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OT94: Isotopen Thread

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

1. Some other people have been doing their own analyses of the survey results. See this post on top blog recommendations, this one on politics, personality, and religion, and these collected findings. I don’t necessarily endorse all of these analyses and there’s some good pushback and additions in the comments.

2. Comment of the week is the really good (and really long) debate between algorithmic bias researcher Ilya Shpitser and algorithmic bias article writer Chris Stucchio. It starts here and continues for several hundred comments – go down to here if you want to start at the point where it gets interesting. Can I convince Ilya and Chris to do an adversarial collaboration explaining what everyone agrees on in this area and what’s still controversial? If not, does anyone else who’s at least kind of an expert on this want to do it? Also a fun comment – this comment on how Karl Marx believed a weird pseudoscientific theory linking national character to soil quality.

3. I wrote an article for the new Less Wrong site – A Less Wrong Crypto Autopsy.

4. GiveWell wants you to know that they’re hiring for some open positions. They do very well-respected effective altruism work. Some positions are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, others are more open to people doing them remotely.

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1,074 Responses to OT94: Isotopen Thread

  1. Commentist says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for years now. At the beginning I distinctly remember thinking of Scott as a genius, I rated him higher than EY, it was common to visit here once a week and being presented with new insights that’d leave me thinking for hours.

    I first noticed a downturn a few years ago. Articles weren’t as insightful as before, it was easier to spot mistakes or slips on the arguments, strawman arguments were being made at least once every two weeks or so, but despite all this quality was still higher than on (by then, already defunct) LW, and I wasn’t aware of any 3rd site that was better than either, so I kept coming back, albeit at decreasing frequencies.

    Commenters were always worse, though. Although article quality was, in general, higher here than on LW, commenters here have always been worse than there. I’ve always wondered whether they aren’t dragging Scott’s waterline down, somehow.

    Over time I’ve developed an habit to stop and think about what I’m doing and in those instances I’ve frequently wondered: where am I wasting my time on? Have my actions so far been conducive to what I was actually expecting to achieve? I’ve insisted on remaining at this site (and on LesserWrong, after it debuted, and on others of a similar tint) despite lowering quality because those were the only communities with an explicit interest in both epistemic and instrumental rationality. Despite this, it has been obvious for a while that neither have helped me achieve my objectives as much as other activities I spend my time with, and so they aren’t much more than “entertainment”, things I read thinking about the improvements I’m making, but without actually improving by an amount that would be expected given the amount of time I spend here.

    But that “entertainment”, when it no longer gives you important (or even interesting) insights, when you start noticing reasoning mistakes on nealy every post, when you see them taking actions that you think are harmful to society at large (and, including, to that small comunity itself), when neutral and impartial analyses are left behind and strawman articles are posted and commenters regard it as some form of “charitability”, “impartiality”, “impecable logical analysis”. It just isn’t entertaining anymore.

    If content is no longer entertaining, nor instrumentally helpful, nor epistemically accurate, then I receive no benefits coming here on a frequent basis. It just seems that the values held in high regard by the community aren’t the values they have actually maximized for. I’ve already cut some links with the rationalist community at large before and this was the last bastion holding me in place. So, this is my goodbye post. I’ll return every 6 months or so in order to check for any progress but, honestly, I’m not expecting to see much. See you in June.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You know, if you look cross-eyed at the picture in this post, you can see vaguely 3D models of Hydrogen-2 and Hydrogen-4.

    • Well... says:

      I knew a guy who somehow could trick his brain to see a pair of stereoscopic images in 3D without using a stereoscope. He was a programmer and what he did was duplicate his window in Atom or whatever so it was tiled vertically: one on the left, one on the right, full-screen. Then he’d get his head a certain distance from the monitor and could program in 3D.

      I was never able to replicate that trick myself.

  3. Suppose you had a group of intelligent people with a variety of views and motivations on a complex, contraversial topic/question, and you wanted that group to research, discuss and produce the most truthful account/answer of that topic/question. Assuming you had control over how the group would function, could determine the principles and rules that governed the group, but could not control the account/answer itself, what would you do? What principles/rules would you make? How would the group be organized? What roles would there be? By what medium and in what way would people interact? Would you limit the size of the group?

  4. tayfie says:

    I’d like to remind everyone that some SSC members are playing Diplomacy on Backstabbr.

    There seems to be a coordination problem, how fitting.

    Game 2 has 5/7 Players. Someone please join.

    http://www.backstabbr.com/game/5767909670912000/invite/F3IYT1

    Game 1 has 6/7 Players. There was a full 7 the first version, but team Cicero has not rejoined and no one wants to take the spot claimed by someone else.

    http://www.backstabbr.com/game/5732216907235328/invite/14343D

    To get a game going, I intend to claim Cicero’s spot if vacant for one more day and am open to team members. Reply with contact information.

  5. Error says:

    What is the current least-sucky dating site?

    I find myself semi-on-the-market, have never bothered using one, and don’t know where to start. I’m poly, do not intend to marry or have kids, but don’t have much interest in purely casual sex either. I have one girlfriend, but we don’t expect it to be permanent. I am Grey Tribe.

    The only sites I know anything about are Tindr (which I gather will not suit, given the lack of interest in casual sex) and OkCupid (which I’ve heard has gone downhill in recent years).

    • andrewflicker says:

      Not in the market myself, but many male friends who are or were recently- Tinder gets used a lot for more than just the casual sex market. Several guys I know are with long-term girlfriends they met on Tinder.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Varies by region, as I understand it, because whatever dating site is the schelling point in an area has the massive advantage of actually being the dating site where people are.

    • yodelyak says:

      Off the top of my head, there’s “Bumble” and “It’sjustlunch” and a search for speed dating will get you somewhere in a lot of locations, and there’s the crypto-currency one that just launched that got its own full post by SSC, and there’s ChristianMingle and eHarmony (both paid) and there’s the craigslist personals and… also there’s the sugardaddy / affair sites, which if you are poly might or might not aim at what you’re interested in, and now you’ve got the search terms you need to get started, maybe.

      from experience, OKcupid has dropped off a little since allowing paid promotions and some other things, the last I really used it even to explore was a year ago–was still pretty close to its peak then, from what I could tell as someone who’d used it since 2010 or so.

  6. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Recently, we talked about the Efficient Market Hypothesis, specifically about investing to try to beat market returns. I believe this was part of the discussion about Eliezer’s new book re: expert consensus.

    Providing some feed-back from the ground, based on conversations with my “hard-nosed” accounting co-workers.

    1. It looks like everyone who invested in Bitcoin at the peak lost money. While everyone was talking about it non-stop when it was at its peak, there’s a sullen feeling of regret lingering in the air now. They were watching the price every day, multiple times a day: now they barely mention it.
    2. Among my group of young financial professionals, males under the age of 40, I’d estimate investments in crypto-currency to be somewhere between 50 and 75 percent. Average investments are small (like $500) but some guys have some pretty large stakes ($10,000+).
    3. Listening to these guys talk about stocks is hilarious. They talk constantly about investing for the “long haul” and only in stocks they “understand.” This is apparently supposed to convince themselves of their seriousness and Warren Buffet-like inquisitiveness. Nonetheless…
    4. Several of these guys are investing in the company stock, but not purchasing it through the company (which offers a 10% discount). They do not like the 1-year vesting period. Apparently, while they want to invest for the long-term, they do not want to invest if they are required to hold the stock for long-term. This baffles me.
    5. They continue to think our stock is under-valued. This baffles me more, as our revenues are clearly declining. They do not have access to any material non-public information (it’d be illegal to trade on that!), but they should at least be close enough to the numbers to know that we aren’t doing so hot.
    6. If they were actually paying attention to the sector as a whole, they’d see that our biggest competitor, who is also the biggest player in our industry, is priced at a good 25-30% lower than us. Our biggest competitor has better growth, a better portfolio, and a higher dividend yield. This does not give them any pause, and they think our stock will continue to go even higher (even though it looks over-priced compared to industry standards).
    7. I sometimes discuss stocks with them. I do not actively invest, but it’s fun to talk stocks sometimes. Many do not know what a P/E ratio is, or why a P/E ratio is relevant.
    8. They invent their own explanations for anything. When discussing the Green Mountain/Dr. Pepper merger, they automatically assumed Green Mountain is in Vermont for “tax reasons.” This was asserted without any evidence.
    9. They buy into narratives EXTREMELY easily. This is disturbing me. Hold on, let me emphasize: this is really, really, really disturbing to me. These are all numbers guys, and while they are fairly low-ranking, they are entrusted with a fair degree of financial information. However, they will buy into whatever nice-sounding narrative they hear from a company CEO. For instance, if Apple spins a narrative about how Iphone X is going to have great sales because they are going to be able to sell it to underwater welders, they will buy it hook, line, and sinker. They will not ask any questions about the crush depth of an Iphone X, or whether the market for underwater welders is large enough to affect Apple’s gross revenue of $230 billion.
    10. These guys treat Seeking Alpha as if it were gospel. I have literally heard several times “I have no idea what this stock is, but they said it was a Buy.” How this reconciles with #3 above, I have no idea. I do not think Warren Buffet would say “I don’t even know what this company does, but someone said to buy it, so I put $1 billion into it!”
    11. Most of these guys are swimming naked. They have practically nothing in their checking accounts. I imagine if a recession hits and they lose their jobs, they will have to liquidate their stock holdings at an unfavorable price in order to keep from being bankrupt.

    Overall, I think I am looking at a bunch of guys who have simply never lived through a recession and don’t know how precarious their investment positions actually are in the short-run. I suspect they are in for a RUDE awakening the next time the bubble bursts and a recession hits.

    What sort of experience do the rest of you have with friends and colleagues investing in the market?

    • Nornagest says:

      The strong efficient markets hypothesis is obviously horseshit if you spend any amount of time watching price action on a speculative asset. But the weak efficient markets hypothesis has some teeth to it: it allows assets to behave irrationally as long as they’re not so irrational that it’s possible to make stupid money without getting correspondingly stupid lucky or investing a stupid amount of time. A weakly efficient market doesn’t have to be all-knowing, it just has to be smarter than the average bear (who, as you’ve implied, is very, very dumb) and loosely correlated with reality in the long run.

      • baconbits9 says:

        No, it has to be smarter than the weighted average bear, based on how financial resources are distributed.

    • Wrong Species says:

      How can someone work in accounting and not know what the P/E ratio is?

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Good Q. We don’t typically deal with those kinds of valuations. However, all of us took business classes in college, so all of us SHOULD know what a P/E is. We might not remember something like the Quick Ratio, but P/E is one of the obvious ones.
        Especially if you fancy yourself a junior Warren Buffet.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Random questions (I don’t know much about finance):

      – “I’d estimate investments in crypto-currency to be somewhere between 50 and 75 percent”. What does this mean? Percent of what?

      – “They continue to think our stock is under-valued. This baffles me more, as our revenues are clearly declining. They do not have access to any material non-public information (it’d be illegal to trade on that!), but they should at least be close enough to the numbers to know that we aren’t doing so hot.” How is ‘how well the company’s doing’ not material non-public information? Or does everyone know the company is doing badly?

      – Playing devil’s advocate: assuming Seeking Alpha is run by some well-respected finance expert, is this such a bad idea? Isn’t it like saying “I don’t know anything about cancer, but my doctor recommends chemotherapy, so I’ll do that one”?

      • Brad says:

        All public companies make quarterly reports on their revenue, among other things. It’s likely people in the accounting department work on these reports directly or indirectly. So while anyone (the public) could know this information, these guys definitely should.

        Your doctor is at least supposed to have a professional ethical duty to you. He is supposed to only make recommendations that are a) in your interest and b) that he is competent to make. The guys that write at seeking alpha pretty much exhaust their legal responsibilities by disclosing whether or not they own a stock and have no professional ethical responsibilities to the reader to begin with.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        -Crypto-currency investment: I mean something like 50-75% of the guys have SOME stake in a crypto-currency. No one has anything like 50% of their assets in Bitcoin, but the typical guy in my group has SOMETHING in there. They actually try to peer pressure me into investing, which is really odd.

        -Re material information: What Brad said is accurate, publicly traded companies have a lot of reporting requirements. We all have some idea of the day-to-day operations, but we really don’t know what the full quarter numbers are going to be until they are released to the public. Plus, companies typically issue guidance: they will say they plan to make $100 billion in revenue next year, of which $5 billion will be profit, or whatever. We won’t have any idea if we can hit those numbers, but we should have a vague gut feeling of whether business is good or bad.

        That’s why I say nothing is material. I could say that Account X is not doing so hot and we gave steep discounts this year, which is really bad and would get me fired. But it’s also a really small portion of the portfolio, and I don’t have access to the full metrics of the account anyways, so it’s not material: disclosing that information by itself would not affect any investor’s decision. (And if it would, I need to get paid a lot more).

        But when we see the whole company numbers and compare to what we know about the accounts, we should be able to form a good idea of what’s actually happening. And we’re really close to the accounts, so we shouldn’t be deluded like the typical investor MIGHT be.

        These guys seem to be buying into the bullshit. It’s not like we are going to go bankrupt or anything, but I’m expecting some belt-tightening, and these guys are expecting us to soar. Our stock price declined 35% this year, so…you know…I’d say I’m closer to right than the guys who bought while our stock was at an all-time high.

        -I would normally agree with you on the devil’s advocate piece. I’ll leave aside the rational arguments and argue as if you were one of these guys. You remember the Daily Show, right? Do you remember Jon Stewart tearing into Jim Cramer? Jim Cramer is the guy with the infamous Bear Stearns call. Jim Cramer was an expert telling you to buy all sorts of stocks, but I believe if you followed his advice, you would have significantly underperformed a typical index fund.
        From my rationalist perspective, I am generally a believer in the weak form of the EMH, so I can outsource my judgement to the market as a whole by investing in an index fund. It may not be perfect, but it does a pretty good job, and I have to do next to no thinking.

        • Aapje says:

          They actually try to peer pressure me into investing, which is really odd.

          Why odd?

          It’s negative to them if their investment doesn’t work out, because then you get to laugh at them, while they feel jealous. It’s negative to them if their investment does work out, because then you might very plausibly get jealous. If they succeed at pressuring you to invest, they increase the social stability of your relationship with the rest of the team.

          You should see it as a compliment: they value you socially.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I def. see it as a compliment. It’s just weird because I don’t see a lot of peer pressure now that we are in our 30s. There’s some when it’s time for SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS (and occasionally someone fills an entire coffee mug of vodka). There’s a bit less when it comes to adhering to workplace norms.

            But peer pressure over investment and savings decisions? I don’t really get it. The only equivalent I’ve seen are the young people telling me not to pay off student loan debt too fast and taking more time to travel (which is a flat NO! from me as well).

          • Randy M says:

            The only equivalent I’ve seen are the young people telling me not to pay off student loan debt too fast

            What’s the rationale for that? Some kind of tax deduction thing, or just not wanting to feel bad about it themselves?

          • Brad says:

            Some people have a disgust reaction to debt and make what are probably sub-optimal decisions from a purely financial standpoint because of them. Particularly when it comes to very low interest debt — some student loan debt has a fixed interest rate as low as 3.4% with the possibility of a further 0.25% discount for on-time payment and certain repayment options that can cut the effective rate even further depending on income.

            Inasmuch as those reactions are immutable or close to it, they are just another preference and purely financial optimization should probably take a back seat to preference optimization, but if they can be reasonably overcome by laying out the objective case, then I don’t see anything wrong with mild social push-back.

          • Randy M says:

            laying out the objective case

            As one of the people you are talking about, this is what I was asking for.

            I actually think my irrational disgust of debt is fairly rational given that humans are frequently overconfident and that the typical fail case for borrowing too much is worse than the fail case for borrowing too little. One must also consider his own consciousness level–how likely are you to have the occasional late fee eat up the savings of borrowing at a fixed interest just below inflation, etc.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yup, if you have a low interest debt, it makes no sense to pay it off immediately. You could put that money to work better other places. For example, my car is financed at 0% interest. You can say I am an idiot for spending too much money on my car, but I am not going to pay it off early, because there is no benefit.

            What financially makes sense varies from person to person. We have student loan debt that’s accruing 6.5% interest and another loan that’s adjustable-rate at the prime rate, so right now we are at 4.5%, and that will continue to climb as the Fed raises rates. So….I’m a bit more interested in paying that down than instagramming myself from the Chichen Itza, or whatever the youngsters do these days.

            These guys want to travel, spend a lot of money, and then put their money into high-investment returns. Some probably have lower interest rate loans, too.

          • andrewflicker says:

            Brad basically explained it, but yeah, I’ve given a similar objective explanation to friends and colleagues- my wife and I both have (very low interest) student debt, and her’s is even deferred interest-free while she’s pursuing her master’s degree. So it’s a way better deal for me to kick extra cash into paying down my slightly-higher-rate mortgage, or possibly just to add more contributions into index funds, since the annual expected growth in the funds is bigger than the interest rate on the student loans. (Though you need to take taxes into account on both sides, so it’s not quite that simple a trade)

          • Matt M says:

            I think there’s an argument to be made that if you’re generally conservative with money, paying off “low-interest” debt can be a very good plan.

            The general theory is “You shouldn’t pay off debt if you think you can make more with your investments.” But a conservative person probably isn’t investing in penny stocks or in bitcoins and counting on making a 20% annual return. My dad refuses to invest in anything riskier than a government bond. So yeah, he should probably pay down his 3% mortgage whenever he can.

            If all you’re doing with your money is sticking it in a savings account that earns 0.5% interest per year, paying down debt is almost always a better option.

          • Randy M says:

            I definitely see paying the higher rates down with lower interest rate loans, assuming all else equal, sure. Pay the minimum on the student loan until you pay off your credit cards, compare the rates on the student loans to the rates on the car, etc.

            Borrowing in order to invest (other than, say, starting a personal business), even if it all the details point in your favor, seems risky–if you lose your job and can’t easily withdraw from the investment it’ll end up costing you in fees. (And if you can liquidate it in emergencies, how are you getting such favorable rates?).
            If you have non-essential assets to cover it, then that’s a different matter as well.

            But while I’ll grant that there’s cases where having debt can work for you, I’m not sold on how common it is to be paying down a loan at such low interest rates compared with any safe investment. Maybe I’m letting a lot of money sit on the table though. It could well be that paying off student loans when the money could have been put into 401K or company stock offerings was a “safe” but foolish choice had I done the numbers. However, I used the hueristic that interest rates are going to be higher than most investment pay-offs (barring matching funds essentially doubling investments immediately, of course).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Heh, the 10 year treasury bond rate is 2.76%, so for me I don’t think there is ever a case that I should be investing in treasuries over paying down my mortgage.

            On the other hand, a high-yield Muni fund from Vanguard has a 10 year return of 4.7%. Muni funds I think are tax free at the federal level? Not sure if that changed with the new tax bill. THAT might be a better option, because you don’t pay tax on the Muni, and don’t lose the tax deduction from paying down your mortgage…you just incur a higher default risk.

            Dunno, though, not really an expert, and don’t currently have the need to be (paying down higher-interest student debt is more important). I collect money from dead-beats, I don’t do tax planning.

            Randy,

            I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your heuristic. It’s not necessarily value optimal and there’s a good chance you are leaving money on the table, but I wouldn’t care all that much. If you’re doing the right things, you’ll be able to provide for your family and build up a comfortable nest egg, as long as you don’t blow massive amounts of money on houses and cars and travel that you don’t need.

            I’ve got similar heuristics to you, which is why I am planning on knocking out my mortgage as soon as I have some extra cash to do so. I figure we can be debt free in 10 years, which is going to feel pretty damn awesome.

            One thing, though:

            Borrowing in order to invest (other than, say, starting a personal business), even if it all the details point in your favor, seems risky–if you lose your job and can’t easily withdraw from the investment it’ll end up costing you in fees. (And if you can liquidate it in emergencies, how are you getting such favorable rates?).

            See, this is why I don’t think these guys are really serious about investing, because they only talk about stocks and crypto-currency and blah blah blah.
            If you want to juice returns, you want to leverage up and use Other People’s Money (OPM).
            A good way to do this is in Real Estate, which is my uncle-in-law, an actual professor in finance, plows his money into income-generating real estate.

            I do know SOME guys that want to get into the real estate bandwagon, or have in a very limited fashion.

    • andrewflicker says:

      This is baffling to me- these are finance guys aged 30-40? My marketing colleagues aged 25-35 would laugh at their ignorance of basic investing, let alone how the programmers would feel.

      To me, outside the finance industry, this would be like digital marketing guys not understanding the difference between bounce rate and exit rate, or why you need to actually test good ideas to see if they’re actually performant, or why when some random SAAS promises you 3000% growth it’s obviously bullshit.

    • tayfie says:

      1. Are you really sure the same people believe both 3 and 10? It’s very common that different people with different opinions hold contradictory views.

      2. I am confused how you connect “under 40” to “never experienced recession”. If these guys are in their 30s, 2007-2009 should have been influential years for them. I am in my 20s and they were influential for me. It is possible they didn’t have stake in the market back then, but they should have some awareness of economic ups and downs.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I am in my 20s and they were influential for me. It is possible they didn’t have stake in the market back then, but they should have some awareness of economic ups and downs.

        If you are in a certain age range then the ‘market down’ was a crazy, weird event but it has been dwarfed in financial impact by ‘market up’ since then. If you lost 10s of thousands in the dip but kept buying/contributing then the upswing has far, far exceeded that. Even if you sold out and sat on the sideline for a couple of years it hasn’t been particularly bad and you might well have recovered and then some.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        1. I am 100% confident that at least SOME people hold #3 and #10. They’ve express both sentiments to me. There’s (IIRC) at least 3 guys who have expressed this view.
        There is one guy I know who I suspect does NOT hold to #3, but he has never clearly articulated otherwise. He describes his investments as “I’m already paying into a 401k and I have a little extra, so I am going to play around with it.” That’s obviously not #3.
        Most guys I’d describe as “unknown” about their exact level of contradiction here. Keep in mind, I’m not running survey data, only reporting our casual conversations.

        2. They lived through the recession, largely at the beginning of their careers before they had sizable investment holdings. I think there’s a big difference between living through a recession as a worker and really experiencing it as a capitalist. My Mom never invested much in stocks until the late 90s and FREAKED OUT when the Dot-Com Bubble hit, and that was a pretty mild recession.
        Most probably still had a safety net from their parents as well. I know I did, and the guys I know from back then did as well. It’s a big difference between riding out a recession on your parent’s couch and trying to make a mortgage payment.

        • tayfie says:

          I don’t know your experiences. It’s just my rule of thumb that ascribing opinions to a every member of a group of people can easily be wrong.

          It seems to me that losing a job and needing to move back in with your parents is a much more traumatic event than seeing the stock market fall. One directly changes your entire living situation and the other is merely psychological discomfort of seeing some numbers go down, assuming the investments are not a source of living expenses.

          • Aapje says:

            If one has based their hopes for a good/better future on those numbers going up at a certain rate & instead they rapidly go down, that can be quite traumatic.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    My fears about UFAI are more about conflict issues than mistake issues. It’s conceivable that someone will come up with a paper clipper by accident, but I’m much more worried about a corporation or a government or possibly a religion trying to use AI to achieve dominance.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      or possibly a religion trying to use AI to achieve dominance.

      So it’s called the Butlerian Jihad for a reason?

    • albatross11 says:

      +1, for at least two reasons:

      a. An AI in a box at a university lab starts out powerless but may be able to get power over time by convincing people to let it out of the box, offering people things they want, etc. An AI supporting an investment bank or intelligence agency in its mission *starts out* in a position of great power and influence. Instead of manipulating/bribing/threatening college students or researchers to do its bidding, it starts out manipulating people with serious power and with congressmen on speed-dial. The CIA’s AI or Citibank’s AI also starts out with access to valuable information flows and can probably get more, and can probably much more quickly get resources for improving its computing power; the university AI in a box has to do a lot more steps to get those things. Almost any path to having a big impact on the world for a research-project AI is shorter for an AI of a powerful institution.

      b. Even if the AI never develops its own goals or has mis-specified goals lead it to turn its creator into paperclips, if the CIA or Citibank end up with the first general superhuman AI, and it gets ahead of the rest of the world on the exponential improving capabilities curve, we end up with the CIA or Citibank owning the world, or perhaps with their AI owning the world while to the outside world, it looks like CIA or Citibank are in charge.

      c. If the world awakens to the risk of this AI in time to stop it, the research lab AI starts with *enormously* fewer resources with which to defend itself. The CIA/Citibank one starts out with connections and institutional power and even some muscle, right away.

    • sty_silver says:

      Are you asking for arguments why this is a smaller problem? Is there a chance for you to change your mind?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think it’s possible people will start out by trying to win a conflict, but they will end up admitting they made a mistake (ie even by the “winner’s” values it was a mistake)

  8. Thegnskald says:

    Unrelated to anything:

    I’ve been going through some of the music I listened to when I was younger. Paid no attention to lyrics at the time, but one song in particular caught my attention lately. “Explode” by The Cardigans.

    Insert epithet here, after I realized what it was, and sort of by association, what the band name probably refers to (something warm and comforting). Most of their music, on re-examination, seems to be running along the theme of “Attempting to provide emotional support for teenagers who don’t receive any/enough”.

    Assuming I am correct on their purpose, I find it quite an interesting project. The only other band with a sort-of similar purpose I can think of might be The Verve Pipe (the US band, not the UK band by the same name), but their target audience seems to be somewhat older, as they seem to aim at the college crowd.

    Which leaves me wondering what else I haven’t noticed about music, which I mostly listen to for novelty (I tend to like music that does interesting things I haven’t encountered before)

    Similar thought: Piano pieces were often designed to capture specific experiences/emotions; appreciation of them was a specific kind of class symbol in that you could judge what kind of person someone was by what pieces they could relate to / appreciate.

    At least, that is my guess, after listening to Chopin and reflecting on secondhand depictions of the culture around piano pieces, trying to fill in the gaps the observers were missing.

    • Matt M says:

      Most of their music, on re-examination, seems to be running along the theme of “Attempting to provide emotional support for teenagers who don’t receive any/enough”.

      Oddly enough, you can also reach this conclusion regarding the Insane Clown Posse!

      • Thegnskald says:

        Never listened to them, TBH. I’ve always sort of patterned matched them as punkish nu metal, which had no appeal at all.

    • Urstoff says:

      Actually, the English band is just The Verve.

      • Thegnskald says:

        So it is!

        I misremembered The Verve’s naming issues as being in conflict with The Verve Pipe, when it was with a record label.

        (I still don’t know what “verve” means and have no intention of finding out.)

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I still don’t know what “verve” means and have no intention of finding out

          It’s a bit like “vim” 😛

    • Well... says:

      I’ve never listened to The Cardigans, but your description validates the judgment I made based on their name. I will continue to not listen to them.

      I was a huge Nirvana fan from about ages 12-16. I used to think their lyrics were deep because they didn’t make obvious sense, as if Cobain was so smart and guru-like he was hiding meaning behind multiple layers of cryptic symbolism or something (symbolism I of course uniquely understood). Then I stopped listening to much Nirvana between about ages 17-24 and when I came back to them later I realized most of their lyrics were just deliberate nonsense. Because Cobain was less of a “tortured artist” than a goofy guy who thought that kind of thing was funny.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Yeah, their name pretty much sums up their sound, now that I think about it.

        It is interesting music, mind. But the vocal style is annoying to a lot of people.

        You might like Mechanical Poet. Maybe.

        • Well... says:

          As I was reading your description of The Cardigans and grimacing, I thought about what I think good rock music should be: loud, aggressive, dangerous. Not monotonously uniformly so, but that should be the default. But also with an intelligence and mysteriousness (unlike what another loud, aggressive, dangerous style of music — rap — ought to have).

          That’s why I like bands like Helmet and Soundgarden.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Hm. Mechanical Poet is more sinister than aggressive.

            Kontrust, maybe. “Just Propaganda” is a decent song.

            ETA:

            I wouldn’t mind rap so much if someone would just take away all their goddamned high hats. By the way, you are welcome; if you hadn’t heard it before you will now.

          • Well... says:

            High hats? You mean like, the piece of a drum set comprised of two cymbals? None of the rap I like has actual drum set sounds in it.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It’s a modern rap phenomenon. Certainly old-school rap didn’t pull that shit.

            It is almost comical at this point. It misses comedy by a thin sliver of being annoying as shit.

      • Brad says:

        Even though I’m old enough to have been a fan of Nirvana during those ages, I wasn’t. I came to it later. I never thought their lyrics were deep. But I don’t expect or even want deep lyrics from my music. I like English language lyrics mostly because I can sing along, whereas I can’t hum very well.

        • Well... says:

          Deep is probably the wrong word. It’s a terribly abused word, to the point where if you say something is deep that basically means it’s vapid and cliche, a truism at best, a trite delusion at worst. Maybe a better term would be “challenging and beautiful.”

          Well anyway, 13-year-old me though Nirvana’s lyrics were challenging and beautiful. 23 year-old me thought they were mostly silly, sometimes clever. The surrealist influence of the Meat Puppets was more obvious to me then, too, since by then I’d become way more familiar with their (the Meat Puppets’) catalog. Later I realized there was some Melvins influence too, and Melvins lyrics aren’t even surreal, they’re plain unintelligible. (Though Buzz says they mean something, but only to him. I can dig it.)

          • Brad says:

            I guess I come at it from a different angle. I can appreciate the artistry of a great poem, but I don’t much enjoy them. I think trying to set a great poem to music, would just make it that much harder to appreciate.

            It’s just not what I’m looking for in my music.

        • BBA says:

          I like to sing along to “In Bloom”, for maximum irony. Because I know not what it means.

      • James says:

        I like Kurt Cobain’s lyrics much more now that I’m old enough to see through them. I have a big soft spot for meaningful-seeming nonsense.

  9. Thegnskald says:

    I played around with some numbers for a fantasy setting to get a handle on civilization hierarchy. My assumptions:

    A given unit of hierarchy can effectively service around six sub-units.

    The smallest unit is around 30 people, and constitutes a farming region.

    Each unit (gauging by Wikipedia information on civilization hierarchy, plus a guess that a single farmer can provide for around one extra person, and checking the math) typically supports about three times as many people as the unit beneath it; six farming communities supports a hamlet of around 90 people, which supports a small village of about 270 people, and so on and so forth.

    Long story short, the number of hamlets you need to support a capital city of more than a hundred thousand people is staggering.

    Which brought to mind the rural areas I group up in, which are filled with long-defunct hamlets (although this being the US, they didn’t call themselves that).

    Which in turn leaves me somewhat slack-jawed at the level of social disruption of the past two centuries.

    ETA: For reference, the maximum population of pre-industrial London appears to have been around 600,000

    ETA again: Given the population of England at the time was around 5.5 million, this suggests my hierarchy estimates are off; 6 might be too low

    • Randy M says:

      Industrial/Agricultural revolution is a big deal. Not many people are needed to actually get calories out of the ground anymore.

      • Thegnskald says:

        That part I grokked. I didn’t grok all the intermediary organizational units that were rendered obsolete as well with modern transportation, or exactly how prolific they were.

        • add_lhr says:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gram_panchayat

          There are still apparently 250,000 of these base-level administrative units – which appear to still be more of a large village than a hamlet in scale – in rural India, and they are further subdivided into a number of wards (!)

          • Thegnskald says:

            Which is lower than my initial calculations, but still quite staggering.

            I was trying to figure out what a properly-extrapolated D&D-like universe would look like; without food or space constraints (people can literally just make more of both with magic), the population explosion would be insane.

            The central empire of the setting has 2.7 trillion citizens. I’ve limited magic in the setting by adding a cost which is relevant to NPCs but not players (people age in proportion to their power, and using power increases your power), so farming and such still have a purpose. I think I have the political hierarchy worked out now, I just learned something crazy along the way about our own world.

            Now I need to figure out broader economics.

    • Deiseach says:

      Long story short, the number of hamlets you need to support a capital city of more than a hundred thousand people is staggering.

      Large part of the reason for royal progresses. Keeping the court fed is expensive and consumes a ton of resources. By moving on a circuit, you (a) permit the build-up of resources again in the last area – be that your capital or the last lord – that hosted you (b) spread the expense around (c) check up on the loyalty of those same lords by reminding them of your presence and power (d) reduce their resources to build up an army etc. by instead having to expend it on hosting the court (as well as the propaganda element, the chance for the common people to get at least a glimpse of the monarch, and the rest of it).

    • Where did you get the number 6 from? This sounds really really interesting but I’m still quite confused by your model.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Tesselation; hexagons, basically.

        It is almost certainly wrong; there is no reason to believe a capital can support the same number of sub-city regions as each city can support towns can support villages can support hamlets, or whatever. And calculating it out, it appears it might be too low anyways; England’s numbers only work with a constant of 8-12 there.

        But my goal wasn’t to get it exactly right, it was to get a handle on what the right kind of numbers would look like.

        • I’d be interested to read a more detailed account of your project, including what numbers you found worked best for your fantasy world and how your model compares/maps on to examples in history.

    • John Schilling says:

      Long story short, the number of hamlets you need to support a capital city of more than a hundred thousand people is staggering.

      Which is why there were either zero or one such cities in actual preindustrial nations. Mostly zero, and if there was one it was usually because it had stifled the development of any other large city in that nation.

      I found this to be quite helpful for such matters.

  10. DunnoWhatToDo says:

    I’m not sure if Scott bothers with the OT, but if not, I’d really appreciate if anyone could refer him here, please please please. I’d really appreciate it.

    I’ve experienced a strange kind of loss today and I’m trying to figure it out.

    It started when I met a girl about a year and half ago. She was really cute, and short, and she felt perfect to me, because at 5’3 there aren’t too many girls that give me a height gap, which is really important once you factor the high heels. At the time though, I was too anxious to actually ask a girl out. The situation also might as well not have worked – I was a waiter at the restaurant and she was a guest. I’ve got her name by looking at her credit card, and yes I know it’s creepy, but I’ve felt like it was justified – she was really sweet. I’ve looked at social media profiles out of curiousity but they’re mostly inactive.

    Recently, she started working at the reception desk of my gym, I was leaving one day and she told me goodbye and I was really happy, like wow, I actually meet her again! The next time I went to the gym I wanted to give her a thanks, because that day wasn’t so good and her goodbye made it much better, and also to ask her if she’s available.

    Nope. Boyfriend. Maybe it was because I stuttered, it was really difficult for me to open up. When I was in first grade, I asked a girl out and got laughed at and I only asked a few girls out since then, but my courage kept being shut down when they told me about their boyfriend. I was really excited at getting the courage to even if it wasn’t smooth, but no, she had a boyfriend and I have a broken heart.

    I know my behavior here is probably a bit obsessive – but I don’t know how to deal with my feelings now. I can’t tell if I’m feeling bad because of the rejection, or maybe because ever since I met her I got into this fantasy that I’ll meet her again and get my chance and it’ll work and it’ll be some happily ever after or maybe I just regret I didn’t took the chance back then, a year and half ago.

    I’m just entirely unsure how to deal with it, and it’s sapping out my other things (I have no motivation to program, or to do anything much) and I don’t know how to solve it. It just feels like such a big wasted opportunity and I can’t let it go. Everything I do just feels like it won’t make me happy. It feels secondary to the sadness and disappointment.

    • Well... says:

      I’m not sure I’ve seen Scott in the OTs. Would you accept advice from other people?

      • DunnoWhatToDo says:

        I won’t decline anyone’s kindness. Please do.

        • Well... says:

          First piece of advice: give it a few weeks. What you’re describing stings a bit, but it’s not the kind of thing you’re going to grieve over. How many girls from years ago can you remember having longed for from a distance only to get up close and find out they’re unavailable? Do you lose sleep over any of them? Probably not.

          I don’t know how old you are or where you’re at in your life. All you’ve told us is that you wait tables and that you go to a gym. I infer from this that you’re pretty young — probably early 20s, late 20s at the most. Since you read SSC I infer you are above-average intelligence and likely to earn more money than typical waiting jobs in the future. I also infer that you are romantically lonely and looking for a relationship.

          People here always give me crap for this but my advice to lonely people looking for a romantic relationship is always to get a dog and take it to a dog park and meet women that way. That’s what I would do if I wasn’t married.

          I know dogs aren’t for everyone, so if that’s a nonstarter then ignore this, but I think it’s an ideal way to meet women for multiple reasons. 1) Even if you’re completely unsuccessful, you’ve still gotten your dog healthy exercise. 2) Even if you’re unsuccessful, you might still make some new friends. 3) Having a dog puts you in an authoritative position of responsibility. That is attractive to women and is also good for your own personality development if you handle it right by being a good dog owner. 4) Being a good dog owner requires many of the same skills that make you a good father, and that is attractive to women too. 5) Women who have dogs are preselected for other attractive qualities. 6) Your two dogs playing together is an automatic conversation-starter, plus engaging in conversation is easier for most people while they’re petting a dog. 7) Probably other stuff I’m forgetting right now. NOTE: Don’t get a dog unless you’re ready to properly care for it; I’m just saying if you are, you can include it in your romantic strategy.

          • DunnoWhatToDo says:

            I appreciate your help. And your guesses are correct.

            I’m skipping the dog idea though, I’m bad with pets. Had a parrot.

            Would appreciate responses from others, as well.

          • Well... says:

            Fair enough. I think “wait a few weeks” is still good advice for you though, with respect to the feelings you mentioned.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            People here always give me crap for this but my advice to lonely people looking for a romantic relationship is always to get a dog and take it to a dog park and meet women that way. That’s what I would do if I wasn’t married.

            Do. Not. Do. This. And Well, don’t suggest it.

            You’re committing to rewriting how you live your life for the next decade. You can only live in about a third of the homes you could before, and that’s if your city is dog friendly. You will find it 10x as hard to move to a new location. You can’t take a vacation ever again without spending weeks working out logistics.

            (It also won’t work. Girls talk to you at the dog park because you’re hot and it’s a convenient excuse.)

          • How about the low cost version of the strategy. Don’t get a dog, do go to the dog park, strike up conversations with women who are walking dogs?

            I’m not on the dating/sex/marriage market any more, having managed a successful long run contract quite a while back. But I do walk around my neighborhood, encounter people walking dogs, and interact with them. It seems do be a reasonably easy way of striking up a casual conversation with a stranger.

          • Well... says:

            I do walk around my neighborhood, encounter people walking dogs, and interact with them. It seems do be a reasonably easy way of striking up a casual conversation with a stranger.

            See what I mean?

            Although I’m not sure about going to dog parks without a dog. I’ve done that a few times with my daughter, because I was trying to get her to be more comfortable around dogs and also to see how good dog owners interacted with their dogs, as a prelude to getting one ourselves (hasn’t panned out yet). I think most of the people there with their dogs figured that out by looking at us, but if it was just me instead it might have come off as creepy.

            Isn’t there a website where you can sign up to be a dog walker? It’s like Uber for dog walkers. That sounds pretty great: you earn money AND take a dog to the dog park with all the dating opportunities it affords* but without the restrictions and responsibilities of owning one. Although one drawback is you don’t get the benefit of being a dog owner and instead sort of align your brand with more of a “man for hire” thing, and transience is probably less attractive to women, but who knows maybe it’s not a big deal.

            *And yes, Andrew Hunter, it can afford you plenty. I have an ugly friend (gangly, scrawny, goofy-looking face) with a cute dog (yellow lab mix, looks like a big happy puppy even though he’s like 8) and when we go to the dog park girls are always talking to him. Maybe this won’t happen to anyone but don’t act like it is an impossibility.

          • gbdub says:

            You’re committing to rewriting how you live your life for the next decade. You can only live in about a third of the homes you could before, and that’s if your city is dog friendly. You will find it 10x as hard to move to a new location. You can’t take a vacation ever again without spending weeks working out logistics.

            Most of that is a pretty serious exaggeration.

            Housing is an issue if and only if you’re in a very tight housing market, otherwise you can find plenty of places willing to let at least smaller dogs in. And if you own a home you can of course do what you want.

            It is not “10x harder to move” unless you are moving somewhere like Hawaii or changing countries.

            It does not take “weeks” to make arrangements to go on vacation. It takes a few hours to find a decent local dog boarder and get them your dog’s vaccination records, and after that it’s a five minute phone call to set up a reservation whenever you need it. It’s not super cheap, but if you can afford the vacation in the first place it’s not much of a burden. Certainly for me it’s one of the easier aspects of planning a vacation.

            They definitely do get you positive attention. Heck last time I picked up my dog from the boarder I got rather flirtatious comments from two separate attractive women my age in the span of a couple minutes. I am not the sort of person that normally happens to sans dog.

            Plus dogs are great, better than a girlfriend in a lot of respects anyway. Certainly they give you somebody to commiserate with when you get rejected.

            Anyway DunnoWhatToDo already turned down a dog for perfectly valid reasons and that’s fine. But it’s not generally bad advice, as long as you’re cognizant of the responsibilities involved.

          • Orpheus says:

            >How about the low cost version of the strategy. Don’t get a dog, do go to the dog park, strike up conversations with women who are walking dogs?

            Or you can offer to walk a friend’s dog. Or you can become a dog sitter and get paid to walk around with a dog.
            In any case, I kind of feel that the type of person that gets into conversations with women in dog parks is also the kind of person who gets into conversations with women in other places, so I doubt getting a dog will help.

          • Matt M says:

            I kind of feel that the type of person that gets into conversations with women in dog parks is also the kind of person who gets into conversations with women in other places, so I doubt getting a dog will help.

            Yep.

            It’s worth remembering that virtually all “Here’s how lonely and introverted and nerdy guys can get better at talking to women” advice also applies to handsome, athletic, extroverted, charismatic guys too – and they are listening to it and following it as well.

            If you’re the weird creepy guy that no girls want to talk to at school, then you’re going to be the weird creepy guy that no girls want to talk to at the dog park as well.

          • yodelyak says:

            Sometimes when out for a walk with my gal, because I know she’s shy, I’ll say “Can we pet your dog” when a nice dog goes by with their human. Fewer than one person in 20 says something like, “Actually, she’s really skittish.” The rest invite us to pet the dog. (I’m not that big on petting dogs; I do it to be social. But my gal enjoys it, and it’s a sort of way to admit that I know it’s frustrating for her that I think we aren’t ready for a dog ourselves).

            But for meeting like-minded people, unless you know a neighborhood that’s really highly concentrated with people who’d be a good match for you (maybe a young people’s hang out, where everyone has the same subculture and is nearly the same age), I really suggest you think about dating online, or through a specific meet-up sort of thing (like a young dems networking hour), rather than trying to connect with strangers. Outside of a few places in our lives like college, where we’re surrounded by people in the same stage of life, we have to meet *a lot* of random people before we’re going to meet a good match.

            Also, the short guys I know who’ve learned to dance highly recommend that, if it’s an option.

    • Brad says:

      It is fine that it hurts. It is fine that you have regrets. The important thing is that you didn’t compound the regret by not asking again. You asked, she said no, that sucks. Next time it won’t hurt quite so badly, though it’ll still hurt. The alternative, that there isn’t a next time, means that you will spend the rest of your life hurting over this (and whatever other past missed opportunities / noes there have been) and rather than lessening over time, those pains will get worse.

      Paradoxically perhaps, the key to lessening the hurt you are feeling now is to go out and find new potential hurts to inflict on yourself. Don’t wait another year and a half. Hopefully at some point someone will say yes, and if and when that happens as long as that relationship keeps going the prior noes will mostly fade into irrelevance.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I went through this a few times when I was younger. You are doing better than I started off doing if you are able to ask. I think it is a pretty common experience. If you are clinically depressed and can’t handle it, treat it as any other clinical depression you can’t handle (ie seek help). If you think you can deal with it on your own, it will take a few months (and possibly another girl) and then you will feel better.

      (I expect this sort of thing operates on the same system as breakups, just with a fully imaginary and hope-based relationship. I would never have admitted this publicly when it was me going through it, but I guess I can say it now that it’s somebody else. Breakups are always really hard but people do get over them.)

      • I don’t know if this helps, but a very long time when I was very down about something, probably a woman less interested in me than I was in her, I found some comfort in the solidity of the external world. The existence of the tree I am touching does not depend on my mood, and it will still be here when I feel better.

      • DunnoWhatToDo says:

        Yeah, I think I can handle this myself.. try and meet someone else.. still sad about it, and could barely get any sleep.

        > (I expect this sort of thing operates on the same system as breakups, just with a fully imaginary and hope-based relationship.

        That’s a good way to describe it. I’m not sure if this is the right idea, but maybe I’m just sad that the.. loss of a fantasy? I know it feels silly and stupid to get caught up on something so minor that happened a year and half ago, but at the same time I’d be lying if I said my emotions aren’t genuine. I’m feeling too conflicted between “time to get over it” and “there’s only one of her”. And I just don’t know what to do about it, it feels like an internal bravery debate. Both sides have their merit. It’s really hard to choose.

        • I’m feeling too conflicted between “time to get over it” and “there’s only one of her”.

          It is quite unlikely that, by pure chance, you happened to encounter the one woman in the world best suited to you.

          • DunnoWhatToDo says:

            David:
            I can agree with you on an intellectual level, but not on an emotional one.

          • I did run a rough back of the envelope calculation on the subject and concluded that the woman I ended up with–we’ve been married for over thirty years now, with two adult children–was about a one in a hundred thousand catch.

            In an emotional level, isn’t it enough to believe that the one you lost is sufficiently better suited to you than average so that your chance of finding another as good is low? It isn’t as if you get to search the entire world population.

            That probably isn’t true either, but I can easily see why you might feel it was true. At least for a while.

    • I’m no expert, but I do know there’s no perfect angels out there waiting for you (or anybody), and I can guarantee you this person is very flawed close-up same as you and I and everyone is. If you can manage, I’d strongly suggest don’t pin all your hopes on one lady before you’re going out with them (its great to be devoted in a relationship, but never to someone you don’t know). You did a great job to ask, its scary stuff for everybody but worth it, and remember the answer was not about you!

    • James says:

      Congrats on actually asking her out. That’s tricky, especially when you’re not used to it, and—even if you slightly fluffed the delivery—you should be proud of it. (But not the kind of proud where you rest on your laurels; the kind that spurs you on to do more, and better, in the future.)

      If you see her there again, try not to feel too sheepish about having asked her out. I don’t think you have any reason to be embarrassed, and I expect she’ll be quite friendly to you. (She sounds like a friendly person, and it’s more likely to have raised you in her eyes than lowered you, even though she had to decline.) I’m now very friendly with a woman whom I asked out and who declined me somewhere I frequent. Though it may be hard for you to be very friendly if you’re that heartbroken.

      It’s painful (my God, I know it’s painful), but I’d say your best option now is to give up on her as thoroughly as you can, lay your dreams of being with her totally to rest, etc. When you can bear it (this probably won’t be straight away), you may find that finding other women to pursue helps to cheer you up. It doesn’t even need to be anything definite: even the glimmer of a possibility with other women can take the edge off the sting, I think.

      Good luck.

  11. arlie says:

    I made the mistake of subscribing to new messages on the conflict vs mistake thread, and wound up with a horrible impression of the other followers of this blog – far different from the one I’d gotten simply reading whole articles, comments and all.

    I think this is a potentially interesting example of how presentation matters. The individual responses drowned me in the kind of sub thread I’d normally scroll past, consisting in this case of people with strong negative opinions about some group of people pontificating about those people’s complete vileness. At least the groups weren’t categories that folks are born with, or otherwise can’t avoid. They were, IMO, inaccurate strawmen, unless the posters make a “no true scotsman” argument – people of similar opinions, who aren’t completely bad, aren’t really members-of-hated-category, because the definition of hated-category includes that members are completely bad.

    FWIW, there were hated categories that are commonly associated with both sides of the US political divide … at least by the opposite side. (The main message I took away was that the posters were unthinking members in good standing of their respective subtribes. That, and a bemusement at how discussion stayed even remotely civil, with that level of bias and hatred on display. Perhaps the comments were later moderated out?)

    So on the one hand, “how do you do it” – and on the other hand, is there a better way to deal with notifications of comments.

    • Nornagest says:

      Conflict vs. Mistake is also one of those posts that’s gotten substantial exposure outside the blog and so attracts new commentators, who mostly suck. Happens every time Scott puts a lot of effort into a piece with culture war valence.

    • sty_silver says:

      How do you subscribe to new messages?

  12. BBA says:

    From Jacob Anbinder at Democracy: Politics is Failing Mass Transit. The argument is that the crises in big-city transit systems are being exacerbated by the governmental structures involved. The Progressive Era impulse to move public services to arms-length public authorities so they wouldn’t be subject to the whims of electoral politics has resulted, decades later, in these authorities being unaccountable to anyone and unresponsive in the face of systemic breakdowns.

    This is a strong case, but at least here in New York, there had been substantial issues with the city-run subway system that precipitated spinning it off to the NYCTA (since merged into the MTA). Notably, the subway was constantly underfunded due to the elected city government’s reluctance to raise fares and risk a public backlash. Privatization is a possibility, but would it be selling the entire system to a single operator (who would then have monopoly power) or breaking it into competing companies (thus losing the value of a single citywide network)? Would they set their own fares (possibly pricing working-class New Yorkers out of a commute) or would fares be regulated by the city or state (which, of course, is what drove the original private companies out of business)?

    There don’t seem to be any easy answers here. (And for those tempted to suggest “just drive everywhere like a normal person” or “jitneys and UberPool” – yes, you’re very smart, shut up.)

    • Brad says:

      Six years ago I would have said it’s a no brainer, give the subway back to the city. Adjust the tax split between city and state to compensate. The city has plenty of non-fare revenue sources it can use to supplement. And bring back the commuter tax to boot, but I digress.

      That’d still leave LIRR and metro-north under the clusterf&*k that is the MTA, but at least the jewel in the crown would be under the control of a more accountable entity. But after a full term and facing another of BdB doing his level best to restore the city to the former glory of the Dinkins administration, I’m not so sure.

      • BBA says:

        What makes it all the more depressing is it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing better. Even back when Republicans could still win elections here, Pataki and Giuliani were just as indifferent to transit issues as Cuomo and deBlasio are.

        Other systems have the additional problem that there’s nobody to turn them over to. I think specifically of the electrical-fire-prone Washington Metro. The DC government, competence aside, really shouldn’t be taking over a system that’s mostly situated outside the District of Columbia, but likewise the states of Maryland and Virginia and their various localities don’t have a good claim to run it either, so they’re pretty much stuck with the convoluted WMATA arrangement, for good and (mostly) for ill.

        • The Nybbler says:

          What makes it all the more depressing is it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing better. Even back when Republicans could still win elections here, Pataki and Giuliani were just as indifferent to transit issues as Cuomo and deBlasio are.

          Provide the system with more money, it’ll get lost in graft, waste, and corruption. Try to do something about the graft, waste, and corruption, and lose the support of those who benefit from it. It’s not a matter of indifference, the problem can’t be solved under the constraints available.

          • Brad says:

            In the classic version of the problem of a minority with concentrated interest vs a majority with diffuse interest, for any individual member of the majority the interest in question is quite small.

            For example, if the FDNY rips us off with poor service and very high costs — well there aren’t that many fires anymore and even if it is 5x more than it should be $2B is still only a little more than 2% of the city budget and funded out of general funds. On the other hand the gross inefficiency and incompetence of the MTA is something that affects many members of the majority in substantial and quite annoying ways. And they see the costs more directly in the form of fares, tolls, and dedicated taxes.

            I think NY/NYC politicians could come out ahead politically by fighting the MTA workers (including management) and contractors *if* they could actually beat them.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It doesn’t really seem like there’s an obvious good solution.

      The MTA is a mess but, as Brad pointed out, the current city government isn’t exactly wowing us with their competence either. Turning it back over to the city isn’t necessarily the right move.

      I don’t have a strong opinion on privatization one way or the other. It might be the best move but I I’m skeptical that it would fix the underlying problems.

      • Matt M says:

        To the extent that one of the “problems” of mass transit is something like “It’s very expensive to build and it’s primary customers are poor people who require it to be very cheap to use” – privatization almost certainly can’t help.

        The “private sector solution” to a problem like that is usually something like “This cannot be done profitably so let’s not do it” which does not seem like a solution anyone is willing to accept here.

        • Brad says:

          > it’s primary customers are poor people

          You don’t know what you are talking about for a change.

        • A different private sector solution was jitneys, but they got effectively legislated out of existence because the competed with the trolley companies.

          • BBA says:

            Did I call that we’d end up on jitneys or what?

            They’re still around, called “dollar vans”, mostly (but not entirely) operating illegally. Due to the cultural milieu in which they operate being so far from mine, I’ve never used them, and for similar reasons I doubt anyone else here has either. But simply on grounds of capacity and labor cost (a van fits 18 people, a train fits 1800 people) I don’t think they’re a workable substitute for the MTA.

          • Brad says:

            Due to the cultural milieu in which they operate being so far from mine, I’ve never used them, and for similar reasons I doubt anyone else here has either.

            I have. Though by the time I used them they were $2 vans, not $1. If you live off flatbush, they are very convenient.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m not understanding the argument against privatization and then regulating the prices. It works fairly well for utilities and is based on the same economic reasoning.

      • BBA says:

        IRT and BMT were price-regulated private companies that ran competing subways. Their fares had always been five cents. The companies wanted to increase fares, because they weren’t covering costs. The city said no. Result: IRT and BMT went bankrupt and the city took over all of the subways.

    • shakeddown says:

      Re privatization, compare British rail – its trajectories (both good and bad) stayed pretty much the same after privatization, so it probably doesn’t matter that much unless government is specifically dysfunctional. By specifically I mean “There’s a specific guy running the program who’s awful” or “there’s a specific regulation that ruins it”. General government dysfunction probably isn’t solvable by privatization, since the private system still has to deal with the government for subsidies and permits and such.
      (Also, anyone who says “just drive” has clearly not driven in NYC. Subway is significantly faster).

    • or breaking it into competing companies (thus losing the value of a single citywide network)?

      I’m not sure that’s a problem. Wouldn’t it pay multiple companies to coordinate in order to provide better service and so get more customers and make more money?

  13. Well... says:

    I’d like to create this as a sort of open post for talking meta about Jordan Peterson.

    For instance, is it just me or does he look like he’s terminally ill? True, some people just look like that, but I’ve seen videos of him from a few years ago and he looked much healthier.

    Also, why is almost every single video of his on Youtube so misleadingly titled? (Or at least outrageously titled; I haven’t watched every single one.) They’re not all posted by the same person so that seems like a remarkable coincidence, especially because misleadingly titling videos doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would be done by people who are into Jordan Peterson, although I don’t really know the demographic particulars of his fans well.

    How do you guys feel about the statement “Jordan Peterson is the Werner Herzog of academia”?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      In some of his interviews he explains that hehas had serious health problems within the last couple of years, though I don’t know the details. And I hadn’t particularly noticed a glut of misleadingly titled videos, but one vague hypothesis is that because he speaks out so much against the radical identity-politics left, he has a common enemy with the sort of people who are on the other end of the horseshoe, but because he is basically a centre-right traditionalist as far as I can tell, if you are of a radicalised identity-politics non-left persuasion (there seems to be a fair few shares from people of a radicalised id-pol MRA persuasion for instance), you enjoy seeing him run rhetorical rings around your opponents, but what he says doesn’t actually support your position that much either, so you end up massaging the title a bit to make it sound like it does?

    • Randy M says:

      The videos of his I watched (at Conrad’s recommendation, iirc) were titled “Bible lecture series I: who is God?” or something similar and was as advertised.
      I think you mean perhaps short clips others have uploaded?

      • Well... says:

        Yeah. I started with the Cathy Newman interview and have been clicking on “recommended” videos ever since. All or almost all of those have titles that are misleading or outrageous. Obviously the ones Peterson himself uploads will not have that issue.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The videos of his I watched (at Conrad’s recommendation, iirc) were titled “Bible lecture series I: who is God?” or something similar and was as advertised.

        FWIW, I don’t recommend his Bible lectures unless you’re already a JBP fan. The material is new and not particularly well-refined. It takes Peterson eight hours to get through Adam & Eve. The first three episodes are basically a condensed version of Maps of Meaning.

        His Maps of Meaning lectures, on the other hand, are the products of a book he wrote 20+ years ago, and he’s been lecturing on for about as long. By the time you’re watching the 2017 version those are concise, quality explanations of well-defined concepts with insightful examples.

        The Bible series is entertaining for a JBP fan (and Bible fan), but I really think he should have written The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories book first, and then made the lecture series. I understand why he did it. I mean, strike while the iron is hot. But I think it’s very much a work in progress, and I hope after he’s done with the lectures he can pick out the grand themes and write a concise book out of the material.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I guess it depends on the audience, because I feel the opposite way. The bible series is what got me hooked on him as a thinker. The ability to talk engagingly for 8 hours on Adam and Eve (and I have no particular interest in the Bible as “The Bible”) is a revelation itself. I find his more refined stuff to be less engaging (though not uninteresting just not as good).

    • lvlln says:

      When I watch videos of Jordan Peterson on YouTube, I tend to look for official sources, like his actual channel (he actually has 2, 1 for his long-form stuff including lectures, Q&A, long-form interviews, etc, and another where he shares short ~5 minute clips cut from videos from the former channel) or the actual outlet that interviewed him or invited him to lecture, and I haven’t found those to be particularly misleadingly labeled. I’d recommend seeking out those sources; in general, I think looking at the primary sources is better practice.

      I have seen misleadingly titled videos pop up in my recommendations, usually of the form of something like “Peterson DESTROYS SJW” or “10 times when Jordan Peterson went NEXT LEVEL BEAST MODE” or whatever. My guess is that these clip-show-type videos are put together by people who have been abusively repressed by the SJW-left that Peterson often butts heads with (and commenters here know that there’s no shortage of such people) and thus find someone speaking openly and confidently against them to be incredibly refreshing and thus celebrates it in a typical tribal way. Interestingly, Peterson himself has noted that he’s observed some of his fans doing things like this and says that he dislikes it, as he doesn’t see the exchange of ideas as a battle to be won or lost, and that treating it like that just increases polarization and makes people dig in their heels (I guess that puts him more in the mistake theory side of things?).

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Interestingly, Peterson himself has noted that he’s observed some of his fans doing things like this and says that he dislikes it, as he doesn’t see the exchange of ideas as a battle to be won or lost, and that treating it like that just increases polarization and makes people dig in their heels

        After the bizarre Channel 4 interview Peterson gave this interview where he discussed it (and many other things). This interview I thought was excellent, and I was very impressed with the interviewer, who had actually studied Peterson’s work and was able to ask interesting and insightful questions. I was dismayed the rest of the stuff on his channel was in Dutch because I would have liked to have seen more. Anyway, yes, Peterson talks about the reaction to the Channel 4 interview. He “won,” but not the way he wants to “win.” He wants people to talk to each other, and a deescalation of political polarization, not simply to “win” ideological battles.

        • Aapje says:

          @Conrad Honcho

          That’s pretty funny, because the blog the interviewer works for is known for politically incorrect right-wing edgelording.

          But I guess that when something is so far out of the left-wing Overton window that the regular media starts edgelording*, the opposite kind of edgelording cancels this out. So guys who normally edgelord to the right suddenly are the ones who do the respectful interview.

          * My newspaper, which normally is relatively decent to right-wing ideas, went Cathy Newman-light on Peterson.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      For instance, is it just me or does he look like he’s terminally ill?

      I don’t think he looks ill. But his videos are rarely professionally lit, so “bad lighting” can also be a factor. I could also believe he’s under a lot of stress. There are a lot of people who support him, but an awful lot of people with much louder voices who want him destroyed.

      Also, why is almost every single video of his on Youtube so misleadingly titled?

      Can you give an example? Are you talking about videos he titled on his channel, or one of the dozens of people who take clips from his videos and repost them? If it’s the latter then the explanation is obvious. Those are just people posting popular things with clickbait titles for ad revenue.

      How do you guys feel about the statement “Jordan Peterson is the Werner Herzog of academia”?

      I see the comparison, but it’s not like Peterson is using academia to tell people heroic life stories or something. He’s a clinical psychologist. His job is “someone is having big problems with their life and I give them sound advice.” Taking that to a wider audience with books and youtube videos isn’t a radical departure.

      • Well... says:

        Peterson reminds me of Herzog most when he talks about mythology and Jung. The wider sweeping statements about mankind or the human condition or whatever that veer into the poetic. “The yogurt is alive, yet nobody can hear its cries of pain.” (That’s paraphrasing a joke Twitter account, Werner Twertzog, if I remember right.)

        I wish I hadn’t mentioned the video titles, it was just something I found amusing and am not actually perplexed by now that I think about it.

    • baconbits9 says:

      or instance, is it just me or does he look like he’s terminally ill?

      He has been borderline exhausted for the past year and a half. If you watch his (iirc) November Patreon Q&A he gets asked how he is feeling and he talks a little about how he was almost overwhelmed. He was close to losing his job, became embroiled in a national level controversy, has spoken at dozens of events, produced a lecture series for a large live audience, finished writing a book (which he also did the reading for the audio version), and I think he strongly implies that he was battling a depression episode during at least a part of this stretch.

      • Well... says:

        This is a tangent, but what is borderline exhausted? How is it different from regular exhausted?

        • baconbits9 says:

          He is still working and producing content, I think exhausted would mean he actually had to take a break from working to recuperate, borderline implies being near his limits not over them.

      • Aapje says:

        @baconbits9

        He also has to avoid making any misstatement or what can be misconstrued as a misstatement, because what he says will be assumed to be in bad faith very often. It’s like being on Jeopardy, except you have a noose around your head and are standing on a trap door that will open if you get an answer wrong.

        This seems like a very high-stress life to me.

        • Well... says:

          I agree but isn’t that basically true of any public figure?

          • Wrong Species says:

            I doubt Ta-Nehisi Coates worries too much about saying the wrong thing.

          • Aapje says:

            @Well…

            No, if the media moderately likes you, they tend to interpret ambiguous statements in good faith. If they really like you, they tend to interpret explicitly malicious statements (much) more generously than what was actually said.

            Furthermore, if they moderately like you and you make a serious faux pas, they will usually forgive and forget after some time. If they don’t like you, they will keep bringing it up again and again, steering any conversation to it.

            The Overton window is not just about what people consider reasonable, it’s a useful concept because beliefs outside of it get treated differently from those inside it.

          • Well... says:

            @Wrong Species & Aapje:

            That’s only true if “the media” you’re worried about is limited to mainstream journalism. TNCoates quit Twitter after all! (Multiple times?)

            Where you stand WRT the Overton window probably has somewhat to do with your career prospects, but other stresses of being a public figure can easily get you harassed constantly no matter what.

      • Aapje says:

        @baconbits9

        I watched the interview with the Dutch interviewer and Peterson said that his daughter had a severe food allergy that was very hard to diagnose (the symptoms only started 4 days after ingesting the food and then lasted for a month, making it hard to figure out that it was an food allergy in the first place and also hard to test what food item was responsible).

        Anyway, his daughter managed to figure it out herself and then Peterson realized that he probably has a milder version of the same, causing depressions. His own health improved after changing his diet.

  14. Senjiu says:

    I just read something written by an american living in germany. It’s about painkillers and differences in the consumption and the way they’re viewed in those two countries.
    Could someone tell me if she’s typical in her attitude towards taking medication?
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/27/opinion/sunday/surgery-germany-vicodin.html

    (I’m german and I have to say I was apalled at how eager she was to take medication. Whenever a doctor was quoted I wholeheartedly agreed, that you should take as few painkillers as possible for exactly the reasons they gave.)

    • keranih says:

      By anecdote, it was not typical in the 1990’s for Italian hospitals to give morphine to traffic collision victims with broken bones until after the bones had been set. In contrast, in the US, the ER docs would absolutely want pain medication on board before beginning such a procedure. In another contrast – the US and UK attitudes towards pain control in child birth have long differed.

      I think there are long standing differences in cultural medical practices. I think that there is evidence the US recently overshot in attempting to control pain. Having said that – while I might have been okay with the idea of a NSAID post surgery, I would have infuriated if my pain level post surgery had been high and my physician refused to prescribe medication to help ease it. No reason for a week’s supply, but 3-4 days of a low dose to dull the ache of surgery and allow me to resume normal activity should have been good.

    • quanta413 says:

      I’m American, and I find her obsession possibly excessive; I’d be more inclined to trust my doctors. I’d have to know how much it hurt. However, her attitude seems pretty normal for the U.S. When my wisdom teeth were extracted, I was given vicodin by default. It was probably excessive in retrospect. I only took it once, but I think I was given more than one dose.

  15. Maxwell says:

    Bitcoin succeeded as a speculation despite failing as a cryptocurrency. That’s not what the lesswrong people were predicting.

    Being smart made them aware of bitcoin before other people. It didn’t make their analysis better.

  16. b_jonas says:

    Culture war questions are allowed in this thread, right?

    Suppose there’s an election for who gets to govern the country, and one of the candidates are really unsympathetic. He’s not quite as bad as Trump, but he follows what you think are very bad policies. If he gets to be president, he will destroy the education and research and medical system of the country, build a wall and exile all immigrants, makes the country so uncomfortable to live in that most of the people who have the opportunity move to Canada. His public speeches are so full of hate that they make you turn off the radio just so you don’t hear his voice in the news, he always appeals to emotions instead of reason and pays for expensive ad campaigns that paint his supposed or real enemies in a bad light. He makes a show of listening to the average people by mass-mailing everyone questionnaires, but they contain loaded questions that are just designed to demonstrate support of whatever policy he wants instead of asking about real choices.

    On the other hand, he also builds atomic power plants. He publicly speaks out to support the Paris agreement. So maybe after the more lucky of us flee the country that’s half in ruins, there’ll be a bit less of a chance that all the population of the Earth dies out from global warming. And I sort of think that’s very important.

    Would you vote for such a candidate? Asking for a friend.

    • John Schilling says:

      there’ll be a bit less of a chance that all the population of the Earth dies out from global warming.

      There are probabilities less than zero?

      And I sort of think that’s very important.

      OK, the probability of literal human extinction due to global warming isn’t quite zero, but it’s very small. And dependent on second- and third-order effects rather like the ones that might lead to a really obnoxiously bad US president inadvertently extinctifying the human race via e.g. genocidal war. Or, wait, he’s going to destroy the nation’s educational system and then build a lot of atomic power plants? Because that might not end well either.

      A mathematical assessment of the competing not-quite-insignificant extinction risks on either side of this dilemma is going to end up with weakly-supported handwaving and for most people the handwaving will support their prior political preferences. Maybe think of a different way to frame the problem and its solution space?

      • yodelyak says:

        Yeah. I’m a pretty big “climate is a big bad urgent bad” person who otherwise gets along with most commenters here pretty well. I don’t think you’ll get something helpful with your question.

        I think the climate problem is one of a set of molochian problems for which the key solution is “coordination” and consequently the most important traits in a president (who can’t unilaterally solve climate change, and would be unwise to try) is an ability to shepherd a lot of people and interests to a negotiating table and get actions taken. Steering the U.S. treasury to invest in nuclear does work to get you one or two “wedges” in a wedge-framework for carbon reduction. But it’s not the central solution, which has to depend on global politics.

        My view tends to be that someone tough and practical, and maybe with a mean streak, but who ultimately is disciplined and highly empathic and who has significant support at home, and a lot of cachet abroad… that person will demonstrate the fact across a wide range of issues, not just climate. Or they won’t. Judge them on the issues you understand best, but you’re likely to only be a little bit wrong if you expect a candidate to satisfy the saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

        (I consider climate change possibly the most urgent. Unlike, say, AI risk, where it’s not that clear what can be done (at least to me) and not that clear what the risk timeframe is, with climate change we more-or-less know our timeframe and we know what the solutions available are, and early actions have more time to take effect, and hence pay higher dividends than later ones.)

        • Interesting response.

          At a slight tangent … . Quite aside from whether slowing warming is worth doing, it is very hard to do for the reason you imply–reducing CO2 output faces the public good problem at the international as well as the individual level. A country that does it bears all of the cost and gets only a small fraction of the benefit.

          That is, as you point out, an argument for having politicians good at negotiating solutions to such a problem. But it’s also an argument for adaptation instead of prevention, diking against sea level rise, changing crops and irrigation systems, and the like. Most of those are private goods at the national level, many at the individual level. And it’s much easier to organize the production of private goods than of public goods.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Is this a question where we’re assuming philosophical certainty or is it more about what we actually would do? Because in the real world I would assume that:

      He has no chance of winning and it would be pointless to support him.

      If he does win, then he’ll have a hard time getting a coalition to fully support him.

      I lean more towards global warming being a problem than not, but I’m not confident that it will be bad enough that all his policies will be worth it.

      Other renewable sources could end up cheaper and more cost-effective than what we have now based solely on innovation in the private sector, mitigating the gains to electing him.

      And assuming all that, there could easily be a candidate in the near future(let’s say 4-8 years) who could get elected, build more nuclear reactors and not do any of the bad things.

      But if you’re telling me the choice is between electing him or absolute certainty that the Earth turns in to Venus, then yeah, I’d vote for him.

      • b_jonas says:

        > I lean more towards global warming being a problem than not, but I’m not confident that it will be bad enough that all his policies will be worth it.

        Yes. And since we’re not talking about Trump here, nobody actually argues that global warming is not a problem. The political opponents of this candidate would just argue that building and maintaining the nuclear power plants is too expensive, and that the candidate just wants to build them because he’s corrupt and the nuclear power industry is funding his campaign.

        • Matt M says:

          nobody actually argues that global warming is not a problem.

          I think global warming is not a meaningful problem. Not in the Top 10 problems facing the world, at least.

          • b_jonas says:

            Ok, I wasn’t precise enough. But at least none of the other candidates who have any chance of winning this election go out to claim that global warming isn’t a problem.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @b_jonas

            Are you serious?

            The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

            -Donald Trump

          • yodelyak says:

            A quick off-the-cuff list (not ordered):

            1. AI Risk, whether foom-style and paperclips or just the risk that a pretty-smart AI created by a hedge fund figures out how to make a bundle by shorting just before deliberate causing any of 2 – 9, and/or doing just enough lobbying/obstructing to prevent them being solved.
            2. Cost disease / global hivemind / the thing the reactionaries are afraid of.
            3. Pandemic.
            4. Nuclear war.
            5 – 8. Anthropocene Extinction Becomes Existential: Combinations of a) changes in climate and ocean pH and etc from GHGs and other factors b) habitat loss c) over-fishing/hunting/poaching, d) other pollution cause many individual species to go extinct, which reach a cascade level where whole ecosystems collapse, and food system species (fish, bees, etc.) go extinct. Famines trigger wars, climate refugees and wars and famines destabilize governments, cascading to make #4 more likely and completely stun governments out of doing anything about 1-9 (let’s face it, there’s nothing to be done about 10).
            9. Asteroids.
            10. Aliens.

            So, Matt M… what’s your list?

          • Matt M says:

            I haven’t really thought about it in that detail, but all of the rest of your list seems like things I would rate above climate change. And I’d probably expand the “things reactionaries worry about” quite a bit: One world government is a threat, but potentially a distinct threat from 1984-surveillance state, which are both potentially distinct from “Islam becomes the dominant global religion and culture” etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            Islam becoming the dominant religion seems way less scary than those other things, because the dominant religion can change–either become something different (like medevial Christianity vs modern Christianity) or fade away (like Christianity in a lot of Europe). That seems more like the risk that communism will take over the world–that would be bad, but there’d still be people at the end, so you could hope that eventually the one-world communist government would do a China and get better. Even if we had a few centuries of global dark age, eventually something could change. Humans extinct or nearly so, on the other hand, that’s a hell of a lot harder to come back from.

        • And since we’re not talking about Trump here, nobody actually argues that global warming is not a problem.

          I have long argued that we do not know if it is a problem, that the net effect might be positive or negative.

      • Deiseach says:

        The problem is that to really fix global warming climate change (whatever they’re calling it this week), it will take (1) co-ordinated world-wide action by practically every nation on Earth (2) big, big, I mean YUGE changes in modern life-styles. People don’t want to do that as individuals; they want to think that protests about Evil Big Corporations, putting up a few solar panels on their houses, and drawing woke protest art featuring Disney characters will do it all.

        It won’t. It will mean severely cutting back industrialised Western life-style and telling the developing world “sorry, you can’t have the fun things we had”.

        Nobody wants to do that. Faced with “see a drop in our earnings which means a drop in our quarterly returns on last year which means a drop in share price which means I’m out as CEO/no more year-round crops grown and harvested out of season as food choices over the bread-and-potatoes of our grandparents, also we lose all our fancy tech toys” and “in twenty years time Earth turns into Venus”, people take “gimme the twenty year option”.

        Unless your guy is Literally Stalin (and um, from the descriptions, he may be) then he can’t impose that kind of sweeping change on his own nation, much less spearhead a global movement to do the really big difficult hard choices (nuclear power is nice, but if the doomsaying is at all accurate to the reality, then it’s a sticking plaster not a cure-all).

    • sty_silver says:

      I think the existential risk from global warming is real and significant, but nonetheless smaller than that from nuclear war. If this country has nukes, it’s an easy case, you elect the more reasonable person.

      Building atomic power plants sounds like a bad idea to me too, though I realize that there is a consensus on SSC for it and I could easily be wrong. If I am and the country does not have nukes, I would consider it a hard question.

    • Well... says:

      He’s not quite as bad as Trump, but he follows what you think are very bad policies. If he gets to be president, he will destroy the education and research and medical system of the country, build a wall and exile all immigrants, makes the country so uncomfortable to live in that most of the people who have the opportunity move to Canada.

      Since Trump hasn’t destroyed the education and research and medical systems, built a wall, exiled all immigrants, or inspired many people (even those who most easily could) to move to Canada, I can’t tell whether you think Trump is bad because he didn’t do those things yet or because you think he will try to.

      On the other hand, he also builds atomic power plants. He publicly speaks out to support the Paris agreement. So maybe after the more lucky of us flee the country that’s half in ruins, there’ll be a bit less of a chance that all the population of the Earth dies out from global warming. And I sort of think that’s very important.

      OK I can’t tell if this is a sarcastic question or not.

      • Matt M says:

        I got thrown off by the first part too, but I think the second part is meant to justify it.

        The reason he’s “not as bad as Trump” is solely because he believes in climate change.

        I think in a certain way, this gets back to the “If the left truly believes that climate change is going to result in THE EXTINCTION OF LIFE ON EARTH then why aren’t they more willing to compromise their other political ends in exchange for meaningful action on it?” discussion we had a couple months ago.

        This guy seems to be suggesting, from the leftist perspective, that maybe they should? That maybe the Democrats should run a candidate who has an aggressive agenda vis-a-vis climate change, but is far right on everything else? Not entire sure…

        • Well... says:

          That would be an interesting thought experiment, but it seems like a waste to blow it on the global warming issue, which has way too many moving parts that even many of the hardcore ideologues will admit exist.

          I’d find it much more intriguing to see what leftists would say about, for instance, a candidate who was populist right + Trump-style “Master Persuader” on everything except, say, trans issues.

          • sty_silver says:

            As someone who is left on the majority of topics…

            … a candidate’s views on transgender people would make up less than 0,1% of my decision either way.

          • Well... says:

            So if a viable candidate is horrifying to you in every way except his strong support for Issue X (which you consider of utmost importance, to the point where you might vote for that candidate based on that issue alone), what are some possibilities for Issue X?

            For a lot of people on the Right for example, it seems like immigration restriction was that issue in 2016.

          • I’m not sure I can find any single issue X that qualifies. Some candidates might be:

            End the war on drugs
            End civil forfeiture
            Sharply reduce restrictions on immigration
            A shift to a generally non-interventionist foreign policy

        • b_jonas says:

          > The reason he’s “not as bad as Trump” is solely because he believes in climate change.

          No. The reason he’s not as bad as Trump is that he isn’t as chaotic. He doesn’t act on a whim and make random contradictory claims in interviews, but instead sticks to one shady plan and aligns all his appearances to that. While people were seriously talking about how Trump might trigger the nuclear weapons without forethought, and talking about his “long tail”, nobody believes this candidate is a loose cannon like Trump. If he uses the nuclear arsenal, he will use it to advance his strategy, and you will get two week’s notice because he will explain to you in television why sending nukes to his preferred target is such a good thing to do, and how according to his democratic consultations, 98% of the people actually support using the nukes, it’s only his rich political opponents who deny that.

          • Matt M says:

            He doesn’t act on a whim and make random contradictory claims in interviews, but instead sticks to one shady plan and aligns all his appearances to that.

            Uh, this seems a LOT worse than Trump to me…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What things do you think Trump has done that are “chaotic?” It seems to me he telegraphs everything he’s going to do.

            He said he was going to kill TPP; he killed TPP.

            He said he was going to withdraw from the Paris accords; withdrew from the Paris accords.

            Said he would renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA; renegotiations almost complete.

            Said he would bomb the shit out of ISIS; ISIS has had the shit bombed out of it.

            Said he would build a wall; wall prototypes are complete and tested and they’re working on funding.

            Said he would ban muslims from traveling here and implement “extreme vetting;” travel ban from mulsim-majority countries that do not have cooperating/function governments we can use to vet people is in place.

            You may not like any of these things, but it all seems pretty orderly to me. He’s doing exactly what he said he would do. How is Trump chaotic?

          • Releasing his tax records?

            The much better replacement for Obamacare?

          • beleester says:

            @Conrad Honcho: Just in the past week, he changed his signals from “I’ll sign a clean DACA bill” to “No DACA unless you fund The Wall.”

            During the Obamacare fight, he went from “Repeal and replace” to calling the proposed Republican replacement “mean,” and then went ahead and signed a bill removing the individual mandate, so the end result was roughly “Repeal and don’t replace.”

    • shakeddown says:

      Destroying research and arguably the medical system would do a lot of harm climate change wise, probably more than offset by nuclear reactors. If you’re asking what I’d give for a president who does the right things on climate change… a lot. I don’t know if I’d take a guy that destroys the country, but I’d take someone pretty bad.
      But there’s a second reason I prefer voting for people who take climate change seriously, which is that taking climate change seriously correlates with a lot of other properties I want like intelligence, taking science seriously, critical thinking, long term vision, technocracy, and willingness to focus on big problems rather than cheap divisiveness. A blind vote for whoever’s better on climate change would wind up choosing the better candidate on the other issues 99% of the time, because good policy in one field is correlated with good policy in other fields (it also selects against people who are too far or stupidly left, like anti-nuclear people or NIMBYs).

      (Also, in practice there’s the question of who he’s running against. I don’t see Republicans running a halfway competent guy anytime soon).

      • But there’s a second reason I prefer voting for people who take climate change seriously, which is that taking climate change seriously correlates with a lot of other properties I want like intelligence, taking science seriously, critical thinking, long term vision, technocracy, and willingness to focus on big problems rather than cheap divisiveness.

        Are you bothered by the fact that the most prominent political supporter of action against climate change has publicly admitted that he supported a “climate change program” (biofuels) that did nothing to prevent climate change for political reasons?

        Given the current political climate, I don’t think taking climate change seriously, for a politician, either correlates or anti-correlates much with the things you describe. If you are in one political coalition it pays to say you think climate change is a terrible problem, if you are in a different coalition it pays to say you think it isn’t. Both sides routinely exaggerate the case for their position, most supporters of both sides don’t understand the basic science, let alone having thought through the implications.

        • shakeddown says:

          Are you bothered by the fact that the most prominent political supporter of action against climate change has publicly admitted that he supported a “climate change program” (biofuels) that did nothing to prevent climate change for political reasons?

          Not really. Twisting their official priorities to support rural states is something all major american politicians do constantly. I’d be amazed if there was a prominent politician who didn’t twist one of his central positions to win farm votes.

          • By “bothered” I didn’t mean “did this fact of reality upset you.”

            I meant “does this fact of reality weaken your confidence that politicians who agree with you about climate issues do so because of ‘intelligence, taking science seriously, critical thinking, long term vision, technocracy, and willingness to focus on big problems rather than cheap divisiveness.'”

            I’ve spent a good deal of time arguing with people on your side of the issue–not, of course, high level politicians. Like (I presume) people on the other side, they take science seriously only when it gives the results they want, focus on what they think are big problems only, … .

            To take one of my favorite examples, the largest effect of rising CO2 concentrations that we can predict with confidence is CO2 fertilization, increasing the yield of food crops by about 30% with a doubling of concentration. It is almost never mentioned in talk about the evils of climate change and the most prominent case I have seen where it was mentioned the mention consisted of an attempt to make it disappear by claiming that it made crops less nutritious–meaning that the ratio of two minerals to calories went down a little, while the actual amount of those minerals produced by an acre went up.

    • I wouldn’t vote for him, for two unrelated reasons:

      1. I am not convinced that global warming is a catastrophic threat.

      2. My moral intuition distinguishes sharply between action and inaction. If I kill you, I am a murderer. If I fail to do things I could do that would save your life, I may be a bad person but I am not a murderer.

      So I would not want to take a positive action, voting for the candidate, that would make me feel as though I had acted to make very bad things happen, even if the same action might also make very good things happen.

    • Protagoras says:

      No. While I think climate change is a serious concern, it is only a risk of destroying the Earth on a timescale where it is competing with a bunch of other threats, some of which seem actually more likely to me (others have mentioned some of them). Destroying education and research makes it less likely that ways to stop the other threats will be discovered, as well as making it less likely that there will be further innovation in finding ways to combat climate change. Admittedly, it may also slow the progress of a few of the possible threats, but I think not enough to make up for the costs. And for that matter, being championed by this nutter may end up discrediting the climate change movement to the extent that the aftereffects and blowback are worse even from the perspective of climate change than if this guy had never gotten elected.

      One of the biggest contributing factors to good government is the presence of a tradition of good government. As new threats are always appearing, having good government to find solutions to the new threats is more important than pretty much any specific policy issue. So if there’s a huge difference between candidates in their commitment to good government (and your candidate seems to be constructed to be a huge threat to good government), that should probably be the decisive factor in choosing among them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I suppose I could hold my nose about the Paris agreement / global warming hooey to get the wall, exile, destruction of the miserable education system, etc.

      • Matt M says:

        It seems good, but is also sort of tough because I think the “global warming hooey” doesn’t stop short of anything other than “full state control of the economy.”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          In seriousness, I:

          1) Understand the physics behind the green house gas effect and atmospheric warming due to carbon forcing.

          2) Agree that the climate is certainly changing and almost certainly warming.

          3) Agree that human activities likely contribute to this change.

          4) Have little faith in complex computer models to accurately predict the ways in which global climate change will effect local climates and weather patterns.

          5) Have no faith in long-term predictive economic models of the impact of climate change. (or even short-term predictive economic models that have nothing to do with climate change).

          6) Am extremely suspicious of ideologues whose plan before global warming was “centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior” and after global warming is “centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior because climate change.”

          • Matt M says:

            #6 is basically 95% of my general dismissal of global warming as a thing.

            And to me it means that if we agreed to a compromise like “You guys can do whatever you need to solve global warming,” the “what they need” is going to end up being “full communism now”

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Am extremely suspicious of ideologues whose plan before global warming was “centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior” and after global warming is “centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior because climate change.”

            How do you explain that a lot of those ideologues favor decentralized solutions, like solar panels, so people produce their own energy?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m pretty close in position to Conrad. (In particular, #6 rings true, especially when combined with the relatively small set of people who both believe AGW is a major problem and are willing to support expansion of nuclear power in the US.)

            One difference I’d raise is that I worry about unforseen effects of changing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean relatively quickly. My rather limited understanding of this is that we are almost certainly not looking at anything that would threaten life on Earth or human civilization, but we could conceivably screw stuff up that would cause a lot of human suffering and cost a lot to adapt to. I don’t have any intuition about the probability of this sort of big unforseen change, but I don’t think it’s zero.

            That leaves me thinking I’d like to see us substantially reduce CO2 emissions, if we can do it in a way that isn’t terribly expensive. I think anything that substantially lowers living standards is a nonstarter, and some kind of massive centralization of the world economy or world energy use would be an unworkalbe disaster.

            The best thing I think we can do is encourage the development of (fund, maybe even keep subsidizing) non-CO2-emitting power sources and the surrounding infrastructure to make them work. Paraphrasing someone (I don’t remember who): the best way to get people to do the right thing is to offer them a practical alternative to doing the wrong thing. One proposal I’ve heard along these lines is to build a high-efficiency power grid for moving power across the country–the advantage is that a lot of the variation in wind and solar evens out, when you look across the whole country or continent–wind farms in Kansas may not be producing any power today, but wind farms in Wyoming or Maine are probably not affected by the same conditions.

            I’m doing my best not to let my other feelings/beliefs bleed over into my evaluation of AGW and reducing CO2 emissions, but long-term, I also think we would be better off as a species if we stopped using most fossil fuels in favor of something better. Even assuming CO2 emissions are harmless, burning fossil fuel creates local pollution (lots and lots for coal, not so much for natural gas), extracting and shipping it around causes a lot of local environmental and safety issues, and the markets for oil in particular seem to be propping up some really unsavory regimes. A world where Saudi Arabia has a lot less influence seems likely to be a better world.

          • Iain says:

            @albatross11:

            especially when combined with the relatively small set of people who both believe AGW is a major problem and are willing to support expansion of nuclear power in the US.

            What is your evidence for this? I can’t find a poll that includes detailed crosstabs, but this study finds that “just over 50% [of British citizens] may be prepared to accept new nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle climate change”. Taking into account that some percentage of Brits oppose both nuclear power and “tackling climate change”, that doesn’t seem so bad.

          • Am extremely suspicious of ideologues whose plan before global warming was “centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior” and after global warming is “centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior because climate change.”

            Because carbon markets are socialism.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Carbon markets, as implemented thus far, have been crony capitalism.

            Personally I am leaning towards “carbon tax”. If we want carbon emissions to be disincentivized, this is the appropriate way to do it, as opposed to telling favored companies they can continue to emit as much as they want while forbidding anyone else.

            Because, between the two, only one actually makes it HARDER for somebody who has an amazing new innovation that cuts the carbon emission of a process by 40% to start outcompeting the polluting dinosaurs.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Iain –

            I am a major proponent of nuclear power.

            Online, I am part of what, it often seems, is a tiny minority of environmentalists.

            I don’t know what the real number is, but certainly when it comes to the internet, the overlap of “environmentalist” and “nuclear power advocate” is pretty small.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Not necessarily centralized control over all aspects of the economy and human behavior. Say instead, as much additional control over the economy and human behavior as the ideologue-under-test was already in favor of anyway.

          • Iain says:

            @Thegnskald:

            But that’s not what albatross11 was saying.

            Conrad Honcho dismissed concerns about global warming because its proponents are power-hungry ideologues using climate change as a pretext for things they already wanted. Albatross11 agreed, claiming that believers in AGW are unwilling to back nuclear expansion. The implication is that they must not really mean what they say: if you aren’t willing to sacrifice your anti-nuclear position to save the planet, how serious can the threat really be?

            The question is not how many AGW believers are actively pushing for nuclear power. It’s whether the AGW believers who dislike nuclear power are willing to make sacrifices to save the world. Contra albatross11, it seems like they are. If you tell people that nuclear power will help to tackle climate change, they are significantly more likely to support it. Only 9% of Brits want to increase the number of nuclear stations; an additional 34% want to replace the existing ones when they reach end-of-life. But 54% would accept new nuclear stations if it would help with global warming.

            I don’t see any way to interpret those numbers that is consistent with albatross11’s claim.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Iain, consider the following:

            If you tell people that nuclear power will help to tackle climate change, they are significantly more likely to support it.

            The fact that they have to be told this at all – when so many famous and influential figures inveigh against global warming on the daily – tells you that the leaders of the movement aren’t being honest with this information. There are rare exceptions – James Hanson, think his name was? – but generally speaking, at least the people in charge of the movement don’t seem to be particularly interested in pursuing solutions that actually work and don’t line up with their other objectives. And these people are, broadly speaking, the ones making claims. This argument doesn’t work so well against the scientists who gather data, but against the people who collect that data into arguments and so forth? Oh, it works stupendously.

            If the scientists’ theories stand on their own, then this argument fails. If they don’t, though…whew.

          • Rob K says:

            I was very pro-nuclear to address global warming until I did more research on the costs of the various options. At the time (this was in ~2007) my conclusion was that nuclear was probably cheaper short term, but wind and solar had better long term potential to improve. As such, my priorities changed to being open to nuclear as part of some sort of grand deal to do a big global warming push – a big McCain-whoever bill or something – but not personally advocating for it.

            The case for nuclear as opposed to renewables has gotten worse, not better, since then. I don’t think that every environmentalist has done extensive research to reach the conclusion I have, but I think a number of the policy thinkers involved have. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen evidence that people pronouncing that support for nuclear power is the acid test of seriousness about global warming have done their homework on costs.

            (edited for cleanup)

          • John Schilling says:

            How do you explain that a lot of those ideologues favor decentralized solutions, like solar panels, so people produce their own energy?

            Get back to us when the solar panels aren’t being produced by a few ginormous megacorporations, and aren’t being financed by federal government subsidies.

          • albatross11 says:

            Iain:

            It’s quite possible I’m wrong, and many people who are concerned with AGW do support nuclear power. My impression is that this is not so common, but it strikes me that I’m basing a lot of that impression on what I’ve seen in media coverage of these issues, and it’s easy to see how that might be misleading me.

          • Iain says:

            @AnonYEmous:

            You are implicitly assuming that nuclear is so clearly the best way to tackle climate change that any disagreement is dishonest. This is not a reasonable assumption. To use the hip new lingo: you’re looking at a mistake-centric problem through a conflict-centric lens.

            Here’s the thing: nuclear energy is really expensive. Given the plummeting price of solar and wind energy these days, there is a strong case to be made that we’re better off with renewables + storage than with nuclear. (Rob K linked this piece up above.) Now, maybe that case is wrong — but at the very least it’s not so outlandish that nobody could honestly believe it.

            And the moment you acknowledge that people might oppose fail to actively support nuclear power for legitimate reasons, this whole argument falls apart.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling says:

            Get back to us when the solar panels aren’t being produced by a few ginormous megacorporations, and aren’t being financed by federal government subsidies.

            I don’t understand that first objection. Do you think that climate change activists favor and/or intentionally tried to create a situation where solar production got concentrated? Do you think that they even care about panel production, rather than about the price? Why is this something that should count against solar, especially when fossil fuel is also mostly produced by a few ginormous megacorporations? Did climate activists suddenly become responsible for the regulations and other forces that encourage having few producers in many parts of the economy?

            As for subsidies, fossil fuel gets subsidies too. Furthermore, they have various externalities that solar doesn’t have (including pollution that causes health issues, which results in healthcare costs).

            Solar is pretty rapidly declining in cost, which means that the subsidy can decline fairly rapidly too. The Netherlands is aiming for a 7-year ROI, which is a bit generous (panels tend to have a 20 year warranty, so it’s an extremely good investment with the current interest rates). The ‘subsidy’ is technically not a subsidy, as we have net metering, so it is a tax cut, which has very low administrative costs. This is offset by an increased tax on electricity and gas, which also has very low administrative costs as well. So overall it’s mainly a ‘wealth transfer’ to panel owners by non-panel owners by having the former pay less tax and the latter more. The overhead is extremely minimal compared to most subsidies or wealth redistributive programs like welfare.

            It’s also regressive, as panel owners tend to earn more, so from that perspective the typically left-wing proponents are making a sacrifice when it comes to their economic ideals (and it gives them an incentive to want to reduce it over time).

            I really think that you (and several others here) are being quite tribal about this. For example, you seem to see the left as desiring centralization, while in reality a lot of them are quite communitarian. If you judge people by stereotype, rather than reality, that makes it hard to build bridges.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Aapje –

            I’m all for a carbon tax.

            But please don’t repeat the “fossil fuel subsidies” nonsense, that just makes our side look ignorant. The subsidies listed on the page you listed amount to two things:
            The same tax deductions everyone else gets to make (percentage depletion – that is, their asset is worth less, so they get to write off the difference as a loss, which isn’t some special subsidy, it’s standard tax law). And… uh… not being subject to price controls and being allowed to make profits on oil pipelines?

            Those aren’t subsidies.

          • Aapje says:

            @Thegnskald

            Percentage depletion pretty clearly is a small well subsidy or it wouldn’t be capped how it is. Many of these wells could not produce at the actual price of oil/gas.

            As I said, the subsidy I get is also technically not a subsidy, but a tax cut, but no one here is not consider it as a subsidy.

            I would appreciate some consistency here…

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t understand that first objection. Do you think that climate change activists favor and/or intentionally tried to create a situation where solar production got concentrated? Do you think that they even care about panel production, rather than about the price?

            I am specifically objecting to the change that climate change activists “favor decentralized solutions”. Whether they care or not, whatever they intended, they have achieved a solution that is not all that decentralized and so should not be held up as evidence that they favor decentralization. I am open to the possibility that they just don’t care, in which case please nobody claim that they do care.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Now, maybe that case is wrong — but at the very least it’s not so outlandish that nobody could honestly believe it.

            I think it’s pretty outlandish that someone believes that an apocalypse is coming but that certain options for avoiding the apocalypse shouldn’t even be mentioned. That suggests to me that, quite frankly, they either don’t want to piss off the hard environmentalist base or they are more interested in getting their way than in solving the problem (either way suggests they don’t think the problem is very serious).

            Most of the discussion I’ve seen around global warming says that once we reach a certain critical mass, we’re screwed and there’s no way around it. We recently saw the ten-year anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth – why weren’t nuclear plants being constructed ten years ago? If renewables really manage to solve the issue of storage and still be cheaper than fossil fuels, even at mass scale, then great, but that will mostly be the result of obviously profitable research, which I don’t think most people had problems with. On the other hand, if these problems aren’t solved in time, then nuclear would’ve been the way to go.

            So yeah, I think most of the leaders of the movement are full of baloney and are just interested in getting their own way, or are tools of the hard environmentalist base who – same thing – are just interested in getting their own way. Though theirs is less about control and more about Mother Gaia, near as I can tell.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling & AnonYEmous

            The discussions in this thread are rather surreal.

            We have accusations that climate activists are not being honest because they are unwilling to sacrifice their lefty ideals to stop a perceived apocalypse. At the same time, we have accusations that an unwillingness to more strongly prioritize communitarianism over whatever climate change solutions they think will work, means that they don’t actually have communitarian ideals. Apparently, it’s not possible to believe that they are sacrificing (some of) their ideals.

            Can you guys not see that you are not allowing counter-evidence to your beliefs to exist, by assuming bad faith? The counter-evidence for one bad faith theory is used as evidence for another bad faith theory and vice versa.

            Is it really so hard to believe that climate activists are not AIs with a single purpose or with a Maslowian hierarchy of needs? Maslow’s pyramid implies that people will always favor an improvement for their higher priority goal over an improvement for their lower priority goal. So they will favor any increase in safety over any increase in love. Of course, this is totally wrong, because having priorities tends to mean in practice that you set an ‘exchange rate.’ A preference for dollars over rubles doesn’t mean that people don’t want rubles, it means that they will sacrifice less to get a ruble than a dollar.

            A more nuanced and good faith view about climate activists is that they have a more complex system of priorities, just like the rest of humanity, including those skeptical of climate change (interventions).

            It’s fair to criticize the actual system of priorities or climate activists, just like it is fair to do the same for those skeptical of climate change (interventions). It’s not fair to apply a double standard in this regard, demanding that climate activists uphold some inhuman (and easily exploitable) morality, while the rest of mankind is not held to that standard.

            It is true that many climate activists say things that imply a morality that they don’t actually live by & that there is a lot of exaggeration and such, but this is what humans do. Many of those who are skeptical of climate change (interventions) do the same. Using the former as strong evidence of some conspiracy or strong evidence that they must be wrong, while ignoring the latter, is just good old tribalism.

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            One clarification (which is just me–I certainly can’t speak for Conrad or others in this discussion):

            My impression is that the broad environmentalism movement had a set of shared policy views/preferences before most members of the movement were concerned with AGW, and that most of the proposed responses to AGW have kind-of followed those previous policy preferences. I don’t think this was ever centralizing the economy (there are movements that have always favored that, but I don’t think of that as classically environmentalist)–it was more of wanting people to scale back their consumption to leave a smaller footprint–the ideas that we should have smaller/fewer cars, smaller houses, set the thermostat lower, we should lower population growth, slow down development, etc. An unkind but descriptive term for this might be “hair-shirt environmentalism.”

            Now, I think this is a pretty standard bit of path dependency–the people who come to your new movement from an older one tend to carry their ideas and rhetoric from the old movement along with this. Thus, you see (at least as far as I’ve noticed) patterns like:

            a. People being very concerned with AGW, but still strongly opposing nuclear power[1].

            or

            b. People being very concerned with abortion, but still strongly opposing handing out contraceptives to teenagers[2].

            [1][2] To be clear: there are definitely reasons why you might hold both those positions at once. But all else equal, you’d expect a lot of enthusiasm for nuclear power from people worried about AGW, and a lo of enthusiasm for handing out contraceptives from people worried about abortion. We don’t see those things all that much, and it’s worth asking why.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            It seems pretty obvious that people who flock to a cause tend to do so because the cause fits with their grander beliefs and that they don’t just forget about their other priorities.

            My objection is more that this universal truth seems to be used against only one side & by stereotyping all on that side with what some believe; while the other side is really no better. Those who are skeptical of climate change aren’t pure as snow either, they bring their baggage just like everyone else.

            Pointing to the baggage on one side is never sufficient to prove the other side correct or to prove that the one side is dishonest, but many people use that weakmanning tactic in the culture war & we should be better than that.

            Frankly, I think that several people are operating below their normal level of charity/rationality on this topic right now aka they are mindkilled.

            The common objection to nuclear seems pretty obvious: many on the left see it as being very dangerous and adopting it as akin to ‘destroying the village to save it.’ Trading one apocalypse for the other is not their goal.

            Of course, most of them probably severely overestimate the danger, but that is a matter of being mistaken, not caused by dishonesty.

            More recently, I think that more and more people believe that nuclear simply won’t pay back it’s enormous upfront costs, before alternatives will become much cheaper.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Conrad Honcho dismissed concerns about global warming because its proponents are power-hungry ideologues using climate change as a pretext for things they already wanted.

            I was overly glib. As Thegnskald pointed out, crony capitalism is an apt description of other groups pushing climate change fears.

            Some look at it as a way to advance their ideology (anti-capitalism). Others a way to enlarge their pocketbooks (crony capitalism). The existence of one does not preclude the existence of the other.

            I do not think the climate models have long-term predictive power. Long-term economic models have poor predictive power. The errors in both models compound. I have to question the intelligence or the motives of people insisting on decisive, forceful action based on the output of such models.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The common objection to nuclear seems pretty obvious: many on the left see it as being very dangerous and adopting it as akin to ‘destroying the village to save it.’ Trading one apocalypse for the other is not their goal.

            Of course, most of them probably severely overestimate the danger, but that is a matter of being mistaken, not caused by dishonesty.

            I think this might be true. I don’t want it to be true, so I’m struggling with it.

            As background, I’ve gone through too many debates with people who are gung-ho about fighting global warming and saying “it’s more important than money” and insist on unlimited funding for their technologies, and then start seeming to care about money once nuclear is brought up. An isolated demand for rigor in accounting.

            As other background, I also know many people who are professionally employed in environmental issues, and they are all fine with nuclear power, but they don’t seem to be spending any of their political capital encouraging the mushy mid-level troops to be okay with it, too.

          • Iain says:

            As background, I’ve gone through too many debates with people who are gung-ho about fighting global warming and saying “it’s more important than money” and insist on unlimited funding for their technologies, and then start seeming to care about money once nuclear is brought up. An isolated demand for rigor in accounting.

            From the other side, this presumably looks just as weird. You care deeply and passionately about how expensive it would be to fight AGW, until the prospect of nuclear energy is on the table, at which point you go all in on one of the most expensive options? An isolated lack of rigor is just as offputting as an isolated demand.

            The pro-nuclear side in this thread seems to be engaging in just as much special pleading as the environmentalists. You could swap “nuclear” for “geothermal” or “hydroelectric” in a lot of these posts without invalidating the argument. Nuclear is not the only clean-ish power source, with cost and implementation concerns, to which environmentalists will give tepid support but not active promotion. Somehow, though, nobody’s basing their case on Big Environmentalism’s hostility to hydroelectric dams.

          • John Schilling says:

            From the other side, this presumably looks just as weird. You care deeply and passionately about how expensive it would be to fight AGW, until the prospect of nuclear energy is on the table, at which point you go all in on one of the most expensive options?

            France seems to be able to produce nuclear energy at a levelized cost of $0.05/kWH, which is cheaper than just about anyone’s present claim for any renewable other than hydroelectric or geothermal in favorable locations, and they haven’t had any great safety or environmental catastrophes in several thousand plant-years of experience. China is probably cheaper than France, though there may be issues with transparency and safety there.

            Nuclear power in the US and UK is expensive, but this is widely and IMO correctly believed to be due to a legal regime resulting from Green obstructionism and with little actual environmental or safety benefit. So if the Greens are going to argue that, look, here is an existential threat that requires immediate drastic action, and there is an obvious solution that it looks like the Greens have been blocking all along, then it is not unreasonable to ask why they aren’t scaling back that obstruction on their part before demanding sacrifices on everyone else’s part.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Geothermal and hydroelectric are limited in their output. We know the supply and it doesn’t meet demand.

            Nuclear can produce, if we want, 100% of the world’s electricity. There’s no need for any additional research or technology. 1990s state-of-the-art is all you need. It’s a guaranteed win with essentially no carbon output. We could have been building them as fast as possible for the past 20 years. It might not be the solution with the lowest costs, but it is the one that we knew, and know, a priori, will actually work if we just build the things.

            For me, this is frustrating and demoralizing because I think global warming is likely true.

          • Iain says:

            Nuclear power in the US and UK is expensive, but this is widely and IMO correctly believed to be due to a legal regime resulting from Green obstructionism and with little actual environmental or safety benefit.

            France has Greens too. I personally find the standardization explanation more persuasive:

            How did France pull this off? It helped that the country had only one utility (EDF) and one builder (Areva) working closely together. They settled on a few standard reactor designs and built them over and over again, often putting multiple reactors on a single site. That allowed them to standardize their processes and get better at finding efficiencies. Canada and Japan kept costs relatively stable with similar tactics.

            Contrast this with the US, where our electricity sector is split up among dozens of different utilities and state regulators. As a result, US nuclear vendors had to develop dozens of variations on the light-water reactor to satisfy a variety of customers. That pushed up costs.

            But sure. There is a compelling case that nuclear power should be cheaper than it is, and we should have been building more all along. I agree. All I’m saying is that there is room for honest disagreement.

            To borrow Scott’s new lingo: some people are looking at this through a conflict lens, and I’m trying to make the case that a mistake lens is more appropriate. On the object level, I am in favour of trying to find ways to make nuclear power cost-effective.

          • John Schilling says:

            France has Greens too. I personally find the standardization explanation more persuasive:

            As do I, but the standardization argument is largely driven by the legal one. Note the dozen or more references to regulation in the Vox article you reference.

            France has “standardized” on half a dozen different models of nuclear power reactor. The US has two major manufacturers of nuclear power reactors; it seems unlikely that if left to their own devices they would offer more than a dozen different designs, and the US market is more than twice the size of France’s.

            But each US power plant has to be a semi-custom installation even if the reactor is nominally the same model, because the safety and regulatory issues have to be re-litigated with each installation. This also drives production interruptions that lead to loss of skilled workers and subcontractors, and what comes out of that might as well be a new design even if you start from the same blueprints.

            France, and South Korea, China, et al, don’t allow that. Once the ASN certifies, say, the P4 1300 MWe pressurized-water reactor, that’s it – there’s no separate lawsuit in each French province saying “but are you sure the P4 is safe on this site, and you’re not going to trust all those other courts that said it was safe, are you?”

            France has Greens, but France doesn’t allow them to do the sort of obstructionism that US Greens can get away with. But, just because US Greens can get away with that, doesn’t mean that they should. And if they really believe what they say about anthropogenic global warming being the greatest threat of our time, it’s hard to see why they would.

          • Iain says:

            It’s a lot easier to change the regulations than it is to change the basic character of anti-nuclear activists.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            So your conclusion is that the US needs more national regulation, like in France, and that the communitarianism* favored by US Greens isn’t working out well for nuclear power? 😛

            My objection to the way this issue is argued is that I see climate/environmental activist behavior getting aggressively pattern matched to centralism by some in this thread, but not to communitarianism. So IMO biased narratives are being imposed on reality, rather than have reality drive the narrative.

            From my perspective, a more reasonable narrative is that centralism & communitarianism both have (different) up- and downsides & that no culture is going to avoid a bias in one direction or the other. France has a fairly strong centralist bias, which means that they do better where centralism is more appropriate and worse where it isn’t. The US is the opposite.

            That the US deals with nuclear differently than France can’t just be explained by looking at US Greens. It’s caused by US culture being different.

            Of course, it’s very hard to change US culture and by extension, very hard to fix the American regulatory regime to make nuclear cheaper and safer (the same standardization that makes it cheaper, also makes it safer). So are the proponents of nuclear really that much more realistic than those (climate activists) who reject nuclear as a good option?

            Isn’t it more reasonably to say that wishful thinking is one of the common human failure modes, rather than attribute it to the outgroup?

            * Renegotiating each case based on the desires of the local community seems very communitarian to me.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s a lot easier to change the regulations than it is to change the basic character of anti-nuclear activists.

            Maybe. My perception is that the high-up people who are concerned with global warming as part of their daily job are fine with nuclear power, and they could have a significant effect on the public mood if they tried.

            Barack Obama was okay with nuclear power, but as far as I know*, he made no attempts to move his own base to share that view. Obama is smart and persuasive; he could have moved a noticeable number of percentage points of the US from one side to the other.

            I don’t know how far you would need to decrease the ranks of the anti-nuclear lobby before they stop being able to veto things, but they can’t operate in a vacuum without support.

            * I tried to fact-check myself, but mostly got results about Obama and the Iran nuclear deal, so maybe he did and I’m just lame at finding it.

        • It seems good, but is also sort of tough because I think the “global warming hooey” doesn’t stop short of anything other than “full state control of the economy.

          Which is why all the other 199 signatories to the Paris accord now have full state control of the economy.

          • johansenindustries says:

            Has the Paris Accord solved the problem? Because it didn’t seem to me like the alarmists had stopped.

          • It supposed to be a commitment, not a quick fix.

          • Matt M says:

            So a candidate who was running on a platform of “I will do whatever it takes to solve climate change” will sign the Paris accord, and then do absolutely nothing else?

            That’s the ONLY THING the environmentalist left wants? Really?

          • There’s some space between quick fix and nothing.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            There’s some space between quick fix and nothing.

            Just about the breadth of a camel’s nose, I’d say.

          • Iain says:

            This is the dumbest argument.

            Here’s the UNEP report on closing the emissions gap (between our current emissions and the level we would need to reach to hit our Paris goals):

            A systematic assessment of sectoral mitigation options presented in the report shows that the gap can be closed before 2030 by adopting already known and cost-effective technologies, often by simply adopting or adapting best practice examples already deployed in the most innovative country contexts. The assessment in Chapter 4 shows that emissions could be reduced by up to 30 to 40 GtCO2e per annum, with costs below US$100/tCO2e. It is remarkable that a large part of this potential comes from just six relatively standardized categories: solar and wind energy, efficient appliances, efficient passenger cars, afforestation, and stopping deforestation. These six present a combined potential of up to 22 GtCO2e per annum. These six present a combined potential of up to 22 GtCO2e per annum.

            Does anybody want to explain how, precisely, addressing those six issues counts as “full state control of the economy”?

            Like: back in the Nineties, we banned CFCs. This did not immediately lead to Full Communism Everywhere. In the same way, you could imagine simply banning the use of fossil fuels outside of a handful of special cases, effective immediately — similar to what we currently do with uranium. This wouldn’t require any meaningful increase in centralized control, although it would obviously be completely insane from a practical standpoint. The problem is making a smooth transition. The environmentalists have proposed a multitude of options: direct intervention, cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, you name it. Apparently, though, all these proposals are just a sign that environmentalists want to take everything over.

            Those of you who think state control of the economy is the goal: can you describe a mechanism for moving the global economy away from fossil fuels that does not count as full state control?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            In the same way, you could imagine simply banning the use of fossil fuels outside of a handful of special cases, effective immediately — similar to what we currently do with uranium. This wouldn’t require any meaningful increase in centralized control, although it would obviously be completely insane from a practical standpoint.

            If doing it the direct way, which doesn’t increase centralized control, is completely insane, doesn’t that mean that there’s a bunch of possibilities for indirect ways which are less insane but much more centralizing?

            And the thing is, I don’t think there’s any way to get around this. Anything sufficient to actually work probably kills the economy, which means you’d need a Soviet-like system – and by Soviet-like, I mean most of the GDP being government spending.

            That said, I do think your post does a fair job of rebutting the argument.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Like: back in the Nineties, we banned CFCs. This did not immediately lead to Full Communism Everywhere. In the same way, you could imagine simply banning the use of fossil fuels outside of a handful of special cases, effective immediately — similar to what we currently do with uranium.

            No you can’t, and if you think this is true you have no idea how fossil fuels effect the US economy.

          • Matt M says:

            Those of you who think state control of the economy is the goal: can you describe a mechanism for moving the global economy away from fossil fuels that does not count as full state control?

            Sure. It’s basically: “Do nothing and allow the free market to do what it always does – produce better, cheaper, cleaner products in pursuit of making vast profits.”

            The fact that this doesn’t work as fast as you want it to doesn’t mean it’s not a potential solution. To the extent that Elon Musk building electric cars can save us from climate change – well, you can argue that he’s been helped by government subsidies, and maybe you can argue that he believes in climate change and is in part motivated by “trying to make the world a better place.” But let’s not pretend that Tesla is a product of state control and not of capitalism.

            The free market could conceivably “solve” climate change in a number of ways (fossil fuel substitutes, cheap adaptation solutions, carbon scrubbing, etc.) But market based solutions are ignored at best by virtually all environmentalist types…

          • Rob K says:

            @Matt M

            Tesla’s rollout of electric cars was supported by subsidies for electric car purchasers (this is the big one), federal and local policies to promote the availability of charging stations, and federally supported research into battery technology. (Another policy that pushed existing automakers to develop viable electrics, fleet-wide efficiency standards, didn’t impact Tesla directly but may have helped the battery market develop.) It’s success story of industrial policy and of the market! (And would probably be more so if supported by one additional market oriented solution in a carbon tax or equivalent cap and trade program.)

          • cassander says:

            @Iain

            Here’s the UNEP report on closing the emissions gap (between our current emissions and the level we would need to reach to hit our Paris goals):

            This is an important line, here. word, really, it’s “goals”. Paris was about as non-binding as it is possible for a treaty to be. each country is supposed to come up with their own plan, and then follow it with no penalties for failure, no central plan. Paris was a giant exercise in self congratulations for the participants, not a meaningful agreement on climate. For that reason alone it should be abolished. even if you’re pro-doing something about global warming, it generated more C02 than it would have saved.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            It looks like the people who crafted the Paris agreement passed up a great opportunity to assuage the doubts of skeptics. If they’d included something like “Signatories agree to pursue no further climate agreements in the future imposing obligations above and beyond those in this Agreement,” Trump might well have kept the US in it– perhaps with a sigh of relief to be let off so cheaply.

          • Iain says:

            @AnonYEmous:

            If doing it the direct way, which doesn’t increase centralized control, is completely insane, doesn’t that mean that there’s a bunch of possibilities for indirect ways which are less insane but much more centralizing?

            Sure. And within those possibilities, some will involve more centralization than others. Some people are more concerned about centralization than others. If the ones who really care about it waste all their time denying the existence of the problem and accusing every proposed solution of being an Evil Communist Plot, instead of coming up with less intrusive proposals, then maybe they shouldn’t be surprised if the end result is more centralized than they might prefer.

            @baconbits9:

            No you can’t, and if you think this is true you have no idea how fossil fuels effect the US economy.

            If you read one more sentence, you will note that I called this plan completely insane. I acknowledge that you can’t practically do this — my point is simply that “full state control of the economy” is not logically necessary (except to the extent that we already have it).

            @Matt M:

            There is no market pressure to eliminate fossil fuels. The benefits are too great, and the costs are too diffuse. Of course, we could always create market pressure — say, by imposing a carbon tax, or encouraging innovation with government subsidies.

            @cassander:

            For once in your life, you are not being cynical enough.

            Kyoto had a compliance mechanism, and everybody just ignored it. There is no global hegemon who can enforce this sort of thing, and it’s a waste of time to pretend otherwise.

          • Matt M says:

            There is no market pressure to eliminate fossil fuels.

            Sure there is: People don’t like them.

            Putting aside whether global warming is actually true or not, a whole lot of consumers think it’s true, which is all the motivation the average company needs to reduce carbon emissions – and is basically the entire business case not just for Tesla, but for like, the Toyota Prius.

            Hell even literal oil companies pepper their website with a whole bunch of greenwashing nonsense about “sustainability” and whatnot. It’s market forces doing that – not the state.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            It looks like the people who crafted the Paris agreement passed up a great opportunity to assuage the doubts of skeptics. If they’d included something like “Signatories agree to pursue no further climate agreements in the future imposing obligations above and beyond those in this Agreement,” Trump might well have kept the US in it– perhaps with a sigh of relief to be let off so cheaply.

            This makes absolutely no sense, because at the core, the Paris accords are a commitment to do whatever it takes to limit climate change to a certain level.

            The more specific plans that are registered by countries are just medium-term plans make steps to achieve that goal. It’s expected and logical to have new climate agreements later on, based on the knowledge that we have then.

            If it then turns out that the plans in the Paris accord were insufficient, the logical outcome is then to have more aggressive plans. If the plans turn out to have been overaggressive, the logical outcome is then is that the future plans will be less so.

          • Matt M says:

            This makes absolutely no sense, because at the core, the Paris accords are a commitment to do whatever it takes to limit climate change to a certain level.

            No they aren’t. They’re a commitment to doing whatever you choose to commit to doing – nominally towards the end of limiting climate change to a certain level (but nobody has to commit to actually doing that)

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            A lack of sanctions doesn’t make a commitment into a non-commitment.

            It just makes it easier to not to live up to your commitment.

          • Iain says:

            @Matt M:

            Sure there is: People don’t like them.

            C’mon.

            There is a small amount of market pressure for a marginal reduction in fossil fuel usage. There is a slightly higher amount of pressure for paying lip service to green ideals. Neither of those amount to anything more than tinkering on the margins.

            At some point, if you trust the IPCC reports, we are going to have to stop burning fossil fuels. The free market is not going to do that alone, and liberal guilt from a handful of latte-sipping hippies in Priuses won’t make up the difference.

          • Matt M says:

            There is a small amount of market pressure for a marginal reduction in fossil fuel usage. There is a slightly higher amount of pressure for paying lip service to green ideals. Neither of those amount to anything more than tinkering on the margins.

            Agreed. The market has spoken. Climate change isn’t a big deal. I’ll know it is a big deal if and when the market starts treating it as such.

            But as far as I know, rich, well-educated plutocrats are still buying beachfront property, and land values in Miami haven’t nose-dived due to fear of being underwater in the next few years.

            I’ll start taking the threat seriously when everyone else does.

          • Matt M says:

            A lack of sanctions doesn’t make a commitment into a non-commitment.

            AFAIK, individual signatories are not individually committed towards a specific climate outcome. How could they be? It makes no sense to say that small countries are committed towards something they have very little individual impact over? The Netherlands could reduce its climate footprint to zero and it wouldn’t matter if China ignores the issue.

            The only thing individual nations are committed to are their own individual goals, which they themselves wrote. Many of which are laughably vague, minor, etc. I forget which, but one country essentially committed to something like “meaningfully lowering emissions once they reach their peak” (which is, you know, just stating the definition of a peak).

          • Iain says:

            Agreed. The market has spoken. Climate change isn’t a big deal. I’ll know it is a big deal if and when the market starts treating it as such.

            Yeah, okay, you’re clearly not taking this seriously. I’m out.

            C’mon. Negative externalities is literally Econ 101.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            This makes absolutely no sense, because at the core, the Paris accords are a commitment to do whatever it takes to limit climate change to a certain level.

            Therefore no further obligations should need to be imposed, however much the various national plans may need to be adjusted to meet the goals already agreed to. The master agreement, then, gives the activists all they want from us (or all they’ll admit to wanting from us); this is, we’re told, their last territorial demand in our economy. Why, then, the reluctance to make it official?

          • C’mon. Negative externalities is literally Econ 101.

            His argument, if I understand it, is not “if the market took this seriously, people would stop burning fossil fuel.” You are correct that that would not be a valid argument.

            His argument is “if the market took this seriously, people’s response to the impending climate catastrophe would have observable effects, such as a sharp drop in the value of and construction on coastal real estate. Those effects are not observed. Hence people who are betting with their own money are betting against climate catastrophe happening, which is a reason to think it isn’t happening.”

            If I am misreading Matt I hope he will correct my interpretation.

          • @Khan

            Just about the breadth of a camel’s nose, I’d say.

            While we are on the subject, we should definitely not have any private ownership of property , because the next thing you know, we’ll all be the slaves if the one guy who owns everything.

            IOW, there’s a reason why it’s called th slippery slope fallacy.

            @David

            Rising sea levels have forced homebuyers to change the way they value waterfront property. Indeed, a county-by-county study conducted by Attom Data Solutions showed that, over the past five years, home sales in flood-prone areas grew by about 25 percent less quickly than in counties that do not typically flood. And considering that roughly 40 percent of Americans live and work in coastal areas, the significance of the report is even more present.

            From Architectural Digest

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            I’m not really sure what you are talking about now. Are you arguing that the accord should have set the 2 degree target into stone forever and ever?

            Because that target is itself just an estimate of what is required to prevent the worst outcomes, based on the best science we have and based on climate data so far. Countries may decide to de- or increase that target based on new scientific evidence. It seems very irrational to not being open to updating ones position based on new evidence.

            What you are asking is rather nonsensical, because climate treaties aren’t imposed on nations, they are entered into willingly. So there is no need to affirm the ability by nations to not agree to more aggressive targets, because nations simply have that right. Affirming it in this case is actually dangerous, because it implies that treaties are not voluntary unless a majority of nations explicitly declare them to be. Do you really want to go down that path, which seems to push towards having a global government that can mandate the rules based on majority decisions?

            I really have a hard time seeing your objection as more than grasping at straws to accuse the other side of being the unreasonable ones, by making more and more ridiculous demands.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman & Matt M

            If people don’t price in the cost of a climate catastrophe, they are not necessarily betting against a climate catastrophe happening, they are betting against the market thinking that a climate catastrophe will happen in a way that will make current coastal real estate worth less*. That is not the same thing. It’s possible for a situation like that to occur even when most people think that a climate catastrophe will happen, if most people then also believe that a sufficient number of people don’t believe that.

            To invest in bitcoin/tulip bulbs, you don’t have to believe that those are undervalued compared to their real value, you merely have to believe that they are undervalued compared to some point in the (near) future. It’s not uncommon for people to believe that there is a bubble, but also to believe that they exploit bad judgments of others and can get out before bubble bursts.

            * Real estate is not currently going to be worthless even if it will be in the future, because houses are not merely investments, they are things that you use. A house that loses most of its value in the far future has value right now in the same way that a tire has value, even though if you use a tire, it will eventually become unusable as a tire and worth far less. It’s actually possible that the risk of a climate catastrophe is already priced in, see TheAncientGeekAKA1Z’s quote.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            What I’ve been talking about all along, Aapje, is the claim that it’s silly to worry about environmentalists wanting greatly increased political control over the economy because, look, the Paris Agreement doesn’t do that. This argument only works if the Paris Agreement represents the sum of what environmentalists want; my point being that, if that were the case, they’d have nothing to lose and much to gain by publicly committing to that position. The fact that they don’t do so increases my suspicion that they’re trying a bait-and-switch on us.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            P.S. Missed the edit window, but I’d like to take back that “bait-and-switch”. Most of the environmentalist response to Paris that I’ve seen has been pretty open about it being a “first step”. I’d still like to see them be more open about what they see as the last step, but they don’t necessarily know that themselves, just yet.

          • Aapje says:

            @Paul Zrimsek

            You are still looking at the other side through the outgroup homogeneity lens.

            It makes absolutely no sense for a coalition/compromising group to make a larger claim than is necessary at that moment, because it would cause unnecessary conflict, making an otherwise reasonable compromise much harder to reach or even impossible.

            If people are not willing to cooperate on what they agree on, while agreeing to disagree where they do not, then people can no longer cooperate in harmony. So your demands are utterly incompatible with the level of human cooperation that is necessary for modern society to work and would be the ruin of humanity if people did what you asked.

            We would figuratively or literally be at war all the time, with anyone.

            I’d still like to see them be more open about what they see as the last step, but they don’t necessarily know that themselves, just yet.

            Exactly and this is GOOD.

            People should not commit prematurely. People should be willing to adapt to new knowledge. People should make choices based on partial information, rather than go into analysis paralysis.

            It’s not a grand conspiracy to take away your toys. It’s not people hiding their true beliefs from you, to spring a surprise on you later.

            It’s just people with different values who all compromise on those values to be able to live with others and to get positive sum benefits.

        • Thegnskald says:

          How do you feel about carbon taxes?

    • Vorkon says:

      On the other hand, he also builds atomic power plants. He publicly speaks out to support the Paris agreement. So maybe after the more lucky of us flee the country that’s half in ruins, there’ll be a bit less of a chance that all the population of the Earth dies out from global warming. And I sort of think that’s very important.

      But does he make the trains run on time?

      • b_jonas says:

        > But does he make the trains run on time?

        Yes. But I think he’s only slightly better at that than any other candidate.

        Thank you for the answers so far, everyone. (If I ever ask such a question again, I should give at least a codename to the candidate in question so it’s easier to talk about him. If you still want to post, feel free to call him Mr L.)

    • rlms says:

      “But, then, we were like…it is nice it doesn’t snow”

  17. Freddie deBoer says:

    If anyone has experience building models with the Unity SDK, I’d like to commisssion something. I’d of course pay you, through PayPal. I can’t pay much but it shouldn’t take much time. Email me at freddie7 AT gmail DOT com.

  18. CheshireCat says:

    I’ve been posting here occasionally, talking about my journey to try and fix my lack of emotions. I recently had a very interesting and bizarre experience involving a weed edible giving me feelings back for a short time, and I was looking for some commentary on it from some of the smart people here, because I really don’t know what to make of it. Here’s my last comment, for reference & symptoms.

    So a while back I received an edible from a friend. It was a miniature cupcake containing ~50mg of THC. On a whim I decided to take half of it, let’s say 25-35mg. (

    It’s worth noting that I’ve already tried weed, usually edibles, and took everything from 10 to 60mg. Once I even accidentally took roughly 85, which ended up causing a sort of catatonic state, spiraling thought patterns and vomiting for several hours. Not fun)

    After taking this relatively low dose, I started to get the ordinary “tiredness and inability to concentrate” thing that normally happens when I take a certain amount of weed, and also the strange uncomfortable feeling/emotion in my chest that I’ve experienced before with shrooms and weed. I got into bed, and the uncomfortable feeling started getting worse and worse. I wouldn’t say it was painful necessarily, but it was more intense than it usually is.

    After a while of this, something really odd happened. The uncomfortable feeling gave way to a completely new sensation when I breathed. I don’t normally feel much of anything when I breathe other than the natural refreshment that comes from getting air. But here I could almost feel the breaths cascading through my lungs, filling them and feeling like I could breathe more deeply than ever before. It felt totally different, very hard to describe. It was several times more refreshing than breathing normally is.

    Soon after that, I began to feel emotions that I haven’t felt since I was a kid. Things I haven’t really felt since before I became numb. It literally felt like circuitry in my brain that hadn’t been used in decades had suddenly activated.

    Imagine food tasting like nothing but styrofoam for years, and then you buy a hamburger and for some reason it’s the first delicious, real food you’ve had in so long. That’s what it was like. I was buffeted with emotions which I’ve felt maybe 3 times in the past decade. It was overwhelming but entirely positive. I was sobbing tears of joy, alone in my bed.

    Eventually the edible began to wear off, and though the majority of the emotional experience began to wear off, I was still feeling things! For the next 24 hours or so, I experienced emotions the way I imagine normal people do: As these flitting things that bubble up and coalesce around you during your day-to-day. Somebody would say something to me and it might stir these little ambiguous feelings, whereas before I would have felt nothing. I even lost a minor debate with my mom, because emotions caught me off guard and threw off my rhetoric!

    Another strange thing to note is that, during and for few days after the trip, I caught myself not breathing. I don’t think it was anything dangerous, but it’s perplexing. It may have just been due to how much more refreshing breathing was for a while, but I’m not sure. It was kind of like my unconscious breathing process was being interrupted, but I had no issues with sleep regardless.

    After about a day, everything had pretty much worn off, and I was more or less back to normal. But I’m left kind of lost about what to do with this information. I could understand if it were shrooms which caused it, but weed? I don’t think it’s the kind of thing I could necessarily use as a long-term treatment, but it’s a clue. What about weed could cause something as strange as this to happen? Something to do with cannabinoid receptors? I’ve never heard of weed having much effect on emotional experience, but I need to research more. I just don’t know enough about psychopharmacology to be able to draw any reasonable conclusions on my own.

    All this has done for sure is reaffirm my suspicion that there’s something wrong with my brain, but I don’t know how to proceed. I tried to talk to my psychiatrist about this particular event, but he basically refused to discuss it with me because it’s weed. It’s understandable but deeply frustrating, because I feel like I have few other places to turn. I tried to get in contact with the company that made the edible but they never responded. I’ve spoken to my doctor about my emotional symptoms but he didn’t have much to offer me in the way of assistance. So what’s next? A neurologist?

    TL;DR: I took a weed edible, it made breathing feel totally different and cured my emotional numbness for a while, and I have no idea what to do with that information.

    • yodelyak says:

      I am not the person to help you. I’m commenting to suggest you try again in the next open thread–we’re pretty far to the bottom of this one. Rooting for you to get the recovery of your emotions you are seeking!

      • CheshireCat says:

        Damn, I really hoped I’d be on top of this one. I missed it by a day. I feel bad for spamming but I’ll probably go ahead and repost in the next thread.

        I really appreciate the kind words, it means a lot.

  19. Wrong Species says:

    Let’s say there are monsters who can only sustain themselves by eating humans. They aren’t savages as they are just as rational as people and can empathize to the same extent we can. They just would rather live than die. So is killing a human in order to feed themselves morally wrong? What is the extent that it is allowable to do certain actions for self-preservation?

    • albatross11 says:

      I’m visualizing some kind of urban fantasy world where the vampires get fed condemned criminals and get some kind of UBI-like thing from human blood banks.

    • Randy M says:

      There ought to perhaps be a way to arrange it so they only feed on convicted killers or something, but such an arrangement relies on the self-control of the predator species, and the humans approving of punishment by murder and desecration of the dead.

      Wait, why do they have to kill a human? All humans die at some point, right? (Even Socrates, as the syllogism goes) I guess that’s fighting the hypothetical and we could posit some improbably scenario where it needs to be a young human and early mortality is low.

      • gbdub says:

        That would seem to create a perverse incentive whereby the predator species would want to encourage us all to be nasty murderers, so that they’d feel less bad about eating us yet never go hungry.

        • Randy M says:

          Which counteracts their other incentive to have us be fat and helpless so we no longer get a say in the matter.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think we need to posit some improbable scenario. Just imagine that there are lot of the monsters and that the terminally ill and the undoubtedly evil are not enough to feed them all. Do we just move on to the “probably evil killers” next? And then the “may have been innocent but we don’t think so” after that? Part of the reason I asked the question is about the way we treat in-group vs out-group. If humans are the in-group and monsters are the out-group, should we treat the value of their lives differently? What do we do when there is no win-win situation?

        Imagine the question from a different perspective. Let’s say that all humans decide on a leader to decide what the policy should be and they chose you. There would be practical considerations but forget that for a second. Are you morally obligated to try and help them? Or are you morally obligated to stick up for all human lives? How would you go about making your decision?

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t think we need to posit some improbable scenario.

          Well, you do need to specify why they can’t wait for natural causes; after all, the “terminal” humans are, well, all of them. Each human can only be eaten once, regardless of when in its life it dies. If the monster population is such that it needs to kill a human, rather than wait for one to die, than either there’s something magical about the way they kill it, or the numbers aren’t looking good for the apex predator nor its favorite meal.

          Let’s say that all humans decide on a leader to decide what the policy should be and they chose you. There would be practical considerations but forget that for a second.

          Hey, now, I’m a perfectly practical leader.

          Are you morally obligated to try and help them?

          Assuming sentience, some reciprocity, assurance of goodwill otherwise, etc. I give the free run of the graveyards and kill on sight any that attempt to harm a living human. I would go about making my decision based on what helps humans, with secondary concerns for helping to keep the monster population high. rewarding good behavior of the monsters.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Why don’t all carnivores become scavengers? Because at some point, there wouldn’t be enough to go around. This website tells me that around 150,000 people die every day. Ignore geographic constraints and supply chain issues and say that these monsters can manage to find every single person who dies and eat them. What happens if there were one million monsters? Now maybe they eat the terminally ill and convicted killers but again, there’s only so many of them. At some point you run in to problems of there not being enough food. There’s plenty of things to nitpick about my scenario but I don’t think this is one of them.

            Of course, I’m nitpicking your nitpick because you answered my question. You would put humans above monsters, even at their expense. So the question is why? Was it just because they’re in your in-group? If so, what are the limits to helping your in-group? And why is your in-group humans and not something else? How would you argue someone who had a different in-group than you did?

          • Randy M says:

            Why don’t all carnivores become scavengers?

            Because that way they get there first. The lion gets first pick, the Hyena gets leftovers.
            Also, animals are not good at preserving their dead and aren’t going to alert the predators when there is a freshly dead member of the tribe.
            Also, eating the healthy creatures is probably safer than those that die of disease.
            Presumably intelligent prey who care about their intelligent predators can keep their deceased on ice, as it were.

            What happens if there were one million monsters? Now maybe they eat the terminally ill and convicted killers but again, there’s only so many of them. At some point you run in to problems of there not being enough food. There’s plenty of things to nitpick about my scenario but I don’t think this is one of them.

            I am not convinced. This is what I mean about the math not looking good. All that eating people earlier accomplishes is reducing the lifespan of the prey–unless the prey population was at the carrying capacity of their environment (in other words, the old people are preventing young people from being born–likely the opposite with humans).
            So what will happen is the predator will feed, expand its population, and if it can’t also feed on another species, shrink the prey population, then crash itself.
            The distribution and logistic issues are the entirety of it (eta: “it” here being the issues preventing the predator from extracting maximum calories from the prey)–which intelligent creatures could work out.

            So the question is why? Was it just because they’re in your in-group?

            That is sufficient but not all of it. I am not strictly utilitarian–I don’t look at only the net number of lives.
            As the human did not put the vampires into a situation where they will starve, they don’t have to suffer for the vampires need–even if it means the vampires die out, the humans have a moral right to repel them with force, individually or collectively.
            (hey, look, I’ve also made a pro-life argument).

            And why is your in-group humans and not something else?

            I have many ingroups–ever expanding circles of increasing loyalty and obligation. But as outlined above, that doesn’t need to come into the situation.

            PS-I warn you, if this conversation continues, I will be unable to make ironic references to your user name.

          • Wrong Species says:

            As the human did not put the vampires into a situation where they will starve, they don’t have to suffer for the vampires need–even if it means the vampires die out, the humans have a moral right to repel them with force, individually or collectively.

            The question wasn’t “Do you think humans would have the right to defend themselves”. The question was “Do you think the monsters would be morally wrong in killing humans”, a slightly different, and I think, harder question. You seem to be suggesting that what would happen is that if murdering humans wasn’t an option, then the population of monsters would shrink until it worked in to a new equilibrium, which is true. But the monsters of course would not want to starve themselves in order to protect the current population of humans so I don’t really see them as accepting that option.

            PS-I warn you, if this conversation continues, I will be unable to make ironic references to your user name.

            Go for it.

          • Randy M says:

            I should have known you’d stick up for the wrong species.

            The question wasn’t “Do you think humans would have the right to defend themselves”

            Actually, you gave me a different question which was what I addressed in this subthread:

            Are you morally obligated to try and help them? Or are you morally obligated to stick up for all human lives? How would you go about making your decision?

            Anyway, back to the original…

            “Do you think the monsters would be morally wrong in killing humans”

            But the monsters of course would not want to starve themselves in order to protect the current population of humans so I don’t really see them as accepting that option.

            What they want and what is moral are different questions. I was trying to find a morally acceptable solution–prey upon the dead. If that doesn’t work, then tough, go die.
            I’ll bite the bullet–if humans uplift cows, then no more burgers (from the uplifted kind, any way).

          • Wrong Species says:

            What they want and what is moral are different questions. I was trying to find a morally acceptable solution–prey upon the dead. If that doesn’t work, then tough, go die.

            So I’m confused on what your position is. Is it that humans are the in-group so if the situation is us vs them, then saving us is good? Or is it that doing a morally bad thing to sustain yourself(even if it is your only option) is a bad thing, in which case it’s morally wrong regardless of species? If it’s the latter, what would you say about the situation where it was reversed, and humans had to do some morally bad thing? If it’s the former, then how can you tell them that saving their in-group is morally wrong, when it’s the same reasoning that you use?

          • Randy M says:

            If it’s the latter, what would you say about the situation where it was reversed, and humans had to do some morally bad thing?

            I addressed this obliquely–if cows are sentient, intelligent creatures, they can’t be murdered for food. Likewise other food sources. Fortunately it is unlikely that a complicated organism will evolve that is so restricted in diet.

            Is it that humans are the in-group so if the situation is us vs them, then saving us is good?

            My position is that murderers are an out group, if I must resort to identity language. You cannot kill an innocent so you can live. Just like you can’t kill people and harvest their organs. It’s not about being the wrong species, it’s about justice.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Fortunately it is unlikely that a complicated organism will evolve that is so restricted in diet.

            Maybe not but it’s not that out there that a situation could arise where humans could face some other intelligent beings like aliens or AI in a zero-sum game and the only way to win is to do bad things. So if that was the case, would humanity be morally obligated to roll over and die?

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, let’s say the only way to keep the sun going is unobtainium controlled by the Zorkians of Alpha Centuri. They are using it to, say, achieve a 1% increase in power generation, but it is not vital to their survival or well-being.
            I would, on first pass, say it is morally licit to take the necessary amount by force if negotiations have failed and they refuse all trade, given the alternative is most of humanity dying off.

            Now say that they are using the unobtainium to keep their own sun going, and if we take any of it, their sun will fail and the Zorkians will die off. It is not morally licit for us to take it by force. We would need to evacuate as many as possible and accept mass casualties rather than inflict them upon an innocent.

            Is this adequately addressing the hypothetical?

    • Well... says:

      Nothing about your hypothetical sounds radically different from, say, tigers or crocodiles that eat humans.

      True, these hypothetical tigers and crocodiles are intelligent enough to empathize (with each other? with us?) and so maybe some of them would forswear eating humans, just as some humans forswear eating other animals — but you said these monsters only eat humans so maybe in this case a rare handful of them actually starve themselves to death in protest but the rest (those that have a moral problem with it) rationalize it some other way.

      From our side though, the response would probably be similar to the response we have to other animals that eat humans: we avoid them when we can and kill them, without worrying too much about it, when we are threatened.

      Interspecies morality is, so far anyway, relatively uncomplicated. (Unless you’re a Jainist I suppose.)

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s interesting to imagine how you might get a predator species and their preferred prey species, both sentient, to interact so that they could remain at peace. Depending on the assumptions you bake into this, it might be possible for the vampires to live on nonhuman blood (maybe it’s nourishing but untasty), or they might actually need to drink human blood to keep surviving (so we can support a smallish population on blood-bank blood that’s just about to go past its date, or by humans who donate blood to support vampires for pay or out of cross-species altruism, or even by imposing a kind of tax where every human gives blood once a month to keep the vampires fed). Or they might actually need a human death to nourish themselves. (In which case, we get them to hang out at nursing homes and hospitals and benefit from the existing supply, or maybe let them set up euthenasia clinics.)

        You could even imagine a society where the treaty between humans and vampires requires the vampires to limit their numbers and restrict their hunting to only acceptable targets (no pregnant women, children, or members of the nobility), and imposes strict cross and garlic control on the humans to ensure we keep our end of the treaty.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Right. So one reason I give for asking the question is the notion of selfishness. How selfish are you allowed to be at someone else’s expense(and if you take the Drowning Child argument seriously, almost everything we do is selfish at someone else’s expense)? Sure, we could try to find ways to mitigate that concern but at some point, you can’t really do that.

          Imagine that you are lost in the woods and you run across one monster aptly named Frankensteinz Monster. Mr. Monster is also lost and is going to die if he doesn’t eat soon. If he does indeed kill and then eat you, has he done something morally wrong?

          • Well... says:

            Seems to me that’s for his own system of morals to decide.

            If I was lost and starving in the woods and came across a sentient talking cow, once I was over the shock of meeting a sentient talking cow I wouldn’t put too much stock in any argument it made about why I shouldn’t kill and eat it, even if that argument was rather articulate.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Would you not give much weight to the cow’s argument because you’re desperate or because it’s not a person? If it’s the former, do you think it would be acceptable for someone in a lifeboat dilemma to resort to cannibalism? If it’s the latter, the question becomes why do you consider humanity, and only humanity, your in-group?

          • Well... says:

            It’s the latter. I consider humanity/only humanity my in-group for several reasons:

            1. It just feels intuitively right and I’ve never explored it much beyond that. (But I will try anyway and see what happens, keep reading…)

            2. It’s how I was raised. It’s how we were all raised (at least here in the West). There must be a good reason for this. Chesterton fence!

            3. Evolutionarily it makes sense to me; we can’t reproduce outside our species, yadda yadda my species is my in-group.

            4. In my religion, God made a few explicit and many implicit distinctions between men and all other animals, placing men above and in charge of them, and I take that seriously.

            5. I have no concept of another species that is sentient/sapient/conscious/whatever in the way humans are. Even the best AIs don’t pass a conversational Turing test. (And if they did, I’d just chalk it up to a Chinese Room phenomenon.) So even if I met a talking cow that said compelling things, on some level I would assume it’s just learned to mimic humans well, that it’s been fed lines, and that it’s actually just a plain old dumb cow and I should be feeding on it instead. (Of course I would also not be surprised or consider it a violation of anyone’s rights if the cow tried to defend itself by goring me.)

            6. I think I might view this whole consciousness/sapient/sentient thing as a slippery slope. If an articulate cow deserves moral consideration on equal footing as a human, then its less articulate cousin might too. And then a lizard or a fish might too. And then an ear of corn or a stalk of wheat. I don’t want to have to give up corn. Or whiskey. That would make no sense. I get that all life is precious and that it’s only by killing other organisms that we can survive, and what a terrific burden that is to carry around, but I’m not a Jainist.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I would assume I was delirious from hunger and only imagining the cow was talking. Or imagining the cow existed at all.

        • Well... says:

          @albatross11:

          But all that only seems necessary if the monsters are so dangerous that appeasing them with these compromises and half-measures is easier/safer than just killing them. Even vampires die if exposed to sunlight or crosses (well, except Jewish vampires like in that Polanski movie), so keeping them at bay should be fairly easy.

    • Muro says:

      Why don’t they just eat people who are already dead?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Monster ethics intuitions, assuming sentient rationality:
      1) Don’t reproduce. You can’t ethically bring more monsters like yourself into the world. If at all possible, starve yourself.
      2) Make yourself scarce. Don’t terrify humans, don’t live in the same areas they do. Sneak in under cover of dark, taking isolated individuals. The more likely it is that the humans can chalk up the disappearance to exposure or environmental circumstances, the less traumatizing your existence will be. People taking significant risks that are regularly fatal, like Alaskan sea fishermen, make better targets, and people at the end of their lives in hospitals. The open society full of adventurers with exciting tales of monsters is your worst enemy
      3) If worse comes to worse, target the elderly and young children. If we’re still living in an era where humans fear carnivorous monsters, and its easy enough to kill enough humans regularly to survive, we’re talking fairly primitive times, so the loss of the very old and very young will have the least effect.
      4) You shouldn’t prey on a human population to the point it cannot sustain itself.
      5) If at all possible, find a society of murderous cannibals, or ritual murderers like the Aztecs, and take the corpses after they’ve done the dirty work. If you’re a monster who has to attack in a particularly vicious way, you’ll probably do best to migrate to whatever the worst warzone du jour is, both to lurk in the no man’s lands away from people and to mask your carnage.

  20. baconbits9 says:

    Some random thoughts on the Peter Principle.

    Generally the basic proposition of the Peter Principle is that someone who demonstrates competence will get promoted, then they can either fail at that level or demonstrate competence, if the latter then they get promoted again. Eventually most people hit a level exceeding their capabilities and they fail. One of the issues I take with this is practically there is limited consistency across time for a position. I will use my wife as an example, she was very competent at her job at one level, exceeding the responsibilities of her job description on a regular basis as a UI developer, so she was promoted to a UI management level, which increased her responsibilities a large amount, there was a period where it looked like she might fail (by some definitions) not because she couldn’t handle to new responsibilities but because by promoting the most capable programmer/cross project liaison the team she was now managing was functionally short handed. As I put it at the time my wife needed another her in her department. It took about 2 years to get the hire who was supposed to fill a lot of her work close to her previous level of productivity, and shortly after he got there they transferred her to managing a different team that was having productivity issues for her to fix.

    In short ‘level of competence’ has no real meaning at her job, she will be holding the same title that covers three fairly distinct (actually probably 4 or 5 since I skipped some details) sets of responsibilities.

    • Well... says:

      Yeah, it sounds like the principle failed (or at least got murky) when exposed to the complexities/peculiarities of how organizations are run and managed.

      For instance, let’s say your wife was promoted but immediately placed in charge of a different team that had developers as talented as she had been. The story would have gone differently after that. But there might be good or bad reasons why organizations continually make the kind of promotion decisions they made in your example, and those reasons have nothing to do with the Peter Principle, they are just part of the environment the Peter Principle is supposed to work in.

    • Matt M says:

      In short ‘level of competence’ has no real meaning at her job, she will be holding the same title that covers three fairly distinct (actually probably 4 or 5 since I skipped some details) sets of responsibilities.

      I don’t see how the latter implies the former.

      A job can easily require multiple different skillsets. A competent person is someone who is competent at every required skillset for the position.

      Further, the people usually in charge of promotion decisions are the person’s immediate supervisors – who are also quite likely to be the people most familiar with the various circumstances surrounding the particular person (department was understaffed, previously underperforming, whatever) and most well equipped to evaluate performance relative to reasonable expectations.

      I think the core of the Peter principle isn’t “sometimes people deserve promotions but don’t get them because reasons,” but rather the basic idea that nobody ever really gets demoted anymore – and that in many companies, people aren’t really even allowed to “refuse” a promotion they don’t want. A whole lot of companies are explicitly organized to be “up or out.” The value proposition of a whole lot of “middle manager” type roles is that it helps you find your future executives. The fact that middle managers don’t add a ton of value themselves isn’t some groundbreaking thing – companies know this. But they still need those positions, not to find good middle managers, but to find good future executives. The main value of the role is to serve as an audition to being an important manager later. Hence, up or out.

      • John Schilling says:

        I think the core of the Peter principle isn’t “sometimes people deserve promotions but don’t get them because reasons,” but rather the basic idea that nobody ever really gets demoted anymore

        Exactly. Furthermore, note that “deserve” a promotion is traditionally based on demonstrated performance in the job you have now (and will be promoted out of), not the expected performance in the job you will be promoted in to.

        If you have a job and you are good at it, you will probably, eventually, be promoted out of that job and not do it any more. If you have a job and you are not good at it, you will probably occupy that job until you retire or until the firm undergoes mass layoffs. Therefore, the steady-state equilibrium is for most jobs to be filled by people who are not good at them.

        To break this cycle, you either need to be able to demote people, or you need to be able to not promote people who are good at their jobs and yet still retain their loyalty.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I don’t actually have any first-hand experience with the corporate world beyond slinging donuts in college, but isn’t the traditional solution to this problem to “promote” people into positions which do essentially the same work for more money and a snazzier title?

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s one, but another traditional solution (the one often used in tech) is to simply not promote people who aren’t explicitly aiming for management positions. The problem (for the corporations) with this one is it results in competent people jumping ship for higher pay at the same level, forcing salaries up.

          • Matt M says:

            “promote” people into positions which do essentially the same work for more money

            And then you end up with lower profits than your competition and you pay a bunch of fancy consultants several millions of dollars to come do a study on why and it turns out the answer is “You pay a lot more for the same work.”

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Matt, ideally, they’d be doing the same work better in some measurable, meaningful way – so it isn’t actually the same work.

          • John Schilling says:

            “promote” people into positions which do essentially the same work for more money and a snazzier title?

            That only works if all of your jobs are “essentially the same” as entry-level jobs, which is rarely the case. In reality, lots of entry-level jobs are dead-end career tracks unless you are prepared to develop substantially new skills. And lots of high-level jobs involve things you probably aren’t going assign to a new hire right out of school.

            My first job was driving a tractor for minimum wage. If I’d stuck with it, I’d probably be really good at driving a tractor by now. My old boss would love to have such a good tractor driver on staff. But there’s probably no way he can pay the best tractor driver in the world even twice minimum wage, because the productivity of a tractor driver is capped by the tractor. And there’s no way that a snazzy title was going to keep me at that job in the absence of lots of real money (or stuff fungible with money).

            My current job is as an engineering manager, where about two-thirds of my work is engineering of the sort that my higher-level managers could see that I was good at, and one third is management of a sort that required a modest leap of faith on their part. If I get another promotion on the current track, that will involve me mostly managing people working in an area where I don’t have great technical expertise, which will be another change requiring a leap of faith.

            Also, human brains are wired to A: really want status and B: measure status in terms of who gets to give orders to whom. This can cause big morale problems, that escalate into productivity problems, if you insist on giving your technical people only more demanding technical work while hiring a separate management track right out of school and measuring them by how well they perform in low-level management tasks in their late twenties. Now you’ve got senior technical people who after decades of solid, demanding work figure they deserve a measure of status, but get to give orders to no one and have to take orders from some snot-nosed kid.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            As John noted, there is only so much you can stretch the “Assistant to the Regional Manager” title creep fiction. Typically companies will set up pay bands with titles like Associate-Contributor-Senior, or I-II-III. You’ll have somewhat higher responsibilities and somewhat higher pay as you ascend these levels, but you’ll eventually hit a limit.

            I’m getting close to that point. I really just need that promotion to Senior because I need a promotion on the resume. Otherwise, future employers will think I am incompetent. But once I hit that senior point, there’s nowhere to go. And you can’t really pay me too much more, because I just don’t contribute that much value in this role. Hell, I’m probably overpaid NOW.

            Eventually everyone hits a limit and sometimes a superstar youngster soars past everyone else. That’s just the way of the world. Eventually you’re going to be a 60 year old reporting to a 30 or 35 year old. Probably stings, but I’ll have to get over it.

            In my line of work, we usually bring in superstars from the Big 4 Accounting Firms (Deloitte, Ernst and Young, PwC, KPMG). These people can’t make partner in the big firms, so get farmed out to the corporate clients. At the corporate clients, they are fast-tracked for promotion into director, VP, and C-Suite positions. My Chief Accounting Officer was hired out of a Big 4 firm directly into a Director role in her early 30s and then fast-tracked to the C-Suite in 2 years.

            My Mother has been stuck in middle management for a good 2 decades.

          • Matt M says:

            What is “your line of work” exactly?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Corporate Accounting, F500 companies.

            It makes a great deal of sense to bring on the Big 4 People. Big companies typically have on-site auditors from the Big 4 that are dedicated to only working that account. They are here for years and develop a strong, 50k foot understanding of the company they are assigned to.

            Basically, what they do is come over to my desk, talk a bit about the general process. They decide whether the process passes audit standards. If the process does, they will sample some transactions to verify that our numbers are not made up.

            So they have a basic idea of the process, without getting into the weeds. The rest of us poor accounting saps are stuck in the weeds all day long and never really develop a strong understanding of what the other departments do.

          • Matt M says:

            Ah. I’m in management consulting and am hoping to find a headhunter at some point…

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I’m not really a fan of the Peter Principle. Most of the middle management and above that I have met seem reasonably competent at their positions (though, granted, I can’t evaluate that so well as an Individual Contributor).
      The grossly incompetent, grossly lazy people are almost always at the individual contributor level, and typically are either the people who have been in the same position for decades, or people fresh out of school who don’t know how to put in a hard day’s work yet.

      I’ve always been more of a fan of the Gervais Principle. In this schema, middle managers are Clueless idiots who are exploited by sociopathic upper management. The majority of workers are Losers who work just hard enough not to get fired, because they know they aren’t going to get anything for their hard work.

  21. Huston says:

    SSC readers might be interested in this: I made a video where I illustrate and document ten facts that demonstrate the plausibility that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record; due to the nature of its origin, that would substantiate the existence of God. I think the hundreds of discussions with atheists and evangelicals in the comments are also pretty interesting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ATGGwbll3c.

    I’ve been looking for someone in the Las Vegas area with whom to hold a live public debate on the subject–no confirmed partners so far. If anyone here would be available, or just interested in discussing the merits of the evidence, please let me know.

    • Well... says:

      I thought it was an interesting video. I haven’t dedicated much energy to deciding what I think about the Book of Mormon, especially since I don’t know much about it. I’m affably but pretty resolutely closed-minded about modern claims of prophesy, for religious rather than rational reasons.

      I’m kind of curious what other people think though, especially Scott, who once wrote a post about conspiracy theories that your video reminded me of. The gist if I remember right was, sometimes a whole bunch of coincidences line up just right.

    • cmurdock says:

      Regarding the bit about Arabian trade routes: modern historians studying the explorations of people like Cabeza de Vaca, Coronado, and de Soto often can’t agree (or have come to agree only after many decades of controversy and debate) what the route was that they took. This is despite of what are sometimes rather detailed accounts of their itineraries (from multiple eyewitnesses in the case of Coronado). Even very specific-sounding references to local geology, landmarks, and historic trade routes can lend itself to multiple contradictory itineraries, each of which can look very convincing. Given that, it’s not surprising that an itinerary invented by Joseph Smith in a literary work could be matched to a plausible-looking route through Arabia that passes through actual historic trade routes.

      Regarding Mr. Smith as a whole, I don’t know much about the Book of Mormon, but honestly the “Book of Abraham” episode tells me everything I feel I need to know about the man and his claims to prophecy. Back in the 1830s, someone involved in the Mormon Church managed to get ahold of some actual ancient Egyptian papyrus manuscripts, and brought them to Joseph Smith to have them translated (because he could read Reformed Egyptian, could he not?). As luck would have it, according to Smith, the manuscripts formed a first-hand account written by none other than Abraham himself, and he translated the papyrus into what became the Mormon “Book of Abraham”. Unfortunately, however, some fragments of the papyrus eventually managed to get into the hands of people who actually could read Egyptian for real, and wouldn’t you know but it turned out they said nothing at all of what Smith had said they did. His translation was completely fraudulent.

      • Huston says:

        Thanks for looking into this and commenting. Regarding your first paragraph, the assumption that “invented details can reasonably match all kinds of places” sounds good, but doesn’t actually hold up. I mean, can you cite some examples of this being established at all, much less with regard to the Book of Mormon?

        Regarding your 2nd paragraph, about the Book of Abraham, while that’s a fascinating and important document, it’s not the subject of my post here. After all, if you can assert that “there’s no need to give credence to pro-Book of Mormon evidence, since the apparent fraud of the Book of Abraham proves the Book of Mormon a hoax by transference” (if I’m not putting words in your mouth), then I could just as logically say, “there’s no need to give credence to anti-Book of Abraham evidence, since the apparent authenticity of the Book of Mormon proves the Book of Abraham as legitimate by transference.” If only because so much more is known about the far larger and more substantial Book of Mormon–the very foundational text of the church that’s nicknamed after it–it makes more sense to focus primarily on that book first, yes?

        (That being said, here is a large collection of materials that rebut your claims about the Book of Abraham: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Book_of_Abraham)

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not really seeing what you’re finding remarkable.

      By 1830 Arabia was not some massive mystery.

      there were plenty of maps in publicly available atlas’s by around then:
      https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7420.ct003772/

      There were consumer travel books like “Travels in Arabia” from around then which were basically peoples accounts of travelling through the area. “Fresh water wood and fruit” are things that tend to go together. aka: if your search area is large enough you can trivially find hundreds of locations that have those things anywhere. never mind that you could just read a travel book about someone’s trip through the area by 1830.

      So the answer to “how could smith have guessed this” is basically “perhaps he had an atlas and travel books published at that time or before then, this was 1830, not 1830 BC.”

      ditto for central america:

      https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3290.ct005837/

      This is sounding a lot like he just owned an atlas… the kind fairly common at the time.. and that you have some kind of impression that the early 1800’s were the dark ages in comparison to the real level of knowledge of geography common at the time.

      never mind that this is all post-hoc, if you’re willing to consider dozens,hundreds or thousands of lakes you’ll eventually find some with flooded ruins. Even the texts you cite are but some of many from the late 1900’s. Again, post hoc, search a large corpus in enough ways with enough degrees of freedom and you can find anything.

      People have basically been playing the same game as the one about the pyramids and the speed of light but in reverse with the book of mormon for centuries. you get it presented to you as “OMG the coordinates of of the Great Pyramid are 29.9792458° N, 31.1342880° E and 299792458 is EXACTLY THE SPEED OF LIGHT!” but you grow up with it and never see the 10000 other historical structures that don’t quite line up and the dozen other coordinate systems that don’t quite give such a nice result.

      Egyptian : you seem to have plucked a hanful of random names and point out that the sound kind of like some Egyptian names but those names appear to have no particular link to egypt, they’re just names. There’s a relatively short list of phonemes that sound sort of like names.

      This has literally less going for it than the pepe meme mythology.

      “precise area”… again when your degrees of freedom allow you to choose anything that kinda sorta maybe looks like sounds like or smells like a phonetic spelling… you will find something.

      it’s like looking for pentagrams in street maps.

      https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–_ESN29zo–/c_scale,f_auto,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/18lpsn5izyd2tjpg.jpg

      it just sort of goes on like this….

      You’re starting with the conclusions and working backwards to justify them. it’s sort of a case study in anti-rationality, how to lead yourself down a garden path to where you want to be rather than where the evidence leads.

      • Huston says:

        Hey there, Murphy–thanks for checking this out and commenting.

        There are lots of problems with the claim that there were book and maps that could explain these details:
        1. The vast majority of maps at that time were laughably vague and/or inaccurate–so how did Smith know which maps to use and which details to include…and what to avoid?
        2. There is zero evidence–witness, documentary, or otherwise–that he or anyone else had access to any such materials, or even could have had access. Such research would have been extensive, visible, and long-term, and yet, there is no indication, even from hostile sources, of anything at all.
        3. No published maps that even could have been available have any of the specific details mentioned in the text.
        4. Then there’s the question of motive–neither Smith nor any original follower ever mentioned the physical details of the book as a proof text, so why bother going to the enormous effort of creating meticulous, minor details?
        These problems are true both for the Arabian and for the American geography.

        You also commit the same kind of fallacy that cmurdock does above, in claiming that “if you’re willing to consider dozens,hundreds or thousands of lakes you’ll eventually find some with flooded ruins.” While your linked source was pretty funny, it’s not the same thing at all, is it? For one thing, let’s say that a skeptic wanted to dismiss valid evidence without a serious investigation: wouldn’t this kind of pseudo-logical frivolity be exactly what we’d expect, as an excuse to justify the lack of engagement?

        You try the same sort of thing when you say, “There’s a relatively short list of phonemes that sound sort of like names.” Not at all! Try making a list of Book of Mormon names that have reasonable cognates with ancient root names in Norwegian, or Japanese, or Klingon. Maybe then the actually impressive nature of the text will be become more clear.

        Finally, you end with an appeal to confirmation bias: the idea that I must be fitting evidence into the shape that I want in order to justify previously desired conclusions. Two problems there: 1) this is universal, and affects me no more nor less than it does any skeptical critic, so as an argument in and of itself, it’s moot, and 2) it still leaves the evidence itself to be explained–these are visible, observable facts. How might anyone’s confirmation bias explain, for example, how Joseph Smith included a phrase from an ancient Greek version of Isaiah in his “hoax” text?

        Thanks again for these comments, though! I always appreciate it when someone takes the evidence seriously and responds to it.

        • Protagoras says:

          Murphy is essentially saying you are wrong about 1, 2, and 3. I am not an expert on the history of cartography, but my quick research on the topic seemed to support Murphy; what you describe sounds more like the situation in 1530, perhaps, than the situation in 1830. You do not seem to have an answer to Murphy; you just say that you’re right, and completely fail to address any of his evidence or provide any of his own. Is this really the best you can do?

          • Huston says:

            Thanks for continuing this thread, but I can’t see where you’re getting your ideas from. What research have you done that supports Murphy? Citations, please. I answer Murphy in every significant point above–the links that he provides have zero details that are reflected in the Book of Mormon at all, in addition to my other points that you’ve ignored. Murphy provides no relevant evidence after his second link, and the evidence for my conclusion is illustrated and sourced in the video (thanks for watching, by the way), which both you and he ignore, except in attempts to dismiss rather than address. Is this really the best you can do? 🙂

          • Protagoras says:

            You make a claim that geographical knowledge was unavailable or would have required massive research that there’d be records of their having engaged in, when Murphy has pointed out (correctly, based on my own further investigation) that there were excellent maps and atlases in this period, so that all that really would have been necessary would be a visit to a bookstore or library that there’s no reason for the historical record to have mentioned. Since your response to this is to double down and insist that no, really, geography was esoteric and unavailable in that era (which, again, it wasn’t), it is hard to have any confidence in any of your other claims. It also doesn’t feel like it will be very rewarding to investigate them, since one anticipates your responses will be similar.

        • Murphy says:

          You seem to be under some serious misconceptions about what you could just buy in the 1800’s

          Follow those links I provided, they show the sources, consumer atlas’s and consumer travel books.

          The maps are not from super-secret elite-only secret government atlas’s.

          By 1830 the world was well into the era of cheap book publishing. Literate people could just buy stories about peoples travels through foreign countries and they were quite popular.

          You seem to believe in some kind of fiction of a world where nobody had any maps of anything and geography was unknown.

          I’m no expert on japanese geography but if I’ve read some stories about people traveling down the coast if I then make up a story it takes basically zero effort to slot it into my memories of the travel books.

          The whole point is that none of this takes much effort. It’s the level of accuracy you’d expect from a kid making up a story set in japan who has little geography knowledge but has watched a bunch of trashy anime, paged through their dads atlas a few years ago and can sort of set things in a vaguely plausible fashion without needing to put much through into it.

          it’s not the same thing at all, is it?

          wouldn’t this kind of pseudo-logical frivolity be exactly what we’d expect, as an excuse to justify the lack of engagement?

          If you turn up with a scientific research paper and it becomes clear that you did your stats by trying 200 different ways to find a result you liked you’d get shot down in exactly the same way and that would be an example of people doing skepticism exactly right. Doing skepticism in the best way. If you don’t lock yourself down with predictions you can play the same game as people play with Nostradamus predictions where , after the fact, they can slot things in to sorta kinda match.

          Look, I’ll give you an example. Lets run through the degrees of freedom for the fruit trees thing. Lets focus on that claim as a fairly representative example. Lets also mention selection bias.

          Fresh water, wood and fruit.

          You mention it as notable that there was in fact a region with these things sorta roughly in the right kinda area.

          That sounds like rolling the dice 3 times and coming up 6 on each roll. Fresh water AND wood AND fruit.

          But those aren’t independent variables. Fruit trees tend to be made of wood and tend to grow near fresh water.

          We can accept any kind of fruit, we can probably even accept things that are just kinda like fruit even if they’re not technically fruit and things which are technically fruit but which we normally wouldn’t refer to as such.

          So it’s only one die.

          So now where are we looking for this fresh water. The book doesn’t give exact numbers so we’re basically looking for somewhere with fresh water in an area which, it would be fair to say is about 400KM X 150KM in a coastal region. so about 60000 square KM to choose from in which we have to find at least one water source with trees growing nearby of which at least some are fruit bearing.

          (We can look any time of year. )

          If you searched a region the size of Ireland for springs, waterholes, oasis etc etc with fruit trees what are the chances of *failing* to find at least one example of what you’re looking for in many tens of thousands of square KM?

          Also remember that a thousand mormons before you have combed through looking for things that kinda sorta fit. 999 of them find nothing and the one survivor gets to point to the remaining hypothesis and present it as if it was the only place they searched.

          I was going to use the names thing as an example, get a list of names from some countries census, get a complete list of names mentioned in the book of mormon and run it through python spsim cognates finder but I can’t find a clean list of, say, the 10000 most common Norwegian names in an easy to use format and spsim has some dependencies I can’t be bothered to solve. Honestly with a search space in the high thousands do you honestly believe it would be hard to find a half dozen decent matches and a dozen or so crappy ones like in your list?

          I already see a few names with cognates with gaelic names without any kind of systematic search.

          paging through the wiki list of names from the book of mormon there seem to be far more names which roughly or exactly match to Gaelic language names.

          “phrase from an ancient Greek version of Isaiah”

          I take it you mean the “and upon all the ships of Tarshish” thing. Honestly?

          http://ecmarsh.com/lxx/Esaias/index.htm?zoom_highlight=ships+of+the+sea

          “and upon all the ships of Tarshish” not being in the KJB

          vs

          “and upon every display of fine ships.” in the Septugint

          (sharing “Tarshish” might have been much more interesting as it’s an unusual word. )

          positive : it’s a non-zero similarity score.

          negative: keeping in mind it was a poetic verse of some kind so the “and upon” isn’t interesting.

          positive : repeating “ships”

          negative : Since it’s poetic verse and already repeating words from line to line a doubling of “ships” alone isn’t all that great.

          and upon every high mountain,
          and upon every high hill, 15
          and upon every high tower,
          and upon every high wall, 16
          and upon every ship of the sea,
          and upon every display of fine ships.

          negative- People ad-libbing poetic verse quite often ad-lib similar things.

          unfortunately we seem to only really be left with the word “ships”

          But the big kicker: how many sentences are we selecting from? How many phrases were included mostly matching the KJB but had zero similarity score to any extra lines in any ancient greek text?

          We have to include those in our calculation.

          Re:bias

          Everyone has some level of confirmation bias but try to remember that you’re getting your information from a large, fairly organized group of people who all share a very very similar set of systematic biases and are motivated to prove the exact same thing over a couple of centuries.

          Try to factor in all the places they searched for things to confirm their beliefs and failed to find what they wanted.

          • Huston says:

            Some solid thinking in there, Murphy, but also some mush. First, some overall thoughts are warranted:

            I’ve had these discussion with hundreds of evangelical Christians and hundreds of atheists/agnostics–I’ll presume you’d identify more with the latter crowd (correct me if I’m wrong), because you clearly care about reason and evidence (alas, far too many evangelicals can do little more than repeat logical fallacies).

            But you still commit one of the favorite mistakes of intelligent people–the assumption that you know enough to draw a quick conclusion about something with which you’re not very familiar, based on your relatively high level of pre-existing general literacy.

            For example, you haven’t actually read the Book of Mormon, much less the texts and resources to which you refer (which you doubtless found through spontaneous Google searches, yes?), much less have you dug into the evidences in my video to the degree done by many thousands of likewise intelligent people who disagree with you, right? Shouldn’t the hasty, ad hoc nature of your rebuttal itself be a red flag that your argument may not be as strong as you’d like it to be?

            After all, you’ve studiously ignored the majority of what I’ve actually said, preferring instead to focus on doubling down on your initial reactions (shades of Cathy Newman there, perhaps, but I sure hope not!).

            OK, let’s get into your most recent comments now:

            * You delve further into your assertion about maps and such, and yet, you have yet to provide even one example of a map that had the physical details in the Book of Mormon, and you likewise haven’t addressed the issue of how Smith found and used the correct details from these mysterious, hypothetical sources, or why he would do so. Until you do, your objections are but a cop out to any real refutation.

            * You opine about the “level of accuracy” in the Book of Mormon, but you’re not really qualified to quantify that, much less criticize it, right? The video, in its brief overview, hints at levels of complexity and depth that you seem to have ignored.

            If producing something like the Book of Mormon is as easy as you claim, why not provide some examples of equal achievements? Mind you, before you hit up Google again, most immediate answers are, of course, superficial and long since exposed as flawed.

            * When you continue to elaborate on “fresh water AND wood AND fruit” and the name cognates, you’re essentially promoting a version of the Infinite Monkey Theorem. (In this case: “any fictional text’s physical details can be correlated to a real-world location if given enough time and research by those with a vested interest in success,” yes? Would you agree that this is a reasonable statement of your position? Correct me if I’m wrong.)

            The problem with this is that it can never actually work–there will always be more real-world variables and constraints than could actually have our infinite army of monkeys produce Shakespeare, or Joseph Smith produce the Book of Mormon. Again, attempts like this to circumvent actual analysis of the evidence come across as cop outs. (He who has no real explanation will likely just shout “Coincidence!”)

            * Your argument on the Isaiah issue suffers from the same problems that plague your geography claims: it asserts that something could be a coincidence while ignoring the context, actual probability, absence of mistakes, and motive. Based on your link, your theory seems to sound like this: “While using the KJB to help fake the Book of Mormon, Smith also used/remembered a single excerpt from another rare source that he may have heard aloud once and used it in his hoax for no apparent reason.” As always, if I’ve misrepresented your theory, please correct me. Now, does that sound plausible? What are the actual odds of this being accidental, as you seem to claim? It should stretch credulity beyond the breaking point.

            So you’re still just dancing around the point: an undeniably real line from an unavailable ancient source appears in the Book of Mormon, in a context that makes sense if it’s authentic, but is impossible to explain reasonably if it’s not.

            * “But the big kicker: how many sentences are we selecting from? How many phrases were included mostly matching the KJB but had zero similarity score to any extra lines in any ancient greek text?” Irrelevant. When the astronauts in Kubrick’s 2001 find the monolith buried on the moon, they don’t need to insist on finding more such artifacts before concluding that aliens put it there.

            * “Everyone has some level of confirmation bias but try to remember that you’re getting your information from a large, fairly organized group of people who all share a very very similar set of systematic biases and are motivated to prove the exact same thing over a couple of centuries.” I would dispute the “large” part, especially, but also the “organized” part and even the “similar” part. You’re making assumptions about the lack of diversity in people who are different from you, as if Mormons are an alien species from Star Trek.

            You are also failing to account for your biases here, such as those reflected in your preference for abductive reasoning here and an absence of deductive.

            * “Try to factor in all the places they searched for things to confirm their beliefs and failed to find what they wanted.” By this thinking, we would need to reject any fact proven valid if it was preceded by a number of failed experiments!

            Thanks again for your comments–looking forward to any further thoughts you may have.

          • Murphy says:

            (In this case: “any fictional text’s physical details can be correlated to a real-world location if given enough time and research by those with a vested interest in success,” yes? Would you agree that this is a reasonable statement of your position? Correct me if I’m wrong.)

            You’re sort of in the right direction but you’re missing part of it.

            Tell me if there’s a difference between these 2 scenarios.

            Lets imagine we have a text reasonably verifiable written by someone in a monastery in france in the year 1000 AD, long before Columbus.

            Imagine 2 hypothetical situations.

            In the first the text describes going far out to sea, ending up in a distant land and finding a place with wood and fruit and fresh water.

            Years later someone claims that monk was obviously getting insights from god because there’s totally a place in Florida with wood and fruit and fresh water.

            In the alternative hypothetical text that monk describes going far out to sea, ending up in a distant land and finding a place with wood and fruit and fresh water AND he described the fruit very accurately AND he described the local people very accurately along with their traditions AND he described a set of caves matching some in the region AND he describes the local animals AND he describes cave paintings…. etc etc for quite a while.

            Would it make a difference to how surprising it was if instead of writing it in 1000AD the author write it in 1850 shortly after someone published a travel book about that area of florida and it’s peoples and interesting locations?

            big vs small. Very likely vs Slightly unlikely vs astronomically unlikely.

            By this thinking, we would need to reject any fact proven valid if it was preceded by a number of failed experiments!

            Honestly? That’s pretty much exactly the case and it’s a hard problem.

            https://xkcd.com/882/

            When it’s done by multiple independent people it’s called the File Drawer Effect.

            http://skepdic.com/filedrawer.html

            A massive amount of work is put into trying to quantify it’s effects and estimate it’s effects on how certain we can be of conclusions.

            But it strikes me that you seem to be making the same mistake a few times in a row that boils down to the difference between big and small numbers.

            My job is in genetics. I work with very large data sets.

            Having to cope with telling the difference between chance and not-chance is a primary part of my job.

            We have something called E values.

            The Expect value (E) is a parameter that describes the number of hits one can “expect” to see by chance when searching a database of a particular size.

            Imagine you have a court case, you’re a juror.
            The prosecutor comes out and says “The DNA fingerprint for the blood found on the handle of the knife matched the defendant!”

            it sounds like a solid piece of evidence against the accused.

            But lets imagine that what they actually did was run the fingerprint against a database. The method of DNA fingerprinting they used was OK, only a 1 in 10 million chance of a mismatch! pretty compelling! ….. but there’s almost 10 million people in the database. Run any sample and it’s likely to match some poor random sod.

            If the prosecutor doesn’t tell you that they searched the database for that match then you can be mislead about how strong that evidence is.

            If, on the other hand, they located the suspect because he was picked up running away from the site and his DNA matched and they didn’t locate him through the database that same evidence of a match would be far more compelling.

            It’s really, really really really important to distinguish between the level of coincidence that is certain to happen every day and the level of coincidence that is unlikely to happen even if you waited a trillion years.

            You can’t just wave both away the entire idea of measuring the level of coincidence.

            And part of my point is that you’re presenting some of your points like a juror who’s been told about the match by the prosecutor but not explicitly told about the 10 million other comparisons that were made to find that one match.

            In information processing we have a variety of terms but one I like for trying to explain things like this is “surprisal”.

            If someone wins the lottery once that’s not surprising, someone wins the lottery every week. with 7 billion people on earth a 1 in 1,000,000 chance comes up for 7000 people every day.

            It has low a surprisal value.

            What would you say if I told you “in 2010, Israel’s weekly state lottery drew exactly the same 6 numbers as the draw 3 weeks earlier – (an event statisticians said was a one in four trillion chance.)”
            At least that’s the newspaper headline.

            If there are 10000 lotteries per week worldwide, then this only occurs every 800,000 years

            There’s more degrees of freedom than that though.

            The lottery drew the same numbers as 3 weeks before. But we’d probably also consider it notable had it been 1 week. 2 weeks. 3 weeks. 1 month. 1 year. Etc.

            We’d also probably consider it notable had 2 related lotteries drawn the same numbers close together.

            And pretty soon we’re down to numbers where we can say that we’d expect something similar to that to happen every couple of years

            Significance can crumble quite fast once you consider how many degrees of freedom there really is and all the coincidences we don’t think about because they didn’t happen.

            This isn’t just a way to wave away your position. it’s an entire area of study. When we see something surprising how surprising is it really?

            We have tools in how to think about this.

            When we notice a genetic mutation is found in people with a particular genetic disease and not in our controls we need to factor in to our calculations how many locations we searched for mutations. If we don’t we just fool ourselves.

            With that in mind…

            “While using the KJB to help fake the Book of Mormon, Smith also used/remembered a single excerpt from another rare source that he may have heard aloud once and used it in his hoax for no apparent reason.”

            this isn’t really what I’m saying. For one I’m not claiming that he ever read the other rare document.

            Lets try a hypothetical. Imagine you had unreleased notes from JRR Tolkien, author of lord of the rings.Including some sections he re-wrote with verses from some of the poems and songs that he cut from the final book.

            Now imagine a young author, someone who’s read LOTR trying to write their own fantasy novel, obsessed over LOTR for years, knew LOTR like the back of his hand. he’s writing a very similar story.

            We’d expect that person to pull in phrases from LOTR every now and then.

            But imagine that he included some poetry that ripped off LOTR for a few sentences. (yes I know no poetry about ships in LOTR but this is a hypothetical)

            BUT! He included an extra line he made up that included the word “ships”! and when you check the unreleased notes from JRR Tolkien there was a line he cut from the final version that also included the word “ships”.

            …. but in both cases it was a fantasy author trying to come up with a line to follow the same thing in a very similar poem. They’re likely to both be thinking about ships, especially if the previous line was also about ships.

            A single word has **very low entropy**.


            It has low surprisal.

            If it was word-perfect match for a few sentences of unreleased text on the other hand it would be much better evidence that said author had access to Tolkien’s unreleased notes somehow.

            In that case it would have high surprisal.

            The degree to which something is unlikely matters. It’s important.

            Quantifying chance is part of my job. I have to think about this all the time and when I see the things held up as evidence like the ships thing…. they’re not great. They tend to have very low surprisal.

          • yes I know no poetry about ships in LOTR but this is a hypothetical

            “Eärendil was a mariner
            that tarried in Arvernien;
            he built a boat of timber felled
            in Nimbrethil to journey in;
            her sails he wove of silver fair,
            of silver were her lanterns made,
            her prow was fashioned like a swan,
            and light upon her banners laid.”

          • Murphy says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I stand corrected, my Tolkien lore is weaker than yours.
            There is in fact LOTR poetry about ships.

            😀

          • Huston says:

            Thanks, Murphy, for this. I liked learning some details about your field of genetics. However, it’s mostly just an extension of the fallacy I brought up before: you’re assuming that your expertise in one area gives you the relevant tools for judging a wholly separate one.

            In your excellent hypothetical scenario, you propose two situations, with the implication that first (simple) situation is analogous to the Book of Mormon, as opposed to the far more extensive second situation. But that’s precisely my point! The Book of Mormon IS more like the second, “astronomically unlikely” situation.

            The only reason you’re able, in your own mind, to force the square Book of Mormon into your round “obvious fraud” hole is because you’re making a series of hasty, unwarranted assumptions, none of which you have yet to address, much less counter—there were no maps or travel narratives with the Book of Mormon’s physical details in them, and the Book of Mormon’s physical details are far more extensive than you give it credit for (far more so than I could summarize in a breathless ten minute YouTube video!).

            Taken together, the many evidences I’ve illustrated—considered in a real-world context—are compelling and demand the most serious weighing.

            “It’s really, really really really important to distinguish between the level of coincidence that is certain to happen every day and the level of coincidence that is unlikely to happen even if you waited a trillion years. You can’t just wave both away the entire idea of measuring the level of coincidence.”

            Exactly! I want everything to be investigated, considered, and scrutinized. However, it must be done so completely, not in the haphazard manner shown here thus far, which is indistinguishable from someone just trying to brush away an irritating gnat, rather than the objective, holistic inquiry the subject’s collection of facts demands.

            Indeed, I and many others do precisely survey this body of evidence and find it to be “unlikely to happen even if you waited a trillion years.”

            I truly enjoy your hypotheticals here, but I’m sure they’re backfiring on you as they end up supporting my side more than yours. The LotR example is pretty cut and dry, it seems, until we consider that we are dealing with a much more complicated scenario than you’ve suggested:

            1. Smith rarely added entire lines to quoted materials in the Book of Mormon, and yet,
            2. this one just happens to have an addition that matches an actual ancient source,
            3. which was most surely unavailable to Smith, and which
            4. despite your assertion that there’s only a single word at stake, adds an entire phrase of the same length, wording, and meaning as the actually extant phrase in the Septuagint, and all of this despite,
            5. there being no plausible motive for doing this extra combining, and the concomitant work necessary, instead of just continuing to “copy” the KJB.

            The LotR scenario ignores all five of those details. Why? Again, taken fully in context, the accumulated facts are impressive.

            Remind me, please, how you’ve adequately accounted for your own bias here again (i.e., how do you know your calculations and conclusions are both fully informed and objective?). Thanks.

          • rlms says:

            @Huston

            Remind me, please, how you’ve adequately accounted for your own bias here again (i.e., how do you know your calculations and conclusions are both fully informed and objective?).

            I take it from this comment that you consider your calculations and conclusions to be both fully informed and objective. What evidence do you have fo that?

          • my Tolkien lore is weaker than yours.

            I had to wait for The Two Towers to be published.

          • Murphy says:

            Ok, lets see if we can get some real estimates.

            Cards on the table, I don’t believe in demons, angels etc so I’m working off the basis that none of the religious texts involved come from divine beings and rather, are all from the kind of people who, for whatever reason, decide to write texts they claim to be divine in origin.

            I don’t think this is an unfair default, the world is packed with little religions and church leaders and magic men who make similar claims. I have no particular reason to start with more favorable assumptions in regard to this one nor to assume he’s special.

            1. Smith rarely added entire lines to quoted materials in the Book of Mormon, and yet,

            Ok, so rough estimates time. Running the BOM through a plagarism checker against the KJB it comes up as 31% duplicated with the default settings.

            But I’m going to be a little more forgiving and make the comparisons stricter (requiring longer matches).

            That drops it down to 14% duplicates.

            There’s 6604 verses in the BOM. again being somewhat forgiving re: long and short duplicate regions that gives us about 900 verses that are at least partly duplicated from the KJB.

            Now I could be harsher by pulling in a couple other bible variants that would have been commonly read at the time but the tools I have here don’t accept multiple comparison texts.

            So, for each of those 900 verses, in the hypothetical world where Smith had written an alternative sentence to what he actually did that happened to match with some ancient text he didn’t have access to that would have scored as a hit. So for each of those 900 verses search all religious texts for similar verses with similar trailing verses not in the KJB.

            Now, language isn’t random. It’s highly structured. And we’re willing to accept really really weak matches that only share a couple words and we’re willing to be flexible about translation and sorta-kinda similar meaning.

            N word phases are also not equal in entropy to N words selected at random from the dictionary.

            Think of it in terms of, would “ship of the sea” make a very good password?

            even if it was never in any holy book or other book.

            The words are closely related. It’s not a high-entropy phrase. You don’t tend to get ships of the highways or ships of the mountain goats and the grammatical structure being meaningful itself decreases the entropy.

            If I gave you 900 sentences to choose from and access to dozens of candidate ancient texts and for each text a few choices of alternative translations what would you estimate your hit rate would be?

            2. this one just happens to have an addition that matches an actual ancient source,

            yes, but we’re talking about probability in a large search space.
            The problem is that given a large search space it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll have a few examples of such.

            3. which was most surely unavailable to Smith, and which
            4. despite your assertion that there’s only a single word at stake, adds an entire phrase of the same length, wording, and meaning as the actually extant phrase in the Septuagint, and all of this despite,

            approximate wording, approximate meaning and half the sentence is “And upon all the” which is repeated in every line and so suffers a massive penalty because anyone manufacturing a line wasn’t going to write

            And upon all the high mountains,
            and upon all the hills,
            and upon all the nations which are lifted up,
            and upon every people
            And upon every high tower,
            and upon every fenced wall
            The Narwhal Bacons at Midnight,
            and upon all the ships of Tarshish,
            and upon all pleasant pictures.

            In information theory and also in genetics we sometimes use something called hidden Markov models to help estimate how likely a sequence of information is to be observed in an already reasonably-structured dataset.

            One of their other uses is in chatbots, they’re simple things that, when fed english language text then spew almost-meaningful stuff that tends to read like Ulysses.

            When fed multiple texts they give amusing mashups.

            But they can be useful for setting “background” estimates for strings of information being chance.

            If I showed a HMM the rest of that poem and let it make up a new line based on what it already saw the line would be almost certain to start with “and upon all” or “and upon every” and the line involving ships, hills or people would be about an even split.

            If I fed it the whole KJB “of the sea” would bcome strong contender largely because the phrase “of the sea” turns up 92 times in the KJB and would have a high prior weight trailing anything related to ships.

            It’s a little bit like the birthday paradox on steroids: where you’ve got 900 people in the room and you’re allowed to use lots of different calendar types and also many of the people in the room were conceived at the same wild party that their parents were all attending.

            Yet people are still amazed when it turns out some of the people in the room share birthdays.

            It really isn’t terribly high-entropy.

            5. there being no plausible motive for doing this extra combining, and the concomitant work necessary, instead of just continuing to “copy” the KJB.

            I’m not assuming he made any effort to search out ancient scrolls, I’m working off the assumption of low-effort with a little stream of consciousness + memory+ just saying what feels right.

            You seem to have the alternative hypothesis in your head as some kind of complex conspiracy. I’m proposing simply large numbers.

            Now, to go back to my original comparison to the pyramid thing.

            If I have someone in front of me who believed that there was some divine intervention involved to the placement and insisting that there’s a deep meaning to the ancient Egyptians placing the pyramid at *exactly* [speed of light] degrees I could easily find myself in an argument where they keep repeating that it’s extra remarkable because the Egyptians didn’t have any instruments that could allow them to measure the speed of light to that accurately while I keep trying to get across that that’s not really the point.

            Which is, still, that there’s so so many degrees of freedom that it would be more remarkable if none of the worlds ancient monuments lined up similarly and it would actually be more remarkable if absolutely none of the BOM’s passages matched any religious texts that Smith wouldn’t have had access to.

          • Huston says:

            Murphy, you begin by clarifying which assumptions are more reasonable, but why do so at all? What could such assumptions do other than skew results through prejudice? What mechanism corrects for such bias?

            Mostly, you repeat previous claims. I appreciate how seriously you take this, and I do enjoy the ideas you share, but explaining your ideas more deeply in no way makes those ideas any more applicable here.

            For example, later on you say, “I’m working off the assumption of low-effort with a little stream of consciousness + memory+ just saying what feels right.” So…coincidence is still your answer. Tell me, just how many of these coincidences does it take before the odds start to lean more favorably towards an ancient origin? Just consider all of the discrete evidences in this brief video of mine. How many of them must be explained as yet another “coincidence” before that house of cards falls apart?

            The birthday and pyramid examples, which are really nothing at all like what we’re talking about here, suggest that you’re still not considering the full context here. “The problem is that given a large search space it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll have a few examples of such.” Really? Could you give me a few equivalent historical examples, please?

          • Murphy says:

            ” Really? Could you give me a few equivalent historical examples, please?”

            ….I have a strong feeling that no matter what I give for examples you’ll declare that that only show the problem for the holy books in those examples or the groups involved in those examples but the same reasoning doesn’t apply to the BOM because the BOM is true while those others are just people looking for coincidences….

            There’s a long tradition of people searching for and finding “bible codes” including Mormons with the BOM

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_code

            http://www.docbible.net/ldswriters/200-book-of-mormon-prophesied

            http://docbible.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/bible-code.html

            http://www.legrandlbaker.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Code-words-in-the-Bible-and-Book-of-Mormon-LeGrand-Baker.pdf

            I already linked the Moby Dick example using the same methods.

            Then there’s prophecies

            https://www.logos.com/resources/LLS_AUTHBIBPRO/authenticity-of-the-bible-proof-of-prophecy

            And they tend to say things like this:

            It has been stated that if we excluded every prophecy except for those about the birth of Jesus, the chances of just those prophecies being fulfilled ALONE would be VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

            (but of course when you have thousands of years to search through and you can be inventive with interpretation it’s not hard to find something to tick off lots of prophecies)

            There’s a long tradition of people finding passages that translate similarly across multiple holy books.

            https://t-h-mitchell.livejournal.com/26269.html

            http://www.stpaulottawa.org/home/140004740/140004740/140123525/Buddhism_KRUEGER.pdf

            There’s a long tradition of people working to find prophesies of their prophet in other holy books.

            http://www.answering-christianity.com/predict.htm

            There’s a long tradition of people linking any “lost” cities from their holy books to anything that vaguely kinda matches.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iram_of_the_Pillars

            https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/83028/lost-city-atlantis-found-connected-jewish-temple-incredible-way/

            And they all believe sincerely, they all think that the patterns they’ve found are real, that the prophesies are right there in the text and proof that their holy book has insight from god, that the XYZ ruins are proof that their holy book is 100% correct because clearly all these things match!

            There’s even non-religious examples.

            People start looking for matching symbols and playing kabbalah with phrases and words and pretty soon you have pizzagate.

            http://www.place4free.com/Watamula/Watamula_Pizza.htm (warning some NSFW and general WTF)

            I already mentioned the 4chan kek meme, that’s a fairly neat modern example that boils down to a few hundred bored teenagers spending a few weeks searching for matching symbols, matching translations and meanings.

            imagine what they could find if they had 2 centuries and tens of thousands of bright, capable people looking for matching translations, symbols, geographic locations etc.

            https://pepethefrogfaith.wordpress.com/

            But it’s the same sort of overactive pattern matching.

            it’s the sort of thing that leaves people with walls that look like this with a mess of pins and string:

            https://i.pinimg.com/736x/6c/60/f2/6c60f2a7a70fcd21f67ad436b2db01ee–mindmaps-beautiful-mind.jpg

            It’s sitting in the middle of a search space the size of a planet and picking out only the iotas that confirm your hypothesis.

            But I’m pretty sure we have fundamentally approaches to epistemology.

            Out of interest, does the official LDS church website maintain any lists of things from the BOM which they *can’t* find support for, or lists of things which *don’t* seem to match quite right? How about peoples mentioned in the BOM for whom they can find no physical evidence? Or do they devote all their energy to pointing peoples attention only to confirmations?

            I tend to trust groups beliefs far more when I get the impression that they’re working at least as hard to disprove their most sacred beliefs and positions as they are to convince me of the truth of those beliefs.

          • Huston says:

            Murphy, thanks for all these new thoughts, but it’s quite a series of non-sequiturs. None of this has anything to do with the evidence; it’s an extended excuse to justify not engaging the evidence. I present illustrated and documented facts, and you respond with assumptions, feelings, analogies, and one bias after another. How odd! 🙂

            Most of this last post of yours appears to be a pastiche of Google results where you support claims of things being very common by providing one or two obscure links. Bible Code hunting and subjective prophecies abound, you say, but one or two footnotes does not a trend make. Especially when they’re not at all related to what I’m saying. It’s like I’m trying to present information about astronomy, and you’re ipso facto rejecting it because some people somewhere sometimes have done astrology. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong.

            You poo-poo the idea of finding lost cities through texts, even though following The Iliad is exactly how we found Troy. Indeed, lost cities in Mesoamerica aren’t rare; such discoveries still happen (https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/an-ancient-city-emerges-in-a-remote-rain-forest , for example); indeed, a major such discovery has already happened this year: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/maya-laser-lidar-guatemala-pacunam/.

            You go on about pattern finding, but what is your collection of reductive caricatures of those who differ from you, if not precisely that? Nothing in this thread looks more like your typical “wall with pins and strings” than that last post of yours, right? Projection much? 🙂

            Finally, you ask about the LDS church and its website. I can gladly say that the church takes no position of any kind on any such matters, because it’s more interested in helping people–that’s what a church should do, yes? Everything we’re talking about is more the purview of private people working on their own.

            I respect and appreciate everything you’re writing here–I really do always enjoy discussing this with such intelligent strangers–and I hope you’re still willing to focus on addressing the questions and issues I’ve raised. Thanks!

          • Murphy says:

            When I was googling some of the stuff from your video to get the fleshed out versions many of the hits for things like Bountiful/arabia were from lds.org . Is that not the official site? It’s often hard to tell with churches where the core church ends and affiliated groups begin.

            The problem is that some of the claims are privileged for having been picked out in the first place, from the decision process that led to us talking about them here. And that’s a problem when the problem-step is the algorithm that led to consideration, not the specific example.

            If you’re on a crypto boards there’s a common exchange that happens….

            Someone young-un comes on, posts an encrypted message and their algorithm and then asks/challenges people to crack it because they feel fairly sure their algo is secure/unbreakable.

            And then nobody bothers to crack it. but they do get a few replies along the lines of “well, from your code you’re using something like a vigenere cipher and that can be cracked with moderate effort using method XYZ”

            and those replies are correct.

            Sometimes they’ll go “oh, ok”… and sometimes they get annoyed because nobody actually cracked the specific example block of encrypted text they posted. All they got was someone waving generally at the general shape of their method and poo-poo-ing it.

            But it takes vastly more effort to dig into the little twists and turns that they may have added to code to crack their specific algo and nobody on there is willing to go to quite that much effort when they already know the result and that 100 similar algorithms using the same methods have been broken it the past.

            I could try to learn ancient languages to judge exactly how good the translations really are, I could try to become an expert on ancient religious texts and all their variations. I could try to become an expert on all the worlds sunken cities to properly enumerate all the lost cities that could also fit the bill… but when others have already cracked similar things 100 times before using similar methods … it just becomes the prospect of drudgery where the outcome is extremely unlikely to be surprising.

            You say that the birthday paradox doesn’t really apply but the problem is that it actually does apply any time 2 data-sets intersect. It’s about more than just dates.

    • cmurdock says:

      Regarding Egyptian names in the Book of Mormon: you didn’t provide an extensive list, however I was able to find this list of proposed cognates from another Mormon website. In my opinion, the list is not convincing– going case-by-case:

      Aha~Aha – Very short, simple name; not very conclusive.

      Aminadab~Amanathabi – All references to “Amanathabi” I can find are from Mormon sites.

      Ammon~Ammon – “Ammon” was a well-known Greek rendering of Amun; JS could have found it in Dryden’s translation of Plutarch or possibly elsewhere.

      Ammoni-hah~Ammoni-ra – the same “Ammon” element from above + two suffixes that don’t even match.

      Cezoram~Chiziri – “Chiziri” does not at all look like an Egyptian name, and the only references to it as an Egyptian name I can find are from Mormon sources.

      Giddonah~Dji-dw-na – All references to “Dji-dw-na” are from Mormon sources.

      Gidgiddoni~Djed-djhwt-iw-f and
      Gidgiddonah~Djed-djhwti-iw-s “plus ankh”[?] – IMO these pairs of names don’t resemble each other.

      Gimgim-no~Kenkeme – These don’t resemble each other that well; in addition, the “keme” element there is from the Coptic period– in earlier forms of Egyptian that toponym was “kumat”, although to be fair I don’t know how early that vowel change occurred

      Hem~Hem – Very short, simple name; not very conclusive.

      Helaman~Her-amon – The explanatory text itself says that “Her-amon” is actually “Heri-i-her-imn”. That makes these words not resemble each other.

      Himni~Hmn – Short-ish name; very weak evidence at best.

      Korihor~Kherihor – Non-Mormon sources for Kherihor apparently spell his name “Herihor”. This is the closest correspondence so far, however even assuming the consonant here is a kind of velar fricative, I note that it is a little convenient that Mormons choose to spell it “kh” rather than “h”, like they’re trying to make the name look more similar than it is.

      Manti~Manti – Short-ish name.

      Morianton~Meriaton & Meriamon – I don’t know why both names are given as candidates since “Meriaton” is clearly the only real candidate here. I see nothing obviously fraudulent here.

      Nephi~Nehi/Nehri – These don’t resemble each other. The explanatory text mentions a name “Nfy” but that’s, also, pretty simple and bound to show up probabilistically.

      Paanchi~Paanchi – The latter is given as the “son of Kherihor”– Herihor’s son is usually called “Piankh”. Assuming the latter element is from “ankh”, it’s worth noting that that word– according to the Ancient Egyptian Vocalization Project on Wikiversity, was pronounced [ˤaná:ḫ]. Given that, these words don’t resemble each other.

      Pahoran~Pa-her-an – Nothing seems obviously fraudulent here.

      Pacumeni~Pakamen – Nothing seems obviously fraudulent here.

      Pachus~Pa-ks and Pach-qs – “Pa-kš” seems to be a real Egyptian name, so this isn’t obviously fraudulent.

      Sam~Sam Tawi – The shared “Sam” element is extremely short– this is not convincing.

      Zemna-ri-hah~Zmn-ha-re – The elements here are not in the same order. The explanatory texts says this is “a common Egyptian practice” but you’ll forgive me if I don’t take their word for it– also, if we’re allowed to rearrange the elements like this, you see how the wiggle room they are asking for suddenly becomes gigantic?

      Zeniff~Znb/Snb – The Egyptians knew full well how to write /f/ if they wanted to. These names aren’t similar.

      Zenoch~Zenekh – Yet another name I can only find from Mormon sources.

      That leaves only 5 names that can reasonably be put forward as evidence: Korihor, Moranton, Pahoran, Pacumeni, and Pachus. Considered with how many names there are in the Book of Mormon (hundreds, I assume?), and the number of names found in the entirety of written evidence concerning Ancient Egypt (thousands, surely), you are bound to find a handful that kinda-sorta resemble each other.

  22. Murphy says:

    Re: A Less Wrong Crypto Autopsy

    For calibration have we got any examples of schemes, get rich quick things and etc have been mentioned on LW that didn’t pan out?

    Looking only at the cases where X went to 10,000 might be be a poor approach.

    Also remember to factor in time costs. If it takes me 10 hours worth of effort to figure out how to buy 10 bucks worth of something the big expense is not the 10 bucks unless I really enjoy learning how to buy those things. Those are 10 hours I could have spent working or cuddling my SO. They have value.

    • John Schilling says:

      Right, the advice to buy $10 worth of bitcoins is almost unambiguously bad. Might apply to unemployed coders or the like, or if you’re at the sort of conference where there’s an early-adopter with the right software on his iWhatever and the boundless enthusiasm to set you up with an eWallet while you wait. For anyone else, the effective transaction costs of buying, holding, and selling bitcoin are probably going to be at least $100, which means you are going to want to buy at least $100 worth.

      And then somehow magically know better than to sell them in early 2014, when the price was beginning its long, slow slide down from a mere $1000/coin, but do know enough to sell them now when they are coming down from their absolute never-to-be-repeated peak. Or are we supposed to know better and hold until the real true peak in 2021, or is it that having at least ten full bitcoins in 2035 entitles you to the Transcendent Demigod package during the singularity, or are they all going to be worthless in 2019?

      Gwern and Moldbug had good advice, and it was a failure of rationality or agency that more of us, myself included, didn’t take it. But it wasn’t as overwhelmingly and unambiguously good as the simplified and hindsight-biased version suggests.

      • In my case–having nothing to do with LessWrong at the time–the transaction cost was essentially zero. I was invited to speak at Porkfest and they agreed to pay my expenses. They offered to pay them in Bitcoin, which sounded like fun. Also, the (supposedly world’s only) Bitcoin ATM was at the event, so I got a little Bitcoin there too. Not enough either way to make me rich, but I expect my expenses ended up being paid more than twenty times over.

    • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

      Yeah, I worry that Scott’s discussion of this case as proof of great epistemic success in the LessWrong community may be seriously oversold. The fact that a few people urged buying it as a sort of unlikely lottery ticket — and not because they believed that it was in any way likely to pay off — seems a thin reed in the first place. If someone says X is very unlikely to occur and then X occurs, one could really equally count it as a “miss” rather than a “hit,” even if they urged buying on other grounds. But also — were there no dissenting voices in the community at the time? I certainly haven’t done a systematic review but glancing through it looks like there were a fair number of people on LessWrong seeming to view bitcoin as a bubble that had burst at various points in the intervening years. Are we allowed to wait and cherry-pick the voices that turn out to be correct and then retrospectively cite those as proof that our team is a bunch of brilliant A-plus epistemic predictors? Then there’s the whole issue of other lottery tickets discussed there but that never paid off. I worry a little bit that the epistemic success half of that article smacked of undeserved confidence. But I could be wrong!

    • yodelyak says:

      If one LW gal or guy had offered to buy $10 of bitcoin for anyone who transferred said gal-or-guy $11 via paypal… what fraction of people who didn’t buy would have taken up that offer?

  23. ksvanhorn says:

    The key take-away from “A Less Wrong Crypto Autopsy”:

    “Our epistemic rationality has probably gotten way ahead of our instrumental rationality.”

  24. Yakimi says:

    I think Moldbug’s comment aged the best of all the ones on the original thread. He said he had no idea what was going to happen, but recommended buying ten bitcoins. If Bitcoin flopped, you were out $10. If it succeeded, you might end up with some crazy stratospheric amount (right now, ten bitcoins = $116,000). Sure, this depends on an assumption that Bitcoin had more than a 1/10,000 chance of succeeding at this level, but most people seemed to agree that was true.

    That’s why I bought into Urbit at the same time I started buying Bitcoin. I put it at a similarly slim chance of succeeding, but it’s similarly ambitious, so I thought, why not? Sure, everyone complains that it’s weird and complicated, but disruptive technologies often are at first.

  25. S_J says:

    In a recent post (on “Conflict Theory vs. Mistake Theory”), I found myself taking part in a discussion of gun law in the U.S.

    And I realized something: I might be an outlier here at SSC. Not that I am a gun-owner, but that I have an official permit to carry a concealed firearm.

    Though I grew up in a red-tribe context, I did not become a gun-owner until after I left my parents home. That time coincided with me exploring politics via the early-2000s blogosphere, and I found myself agreeing strongly with various people about the right to keep and bear arms.

    I first attempted to hunt in my early-20s while a University student. I first bought a handgun the next year. For my permit-to-carry, I took the class, passed the range-certification, and passed a background check by the State Police.

    I’ve had my permit-to-carry for 12 years now. Due to the cycle of permit-renewals, I’ve passed the same background check three times.

    The first thing I learned is that concealed carry of a pistol requires a good holster. The second thing I learned is that most people I interact with do not notice a firearm that is underneath my clothes.

    The third thing I learned is that carrying a firearm is boring. It doesn’t change most of my interactions with other people.

    Mostly because of my lifestyle choices and place-of-living-and-working, I rarely have a need to defend myself. But I live in a Metro Area of a city that has a reputation for being a violent place. Carrying a firearm in places where there is low expectation of need-for-defense gives me practice for carrying a firearm if I ever go to a place with a higher expectation of need-for-defense.

    And I have also trained myself, when in public places, to scan the crowd. I keep an eye out for people who are acting like hunters seeking prey, vs. people who are not. Because it is better to avoid trouble than confront it, even if I am armed for self-defense.

    So, SSC commentariat…who else here has any experience carrying a weapon?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I have never carried or fired a firearm, mostly for the same reason I waited until my mid twenties to get a driver’s license. It’s a hassle to do in the city and you can get by without it if you’re paying attention.

      That said, I’m excited for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. One of the big reasons I’ve never bothered to get a gun license is because of how finicky state and local laws tend to be: in my state they’re issued by county and not all counties honor each other’s licenses. If it passes then when I move back upstate in a few years I’ll be able to get a concealed carry permit without having to worry about committing a felony every time I drive back to the city.

      Either way though I’ll need to get a license before the end of 2020. There’s a good chance that the federal government will be a lot more hostile to gun rights if the Democrats retake the executive.

      • Vorkon says:

        I’d LOVE to see the Concealed Carry Reciprocity act pass, probably more than any other gun rights expansion I can think of, but I wouldn’t exactly say I’m “excited” for it, any more than I’m “excited” for the prospect of winning the lotto.

        • If it passes do you have to get your permit in the state you live in or can you get a permit in another and more permissive state then use it in your home state?

          • Vorkon says:

            In the current version at least, as long as you have a valid permit in any state you can carry in any other state. So no, it doesn’t necessarily need to be your state of residence.

    • Incurian says:

      I carry. For me it feels weird/uncomfortable not to because of Afghanistan. Aside from my personal comfort, I carry more because I think on some macro level it’s better for society to have more people carry than because I expect to use it myself. Maybe there’s a parallel to vaccines.

      ETA: Also I guess I have a little experience carrying a weapon in Afghanistan. On my first deployment, the fact that I was never alone and usually had an armed squad sized element protecting me was more valuable than my personal weapon (an M4), which I kept slung at my side so I could use my maps and radios more easily. Second time around I spent a lot of time alone and surrounded by Afghan soldiers who were building a reputation for shooting their advisors. I generally only carried a pistol because a rifle would show a lack of trust. It was rather unpleasant. An exception was the day my avatar picture was taken. The team of advisors I was a part of flew in by helicopter to an Afghan outpost that used to be partnered with US guys, but as part of the draw down now had to be independent. They were a bit upset about being abandoned and that a great deal of equipment that should have been left for them was taken away or literally destroyed in place by their idiot partners before they left. Nonetheless, we had to check up on them and make sure they had a good defense plan (if they were overrun it would make continuing the drawdown so difficult) and do some coordination to help them use US air support. If we we’re going to get shot in the back, it would be then. My commander had to play as if he trusted them and was comfortable, and I had to be the jerk who stayed with him all the time fully armed and armored. It diminished my reputation among them but possibly it prevented an attack (an insider attack anyway, the Taliban did attack while we were there, which gave us an excellent opportunity to practice all the things we had gone over that day). The picture was taken at lunch, and despite my misgivings, I was so tickled by the sugar for my tea being served out of an old biohazard container that I had to have a picture. Some time later on that deployment an emergency situation popped up that resulted in my rifle being driven away in a truck I had previously been using as a command post, and I was left with two other Americans at the Afghan TAC while the rest of the squad dealt with the emergency (other vets will probably criticize me harshly for losing track of my rifle, but believe me that the whole thing was a clusterfuck and my attention was needed elsewhere). I still had a pistol, but it was scary. On my third deployment I was on a big air base and carrying my rifle around was a nuisance. I was later deployed to Jordan and was not allowed to carry a weapon. I felt the absence of a weapon there much more keenly than I ever feel the actual presence of a weapon when I’m carrying.

    • John Schilling says:

      When I lived in south-central Los Angeles (attending USC), I carried a firearm fairly regularly. No permit, because Los Angeles, but discretionary prosecution includes middle-class white privilege if it had mattered.

      Which it didn’t, because as you note if you do it right it’s boring and nobody ever knows about it. Unless something goes badly wrong, and the things that can go badly wrong involving concealed weapons mostly call for someone to be going to jail. I was the target of two attempted robberies while at USC, one in my first semester before I started carrying (my mistake) and lead to my being injured, one a year or so later (their mistake) which lead to three would-be robbers fleeing into the darkness and nobody getting hurt. None of the robbers wound up in jail, but I’m still counting that a win.

      If Heller or reciprocity forces California into a non-discretionary permit regime, I’ll get one on general principles, but I don’t plan on ever living in that sort of threat environment again.

    • Unsaintly says:

      I come from a family that is big on gun ownership and gun rights. My earliest political memory is my dad explaining why he opposed gun control, and at least one person per generation has been in the military going back as far as I know. As a result, I have been to the firing range a few times as a family activity. What I found is that I actively dislike firing them, and even carrying a gun from one place to another is uncomfortable for me.
      I don’t hate guns, or feel that nobody should I have them. Once or twice a year, someone in my family will ask why I don’t own a gun, and it basically comes down to three things:
      1) I have badly impaired depth perception, so my odds of actually hitting what I think I’m aiming at are lower than normal
      2) If someone wants to kill me, they will probably succeed even if I have a gun. If someone wants to rob me, I’d rather just give them them stuff than risk even a low-moderate chance of serious injury or death.
      3) Guns are really loud. I don’t enjoy firing them, so I’m not going to get any utility from a firing range or hunting or whatever.

      So in the end, while I’ve carried a gun a few times and shot a bit more than that, it’s not something I enjoyed or plan to do at all in the future despite being raised in a very pro-gun culture.

      • Aapje says:

        People commonly use hearing protection when firing guns at the range/when hunting.

        • Thegnskald says:

          It is basic safety equipment.

          Anybody teaching the use of firearms without requiring the use of hearing protection is being irresponsible.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        You never owe anyone an explanation for not taking up some particular hobby.

    • Vorkon says:

      Ever since I was stationed in Arizona, I’ve been carrying concealed pretty much every time I go anywhere other than directly to or from base. I’m not new to firearms in general, (I’ve been active duty for well over a decade) but this is the first time I’ve been stationed somewhere where it’s actually possible for me to get a concealed carry permit.

      For the most part, I’ve had similar experiences with it as you, however, while it doesn’t impact my day-to-day interactions with people all THAT much, I do find myself generally being slightly more confident, careful, and less likely to lose my temper in situations such as being cut off on the road when I’m carrying. That may be because carrying concealed is still somewhat new to me, however; like I said, I’ve never been stationed someplace where it was legal, and although my father was ever-so-slightly more red-tribe-ish than the rest of my family, I grew up in deep blue suburban Connecticut, and he was the only even vaguely red-tribe-ish person I knew, and was very apolitical and unlikely to talk about his personal opinions. I have a feeling that, even though I carried a rifle all the time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and carry a pistol when I’m standing duty, carrying in a civilian capacity is still fairly new to me, and I’m not sure if the novelty has entirely worn off yet. Any difference in my behavior is entirely internal, though, and I doubt anybody around me would notice me behaving any differently. (It’s not like I have huge temper problems in public anyway, after all. All bets are off when I’m by myself, or in a car as the case may be, however. Though, it occurs to me that even that might be a fluke, unrelated to carrying; if I’m not on my way to base, I’m generally not in as much of a hurry as I would be when I’m on my way to work.)

    • shakeddown says:

      I used to volunteer as a security escort for hiking trips. They stopped using those when a kid on a school trip somewhere in the country played with a security escort’s gun and accidentally shot himself.
      This seems to reflect carrying guns pretty well – you spend a lot of time fantasizing about sexy save the day scenarios, but in practice you’re more likely to have a mundane result like a misfire than to ever effectively defend yourself with it. But eh, negative mundane results are rare enough that if you enjoy the fantasies knock yourself out I guess.

      • CatCube says:

        What kind of cheap-ass ammo are you purchasing that a misfire is the most likely result?

        • shakeddown says:

          I’m hiking with up to a few dozen teenagers. Hard to beat those odds.

          • Aapje says:

            CatCube is probably criticizing your choice of words. When applied to guns, ‘misfire’ specifically refers to having a gun refuse to shoot when you want it to, not having someone shoot the gun unintentionally or such.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        This is my concern over “arm the teachers” proposals to stop school shootings.

        Note I’m extremely pro-2A, against gun control, from a military family, been shooting since I was a kid, have a concealed carry permit, have spent countless hours on the range (including skeet) or better yet at the shooting gallery at my uncle’s farm (which is a heck of lot of fun. Pop-up targets, metal spinning targets, bowling pins, etc etc). SHALL. NOT. BE. INFRINGED.

        But I don’t think arming teachers will stop school shootings. School shootings are incredibly rare. Activists inflate the states by counting suicides, or stuff that happens between adults on sprawling college campuses, but when we narrow it down to “person opens fire on students at a K-12 school” it’s about 2 per year. There are ~100,000 public schools in the US (and another 30k private schools). Average school year is 180 days. So across the country there are 18,000,000 public school days. And on 17,999,998 of those, absolutely nothing happens. Bells rings in the morning, bell rings in the afternoon, no shots fired. And on two tragic, awful days…

        But that’s 2 out of 18 million. Bring a gun to a school for defense on any given day, there’s only a one in 9 million chance you’ll have the opportunity to use it to stop a murder. Those are not particularly good odds.

        And then factor in the law of unintended consequences. You’ve got hundreds or thousands of teachers of bringing guns to school, just maybe to reduce the number of school shootings nationwide from two each year to one or zero. Maybe that’ll work, who knows. Dissuade someone from bringing a gun to school because they don’t want to get stopped. But if just once or twice a teacher loses it and shoots somebody, or a student gets a hold of a teacher’s gun, and your cure is now worse than the disease.

        Given the law of unintended consequences, I just don’t think there’s anything you can do about a 1 in 9 million chance event that’s not going to have unintended consequences occurring at a rate greater than 1 in 9 million.

        • Several a year isn’t what I call extremely rare.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            In a nation of 300+ million people, two a year is pretty rare. What would have to be the number per year for you to say it’s rare?

          • 0.5 a decade.

            Thing is, you are not actually comparing it *with* anything.

          • Thegnskald says:

            We could compare it to teen suicide rates.

            In which case, whatever has caused the rise in teen suicides (smartphones/social media, reduced antidepressant prescriptions for youth, and earlier puberty are some suggested causes) is killing way more teens and getting much less attention.

          • johan_larson says:

            What would have to be the number per year for you to say it’s rare?

            Cops kill about 900 people per year. That’s about 3 per million per year. And that issue barely registers as news; when it’s discussed at all, it gets attention either because the circumstances were unusual or shootings as a whole are racially skewed.

            This suggests that even on issues of life and death, anything that happens to less than one person per million per year is basically not worth worrying about.

          • If Trump pulled out a gun and short someone on TV, that would be worth worrying about.
            There are many factors besides sheer numbers.

          • albatross11 says:

            Police shootings in the last few years have led to a large number of big, visible protests, riots and many days of front page/first story on the news coverage.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Doesn’t that reenforce the point that concern over “X type of killings happen < 1 per million per year" is basically political? There are lots of extremely rare types of killings:

            Murder by illegal immigrant

            Murder by police

            Murder by Islamic terrorism

            Murder by school shooting

            All extremely rare, but there's a pretty good chance if you tell me your political party membership I can tell you which of these you think are "very important issues requiring government intervention" and which are "very silly for anyone to worry about because car accidents / teen suicides / furniture falling on people."

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z:

            Thing is, you are not actually comparing it *with* anything.

            One comparison metric I find useful is either “number of people struck by lightning” or “number of people killed by lightning strikes”. Lightning strikes that hit people are by almost anyone’s estimate “extremely rare”, yet happen quite a lot more than “several a year” – it’s a big country!

            Applying that metric here, if we compare annually:
            (a) the # of Americans killed in school shootings
            (b) the # of Americans killed by lightning strikes

            No matter how generous you are in counting “school shootings” (or for that matter “mass shootings” in general), lightning easily wins the comparison – it is far “more deadly”.

            [Side note: there was a claim popular in the media that the number of mass shooting deaths in the US is “increasing at an accelerating rate“. If that were actually true, one might reasonably worry that eventually shooting deaths might exceed lightning deaths…but it’s not true. It turns out when an interest group tried to count mass shooting deaths the first three years they counted (2013, 2014, 2015) the numbers they came up with looked like an accelerating-increase trend. So they issued press releases and lots of news stories broadcast this new and scary result…but then 2016 and 2017 broke the trend (2016 was only a very mild increase over 2015 and 2017 was a solid decrease over 2016). So the press releases stopped, leaving everybody with the vague impression that what seemed true in early 2016 might plausibly still be true now.]

        • Garrett says:

          The secret is that the gun-rights crowd needs to come up with a proposal which:
          1) Vaguely sounds like it would work.
          2) Doesn’t reduce gun rights.

          Given that all of the other proposals are we need to ban guns – won’t somebody! please! think! of the children! it’s not only defensive but a counter-attack. Proposing that teachers be able to carry guns is a way of turning that challenge into a way to possibly expand gun rights rather than have them contract.

      • S_J says:

        The other side of gun ownership and carrying guns…you, and everyone who might handle the guns, needs to build a good set of gun-safety habits.

        Habits need to be trained, and whatever kids are in the group need to be trained in the same good habits as the adults. (Unless they are too young, at which point they get the simpler training of “do not touch the gun, find an adult who knows how to handle it.”)

        There are several variations of the Four Rules of Gun Safety. When I practice those rules (and when I recite them to myself or others), I use the set that was developed by Jeff Cooper.

        The short version:
        1. All guns are always loaded, until you have verified them as unloaded yourself.
        2. Don’t point the gun at any person/thing that you are not willing to destroy.
        3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
        4. Be aware of your target, and aware of what is behind your target.

        Even if you don’t want to carry a firearm, I think it is a good idea to to become familiar enough with guns and safety rules to be able to teach them to others. Especially children who might come into contact with guns when you aren’t around…

      • I forgot to ask WTF a hiking trip needs an armed guard. Animals? Meth cookers?

  26. toBoot says:

    Anyone have recommendations for a good therapist in the Seattle area? I think someone recommended by the rationalist community would be much more likely to meet my needs than someone I could find by scouring the internet. Thanks!

  27. sty_silver says:

    What’s the shortest thing I can read that will make me understand statistical notation (such as what’s used here and in many other surveys)? I have a solid grasp on basic probability theory.

  28. johan_larson says:

    What do we do that’s weird?

    Cheerleaders are weird. Sports-boosterism turned into a sexualized pseudo-sport. Go be dancers, or gymnasts. And put on some Goddamn pants.

    PB&J sandwiches are weird. Why combine something as sweet as jam with savory? Imagine putting orange marmalade on a hot dog.

    To avoid a flamewar, let’s keep the discussion to our own cultures and subcultures. You wanna throw shade on the Dutch, be Dutch yourself.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Imagine putting orange marmalade on a hot dog.

      A schoolfriend routinely spread marmalade on his breakfast sausages (admittedly not strictly hot dog sausages but close enough). I tried some once, it was quite tasty, though I don’t make a habit of it. For my own money, I quite like the combination of jaffa cakes and brie.

    • keranih says:

      image putting orange marmalade on a hot dog

      Or maple syrup on sage sausage…yum!

      People in hats are odd in nearly every culture.

      • Randy M says:

        I’ve started wearing a cowboy hat intermittently. I still feel very self-conscious doing so. Hats other than caps (which I’ll also occasionally wear when my hair needs containment) seem hard to wear without making some kind of identity statement.

    • Brad says:

      PB&J are almost entirely eaten by children, right? Is this one of those unduly extrapolating from personal experience things?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Peanut butter and jam/jelly is really tasty. Every now and then I get a craving for one, usually late in the evening/in the night. Maybe it’s a kid thing to eat them a lot, but the combination is really pleasing.

      • Unsaintly says:

        I am an adult, and still love PB&J sandwiches. They are one of my go-to quick lunch items, and I usually have 1-2 per week on average (although not uniformly, I’ll go a week with 0, then have 4 in a row, then another week or two without any, etc).
        I may be the odd one though, since I actively resist stopping stuff I once enjoyed because it is “for children”. Sure, some things are much less enjoyable as an adult (such as many of the cartoons or games I played as a child) but I will at least try to still enjoy them, in the hopes of finding stuff that doesn’t age badly.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      PB&J sandwiches are weird. Why combine something as sweet as jam with savory? Imagine putting orange marmalade on a hot dog.

      Pork and applesauce.
      Prosciutto with melon or figs.
      Chinese cooking with meat in honey-based sauces (perhaps the best-known example to Americans is General Tso’s chicken).
      North African meat stews with apricots, prunes or dates- or pastilla, which is a chicken or pigeon pie with sugar, cinnamon and almonds.
      Korma.
      Waldorf salad.

      The combination of sweet and savory is definitely not weird.

      (Or approaching it from the other direction, is peanut butter definitely savory? I think of it as more of a neutral ingredient like bread.)

      • Loquat says:

        Peanuts show up in lots of candies – chocolate coated peanuts, peanut butter cups, peanut brittle, etc – so I’m going to have to say they’re neutral.

        • JayT says:

          Usually in those cases the peanuts are added (among other reasons) to bring saltiness to the candy.
          I must say though, I really don’t understand the OP’s objection to sweet and savory being mixed. That’s a very normal thing.

          • Loquat says:

            I dunno what kind of peanuts you’re used to, but the ones around here aren’t salty unless someone added salt to them.

            They do add nuttiness and body, but those aren’t inherently savory properties IMO.

    • dodrian says:

      As a teenager I frequently took jam and cheese sandwiches to school. If I order a breakfast sandwich at a fast-food restaurant I will add jam. I’d be a bit wary of a marmalade hot dog, but that’s more because I don’t think orange pairs well with other flavors. I would happily try a corn dog with grape or strawberry jam.

      I’d always assumed that Trainspotting was an invented hobby. Sure I’d get why people would go watch planes taking off and landing. And I’d be one of the first at the train station if I knew they were running a heritage stock event or similar. But I was completely bowled over one morning on my commute when I saw an anoraked man on the platform dutifully ticking off the 0655 into Marylebone. Upon the realisation that yes, this is a real hobby, I began to see them at many more stations.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why combine something as sweet as jam with savory? Imagine putting orange marmalade on a hot dog.

      Marmalade and cheddar cheese goes surprisingly well together. I saw this, thought “That’s crazy”, tried it, and was surprised by the result – not as disgusting as I had anticipated! Good sharp cheddar, marmalade that is not too sweet (Seville oranges), don’t slather it on with a trowel, eat in moderation, a nice snack with some crackers!

      Also tried a different glaze to the usual honey-and-mustard one for the Christmas baked ham this year; a shop-bought ‘home-made style’ orange and lemon one which was a bit like marmalade,and it worked very well. The citrus cuts through the fattiness of the ham, the smokiness of the ham offsets the sweetness.

      Also, banana sandwiches. Fruit in a sandwich? Yes!

      Strawberries and black pepper – another sweet/tart/savoury combination.

      Apple, grapes and cheese (with a nice dry white wine).

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t do this, but apparently many people enjoy a slice of cheddar melted on their slice of apple pie. Agent J did this in MIB III.

        And of course “Hawaiian” pizza (invented by a Canadian).

        • Randy M says:

          Someone tried the Cheddar/Apple pie on an episode of Master chef one time (amature cooking competition). Gordon Ramsey was not amused, iirc.

          • Deiseach says:

            I certainly wouldn’t melt the cheese, but a slice of Cheddar with apple tart (and a good cup of tea) goes very well!

            Cheddar seems to be one of those cheeses that has enough flavour to stand up for itself but not so much as to overwhelm other flavours, so it goes well with savoury and certain sweet things.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I use blue cheese in my apple pies sometimes.

      • Also, banana sandwiches. Fruit in a sandwich? Yes!

        Peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Or just eating a banana with peanut butter.

        • Deiseach says:

          Does go very well, but sometimes the peanut butter is too heavy for what you want, just a quick light and tasty non-savoury sandwich 🙂

    • fion says:

      I don’t know about marmalade and hot dogs, but cheese and marmalade sandwiches are delicious!

      Pretty much all of fashion is weird. Why do we have laces on our shoes and buttons on our flies when velcro and zips are better? Why do the people with narrow hips wear clothes that are held up by the hips (like trousers), whereas people with wide hips can wear clothes held up by the shoulders (like dresses)? Why are there formal settings where some people can’t remove their jacket if they’re too hot and others can’t cover up if they’re too cold?

      • Randy M says:

        Why do we have laces on our shoes and buttons on our flies when velcro and zips are better?

        There’s more give in laces, to accommodate different sock or foot sizes. I’d guess it allows the shoes to be made from less elastic material than they would need to be if they were fastened with buttons.
        And to quote George Costanza, “That’s one place on my wardrobe I don’t need small interlocking metal teeth.

        Why are there formal settings where some people can’t remove their jacket if they’re too hot and others can’t cover up if they’re too cold?

        I’d guess formality in fashion involves a certain amount of “intentional” discomfort for signalling purposes (intentional in quotes because I doubt it is conscious).

      • Nornagest says:

        Why do the people with narrow hips wear clothes that are held up by the hips (like trousers), whereas people with wide hips can wear clothes held up by the shoulders (like dresses)?

        Horses.

      • And, as my wife points out, the people with external genitalia get to wear tight pants, the people without them loose dresses–at least that used to be the custom. And the recent changes are in the wrong half of the rule.

    • Jon S says:

      Ketchup is really sugary and lots of people put that on hot dogs. I don’t think mixing sweet and savory is unusual.

    • TheContinentalOp says:

      Cheerleaders are weird. Sports-boosterism turned into a sexualized pseudo-sport. Go be dancers, or gymnasts. And put on some Goddamn pants.

      There aren’t a lot of opportunities for gymnasts over the age of 18, aside from coaching. I guess there’s circuses and such, but that would require travel. Unless you live in Las Vegas I don’t think they are any part-time of full-time gymnast positions available.

      There are more dance opportunities, but still not that many. If you want to perform before a big audience, the NFL/NBA is probably your best shot for the home town girl still looking to dance part-time.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, cheerleading at its core is basically just a style of dance.

      • gbdub says:

        I note that most female gymnasts and many dancers (e.g. ballet) do not wear any Goddamn pants, or at least not pants that leave much of anything to the imagination (and by that latter definition, male dancers/gymnasts do not usually wear Goddamn pants either).

    • Yakimi says:

      Motivating young men by pressuring them to perform in front of their tribe’s potential mates is actually the most natural thing in the entire world.

      Sport itself is far stranger than its epiphenomena.

      • Randy M says:

        Using competitiveness to keep the young men in shape for warfare without permanently maiming or killing many of them also seems very natural.
        It just has layers of added elements that have accrued over time for other purposes as well.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Sport itself is far stranger than its epiphenomena.

        Physical competition between men that does not involve murder seems like a pretty obvious social technology to me.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I think it’s the… Herero of lowland Ethiopia? Where boys come of age by jumping over cows while their potential mates cheer them on, then ask the youth to beat them after he’s jumped.
        So similar to American football but more functional yet weirder.

        • quanta413 says:

          Makes more sense than American football to me. Already have cows, why invent a game that requires you to inflate a piece of rubber kind of shaped like a pig’s bladder?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Sport itself is far stranger than its epiphenomena.

        Not so strange. Clash of linemen, clash of moose…

    • PB&J sandwiches are weird. Why combine something as sweet as jam with savory?

      You are looking at the wrong dimension. Peanut butter is yummy but too dry. Jelly is wet. Complementary characteristics.

      Of course, peanut butter and sliced apple is even better, since it not only gives the dry/wet complementarity but the soft/crunch complementarity as well.

      • JayT says:

        I was always a big fan of peanut butter and cream cheese. Like jelly, the cream cheese is a great lubricant, but you don’t end up with an overly sweet experience.

      • Loquat says:

        Crunchy peanut butter, dude. Covers all the bases.

    • Nornagest says:

      There’s nothing wrong with sweet and savory combinations. Lamb and mint jelly. Sharp cheese and fig jam. Chicken apple sausage. Chocolate-covered bacon.

    • Aapje says:

      I’m going to ignore the obvious culture war weirdness, so instead:

      The Elfstedentocht/Eleven cities tour is a skating tour, almost 200 kilometres (120 mi) long, which is held both as a speed skating competition (with 300 contestants) and a leisure tour (with 16,000 skaters). It is held in the province of Friesland in the north of the Netherlands, leading past all eleven historical cities of the province.

      It’s on natural ice, so it requires a long freezing spell, which is rare (and getting rarer…due to reasons). There were 15 tours in the 20th century and none yet in the 21st (we got close in 2012).

      Whenever there is a decent freezing spell, the Dutch get ‘eleven cities fever’ where every newscast will mention the ice thickness at various points. Weak spots get ‘ice transplants.’ Water pumping stations are shut down, so the water is kept still. Snow can impede ice growth, so in 2012, a bunch of Dutch people went out on the ice to remove the snow.

      Here is the current king who participated in 1986 (in Playboy & Marlboro clothes, for some reason). Back then we called him Prince Pilsner.

      And another picture of the professional cyclists underway.

    • johan_larson says:

      And another weird thing: open casket funerals. Gather with your loved ones around a corpse covered with poison and makeup.

      • Matt M says:

        This doesn’t strike me as weird. One of the major purposes of a funeral is to essentially “say goodbye” to a person who has died. And to the extent that you can, you might want to look at them for one last time as you do so.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Call centers (in which I used to work and still neighbor) have strange norms about drug use, for sure. They’re allowed, and tacitly encouraged, to consume so much stimulant that they turn into shuddering wrecks useless for long-attention-span work and helpless in the morning before getting their dose, but a single beer with lunch is looked on with deep suspicion, and in some corners outright hostility, despite basically no noticeable effect.

      Similarly, smoking is endemic among call centers, with frequent allowed breaks, terrible smell, worse health insurance costs for the company, higher rates of absenteeism due to respiratory infections, etc., while taking a cup of tea outside is generally seen as unacceptable laziness (maybe it’s the sitting thing?).

      Basically, it’s like all of the standard American drug stereotypes and cultural conditioning turned up to 11.

  29. OptimalSolver says:

    Why is egoism so unpopular/ignored in philosophy, despite the fact it appears to be the operating ethical system for virtually all living organisms?

    In both mainstream and rationalsphere philosophy, it seems to be taken as given that humans are natural utilitarians who try to increase the general good without much discrimination. This is contrary to what’s observed in real world humans, an observation that can be summarized as: “the greatest good for me, the people I care about the most, and maybe my tribe.”

    An example of this mismatch with reality are trolley problems. It never occurs to the people positing these ethical gotchas that it matters just who is on the tracks. Real world humans would sacrifice arbitrarily large numbers of strangers for someone they actually care about.

    What humans don’t do is assign equal value to all people, then calculate the utility of resulting actions.

    • beleester says:

      Because egoism doesn’t universalize. It might give clear results at the individual level, but if you tell two different people “Maximize your own personal utility,” and they’ve both got people tied to the tracks, then you just end up with a fistfight over the trolley lever.

      If you’re a philosopher, you’re writing at the societal level. You don’t have a particular trolley or person in mind, you’re just writing The Big Book of Ethics for Everyone in the hopes that it will help people who come across trolley problems. So you need a universal guideline, like “The greatest good for the greatest number” or “Uphold these virtues.”

      It’s sort of like Rawls’ veil of ignorance – if you don’t know where you’ll end up, whether you’ll be tied to the tracks or standing at the switch, then you want society to save as many people as possible, regardless of who ends up pulling the lever.

      In both mainstream and rationalsphere philosophy, it seems to be taken as given that humans are natural utilitarians who try to increase the general good without much discrimination.

      I don’t think this is true at all. Most rationalists believe that we should maximize the general good, but I don’t think they believe that humans do so naturally. If we did, then we wouldn’t bother writing long treatises on why utilitarianism is a good idea, we would just say “Follow your instincts,” and that would be all the ethical philosophy we needed.

      I would argue that the reason we have formalized ethical codes in the first place is to suppress our natural, selfish instincts in favor of something that works better for society as a whole. So that when you’re faced with a trolley problem, you don’t just think “That’s my wife on the second track!”, you think “…but those people on the first track have wives too.”

      • Wrong Species says:

        Why should I care about what a random philosopher decides to write about? If my choice is to save my family or save these strangers, I’m not going to find that a compelling argument.

        And universality isn’t automatically a good thing. If it was, then a good moral rule like “Don’t steal” would have to be applied in all situations, even when it was stupid. If we can recognize different rules for different situations, then why can’t we recognize different rules for different people?

        • beleester says:

          The question was “Why do philosophers seem really interested in utilitarianism and not egoism?”, not “Why should I, personally, subscribe to utilitarianism?” So I answered from that perspective.

          Yes, we can recognize different rules for different people, but the meta-level principle for choosing different rules has to be universalizable, or, again, you just end up with a fistfight over who gets to pick the rules. The philosopher can’t write a book that’s different for every person who reads it.

    • This is contrary to what’s observed in real world humans, an observation that can be summarized as: “the greatest good for me, the people I care about the most, and maybe my tribe.”

      If you include your tribe, that’s not egoism.

      In both mainstream and rationalsphere philosophy, it seems to be taken as given that humans are natural utilitarians who try to increase the general good without much discrimination.

      I don’t think anyone regards U-ism as descriptive.

    • Kaura says:

      Precisely because egoism is so intuitive and natural to humans, at least as a soft version that also includes stuff like caring about people you know and the possibility of iterated interactions even with strangers (which has left us with a tendency to also care about them, though to a lesser extent). But it doesn’t suffice on its own, because like beleester said, it leaves everyone worse off if universalized and so basically defeats itself when you share an environment with many other agents.

      It seems to me that egoism is best understood as a proto-morality that ultimately motivates the adoption of higher-level moral systems but is largely pointless as a moral system on its own, and ethics is essentially about finding acceptable and functional ways to coordinate behaviour so that everyone can do better than they would in a system of purely egoistic agents. Like egoism that actually works.

      • albatross11 says:

        If you think of moral teachings as attempts to correct existing bad tendencies, rather than as complete prescriptions for how to act, then you can see a lot of moral teachings as trying to push people away from egoism, perhaps with the implicit understanding that almost everyone will look out for #1 without being told to, but we need to push people to sometimes consider others who aren’t their immediate family or close friends.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Like TheAncientGeek says, caring for your in group members intrinsically is not egoism. Funny enough, I’m not aware of any term for this even though it’s the default human ethical belief. The reason egoism is unpopular is simply that egoism is psychologically unintuitive. Very few people like the idea of a society built on only caring about your own self-interest.

      I think anyone who calls themself an egoist doesn’t really understand what that entails. Let’s say you had a button. When you press that button, a random person you have never met before will be die an excruciatingly painful, long death. You in return will receive $10. Do you press the button? No of course not, says the egoist, because the knowledge that someone will suffer will cause me to lose more utility than I gain from that money. But now imagine that pressing the button makes you forget that you pressed the button. If you were a consistent egoist, you would be pressing the button so much that your finger got so sore. But I doubt most self-declared egoists would do it.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Slightly different answer:

      Ethics aren’t written for individuals to live by, they are written to assist those writing the rules by which individuals live by.

      People trying to live up to, for example, utilitarianism are, in my opinion, committing a type error. Utilitarianism isn’t meaningfully applicable at an individual level; it really only starts getting meaningful when applied at an organizational level.

      I don’t want the doctor in a triage situation deciding which patients to save based on utilitarian judgments. I want the person who wrote the triage rules to have made those judgments already.

      Both because utilitarianism is slow, and because in any case where it actually matters, there should be at least one level of separation between the person making the utilitarian call and the person who has to implement it. Utilitarianism is a miserable ideology, and the doctor who looks into the face of a dying individual and chooses not to save them because these other two people should be saved instead shouldn’t bear the personal responsibility for having made that call.

      Personal utilitarianism is an ideal no human being can live up to. Ethics should not be a treadmill of misery. The system should be made for the man, not the man for the system. Ayn Rand was spot-on there; a good individual ethics should make you more happy and better-off, not worse, and at a social level, we should promote individual ethical systems which punish, rather than reward, defection. Which is to say, incentives matter.

    • Most non-philosophical humans aren’t egoists by default. Humans have been exposed to evolved behavioural change as a result of kin selection and group selection, and to some degree reciprocity is genetically embedded as a non-egoist tendancy too (beyond rational individual reciprocity). You’ve also got a general cultural tendancy towards non-egoism that exists prior to formal philosophizing, for example in religions. So while egosim isn’t neccessarily irrational (though I don’t accept it), it doesn’t really match the average human behaviour in the same way it might match the average behaviour of most other animals (especially non-social ones).

      I also agree with what others have said about philosophy often being purposed for universalized perspectives.

  30. Vincent Soderberg says:

    sooo… is it recommended to get into the crypto currency business now or is it too late?

    on a related note, what are the new great but weird opportunities of this year?

    • onyomi says:

      It’s probably too late to turn a $10 investment into 1 million dollars. It may not be too late to turn $10,000 into 1 million dollars. It’s also almost certainly not too late to get involved in the industry somehow. In fact, I think it’s still quite early for that. If I were a little younger and didn’t already have a completely unrelated career that keeps me busy I would probably be looking for ways to do that right now.

      Especially if you have developer skills there is apparently a big unmet demand out there still (that is, there are way more people looking to fund projects right now than there are qualified people looking to do them).

    • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

      Before you do anything with crypto, I think there’s two things to seriously consider:

      1. It’s an environment where Dogecoin, which is literally a meme with no value proposition, has a market capitalization of 800 million USD, the self-described Useless Ethereum Token, which is exactly that, collected 300k for some reason, and there have not been one but two separate cryptos called “Ponzicoin”, which were entirely upfront about what they were, but still attracted investment. Also remember that even the big cryptos have so far been good at ridiculous growth, but a lot less good at actually delivering on their use case.

      2. It’s also an environment where nearly every exchange is sketchy in some way, manages to get hacked or “hacked” on a regular basis, fraud like Bitconnect is rampant. And there’s even some decent evidence that last year’s mad rally was a masterful piece of market manipulation.

      My interpretation is that 1) tells me there’s still a lot of correction needed to deflate the mania that’s gripped the entire sphere. I hope that the big correction is happening right now. 2) tells me that sooner than later, regulators will step in, and depending on what they want to do, they might kill the entire market or make it a lot less sketchy and more trustworthy. This years’ G20 meeting is supposed to feature regulations on crypto. If you want to play it a bit safer, watch and wait until they’ve got results.

      (For the record, I’m still convinced that crypto is here to stay in one form or another. But remember that even while e.g. Amazon made it through the dotcom crash and is now worth more than the rest of the universe combined, it still took 15 years for them to reach their stock price at the top of the bubble again.)

    • Iain says:

      You should think about cryptocurrencies right now the same way you would have thought about dot com in the late 90s.

      Cryptocurrency valuations right now are transparently overblown. It used to be that you could slap “.com” on your business plan and people would line up at your door to give you money; now, the magic incantation is “blockchain”. As the post above me mentions, even deliberately ridiculous cryptocurrencies are getting sky-high valuations. This is unsustainable. Sooner or later, the market will correct itself. The people who get out at the right time can still probably make a lot of money, but there will be a lot of unlucky suckers left holding the bag.

      That said: Dot com was a bubble, but the Internet was for real. Hidden under the mania was a valuable core. The current nonsense doesn’t necessarily invalidate the idea of cryptocurrency; conversely, even if you think that cryptocurrency has real legs, there’s no guarantee that any particular existing option will maintain its value.

      If you are just hoping to play the game and strike it rich in the short term: go ahead, but don’t risk anything you can’t afford to lose. If you’d asked somebody in 1999 whether it was still recommended to get into dot com, what could they say? Even if you are convinced that the bubble will burst, it’s hard to say when: “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”, and all that. It is still plausible that people could start today and make a fortune in crypto before it all falls down, but I wouldn’t say that it’s likely.

      If you’re looking for long-term investments: do your research. Think about underlying value. My current best guess would be Ethereum. If I wanted something weird and risky, I would look into collectibles like CryptoKitties; if you get in early enough on something that gets huge, it’s possible that it could still have some sort of historic value down the line.

      My bottom line would be: cryptocurrency is no longer a weird, niche idea. Lots of smart investors are looking for opportunities. What is your edge? What makes you think cryptoasset X is currently undervalued? What is your exit strategy? Make sure you have good answers before you invest.

    • Brad says:

      I was reading about stablecoins yesterday. I came across this blog: https://prestonbyrne.com and read several of his posts on them. I came away convinced that the algorithmic attempts (e.g. basecoin and DAI) were doomed.

      Separately, based on other reading it looks like Tether is an outright scam. But something like tether should work: open a trust account somewhere, run a gateway company that accepts dollars for tokens and tokens for dollars. Also, start a block chain that allows those tokens to be traded. Pay miners and the trust operator out of the interest earned on the trust holdings.

      The risks to the system are: 1) the trust’s investments default, 2) the trustee steals the money, 3) a government seizes the money, and 4) the interest rate for demand deposits is too low to support the miners and the trust/gateway operations.

      You probably want multiple trustee/gateways in multiple countries to partially mitigate the risk of #2 and #3, though any kind of partial loss (“breaking the buck”) probably collapses the whole thing.

      The key questions is: if the gateway/trustees actually follow the laws of there respective jurisdictions, what does this get you over the current banking system? Yet tether, despite indications that it is an outright scam, does seem to be being used (though rampant painting the tape obscures how much real usage there is).

    • Lambert says:

      I’m considering shorting them in some way or other.
      Anybody know any way to do this apart from futures. (I don’t want to lose a lot if prices continue to rise. I’d rather a method where my losses are bounded)

      • Nornagest says:

        There are a number of exchanges where you can short cryptocurrency directly — Bitmex, Bitfinex, Kraken — although many of them are at least nominally closed to US citizens. That’s not terribly difficult to get around if you want to take the risk, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, and several of them are tied to the abovementioned Tether, which looks to me like a time bomb.

        Also, a short position on anything, futures or not, has potential losses bounded above only by your liquidity — that comes directly out of the definition of a short. If you’re expecting the ratio to go down and you want bounded losses, just keep your money in fiat like you’re probably doing already.

      • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

        Exactly what Nornagest said, plus the fact that margin trading is very risky even in the comparatively calm traditional markets.
        In crypto, where 10+% changes in a day happen all the time, one bad trade on margin may very well wipe out massive parts of your portfolio, and even the most consummate professionals make bad trades all the time.

      • Brad says:

        What you want is option contracts. AFAIK they don’t exist for any cryptocurrency. At least not yet.

        • rlms says:

          It looks like at least one site has them.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Unfortunately, not for us plebs, yet. From LedgerX’s site:

            There are limited ways that an individual can qualify as an “eligible contract participant” for purposes of the CEA [required to use LedgerX]. Those include:

            – an individual that has amounts invested on a discretionary basis of at least $10,000,000; and
            – an individual that has amounts invested on a discretionary basis of at least $5,000,000 that is hedging risk.

  31. Mellow Irony says:

    Last year was the first time I’ve given a substantial amount to charity, and I’m looking to keep it up as an annual ritual for future years. I’m feeling some trepidation about the steady increase in junk mail this is bound to bring, assuming I don’t donate to the exact same charities every single year.

    I’ve registered with DMAchoice and written some of the charities to take me off mailing lists, but it would be nice to find a good intermediary that doesn’t give them my address in the first place. CharityNavigator suggests donating anonymously through their Giving Basket as a way to do this–does anyone have experience using this or other services like it? Ideally, in rough order of importance, I’d want a site that

    0. Can be trusted to actually give the amounts I specify to the charities I choose (duh).
    1. Supports donations to most major nonprofits. GiveWell looks like it would limit me to its handful of (admittedly impressively-researched) top charities. Most crowdfunding sites also fail either on this or on #2:
    2. Charges low fees. CharityNavigator charges 3.95%, and claims this takes the place of roughly equivalent processing fees that would be eaten by the charities themselves if I gave directly. This makes me wonder why I’ve never seen a charity explicitly ask for x% extra to cover these. It’s also hard to believe the middleman doesn’t add at least a little overhead of its own. (Two middlemen, actually: CN sends donations through Network for Good. But Network for Good on its own charges 5%??)
    3. Lets me claim tax deductions. Not currently important, but long-term I hope I’ll be able to start giving enough that itemizing becomes worth it.
    4. Doesn’t send me paper mail, ever. (Email is fine.)

    • Aapje says:

      This makes me wonder why I’ve never seen a charity explicitly ask for x% extra to cover these.

      They obviously don’t want people to consider how much of their donation doesn’t go the the actual cause.

      Besides, where do you stop? There is a lot more overhead than just processing fees.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve definitely seen sites with multiple payment options say things like “We would prefer you donate through THIS option, because it charges the lowest fees.”

    • veeloxtrox says:

      Alternative solution, set up a P.O. box and alternative “giving” email address so you only have to interact with the junk mail at a time of your choosing. If the amount of junk gets to high, change the P.O. box and email address and you have a clean slate.

      • Mellow Irony says:

        This is a good approximation for what I’ve done so far, since I knew I’d be moving and abandoning my P.O. box this year. The post office says they discard mail addressed to names other than the current customer, and I’m crossing my fingers that they actually do this. Gnon help me if the next occupant gets hit with it all and is a vengeance-minded type…

        However, certain charities take my mailing address directly from the credit card billing address, without giving me the option to opt out or give a separate mailing address. The transaction then gets declined if I try to put in a P.O. Box for the billing address (for one charity this resulted in a lovely internal server error page with a full stack trace when I tried this last year).

  32. Aapje says:

    Scott’s past articles seem to suffer from some bit rot, especially when he (direct) links to scientific papers. I greatly dislike this, because I want access to those sources. Scientific paper pretty much don’t disappear completely, so I could almost certainly find it if I had the name of the paper or the DOI, but once the link breaks, you don’t have that.

    One solution would be to use a the scientific solution: footnotes with extensive information about the paper. However, this probably scares people away, making the blog look very formal.

    Does anyone have an idea for a nice solution that allows for direct links, but still preserves the information if the link dies, without being a lot of work for Scott or being very ugly?

      • Aapje says:

        A lot of these are direct links to PDFs and I don’t think that these get archived by either of those.

    • beleester says:

      Make the footnotes collapsed or hidden until you click on them. XKCD’s What If? is a good example.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The whole point of doi is to have a permanent link to a given article. Making a hyperlink using http://dx.doi.org should mean that it never “breaks.”

      At the same time, that means that most readers won’t be able to read past the abstract, since most of these papers are behind paywalls. The trivial inconvenience of using Google Scholar or PubMed means that a lot fewer people would read the actual research.

      I’m a snob in an institution with access to most journals so I wouldn’t mind doi links. But I think Scott is aiming for a broader audience.

      • Aapje says:

        My preference is a direct link for the masses and a fallback for more committed readers if the direct link breaks.

        Note that DOI works for Sci Hub, so DOI is not just usable for those in indoctrination centers our esteemed institutions of higher learning.

  33. Bugmaster says:

    Calling all libertarians:

    I just realized that libertarianism may have a practical use: helping me with my custom Pathfinder setting ! 🙂 In my setting, one of the major races are the Goblins (in terms of game mechanics, heavily modified to be a sort of hybrid of classical Goblins and Blues, but I digress). Goblins tend to aggregate in clans, which are related by bonds of kinship and marriage. Clans can grow relatively large, although deeply-rooted traditions and embedded genetic motivations keep the clans from aggregating too much. Goblins are also quite financially savvy; perhaps not quite as obsessed with money as the Ferengi, but still, somewhat close to that ideal.

    How would such people govern a major organization, such as a city ? It seems fitting for them to have some sort of a plutocracy, where positions of power — such as, perhaps, seats on the City Counsel — can be bought for coin, perhaps at an auction of some sort. Citizens can pool their money to hire a Goblin to represent them, etc.

    However, I’m having trouble with fleshing out the details of such a system, as well as with clearing up all the obvious exploits (although, obviously, at least some non-obvious exploits should remain for the players to play with). I have a feeling I’m reinventing the wheel, so can anyone point me to some literature on how functional plutocracies could be arranged ?

    • Linvega says:

      I don’t mean to be snarky, but what about history? What you describe is not that far from normal human behaviour for some cultures. Especially vikings/germanic tribes are very much clan-based and did have some decently-sized cities, depending on the timeframe you’re looking at.

      On the other hand, italian city states were very much money-based, without being too easily gamed. You should especially look at the history of venician councils; They often followed a certain stream over time:
      1. They are established to hold a power or another council in check.
      2. They grow in power while whatever they should hold in check vanishes OR they are quickly demoted into ineffectuality, keeping the status quo.
      3. A new council is established, either to hold the old one in check OR as a replacement for the now-ineffectual old council.
      4. The old council gets canceled since it holds no power anymore.

      I think a labyrinthine amount of ever-changing councils with varying amounts of power is a great starting-off point for an RPG (at least for a certain demographic which I assume to be common here). And I think viking sagas, with all their blood feuds and tragedy, are also great as the template for an adventure.

      • Bugmaster says:

        While I agree with your points, what I’d like to do is establish an alternate history from the get-go. Human governments arose out of fire and blood, as the saying goes; Vikings are notorious for this, of course (even though their conflict resolution methods were not quite as bloody as most people believe). Venetian councils are not a bad idea, but like you said, they are labyrinthine (thus, confusing), and mired in feudal politics where the right to rule is to some extent hereditary. I’m trying to come up with something new: a system that was primarily plutocratic from the beginning (though obviously some degree of violence and nepotism is unavoidable, and also fun).

        • Linvega says:

          Hmm okay, I can understand that.

          However, I think you might get into a conflict with internal consistency at some point.
          Even taking a step back from humans and into nature in general, power is always to some degree heritable (that’s literally how evolution works). Similarly, monopolization is also what happens if you leave any evolutionary system to its own devices. So, you will need to envision how the goblins managed to combat these principles.
          The only reliable way to get rid of the heritability I see is if goblins reject the concept of parenthood and raise their brood as one. However, that would make clans impossible, so it needs to be ‘clan-based, but otherwise as one’ or that goblins simply join clans instead of being born into them.
          But that still has a high risk of monopolization on the clan level. One way to combat that is that clans automatically split up into multiple once they get too big (as you already allured to, I believe).
          But still, monopolization on the personal level (like a single goblin king establishing himself) can still happen, and you can’t ‘split up’ a person.
          Maybe get rid of the entire concept of personality (at least on the state level, though I think it’s also interesting overall), everyone is part of their clan full stop, with an aggressive tendency to demote anyone trying to grab power for himself? So you don’t have political seats taken by a person, but instead by the entire clan at once. Then a single goblin can’t get that much power because if he tried the clan would implode under internal conflicts.
          But that makes the money aspect, like buying canditates, weird … I still think italian states are very interesting here, because they show how money-based and clan-based can work together (families like the Medici etc. are certainly quite similar to clans), even though they seem to be mutually exclusive to some degree, and it shows how you can combat monopolization of power to uphold plutocracy (or, how you can FAIL to do so).

          • Bugmaster says:

            In terms of personality, Goblins are highly individualistic and territorial, on a genetic level (or whatever it is that D&D uses instead of genes). This makes them very unlikely to form large groups; when a clan grows too large, some of its members will inevitably wander off to form their own clans (or to join smaller ones). Clans can live together side-by-side, as long as both parties understand whose territory belongs to whom.

            This makes a Goblin King somewhat unlikely. Sure, one single Goblin could dominate his clan, no problem; but he is going to have real problems if he wants to amass enough manpower to dominate others.

            So you don’t have political seats taken by a person, but instead by the entire clan at once

            This is not a bad idea, but in practice, wouldn’t the clan just hire (if they were Human, I’d say “elect”) one (or more) of their members to handle all the boring political stuff ? They don’t have time to look at zoning maps all day, they’ve got other stuff to do — like milking mountain goats, growing rye, building mecha-psionic constructs, etc.

            and it shows how you can combat monopolization of power to uphold plutocracy (or, how you can FAIL to do so).

            Can you point me at some link with an example ?

    • beleester says:

      One major problem in a Pathfinder setting: Adventurers have such ridiculous amounts of money compared to commoners that they could probably buy the entire Goblin government for the price of a +1 sword. That, or the costs of a council seat are so astronomical that a Goblin commoner gets no say in their government worth mentioning.

      This is really a problem in the entire Pathfinder/D&D setting, not the Goblin government specifically, but it’s something your players will definitely think about.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Well, this is a custom setting that I’m designing, so I can set the exchange rate to whatever I want.

      • Barely matters says:

        The ridiculous inequality between wealth levels of commoners and adventurers is only the tip of the iceberg once you start looking into the details, and this is largely due to the underlying fantasy tropes being even more fantastic than they seem. When you start doing the math on the volume and value of a chest full of gold, not to mention a full dragon hoard, things go from ridiculous to absolutely absurd fast.

        Like, take an ancient red dragon, (cr 19, triple the normal treasure), which gets you an average haul of around 160,000 gp. With coins being standardized to weigh 1/3 ounce (~9.45g), with a density of 19.3g/cc for gold, and a presumed packing density of a loose pile being around 60% per volume, that gets us 160,000 gp having a mass of 1512kg, but a volume of only ~0.13m^3. (This seems really low, and I suck at math in general, but looking over at Quora they peg 1 metric ton of gold at 51 liters, so 1.5 tons being about 76.5L multiplied by the packing density gets us pretty close). Needless to say, this isn’t enough enough to support our dragon’s head, let alone be a pile large enough to roll around in. And this is before adding in gems, jewelry, and magic items that further concentrate value.

        DM’s workshop fleshes out the numbers further, pointing out that a single pirate’s buried chest full of gold contains almost 700,000gp, which is getting towards the point where it can destabilize entire national economies (Or at least buy off a whole lot of goblin councilors).

        So if you care about the game’s economy having a high degree of consistency and verisimilitude while maintaining some of the source fantasy pillars, it’s going to be a rabbit hole that opens up into a huge chasm. Anticipate some world tweaking, like a penchant for smaller boxes, vaults that prioritize weight capacity rather than expansive size, a significant market for and proliferation of magical size and weight reducing luggage, or a credit system possibly relying on chits with discern truth effects or arcane marks to foil forgery attempts. Or just ditch the gold standard and use another currency with different density. Or use DM Magic to alter the density of gold. Or just not worry about it altogether.

        • John Schilling says:

          Or just ditch the gold standard and use another currency with different density. Or use DM Magic to alter the density of gold. Or just not worry about it altogether.

          Keep in mind that silver coinage was, historically, far more common than gold. If you were trying to e.g. ransom a king you’d probably have the local money-changers convert it all to gold for easy transport, but neither dragons nor townspeople, er, townsgoblins, are likely to be so accommodating.

          Traditional D&D economics is fundamentally broken in ways that can’t be fixed just by adjusting the density of coinage, of course. But you can get at least moderately impressive Big Heaps of Money by going with a silver standard and keeping gold truly rare and precious (as it historically was).

          • Barely matters says:

            I mean, that horde converted to silver ends up filling 1.3m^3. In copper we’re almost to a point where the dragon could lay it’s body across it if the coins were spread into a carpet like 10 cm thick.

            Yeah, vestigial war games weren’t big on the econ side, were they? Could be worse, I remember playing Skyrim and realizing that some guy in the first town gave me 30 pieces of gold for chopping 12 pieces of firewood. Presumably the designers were using it as an exploratory ‘what if’ in a world where adventurers have already poured tons of gold into the local economy and hyperinflation has run rampant.

          • Matt M says:

            My character in WoW is currently walking around with about 400k pieces of gold. And I’m not even particularly rich!

            A slice of bacon sells for about 80 gold pieces.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Of course, people are selling giant ridable spiders for 2 million gold, so there’s at least some expectation that there exist people with large quantities of gold.

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in WoW that gives us a ballpark of what NPC finances are like. I guess it’s a little weird to be selling things for 50 silver apiece when you need to make hundreds of gold a day, but people do survive on volume in the real world too, and cost of production may just be incredibly low.

            As a result, we don’t have that “huh I guess players could just buy a kingdom if they wanted to” disparity that D&D often has. There’s no opportunity to raid Varian’s vault, so we can just assume it has trillions of gold from the AH cut or taxes on repair vendors.

            The size of 400k gold pieces might be a problem, but WoW’s inventory management in general is a giant rabbit hole. Ignore my gold, I’m currently carrying:
            – Over 1,000 herbs
            – 20 feasts, including table and serving dishes, that when placed out are larger than my character.
            – 2 to 3 full sets of armor
            – ~120 assorted potions and flasks
            – 50 pieces of ore
            – 200 eggs
            – An anvil

            And I’m sure some other stuff I don’t remember. Bags are just weird, but that’s true of a lot of fantasy settings.

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            God, I remember when it was an accomplishment saving up to get a single gold piece.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            WoW has seized upon the idea of inflation as a solution to the problem of a player leaving the game for some time and finding himself hopelessly priced out of everything. Gold inflates, secondary currencies (currently Artifact Power) inflate, even gear inflates (that’s been in the game for a while though, with welfare epics).

            All tuned to make you feel behind when you come back, but not so far behind that you can’t catch up.

            Honestly, it feels like a pretty elegant solution, especially when they add some high-priced gold sinks to incentivize making a lot of gold.

        • 1soru1 says:

          The whole point of fantasy is to use magic to have any political system you want be justified; see Divine right of Kings.

          Goblins clearly follow the non-aggression principle with other goblins. And if they don’t, a demon eats a random member of their clan, unless they pay appropriate compensation in bitcoin.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I was under the impression — and, since I’m designing my own setting, the impression is correct by fiat — that the word “gold” in such contexts referred to a unit of currency, not to the physical metal. Thus, while the dragon might indeed have that pile of physical gold coins to roll around on, a pirate chest might have an assortment of gems and silver coins worth some amount of GP on the open market (less so on the black market, of course). Similarly, a peasant who has 0.003 GP in his pocket doesn’t literally carry gold dust; he just has some copper coins, or even a paper IOU from the baron (well, there are no barons in my setting, but you get the gist).

          • Nornagest says:

            D&D traditionally uses physical gold, silver, and copper coins worth 1, 0.1, and 0.01 gold pieces each. (You can add platinum [5] and electrum [0.5] if you want to get complicated, but I’ve rarely seen them in game.) Basically anything you’d want to actually keep track of is denominated in gold pieces, since after your first couple of adventures you’re going to be swimming in them, and the prices of real estate, transportation, bribes for wicked viziers, etc. are basically determined by plot needs.

            This makes very little economic sense (some source material attempts to justify it, but it always ends up handwaving) but it’s one of the things you probably shouldn’t be thinking about too hard.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I know, but as I said — my world, my rules.

          • In the original D&D rules, as I remember, electrum was ten times as valuable as gold. I played with the idea of a dwarf in a reasonably secure cavern buying silver and gold, selling electrum, and getting very rich. But I didn’t do much D&D and the opportunity never arose.

            Eventually they fixed it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I always wonder what happens to the economy when four adventurers walk out of a dungeon or dragon lair with as much gold as they can carry (maybe 500 pounds).
            Also if there’s so much treasure in there that you have to leave some of it behind, someone else is going to grab it and infuse that much into the local economy too… I suppose if you’re really greedy you’d just fortify the dank underground area you just cleared and declare it your castle.

          • Barely matters says:

            @David Friedman

            That’s even better than having a cottage industry buying ten foot ladders (5cp) and cutting them into two 10 foot poles (2sp each) to sell at a profit.

          • Nornagest says:

            I haven’t played it (though I have read the basic sourcebook), but Adventurer Conqueror King is basically retro D&D that tries to take its economics seriously. I like the concept.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: that looks really good.
            … oh hey, at “King level” (9), when a Fighter is supposed to build a castle, a Mage builds a dungeon to attract monsters for their valuable components. It’s the circle of life!

    • Incurian says:

      Maybe don’t think about “positions of power” at all. Make clans the basic unit of government. They police their own, punish offending interlopers, and when big city-wide decisions need to be made they have meetings with the other clans and come to a consensus (taking into account the relative strength of the clans).

    • Robert Liguori says:

      Well, a game setting should interface with the PCs.

      So, how about this: the Council aren’t necessarily the richest goblins. They are, however, the ones who are selling a service that every other goblin in their area needs; protection. Goblins don’t buy Council seats. They buy the services of great and powerful combatants, but mostly specializing in mercenaries and formerly-itinerant adventurers. The goblins pay their contracted mercenaries to keep the goblin clanhold safe, and end up with political power since they’re collectively the ones with an oligolopy on force.

      Unattached adventurers who go through goblin territory will (provided they keep to the rules) be highly-regarded, and wooed by many up-and-coming would-be Councillors, eager to impress them with their reach and generosity. Many of these Councillors collect jobs for adventurers, and dole them out carefully, to groom promising lower-level adventurers for greater things, and to take full advantage of the capacity of more powerful adventurers.

      There’s a careful mix of power which needs to be maintained in the Council Guard. They need to be powerful enough and diverse enough to protect the clan from a variety of threats, but not so large that any one faction among them is likely to threaten all the others. Also, because of this, Councilers pay close attention to the most prominent adventurers and threats, and make sure to hire a good balance of forces who hate each other almost-but-not-quite-enough to attack each other; if you want a fun plot hook, you could have the Party and the Party’s Opposed Nemesis Group hired alongside each other by goblins to have to work together against an outside threat or similar.

  34. Doug says:

    Why does Nazism feel ickier than Stalinism/Maoism/hard-left communism? Even as a hard-core libertarian, who believes that Stalin and Mao are among the most evil humans to ever live. As are their respective systems and hanger-ons. Beria is just as evil as Himmler. But I can’t help but feel that a Nazi in contemporary America is a far more disgusting human being than an avowed Stalinist.

    Like, let’s say I had to pick a babysitter for my kids, and all I knew was that Alice is a neo-Nazi and Bob is a hard-left Marxist. I’d run to pick Bob and wouldn’t turn back. Or that I don’t mind listening to Rage Against the Machine, even if I disagree with their message because the music’s good. There’s no way I could get over that same feeling with a neo-Nazi band.

    Hell, the largest country in the world is run by people who at least give nominal lip service to Mao. This mostly seems “okay”, in a way that it wouldn’t be if the 21st century’s super-power was run by politicians who dressed up like the Waffen-SS and forced all high school students to spend hours a week carefully digesting Hitler, Rosenberg and Goebbels.

    Some possible hypotheses come to mind:

    1) While in practice both Nazism and hard-left Marxism are evil systems, Nazism is an inherently more hateful ideology. Almost all subscribers to the ideology are evil. Communism’s destructive is more an emergent property of its flawed design. Hence it’s possible to be a good, but naive person, and still be a Marxist/Leninist/Maoist.

    2) In 2018 America, Nazism is beyond the pale. The difference is more cladistic than morphological. Everyone is drilled about how evil Nazism is, so to defend it really means that you’ve gone off the rail. In contrast there’s plenty of “respectable” intellectual scaffolding that defends communism. This hypothesis would posit that there’s an alternative timeline, where hard-left Marxists are evil losers with ugly face tattoos and prison gangs, whereas many nice college professors are self-avowed Nazis.

    3) There’s a smooth intellectual gradient from Bernie Sanders to Joseph Stalin. There isn’t one from Ted Cruz to Adolf Hitler, at some point you choose to jump off a cliff at the right-edge of sanity. Notice that this is even evident in my above comment. I keep waffling on what to call communists, whereas I can very easily pinpoint “Nazis”. There’s not actually that many self-identified Stalinists. There are more Maoists and a lot more Leninists. But once you get to that point is Leninism really in the same league as Stalinism or Nazism?

    This begs the question though, why does Nazism drag Mussolinism into the vat of ickiness, whereas Stalinism does not do so (to the same extent) with Leninism? If someone self-described as an “race-blind Mussolini fascist”, I think most would probably just conclude that they’re neo-nazis trying to shroud their beliefs.

    • shakeddown says:

      (a) Communists generally have good intentions, and (b) communists generally need to be in control of the government (or at least organized as a militant group, which in practice hasn’t happened recently in the west) to be harmful, while Nazis can be pretty harmful even in small numbers.

      • cassander says:

        (a) Communists generally have good intentions,

        they want to build an earthy paradise on top of a mountain of corpses. By that definition, Nazis also have good intentions.

        and (b) communists generally need to be in control of the government (or at least organized as a militant group, which in practice hasn’t happened recently in the west) to be harmful, while Nazis can be pretty harmful even in small numbers.

        What harm have disorganized nazis caused lately?

        • dndnrsn says:

          The Nazis were quite open about what they wanted to build only being for some people, chosen on ethnic grounds. If everything had gone according to plan for communism, former enemies would, after a period of purging and so on, been allowed to share in the glorious future. This wasn’t the stated plan of national socialism.

    • Nornagest says:

      Why does Nazism feel ickier than Stalinism/Maoism/hard-left communism?

      Because we kicked down the doors on at least some of the concentration camps, and made some very concerted and deliberate efforts to document what we found there, while our knowledge of the gulags or the Holodomor or all the various different mountains of skulls produced by Maoism is mostly filtered through intermediaries. Not much less certain but a lot less visceral.

      I really do think that’s a lot of it. But you touched on one of the other main issues, which is that there are no respectable Nazi apologists but there are plenty of respectable Communist apologists. You could argue that this is a chicken-and-egg thing, and to some extent that’s probably true, but the appeal of fascism is all emotive, theatrical, Romantic: you can whip people up over it but you can’t sit them down and calmly explain it. It’s inherently hard to systematize, which makes it poorly suited to academia, which is about the only respectable vector for weird politics.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why does Nazism feel ickier than Stalinism/Maoism/hard-left communism?

      Winners write the official propaganda history books, and Communism won.

      • beleester says:

        That’s why the Mongols are universally regarded as good guys, right?

        • Matt M says:

          The Mongols didn’t win over the hearts and minds of their nominal enemies. The commies did.

          • beleester says:

            If by “History is written by the winners” you mean “History is written by the historians, and winners are people whom the historians liked,” then it’s tautologically true, but also means that it’s possible to be the “winner” without your country surviving or existing in any form besides a note in the history books. Which is, well… a non-central definition of winning.

        • Anonymous says:

          The Mongols aren’t anywhere near Nazi-level hated. Damn, if you look at central Asian in general, there’s no shortage of blokes who explicitly took up the mantle of recreating Temujin’s empire. Innumerable people claim descent from him with pride.

    • Levantine says:

      It strikes me as a historical vestige, stemming from the fact that you fought a real war against Nazis and had only indirect conflicts against Soviet communists.

      If what I said in the first paragraph is true, then we should look at FDR, and ask ourselves about the reasons for his choices. FDR chose to take a position to destroy the Nazis and to trust and support the USSR. That’s remarkable. It stands as an anomaly in the history of US politics toward the USSR, generally speaking.

      Perhaps I’m missing something.

      • shakeddown says:

        If you see a headline saying “political extremists kill three”, they’re a lot more likely to be pro-Hitler neonazis than pro-Stalin communists.

      • Protagoras says:

        The U.S. was already basically at war against Germany when Germany invaded the Soviet Union (read Wages of Destruction; U.S. support for the British was sufficiently enormous that Germany was on the path to losing the war of attrition with the UK even after the defeat of France. Barbarossa was necessary because the Germans absolutely needed more Russian resources than the Soviets were willing to give them to have any chance in the long run against the American-supported British). Prior to Barbarossa, the Soviet Union had been supporting Germany. When a supporter of your enemy switches sides, even if it is someone you always distrusted immensely, it is hardly remarkable to welcome that as an opportunity to defeat your enemy rather than using it as a chance to switch sides yourself.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      1) While in practice both Nazism and hard-left Marxism are evil systems, Nazism is an inherently more hateful ideology. Almost all subscribers to the ideology are evil. Communism’s destructive is more an emergent property of its flawed design. Hence it’s possible to be a good, but naive person, and still be a Marxist/Leninist/Maoist.

      I am reminded of the line from Gerhard Bronner, an Austrian Jewish composer whose family died in Dachau, at a commemorative event to mark the aniversary of the liberation of a different camp:

      “There are three things which cannot be combined: intelligence, decency and Nazism. It is possible to be intelligent and a Nazi, in which case you are not decent. It is possible to be decent and a Nazi, in which case you are not intelligent. Or it is possible to be intelligent and decent, in which case you are not a Nazi”.

      • Jiro says:

        This statement can be made about any cause one believes to be evil. So it amounts to saying “Naziism is evil”. It happens to be true, but it’s no special insight into Naziism.

    • Butlerian says:

      3) There’s a smooth intellectual gradient from Bernie Sanders to Joseph Stalin. There isn’t one from Ted Cruz to Adolf Hitler, at some point you choose to jump off a cliff at the right-edge of sanity.

      I think this is very much an artifact of your own books list. Read a random newspaper from any day in the 19th century and you’ll see casual hierarchical classification of races + visceral disgust at miscegenation which slides one ever so smoothly from jolly old flags-and-bunting White Man’s Burden imperialism all the way down to Ein Volk Ein Reich Ein Fuhrer.

      • The Nybbler says:

        In the 19th century there was no Nazism, so that’s not really relevant.

        • Butlerian says:

          I do not understand why you think it irrelevant.
          The fact that the National Socialist German Workers’ Party was actually active only from 1918-1945 does not prevent us from being able to identify ideological antecedants/ descendants thereof in other time periods.

      • jolly old flags-and-bunting White Man’s Burden imperialism

        At a slight tangent, it’s worth pointing out that Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden,” despite the title, is not about race. He has a couple of stories where the imperialists are the Romans and the equivalent of the Indians/Philippinos are the English.

      • Nornagest says:

        casual hierarchical classification of races + visceral disgust at miscegenation

        …is not central to fascism. Almost every other major fascist movement — the Italian Fascists, the Falangists, the Shōwa nationalists in Japan, maybe the Ba’aths if you want to look a little further afield — was not particularly racist by the (admittedly low) standards of its time; their deal was basically an attempt to find a nationalist totalitarian politics at a time when the cosmopolitan totalitarian politics represented by Communism looked like it was poised to crush democracy and aristocracy alike. It’s not really true, as some have said, that fascism is inherently a socialist ideology — the “socialist” in the NSDAP’s name was an artifact by the time Hitler got involved — but it’s absolutely true that it can’t be understood outside the context of the Russian Civil War and the interwar crisis of politics that it precipitated. Nazism melded this with some bizarre racial theories, sure enough, but if bizarre racial theories were enough to set you on the slippery slope, we’d have had Nazis in the 1600s at the latest.

        Neo-Nazis are probably motivated more by pure racism, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t think they’re significant, however often they’re in the news.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @Nornagest: the “Socialist” and “Workers” in NSDAP were by no means artifacts “By the time Hitler got involved.” Goebbels was a sincere socialist who got called into Hitler’s office to get a lecture on his boss’s “the rich are just the strong” ideology, and stayed til the end out of a combination of personal affection for der Fuehrer and mendacious careerism while the equally socialist Rohm and Strasser brothers got purged.
          So yeah, Hitlerism was not real socialism, but it took until the late 1930s for that to be so, precisely because Party members and NSDAP voters typically were sincere socialists.

          • Nornagest says:

            I called it an artifact not because there weren’t sincere socialists in the party at that time, but because the party’s ideology and aims had already diverged significantly from standard socialism. But I suppose you could make an argument that the Night of the Long Knives was the real turning point, mostly depending on how big a tent you think real socialism is.

    • albatross11 says:

      I suspect this has a lot to do with the kind of people in 2018 America who are drawn to the two ideologies, rather than the actual body count of the two ideologies. I mean, Catholics have killed more people than devil worshipers overall, but I’m not leaving my kid in the care of a guy with a “666” tattoo any more than a guy with a swastika tattoo. It’s current social context.

      Lots of Marxists are intellectuals who fell in love with a movement/ideology that, when implemented, led to lots of dead people, but they’re mostly pretty harmless in their daily lives. Bob in a position to implement his preferred policies might have you and your kid dying in a gulag, but without that power, he’s probably just a harmless crank. Alice in a position to implement her preferred policies might have you and your kid dying in a concentration camp, but even without power, she’s probably rather inclined toward violence and direct personal nastiness.

    • Incurian says:

      Hollywood.

    • Protagoras says:

      On why Mussolini is regarded as basically Hitler while Lenin is not regarded as basically Stalin, Mussolini was a shallow opportunist and a weak man who caved to Hitler’s every demand. As a result, I think those who know more about him hold him in contempt, and while being contemptible is not the same as being evil, it prevents very many from being at all invested in defending him. Since he is perceived as a bit of a loser, there may also be some element of people thinking he only did less damage than Hitler because he was too incompetent to do more (probably unfair, but who knows?) In any event, I think he gets tarred with the same brush primarily because nobody cares enough to not do so, not because people are heavily invested in doing so.

      • albatross11 says:

        Shouldn’t the control group here be Franco–a fascist dictator who prudently stayed out of WW2? Probably most Americans don’t know much about him, but he’s not a symbol of evil in US culture, despite a fair collection of torture chambers and mass graves. (Though as UI understand it, he’s nowhere in the class of a lot of the Communist dictators.)

      • Mussolini was a shallow opportunist and a weak man who caved to Hitler’s every demand.

        Mussolini was the person who blocked Hitler’s first attempt to annex Austria, announcing that Italy would not accept it and making his point by moving Italian divisions into the Brenner pass.

        It was only after the Abyssinian business convinced him that Italy’s WWI allies were not his friends and were not very dangerous enemies that he switched sides.

        • Protagoras says:

          Right, so he was willing to stand up to Hitler when Hitler was still in a very weak position and he thought he had France and England on his side. I don’t know that that counts as an impressive display of courage.

          • cassander says:

            Not objectively impressive, perhaps, but more impressive than that displayed by France and England.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I think you’re somewhat right on 1 and 2, not so much on 3.

      1. If you look at what Hitler said and wrote before and after getting into power, he more or less either did or tried to do everything he said he would. Invading Poland and the USSR was part of the plan, and the deaths of large numbers of Poles and Soviet citizens was part of the plan too – in some cases by murder (eg of the Polish intelligenstia) in other cases by starvation. The removal of the Jews from Europe was part of the plan; depending on which historians you listen to extermination was either the plan from early on or came about when expulsion to somewhere else became unfeasible (but the expulsion very likely would have killed large numbers anyway). Conquest, plunder, slave labour, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder are national socialism working as planned.

      In contrast, the worst things associated with communism can’t be traced to the core of it in the same way. I’m not a Marx scholar, but I’m pretty sure that having a paranoid in office whose choices almost lead to defeat by a foreign power isn’t part of the plan. I think a good argument can be made that revolutionary schemes featuring a vanguard party leads to dictators, and dictators are especially likely to do awful things. But you can imagine socialist, Marxist, whatever ideologies without the vanguard party bit, or without the revolution. If national socialism and communism were on trial, one trial would include charges of first-degree murder, and the other would be some combination of second-degree, manslaughter, negligent homicide, whatever.

      2. Yeah. Today’s nazis either deny that the crimes happened, or try to defend the crimes. A given communist is far more likely to have an explanation (in my experience, usually pretty unsatisfying) for how Stalin-types can be kept out of power next time, and even actual Stalinists tend to minimize and contextualize rather than deny. I don’t think this necessarily supports your alternate-timeline hypothesis, because the above still stands – a communist can say “well shit that stuff wasn’t supposed to happen!” while someone embracing an ideology that up-front says it’s all about horrendous crimes can hardly say they’re against horrendous crimes.

      3. No. Historically, social democrat types didn’t end up falling into the same buckets as the communists. Bernie only seems especially left by the standards of the US; in Canada he’d be a member of the NDP, in most European countries he’d be a member of the local social democratic party. In Weimar Germany, the communists considered the social democrats enemies, at some points considering them to be a greater threat than fascists. Conversely, in Weimar Germany, without the help of conservatives, the Nazis would not have entered power.

      Overall: compare the difference between someone who kills a person once, and a serial killer. The former might have been acting in self-defence, it might have been a fistfight that went too far, there might have been some other extenuating circumstance(s). There’s really only one way someone becomes a serial killer, and that’s by setting out to be a serial killer.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’m curious–are there overtly fascist movements that spend a lot of time on the “let’s avoid being taken over by Hitler in favor of a mere Franco or Pinochet next time” problem?

        • Thegnskald says:

          There was an argument on Less Wrong a while back about Pinochet; I think my major takeaway was that Pinochet may have been the lesser of two evils. (The South American countries that responded brutally to dissidents in that era had lower per-capita body counts than the countries that didn’t, and recovered Democratic institutions faster; a government anti-revolutionary force is bloody, but not as bloody as a grassroots anti-revolutionary force). Additionally, after the crisis, Pinochet rebuilt the institutions he tore down, and then stepped down.

          The relevant quote was something like “Pinochet created a society in which he could be tried for war crimes”

          I am not sure “fascist” correctly describes Pinochet, is the short of it. “Ruthless dictator who engaged in blatant war crimes”, yes.

          • albatross11 says:

            That seems plausible though I don’t really know enough to have an opinion. I’m just thinking if you favor a fascist style of government, you’d like to avoid getting Hitler as your leader (since he killed tons of people and got Germany into a catastrophic unwinnable war). But I don’t know anyone who’s actually a fascist, so I’m not entirely sure how they think about this kind of problem.

      • cassander says:

        In contrast, the worst things associated with communism can’t be traced to the core of it in the same way.

        Marx explicitly and repeatedly endorsed revolutionary terror on the model of the french revolution in his writings.

        To quote engels:

        A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.

        And Marx:

        We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.

        Marx envisioned something like Leninism from the start, Lenin merely refined Marx’s vocabulary.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The French Revolution, quick Googling suggests, saw maybe 25-30k people die in the Terror. The French population was around 28m in 1789. If all Marx or Engels intended was something in that neighbourhood, and that was all that happened, that’s not a big deal by the standards of human history. Marx didn’t say “respond to a famine by imagining a Vast Ukrainian Conspiracy” or “kill everyone with glasses.”

          Plus, the French Revolution appears to have caused qualitative improvements over the armies it was up against, at least at first, whereas Stalin’s purges of officers, again based on imaginary foes, led to a strategic footing which nearly lost the war in 1941.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Marx advocated using the same approach to revolution, not a numerical outcome. The Marxist revolution was supposed to be one that reached into all corners of life, that man would be recreated to be a perfect comrade to all, not simply a changing of the members of government. The amount of control needed for a communist revolution would be an order of magnitude large (at least) than what was held by the French Monarchy on the eve of the Revolution.

          • cassander says:

            baconbits9 has the right of it. Marx wanted to use the french revolution methods on a much larger scale.

            As for military effectiveness, that was mostly achieved (before napoleon took over) by taking what was already a pretty good army and dramatically increasing the size very rapidly through the levee en masse.

          • dndnrsn says:

            However, the stuff that Stalin or Pol Pot did, is not necessarily what someone less paranoid/murderous would do if they sat down and thought “I need to remake this society, and violence is totally acceptable.” That’s what Lenin’s rule looked like; Stalin’s was bizarre in a “stranger than fiction” way.

            As for the French army, my understanding was that the more national nature of it, and the playing down of aristocratic class divisions, made it more effective, beyond Napoleon’s leadership and the levee en masse.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            However, the stuff that Stalin or Pol Pot did, is not necessarily what someone less paranoid/murderous would do if they sat down and thought “I need to remake this society, and violence is totally acceptable.” That’s what Lenin’s rule looked like; Stalin’s was bizarre in a “stranger than fiction” way.

            It would be bizarre in most of the world. It isn’t bizarre in the context of communist regimes, which did the same sort of thing (on scale a that ranged from tens of thousands to tens of millions) every damn time they came to power, without exception. Again, I go to the point that communism persistently reproduced this same result, over and over again, without exception. Either something in the ideology encourages this, or it only attracts awful people who do this sort of thing. either way, it should be considered harmful.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Compare the USSR after Stalin to the USSR under Stalin. The USSR from the mid-50s to the fall was kind of crummy in many ways, and certainly sucked if you were a dissident, but it did not feature mass famines or campaigns of mass murder, and if you were a party member in good standing or just somebody who kept their head down and did their job, you were probably OK. Likewise, the Eastern European communist states were repressive and kind of crappy, but they weren’t nightmarish like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. In some places they were better than what came after – Tito was no saint, but it was after his tenure that the wars and ethnic cleansing happened.

            My argument is not that communism was good, or even not bad. I think communism’s a bad idea, based on historical experience. But there’s a good reason that the reaction to someone being a nazi is to get out before some methhead with sketchy tattoos tries to stab you, while the reaction to someone being a commie is to prepare for some tedious lecture about how dumb liberals just don’t get that next time it will totally work, for reasons, and really if you think about it the only reason tens of millions of people died was not enough communism.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn

            Compare the USSR after Stalin to the USSR under Stalin. The USSR from the mid-50s to the fall was kind of crummy in many ways, and certainly sucked if you were a dissident, but it did not feature mass famines or campaigns of mass murder, and if you were a party member in good standing or just somebody who kept their head down and did their job, you were probably OK.

            They stopped killing people and just ran the largest slave plantation in history is damning with very faint praise, but it’s also somewhat beside the point. Every communist regime went through a similar pattern and had a calmer second stage after the more enthusiastic initial bloodletting and disaster. that does not excuse them from the disasters they inevitably caused in the first stage.

            My argument is not that communism was good, or even not bad. I think communism’s a bad idea, based on historical experience. But there’s a good reason that the reaction to someone being a nazi is to get out before some methhead with sketchy tattoos tries to stab you, while the reaction to someone being a commie is to prepare for some tedious lecture

            Note how you conflate cultural factors here and have jumped passed ideology? I worry about the nazi meth head because he’s a meth head, not because he’s a nazi. And sure, in america, the communists attract, on average, a better class of follower. But that’s precisely why they are more dangerous. they aren’t going to stab you, but their disastrous ideas, in watered down form, get taken seriously and pass into policy. The skin head’s do not.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think that the stage of bloodletting was more due to who was in charge at that point. Some places clearly had it much, much worse than others. The failure of revolutionary communism is that it lets those people into power.

            As for the nazi vs communist, this is one of the other points of the OP. Someone is signalling something very different by describing themself as a nazi, than as a communist. I’m honestly not super worried about the communists today; they tend to be pretty ineffectual – I’m not sure what of their ideas are coming into policy in the US today.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Compare the USSR after Stalin to the USSR under Stalin. The USSR from the mid-50s to the fall was kind of crummy in many ways, and certainly sucked if you were a dissident, but it did not feature mass famines or campaigns of mass murder, and if you were a party member in good standing or just somebody who kept their head down and did their job, you were probably OK.

            Unless of course Stalin’s existence and the preceding decades of horror effected the political and cultural landscape in a way that allowed these “softer” regimes to exist.

            However, the stuff that Stalin or Pol Pot did, is not necessarily what someone less paranoid/murderous would do if they sat down and thought “I need to remake this society, and violence is totally acceptable.” That’s what Lenin’s rule looked like; Stalin’s was bizarre in a “stranger than fiction” way.

            Dictators tend to be paranoid. You could argue that paranoid people are likely to come out on top of the power struggle or that coming out on top will drive paranoia, or a mixture of the two but if either of those is true then it doesn’t count as stranger than fiction anymore. Just the fact that Communism is an extreme form of governance should lead you to expect extreme outcomes in leadership personalities.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think that the stage of bloodletting was more due to who was in charge at that point. Some places clearly had it much, much worse than others. The failure of revolutionary communism is that it lets those people into power.

            That depends on what you mean by ‘bloodletting’. Mao, who you leave out of your examples, caused mass starvation with his policies. Some people have argued that because these were ‘accidental’ deaths they don’t count the same way, but Mao was willing to use horrific levels of force to get those policies implemented. The specific levels that were actually needed varied across countries and time, but that is the common denominator.

            Further, I would argue, that the ‘soft’ Communist states were soft insofar as they stalled out on their road to Communism and stopped living by its doctrines. Perhaps the exact amount and type of violence that Stalin initiated wasn’t necessary and was influenced by personality traits, but it is arguably the case that the Soviet Union under Stalin and PROC under Mao came closer to the ideal Communist structure of the State controlling every aspect of life than any other Communist attempts and the conclusion that a psychotically violent head of state is a necessary condition for approaching that ideal shouldn’t be avoided.

          • cassander says:

            I think that the stage of bloodletting was more due to who was in charge at that point. Some places clearly had it much, much worse than others. The failure of revolutionary communism is that it lets those people into power.

            It doesn’t let those people into power, it produces those sorts of people in power every single time, without a single exception. You can’t just ignore this fact and chalk it all up to bad luck!

            I’m honestly not super worried about the communists today; they tend to be pretty ineffectual

            They’re a hell of a lot more effectual than the nazis are, they at least aren’t banned from polite society.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’ve mentioned Mao either here or elsewhere. Mao is a different case from Stalin. Hard to discuss though, because you can’t trust commie statistics, and if you can’t look at statistics, it’s hard to discuss… Again, I think communism is bad, and best avoided, but the initial question was “why are nazis despised more than communists” and I think there’s good reasons for that.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            It’s not bad luck, but I think it’s more inevitable than you’re making it seem, unless you think anyone who got into power following Lenin would have gone full paranoid.

            And, how are communists effectual? Capitalism is probably more well-seated today than it was a hundred years ago.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s not bad luck, but I think it’s more inevitable than you’re making it seem, unless you think anyone who got into power following Lenin would have gone full paranoid.

            Stalin didn’t just come into power after Lenin, he was a necessary part of Lenin getting the power that he did. To get to that point in the revolution you need a party filled with various different types of Psychopaths, which specific type gets into power is basically going to be the worst kind. The fact that Trotsky was more of a pragmatist and less of a lunatic than Stalin was a major reason for Stalin winning the power struggle, as he was undermining Trotsky something like 5 years prior to Lenin’s death.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            It’s not bad luck, but I think it’s more inevitable than you’re making it seem, unless you think anyone who got into power following Lenin would have gone full paranoid.

            Lenin had already gone full paranoid. He set up the cheka less than a month after taking power and they promptly started murdering kulaks and other class enemies. he had murdered hundreds of thousands by the time of his first stroke.

            I think communism is bad, and best avoided, but the initial question was “why are nazis despised more than communists” and I think there’s good reasons for that.

            the only reason you’ve offered is that communism isn’t inherently bad. I keep pointing out that, based on the empirical evidence, it’s worse.

            And, how are communists effectual? Capitalism is probably more well-seated today than it was a hundred years ago.

            Again, to start, just the fact that they aren’t banned from polite society is a pretty big step ahead of nazis. And marxism has had enormous intellectual effect for a century, seeping into the bones of modern western society in countless ways. A century ago states commanded 5-10% of GDP in advanced societies, today it’s 1/3 to 1/2. Communists and their fellow travelers have not caused overt revolution, but policy moves ever in the direction they have desired.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            The argument he’s making isn’t that it’s not harmful but that it’s not as evil as nazism

            And it probably isn’t, body count being equal or larger aside. As I learned from this blog, the Nazis wanted to mass-deport the Jews before they decided to kill them all, but a form of ethnic cleansing was absolutely what they were going for, and the same leader decided on both courses of actions. Soviet Russia’s deaths were mostly a result of…let’s call it intrinsic incompetence. That’s important to remember insofar as it tells you that communism tends to do that, but it wasn’t malicious in the same way.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbits9

            Stalin didn’t just come into power after Lenin, he was a necessary part of Lenin getting the power that he did. To get to that point in the revolution you need a party filled with various different types of Psychopaths, which specific type gets into power is basically going to be the worst kind. The fact that Trotsky was more of a pragmatist and less of a lunatic than Stalin was a major reason for Stalin winning the power struggle, as he was undermining Trotsky something like 5 years prior to Lenin’s death.

            This seems a wee bit deterministic for my tastes, although I will grant that Stalin played the system better than Trotsky; it may follow that Stalins are better suited to such systems than Trotskies (Trotskii?)

            @cassander

            Lenin had already gone full paranoid. He set up the cheka less than a month after taking power and they promptly started murdering kulaks and other class enemies. he had murdered hundreds of thousands by the time of his first stroke.

            Stalin is clearly worse than Lenin because Lenin was in a far more precarious situation – foreign powers were trying to bring the Bolsheviks down, and Russia was a complete shambles. Stalin was far better established, and did what he did out of pure paranoia.

            the only reason you’ve offered is that communism isn’t inherently bad. I keep pointing out that, based on the empirical evidence, it’s worse.

            Really? Communism vs national socialism, we only have one national socialist government in history. It lasted for 12 years and was responsible for an eight-figure body count, with the vast majority of that taking place in six years, and of that, most within 4.

            Again, to start, just the fact that they aren’t banned from polite society is a pretty big step ahead of nazis. And marxism has had enormous intellectual effect for a century, seeping into the bones of modern western society in countless ways. A century ago states commanded 5-10% of GDP in advanced societies, today it’s 1/3 to 1/2. Communists and their fellow travelers have not caused overt revolution, but policy moves ever in the direction they have desired.

            I think you should reconsider your model of what communists want. They don’t like “capitalism, but with social welfare” which is what the capitalist welfare states we have now are. Commies tend to be real “the good is the enemy of the perfect” types.

            EDIT: @anonYEmous

            That’s the functionalism vs intentionalism debate; some scholars do think that mass murder was the Nazi intention from early on. I find the moderate functionalist position of, say, Kershaw more compelling.

          • SamChevre says:

            @dndnrsn

            Part of the question is “how many national socialist governments have we had?”

            If we’re going to say “One” (nazi-ism is fundametnally different from fascism), then consistency means that Nazi crimes aren’t good evidence against fascist ideas.

            If, on the other hand, we’re counting “reluctant allies and ill-informed cheerleaders” (so Nazi crimes count against fascism), then I think it’s entirely fair to count Soviet crimes against the Fabian Socialists and the western Left.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Small sample size doesn’t really matter when they did exactly what they said they were gonna do, does it?

          • cassander says:

            @dndrsn

            Stalin is clearly worse than Lenin because Lenin was in a far more precarious situation – foreign powers were trying to bring the Bolsheviks down, and Russia was a complete shambles. Stalin was far better established, and did what he did out of pure paranoia.

            One, I didn’t say that stalin wasn’t worse than lenin. I said that lenin was already bad enough to make the USSR one of the worst places in history even before stalin took over. As for foreign intervention, A, lenin started murdering kulaks before any interventions, B, those interventions never seriously threatened the soviet state, and C, I fail to see how any intervention, even a more efficacious one, is justification for murdering kulaks en masse.
            .

            Really? Communism vs national socialism, we only have one national socialist government in history. It lasted for 12 years and was responsible for an eight-figure body count, with the vast majority of that taking place in six years, and of that, most within 4.

            just like most of the soviet body count was crammed into a few years. And the Maoist. And the Khmer. I fail to see your point.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Russia would have been an awful place regardless; it was far behind Europe proper for a variety of reasons, and had just seen its government collapse after a disastrous war. As for foreign intervention, it started pretty quickly; the Brits etc were worried the Reds were going to repudiate debts.

            As for the kulaks, indefensible. The whole “there are spies everywhere!” thing was paranoid, although less so than Stalin. The impression I get is that the commies were pretty good at penetrating other societies, and typical-minding, assumed that the same was happening to them.

            As for the comparison to national socialism, my point is that there was more time and space where communism was just grim and unpleasant instead of actively nightmarish, comparatively.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            As for foreign intervention, it started pretty quickly; the Brits etc were worried the Reds were going to repudiate debts.

            It took most of a year, and the first interventions were entirely defensive, and even after that changed the west never made a concerted effort to overthrow the bolsheviks, and they were gone in less than 2 years.

            As for the kulaks, indefensible.

            and yet you just defended it. The government didn’t just collapse, it collapsed because the bolsheviks destroyed it!

            As for the comparison to national socialism, my point is that there was more time and space where communism was just grim and unpleasant instead of actively nightmarish, comparatively.

            sure, because the allies invaded and crushed the germans with an actual foreign intervention.

          • Small sample size doesn’t really matter when they did exactly what they said they were gonna do, does it?

            Sure it does. For all we know, if there had been ten societies with National Socialist ideology only one of them would have actually murdered millions of people. We just happened to hit the jackpot.

            And if you put it in terms of fascism rather than Nazism we do have multiple examples and I don’t think any of the others were as bad as Nazism, although perhaps there are ones I am missing.

            If, in some alternate history, the only implementation of Communism was the Khmer Rouge, we could point out how moderate the Nazis were in comparison.

          • Matt M says:

            And if you put it in terms of fascism rather than Nazism we do have multiple examples and I don’t think any of the others were as bad as Nazism

            Which poses a question I’ve never really considered before – are there many significant ways in which Nazism was truly different from “regular” fascism?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            Defending and trying to explain are different things. Revolutionary, vanguard-y communism has turned out grim, with frequent forays into monstrous. But if someone says “oh hey I’m a communist” I’ll give them the chance to explain how they won’t have fifty Stalins before I start rolling my eyes. I don’t think that’s possible with national socialism.

            @DavidFriedman

            But if Marx had written a book about the necessity of killing everyone with glasses, and the Khmer Rouge was our only example of communism, surely that would mean something? I’m not sure how national socialism could have turned out not-horrible. The entire system was predicated on spending the 30s robbing Peter to pay Paul, then dealing with that problem through conquest and slave labour.

            @Matt M

            Well, Italian fascism was a lot less racial in its ideology, a lot less romantic/mystical. If Mussolini hadn’t tried to piggyback off of Hitler, he probably would have been remembered like Franco – not a nice guy, but Franco died in power instead of being humiliatingly executed by partisans, and there might even be one or two statues of the guy still up somewhere. (For what it’s worth, I think scholars might argue the extent to which Franco was a fascist instead of just calling himself that to get arms shipments, etc)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: Yes, there really was. Under Fascism, the Kingdom of Italy wracked up a body count of… the war on Ethiopia plus the execution of 26 Italian citizens. There was also some Blackshirt street violence where the typically tactic was grappling a political enemy and making him drink castor oil.
            I don’t want to minimize what was done to the Ethiopians in an unjust war, but seriously, that’s Boy Scout stuff. Some representative democracies have done worse.

          • Matt M says:

            Some representative democracies have done worse.

            … which would seem to imply that neither aggressive warmongering nor internal political repression is a unique aspect of fascism OR nazism.

          • cassander says:

            dndnrsn says

            Defending and trying to explain are different things. Revolutionary, vanguard-y communism has turned out grim, with frequent forays into monstrous. But if someone says “oh hey I’m a communist” I’ll give them the chance to explain how they won’t have fifty Stalins before I start rolling my eyes. I don’t think that’s possible with national socialism.

            Communism has been tried dozens of times and it has only produced vanguard-y communism and that has only produced extreme misery. Naziism has been tried once and it produced extreme misery. I don’t think we should be willing to try it again, and I am disinclined to listen to anyone’s plan to make sure we don’t get more hitlers. You do think we should have that attitude about communism despite the empirical evidence running entirely in the opposite direction. And, as others have pointed out, if you roll back to fascism, the argument gets much, much worse for you.

            All I can ask is why?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Because no nazi has a plan to not have more Hitlers. National socialism was designed from the beginning to do what it did. Communism is just, evidently, fatally flawed. I’m repeatedly stating that I see it as the difference between premeditated murder and a lesser, but still serious, charge; that’s not the same thing as zomg defending manslaughter.

            EDIT: And, go back to the original question. I’m explaining why my reaction to someone being a nazi is “holy shit!” and my reaction to someone being a commie is preparing to be condescended to by someone who doesn’t get that a hill of corpses is not, actually, the moral high ground. My model of communists is “probably clueless, possibly idiosyncratic; probably going to cherrypick hard”, my model of modern-day nazis is “this person hates minorities and has seized upon the ideology they most associate with hating minorities.”

            I also think that communists are clearly ineffectual and powerless in the modern west; I note you have neglected my point that communists aren’t fans of capitalism+welfare state, so the expansion of the welfare state isn’t a victory for communists. Further, in the US today, the far right has a larger body count than the far left – political extremists in general are a tiny chunk of the US homicide rate, but if you hear “a political extremist just shot somebody!” the smart money is on that political extremist being a member of the far right.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m repeatedly stating that I see it as the difference between premeditated murder and a lesser, but still serious, charge; that’s not the same thing as zomg defending manslaughter.

            The early Nazi attempts to solve the ‘Jewish problem’ focused on relocation, not mass murder, and there was support for an Israel like state where they could ship them all. The majority of the murders came after 1942 when they started losing the war. I don’t think I would want to be in the position to discuss mitigating (even when just compared to Nazis) circumstances for Communists in this way as it is at least somewhat applicable to Nazi behavior toward the Jews.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbits9

            The killings started in mid to late ’41, and the Einsatzgruppen were shooting women and children before it became clear they weren’t going to knock Russia out of the war before the winter. It cranked up in early to mid ’42 because that’s when the Aktion Reinhard camps went into operation, but they started putting Belzec together in late ’41. Into late ’42 it still looked as though the Germans might win in the East – and the various elements of the German leadership at least pretended they might win until the end.

            Regardless, mass deportation usually has a body count, and some of the deportation plans (eg to east of the Urals) would have been extremely costly in lives. Additionally, their plans for the Slavs were genocidal from the start.

          • baconbits9 says:

            How is this story materially different from Communism in the USSR? You have an increase in atrocities as power is centralized and consolidated. The Nazis tried other ‘solutions’, found them wanting and amped up their violence levels as they conquered geo political hurdles. The Communists tried to collectivize farming. When declarations didn’t work they sent armed groups into towns to strip the wealthy peasants of their land and possessions. When that didn’t work they broadened and deepened their attacks. When that didn’t work and there was fear of a Ukrainian revolt they starved them into submission/death. The only material difference that I can see between the Jewish concentration camps and the Ukranian famine is that the Germans built camps and shipped the Jews to them, where as the Communists just turned where the peasants lived into concentration camps, forcing them to work and intentionally starving them to prevent revolt, and making their existence a defacto crime by making trying to survive a crime.

          • dndnrsn says:

            First, the intentionalists would disagree – and they include some quite respectable historians. Second, the plan with regard to the Slavs involved lots of them dying and the remainder being reduced to more or less helot status, from the start. The attempt to eliminate the Polish intelligentsia and GPO were not attempts to make something unworkable work through increasing violence, as collectivization was.

            Imagine if Marx had said “I personally am going to starve a bunch of kulaks to death, because fuck those guys” and then had gone on to do just that. That’s more or less along the lines of what Hitler did. My point is, you can come up with versions of Marxism that don’t go as badly as communism historically have, and plenty of people who aren’t even really Marxists – social democrats aren’t really Marxists anymore, and Marx’s historiographical ideas are widely used by historians regardless of their politics – have a Marxist intellectual heritage. There’s nothing like that for Hitler.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Marx died before Kulaks became a thing, and Marx wasn’t writing much about specific countries. You are basically giving Marx a pass for not naming names, and instead condemning anyone who wasn’t of the lower class, or didn’t fight on their behalf. Marx advocated general violence against anyone standing in the way of any communist revolution, Lenin and Stalin advocated violence against specific Russians/Soviets/whoever was under their dominion. Hitler named names, but it wasn’t his first order of business, the first order was consolidation of power, then use of that power. Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky also consolidated power first and then coincidentally started using it against peripheral ethnic groups whose land was of strategic value to Russia who had briefly managed independence during WW1.

            But if someone says “oh hey I’m a communist” I’ll give them the chance to explain how they won’t have fifty Stalins before I start rolling my eyes. I don’t think that’s possible with national socialism.

            National Socialism isn’t an analog to Marxism/Communism, it is one poltical party under the Fascism umbrella, it is more like Bolshevism.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            The early Nazi attempts to solve the ‘Jewish problem’ focused on relocation, not mass murder, and there was support for an Israel like state where they could ship them all.

            The plan was a Nazi police state, not a self-governed country, which is dissimilar to Israel.

            Furthermore, the Nazis evaluated Madagascar and estimated that extremely few Jews (thousands) could be accommodated there, but they still planned to ship millions of Jews there, with no plans to ship in food. This strongly suggests that the actual intent was similar to what was done to the Herero (many of whom were driven into the desert to die of starvation and thirst).

            Note that the SS official responsible for the Aktion T4 euthanasia program (Philipp Bouhler) was being considered to govern Madagascar.

            In general, there is a lot of evidence that the Nazis tried very hard to hide the true nature of their plans from the public/inferiors as much as possible. With this in mind, it seems very difficult to see the the Madagascar plan as being in good faith, since the logical steps were not taken if that was the case.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Wait, who am I condemning?

            Additionally, another major difference is that Marxist ideologies had a lag time between coming about and gaining influence; fascism was largely theorized by the guys who were doing it just before or as they were doing it in the case of Italian fascism; national socialism even more so in both ways.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Wait, who am I condemning?

            Marx was condemning them, sorry for the unclear writing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            With this in mind, it seems very difficult to see the the Madagascar plan as being in good faith, since the logical steps were not taken if that was the case.

            I don’t take much or anything the Nazis did on good faith, but I also don’t extend that courtesy to the Bolsheviks. Marxism was supposed to be a revolution of the peasant class, but when the peasants wouldn’t rise up en masse against the Kulacks and even defended them at times the communists came out from the cities and enforced it.

            @dndnrsn

            Additionally, another major difference is that Marxist ideologies had a lag time between coming about and gaining influence; fascism was largely theorized by the guys who were doing it just before or as they were doing it in the case of Italian fascism; national socialism even more so in both ways.

            I’m not sure how this is a difference. The Communist revolution in Russia didn’t go as Marx theorized that it would,

          • Nornagest says:

            The Communist revolution in Russia didn’t go as Marx theorized that it would

            Marx didn’t theorize a communist revolution in Russia — he thought it would come from the most advanced, most industrialized nations in Europe (probably meaning Britain), mainly because he thought of revolution as an event inextricably tied to a nation’s level of economic and technological development, catalyzed by industrial workers whose relationship with labor was fundamentally different from previous models. Most of his logic only makes sense within this framework. It was Lenin et al. that came up with a theory of communism that would allow for revolution in an impoverished, mostly agricultural country that was a great power mainly because it was ten times the size of anything else in Europe.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbits9

            For Marxism, there was a lot more space to be some theorist nowhere near power. For fascism and national socialism, the theorists were either the guys doing it, who were often (esp. the nazis) flying by the seat of their pants and retroactively justifying things on ideological bases, or guys who they brought in to write or ghostwrite stuff/guys who attached themselves to it.

            This also happened in communism – with pretty much every communist dictator presenting themself as some sort of leader-scholar – but this came after a stage of guys who were just scholars. Fascism and national socialism didn’t really have that, except maybe for the futurists.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        In contrast, the worst things associated with communism can’t be traced to the core of it in the same way. I’m not a Marx scholar, but I’m pretty sure that having a paranoid in office whose choices almost lead to defeat by a foreign power isn’t part of the plan. I think a good argument can be made that revolutionary schemes featuring a vanguard party leads to dictators, and dictators are especially likely to do awful things. But you can imagine socialist, Marxist, whatever ideologies without the vanguard party bit, or without the revolution.

        I don’t know about Marxists in general, but Marx himself was, as I recall, pretty open and blasé about the fact that a communist society could only come about after the killing of lots of reactionaries and bourgeois people.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The worst things associated with communism aren’t just “repression” or “civil war” or “secret police” – they’re stuff that would sound unbelievable in fiction, like “these starving people are clearly doing it on purpose to discredit communism”, or when secret policemen torture confessions of conspiracy out of people having the secret policemen purged for not finding the conspiracy earlier.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are acting as if these things are exclusive. The ‘unbelievable’ outgrowth of paranoia can also be viewed as the logical conclusion to Communism, when you accept certain axioms of Communism then the irrational level of accusations of sabotage are the only alternative to dismissing Communism as a viable system once the economic realities start setting in.

          • dndnrsn says:

            In the USSR, failures after Stalin, though, didn’t lead to cycles of purges, secret policemen executing their predecessors, etc.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Soviet leaders post Stalin were also accused of Revisionism and of abandoning Marxist ideology as they tried to adopt pragmatic strategies instead of ideological ones.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But that they tried to do that does show that adopting nutso, steal-for-your-Paranoia-campaign approaches (eg, your soldiers knowing how to do soldier stuff is less important than their knowing the latest interpretation of Marxist doctrine) isn’t dictated by the system.

          • albatross11 says:

            This is a nice point. Probably a lot of unbelievable or bizarre claims fall out of situations where either

            a. My ideology/worldview is failing badly to describe reality, so I need an extraordinary explanation for what’s going on.

            or

            b. The allowable expressed opinions/ideas/explanations for what’s going on require a lot of bizarre contortions–even if nobody really believes that failing to meet the new steel quota is clear evidence of capitalist spies and wreckers, if everyone knows that saying “this five-year plan business just doesn’t work” is a one-way ticket to the gulag, people will all talk about the capitalist spies and wreckers who must be keeping us from meeting our steel quota.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But that they tried to do that does show that adopting nutso, steal-for-your-Paranoia-campaign approaches (eg, your soldiers knowing how to do soldier stuff is less important than their knowing the latest interpretation of Marxist doctrine) isn’t dictated by the system

            No, it shows that you have to pull away from Communism to allow for that type of leadership to maintain control, and that those types of situations manifested AFTER a Stalin or a Mao was in control. Che and Mao didn’t look at Stalinist Russia and decided on a different route, they looked at Stalinist Russia and blasted post Stalinist Russia. It is only after Mao and Stalin died that progress was made.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You mention Che – but looking at him and Castro, even anti-communists come up with a death toll that’s pretty skimpy by communist standards. Did Cuba skip the “nightmare bizarro world” stage and go straight to “grim dictatorship”?

    • cassander says:

      1) While in practice both Nazism and hard-left Marxism are evil systems, Nazism is an inherently more hateful ideology. Almost all subscribers to the ideology are evil. Communism’s destructive is more an emergent property of its flawed design. Hence it’s possible to be a good, but naive person, and still be a Marxist/Leninist/Maoist.

      Definitely not. Both Nazism and communism preach essentially the same plan, build a mountain of corpses to make an earthly paradise. The details differ, but murdering people because they are class enemies is no better than because they are racial enemies.

      2) In 2018 America, Nazism is beyond the pale.

      This is closer to the mark, but it’s sort of begging the question? nazism is ickier because people like it less is circular.

      But once you get to that point is Leninism really in the same league as Stalinism or Nazism?

      Yes.

      From the beginning, Communism had better press. Unlike naziism, which was always a german vision for germans, Communism had the pretense of universalism. the nazis were always grubbier, but they compounded the error by having the foolishness to start a war with america that they lost, while the communists didn’t. The US, being the place that it is, turned this war into a crusade that ended up as the founding myth of the modern american state. And by the time the US started to sour on the USSR, they had had decades to build up support.

      • Levantine says:

        Both Nazism and communism preach essentially the same plan, build a mountain of corpses to make an earthly paradise. The details differ, but murdering people because they are class enemies is no better than because they are racial enemies.

        Class enemies are such due to their choice, racial enemies are enemies due to their biology.

        Otherwise the communist movement members should have wished for a time machine to kill its very initiators, ideologues, and leaders, the military officers that fought for it, the artists that promoted it, for they were, as a rule, outside the working class … Also, the communists would have killed bourgeoisie children en masse.

        On a lesser point: class enemies are necessarily a much fewer number, while racial enemies can be even a larger group than your side.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Class enemies are such due to their choice, racial enemies are racial due to their biology.

          All you had to do was join the communist party and you would be fine…. Oh, wait.

        • cassander says:

          Class enemies are such due to their choice, racial enemies are enemies due to their biology.

          That was not the interpretation of any actual communist regime I am aware of. All murdered the children of unfavored class members.

          >Also, the communists would have killed bourgeoisie children en masse.

          they did

          On a lesser point: class enemies are necessarily a much fewer number, while racial enemies can be even a larger group than your side.

          In practice, we know that communist states never seemed to run out of class enemies. Maybe the nazi state would have kept expanding the definition of racial enemies as well, had it lasted longer, but the bourgeoisie were a huge share of society in plenty of places communists wanted to take over.

          • cassander says:

            The popular author, historian and academic specializing in the history of Central & Eastern Europe Timothy Snyder argues that that figure is outdated, and sserts, “the total figure of civilians deliberately killed under Stalinism, around six million.”

            That figure is far smaller than the figure snyder cites in his book, and his books covered only a highly specific time and place.

            His estimate, in turn, has been disproven by mainstream historians of the Soviet Union. Dr. Mark B. Tauger, Robert W. Thurston et al, on the basis of newly declassified documents that the famines were a result of natural & organisational circumstances rather than deliberation, plan or easy acceptance of “necessary evils.” Their findings are part of mainstream history.

            How is “easy acceptance of “necessary evils”” not murder? You would never argue that the people who were worked to deaths on starvation rations in the 3rd Reich don’t count as holocaust murders. Can we please have some consistent standards here?

            Using criteria like those used for Communism, Neoliberalism and US imperialism, one might claim that Christianity is also “responsible” for tens and tens of millions of dead.

            No, they couldn’t. this is a tired old argument that was wrong when it was first uttered by stalinist apparatchiks in the 30s. When you use consistent methods, communism invariably ends up looking worse. If you want to compare deliberate murders, excess deaths, missing population, no matter which you chose, if you’re consisted, communism puts up the largest pile of bodies in history.

            The mythos behind opposing Communism is that the measure of man is man himself, that the basis of civilised life lies in respect for the individual, the Person, each and every one, in all his or her complexity. On the other hand, Communism is supposed to measure the man in respect to the collective.

            I oppose communism on the grounds that it murdered ~100 million people, not some mythos. Had I been around a century ago, without the knowledge of the 20th century, I’d have been very sympathetic to communists.

            a. To a substantial degree, Communist society has been present throughout human history, in human families.

            this is meaningless. communism doesn’t mean sharing. Communism is the attempt to construct an industrial society on the basis of sharing. Sharing is fine, communism is not.

            All real ideals.

            Nazis had ideals too. That doesn’t excuse them their crimes.

            The same way that abuses of the name of christianity and through formal membership in christianity shouldn’t bother a devout Christian.

            If every single society led by self identified christians murdered huge numbers of its own people, this might be a good argument. They didn’t. every communist society, however, did. All societies can go bad. Only communist societies ALWAYS go bad.

            >If Marxist revolutionaries had blind faith or were dogmatic, they would have hardly attempted revolutions exactly in underdeveloped countries, for which Marx said that they are totally absurd environments for such a thing.

            One, Russia in 1913 was at least as developed as germany or france in the 1860s so if germany was developed enough when marx was writing, russia was developed enough in 1918. two, marx specifically wrote about how russia was well suited to jump from feudalism to socialism without going through capitalism because of its tradition of peasant communes that allowed class consciousness to develop in peasants. If you haven’t read marx, why do you call yourself a marxist?

            The claim that Communism is responsible for tens of millions of dead people is pseudo-scientific. Moreover, it is pseudo-sane.

            This is just holocaust denial. it’s loathsome.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, they couldn’t. this is a tired old argument that was wrong when it was first uttered by stalinist apparatchiks in the 30s. When you use consistent methods, communism invariably ends up looking worse. If you want to compare deliberate murders, excess deaths, missing population, no matter which you chose, if you’re consisted, communism puts up the largest pile of bodies in history.

            Not only has Communism produced a far bigger body-count than Christianity, it’s had a far smaller timeframe in which to do so. Communists have only had real power for the last hundred years, whereas Christian states have existed since the fourth century (conversion of Armenia, conversion of the Roman Empire).

          • His estimate, in turn, has been disproven by mainstream historians of the Soviet Union.

            This is the point at which I conclude that the source you are quoting should not be trusted. I can believe that some historians have offered evidence against the views of other historians. Proof is scarce on such issues.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think Naziism was inherently self-limiting so long as they kept their racial ideology more-or-less intact. And fascism built on nationalism, similarly, tends to be pretty locked into your nation. (You might look at Italian or German fascism as a model when establishing Spanish fascism, but your fundamental loyalty and concerns and focus were going to be on Spain and Spanish nationalism/fascism, not some kind of global fascism.)

          By contrast, Communism had the potential to appeal to people everywhere. It appealed both to people on the bottom all over the globe, and also to intellectuals all over the globe, including the kind of folks who tended to end up in a mass grave somewhere when the communists actually took over places. When you look at the places that actually had communist revolutions or movements, it’s all over the planet, people of every race and language and (previous) religion. In some sense, that made it scarier than fascism.

          • dndnrsn says:

            National socialism was limited less by its ability to appeal to non-Germans/non-volksdeutsche than by its failure to knock the USSR out of the war in ’41 or ’42. You don’t have to convince or seduce people if you can just roll over them.

            Communism’s ability to appeal to people did help it a great deal in becoming the default anti-colonial resistance ideology. And it made communism very good at recruiting double agents.

        • Class enemies are such due to their choice, racial enemies are enemies due to their biology.

          I thought someone here very recently was arguing that, from a Marxist point of view, the enemy class wasn’t morally guilty–the capitalist might honestly believe that capitalism was better for everyone.

          It was just that being in the class he was in made him honestly believe that.

    • Leonard says:

      Humans are incredibly alert to social status, and we unconsciously tend to conform our beliefs to whatever is necessary to align ourselves with high status people, and disassociate ourselves from low status people.

      Commies are high status. Nazis are low status.

      This is basically your (2), but hopefully the status lens clarifies it a little for you.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Accepting all three madmen are total failures from deontological and virtuous standpoints, we are left with consequentialism:

      Stalin/Mao took feudal backwaters and turned them into world powers with fewer infant deaths, increased literacy, etc. etc.
      Hitler took one of the most cultured, scientific, etc. etc. nations in the world and left it a miserable ruin

      • Matt M says:

        Hitler took one of the most cultured, scientific, etc. etc. nations in the world and left it a miserable ruin

        I feel like at the time Hitler took power Germany wasn’t exactly doing all that well…

        Pretty much everyone who has ever lost a major war leaves their nation “in a miserable ruin”

      • cassander says:

        Stalin/Mao took feudal backwaters and turned them into world powers with fewer infant deaths, increased literacy, etc. etc.

        No they didn’t. Russia was the fastest industrializing country in europe in 1913. The communists destroyed most of that progress, and didn’t manage to climb out of the hole they’d dug for decades, often not until well after ww2.

        As for Mao, some basic measures got better after the civil war, but you don’t get credit for ending a war you’re one side of. When he died, china was poorer than sub-saharan africa.

        >Hitler took one of the most cultured, scientific, etc. etc. nations in the world and left it a miserable ruin

        German GDP was exceeding pre-war levels by ~1950 at the latest.

        • baconbits9 says:

          German GDP was exceeding pre-war levels by ~1950 at the latest.

          Well, West German GDP. Another point against Stalin.

    • Morgan says:

      1) is probably closest to the mark.

      The really high body counts that can be laid at the door of communism are failures, the body count for Nazism is what happens when they succeed.

      Whether mass starvation in the USSR or Maoist China was because they “did Communism wrong” or because “Communism is inherently unworkable”, it wasn’t deliberate genocide – it was bad administration. Whereas the Holocaust was well-administered deliberate genocide.

      It’s possible to imagine an implementation of Communism where no-one gets killed. It’s not nearly as possible to imagine an implementation of Nazism where no-one gets killed.

      That means that even if you think Communism is utterly wrong, you can still frame Communists as stupid rather than evil. Much harder to do that for Nazis.

      (The direct, deliberate portion of the body count of revolutionary communism – i.e. deliberately killing your political opponents – is more a function of the “revolutionary” than the “communism”.)

      • baconbits9 says:

        The mass starvation in the Ukraine was deliberate, an intentional approach to break resistance and to punish class traitors. It wasn’t accidental or incidental or bad mojo.

        • albatross11 says:

          Also, I don’t think the majority of the Khmer Rouge’s killings were in any sense unintentional.

    • rlms says:

      I think (2) is the main answer for fascism (rather than Nazism); I disagree to an extent that “Nazism drag[s] Mussolinism into the vat of ickiness” (I think Mussolini is used as a byword for evil but has significantly less bad connotations than Hitler) but in as much as it does it is because essentially everyone who accepts the label “fascist” also accepts the label “Nazi” and got that way by being a horrible racist, whereas a large number of self-defined communists are just edgy 20 year olds who read some Chomsky and went looking for harder stuff.

      But (1) is an important factor for Nazism (though not fascism): assuming for the sake of argument that equivalent evils to those of the Nazis is latent in Marx’s writing, it’s certainly not anywhere near as obvious. So I would say communism is more comparable to e.g. Moldbug, or even the Nazis in the late 20s when seen without hindsight.

      To elaborate on my disagreement with “Nazism drag[ging] Mussolinism into the vat of ickiness”: I don’t think non-(neo)-Nazi (quasi/neo)-fascists (Franco, Salazar, Peron, Ba’athist, the various minor European parties with slogans like “God and the old law”, the POTUS, and so on) have a particularly bad rep, and they don’t deserve one either. Nationalist socialism is a logical bundle of policies.

  35. johan_larson says:

    Has anyone here lived in Africa?

    Conditions in Africa vary a lot. Some places, like Somalia, are war-torn middens, while other places, like Botswana, are pretty decent middle-income countries. If one wants to live a life pretty much like the first-world middle class, where is that actually possible in Africa? And what things are unavoidably different?

    For example, as I understand it, one can live a recognizably middle-class life in Brazil. But unless you have a lot of money, it’s hard to get away from the crime. The same goes for Russia, but there it’s apparently hard to get away from a certain casual corruption.

    • Doug says:

      This property has to do more with political stability than level of economic development. For example Nairobi’s probably one of the best African cities for the ability to live a very normal, middle-class lifestyle. But at about $1000 GDP/capita, Kenya’s probably below the sub-Saharan average.

      Around the world, GDP variation is mostly driven by institutional capital. Countries with good institutions have higher GDP. So a high GDP country, like Denmark, is probably better run and a nicer place to live than a low GDP country like Bangladesh. But Africa is an extremely natural resource dependent economy. So most GDP variation has to do with the value of underlying natural resources.

      A place like the Ivory Coast is relatively rich by African standards, because it has some oil, good ports and good soil for cocoa crops. However its institutions are totally dysfunctional. In contrast a country like Rwanda, which is very well run under Paul Kigame, is land-locked and hardly has any good natural resources. So it’s poor, even by African standards. However Kigali is a very clean, safe city and you could definitely live a comfortable middle-class life. Abidjan… not so much.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      I spent a semester studying aboard at University of Cape Town in South Africa.

      I would say that a first world middle class life is possible there. You have to deal with the possibility of worse crime but it doesn’t really interact with your daily life that much more than if you were living in a not great part of a big city. I would say the biggest difference between being in a major city in some other part of the world is that you had to deal with periodic and announced power outages (called load shedding). You also have to be willing to live under the ruling government but that applies for all of Africa.

    • add_lhr says:

      I have lived in 3 African cities (one in SA, one in E. Afr, and one in W. Afr) and have traveled for work & leisure to 20-25 countries across the continent. Some observations:
      – If you can adapt emotionally to the risk of crime, and increase your situational awareness / not walk alone at night, etc (I don’t mean “adapt to being a victim”; I was never victimized while living in SA), South Africa is perhaps the cheapest place in the world to live a middle-class lifestyle. The weather is amazing, outdoor activities and domestic travel – both pedestrian and sensational / world-class – are popular and cheap, the full range of consumer goods are readily available, the music and art scene is vibrant and diverse, and going out to eat & drink is extremely affordable. Overall I loved it.
      – Most East African cities are well-set up for middle class expat life – you would likely be happy for quite a while in Kigali, Addis, Dar, Kampala, or Nairobi, depending on your tolerance for boredom vs crime. Boredom is a major risk in Kigali, crime in Nairobi; the others have some of both. But all have some sort of clean, leafy upper-class neighborhood with good shops & restaurants, good roads, leisure activities, and high-end schools and clinics. Nairobi has IME more mixing between expats and locals, due to a larger upper class, great tradition of high-end education, and booming start-up scene, although you’ll probably still feel like an expat (as opposed to SA).
      – Addis is a very popular family post for diplomats/etc, due to the climate, low cost of living, and general level of safety; exploring the history, culture, and natural wonders of Ethiopia is endlessly fascinating. The countryside can be politically unstable, the internet is terrible, and bureaucracy can be extreme, but life in the city is remarkably easy (although the air quality and traffic are bad, much like Mexico City). The scene will feel a bit small after a while, all the expats are transient (1-2Y max) and making friends with locals, even returnees in the diaspora, can be more difficult (big families in the countryside, own religion, own language(s), hundreds of years of doing things their own way and proud of it, etc). But again, I loved it.
      – West Africa is a different animal – the big cities are BIG and chaotic and the climate makes life quite difficult (and the fact that per capita GDP is higher than E Afr doesn’t help – more cars, more generators, more sprawling urbanization but without the effective governance to counteract this). There is a much larger local upper class in places like Lagos and Abidjan, so good ultra high-end options in some places if you like that, but I would not expect to live anything like a “normal” life anywhere except Dakar, which is wonderful (great music / art, nice climate, good food, welcoming & cosmopolitan if you speak French).
      – South Africa outside of SA is great to visit for the nature, and very pleasant to visit for work, but I would die of boredom if I lived in e.g. Lusaka, Gaborone, Windhoek, or Lilongwe. If you like eating at South African chain restaurants, driving endlessly down leafy pedestrian-free streets lined with blank compound walls from your office (a converted house on 10 acres of greenery) to a cafe (same) to your house (same), gawking at Chinese construction projects of indeterminate purpose, looking at murals / reading pamphlets advertising maize seed and day-old chicks, reading only Christian self-help books, and drinking Castle or Black Label at the same bar every week forever, you may enjoy it, though.

      Final note – while Somalia is probably terrible, Somaliland (Hargeisa and Berbera) is quite pleasant and safe to visit. It also has cave art, good food, and a nice coastline. Phenomenally boring, though.

      If you’re curious about specific countries, I’m always happy to share more details.

      • johan_larson says:

        Thanks, that’s exactly the sort of information I was hoping for.

        You mention “upper class” locals a couple of times. The people in major African cities with lifestyles an American or Brit would consider middle class are actually the local upper class? Is that a fair generalization?

        • add_lhr says:

          In general, yes, it’s a very narrow slice of the population that enjoys anything close to a Western middle-class lifestyle (1+ car, house / flat with approximately enough bedrooms, modern appliances / modern healthcare & education, etc). In South Africa the portion is much greater (at least 10-15%, so 5-7m+), but highly stratified by race. In the rest of the continent, you are looking at the top 10-100,000 max per country (more in Nigeria), I would say. Note though that someone in Africa with a similar lifestyle in most respects to someone in the US will have much more access to domestic help / drivers / cooks / gardeners, etc – that is a major difference in lifestyle.

          What the media frames as “Africa’s rising middle class” are those who are definitely living much better than their parents, with access to household appliances, better services, small luxuries like eating at chain restaurants sometimes, and smartphones, etc, but still not what US/Europe might consider middle-class.

          On the other hand, the true “upper class” in places like Nigeria are fabulously wealthy by any standard, with lifestyles to match. Check out some Nigerian music videos (e.g. P-Square or similar artists) some time, they are quite fun.

          • Brad says:

            Note though that someone in Africa with a similar lifestyle in most respects to someone in the US will have much more access to domestic help / drivers / cooks / gardeners, etc – that is a major difference in lifestyle.

            Out of curiosity do western ex-pats, especially Americans, have trouble utilizing and managing domestic help?

    • rlms says:

      Relevant link: quite a few of the most expensive cities in the world are apparently African.

  36. JoeCool says:

    I just want a second (third fourth and 100th) opinion on this fascinating youtube video of Karl Hart. He’s a drug specialist PH.D that seems to disagree about the degree of the negative effects of basically all illegal drugs, especially meth. Except lessons to his talk its less he disagrees with the current literature than he points out aspect of the literature that agree with him, and point out the flaws in methodology in a lot of the early drug studies.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o97xuEtbkKg&t=3178s

    • Cheese says:

      From a brief skim and a disclaimer that i’ve not really done anything involving pharmacology (I note he’s not actually a pharmacologist either) for a long time despite having a background in it, it seems mostly a semantics argument. I mean yeah sure if you’re looking at raw chemical structure there isn’t much difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine – small changes can mean big things in chemistry though. And yeah he’s correct in that it’s used as a medication. But meth illicitly is typically consumed in forms (smoked, injected) that allow for larger doses to reach the brain far quicker and on a population level appears to cause a lot more problems. I’ve done both – smoked quite a lot of methamphetamine recreationally in my younger days and i’ve had my fair share of dexamphetamine as well. They are fundamentally different in all the ways that actually matter – how people typically take them, the magnitude and rapidity of effect, the culture that surrounds them, the impact it has on you after. If he thinks that can be safely ignored then that’s just a ridiculous position.

      The extra attention on methamphetamine as ice vs. methamphetamine as ADHD medication isn’t there because the pharmacology is wildly different – it’s there because of the results of having the drug out in the community. The pharmacological similarity is meaningless in terms of policy if the result to society is wildly different.

      He also kind of positions himself as a maverick – pointing out flaws in early drug studies is hardly controversial in the field. For MDMA research (which is where I know a bit more) it’s the norm. There are papers and reviews aplenty on the topic. But despite that, there is still good data around metabolite toxicity (which does lead to a lot of similar semantic claims like ‘MDMA isn’t neurotoxic at recreational doses’ – yeah probably but it’s hard to nail down and the metabolites) and a lot of pretty reasonable data suggesting quite mild behavioural impacts like memory deficits in regular users (I still take it on occasion though – risk reward and all that). I’m not sure it’s really useful to position yourself like he does – it’s no great controversy in the pharmacology community that for many individual users the direct harmful side effects are extremely mild or almost non existent. That’s not where the problem comes in.

      I do agree with a lot of his positions around the treatment of addiction and drug policy. Some of the tool of the oppressors stuff is a bit off and probably invents a grand conspiracy when it can be more explained by simple decisions made in an attempt to prevent a perceived threat to society having unintended consequences.

      To me it seems that a lot of his speeches and non-research output seems to be more aimed at policymakers or laypeople in an attempt to debunk some more common misconceptions. Maybe as I only skimmed it I didn’t notice, but I don’t see him arguing against the notion that these drugs can be and often are quite harmful. I can see a lot of people taking it that way based on editorialised titles and his mode of delivery. I certainly don’t think the core message there is that he actually disagrees with the potential for harm from methamphetamine. More it seems to be concerned with dispelling a few myths (not everyone gets addicted, not a great deal of evidence for massive harm at low use levels) at a policy level. I can see a lot of internet people taking that as ‘methamphetamine isn’t bad for you’, no offence to yourself.

      I feel like i’ve worded that quite badly, but yeah while I agree with a lot of his ideas around treatment and the way we should approach drug addiction, if he’s at all saying methamphetamine doesn’t have a great harm potential then he’s a bit wrong. But a lot of it is semantics.

      • albatross11 says:

        I always wonder about cases where you see the same drug have very different impact in different communities/social contexts. Think cocaine vs crack, or beer vs gin.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I don’t think it is really fair to consider them ‘the same drug’ if they exist in preparations that affect the user in significantly different ways. I understand that snorted powder cocaine’s effects are a lot slower to peak, and a lot slower to fade, than crack, which gives crack much stronger addictive potential (and that although they have become the same thing by time they cross the blood-brain barrier, crack is actually a differently shaped molecule which is capable of being vapourised for inhalation, unlike powder cocaine which would just burn at that sort of temperature). Coca tea or chewed coca leaves are very different again in their effects even though they are bracketed as the same drug.

          To a lesser extent, that would also apply to beer vs strong spirits, assuming that someone wanting maximum drunkenness now is going to choose neat gin over a weak drink that takes a bit more time to consume.

          • Cheese says:

            Exactly. You just can’t ignore route of administration, especially when it’s an inhaled substance. The spirits vs, say, regular strength beer is a really good analogy. Similarly that’s why I don’t really like Hart drawing equivalence between crystal methamphetamine which is smoked or injected and the medical form, which is ingested.

            A lot of the differing effects can be explained by social factors when you take into account the pricing differences for the same level of effect – it’s easy to understand that crack would be more attractive to those of lower wealth and socio-economic status.

      • JoeCool says:

        It is interesting to me that what is pharmacology community is wildly different than what people are taught about drugs.

        Considering what I’ve been taught in high school health class, and from what I’m told about in news reports, it appears that the scientific consensus is radical compared to what most people think.

        Certainly his policy prescription (legalize all drugs, only treat the 30 percent of drug users he believes are addicts) is radical.

        • albatross11 says:

          Where would I go to get a short layman’s understanding of what the pharmacology community widely understands or believes about various illegal drugs? (I’m not so interested in outlier opinions among experts, but rather a sense of the difference between mainstream opinion among pharmacologists vs among the general educated public, or newsroom editors, etc.

          • Cheese says:

            In all honesty for MDMA the Wiki is a good place to start.

            Where it gets difficult in terms of looking at the research papers and looking at the commonly listed adverse effects is the question – which of these are rare events (and deaths directly attributable to MDMA are indeed extremely rare) and which long term effects are going to be actually clinically noticeable in typical recreational users. For MDMA it’s pretty much verbal memory recall differences and that’s it, and even then probably only at the moderate end of the spectrum up to heavy use.

            If you want a more scientifically heavy run down, MAPS publishes a ~60 page MDMA review which is not quite at the level of research paper but basic chemistry and neuroscience understanding wouldn’t go astray: http://www.maps.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5374

            Leaving aside government agendas and the stuff Hart likes to go on about; the cliff notes regarding how the mismatch between the pharmacological community and the general community with respect to MDMA are mainly centred around some of the early studies. The scientific justification for the scheduling of MDMA was largely based on some studies which have since turned out to be a bit faulty (from outright wrong drug to just really improper routes of administration and relation to recreational use in humans). Similarly, a lot of early animal studies which showed clear neurological harms (pre ~2006ish? probably) used a scaling method (i.e. normalising a rat dose to a human dose) that we now think dramatically overestimated the adverse effects of a recreational human dose (section 6.2.1 in the MAPS review).

            I’m talking only about MDMA here because again that’s what i’m more familiar with. Along with Cannabis, LSD and Psilocybin, it represents the real mismatches between policy and actual evidence of neurological harm to users. Those others also suffered from a few early studies that weren’t done so well – which is where a lot of the popular fear comes from, and I have a lot of sympathy with the view that these were scheduled more for moral reasons than scientific ones. This is of course not to say that they all do not have well evidenced detrimental effects with long term heavy use – IMO MDMA and Cannabis both absolutely do. The kicker is that mild to moderate recreational doses probably don’t.

            Methamphetamine and Cocaine are different kettles of fish really (methamphetamine especially) in terms of neurotoxicity, in that we’re pretty sure that regular or long term recreational use does produce clinically detectable deficits as a result of their greater neurotoxic potential. However this is straying outside my area of knowledge and I don’t have many good resources for you.

            Broadly, MAPS is probably the best place to start.

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      His book High Price is really good, and I recommend it.

  37. fortaleza84 says:

    Since this is is not a CW-free thread, I wanted to take a stab at codifying the unwritten rules
    of political correctness for modern movies. I’m not saying that all movies follow all these rules, but if you break enough of them, you can expect complaints from Social Justice Warriors.

    1. There must be at least 1 non-white in a role that is prominent and sympathetic; this character must be intelligent and competent.

    2. If the movie has a “village idiot” character, the village idiot can be a woman only if the main character is a woman. Similarly, the “village idiot” can be non-white only if the main character is non-white.

    3. The female lead must be at least as intelligent and competent as the male lead. Also, she cannot be substantially more emotional than the male lead.

    4. No serious violence can happen to the female lead, e.g. she cannot get beaten half to death, lose a body part, get raped, etc. With respect to non-lead female characters, serious violence can happen to them if the point is to horrify the audience (i.e. in a horror movie) or if far more violence is inflicted on male characters.

    5. If a male character mistreats a female character (or a white character mistreats a non-white character), it must be portrayed in an unsympathetic light.

    6. If a female character mistreats a male character (or a non-white character mistreats a white character), it cannot be portrayed in a wholly unsympathetic light.

    • Fahundo says:

      If a male character mistreats a female character (or a white character mistreats a non-white character), it must be portrayed in an unsympathetic light.

      Upon reading this my first thought was “Isn’t the mistreatment of someone tautologically unsympathetic?” But after reading number 6, I guess not. Maybe my understanding of the word “mistreat” is different from yours.

      Also, how many movies have to follow these rules, or how many people have to be upset if they aren’t followed, for you to be right?

      • Notsocrazy says:

        I thought of “mistreat” as “willfully harm the other person regardless of plot justification” and “sympathetic” to mean “justified by the plot”.

        E.g. *Susy slaps James (which does harm him, although not much) but this is okay because he cheated on her and is a loser* is okay because the plot requires that we not like James. *Susy slaps James because she’s abusive and he didn’t do some trivial task properly because of plot reasons* is not okay because it is wholly unsympathetic to Susy, and we are required to like James.

      • Randy M says:

        Isn’t the mistreatment of someone tautologically unsympathetic?

        Only etymologically. It’s basically a synonym for harm in common parlance.