Billy Graham has the same policy with any woman not his wife. Pence is probably adopting Graham’s practice.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think Pence is given the benefit of the doubt about the rule being for avoiding temptation rather than avoiding false accusation because of his religious background and because of the precedent of the Billy Graham rule. But there’s no way a politician of his stature doesn’t keep the “avoid false accusations” part in mind as well.

            @Le Maistre Chat

            earlier political climate when men and women could be co-workers without all this cost

            There never was such a time and there probably never will be. There are men out there who will take advantage of one on one situations. There are women who will accuse falsely to gain an advantage or out of spite. We can generally disbelieve the women (the situation in much of the past), in which case they bear the cost. We can generally disbelieve the men (the situation now), in which case _they_ bear the cost. We can try to arbitrate each case, in which case the company bears an enormous cost, and it often screws up anyway because it’s all he-said/she-said. Or we can avoid one-on-one situations between men and women, in which case the company bears a small cost in inefficiency. We could sex-segregate, but that has a cost too. It’s quite possible that avoiding one-on-one situations between men and women is the best we can do.

          • bean says:

            Billy Graham’s rule is in large part about false accusations, too. He has a staffer sweep his hotel rooms and such to make sure there isn’t a woman waiting as a trap to discredit him.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            These days, there’s a third solution– surveillance.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m a low-level supervisor (salaried, but <40K annual pre-tax) of hourly employees (slightly over min. wage), and I've been warned many times never to allow myself to be alone with a female subordinate,

            My salary is higher than yours, as are my direct reports, but I’m still just a 2nd-level supervisor with four subordinates. Nobody has ever told me not to allow myself to be alone with a female subordinate. I literally couldn’t do my job if I couldn’t be alone with a (young, attractive) female subordinate. There aren’t enough female co-supervisors hanging around with time to stand witness, and if there were they wouldn’t have need-to-know or signed NDAs for some of what needs to be discussed behind closed doors.

            This has never caused me or any of my colleagues any problems that I know of. I have (many years ago, at a different employer) seen false accusations of sexual harassment, including one that destroyed careers and lives, but they wouldn’t have been prevented by such a policy in the first place because they mostly were alleged to have happened in front of witnesses anyway.

            Maybe standards and practices are different in different industries, but I suspect that much of this is ass-covering paranoia at work. It ought to be sufficient and I believe in practice will be sufficient to conduct one’s self, even in private with attractive young women, in a fashion that isn’t plausibly going to be misunderstood as sexual harassment. In that case, false claims of harassment won’t go anywhere unless upper management has a “the girl is always right” policy (in which case the no-closed-door policy won’t save you), or unless the accuser is an outright malevolent liar (which is rare, but if so she’ll lie about the door being closed).

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            @John Schilling , I suspect that your coworkers and subordinates, even the attractive female ones, are not 16 to 20 years old, unlike the female front line workers in the kind of industry has minwage workers and has 40k/yr supervisors.

            When I teach kids in groups larger than 2 without my immediate direct supervision, I *have* to gender segregate them.

            I’m turning grey, yet still despite that I’ve had some of the girls try to distract, charm, or manipulate me. As a socially lubricating white lie, I pretend that it it’s either mostly unconscious on their part, or they they are “practicing” because I’m safe. If one of them tries it twice, I tell her parents, which so far has put an end to it.

            I’m starting to very seriously consider putting up a hidden video camera, just in case. Or I may just stop teaching girls.

          • Randy M says:

            Is there a place in the English speaking world where you could get a job teaching just boys?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nybbler: point taken. It wouldn’t be good for me, or for productivity, to revert to an old system if it gave men a blanket advantage.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In that case, false claims of harassment won’t go anywhere unless upper management has a “the girl is always right” policy (in which case the no-closed-door policy won’t save you), or unless the accuser is an outright malevolent liar (which is rare, but if so she’ll lie about the door being closed).

            If you make it policy and practice to not be alone, the liars won’t see such an opportunity. And if they did, you have a better defense. If you say “No such meeting ever happened”, you’re on much more solid ground than “We had a meeting and nothing happened.” The latter tends to elicit the question “Well, then why were you alone with her in the first place?” And this is a rhetorical question; the asker is essentially saying that the Pence standard is in fact the true standard despite it not being written down and no one telling you this, and you should have known that.

            If you attempt to answer that rhetorical question, your interlocutor will ask you why you could not have had some sort of alternative meeting where you _wouldn’t_ be alone. And you probably can’t actually answer that, because there usually is an alternative.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Is there a place in the English speaking world where you could get a job teaching just boys?

            Probably not. However, I don’t get paid, this is entirely personal volunteering.

            And the SJWs and the other Progressives have not (yet) figured out how to crack that particular source of “injustice”. I would like to see the lawsuit enforcing that. Actually, no I don’t, because I’m quite sure such a suit is coming against someone sometime in the next 10 years…

          • bean says:

            @John
            Your direct reports are probably making twice what the person you responded to is. They’re professionals, and unlikely to think that shaking down the company with a sexual harassment lawsuit is a good idea. For people making minimum wage, things are probably quite different.

          • rlms says:

            @Randy M
            There are plenty of single-gender schools in the UK.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Shadows: I occasionally have to deal with 19-20yo engineering interns, but I can see how that might be different from 16-18yo high school students or minimum-wage workers. But now you’ve got me thinking about what might be involved in working with 16-18yo boys. Mostly just glad it isn’t me.

            ETA: If the actual advantage comes primarily when dealing with teenage girls in high school or minimum-wage job settings, which I can see would be plausible, that still leaves us with the question of where Mike Pence and Billy Graham are coming from.

            @Nybbler: I don’t see how “I did not have a meeting with Amanda on Thursday, she’s lying / He did so have a meeting with me on Thursday and he harassed me, He’s lying” is any more or less solid than “I met with Amanda and the door was open, she’s lying / His door was closed and he harassed me, he’s lying”. Presuming in both cases that your job requires regularly meeting with Amanda, and that you don’t regularly harass people in meetings to establish a pattern on that front.

            If the woman is willing to lie, and senior management is willing to take her unsupported word, I don’t think a no-closed-door policy can save you. I’ve never seen it save anyone, and I’ve never seen a case where I think it could have saved anyone.

          • Randy M says:

            that still leaves us with the question of where Mike Pence and Billy Graham are coming from.

            They are high profile targets; also, these are personal rules for themselves and not rules laid down from superiors; there probably is an element of avoiding temptation, and also of not giving their wives reason to worry.

            Also, the reason you open your door is not so that you can claim to have opened your door, but so that you are observable to colleagues walking by. If you are the only two people in that section of the building, sure, it won’t help you, but if you can get someone to corroborate that at 4:45 you had your door open, it isn’t so likely that you would have risked a quick unwanted grab between then and the end of your meeting.

            @Randy M
            There are plenty of single-gender schools in the UK

            Good to see the tradition that traumatized Roald Dhal and so many other famous British authors is alive and well. Google suggests there are some in the US as well, I seem to have overestimated the integrationist push.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @John Schilling

            What I’m saying is that if the story is

            “He called me into a meeting, closed the door, and groped me”

            people (including senior management) are a lot more likely to consider the counter-stories

            “I never met with her” and

            “I called her into a meeting which we had with the door open, and told her we were cutting her hours”

            rather than

            “I called her into a meeting, closed the door, and told her we were cutting her hours”.

            Admitting to the closed door one-on-one is tantamount to an admission of wrongdoing. I think this is because a lot of people believe in the Graham rule even if they’d never admit it.

          • johan_larson says:

            I think this policy of refusing to meet with women alone is like the idea that people who follow demanding codes of religious practice are more trustworthy because if they really were just looking out for number one, they would long since have discarded all these pain-in-the-ass rituals.

            Similarly, if you are known to punctiliously follow an inconvenient code of conduct in matters of cross-gender relations, that is real evidence of your good intentions in such matters, and should count in your favour if you are accused of improper behavior in this area.

            Would it be enough to save you? Hard to say. I doubt any of us have enough experience for reliable inference about such situations.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @The Nybbler

            I don’t know, my sense is that we DID have such a time from about the 1960s to sometime in the 1990s, and that we still do in some fields and contexts (See John’s comments), but I was born in 1981 so my experience is limited.

            @John Schilling

            I absolutely agree with you that merely saying “well the door was open” or having that policy isn’t going to help. That’s why the unofficial but strongly worded advice here (endorsed by HR) is to go straight to having a second supervisor or manager in the room to provide a second witness in case of false allegations.

            I will be honest and admit that I have taken this advice and applied it using my own discretion, depending on the subordinate and the nature of the conversation, rather than making it a hard and fast rule. Thankfully my subordinates have to be at least 21, and as a result the level of emotional maturity is better than in some departments where 16-20 year olds ARE employed.

            That said, I don’t think it’s patently wrong-headed or overly paranoid for much of the same reasons Bean and Shadows has mentioned. There have definitely been subordinates in the past where I wanted that layer of CYA in place and at least one case where I’m pretty sure it actually protected me (I wasn’t privy to everything that was said to HR), and the cases where I wanted that protection were generally younger females (21-23). If I was dealing with more college students than I am, much less high school age, it WOULD be a hard and fast rule, regardless of how properly and professionally I conduct myself.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Pence’s policy looks is pretty familiar from Evangelical culture, but it’s not a general overarching rule for every Evangelical man, it’s a policy for pastoral staff. A few things to keep in mind there.

            1. Pastors are men in power and respected in their communities. There’s a good chance that “opportunities” will present themselves, especially when you consider that…

            2. Pastors spend a lot of time counselling and dealing with people who have some serious issues. Some of them are outright evil. I’m wager most mental health professional have their own sets of rules regulating how they interact with their clients so that they can’t be accused of sexual abuse. It’s a professional necessity, particularly when you want to…

            3. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Pastors are expected to live to a higher standard in general, and even a false accusation can ruin a career at the worst and bog you down in a months-long nightmare at the best. Much better to make it hard to accuse you in the first place. Judges follow the same general practice when they excuse themselves from any case they might conceivably have a personal interest in, even if they don’t think that they will really be impacted by it.

            4. Pastors are still men. The Bible tells us to flee youthful lusts. It’s much safer to just avoid some temptations altogether.

            Now, Pence is not a pastor, but most of these will apply to his situation as well, minus the counselling but plus a whole lot of enemies who might not mind framing him. I’m not surprised he cribbed a set of ready-made rules to mitigate the risk. When you’re known by millions, you better be ready for 1-in-a-million events.

          • quaelegit says:

            If I may follow a tangent:

            @Standing in the Shadows: What do you teach? you’ve piqued my curiosity.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            What do you teach? you’ve piqued my curiosity.

            “Maker” electronics, with associated programming in Python and in Processing. Some side things I’ve ended up teaching as part of teaching that stuff is basic “how to use power tools, no they are not going to kill you”, tutoring basic algebra, and coaching in public speaking. Hell, I’ve had to teach some kids basic posture and “how to stand without hurting your back”.

            The kids are smart. Even the kids who think they are dumb because they don’t do well at “school”. The more I teach kids, the more I hate what “school” has become.

        • Randy M says:

          I am, personally, not sure how that even works – as a perpetually no-sex-having man, I find it hard to even imagine how the intricacies of sexual courtship can be so easy for some people to get through that it’s something that can happen from a momentary lapse of discipline.

          I suspect for one thing alcohol is ubiquitous. It was astonishing to me as a young professional just how much is drunk on a business trip.

          And power is an aphrodisiac in the cases where the woman is not conscious seeking any sex initially.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I feel like there are so many steps and stages and obstacles to clear that surely at some point you’d stop and think, “oh wait, I shouldn’t be doing this.” But the sheer size of the list of powerful men caught with their pants down says otherwise, so I can only assume that for powerful men, getting sex is as easy and natural as it is for me to take another donut.

          In general, power is not acquired by having an abundance of scruples

      • On the subject of past attitudes to men and women being alone together:

        At the end of one millennium and nine centuries of Christianity, it remains an unshakable assumption of the law in all Christian countries and of the moral judgement of Christians everywhere that if a man and a woman, entering a room together, close the door behind them, the man will come out sadder and the woman wiser.

        (H.L. Mencken)

    • The Nybbler says:

      “I’m not that guy!” they all wanted say, but, of course, they are.

      So, if Weinstein is defined by his sex and not his actions, and I cannot distinguish myself from him by acting otherwise, why exactly should I condemn him again? If this is about Man Tribe v Woman Tribe and not Scuzzball v All Decent People, well, I checked between my legs and I’m with Man Tribe. But I don’t accept that framing, and if she does, it’s to her detriment. All Ms. Finnegan (her name isn’t Letter, the title of the column is “Leah Letter”) is doing is declaring herself to have a hatred of men. I’ll take that into account in any future writings, it’s certainly good to know who one’s enemies are. But I certainly am not going to take her advice to heart.

      Personally I didn’t squirm at all. I think #metoo is a Two Minutes Hate (alas they won’t let me say so on the subreddit), but I can avoid it easily enough. And I’m certainly not going to feel guilt because of what certain other people, whose only commonality with me is a Y chromosome and associated phenotype, have done.

      • Kevin C. says:

        All Ms. Finnegan (her name isn’t Letter, the title of the column is “Leah Letter”) is doing is declaring herself to have a hatred of men.

        I caught that, but messed it up in copying the wrong line for copy-paste. My bad, I need to go back to writing all my posts in word processor first for editing and review rather than just writing them in the (small) comment box here.

        And she’s doing more than just “declaring” her hatred, she’s attempting (note, I didn’t say “succeding”) to provide a justification for it, and at least implicitly encouraging others to share it.

        • The Nybbler says:

          And she’s doing more than just “declaring” her hatred, she’s attempting (note, I didn’t say “succeding”) to provide a justification for it, and at least implicitly encouraging others to share it.

          And as a man, I really don’t give a rodent’s behind about whatever her “justification” is, any more than I worry about any given Stormfront poster’s “justification” for hating Jews is.

          • Kevin C. says:

            And as a man, I really don’t give a rodent’s behind about whatever her “justification” is

            The way I see it, as a man, you’re not her target audience — other women are. It’s not about justifying her hatred to you or I; it’s about persuading other women to join the glorious cause.

          • Jiro says:

            The way I see it, as a man, you’re not her target audience — other women are.

            That’s probably true for the Stormfront member vs. Jews too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            OK, so she’s an enemy trying to recruit. That makes her more dangerous; it doesn’t make her pitch any more interesting.

      • CatCube says:

        I think #metoo is a Two Minutes Hate (alas they won’t let me say so on the subreddit)

        Wow, are they really that Orwellian over there that this is considered unpostable?

        • The Nybbler says:

          All I know is I get banned or warned every time I make an Orwell reference. I don’t SEE /u/OBrien in the mod list, but he wouldn’t advertise, would he?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            So, “If you want a picture of the subreddit, imagine a banhammer stamping on a snoovatar’s face — for ever?”

          • Nornagest says:

            Every time I visit the subreddit, I’m struck by how they can manage to simultaneously have much tighter moderation and a much crappier culture than the comments here do.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            Could be explained by a much crappier culture requiring a much tighter moderation……

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure. Or an adversarial culture outputting both more crappiness (to piss off the mods) and more mod action (to keep the worst users in check). Or other stuff. Moderation doesn’t always mean a better culture; it’s more the difference from this forum that surprises me, considering how many of the characters are the same.

          • Randy M says:

            Moderation doesn’t always mean a better culture; it’s more the difference from this forum that surprises me, considering how many of the characters are the same.

            All twenty-six of them, in fact.

            As my pastor used to say, the level of virtue in a society is not proportional to how many laws there are, but how few.

          • Deiseach says:

            I definitely notice when I interact on the sub-reddit I am a lot more confrontational and adversarial than on here. Part of it is the problem of trying to have a discussion on the reddit versus here, part of it I definitely think is the upvote/downvote mechanism which leads to “I don’t like this post/comment/you so I’m downvoting” even though that’s not how it’s meant to work, part of it is that I don’t know the people over there as well, and part of it is the tone which tends more to the “can you believe what the stupid idiots did/said here?” which does make me react “hey, I’m one of those idiots, you cretin!”

  15. BBA says:

    A couple of threads ago, someone told me about retrocomputing people being stubborn. Here’s a fantastic example: the restoration of the first color video game ever – a limited run by Atari of their 1973 release Gotcha, otherwise known only for its original controllers being a pair of, ah, suggestive soft pink domes.

    Of note to me, most of the “real” color arcade games of the 1970s seem totally forgotten today, while Breakout and Space Invaders, which used colored cellophane over B&W screens, are still iconic.

  16. Kevin C. says:

    So, starting with the whole ‘failure of New Atheism’ bit, and particularly the attempt to append certain causes to it which ran up against the result that, as the absense of a particular belief, on its own, atheism does not entail as much as some people thought it did. (Compare, say, an ex-Christian atheist Tumblr feminist and, say, me). Add in that people are to a degree products of their culture and upbringing (and genes, if you’re willing to go there), and that even secular/non-religious thinkers tend to have the ideas, norms, and mores of their culture — which overlap with or are rooted in the dominant religion(s) — as a starting point. I’ve seen this brought up by asking one to consider whether a Chinese atheist (esp. a pre-20th century or otherwise not Maoist) would have more in common, in terms of overall view of how to live, morals, “the good life”, society, et cetera, with a religious Chinese person or with a Western atheist — with the implication that the answer appears to be the former (try looking up some Chinese atheist/irreligious thinkers).

    So, given this, I have a thought experiment to consider: the “Aztec Atheist”. That is, consider someone who is from, who grew up in, and whose moral views are shaped by a culture that strongly belives in and practices human sacrifice, but who is lacking in the supernatural beliefs that usually back this. What sort of philosophies might they come up with? In particular, I don’t think it can be simply assumed that rejecting human sacrifice is a given. (I’ve seen, for example, a non-religious defense of Chinese-style “ancestor worship”.) What might a secular/non-religious defense of human sacrifice look like?

    • Nornagest says:

      What might a secular/non-religious defense of human sacrifice look like?

      The smartassed answer would be that any secular state waging war or practicing the death penalty already has it. And it’s not so clear that that wouldn’t apply to Aztec norms — the Aztec religion did all kinds of horrifying shit, but the bulk of their sacrifices seem to have been prisoners of war captured from neighboring states.

      But smartassed answer is smartassed. If you’re looking for a secular defense of sacrificing innocent people for ritual purposes, I think you might be able to find one — but it’d have to come out of a communitarian secularism, not an individualistic one, unless we’re exclusively talking about elaborate suicide rituals. And once you make that stipulation, it’s not hard to think of justifications, most of which would end up being variations on the theme of hard-to-fake signals of fealty, strength, or prosociality between communities. Eliezer’s Babyeaters are an extreme case, but they’re running through the same basic logic.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Eliezer’s Babyeaters

        Not familiar with what that means. Which LR post is that in?

          • Kevin C. says:

            That would explain it. I once managed to force myself to read the first two chapters of HPMOR. Never again. Yudkowsky’s non-fiction writing is a struggle enough. His fiction? No way.

          • Nornagest says:

            tl;dr:

            Onfvpnyyl ur’f vzntvavat na vagryyvtrag enpr jvgu na e-fgengrtvfg ercebqhpgvir fpurzr, va na raivebazrag gung’f nyernql ernpurq pneelvat pncnpvgl. Orpnhfr nal pbzzhavgl gung nyybjrq shyy pyhgpurf bs lbhat gb pbzr gb znghevgl jbhyq vzzrqvngryl arrq gb rkcnaq (naq gurerol pbzr vagb pbasyvpg jvgu vgf arvtuobef), pbzzhavgvrf qrirybcrq gur phfgbz bs rngvat zbfg bs gurve — shyyl fncvrag — lbhat orsber znghevgl. Guvf jnf fb vzcbegnag naq fb hovdhvgbhf gb guvf fcrpvrf gung gur jbeq sbe “zbenyvgl” gurl raqrq hc pbzvat hc jvgu jnf vqragvpny gb gurve jbeq sbe “rngvat onovrf”.

            I’m not sure the biology actually holds up, but as a thought experiment it gets the point across.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            For what it’s worth, I read Three Worlds Collide straight through with no difficulty, but have so far been unable to focus on HPMOR for more than a couple of paragraphs without quickly finding myself doing something else.

          • Rick Hull says:

            3WC is one of my favorites. Kevin, I suspect you are missing out.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            I really liked both!

            HPMOR has more overlap with the Sequences, so if you have a strong aversion to rereading, and you’ve already read those, I wouldn’t expect you to like that.

            HPMOR has strikingly better characters, but is, essentially, a Harry Potter story- it doesn’t introduce any ideas that would be new to most people here, I think.

            Three Worlds Collide is more philosophically interesting, but not as compelling on a fictional level.

            That being said, I honestly have a hard time imagining someone finding HPMOR boring. I mean that literally- it’s an actual failure of empathy on my part. So take the perspective-gap that implies into account when evaluating the rest of this.

            (From what I’ve read, people mostly
            a. dislike the monologues,
            and
            b. feel that Harry is insufficiently sympathetic.
            This makes sense: I never mind monologues if they’re well-done, and I’m rarely bothered by unsympathetic protagonists, so that might explain it.)

    • rahien.din says:

      What might a secular/non-religious defense of human sacrifice look like?

      Sport.

      • albatross11 says:

        If you imagine human sacrifice specifically in terms of buying off the gods with some human deaths, it’s hard to get there without believing in any gods. The closest to that I can think of is the philosophical dilemma involving a judge who may either hang one innocent man or see two innocent men lynched by an outraged mob. In this case, we’re sacrificing the innocent man to the angry mob instead of to angry gods.

        Still another (though I think excluded by the original question) is someone accepting martyrdom for some secular cause.

        Still another is accepting/cheering people who sacrifice their lives for glory. Think of extreme sports, motor sports, mountain climbing, daredevil stunts, etc.–people are taking a significant risk of dying in exchange for the thrill of the sport + the glory of being recognized as great.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      In the case of the Aztecs, garland war captures/sacrifices were in lieu of actual wars, which is justifiable through plain utilitarianism. If modern nation states exchanged prisoners and cut their hearts out on live television (and we lived with the norm that that was an acceptable and satisfying show of dominance) it would be preferable to actually waging war in basically every case. Vivisecting 2,753 Iraqis/Afghanis/etc. in return for 9/11 would be vastly less horrifying than what actually happened

  17. Kevin C. says:

    Another thought experiment, partially inspired by the one last thread about introducing and acclimatizing people from past centuries or millenia to the modern world.

    Consider that you have died, and now find yourself being judged, not by God or a group of gods, but by your deceased ancestors of the same sex as you. Or, perhaps to reduce the numbers a bit, say just the paternal line/maternal line ancestors, back for millenia, to at least the dawn of civilization (if not the dawn of humanity). How would you defend your life — your actions, your accomplisments, your lifestyle — to them?

    • The Nybbler says:

      One of my grandfathers is still alive, the other was near stone deaf, and their fathers didn’t speak so good English (and those before them none at all). So I’m giving this up as a bad job.

      More seriously, I think what they’ll care about most is my own lack of fecundity. There’s no way to defend that; it is what it is. “Down, please.”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I think they’d be interested in my research. Maybe this is just my bias but that’s my absolute favorite thing about the modern world. Nobody in the history of the human race has ever known the things that I’m discovering.

      They’d probably be annoyed that I haven’t had kids yet. At least my excuse would translate. “My girlfriend’s parents won’t approve of a marriage until I’ve brought back a golden fleece a doctorate” is as old as Jason.

    • Mark says:

      Psychologically, I don’t think this question was good for me. I just spent the last 20 minutes fantasising about the ways in which 12th century peasants might hate me.

      Anyway, the big difference between us and them would be that they wouldn’t have been exposed to change. They wouldn’t have any expectation of change and would probably be quite intolerant of it.

      I think there’ll be some quite idiosyncratic stuff that they get worked up about – “why did you not sacrifice to the holy bog?” etc. But hopefully that stuff will balance out, and maybe I can play the Christians off against the pagans a bit. Get in as a compromise candidate?

      My male ancestors are all Scottish, so I guess the thing most likely to unite them against me is the fact that I’m not very hard. I’m not a hard man. So, I guess the best way to sway them would just be not to take any shit from them.
      “You guys lived in the mud, I live as a king.”

      • A1987dM says:

        12th century peasants

        IIUC, it’s pretty unlikely that your patrilinear great×30grandfather was a peasant — until recently the poor tended to have many many fewer surviving descendants than the rich, and when you compound this for more than a few generations this means that most people alive today are descended from nobility.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Surely most people alive today are descended from both given the number of ancestors you have if you go far enough back?

          Also, if your direct patrilineal ancestor was nobility in a country that still has nobility today (like Scotland), there’s a reasonable chance that you are too, or at least have ancestors you know about who were landed gentry.

    • Nornagest says:

      Someone’s got to… no? Okay, I’ll say it:

      “Alright, you primitive screwheads, listen up!”

    • Baeraad says:

      I guess it depends on how far back you go. I like to think that at least a number of the closest generations would be proud of me. I am a respectable, unremarkable lower-middle-class man, just like they were. They might be a bit shocked by my atheism, I’ll grant you, but it’s not like I wear that one on my sleeve – aside from not going to church, nothing about my life is all that sinful. (sadly :p )

      The only thing is that I’d apologise to my dad for some of the things I said to him before he died. I was young and stupid and angry and unfair.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Apart from trivial language/cultural differences, this doesn’t seem too hard. I have a beautiful partner, I’m respected by my community, I lead people at work, and I have honors granted by my society to demonstrate achievement (which is what college degrees are, for instance).

      Are you trying to make a point about gender norms or something? If you are, why not make it a bit more explicit in the thought experiment- and if you aren’t, maybe take out the gender stuff in the thought experiment that made me think so.

      As an aside, since you mentioned, I think most of my ancestors would be pretty jealous and/or awed of my lifestyle. I get a safe house I own, buying delicious food from anywhere in the globe is cheap, I command mechanical beast-analogues with fantastic powers (a horse that can travel 30 times faster than a walking man! an ox that can drag a 5 ton cart! a bird that can carry my entire family across the continent in a single day! a different bird that can sing any song to me that it’s heard once, upon command! etc., etc.).

    • Incurian says:

      “So, no shit, there I was…”

  18. Well... says:

    What are some good places to submit sci-fi short stories, where you also get decent readership (and maybe even feedback) if your submission is accepted?

  19. Kevin C. says:

    So, I still haven’t joined reddit (and am not exactly likely to), but I have been reading more there these days (mainly thanks to other people I read linking things there). And, man, is so much of it just depressing. Which prompts me to do an informal poll of those here who have some familiarity with it: what is the most depressing subreddit?

    • Odovacer says:

      The worst part of reddit is the low signal to noise ratio. It can be difficult to find worthwhile posts in a sea of memes, jokes, and shit posts.

    • Yakimi says:

      /r/incels (recently banned after one of its members catfished women on Tindr and then berated them for dating Chads), /r/foreveralone, /r/short, /r/smalldickproblems, and /r/hapas.

      The common factor to these communities is the trauma of discovering that we retain innate, biological sources of inequality in a nominally egalitarian age where such arbitrary differences are not supposed to matter.

      • Zorgon says:

        The common factor to these communities is the trauma of discovering that we retain innate, biological sources of inequality in a nominally egalitarian age where such arbitrary differences are not supposed to matter.

        Oh gods, I never really thought of it that way. I suppose on some level I always assumed they must have known that status dynamics are and always will be the beating pulse of human interactions, but they didn’t, did they? They actually believed life was fair.

        I’m actually genuinely upset by this, in a very specific way I recognise from years ago. There was a particular sketch on a comedy show many years ago where an adult actor portrayed a small barely-speaking child crying because he wanted a biscuit in the middle of a fight between 4 or 5 adults; instead of finding it funny as the context suggested, I instead felt this intense sense of empathy towards this figurative child being dropped into what, to his eyes, must have seemed like an adult hellscape.

        It’s difficult to explain, but there’s something about an innocent being frustrated and hurt by the complexities of a world they do not understand which is intensely painful for me. And now I’m having that feeling retrospectively for every incel/smalldick/foreveralone etc I’ve ever encountered.

        • lvlln says:

          I don’t think I feel this empathy nearly as strongly as you, but I feel like I can empathize (heh) to some extent to your feeling of empathy. These tend to be some of the least well off people I’ve observed, due to no fault of their own, and there just isn’t much social support for them – certainly not relative to the amount of unnecessary suffering they seem to go through.

          What I have a hard time figuring out is why the people who conspicuously champion the cause of empathy seem to display none in this context. I have an easy cynical answer, but that’s easy and cynical, which strikes me as likely to be false or, at best, incomplete.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I have an easy cynical answer, but that’s easy and cynical, which strikes me as likely to be false or, at best, incomplete.

            The easy cynical answer that they display empathy only towards people they like / are in their ingroup? I think you’ll be disappointed; I’ve seen this play out over and over again and it’s pretty clear that the cynical answer is correct.

          • DrBeat says:

            They display empathy as a status game. They have no values or principles beyond social entropy, because values and principles interfere with the advancement of social entropy.

            This is obviously and trivially true and can be observed by literally every person.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            I’d like to hear it anyway.

            I lurk here a lot, and I’ve developed some respect for your insight. It might give me a piece I’m missing.

            I’m not claiming to be overly empathic myself- other people’s suffering gets to be too much for me quickly, and I go off to listen to music and think about something else.

            (My favorite defense mechanisms are intellectualization and disassociation in roughly that order, followed by a big heap of distraction.)

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @Nornagest:

            Yeah, but I feel like that’s sort of tautological, insofar as ‘people in the ingroup’ and ‘people they empathize with’ are arguably two ways of saying the same thing. How does the group get defined in the first place? Is this one of those karma-nodes things? Or something to do with Pinker-style common-knowledge?

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @DrBeat

            I don’t think so. I agree there’s something there- there does seem to be a general cluster of people who get much more excited about smashing power structures than trying to build anything up. But
            1. NAXALT
            2. I know some of the X that are like that, and they’re not sociopaths. They’re at least not explicitly, consciously motivated to seek entropy. For instance, they’re explicitly, genuinely horrified at the prospect of nuclear war, which seems like a pretty entropic outcome.

            I agree that people in general suck at establishing consistent principles, and this doesn’t seem like a terribly high priority for them. I’m not sure why not yet. I’m currently thinking it’s something to do with epistemic learned helplessness, or maybe essentialism- I remember Multiheaded saying something about people thinking their intent was magic, and I do get that vibe.

        • The Nybbler says:

          They actually believed life was fair.

          Once you’ve played this card with someone, it’s on the table forever. Next time you say that some undeserved _advantage_ of theirs should be taken away because it isn’t “fair” that they have it, they’ll remember it. So be really careful with it.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Best comment in weeks.

          • Zorgon says:

            What exactly do you think I mean by fair in this context?

          • Brad says:

            It’s hard for me to believe that there are Americans over the age of 18 that never in their entire childhood were told by anyone that life isn’t fair. This “card” should have been played on everyone long before they were ever thinking about sex.

            Am I typical minding here? Are there people out there whose parents or other adults also didn’t tell them things like “money doesn’t grow on trees” or “sticks and stones will break your bones”?

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t know; I certainly was in my upbringing told fairly often that life isn’t fair, but kids these days…
            On the off chance I’m not just being curmudgeony biased, I’ll propose a cause–you are a lot more likely to hear life isn’t fair if you have siblings who will by necessity at various points be treated differently than you than if you are an only child with a parent-advocate trying to make sure you get an equal (or better) portion of life.

            In a large family, it’s “to each according to either strict equality, their ability, blind luck, their merit, or arbitrary whim, depending on the day of the week.”

          • Brad says:

            Interesting theory, Randy M. FWIW I’m one of four.

          • bean says:

            I think there’s a significant difference between being told “life isn’t fair” at some point, and the gut-level realization of it in practice. It’s possible that the Incel people are the ones who didn’t get into the sort of situations where you gain the gut-level appreciation that life is sometimes deeply unfair while growing up.

          • lvlln says:

            The way I see it is that it’s obvious that life isn’t fair, but it’s also drilled into people’s heads that to whatever extent life isn’t fair, all good people attempt to remove that unfairness. I think incels took this very seriously, and they entered despair when they learned, No, at least in this one dimension where life is unfair to their disadvantage, plenty of people who are generally regarded as good not only don’t attempt to remove this unfairness, they celebrate it and denigrate them for being unlucky.

            I don’t think it’s particularly different, actually, from women who complain that men are too shallow for not finding them sexually desirable just because they don’t fit the image of what most men consider sexually attractive. The difference seems to be that incels don’t have access to a widespread and influential movement that advocates for removing this unfairness and provides support for easing their suffering, which is why, IME, they’re such sad sacks instead of energized activists.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @lvlln

            There’s a level of misogyny I don’t think you a counterpart to at the same degree of occurrence and intensity among, say, fat activists.

            I think that any movement that said “women should be attracted to chinless dweebs” would fail for the same reason that the redpill mindset has taken a lot of “market share” from the original MRAs (to the point that most people don’t see a difference between the two). MRAs were advocating for stuff, while the redpill guys say “I’m gonna tell you how you personally can do such-and-such to improve yourself” which I think appeals much more to most men.

          • Brad says:

            @lvlln

            a widespread and influential movement that advocates for removing this unfairness and provides support for easing their suffering

            While it maybe widespread, and in some sense influential, it is also completely ineffectual.

            It might be that it would be better than nothing to if Bud were putting TV commercials with the upshot that “short is handsome” (a la Dove and overweight women) but given the emphasis here on people being lied to for much more ambiguous statements, I have to think that many would think that was even worse.

          • lvlln says:

            @dndnrsn

            There’s a level of misogyny I don’t think you a counterpart to at the same degree of occurrence and intensity among, say, fat activists.

            I must admit I haven’t really explored /r/incel or similar groups much, and my contact with incels comes from other places that weren’t communities specifically for them (but where they seem to be overrepresented, like 4chan or online anime fandom), so my impression of incels might not be entirely accurate. But the level of hatred against women that I observed in incels – which certainly seemed to be more than in the general population – didn’t seem to come anywhere close to the level of hatred against men I observed in women who are parts of movements that have issues with what men find sexually attractive.

            I think that any movement that said “women should be attracted to chinless dweebs” would fail for the same reason that the redpill mindset has taken a lot of “market share” from the original MRAs (to the point that most people don’t see a difference between the two). MRAs were advocating for stuff, while the redpill guys say “I’m gonna tell you how you personally can do such-and-such to improve yourself” which I think appeals much more to most men.

            I don’t think there’s any reason why any movement that supports incels would have to be one that says “women should be attracted to chinless dweebs” or, in fact, anything at all about what women should do. Rather, it should probably start with acknowledging that their suffering is real and worth alleviating to some extent. My impression is that those things are largely what incels are lacking and derided for asking for.

            Re-engineering society definitely seems unlikely to succeed and, IMHO, highly likely to also cause lots of unintended suffering elsewhere.

            @Brad

            While it maybe widespread, and in some sense influential, it is also completely ineffectual.

            It might be that it would be better than nothing to if Bud were putting TV commercials with the upshot that “short is handsome” (a la Dove and overweight women) but given the emphasis here on people being lied to for much more ambiguous statements, I have to think that many would think that was even worse.

            They’re ineffectual at re-engineering society such that what men find sexually desirable in women matches what they would want it to be, yes. But that’s not really relevant, because that’s not all that movement is doing. It’s also providing a community of like-minded people who are ready to acknowledge these people’s suffering, acknowledge that it’s unfair and that it sucks, and to work out something to try to alleviate that suffering. Even if those attempts at solutions aren’t successful, I think merely having something to attempt – and to know that there are many people who support and empathize with their attempting – would be the big difference maker.

            To mostly repeat what I wrote above in response to dndnrsn, I think any gender-flipped counterpart to Dove’s ads is unlikely to be helpful and actually quite likely to be harmful. But I could see basic empathy and a community in which they aren’t shamed by default and maybe provides some sort of psychological support being somewhat helpful. And any attempts to alleviate their suffering need not be in the form of re-engineering society.

          • albatross11 says:

            dndnrsn:

            I tend to think of the PUA community as being in the American tradition of self-help books/movements/fads. Instead of “Think and Grow Rich,” “Think and Get Laid.”

            And like many of those self-help books/movements/fads, there are probably positive and negative aspects, both personal and societal.

          • maintain says:

            >the redpill mindset has taken a lot of “market share” from the original MRAs (to the point that most people don’t see a difference between the two). MRAs were advocating for stuff, while the redpill guys say “I’m gonna tell you how you personally can do such-and-such to improve yourself” which I think appeals much more to most men.

            It’s interesting to note the parallel between redpill vs MRA and rationalist vs New Atheist.

            It’s like people start off with bold plans to fix society, then give up and start trying to just improve their own lives.

            I wonder if other political movements will take the same path? Can we predict that feminists will soon give up on trying to eliminate the wage gap, and instead just give advice for individual women on how to increase their income? Will climate change advocates just move to seasteads?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @lvlln

            My take on it is, there is something that would work. It’s “become more attractive.” And, this is possible. Some parts are easier (dressing better is not that hard, nor does it have to be that expensive), some parts are harder (becoming more physically attractive is a lot of work, and becoming more confident/faking confidence may be the hardest part), but it’s possible. And, of course, there is a combination of stopping hating women and lowering one’s standards. Let’s say a guy is a 3/10 (and let’s say that ranking people on a score of 10 is valid, for purposes of argument). If he lifts weights, eats better, gets better clothes, and gains a bit of confidence, let’s say he can work his way up to 6/10 and date women who are in the same ballpark. He’s not going to be having supermodels hanging off him at every opportunity, but he’s going to be happier, he’s going to be healthier, and for him most important, he’s not going to be involuntarily celibate.

            Incels seem like people who are wallowing. Instead of do the hard work and the self-examination, they protect their individual ego by adopting a worldview that is extremely bad for them, because it prevents them from making changes and doing work which might help them personally, but which absolves them of any responsibility for their plight. Fat activists, anti-mental-health-recovery types, etc are all different manifestations of this.

            However, while they’ve been compared to fat activists, I would say the key difference is that incels have adopted the redpill lens, which is biodeterministic, whereas fat activists have adopted a social constructionist lens. The latter says “there is nothing I can do to lose weight, and in fact I should not have to; what is deemed attractive is entirely socially determined; in fact society can and should change” whereas the former says “there is nothing I can do; women want guys who rolled the dice well when they were born and I am not one of those; there is nothing I can do to improve my lot in life.” While the latter may be unrealistic (touted advances in plus-size models, etc, merely represent the entrance of women who in everyday life would be considered quite attractive and not at all “too fat” into an industry where the standard is normally both unrealistic and unhealthy, for example) it is at least not hopeless as the former is.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the male gender role tends to produce a strict separation between men who still see a way by asking help from society (MRA), those who give up on that, but see a solution in the dark arts (PUA) and those who give up completely (incels). Basically, each group doesn’t follow one or more male gender role ‘rules,’ but sticks to others to retain some self-respect derives from the the male role:
            MRA: Gives up ‘autonomy’ by asking society for help, retains ‘white knight’ and ‘optimism’
            PUA: Gives up ‘white knight’ by no longer being willing to sacrifice for society, retains ‘autonomy’ and ‘optimism’
            Incels: Gives up ‘optimism’ and ‘white knight’, retains ‘autonomy’

            I think that having people with a different strategy in the group results in too much friction / threatens the self-respect strategies.

            Women have a very different gender role and thus not the same issues.

          • Brad says:

            @lvlln

            To mostly repeat what I wrote above in response to dndnrsn, I think any gender-flipped counterpart to Dove’s ads is unlikely to be helpful and actually quite likely to be harmful. But I could see basic empathy and a community in which they aren’t shamed by default and maybe provides some sort of psychological support being somewhat helpful.

            Isn’t that /r/incel or equivalent? Or at least if it isn’t, that’s mostly the fault of the people in it not supporting each other?

            Is the big difference that people are “allowed” to make fun of sexually unsuccessfully men in a way that is no longer quite okay for sexually unsuccessfully women? The importance of that distinction is, I would think, mitigated quite a bit by the fact that quite-okay or not it is still absolutely pervasive.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            @maintain:

            Bertrand Russell said- from memory, as I don’t have the book with me- that the natural impulse of those of vigorous character is to do good, but, faced with social or political impotence, they will sublimate this into a desire to be good.

            He interprets this as a major factor contributing to the rise of Christianity, identifying similar underlying patterns in other movements of the time (the Stoics, the Cynics, etc.)

            Strikingly, the Rationalists and Redpillers are still trying to accomplish something external- it’s just something more self-oriented and localized- whereas the movements Russell pointed to tended to eschew the outside world on both a personal and a political level.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            dndnrsn,

            There’s an objective difference between fat activists and incels.

            Female fat activists have evidence that they’re up against a socially constructed prejudice. There’s a historical record from the paleolithic to Titian to Robert Crumb that there are men who prefer fat women.

            It’s not uncommon for fat women to be approach by men who want sex with them but don’t want to be seen with them in public.

            Raising the status of fat women and men who are in relationships with them seems like a plausible project.

            So far as I know, incels have no such evidence, though perhaps they should pay more attention to the fact that some men who are short, poor, etc. do find sex and relationships.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            AFAIK, it has always been the case that traits shared by the upper class are seen as desirable. For example, when the lower classes worked the land and the upper class worked in offices, being pale was seen as desirable. When the lower class mostly worked in factories and didn’t see much sun light, while the upper class could afford trips to warm climes, being tanned became desired.

            Similarly, being rubenesque was attractive when it was expensive to buy calories. When we got fast-food & calories became cheap, being thin became high status.

            AFAIK, there has never been a circumstance that made the lower class taller than the upper class, so there was never an occasion to test your theory that preferring tall people is more of a ‘natural’ preference. Based on the observed pattern and occam’s razor, my expectation is that this beauty preference is similar to other beauty preferences.

            Raising the status of fat women and men who are in relationships with them seems like a plausible project.

            My analysis suggests that to do so, you have to fix the problem that the lower classes are more prone to obesity than the upper classes, which seems like an incredible hard problem to solve.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Female fat activists have evidence that they’re up against a socially constructed prejudice. There’s a historical record from the paleolithic to Titian to Robert Crumb that there are men who prefer fat women.

            I think this is overstated. The term “fat” can cover a lot of ground. It’s not a precise term – it can refer to anything from someone who is a few points on the “overweight” side of a BMI scale to someone who is far into the “morbidly obese” category. When you actually look at Crumb, at Titian, etc, it often tends more towards the former than the latter. And while I’m no anthropologist, I understand that the Willendorf Venus stuff is not a slam dunk – are they religious figurines, paleolithic porn, what? Besides, one can just as easily cook up an evopsych explanation for this, which Aapje sort of touches on – “in societies defined by scarcity, fat shows you get plenty to eat, which is high status/in societies defined by plenty, lack of it shows self-control, ability to afford on-average more expensive food, etc, which are high status”.

            It’s not uncommon for fat women to be approach by men who want sex with them but don’t want to be seen with them in public.

            Yeah, that is the common complaint. It’s not entirely parallel. My argument is not that the one is the distaff equivalent of the other, it’s that there is a human tendency to locate failings as much as possible outside of one’s self to preserve one’s positive self-conception as someone who is trying as hard as possible.

            Raising the status of fat women and men who are in relationships with them seems like a plausible project.

            Again, depends on what you mean by “fat”. Make the standards less absurd at the top level? Probably socially constructed – or technologically constructed, given Photoshop’s involvement – and entirely doable and laudable. Stopping people hating themselves over not being able to achieve bodies that only a small % of the population appears able to achieve (even before body fat %s started to go up, women who were either hourglass figure or stick thin were pretty rare, as much as men with Greek-god figures were rare – if something is common, it’s not going to be seen as the pinnacle of desirable) would be great, and is reasonably possible. Having doctors not start talking about losing weight as the first stop unless the health complaint is related to being overweight would be lovely. But those are all the motte.

            So far as I know, incels have no such evidence, though perhaps they should pay more attention to the fact that some men who are short, poor, etc. do find sex and relationships

            But incels aren’t claiming a socially-constructed explanation for their plight. They’re claiming a deep-down, evopsych based, biological explanation for why their situation is utterly hopeless, and play hole-in-the-bucket whenever shown a guy who has similar disadvantages but isn’t a lonely misogynist. Evopsych explanations are either watertight or flimsy, depending on how you feel about evopsych. If incels adopted a social constructionist view – if they held that everyone just needs to try harder to view the 5’6″ tubby/unpleasantly thin chinless dweeb who can’t look people in the eye as no less attractive than the six foot, chiselled, rock-jawed he-man who brims with confidence – I’d file that under “delusion” rather than “despair.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I can think of two circumstances which would make fat high-status.

            One is a food shortage. This has a lot of bad effects– not worth it.

            Another is medical advances which is expensive but makes it safe to be fat.

            However, the interesting question is whether the preference for thinness can be at least toned down.

          • Mark says:

            AFAIK, there has never been a circumstance that made the lower class taller than the upper class, so there was never an occasion to test your theory that preferring tall people is more of a ‘natural’ preference.

            Romans and Celtic slaves?

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy

            Another is medical advances which is expensive but makes it safe to be fat.

            That is unlikely. Even if you’d manage to prevent heart issues, diabetes and the like, being overweight still causes more damage to joints, the back, etc. Furthermore, one way we live longer is by getting operated on and it’s harder to operate safely and accurately when there is a lot of fat between the organs. Overweight pregnant women are more likely to have various issues, including birth defects. If we manage to fix all these issues, we’d have made enormous achievements in medicine (and probably cured cancer completely).

            Even then it may not work, because if high status people have an easier time staying in shape, people would still see the correlation between being thin and success.

            Finally, people seek control over their well-being all the time, doing all kinds of delusional things, like eating gluten-free diets when they don’t have coeliac disease, eating spelt, etc.

            So people having no reason to look down on thin people doesn’t have to stop people.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mark

            Good call. I think it was more specifically the Gauls and even especially the Germanic tribes that were known for being quite tall.

            An important factor is that back then, being tall and strong was a considerable military advantage. The word Gaul probably means ‘strong/power.’ So in those circumstances, it’s not arbitrary whether you prefer tall to short or vice versa. The Romans would have to be extremely delusional to consider it superior to be short.

            In general, the Roman view seems to have been that these tribes were physically impressive, but uncivilized and that this was their weakness.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            @Aapje, you’re underestimating Goodhart’s law– in this culture, thinness is used as a proxy for health (and virtue, but that’s another story).

            People who are dangerously thin because of anorexia, or have lost weight because of illness, get congratulated for being thin and healthy.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            @dndsrsn,

            You’re mistaken about medical definitions of obese and overweight.

            It’s hard to tell because very few women are built like R. Crumb women, but these are at least in the R Crumb neighborhood, and they’re counted as obese.

        • Mark says:

          I suppose on some level I always assumed they must have known that status dynamics are and always will be the beating pulse of human interactions, but they didn’t, did they? They actually believed life was fair.

          Your comment really annoyed me – I mean yeah, on level, life isn’t fair. Absolutely.
          But, actually, within a social group, being treated fairly is one of the most powerful drives we possess.

          I mean, it’s exceptionally weird, historically, for people to be able to choose their allies. As such, it’s group status that matters, with individuals within your group protected and treated fairly in order to ensure loyalty.

          Nothing annoys people more than being treated unfairly by someone they consider to be a member of their social group.

          If you expect people to have loyalty to your society, you have to at least give them an acceptable minimum.
          If life is unfair, incels are right to treat broader society as an enemy.

          However – life isn’t unfair. Most people are decent and will treat you decently. Most incels who are physically capable would, with some work on their own thinking, be able to get some bare minimum of acceptable sexual/non-sexual relationships.

          It enrages me to hear people say that “status” is important. Status isn’t general. Most of what people call “status” is actually confidence – which in an alienated and anonymous society becomes a powerful tool for social manipulation. It has it’s limits though.
          There is only so much bullshit people will take.

          • Mark says:

            Perhaps I should say that status (as a general rather than specific thing – not “this guy is the best climber”, just “this guy is the best”) is so important that major status differences can’t normally be tolerated.

          • Zorgon says:

            If you expect people to have loyalty to your society, you have to at least give them an acceptable minimum.
            If life is unfair, incels are right to treat broader society as an enemy.

            I don’t disagree, at all. My problem is that until now I had issues with the whole incel thing from a “people are hurting and other, supposedly-super-empathetic people think the best thing to do is laugh at and bully them” perspective. But this is the first time I’ve seen this from the very simple perspective that incels and people in similar circumstances are in pain because they do not fully understand their context.

            These people are operating in a world which is festooned with constant, endless status games; operating in every single friendship group, every single club, every single in-group of every kind. Most people are decent and will treat you decently… right up until they have something to gain by screwing you over. And once they’re done scoring status at your expense, they will go back to being decent and honourable people. Exceptions to that rule are either working on a long-term investment basis or are wildly exceptional people, and I’ve found nothing in accounts from history to suggest that it’s ever been different.

            And I’m absolutely convinced that on some level, you and pretty much everyone else on this board understands this. Status is a permanent game that every single social human being (probably every single social animal of any kind) engages in at all times. It is not fair, it has no sense of honour, and it is inescapable. There are countless mutual cooperation strategies, but none of them denude the fact that we are all in the dilemma in the first place.
            And I understand people wanting to downplay this, and I understand that people consider bringing attention to status dynamics to be low status in itself, and I understand that it doesn’t chime with many people’s desired views of the world. All that is fine, all that is part of the necessary process of learning to cope with all this mutual clawing and biting. But no amount of belief in the basic decency of people will stop them pointing and laughing when you do something low status, no matter how in-group they are.

            Even with all that… the idea of someone reaching adulthood and not realising that this is the reality of their social existence, even within what should be their in-groups, and it driving them into the awful hole that incels/foreveralone/etc are in? It’s actually painful to think about, in exactly that way I describe above.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is a roughly accurate descriptor of incels this:

            They’re guys who have intellectually accepted the “redpill” understanding of social/gender relations, but either don’t want to do the work (gotta squat heavy bro) or think they can’t do the work to come out on top in what is an extremely zero-sum understanding of human relations.

            ?

            That’s the impression I get.

          • lvlln says:

            Most incels who are physically capable would, with some work on their own thinking, be able to get some bare minimum of acceptable sexual/non-sexual relationships.

            This strikes me as about as true as saying that depressed people just need to lighten up. The very problem that incels and foreveralone types have is that they lack the tools to work on their own thinking, at least in this one area of life where they are lacking. If they did, they wouldn’t be incels.

          • Mark says:

            @zorgon
            If I play a game of Mario Kart with my friend, is that a status game, or just a game?

            If I run off the track and he laughs at me, is that clawing and biting?

            I think I have a very different life to you. I have a group, and each person in that group has a certain status. I will have sex with person A. I will cook person B dinner. Etc.
            And, it’s very hard to lose or gain status. If I laugh at you because you get chocolate on your nose or something, you still have exactly the same status as before.

            And, guess what, person C, D, E, who I don’t know, all start off with the same status level. That’s the level where I treat them decently. As I would wish to be treated by someone I didn’t know, within reason, and within the limits imposed upon me by the status of persons A and B.

            If people don’t treat me decently, screw me over, that’s the fast track to negative status, in my book. Negative status is where I go out of my way to screw you over. I rarely encounter anyone like that.

          • DrBeat says:

            And I’m absolutely convinced that on some level, you and pretty much everyone else on this board understands this. Status is a permanent game that every single social human being (probably every single social animal of any kind) engages in at all times. It is not fair, it has no sense of honour, and it is inescapable

            please

            please

            just notice the things you are noticing

            don’t instantly discharge them from working memory, and when someone brings it up again, call them insane

            notice the things you are noticing

          • Mark says:

            @lvlln

            Yes, I think you’re right – I agree with dndnrsn’s description, but I think that the extreme red pill interpretation of human relations is wrong because it is hopelessly liberal.

            The incels might have mental/physical health problems that are impossible to overcome – but the main issue is that their interpretation of the world is wrong.

            It’s like a paraplegic getting upset because the world won’t let him walk – life is unfair, but that isn’t really society’s fault, and there will almost certainly be people who will go out of their way to help you if you can give them a chance.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s like a paraplegic getting upset because the world won’t let him walk – life is unfair, but that isn’t really society’s fault, and there will almost certainly be people who will go out of their way to help you if you can give them a chance.

            Agree with this.

            As someone who is strongly sympathetic with most incel/redpill ideology, I would happily agree to stop complaining about the unfairness of sexual dynamics in the western world, if the other side agrees to stop complaining about the unfairness of me being in the top income tax bracket.

            If it’s reasonable to take away my money and give it to others in the name of “fairness” then why isn’t it reasonable for me to use force to obtain the sex, love, and companionship that my more fortunate brothers possess? Of course I can’t do that, I’d get thrown in jail. But I’m at least going to complain about it.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            [The following thought needs refinement, I will think it over for a day or so]

            I’m being prompted to think about the recent movie “Bladerunner 2049”.

            The main character is completely denied any form of warm human interaction, not even friendship. Even his coworkers despise him, except for his boss, who at best treats him emotionally as a well trained and obedient police dog. Every day, he gets professionally emotionally beaten down to prove again his obedience. And if he ever complains about it, he will get murdered by another police dog just like him.

            Incel++.

            Sometime before the narrative of the movie began, he had purchased on the retail market a moderately effective palliative for that extreme isolation and loneliness, and it works pretty well. This palliative is not even the standard movie-plot single-instance no-plans no-backup tech, but is a perfectly ordinary piece of somewhat expensive consumer electronics manufactured by a well known technology company and pushed by a huge city-wide ongoing advertising and marketing campaign, about like how a high end mobile phone gets marketed today.

            So obviously a lot of people in that society crave that same palliative, so much so that they are willing to spend an entire paycheck bonus just to buy an upgrade to it.

            So, out here in the real world, what are some feminist and progressives viewers complaining about?

            They are upset that such a thing should even be allowed to exist even as a fictional device in a fictional setting used by a fictional character, and they are upset that someone who might want to have such a palliative should be the main character of a major movie.

          • Brad says:

            They are #literallyshaking in outrage

            Less of this.

          • Iain says:

            @Standing in the Shadows:

            Where are you seeing this? I get zero relevant hits on Google for “blade runner #literallyshaking”. I see a handful of articles for “blade runner sexist”, none of which seem particularly noteworthy.

            Here’s the Vox review, which doesn’t fit your narrative. Here’s Jezebel’s only article. It also doesn’t fit your narrative. This overwhelming feminist/progressive outcry that you’re talking about doesn’t seem to exist.

          • albatross11 says:

            Is there data (or even well-documented anecdote) on how many people feel like they have benefitted a lot from the redpill/PUA type advice? I assume there must be some guys who have an honest “I was an unlaid loser till I learned these tricks, and now I’m getting laid regularly” story, in much the same way as the old “I was a 98-lb weakling till I started this weightlifting program.” It would be interesting to have some idea of what fraction of people that is.

          • toastengineer says:

            @albatross11

            I’m somewhat certain the MRA/Radical MRA/PUA connection is mostly made up by people who want to discredit MRAs but I could be wrong, I only hang out with the nice MRAs. 😛

            Having looked in to it back when I was in high school, PUA stuff seems to fall in to two categories; the fucked-up “negging” type stuff that doesn’t work anyway, and the unobjectionable, somewhat effective but not exactly life-changing “just be confident and, yanno, actually talk to women and treat them like human beings” stuff. Neither seem all that helpful.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @albatros11,

            There are plenty of those anecdotes. I have one myself actually.

            In terms of actual data, as far as I know nobody has done a proper study.

            Part of the disconnect, and what turns a lot of guys off PUA, is that it isn’t a magic spell. You get back roughly what you put in. If you want to fuck hundreds of women a year then you need to be prepared to quit your job and focus on that full time. If you’re just going to practice 5 hours a week then you’re only going to make a new FWB once every few weeks. That’s still way more pussy than you were probably getting before but some guys expect to be Wilt Chamberlain after reading a book.

          • Matt M says:

            Part of the disconnect, and what turns a lot of guys off PUA, is that it isn’t a magic spell. You get back roughly what you put in.

            There’s also the issue (they’re usually careful not to tell you this until AFTER you’ve paid for the book/seminar) that a whole lot of their advice comes down to playing the “numbers game.” Successful PUAs usually succeed by simply figuring out how to ignore/not care about rejection. It’s not that they improve their batting average by all that much, it’s that they increase their number of at-bats by orders of magnitude.

            If you have a fear of rejection that you’re not able to get over, PUA tactics won’t help you very much at all.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            There’s a sense in which you’re not wrong, but your implication that there’s no skill involved isn’t correct.

            Losing your fear of rejection is absolutely the first thing that you need. If you curl up into a ball every time a woman says no to you you’re never going to talk to enough women to have any practice.

            And cold approaches don’t have a great success rate, especially in daylight. You’re not going to pick up every woman you meet: in my experience ten day approaches led to five phone numbers, which led to two dates, each having an ~50% chance to get lucky.

            But that’s a totally different situation from, say, swiping on Tinder a few thousand times. If your game is weak it won’t matter how many women you talk to. There’s a learning curve even after you stop fearing rejection.

          • Matt M says:

            There’s a sense in which you’re not wrong, but your implication that there’s no skill involved isn’t correct.

            Let’s say that someone has a 10% success rate with women, but they are shy and timid and only ask out one woman per month (which is still a lot more than me, but hey). So it takes them, on average, 10 months to get a date.

            They pay $200 for PUA course. PUA dude says, “I can double your effectiveness with women, but you have to do exactly as I say.” Dude is invested right now, literally, so he agrees to do the “homework.” “Homework” is “ask out 10 girls per month.”

            Let’s assume PUA dude is completely legit. He really does make you twice as effective. Now you go from one date every ten months, to two dates per month. But of course, the real difference here isn’t improving from 10 to 20%, it’s from increasing your attempts by an order of magnitude. Going from 10% to 20% is almost imperceptible with a small sample size (which most non-extroverts will inevitably have). But had you saved the $200 and just forced yourself to ask out 10 girls per month with no PUA dude advice, you’d still have achieved noticeable “results.”

            I’m quite convinced this is what’s happening. Which isn’t even to say that it’s a “scam” or whatever, because paying the money and taking the course and being “invested” were necessary prerequisites to do the uncomfortable thing of significantly increasing approaches (and rejections).

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            On the other hand, if it works and the guy ends up going out on a lot more dates and getting laid a lot more often, it’s not clear that this is a bad outcome for him. (Modulo moral or health issues w.r.t. sleeping around, anyway.)

            This seems a little like complaining that the personal trainer at the gym actually can help you lose weight and build muscle, but you have to spend a lot of time working out and modify your diet quite a bit.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser says that PUA can be quite useful for men who suffer from social anxiety or somesuch, aren’t willing to go to a therapist (she doesn’t compare price and effectiveness with therapy), and get out of the culture when their sex/love life gets better.

            The book also covers the transition from men sharing information to a commercial culture with a few men being paid for being superstars.

          • maintain says:

            @toastengineer

            “I’m somewhat certain the MRA/Radical MRA/PUA connection is mostly made up by people who want to discredit MRAs but I could be wrong, I only hang out with the nice MRAs. 😛”

            I’m a member of the seduction community, and it’s actually interesting that I was thinking the opposite. I was thinking “It’s good I only hang out with those nice people who I go to night clubs with who encourage me to be more outgoing with strangers. I would never hang out with those weird MRAs I’ve read about.”

            I guess when we are making comparisons between groups, we have a tendency to compare the best of our in-group with the worst of the out-group.

            In any case, I’ll take it as a lesson learned, and I’ll try to be more open minded about MRAs in the future.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @MattM

            If it’s reasonable to take away my money and give it to others in the name of “fairness” then why isn’t it reasonable for me to use force to obtain the sex, love, and companionship that my more fortunate brothers possess? Of course I can’t do that, I’d get thrown in jail. But I’m at least going to complain about it.

            Well I’ve heard “Taxation is theft” a few times before, but I believe this is my first “Taxation is rape”.

          • Aapje says:

            @maintain

            You need to keep in mind that the media spreads misinformation about PUA and MRAs like crazy. Most of the stories I see conflate the two and give the worst examples they can find (like Roosh V) or even worse, non-examples (like calling Elliot Rodger an MRA, when he was an anti-PUA incel).

            So merely not being part of these groups and listening to the media gives one the impression that they are all rapists and murderers.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            I always struggle to understand what people mean when they talk about ‘confidence’ in this context.

            I know what it means to be confident of a belief, and I have a sort of vague general web of associations connected to ‘social confidence’. Unfortunately, the latter is too vague to actually allow me to do useful work on synthesizing it.

            If what you’re referring to is essentially an attitude, could you take a shot at at least an extensional definition?

      • Deiseach says:

        one of its members catfished women on Tindr and then berated them for dating Chads

        That does not seem like a productive strategy. If you want to date women, and your complaint is that women won’t date you because they prefer rich(er), better looking guys who are assholes, then you may be perfectly entitled to think they are shallow bitches but I don’t think you can reasonably expect a woman to find you an appealing prospective companion if you start with “Hello, you’re a shallow bitch and you deserve all the bad treatment those assholes give you because you won’t date a nice guy like me”.

        I understand being driven to act out of frustration and anger but that only affects the small number of women he managed to contact, and that leaves the large number of women in the world who don’t want guys like him still out there.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The reason for an “incel” doing such a thing is not to date women but to vent frustration and to hurt some women he feels are responsible for that frustration.

          I understand being driven to act out of frustration and anger but that only affects the small number of women he managed to contact, and that leaves the large number of women in the world who don’t want guys like him still out there.

          Well, it’s like fishing. No matter how much dynamite you use, there’s more fish out there than you can kill.

          • Deiseach says:

            This isn’t simply dynamiting fish, it’s dynamiting yourself. There may be a tiny chance one of those women might be interested in a real date with him but if he immediately pulls the “gotcha, ya shallow bitch!” move than that not alone puts her off him, it has a knock-on effect.

            Because the next time a guy who reminds her of him tries asking her out, what is she going to do? (1) Think he’s sincere and give him a chance (2) Think it’s the same situation as the first guy and react accordingly?

            Also, I think people have no realistic evaluation of their own attractiveness. they may say “Okay, I’m average looking” but they mentally adjust that to “high end of average” and assume things like “I have a good job/I am a nice guy/I can be funny” will make up for any lack of attractiveness on their part – and they do not brutally and realistically evaluate “yeah I’ve got flab here, I’m short and pudgy with it*, I have a weird smile, my ears stick out, my voice is grating” – nobody does it, we all look in the mirror and put a mental filter on our reflection to see ourselves in the best light.

            So they expect women that they find attractive (who are unlikely to be Plain Janes the same way they are Plain Joes) to give them a chance, then get hurt when they are rejected. And yes, rejection hurts. Multiple rejections hurt. Deciding you hate women isn’t a good solution, though, because unless you decide you want to fuck guys instead because guys are not half this trouble, then you are stuck my friend.

            *Short by itself need not be a handicap. Short and compact is wow, guys. Last time I was called for jury duty and we were all milling around in the lobby of the courthouse, there was a short – and I mean short, only a couple of inches taller than me and I’m a shortarse – guy there and he was nicely put together. Not bulging with muscles but not pudgy. One of the only two guys in the whole place I considered anyway reasonable looking – the rest were Average Irish Guy which is not that great on the looks or dressing so as not to be mistaken for a tramp front – and he was the winner by a country mile.

            Had lovely green eyes, too 🙂

          • The original Mr. X says:

            This isn’t simply dynamiting fish, it’s dynamiting yourself. There may be a tiny chance one of those women might be interested in a real date with him but if he immediately pulls the “gotcha, ya shallow bitch!” move than that not alone puts her off him, it has a knock-on effect.

            I’m not familiar with the case in question, but from what people have said I suspect that the guy’s intentions had nothing to do with scoring, and everything to do with venting his frustrations.

            So they expect women that they find attractive (who are unlikely to be Plain Janes the same way they are Plain Joes) to give them a chance, then get hurt when they are rejected. And yes, rejection hurts. Multiple rejections hurt. Deciding you hate women isn’t a good solution, though, because unless you decide you want to fuck guys instead because guys are not half this trouble, then you are stuck my friend.

            As others have said, the issue isn’t (just) that these men can’t get any sex, it’s that society as a whole treats any expression of displeasure at this fact as an indication of great moral evil. (Cf. some of the stuff Scott mentioned in “Untitled”.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            There may be a tiny chance one of those women might be interested in a real date with him

            He doesn’t believe that.

            Because the next time a guy who reminds her of him tries asking her out, what is she going to do? (1) Think he’s sincere and give him a chance (2) Think it’s the same situation as the first guy and react accordingly?

            That’s a win; remember before he pulls his “gotcha” he is pretending to be a Chad (that is, “Chad Thundercock”, a regular attractive guy, the opposite of an incel). If he puts the woman off responding to Chads, he’s probably succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

          • Matt M says:

            He doesn’t believe that.

            And if we’re talking about Tinder specifically, he’s absolutely correct.

            Being an unattractive guy on Tinder guarantees no dates with any woman above a 5 in attractiveness.

            If you pose as an attractive guy, then reveal yourself to have been faking it, there’s a very very very small chance you really did “win them over with your personality” in the meantime, or that they feel so bad about being exposed as shallow that you’ll get some pity-sex. Very very very small, but, you know, not zero.

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            You are completely wrong in your analysis. The common incel narrative is exactly the opposite of what you think. They tend to believe that their looks are so bad that they have zero chance with any woman they find attractive. Not low, zero.

            They also believe that they can only be happy with a girlfriend. Hence: huge frustration that they cannot ever be happy (in their eyes).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Aapje: silly straight men! Don’t they know that a girlfriend/boyfriend or, better, spouse is only necessary to be happy if you’re gay?

        • Matt M says:

          Disclaimer: This is VERY much a Devil’s Advocate argument, and I do not suspect that this technique would be effective, either in micro one-on-one situations, or in macro change-minds situations.

          Let us assume that most women genuinely do not want to be shallow. They really do want to fall in love with good and decent men (by whatever definition of good and decent you provide), even if they are not conventionally attractive.

          We all occasionally fall short of what we aspire to be. I assume virtually everyone wants to be honest. We don’t want to lie. But occasionally, we find ourselves in situations where lying is the most expedient way to solve a problem. We lie, not because we “want to lie,” but because we are weak and lack the moral fortitude to do what we know in our hearts to be right.

          Perhaps we would benefit from someone, ideally a colleague, but possibly even a complete stranger, catching us in the act of lying and calling us out on it. We might not like being confronted with it in the moment, but in the long term, having someone around to say “No, this is lying and it is not acceptable” does benefit us.

          In this case, masquerading online as an attractive but not “good” man, attracting women who possess some desire prioritize “good” over appearance, and then calling them out on their failure to live up to their aspirations might be socially useful behavior. Not just in general, but it might even be useful to the very women the act is perpetrated against.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            That has been re-framed as “bullying” and “slut shaming”, and has been deemed literally the worst.

            This is probably literally the only public forum on the net outside the MRA, MOGTOW, incel, and edgelord venues where you could have written that post, and not have the Usual Suspects baying for your head and your firing.

          • Matt M says:

            Of course it has, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

            I’m also replying directly to D, who I know to be able to discuss these things rationally.

          • Randy M says:

            Stopped clocks being right twice a day and all, but I’ll agree that cat-fishing a woman with the purpose of insulting or berating her is at best pointlessly cruel, even if you feel slighted by some demographic she slots into. Seems extremely unlikely to affect any positive change.

          • albatross11 says:

            Presumably the lesson would be “Some guys who women *won’t* date are also assholes.

      • toastengineer says:

        As far as incels go, I think you’re all over-theorizing. For perspective, I’m 100% sure I would’ve ended up as one of those folks if I it weren’t for my head being full of pro-rationality memes (and by that I basically mean thinking Mr. Spock was really cool) and running in to libertarianism at about the same time, with its message of “it sucks that you’re poorly off but that doesn’t give you the right to force your pain upon others.”

        I even spent a fair bit of time in a community that advertised itself as an involuntary celibate community, though it was way less toxic than the subreddit supposedly was. It was mostly people (many of whom were women!) saying “even though nothing has apparently changed I suddenly find myself completely cut off from all affection or engagement with other human beings and my life is suddenly all-but-unbearable. How do I fix this? It can’t be fixed except when it sometimes randomly stops for no apparent reason? Fuck.”

        I think this is one of those “universal human experiences that turn out to not be universal at all” things.

        Most people – even autistic people, it seems – seem to think of social interaction as a primitive operation. Positive relationships just seem to… happen? Or at least obvious opportunities to acquire one come up regularly? It’s not like that for me, and I suspect it’s not like that for these incel folks either. I’ve never had a friend, let alone romantic relationships, and I literally have no idea what the first step is towards that goal. I don’t even know how to “meet people.” Like, yeah, I see other human beings occasionally in public, but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about. “Join clubs?” Okay, so now people are paying attention to something else in addition to looking at me like they stepped in shit, how was this supposed to help again?

        It’s like everyone is saying “dude, flying is easy, you just flap your arms really hard” and then they flap their arms and zip off in to the sky. Clearly there’s more to it than that, but I don’t see what you’re doing different and it seems like no-one else does either.

        My theory is that there’s basically one on-ramp to human society. There’s some kind of really fundamental protocol that you get from interacting with peers and parents at a very young age that even autistic people still get enough of to not trip the “that is not a human being” light in other people’s brains. It seems like you have to stay at least mostly on that on-ramp until you’re an adult.

        I remember being pretty much totally normal in first grade or so, but then I ended up being locked up for about a year and a half and after that I noticed a lot of the stuff I notice now, except it wasn’t as bad, I still had superficial interactions with other people. I ended up going another two years of zero non-adversarial human contact around fifteen or so, and after that other people just don’t seem to regard me as another human being at all whatsoever.

        I think that’s what’s happening with these incel folks; either they never got the “how to appear to be a human being” training or they randomly lost it at some point. I’m not sure where the focus on sex above other forms of affection comes from but I feel it too; I guess it’s the most intense form of contact you can have that just comes out of nowhere? Like, I’ve never really seen the appeal of having friends and don’t think I could maintain a friendship even if it happened, and I don’t really have any family, so a romantic partner at least seems like the most viable option; it at least seems from the outside like a less complex, more primitive sort of relationship. Or something. I’m just trying to rationalize the non-rational pressure I feel.

        You can imagine how that can lead to people getting really pissed off at everyone; you’re in agonizing emotional pain all the time, every source of joy and good feeling is poisoned by that kind of deep loneliness, and around half of the entire human population could take all that pain away just by taking a minute or two out of their day to engage with you as a human being… but they just… won’t, for no apparent reason.

        That got long and personal, I’m sorry. What I’m basically trying to say is that I think this phenomenon is more than “people suddenly discovering signaling games and that society isn’t actually egalitarian” (is there evidence that they don’t play signaling games either?) and more of a genuine “brain and\or mind is broken” pathology.

        • Mark says:

          Do you know of any videos of people who are like you – apparently unacceptably inhuman?

          I’m kind of interested to see it.

          • toastengineer says:

            I don’t think so. I mean… Coppercab or whatever that guy was called, maybe? Looking at him seemed to set off some kind of odd reaction in people but I think that’s just because he was acting really weirdly. He was just this kid back in the mid-2000s that was really angry about the “gingers don’t have souls” meme and people mocked him a lot, which made him more angry, ad infinitum.

            It’s not that strong an effect I don’t think. People don’t usually react to me with revulsion so much as they just don’t seem to see me as something that can be talked to. If I don’t walk away after being ignored I sometimes get revulsion reactions.

            Like, any time I’m in an “objectifying” context everything is fine, I can talk to professors about assignments, deal with tech support, I can even joke around with guy at the counter at Pizza Hut, but as soon as I’m in a situation where a person has to treat me as a peer they just… don’t. Even if an authority figure directly orders someone to interact with me (such as with group projects in classes,) nine times out of ten they just won’t. There’s been times when I walked up to someone who was clearly able to hear me, asked them something, and they just ignored me completely.

            I realize this sounds bizzare and insane, and I’m willing to believe – hoping, actually – that this is just me having a distorted perspective or something, but… something is clearly wrong with me that people don’t treat me like they do most people. It really seems like most people just don’t attach the “living being” tag to me.

            Now that I think of it, there’ve been a couple times when I’ve seen a person, felt horrified at looking at them, and then suddenly realized I was looking at my own reflection. I dunno.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Tentative recommendation: The Lover Within.

            The thing is, you don’t have to literally believe in auras to get some mileage out of the idea of auras. They can be a way of talking about how you think about the space around yourself.

            A couple of minor things– I’ve found that how people react to me is related to how open I’m feeling. And it seems to me that I have, not a lot of charisma, but somewhat more than I “deserve”– I don’t exactly work for it.

            The book says charisma is related to having a dense aura, and it’s very hard for me to think of the space around me as diffuse. (The book promotes the idea that a healthy aura varies in the short run as to size, density, and up/down emphasis. It should move like flowing water.)

            As stated, this is a tentative recommendation, but there may be something about the way you present yourself which comes off as not available and this book may offer you some tools for thinking about what’s going on.

          • Mark says:

            Hmmm… that coppercab guy seems to have kind of dead eyes (no soul?) but I don’t think he’d be that bad if he wasn’t shouting and acting crazy.

            I would have thought that even if someone had dead eyes, as long as they carried themselves with confidence and spoke articulately they would be alright socially (at a low level of alright).

            The one thing I’d say is that people are really good at giving away how they are feeling, and people are really good at picking up on it. So, if you aren’t very interested in people that might be coming across loud and clear.

        • Creutzer says:

          I’ve never really seen the appeal of having friends

          This is extremely unusual. It stands to reason that your general lack of connection has something to do with this, and in that case incels are clearly not whatever it is that you are like, because those people are miserable for lack of human contact.

          • toastengineer says:

            Believe me, I’m miserable as all hell. I’d give all four limbs and my eyes to never feel like this again. I just don’t see how having friends, or at least what friendship looks like from the outside would make me feel any better.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, toastengineer is not alone in that – I have never had friends and never felt the lack of them and as they said in one of their comments, wouldn’t know what to do with one if I got one, but I have also the bonus of not wanting romantic/sexual relationships so that’s one source of stress I’m avoiding.

            I don’t know if I trigger the same revulsion reaction in people; some of what they say (spoke to someone in what I thought was a normal tone of voice and the other person seemed not to hear what I said; not interacting with me in situations like class projects/lab work – but that was years ago, thank God) resonates with me, but on the other hand people don’t seem to go “Oh my God, she’s horrible and inhuman!” or at least not where I see them doing it, so I don’t know, either.

            I have to agree with toastengineer’s conclusion: I am fucked-up and depressed but “I just don’t see how having friends, or at least what friendship looks like from the outside would make me feel any better”, despite all the cheery self-help and therapeutic advice about “circles of support” and “you’ll feel better by sharing this with other people” (there’s a depression support group meeting locally, but the notion of meeting people and talking to them, or not even talking but sitting listening to them talking about private emotional stuff brings me out in hives and is not something I could make myself do, so it’s not any help to me re: the depression).

        • Robert Liguori says:

          My theory is that there’s basically one on-ramp to human society. There’s some kind of really fundamental protocol that you get from interacting with peers and parents at a very young age that even autistic people still get enough of to not trip the “that is not a human being” light in other people’s brains. It seems like you have to stay at least mostly on that on-ramp until you’re an adult.

          I remember being pretty much totally normal in first grade or so, but then I ended up being locked up for about a year and a half and after that I noticed a lot of the stuff I notice now, except it wasn’t as bad, I still had superficial interactions with other people. I ended up going another two years of zero non-adversarial human contact around fifteen or so, and after that other people just don’t seem to regard me as another human being at all whatsoever.

          I’d like to submit myself as a counterexample.

          I was a very precocious and voracious reader, and my parents encouraged this. The result of this was that, during pretty much all of elementary school, I would sit quietly in the corner and read, ignore the teacher, and still get good grades. I did miss out on that vital human interaction bit, though, which ran me straight into severe problems around the time I headed to middle school, which extended until high school.

          It was in the end of high school that I happened to read Half Mast, by Christopher Null, and that was the point where something shook loose in me and I realized that I really needed to make an effort to rejoin the human race. The cliquish gravity of high school had pushed me and the others in my rough social situation into a kind of asteroid belt of nerds and outcasts; I started paying attention to them, and doing a lot of “OK, I’ve read several dozen books about friendly and outgoing people, let’s pretend I was one of them, what would I say now?”

          It was a hell of a lot of work, and I had a hell of a lot of rough patches which happily got sanded off in college, but I learned social skills at a later age than most.

          I think that you are right about it being a primitive, though. I think that social skills are skills; if you have the standard human neural architecture, you can quickly get good at them the same way you can quickly get good at throwing a baseball, for much the same reasons. But there are lots of people who are dyslexic, or dysnumeric, or so on. I think that poorly-socialized neurotypicals can cram, in the same way people can learn math or foreign languages later in life if they’re motivated to. But I also think there are a lot of people who don’t have the neural architecture which makes socialization click in the same way as throwing or catching a baseball, and that the lack of early socialization is more of a symptom than the cause.

          • toastengineer says:

            The trouble is, with baseball or mathematics, you can still try if you’re bad at it. You can pick up a stick and heft it ball-ward even if you’ve never held a stick before in your life.

            You can’t practice social skills if your social skills are so low that literally no-one will engage with you in the first place, or if you don’t even know how to seek out or recognize situations where it’s considered appropriate to approach people. That’s what I’m getting at with the on-ramp theory; once you’re a certain distance behind, you’re permanently locked out, you can’t even try.

            It’s like if the baseball league tightly controlled the supply of all sticks and balls and only issued them to people currently on a team; if you missed tee-ball when you were five, you’ll never even be allowed to hold a bat.

            Sitting in the corner in school isn’t really what I’m talking about. Like, I assume you still spoke to another person at least a couple times a week, you still had to talk to teachers and such. I spent a year literally never having line of sight to another human being except my father who pretty much just attacked me on sight.

          • Mark says:

            You are articulate, so I wonder if you were covered in a big old sheet, or people talked to you over the telephone, would they get the “not-human” feeling?

            Most body language is sub-conscious, especially facial, so most people aren’t going to have any good advice about learning it. I don’t know how far it is possible to learn it, after a certain age.
            Certainly, people can have bad reactions to stroke victims who suffer from facial paralysis. You’ve probably got something similar. I would guess that your condition is sufficiently rare that there won’t be much information about the best way to improve things, but maybe start with any information for people suffering from facial paralysis.

            On the other hand, since you were normal up until first grade, and developed the ability to communicate verbally/non-verbally, it’s possible that you still have the latent ability to interact normally, stymied by a learned response to abuse. In that case, I wonder if standard treatment for emotional problems would be helpful.

          • so I wonder if you were covered in a big old sheet, or people talked to you over the telephone, would they get the “not-human” feeling?

            Deiseach seems to feel she has something at least mildly similar in realspace interactions. On the other hand, she is a very popular person here–many of us like and admire her, even when she is (articulately) wrong. So that’s some evidence that whatever anti-charisma is, it may be limited to realspace interactions.

    • Deiseach says:

      I won’t say it’s the most depressing sub-reddit, but I saw a comment to a post about “can vegetarians eat eggs?” where the person only replied “Eggs are the periods of chickens” and kept repeating that over and over to every other commenter who tried to engage with them.

      Which reminded me of something I read in “The Pilgrim’s Regress” and to which I hadn’t paid much attention past the point Lewis was trying to make, but that comment made me remember it:

      Every day a jailor brought the prisoners their food, and as he laid down the dishes he would say a word to them. If their meal was flesh he would remind them that they were eating corpses, or give them some account of the slaughtering: or, if it was the inwards of some beast, he would read them a lecture in anatomy and show the likeness of the mess to the same parts in themselves — which was the more easily done because the giant’s eyes were always staring into the dungeon at dinner time. Or if the meal were eggs he would recall to them that they were eating the menstruum of a verminous fowl, and crack a few jokes with the female prisoners.

      I had no idea C.S. Lewis met any vegans, but apparently they were as obnoxious back in 1933 as the modern variety 🙂

      • quaelegit says:

        What subreddit did you see this on?

        • Deiseach says:

          I think it was one to do with vegetarianism but I can’t be sure, I arrived at it by following links from a different original site.

          I know, not all vegans are preachy zealots, but some of them are.

          • quaelegit says:

            And it makes sense that the most preachy comments get upvoted to the top 😛

            Thank you for the answer — I was wondering what subreddit wouldn’t downvote the repetitive comments (at least the later ones as the joke got old), but this makes a lot of sense.

      • Vorkon says:

        Wait, are you sure that was meant in a “that’s so disgusting, you shouldn’t be eating eggs” sort of way?

        I know that if I were a vegetarian, “eggs are the periods of chickens” is exactly the argument I would be making for why eating eggs is okay; after all, you’re not killing anything to eat them.

        • Deiseach says:

          Wait, are you sure that was meant in a “that’s so disgusting, you shouldn’t be eating eggs” sort of way?

          Fairly sure that’s how it was intended, the way the person just came out with it and kept flatly repeating it, not even a “vegetarians should not be consuming animal products if they can help it” argument, just this. I took it to be the same kind of thing as Lewis is mentioning above – I’ve seen some other vegan propaganda along the lines of corpse-eating, crying mother cows, cow’s milk is food for baby cows not baby humans, would you engage in cannibalism the same way and the like trying to evoke the disgust reaction in carnivores (remember the BLOODMOUTH CARNIST thing? Oh, that was great!) There is a tendency to anthropomorphise animals as hard as they can (hence the “weeping mother cows who are heart-broken when you violate the mother-child bond and forcibly kidnap their calves so you can steal the mother cow’s breast milk“) and other comparisons ascribing human-level emotions to animals, while on the other hand reducing humans who eat meat and consume animal products to monsters and beasts who are rapists, kidnappers, murderers, cannibals and so on).

          EDIT: I love this part from the reasonable and scientifically-accurate article linked above:

          We also steal from sheep. Believe it or not, a sheep’s fleece is actually there for a reason. It protects sheep from the elements and in the first month after shearing thousands of sheep quite literally freeze to death.

          Uhhhh – sheep freezing to death after being shorn? Sheep are generally shorn in springtime, prior to lambing and before the summer. Granted, March in Ireland can be wet and cold but you’d be hard-pressed to freeze to death! (And of course depending on weather conditions, which is mainly rain not cold round here, you might wait until April or May). So I don’t know where this “shear sheep in the middle of the cold snap” practice is going on, but you’d rapidly go out of business if you froze all your flock to death after shearing them.

          So I took it to mean “you wouldn’t eat human periods, why eat chicken periods?” which is dumb, but the kind of dumb some vegan zealots indulge in (e.g. seriously arguing that sheep are killed for their wool or as above that sheep farmers routinely have thousands of sheep freezing to death after shearing).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I find it interesting that Western animal rightists rights activists anthropomorphize the heck out of cows to guilt you out of drinking milk, when Hindus did it first because humans drink their milk.

          • rlms says:

            Eh. In general, sheep enjoy being shorn (or else they end up like this), and I expect a lot more sheep suffer from having too much wool than from premature shearing. But that doesn’t mean the latter is never a problem (although the figure of 1 million deaths/year here suggests it isn’t a particularly big one). And the wool industry presumably does kill sheep that are too old to produce good wool (I’m not an expert, and Sheep 101 doesn’t seem to say, but I’m fairly sure that wool quality deteriorates as sheep get older).

          • keranih says:

            And the wool industry presumably does kill sheep that are too old to produce good wool (I’m not an expert, and Sheep 101 doesn’t seem to say, but I’m fairly sure that wool quality deteriorates as sheep get older).

            Emmm. To some degree. Poorer quality due to poorer health in general (such as weakness in the shaft of the wool/hair due to stress, or poor nutrition (lost teeth)) yes, but there are more important reasons for culling an older sheep.

            Most older sheep are females, who annually produce lambs which are sold for, well, lamb. A certain number of the best female lambs will be held back to replace some of the older females. (Recall that the pastures are being kept at near max capacity for the farming system, whatever that system and that capacity is, and whatever determines the local max – grass/browse, water, shelter in the winter, freezer space for lambs, local laws, parasites, etc.) Typically, the most significant reason for culling an older ewe is that she isn’t weaning two lambs a year. Some of this can be health/management of the ewe (not enough feed at breeding means singletons and not twins) (parasites also an issue) some can be accidents (damage/infection of one half of the mammary gland means really only enough milk for one lamb) others are just bad luck (drowning, dog attacks, etc.) It’s not that a ewe only weaning singletons can’t produce as much wool as one weaning twins, it’s that two lambs is more money than one lamb. Margins matter.

            (And one lamb is more money than no lambs, which is why farmers keep as few rams as they can manage.)

            Other reasons that accumulate with age are lameness and general health issues. Lameness can and does led to general health issues. Sheep tend to not get the buildup of random metal bits in their stomachs that cows get, but this, too, can be a problem.

            The wool sheared from a lamb is softer and more valuable than that from an older sheep, but after the first year, the difference is very slight. So, yes, older animals are culled, but that’s part of the long cycle of keeping the best, most healthy animals and cutting out the sick or otherwise not doing well ones.

          • rlms says:

            Thank you for the information!

    • quaelegit says:

      The key to using reddit is to avoid r/all and just hang out in the subreddits that work for you. This works much better if you are signed in — only your subscribed reddits appear on the homepage. So just unsubscribe from the default subs (/politics and the rest — I don’t even remember what the defaults are) and subscribe to ones you like.

      My homepage is majority posts in AskHistorians, Polandball, and Photoshop battles, with at least one superb owl in the mix. It’s pretty nice 😛

      That said, no pressure to join reddit — it’s yet another way to waste time on the internet. But the options of A) getting a username so you can avoid the default subs easily and B) never going to the site are both improvements on using it in default.

      [Edit: I realized I didn’t answer your question, but I actually don’t know. People say “the defaults” are pretty bad.]

    • cassander says:

      R/science

      every other post is an article titled “Science does amazing thing!” and the top 3 comments are excellently written articles explaining why the headline is totally wrong.

  20. Anthony says:

    Late to the party, but:

    New Atheists are annoying and socially inept only if our type specimen is a teenager posting “CHECKMATE FUNDIES” on r/atheism, rather than the suave and charismatic Christopher Hitchens sorts. New Atheists often repeated stuff everyone already knew, but no more than global warming activists, Trump #Resistance members, and other groups who are still in good standing. New Atheists had trouble with accusations of sexism etc, but were they worse than others, or did the accusations just stick to them better?

    Is it my imagination, or does the downfall of New Atheism in public esteem date to around the death of Christopher Hitchens?

    • Baeraad says:

      Huh. It does, doesn’t it?

      Though I admit that I’m still a bit flabberghasted by the suggestion that Christopher Hitchens was suave and charismatic. I always saw him as the rudest and crudest of the prominent New Atheists… though I suppose that might have worked in his favour, since he wore his rudeness on his sleeve and didn’t come across as fake-nice like Dawkins and Harris might have. I remember at least one female poster gushing about how sexy he was exactly because he was such a shameless ass. I dunno.

      • trj says:

        If we’re talking about how the New Atheists lost favor with the left, Hitchens dying always made sense as a turning point for me too. For all of his crudeness, he offered something none of the other “four horsemen” could, being something other than a scientist. Hitchens’ claim to fame before being one of the New Atheists was as a journalist, and many of the lefties that turned on the New Atheists in the 2010’s had a respect (grudging, though it may be) for someone like Hitchens, even though his politics changed from Trotskyite to neo-con, he still had his admirers for his “culture” and prose, if not his support for Bush the 2nd.

        From the New Atheist side, losing Hitchens left them with a bunch of scientists who didn’t have a clue how to present themselves to anyone other than fellow logicians and scientists. See: calling yourselves the “Brights”. Very few things are more grating than someone talking authoritatively about things they don’t know much more than the ordinary person about, and Dawkins/Harris talking about Islam struck this chord with a lot of people. Hitchens would have been (marginally) more respected in this endeavor, seeing as his job description lent itself to politics/religion/foreign policy knowledge.

        • Zorgon says:

          My admiration for Hitchens went up enormously after he wrote some macho bullshit about waterboarding, agreed to undergo the process, then afterward immediately recanted: “if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

          There are far too few people working in journalism with both the honesty and the clout to outright reverse their positions like that, and love him or hate him, Western Default Culture is worse off without him.

          • trj says:

            Agreed. It’s very refreshing.

            Completely speculative, but I always had a feeling that the fact that Hitchens was close, personal friends with Salman Rushdie gave a certain human face to his hardliner stances against Islam, that the others didn’t have. He saw, fairly close up, someone get a fatwa issued against them and what that entails. It’s complete spitballing, but I’ve always suspected that Hitchens was the cultural center of the New Atheists, and when he died, the movement lost something that wasn’t going to be replaced very well.

  21. Well... says:

    Started reading DODO, the half-Neal Stephenson book. Got about halfway through and couldn’t take it anymore. It’s really garbage. Anybody have a different experience? Does it get better?

    • achenx says:

      I thought it was ok, though very obviously not Stephenson. I’m not familiar with Galland’s other work, so I can’t say for sure, but it seemed like a Galland book with a crunchy Stephenson shell, more than anything like half and half.

      I don’t know about “better”, but it doesn’t get any different, certainly. If you didn’t like the first half, the second half isn’t going to change your mind.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I avoided it. A general rule of thumb: if a book has two authors, and they have greatly different levels of prestige, the book was written by the less-prestigious one and the more-prestigious one spitballed some ideas and maybe if you’re lucky did a light editing pass.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I’m more willing to give projects like this a try, but +1 to what Sandora’s saying here, this is pretty much ALWAYS the case. It’s a well-worn tactic for buffing up the readership of a newly signed author.

      • The Nybbler says:

        “Always two there are, a master and an apprentice.” (a misquote of the Sith Rule of Two)

        Not always a bad thing; sometimes the apprentice is quite good.

      • John Schilling says:

        As was mentioned the last time we discussed this, that rule doesn’t seem to be in force here. The book clearly isn’t Stephenson, but it also clearly isn’t Not-Stephenson, so either this was a true and roughly equal partnership or Galland is an extremely talented author in her own right and one who has learned to channel Stephenson’s good parts. I didn’t find it to be remotely “garbage”, though I’m not sure that’s a profitable discussion.

        And it did have an ending, so that’s one substantive contribution we can be reasonably sure didn’t come from Stephenson.

        • quaelegit says:

          Edit: John’s link seems to be broken, but he probably is referring to the discussion in OT 81.25

          I thought Anathem and Reamde had pretty standard, satisfying denouements. (And the Baroque cycle? don’t remember that one very well.)

          Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Diamond Age — definitely not. Although on re-reading I felt like he set up falling action for the important characters, but spelling it out is left as an exercise to the reader. YMMV on whether this works.

          Since the two groups separate by time, I think Stephenson got known for “snap endings” earlier in his career, but his style has changed.

          I haven’t read D.O.D.O. yet so I can’t say whether its ending is similar to his more recent books.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anathem, yes. Reamde had a solid ending to one of the plots, and dropped the other (IMO more interesting) one halfway through and never picked it yp again. And the Baroque Cycle had a very neat ending that took it back to a Mobius-strip inversion of the beginning, if you could remember what happened 2500 pages ago. I’m open to the theory that it normally takes Stephenson 2500 pages to tie up all his plots and that Anathem was just unusually stripped-down plotwise.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Like or dislike Reamde, it had a pretty conventional ending and denouement, without any sense of abruptness.

            I love Reamde, but it would’ve been nice to have the Wor and the whole game world thing handled a bit more adroitly. I’d like someone to come up with a book that features an MMO in a big role that has a “realistic” MMO, that is, one that has the kind of affordances that players would demand from a huge mass-market game (unlike, say, T’Rain’s absurdly harsh death penalties and seemingly extremely unforgiving leveling structure).

          • albatross11 says:

            The problem with REAMDE that jarred the hell out of me was the incredible coincidence necessary for the segue from the Russian Mob vs Ransomware Dudes subplot to the Islamic Terrorists vs Software Mogul + Plucky Heroine + Gun Nuts subplot.

          • quaelegit says:

            @albatross11 — agreed that the incredible coincidences pile up, but I think that’s part of the charm of the book/I found it enjoyable to just accept the coincidences and keep reading. It’s definitely a book that aims to be exciting rather than believable 😛

            I’m actually seeing the same thing re-reading Snowcrash right now. Part of it is scene transitions are abrupt and unexplained, so the way everyone is working towards a common goal and ends up in the same places is really weird/mysterious. (For example: Jura Uveb fubjf hc gb gung gbja va Bertba naq gevrf gb oevor/guerngra uvf jnl bagb n obng, ohg vg gheaf bhg gur Znsvn unq nyernql obhtug gur obng naq jnf jnvgvat sbe uvz — ubj qvq gung unccra?! Naq ubj qvq Enira whfg unccra gb eha vagb LG ba gung cnegvphyne frpgvba bs gur Ensg?) — not expecting answers to these questions, just noting that it strikes me as similar to what you’re describing in Reamde.

            And then in the Baroque cycle a significant subplot is “a group of characters travels all over so everybody from Cryptonomicon’s great-great*-grandfather can meet everybody else from Cryptonomicon’s great-great*-grandfather” 😛

            *(insert however many greats are appropriate)

            @John — re: Baroque Cycle — woah, do not remember that. I guess I should re-read and pay more attention to the ending 😛

    • quaelegit says:

      Haven’t read it yet, but I intend to.

      Since people are discussing the nature of this collaboration, has anyone read his other collaborative works? There’s The Cobweb and Interface that he wrote with his uncle, and the Mongoliad (which was a collab of 5+ authors). Might be interesting to compare, especially since the first two were much earlier in his career.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I read the first two books for the Mongoliad. I thought that the first one was more Stephenson-y than the second, but neither were all that Stephenson-y.

  22. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Agree or disagree:
    People should be told that Islam is a false religion and man-made laws are better for people than sharia.

    • Mark says:

      Disagree – wasting people’s time with conflicting statements.

      If Islam is a false religion then Sharia is a man made law.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Not necessarily. If the Koran was revealed as related in Muslim doctrine except that the being who gave it to Mohammed was the Devil, or for that matter an alien, rather than the angel Gabriel as it claimed to be and as Muslims believe, then Islam would be false but its laws would still not be man-made (or any more than pious Muslims today believe them to be).

        Note: I am NOT suggesting that this is the case, only that it is possible to argue that a religion is false without arguing that its laws are man-made. Doing so is generally considered ruder than saying both are true, as (usually) you are not just accusing its adherents of being wrong, but also of being devil-worshippers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Disagree.

      Strictly man-made law is probably WORSE than Sharia, given our historically-recent forays into the matter (see: Communism and Nazism). People should be told that Islam is a false religion, sure. It rather obviously fails the fruits test.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Told by whom?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Anyone. Christian missionaries, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins. Is it good for speech like “Islam is a false religion” to be legal and socially acceptable?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Is it good for speech like “Islam is a false religion” to be legal and socially acceptable?

          Oh, definitely; always legal and often socially. Probably it should remain socially unacceptable to say at the office Christmas holiday party attended by (among others) Mohammad and Aliya, and other occasions where stirring up trouble in general is unacceptable. That doesn’t mean I think saying so will do any good.

        • Mark says:

          I don’t think we’d lose anything if we lived in a world in which people couldn’t be mortally insulted.

          But if we live in a world where people can be driven by words to kill, the law might need to reflect that.

          I think the non-insultable race is a hard thing to achieve. As it is, even not being insulted can end up being insulting in a kind of passive aggressive way, so… yeah.

          Words would have to lack power. Which suggests to me a society in which status isn’t terribly important.

          So, regarding “Islam is false” – it depends on the society you live in.
          If there is one weird chap who wants to kill people when he hears this, unfortunately for him, he has to go to jail.
          If there are a significant proportion of the population who feel the same way, probably time to put some restrictions on the expression.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Restrictions on which expression: “Islam is false”, or “Kill people who say Islam is false”?

          • Mark says:

            I was talking about restricting “Islam is false”, but I think you’d want restrictions on “Kill people who say Islam is false” too.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            But if we live in a world where people can be driven by words to kill,

            Thankfully, we don’t.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Well we do, but it’s considered gauche.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @hlynkacg

            “Driven to kill” implies a lack of choice on the part of the actor. I do not believe this is true absent actual, literal mental illness sufficiently severe enough to justify involuntary commitment.

            There are no magical words that, when spoken to person X, so abrogate their volition that they are robotically compelled to action Y, whether that’s killing the speaker, killing some third party, or any other action.

            There is no “Sudo Make me a sandwich”.

          • That’s a “guns dont kill people” argument. Whether or not the murderous enragement is volition, whether or no there is such a thing as free will, there are still consequences.

          • lvlln says:

            Sure, there are consequences. That’s a trivially true statement. The issue has to do with what those consequences are and/or how inevitable those consequences are. To whatever extent free will exists, I think people who respond murderously to “Islam is false” don’t tend to have less free will than the population at large. As such, whatever murder they carry out would more reasonably be said to be a consequence of their decisions, rather than the decision of the speaker to say something they heard and then responded to.

            Obviously absolutes don’t really work very well in the real world, and practical issues dictate that if there are enough people who would respond murderously to “Islam is false,” it may behoove us to set up policy that lets society function given that reality. But the sheer popularity isn’t sufficient by itself to justify policy restricting such speech, because it would also be a fully general argument for restricting anything. One could just as reasonably apply the same argument to, say, sexual assault where if we determine that there are just too many men who are driven to sexual assault by seeing women in skimpy clothing, then we ought to restrict women’s choice of clothing. Or, say, if there are just too many people who are driven to physically assault Muslims merely because they are Muslims, then we ought to restrict people’s ability to be Muslims.

            The thing is that sheer popularity isn’t the only thing we ought to consider. We also ought to consider the actual specifics of the behavior that’s so popular. If we decide that having a murderous response to “Islam is false” isn’t unethical/immoral/undesirable/wrong/etc., AND we determine that enough people have murderous responses to “Islam is false,” that could potentially justify putting restrictions on people’s ability to say “Islam is false.” Likewise, for the above other examples, if we decide that men sexually harassing women or people physically assault Muslims for no other reason than their being Muslims isn’t unethical/immoral/undesirable/wrong/etc., then it would make sense to make those restrictions as listed above.

            But if, after looking at the phenomenon of murderously responding to “Islam is false,” we decide that such a murderous response IS unethical/immoral/undesirable/wrong/etc., then it seems to me that this would justify restricting murderous responses to “Islam is false,” rather than justifying restricting the saying of “Islam is false.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            You can drive some people to a murderous rage with one word (a corruption of the Spanish word for “black”). Other require two (“Niagara Falls”). Neither fact justifies restricting any words. Otherwise you’re just giving any sufficiently large group (but still very much a minority) veto on speech through their own, probably self-induced, lack of self control.

          • John Schilling says:

            Thankfully, we don’t.

            With what confidence and on the basis of what evidence do we know that?

            I’m inclined to agree with you but A: we’ve got huge chunks of our brains optimized for verbal communication in ways that we don’t fully understand and aren’t fully mediated by conscious thought and B: any evidence of literal “killing words[*]” is going to start with self-reports that will be hopelessly commingled with the excuses of simple murderers.

            * Which would almost certainly be defined conceptually and contextually rather than as a specific string of phenomes that implements a command iterrupt.

          • Mark says:

            It seems natural to me that you might kill someone for saying the wrong thing.

            We definitely live in a society where that tendency is not encouraged, but the tendency is still there

            In our society, you are not allowed to walk around with your erect penis on display. Because it makes people uncomfortable and will annoy them.
            So, even though, in the perfect world, there might not be anything wrong with penises, and we might imagine a world in which we could all be perfectly happy to sit next to a man on the bus with a raging horn on full display, in practice we discourage it.
            And, in practice we discourage women from walking around in overly revealing clothing because it is distracting.

            I’d be very happy to ban all kinds of female clothing for that reason, nothing to do with rape.

            If, after looking at the phenomenon of murderously responding to “Islam is false,” we decide that such a murderous response IS unethical/immoral/undesirable/wrong/etc., then it seems to me that this would justify restricting murderous responses to “Islam is false,” rather than justifying restricting the saying of “Islam is false.”

            Legal restrictions (on “Islam is false”) could be a force for moderation while preferences are shifted in our preferred direction.

          • Jiro says:

            Legal restrictions (on “Islam is false”) could be a force for moderation while preferences are shifted in our preferred direction.

            On the other hand, it may normalize the idea that it’s especially bad to say “Islam is false” and that such statements deserve harsh punishment.

            Most people see “we punish X” as implying “X is wrong”. Only Internet rationalists think of the ban as having no implications for the morality of X.

            Furthermore, in order to get those legal restrictions, you’re going to have to ally with, and empower, people who do believe that X is wrong.

          • BBA says:

            Niagara Falls

            Slowly I turned…step by step…inch by inch…

          • lvlln says:

            It seems natural to me that you might kill someone for saying the wrong thing.

            We definitely live in a society where that tendency is not encouraged, but the tendency is still there

            I disagree. I don’t find it natural at all, and I don’t see a tendency, either. I’m pretty sure I’ve never experienced it myself, at least – I’ve been told many things I consider wrong (e.g. talking with creationists about creationism) while feeling zero impulse or desire to kill them or anyone else. I also think if, say, Neil DeGrasse Tyson went on a murderous rampage killing flat-Earthers, people wouldn’t say that it’s a shame that our society didn’t do a better job constraining Tyson’s fully natural impulse to kill these people, but rather that Tyson was a deranged madman who behaved in a way that most people wouldn’t naturally be expected to behave.

            In our society, you are not allowed to walk around with your erect penis on display. Because it makes people uncomfortable and will annoy them.
            So, even though, in the perfect world, there might not be anything wrong with penises, and we might imagine a world in which we could all be perfectly happy to sit next to a man on the bus with a raging horn on full display, in practice we discourage it.
            And, in practice we discourage women from walking around in overly revealing clothing because it is distracting.

            I’d be very happy to ban all kinds of female clothing for that reason, nothing to do with rape.

            All this is an irrelevant red herring. There are many reasons why public displays of erections are both discouraged and outright outlawed, including things like tradition, hygiene, and simple aesthetic preferences. Some of these reasons may be good and some may be bad. But the reason of “other people would react to observing those people with erections by harming them” isn’t the sole sufficient reason.

            And that’s the issue at hand. The question isn’t whether or not something may be restricted – it’s whether or not this specific reason – that engaging in this behavior may cause others to respond by murdering you (I used other, less severe forms of harm in my examples, but I don’t think that difference makes a meaningful difference for this discussion) is sufficient justification for restricting that behavior.

            For women in skimpy clothing, I think such an argument has been used as the sole sufficient reason for discouraging women from wearing skimpy clothing, and I think it’s pretty evident that such a discouragement is being actively and quickly eroded because so many people have concluded that such an argument actually doesn’t serve as the sole sufficient reason (notably, many people who are actively eroding this seem to be fine upholding it for other reasons – e.g. for the woman’s own sense of self-worth – however good or bad those other reasons are, they are very different from the one involving other people responding by attempting to harm).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/The-312/July-2012/American-Violence-and-Southern-Culture/

            I think biochemistry and/or upbringing affects how violence-prone people are.

          • Mark says:

            @lvlln

            I bet Neil DeGrasse Tyson would kill a persistent Flat Earther if you forced him to live with one for long enough.

            It’s just that in our society we believe it’s proper to walk away or separate ourselves from verbal provocation.
            That’s not always the case, though – young men out drinking – Italian Mommas – Racial Epithets – and it certainly hasn’t been the case historically.

            I don’t think it’s a red herring. If “people will be offended” is a reason to outlaw something, surely “people will be offended to the extent that they will kill” is an even better reason?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The problem– one of the problems– is that the sort of people who accept “Kill people who say Islam is false” are likely to regard it as a teaching of Islam. Which makes it a bit tricky to restrict the saying without thereby including yourself among the people the saying orders them to kill.

          • lvlln says:

            I bet Neil DeGrasse Tyson would kill a persistent Flat Earther if you forced him to live with one for long enough.

            I’d take that bet. Unfortunately, I doubt we have the resources to actually carry it out!

            It’s just that in our society we believe it’s proper to walk away or separate ourselves from verbal provocation.
            That’s not always the case, though – young men out drinking – Italian Mommas – Racial Epithets – and it certainly hasn’t been the case historically.

            That’s not always the case, that’s correct. But there are a couple issues here. First, you wrote “a provocation” here and “wrong thing” earlier. Those are not equivalent – many wrong things are not provocations. Going back to the original example at the top of this thread, “Islam is false” isn’t a provocation, though it certainly can be interpreted as a wrong thing by someone who thinks Islam is true.

            Second, just because in some places and contexts some people tend to respond to provocations (or even wrong things) with violence doesn’t at all imply that that’s the natural thing that we need social forces to prevent from happening.

            I don’t think it’s a red herring. If “people will be offended” is a reason to outlaw something, surely “people will be offended to the extent that they will kill” is an even better reason?

            I don’t think “people will be offended” is a good reason to outlaw something.

          • Mark says:

            First, you wrote “a provocation” here and “wrong thing” earlier. Those are not equivalent – many wrong things are not provocations. Going back to the original example at the top of this thread, “Islam is false” isn’t a provocation, though it certainly can be interpreted as a wrong thing by someone who thinks Islam is true.

            Weak semantics. To me “Provocation” means an action that provokes anger. So of course “Islam is false” can be a provocation, depending on who you are talking to.
            By “saying the wrong thing” I meant provocation.

            Second, just because in some places and contexts some people tend to respond to provocations (or even wrong things) with violence doesn’t at all imply that that’s the natural thing that we need social forces to prevent from happening.

            I would say that it implies either that this violence occurs randomly and unavoidably, or that it is linked to social conditions.

            I don’t think “people will be offended” is a good reason to outlaw something.

            Why not?

          • Mark says:

            Which makes it a bit tricky to restrict the saying without thereby including yourself among the people the saying orders them to kill

            We must be brave.

          • lvlln says:

            Weak semantics. To me “Provocation” means an action that provokes anger. So of course “Islam is false” can be a provocation, depending on who you are talking to.
            By “saying the wrong thing” I meant provocation.

            OK sure, but it wasn’t at all obvious that that’s what you meant by “saying the wrong thing.” If your argument is that people will tend to respond angrily to things they tend to respond angrily to, well, that’s a trivial tautology. That’s because literally anything can be taken as a provocation. In fact, the statements “Islam is true” and “Islam is false” can be provocations to 2 different groups of people of similar size and influence within any given society – then does that justify restricting any talk about the veracity of Islam at all?

            If “people will be offended” is a sufficient condition for restricting any given activity or speech, that justifies restricting literally anything and everything. That incentivizes people to be more offended by more things that they wish to restrict. And if more harmful response to being offended provide better justification for such restrictions, that incentivizes people to respond more violently to offense.

            This does not seem like a reasonable situation for having a functional society. It creates incentives such that people who want to get their way are the ones who react most violently to things not going their way. All that does is reward people with power and only people with power, divorced from any other metric or principle by which society might be run. Now, if your goal is to have a society where power is everything wrt what guides our policies, or if you think it’s impossible to have a society where power isn’t everything, then perhaps that’s OK with you, but I don’t think power is everything except in the tautological hindsight-bias sense of declaring that people who won out were the ones who had more power.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @AncientGeek

            Lvlln pretty much covered it in his first reply. Problem with being able to read on my breaks at work but not post.

            @John Schilling

            Call it…80% confidence, possibly more? Yes, I could be missing some underlying neurological reality that’s masked by all the various confounding factors, but I am pretty dang confident that this is a matter of some cultures telling themselves that a violent response is inevitable and/or justified and creating self-fulfilling, self-reinforcing prophecies.

            I agree that if there were any such phenomenon, the triggers would still have to be defined by a combination of culture, context, and environment (present and past). But we can look at real-world examples where people coming from the same culture, and getting the same insult in the same context, and even coming from the same environmental upbringing DON’T respond identically. We know based on our observations of history and of contemporary society that culture is not all-powerful. We have too many examples of individuals being able to reject their cultural values or training themselves to adopt new ones, and group examples of cultural reform that spring up from inside a culture rather than being imposed from outside. We have similar examples for environmental factors, and even ones for genetics. I’ve lost count of how many “My Brother Became A Gang-Banger, But I Rejected That Life And Now Am Giving This Speech To Students To Inspire People” speakers I have met and listened to.

            So what does this leave? It leaves differences in the ability or willingness of individuals to exercise conscious control over their emotional responses to extreme stimuli. When people are sufficiently impaired in their ability to control their sub-conscious impulses, we generally identify that as a form of mental illness. That leaves willingness. I’m not ruling out that you can have predispositions that make it easier or harder to control your sub-conscious urge to chokeslam someone who richly deserves it through the nearest plate glass window. But at the end of the day if someone is so predisposed, whether by culture, or childhood trauma, or neurological or neurochemical factors, I still think the onus of responsibility is on the person engaging in physical violence first, for much the same reason that we don’t give people a pass on running someone over with a car because they were drunk/stoned. We’re adults: If you know that you are dangerously out of control of your own body when someone says a bad word or insults your momma, then it’s on you to take the steps needed to address that deficiency. And if you choose not to do so, then you bear the blame for what happens.

          • Mark says:

            @lvlln

            The statement “It seems natural to me that you might kill someone for saying the wrong thing.” doesn’t mean natural in the sense of natural law, or rationality, it means something that is likely to happen without specific social arrangements to prevent it.

            As such,

            If your argument is that people will tend to respond angrily to things they tend to respond angrily to, well, that’s a trivial tautology.

            is a bit of a head scratcher. The statement I made isn’t a tautology. It’s an opinion about the state of the world. That’s why in a later comment I gave examples of people being angered by words to such an extent that they might kill.

            That’s because literally anything can be taken as a provocation. In fact, the statements “Islam is true” and “Islam is false” can be provocations to 2 different groups of people of similar size and influence within any given society – then does that justify restricting any talk about the veracity of Islam at all?

            If people are violently opposed to you doing something, it might require considerable violence to do it. Reduce violence through political settlement. Isolate extremists through compromise, and crack down hard on them if they won’t cooperate.

            Is anything gained by allowing people to stand in the street and shout obscenities at people? I don’t think so, and I’d happily see it banned. At the same time, I think there should be some outlet for people who find that kind of language amusing or valuable. Just not in a public space. There are people who feel similarly about people shouting “Islam is false!” The compromise is that if a sufficiently large number of people find it offensive it shouldn’t be allowed in a public space.

            If “people will be offended” is a sufficient condition for restricting any given activity or speech, that justifies restricting literally anything and everything. That incentivizes people to be more offended by more things that they wish to restrict.

            Being offended has a cost. I think if people got offended enough, it might just result in separatism. If people have sufficiently different ideas about how public spaces should be used, that might be for the best.

            This does not seem like a reasonable situation for having a functional society. It creates incentives such that people who want to get their way are the ones who react most violently to things not going their way. All that does is reward people with power and only people with power, divorced from any other metric or principle by which society might be run.

            I don’t think this is a good argument, because (1)unsanctioned violence is always an extreme that will be opposed by a conventional/moderate government. Extremists are punished, the mob are won over by compromise.
            (2) I don’t think that “All that does is reward people with power and only people with power” is a specific criticism of the kind of compromise policies I’m advocating, as opposed to being a criticism that you can level at any society. Sufficient but not necessary, perhaps.

            Presumably, if there is some wisdom in the people that will emerge from a political compromise. If there isn’t, then how to we determine the right way forward except through exercise of superior power?

    • Baeraad says:

      Disagree. No one who doesn’t already agree will be convinced.

    • Brad says:

      Should people be told that Christianity is a false religion and man-made laws, or more accurately contemporary man-made laws, are better than biblical laws? Or should everyone just mind his own business when it comes to religion?

    • Which people, and told by whom? If the teller is a Catholic, for instance, and the tellee isn’t, they would shrug it off , surely.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Well, the first bit isn’t wrong, if by ‘false religion’ you mean ‘a religion whose central supernatural claims are almost certainly false’, but there’s no reason to single out Islam on that score. All religions are false in that sense, so far as I can tell.

      Which makes the second part redundant. Sharia is man-made law, as Mark says. But you can still argue that it is one of the less conducive-to-human-flourishing sets of man-made law that still has large numbers of proponents.

      • there’s no reason to single out Islam on that score.

        Apart from believing in A. N. Other religion?

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Well, yes, but then the claim ceases to ‘Islam is uniquely false/pernicious’ and becomes ‘My religion is uniquely true/beneficial’.

          Edit – unless, I suppose, there is actually a religion out there which holds that all religions apart from Islam hold a valuable kernel of truth. Not aware of any, but it’s a big world 🙂

          • That was the point. Winter Shaker has an atheist perspective, LMC has a traditionalist catholic perspective. The difference contexts makes the “Islam wrong” claim two different claims,

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Okay, on reading Le Maistre Chat’s later comments, it looks like she was really asking something along the lines of ‘Should it belegal to say that Islam is a false religion…’ rather than ‘Should we, as a society, put special effort into promoting the claim that Islam is a false religion, despite the lack of good evidence that it’s any more false than any other religions’.

          In which case, yes.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            de jure legal and also socially acceptable enough to say without fear of consequences unique to Islam.
            My fear is that the Islamic doctrine that blasphemy deserves death, and the acceptance of vigilante “justice” for this “crime” rather than a firm belief that the Caliph has a monopoly on violence, makes Islam uniquely privileged as long as there are Muslims around. If we are going to have any Muslims in Western countries, shouldn’t we be vigilant that their religion can be treated just like Christianity, or a religion associated with another racial minority like Hinduism?

          • rlms says:

            In what ways is Islam not treated just like Christianity?

          • The Nybbler says:

            In what ways is Islam not treated just like Christianity?

            “Piss Christ” is lauded. Drawing Mohammad gets you at best “yes I suppose you have a right to do that, but why are you irritating the nice people with the AK-47s? Isn’t that kind of an asshole move?”.

          • Iain says:

            “Piss Christ” is lauded. Drawing Mohammad gets you at best “yes I suppose you have a right to do that, but why are you irritating the nice people with the AK-47s? Isn’t that kind of an asshole move?”.

            First: During an exhibition in France, thousands of protestors marched through Avignon in protest of Piss Christ, and four of them broke through the plexiglass surrounding it and slashed it with a screwdriver. Let’s not pretend that Piss Christ is universally lauded.

            Second: Piss Christ, unlike any trolling depiction of Mohammed I’ve ever seen, actually has artistic merit. It is an aesthetically appealing, well-lit photograph with vivid colours. If it looked exactly the same but were called “Amber Christ” and had been cast in plastic, it would be considered a nice but unspectacular piece of religious art.

            Third, and by far the most important: Andres Serrano is Christian. Piss Christ is religious art. In his own words:

            For me, Piss Christ was always a work of art and an act of devotion. I was born and raised a Catholic and have been a Christian all my life. As a child and especially as I was preparing for my Holy Communion and confirmation, I often heard the nuns speak reverentially of the “body and blood of Christ.” They also said that it was wrong to idolize representations of Christ since these were only representations and not holy objects themselves.
            My work was, in part, a comment on that paradox. I am neither a blasphemer nor “anti-Christian,” as some have called me, and I stand by my work as an artist and as a Christian. Where the photograph has ignited spirited debate, that has been a good thing. Perhaps it reminds some people to question what we unthinkingly fetishize (and thereby often minimize) in lieu of pondering seriously what the crucifix actually symbolizes: the unimaginably torturous death of Christ, the Son of God.

            It is interesting to consider who stands to gain by whipping up context-free anger against Piss Christ, and whether it is in your best interest to be whipped up that way.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @rlms: I don’t think I could give a complete list of all the ways Islam gets preferential treatment. Let’s start with:

            If you’re an artist, making Piss Christ raises your social status. Make Piss Quran and you’ll lose your social position, have to live under armed guard, etc. Ditto if you’re an author: a novel blaspheming Christianity is OK, but one about Muhammad & Aisha is unpublishable.

            If you’re Black African Christians and animists living in Fourth World poverty and being oppressed by Arab Muslims, your plight gets relegated to the Christian Broadcasting Network. If you’re Black Muslims oppressed by Arab Muslims, your cause gets publicized by the United Nations and all that revere the UN.

            Saying that clerical celibacy was the cause of priests molesting minors was a mainstream albeit not hegemonic opinion. Try bringing up that under sharia Muslim man can molest a nine-year-old girl with her father’s consent because Muhammad was the perfect man at the same parties.

            When a Christian attacks an abortion clinic, the mainstream media attacks the doctrines that inspired him. When Muslims kill Westerners for any reason, the mainstream media attacks the hypothetical occurance of “Islamophobic” retaliation.

          • Deiseach says:

            Third, and by far the most important: Andres Serrano is Christian. Piss Christ is religious art.

            Ah, Iain. That’s the equivalent of “I can’t be racist, I have black friends!” (He’s a “Christian” with either two wives, polyamory, or plain old ‘married this woman but have a mistress on the side’, going by Wikipedia, so I doubt the teachings on marriage give him much cause to reflect).

            Serrano got a lot of heat over that image and decided to play the “I am a religious artist” card to deflect some of the criticism. “Controversial” subject matter is easy to use, when you’re trying to make a name or be considered seriously in an arty milieu (about here is where we drop the phrase “post-modernism”), and combining exoticism with ‘shock the rubes’ is one way of standing out from the throng of art school graduates and jobbing artists all looking for that gallery exhibition and to be taken up as the next Mapplethorpe.

            Serrano used his cultural background of Hispanic/Latino Catholicism for the exotic element (despite being born and raised in New York) and bodily fluids for the “pushing the envelope” effect. Defacing/examining the fetishisation of religious icons (depending on how you interpret it) would be not at all problematic to the intended audience of gallery owners and art critics for the major metropolitan newspapers, what would really have shocked them and been beyond the pale would have been using some of the fetishised cultural elements held to be sacred cows in their circles (I imagine using symbols of approved liberal progress and dipping them in his own urine might not have gone down too well). How would a Piss Robert have gone down? Well, it might even have been hailed as bold in the same vein as Mapplethorpe’s transgressive sexuality, who can say!

            Take away the urine, make it orange juice, and his photo is schlock. It’s still schlock even with the urine, and the only thing that makes it noteworthy is (a) technical points about a specific technique (b) the outrage it engendered.

            It’s not art because it’s saying nothing more than “I’m willing to commodify my cultural background to get ahead in this city” and hey, doesn’t everyone who wants to make it in the Big Apple have to do the same?

            There seems to have been an artistic fad in the 80s/90s for using things like blood, urine and dung as well as Exotic Non-White Heritage – Chris Ofili got similar attention and criticism for his use of elephant dung in paintings, though even if he was ripping off a Warhol drawing he at least painted his own images (and then in a cosy deal with the gallery where he was one of the trustees got them to purchase his work – ka-ching! Nothing revolutionary or challenging the bourgeois status quo when it came to the do-re-mi!)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Rather than getting hung up on the particulars of Serrano, we could note that painting the Virgin Mary with elephant dung will raise your social status, while drawing Muhammad with ink will get you killed and the chattering classes wondering if you even had a right to do what got you killed.

          • lvlln says:

            The one big thing I’ve noticed is that criticizing Christian ideology doesn’t get you called a racist. At best, it gets you called an anti-Christian bigot, but not “racist.” On the other hand, I’ve noticed that criticizing Islamic ideology tends to get you called “racist.”

            To dig a little deeper into the phenomenon, I’ve observed that people can criticize Christian ideology without being automatically suspected of hating Christians merely for having the gall to criticize Christian ideology. The same doesn’t seem the case for Islam, at least in the blue tribe spaces in which I inhabit – I think this is where the leap to “racist” comes from, because there seems to be some automatic connection between Muslims and brown people that gets projected onto the criticizer. One example that comes to mind is Sam Harris, who always seems very careful to separate his criticism of Islam with any sort of antipathy for Muslims and often notes that a major part of his major motivation for objecting to Islamic ideology is his concern for the Muslim victims who make up the majority of the victims of violence caused by people following Islamic ideology and is unreserved in his support for allowing Muslims who are moderate and/or reformers free entry into the USA, yet is frequently accused of being racist and hating Muslims whenever he talks about Islam.

          • Brad says:

            @lvlln

            The one big thing I’ve noticed is that criticizing Christian ideology doesn’t get you called a racist. At best, it gets you called an anti-Christian bigot, but not “racist.” On the other hand, I’ve noticed that criticizing Islamic ideology tends to get you called “racist.”

            At one time criticizing Catholic ideology got you called a racist. Because the people criticizing Catholic ideology were mostly doing so for racist reasons (by the then current definitions of race). When Irish and Italian became white, all of a sudden the theological differences were buried and Papists were Christian brothers after all.

            If Catholicism in the US becomes overwhelmingly Hispanic, I expect both the anti-Catholicism and the critique of it as racist to have resurgences.

            @Le Maistre Chat
            We’ve now moved from 28 years ago to 20 years ago. If this is such a winning move from a status standpoint, surely we’d expect to see more of it?

          • Iain says:

            @Deiseach:

            Ah, Iain. That’s the equivalent of “I can’t be racist, I have black friends!” (He’s a “Christian” with either two wives, polyamory, or plain old ‘married this woman but have a mistress on the side’, going by Wikipedia, so I doubt the teachings on marriage give him much cause to reflect).

            First: no, it’s the equivalent of “I can’t be racist, I’m black.” It might not be proof, but it’s pretty solid evidence.

            Second: When somebody refers to his “first wife” and his “current wife”, most people take that as a sign that he’s divorced. If your first thought is “crazy polygamous union”, consider that you might be going out of your way to find excuses to call him un-Christian.

          • Randy M says:

            I would tend to think Andres Serrano is putting up a thin smokescreen in the quoted text, but I’ll be charitable and assume he is simply a deeply confused person, who imagines that a regard for an image can be either idolatry or immersion in urine, with no in between. Perhaps he didn’t know that piss is not simply not-reverential, but in fact the opposite, a sign of derision. Maybe his art was an attempt at iconoclasm, but that makes it rather ironic that it is then put on display. Like, “We shouldn’t venerate a picture of God! Instead, let’s venerate the desecration of a picture of God!”

            I disagree that art can can be judged apart from the subject matter. His lighting technique really seems secondary to the fact that he is playing with pee. It’s like saying someone smashing a guitar is making great music because they tuned it beforehand. (And yes, I’m aware this is part of some musician’s act; that doesn’t make it music, it makes it spectacle).

            I was also going to be annoyed at his use of “fetishize” but there is an non-sexual meaning of the term that is basically animistic. I remain suspicious that the popularity of the term is due to the sexual connotations of the first meaning, however.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            At one time criticizing Catholic ideology got you called a racist. Because the people criticizing Catholic ideology were mostly doing so for racist reasons (by the then current definitions of race). When Irish and Italian became white, all of a sudden the theological differences were buried and Papists were Christian brothers after all.

            The days when Irishmen were considered a tertium quid between whites and blacks were before calling people out for racism became a real thing.

          • Deiseach says:

            It is an aesthetically appealing, well-lit photograph with vivid colours.

            Iain, I also have to disagree with you on aesthetic grounds 🙂

            it is blurry, luridly orange as a traffic light, and “vivid” in the same way the craze for neon and acid colours in fashion (thank all the Muses that fad is not current) were “vivid”. If I wanted to look at something that looked as if it had been soaked in sun-discoloured aged Perspex, well, I’d hang around a thrift shop and trawl through the kitsch ornaments donated when Granny kicked the bucket.

            If that image gives you artistic satisfaction, may I recommend another original in orange-hued plastic wrapper style? We can call this one “Intimations of Mortality – Clothed and Stripped” as Lucozade was the cure-all for the sick, brought as gifts on hospital vistitations to the ailing, and generally considered on a par to medicine before its latter-day re-imagining as an energy drink.

            I’ll pour out a glass of the Amber Reviver, take a pic with my phone, and post it as A Provocative Look At The Fetishisation of Health, if you like! You can suggest what Prominent Cultural Icon I should dunk in it 😀

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            More non-Serrano examples of Islam’s privileged position in some Western countries:

            UK school assigns telling parents you’re converting to Islam as homework

            Similar propaganda homework 21 months ago

            The British body politic is so beset with brain disease that teachers can do this with Islam but not Anglican Christianity.

          • quanta413 says:

            First: no, it’s the equivalent of “I can’t be racist, I’m black.” It might not be proof, but it’s pretty solid evidence.

            It’s not even vaguely solid evidence. It’s pretty hard (most would say impossible) to change whether or not you are black for most people. It’s pretty easy to fake being Christian or fake being atheist or alternate back and forth. But let’s pretend it wasn’t easy anyways. A somewhat better analogy would be if a black person said “I can’t be racist, I’m black.” after behaving like Uncle Ruckus. It doesn’t seem like a valid defense to me at that point even if I accept the premise that technically black people can’t be racist against black people, because it’s similar enough anyways and I already have more relevant information at hand about the person’s actual behavior. Words are cheaper and less meaningful signalling than the art you choose to make and exhibit.

            On the other hand, it’s technically possible Serrano is simultaneously incredibly clueless about what he’s signalling yet somehow artistically savvy enough to repeatedly push the right buttons for publicity. I wouldn’t buy the argument, but it’d be a fun argument to make.

          • albatross11 says:

            Without trying to get into the artistic merits of controversial art involving religious themes, I think it’s important to distinguish between:

            a. There’s someone out there saying/doing this offensive thing.

            b. There’s someone out there getting official support, attention, and praise from various high-prestige people in the society for saying/doing this offensive thing.

            The internet is full of (a), and most of the people saying or doing offensive things are nobodies whose wrongness has little impact on the world. (b) is the realm of people getting mad about museums lauding artwork that offends their sensibilities, and also the realm of people getting mad about universities hosting speakers who offend their sensibilities.

            And third, it’s hard for me to take modern art of the kind being referenced here very seriously. I’ll admit to being completely non-expert on the matter, but as best I can tell, they’re so far up their own asses they make postmodern literary criticism look like electrical engineering. So when many of the great and good gather round to have a solemn opinion on the Piss Christ, it kinda re-enforces my preexisting low opinion of their intellect and seriousness.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            As far as I can tell, black people can be racist against darker or lighter black people, but the answer is that it’s the fault of white racism.

          • rlms says:

            @Le Maistre Chat
            I honestly can’t see why you would find those homework assignments objectionable, other than a general negative reaction to the word “Islam”. The students are not being told to convert to Islam, they are being told to *pretend* that is the case. Fiction and reality are different. Do American students not learn how to write from perspectives other than their own?

            In general, you are not totally wrong (even if you’ve picked terrible examples). Islam *is* treated differently to Christianity because the left-wing media is oversensitive to things that seem Islamophobic in a way that doesn’t have an equivalent on the right, and Islam is different to Christianity in several relevant ways (for instance, there is no equivalent to drawing Muhammed for Christianity). But I don’t see why that is particularly important — I don’t care much when Breitbart says silly things — and it seems completely unrelated unrelated to your fears about “the Islamic doctrine that blasphemy deserves death”.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I object to school assignments that ask children to lie.

            Second thought: I’m not sure whether the children were supposed to send the letter.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or whether the students understood that the teachers wouldn’t be sending the letters.

            Third thought: While I can understand the theoretical intent and even value of this sort of exercise, the practical effect is going to be completely different and the value utterly lost on those students who are already Moslems. Were those students given the alternate assignment of writing letters telling their parents they were converting to Christianity? Or maybe Judaisim?

            If so, I want to hear that part of the story. Otherwise, and I’m betting on otherwise, there’s your differential treatment,

          • rlms says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz
            The assignment isn’t asking children to lie, unless you take the perspective that all fiction is lies. I’m pretty sure it’s not asking them to actually give the letter to their parents and then go “trololol! i’m not really converting”; the letter is just a framing device.

            @John Schilling
            “Were those students given the alternate assignment of writing letters telling their parents they were converting to Christianity?”
            That would seem like the logical thing (although I don’t know how Muslims there would be at a school in Guernsey).

          • Gobbobobble says:

            An Education spokesman defended the homework assignment, telling The Guernsey Press: “The Guernsey agreed syllabus for religious education includes a structured framework for ensuring that Christianity and the other five principle religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism) are studied with sufficient depth and breadth throughout the four Key Stages.

            So my question would be whether there is an equivalent assignment for Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Sikhism. If Islam is the only principle religion to get the “consider how you would convert to this” treatment then that *does* smell of public-opinion-shaping.

    • John Schilling says:

      People are being told that Islam is a false religion and that man-made laws are better for people than sharia. I mean, the New Atheists haven’t entirely gone away, and then there are all the Christian missionaries and televangelists and so forth in the United States and secular humanist public intellectuals everywhere in the Western world. Many of them don’t carefully balance both parts of your proposed message, and some of them suck at both parts, but that’s not going to change.

      So if you’re asking for something beyond what is already happening and isn’t going to stop, what exactly is that? That there should be some bureaucracy in charge of making sure that people get an Official Lecture on the subject during their compulsory public schooling or as a policy statement from their government? Because that raises a whole lot of new questions that I’m not sure you really want to go in to.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      1) They’re not going to listen to you, infidel.

      2) Do you think this would be more or less effective than Ann Coulter’s suggestion to “Invade, kill their leaders, convert them to Christianity?”

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Effective at what? Invading Muslim countries and trying to convert the population is a different, much broader goal than maintaining the old status quo against forces like Canadian human rights tribunals and law M103.

        • John Schilling says:

          Effective at what?

          You still haven’t told us what you are trying to accomplish, or how.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Weakening the power of Islam in the world to, say, 1950s levels by any practical means. Unless it’s the true religion, in which case I shouldn’t.

        • Iain says:

          M103 wasn’t a law. It was a non-binding private member’s bill. All it means is that the Canadian Parliament has officially stated that it is bad to hate Muslims, in much the same way that it had previously stated that it is bad to hate Jews (2015), bad to hate Yazidis (2016), and bad to hate Coptic Christians (2011).

          If you think that the Canadian government taking an official stance against religious discrimination is a new thing, let me point out that “freedom of conscience and religion” is literally the first fundamental freedom protected by the Charter. I don’t know what old status quo you think you are defending, but speaking as a Canadian I want no part of it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            So Kevin Johnston and any other Canadian arrestees claiming to be arrested under M103 are liars?

            And free exercise of religion is the very second clause in the entire US Bill of Rights, and yet we didn’t have to submit to Muslims when it was ratified. That’s a very recent idea, and (crosses fingers) I don’t think it’s going to catch on.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It also strikes as bass-ackwards that that Canadian Parliament defines it’s policy in terms of which groups get protection rather than which groups don’t.

            By singling out Jews, Copts, Muslims, etc… they make any group not on the list fair game.

          • hyperboloid says:

            So Kevin Johnston and any other Canadian arrestees claiming to be arrested under M103 are liars?

            If he claimed to have been arrested under M103, which I’m not sure he did, then yes he is a liar. Johnston was arrested and charged under preexisting hate speech laws, specially section 319 of the criminal code of Canada which makes it a crime to advocate hatred of “any identifiable group” if that advocacy is judged likely create a breach of the peace.

            Johnston ran a web site called Freedom Report, where he posted various anti Muslim screeds including the following statement:

            “It is time for us to take our masculinity back and beat the living hell out of these [Muslims]. Pin them down on the ground, and beat them until they pass out. And when they’re passed out, you beat them further; and when they’re on the ground passed out, kick them, break a kneecap, break an elbow, press their hands backwards turn their wrists sideways, start breaking these guys down.”

            While my estadounidense sense of individual liberty leads me to think that he ought to have a right to be a raging a**hole , the Canadians have a very different attitude on this. Canada as a whole has a much more restrictive attitude on civil liberties than the US does. For a good example look no further than the C-51 anti terrorism law passed in 2015 that, among other things; makes it a crime to knowingly advocate “terrorism offences in general” while aware of the possibility that someone else “may” commit such an offense; allows preventive detention of a person if it is likely to prevent a terrorist attack that a peace officer reasonably believes, “may” be carried out; and allows a judge to order the seizure of any material they judge to be terrorist propaganda.

            Basically as it stands in Canada today, if your a Muslim teenager and you post a video parsing ISIS; you can be arrested, your youtube account, and any hard copies of your videos can be sized, and any of your followers who law enforcement officials judge may commit terrorist acts can be placed in temporary preventative dentition.

            Not exactly a society in thrall to radical Islam.

            @hlynkacg
            As I stated above Canada law bans hate speech against “any identifiable group”, at least when such speech is judged likely to create a breach of the peace. M103 is just a non binding, lets all be nice to Muslims, feel good resolution. The complete text is reproduced below:

            {it is resolved} That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

            To be clear I’m not Canadian, I’ve only been to Canada once when I was a kid, and I have no expertise in Canadian law. Nevertheless it only took me two minutes of Googling to find all of this out. Le Maistre Chat, how about doing some research before freaking out about the sharia conspiracy meme de jour.

    • hyperboloid says:

      I don’t think the two things have much to do with each other. For one thing, as others have already said, If Islam is a false religion (and I think the supernatural claims of all religions are very likely false), then it’s laws are man made. Furthermore, even the core doctrine of Islam is true, and there is no god but God, and Mohamed is his prophet; then there is little sensible reason to reject the whole of body modern legal institutions. Indeed most Muslims, even most Islamists, do not.

      Critics of Islam often start from the assumption that Abu bakr al Baghdadi is basically right about what Islam requires. This is a position held by an extreme minority of Muslims, who, if their rhetoric is to be believed, appear to be locked in a quasi permanent civil war with literally every other Muslim polity on earth.

      Unlike Jesus of Nazareth, Mohamed was both a political leader, and a religious prophet; he laid down rules both to govern the spiritual lives of his followers, and to shape their civic, and political institutions. It seems to me that it would be much better to argue that these two roles were to some extant separate, and that whatever the wisdom of the prophet’s political decisions were in a time, and place not far removed from jahiliyya (in Islamic parlance, the savage ignorance of the pagan Arabs) no system of government is right for all people at all times, regardless of their material circumstances.

      This argument against the Jihadis at least has the advantage that most Muslims already accept some version of it.

      • Anonymous says:

        If Islam is a false religion (and I think the supernatural claims of all religions are very likely false), then it’s laws are man made.

        Only, as you say, the supernatural doesn’t exist. It is not inconceivable than it was Satan masquerading as Gabriel, making the laws not really man-made, but also not coming from God.

        • hyperboloid says:

          I’ve always wondered what percentage of Christians believe in Satan as a literal supernatural entity. Because it seems to me to be a very silly idea; much, much more so than a benevolent interventionist God.

          Why would a supernatural intelligence that has direct knowledge of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god rebel against him? I could imagine that it was a lot of fun to ride a tank, and hold a general’s rank, while the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank; but how exactly does the prince of lies think this is going to turn out for him in the end?

          It seems to me that the story of an angel rebelling against god is a legacy of an earlier semitic mythology in which the idea of a single all powerful deity had not yet been fully worked out. I suspect that in the original version Lucifer’s rebellion against Yahweh was simply an insurrection against a particularly powerful and important god, that nonetheless had some chance of success; and the whole thing was rendered ridiculous by subsequent retcons.

          • Mark says:

            Struggle?

            If satan exists to make life difficult, the ultimate impossibility of defeating the omnipotent shouldn’t matter to him.

            He sets himself against God, because it is hard.

            And that’s a kind of pride, hubris, right – not the thought that you might win, but the thought that your struggle is more important than victory.

          • Nornagest says:

            My understanding is that early interpretations of the figure cast Satan as less of an evil pseudo-god and more of a prosecuting attorney-type figure, whose job is to tempt and test but who’s still basically working for God.

            Islam has more of a modern understanding, but its solution is to bump him down a level and make him an jinn, a powerful spirit but one that’s still part of the same order of creation that people are, not a direct companion of God.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Nornagest, we had this conversation numerous OTs ago, and Islam retains “Satan” as a title for spiritual adversaries. The personal name ascribed to the character is Iblis, said to be a survivor of the pre-human djinn civilization spared by God for his piety before falling in the serpent scenario.

          • Nornagest says:

            You’re right, my mistake.

          • Anonymous says:

            @hyperboloid

            I have more certainty in Satan’s existence than God’s, believe it or not.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Hyperboloid, how Satan makes sense is a difficult question. However, I do believe in the Realm of Ideas, and that not every entity there is good. When rationalists talk about Moloch, I’m nodding at the idea of a hostile immaterial Power. 🙂

          • Macrofauna says:

            And that’s a kind of pride, hubris, right – not the thought that you might win, but the thought that your struggle is more important than victory.

            And there’s a relative of this which runs on spite, hate, rejection – as much damage as possible must be done, ground denied to the enemy through scorched earth.

            There’s an old joke that something like these possibly happened when God made man, and told the angels “Look at this wonderful new creation, a bunch of you will be working to support it now.” and Satan said horrifiedly “I’m not working for that, it’s made out of meat!”

        • Anonymous says:

          Derp. Failed to include the “if” in the first sentence.

  23. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve thought of Heinlein as unusually perceptive because he described PTSD before it became publicly known– this is Citizen of the Galaxy (1957). While there was some knowledge of it as battle fatigue and shell shock, the novel had it happening as a result of having been kidnapped as a child. Symptoms in the novel included nightmares and irrational anger– there may be more that I’ve forgotten.

    So, what are the earliest descriptions of non-soldier/battlefield PTSD?

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Potentially very, very early. The symptoms described by Gilgamesh after the death of his friend Enkidu in the 5,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh have been claimed by some modern scholars to be, or at least resemble, PTSD- anger, fear, inability to sleep and a sense of impending death.

      While Gilgamesh and Enkidu are both warriors who fought alongside each other, Enkidu does not die in battle but from an illness.

    • hyperboloid says:

      While I don’t know about non battle related causes, Shakespeare Is the earliest writer that I personally know of who wrote about a war induced PTSD like psychological condition. In Henry IV, part 1 Hotspur’s wife complains to him about his odd withdrawn behavior, and disinterest in sex:

      O, my good lord, why are you thus alone?
      For what offence have I this fortnight been
      A banish’d woman from my Harry’s bed?

      ….In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watch’d,
      And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars;
      Speak terms of manage to thy bounding steed;
      Cry ‘Courage! to the field!’ And thou hast talk’d
      Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents,
      Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,
      Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin,
      Of prisoners’ ransom and of soldiers slain,
      And all the currents of a heady fight.
      Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war,
      And thus hath so bestirr’d thee in thy sleep,
      That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow
      Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream;

      The early modern period in Europe saw a massive growth both of psychologically realistic fiction, and the notion of the mind as a separate inner realm. Ancient people tended not to limit themselves to ascribing mental properties only to living Human beings, and animals as we do, and accordingly often saw mental illnesses in basically supernatural terms. I suspect that stories of people afflicted by evil spirits associated with some past trauma are older then civilization.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I’ve heard scholars say that the description of Achilles at the start of Iliad 24 is consonant with PTSD as well:

        The council was over, and the men all dispersed to return to their swift ships. The others thought to enjoy their dinner and sweet sleep, but Achilles wept to remember his dear companion: all-mastering sleep did not take hold of him, but he lay turning this way and that, longing for the valour and noble courage of Patroclus, thinking of what they had achieved together and what mortal sufferings they had endured, cleaving through the wars of men and the grievous tides of the sea. Remembering this he shed thick tears, lying now on his side, now on his back, and now on his front; and standing up he would wander distraught along the shore. Nor did he fail to mark the dawn as she appeared over the salt-sea and the beach, but when this happened he would yoke fleet horses to his chariot and binding Hector to the back drag him along; and when he had drawn him round three laps of the tomb of Menoetius’ fallen son he would make and end of this and go back to his hut, leaving Hector stretched out face-down in the dust.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Also the description of Odysseus when the bard tells the story of the Trojan War in Odyssey 8:

          This song the famous minstrel sang; but Odysseus grasped his great purple cloak with his stout hands, and drew it down over his head, and hid his comely face; for he had shame of the Phaeacians as he let fall tears from beneath his eyebrows. Yea, and as often as the divine minstrel ceased his singing, Odysseus would wipe away his tears and draw the cloak from off his head, and taking the two-handled cup would pour libations to the gods. But as often as he began again, and the nobles of the Phaeacians bade him sing, because they took pleasure in his lay, Odysseus would again cover his head and moan.

        • Anon. says:

          There’s a book written on this premise, Achilles in Vietnam. Haven’t read it but it looks interesting.

    • jchrieture says:

      Regarding PTSD-related narratives (including prior comments by “rmtodd” and “Anon”), some relevant resources are:

      • Peter Pringle’s performance-video “The Epic Of Gilgamesh In Sumerian” (played on the ‘gishgudi’)

      • Resources by Veterans Administration psychiatrist Jonathan Shay that include Shay’s (USMC-commended) books Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994) and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2002); a concise introduction to these works is Shay’s PBS interview Moral Wounds of War (2010).

      • Jason Hall’s in-release film “Thank You for Your Service” (2017).

      Alas, despite favorable critical reviews for “Thank You for Your Service”, audiences for this film have been sparse … at my local theater the premier of “Thank You for Your Service” played to an audience of precisely one person (namely me).

      Plausibly the circumstances associated to moral injuries are among the most painfully traumatic topics that individual humans, their families, and their communities can address … said pain being no adequately rational reason to avoid confronting them. (the aforementioned works were selected with regard for their uniform gentle humanity).

      The psychological sequelae — for individuals, friends, families, and cultures — of this characteristically human cognitive avoidance of painful traumas are a central theme of Stanford/Bay Area psychiatrist Irvin Yalom’s historical novel The Spinoza Problem (2012). Yalom’s narrative systematically develops a warmly humane, gently humorous, psychiatrically informed, history-grounded treatment of multiple PTSD-related topics that have been of perennial concern to the general SSC/LW/rationalist  community.

      —-
      Rationalistic triggers: prior SSC mention of these and related PTSD-related works has been deprecated on grounds of inappropriate typography and/or undesirable topic-comment sentence structure.

  24. Kevin C. says:

    Question for the SCA types on here, or anyone with similar knowledge. There’s a fair bit of material out their about fencing and sword-wielding out there, including translations of Early Modern fencing manuals and such. (I’ve even seen a poster locally for someone teaching the historical German school of fencing here in town.) My question is about another versatile and frequently-used (in the past, I of course mean) Medieval and Early Modern weapon: are there any similar materials, or anything out there, about how to properly wield a halberd?

    • Randy M says:

      check out youtube. Lindybeige, etc. No promises as to historical accuracy, but he explains his reasoning.

    • Nornagest says:

      There’s still a live naginata tradition; it’s harder to find than sword but I know of at least one school with a good lineage. I imagine halberds would handle similarly.

      • Randy M says:

        For Halberds, at least, one must remember that they weren’t exactly dueling weapons; techniques for using them–and the evolution of their design–would rely on the fact that Halberd wielders would be deployed in formation.
        I expect it was similar for the Naginata, but I don’t know. My image of a dueling Samurai is one using a sword.
        Some actions with a Halberd are going to be different; I believe it was from Lindybeige I saw pointed out that the angle of the smaller ax implied not a awing or slash, but a sort of reaping motion on the return stroke following a thrust with the spear point.

    • Yes.

      Tom Courtney, aka Duke Vissivald, has been teaching period pole arm technique, I think from German sources, at Pennsic for some years.

      .

  25. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/found-rare-minoan-sealstone-greek-mycenaean-ancient-history

    Beautiful carving from about 1500 B.C.– and an interesting example of lost knowledge, since a lot of people prefer naturalistic art.

  26. johan_larson says:

    The Chinese have a SETI project, with a big-ass radio telescope:

    Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle, the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

    The Chinese are already beating the pants off us in civil engineering. Is SETI next?

    • bean says:

      The Chinese are already beating the pants off us in civil engineering. Is SETI next?

      The Chinese government is willing to spend money on a prestige project like this, and they don’t have to deal with 57 layers of environmental impact permits to build it. I’m not sure this is ‘beating the pants off us’.

      • albatross11 says:

        Let’s just convince them not to let any scientists traumatized by the treatment of their parents in the Cultural Revolution work on the project–then I think we’ll be okay.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think if they’re winning because of our bureaucracy then that still counts.

        • johan_larson says:

          A project like this is a big step forward for the Chinese in SETI. They were nowhere a generation ago. Now they have a big dish and are doing fairly mundane research with it. That puts them mid-pack, or maybe a bit ahead. They are coming on strong.

    • John Schilling says:

      Wake me up when the Chinese start doing whole-sky surveys for Dyson shells, or focused observations of Taffy’s Star.

      SETI in the traditional sense of pointing big microwave dishes at the sky and listening for faint signals in the 18-21cm band, or anything really close to that, has such a low expected return that I can’t see much reason for the Chinese to be doing it other than imitative boasting – rather like building giant skyscrapers in the 21st century because that’s how Western nations demonstrated technological and industrial prowess in the 20th. The probability that A: technologically advanced ETI exists in our immediate galactic neigborhood and B: can’t think of any better way to communicate than by microwave and C: is sending those microwaves at a level just a little bit beyond all the low-hanging microwave fruit we plucked in our past SETI efforts, is quite low. And it reflects a failure of imagination on everyone involved. And if it does lead to (passive, one-way) communication with ET, is most likely going to put us in contact with the most boring sort of ET, the sort that we imagine thinks like us and has technology only slightly more advanced than our own.

      We’ve done microwaves, and maybe we should still keep an ear open just in case but if that’s your flagship program, again, failure of imagination. Look for Dyson shells or for petawatt lasers, listen for modulated gravity waves, check for monoliths on the Moon, see if there are messages encoded in the DNA of archaea, search all the places that haven’t been searched already. And if you find something, I’m guessing the Dyson-shell-builders will be more interesting to talk to than the guys with a slightly bigger microwave dish than our own.

      • rahien.din says:

        (Do you mean Tabby’s star? Taffy’s star seems to be a quilting pattern!)

      • hyperboloid says:

        @John Schilling
        Dyson shells?

        I think you mean Dyson spheres, as in Freeman Dyson’s original proposal that an advanced civilization would build a network of orbiting solar collectors and habitats almost totally surrounding their sun. I’ve only heard the word shell used to describe a literal, Star Trek style, ridged structure surrounding a star.

        Such a structure would be ludicrously impractical, as no known substance has anything like the compressive strength necessary to support itself against the force of gravity. Of course one could use some active means of support, like a constantly firing thruster, or something like a space fountain, but why would you do that? It would be a massive waste of energy (though if you have a literal star in a box, you may not have to worry about that) and if it ever failed the whole thing would collapse.

        • John Schilling says:

          Freeman Dyson’s original article on the subject used the term “shell” rather than “sphere”, and was explicitly (albeit in footnote) a swarm of orbiting objects rather than a single rigid megastructure. Subsequent writers almost always use “sphere”, and often assume a single solid object. So “Dyson sphere” is ambiguous but leans solid and “Dyson shell” should be understood to refer to the orbiting-swarm version.

          That said, if you want the solid megastructure, AU-sized rings spinning at supraorbital velocity under superconducting magnetically-levitated tracks make effective compression members with no steady-state energy consumption.

  27. The Nybbler says:

    Opioids are useless; ibuprofen and acetaminophen are just as good. Or so we’re told. I find these claims to be rather extraordinary, particularly in today’s political climate. But is there anything obviously wrong with the studies? The lack of a true control bothers me (though I suppose there are ethical problems there), and I’m suspicious of that 0-10 pain scale (but it’s standard practice).

    Separately, there’s the issue that taking a lot of acetaminophen is really bad for you. Take 1000mg every few hours and your liver fails.

    • gbdub says:

      I mean, having been on both after surgeries on my knee and wrist (separate occasions), I find it at least plausible. Got Vicodin, really couldn’t stand the stuff. Didn’t seem any more effective than 800 mg of Ibuprofen, and gave an unpleasant hangover. Plus it has acetaminophen in it too, so hard to say how much of the relief was the opiate.

      Only upside of it was that it helped me get to sleep despite the remaining discomfort – but it really felt more like a depressant / dissociative than an actual pain reliever. In other words, Ibuprofen seemed to make (most of) the pain go away, Vicodin just made me not give a damn. Basically a similar effect to a couple fingers of good whiskey, with a much less enjoyable dosing mechanism.

      I stopped using it during the day on either the second or third day (I think I continued taking one before bed for about a week). Of course they gave me 90 doses worth, which could help explain why there’s so much of the stuff out there…

    • Iain says:

      Your second link (the Vox one) does a pretty good job of explaining the limitations of the studies, and the cases in which opioids are still likely to be a valuable tool. In general, I don’t find anything extraordinary about claims that we are currently over-prescribing a particular treatment, and can achieve better outcomes by using something else. Why should opioids be special?

    • Nornagest says:

      This seems… excessively convenient. It is consistent with my experience, though: I’ve been prescribed opioids after some minor surgery (they practically threw them at me, actually, which I found kind of odd given how dangerous they’re supposed to be) and they didn’t do much for me. On the other hand, they didn’t get me high or anything either, and I can’t imagine myself getting addicted to those specific drugs if used as directed.

      Maybe crappy, neutered opioids are useless, or maybe they screwed up the dose, or maybe I’m just a non-responder to painkillers for some reason.

    • rahien.din says:

      I can only see the study design for Krebs et al, paper isn’t out yet.

      It was randomized but unblinded.

      It seems to have given wide latitude to the treatment team in terms of medication selection, other than “only use non-opioids” vs “only use opioids.” Using only one category of analgesic is not consistent with general clinical practice (as you can see from Chang et al).

      Their exclusion criteria included:
      – Already taking an opiate
      – Already tried opiates and either had allergy, bad side effect, or poor response. (This also applied to non-opioids, but they basically never excluded anyone for that.)
      – Chronic benzodiazepine use
      – Not already using some kind of non-opioid analgesic

      I’m not super confident in the external validity thereof.

      Chang et al assert that they could give extra opiates to some patients at will, and still somehow stay within intent-to-treat via post-hoc imputation (even though they never really identify what they are trying to impute or why), and also they don’t have to explain themselves.

      Bullshit.

      I got hydromorphone once. It’s an astonishingly good drug – for any meaning of “drug.” One minute I was in severe pain from a dying tooth, the next I didn’t have pain. I just didn’t. Also, I was euphoric to a degree that mere resolution of pain would fail to produce, and, to a degree that supervened my immediate terror at how good that shit is.

    • Garrett says:

      I dabble in emergency medicine, but this involves me stepping outside of my official training, so take it with a grain of salt.

      First, most of the injuries they mention were soft-tissue injuries. Like sprains. Though they hurt in the moment my personal experience, even as a wimp, is that this kind of pain drops down significantly after an hour or so. Inflammation/swelling are causes of pain and are reduced by NSAIDs.

      Second, splinting can be highly effective for reducing pain in simple fractures. Simply stopping broken bones from rubbing against each other reduces the ongoing irritation and pain.

      Third, as noted, the 0-10 pain scale is … problematic. It’s certainly non-linear, but without a functional map it doesn’t help much. So a 4-point reduction is something, but it’s not clear what. Did someone go from being in so much pain that they couldn’t concentrate on the conversation to being able to sleep most nights? Or did they go from moderately annoyed to mildly annoyed.

      Fourth: most of the narcotics in pain medications given orally are pro-drugs, meaning that they are inactive as ingested and only become active after a first pass through the liver. My personal experience is that these start to kick in after about 30-60 minutes, but it’s possible that others require more time and thus the 2-hour time window didn’t capture the difference significantly. Also, about 10% of the population has a version of the relevant liver enzyme which makes them a poor metabolizer; in this population you’d expect to see much less difference between the two groups.

    • Lillian says:

      The obviously wrong thing with the second study is that it’s comparing maximum dose OTC painkillers against minimum dose opioids. The article itself even says so. 1000 mg of acetaminophen is as much as you can give someone without destroying their liver, and there is little evidence that more than 400 mg of ibuprofen does anything, though dosing can be as high as 800 mg. Meanwhile, the strongest opioid dose they were giving was 5mg of oxycodone, when amounts several times higher are commonly prescribed. This is like comparing a four-gear sedan on fourth gear against a six-gear sportscar on third gear, and then declaring that since they’re both equally fast the sportscar is no better.

      Also speaking for myself, opioids are the only thing that gives me noticeable pain relief, particularly from headaches. 1200 mg ibuprofen with 1500 of acetaminophen does jack-all, headache medication, migraine medications, barbiturates, they all do jack-all. Oxycodone? Swift pain relief, and it also calms me down and helps me sleep. Unfortunately nobody will actually prescribe opioids for intermittent headaches, so i only know because of left-overs from when i was sick. Frankly OTC painkillers might as well be homeopathic for all the pain relief i get from them, and i used to not bother taking any until friends and family pressured me into trying. So now swallowing 1000 mg each of ibuprofen and acetaminophen is my standard “i’m in pain and i wish i could do something about it” rite, and it doesn’t help. Oxycodone left overs? Those helped, though less so once opioid resistance started kicking in, and not at all after i ran out.

      Also some of the human cost of cutting people off opioids when they really need them:
      https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/8x5m7g/opioid-crackdown-chronic-pain-patients-suicide
      https://medium.com/@ThomasKlineMD/suicides-associated-with-non-consented-opioid-pain-medication-reductions-356b4ef7e02a

      • rahien.din says:

        The obviously wrong thing with the second study is that it’s comparing maximum dose OTC painkillers against minimum dose opioids. … This is like comparing a four-gear sedan on fourth gear against a six-gear sportscar on third gear, and then declaring that since they’re both equally fast the sportscar is no better.

        Disagree.

        They asked the question “In the limited situation of acute extremity pain, do regular-dose opioids have any advantage over high-dose non-opioids?” That’s a perfectly valid question. It leaves room for the opioids to be more powerful, while asking if all that power is necessary in this particular situation. Similarly, one could ask, “If all I need to do is drive across town obeying the speed limit, does a Ferrari have any definite advantage over a Toyota Camry?” Especially if the Ferrari is more likely to get pulled over, if getting a fender-bender in a Ferrari is more infuriating than the same accident in the Camry, etc.

        Furthermore, it would have been inappropriate to compare to maximal-dose opioids, because A. that would be overtreatment for acute extremity pain, and B. we already know that opioids are much more powerful than non-opioids, to the degree that we can describe these drugs in terms of their morphine-equivalency.

        • Lillian says:

          For acute pain in an emergency room setting i would argue any kind of pill is the wrong tool for the job. The best option is a morphine drip, which is a highly effective and quick acting painkiller. It’s also a highly responsive to patient needs, since modern technology allows for self-dosing without risking overdose. When i was hospitalized recently they had me 1mg on demand, but the machine would not dispense unless at least 20 minutes had passed. Unfortunately due my metabolism the effects were sometimes only good for 10-15 min, so there was a lot of clockwatching on my part, but nonetheless it was better than pills.

          Pills are for ambulatory patients, and i was put on hydrocodone once i became one. The hydro also involved clock watching, since the limit was one dose every four hours. Notably i could have one pill or two, but the waiting period was four hours either way, and after trying one pill a few times i defaulted to two. When discharged i was given thirty hydrocodone pills to take home. There i discovered one pill every two hours worked better than two every four. No idea why that wasn’t an option at the hospital.

          Anyway, as i see it this study is comparing two cars on a cargo hauling job, rather than bringing in an actual truck.

          That said if the pain is being caused by inflammation then anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can be a useful addition provided there’s no bleeding. Personally it doesn’t seem to help me even in that capacity, but i acknowledge my biochemistry is unusual. Acetaminophen on the other hand seems pretty useless in general except as an opioid potentiator. Though given it’s low risk at moderate doses, it’s little harm to makenit available.

          • rahien.din says:

            For acute pain in an emergency room setting i would argue any kind of pill is the wrong tool for the job. The best option is a morphine drip

            No. Just no.

          • Lillian says:

            If you think i’m wrong about something, i would appreciate your explaining how and why. A one liner expressing disagreement is useless, nobody is going to learn anything from it.

          • Loquat says:

            Shocking, but true: many, possibly even most, of the people who comment here are not in fact medical professionals, and have no idea what the pros and cons are of IV painkillers vs. a similar drug in pill form.

            I got an epidural during childbirth and there was a similar sort of self-dosing option where I could press a button for more but only every 20-30 minutes. It seems like a pretty good idea to me for situations where someone’s in serious pain and in the hospital.

          • rahien.din says:

            Apologies! That was a moment of frustration. And I should have helped. But you might cut me some slack once you see the alternative to parsimony…

            Here are your 1,200 words!

            You mention a morphine drip, and I assume you mean what is called patient controlled analgesia (PCA for short). A PCA is IV pain medicine with a basal rate (a small amount continuously administered) and a button that will give you an extra dose, within certain time and total-dose constraints. This is both more flexible than a regular morphine drip, and more safe. The reason to use a true opioid drip is only for sedation (what some would call a medically-induced coma). So, a PCA is what I addressed here.

            Every good decision in medicine comes down to a cost:benefit ratio.

            The benefits of a PCA are as you state. Opioids work – very quickly and very well. And if the patient can control their own rate, this increases their agency, and probably their satisfaction. For patients who have especially high pain control needs, or, who are in a situation that really harms their agency, PCA’s are fantastic.

            The costs/drawbacks/risks of PCA’s are more numerous than for pills.

            Logistically, it requires a secure pump programmed to that patient’s specifications. The medication is (IIRC) more expensive as well, mg-for-mg, as it is a sterile IV solution rather than a tablet. This makes a PCA relatively expensive (at least with respect to a Vicodin).

            Moreover, the pump like any computer obeys garbage-in-garbage-out. There is a genuine risk that the PCA’s rate will be programmed too high, potentially causing sedation or respiratory depression. (Taking a single Vicodin does not carry nearly that same risk.) Thus, patients on a PCA must be monitored by a nurse periodically. This makes them more labor-intensive.

            Lastly, in order to be discharged home, we have to demonstrate that we have an appropriate plan whereby the patient’s pain may be treated at home – this means oral analgesics. There are various levels of pain control. The highest level is a PCA. Next level down is scheduled oral extended-release analgesics with on-demand IV analgesics. (Note that IV analgesics are both quick-onset and short-acting, meaning continuous effects only come from continuous infusions.) Next level down is scheduled oral extended-release analgesics with on-demand immediate-release oral analgesics. Next level down is on-demand oral analgesics. In order for a patient to go home, they have to be at one of the two lowest levels, because that’s all a layperson can accomplish at home. The trick is, it would be unethical to change a person’s pain control plan by more than one level. (For instance, if a person’s pain control had necessitated a PCA, it would be cruel to switch them to on-demand oral analgesics in one step without demonstrating that their pain would be adequately controlled.) Starting a PCA commits your patient to a several-step weaning process whereby their pain control plan is worked toward discharge readiness.

            Inpatient admission addresses each of these difficulties. Your patient has a smaller nurse:patient ratio. They are prepared to be there several days while their pain control plan will be sequentially downgraded according to their response and recovery. And the greater expense of a PCA can be wrapped into the cost of their admission more easily.

            Moreover, a patient’s response to pain medications is important information. This is not to say that an ethical physician would deliberately undertreat pain in order to gain diagnostic information – they would not. But if your patient gets a Vicodin and still has pain, this guides your expectations for what they will need going forward, and may affect your clinical assessments.

            Therefore, the patient who should get a PCA is one who 1. has pain that because of severity or because of the cause is unlikely to respond to oral analgesics, 2. is sick enough to get admitted to the hospital, and 3. is prepared to stay long enough to have their pain control regimen weaned in an ethical and compassionate manner. In this situation, the benefits of the PCA outweigh its costs (or, the patient is already sick enough that the PCA does not reimpose those costs independently).

            The archetypal PCA patient is on the cancer ward.

            None of this applies to the ED in general, or to the patient population addressed by Chang et al in specific.

            The ED has higher patient:nurse ratios than anywhere else in the hospital, and those ratios are adjusted on the fly based on the ED’s moment-to-moment acuity, in order to address the needs of a large volume of patients with vastly different acuity levels. It is logistically difficult to have a patient on a PCA in the emergency room for the reasons above, even if temporarily while they await admission. It would be totally impossible and unethical to subject a large volume of ED patients to PCA’s as they would be unlikely to receive appropriate monitoring. Moreover, the ED staff must be flexible enough to respond to sudden changes in acuity, such as if multiple severe traumas arrive at once, in which case multiple nurses may leave their lower-acuity patients in order to help care for patients in grave danger. Tasking a nurse (or several nurses) with responsibility for multiple PCA’s would reduce flexibility to unacceptable levels.

            The ED is also designed to move patients through diagnosis and treatment quickly. It is not designed to handle many patients undergoing hours-long treatment regimens, neither in staffing nor even in its basic physical architecture. As above, weaning a patient from a PCA requires careful planning and may take a long time. This is not something the ED is set up to accomplish. The alternative to a long ED stay is admission to the hospital, and when a patient needs a PCA, they need an admission. No hospital could withstand the patient load created by a pain control protocol that defaulted to PCA’s. Few patient populations would be able to withstand the resultant financial strain caused by default admission to the hospital for control of acute pain.

            Financially, I am not sure which model the ED uses to bill for services. If they are like hospitalists (I suspect that they are) then they receive a lump sum of reimbursement for an encounter based on acuity and diagnosis, regardless of how they treated the patient. If they use more expensive treatments, more of the reimbursement goes to recouping those costs and there is less profit. Using more expensive PCA’s might be a bad financial decision in low-acuity patients, and might impact the ED’s financial solvency in the short or long-term.

            This brings me to the patient population in Chang et al. They examined acute extremity pain, ranging from shoulder dislocations to ankle sprains. As others have noted, these are amenable in part to things like splinting, compression wraps, ice, and joint reductions, which are low-cost and most of which are zero-risk. It would be grossly inappropriate to give someone a PCA for their sprained ankle because the marginal benefit they get from a PCA over an ace bandage + a Vicodin is drastically outweighed by the increased cost to the patient, the ED, and the medical system.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @rahien.din:

            Thank you for going into detail on this, it was a very interesting read. I find myself wanting to learn more about hospital logistics now.

    • Zorgon says:

      Imma join the list of people saying “very, very situational.” There are three people in my immediate circles who have pain-related issues – myself, my wife, and her best friend.

      I have the kind of minor lower back trouble not uncommon to men of my age and older along with some hip and knee trouble which is probably the beginnings of rheumatoid arthritis; opioids are not much use to me at all, especially in terms of side effect to painkilling effect ratio.

      My wife has Multiple Sclerosis and has periods of intense neurological pain; opioids help her but only in the sense of making her so stoned she doesn’t care any more. Cannabis does the same job with far fewer side effects. Neither really affects the pain, as should be expected.

      Her best friend has a mysterious pain condition that’s been variably identified as CRPS, atypical MS, and a thousand other things – basically she woke up one day in her early 20s with her entire lower body on fire and it’s never gone away. That she is able to function at all is solely due to a dermal fentanyl patch that is drip-feeding her opioids, with a backup of codeine phosphate when needed. NSAIDs, paracetamol, acetiminophen? Do nothing whatsoever.

      My guess is there are a LOT of people like me, quite a few people like my wife, and a small cluster of people like her best friend. That also fits with the study. But one thing we really, really don’t want to do is start moving towards where these articles seem to be leading us, which will inevitably end up being treating the last group as drug-seekers due to their desire for “ineffective” but recreationally-potent drugs.

      • Lillian says:

        But one thing we really, really don’t want to do is start moving towards where these articles seem to be leading us, which will inevitably end up being treating the last group as drug-seekers due to their desire for “ineffective” but recreationally-potent drugs.

        We already started moving in that direction, with predictable results: https://medium.com/@ThomasKlineMD/suicides-associated-with-non-consented-opioid-pain-medication-reductions-356b4ef7e02a

        For bonus points, i remember reading that when you cut-off actual addicts from legal drugs the substitution effect with illegal ones is close to one-to-one. It also applies to adoption of tamper-proof formulations that cannot be crushed or liquefied. That is to say nearly every person who abuses prescription pills simply switches to illegal opioids if their supply is cut-off or rendered non-usable. So nobody actually seems to actually benefit from being cut-off, chronic pain patients are sent into a hell of suffering and despair, addicts just start buying street heroin, in the latter case greatly increasing their risk of overdose due to the unpredictability of illegal formulations.

    • bean says:

      Does not match my experience. Got Tylenol-3 for a broken arm about 10 years ago. I instantly understood why people abuse the stuff. There was a thick blanket of “I don’t care” over everything. You don’t get that from non-opioids, leaving aside the fact that it was very effective at making the pain stop.
      Was also on hydrocodone briefly for my wisdom teeth. Not sure how the dosages compared, but it didn’t do the same thing. Could just be a personal quirk for all I know.

      • albatross11 says:

        The couple times I’ve had wisdom teeth extracted, I wound up with codeine+tylenol as a painkiller. And in both cases, I switched over to ibuprofen after one dose, because it *didn’t* entirely get rid of the pain, but it *did* make me too stupid to distract myself.

    • toastengineer says:

      I have the opposite experience to what other folks are saying; I’ve been on extreme doses of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, etc…. and they seem to do literally nothing; I keep going on and off of them out of desperation but I then start forgetting to take them and notice no difference. Aspirin seems to have a detectable effect but only just.

      Codeine, on the other hand, results in noticeable reduction in discomfort, and the only time I’ve been on morphine felt so nice I decided I’d better not let them give me that stuff ever again.

      • Lillian says:

        This is exactly what i’m like, extreme doses of NSAIDs and acetaminophen do nothing at all. Though opioids don’t feel nice for me unless they take the pain away completely. Like if pain is on zero to ten scale, the euphoria and floaty feeling don’t start until the indicator has been knocked into the negatives. So i only enjoy myself taking opioids if the dose is stronger than necessary.

        That said, intoxication still happens independent of my subjective feelings. The morphine drip during my recent hospitalization still left me some pain, so i didn’t feel high. Yet i could tell from my lack of coordinatiom, disordered thoughts, and weird enthusiasm for everything, that i was in fact pretty goddamned high.

    • anondoty says:

      For me, opioids work much better than ibuprofin or acetaminophen, and not in the making-me-too-high-to-care kind of way (in fact, despite having been on some high dosages of opioids a few times, I’ve never felt anything that I would describe as a “high” from them, nor have I felt any subjective changes in my perception of my own consciousness). For me, they genuinely do what they are supposed to do: relieve pain. They also make me sleepy, but that’s it.

      I think opioids would work better for pain if we enabled higher dosages to be taken safely by removing the acetaminophen from it.

  28. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is the Knowledge Factory Broken?

    23 minute podcast

    I’ve heard a lot of about the replication crisis, but this it the first I’ve heard that Ambigen researchers couldn’t replicate their own experiments in their own lab. i give them points for honesty, but this means science is even harder than I thought.

    There’s the general problem of scientists getting career advancement for flashy new discoveries… but no one is allotted enough time or money to check anything for truth. I’ve been thinking for a while institutionally, we’ve been trying to do science on the cheap, using easy measurements like number of citations.

    This brings me back to the useful concept of the conservation of thought (from the first issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction)– just that people generally don’t want to think more than they have to.

    There’s a section about the social sciences not communicating with each other (of course they don’t have a shared vocabulary), with a suggestion that if they worked on real world problems, success or failure would supply a test.

    There’s a man working on making scientific journals more available, but he doesn’t look at the problem of not enough people to read them and think about them.

    • Aapje says:

      I’ve been thinking for a while institutionally, we’ve been trying to do science on the cheap, using easy measurements like number of citations.

      That is my conclusion as well. I think we need to do less original science, choosing quality over quantity.

      One solution may be to give replication studies part of the citation score of the original study (giving a smaller percentage for each new study). You can also do it the other way around, which makes it more profitable for those doing original research to help replication efforts. A nice feature of this solution is that the most heavily cited and thus influential studies, will be most profitable to replicate. So it seems like it would efficiently allocate resources.

  29. There are claims that the Flynn effect has only been due to more people attending school and getting good at answering test questions as a result. This implies that we have gotten better at “tricking” IQ tests and that their results are less accurate today than they were previously.

    Does anyone know if the predictive validity of IQ tests declined over time as the Flynn effect has occurred? I feel like this would be the best way to test whether or not the Flynn effect and our IQ measurements are legitimate.

    • Anon. says:

      Does anyone know if the predictive validity of IQ tests declined over time as the Flynn effect has occurred? I feel like this would be the best way to test whether or not the Flynn effect and our IQ measurements are legitimate.

      It’s not a good way of testing it because this fake increase does not affect the cross-sectional predictive power of the test. I recommend reading Flynn’s book What Is Intelligence?

  30. johan_larson says:

    Star Wars films are the new paperclips. Three more are coming our way.

    • Odovacer says:

      Reminds me of that Simpsons quote from the 138th Episode Spectacular:

      Troy McClure: Yes, the Simpsons have come a long way since an old drunk made humans out of his rabbit characters to pay off his gambling debts. Who knows what adventures they’ll have between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?

      It’s up to 623 episodes and ~28 years.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m perfectly happy to have Disney Corp. do whatever the heck maximizes their profits where Star Wars is concerned. We’ve seen what the loving hands of the artistic paterfamilias gets us, and it isn’t good. Bring on the corporate bureaucrats.

  31. Incurian says:

    Speaking of Heinlein, I happened to listen to the audiobooks of To Sail Beyond The Sunset and Job: A Comedy of Justice (I have read/listened to them both a lot, but this is the first time I’d heard them back to back) recently, and now I have a weird theory about Sharpie’s Eschatological Pantheistic Multiple-Ego Solipsism. Specifically, it’s wrong. There is a line in Job where Alex wonders how many worlds there might be (or something, I forget exactly what it was that made it click for me), and I realized Heinlein was hinting the multiple worlds of the Lazarus Long series were created by the artist-gods, rather than through mutual fiction. Maureen never believed in Sharpie’s theory, and it troubled her so much that she pursued a degree in philosophy to get to the bottom of it. We should regard Maureen’s opinion highly, Heinlein clearly liked her. This also means the “number of the beast” literally refers to Satan (at least partly).

  32. Odovacer says:

    There’s been a bit of pushback against using the GRE in grad school admissions. Most schools use it, but a number of schools are considering dropping it or at the very least making it optional.

    The people who want to drop it state that it doesn’t measure what they want, it keeps under-represented minorities out, and it’s too expensive.

    I think the GRE, and standardized can be very useful. They offer a “fair” way to assess students, one that doesn’t depend on potential different teaching standards between regions (like GPA might). They also let people in without the best pedigrees or networks. Not everyone can do (unpaid) research at a prestigious lab, or get a letter of recommendation from THE Dr. Jones. The general GRE is ~$160 and lasts a few hours. While that’s not the cheapest thing, it’s certainly more affordable in terms of opportunity costs than doing months or school years of (often unpaid) research.

    In it’s absence I suspect that pedigree and letters of recommendation will weigh more heavily in grad school admissions. I don’t think the GRE is perfect, but recent criticism of it is a bit overblown.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In it’s absence I suspect that pedigree and letters of recommendation will weigh more heavily in grad school admissions.

      Another advantage for glib networking types over introverted technical types. Just what this world needs.

    • albatross11 says:

      The nice thing about having a test for admissions is that it’s an objective number. It seems like other parts of the admissions decision are much more subjective, which allows prejudice of various kinds to come in. Assuming our goal is to let the most capable people in, we should care about prejudice, even when it’s prejudice against people from lower-class backgrounds or outgroup cultures rather than prejudice against blacks or women.

      So when I hear proposals to do away with the test, I interpret them as proposals to make the admissions process more driven by choosing members of the admissions’ committees’ ingroup instead of outgroup, getting a good “cultural fit,” rather than getting the smartest kids.

      I also, cynically, think the likely driver here is a desire to decrease the fraction of Asians in some of these graduate programs. Since Asians outperform whites on this kind of test, and since the US has been importing a really smart subset of Asians for decades now, making admissions just determined by a test is a good way to end up with like 60% of your entering grad students being Asian, 30% being white, and maybe 10% reserved for affirmative-action admissions of blacks and hispanics who will mostly be way, way outclassed. (At least, if you think the test correlates with anything you care about.)

    • Brad says:

      They offer a “fair” way to assess students, one that doesn’t depend on potential different teaching standards between regions (like GPA might).

      The fairness critique is a category error for a matching problem. Unfortunately that’s very difficult for a certain type of person whose entire upbringing lead him to equate academic success with self worth to understand or accept. So we see it over and over again.

      • Odovacer says:

        I’m not sure I’m following you here. Can you elaborate?

        • Brad says:

          What does the GRE measure and why should oberlin’s English department particularly care about that when deciding which graduate student to take? The selected student is going to spend thousands of hours working with a particular professor. Raw intelligence may be a threshold question but this is essentially a question of fit. And for that fairness isn’t really an applicable question.

          People that did well on the gre (or suspect they would) think that fairness means giving people that did well on the gre things they want. This is natural but not defensible.

          • albatross11 says:

            The question is, what’s going to be the alternative mechanism for filtering down the applicants to a manageable number? If you go from GRE to an in-depth personal review of the applicant’s resume and transcript, you might get better results, but you probably don’t have the manpower to do that. If you just filter on GPA and reputation of schools to get the top N candidates to spend more resources evaluating, you’re probably going to get worse results.

          • Matt M says:

            If you go from GRE to an in-depth personal review of the applicant’s resume and transcript, you might get better results, but you probably don’t have the manpower to do that.

            I don’t know about GRE or English departments.

            But my employer has found that GMAT score is still the best predictor of work success. Including interviews, resume reviews, etc. That doesn’t make it a perfect predictor. Just the best one.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11
            Worse in what sense? Do you assume that the preferences of the professors of the Oberlin English department will be less satisfied by the outcomes of procedure b vs procedure a, or are you instead thinking of some platonic universal metric on which the results will be worse?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Forget the English department, they could do whatever they like, and it wouldn’t be skin off anyone’s back but their own.

            The original post linked an article about admissions into biomedical degrees. It’s more troublesome when standardized test scores are removed as a consideration when admitting candidates for a science or engineering degree. Scientists and engineers can be much more harmful to people through incompetence than an English Professor. GREs are better correlated with future performance than most anything else on an app, and there is more evidence for their relation to future performance than recommendation letters or essays.

            Ideally, a work sample from candidates that matched what they’d be doing would be great, but since that’s not going to happen, better to have GREs as an input than not. You always have your letters and transcripts on top to help narrow down the field (after all, there may be a legitimate argument for not admitting someone to study PhD physics who never took a physics course in their life) and a “culture fit” can be determined separately from qualifications if needed.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            I’m assuming that filtering on school reputation + GPA will do a worse job of getting clever people into their program than filtering on GRE + school reputation + GPA. I also think a likely outcome of eliminating the standardized test will be to become less open to non-politically-mandated diversity, like kids from rural backgrounds who went to state universities, or nontraditional students.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The GRE is definitely useful, but from what I understand it’s useful mainly as a low-cost (to the school) screening tool. Sorting applicants by GRE score and throwing out the lowest X% is a way to save time that would otherwise be wasted on obviously unsuitable candidates.

      Removing the GRE won’t remove the need for a quick screen but it will likely hurt people like me who came from state schools. My undergrad had a reasonably good reputation for research but it wasn’t the state flagship school and not everyone is familiar with it even in the research community. If the screen changes from “how do you score on this pseudo-IQ test?” to “how big was your undergrad’s endowment?” then guys like me are seriously fucked.

      The point of tests like the SAT and GRE was originally to find “diamonds in the rough” out in the hinterlands instead of relying solely on HYP legacies for everything. Changing things back to the way they were but with a few more new money black families added to the upper crust is a huge step backwards.

    • johan_larson says:

      Is the GRE actually all that useful as a discriminator for admission? My impression is that everyone who is a credible candidate for a graduate program worth attending blows it clean out of the water and the decisions that matter get made on the basis of more subjective factors. At best, the GRE is a first filter, getting rid of the truly unqualified.

      • andrewflicker says:

        That’s correct- but if you don’t have that filter, then either the schools find a different (possibly worse) first filter, or they start accepting some “truly unqualified” candidates.

    • gbdub says:

      Cynically, I assume the actual reason to drop the GRE is that Masters programs are cash cows (students are more likely to be paying full freight than undergrads or PhD candidates), and dropping the GRE allows schools to expand their admissions without making it obvious that they’ve lowered their standards. Plus it’s one more annoying hoop to jump through, so if you don’t need to take it you’re more likely to poke around grad school as an option if you don’t get a good job offer after undergrad, or if you want to add a Masters to your resume while you’re working.

    • Protagoras says:

      Different fields are different, but the philosophy departments I was familiar with put great weight on writing samples. Though they may have used GREs as a smell test of “is this really the work of this person, as opposed to possibly undetected plagiarism.” If so, presumably letters of recommendation served a similar function, and perhaps would be given more weight in that role if the GRE were given less weight.

    • Chalid says:

      My background was a physics PhD. For those programs, the math GRE maxes out at way too low a difficulty level – anybody looking for a PhD ought to get a very high score – and the other parts aren’t terribly relevant. So I’d say it has nearly zero value there.

      The subject GRE has a bit more value, but (at least when I took it) it was primarily a test of whether you can do a lot of fairly easy problems quickly and accurately under time pressure, which is not at all the situation facing a PhD student.

      From what I was told, my program used it as a filter. You could tank your chances by doing exceptionally badly, but you could not distinguish yourself by doing better than average.

    • quaelegit says:

      Oh man, the pictures really add to this post! I didn’t realize how many photographs there were of the battle — particularly the colored photographs.

      Some questions:

      >(As an aside, Nevada’s action report is very interesting. It starts with ‘offensive actions’ and ‘damage to the enemy’, and then goes on to discuss damage to Nevada, in contrast to the other battleship’s action reports.)

      What is the significance of the report section ordering? Wondering why it’s ‘interesting’, b/c to rather clueless me it doesn’t mean much that the report was ordered slightly differently.

      >[Re: the California] the initial action report claims three torpedo hits, but more modern sources have reduced this to two.

      Do you know/why did modern sources re-evaluate the number?

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah, the military seems to have used a lot of color photography, as well as color film, in WWII (because it conveyed more information?) But a lot of it was converted to black and white before most people saw it (for reasons of cost of making the prints? security? a little of each?) I’m kind of curious about the phenomenon, as my various questions suggest.

      • bean says:

        What is the significance of the report section ordering? Wondering why it’s ‘interesting’, b/c to rather clueless me it doesn’t mean much that the report was ordered slightly differently.

        The impression I got was that Nevada was much more concerned with what they did to the enemy than any of the other ships. They were trying to fight back, not just concerned with how badly they were damaged. Keep in mind that the ship was sunk, and they didn’t shoot down that many planes in absolute terms. And yet they lead the report with “look what we did to the other guy”. It shows spirit, which was impressive.

        Do you know/why did modern sources re-evaluate the number?

        Not off the top of my head, as this was written months ago. If you want to dig more, there’s a lot of stuff on the attack at history.navy.mil and Hyperwar. The action reports were written on poor evidence available at the time.

  33. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I found some irony in a New York Times story I just read, “Violence Against Transgender People Is On the Rise, Say Advocates“. It opens with the discovery of a murdered transgender woman whom the police initially “misidentified as a man”. That is, the police were mistaken to identify the (presumably-male) corpse that they found as a man, because it belonged to someone who identified as a woman. Society places a high premium, nowadays, on letting people identify themselves, rather than labelling them against their will.

    The irony came towards the end, in a quotation from Sarah McBride, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign: “We know that when transphobia mixes with misogyny and racism, it can often have fatal consequences,” Ms. McBride, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, said. How can these hate crimes be motivated by both transphobia and misogyny? Do people with a murderously violent hatred of m-to-f transsexuals regard them as women?

    Of course, murderers are murderers, and it may seem like a picayune wrong to impugn them with an extra motive or two, but to my mind, this illustrates that when it comes to one’s ideological opponents, the belief that people should be allowed to identify themselves goes out the window. I’ve never yet met anyone who self-identifies as a misogynist, but from hearing people talk about them, I’d think that misogynists constituted an enormous cultural subgroup. Yet the characterizations of one’s opponents can be misleading…

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Re: another thread, it seems to me that incel/foreveralone is a misogynist subgroup in our culture. Luckily they seem to be an internet phenomenon blown out of proportion by the outgroup.

    • Zorgon says:

      Gotta love them mixing in racism, considering that Stephanie Montez appears to have been murdered by non-whites (like the large majority of trans women of colour murders).

    • hyperboloid says:

      How can these hate crimes be motivated by both transphobia and misogyny?

      Homophobia, and hatred of male to female transsexuals are often deeply bound up with misogyny. Many men who believe that for women sex is always a shameful act of of submission think that a man who willingly takes on a feminine sexual role has shamed himself, and become a legitimate target for violence. It’s the sort of attitude that allows men who rape other men in prison to see their victims as f*ggots, while believing that their own masculinity remains intact.

      It’s very hard to judge how many misogynists there are, as men who hold hateful, and dehumanizing often don’t advertise it publicly. It likely varies a lot across cultures, and many misogynists hide their attitudes behind a screen of traditional patriarchal values.

      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        Homophobia, and hatred of male to female transsexuals are often deeply bound up with misogyny. Many men who believe that for women sex is always a shameful act of of submission think that a man who willingly takes on a feminine sexual role has shamed himself, and become a legitimate target for violence. It’s the sort of attitude that allows men who rape other men in prison to see their victims as f*ggots, while believing that their own masculinity remains intact.

        OK, that’s an interesting theory. I’d be interested in knowing the evidence for it; would you be able to direct me that way?

        One obvious test of the thesis that transphobia+misogyny particularly leads to violent crimes would be to find out whether male-to-female transsexuals are violently assaulted at a significantly higher rate than female-to-male transsexuals. I’ll Google around to see if I can find any relevant statistics.

        Edit: OK, some quick/superficial research later, I found this, a list of transgendered people murdered in the U. S. in 2016, of which 21 were transwomen and 3 were transmen, if I counted correctly (one identified as “femandrogyne”), along with this NYT article, indicating that, by a very rough estimate, around 2/3 of transgendered people are transwomen. So it seems clear that a highly disproportionate number of transsexual homicide victims are indeed transmen.

        • John Schilling says:

          Lists of transgender murder victims are overwhelmingly mtf transsexuals. They are also heavily dominated by prostitutes killed while plying their trade or by unsolved murders that look like prostitutes killed while plying their trade, so good luck sorting out gender biases in perception of transsexuals from the massive gender biases in the prostitution industry. If we knew for sure which of the unsolved murders were prostitutes we could exclude or correct for that factor. Maybe the best we can do is look for murders or violent assaults that were solved and are known not to have involved prostitution.

        • C. Y. Hollander says:

          are indeed transwomen

          is what I meant to write. Darn typo reversed the meaning!

          @John, that’s a good point, and that sort of thing is why I’m still wary of broad psychological assertions people make about others who aren’t in their camp. Still, the most basic statistics are a starting point, if nothing else, and it’s good to know some of the basis for those assertions.

      • Aapje says:

        @hyperboloid<