THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT99: Alpine 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. The rationalist community now has a community center – the former La Renaissance Cafe on 3045 Shattuck in Berkeley. There are scheduled meetings there throughout the week, or you can just drop by (it’s usually open from about 11 AM – 5 PM, and once you know the people there they can give you a key if you want to do something during other times). Sarah is currently managing this and paying for the space herself, but she can’t keep doing that forever and is looking for financial assistance. Please see their Patreon and donate if you feel so inspired. The Patreon also has a list of when the different meetups are and what kind of things go on there. If they’re able to stay afloat, I may move SSC meetups there and you won’t have to stand awkwardly in the university quad.

2. Comment of the week is nostalgebraist on the neurogenesis post, best read in combination with this new study arguing that the study I cited was wrong and there is adult human neurogenesis after all. In retrospect, I probably framed the original post incorrectly. I originally wrote of it as “here’s all of this research that claims to have nailed down subtle and specific details of adult human neurogenesis, when adult human neurogenesis doesn’t even exist”. It might have been equally interesting, and more correct, to frame it as “here’s all this research that claims to have nailed down subtle and specific details of adult human neurogenesis, when it’s still a hotly debated topic whether adult human neurogenesis even exists.” Not only would this have been more accurate, but I think it generalizes better too. The experience of reading science in these kinds of fields is rarely one where we have proof that anything is wrong, and more often one where we always have to worry that things are built on flimsy foundations that might or might not survive later research.

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716 Responses to OT99: Alpine Thread

  1. Egregious Philbin says:

    The rationalist community center is a really damn cool idea – well done, Sarah.

    (EDIT: Scott, your “this new study” link is broken.)

    Unrelated question: I’m math retarded. Could someone please recommend excellent statistics textbooks?

    Thanks in advance.

    • bulb5 says:

      Claiming you’re math retarded and asking for a statistics textbook seems a little dissonant. Are you saying you’re actually bad at quantitative work, and need a statistics textbook that breaks things down on a conceptual level? Or are you fine with numbers, you just haven’t been exposed to statistics before and need a primer?

      • Egregious Philbin says:

        More so the former; I very much believe I am below the general population’s average skillset at math, despite being a SSC regular and what that would entail cognitively…

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          I think bulb5 is confused because most statistics textbooks are going to assume some knowledge of calculus (limits, derivatives, integrals, infinite sums) on top of a working understanding of elementary algebra. Most likely, they will provide only a basic explanation of linear algebra as well, and assume that you either already are familiar with matrices, vectors, bases, norms, eigenstuff, and manipulation of those objects, or can learn them on your own elsewhere. Basic ideas like expected value and multiple regression are defined and calculated using these techniques, and you are probably not going to get very far without them.

          So, are you looking for a probability/statistics book that does not use those concepts at all? One that includes lots of explanation of the necessary math? Or something else?

          • textor says:

            > calculus (limits, derivatives, integrals, infinite sums)

            Isn’t that, like, high school level? I’m not too familiar with USA education system but such assumptions ought to be reasonable. They’re in an elementary statistics guidebook for psychologists I’ve read once.

          • Nornagest says:

            Basic calculus is taught at the high school level in the US, but only for college-bound students. Linear algebra might get a cursory treatment under the heading of Algebra II, but a rigorous course in it usually has to wait for college.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Calculus isn’t even taught to all college-bound students, and many people even escape learning it in college. It’s required for engineering degrees, but not for liberal arts or allied health.

    • johan_larson says:

      At my college we had to take two courses in stats: one in probability and another in statistical inference. We used these two texts by J.G. Kalbfleisch:

      https://www.amazon.ca/Probability-Statistical-Inference-1/dp/0387961445
      https://www.amazon.ca/Probability-Statistical-Inference/dp/0387961836

      I recommend them highly if you really want to understand how statistics works. It’s a long road, though.

    • cactus head says:

      I recommend All of Statistics, it’s on amazon and libgen. This site has errata, R code, and datasets: http://www.stat.cmu.edu/~larry/all-of-statistics/

    • markus says:

      I can recommend this book by Andrew Vickers as side reading for enhancing understanding, especially if you not find the math intuitive.

      What is a p-value Anyway? offers a fun introduction to the fundamental principles of statistics, presenting the essential concepts in thirty-four brief, enjoyable stories. Drawing on his experience as a medical researcher, Vickers blends insightful explanations and humor, with minimal math, to help readers understand and interpret the statistics they read every day.

    • aristides says:

      I’m not sure if this is what you’re asking for, but How to Lie With Statistics is a great book for a layperson to read that doesn’t have to actually do statistics, but has to interpret someone else’s statistics. If that is all you need, it’s a quick read.

    • hiblick says:

      Some entry-level texts that have been recommended to me:

      Affordable, online, high-school level intro which includes a run-up to Bayesian approaches.

      If you’re a visual learner, this isn’t comprehensive, but looks fun.

      A list of more advanced guides here, which “mercifully, don’t require high-level math, like multivariate calculus or linear algebra.”

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      From the depths of my college files have I brought forth an answer!

      D. Freedman, R. Pisani & R. Purves, Statistics (4th edition) was apparently the class textbook for my Very Basic Statistics class (it fulfilled a requirement!) It was actually a really fun class; IIRC the book covers a lot of math without requiring calculus and also covers a lot of… what I considered economics? You know, “If you do a phone survey, how does that affect the population that answers? What about using email? What about a bunch of college students? If you notice a correlation in these two things, does that imply a connection? What else should you be watching out for?” Etc. If you’re looking for How To Understand All The Statistical Tools Everyone Is Using it probably isn’t your textbook – the class didn’t cover anything very advanced, so I assume the textbook didn’t – but if you’re looking for a very basic introduction I thought it was very fun. Not sure from your comment which you’re looking for – either way good luck!

    • Enkidum says:

      This wasn’t the statistics textbook I used in my first courses, but it quite literally changed my life. Once I could see that all the main concepts used in intro stats reduced to geometric concepts, it became much easier for me to visualize what the hell I was doing with my data.

      That being said, it is technically a multivariate stats textbook, which is considered an advanced stats class. However the first few chapters are a review of very basic concepts from a geometric perspective.

      I got excited enough by this discovery that I bought what I think is the only other textbook treatment of geometric stats, which I was annoyed enough by that I gave up reading it after like two chapters. (It has one figure which is possibly the worst I have ever seen in a math text, one day I’ll write about it because it still makes me twitch five years later.)

      I don’t understand why the geometric interpretation isn’t more commonly taught alongside formulas to memorize. Apparently it doesn’t generalize well to non-normal data, but neither do any of the other inferential methods that you get taught in an intro class, so who cares? For me it was just the ability to think about what statistical manipulations of data do to it – but maybe I have a high tolerance for reducing multi-dimensional spaces to 2d, which is a necessity even for non-multivariate stats (the dimensionality of the spaces in question is the number of samples taken, NOT the number of variables of interest).

  2. johan_larson says:

    Name the country immediately …

    1. … south of Canada
    2. … north of Bolivia
    3. … west of Uruguay
    4. … east of Haiti
    5. … south of Belarus
    6. … west of Botswana
    7. … south of Egypt
    8. … north of Uzbekistan
    9. … west of Papua New Guinea
    10. … east of Cambodia

    • johan_larson says:

      The answers:

      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Oenmvy
      3. Netragvan
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Anzvovn
      7. Fhqna
      8. Xnmnxufgna
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

      My score on this quiz may have been 7/10.

      • holmesisback says:

        Im sorry I have to ask this – maybe this is just something on my computer or I’m completely missing something here- Does anyone else see these answers (and on similar comments) only as completely random letters of gibberish? If so why are people writing in this language?

        • Evan Þ says:

          It’s rot13: each letter is replaced by the letter 13 letters forward in the alphabet. It was developed back on Usenet to hide spoilers from people skimming over posts. Nowadays, there’re automated decoders/encoders such as http://rot13.com/.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Scott should put this on the front page because I used to be so confused by it and it gets asked about often.

        • rlms says:

          It’s rot13, used to hide spoilers. Use rot13.com to translate if you haven’t spent enough time here to translate at sight (joke, probably).

        • Nornagest says:

          Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

      • jg29a says:

        LOL, reading rot13 is ridiculously easy for me with the assistance of word length like this. Even if they were randomized cryptogram letters, they would probably combine with my reasonable guesses to reveal the answer at a glance.

    • S_J says:

      Half of these are guesses, the first country in that region of the world I thought of.

      The other half (1,4,7,10), I’m pretty sure on.

      (In Rot13):
      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Rphnqbe
      3. Cnenthnl
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Xraln
      7. Rguvbcvn
      8. Gnwvxvfgna
      9. Arj Mrnynaq
      10. Ivrganz

      Edited to add: I was very sure about 7, but it turns out that the nation I thought of (while south of Egypt), is not adjacent to Egypt.
      Number 5 was a guess-of-nearby-country, but it turns out that it was correct.

    • fion says:

      1 hfn
      2 pbybzovn?
      3 netragvan
      4 qbzvavpna erchoyvp
      5 ebznavn?
      6 anzvovn?
      7 fhqna
      8 xnmnxufgna?
      9 vaqbarfvn
      10 ivrganz

      EDIT: 8/10. The two I got wrong are the two I was least sure about. I’ll take it.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      9/10. Bolivia tripped me up.

      Gubhtug vg jnf jurer Fgngr bs Nznmbanf vf.

    • John Schilling says:

      8/10. Put Bolivia on the wrong triple border, south of Columbia, and forgot that the country west of Botswana was now fully independent.

    • Iain says:

      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Pbybzovn
      3. Oenmvy
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Ebznavn
      6. Anzvovn
      7. Fhqna
      8. Ghexzravfgna
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

      6/10. Zbfg hcfrg nobhg zvffvat Xnmnxufgna; V erzrzorerq gung Xnmnxufgna/Xletlmfgna/Gnwvxvfgna/Ghexzravfgna/Hmorxvfgna nyy tb nebhaq va nycunorgvp beqre, ohg abg gurve eryngvir ybpngvbaf.

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Finally, one I can do pretty well on! 9/10, forgot where Botswana was. (Knew those Mnemosyne cards would come in handy someday…)

    • The Nybbler says:

      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Cnanzn
      3. Cnenthnl (BX, gung’f whfg serr-nffbpvngvba)
      4. Gur Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp (ubcr vg’f abg jrfg)
      5.
      Ehffvn (Gur pbeerpg nafjre jbhyq unir orra zl frpbaq thrff)
      6. Xraln
      7. Rguvbcvn
      8. Gnmwvxvfgna (lrf, V thrffrq n enaqbz -fgna)
      9. Sbe fbzr ernfba V jnag gb fnl “Xenxngbn”, ohg V’yy fnl Vaqbarfvn. Tbbq guvat, gbb.
      10. Ivrganz

      4/10, I’m quite bad at geography.

    • Evan Þ says:

      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Oenmvy
      3. Netragvan
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Anzvovn
      7. Fhqna
      8. Ghexzravfgna? bbcf; V tbg gurz zvkrq hc. Xnmnxufgna.
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

      • quaelegit says:

        I made exactly the same mistake as you. The ‘stans are really easy to mix up, especially the ones like Uzbekistan that are in the middle and kind of interwoven.

    • Wrong Species says:

      My knowledge of countries in the world has finally come in handy.

      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Oenmvy
      3. Netragvan
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Anzvovn
      7. Fhqna
      8. Xnmnxufgna
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

      10/10

      If anyone is interested in this kind of thing, there’s this quiz “Countries of the World” that you can do online.

      https://www.sporcle.com/games/g/world?playlist=Matt%2Fcountries-of-the-world

      • Anthony says:

        I got 10/10 rather rapidly, but I had to check myself on #2, which my first thought was Creh. Then I remembered that those mountains don’t run quite north-south, and Bolivia isn’t all mountain.

        The ‘stan question was the easiest of the possible questions in that region.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      1. HFN! HFN!
      2. Oenmvy?
      3. Netragvan? Gur obeqref qbja gurer zvtug znxr zr jebat ba gurfr gjb ohg V’z cerggl fher.
      4. gur Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Guvf bar vf gevpxl. Mvzonojr? Natbyn? Fbhgu Nsevpn?
      7. Fhqna
      8. Ruuuuu Xnmnxufgna? V pna’g xrrc nyy gubfr xabggl obeqref fgenvtug.
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

      EDIT:
      Url, V jnf evtug nobhg 8! Bs pbhefr, V jbhyq unir thrffrq gur fnzr nafjre sbe nyy gur ‘fgnaf rkprcg Cnxvfgna be Xnmnxufgna, fb V whfg tbg yhpxl gurer.

    • christhenottopher says:

      1. Havgrq Fgngrf
      2. Oenmvy
      3. Netragvan
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Anzvovn
      7. Fhqna
      8. Xnmnxufgna
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

    • Clocknight says:

      8/10. Not a good score considering my room’s wallpaper is a world map.

    • 1. HFN
      2. Oenmvy
      3. Netragvan
      4. Qbzvavpna Erchoyvp
      5. Hxenvar
      6. Anzvovn
      7. Fhqna
      8. Xnmnxufgna
      9. Vaqbarfvn
      10. Ivrganz

      Easy for me. I’d probably struggle a bit with countries from central America/west Africa/the Pacific, but otherwise I have a mental image of a world map in my head at high enough resolution that I can answer these questions just by checking the image.

  3. Levantine says:

    Eric Weinstein: “The only thing I’m worried about, and I don’t know how to get around this:” the widespread shortage of constructive conversations:
    (https://youtu.be/MmXq97do-tQ?t=2970)

    The guy across, Bret W., says it’s due to reaching premature conclusions and holding onto them.

    That, in turn, might in part be a psychological compensation for the stress of everyday uncertainties. It might be due to lack of orientation in circumstances for which we’re evolutionarily ill-equipped to deal with.

    Maybe you have some other thoughts about why is there what I called a shortage of productive conversations, and how to relate to it.

    • Well... says:

      Is this shortage getting worse?

      • mrthorntonblog says:

        Is not the very notion of “productive conversations” depedent on which party considers said conversations to be productive (useful towards nearing some goal). There are differing thoughts on what might count as the universally agreed upon meaning of productive (if such a meaning is even possible to define). “Productive” might need clarification in this instance.

    • AG says:

      I’d like to think I have lots of constructive conversations (Constructive for me, anyways. Dunno about if the other party got anything out of it). The key is to go in with constructive intent and be willing to concede things in order to continue being constructive.

      More often, people go into conversations like it’s a competitive debate round: not to convince or collaborate with the other, but to convince a third party judge of the premise/conclusion they walk in with.

      It can be really fun to do the debate-type conversation, to play with rhetorical tactics, which is why a lot of people default to it. But constructive has to have both parties on the same page of what the good outcome is, and working towards it.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        One version of “constructive” is “trying to understand what the other person actually believes and why” as a fact finding mission, not in order to defeat them in debate.

        • AG says:

          Even in that version, the other party has to be willing to reveal that information. If they’re trying to obfuscate their own beliefs, the conversation is unlikely to be constructive, even if the fact finder is as good-faith as possible.

          What happens more frequently is that the fact finder thinks takes the other persons’ statements as the literal truth of their beliefs way too easily, especially in cases where the other party is likely to double down if confronted on what they said for symbolic reasons. Because both parties have strongly misconstrued what the other is trying to do, they end up with the least constructive outcome.

          So one of the key things is often to establish an expectation of privacy about the conversation, an assurance that things won’t go viral or badly excerpted, that people can ramble through their thoughts and be forgiven for wording things badly at some point, allowed to revise as they refine their own beliefs during the process of the conversation. (This is more than just charity, as one person offering charity in a public conversation doesn’t force everyone else witnessing the interaction to, and so the dangers remain.)

  4. rhobarII says:

    Hi Scott, it’s a pleasure to see my hometown Lauterbrunnen on SSC. Long shot, but if the photo signals that you’re in Switzerland, how about an SSC meet-up with your readers in Zurich? We’re happy to provide accommodation for you here.

    • vaniver says:

      Alpine is a pun on “open.”

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, I’ve always thought that the imagery of Switzerland on postcards and in movies is semi-fictional, until I actually visited the country. Turns out I was wrong. The whole place looks exactly like the postcards. I’m not sure how they did it, but they must have found a way to Photoshop reality.

      • Randy M says:

        Agree. I haven’t traveled extensively, but Switzerland’s countryside was phenomenal. We looked down from the mountains near Pontresina at tiny villages nestled next to lakes in alpine valleys–I’d highly recommend it.

      • bean says:

        Another place like that is Crater Lake. I was having trouble believing that anything could be that blue until I got there.

    • Glenn says:

      Ooh, I’ve been to Lauterbrunnen! My mother and I went there on vacation after I graduated college before starting work, as part of a short tour of Switzerland. We stayed I think two nights in a hotel in town, which also provided our meals. I am used to a much more impersonal vacation experience and, I hope this word doesn’t offend, I found it kind of quaint. 🙂

  5. MawBTS says:

    Once we have proven the existence of neurogenesis, we can start work on neuroexodus.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      … which I presume is the process of uploading our consciousnesses into the promised land of computers?
      Well played.

    • John Schilling says:

      Please don’t. I’ve an ugly suspicion that neuroleviticus is a training manual for Literal Thought Police.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      There are some case reports of gunshot-induced neuroexodus, but stringent ERB standards have stymied most attempts at a rigorous clinical trial.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      My guess is everyone will get bored and skip to NeuroRevelations.

    • jg29a says:

      If you haven’t heard of alcoholic beverages, I’d be happy to introduce you.

  6. OptimalSolver says:

    What’s an interesting algorithm few people know about?

    I’m especially interested in little-known optimization and search algorithms.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Most people probably already know about it, but I’ve only discovered DBSCAN relatively recently. While it is not nearly as robust as most other clustering algorithms, it’s quite simple and very fast (seeing as it’s basically a flood-fill), which means that you can run it in interactive time (depending on your dataset, of course).

    • Brad says:

      Although articles about it get posted in the usual places with a fair frequency, for some reason hyperloglog still seems to be pretty rarely known.

    • peterispaikens says:

      Dynamic time warping was an interesting one, e.g. https://izbicki.me/blog/converting-images-into-time-series-for-data-mining.html for an example.

    • Incurian says:

      The algorithms in this book are well known (I watched an intro to CS course which covered many of them), but Algorithms to Live By is really great. If you’re already well versed on the subject you still get to read about the history of the problems they were trying to solve and the early attempts at solving them, and there are some really neat recommendations for applying the algorithms to everyday life in ways you might not have considered. If you’re not already familiar with the algorithms, then you get all that plus some basic familiarity. I found it was pretty thorough without being overly technical or mathy.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Not sure how well known it is, but the Risch algorithm tells you if a function which can be written as a composition of exponential, log, radical, and trig functions (along with arithmetic) has an indefinite integral which can be written in terms of such functions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risch_algorithm

      Learning this existed was rather mind-blowing, as the way calculus is conventionally taught, derivatives are computed very algorithmically but integrals are not.

      • quanta413 says:

        Mind blown. I feel like this should have warranted a mention in one of the math classes I took at least, but I recall nothing.

        I always assumed that integration by computer was almost pure heuristics.

        • Iain says:

          I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure that the standard computer approach is to find a very good approximation, instead of the symbolic approach that we teach in school. Wikipedia has details.

          • quanta413 says:

            That’s true. I was only thinking of symbolic computer solvers. Numerical integration is definitely more common for computer work in the fields I’ve worked in.

    • SamChevre says:

      Elementary, as in I learned them in elementary school, but maybe not as well known as they could be–the multiple tests.

      All conditions necessary and sufficient.
      Multiples of 2 end in a digit divisible by 2 (0,2,4,6,8)
      Multiples of 3 have a digit sum divisible by 3.
      Multiples of 4 end with either (odd digit & {2,6} OR even digit & {0,4,8})
      Multiples of 5 end in 5 or 0.
      Multiples of 6 are multiples of both 2 and 3.
      Multiples of 9 have a digit sum divisible by 9.

      • rlms says:

        There are rules like this for a lot of numbers here. The cool one you missed out is that multiples of 11 have an alternating digit sum divisible by 11. For completeness, you can also add in one of the complicated rules for 7 (alternating sum of blocks of three digits starting from the right must be divisible by 7 is my favourite) and one of the rules for 8 to get the complete set from 2 to 10.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Whenever I’ve introduced skip lists to people, they have been delighted.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        A friend explained these to me in like 10 seconds one day. It’s one of those elegant ideas that makes you feel stupid for not thinking of it yourself.

  7. FMD4CP says:

    Regarding adult neurogenesis, please see my account of cerebral palsy suddenly improving dramatically after a five-day fasting mimicking diet. If you look at the papers on the fasting-mimicking diet, you’ll see that it produces neurogenesis in a rodent hippocampus.

    Speculatively, it could be that fasting or ketosis or something was unavoidable, so that’s how humans did their neurogenesis. A bit like vitamin C. Speculatively.

    • onyomi says:

      Anecdotally, I find (water-only) fasting to be very good for my mental health. I haven’t seriously tried a ketogenic diet recently; my last memory was finding it even harder than just water-only fasting because eating nothing is easier for me than eating a small amount of something but not really feeling satisfied.

      I guess the diet Longo recommends is high-fat (given that he describes at as “low protein, low carb”)? What did you actually eat while on it?

  8. bean says:

    Naval Gazing has begun a look at anti-submarine warfare in WWII with the forces involved.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d like to signal-boost your link to history’s only true submarine battle, and possibly the most badass piece of applied mathematics ever. Using only directional hydrophones, dead reckoning, and the pencil-and-paper math skills of Lt. Jimmy Launders, HMS Venturer turned a series of bearing-only indications and some educated guesses into a firing solution good enough to hit a target maneuvering in three dimensions with straight-running torpedoes fired from over two miles away.

      AFAIK, nobody else ever even attempted such a thing, at least not with the confidence to actually take the shot.

      • gbdub says:

        An impressive action, to be sure, but does “two subs at periscope depth” really count as a “true submarine battle”? While both boats were submerged, they weren’t actually “maneuvering in 3 dimensions” (particularly the U-boat, which was operating with a snorkel and couldn’t submerge quickly).

        • bean says:

          I think it counts. They couldn’t be sure how deep the U-boat was, particularly as I’m not sure how much the British knew about the snorkel. The target was about 30 ft high (my estimate), and Launders couldn’t be certain how deeply it was submerged. I’m not even sure if he knew the class, actually. Yes, it’s a bit less impressive than hitting the submarine at an arbitrary depth, but periscope depth isn’t a fixed value.

        • John Schilling says:

          While both boats were submerged, they weren’t actually “maneuvering in 3 dimensions” (particularly the U-boat, which was operating with a snorkel and couldn’t submerge quickly).

          The torpedo that actually hit was one of the ones aimed on the (presumably correct) guess that the U-boat was running near the surface but would dive when it heard a torpedo launch. And it had been zig-zagging before that point, either as a general precaution or because they had heard Venturer and were conducting their own engagement. So, yes, maneuvering in three dimensions.

          Fortunately for Venturer, the IXD2 boats had abysmal maneuverability. But note that snorkeling necessarily has a low duty cycle; aside from the increased vulnerability, diesels running at full power will drive the boat through the water fast enough to tear the snorkel apart. So you run mostly on batteries, snorkeling intermittently to keep them near full charge.

          And there are tricks you can play, e.g. ducking below the thermocline to see if the acoustic signature gets stronger or weaker, to distinguish between a submarine running shallow or deep. But that’s rather coarse data for the precision required.

          I’m not even sure if he knew the class, actually.

          He was working off an Enigma intercept, and U-864 was on a mission only a IXD2 would have the range for, so probably so.

          • gbdub says:

            “But that’s rather coarse data for the precision required.”

            But none of that was required (and probably wasn’t used). Presumably he had some idea of what periscope depth was, and roughly how fast a German sub could submerge in an attempted evasion. Plus he was able to bracket the depth by setting his four torpedoes to run at varying depths (and since torpedoes run at settable, fixed depths, this would not have really factored into the solution).

            Depth doesn’t seem like the biggest part of the challenge – I don’t know how common it was, but that basically sounds like any other engagement of a surfaced or periscope depth sub with torpedoes.

            To me the much more impressive part, and more attributable to skill rather than luck (or at best an educated guess) was managing to work out the range and speed (hard to do with only a “periscope” that was actually a snorkel to sight off of) and the bearing (difficult given the maneuvering).

            Anyway I think when people think of a “true submarine battle” with “maneuvering in three dimensions” they think of Hunt for Red October with ships maneuvering around each other freely in all dimensions, rather than two subs basically operating at the surface with the option to crash dive as an evasive maneuver.

            Again nothing against the achievement – a hell of a shot! But I’ll hold off “first true submarine battle” for the future. WWII subs were still basically temporarily submersible torpedo boats (much less so than WWI, but much more so than Cold War vessels).

          • bean says:

            WWII subs were still basically temporarily submersible torpedo boats (much less so than WWI, but much more so than Cold War vessels).

            Actually, no. Except the Type XXI, they were fairly similar in terms of ratio of surface/submerged performance. And even then, the RN R-class was a specialist in underwater work several decades ahead of its time.

          • gbdub says:

            You’re saying “actually no” to “much less so than WWI vessels” right? (Not disagreeing at all, just making sure you weren’t referring to the second clause about Cold War subs).

          • bean says:

            Correct. If anything, the focus on surfaced operations was a little bit stronger in WWII than WWI. During both world wars, it was generally surprising how effective submarines were on the surface compared with prewar doctrine. This only changed when good surface-search radar became widespread, late in WWII. (Spoiler for Wednesday, I guess.)

      • quaelegit says:

        Wow, that is incredibly badass. Now to read bean’s post!

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Bean, how vulnerable do you think submarines are, as a general thing? Surface vessels being so much easier to find, it seems intuitive that they’d be far easier to sink. If another government had revenue a large fraction of the USA’s and wanted to contest control of the seas, would an all-submersible fleet be rational?

      • Nornagest says:

        That’s pretty much what the USSR was doing during the Cold War, as I understand it: they didn’t have the money or the naval expertise to attempt sea control in the short to medium term, so they went with a sub-heavy fleet in an attempt to make survivable weapons that could still be used for sea denial (or, in the case of their SSBs and SSBNs, to end the world).

      • bean says:

        Today? Submarines are hard to spot, but not impossible. World ASW capability has fallen substantially since about 1990, but it could come back if the threat justified it. It’s more a matter of other priorities than anything else. The US could be in serious trouble if the balloon went up tomorrow, but we should have time to rebuild.

        I don’t think an all-submarine fleet would be a good idea. Navies are inherently multipurpose entities. (This became a problem during the McNamara era, because it’s hard to quantify, and that idiot wanted everything fully quantified.) Submarines are great in a hot war against ships. They’re great at gathering information in places people would rather you not be. (This is a major role for the US submarine force. Lots of people refuse to run their fun emitters when they know you’re watching.) But they’re terrible at presence roles. You can’t park them off someone’s coast and let them know you’re watching them. You can’t really send out boarding parties. You can’t carry a helicopter to fly around and scare small boats. You can build a navy with lots of submarines, as the Soviets did, but unless you’re planning to fight WWIII in the near future, an all-submarine fleet is a bad idea.
        Hmmm….
        This gives me an idea for another series. “So you want to build a modern navy” or something of that nature. Looking a bit more at the strategic role, and how that plays into all of this. You’re very good at asking interesting questions. (Of course, given my plans, I’m not sure that this is a good thing.)

        • Vermillion says:

          Yes please to that potential series!

          • bean says:

            I’ve come up with what I think is an amusing framing. Somehow, due to a truly bizarre mixup, SSC is placed in charge of a medium-sized country. We have a chance to build it pretty much from scratch, and I am made Navy Minister (of course). I’m laying out the case for a balanced, reasonable navy, probably heavily based on British practice.
            I’m not sure I’ll actually write it this way, as I often have to see how these framings work in practice before I know if they actually work. I’d be interested in a couple of people to play “cabinet members” and ask questions on the first drafts. (Even if I don’t do amusing framing, I’d still be interested in a couple of naval/strategic novices providing comments.) Any takers?

          • aethelfrith says:

            bean,

            I work in the aerospace industry, so I have a reasonable understanding of defense procurement concerns and follow many of the defense policy/doctrine publications, though I have little naval-specific knowledge. As a big fan of your blog and occasional RGP/wargamer, I’d love to participate if you do something like this.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Bean: very happy to play any role you like here. I don’t have personal expertise on anything but maybe cyberwarfare, but I’m happy to do my best as just about anything.

          • orihara says:

            Bean: happy to help out.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’d be willing.

          • bean says:

            Right. Anyone who wants to participate should send me an email at my gmail, battleshipbean. I’ll probably send the first part of a post to everyone, then answer the best/most interesting questions in the second part. Le Maistre Chat, I’d like you to be in on this.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Thank you, bean. Email sent.

        • johan_larson says:

          Another thing you might address is what the very large US navy accomplishes. US defence spending was 3.29 % of GDP in 2016. Suppose that were, for whatever reason, dropped to 1%, the level of some of the slacker nations of NATO. What would the consequences be?

          • bean says:

            I think that will be included. I’m going to be using Britain as the general model because it’s smaller and somewhat easier to understand, but it will be a look at the missions a navy actually does.

  9. James says:

    My brother—an SSC reader and maybe-sorta-borderline rationalist, though not a commenter here—is currently in Berkeley for a couple of weeks, visiting from the UK for something to do with his maths PhD. (I forget exactly what.) I’ve drawn the paragraph above about the rationalist community centre to his attention, but is there anything else that would be good for him to do, or anyone else he might enjoy hanging out with? If any rationalists in the Berkeley area are up for hanging out with him then drop me a line at the email address on the page my username links to and I’ll put you in touch with him.

  10. Chebky says:

    Hi, My name’s Beny and I’m looking for possible futures (for me).

    I am now in the middle of an MSc degree in Chemistry, biophysics-ish research (due to finish around November). A very salient option is continuing where I am on a direct PhD track, but I’m looking for other possibilities, i.e. PhD positions worldwide or interesting jobs.

    What can I do?
    I’m a good, and pretty versatile chemist. I’ve worked for 5 years as an R&D officer, and dabbled in almost every corner of chemistry and chemical engineering, from forensic analysis to large-scale synthesis to composite materials manufacture. I’ve put significant effort into building a diverse (breadth-first) skillset. I also have a strong background in math, and also some in physics and biology.

    What do I want to do?
    Broadly, tackle interesting scietific and technological challenges within my professional scope. Preferably, projects aiming for a significant, positive humanity-wide impact. I do not limit myself in subfield (i.e. energy, biotechnology etc.) I’m completely fine with working within a team of engineers – from my experience a non-engineer with a science background can add some extra value in such a setting. I prefer labwork, but can do interesting theoretical/computational work as well.

    Anyone has any leads? There is a method to looking for PhD positions, but esoteric options in industry (ambitious startups?) in such niche fields are harder to find and are more word-of-mouth, and I hope among the readers of this blog there are some good relevant, uh, mouths. I can send my resume wherever needed.

    • AKL says:

      I’m certainly no expert in the field, but in everyday conversation I hear about a bunch of companies that sound cool (to me). I’m guessing that drug development for large pharma is probably not the most appealing track, but it seems like there are lots of pharma/biotech adjacent companies that at least claim to be focusing on “big problems” (e.g. gut microbiome therapies, industrial bioengineering, streamlined cancer screening through liquid biopsy).

      I imagine someone actually in the field would have a much better sense of which companies are actually doing interesting work and which are blowing smoke.

      Regardless, I think the most productive path to (a) exploring your options and (b) getting offers (if that’s what you want) is -not- to pass your resume around, but instead to try to set up informational meetings (virtual is fine) with people working for a few companies you think are cool. If you message random people on LinkedIn asking for help getting a job at their company, the vast majority will ignore you. If you connect saying exactly what you said in this post, most people will be willing to talk to you on the phone. The major advantage of this approach is that (a) more people will talk to you (b) you will get a more candid view of which companies people already in the industry think are coolest and (c) if any companies ARE actually looking to hire, they’ll be just as likely to recruit you as if you had come in hot with your resume.

      tl;dr
      find one company you think is cool. keep hammering linkedin requesting advice from their employees about your career hunt. in those meetings, ask which jobs/companies in the industry are actually the coolest. repeat.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Do you have any experience with membranes? There is a lot of industrial R&D on improving membranes used for ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, forward osmosis, proton exchange, gas separation, etc. I don’t know of any specific openings at the moment, but I could list some companies that are active in this area. Better water treatment or fuel cells would count as a positive impact for humanity in my books.

    • I have no specific advice, just wanted to say I think biological photovoltaics, specifically if you could make a cheap energy source people could grow themselves, seems generally awesome and like it would be a good way to achieve your positive humanity-wide effect goal.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’ve spoken to guys with masters in chemistry, including one guy who had several dozen papers and a successful startup under his belt, who have had a hard time finding work in industry because they don’t have a PhD. It sounds like it’s very hard to get work with just a master’s degree these days.

      This might be a misconception on my part and you really need to ask around among chemists who have applied for jobs recently, but you need to think very carefully before you make a decision.

      Anyway, one alternative choice might be to work with a drug discovery lab in academia. Once screens have found a lead compound, it’s always helpful to have a good combinatorial chemist on hand. Thankfully I’m in basic science now but when I rotated in a translational lab we were banging our heads against the wall because the best compound we had was barely soluble in water and injecting the mice with so much DMSO was killing them (even in the controls) faster than the cancer we were trying to treat.

  11. Walter says:

    Ooh, open thread!

    Let me plug my web serial. I write The Fifth Defiance, a post apoc superperson story.

    https://thefifthdefiance.com/2015/11/02/introduction/

    • andhishorse says:

      I read this serial, and as a fan of Worm (which I think is the most relevant credential here), I recommend it.

  12. Question for physicalists / materialists: Do you have any formal system of ethics / moral philosophy that you follow?

    Consequentialism and particularly modern variants of utilitarianism (eg. preference) are discussed as commonly supported by physicalists. I was interested in specific philosophers in this area that people endorse, and also wondering if there are any physicalists that are also virtue ethicists or deontologists or anything other formal types? Is there any specific reasoning for your supporting those perspectives?

    • Murphy says:

      Not really.

      All the formal systems have gaping holes where they produce terrible, inhumane results in the same way that all decision theory approaches have classes of scenario where they produce terrible results.

      In neat scenarios I tend to choose the consequentialist answers but I think there’s an old post by Scott talking about how people switch between ethics schools from moment to moment depending on scope and context.

      You probably want some flavor of rule utilitarian managing the state budget but a set of deontologists to interact with in everyday life.

      Is there even much correlation between materialist/non materialist views and ethics schools?

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Is there even much correlation between materialist/non materialist views and ethics schools?

        Relative to the SSC commentariat (not exactly a representative sample, to be sure), we could look at the survey data for this; I don’t recall if Scott’s taken a look at this particular question in past years.

      • Incurian says:

        In neat scenarios I tend to choose the consequentialist answers but I think there’s an old post by Scott talking about how people switch between ethics schools from moment to moment depending on scope and context.

        Possibly Contra Askell On Moral Offests, which I think is very good and important, and perhaps is partially approximated by rahien.din below.

    • Anon. says:

      Not really. If I was pressed I’d say Hobbes-style natural law.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t trust any moral or ethical conclusion I can’t support from multiple independent foundations. Virtuous things that do net good and feel right while obeying established rules, are very likely to be righteous. Three out of four, odds are still pretty good but try to understand where the mismatch is coming from. Anything less calls for extreme caution. Fortunately, the various moral systems usually do line up in practical problems not involving trolleys; people have been doing this for thousands of years, and we’re pretty good at it.

      Consequentialism alone has the same problem as Communism: the necessary math is intractably complex in any real-world application, and the decisions about which simplifying assumptions to make and where to truncate the analysis turn into license to do whatever you wanted to do anyway to whoever you really want to do things to. And it is otherwise poorly aligned with human nature. But it makes a useful pidgin for talking ethical issues with people who don’t share your values and intutions, and it can help in evaluating new rules for new situations if you don’t ask too much of it.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think the big advantage of utilitarianism is that, at least in principle, it scales to kinds of decisions where it’s hard to have a sensible moral intuition. The math may be intractible, there may be the odd repugnant conclusion lying around, but you can at least kinda-sorta get a handle on the moral situation by usable approximations[1]. By contrast, it’s really hard to see how evolution-installed and society-installed moral intuitions are going to give me much traction on deciding, say, whether we’d be better off with more lax or more strict FDA regulations, or whether it’s better to allow less strict pollution limits in poorer places.

        [1] Albeit with a lot of opportunities to palm a card in your analysis by your choice of what to count. See every cost-benefit analysis ever for examples.

      • and the decisions about which simplifying assumptions to make and where to truncate the analysis turn into license to do whatever you wanted to do anyway to whoever you really want to do things to.

        This is essentially my criticism of using externality arguments for policy decisions involving issues such as population or climate change. The set of effects, positive and negative, is sufficiently complicated and uncertain that you end up with whatever conclusion you want according to what effects you choose to look at and how you estimate them.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, it’s particularly blatant when e.g. every possible harm from climate change is included in the analysis but none of the possible benefits, and when every instance of bad weather is counted as anecdotal evidence but good weather isn’t.

          If you’re truly going into unexplored territory, you should do your best to count all the externalities you can measure and see if your plan still makes sense. That’s doable with at least some confidence. But almost nobody actually does it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sometimes that’s dishonesty, but I think a lot of time, it happens because most people find quantitative reasoning really unnatural and hard, and everyone finds it easier to reason toward wanted than unwanted conclusions. Combine those, and you get a bunch of people making errors in reasoning that just happen to always push them away from any unwanted conclusions.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right. Just like most of the Communists genuinely believed that the next five-year plan would lead to economic prosperity, and also that the spreadsheet showing that the despised kulaks and bourgeoise would have to be re-educated was an accurate and unbiased analysis.

            Whether in economics or ethics, I think I prefer systems that fail through overt dishonesty to those that nudge honest men towards the sort of decisions that would otherwise come through malice.

          • albatross11 says:

            Can you think of a place where that kind of analysis has been done well?

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling & DavidFriedman

            From my perspective, you guys are criticizing people for not arguing in a way that you yourselves believe is fundamentally flawed (estimating the positive and negative externalities and comparing them). I find it rather uncharitable to hold people to a standard that you don’t believe in yourselves.

            If:
            – we know that (positive and negative) externalities exist
            – we are very uncertain about the size/extent of the externalities
            – we more or less know how to reduce the externalities
            then using the potential extent of the negative externalities as the sole argument to take action to reduce climate change seems perfectly logical when a person has a strong asymmetric preference, where avoiding the negative outcome is favored far, far higher than achieving a positive outcome.

            To me, it seems like a generic human trait that people tend to ignore or downplay elements of an issue that they personally don’t (significantly) count in their assessment. Such a bias results in an argument that is not very persuasive to people with other preferences, but I don’t think it is fair to call it dishonest or wrong (as personal preference is subjective).

            Anyway, I have such an asymmetric preference, but I do get that you guys don’t share that and that an argument based merely on negative possible outcomes doesn’t persuade you guys. However, I don’t think that you guys really get people like me & recognize why arguments that are persuasive to you don’t resonate very much with people like me.

            @John Schilling

            when every instance of bad weather is counted as anecdotal evidence but good weather isn’t.

            Using this argument seems rather dishonest, because the real issue here is that many people have an inability to understand the difference between weather and climate. This is hardly a mistake that only some people who want strong action on climate change make.

            Blaming one side for things that both sides do is one of the more toxic elements of the culture war.

          • jg29a says:

            Indeed. Or: either counting all of the victims of firearm homicide and suicide, but none of the people saved from violent crime by defensive firearm use, or vice versa, instead of putting the two values together and subtracting.

            The most interesting aspect to me is how much of a monster one would sound if they said in essence, “I think these values are close enough that this particular legal change under debate wouldn’t make much of a difference either way. Either way, a bunch of different people are going to die and suffer, and I can’t reliably tell which is bigger, so I don’t care much which way the decision goes.”

          • John Schilling says:

            From my perspective, you guys are criticizing people for not arguing in a way that you yourselves believe is fundamentally flawed (estimating the positive and negative externalities and comparing them). I find it rather uncharitable to hold people to a standard that you don’t believe in yourselves.

            Oh, knock it off. I think I’ve been clear from the start that I consider estimating positive and negative externalities to be a technique with limited but legitimate applicability, not “fundamentally flawed”. I think I’ve also been clear that what I am criticizing is the practice of counting just the negative externalities (or sometimes just the positive ones) and saying something like “now that we’ve considered the externalities, I have high confidence in the following moral judgement…”

          • where avoiding the negative outcome is favored far, far higher than achieving a positive outcome.

            One of the serious negative outcomes some people associate with climate change is famine, due to various effects on the food supply. One of the positive outcomes, the one we can be most certain of since it depends on only the first step in the process (increasing CO2, not climate consequences), is a large increase in the yield of food crops due to CO2 fertilization. Someone who predicts the former without taking account of the latter is either ignorant or dishonest.

            Similarly, one of the negative outcomes, a pretty confident one, is loss of coastal land due to sea level rise. One of the positive outcomes, also pretty confident, is gain of land as the habitable zone expands towards the poles. Insofar as the former is a problem of land loss, as opposed to a problem of flooding specific coastal areas, the latter balances it, probably much more than balances it.

            One of the negative outcomes is increasing deaths due to hot summers. One of the positive outcomes is decreasing deaths due to milder winters. Again, someone who looks only at the former and ignores the latter is either ignorant or dishonest.

            I cannot see how your argument applies to any of those positive outcomes. Finally, one very low probability positive outcome is preventing the end of the current interglacial. By your criterion, that should get more heavily weighted than almost anything on the other side.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think that rising sea levels would also mean loss of bays. Reasonable?

          • @Nancy:

            The high end of the IPCC projection for the end of the century is about a meter of sea level rise. On average, at least for the U.S. east coast, a meter of SLR shifts the coastline in by about a hundred meters. That’s a pretty tiny change, so I don’t think you are likely to lose bays.

            There are a few places, such as the Nile delta, where a meter of SLR actually has a substantial affect, but not most places.

            One of my favorite quotes from the IPCC:

            Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.

            Talk about SLR frequently ignores how tiny it is. About eight inches so far, and the IPCC projection depends on predicting that the rate will significantly increase.

          • Indeed. Or: either counting all of the victims of firearm homicide and suicide, but none of the people saved from violent crime by defensive firearm use, or vice versa, instead of putting the two values together and subtracting.

            If guns were saving more lives than they were taking, you would see low rates of gunshot homicides, not high ones.

        • @David

          Unless you make an honest attempt to include all effects. Is literally no one doing that? And why aren’t you that person? you clearly aren’t, since you invariably accentuate the positives and downplay the negatives in your own contributions.

          Someone who predicts the former without taking account of the latter is either ignorant or dishonest.

          And vice-versa.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect it’s a common situation that by the time you’ve made an honest effort to include all the relevant costs and benefits of a change, your error bars are wide enough that you can’t reliably determine the sign of the answer.

          • So basically, no one can figure anything out?

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t think that’s always true, but I think it’s often the case, especially when you’re dealing with stuff where the costs and benefits are very hard to estimate. The error bars on a Fermi estimate get really big really fast.

          • since you invariably accentuate the positives and downplay the negatives in your own contributions.

            I have been arguing for many years that the effects are too uncertain for me to sign the sum. If I were doing what you claim, I should be able to sign it as positive.

            Beyond that obvious point, you would have to describe positives that I have overstated or negatives that I have understated in order to make your claim more than bare assertion. Feel free to do so.

          • Controls Freak says:

            So basically, no one can figure anything out?

            No. It depends pretty massively on how well you can constrain your problem, isolating components with explanatory power and cabining your conclusions so as to remove sources of noise (or processes described by unobservables in your model, which often get cast as noise). Cabining your conclusions is particularly important to what I think albatross11 is getting at. We can predict about how much fuel an aircraft is going to use over the course of its flight, because we have pretty good data about fuel consumption over a wide variety of flight conditions, plus we have a pretty good model of expected pilot behavior. Your error bounds on this might still be pretty wide, though, if major wind patterns are an unobservable in your model.

            If we want a far broader conclusion, say, how much economic value a particular commercial flight brings to society, we’re going to be in a load of trouble. Suddenly, we have to model all the individual passengers, the pilot, the airline, etc. As the list of important variables with explanatory power for our conclusion grows, it’s likely that our confidence intervals are going to go sideways as we choose to leave some as unobservables or accept component models with their own wide error bars. (We are more likely to succeed in this example by considering some “average value”, bringing in economics assumptions and lots of actors.)

            I think implicit in albatross11’s comment was this sense of scale, and that’s confirmed by the later invocation of Fermi estimates (manifesting as component models with their own wide error bars). I’m not against Fermi estimates in general, but we need to be somewhat careful about potential sources of error and their relative magnitudes (especially WRT to the magnitude of the estimated effect). Bringing us back to the object issue, this is why I’m on board with folks who admit that we can’t know the economic costs of climate change (not even the sign) over the next 50-100 years. Our overall models are subject to too much uncertainty in the economic component model to be anything but stupidly noisy with unacceptably large error bounds. None of this implies that I can’t also have decent enough error bounds for fuel usage on my flight to Chicago.

    • rahien.din says:

      I’m basically a physicalist. I think the deontology-utilitarianism divide is entirely artificial. It is impossible to be exclusively one or the other.

      Utilitarianism is just “find the right means to produce the maximum benefit.” But that procedure has no vitality unless you can identify or define “benefit.” For that, you need deontology. Utilitarianism-without-deontology looks like “I do the thing even though I don’t know why I do it.” Every time a person takes an ethical action, they have referred to deontology.

      Deontology is just “what do I think/feel/perceive is beneficial?” But that explication of preferences must be operationalized with rigor and with proper expectations. For that, you need utilitarianism. Deontology-without-utilitarianism looks like “I do the thing even though I don’t know if it works.” Every time a person takes an ethical action, they have practiced utilitarianism.

      • I think you are wrong in both directions. Utilitarianism has at least a fuzzy definition of what the benefit is—human happiness or something close to it. Deontology isn’t just giving you a list of benefits with weights to add up, it’s ruling that certain actions are bad in themselves, whether or not they produce what you might otherwise see as good results.

        • rahien.din says:

          Utilitarianism has at least a fuzzy definition of what the benefit is—human happiness or something close to it

          I entirely disagree. Human happiness is an important subcategory of human benefit. Huxley’s Brave New World describes a lot of very happy people, for instance. Hostages with Stockholm syndrome are at least a bit happier than hostages without it. Happiness is important but it isn’t necessarily the only important thing.

          Moreover, to the degree that we ethically valuate human happiness, that is a deontological valuation.

          What you have noticed is not that utilitarianism contains a definition of benefit independent of deontology. What you have noticed is the interface between utilitarianism and deontology.

          certain actions are bad in themselves, whether or not they produce what you might otherwise see as good results

          This is true, and the truth thereof is compatible with my framework.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I think you’re fundamentally misunderstanding what utilitarianism is. If I’m a utilitarian, there are really only two responses to Brave New World: either I say it isn’t nearly as dystopian as made out to be or that the people aren’t as happy compared to a different possible world. The people don’t really seem that happy about the world, we know the protagonist isn’t. But if you’re saying that they’re happy but it’s still bad because of other reasons, like inequality, then you’re not a utilitarian.

          • rahien.din says:

            if you’re saying that they’re happy but it’s still bad because of other reasons, like inequality, then you’re not a utilitarian.

            I don’t see what the problem is here. If things such as inequality result in sub-maximal human benefit, a utilitarian would resist those things.

            I feel like I am being asked to defend inappropriately-narrow definitions.

            Is a utilitarian also permitted to value health, which at times is opposed to mere happiness? If vaccinations cause the child of a utilitarian to experience pain and terror, would they withhold vaccinations because that would make the child less happy? If a child does not want to eat vegetables, does the utilitarian say we may thus only ethically feed them cupcakes?

            I may be misunderstanding you and if so please clarify.

          • Wrong Species says:

            You’re definitely misunderstanding utilitarianism. Classical Utilitiarianism values total happiness and focuses on four things that affect it: intensity of the pleasure/pain, duration, extent(how many people it affects), and probability it happens. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume perfect information and disregard probability. And to simplify it further, let’s only look at the happiness of the child. We’re left with intensity and duration. If we feed a child one cupcake, their happiness will go up, so that seems to further utilitarianism. However, if you only fed them cupcakes, their health will take a hit. A sick kid is an unhappy kid. The pain from their sickness is much more intense than whatever pleasure they get from eating the cupcake. So utilitarians don’t advocate that we just go chasing highs every second. They advocate whatever makes us happiest in the long run.

            There are different versions of utilitarianism to be sure but they all work very similarly to this outlook. Most people who are utilitarians do so on the basis of either the concept of happiness or preferences as a thing to be maximized and pain as something to be minimized.

          • rlms says:

            @Wrong Species
            I don’t think utilitarianism necessarily defines happiness as narrowly as you say it does. Mill’s Utilitarianism (the book) distinguishes qualitatively between “high” and “low” pleasures, and it’s difficult to think of a more central statement of utilitarianism than that.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Rlms

            By classical utilitarianism, I meant Bentham’s version but you’re right that it can refer to both. However, for the sake of this discussion, it’s irrelevant as both agree with value reducing down to happiness. Mill would just say that eating the cupcakes is a lower pleasure than that which could be obtained if the kid wasn’t sick. Of course, I think Mill’s view of happiness is incoherent, but that’s a whole other discussion.

          • rlms says:

            @Wrong Species
            I agree with your response to rahien.din’s question about the hypothetical child and your previous statement that utilitarianisms can’t take into things like inequality. But I disagree that the only (classical) utilitarian response to Brave New World is rejecting the premise. I think that one could (and Mill would) say that although the citizens of the Brave New World are fulfilled in terms of lower pleasures, they are unfulfilled in terms of higher pleasures. I don’t think this is the same as saying that the people aren’t as happy as they could be — if you gave them the choice of giving up their lower pleasures for higher ones they would reject it.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @rlms

            That gets to the heart of my objection to Mill’s Qualitative Hedonism, which from what I’ve read is fairly common. Either Mill is promoting a theory that is wrong about the psychology of people or he’s promoting a theory that is pluralistic about value and at best, partially hedonistic.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I agree with David Friedman. Deontology, at least the kind advocated by Kant, doesn’t care what you personally think about morality. He thinks that there are certain rules that are fully rational and going against them is going rationality itself.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I have recently been learning about W.D. Ross’ Moral Pluralism and it maps really well to what I think of ethics. Basically he says that there are multiple values that can’t be reduced down to one another. Each of these values entails a prima facie duty. For example, we might have a duty to follow our promises. However, these can easily be overriden by other considerations. I might have promised a friend to help him if he’s in trouble but not if he asks me to help him murder someone he doesn’t like. How do you decide what to do when these values conflict? You have to deliberate based on your intuitions because morality is too complex to have an algorithim sort it out for you. Going against your intuitions is how you get things like utility monsters. One problem is when you scale up and you do need some kind of rule to decide things on and like someone else mentioned, I think some kind of utilitarianism would be necessary. But for individuals going about their lives, Moral Pluralism is the best way to go. It’s not perfect but it’s the best ethical theory, IMO, that coheres with how people think and do ethics.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I don’t think there is any special connection between physicalism and any of the major moral views (except for things like physicalism + divine command theory). Most philosophers are physicalists, but no particular moral theory is dominant, and you’ll find physicalist philosophers with views across the spectrum. There are some patterns, like that physicalists tend to be utilitarians more likely than average, but I think the reasons are mostly aesthetic, historical, or otherwise incidental (deontological views are associated with Kant, Kant is seen as spooky by physicalists for reasons distinct from deontology, so physicalists don’t end up being deontologists. Or, physicalists are less likely to be religious, and religious people are more likely to be deontologists. Or physicalists are more likely to really like numbers, and utilitarianism appeals to people who like numbers)

      There are some (in my view, not very good) reasons one might think that physicalism “goes with” one view over others. If you’re an incompatibilist about free will, for example, and a physicalist, views that make a lot of hay over desert will seem unattractive. But incompatibilism is (rightfully, I think) a minority view.

      There are also (in my view, stronger) reasons to connect physicalism with views about metaethics.

      • Thanks that’s a sensible answer. It would be interesting to know how much is incidental such as how you describe, but I guess picking that apart would be near impossible in practice.

    • tayfie says:

      “Consequentialism and particularly modern variants of utilitarianism are discussed as commonly supported by physicalists”.

      I’m surprised more people here haven’t brought up Philpapers, a series of surveys about what philosophers believe about philosophy and an excellent website for checking things like correlation between beliefs.

      https://philpapers.org/surveys/linear_most_with.pl?A=main:Mind:physicalism

      Correlation with consequentialism is .252. For reference, highest correlation is (unsurprisingly) naturalism at .486

      • Protagoras says:

        The survey was a while ago (around 10 years?) It was discussed on a number of blogs I read in the time shortly after it came out; I think it hasn’t been brought up a huge amount around here due to tending toward being old news already by the time this blog started. But it does seem relevant to this question, to be sure.

      • Thanks that’s a really good suggestion. The relatively modest correlations with ethical groupings really surprises me. I would have thought a significant majority of ethical systems would have non-physical (not necessarily supernatural) components, but even if that’s true I guess that’s unreasonably discounting specific physicalist constructions of deontology and virtue ethics.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Very few moral theories have clearly non-physical components. Whether you’re a utilitarian who thinks we ought to maximize pleasure or someone who thinks we ought to avoid killing or lying at all costs, or someone who thinks we ought not express cowardice or cruelty, there are physically respectable accounts of all those things (at least to the extent that physicalism is plausible at all).

          Now, there are also metaethical positions that commit to moral properties (like rightness or wrongness or goodness or badness) being non-physical. But these metaethical positions are basically orthogonal to the question of which moral theory one accepts. One can be a non-naturalist utilitarian, or a naturalist one, etc.

  13. proyas says:

    A serious analysis of the technology seen in the 1998 Starship Troopers film:
    https://www.militantfuturist.com/review-starship-troopers/

  14. proyas says:

    Does anyone know of any scientific research about inbreeding risks between family members who share 1/16 of their DNA, such as first cousins, once removed?

    I’ve only been able to find data for marriages between family members who share 1/8 of their DNA, and it indicates that the added risk of genetic defects in offspring is small. Geneticists don’t seem to have devoted any effort into examining the effects of intermarriage between family members who are any less related than that. Does that mean offspring produced by family members who share 1/16 of their DNA are no likelier to have genetic problems than offspring produced by totally unrelated people?

    • Jon S says:

      I don’t have any actual knowledge related to this, but my guess would be that the genetic-problem-rate for the 1/16th shared pairings would be 25% of the genetic-problem-rate for the 1/8th shared pairings. I can think of plausible stories for why the rate of problems could vary in either direction though (e.g. if the compound effect of several small problems is non-linear, or if a significant percentage of the most problematic embryos in the 1/8th case are too non-viable to develop).

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, it is linear, not quadratic. The rate of defects for 1/16 relatives is 1/2 of the rate for 1/8 relatives. (And everything is linear, so the suppression of quantitative traits is 1/2 as much for 1/16 relatives as for 1/8 relatives.)

        If the parents share x% of their genes, then for each variant in that stretch there is some rate of the shared ancestor having a bad recessive and a 1/4 chance that the child is homozygous. The only thing quadratic is the number 1/4, but that is per-gene. It is added up over the x%.

    • Murphy says:

      1/16 is on the border. Once you get down to 1/32 or 1/64 it falls into the background.

      Probably not good to do every generation for centuries but the risk from sharing 6.5% of common variants with someone isn’t that terrible.

      https://i.pinimg.com/originals/4b/c0/51/4bc051e63f40e68d1f970a6d3fd613f0.png

      because even if people restrict themselves, in most long term communities people are linked multiple lines of decent. (ok technically everyone is if you go far enough)

      When we’ve got spreadsheets of subjects it’s not unusual to simply cut off everything below about 10%.

      6.5% can just imply you’re both from the same slightly-historically-isolated town even without any known family tree connections.

      Expect a slight uptick in risk of genetic health problems above the population background but it’s not extreme.

      here’s some research.

      http://jmg.bmj.com/content/early/2018/01/21/jmedgenet-2017-104974

      If you’re both from a population that’s already got pretty high consanguinity keep in mind that the 6.5% is on top of that.

      So ,for example, if you were both Irish (2%) it would put your offspring close to the average 8% consanguinity of the Irish traveler population. (ish)

      http://jmg.bmj.com/content/jmedgenet/early/2018/01/21/jmedgenet-2017-104974/F1.large.jpg

      • Thinking about the case of traditional Arabic society, where first cousin marriages are favored, I’ve wondered if there isn’t a benefit as well as a cost. Inbreeding tends to combine lethal recessives, which filters them out. So I would expect the frequency of lethal recessives to be lower in a more inbred population, although for a given frequency adverse results through someone carrying the pair would be higher.

        Am I missing something? Does anyone know of there are studies of Arabic populations that would show that?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The word is purging. It is generally considered not worth the cost in animals, but many plants frequently mate with themselves. Breeders do it (usually closer than cousins), but they concentrate the costs in a few coddled individuals in the breeding population and amortize the benefits over a large population that descends from them.

          Razib quote this:

          Despite millennia of elevated rates of consanguinity in the [Greater Middle East], we detected no evidence for purging of recessive alleles.

    • James C says:

      Not medical advice, but my understanding is that for distant relatives it only really becomes a danger if the whole family line is interbred. A single instance would have elevated risk for a lot of things but you wouldn’t end up at the Charles II level for generations.

    • gwern says:

      At 1/16th, you’re approaching general-population-relatedness levels (~6% vs ~2%, which I usually see quoted for ethnically homogeneous groups) and it’ll be pushed up and down substantially by randomness in descent. At that point, you might have to look less at the inbreeding depression literature and more at the autozygosity literature – recently, for example, “Relationships between estimated autozygosity and complex traits in the UK Biobank” https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/03/29/291872 , Johnson et al 2018. It’s probably not going to be a big deal (unless there’s a history of inbreeding/endogamy and the relatedness is actually a lot higher than one would estimate).

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There is more risk than just acute “genetic defects.” For example, the children of first cousins seem to have reduced IQ by 5 points, so the children of 1/8 relatives is 2.5 points. There are probably lots of effects all over the phenotype that aren’t studied.

    • Anonymous says:

      As long as it’s a rarity, the risks are small. If the culture marries cousins regularly, then you have a problem.

    • proyas says:

      Thanks guys. I appreciate the answers so far.

    • Anthony says:

      I saw somewhere that the average genetic distance between Icelanders is about 3rd to 4th cousin, and pretty much everyone who isn’t a recent immigrant there is no further than 7th cousin. They don’t appear to have a significant inbreeding problem.

  15. RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

    Why don’t I go ahead and do this. I’d like to ask about the possibly slightly fraught issue of “gender-neutral language.” Please understand that this is a sincere effort at understanding and I hope it causes no offense. What I’d like to do here is present a very simple, first-principles take on what I think the issue is and solicit reactions, corrections, etc. I am not well read on this and very easily could be missing basic points so I apologize if that’s the case.

    My impression is that this starts with someone objecting to the use of the inclusive “he” in sentences involving a person of unspecified sex. The objection, as I vaguely understand it, would be something like a complaint that this usage is sexist and assumes that unspecified people are (or are usually) male.

    My naive reaction to this objection is that it doesn’t really make sense, because the word “he” in this context does not refer to a male person at all — it is used to refer to any person regardless of sex. The fact that the word “he” can also be used in other contexts to be specific to a male person seems irrelevant to me. Imagine someone objecting to using the word “ham” to refer to an overly emotive actor on the ground that this usage discriminates against vegetarians by associating actors with edible meat. We respond (I assume), “You’re confused! The fact that the word ‘ham’ can refer to meat in some other context does not say anything about the meaning of the word in this context, where it has nothing to do with meat.” If the word “he” is defined to MEAN a person of indeterminate sex in the relevant context — as it has always meant up through the period when gender-neutral language became a widespread issue of concern — then I similarly don’t really understand the basis of the complaint.

    Sometimes I think I’ve seen the objection that the use of the generic “he” makes women (or girls growing up) feel excluded or inferior or something similar, and that this can adversely affect their lives. Since this is an empirical claim, is there any good evidence that use of the traditional English language had any such adverse effects on women? I guess this has two parts. One question is whether the traditional usage in fact produced a reaction of feeling bad in women or girls, and the second is the empirical question whether life outcomes are in any way impacted by societal pronoun usage in this way. I’ll address these two in reverse order. The second piece strikes me as likely a very tough question to answer, but it seems like the burden ought to fall on the proponents of jettisoning our ordinary English usage. We don’t just change our basic means of communicating with one another lightly, on the basis of an unsupported and possibly unsupportable assertion. So I worry that the second question (pronoun usage impact on measurable life outcomes) may be indeterminate, although I would love to see evidence one way or the other.

    As to the first piece (whether girls or women experience negative emotional feelings at hearing a generic “he”), I guess there’s an element of self-fulfilling prophecy going on. It would not surprise me at all to learn that today — after several decades of public discussion of gender-neutral language — that lots of people of both sexes would dislike hearing the generic “he.” But two points about that. First, if indeed there was no such widespread reaction until it was produced by the very proponents demanding change of the language, it seems a little perverse to “reward” a contingent with a victory based upon a reaction that it itself produced with its own complaints. And second, if the reaction is based upon the belief that use of the generic “he” assumes a maculine sex, would it be ameliorated by someone learning that it in fact does no such thing, and is completely neutral as to the sex of the person at issue? I do not for a minute discount the reality of people feeling bad or offended about something, and I take that sort of thing seriously. But it strikes me as generally a bad idea to make grammatical changes to our language solely on the ground that a usage makes people feel bad based upon a misunderstanding, particularly if the misunderstanding can somehow be cleared up without restructuring our language. This is different from a situation where someone objects to the use of language for another reason, e.g., the use of a slur or epithet. The problem with the use of a slur or insult is that its actual meaning is derogatory. We should demand that derogatory ethnic terms not be used because their meaning includes a negative and insulting aspect. Nobody to my knowledge has contended that the actual meaning of the generic “he” included an assertion of superiority of one sex over the other or constituted a derogatory insult, but once again I could be wrong about that.)

    What part of the above is wrong, or what other grounds are there to object to the generic “he” that I may have missed?

    Part of the reason why I think this remains important despite the fact that the debate seems to have ended in favor of dropping the generic “he” is that it also bears on more current debates about pronouns (e.g., the propriety of people selecting personal sets of pronouns for themselves rather than having a language that uses a set of common rules to denote pronouns appropriate to particular groups of people). That strikes me as an issue with some similar features to the gender-neutral language debate, and it might help me get a better handle on that debate if I could get clearer on what I might be missing in the earlier dispute.

    • entobat says:

      Don’t have time to fully engage, but I highly recommend two pieces by Douglas Hofstadter (yes, that one) on this subject: “Changes In Default Words and Images…” and “A Person Paper on Purity in Language”. Both should be available here by scrolling down, or you can check out Metamagical Themas from your local library.

    • fion says:

      I appreciate your polite and careful approach. My answer will probably not be particularly informed, but I’ll take the opportunity to give my opinions.

      I think part of the issue is that men are in some ways treated as the default sex, with women being the other sex, the wives, sisters and daughters of men. I would argue that the reason we use “he” as a generic pronoun is because of this. Male is the default. You can specify female if you want. That sort of thing.

      But obviously half of us are women, and there’s no reason why male should be the default sex. As women have gained more rights, played more roles in society other than wives, the position of men as the default sex has come into question.

      I regard the language change as a consequence of this social change. Given that male isn’t the default, let’s change our generic pronoun from being identical to the male pronoun. (Also note declining use of “man” to refer to the species and increasing use of “humanity”.)

      I realise I’m not particularly justifying it or arguing in favour of it, so much as explaining why I think it’s happened. Perhaps that’s not useful to you, but perhaps it is.

      Since you mention more current debates on pronouns and such, I would like to say that I’m not sure how similar the present and past issues are. Language changing to accommodate women who make up half the population is one thing, but language changing to accommodate people of non-binary gender (for example) is another. It’s difficult to predict what will happen. I think my hope is that language will continue to change to become less and less gendered. I have a hunch that “xe”, “ze”, “thon” etc. won’t catch on in a big way, but I suspect singular “they” will become more common, and perhaps also the title “Mx”.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        Thanks, Fion. Very helpful. I’m not looking to argue with people and I just appreciate hearing general reactions like this. Much appreciated.

      • mdet says:

        Related to the argument that gender-neutral he frames men as the default, “normal” sex — I think most of us would agree that the usage of words like kleenex, xerox, bandaid, velcro, etc. to refer to generic versions of those companies products represents a huge win for the companies. Become so ubiquitous that people actually need to be reminded that other brands exists.

        I have a hunch that “xe”, “ze”, “thon” etc. won’t catch on in a big way, but I suspect singular “they” will become more common

        I find that singular-they is already ubiquitous, at least in casual conversation, so I never really understood the push for xe’s and ze’s. Seems like as good a place as any to ask — what’s the benefit of “ze” over singular-they? Is it just an attempt to satisfy the few holdouts against “they”? Or maybe the proponents of “ze” ARE the opponents of “they”? As someone who’s comfortable with “they”, do I have a reason to switch?

        • hls2003 says:

          Not really. At least some of those companies lost their trademark protection in their names for exactly that reason.

          • mdet says:

            True. But up until that point, having your product be so ubiquitous that your brand is practically part of the language sounds pretty advantageous.

          • hls2003 says:

            @mdet: The large sales volume was helpful, but the ubiquitous language usage turned out not to be. The distinction seems relevant to the analogy, since in the pronoun context, it is posited that language usage, without more, is a significant benefit.

          • Aapje says:

            @mdet

            True. But up until that point, having your product be so ubiquitous that your brand is practically part of the language sounds pretty advantageous.

            Sure, but where on that curve is ‘man?’

            What if the brand ‘man’ has become so much the default that the sacrifices and problems of men have simply become invisible?

            What if the ‘othering’ of women, combined with a progressive culture that seeks to help the ‘other,’ actually allows women to adopt part of the male gender role much more than vice versa?

          • mdet says:

            Aapje, I agree with you that strict, traditional gender roles have disadvantages and downsides for men as well as for women, that society’s dialogue has focused almost entirely on the women-side of the conversation, and the side that does touch on men’s issues is often framed in a way that explicitly or implicitly blames men ourselves.

            However, I stand by my suggestion that “maleness” as default and “normal” carries many advantages.

          • Aapje says:

            @mdet

            However, I stand by my suggestion that “maleness” as default and “normal” carries many advantages.

            I’m not denying that. I just object to the way in which this is typically only considered, rather than also recognizing the disadvantages.

            Anyway, I think we really are very close to agreement, although I may believe that it is far more important to incorporate the disadvantages in the public discussion.

        • fion says:

          what’s the benefit of “ze” over singular-they?

          I guess the obvious one is it’s unambiguously singular. I find it annoying that our third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun is the same as our third-person plural pronoun. (Although with practice it’s started to feel natural. My partner uses “they” and so does at least one close friend.) I’m not gonna fight inertia and I’m certainly not gonna fight the preferences of those close to me, but if I could choose I would rather we all used “ze” or similar.

          I find that singular-they is already ubiquitous

          Rarely for a person whose (binary) gender is known, I find. Imagine this:
          “I took my boyfriend to see Pacific Rim last week”
          “Did they enjoy it?”
          I would normally expect the second person to say “he” in this case.

          • professorgerm says:

            I would say the advantage is, as you allude to, inertia. ‘They’ is already an established word in English, and shifting its usage a bit is easier than convincing people to adopt a brand-new pronoun without any historical context. It’s more frustrating to expect vast swathes of people to learn new things than to modify what they already know.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Singular they is basically never used for specified people who don’t identify as nonbinary, but is regularly used for unspecified people whose gender is obvious from context. To use my example from earlier in the thread, “no one should whip their breasts out in public, even to feed their child” sounds natural.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t see ‘their’ as merely plural, so perhaps this is evidence of a linguistic shift?

            On the other hand, supposedly ‘their’ as singular dates back to at least the 16th century, so perhaps a (limited?) use of their/they as singular has been a part of English for a long time?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I find it annoying that our third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun is the same as our third-person plural pronoun.

            Yes. Call me when you hear somebody say

            “I heard somebody sing yesterday.”
            “Was they any good?”

          • fion says:

            @Doctor Mist

            That would be another solution, but I feel it would be just as hard as getting everybody to start using “ze” or similar.

            (I mean what you’re basically doing there is having the same word for two pronouns and for those pronouns to have two different verb conjugations. Probably improves clarity of communication, but makes the language harder to learn.)

          • I was thinking about when “it” works as a gender neutral pronoun.

            “if the child in the airplane seat next to you is fussing, do you act annoyed or try to distract it by making faces?”

            “It” seems appropriate there, “him” doesn’t, “they” might.

            “That’s a cute baby you have, how old is it?”

            Feels a bit off, perhaps because, while the gender is unknown to you, it isn’t unknown to the parent you are speaking to.

      • DavidS says:

        Another case of ‘male as default’ is that in e.g. children’s books/tv you often see both
        – Anthropomorphised animals/cars/etc where the female(s) have some distinctive thing like a flower in their hair where males have no marker
        – A group of central characters each of whom had one distinctive characteristic, where the female characters distinctive characteristic is ‘being female’s

        More generally I think your linguistic analysis assumes that the fact we use a word for ‘man’ and also for ‘person’ is just random coincidence when it surely isn’t and as if the meaning of word was completely clear – you say it ‘in fact means’ – when actually nuance and implication is more complex.

        • AG says:

          The flip side of this, equally criticized, is where male anthropmorphised characters are allowed a wide variety of unique body and/or face designs, where females are all confined to the same default design with tiny variations from each other.
          (Edit: Oops, this is basically your second bullet point.)

    • phisheep says:

      I’ll second entobat’s suggestion of “A Person Paper on Purity in Language”, which is available online here.

      Be warned, though, that coming from where you are coming from it makes for very uncomfortable reading. I read it first in about 1986 and I can say with absolute certainty it is the one thing I’ve ever read that immediately changed my own views and behaviour.

      Would love to hear your reactions after you have read it a couple of times.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        Thanks. I’d like to give this some more thought but in the interest of giving a timely response to your request, I worry that Hofstaedter (whose GEB I loved in college) may be stealing a base here. It seems that what he is doing is taking a special history of a category where the U.S. has faced a completely unique history of slavery and civil war and lynchings, etc., etc., and suggesting that this context carries over to every other context. Obviously there has been sexism in our history too but not every context is identical. The usual view is that race is sui generis in the American national experience and so we ought to be extremely cautious about using that as a template for broader generalizations. So I worry that Hofstafter’s move — which is further attenuated by the fact that he presents no explicit argument and instead relies only on the vague form of a satire — isn’t really a fair way to approach this question. Again — racism is horrible. Indeed, my response here rests on the fact that it is in some ways uniquely horrible in the American experience. And sexism is horrible too. My point here is in no way to demean women or to suggest that they are in any way inferior to men.

        P.S. I haven’t looked at the other Hofstaedter essay ye but I plan to do so.

        • phisheep says:

          Of course they’re not identical, and that’s not really what Hofstadter was going after. I’m not ragging on you here, as this was pretty well my first reaction when I read it too, until I read a couple more times and wrapped my head around some context.

          Maybe worth remembering that this was written in the 1980s and the world has moved on quite a bit since then. But consider that: first black Yale student 1870-something, first female Yale student 1968 – feels like it should be a typo but it isn’t; late 19th century black men could, and married women could not, own property; that 1929 Canadian “persons” case considering whether a woman could be considered a “qualified person” for election to the Senate; Bill Clinton in the 1960’s pressing for more black Rhodes Scholars and completely missing that there had never been a female Rhodes Scholar and wouldn’t be until 1977.

          And while racism was upfront and centre in everyone’s minds (whichever view they took), discrimination against women had flown right under the radar for millenia beforehand. That’s the point of comparison, that the discrimination was there all along and buried by societal assumptions, tradition, history, and – yes – by our use of language. Change the context, as Hofstadter does here, and it is blindingly, jarringly, painfully, excruciatingly obvious – as I imagine it must be to every women reading a male default in everything.

          • Aapje says:

            @phisheep

            Married women could not own property because married men and women were considered to be one single unit, with the man having the legal rights and obligations. This does mean that the wife could not own property, but also that the husband was obliged to provide for the wife, but not vice versa. It means that the wife could not sign contracts, but also that she could not be held responsible in civil court, even for her own actions (unless those actions were criminal).

            The construct of coverture cannot be reasonably compared to the legal status of black vs white people, at any point in American history. Comparing a black person to a wife and a white person to a husband in one way that suits your argument, but then ignoring the ways in which it doesn’t, is cherry picking to the highest degree.

            Your claim that great oppression of women is evident since “late 19th century black men could, and married women could not, own property,” merely betrays a deep lack of knowledge that makes you unable to understand the extent to which women and men were restricted by their gender roles.

            It’s very unfortunate that the ‘education’ on this topic is generally done by people who merely seek to serve an activist agenda & who have no interest in presenting a fair picture.

            IMO, it really shows how radical these activists are, because there is plenty to object to when you do present the fair picture. However, it doesn’t merely present one gender as the victim, so it’s not very suitable for pitting one gender against the other, rather than seeking better solutions for both genders.

          • rlms says:

            In which ways were men “restricted by their gender roles”? You list some advantages that women had, but those aren’t the same thing. They also (at least as you’ve explained them) don’t seem at all comparable to the advantages men had. I own a lot of property, but have never been held responsible for something in a civil court. In fact, I don’t think an inability to be held responsible would be advantageous. It doesn’t mean you can break contracts with impunity, it means that no-one will make contracts with you.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Being forced to provide/earn enough money is a restriction, just like being forced to be a homemaker is a restriction.

            You should keep in mind that people in the past were very poor compared to today, so providing was far more difficult. James Wilson, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, spent some time in a debtors’ prison while still serving as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Fellow signatory Robert Morris spent three years in debtor’s prison. The father of Robert E. Lee was imprisoned for debt for two years. So you can imagine how hard it was for the lower classes, when even the upper class could not evade it.

            I own a lot of property, but have never been held responsible for something in a civil court.

            Sure. And I wasn’t pushed into become a farmer like my grandpa, or his father or his father or his… Also, my grandfather didn’t even get a choice to be a programmer.

            Modern life is a lot different from that of the past & my objection is that many people seem incapable of viewing the past in a holistic way. Instead, they seem to imagine modernity and then add in one aspect of the past, which then seems utterly unfair…which it is…because then the conditions which made those choices the best/least bad option in the eyes of the people of those times are left out.

            I think that if you actually look at the options that society & people had & how their choices impacted men and women, it is far less unfair than how it is portrayed. I would argue that emancipation of women was primarily driven by the conditions changing and enabling better solutions, not that people suddenly became far more enlightened.

            In fact, I don’t think an inability to be held responsible would be advantageous. It doesn’t mean you can break contracts with impunity, it means that no-one will make contracts with you.

            The actual state of affairs seems to have been that women could make limited ‘contracts,’ like buy regular products on debt, but that big purchases would be the man’s affair. Given the general lack of wealth, this seems generally not very advantageous to the man.

            Early feminists seem to have pretty much exclusively come from the upper and upper middle class, who did have more money. I would argue that lower and lower middle class women were not stupid and recognized that their problems were not so much an issue of unfair distribution of property, but rather a lack of it.

            They also (at least as you’ve explained them) don’t seem at all comparable to the advantages men had.

            I’m not arguing that men didn’t have it better (they probably had more disparity in outcomes, so perhaps they had it both better and worse), but rather that the disadvantages that men had are left out of the picture entirely by ‘the narrative’.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I knew from the title what this would be, though oddly I didn’t know which side it would take (“person paper” is rather ridiculous, so the essay could have gone the other way). It’s an argument by analogy that fails because the situations aren’t analogous on the relevant points. No analogy stands on all fours, but this one would be lucky to have two. The term “white” has never meant “people”.

        • Unsaintly says:

          Right, but that’s the point of the essay. He is explicitly and deliberately changing things to be unfamiliar. Replacing “penmanship” with “penpersonship” feels ludicrous to us, because we are familiar with “penmanship”. So by changing the default to “penwhiteship” he highlights the inequality of the assumptions without allowing you to fall back on keeping things the way they are.

          • Aapje says:

            Changing the wording in a way that is just as wrong, but much more evident, because of unfamiliarity, would be enlightening. The problem is that that the changed wording is much more wrong, so it feels like a false comparison to me (and emotional manipulation).

            The issue is that ‘man’ has two possible meanings: person and male. This dual meaning is quite obvious in words like ‘mankind.’ Of course one can make a fair argument that this ambiguity is a problem and/or that the one meaning is too often assumed, but that is a fundamentally different issue/complaint than that the language used excludes one group completely.

            So I found the essay very unpersuasive for this reason, just like Nybbler. Not addressing the dual meaning of the word ‘man’ makes the writer either ignorant or intentionally deceptive.

          • Iain says:

            You’re missing the point, Aapje. The dual meaning of “man” is the entire point of the essay.

            Hofstadter’s claim is that the dual definition is not an acceptable state of affairs. His argument is by analogy: “The status quo only seems reasonable because we are used to it. Imagine a parallel universe in which language evolved differently. The arguments that people use to justify generic “man” in this universe are dubious when we transpose them to the parallel universe. Therefore, we should not accept those arguments in the real world, either.”

            You can still reject the argument, as Jiro does below, but let’s at least be clear about the argument is.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            Fair enough. He is just calling people stupid who can’t distinguish between the two.

            Anyway, I’m not in a good mood right now, so I should probably shut up now.

      • Jiro says:

        I think it’s a trick because it relies on our lack of imagination.

        In a world where “white” really was a generic term for “person”, referring to chairmen as “chairwhite” would be correct and not racist. But the essay relies upon the reader reacting as if those terms were used in this world and not being able to imagine how those reactions would or should be different in the world described in the essay.

        (In fact, “not being able to imagine” is an understatement. He’s deliberately chosen a hypothetical which most people are not even allowed to properly imagine and for which any hint of being able to do so would be condemned as wrongthink.)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          We don’t even have to imagine. We could just look up a language that uses the word for “person” as an endonym.

    • rahien.din says:

      the word “he” in this context does not refer to a male person at all — it is used to refer to any person regardless of sex. The fact that the word “he” can also be used in other contexts to be specific to a male person seems irrelevant to me.

      It’s at the very least imprecise to use a single word to refer to an entire category (persons) but also to an exclusive subset of that category (male persons). That’s like using “ham” to refer to salt-cured pork haunch, but also to pork chops, pork loin, pork bacon, etc.

      One instance of that kind of binary that I can think of is day/night. “Day” refers to the subdivision of time defined by the solar cycle, but, “day” also refers to the sunlit portion of the solar cycle. We have a separate term “night” for the non-sunlit portion. But this is only valid and informative because we genuinely preference days over nights.

      So I think it’s plausible that (or, it is valid to perceive that) using “he” to refer either to a generic person or to a male person does encode some kind of preference for male persons.

      Just use the singular “they.”

      • For an analogous case, does anyone in Italy object to the fact that “lei” means both “she” and (gender indefinite) “you.”

        • rahien.din says:

          To be fair, I guess in Deutsch, sie (she), Sie (singular formal you), Sie (plural formal you), and sie (they) are homonymous.

        • rlms says:

          I assume not, because the 2nd/3rd person difference. But I believe some people in Spain object to the fact that “ellos” means both “they (male)” and “they (mixed genders)”.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Does Spanish clarify the meaning in the rest of the sentence?

            In Dutch, ‘zij’ can mean both ‘she’ or ‘they,’ but the verb makes it unambiguous. ‘Zij is’ (she is) refers to a woman (or female noun*), while ‘zij zijn’ (they are) refers to a group of people with no claim of their gender.

            You cannot use the male singular ‘hij’ (he) for multiples. So ‘hij zijn’ (he are) is meaningless.

            * Dutch has far stronger grammatical gender than English, so nouns are either male, female or neuter, which is the more challenging aspect of learning the language for many (especially since you just have to learn it, there seems to be no real logic** behind it)
            ** For example, while the the Dutch word for ‘woman’ is female, the word for ‘girl’ is neuter, which seems to be especially an issue for the Moroccan-Dutch, who are known for often using the wrong article.

          • rlms says:

            @Aapje
            Not for that ambiguity. It’s analogous to “congressmen” or “policemen” in English being used to refer to a group with a mix of genders, but significantly more widespread (for instance the masculine noun “niño” means both “boy” and “child”). There are other ambiguities similar to the ones you and David Friedman mention for example between the formal you and he/she, which can optionally be clarified if the meaning is not obvious from context.

          • DavidS says:

            I believe in some languages (French?) The male plural is used for a group of any of them are male (though I wonder if that really applies if it’s a huge group which is massively female domjnated).

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            @DavidS

            Romance in general, in my experience. French, Italian, Portuguese definitely all do it. Catalan probably does, I think I’d remember if it didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if Latin did but don’t remember. I am not a native speaker of any of the above and don’t think I’ve run into any cases of a group that’s mostly women with few men being described; I would expect the rule to hold regardless of proportions (as rlms said, it’s really the same forms being both masculine and mixed) but could easily be wrong (not a native speaker!).

      • Bugmaster says:

        Just use the singular “they.”

        FWIW, I’ve learned English by learning computer programming first. Using a plural pronoun for a singular object hurts me on an almost physical level. I do acknowledge that I am atypical, however.

        • quaelegit says:

          I don’t think you’re that atypical. But I think people tend find it uncomfortable because they were taught to. Does it bug you that “you” can be singular or plural?

          To take a personal example, it bugs me that “aircraft” and “spacecraft” are their own plural (e.g. this sentence from Wikipedia: “The smallest aircraft are toys…”), because I didn’t learn about this until after I was familiar with the word and had internalized the standard pluralization rules for it.

          • Bugmaster says:

            But I think people tend find it uncomfortable because they were taught to.

            Personally, I find it uncomfortable because it creates a very obvious ClassCastException. It’s the same reason why I dislike Javascript.

            Does it bug you that “you” can be singular or plural?

            Yes, although such ambiguities come up less often.

          • gbdub says:

            “You” would be fixed elegantly by formalizing “y’all”, a perfectly usable and useful word that fills a grammatical gap.

            But its use marks you as a yokel from one of the unfashionable parts of America so it’s unlikely to find its way into more mainstream use.

          • cyanochlorous says:

            so [“y’all”]’s unlikely to find its way into more mainstream use.

            We could maybe go the other way and formalize “thou” for the singular.

          • quaelegit says:

            @gdub — I think like “you all” or “all of you” is already okay in formal writing, just like “he or she” for singular third person (that it, when second person is allowed in formal writing…)

            In speech and informal writing, I think “y’all*” and singular “they” have been pretty widespread and accepted for a long time. Although you’re point about sounding like a “yokel” (and related concerns) is a good one — there’s people and situations you would feel comfortable using “y’all” and contexts where you’d be worried about getting judged for it. That’s true to varying extent of all language — context always matters.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Does it bug you that “you” can be singular or plural?

            It bugs me, certainly.

          • Aapje says:

            @The original Mr. X

            He wasn’t asking you, it was the singular ‘you’ 😛

            j/k

          • AG says:

            Shoulda kept the archaic forms:

            “Thou” is the archaic singular pronoun you (as subject of a verb)
            “Ye” is the archaic plural pronoun you (as subject of a verb)
            “Thee” is the archaic singular pronoun you (as object of a verb or preposition)
            “Thy” is the archaic determiner your
            “Thine” (pronounced “thy’n”) is the archaic pronoun yours (used for things belonging to or associated with thee)

            Wait, “Thine can also be the archaic determiner of thy used before a vowel,” nvm archaic form also includes some conflation gdi let’s all switch to Mandarin. (ni/nide/nimen/nimende)

          • Anthony says:

            You can’t formalize thou/thy/thine as third person – they’re the *informal* second-person.

            English *used to* have a T-V distinction, but we lost the T when we stopped using thou.

            Thou:you::tu:usted::tu:vous

        • rlms says:

          The 19th century grammarians who discouraged use of the singular they felt the same way. Personally, I’m the opposite. I sometimes (unconsciously) use the singular they to refer to people I know the gender of but the person I’m speaking to doesn’t.

        • Aapje says:

          This sounds like an interesting research project:
          1. Come up with a test that measures dislike for plural pronouns being used for singulars
          2. Apply that test to a group of programmers and a control group

      • Randy M says:

        Just use the singular “they.”

        Is this tongue in cheek? It seems you are objecting to imprecision and in response recommending more ambiguity.

        • rahien.din says:

          LOL okay, I hadn’t realized that. Perhaps, the correct ambiguity. I think the outcome of calling a woman “he” is worse than the outcome of referring to a singular person by a plural pronoun. Perhaps in the future there will be humans that consider themselves to be plural rather than singular, and we will have to revise somehow.

          • quanta413 says:

            Perhaps in the future there will be humans that consider themselves to be plural rather than singular, and we will have to revise somehow.

            “Quanta” is a plural word. We are many!

          • Randy M says:

            Perhaps in the future there will be humans that consider themselves to be plural rather than singular, and we will have to revise somehow.

            It seems that the only negative consequences to ambiguity in language you are considering is hurt feelings.

          • Nornagest says:

            Perhaps in the future there will be humans that consider themselves to be plural rather than singular, and we will have to revise somehow.

            You haven’t spent much time on Tumblr, have you.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Perhaps in the future there will be humans that consider themselves to be plural rather than singular, and we will have to revise somehow.

            This is not the future, this is the now. And is my main issue with indeterminate “they” applied to a specific person; I resent being required to buy into someone else’s mental illness.

          • rahien.din says:

            All,

            Haha! I guess I don’t spend enough on time on the Tumblrsnaps to appreciate the extent of the issue.

            Matt M : It seems that the only negative consequences to ambiguity in language you are considering is hurt feelings.

            Things are not as they seem? Sure, ambiguity has a cost – just as precision does.

            And I wasn’t asked to address the whole topic of ambiguity in language. The OP states its position as contra to “a complaint that this usage is sexist,” and I addressed a specific part of the ensuing post. I don’t feel obligated to go beyond that.

            The Nybbler : I resent being required to buy into someone else’s mental illness.

            Yeah, but your behavior is still being determined by someone else. If you deliberately march out of time, you’re still paying attention to someone else’s drummer.

            Some people like to take a stand with pronouns, either by insisting on their micropronoun or by resisting micropronouns. I define myself as just not bothering. Using the singular “they” demonstrates a blithe ignorance of the entire controversy, in no small part because it’s kind of lazy. (Oddly enough, the grammar police are kind of providing a smokescreen for me here.)

          • Randy M says:

            Things are not as they seem? Sure, ambiguity has a cost – just as precision does.

            Fair enough; I was more just complaining about the implication that people feeling a certain way would necessitate other people talking a certain way.

            Although it brings to mind questions about what the transitioning surgery would be like for transplural individual.

          • rahien.din says:

            Fair enough; I was more just complaining about the implication that people feeling a certain way would necessitate other people talking a certain way.

            Happy Holidays! ; )

            But I agree, hurt feelings alone do not necessarily constitute some overriding consideration.

          • Randy M says:

            Happy Holidays! ; )

            Is that Appomattox day or Chicken Little Awareness Day?

            But I do think I’ve been consistent on this.

          • AG says:

            And no one is bothered by the royal “we”?

          • Randy M says:

            The royal we seems to reduce ambiguity when used selectively. It should function to indicate when the monarch is speaking as a head of state versus as a particular individual. “I would like the Beef Wellington tonight, thank you Jeeves” vs “We find this treaty to be acceptable and shall see that it is in place henceforth.”

          • AG says:

            At that point, might as well just specify instead of using a pronoun, then. “The X Nation State Department will look over this treaty.” Or using a title vs. a name.

            Perhaps instead of gendered pronouns or expanding the usage of they/their/theirs, we can all move to using the Royal One system for singular person references…:P

          • Aapje says:

            @AG

            We agree.

          • AG says:

            @Aapje

            But One disagrees.

            [But this one agrees]

            [But that one disagrees]

            And in the approximate words of Victoria, “Y’all’ren’t amused.”

      • The original Mr. X says:

        It’s at the very least imprecise to use a single word to refer to an entire category (persons) but also to an exclusive subset of that category (male persons)… Just use the singular “they.”

        It seems at least as imprecise, at least to me, to use a single word to refer to both one person and a whole group of people.

      • A1987dM says:

        But this is only valid and informative because we genuinely preference days over nights.

        Not quite — “week” can mean either seven days or (in contexts like “during the week” or “on weekdays”) five working days, but I don’t think most people prefer the working week over weekends.

    • A1987dM says:

      My naive reaction to this objection is that it doesn’t really make sense, because the word “he” in this context does not refer to a male person at all — it is used to refer to any person regardless of sex. The fact that the word “he” can also be used in other contexts to be specific to a male person seems irrelevant to me.

      See this argument to the contrary.

      Dunno much about whether the generic “he” makes women feel excluded, but see this about whether it’s clearer or less clear (in terms of how fast people can understand sentences containing it) that singular “they” or generic “she”.

    • For one case where sound, for some, trumps actual meaning, consider objections to the word “niggardly.”

    • Bugmaster says:

      Your approach is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. Modern pronoun usage is not motivated by convenience or epistemological correctness, but by a complex set of social signals that bear a close resemblance to expressions of religious faith.

      By analogy, some people will insist on always capitalizing the word “God”; others will insist on only spelling it “G-d” or “The Lord”. You could invent lots of arguments for why they should spell it one way vs. the other, but you won’t be able to convince anyone — since their preferred spelling is not some conclusion that they arrived at after perusing linguistic research, but rather a core aspect of their personal identity.

      The same is true of pronouns; and, just like spellings of the word “god”, the set of pronouns we will end up using in the future depends solely on which sub-culture will achieve lasting dominance, not on any epistemological/ontological considerations.

      • mayleaf says:

        >Modern pronoun usage is not motivated by convenience or epistemological correctness, but by a complex set of social signals that bear a close resemblance to expressions of religious faith.

        @Bugmaster — huh, this hasn’t been my experience at all. Long before I heard of any gender-neutral-related motivation for using the singular “they”, I heard it used all the time for convenience, to avoid awkward sentence constructions. It was so common when I was growing up that schoolteachers would bring it up as a “common grammatical error” in English classes, and instruct us not to use it in our essays. (This was about ten years ago — I don’t know if teachers still classify it as a grammatical error, or whether that would start a political debate.)

        Is it not your experience that people will automatically say things like:
        “Someone left their backpack in the hallway.”
        “Somebody called me and left a voicemail.” –“Oh, what did they want?”
        “Nobody in their right mind would agree with that.”
        (And also: http://wanderdaydream.tumblr.com/post/91304137336/itsvondell-you-sure)

        Personally, I like singular “they” for convenience, and I’ve also come to prefer it for more personal reasons (I’d like to live in a world that places less prominence and emphasis on gender). But either way, singular “they” seems like it’s reaching fixation in informal English.

        • quaelegit says:

          There’s a complicating factor of non-specific vs. singular ‘they’.

          Non-specific: “Everyone can do their part.”

          Specific: “The actor read their lines.” or “Pat got their coat from the closet.”

          mayleaf’s examples above are all non-specific, and I don’t usually see people complain about this use except in formal writing. (Also, as rlms notes below, non-specific singular ‘they’ is attested from Chaucer’s time… I want to say specific singular “they” doesn’t show up until later, but I don’t remember where I read that and its hard to check.)

      • A1987dM says:

        some people will insist on always capitalizing the word “God”

        What do you mean? As I see it, “god” with a small g is a common noun meaning “deity” (or sometimes “male deity”, in contexts where a female deity would be called “goddess”), and as a count noun it cannot normally be used in English in the singular without a preceding article; “God” with a capital G is a proper name of the sole deity of Abrahamic religions (sometimes also used for the deity of other monotheistic religions), and as a proper name it’s not usually preceded by articles or pluralized and it has a capital letter for the same reason “Scott” or “Italy” do.
        Do you mean that some people insist on capitalizing meaning 1 too, or are you implying that it’s noteworthy that some people insist on capitalizing meaning 2 (even though I guess they’d as well insist on capitalizing “Scott” or “Italy”)?

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I’ve seen a certain sort of atheist refuse to capitalise God (meaning 2) on the grounds that He is fictional and therefore does not deserve a capital, even though they would capitalise “Superman” or “Bilbo Baggins”.

          This is not unique to English (and may not even have started there)- IIRC official Soviet orthography removed the capital letters from Бог (God) and Тройца (Trinity). I have a Russian phrasebook published in England in the 1960s in which the author claims that this change is the one respect in which the book does not follow then-current official Soviet spelling.

          • A1987dM says:

            For that matter, I’ve seen a few (crackpottish) Christians refusing to use capitals for names of (people they think are) Satanists, e.g. “robert plant”.

          • Aapje says:

            bell hooks is a satanist????

    • rlms says:

      I don’t think you’ve touched on the main reasons people object to the generic “he”, but more importantly I think you’re misunderstanding the nature of language. When you say things like “If the word “he” is defined to MEAN a person of indeterminate sex in the relevant context”, it sounds like you think that words have objectively correct meanings, and the debate is about what the one true meaning of “he” should be. But true meanings don’t exist! Dictionaries just describe how words are commonly used, they don’t make normative claims that those are the only “correct” uses. If style guides etc. do make normative claims, they just indicate the opinions of their authors. Anyone can decide to write a book that tells people to apply random bits of Latin grammar to English, but there’s nothing special about the books of that kind that happened to get popular.

      So in your hypothetical response to the ham objection, the reason that “The fact that the word ‘ham’ can refer to meat in some other context does not say anything about the meaning of the word in this context” is true is not because the Big Book Of True Word Meanings tells us what ‘ham’ means in different contexts. It’s true because most people understand the ham of an actor to be different from the ham of a pig. Common use is a good argument against some novel uses of language (if someone says “we should use racism to mean prejudice plus structural power” then “but most people won’t understand you if you do that” is one good objection). But it isn’t a good argument for either side for the generic “he”, since both it and the major alternatives are about equally commonly understood.

      Hopefully that gives you an idea of the kind of framework you should use to think about this kind of thing (although it’s not the framework people necessarily do use, I’m sure a lot of people argue against the generic “he” by saying the dictionary thinks it’s archaic). If you want to argue for using a word in a certain way, you should make claims about how your way facilitates communication better than others, rather than claims about what it means (although statements about etymology, historical use etc. can be rhetorically nice — for example the last verse of Kendrick Lamar’s i — they aren’t valid arguments).

      I think the main claim of this kind about generic “he” is that it makes people inclined to picture generic persons as male, which causes people to have inaccurate instinctive models of the world (since not all generic persons are men). A variation on that claim is that using generic “he” for stereotypically male things and “she” for stereotypically female things reinforces gender stereotypes with harmful effects.

      Also relevant is the fact that the generic “they” as an alternative to the generic “he” has a long and storied history, and the first wacky invented gender neutral pronoun dates back to 1792. As per my first paragraph, these historical details shouldn’t affect the question of what generic pronouns people should use now. But they are interesting in their own right.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        Thanks. When I referred to meanings of words in my initial post I meant the settled usage among the community of educated English speakers at the time before the gender-neutral challenge came up. I agree, of course, that there is no objective meaning apart from the usage of the relevant linguistic community.

        On the substantive point, do we have evidence that the use of the gender-neutral “he” has the effect on people’s cognition that you describe?

        • rlms says:

          I don’t know if there are any studies on it, but at least anecdotally I automatically imagine a man if I read a sentence with the gender neutral “he”, whereas I think I consciously think about the gender of the person I’m imagining if I read “they”. But probably my gender (I’m male) is a confounding factor. My impression is that lots of people are the same though. Certainly I think most people find sentences like “”There must be opportunity for the individual boy or girl to go as far as his keennness and ability will take him” awkward.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m not denying that ‘he’ tends to create an image of a man, but does your example actually prove your point? Isn’t the issue there that ‘the individual boy or girl’ is a complex construct that refers to many people, as individuals, so the proper pronoun seems to then be ‘they,’ because the keennness and ability does not differentiate between members of the group?

          • rlms says:

            @Aapje
            The individual boy or girl is one person (you would say “the individual boy or girl eats three spiders a year”, not “eat three spiders”). So using “they” only seems proper if you accept the singular they as a valid replacement for the generic “he” already.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t think that being OK with having ‘their’ in this sentence means that you have to be OK with ‘they is.’

            Language is not black/white, there is a lot of grey too. I think that it is not reasonable to argue that being OK with what (may) technical violate a rule in the grey area means that you suddenly have to accept abandoning the rule everywhere else.

          • rlms says:

            “they is” is not the normal use of the singular they. When used generically, it is used with the plural forms of the verb as normal (the disagreement in number in something like “If someone thinks that then they are a fool.” between “are” and “someone”/”a fool” is why 19th century grammarians said it was bad). I think that “they” also usually takes “are” when used as a pronoun for e.g. non-binary people, but that’s a separate debate.

          • Obelix says:

            rlms:

            “they is” is not the normal use of the singular they. When used generically, it is used with the plural forms of the verb as normal

            The way I see it, if we don’t say “you art” even when “you” is singular, then we also don’t say “they is”. So I agree with you, agreement is with the pronoun form (that is, with the abstract grammatical person and number) and not with the concrete person and number.

          • fion says:

            I think that “they” also usually takes “are” when used as a pronoun for e.g. non-binary people

            This is true of all the non-binary people I’ve met. I think it’s basically universally true.

          • albatross11 says:

            “A new employee should remember to clock out when they are done with their shift” sounds right.

            “A new employee should remember to clock out when they is done with their shift” sounds jarringly wrong.

            I suspect this is following some kind of rule regarding evolution of language–we’re altering one rule at a time while holding the others constant

    • Iain says:

      Sometimes I think I’ve seen the objection that the use of the generic “he” makes women (or girls growing up) feel excluded or inferior or something similar, and that this can adversely affect their lives.

      Expanding a bit on what fion (edit: and rlms) say above: it may help to think less about women feeling excluded, and more about women being excluded.

      Linguists like to talk about markedness: unmarked words represent some default, and are then marked to show a deviation from the norm. For example, “elephant” is the unmarked singular, and “elephants” is the marked plural. More pointedly: “lion” and “actor” are the unmarked default, and “lioness” or “actress” are the marked feminine.

      The same phenomenon extends beyond mere linguistic peculiarities: for example, if you want to find a washroom, you either look for the unmarked human, or the marked human wearing a skirt. In most contexts, being male is coded as default, and being female is coded as a deviation from the norm. Generic “he” is just one example of a broader pattern.

      For a small example of how this can make a practical difference, take this comment from the creator of Bojack Horseman:

      This, he writes, is indicative of “the tendency for comedy writers, and audiences, and writers, and audiences to view comedy characters as inherently male, unless there is something specifically female about them.” He cites an example from his own work, in which a storyboarded joke that features a dog person drooling on a businessperson was imagined as two men, until Lisa Hanawalt designed them as women. Bob-Waksberg noted feeling weird about the change until, when prodded by Hanawalt, he couldn’t offer up a reason why it felt weird—it was just his own biases being triggered, so they left it in. He explains:
      “The thinking comes from a place that the cleanest version of a joke has as few pieces as possible. For the dog joke, you have the thing where the tongue slobbers all over the businessperson, but if you also have a thing where both of them ladies, then that’s an additional thing and it muddies up the joke. The audience will think, “Why are those characters female? Is that part of the joke?” The underlying assumption there is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that.”

      Multiply this cognitive bias across a whole industry, and you end up with a lack of roles for women, for no good reason.

      Brains are lazy. They take shortcuts. Forty years ago, orchestras mostly hired men. Then they started doing blind auditions, with the musicians out of sight behind a screen, and the number of women increased significantly. When evaluating people, our brains give extra weight to people who match our existing mental images. If we subconsciously assume that male is default…

      You can quite reasonably ask: how strong is this effect? how much does the generic “he” contribute? It’s unclear, and awkward to measure scientifically. Still, at least in theory, the stakes are higher than “makes people feel bad”.

      PS: The history of generic “he” is less straightforward than you seem to think. One example:

      In a similar case in 1902, the Maryland Supreme Court ignored the generic masculine statute altogether when it once again excluded women from the bar because state law refers to lawyers as “he”.

      • Bugmaster says:

        …may help to think less about women feeling excluded, and more about women being excluded … Multiply this cognitive bias across a whole industry, and you end up with a lack of roles for women, for no good reason.

        Hang on, you’ve got to be careful there. Is there enough evidence to conclude that linguistic marking causes gender inequality (and if so, how much) ? It may very well be the case that the answer is “yes” (and “lots”). However, you appear to have jumped to that conclusion without even pausing to ask the question, and I find this somewhat alarming.

        (Your example with the concert musicians definitely demontrates sexist bias, but does not apply in this case, since we’re talking about linguistic marking.)

        • Iain says:

          Yes. Hence:

          You can quite reasonably ask: how strong is this effect? how much does the generic “he” contribute? It’s unclear, and awkward to measure scientifically.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Yes, but if the effect is “unclear and awkward to measure scientifically”, how is that different from saying “we have no idea if the effect exists at all” ? If that is the case, then your conclusion — “we should re-engineer our language to be gender-neutral, due to the negative effects of linguistic marking” — is not justified.

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

            Thanks, Iain and Bugmaster. This exchange is helpful. I tend to agree that there ought to be some good evidence of the effect if we want to rely on it to change our language, but I certainly don’t dismiss the possibility out of hand.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            You can quite reasonably ask: how strong is this effect? how much does the generic “he” contribute?

            One might also quite reasonably ask: in which direction does the effect do net harm?

            A contrarian argument might be something like this: “women get a word that uniquely refers to them whereas men have no such word and must settle for part-time use of a word that means both men and people. This linguistically marks women as being special. Thus in any context where being special is a benefit, this language gives women a positive net benefit, a boost that men do not get. Given the choice to hire somebody who is ordinary versus somebody who is special, you’d want to hire the more special person, the person who stands out as having more unique rather than more typical traits.”

            (okay, sure, there are job environments that don’t value uniqueness. But the ones that do are more visible and tend to have higher social status. So at best it seems like an empirical question whether it’s better to be in the “fitting in” or the “standing out” linguistic class – you can’t simply assume that “fitting in” is all-around better.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Glen Raphael

            I think that it is pretty clear that in the past, the West had a society where the default/ordinary was heavily favored. However, this has clearly changed substantially, although not to the opposite.

            So I would argue that being special is an advantage sometimes and being the default is an advantage in other cases. Overall, I doubt that this cleanly maps on gender, as it highly depends on personal characteristics.

            So is being the default a net benefit to men: yes, surely to some men.
            So is being the exception a net benefit to women: yes, surely to some women.

            Do more men benefit and to a greater extent than women or vice versa? I don’t think this can objectively be compared. However, I definitely do think that it is very harmful to claim that men as a gender or women as a gender benefit & thereby to erase all nuance and respect for the individual.

          • mdet says:

            Whether women or men benefit on net from he / him / his being used generically is an interesting question, but should this make a difference in the conversation about whether the generic pronouns and the masculine pronouns should be the same?

          • Aapje says:

            @mdet

            Not really. However, I am not convinced that having generic pronouns and the masculine pronouns be the same is actually a significant cause of men being considered ‘default.’

            I see a fairly typical pattern in advocacy where X is claimed to be the thing holding back a group. Then if X is addressed and the overall result is really quite minor, the claim just changes to Y being the thing holding back that group.

            In itself this would not be so bad if I would believe that the hyperbole and the extremist claims were used by people who have a fundamental respect for the well-being of their outgroup, however, this seems to increasingly be lacking.

          • Iain says:

            Yes, but if the effect is “unclear and awkward to measure scientifically”, how is that different from saying “we have no idea if the effect exists at all” ? If that is the case, then your conclusion — “we should re-engineer our language to be gender-neutral, due to the negative effects of linguistic marking” — is not justified.

            Assume for the moment that this phenomenon exists, and then think about how you would go about trying to prove it. It’s not like you can do a randomized experiment where half your participants grow up with generic “he”, the other half grow up with singular “they”, and everything else is held constant.

            I am confident that there is a correlation between opposition to generic “he” and anti-sexist attitudes — both at an individual level, where people who oppose generic “he” are more likely to also oppose sexism, and at a societal level, where declining acceptance of generic “he” correlates with a decline in sexism.

            Obviously, correlation does not prove causation. You can posit a world where feminists were wrong to oppose generic “he”, but their opposition was bundled up with more effective tactics, making generic “he” look worse than it actually is. I don’t know how you would scientifically distinguish that world from the one in which generic “he” really does matter, much less nail down the size of the effect.

            That said: the proposed causal mechanism seems plausible to me. Furthermore, the possible upside (more equality in society) seems significantly more important than the downside (we have to adjust our use of words).

            @Aapje:

            I see a fairly typical pattern in advocacy where X is claimed to be the thing holding back a group. Then if X is addressed and the overall result is really quite minor, the claim just changes to Y being the thing holding back that group.

            Can you provide an example? There is a big difference between “this is an important problem” and “this is the important problem”. Specifically: I only ever see people say the former, and your argument only works against the latter.

          • Aapje says:

            @Iain

            Yeah, I agree that my statement was too strong.

            Let me amend it to argue that great confidence is claimed that the solution works and the postmortem is generally not done, so people don’t seem to calibrate very well.

            Of course, one can argue that this is the nature of activism, especially the kind that really only cares about improving life for some groups. However, that kind of activism invites resistance/cynicism/conservatism among the outgroup(s).

        • mdet says:

          I think A1987dM’s link above — study suggests that people take longer to read sentences that use a gendered pronoun opposite the gender stereotype of the person described, but don’t take any longer to read the same sentence using they / their — offers some empirical support in favor of the idea that people ARE subtly reading gender into the word “he”, even when it’s purportedly used as a generic.

          And while it’s not quite empirical evidence, I’d be surprised if most people’s experience differed from the examples Iain described. That is, if there was a group of women senators captioned as a group of “congressmen”, I know that I’d hesitate and look for the men in the group, I wouldn’t just read it as neutral.

          • albatross11 says:

            Isn’t that exactly the same mechanism used by the implicit association tests? My understanding (this is not at all my field) is that those don’t seem to actually predict differences in behavior w.r.t. bias.

            So it seems quite plausible that:

            a. People *are* influenced by their language, culture, and experiences to have a bunch of default options for how things will be.

            b. That shows up in slower processing of non-default options.

            c. That doesn’t show up in actual biased behavior, at least not in any way that’s detectable.

          • rlms says:

            @albatross11
            No. Implicit bias tests show that people associate e.g. “man” with “maths” and “woman” with “caring”, and the possibly unwarranted jump is the assumption that people act on those associations. But the question in this case is whether people associate (gender neutral) “he” with maleness at all, not what the implications of that possible association are.

          • albatross11 says:

            rlms:

            We only care about the effect if it changes behavior, though. If the ambiguity between having “he” mean a generic human or “he” mean a male human is just an ambiguity that makes some sentences a little more confusing so they take longer to process, that’s a pretty small problem. On the other hand, if that leads to people discriminating against women in some practically relevant way, then it may be a big enough problem to be worth trying to reform the language.

            I’ll admit that my priors here are very much on the side of it not having any practically relevant impact. But I’m certainly open to evidence in the other direction.

          • rlms says:

            If the ambiguity between having “he” mean a generic human or “he” mean a male human is just an ambiguity that makes some sentences a little more confusing so they take longer to process, that’s a pretty small problem.

            But that’s not the study what the study concludes! It makes the almost the opposite point: that people generally don’t seem to notice that ambiguity because they treat the generic “he” as referring to men — the longer processing time only happens when the generic “he” refers to a stereotypically female antecedent (or vice versa).

            Assuming that the study is correct in that conclusion, it seems pretty plausible that viewing the generic “he” as male would affect behaviour, much as e.g. using only women for illustrations of generic people would.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Assuming that the study is correct in that conclusion, it seems pretty plausible that viewing the generic “he” as male would affect behaviour

            Sure, but that doesn’t mean that the dissonance causes dislike or other negative feelings.

            A person who believes that women are discriminated against may associate ‘programmer’ with men and pause upon encountering a CV of a female programmer; but then may judge that person by a lesser standard, giving her an advantage.

            A person who believes that women are not good at logic may associate ‘programmer’ with men and pause upon encountering a CV of a female programmer; but then may judge that person by a higher standard, giving her a disadvantage.

            I would argue that being seen as exceptional tends to cause exceptional treatment, but that this can both be positive or negative for that person, based on how the person who judges feel about (these) exceptions.

            We’ve had discussions here in the past about how many progressives now are not content with gender/race/etc blindness, but want exceptional treatment to try to counter the disadvantages that they believe exist.

            So this makes me very distrustful of this effort to supposedly make the language neutral, since I have my doubt whether those who advocate it actually believe in the principle of neutrality or whether it is merely advocated when it is perceived to help the favored groups.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s plausible, but there are an enormous number of plausible-sounding stories we can make up about social phenomena.

            Priming, willpower depletion, the Pygmalion effect, and implicit bias tests predicting real-world discrimination are all completely plausible explanations of how the world might work. They were plausible enough that smart researchers who’d spent their lives working in experimental psychology / social psychology were convinced of them, on the basis of papers that seemed to demonstrate them many times. But then, the replication crisis hit, and it turns out to be pretty likely that none of them are actually *correct* explanations of how the world works.

            You have a plausible story, but I remain quite skeptical that it’s true.

          • mdet says:

            @albatross11

            I think the Bojack example *was* an example of default-maleness influencing people’s behavior. The writers room proposed a joke about two people, everyone in the room immediately assumed men and didn’t rethink that until a female illustrator drew them as women. And even then, their first reaction was “Why do they need to be women? What does that have to do with it?”, until they realized “Why not?”. The mindset was influencing their behavior not in the more explicit “We’re judging this person by their gender” that Aapje proposed, but in a more “It didn’t even occur to us to use women characters for neutral roles”.

            Now I realize that this is several steps removed from the effects of using “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun, so I’m fine with discounting it for that reason. But the Bojack example is acknowledgement from real people that “Yes, our default-maleness assumption colors the decisions we make in the writers room, and had there not been someone there to push back on it then we might’ve ended up with fewer women written into our show”

          • albatross11 says:

            mdet:

            Thinking about it, I agree with you–that’s a nice example of an “unmarked state” in the writers’ minds affecting how they’re able to think about what they’re writing in a way that has a real effect. I’m not sure this is a language effect, but you’re right that language effects are a reasonable hypothesis for what happened there.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            A possible example– Drugs are less likely to be tested on women and yet women are assumed to be enough like men that drugs tested on men are assumed to be adequate.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I don’t think that can be blamed on male as the default, but rather on women having hormone fluctuations & (sometimes unexpected) pregnancies which make scientific studies performed on women more difficult and dangerous.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Those are reasons for not testing drugs on women. What is the reason for just using drugs on women which have only been tested on men? Is that *safer* than testing drugs on women?

            If there are fears about being blamed for ill-effects of testing drugs on women, how about recording the effects of male-tested drugs on women when those drugs are used medically?

          • John Schilling says:

            What is the reason for just using drugs on women which have only been tested on men? Is that *safer* than testing drugs on women?

            I’m guessing the reason is that it is cheaper and (perceived to be) safe enough. Full testing on both men and women would I think add about 10% to the cost of most drugs, and most of what it would catch are minor side effects that should be discovered not long after the drug reaches the market anyway. But that’s educated guesswork on my part, and I’d like to see it more rigorously studied.

            The more serious problem is drug effects on pregnant women, which is harder to ethically test for (and which will at least somewhat complicate testing on women generally).

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            What John said. Also, the exact same logic goes for children, who often get medicine that works for adults and doses based on guesswork.

            Ultimately, quite a bit of medicine research seems to be about testing for safety and being better than a placebo regression to the mean. Then the doctors administer the drugs and see what works for the particular genetic makeup of the patient, based on trial and error.

            Scott has written about this before.

            how about recording the effects of male-tested drugs on women when those drugs are used medically?

            If you are talking about side effects, then this supposedly is recorded for everyone and basic data analysis can figure out the effects for various subgroups.

            If you are talking about efficacy, then an issue is that the way that the doctors administer medicine is typically not set up to the standards of research, so only large differences will presumably be evident.

            They are supposedly working on figuring out what medicine works for what genes, which, if it works out, will be a much bigger boon for women and men than doing a lot more research.

          • mdet says:

            Another example of default-maleness having real world consequences: That time Apple released their new comprehensive Health app designed to track almost every aspect of human health… and forgot to add a menstrual tracker for almost a year, despite period apps reportedly being the #2 category of health & fitness apps in the App Store (behind Running apps). Presumably Apple’s iOS development team had so few females that they literally just forgot about half the population’s most measured health metric.

            Edit: And a time when default-maleness worked out to women’s advantage — that time when the Witch King of Angmar bragged that he could not be killed “by the hand of man”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Presumably Apple’s iOS development team had so few females that they literally just forgot about half the population’s most measured health metric.

            It’s not an example which should move your priors if you’re just presuming.

          • mdet says:

            What are the other possible explanations though? The only explanations I can think of for not initially including a period tracker in a comprehensive health app are A) It didn’t occur to them, B) It occurred to them but was low priority, C) It occurred to them, but they were unable to do it, D) It occurred to them and they intentionally declined

            The fact that such apps were already among the top apps in the Health category means that there were already many thousands (millions?) of everyday users who decided that this was one of, if not the most important health metric to track. That’s pretty strong evidence against B and C. D seems flat out sexist and male-centric to me, so I’ll discount it out of charity. That leaves A. But for A we have to explain how “people who consider a period tracker to be useful” are such a large group of health app users, yet such a small group among health app developers at Apple. The simplest and incredibly obvious answer is “Nearly everyone who uses a period tracker is female, but few iOS developers are female”, two things we know are true*. (This also helps explain B, in case B wasn’t sufficiently ruled out)

            Either I’m missing something, or you actually think I should update my confidence from “presumably” to “certainly”.

            *Edit: Ok, we don’t know the iOS dev team’s demographics specifically, but we know Apple’s demographics as a whole and the demographics of software developers in particular, and both are large majority male

          • lvlln says:

            @mdet

            It’s also possible that Apple had a certain set of resources set aside for developing their tracking app and decided that a feature that would be of use to less than 50% of their userbase (presuming about a 50/50 split in terms of people who are born female/male users of iPhones, and the fact that not everyone who’s born female have periods, but everyone who’s born male doesn’t) and whose need is already being filled by a myriad of very popular apps in the store ought to receive lower priority.

            It also seems odd to me to believe that the gender make-up of developers would have such large effect on the list of features in the end product. Looking at Apple’s history, they seem pretty good at determining what their customers want, and that indicates they have an actual successful mechanism for determining what their customers want. Given that it would be a truly incredible coincidence for the population of developers who are skilled at making iPhone apps and willing to work for Apple would have the exact same demographic split – in any dimension, not just gender – as the population of current/potential iPhone users, it would be quite strange for Apple to choose an app design method that’s based on the devs’ preferences rather than something else, like market research or just the magical genius of Steve Jobs.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Apple’s tech employees include 20% females. If Apple’s like every other tech company I’ve been to, project managers and such are more likely to be female. So I’d actually be very surprised if Apple “didn’t think of it” and suspect it’s more likely to be D — they intentionally declined. Possibly B, though that’s less likely (simply because it isn’t a large feature and it would obviously be popular based on the popularity of period-tracker apps).

            Most likely reason for declining would be fear of some sort of lawsuit (“I used your period tracker to do the rhythm method and I got pregnant anyway” comes immediately to mind) that would be much more likely against a deep-pocket company like Apple than the smaller companies which do period trackers.

            However, this reasoning, like your reasoning, is based entirely on priors. The result cannot validly be used to update.

          • mdet says:

            I admit that Apple has been able to satisfy the preferences of users in every other way, so this is a good point, but it only added to my surprise that they would fail to include the feature for any reason.

            Not wanting to include a feature that “only” appealed to half their users (slightly less given post-menopausal women) would imply that they also wouldn’t include blood sugar metrics for diabetics, or inhaler use for athsmatics — both of which were included, both of which are a much smaller population than people-with-functional-ovaries. Not wanting to offer something that there’s already a prevalence of in the App Store would imply that they wouldn’t include running / walking trackers, the only category more popular than period trackers. But they did that too.

            The lawsuit point is one I didn’t think of. But the way many of the trackers work is by incorporating data tracked by other apps / devices into a single display menu, and their eventual solution was to make a place in the Health app for data from Clue, the period app, to be displayed. That sounds like enough to avoid culpability to me, but I’m not a lawyer.

            I’ll put the lawsuit point above the “company full of men didn’t think a period app was that important” in terms of plausibility, but I still won’t discount the latter entirely. Thanks

          • Aapje says:

            @mdet

            I have never used the app, but if I look at Apple’s page about it, I notice that they seem to focus strongly on having the user first measure something and then make changes. They say: “The Health app highlights four categories: Activity, Sleep, Mindfulness, and Nutrition.” In their more extensive description of each category, they focus on how what the user can do, like: “So going to bed at the same time every night and getting the right amount of rest can improve how you feel. […] so you can get into a healthier sleep routine.”

            Not being a woman, I have never used a period tracker, but looking at this it seems like period trackers are not used in the same way so much, but mainly for women to understand their mood swings or to get pregnant. So it’s not so much about changing the health measurements, but about anticipating them, I guess.

            So perhaps Apple thought that period tracking didn’t fit into their concept so well? Another possibility is that they asked women who then said that they preferred a separate app for it.

            Also, it is perfectly possible that they decided to limit the scope of their initial product & intentionally decided to not make certain features a part of it. There are various possible reasons for not including period tracking right away, like not seeing a way to provide added value over other apps, not having integration options* (Apple loves linking their products together), coming to the conclusion that you can’t half-ass the feature (and so have to make a very large investment before people are willing to use it), etc.

            * Perhaps this changes if Apple starts selling the iOvulation, an Apple-branded ovulation thermometer 😛

        • AG says:

          As with Iain’s Bojack Horseman’s example, one check everyone could do is use a word replacer such than any generic pronouns referring to a singular person is rendered using she/her/hers. See how you feel about it after a month. All of the reasons to advocate for he/him/his as the default would equally apply to using she/her/hers as the default.

          As for the impact of linguistic marking on gender equality, I think a better check would be to study non-English languages.
          But there’s also probably an intersection with culture, as well. An individualistic culture appears to be more affected by representation than a collectivist one. So linguistic markings may have more of an affect on some cultures than others.
          We’d also have to start going down that rabbit hole of how much of our common idioms are ableist or rooted in violent metaphors or whatever.

        • albatross11 says:

          There are obviously a lot of confounders here, but it might be interesting to look at whether there’s a relationship between rigidity of gender roles in societies vs how much gender matters in the local dominant language. It’s notable that there’s been a huge improvement in the position and freedom of women in the English speaking world over the last century, despite any effect from having female be the marked state. I don’t know enough to know about other languages and cultures.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I prefer gender-neutral language, but from what I’ve heard, cultures that use gender-neutral languages can be quite sexist, so pushing for gender-neutral language may not be a good way of changing more important behavior.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      This could be empirically researched in the hundreds of languages humanity is blessed with, rather than just speculated blindly as is the custom.

      If I’m to believe what I’ve heard in previous versions of this debate, there are plenty of examples of languages that are painstakingly gender neutral that are spoken by horrifically misogynistic cultures, and also some where feminine pronouns have some advantage that don’t seem different that others.

      That’s just rumors over science, of course, but I’d be really surprised if something this silly had any real impact. It’s just words! Words aren’t magic, as anyone who knows at least two languages must know. Sometimes I wonder if the prevalence of “Word Magic” thinking in the US is because this country won the language lottery and most people never had to learn a second language…

      • albatross11 says:

        The two other languages I have some command of are Spanish (where I’m somewhere around fluency) and Portuguese (where I can read a newspaper and speak very simple phrases). Both are, to my mind, highly gendered languages–much more than English. And my impression is that the cultures where Spanish and Portuguese is spoken tend to be somewhat more sexist or man-centric, though there are a lot of Spanish-speaking countries so there’s a wide range of cultures there. OTOH, quite a few countries speaking those languages have had female elected presidents (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Costa Rica off the top of my head, but I’m sure I’m missing a few).

        I’d rate that as (weak) evidence toward the idea that a gendered language inclines you toward a more sexist culture. I think those countries tend toward relatively high levels of violence as well–particularly in Central and South America. I don’t know if that’s relevant or not.

        I think other Romance languages (French, Catalan, Italian, Romanian) are also highly gendered in the same way–the underlying structure of the language all falls out of Latin. But I don’t speak any of those, so maybe someone who does can comment?

        I gather Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic are structurally rather similar languages, but it sure seems like Israel has a lot less sexist culture than most of the Arabic-speaking world. On the other hand, Israel is an outlier in a bunch of ways.

        How about Germanic languages like German or Dutch? Slavic languages? Asian languages? African?

        • Nornagest says:

          I understand a little Italian — not enough to speak it as such, but enough to struggle through texts or e.g. order a beer — and it’s almost exactly as gendered as Spanish.

          I also have some level of proficiency in German, which is not a Romance language but is strongly grammatically gendered — more like the Romance languages in this respect than like English, even though English is much more closely related. (Though, unlike Spanish and Italian, it doesn’t encode gender into noun suffixes, meaning that you need to memorize the gender of every noun. It’s annoying.) It has a reputation for being a fairly egalitarian country.

          Japanese doesn’t have grammatical gender but does have gender-bound forms of speech and gendered pronouns. It’s complicated. I’d say it’s somewhat more gendered than English on balance, but mainly because Japanese encodes a lot more about social relationships into the language than English does.

        • Aapje says:

          @albatross11

          German is more gendered than Dutch, because it has gendered articles. In Dutch, male and female words get the same article, which is different from the one used for neuter words.

          Both German and Dutch use gendered pronouns based on the gender of the noun (male, female or neuter).

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Currently learning Finnish, which traditionally doesn’t have male/female pronouns, but does have person / non-person pronouns: ‘hän’ means either ‘he’ or ‘she’, while ‘se’ means ‘it’, and in the plural, ‘he’ means ‘they’ when talking about people, and ‘ne’ means ‘they’ when talking about things.

          But in the casual spoken language*, the inanimate forms are taking over; it is normal to you ‘se’ to cover ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’, and ‘ne’ in the plural regardless of how alive ‘they’ are.

          *well, cluster-of-dialects – there is no standard spoken Finnish, so there may be hold-outs somewhere, but certainly in the most common versions I’ve come across, the inanimate and animate pronouns have merged.

        • Obelix says:

          French has a bit of a debate about how to feminize nouns, especially nouns referring to professions, and interestingly it’s not resolved in the same way across the French-speaking world. For example, in France, it wouldn’t be uncommon to refer to a female president as “Madame le président” (“Mrs. President (masc.)”), while in Canada the only possible phrase is “Madame la présidente” (“Mrs. President (fem.)”). The debate about the feminization of nouns raged for much longer in France than here, and I’m not sure how or if it’s been resolved.

          Interestingly, some French nouns aren’t feminized in the same way depending on the country. The word “auteur” (“author”) has the feminine form “auteure” in Canada, but I believe in some countries (in Switzerland maybe?) the form “autrice” can be used, which to me sounds very jarring, but I guess follows Latin grammar better.

      • The classic example of a language with no pronominal gender distinctions belonging to a heavily patriarchal culture is Persian.

        A good resource to be aware of if you wonder about this sort of thing is the WALS.

        http://wals.info/feature/44A#2/16.6/148.7

        Note that Persian is marked as having a gender distinction on the linked map, but this is because Persian distinguishes animate vs. inanimate. It does not distinguish male vs. female. The map is using gender in the older sense where it just means ‘distinguished variety’, so a language marked as having gendered pronouns on the map might not necessarily have sexed pronouns.

        Here are some other languages which, according to the map, have no gender-in-the-older-sense distinctions in pronouns at all, and therefore in particular do not have sexed pronouns:

        Turkish, Hindi, Mongolian, Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, Malay, Tagalog, Maori, Yoruba, Igbo, Greenlandic, Nahuatl, Quechua

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      If “he” does not have a gendered implication, then do sentences like “no one should be allowed to whip out his breasts in public, even to feed his child” or “everyone should know that if he drinks wine while pregnant his fetus is at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome” sound right to you?

      • Aapje says:

        The parent argued for the inclusive ‘he’ in sentences involving a person of unspecified sex.

        If we assume a sex binary, where only ‘she’ can breastfeed and become pregnant, then both of your sentences do specify the sex.

        • Enkidum says:

          Dude, this is not an honest answer. Do those sentences sound right to you? Yes or no. If the answer is “no” (and it is) then at least on the surface, there appears to be a problem with the views being advocated by several people (including you) on this thread.

          • Aapje says:

            @Enkidum

            I presume that you misunderstand my reasoning, because your argument makes no sense to me.

            To me it seems like the traditional ruleset is:
            – Group of men -> he
            – Group of women -> she
            – Mixed group -> he

            AFAIK, some people want to change the latter, so:
            – Group of men -> he
            – Group of women -> she
            – Mixed group -> they/xe/she/whatever

            Ozy’s examples are wrong under both rulesets, no? If so, it doesn’t prove the new ruleset better than the old…

          • Enkidum says:

            Now I’m very confused. “He” and “she” refer to groups?

          • Well... says:

            “He” or “She” here refer to an unspecified individual who from context must belong to either an all-male, all-female, or mixed-sex group.

            Aapje was indicating, based on whatever group you know the individual to come from, which pronoun is used.

          • Enkidum says:

            Ah… I think I did misunderstand Aapje’s point here. Apologies for unnecessarily grumpiness on my part.

            Unfortunately I have to bow out for the time being due to a pressing data deadline. May return in several hours.

          • Aapje says:

            “everyone should know that if he drinks wine while pregnant his fetus is at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome”

            The way I parse this sentence is that it is exclusively directed at a group of people: those with the possibility to get pregnant.

            So if we assume that only women get pregnant or the exception is rare enough to ignore, then this sentence is practically the same as: “Hey fertile women: you should know that your fetus is at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome if you drink when you are pregnant.”

            It doesn’t make that much sense to say: “Hey men and women: you should know that your fetus is at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome if you drink when you are pregnant.” Then people like me with no uterus will wonder whether the locutor is familiar with human biology.

            So in my view, “he” and “his” in Ozy’s sentence refers to the fertile female reader, which causes causes a conflict in the sentence, because the sentence simultaneously limits the scope to fertile female readers and yet also does not, which is inconsistent.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          You’re basically conceding my point. If we use “she” for groups that are entirely female and “he” for groups that are both male and female, then “he” continues to have a gendered meaning when referring to unspecified people. If ‘he’-for-unspecified-people is a homonym of ‘he’-for-specified-people and only the latter has a gendered meaning, then ‘he’-for-unspecified-people should not be behaving in a gendered fashion.

          I think the actual grammatical rule pre-feminism was something like “refer to unspecified people as male unless the thing the unspecified person is doing is strongly associated with women,” which also neatly explains examples such as “mailman” and “policeman.”

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

            It isn’t “unspecified people.” It’s “unspecified sex.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy Frantz

            If we use “she” for groups that are entirely female and “he” for groups that are both male and female, then “he” continues to have a gendered meaning when referring to unspecified people.

            I wouldn’t put it that way.

            A more accurate statement seems to me that it introduces a level of ambiguity that can cause misunderstandings and/or make people apply stereotypes. I’m not opposed to fixing such ambiguity, aside from wondering whether it is worth the effort and/or whether language isn’t typically downstream from societal changes and thus not a very good way increase gender equality.

            I’m also not convinced that the current situation necessarily makes women worse off, at least in progressive environments.

            I think it very likely that if the situation would have been reversed, feminists would complain about how it is harder to write/talk about groups of women and that men stand out, while women are often invisible as the pronoun can also refer to a mixed group, rather than just women.

            Why is your just-so story more accurate than this just-so story?

      • albatross11 says:

        This is a nice example. You’re right, it’s quite jarring to read those sentences.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        Yeah, I think under the traditional usage, if the sentence indicates the sex of the person in question then it is appropriate to use the gendered pronoun referring to that sex, so “she” can be appropriate where the context of the sentence shows that a female person is indicated.

        • albatross11 says:

          One thing I hadn’t really thought about before, that this discussion has made clear to me, is that when we discuss using “they” instead of “he” for “unspecified human,” we’re not introducing a *new* ambiguity, we’re just choosing *which* ambiguity we want.

          Traditional: “he” = either one male OR one generic person, “they” = multiple people of any gender.

          Proposed[1]: “he” = one male, “they” = either one generic person OR multiple people of any gender.

          [1] Actually often used in practice now.

    • no one special says:

      Wow, there sure is a lot of discussion about this already.

      Notes on etymology:

      English has a term for an adult human: “man”. English had terms for an adult male human, “wereman”, and adult female human, “wifman.” From wifman, we derive both “woman” and “wife”. Wereman is almost completely eroded away, with the echo in werewolf (man-wolf) being the only usage that springs to mind.

      So, we had a gender neutral term, and two gendered terms, and one of the gendered terms fell out of use.

      Also, the English “you” is the second person plural. The second person singular is “thou”. Again, this word has eroded away, except in some old quotes. I believe that “you” was used for individuals as a term of respect, and this usage extended further down the social hierarchy until “thou” had no place left to stand. That’s just my own (dabbler/dilettante) theory.

      On de-gendering terms:
      Wow, there doesn’t seem to be much consistency to this, except that “man” -> “person” is really selected against in common speech.

      Policeman -> Police officer
      Fireman -> Fire fighter
      Mailman -> Letter carrier / postal worker
      Chairman -> Chair
      Congressman -> Representative/Senator
      Actor -> Actor (dropping Actress)

      On non-English languages:
      English has gender markers on pronouns and proper names. French has gender markers on every noun. Russian (IIRC) has no gender markers anywhere. It would seem that comparing the UK, France, and Russia would give us a natural experiment on the strength of the effect of gendered language.

      On singular they:

      Singular they seems totally fine already in cases that are instructional, and where the actor’s sex is unknown:

      “If the operator wants to access the system, they should enter their password.”

      But stilted when the actor’s sex is known:

      “If Bob want to access the system, he should enter his password.”

      Also, compare the horribly stilted:

      “If the operator wants to access the system, he or she should enter his or her password.”

      And the rare, known person of unknown gender:

      “If AnimeFan003 wants to access the system, they should enter their password.”

      • The Nybbler says:

        Wergild, of course, though that’s pretty much obsolete unless we’re talking about old Icelandic stateless justice systems. Apparently “world” is also related to “were-“.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Does anyone know whether there were complaints when “you” was becoming both singular and plural?

      • AG says:

        “If one wants to access the system, one should enter one’s password.”

        I’m a “they/their/theirs is fine” person, but now semi-seriously finding this a real solution. Ozy’s examples even do some of the work for me in the original phrasings!

        “no one should be allowed to whip out one’s breasts in public, even to feed one’s child”
        “everyone should know that if one drinks wine while pregnant one fetus is at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome”

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “no one should be allowed to whip out one’s breasts in public, even to feed one’s child”

          “One should not be allowed to…”, surely?

      • The history of the words for ‘man’ and ‘woman’ given in this post is somewhat inaccurate. Sorry to nitpick, but I’ve seen the same inaccurate story repeated in many places on the Internet and it needs to be stopped. (You are entirely right about ‘thou’ and ‘you’ though.)

        Note that claims about English etymology are not difficult to fact-check. The authoritative source, the Oxford English Dictionary, is available to most people with a university library subscription; and for those without access to it, etymonline.com is almost as good.

        The main inaccuracy is that the word “wereman” has never existed! (Except as a modern word from fantasy novels, for a non-human monster who can shape-shift into a human 🙂 ) And “wife” does not derive from “wifman”; it’s the other way round.

        What happened is this. Old English had:

        * wer as the ordinary word for both ‘adult male human being’ and ‘husband’.
        * wīf as the ordinary word for both ‘woman’ and ‘wife’.
        * manna as the ordinary word for ‘human being’.

        The compound wīfman was also present as another word for ‘woman’; however, wīf was the usual word. It is common in languages across the world to not have separate words for ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. For example, modern German does this: one’s husband is mein Mann and one’s wife is meine Frau.

        There were also a few less ordinary, more poetic synonyms for wer such as guma (cognate to Latin homō, probably from a root meaning ‘earth’, cf. Hebrew adam) and wǣp(n)man (literally ‘weapon-person’, though the OED assures us that ‘weapon’ here is being used to refer to the “membrum virile”). There was a poetic synonym for wīf too, namely cwēn, whence modern English queen (a cognate of the ordinary word for ‘woman’ in many other Indo-European languages, e.g. Ancient Greek gynḗ).

        As the Middle English period begun, four things happened:
        * manna > man started to be used for ‘adult male human being’ in particular, as well as ‘human being’ in general. Already by c. 1000 AD, we see usages where e.g. a woman is described as ‘not a man’.
        * wer (and guma and wǣp(n)man) simply dropped out of use.
        * The word husband, originally referring to the role of ‘master of the house’, started to be used for ‘husband’, as an alternative to wer/man.
        * wīfman > woman became more common in comparison to wīf > wife as the word for ‘woman’, although the latter was still common in this sense.

        By the 1500s or so, wife had fallen out of use as a word for ‘woman’, except in Scotland (where it is still used in this sense). Likewise, man had fallen out of use as a word that can be used to refer to a particular woman. For example, in 1597 an author refers to those ‘two men’ who were in the Garden of Eden, but that is the last time the OED can find such a usage. In fact, the last usage where singular ‘man’ is used to refer to a woman (rather than plural ‘men’ being used to refer to a husband-and-wife couple) is from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where somebody’s daughter is described as a wundorlic man. In recent English, man only means ‘human being’ when it is used to refer to an arbitrary human being, rather than a particular one.

        The word man continued to be used for ‘husband’ until more recent times (c.f. wedding vows; ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’) and is still common in that sense colloquially.

    • tayfie says:

      So I could bring something original to the thread, the first grammarian to recommend “he” be used for a person of unknown gender was a woman named Ann Fisher in her book “A New Grammar”. This comment section throws me down the oddest rabbit holes.

      Personally, I am in favor of the singular “they” as it is already more ubiquitous than generic “he” and would give me the last laugh over my middle school English teacher.

      In cases where formality is required, I prefer to use “one”.

    • Anthony says:

      Ignoring the “generic he” discussion and skipping right onto the “preferred pronoun” issue, I found Eric Raymond’s essay Your identity is not your choice to state an actual argument against the whole “preferred pronoun” business. The core of his argument is:

      Your “identity” is a set of predictive claims you assert about yourself, mostly (though not entirely) about what kinds of transactions other people can expect to engage in with you.

      … (examples elided)

      Thus, identity claims can be false (not cashed out in observed behavior) or fraudulent (intended to deceive). You don’t get to choose your identity; you get to make an offer and it’s up to others whether or not to accept.

      In general, as a matter of politeness, people who have expressed a non-obvious pronoun preference *to me* get that pronoun when I am talking to them, or in their immediate physical or social vicinity. But trying to remember lots of people’s pronoun choices is difficult, like trying to remember who is and isn’t vegetarian or has gluten intolerance or is allergic to shellfish or keeps Kosher or not. So in addition to ESR’s argument, there’s the increased cognitive demands made by people who insist on using non-obvious pronouns. By demanding that people have to spend mental effort remembering something unusual, they take upon themselves the obligation to not get upset when they need to keep reminding people of it. Remembering that a friend you eat out with every week is vegetarian is much easier than remembering that someone in your Dunbar Number social group, but that you don’t get meals with often is.

  16. bayesianinvestor says:

    If they’re able to stay afloat, I may move SSC meetups there and you won’t have to stand awkwardly in the university quad.

    This encourages me not to donate. The university quad works pretty well 90% of the time, with some modest problems on unusually cold days such as March 3. Whereas I typically avoid indoor SSC meetups, because the density ensures that the background noise will prevent me from focusing on a conversation. The EA community space is not close to being adequate for a SSC meetup.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I was thinking maybe we would take over the whole house, which the rest of the house occasionally lets people do. But if it’ll make you less likely to donate, I won’t do it.

  17. maintain says:

    I have a biology question I figured I could ask you guys about.

    I’ve taken finasteride, and dutasteride (DHT blockers) for hair loss. Every time I start to take them, I start to get a sore throat and persistent cough. What is going on there? How is that possible? If I was born female, would I just have a sore throat all the time? I can’t seem to find anyone else who reports the same symptoms.

    And most importantly, can I find a way to keep my hair? ):

    • For a while I was taking finasteride for an enlarged prostate. It made me impotent, so I stopped taking it. There was a very mild warning of something along those lines, but it considerably understated the effect.

      Searching online, I found people who were taking it for hair loss who reported the same problem.

    • Glen Raphael says:

      @ maintain:

      I’ve taken finasteride, and dutasteride (DHT blockers) for hair loss. Every time I start to take them, I start to get a sore throat and persistent cough. What is going on there? How is that possible?

      You say every time you start to take them – how many times have you restarted and is there a pattern as to when you start taking them? The reason I ask is that some seasonal factors (pollen, air temperature…) can provoke post-nasal drip which causes persistent sore throat and cough.

      I have at several times in the past had sore throat and persistent cough unrelated to any medication I was taking at the time. Some cold/allergy medicines can help that, or I have at times been prescribed a steroid nasal spray (fluticasone propionate) which did help resolve it.

      As an anecdote in the other direction, I recently started taking finasteride for the first time (starting about a month ago) and have not thus far noticed any changes in cough/throat issues.

  18. Buckyballas says:

    Anyone have thoughts on the Ezra Klein – Sam Harris debate? (transcript, audio)

    • Wrong Species says:

      I listened to it and there’s definitely a sense, and they point it out, that they are talking past each other. Harris wants to talk about how anyone who doesn’t have exactly the right views gets slandered and how dangerous that is. Klein wants to talk about how Harris is much more biased than he thinks and how he can’t just separate the idea of race and genetics separately from its history so cleanly and that’s dangerous. I think they’re both right, in a sense, but I do think Harris came across as kind of naive. Everyone is biased, including himself, and all politics is probably identity politics to a certain degree. If had just acknowledged his own bias then I think it would have been a more fruitful conversation.

      • markus says:

        Yes, but…

        While I agree with this general characterization of their debate, I also left with Harris wish for a way to discuss these things since the future will give us the discussion whether we are ready or not and sensing a kind of naive wish from Klein to leave it be for now in hope for a less infected future climate (while that is time we probably do not have).

        But I have a hard time sewing together Harris dual claim that we need to discuss genetics and IQ due to the future and that he is not interested in doing so, just in metadiscussing the possibility of doing so. Seems a little motte and bailey-ish to me.

        The right thing to do seems to acknowledge the problems and biases Klein mentions but still discuss the issue at hand rather then the meta-issue, especially since there is where Harris biases are strongest.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I think there’s three different tiers of discussion here. There’s the empirical, object level one where we look at what the data says. There’s the issue of public policy based on the data. But in between there’s a philosophical debate about what our prior should be when interpreting data and what should count as strong evidence for or against it. One thing I think Harris should called out Klein for was the claim that only Murray is trying to base his policy recommendations on the science. We already do that and as far as the law is concerned, evidence of racial differences is evidence of racial discrimination. I think there’s definitely not enough evidence to enforce disparate impact claims and there’s definitely a case against affirmative action. It could be flipped back on Klein saying they need to prove that discrimination is the main factor for those differences rather than something else.

          • albatross11 says:

            And I’ll say it again: Determining your priors based on what you *want* the answer to be is like blinding yourself.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Good luck trying to differentiate what someone thinks their prior should be based on reason and what they want it to be because of their bias.

          • albatross11 says:

            My rule of thumb as a not-all-that-sophisticated user of statistics and probability theory: It should make you *extremely* uneasy when you realize that your conclusions turn on which priors you chose. (Outside pathological stuff like setting some prior probabilities to 0 or 1.)

      • Darwin says:

        The two big issues I wish they had talked about but didn’t seem able to align enough to consider:

        1. Are the attacks and deplatformings and etc. against Murray at least in part, maybe entirely, because of his political views and recommendations, not his interpretation of science? If so, does this change how Harris feels about these attacks on Murray?

        2. The appeals to the history of slavery and Jim Crow are not just a political argument about why this stuff is dangerous and awful to talk about form a political viewpoint, it’s also a scientific argument that the American data set of racial IQ statistics which Murray is basing his scientific claims on is hopelessly confounded by systematic noise and therefore it’s scientifically wrong to draw the conclusions Murray draws from it. Would Harris agree with this point about the science, and would considering that his is part of the argument make him less quick to attack anyone who disputes Murray’s science as ‘intellectually dishonest’?

    • quaelegit says:

      Here is the discussion from the last hidden open thread. (It’s totally fine to continue here! I am just linking in case anyone missed the earlier discussion and is interested in reading it.)

      • Wrong Species says:

        That discussion, while interesting, predates the podcast, which I think is more illuminating than the stuff that came before.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m just getting started listening to it. Admittedly, mostly for popcorn reasons.

      My first takeaway: I’ve never heard Ezra Klein’s voice before, but he sounds exactly how I would expect, which is interesting in and of itself.

      • professorgerm says:

        Interesting! I’m fairly (80% or so) certain I hadn’t seen a picture of him before, and when I looked, he appeared exactly as I expected.

        There’s something about his tone that I find irritating, and I’m not sure exactly what. Could just be that my left ear is sensitive to certain frequencies.

        Though if we’re allowed a little uncharitability, I think it’s that he has a slightly higher-pitched version of ‘smug’ relative to Harris, whose tone I find smug but less irritating.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      My sense of Ezra Klein is that he’s, I guess a conflict theorist may be the term of art here? My sense is that he believes very strongly that anything that advocates for the wrong policy is inherently factually incorrect, or that you can permissibly attack anything that is “wrong” in any way that you want, or you can mischaracterize it without limit. And similarly if something is “right,” you can permissibly make false arguments for it.

      This is a view I developed back before Vox, when Klein was a blogger mainly concerned with healthcare, so it’s not something that I developed just reading this transcript, but this transcript does reinforce it for me. Admittedly, this trait that I attribute to Klein has led to enough distaste of him that I don’t read him often, and I might be missing some key counter-evidence to my impression.

      Klein seems like he actually has pretty mainstream center-left policy views, and like he’s pretty persuasive, at least in writing (no idea what he’s like in person), and I think this obscures how much disregard for anything like objective fact he has. Most people who have pretty mainstream center-left policy views are not deep-in conflict theorists. Usually, when you see deep-in conflict theorists, they’re radicals (to one side or another). So I think that people pattern-match Klein to be someone whose approach to how political debate works is similarly mainstream to his preferred policies.

      When Harris says, “Okay. Ezra, again you can’t conflate his views on social policy with an honest discussion of empirical science. Those are two separate conversations,” that’s like martian talk to Klein. Klein just doesn’t care about empirical science.

      • skef says:

        My sense is that he believes very strongly that anything that advocates for the wrong policy is inherently factually incorrect, or that you can permissibly attack anything that is “wrong” in any way that you want, or you can mischaracterize it without limit.

        Someone with the latter approach would be a conflict theorist while someone with the former would be an error theorist.

      • Wrong Species says:

        My sense is that he believes very strongly that anything that advocates for the wrong policy is inherently factually incorrect, or that you can permissibly attack anything that is “wrong” in any way that you want, or you can mischaracterize it without limit. And similarly if something is “right,” you can permissibly make false arguments for it.

        That’s not what Klein believes, or at least, it’s not what he says or implies. His argument is that genetics could possibly have something to do with racial differences. However, previously when white people have made those kinds of arguments, they’ve been wrong and we’ve been able to see from our vantage point they were extremely biased. We also know that there has been environmental factors that could plausibly hold black people from their true potential. Imagine looking at China in 1979 and arguing forcefully that they could never reach close to the heights of western civilization. It had been nearly 200 years since the Industrial Revolution and they still were one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, it seems almost inevitable to many people that they will reach first world status. Think of it as him taking the outside view rather than the inside view.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I’m arguing from not just this one data point, but, I don’t know, a couple dozen, spanning probably 10+ years.

          You can’t be a respectable center-left commentator and explicitly subscribe to conflict theory. The person whose policy prescriptions are identical to Klein’s, and who also subscribes to conflict-theory, and who openly says, “There is no such thing as objective truth, those who disagree with me are wrong because they are outside my tribe” does not become Editor-in-Chief of his own relatively major media brand.

          But my sense from seeing Klein’s arguments sporadically, but over a long time frame and a wide range of issues, is that he regards science as, like, a complicated subsystem in an MMO. There’s this cool intellectual puzzle where you do some reading about a fake magical tradition, and then you combine a few different reagents and you get a potion. And sometimes the potion gives your enemies -10 to attack and defense, in which case cool, you deploy it in your fight. And sometimes the potion gives your enemies +50 to attack and defense, in which case you toss that potion into the sea and fight with other tools. Obviously.

          And someone saying, “Wait, you can’t just discard the potions that help your enemies,” it’s like, what? Of course you can, you idiot. Those potions are bad.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I wish you would address my point rather than repeating yourself while using an analogy. This is what Klein said about the possibility of genetic differences:

            I doubt that we have, given the experiment we have run in this country, given the centuries of slavery and segregation and oppression, given locking people out of jobs, out of good schools, out of building wealth, out of going into top professions, out of being part of the social networks that help you advance; the amount of violence and terror and trauma that we have inflicted on African Americans in this country, I absolutely doubt — I truly, to the core of my being, doubt — that we are at a place where any of us should have confidence saying that the differences we see in individuals now reflect intrinsic group capacity.

            And this is sort of a summary of his views:

            You say that it is unfair, journalistically, to put your conversation within the lineage of the conversation going all the way back in American history and all the way, as you say, the pre-American history — in fact, in my piece, I quote Voltaire and Hume and others — that at each point European-descended white men of scientific mind looked around them, looked at the society they saw, looked at the outcomes people had in the society they saw, looked at the science pulled from those outcomes, right? And it was called science back then too. And said, “You know what? What we are seeing here is a result of innate differences between the races.”

            We’ve not even talked through questions of what it even means to talk about races and the way that has changed over time, but I’ll just bracket that. It’s been justified in different ways with different kinds of science, but now we look back and we say, “Oh man, they did not know what they were talking about. That was ridiculous. I mean, look at what was going on in their society.” They looked and they ran their studies and they ran the numbers and they said, “You know, there’s just a difference here. There’s a difference here and that is why things are turning out the way they are.”

            Tell me why it is unfair to put your conversation in that lineage. Why the burden of proof is not actually on you to say here is why it is different this time. Here is why we are at a point, either in American history, or science, or whatever, where we are certain that nobody in 50 years is going to look back at us and say that. Because scientifically what, the scientists who are on my side of this argument, think, and they include James Flynn and many others, they say that’s where we are here.

            Just looking at those quotes, do you think those are reasonable things to believe? Do you think someone can make these arguments in good faith?

          • qwints says:

            For what it’s worth, as a leftist who hasn’t followed the exchange between Klein and Harris, they seem like reasonable views that I would expect at least a significant minority of blue tribe members to hold.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I did address your point. Your point was, “Klein says that he’s not a conflict theorist.” My addressing it was, “Of course he says that.”

            A mistake theorist could hold a very similar view to Klein’s, and that’s kind of Klein’s super power. He has all the unshakeable conviction and stone cold readiness to fight to the death of a conflict theorist. He never gives an inch in any way, he’s always ready to say anything he needs to in order to win. But he dresses up his conversation in language that sounds pretty reasonable, and that’s what has made him more successful than many of his peers.

            So, look to treat the argument as being in good faith for a bit:

            Sure, you can have in good faith the belief that Western society is so far in the shadow of racism that it is literally impossible to do good science on the subject of the inheritability of intelligence with respect to race.

            However, let me note that once you say that it is literally impossible to establish any kind of objective fact, you’re pretty much de facto a conflict theorist on the subject of race, aren’t you? That’s kind of the core of conflict theory: that it’s pointless to try to discover objective reality, you just have to align with your tribe.

            Further, I think that once you hold that belief, sincerely, it’s kind of hard to make a case that it’s confined to racism. There are other major cultural tenets to western society, after all. Indeed, bigger ones that racism. If racism has such a hold on our psyche that it renders good science about intelligence impossible, what kind of good science is possible? This is basically the core postmodernist belief: that essentially all efforts to discover objective reality are hopeless because we are such prisoners to our biases.

            And that is absolutely a belief that is reasonable to hold, and that many people do sincerely hold. And it may be a belief that Klein holds, but if so, he hides it. Because when studies back his preferred policies, he doesn’t say, “But, you know, science is bullshit, so it doesn’t really matter,” he says, “Awesome, a potion of +10 to attack,” and uses it.

          • skef says:

            Sure, you can have in good faith the belief that Western society is so far in the shadow of racism that it is literally impossible to do good science on the subject of the inheritability of intelligence with respect to race.

            Except that Klein’s view, and Klein-adjacent views, do not depend on so strong a point.

            The vast majority of people are not doing IQ studies, or analyzing IQ studies to the point they can verify the work. Indeed, most people are not doing any science at all, and most of their science-derived beliefs rest directly on testimony. Skepticism about the studies in question therefore need not rest on the impossibility of doing a “good” study. It can rest on a) there also being actual biased studies and b) people relying on testimony not being in a position to differentiate the good from the bad.

            There is a fairly common view, which I share, that the general reliability of scientific research related to a given topic lowers as preconceptions about that topic rise. Someone with this view is likely to give more credence to an individual study on some question without moral or policy implications than a study on a question with them.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you believed that nothing could be known about whether genes were causing the racial IQ differences, wouldn’t you be equally unhappy with people postulating a genetic basis and people postulating a non-genetic basis? It seems like the usual argument (also appearing in the bits of Klein’s comments quoted above) is that because of the historical/social context, there should be a much higher burden of proof and a much stronger presumption of evil motives on anyone speculating that the race/IQ difference is driven by genes than on anyone speculating that it’s not driven by genes.

            The only problem with this is that it’s an extraordinarily bad way to get to the truth. Putting a big fat thumb on the scales with which you weigh evidence, and making sure to engage everyone’s moral revulsion and tribal circuitry when they’re talking about a factual question is like the opposite of how you should go about seeking truth.

            Try it with vaccine safety: Given the terrible history of quack medical treatments that killed their patients (make sure to work in references to Mengele, the Tuskeegee experiments, lobotomies, and radical mastectomies), shouldn’t we assume that someone who wants to inject foreign substances into our childrens’ bodies maybe has some evil motives? Especially when there’s a long and ugly history of for-profit pharmaceutical companies misbehaving in various ways? And shouldn’t we demand an extraordinarily high burden of proof (always just a bit higher than the one you’ve provided) of anyone claiming that their proposed vaccine won’t cause autism?

          • skef says:

            albatross11: What truth? Your second paragraph doesn’t make sense in relation to the stipulation of the first.

            (Unless, of course, one derives a factual position implicitly from what would otherwise be a downstream policy implication.)

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            @skef: Totally. I think that’s a valid criticism to make on the Bell Curve style stuff. Like, “It’s hard, but not impossible, to overcome a variety of institutional racists effects here.”

            But if you actually make that argument in the face of a relatively knowledgeable interlocutor, you have to actually get down in the weeds of the research. Start talking about individual studies and counter-studies and so forth.

            And, just to be clear, I’m not a huge proponent of whatever idiotic euphemism we’re currently using for “people who think that black people have lower mean g than white people.” I think that if there was a vigorous investigation into this area, the end result would probably not be “Steve Sailer is unambiguously correct about everything,” though my guess is also that it wouldn’t be, “there are literally no subpopulations anywhere that have higher or lower mean g than any other subpopulations.” EDIT: To make this stronger, my general belief is that the Steve Sailer types are considerably more wrong than right about the science, not just about the implications of the science. But that’s a fairly weak belief, I don’t think I have any special insight into the data here. My strong belief is that they’re wrong about the implications of the science.

            But my point is really more that Klein doesn’t want that, and spends the entire interview completely avoiding any attempt to be drawn into, “Okay, here’s how we’d actually investigate this, here’s why I think there is a real effect here.” He basically says, “Here are a couple of people who say that there may not be a racial difference in g, and also you’re racist,” in my reading, actively in an attempt to shut down any attempt to interrogate the issue more deeply.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @sandoratthezoo

            This is how I see this conversation:

            You criticize Klein.
            I criticize you for misrepresenting Klein.
            You ignore that and double down on the conflict theory point(something I didn’t mention)
            I criticize you for that.
            You claim that my original point was about the conflict theory angle and then misrepresent Klein again.

            I’m not sure where to go from there so I’ll leave at this: find me an instance where Klein says it is literally impossible to do good science on the subject and I will take back everything I said.

          • skef says:

            But my point is really more that Klein doesn’t want that, and spends the entire interview completely avoiding any attempt to be drawn into, “Okay, here’s how we’d actually investigate this, here’s why I think there is a real effect here.”

            I think this is a fair criticism, but I also think it is best explained in terms of the downstream debate, which is what people on either side most care about, and about which neither side is better.

            The factual debate tends to be over the propositon: Genetic background partly explains IQ, and there are trends in IQ related to race (or what is conventionally thought of as race). The downstream debates are over this or that social program. The next move on the “partly explains” side is often “absent solid evidence that program X will help, it should be eliminated.” More generally, there is a point at which the rubber meets the road and doubt needs to collapse into decision.

            The dominant policy standpoint on the left is that there is remaining work to be done to reduce unjust discrepancies. It is fair to say that this is often defended by a factual claim about similarity in capacities that cannot be robustly supported by scientific evidence.

            The dominant policy standpoint on the right is that there is no remaining work to be done, or no significant work. (Or that if there is, it isn’t any particular policy on offer.) This is often defended in terms of evidence of IQ difference that in the earlier stage of debate is defended as a bare difference of indeterminable degree. All of the sudden, such people are pretty comfortable with a determination.

            Those on the right will say that one should have strong evidence of a chance of improvement, cite Chesterton’s fence, and so on. Those on the left will point out that there has been improvement over time and the arguments on the right could have been applied at earlier points, blocking those improvements.

            In short: appropriate doubt is a virtue but it doesn’t necessarily help in practice. If anything, its easier to argue for one’s subjective preferences in the face of doubt than it would be otherwise.

          • albatross11 says:

            skef:

            I probably should have broken this part out in a separate paragraph, instead of leaving it at the end of the first paragraph:

            It seems like the usual argument (also appearing in the bits of Klein’s comments quoted above) is that because of the historical/social context, there should be a much higher burden of proof and a much stronger presumption of evil motives on anyone speculating that the race/IQ difference is driven by genes than on anyone speculating that it’s not driven by genes.

            This is a more general form of the isolated demand for rigor. A person claiming that the black/white IQ difference is certainly not genetic is only required to make a plausible-sounding explanation for why this might be true, they can make their argument in everyday informal language, and they needn’t be some kind of saint in their personal life. A person claiming it is partly genetic is required to have every detail nailed down with rock-solid evidence, and to phrase his findings in perfectly moderate language, and to have a completely unproblematic history.

            The result of this is to put a thumb on the scales of the social processes by which we get to the truth. It’s a good way to slow down acceptance of some position you don’t want accepted, but a really poor way to get to the truth.

          • albatross11 says:

            sandoratthezoo:

            I think being right about the science (the factual questions) is the best way to be right about the moral and policy issues (the normative questions). And science just barely works when we all try really hard to get it right.

            I’m also aware, because I read _The Bell Curve_ around the time it came out, that there has been a whole sequence of moving goalposts about these questions.

            First it was that IQ was meaningless and nobody should talk about it. Then that race was meaningless and nobody should talk about it. And so on. All with claims about the racist/problematic past of the ideas and the intellectual field, the dire social consequences if this line of inquiry is allowed to proceed, and emotive anecdotes about horrible things people have done that has some vague relationship to the whole field.

            The way this looks to me is how people fight a holding action when the data goes against their policy preferences. Like spending a few years arguing that there can’t possibly be any connection between smoking and cancer, and then more years arguing that the statistical methods used to show this connection are somehow subtly flawed, and still more years arguing that yes there’s an association but correlation doesn’t equal causation, and then later that yes smoking causes cancer but there’s an important industry that will be devastated by talking about such things, and so on.

            Again, this is a fine way to slow down acceptance of facts that are bad for your side of some policy debate. But it’s not a great way to get to the truth.

          • Iain says:

            To borrow a phrase from Scott: this is about noticing the skulls.

            The claim that there are racial differences in intelligence has a lot of skulls piled up beside it. That doesn’t, by itself, disprove the claim — but it should affect how you approach it.

            Why are the skulls there? Because people in the past, many of whom thought they were pursuing truth, managed to convince themselves of things that we now know to be false. (Take phrenology as an example, if only to keep the skull theme going.) The fact that so many people have failed in the same place is scary. It means that there’s an easy cognitive trap.

            If you’re going to hang out by the piles of skulls, you should be able to clearly explain your plan for avoiding the trap. You should examine the previous errors, understand how they happened, and take steps to avoid them. Your burden of proof is higher. Your standards of evidence should be stricter. Past generations have left you hard-earned warnings; the least you can do is pay attention.

            Klein’s argument is that Harris is not paying enough attention to the skulls. It’s not that it’s impossible to do good science about genetics and race. It’s that a) we should be exceptionally careful about that science, and reluctant to jump to conclusions without very good proof, and b) we do not currently have that proof. We particularly don’t have enough proof to justify policy changes, as Murray likes to imply.

            Is this an isolated demand for rigour? Absolutely. For similar reasons, we demand more rigor when skydiving than when getting dressed in the morning. Nobody cares about the consequences of being over-confident about your sock selection.

          • Randy M says:

            Why are the skulls there? Because people in the past, many of whom thought they were pursuing truth, managed to convince themselves of things that we now know to be false.Why are the skulls there? Because people in the past, many of whom thought they were pursuing truth, managed to convince themselves of things that we now know to be false.

            I question this causal chain. The skulls are there because people needed a scapegoat, or wanted to make money, or were afraid. Theories about superiority may have reinforced this, but they were primarily justification after the fact.

            It is also dangerous to stoke resentment by blaming disparities potentially caused by nature on deep rooted and intractable malevolence.

            We particularly don’t have enough proof to justify policy changes, as Murray likes to imply.

            Can you specify or point me to some policies that Murray advocates for on the basis of genetic differences? My impression was that he was fairly middle of the road.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Can you specify or point me to some policies that Murray advocates for on the basis of genetic differences? My impression was that he was fairly middle of the road.

            This is something Klein brings up repeatedly throughout the conversation (and which Harris tries really, really hard to never actually respond to, similar to how Klein resolutely refuses to address the question of how we should respond if the data really does come in, in a way he doesn’t like).

            One of the neater summaries:

            Charles Murray — not just to me, what he literally is — is what we call a policy entrepreneur. He’s somebody who his entire career has been spent at Washington think tanks. He’s at the American Enterprise Institute, where I have a lot of friends, and I respect that organization quite a bit. He argues in different ways and throughout his entire body of work for policy outcomes.

            His book before The Bell Curve is called Losing Ground. It’s a book about why we should dissolve the Great Society programs. By the way, when he was selling that book, he said, “a lot of whites think they’re racist, and this is a book that tells them they aren’t.”

            Then he came out with The Bell Curve and we’ll go through this. I’ll quote this back to you, but in The Bell Curve’s final chapter, he says, Why did I do any of this? Why did I talk about any of this? Him and Richard Herrnstein, obviously the co-author of that book. He says, The reason I did it is because we in America need to re-embrace a politics of difference. We need to understand that we are cognitively different from each other, not just by race, but other folks too, but by race as well, and that understanding that changes what we should do in social policy.

            Murray uses his claims about the immutability of cognitive differences to justify a whole raft of conservative policy positions – most notably cutting social spending programs and ending affirmative action, on the basis that they can’t possibly work because the people they’re trying to help are beyond help.

            This is not light years different from exactly the type of justifications used to “scientifically” justify the racist policies of the past. So again, Harris’ protestations of how utterly unfair it is to make the comparison seem strained.

          • Randy M says:

            Murray uses his claims about the immutability of cognitive differences to justify a whole raft of conservative policy positions – most notably cutting social spending programs and ending affirmative action, on the basis that they can’t possibly work

            Thanks, that’s a good example.
            Of course, in the instance of many of those social spending programs, they are enormously expensive and haven’t yet done what they were designed to do, so a case could be made in many instances for changing or repealing them on those grounds alone.

          • skef says:

            Of course, in the instance of many of those social spending programs, they are enormously expensive and haven’t yet done what they were designed to do, so a case could be made in many instances for changing or repealing them on those grounds alone.

            In practice the standard “does what it was designed to do” is only consistently applied to government programs by an-caps, who would prefer that there were no such programs. For example, if we eliminated all of the military programs that fail to do what they were designed to do — well, let’s just say that we would have a lot less of that sort of stuff. Over-promising is not alien to politics.

            A more plausible neutral standard is “accomplishing something worth the cost”. But that standard isn’t definitive in the face of sufficient doubt. Those with prior reasons to support a program will say “we need something like this” and “give it a chance” and so on, and someone with prior reasons to not support it will demand solid evidence of it working and so on.

          • Randy M says:

            In practice the standard “does what it was designed to do” is only consistently applied to government programs by an-caps

            Ok, fair. I don’t think a program has to succeed perfectly to be justified, but it should have an effect in the general domain of it’s goals commensurate with the cost.
            However, if a program is justified in improving the lives of the poor by closing the achievement gap in high school and thereby improve life outcomes, and then is defended when those goals fail to materialize by pointing out how great everyone’s self-esteem is (or some other tangential good) it is fair to expect the people who approved the program (voters, reps, regulators, etc.) to reevaluate if that good is within the scope of their mandate.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I haven’t done the research myself to verify whether this claim is true or false, but one of the major claims in the Vox articles is that the racial gaps which Murray claims are so immutable actually have closed significantly since he started making those claims, and that this would indictate that the social policies in question actually have been having an effect.

          • The thesis of Losing Ground was that the original claim and intent of the War on Poverty was to eliminate poverty, to change poor people in ways such that they would no longer be poor via retraining and similar programs. It entirely failed to do so, and ended up being revised ex post into a program to make being poor less unpleasant.

            If true, that’s an important fact, and if false, people should be willing to offer the evidence that such programs did succeed in their original purpose.

            The central argument of The Bell Curve, judging by as much as I read of it—I should go back and finish it some day—was that our society is one where people are increasingly sorted by intellectual ability. At the beginning of the 20th century, the man who went to Harvard wasn’t, on average, much if any smarter than the man who went to a state university, possibly not than the man who fixed the plumbing of both of them—the sorting was by wealth and social status more than by ability. By the time the book was written the society had become considerably more meritocratic, so that the higher status/income person not only believed he was smarter than the lower, it was usually true. The authors regarded this as a serious social problem, reinforced by an increased level of assortative mating which could be expect to increase the differences.

            Again, if true, an important point however unpopular it was to make it.

          • skef says:

            However, if a program is justified in improving the lives of the poor by closing the achievement gap in high school and thereby improve life outcomes, and then is defended when those goals fail to materialize by pointing out how great everyone’s self-esteem is (or some other tangential good) it is fair to expect the people who approved the program (voters, reps, regulators, etc.) to reevaluate if that good is within the scope of their mandate.

            I think this is right, and an important aspect of dealing with uncertainty: When implementing policies that you can’t be sure will work, there should be a means of cutting bait at some point before the end of time.

            Of course, that isn’t the whole answer, because dishonesty and subterfuge are also not alien to politics. Whatever else HeadStart is, for example, it is also a form of subsidized daycare. Many supporters of HeadStart would also, given the chance, support a program of subsidized daycare on the merits. It is a form of redistribution that has a significant material impact on some people’s lives. So it’s not like (taking the common conservative supposition) its supporters can offer no substantial argument for it, even if the substantial arguments aren’t sufficient politically in this age and culture.

          • Anonymous says:

            The Bell Curve, judging by as much as I read of it—I should go back and finish it some day

            Yeah. That thing’s an absolute doorstopper. I expect I’ll need to renew my loan about ten more times before I’m done.

          • albatross11 says:

            MrApophenia:

            You said: (quoting Klein, I think)

            Murray uses his claims about the immutability of cognitive differences to justify a whole raft of conservative policy positions – most notably cutting social spending programs and ending affirmative action, on the basis that they can’t possibly work because the people they’re trying to help are beyond help.

            I don’t believe this is an accurate representation of Murray’s policy views.

            The claim of _Losing Ground_ was not that poor people were beyond help, but rather that various antipoverty programs didn’t seem to be actually making poor people better off as measured by various statistics. His analysis may be right or wrong, and his intentions may be good or bad, but that isn’t the same thing as saying that poor people are beyond help.

            He later wrote a book called _In Our Hands_ (which I haven’t read) advocating for universal basic income as an alternative to a bunch of existing social programs. Again, this may be a good or bad idea, but it’s not too close to Klein’s characterization of his views.

            In _The Bell Curve_, Herrenstein and Murray talked about changes in society and policy that might help people with low IQs. This was, once again, exactly the opposite of proposing to abandon people who are beyond help.

            [ETA]Most recently, he wrote _Coming Apart_ about the way the sky has fallen on the white working class in the US in the last 50 years or so. This is a class of people who include a lot of folks on the left end of the IQ distribution. And yet, he’s trying to figure out what clobbered them and how to make things better.

            And so on. This doesn’t actually look much like the research agenda of someone whose goal is to discard people at the bottom. Murray’s ideas may be wrong, his analysis may be flawed, he may even be a bad person, but Klein’s description of his policy ideas don’t look to me to be very accurate.

          • Buckyballas says:

            The skulls are there because people needed a scapegoat, or wanted to make money, or were afraid.

            @Randy M

            I think that might be a bit uncharitable. I am inclined to agree more with Iain’s proposal, “Because people in the past, many of whom thought they were pursuing truth, managed to convince themselves of things that we now know to be false.”

            Voltaire: “[Africans have] a few more ideas than animals and more facility to express them”

            Jefferson:

            Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed… [While most are slaves, some have been educated and at least exposed to the conversation of their masters], never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait, of painting or sculpture.

            Linneaus:

            The Asiaticus: yellow, melancholic, stiff; black hair, dark eyes; severe, haughty, greedy; covered with loose clothing; and ruled by opinions.
            The Afer or Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; black, frizzled hair; silky skin, flat nose, tumid lips; females without shame; mammary glands give milk abundantly; crafty, sly, lazy, cunning, lustful, careless; anoints himself with grease; and governed by caprice

            Cuvier:

            The Negro race … is marked by black complexion, crisped or woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat nose. The projection of the lower parts of the face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism.

            These people looked around, noticed some differences, and came to wrong conclusions. Therein lie the skulls. Their conclusions are quite understandable in the historic context and I’m not sure are motivated by malevolent or self-serving intent.

          • Iain says:

            I don’t think my claim and Randy M’s claim are incompatible. It’s just that Randy is talking about internal states, and I’m talking about external states. A lot of people “needed a scapegoat, or wanted to make money, or were afraid” — and it is in part because of this that they grabbed at dubious racialist science. From the inside, though, that may still feel like pursuing the truth.

            Nobody says “I believe this because I need a scapegoat” or “I believe this because I am afraid”.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I think this thread could use my two cents on the issue.

            Basically – I’m not sold on the whole race realism thing. But even if I were…people are really, really bad at distinguishing between individuals and group stereotypes. This is just an embellished of a lot of leftist arguments that people are too stupid to have the forbidden knowledge and need to be deceived for the good of society, but I happen to think that it’s true in this case. Iain’s mention of “noticing the skulls” is quite apt here.

            With that said, I have to find some way to blame my culture-war opponents. So, without further ado, I blame feminists, SJWs, and progressives for the issues laid out here; please direct all hate mail towards them.

            No, seriously though, I do actually blame progressive types for this issue. The liberal system of identifying racial prejudice only where you have solid proof and teaching tolerance and consideration of the individual over the group stereotype to try and gradually solve the problem worked, but then progressives decided to find racism by finding any disparate impact or racial disparity and using that as proof of racism, on the basis that since there are no racial genetic gaps racism must explain any racial disparity. In other words, the liberal system makes “are there genetic differences” an irrelevant question (which will eventually sort itself out), whereas the progressive system makes “are there genetic differences” an answer of deadly importance, on the basis that policy is made on the assumption that there aren’t.

            Anyways, now that progressives have pinned their entire ideology on a question which is – at the very least – sort of questionable, and most alarmingly much more questionable than most progressives thought it was, they seem to be resorting to what they’ve always resorted to, some form of PC or forced silence. But someone will always break the silence eventually, so silencing individual people is ineffective and therefore morally wrong, and the strategy itself is ineffective and should’ve been scrapped from the start. Even if Klein succeeds in shutting up Sam Harris – or even if Sam Harris is wrong – eventually people will start to say things, right? In an era where Trump is president, the idea that you can just keep a lid on this stuff is looking increasingly foolish.

          • lvlln says:

            @Randy M

            It is also dangerous to stoke resentment by blaming disparities potentially caused by nature on deep rooted and intractable malevolence.

            You know, this is a very good point that hadn’t occurred so clearly to me before when it comes to “noticing the skulls” of the science that Murray has done. Which is that, yes, it’s arguable that such science has produced skulls in the past – arguable but not certain, because as far as I can tell, it was never the case that those skulls resulted from starting with a strong base of the intrinsic worth of all individuals and adding on such science – but it’s just as arguable (and just as uncertain, IMHO) that “stoking resentment by blaming disparities potentially caused by nature on deep rooted and intractable malevolence” has created even more skulls. It seems that people are hyper-focused on the former mountain of skulls but completely dismissive of the latter.

            That’s not to say that we should count up the skulls to figure out which side to err on. It’s to say that there’s basically no truly risk-free way to go forward, and it’s not at all clear which way has the least risk or the most desirable risk profile. I think the best way to navigate this extremely dangerous territory is by having coercion-free honest conversations engaging with the best available science, but admittedly I haven’t done rigorous empirical studies to figure out if that’s the best way. Klein seems happy enough to call out the skulls of one side and push everyone towards the other side, seemingly oblivious of the very real possibility that he’s heading toward even more skulls.

            @MrApophenia

            Murray uses his claims about the immutability of cognitive differences to justify a whole raft of conservative policy positions – most notably cutting social spending programs and ending affirmative action, on the basis that they can’t possibly work because the people they’re trying to help are beyond help.

            Others have commented on this, so I won’t add much. Klein brought up Murray’s opposition to affirmative action & welfare a few times during the conversation, as if it were a slam dunk case for Murray’s ulterior motives, though he was very careful never to state as such – rather, he seemed to be relying on the general intuitions likely shared by most of his & Harris’s listeners that such things are automatically good things, and opposition to them are obviously evidence of something sinister. I’m not an expert on Murray’s politics, but what I’ve read of him and from him indicates that he’s motivated by a deep desire to help the least lucky in the population wrt intelligence, and his opposition to policies like AA is driven by his belief that they are, at best, poor allocation of resources to helping them, not that they are beyond help.

            And I think one reason Harris doesn’t buy this sort of argument from Klein is that Harris has been subject to similar sorts of arguments before, when it comes to Islam. It’s pretty clear to me that a large part of what drives him to speak out against Islam are his empathy for the vast swaths of Muslims who tend to be the most common and most severe victims of Islamic extremism, yet he’s been fairly consistently maligned as an Islamophobe. This seems to me to be the blind spot and tribalism in Harris that Klein points out in the conversation, and probably Klein’s best point, which I thought Harris didn’t address well.

          • Iain says:

            It is also dangerous to stoke resentment by blaming disparities potentially caused by nature on deep rooted and intractable malevolence.

            I’m trying to figure out how this argument is supposed to work. Which piles of skulls are we talking about here?

            It doesn’t seem like “potentially caused by nature” is a load-bearing part of the argument — I can’t think of any cases it rules out that would otherwise fit the description. So the argument is essentially: “it is bad to stoke resentment by blaming disparities on deep rooted and intractable malevolence”. What are the examples of this?

            The obvious answer is: genocidal regimes. But if that’s all we’ve got, this is a terrible argument. (I could expand further, but I won’t waste time beating up on a strawman unless somebody really wants to defend the idea that the Rwandan genocide is a good parallel for anything Ezra Klein is doing.)

            Who, specifically, is the historical counterpart in whose footsteps Ezra Klein should be leery of walking?

          • Randy M says:

            I didn’t allege piles of skulls, just it being another danger on the other side. Scylla and Charybdis don’t have to have equally sharp fangs.

            But for examples–this seems to be exactly the situation with “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and more varieties of anti-semitism. Nazi antisemitism seems to have played on both excuses simultaneously.

            I recall Thomas Sowell in Black Rednecks and White Liberals points out this is a common theme when there is animus towards “middle-men minorities” like Chinese in Indonesia–those conflicts aren’t because of beliefs about genetic superiority, but attacks from insidious outsiders.
            For a close to home example, remember the mentally handicapped white kidnapped by four black teenagers some months ago? I expect they had some resentment of white men.

            And, while either (inferiority or resentment) may simply be justification, which story do you think is going to cause more outright malevolence–“Population X is not as good as you, so you have an advantage over them” or “Population X is no better than you, but look how rich and powerful they are.” The former sentiment might cause some walls to be built, while the latter is liable to rouse the mobs.

          • lvlln says:

            @RandyM

            I’m the one who alleged mountains of skulls. I was mainly thinking of dekulakization and the Great Leap Forward, and you’re right, Iain, in that the “potentially caused by nature” isn’t bearing any load.

            It’s clear to me that Klein’s position is certainly very VERY far away from those, but it’s not clear to me that they’re any further apart than, say, Murray’s position from slavery or the Holocaust.

          • Iain says:

            And, while either (inferiority or resentment) may simply be justification, which story do you think is going to cause more outright malevolence–“Population X is not as good as you, so you have an advantage over them” or “Population X is no better than you, but look how rich and powerful they are.” The former sentiment might cause some walls to be built, while the latter is liable to rouse the mobs.

            First: as you note with Nazi antisemitism, lots of people have managed to believe both of these. It’s not either/or.

            Second, and more importantly: neither of these is a reasonable summary of what’s going on.

            One distinctive thing about demonizing the out-group is that it has a very clear “us” and “them”. Antisemites did not go around trying to persuade Jews to join the team. On the other hand, whichever groups you think are being scapegoated as intractably malevolent, it’s pretty clear that Ezra Klein belongs to at least a few of them. And he’s scarcely the only one — indeed, the vast majority of people that you could accuse of doing this scapegoating are, themselves, goats.

            I think this is actually pretty important. “We are being treated unfairly” covers a lot of ground, from Hitler to the Civil Rights Movement. By itself, it doesn’t mean much. But it seems to me that you can get a pretty good sense of how “Group X is mistreating Group Y” will turn out as a cause by checking if it has more than token support from members of Group X.

            Unless I am missing something, this is a poor argument to justify the claim that Ezra Klein is “seemingly oblivious of the very real possibility that he’s heading toward even more skulls.”

          • Randy M says:

            I think this is actually pretty important. “We are being treated unfairly” covers a lot of ground, from Hitler to the Civil Rights Movement.

            So, you are pointing to a giant pile of skulls, and saying it is included in this category [scapegoating].

            You can as easily say “believing people have innate differences covers a lot of ground, from justifications for slavery to romance”

            On the other hand, whichever groups you think are being scapegoated as intractably malevolent, it’s pretty clear that Ezra Klein belongs to at least a few of them.

            It’s possible that progressive white/cis/het/males who use oppression as a ready excuse for minority problems assume that by advocating on the behalf of the victims they are marking themselves as one of the good ones and keeping themselves safe from the side effects of backlash.

            Or maybe they really believe that only islamophobes lash back.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Klein’s argument is that Harris is not paying enough attention to the skulls. It’s not that it’s impossible to do good science about genetics and race.

            That’s only the first part of Klein’s argument. The full argument is that, because he can point to skulls, nobody else is allowed to discuss these things except on terms dictated by Klein. If you touch the forbidden topic, Klein gets to come in and count how many interviews with black people you have done and declare it an unacceptable number. Klein does not in turn report on the number of articles by black people he publishes, and a glance at the vox.com masthead does not indicate he would do well on this metric.

            This is looming large in the background of the entire conversation. Harris repeatedly complains that the SPLC has placed him on a list of haters right alongside actual KKK members as a direct result of Klein’s article and Klein never addresses the point. And this is my own bias creeping in, but I think that’s because he’s ok with it.*

            Why does Klein get to be the arbiter of what is acceptable conversation? There’s nothing that should give him that privilege. We could just as accurately point to that legacy of racism and blame it on the progressive technocrats who implemented the Tuskegee experiments and eugenics programs, implicating people like Klein directly. We could point to the same chain of logic but draw it a little further and say that’s why we need to be careful teaching evolution; the Scope Trial textbook was racist af in exactly the way we are talking about.

            But I don’t think Klein would accept that. He’s not proposing a standard, he’s wielding a weapon to accrue power to himself. So the standard won’t be applied if it cuts against the in-group.

            * ‘To work, “Yes Means Yes” needs to create a world where men are afraid.’ – Klein on another controversial topic.

          • Iain says:

            @Randy M:

            It’s possible that progressive white/cis/het/males who use oppression as a ready excuse for minority problems assume that by advocating on the behalf of the victims they are marking themselves as one of the good ones and keeping themselves safe from the side effects of backlash.

            Or maybe they really believe that only islamophobes lash back.

            Dude, I’m right here.

            You are talking to a “progressive white/cis/het/male”. Do I give you the impression that I don’t believe the things that I say? That I’m just writing all these posts in the hopes that I won’t be first against the wall when the revolution comes? There is no possible world in which writing comments on Slate Star Codex is the most effective way for me to virtue signal my status as “one of the good ones”.

            Conservatives on SSC repeatedly make the complaint that leftists are unwilling to accept that they actually believe the things they say. Please show me the basic respect to accept that the same is true in the other direction.

            @Jaskologist:

            Why does Klein get to be the arbiter of what is acceptable conversation? There’s nothing that should give him that privilege.

            You’re putting words in Klein’s mouth. He says nothing even remotely resembling this. This is what he actually says:

            You’ve said a couple of times that there are scientists in your inbox who refuse to be named, but who agree with you, and that there’s a link to one of the Vox pieces on, was it the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate site?
            […]
            The reason I’ve not really responded to that is I’m here to defend what I think and to talk about the piece we published at Vox. I’m not going to make you answer for everyone who you did not have on your show, but who has a more sinister view than the person you did have on your show. I think that in this conversation, there are a lot of folks who take it in directions I wouldn’t. I think that’s true basically in every political conversation I’ve ever seen and been part of. Whenever I open my Twitter feed, which lately I’m not doing, because I’m on book leave, mentions are always, if you go into them, a shit show, which is why I don’t do it anymore. I just don’t find that that compelling.

            I think that we are having a debate. I don’t think anybody has been silenced or de-platformed. From the beginning, I’ve been willing to have this discussion with you in public and put it out on Vox and put it out on your side as well. I think a lot of what we just have had from the beginning here is a debate. It’s a debate that you felt has been in bad faith and been done by people on our side who don’t have integrity, but obviously that is not my view.

            You appear to be responding to your mental image of Ezra Klein, not the man himself.

            And I think he’s right on the merits here. Sam Harris doesn’t want to be held responsible for the views that Charles Murray expressed on his own podcast. Why is Ezra Klein suddenly responsible for the SPLC?

            Similarly:

            If you touch the forbidden topic, Klein gets to come in and count how many interviews with black people you have done and declare it an unacceptable number.

            Again, you are not listening to what Klein actually said. Klein bends over backwards to make it clear that he does not think Harris is a racist. That’s not his argument. His argument is: I think you are in a bubble, and your view of the world is warped by being in that bubble, and the fact that you have only had two black people on your show is evidence of your bubble:

            I think you’ve had two African Americans as guests. I think you need to explore the experience of race in America more and not just see that as identity politics. See that as information that is important to talking about some of things you want to talk about, but also to hearing from some of the people who you’ve now written out of the conversation to hear.

            Harris repeatedly accuses Klein (and the scientists he cites) of cognitive bias. Klein is just returning the favour. (But more politely: Klein is very careful not to accuse Harris of lying or arguing in bad faith, while Harris has no such compunctions.)

          • Randy M says:

            I apologize for roping you in with an overly broad generalization, and likewise for implying most or many left people don’t believe what they say.

            Do I give you the impression that I don’t believe the things that I say?

            I don’t particularly recall you laying on the systemic oppression bit readily; perhaps you do. In any event, saying something “is possible” doesn’t imply it is the case in every event. I don’t read Ezra Klein enough to know if it is a likely explanation for him, either.

            But you miss the point of the juxtaposition (which is fair, because as you point out I did not make it charitably)–if one is prone to worry about the threat to innocent Muslims after a Muslim terror attack–the backlash we are warned about regularly–one is admitting this kind of stereotype threat exists. If one then promotes concepts like “white privilege” to explain discrepancies without all the exceptional care you, Iain, advise above for anyone daring to look into other explanations of group difference, then I have to look for motives other than peace and brotherhood.

          • albatross11 says:

            Amy Chua’s _World on Fire_ is all about middleman minorities being hated and often pogromed in various nasty ways by the lower-performing majority. (People familiar with European history typically think of Jews as the middleman-minority that got kicked around a lot, but there are a lot of other examples.)

            However, this seems like an argument against Harris’ position. Having the neighbors decide one group is way smarter/harder working than they are is at least as good a way for the group to get kicked around as having the neighbors decide they’re inferior.

          • Randy M says:

            Having the neighbors decide one group is way smarter/harder working than they are is at least as good a way for the group to get kicked around as having the neighbors decide they’re inferior.

            That’s a good point; but if there are differences, it’s going to be hard to cover them up, covertly or overtly, without stoking more resentment.

          • LadyJane says:

            But you miss the point of the juxtaposition (which is fair, because as you point out I did not make it charitably)–if one is prone to worry about the threat to innocent Muslims after a Muslim terror attack–the backlash we are warned about regularly–one is admitting this kind of stereotype threat exists. If one then promotes concepts like “white privilege” to explain discrepancies without all the exceptional care you, Iain, advise above for anyone daring to look into other explanations of group difference, then I have to look for motives other than peace and brotherhood.

            I agree with you on the first part (i.e. putting a heavy focus on negative behavior associated with a group can lead to stereotyping against that group, whether it’s a minority or majority group). But I disagree with your second point, since I don’t think activists necessarily have ulterior motives for emphasizing the negative behavior of majority groups.

          • Aapje says:

            @Randy M

            if one is prone to worry about the threat to innocent Muslims after a Muslim terror attack–the backlash we are warned about regularly–one is admitting this kind of stereotype threat exists

            Stereotype threat is people behaving in accordance to a stereotype about their own group. Is that really what you meant; or do you mean that some people will treat all Muslims as terrorists?

            Because that is not stereotype threat, but just stereotyping (a threat of stereotyping is not ‘stereotype threat’).

            @LadyJane

            But I disagree with your second point, since I don’t think activists necessarily have ulterior motives for emphasizing the negative behavior of majority groups.

            If the activists argue that people should not point to or should be extremely careful about pointing to facts that show that certain negative behaviors or negative traits are more common in a minority group, because then people may stop treating members of the group as individuals, which they say is very bad/dangerous and yet…

            seem to be fine with pointing to facts that show that certain negative behaviors or negative traits are more common in a majority group…

            then this shows that the activists don’t believe in the principle of not emphasizing the negative behavior of groups, because it may result in skulls.

            There must then must be an ulterior motive that makes them treat one group differently from the other.

            The most generous motive that I can come up with & the one that the activists tend to legitimize their behavior with, is the claim that the majority group has so much power that they cannot be mistreated.

            However, the way in which many of the activists respond to evidence of mistreatment of majority groups and are unwilling to consider risks when the ‘majority’ group is actually a minority in a specific context makes me disbelieve that this is (the entire) ulterior motive & that in fact, there is a lack of concern about turning the outgroup into skulls.

          • Various people have been asserting that Murray is against welfare. The implication of Losing Ground, his first book, is not that welfare is bad but that programs for making people not need welfare, such as job training, didn’t work, hence the War on Poverty failed at its initially claimed objective.

            Unless I am mistaken, Murray is a support of a universal basic income, which is welfare in the sense of income redistribution.

          • Randy M says:

            Because that is not stereotype threat, but just stereotyping (a threat of stereotyping is not ‘stereotype threat’).

            I guess that was a confusing misappropriation of the term; I tried to indicate I didn’t mean the conventional use by saying “this kind”

          • Iain says:

            @Randy M:

            But you miss the point of the juxtaposition (which is fair, because as you point out I did not make it charitably)–if one is prone to worry about the threat to innocent Muslims after a Muslim terror attack–the backlash we are warned about regularly–one is admitting this kind of stereotype threat exists. If one then promotes concepts like “white privilege” to explain discrepancies without all the exceptional care you, Iain, advise above for anyone daring to look into other explanations of group difference, then I have to look for motives other than peace and brotherhood.

            You’re still missing my point.

            The backlash to innocent Muslims (or Sikhs) after a terrorist attack does not come from Muslims themselves. It comes from people who see Muslims as scary and alien. There are, to be sure, some ex-Muslims who think Islam is bad — but there’s basically nobody who says “I am a proud Muslim, and I think Muslims are untrustworthy terrorists who should be kicked out of the country”.

            Talk of white privilege, on the other hand, is coming from inside the house. The vast majority of people who think “privilege” is a useful concept would have to admit that they are privileged along some axis. There just aren’t that many disabled trans lesbians of colour out there. Look at this poll: it finds that 46% of white Americans think that white people benefit from advantages in American society that black people do not have, and 73% of white Democrats. A campaign to demonize the outgroup that attracts nearly 50% support from the outgroup must be doing a remarkably poor job of demonization.

            “They are mistreating us, and should stop” has a mixed track record when it comes to “peace and brotherhood”. “We are mistreating them, and should stop” is how “peace and brotherhood” works. This distinction matters.

            @David Friedman:

            Charles Murray only supports a UBI to the extent that it replaces all existing welfare programs at a lower cost:

            A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

            He wants any gaps in the program to be covered with local voluntary organizations:

            Under my UBI plan, the entire bureaucratic apparatus of government social workers would disappear, but Americans would still possess their historic sympathy and social concern. And the wealth in private hands would be greater than ever before. It is no pipe dream to imagine the restoration, on an unprecedented scale, of a great American tradition of voluntary efforts to meet human needs.

            He also thinks that welfare as it currently exists encourages irresponsibility, and thinks the UBI would force people to take more responsibility:

            Or consider teenage girls from poor neighborhoods who have friends turning 21. They watch—and learn—as some of their older friends use their new monthly income to rent their own apartments, buy nice clothes or pay for tuition, while others have to use the money to pay for diapers and baby food, still living with their mothers because they need help with day care. […] These are just a few possible scenarios, but multiply the effects of such interactions by the millions of times they would occur throughout the nation every day. The availability of a guaranteed income wouldn’t relieve individuals of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. It would instead, paradoxically, impose responsibilities that didn’t exist before, which would be a good thing.

            I do not think it is unfair to describe Murray as being opposed to welfare.

          • Randy M says:

            Dangit, post eaten. :/ Must have used the wrong acronym.

            Basically you, Iain, say that calling the persistent problems of blacks the result of white men can’t be dangerous to white men because white men are doing it. First, that doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous, and second, I think that those progressives feel that they themselves are attempting to be part of the solution rather than the problem and expect their beneficiaries to either be sophisticated enough to realize that or be left out of the conversation. I think that instead their message can get translated down to rabble rousers in exactly the same way that filter triggering alternate explanations can, and you advocated treating only the latter with hazmat suits.

            The backlash to innocent Muslims (or Sikhs) after a terrorist attack does not come from Muslims themselves.

            Yeah, such a backlash, when it occurs, is directed from those who feel they are under attack towards those they feel are attacking them. Progressives are very sensitive to the possibility of this occurring by white men, and very insensitive to this occurring by other groups–otherwise they would not reach towards theories of oppression and mistreatment or promote every (often self-inflicted or imagined) hate crime/symbol without extreme caution.

            Anyhow, I think Aapje rephrased this very well.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje:

            There must then must be an ulterior motive that makes them treat one group differently from the other.

            I would say the difference is that they don’t consider themselves to be attacking majority groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. (whether or not that’s what they’re actually doing), but rather consider themselves to be attacking rival ideological groups, which are viewed as valid targets. For the most part, they don’t see themselves as being biased against straight cis white men, especially since many of them are straight cis white men themselves (even when they use language that seems to disparage straight cis white men, it’s more of a tribal shibboleth than anything else, that was the whole point of Scott’s Outgroup post). They see themselves as biased against the Red Tribe/soc-cons/alt-rightists/MRAs, and they’d probably argue that it’s okay to be biased against people for their political preferences – and even to promote negative stereotypes about them – because political preferences are a matter of choice, unlike race or ethnicity or gender or sexuality.

            I’m not defending that sort of behavior, simply acknowledging it for what it is. I can oppose the excesses of the Social Justice movement without ascribing selfish or spiteful motives to everyone involved, or assuming that Social Justice activists are not just hypocrites but knowing and willful hypocrites. For the most part, I believe that Social Justice advocates are mostly correct in their goals and in the broad strokes of their worldview, but very misguided in their methods and in a lot of the particular details of their worldview.

            I do think they need to acknowledge that rural conservative white Americans are basically an economic and cultural minority in their own right, and learn to criticize the problematic aspects of Red Tribe culture (xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) without denigrating the culture itself, just like they already do with African-American, Latino, and Muslim subcultures. Some of them are already starting to acknowledge the economic part (largely because the Trump and Sanders campaigns both pushed the issue of Middle America’s economic disenfranchisement into the spotlight), but it might be a while before they acknowledge the cultural part (as Scott has pointed out, it won’t happen until they start viewing the Red Tribe as more of a fargroup than an outgroup, and Trump’s victory has likely set that back by at least a few years).

          • Controls Freak says:

            The backlash to innocent Muslims (or Sikhs) after a terrorist attack does not come from Muslims themselves.

            I just want to note that, in this analogy that follows, the analogous form of this clause is, “The backlash to innocent whites”. We’re going to need to be careful how we parse these group categorizations, especially if we’re using group membership to determine the truth of claims.

          • Iain says:

            Basically you, Iain, say that calling the persistent problems of blacks the result of white men can’t be dangerous to white men because white men are doing it. First, that doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous, and second, I think that those progressives feel that they themselves are attempting to be part of the solution rather than the problem and expect their beneficiaries to either be sophisticated enough to realize that or be left out of the conversation. I think that instead their message can get translated down to rabble rousers in exactly the same way that filter triggering alternate explanations can, and you advocated treating only the latter with hazmat suits.

            You could make this exact same argument against the Civil Rights Movement, or the women’s suffrage movement, or basically any movement that has ever pointed out an injustice in society. Don’t you find that at least a little bit worrisome?

            Find me a historical situation in which nearly half of an ethnic majority agreed that they were mistreating a minority, and it all went so badly wrong that we should be concerned about repeating it. It just doesn’t happen. That doesn’t prove that it can never happen, I suppose. But I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

            You continue to try to work out the ulterior motives for white people to support this stuff. Allow me to suggest: hey, sometimes people act to benefit others, not because they are trying to avoid punishment, but because they believe it’s the right thing to do. People are weird like that.

            Also: you keep slipping back and forth between “white privilege” and “all problems with black people are the fault of white men”. These are not synonyms. You might not believe that white privilege is a real phenomenon, but recognize that it has a definition that is not “four legs good, white man bad”.

            (I mean, really: is there any possible theory of how racism might function in modern society that is less threatening than “through no individual fault, white people have unconscious, unintended advantages in American society, and maybe they should think about that”?)

            Yeah, such a backlash, when it occurs, is directed from those who feel they are under attack towards those they feel are attacking them. Progressives are very sensitive to the possibility of this occurring by white men, and very insensitive to this occurring by other groups–otherwise they would not reach towards theories of oppression and mistreatment or promote every (often self-inflicted or imagined) hate crime/symbol without extreme caution.

            Progressives are worried about minorities being scapegoated because there is a history of that going very badly wrong. They are not worried about pointing out the mistreatment of minorities by majorities, because that does not have a history of going very badly wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            even when they use language that seems to disparage straight cis white men, it’s more of a tribal shibboleth than anything else, that was the whole point of Scott’s Outgroup post

            From the outgroup post:

            “You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

            On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.”

            I think that ‘white men’ as a group get the same kind of snap judgement as Thatcher. Note that this doesn’t mean that an individual white man is necessarily seen as scum. It’s quite common for racists and sexists to have group level beliefs and yet make exceptions for individuals.

            For the most part, they don’t see themselves as being biased against straight cis white men

            Of course not, because one of the core values that define the identity of the group is tolerance, so any intolerance has to rationalized as something else (like intolerance of the intolerant, so it is really tolerance). If you question the racist and sexist statements, all but the most extreme SJWs tend to be pretty reasonable in explaining that they really don’t mean it that way, but they typically then go back to making those exact same stereotyping statements (motte and bailey).

            For me this is actually far more frustrating than debating with a person who is not hypocritical like that and takes their words seriously.

            especially since many of them are straight cis white men themselves

            Well, part of the male gender role is that men are taught stoicism, individualism and a hero narrative, so it’s not surprising to have men latch onto a hero narrative where a man can defend others (preferably women and children) from other men. A lot of men went to war with such a hero narrative.

            They see themselves as biased against the Red Tribe/soc-cons/alt-rightists/MRAs

            Nonsense. SJ texts very typically attribute negative traits to all men and all white people; or if they decouple it from sex and race (in theory), masculinity & whiteness. It’s definitely not the case that it is typically argued that only red tribers have toxic masculinity or problematic whiteness.

            assuming that Social Justice activists are not just hypocrites but knowing and willful hypocrites.

            I’m not arguing that they are willful hypocrites. I am merely arguing that they are typically giant hypocrites that selectively apply their principles based on race & gender and that they are thus typically racist and sexist. I am also arguing that their policies are typically racist and sexist.

            Imagine a person who attacks innocent black people on the street with a knife, leaving many people dead or terribly wounded & suffering. The harm done to these people isn’t very different when the reason for the attack is that the attacker is willfully racist or when he has a psychosis and sees black people as devils roaming the earth. In both cases, the dead are just as dead and the wounded just as wounded.

            I do think they need to acknowledge that rural conservative white Americans are basically an economic and cultural minority in their own right, and learn to criticize the problematic aspects of Red Tribe culture

            The SJ narrative is fundamentally incompatible with the very notion that a group can both be structurally oppressed and structural oppressors.

            It’s that very extremism, where groups are exclusively portrayed as perpetrator or victim that I oppose so strongly (and that has a history of skulls).

          • Randy M says:

            you keep slipping back and forth between “white privilege” and “all problems with black people are the fault of white men”. These are not synonyms. You might not believe that white privilege is a real phenomenon, but recognize that it has a definition that is not “four legs good, white man bad”.

            I’m not sure whether white privilege is moving the goal posts or motte and bailey. Sure it’s an admission that you can’t find enough racial animus to explain discrepancies, but it’s pretty poor form to use a term universally regarded as a sin in such a multitude of ways and expecting the nuance to survive. In the end the message “All white people benefit from systemic racism” translates pretty much the same as “white man bad.” Tell you what, if you drop “systemic racism” I’ll consider the merits of arguments for “white privilege.”

            I mean, really: is there any possible theory of how racism might function in modern society that is less threatening than “through no individual fault, white people have unconscious, unintended advantages in American society, and maybe they should think about that”?

            You’ve put about as many qualifiers on your theory of white oppression as Charles Murray and Steve Sailer put on their theories of black inferiority.

            You continue to try to work out the ulterior motives for white people to support this stuff

            Eh, I don’t really care about motives. That was a mistake to bring up inconsistencies in a way that read as a complaint about hypocrisy.

            You could make this exact same argument against the Civil Rights Movement, or the women’s suffrage movement, or basically any movement that has ever pointed out an injustice in society. Don’t you find that at least a little bit worrisome?

            No, because I didn’t make the argument “don’t complain about injustice” but the argument that false beliefs in conspiracies can be dangerous as well. Many dangerous things are worth doing.

            Is a majority entirely immune from scapegoating? Maybe. You’re convinced. Hope you’re right. Hopefully also we can switch gears in the near future if the majority isn’t.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s definitely not the case that it is typically argued that only red tribers have toxic masculinity or problematic whiteness.

            It’s rare for people to explicitly draw the parallel, but typical examples of toxic masculinity or problematic whiteness do tend to have a Red Tribe flavor to them. There was an example of white privilege in these very comments a few weeks ago that went something like (paraphrasing) “poor whites in the Appalachians can go out and shoot deer for dinner, while poor blacks in urban centers can’t, so these whites are privileged above these blacks in ways that aren’t reflected by pure SES”. Hard to get more Red Tribe than that, short of playing the theme to “Dukes of Hazzard” while firing a revolver into the air or something.

            I don’t have any examples that convenient of toxic masculinity, but my associations with that concept are pretty Red-flavored, too. Alcoholism, domestic violence, etc. are not stereotyped as Blue problems. That’s not to say that you don’t frequently get social justice types attacking their own political allies on similar grounds, but those attacks typically take the form of associating them with outgroup attributes — “brogrammers”, etc.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest

            I don’t typically accept any examples from SSC itself, because we are weird. But your brogrammer example (and berniebro) is interesting, although I think that the red tribe connotations are pretty weak. The primary connotation seems to be wealthy, white, straight men with a party lifestyle and a strong ingroup/misogynist culture. I see very little indication that SJ people (or others) believe that the blue tribe doesn’t have these people.

            Anyway, the most famous MRA is probably Warren Farrell. He is typically attacked for writing about token resistance (women resisting male advances, when they want the man to try again/harder). Interestingly, the research shows that token resistance is most common among conservative women. So this could easily be turned into a blue vs red tribe narrative, where one can argue that the red tribe has shitty sex norms. Instead, we see that this offends SJ people because it criticizes women and can be interpreted in bad faith as justifying sexual abuse. So gender seems to be considered more important than red vs blue tribe, or Farrell wouldn’t be attacked for this so much.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Talk of white privilege, on the other hand, is coming from inside the house.

            A campaign to demonize the outgroup that attracts nearly 50% support from the outgroup must be doing a remarkably poor job of demonization.

            or it’s doing its job extremely well…

            In all seriousness: the central issue here is that most white people don’t identify with a white racial identity, so they don’t care that they’re being “demonized”, especially because by doing so they themselves feel like they aren’t part of the demonized group, but rather are one of the good ones. That doesn’t make sense, as such, but I’m pretty sure it’s true anyways. (Who ever accused humans of being rational?)

            However, these concepts are used in a scattershot way to attack “white people” in general. I mean, white privilege is the perfect example of that – there’s no way to actually know how much you benefited from it, especially with the proliferation of counter-balancing (i.e. affirmative action, et cetera) meant to counter it out. But everyone has it. I mean, maybe, but how much?

            You could make this exact same argument against the Civil Rights Movement, or the women’s suffrage movement, or basically any movement that has ever pointed out an injustice in society. Don’t you find that at least a little bit worrisome?

            I’m not sold that this argument applies to civil rights movements – though it may to movements that point out “injustices”. The big difference I’m establishing is between movements which rail against government policy, and movements which try to change private thoughts and actions.

            The civil rights movements don’t and didn’t necessarily demonize everyone; they were primarily focused on unfair laws and then those who support them. In other words, they are focused on tangible and quantifiable problems, which can usually be fixed easily; I think this cuts down heavily on demonization, because you can focus on the problems more easily (a law, instead of a vague system), and the problem can actually be solved in a timely fashion. I mean, according to you 50% of whites recognize that white privilege is a problem; how is it not solved already, then? The answer is that it’s a complicated problem which supposedly almost everyone participates in; this is unsatisfying and leads to demonization. So I’m much more comfortable with civil rights movements than with…whatever the white privilege movement is.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You might not believe that white privilege is a real phenomenon, but recognize that it has a definition that is not “four legs good, white man bad”.

            It might have some other definition, but it definitely has the definition of “four legs good, white man bad.” As one SJ supporter put it, “By being a white male you are in a privileged class that is actively harmful to others, whether you like it or not.”

          • Glen Raphael says:

            [on “white privilege”] Find me a historical situation in which nearly half of an ethnic majority agreed that they were mistreating a minority

            The best example I can think of of an historical situation with the same dynamic is “original sin”. Near as I can tell, “white privilege” is a re-skinning/re-branding of that precise concept and serves the same social role.

            Original sin is an attribute which you and everybody in your community “has”. There is no objective way to measure the presence or absence of this attribute, but its presence is assumed on the basis of historical anecdotes. The attribute of “being born a sinner” is regarded as shameful/disgraceful even though it makes absolutely no sense that it should be since it’s something you were born with through no action or fault of your own. The only thing there is to do about it is that one should publicly confess to being a sinner, vow to do better in the future, and hope that this attribute you never had anything to do with but were born with will be “forgiven” by the powers-that-be.

            Why would a large group of people choose to think they have original sin? Well, nearly everybody feels (or can be made to feel) a little bit guilty about not living up to their own standards about how to treat others. Maybe that guilt is a bit more tolerable when you realize everybody else has it too. Also, once that guilt has a name, some people can wield it to exert social power over others.

            Buying into “white privilege” isn’t agreeing that you are responsible for mistreating a minority, it’s agreeing that somebody was responsible and you irrationally feel guilty about it and seek absolution. Buying into “original sin” isn’t agreeing that you ate the apple and were cast out of the garden, it’s agreeing that somebody did that and you irrationally feel guilty about it and seek absolution.

            In both cases we have an invisible imaginary attribute whose existence relies on a bizarre guilt-by-proxy – we are supposed to feel guilty because somebody somewhere in history did something bad, that somebody maybe looked a little like us, and therefore we should feel bad too. We can’t personally atone for something we never did, but we can feel less guilty or feel more connected to our fellows by pretending to believe we have this imaginary attribute and apologizing for it via a set of socially-approved mechanisms.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems more accurate to say that Murray opposes the current way welfare programs are run, for reasons he spent a whole book explaining. And that he prefers to accomplish the same goals of making sure poor people don’t starve and there’s a safety net at the bottom with a completely different program–a universal basic income–which he believes won’t have the same problems as the existing set of welfare programs.

          • no one special says:

            @Glen Raphael

            Your post reminds me of this article (from 1999!) http://www.revthandeka.org/assets/why_anti-racism_will_fail.pdf

            The author explicitly compares anti-racist programs to original sin, and rejects them on that basis. (This is written addressing the Unitarian Universalist church.)

          • Iain says:

            @The Nybbler:

            As one SJ supporter put it, “By being a white male you are in a privileged class that is actively harmful to others, whether you like it or not.”

            My goodness! One unspecified “SJ supporter” said this? Well, I guess I am now honour-bound to defend it to the death, no matter my own belief.

            Also: I hope all of our pro-lifers are prepared to defend the death penalty for women who get abortions. Kevin Williamson said a dumb thing once, so now if you’re opposed to abortion you are officially in favour of lynching women. I’m sure this is distressing to many of you, but hey, I don’t make the rules.

            @Aapje:

            Nonsense. SJ texts very typically attribute negative traits to all men and all white people; or if they decouple it from sex and race (in theory), masculinity & whiteness. It’s definitely not the case that it is typically argued that only red tribers have toxic masculinity or problematic whiteness.

            Pics or it didn’t happen.

            Here, for reference, is the first hit I got from googling “what is privilege”: Everyday Feminism’s “Privilege 101”. A few relevant snippets:

            5. Privilege doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard.

            People often get defensive when someone points out that they have privilege. And I totally understand why – before I fully understood privilege, I acted the same way. Many people think that having privilege means you have had an easy life. As such, they feel personally attacked when people point out their privilege. To them, it feels as if someone is saying that they haven’t worked hard or endured any difficulties. But this is not what privilege means. You can be privileged and still have a difficult life. Privilege doesn’t mean that your life is easy, but rather that it’s easier than others.
            […]
            We don’t want you to feel guilty. We want you to join us in challenging the systems that privilege some people and oppress others. You don’t need to feel guilty for having privilege because having privilege is not your fault: It’s not something you chose. But what you can choose is to push back against your privilege and to use it in a way that challenges oppressive systems instead of perpetuating them.

            @Randy M:

            It’s pretty poor form to use a term universally regarded as a sin in such a multitude of ways and expecting the nuance to survive.

            This is a common talking point, sure, but I’m hard pressed to take it seriously. “Privilege” is “universally regarded as a sin”? Since when?

            When I get up at my friend’s wedding and say “It is my privilege to be able to give this speech tonight”, I’m not confessing something sordid to a gaggle of his relatives. I’m saying: “I am lucky to have this opportunity”. If you look at the link I included above in my response to Aapje, you will see that it goes to great lengths to say “look, you aren’t bad for having privilege”:

            We don’t use the term “privilege” because we don’t think everyone deserves this treatment. We call privilege “privilege” because we acknowledge that not everyone experiences it.

            Do some people use “privilege” as a four-letter word? Sure, you can probably find examples. Also, you don’t want to be called “special” on the playground. That doesn’t mean that there was something wrong with the initial choice of words. The idea that calling somebody “privileged” is a mortal insult, and we could have a reasonable conversation if only the mean SJWs would use nicer words, is a silly distraction designed to give people excuses to stop thinking. Stop falling for it.

            @AnonYEmous:

            The answer is that it’s a complicated problem which supposedly almost everyone participates in; this is unsatisfying and leads to demonization. So I’m much more comfortable with civil rights movements than with…whatever the white privilege movement is.

            This is a very interesting choice of words.

            I wholeheartedly agree: it is more comfortable to think that we can solve discrimination by simply getting rid of unjust laws. If a bunch of politicians sitting in a fancy building somewhere could solve racism forever by passing a few laws, that would be incredibly convenient. There would be no personal responsibility; we wouldn’t have to examine our own lives, or change our own behaviour.

            If the theory of white privilege is true — if discrimination really is a complicated process that everybody participates in, intentionally or not — then that is genuinely unsettling. But unsettling does not mean false. A thing can be both true and deeply inconvenient. The universe does not guarantee easy answers.

          • Randy M says:

            This is a common talking point, sure, but I’m hard pressed to take it seriously. “Privilege” is “universally regarded as a sin”? Since when?

            Not privilege, “racism”. Hence:

            In the end the message “All white people benefit from systemic racism” translates pretty much the same as “white man bad.” Tell you what, if you drop “systemic racism” I’ll consider the merits of arguments for “white privilege.”

            I guess that first part was confusing. I should have said “The theory of white privilege is a motte and bailey when you blame discrepancies on “systemic racism” of which all whites play a part. Expecting the nuanced version to be understood when you misappropriate charged language does not set you up to convince people to be better, but rather to find culprits to blame.”

            The word privilege itself had positive connotations until this new usage grafted the implication of earned or taken though oppression onto it.

            Anyhow, your conclusion of:

            But unsettling does not mean false. A thing can be both true and deeply inconvenient. The universe does not guarantee easy answers.

            is a good way to end in agreement.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Iain:
            Have you read Social Justice and Words Words Words lately? If not, I recommend it. A word like “privilege” often has at least three definitions:
            (1) a preexisting common-english dictionary definition
            (2) a defensibly technical definition used by apologists doing outreach
            (3) the way people actually use the term

            You appear to be referencing (1) when you talk about the speech-at-a-wedding scenario and (2) when you refer to what “everyday feminism” says the definition should be, but you are responding to people who are mostly talking about (3).

          • Controls Freak says:

            Iain: You might not believe that white privilege is a real phenomenon, but recognize that it has a definition that is not “four legs good, white man bad”.

            Nybbler: It might have some other definition, but it definitely has the definition of “four legs good, white man bad.” As one SJ supporter put it, “By being a white male you are in a privileged class that is actively harmful to others, whether you like it or not.”

            I know my previous comment got mostly ignored, but I was kind of stealthily getting at something like this in a different way. When Iain is breaking down groups for his analysis of, “Members of Group X say that Group X is doing bad things,” it’s important to get the group classifications correct. In one case, we seem quite content to distinguish two groups: “innocent Muslims” and, uh, I guess “non-innocent Muslims”. Analogously, starting from race instead of religion (since his other analysis focused on racial majorities/minorities), it seems we should include a distinction between “innocent whites” and “non-innocent whites”.

            So, Iain, would you agree that we should consider such a distinction? How do you think it affects your analysis of, “Members of Group X say that Group X is doing bad things,” or your analysis concerning historical examples of racial minorities/majorities doing things and it all going wrong?

          • Iain says:

            @Randy M:

            Sorry, I’m going to throw in one more comment, even though you graciously suggested an ending point. This started as a response to Glen Raphael only, but metastasized. Feel free not to reply; I probably won’t be checking the thread for much longer.

            Expecting the nuanced version to be understood when you misappropriate charged language does not set you up to convince people to be better, but rather to find culprits to blame.”

            I mean, I agree that many SJ people do a bad sales job. Many of them are just bad at arguing with people who don’t share their priors. Some of them are just assholes who’ve found a convenient set of tools for being nasty to others.

            But the same is true about, say, Christianity. Lots of Christians are bad at evangelism. Some “Christians” are awful people, taking advantage of the cover of religion for their own sordid purposes. The conviction that non-believers are sinners sentenced to eternal damnation can have bad effects. It can push non-believers away. Believers can use it to justify scapegoating non-believers.

            What does this prove about Christianity? Certainly not that Christianity is false, or malevolent, or should only be discussed with hazmat suits. All it proves is that Christianity is full of people.

            @Glen Raphael:

            I have read it. I do not think it is one of Scott’s better posts. It takes failings that are common to every ideology ever, and attributes them specifically to social justice. To be clear — it’s not that the failings don’t exist. Many of them do. Too often, though, people take “social justice has a motte and a bailey”, refute the worst parts of the bailey, and act as if that’s justification for ignoring the motte.

            Everybody’s got a bailey. Every group has assholes. (Proof: Everyone Poops.) The SSC collective is usually pretty good at ignoring that and engaging with the bailey — except when it comes to the Dread SJW.

            We can and should do better.

          • The Nybbler says:

            As the Words Words Words post points out, it’s not that everyone has a bailey. It’s that motte-and-bailey is the signature tactic of Social Justice. The motte is impregnable but _almost nothing follows from those positions_. The bailey leads to all sorts of prescriptions but is indefensible.

            If you want to tell a white man he’s got no right to an opinion about some issue, you can’t get there from that Everyday Feminism definition. But if you say his privilege means he’s harmful… well, you can shut him down on everything.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Ian:

            I have read it. I do not think it is one of Scott’s better posts. It takes failings that are common to every ideology ever, and attributes them specifically to social justice.

            That is an interesting claim; could you expand on it a bit? I don’t think I’ve noticed that particular dynamic in any other ideology much less every one. So…citation needed? Or at least a few concrete examples?

            [I mean, sure, other ideologies make use of terms that are weird and hard-to-define and used inconsistently (“sin”, “heaven”, “forgiveness”, “initiation of force”, “holy spirit”, “god”…), but is that really the same type or magnitude of error? It feels to me like SJ is some sort of distilled essence of bad argument, more potent and higher-proof than the merely fuzzy thinking of its predecessors.]

          • Iain says:

            @Controls Freak:

            So, Iain, would you agree that we should consider such a distinction? How do you think it affects your analysis of, “Members of Group X say that Group X is doing bad things,” or your analysis concerning historical examples of racial minorities/majorities doing things and it all going wrong?

            First: If you scroll all the way back up, you will see that “innocent Muslims” was actually Randy’s phrase. I don’t think innocence is an important distinction here; I was just using the phrase in reference to that particular part of Randy’s argument.

            More substantively: I take your question to be: “How much should we be concerned that ‘white people’ are actually broken up into multiple groups, that the group who think white privilege exists think that it only applies to other white people, and that those other white people are in danger of demonization?” (Correct me if that’s completely off-base.)

            That’s not a bad question, but I think the answer is “not that much”. To reuse part of my previous post: let’s draw a scale from “hardcore anti-semitism” to “Christians talking about original sin”: we should be concerned about widespread instances of the former, but the latter is mostly not concerning.

            I claim that “privilege” is way over on the “sin” side of the spectrum. People who believe in it generally acknowledge that it affects them, too. There are actions that you can take to mitigate it. It doesn’t prevent you from being a good person.

            The obvious, tedious response here is “Aha! So social justice is a religion, with privilege in place of original sin.” This is a bad argument, for the same reason that accusing atheism / rationalism / stamp collecting of being a religion is a bad argument: the shared characteristics are non-central. Whether you believe in original sin is based on the content of the doctrine, not its structure. This parallel is inherent to any ideology claiming that people are imperfect, and should try to rise above their imperfection.

            If you’re not afraid of Catholics on these grounds, you should be similarly unafraid of people talking about white privilege. Feel free to be afraid of either group for different reasons, if you like.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Ian:

            Whether you believe in original sin is based on the content of the doctrine, not its structure.

            The content of the doctrine is exactly the same: Some people somewhere did something wrong once, therefore everybody today should feel guilty and must confess their guilt.

            If you’re not afraid of Catholics on these grounds, you should be similarly unafraid of people talking about white privilege.

            If Catholics had as much social power in my circles as do SJs (and were as nasty about using it) I’m pretty sure I would be afraid of Catholics on these grounds. Luckily Catholics are sufficiently nice that nobody cares anymore that the ideas are silly. Perhaps that’s the best outcome we can hope for with SJs – they’ll continue to be unreasonable and silly but their views will gradually stop mattering in public discussion. (Giving up on world domination entails learning to play well with others.)

          • Controls Freak says:

            If you scroll all the way back up, you will see that “innocent Muslims” was actually Randy’s phrase. I don’t think innocence is an important distinction here; I was just using the phrase in reference to that particular part of Randy’s argument.

            I noticed that. Nevertheless, it’s kind of important for your distinction about which groups are saying that someone is treating others poorly. I’m trying to understand the Muslim example. Many Muslims agree that some Muslims are mistreating others. Nevertheless, whether we make up some term like “Muslim privilege” or not, we have to engage with the reality of what is happening in the world (so you can’t waive the problem off as, “Eugh, you’re not bothered by Catholics talking about sin”). When we do that, I think that you would agree that it is very important to distinguish between the “innocent Muslims” and the “non-innocent Muslims”, yes?

            But then, that throws a bug-a-boo in our group analysis. Because it’s not the non-innocent Muslims who are saying, “Non-innocent Muslims are mistreating people.” It’s some other group! When we go to race, we can start to see all kinds of problems. First, we’ve gotta divide between the innocent and non-innocent whites, and then we have to start figuring out what the overlaps are on who is saying what about who is mistreating people. Frankly, I think your whole project is struggling to get off the ground, at least with respect to these two key distinctions that have been internal to your analysis. It’s starting to look a lot more like, “My political tribe wants to call our opponents non-innocent and say that they’re mistreating people.” Suddenly, we’ve lost all the force of, “The distinction is that members of that group are saying that they’re mistreating others.”

          • Nornagest says:

            The content of the doctrine is exactly the same: Some people somewhere did something wrong once, therefore everybody today should feel guilty and must confess their guilt.

            The two do differ from each other in one important way: the Catholic concept of original sin doesn’t single out a group for special treatment, while social justice’s various concepts of privilege do. Original sin doesn’t allow you to say “you’re a sinner and I’m not, therefore you should listen to me”. (Well, aside from Jesus, who is a special case.) It does allow you to say “you have not come to terms with your nature as a sinner, and I have, therefore you should listen to me”, but the burden of proof’s on you. That makes it much less useful as a rhetorical bludgeon: it puts people on unequal terms with God, but they were on unequal terms there already. It doesn’t put people on inherently unequal terms with each other.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Some of them are just assholes who’ve found a convenient set of tools for being nasty to others.

            But the same is true about, say, Christianity.

            It’s probably true that any ideology can become this. But currently, social justice is this, in large part. Maybe it can change, but it’ll take a lot of time and strong criticism. Sort of like Christianity actually; I think current Christianity is a lot less like this, compared to before the atheist movement.

          • albatross11 says:

            Glenn:

            I think the idea of white privilege is not that you’re guilty because of past misbehavior by whites, but rather that you are getting some statistical advantages for being white in this society, even though you didn’t personally do anything to cause them.

            Also, I don’t think original sin is guilt about some questionable activities involving a snake and an apple at the dawn of time. I think the idea is that it’s an inherited condition of all humans of being inclined toward sin and separated from God, so that we need some help to get back. It’s not “feel guilty about what Adam and Eve did,” it’s “there are consequences to what Adam and Eve did that are still landing on you, you need to deal with them.”

            So oddly, I feel like your explanations of both phenomena were wrong in the same direction, and so your conclusion about the relationship between them is still pretty accurate….

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I wholeheartedly agree: it is more comfortable to think that we can solve discrimination by simply getting rid of unjust laws.

            This bears little relation to what I said, and that distortion does all too much work for your argument. My point is that you can’t apply the same logic to civil rights movements because they are pointing at, ahem, easy problems. More importantly, easy-to-see problems which you can’t use to demonize the majority of the population.

            Actually, that’s most of your argument rendered irrelevant right there. What’s left is an implication that subtle movements are necessary…but they’re clearly also vulnerable to mass demonization. In any case, reversion to the mean, restoration of equilibrium, etc, should work just fine on these problems if you give it time. And if it doesn’t, that won’t be the fault of “white privilege”.

        • albatross11 says:

          I haven’t listened to the Klein/Harris discussion, and I’m not sure I will, but it’s worth pointing out that the question of whether the racial IQ differences are genetic or not is probably the wrong question to ask.

          What I think are the right questions are:

          a. Is there anything we can do about the racial differences in IQ, given the normal constraints on budgets and limits on government power and basic decency?

          b. If so, do we know more-or-less what those things are?

          The reason I say that these are the right questions to ask is because they change what kinds of research we should pursue and what kind of policies we should have.

          One part of this is that genetic doesn’t mean intractable. If it turned out that the racial IQ differences came down to some micronutrient which whites needed less of than blacks due to some difference in gene frequencies, we’d have a genetic cause with an easy solution. We start adding vitamin IQ to the water supply, and twenty years later, the gap would have closed.

          On the other hand, if it turned out that the racial IQ differences came down to some kind of deep cultural stuff that could only be broken out of by, say, transracial adoptions of newborns, it would be intractable[1] even though it was 100% environmental.

          If the differences are fixable with stuff we know how to do now, we ought to jump on fixing them with both feet[2]. That’s the promise of stuff like headstart, but my understanding is that headstart and related programs don’t actually cause a lasting boost in IQ. Instead, they raise scores for a couple years and then the kids regress to the mean of kids who didn’t get headstart.

          What I think is the current state of the art in this field (as an interested amateur) is that nobody knows for sure how much of the IQ gap is genetic or environmental, and also nobody knows for sure whether it can be closed in practice. Some specific plausible causes are known that could be attacked (especially lead in the environment of small children), but I don’t think anyone actually has any idea of some policy we could implement to close the gap that has a significant chance of working. Further, I believe the genetic/environmental question is one that divides genuine experts in the field[3], despite the fact that one side of that question is incredibly radioactive.

          This makes me think we ought to proceed by:

          a. Trying to understand the cause of the gap so we can figure out what might be done about it. An environment in which the whole subject is radioactive is not one in which we can expect a huge amount of progress, and it’s at least conceivable (I have no idea how to estimate a probability) that we might actually come to understand the causes of the IQ gap well enough to try to do something useful about it. But not if most researchers would rather have surgery without anesthesia than go through the ordeal of trying to make a career studying the subject honestly.

          b. Establishing right now that your rights and your basic dignity as a human being isn’t a function of your IQ and never will be. A few people have been pushing on this–including (ironically) Charles Murray and Paige Harden, two people who otherwise seem to have little nice to say to each other.

          (a) is important because there’s some probability of this huge win where we make the world enormously better.

          (b) is important because as long as we have humans with ordinary genetic and environmental and developmental variation, we’re going to have some people who are smarter than others. We’ve spent the last few decades getting really good at concentrating power and wealth in the hands of very smart people. I think we’ve also reorganized our society in ways that have often made things pretty damned hard for people who aren’t very smart. The difference in your quality of life between being in the top and bottom 10% of intelligence has probably gotten a lot bigger, both because the smart people make more money and have more choices, and because the dumb people kind-of get screwed by the added complexity the smart people added to the world. (Like needing to pass a hard paper-and-pencil test to get to be a hairdresser, or needing to get a high school diploma to be employable almost anywhere but the worst jobs.)

          Probably in the coming decades we’ll have technology that will make for much smarter people using some kind of gene modification or performance-enhancing drugs or mechanical/electronic augmentation. Before we get to that world, it would be nice if we had established a pattern for society that neither led to the super-smart people treating the rest of us like cattle, or to pogroms against the super-smart people for threatening to get into the position to treat us like cattle.

          [1] In the sense that closing the gap would require horrific policies that we should never do.

          [2] Assuming this would actually substantially close all the other black/white gaps in outcomes, this would be a bargain if it cost as much as the entire US military budget.

          [3] One danger sign, to me, is that a fair number of those experts will say in public that one side of that question would be so socially disruptive that either evidence for it should not be collected, or that only really overwhelming and extraordinary evidence for it should be considered at all.

          • quanta413 says:

            Establishing right now that your rights and your basic dignity as a human being isn’t a function of your IQ and never will be. A few people have been pushing on this–including (ironically) Charles Murray and Paige Harden, two people who otherwise seem to have little nice to say to each other.

            When you say this, I agree and then immediately feel a deep sinking feeling… Not because anyone is against the idea in theory, but more that the smart/whatever can navigate a lot of shit trivially and so won’t ever perceive what a drag things are. And the segregation between the different social groups is pretty strong yet not obvious.

            There’s also obviously a strong positive feedback loop from the rewards from making the world better for yourself and people like you.

          • albatross11 says:

            Indeed, I’d say that describes a hell of a lot of the last few decades. Smart, well-connected, educated, relatively rich people end up defining most of the rules under which we live and the systems we live in. They (we) make systems that work for them, which often include stuff that’s really hard for people who aren’t very smart, don’t know anyone with any power, don’t have much education, and are poor. And they (we) don’t even see the stuff that utterly clobbers people at the bottom.

            I mean, c’mon, it’s just a ten-page form with instructions written at a 12th grade reading level–a pain in the ass, sure, but it’s not really hard or anything. And hey, it’s obvious that everyone needs Algebra 2 to graduate high school–I mean, yeah, it’s kind of a grind if you don’t like math, but anyone can learn it. And so on.

          • markus says:

            Nicely put.

          • Aapje says:

            Exactly. Also, not only does the IQ segregation cause a lack of understanding, it also takes resources away from the less intelligent, where in the past they might have been able to get help dealing with those forms and such.

          • professorgerm says:

            If you still haven’t listened, I’d say it’s not worth it. All heat, no light.

            Also: Well-said! These questions crop up every CW thread, I think, but no one wants to shift to where the questions really should be.

          • christhenottopher says:

            I want to build a bit off this particular part of the conversation:

            We’ve spent the last few decades getting really good at concentrating power and wealth in the hands of very smart people. I think we’ve also reorganized our society in ways that have often made things pretty damned hard for people who aren’t very smart. The difference in your quality of life between being in the top and bottom 10% of intelligence has probably gotten a lot bigger, both because the smart people make more money and have more choices, and because the dumb people kind-of get screwed by the added complexity the smart people added to the world.

            Intuitively this makes a lot of sense to me. The income return to greater education has risen over time, occupational licensing has been increasing, and taxes have certainly increased in complexity (in the US anyways). But this makes me wonder a couple of things.

            1) has research been done on changes to the advantages from higher IQ? Is the income gap between high and low IQ higher? What about relative crime rates? Relative rates of car accidents? I know Murray did some of this work with “Growing Apart”, but is there more work out there documenting this change?

            2) if my first point can be fairly definitively answered with “yes,” does this undermine how certain we should be that IQ does measure a general intelligence? Should we perhaps consider an alternate hypothesis along these lines: IQ tests were developed by people with a particular kind of academic intelligence and therefore (probably unconsciously) made to measure what kind of mind works well in an academic setting. Marketed as general intelligence and providing a relatively low cost measure, businesses, schools, and governments began pursuing policies that favored people with that measure. Those policies improved the life prospects of people with high levels of what IQ measures, and when research was subsequently done to verify IQ is measuring real intelligence, things like higher rates of employment/income and lower rates of crime supported the IQ/intelligence link. This made businesses/schools/government/the general public more confident in demanding higher IQ individuals, which in turn improved life out comes and made the link seem stronger. When people try to argue that there are other forms of intelligence, they then run into the problem that either their measures correlate with IQ, or they don’t correlate with better life outcomes because society has been designed for high IQ people.

            In essence, have we made IQ is strongly linked to actual general intelligence a self-fulfilling prophecy? If we did consciously try to decrease the positive outcomes from IQ in our society, would the IQ test still seem like it’s measuring a general intelligence?

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t think all that many people have much of their lives determined by an IQ test, exactly. However, IQ test scores correlate pretty strongly with SAT/ACT scores, and *those* have a big impact on whether you go to college, where you go, and what kind of scholarships you get. Also, I think the US military gives you more-or-less an IQ test to decide what assignments you get, and if your score is too low, they won’t let you in.

            However, my understanding is that IQ scores correlate strongly with performance on pretty much every job there is, as well as with how you do in school. So even if you did away with SAT/ACT scores and just moved to using high school grades and which classes you’d taken, you’d also have a big positive correlation between IQ and what college you got into. And even if you just gave people mentally demanding jobs to do and chose the best ones for promotion or something, you’d also get something that positively correlated with IQ.

            I don’t know whether there’s data on returns to IQ directly. I do know that college-educated people have done a lot better in terms of income than high-school-diploma-only people. Though that’s over a span of time when lots more people went to college, so there’s a pretty obvious way things could be getting confounded.

      • meh says:

        A center-left conflict theorist sound pretty accurate.

        “the excesses of activists, while real and problematic, they’re not as a big deal as the things they’re really trying to fight and to draw attention to.”

        • LadyJane says:

          “the excesses of activists, while real and problematic, they’re not as a big deal as the things they’re really trying to fight and to draw attention to.”

          Perfectly sums up my own views on Culture War issues!

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            Might that have something to do with the excesses harming you less and the things they fight for benefiting you more, than some other groups?

          • AG says:

            @LadyJan:
            In which case that the activists are so “successful” at diverting attention towards their excesses, and worse, “successful” at leading people to conflate those excesses with the things they’re trying to fight for such that culture war exists, is a seriously egregious self-sabotage that the left should be fixing pronto.

            Even if you’re confident that you can row fast enough to get to that beach in the distance before your boat sinks from the leak in it, wouldn’t it be better to plug the leak, and then row at your own pace without worrying about all the water swamping in, or arguing with the people in the boat claiming that the leak means the boat should be rowed back towards the murderous pirate ship instead?

            If the things they’re really trying to fight for are so much more important, then defending the excessive activists should be a much lower priority than simply letting them fall and replacing them with new non-excessive ones. Or are some leftists just too big to fail?

            I say a war is better won by making too many of the other side defect, than by attempting to destroy them. Daryl Davis and Derek Black strategy forever, and excesses that do otherwise are not just consequentially unsound, but basically their own opposite defection.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Perfectly sums up my own views on Culture War issues!

            just to be clear, this both reads as – and seemingly is – a significant slam on your position. Good on you, I guess, but the main issue is just that it can be applied to almost any activists’ bad behavior, right? I mean, someone bombs an abortion clinic, but that’s not as big a deal as abortion. And obviously no SJW or progressive has done something that bad (well, I say obviously, but I don’t know for certain), but you get my point – a lot of bad stuff is being done, and dismissing it like that is just an easy way to remain, well, a conflict theorist, in other words someone who still stands with the tribe and so forth.

            as mentioned by others, these excesses seem to exacerbate the issues that they are supposedly trying to fight and draw attention to, which is the cherry on top, but it doesn’t need to be there, as such. although arguably, if activists are behaving badly, the issues they mean to fight will be exacerbated no matter what.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: Maybe. I think most people have personal biases that influence our values and opinions to varying degrees, and I doubt you or I are special exceptions. But that’s far from my only reason for taking the stances I do.

            I’m also not sure I’m as safe from the extremists on my side as you seem to think. The anti-capitalists would hate me for being an economic centrist and having free-market libertarian leanings, the sex-negative feminists would hate me for being sex-positive, the trans exclusionary radical feminists would hate me simply for existing, and so forth.

            @AG: You would have a point if I was “defending the excessive activists,” but I’ve never done that. In fact, I’ve gone well beyond “simply letting them fall” as you suggest; I actively criticize them! I just actively criticize the other side a lot more, partially because their own excesses are even worse (right-wing extremists are a lot more likely to physically assault or even murder people than left-wing extremists), and partially because I’m more worried about the people with horrible methods and horrible goals than the people with horrible methods but mostly noble goals.

            @AnonYEmous: If I actually believed that abortion was morally equivalent to murder, then yes, I would consider “someone bombs an abortion clinic, but that’s not as big a deal as abortion” to be a valid argument. When one problem is several orders of magnitude worse than another, then I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable to place a much greater emphasis on addressing the larger problem.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            If I actually believed that abortion was morally equivalent to murder, then yes, I would consider “someone bombs an abortion clinic, but that’s not as big a deal as abortion” to be a valid argument.

            the thing is though, a lot of people do supposedly believe that

            so i guess it’s down to what you mean by “valid argument”. The argument is true, under those conditions, but I’m just pointing out that if you use it to dismiss the bombing, then you’d be doing something that you, personally, really don’t like. And that I, personally, don’t think should be done.

            I’m also not sure I’m as safe from the extremists on my side as you seem to think.

            i don’t think it’s a good idea to sub in “extremists” for “activists” here; the extremists are a bit wacky, yes, but most of the activists line up with almost all of your positions…and aren’t too devoted to communism in an economic sense.

          • LadyJane says:

            the thing is though, a lot of people do supposedly believe that
            so i guess it’s down to what you mean by “valid argument”.

            Indeed. In this case, I think it would be a valid argument if the underlying premises were true (if abortion was literally murder in the same sense as first-degree homicide, then the deliberate killing of hundreds of millions of fully sapient human beings would indeed overshadow literally every other social issue in the world!), but they’re not, so the argument isn’t valid.

            There seems to be this mindset in rationalist circles that arguments need to be rooted in universalizable principles that are constructed on the meta-level, because people can be wrong about any object-level issue. In general, I think this is a very good approach to take, but I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to make common-sense exceptions for cases where a particular object-level stance is very obviously wrong or improbable to the point of absurdity. To use a particularly extreme example, imagine a serial killer who goes around murdering everyone whose last name begins with ‘W’ because he’s absolutely certain that they’re secretly reptilian aliens who are going to destroy the Earth within a matter of weeks if left unchecked. I would argue that he would be justified if he was correct, but I absolutely wouldn’t argue that he is justified.

            This is part of why I find racialist ideas so dangerous. I could conceivably imagine some fantastical scenario in which wholesale systemic discrimination against a particular group would actually be justified (for instance, if humans were sharing the planet with another sapient species that was inherently prone to violent and antisocial behavior on a genetic level, and no amount of environmental conditioning could change or mitigate that predisposition in any way). Obviously, I don’t think this is the case in real life, and I would consider any claims that this was the case in real life to fall under the category of “very obviously wrong” assertions. So when people start making claims that could lead others to that conclusion (particularly if there are people out there who actively want to be lead to that conclusion, for various reasons), I get extremely wary.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            This is part of why I find racialist ideas so dangerous. I could conceivably imagine some fantastical scenario in which wholesale systemic discrimination against a particular group would actually be justified

            So does this mean that you reject affirmative actions, racial quota’s and other measures that introduce systemic discrimination against whites (and sometimes Asians)?

          • This is part of why I find racialist ideas so dangerous. I could conceivably imagine some fantastical scenario in which wholesale systemic discrimination against a particular group would actually be justified (

            Every society discriminates against minors/children.

          • Aapje says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            LadyJane argued against racial discrimination, not other kinds.

          • rlms says:

            I would be surprised if there are more than two or so regular commenters who support affirmative action in the sense of lowered entry standards for minority members (but I’ve been wrong about this kind of thing before).

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            LadyJane seems to believe in relatively orthodox SJ, at least relative to the rest of SSC, so am interest to see whether this extents to support for affirmative action based on race (or other race-based discrimination intended to help the disadvantaged).

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            I would be surprised if there are more than two or so regular commenters who support affirmative action in the sense of lowered entry standards for minority members

            If this was openly admitted to be true (by say, specifying different SAT cutoffs for college) and really was targeted at disadvantaged people (not upper-middle class people who happen to have the correct skin color), I’d probably support this up to some quota size less than proportional representation but higher than current numbers.

            It’d need to be done in a not stupid way though for it to have good effects. Which means providing additional support for people with a lowered entry standard, possibly as much as an extra year or two of college paid for by the institution or donors to help catch someone up if they were admitted at a lower standard. It also means you can’t lower the standard too much. Otherwise you get what happened at the University of California system. After open affirmative action was banned, enrollment numbers of some minority groups dropped precipitously (sometimes ~30-40%) but graduation numbers stayed steady. This implies pretty horrifying things about their previous policy when you think about it.

            But the odds of the honest admission of how affirmative action has to work are so low in the U.S. that I honestly haven’t thought about where I’d draw various lines much.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje:

            So does this mean that you reject affirmative actions, racial quota’s and other measures that introduce systemic discrimination against whites (and sometimes Asians)?

            Yes. I believe that society should be color-blind (and gender-blind, sexuality-blind, etc.), and that includes rejecting policies which unfairly benefit minorities for the sake of counterbalancing past or present discrimination against them, which puts me at odds with Social Justice orthodoxy. Although it doesn’t prevent me from supporting anti-discrimination laws, so long as they’re applied evenly – for instance, as long as harassing or attacking white people for being white would be considered a hate crime too.* (As I’ve explained before, part of my reason for supporting the C-16 bill is because it’s simply extending the same standards to gender minorities that already apply to gender majorities, in the sense that consistently misgendering a cis person in a professional environment would be considered bullying and harassment, so it’s only fair to apply the same standards to trans people too.)

            *I’ve heard disputes over whether current anti-discrimination laws actually work this way, but it’s definitely how they work officially, and to the best of my knowledge it’s how they work in practice too.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            I would say that we agree about the basic principles, then.

            I’ve heard disputes over whether current anti-discrimination laws actually work this way, but it’s definitely how they work officially, and to the best of my knowledge it’s how they work in practice too.

            No, see Grutter v. Bollinger.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            In this case, I think it would be a valid argument if the underlying premises were true (if abortion was literally murder in the same sense as first-degree homicide, then the deliberate killing of hundreds of millions of fully sapient human beings would indeed overshadow literally every other social issue in the world!), but they’re not, so the argument isn’t valid.

            Ialso think it’s perfectly reasonable to make common-sense exceptions for cases where a particular object-level stance is very obviously wrong or improbable to the point of absurdity.

            “Abortion is murder” is a position a lot of people seem to hold, which means it probably isn’t “obviously wrong” or “improbable” under regular definitions of those words. At best, they ‘should’ be those things, but they still aren’t. (Also, should they be those things?)

            And this is sort of the point; I don’t know about rationalism, as such, but the point of object-level principles is an understanding that everyone doesn’t agree about key issues and that there isn’t this “us” which can simply decide “OK, that’s ridiculous and we don’t need to consider it”. Since they don’t, there needs to be some type of tolerance.

            This is part of why I find racialist ideas so dangerous.

            Admittedly, one of the weaknesses of being open-minded is that you can let in the wrong ideas, and I say that without rancor. That said, we could just make use of your own pragmaticism to supplement the supposed rationalist perspective; whether or not there’s a good reason to have a racial purge, doing so would be extraordinarily impractical, among other things.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Aapje: Yes, anti-discrimination laws generally don’t apply to affirmative action or employment/admission quotas. But when it comes to actual harassment and violence, white people are definitely a protected class like any other racial group. Minorities can be – and often are – charged with hate crimes for threatening or harassing or attacking white people on the basis of their race, and it happens frequently enough that various government and private organizations track statistics for it. Likewise, both law enforcement agencies and activist groups like the SPLC typically classify anti-white organizations as hate groups.

            @AnonYEmous: I’m skeptical that a lot of people actually hold the position that abortion is literally murder in the same way that first-degree homicide is murder. A lot of people might claim to hold that position, and I don’t even think they’re necessarily lying per se, but generally their actions and moral intuitions don’t actually match up with their stated beliefs. If they actually believed abortion was literally the moral equivalent of outright murdering a child, it wouldn’t just be another political issue for them to debate about, it would be the biggest political/social/moral crisis in human history, and a lot more of them would be taking extreme and illegal actions (such as physically barricading the entrance to abortion clinics, or actively disrupting the operations of those clinics, or even killing abortion doctors) to prevent abortions from happening.

            Most anti-abortion activists probably do believe that abortion is murder, but in the same way that hardcore vegan activists believe that meat is murder; it’s a lesser kind of murder, still extremely bad, but not equivalent to the deliberate taking of a human life. To rely on an old liberal talking point, I’d wager that the vast majority of them would choose to save a single human child over even an arbitrarily large number of fetuses, if forced to make that choice.

          • Aapje says:

            @LadyJane

            I agree that the law as written provides equal protection for white people against harassment and violence. I disagree that the law is applied evenly. For example, when a white, mentally handicapped teen was tortured:

            Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Thursday that while the suspects, all of whom are black, made “terrible racist statements” against white people during the on-camera torture session, it did not appear to be racially motivated.

            Guglielmi said investigators initially concluded that the victim — who is from Chicago’s Crystal Lake suburb and attended school with at least one of his suspected captors — was singled out because he has “special needs,” not because he is white.

            I don’t believe that the police would have made a similar statement if the races had been swapped, given the kind of statements that were made during the attack. Now, the perpetrators were eventually charged with a racially motivated hate crime, but this was a pretty severe case, that got a lot of attention. There is a lot of room for substantial bias in the legal system at the margins, where a crime can be treated as a lesser one (in deciding to charge, with what charges, the sentencing, etc).

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I’m skeptical that a lot of people actually hold the position that abortion is literally murder in the same way that first-degree homicide is murder. A lot of people might claim to hold that position, and I don’t even think they’re necessarily lying per se, but generally their actions and moral intuitions don’t actually match up with their stated beliefs.

            I think this is basically par for the course in regards to what people believe and how it influences their behavior. Most people, especially in the West, have some detachment from their beliefs, or rely on the government or institutions as the proper way to effect change.

            For example, why haven’t climate change believers blown up fossil fuel plants to save themselves from the impending apocalypse? Why not destroy car engines and stop driving yourself? Because one person or even a few people can’t solve the problem and will possibly only make it worse; it’s the government’s job to deal with the issue. Plus, you don’t really make a convincing argument for what you think they actually believe:

            Most anti-abortion activists probably do believe that abortion is murder, but in the same way that hardcore vegan activists believe that meat is murder; it’s a lesser kind of murder, still extremely bad, but not equivalent to the deliberate taking of a human life.

            If a fetus is nearly a life and someone who kills is it a lesser-murderer, then it still absolutely follows that you should be putting a damn stop to it. I mean, really; let’s say there is a building in town where people go to commit assault and battery. You’re fine with that? You don’t plan to do anything to stop that?

            If people would act if they really believed certain things in their hearts, but they don’t so they don’t act, then they’d still act under your explanation. The better argument is that very few beliefs come fully from the heart, but since they’re all like that, you can’t disqualify some for not being sufficiently genuine.

          • albatross11 says:

            LadyJane:

            I’m not sure whether you’re right about the beliefs of most pro-life people, but I don’t think you can infer that from the relatively small number of pro-lifers who engage in terrorism or extremely disruptive protests.

            Consider the parallel case of slavery. A lot of people were part of the antislavery movement. Very few engaged in terrorism or extremely disruptive protests. I don’t think we can infer from this that John Brown et al were the only ones who thought slavery was truly an intolerable evil, and the others were more lukewarm on the issue. Instead, lots of people think terrorism or even constant disruptive protests are counterproductive, many people know and respect people on the other side of the issue and don’t see that attacking them would be a good thing, and almost everyone balances their moral outrage about bad things happening in the world with the personal consequences to them of engaging in activism.

      • Darwin says:

        I don’t think this is fair to Klein. He makes at least two very specific scientific claims that Harris either ignores or misinterprets as political claims.

        The first is that the dataset for African American IQ in the US is hopelessly confounded by systematic noise caused by the lasting environmental effects of slavery, Jim Crow, general cultural racism, etc., and therefore it’s improper to draw strong conclusions about genetics from this data set because you know it’s confounded.

        The second is that Murray claims that reversing the observed IQ differences through policy interventions is impossible, but we have evidence (published studies and results from policy initiatives) showing that this is just a factually incorrect claim.

        • MrApophenia says:

          This was what was really damning against Harris in my eyes. Klein kept pointing out that America’s racist history (and present) aren’t being invoked as some sort of a moral claim that we must all act horrified about for virtue signaling purposes before we buckle down to examine the real data. He is proposing it as having a direct causal relationship for the data being observed, as an alternate explanation to the genetics. And Harris just outright refuses to even acknowledge the idea as a possibility, only dismissing it as the former.

          (Harris’ inability to conceive that “being defensive about being a white pundit who gets attacked for controversial statements, and thus sympathetizes with Murray” could possibly be construed as identity politics was also weird.)

          At the very end, Klein at least says he could accept the reality of genetic racial differences, even if he doesn’t think there is enough evidence there yet. For all his talk of dispassionate rationality, Harris seemed much more unwilling to even engage with any idea he didn’t already walk in the door with.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          The second is that Murray claims that reversing the observed IQ differences through policy interventions is impossible, but we have evidence (published studies and results from policy initiatives) showing that this is just a factually incorrect claim.

          No this is where Murray’s claims are much stronger than the supporters of actively using policy to increase IQ’s. The only programs that apparently raised IQ’s over the long term are two tiny decades old programs that have never been replicated. The lack of any success in raising IQ’s was discussed in the Bell Curve, and the evidence today is even higher than it was then.

          Yes there is the Flynn effect, which has raised the average IQ over decades (although both low and high IQ’s went up, the distribution hasn’t narrowed). There have been various studies that claim that the Black/White difference in IQ’s has decreased to less than the 15 points it was when the Bell Curve was written. I’m not sure if this is correct or not. But even if it is true, neither of these have been the result of policy. Programs to raise IQ have not worked outside of very isolated examples, which are likely due to luck.

          Yes, changes in IQ over the years show that IQ is not immutable. But of course Murray has never argued this. He NEVER said IQ is 100% inheritable. It has been his belief that the Black/White difference is likely to be composed of both environmental and inherited differences.

        • quanta413 says:

          Yes, changes in IQ over the years show that IQ is not immutable. But of course Murray has never argued this. He NEVER said IQ is 100% inheritable. It has been his belief that the Black/White difference is likely to be composed of both environmental and inherited differences.

          Just to nitpick, but heritable and immutable are are only loosely related. I’m not sure how fast the mean IQ of a population could shift if people with higher IQ’s had more children, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as much as a couple points per generation. At first at least. At some point you run out of variance to work with if selection on IQ is very strong. The high variance in the heritable part of IQ in basically any group of humans implies there are either a lot of mutations available that increase IQ (very unlikely) or that it’s not selected for much at this point.

          We see don’t see many effects like this, because that’s not the environment we’re in. But it’s plausible that could change.

          • albatross11 says:

            More to the point, imagine the genetic difference leading to the IQ difference is greater tendency to vitamin D deficiency. It’s genetic, but once we work out the cause, we can fix it by giving all the black kids vitamin D supplements.

            On the other hand, imagine the environmental difference leading to the IQ difference is deeply rooted in American black culture, so that the only workable fix is adoption of black infants by white or Asian parents. It’s environmental, but we can’t fix it.

            And the other thing to remember is that IQ is almost certainly baked in by the time someone is, say, 16. So in the best case where we discover the way to close the IQ gap tomorrow, we still have another decade or two to wait before the no-gap generation enters the workforce, and several more generations to wait until the gap in the population disappears.

    • meh says:

      I think I agreed with nearly every point Klein made, just none of them were answering Harris’s question. It’s a well defensible Motte.

      • Iain says:

        Which question from Harris did you think Klein left unanswered?

        • MrApophenia says:

          I thought Klein definitely did carefully avoid answering the question of what the proper response is if the data does really show Murray’s point, or something like it, unambiguously.

          (Honestly, I thought neither of them came off terribly well; each of them seemed unwilling to seriously engage with the points of the other.)

    • meh says:

      he never said racist pseudoscience

    • Jaskologist says:

      So, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Vox, founded by Klein, intended to bring rationality to our politics by way of “explainers,” which would dispassionately examine the facts behind issues to lead us to the truth? Sounds like he’s abandoned that conceit entirely. He’s spending the whole first hour arguing that we can’t trust science and we shouldn’t look at these numbers.

      In fact, he spends a lot of time arguing that because he doesn’t like Murray’s policy proposals, we shouldn’t engage him on his science. I liked the part particularly where he uses the bare fact that Murray worked at a conservative think-tank as a reason to shun him.

      • AKL says:

        In fact, he spends a lot of time arguing that because he doesn’t like Murray’s policy proposals, we shouldn’t engage him on his science.

        This is an astounding reading of the situation. Even if you ignore everything that Klein says, it seems crystal clear that Harris explicitly does not want to discuss the science.

        From the emails:

        Klein

        There are various ideas swirling around here about next steps (a podcast with you, the authors writing a follow-up piece, etc), but before I take any of them, I want to make sure I understand what’s going on.

        Harris

        The conversation I propose we have wouldn’t be narrowly focused on the science of intelligence… What I propose we discuss is this atmosphere wherein many otherwise sane and ethical people reliably become obscurantists and attack anyone who demurs as an enemy, fit only to be silenced.
        However, I doubt that any such discussion could be had with the authors of the paper you published. It is a shoddy piece of work, and they appear to be part of the moral panic I was describing. Again, my desire to speak with Murray was not based on a prior interest in the genetic basis of intelligence…

        Klein

        Which brings me to the podcast. I really think that core discussion over the scientific dispute here is the important one, and I don’t want to present myself as the best person to have it. So to the extent I can persuade you that the disagreement is legitimate and good faith, I still think an actual expert in this field would be a better guest than me.

        Harris

        To spend any more time on my podcast reminding the world that blacks and whites perform differently on IQ tests can’t help but make me look bad. So, if we were going to have a conversation, it would have to be at a level higher than debating the science… So it would really be a conversation about public conversation—publishing, politically-charged debate, moral panics, scapegoating, free speech, click bait, etc.—not about intelligence and race.

        • rahien.din says:

          Even if you ignore everything that Klein says, it seems crystal clear that Harris explicitly does not want to discuss the science.

          Harris wants everyone to begin by listening to the science, which he finds to be clear and not debatable.

          An important motivator for this discussion is that Harris thinks Klein and his writers are not listening to the science. He decries this as intellectual dishonesty.

          It’s extraordinarily misleading to characterize Harris’ goal of exorcising intellectual dishonesty as a desire not to discuss the science.

          • AKL says:

            Harris explicitly, repeatedly stresses that his interest in this topic is NOT related to the science.

            While I have very little interest in IQ and actually zero interest in racial differences in IQ, I invited Murray on my podcast, because he had recently been de-platformed at Middlebury College.

            Again, IQ is not one of my concerns and racial differences in IQ is absolutely not one of my concerns, but a person having his reputation destroyed for honestly discussing data — that deeply concerns me.

            Harris’ stated concerns are more justified to the the extent that the science is in fact settled and uncontroversial, so the science is of course germane to his argument. He asserts repeatedly that it is settled and uncontroversial, but doesn’t provide any evidence.

            If he wanted to have a conversation about the science of intelligence, he would not say, “The conversation I propose we have wouldn’t be narrowly focused on the science of intelligence.” Or he might have accepted Klein’s suggestion to interview the scientists who disagree with Murray’s work.

            But his primary interest is in defending his reputation and norms of free inquiry into controversial topics writ large. And that’s fine! But the framing that Harris wants to have a clearheaded discussion about data while the leftists want to use rhetorical violence to cover up the facts is just not supported by any of the Harris-Klein interactions.

            To the extent you claim otherwise, you have to believe that Harris does not actually mean what he says, or that I have taken his quotes wildly out of context. Do you disagree?

            edit: second paragraph after blockquotes for flow

          • rahien.din says:

            But the framing that Harris wants to have a clearheaded discussion about data…

            I think you misunderstand how this has been framed, going back to your initial response to Jaskologist’s post :

            Jaskologist : [Klein] spends a lot of time arguing that because he doesn’t like Murray’s policy proposals, we shouldn’t engage him on his science.

            AKL : Even if you ignore everything that Klein says, it seems crystal clear that Harris explicitly does not want to discuss the science.

            That’s not a coherent response to Jaskologist’s claim.

          • Iain says:

            It seems like a coherent response to me.

            Jaskologist accused Klein of believing that we shouldn’t engage Murray on the science. AKL pointed out that, in fact, Klein argued that the science is the most important part, and that the engagement should happen:

            I really think that core discussion over the scientific dispute here is the important one, and I don’t want to present myself as the best person to have it. So to the extent I can persuade you that the disagreement is legitimate and good faith, I still think an actual expert in this field would be a better guest than me.

            There is a big difference between “I’m not qualified to talk about this” and “nobody should talk about this”.

            I think it’s revealing to look at the full context of the “conservative think tank” comment Jaskologist referred to.

            [Y]ou’re very quick to see a lot of psychological tendencies, cognitive fallacies, etc. in others that you don’t see applying to yourself, or people you’ve written into your tribe. You say words in there like confirmation bias, etc., to me about how we’re looking at Murray. The whole thing I just told you is that Charles Murray is a guy who works at conservative think tanks, whose first book was about why we should get rid of the welfare state, who is, his whole life’s work is about breaking down social policy.

            To the extent that I have any biases that flow backwards from political commitments, so does he.

            Klein isn’t saying that working at a conservative think tank disqualifies Murray. He’s pointing out that both sides of the debate have their own ideological priors, and that it’s inconsistent of Harris to dismiss one side as “part of a politically correct moral panic” while declining to contemplate the potential for bias on the other side.

          • AKL says:

            I believe the implication of Jaskologist’s post is that Harris wanted to discuss the science while Klein seeks to obfuscate, and I was responding to that claim.

          • rahien.din says:

            If the claim is :
            Person X wants to ignore this dataset because of political considerations.

            Then it is not coherent to counter with :
            Person Y has focused this discussion on charging Person X with intellectual dishonesty, rather than discussing this dataset.

            It is not coherent because Person Y’s behaviors are not evidence of Person X’s desires or beliefs. You could state any number of facts about Person Y’s behaviors, and that would not tell us anything about Person X.

          • Iain says:

            @rahien.din:

            The claim is: “Person X wants to ignore this dataset because of political considerations.”

            The response was: “Wait, what? Person X said that discussing the dataset was the most important part of the conversation.”

            That is as direct a refutation as it is possible to give. Klein does not, in fact, spend a lot of time arguing that Murray should not be engaged on the science. He makes the opposite argument. Jaskologist is wrong.

            The fact that Harris repeatedly declines to engage on the science is just icing on the cake.

        • Darwin says:

          I agree, Harris seems t have a much greater political axe to grin here than Klein.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I didn’t read the emails, just listened to the exchange. I heard Harris present three not-entirely hypotheticals:

          1. It was recently revealed that everybody but Africans have some Neanderthal DNA. What if it had been the reverse? Would the subject now become radioactive?
          2. What if we found a cluster of genes that correlated with materialism, and then discovered those were more present in Ashkenazim?
          3. Certain Olympic races have become almost entirely dominated by people from certain segments of Africa. How do we deal with that bare fact, and how would we deal with it if Jews wanted to investigate whether they are being discriminated against in the Olympics.

          All of these were attempts to get at the following: Harris believes that we will inevitably find differences between populations due to genetics, and they’re not all going to cut in a PC direction. How do we prepare for and deal with that fact?

          I didn’t hear Klein answer *any* of those hypotheticals, except to laugh off #3 because long-distance running isn’t important.

          Maybe I missed it. Is there somewhere in there that indicates how Klein thinks we should deal with science when it presents us with undesirable facts?

          • Iain says:

            Maybe I missed it. Is there somewhere in there that indicates how Klein thinks we should deal with science when it presents us with undesirable facts?

            I count at least three partial responses to this.
            1. Scrutinize them very rigorously before making any policy decisions. (This is the “noticing the skulls” argument I discuss above.)
            2. Recognize that — especially once policy starts being pulled in — these are not purely scientific questions, and we should take the history here seriously:

            I think a conversation that included more African-American voices and more people who have specialization in the history of race in America, in the history of these ideas in America, in the history of how these ideas and social policy in America interact, would lead to a better, more fruitful, more, as you put it, adult, and also a more constructive, debate.

            3. Emphasize precision. “Black” and “white” are huge, genetically diverse, historically variable categories. It would be very surprising if our racial map circa 2018 actually described the genetic territory:

            It’s often not true, of course, for people who are African American, you can look at someone there, and maybe they’re actually from the Caribbean, or maybe they’re half-white, or maybe all kinds of things happen. A hundred years ago, I’m not white, now I am.
            You don’t seem to see a lot of people saying, “Hey, like, let’s resuscitate the mid-20th century versions of white races.” Instead, we group what we now think of as white people together. And then there are Hispanics, which are another strangely constructed category, over here.
            And so in terms of how all this helps us have a more sophisticated discussion, a discussion that makes us more ready to absorb these findings as they come down the line, I actually don’t really understand it and I don’t think I ever have. If you want to have discussions about very precise population categories, I think that we should come up with good language for doing that. I think that if you read a lot of these studies, people do.

            If you think that the difference in outcomes between races is environmental, it makes sense to use the existing categories. Nobody’s going to make you take a DNA test before deciding whether to discriminate against you. If you think it’s all genetic, though, then there’s no particular scientific reason to draw your lines between “black” and “white”. The less we over-generalize our scientific results, the better.

          • Aapje says:

            If you think it’s all genetic, though, then there’s no particular scientific reason to draw your lines between “black” and “white”. The less we over-generalize our scientific results, the better.

            The current humanoid brain diversity stuff definitely doesn’t just draw a line between black and white.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Iain

            If you think that the difference in outcomes between races is environmental, it makes sense to use the existing categories. Nobody’s going to make you take a DNA test before deciding whether to discriminate against you. If you think it’s all genetic, though, then there’s no particular scientific reason to draw your lines between “black” and “white”. The less we over-generalize our scientific results, the better.

            Which would be why nobody who studied the question even since super racist anthropologists has divided humanity into “Black” and “White”. They were much more interested in splitting humans into many subgroups of subgroups than modern Westerners are. They figured out the big continental groupings a long time ago. Europeans knew they were probably more closely related to the people of India than to the people of China for linguistic reasons. Some British had an obsession with classifying the ethnic and racial groups and subgroups of India. The idea that anybody with a clue had a binary of black/white outside of a pretty specific social context is a straw man.

            If this is really part of Klein’s response, it’s bad because it’s been a solved problem for ~1 century or more. Everyone already knows; it’s not new information and it isn’t information that makes any difference in the way Klein wants it to. This division is pretty unique to the U.S. anyways. Who of any repute even uses this two way division these days? Besides Ta-Nehisi Coates.

            And someone who think all differences are environmental or cultural and “uses preexisting categories” is still making little sense in the U.S. outside of “black” and “white”. People from the Indian subcontinent should not be clustered with people from China, Korea, and Japan by environmental/historical factors (well, almost all; there are some Chinese people in India). Hispanic is mostly a linguistic classification. How to classify Brazilians or Portuguese is still a point of confusion. Even the “black” category has some gradations into “black/white” even from a purely social point of view.

          • albatross11 says:

            Iain: (Re skulls and policy preferences)

            What policy questions turn on whether the black/white IQ difference is ultimately genetic or environmental?

            One way to think about this is to ask: Suppose that tomorrow someone publishes a carefully-done study that just flat answers the question, and a few years later, the result has been replicated by equally careful critics. So we know the answer.

            In Klein World, the answer is that the black/white IQ difference has little or no genetic component. We still don’t know exactly what environmental/developmental stuff is going on to cause it, but it’s not genes.

            In Murray World, the answer is that the black/white IQ difference is overwhelmingly genetic. We still don’t know the exact mechanisms or whether there’s anything to be done about it with (say) drugs or nutrition, but we know it’s basically all genes.

            What policies would we want to change, if we awoke tomorrow in Klein World or Murray World?

            So, as an example, we currently have a lot of affirmative action in education. In order to make the racial numbers come out right despite the existing (well-known and not at issue) IQ differences, we effectively have lower standards for getting into the same university for blacks than for whites, and still higher standards for Asians. I don’t see much reason why my opinion on these programs would change between Murray World and Klein World. The cause of the IQ differences don’t seem too relevant here. The only way it would become relevant would be if the environmental thing needed to raise black average IQ is a lot of blacks going to (say) Duke instead of NC State.

            Where would it matter? If we really don’t know what environmental differences are driving the IQ difference, then it’s hard to think of a policy that we’d want to change. Desegregation? Resegregation? More wealth? Less distracting electronics? Less lead[1]? More micronutrients of some kind? We don’t know, so we can’t decide whether, say, affirmative action programs or reparations or something intended to sustain a large black middle class will help or do nothing or even hurt.

            The one thing I’d say would change: If we knew we were in Klein World, I’d want to spend a lot of resources trying to figure out what the environmental causes of the IQ differences were, so we could do something about them. And if we knew we were in Murray World, I’d want to spend a lot of resources figuring out what mechanisms were involved in the gene->IQ relationship, so we could look for ways to make things better.

            [1] Actually, we know damned well that lead depresses IQ and increases behavior problems. So whatever else we do, making it a priority to decrease the number of small children exposed to high lead levels makes sense–it makes sense in both worlds.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413

            If this is really part of Klein’s response, it’s bad because it’s been a solved problem for ~1 century or more.

            Really? What are the True Racial Categories then?

          • Iain says:

            @albatross11:

            I agree that an answer to the environmental / genetic question shouldn’t make a huge policy difference. But there’s a big gap between “shouldn’t” and “won’t”. Charles Murray, at least, seems to think that the science has policy implications.

          • quanta413 says:

            Really? What are the True Racial Categories then?

            This is your best hot take? This isn’t even worthy of Buzzfeed. Solved does not mean there is a single set of “True Racial Categories”. Would you say Chemistry is not solved for many standard technical purposes because it doesn’t have a single collection of disjoint sets of “True Chemical Categories”?

            How to label species is a solved problem from a policy perspective even if there is interesting science to do. Labeling species of mammal or breeds of dog has exactly the same set of ambiguities as labeling human races but no one pitches a fit about categorizing relationships between different mammals or dog breeds. And yes I know why, I just think that you should toss crappy moral premises like “the smarter groups should rule the less smart groups” or “treat people according to their group affiliation” instead.

            There are also obvious corollaries once you think of human populations as being like animal populations. Races and species are not immutable. They change over long time spans, they vanish, and they give rise to new races and species. But for long lived organisms they’re often pretty stable from the point of view of a human lifespan. Races would be less stable if human groups weren’t so often endogamous, but them’s the breaks. The U.S. has a pretty large amount of exogamy, but not everywhere does.

            It has been solved for the necessary purposes that Klein would care about. No one thought that they would find Bantu are more closely related to Anglo Saxons than Anglo Saxons are to Bavarians and behold, they didn’t! Historians also knew that the English were descended from multiple tribes. And yet English is a perfectly reasonable category.

            I know this is shocking, but a lot of evolutionary biology and history got done pre-genetics.

            No one with a clue has thought that mankind consists of only “black” or “white”. Genetic analyses tend to give further refinements to old categories and can get you some idea of admixture events where the history is lacking, but only rarely overturn a lot.

            Aryan Invasion of Northern India? Turned out to have occurred. Not that anyone should be surprised given the linguistic evidence and the Vedas.

            Parsis of India closely related to Iranians? Of course. It is matter of historical record. Genetics let us measure the amount of South Indian admixture, but from a policy point of view, who cares?

            Klein’s whataboutism (“but you could subdivide races slightly differently or even more!”) is either a smokescreen to confuse people who don’t understand biology that’s been known since a little after Darwin or an admission of his own ignorance. Why would most people know though? It’s not important to their daily lives. But the categories we have have been good enough for a while now.

            If there are genetic group differences, it makes little moral difference unless you buy into “the superior groups should rule the inferior groups.” I thought hereditary aristocracy was a dead idea, but apparently not at Vox.

          • rlms says:

            @quanta413
            You seem to think that Klein believes only one racial line exists and is drawn between “black” and “white”. Why? If you go back and read the quote from him in Iain’s comment, he — like essentially all American adults — is well aware that other categories are used (he mentions Hispanic specifically). The statement about “black” and “white” is Iain’s, not Klein’s, so you should be telling him how stupid he is instead.

            Except, you shouldn’t. I don’t believe he is unusually ignorant, so it should be obvious that he’s not saying black and white are the only racial categories used. Instead, he’s saying that the line between those categories (which is but one such line) is drawn somewhat arbitrarily, a point which I am not surprised went over your head if you think coming up with good scientific racial categories is as easy as differentiating between you and a monkey. My comment clearly misread you as responding to that point (which was the actual one Klein made in the quote). I apologise for any confusion caused.

          • quanta413 says:

            @rlms

            Except, you shouldn’t. I don’t believe he is unusually ignorant, so it should be obvious that he’s not saying black and white are the only racial categories used. Instead, he’s saying that the line between those categories (which is but one such line) is drawn somewhat arbitrarily, a point which I am not surprised went over your head if you think coming up with good scientific racial categories is as easy as differentiating between you and a monkey. My comment clearly misread you as responding to that point (which was the actual one Klein made in the quote). I apologise for any confusion caused.

            I’m not accusing Iain or Klein of being stupid. I’m accusing them of bringing in irrelevant details that make no significant difference.

            The lines for races are drawn somewhat arbitrarily but in the same way species definitions are often somewhat arbitrary and the cultural conceptions are rarely divergent enough from a purely biological inference to make a difference in policy. It’s a little harder to classify races than distant species, but it’s not nearly as hard as you make it out to be. That’s my point. It’s either a smokescreen or ignorance to claim this will make any difference policy wise.

            Basically every human can tell at a glance that (A) two Germans are almost definitely more closely related to each other than to a Sub-Saharan African and (B) Monkeys are definitely not humans. It’s not rocket science. The only hard conclusion to reach is (C) I quanta413 am related to monkeys ( I’m a monkey’s uncle actually ).

            Sure, it’s hard to get really accurate breakdowns along a cline of human variation without genetics but so what? People from over 100 years ago had figured out not only big continental level groupings from looking at people and at their history but also had some idea of much smaller events. Some I have already mentioned like the Aryan invasion of Northern India.

            And racist whites in the South obviously knew that many black people in the South had European parents or grandparents. They chose to clump only pure Europeans into the superior group, but they still invented a whole set of terms for specifying proportions of European/African ancestry. They were notably more obsessed with ancestry than modern Americans.

            Many groups in India are also highly endogamous and draw very detailed racial and ethnic lines. Pogroms still occur there occasionally that are best compared to riots of 50-100 years ago in the U.S.

            Do you see the commonality here? Having people keep more accurate track of smaller and smaller racial subgroups does not help. Bringing it up as somehow being relevant is foolish if your goal is to discourage sectarian violence or one group dominating another, because noticing more subgroups seems to encourage that behavior.

            I’ll take the claim seriously that the refinements in categorization due to genetics matter for this purpose when someone can give some examples that were both surprising and policy relevant.

          • Iain says:

            I take Klein’s point to be that the categories are known scientifically, but omitted from popular discussion of these sorts of topics, and that, if we are going to start seriously discussing genetic differences between ethnic groups, it is going to be really important to get our terminology right in public discourse.

            I do not think that this argument is a slam dunk home run that proves everybody on the other side wrong. I do think it is an example of Ezra Klein explaining what he thinks we should do if science presents us with undesirable facts. Which is the question that I was answering.

          • quanta413 says:

            I do not think that this argument is a slam dunk home run that proves everybody on the other side wrong. I do think it is an example of Ezra Klein explaining what he thinks we should do if science presents us with undesirable facts. Which is the question that I was answering.

            I understand what he’s saying which is why I call it either a smokescreen or ignorance. He offers no specifics on how it could possibly make any difference either because he knows it doesn’t change much about U.S. debate or because he doesn’t understand genetics. That’s fine if he doesn’t understand genetics, but he shouldn’t be offering poor suggestions about how genetic details might matter to policy if he doesn’t understand.

            Using tree plots to show exactly what times different groups diverged at and measuring genetic coefficients of variations, etc. makes no real difference to policy discussion. For political purposes, the recent past is known more than well enough and the less well known distant past is also less important so even though it’s known less well, it’s still good enough.

            Even quantitative measurements of admixture don’t add much to the U.S. policy debate. The past couple of centuries of white people trading for slaves and carving chunks out of various countries were full of awful and well documented behavior. White slaveowners who raped their slaves knew what the consequences would often be. The problem is that they were morally wrong, not that they weren’t scientifically accurate enough. We’re talking about some people who didn’t just have slaves but sometimes enslaved their own children.

            An argument about using more precise terminology is irrelevant when the terminology is mostly accurate enough (with exceptions like Indians being grouped with Chinese etc. instead of Europeans and Middle Easterners, but even that mistake makes little practical policy difference and has always been known to be inaccurate). Klein’s historical criticism? Very relevant, there are plausible explanations in that direction. But the terminology suggestion is junk. It’d be the same conversation even if we used a lot of biological detail.

    • sty_silver says:

      I was agnostic before the podcast, but come out pretty confident that Sam is “right” and Ezra is “wrong” afterwards.

      For one, I don’t think Ezra ever conceded any point throughout the conversation, which is a bad sign and unwarranted behavior in this case. In particular, he never acknowledged that there was anything wrong with any of the articles that have sparked the conflict. But, more importantly, when it came to down to actually justifying them, his reasoning was — literally — that Sam and Murray didn’t talk about the historical context.

      And that is just asinine. It has the direct implication that a conversation is worthy of critique even if it only talks about data and represents the data 100% fairly. Like, you could make a case against the podcast that’s based on policy recommendations and the fact that Sam tolerated Murray’s views without too much pushback — but, again, when it came down to actually spelling out his critique, that was not what Ezra said. What he said was that Sam and Murray should have discussed the historical context, with the implication that because they didn’t, that justified a hit piece.

      Sam’s point has always been that discussing these topics is inherently toxic and that this is a problem. This, it seems to me, is proven by the above.

      And on a purely strategic angle, I also agree with Sam (albeit with less confidence). Looking ahead on the kind of things we’ll be able to do with Genes and such, the priority seems to be to get to a place where we can talk honestly, not to be extra careful not to offend anyone right now.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        You seem to be arguing that Klein is dishonest. That would be valuable to know, but it would be a fact about Klein, not about the issue and not about Harris. It wouldn’t make Harris right.

        Also, real-time debates are difficult. Klein alluded to other arguments, so you probably shouldn’t judge too much based on the ones he ended up elaborating on. Also, a common error of debaters is failing to explain how their arguments fit in and you may just be missing his point when you extrapolate the implications.

  19. skef says:

    Here is a different spin on a line of enquiry from the previous open thread. Consider this proposition:

    EaS: Rather than the Sun revolving around the Earth, the Earth revolves around the Sun.

    In interpreting EaS, set aside the rotation of each body, and the ancient view that the Sun revolves around the Earth once a day. Consider only the motion that is measured by the year.

    I take it that most people consider EaS to be true. So what are good answers to these questions?

    1) What kind of truth is EaS?

    2) What is a concise argument for EaS?

    What I mean by question 1 has to do with what sort of reasons bear on its truth. An answer to question 2 should therefore make easy work of answering 1; you could just assign the substantive reasons to categories and make a list. It might, for example, be a geometric truth. Or it might be a geometric-physical truth. Perhaps it is instead a metaphysical truth.

    Alternatively, it might be true in virtue on some kind of coherence view. Perhaps its truth makes other facts easier to understand, or more, or more pertinent, facts can be understood with fewer statements given its truth.

    I don’t want to prejudice responses except to say that many of what seem to be good answers do not hold up to scrutiny.

    • A1987dM says:

      As per general relativity, it doesn’t matter whether you use a frame of reference according to which the Earth revolves around the Sun or vice versa so long as you do everything right, but it’s way easier to do everything right in the former case than in the latter as a result of the Sun being much heavier than the Earth.

      • skef says:

        So according to that explanation, would you say it is a physics/coherence truth, or that it’s not “really true”?

        • beleester says:

          Physic or coherence truth. Calling it “not really true” is misleading – that implies that there’s some other frame of reference that is “really true,” and there isn’t. The heliocentric frame of reference is far more useful and predictive.

          Also, since the Sun is so much heavier than the Earth, the center of mass of the Earth-Sun system is deep inside the sun, which is what “revolves around” generally means. I think this would be a geometric truth – since I’m saying “revolves around” is defined by where the center of revolution is.

          “The Sun revolves around the earth” is only true in the way that “A train is a device that rotates the world under you” is true.

          • yodelyak says:

            If we imagine the universe is computationally model-able, and take “truth” to be a pointer for models that correctly correspond to the universe (and so make correct predictions)… a model that takes a person as the center of the universe, (so trains are machines for moving the earth) and that uses appropriate epicycle-like kludges to keep the model working 100% will still work 100% of the time as a theoretical model of the universe (although it will be phenomenally computationally taxing)… so it’s entirely “true.” (Another way to say this is that there are many syntaxes in which we could encode a complete model of the universe, but some are much more complicated than others.)

            But we can be more choosy for what concept “true” points to. Instead of meaning any 100% correct model, no matter how computationally difficult, we can use “true” to point to the set of models that are both 100% correct and that are minimally difficult, computationally-speaking. That’s basically the same as adopting Occam’s Razor for choosing between models. Being hominids with cognitive limits far, far, far below what we’d need to model our universe well, we shouldn’t be surprised that this is generally adaptive, and that more complicated ‘models’, even if they might generate 100% correspondence, are not usually afforded any status as “true”.

      • John Schilling says:

        During the period when sensible astronomers understood the shape of the solar system but didn’t want to stand too close to you-know-who, the rival Tychonic system had a strong following among Catholic scientists. Exactly the same geometry as the Copernican heliocentric system, but with a coordinate transformation defined such that Earth was always at (0,0,0).

        Non-inertial coordinate systems are a mess to deal with, of course, but this was before the invention of inertia so it worked well enough for their purposes.

        • quaelegit says:

          Is this slightly shoehorned excuse to link to The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown?!

          Actual comment: I thought there was a key difference between the Copernican and Tychonic systems, but re-reading the above it seems they were philosophical not mathematical differences (undiscovered-inertia aside). One practical difference is that the Tychonic model actually work much better because Tycho was working with observations he was making himself, while Copernicus was working with old data that had been recopied many times and had accrued clerical errors.

    • beleester says:

      I think “coherence truth” describes pretty much any form of truth based on observational evidence. After all, it’s possible that an evil demon is deceiving me and everything I know about reality is a lie. It’s possible that all green objects are actually grue and all blue objects are actually bleen. But in practice, you should go with the simple explanation, that you can actually know things about the universe by observing it. Accepting that as “truth” makes other, more pertinent statements, like “What color is the sky?” much easier to answer.

      • skef says:

        I appreciate this position but I also think it proves too much.

        Newton had a strong scientific basis for arguing that the Earth revolves around the Sun, because in his system space itself provided a single reference frame. But we now think that that system doesn’t work.

        To argue that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun revolving around the Earth now one needs to bring in some extrinsic consideration, either actual (the stars, considered generally, or unity with the other planets) or counter-factual (if there were another body sufficiently far away, the Sun’s movement relative to it would be much smaller than the Earth’s). This is “optional” relative to the science in a way that arguing the Sun’s mass is much greater than the Earth’s is not optional, which plausibly makes it a different kind of argument.

    • rahien.din says:

      Someone pointed out recently that the moon does not “revolve” around the earth, so much as its position oscillates beside the earth’s, as both revolve around the sun. Probably the earth and sun are in the same situation, with respect to the overall movement of our solar system within the Milky Way. Or, maybe it is more “true” to say that the sun, moons, planets, etc within a star system actually revolve around that star system’s barycenter. Or, both. Or maybe there is no single “true” description because there is no single most important reference frame.

      But what are we trying to describe, anyway? We are trying to describe the relationship between the movements of two bodies.

      Which is the more important driver of that relationship, whatever the chosen reference frame : the mass of the sun, or the mass of the earth? Clearly, the mass of the sun. Therefore, however one describes the “earth-sun revolution” relationship, the sun is the dominant partner. Therefore, it only makes sense to say that the earth revolves around the sun.

      • skef says:

        I asked the two-part question because this approach sounds entirely sensible but on reflection doesn’t necessarily answer the question. It seems fair to respond: Ok, but is RaS true? And if so, is it a scientific truth (as most people would say it is) or something else?

        • rahien.din says:

          CMWIW!

          Ok, but is EaS true?

          I think it is entirely true to say “When considering the relationship between the local movements of the earth and sun, the sun is the dominant partner.” No subcategory is applicable.

          As far as we must consider the exact clause “The earth revolves around the sun,” I think it is not maximally-“true”, but only because it is a special case of a larger truth. It is true in certain circumstances and/or with certain assumptions.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      No statement means just one thing. This is what forces us to the coherence theory of truth.

      When Aristarchus proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, he meant many things that were related by metaphysical and physical assumptions, many of which turned out to be false. He probably thought that there was some naive concept of one body revolving about another and didn’t worry about the details. Maybe he believed in absolute space. He deduced a consequence: the earth revolves around the sun with respect to the fixed stars. This is a geometric statement. The 1838 observation of stellar parallax is a concise and overwhelming proof of this geometric statement.

      But that one geometric incarnation is not the central meaning of the term. The geometry and the physics could have diverged, but if they had, we would not be having this conversation. A simpler hypothetical is the absence of fixed stars. In that case, it would still be right to say that the earth revolves around the sun. Given the rotation of the earth (which would have been harder to figure out without the fixed stars, with only the planets, or even just sun and moon alone), Aristarchus would have made the same arguments and reached the same, correct conclusion, but without his famous prediction. What he meant is different than what we mean, but there is a clear genealogy.

      From Kepler to Newton, people accepted heliocentrism for simplicity reasons: the earth orbits the sun according to the same parameters as Jupiter orbits the sun, while the sun orbits the earth with different parameters than the moon orbits the earth. Copernicus made cruder simplicity arguments. But that did not mean that the claim was merely pragmatic. People who accepted these simplicity arguments believed in precise geometric and imprecise physical claims that they could not directly prove. They couldn’t answer your second question, but so what?

      After Newton the physical claims became more precise, but precise enough to be false, like the belief in absolute space. They accepted it because the system as a whole was simpler than anything else they could think of. Two steps forward, one step backwards.

      What we mean, today, is that the coordinate system based at the sun is closer to an inertial coordinate system than one based on the earth. Galileo invented relativity, but I don’t think he nailed down what he meant by revolution. He was confused, but doesn’t mean that he was wrong or “not even wrong.” After Newton one could define an inertial system as one in which his laws hold, and observe that Galilean transformations preserve inertial systems. One could have come very close to the modern view, but Newton rejected relativity.

      • This is part of why I find racialist ideas so dangerous. I could conceivably imagine some fantastical scenario in which wholesale systemic discrimination against a particular group would actually be justified (

        I wasn’t aware that correspondence had won, and I don’t see what it has to do with your first sentence.

  20. cyanochlorous says:

    I would like to share a link to this Twitter thread about procedurally generated maps that was popular on Hacker News last week: https://twitter.com/ptychomancer/status/980968298002006016

  21. fortaleza84 says:

    I need advice with a financial situation I am in. The short story is that my wife has a spending problem; as of today she has about $75,000 in credit card debt. More detail: She makes about $70k a year in her job. I run a small business so my income varies from year to year but lately it’s been about $300k.

    Since the beginning, she has spent a lot of money on things I consider to be frivolous so the way I handled it was by giving her a set amount of money which she uses to buy groceries, household supplies, and anything else she wants. I give her about $25 to $30k a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she buys a lot of prepared foods and takeout foods.

    A couple times in the past, she has been bailed out — once by her family and then again by me. The way these bailouts worked was that her debts were paid off and then she paid the money back over time with little or no interest. In both cases, her debt came roaring back and then some.

    Inevitably, her argument is the same: It makes no sense for her to pay 18 to 20% interest on her credit cards. Which is true, but when she is bailed out, she just goes right back to her profligate spending habits.

    The thing is, I really don’t want to micromanage her and tell her what to buy and what not to buy. We’ve tried having her set up a budget in the past, but I’ve never had the time or energy to really enforce it and she is unable to stick to one.

    Anyway, what I am thinking about doing is having her go into one of these debt management programs where the credit counseling service negotiates a lower interest rate with her credit card companies and the money is paid back over 3-5 years. Meanwhile, she is (apparently) locked out of her credit cards and locked out of taking on new debt. I am hoping that over the 3 years, she will get used to just spending what she has and not spending what she doesn’t have. Is this a good route to go? Any other suggestions? TIA

    • vaniver says:

      This doesn’t sound like a financial situation to me; this sounds like a relational / emotional one. Why aren’t you able to reach a shared perspective on what spending is proper? Is there a style of communication that would work better? What is your wife getting out of those purchases? Is there another way to get that?

      That is, I think you will have a better time if you try to grapple with the problem closest to its source, and its source probably has to deal with something inside your wife’s head or social web (including, potentially, her relationship with you or her family).

    • dndnrsn says:

      vaniver is right. This is a personal problem of your wife’s, and a relationship problem for you and your wife, before it’s a financial problem. 75k in CC debt sounds like a spending problem beyond “bad at budgeting” – are you sure you know everything she’s spending money on?

      But it’s still a financial problem. If today her CC debt is roughly equivalent to what she makes in a year (is that gross or net?) that’s a big financial problem for her. It’s also potentially a big financial problem for you, especially if you’ve bailed her out before – three hundred large is hardly chump change, but if you run a business, things can really shift unpredectibly (also, same question, and of course the gross vs net gap is bigger for people in business who have to spend money to make money).

      Besides dealing with her debt (which you are already intending to do), and dealing with the emotional/relationship issues (I assume there are therapists, if she’ll go) you should figure out what her maximum worst-case liability is and figure out what your maximum worst-case liability is (these both vary by jurisdiction). I’d also make sure her taxes are in order – carrying around CC debt often goes hand-in-hand with having screwed up finances in other ways.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think in this type of situation it is best to be blunt, I think that you have an unrealistic assessment of the problem. Googling a little bit and multiple sources seem to agree that most (>50%) households carry little to no revolving credit card debt, and the households that do carry an average of around $15,000. Your wife’s credit card debt is 5 times this amount. If we were talking weight and the average American was 15-20 lbs over weight, and the average overweight American was 40-50 lbs overweight your wife would be at least 200-250 lbs over weight. Your wife has no personal constraints to her spending, and you should assume that she will resume spending once that becomes an option absent significant personal commitment and sacrifice on her own part. She has already demonstrated that she can reduce her spending to pay off her debts to family but resumed once those were out of the way.

    • qwints says:

      Agree that this is primarily a relationship problem, not a fiscal ones. If it was just an inability to budget, the solution is simple – ditch credit cards and limit oneself to cash/debit cards, but that’s not something one can forcibly impose on ones partner in a healthy relationship.

      I’d strongly suggest some form of counseling around the spending.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Everyone is right, but… you’re also making 4x as much money as her when you’re in a relationship where you in many jurisdictions and according to many people’s morals are obliged to share everything evenly.

      You say you “give her $30k a year”, but if you shared the $370k evenly, she would get $185k/year, not $100k.

      Of course, I don’t care at all about this, but I would be extremely unsurprised if she is resentful of this on some level and it’s a factor behind this problem. Either way, the remedy is the same as everyone else suggests. Figure out your relationship, and the money will solve itself!

      • Randy M says:

        Either way, the remedy is the same as everyone else suggests. Figure out your relationship, and the money will solve itself!

        I’m not quite sure this is the case. Yes, the relationship needs to be fixed first in order to stop the bleeding. But paying off that amount isn’t trivial.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If you’re netting $370K a year a $75K debt isn’t a big deal. Not trivial exactly, but not financially crippling either. I agree with the rest that the bigger problem is not financial (but have no useful advice).

          • Randy M says:

            We really can’t say either way unless we know their personal expenses. If they live well within their means, it won’t be a challenge, I agree.

    • meh says:

      I would recommend you both together go through a Dave Ramsey course, or read his book.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      If she can’t handle credit cards responsibly why the fuck does she have credit cards? You can do pretty much everything with a debit card.

      • Randy M says:

        Probably a combination of her not realizing she is irresponsible and the CC company betting that ultimately someone will be.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          I think that it is time to sit her down and have a calm, serious adult discussion about the fact that she cannot handle credit responsibly and has to be repeatedly bailed out, and therefore she should not have access to credit.

    • Well... says:

      I predict this pattern will continue until something far more serious happens. Your wife needs to hit bottom. As an intervention, you might want to bring a false bottom up higher so she can hit it sooner without doing as much damage to both of you.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      Has your wife ever talked to a psychiatrist? Impulsive spending can be a symptom of several kinds of mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, and if that’s the case therapy and medication might do wonders.

  22. I’m leaving tomorrow on a European speaking trip, with talks in Belgrade, Sofia, Bucharest, Prague, Budapest, Maastricht, Oslo and Oxford. The schedule is webbed on my blog. It occurred to me that there might be SSC people in places I am going to who would be interested in either attending my talk or socializing at some point before or after. As a rule, I fly from city A to city B one day, give a talk the next, fly to city C the next day, so there is a fair amount of free time, depending on how much my hosts have arranged.

    My email is ddfr@daviddfriedman.com.

    • markus says:

      While not located conveniently this time I highly appreciate the initiative and encourage others to do the same while traveling.

    • rlms says:

      If you fancy visiting Cambridge (UK) on one of the days around your Oxford visit (Cambridge isn’t particularly near Oxford but is fairly easy to get to from London if you’re travelling via there), let me know and I’ll schedule the irregular SSC meetup for then.

      • Thanks, but we are flying into Gatwick on the afternoon of April 29th, I am speaking in Oxford the next day, and leaving Oxford to go back to Gatwick and home the morning after that. So I don’t think visiting Cambridge works.

        I would like to do so some day, however, since I spent most of a year in Cambridge sixty some years ago as a third form student at Perse, and it would be interesting to see how the current reality matched my very fuzzy memories. Do Perse students still wear striped black and purple as their school colors?

        • rlms says:

          That’s a shame. I live just down the road from the Perse school! The students have solid black jackets and trousers, I don’t look at them closely enough to know if they have any purple on their shirts/ties.

  23. LadyJane says:

    Since the Amish thread, I’ve found myself wondering: How much does ‘happiness’ actually matter? And how much should we value it?

    I find myself highly skeptical of claims that the Amish or other traditional cultures are genuinely better off than modern Westerners. Conservatives like these claims because they prove that traditional values really are superior, and leftists like these claims because they prove that the consumerism of modern liberal capitalist society is hollow and psychologically unhealthy, but I question whether there’s any real truth to these claims in the first place. For instance, I’ve seen plenty of people praise Bhutan for its “Gross National Happiness,” but I’ve always been extremely critical of it. In my view, the GNH is a completely arbitrary metric that the Bhutanese government specifically created to make Bhutan seem more successful than it actually is, which it accomplished by focusing exclusively on factors where the nation shines (environmental conservation, preservation of traditional cultural values) and covering up the nation’s many failings (extreme poverty, undeveloped or failing infrastructure, rampant political corruption, lack of civil rights, and widespread oppression of ethnic/religious minorities).

    Yet I can’t entirely reject these claims in their entirety, because they’re common enough and consistent enough that there probably is some degree. There was a recent study which showed that increasing the amount of choices available to people – one of the fundamental cornerstones of liberalism, philosophically and politically and economically – actually stressed them out and made them less happy overall. If that’s actually true, it raises some difficult questions about whether the modern way of life is really as superior as we make it out to be. Personally, I would still argue that it is; I would voluntarily choose to have more variety and more options in my life, even knowing that it would make me significantly less happy than I would be otherwise. But I don’t know if everyone would or should make that choice. It also raises questions about exactly what ‘happiness’ is, and what it means for one person to be ‘better off’ than another: I would argue that someone who’s more free and has a greater variety of pleasures in her life is better off than someone who has less stress and more moments of happiness/pleasure/contentment, but also less agency and less diversity in her experiences.

    Thinking it all over, I’d say there’s probably a specific type of ‘happiness’ that decreases at the same rate that complexity of life increases, even if other measures of well-being (like physical health, material wealth, quality of life, individual freedom, personal agency, variety of choices and experiences available) are consistently increasing with it. This type of happiness decreased when we went from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers, when we went from semi-isolated agrarian settlements to medieval towns and cities focused on crafts and trade, and when we shifted from an agricultural society to an industrial society, and it’s decreasing again now that we’re moving into a post-industrial age. And at every step, there are people who feel that decrease in happiness more keenly than others (perhaps because they were left objectively worse off by the transition, perhaps because they were left worse off relative to other people even if they’re objectively in a better place, perhaps just because their mindset or temperament or skill set inclines them more towards the values of the older system), and rebel against the change. There were always people in the agricultural era who longed for the primitive simplicity of hunting and gathering, and people in the industrial era who longed for an idyllic life on a farm. Now that we’re entering the post-industrial era, there are increasingly more people who long for the days when a man could work at a store or an office or a factory for eight hours a day, make a living to provide for his suburban nuclear family, be an active member in his local town or neighborhood, and expect to retire by 65. Compared to the increasingly complex and atomized world we’re currently living in, that idealized suburban life seems so quaint and peaceful, with a real sense of community and purpose driving it. It’s no wonder the Trump right and the Sanders left are both centered around appealing to people’s nostalgia for that fading era.

    In fifty or a hundred years from now, when automation has supplanted almost all blue-collar and pink-collar jobs (and probably a good amount of lower-end white-collar jobs), when the majority of people rely on government handouts to afford necessities and corporate handouts to afford conveniences and luxuries (“take our five minute consumer survey for 150 OmniCorp (TM) Credits and free entrance into our paid vacation sweepstakes!”), some people will probably look back at this time period with a sense of forlorn longing too. In my opinion, modernity is more than worth the trade-off, but we should at least acknowledge that there is a sacrifice involved, even if it’s just so we can argue that sacrifices need to be made.

    • Bugmaster says:

      The problem is that the word “happiness” is pretty much meaningless. Different people mean completely different things when they say the word, and the meaning does not translate at all across cultures. For example, you yourself say:

      I would voluntarily choose to have more variety and more options in my life, even knowing that it would make me significantly less happy than I would be otherwise

      If you would choose X over Y, does that not imply that you prefer X to Y ? If you were forced to have Y instead of X, would that not make you “unhappy” ? You could probably construct a semi-coherent answer by saying that there are different kinds of happiness or something, but it’s a lot easier to just say, specifically, “I prefer having more choices in my life, despite the drawbacks”.

      • Jiro says:

        If you would choose X over Y, does that not imply that you prefer X to Y ? If you were forced to have Y instead of X, would that not make you “unhappy” ?

        No. I prefer believing true things to believing false things, but believing false things can’t make me unhappy (since I would never know at the time that I am believing false things, so I wouldn’t be unhappy over it)

      • albatross11 says:

        You can imagine a situation where increasing freedom (either legally or socially) simultaneously:

        a. Makes the average person worse off, as instead of following the simple socially-worked-out path that makes most people happy, they screw up trying to find that path on their own.

        b. Makes outliers much better off, as instead of being crammed into some situation that utterly won’t work for them, they get to try something else.

        For situation (a), you can imagine someone who squanders his youth and health on wild living and chasing skanky girls in bars, and looks up at 50 to realize he’s missed out on marriage and being a good parent and all that so he could max out the wine, women, and song.

        For situation (b), you can imagine a gay man growing up in a very conservative society, who genuinely tries as hard as he can to make that socially-expected marriage work out, despite just not really being sexually or romantically attracted to his wife or any other woman.

        It’s hard to know which of these is worse, because we’d need a sense of the numbers involved. Murray’s _Coming Apart_ talks a lot about (a) clobbering a lot of the white working class, but it’s not clear that this is so much about freedom as it is about loss of middle-class-supporting jobs and having the smartest and most ambitious people sucked out of the middle class and sent to Yale. And there are a *lot* of personal stories out there of people living through (b) in various ways. (And in a rather cool twist, we now have gay marriage, so maybe we’ll end up with a lot of young gay men actually getting married and settling down and adopting a couple kids.)

      • m.alex.matt says:

        The problem is that the word “happiness” is pretty much meaningless. Different people mean completely different things when they say the word, and the meaning does not translate at all across cultures.

        I don’t know if I believe this. Yes, people can mean something else when they say ‘happiness’, and often do, but happiness really is a particular thing. An emotion, a sensation that we feel (presumably) with some universality across the human experience. Other usages of the word as almost always proxies or metaphors for this emotion.

        Now, are emotions difficult to nail down and talk about with any kind of real definition? Of course. If human emotions were easy to manage than we wouldn’t have professional therapists who get paid lots of money to try to do so, and probably religion would be wildly different from the way it is in our world.

        But it’s not meaningless.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Nice posting. I mostly agree. The complexity of modern life is more stressful then the relative simplicity of farmlife, or even more hunting/gathering. On the other hand, even more stressful are famines, disease, and violence, all of which our stressful environment have lowered to some extent. The problem with modern life is that it is invariably stressful, while earlier iterations were more stressful in bad situations, but less so in others.

      Contrary to your scenario of our future, when/if we reach the situation where most of us live on handouts, our stress levels will go down, because it will be pretty simple. However, at that point I can imagine that happiness will also dive, so I guess I can’t disagree with your ultimate end, that the future may be less happy. It’s just that our happiness will decrease for reasons not like the previous increases in civilization. It is kind of like when someone struggles their entire life for some goal, then what do they do if they actually achieve it. IF we achieve a state where humans no longer need to struggle to survive, that is kind of the ultimate goal of society. But once we reach it, what’s the point of life after that. I think most intellectual thought at this point will be about meaning in life, instead of other kinds of struggle.

  24. Anonymous says:

    So, it turns out I have a homozygous A1/A1 in rs1800497. TL;DR: Bad at avoidance of errors. 0.25x lower OCD; 0.56x lower Tardive Diskinesia; higher ADHD; 1.4x Alcohol Dependence; lower Postoperative Nausea; Increased obesity; less pleasure response; Bupropion ineffective for smoking cessation.; 2.4x risk for adenoma recurrence.

    I wonder what pleasure feels like for people who can feel it normally. 😉

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Unless there’s some great research here and all my intuitions are wrong, assume to a first approximation that single SNPs never matter unless they’re giving you a specific, named genetic disease.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m pretty sure I don’t understand.

        Unless the genetest folks fucked up, I have this thing in my genome. There’s a bunch of research into this one (out of all of the “bad” SNPs I have, this one had the most), some of which is likely to be actually relevant to my situation somehow. This isn’t like sociology that I can safely disregard unless the results are backed up by like the last 2000 years of pre-scientific observation.

        I don’t think this counts as a genetic disease in any case. More like a genetic influence on lifestyle and personality (plus some health risks that are too minor to worry about). Generally plausible in my case, too, but it’s not something I would be talking to the doctor about to “cure”. Not sure I would want it “cured” even if it were “curable”.

        I have some other, actually more worrisome stuff in my code, which I’m getting tested for now that I am advised of it. I’m certainly not going to assume I have some disease or problem unless I’m actually diagnosed with it, just on the basis of a genetest.

        • Bugmaster says:

          The problem with the vast majority of SNPs is that most human traits are polygenic. Not all traits are — things like sickle-cell anemia and red/green colorblindness are single-gene traits (IIRC) — but they are the exception, not the rule. Actually “polygenic” doesn’t even begin to cover it, since there are also lots of promoters and other regulatory regions that participate in massive protein pathways that are eventually responsible for producing specific phenotypes.

          The second problem with SNPs, related to the first, is that most of them come from GWAS studies, and those studies can be used to show a correlation between basically any SNP you want and any trait you want.

          So, when you have some SNP that is associated with some harmful phenotype, odds are that this piece of information is almost meaningless. Most people have such SNPs, and they’re just fine.

  25. dndnrsn says:

    RPG topic!

    What’s the first RPG you played? What do you think of it, in retrospect? Would you go back to it (or, did you never stop?)

    The first game I played was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, second edition. I started playing just after the 1995 revised re-release of 2nd ed (a confusing period; the PHB began with a “this is not third edition!” disclaimer, and a lot of people were simultaneously using the 1st and 2nd ed books).

    In retrospect, I don’t think AD&D was good, on the whole. It sort of occupied a reverse-Goldilocks position: the various iterations of “plain” D&D had rules that were inconsistent and sometimes incoherent, and there was a lot that the game did not mechanically cover – without skills indicating how good characters are at talking to people, how much they know on a given topic, etc you would have a hard time playing a game of courtly intrigue where social interactions and knowing court gossip were important. The character archetypes were pretty set: you had relatively little choice within a class. However, it was generally simple – this meant that everything moved quickly, it was easy to learn, making new characters was quick, and generating encounters was quick, meaning that it was good for a particular style of play featuring fast resolution of situations, fairly high lethality, and a great deal randomization (wandering monsters, random encounters in the wilderness, etc). There’s a lot to be said for this style of game.

    3rd edition radically overhauled everything. The unified resolution mechanic was much more consistent and elegant than the old way of doing things. The skill system and the feats meant that you could do a lot more – that game of courtly intrigue would be very feasible in third edition – and that there was a lot more customizability – two fighters in 3rd edition could look very different compared to two fighters in previous editions of the game. However, there were so many rules that everything could slow down a great deal in play. Making new characters took a good deal more time. The way they chose to present monsters – as following all the same construction rules as PCs, so that if you wished you could all play as monsters, or you could give a monster character classes, or whatever – made encounters take longer to put together, kiboshing randomization – if a given monster knows wizard spells at x level, rolling one on a random table would mean the game has to stop so that the GM can figure out the spell loadout of that creature. There was also a general philosophy that encounters should be balanced – high level PCs wouldn’t be wading through goblins, nor would they accidentally run into something way above their pay grade. 3rd ed let you do a lot more, but it had a price.

    AD&D seems in retrospect to have had the virtues of neither and the vices of both. The system was weird and limiting, but it was also excessively complex. The nonweapon proficiences edged towards a skill system, but not really, and they clashed weirdly with surprise rolls and so forth, and with the percentile thief skills (which, admittedly, worked pretty badly in original D&D too). I can’t see any reason to go back to AD&D – if you want to do quick-and-dirty dungeon crawling, retro-clones of the original game do that better; if you want to do anything else, 3rd ed probably does it better.

    • Randy M says:

      What’s the first RPG you played? What do you think of it, in retrospect? Would you go back to it (or, did you never stop?)

      First game I ran was 7th Sea (the first version). A short campaign back in 2004ish and a few one shots since. I think it’s pretty serviceable. The splat books shift in tone a lot, which can be negative but also means you can tell a wide variety of stories with a common system/characters. I don’t think the system + character generation is particularly balanced, and hence many of the ‘fun’ options cost more than a character that just pumps stats and wins through brute force. Possibly related, the combat is a bit repetitive, and should be handled quickly when possible. In more tactical games long combats can be interesting by virtue of interactions between character abilities, whereas with 7th sea the onus is more on the GM to come up with exciting battlegrounds or conditions, which is probably fair because it is simple to run.
      The setting is pretty good if you like but aren’t terribly knowledgeable about European history. Very exciting and stylish. There were lots of complaints about the metaplot at the time, but going back to it now there’s no need to worry about where the designers are taking the setting with subsequent releases and you can go ahead and have the players kill load-bearing npcs if that’s the way it falls.

      I would absolutely run it now, except it is a little disheartening that my excel character creator/house rules as was lost in a hard drive crash. So I’d probably just use it for some quick one-shots and play pretty loose with the system.

      If you count computer games, than my first would be the same as yours, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, as I played Baldur’s Gates back in the day.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Are the enemies mostly/entirely other humans? Combat that consists entirely of other humans (without superpowers or wild cybernetics or whatever) can get pretty boring.

        • Randy M says:

          There is a bestiary in the GM’s book, about 6-8 creatures like “ruin beast” “siren” “zombie” etc. and usually 1-2 additional entries in each splat book.
          Movement is pretty freeform, too; I think you have to spend an action to move up in elevation but can move down or laterally any amount that makes sense to everyone, without any bonus for flanking or zones of control. There’s not a lot of conditional effects other than things like “+1 dice to your next attack/active defense”. I guess tactically its pretty similar to original D&D, except most of the magic effects are not combat effects. (The wound, resolution, and initiative are all very different, but the scope of effects is similar).
          It’s fine if you see combat as slightly more in-depth than any other action resolution, but if you want a big set piece battle to be interesting it needs to have some flaming curtains, crashing carriages, broadsides from a passing frigate, and especially witty repartee.

    • Iain says:

      First game played: D&D 5e. First game DM’d: Dungeon World. Both campaigns are still ongoing, though rather erratically — when two of your six PCs move to another city, and your DM starts a PhD in California, it’s hard to find time to play.

      Of the two, at least for my group, I prefer Dungeon World. I’m sure there are groups for whom D&D’s extra crunch (relatively speaking) is an asset, but that’s not my group.

    • John Schilling says:

      I did do a very little gaming with original D&D, before stepping up to 1st edition AD&D. Which I do think was a real A over D&D, and continued to be so up through 3.5e (by which pointy I had drifted away from the hobby). I would go back to 3.5e, and I understand Pathfinder is basically a 3.5e fork. If you ask me to play any earlier version, all the stuff that’s undefined, ill-defined, or Obviously Wrong will have to be house-ruled just like it was in 1979, except at this point third-ish edition AD&D is such an obvious schelling point for house rules that I can’t see much reason not to start from there.

      In particular, multiclassing and/or the skills-based system are essential, preferably the latter. I don’t mind rolling 3d6 for stats and taking what you get. That gives you die rolls that matter, and if you’re going to roll the dice the results need to matter. None of this “roll 4d6, drop the lowest of each, then assign to whichever stats you want but of course put the lowest in CHA” crap; you might as well use a points-based system for that. But 3d6 and like it plus the race/class straightjacket of classic D&D, was a serious handicap for both play group balance and role-playing range.

      There were some other old-school RPGs that I dabbled in around the same time. Starships & Spacemen, Aftermath, and I think we rolled up characters for Traveller but never got around to playing them. In college, a bit of Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game, and then our gaming group was asked to help playtest 1st-generation GURPS. Which also needed a lot of house-ruling, and still does, but I am still fond of the underlying system.

    • Nornagest says:

      The first roleplaying game I played was AD&D Second Edition, shortly before the revised version came out. I owned both revised and unrevised books, and played some Basic D&D shortly thereafter.

      AD&D plays like what it is, which is a collection of clunky, amateurish, incompatible hacks bolted onto the basic D&D skeleton. It aspires to cover stuff like crafting or wilderness survival or social manipulation, but aside from the core combat rules, nothing in the system’s actually robust enough to handle a game that uses them as more than set dressing. Worse, for its typical uses, is that it’s weirdly rigid in a lot of ways, full of character-breaking roadblocks, and has a terrible habit of “balancing” content by ensuring players can’t access it unless they get lucky with the dice. Nothing quite fits together, and keeping the system straight in your head requires mastering a dozen different resolution mechanics. And some of the splatbooks were really, really bad (for example, Complete Book of Elves is one of the worst I’ve read in any system, and Gnomes and Halflings isn’t much better).

      For all that, though, it was playable as long as you stuck to heroic fantasy and were willing to ignore or houserule away some of the worst stuff. The legendary Baldur’s Gate CRPGs (and their less-legendary but arguably better spinoff Planescape: Torment) used a fairly faithful port of the AD&D ruleset, for example (the biggest deviations were in handling thief skills). And, weirdly, I think the very clunkiness of the system ended up being one of its strengths in terms of published content: 3E-native products are deeply tied to the mechanics — everything in them boils down to a mechanical challenge — which tends to make them feel a little soulless and by-the-numbers. AD&D products tended to be more freeform, using the rules mainly as a combat engine, which made fluff an essential selling point and encouraged more creativity on the part of both DMs and players. 3E Ravenloft was a new skin; 2E Ravenloft was almost a new game.

      I don’t think I’d play it again, but there were definitely things about it that subsequent editions haven’t fully captured. I’m generally fond of the retroclone movement, too, but none of them have quite found the secret sauce yet as far as I’m concerned.

      • dndnrsn says:

        The 2nd ed Elves book was horrendous. I remember the one class with an OP special ability other classes could buy as a proficiency. Elves only, of course.

    • bean says:

      I started with the d20 Star Wars RPG (RCR, not Saga) about 15 years ago. My brother picked up the Invasion of Theed box set, and we enjoyed it, so I sprang for the full book. It was basically what I did in Middle and High School, although I of course got into D&D 3.5, too, as a lot of my friends played. I also got D20 modern. When Saga came out, I picked it up, along with all of the sourcebooks.

      Overall, I think it (RCR, although Saga wasn’t bad either) was a good system. Star Wars is a setting that actually feels right with classes, and it was balanced reasonably well, as opposed to high-level D&D. The Vitality/Wounds mechanic remains one of my favorite design choices in an RPG, and I’m still annoyed it was cut from Saga. (Saga was a mixed bag. The talent mechanic was fantastic, but their mismanagement of the sourcebooks made it increasingly irritating to use. And I didn’t like all of their simplifications. The Force system was particularly bad.)

      I eventually drifted away for several reasons. Wizards lost the Star Wars license, so I had no reason to keep buying books and looking at them. I also drifted away from Star Wars as a franchise around the same time, both because I didn’t like the direction (ALL SITH ALL THE TIME) it was headed (this was before Disney got involved, which hasn’t helped) and because I’d started an obsession with space warfare that wasn’t entirely compatible with Star Wars geekdom. I then discovered GURPS, which I think is pretty much strictly better. I haven’t played in quite a while, although I still have the books. I do sometimes think about breaking them out again, but it would be mostly for nostalgia.

      • bean says:

        My mention of Saga reminds me of a rule of thumb I have, and may or may not have shared here before.
        Call it Bean’s Law of Sourcebooks. It should be possible to build a good example of a normal character (obviously, some concepts might take more, but they should be rare exceptions) in a given system with reference to four or fewer sourcebooks. Not just taking things from four or fewer, but only having to look in 4. Saga was horrible about this, as almost every book had a little bit of everything in it. A few talents, a few feats, a few skill uses, a few weapons, a few starships, and a few droids. Sometimes you could figure out which books to ignore, but half of them were tie-ins to the Star Wars Product of the Year and might have good stuff you didn’t know about. RCR was pretty good. You want Jedi? Try the Jedi book. You want guns? Gun book. You want non-Jedi hero stuff? Hero’s Guide. And so on. D&D 3.5 was actually halfway decent at this, modulo having way too many splatbooks in general. (This assumes you want a reasonable character, not Pun-pun the Arbitrarily Powerful Kobold.) GURPS is generally quite good, although Pyramid doesn’t always help.
        Thoughts?

        • dndnrsn says:

          As a maximum, sure. I suppose some people really want their splatbooks.

          I think splatbooks are generally bad. There’s usually enough stuff in the core rulebook or set of 3 to provide more entertainment than anyone reasonably has time for. Splatbooks usually don’t add anything that isn’t needed. People should spend their money buying more new games, so they can learn more about how different games do things different ways. Or adventures and campaigns. Or the occasional good supplements, which are rarely splatbooks.

          • bean says:

            It looks like I was misusing splatbooks slightly, and have edited my post accordingly. I’m generally in favor of supplements, although I do think that it does sometimes get taken too far. (See 3.5)

        • johan_larson says:

          In first edition AD&D, all we had were the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. It was certainly possible to craft a character with those.

          • bean says:

            I’m not claiming you need sourcebooks. I’m saying that if you’re going to use them, the game should be set up to not require you to use a dozen of them on a typical mid-level character.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      God you are all young. Except Schilling, he’s ancient.

      I first played very loose AD&D1e in 1983 or 1984, bleeding into D&D basic edition (the colored boxes) and also Spycraft 1e all at around the same time.

      I wouldn’t go back to AD&D1e now. But because I was young (early elementary school), my friends and I were not very good at manipulating the ruleset, and to a very large degree we slid into freeform roleplaying. That wasn’t how we thought about it at the time, but if I dig into my earliest now like 33+ year old memories of roleplaying, the moments that stand out didn’t have a die rolled in sight and involved things that flagrantly couldn’t be addressed by AD&D1e rules.

      And that kind of roleplaying, I really never stopped doing and still do. Amber Diceless Roleplay in high school was a revelation because it embraced nearly-freeform games, and I’ve played freeform or nearly freeform games, alongside more rules-inclined ones, for better than 3 decades now continuously.

      • Randy M says:

        God you are all young. Except Schilling, he’s ancient.

        Relatively, yes, but also I hadn’t actually gotten into these things until after college.

      • You are young too.

        The first tourney of what became the Middle Kingdom of the SCA was held at Wilcon in 1969. Wilmot Mountain is near Lake Geneva, and I’m pretty sure I remember people talking about either D&D or gaming rules that fed into it at the time. I’ve never been much into it—I prefer my role playing at a scale of an inch to an inch.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Gary Gygax co-founded the International Federation of Wargamers in 1967, and the first Gen Con to not take place in his basement was in Lake Geneva in ’68. He may or may not have published the first edition of Chainmail in the group’s newsletter by ’69. So the timeline of you running into people talking about Gygax’s medieval wargaming stuff matches up perfectly. If you ran into people talking about D&D proper, that would have been 2-3 years later.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Post-revision AD&D2 for me. I’ve told this story here before: 6th grade, DM didn’t keep it up for very many sessions. I remember it being eased into the system such that there were only a couple monster encounters during exploration of a mostly-abandoned dungeon, with a bunch of freeform social interaction to keep it interesting. I returned to that system a couple of times in the late ’90s or earliest ’00s, though one of those times was actually Hackmaster.
      In hindsight it’s not a good system. It’s way too complicated for what it’s trying to do, as I think BECMI proves.
      One cool thing that later D&Ds never replicated, though, is the diverse settings. 3, 4, or 5 never had anything like Spelljammer.

    • Protagoras says:

      D&D basic set, the Keep on the Borderlands, around when it first came out. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade? We didn’t have much idea what we were doing. I did move on to AD&D, but also started playing a lot of other RPGs, and in almost every case liked them better than D&D. I don’t like classes and levels, and like highly customized characters, so GURPS is probably my favorite game. Still, I almost never GM, so I tend to play whatever the available GMs are willing to run. So I have played 3rd, 4th, and 5th edition D&D (never played 2nd, for some reason). In various ways I guess they were better than AD&D (and certainly better than the old basic/expert rules), but to me the improvements seem minor.

    • dodrian says:

      When it first came out a friend bought the D&D 5e starter kit, and attempted to form a group. None of us had played any tabletop roleplaying before and somehow I ended up as DM. It was quite the baptism by fire, though the starter kit was very good. After the included campaign my friend took over as DM, and I played a little before moving away.

      I wouldn’t mind playing again, or trying a new system, but I’d much prefer joining an experienced group. Overall though I think euro-style boardgames are more my thing.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      Does anyone remember First Quest? It was a stand alone stripped down version of AD&D. You get pamphlet style streamlined copies of the three core rulebooks, some minis, pre-made characters, and 4 pre-made quests with corresponding maps. The last one ends with a stairwell to the second level of the dungeon and encouragement to get some graph paper and start designing your own adventures. The same summer I received it as a gift I gushed about the game at camp and was asked why I was playing the “kid’s version”. After having it explained to us they even existed my friends and I ordered the core books for AD&D 2nd Edition and really didn’t do much else that summer.

      Looking back, what impressed me the most at the time are the same things that would keep me from playing it again. Being young with what seemed like unlimited free time and being brand new to RPGs I marveled at the complexity of the whole thing, but mostly agree with your assessment that it was too much for too little functionality in return. RPGs in general are too big of a time sink at this point in my life honestly. Though I tried Fiasco last week (3 1/2 hours from start to finish for all first time players, and beer was involved) and might turn that into a regular thing. I recommend it highly.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I remember those, vaguely. Or maybe a paper-only version that came with a magazine, or was free in stores, or something similar? I remember a one-pamphlet version, no minis, probably only one quest?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My first RPG was D&D 3.5.

      Looking back at it, the amount of preparation time I put in both as a player and as a DM was absolutely insane. The character creation and monster design “minigame” away from the table was intellectually stimulating but solitary; very different from the game itself. While I ran some great games in 3.5 and Pathfinder, the level of granularity of the rules was actually to the detriment of the experience.

      If I wanted to run the same campaigns again, I would run them in a different system altogether. Not an OSR system, because these weren’t old school campaigns by any means, but something like a very cut-down version of 5e. Minimize the ratio of time spent away from the table to time spent at the table.

      • dndnrsn says:

        While less and simpler crunch does change the ratio of prep to gaming, I’d note that regardless of the system some game structures require more prep than others. Anything with an investigative campaign is going to require more prep.

    • Anonymous says:

      What’s the first RPG you played?

      DnD 3.5e, something like twelve years ago.

      What do you think of it, in retrospect?

      I actually like it more nowadays. I recall calling the system a turd and insulting people about trying to polish it, back when I played it a lot more than I do now.

      It’s a perfectly solid system. It is still eminently playable. House rules are largely a matter of taste, not particular glaring problems in the system. (Which is what I regard Pathfinder as – just some house rules on top of 3.5e, which I’m disinclined to learn, because I can bloody well draw up my own house rules, catering to my tastes.)

      Would you go back to it (or, did you never stop?)

      I still play it, never really stopped, aside from some dry spells.

  26. Enkidum says:

    I appear to have posted again on Frog Perspectives, and what the hell I’ll keep publicizing it here until someone tells me to shut up. This one is about lots of very stupid things I’ve done on bicycles, tricycles, and motorcycles, many of which could easily have killed me, from about ages 10-41. It’s the only thing I’ve written where I felt compelled to include an explicit “this was very stupid do not try this at home” message at the end.

    Plus, some pretty pictures from my current commute.

    First paragraph just sets the stage for my childhood:

    I grew up in rural Western Quebec, in an 19th-Century wooden farmhouse on top of a large hill. Below us to the East were nothing but cows, a gently rotting barn at the bottom of the hill, a sand quarry, and a provincial park across the highway; to the West were the outskirts of a village of less than a thousand people. Beside our house there was a large house converted from a cattle barn that was once part of the same farm, as well as another smaller barn that they used for storage, and across the road was a newer brick house. There were no other buildings in sight. There had once been a third barn on our property, but my parents had hired a live-in housekeeper and nanny just after I was born, and her kids had burnt it down on her first day, somehow not killing us all in the process. (She did not have a second day.) Probably my earliest memory is of the day they paved our road for the first time, when I was perhaps 2, I remember standing in awe of the stench of asphalt and the growl of the machines, my mother holding my hand.

    • rlms says:

      I think the norm on self-promotion here is that you can mention you have a blog once in an OT/in the occasional classifieds thread, and link to your posts that are relevant to specific SSC posts/comments when they come up, but not promote it regularly in top level comments (someone did that a bit ago and I at least found it mildly annoying). But YMMV.

      • Enkidum says:

        Right, I was assuming once per OT is ok – so hopefully this isn’t annoying anyone? I wouldn’t dream of doing it on “real” posts. If anyone does find my recent self-promotion spree irritating, let me know and I’ll probably stop.

        • Incurian says:

          I don’t find it annoying. I haven’t checked out your blog yet, but I remember that on previous posts others had checked it out and replied with favorable reviews, so presumably there is some level of interest for your blog here. This does not strike me as a different kind of thing from Bean’s regular Naval Gazing updates, which I also do not find annoying.

          iirc, the annoying blog promotion posts look something like “Hey! I have a blog!” week after week, whereas you and Bean are letting us know about specific posts you’ve made.

        • Randy M says:

          IMO, the non-irritating way to do it is to provide enough content here so as to provoke discussion about the topic in this thread.
          Generalizing from one example, people come to these open threads to participate in discussions with this demographic about random topics.
          You posting in such a way as to provide a topic is good, even if your aim is to get some readers to click over to your own site.

          • Enkidum says:

            Yeah I’ll work on that for future posts. I should have some coming up soon which are more in SSC’s wheelhouse, so shouldn’t be too hard.

        • bean says:

          My general rule of thumb would be that it’s OK to try it a couple times, and OK to continue if you’re getting a reasonably consistent response here. At least a third of the time, I see more discussion here than I do at Naval Gazing, and get the occasional gem. (The standout is probably David W, who explained why water tube boilers were so hard to make work.)

          • Enkidum says:

            I do seem to get a definite bump from posting here, so it’s definitely worth it from that perspective, but obviously I don’t want to wear out the welcome mat, and I’d like to contribute to the conversation here, as others have suggested, rather than simply saying “hey look at my cool unrelated thing”. Will work on this.

        • Aapje says:

          @Enkidum

          I think that the way that you are promoting your blog here, by putting a decent effort into a comment luring people in, is good.

          Doing it every OT seems like too high a frequency, though, for the topics you are discussing. I would try to only do it every so many OTs. Pick your best blog entry that you wrote since last time and promote that one.

          • Enkidum says:

            Good point. I’m writing twice a week these days, so more frequently than the (main) OTs, but I could easily wait an extra week between posts. I thought the last one I publicized was pretty SSC-friendly (an in-depth look at a Chinese internet troll), but I can see that stories about stupid shit I used to do are less so.

            Thanks for the response (and for previously having read at least one of my posts!).

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      never touching the handlebars unless I absolutely had to, revelling in the ability to steer with a twitch of my hips. This was, I suppose, a saner version of the feet-on-the-handlebars madness, saner because I genuinely was in control, and I don’t think I ever crashed because of it. I did have the living shit scared out of me at two in the morning, biking home blasted from a party, when some random asshole screamed out his car window “Use your fucking hands!”. Immediately shaken, I did, for about thirty feet, and then resumed my standard position.

      I don’t know where you were, IMO bike safety is hard to develop because people are most aggressive, and we’re the most careless, in places where there’s little traffic. I’ve regretted plenty of things that I’ve done on my bike, often almost immediately, but I’ve never received good advice from anyone in the heat of the moment.

      “Advice” usually involves someone upset that I make a U-turn on a side street (legal where I am, but probably not executed beautifully) or that I’m not walking fast enough across the intersection. The worst is when people rig up some sort of loudspeaker. So I’m in the wrong a lot, but I have to catch myself, not rely on other people.

      I guess “Use your fucking hands!” falls under good advice…glad handless riding is not something I have the guts to do!

      • smocc says:

        Taking this opportunity to vent about “advice.” The only times I have ever come close to hitting a pedestrian on my bicycle is when a runner darts towards me to shout some criticism of where I am riding. Most often the criticism is that I am riding in a place it is totally legal for me to ride.

      • Enkidum says:

        Huh, I’ve literally never had anyone shout any other advice at me (unless the honking after I ran through red lights during my stupid period counts). I still ride a fair bit with no hands, but only on straight sections of road or path with no one near me. But honestly, I’m pretty damn good at it, like I do not feel that I provide any additional danger to the public by doing so. (Of course since you’ve read the post – thanks, by the way – you may have trouble believing my self-judgement in light of all the other stupid shit I’ve done. But I’m reformed now!)

      • Lillian says:

        Oh hey i had that exact thing happen to me too! Riding without hands along a down sloping neighbourhood street, and a car passed by me at high speed, with someone shouting out of it, “Use your hands!” Like OP it shocked me enough that i almost lost my balance and returned my hands back to the handles for a while.

        A more fun story involves me crossing a street while riding not just without handles, but with my arms crossed. In that neighbourhood each corner at an intersection only had one ramp going up or down the curb, pointing towards the middle of the intersection. So i had to do a left turn, down, right turn, thing to get off the curb, cross the street, then right turn, up, left turn to get back on the curb on the other side. This was a pretty mundane maneouvre for me, but one day there was a police officer standing at the corner chatting with someone else, and as i nonchalantly went by i heard one of them say, “Now that’s balance.”

        Also i frequently ride my bike wearing a skirt, because skirts are cute and comfy. Once while wearing my red plaid and plaited miniskirt some girl yelled, “Nice skirt!” at me as i zoomed by. No idea if she was mocking me for riding a bike with a miniskirt, or if she genuinely liked it. It is a very cute skirt, i still have it!

        • Enkidum says:

          Nice, that’s pretty funny, and I really doubt I could do that maneouvre!

        • Incurian says:

          I’m sorry about my friend. What he meant to say was “pics or it didn’t happen.”

        • AG says:

          Maybe it’s all placebo, but I feel like when I sit up straight with no hands on the handlebars I can pedal with more of my body, kind of like when standing on pedals, except you can’t use as much gravity to your advantage, so you use more abdominals instead.

        • Enkidum says:

          When I used to do it all the time I was much more “ripped” in the six-pack sense, so that fits with your abdominal idea. However I was also vegan for many of those years, and 30 pounds lighter, so there may be other factors at play.

          • AG says:

            When I do minor uphills with no hands, I tend to end up doing a jack-knifing motion, similar to skiing or rollerskating, so there’s that. Strongers bikers may get away with just their leg muscles.

          • Nornagest says:

            Having visible abs is like 10% having large abdominal muscles and 90% having very little body fat over them, so my money’s on “other factors”.

    • rahien.din says:

      What are your goals here?

      Do you want to discuss your personal blogposts on SSC? It seems wrong to appropriate someone else’s curated intellectual space that way – like wearing a white dress to someone else’s wedding.

      Do you want to siphon discussion away from SSC onto your blog? That also seems wrong.

      bean’s model is different. His blog began as a series of effortposts here, and was thus born from the community with its implicit approval.