THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 93.75

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767 Responses to Open Thread 93.75

  1. WarOnReasons says:

    Can anyone point me to a good article/discussion about how to address the dangers from a friendly AI? So far, I have read plenty of discussions about the dangers from unfriendly AI, but what I’m currently interested in is how humans can adjust to the world where all their physical and intellectual efforts simply become unnecessary.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Pretty much the plot of Brave New World.

      Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground covers related ground, particularly the introductory essay.

      Neither attributes this to an AI, but the AI is a superfluous entity in this thought experiment. If you really want an AI in the mix, the movie version of I, Robot might count.

      • Well... says:

        I would add to this “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster.

      • WarOnReasons says:

        Is “Brave New World” the best outcome we can expect from developing friendly AI? While not as nightmarish as 1984, a society where people are employed in artificially created jobs and constantly drugged into enjoying their life sounds still pretty scary.

        • Nornagest says:

          Define “friendly”. Different utility functions give very different results.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            Define “friendly”.

            Let’s define friendly AI as one that does whatever we ask of it.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can define it that way, but then Eliezer Yudkowsky will show up in the night and burn your house down.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            So instead of Robot Jesus, it’s a Robot Genie?

          • Jack Lecter says:

            Define “friendly”.

            We’re trying, man! For the love of god, what do you think MIRI’s been doing all this time?!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            MIRI has been solving metaethics without input from philosophy?
            Impressive.

          • toastengineer says:

            MIRI has been solving metaethics without input from philosophy?

            Where did you get the impression MIRI was actively ignoring prior work in philosophy? AI Alignment people even tend to call it “philosophy with a deadline.”

    • 3rd says:

      Friendly AI has goals aligned with human interests. However, it may not be aligned with your specific interests. The AI will necessarily have to choose to satisfy some over others, and it may be controlled by your enemies.

      For fictional evidence, consider http://squid314.livejournal.com/332946.html

      • WarOnReasons says:

        AI controlled by our enemies is obviously a bad outcome. My problem though is that I cannot think of a perfectly satisfactory outcome even in the scenario when I personally control the AI. Can you think of one that will satisfy you (other than asking the AI to solve this problem for you and hoping that it has the answer)?

        So far all the fictional examples in this thread including yours describe dystopian rather than utopian outcome. Is a dystopian world inevitable consequence of a friendly AI?

        • Garrett says:

          s/AI/government/

          And you’ve just rediscovered one of the key talking points of libertarian thought.

        • 3rd says:

          I think one good outcome is simply implementing UBI across the world with some sort of population growth limit, leaving people free to focus on whatever.

          I guess it’s not all so rosy if the AI are better at anything we can focus on. I consider that uselessness at least a stalemate against the universe though.

        • beleester says:

          Fictional examples typically involve dystopia, because there’s very little story potential in “Everyone lived happily ever after, the end.”

          But I think the go-to non-dystopian example of a world ruled by FAIs is The Culture. It does occasionally raise the problem of “Your efforts don’t really matter, and if they do it’s probably because the AIs decided to let you matter,” but in general it’s a pretty nice place to live.

          • fion says:

            And also The Culture series is really good!

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            I agree the Culture series is terrific, but Banks, over 10 books, did an amazing job of never really dealing with the question of how people find meaning in their lives in such a society. Not that it was his obligation to do so, but those novels were about other things, usually using people as chess pieces in some political extra-Cultural game.

          • Anonymous says:

            how people find meaning in their lives in such a society.

            Having read Consider Phlebas, which turned me off from the series in general, I’d say “they don’t, they just coast along until they get bored and then commit suicide”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In _Player of Games_, the Minds make the piece feel like the player, so his life appears to have meaning.

          • Nornagest says:

            I agree the Culture series is terrific, but Banks, over 10 books, did an amazing job of never really dealing with the question of how people find meaning in their lives in such a society.

            Agreed. I don’t think the novels are about other things, though; almost every book takes on the question on some level, although Consider Phlebas and Player of Games are probably the ones that approach it most directly. Almost every character outside the Culture raises the issue at some point. It’s clear that Banks was thinking about it pretty hard.

            And I don’t think he ever came up with a satisfying answer. Banks was a self-avowed Culture fanboy, he had unlimited latitude and an entire galaxy to play in, and yet he always ended up writing about the Culture’s equivalent of weirdos and pariahs — or, frequently, traumatized suicidal veterans — when he needed to give a Culturnik an actual character arc. I’m not sure I’d quite call that damning for the whole concept re: the meaning question, but it’s definitely somewhere on that spectrum.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
            Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
            And the profit and loss.

            The Hydrogen Sonata explicitly gives his answer to that implicit question, and even helpfully points it out in the title.

            Which turns out to be one more or less contemporary with Phleblas .

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve read The Hydrogen Sonata. And “The Waste Land”, for that matter.

        • Jaskologist says:

          You asked for dangers, which weights the answers towards dystopias. If you ask about how great it will be, then really you’re just asking people to describe their utopia.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I never understood what “goals aligned with human interests” means. People have different goals. In the unlikely scenario that one group gets everything they want from the AI, what about everyone else?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The AI is imagined to have so much processing power that it will actually calculate the greatest good for the greatest number doable with its resources, then do it.
          Now define “good.”

        • WarOnReasons says:

          Suppose the AI is able to provide each group with its own planet. Do you know how you want life to look like on the planet you’ll get?

          • Wrong Species says:

            That’s just pushing back the problem, admittedly for a long time. Assuming that the population grows in each planet until they need more resources than they can consume, then you’re back to fighting. The AI will also need resources to manage these goals, further limiting the resources each group gets. What happens when these groups on each planet disagree? Do they get their own planet too? There’s only so many planets.

          • Michael Handy says:

            Most wont, but the current first stab is to have the AI extrapolate it.

            The problem with showing an honest-to-god, maximises human fufillment and agency, friendly AI is that it doesn’t make for a very good story.

            To see Yudkowsky’s version of an ALMOST friendly AI, with an otherwise excellent outcome (To the point where if you could pull the leaver and have it happen you probably should.) his story Failed Utopia 4-2 is illustrative.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Going by the descriptions given by Yudkowski et al, if FAI works perfectly then humanity will be trapped in a hell from which there is no escape. Even death won’t suffice as eliminating the possibility of death is one of the first tasks it’s meant to be put to.

      Personally I’d rather be disassembled and made into paperclips. At least then it would be finite suffering followed by non-existence rather than an eternal meaningless existence.

      So, ironically, in the Yudkowskian scheme the best safeguard against FAI is UFAI. If it seems like Friendly AI researchers are making too much progress the best thing to do would be to repurpose their work to make a killer AI and hope to beat then to the finish line. If FAI is actually harder to do it would work.

      That said, I don’t think either possiblity is likely enough to worry about.

      • Michael Handy says:

        That is, in fact, exactly what Yudkowsky has explicitly stated he does NOT want.

        One of the sequences focuses on the value of challenge, discovery, etc. His stated goal, as a first approximation, seems to be a World of Adventure. Now you may consider that meaningless, but it’s hard to describe it as MORE meaningless than the current universe.

        Mostly they seem to be working on abstract problems towards making a watertight decision theory, because right now we couldn’t make a paperclip maximiser without it possibly drifting to non-paperclips in fairly short subjective time.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          He’s made a number of contradictory statements about what he wants, and all of them reveal that he just doesn’t get why meaning is important.

          A life spent playing elaborate pointless games isn’t any better than just plugging a wire into your pleasure center and throwing the switch. If that’s the best option then it’s better to just die quickly.

          • toastengineer says:

            How do you know that isn’t what’s happening already? How do you know your actual real life isn’t itself a “pointless game” in VR? And if there’s no way for you tell the difference between those two things, then why is one acceptable and the other intolerable?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I don’t know that it isn’t, but I do know that if I discovered that it was I would commit suicide. That might sound like Internet Tough Guy talk but I’ve come to that point for much less dramatic reasons in the past.

            The difference is that one life has a telos which defines the virtues I should aspire towards and the other exists only as a mockery of that. If you can’t tell the difference then I don’t see us having a very productive discussion.

          • raj says:

            “A life spent playing elaborate pointless games”

            How does this not describe your current situation? And if you disagree, then why do you assume the reasons would vanish under FAI?

      • raj says:

        Fantasy FAI outcomes don’t typically eliminate the possibility of death, but the possibility of nonconsensual, permanent death.

    • rahien.din says:

      Disclaimers :

      This may seem culture-war, but I am not a culture warrior. My ultimate claim is that both ends of the spectrum are equally necessary. If you come at me, this is all I see.

      Let me also say that, to some extent, Yudkowsky’s warning against generalizing from fictional evidence is just calling everything a language game, or, decrying a painting as mere chemicals smeared on canvas. It’s not wrong, but neither is it always helpful.

      Consider that friendly artificial intelligence is a member of the set of friendly intelligences. Loosely define friendly as “having goals convergent with human fulfillment.” This shows that friendly artificial intelligence and friendly non-artificial intelligence differ only in terms of rate of change, or intellectual power.

      We already have such a friendly non-artificial intelligence : replace “non-artificial” with “human.” Friendly human intelligence is* the systematic conjunction* of the scientific method* and liberalism*.

      * Do not interpret any of that as pejorative toward liberals or conservatives.

      Consider certain objections to friendly intelligence above : Jaskologist cites Aldous Huxley’s hyper-liberal dystopia Brave New World ; Well… cites E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, in which the only humans who remain when the titular machine stops are basically survivalists. These are situations in which conservatism is the antidote, as long as it is not too late. Consider that Garrett says “And you’ve just rediscovered one of the key talking points of libertarian thought.”

      If you want counterarguments for friendly AI, start by understanding conservative thought. What essential thing will we cede, if we grab such a wolf by the ears? There ain’t no free lunch – a friendly AI will exact a price commensurate with its power.

      Huxley’s citizens and the victims of Scott’s Whispering Earring (as cited by 3rd) lose their essential humanity. Forster’s citizens become utterly physically dependent on the machine and are unable to preserve their own lives when it stops. Those scenarios sound positively awful. And yet, they can’t possibly be as bad as the unforeseeable price exacted by reality, should friendly AI emerge unopposed.

      Consider, then, Nabil ad Dajjal’s insightful suggestion : a counterweight AI with misaligned values. Conservatism is the counterweight to liberalism’s relentless (sometimes Lysenkoist) explorationism. He’s suggesting that we transplant the adversarial liberal-versus-conservative dynamic from the human political domain into that of artificial intelligence.

      He’s arguing for conservative artificial intelligence.

      Here’s what reassures me, though.

      The common thread in all these stories is being trapped in some delimited space with a system that recursively refines itself, thereby gradually claiming more of its subjects’ agency, which induces greater and greater atrophy. But those refinements necessitate that there’s nothing left to discover, to explore, to overcome – no uncertainty. If we run out of uncertainty, this permits the refinements that then lead to our atrophic agency. The danger of the Whispering Earring is that it is always right.

      The true danger here is not the powerful system, but the box you are trapped inside.

      We’ve already seen what a tight box can do in the Western political arena : antifa. SJW. Every self-righteous zealot ruining careers over perceived implicit subconscious heteronormative misogynist microaggressions, all while teenage girls are still getting their clitorises sliced off and women are still being murdered for the crime of having-been-raped.

      But I am more hopeful for the overall domain of human progress. Sure, if there is such a limited supply of uncertainty, then we are already trapped in the box and friendly AI will only hasten our decade. But I would put money on overall uncertainty being inexhaustible.

      And, like water finding the path of least resistance, friendly AI seeking to further human fulfillment will devote its resources to the areas of greatest uncertainty. We should be able to count on it finding new problems to solve, rather than inexorably eroding our human agency.

      Apropos of something : have you heard the one about the twelve-inch-tall pianist?

      • toastengineer says:

        I mean, if nothing else we could explore fractals like Mandelbox forever. We’d all have to be the sort of people who enjoy exploring fractals though.

        • markk116 says:

          Or a procedurally generated world. We would like to be able to influence it so let’s make it out of blocks of different kinds. Ohh to add some variation we can add some animals…… So if FAI comes we’ll all be playing Minecraft forever?

      • Jaskologist says:

        I mentioned Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, and wanted to find a quick summary paragraph. His claim seems closely related to yours.

        tldr: Even if we came up with a perfect system, humans would misbehave purely for its own sake. We’d rather be the masters of our own fate than live in paradise.

        Then–this is all what you say–new economic relations will be established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude, so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye, simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then the “Palace of Crystal” will be built. Then … In fact, those will be halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment) that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then (for what will one have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated), but on the other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational.

        Of course boredom may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden pins into people, but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my comment again) is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold pins then. Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is not at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to us all: “I say, gentleman, hadn’t we better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!”

        That again would not matter, but what is annoying is that he would be sure to find followers–such is the nature of man. And all that for the most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning: that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea).

        One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy–is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.

        • beleester says:

          Asimov had a short story, “The Evitable Conflict,” where people are (inevitably) rebelling against the machines that run the world’s economy, trying to sabotage their system. But – surprise surprise – the machines learn from that mistake. The troublemakers get manipulated into different parts of the economy where they can’t cause as much harm, or they discover when they sabotage a factory it actually ends up producing the desired amount. The fact that some people are rebelling against the machine is just another piece of data that the machine takes into account when making its plans.

          In other words, a perfect system would take into account your desire to rebel against the system, and set up situations where you can think you’re rebelling without actually causing much harm.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Dostoevsky goes into that at length in the next paragraph.

            “Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what you like,” you will interpose with a chuckle. “Science has succeeded in so far analysing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will is nothing else than–”

            Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science … and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices–that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula–then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the chances–can such a thing happen or not?

            You believe in a palace of crystal that can never be destroyed–a palace at which one will not be able to put out one’s tongue or make a long nose on the sly. And perhaps that is just why I am afraid of this edifice, that it is of crystal and can never be destroyed and that one cannot put one’s tongue out at it even on the sly.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      A story, not an article, but consider The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect.

  2. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    What is the most statistically unlikely thing that’s ever happened to you? Apart from being born, I guess.

    • Brad says:

      I’m don’t know what that means. I’m not sure it means anything. Can you formalize it a bit?

    • Randy M says:

      What are the odds of two people who turn out to be very close having exactly the same name? Well, almost exactly, mine does end in “Jr.”, but other than that…

      Okay, seriously I gave it a moments thought and my life has mostly been a series of effects falling somewhat predictably from identifiable causes. My wife’s appendix cancer at age 32 was out of the blue, though.

    • chrisbenson1 says:

      One time when I was going to Arizona State, a friend needed a ride to an ROTC function at the University of Arizona.

      I had another friend who had gone to UofA to study classical guitar that I hadn’t spoken to for over a year and had no contact information for, but thought I’d try to look him up while I was there.

      So I dropped my friend off and went to the student union to see if I could get a copy of the student guide and maybe get a phone number. (This was 30 years ago, so no computers, cell phones, nothin’.)

      While I was talking to the guy at the counter in the union, that friend walked up and said, “Chris?!” and we spent the evening together chatting and touring the campus.

      The current student population is a little over 43,000.

      Another thing: When I was a senior in high school in Iowa, we moved to Kingman, Arizona, and my first day at the new school I ran into a brother and sister I knew from my hometown back in Iowa. There was no common reason for us both to be there.

    • A1987dM says:

      I asked random.org for 16 random bytes and it gave me cd 30 b0 97 6a 78 e7 c1 ca 94 15 93 8d 85 02 ea! What are the odds of that?!

      I guess you actually meant something else — but I’m not sure what.

    • Nick says:

      There was a similar thread a few weeks or months ago, but I can’t find it now. One I think a lot of us can attest to is seeing three or four natural 20s in a row. Well, or three or four natural 1s. 😀

    • JayT says:

      When I was in college I would work for a temp agency during the summer to pay for my classes. I briefly worked for an electrician, basically just being an extra set of hands when he needed help pulling wire or something of that nature. This was in a medium sized town in Northern California.

      Later that summer, my grandmother that lived in the Chicago suburbs passed away, and so I flew back to Illinois for the funeral. One afternoon it was pouring rain, and the neighbor’s yard started to flood because a storm drain was blocked. I went out watch them fix it, and got talking to a city worker. He asked me where I was going to school, and he was surprised to hear me name the smallish town in Northern California because his brother lived there and worked as, you guessed it, an electrician. I asked him the brother’s name, and it turned out to be the guy I had worked for. That’s the best “small world” story I have.

      • dodrian says:

        I wonder – are events like this more common than we’d expect, because of the birthday paradox?

        If I had one friend (colleague, neighbor, etc) it would be pretty unlikely for me to visit a new place, make one new friend (colleague, neighbor, etc), and have them know my previous friends.

        But if I know a hundred people and move to a new place and meet a hundred new people, there’s a 10000x greater chance of someone from the new place having known someone from the old place. If we move / visit new places frequently the odds increase exponentially that someone has known someone else from a past place, making it probably that these events will occur a few times over a lifetime.

        It’s still cool when it happens though!

        • markk116 says:

          Sounds like it could be related to the “x handshakes away” thing. I mean if you’re connected via via to everyone some improbable sounding connections are bound to occur.

    • Well... says:

      What are you using the stories for?

      I have a good one but I want to know what (if anything) you plan to do with it.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Well, the unholy ritual to summon K’morog-Na, He Who Waits in Darkness, whose song will begin the Age of Torment and Loss, requires as its final step the ritual sacrifice of interesting human experiences, so I thought I’d crowdsource this bit of it.

        Also I’m just curious and the stories will amuse me.

        • Well... says:

          Hah, that’s fine. I was mainly curious to see if you were compiling material for a book or an article or something. OK, here’s my story:

          A friend and I both worked at our college’s TV station while we were going to school there. The TV station was housed in the same department as other “communications” such as web services, graphic design, print services, etc. So everyone on the TV crew got to know the people in those other areas on a pretty friendly basis.

          This is simplifying a bit, but after college my friend and I moved to opposite sides of the country. The TV station where we had worked was later all but shut down and there was a kind of exodus of all the various people who had worked there and in the communications department in general.

          Nearly ten years later, I had changed careers and was giving presentations at conferences. Last year I gave a talk at an annual conference that moves around to different host cities each year, and this time it happened to be in the city where my friend was living.

          It was a 3-day conference and my friend and I met up on the middle night. That night, the city’s downtown was transformed into this kind of arts festival. People from all over the country, and even a few people from other parts of the world were there walking around, taking in the sights, doing activities, etc. I’d been to that city before and never seen it so crowded, especially late at night. (Normally at night this part of the city is somewhat deserted because of crime, although it’s undergone a lot of gentrification so that is changing.)

          My friend and I were exploring, people-watching, looking at art, etc. and I suggested we stroll down this road that had been closed off to traffic to accommodate a bunch of art installations, plus there were tents set up selling beer and pretzels and stuff and my friend was hungry. I also liked this road because some other friends of mine used to live there, although they’d since moved, but I thought it would be cool to go by their old place.

          My friend is a bit of a goofball and numerous times I had to stop and wait for him while he engaged in some silly activity. He might have been a bit drunk by then too. Finally we got to the end of that closed off section of street, where a crowd of people was crossing over from the other side of the street.

          Just as we got to the corner, and the crowd from the other side of the street was rushing past us, from the midst of that crowd who should step up onto the curb but the staff photographer from our college’s old communications department! He was in town with his wife to photograph the public art show, just for fun.

          We were all blown away by the coincidence. We stood there talking and catching up for maybe half an hour, but the unlikelihood of that event stuck in the foreground of my consciousness for weeks afterward. It was really amazing, I’m still not over it and it was six months ago now.

    • WashedOut says:

      I have two candidate stories, completely unrelated to each other, one very short and one long.

      1. My oldest friend is a girl who was born in the same hospital as me, a few beds down. Our mothers became friends during our infancy. My oldest friend and I have the exact same birthmark on the exact same location on our body, and I haven’t seen this birthmark on anyone else i’ve ever met.

      2. I was dating a girl, let’s call her Ashley. We were just starting to get intimate but had not yet got to 4th base. One evening she came over and I suggested we go down the street to a bar and have a drink. She chose not to drink, instead had something non-alcoholic. This surprised me, and I noticed her mood was a little flatter than normal. I assumed it was because she was stressed about her final folio deadline coming up. We had a nice enough night but it was quiet and not overly romantic.

      A day or so later, in the evening, I got a call. I didn’t notice the caller ID but I knew it was Ashley straight away from her voice. She sounded very troubled. I asked her how her folio was going and she said it was a drag but getting through it alright. I told her I enjoyed our night together the other night but I thought something was up. She said yeah she has something to tell me. “I’m pregnant.” I was stunned. We’d been dating for about 4 weeks and had not slept together, I didn’t know her super well but nonetheless was shocked to hear it. I asked a few basic questions in a gentle way, and then I asked her if she knew who the father was. I think she said she probably does know. We spoke for about 10 more minutes before I wrapped up the conversation by saying that she was welcome to come over any time and talk and have my support, so we arranged for her to come over in a couple of nights.

      A couple nights later when the doorbell rang I steeled myself for a very low-key evening of gentle comfort and support. When I opened the door there she was, beaming from ear to ear, normal energetic Ashley. She runs in and gives me a big hug and starts cracking jokes. I don’t know what’s going on. We have a bit of a friendly chat before she suggests we step outside and smoke a joint. At this point im so baffled I have to ask her: You don’t seem to be as upset as you were when we spoke last time, which is good I guess. “Why would I be?” says she. Because you’re pregnant! She looks at me like i’ve fallen out of a tree. She has absolutely no idea what im talking about. I tell her about the phone call. She says she didn’t call me, she was just dropping in un-announced hoping i’d be home.

      Note that when we had the pregnancy phone call I addressed her as Ashley several times on the phone, which she responded to.

      So to recap…

      Real Ashley decides to have a sober night out on the town with me for the first time since I met her. Then a girl called Ashley with the same voice as Ashley; intending to call someone who has the same voice, manner, background and relationship to her as I do; a girl also working on her final folio; calls me (the wrong number) out of the blue one night to tell me she’s pregnant. The “real” Ashley then spontaneously comes over to my house at the time arranged over the phone with Pregnant Ashley.

      What kind of fucking sorcery is that?

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        It’s the kind where she’s crazypants and lying to you, with P>0.95.

      • christhenottopher says:

        Well there’s always the $437 answer.

      • Deiseach says:

        What kind of fucking sorcery is that?

        The kind where:

        (1) She’s bi-polar, manic-depressive, or some flavour of schizophrenia.

        Or

        (2) She was pregnant by another guy, decided to have an abortion, and moved into the mind-set of “I’m not pregnant, this is not a baby, I’m not a mother, I’m going for a medical procedure is all and in a couple of days/weeks everything will be back to normal” to get ready for ‘getting over’ having the abortion, and that fits with the “hey, let’s smoke some weed and have a fun time and no I’m not pregnant, look at me having fun fun fun with you right now, if I were pregnant would that be happening? I’m not pregnant, I was never pregnant, there never was any baby, get it?”

    • SamChevre says:

      I was changing planes in Chicago, and someone called to me as I was walking past the T Rex skeleton. It was someone I’d grown up with in Tennessee, who was also changing planes, and who I hadn’t seen in 20 years.

    • Jade says:

      The least climatic but most improbable I can think of from my life: A friend and I were at the airport waiting for the baggage claim conveyor belt to start up. We were the only people standing fairly close to the belt’s portal where all the bags come out of, save for a man who was standing almost right up against it, seemingly insistent that his bag would come out first.

      It does. My friend and I look at each other as he walks away with his bag, mildly amused at our man’s predictive prowess, until we notice that our bags came out second and third.

      • Jiro says:

        When bags come out is somewhat related to the time they go in, so he could have made that prediction with much greater probability than 1/number of bags. Also, yoiu and your friend probably checked your bags at the same time, so that isn’t as unlikely as it appears either.

    • fion says:

      When I introduced poker to my cousin she got a straight flush on her first hand.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I guess I should share my own, too – it’s another “small world” story.

      So, in high school I met a girl online, call her Alice. We frequented the same forum RPGs, had the same interests, talked on AIM a lot, that kinna thing. Alice lived in Connecticut and I in Missouri, though, so we never met in person.

      Few years later, I go to college, and through college my next-door neighbor is Bob. There was a small group of us that lived together in a little dorm (only 10 rooms on the whole floor, everyone knew each other) 3 years in a row. Bob and I hung out fairly often, he actually bought me my first legal drink on my 21st, et cetera. Upon graduation, we went our separate ways, with Bob moving out to Seattle.

      About two months after graduation, Alice sent me a picture. She was in the car – and in the passenger seat, grinning ear to ear, was Bob. Turns out Alice had ALSO moved to Washington, in fact, had moved in right next door to Bob. They had gotten to talking and quickly learned that I was a mutual acquaintance.

      So yeah, that’s mine. Either that or the time I ran into someone in the highlands of Guatemala who had gone to college with my aunt.

    • dodrian says:

      I spent a year doing volunteer work among youth in Argentina. I was assigned an Argentine mentor who had spent time doing volunteer work among youth in my English hometown (pop < 20k). Given the time and location I'm pretty sure I attended at least one of the activities he was a part of.

      Though the same organization arranged both placements, they had programs all throughout Europe and Latin America, and I heard about the organization via friends at University, and not via anyone in my hometown.

    • Incurian says:

      I have a few that I think are good stories but not that unlikely.

      While I was deployed to Jordan, I had to go TDY to Qatar for a thing. While wandering lost through the hallways of one of the headquarters, I ran into my deskmate from my previous deployment to Afghanistan. We spent nine months or so spending basically every waking minute together, but sort of lost touch afterwards, so I was very excited to see him. The best part was it was his birthday!

      Another time, in Jordan, we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on a traffic circle on the opposite side of town from the base. I noticed one of the pedestrians walking by looked familiar, and it turned out to be one of the base guards. We gave him a ride back, he was late for his shift!

      On my first deployment to Afghanistan, a couple days into my first big operation, I had lunch with my commander and first sergeant on the side of a road in the village we were clearing. After we got up, the autistic Afghan who was the best mine sweeper on Earth started running his metal detector over the spot we had been sitting. I thought it was pretty stupid, since by having lunch on that spot we had demonstrated its lack of IEDs. I was wrong. There was a pressure plate and five gallon jug of HME right under our picnic spot. The battery wasn’t connected.

      • Aapje says:

        How much weight do these plates typically require to trigger?

        • CatCube says:

          They’re all made one-off by the Afghan equivalent of good ol’ boys from whatever they have on hand, so while a lot of them will be of similar design, they’re all going to have differences that will change that answer.

          One common design that I knew of had two hacksaw blades placed about 1/4″ apart, so weight would deform the top blade until it touched the bottom one, completing the circuit. As you can imagine, the weight required was pretty small for that one. Other designs would use other springs, with a difference in trigger weight.

          I don’t recall ever hearing that they made specific pressure plate designs to separate the IEDs into antipersonnel and antivehicular roles, but they were pretty smart so it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they had pressure plates with high trigger weights to target vehicles instead of personnel.

          • Incurian says:

            I don’t recall ever hearing that they made specific pressure plate designs to separate the IEDs into antipersonnel and antivehicular roles, but they were pretty smart so it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they had pressure plates with high trigger weights to target vehicles instead of personnel.

            They did, in fact they even tried to tune the anti personnel plates to only trigger for the expected weight of an overfed American carrying gear vice an underfed Afghan minding his own business. I don’t know how common this practice was, however.

          • Aapje says:

            @Incurian

            That’s a situation where wearing body armor doesn’t help.

          • Incurian says:

            I agree, though I don’t understand your point.

          • Aapje says:

            Just an observation that things can have unexpected downsides.

        • Incurian says:

          150-200lbs I think. Had the battery been connected it would have triggered for sure.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      My wife and I were at the Serena Serengeti Lodge and overheard another couple talking about Chicago. We said, ” Hey we’re from there, too.” They said, “We’re really from the suburbs.” “Oh, well, we are too. Which one?” And you can guess the rest. We live one mile from them.

      I don’t go to many baseball games – maybe 30 or 40 lifetime. I was at the only game in history where there were two triple plays. Of all the weird things that can happen in baseball or other major sports, there are very few that have only happened once.

      Best I can do.

      • Iain says:

        Several years ago, a friend and I, trapped in a hostel in Johannesburg by rain, flipped through the options on television and settled for trying to deduce the rules of cricket from an ongoing game. Partway through, the game stopped and everybody applauded the batsman. “Sachin Tendulkar has just scored his fiftieth century in Test cricket,” said the announcer. “Is that good?” my friend and I asked ourselves.

        Turns out that Sachin Tendulkar is one of the greatest batsmen of all time, and nobody else before or since has reached fifty Test centuries.

        Still the only game of cricket I’ve ever watched.

      • Fahundo says:

        I don’t go to many baseball games – maybe 30 or 40 lifetime.

        Sounds like a hell of a lot of baseball games to me.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          There are people who go to that many just in a single season. With 162 games a year there’s a lot of baseball.

        • Gossage Vardebedian says:

          I’m 55, that’s meaningfully less than one a year.

          • Fahundo says:

            One a year still sounds like quite a lot to me. I guess it’s different if you live in a city with a stadium or something.

    • add_lhr says:

      While traveling solo in Zambia, I once got a ride back from Victoria Falls to my hostel in Livingstone from a van full of people that turned out to all be from the church next to my high school (rural US), on a two-week mission trip. Perhaps the weirdest thing was that they just didn’t seem that surprised by it.

    • A few candidates:

      My cell phone number, by pure chance, was 666-1776.

      My license plate, by pure chance, was 81N512 (the N is of no significance–the rest obvious to some).

      I lived for some years on Dorchester in Kenwood (in Chicago). The house where I have spent every New Years for about forty years, with one exception, is on Kenwood in Dorchester (in Boston).

      An SCA friend of mine lives in the D.C. area. I live in San Jose. I discovered, a few years back, that he was a good friend of one of my colleagues. A little less unlikely than it seems because he is a lawyer and I was teaching at a law school.

      • quaelegit says:

        >My cell phone number, by pure chance, was 666-1776.

        That reminds me of one! My mom usually names her car based on the license plate (so her old car was called Sweetie b/c the plate had the letter combo “SWT”).

        Her current license plate is ‘6VOX666’

        I tried to get people to call her car “The Voice of Evil” but it didn’t catch on 😛

        >My license plate, by pure chance, was 81N512

        … an address in Washington DC?

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          >My license plate, by pure chance, was 81N512

          … an address in Washington DC?

          81 = 9 to the 2nd power.
          512 = 2 to the 9th power.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      The first time I played a game of hearts with a group of people I “shot the moon” without any clue of what I was doing and no good knowledge of the game. I’m pretty sure that’s statistically unlikely.

  3. christhenottopher says:

    So there are a lot of tech-employed folks here, what are people’s take on the shortlist of cities for Amazon’s HQ2? Since three of them are in the Washington DC Metro, is this a sign that the company wants to gain more influence in the government? And how rational is that given the limited impact of lobbying on lawmaking found by most academic research on that subject?

    And since this isn’t the culture war free thread, does anyone think that moving more operations away from the “left coast” and it’s tendency towards more hard core versions of cultural leftism is driving the choice? If so does that decrease the chances of a city like Boston rather than a Dallas?

    • jonmarcus says:

      Not 100% sure I buy the ineffectiveness of lobbying. But regardless, that doesn’t mean people in and around DC have little impact on lawmaking.

      I’ve got no research to back this up, but it seems likely to me that people are more friendly towards places where their friends/family work (assuming said friends/family enjoy their jobs). If Amazon is near DC, then those people are likely to include law/policy-makers. They’d be fools not to view that as a plus.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think at least part of the short list reflects the fact that the cities are campaigning for the site, and some places (like Washington DC or Columbus Ohio) have lots of experienced people who do that sort of thing.

    • quaelegit says:

      Here’s people’s thoughts from last week: http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/01/17/open-thread-93-25/#comment-590310

      (I’m not implying it’s a problem that you’ve posted this topic again, just offering a link to people’s previous discussion in case anyone who missed it is interested in reading it.)

      From johan_larson’s comment: “This list isn’t really telling us much. It’s a list of the major metropolitan centres of the US (plus Toronto). There just isn’t a lot of information here.”

      I haven’t been following this, but I think this is a second-pass list, right? So maybe the filtering from the longer list to this one could tell us something more than the list itself.

      • christhenottopher says:

        I did miss that thread so thanks! Not much got talked about the potential implications on the apparent importance of lobbying to Amazon with 3 DC locations being considered, so that’ll be my comfort on bringing it up again.

    • Nornagest says:

      The DC area is a major tech hub with lots of good universities nearby, but isn’t as crazy as the Bay Area, and Amazon already has a presence there. Don’t think we need to go looking for ulterior motives.

      • johan_larson says:

        The DC area is a major tech hub …

        How far down the list of high tech companies do you have to go before you get to one headquartered in the DC area, now that AOL is gone?

        • Nornagest says:

          Relatively few headquarters for consumer-facing tech companies (lots of aerospace, though — Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics are both in Northern Virginia, and Lockheed Martin’s in Bethesda), but there are large branch offices for dozens of them along Route 267 between Dulles and Arlington.

          It’s definitely second-tier compared to Seattle, Silicon Valley, and maybe Boston, but it’s not far down the list.

        • Brad says:

          Looks like DXC.

    • Simon Penner says:

      Can’t speak to the first question but per the second one: I doubt culture war has anything to do with it. Bezos appears (to me, anyway) to be rather partisan so if it was it would increase.

      No, if I had to guess (and I’ve paid close to zero attention to this so it really is a guess), it’s cost. The west coast is ungodly expensive and keeps rising. If you’re trying to convince people from across the country to move to your city to work at your cool business, it’s a lot easier when the local cost of living is lower. Not only can you pay them less, but they end up walking home with more in the bank at the end of the day. Win-win.

      Seattle office is probably just getting too crowded, really

      • Matt M says:

        As if “high cost of living” is completely uncorrelated with politics 🙂

      • John Schilling says:

        No, if I had to guess (and I’ve paid close to zero attention to this so it really is a guess), it’s cost.

        If cost is the issue, then why is DC Metro even under consideration?

  4. bean says:

    Naval Gazing: Russian Battleships, Part 2
    A semi-sequel to last week’s post on pre-dreadnoughts.

    • quaelegit says:

      > She was so overweight that her draft when she left the yard was 22′, the design draft.

      I think there’s a typo with this sentence? Not sure what it’s supposed to say.

      In general — why do battleships usually end up overweight? (Or is that just the Russians?) Do they ever end up under design weight?

      Also, still really enjoying your articles in general Bean, thanks! 🙂

      • Nornagest says:

        I think there’s a typo with this sentence? Not sure what it’s supposed to say.

        That threw me for a bit, too, but the next sentence goes on to say that she hadn’t been fitted with guns or armor yet. Since those represent a major portion of a battleship’s weight, we would expect the ship to draw a lot less water than her design draft in this state unless she was exceptionally overweight.

        • quaelegit says:

          Thanks for explaining! On re-reading, I think the sentence is fine and I was mis-parsing it.

          > She was so overweight that her draft when she left the yard was 22′, [equal to] the design draft.

      • John Schilling says:

        In general — why do battleships usually end up overweight? (Or is that just the Russians?) Do they ever end up under design weight?

        Everything ends up overweight, for two reasons. First, it’s important for things not to weigh too much, so engineers are always coming up with clever ways to reduce weight. Not all of these work, but some of the ones that will ultimately fail still seem like they are going to work at the time you “freeze” the design and calculate what it is supposed to weigh. Anybody who isn’t fundamentally optimistic about their ability to design things better, isn’t going to go into engineering in the first place.

        Second, you never actually get to “freeze” the design, because there’s always someone coming up with last-minute changes. Sometimes enthusiastic junior engineers, more often marketing or the customer. And the changes are always new things to add, not things to remove. Usually good, sensible things like e.g. extra fire hoses and pumps for damage control, or the latest nifty bit of weapons technology, and no single one of them adding even one percent to the weight. All of them combined…

        The most important thing for keeping battleships (or anything else) from not being horribly overweight, is a chief engineer with the authority to tell both enthusiastic junior engineers and demanding customers (i.e. Admrials), “No we are not going to do that”. I can easily imagine cultural obstacles to implementing that in late Imperial Russia.

        • bean says:

          I can easily imagine cultural obstacles to implementing that in late Imperial Russia.

          It wasn’t just cultural obstacles, the Russian admiralty really liked to make changes. Looking it over, I perhaps didn’t emphasize that enough. Some ships completed with entirely different armaments than they’d been designed with.

        • quaelegit says:

          Thanks for explaining, this makes all too much sense — especially where “design freeze” isn’t. In my project at work, there is still significant design work a week after the “essentially a design-freeze” version (at least they are acknowledging that its still in progress?) At least since we aren’t making battleships it won’t impact draft or seaworthiness! 😛

      • bean says:

        In general — why do battleships usually end up overweight? (Or is that just the Russians?)

        The Russians were world leaders in overweight battleships, but it was not an uncommon problem. John did a good explanation of the problem in general, but in this context, I’d identify three main causes:
        1. Poor design practice. Keep in mind that the ships from Part 1 didn’t start entering commission until midway through the design of the ships described here. So they didn’t necessarily know how far off they were. (It’s hard to figure that out if you’re not paying close attention to your yards.)
        2. Poor detail control. The yards themselves handled a lot of the detail effort, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to do things they shouldn’t have been doing. At least some battleships had serious problems with weight control on the minor details. The builders installed heavier fittings than planned, which adds up when it’s every fitting on the ship.
        3. Design changes. This was where the Russians excelled. Very few of their ships completed without major design changes. The only one that came in pretty much on-weight was Retvizan, I’d assume because Cramp was able to say no to their attempts to tinker. (I forgot to mention that in the post, but have edited it in.)

        The British more or less solved the problem by including a couple hundred ton margin and exercising good design discipline, but only after lots of overweight ships.

        Do they ever end up under design weight?

        Nelson and Rodney are the only ones I know of for sure. A lot of the early treaty ships came in light because the designers were terrified of being heavy. They left big margins, and their weight-saving measures worked.

        Also, still really enjoying your articles in general Bean, thanks!

        You are most welcome.

    • bean says:

      The final part of Why the Carriers Are Not Doomed covers the submarine threat.

  5. EmilAich says:

    Hi Scott wasn’t sure how to email you so this will have to do.

    One of the links on your old blog goes to a malware (or at least fake malware warning) site.
    The article is http://squid314.livejournal.com/329561.html
    and the malware link is “hxxp://raikoth net/libertarian html”
    (obfuscated for obvious reasons — replace x->t and space to dot)

    The actually js that runs is iframed and is from “elsewhere1 com”

  6. ausmax says:

    I was sick during the discussion on the parenting thread, so I figured I’d add this here. One reason for Scott to have kids that I don’t think anyone mentioned is how valuable to parents an article like Sleep Training: Much More Than You Wanted To Know would be. I already missed the window for my first kid, but would still love to have it for my next.

    In general if you think politics is an area where it is difficult to get straight answers due to the bias of everyone involved, just wait until you try to get objective answers about parenting questions; it makes politics look like mathematics. 🙂

    And since this is my first post here after lurking here for a few years, just thought I’d say that I’m blown away by how great this place is. Every once in a while I will find myself reading comments on other websites, and I remember that most internet comments aren’t civil or interesting. A place where (for example) anarcho-capitalists and communists have civilized debate is an incredibly rare and noteworthy thing.

    I’ll go back to lurking now.

    • Odovacer says:

      “Sleep Training: Much More Than You Wanted To Know”

      Is that an actual article? Searching for it doesn’t bring anything up with that exact title.

    • Charles F says:

      You might be interested in Ozy’s blog, Thing of Things. There have been a lot of reviews and summaries of pregnancy and parenting books and there will probably be a lot more in the near future. Not quite as good as a summary from Scott, but still a lot of stuff.

      • ausmax says:

        Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been avoiding other blogs for time related reasons, but if Ozy’s writing this kind of stuff I’ll definitely check it out.

  7. rlms says:

    SSC readers’ diplomacy (see here). Based on responses to the form, I’ve set up a game on Backstabbr here. The three people who said that they didn’t want to be in a team can go ahead and join. I’ve put the other eleven into teams as follows:

    Chevalier Mal Fet, fion, Randy M
    Pat, Vermillion
    Larry Kestenbaum, Ivy, ManyCookies
    rlms, Julien, wilarseny

    Teams can decide how they want to do things themselves (i.e. how to manage the account — each team should only join the game once). For mine, I’ve created a new Gmail account, signed up to Backstabbr with it (authentication has to be by Gmail) and emailed the password to my teammates. If you want to do that, email me (rlm72 at cam.ac.uk) and I’ll send you your teammates’ email addresses (except for the people who didn’t provide one, I guess they can sort something out by commenting here/emailing me). If you didn’t fill out the form but would like to play, there is definitely space for one more person (making four teams of three) and probably room for several as long as they don’t mind being on a team.

    I’ve sent a copy of this to people who put their email on the form. If you think you did but haven’t received anything (or if you have any other queries/suggestions), let me know.

    • Ivy says:

      Given that there’s exactly 14 people who signed up, why don’t we just do two parallel games? Team co-ordination is going to be a nightmare.

      • rlms says:

        There are now 15 17, and at least one person said they would prefer to be in a team. But you are right that it could be easier. If anyone wants to join a second game as an individual (possibly in addition to the first), I’ve made one here. I think it would be easiest if anyone else who wants to play (including the last two people to fill out the form (Zeno and tayfie)) join that game as individuals.

    • fion says:

      I think I didn’t put my email address on the form. It’s fionduntrousers at gmail dot com

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Would anyone be averse to my keeping records of the game and perhaps posting a write-up of it afterwards, Sullla-style?

    • Zeno says:

      Maybe you should contact the players interested in playing solo and tell them about the new server.

  8. EchoChaos says:

    I have a genuine question to the socialists on the board, who are somewhat numerous. And if this is the wrong place, let me know and I’ll withdraw it.

    How do you square being a rationalist and being a socialist?

    I don’t just mean a “safety net social democrat” like Sweden or the UK, but a socialist society.

    Socialist societies have a failure rate of essentially 100%, wherever implemented.

    Is there a reason you rationally think that a future socialist society can be successful?

    • Brad says:

      > the socialists on the board, who are somewhat numerous
      > I don’t just mean a “safety net social democrat” like Sweden or the UK, but a socialist society.

      As far as I know there isn’t even one that posts regularly now, though there was a few years back.

    • Nornagest says:

      Not a socialist, but would like to request fewer questions of this form. “It’s obviously irrational to have [ideology] because [reasons], so why do you do it?” gives you a productive discussion roughly never.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I very much DON’T mean “it’s obviously irrational”.

        That’s why I asked here.

        I am saying “I respect this board because people DO think very rationally, and I know there are socialists here, so I am missing something, what is it?”

        • rahien.din says:

          EchoChaos
          Question : How does one square being a rationalist and being a socialist?

          EchoChaos
          Answer : It’s not obviously irrational to be a socialist.

          • pansnarrans says:

            More charitably, EchoChaos thinks socialism IS obviously irrational, is understandably confused that seemingly very rational people disagree, so asks for their reasoning to see if he/she has missed something.

          • rahien.din says:

            EchoChaos thinks socialism IS obviously irrational,
            and is understandably (and very genuinely) confused that seemingly very rational people disagree

            Agreed!

            EchoChaos asks for socialist persons’ reasoning to see if he/she has missed something.

            Not a necessary inference.

    • rlms says:

      It’s interesting how different the present SSC comments section is to what I remember of LessWrong. If this question were asked there, it would probably get some actual answers, whereas the corresponding question about Christians wouldn’t. Here, I think the situation is the opposite.

    • skef says:

      In the general spirit of question sharpening:

      By the standard you’re using for “socialist society”, have there been “capitalist societies”, and if so which were/are they?

      • EchoChaos says:

        I would say a society in which the primary economic system is socialist, a command economy.

        So for example, Cuba would be a socialist economy (the government has seized the means of production), but Chile would be a capitalist economy (the government is heavily restricted from interfering in business).

        Obviously no current economy is perfectly “capitalist” or “socialist”, but the term still seems useful.

        • skef says:

          Granting that the term may be useful, I think it’s less clear that your your question is a useful one, given that these things vary by degree.

          Or, perhaps more constructively, why don’t you ask the ancap folks on here how they can rationally hold that view — since we do have a number of those — and extrapolate the reasoning back onto a socialist position?

          • EchoChaos says:

            As far as I know, there has never been a minarchist or ancap state.

            Are you arguing that the response of all the socialists here is that socialism has never been tried?

          • skef says:

            Are you arguing that the response of all the socialists here is that socialism has never been tried?

            No, but the “100% failure rate” point (granted for the sake of argument) doesn’t have the force you seem to think it does. Many attempts at human flight were made before a successful one. A 100% failure rate until then! You say:

            As far as I know, there has never been a minarchist or ancap state.

            But there has arguably been anarchy. So why didn’t that just become ancap? Or why doesn’t it count as ancap?

            Actual societies are specific and fail for specific reasons. Even every socialist society up to a point fails for economic reasons, perhaps all that’s missing is some key cultural ingredient. How can that not be why ancap hasn’t yet been successful, given that what’s needed, at a minimum, is for a bunch of people to agree on an approach?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            As far as I know, there has never been a minarchist or ancap state.

            AnCap and State don’t really go together?

            In any case, I always wonder how exactly anarchists think they will prevent people from self-organizing into a government of some sort.

          • IrishDude says:

            In any case, I always wonder how exactly anarchists think they will prevent people from self-organizing into a government of some sort.

            It depends on how you define government. I think people self-organize governing institutions all the time, like SSC moderated by Scott, recreation clubs, businesses, HOAs, D&D groups, blockchains, Ebay dispute resolution, etc., and would continue to do so under anarchy without issue.

            I define anarchy as absence of the State, and define the State as the institution where a group of people are seen to have special moral status, the right to do things that if done by others would be considered wrong. In anarchy, I think some people would try to recreate the State, but in a stable anarchy, it would be easier to stop these people because of changes in technology and social norms.

            For more on this, see Bryan Caplan’s post Crazy Equilibria: From Democracy to Anarcho-Capitalism.

        • quanta413 says:

          How would you classify France’s economy?

    • shakeddown says:

      The vast majority of failed socialist states were failures both before and after socialism was implemented, so it’s not overwhelming evidence.

      (I think there are a few examples of places that were doing worse by socialism, which is enough to convince me it’s probably bad, but it’s nowhere near as clear-cut as “Russia did socialism and collapsed.”, considering Russia before and after the USSR, and the same applies to most failed socialist countries).

      • EchoChaos says:

        Would you consider Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, etc “failures”?

        It seems to me that Latin America is exceptionally rife with examples of states seeing an exceptionally sharp decline after going socialist.

        • rlms says:

          It doesn’t seem like that to me at all. I’m not sure when you’re claiming Argentina went socialist, but I think Venezuela’s exceptionally sharp decline happened when they ran out of oil, and Cuba from 1952-1959 doesn’t look much better than post-revolution.

          • Nornagest says:

            Venezuela still has plenty of oil; it’s number one on Wikipedia’s list of countries by proven oil reserves, and the numbers date from 2017. The conventional story is that its ability to exploit those oil reserves has decayed due to a dropoff in reinvestment, and volatility in oil prices hasn’t helped either.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Even other countries dependent on oil didn’t experience such sharp declines. It’s not just that Venezuela is worse off than before. It’s that they are worse off in exactly the way economic theory predicts they would be based on their policies.

          • John Schilling says:

            Venezuela has always had and at this rate always will have lots of oil. Possibly more oil than Saudi Arabia. Specifically heavy crude and tar sands, which aren’t the type of oil that comes gushing out of the ground once you’ve drilled a hole. Requires extensive infrastructure, supporting industries, and a large technically skilled workforce to exploit.

            Venezuela went communist to ensure a more uniform distribution of the wealth resulting from heavy crude oil being brought up from underground. Now those three hundred billion barrels of oil stay mostly underground and generates no wealth. Go figure.

          • rlms says:

            I agree that Venezuela’s problems are caused by their economic policy (both in the sense that their policy would inevitably lead to bad results, and that they wouldn’t be in a bad situation without that policy). I’m not endorsing Chavez, but rather saying that you can’t just look at a graph of Venezuela’s GDP and identify a sudden change in policy before a decline. The current crisis started a long time after Chavez (and things weren’t exactly great immediately before him). It looks like the immediate cause of the “exceptionally sharp decline” was a change in oil prices rather than a lack of oil, but that doesn’t affect my point.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @rlms

            Well, yeah. Bad policies don’t automatically trigger a recession. It can take a while for it to really hit. The graphs cuts off at 2013, right when things start getting really bad. High oil prices helped keep Venezuela from collapse but that doesn’t mean that oil prices are the ultimate cause. They just hid underlying problems. Let’s say you were deeply in debt and your parents were loaning you money to keep you afloat. After not paying them back quickly enough, they cut you off. We wouldn’t say the cause of his financial collapse was his parents. They just kept him afloat for longer.

          • cassander says:

            @rlms says:

            The current crisis started a long time after Chavez (and things weren’t exactly great immediately before him). It looks like the immediate cause of the “exceptionally sharp decline” was a change in oil prices rather than a lack of oil, but that doesn’t affect my point.

            You can’t look at a graph of GDP, but you can look at a graph of oil production which starts to decline almost as soon as chavez takes over and starts diverting money from the national oil company to his social programs and cronies. the decline in production didn’t lead to immediate decline in GDP because prices rose, but it mean that when prices fell, there was a double whammy.

        • aNeopuritan says:

          Argentina is Socialist. Sweden of course isn’t. And people wonder why Socialists won’t bother answering.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I wouldn’t consider Argentina socialist, for sure, but I would say that, for the better part of the 20th century, it has been a far more market unfriendly environment than Sweden.

      • cassander says:

        The vast majority of failed socialist states

        you repeat yourself 😛

        were failures both before and after socialism was implemented, so it’s not overwhelming evidence.

        this is definitely not accurate. Russia, for example, was the fastest industrializing country in history before socialism came. It was also europe’s breadbasket. Under socialism, they imported grain or people starved, or both. After socialism, it’s a breadbasket again. Cuba was the richest, best educated country in Latin America. Venezuela was the second or third richest. The list goes on.

    • Pepe says:

      I don’t really have an answer for you, but I think it would be important to understand how and why socialist societies ‘fail.’

      For example, I am quite convinced that as long as every time a country decides to go socialist, it is immediately opposed, violently, by most major countries in the planet, then the failure rate will remain the same. Not sure how many capitalist countries would manage to not ‘fail’ under similar pressure though.

      Other aspects worth considering are, for example, as others have noted, comparing countries before and after. Also worth comparing countries to similar countries that didn’t adopt socialism. I am not sure that Cuba can be considered more of a failure than, say, the Dominican Republic.

      • EchoChaos says:

        For example, I am quite convinced that as long as every time a country decides to go socialist, it is immediately opposed, violently, by most major countries in the planet

        Do you feel that was the case with Venezuela? As far as I know there was no violent opposition to their country.

        • Pepe says:

          It is still very hard for me to find information on Venezuela that I can consider reliable, so I try to piece things together from two very biased sides. It is probably too early to know what exactly goes on in Venezuela, since things are still ongoing.

          You are right that there has been no violent outside opposition, although the opposition to the government has been apparently funded/supported by outside sources. Then there are the economic pressures and sanctions.

      • cassander says:

        >For example, I am quite convinced that as long as every time a country decides to go socialist, it is immediately opposed, violently, by most major countries in the planet, then the failure rate will remain the same. Not sure how many capitalist countries would manage to not ‘fail’ under similar pressure though.

        EchoChaos’s point about venezuela is my own, but this is not historically accurate. For 50 years, socialist states could count on massive material support from the second most powerful state on the planet and its many allies. They still failed.

        • Pepe says:

          They could count on support from the second most powerful state on the planet and its many allies. They could also count on very strong opposition from everyone else.

          I am not trying to defend former socialist states here, or paint them as victims. My point was to say that, in order to figure out whether socialism will never work, you cannot just say ‘well, it has never worked’ but instead look at the failure modes and see whether they are inherent to the system or whether it is something that could be avoided under different circumstances.

          ‘X has been tried and it has never worked, therefore X will never work’ is not something I can agree with. Every time X is attempted and fails should move our beliefs towards the ‘doesn’t work’ side, of course, but I don’t think it is sufficient to be fully confident that it will never work.

          • cassander says:

            >They could count on support from the second most powerful state on the planet and its many allies. They could also count on very strong opposition from everyone else.

            And? what does a bunch of countries not liking you amount to? To say that socialism only fails when the entire rest of the world enthusiastically supports it is to damn with faint praise.

            >I am not trying to defend former socialist states here, or paint them as victims.

            Really because that seems exactly like what you’re doing.

            >failure modes and see whether they are inherent to the system or whether it is something that could be avoided under different circumstances.

            you are massively overestimating the degree of actual opposition to socialist, and even explicitly communist states. And you are ignoring that the capitalist states also faced the opposition of much of the world. It reeks of special pleading.

      • rlms says:

        I am not sure that Cuba can be considered more of a failure than, say, the Dominican Republic.

        Eh, Cuba is a bit poorer than the Dominican Republic, but a bit richer than Jamaica and vastly richer than Haiti.

        • Pepe says:

          Indeed, which is my point. Three different Caribbean countries tried different systems and ended roughly in the same place. The outcome from one of them is blamed solely on its political system of choice while the others go ignored.

          • cassander says:

            except cuba started as the richest, best educated country in LA and fell to its present low.

          • Pepe says:

            The richest? I am not sure. Definitely one of the most prosperous countries, mind. They still have an exceptional literacy rate.

          • Chalid says:

            I’m not in any way a fan of Castro, but it’s hard to imagine any country in Cuba’s geographic position being successful while also being so strongly opposed by the United States. Cuba’s success pre-revolution was largely based on its good relationship with the US. Soviet support doesn’t nearly make up for that loss.

          • cassander says:

            @chalid

            It’s not that hard at all considering the massive aid that cuba got from the soviets and that any serious US opposition, other than the increasingly ineffective embargo, went out with the kennedys. the billions the soviets sent did not make up what the cuban people lost, but it more than made up for what the cuban state got from the US.

          • Chalid says:

            I have a feeling if we were in a different discussion, you’d be the one emphasizing the limitations of foreign aid. Is there any reason to think the Soviets were especially good at it? Good enough to replace having access to the markets of the richest country in the world?

            Regarding the composition of the aid, a great deal of Soviet aid was military, which was only necessary for Cuba because of the hostility of the United States. Of the rest, a great deal came from buying the Soviets buying Cuban sugar at above-market prices, which while helpful was not exactly going to help Cuba become very rich in the long term. (And the US had previously been doing that anyway.)

          • John Schilling says:

            it’s hard to imagine any country in Cuba’s geographic position being successful while also being so strongly opposed by the United States.

            Cuba is an island, and to a first order any seaport is economically adjacent to every other seaport on Earth. Meanwhile, even a modest channel or strait greatly reduces the prospects for military meddling, as does a superpower patron. You might as well argue that Japan and Taiwan cannot prosper if opposed by China.

          • cassander says:

            @Chalid says:

            I have a feeling if we were in a different discussion, you’d be the one emphasizing the limitations of foreign aid. Is there any reason to think the Soviets were especially good at it? Good enough to replace having access to the markets of the richest country in the world?

            As ever, it takes a great deal of chutzpah to blame a lack of free trade for the failure of communism, even before considering John Schilling’s apt point. But in the case of cuba, aid might very well have exceeded the value in dollars of trade with the mainland. Of course, it was used by the state for its own purposes, not so much for the benefit of the population.

            Of the rest, a great deal came from buying the Soviets buying Cuban sugar at above-market prices, which while helpful was not exactly going to help Cuba become very rich in the long term. (And the US had previously been doing that anyway.)

            I don’t see why that wouldn’t help them become rich, but if the USSR bought the sugar at above market rates, then they definitely replaced most of what would have come from the US.

          • bean says:

            Cuba is an island, and to a first order any seaport is economically adjacent to every other seaport on Earth.

            This. So much of this. Sea transport is incredibly good, to the point that the winner in an economic war of all of Europe vs the UK, with the UK controlling the sea, is always the UK. Except for a short time in 1962, the US has not actually interfered with general sea transport to Cuba, so blaming the US isn’t really a good explanation.

          • Fahundo says:

            This. So much of this. Sea transport is incredibly good, to the point that the winner in an economic war of all of Europe vs the UK, with the UK controlling the sea, is always the UK.

            But surely an entire continent can have more seaports than a tiny island, right?

          • bean says:

            But surely an entire continent can have more seaports than a tiny island, right?

            That’s not quite how that works…

          • Chalid says:

            Cuba is an island, and to a first order any seaport is economically adjacent to every other seaport on Earth.

            No, that’s just flat-out wrong.

            it takes a great deal of chutzpah to blame a lack of free trade for the failure of communism

            Cuba’s tiny. You need economies of scale to make a successful economy, which means Cuba needs trading partners, and the gravity equation linked above says the US is a natural trading partner and the Soviet Union isn’t.

          • bean says:

            No, that’s just flat-out wrong.

            It’s not. I don’t feel like fishing for specifics now, but moving goods by water is by far the cheapest way to go. While being unable to trade with the US was certainly not good for the Cuban economy, I’d bet that in terms of cost, Rotterdam is a lot closer than, say, Denver. Again, the UK, with no trading partners closer than Canada, won the Napoleonic Wars against a Europe that was at times completely united against them. The situation hasn’t changed that much since then.

          • Matt M says:

            You need economies of scale to make a successful economy, which means Cuba needs trading partners, and the gravity equation linked above says the US is a natural trading partner and the Soviet Union isn’t.

            Well maybe they should have considered that before having a Communist revolution?

          • Chalid says:

            I don’t feel like fishing for specifics now, but moving goods by water is by far the cheapest way to go

            I don’t deny that it’s cheapest to transport goods by sea. But empirically trade ~ 1/distance. It is a very strong empirical regularity, though admittedly not that well understood theoretically, and to my mind that trumps handwaving about how you think trade ought to work.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            It’s not clear to me why Cuba is in a uniquely poor position as compared to, say, New Zealand, or Australia.

            Australia had a population of 10 million in 1960, compared to Cuba’s 7.1 million. Australia was damned far away from most markets. To say that Cuba’s 7 million was definitely too little for economies of scale while Australia’s 10 million posed no problem seems to put “economies of scale” at a verrrrrryyyy specific population level.

          • JayT says:

            Singapore is probably an even better example. Its population was 1.6 million in 1960 and is 5.6 million now, and they have managed to be very successful economically.

            More important than economies of scale is having good policy. In Cuba’s case, choosing to pick the US as an antagonist was certainly not good policy.

          • bean says:

            @Chalid
            Besides ADBG’s excellent counterexample, I don’t buy it without a lot more proof that the model holds in general. Everything I know of international trade patterns disagrees. Look at how much trade the British did with their empire back before WWII. Much of their meat came from Australia, which is as near as makes no difference the other side of the world. The US does nearly as much trade with Taiwan as with India, despite India having a much bigger economy. (The India/Japan ratio is very different from the India/Taiwan ratio, despite Japan and Taiwan being about the same distance.) I’m sure that with enough fudge factors, it works and is useful for economists studying things, but I don’t think simply saying “Gravity model” is enough to prove your point.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            @Chalid:

            I don’t deny that it’s cheapest to transport goods by sea. But empirically trade ~ 1/distance. It is a very strong empirical regularity, though admittedly not that well understood theoretically, and to my mind that trumps handwaving about how you think trade ought to work.

            You’re mistaking ratios of practice for ratios of cost. I absolutely agree that sans embargo most Cuban trade would be with America, but it would only take a 1% difference in costs for that to be true–there’d be no reason to pay more for European goods, even cents more, unless they were particular specialties or whatever. Since America bans such trade though, Cuba can happily trade with Rotterdam…and the net cost increase isn’t necessarily any significant factor.

          • John Schilling says:

            But surely an entire continent can have more seaports than a tiny island, right?

            Why would an Island need more than one seaport? Well, OK, Cuba is kind of long and skinny, but I’d guess 90% of its economy is within a hundred miles of either Havana or Santiago.

            And if you’re selling sugar on either the New York or London exchange, the hundred miles from your plantation’s loading dock to the hold of a ship in Havana’s harbor is probably the biggest transportation hurdle you’re facing.

          • Chalid says:

            Couple quick points, then I will probably not respond any further this weekend.

            As I understand it (and I am not an economist), the way to resolve the tension between the gravity equation and bean’s points about transport by sea being cheap (and Andrew Hunter’s point) is that the literal cost of carrying a container of goods from point A to point B is not necessarily the dominant factor in determining whether you get a lot of trade between two countries. What the factors actually are is not understood, but you can imagine a lot of things that vary with distance. As the Australia/British Empire example illustrates, close political ties and cultural similarity are definitely factors too.

            Along those lines, it’s just an empirical regularity, not a law like actual physics gravity. Counterexamples don’t disprove it. But the empirical regularity should make you realize you’re missing something important about trade when you claim that trade between all seafaring nations is equally easy.

            Looking back over the thread my phrasing that “any country” wouldn’t be successful in Cuba’s position was obviously too strong. Put Lee Kuan Yew in charge and it probably would have been successful. More modestly, I’d maintain that it’s plausible to me that a very great deal of the comparative underperformance of Cuba versus the rest of Latin America since 1960 might be explained by the US embargo and other hostility as opposed to the economic system.

            (Yes, a great deal of the hostility between US and Cuba is Castro’s fault, no argument there.)

            Regarding Australia/Singapore/etc: distance isn’t the only thing that matters. Wealth of your partners matters, and other advantages too (like Singapore’s port and Australia’s natural resources).

    • Protagoras says:

      I am not a socialist, but consider this thought experiment. Imagine you are in the time of Hobbes. A critic of democracy could point to it having a generally horrible track record; almost never has anyone succeeded in really being democratic (attempts nearly always seems to fall apart), and the closest approaches have had enormous problems. And so many ask (as Hobbes does) how anyone could possibly think democracy could ever be better than a nice, legimate monarchy. What can the democracy advocate say? Well, there are identifiable mistakes previous attempted democrats made that the advocate may have ideas about how to avoid (though nobody has ever avoided them). Here and there are cases where approaches with democratic elements produced one good thing or another, or where some small scale experiment in something like democracy at least didn’t seem to produce complete disaster (though the Hobbesians will no doubt have little difficulty coming up with clever arguments that something other than democracy was responsible for anything that appears beneficial). And in any event it is morally obligatory that people have some say in how they are governed (which the Hobbesians will dismiss as pie in the sky idealism). All in all looks pretty weak sauce. But with the benefit of a few more centuries of hindsight, the advocates of democracy seem to have been closer to right than Hobbes. It does not appear to me that the socialists are in an obviously worse position than an advocate of democracy in the time of Hobbes; the situations seem pretty parallel to me. And while the analogy certainly doesn’t show we should all be convinced by the socialists (as I said, I’m not; historically, most ideas with bad track records never had the kind of turn around democracy has had), it seems to me sufficient to suggest that civilization and politics are complex enough to rule out asserting with absolute confidence that their approach couldn’t ever work in the future.

      • EchoChaos says:

        But the belief that democracy is something to be avoided and mitigated exists today.

        “Populism” is a negative word and virtually every society has at least one level of separation from democracy, often more. The United States, France, the UK, virtually every one of the major “Democratic” powers doesn’t practice pure democracy.

        • skef says:

          Unless you would like to embrace the proposal that today it is at best questionably rational to be in favor of democracy, I think you’re missing Protagoras’s point.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I am fully willing to say that today is it at best questionably rational to be in favor of democracy.

            There are no major countries that practice direct democracy. The largest I know of is Switzerland, which is smaller than the city of London.

            In fact, if you try to defend democracy, you will almost always get people reminding you that major countries are Republics, Constitutional Monarchies, etc. and not democracies.

            I would lump democracy in with socialism. A system that can work on a very small scale, but large-scale societies that practice it do very badly.

      • cassander says:

        An interesting thought, but I’m not sure the analogy holds up. Republican forms of government were generally pretty rare in the 17th century, but they were far from non-existent or universally disastrous. It was acknowledged that some of the greatest societies in history, athens, venice, rome, had all risen to greatness as republics. The venetian republic was arguably the oldest state in the world at the time, and while other republics had fallen, so had plenty of monarchies.

        • Protagoras says:

          People here often talk about piles of skulls as the decisive argument against communism; given the technology available to them, the piles of skulls raised by Rome and Athens were pretty astonishingly large. Venice (and Rome for that matter) were also not particularly democratic by modern standards, so the socialist can argue that including them means we should be including cases like Sweden in judging socialism.

          • cassander says:

            >People here often talk about piles of skulls as the decisive argument against communism; given the technology available to them, the piles of skulls raised by Rome and Athens were pretty astonishingly large

            they weren’t especially large compared to the piles amassed by their contemporaries, which strikes me as the relevant comparison.

            were also not particularly democratic by modern standards, so the socialist can argue that including them means we should be including cases like Sweden in judging socialism.

            If your standard for democracy is any sort of universal suffrage, that’s not something that had ever existed anywhere when hobbes was writing, but was more of a 18/19th century invention, so it couldn’t be said to have repeatedly failed.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But weren’t those mostly other people’s skulls, though? The skulls Rome produced weren’t Roman. The skulls the USSR produced were Russian.

          • Protagoras says:

            @cassander, Your claim about ancient history appears false to me, based on what I know of the subject, but of course the ancients were not great record-keepers and the medievals were even worse preservers of ancient records so it is hard to be sure. So leave that aside. Your second claim seems to completely fail to address what I say, and seems to fit a pattern of you having an overriding motivation to reach for any opportunity at all to undermine socialism or anything that might hint at less than total condemnation of socialism. You have made it clear enough where your motivation comes from, but it does make it feel rather unproductive and unpleasant to discuss this particular issue with you, since it seems to lead you to reach for bad arguments when good ones aren’t readily available, and perhaps to be unable to see yourself how bad they sometimes are.

          • cassander says:

            @Protagoras

            Your claim about ancient history appears false to me, based on what I know of the subject,

            Which claim would that be?

            Your second claim seems to completely fail to address what I say,

            THis is how our conversation has seemed to me:

            P: saying socialism has never worked today is like saying democracy has never worked in 1600.

            Me: An interesting analogy, but it doesn’t hold up, as there were non-monarchies that were universally seen as successful in the 1600s.

            P: they killed lots of people and weren’t real democracies.

            Me: Well, if they weren’t real democracies than there weren’t any real democracies at the time so the analogy still doesn’t hold up.

            I fail to see how my last is not a clear response to you. And while I wouldn’t deny that I think socialism is awful and should be condemned, I think it’s awful in part precisely because people tend to be overly sympathetic towards it, and unfairly judge capitalism against it. See, for example the BHL argument about mickey mouse capitalism.

          • Protagoras says:

            Me: An interesting analogy, but it doesn’t hold up, as there were non-monarchies that were universally seen as successful in the 1600s.

            Universally? I didn’t interpret you as saying this originally, and if you want to be committed to this, I don’t know what to say.

            P: they killed lots of people and weren’t real democracies.

            I said Venice (and Rome) were questionable democracies, because Venice was more of an oligarchy, and Rome kind of was too. I didn’t say that about Athens, which should have clued you in that I wasn’t talking about universal suffrage, BTW (and that you went to universal suffrage is why I think you just can’t bring yourself to pay enough attention to actually contribute usefully to these discussions) but the whole “is this a real democracy or not?” hair-splitting to make arguments work is exactly the kind of thing that makes this seem so much like the socialism discussion to me. The “killing lots of people” was questioning whether they should be regarded as successful; I confess I do not know to what extent anybody in the early 1600s was applying that as a metric (though it seems in the spirit of Hobbes to do so).

          • cassander says:

            @Protagoras

            Universally? I didn’t interpret you as saying this originally, and if you want to be committed to this, I don’t know what to say.

            I probably should have said near universally, but I don’t think that many in 1650 would have disputed that Rome and venice were extremely successful states. You might get more criticism of athens, though my understanding is that knowledge of greek history was pretty limited at this point.

            I said Venice (and Rome) were questionable democracies, because Venice was more of an oligarchy, and Rome kind of was too. I didn’t say that about Athens, which should have clued you in that I wasn’t talking about universal suffrage,

            Athens was quite democratic for full citizens, but full citizens were a fairly narrow slice of the population usually rated at about 10-15% of the population. And even within the ranks of citizens, there were gradations and ranks.

            That said, I think you expecting me to read into your leaving out athens more than is reasonable. I assumed you left it out for the sake of brevity.

        • skef says:

          The slide from “democracy” to “republic” works in some circumstances, but I’m not sure it the Venetian Republic is all that relevant. So members of Venice’s “most illustrious families” (a hereditary distinction) exercised a right to vote for representative members, at least sometimes from candidates selected by raffle. Not exactly a shining, incontrovertible example.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think the main problem with this thinking is that Hobbes didn’t have a bunch of countries all try and fail democracy within the last century. Maybe there is some True Socialism sufficiently different from the Soviet Union that it could work but I think anyone who advocates Marxism-Leninism needs an extremely compelling reason why they think this time could be different.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah, I’d follow something more along this line. There’s definitely some convincing evidence that the specific, practically-evangelical strain of communism tried in various 20th centuries was an absolute failure.

          The idea that the means of production should be commonly owned is a bit more broader than that and allows some other options, though. Like, fully nationalized companies that still operate within market frameworks, or major companies that are required to have X% of directors and Y% of ownership come from a combination of government and labor.

    • fion says:

      I consider myself a socialist, but I’m also a big fan of gradual, evidence-driven change. So I’m in favour of moving towards a more “safety net social democratic” system, and then depending on how that goes, through it to a gradually more socialist system. If at any point evidence becomes available that moving further left is making things worse and not better then I hope I’ll change my views and say “ok, it seems we’ve reached a local maximum; what now?” and engage in a brainstorming-come-debate about what changes we might be able to make to improve things further.

      (By coincidence I actually asked a question of this type, but from an opposing direction and somewhat more specific further down on this thread.)

      • cassander says:

        >If at any point evidence becomes available that moving further left is making things worse and not better then I hope I’ll change my views and say “ok, it seems we’ve reached a local maximum; what now?”

        Have you ever reached this point on any issue?

        • rlms says:

          I am certain that any people here who have never thought “actually, that’s probably enough government” are greatly outnumbered by those who have never concluded “actually, adding more markets would probably make things worse in this situation”.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Adding more markets” strikes me as a type error; there is always some kind of market whenever there are scarce resources to be allocated, just more or less distorted. You are participating in a market for the DMV’s services when you go to the DMV, it’s just one denominated in time and frustration rather than money.

            There is no way to move toward an idealized market with perfect information and all externalities priced in that makes outcomes worse for most people; that’s why it’s an idealized market. But there are ways to “deregulate” and “privatize” things that make the de-facto market less, rather than more, ideal. (See 1990s Russia for a large-scale example.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: that just reminds me of how, for an RPG campaign, I tried to figure out how markets for goods and services would work in the Inferno.
            I ended up just using a lot of waiting in line and suffering to buy goods, then finding out you needed a piece of paperwork to rent an apartment/buy winged sandals/whatever

          • rlms says:

            @Nornagest
            I think the people who say that things should be decided by markets are only talking about money ones.

          • cassander says:

            I very much doubt that that’s the case, we have relatively few anarchists here, but even if it were it’s not particularly relevant to the question at hand.

          • rlms says:

            @cassander
            And in comparison we have a surplus of strawman communists who think literally everything should be nationalised? Name three (or indeed one, or indeed one without the restriction that they have to be an SSC commenter). I’m not sure what the question at hand is, but I don’t think my comment is any less relevant to it than your original one.

          • cassander says:

            @rlms

            I don’t believe I ever claimed we had a lot of communists around here, though we did have Aapje defend socialized food. But I do know a lot of people who make the claim fion made, but who never actually seem to ever find the limit they admit exists in theory, and that is what I was asking about.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are a whole bunch of honest-to-God communists crawling out of the woodwork over on the conflict theory thread. A lot of them are new, but I know I’ve seen the dude with the James Connolly avatar several times before.

            None of them, as far as I’ve read, have said directly that everything ought to be nationalized, but when you’ve got someone calling himself a Leninist and saying that Stalin didn’t do genocide (!), that’s a distinction without a difference.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            I didn’t advocate for it, though. I just argued that semi-socialized food seemed to have worked reasonably well in a specific circumstance of high shortage, with apparently some upsides and some downsides compared to a more capitalist solution. In the other thread, you made the unsupported and probably unknowable claim* that having had a capitalist system instead would have been ‘better**’ than the rationing system.

            I don’t see any clear evidence that the outcome was much, much worse nor much, much better than a more capitalist solution. Instead, it seemed to have been in the (very broad) zone where the effects of a policy are hard to evaluate because other changes/differences can have a larger effect.

            IMO, that puts it in the category of policies that we cannot automatically reject as being wrong.

            * Only by running history again, but with this changed, you could answer this, probably
            ** You didn’t define by what metrics though

        • fion says:

          In my lifetime the government of my country has been moving further and further right and life has mostly got worse. So no, we haven’t reached a local maximum.

    • Aapje says:

      @EchoChaos

      I’m not a communist, but I will give my perspective.

      I think that ‘pure’ systems generally cannot work and that we often use labels for mixed systems that pretend that they are ‘pure’. We call our economy capitalist, but we don’t actually have pure capitalism. We call our politics democratic, but we don’t actually have pure democracy. Most people favor altruism, but no one is truly altruistic, favoring the other as much as the self and those near to them. Etc.

      Any attempt to actually achieve purity cannot but result in uncontrolled and damaging backlash, because no pure system can work with humanity, which itself is not ‘pure.’ So to have a good society, one must embrace impurity, choosing the impurities that make the system work for actual humans (in contrast to purely hypothetical, ‘pure’ humans).

      Any decently functioning socialist society is not going to be purely socialist, in the same way that no decently functioning capitalist society is going to be purely capitalist.

      So at this point, in my eyes, your question has become very subjective, because it hinges entirely on what level of government intervention in the economy counts for you as being sufficiently socialist to call it a socialist system. Apparently Social Democracy doesn’t count for you, but it may count for many others.

      If you define ‘socialist society’ as a high level of state control over goods distribution, then rationing during and after the war may be a good example. British rationing was actually a three-tiered system. For some products, people got a fixed ration, but they were guaranteed to be able to get this. They had to buy this food at one specific supplier, which resulted in very efficient distribution + low losses, because it was fairly trivial to calculate what a shop should stock (number of customers registered at the store x ration). Other products cost a certain number of points and people got a fixed number of points every month. So they got to choose what to buy, but limited to a maximum. The state could deal with supply side issues by increasing or decreasing the point costs. The final category was left to the market, which during the war resulted in very high prices.

      It seemed to generally work quite well in a situation of low supply, resulting in everyone having access to certain important goods and it actually made the Brits healthier, by pushing them into healthier eating. It never failed in the ‘skulls’ kind of way, although people got less content with it as the war got further in the past.

      It may be possible to have a country operating under such a rationing system in the long term*, without having the more nasty outcomes that Venezuela has or that the USSR had. Those countries design(ed) their rationing around their ideology, while Britain looked at it more as a means to achieve the end, not confusing the means for the end.

      * Not that I’m advocating it.

      • Of course, most corporation operate by central command.

        • Matt M says:

          At the highest levels, yes.

          But not at the day to day operations level.

          I’ve heard of corporations where executives, for example, aren’t allowed to have Excel installed on their computers, and their powerpoint software is in read-only mode. The general idea is that these people do not need to be in the weeds of that sort of thing. Pushing autonomy down to the lowest level possible is one of the biggest trends in corporate America right now.

        • cassander says:

          this is totally irrelevant. companies compete in a de-centralized system.

          • this is totally irrelevant. companies compete in a de-centralized system.

            If we are arguing about whether socialism always fails, or fails at certain scales, it is highly relevant.

          • cassander says:

            the scale of capitalism is not the firm, the scale of capitalism is the group of firms. that each of those firms is a tiny dictatorship doesn’t mean the system as a whole isn’t decentralized.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t particularly like Cassander’s answer above mine.

          There is a well-developed Theory of the Firm that explains why firms exist and offer production advantages over us all being companies of 1.

          Specifically, Lower Transaction Costs. I have a regular relationship with the Billing Department and there are clearly defined processes and hierarchies. This offers efficiencies over following a price mechanism, where I would submit a Bid to the Billing Department to actually do their job.

          It’s true that the company as a whole will experience some difficulties with the calculation problem. I am not a value-maximizer: I am a paper-clip producer. I am rewarded based on the number of paper-clips I produce. If management sets up incorrect metrics, the company will suffer as a result. In some rather observable instances, it definitely does.

          However, there are other economies of scale and economies of scope that the firm has that allow it to overcome these inefficiencies and create higher value than the sum of its parts.

          It’s difficult to abstract this to an entire company, because the firm as a whole still has market feed-back mechanisms, and the firm as a whole can be adapted: we can outsource certain functions, we can sell certain units if we can’t manage it, we can expand if we determine we can actually do a better job than our suppliers, etc.

      • cassander says:

        Every detailed account I’ve ever read of wartime rationing is rife with tales of massive inefficiency, waste, and fraud. And except in the US, wartime rationing meant a decline in average living standards throughout the war. If this is the best possible case for socialism, it’s still pretty disastrous, though not quite piles of skulls level.

        • Every detailed account I’ve ever read of wartime rationing is rife with tales of massive inefficiency, waste, and fraud.

          Every detailed account of a capitalist system I have read…

          • cassander says:

            we have pretty good comparisons between the overall outcomes of non-capitalist systems vs. capitalist. the former rarely comes out on top when similar standards are applied to both. Socialist distribution of food in britain was not better than capitalist allocation of food for any measure of human well-being that I am aware of.

          • bean says:

            Socialist distribution of food in britain was not better than capitalist allocation of food for any measure of human well-being.

            There were people who starved during WWI because they couldn’t afford food, and rationing did prevent that the second time around. But it’s a lot easier to accept rationing and play along when the explanation is “U-boats are sinking a bunch of our ships, so we don’t have as much carrying capacity as we used to” than it is when it’s “Here, citizen, is what the benevolent government thinks you should have”. I don’t think it’s at all necessary to go after wartime rationing in defense of the free market, any more than you have to say that military discipline is ineffective to defend liberty in general.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            The Flynn effect seems to have been especially strong in Britain for children who grew up during the war. Of course, this is just a correlation, not proof of causation*, but on a measure of human well-being, that period seems to have been better for British children.

            * An alternative possibility is that evacuating the children to the countryside got them out of polluted environments

          • bean says:

            @Aapje
            The evacuations were, IIRC, a lot less extensive than we might believe, but that’s probably because everyone outside the UK is exposed primarily through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

          • Aapje says:

            @bean

            Wikipedia says:

            they had overestimated demand: only half of all school-aged children were moved from the urban areas instead of the expected 80%

            50% is still quite a high number.

          • bean says:

            @Aapje
            Interesting. This is why I hedged with IIRC, because I would have guessed at something more like 20%. (And I think the average person would have guessed at 80%.) But it also didn’t last the whole war. I believe that almost all of the children were evacuated for 2 years or less. (But again, apply appropriate salt, because I’m going from the memory of someone else’s comments on it.)

          • 1soru1 says:

            > we have pretty good comparisons between the overall outcomes of non-capitalist systems vs. capitalist. the former rarely comes out on top when similar standards are applied to both

            WWII is actually a good natural experiment. Mainland Britain was under largely socialist policies (rationing), Imperial India under much more market-oriented ones.

            The result was the Bengal famine, in which 2.1 million died.

            Markets have a potential failure condition where it becomes more profitable to sell to only 80/90% of the people than all of them. There are various techniques for avoiding that failure condition; probably the most common one is to have the state being a food provider of last resort. This challenges market forces to produce something ‘better and cheaper than government cheese’; a market system that couldn’t do that would not be very good.

          • keranih says:

            I think there is an issue with your natural experiment, in which the two things that you’re comparing aren’t very similar even before adding the market treatment.

          • quanta413 says:

            WWII is actually a good natural experiment. Mainland Britain was under largely socialist policies (rationing), Imperial India under much more market-oriented ones.

            This is blatantly wrong; Bengal did not resemble a market oriented situation. You ignore that the British government directly contributed to the loss of food in India by engaging in a scorched earth policy in Bengal. And the British government refused food shipments to India. And “Rice was directed away from the starving rural districts, to workers in industries considered vital to the military effort.[116][Y] By December 1942 the total number of prioritiseds individuals, with their families, was approximately 1,000,000;[117] this high number forced the government to seize rice by force from mills and warehouses in Greater Calcutta“.

            A more accurate description would be “a natural experiment was run which showed that being a the conqueror was good for food stocks and being the conquered was bad.”

          • bean says:

            @quanta 413
            I think it would probably be worth pointing out that Bengal was fairly close to the front lines with the Japanese. A better lesson would be “having an active war zone near you is bad for trade”.

      • bean says:

        It seemed to generally work quite well in a situation of low supply, resulting in everyone having access to certain important goods and it actually made the Brits healthier, by pushing them into healthier eating. It never failed in the ‘skulls’ kind of way, although people got less content with it as the war got further in the past.

        What works well in times of massive national crisis and what works well in general are not the same thing. I’m not an expert on wartime rationing and can’t speak to the level of corruption or waste, but when you have the Germans parked in France, it’s easy to see people acting somewhat differently than they would without that pressure. Postwar, there was the threat of basically complete economic collapse keeping everyone on the same page. And I do know of more than a few cases of people behaving very badly in wartime, so even that isn’t perfect.

    • Grek says:

      If I had to summarize my political views, I would say that I am some sort of post-Marxist, in the same sense that the modern Republican Party is post-Reaganist. That is, Marx was very influential historically and had some important insights, but times have changed and not all of his ideas have aged gracefully. Goals remain the same, but the best path to those goals has changed.

      To simplify things to a perhaps excessive degree, Marx predicted that there would be a political movement to allow for greater public control over the means of production and that this political movement would be successful in seizing the means of production from the current controllers. Marx also claimed that this transfer of power would be a Good Thing™ when/if it transpired, and that it was a terrible idea to try to plan what society would be like after that happened. In retrospect, Prediction #1 was definitely true, Prediction #2 was way off, Value Judgement #1 still sounds correct to me, but Value Judgement #2 was in retrospect a terrible idea.

      On the object level, I believe that absolute corporate control of the economy is a terrible thing, because corporations are incentivized to do whatever improves profit margins instead of what satisfies human values. In a democracy, absolute public control of the economy would also be a terrible thing, because public officials are incentivized to do whatever improves reelectability instead of what satisfies human values. Short of finding a system that IS incentivized by the satisfaction of human values, our best bet would be to split economic control between public and private enterprise, creating a system where public industry establishes a price ceiling and private industry establishes a quality floor for the economy.

  9. greghb says:

    I enjoyed the debate on the links thread between Ilya Shpitser and stucchio, the former being a commenter and the latter being one of the authors of the linked article, “A.I. ‘Bias’ Doesn’t Mean What Journalists Say It Means.” The debate was civil enough to be interesting (IMO at times just barely), but also multi-faceted. I wanted to tease out one particular facet and see if there is broad agreement on that facet. In particular, I want to put aside the question of whether the journalists at hand (specifically authors of a piece at ProPublica about AI bias in assisted decision-making) did or didn’t mislead or confuse the public, or what they did or didn’t understand themselves. There’s a largely orthogonal viewpoint that was also debated, and that I found very interesting, which I’ll try to describe now.

    The viewpoint goes as follows. If you say that an algorithm is suggesting “correct” decisions, there are several things you might mean. One meaning, call it “computed correctly”, is that the algorithm has found the loss-minimizing function from among the functions in the space of functions it considers, given its input data. (When the algorithm at hand is a regression, this situation happens to be called an “unbiased estimator”, but that’s just jargon, not relevant to the particular point I’m discussing.) Another meaning, call it “applied correctly”, is that, when the algorithm’s suggestions are followed, a desired real-world outcome is improved. A closely related meaning is “interpreted correctly”, meaning that the results of the algorithm are interpreted by a human, and that interpretation leads the human to hold a new correct belief (or hold it with greater credence). If you view “learning” as an application, then “interpreted correctly” is a sub-case of “applied correctly”. I’m giving it a separate name because it was specifically discussed.

    Naturally, “computed correctly” doesn’t guarantee “interpreted correctly”, and a big part of the art of using data to learn about the world and make better decisions is avoiding all the slip-ups that can happen in between. One big category of slip-ups can be characterized as not realizing that the straightforward reading of the data doesn’t match reality in some relevant way. There are various terms using the word “bias” to refer to ways that the process giving rise to the data can lead to counterintuitive ways that the plain reading of a model trained on the data might not match reality. For example, survivorship bias can make the plain reading of a correlation backwards from reality. Ilya mentioned this with the asbestos example: if some scientist studies people who work with asbestos, and they measure the correlation between duration of exposure to asbestos and health, they might well find a positive correlation: because the people who had health problems dropped out of the work force, and the scientist didn’t realize that when collecting their data. So there was something tricky going on in the process giving rise to the data, and the scientist will be wrong if they make the straightforward reading of the data and conclude that exposure to asbestos is correlated with health.

    In other words, when you see a positive correlation, you can’t just be like, “oh, I guess this tells me a true fact about the world, and helps me make better predictions.” Maybe strictly speaking, finding a positive correlation is positive evidence of a straightforward positive relationship in reality, vs. finding a negative correlation or no correlation — but the lesson from all the non-replicating social science and medical studies is that it’s just not worth much very much at all.

    Also note that this doesn’t get into causality. If nothing tricky is going on with the process that gives rise to your data, then a non-causal correlation can absolutely help you make better predictions, even if you don’t understand the causal structure giving rise to the correlation.

    I assume this understanding is uncontroversial. But I think one of Ilya’s criticisms of stucchio’s piece was that the piece didn’t seem to acknowledge the difficulties in going from finding patterns in a data set to drawing conclusions about reality. I think this specific criticism, on this specific issue, is warranted, given the article’s content.

    For example, stucchio’s piece describes a data analysis case study, where they were trying to predict some customer behavior in a market in India. They used a feature in a regression, the feature was a Hindi word, they didn’t know what the Hindi word meant, but it improved the regression’s performance on their dataset, so they included it. As it turns out, the word indicated which of two states each person was from (and therefore, it seems, what their ethnicity was). The article then says:

    It turns out that without even meaning to, I had discovered an uncomfortable truth. Maharashtrians are likely to make a purchase, but Biharis are not.

    That’s the end of the section in the article on the case study, so the article gives the impression that this is a straightforward conclusion. Because they found a correlation in the data, they concluded a fact about the world. I think Ilya was saying (and, in any case, I think) that this fails to acknowledge the complexity in going from a statistical relationship in a data-set to a conclusion about the world. The article is simplistic in this regard, and I think, more or less, pervasively so.

    Again, I expect this to be an uncontroversial criticism, so long as it’s interpreted narrowly. However, Scott introduced stucchio’s article saying, “Lots of people I know have been playing a giant game of chicken hoping someone else would write this article first so they didn’t have to.” So I assume lots of people think the article said something that needed to be said.

    Now, I could believe that this “something” is that, “hey, if you study the world, you might find conclusions that don’t match your politics.” And that’s fine, I don’t disagree with that. But the chosen article doesn’t seem to be such a strong argument for that side, because it seems to endorse a weak method of how to study the world. It seems to support a view of science where correlation in data sets is one very simple step away from accurate conclusions about the world.

    So, my question is: do you think the above is an accurate criticism of the article by stucchio?

    In the hopes of heading off a particular concern: I mean this criticism to be refining one episode in a reasonable discussion, not as a nit-pick-y way to try to shut down the whole discussion.

    • SamChevre says:

      I followed the discussion, and I think I got a key statistical point, but want to make sure I got it correctly. (I have a decent stats background, but it’s rusty.)

      If you have a pair of populations (call them C and D), and you are trying to predict X for members of the populations and have a metric Y, the distributions can be such that either (E[x]|y) is the same for both populations, OR (E(y)|x) is the same, but both can’t be true at the same time.

      Two questions: is this always true, or only in specified cases? And if it’s “only in specified cases”, what needs to be true about the underlying distributions for it to be the case?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Trivially, they can both be the same if X and Y are the same for both populations. Or if X = Y; that is, the perfect predictor is unbiased.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The discussion would have been greatly improved if Ilya had been less condescending. Stucchio has practical experience doing exactly this sort of data analysis from his job: he’s not some random ignoramus just because he’s in industry instead of an academic. Attempting to lecture him instead of engaging in debate left Ilya’s side of the discussion nearly content-free.

      Anyway, from what I could glean this seems like Ilya was making a good theoretical argument while Stucchio was making a good practical argument. It’s unwise to blindly follow correlations without making a sincere attempt to understand the casual relationship behind them. At the same time, you go to war with the algorithm you have: reducing recidivism is very important and you shouldn’t throw away a functional tool to reduce the recidivism rate until you actually have a better one at hand.

      If I’ve understood it correctly the sensible solution would be to do the necessary research to understand where the numbers come from but to continue using the algorithm until it’s definitively shown to be biased. That way society can benefit from reduced numbers of criminals on the streets while still improving our understanding of the underlying causes of criminality.

      • greghb says:

        I think in theory at least, that’s as bad a policy as saying, “better keep exposing people to asbestos until the algorithm is definitively shown to be misleading” — that way, society can benefit from better health while still we take the time to improve our understanding of the underlying causes of health.

        That’s probably a little harsh, but Stucchio’s article didn’t give me confidence that he was acknowledging the very real difficulty underlying that somewhat hyperbolic example. From my own practical experience from doing data analysis on my job, I was disappointed with the lack of nuance in his article. I think a lot of data scientists follow correlations blindly, often getting things basically wrong by not finding sneaky ways the data isn’t straightforward to interpret. I think it’s a much harder field to be right in than typically acknowledged, numbers give people unjustified certainty, and clients often don’t have the sophistication to realize they’re not getting good advice.

        Back to the case of sentencing: Of course, the alternative to the algorithm is whatever judges were doing before, and maybe that’s markedly worse, I’m not sure. But, for example, some comments over on that thread mentioned (I think?) that the metric for recidivism was being arrested again, not convicted. If black people are frivolously arrested often, that could be a ridiculous case where the metric being optimized for, the metric being labeled “recidivism”, isn’t even close to what we care about. That’s not even sneaky data collection problems. I think any algorithm constructed that way is probably not worth even the benefit of the doubt?

        • quanta413 says:

          I think in theory at least, that’s as bad a policy as saying, “better keep exposing people to asbestos until the algorithm is definitively shown to be misleading”

          That’s roughly how things work unless you’d prefer the opposite rule where we don’t use things until they are proven safe.*

          But ignore risk aversion or the opposite for the moment. What prior knowledge or level of description dominates varies from situation to situation, but no theory is immune to the possibility that the causal model is mis-specified or the data generation process is bad. We show the asbestos thing is wrong by getting more appropriate data (including people who dropped out of the workforce). In other cases, we show that a different theory predicts the data better.

          Ok, but maybe we want the burden of proof to run the opposite way. In the specific case of the algorithm, you could make an argument that if you can’t show the algorithm is not measuring things improperly then it shouldn’t be used. Basically assume an algorithm is proxying for information we otherwise wouldn’t allow into the legal system, until it’s shown that the algorithm isn’t. This is sort of a form of risk aversion (risk of change).

          There is a lot of discussion of how to decide when to be risk averse and when not in environmental literature if you’re interested in that question.

          *This is philosophically a careless claim that leads down terrible rabbit holes about proving positives and what is “proof”, but if you just parse it roughly it’s ok.

        • Aapje says:

          @greghb

          I think in theory at least, that’s as bad a policy as saying, “better keep exposing people to asbestos until the algorithm is definitively shown to be misleading” — that way, society can benefit from better health while still we take the time to improve our understanding of the underlying causes of health.

          The asbestos example is stacking the deck by using an example where we already know it is bad.

          You can just as easily argue that Nabil’s argument is “better keep using seat belts until we can actually show that the costs/benefit is negative.”

          Ultimately, we have a situation where the evidence apparently shows that doing X gives the best outcome, but where there is a possibility that this is not the case. Then by default, one can assume that always doing X will minimize the error compared to the actual truth, unless we have a systematic bias.

          Of course, determining whether a systematic bias exists has its own data collection problems (and probably even worse than for more specific problems).

          If black people are frivolously arrested often, that could be a ridiculous case where the metric being optimized for, the metric being labeled “recidivism”, isn’t even close to what we care about. That’s not even sneaky data collection problems. I think any algorithm constructed that way is probably not worth even the benefit of the doubt?

          That depends on whether we actually have decent evidence that this issue exists and/or how bad we weigh the downsides of this vs the downsides of not having the algorithm.

          There is no obvious reason why we should not use an algorithm that potentially or even provably has a bias, because we always have to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages.

          For example, if the expected value of using an algorithm is saving the earth and the possible downside is that it may cost black people up to 1 cent each, we would be crazy not to use it. However, if the expected value is saving 10 cents in property damage and the possible downside is that it cause a genocide of black people, then we should not use it.

          Somewhere in between people can agree to disagree wage the culture war.

          • greghb says:

            @quanta413 and @Aapje

            I think what’s still missing is an acknowledgement of the difficulty in drawing useful conclusions from data, and a discussion of what the bar should be for basing important decisions on data — especially given a hunch that people tend to view the output of algorithms less critically than they might view the output of people.

            I like the asbestos example not necessarily as a typical case, but as an intuition pump: whenever we draw a conclusion based on data, it might be as problematic as the conclusion that asbestos is helpful. Point being: finding a correlation in a dataset may provide very little evidence. There are tons of more pedestrian examples of this very problem. Enough to make me down-weight the value of any given analysis of any given data-set.

            Ultimately, it comes down to investigating the whole phenomenon really thoroughly, and that involves much more than just using the data-set. I think that point was given little attention in Stucchio’s article, which was more about how to optimize an algorithm, given a data set. Rather, “just run the numbers” is not a magic bullet for learning about the world.

          • albatross11 says:

            One of the issues in that discussion was about possible biases in the data leading to biases in the predictions from the model. Another issue, as I understood it, was a policy issue–even if we assume the data is unbiased, if it leads us to effectively make predictions about recidivism based on race, we may want to exclude it because we don’t want to make that kind of decision on the basis of race.

            So maybe blacks really do reoffend more often than whites after you release them from prison, and maybe the predictive model that incorporates race[1] does better than one that doesn’t incorporate it. And we may still reasonably decide we don’t want to use that information in deciding who gets paroled.

            [1] Even if you don’t tell the model the race of the prisoner (I think the system the ProPublica article was about didn’t), the model may be able to effectively infer race from other variables. If I understand correctly, Ilya’s work is on trying to build new models that do as well as possible while excluding any such variables, but I may have misunderstood.

  10. Well... says:

    Somewhat along the lines of the Aziz Ansari/Pervnado (yeah, that’s the term now, thanks whoever came up with it) discussion we were having a few OTs back, I would like to recommend “The Carmichael Show” sitcom, especially season 3 episode 1: “Yes Means Yes”. It’s the only episode of the Carmichael Show I’ve seen but it was really funny, really clever, and actually handled the issue of affirmative consent/rape/etc. surprisingly well, accommodating an incredible degree of the sophistication and nuance of the issue.

    Reading descriptions of the other episodes, I think I’m going to watch the entire series.

    The show is available on Hulu.

  11. keranih says:

    For fellow red-tribe peps who are Unhappy With Hollywood Products – may I draw your attention to Logan Lucky? (Yes, yes, been out for a while, but I just caught up with it by chance.)

    I found it very funny and aimed squarely at My Kind of People, *without* (to my read) indulging in attacks on Blue Tribe sorts.

    • Matt M says:

      I remember seeing the previews and thinking it looked cool, then seeing a couple reviews that absolutely destroyed it.

      … but of course, I’d expect mainstream reviewers to absolutely destroy anything that appeals to red tribe, so maybe I’ll circle back around and check it out.

      • Aapje says:

        Rotten tomatoes has an average rating of 7.5/10, which is very respectable for this kind of movie. Oceans Eleven has a worse score (7/10).

    • Charles F says:

      I’ll second this recommendation. I also caught it by chance, after writing it off as probably a mean spirited attempt to make fun of a bunch of hillbillies. It didn’t come off that way at all, and I thought it ended up being reasonably funny, with a heist plot that kept it interesting between the humor.

  12. Wrong Species says:

    Last thread got me thinking about the nature of lies. I don’t really understand the viewpoint of people who think they are just bad, full stop. Yes, most of us agree that lying about the jewish people your holding up in your house to avoid the Holocaust is morally permissible but I don’t think it has to be that extreme. I don’t think lying isn’t bad by itself but is only bad for consequential reasons. If lying benefits you and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then what’s wrong with it? Thought experiment:

    Imagine that you cheated on your significant other once, 10 years ago. The person you cheated with has since passed away and you two kept it a secret from others. Are you really obligated to tell your SO about the affair? Why is it automatically good to do something that will split up your relationship of over a decade for no discernible benefit to anyone?

    Yes, it’s probably a bad thing to make habitual lying something you do on a regular basis but that’s different from saying that lying can be a good thing in certain cases.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      If lying benefits you and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then what’s wrong with it?

      I don’t draw the line at “all lies are bad”, but this is a terrible principle. There are obvious incentives to deceive oneself into believing “it doesn’t hurt anyone else”.

      Imagine that you cheated on your significant other once, 10 years ago. The person you cheated with has since passed away and you two kept it a secret from others. Are you really obligated to tell your SO about the affair? Why is automatically good to split up your relationship of over a decade for no discernible benefit?

      If you’re the sort of sociopath who can sit on that for 10 years without it emotionally leaking into the relationship, maybe the status quo is fine. For many people, sitting on a big destructive secret spurs behavior that pushes this scenario into “deceiving oneself that it’s benign” territory.

      • Wrong Species says:

        If keeping that secret necessarily leads to destructive behavior, then that’s a consequential reason for telling the secret. Assume it doesn’t. Maybe the cheater feels guilty but learns to hide it extremely well, taking the secret to his grave. I don’t think that it’s that hard to believe an average person can do that. We’re very good at deception as a species and it’s unlikely that they have to lie about one incident years ago on a regular basis.

        If you can’t imagine that, then plug in another example that doesn’t involve you cheating on someone. Maybe you shoplifted ten years ago. Or you cheated on a really important test in college. What good would turning yourself in at this point do?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Assume it doesn’t.

          You can’t assume it doesn’t, which is always the issue of consequential reasoning. Say you wait another 10 years, and somehow honestly look back and go “wow, holding that secret back did actually leak into my marriage”, what do you do? You can’t go back 10 years and save her that decade, and you can’t predict the next 10 years very well.

          Of course you can avoid most of these questions by not putting a lying cheater in charge of who decides when to tell the truth.

          • Wrong Species says:

            What exactly do you think is the mechanism by which a one off affair that is never found out about automatically leaks in to the relationship over a 20 year period? Let’s take a given point after 10 years. What do you think the cheater is going to differently on a day to day basis that makes their relationship worse than by telling them and breaking their heart?

            I think this is really just wishful thinking on your part, that any bad deeds will automatically go punished if not properly atoned for. But the world doesn’t work based on karma. People can carry out long term affairs with their partners completely oblivious unless presented with some strong evidence. This is a thing that happens all the time in the real world. I don’t think a one-off affair is going to automatically instigate this long run effect that you assume is going to happen.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I have no doubt one can synthesize situations where “it doesn’t hurt anyone else” is true. What I have absolutely zero faith in is people consistently making those judgement calls honestly in the real world.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t know, I think a person who cheated on their wife and murdered their lover (reading between the lines) is generally well equipped to know when a good time to lie is.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            The reason for having blanket rules against stealing, lying, cheating, etc., isn’t that there are never cases where doing those things would be relatively harmless or minor forgivable missteps, it’s that when you’re in a position where lying, cheating, stealing, etc., would be appealing, you are probably going to do a really bad job of judging whether this is one of those relatively harmless cases.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t have an absolutist perspective on lies, but your example is one of the good reasons why lies are generally unethical.

      Imagine that you cheated on your significant other once, 10 years ago. The person you cheated with has since passed away and you two kept it a secret from others. Are you really obligated to tell your SO about the affair? Why is automatically good to split up your relationship of over a decade for no discernible benefit?

      Your opportunity to do the right thing and not hurt your SO came a decade ago when you had the choice of whether to cheat or not.

      So yeah, now both of your options suck. You can make your SO aware of how you betrayed them in the past or you can keep compounding that betrayal by layering lie after lie on top of it.

      Sometimes when you break something it can’t be fixed painlessly. You can choose to fix it and live with the pain. You can choose to live with it being broken and avoid the pain of fixing it. But you can’t have it both ways.

    • j1000000 says:

      I can’t wrap my head around a 10 years post-facto hypothetical. Seems you could easily deceive yourself every time you do something wrong into saying “Well, now that’s in my past. No point in telling the truth now.” In your specific example I suppose I’d accept a lie at the ten year mark, but I’d also say you were wrong for a long time before that.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Just to be clear, I’m not advocating people go out and cheat on their SO, thinking they won’t find out. It’s wrong, and there’s a non-negligible chance that you will get caught.

        If you really can’t get your head around it, imagine that you had a life-changing event happen that made you want to be a better person. You’re still in the same situation.

        • keranih says:

          you had a life-changing event happen that made you want to be a better person.

          Ah. This, this happens rather a lot of the time. A person has been doing things that they justified as being okay, then (either sharply or gradually) came to the realization that what they had done was not okay.

          In the tradition of my Church, you go to a priest and (as honestly as possible) detail your errors. In most of my experience, part of the reconciliation penance tasks the priest will give you is to prayerfully and deeply consider going to the persons you have deceived and making things right.

          That this will be painful and upsetting isn’t the reason for doing it or not doing it – it’s because failing to be honest is a festering sore in the relationship, and it needs to be lanced.

          There are *reasons* for not wanting to come clean on previous mistakes, but there aren’t any *justifications.*

        • j1000000 says:

          I guess if we use that as the starting point because of a transformative experience, and not as an arbitrary moment, then it seems that to credibly tell yourself you’re a new person you’d have to confess to it.

          But to consider in a vacuum whether it’s right or wrong only starting at that moment still feels in my mind like a koan-y type thing that doesn’t compute.

      • pansnarrans says:

        Say for argument’s sake that the person you cheated with only just died, and that telling your SO while they were alive could have had really horrible consequences for them or those around them (e.g. if the word got around it, would split up an otherwise very happy family that included kids).

    • Well... says:

      The nature of lies is an interesting question, although I agree with what Gobbobobble and j1000000 said above about your specific example.

      Also of relevance to this discussion might be the “noble lie”, a concept that took me years to learn to appreciate.

    • Shion Arita says:

      Lying itself isn’t always wrong, but the circumstances that incentivize it are always bad.

    • Brad says:

      I have a cousin that recently found out, via 23 and me, that her siblings are actually half siblings. Both of her parents are dead and she has no idea who her biological father is. She took that pretty badly. Maybe it would have gone badly for her no matter how her mother handled it, but perhaps at coming clean at least at some point would have been better for my cousin.

      Doesn’t really go to the heart of your question, but that’s it says something about the problem that it is tough to find an example of a lie that’s both very serious and doesn’t harm anyone.

    • SamChevre says:

      I like the take that I learned from C S Lewis (could be N T Wright). In choosing to do things, the central question is not what those things are: it’s how they shape us. Our central being (soul, in Christian teaching) is changed by what we do. In that way of thinking, a lie that we tell to make our lives easier at the cost of someone else shapes us to be more selfish, and less willing to live in truth–and most lies are like that. A lie that is intended to protect someone else, or to encourage them (“come on–you can do it” when you aren’t sure they can), doesn’t misshape you the same way.

      • Well... says:

        Logically (metaphysically?) that doesn’t seem like it should work: there must be some way somebody is misshapen by “come on–you can do it!” But I can’t think of any obvious ones.

        • Randy M says:

          Well obviously that depends on the context. In any case where failing has a significant cost, or trying on your own excludes other options, falsely imparting optimism may be a genuine harm.

    • Matt M says:

      Totally agree with this logic. I’ve literally told a girlfriend “If you’re going to cheat on me, please just don’t tell me about it” before. Strong believer in “ignorance is bliss” in most cases.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve literally told a girlfriend “If you’re going to cheat on me, please just don’t tell me about it” before.

        That’s so messed up I can’t even.

        • Aapje says:

          Why?

          If the cheating (or whatever caused her to cheat) poisons her relationship with Matt, then they should split up (or fix their relationship) because that relationship is poisoned, not because of the cheating itself.

          If the cheating has no negative (or even a positive) impact on the relationship, but Matt cannot rationally handle knowing this, then he is better off not knowing, because it is the knowing that will cause harm.

          Ultimately, there are a variety of potential scenarios where adding ‘Matt knows’ will make the overall outcome worse, not better*.

          * This depends on Matt’s personality. What is true for him may not be true for ‘Bob’.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why?

            Because he’s implying that he’s not worth fidelity and honesty. Not that he doesn’t care about these things, but apparently that he can’t/won’t do his best to expect them, and respond appropriately to breaches.

          • Well... says:

            I think Anonymous has hit the nail on the head.

          • Matt M says:

            Because he’s implying that he’s not worth fidelity and honesty.

            I don’t know about “worth.” That seems highly subjective. Things are “worth” what people are willing to pay for them.

            Few women consider me to be “worth” much. I wish that was different, but living in denial doesn’t improve my life. At some point I might have to choose between having a partner who is occasionally unfaithful and dying alone. If you never have to make that choice, consider yourself lucky.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            Monogamy/fidelity has practical benefits (reduced risk of pregnancy/STDs/etc) and emotional benefits. The former require actual fidelity, the latter requires the belief in fidelity.

            It is quite plausible that Matt correctly judges that his life gets worse if he gets lower in this list of outcomes:
            1. Matt’s girlfriend is monogamous
            2. Matt’s girlfriend cheats, but secretly
            3. Matt’s girlfriend cheats, but openly
            4. Matt splits up with his girlfriend

            It’s plausible that Matt’s statement increased the chance of his girlfriend choosing 2 over 1, but also plausible that it increases the chance of 2 over 4. Depending on how he judges these changes to the odds & depending on how much he favors 1 over 2 and 2 over 3/4, his statement can improve the average outcome.

            For example, if he believes that his disapproval of infidelity has very little influence over whether his girlfriend will cheat, there is little downside to making the statement. If he believes that the statement will make it much more likely for his girlfriend to choose 2 and that 3 and/or 4 is very damaging for him and/or that 3 is likely to lead to 4; then it makes a lot of sense to make the statement, to maximize the chance of outcome 1 or 2, rather than 3 or 4.

          • Matt M says:

            The real life scenario was more like “She wanted 3, I wanted 1, I proposed 2 as a compromise to avoid 4.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            In that case the chance of preventing your girlfriend from going from 1 to 2 was already zero, so you had very little to lose by making that statement, aside from possibly being better off cutting your losses right away and going straight for 4.

            PS. I think that there is a difference between ‘cheated once, while drunk’ and ‘made a habit out of cheating.’ The first situation may be salvageable in many cases, but I think that it is usually far harder for the second situation.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t know about “worth.” That seems highly subjective. Things are “worth” what people are willing to pay for them.

            You might find that not acting like your product is defective, and is actually worth the price you are asking, might improve your sales.

            Few women consider me to be “worth” much.

            I suspect this is largely due to how you consider YOURSELF not worth very much. Why should any particular woman disagree with your self-assessment?

            I wish that was different, but living in denial doesn’t improve my life. At some point I might have to choose between having a partner who is occasionally unfaithful and dying alone. If you never have to make that choice, consider yourself lucky.

            I think you should practice not taking shit from people, and seeing if that improves your romantic experience. Why would a woman want to tie herself to you, if you can’t defend yourself from her impositions, never mind from the world at large?

            The real life scenario was more like “She wanted 3, I wanted 1, I proposed 2 as a compromise to avoid 4.”

            And, as you yourself said downthread, you should have gone nuclear with option 4 immediately, or at least blown up in a fit of rage over the sheer audacity of what she was demanding from you. When compromise gets you nothing, you should not attempt compromise.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Aapje

            It’s plausible that Matt’s statement increased the chance of his girlfriend choosing 2 over 1, but also plausible that it increases the chance of 2 over 4. Depending on how he judges these changes to the odds & depending on how much he favors 1 over 2 and 2 over 3/4, his statement can improve the average outcome.

            I think it’s far more probable that trying to compromise with 2 will make things worse, rather than better.

          • Randy M says:

            Monogamy/fidelity has practical benefits (reduced risk of pregnancy/STDs/etc) and emotional benefits. The former require actual fidelity, the latter requires the belief in fidelity.

            Assuming that the act of cheating sexually doesn’t change the cheater in any way, of course. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption, though I’ve no doubt plenty of polyamorists here can aver that it is so.

            if he believes that his disapproval of infidelity has very little influence over whether his girlfriend will cheat

            I’ve no wish to hurt Matt or cause him to lose appreciation of something he values. But… a relationship wherein his preference have little impact does not sound like an enviable relationship.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            I think that it depends on the reasons and people, in part. ‘I’m asexual, but still jealous, so you can secretly have sex with others and we’ll be a platonic/parenting couple’ is different from ‘I am going to have sex with other people, suck it up.’

            The problem with this kind of arrangement is that we don’t have properly gathered statistics, so we only have anecdotal evidence. Surely have a far greater tendency to hear about the failures than the successes.

            The cost of losing the relationship can also be very high for some people (especially if children are involved), so it can make sense to stick with it even if you have fairly little hope that it will work out. Some people have been known to change their mind after the fantasy turned out to be not what they hoped.

          • Aapje says:

            @Randy M

            I’ve no wish to hurt Matt or cause him to lose appreciation of something he values. But… a relationship wherein his preference have little impact does not sound like an enviable relationship.

            Yeah, what he says suggests that not only didn’t the other person care very much about how her desires impacted him; she actually got off on making him suffer.

            But of course not all requests for polyamory come from people who are that selfish/abusive.

          • One problem is that if she never cheats on him he won’t know it, since if she had she would not have told him. So he may end up suspecting an innocent partner.

          • baconbits9 says:

            One problem is that if she never cheats on him he won’t know it, since if she had she would not have told him. So he may end up suspecting an innocent partner.

            The largest issue I see is that it is a resolution not to talk about a major portion of their relationship. Relationships aren’t static and a dip in their sexual activity means he can’t ask her certain questions that might fix it without potentially forcing her to either lie or break her promise not to tell him. What if she gets pregnant, how do they talk about it?

            What if later she decides she does want to be exclusive with him, how does she bring it up?

            This offer is only good for her if she only wants to have sex with him without any real possibility of a future.

      • Barely matters says:

        Woah. Above all this is a ‘you do you’ situation, but that really strikes me as setting yourself up for failure.

        How did it end up working out?

        • Matt M says:

          Poorly. But it was going to work out poorly anyway.

          She basically wanted to go poly, and I was not interested. Had I had more self respect and any better options, the best response would have been, “Okay, we’re breaking up now.” But, because I didn’t, I went with “Fine, do what you have to do, I just don’t want to find out about it.”

          She ended up breaking up with me anyway because she thought this was too much of a demand. Apparently it was very important for her not just to be able to cheat on me, but for me to know that she was cheating on me.

          Or perhaps she just didn’t like me and was trying to end the relationship in a way such that I looked like the bad guy? Who knows.

          That said I still stand by the logic. Of course I’d rather prefer my partner not cheat on me. But if they do I’d rather not know. Particularly if it was just a one-time thing.

          • Barely matters says:

            I hear that. Really tough spot to be in, especially that way round. When it’s the guy who wants to be poly, at least we know that he’s in for a rude awakening when a lot fewer women are interested in him than in his partner. When it’s the woman pushing for poly against a reluctant partner, cut and run, because she’s going to be living hotdogface.gif cosplay starting about 20 minutes into her first meetup. Major power differential here, so I can appreciate how hard it is to stand your ground.

            I’m always interested to hear different perspectives on why people are against cheating. Because everyone typically agrees that it’s bad, but for a huge range of reasons. For me, the physical act itself is the problem. For years, it was understood that if I caught something, my paycheque died instantly and the gravy train was over, so even after the fact I’m really, really vigilant with regards to contamination. So I don’t entirely understand the idea that ignorance is bliss viscerally in this context, but I understand that a huge population of people feel very strongly that way.

          • johnjohn says:

            Apparently it was very important for her not just to be able to cheat on me, but for me to know that she was cheating on me.

            No.
            “Apparently” it was very important for her not to cheat on you. If you agreed to be poly, it would not be cheating. You didn’t. So she broke up, because she didn’t want to cheat on you.

            If it was important for her to be able to cheat and you to know about it, she would have cheated on you and told you about it

          • Jiro says:

            If you agreed to be poly, it would not be cheating. You didn’t. So she broke up, because she didn’t want to cheat on you.

            That assumes that cheating is an all or nothing thing. It is possible to agree to “polygamy” reluctantly and because of pressure. There’s a scale from “completely against his wishes” to “somewhat against his wishes” to “actually freely agreed to by him” and it sounds like she was pretty close to the left end of the scale. This makes it a lot like cheating even if you can be pedantic and claim that only the 0% mark on the scale literally counts as cheating.

          • johnjohn says:

            @Jiro
            I agree
            It’s still pretty clear that her intention was to avoid cheating though, by the fact that she broke up with him when he said no

          • Loquat says:

            Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was very important to her that he not object to her sleeping with other men. If he’s demanding she conceal it from him, that’s still evidence he objects.

          • johnjohn says:

            @Loquat

            I really don’t think that’s accurate either, if the most important part was him not objecting to her behavior, she wouldn’t have broken up with him. But worked on convincing him instead or she would’ve cheated on him, told him, and seen whether he changed his mind.
            Clearly the most important thing for her was not cheating/being dishonest.

          • Matt M says:

            Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was very important to her that he not object to her sleeping with other men.

            This is basically right. She wanted three things.

            1. To sleep with me
            2. To sleep with other dudes
            3. To not feel like she was a bad person by having to “lie”

            I basically said, “No, you don’t get all three of these things, you have to choose” and she chose to get rid of #1, lol.

          • Barely matters says:

            And as much as it sucks being on the sharp end of that chopping block, I can absolutely respect that she chose to play it that way.

            I can also absolutely respect you setting a firm boundary and not being into it.

            It’s annoying as hell when two people are so close to being compatible, except for a single issue. Sometimes the best you can do is say “Well, I guess we aren’t meant to be then. Anyway, got any good looking Mono friends who are into long term commitment?”

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I’ve had an ex-girlfriend tell me that sort of thing in the past. That I could sleep with other women as long as I was discreet about it.

        The times I was dumb and/or horny enough to take her up on it, it invariably turned out poorly. Turns out that people don’t feel any less betrayed by cheating just because a relationship is nominally open on one side.

        It’s the sort of offer that someone makes to show how selfless and forgiving they are but that they don’t expect to ever have to follow through on. I know a lot of people don’t like the phrase virtue signalling but this is probably one of the better examples of it in the wild.

        • Aapje says:

          Perhaps it is more of an ego-boosting device. A partner who refuses to have sex with other people when (s)he is allowed to, obviously thinks more highly of their partner, sexually, than a person who doesn’t do it because (s)he is not allowed to.

          It’s actually very similar to ‘do I look fat in this?’ You are supposed to say no, whatever the truth may be. Similarly, you are supposed to spurn sex opportunities in response to being told that you may sleep around, no matter if you really want to.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ve literally told a girlfriend “If you’re going to cheat on me, please just don’t tell me about it” before.

        Oh, dear. That can go two ways, neither of them good. Well, maybe a third that may or may not be semi-good

        (1) “What – you’re saying you think I’m a cheater? That I’m going to cheat on you? That’s what you think of me? That’s it, we’re through!”

        (2) “So you think this relationship is going nowhere/is so rocky, I’m going to be looking for someone new? Well, if we’re that bad, maybe we should call it quits right now?”

        (3) “Okay, you’re okay with open relationships and I’m okay with open relationships and neither of us think that’s ‘cheating’ or even that ‘cheating is bad’ – unlike most people even today – and neither you nor I expect I’ll meet someone I prefer and leave you for him and you’re not going to get jealous when/if I do have ‘I’m sorry, I have to work late tonight’ nights with other guys – right?” Yeah, that one will take a lot of work to make it work. The problem with “I’m okay so long as you don’t tell me about it” is that you eventually will figure it out that the times she’s ‘visiting a friend’ or ‘working late’ or ‘can’t come over, I’m not feeling well’ are the times she’s banging another guy, so you know just as much as if she told you “Hey, I’m going out on the pull tonight”.

        • Aapje says:

          @Deiseach

          There are people who think that sex can ‘just happen’ and/or who voluntarily place themselves into a situation where they lose self-control (by drinking a lot, for example).

          These people are going to occasionally cheat anyway, regardless of permission. Their partner can choose to accept this deficiency, because (s)he considers the upsides of the relationship to be large enough to offset this.

          What Matt’s statement means really depends greatly on the context. In his situation, the meaning was different than the possibility I sketched here.

    • actinide meta says:

      From my perspective, lying to your SO is a betrayal very similar to cheating on them, and I have the same opinion of claims that it’s OK to do either if you don’t expect to get caught.

      The best I can do in consequentialist terms: Being able to trust what people say is enormously valuable. It vastly simplifies the game theory, and potentially vastly increases the surplus value, of any kind of relationship. And you can best trust what people say if they are trustworthy – the kind of people who won’t lie to you no matter what, not the kind of people who try to decide if a lie will benefit them (or even whether the lie will have positive or negative consequences to the world as a whole). And therefore you should probably choose to have close personal, romantic, business, etc relationships exclusively (or at least preferentially) with people that you believe are in this category. And therefore being caught in a lie (or, you know, just going around asking people what’s so bad about lying) can have bad consequences for you far beyond the significance of the subject matter, because people who follow this line of reasoning won’t want to have much to do with you after that. And therefore, you should be the kind of person who won’t lie for convenience.

      At the meta level: If your reaction to that is something to the effect of, “but that’s still an appeal to consequences, not because lying is bad in and of itself,” then you are trying to ask a meta-ethical question that has nothing to do with lying, or else asking for an impossibility (a consequentialist argument against consequentialism itself), or else I have misunderstood you.

      • Aapje says:

        The problem with that theory is that almost all people (seem to) relate to the world in a way that makes them considerably less happy if they get told certain truths.

        A man whose ego is built on a self-image of being ‘strong,’ but who actually is weak and fearful, benefits greatly from his partner pretending that she thinks that she that he is strong and fearless, even if the truth is that she loves him despite (or because) he is weak and fearful.

        A woman whose ego is built on a self-image of being attractive, but who actually isn’t that attractive, benefits greatly from her partner pretending that he thinks that she is the most attractive woman in the world, even if the truth is that he settled for ‘good enough’.

        Of course you can argue that the solution is for people to bring their self-image in line with reality and to change the way that they do emotional judgement, but if that was doable for most people, Scott would probably be out of a job. He isn’t and wishful thinking is a bad basis for ethics.

        Telling people a truth that doesn’t do anything but make them sad is little more than torture.

        • Well... says:

          The problem with that theory is that almost all people (seem to) relate to the world in a way that makes them considerably less happy if they get told certain truths.

          I think this is where noble lies come from.

          I don’t know much about noble lies, and actually my concept of them is pretty vague, but I think one of their qualities has to do with the scale at which they’re implemented. Specifically, the “noble” part doesn’t kick in until larger scales.

          If you insisted that you and your wife are dividing the child-rearing responsibilities equally even though you know you are actually getting away with far less work, that is very different from a general ethos in society about fathers and mothers being equally yoked as parents, even if everyone kinda knows it typically isn’t true if you look closely.

          In the particular case, you and your wife might want to have more honesty and redistribute some of the duties. In the general case, upending the established roles of mother and father in order to try and make things more equal could cause a lot of social turmoil.

          That model might be wrong though.

        • actinide meta says:

          It’s possible to be honest without being a dick. But yes, if you want to live in a culture of honesty you will have to avoid people who need to hear constant lies to get through the day.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, most of us agree that lying about the jewish people your holding up in your house to avoid the Holocaust is morally permissible but I don’t think it has to be that extreme.

      Most perhaps, but not all. The example given is a venial sin, because of the circumstances, but a sin nonetheless. If you’re cunning enough, you may get out of this by mental reservation, but not everyone is cunning enough to think of something technically true to say on the spot when grilled by Gestapo agents.

      I’d also like to point out that it wasn’t all that clear that the Jews would be murdered to the contemporaries hiding them, making the situation more like disobedience to temporal authorities in addition to an offence against truth. OTOH, if you did have adequate proof that your guests would be murdered by the State (such as being a time-traveler gone back to the Third Reich to hide Jews or something), you would be more justified to kill the Gestapo agents where they stand than to lie to them.

      If lying benefits you and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then what’s wrong with it?

      Wide open to abuse, since the case is very rare. The damage may be slight or based on chance, but it’s usually there.

      Imagine that you cheated on your significant other once, 10 years ago. The person you cheated with has since passed away and you two kept it a secret from others. Are you really obligated to tell your SO about the affair? Why is it automatically good to do something that will split up your relationship of over a decade for no discernible benefit to anyone?

      Secrecy is not lying. You are not obligated to reveal to everyone your every weakness and petty evil you’ve done.

      If your SO confronted you with their suspicions and demanded to know the truth, you would be obligated to confess. But absent this, you probably *should not* volunteer it. If said affair had dire consequences (such as illegitimate children), you probably should fess up, however.

      • Well... says:

        OTOH, if you did have adequate proof that your guests would be murdered by the State (such as being a time-traveler gone back to the Third Reich to hide Jews or something), you would be more justified to kill the Gestapo agents where they stand than to lie to them.

        Morally justified maybe, but you’ve gotta admit it would probably be strategically foolish.

        I’d also like to point out that it wasn’t all that clear that the Jews would be murdered to the contemporaries hiding them

        This is a good point. Maybe a more interesting example would be if you are hiding some illegal teenage immigrants from ICE (or similar). What you’re doing is definitely illegal and arguably counter to the interests of your fellow countrymen who ought to have your loyalty. On the other hand, the immigrants might be seeking refuge from a Nazi- or FARC-like oppressor, and it would be heartless of you not to help them escape to a better life. On the other hand, that could still be true but they could be criminals or drug dealers or just plain violent unsavory people who would make life worse for lots of other people wherever they might eventually escape to. On the other hand, they might escape to a place full of criminals, whose lives deserve to be made worse. On the other hand…

        The point is, without a magical epistemology device you can’t really know the moral direction or weight of your lying to the authorities in this case. So, what next? You have to take a moral leap of faith? Err on the side of legality (i.e. human institutions that are basically meant to encode morality)? Err on the side of compassion for the most vulnerable? What you do there, I think, is dependent upon something irreducible.

        • Anonymous says:

          Morally justified maybe, but you’ve gotta admit it would probably be strategically foolish.

          What I meant, yes. Acting morally can and sometimes does lead to your death, and possibly to the deaths of others.

        • Jiro says:

          Maybe a more interesting example would be if you are hiding some illegal teenage immigrants from ICE (or similar).

          It seems to me that any moral problems there would come from the moral problems with the hiding them, not whether you hid them by lying or by some other means.

          • Well... says:

            Suppose the difference between their

            A) remaining hidden (until they could move on to their destination)

            and

            B) being discovered and imprisoned or sent back to their country of origin

            rested upon you telling a lie to the investigating authorities.

          • Jiro says:

            That would be a problem with hiding them versus having them discovered, not specifically with lying. I can’t imagine anyone who prefers one of those scenarios to the other having their preferences changed when told “you accomplish this scenario by lying”.

          • Well... says:

            But isn’t that also true of the scenario with hiding Jews from the Gestappo?

          • My own view puts lying in the same category as rights violation, although a weaker version. Under most circumstances, if I lie to someone I am wronging him.

            It is morally justified to kill someone in self defense. Similarly it is moral to lie to someone if that is the way of keeping him from violating my (or someone else’s) rights.

            So I have no moral problem with lying to either the gestapo or the ICE agents. Or a customs agent, for that matter. But I might not do it very well, since I have no practice.

            I should add that I don’t regard failing to tell people things as in the same category as lying. If I go to folk dancing to meet girls, as I did, I have no obligation to say that’s why I am there, although I might, only not to make false claims about my reasons.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The extent of the Holocaust was kept secret to the public but I’m pretty sure that the people didn’t think that the reason all Jewish people were being locked up was because every single Jewish person happened to go on a murder spree. The reason people go with the Holocaust example is that’s a pretty clear cut example of people being punished for what they are, not what they did, which is unjust. In general, hiding people who say they are innocent seems like a bad policy but this is an exception.

        I’m not a Christian so I don’t really have a concept of venial sin but I do have a concept of obligation. I would say that once you take them in, it’s not only morally permissible to lie but you are morally obligated to do so if the Gestapo confronts you about it. If you take them in and hand them over, your actions are worse than the person who does nothing.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m not a Christian so I don’t really have a concept of venial sin but I do have a concept of obligation. I would say that once you take them in, it’s not only morally permissible to lie but you are morally obligated to do so if the Gestapo confronts you about it. If you take them in and hand them over, your actions are worse than the person who does nothing.

          I don’t agree that you have the obligation to lie, but I agree with the sentiment that betraying your guests is mortal sin of the worst kind.

        • Matt M says:

          I thought the German explanation was that the Jews were being “re-settled” to Jewish enclaves, such that they could live together in a way that would make them happier and better off as well.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Spooky thing: this was prefigured by a line in Brave New World, where Mustapha says “If we didn’t have so many islands to resettle dissidents, we’d have to gas them.”

          • Nornagest says:

            I thought that was postwar for some reason?

            …huh. 1931. Pretty prescient for the era.

      • Nick says:

        Most perhaps, but not all. The example given is a venial sin, because of the circumstances, but a sin nonetheless. If you’re cunning enough, you may get out of this by mental reservation, but not everyone is cunning enough to think of something technically true to say on the spot when grilled by Gestapo agents.

        I’m really glad you pointed these two things out, but it’s worth delineating them more explicitly:
        1a) Lying itself has a chance of failure, especially given that lots of people aren’t any good at it, or have pretty obvious tells;
        1b) The risk is also arguably greater, as the consequences of being caught in a lie are nearly always more serious than if one had told the truth, or not cooperated but been caught;
        2) You always have the option of not saying anything, and you frequently have the option of deflecting the question, answering ambiguously or equivocally, or, yes, strict mental reservation (though, to be honest, I’m leaning toward strict mental reservation being always wrong too).

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Yeah, it got me thinking too. I like to think of myself as a pretty honest person, but over the years I have told a lot of little lies, the most common one being “I’m too busy” when the truth would hurt the person’s feelings, invite an argument, or whatever.

      The other category that springs to mind is when I lie about my motivations. I’ve never taken a pottery class to meet girls, but I have done similar things. Telling people “I’m mainly here to meet girls” would have been embarrassing and would undermine my chances of actually meeting a girl.

      • Anonymous says:

        Mind you, failure to live up to one’s standards – or even hypocrisy – has no impact on the validity of said morality.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        More or less this. I consider myself a pretty honest person, but like most people, I sometimes have to tell white lies or somewhat embellish a truth or not reveal a flaw that I know to be out there or express something with “tact.”

        Most people have a social skill set that allows them to fudge the truth in these minor ways that bend things a little bit more in their favor. There’s also the question about socially useful “truths” that don’t hurt anyone, like, say, remembering a dead person a bit more favorably than he or she actually was.

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t consider myself obligated to accurately represent my motivations at all times. If someone suggests something that I don’t want to do, I think I can honestly say “Yeah, maybe we’ll do that later” when I don’t intend to do it. Saves or at least postpones an argument over whether something is morally licit or financially advisable or whatever in the cases where something else will satisfy both parties.

          I do try quite hard not to make assurances in cases like these or in cases where I can’t control the outcome, possibly to the point of pedantry, but if my daughters ask about when or if someone else will do come over or such, I’ll usually just say that I can’t control what other people will do.

      • j1000000 says:

        I, personally, almost prefer people to tell me white lies like that, so as a result I don’t personally consider them a violation of the Golden Rule.

        If I ask a friend “Hey do you want to hang out tonight?” and they just don’t feel like it that night, I’d rather they say “I’m actually busy tonight” instead of “No, just don’t feel like it.” The latter feels insulting. But maybe that’s just me.

        • johnjohn says:

          If I ask a friend “Hey do you want to hang out tonight?” and they just don’t feel like it that night, I’d rather they say “I’m actually busy tonight” instead of “No, just don’t feel like it.” The latter feels insulting. But maybe that’s just me.

          It’s not just you (or else it probably wouldn’t be the norm), but it isn’t universal either. Most of my close friends and myself, would go with and prefer the latter

    • Barely matters says:

      So, I seem to be way out in left field compared to most commenters here. The absolutist position seems to flatten virtually all the nuance, and this is a tremendously complicated field wherein without that nuance, you lose hard in real society. I know with certainty approaching 1 that I could give examples of unambiguous lies that every one of the people saying ‘lying is bad’ would turn around and say ‘yeah, but that’s ok…’

      To define our term first, I’m running with the most robust definition I know of for lying “The communication of knowingly untrue information to influence the behaviour of another.”

      Consider these examples:

      1) You are on stage, you say “Poor Yorick, I knew him well.”

      2) An OH&S form says “The undersigned certifies that this work is 100% safe and must do so before work begins”. If you do not sign it, you will be fired, while knowing that the work is still subject to many unforseen circumstances rendering it less than 100% safe. You sign it and continue about your day.

      3) A coworker asks how you’re feeling today and you’re knee deep in a bout of major depression. You say “Fine” and brush it off because you don’t want to burden them with your actual story.

      4) You and a rival coworker you dislike are at a conference, he askes where the bathrooms are, and you point to a stairwell door. Once he is through, the door locks behind him and he misses an important meeting.

      5) You are fencing, you feint high to strike low.

      6) You say no when you actually mean yes (When someone asks if you would like some tea)

      7) You say no when you actually mean yes (When someone asks if you would like some sex)

      8) You are on trial for a crime that you did not commit. The prosecution has a paid witness who has implicated you. You have a friend who is willing to provide a false alibi that will exonerate you. You tell the judge you spent the afternoon with your friend.

      9) You wear high quality makeup that makes your skin look healthy and unblemished while being otherwise invisible.

      10) You borrow several 100$ bills to flash to make it appear that you are richer than you are.

      11) You buy a bag of someone else’s urine to pass a drug test for work

      12) When closing a contractual deal, there are several discrepancies between the text of the contract and the verbal deal. The other party’s lawyer says “Don’t worry about those, this is all on the level, we wouldn’t screw you like that. Just sign on and we’ll make it work”. Not wanting to sour the business relationship, you tell them you don’t have the authority to sign, and will have to run the changes past your superior first, despite this being untrue.

      13) You are playing cards. You have a reserve hidden in your sleeve. When the other players can’t believe your run of luck, you wink and smile and say “Oh, I’m totally cheating.”

      14) You are a submarine captain, fuck it, you’re the guy Sean Connery chastises in Hunt for Red October. You are deeply unsure of a decision and are terrified that you’ve just doomed the entire crew. To avoid mutiny, you assure the men that everything is going according to plan and order them back to their posts.

      15) Your SO catches you looking at another girl on the street who you recognize as a victoria’s secret model. She pointedly asks “Do you think she’s prettier than me?”

      16) The priest says “Do you solemnly swear to take $name, to have an to hold, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”. You know that you can only speak for how you feel right now and cannot predict your future feelings in 10, 20, 50 years. You also know the divorce rates, and realize that most of them thought they would last forever too. You ignore those thoughts as normal cold feet and say “I do.”

      17) The drug lord pointedly asks “What, are you a cop?”, saying yes would break your cover, compromise a multi year sting on a gigglepig trafficking ring, and will probably get you killed. “Nope!” you say. “Not a cop! I’m like, the least cop person you’ve ever met! Fuck cops, amirite?”

      In my view, communication, including lying, falls onto a spectrum of actions affecting another person. Lying roughly parallels physical force as a verbally aggressive act in many ways, similar to striking or cutting someone, and measurable by the help or harm caused by the difference between their course of action if they had accurate information vs their course of action informed by the lie. The important implications are that there are various levels and intensities of lies, they are most often harmful if used carelessly or callously, but in certain circumstances like a surgeon’s knife, a high five, a deep massage, or at some weird edge cases a stern spanking, they can be helpful or positive. This allows us to apply the concepts of proportionality and escalation that we already use for physical contact to determine if we think a lie is helpful, harmful, justified, malicious, or careless.

      You don’t lie to a partner for the same reason that you don’t beat a partner. You are ostensibly on the same team and care about their wellbeing. So swinging your fist carelessly or to get your way is vanishingly unlikely to be in their best interest. That said, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like to be handled roughly have her hair pulled sometimes.

      Tactically I think they need to be used judiciously, because trust is hugely important for both relationships and society. So taking into account second order effects, incentives, and the long game is ideal, again paralleling the use of physical force. I’d prefer if lies were used less casually in society, but playing dove in a system of hawks is the fastest route I can think of to never leaving your mother’s basement.

      So, a question for the absolutists who feel that lying is bad full stop: What do you think of high context cultures with politeness requirements for one to refuse offerings they actually want several times before accepting? Is the dance of “Do you want some tea?”, “No, I couldn’t”, “Because it’s no trouble”, “No, thank you though”, “Honestly it’s no trouble!”, “Well alright then. Thank you.”, actually much different from the implied “This is my real face and figure, the makeup and pushup bra do not contribute at all”, “Cool, BTW I make like $300,000 a year”, “Awesome, I totally have never done this before, but I’m simultaneously super down and you can expect this to continue, should we be become an item”, “Excellent, I am also extremely loyal, looking for a long term commitment and will absolutely respect you in the morning.” ritual that the bar scene (at its worst) descends into? It strikes me that both are using a lot of high context, indirect language that doesn’t match the factual reality, but both parties are supposed to understand and be sensitive to the actual meanings of the other’s untrue statements. In both cases, the person who hasn’t got the memo is the chump, not the person playing the game as it is locally played.

      • Brad says:

        Suppose there’s a guy with a gun on a little girl as a hostage and you tell him that there is a sniper targeting him right now, but if he lets the girl go he can just walk away.

        You could analyze that as:
        Lying to hostage taker -3
        Savings innocent little girl +500
        ————————–
        +497

        or you could say, in that circumstance there’s nothing wrong with lying.

        I’m not sure it makes any difference whether you characterize it the first way or the second way.

        • Barely matters says:

          Definitely.

          I would in fact say that the use of lying in the defense of another person is a justifiable case, exactly as I would consider an actual sniper shooting the hostage taker to be justified in his use of force. Given that it’s the same system, I think we have an obligation when defensively using force or lies to use the minimum that is reasonably practicable given what we need to accomplish, so lying is the better way here.

          We can think of knock on effects, like if hostage takers realize that police frequently lie about phantom rooftop sniper presence they’ll stop believing these threats to be plausible, but in the given case I’d judge it to be worthwhile.

        • I’m not sure it makes any difference whether you characterize it the first way or the second way.

          I think it does, along the lines of the difference between deontological and consequentialist arguments, and in this case my moral intuitions are deontological.

          Someone is threatening to beat me up and take my stuff but is very unlikely to kill me. Am I entitled to use lethal force in my defense, assuming there is no other way of defending yourself? My answer is “yes.” I don’t get that by comparing the damage to me of what he is threatening to do to the damage to him of my killing him. I get it by “he doesn’t have a right to beat me up and take my stuff, so I have a right to use force to stop him–as much force as necessary.”

          I’m not willing to take that position all the way to land mines on my property to stop trespass, but I’m willing to take it considerably farther than “minimize the summed cost to the two of you.”

          Similarly with lying. I feel I am entitled to lie to the customs agent even if it only saves me ten cents in customs dues, although in that case it probably is not prudent to do so.

      • Randy M says:

        there are various levels and intensities of lies, they are most often harmful if used carelessly or callously, but in certain circumstances like a surgeon’s knife, a high five, a deep massage, or at some weird edge cases a stern spanking, they can be helpful or positive.

        This is true (though even less often than you imply), but you wouldn’t have listed examples if you didn’t want someone to argue them…

        1/5–Acting or games are situations where honesty is neither expected nor desired. If objecting to that is what people mean when they say lying is wrong, I’ll disagree with them, but I think that’s about as non-central as an example gets.

        2) An OH&S form says “The undersigned certifies that this work is 100% safe and must do so before work begins”.

        This one is kind of tough. I think you can use some excuse about significant figures to justify signing it if the odds are really slim–and if the odds are more like 1% unsafe, you can’t alter the form, and must sign it to continue… well, there’s levels of wrong, and this is a minor one (or a major one, depending on the context. Do you want the shuttle to launch with 1% chance of explosion?).

        3) A coworker asks how you’re feeling today and you’re knee deep in a bout of major depression. You say “Fine” and brush it off because you don’t want to burden them with your actual story.

        I think it is possible to convey both less than perfection and an unwillingness to discuss further with tone and further that fine has come to mean not “exceptionally nice” but “good enough to function” and any native speaker can be expected to know this. If you just got a terrible medical diagnosis and ran over your cat on the way to work, maybe you’re in a situation that does fall short of even this meaning of fine–in which case I think you can find some socially acceptable ways to indicate it. “Eh, got some problems, but who doesn’t. At least it’s almost Friday, huh?”

        4) You and a rival coworker you dislike are at a conference, he askes where the bathrooms are, and you point to a stairwell door. Once he is through, the door locks behind him and he misses an important meeting.

        WTF? Who thinks that is even almost okay?

        6) You say no when you actually mean yes (When someone asks if you would like some tea)
        7) You say no when you actually mean yes (When someone asks if you would like some sex)

        Why would you say no? Presumably there’s some down side to the cake/sex which makes it on net not desirable, therefore saying no is honest. (The question isn’t “do you find chocolate/sex pleasurable”). Not a lie unless you want them to offer it again so you can then tell the truth without looking eager, in which case I think you are placing a burden on them that you shouldn’t.

        You tell the judge you spent the afternoon with your friend.

        So, that’s obviously a lie. Is it still wrong? It’s risky, and not just to you. There exist other options (to attempt to persuade of the truth) that are also risky, but only to you. I’d say it’s wrong, but an understandable temptation.

        9) You wear high quality makeup that makes your skin look healthy and unblemished while being otherwise invisible.

        Not really even dishonest, unless you also say you aren’t wearing makeup.

        10) You borrow several 100$ bills to flash to make it appear that you are richer than you are.

        Dishonest behavior that is likely to be questioned. At that point you will either lie or look petty. That will determine whether you are immoral or foolish, I guess. But the first step is not a lie, nor necessarily wrong.

        11) You buy a bag of someone else’s urine to pass a drug test for work

        A lie, and wrong.

        Not wanting to sour the business relationship, you tell them you don’t have the authority to sign, and will have to run the changes past your superior first, despite this being untrue.

        Why lie when you don’t have to? Say “I had better check with the boss first, you understand.” Of course, anyone worth doing business with should understand your reluctance to not agree in writing to something you don’t expect to be a part of the deal.

        You are playing cards. You have a reserve hidden in your sleeve. When the other players can’t believe your run of luck, you wink and smile and say “Oh, I’m totally cheating.”

        You are a cheat–not okay. It’s petty, but wrong.

        To avoid mutiny, you assure the men that everything is going according to plan and order them back to their posts.

        This is an actual dilemma, sure. I think this is a pretty rare example of a situation where you need a minor misrepresentation to potentially save millions of lives.
        I think in the armed forces there isn’t the expectation that lower ranks are always told the full truth, so perhaps there’s an argument that you are not obligated to be fully honest as a commander, even if most of the time the consequentialist arguments for doing so will still apply.

        15) Your SO catches you looking at another girl on the street who you recognize as a victoria’s secret model. She pointedly asks “Do you think she’s prettier than me?”

        Depending on the SO’s appearance, I don’t think it is wise to play that game. If it is close, you can try to convince yourself she is better or find some facet to praise. If it’s not close, she’s asking you to tell an obvious lie, and I don’t think it’s wise to go along with that. Either way, it’s petty, but wrong to lie.

        Do you solemnly swear

        An oath only becomes a lie when you break it. But breaking it is wrong, so if you aren’t prepared to suffer in the case of a bad decision, don’t make an oath.

        The drug lord pointedly asks “What, are you a cop?”, saying yes would break your cover, compromise a multi year sting on a gigglepig trafficking ring, and will probably get you killed. “Nope!” you say. “Not a cop! I’m like, the least cop person you’ve ever met! Fuck cops, amirite?

        I’m willing to be consequentialist on this point and say it is good to both lie, and to get yourself into the situation where you must lie.

        For most of these, the only harm of the truth is to yourself, or there is a way to tell the truth that both avoids the harm and avoids deception. For some, it is in a social context where the deception is expected and understood by all parties, like the actor.

        • Barely matters says:

          Many of those points are to parallel each other on axes that I expected people to quibble on. The point of nonverbally indicating a door in 4 is to demonstrate that even if a lie is not clearly and verbally stated, it can still be clearly understood as wrong.

          So, you start off hitting a key point about 1/5 that there first needs to be an expectation of truth for something to be a lie. I think the point we may disagree on is that this actually underpins all the rest of the answers too, and that in modern society, that expectation of truth has been eroded much more than we would like to think. People are expected to commit small lies almost constantly, and will be severely punished if they are not willing to play along.

          With respect to “Why would the person say no when they mean yes”, many cultures believe in this sort of dance in the name of polite and interconnected society. Accepting hospitality too readily is considered insulting in many places. I’ve heard the story of a university student whose Chinese family came to visit and constantly tried to push money onto him for tuition. He refused and refused. Eventually by the end of the weekend he cracked, said ‘thank you’ and accepted the cash. Shortly thereafter his parents called him to say that his grandparents were telling them what a selfish and spoiled child they had raised. He should have known to keep refusing and acceptance was a major faux pas. Saying no to mean yes happens for all kinds of reasons. It’s more serious in the case of already thorny consent issues, but I don’t think anyone is going to deny that women frequently feel as though they have to give token resistance, even if they are interested, to avoid seeming too easy.

          I’m interested in understanding how you distinguish a woman padding her bra from a man padding his billfold so neatly into moral and immoral.

          For, til death do us part, take the stronger example from Team America, wherein the woman (traumatized from her former lover being killed) tells the lead “I can’t have another lover die on me. Tell me you’ll never die and I’m yours. Promise me”. So, being the consummate actor, he looks her dead in her little marionette eyes and says “I PROMISE I WILL NEVER DIE”, and they bone gratuitously for like 4 minutes of screentime. Am I reading your take correctly that his statement doesn’t become a lie until he actually dies? Because I’m of the mind that making a promise that one knows one cannot keep reliably constitutes a lie.

          I find it a little strange to consider a lie with the stakes of “I’m telling you all is well, when in reality we all may literally die due to following this order” to be ‘a *Minor* misrepresentation’. Everything else on this list seems to pale in comparison to the consequence here. I would also consider the lie justified, given the situation and the realities of war, but rare as this case may be, it still informs our stance on whether there are acceptable lies or not.

          For many of these lies I would say the social context expects them and that this is exactly the problem with the absolutist position. Some are absolutely jerk moves that are clearly crossing moral lines (Like cheating a drug test or locking a rival out of a meeting), but many of them are not only socially expected, but required.

        • Randy M says:

          I’m interested in understanding how you distinguish a woman padding her bra from a man padding his billfold so neatly into moral and immoral.

          You didn’t say padding a bra previously, but I think a similar defense will apply. It’s partly in line with the expectation of honesty you talk about. I’ve never heard before about men stuffing their wallets with hundreds, maybe I’m just out if it. But most women do wear make-up.
          It’s also that the man is acting rich in order to deceive the others into thinking he is rich–there’s not really any other benefit to it. The woman is trying to appear more attractive, but appearing more attractive is for some respects as good as being more attractive.
          But maybe they are parallel and I’m failing to model a female date. I as a man will enjoy my evening more if the woman makes herself look to be as naturally beautiful as she can. It’s not about deception anymore than a staining the hardwood floors is about deceiving guests into thinking the wood is naturally that dark.
          But maybe the man with the borrowed billfold is not deceiving his date, but she simply enjoys being out knowing he has cash on hand–no chance his cards will be declined, later they can roll around on it naked, etc. In which case they could be rated the same.

          Because I’m of the mind that making a promise that one knows one cannot keep reliably constitutes a lie.

          Okay, sure, I was maybe glib there. A promise/oath/vow you know you cannot make is deception/a lie, and therefore wrong. But the promise isn’t broken until it is broken, and merely having evidence that something may be harder than you anticipate when you make, in this case, a marriage vow doesn’t constitute dishonesty.

          I find it a little strange to consider a lie with the stakes of “I’m telling you all is well, when in reality we all may literally die due to following this order” to be ‘a *Minor* misrepresentation’.

          Presumably being in a submarine in wartime has a not-insignificant risk that they will all die anyway, and the captain has the best idea of how to salvage that? Maybe I’m misreading the situation. Ordering people to their death when they think it’s a routine op is, I agree, significant, even if *possibly* warranted.

          I’ve heard the story of a university student whose Chinese family came to visit and constantly tried to push money onto him for tuition. He refused and refused. Eventually by the end of the weekend he cracked, said ‘thank you’ and accepted the cash.

          Is there a name for this situation? It’s not “ask vs guess culture” but it’s similar and probably overlaps. In general I think cultural expectations can legitimize dishonesty, (again, especially in edge cases like the theater where it’s a voluntary event organized around imagination) but that it would be good where possible to push back against this somewhat. Nudge it back it a situation where a plain reading would not catch people up, like the son here, without causing the system to crash down about your head. The parents seem to want to express their love or devotion by making an offer to their son; in reality they are testing his love for them by expecting a refusal.
          Or perhaps, in the Chinese culture, the cost to taking the money is the subsequent shaming, and in American culture the cost is having to ask for it and risk being turned down or causing the other party to appear poor/uncaring.
          Cultures where there is no cost to taking assistance–where it is expected that assistance is honestly offered and readily taken–well, we’ve talking about the poverty trap of the underclass, where saving money is disincentivized by the fact that you are expected to share it freely among layabout relatives.
          Generally my philosophy on the matter is “Ask for nothing, take what’s offered” while trying to keep expectations of others low. But of course there’s always particulars, and this is getting into less honesty-related territory.

          • Wrong Species says:

            On make up vs bills, what Barely Matters is trying to get at is that whether you view one as socially acceptable compared to the other is solely a matter of societal expectations. There is no fundamental difference between the two but we are so used to one that we don’t think anything about it. In a hypothetical culture where people carried $100s in their wallet just because, we might not view it as deception. The line between deception and honesty is a lot thinner than it appears to be.

          • Randy M says:

            I agree that’s what he’s getting at, but I disagree that it is an example of such, to the point I didn’t even see the parallel at first, since a woman appearing attractive to her date is in and of itself of benefit to him, even if built on artifice, while the man waving around 100$ bills is rather contrived and doesn’t seem like it would matter outside of deception (though as above I allow that it might and I’m not well modeling the recipient of the facade).

          • Wrong Species says:

            How is it not a benefit for herself? If she wants him to like her, then she wears make up to make him more likely to want her. Do you think she would put so much work in her make up if she didn’t care what he thought of her? It’s not exactly an act of altruism.

          • Randy M says:

            The point isn’t whether it benefits her or not, but whether it does so by purely deception. If I pay the house painter, he is benefiting from my enjoying seeing a more beautiful house. Men know women sometimes have zits, or bags under their eyes, or short eyelashes or something. The hiding isn’t about deception, but the aesthetic appreciation at the moment. It can be done with an intention to deceive, but that’s not the sole function.

            Shrug. Or maybe other men are different from me. There was some furor over a “what famous women look like without make-up” app awhile ago.

            Again, I didn’t imagine there was a reason to bring $100 bills around other than for show, but if there is than that mitigates.

          • Barely matters says:

            It’s a strange idea to me that the promise of clear skin and healthy features is just the look of them, rather than what they signify. Further, the idea that one doesn’t care that those features have evaporated by the time the woman wakes up the following morning is completely alien to me. Exactly as alien as the idea that maybe women just like bulging, tumescent billfolds for their own sake, and it has nothing to do with what the money represents.

            I see them as parallel, because these are two traits that a) it is considered shallow to make choices based on and b) they nevertheless do base their decisions on quite consistently.

            The woman in makeup is showing a pretty face that upon closer inspection in the light of morning was a lie. The man inflating the appearance of his wealth is showing an ability to maintain or provide a given lifestyle, which upon closer inspection turns out to be a lie as well.

            One can easily say “Well, he/she shouldn’t be judging her/him on their looks/wallet anyway, so it serves him/her right!”, but to call one acceptable and the other off limits doesn’t seem to be anything but cultural bias.

            @RandyM

            I think a home buyer would still be pretty nonplussed to notice that someone painted over cracks in the foundation to obfuscate the house’s flaws. And to be crass, I’m not checking out this house just to look at it; I want to actually go inside, possibly repeating this habitation over the course of years.

            Do you feel the same way about surreptitiously substituting a diamond ring for cubic zirconia provided it looks identical? After all, the the ring is just as beautiful and still serves as a symbol of your everlasting love. She knows love isn’t about money, so it isn’t about deception, but rather about saving to build a future for the two of you.

            I think she would still be pissed.

          • Wrong Species says:

            If carrying $100 bills around was commonly practiced, then it would no longer be considered a deception, just another thing that men do. Maybe in this hypothetical society it doesn’t signal trashy but the ability to carry around a lot of cash without being tempted to spend it. At that point, he’s not trying to deceive her in to thinking that he’s a millionaire or something. He’s just signalling conformity.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s a strange idea to me that the promise of clear skin and healthy features is just the look of them

            It’s not just the look of them, but that’s part of it; otherwise no husband would ever ask his wife to wear make up, and I suspect some have.

            I actually think it is plenty fair to judge a woman on looks and a man on cash, in terms of long term mate; or rather to make that one of the many factors of the choice. And a man who never saw the woman without make-up would be taking a risk. But by and large the practice of routine application of make-up doesn’t seem to be as focused on deception as stuffing your wallet with cash. (though I don’t find my condemnation of the latter particularly scathing). Maybe it would be more analogous to saying “order anything on the menu, I’m good for it”? In which case you are attempting to present an image that may not be strictly accurate, but the behavior is also plausible as simply offering a nice meal.

            I think a home inspector would still be pretty nonplussed to notice that someone painted over cracks in the foundation to obfuscate the house’s flaws.

            Cracks in the foundation? That’s a harsh critique of aging women. (unnecessary snark) Nonetheless, a good critique of my analogy. But, if I were moving into a new apartment, and they hadn’t even painted over the scuff marks on the wall or spackled over the nail holes before showing it to me, I would not assume they were committed to radical honesty, but that they weren’t very concerned with whether I liked it.

            surreptitiously substituting a diamond ring for cubic zirconia provided it looks identical? After all, the the ring is just as beautiful and still serves as a symbol of your everlasting love.
            She knows love isn’t about money

            Marriage is about money, though, or at least partially.
            But anyway, it would be mildly deceptive due to the context like we discussed, but in both situations I would expect the person to come clean (no pun intended) when asked.

            Full disclosure, I asked my wife early on not to wear much make-up, since I didn’t like the feel of it. I did still appreciate combed hair and bathing, which could similarly be considered deceptive, I guess.

          • Barely matters says:

            Hmm… Cracks in the foundation… wow, you are a harsher critic of aging women than I expected.

            Ha! You’re right, that’s pretty ruthless. I might dial the metaphor back a little, but honestly not that much. I can be a little ruthless that way. Man’s prerogative and all.

            I appreciate that you’re consistent in being cool with both sides judging by what they’re gonna judge by.

            I still personally think that makeup is a deceptive zero sum arms race between women that ends up leaving them all worse off than if no one used it. It isn’t that it’s not deception, it’s just that everyone’s doing it, so what is one woman going to do?

            So I also encourage my girlfriends to stop wearing it and find them much more attractive for doing so. It’s even to the point where I arrange as many first dates as possible at public swimming pools. No makeup, no hiding, well lit, and staffed with trained hawkeyed guardians there to make sure there’ll no shenanigans. It really separates which ‘a girl’s gotta be careful’ gambits are actually about safety and which are about preserving advantage.

            I’d never considered bathing and grooming to be on the same level as concealing makeup. I’m going to have to think about that one.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, I think we’ve both got the other to think a bit.
            Consider also an aging spouse who dies her hair its original color. She doesn’t tell her husband about it. Is it deceptive? In some cases perhaps, but it may well be she just wants him to be pleased with her appearance–and since this may have zero reflection of underlying health issues and assume he wouldn’t leave her if it did–the appearance in that case is what it is. So it doesn’t strike me as categorically deceptive. Even if it can be done in order to deceive, it is harder to judge the intent.

          • Barely matters says:

            Definitely.

            In the case of the wife dying her hair, I’d call it both.

            It can be deceptive, and with good reason, so I wouldn’t begrudge her for doing so.

            Earlier on I talked about measuring the outcome of a lie by looking at the difference in outcomes between the subjects decisions given true information vs their decisions given the lie. In this case, I can imagine essentially zero expected harm or loss between those decision trees, and possibly a slightly higher level of happiness. So I’d give this lie a clean bill of moral health, if it were up to me.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I agree 100%. I think number 14 is probably the best at what I’m trying to get at. Yes, you probably have selfish motives for not wanting a mutiny but that doesn’t mean lying is worse than telling the truth in the scenario.

        Your hawks vs doves comment is important to why I’m asking the question. I think that lies are a sort of weapon people often use to condemn those they don’t like. But when they lie, it’s because they have good reasons. Not everyone is like this but I think it explains a good deal why there is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to lying.

        • Barely matters says:

          Lies strike me as one of those collective action problems where I think we’ve all be better if everyone toned them down, but no one can stop unilaterally without handicapping themselves to the point of nonfunctionality.

          You’re right that the fundamental attribution error really throws a wrench into things. Of course my lies (And those of the people I support) are perfectly justified. But that guy’s, and his friends who I don’t support? They should stop lying because it’s straight up immoral, unethical, and wrong.

          Situations like 14, which on smaller scales are more common than you would think – How many times have you tried to organize an outing that 20 people want to attend, but only if at least 15 other people are definitely going to show up? – have some marginal utility. But once you (as a society) start, it’s hard to stop.

          • actinide meta says:

            no one can stop [lying] unilaterally without handicapping themselves to the point of nonfunctionality

            I don’t have time to point by point this entire thread, but I feel like someone needs to push back on this claim. You can be extremely honest and successful in life and love. In my opinion it is an advantage.

            (I think that all communication depends on context, and that intent to deceive is clearly a necessary component of a lie. I think that lying to your just enemies and oppressors can be morally acceptable, but this hasn’t come up in my life. I’m sure there are other exceptions, but I still feel comfortable saying that lying is generally very bad.)

          • Barely matters says:

            Cool, so the question I’ve posed to Conrad, How would you recommend I continue to do my job without signing my name to 5+ false statements daily? I mean, you could just say “Well that doesn’t count” and start making exceptions for lies that are acceptable, but that’s already what brought us here in the first place.

            I’d agree that having a *reputation* for being extremely honest is a massive advantage, and that honesty is often easier due to not having to expend energy keeping track of loose ends, but my experience just flat out doesn’t indicate to me that the people being honest are performing anywhere close to as well as the people who play fast and loose without worrying about it.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Arguments like this also rely on not counting lies of omission and white/social lies as “real” lies.

          • actinide meta says:

            @Barely

            I don’t know anything about you, your job or life, so it’s hard (and probably arrogant) for me to give you advice.

            If your government literally makes it impossible to do some activity that is important to society without materially lying to them, maybe you have a sort of miniature version of the Nazi stormtrooper scenario, and if you aren’t in a position to make political changes them maybe you should lie to them. Just make sure you are actually in the right and not just acting for your own convenience.

            Or maybe the forms just don’t use language in as literal and precise a way as you do, and you can in fact agree that what you are doing is safe [enough] without actually deceiving anyone. (I’m probably getting the details wrong, but I read an anecdote about someone asked on a medical form if they were certain they would not harm themselves in the immediate future and they wrote “no” because no one can be certain about anything in the future, and of course got to spend the next few days in a mental institution. That isn’t honesty, it’s just poor communication.) Relying on this kind of reasoning is morally dangerous – it has potential to be a self-deceptive justification of dishonesty – and I think it’s best to err on the side of speaking precisely when you can speak in your own words – but when you are being asked to sign a form, it could be the real situation. What would your company’s counsel say?

            Or maybe your company or industry is very corrupt and you really would be better off making a change rather than sticking around in an environment that requires dishonesty (and necessarily associating with lots of untrustworthy people, and becoming less trustworthy yourself, and probably being set up to take the fall when there actually is a safety problem). Come back after you have made a name for yourself some other way, start a competitor, and run the scoundrels out of business.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t think I’ve yet worked at a company or department in which there was not some level of deceit. Either from management or from business partners.

            Trying to get around stupid ass processes and stupid ass managers is an important part of the job and part of why people get hired.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Barely Matters, can you give us a specific example of one of these lies? What are you having to lie about 5 times a day?

          • Randy M says:

            This is his example from above:

            An OH&S form says “The undersigned certifies that this work is 100% safe and must do so before work begins”.

            I do wonder about the understanding of 100% by whomever authored the form. I suspect someone pointing out the existence of black swan events would get a response like “You know what we mean, smart ass.”

          • Barely matters says:

            @RandyM

            Yep, exactly like that.

            The safety buzz in the energy sector right now is “Target Zero”, explicitly stating that we expect Zero incidents for a given project. Several forms that I must sign daily include a section saying “The undersigned certifies that *all* risks have been documented and controlled, and can guarantee that this work is 100% safe”.

            We even know why they do this. If something dumb happens and I hit a moose that darts out of a bank of trees, they’ll be able to shift the blame onto me for lying on the form stating 100% safety, leaving their ass legally covered (Moreso than it would be otherwise, anyway). This is flat out part of the job. Literally everyone who works on one of these sites must sign onto these forms daily.

            We all know that this is a small lie. So everyone with a lick of sense just signs the form and moves on with their lives. We could even argue that there is no expectation of telling the truth here, as it’s a standard industry practice not to. But goddamn, if legal documentation fails to meet the threshold for ‘expectation of truth’, then I can’t see much that does.

            @actinide meta

            You’re right that it could be that these legal documents aren’t using language as precisely as I am, and they mean “100% Safe” as a metaphor that’s not to be taken literally. But at the point we accept that, I begin to worry that other legally binding statements like “this food does not contain peanuts, tree nuts, or soy”, or “I do” are also not expected to be taken literally.

          • Well... says:

            My company has enacted a no-cell-phone-while-driving policy. You’re not allowed to answer a call even if you have a Bluetooth headset or use speakerphone. I think it’s a good policy but I know it’s mostly unenforceable. Yet every notice about the policy includes a statement to the effect of “This policy will be thoroughly enforced.”

          • Randy M says:

            Yet every notice about the policy includes a statement to the effect of “This policy will be thoroughly enforced.”

            They probably mean “when we find out you break the policy, you will face the consequences without exception” rather than “All people who break the policy will be caught.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Barely matters

            The upside of those kind of rules is that workers can strike without actually having to refuse to work, by doing work-to-rule. So it can also work to the advantage of the worker.

          • Barely matters says:

            @Aapje

            You’re absolutely right that they could.

            Around here, I don’t think anyone wants to. The pay is so good that the only threat that they generally need is “If you do X, you go home.”

            They would find scabs instantly, as a lot of people were laid off when the price of oil crashed.

    • rahien.din says:

      Can I suggest a less charged example of a definite lie?

      Imagine that you and your roommate are beer connoisseurs. You appreciate the full range of beers, everything from high-end craft beers to cheap frat-party swill. Your roommate is a bit more snobbish, strongly dislikes cheap beer, and expresses vocal disapproval whenever they see you drink it, and not really in a fun or playful way.

      You’ve discussed it with each other casually, and agree that this is solely a matter of taste with no further connotations, but also that it’s just too hard for them to resist commenting (or, if they stay silent, for you to resist imagining their comments).

      Though annoying, this tendency is not itself a threat to your relationship, nor is it indicative of some other deeper problem, and this is the only situation in which this behavior arises. It’s enough that you don’t drink cheap beer in their presence, and you spend enough time together that this noticeably alters your beer drinking choices, but this is perfectly fine. Again, you like the full range of beers, and moreover, you usually wouldn’t choose cheap beer if you had other options. It’s an experience you like, but not one that is really missed.

      While flying home from a business trip, you stop at the airport bar and buy lunch. You also order a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, savoring its insipid, grainy, slightly-metallic flavor. It’s satisfying (though, you confirm, not satisfying enough to insist on a change to your roommate’s behavior).

      You get home and your roommate asks if you want lunch. You say, “I already ate.” They ask what you had, and you reply “A burger and a beer at the airport bar.” “Did they have anything good on tap?” they ask. “Just Sam Adams,” you reply. The conversation moves immediately to other topics, without incident.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        Is this a lie?

        Did they not have Sam Adams on tap?

        After all, he didn’t ask what you drank.

        EDIT: Actually, it is almost certainly a lie, because the bar most likely had things on tap besides Sam Adams.

        • rahien.din says:

          he didn’t ask what you drank.

          It is implausible that one beer connoisseur would ask another beer connoisseur this question, specifically related to a recent meal, without intending to discover what beer they drank.

          • Jiro says:

            Some people (including major religious figures) seem to think lying has to do with only your literal words. Making a statement that would mislead someone into believing X doesn’t count as lying as long as the statement is literally true. So you can make someone think you drink a certain beer, or make the Nazis think you’re not hiding any Jews, as long as you mislead by implication.

      • Wrong Species says:

        The point of my example was not to find an example of a lie that is morally acceptable. As Barely Matters showed, it’s not that hard. It was to find an example of something that people think is really bad and question that intuition. I didn’t count on people saying that the lie would inevitably lead to bad outcomes, no matter what.

        • rahien.din says:

          Yeah, ninja’ed.

          For what it’s worth, I agree with you. Cheating is wrong, full stop. But if the only possible harm stems from disclosure of an isolated and undiscoverable instance of cheating, then yeah, you’d be an absolute asshole to disclose it. Furthermore, in my honest opinion, the inability to keep from disclosing it (or to keep it from eroding your relationship even without disclosure) would be a moral failing.

          • Randy M says:

            Cheating is wrong, full stop. But if the only possible harm stems from disclosure of an isolated and undiscoverable instance of cheating, then yeah, you’d be an absolute asshole to disclose it.

            I think you are in the minority in the public at large, though a quick search didn’t reveal any large scale survey data (just a lot of people asking the question on message boards). I’d be interested if anyone had some.
            I think it is worth asking why many people would want to know, and I think the caveat you give about the only harm being disclosure is a pretty huge one.
            How common is a one-off, never repeated affair that has no consequences? Is it more likely that people, having gotten away with it once will follow-up?
            Is the rationalist assumption that sex can be detatched entirely from emotional entanglements that might threaten long term pair bonding with another partner valid for the median man or woman?

            Whatever happened to the litany of tarski around here, anyway?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Have you never done something you regretted and then never done it again? It’s not exactly a strained example.

    • SamChevre says:

      An interesting point that the discussion brings up is “How do you define lying?”

      There are two definitions, both in common use:
      1) Stating something which is different from the reality (this is a narrow definition) “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.”
      2) Communication intended to cause someone else to believe something different from reality (this is a broad definition, and includes deliberately omitting information).

      This subject is one point of tension between my wife and me. My tendency, and my training, is to tell the truth, but to encourage people to believe what I want without saying it. (Classic statement: “Joe and Jack worked together for a long time and were quite influential. I always thought Joe had the best interests of his customers in mind.” If my wife hears that, she thinks it’s about Joe.)

      When you talk about lying, which definition are you using.

      • Anonymous says:

        A lie is a statement at odds with the mind.

        If you say something that is false, but which you honestly believe to be true, you are not lying. You are merely wrong.

        If you say something that is true, but you honestly believe to be false, you are lying – but you are not wrong.

        • rahien.din says:

          Whose mind?

          Say we define a lie : a communication that deliberately induces in the listener a mind-state that the speaker believes to be untrue.

          This allows for the category of lies of omission : if you say something that is factually correct, but which induces in the listener a mind-state which you believe to be untrue, then you have lied.

          But it also creates a new category. If you say something you believe to be incorrect, but it induces in the listener a mind-state that you believe to be true (whereas a factually correct statement would not have induced a mind-state you believe to be true), have you lied?

          • Anonymous says:

            Whose mind?

            The statement maker’s.

            This allows for the category of lies of omission : if you say something that is factually correct, but which induces in the listener a mind-state which you believe to be untrue, then you have lied.

            No, you haven’t. That’s mental reservation, at worst.

            But it also creates a new category. If you say something you believe to be incorrect, but it induces in the listener a mind-state that you believe to be true (whereas a factually correct statement would not have induced a mind-state you believe to be true), have you lied?

            Yes.

          • rahien.din says:

            Let’s say I drink a beer and a glass of water at the end of an office party, and I get on the road immediately. I call my wife to say I am coming home, and she asks “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” I answer “I drank a glass of water.” This is a lie of omission, because my intent is to induce an incorrect mind-state in my wife. Her implicit question is “Do you have alcohol in your system?” and I do, and I have tried to get her to believe I do not. If I told her “I drank a beer and a glass of water,” she would consider more strongly that I had alcohol in my system, and she would be correct.

            Let’s say I drink a beer at the start of an office party, but only one. Hours later, and long after the alcohol has left my system, I have a glass of water before getting on the road. I call my wife to say I am coming home, and she asks “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” I answer “I drank a glass of water.” This is an omission, but not strictly a lie, because my intent is to induce a correct mind-state in my wife. Her implicit question is “Do you have alcohol in your system?” and I do not, and I have tried to get her to believe I do not. If I told her “I drank a beer and a glass of water,” she would consider more strongly that I had alcohol in my system, and she would be incorrect.

          • Anonymous says:

            Neither of those cases are lying, but the first is unjustified use of mental reservation.

          • Nick says:

            It’s worth clarifying that Anonymous’ definition of lying is Aquinas’, so probably he’s following Aquinas’ understanding of it. The relevant difference between his and rahien.din’s definition, if I understand the two right, is that Anonymous would not grant that it is necessarily wrong to “induce a wrong mind-state” by means of some statement, but that it is always wrong if you’ve done so by means of a statement you know to be false. I’m inclined to agree with Anonymous that the first case is simply one of unjustified mental reservation—deception, to be sure, and probably wrong in that case, but not lying.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nick

            Yes.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nick,

            That’s definitely where we diverge. “Unjustified deception, but not a lie” strikes me as… utterly weird. You’re claiming a very strange space for the word “lie,” wherein it is morally wrong to speak an untrue word outloud, but not morally wrong to deliberately produce an untrue communication.

            To say “I successfully deceived them by holding back crucial information, but because I spoke aloud no untrue word, I did not lie to them” is like saying “I dug a pit, filled it with sharp stakes, and concealed it with the intent that they would fall in and die, and they did, but because I didn’t actually push them in, I haven’t killed them.”

          • Anonymous says:

            @rahien.din

            To say “I successfully deceived them by holding back crucial information, but because I spoke aloud no untrue word, I did not lie to them” is like saying “I dug a pit, filled it with sharp stakes, and concealed it with the intent that they would fall in and die, and they did, but because I didn’t actually push them in, I haven’t killed them.”

            This follows only if you think that the *result* of the untrue statement matters to it being a lie or not. I do not, and that’s the point of contention. A lie is a lie regardless if the target believes, disbelieves, misinterprets or ignores it.

            To restructure the simile:

            “I successfully deceived them by holding back crucial information, but because I spoke aloud no untrue word, I did not lie to them”

            is like

            “I knew there was a pit with spikes made by a third party in someone’s way, and I did not warn them about it, and they fell in and died, but because I haven’t made the pit myself nor actively steered them towards it, I haven’t killed them.”

          • rahien.din says:

            Anonymous,

            This follows only if you think that the *result* of the untrue statement matters to it being a lie or not. I do not, and that’s the point of contention.

            Actually, this does need clarification.

            We agree that the outcome is not the most important thing. If I make a factually-true statement with the intent of inducing a true belief, and the recipient misinterprets the statement, leading them into an untrue belief, then this is not a lie.

            My claim : a lie is a communication that is made with the intent to deceive. By deceive, I mean “induce a mind-state in another person that you actually do not believe to be correct.” The intent of the action is what most powerfully separates lying from not-lying.

            restructure the simile

            To use mental reservation is to set a verbal trap. It is inaccurate to describe the construction of that trap as though it were by a third party. If the trap was constructed by a third party, then no communication would even be necessary.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Everyone else has nitpicked all the hypotheticals already, but a good rule of thumb is to not do things you would feel inclined to lie about.

      • Aapje says:

        Except that you may also have to feel inclined lie about things that you didn’t do and where you feel that not doing this is not wrong, but where most people still judge very harshly.

        Furthermore, people may put you in situations where the honest truth causes harm (‘Do I look fat in this’) and they expect a lie.

      • Barely matters says:

        I mean, when it comes to big things I agree. But day to day, do I really have to quit my job? Like, it’s impossible for me to get through a workday day without signing my name to 5-10 false statements because that’s what OH&S demands of everyone onsite. If I do quit, will there be anywhere I can go that will not expect something similar?

        As a rule of thumb I think it can work, but only if there is some kind of threshold or caveat about due diligence or reasonable practicability.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever lied to anyone at my job.

          I’m not sure I could do it, as one of the reasons I choose the specific job I have is because the company mission is unquestionably good, and no one’s ever asked me to do anything unethical. I have a masters in electrical engineering. Several of my friends from my engineering program have tried to get me to come join their companies, which are all defense contractors and I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to make weapons. I’m Catholic, I understand the Just War doctrine, but I’m pretty sure weapons I’d make would be sold to people fighting unjust wars.

          Basically, I’m just saying I’m glad to have the luxury of picking a job where I don’t have to lie or do questionable things.

          • Barely matters says:

            That’s an excellent spot to be in. And in a lot of ways I’m envious. Most of all I’m glad to know that there are some jobs out there that don’t seem to have this requirement.

            Around where I am, I haven’t found any.

            Right now I’m a paramedic doing remote response for an oil rig. Moments ago a safety officer came by and asked me if all the hazards were controlled. Of course I told him “Motherfucker, I’m a paramedic and this is an oil rig. I have absolutely no idea how most of this equipment functions as it’s lightyears away from anything that could be considered my sphere of expertise.”, which in this industry is pronounced “Absolutely, all hazards documented and controlled as per the regs, sir.”

            I’m working overtime to save enough principal to get out of the industry as it is, but for now this is life. What do?

          • Randy M says:

            Pretty impressive sounding job, though. Pay well?

          • baconbits9 says:

            “to the best of my knowledge, yes sir” doesn’t sound like a lie.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            That is just ‘technically not lying’ though.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ aapje

            Is it? What is the questioner actually asking/expecting as an answer? Is he supposedly an expert in these things?

          • Barely matters says:

            @baconbits

            So, when I got here a week ago I tried almost exactly that. The big boss asked if my pants were properly fire resistant, so I told him “I believe so, sir” and got “You believe so, or they are?” in return. I ended up having to have another set of FR coveralls shipped in. This is a rig full of explosive liquid, these guys take things seriously.

            @RandyM
            (Presuming the question was to me, rather than Conrad, whose gig sounds way cooler)

            It’s a good scene. It pays better than any other job I’ve had, and the workload is close to zero, aside from the posturing and optics. C’mon early retirement!

          • baconbits9 says:

            Sounds like you should stop lying.

          • Barely matters says:

            ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            Ooooor, I could just keep my job and continue on with my life without worrying about it.

            Thanks for the advice though.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “I believe so” and “to the best of my knowledge” have never been acceptable answers at my work place. You know or you don’t, and you are being paid to know, so if you don’t know, pack your bags.

          • rlms says:

            If you have flame-resistant pants, that’s one fewer correlate of lying you need to worry about.

          • Randy M says:

            If you have flame-resistant pants, that’s one fewer correlate of lying you need to worry about.

            Dammit, how’d I miss that?

          • Barely matters says:

            The hero this thread didn’t realize it needed.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Barely Matters

            Is your job description solely to provide routine and/or emergency medical services on an on-call basis to rigs, or does it include responsibility for overseeing/verifying safe operations per regs and guidance from the Safety Officer?

            If it does include that sort of language, then respectfully I suggest you find a way to indicate to the safety officer, foreman/rig boss/etc. or other appropriate authority that you need more OJT on the relevant safety requirements. It’s the job of the safety officer or someone in that chain of command to ensure that employees are getting the correct training to be able to answer the portion of that question that are relevant to their position.

            If it doesn’t, then the proper response is to say “I’m not qualified to answer that. You need to direct that question to the Foreman/Rig Boss/etc”. or if you prefer “Damnit Man, I’m a Sorta-Doctor, Not A Roughneck!”

          • Barely matters says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            Medical response coordination only. The safety requirements for me are the same baseline that every worker onsite needs to meet.

            They’ve tried to ask for more training, but it’s deemed ‘not reasonably practicable’ because the training overhead for getting the peripheral staff up to speed with the workings of a drilling rig are too rigorous and therefore too expensive. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, obviously they’re not going to spring for in depth drilling courses for the cooks who deliver meals, or the truckers dropping off loads of pipe, and for whatever reason the industry has deemed that we fall on the other side of that line. As long as I have access to the required MSDS documentation to understand how to treat exposure to anything onsite and have completed the fairly minimal general orientation, and as long as the system keeps trucking along more or less without incident, then they can keep farming out the work to the lowest bidder.

            Realistically I’m here because they’re legally mandated to have a certain level of medical care for this type of site. If they could get away with a lower level or even just having their workers trained in standard first aid, they would. So given that they need something, they usually want the cheapest option they can get that ticks off the boxes.

            I could start answering that I’m not qualified to evaluate the onsite risks, and it would be absolutely correct, but my contract would last approximately as long as it takes them to call up our head office and ask them to send someone else who is willing to just sign the damn paper. That said, I’m pretty open about the gaps in my industry specific knowledge. During meetings I typically end up defaulting to: “Look, you guys know the hazard profile way better than I do, so keep up the good work being safe and incident free because I’m going to be royally pissed off if one of you makes me have to actually work.”

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Then I’d say if you are:

            -Up-to-date with your own safety training and meeting the standards set by your job description, along with your medical qualifications.

            -Using said safety training and your own medical knowledge and experience to evaluate risks aboard the rig to the best of your abilities.

            Then you should be able to sign off on that sort of paperwork with a clear conscience. If there was to be some sort of accident and there was a follow-up investigation, I don’t think any reasonable interlocutor is going to say “Barely, what the fuck were you doing. You clearly signed off on this safety paperwork, and yet these hot water pipes were repaired with sections using a completely inappropriate thread pitch! How could you overlook such a flaw!”. I think it’s reasonable to interpret that sort of question from a Safety Officer as “Do you see anything on this rig, from your perspective as a medical professional, that I need to be aware of and fix?” and to explain it in exactly those terms if you are ever challenged later.

          • Barely matters says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            Oh yes, absolutely.

            I do sign off on these and maintain a clear conscience because I don’t have any moral compunctions about lying when it is one’s only reasonable option. I know that the wording on these forms is a form of legal theater, that straddles the truth expectations of “Poor Yorrick, I knew him well” and “I solemnly swear…” and treat it accordingly.

            In the game of professional CYA, I’m quite confident that exactly the plan you suggest would be accepted by any reasonable authority, and that would be virtually word for word my opening defense.

            I’ve seen thornier version of it, wherein a coworker totals a truck against a moose during a long night shift. The company alleges that by doing so, he has indicated that he was unfit to drive, and has thus violated their safe journey management and fatigue management plans (That he signed off on before leaving), wherein he had the duty to refuse any orders that could create an unsafe work environment. Notably, and I’m not sure how widespread this has become, the province of Alberta has slightly different wording than the others with respect to worker’s rights. Whereas other provinces give the worker the ‘Right to refuse unsafe work’, here it is worded as the ‘Duty to refuse unsafe work’. He surely could have refused the shift that was routine until this moose decided to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that kind of refusal is referred to as a CLD (Or Career Limiting Decision).

            By and large these are black swan events, so we mostly just go about business as usual. The most prepared among us have backup career plans in case all hell breaks loose and you’re put into a position where one of the big players needs a patsy.

    • tayfie says:

      Your thought experiment strikes me as not terribly useful as guidance. You propose a hypothetical where the lie is never found out, and use it to justify a long ago decision. You have to make decisions based on the information available at the time. You couldn’t have known that your partner would never have found out and been even more hurt than if you had just come clean.

      But I understand that is beside the point.

      Lies are just bad because false beliefs are just bad. When you lie, you give people more false beliefs and fewer true beliefs than they would have had otherwise. Whatever your system of morality, the most moral action cannot be determined without true knowledge about reality, both of yourself and the external world. When you lie, you take away the best moral choices from others because they know less than they would have otherwise.

      You are obligated to tell you partner because it is their choice whether to forgive you or leave. It might hurt, but I would always rather know. A harm admitted and repented is always less despicable than one covered up. You are obligated to tell because you are obligated to make amends for doing wrong (assuming you believe cheating is wrong for reasons other than emotional damage to your partner). Lying is just a way to shirk your responsibility for your choices.

      Lies are the reason the Nazi knocks at your door. He has been told, and may even tell himself, that Jews deserve extermination. The best moral choice in that scenario is to convince the Nazi that the Jews don’t deserve it and he should leave for a less genocidal place in the world. It is the Nazi’s moral choice to listen to you or not. It will be more effective if more people do this. This may be suicidal, but any purist morality is in the right situation.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Purist morality is how you get utility monsters. People shouldn’t ever do bad things to satisfy their sense of consistency. That leads to terrible consequences, like getting you, your family, and however many jewish people you’re hiding killed and the bad guys winning so you can satisfy some abstract sense of honor.

  13. fion says:

    It seems to me like Scandinavian countries are pretty nice places to live by fairly objective measures (good health, low crime, well-educated etc.). They are also on the Left on a lot of things (high taxes, free university tuition, publicly-run services).

    I’d be interested to know how right-wingers square this (I’m mainly asking libertarians, although I’m also vaguely interested to hear what conservatives have to say). Is it coincidence? Is there some important factor I’ve missed? Or is it that one of my premises is false (ie they’re not really that great or they’re not really that left-wing)?

    (In case you can’t tell from my question, I’m a left-winger and I consider Scandinavian countries to be weak evidence in favour of some of the policies I support. In my bubble this is conventional wisdom, but I assume there’s another side?)

    • Anonymous says:

      First of all, Scandinavia is populated by the various Scandinavians. What works for them may not work for other peoples. If you look at crime rates of, say, Norwegians in Norway and Norwegian-Americans in the USA, they are (IIRC) the same. Criminality seems to be largely a genetic factor, and not due to policy.

      I’d also like to point out that Scandinavia is very business-friendly. Taxes are relatively high, sure, but you can easily *make* the money to pay those taxes. (And it’s not like there’s a strict correlation between right-wing/left-wing and low-taxes/high-taxes. The right proposing low taxes as part of their platform is mostly local to America. European right-wingers tend to run their game orthogonally to high/low taxation a lot.)

    • johan_larson says:

      The Scandinavian welfare states are definitely left of my own preferences. They obviously work, but I suspect they are solutions that are hard to generalize. In particular, they are all small and quite homogeneous.

      Finland, for instance, isn’t split into three or four factions along ethnic or religious lines. Virtually everyone who is religious is part of the Evangelical Lutheran church. The largest ethnic group (other than the just-plain-Finns) is the Swedish-speaking Finns, who at 5% of the population is just too small to have much clout.

      This homogeneity means that the government can provide various benefits for Us, the general population, without a lot of suspicion that it’s They who are getting and Us who are paying. Instead the question becomes whether We want what is being proposed, since We will have to pay for it.

      The flip side of this observation is that implementing Scandinavian-style comprehensive welfare states in larger, less homogeneous countries, is going to come hard. And if you insist on trying it, it would be beneficial to beat the unity drum very hard and toss the diversity gong in the river.

      • This homogeneity means that the government can provide various benefits for Us, the general population, without a lot of suspicion that it’s They who are getting and Us who are paying.

        i can see how a welfare system might be a problem where you have heterogeneity AND a principle that no one gets anything except by special pleading…but those are two separate things.

        A universal welfare system means a floor on how poor anyone can be, but also a ceiling on how much anyone is entitled to. Euro-style welfare systems aren’t based on ethnicity, so why would ethnicity mater?

        they are all small

        France, Germany and the UK are big, heterogenous and have welfare states.

        • Anonymous says:

          Euro-style welfare systems aren’t based on ethnicity, so why would ethnicity mater?

          Ethnicity matters because if some ethnic groups are disproportionately entitled, while others disproportionately taxed for said entitlements, that’s going to create resentment. To a normally-tribal human, it’s acceptable to be taxed in order to fund a coethnic’s dole – but not so much to fund a foreigner’s dole. Compared to the USA, European countries were until very recently, quite a bit more ethnically homogeneous. I mean, the USA doesn’t even have a majority ethnicity anymore, but the Euros still do despite mass immigration of recent times.

          Popularity of entitlements may simply be lagging behind the homogeneity of yesteryear.

          • Ethnicity matters because if some ethnic groups are disproportionately entitled, while others disproportionately taxed for said entitlements, that’s going to create resentment.

            First, that’s not heterogeneity per se. Heterogeneity doesn’t necessitate unequal outcomes.

            Secondly, what you call normal tribalism is actually US culture. The US is insanely obsessed by race for the EU perspective. In europe, it is bad taste to bring up race.

            Thirdly, even if you have resentment, what are you going to do about it? A universalist system can’t be repealed piecemeal, and there is no enthusiasm for repealling it wholesale.

            Fouthly, you already have that problem.

            George Lakey, author of Viking Economics, asserts that Americans generally misunderstand the nature of the Nordic “welfare state”:

            Americans imagine that “welfare state” means the U.S. welfare system on steroids. Actually, the Nordics scrapped their American-style welfare system at least 60 years ago, and substituted universal services, which means everyone—rich and poor—gets free higher education, free medical services, free eldercare, etc. Universal totally beats the means-testing characteristic of their dreadful old welfare system that they discarded and that the United States still has.[56]

            –WP

          • Oh, and if your welfare system is providing all your education, all your healthcare, etc, then the people who are drawing on it are “everybody” not “those people over there”.

          • Matt M says:

            Oh, and if your welfare system is providing all your education, all your healthcare, etc

            What if they are providing it so poorly that people with means are purchasing a superior product on the free market?

          • Democracy. Vote for improvements.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thirdly, even if you have resentment, what are you going to do about it? A universalist system can’t be repealed piecemeal, and there is no enthusiasm for repealling it wholesale.

            One way is to ethnically cleanse the state. The Nazis attempted this, and the Soviets actually did it to their satellites.

            Another is to just wait, coasting along unhappily, until a charismatic dictator overthrows the current regime, and does what he wants instead. I mean, even the Romans eventually abolished the grain dole.

          • One way is to ethnically cleanse the state. The Nazis attempted this, and the Soviets actually did it to their satellites.

            What?!?!?! You think a social democracy would consider that?

            Another is to just wait, coasting along unhappily, until a charismatic dictator overthrows the current regime, and does what he wants instead. I mean, even the Romans eventually abolished the grain dole.

            What?!?!?!?!

          • Anonymous says:

            What?!?!?! You think a social democracy would consider that?

            You think that every social democracy will always be a social democracy?

            What?!?!?!?!

            What do you mean, “What?!?!?!?!”? States have lifecycles, same as other living organisms. I expect that in the long timeframe, the basic style of governance of any given polity is going to change at some point, probably at many points.

          • Which is much too general a point to answer my question.

          • In the long run, we’re all dead. Plus the sun is going to go nova.

          • Anonymous says:

            In the long run, we’re all dead. Plus the sun is going to go nova.

            Please don’t run for political office.

          • honhonhonhon says:

            Thirdly, even if you have resentment, what are you going to do about it?

            If you resent the government’s programs, you will hate paying taxes. Tax evasion, like most crimes, can only be effectively prosecuted if a tiny proportion of society is doing it. A widespread sentiment that the government sucks and/or is only a tool to be gamed by individuals for profit is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think that when you combine wealth with a tradition of liberalism, extra money tends to get spent on these sorts of things — welfare; higher education; etc. By analogy, imagine a sports fan who wins 500 million in the lottery. Of course he’s going to start going to the Superbowl every year, the Indianapolis 500, etc. This is common sense.

      As a conservative, I think that some of these liberal pursuits are counterproductive or even destructive. But that’s a normative issue, not a descriptive one.

      • No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think that when you combine wealth with a tradition of liberalism, extra money tends to get spent on these sorts of things — welfare; higher education; etc.

        Yeah. Social democracy is an attractor…that’s how un-weird it is.

    • Well... says:

      (high taxes, free university tuition, publicly-run services)

      I wish people would use the word “free” more carefully in contexts like this.

      It’s possible that Scandinavian university tuition is less expensive per capita or per payee or per student, or however you want to measure it, as a result of completely subsidizing it through taxes, and that’d be an interesting thing to look into, but it definitely isn’t free.

      If you simply want to communicate that there is typically no out-of-pocket tuition cost to students (most of whom I imagine have never paid taxes*), then say that instead.

      *By the way, is that true? Or is it common for incoming freshmen in Scandinavia to have already worked at a job, even part-time, for a few years and thus have paid into the college tuition fund, and felt the big chunk taken out of their paychecks by the government?

      • Sweden has 53 universities and university colleges and tuition is free for EU students, although fees have recently been introduced for non-EU students.

      • fion says:

        Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding you, but it sounds to me like you’re being pedantic. The amount you need to pay to go to, say, a Swedish university, is zero. Obviously it still gets paid for by something, but that’s true of literally everything.

        Say I set up a “free food” stall, whereby anybody can come up and take food. Obviously that food is coming from somewhere. Perhaps I have donors, perhaps I’m funded by public money, perhaps I even robbed a bank. A pedant could come along and say “this isn’t free food! It’s being funded by public money, or by your donors, or by the labour-time of volunteers, or by the bank against its will or…”

        Perhaps the easiest way of answering my question would be to give me an example of something that is free by your rather strict criteria.

        • rahien.din says:

          (Hope I am not speaking out of turn here.) I interpreted Well…’s statement as : the benefits of a society are distributed to all its members, but so are its costs. Things with a definite cost to the beneficiary are not “free.”

          Consider a different society : an amusement park. You join this “society” by buying a season pass. If you have paid for a season pass, pretty much every big ride is free, for the duration of the season. But it’s still a pretty expensive service.

          The amount of money that a Swedish student pays in the form of an out-of-pocket lump sum is zero – just like the amount of money I pay to ride a rollercoaster is zero if I hold a season’s pass. But the amount of money a Swede pre-pays in the form of a percentage of their income to sustain their educational system is not insignificant.

        • Well... says:

          I more meant to highlight that simply calling something “free” masks the mechanism by which it is provided. In some instances that mechanism is important, and I think this is one of those instances.

          To dive into the tangent though, it is interesting to think about what is something that meets a more absolute definition of “free.” Things that are sheer windfall comes to mind, but I think a more general way to think about it might be this:

          Consider the thing that is “free.” It exists within a system that includes the people who consume it. So for a hypothetical 100% subsidized Scandinavian university, that includes the students (they consume its education/credentializing output), and the faculty and staff and administrators who work for and maintain the university (they consume its payroll output). Maybe you could also include scientists and other scholars, who consume its research output. And the society around that university consumes its output too, in the form of highly skilled labor, scientific knowledge, etc.

          I would say the university is “free” if it is provided by something outside of this system. It isn’t free (in the strong sense being considered) if subsidized by taxes, because those taxes come from the society around the university. It isn’t free if subsidized by students paying tuition obviously.

          But we might say it’s truly free if it’s completely subsidized by a handful of ultra-wealthy donors, who are probably too few and too already-taken-care-of to be consuming much of the university’s output.

          Likewise, it would really be “free” if the university was entirely subsidized by a chest of diamonds discovered at the bottom of the ocean that had been left there by pirates hundreds of years ago, because those pirates aren’t part of the aforementioned system.

          Etc.

          Does that make sense? I’m not positing this as fact either by the way, I’m exploring here. Poke at this and let me know if you think there’s a better way of modeling “free.”

          • AKL says:

            Maybe “zero opportunity cost?”

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Likewise, it would really be “free” if the university was entirely subsidized by a chest of diamonds discovered at the bottom of the ocean that had been left there by pirates hundreds of years ago, because those pirates aren’t part of the aforementioned system.

            What if it was funded by a field of oil that had been left there by nature millions of years ago?

            I doubt it maps that way, but it does seem analogous, and raises some questions about where windfall gives way to just using natural resources.

          • Well... says:

            Yeah. I mean at some point you have to account for the resources required to harvest the windfall: retrieving a chest from the bottom of the ocean is, I imagine, less work than drilling and refining oil, and both require some work to “bring it to market” so to speak and redeem its value. But if those resources don’t constitute a significant portion of the nation’s economic productivity, then you might still be able to call it a windfall.

          • fion says:

            I guess my rule of thumb is “what might people think I mean by this?”

            If I advocate free university tuition and you advocate not-free university tuition, what is more likely to be the source of our disagreement: that I want university tuition to be paid for by public money and you want it to be paid for by students in the form of tuition fees, or that I want it to be funded by miracles and philanthropists with questionable priorities and you want it to be funded by [either tuition fees or public money]?

          • Well... says:

            @fion:

            It’s not that I didn’t understand what you meant, it’s that “free” is sort of a rhetorical trick.

            “Free” beats “costs money” every time, but if all you’re really saying is that the cost of Scandinavian universities is covered by taxes paid by taxpayers instead of by tuition paid by students, that doesn’t actually explain why the Scandinavian “system” beats, say, the American one (which I recognize has a lot of public subsidy in it anyway).

            In other words, “the Scandinavians have free university” is actually just a description of how they pay for things, not evidence that they’ve figured out a better way to pay for things.

          • fion says:

            @Well…

            Ah, ok. I understand your criticism now. However, I disagree with it. The word “free” is used to describe bad things (or at least questionably good things) all the time. I think it’s a convenient, widely understood and truthful description of public services which are paid for by taxes rather than at the point of use.

            Also (more importantly), note that I didn’t list “free university tuition” as a “good thing” about Scandinavian countries, but as a “left-wing thing”. I wasn’t assuming my conclusion, I was presenting an argument that free university tuition was part of a set of policies which had good results. (The argument was an unsophisticated one – not much more complicated than “look at Scandinavia” – but my point still stands.)

        • toastengineer says:

          The amount you need to pay to go to, say, a Swedish university, is zero. Obviously it still gets paid for by something

          Err, no, it gets paid for by you. Maybe you pay it when you pay your taxes, maybe the rich pay with their taxes and you pay at the cash register, and maybe you really are burdened less than others but you are still burdened. It’s not free, you just don’t get to refuse to pay for it.

          • fion says:

            But people who don’t go to university also pay taxes, so the amount of money you pay to go to a Swedish university is zero.

          • Matt M says:

            I believe the term we are looking for here is “marginal cost.”

            The total cost of University education is expensive. The marginal cost to a potential student is zero (aside from the opportunity cost of whatever else they might spend those years on)

          • Well... says:

            The marginal cost to a potential student is zero (aside from the opportunity cost of whatever else they might spend those years on)

            And however much they’ve already paid toward their university education in taxes up until the time they actually enroll and start attending. And maybe continuing past that too if they earn money and pay taxes while in school. And of course they will keep paying taxes toward their education after they graduate too. Unless they emigrate.

          • Matt M says:

            No. All of those are sunk costs. They should not affect the decision of whether to attend university or not.

            I think the left’s economic argument here would be that it’s very important to lower the marginal cost of going to college, because going to college is good and we want to encourage people to do it.

            Even if the total cost is unaffected, or even if the total cost borne by society ends up being higher, they’d still probably argue in favor of a zero-marginal-cost model.

          • Well... says:

            No. All of those are sunk costs. They should not affect the decision of whether to attend university or not.

            I’ve used certain public services before with the logic of “Hey, I’ve already paid for it” even when they’re services I might not have otherwise bothered with.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve used certain public services before with the logic of “Hey, I’ve already paid for it” even when they’re services I might not have otherwise bothered with.

            Then that was a poor decision. I recommend taking an economics course to improve your life.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            It’s not necessarily a poor decision. If the services are worth something to @Well.., but not nearly what they’d cost if offered on the open market, using them when they have insignificant marginal cost makes perfect sense.

            (And is this economics class you suggest available for free?)

          • Matt M says:

            (And is this economics class you suggest available for free?)

            I’m pretty sure there are plenty of free resources willing to explain to you why sunk costs are a fallacy, and not a mere expression of preference.

          • Well... says:

            It’s not necessarily a poor decision. If the services are worth something to @Well.., but not nearly what they’d cost if offered on the open market, using them when they have insignificant marginal cost makes perfect sense.

            Those are exactly the kinds of situations I’m talking about, and if I could redo my years from 18-20 but with the wisdom I had even just 5 years later, going to college would be one of those situations too.

            PS. I’ve never paid to take an economics class but I have learned a reasonable amount of it just from reading. Telling me to take an economics class as a way to imply I’m economically illiterate is rude and out of line.

          • Matt M says:

            Telling me to take an economics class as a way to imply I’m economically illiterate is rude and out of line.

            I really try not to use “we disagree therefore learn economics” as a shut-down response. I really do.

            But if your argument is “sunk costs are worth considering in decisionmaking” then you are simply wrong. This is not a matter of opinion.

          • rlms says:

            I think Well… made it clear that that was not what he was doing (see The Nybbler’s comment. But even if it were, “your preferences are wrong” is a category error.

          • (And is this economics class you suggest available for free?)

            I’m not Matt, but yes.

            Assuming you don’t count as a cost your time spent learning something.

        • dndnrsn says:

          How do Swedish universities decide who gets in, though? From Wikipedia, it looks like there’s some streaming, and entrance exams. Free university education generally means letting fewer people in; if people are paying their own way standards are going to be lower.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I mean, one thing to consider is that, if you’ll allow me to speak crudely, Scandinavia ain’t shit.

      By which I mean, yes, it’s true that those countries are pretty good to live in, but their economic, cultural, technological, scientific, etc. impact is pretty small when compared with the US. If you have big ambitions, or are a really high performer, chances are you’re looking towards moving to America rather than Norway.

      Which isn’t to say that one or the other is better, but (as long as we’re still operating on the premise that these ideologies are what shape the countries, and not vice-versa) there’s a trade-off.

    • Matt M says:

      I haven’t personally researched to verify this, but a general narrative I’ve heard from Scandinavians of libertarian leanings is that this was a chronological progression, that went something like this.

      1. Scandinavia was basically just like anywhere else in Europe
      2. They were spared a whole lot of the carnage and destruction of both World Wars
      3. They emerged from the wars with very free-market policies, particularly compared to their European peers
      4. These free market policies made them very rich
      5. They decided to spend said riches on massive social welfare programs
      6. Their competitive advantage relative to their peers began to shrink, their economies stopped performing as well, the stockpile of riches is basically gone
      7. They’re now well on their way to shifting rightward in order to correct course

      The basic story here is that free markets are an investment that returns you money, whereas social welfare programs are a consumption good that spends it. It would be easy to look at a billionaire who made a lot of money and then retired and spends his days buying luxury sports cars and say, “This man is very rich, and all he does is buy luxury sports cars, I guess buying luxury sports cars makes you rich.” But no, he buys luxury sports cars because he already got rich by doing something very different.

      • fion says:

        This is a plausible-sounding narrative. I’ll go away and do some research on it. Thanks.

      • social welfare programs are a consumption good that spends it.

        Is paying twice the going rate for private healthcare a waste, or an investment?

        • Matt M says:

          The honest answer is probably “it depends on what you’re paying for”

          I would venture to guess that the reason the US pays more for healthcare is not “too free of a market.” But we probably don’t have the time or interest to debate that one.

          • That’s only half the issue, anyway. Why would spending on heatlh and education be any kind of waste?

          • Incurian says:

            You often don’t get what you pay for, or at least there are diminishing returns. Taking steps that result in becoming healthy and well educated is not wasteful. Taking steps that purport to make you more healthy and better educated but actually don’t, is wasteful.

          • Is there something other than health that you could be spending money on that is more worthwhile and less wasteful?

          • Incurian says:

            It depends on your level of health, and how much you’re already spending on it, how much value you’re actually getting from that spending, how much you’re spending on other things and the value you get from them…

            In my case, yes. I’m fairly healthy and I’d rather spend money on a new computer than… I don’t even know what, I don’t need any medical procedures at the moment, but I’m sure if I were to dig I could find someone willing to sell me something expensive and unnecessary.

            Are you familiar with the concept of marginal utility?

        • Matt M says:

          Because some medical tests add zero value?

          Because some schools are glorified prisons where the intelligent are bullied and the teachers don’t give a shit?

          • By which reasoning, everything is a waste.

          • Matt M says:

            Yep. Hence the idea that people are best left to spend money on what they believe is most useful, rather than having someone else do it on their behalf.

          • Individuals have no special sauce that means all their decisions are perfect. You are not getting optimal healthcare , you are getting overpriced healthcare.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Individuals have no special sauce that means all their decisions are perfect. You are not getting optimal healthcare , you are getting overpriced healthcare.

            As an individual, with what authority are you making that valuation?

            In any event, I kind of agree with your second sentence. I determined recently that my valuation of the financial products available which are related to healthcare (i.e., health insurance) are overpriced for me. Hoping that you’ll have answered my first question, we’ll proceed under the assumption that our shared valuation is correct. I would very much like to buy less of this overpriced financial product. Are you on board with letting me?

          • Are you saying that you would not be able to purchase additional private services under a public healthcare system or are you complaining about the US system?

          • Controls Freak says:

            you would not be able to purchase additional

            I want to buy less. I think I made that pretty clear.

            Also, you completely skipped my first (and more important) question.

    • keranih says:

      Social conservative here – be careful how you map US left-right onto Scandinavia (or, heck, even, be careful how you define the Nordic countries you’re talking about.) There are several places where the fit is off in important ways.

      Probably the most important of these is the local control of entitlement funds – which allows for better cooperation from those taxed, and less abuse from those supported. They are each also a much less *diverse* people in custom and values than is seen across the USA (*) which means less conflict over what should be supported and what should not.

      In trying to figure out how to get the same results in the USA as we see in Scandinavia, we maybe have to start with the same population, just as the effects of a medical treatment depend on the characteristics of the people who receive it. This kind of program, though, puts one in common with a bunch of disagreeable folks, and is not recommended.

      (*) The history museums in Norway (just Norway) list 47 different distinct styles of ‘native dress’ for Norwegian regions. Forty-seven. So they’re not just one great mushpot of gigantic blonds.

      • Matt M says:

        You know who else wants the US to “look more like Norway?” Richard Spencer and Christoper Cantwell.

        • What is your point, caller?

          • Matt M says:

            That those who claim: “We should be like Norway – which means more welfare state!” miss an equally plausible solution, something like “We should be like Norway – which means mass deportations of non-whites!”

          • rlms says:

            I wasn’t aware of Norway’s mass deportations of non-whites.

          • You mystify me regularly, Matt. Are you actually saying that being all-white is a sufficient condition for all good things, and the economico-political system doesn’t matter at all?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Are you actually saying that being all-white is a sufficient condition for all good things, and the economico-political system doesn’t matter at all?

            That’s the claim of some weirdos, with an argument that looks remarkably similar to “being more leftist will increase your well-being: Just look at Norway!”

          • Well, the Scandinavian model isn’t just “more leftists” and it has been shown to work, ant it is a hell of a lot more acceptable than mass expulsions. So not much analogy there, I’m afraid.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s the claim of some weirdos, with an argument that looks remarkably similar to “being more leftist will increase your well-being: Just look at Norway!”

            Yes – this is my point.

            “Look at the great outcomes of Norway!” is a reasonable observation to make. But, from there, we can deduce plenty of different things, and “Norway has great outcomes because it provides free college” is no more obviously correct to me than “Norway has great outcomes because it is 95% white.”

            I think both sides pick and choose here in a very dishonest way. It’s unreasonable for the left to claim “We can achieve the same results as Norway by imitating its welfare policies even if our demographics are wildly different” just as it’s unreasonable for the nationalist right to claim “We can achieve the same results as Norway by imitating its racial demographics even if our economic policies are wildly different.”

            Of course, my cultural allegiance is to red tribe so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the former position is regularly advanced and applauded as very insightful and intelligent thinking, while the latter is denounced as base racism and assumed to be pure evil.

          • Norway has great outcomes because it is 95% white.

            Which is less white that communist Albania. Look, it is actually possible to figure out which kind of things are likely
            to influene other things. Welfare is likely to influence quality of life measures. Government regulation is likely to influence economic activity.

            Of course, my cultural allegiance is to red tribe so I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the former position is regularly advanced and applauded as very insightful and intelligent thinking, while the latter is denounced as base racism and assumed to be pure evil.

            Which is to say, it’s not going to happen, whereas US->Norway could and is therefore remotely worth talking about.

          • Matt M says:

            Which is less white that communist Albania. Look, it is actually possible to figure out which kind of things are likely
            to influene other things. Welfare is likely to influence quality of life measures

            Norway is less socialist than Venezuela. Why hasn’t all of Venezuela’s welfare programs influenced quality of life in a positive way?

            I don’t want to have the entire “free markets good socialism bad” argument right here right now. My general point is that there does not exist, on Earth, any country that has significantly better outcomes than the US and is different in a way that leftists would approve of or be neutral towards on every possible dimension.

          • Why hasn’t all of Venezuela’s welfare programs influenced quality of life in a positive way?

            Because the Scandinavian model isn’t “maximise socialism”, it is “combine a welfare state and a free market”. This has been pointed out about 98 times already.

            My general point is that there does not exist, on Earth, any country that has significantly better outcomes than the US and is different in a way that leftists would approve of or be neutral towards on every possible dimension.

            Clearly there is, since they keep saying so. Perhaps you are confusing “being mostly white” with “becoming mostly white through ethnic cleansing”.

          • Matt M says:

            Combining socialism and a free market is ALSO the American model. And the Canadian model. And the French model. And the Swedish model.

            You’re picking out a few specific policies and saying “THIS is the answer!” with no particular evidence. Plenty of shithole countries have mixed economies. Plenty of great ones do too. Plenty of mediocre ones do too.

            And you’re correct to point out that plenty of shithole countries have huge white majorities. Plenty of great ones do too. Plenty of mediocre ones do too.

            I’m not claiming to know, with certainty, that “more white people = better.” You are, claiming with certainty, to know that “more socialism = better, (except for all those places who had too much socialism)”

          • Combining socialism and a free market is ALSO the American model. And the Canadian model. And the French model. And the Swedish model.

            In a sense, and that’s an important point. SOcial democracy may well be the common endpoint of a developed country.

            You’re picking out a few specific policies and saying “THIS is the answer!” with no particular evidence.

            I have refuted your counterexamples.

            . Plenty of shithole countries have mixed economies.

            None of them have a large welfare state.

            You are, claiming with certainty, to know that “more socialism = better,

            Oh, fuck. make that 99.

      • Aapje says:

        @keranih

        I think that most nations look a lot more homogeneous from the outside looking in than what the natives themselves perceive.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This is probably an easy-to-access quick-read:
      http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2018/01/why_im_not_a_pr.html

      I think Nordic success is only fatal to the kind of libertarian or Conservative thoughts that put a huge emphasis on tax rates being a major determinant of economic growth. However, the US itself is also fatal to those arguments, because the US also has high marginal income and corporate tax rates and some pretty generous social spending.

      Also, from what I recall (and cannot currently prove) other nations, especially Norway, have a much higher investment level, as % of GDP, than the US. What this means is that more of our GDP actually goes into consumption, which makes us better off. Like, two nations with the same $1 trillion GDP? If one is investing 10%, they are consuming $900 billion. If the other is investing 20%, they are consuming $800 billion. The first nation is consuming much more and its citizens are better off.

      There are also price differences between nations…which might be hard to capture, but still make a difference. My in-laws went to Norway a while back and were shocked to discover that their TGI Fridays meal that would cost $105 in the states cost $190-200 in Norway.

    • Anon. says:

      They’re doing fine, Norway of course doing better because it has immense oil wealth. But are we looking at the performance of their policies, or the performance of their policies conditional on the human capital stock those countries have?

      I think the latter view makes them look quite bad. Back of the envelope comparisons to Singapore tell me that good policies could probably double Sweden’s GDP. Comparisons to the US look pretty bad: the median household income in Sweden at PPP is ~$24,500. The median household income for black households in the US is $39,500.

      OTOH it’s not a catastrophe or anything, they seem to be happy and healthy, the government is functional, etc. It’s fine.

      There’s also the issue that they’re going to be 30% Muslim in a few decades. We’ll see how that works out.

      • bean says:

        While I think Singapore generally has very good policies, it also has the advantages of being a city and a major trade hub, which Sweden as a whole doesn’t have.

        • Matt M says:

          How did they become a major trade hub? Why do we assume they will continue to be so?

          • John Schilling says:

            By being a perfectly good deepwater harbor on the outlet of a strait through which roughly a fifth of the entire planet’s trade passes, by having the generally laissez-faire and high-trust British Empire build their institutions, and by not forming any alliances that would make people doubt their post-independence commitment to reasonably free trade.

            The first isn’t likely to change any time soon, and they show no signs of trying to wreck either of the other two.

          • bean says:

            I’m certainly not saying that their policies didn’t have a lot to do with them becoming a major trade hub. But even if Sweden adopted the same policies, it doesn’t have the same geography. Malacca is always going to be a major artery for seaborne trade, and Singapore just had to do better than other nearby ports to reap the benefits. (And those did exist. 200 years ago, most of the trade went through Penang, IIRC.) Sweden can only realistically hope to attract the Baltic trade, and even so, it also has a hinterland. Cities are always high-GDP relative to the countryside, and Singapore is basically one giant city and some nature reserves.
            (Again, I’m not criticizing suggestions to be more like Singapore, just pointing out that Singapore had a lot of advantages, and we can’t expect everyone to be able to replicate its success fully.)

          • Matt M says:

            bean,

            That’s a fair and reasonable answer. Certainly geography and policies both play a role, I think we can all agree on that.

          • bean says:

            Certainly geography and policies both play a role, I think we can all agree on that.

            Definitely. I’d even say that it’s easy to understate how much of a role Singapore’s policies played. Right after independence, they were in really bad shape. Massive unemployment, a mostly uneducated population, low GDP, and so on. And there was serious competition for who was going to be the main port in the region. Singapore got where it is due to good policy, but there was a lot of luck, and good geography.
            (Singapore is a fantastic place, and I developed an interest in its history after visiting.)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I feel compelled to add that while Singapore does a fairly good job, it’s per-hour productivity rates are still pretty poor compared to what we consider “top-tier” states:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_hour_worked

            This is a PPP figure, so take it as you will, but your typical Norwegian worker produces almost twice as much value every hour as your typical Singapore worker.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I think micro states in general just have higher incomes than other states. The richest countries in the world are Qatar, Luxembourg and Singapore. I don’t think they are rich because they all happened to have the right geography(Qatar sure, but Luxembourg?), and I don’t think that it’s because they all happen to have better policies(although it’s plausible). I think it’s more just a methodology thing. If you aggregated out New York City and Los Angeles from the US, they would probably come out as some of the richest countries in the world, without changing anything else.

          • bean says:

            @Wrong Species
            I think it’s about 50% that we’re only looking at cities, and 50% that it is easier to run a small state than a big one. The US has a bunch of different people in different environments who want different things. Singapore has a bunch of different people, but in the same environment. Seriously, it’s easier to get around Singapore on public transit than it is to get around LA by car. Which I suspect does a lot for national unity, and definitely reduces the number of different problems you face.

          • Aapje says:

            @Wrong Species

            Very small states can design their policies around a niche business opportunity, choosing to make many other kinds of business (much) harder to do really well in their niche. Bigger countries don’t have that option, because the niches are too small, so they have to do well in general.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        the median household income in Sweden at PPP is ~$24,500. The median household income for black households in the US is $39,500

        Source? These numbers don’t look right to me.

        • rlms says:

          Yeah, where are those figures coming from? Wikipedia says Sweden and the US are $50,500 and $43,600 respectively, i.e. the opposite way round.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            That’s Gross Income, though. Median Swedes get taxed significantly more than median USians.

            No idea where the original number came from, though.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            Mean household income is closer and has the US above Nordic countries but isn’t quite as extreme as listed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income
            I’m also curious how those various methodologies account for employer contributions to retirement/health care vs state provided health insurance or care.
            ETA: Also, I’m realizing this is household income too, so I wonder how that tracks with differing birth rates and presumably family sizes between countries. I remember one of David Friedman’s points that part of the stagnation of household income has come from increasing single adult households where before they would have been counting income together.

        • SamChevre says:

          I don’t have a source, but the difference is almost certainly that those are PPP-adjusted numbers, not exchange-rate adjusted numbers. That means these values incorporate differences in living costs, which exchange-rate-adjusted numbers do not.

          (PPP is difficult to compute, but is helpful since it looks at relative prices rather than absolute prices. If a bus ticket in Kenya costs $0.25 and a laborer makes $5 a day, while a bus ticket in the US costs $1.50 and a laborer makes $75 a day, where is the bus cheaper? Exchange-rate-adjusted prices say “in Kenya”, PPP-adjusted say “in the US”)

        • JayT says:

          I don’t know if this is his source, but these guys came up with similar numbers.
          https://mises.org/blog/if-sweden-and-germany-became-us-states-they-would-be-among-poorest-states

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Except the numbers aren’t all that similar. If the median income for all US households is a bit under $31,000, how likely is it that the median for black households is $39,500?

          • Nornagest says:

            If the median income for all US households is a bit under $31,000…

            It’s a lot higher than that. You may be conflating personal and household income; I haven’t been able to find comparably recent numbers, but median personal income looks like it’d probably land somewhere in the $30K range.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, this is supposed to include both PPP and benefits from the government. But isn’t the standard of living in Sweden or Germany higher than the standards in US states with the supposedly-comparable incomes? What’s going on there?

          • JayT says:

            @Paul, I missed the “black” qualifier in his original post, so I brushed off the difference in the US numbers since the Sweden ones were so close, and because this article has a similar conclusion. I’m not sure where the OP is getting their numbers from.

            @dndnrsn, There’s no one measure of “quality of life”, but I’d guess ones that put places like Germany ahead of the US include crime statistics, where the US does worse than the EU members. This article is just looking at income.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @dndnrsn

            By consumption US households outstrip virtually all other countries. Housing sq footage, cars per capita, calories per capita, while spending more per person on healthcare and military expenditures than other advanced nations.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The Nordic countries are formerly-homogeneous business-friendly welfare states. The worst thing a traditional Rightist could say about them is that atheists may outnumber practicing Lutherans. 😛
      It’s part of their thousand year-old culture to not want to see fictive kin (originally, brothers and sisters in Christ) be hungry, homeless or preventibly ill. There are practical, technocratic limits to that feeling of charity (such as treatable diseases that cost half a million euros per patient per year), but the feeling is itself good.
      You have probably noticed that most right-wing complaints about Sweden are how they’re inviting hostile aliens (Muslims) in to take advantage of the dole and other social services, not the mere existence of welfare.

      • SamChevre says:

        I don’t know that I’m a traditional Rightist, but my key criticism of Scandinavia is “if everyone is happy and optimistic, where are the children?”

        • Anonymous says:

          In the immigrant ghettoes. 😉

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That’s a really good question!
          The naive smart person answer is that the Industrial revolution made children an economic burden rather than an asset. But if the welfare state will provide the resources your children need, why aren’t you having children?

          • Anonymous says:

            The naive smart person answer is that the Industrial revolution made children an economic burden rather than an asset.

            Which is wrong, AFAICT. My great-grandfather lived and had children a century after the industrial revolution got started. He had eight children (two of which died in infancy). He was also poor as a churchmouse, a manual labourer without steady employment.

            People don’t seem to make the decision to have kids on the basis of being able to provide for them (and nowadays you would have to be homeless not to), but for some other nebulous reasons.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Which is wrong, AFAICT. My great-grandfather lived and had children a century after the industrial revolution got started. He had eight children (two of which died in infancy). He was also poor as a churchmouse, a manual labourer without steady employment.

            Before or after easily available and reliable birth control?

            People don’t seem to make the decision to have kids on the basis of being able to provide for them

            Poor people don’t. Wealthier people do. But kids are a much greater drain on the wealthy, not just in terms of money but attention. Helicopter parenting isn’t only a burden on the kids!

          • Randy M says:

            But if the welfare state will provide the resources your children need

            Maybe, and I’m positing this is all subconscious, when you need nothing, you don’t feel needed. When you don’t feel needed, you don’t feel you need to make more of you.
            But, if this were true it seems it would be a unique feature of humans; most other animals seem to breed just fine in captivity.

          • Anonymous says:

            Before or after easily available and reliable birth control?

            The Pill was around since the 60s. My great granddad may have *heard* of these newfangled latex condoms in the 20s when he was having kids, but unlikely, given that the Catholic Church was officially primus inter pares among religions of the state.

            Poor people don’t. Wealthier people do. But kids are a much greater drain on the wealthy, not just in terms of money but attention. Helicopter parenting isn’t only a burden on the kids!

            Wealthy and middle-class people used to have much more children than they do today.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Poor people don’t. Wealthier people do. But kids are a much greater drain on the wealthy, not just in terms of money but attention. Helicopter parenting isn’t only a burden on the kids!

            The DIOK helicopter parents I have seen put a lot less attention into their kids than I do as a low key stay at home dad.

            I would say even that kids are a far lesser drain on the wealthy, but that most ‘wealthy’ people get to that point by deferring kids for a decade or so.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Wealthy and middle-class people used to have much more children than they do today.

            Right. Before reliable birth control and when kids were much freer to get into trouble without the parents being considered monsters for it.

          • johan_larson says:

            Whatever it is that depresses childbearing, it’s been going on for a long time. Here‘s a graph that shows the number of children per woman in the US since 1800, and it’s a long downward slope to the 1940s, a spike upward for the post-war baby boom, and a flat line since then.

          • dndnrsn says:

            With regard to children being a drain on attention, domestic labour used to be much cheaper – a career woman with a kid or two might spend more time with them now than a well-off, let alone rich, woman might have back in the day (into the 20th century). Norms concerning how much time parents (especially fathers) spent with their kids were also different – the parenting style used to be a lot more distant for those that could afford it.

            I’d wager that if domestic labour was cheaper today, women who could afford it would have more kids – but would still have fewer kids, given other costs (education is more expensive even at the top, isn’t it?) and the fact that they’re much more likely to delay children (enabled by birth control).

          • Anonymous says:

            I’d like to point out that typical-use non-technological birth control (coitus interruptus, counting days since menstruation) are only about twice as unreliable as the pill (~10% failure vs ~20% failure).

          • dndnrsn says:

            While that’s true, the failure rate is per year of use. With pulling out, 22 of a hundred women will get pregnant in a given year, with typical use (4 with perfect use). With pills of various sorts, it looks like 9/100 typical use, but 0.3 perfect use. For reference, unprotected sex with no pulling out is 85/100. So it’s still going to reduce the chance of pregnancy in a given year by twice as much, and that’s with typical use only – the pill with a woman who remembers to take it every day is 10x better than a guy who pulls out without fail.

        • johan_larson says:

          Isn’t that more properly a question for the entire industrialized world? Basically every wealthy country is choosing ethnic suicide. Even the US is barely holding even.

          • Anonymous says:

            Even the US is barely holding even.

            The only reason that’s even remotely true are the Hispanics.

          • rlms says:

            I thought the Scandis were great because of Mighty Whitey’s heavy presence there. Now you tell me they’re committing ethnic suicide, and I don’t know what to think.

          • Randy M says:

            I thought the Scandis were great because of Mighty Whitey’s heavy presence there. Now you tell me they’re committing ethnic suicide, and I don’t know what to think.

            It could be reconciled if greatness had facets beyond fecundity. Jus’ sayin’.

          • johan_larson says:

            It could be reconciled if greatness had facets beyond fecundity.

            Well, we could create a metric that judges countries by factors closer to the hearts of traditional conservatives. How about wealth, military power, fecundity, and piety?

          • Anonymous says:

            I thought the Scandis were great because of Mighty Whitey’s heavy presence there. Now you tell me they’re committing ethnic suicide, and I don’t know what to think.

            Don’t be dense. Criminality and fertility are different things. Indeed, they seem to be increasingly inversely correlated.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, we could create a metric that judges countries by factors closer to the hearts of traditional conservatives.

            Go for it. I just wanted to answer rlms’ pointless conflation to disparate issues. Unless he’s also donating to the endangered species (let’s get rid of the suckers) fund, I doubt he has trouble seeing the distinction.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yes, that is absolutely a fair question. There are some cultural and economic diseases that are affecting all the major industrial nations.

            I mean, if I were insanely rich and comfortable, I’d have, like, 10 kids.

          • Well... says:

            This “I’d have 10 kids if I were richer” thing doesn’t quite add up. Not only have poorer people apparently always had more kids than richer people, but the ancestors of today’s “I’d have more kids if only I was richer” arguers, just a few generations back, were often having tons of kids even though they were by no means rich. So you can’t lay it at the feet of genetics/inherited intelligence either.

            I think it’s more complex than an economic issue. Maybe it’s a meme or something?

          • Anonymous says:

            Maybe it’s a meme or something?

            My impression is that it’s the lack of adaptation in humans to female education, or at least Western-style education. It really seems to kill fertility if taken past age 13 or so.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Economics is definitely a factor, it just isn’t the only factor. There are higher expenditures parents want for their kids today, higher standards of living they want for themselves, and the combination of the two outpaces economic growth.

            US fertility rates were basically above 2.0 between all of 1989 and 2009 and just started to tick up again, there’s definitely some response to economic conditions going on. The difference between 1933 and 1950 is also HUGE. Hell, even in the 40s it was significantly above the 30s rate.

            I don’t have to save for college? I get massively subsidized child-care? I get to take guaranteed time off rather than just quitting my job and hoping to get another job back after a major resume gap? Multiple weeks of guaranteed vacation? Yeah, those are strong incentives to have some more kids, so what are the relevant head-winds?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            My impression is that it’s the lack of adaptation in humans to female education, or at least Western-style education. It really seems to kill fertility if taken past age 13 or so.

            Yes, the massive explosion of education that takes away years of earnings and adds massive amounts of debt is definitely a case of industrial nation suicide, IMO. I am not sure how to move from our current equilibrium to an equilibrium of less education, but I doubt it will substantially decrease GDP, and it will make everyone better off not spending years unproductively.

            Well, it won’t make college professors better off, but we can pay them off. Pay them to teach crap in Mexico or something.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t have to save for college? I get massively subsidized child-care? I get to take guaranteed time off rather than just quitting my job and hoping to get another job back after a major resume gap? Multiple weeks of guaranteed vacation? Yeah, those are strong incentives to have some more kids, so what are the relevant head-winds?

            The ability to afford those things generally relies on a highly educated and productive working class (and by working class I mean people that work, not a euphemism for poor people not in prison). That pushes back child bearing years for a lot of women by 5-10 years, which shortens the time frame and makes the pregnancy/child birth/infant stages more difficult.

          • skef says:

            It’s amusing how human fertility brings out the romantic in otherwise hard-headed SSCers.

            When you’re poor, adding another mouth to feed in your working years (and avoiding being too nasty to him or her) is a good retirement hedge. Not only does it take a lot of money to pay for infirmity care, but preying on the nest-eggs of the not-all-there elderly (including burglary and the like) is a common scam strategy. Best to have someone with actual emotional investment and better off than you are/were.

            For the well off, a lot of the need for children is the psychology of death “avoidance”. Not only does a small number of kids take care of that, the inevitable diversity among a larger number makes the whole self-con harder to maintain.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The ability to afford those things generally relies on a highly educated and productive working class (and by working class I mean people that work, not a euphemism for poor people not in prison). That pushes back child bearing years for a lot of women by 5-10 years, which shortens the time frame and makes the pregnancy/child birth/infant stages more difficult.

            To some extent, but I don’t think the difference between the Nordic states and the US is how well-educated the Nordic nations are.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            For the well off, a lot of the need for children is the psychology of death “avoidance”. Not only does a small number of kids take care of that, the inevitable diversity among a larger number makes the whole self-con harder to maintain.

            When you ask families, the number one reason they don’t have more kids is because it costs too much.
            http://news.gallup.com/poll/164618/desire-children-norm.aspx

            If we’re going by stated preferences, Americans have too few kids. They would like to have more. They do not have more because they do not have the money to have more (in their opinion).

            Perhaps Nordic citizens just don’t want more kids. Definitely a possibility. I’d doubt it, though, and I’d guess $$$$ is a factor in their decision to not have more kids. This kind of contradicts the idea that all these Nordic states do such a better job than the US in providing a good standard of living to everyone.

          • skef says:

            When you ask families, the number one reason they don’t have more kids is because it costs too much.

            If these self-reports accurately reflected the primary reason Americans aren’t having more kids, wouldn’t you expect at least a u-shape fertility/income distribution? Even in households that that report feeling squeezed at $200K/year, when the parents particularly enjoy X or Y != kids, (in my experience, at least) one tends to find more X or Y there than normal, not less.

            Isn’t it simpler to explain the consistency between the U.S. and Scandinavian rates by positing that parents in the former are at best confused about their motivation?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Well…

            Not only have poorer people apparently always had more kids than richer people

            Source? That is not my understanding of the patterns of the past. Especially after you adjust for death in childhood which used to be much more common. Children who die before becoming adults don’t make a meaningful contribution to their lineages’ fecundity.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If these self-reports accurately reflected the primary reason Americans aren’t having more kids, wouldn’t you expect at least a u-shape fertility/income distribution? Even in households that that report feeling squeezed at $200K/year, when the parents particularly enjoy X or Y != kids, (in my experience, at least) one tends to find more X or Y there than normal, not less.

            Isn’t it simpler to explain the consistency between the U.S. and Scandinavian rates by positing that parents in the former are at best confused about their motivation?

            I don’t know why I would expect any particular-shaped curve within a nation. There are other factors that go into why birth rates vary. The desire to have children, the ability to plan for children, and the desired endowment for a child varies a lot. My parents and my in-laws both wanted large families, my sister is fine with two and my brother-in-law does not want to be a stay at home Dad for a decade and a half. My sister wants to provide her kids with a college education, my friend who teaches at a 40%+ illegal immigrant Chicago school cannot convince his students that college is any more realistic than walking on the moon.

            Overall, I would expect nations with more family-friendly policies and cultures to have higher birth rates, and to experience lower birth rates when their economies become constrained.

            If you just want to compare within Europe, nations like Sweden and France do in fact do rather well with their birth rates, in comparison to places like Italy and Portugal, or Eastern Europe. But the US also does fairly well, because the US is a pretty good place to live, much like Sweden is also a pretty good place to live.

            “People are confused” doesn’t really mean much to me. What do you mean? They don’t know where their indifference curves are?

          • skef says:

            I don’t know why I would expect any particular-shaped curve within a nation. There are other factors that go into why birth rates vary. The desire to have children, the ability to plan for children, and the desired endowment for a child varies a lot.

            “People are confused” doesn’t really mean much to me. What do you mean? They don’t know where their indifference curves are?

            It doesn’t take much planning to have a kid. Poorer people are managing it just fine. The other factors are therefore also preferences, and given the lower rates among the wealthier, overriding preferences.

            “I would have more kids if it were cheaper [given my perception of the minimum cost of having a child, which is largely determined by how my earnings cohort spend their money on kids and other things.]”

            This person has much stronger preferences about how their lifestyle compares to their earnings cohort (and likely how they are seen by members of their cohort) than they do about having more children. Therefore they are confused about their actual preferences.

          • Well... says:

            @quanta413:

            OK, “always” was too strong. Can we say “at least as far back as Jonathan Swift”?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            That there are other preferences involved in having children is obvious, but that’s not the only issue. The planning issue matters because two people who have the same desire to have children and the same constraints have different intelligence levels. The more intelligent person can both have higher income and less children as a result of family planning.
            The less intelligent person can have unplanned pregnancies that further diminish and already low wage.

            That there are other preferences involved in having children is obvious, because there is a whole basket of other goods available to people. Families in Utah place a greater importance on many children than families in California, and therefore Utah families will have larger families, even at lower income levels. If there is a big income hit the birth rates of both states will fall.

            This is really obvious if you look at the US before, during, and after the Great Depression. There’s been a smaller but significant drop in the fertility rate after the Great Recession, which has not yet recovered.

            It’s possible that if you give everyone a permanent increase, they’ll drop it all into positional goods and then have the same number of children. Running on the hedonic treadmill, as it was. Is that what you are suggesting? To some extent, I agree, which is why I would prefer the economic well-being increases to be more targeted towards families: for instance, instead of mandatory vacation time in the US, mandatory maternity leave, and instead of entitlement spending increases, refundable child tax credits.

          • JustToSay says:

            I think a big part of it is as gradual shift in what people see as the default. The default used to be babies-unless-we-avoid-them. Now the default is avoid-babies-until-we-want-them.

            The assumption was that after the marriage the kids would come (or not, if you were unlucky, and maybe you would control the pacing in a way that wasn’t going to be discussed in public). Matrimony comes from the word mother. Better have a way to support a family before you get married.

            Now, you spend a lot of time analyzing and deciding whether and when to “remove the goalie.” “We’re trying,” in addition to making me super uncomfortable, was not a phrase I suspect people were using 100 or whatever years ago. To say nothing to getting a vasectomy when you’re “done.”

            Even if you compare a person from the past who, when asked, would say they want* four kids, to a person in the present who would give the same answer, that’s going to change how many kids they’re likely to end up with.

            Changing defaults changes things a lot.

            *And that’s part of my point! It’s a mental model that’s thoroughly seeped into everything. I don’t think people used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how many kids would be ideal for their family. General big family / small family preferences, sure. A preference (that you may or may not think to act on) about whether and when the next one comes along, probably. The knowledge that you’ve always thought three sounded “just right”, and that you prefer three year gaps to two year gaps, and if you wait until this next milestone in your career, you’ll still probably have time have another before you’re 35, and plus, the older one will be in school…I doubt it.

          • skef says:

            It’s possible that if you give everyone a permanent increase, they’ll drop it all into positional goods and then have the same number of children. Running on the hedonic treadmill, as it was. Is that what you are suggesting?

            The data are that, broadly speaking in the U.S. more money maps to slightly fewer children. Did I need to “suggest” this as a possibility? I thought that’s what we were talking about — the distribution of fertility with respect to income.

            Are you alternatively thinking that people might be earning their “natural amounts”, broadly speaking?
            So if you give them more money they might act quite differently from someone of the same age, background, etc. who is making that much more?

          • quanta413 says:

            OK, “always” was too strong. Can we say “at least as far back as Jonathan Swift”?

            I dunno. I don’t know where the cutoff occurred. I’d still find a source useful. Maybe someone can go find a specialist in the history of family patterns?

    • baconbits9 says:

      I’d be interested to know how right-wingers square this (I’m mainly asking libertarians, although I’m also vaguely interested to hear what conservatives have to say). Is it coincidence? Is there some important factor I’ve missed? Or is it that one of my premises is false (ie they’re not really that great or they’re not really that left-wing)?

      My personal, current answer as a libertarian/min-archist is that the comparisons aren’t direct or fair. The Nordic countries represent a relatively small portion of Europe and are generally compared to average outcomes in the US. How would they look if you compared them to the best geographically similar states in the US? The US has >300 million people, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark combine for < 30 million. Discussing them vs the US is functionally taking the top 10% (or 1%, or 0.1%) of semi socialist states and holding them up against an average semi capitalist state.

      Secondly there is functionally no notice taken of racial differences, a person who wants to emulate a Nordic country might say "We need universal healthcare, universal education, maternity leave and strict gun regulations, just like country X", what are never mentioned are the various facts that are clear differences that don't sound good, no leftist says "lets have a demographic profile similar to Denmark. What are Bernie Sander’s chances at the Democratic nomination if his platform is “Universal healthcare and no black people”? Rhetorical question.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Hmmm, do the Nordic countries have any problems from black Christians immigrating and using social services they didn’t pay into?

    • Wrong Species says:

      A lot of people are saying something to the effect of Scandanivia being free market other the welfare state. That’s not really true. They have more labor market regulation for one thing and a large public sector.

      http://mattbruenig.com/2017/07/28/nordic-socialism-is-realer-than-you-think/

    • JayT says:

      The Scandinavian countries are to the left on most social issues, but but most people agree they are fairly far to the right one economic issues. If you look at the individual country ratings on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom they all do extremely well on on measures of regulation and trade. The only thing holding them back from being at the top of the list is government size. So I think it’s fairly easy for a right-winger to square Scandinavia’s success with their policies. Especially for someone that is more interested in the economic side of being right-wing.

      In fact, I think this question could reasonably be flipped. Why do left-wingers support so much government involvement in the economy, when there are so many success stories of countries with more laissez faire economic policy?

      • Baeraad says:

        In fact, I think this question could reasonably be flipped. Why do left-wingers support so much government involvement in the economy, when there are so many success stories of countries with more laissez faire economic policy?

        For me personally, while keeping in mind that I’m atypical in all sorts of ways?

        Because maximising economic growth isn’t my priority. Maximising stability is. I’d rather work for the same crappy pay my whole life in the assurance that my life wasn’t going to get turned upsidedown by economic upheavals and that I wasn’t going to get mistreated by power-tripping bosses, than earn a ton of money by having to constantly scrambling from one company to another as they either went belly-up or I had to escape a work situation that had become unbearable.

        Convince me that capitalism is going to do a better job at making my life boring and predictable and safe, and I might just switch sides. That is what I consider a success story. I don’t care if the streets of America are lined with gold (and I don’t get the impression that they are, but for the sake of the argument), the thought of living there still fills me with genuine horror.

        • Matt M says:

          Convince me that capitalism is going to do a better job at making my life boring and predictable and safe, and I might just switch sides.

          How certain are you that your preferences are universal?

          Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you aren’t entitled to have preferences based on your own personal risk tolerance. But others have a different level of risk tolerance. Why should they be forced into your preferred system?

          • Aapje says:

            Who is talking about forcing anyone?

            As far as I can tell, Baeraad merely explained his personal preferences.

            In a democracy, people get to vote for their preferences and then ideally, we pick some decent compromise.

          • Matt M says:

            In a democracy, people get to vote for their preferences and then ideally, we pick some decent compromise.

            What? That’s not true at all. In a Democracy, people get to vote for their preferences and the winner gets to force their preferences on everyone else.

            I think one of the major advantages of libertarianism is that it does not eliminate the possibility of say, setting up a socialist enclave somewhere, if that’s what you want to do. So long as you don’t commit aggression against anyone else, you are free to have your hippie commune that operates under Marxist principles.

            But socialism does not allow you to set up a mini free-market zone. It passes regulations that bind everyone. You aren’t allowed to say “Over here, in this community, that everyone voluntarily joins, there is no minimum wage.” If you try and do something like that, your compound gets firebombed or something.

        • JayT says:

          If you look at that list though, the countries that rank the best in economic freedom also tend to be the countries with the highest standard of living. They are certainly the safest.

          However, if the thought of living in America fills you with horror, then there is obviously nothing that will ever change your mind, because that is an absurd thing to think.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      As a young teen, I had a personal watershed moment when I realized that you couldn’t turn Iraq into the US by copy/pasting the US’s public policies onto Iraq.

      As an adult, I’ve come to believe the same is true of the US and Sweden.

      (I actually agree that the Scandinavian countries are weak evidence for their policies, but only weak evidence.)

  14. Robert Liguori says:

    So.

    I mentioned before that I was reading and enjoying the Miles books, and was warned that they dropped off in quality, right around the Big Change event and the Obviously-Meant-To-Be-Epilogue book. That…was a mild way of putting it. I just finished A Civil Campaign, and it has stopped dead in its tracks any desire I had to continue with the series, and I needed to wait for the CW-allowable thread to talk about why. (Again, spoilers-free here for this comment thread; I’ve certainly stopped caring remotely about being spoiled on the rest of the books.)

    There’s…oh, so much wrong with ACC. The rot starts, I feel, in the book before it. Already, we see the weakness of the post-Big Change; a huge part of the formula is Miles’s lack of resources and social proof, requiring him to improvise and be clever to meet challenges. Being a Hand of the King strips both of these as elements, and they don’t get replaced with anything. Then there’s the entire family arc, and that’s where I started to worry. Because when the book before this was going out of its way to code the Bad Husband as bad in every terrible, venial way, I got the worrying thought that I was seeing outgroup vs. fargroup, and that the respectful, interesting treatment of Athos we got was only because Bujold couldn’t take the idea of MGOTWs actually existing in a physical universe, thus making them safe to give depth to without giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy.

    But hey, one cozier book with a narrower focus wasn’t terrible. But the book after that…

    ACC is a confused mess of a bunch of different storylines, which do interact in a moderately interesting way, but none of which have any outcomes I care about, and all of which are based on the most tedious politics imaginable. We’ve got…five main plotlines I think. Miles’s romance, Mark’s romance, Mark’s business venture, and the two votes for Official Vor person, for the guy who turns out to be illigetimate and part-traditional-Barryar’s-enemy-planet and that godawful trans storyline.

    To be honest, the godawful trans storyline was what did it for me. The idea is really interesting; of all the crap that happens in this book, this is the thing that I’d most like to have seen been a focus for a book on its own. The universe has set up total-conversion gender reassignment surgery with cloned organs and such, and it’s set up the strong gender roles and obligations which pass to the male firstborn by default; the idea by itself of Lady Donna becoming Lord Dono to snatch an award out from the grasp of her younger brother is a great one.

    But the execution is just so terrible. Lord Dono gets set up as the single source of Ivan’s previously-plot-relevent lady-pleasin’ sexual skills, because clearly you learn how to be good at sex with arbitrary women by having sex with one smart woman and not with lots of women, who like lots of different things and can give you a sampling of what to try in new situations and what’s likely to work. Setting her up as such also makes her sudden and total conversion to being male really unbelievable. We don’t get anything about her life before set up as an actual trans man, or any indications that trans status is something other than “Eccentricity, ignore it until it becomes obvious, then call it mental mutation and purge it.” on Barrayr.

    So, instead what we get is a super-womanly-woman getting three months of surgery and suddenly being a man, able to do all the manly things, who misses nothing about being a woman, with everyone pointing out “This is a little weird, and if we allow this, we are just admitting that all of our gender-coded social roles mean nothing, FYI.” all set as the Evil Rapist Villain faction. (Because of course we get them again. Sigh.)

    It further doesn’t help that Lord Dono is a gigantic prick, whose opposition is a cardboard cutout on which is scrawled “I am a bad man. Please hate me promptly.”, who revels in weirding people out, is assumed to still get to sit at the Cool Girl’s table, and gets engaged within weeks of winning her little noble confirmation votey thing.

    Oh, one other detail! Ivan, the Cool Bro Semi-Protagonist character of these novels, is mentioned to have slept extensively with Lady Donna, a cool older woman ten years older than him. As he was hitting his 30s and was beginning to want to settle down with someone, he was considering her as a strong possible option. (Obviously, before she comes back as Lord Dono.) At one point, he does let slip that he had been hoping to propose to her back when she was a her, and she, in one of the very few hints of emotion she lets slip, reminds him that he had five years to do so.

    Five years. OK. This sexually-adventurous, taboo-breaking woman who is willing to upend her own biology and social role to accomplish her (now his) goals isn’t able to say “Ivan, real talk, the sex is great, but I want something more. I have real feelings for you. What do you feel?” over the course of half a decade. And…yes! That is perfectly plausible! That is entirely, 100% in keeping with the main themes of the book!

    Her getting casually engaged weeks after winning everything…isn’t. It makes romance a prize that is awarded to the Right Men once they have correctly caught the eye of and then submitted to the authority of their assigned woman (with the exception of Dono, because Cool Girls Club).

    And I wish I was joking with this description, but the romance with Mark ends with Mark’s girlfriend (whose conflict is between becoming a liberated Galactic woman what can have girlfriends balanced against her down-home chaste Barryan identity) literally takes out an option on him, reserving the right to date him exclusively at some point in the next year while also wanting to take time to find herself and possibly date other people. And everyone is OK with this. The people where this is discussed who are supposed to be there to advocate for Mark’s interest do not speak up with any comments about “Hey, maybe stringing along the guy with the deep and unrequited emotional attachment for you is a shitting thing to do.” Hell, no one even says to Mark “Mark, dear, when you say that you’re happiness is whatever she wants you to do, that means you need to back to therapy and spend more time in the Happy Fun Healing Sex Dome, OK?”

    Then there’s just one other little detail of contrast that…arg. It’s small, but the two events in comparison just…OK, there’s one throwaway bit where, in response to sex-selection of embryos being a thing that happened in the previous generation, there’s a mismatch in the number of available women. So, one lord buys up a bunch of uterine replicators and some discarded ova, and gets to work mass-producing girl children, with the intent of growing his own district’s tax base with men coming in to woo said girls when they are of age. This skeeves everyone right out, but the lord is doing everything by the book, getting proper care for the girls and everything. But again, skeeved, so a solution is found. An obscure law is mentioned (read: made up) around dowrys (which havne’t been a thing for the entire damn series), which the Emperor can then apply at his discresion, causing said lord to need to pay over a hundred large dowries.

    Then, as part of the Mark’s Business Venture storyline, we have a tedious and unfunny payoff to the fact that Mark grew up on Shady Crime Planet, still reacts in Shady Crime Planet ways at times, and got the science expert for his venture by paying his bail and skipping planet having an actual officer of that planet show up and attempt to arrest the science officer, which would destroy the business venture and ruin the ambitions of many of the female characters. Of course, that can’t be permitted, so there’s an extended comic violence scene in which an attempt is made to drive the officer away, until Miles shows up and pulls some jurisdictional nonsense out from his hat to claim that his lands and house are sovereign territory.

    And…sonofabitch.

    In writing this I realized what got to me so badly about this whole deal. The overarching metaplot of the series, culminating in A Civil Campaign, could be summarized as “The forces of progressivism will quietly insinuate themselves into the levers of power, and begin making decisions which strengthen their cause. This, of course, will allow them to insinutate more and get more people onboard, until, once they are masters of the system of power, they can sit back on their laurels and relax in the trappings of their deserved aristocracy, as all of those who are pleasing to them are exalted, regardless of what the actual rules say, and all who are offensive to them are cast down, again regardless.”

    My discomfort from the book, I think I now see, is a product of my time. I can see Barryar’s Prime Minister Trump waiting in the wings, willing to gleefully take advantage of all of the norms this cast of character have shattered. But more than that, I see how that character can only be notional, because of the inability of the author to even think in those terms, and that inability to be crucial for the rise of said demagogue.

    So, am I wrong? If I read A Civil Campaign and thought “This is hot garbage.”, am I right to stop where I have, and maybe look back at Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books as a kind of palate wash?

    • keranih says:

      Bujold has not, and likely will not, write a story about all the ways that Cordelia Fucked Shit Up on Barrayar.

      Which is a shame, because I think she is capable as a writer of doing that, and because I’d like to see the story from some other angle than her worshipful son. (Or any of his co-religious.)

      I am actually quite ok with the trans storyline, because it is so completely at odds with the general narrative for transgender people right now in the US, and presents this change as voluntary, fundamental, yet incomplete, in that Dono is much as Donna was. I think that *this* variation on the phenomenon is a possibility that needs examining in some way, and that only an already established left-friendly author could do so.

      Mark is messed up and while a mostly-functional messed up, I appreciate that his family loves him for what he is, but there is always the bigotry of low expectations going on. I also think that Kareen is written as being a bit silly and over dramatic in a rather realistic teenager way.

      I disagree, though, with your basic hypothesis – that the society of Barrayar is doomed to fall into a pit of liberal misconduct. Firstly, I think that Bujold is capable of seeing Cordelia’s blindspots (something that I hold to, even after GJatRQ) and has more than once hinted at the strong structures underlying Betan society’s apparent liberties. Secondly, there is also the repeated phrase true Vor, which has been expanded in several threads to indicate a sort of Border-esch devotion to duty and honor.

      As to reading onward – there is no harm in quitting now. I would suggest trying out Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. You should probably skip Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen entirely.

      For a different sort of thing, try Tanya Huff’s Valor series. Nearly as much dakka as the Correia books.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        But my thing was that I didn’t feel like we got any kind of examination of any kind of anything with Dono. Everything was superficial and stupid.

        And it’s an incredible shame, because I feel that I was denied an extended sequence where Dono goes on as he is, utterly crashes and burns, and goes “Oh my god, being a guy is complicated and difficult in ways that I could never have imagined as a girl, I have no idea what’s going on, all of my social reflexes are horribly miscalibrated, I need a deliberate crash course in the Tao of Bro from the grandmaster of Brodom. …Hey, Ivan? Buddy? I need a big, big fav…oh, god, I can’t use the implied hint of sexual favors to get favors any more, I’m doomed.”

        We missed so many brilliant opportunties. We missed Ivan explaining “Uh, Dono, that stuff you do, that might have been funny and charming when you were a woman, like taking off your pants to show off your junk. That’s, ah, less charming now.” Or Ivan pointing out “Yes, you can walk down the rough alleyways at night and no one will try to rape you, sure, but the odds of them deciding to kick the hell out of the sissy who’s walking funny in their turf just went up a lot.”

        And we missed, I think, a really brilliant and sad opportunity for Dono, at his bachelor party or similar, to pull Ivan aside and admit, for all of his posturing and his carefully-collected supply of Betan aphrodisiacs, there are limits to Betan science, and they include not being able to rewire sexual preferences at will, and Dono might have had an expansive sexuality before and that the drugs will definitely help, but that Dono’s sexual preference is still geared mostly towards attractive men.

        An actual story that actually dug into any kind of trans issues would represent Dono’s transition as a sacrifice; Lady Donna was a cis woman who chose to inflict a life of gender dysmorphia on herself to achieve her (now his) goals, understand the consequences and all of the ways that this would be painful, embarrassing, and dangerous, and eat those consequences, not only for the immediate goals but to pave the way for any who would want to follow him for their own reasons…that would have been awesome.

        And we didn’t get any of that.

        • keranih says:

          I don’t actually disagree with much of anything you put forward here.

          (Okay, except for the part where Donna would have done her trans thing even in part “for those who want to follow after him” – that sort of altruism (vs what was right for the district/Donna) didn’t strike me as her gig.)

          Also it would be funny if Dono ended up on the Conservative party’s roster, and more or less generally voting against Reni & Miles, for whatever reasons. But that’s not like to happen either.

        • Loquat says:

          I feel like Donna/Dono was very much a cis-by-default story – Scott’s written before about how a lot of people don’t have a strong gender identity, but just accept the gender role they’re assigned to at birth and wouldn’t necessarily feel any dysmorphia if they were transformed into a member of the opposite sex. Donna may also have been bisexual and/or hetero-by-default, and just never acted on any attraction to women before her transformation because Barrayar frowned on homosexuality.

          Since you mention it, though, it does seem awfully odd that in a society with such strict gender roles Dono wouldn’t have more difficulty both learning and consistently performing masculine behavior.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            Come to that, I don’t think we ever get involved enough with the private affairs of Barrayar’s womenfolk to know at what level shenenigans get got up to. My guess is that they follow similar aristocratic patterns, in which as long as heirs get produced on schedule and everyone involved is moderately discrete, people agree to look the other way. I mean, almost no one made any bones about Aral’s sexual history.

            Actually, the more I think about things, the more I get annoyed the the missed opportunities. Like, take military service. It’s not compulsory among the adult men, but it’s extremely common. And
            Dono is claiming the title of male Vor while having done nothing (from her peer’s perspective) but laze around being decorative her entire life should rankle.

            And…hell, we could have another great scene, where Dono storms off to enlist, to prove damn well he can do anything any of those chumps can do. Only for him to wash out in training, because it turns out that the Betan engineers did what they could, but it really matters if your skeletal and muscular systems were laid down marinating in testosterone or not, and on top of that, most Barrayan youths who join the service are doing so after an expansive childhood of male-coded activities and roughhousing.

            And…you know that whole bit at the end? The nonsense, rubbish attack on Dono by Designated Evil Rapist Bad Guy?

            Actually, hold off. Before I get to him, I just want to note again, with sad irony, the contrast between how we’re supposed to feel about quiet, unproven, and unprovable accusations of terrible deeds done in darkness, when they come from Dono versus DERBG.

            DERBG’s plan was rubbish on every conceivable level. To stop Dono from being eligable to inherit as the brand-new eldest male heir, he sends a goon squad with a sharp knife and some first-aid equipment to undo the fine work of the Betan junk-sculptors. Dono was of course intended to survive this, and live in shame (with no care about Dono just making another trip and getting another set of junk cloned and grafted on).

            This scene is dumb. But as with so many other Dono-related things, it’s dumb in ways which are aggravating because they’re taking up the space for much smarter things. First, I should say that this scene is very possibly the least smug we see Dono the entire book, and the only time we get even a hint, a smidge of sympathy for the male condition, is when Dono take a nut shot.

            This should have been a brutal assault, targeted to kill Dono, efficiently and brutally. And the aftermath of it should be it sinking in to Lord Dono that before, she was a prize to be won (or taken by force), and that was bad, now that she’s a he, the strictures of honor, expectation, and value which make murdering women and children out of hand abhorrent no longer apply to him.

            This book needed either for Bujold to have been sat down with a collection of trans men, cis men, and many copies of Nora Vincent’s Self-Made Man before virtual quill was laid to virtual parchment, or for another damn plotline to have been written.

            In other news, I actually did pick up the first of the Monster Hunter books. They’re…uh, I think I’m going back to the Miles series once I’m done with it, but…

            I feel very much like I am reading a novelization of a d20 modern campaign with a viking-hat DM who insisted on keeping the actual D&D monster manual instead of those wussy Urban Arcana monsters, and is also a rabid Libertarian.

            It’s definitely a contrast, but for all that they went to a disappointing and CW-adjacent place, the Miles books are definitely better-written, even in their first-novel bits. We’ll see where we go from here, I guess.

          • John Schilling says:

            This book needed either for Bujold to have been sat down with a collection of trans men, cis men, and many copies of Nora Vincent’s Self-Made Man before virtual quill was laid to virtual parchment, or for another damn plotline to have been written.

            That’s a good point. The rest of the book is Bujold doing Austen, which she does well enough. Donna/Dono isn’t, and she doesn’t.

            If it were anyone else, I’d say it was just Social Justice Message Fiction, where the message is that a trans man is absolutely no different than any other man which is absolutely no different than a woman except for junk and privilege, but that’s not Bujold’s style. And she can definitely write good men. So what’s with the blind spot for writing a believable trans-man, or finding a plot that makes use of what a believable trans-man brings to the table?

          • Deiseach says:

            DERBG’s plan was rubbish on every conceivable level. To stop Dono from being eligable to inherit as the brand-new eldest male heir, he sends a goon squad with a sharp knife and some first-aid equipment to undo the fine work of the Betan junk-sculptors. Dono was of course intended to survive this, and live in shame (with no care about Dono just making another trip and getting another set of junk cloned and grafted on).

            Haven’t read the book, couldn’t be paid to do so, but this sounds excessively stupid. You want to prevent the political shenanigans by which Dono has now cheated/tricked/legitimately won (pick your preference) his brother out of the inheritance? Easiest, quickest solution is the standard political assassination. Why mess around with leaving a living victim when it’s easier to kill them?

            Particularly, as you say, when all that need be done is make another trip to get a replacement set of genitals and some surgery to undo the effects of the attack. It would perhaps be an effective act of humiliation to do this to a cis male where there is no medical intervention to undo the damage, but to do this to – what? prove ‘you’ll never be a man’? – to someone who can go “Er, yes I will be” by going off-world to have the surgery done again is useless.

            This sounds like nothing more than “Ugh, transphobes, aren’t they horrible? This is how and what they really think, though, and the kind of thing they would do if they could!” (and maybe some heavy-handed messaging about “refusing hormones via medical gate-keeping to a trans person is exactly the same thing as taking a knife and mutilating their genitals’). I hope it works better in context than it sounds in the bare extract.

          • Deiseach says:

            in a society with such strict gender roles Dono wouldn’t have more difficulty both learning and consistently performing masculine behavior

            Sure, because in historical societies, the men learned an entire set of skills that women never did. I don’t read any of the Bujold novels so I have no idea how Barrayaran society is set up, but if it’s a strict gender-roles, heavily military historically or presently, and aristocrat males are expected to be war leaders in actuality (like Prince Rupert fighting in the English Civil War as a cavalry commander) there are a lot of things (s)he does not know how to do, never having learned how or needed to know.

            If the eldest male heir is simply a legal position, then sure, gender reassignment surgery will do to make Lady Donna into Lord Dono (I’m going to assume that she-before-he had the usual training in how to run an estate as the presumption that ‘one day you will be the mistress of your husband’s household and you need to know how to manage this’) but if there’s the expectation that “naturally as the eldest son you will have served in a regiment”, then there’s a crash-course in a lot of things he will now have to do, or else he’s not a ‘real Vor male’.

            That probably explains the fast engagement at the end of the book; Lord Dono may have been legally recognised as a real Vor male and eldest of his House, but he’s going to need to overcome a lot of opposition and to do that, he’ll have to hew closely to “traditional values” – the duty of the eldest is to marry and produce an heir, and that means it doesn’t matter if Donna was bi/lesbian in her previous life, or if he still retains an attraction to men now, this marriage is for duty and not love. Presumably the off-world medical technology includes fertility and reproductive treatment, so any child(ren) of Lord Dono and his wife will be his, and this will be very important because there will be rumours that “he” couldn’t possibly get a woman pregnant so this is another man’s child, and stringent, credible paternity testing is going to be necessary to prove otherwise.

            But simply handwaving it that “yeah, Dono is friends with All The Right People who can simply use their political and social influence to get the legal decision rammed through and make it by fiat that he is indeed a real man, get used to it Barrayaran society” isn’t what an Austen Regency novel is all about (navigating social roles and expectations and working within those limits is very important, you can’t simply smash through with “Well I’m rich and important so I get to impose my will as I like and to hell with traditions”).

          • The Nybbler says:

            I suspect Donna/Dono started as a throwaway joke on Ivan then got out of hand.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Presumably Galactic tech is up to the task of determining:

            1. this child comes from his original gonads and so is legally the heir.

            2. that child comes from vat-grown gonads taken from a mouth swab, and so is legally a clone.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            This sounds like nothing more than “Ugh, transphobes, aren’t they horrible? This is how and what they really think, though, and the kind of thing they would do if they could!” (and maybe some heavy-handed messaging about “refusing hormones via medical gate-keeping to a trans person is exactly the same thing as taking a knife and mutilating their genitals’). I hope it works better in context than it sounds in the bare extract.

            It could be, certainly. But…

            Honestly, I don’t think it goes that far. I feel like this book was written on the forefront of trans issues actually coming to the front of
            public consciousness. This feels like it’s coming more from a place of unexamined ignorance than politics. Dono is written in a way in which he gets all of the priveleges of being an aristocratic male, while still acting exactly like a female, and getting the advantages of a female as well. This felt a whole lot like “Well, of course I can’t just have a hit team try to burn off Dono’s head with a plasma arc, that’s not the thing which is done to people of Dono’s class in this kind of story, so we’ll go with this other method instead.”

            It was so close to being really good. It should have been the one break-out action scene in a Jane Austen-esque novel, and it should have invoked the fear and desperation of Miles’s own CQC fights, and should have been the point where Dono demonstrates that he can act with masculine virtue under the most stressful circumstances, and it should serve as an admission that, at least as far as DERGB is concerned, she’s actually won; she’s being treated like a male, in that it’s not unusually dishonorable to casually have her murdered.

            Presumably Galactic tech is up to the task of determining:

            1. this child comes from his original gonads and so is legally the heir.

            2. that child comes from vat-grown gonads taken from a mouth swab, and so is legally a clone.

            It isn’t, and it doesn’t. This is actually a point of one of the main novels of the series. That Mark guy I mentioned? He’s Miles’s brother, by way of an underground separatist cell stealing a sample of Miles’s tissue when he was young, cloning up an embryo from it, and using surgery, conditioning, and beatings to shape him into a Miles-duplicate so they could snatch Miles, sub in their replacement, and have him do various bad things for them.

            But Miles, by virtue of his mother’s Galactic upbringing, only thinks in terms of Mark as his brother, and this gets accepted with little fuss on Barrayar as a whole very quickly.

            And again, all of this should have been great. There should have been a moment when Cordelia looked at what she had wrought in her lifelong efforts to liberalize Barrayar and seen the future in Mr. Clever-Dick Grow A Hundred Daughters In Uterine Replicators for Economic Advantage For My District, and realized that this behavior, like the Jacksonian cloned-body transplant trade, was going to be systemic.

            There should have been a point where Cordelia realized that just yanking out the social technology of Barrayar doesn’t magically make the mores and compromises of Beta Colony spring up in their place, and that absent that technology, Jackson’s Whole is a really good first approximation of where you end up. And that should have been the context for the Donna/Dono conflict; what if this one extra step of liberalization is the one that leads someone to shrug, grab some of the body parts of Mad Emperor Yuri which are still hanging around, and clone up their own imperial heir who is now legally the Emperor’s father?

          • bean says:

            If it were anyone else, I’d say it was just Social Justice Message Fiction, where the message is that a trans man is absolutely no different than any other man which is absolutely no different than a woman except for junk and privilege, but that’s not Bujold’s style. And she can definitely write good men. So what’s with the blind spot for writing a believable trans-man, or finding a plot that makes use of what a believable trans-man brings to the table?

            I think it’s from the same place as Ethan of Athos, where she took a piece of tech and said “How could this be used in an unexpected way?” I found that sub-plot interesting, although I admit that ACC was read to me by my phone while I was driving in the middle of a move, so my attention may not have been total. I suspect that plot thread either got away from Bujold or she was just having an off day.

          • shakeddown says:

            …grab some of the body parts of Mad Emperor Yuri which are still hanging around, and clone up their own imperial heir who is now legally the Emperor’s father?

            Nitpick: the clone would legally be the emperor’s uncle or great-uncle, so lower on the line of succession.

          • 1soru1 says:

            There should have been a point where Cordelia realized that just yanking out the social technology of Barrayar doesn’t magically make the mores and compromises of Beta Colony spring up in their place, and that absent that technology, Jackson’s Whole is a really good first approximation of where you end up.

            Surely the _actual_ Beta Colony way would be ‘girls can inherit too’? [1]. ‘Biological sex change changes fundamental legal status’ is very much a Barrayan response to Galactic biotechnology.

            Cordelia is not the one bringing any technology in; that’s going to happen in any situation bar blowing up the wormhole. She merely brings the knowledge that there are more than one set of social rules that can lead to success, and that the degree of success of any set of rules have a lot to do with whether they are incompatible with the raw facts of the technological environment they are embedded in.

            If you look at real life analogues of Cordelia, some of them succeeded to about the same degree.

            OTOH, others were less successful.

            [1] Like the real California, I don’t get the impression they really go for ‘noone inherits’.

    • John Schilling says:

      I wasn’t as bothered by you as A Civil Campaign, mostly because I ignored the trans plot except for its political implications. But I wasn’t thrilled by it either.

      Going forward, both Diplomatic Immunity and Cryoburn are partial returns to form with Miles doing Galactic Adventuring as best he can within the confines of being an Imperial Auditor rather than spy/mercenary, and of course now with romance and excessive risk-taking now off the table. I enjoyed them, you may or may not. Cryoburn is also the book that ends with Lois very strongly signalling that she’s done writing stories about Miles.

      Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is a ninety-degree right turn for the sake of giving That Idiot Ivan a chance to shine and a happy ending, with only a cameo from Miles and nothing of Donna/Dono. This may actually be what it takes to wash the taste of ACC out of your mouth.

      And if you didn’t like ACC, stay away from the Red Queen.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        I thought they did a pretty good job making the Imperial Auditor power balanced by limiting the Barrayaran resources he had to call on extremely limited, and giving him problems that can’t be solved by “hey, call in the fleet”. Even if he can technically do that, Gregor really doesn’t want him to.

        So that limits him to just getting to walk over any Barrayaran personnel who are giving him crap, which honestly I found very satisfying after his years getting shoved around by those same personnel. It felt like he earned it. I think there’s a limit to how much that’s enjoyable, though, and I think the author realized we were about at it.

        I’ll second Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance as excellent: it made me wish we had gotten more of Ivan through the earlier books, as he turns out to be an entertaining character in his own way.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        Huh! That sounds remarkably promising. Part of the problem was that A Civil Campaign seemed like it was aiming for some kind of Regency-era garden party Jane Austen dealie, where everything is about people’s actions in a very constrained social framework, and within that framework, posing social problems to someone who’s Hand of the Emperor and literally has the Emperor on speed-dial and expecting them to be interesting is like trying to get excited about the Vaccine Man vs. Saitama match-up.

        And, by happy concidence, my collection of gifted novels happens to stop right before that Red Wossname book. I think I might just keep going on and see what happens.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          To me, A Civil Campaign was a recognition of the fact that it can’t be all horrifyingly dangerous adventures, and sometimes you actually do just get to live life. It felt like giving Miles a moment to relax, and I thought it was fair, given what he’s been through for the Empire.

          I’m glad that marriage didn’t end Miles’ adventures, and wouldn’t want it to be all like that (Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the same concept for different characters, and you’ve already heard opinions on that, although I still enjoyed reading it), but it was nice as a one or two-off.

          And while no one’s excited in the “what’s going to happen” sense with Saitama vs. Vaccine Man, it’s sometimes entertaining to watch the setup, already knowing how it’s going to turn out (after all, people do often watch past the first 5 minutes of One-Punch Man, despite it being very clear how every fight is going to go).

          Nikki’s adventures at the end of A Civil Campaign perfectly exemplify this: as soon as you knew who he was calling you knew how it was going to end, but it was still hilarious watching it play out.

    • shakeddown says:

      This is pretty much how I felt about ACC (though I third reading Vorpatril’s alliance to get over it).

  15. Kevin C. says:

    Something I find myself wondering about US history and society:

    We’ve had four presidents assassinated, and plenty of additional assassination attempts. There’s also a fair history of attacks on members of Congress. But, given their political importance, long terms of service, and comparative lack of personal protection, especially outside DC, what explains the dearth of assassination attempts against Supreme Court justices?

    • Matt M says:

      Quick thought – the fact that they don’t have to win an election means they aren’t nearly as well known to the general public, or as controversial. I think if you look into it, a lot of Presidential assassinations and attempts were closer to “I want to kill the most famous politician I can find” rather than “I am going to kill this guy because I disagree with his positions.”

      The only people who know who Clarence Thomas is are, generally, well-educated wonks. Not the type of person who then gets an idea of “Who can I kill to impress a movie star?”

      • fortaleza84 says:

        Yes, I would guess that the majority of would-be assassins are in it for the attention; any political differences they have with their victim and any political statement they are supposedly trying to make are more of an excuse than a reason.

        That said, I could envision some pro-life (or pro-choice) whacko trying to kill a Supreme Court judge who was on the opposite side.

      • JulieK says:

        Similarly, there’s plenty of debate about whether the electoral college system for presidential elections is unfair, but hardly any about how Senate representation is, by the same arguments, even more unfair.

      • JDG1980 says:

        Quick thought – the fact that they don’t have to win an election means they aren’t nearly as well known to the general public, or as controversial.

        Back in the 1960s, there were quite a few people driving around with “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper stickers on their cars. It does seem rather surprising in retrospect that, in that assassination-happy era, no one even attempted to take a shot at a SCOTUS justice.

    • Deiseach says:

      It doesn’t sound as impressive, for any would-be fame seekers who want to go down in history: “who did you kill – Some Judge versus The President“.

      • Anonymous says:

        It strikes me that the office of the President is some kind of lightning rod to prevent the assassination of anyone actually important to the functioning of the USA.

        • Matt M says:

          And the “President picks his own VP” is a pretty reasonable failsafe. I still like the theory that Trump picked Pence as an insurance policy against his own life. “The SJWs don’t like me? Who can I find that they’d like even less?”

          Unless your VP has more political stroke than you and can order the CIA to kill you or something. Not that such a thing would ever happen…

          • Lillian says:

            Except word is that Trump originally picked Kasich as his VP, but was refused. The left would be falling over all themselves to have Kasich as Pesident over Trump, and there would be open calls directed at VP Kasich for him to get the cabinet together and trigger the Amendment 25 provisions to remove Trump from office.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          I dub this the Zaphod Beeblebrox hypothesis.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Are you saying Hinckley wasn’t perfectly rational???

      • Well... says:

        The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is an interesting case. My read on it is that the assassin (Yigal Amir) and those condemning him were on completely different wavelengths (and presumably Rabin would have been too, were he able to posthumously condemn Amir).

        Amir was, as far as I gather, going on logic found in the Torah (especially various chapters in Numbers) where God makes it very clear that Israel is to occupy the Land of Canaan (modern-day Israel) and not to give up any of that land.

        Furthermore, there is an episode in Numbers where an outraged man kills an Israelite and a Moabite woman in bed together because the Moabite women were tempting the Israelite men away from YHVH and toward pagan idolatry. As a reward for this man’s actions, God lifts a plague He put on the Israelites. Somehow I imagine Amir saw himself as a latter-day equivalent of this man.

        From the pro-Rabin side, though, it was pure modern politics: Amir was an ultranationalist, extremist, etc.

        Note: I don’t know that much about this case, and I’d be interested in hearing from people who are more informed/have thought about it more.

        • SamChevre says:

          There is an episode in Numbers where an outraged man kills …

          Phineas!

          The story is super-important in Christian thought about how Christians should interact with the legal system–a topic on which there are numerous competing views, and that story comes up in the arguments 90% of the time. It’s the one clearly-approved action of enforcing the law with deadly force (not self-defense) that ISN’T done by someone with formal authority. For much, much more, look at the discussion on the “lesser magistrate”.

        • 1soru1 says:

          From the pro-Rabin side, though, it was pure modern politics: Amir was an ultranationalist, extremist, etc.

          Huh? Surely the central example of an ‘ultranationalist extremist’ is exactly someone who would kill over their interpretation of the central symbol of that nationalism?

          • Well... says:

            It’s ultranational and extreme when viewed from a modern secular frame: “we should never jump to violence as a way to solve disagreement, especially not assassination of important public figures.”

            From a Bible-as-instruction-manual-on-how-to-live-as-part-of-God’s-set-apart-tribe frame, it’s the proper and righteous thing to do. “I set this land aside for you, and I will reward those who use violence to defend it” isn’t an ambiguous hidden part of the Bible, it’s made very prominent and explicit.

        • Brad says:

          My instinct is that if there’s a religious justification for some violent action that’s overtly promulgated by a group of religious leaders overseeing some non-trivial flock that has men, women, and children, rich people, poor people — in short a bona fide community — and someone takes up that socially sanctioned mantle of religious warrior, then that’s a pretty sane action. We might think it moral or immoral based on our own values and the details but in terms of sanity it is akin to joining the military of the nation you live in.

          On the other hand if someone in a solitary or very small group setting seeks inspiration directly in some holy book and conceives his own plan for carrying out the divine will, that’s much closer to the insane side of the spectrum.

          Where religious or community leaders are using very overheated rhetoric but not overtly calling for violent actions is a murky gray area — one that, if I’m remembering the details at all correctly, the Rabin assassination falls into.

          • ohwhatisthis? says:

            So, insanity by social popularity/acceptance probability of receiving social payoffs/a promotion for an action?

            That’s a common definition.

    • dndnrsn says:

      This got me thinking – where/when is it/has it been different – with strategically selected targets instead of attention-getting targets? From what I’ve read, pre-war Japan had assassinations (both carried out and planned) and the threat thereof as a tool of the nationalists, and has had assassinations postwar too.

    • S_J says:

      I don’t have a good explanation for this…

      But I do note that John Grisham had a novel in which the villain attempted to assassinate several Supreme Court justices.

      To my knowledge, that is the only fiction which looks at the issue.

  16. Gossage Vardebedian says:

    I have a question I’ve always wondered about, for Scott or whomever. Why are psychologists and psychiatrists so separate? W/r/t the consumer, I mean. Is this a business or finance thing, or just some sadly silo-ed situation (nice alliteration, Gossage!)? It seems to me that it would be useful at least in some cases for the doctors to have more ease in facilitating crosstalk regarding individual patients, and that this might lead to interesting and valuable insights over time.

    When I was in therapy for my OCD it was a simple matter to go to one place for my therapy and then every month or three go to a different office to get my med straightened out until it was, at which point I never went again. I know the two HCPs spoke over the phone, and that was sufficient for my situation, but for people with deeper issues, where perhaps there is an important role for both, wouldn’t it be helpful to have both under one roof? Perhaps not, but I’ve always wondered.

    I ask now because my HS-aged son is interested in psychology in some form or another as a potential career and I realized there was this big thing I have no understanding of.

  17. Seppo says:

    Unsong fans: The City University of New York has apparently been trying to build a Kabbalah-based superintelligence and nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan:

    One of the difficulties in the knowledge engineering of knowledge based systems in artificial intelligence is the fact that knowledge is domain dependent… we introduced a Kabbalah system theory based on exploring and formalizing principles of the philosophy of Kabbalah…. Every concept will be represented by a Tree of Life and ontologies as systems of concepts will also be represented as a tree of Life etc.

    • beleester says:

      The system in the paper seems to be using the Sephirot as a metaphor (of course) for a control-theory-ish system where you have an upper layer of intellectual knowledge, a middle layer of emotional and behavioral control, and a bottom layer of action and implementation.

      (Bonus: The upper layer is dubbed “ChaBaD”, for Chochma, Binah, and Da’at)

      I don’t know enough math to say if the rest of the paper has any interesting new ideas, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve actually implemented any of this. I won’t start panicking until I see a news article where they’ve used this architecture to write psalms.

  18. Brad says:

    People on my side of the aisle are flipping out, but as a moderately pro-immigration voter the proposed immigration deal seems relatively reasonable to me:

    *10-12 yr path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA recipients + eligibles
    *Cut family-based green cards except spouses and minor children
    *End diversity lottery and reallocate visas to clear backlog
    *$25 billion for border/wall system
    *Unspecified more money for ICE and CPB

    I think the wall is a complete waste of money, but it won’t be the first $25B the federal government has wasted. Likewise I don’t think we need to spend more on ICE and CPB, but doing so isn’t any kind terrible tragedy.

    The part about eliminating DV and reallocating those visas to the employment based backlog is something that I outright support. DV is a nonsensical program.

    That leaves the sharp curtailment of family based permanent residence catagories. Specifically the elimination of visa allocations for brothers and sisters of USCs (65k/year), adult children of USCs and PRs (73k/year), and parents of USCs (unlimited, ~120k in a recent year). That’s a sizable annual cut, and I’d prefer to see these numbers reallocated rather than eliminated. But if all 1.8 million people eligible for DACA take the path to citizenship, it’d take about 7 years before the cuts outweigh the new beneficiaries. I don’t think it shocks the conscience to prioritize a dreamer over the parent or sibling of a USC. Were I designing a system from scratch we probably wouldn’t have a sibling of USC category and parents would have to show ten year’s worth of medical coverage before people able to immigrate. I would allow adult children of USCs though, those eliminations are an unambiguous negative of the proposal to my mind. As is the overall reduction in annual visas, regardless of how that is broken down. But overall it seems like a reasonable deal, or at least starting point, and I don’t see why it is garnering such venom.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Several of our conservative posters have previously accused “the left” in general of claiming to be ok with reasonable immigration controls, but in fact preferring an incremental slide towards de facto open borders.

      This sort of pushback is exactly the sort of thing they see as evidence for that criticism. I’m not going to weigh in on whether they’re correct or not because I think there are probably a lot of other things going on too, and quite possibly a zero sum mentality a la Gun Control and Abortion where giving up ANY ground is unacceptable for fear that the other side will just use that as a ratchet to push for further gains, but it’s something to consider.

      EDIT: And since I know you’re often quite sensitive of claims about an overly homogenous outgroup, I think another suggestion might be that this is a case where the more hardline people in the pro-immigrant rights/pro-immigration coalition are able to set the terms of the debate, either for electoral reasons or simply to keep the coalition from fracturing on other issues. Similar to the way the NRA has at times held the whip hand with regards to the GOP. Note that this is speculative as I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into the exact alliances on either side of this debate.

      • Brad says:

        Yep, I understand that. One reason why I posted this here, let people see that there’s a diversity of viewpoints among hoi polloi, if not the politicians.

      • shakeddown says:

        The pushback on this is defensible, since it throws away 25 billions dollars and raises a bunch of restrictions in return for a program even republicans claim to support. Most of the restrictions are relatively reasonable (or at least not too harmful), but democrats aren’t getting anything in return except support for a program most republicans already claim to like.

        • Brad says:

          That’s a fair point. But I don’t think it warrants the response it is getting from some quarters.

          Here’s the ACLU’s twitter, and keep in mind this isn’t even really their issue:

          Today the White House released a hateful proposal that would slash legal immigration to levels not seen since the racial quotas of the 1920s, eliminate legal channels for African immigrants, and spend $25BIL for a wasteful border wall + increase in Border Patrol and ICE agents.

          Stephen Miller has said that his proposal is ‘extremely generous,’ but the only community that benefits from this supposed generosity are white supremacists.

          Someone named Eddie Vale, that CNN calls a “Democratic immigration advocate” that’s “been closely involved in the recent immigration talks” tweeted:

          What the WH is about to leak isn’t a real attempt to get DACA deal it’s a legislative burning cross

          this is a “deal” to trade dreamers for every item on the white supremacist wish list to change the entire immigration system

          • quanta413 says:

            I dunno. At this point, this just seems like normal for the U.S. political system. Extreme and vitriolic hyperbole left and right. Not that I don’t think it’s overblown. But if this wasn’t the reaction, I’d be afraid I must have hit my head.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          $25B over 5-10 years is a pittance in the US budget. It is telling that bring up immigration and suddenly Democrats become budget hawks.

          Also consider that services to illegal immigrants net cost the US ~$110B each year.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          I wanted to respond to Brad as well, but I’ll respond to this too:

          The pushback on this is defensible, since it throws away 25 billions dollars

          Honestly, I think Brad nailed it on the head when he noted that this wasn’t the first time 25 billion dollars was wasted. Building a wall will probably create as many jobs-per-dollar as any other government wastage, and I personally will be able to go check it out if I want, so that might be cool.

          Most of the restrictions are relatively reasonable (or at least not too harmful), but democrats aren’t getting anything in return

          The only power the Democrats have in this is that the Republicans do not have a Senate supermajority of 60 votes. They don’t have the House, the Senate, or the Presidency (or even the Supreme Court!). I recognize that supposedly many Republicans support DACA, but it is pretty damn unpopular among their base and they even threw in another million for good measure. Meanwhile, the big provision is the wall, which…Trump basically campaigned on. That almost has to happen; I cannot imagine him winning in 2020 if the wall hasn’t at least been building for a year or so, because that would be breaking his biggest campaign promise. The rest of it, similarly, is stuff he campaigned on and won on. At a certain point, you have to know when to fold ’em.

          And to Brad: Frankly, I’m kind of astonished that the people on, ahem, “The Left” are so angry about this proposal. Well, either astonished or I just think they’re acting in bad faith. If I were Schumer, I would’ve taken this proposal with a swiftness and told Trump “no takebacks”. Apparently House Republicans were unhappy with the amount of extra citizens, and the base wasn’t happy either (Breitbart had a headline containing the words “Amnesty Don”.) This would’ve been a big win for Schumer and the Dems. Now that it’s been rejected though, it’s being spun as 4d chess, and it’s honestly hard for me to say with great confidence that it isn’t; Trump can let DACA run out while saying that he offered the Dems a reasonable compromise, and lord help him if he didn’t.

          The ACLU beclowning itself is pretty sad. In the era of hashtag resist (and the Right behaving badly as well), there’s not much room for neutral institutions. I hope they can at least stick to their free speech guns, although they have backed down very slightly (mostly still good though).

          • Brad says:

            Agree totally re: the ACLU.

            I’m not sure I would have accepted immediately and said no take-backs, as proposed it is a permanent reduction in visas of about 25% (maybe more depending on what happens with the DV numbers once EB catches up). But it is a perfectly fine starting point for negotiations. My move probably would have been to try to grandfather in the current backlog (for F1, F2A, F3, and F4) and maybe do a renewable non-immigrant visa for parents of USCs.

          • gbdub says:

            Agree with most of your points here, but I don’t like “maybe do a renewable non-immigrant visa for parents of USCs.”

            Really I don’t like renewable non-immigrant visas period, because that’s how you end up with “so-and-so has been here X years, it’s cruel to make them leave now”.

            I think every visa needs to have a clear, definite ending point, or be the first step in a path to citizenship. Basically, if you’re here for (just spitballing) 5 years, you either need to leave or get a green card.

          • Brad says:

            From my point of view, ideally we’d tighten up the rules in terms of demonstrating health care coverage and a source of funds in retirement but otherwise keep the program as in. But since we are talking about a compromise, and the Ds have a pretty weak hand at that, I can see giving up on PR for parents. But I don’t think that has to mean treating them exactly like any other alien.

            I see what you are saying about renewable non-immigrant visas in terms of public perception, but on the law side it is much easier to deny a renewal, because the alien used emergency medicaid or drove drunk or whatever, than it is to remove a permanent resident.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Is the cutback in who qualifies for family visas an end to what gets called “chain migration”? Because ending that has been an objective of some rather dicey people. Not wanting to change that could just be a reaction, perhaps.

      As a Canadian, I don’t get the attachment to the family visa system – we have a lot less of that here, a lot more people qualifying under economic grounds, we take in double the per-capita legal immigrants, immigrants tend to outperform people born in Canada on various metrics to a considerable degree, and we seem to have considerably less anti-immigrant sentiment. Which seems like a win all around to me?

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m usually pretty resistant to dick-measuring contests involving the US and other countries, but I’ve gotta admit that the Canadian immigration system looks better all around than the American one.

        (Bringing the two closer together would also greatly ease setting up some kind of Schengen Area type scheme for the two countries, which I think would be a serious win.)

      • Brad says:

        Re: chain migration
        I guess? I’ve never paid too much attention to the kind of people that spout off about that. I suppose the idea is that one person comes in as refugee, on DV, or on an employment based visa and eventually his entire extended family is in the US. But eventually in this case can be a very long time. The sibling quota is in 2004 generally, 1998 for Mexicans, and 1995 for Filipinos.

        Regarding family visas generally, I mostly agree with you. I prefer a system more heavily weighted towards employment based (best for us) and refugees (most needy) and away from things that look a little more like constituent services or giveaways to specific communities. I understand that spouses and children are sort of non-negotiable, but beyond that I’m okay with cutting back. Perhaps give a couple of points for existing ties to the US if we were ever to go to a point system.

      • Matt M says:

        A Somali man in Canada who was granted refugee status 20 years ago recently welcomed his 150th extended family member to the country.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Not really sure how this changes what I said; just over 1/5 of our immigrants are family-class. Personally, I’d have it lower, because the optics can be bad – essential to keeping Canada’s multicultural project working is having people believe immigrants are a net gain for the country. Which is easiest with the points system. Probably relevant is that in Canada, really the only politically-viable anti-immigrant sentiment is anti-refugee/asylum seeker, which plays off the fact that the refugee/asylum system is undefunded (which slows things down and both punishes people with a legitimate claim and helps those trying to game the system). 150 people over 20 years is not a lot; if this was something remotely common, it wouldn’t merit an article.

          • Brad says:

            I think you’d hard pressed to reduce that much further at equilibrium. In the US a full one quarter of annual permanent visas are to spouses of US citizens. It’s hard to see any western nation cutting back on the right to bring in a spouse.

            Also the percent can change wildly depending on how you define family based. In the US, at least, if a prominent AI researcher came in on an E11 visa and brought with him his wife and two children, that would be considered 4 employment based admissions. There’s an argument to be made that it should be considered 1 employment based and 3 family based admissions.

            One could imagine a point system that pooled a family’s points and divided over the number of members. That would favor single employment based applicants over couples or families and would push up the ratio of highly selected for ability to contribute.

          • Matt M says:

            150 people over 20 years is not a lot

            Does the point system still apply to family members?

            If not, I think this is the general fear. That admitting one person based on merit opens the door to 100+ people who have not been admitted based on merit.

            And I think this is especially the concern in regards to Muslim countries with strong terrorist networks.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            Looking at the relevant website, as far as I can tell they don’t have to fulfill any points requirements. However, the sponsor has to pledge to support the person and keep them off government assistance:

            When you agree to sponsor, you sign an undertaking, promising to give financial support for the basic needs of the people you’re sponsoring, and any of their dependent children. The length of time you are legally responsible for the person you sponsor varies based on the type of family member you are sponsoring, and is either 3 or 10 years for non-residents of Quebec. Quebec has their own undertaking length.

            Please see the Complete Guide for details on the length of the undertaking.

            Basic needs are

            -food, clothing, shelter and other needs for everyday living
            -dental care, eye care and other health needs not covered by public health services

            Before signing the undertaking agreement, you should make sure that those you sponsor won’t need to ask the government for financial help. If they receive social assistance, you’ll need to pay back what they received during the time you are legally responsible for them. You won’t be able to sponsor anyone else until you have repaid the amount.

            The undertaking is a binding promise of support, meaning that it is your responsibility to support the applicant(s) for the length of the undertaking period even if your situation changes. For example, the undertaking won’t be cancelled even if:

            -the person you are sponsoring becomes a Canadian citizen
            -you become divorced, separated or your relationship with the sponsored person breaks down
            -you or the person you sponsor moves to another province or country
            -you have financial problems

            Also

            You can’t be a sponsor if you:

            -have failed to pay:
            -an immigration loan
            – a performance bond
            -family support payments
            -have failed to provide for the basic needs of a previously-sponsored relative who received social assistance
            -are under a removal order
            -are in a penitentiary, jail, reformatory or prison
            -receive social assistance for a reason other than a disability
            -are still going through the process of bankruptcy (undischarged bankruptcy)
            -were sponsored by a spouse or partner and you became a permanent resident less than five years ago
            -sponsored a previous spouse or partner and three years have not passed since this person became a permanent resident have already applied to sponsor your current spouse, partner or child and a decision on your application hasn’t been made yet were convicted of a violent or sexual offence, or an offence that caused bodily harm to a relative—or you attempted or threatened to commit any of these offences

            So, assuming these conditions are mostly enforced, it’s not just “hey bring over your whole family!” Presumably the guy and relatives 1-149 or whatever have followed rules and not been an excessive drag on the system. Plus, the system looks complicated enough that either you need to be good with forms (my experiences dealing with the Canadian government and helping others do so is that navigating the system successfully is basically a test of intelligence and ability to deal with bureaucracy) or have the money to pay someone else to do it.

            I have no idea what the US system is like, but the US lets in about triple the % Canada does as family reunification.

            With regard to terrorism by Muslims in Canada, honestly, we have seen a few half-assed plans, at least one of which was fairly entrapment-ish, and a couple of lone-wolf attacks which have inflicted a body toll less than some traffic intersections. People trying to harm Muslims have killed more people and done more property damage – as far as I can tell based on intensive Wikipedia research Muslim terrorists in Canada have only killed two people, whereas when a guy shot up a mosque 6 Muslims were killed. (And, guy was Quebecois; looking at that list, Quebecois separatists were considerably worse in the 60s-70s than Muslims have been 00s-10s). So, whatever we’re doing now seems to be working with regard to preventing terrorism by Muslim extremists.

          • Deiseach says:

            150 people over 20 years is not a lot

            It’s seven people a year, which is probably not what the Canadians were expecting when they got the “let this one, single, poor oppressed guy in genuine danger into the country!”

            Had it been put to them as “this guy plus seven relatives, plus another seven every year for twenty years”, would it have been as emotionally appealing as the “help a victim of war and violence”?

          • baconbits9 says:

            That depends on how you frame it. If Guy #1 is legitimately fleeing war and violence what are the odds that none of the other 149 are in a nice and safe situation? If this was the average outcome it would be a lot different from this being an extreme outcome for many as well.

          • quanta413 says:

            So, whatever we’re doing now seems to be working with regard to preventing terrorism by Muslim extremists.

            Being next to the U.S. ? There are perfectly understandable reasons someone from Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and I’m sure some other places I’m forgetting about (a depressing thought how big the list is) would hate the U.S. government. It’s a very big jump from there to deciding to engage in a terrorist attack that most people won’t make, but still. Once you make that jump, are you going to strike a blow against the group who launches drone strikes against poor bastards on wrong side (read: not U.S.) of political conflicts anywhere they can or against Canadians?

          • Matt M says:

            AFAIK, Canadian forces are fighting right alongside US forces in many theaters of the “global war on terror”

            But it is true to point out that the US is bigger and more visible and that any terrorist would obviously prefer to target it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The Canadian military has been engaged in Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent has been engaged against ISIS. Both of the lethal attacks that have happened in Canada killed Canadian Forces members. Possibly significantly, both were committed not by people raised as Muslims, but by converts to Islam, both evidently angry at Canadian military involvement in the Muslim world/support of same by the US. (And both were French-Canadians, who seem to make up a disproportionate number of terrorist killers in Canada – what’s up with that?)

            So, someone who gets radicalized in that fashion, and wants to strike a blow against the Great Satan or whatever the US is called these days, might just choose to strike against the Great Satan’s Hat. Given that the profile of “young Muslim guy in the West who does a terror attack or attempts one” is often a guy who is troubled, doesn’t have his shit together, etc, and that the profile of “Western guy who converts to Islam then does a terror attack/attempts one” is even moreso (eg, Zehaf-Bibeau was a habitual offender with a drug habit who’d been kicked out of a mosque he attended for being a troublemaker), they might not have what it takes to pull off a cross-border terror attack. They’re also way more likely to come under scrutiny trying to cross the border than they would just hanging around in Ottawa or whatever.

          • Obelix says:

            dndnrsn :

            Possibly significantly, both were committed not by people raised as Muslims, but by converts to Islam, both evidently angry at Canadian military involvement in the Muslim world/support of same by the US. (And both were French-Canadians, who seem to make up a disproportionate number of terrorist killers in Canada – what’s up with that?)

            What’s up with that? Well, why don’t you tell us what you think is up with that, so we can see if we agree with your idea and if not, so we know what to argue about?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m not being entirely serious, and should have italicized to reflect that. Presumably, it’s not significant, because the sample size is so small.

        • Brad says:

          A Somali man in Canada who was granted refugee status 20 years ago recently welcomed his 150th extended family member to the country.

          This is a shitty response and you should feel bad for having made it.

          Your response to a reference to the Canadian immigration system and its asserted lesser reliance on family based immigration as compared to the US is to dig up some outlier anecdote, no doubt sourced from some far right wing outrage blog. And then throw in scare-mongering about the evil mooslims for good measure.

          Fuck off.

          • Matt M says:

            no doubt sourced from some far right wing outrage blog

            Actually from Sailer’s twitter account.

          • Randy M says:

            Actually from Sailer’s twitter account.

            I like Sailer. But… I’m really not sure that’s any more than a difference of perspective.

          • keranih says:

            Brad, I think this is out of line and I’d like to see less of this.

            Arguing that this is an outlier and atypical for Canada’s system, and hence not worth getting worked up over, is one thing. (And under Canada’s system I agree.) But even that explanation doesn’t remove the question of how often this sort of compounding happens in the USA.

            Plus – it’s a legit question – who is more likely to have 150 family members who emigrate to the USA in 20 years, a Muslim from a developing nation in Africa or a WEIRD atheist? Who better matches the sort of society that you, Brad, want to build?

          • Matt M says:

            I think if I had to write down the name of every single blood relative of mine I could even remember, I’d struggle to get to 50.

          • Brad says:

            @keranih says
            It’s not steelmaning to spin the shitpost of someone you happen to agree with so wildly that it no longer even vaguely resembles the original remark. That’s just making excuses for a bad post. In any event even your unreasonably charitable spin isn’t responsive to what dndnrsn wrote.

            I stick by what I wrote. You will not be seeing less of similar.

          • keranih says:

            Brad, IMO you are wildly overreading into the posts in question and deliberately responding in a vicious and abusive emotional manner rather than responding to the substance. And I would *really* like to see less of that here, as the temptation to join in flinging scat is high enough already, and I don’t need the help.

            You are of course free to tell me to fuck off also.

          • Iain says:

            @keranih:

            Who better matches the sort of society that you, Brad, want to build?

            Speaking as a Canadian: I feel pretty damn good about a family of people who are resourceful, intelligent, and dedicated enough to spend decades working multiple jobs to help their loved ones become Canadians. I am proud of the community and the country that has welcomed them. Given the choice between 7.5 Muslims / year from a developing country and an asshole who thinks that this Canadian success story is an argument against immigration, I will take the Muslims every single time, and ask for more.

            If America is no longer interested in huddled masses yearning to breathe free, then so much the worse for you.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If America is no longer interested in huddled masses yearning to breathe free, then so much the worse for you.

            Can you give Trudeau a call? I am 100% confident Trump will give you whatever you want on NAFTA if you promise to take all our illegal immigrants.

          • Matt M says:

            If America is no longer interested in huddled masses yearning to breathe free, then so much the worse for you.

            If you want the “huddled masses” so much then why do you use a merit-based scoring system? Why do you require immigrants to prove they won’t need welfare?

            Both of those measures would be shouted down in the US within five seconds as being clearly and obvious motivated by pure racism.

          • JonathanD says: