THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT93: Giant Threadwood

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. Jeremiah is running a free SSC podcast. It’s already got all the latest articles, and is gradually catching up on some of the older ones. Get it from Stitcher, LibSyn, or iTunes.

2. People who answered the Patreon-related questions on the survey overwhelmingly preferred that it be switched to per-month rather than per-post (I can present this in more depth later). I’ve changed it, but this has decreased my blog-related income by ~80% (everyone’s old per-post donation is now applied only once per month, instead of once for each of the five to ten posts per month). If you’re a Patreon supporter, I would really appreciate it if you went to the Patreon site and adjusted your donation accordingly.

I’ve previously downplayed this, saying that Patreon donations wouldn’t change my output, but this is no longer entirely true – I’m more able to choose how many hours I work now, and support levels might make me shift some marginal hours from work to blogging. Note that I have enough money and you definitely should not donate if you are at all financially strapped or funging against useful charities.

3. Comment of the week is Actinide Meta giving an update on the Paul Marik sepsis study – basically, the US version has gotten hopelessly bogged down in cost overruns, so Actinide wants to help run a cheaper faster version in South Africa. They’re seeking “one or more people with either clinical trials or critical care experience who are willing to take some time to read a proposal and ask questions”.

4. David Friedman is holding another South Bay SSC meetup on Saturday, January 27th, starting at 3 P.M. Location is the usual: 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA.

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775 Responses to OT93: Giant Threadwood

  1. fossilizedtreeresin says:

    Anyone have recommendations about good books/research about childhood emotional neglect? All I could find by my self is “running on empty” which seems very pop-psychology to my untrained eye.

    • alwhite says:

      Unfortunately there is very little research on emotional neglect. The theoretical base is attachment theory. You might find some things there.

      I haven’t read this article but I generally trust The Trauma Center.
      http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/Treating_Adult_Survivors_Childhood_Emotional_Abuse_Neglect_G0003.pdf

    • Drain says:

      My favorite pop psych book about childhood neglect is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. You won’t find many statistics outside the preface and appendix, but the stories gave me a poignant sense of what true neglect is and what outcomes and treatment can look like in those extreme cases. The author also really knows his stuff.

    • fossilizedtreeresin says:

      @alwhite

      @Drain

      Thanks, I’ll be sure to check those out!

    • ajar says:

      I don’t know of any but I’m interested in finding books on childhood neglect caused by being raised by parent(s) with Aspergers. I’ve already found some websites that cater to children of autistic parents, but I’d enjoy seeing a deeper analysis on the effects of this unintentional negligence.

  2. Carl says:

    Re 3: I work in South Africa, specifically on encouraging collaboration between USA / RSA, and my personal research is in infectious disease. I have some experience with trials (on the theory side) and probably know some of the right players.

    Which is to say — I’d love to help. I’m completely new to wordpress, however – what’s the best way to turn this into one-on-one discussion? I left a similar comment directly against the one you linked.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’ve reached out to Carl. Anyone else interested in helping, please see the other thread; let’s keep that discussion there for the sake of sanity.

  3. WashedOut says:

    Hypothesis: the SSC community would make good contenders for the “5 levels of complexity” challenge.

    In the spirit of this youtube series where people are tasked with explaining a concept at 5 levels of complexity, I thought i’d bring the challenge here and see what came up.

    The basic idea is to take a concept you know a lot about and try to explain it to:
    1. a little kid
    2. a teenager
    3. an undergrad student of that discipline
    4. a postgrad student (or early-career professional) in that discipline
    5. an expert in the field

    so that each category of person ‘understands’ (on some meaningful level) what you are talking about. At levels 4 and 5 the focus would presumably shift from understanding to ‘shedding new light’ or similar. I’ll flag right now that I don’t think the link above is the perfect example of this (and the one on blockchain is much much worse). I think we can do better.

    I’ll give this a go myself later, but for now who’s game? To ‘prime the pump’, some requests: Blockchain, Deadweight Burden of Taxation, Hormones, Tort Law vs. Criminal Law.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Here’s my crack at levels 1 – 4 on the topic of anaerobic wastewater treatment:

      1. There’s a big tank with so many tiny bugs in it. What is waste to us is food to them, so when wastewater goes into the tank they eat it. But they fart a lot when they eat so it smells bad (if it’s not covered); and we can light the gas it makes on fire.
      2. Animals need oxygen to live, right? But some bacteria can survive in the absence of oxygen. Those bacteria can break down organic matter–and wastewater is full of organic matter–into a gas that is similar to the natural gas that fuels the furnace in your basement. Under the right conditions, we can make these bacteria work for us and turn waste into energy.
      3. You probably have a buddy that does home-brew, or maybe you’ve toured a craft brewery. Anaerobic wastewater treatment has some parallels to brewing. In brewing, yeast convert sugars to alcohol. In anaerobic wastewater treatment, a wide variety of microorganisms can convert a wide variety of organic matter to biogas (which is primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide). In both cases, we can obtain a useful byproduct from the microorganisms’ metabolism by feeding them substances they can digest and maintaining an optimal environment in terms of temperature, pH, and other factors.
      4. One of the main constituents that needs to be removed from wastewater before it can be discharged is organic matter, which is measured as biological or chemical oxygen demand (BOD or COD). Conventionally, COD is removed by aerating the wastewater in an activated sludge system. However, transferring oxygen into water takes a lot of energy (and thus expense). If the COD concentration is high enough (the exact point depends on the wastewater temperature, alkalinity, and many site-specific factors), it can be more economical to treat it anaerobically. Anaerobic treatment has a number of steps (which can occur simultaneously in a single process vessel): hydrolysis of organic matter into small, soluble molecules; acidogenesis/acetogenesis converts miscellaneous soluble organic matter into volatile fatty acids, ultimately acetate; finally methanogenesis converts acetate into methane and carbon dioxide which comprise biogas. No single microorganism can perform all of these steps, so the process conditions have to be carefully balanced to a point where the key groups can both thrive. Because anaerobic microorganisms grow more slowly than aerobic microorganisms, anaerobic wastewater treatment systems have longer retention times and require careful engineering to retain biomass in the system.

      (my answer for #5 would include the terms “consortium”, “redox”, “terminal electron acceptor”, etc.).

      Btw, I think this is a great question and I look forward to reading your effort later!

  4. Aapje says:

    Late last year, an HIV positive programmer publicly injected himself with homemade solution to do gene therapy. The treatment uses CRISPR to modify the DNA, intended to make the subject start producing N6 antibodies, which is probably effective for 98% of HIV strains. It has only been tested in mice, so this person is experimenting before any human trials have been/are being done.

    Another person did a similar kind of treatment, but one that is far more frivolous, by trying to remove the production of the protein Myostatin. This protein inhibits muscle growth and can be used to help people with muscle atrophy or to create really strong people. There is a cow species that has a naturally malfunctioning gene for producing Myostatin and it looks like me this.

    Interestingly, there are already companies that sell kits so people can multiply a sample at home, to produce enough of the treatment for injections.

    However, the bad news is that these homemade kits merely produce ‘naked DNA,’ not bound to viruses to transport the DNA into the cell. So most likely, all or almost all of the DNA will be rapidly broken down and will not enter and modify the cells. Presumably, one can use electric current to open up the cell membrane. There are electro-stimulation products for consumers, to use on muscles. Perhaps they can work, at least for the Myostatin treatment, as both are intended for muscles, although the current may be too low or the pulses too infrequent.

    So, what do you guys think, is this ‘do it yourself’ effort outside of the medical establishment actually likely to help anything, or is it mostly useless? I’m leaning towards the latter for now, at least until more effective technology is available to the general public.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like a good way to kill or cripple yourself, but then again, if you’re already dying, there’s little reason not to throw anything and everything you can at the problem.

      • Aapje says:

        Earlier gene therapy caused leukemia because the modification happened in the wrong spot, but doesn’t CRISPR prevent that problem?

        Also, if the ‘naked DNA’ doesn’t actually enter the cells, then at most one would expect an allergic reaction.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m probably a little too risk averse by nature, but this sounds kinda nuts to me, unless you’re actually dying or descending into a fate worse than death (say, advanced ALS) and so there’s little downside to risking killing yourself or giving yourself a new set of health problems.

          • Aapje says:

            Sure, but objectively speaking there are many people who have taken far greater risks:

            Dr. Stapp accelerated in 5 seconds from a standstill to 632 miles an hour. The sled then decelerated to a dead stop in 1.4 seconds, subjecting Dr. Stapp to pressures 40 times the pull of gravity.

            How did it feel? ”It’s like being assaulted in the rear by a fast freight train,” Dr. Stapp said. What did he think about as he listened to the countdown? ”I said to myself, ‘Paul, it’s been a good life,’ ” he said.

            As it turned out, he was blinded but recovered his sight in a couple of hours, ending up with two black eyes because his eyeballs had shot forward in their sockets.

            Before the ride he had worried he might become permanently blind. ”I practiced dressing and undressing with the lights out so if I was blinded I wouldn’t be helpless,” he said in a 1985 interview.

            Though he had begun to let other volunteers take many of the rides, he suffered broken ribs, hemorrhages in one eye, a concussion, an abdominal hernia, a fractured coccyx and a shattered wrist. Because of concerns about his health, the Air Force grounded him after his fastest ride, overriding protests that he be allowed to try for 1,000 m.p.h.

            Compared to that, the Myostatin guy is not even trying.

          • albatross11 says:

            Fair enough. I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to take such risks with their own health, just that I wouldn’t even consider doing so myself. (Similarly, I wouldn’t volunteer to be a test pilot, or try to climb Mt Everest. Death is easy enough to find when you don’t go looking for it.)

          • toastengineer says:

            Death is easy enough to find when you don’t go looking for it.

            Which is exactly why we might as well go out doing something interesting.

    • Murphy says:

      Re: the guy with HIV. Super high risk but makes sense if he’s set on trying for a cure. Probably still less risky than trying to get a bone marrow transplant from someone with genetic immunity to HIV.

      Re: the muscle guy: seems super stupid. Trading similar risk levels for marginal gains.

      Ad-hoc personal attempts at gene therapy are unlikely to yield many success stories but are likely to rack up a modest body count.

      If you have the expertise and you’re at extreme risk of death or massive loss of quality of life anyway it might sort of make sense to try. If some shyster miracle-man ever tries to sell you this shit in exchange for your house it’s not not wise to sign up.

      Gene therapy trials don’t have a great track record. Lots of potential but so far not a great track record.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        If it works out then muscle guy can become the shyster miracle-man, so the gains are bigger than you’re suggesting. MASSIVE GAINS.

        • Deiseach says:

          The heart is also a muscle. I’m not entirely sure mucking around with “this means all my muscles can grow SUPER BIG” is a great idea there, and a quick look on Wikipedia didn’t tell me much one way or the other but I still think it’s on the risky side.

          Best result is, as Aapje says, this homebaked solution simply means the DNA gets broken down and won’t work.

          • Nornagest says:

            Google informs me that myostatin only affects skeletal muscles, which the heart is not. If the myostatin knockout thing works, you’d effectively be giving yourself myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy, which seems pretty harmless.

            I’d be more worried about the treatment malfunctioning in some way than about it going horribly right. Murphy’s right, this is fantastically risky for what you’d be getting — but chances are it’ll just do nothing.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, biology is extremely messy, and biology research is absolutely chock full of times when someone thought they understood the effect of some gene or enzyme or whatever, altered it, and got a surprising result because of some oddball interaction they didn’t understand.

    • Well, society benefits from people trying improbable things. It’ll probably fail but on the off chance it doesn’t that’s very good for the rest of us to know. So if people want to do this sort of thing I’d actually encourage them – though they should be aware of the considerable risks.

      • That was my reaction as well. A tiny fraction of the population doing such things could still add up to a very large number of people, and a very large number of people trying experiments that probably won’t work could end up with quite a lot that do, which could produce quite a lot of useful information for the rest of us.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It doesn’t look like this has anything to do with CRISPR, which is pretty disappointing because I actually have a bit of experience with it.

      As far as I can tell from Ascendance Biomedical’s extremely sketchy website and from Tristan Roberts’ Medium posts, the plan is just to inject naked plasmid DNA into his belly fat and hope that God really does have a special providence for fools. There’s no viral vector, no electroporation of cells, not even lipofectamine as far as I can tell. So in other words this DNA will not be taken up by his cells, making it a moot point whether or not over-expressing a broadly neutralizing antibody in your fat cells would cure HIV.

      What they could have done, if they were serious about doing this, is to actually make the antibody that N6 codes for as well as a few other broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. Then inject the cocktail of antibodies subcutaneously at regular intervals. In a few minutes on Google Scholar I found a paper (doi:10.1038/nature 11604) using pretty much exactly that approach in humanized mice. Still might not work in humans but it’s got a nigh infinitely better chance of working than what he tried.

      I’m pretty sure that I know why they didn’t take this approach. Immunotherapy is a really hot field and is very challenging, while this kind of gene therapy is more primitive than what people were doing in the late nineteen nineties. If the goal is just to get media buzz this is ideal because it’s cheap and almost certainly won’t kill or injure anybody but looks to the untrained eye like a cutting edge medical treatment.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Ok so now with Josiah Zayner it looks like he’s actually trying to do a CRISPR knock out.

        Reading his website, the guy has at least a basic grasp of how CRISPR actually works which is a good sign. He even mentions the possibility of using vectors so he’s already way ahead of Ascendance Biomedical.

        One thing that he clearly doesn’t understand, however, is what cutting efficiency or transfection efficiency actually mean in practice. He says, and I quote, “you can purify alot [of plasmid DNA] easily so even if the efficiency is lower you can use more.” To put that in perspective, he’s basically saying that even though the odds of winning the lottery are very low the tickets are cheap so you can just keep buying more until you win.

        When you’re doing an actual CRISPR knockout, you need to be very conscious of the efficiency of each step. If your transfection efficiency is too low, you’re only going to have a handful of cells expressing Cas9 and your guides. If your cutting efficiency is also low then you won’t actually get enough cells with the mutations that you want. And he doesn’t have the option of just getting one or two cells and growing them up: he’s trying to do this in vivo.

        On top of that, he picked what is possibly the worst tissue in the human body to work with here. A human skeletal muscle cell has hundreds of nuclei, every one of which has two copies of the myostatin gene. So he needs somewhere on the order of several hundred mutations per cell in order to modify a single myofiber.

        This is something that would really call for RNAi rather than CRISPR. It’s a more mature system and it’s better suited for what he’s claiming that he wants to do. Just put an siRNA against myostatin into a liposome and inject it. You won’t get a true knock out, only partial knock down, but that’s good enough. Again, this has been done before and a basic literature search will turn up papers where it was successfully attempted in mice (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064719).

  5. Rachael says:

    I’ve seen comments, on the survey results thread and on the subreddit, expressing scepticism about some of the higher numbers people posted for the IQ question, saying “real IQ tests don’t go up that high.”
    I’m one of the people who posted a high number. It’s from a Mensa certificate that I got by taking a formal invigilated Mensa test at a centre I had to travel to.
    I’m not saying this to brag or to claim I’m one of the cleverest here (in fact this community is one of the few places where I feel intellectually average or below). I’m saying it to open a discussion about what constitutes a “real” IQ test, if a formal Mensa one doesn’t count.
    I know there are multiple different IQ tests (Wechsler, Stanford-Binet, etc). I’m not sure which one(s) Mensa uses/used. Are they not equivalent, particularly at the top end? Does this make the IQ question on the survey meaningless, if it doesn’t specify which one?

    • tmk says:

      I thought Mensa uses a non-standard number of IQ points per standard deviation, making scores about 100 higher.

    • Reasoner says:

      Would you mind telling us what your score was?

      • Rachael says:

        At the risk of uniquely identifying myself in the survey results, 177.

      • Rachael says:

        I’ll have to dig out the certificate from the attic and see if it specifies which test.
        I found a random website converting between them:
        http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/psychology/iq-conversion.html
        That suggests there’s a lot of variation, if it’s correct. It says 177 on Cattell would be 151 on Wechsler and 148 on Stanford-Binet. So it does look like quoting numbers is meaningless without knowing which test.

        • Lillian says:

          Both Weschler and Stanford-Binet have standard deviations of 15, and differences between the two only amount to few points at the extreme ends of the scale. Thus they are considered equivalent to each other. The Cattel has a standard deviation of 24, so its scores are not quivalent to the other two.

          Scott’s survey specified to only give results from scales that use a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. If you took a Cattell, which seems likely given your very high score, you should not have reported it.

          • Rachael says:

            I don’t know what test I took, and I believed until today that they were all equivalent.

          • Rachael says:

            I mean, in that case, it seems incorrect for the Cattell to even be called an IQ test, if it’s calibrated so differently from the others.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Rachael:
            That’s roughly analogous to saying measurements in kg aren’t measures of weight?

            Or, perhaps, it’s like saying that IQ isn’t measuring g, so make sure you aren’t using the IQ as if all of them are in the same unit of measure.

          • Rachael says:

            @HeelBearCub I wouldn’t object to it being called an “intelligence test”, just an “IQ test”. I thought a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15 were part of the definition of an IQ test. Would you also be happy to call something an IQ test if its mean were much above or below 100?

          • skef says:

            That’s roughly analogous to saying measurements in kg aren’t measures of weight?

            Ooof — bad example.

          • Brad says:

            The problem as rmls discusses below is that IQ has a messy history, and even today isn’t on as solid footing as enthusiasts would lead you to believe. Especially but not exclusively when it comes to children.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, good example. Measurements in kg are measurements of something that correlates very strongly with weight, and measurements in kgf correlate similarly with mass, such that sensible people will tend to use them as proxies for one another in all but the most precise and demanding contexts.

          • skef says:

            John Schilling: But presumably the Cattell, Wechsler, and Stanford-Binet either measure the same thing, or the extent that the Cattell measures something different than the Wechsler is about the same as the extent that the Stanford-Binet measures something different than the Wechsler. So “calibration” really is just a matter of unit difference.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @skef:

            The substitution of weight for mass was intentional. I hoped that the reference to g later would make that an easy intuitive leap.

          • albatross11 says:

            I keep thinking (as an amateur with not much background in psychometrics) that reporting IQ numbers as numbers is a bad idea, because the numbers probably don’t have the intuitive meaning you’d imagine. A person with a 160 IQ isn’t twice as smart as a person with an 80 IQ, for example, and there’s probably not any meaningful sense in which a person with a 132 IQ is 10% smarter than one with a 120 IQ.

            Reporting in terms of percentile is probably better, because it’s easier for people to think about, though you then need to give yourself more significant digits to deal with high IQs.

            Assuming mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15 (which is common but not universal among IQ tests, as I understand things), you’d get

            IQ 100 = 50th %ile
            IQ 115 = 84th %ile
            IQ 130 = 98th %ile
            IQ 145 = 99th %ile (99.87th %ile)

            And so on.

            That is, if someone says he’s got an IQ of 145, that means he claims to be in about the top 1/1000 of intelligence.

          • Brad says:

            Another issue is that the error bars get quite wide as you go out to the tails. That 145 is probably something like 135-150 for a 95th percentile confidence interval.

        • Alethenous says:

          That makes a lot more sense. There’s no way on God’s green Earth a 177 on Stanford-Binet would be below average here or pretty much anywhere.

        • Rachael says:

          OK, I found the certificate. It doesn’t say which test it used. It says “This score gives a true IQ rating” – what does that mean? One with a mean of 100 and SD of 15? Or is it meaningless marketing fluff?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There isn’t a “true” IQ rating. Because IQ isn’t (very) well defined.

            But it’s (likely) truer than various things that claim to be measuring IQ.

          • Rachael says:

            I agree, so it seems a silly thing for Mensa to put on their certificates. It would be more helpful to put the name of the test used.
            I’m even more surprised that there are only two Google hits for the phrase “This score gives a true IQ rating”. I was hoping to find some informed discussion of what it means and what test they used.

          • Reasoner says:

            Maybe you could glance over the Cattell and see if it reminds you of the test you took?

            FWIW, I scored less than 120 on iqtest.dk, and multiple friends made through in-person events have told me I seem above average relative to the community. Not sure what to make of that.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            Reasoner: Online IQ tests (and, if I recall correctly, iqtest.dk in particular) are often normed to the population of internet test-takers, and to no one’s surprise the sort of people who seek out interesting puzzles to do in their spare time are 15-20 points above the mean, so just about everyone gets at least a SD lower than they ought to on that test.

    • phisheep says:

      I am in the same boat Rachael (high number, travelling Mensa test and all). Although Scott specified an IQ test with a 15-point standard deviation, I had no way of knowing if mine was that sort, so I put down the number anyway.

      After a bit of rummaging around: my test (taken in late 1970s) was the third edition Stanford-Binet – and apparently only from the fifth edition was it standardised to a 15 point SD. I don’t know what it was before and haven’t found a way of converting between the two (though there are apparently some papers on this buried behind academic paywalls).

      It would be interesting to know what the conversion is, if there is one.

      EDIT: thinking about it a bit more I vaguely remember the Mensa acceptance level being set at about 150 for 98th percentile, which suggests it was standardised at about 25/SD. So if my maths is right that would bring my 159 down to 135, which sounds *much* more likely vis a vis SSC.

    • rlms says:

      Did you take the test as an adult?

      • Rachael says:

        Nearly. Age 15.

        • rlms says:

          Historically, IQ values for children were mental age ratios (i.e. a ten year old with an IQ of 150 has the mental age of a fifteen year old); this is presumably where the quotient part of the name comes from. I don’t know if your test was one of those, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t an ordinary one with a standard deviation of 15: that would make you one of the thousand cleverest people in the world.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      They are useful(very useful when used properly), but these things have issues. For starts, they don’t test two extremely and obviously important traits useful for the real world. 1. Rate of memory acquisition 2. Long term memory capability. They kinda sorta do in vocabulary tests, but a high score is also then dependent on leading the lifestyle necessary for it.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynomial_interpolation is one reason to be weary of many tests that proclaims itself capable of sorting out high to very high IQ’s. I see those number series frequently on “upper end” IQ tests…and its mathematically invalid and actual professional mathematicians dislike them.

      Also, one reason why these things can be invalid at the upper end…look at the LSAT. Almost once a year, a question on the test gets rescinded, with one method being a very smart person giving a very clear argument why a question has no real answer. I believe this tends to happen on the questions that inadvertently introduce probability, or can’t be converted into questions that are simply a ->b -> ~c or are just disguised pigeonhole problems( most most some).

      One issue with a single *score* is that tests with low to moderate correlations can be averaged together into in a way that..doesn’t make much sense. This has made institutions lose out on some spatial acumen useful for the engineering fields, and I believe certain types of mental traits useful for the art field.

    • rks says:

      I passed the Mensa exam in 2017 but there was no IQ numbers provided to me, just raw scores in categories of RAIT index and percentile ranks.

  6. TheEternallyPerplexed says:

    Charles Stross on lessons from history for the AI future (among other topics), his keynote speech at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress.

    “History gives us the perspective to see what went wrong in the past, and to look for patterns, and check whether those patterns apply to the present and near future. And looking in particular at the history of the past 200-400 years—the age of increasingly rapid change—one glaringly obvious deviation from the norm of the preceding three thousand centuries—is the development of Artificial Intelligence, which happened no earlier than 1553 and no later than 1844.
    I’m talking about the very old, very slow AIs we call corporations, of course. What lessons from the history of the company can we draw that tell us about the likely behaviour of the type of artificial intelligence we are all interested in today?”

    Refined text: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2018/01/dude-you-broke-the-future.html
    Lively presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmIgJ64z6Y4

    • pontifex says:

      Yes, corporations have misaligned incentives sometimes. And so might AIs. And you can kind of make an analogy that is cute for a paragraph or so.

      But ultimately it breaks down pretty quickly. Everything has misaligned incentives, because everything is Moloch. Democratic governments have incentives to do stuff that might be bad in the long run, but good in the short term for votes. Dictatorships may feature damaging contests for absolute power. And so on.

      Moloch didn’t force Elon Musk to try to go to Mars, though Or Bill Gates to donate his fortune to charity. Ultimately people are in control. Even if they are people who have to respond to (sometimes misaligned) incentives.

      Also, the stuff about Trump supporter being Nazis seems straight out of a HuffPo article. And did you know the war in Iraq was all about oil, maaaaan? All the hand-wringing about the evils of how big technology companies might crush progressive thought seems like something an old, out-of-touch boomer might write. Ultimately this makes me much less eager to read anything else the guy has written.

      • Nornagest says:

        Charlie Stross is a smart guy, but he has a bad habit of letting his politics run his thought process. He’s worth reading when he’s writing about something speculative, but every so often he gives into the temptation to write something revolving around a contemporary talking point, and it always turns out to be kinda cringey.

        • albatross11 says:

          The useful point: Corporations, bureaucracies, political systems, ecosystems, markets, etc., are all superhuman within their domain of expertise, but not conscious or very human-like in their thinking. (Or whatever we call what they do.) They aren’t exactly superhuman AIs, but they’re at least a reasonable place to learn about how superhuman but limited-in-scope AIs are likely to interact with human civilization.

          It’s a mistake to take the analogy too far, but I think it can be instructive as a way to start thinking about what it’s like to deal with something that is much smarter and more powerful than a human within its domain, but doesn’t have anything like a brain, conscience, or consciousness.

  7. LukeReeshus says:

    There was a really interesting question in the SSC survey that got me thinking, and got me wanting to open a thread about.

    It was the final one (I think) in the section about the nature of one’s disagreement with political/ideological opponents. It asked whether you thought the reason they didn’t see things the way you did—which was obviously, of course, the right way to see things—was more a consequence of their intellectual failure or their moral failure. Really, really interesting question.

    Now… I went with “moral failure.” But I wasn’t too sure about it. And I can definitely remember a time when I would have gone with “intellectual failure.” A propos, I noticed that something like 3/4 of people in the survey went with “intellectual,” while only 1/4 gave the same answer I did. So it’s a really interesting binary split—at least for me, since I find myself in its minority. Hence the reason for this thread: I’d like to suss out why we came down on different sides of it.

    My thoughts on the topic follow a very basic pattern. I became interested in the nature of reality—that is to say, in Nature—when I was around 19 years old. Carl Sagan was the cause; fill in whatever blanks you want. What I gradually noticed though over the years, and what I gradually found more interesting, even more so than Carl Sagan’s writings themselves, was how little most other people found Nature interesting. Most people couldn’t care less.

    And why not? To break things down real simple, I’ve concluded that most people don’t really care about the nature of reality. In other words, they don’t care about the truth. They don’t value it. And values are a function of morality.

    Truth, along with the intellectual and often personal courage it takes to pursue it is, I believe, a moral value [insert George Orwell quote]. And most people—including myself more often than I’d care to admit—place other values before it. They place social amity before it, they place power, they place prestige, they place solace, they place esteem, they place all kinds of things before it. And I think that prioritization of values causes our disagreements—not our mutual misunderstandings. Those are mere consequence.

    In other words, I think to claim that “intellectual failure” is behind people’s disagreements is to imagine that we’re all humble children thirsty for knowledge—that our ignorance and confusion and animosity towards each other is fundamentally innocent. I don’t that’s the case. I think we all suck—morally.

    I’d like to hear your guys’* thoughts though on the topic though. Like I said above, I’m not too sure about it.

    *Take it easy… “Guys” can be a gender-neutral plural pronoun.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I put “moral” because any intellectual failings don’t amount to much against you unless you have moral failings behind them, i.e., refusing to learn things. You can be totally dumb and provincial and absorb things slower than average and still become a decent person with your heart in the right place if you are intellectually honest. It’s only when you compound ignorance with bracketing off realms of knowledge that you’re truly in trouble. My first indication the sort of Christians I grew up around were full of shit was the failure to even engage with the movies I saw or the music I listened to, but this also extends to like, people who think we’re better off just bombing Osama and never trying to learn what Wahhabbism/Qutbism says, or that looking into climate science is falling for hogwash, or communists who didn’t want to dig into realms that might contradict historical materialism. If someone doesn’t see things the same way I do, but is clearly familiar with and is honest about all factors involved, I just think it’s a matter of different (probably bad) taste/intuition, but if someone won’t engage and is content with that, they are the enemy, because I can’t ever get a toehold for any new strategy of argumentation from that position. Obviously my preference is for people on my side who make good points, but I prefer spending time busting balls of opponents of mine who are at least willing to give and take and admit in good faith when they’re mistaken than spend time talking to people on either side who are given to doctrinairism

      Imagine the chair from the Matrix is real, and without limit, we can upload knowledge into your head at the push of the button – I am one who takes it all, radical feminism, tradcath/reactionary stuff, tribal theories of governance obsolete for 5000 years, Ukrainian basket weaving, I don’t care, I’m better off for it, and all the intellectual failings are really the moral failings of people in the chair who would refuse. People who are “merely stupid” would be enraptured by the thought of catching up to everyone in a few hours.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        I hope this question doesn’t come across as accusatory, because that isn’t at all my intent. But why would a failure to “engage” movies or music you enjoy signal in any way that these Christians were “full of shit”? If we’re talking about real ideas then they might reasonably prefer to deal with them in media where greater rigor is possible, like books or journal articles. If we’re just talking about a dislike of popular culture (or some niche culture — I obviously don’t know your taste in music) then I’m even more at a loss how you think this bears on the question.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Failure to engage means you’re full of shit because you can’t have a valid strong opinion on those sorts of things from a place of ignorance. No books or journal articles, even written by the very brightest critics or analysts, can convey 10% of the qualia of listening to a piece of music or watching a movie.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            Thanks for responding. I disagree though. Life is too short to engage every work of art that is presented to us. Each of us must of necessity make choices about what we choose to “engage” as you put it, and it makes sense to use heuristics like what sorts of things you have enjoyed or not enjoyed in the past. If you insisted that I must listen to some particular song, then I might well do it because you seem like an intelligent and insightful person, and because a three-minute investment isn’t too large. But none of us could ever watch every two-hour movie someone insisted was important or we’d get nothing else done.

            Edit: Now it would indeed be a problem for me to claim extremely certain opinions about something I had not adequately investigated, but that strikes me as a separate issue. The problem there is not the failure to “engage” but rather the separate holding of an unwarranted belief.

          • Failure to engage means you’re full of shit because you can’t have a valid strong opinion on

            Your original post referred to “the failure to even engage with the movies I saw or the music I listened to.” Did you intend “holding strong opinions about while failing to engage with”?

            Even that doesn’t justify your “full of shit.” I expect many, perhaps a majority, of those commenting here are confident that a workable stateless society, at least under modern circumstances, is unworkable. But only a few people have tried to engage with the argument to the contrary.

            One reason not to engage with a position is that you are sure enough it is wrong that you don’t think it’s worth the time and effort. That depends in part on whether people you respect hold the position.

          • DavidS says:

            @DavidFriedman

            That reminds me of a quote I recently came across by another David

            “Does a man of sense run after every silly tale of hobgoblins or fairies, and canvass particularly the evidence? I never knew anyone, that examined and deliberated about nonsense who did not believe it before the end of his enquiries.” (David Hume)

            I find this interesting because I think lots of people (especially in New Atheist circles I used to frequent online) think they’ve ‘debunked’ various religious/’magical/fringe theories when they haven’t even understood them. But I also think that it’s legitimate not to try to expend lots of effort trying to understand them (my point of disagreement with the New Atheist schtick is that I think if you haven’t tried to understand them you shouldn’t pretend that you do, a la Dawkins thinking he’s refuted Aquinus)

    • Aapje says:

      @LukeReeshus

      The problem with declaring the rejection of ‘the right way to think’ to be a moral failure is that the way that many people think prevents them from realizing the actual downsides of their way of thinking and the upsides of a more rational way of thinking. Due to their intellectual failures, they can’t actually see the consequences of their way of thinking with decent clarity, which jeopardizes their moral decision making, even if their intent is fairly good (which it generally is).

      So intellectual failure is still at the root of it, although that often results in choices that are immoral from the point of view of a person who doesn’t make as many intellectual mistakes.

    • gbdub says:

      I’ve concluded that most people don’t really care about the nature of reality. In other words, they don’t care about the truth. They don’t value it.

      I think you’re making a very huge leap between those two sentences – just because someone isn’t interested in a Carl Sagan type discussions about the nature of reality (or the reality of nature) doesn’t mean they don’t care about truth.

      The values you list coming before “truth” are mostly social dynamics, sure. But social dynamics are real too (sometimes irrational is not the same as fake), and frankly much more practical than how many flavors of quark there are.

      Basically you’re equating a lack of interest in fundamental physics to a moral failure, and that seems unfair.

      • LukeReeshus says:

        Basically you’re equating a lack of interest in fundamental physics to a moral failure, and that seems unfair.

        If you think Carl Sagan’s primary thrust concerns “fundamental physics,” you need to read more Carl Sagan. But that wasn’t really my point anyway. That was just background.

        In reading these comments, I’ve noticed that people who answered “intellectual failure” read the binary question in these terms: do people disagree with you because they’re confused or because they’re evil? Obviously, the high-minded and charitable answer is “confused.” Which is what I would have gone with. After all, I don’t think most people are evil, or even malevolent (most of the time). Most people are simply confused. But why are they confused? That’s more the question I was trying to get at.

        So this topic, like most topics, would be easier with examples. I’ll use JayT’s from below:

        Most of the time it’s just a matter of looking at things at a very surface-level without spending any time digging into reasons they may be wrong. Eg…“drugs are bad, let’s make them illegal”. Basically only looking at what is seen, and ignoring what is unseen.

        That word, ignore, is crucial to this issue. After all, there are two types of ignorance. One is innocent—it’s simply the state of not knowing something. For example, I am ignorant of how many moons Jupiter has (perhaps I should re-visit my Carl Sagan books). I know it’s a lot, but I can’t put a specific number on it. And that’s okay, since I’m not a jovianologist.

        The other type of ignorance is less innocent—the word ignore really factors in here. So let’s take it back to the example of drug prohibition. If we were to consider it an “intellectual failure,” it would imply, I think, that prohibitionists are good-natured, open-minded citizens who want to mitigate the harms of drugs in society, but have mistakenly chosen an ineffective and counterproductive policy to do so simply because they haven’t thought through all the other possibilities. So that’s one take.

        On the other hand, if we were to consider it a “moral failure,” it would imply that prohibitionists are paranoid, fearful busybodies who would rather keep their neighbors sober at gunpoint than allow them to explore altered states of consciousness. And for what reason? Preserving a stable social milieu? That reason is often given. But that’s Orwellian-speak. The real reason is children. Parents are so deranged by the imagined ability of these chemicals to seduce and twist their children’s pliant little minds that they’re willing to devote billions of tax dollars to eradicate them from the planet*—somehow never realizing that black markets are always more accessible to youth than regulated ones. I mean, the logic-fail there just boggles the mind. It’s clearly motivated. And it’s motivated for moral reasons.

        *Seriously, in 1998, a special session of the U.N. vowed in their Political Declaration on Global Drug Control to “develop strategies with a view to eliminating [sic] or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy by the year 2008.”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I put “moral failure” because I had just read Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”, about how progressives speak as though there are only two moral values while other people have six.
      He could be wrong, though. I like the term “forces of darkness” because it can imply either evil or lack of enlightenment. 😀

    • Deiseach says:

      I picked “intellectual” because “moral” can be interpreted to mean “They know I’m right, they know this is the good, proper and only way to think/act, the only reason they reject it is because they are bad/wicked/evil”.

      I do think there are factors of personality as well as raw brain power that make it easier/harder to accept some ideas, so that maybe has an overlap on the moral side. And of course culture war topics tend to have a basis in morality as well as everything else, so it’s very tempting to go “Bad morals!” about the other side. But then they would equally say “Bad morals!” about my opinion on the matter, so I think it’s possible to disagree based on (e.g.) “informed conscience” terms if something is acceptable/permissible or not, and that does not mean the other person is acting out of bad motives or bad morals; they may be mistaken but genuinely mistaken because they came to their conclusions via faulty reasoning (and not because “I don’t want to call this sin because I like doing this and I will go on committing sin even if you say it’s wrong”).

      Ethics is hard 🙂

    • Scott says:

      I skipped that question, because I don’t see different priors / core beliefs as failures. Learning how socially constructed my own moral beliefs are has really weakened the normative imperative I feel around enforcing them on others. The beliefs I currently hold true are simply the current winners in a Darwinian contest of culture, not necessarily the right or best answers.

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      I’m disapointed there wasn’t an ALL OF THE ABOVE for when you just attribute their diagreement to raw infiriorty.

      Their intellectual inferiorty wouldn’t stop them from coming to the correct moral/political conclusions if they weren’t morally inferior and ACTUALLY GAVE A SHIT.
      And they’re incapable of giving a shit and not being hypocrites, because they’re too intellectually inferior to understand what giving a shit or being intellectually consistent would actually entail.

      They’re too stupid to come to correct conclusions without effort, they’re to morally inferior to exhert that effort.
      And they’re so far gone as to not even realise such a hypothetical person might exhert such effort.

      Where’s the option for when you don’t attribute enough moral or intellectual capacity to your opponent to get anything correct?

      now I’m not saying i attribute this to anyone! I just want to make sure my hatred is perfected for when i do decide to hate someone.

      and I’m kind enough to share my techniques for optimum hatred with my favourite intellectual community 🙂

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Is it an intellectual failing, moral failing, or both to have numerous spelling and capitalization errors in one’s internet rants on intellectual and moral inferiority? 😉

    • JayT says:

      I went with the intellectual failing choice, because I think that’s the most common reason for people coming to conclusions that disagree with mine. That’s not to say they are dumb. Most of the time it’s just a matter of looking at things at a very surface-level without spending any time digging into reasons they may be wrong. Eg, “poor people need more money, we should raise the minimum wage” or “drugs are bad, let’s make them illegal”. Basically only looking at what is seen, and ignoring what is unseen. Also in this category are people that have a set of beliefs because they were handed down from their parents or peer group. These people can’t really articulate why they believe what they believe, they just know it’s right.

      That said, I also know many people that I disagree with who, if I were thinking of them, I would answer with “I can’t be sure of my beliefs” because they have obviously put a lot of thought into their stances. In these cases I can’t be 100% sure that they aren’t correct. I assume that they are probably right about a good number of things, and I am wrong about those things.

      Thirdly, I think there are also people who I would have answered with the moral failure option. I think a lot of NIMBYs fall into this category–they know that building more houses would make life easier for a lot of people, but they don’t want to hurt their property value, so they fight it.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree with this. I would describe the phenomena as “intellectual failure to grasp the Law of Unintended Consequences.”

    • bassicallyboss says:

      I had a lot of difficulty on that question.

      My first thought was “Intellectual, obviously.” Most people have similar terminal values to me (even the ones who claim not to), and so the reason we disagree on policy is that we have done different kinds and amounts of analysis about the best ways to achieve them. I feel bad calling their efforts an “intellectual failing”, but I suppose that if I didn’t think mine were better, I wouldn’t hold my beliefs.

      Then again, I thought, many people don’t seem interested in actually finding out the best way to achieve their terminal values, in the sense of considering other strategies, considering that they might be wrong, etc. I believe that this disinterest in actually finding the best answer is the root cause of nearly all ideological and political disagreement. Which is to say, I would love to live in a world where my biggest frustration with ideological opponents was their lack of rigor. Thus, their failings are clearly moral.

      Ultimately, I remembered reading the Sequences. The vast masses who repost political memes generally don’t bother to question their assumptions, but they largely get their opinions, ultimately, from thinkers who do. And if they get it wrong, I don’t think it’s because they haven’t put in the work. It’s that thinking about politics and ideology in a results-oriented manner is genuinely very difficult, and most are not only untrained in how to do it, they’re unaware that any training might exist. Perhaps their efforts are just perfunctory virtue signalling, but it seems to be earnest signalling. If you could convince them that tools to reach better conclusions were necessary, available, and not a trick, I expect they would use them.

      Therefore I answered “intellectual”. Though I retained some reservations, “Moral failure” seemed too possible to read as “My opponents are motivated by irredeemable evil” for me to to endorse.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Most people have similar terminal values to me (even the ones who claim not to)

        I am late to the thread and so you may not even see this, but I’d be very interested to know how you came to this conclusion.

        Speaking for myself, I have a hard time understanding what my own terminal values are. I’m not sure humans have terminal values as I understand the term. They have values, and at any given moment these values will be duking it out for ascendancy, but none will win consistently. Some of these values are shared with lizards and planaria, and some we have sort of deduced by forming generalities about how we feel about things that happen frequently and then extending those feelings to corner cases like the trolley problem, giving us values that we may not quite like but that we feel obliged to adhere to because the alternative seems to be inconsistency.

        To the extent that I do feel like I understand my own values, I see very little reason to supposed that most humans, or even most Americans, share them. Even relatives and dear friends often react to circumstances in ways that would seem insane if they shared my values. It would require a level of intellectual failure that seems entirely implausible given what I know about their ability to make their way through life without drooling on their shirts. I can conclude only that they just have different notions of right and wrong; if I believe my own notions are the correct ones, then they are suffering from moral failure.

        My best guess is that you are reasoning about the terminal values of humans using some kind of external view — we are closely related and evolved from a common ancestor not so very long ago, and so we must be pretty alike. If so, that’s a decent argument and I can’t point to the flaw in it; my only counter is that it is contradicted by the facts on the ground.

    • Tenacious D says:

      The survey gave two options, related to the True and the Good. What about the Beautiful? I’m curious if anyone think’s that their political/ideological opponents’ disagreement stems from their aesthetic failings.

      • bassicallyboss says:

        Aesthetics is often the grounds for my disagreement with my opponents, but I find it’s rarely the sole grounds. Rather, aesthetics tends to be where I disagree with my allies.

      • Naimalj Khan says:

        I put down ‘moral’, because I think the side of the culture war I’m not on has a lot of high-profile people in it who are just there because it happens to be the outlet for apolitical but immoral drives that they have. (This wasn’t the case twenty years ago, and the people like that who agree with me are still immoral.)

        If I were to answer about the standard average follower of that side, rather than its memetic vanguard, it’d be an aesthetic difference. And probably the reason I answered about its memetic vanguard is that that option wasn’t available.

    • blacktrance says:

      IIRC I put down “moral failure”, but it was a difficult choice. Here’s one way to think about it:
      1. Everyone in the world acquires your empirical beliefs – whatever you believe within the social sciences, natural sciences, etc, as well as more day-to-day questions – but maintains their current values.
      2. Everyone adopts your values but maintains their current empirical beliefs.
      Overall, would people agree with you more in 1 or in 2?

    • Morgan says:

      I said “moral”, but I’m super uncomfortable with the wording of the question. The options basically boil down to “my opponents are stupid” or “my opponents are evil” and I’m not okay with either of those.

      I don’t think either of those is true, but the former is less true – there are generally people on both sides of most debates who are demonstrably pretty smart and are thinking critically about the issue, and people who are not smart (either generally, or just not thinking intelligently/bothering to learn about this specific thing).

      By contrast, at least some people who disagree with me are, if we dig down far enough, generally starting from a different set of beliefs. Either they have different sets of things that they believe are “good”/”bad”, or they have a very different system structurally.
      I suppose it’s not unreasonable to describe that as “failing”, if “succeeding” is “having the right moral code” (and I assume mine is right – which I’d rather not commit to; it’s the best I’ve got but I’m agnostic on whether it’s the best around), but “moral failing” to me implies “failure to abide by a code” rather than “failure to have the right code”, and that’s not what’s happening.

      There’s a HELL of a lot of middle ground, in that I may well disagree with people who I share fundamental moral values with because we’ve come to different intellectual conclusions – either because one of us is smarter or because we’re using different data: but those conflicts are ones that at least in theory can be resolved by discussion. If we both agree that x is good, but you think y will maximize x and I think not-y will maximize x, then we can ideally share our reasoning and work out which of us is more likely to be right (intellectual disagreement). If I think x is good and you think x is bad (moral disagreement), then we’re more fundamentally opposed. Even if we both have perfect information about whether y will maximize x, we’re going to come to opposite conclusions as to whether that means we should do y.

      So, ultimately: I’ll call moral over intellectual less because I think it’s more common (it may well not be), but because I think it runs deeper. If I disagree with someone intellectually, then we’re theoretically on the same side and have tactical differences which are potentially resolvable. If I disagree with someone morally, then we’re genuinely opponents on a deeper level, even if we’re sometimes allies of convenience when our interests align on a specific issue.
      So moral > intellectual, not because my opponents disagree with me more often on moral grounds, but because people who disagree with me on moral grounds are more my opponents.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      I went with intellectual ’cause Hanlon’s Razor.

      • LukeReeshus says:

        A good rule to keep in mind, and I certainly try to.

        In reading these responses, I get the impression that the phrase “moral failure” evoked a very negative connotation in the brains of people who answered “intellectual.” It brought to mind malice, evil, wickedness… that kind of stuff.

        But did y’all consider the possibility of moral failure by unbalanced or skewed virtues? ‘Cause that’s what I had in mind. “The path to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

        • dndnrsn says:

          I had always interpreted that saying as gesturing towards intellectual failure: the person described has the right moral perspective, but has not fully thought through how they wish to manifest it.

      • ThinkingWithWords says:

        Do you mean Heinlein’s Razor? – “Never attribute to malice what could be due to stupidity – but don’t discount the malice…” (IIRC Hanlon was an upstart who appropriated the concept a good 30 years after Heinlein coined it in the story ‘Logic of Empire’.)

    • ottomanflush says:

      “Democritus and Heraclitus were two philosophers, of whom the first, finding the condition of man vain and ridiculous, never went out in public but with a mocking and laughing face; whereas Heraclitus, having pity and compassion on this same condition of ours, wore a face perpetually sad, and eyes filled with tears. I prefer the first humor; not because it is pleasanter to laugh than to weep, but because it is more disdainful, and condemns us more than the other; and it seems to me that we can never be despised as much as we deserve. Pity and commiseration are mingled with some esteem for the thing we pity; the things we laugh at we consider worthless. I do not think there is as much unhappiness in us as vanity, nor as much malice as stupidity. We are not so full of evil as of inanity; we are not as wretched as we are worthless.” – Montaigne

      • LukeReeshus says:

        Nice quote. And I agree with Montaigne. Democritus had the right attitude. I would just point out that the words “vanity” and “worthless” have strong moral connotations.

        Like Democritus, I find it preferable to laugh at “stupidity” and “inanity.” Those are, of course, permanent backdrops to the human condition. But that’s just the point: they don’t sway history the way moral initiatives and panics do, nor cause as much disagreement between would-be-amicable parties.

  8. OptimalSolver says:

    It’s become highly un-PC to notice this, but there are obviously two types of transgendered women with not much overlap between them. Whenever trans issues are brought up here, this is almost never acknowledged. The first type are the ones who were extremely effeminate boys, twirling around in princess dresses and who tend to transition early. No one is surprised to hear these people are now living as women. The second group are late-transitioning masculine types who didn’t show any effeminate behavior as children and who usually cause quite a stir when they debut their new identity. These types are usually employed in very male-dominated careers like military, construction, and tech.

    I’ve seen Scott himself and numerous commenters talking about transgendered psychology while conflating these two radically different groups, and I don’t think we’ll get very far if we don’t accept we’re dealing with very different mental architectures.

    What I wonder is why noticing this phenomenon has become quite a third rail.

    • Björn says:

      The current narrative says that people transition because on the inside they are the other gender. As this narrative sums up all types of transgender people, it makes it hard so search for different motivations or distinct types of transsexuality. There certainly are qualified people who are noticing things like that, see for example here.

      • tailcalled says:

        I strongly suspect they’ve got ROGD wrong. For example, I just recently did a survey on a sample of would-probably-be-considered-ROGDs, and autoandrophilia was very prevalent in this sample.

        • Björn says:

          I think it’s hard to say, since there is less data about ROGD as it seems to be a more recent thing.

          • tailcalled says:

            I guess it’s worth posting a link to Bailey’s counterargument to AAP: https://www.reddit.com/r/Blanchardianism/comments/7noh57/can_we_test_baileys_take_on_autoandrophilia/

            TL;DR: (non-lesbian) women don’t have sexual orientations, and so probably also don’t have true paraphilias. Apparent paraphilias (e.g. autoandrophilia) are likely the result of some weird circumstance (e.g. ROGD) that pushed them into this thing, rather than a persistent sexual preference, and the reason they stay is that women don’t have alternate strong sexual preferences that would make them abandon them.

          • gbdub says:

            Why wouldn’t women have “true paraphilias”? Naively that seems like a lot of tortured exceptions and explanations to preserve a rule (no female paraphilias) rather than just abandon the rule in the face of contradictory evidence.

            Which isn’t to say that the “person without preexisting gender dysphoria latches onto it as a possible explanation/solution for their problems due to external pressure” explanation for ROGD could never happen. It’s just strange that both sides seem to want to make it all one or all the other (or at least break it into very rigid categories) when multiple explanations seem plausible.

          • tailcalled says:

            gbdub:
            Bailey’s argument is (at least) twofold: First, women seem to have much lower rates of apparent paraphilias than men. Second, women do not seem to respond sexually in a category specific way. By this, I mean that when Bailey measured genital arousal from women when shown sexually explicit material, they did not respond stronger to material depicting men than women. Paraphilias seem related to category-specific sexuality, so the argument is that there’s probably a connection between the two.

          • Jiro says:

            By this, I mean that when Bailey measured genital arousal from women when shown sexually explicit material, they did not respond stronger to material depicting men than women.

            It’s well known that women are less visual about such things than men, so I don’t see how this proves anything useful.

          • tailcalled says:

            Jiro:
            Bailey’s challenge in the paper is then, what is sexual orientation for women? For men, it’s pretty obvious, but if women’s sexual orientation isn’t defined by their sexual arousal to depictions of men/women, what is it defined by then?

          • rlms says:

            Who they choose to have sex with seems the obvious answer.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Who people chose to have sex with is a good starting point for identifying orientation, but I think which partners are satisfying is important.

            People’s choice of partners is constrained in a lot of ways.

            It seems reasonable that arousal is correlated with satisfaction, but they aren’t the same thing, so this should be checked.

          • tailcalled says:

            rlms:
            People might choose partners for other reasons than sexual orientation. For example, if picking male partners is the cultural default, makes reproduction easier, and men spend a lot of energy trying to get female partners, then women may disproportionately end up with male partners compared to what just their orientation would lead to.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            To be clear, Bailey’s argument implies that women not only are generally bisexual but are also generally attracted to bonobos. Meredith Chivers, one of the leading researchers on female genital arousal, has repeatedly rejected the idea that female genital arousal reflects “real” female sexual interests, and instead hypothesizes that it has some other adaptive function, such as protecting the body against damage during rape.

          • tailcalled says:

            Ozy:
            I don’t think that’s correct, because Bailey found that women were much less sexually aroused by bonobos than humans (see https://www.reddit.com/r/Blanchardianism/comments/7bktdg/what_do_blanchardians_think_about_the/dpnztgx/?context=1 ).

    • Rachael says:

      How strange. My impression is the opposite, that SSC talks about the Blanchard-Bailey typology a lot and almost nowhere else does.

    • tailcalled says:

      I doubt it’s un-PC to notice the distinction in general, it’s probably more in the interpretation. It’s not uncommon for trans people to talk about having repressed and talking about “age of realizing one’s gender identity”, both of which are clearly referring to this axis. The problem is more that it is not realistic that this is just due to repression, and so serious attempts at thinking about it will require thoughts about the fundamental differences that cause this distinction.

      If you want to have discussions about this distinction, I recommend you take a look at /r/Blanchardianism, a subreddit I and a couple of friends made to talk about it. Currently, you have to be approved to post, but we’ll likely change this to increase the activity there.

    • Aapje says:

      You can find a decent number of posts & comments about this on the ThingOfThings blog, for example:

      Thoughts on The Blanchard/Bailey Distinction

    • Loke says:

      I don’t think it’s a binary division, but more of a gradient between masculine and feminine personalities. And naturally people with more feminine personalities are likely to realize they’re trans earlier in life. There’s also the obvious distinction between accepting parents who allow their children to express their femininity/transition early, and those who teach them to hide and repress. I don’t really see what needs explanation here.

      • gbdub says:

        That’s certainly a plausible continuum, but the autogynephilia continuum – ranging in intensity from an occasional cross dressing kink to gender dysphoria / permanent transition to the a woman – also seems plausible. And certainly male cross dressing / drag subcultures exist, so something like autogynephilia seems to be a real phenomenon.

        • tailcalled says:

          While I think autogynephilia is likely the explanation, I doubt transvestic AGP is the low-intensity form of autogynephilia. Transvestic AGP more seems like a subtype, e.g. in my experience with doing surveys, it’s less common than anatomic AGP.

          I think it’s more a question of exclusiveness. Some have very little interest in their AGP, some have moderate, for some AGP is the preferred part of their sexuality, and for some they need AGP elements to function sexually.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Are you allowing for a cohort difference? Until recently, the social pressure on boys to be masculine was pretty universal. There’s still pressure, but less so.

      • tailcalled says:

        It seems unlikely to be a cohort difference. There’s also differences in traits like sexuality, which don’t seem like they would result from social pressure.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It seems to me that autogynephilia is generally presented as a creepy thing, and I’m not sure that there’s anything actually wrong with it.

      • tailcalled says:

        I feel like this is a result of how male sexuality is seen, rather than something specific to AGP? For example, few would consider the gender reversed situation especially creepy (tho they do often seem to consider it cringy).

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I also think it’s something about how male sexuality is seen.

          I believe there’s a substantial history of opposition to male sexuality, and it’s not just about feminism. Some of has a religious basis. I *think* the later health-based version (see opposition to male masturbation) has religious roots, but this is just a guess.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not sure it makes sense to split out religion as a separate thing from culture in this context. The culture that produced The Canterbury Tales was in a lot of ways more Christian than the culture that produced, say, Kellogg’s corn flakes, but it was obviously a lot more comfortable with sexuality.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: I could even argue that it was more comfortable with sexuality than today’s secular cult(ure).

      • skef says:

        And more specifically, if you remove the “it’s a man (or possessor of XY chromosomes) having the thoughts and experiences” from the “specification” of autogynephilia, what are the comparative numbers for women (or possessors of XX chromosomes)?

        Or, roughly, what percentage of women, or women’s sexual thoughts, tend to focus on themselves rather than other people? And if it’s fairly significant, what does autogynephilia as an “alternative” explanation of transsexual identity really accomplish?

        • tailcalled says:

          It’s hard to say, because it’s difficult to measure. In a survey I did, I couldn’t really distinguish the trans and cis women by their AGP levels (or trans and cis men by their AAP levels) when asking this question, but anecdotally trans and cis people seem to be focusing on different aspects.

          Unfortunately, nobody is taking this seriously enough to examine it. Most trans people seem to stop at “we can semi-plausibly argue that this similarity exists”, whereas most people who believe in autogynephilia as a motivation seem to think that trans women and cis women are obviously dissimilar enough that this surface-level similarity probably doesn’t go deep.

          Understanding the truth about transition reasons is pretty important. This post sketches some things out: https://thingofthings.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/truth-matters/ Specifically, one model where cis women are AGP is that perhaps there are two factors of “psychological femininity”, a general and a sexual one, and HSTSs are feminine on the general one whereas AGP trans women are feminine on the sexual one. This would still require AGP as an explanation, even though cis women are AGP.

          (I doubt this two-factor model is accurate, because there are sexual aspects where HSTSs are more feminine than AGPs. Just pointing out that “cis women are AGP too” doesn’t necessarily mean “the entire typology is meaningless and a waste of time”.)

          • bassicallyboss says:

            For what it’s worth, I think the warning about “if presenting in a feminine way makes you think of your significant other and this makes you aroused, this does not count…” might have suppressed some significant amount of real signal. One thing I’ve learned from my adventures in autogynephile fantasy porn land (Warning: Link is a database of porn games, most with male-to-female transformation as a central element. Obviously NSFW, but iirc there are almost zero pictures outside the forums) AGP motivates not just appearing or being female in body or appearance, but also being seen as feminine, or being desired sexually because of that femininity, perhaps as a validation of it.

            I know you’ve got to quash false positives somehow, but if you ever do a follow-up study, it might be worth rephrasing this instruction or asking about it specifically. Though I suppose it might be even harder to tease apart “I like people appreciating me as an attractive male/female” from “I like people appreciating me as an attractive person”.

          • tailcalled says:

            bassicallyboss:
            The reason I excluded this is because a lot of cis women also seem into this. The controversial part is whether cis women are AGP in a non-interpersonal way.

          • bassicallyboss says:

            Gotcha. I followed your link to the subreddit above and saw some previous surveys and discussion; you’ve clearly spent more effort investigating this than I have. Good work, and nice job probing those finer differences. I’m very interested in seeing any future developments.

      • JDG1980 says:

        I don’t think there is anything wrong with autogynephilia per se. The problem comes when the autogynephiles want to require everyone else to play into their fantasies. I don’t care if they want to fantasize about being a woman; I do care if they want to force me to pretend they’re women when they are manifestly not.

      • Grek says:

        The Blanchard/Bailey typology presupposes that MtF people are men with weird fetishes. If you take that to be true, then when a MtF person asks you to treat them as you would a woman, it sounds a lot like they’re asking you to publically lie about them as part of indulging their weird fetish. Whereas if you make the opposite value judgement, that MtF people are women with a mental/hormonal disorder, it sounds a lot like they’re asking you to truthfully acknowledge and accommodate a health problem.

        Note that the above is true even if you leave every other part of Blanchard/Bailey typology intact. If you drop/invert the gender assumption (so that we have one subset of very feminine early transitioners who are mostly attracted to men and a second subset of androgynous late transitioners who are mostly attracted to women), the “wow group #2 is super creepy” factor vanishes.

        • Whereas if you make the opposite value judgement, that MtF people are women with a mental/hormonal disorder

          I think referring to someone with a male body as female is a statement not about the inside of that person’s head but the inside of mine–it means that I see the person as female. If I don’t, doing it is dishonest in a way that I am uncomfortable with–more so if I feel I am doing it because of some sort of pressure.

          Dierdre McCloskey strikes me as a woman, even if a somewhat odd looking one, so it seems appropriate to refer to her as such. Some others I have known don’t, so although I would make an effort to avoid referring to such a person as male I would also avoid referring to that person as female.

          • Grek says:

            The basic idea – that the negative perception of ego-dystonic/”AGP” type MtF patients is strictly an artifact of Blanchard’s outdated and inelegant terminology and not the result of negative traits in the patients themselves – applies just as well to gender assignments orthogonal to the ones Blanchard uses. If you don’t hold with Blanchard very specific and not terribly well founded insistence that MtF people are ‘really male’, no matter how much it turns out that ‘male’ and ‘female’ don’t really seem to cleave reality entirely at the joints, that produces all of the weird and occasionally creepy sounding results.

            And again, just to restate: The imperfections in the terminology don’t mean that Blanchard/Bailey is wrong. It just means that Blanchard was not immune to the problems that plague biological nomenclature.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s become highly un-PC to notice this, but there are obviously two types of transgendered women with not much overlap between them. Whenever trans issues are brought up here, this is almost never acknowledged.

      It feels like this claim gets brought up all the time here.

      FWIW, there are both late-transitioning and early-transitioning trans-women in tech.

    • JPNunez says:

      The thing with the BB theory is that it is used to support some v prejudiced notions, like

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/06/24/links-615-monsters-link/#comment-215182

      And besides people won’t like if you tell them that their gender/sexuality is some kind of paraphylia.

    • Grek says:

      Have you considered a psychosocial explanation?

      Suppose we have two transgender patients. Patient one grows up in a community where gender nonconformity is strongly stigmatized and transgender people are mistrusted. Patient two grows up in a community which accepts and supports gender nonconformity and where being transgender is not stigmatized. Even if basic drive that causes people to be transgender is the same (a misalignment of body image with body shape, perhaps?), we could reasonably expect for this drive to be expressed in an ego dystonic manner in patient one and an ego syntonic manner with patient two.

      Which is to say, the ego dystonic patient will experience the their dysphoria as an external and often shameful urge toward gender non-conformity. They will present as their natal gender (often making efforts to exaggerate characteristics of their natal gender as proof to themselves and others) right up until they abruptly ‘come out of the closet’ because they feel safe doing so and/or can no longer resist the inner voice telling them they’re living a lie. At which point their gender presentation abruptly inverts.

      Meanwhile, the ego syntonic patient experiences their gender dysphoria as a strongly held internal conviction that they definitely are their target gender, that their natal gender assignment was a mistake, and that they should obviously start expressing as their true gender right away. There’s no irresistable external urge toward gender nonconformity, no abrupt tipping point where the patient ‘comes out’ as transgender in their late teens or adulthood, and no exaggeration of natal gender characteristics at any point. Just a consistent insistence that the patient is not their natally assigned gender.

      Testable prediction: We should expect the ego dystonic (or AGP presentation, if you insist on using the Blanchardist term) to be more prevalent in communities where being transgender is socially unacceptable, and for the ego syntonic (or homosexual) presentation to be more prevalent in communities where transgender people are tolerated.

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/6nb/ego_syntonic_thoughts_and_values/

    • toastengineer says:

      Being as I am, a mere country bumpkin, is there a place I can go to learn what all these 7-syllable words like ‘autogynephillia’ you folks are using mean?

      • Nornagest says:

        This is the model being discussed, popularized by this book.

        tl;dr: Blanchard and Bailey think there are two types of MtF transsexual. The first type usually transitions early in life, usually has a sexual preference for men, usually has feminine-coded interests, and usually passes well after transition. B&B interpret this as a subtype of male homosexuality. The second type usually transitions late (twenties or older), usually has a sexual preference for women or for both sexes, usually has masculine-coded interests and usually passes poorly. B&B interpret this as a sexual fetish for seeing oneself as a woman.

        It is a very controversial model.

      • is there a place

        Google.

        • Montfort says:

          Snarky and unhelpful.

          • On the contrary. It’s how I found out what “autogynephillia” meant.

          • Montfort says:

            I certainly can’t say for sure if it was meant to be that way, but I think we can assume commenters on SSC are aware google exists (unless they’re asking “what internet search engines exist? I can’t find any.” or something).
            I am prepared to accept as helpful a list of terms one might google, a sample search query, even a link to the results. But “google” as an entire answer is like saying “the library” or “the internet”; it’s no-selling their question.

          • You think I should have said “to find out what ‘autogynephillia’ means, google for ‘autogynephillia’”?

            I thought that was obvious.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            No, because then “google” is still the entirety of the answer, just with added verbiage. If “LMGTFY” is all you have to contribute it’s better to say nothing. It only serves as a “shame on you for asking questions” response.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Well, but: If we all used google to learn the answer, and toastengineer didn’t think of doing that, isn’t it a favor to provide that hint?

            I mean, it doesn’t say toastengineer is a dunce; I can well imagine them slapping their forehead and saying, “Oh, of course!”

            What’s a better answer? “Find a good dictionary”? Or should we just assume that they realized it was a stupid question (an hour later, just after the window for editing expired), and that the most charitable thing is therefore just to pretend they didn’t ask, as if they had belched or something?

        • toastengineer says:

          Trouble with that is that words, especially words related to politicized topics, tend to have a lot of very different meanings. It would be very unhelpful if Google were to give me the communist’s “assuming that financial gain is the ultimate good” definition of capitalism when everyone was discussing “letting resources be distributed via free markets.”

          I mean, what do you think an outsider would make of us complaining about Moloch if he used that approach?

          Hence, I’d prefer to learn the big words and the shibboleths from the same place everyone else did.

  9. OptimalSolver says:

    When did it become social suicide for high status men to marry fat women?

    For all the furore in Britain over Prince Harry marrying a half-black woman, I think it would have caused a far greater scandal had he decided to marry a fat white woman, and I don’t mean Hollywood fat but real person fat. Obviously, a century ago it would’ve been the other way around.

    From what I’m told it used to be actually fashionable for a wife of high social standing to be rotund, so when did it become more reputationally damaging for a high-status white man to marry a white BBW than it would be to marry a slim black woman, and what caused this shift?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      This comment seems bizarre to me, but I am willing to admit I might not be aware of the precedents… which high status men have had social suicide happen to them because of something like this? (beyond snarky/snotty taunting.) I’ve never known anyone fat or thin who dated/married fat to face severe consequences or diminished opportunity and closed doors in life as a result

      • Matt M says:

        I’m struggling to think of an extremely high-status male (read: celebrity) who married a fat woman at all. The fact that it does not happen, period, is pretty suggestive in and of itself.

        • RandomName says:

          Maybe there are other factors than social pressures which causes high status men to not marry fat women.

          For instance, maybe they’re not generally attracted to them, and being high status they can marry thinner women they prefer.

          • Anonymous says:

            For instance, maybe they’re not generally attracted to them, and being high status they can marry thinner women they prefer.

            This is the obvious no-brainer, but the question is about what changed. OP suggests that high status men used to marry obese women sometimes in the past (a claim which I find plausible, but haven’t been able to verify), whereas they don’t seem to do so now.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Fat women have reported that there are men who want sex with them but don’t want to be seen in public with them. I don’t think all men share the same preferences.

          • Anonymous says:

            Fat women have reported that there are men who want sex with them but don’t want to be seen in public with them. I don’t think all men share the same preferences.

            If you believe the PUAs, they’ll stick their dick into damn near anything. But they’ll stick around for longer (or at all), if their partner is a “catch”. There’s casual dickings, and there’s maintaining some sort of prestige of association.

            Obviously, there are deviants. There’s always deviants. But they’re the exception to the rule, not the rule. It’s not like the spectrum of male partner preference is some sort of entropic uniformity of every guy liking a completely random set of traits. Most men find a very narrow set of traits attractive. Some men deviate from that, and very few men deviate very far. Bell curve, not the histogram of a d100.

          • John Schilling says:

            the question is about what changed

            Marriage used to be a way to make and secure profitable alliances, and if you didn’t secure the most profitable alliance in spite of the bride’s appearance maybe not being to your taste, then you didn’t get to be one of the wealthy elite who define the fashionable trend in such matters. If you wanted a hottie on the side, that may or may not have been socially acceptable but you didn’t go and marry them. Yes, I’m looking at you, Robb Stark.

            There may also have been times when obesity was fashionable in women; I’m skeptical that this was a universal “look I can afford food!” status symbol of the preindustrial era, but fashion trends come and go. If obesity in women is fasionable, then men either marry obese women or they don’t get to be the high-status people we look at to see what is fashionable and symbolizes status in their generation. See above w/re hotties on the side, if obesity isn’t to your taste. Then the fashion changes. because that’s what fashions do.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            A sizable chunk of pornography features plus-size women, meaning a fair fraction of men are attracted to heavy women. This has not translated to men in the public eye marrying or even openly dating heavy women.

          • Matt M says:

            A sizable chunk of pornography features plus-size women, meaning a fair fraction of men are attracted to heavy women.

            This. I know plenty of overweight camgirls who do just fine for themselves.

            Taking it a step further, “plus-sized models” seem to be reasonably high-status at the higher end. As far as I know, none of them are married to famous male athletes, musicians, etc. Not “very few.” Zero.

            It seems implausible that this is merely a fact of “men just aren’t attracted to overweight women and high status ones don’t have to settle.” There’s definitely a social factor going on here.

            I can also say from personal experience that I have dated women whom I found attractive enough, but that I was embarrassed to be seen with them… not necessarily “in public” in general, but like, I wouldn’t want them to meet my friends or coworkers.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Pierce Brosnan.

          • Matt M says:

            Interesting. Thanks for pointing this out!

          • Well... says:

            Ehh….she looks like a plus-size model, a bit overweight in some photos, but she doesn’t really look “fat.” You can tell there’s good bone structure, she has hips despite a, uh, sturdy trunk, and she doesn’t have a double chin or anything. I believe the term for her is “thique.”

            When I think of a fat woman, like a really fat woman, I think of something more like this.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            Brosnan’s wife was skinny when they married. The weight came later.

            This is an example of a man commendably not trading in his longtime partner, but isn’t an example of a high-status man actually marrying an overweight woman.

    • The furore was one objection, and a bunch of objections to the objection.

    • Anonymous says:

      When did it become social suicide for high status men to marry fat women?

      I don’t know, but I would guess that it was around the time that a) arranged marriages went out of style (fewer marriages to already-fat, but high status women, such as rich heiresses or noblewomen), b) divorce got real easy (high status men could then get rid of wives who became fat, but weren’t fat when they got married).

      My guess as to “why” OTOH is simple enough – it used to be a status marker to be fat, it meant you are rich, because you could afford to be fat. Today, being fat just means you’re fat – even welfare recipients can easily get fat, and probably much easier than someone who works for a living, due to incentives to inactivity. (EDIT: This appears true mostly for white males. Not so much for blacks and Mexicans. See below.)

      EDIT: According to these stats, the richer a woman is, the less likely she is to be obese.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Another factor is probably that the richer/more high status you are the more able you are to stay on the right side of curvacious but not obese v. Totally obese.

        Like if your rich, high status, urban or all three its really easy to eat lots of fibre+protein, get a personal trainer or physical hobby (+have time/energy to do it), just walk alot, ect. And sure maybe your overweight and would like to be skinnier, but your not obese and your certainly not morbidly obese like the poor unfortunates who occupy our imaginations and walmart parkinglots.

        Like the kinda lifestyle that causes obesity pretty much requires a deficit of time, energy, money, opportunity, social status or incentive/motivation that its really easy for a poor/lower status person to find themselves in and really hard for a rich upperclass person to find themselves in.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The “common wisdom” is that this changed as the industrial revolution reduced the need for manual labor and decreased the cost of calories.

      Thus, high fat stores were no longer available mostly to those with wealth, and ceased to be a marker of social status (and/or genetic fitness).

    • Brad says:

      Less of this please.

    • Drew says:

      This seems like it’s limited to celebrity-status. No one would raise an eyebrow if a heavy politician or investment banker marries a similarly heavy spouse.

      Then, if we’re talking about celebrities, we’re talking about people who maintain their image as a full-time job.

      That seems to simplify the problem. Professional celebrities have status because people want to watch them and be like them. If they marry someone with less status, their image gets less impressive.

      • OptimalSolver says:

        Are high-profile politicians really more likely to have fat wives than celebrities? I think you’re underestimating how much image matters in politics and Fortune 500 business.

        • Chalid says:

          Why would a spouse’s image matter in business?

          • Matt M says:

            Because it says something about you. Having a wife that isn’t rich, attractive, accomplished, etc. implies that she was the best you can do – so there must be something off about you.

          • Chalid says:

            But it’s typically really rare for your spouse to meet your coworkers or business partners or whatever. In some companies spouses optionally come to Christmas parties? When else?

            And by the time they do meet, the coworkers have plenty of better ways to judge your ability. It’s not like your spouse is going with you to your job interview or pitch meetings.

          • Matt M says:

            But it’s typically really rare for your spouse to meet your coworkers or business partners or whatever. In some companies spouses optionally come to Christmas parties? When else?

            Doesn’t matter. Just takes a single instance and a first impression. I suspect in close arrangements (like if you’re trying to make partner at a firm), they won’t give you a partnership if they haven’t met your wife or SO.

            It’s not like your spouse is going with you to your job interview or pitch meetings.

            It’s a small world. Word gets around.

          • Chalid says:

            I disagree on both fronts. On word getting around – saying negative things about a coworker’s spouse is a really bad idea. If the coworker hears that you’re saying bad things about their family, then you’ve made a serious enemy. It’s also of course completely unprofessional.

            On the other – to unpack what I was alluding to in the “job interview” comment, first impressions and superficial stuff only matter in the absence of information. If you don’t know anything about someone other than that they have a fat spouse, then sure, you might suspect that they have poor social skills and therefore wouldn’t be pleasant to work with. But if you’ve worked with the person for any length of time, then that experience gives you lots of information about that person’s professional abilities and demeanor; you won’t update your assessment of the person’s ability upon learning about their spouse’s weight.

          • skef says:

            I disagree on both fronts. On word getting around – saying negative things about a coworker’s spouse is a really bad idea. If the coworker hears that you’re saying bad things about their family, then you’ve made a serious enemy. It’s also of course completely unprofessional.

            I wonder if you’re thinking of individual contributors and first-line management whereas Matt M is thinking more of higher levels in the company.

          • Chalid says:

            Maybe, but most people get married in their 20s and early 30s, often to someone who they met in college or very early in their career, which means they’re not anywhere near the C-suite when they’re choosing a spouse.

          • Matt M says:

            which means they’re not anywhere near the C-suite when they’re choosing a spouse.

            Which is part of the story and is relevant.

            If executives are having a get-together with families, questions will come up such as “How did you meet?” A “we were high school sweethearts” answer will imply a different level of judgment than “We met on OKCupid last year.”

            But yes, I am thinking a bit higher up, and those who aspire to be higher up. I’m not sure what more to say here other than that I’m telling you from personal experience that I have dated girls and then been embarrassed at the prospect of introducing them to my coworkers. Maybe I’m just a horrible and insecure person, I dunno. Maybe I’m the only person on Earth who has ever gone through this sort of thought process. But I work at a fairly elite firm and I’ve noticed that almost all of my coworkers (even the junior managers) have very attractive and successful significant others, and I feel like if I end up with one noticeably less so on either or both fronts, that puts me at a disadvantage.

          • Chalid says:

            I suspect you might be especially insecure, yes. Consider that your coworkers are all high-income; of course they will mostly be able to attract high-quality spouses. That doesn’t mean that it has any impact on their careers. It’s just another example of how high-status people pair up.

            FWIW I have elite-firm experience too, though in finance, not consulting, and I’d say I hardly ever met anyone’s spouse. I kind of knew the very basics of most spouses’ jobs (“architect,” “teacher,” “SAHM”, etc.) but little about how successful they were. I was close to some people who were up for promotion to managing director at a major investment bank, and I’m confident that their spouses were never introduced to more senior management.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, it just seems like a very high cost for very little benefit if people sacrifice their ‘true’ partner preferences to gain status at work.

            I find it easier to believe that people would do that to gain status among their friends.

          • Matt M says:

            What if your co-workers are also your friends?

            More important, what if the vector by which you gain status (physical attractiveness) trends in the same direction for every possible group you’d like to gain status with?

            Unless the woman is like, 20+ years younger than you or so overwhelmingly obviously out of your league people start to suspect you’re paying her, there’s no possible situation in which having a more attractive spouse won’t increase your status. Friends, co-workers, family, random strangers, whatever.

            Seinfeld did multiple episodes on this!

          • John Schilling says:

            What if your co-workers are also your friends?

            Then in this context it almost certainly doesn’t matter that they are your co-workers. Openly socializing with people your primary social group would disapprove of is a no-no pretty much everywhere. Extending that to people your employer would disapprove of, depends on a sort of employer-employee relationship that is mostly absent in the 21st century West.

      • Chalid says:

        Also, Hollywood celebrities’ social circle consists mainly of other people in Hollywood, who are going to be very conventionally attractive on average. This isn’t true of investment bankers and the like.

        • OptimalSolver says:

          First thing men who make it in business usually do is upgrade to a better looking wife. That’s why we have terms like “trophy wife” and “starter wife.”

          • First thing men who make it in business usually do is upgrade to a better looking wife.

            Do you have any data to support that “usually”? I’m sure the pattern happens, but how do we find out how common it is?

            I suppose one could try a few famous cases:

            Bill Gates: Still married to his first wife
            Soros: Three marriages, two divorces. The first divorce was in 1983, which seems, from a quick scan of wiki page, to be more than a decade after he made it in business.
            Buffett: His first marriage lasted until his wife’s death, although they had been living separately for quite a long time by then. He remarried at 76 to a 60 year old bride–the article describes her as his “longtime companion.”

            None of those three seems to fit your pattern; Soros comes closest.

          • John Schilling says:

            Bill Gates: Still married to his first wife

            But he married her when he was already a billionaire and she was still in her twenties. So he perhaps avoided “upgrading to a better looking wife” by not marrying the allegedly traditional “starter wife” in the first place.

            Maybe half credit there?

          • JayT says:

            Jeff Bezos is still married to the same woman he was married to before he started Amazon.

            Amancio Ortega divorced his wife (who he started his company with) a decade after making it big, and then didn’t remarry for another 15 years (to a much younger woman).

            Carlos Slim stayed married to his wife until her death, and has not remarried.

            Larry Ellison has been married four times, three of them before Oracle had its IPO.

            Michael Bloomberg was rich before he married, and his first marriage lasted almost twenty years. He hasn’t remarried, but he has been in a long term relationship with a woman that’s ten years younger than him.

            Both of the Koch brothers are still married to their first wives.

            That’s the top ten richest men, and the only one there that I could really count would be maybe Ellison, but even there it seems more like he is just hard to stay married to.

          • skef says:

            But he married her when he was already a billionaire and she was still in her twenties. So he perhaps avoided “upgrading to a better looking wife” by not marrying the allegedly traditional “starter wife” in the first place.

            Don’t discount the possibility that she’s got some Bob-related scandal in her back pocket.

          • JayT says:

            But he married her when he was already a billionaire and she was still in her twenties. So he perhaps avoided “upgrading to a better looking wife” by not marrying the allegedly traditional “starter wife” in the first place.

            Maybe half credit there?

            Eh, she was 29 and he was 38. I think that’s within the normal age range of a married couple. More importantly, she hardly fits the description of a “trophy wife”. She’s attractive, but not a model, and she was a successful businessperson before they met.

          • rlms says:

            @skef
            As in Bob, or…?

          • bean says:

            @rlms
            Yes. She was one of the senior people on that before they got married.

          • Eh, she was 29 and he was 38

            So he can’t quite match my claim to have been married to a woman half my age.

            I was in my forties and she was in her twenties. For about six months.

      • Matt M says:

        But celebrities marry “people with less status” all the time. Tons of celebrities marry non-celebrities. They marry people who are middle class, they marry people who aren’t particularly accomplished, they marry people of average quality looks, etc.

        There’s just one specific subtype of “low status” that they never marry.

        • albatross11 says:

          I suspect that if you look closely, you will find *dozens* of subtypes of low status that they almost never marry, with fat being one of them.

    • DeWitt says:

      When did it become social suicide for high status men to marry fat women?

      I reject your premise entirely: fat women, where fat means mobility scooters, multiple chins, god knows what else, were never considered as attractive as some might like to imply.

      Your premises are on shakier foundations than this thread’s length should take for granted, and I’m slightly annoyed to not see anyone else question them. Regardless, the trope that fat used to be beautiful is something of a misconception, since it tends not to mean what the speaker implies; most of it is fiction by fat acceptance sorts who are attempting to reverse stupidity.

      For the last couple decades, there has been pushback against a trend in the modeling industry where models would become increasingly anorexic. The old ideal of beauty, some people argued, involved curvier, even chubbier women, rather than the sorts that’d starve themselves.

      None of this implies men used to go for women that were very much overweight. Modern levels of obesity seem to be just that: modern. If they’re not, depictions are very few and far between. Ever since the pushback against anorexia got picked up by the culture war and became politicised, it’s become awful and reversedly stupid and ridiculous to the point of parody; you’ll have people screaming that fat used to be beautiful, just look at all those paintings by Rubens.. .. So you look at the paintings, and the women involved aren’t obese anywhere that’s not a catwalk.

      So, yeah. Do get some evidence that men used to have highly, terribly fat wives once upon a time, ones that didn’t gain weight post-marriage, and that people preferred this. Not just above average of weight in a society with rampant malnourishment, I’m talking about women that were very evidently obese. I’m not sure if that can be found, and before you do, you should probably update your priors of fat having been found very beatiful.

      • Thegnskald says:

        …sigh.

        Why the hell does it matter? Why is this worth arguing about?

        Assuming what people find attractive is socially determined, does that change anything? Does it make anyone guilty of anything? Pretty much definitionally, half of all people are going to be below average in attractiveness, whatever the standard ends up being. The standard doesn’t matter. Whether or not it is socially determined or biologically determined doesn’t matter. “Average” ends up being just that, average. And as far as men go, at least, the perceived attractiveness of women is exactly the bell curve we’d expect from that.

        So, given that we do have this conception of beauty, and given that few if any people have a level of self-editing powers to change their conception of beauty, and given that nobody gets to tell us who we should find attractive ANYWAYS, the whole argument is pointless. Whether it is biological or social is irrelevant. It makes no difference.

        And given that this is the argument that should be made, the argument that gets made instead – that fat women are objectively unattractive – is just plain mean-spirited. It is a pointless argument that serves only to remind a group of people you don’t like the way they look, while standing on a pedestal of “This is objective fact”.

        Even if it were biological, it is still subjective. But it doesn’t matter, because I am just as inclined to say “Fuck off” to somebody who says I like women who are too fat as I am to somebody who says I like women who are too skinny.

        Let this subjective nonsense wrapped up in objective fact die, regardless of who is peddling it.

      • Protagoras says:

        It certainly doesn’t help this discussion that people can’t agree about what constitutes fat. A tiny number of people use mobility scooters. I don’t deny that there are FA extremists who say that’s fine, but the stigma against fatness extends much further than that; some guys seriously claim that, e.g., Amy Schumer is too fat to be attractive, when it is quite clear that a large number of other guys even now find her body type attractive, and in the historical argument it’s also clear that it used to be even more popular.

    • John Schilling says:

      Reality check: Per Greer’s source, only 4% of bitcoin investors are carrying a credit-card balance to speculate in bitcoin. Taking out second mortgages to pay for bitcoin is purely anecdotal and via RT, with no numbers as to how many.

  10. Anon. says:

    There are two men, each looking at a ball. One is looking at a red ball, the other is looking at a blue ball. Is there any sense in which it would be meaningful or true to say that “on average they are looking at a purple ball”?

    • beleester says:

      If someone asks you to guess the color of each ball, and they give you the hint “On average, the balls are purple,” what colors are you likely to guess?

      It’s not as informative as “One ball is red, and the other is blue,” but it’s not meaningless. An average is a summary statistic, after all. It’s just that there isn’t much point in using a summary statistic when your data is so small it doesn’t need summarizing.

      If there’s a really big pile of red and blue balls, then saying “On average, the pile is purple” might actually be useful – for instance, if you’re looking at the pile from far away, your eyes won’t be able to pick out the individual balls and it’ll just look sort of purplish.

    • phisheep says:

      It doesn’t seem to make any sense, but I tried the experiment anyway. Rather than try to superimpose two different people, which is hard, I did the division first and had the left half of me look at a red dot and the right half of me look at a blue dot and crossed my eyes. Yay, purple dot!

      So yeah, sort of.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      They’re looking at two balls, not one. Two balls whose average color is purple.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        So tell that man to put some shorts on.

      • Anon. says:

        I’m not asking about the average color, I’m asking about the average perception or qualia or state of mind.

        • A1987dM says:

          So you want a color which looks equally as different from blue as from red, and among all such colors the one which looks closest to blue and red. Purple is a way better match for that than green.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      There is not. The average of a quantity where addition is not well defined makes no sense.
      Addition of (subjective) colors is not well defined. There is no null color and no negative color.
      You could make a case that color is a frequency of electromagnetic radiation, but then the average of red and blue would not be purple. It would be green or yellow, the colors near the middle of the rainbow.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        I think you are demonstrating the opposite of your own point. You are correct that the addition of colours is not well defined, but then you go and define a reasonable method to evaluate the average, which produces asses sable results (albiet different results than the original scenario presented). With another definition, function ColourCheck(Ball) which returns an RGB value, Colourcheck(Ball1)+colourcheck(ball2)/2 returns (127,0,127) which displays as purple.

        The question asks if there is any sense in which the statement is true or meaningful. I’ve come up with a sense in which it is true, you came up with one that isn’t, but the existence of untrue versions is not fatal to the proposition, regardless of what meaning you derive in either case.

        I mean, we could have a long and ridiculous discussion about what is truth/meaning, but this seems pretty much open and shut lacking further qualifiers.

        • Anon. says:

          What we’re looking for is ColorCheck(Perception1(Ball1)) + ColorCheck(Perception2(Ball2)), or ColorCheck(Perception1(Ball1) + Perception2(Ball2)). Obviously just averaging the colours is trivial, you don’t need the two guys involved at all for that.

        • A1987dM says:

          sRGB is a non-linear scale. Half the luminosity of 255 is between 187 and 188. So a checkerboard of (255, 0, 0) and (0, 0, 255) should look like a uniform (187, 0, 187) when seen from far enough (though with certain displays it can be slightly brighter or dimmer than that).

    • Civilis says:

      Interesting question. I think you have to break the problem into two parts, the first part being ‘how do we average colors?’. For most cases average implies a value that can be converted to a number, so it depends on how you convert color to number (or, more accurately, a set of numbers). If you’re using a HSV conversion to find your set of numbers, then you can say “on average they are looking at a green ball”, but I think RGB or CMYK is a more usable conversion for most uses of color, and both should average red and blue to purple.

      The second part gets into ‘why are we asking this question?’, so we know what sort of average we’re looking for. We’re trying to find any scenario where the sentence fragment “on average they are looking at a purple ball” is valid, so we look at scenarios where the color of a ball is a valid item of inquiry, and the answer isn’t best answered with a modal average.

      Here’s a scenario: I’m going into business manufacturing bowling balls, and I want to know what color bowling balls men prefer, so I send observers out to bowling alleys to find out what color ball men prefer in various regions of the market. In that regards, the answer I get back should have how many people were seen and what color the average ball was. For this example the mean of a numeric representation of the color is more useful than the mode; if the colors of balls were 10 different shades of red, 10 different shades of blue, 8 different shades of purple and two identical green balls, I’m much more likely to sell a purple ball than a green ball. So, for the example of bowling balls, converting the color to a number (or numbers) and averaging the numbers is a valid way of finding the most common color of bowling balls.

      Now all you have to do is rephrase this as “what color ball is the average bowler in this alley that owns his own ball looking at when he opens his bowling ball bag?” and the answer “on average they are looking at a purple ball” is valid for at least this specific case of there being two bowlers with their own balls, so long as you accept that purple is the average of blue and red.

    • Deiseach says:

      Are there two different balls, or is this one ball that’s half-blue and half-red? I want to know all the pitfalls before I walk down this path.

    • Perico says:

      Well, if we assume a purple ball that is moving at relativistic speeds, and two observers in locations such that one sees the ball as red and the other sees it blue, I think such an approximation might make sense.

    • shakeddown says:

      “Average” makes sense if you’re working over a vector space. You can give colours a vector space structure if you really want (wavelengths or that colour pyramid thing are candidates), but it’s kinda forced, especially since you’re extending it from “colours” to “colours of observed balls”.

      • A1987dM says:

        Huh? It’s perfectly natural to give colors a vector space structure. Black is zero, and the sum of the colors of surfaces A and B is the color of a surface whose spectral radiance is the sum of those of A and B at any given wavelength. IOW color space is just a 3D projection of the infinite-dimensional space of spectral radiances.

        • shakeddown says:

          It makes one kind of sense, but what we’re really summing up here is “the experience of looking at a coloured ball”. YMMV on whether summing wavelengths is a reasonable approximation for summing experiences or not.

    • rahien.din says:

      I don’t think so. You’re using discrete categories (color judgments) as though they were continuous.

      Moreover, it destroys information. Imagine if there were five observers of five balls, two red, two blue, and one purple. To say “on average they are looking at a purple ball” would be factually incorrect, because one average they would not be looking at a purple ball.

      • beleester says:

        You’re changing between two definitions of “average.” The mean ball is purple, the modal ball is red or blue.

        • rahien.din says:

          I guess that’s kind of my point – to compare those two denotations*.

          The OP suggests that “the average ball they are looking at” could denote “the mean color index observed between the two balls.” This denotation implicitly applies a description meant for continuous variables (the mean) to a set of discrete categories, and is inappropriate. This creates confusion. Neither person has observed a purple ball. The purple ball has been created out of whole cloth.

          A different example with greater clarity : if I live in San Francisco, and you live in Philadelphia, is there any sense in which it would be meaningful or true to say that “On average, we live in Kansas”? This is the exact calculation performed in the mean-color-index version of “the average ball,” and produces the exact same confusion. It is a misapplication of a continuous-scale descriptor.

          Rather than being in the domain of color index, the more proper denotation of “average ball they are looking at” is in the domain of probability, specifically, “the discrete category observed with the highest or most dominant frequency.” This denotation implicitly applies a description that is better-suited to discrete categories.

          —–

          *Really awkward terminology but I want to mentally separate it from “mean.”

    • Scott says:

      Yes, it is meaningful. If you know that the average ball is purple, once you see the color of one ball then you can infer the color (or at least the range of color) of the other ball. It’s by no means the best descriptor, but it does give useful information.

    • gbdub says:

      I think making this statement requires that you make it clear that the balls actually come in discrete colors, none of which are purple.

      Like, in US elections, showing states in various shades of purple works for showing the relative percentages of a (basically) binary selection between red and blue. It would work much less well if there was a purple party.

    • Lambert says:

      The balls are in opposite ends of a clear centrifuge.
      At a certain instant, one person may be looking at each ball, but the persistence of vision means that they perceive purple.

    • benwave says:

      My usual heuristic is, does the statement “on average they are looking at a purple ball” lead to better or quicker decisions being made than “one man sees a red ball, one man sees a blue ball”? My usual assessment is no it doesn’t. There are few sets where a single data point is better than a 1D distribution, or where it would even be hard in any meaningful way to report that distribution.

    • A1987dM says:

      True, yes. Useful, no (usually). Meaningful, depends on what you mean by “meaningful”.

    • youzicha says:

      It would be better to say “the average color of the balls they are looking at is purple”, but we are often slightly imprecise when speaking about average in natural language, so your sentence is probably close enough.

      To compute averages of color, you can e.g. take averages of positions in the CIE chromaticity sharkfin.

      To see that it can be meaningful to speak about summary statistics, you could for example imagine playing a game where one of the two men is selected at random, you get presented with a large set of colored balls, and win a prize if you can guess which ball he looked at. If you get told ahead of time that the average was purple, that doesn’t definitely let you win, but it will help you rule out a lot of possibilities, e.g. you should not guess a bright green ball.

      • Anon. says:

        Again, talking directly about the color of the balls is of course trivial. That’s why I inserted the two dudes looking at the balls as middlemen. The issue is the fungibility of qualia/states of mind, not mapping colors to some vector space.

        • rahien.din says:

          The issue is the fungibility of qualia/states of mind

          Would you elaborate on this?

          • Anon. says:

            There are straight-forward ways of combining colours, eg combining wavelength distributions, or converting them to a color space and averaging the resulting points. The same cannot be said of the experience of perceiving those colors. Being subjective, and running on different hardware, there’s no way of combining them. Even if there were, the result is challenging to interpret (the sum is two ball-perceptions, but nobody is actually perceiving two balls, what does it mean to talk about a subjective experience without a subject to experience it?). The only way around that problem imho is qualia with some very specific properties, which seem highly implausible.

            My endgame is to attack utilitarianism. If you can’t sum the states of mind corresponding to red and blue balls, we can extend that to pleasurable and unpleasurable states of mind.

          • rahien.din says:

            I think I see your point. And I think I agree that the described mind-states are not fungible, as you say, and that other mind-states would be similarly nonfungible.

            But I’m not sure how you will attack utilitarianism therefrom. There are methods for describing the distribution of a ranked categorical variable, so fungibility (as you describe) does not seem to be a necessary condition.

            Consider 100 Americans, who all want to move to Seattle. Half are already there, half are in Miami. We could describe the distribution thereof (and their geographic progress) without ever having to seriously claim that any of them reside in Kansas.

            —–

            Aside : why do you want to attack utilitarianism, and in favor of what?

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          I don’t know the answer to that, but I think I understand the question a little better.

          I recently read an article about Net Promoter Scores that explains how to calculate an aggregate measure of some weird customer satisfaction/growth potential combo. They do that by mapping customer satisfaction to a vector space, with all the problems that entails.

          The author concludes that reducing customer satisfaction to a single number is stupid, but can be made a little less stupid by using different measures and asking the right questions.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      That statement is clearly more true of the situation described than, e.g., of both men looking at yellow balls. Your beliefs after hearing it would be updated towards the truth, although with some confusion, so yes it has meaning.

      Absent additional context it’s a silly way to communicate, though.

  11. glasnak says:

    Is it okay if I save my funds I’d donate to EA until someone rich announces matching challenge to recommended charities and only then donate all the saved funds? Assuming the same efficient charity, me having constant rational budget etc.
    Say the charity gets double the amount, but I’d have to wait a year for the matching challenge – is this worth waiting for?

    I understand time is of the essence because people are dying every day and the longer we wait to donate, the more total suffering is caused.
    Though doubling the total amount donated probably is worth waiting a year, isn’t it? My intuition says even 1.5x would be probably okay.

    So, basically what I’m asking, how does donating N dollars this year compare to donating same amount in a year? Would twice as much money be worth waiting six months? two years? five years? I don’t know how to go around even thinking about this. What do you think?

    • Matt M says:

      This strikes me as a fairly typical time value of money problem. Is it better for Charity X to receive $100 now, or $200 a year from now?

      A doubling of funds is essentially a 100% APY. That’s pretty damn high. Certainly higher than the interest they are receiving on the cash balance they carry. I don’t know how exactly to value “lives saved today” versus “lives saved a year from now” but I can’t imagine the discount rate the charity would provide you as to their own time preference is > 100%.

      To me the more interesting question is this: Usually these “whale donor offers to double funds” has some sort of maximum threshold in the fine print. Like, the rich guy will double funds “up to $10,000” or something like that. The question I would be interested in is, how often is that threshold reached? If the threshold is always reached anyway, then you holding your donation adds $0, because your marginal donation is, in fact not doubled, and it’s better for you to just donate now.

      Given that I know a lot of charities who occasionally have these “matching” promotes but that none of them ever seem to advise or promote “Why not hold your donation and wait for the next matching promotion?” I would assume they would actually prefer you to donate today. There’s also the question of things like “What if you change your mind in the meantime? What if you die in the meantime? Etc.”

    • In equilibrium matching doesn’t really matter unless they’re willing to match a variety of donations some of which are to more or less effective charities. That is, if not all the available matching funds are taken the matcher is probably going to end up donating the rest or doing another matching round later anyways. But I wouldn’t worry that you’re doing something wrong by waiting.

    • Scott says:

      Here’s another idea: play the role of the matching donor yourself. Facebook lets you raise money for a charity amongst the people you know pretty easily, and you can simply promise to match every dollar they put in (up to some limit most likely).

    • WashedOut says:

      Great article, thanks.

      Nice to see you to mention stability problems resulting from bulk handling of things that can behave as fluids. A colleague of mine recently completed a study for a major shipping company who had a ship capsize during the transportation of ore pellets. The cause of failure was found to be cyclic liquefaction of the pellets, which were loaded at too high a moisture content. The repeated wave action triggered the stuff to densify leading to rapid pore pressure in the ‘soil’ fabric. Presumably the payload then flowed to one side of the ship and upset the MC-MG relationship.

      On another note I loved the photo of the dry dock. I searched your website but there doesn’t seem to be an article on the development of dry dock as a technology. Is there enough here to sink one’s teeth into? If so would you mind writing about it?

      • bean says:

        Presumably the payload then flowed to one side of the ship and upset the MC-MG relationship.

        Interesting story. Sounds like classic free surface.

        On another note I loved the photo of the dry dock. I searched your website but there doesn’t seem to be an article on the development of dry dock as a technology. Is there enough here to sink one’s teeth into? If so would you mind writing about it?

        That’s an interesting idea, and I could definitely see being able to put something on that together. I’ll add it to the list. Just so you know, the list in question is very long, and I have no clue when or if I’ll get to it.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        In David Brin’s Glory Season a ship carrying coal gets into trouble when the compartments separating the coal start breaking down, which means that the coal can flow more freely and break down more compartments.

        It was vivid and terrifying. I’m not sure what it means when the best thing in a science fiction novel isn’t science fictional.

    • actinide meta says:

      I would have thought the most famous example of poor stability was the Vasa.

  12. Iris says:

    Last week I went with my teenage son to consult a pediatrician with expertise in treating ADHD. Midway through the hour-long appointment, I started cracking up, because my son seemed to be volunteering as a textbook example of hyperactivity. He tried on the blood pressure cuff on the doctor’s desk. He slid his insurance card in the card reader. When the doctor was drawing a diagram to explain something, he took a pencil and added some details. He wandered around the office, and measured his height and weight.

    The doctor looked at forms my husband and I filled out describing our son’s behavior, and another form his teacher filled out. She also looked at the result of a computerized test called MOXO.

    In the end the doctor discussed different medications, and prescribed Concerta. Pace Scott, I don’t think she felt guilty at all.

    • CthulhuChild says:

      I really liked reading Scott’s discussion on Adderall, in part because I’m ADHD as anything and have never been on it. I was prescribed Concerta in university and it has made an obvious difference (validated regularly during periods of non-use during summer jobs). My most recent run is 18 months (I am in a fairly demanding job while going back to school full time), and I am performing demonstrably better than I used to. When I was first prescribed (2005 ish?) it was very new in Canada, and most health care plans wouldn’t pay for it, but I’ve found it great. Hopefully it helps for your son.

      Given my experience, and given the concerns about Adderall (especially diminishing effects)l, I am really puzzled why Methylphenidate isn’t the default choice. I also wonder if my usage pattern (taking multi month breaks during summer, not taking on weekends) has had an impact? I’ve also put a fair bit of time and effort into non-medical treatments (organization training, technological/elearning assistance, etc). The more I think about the subject, the more I wonder what causes are responsible for what effects, and exactly how much my experience can be generalized to most users (or how much general user experience can be used as a predictor)

      • markk116 says:

        Maybe the concerta gave you the focus to start and complete the non-medical training. But these upward spirals are kind of chicken-and-egg problems anyway…

  13. ajb says:

    Is this story as significant as it sounds?
    One line summary: Brain cells found to exchange RNA via virus-like capsules.
    It sounds to me like it could upend how we thing information processing and storage happens in the brain, even without the more long-shot possibilities (injectible memories). Any biologists care to comment?

    • Murphy says:

      it’s definitely very interesting but I’d council against coming to too many conclusions.

      Breaking the gene breaks long term memory, sure, but lots of things break long term memory formation.

      If you were trying to figure out how a radio worked from examining examples and discovered that breaking a specific part stopped sound coming out would you immediately conclude that it was the sound-generating part? After all, it could have been part of the power supply, or part of the antennae etc etc you can’t be sure it was actually part of the microphone.

      It definitely might fill in some gaps about how certain prion-like protein structures implicated in causing some degenerative diseases might be hitching a ride to get from one cell into the next to spread within the brain.

      I’d be spectacularly leery of claims of “injectible memories” with only this to support them. Even if they are carrying information relevant to memory that wouldn’t mean they’re memory-soup.

      • ajb says:

        Thanks, good points.

        To be clear – no-one is claiming anything about injectible memories, that’s pure speculation on my part 🙂

      • SamChevre says:

        Are you possibly thinking of the paper Can a Biologist Fix a Radio (PDF)?

        One of the funniest papers on making sense of biology I have ever read.

        I decided to follow the advice of my high school mathematics teacher, who recommended testing an approach by applying it to a problem that has a known solution…I looked for a problem that would involve a reasonably complex but well understood system. Eventually, I thought of the old broken transistor radio my wife brought from Russia.

        • Murphy says:

          Yep, we even had it as a monday lab talk for our lab.

          The “Really Important Component” vs “Most Important Component” vs “Undoubtedly Most Important Component” hit home hard.

          Every fucker who discovers a gene with some correlation with some condition or process immediately wants to make it sound like they’ve cracked the problem and so we end up stuck with inane gene names that are often actively misleading because 15 years ago someone thought it did X but may have been wrong.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Any thoughts about whether better intellectual tools for biology are possible?

        • Vermillion says:

          That was really entertaining, thanks for the link.

      • Deiseach says:

        It definitely might fill in some gaps about how certain prion-like protein structures implicated in causing some degenerative diseases might be hitching a ride to get from one cell into the next to spread within the brain.

        Oooh – now that sounds intriguing and plausible!

        • Murphy says:

          Yep, less than a year ago I was sitting in a fascinating talk by a visiting neuroscientist talking about particular type of protein clumps found to have formed in the cells of the brains of people who died with alzheimer’s.

          Of course it’s hard to tell if the clumps were the debris left over from alzheimers or a cause.

          So they took a bunch of healthy mice, introduced tiny samples of these clumps into their brains and then showed that when they later dissected their brains the stuff had spread/replicated through most of the cells in their brains. (controls I believe were something like similar rats with non-AD tissue implanted)

          They had a whole section on the efforts cells appear to make to digest/expel the clumps and linked that in to some genes known to have protective effects against AD which make the process work better.

          They had some hypothesis for how the clumps got out of living cells but mentioned it was still unclear how they managed to enter most cells because typically such structures wouldn’t be allowed in easily making the speed of the spread surprising.

          Side note that freaked me out a little: in humans this process is very slow to actually cause AD, your brain can be riddled with the stuff 20/30 years before you’re likely to show AD symptoms.

          if there’s little virus-like things being passed back and forth all the time it might be a candidate for how the clumps manage to spread so well.

          This wasn’t the guy but the slides look similar:

          http://biochemistry.utoronto.ca/person/joel-c-watts/

          http://jem.rupress.org/content/jem/209/5/889/F1.large.jpg

          Alzheimer’s parkinson and huntingtons may also share some common features related to it though with different proteins involved.

          http://www.biochemj.org/content/452/1/1

  14. Oleg S. says:

    According to Wikipedia entry on Mickey Mouse Protection Act, the works that were made in 1923 and were protected by copyright in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2024. It’s 6 years from now, and last time this was due to happen (in 2004) the law extending copyright term was passed some 5 years before the critical date. So I would assume that copyright holders might already have started the lobbying campaign for the extension of the copyright. Is anyone here aware of such activity?

    More importantly, are there any organizations that coordinate efforts to resist the further extension of Copyright Term Extension Act?

      • JPNunez says:

        I read this article and while well reasoned, there’s nothing to say we won’t see a mad rush to extend copyright again in the next five years, particularly with republican majority in congress. Not that democrats are pro public domain, but, hey, at least you only need to lobby one side.

        Will put it at 80% chances of an extension before Steamboat Willie goes public domain. Before reading the article I would have said 99%.

        • JDG1980 says:

          Republicans tend to favor established businesses, but a lot of Republicans also culturally dislike Hollywood (of which Disney is usually considered a part). And the nomination and election of Donald Trump shows that the establishment Republicans can’t always count on winning these intra-party fights.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Assuming that Steamboat Willie does go into the public domain in 2024, I expect to see a lot of follow-up litigation regarding exactly what can and cannot be done with Mickey Mouse. Disney will try to use trademark law to retain some control over the character even after copyright is expired, but I’m not at all sure the courts will go for that – there seems to be more skepticism of IP overreach at the Supreme Court now than there was in the days of Eldred v. Ashcroft. If they fail to control Mickey Mouse via trademark, there will likely be a lot of follow-up litigation over what aspects of Mickey are covered by copyright on post-Willie works.

    • Jiro says:

      As usual, don’t trust Wikipedia. The actual article says that works go into public domain in 2019, but that the first Mickey Mouse film, which was not made in 1923, goes into public domain in 2024.

      • quaelegit says:

        “Under this Act, works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still protected by copyright in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2019 or later. Mickey Mouse specifically, having first appeared in 1928, will be in a public domain work in 2024.[5]”

        The good thing about Wikipedia is that it’s easily fixed, and it looks like someone has already fixed this article! (Comparing the timestamp on the correction to the time stamp on Jiro’s post, it was probably someone reading this thread — so thank you!)

  15. Jeremiah says:

    As far as “gradually catching up on some of the older ones” so far I’ve just done Meditations on Moloch. If you just want to listen to that. You can get an MP3 of that one here. I used an actual recording of Ginsberg reciting Howl every time Scott quoted from the poem. Which sounds pretty cool.

    That was definitely the most requested one, if anyone has any other’s they’d particularly like to have in audio format let me know. Otherwise I’ll probably just do the ones I really enjoyed.

  16. bean says:

    I’d like to challenge David Friedman to a debate. Last time, he said that he thought national defense could be done under ancap, but admitted that if this was not the case, it’d be better to leave it under a government because Moscow would charge higher taxes than Washington.
    I’d like to make the case that Ancapistan would not be able to muster the sort of defense force you want unless you’re quite sure that not only are none of your neighbors likely to start meddling, but they’re also willing to stop other people from meddling.
    Note the phrase “defense force you want”. I’ll freely grant that a strong central government is not at all necessary to make life very unpleasant for an invader. See Afghanistan, entire history of. The problem is that while you can eventually make the invader go home, your country is not a pleasant place to be during that time. So you need enough of a military to make it obviously expensive to invade, or bomb, or otherwise mess with your country.
    The problem is that the bar for an effective military has risen a lot over the past ~150 years. What separates an army from a bunch of guys with guns is the ability to tell those guys what they need to be doing, and to make sure they have the supplies to do it. How does Ancapistan make sure that everyone has radios that can talk to each other? How do they distribute the crypto keys to make sure that the other side can’t eavesdrop? Who gets to be in charge, anyway?
    These sorts of things can’t be worked out on the fly. The best vision I have of the Ancapistan Army is one of basically a giant coalition, with lots of people who have slightly differing aims and are constantly arguing over what they should be doing. This is not a recipe for winning a war. The coalitions of the world wars had only a few major partners, and good mechanisms for enforcing the decisions of those partnerships.
    The situation is even worse in the air and at sea. The forces in question are extraordinarily expensive, and take great skill to use. A port might pay for a few missile boats and maybe a minesweeper, but if there’s one point I’ve tried to hammer home in my columns, it’s that it’s the intangible factors that win wars as much as number of missiles. And air defense systems need to be integrated for any effectiveness. I can’t just pay for a SAM battery to protect my factory. But now you have a case where there’s a serious incentive to free ride on any existing network. Particularly because air strikes seem like the perfect way for a neighbor to express displeasure without the risks and costs of committing ground troops. I suppose the neighbor could tell Air Defense Inc that it’s targeting someone not protected, and AD Inc would stand aside, but if I was running AD Inc, I wouldn’t want to let them in unmolested in case they’re lying to me, and going after one of my clients.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The problem is that while you can eventually make the invader go home, your country is not a pleasant place to be during that time. So you need enough of a military to make it obviously expensive to invade, or bomb, or otherwise mess with your country.

      This seems like an unfair standard. France had enough of a military to make it obviously expensive to invade, and the Germans invaded anyway. You could even argue that Iraq had enough of a military to make it obviously expensive to invade, and that the US’ potential interference was part of the reason for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Lots of centralized military organizations have been over run, even when it presented a major cost for the invader, and some countries have made it unappealing to attack without such a commitment (but with other advantages, ie Switzerland).

      • bean says:

        This seems like an unfair standard. France had enough of a military to make it obviously expensive to invade, and the Germans invaded anyway.

        Yes and no. Expensive is a relative term. If it’s obvious that you’re grossly underarmed, then your neighbors are likely to get ideas. You want to stop them getting those ideas.
        (WRT France, Germany got really lucky. It should have been a lot more expensive than it was, and the General Staff was rather skeptical of Hitler’s plan.)

        You could even argue that Iraq had enough of a military to make it obviously expensive to invade, and that the US’ potential interference was part of the reason for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

        I think you’re mixing several different wars here. Again, expensive is relative, and the Japanese were crazy.

        Lots of centralized military organizations have been over run, even when it presented a major cost for the invader,

        And? Even more decentralized organizations have. See basically every colonial war.

        and some countries have made it unappealing to attack without such a commitment (but with other advantages, ie Switzerland).

        Huh? Switzerland doesn’t get invaded because the Swiss Military (which does exist) makes the cost/reward definitely unappealing to the attacker. One point I didn’t make in the OP is that nations generally have a bad habit of underestimating the effectiveness of decentralized resistance. (See Afghanistan, every invasion of.) So having a centralized military is important for deterrence.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Huh? Switzerland doesn’t get invaded because the Swiss Military (which does exist) makes the cost/reward definitely unappealing to the attacker

          Relative to what? Relative to invading Poland when Britain and France have pledged defense and repeatedly assured that they meant it? Relative to invading Russia? The Swiss army was tiny in comparison to two of those three, and invading England (which Hitler drew up plans to do) would have been massively expensive and risky.

          So having a centralized military is important for deterrence.

          You state this but you haven’t actually demonstrated it at all. There is not much evidence that wars are deterred by massive standing armies beyond nuclear weapons. Cost benefit analysis only works if the people starting the wars incur the costs, and are focused on measurable benefits. The large scale wars in the 20th century are more accurately described as over ideological grounds rather than initiated with cost benefit analysis.

          Beyond this you are being extremely superficial. The cost benefit analysis for strategic action requires examining likely outcomes. Invading Switzerland means having to fight Switzerland AND France, committing resources against the Swiss could open up counter attack options for the French. The ‘logic’ of the German plans in WW2 was similar to WW1 in that it was intolerable to have large standing armies surrounding them. It was also similar to the ‘logic’ of the Japanese for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

          It is not at all obvious that having a large standing army, or having the backing of a major power with a large army (South Vietnam) acts as an actual deterrent to invasion.

          • bean says:

            Relative to what? Relative to invading Poland when Britain and France have pledged defense and repeatedly assured that they meant it?


            You do realize that Hitler was crazy, right? For that matter, it’s not entirely outlandish that he might have believed they didn’t mean it. See Czechoslovakia, annexation of.

            Relative to invading Russia? The Swiss army was tiny in comparison to two of those three

            Again, it’s a matter of cost to payoff ratio. The payoff for successfully invading Russia would in theory have been economic independence for Germany. This was not something Hitler could get by invading Switzerland. Switzerland doesn’t have massive resources, and there are easier ways to get to places than through Switzerland. Also, it’s really hard to invade.

            You state this but you haven’t actually demonstrated it at all. There is not much evidence that wars are deterred by massive standing armies beyond nuclear weapons.

            You’re sort of asking me to prove a negative. Lightly-defended resources tend to attract interest from people who have armies. We can’t see the wars that didn’t happen, but we can see lots of examples of ones that did. The invasion of Kuwait springs to mind.

            The large scale wars in the 20th century are more accurately described as over ideological grounds rather than initiated with cost benefit analysis.

            This is factually untrue for both World Wars. The Germans in 1914 were attempting to get a “rally round the flag” effect before the next set of elections, to shore up the political support for the Prussians. (For that matter, they were probably also hoping to extort more money out of the French, as they had done in 1870.) WWII was 100% about resources. The Germans were conquering to shore up their economy. (Wages of Destruction is the standard reference for this.) The Japanese attacks were entirely about an attempt to secure resources, mostly oil, to allow them to continue the war in China, and to support the defense of those conquests.

            Beyond this you are being extremely superficial.

            Or possibly I’m basing my analysis on factors I know about but haven’t explained here yet. I know a lot of things, and sometimes it’s hard to remember what other people do and don’t have as background.

            The cost benefit analysis for strategic action requires examining likely outcomes. Invading Switzerland means having to fight Switzerland AND France, committing resources against the Swiss could open up counter attack options for the French.

            Why didn’t they invade Switzerland in 1941, then? France was already defeated, and the Soviets were hardly likely to go to war to preserve Swiss independence.

            It was also similar to the ‘logic’ of the Japanese for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

            That was 100% about making it possible to defend their conquests in Southeast Asia. I’ve never heard anyone make a case that the Japanese attacks on the western powers were about anything but resources. Please check your history before you try to use it to make a point next time.

            It is not at all obvious that having a large standing army, or having the backing of a major power with a large army (South Vietnam) acts as an actual deterrent to invasion.

            I’m finding it hard to grasp this. Having a strong military doesn’t serve as a deterrent against invasion, all else equal? Note that when the US implicitly withdrew its backing of South Korea, they got invaded. South Vietnam didn’t get properly invaded until the US had pulled out. Kuwait got invaded because they had lots of oil and Saddam didn’t think we’d go to war to save them. I could go on.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m finding it hard to grasp this. Having a strong military doesn’t serve as a deterrent against invasion, all else equal?

            You don’t get to say “all else equal”. There will be some situations in which building up a large military will work as a deterrent and some where it acts as an inducement to attack. Building up a military will influence the political structure of your neighbors. Large military buildups centralize power and increase the chances of military dictatorship, and if there was a correlation in the 20th century to being invaded having a military dictatorship as a neighbor was one of the best predictors.

          • bean says:

            You don’t get to say “all else equal”. There will be some situations in which building up a large military will work as a deterrent and some where it acts as an inducement to attack.

            Name three examples. This would suggest that Germany should have been attacked in both World Wars, not the attacker.

            Building up a military will influence the political structure of your neighbors. Large military buildups centralize power and increase the chances of military dictatorship, and if there was a correlation in the 20th century to being invaded having a military dictatorship as a neighbor was one of the best predictors.

            No. I absolutely reject the theory that military buildups are bad because they increase the chance of a dictatorship in your neighbors. This is not what happened in Germany in either war. The dictatorship causes the buildup, it doesn’t follow it. Germany in both wars. Japan. Iraq. The Soviet Union.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Name three examples

            Name 3 examples of large scale military buildup not leading to conflict.

            This would suggest that Germany should have been attacked in both World Wars, not the attacker.

            Why would that be true? France had a more powerful army when Hitler rose to power than Germany did. German politics, especially in the military, were heavily influenced by the disparity, along with the other conditions from Versailles (and their impacts in the 20s). France having a large army, in both wars, was a clear justification for German actions (as given by the Germans).

          • baconbits9 says:

            You do realize that Hitler was crazy, right?

            Yes. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT.

            The worst wars ARE NOT FOUGHT OVER COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS. Having a massive standing army didn’t stop Hitler from invading France, or Russia or anywhere. Your statement that having a large army is necessary as a deterrent is countered by not one but two major, massive, nasty conflicts, plus multiple smaller ones during the 20th century.

          • bean says:

            Name 3 examples of large scale military buildup not leading to conflict.

            The entire Cold War.
            The South American Dreadnought Race.
            The big naval buildup in the 1890s between Russia, France, and the UK.
            (Note that in case 1 and 3, the buildup was in response to a military threat, not the other way around.)

            Why would that be true? France had a more powerful army when Hitler rose to power than Germany did.

            Precisely. And they should have used this army when Germany began to look like a threat.

            German politics, especially in the military, were heavily influenced by the disparity, along with the other conditions from Versailles (and their impacts in the 20s). France having a large army, in both wars, was a clear justification for German actions (as given by the Germans).

            Wait. You’re suggesting that the size of the French Army was the reason for the German attack in WWII? Some sort of bizarre army envy? Really? Nothing to do with a desire to avenge their defeat in 1918? Nothing to do with a need to plunder places to keep Hitler’s economy from exploding? Yes, Versailles was at the root of a lot of it, but simplifying it to “they have a bigger army” makes no sense at all.
            Also, I notice you’ve suddenly stopped talking about Japan.

          • bean says:

            Yes. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT.

            Hitler was crazy enough to believe they’d sit by, like they had several times recently. Diplomacy in Europe pre-war is not my specialty, but your ignorance is painful to watch.

            The worst wars ARE NOT FOUGHT OVER COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS.

            They are. The math just may not be obvious to you, and it’s usually not very good in hindsight. Have you ever heard of Lebensraum?

            Having a massive standing army didn’t stop Hitler from invading France, or Russia or anywhere.

            I will agree that those conflicts would have been considerably shorter if France and Russia (well, just Russia, if we ignore the Sitzkreig) hadn’t had standing armies.

            Your statement that having a large army is necessary as a deterrent is countered by not one but two major, massive, nasty conflicts, plus multiple smaller ones during the 20th century.

            Maybe some day, you’ll learn the difference between something working most of the time, and something working all the time, and why something that works most of the time can be worth it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Your statement that having a large army is necessary as a deterrent is countered by not one but two major, massive, nasty conflicts, plus multiple smaller ones during the 20th century.

            That proves that large armies aren’t (always) sufficient, not that they aren’t necessary.

          • toastengineer says:

            Bean, are you familiar with the story of Kowloon vs. China? I’m not all that familiar with it but I bet David will bring it up; it’s the most relevant thing I can think of.

          • quaelegit says:

            > Kowloon vs. China

            I only know what I read on the Wikipedia page, but it looks like once Hong Kong (which I think was still a British territory at that point?) decided to clear Kowloon Walled City in 1987, it took 7 years, and they were trying not to kill people. There’s nothing about armed resistance on the Wikipedia page, so I don’t see what bearing Kowloon has on this discussion?

          • albatross11 says:

            baconbits9:

            Instead of thinking in terms of leaders being crazy, I suspect it’s more useful to think in terms of leaders having different incentives than the well-being of their countries. In WW2, everyone sometimes did things that weren’t so smart militarily, but made sense for staying in power at home–Stalin purging the officer corps of the Red Army, Hitler aggressing against the neighbors when Germany wasn’t strong enough to fight France and the UK if they came into the war, the British and French government resolutely refusing to admit there was a war on the horizon because preparing for war was unpopular, etc.

            I mean, you can make a reasonable case that Hitler was indeed crazy. But I think you can make at least as compelling a case that he was responding to different incentives than the well-being of Germany as a whole–at least early on in his reign, he had to worry about the military deciding to get rid of him. (Later on, they actually tried, albeit not so effectively. But I think earlier, they would have been more effective.)

        • rlms says:

          Would a hypothetical ancap Switzerland with the same geography and a strong culture of volunteering for service in decentralised battalions (possibly under threat of economic penalty) be much more attractive to attackers? I’m not sure.

          • bean says:

            I’ll grant that Ancap Switzerland might be able to get away with it. Mountain warfare is hard, and plays to the strengths of the decentralized local forces. (See Afghanistan.) But it won’t really generalize.

          • albatross11 says:

            bean:

            My intuition is that there’s a range of different situations a country may be in. At one end, you’re the US in 1880–big oceans between you and all your competent enemies, a large population and territory that would be extremely hard to conquer and rule, a big economy which means you can have a strong military at reasonable cost if necessary, etc. At the other end, you’re Poland in 1938–few natural barriers to invasion, surrounded by aggressive and powerful countries. Probably there’s not a national defense strategy that will work for Poland in 1938, and probably there are a huge number that will work okay for the US in 1880.

            It seems to me that the issue you’re raising has to do with the set of possible national defense strategies. Ancapistan has a smaller set of possible strategies than a more centralized country–they can’t have a draft or fund a military build-up with taxes, for example. Intuitively, it seems like Ancapistan can maintain its independence in a smaller set of situations than a more centralized country that can draft citizens into the army or build up a big navy fast by raising taxes to cover the cost.

            The way that might be wrong is if there are also some strategies that Ancapistan can use that other countries can’t, or some other offsetting advantage. For example, if Ancapistan has an immensely more productive economy because of its greater level of freedom and smaller amount of rent-seeking, maybe it can fund the necessary battleships or orbital missile defense platforms or whatever out of the equivalent of bake sales and fundraising drives.

          • bean says:

            @albatross
            More or less that’s what I was getting at. But particularly under modern conditions, I don’t think it’s really feasible to rely on voluntary contributions for any sort of serious defense. Yes, if you happen to be in a place with no serious enemies, and you manage to self-police enough to not irritate everyone else, you might be able to get away with no military. But if we’re going to talk navies (which I’ve been sort of avoiding because I don’t want to get accused of cherry-picking my evidence), then I don’t think Ancapistan is going to be able to build an effective fleet. Who is going to pay for the command-and-control network? What about maintenance, or overhauls, or making sure that you have lots of war reserve ammo? I really strongly expect the Ancapistan Navy to follow the usual path of 3rd world navies. Buy some nice big ships because of threat/economic boom/”Ooh, shiny!”. Get them, without the necessary support infrastructure. Realize they aren’t all that useful. Let them rot. Maybe refit them when another threat rears their head. Repeat. The opposite is only possible when the people responsible for the funding have some understanding of sea power. For every shipping line that has a CEO who is a naval buff and builds appropriate ships, you’ll have several who want something that looks impressive and makes a nice yacht for the stockholder meeting.

          • Buy some nice big ships because of threat/economic boom/”Ooh, shiny!”. Get them, without the necessary support infrastructure. Realize they aren’t all that useful. Let them rot.

            You are, of course, thinking of England in the late 17th century.

          • bean says:

            You are, of course, thinking of England in the late 17th century.

            That’s an example of the pattern I was describing, certainly. I was thinking of the South American Dreadnoughts first and foremost, and then most 3rd world navies in general. I sometimes forget about anything which is powered only by sail.

          • I was thinking of the South American Dreadnoughts first and foremost, and then most 3rd world navies in general. I sometimes forget about anything which is powered only by sail.

            You wrote “let them rot.”

            Wooden ships rot.

            Iron ships rust.

          • bean says:

            You wrote “let them rot.”

            Wooden ships rot.

            Iron ships rust.

            Most of the ships I speak of have wooden decks which rot long before the hulls rust. But that’s kind of a cheap escape. I was speaking metaphorically. Also, a ship being made of wood doesn’t mean it didn’t have steam engines. Before Warrior, there were quite a few ships with that combination.

    • Aapje says:

      @bean

      Note the phrase “defense force you want”. I’ll freely grant that a strong central government is not at all necessary to make life very unpleasant for an invader. See Afghanistan, entire history of. The problem is that while you can eventually make the invader go home, your country is not a pleasant place to be during that time.

      Not only that, but there are reasons to invade nations that are not ‘we want to control and govern the (entire) territory.’

      For example, an invader could loot some easily transportable possessions, like take the gold from Fort Knox. They could destroy things to weaken you. They can nibble at your corners, like take possession of oil rigs, Puerto Rico or even take Florida and oust everyone already living there.

      • baconbits9 says:

        If the US was ancap why would there be a Fort Knox stuffed with gold to loot?

        • John Schilling says:

          It wouldn’t be a Fort, but belief in anarcho-capitalism correlates very strongly with belief in an explicit gold standard. I mean, check out the flag. Ancapistan is highly unlikely to make a fiat currency work, the problems with bitcoin have been discussed here at length, and gold bullion is too physically inconvenient. That suggests a gold-backed currency with free exchange, which means vaults full of gold available for looting.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That suggests a gold-backed currency with free exchange, which means vaults full of gold available for looting.

            No, the logical implication is that there would be many vaults each with a little bit of gold (relative to Knox). There is also the possibility of exploiting the comparative advantage of nation states that do exists (ie Switzerland) to store large portions of the gold.

          • Matt M says:

            Except vaults would be small and distributed. There would be no one giant authority with one huge vault.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is there a reason bank size in ancapistan wouldn’t follow the same sort of power-law-ish distribution they do in the US today, where the top four hold over half the assets? Because I’m pretty sure that looting four vaults whose owners don’t have a spare armored division to park on top of them, is going to be easier than looting one that does.

            And an explicit gold standard would probably require that the banking industry as a whole keep more physical gold (platinum, enriched uranium, whatever) relative to the size of the economy than the US treasury currently does, so it seems plausible that JPMorgan Chase alone in ancapUSA would wind up with vaults as well-stocked as Actual Fort Knox.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There are 4 banks, and each bank has 1 vault? Or there are 4 banks and each bank has 6,000 vaults?*

            * admittedly each branch doesn’t necessarily have a “vault”, but it gets the idea across.

          • albatross11 says:

            If Ancapistan is worth living in in peacetime, it will have things worth stealing and flows of wealth worth extorting tribute from. That won’t be *government* wealth, but who cares–loot from private citizens spends just as well as loot from government treasuries.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            If Ancapistan is worth living in in peacetime, it will have things worth stealing and flows of wealth worth extorting tribute from. That won’t be *government* wealth, but who cares–loot from private citizens spends just as well as loot from government treasuries.

            And if you’ve got the muscle to sack a Fort Knox you’ve got the muscle to sack any arbitrary number of petty-vaults in the area. Unless Ancapistan is geographically unforgiving (e.g. Switzerland) or huge (e.g. Russia) the gold distribution doesn’t significantly matter.

    • Murphy says:

      “How do they distribute the crypto keys to make sure that the other side can’t eavesdrop?”

      I agree with most of your points but this one seems like one that actually can be/has been solved a number of times by non-government entities building reasonably effective key distribution infrastructure.

      By comparison making sure that all your hardware radios actually work together is probably the bigger problem.

      I’m kinda curious whether a neighbor could successfully wage a war on one subgroup in an ancap “state” while maintaining enough paper-thin legitimacy to make others unwilling to join the fight. Get into a major business dispute with some large company/entity, declare them in breach of contract, declare them to be refusing mediation then send in guys with guns you officially designate as bailiffs to reclaim a debt and who are basically taking control of manufacturing infrastructure and land.

      How how about a neighboring state offers some mid-size organizations owners a pile of gold bars to buy out their holdings. They take ownership and the neighbors wake up to find a new “security firm” has peacefully moved in and have gun emplacements everywhere. Suddenly you don’t just have to worry about incoming aircraft but also the fact that the opposing army openly bought a bunch of facilities and turned them into fortifications with artillery 200 yards from Air Defense Inc’s main premises. Unless you can somehow ban individuals within your ancap society from freely selling their property to outsiders an invader could just buy locations where it would be handy to have troops when they do decide to invade.

      • bean says:

        I agree with most of your points but this one seems like one that actually can be/has been solved a number of times by non-government entities building reasonably effective key distribution infrastructure.

        A point, although I think the differences between civilian and military comms might defeat those efforts. The threat environments are rather different. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on military comms.

        How how about a neighboring state offers some mid-size organizations owners a pile of gold bars to buy out their holdings. They take ownership and the neighbors wake up to find a new “security firm” has peacefully moved in. Suddenly you don’t just have to worry about incoming aircraft but also the fact that the opposing army openly bought a bunch of facilities and turned them into fortifications with artillery 200 yards from Air Defense Inc’s main premises. Unless you can somehow ban individuals within your ancap society from freely selling their property to outsiders an invader could just buy locations where it would be handy to have troops when they do decide to invade.

        This is a really good point, and one I wish I’d thought of.

      • baconbits9 says:

        How how about a neighboring state offers some mid-size organizations owners a pile of gold bars to buy out their holdings

        Ever tried to buy out a city blocks worth of houses so you can build a high rise? Ever follow the extensive negotiations to buy enough land to put up a sports stadium? Suddenly and secretively purchasing massive tracks of land across multiple sellers isn’t a realistic option. Further buying the land and moving in military would likely violate multiple use agreements and air space (depending on how it is resolved in an cap land) to get them in place.

        • Murphy says:

          This is sounding like your ancap citizens are already living with surprisingly tightly locked down restrictions on what they can do with their land for an ancap society. Are all farmers banned from building bunkers under their fields? what about filling them with supplies, weapons and , potentially, armed soldiers.

          Why would you only need massive tracts of land?

          How much easier would an invasion be if every few blocks in the territory you were targeting you already had small hard-point fortifications, (bought freely from anyone willing to sell a property in a location where it would be useful to have a military fortification) with soldiers who had years to note what positions you should target with your first strike?

          Who said secretly? The new outfit set themselves up as a security firm and start selling policies. If the invaders win it’s not like those policies will be paid out on.

          Now if there’s things to stop a random foreign-backed entity from setting up as a remarkably well equipped private security firm (possibly with the backing of a foreign military) how do those same things not prevent random so and so from trying to freely and legally set up his own private security firm to compete with the existing ones?

          If local property regs are so tightly locked down nobody can move in to compete that starts to imply the power of the local security firms is so extensive that it starts to look less like an-cap.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is sounding like your ancap citizens are already living with surprisingly tightly locked down restrictions on what they can do with their land for an ancap society

            It does? I don’t see that line of reasoning.

        • bean says:

          Ever tried to buy out a city blocks worth of houses so you can build a high rise? Ever follow the extensive negotiations to buy enough land to put up a sports stadium? Suddenly and secretively purchasing massive tracks of land across multiple sellers isn’t a realistic option.

          Pretty much what Murphy said. I don’t need to build a major military base in the middle of a city. I need to buy enough of a base to shut down the SAM site, which in practice means mortars and ATGMs. A house could probably do the job. A small commercial building would be plenty. And the SAM site probably isn’t in the middle of the city, either.

          Further buying the land and moving in military would likely violate multiple use agreements and air space (depending on how it is resolved in an cap land) to get them in place.

          That’s a big assumption. Why would there be “no military movement” agreements, particularly if I use front organizations? Set up or buy a security company, buy the weapons under their name, then move my troops in when I need to, under false papers.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Buying a house would not grant you unfettered access to the air and roads you need to move your weapons into place. You would, in all likelihood, have to violate numerous contracts just to put them in place, and you are going to have to do this dozens, if not hundreds, of times to carry any notable territory.

            Why would there be “no military movement” agreements, particularly if I use front organizations?

            Because the people owning the roads have an ENORMOUS incentive not to have you use them as a highway to attack people they do business with on a regular basis? The road is only worth something in that it connects people and industry. What is the reaction of 100% of their customers when it is revealed what happened? Can you imagine a company building and maintaining billions of dollars of infrastructure and not giving a crap that you were transporting hazardous materials unsafely, or attacking their other customers, or just swerving in and out of traffic threatening accidents that would cost you revenue?

          • Brad says:

            Do ancaps generally accept / have a theory for property servitudes (i.e. rules that run with the land rather than are contracts that bind parties to the contract)?

            I suppose you could do it as a viral contract provision that obligates the transferor to include a similar provision in any transfer, but what happens when someone dies intestate in ancap land? And what about if there was a foreclosure based on a debt the predated the land transfer?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Oh, and who has the largest incentive to control the flow of people and materials in the area? Yep, the private security firm that owns the anti aircraft installation in your hypothetical.

            The flaw here is that you are assuming an ancap system causes separation and isolation. The opposite is true, capitalism causes things and people to be more connected. Burn down a bakery and you don’t just effect the owner, you effect all the employees, and customers and vendors. In an ancap world that will add the owners of the roads, their private security firm and all the other layers that government depersonalizes.

          • bean says:

            Buying a house would not grant you unfettered access to the air and roads you need to move your weapons into place. You would, in all likelihood, have to violate numerous contracts just to put them in place, and you are going to have to do this dozens, if not hundreds, of times to carry any notable territory.

            Three points:
            1. No government is actually going to care about those contracts, so long as they don’t get caught.
            2. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS. Yes, the road company will tell me no if I ask them to let me invade someone. But I tell them that I’m a weapons enthusiast, or a legitimate security company. Or any other lie I feel like. If I’m any good at it, they’ll let me through.
            3. I don’t need all that much in the way of weaponry to make life very difficult for the other guy. This risk is often controlled by making it basically impossible to get the weapons in question. Not likely in Ancapistan.

            Oh, and who has the largest incentive to control the flow of people and materials in the area? Yep, the private security firm that owns the anti aircraft installation in your hypothetical.

            Oh, so we do have a government. It’s just that we’re pretending we don’t because it makes you feel better.

          • John Schilling says:

            Buying a house would not grant you unfettered access to the air and roads you need to move your weapons into place. You would, in all likelihood, have to violate numerous contracts just to put them in place,

            And somebody planning an invasion or other military action is going to care about the contract violation, why? Who is even going to know, until it is too late to do anything about it? Does living in Ancapistan mean people’s cars and houses are subject to random search by whatever private security firm thinks they may be a threat, even though they have contracted with a different no-searching-our-houses-and-cars security firm?

            (Edit: ninja’d by bean, of course]

          • baconbits9 says:

            Do ancaps generally accept / have a theory for property servitudes (i.e. rules that run with the land rather than are contracts that bind parties to the contract)?

            I think it is universal. Would you buy a house without any idea if you could use the road that lead to it? Which is easier for the company that owns the road, to have to negotiate with every new tenant or to have it standardized and easily referenced?

          • baconbits9 says:

            And somebody planning an invasion or other military action is going to care about the contract violation, why? Who is even going to know, until it is too late to do anything about it?

            It refutes the idea that you can easily coordinate such an invasion. The actions required to do so will incentivise a coalition against the invaders. The supposed weakness of the ancap system is that you can pick small parts of it off and the whole area won’t fight back because it isn’t their problem.

          • bean says:

            It refutes the idea that you can easily coordinate such an invasion. The actions required to do so will incentivise a coalition against the invaders. The supposed weakness of the ancap system is that you can pick small parts of it off and the whole area won’t fight back because it isn’t their problem.

            You are still not getting it. Yes, if I get caught, people might react against me. But what if I don’t get caught? How does the road company make sure that none of those trucks are carrying weapons that violate the contract? Do they search each and every one of them? Do they search a random sample? Or do they just plan to collect penalties for any violations that come to their attention? Because good luck with the last one. I either own the country, or just laugh at their rights enforcement agency. If they become irritating enough, I declare them a terrorist group and start blowing things up.

          • baconbits9 says:

            1. No government is actually going to care about those contracts, so long as they don’t get caught.

            1. Oh, hi every organization in the world. We won’t honor our contracts. You can’t trust us in the slightest, and now that we dominate this small patch of land, which formerly had open business relations with the rest of the world and our occupation has pissed off roughly 100% of their vendors and customers…. ummm, where was I going with this address? Oh yeah, we super, duper promise not to do it again.

            Even Neville Chamberlain (eventually) woke up to the realization that Hitler was a pathological liar who couldn’t be trusted.

            The treaty won’t physically prevent violation, but the treaty violation makes it extremely unlikely that anyone will enter into treaties with you in the future. Maybe you can convince a weak power like Italy to ride your coattails before abandoning you as soon as your weakness is exposed.

            Violating contracts is a good way to not being able to do business with people who use contracts, which is pretty much everyone you want to do business with.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are still not getting it. Yes, if I get caught, people might react against me. But what if I don’t get caught?

            You are going to get caught, even if it is ex post. That isn’t much consolation for the defense organization, but it doesn’t have a positive outlook for the invader.

          • bean says:

            1. Oh, hi every organization in the world. We won’t honor our contracts. You can’t trust us in the slightest, and now that we dominate this small patch of land, which formerly had open business relations with the rest of the world and our occupation has pissed off roughly 100% of their vendors and customers…. ummm, where was I going with this address? Oh yeah, we super, duper promise not to do it again.

            1. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS
            2. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS
            3. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS

            Now that we have that reminder out of the way, have you ever heard the word espionage? Governments routinely do things in other countries which are illegal under the laws of the country in question. Occasionally, this comes to light. The people in question are arrested or thrown out, and everyone goes back to pretending that they’re all upstanding citizens of the international order.
            In this particular case, the important thing is that the government is doing something suspiciously like preparing for an attack, not that they violated the rules on carriage of weapons on the roads. And I don’t really see how you can stop a competent opponent from setting up another front and trying again. The whole point is that you don’t know who’s a front and who isn’t.

            You are going to get caught, even if it is ex post. That isn’t much consolation for the defense organization, but it doesn’t have a positive outlook for the invader.

            “You know we’re being invaded, right?”
            “Yeah, but I don’t really care”
            “Did you hear they violated a contract in the process of preparing for the invasion?”
            “THE BASTARDS! LET’S THROW THEM OUT.”

          • baconbits9 says:

            1. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS
            2. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS
            3. FRONT ORGANIZATIONS

            So there is this front organization that buys a house, trucks in bombs and missiles and then uses them to attack an installation, and no one can figure out who wanted it done? Followed by the air force controlling of a particular country controlling the air space (right? There is a point to attacking the air defense battery, wasn’t there), and no one can figure out who the front organization was working for? That Hitler could have invaded Poland and kept England and France out of the war by dressing up his soldiers in different uniforms? No. You are dodging the issue.

            If you are working from a cost/benefit analysis you have to look at ALLLLLLLLLLL of the costs, and you don’t just get to violate contracts and treaties without considering how every fucking other person, company and country on the planet will react to that aggression.

            If you are not doing a cost/benefit analysis because the invader is a fucking lunatic like Hitler then it doesn’t matter if you have a massive standing army, because he is a fucking lunatic.

            So here is the situation. You claim that having a large military is necessary for “deterrence” against invasion, and yet we have obvious examples where this doesn’t work. Then you set up hypothetical whereby an ancap situation might be able to be invaded given X, Y, but you are holding the ancap to a standard that far exceeds the actual performance of standing armies as a deterrent.

          • bean says:

            So there is this front organization that buys a house, trucks in bombs and missiles and then uses them to attack an installation, and no one can figure out who wanted it done? Followed by the air force controlling of a particular country controlling the air space (right? There is a point to attacking the air defense battery, wasn’t there), and no one can figure out who the front organization was working for?

            Really? That’s how you’re going to read it?
            After the fact, it’s obvious who the front company was working for. Beforehand, it’s not obvious that they’re working for anyone at all, and that they aren’t an appliance repair shop with a back room nobody goes into. “Remember Contract Breaches” is not nearly as evocative as “Remember Pearl Harbor”, and if there are consequences, they’ll be for the main action.
            “Well, they may have knocked out our SAM systems and bombed the drug factory, but at least they didn’t smuggle weapons through in violation of a contract with the road company. We’ll let it slide this time.”

            That Hitler could have invaded Poland and kept England and France out of the war by dressing up his soldiers in different uniforms? No. You are dodging the issue.

            You do know that Hitler did actually try a false-flag operation there, right?

            If you are working from a cost/benefit analysis you have to look at ALLLLLLLLLLL of the costs, and you don’t just get to violate contracts and treaties without considering how every fucking other person, company and country on the planet will react to that aggression.

            So violating a contract is more aggressive than bombing someone?
            (Snark deleted)

            If you are not doing a cost/benefit analysis because the invader is a fucking lunatic like Hitler then it doesn’t matter if you have a massive standing army, because he is a fucking lunatic.

            No. He wasn’t that mad. He didn’t attack Switzerland because there wasn’t anything in it for him. He made nice with the Soviets when it suited him. His math was off, but he wasn’t totally unpredictable.
            Also, can you please not mix topics like this? It’s irritating.

            So here is the situation. You claim that having a large military is necessary for “deterrence” against invasion, and yet we have obvious examples where this doesn’t work.

            So having a strong military doesn’t make people less likely to invade you? In that case, I’d love to see how you rationalize bank vaults.

            Then you set up hypothetical whereby an ancap situation might be able to be invaded given X, Y, but you are holding the ancap to a standard that far exceeds the actual performance of standing armies as a deterrent.

            Nope. Not even close. I know that the deterrent effect of actual armies isn’t perfect. But the idea that it’s 0 is so ludicrous that (snark deleted). My point is that the bar for an effective military (which is actually somewhat different from deterrence) is in a place where ancaps can’t reach. If they do get invaded, they won’t be able to fight a modern, stand-up war well. And the people around them will know it.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You claim that having a large military is necessary for “deterrence” against invasion, and yet we have obvious examples where this doesn’t work.

            Necessary != Sufficient

          • Murphy says:

            baconbits9: You seem…. somewhat idealistic and somewhat naive in regards to war.

            First, you only seem interested in comparisons to hitler, can we godwins that since only referencing the losing side in wars doesn’t tend to work well.

            It’s surprisingly rare for countries that go to war to simply shout “we’re going to war only because we can win!”

            Almost always some justification is played up or just manufactured.

            Lets imagine a state that wants to go to war with Ancapistan. Lets call them Conventionalstan.

            They have their reasons, perhaps the members of some rebel group fled across the border into Ancapistan years ago and periodically slip back across the border to attack Conventionalstan.

            Perhaps some nutter in Ancapistan has shot down a Conventionalstan passenger jet full of nuns and school kids because he claims they didn’t pay to use his airspace while flying over. (while they maintain they did but he’s locked in a contract dispute with someone else regarding the ownership of the land in question and they’re the ones who got paid)

            Perhaps the worlds biggest drug factories are in Ancapistan and flood the market with drugs illegal in Conventionalstan and they’re under constant pressure from major voting blocs within their country to Do Something About It.

            Perhaps Ancapistan is on top of a massive oil deposit.

            Perhaps Ancapistan contains major weapons factories and they sell to terrorist groups, rebels etc.

            Perhaps they suspect Ancapistan citizens have built secret chemical weapons factories that the locals insist are just perfectly normal pesticide plants.

            Perhaps Ancapistan citizens are ignoring copyright, trademarks and patents of Conventionalstan’s biggest industries and are flooding the market with fakes.

            Perhaps they just have their own internal political scandals and they need a successful minor war to distract the public from the stories about how the Conventionalstan prime minister insisted that that money was “just resting” in his account.

            So they decide they want to go to war.

            They don’t say “we’re doing this because we’re the bad guys!”

            They want an official reason that sounds good. so…

            They talk about how terrorists have been launching mortars from Ancapistan soil into Conventionalstan and it’s essential that they make this stop to protect their citizens. It doesn’t really matter if 99.9% of them miss. Perhaps the attacks are even launched by Conventionalstan agents doing a false flag. It doesn’t really matter if the local security firms regularly execute people suspected of launching the attacks all that matters is that they happened and can now be used to say “we were just defending ourselves and our children! we were being attacked!”

            They talk about how Conventionalstan tourists have been murdered while visiting Ancapistan. Same deal, perhaps a few randomers just got unlucky during a mugging, perhaps someone was caught with someones wife, perhaps the dead people were actually criminals themselves and were entirely in the wrong. It doesn’t matter, Conventionalstan has some bodies to show off and some of their own citizens are doing marches through the streets demanding justice and Conventionalstan maintains that the local security firms let it happen or were complicit etc etc etc. Truth doesn’t really matter as long as they can get a narrative going.

            Nobody is going to give even a tiny crap about Conventionalstan breaking a few contracts, contracts are just non-sacred things mostly about money when “Ancapistan terrorists are murdering Conventionalstan citizens in cold blood and launching attacks on our children”

            So after Conventionalstan soundly defeats Ancapistan they mop up.

            Finally Conventionalstan wave around signed agreements (slightly bloodstained) signed by the few remaining local powers left in Ancapistan stating that the actions of Conventionalstan were perfectly legal and justified and stating that they judge no unreasonable contract violations to have happened and/or granting immunity for previous acts by Conventionalstan forces.

            Finally, it sounds like Ancapistan is a society where every time I try to transport my goods and need to use a stretch of road someone will be inspecting my cargo? Where the use of all land is massively locked down and inspected for compliance. Where the flow of people is tightly controlled by third parties such that if I want to move my boyfriend into my house (who may in fact be a Conventionalstan soldier) the owners of the local roads can apparently veto it and prevent me from doing so. Like a conventional society but without any of the niceties like constitutional rights.

            Ancapistan is sounding like a steadily more and more massively repressive society here.

            The supposed weakness of the ancap system is that you can pick small parts of it off and the whole area won’t fight back because it isn’t their problem.

            Why would I need to do that when I, the leader of Conventionalstan already have a small fortification in every block of Ancapistan, with guns poised to target all major local weapons emplacements not owned by me to strike in the first seconds of our attack? I can garrison a large fraction of the invasion force before the invasion even begins. Once the shooting starts I no longer need to pick fraction off one by one. I already did that entirely peacefully buying houses or local security outfits.

            I’m starting any war with a massive, massive advantage and all the dice weighted in my favor because of how the ancap society is apparently structured.

    • rlms says:

      I don’t think the practicalities of of ancap armies are necessarily that relevant. If the question is whether e.g. ancap France could have an effective national defence with the rest of the world held constant, I think the answer is “obviously yes”. They can rely on the US protecting them, much as they do now. But if we are saying a majority of countries are ancap, there are many plausible scenarios. Whose national defence are we talking about, and what are they defending against? Is it France against Germany for generic 19th/20th century reasons (as the nuclear peace has failed), or Botswana against Marauding Bandits Ltd, or the California vs Alabama in a hot culture war?

      • baconbits9 says:

        This is the correct ling of questioning. Could ancap France have held of Nazi Germany? Can be discussed in military terms, but that misses the larger question of would the Nazi’s have come to power if France had been ancap? That begs the next question of when could France have gone ancap without being overrun by the Germans (or other aggressors).

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          I’m pretty sure any ancap country would be the equivalent of a hornets nest with a slef destruct button and an attomatic launch system.
          Like imagine invading a country where everyone 3-103 has 10 small arms, a bomb shelter, food and water to last decades, countless manuals on the manufacture of improvised explosives, sniper tactics, militia networks, ect.
          Its common for people to stockpile artillery, armoured vehicles and nerve gas for fun. And most large institutions/ wealthy individuals have tactical nukes both for deterence and as a status symbol.
          And on top of everything there are no public records to track all that messed up shit down, but there are strong norms about being able to keep the shit you loot off enemies of ancapistan and a strong culture of treating these trophies as potent status symbols.

          One does not simply march into ancapistan.

          (To use an anology from the D&D multiverse: NAZI germany is the 9 hells whereas anarchocapitalism is the abyss. Only the 9 hells thinks there’s a war going on, the abyss just finds it cute how melodramatic the devils are about their visits)

          • Nornagest says:

            Its common for people to stockpile artillery, armoured vehicles and nerve gas for fun.

            Where are these common people getting the money to stockpile artillery or armored vehicles for fun? Much less to actually get good at them — .50 BMG costs five bucks a round, I don’t even want to know what 155mm would cost.

            Nerve gas might be cheaper but it also sounds incredibly dangerous, and it’s hard to use chemical weapons as anything but area denial.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            So the power of unrestricted capitalism was why the orcs were at the beginning of an industrial revolution in an otherwise early medieval world?

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you have any idea how much artillery costs, never mind nuclear weapons? I think you are grossly overestimating both the ability and the enthusiasm of actual libertarians and anarchists for running private armies. Also their willingness to pay the real price of waging a constant low-intensity war against their enemies.

            I’ll grant you lots of small arms in the hands of enthusiasts, some of whom will even know how to use them well. This will not in the least inconvenience the people filling Ancapistan’s skies with drones to strike anything that frightens or confuses them. See e.g. Yemen.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Nornagest

            In a first world ancap country it actually wouldn’t be too expensive to get large support weapons, manpads, rocket launchers ect. (25-50% cheaper would seem a fair discount once you account for increased market size, reduced regulation (you’d maybe want to pay an extra $500 to get it certfied safe), the price difference between gov contract and open market ect.)
            Now consider the 30-50% increase in takehome income you get from no taxes, the need to secure your own property anyway, the status bonus you get at your local militia group by being the guy with his own stinger missile, and just the societal expectation that a successful uppermiddleclass familyman should own his own 50cal. And ya I’d expect that to be something people invest in just like they invest in backyard swimming pools (added bonus stinger missiles and 50cal BMGs are much safer when you have small kids thanbackyard swimming pools)

            As for mordor being AnCap im pretty sure this is actually supported by the txt itself. Like its a large culturally heterogeneous force motivated by bribes, opportunity to plunder, and Sauron’s “influence”, which now that i think about it is exactly how corporate takeovers and startups work. (Issengard on the otherhand seems like a pretty standard mageocracy with standard authoritarian tendecies, jobs assigned at birth, ect. Although Sauroman does deal fairly with the men of Dunland, and wormtogue and is fairly generous in his attempts to recruit Gandalf (like he just holds him as a POW after he refuses to join up, whereas the “heroes” never take prisoners))

            So ya Lord of the Rings is a tragedy of an ancap society enabling lots of victims of oppresion to rise up against aristocrats and “the nobler races” in pursuit of the transhumanist dream of immortality and technological progress only to be brought down by a mortal peasant manipulated by immortal Henry Kissinger types who keep the secret of immortality from him and his people.

            But ya mordor is ancap what can i say?
            Chaotic Evil 4 life!!!

          • bean says:

            Like imagine invading a country where everyone 3-103 has 10 small arms, a bomb shelter, food and water to last decades, countless manuals on the manufacture of improvised explosives, sniper tactics, militia networks, ect.

            Care to explain how ancapistan is going to turn your average person into a serious militiaman/prepper? I have the countless manuals in question, but none of the rest of the stuff. And that stuff is expensive.

            And most large institutions/ wealthy individuals have tactical nukes both for deterence and as a status symbol.

            You clearly have no idea how much nukes cost. Or anything else involved.

          • Nornagest says:

            In a first world ancap country it actually wouldn’t be too expensive […] 25-50% cheaper would seem a fair discount […]
            Now consider the 30-50% increase in takehome income you get from no taxes, the need to secure your own property anyway, the status bonus you get at your local militia group by being the guy with his own stinger missile, and just the societal expectation that a successful uppermiddleclass familyman should own his own 50cal.

            That sounds like it’d be enough to make an HMG affordable for middle-class users, or an RPG, or a small to medium-sized mortar, or maybe even a MANPADS system (a recent Indian contract gives a unit price of $38,000 for a Stinger, so pricey but not totally out of reach).

            But I don’t think it gets you an armored vehicle or any kind of gun or rocket artillery: cheap Russian howitzers are in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars built new, without ammo or propulsion, and it goes up quickly from there. You’d probably be able to afford the sticker price on a surplus T-34 or something, but it’d be about as much of a challenge to a modern main battle tank as a sheet of wet tissue paper. And even so I guarantee it’d be at least as much of a money hole as a boat is. Moreso if you ever want to fire the main gun.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Unit cost of a stinger missile system is $38,000 so thats totally achievable for maybe the top 10% of individuals, and lets say that on average .1% actually invest in one (some will have multiple ao this seems reasonable) and that works out to 5000 stinger missiles in a nation the size of denmark. Rendering the airspace completely inoperable for an invader.

            Nukes have a unit cost between 100million and 300million but lets assume the delivery system and market environment double that price to 600million. This is a totally achievable price point for any corporation that has profits over a billion dollars and wants a deterent to nations that might try to nationalize their operations in those countries (I’ll name exxon, google and united fruit co as examples). Add to that eccentric billionaires ( both native and any international wierdos who would like one but cant have one in their own country (i imagine many shady russian billionaires would like this insurance against their former allies)) also any international cartels whose operations are perfectly legal and peaceful in ancapistan but which are illegal and violent in their home countries and would like a deterent to having their leaders killed or arrested.

            Lets be conservative and estimate 1 nukes per million citizens plus 50-150 nules owned by international persons/prganizations divided across all ancap nations and it seems like north korea is a minor threat compared to a true ancap nation.

            Tell me if you see anything wrong with my math

          • Lambert says:

            I bet the unit costs are the least of your problems.
            The real expenses will be in making sure that, when an enemy force arrives, all the equipment works and you’ve not forgotten how to use it.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can’t deny airspace with MANPADS alone. You can make it very uncomfortable for an attacker to fly helicopters or other low-level craft, but a Stinger can only reach up to about 12,500 feet: strategic bombers have flown higher than that for as long as strategic bombing has been a thing, and with modern guided munitions you can even fly CAS from above that level.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            As for traditional artilery and heavy armoured vehicles I’m not sure how valuable these would be to a decentralized ancap force. (Like the price point would be achievable for large families, collective organizations and clubs, individuals with more than 5million in assets, ext.) But without the organization of a big army you might be better off investing in more landmines, explosives, sniper rifles and focus on cutting supply lines, maintaining a geurilla force, and sustaining an insurgency.

            Maybe ancapistans farm conglometrates, large cattle holding families and oil companies will invest in tanks so they can defend their vast praries from invading armoured devisions but the smaller ones will just use mines to deny menueverability in the area and continue the fight from ground favourable to guerillas and insurgents.

            Ancapistan works on the premise that geurillas and insurgents become more effective the higher the GDP per capita. Think of how the talibans been able to hold out against the strongest military the worlds ever know and now imagine if they had 10-20 times the budget to play with and decades of capital expences with which to prepare.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            SAM systems might actually be a very achievable expense for large property developers, airports, and businesses with large capital intesive sites (oil refineries, major amazon warehouses, shipyards, ect.).

            I can imagine the property developers in a major city forming an group to coordinate SAM placement and devide expences effieciently with tenants being quite keen to see that, in event of war, their homes/ businesses will be a priority to protect as opposed to those whoses houses fall into the general security zone.

            Beyond this i cound imagine Ancapistan international airport might even have its own airforce as a means of asserting its authority and norms in the area around itself (force unauthorized planes to land, ect.) As well as mining and resource companies having hybrid attack helicopter/airborn units (perhap with expence/resource sharing agreements/federations of smaller companies) to let them maintain a force presence in the expansive areas the operate in.

            First world companies are very good at coordinating capital expences efficiently, i don’t see qhy a first world ancapistan’s companies wouldn’t be able to make those decisions for SAM launchers as well as entire oil refineries.

          • John Schilling says:

            I can imagine the property developers in a major city forming an group to coordinate SAM placement and devide expences effieciently with tenants being quite keen to see that, in event of war, their homes/ businesses will be a priority to protect as opposed to those whoses houses fall into the general security zone.

            That sort of thing would guarantee that the defense of Ancapistan is conducted in about the most tactically inefficient manner possible, and would be exploited by a competent attacker to defeat the various Ancapistani consortiums in detail.

          • bean says:

            Unit cost of a stinger missile system is $38,000 so thats totally achievable for maybe the top 10% of individuals, and lets say that on average .1% actually invest in one (some will have multiple ao this seems reasonable) and that works out to 5000 stinger missiles in a nation the size of denmark. Rendering the airspace completely inoperable for an invader.

            As has been pointed out, manpads don’t do that. They make it unhealthy to be down low, but this also assumes that everyone is buying stingers. How many people do you think decide they’d rather save the cash and buy early-model SA-7s instead? You know, the missiles that don’t have the feature which keeps them from homing on the sun. Or flares.

            Nukes have a unit cost between 100million and 300million but lets assume the delivery system and market environment double that price to 600million.

            That seems conservative if you’re on ancap scales. Nukes are only cheap when you have big production lines.

            This is a totally achievable price point for any corporation that has profits over a billion dollars and wants a deterent to nations that might try to nationalize their operations in those countries (I’ll name exxon, google and united fruit co as examples).

            Anyone who tries that finds all of my spies looking for their weapons. Once they’re located, they get instant sunshine. Any surviving officers who made the decision get arrested for threatening me with nukes, and the company gets nationalized anyway.

            Add to that eccentric billionaires ( both native and any international wierdos who would like one but cant have one in their own country (i imagine many shady russian billionaires would like this insurance against their former allies)) also any international cartels whose operations are perfectly legal and peaceful in ancapistan but which are illegal and violent in their home countries and would like a deterent to having their leaders killed or arrested.

            If this is ancapistan, the chances of you actually being allowed to have nukes (and by that I mean the chances of any nuclear testing in ancapistan not being met by the immediate glassing of every major city) are actually zero.

            Tell me if you see anything wrong with my math

            I suspect costing problems, not to mention the fact that you will die if you try it.

            But without the organization of a big army you might be better off investing in more landmines, explosives, sniper rifles and focus on cutting supply lines, maintaining a geurilla force, and sustaining an insurgency.

            Insurgencies are nice if you really want the other guy out of your country eventually. It’s not so good if someone has invaded you to slap down the terrorists who are next door. And you certainly aren’t going to be doing the ancap party while they’re there.

            Maybe ancapistans farm conglometrates, large cattle holding families and oil companies will invest in tanks so they can defend their vast praries from invading armoured devisions but the smaller ones will just use mines to deny menueverability in the area and continue the fight from ground favourable to guerillas and insurgents.

            Again, repeat after me: Insurgencies are not nice things to be involved in.

            Ancapistan works on the premise that geurillas and insurgents become more effective the higher the GDP per capita. Think of how the talibans been able to hold out against the strongest military the worlds ever know and now imagine if they had 10-20 times the budget to play with and decades of capital expences with which to prepare.

            You have this precisely backwards. Insurgencies do terrible things to GDP. The Taliban is able to hold out like they are because they have good terrain and because their country is so backwards that all the insurgency means is that their robe replacement schedule goes from 2 to 3 years. (Slight exaggeration, but not that much.) One side offers civilization, and the other side offers running around the mountains getting shot at. Which side are most Americans going to pick?
            Also, that preparation is a wasting resource. The high-tech weapons are going to get used up, and probably sooner than you expect. And then you’re back on old Soviet weapons.

            SAM systems might actually be a very achievable expense for large property developers, airports, and businesses with large capital intesive sites (oil refineries, major amazon warehouses, shipyards, ect.).

            Yes, but a single SAM system is not enough. You have to integrate. And that means that you’re working on a national level. Again, the weird and boring bits are what make war work these days.

            Beyond this i cound imagine Ancapistan international airport might even have its own airforce as a means of asserting its authority and norms in the area around itself (force unauthorized planes to land, ect.)

            A force required for that and a force capable of fighting a modern air force are also very different. A couple of Mig-21s will police all you want, but they die against F-16s. Even F-16s die against F-16s backed by tankers and AWACS.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            They might deploy in a tactically inefficient manner or they might not.
            The issue isn’t “would ancapistan win a war with x” the issue is “could ancapistan inflict such costs on an invader that it would never be profitable to invade ancapistan and never be possible to shut it down without breaking your nation and army in the process”

            Could a first world ancap country make itself unconquerable by any realistic threat?

            I’ve demonstrated how an ancap country could have lots of weapons systems from small arms to nukes, and have them more or less functionally deploy.

            Now you have to tell me a story of why and how a nation or alliance of nations would/could successfully invade and occupy ancapistan and leave it non-ancap after the oxcupation. When everything in ancapistan is designed to impose massive costs, go to shit and render the country ungovernable by any military force.

            Ancapistan doesn’t have to win any battles or hold any territory. It just has to become a bottomless bloody quagmire the second any non-ancap system tries to govern it, and have the muscle memory there to become ancap again after the invading army gives up or burnsout.

          • Nornagest says:

            by that I mean the chances of any nuclear testing in ancapistan not being met by the immediate glassing of every major city

            This I’m actually not sure about. We didn’t glass North Korea in 2006 when they started testing nukes, and it would be hard to imagine relations with a hypothetical Ancapistan being much worse than US/DPRK relations short of outright war. South Africa was also a pariah state back in the Eighties and they still managed to develop and even deploy some simple fission weapons.

            On the other hand, the structure of an ancap state means that the people actually doing nuclear weapons development are going to belong to a private company planning to sell them for profit, and that’s the sort of thing that the other nuclear powers are going to be violently leery of. Might be ways around this, though. Not that it matters; the other obstacles are already insurmountable AFAICT.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Sidenote:
            The point of discussion is whether a fully functioning ancap society would be able to defend itself from and invading world power such that the power would not want to invade and if it did the war would end with ancapistan being ancap instead of whatever gov the invader installs.

            The question is NOT would ancapistan get invaded the second you tried to set it up. Of course it would!!! Every nation on earth would invade ancapistan the second they tried to export their first freighter of meth. Or tested their first nuke. Or had the grand opening of Los Zetas cartel Head Office. Or tried to brin down the petro dollar.

            Anyone trying to start ancapistan would be declared worst than Hilter and Bin Laden combined and assassinated.

            But thats not the issue!!
            The issue is if Ancapistan magically survived its first 50 years and Los Zetas cartel became the worlds largest public company and all the nukes had been tested and sold. Would that Ancapistan, a functioning anarcho-capitalist country with no government and a crazy independence minded culutre, be invadeable by any power that wasn’t suicidal.

            I doubt it.

            And that has profound implications for the philosophy’s theoretical feasability

          • bean says:

            Could a first world ancap country make itself unconquerable by any realistic threat?

            Sure. But it stops being first world after all the factories and bridges get blown up. And I can do that from the air. And no, you can’t build an adequate IADS.

            @Nornagest

            This I’m actually not sure about. We didn’t glass North Korea in 2006 when they started testing nukes, and it would be hard to imagine relations with a hypothetical Ancapistan being much worse than US/DPRK relations short of outright war. South Africa was also a pariah state back in the Eighties and they still managed to develop and even deploy some simple fission weapons.

            Honestly, the Norks are considerably less worrying than nukes in private hands. North Korea is a state, and has reasonably predictable interests. John has written on this at some length. The idea of nukes going to the highest bidder is terrifying from a strategic perspective. I don’t like the Norks having nukes, but the cost of stopping them was higher than the cost of letting them go. But the North Koreans had an entire heavily-militarized country to impose costs with. Whoever is building nukes isn’t likely to be able to hurt me that much. And they can’t hinder my intel nearly as much as the Norks could. So the centerfuges get hit from the air early on.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Oh sorry i should have mentioned sooner.

            I’m assuming Ancapistan at peace has a rediculously fast Baseline GDP growth rate like %50-150 per year below $10,000 gdp, and 10- 50% above that, Due to all the regulatory barriers being eliminated and pretty much any venture thats illegal elsewhere relocating to ancapistan.
            You can imagine what having the worlds drug, arms, counterfit goods, and everything else trade rerouted through your country would do for local cashflow.

            This obviously would only apply if ancap economics works and if it works specifically in ancapistan and if ancapistan is one of the only ancap countries (if everyone does it it loses the arbitrage aspect) and if the balance that lets ancapistan work doesn’t get permanently thrown out of whack by the war.

            But if we continue with these assumptions and ancapistan does have the set of features that just let it bounce right back to to full ancap after an invader gives up or dies out, then that might account for a) why an insurgent force might forgoe a first world lifestyle elsewhere to fight it out for ancapistan (they to be in prime position in the worlds fastest growing economy if they win) and b) how ancapistan doesn’t just burnout all of its military grade resources across many subsequent military invasions.

            Again these are fantastical assumptions but its not impossible they could workout in some hypothetical circumstances, and its worthwhile actually finding out what it would take for a stable ancapistan to exist in a world nation states.

            Obviously there’s a reason most ancaps focus on bitcoin, cryptography, and nomad capitalism and don’t think forming a chaotic evil breakaway antistate is the path to liberty in our lifetime.

          • Nornagest says:

            Consistent 10% GDP growth is… unrealistic, but just barely plausible under highly favorable assumptions. But if you’re showing consistent 50% GDP growth, then either you’re lying or I want to know what your other two wishes were.

          • engleberg says:

            In The Probability Broach the libertarian USA has much better technology than us. Not implausible. Compare US technological improvements between 1860-1930 and between 1930-2017. What would our electronics be like if Jimmy Carter’s judge hadn’t broken Bell Labs? Where would software be if the Clintons hadn’t taken a half-billion dollar bribe from Microsoft’s competitors to sic the Justice Department on Microsoft? Not proven, but not implausible.

          • rlms says:

            Yes, lots of things are plausible if you use fictional evidence.

          • Murphy says:

            I’m assuming Ancapistan at peace has a rediculously fast Baseline GDP growth rate like %50-150 per year below $10,000 gdp, and 10- 50% above that, Due to all the regulatory barriers being eliminated and pretty much any venture thats illegal elsewhere relocating to ancapistan.
            You can imagine what having the worlds drug, arms, counterfit goods, and everything else trade rerouted through your country would do for local cashflow.

            1: your beliefs about regulatory effects on growth seem unrealistic.

            2: If all the worlds drug, arms, counterfit goods, etc trade relocate to some little country where the local are building chemical weapons and nukes and any crazy nutters on the border can lob them into neighboring territory on a whim…. that country will be glowing in the dark within weeks inside a massive international cordon.

            Possibly even if nobody else nukes them some bitter rich guy will decide to deploy one against his ex wife.

            Longer term there’s no environmental regs in ancapistan either (yay growth) so all the lead pollution is likely to see their younger generations mentally damaged and violent.

          • bean says:

            You can imagine what having the worlds drug, arms, counterfit goods, and everything else trade rerouted through your country would do for local cashflow.

            Yeah. It goes to zero when all of the neighbors decide that you’re a violent hellhole that badly needs a peackeeping force. An ancap state might be able to survive if its inhabitants took strong steps to make sure they weren’t annoying their neighbors too badly. I’m not saying that they’d have to adhere strictly to every conventional rule, but signs saying “Welcome Drug Trafficers” are right out. Chaotic Evil areas are simply not allowed in the international order. And frankly I don’t want the cartels as neighbors.

            a) why an insurgent force might forgoe a first world lifestyle elsewhere to fight it out for ancapistan (they to be in prime position in the worlds fastest growing economy if they win)

            Given that people today are often unable to see the advantages of reduced regulation on a smaller scale, this seems optimistic.

            and b) how ancapistan doesn’t just burnout all of its military grade resources across many subsequent military invasions.

            Really unlikely. Insurgencies take up a lot of ordnance, and depend on outside supply. The banner “we’re chaotic evil” is unlikely to attract much support.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ll also admit that a world where every twentieth farm in the county has a small nuke sitting around in case of invasion doesn’t actually sound much like utopia to me, even if it convinces foreign countries not to invade….

          • John Schilling says:

            the issue is “could ancapistan inflict such costs on an invader that it would never be profitable to invade ancapistan and never be possible to shut it down without breaking your nation and army in the process”

            Then the answer is no.

            Modern offensive wars are if at all possible waged with stand-off weapons delivered by air or sea, by local proxy forces, and by special operations forces. Sending in the regular army is a last resort, rarely necessary. See e.g. the US vs ISIS, or Russia vs Syrian Rebels, or Saudi Arabia vs Yemen to prove that this isn’t just a superpower thing.

            You can’t inflict unacceptable costs on an enemy doing stand-off air attacks, because he’s, well, standing off. All of his people and all of his fancy expensive airplanes are safely out of range. He only pays the marginal cost of jet fuel and glide bombs, and all you can do is try to shoot down the glide bombs. Which won’t always work, and when it does the missile you used to do it was more expensive than the glide bomb. Plus, your people are dying and your surviving customers are really quite irate about that.

            You can’t inflict unacceptable costs on an enemy using proxy forces against you, because he’s not the one paying the costs. Reasons why ancapistan will be a fertile recruiting ground for local proxies are left as an exercise for the student.

            You might be able to inflict what the enemy will see as an unacceptable cost by killing or capturing his special operations forces; see e.g. “Black Hawk Down”. But SOF with proper air support is very good at stomping insurgents while minimizing their exposure, and the Black Hawk Down scenario only lead to an Aidid victory because the US was unusually casualty-averse, and the price for that sort of victory is that your city winds up looking like Mogadishu.

            You might also inflict an unacceptable cost if the enemy does wind up sending an army of occupation for your plucky rebels to snipe at, but by that time you’ve already lost and all of the capitalists you imagine are going to give ancapistan an implausibly booming economy have packed up and moved to someplace that isn’t a war zone.

            Really, to inflict unacceptable costs on an enemy without having your country turn into Haiti-as-seen-by-Donald-Trump, you need strategic offensive forces. Ideally in a deterrent mode, if necessary in
            retaliation. But strategic offensive forces represent the very worst sort of tragedy of the commons in a market economy; they may contribute to the common defense, but they make things worse for whatever damn fool buys them not just because of their cost but by making their owner a priority target for any attacker who isn’t deterred.

          • actinide meta says:

            @John Schilling

            Really, to inflict unacceptable costs on an enemy without having your country turn into Haiti-as-seen-by-Donald-Trump, you need strategic offensive forces. Ideally in a deterrent mode, if necessary in
            retaliation. But strategic offensive forces represent the very worst sort of tragedy of the commons in a market economy; they may contribute to the common defense, but they make things worse for whatever damn fool buys them not just because of their cost but by making their owner a priority target for any attacker who isn’t deterred.

            I agree that offense is the best defense [1], and that more organization than random people with cool military toys is called for.

            So a sophisticated ancap “defense” organization might look like a charity that

            * Collects donations from people who don’t want their nation to be bombed
            * Collects disaster insurance premiums from people who want to be supplied or airlifted in a natural disaster
            * Maybe collects “insurance” premiums from people/companies with something to lose (not paying someone for this runs the risk that if a foreign power targets you personally in some way, defense organizations will shrug their shoulders and not retaliate). The negotiation costs of this might be decreased by collecting this as “reinsurance” from some more general kind of insurer.
            * Pays retainers to a number of (for-profit, but probably also explicitly ideological because people prefer to believe in things they are risking their lives for) military contractors, to ensure they will be available if actual fighting is needed. These could vary in scale, capabilities, and focus, from single special ops teams to a carrier battle group.
            * Pays premiums to a number of (for-profit) insurance companies who will pay (the contractors’ combat prices) for actual warfighting if it is required
            * Probably maintains some logistical capability (cost potentially mitigated through dual use) and “actually defensive” forces, in case fighting actually takes place on its own territory. You hire veterans from the military contractors’ services for this, so that these forces aren’t total noobs.

            Even if all this only gets 0.5% or 1% of GDP, doesn’t it sound like a good enough reason not to frivolously poke the wasp nest? Especially if an ancap society can be much richer in absolute terms than a state society?

            (And once there are enough ancaps, if there are enough customers for the big military contractors, the retainers and insurance premiums together could be a fraction of the peacetime cost of having your “own” standing forces! Imagine the budget the US military would have, if it actually got paid by all the people it’s implicitly defending!)

            [1] I do think that you are a little too dismissive of the deterrent value of being unconquerable and incapable of surrender; by itself it doesn’t much raise the price of bombing you, but it decreases the benefit to people who just want to loot your prosperous society as opposed to people you have seriously pissed off in some way. And I don’t think it’s inevitable that an ancap society is going to be full of international drug dealers (let alone terrorists); ancap is a market for law, and I am more libertarian than most but personally would prefer to live in the ancap neighborhood which finds ways to discourage activities that frequently attract drone strikes. So maybe that is the market equilibrium, at least until ancap spreads around the world.

          • John Schilling says:

            * Collects donations from people who don’t want their nation to be bombed

            There’s a huge free rider problem there, and one that will be camouflaged as a principled ideological stance.

            And I don’t think it’s inevitable that an ancap society is going to be full of international drug dealers (let alone terrorists); ancap is a market for law, and I am more libertarian than most but personally would prefer to live in the ancap neighborhood which finds ways to discourage activities that frequently attract drone strikes.

            The easiest way to do that is to form a government. Which, you will note, most very rich non-criminal people are pretty OK with. And for that matter, most very rich non-criminal people have most of their riches tied to illiquid assets in existing nation-states whose regulatory agencies they have effectively captured.

            The population of ancapistan is going to be a mix of people who aren’t rich, and rich people who would greatly benefit from being able to freely do things that are presently illegal. And in the market for laws, it’s the rich outlaws that are going to be the high bidders.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @actinide meta

            The average NATO member defence spending is 1.31% of GDP, for reference. 0.5 or 1% thus wouldn’t be an enormous reduction for most of those countries. The NATO guideline (which a minority of NATO members actually follow) is 2%, US is 3.5.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Its also worth pointing out that ancaps have already solved the problem of coordinating retaliations. You just combine a blockchain insurance system with a blockchain assassination market. An insurance company assesses your bombing/assassination risk and gives you a price ($100 for x ($250,000) amount of coverage. They then lock it in so much money across multiple policies on the blockchain, so that NO ONE not the isurance company, not the policy holder, not the greatest hacker in the world can stop a policy if it activates.
            Now if nothing happens the money reverts to the insurance company after y amount of time, but if you the policy holder get assassinated or your property gets bombed then the policy activates. Various anoymous analysts/AI/companies/epredixtion markets/ect. As layed out in the policy assess who was the most likely purpetrator, then an assassination market bounty is placed on the individual, corporate officers, members of assembly or their families (presumably the circle is wide enough that the number of targets can never be secured, but tight enough that each feels horrified by the prospect) and all the worlds immoral phychopaths compete to see who gets the bounty.
            The assassin “predicts” the time and place of the assassination (anoymously on blockchain) and then if the requisite number of targets die in that time frame the amount of coverage is anoymously deposited in the assassins crypto wallet.

            Ancapistan actually has a major advantage here in that ancapistan doesn’t have centralized VIPs to threaten with assassination so unlike every nation in the world it can have enemy VIPs assassinated or worse without fear of an equivalent reprisal.

            I would expect most politicians to think twice about attacking the one country that will automatically assassinate their children as reprisals.

            I do not advocate any of the above, just as i don’t advocate ancapistan as a goal for ancaps. I just want to point out that ancapistan has alot of scary asymmetric tactics available to it and if ancapistan somehow appeared on the world stage it would be the kindof place you’d be desperately afraid of prevoking.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I would expect most politicians to think twice about attacking the one country that will automatically assassinate their children as reprisals.

            I, on the other hand, think that such a move would turn Ancapistan into a pariah state overnight, and most likely call down an international coalition to restore un-evil government to the country.

          • bean says:

            Its also worth pointing out that ancaps have already solved the problem of coordinating retaliations. You just combine a blockchain insurance system with a blockchain assassination market.

            Answering the question of “What happens if ancapistan is chaotic evil?” with “Sufficiently chaotic evil is indistinguishable from invincible” while interesting, is not really going to work. First, most people don’t really like evil like that. Second, you will have achieved the near-impossible by getting every government in the world to agree that you are all awful and badly need a peacekeeping force. At a first guess, anyone with this insurance gets declared Enemy of All Mankind. And then it’s a free-for-all on their heads and property. The insurance is kind of useless if everyone involved is dead. And I think you greatly overestimate the prevalence of immoral psychopaths who can pull of meaningful assassinations.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            A) evil is a bit rich when you consider that all the ancapistani civilian want was not to have them and their children bombed while the politician wanted to be able to bomb them with impunity

            B) it doesn’t matter if they nuke ancapistan into the earths mantle. The blockchain is forever and those insurance policies will get filled sooner or later.

            C) in any plausible scenario where ancapistan appears its because the US has broken up and can’t coordinate international interventions anymore. In this world it will be really tempting for france or Independent Vermont, or anyone, to say “we should do something yes but is invasion really the best option?” And hope other countries are willing to incure the horrible price of invading ancapistan. Repeat this across all the nations of the world and you have a colective action problem.

            EDIT: [DELETED ]
            WAY TOO FUCKING DANGEROUS A HINT

            APRECIATE THIS
            This is the gate behind which a horror must remain sealed. FOR OUR OWN SAFETY.

            Ideally Scott will leave this up a few days so everyone involved in the discussion can see it then take it and any discussion of assassintion markets down forever. And add ASSASSINATION MARKETs to the list of banned topics.

            I Honestly i regret metioning this much. But this is where the discussion was going and since I foolishly mentioned assassination markets i want to end discussion of them BEFORE
            THIS DISCUSSION BECOMES A MISALIGNED OPTIMIZATION PROCESS.

            I ask anyone who sees this to report this comment bevause i cant edit and take down the rest of the discussion on assassination markets.

            EDIT: TAKE THIS COMMENT AND ANY DISCUSSION OF ASSASSINATION MARKETS DOWN NOW!!! THIS DISCYSSION IS ALREADY FAR TO CLOSE TO AN IDEA THAT MUST NOT BE REALEASED
            AND MUST NOT HAVE ITS ORIGIN ATTRIBUTED TO US

          • Nornagest says:

            This is starting to get a little too edgy for my taste.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Im serious I’m really fucking scared of what i just thought of.
            I HAD WRITTEN IT AND WAS ABOUT TO POST IT before I caught myself.

            This discussion needs to stop NOW and if anyone has a way to contact scott faster than reporting my comment as many times as possible please do so or tell me how to do so.

            WE ARE ALL IN EXTREME DANGER if someone gets THE IDEA I JUST FUCKING HAD and attributes it s origin to OUR DICUSSION

          • Loquat says:

            The assassin “predicts” the time and place of the assassination (anonymously on blockchain) and then if the requisite number of targets die in that time frame the amount of coverage is anonymously deposited in the assassins crypto wallet.

            That prediction submission better have damn good encryption, cuz you just know once one of those contracts is known to be activating the cops in the targets’ countries are going to be all over it.

            Also, none of this works unless the potential freelance assassins of the world trust that they’ll actually be paid. An “ironclad” programmed contract that can’t be interfered with by humans sounds cool, but computer programs are known to sometimes have bugs, and what happens if a bug results in a valid assassination not being paid for, or worse, paying the wrong person? If humans can’t stop the contract from executing, they also can’t fix it when it makes a mistake like that. Furthermore, if nothing is paid until the successful assassination is registered, then the assassin has to bear all preparation and travel costs out of pocket, and be prepared to eat those costs if some other assassin beats them to the punch. You can’t really have a “dibs” system to prevent that last one either, because it will inevitably be overrun by trolls, wannabe badasses who will never actually make a serious kill attempt, and cops trying to foil you.

            ETA: Since Luke’s freaking out, lemme add this. Dude, seriously, how does the computer know, reliably, that someone’s dead, without a human admin telling it so? Especially if they’ve got a common name. And how do you prevent a hacker from lying to it and convincing it a living person is dead to make it pay out?

          • bean says:

            evil is a bit rich when you consider that all the ancapistani civilian want was not to have them and their children bombed while the politician wanted to be able to bomb them with impunity

            You were the first one to use the phrase “chaotic evil”, not me. And if ancapistani civilians want to not get bombed, the best thing to do IS MAKE IT SO THAT GOVERNMENTS HAVE NO REASON TO BOMB YOU. By, I don’t know, MAKING SURE THAT YOU AREN’T HARBORING DRUG CARTELS AND TERRORISTS. Who also tend to be bad neighbors. Admittedly, this might require something that looks a lot like a government.

            B) it doesn’t matter if they nuke ancapistan into the earths mantle. The blockchain is forever and those insurance policies will get filled sooner or later.

            ALL HAIL THE HOLY BLOCKCHAIN!
            Seriously, though, the governments in question have every incentive to go after the blockchain and anyone who keeps it going. I don’t totally understand blockchains, but I’m pretty sure that when nobody will touch your currency or participate in any of the markets because it’s treated as being an accessory to murder the system stops working.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Luke — Look, dude, assassination markets aren’t a new idea. I read “The Ones Who Walk Toward Acre” years ago. I have no interest in trying to expand on the idea, because I’m not into gratuitous nastiness and anyway I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t work any better, for reasons that I won’t go into detail on but which should be clear if you think about the history of punishment.

            If you’re that concerned, blank your post. You’re still inside the edit window.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Listen you all win. I was being a a shit disturber and most likely none of this could ever work. Ancapistan is bad science fiction and 99.999999999999% would never work in real

            AND SERIOUSLY REPORT THIS COMMENT BECAUSE THERE IS A serious 0.something percent chance that a variant of an established idea thats not ancapistan could work and we’ve assembled the hints for it. AND IF IT DOES WORK AND PEOPLE GET KILLED BECAUSE OF US………………………….

            (Think about it… seriously think about it)

          • quaelegit says:

            @Luke the CIA Stooge

            I’m sorry this discussion has ended up somewhere that really freaked you out (in the “my sympathies” sense), but I don’t think this needs to be a win/lose kind of debate. At the least, I’ve really enjoyed reading the whole thread, and I admire your perseverance in arguing your points even when you were pretty outnumbered, which kept the thread going and brought up many interesting points.

          • Murphy says:

            Re: blockchain.

            It’s very unlikely that whatever you thought of was all that novel.

            The blockchain is not as magically resilient as you might think.

            Relevant XKCD:
            https://xkcd.com/538/

            If something happened to piss off the US government, a few EU countries and China they could cripple the bitcoin blockchain without breaking a sweat. The blockchain survives because of ambivalence. Not because of the fantasy of it being some kind of crypto-survivalist perfection.

            Any government who cared enough to spend the equivalent of a couple days worth of the military budget on tearing the blockchain to pieces (perhaps because someone managed to create whatever market you are so afraid of) could stamp all over it with big boots.

            So you do something big enough to make people care, people say “something must be done” and actually mean it. laws are passed that doing anything to support the assassination market is illegal (including facilitating blockchain transactions)

            Miners get their doors kicked in, their thumbs broken and their hardware confiscated in some of the countries with the most miners. it’s not like they’re hard to find what with the network connections, power draw and many large miners knowing each other.

            Once the population of miners have been culled the country drops a few billion on ASIC’s to take the majority of mining power. Meanwhile the NSA puts some of their mathamaticians to work on how to fuck up the blockchain and their coders take a look at the 281800 lines of un-proven code that makes up the core clients.

            I’d give bitcoin or any similar cryptocurrency and by extension any markets or contracts hosted within it a few weeks life expectancy at best if anything big happened to make people with real power actually care.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          Im inside the edit window for my second and third comment but i cant stop this discussion from devolving into AN OPTIMIZATION PROCESS for a SEALED HORROR!

          I almost POSTED my BRILLIANT ARGUMENT. And when i thought better I GAVE A HINT!
          and now that I’ve realised how stupid that fucking is! I realise all the pieces and hints neccessary to dervive an ORIGINAL IDEA THAT MUST NOT GET OUT are already combined in the preceding discussion

          • Thegnskald says:

            Eh. Dude. Relax. I had an idea that was about 100x worse. I just doubt any such strategies would actually work; they would just provoke draconian government crackdowns on blockchains, possibly resulting in the annihilation of the technology by starvation of internet access. Possibly good encryption in general.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sealed horrors are rarely as sealed or as horrific as their proposers think they are. But fine, I’ll humor you.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            I know my solution isn’t nearly optimal. I just really know i don’t want this sitting around on one of the most high traffic genius centric locations on the web.

            If i could come up with something that scares me this much by trying to win an argument, I really dont want to see what someone serious comes up with and I REALLY DONT FUCKING WANT TO RICK IT BY LEAVING THIS DISCUSSION UP IN ONE OF THE HIGH TRAFFIC PLACES FOR ANCAPS, PROGRAMMERS, AND ASSORTED GENIUSES.

            Im not smart enough to make this dangerous but i dont want this to wait around here WITH MY NAME ATTACHED TO IT so that SOMEONE WHO IS THAT SMART can find it and piece things together

          • Loquat says:

            To expand on my “how does the computer know the assassination target is actually dead” bit…

            If I’m the target of your assassination blockchain, the most obvious way for me to foil it is to enter my own prediction, then arrange for a fake report of my own death matching my own prediction. The contract is then fulfilled so there’s no incentive for anyone else to assassinate me, I’m still alive, and I have your money. I can now reveal my deception and laugh at you, because what are you going to do, set up another blockchain for me to lie to?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jim Bell came up with the idea before the blockchain even existed. They imprisoned him for it, but didn’t even bother to have him “suicide” in prison, so there must be some major flaw.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t think they imprisoned Jim Bell for coming up with AP, exactly. (Tim May never went to jail, and I think some of his ideas were at least as disturbing.) I suspect they investigated him based on finding his writings seriously creepy (probably more than just the idea of AP), and discovered some crime for which they could imprison him.

          • Loquat says:

            Well, another obvious flaw that just occurred to me is this: what if 2 or more different people submit the same prediction, which then comes true? Since the submissions are totally anonymous, you have no way of verifying which one belongs to the real assassin, so you’ll have to either pick one at random or split the payout, and either way the assassin is likely to be annoyed.

            And you can’t get around this by requiring extremely precise predictions, because assassination is inherently subject to unpredictable delays – do you think Lee Harvey Oswald could have predicted in advance the exact hour, minute, and second he would shoot JFK? He had a general idea of when it would happen, but in general you can’t reasonably expect your assassin to predict anything more precise then a date and maybe a general time of day.

            So since predictions have to be relatively vague, such that only a few predictions could cover a 24-hour period, and since assassination contracts are most likely to target public figures whose movements are at least somewhat publicly known, then once it becomes known that an assassination contract exists for a given person, anyone who cares to troll said contract can enter a ton of submissions for various dates and places they expect the target to be on those dates. It doesn’t take a lot of well-informed trolls to dilute the payout significantly enough to turn off any serious would-be assassin.

          • Aapje says:

            @Loquat

            Blockchain predictions would also alert the target, who could then take countermeasures.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Jesus christ we’re already optimising for it.

            Imagine for just a second that we do go debating this. We go on pointing out the flaws in the Assassination markets. And the rest of us come up with counter arguments or work arounds.

            You’ll say something like “well that wouldn’t work because of x, or that solves x but y would still be a problem”
            And someone whose just been lurking will counter “actually if you use this [obscure system that already standard in feild ə] y no longer becomes a problem”.
            And another person will counter “well even if that did happen it wouldn’t any worse than [aweful thing we all live with anyway] and anyway z still cripples the project, so who gives a shit”
            And then someone captured by the heat of the moment will post ” well actually of you employed [even more oscure system from specific feild þ] it would be one of the worse things ever, and it seems to me that z could be solved by a slightly complex combination of abc”
            And we’ll look for an objection and not find any and go “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck”

            This is FAR to dangerous a conversation to be having IN PUBLIC with this many programmers, economists, game theoriststs, military buffs and logicians all trying to add something.

            We dont even have to solve all the problems to do real damage! We just have to solve the one problem that would have stopped a dedicated expert.

            Imagine we find an economic solution to x but y and z require complex coding and really obscure techniques that only an advanced computer scinetist could solve. So we call it unsolvable and leave it at that.

            Then some clever computer scientists comes along and goes “ah I’d never have gotten x but now that they have y and z will be easy!”

            WE’VE STARTED OPTIMISING FOR AN ASSASSINATION MARKET THAT WORKS AND IS THE WORST POSSIBLE! AND SLATE STAR CODEX IS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACES TO DO THIS.

            If we were having this conversation on Mother Jones or Brietbart I wouldn’t care. But we have PHDs in EVERYTHING running around here!

            WE ARE OPEN SOURCING ASSASSINATION.

            I’ve already found a workaround to one of the flaws thats been pointed out and I’m a english student who dables in econ and rationality. There are people who have been studying obscure systems for 4 decades here.

            Do you really want to gamble that assassination markets are so difficult that between them they don’t know how to resolve the major flaw. That amongst all of them they don’t know a solution to the one thing that will hang up the dedicated madman.

            I dont want to make that gamble!

          • John Schilling says:

            WE ARE OPEN SOURCING ASSASSINATION.

            “We” are doing no such thing.

            More importantly, whatever it is you think we are doing, will stop about twelve hours after you stop talking about it, and not before.

          • rahien.din says:

            Luke the CIA Stooge,

            I think you underestimate the ingenuity and drive of the world at-large.

            If we can plop this all out in the span of a few days on a message board, the various nefarious characters will come around to it in not-too-long. Whatever access to expertise we collect here is merely time savings, and not to any meaningful degree.

            Moreover, wannabe blockchain assassins have access to the tools and archetypes of violent criminals, a far more important skillset and a far more powerful (and clarifying) set of motivations.

            So have some chill. Apply the generalized form of internet rule 34 : if you thought of it, a less scrupulous person is probably already doing it.

          • CatCube says:

            @Luke the CIA Stooge

            Look, dude, whatever you’re taking, take about 1/3 less of it. Unless it’s antianxiety medication, then talk to your doctor about increasing the dosage.

            During the Clinton administration, a man named Ronald Gene Barbour decided to commit suicide. He didn’t want to mess up his home in Florida, so he headed to West Virginia. While driving to his intended suicide spot, he missed his exit, so he decided to drive into Washington and kill the President instead. He then sat on a park bench along President Clinton’s jogging route with a pistol every morning for seven days until learning that Clinton out of town for a state visit to Russia. He then went back to Florida where he told this story to his neighbor, who then went and got another witness and a tape recorder and asked him to repeat everything he just said, which is why we know about this. This is the kind of howling-at-the-moon-fucking-madness that the President needs to be protected from, in addition to the more obvious terrorists willing to commit suicide bombing, other governments that don’t like US policy, etc.

            So the “protecting the president” needle is already pegged, making an attempt almost guaranteed to either fail or be something you’re not walking away from. No matter how you transfer money, there still needs to be a button man, and no money-transfer method changes the danger and difficulty of being that button man.

            Any potential assassin for money (and let’s be clear–prior to the Internet there were still people who’d pay for a dead president) has to contend with the fact that it’s pretty unlikely to succeed, very likely to end with his capture or death, and even if he manages to get away he’s probably still got enough evidence for the Secret Service to be sniffing around him and they will notice him taking delivery of a large sum of money. So adding some Clever Nerd method of reimbursement is not actually changing the situation much. Somebody else already covered the “Rubber Hose Cryptography” xkcd, so I’ll add another relevant one: https://xkcd.com/1494/

          • Gobbobobble says:

            And we’ll look for an objection and not find any

            You’ve apparently never read a SSC thread

          • bean says:

            This is FAR to dangerous a conversation to be having IN PUBLIC with this many programmers, economists, game theoriststs, military buffs and logicians all trying to add something.

            Then stop talking about it. You brought all of this up. If you’d gone “Yeah, you guys are probably right” at any point in this, it would have pretty much stopped. Nobody else here is sure they’ll work. Nobody else has added anything to support their plausibility. Maybe there are supporters who are better than you are at not saying things they shouldn’t say in public. Maybe there aren’t any. But in any case, your best course is to stop talking. The rest of us won’t, because as far as we can tell, we’re talking about a mildly interesting concept, not something capable of eating the world.

          • rlms says:

            Why the presumption that assassination markets would be bad? If the market thinks someone should die, who are we/they to disagree?

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Better not troll like that when someone is freaking out.

      • bean says:

        If the question is whether e.g. ancap France could have an effective national defence with the rest of the world held constant, I think the answer is “obviously yes”. They can rely on the US protecting them, much as they do now.

        But can they? Under Ancap, is there even a difference between domestic and foreign actors? Why should the US, who no longer has treaty obligations or a government to talk to, go in and stop people from making trouble there? For that matter, if I was Germany wanting to invade ancap France, I’d go to the Security Council with lots of evidence of how terrible things were there and paint my soldier’s helmets blue.

        • rlms says:

          In that example only France is ancap. I expect the US government would still be fairly sympathetic to them, or at least strongly dislike (non-ancap) Germany invading anyone without US permission.

          • bean says:

            But it’s not an invasion, you see. It’s a peacekeeping action, protecting German citizens and property from the chaos in Alsace-Lorraine. In fact, we’d like to bring up a peacekeeping mission for all of the region formerly known as France at the next Security Council meeting. And there are growing calls for the population of Alsace-Lorraine to form a new state, which we will of course protect, because they never wanted the government to go away in the first place….

          • rlms says:

            If ancap France has descended into anarchy, that might be accepted by the US (and also acceptable). But if it’s flourishing (which I think should be the assumption to keep the hypothetical interesting), I don’t think the US would buy that argument.

          • bean says:

            That’s easy. If there’s not enough anarchy for your purposes, make some.
            Also, what happens if the US isn’t around? I’m not necessarily saying that no Ancap state could possibly be secure from invasion, but that it definitely shouldn’t be assumed to be possible in general.

          • rlms says:

            Sure, if more countries are ancap then the situation is very different (see the second half of my original comment). But while Germany could theoretically do a false flag operation and invade France now, there are various factors (international opinion, lack of German will) that make that very unlikely. I don’t think those would change much if France became ancap.

          • CatCube says:

            @rlms

            If [anarcho-capitalist] France has descended into anarchy

            Isn’t that what we’re assuming in the hypothetical?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @rlms:

            But if it’s flourishing (which I think should be the assumption to keep the hypothetical interesting)

            That’s a little like proving AnCap works by assuming that it works, no?

            I don’t think the US would buy that argument.

            Why would the US maintain status with a France that has no interest in protecting itself, and does not even protect the US interests within its own borders?

            If we did protect France from Germany, it wouldn’t be to protect its AnCap status.

          • rlms says:

            @HeelBearCub

            That’s a little like proving AnCap works by assuming that it works, no?

            Not really. It’s just that if ancap France is a bloodbath, it trivially won’t be able to defend itself. We’d make the same assumption if we were talking about national defence in monarchies (i.e. we wouldn’t consider Russia in 1917 as an example).

            If we did protect France from Germany, it wouldn’t be to protect its AnCap status.

            I agree. It would be for the same reasons the US would do so in the real world: chiefly desire to keep the peaceful status quo.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @rlms:
            No, if we go in to protect France, it would be because it is in our strategic interest.

            But if France is just free riding off of us, we won’t go in and let them stay AnCap. As soon as we go in, they will turn into Afghanistan/Iraq/any other place that ceases to have a functioning central government. Meaning they cease to be AnCap and become “installed by US/UK/NATO alllies government”.

            Because, it isn’t in our strategic interest to help AnCap France. AnCap France gives us no ability to base troops there, etc.

          • rlms says:

            @HeelBearCub
            Iraq/Afghanistan aren’t necessarily the right reference class. You could equally give 1944 France. And I think AnCap France certainly might rent or sell land to the US for military purposes. Likewise, their leading intelligence companies might have deals with the US’ TLAs.

            Suppose Germany attacked France tomorrow. What do you think the US would do?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Make jokes about how the French will have surrendered by the time we could do anything

          • quaelegit says:

            >Make jokes about how the French will have surrendered by the time we could do anything.

            Actually the Fall of France in 1940 might be a good case study in the kind of logistics and coordination problems bean and John Schilling have been mentioning. Two dramatic examples:

            * Once the Germans broke through Belgium, the French army was in the wrong place and way to slow to react (it took the commanding Generals THREE DAYS to react to events on the front — at a time when a few hours was more typical)

            * The AdA (French air force) decided it was more important to save their planes and evacuate them to North Africa than to defend metropolitan France. A higher portion of the RAF than the AdA participated in the Battle of France.

            The French Army was a professional force. A lot of its problems were caused by politics of the country and within the Army itself. I don’t know enough about French history to try and explain things, but I don’t see why Anicapistan would be immune from these kind of problems.

            [Also everything about this I learned from A Blunted Sickle, so if I’m wrong please let me know, but I’ve seen the gist repeated enough times that I think the broad strokes are correct… of course the details are important in trying to figure out how this would actually apply to an Ancap society, but that would also require a greater understanding of Ancap than I possess… so just some food for thought I guess]

          • bean says:

            @quaelegit
            That’s a really good example. I’d expect ancapistan to have the same issues, but even more so.

            Also everything about this I learned from A Blunted Sickle, so if I’m wrong please let me know

            Where do you think I learned about it from? But I’ve dealt with pdf27 enough to be reasonably confident in his judgement, and nobody else has sprung up with a good case that he’s wrong, either.

    • 1soru1 says:

      4 words: fractional reserve nuclear deterrence.

      • bean says:

        Care to expand on this? I don’t know what that means. (Also, nukes are really expensive and hard to use right. Good luck with that in Ancapistan.)

        • Anonymous says:

          For every nuke you actually have, you pretend to have up 10 times as many, and hope your enemies don’t call you on that bluff!

        • Iain says:

          Pretty sure it’s a riff on fractional reserve banking, in which banks hold less in reserve than their deposit liabilities. This makes them vulnerable to bank runs, but increases economic flexibility.

          The nuclear equivalent would be a company that you — and many others — pay to manage your nuclear deterrent, with fewer nuclear weapons in reserve than would be necessary to launch all of its contractual second strikes at once. In the aftermath of a run on nukes, taking the nuke bank to court for breach of contract is unlikely to be your first priority.

          (I think 1soru1 was joking.)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I have sooo many questions about Ancapistan. Was it the government of a nuclear or non-nuclear state that collapsed? What percentage of the population is AnCap and what percentage wants a government? Does it have coasts foreign militaries can attack and fly over or does it have to get a government’s consent to strike the landlocked territory?
      Also, how does Ancapistan attract foreign capital? Exactly how do the private security companies they have to hire to protect their capital work?

    • John Schilling says:

      Worth noting that the biggest military threat to Ancapistan isn’t that a foreign nation will decide to invade and conquer it for fun and profit – though that is possible. The greater threat is that various drug cartels, money launderers, arms dealers, human traffickers, and outright terrorists, will see Ancapistan as an ideal hub or base of operations. And the rest of the world isn’t going to tolerate that.

      Which means Ancapistan gets to be a perpetual battleground between on the one hand people with all the respect for life, liberty, and property exemplified by Los Zetas and Al Qaeda, and on the other hand various coalitions of nations whose military capabilities are on par with NATO and which will have even less respect for Ancapistani sovereignty than they do for the Somali version. That means no invading army for plucky minutemen to repel, but periodic cruise missile strikes, commando raids, and constant overflight by aircraft both manned and unmanned but all looking for something to blow up. Specifically including anyone and anything that threatens their ability to do commando raids and overflights on demand.

      Also, since this sort of thing is a nuisance for the governments that have to keep doing it, looking for someone with anything plausibly resembling a legitimate claim to run a sovereign government in the territory and saying “you get to be in charge” with close air support.

      Meanwhile, the terrorists, drug cartels, etc, will be trying to expand their influence within Ancapistan, but without respecting anarcho-capitalist principles. And with particular ire towards anyone who hinders them in their conflict with NATO et al, never mind actually helping NATO in any way.

      How do the people and institutions of Ancapistan make it a place for decent people to live, in the face of all this?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        How do they make it a decent place to live, indeed?
        If a state ever invades you, fighting an insurgency will reduce GDP per capita to Afghanistan levels. Every Ancapistani whose assets are portable will choose to become a refugee.
        If you have a land border with a state, poor people will try to cross the border to get government services.
        Corporations would rather go to a state that collects no corporate income tax as a tax haven rather than move to a region of anarchy to avoid taxes.
        So who’s the base of support?

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Very good point, but this opens up defensive options besides defeating the foreign powers.

        Imagine living in Ancapistan during this scenario. It’d be bad, sure, but you’d do some things to mitigate the harm. Such as not even think about living or working in a neighborhood unless it had an enforced “no pissing off NATO” policy. You’d choose a neighborhood whose owners violate the hell out of your privacy, and pay them for their trouble, because the alternative is getting bombed.

        Extend this countrywide, and you aren’t so hospitable to NATO’s enemies anymore, except maybe otherwise-uninhabited regions where you can tell NATO they can just go at it.

        • bean says:

          Extend this countrywide, and you aren’t so hospitable to NATO’s enemies anymore, except maybe otherwise-uninhabited regions where you can tell NATO they can just go at it.

          Remind me how this is different from having a government. (Ancaps: Reinventing government under different names!)

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            It happens via a bottom-up process of basically everyone deciding it’s worth large sacrifices to avoid living next door to al-Qaeda. This pretty much guarantees that it’ll only happen when the threat is real and warrants that level of response.

            ETA: I do think that in general Ancap (treating Scott’s review of Friedman as canonical definition) has the potential to become a lot less libertarian than one might expect, and is probably better described as an alternative form of government than an absence of government. But I do think it’s a novel form, with lots of debatable pros and cons.

    • You might want to start by looking at my tentative approach to these problems in the third edition of Machinery. A late draft of the chapter is webbed.

      • bean says:

        But that was pretty much what I was trying to address. The bits that make an army work are the unsexy ones. You can get people to volunteer as militia. Microsoft, Apple, and Walmart will pay for tanks. But who is paying for the heavy offroad trucks you need to keep everyone supplied? They don’t look good on parade and they’re not really economical for use in peacetime.
        Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. And logistics is what wins wars. All you can do is make it more expensive for the invader to pacify the country, which isn’t really what you want.

    • actinide meta says:

      There are at least a few separate questions:

      1. Can an ancap society collect enough money for adequate defense, given that defense is mostly a public good?
      2. Can private organizations fight as effectively as governments?
      3. Can an attacker take advantage of ancap law to prepare for an attack in a way that a government would not tolerate?
      4. Will adequately funded defense organizations take over and become governments?

      I don’t know what I think about 1. Currently American charitable giving is on roughly the same scale as the military budget (and the US military surely has far more ability to project power than America would need to discourage invaders!), but there would be other public needs competing for voluntary giving. In addition to voluntary donations, defense organizations could sell disaster relief insurance, and could probably save a bunch of money by designing as many logistics systems as possible for dual use. A financial market in “invasion insurance” would tend to make it visible to the public if defense organizations were underfunded, which would probably help them collect money. And a global insurance market could pay for the very high variable costs of actually fighting in exchange for more modest defense premiums. Clearly this isn’t ancap’s biggest strength (my own “constitutional anarchy” proposal is much better in this regard), but I don’t think it’s clearly hopeless.

      2. Private mercenary groups haven’t been the most popular form of military organization lately, but I don’t think there’s any strong reason to believe that’s because of ineffectiveness. I suspect that properly incentivized private groups would turn out to be better, rather than worse, at what they do. In a world where ancap is widespread, contractors would tend to go to where the fighting is (threatened), which means they can get experience in a way that’s hard for most militaries in peacetime. So peaceful, unthreatened ancap region A collects donations to pay a modest rate for “invasion insurance” in the global market, reflecting the 2% chance per decade that they face an invasion. Meanwhile the contractors who would defend them in case of actual invasion are over on the contested border of ancap region B, collecting hazard pay from the insurance companies and getting better at what they do both by experience and, uh, creative destruction.

      3. I think this is a potential problem for the most principled possible Rothbardian sort of ancap. If all law is derived by pure deduction from very simple principles then maybe there are some loopholes for a bad actor to take advantage of. But in a market for law, why do people want to live under laws that make it stupidly easy to invade them? I don’t think very much infringement on freedom is necessary to effectively prohibit preemptive invasions. Libertarians don’t feel obligated to let you point a gun at them and actually squeeze the trigger before defending themselves.

      Perhaps more to the point, I think smart defense strategies for ancap focus on effective retaliation against an attacker (by a global network of military contractors paid for by a global network of insurance companies) rather than literally physically preventing enemies from stepping across a border.

      4. It’s possible to design mechanisms that make this very unlikely. It’s a little less clear whether people have the wisdom to give their money to the Complicated Boring Defense Insurance Network instead of the Jingoistic Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. I was worried enough about this question to add an explicit prohibition against monopoly to my “constitutional anarchy” proposal.

    • Lambert says:

      Throughout history, nations at war have implemented martial law etc. Authoritarianism seems like a good stance to take during wartime, for various reasons. I suspect that this implies that Ancapistan would be at a disadvantage during a war.

      Here are some reasons, of various levels of thought-out-ness:

      Reduced supply: During large scale wars, supply of essentials is often reduced. Without rationing, price controls etc, prices would rise until the poor are starving and impoverished (and not a good fighting/support force).

      Rule of law: the general chaos of war makes it much easier to be a criminal. Curfews etc. are implemented to make the country easier to police. Police officers will have to go and fight.

      Co-lateral damage: Who is liable if your shell misses and kills one of your countrymen?

      Blackouts: Is leaving your lights on ‘agression’?

      Counter-offensive: Who decides whether an expeditionary force can be legally sent abroad? Who decides whether a preemptive strike is lawful? Who negotiates a peace?

      Generally, I suspect the main failure mode to be a general collapse of society from the inside out.

      • toastengineer says:

        Blackouts: Is leaving your lights on ‘agression’?

        It is if it can realistically be expected to get your neighbors blown up!

        I always thought Ancapistan’s military response would look a little bit like Ankh-Morpork’s system in Jingo (which I assume was based on how medieval Britain worked or something;) all the rich folks would say “oi, there’s bad guys a’comin from across the sea and they’re out to burn down our houses and take all our shit; any man who wants to help out I’ll outfit with a uniform and a weapon and we’ll go and stop them before they get here.”

        I can see it now; Musk’s Rocketeers, Gates’ Bluescreen Squadron, Bezos’ Huntresses, Mark Zuckerburg leading the charge from home with a drone and a VR setup…

        I’m only like 60% joking.

        More seriously, presumably the ideal for an anarchist society under outside threat would be for everyone who can fight to voluntarily join a militia, possibly all the same militia, and fight to stop whatever was coming; effectively switching to a more authoritarian system as long as the threat persists, just like the old fashioned “when there’s a war on there’s more laws” system.

        That does mean that your army would stop fighting as soon as the invaders are not literally hanging around the border waving guns around, which might be considered an advantage in terms of morality but probably not particularly good military strategy.

        Would people actually voluntarily join militias? I mean, I imagine so. That’s generally people’s instinctive response when they’re told a bunch of folks are coming to kill them. I’m not sure how much sense it makes if you assume everyone is a Homo Economicus though…

        • Thegnskald says:

          Yes, they would. But not necessarily all the SAME militia.

          I suspect there would be some internal settling of grievances going on in any war.

          I think Ancapistan could survive, though, unlike some of the other critics. I just think it would look more like a pirate nation than it would look like modern day Singapore, because I think adhering to a nations’ laws might be a valuable, if expensive, signal in the absence of it’s necessity.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Yes, they would. But not necessarily all the SAME militia.

            I suspect there would be some internal settling of grievances going on in any war.

            See also: Syria

          • Lambert says:

            And the French Resistance.
            It’s said they spent more effort fighting each other than fighting the Nazis.
            The Allies had to stop giving them weapons out of fear that the post-occupation vacuum would lead to a civil war between the DeGaulleists, socialists, communists etc.

        • bean says:

          “oi, there’s bad guys a’comin from across the sea and they’re out to burn down our houses and take all our shit; any man who wants to help out I’ll outfit with a uniform and a weapon and we’ll go and stop them before they get here.”

          One of the points that I’ve been trying to make is that this just isn’t practical any more, unless your defensive strategy is insurgency. The cost of a soldier is too high. The amount of training required is too high. The average militia isn’t that effective without a big, expensive, and impossible to improvise superstructure backing it it.

          • toastengineer says:

            I see, yeah, that makes sense.

            What do you think about making up the trained personnel difference with automated systems?

            Let’s assume autonomous IFF is an engineering problem that Ancapistani defense agencies solve more-or-less perfectly; surely if you litter your border with enough robotic guns that shoot at anyone who isn’t supposed to be there, and have a robot AA gun every couple blocks (that you switch on when you hear word that the bad guys are coming to blow up your ground defenses) a would-be attacker’s only recourse is to level the country with cruise missiles or high-altitude bombers, which would blow up anything they’d want to capture anyway? If AA guns don’t work anymore, how _do_ you stop enemy aircraft from dropping stuff on you? Can we just build something like a warship’s CIWS in to the entire country?

            As for how you get the ammo to your robot guns, well, so long as the country is intact logistics should already be a solved problem, and we don’t really need to project force more than a couple miles outside of our own borders, right?

            I’m not sure how expensive all that would be, but… it doesn’t seem like it would be that insane. Like, from some preliminary Googling it seems like an U.S. insurance company can count on something on the order of tens of billions of dollars income per year; one source says about $50 billion/year (that seems really, really high…) and another says more like $32 billion/year.

            Any landowner, especially big landowners are going to care very strongly about the country not being invaded, so if we assume anyone who owns property is going to pay for and/or force their tenants to pay for ‘defense insurance’ in the same way the “road company” today forces drivers to pay for car insurance, so it seems reasonable to assume our defense insurer would make similar money to a car or health insurance company.

            Anyway, if we assume the whole system needs to be replaced completely every five years, it can still cost up to ~$200 billion to install and still be viable. That does still seem low but presumably U.S. military hardware costs way more than it should because the government is buying it…

            Of course Ancapistan is probably not going to be as big as the U.S. and not be able to raise nearly that much money but then how does the cost of defending an amount of land scale with its area?

            I dunno, I’m just thinking out loud. Is any of the above obviously wrong?

          • bean says:

            What do you think about making up the trained personnel difference with automated systems?

            The systems required to automate away the problem are probably not feasible this side of the singularity, IMO. We’ve been making progress, but it usually means that you find its most effective to use as a force-multiplier rather than get rid of the people entirely. And it raises the standards required of the people you have left.

            Let’s assume autonomous IFF is an engineering problem that Ancapistani defense agencies solve more-or-less perfectly;

            That’ll be a first. We still haven’t really solved it using people.

            If AA guns don’t work anymore, how _do_ you stop enemy aircraft from dropping stuff on you?

            Surface-to-air missiles.

            As for how you get the ammo to your robot guns, well, so long as the country is intact logistics should already be a solved problem, and we don’t really need to project force more than a couple miles outside of our own borders, right?

            That’s rather fragile, though. Your guns run out of ammo, the nearest bridge is blown, but the guns are intact. I’d rather we could resupply them.

            That does still seem low but presumably U.S. military hardware costs way more than it should because the government is buying it…

            Less than you’d think. A lot of the extra cost of military procurement comes from the fact that the military is a really demanding buyer. and is doing things that civilians don’t have to worry about. If Windows crashes, it’s irritating. If the software running a missile crashes, then it’s very expensive and quite possibly going to result in deaths, maybe lots of deaths. I’ve got an example of this I’m about to write up.

          • Nornagest says:

            @toastengineer — Obstacles without overwatch can’t stop a determined attacker of any size. A sentry gun system (assuming current or credible near-future technology) is basically an expensive, high-maintenance, glorified minefield, and while those are very useful for channelling attackers or for slowing them down long enough for your forces to get there, you still need a force capable of standing up to those attackers, or all you’ve done is delayed the Statistani forces by a week or so at the border and pissed them off.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems like there are several interlocking problems here:

            a. Limits on funding — Ancapistan can’t raise money from taxes, and it takes a lot of bake sales to buy an ICBM.

            b. Limits on organization — a government makes for a pretty clear central point for who gets to decide what the military’s orders are, what kind of equipment they’ll use, etc. That seems harder without a central authority. (But this seems solvable in principle.)

            c. Ideological limits on preventative measures — if Ancapistan can’t restrict a spontaneous and entirely friendly and voluntary immigration of the entire Chinese army with its tanks and guns, then there’s an obvious problem with resisting invasion. Inability to limit who may have various weapons can allow your enemies to stockpile their weapons inside your borders and use them to facilitate their invasion.

            d. Weakness to takeover by criminals or other bad guys — if Ancapistan can’t resist being taken over by the Zetas or the Russian Mafia or something, then its ability to resist the Chinese army isn’t so interesting, and also it will attract the wrath of the rest of the world after it becomes the safe haven from which the Zetas/Russian Mafia/Etc. carry out their operations.

            It seems like each of these is a different class of problem. For example, maybe the funding problem can be solved if Ancapistan is so wealthy that even pretty ineffective fundraising makes an effective defense workable; maybe the organization problem can be solved somehow even though it’s not obvious where the central coordination should come from, etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            e. Other people have said this elsewhere in this comment thread, I think, but there’s a lot to military organization beyond “standardizing equipment” and making strategic decisions and so forth. There are a lot of advantages that, say, an infantry battalion of a quality military has over an equivalently-sized ancap Voluntary Neighbourhood Defence Unit. They’re advantages in training, unit cohesion, logistics, leadership, etc that are difficult for organized militaries to do – consider the number of militaries with quality equipment purchased/donated from elsewhere, with foreign advisors and so on, that fail at some or all of those things. The militaries that are good at them devote a huge amount of time, effort, and resources to those things.

            It’s not just “big militaries can afford cool stuff.” Take that infantry battalion, give them the same equipment as the ancap militia, and chances are that if those forces clash, the infantry battalion probably wins a victory by a significant margin. Less than they would if they had all their air support and artillery and lots of radios and so on, but still a lot. The gap probably gets bigger as units get bigger, too.

          • albatross11 says:

            dndnsrn:

            Yeah, that should definitely be in there. I take some of bean’s comments to be basically pointing out that you can’t just throw together an effective military organization on the fly when there’s a threat. You need to have worked out the equipment and the resupply and the communications and the lines of command and everything long before the enemy is heading across the border, or you’re going to be taking potshots at tanks with your hunting rifle for the brief remainder of your life.

            So Ancapistan needs to have fair bit of standing military preparation all the time. If they’ve got a nuclear deterrent, they need to man it and maintain it and get the warnings to it in time to fire and make sure it knows the right target. Their air force needs to have airplanes and trained pilots and spare parts and radar stations, and all those need to be working together. Someone needs to have a lot of plans for what to do when various bad guys try to invade, or bomb, or whatever.

            All this is classically a very hard problem for an anarchy, because providing that kind of defense is a public good. You’ll spend billions of dollars on even a minimal national defense for a country the size of California in a reasonably good neighborhood, and it will cost money every year, with basically no flashiness or anything because if it’s doing its job, you won’t get invaded. There’s nothing sexy about most of it, either–fighter jets are sexy, but fuel and spare parts depots and mechanics aren’t. (Would the size of the national guard be a good first cut on the size you’d need for this sort of minimal defense?)

          • CatCube says:

            Another advantage of large, well-equipped, and well-disciplined militaries fighting militia insurgencies: the military has much wider latitude to make mistakes.

            One of the worst ground battles for the United States in Afghanistan was COP Keating. US Forces located a combat outpost in a very remote area that was difficult to supply, and sited it on ground that could be fired upon from higher ground on multiple sides (the Brigade Engineer that allowed that to happen deserves a career-ending GOMOR). The location of this base was a colossal goatfuck, from top to bottom.

            The Taliban attacked the base, manned by 60 US troops, 2 Latvian troops, and some ANA who broke and ran, with a force of 300. They killed 8 US Soldiers, and 27 wounded. I mean, that’s bad, and like I said, it was one of the worst single-day battles for the US, but they only managed to kill 8 people with a 5-to-1 advantage, better ground, and complete surprise. The Taliban did an excellent job of planning and executing their attack, as well.

            It’s thought that Taliban lost 150 personnel in the attack. Superb training of the US Soldiers and immediate support with aircraft and helicopters meant that despite the mistakes made by the US leading up to the battle they still killed 15 times as many people as they lost. Resources and training really fucking matter. The best insurgency is still really, really uncool for the insurgents.

            The battle was a Taliban victory, since it precipitated an immediate abandonment of the COP and widespread embarrassment of US forces, but it cost them a lot to do it. There is a reason that the US Army is constituted as an expeditionary force with bases spread across the world. We do our best to make sure wars are away games.

          • Nornagest says:

            get the warnings to it in time to fire and make sure it knows the right target.

            It bears emphasizing how very expensive this is. Nukes themselves are expensive but at least they scale reasonably well, and if you don’t feel like you can afford to end the world you can just limit your ambitions to making the ruins of Moscow bounce for a while. But a good early-warning system needs stuff like satellites (and the ground stations for them) and big honkin’ radars and the communications gear to actually disseminate the warning to the people that need it, and that’s just as true whether you plan to launch one nuke or two thousand. In an ancap environment you also have to deal with coordination problems — who’s running the early-warning network, and how do they relate to the ones that own the nukes?

            Now, you don’t need early warning if you put all your nukes on a submarine and arrange for it to phone home (or just check the news) once in a while. This is arguably the logical approach if you can only commit to one leg of a nuclear triad. But ballistic missile subs are billion-dollar hardware too, so it’s not like you’d be doing it on a budget.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            And then you have a further problem: militaries are, by their nature, less “free” than the societies they are a part of. In societies that are not free, military discipline can be truly brutal, and in general unfree societies are less careful with their troops’ lives than free. In modern democracies, the military still has far more ability to punish and order people into danger than the vast majority of employees, and than the state has over individual citizens.

            In an ancap society, where there isn’t the same “unsigned social contract” that exists in other societies (be they a dictatorship or a democracy) I imagine it would be much harder to get people to sign on for that.

            It would probably be harder to get people to sign on to fund it, too, just like anything else in an ancap society. Especially if the model ended up being “rich people pay for military units” – you’d get rich people saying “wait, I just paid for this regiment; I wanna be colonel!” This is a version of military leaders being based on social prominence (most often it’s “so-and-so is an aristocrat, so he gets to be the general”) and it used to be the norm in a lot of places, and still is in some places. It is a vastly inferior way to choose leaders than having a professional officer corps.

            An ancap society that somehow managed to put together a proper military would, in any case, have severe tension between the military and the rest of the society, because the gulf would be greater than any currently existing.

        • Lambert says:

          >(which I assume was based on how medieval Britain worked or something;)

          I think you’ll find the actual incentive system as much more along the lines of: ‘any man who wants to help out I’ll outfit with a weapon and anyone who doesn’t gets their head cut off.’
          Also the serfs were forced to supply their knights with a certain amount of labour.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feudalism_in_England

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Somewhat on-topic question for the militarily inclined posters here:

      If you were an Ancapistani CEO, or anyone trying to do business there, what would you need your security company to be able to do in order to feel secure against the threat of bandits / pirates / murderous thieving hordes of peasants? What does an Ancap PMC look like in terms of military capabilities?

      They don’t have to be able to fight a real army, but it should be capable of protecting your assets from local militias for a low enough cost to justify the investment. If you want to play on hard mode, you can assume that the militias are backed by a foreign state.

      • albatross11 says:

        Neither military nor ancap, but I believe NGOs routinely hire local security services to protect them from being murdered/raped/robbed while delivering aid. That’s probably a starting point. And I think a lot of private companies hire private security to protect, say, oil wells and pipelines.

      • bean says:

        That really depends on the threat environment. If we’re in the sort of Ancapistan you’d be likely to get if we took all the Ancaps and gave them a country and didn’t let anyone else in, it would look a lot like private security today. If you let the cartels and al-Qaeda in, then you’re starting to look a lot more like an army.

      • John Schilling says:

        For internal policing, and to keep the drug cartels and terrorists out, something akin to the private security forces corporations and NGOs use in places that we’re not supposed to describe with Bad Words. Or the handful of sovereign nations that like to pretend they don’t have armies, e.g. Iceland and Costa Rica (I think). Lots of people with small arms, some vehicles (maybe armored) with machine guns and other light support weapons. If you’re really running without any government backing at all, you’ll probably want a coast guard with patrol boats and some sort of “air police” with light combat aircraft, just to not cede those domains completely to the criminally inclined.

        If you let the cartels and the terrorists in, either because you think their money is going to give you 50% annual economic growth or because your ideology requires open borders(*), then you are going to need to keep out all the irate governments that are going to be coming in after them. That probably requires an Israel-level army, navy, air force, and strategic deterrent, under a unified command.

        *ETA: Or because one of your private security companies decided to take their money and the rest didn’t immediately band together to kill them all.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          How would you get an Ancapistan without open borders?

          • toastengineer says:

            Don’t sell or rent property to people you don’t want to live near.

            Nice thing about this is that stupid discrimination, such as racial or most religious discrimination is dis-incentivized, since you’re just refusing business from decent tenants.

            Whereas in a system where if you rent apartments and office space to the Zetas you’re held responsible for the area suddenly filling with violent gang members (heck, it’s not like they’ll spare your stuff and friends just because you’re the one who defected in their favor) genuinely prosocial discrimination, such as against unreformed criminals or Al Quieda or brutally violent drug cartels, is incentivized.

          • John Schilling says:

            Don’t sell or rent property to people you don’t want to live near.

            Once I sell or rent the property, I don’t need to live near it and its new owners/tenants.

          • albatross11 says:

            Is there some reason an ancap society is required to have open borders? I mean, you could argue that there’s nobody to pay the border guards under ancap, but we already are assuming we can have roads and police and such under ancap, so why not border guards alongside a coast guard and such to (as John Schilling says) avoid ceding their territory to whatever violently inclined people happen by?

          • John Schilling says:

            Ancap as normally conceived include nigh-absolute property rights, so if I own property – especially coastal property – it’s going to be very difficult for anyone in Ancapistan to justify blocking me from renting it out to e.g. an international drug cartel and letting them land their boats on my shore to take up residence.

            Ancap as normally conceived also includes a diversity of “legal” regimes enforced by security contractors catering to every market demand and powerful enough to maintain a balance of power w/re rival security contractors rather than collapsing into despotism under the largest. There will absolutely be a market for security firms promising to protect a “free trade in drugs” regime, if only to serve local demand from the sort of people who favor anarchy, and cartel money will make sure that international trafficking also falls under that umbrella.

            It might be possible to contrive an anarcho-capitalist regime that could effectively bar entry to drug cartels, terrorists, and so forth, but the means necessary would be non-central to the happy fun version of anarcho-capitalism and perilously close to the failure modes that are likely to turn the whole thing into a cyberpunk dystopia.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Schilling: Your last paragraph actually contains pretty much my whole argument on this thread. The question isn’t whether Ancap can solve these problems, it’s whether it can retain the features that make it appealing while doing so.

            (But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that it can’t)

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Honestly it sounds like the NYPD already has everything you’re talking about. The only one I’m not 100% sure about is the support weapons.

          That’s not a criticism: I trust that you’re right, it’s just less than I would have guessed.

          Also since you mentioned Costa Rica I can’t stop imagining this PMC as Militaires Sans Frontières. Someone really needs to write a faux-libertarian think piece condemning the special forces attack and NATO bombing campaign against Outer Heaven. Operation Intrude N313 was clearly an act of statist aggression against a budding anarchocapitalist community!

          • CatCube says:

            Honestly it sounds like the NYPD already has everything you’re talking about. The only one I’m not 100% sure about is the support weapons.

            Well, yeah. You’re basically just looking to recreate what the NYPD does as part of your tax dollars. And the NYPD doesn’t need heavier weaponry because if somebody were to try assembling a force capable of fighting off the NYPD, the Pentagon is probably going to have something to say about that.

          • Sfoil says:

            The problem is defining the threat. If Ancap City is large, complicated, and diverse but without serious external threats, the NYPD might be a pretty good model. If someone is launching organized punitive/raiding expeditions for some reason or another, the NYPD probably won’t cut it. If you’re facing invasion by a combined-arms force they won’t be anything but a convenient way for your new masters to cut down on occupation forces.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Another issue: Historically one of the problems that states with weak central authority faced was foreign powers suborning one of their internal factions. What would stop a foreign power looking to conquer Ancapistan from doing the same, for example by buying out the company in charge of defending a strategically vital piece of land and fatally compromising the rest of Ancapistan’s defence network?

      Another other issue: Free riders. If my town gets invaded, it wouldn’t be practical for the local defence company to say “We’ll defend every other house in this town, but not yours, Mr. X, because you’re behind on your payments.” Without some method of enforcing payment, I expect any defence companies capable of actually standing up to a foreign invasion would be so crippled by free-rider-ism that they’d soon end up going bust.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I think the issue with a lot of the lines of reasoning here is the presumption that anybody would WANT Ancapistan.

        Nobody is marching in and taking over Somalia, which, while not exactly Ancapistan, is a nation with a weak (barely existent) central authority and lots of regional powers.

        The desire for empire has mostly died in the world. First world nations don’t want to become financially responsible for a bunch of poor people, which is what conquering amounts to now, and nobody else has the money to field a modern army.

        • quaelegit says:

          Yeah the discussion has convinced me that Ancapistan would be unlikely to be wiped off the map entirely (or if occupied might be able to cause a painful-to-the-occupiers insurgency, depending on foreign backers), but “adopted our system of government and you’ll end up like Afghanistan” isn’t a great advertisement.

          (Or heck, to keep with the WWII theme, “adopt our system of government and you’ll end up like 1945 France with no expectation of a Marshall Plan” isn’t great either.)

        • Vermillion says:

          Fair point but reading this thread I think the thought experiment goes

          1) Ancapistan is successful (at a minimum != Somalia, maybe more like Eastern Ukraine)
          2) So people (nationstates) want something (loot/no meth boats/empire) out of Ancapistan
          3) Is there a way for Ancapistan to stop them while still being Ancapistan?

          So 1 and 2 are just kind of the foundational assumptions, and #3 is what’s actually being discussed.

          • albatross11 says:

            Anyone who thinks Ancapistan = Somalia or Afghanistan is very unlikely to want to transform their country to Ancapistan. The interesting question is how well Ancapistan can defend itself against foreign aggression–invasion, extorting tribute by threatening to bomb someone, subverting the defenses of the society over time until they can take over, “salami tactics” where they take over one little piece of Ancapistan at a time iteratively till they’ve eaten the whole salami, etc.

          • Matt M says:

            Somalia did pretty well under “anarchy,” both compared to “Somalia previously under a centralized state” and compared to its geographic neighbors during the same timeframe under a centralized state.

            It did poorly compared to the United States, if for some bizarre reason you think that’s a more reasonable comparison.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Somalia did pretty well under “anarchy,” both compared to “Somalia previously under a centralized state” and compared to its geographic neighbors during the same timeframe under a centralized state.

            Got a cite? Its direct neighbors are Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Ethiopia had their famine in the 80s, but otherwise those three are pretty competent by SSA standards, so color me skeptical.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve seen it pop up in various articles over the years, here’s one example.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I think the issue with a lot of the lines of reasoning here is the presumption that anybody would WANT Ancapistan.

          Bean’s original post was about national defence under ancap, so the idea that a foreign power might want to invade was implied in the question.

          Of course, the background to the post was a discussion in the previous OT about whether or not an ancap country could work. “Don’t worry about defence, our country will end up so poor and messed-up that no-one would want the responsibility of ruling us,” whilst it does solve the issue of how to defend yourself, still isn’t very promising for the potential of ancap as a workable system of (non-)government.

          • toastengineer says:

            The thing is, your plan for how to defend yourself needs to be informed by what the enemy actually wants. Defending against someone who e.g. wants your stuff vs. wants to kill everyone who holds your ideology are arguably completely different problems.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’ve run the numbers and the following is the most likely scenario for ancap France, or, “Francapistan” to engage in a guerrilla war.

      1. France becomes ancap.
      2. rest of Europe stops following EU “protected designation” laws relating to france.
      3. sparkling-white-wine manufacturers outside of start labelling it “champagne.”
      4. French ancap winemaker terrorists start bombing campaign against said manufacturers.
      5. wine-producing countries of Europe invade Francapistan with a multi national force.

      I’ve left cheese out but that’s a bit complicated to be dealt with quickly.

    • cassander says:

      to play devil’s advocate, Ancapistan will, almost by definition, have a foreign policy agenda similar to that of switzerland. I accept the weaknesses of militias you lay out, but if you back the militias with nuclear firepower (which is relatively cheap) your deterrent threat goes way up. Granted, you then need to work out some sort of consensus on when to use said nukes, which is no mean feat, but it seems like that would be possible for at least a few clear lines.

      • bean says:

        How are you paying for the nuclear firepower? The marginal nuke is relatively cheap, but the first one is really expensive. And the chance of anyone protesting the vigorous bombing of any potential ancapistani nuke sites is absolute 0, because I’m serious when I say I trust the Norks with the things a lot more.

        • cassander says:

          I’m also assuming that ancapistan is a developed country with a civilian nuclear industry, which would make the cost of building bombs decidedly bearable.

          I am assuming the population of ancapistan, or more accurately, the security providers, when faced with someone outside their border who is capable of a great enough threat that militia is not enough to stop them, will do the same math that the US did in the 50s and spend the money for nuclear firepower + militia rather than lay out more money for a serious standing army and its logistical tail. I’m further assuming that those security companies could work out agreement on relatively clear lines for the use of those weapons.

          I grant you that the international reaction to Ancapistani nukes is problematic, but no more problematic than Ancapistani attitudes towards drugs, prostitution, banking secrecy, and other vices.

          • bean says:

            I grant you that the international reaction to Ancapistani nukes is problematic, but no more problematic than Ancapistani attitudes towards drugs, prostitution, banking secrecy, and other vices.

            This depends very heavily on how they go about this. If the Ancapistani Security Alliance gets together and decides to build their own nukes, and can credibly assure the international community that they aren’t going to sell the things to the highest bidder, then they might be able to get away with it. But at this point, we’re back to “indistinguishable from government”. If a company sets up to sell nukes to the highest bidder, they’re not going to be allowed to operate, probably with extreme prejudice.
            It’s pretty much the same for drugs (and banking secrecy). If Ancapistan has legal marijuana and some mom-and-pop hard drug shops, then nobody is going to care too much, beyond everyone leaving the country getting enhanced screening. If Cartel Inc is doing industrial-scale production of heroin and building high-quality smuggling submarines, then you’re going to see military action.
            Other governments only care about problems you export, at least to a first approximation. Nukes to the highest bidder is a serious problem you’re exporting.

          • cassander says:

            If a company sets up to sell nukes to the highest bidder, they’re not going to be allowed to operate, probably with extreme prejudice.

            No doubt, but I don’t see why they would immediately go there. They’d be aware of the consequences for doing so. Companies are capable of rational thought and tend to not do things that torch their existing business model. Selling nukes would do that.

          • Nornagest says:

            Let’s accept for the sake of argument that you solve the international relations problem. Nukes + militia would probably do a decent job of deterring full-scale invasion, but I feel like that defense policy would be inflexible enough to lead to serious problems down the road. Once you run into a problem that your militia can’t handle, which is not a high bar in modern warfare, then your only options are capitulating or escalating as far up as the scale goes — and there are lots of situations where capitulation is going to look more attractive. It’s like walking around in a bad neighborhood with pepper spray and a suicide vest and nothing in between.

            Okay, so Statistan next door isn’t going to be able to roll up to your capital and make a bonfire of little black-and-yellow flags. But what happens if it (plausibly deniably) funds an internal rebellion, or if it starts parking its destroyers next to tiny stupid islands that you don’t really care about, or if Al-Qaeda sees a power vacuum and sets up shop on your northern border? Your militia probably can’t adequately stand up to any of those.

          • cassander says:

            @Nornagest says:

            Okay, so Statistan next door isn’t going to be able to roll up to your capital and make a bonfire of little black-and-yellow flags. But what happens if it (plausibly deniably) funds an internal rebellion, or if it starts parking its destroyers next to tiny stupid islands that you don’t really care about, or if Al-Qaeda sees a power vacuum and sets up shop on your northern border? Your militia probably can’t adequately stand up to any of those.

            This was definitely a problem for the US, which is why massive retaliation eventually got junked, but presumably ancapistan isn’t in the business of policing who owns which islands on the other side of the ocean from them. If you’re a resident of some islands off the shore of ancapistan and worried about the mainland’s commitment to your cause, presumably there’s some amount of money you could pay the security alliance to explicitly include you under their nuclear umbrella. And if the island as a whole can’t manage to overcome the free rider problem well enough to raise the dough, well, this is ancapistan, so tough cookies to them.

          • Nornagest says:

            The islands in the South China Sea are mostly uninhabited, and I was thinking about them more from the perspective of e.g. the Philippines than from the US’s. They were supposed to be emblematic of minor territorial violations that aren’t egregious enough to make full-scale retaliation attractive: another historical example would be something like the Cod Wars.

            There’s a lot of ways to nickel-and-dime a state out of territory or resources if you know they can’t commit to a limited military response. And probably a lot more if they’re ancap.

          • John Schilling says:

            will do the same math that the US did in the 50s and spend the money for nuclear firepower + militia rather than lay out more money for a serious standing army and its logistical tail.

            I’m pretty sure the US in the 1950s did in fact lay out the money for a serious standing army and its logistical tail, as well as all the nukes. The US Army in 1959 had fourteen regular divisions, seven of them forward-deployed; bean will probably be able to tell you how many carrier battle groups there were, and I don’t seem to be able to find numbers on tactical air wings but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t small.

            The one nation I know of that did explicitly address that choice was Sweden in the 1960s, which could afford either an independent nuclear arsenal or the 3rd-generation multi-role combat aircraft necessary for a “serious standing army” of the 1970s. They thought about it long and hard, and decided that the nukes offered inadequate flexibility and the conventional army would be a better safeguard of their national sovereignty.

            There’s no historical precedent for nukes+militia as a national defense, and it’s almost certainly not a good plan because neither nukes nor militia work well against salami-slicing attacks where a regular military’s ability to deliver calibrated concentrations of force is ideal.

          • bean says:

            No doubt, but I don’t see why they would immediately go there. They’d be aware of the consequences for doing so. Companies are capable of rational thought and tend to not do things that torch their existing business model. Selling nukes would do that.

            But it’s not just “immediately”, it’s the fact that nobody wants to take the risk of nukes falling into private hands at all. Unless the people building the nukes give good assurance that they aren’t going to end up in the hands of anything that isn’t basically their government, we get bombings. And that means you have to have a government.

            @John
            The US Army was not particularly happy with that force level, and they managed to convince Kennedy to give them another (IIRC) four divisions pretty quickly. And get us involved in Vietnam. Massive retaliation was pretty cheap relative to the alternative, although that strategy works best when you do have some limited-war forces, probably seaborne. I go back and forth on this one.
            (As for CVBGs, that wasn’t a thing back then the way it is now. They had CVAs and CVSs, and I’d have to check numbers for both. It was rather confusing.)

      • John Schilling says:

        Note that one possible use for nukes is “sell them to people for money”, and the guiding principle of anarcho-capitalism is very nearly “no interfering in other people selling stuff for money”. So, how many nuclear missiles do you need to deter attacks from people who think you might sell some of your nuclear missiles to nogoodniks? Or lose control of them, or do something unpredictable with them? This is a question North Korea is currently struggling with, and which may have no good answer.

        Also, note that part of Switzerland’s foreign policy agenda for generations was selling money-laundering services with a veneer of respectability. When the major governments of the modern world said “That’s not even remotely respectable any more, knock it off Or Else”, Switzerland’s foreign policy was to say “Sir, yes sir!” and force a new set of laws on every single bank in Switzerland. How will Ancapistan respond when the same demand is made? Along with the ones Switzerland never had to dead with because they were never daft enough to allow e.g. international mail-order heroin sales.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the problem of organizing defense for an anarchist society is already hard enough, without baking in the assumption that the rest of the world will want to nuke them into a thin glaze and then bomb the glowing remains a few times to make sure they’re dead. There is no strategy for defending yourself that’s workable under such an assumption, other than just happening to be many times more powerful than all your opponents. I don’t think the US could survive such a situation long-term, despite our very powerful and well-funded military.

          What we can see with existing countries now:

          a. Sometimes they have organized criminal gangs with substantial power and reach into the government, who sometimes commit crimes across borders, as with Mexico and the US. This usually doesn’t lead to war.

          b. Sometimes, political dissidents, leaders in exile, terrorists, freedom fighters, etc., from one country shelter in another. Like the US and Turkey, or the UK and Russia, or Turkey and Iraq. Again, sometimes that leads to war, but it mostly doesn’t.

          c. Sometimes one country allows legal trade in something that a nearby country doesn’t permit, or only permits with substantial regulation. Like guns going from the US to Mexico, or alcohol going from Canada to the US during prohibition. Again, this doesn’t generally end up in a war. (Though it may end up making it very hard to get trade across that border, leading to internal pressure to stop allowing people to sell heroin across the border as a way to avoid having every single shipment of rice turned back at the border.)

          All these are generic problems that happen between countries. Mostly they don’t end in war. I don’t see an automatic reason why Ancapistan must automatically end up in a war with all the world/neighbors on that basis.

          • bean says:

            The problem is that in all of those cases, the countries have some polite fictions which make it work.
            a. The US complains to Mexico about it. Mexico promises to put a stop to it, and so long as they make some reasonable gestures, the US considers itself to have fulfilled its obligations. And even if the US does something on its own, “doing something” doesn’t necessarily mean war.
            b. Countries that harbor terrorists often see various bad things happening short of war. Sanctions, cruise missile strikes, etc. To some extent, though, this is another thing limited by having someone responsible to complain to, and that government is at least partially responsible for making sure the person they have doesn’t cause too much trouble.
            c. Again, the existence of a government on the other side means that diplomatic pressure can be applied, at least in theory. We ask the Canadians to please do something about cross-border alcohol trade. They may just put up posters, but there’s a limit to how bad they’ll let it get to avoid us doing bad things to their trade, and if the consequences aren’t too bad on our end, we’ll occasionally ask them to stop it, they’ll promise to do better, and life goes on.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m assuming Ancapistan living in a world full of states would have some way of doing foreign relations, but I have no idea how that would work.

            We currently have the situation, pretty routinely, where country X wants country Y to do something, but country Y’s government can’t just do that because of its own laws, constitution, etc. Like if Mexico wants us to stop the flow of guns across the border, there are limits to how hard we can push back on that flow without violating the rights of our citizens in ways that will get both legal challenges and political campaigns to put a stop to that stuff.

            A pretty basic limiting thing here is that if people are making war on my country from yours, that can lead to a war between our countries, or interventions across my border by your military, or whatever. And that’s going to be true w.r.t. Ancapistan, too, I think. Any workable version of Ancapistan needs to be able to enforce rules that keep its residents from making war on the neighbors, to avoid bringing war down on everyone’s heads.

            [ETA: The more I try to untangle what would be necessary, the more the result looks kinda like a government. Maybe not one like we’re familiar with, but something that at least strongly resembles it. Like, you’ve got foreign policy and a permanent standing military and probably at least some level of immigration control or something.]

          • John Schilling says:

            The problem is that in all of those cases, the countries have some polite fictions which make it work.

            And the most important parts aren’t even fictions.

            The US/Mexico drug trade, and probably the US opioid problem, would be vastly worse if Bayer de México were able to openly manufacture and sell pharmaceutical-grade heroin at wholesale, if Mexican shipyards were to sell professionally-built submarines fitted out for smuggling. And the gun trade in the opposite direction, well, what happens when US defense contractors can openly sell all their toys by the truckload to anyone whose check doesn’t bounce?

            90% of the war on drugs, and all the rest, is won when all the governments of the industrialized world agreed that anyone who tries to do this sort of thing on an industrial scale gets shut down. The world tolerates the stuff that hides on the margins; they won’t tolerate it becoming an institutionalized norm. And that goes double for any sort of formally-instituted assassination market.

      • Sfoil says:

        Switzerland doesn’t have nuclear weapons. The reasons they don’t are probably very similar to the reasons Ancapistan wouldn’t.

        nuclear firepower (which is relatively cheap)

        To whom, a state? If I have two huge corporations, and one of them decides to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear weapons that the other one spends on marketing, research, and production, which one is going to turn a greater profit? What measures might our now nuclear-armed rival corporation possibly take to make up for the foregone profits?

        • cassander says:

          See my response to bean. I’m assuming that if ancapistan is faced with an enemy of sufficient capability that a militia isn’t strong enough to keep them out, the security providers will buy nukes rather than try to raise standing armies.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Maybe the security firms would recognize the practical necessity of a common military, establish a funding agreement, and refuse to recognize/actively take out any security company that tried to free-ride. The question then becomes how to preserve the soul of anarcho-capitalism when you have this singleton military.

      • albatross11 says:

        Right, this is exactly the issue! If we get Ancapistan with a more-or-less centralized standing military, foreign policy, etc., it seems like it’s not so anarchistic after all. It might look very different from what we’re used to–it might be much better, for that matter. But if there’s, say, a consortium of seven protection companies that effectively maintain a standing military with enough power to defeat any likely invaders, operate embassies and maintain good relations with their neighbors, make sure terrorist groups from next door don’t move their base of operations into Ancapistan while continuing to carry out attacks across the border, etc., that looks a lot more like a government than like anarchy.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          tbh, based on the most detailed summary of ancap I’ve read, it doesn’t sound that anarchistic–but it is a different, and interesting, structure for government. For instance, all seven companies would have to prevent you from launching cross-border terror attacks, but they’d each try to come up with the most appealing plan for how they’re going to make sure you aren’t a terrorist without invading your privacy more than necessary (and if they don’t, someone can launch an eighth company). This seems like a meaningful improvement on how the US handles terror prevention!

          I haven’t looked at leftist anarchism that much, but I’m not all that impressed with their “why our orderly society isn’t a state” either. e.g. this reads to me like “states are oppressive and bad, and our proposed system would be tolerant and good, so therefore it’s not a state, just like our tiered structure of confederal bodies totally isn’t a hierarchy”. Which is not to say there’s no case to be made for whatever they’re pushing!

          I’m skeptical that it’s possible to be capable of solving large-scale coordination problems without basically being a state.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s interesting to ask which features of a state are needed, though.

            Like, bean and several other people here have made a fairly convincing case, at least to me[1], that any country that isn’t totally isolated/surrounded by friendly peaceful countries is going to need a permanent standing military to do a bunch of unglamorous stuff like make sure all the protection agencies/local militias/national defense clubs are using the same equipment so they can share spare parts and ammo, figuring out what force mix they’ll need, etc. So that’s probably a feature we need in any society that doesn’t want to have someone else come in and take it over.

            But what parts of being like a state are needed, and what parts are optional?

            My guess is that some mechanism for capturing the resources needed for that standing military is going to have to exist, and that’s going to need to be in the neighborhood of the effectiveness at making free-riders pay of, say, the Greek tax enforcement system. That doesn’t need to be IRS agents, but there’s going to have to be some way to do this that requires most everyone with serious resources to cough up some dough, or there’s not going to be anyone manning the radar stations or keeping the fighter jets running. That thing might not look anything like a state as we know it, but it’s going to have to do those things. I imagine this being done via protection agencies or something like them–everyone needs to have a protection agency to interact with the legal system, and all the protection agencies have an incentive to work together on national defense. (Though they will also have incentives to defect if they can.) Though the question then arises: if the protection agencies are effectively collecting taxes (fees that you have to pay to have any protection from crime and to be able to access the legal system), what keeps them from using this power to just enrich themselves?

            Further, treaties with other nations (or ancap regions) for mutual defense, trade, dealing with cross-border criminals, etc., seem pretty worthwhile. The protection agencies of Ancapistan don’t have any more desire to have bank robbers or kidnapping rings to come over from Statistan and set up shop than Statistan has for its criminals to get away clean. How might that be done without a centralized state?

            It strikes me that the process David Friedman described for generating laws via negotiation between private protection agencies might adapt to deal with foreign relations, since the protection agencies are likely to have interactions with nearby countries’ police and border guards and militaries. The most permissive protection agencies w.r.t. transport of heroin and meth might find that their clients have a hell of a lot of trouble crossing the border, whereas the ones that impose some restrictions on that stuff for their clients might find it easier for their clients to cross without spending a few hours being body-cavity searched.

            [1] I have no military background whatsoever, so you could probably sell me a lot of nonsense in this area.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            For eliminating the free rider problem without using forceful coercion, you could simply have everyone who’s paying for the military agree to boycott anyone who’s not, thus creating an incentive for everyone to help pay for it. However, this, to my eyes, seems to indicate a glaring flaw in the system it is intended to fix: if large groups of like-minded people are theoretically able to assert their will through boycotts, wouldn’t that allow all sorts of injustices to arise in Ancapistan? For instance, wouldn’t a religious or ideological majority be able to dominate the system in their preferred domains by having their followers boycott anyone who isn’t like them? It seems like even in the absence of physical coercion there are ways for people to abuse others into doing what they want, so that not even this ultimate anarchist society could provide absolute freedom.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Red Foliot

            An even easier solution is to declare that not paying the security ‘insurance*’ & not defending your land to the same level is ‘violence,’ because that undefended land can allow attackers to attack your neighbors much more effectively. For example, imagine how much easier D-Day would have been if some beaches had been totally undefended because the owners chose not to defend them. These attackers that have an actual goal that is not the beach would then logically attack the lands behind the undefended beaches. So the owners of those lands would suffer the externalities that are the consequence of their neighboring beach being undefended.

            * Of course you have to pretend it is not a tax, as this is essentially a post-modern solution, where the desired outcome is achieved by creatively applying words to hide the fact that a fairly arbitrary distinction is made between things to the left of a fairly arbitrary point on a spectrum and things to the right of it.

            Libertarians who believe that they merely want the law to defend people from ‘violence’ typically already do this, so it would just be par for the course.

            IMO, the only objective way to apply a ‘hardcore libertarian**’ definition of ‘violence’ is to declare that all externalities of behaviors are violence. However, pretty much anything that anyone does has some kind of externality. So this objective application of hardcore libertarian principles is totally unworkable, as it leads to the most horribly oppressive nation imaginable, not the most free. So in practice hardcore libertarians tend to make arbitrary distinctions between what externalities people should bear and which they shouldn’t, which means that they are not actually the technocrats they pretend to be, but want their arbitrary moral intuitions made into law. They just self-delude themselves into believing that they are not basing their preferred law on arbitrary moral intuitions.

            ** As opposed to weak libertarians who merely want smaller government, but want to preserve a democratic system to decide which laws are to be enforced.

          • albatross11 says:

            Imagine a private space habitat or seastead, where you can’t get in without having an arrangement with one of the locally accepted protection agencies. You’re allowed to change protection agencies if you like, but you must always have an arrangement with one of them. In that context, the protection agencies can collect money for national defense. (For a seastead, that might be membership in a group of seasteads’ defense coop that maintains Coast Guard like levels of readiness.)

          • Nornagest says:

            What’s to stop me from creating the El Cheapo Defense Alliance, which charges half as much as all the other defense alliances and consists of giving you a time-share in a Glock and a rowboat?

    • This started with a challenge to me from Bean. I’ve been sitting back and watching other people argue about the issue, since my basic arguments are in the chapter of Machinery that I linked to. A few comments:

      1. A lot of people seem to regard the level of military preparedness of the current U.S. as something close to the norm, hence what an A-C society has to come close to. It isn’t. The U.S. at present spends more than the next eight countries combined. Typical figures for other countries are around 2% of GNP with a lot of variance. Currently, charitable donations in the U.S. come to about $400 billion/year, which is about 2% of GNP.

      That doesn’t tell us how much would be either donated or needed to help support national defense in an A-C society, for several reasons. Current donations are largely deductible, which in effect subsidizes them. On the other hand, the figures do not include voluntary expenditures pushed by social norms, such as tips for restaurants and taxicabs. On the third hand, the national defense model I sketched in the third edition of Machinery uses a lot of volunteer labor, provided for reasons not primarily charitable. The charity in the model is mostly going to help support the cadre, the professionals who provide coordination and, if there is a war, leadership. The equivalent in a conventional military force is a small fraction of the total.

      2. One response implicit or explicit in many of the comments is that the A-C society will face unusually high threats because its existence will be seen as a terrible danger–legal drugs, prostitution, perhaps a place for terrorists to operate out of. I don’t find that convincing. There are places today where prostitution is legal–the U.K., for example, although with some restrictions. A few parts of Nevada–and, de facto although not de jure, Las Vegas. Afghanistan was growing opium poppies and exporting the crop for a long time before the U.S. got involved for unrelated reasons. As best I can tell, the U.S. at present is the only country in the world that makes any serious effort to block drugs at source by pressuring producing countries, not very successfully. And it looks as though the world War on Drugs is, very gradually, winding down. Countries that want to keep drugs out are much more likely to attempt it by internal enforcement than by aggressive foreign policy.

      What about terrorism, which is one of the few things that does occasionally get one country invading another, although not often. The rights enforcement agencies of an A-C society are selling the service of rights protection and dispute settlement. There is no reason why they should refuse to sell it to foreign customers, including governments. Blowing up airplanes and shooting random civilians are likely to be regarded as rights violations by the private courts of that system. Hiring one or more local rights enforcement agencies to act against criminals whose crimes happen to be terrorist acts should be a lot less expensive than conquering the A-C area they are working from.

      I have never claimed that an A-C society could successfully defend itself under all circumstances against all possible threats–both of my chapters on the subject describe national defense as the hard problem. My claim is only that under many circumstances it could adequately defend itself. That’s all one can legitimately claim for government national defense.

      • bean says:

        I’m not assuming that the level of defense spending the US does has to be matched by Ancapistan. But I also really don’t think that a militia model is adequate today. It probably would have worked well on land in 1800 (we’ll assume, contrary to most evidence, that the trading companies can support an adequate navy), but it was basically dead by 1900, and the level of professionalism required to make an adequate fighting force today cannot be generated by volunteers. I’m skeptical of even a charity being able to generate it to the level you’d need if you had even mildly hostile neighbors.

        One response implicit or explicit in many of the comments is that the A-C society will face unusually high threats because its existence will be seen as a terrible danger–legal drugs, prostitution, perhaps a place for terrorists to operate out of. I don’t find that convincing.

        I wouldn’t put prostitution on the list of likely problems. As for drugs (generalizable to guns), as John pointed out, the big deal is that production can’t be done on an industrial scale, with the resulting increase in supply and decrease in price. Industrial production is efficient and easy to disrupt. Artisan production is inefficient and difficult to disrupt. 90% of the battle is won by keeping it at artisan scales.

        Hiring one or more local rights enforcement agencies to act against criminals whose crimes happen to be terrorist acts should be a lot less expensive than conquering the A-C area they are working from.

        But is it cheaper than a bit of avgas and a few Hellfires? Particularly because governments are going to be doing everything they can do deligitimze ancapistan.

        My claim is only that under many circumstances it could adequately defend itself. That’s all one can legitimately claim for government national defense.

        Granted you aren’t claiming perfect defense. I’m mostly saying that I don’t think you understand how hard the problem is.

  17. beleester says:

    Are there any “mystical” practices that produce noticeable physiological effects? I don’t necessarily mean that they work as advertised, just that doing them will make you feel something unusual.

    I went to a meetup on “energy healing” once, and it started with showing us how to gather energy. Basically, you stand with your palms up and meditate for a while, and you’ll start to feel a sort of weight on your hands. If you then bring your hands together in a ball shape (think the DBZ “charging a Kamehameha” pose), it’ll feel sort of like you’re holding a ball of energy in your hands.

    At that point, you can allegedly use this energy to cleanse auras and so on, but my point is, it felt real. I was definitely feeling something on my hands (maybe some kind of muscle memory effect from holding that pose for a while?) and it was cool as heck.

    So I’m wondering if there are any other “mystical” techniques that produce some sort of cool/noticeable effect, even when you don’t believe they work.

    • Anonymous says:

      Meditation can let you control temperature rather well. Even amateurs instructed in the procedure can achieve this.

      https://www.snopes.com/harvard-study-confirms-tibetan-monks-can-raise-body-temperature-with-their-minds/

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        Meditation can let you control temperature rather well. Even amateurs instructed in the procedure can achieve this.

        Even if the instruction is just reading a book. I have tried the exercise (I later learned to be) known in variations as Tum(m)o (Tibet), Fiery Nuum (Kalahari), Fire Breath (Native N-American), Incendium Amoris (Katholic Mystics), … — all spellings probably wrong (happened decades in the past, sources misplaced and forgotten, don’t even remember what book I learned from).

        Breathing in a certain way into the solarplexus area felt like a strong gas burner lighting up, and I’ve been able to sit at my desk during the days at freezing temperature, with a noticeable draft through the room (opposite windows open), wearing T-shirt and buttoned shirt, short underpants, trousers and socks. Little fat tissue insulation; I was stick-figure thin these days. When typing, the fingers were slower than usual; the effect prioritized the body core. The mental state was distinctly altered, although I lack the vocabulary to describe this. I guess it must be in part similar to the experience of high thyroid-released hormone levels, possibly this is one of the mechanisms involved.

        The BBC had a documentary of a monastery in the Himalayas where monks trained by meditating in freezing temperatures, while wrapped in wet bed-sheet sized sheets until these were dry, wearing nothing else but something like beach shorts. Once a year they spent a night outside (at when filmed -20°C) with only a thin blanket between themselves and the snow.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is relevant to my interests!

          What book did you read?

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            One I remember was Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism by Lama Anagarika Govinda. But (a): I am not certain that I got the technique from there, and but (b): it’s from ’69 and most certainly there will be better stuff now.

            If you are feeling adventurous — don’t. There is a reason why the Spiritual Emergency (later: Emergence) Network was founded: you can cause a psychophysiolocial turmoil wild enough to shoot you straight into the need for psychiatric care.

            If you are interested in research: contact Tibetan Buddhist centres; following the Dalai Lama’s openness, they are open towards empiric objective data research. If not, continue asking around.

          • Anonymous says:

            @TheEternallyPerplexed

            I’m interested in making my fingers warm without gloves.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            If intense, it could beRaynaud syndrome.
            Also, trying biofeedback comes to mind.

          • Anonymous says:

            @TheEternallyPerplexed

            I don’t think I have a condition. I’m just miserly with heating for various reasons.

        • bassicallyboss says:

          Just like Aes Sedai in Wheel of Time!

    • adder says:

      When you say noticeable, you just mean in the first-person sense? I’m sure lots of traditional meditation practices, including Buddhist insight practice (such as described in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha) would fit the bill, but it would include lots of physiological effects that couldn’t be measured or be difficult to do so.

      I’ve been meditating with a fair bit of diligence since Scott wrote the review linked above, and I’ve had plenty of very noticeable physical sensations. It’s not like I can intentionally control them (though I haven’t tried), but they come up often and are unmistakable. They’re known as piti, often translated as rapture.

      For me, it manifests as mostly “electric” jolts running through my body. Sometimes they are slight tingles; other times it’s felt like I just touched an electric fence powerful enough to take me off my feet. I also get eye fluttering, a sense of motion even when stationary, or the sort of weightiness in my hands that you described. (maybe I’ll try to make an energy ball!)

    • Vorkon says:

      The “holding your hands up and meditating” step isn’t actually necessary to produce this effect. If you just hold your hands tensed up as if you’re holding a ball tightly for a while, you’ll get the same feeling. (It feels kinda’ neat when you move your hands from side to side as if you’re throwing the ball from one hand to another!)

    • Stevo says:

      I was trying to start a related thread. I just read (or listened to the audio) a book called Suggestible You by Erik Vance. It was basically an investigation of placebo effects, and “alternative” treatments. The gist was that a significant portion of the population are highly susceptible to placebo effects, and their bodies really do react to these types of treatments.
      One example I remember was how experimenters treated pain with opiates and placebos, noting the expected placebo effect for pain treatment. Then they gave Narcan (naloxone, and opiate antagonist) to the people who had decreased pain. The pain returned in both those who had placebo effects and those responding to real opiates. Like the people responding to placebo produced their own opiate-like pain killers in their bodies. I’m really interested in this, and also how I may be able to use it in my future psychiatric practice. If any practicing psychiatrists have some insight into the placebo effect and/or hypnotherapy and such, please chime in.

      • Stevo says:

        I guess my point is that mental expectation and story telling can have a physiological effect on the body.

  18. johan_larson says:

    I missed this the first time around in November, but the Finns are planning to host multi-national military exercises in 2020. And they will probably include the US. More fun in the Baltic area of operations.

    Finland is planning large-scale military drills with the United States and other allies, its defense minister said on Friday, in a region worried by Russia’s increasing military activity. …
    The war games will not take place until 2020 at the earliest and will be similar to neighboring Sweden’s “Aurora” drill that involved 19,000 troops in September, he [Jussi Niinisto, the Finnish defence minister] added.

  19. Drain says:

    I made a funny effective altruism game whose major criticism has been that it has too many rationalist in-jokes. I think that you’ll like. There are just four days left in the Kickstarter here.

    Also, if anyone has any trivia they think is important (e.g. moving to open borders could double GDP, estimates for the heritability of IQ range from .5 all the way up to .8, CRISPR has made gene editing 20 times faster and a hundred times cheaper etc.), then I’ll be happy to throw it in (trivia games need a lot of trivia to be replayable.)

    • rlms says:

      I don’t want to sound too critical, but I think the truth of all three of your example trivia is somewhat dubious.

      • quaelegit says:

        I’ve definitely seen the middle one about IQ stated authoritatively on SSC a lot, although I haven’t checked sources to try to figure this out myself (and I know pretty much nothing about psychology that I didn’t read on this blog so it would take quite a while for me to learn enough to be confident I’m understanding the material enough to draw conclusions).

        Agree that the other two sound more like “debate positions” than “factual trivia”.

        • rlms says:

          I think (I’m not an expert so may well be wrong) that that one is technically true but potentially misleading. For one thing, heritability is a function of environment, and it measures the variance that can be attributed to genetics, not the proportion of a trait that is inherited. Suppose we have a perfectly egalitarian society where everyone is treated in exactly the same way. Then heritability of IQ (and indeed every other trait) will be 1. That doesn’t mean everyone will have exactly the same IQ as their parents. Likewise, suppose I randomly put lead into a load of water supplies. That will decrease heritability of IQ, but the genetics of IQ are exactly the same. See more e.g. here.

          • Anon. says:

            Suppose we have a perfectly egalitarian society where everyone is treated in exactly the same way. Then heritability of IQ (and indeed every other trait) will be 1.

            Not at all.

          • @Anon

            As he says, and as I have previously understood; heritability is a measure of how much of the variation in the phenotype is due to genetic variation, right? If you equalize everything else, then the genetic differences would be the only thing left, and heritability would therefore go up to 100%. Assuming I understand heritability correctly, his statement seems correct to me.

          • Anon. says:

            There’s still a lot a “perfectly egalitarian society” can’t equalize. Remember that ~all the non-genetic variance is due to non-shared environment! These are effectively factors outside our control.

            Identical twins do not have identical fingerprints, and no amount of egalitarianism is going to change that.

          • rlms says:

            I meant a theoretically perfectly uniform society. Of course, such a thing is not realistic, and heritability of 1 for non-tautological traits is not achievable. But it’s a useful thought experiment.

          • quanta413 says:

            Unless I’m badly misreading the wikipedia pages, you’re wrong in even the perfect theoretical sense if we want to compare to many of the actual methods used in twin studies. Twin estimates are typically estimates of additive genetic variance (or sometimes including dominance). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_study#Methods and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falconer%27s_formula. Also note the line “An initial limitation of the twin design is that it does not afford an opportunity to consider both Shared Environment and Non-additive genetic effects simultaneously.” Wikipedia then goes on to describe how you can attempt to split these effects, but I’d be surprised if there were enough studies that we have a strong idea.

            It may be trivially true that if you perfectly homogenize the environment (to the level of microscopic noise also matching), everyone’s a clone, and everyone’s in test tubes with no human interaction then all of their IQ’s will be the same; but the better comparison includes the limitations of our current analysis as well.

            Anyways, it may be that our estimates of heritability of intelligence are typically underestimates, if the assumption of additive genetic variance breaks down. This seems likely, although h for intelligence is already so high it probably doesn’t matter much. Gene x environment interactions are also tough to suss out.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413
            I don’t understand why what you’re saying is relevant. Suppose we have some pairs of MZ twins and some pairs of DZ twins, and they all have exactly the same environment. Then the correlation for the MZ pairs is 1, as the twins in each pair are identical; and the correlation for the DZ pairs is on average 0.5 because they share half their genes. So by Falconer’s formula, heritability is 2(1 – 0.5) = 1. Correlation for DZ pairs is only 0.5 on average, as dizygotic twins don’t share exactly half their genes, so heritability might not be exactly 1. But I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about.

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            Then the correlation for the MZ pairs is 1, as the twins in each pair are identical; and the correlation for the DZ pairs is on average 0.5 because they share half their genes. So by Falconer’s formula, heritability is 2(1 – 0.5) = 1.

            The bolded part is true if the genetic traits contributing to IQ work additively (there may be another assumption I’m missing, but that’s a key one); otherwise it may not be true. That’s the problem.

          • rlms says:

            I see, thanks! But as you say, that’s only the case for heritability as measured by twin studies, not the platonic concept. If we’re magically putting everyone in the same environment, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to also magically measure heritability perfectly.

          • quanta413 says:

            I see, thanks! But as you say, that’s only the case for heritability as measured by twin studies, not the platonic concept. If we’re magically putting everyone in the same environment, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to also magically measure heritability perfectly.

            Perhaps, but we’re pretty much doing philosophy at that point. If you’re a materialist the answer is “obviously heritability is 1 if you have godlike powers to remove all environmental fluctuations down to the subatomic level. In this case, all traits will only vary due to genetics or genetics x environment effects.” I don’t know what a non-materialist would say.

            Anyways, now that technical caveats are out of the way, the more interesting case is what I originally took from your comment “perfectly egalitarian society”. I would imagine something like the Federation in Star Trek (but without all the wars). Heritability would probably go up, it’s true. But an interesting question is how much would it go up?

            Although not really on topic anymore, I think the original trivia question was probably fair though. Someone can lose an arm, but everyone understands that having 2 arms is almost always the case for humans because they are genetically and developmentally humans (not a tautology even though it sounds like it). The IQ heritability estimates for the first world can kind of be thought of like that.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think my perspective is particularly unusual. It’s not possible to get a 299,792,458m long vacuum tube and exactly measure how long it takes light to travel through it, but it seems pretty sensible to me to say that time is 1 second.

            The whole point of the thought experiment is that as you change the environment, heritability also changes. There is nothing special about the present day developed world. Some environments have lower heritability of IQ, in the future some will have higher. One shouldn’t view the current value for American adults* as being a timeless truth about the extent to which humans are blank slates.

            *since heritability of IQ varies wildly depending on age, and no-one really seems to know why

          • Anon. says:

            Of course there’s something special about the current environment! The zero influence of shared environment means that we’re already doing all we can in terms of known interventions. This has not been the case historically.

            You’re trying to take your absurd spherical cow hypothetical and use it for a real-world argument but it doesn’t work that way. The non-shared environment influence isn’t going to decrease any further because, again, those are factors outside our control. We’re mostly talking things like developmental randomness, luck, etc. The only way we can equalize them is in science fiction stories with no real-world relevance. In the absence of civilizational collapse, expecting significant changes in h^2 going forward is highly unreasonable.

          • quanta413 says:

            I don’t think my perspective is particularly unusual. It’s not possible to get a 299,792,458m long vacuum tube and exactly measure how long it takes light to travel through it, but it seems pretty sensible to me to say that time is 1 second.

            The difference is that it is so, so, so much easier to come reasonably close to measuring the speed of light properly. It was done fairly accurately over 150 years ago. And it was possible to come to a rough estimate in 1675. It’s relatively much less of a thought experiment to talk about the time it would take light to travel down an absurdly long vacuum tube. Whenever a signal is sent through space we basically do this measurement.

            Your thought experiment is more like “assume a 100% efficient engine” if I’m being very generous. It may be useful to illustrate things to a new student. But I think it really is more like philosophy on the level of “is all of the world material?” The fact you think this is obvious just makes you a materialist (like me); it doesn’t mean much else.

            The whole point of the thought experiment is that as you change the environment, heritability also changes. There is nothing special about the present day developed world. Some environments have lower heritability of IQ, in the future some will have higher.

            Sure, but only the totally ignorant would claim that you can’t lower IQ by bludgeoning someone on the head enough or malnourishing them severely enough during childhood. It’s not an interesting point to the factoid at hand; most people will understand the context about as well as they understand the context for the speed of light. However, the question of could the amount assigned to genetics go up is much harder. Humans are a social animal, and there is a strong argument to be made that it would be practically impossible to remove the significant environmental variance that involves interacting with other humans.

            There is a very real limit to how much could practically change within the next hundred years. It probably can’t get much higher than the highest estimates, and I’d bet changes in the measured value are more likely to come from improving technique and theory rather than a change in human social structure. It may even turn out that the estimates don’t change in the next 100 years. We know observationally we can increase the amount of variability due to the environment to ~1. We have very little evidence we can make IQ significantly more heritable than in the current environment of first world countries.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413
            “We have very little evidence we can make IQ significantly more heritable than in the current environment of first world countries.”
            When has that not been true? It seems to me that you could equally well have made that claim prior to the discovery that lead is bad. Likewise, there are unknown unknowns now.

          • albatross11 says:

            quanta413:

            The practical relevance is that the heritability of a bunch of quantitative stuff (like height and IQ) increases, the more you make everyone’s environment the same. In a society where there’s massive inequality in terms of getting enough nutrition, height won’t be nearly as heritable because a lot of the variation in height will be caused by nutrition (or malnutrition). Feed everyone, and height will become more heritable–my father’s height will become a more powerful tool for predicting my height–because we will have gotten rid of all that variation in height that’s driven by variation in nutrition.

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            When has that not been true? It seems to me that you could equally well have made that claim prior to the discovery that lead is bad. Likewise, there are unknown unknowns now.

            Do you have any evidence that lead toxicity has affected heritability estimates? It’s known that it affects outcomes in the same sense as bludgeoning someone on the head is known to affect outcomes. That doesn’t mean it affected any reliable heritability estimates. Very low levels of lead toxicity are known to have some affect that can be spotted by aggregating across large populations. It’s rare for it to have detectable effects in an individual. I find it doubtful this would have affected the estimate of heritability for a twin study. It may slightly shift the mean however.

            @albatross11

            The practical relevance is that the heritability of a bunch of quantitative stuff (like height and IQ) increases, the more you make everyone’s environment the same. In a society where there’s massive inequality in terms of getting enough nutrition, height won’t be nearly as heritable because a lot of the variation in height will be caused by nutrition (or malnutrition). Feed everyone, and height will become more heritable–my father’s height will become a more powerful tool for predicting my height–because we will have gotten rid of all that variation in height that’s driven by variation in nutrition.

            Yes, but the first world is not a society where there is significant inequality in terms of getting nutrition. And people have been trying for decades to find interventions that could equalize the environment and have had basically 0 success. Even if you want to affect the mean IQ it takes a few years of education to add a couple points of IQ in a model assuming linear effects. There isn’t any low-hanging fruit left. There’s probably not even medium height fruit. And the high end of estimates is .8. Even in theory, it can’t possibly go more than .2 higher.

          • albatross11 says:

            Maybe there’s not more low-hanging fruit, but it’s possible there’s some we don’t know about. What seems pretty clear to me, even as an outsider to the field, is that there’s probably not any remaining low-hanging fruit we currently know how to pick. Playing Mozart to your baby, universal pre-K, etc., are probably not going to move the needle much. But for all we know, there may be some really simple intervention that would raise average IQ, if only we knew how to do it.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413

            It’s rare for it to have detectable effects in an individual.

            Is it? Google seems to suggest an average effect of 5-10 IQ points, and changes near the higher end of that could certainly be noticed. That might not cause a difference in heritability estimates based on twins raised together, but would change the actual value for the population at large. The latter is presumably what the great-grandparent comment is talking about, otherwise the factoid would’ve been “estimates of heritability in twins raised together range from 0.5 to 0.8”.

          • quanta413 says:

            @albatross11

            Maybe there’s not more low-hanging fruit, but it’s possible there’s some we don’t know about. What seems pretty clear to me, even as an outsider to the field, is that there’s probably not any remaining low-hanging fruit we currently know how to pick. Playing Mozart to your baby, universal pre-K, etc., are probably not going to move the needle much. But for all we know, there may be some really simple intervention that would raise average IQ, if only we knew how to do it.

            Well, genetic engineering for IQ could probably be figured out relatively rapidly (<5 decades) if enough resources were invested. Still, raising the average is not the same as changing heritability. For something to significantly affect heritability estimates, it's not just that an intervention would have to be found; an intervention would have to be found that's already being used by a significant portion of the population and the use of this intervention has to be distributed in a particular way.

            I'm more optimistic about the mean going up than the heritability number changing. Means have already gone up a lot in the recent past for reasons still not well understood. I'm not aware of any changes in estimates of heritability in the recent past. If there was a strong trend in estimates going upwards (using data from across time but applying the same estimation methods not the original methods for each dataset necessarily), that would probably change my mind.

            @rlms

            Is it? Google seems to suggest an average effect of 5-10 IQ points, and changes near the higher end of that could certainly be noticed. That might not cause a difference in heritability estimates based on twins raised together, but would change the actual value for the population at large. The latter is presumably what the great-grandparent comment is talking about, otherwise the factoid would’ve been “estimates of heritability in twins raised together range from 0.5 to 0.8”.

            If that effect was going to change heritability estimates much, it should be part of the effect in the shared environment estimate from some studies. It’s hard to see how the effect of lead would show up in unshared environment (although not impossible). But shared environment by adulthood is something like 0 to .1 out of 1. There’s just not much room for lead to be affecting heritability estimates much in the most reliable types of studies (twin, families) even if it’s definitely affecting the mean IQ.

          • Chalid says:

            Well, genetic engineering for IQ could probably be figured out relatively rapidly (<5 decades) if enough resources were invested.

            I think embryo selection for intelligence could be done much faster than that; 1 decade, perhaps even sooner.

          • Better than embryo selection, if you can do it, is separately selecting on egg and sperm, as Heinlein proposed in one of his early novels. The obvious problem is how to determine the genetics of a single germ cell without damaging it. The solution is to take advantage of the fact that the process the produces egg or sperm starts with all the genes of a cell and splits the collection in half. You can determine the genetics of a cell from any cell in your body. You then produce egg and sperm in vitro, destructively analyze the half that isn’t used, subtract what is in it from the full genetics, and so deduce the half that is going to be used without ever touching it. (Simplified a little but that’s the principle).

            That’s much more powerful than first combining egg and sperm and then selecting on the result.

          • Chalid says:

            Interesting. It sounds like much further-off technology, though.

          • @Chalid:

            Surely further off, but I don’t think it’s clear how much further. And it’s much more powerful.

            With current technology you produce, say, ten embryos, let them multiply to the eight cell level, pull out a cell from each, analyze it, and implant the best of the ten, possibly keeping the next best one or two in case that doesn’t work.

            With Heinlein’s technology you produce ten eggs and, say, a hundred sperm–sperm are cheap. Analyze all of them in the process of producing them. Pick the best of the thousand possible combinations.

        • Drain says:

          I tried hunting for stats about CRISPR again and one example was that it cut the costs of some experiments with mice from 18 months and up to $20,000 to a couple weeks and $3,000. So “100 times cheaper” seems off by an order of magnitude unless the $3000 is dominated by costs like rearing the mice and man time spent on paperwork. This is what beta games are for!

          The answer to the open borders question includes a reference to Clemens’ survey paper, so unless the paper has severe methodological shortcomings, that seems like a fine answer to me. (Also, I think it would be kind of fun if players got into some friendly debate about more controversial questions like that one – I’d enjoy that more than answering sterile questions that you immediately forget afterwards.)

      • Drain says:

        Other commenters have explained what the heritability estimates mean and where they come from. A broader criticism is that I sometimes conflate worldwide and US-specific statistics, so a clarification is probably warranted.

        For necessarily speculative questions like the one about open borders, you’re right that it might be better to make a weaker claim like the one I originally got off Wikipedia, “A literature summary by economist Michael Clemens leads to an estimate that open borders would result in an increase of 67-147% in GWP (gross world product), with a median estimate of a doubling of world GDP.”

        I was frustrated at how hard it was to find a cite for the CRISPR fun fact, which I got from the kurzgesagt video. (Anyway, in game you only need to get absolute numbers correct to within a factor of ten, and I don’t think it’s that badly off.)

  20. Does anyone else get a pleasurable feeling in the gum of the lower jaw when eating chocolate, or very sugary things? I’m wondering what the biological explanation for this is.

    • temujin9 says:

      I think it’s your salivary glands kicking on. The experience is less pleasant for me, sort of a dull ache that subsides fairly quickly.

  21. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is there anything known about a mental aspect of coughing? I’m not really recovered from a cough unless I can think about coughing without setting off actual coughing.

    • Partisan says:

      Oh, I have this.

      My theory is that my mind starts thinking about coughing in response to something, not spontaneously – that is, I start thinking about coughing because I can sense that I’m about to cough. Then I cough.

      Once I’m actually recovered, I don’t get this early signal, and thus when I do think about coughing, it’s spontaneous – and I don’t cough.

      • Nearly Takuan says:

        I have anecdotal evidence in support. I am recovering from a flu (going on three weeks so far). I read these two comments and did not cough (though I did lose The Game). Then I scrolled further down and read other comments. While I did this, I mentally imagined myself coughing and then coughed.

    • johnjohn says:

      It’s because your throat is still irritated and thinking about it puts the focus on it. Kind of like how thinking about a scratchy back can conjure an itch.

      You can train yourself not to cough unless it’s absolutely necessary. Just relax your throat and ignore that coughing feeling like you would ignore the itch. It’ll go away after a while (usually). This is very helpful in the late stages of a flu/cold/etc where the coughing is mostly brought on by irritation caused by coughing

      You can also do a slow (very gentle), grumbly(?) exhale to relieve your throat. It’ll irritate less than a full on cough

  22. Well... says:

    @Montfort, continuing our discussion on tattoos from the last (hidden) OT. You were trying to get at what I mean when I say seeing your skin as a blank canvas is indicative of some kind of body dismorphic disorder because, in my words, the skin is not actually a blank canvas:

    That is, I’m inferring you mean something like “they think skin can look better with certain tattoos on it,” rather than “they think skin is literally canvas,” or “they are incapable of perceiving visual features present on the skin.”

    It isn’t simply that people with tattoos think skin can look better with certain tattoos on it, because tattoos are invasive, a sort of alteration of the skin itself via the injection (rather than topical application) of ink.

    Also, it isn’t quite an inability to perceive visual features present on the skin. It’s more a tendency to see only that the skin is a somewhat monotone surface (in some places more than others) and not that it is a complex, specialized organ optimized for that specialization by nature. It’s a bit like altering the suspension system of your car because you only see it anthropomorphically for the “stance” or “posture” it gives the car, rather than for what it was designed for.

    Now, maybe to some people a car is not a means of transportation but rather an expressive statement of personality. Fine. You can buy a car and sell a car, crash a car, have many cars. You can trash this car and then get a brand new one.

    But our relationship with our bodies is different. I suppose maybe the real irreducible difference between me and people with tattoos is that I do not see the body as a mere vessel to do with whatever one wishes. I believe your body a part of who you are, and that what you do with it matters. We don’t have mind uploading, and I’m glad we don’t. I think being tied to a body is an important and even glorious part of the human condition.

    • skef says:

      Virtually all of this analysis is irrelevant to the question of whether wanting tattoos — even really wanting tattoos — is or is comparable to some kind of body dismorphic disorder.

      To be or be like such a disorder there would need to be some evolutionary attitude towards the skin that proxies for the interests you raise, the way that hunger proxies for one’s interest in ingesting food. This would be the sort of attitude that one could explain in terms of evolutionary fitness. It seems that providing such an explanation would be a tall order, given that branding and other modifications are common enough among hunting tribes to be a cliche, and individuals in such tribes would seem to face selection conditions that are analogous to the relevant evolutionary conditions.

      Regardless, your arguments are just a set of reasons, and even assuming they are right, not taking one or another reasons into account does not constitute a psychological disorder.

      • Well... says:

        To be or be like such a disorder there would need to be some evolutionary attitude towards the skin that proxies for the interests you raise

        Maybe competition between tribes selects for those with the deepest sense of cohesion, and tribes where all or most members have this disorder, and therefore all readily get tattoos, are more cohesive because they’ve all done something permanent together that sets them apart from others? So, one human in a tribe has the disorder, he gets shunned because he keeps poking dies into his skin until he looks like he has a birth defect — but if some critical mass of humans in a tribe have it, now they’ve got themselves a pretty hardcore Schelling point to bond over.

        But maybe disorder’s too strong. After all, the desire for tattoos/seeing one’s skin as a canvas is clearly learned to at least some degree, since tattoos stayed out of fashion for hundreds of years in the West (maybe longer). And they were — and in particular ways, still are — associated almost as much with class as with what civilization you’re a part of. I just don’t know what a better word for it is.

    • Montfort says:

      The way I would rephrase your objection and repeat back to you is this: “I have a philosophical disagreement with most tattoo-desirers; whereas I believe that a person fundamentally is their body, and that to alter that body for aesthetic reasons is almost always negative in consequence*, and they clearly must disagree with at least one of those points based on how casually they change their skin.”

      And I don’t think your philosophical position is obviously wrong, but I also don’t think the philosophical position of the tattooed is obviously wrong either. I do think that inferring from a philosophical disagreement about transhumanism-ish issues that the other side’s disagreement comes from a psychological condition or deficiency in perception is not the most helpful way to express your position or make clear the differences between you and your opponents.
      I would suggest that you and the tattooed just have a conflict in values.


      *I recognize that you potentially make exception for obvious functional repairs (or improvements?), and possibly other things, but the sentence is very long already. I don’t recall if you explicitly said tattoos have a negative consequence rather than just an extreme consequence, but I would presume if you thought tattoos had a major positive consequence, you would get one, and if you thought they had major consequence that was neither obviously good or bad, you wouldn’t disagree so strongly with those who get them.

      • Well... says:

        That doesn’t go “ding ding ding, you’ve got it right on the button” for me, but it does seem like you’ve summarized my position well enough. To polish it a bit:

        I wouldn’t say a person fundamentally is their body (that’s a philosophical debate in its own right, one way above my pay grade), but it seems to me a person is enough their body that permanently altering it in a destructive way for aesthetic reasons is almost always surely negative in consequence, at least in some metaphysical sense if not in a more practical one.

        I don’t know that the tattooed’s position is obviously wrong, but it has a very strong smell of wrong to me.

        Here’s what I know for sure: to get a tattoo one would need to consider a permanent, destructive, and functionally unnecessary* change to one’s body as being neutral or positive. I don’t see how it’s possible for one to consider it that way unless one views his body as somehow deficient — despite its actually being healthy.

        That’s why I proposed that the desire for a tattoo might be explained by some kind of body dysmorphic disorder — because when you frame it the way I did, it really reminds you of one, doesn’t it? — though I acknowledge it does not fit the established definition of such a disorder. So maybe a new classification is required, or maybe I’m still just wrong. But so far I’m not convinced that I’m wrong.

        *And that’s where my exception comes in, because getting your inflamed appendix removed, or even getting a tattoo so you can fit in with and be a cohesive member of your gang or platoon or Amazon tribe, is functionally necessary.

        • Montfort says:

          You accept only functional mods to one’s body, so you infer from other people’s body mods that they think the mods are functional. But I suspect instead they think non-functional body mods are acceptable. Their metaphysics do not have to match with yours.

          • Well... says:

            No, I think I infer from other people’s body mods that they think the mods are totally unrelated to function. In other words, to see the skin as a canvas is to see it as an affordance — an area that can accept, and on which to show, markings. And because the markings are permanent and involve piercing the skin, you’re not just acknowledging that the skin could be used like an affordance, you’re actually using it as if it was one.

            It’s like noticing that a solar panel is smooth and flat, and you like breakdancing, and breakdancing is done on smooth flat surfaces, so you breakdance on a solar panel. You don’t just imagine or realize that you could, and you don’t breakdance on a mock solar panel; you dance on an actual solar panel. And you scratch it up and put dents in it while you’re dancing on it. Even if you manage to avoid causing the solar panel to stop capturing solar energy, your treatment of it is indicative of a wrongheaded way of seeing the solar panel.

          • Montfort says:

            Ok, my mistake. But someone who breakdances on a solar panel knows it’s a solar panel. They know dancing on it can damage it, and they know some people would say that solar panels shouldn’t be used for dancing. They just don’t mind the damage as much as they appreciate the dancing. Again, a difference of values and aesthetics, not an inability to comprehend the nature of reality.

            Or, in other words, your conception of the sanctity of body form (which I hope is not too misleading a shorthand) is not an easily-observable facet of reality that requires some kind of inaccurate perceptive faculty to miss (like the size of one’s nose, or the shape of one’s leg), it’s a philosophical position of the kind many people disagree about and it’s not totally clear if there even is a “right” answer for someone to fail to perceive/deduce.

          • Well... says:

            No, in the solar panel example, the breakdancer might understand that it’s a solar panel. but he also thinks it IS a breakdancing surface, rather than a surface that happens to share qualities with the surfaces he might normally breakdance.

            Iain used a coffee mug example, so let me try one of those too: Suppose a coffee mug has a normal handle on one side and a protrusion on the other side that’s normally used for some other functional reason unrelated to holding the mug. Person A notices that it would be possible to hold the mug by this protrusion and not by the normal handle, but does not hold it that way. Person B actually does hold the mug that way, and does so without even thinking about it. I would say Person B’s mental model of the mug must be different from Person A’s.

          • Montfort says:

            And what about a solar panel isn’t a breakdancing surface? In the hypothetical, it has all the necessary qualities. What disqualifies it, and why do you the think the dancer doesn’t know?

            I don’t find the coffee mug analogy any more enlightening. Is “holding” supposed to be “tattooing,” “body decoration”? What is the intended handle? More importantly, though, it’s not clear that the mental model must be different. Why can’t someone prefer holding a cup in a non-standard way? Whether or not you want to hold a cup by a particular protrusion isn’t a fact about the protrusion you can perceive (or fail to), it’s a decision you make based on other facts.

            I’ve often seen, and I suspect you have too, people holding mugs from the top, or the bottom, or the non-handled side, and it’s not because they don’t understand something about the mug, they just have a different use case.

          • Well... says:

            Sorry, I somehow missed this earlier:

            your conception of the sanctity of body form (which I hope is not too misleading a shorthand [nope, it’s fine]) is not an easily-observable facet of reality that requires some kind of inaccurate perceptive faculty to miss

            I think you’ve made a good point. To me it is an easily observable facet of reality, and in support of that I submit the example of how most people would respond to tattooing a baby as an egregious violation of the sanctity of its body form, but I can definitely understand it is not that way to everyone.

            It is interesting to consider why. We are coming out of a brief, strange period of time in which tattoos were taboo for most people. Was this taboo enforced using any of my reasoning, or did the taboo mainly rely upon other kinds of appeals?

            Does anyone else share my reasoning about tattoos? I think I’ve heard echos of it from a few people I know in real life, and at least one friend has agreed enthusiastically when I presented my body dismorphic disorder argument, but it seems like most people who don’t get tattoos, and even most people who are opposed to them, use very different reasons. This is also interesting.

          • Montfort says:

            I see. Yes, I think the “sanctity of body form” is probably the root of this confusion. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people who feel the way you do, and given your feelings on the subject, opposition to tattoos is pretty well-founded.

            To me, it seems more like it’s an axiom or a value that fits your intuition – it seems perfectly natural and true to you and others who share it, but people who don’t share it probably can’t be argued into it. And so, internally, among people who share this value, people who don’t have it look like they just aren’t “seeing” (metaphorically) something important and basic. It’s just that by calling tattoo-desire a result of distorted thinking, people who don’t share the value obviously don’t see what’s distorted about it; and in return would view your perspective as distorted.

            Since this dispute is more metaphysical than physical, I think even from the inside view it would be more accurate to say they have a distorted/less-active sense of body-sanctity rather than make a metaphor with distorted perception of physical things. (And of course, from not-inside, I’d stick with “value conflict”.) But I think I understand how you got to the comparison, at least.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Define “destructive”, because I think that this is probably the point of divergence.

          Tattoos aren’t destructive; what do they destroy? The natural appearance of your skin? For all intents and purposes, your position is just as permanent and destructive as a tattoo, but what you have destroyed is potentia.

          In a superficial sort of way, it is like refusing to go to college because you won’t get those years of your life back. It is choosing a default option over a commitment. Those years are going to be behind you soon anyways; your skin will eventually be in a box with the rest of your body. Permanence is illusory, and leaving your options open, once elevated to a principle, closes all options off.

          • Well... says:

            You’re poking your skin with a needle and leaving pigment embedded in it. The skin bleeds and becomes inflamed afterward. Obviously something destructive is going on there.

            I don’t know that this negative argument about destroying potentia is valid. You destroy potentia by getting a tattoo too, because you could have gotten a different one. You destroy potentia by not amputating your arm right this minute. Potentia is constantly destroyed. Maybe its very nature is to be destroyed. That isn’t meaningful as a counterargument to mine, or if it is I don’t understand how.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Scratching an itch rips skin cells from your body. Is scratching an itch a destructive act that is metaphysically prohibited?

            How do you feel about haircuts and nail trimming and shaving?

          • Iain says:

            If you’ve ever felt sore after a workout, it was because you caused damage to your muscle cells. That’s why weight-lifting builds muscle mass: you exert enough effort to damage your muscles, and your body responds by building them back up stronger.

            Obviously, something destructive is going on there. By your logic, people building muscle for aesthetic, non-functional purposes are doing something wrong. Look at all those bodybuilders who think their bodies are deficient, despite actually being totally healthy!

          • Well... says:

            Scratching an itch does cause some damage I suppose, but it is usually a negligible amount, it heals quickly, and you get the obvious benefit of relieving the itch (and experiencing itches is pretty normal). Some people perceive itches too frequently or scratch compulsively until they bleed. That is unhealthy.

            Haircuts, nail trimming, and shaving are temporary and do only a very minor amount of damage, in the case of nail trimming at least it is offset by an obvious functional benefit. In fact, we trim our nails because we aren’t clawing our way around trees and rough terrain where our nails would sort of be filed naturally.

            Similarly, if you run or climb a tree and then get sore afterward you have destroyed some muscle tissue, but that is a normal part of how your body builds muscle and gets stronger. Working out is a focused, systematic way to do that. I do think it can be taken too far, and it gets to be like a tattoo, when people start injecting themselves with all sorts of things and end up looking like challah.

          • Thegnskald says:

            While learning to use a straight razor – because they consume fewer resources – I did way more damage to my body than a (professionally done) tattoo causes.

          • Well... says:

            But those times you did damage to yourself it was unintentional, even if you knew the risk of cutting yourself a few times was 100%.

            I mean, I use safety razors and I ALWAYS cut myself while shaving my neck. I never intend to though.

          • Well... says:

            Thinking back on it, scratching an itch might be a really good analogy.

            If you perceive an itch on your arm and then scratch yourself in that spot to relieve the itch, it’s important to know, from a “is your perception of your body distorted” perspective, whether there really was a stimulus there on your arm causing an itch or whether your mind just invented it.

          • Nornagest says:

            You keep using the word “distortion”, but I don’t think you’ve ever really justified it.

          • Well... says:

            Not sure what kind of justification you’re looking for, but I think it’s a distortion in one’s perception of one’s own body to believe one’s skin to be a blank canvas. Similar to but not as extreme as the distortion of, say, an bony anorexic person who believes she is fat.

            Is that not a distortion in one’s perception?

          • Nornagest says:

            No, now you’re just fobbing off the same issue onto the phrase “blank canvas”.

            I don’t think people that like tattoos think of their body as something incomplete if it isn’t drawn on (that is what you mean by “blank canvas”, right?), and I don’t think their perceptions of their bodies are “distorted”. You have not argued otherwise, you’ve just asserted it.

          • Well... says:

            I explained this in the previous OT where this topic started, so you missed some context:

            The “my body is a blank canvas” justification for tattoos underlies the tattoo-getting-contexts where I suspect the tattooees have a distorted perception of their own bodies. (It might underlie the military and tribal contexts to some degree too, but there the functional justification is most obvious. Similarly, if some guy with a tattoo of Jesus said “I’ve interpreted Christianity in a way that says I should get a tattoo, so I got one,” I would less likely suspect that his perception of his body is distorted.)

            “My body is a canvas” is also the most common justification I’ve heard whenever I ask people about why they got a tattoo. (I’ve asked a lot of people over the years but I concede I never did a scientific study.) So, what I’ve said about tattoos is centered around that justification for them.

            So now that you understand the context a bit more, can you tell me how it’s so much different from the anorexia example I gave?

          • Nornagest says:

            I read your comments in the previous OT. I didn’t see any solid justification there, either, and I still don’t see any now.

            I’ll take your word for it re: people’s reasons for getting tattooed, but I don’t think that phrase implies “distortion” without a pretty strained and overliteral reading. By analogy: a previous girlfriend of mine painted as a hobby, and at one point decided to cover one wall of her bedroom with floral motifs. That’s literally treating her bedroom as a blank canvas, but I don’t think that implies a distorted view of it. There’s no telos that’s being corrupted by painting on it.

        • Iain says:

          I don’t know that the tattooed’s position is obviously wrong, but it has a very strong smell of wrong to me.

          I’m with Montfort: I don’t know that your position is obviously wrong, but it has a very strong smell of wrong to me. Indeed, I might even go so far as to call it absurd: I have a similar reaction to your claims about the terrible metaphysical harms of tattoos as I would to claims that hot drinks will destroy masculinity and ruin society. (And I say this as somebody with no personal interest in getting a tattoo.)

          Should I diagnose you as a sad sufferer of “body eumorphic disorder”? Are you afflicted with an unfortunate condition where you are convinced that the human body is aesthetically perfect and can never be improved?

          Or do you just have a different aesthetic opinion?

          It’s fine if you don’t like tattoos, but you should stop assuming that your personal aesthetic feelings are universal laws.

          • Well... says:

            Should I diagnose you as a sad sufferer of “body eumorphic disorder”? Are you afflicted with an unfortunate condition where you are convinced that the human body is aesthetically perfect and can never be improved?

            I totally get it, and I think you could make that case, but between “the human body is optimized by nature” and “nature has left the human body sub-optimal, and it benefits from a tweak that involves jabbing ink into your skin with a needle”, isn’t the former a more reasonable default than the latter? Isn’t the burden of proof more on the latter than the former?

          • Iain says:

            No. The null hypothesis is that neither getting a tattoo nor refraining from getting a tattoo has significant moral weight.

            The inverse of “the human body is optimized by nature, and therefore it is wrong to get a tattoo” is “nature has left the human body sub-optimal, and therefore it is wrong to not get a tattoo”. Nobody is proposing the latter.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Consider an alternate universe, in which everybody is born with skin markings that are the tattoos they would get in our universe, but many/most people cover them up with tattoos of “natural-looking” skin.

          • Well... says:

            @Iain:

            No. The null hypothesis is that neither getting a tattoo nor refraining from getting a tattoo has significant moral weight.

            Why is that the null hypothesis, and not my position?

            Or, fine, let’s say that’s the null hypothesis, but just comparing my position with the “human skin needs tweaking via tattoos” position, I still think mine is closer to a reasonable default.

            The inverse of “the human body is optimized by nature, and therefore it is wrong to get a tattoo” is “nature has left the human body sub-optimal, and therefore it is wrong to not get a tattoo”. Nobody is proposing the latter.

            I didn’t say anybody was.

            @Thegnskald:

            Consider an alternate universe, in which everybody is born with skin markings that are the tattoos they would get in our universe, but many/most people cover them up with tattoos of “natural-looking” skin.

            Alternate-universe Well… would be arguing that it’s wrong to cover up the markings with skin-colored tattoos. I’m not against the existence of markings on one’s skin per se. I think temporary tattoos are a great way to put them there if that’s what you’re into. I don’t think people with birthmarks should have them removed if they don’t want to. If you need to jot down a phone number and don’t have paper handy, go ahead and Sharpie it on your arm.

          • Iain says:

            Why is that the null hypothesis, and not my position?

            Because the vast majority of actions are morally neutral. I just turned the mug on my desk so that the handle pointed towards me. Would you say that this action is: a) morally abominable, b) morally necessary, or c) morally neutral?

            The burden of proof is on the person who wants to give an action special moral weight.

            I didn’t say anybody was [proposing mandatory tattoos].

            Then why are you asking me to compare the reasonableness of forbidden tattoos vs mandatory tattoos? That’s like asking me whether it is more reasonable, morally speaking, for my mug handle to point directly towards or directly away from me. The answer is that both options are wrong, and you are morally permitted to rotate your mug however you please.

          • Well... says:

            Turning your mug this way or that way affects nothing, has nothing to do with anything, it’s the most trivial thing imaginable. Of course it has no moral relevance which way the handle is pointing!

            But jabbing your skin with a needle to leave ink in it, the skin nature gave you, that your parents gave you, just because you think the skin was asking for it (what does a blank canvas do but ask for paint?), that seems to bring its own somewhat laden moral questions.

          • Iain says:

            “But jabbing your skin with a needle to leave ink in it cutting your hair with scissors to remove it from your head, the skin hair nature gave you, that your parents gave you, just because you think the skin hair was asking for it (what does a blank canvas piece of marble do but ask for paint sculpting?), that seems to bring its own somewhat laden moral questions.”

            You have strong moral feelings about tattoos, but not about haircuts. That is a fact about your moral intuitions, not about the universe.

          • CatCube says:

            @Iain

            Is sitting with your legs crossed so that your ankle is on your knee morally neutral? (See pictures here if you don’t know what I mean: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/237000/how-would-you-call-sitting-with-your-legs-crossed-but-one-calf-resting-on-the-ot)

            If you’re in the Middle East, showing the bottom of your foot to somebody is an insult. So sitting like that there is probably not morally neutral.

            Similarly, “permanently disfiguring your skin with ink” is only morally neutral to 2000’s western culture. This is recent. For example, the Army was very restrictive on the quantity and area of tattoos until 2015 (we had to take pictures of tattoos and insert them into personnel files to prove they didn’t get any new ones). I believe current policy still prohibits tattoos that are visible with the long-sleeved Service Uniform shirts. It was probably only 20 years ago that it became acceptable for tattoos visible in shorts and a T-shirt for officers. It wasn’t in written policy, you just would never see another promotion if your superior saw a tattoo on you in the PT uniform.

          • Iain says:

            @Catcube:

            I agree that showing the bottom of your foot to somebody, knowing that it is a sign of disrespect in their culture, is not morally neutral. It does not follow, though, that sitting with your legs crossed is somehow pathological, or that we should all start observing the same taboo, and if somebody from the Middle East tried to convince me that the bottoms of my feet were obviously and inherently shameful, I would not expect to be convinced.

          • Well... says:

            @Iain:

            Do you think any perceptions people have about their own bodies, or the interventions people take in response to them, can have inherent moral meaning?

            Can anything have its own moral meaning?

            Suppose someone was sort of ho-hum about the idea of elective amputation, and one day he decided a stub where his little finger used to be would look cool, so he went and got the finger chopped off. Is that a morally neutral decision?

          • Iain says:

            If we lived in a world where 1 in 5 Americans were chopping off their little fingers, polls showed that 86% of them never regret it, and 0.1% of Americans with amputated fingers underwent finger reattachment surgery every year, then no, I wouldn’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with chopping off your little finger.

            We don’t live in that world. But we do live in the equivalent world for tattoos.

            The obvious difference here is that losing your finger has clear pragmatic harms, while you have already conceded that the harms of a tattoo are frequently “metaphysical” — that is to say, you can’t point to any concrete harms, but you’re still sure that it must be bad somehow. A person from a culture with a finger-chopping taboo would have strong, practical, culturally independent arguments to sway my opinion. You are failing to make the same kind of case against tattoos.

            (Also, chopping off your own finger has very little expressive power; tattoos can be personalized in a way that amputations cannot.)

          • Matt M says:

            Also, chopping off your own finger has very little expressive power

            It comes in handy for defeating the templars, though.

          • Well... says:

            If we lived in a world where 1 in 5 Americans were chopping off their little fingers, polls showed that 86% of them never regret it, and 0.1% of Americans with amputated fingers underwent finger reattachment surgery every year, then no, I wouldn’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with chopping off your little finger.

            So in your view morality is dependent upon some kind of popularity contest, where if enough people casually do something, then that thing has no moral significance?

            How do you feel about abortion, I wonder?

          • Iain says:

            No. My view is:

            a) Most possible actions are like turning a mug: morally neutral.

            b) Actions that are transparently self-destructive are generally a bad sign: not because they are inherently wrong, but because they are frequently an indication of temporary irrationality. As a rule of thumb, if a person would make a different decision given some calm time to rethink it, then it is often good to intervene and give them that opportunity. On the other hand, if somebody has had the chance to think it through and still wants to do something that appears self-destructive to you, then it’s probably a sign that you value things differently. What makes you so special that other people should elevate your values above their own?

            c) Your amputation argument relies on the fact that cutting off your own finger is transparently self-destructive. Despite your repeated assertions to the contrary, tattoos do not fit the bill — if they did, then more people would regret them and get them removed. It is easy to explain the negative consequences of amputating your own finger. For example, I used my left little finger at least six times while typing the previous sentence. What are the equivalent harms for, say, tattooing a butterfly on your ankle?

            PS: I am firmly pro-choice.

          • Well... says:

            Your amputation argument relies on the fact that cutting off your own finger is transparently self-destructive. Despite your repeated assertions to the contrary, tattoos do not fit the bill — if they did, then more people would regret them and get them removed.

            I came across it a few years ago and I could be remembering wrong, but I believe there is research showing that about 40-50% of people report regretting their tattoos, and I’m inclined to think this hides an even larger number since people tend to add justifications to decisions like that afterwards.

            But you make a good point. Even assuming that 40-50% number is accurate, I’m sure almost none of those people regret their tattoos for the “sanctity of body” reasons I’ve been talking about, and I also think you’re right that I am unable to explain how tattoos are transparently self-destructive in the same way as amputating a finger.

            The seeing one’s body as a canvas thing still puzzles me (anyone else too?) but I will have to think more about why that is, and why it doesn’t apparently puzzle such a huge majority of other people.

          • Aapje says:

            In total, 501 participants from 38 American states were enrolled. Of all participants, 3.2% had a history of an infected tattoo, 3.8% had a history of a painful tattoo, and 21.2% had a history of a pruritic tattoo; 16.2% of participants regret a current tattoo and 21.2% are interested in having 1 or more tattoos removed; 21.2% received a tattoo while intoxicated and 17.6% had a tattoo placed somewhere other than at a tattoo parlor


            https://journals.lww.com/dermatologicsurgery/Abstract/2015/11000/The_Demographics_and_Rates_of_Tattoo.10.aspx

            The respondents were not asked about the reasons for their regret and the respondents were not representative of America as a whole.

    • rahien.din says:

      I don’t think you can claim that tattooing (as we are discussing here) is a form of, or isomorphic to, body dysmorphic disorder, even colloquially.

      You would necessarily be claiming
      1. that people who get tattoos perceive their bodies to be physically flawed
      2. that this perception is an error (either delusion or overreaction)
      3. that the tattoo is intended to address that perceived physical flaw

      I wager that people with tattoos in general, and Conrad Honcho’s wife in specific, would dispute each of those.

      —–

      We could also consider body modifications in more-obviously medical domains. Tattoos genuinely fall in this category, but these examples are more clarifying, and furthermore, we can sidestep mere aesthetic preferences/connotations. IE, if you object to elective tattoos but not to elective breast implants, then this is pure aesthetic preference, or you are inferring something non-aesthetic from the presence of a tattoo.

      Examples include : dental reconstruction, nose jobs, breast implants. Each of these can have a use that is medically compassionate, such as the woman who undergoes bilateral radical mastectomy with subsequent breast reconstruction. When we consider these body modifications, different claims arise.

      The strong claim is that the only proper use of these procedures is to restore normal function, and that it is improper to consider the restoration of aesthetic satisfaction. IE, I will replace your teeth and fix your nose because their functionality is defined by their structure or presence, but I won’t give you breast implants, whose purpose is merely aesthetic. This is to claim that aesthetic satisfaction is never a valid reason to undergo body modification, not even restoratively. (I don’t think anyone here would take this position, but CMIIW.)

      If we agree that aesthetic satisfaction is a valid consideration in at least some circumstance(s), and thus reject the strong claim, we are left with the ones below.

      The middle claim is that it is proper to use these these procedures to restore either or both of normal function and aesthetic satisfaction, but only to the person’s prior baseline. IE, I will replace your teeth, fix your nose, or give you breast implants, but only to restore you to your aesthetic baseline. This is to claim that aesthetic restoration is a valid reason to undergo body modification, but not aesthetic enhancement.

      The weak claim is that if one is provided the opportunity to undergo these procedures, it is permissible to choose an option that creates aesthetic satisfaction above one’s prior baseline. IE, I will replace your teeth, fix your nose, or give you breast implants, and (arguendo) you’ll be happier with your appearance than you had been.

      The claim under argument is that it is permissible to undergo these procedures in a non-restorative manner, purely to increase one’s aesthetic satisfaction. IE, I will replace your teeth, fix your nose, or give you breast implants, even if there is no restorative need.

      If you are somewhere between the middle and weak claims, you are making desert a necessary condition (people only deserve aesthetic modification if they have been aesthetically harmed) and quibbling about agency (to what extent do I get to decide what I will look like after surgery?)

      If you are somewhere between the weak claim and the claim under argument, you are quibbling about desert (in what situations am I permitted to enhance my body?), but granting broad agency to the deserving (those permitted to undergo aesthetic modification get to decide what they will look like after surgery).

      • Well... says:

        You would necessarily be claiming
        1. that people who get tattoos perceive their bodies to be physically flawed
        2. that this perception is an error (either delusion or overreaction)
        3. that the tattoo is intended to address that perceived physical flaw
        I wager that people with tattoos in general, and Conrad Honcho’s wife in specific, would dispute each of those.

        But what if they’re deceiving themselves in #1 and #3? Isn’t part of body dysmorphic conditions that people often deny they have a problem? If a bony anorexic girl tells you she thinks she’s fat and that’s why she’s not eating, isn’t there a chance her perception of her own body, and motivations for altering it, is wrong?

        With breast implants and nose jobs, you have this thing where you’re comparing your breasts or nose to other people’s and trying to achieve some norm. Generally I don’t think that is going on with tattoos. (Admittedly there are people who seem to have a totally warped sense of their norm or baseline, and it’s almost like they get addicted to the modification so they wind up with a Michael Jackson nose or ridiculous spherical breasts the size of beach balls. I would say they have something unhealthy going on.)

        Anyway, I’m not saying tattoos should be illegal or that the people who get them are bad or anything like that (I go out of my way to emphasize this in both my blog posts about tattoos), I’m just saying there must be something distorted about the way they comprehend their skin to see it as a blank canvas awaiting the artist’s work.

        • skef says:

          I object to elective breast implants. By elective I mean “your boobs were the same size and at least noticeable before, you just wanted them bigger.” Although I haven’t thought about my reasoning for that much beyond just that I find them kinda gross.

          What about elective breast reductions?

          • Well... says:

            I deleted that paragraph because I realized it wasn’t necessary and didn’t express what I wanted to say properly anyway, but to answer your question, I’ve found that women generally have pretty functional reasons for wanting those. “These big boobs hurt my back” “get me too much attention” “don’t fit any of the bras they sell in stores” etc.

            I haven’t heard of women with fairly unobtrusive, average-size boobs (B or C cups?) getting breast reductions, except maybe if they’re transsexuals.

          • skef says:

            but to answer your question, I’ve found that women generally have pretty functional reasons for wanting those. “These big boobs hurt my back” “get me too much attention” “don’t fit any of the bras they sell in stores” etc.

            I find it doubtful that merely having “functional reasons” is enough to override the other arguments you’re making. Society or other circumstances suddenly makes a place for tattoos, and suddenly it’s perfectly fine to permanently alter oneself with injurious needles, when it’s not at all fine to do so merely for aesthetic purposes?

          • Well... says:

            Society or other circumstances suddenly makes a place for tattoos, and suddenly it’s perfectly fine to permanently alter oneself with injurious needles, when it’s not at all fine to do so merely for aesthetic purposes?

            I’ve said already I think it’s OK that people in primitive tribes or military platoons get tattoos. Tattoos don’t become OK in those situations “suddenly” for some mysterious reason — the reason is because now they serve an important function, namely the signaling of one’s enthusiastic assent to group membership and loyalty.

          • Matt M says:

            namely the signaling of one’s enthusiastic assent to group membership and loyalty

            I think almost all tattoos do this to some extent.

            Getting a Latin phrase tattooed on your arm is signaling your membership to the group of “people who think Latin phrases are super cool.”

          • Well... says:

            But there are many alternatives to joining the “Latin is cool” club that don’t involve body modification. If you’re in a primitive tribe, you can’t draw the tattoo design on a slab of clay and hang it on the wall of your hut. You have to get it tattooed on your face otherwise you’ll be bludgeoned to death and left for the pumas.

          • Matt M says:

            But there are many alternatives to joining the “Latin is cool” club that don’t involve body modification.

            And there are plenty of ways to pledge your support to MS-13 or the white power movement without getting tattoos also. But the point of a permanent modification is to show that you’re really serious.

            Just as getting a tattoo of the New York Mets logo shows that you’re a TRUE fan, or a latin phrase shows you really mean it.

          • Well... says:

            Is a Latin tattoo a benchmark used by people who are into Latin to determine that another Latin-lover is legit?

          • achenx says:

            Quidquid Latine dictum sit, altum videtur.

          • Fahundo says:

            the reason is because now they serve an important function, namely the signaling of one’s enthusiastic assent to group membership and loyalty.

            I don’t think you would claim that any actually destructive behavior would become acceptable in this context. Imagine there’s a military platoon or a tribe somewhere that signals group membership by cutting off a finger, like that example above.

            Is group loyalty the only signal that is so important it justifies tattoos? An individual wanting to signal something significant to him doesn’t merit the same level of importance?

        • rahien.din says:

          But what if they’re deceiving themselves in #1 and #3? Isn’t part of body dysmorphic conditions that people often deny they have a problem? If a bony anorexic girl tells you she thinks she’s fat and that’s why she’s not eating, isn’t there a chance her perception of her own body, and motivations for altering it, is wrong?

          People with body dysmorphic disorders genuinely believe (either via delusion, or overreaction) that something is horribly, shamefully wrong with their body. All their efforts are aimed at concealing or correcting that flaw.

          I don’t think people with tattoos consider un-tattooed skin to be flawed, disgusting, or shameful – neither consciously, nor unconsciously. Most people seem satisfied with a limited selection of tattoos that largely leave the rest of their skin untouched.

          I’m just saying there must be something distorted about the way they comprehend their [body part] to see it as a blank canvas awaiting the artist’s work.

          If the desire to alter the baseline physical state of the body is necessarily distorted, you’d have to explain why that line of reasoning doesn’t apply to haircuts, or to shaving.

          There are cultures that believe it does so apply. So, I don’t think you can claim that haircuts are mere necessary maintenance or grooming.

          I don’t think you can resort to the permanence of tattoos, at least not strongly. I fully intend and expect to trim my facial hair and get haircuts, periodically for the entire rest of my life. The intent to keep my hair trimmed is just as permanent (prospectively and retrospectively) as the intent to get a tattoo.

          One could argue that the effort required and the cyclic nature of the act mean that keeping your hair trimmed is a much greater commitment than a tattoo.

          You might contend that the tattoo itself is permanent and therefore higher-stakes than a haircut, but this just reduces to a plea for wisdom in the selection of the tattoo, rather than constituting an argument about the mental state of a tattooed person.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t think people with tattoos consider un-tattooed skin to be flawed, disgusting, or shameful – neither consciously, nor unconsciously.

            Disgusting or shameful, no of course not. And I never argued they thought of it as flawed in any terms meant to be construed as extreme (at least not more extreme than “I’d be willing to pay a few hundred bucks and endure an hour or so of sharp pain to correct the flaw”).

            In the previous OT I also conceded that “disorder” as medically defined is probably too strong, and that I simply don’t know of a less strong way to describe a situation where you perceive your body in a way that is distorted but doesn’t cause you loss of normal functioning.

            If the desire to alter the baseline physical state of the body is necessarily distorted, you’d have to explain why that line of reasoning doesn’t apply to haircuts, or to shaving.

            Because haircuts and shaving is more like trying something different, or wearing a different style, not a permanent and destructive alteration.

            There are cultures that believe it does so apply. So, I don’t think you can claim that haircuts are mere necessary maintenance or grooming.

            I’m talking about in our culture. I give other cultures (e.g. primitive tribes, military platoons) a pass for having essentially mandatory tattoos!

            The intent to keep my hair trimmed is just as permanent (prospectively and retrospectively) as the intent to get a tattoo.

            Interesting idea, but the intent isn’t what you’re getting trimmed, is it?

            One could argue that the effort required and the cyclic nature of the act mean that keeping your hair trimmed is a much greater commitment than a tattoo.

            Well, it’s not just about effort. When you get a tattoo you’re basically just sitting in a chair, maybe wincing a bit, right? But to build bigger muscles, that’s a lot of effort! i’ve explained why I’m not against building bigger muscles (see exception upthread).

            The effort required by the intervention only indicates the extremeness with which one sees a flaw needing correction. And as I’ve said, I think people who want tattoos see their non-tattooed skin (at least in the place where they want a tattoo) as flawed but not in a terribly extreme way.

            You might contend that the tattoo itself is permanent and therefore higher-stakes than a haircut, but this just reduces to a plea for wisdom in the selection of the tattoo, rather than constituting an argument about the mental state of a tattooed person.

            No, I think there’s something different about the mind of someone who wants a permanent, non-functional, destructive alteration than the mind of someone who wants a non-permanent, non-functional, destructive alteration — even if he plans to keep making the alteration again and again so that his hair appears to never grow.

            Now, suppose instead of a haircut you went to a magician who zapped your scalp so that your hair never grew again. I would say that is like a tattoo and I’d say you must have a distorted perception about your hair/scalp to want to get that procedure done enough to actually go through with it.

          • rahien.din says:

            I think where we disagree is whether tattoos can have intrinsic value.

            We agree that for certain groups, tattoos have instrumental value (military platoons, the Maori).

            But you seem to believe that a tattoo can not have intrinsic value. And the degree of your belief leads you to question whether people who get tattoos allegedly for their intrinsic value might be responding to a subconscious instrumental valuation, in that they are unknowingly trying to “fix” their bodies.

            I think this is why I feel that haircuts are more salient than you do, and muscle training less so.

            (Begging charity, I’m hypocaffeinated.)

            Edit : wrong word

          • Well... says:

            you seem to believe that a tattoo can not have intrinsic value. And the degree of your belief leads you to question whether people who get tattoos allegedly for their intrinsic value might be responding to a subconscious instrumental valuation, in that they are unknowingly trying to “fix” their bodies.

            I’m not sure I understand how you’re using “intrinsic” and “instrumental” here. It isn’t necessarily your hypocaffeination either; these simply aren’t terms I get to use a whole lot in everyday conversation so I’m a little rusty.

          • rahien.din says:

            By instrumental value, I mean that a thing is valued insofar as it is a means to some end. By intrinsic value, I mean that a thing is valued in and of itself.

          • Well... says:

            In that case, I think a tattoo can have intrinsic value inasmuch as it requires some craftsmanship or fine artistry to create. A beautifully done mural has some intrinsic value, even if it’s painted onto a solar panel, rendering the solar panel unusable.

            My point would be that if the owner of the solar panel had the mural painted there because solar panels present a broad flat surface that can accept paint and liked murals (which are painted on broad flat surfaces) and so he had a mural painted on his solar panel, he has a distorted perception of what his solar panel is.

          • rahien.din says:

            I think your example of the solar panel is clarifying, and I would agree that painting a mural on a functioning solar panel implies a distorted conception of a solar panel’s nature. Does it explain what you mean by “destructive”? Because that is another fulcrum in this discussion.

            By destructive, you might mean “removing or obstructing functionality, without a counterbalancing increase in functionality or in intrinsic value,” remembering both the muralized solar panel, and, your exception for narrow group signaling in e.g. military platoons. That seems to me to encapsulate your primary objections to tattoos, but CMWIW.

            If that is so… we have to consider A. what functions are being removed or obstructed, and B. whether aesthetic benefits or (it now occurs to me) broader forms of group-signaling could constitute a sufficient increase in functionality.

            As to A., tattooed skin is just as effective at homeostatic regulation, bodily defense, and sensation as untouched skin. The only fundamental change is its appearance. It would seem that the only function removed or obstructed is looking like untouched skin.

            As to B., you agree that the artistic qualities of a tattoo could lend it some intrinsic value. Self-expression (as with Conrad Honcho’s original case) has intrinsic value as well. And, if broader group signaling is different from narrow group signaling in degree but not in kind, then this also provides some increase in functionality.

            The loss of functionality in a tattoo seems like a pretty low bar to clear, and mostly aesthetic. The gains in functionality or intrinsic value seem to be the kinds of thing you could weakly endorse. So by these standards, I would consider tattoos to be additive, rather than destructive. FWIW, I wager most people with tattoos feel the same.

            —–

            I don’t think this answers the question of permanence. I have other thoughts on that – certain analogies could be made to publishing, or to the mental act of deliberate learning. I wish I had adequate time right now.

          • Well... says:

            The more I argue this the more I run the risk of sort of steering myself down argumentative paths that actually lead me astray from the argument I mean to be making. Especially since I’ve tried to use analogies that may not be perfect but which I end up defending anyway.

            In my solar panel example I tried to make clear that the scratches the breakdancer inflicts on the solar panel by dancing on it do not affect its functioning. But, being scratched, I think the solar panel is damaged or degraded somehow.

            But I know you could say it’s not: if the solar panel’s value is determined by, say, what people would pay for it, and if what people pay for it is driven purely by whether it captures solar energy, then a scratched-but-otherwise-functioning solar panel has not lost any value.

            So clearly I am talking about value in some other sense. You grant me that but respond that the intrinsic value of a muraled solar panel (e.g. its artistic value) makes up for the loss of value in this other sense. But what if we are still not talking about comparable senses of value?

            I don’t know what the sense I’m talking about is called, so I’ll try to describe what’s around it: it’s along the lines of the sense in which a parent knows that his healthy baby is really flawless. I don’t mean morally, I mean physically. And I don’t mean physically as in the baby’s legs are exactly the same length down to the nanometer, or that this is the strongest baby in the world, I mean physically in the sense that nothing about the baby could be improved by, say, tattooing a cool picture on its inner thigh. Most parents would recoil from the notion of doing this to a baby. “How could you do that to your perfect little baby?” And most parents would recoil from this even if tattooing caused no pain to the baby, even if it’s a picture of something the baby likes, even though it’s on the baby’s inner thigh so the baby won’t see the picture and neither will most anybody else the baby comes into contact with as it grows, etc.

            Maybe “purity” is the word I’m looking for? You lose some of this naturally with age: you get scars, you get wrinkles, you get stretch marks, and maybe other permanent/destructive alterations happen too that are necessary for spiritual reasons (e.g. circumcision) or health reasons (e.g. appendectomy) or social reasons (e.g. gang tattoos). But (and I’m just trying this out; I’m venturing) from a purity standpoint there’s a special egregiousness to the kind of tattoos and piercings we’ve been talking about.

    • Lillian says:

      Humans like to decorate their bodies, this is completely normal behaviour that exists along a spectrum. At the near of the spectrum we have clothes and jewlery, then hair styles and hair dyes, then mild piercings, tattoos, scarification, and more piercings, then finally the various extreme forms of body modification. So the difference between getting a new tattoo and a new hair style is one of degree, not of kind. The fact that people with tattoos have higher time preference than people without them i think falls in line with this. If it were possible to change tattoos as easily as it is to change hair styles, i submit that far more people would get them.

      • Matt M says:

        I saw an ad somewhere the other day for “semi-permanent tattoos.” I think they’re designed to last a couple weeks?

        I have to admit, as someone who has never really considered getting a “real” tattoo, my interest was briefly piqued by this and I had a few moments of “Hmm, I wonder, if I could have one that lasted for exactly as long as I wanted it to, what might I get?”

      • Well... says:

        If it were possible to change tattoos as easily as it is to change hair styles, i submit that far more people would get them.

        Henna, temporary tattoos, and scribbling on your skin with a Sharpie are all widely available to Westerners. Very few adults decorate their skin in these ways compared to adults who get tattoos.

        I think the permanence and the destructive nature of tattoos makes them different in kind from jewelry and clothing.

        • Lillian says:

          Well there’s a couple of confounding factors. One temporary tattoos have an intermediary period in which they look absolutely terrible because they’re partially faded. This is why i haven’t gotten any myself in a long time. The ideal would be something that could look good for a few weeks to a few months, and can be easily removed without having an intermediary stage where it’s half faded and ugly.

          The other has to do with cultural connotations, in that tattoos are seen as lower class, and Henna is seen as Hindu, so people who don’t want to signal either of those things may avoid them even if they otherwise would find the notion of decorating their body like that appealing. This is however slowly changing, as the article below states, 40% of the population under 40 has tattoos.

          Also i don’t see how tattoos are destructive. Sure it damages the skin a little, but so does waxing and tweezing hairs, and a large portion of the female population does that on a regular basis. Also piercings are pretty permanent, and most of the female population has pierced ear lobes. Certainly tattoos are more extreme, but it’s still the same spectrum.

  23. shakeddown says:

    So this California housing bill seems exciting. Anyone have any idea what its odds of passing are (or alternatively, an explanation of how it wouldn’t fix anything anyway)?

    • quanta413 says:

      Eyeballing it, my bet is that this will change little although I’m uncertain. It appears to be a lot of nibbling at the edges types of changes. I think it’s also probably wrong that high priced housing or housing shortages “threatens our state’s diversity, economy, environment, health, and quality of life”. It probably threatens diversity (i.e. tends to lead to demographics of asian + white since these are the richest groups), but if the economy was bad for a long period I expect housing prices would drop. And it’s hard for me to imagine a situation where the rise in housing prices is not partly due to a decent/good economy (combined with the extreme restrictions on increasing supply). The most straightforward inference would also be that housing shortages should make for a more pristine environment because that’s less humans than otherwise. And # of humans is probably one of the biggest determinants of environmental quality in the U.S. Quality of life is debatable and gets you into “who? whom?” territory. Some people gain a lot from high priced housing and/or limited supply, and some lose a lot.