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OT100: One Hunthread

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. Thanks to everyone who donated to the Bay Area rationality community center’s Patreon last week. Unfortunately, it’s still not really enough. I have doubled my previous donation, and I encourage anyone else who can contribute to do so. Don’t worry, I won’t move the SSC meetups there if people don’t want me to.

2. Related: Less Wrong now has a high-tech meetup page which helps you figure out where and when the SSC meetups nearest you are happening. Default includes LW, EA, and SSC meetups, but there’s an option to limit it to SSC meetups only. If you’re a meetup organizer, please get on there and make sure your meetup is listed. I’m going to be transferring the meetup tab of the blog to point there in a few days unless people disagree for some reason.

3. Comment quality this week was generally embarrassing. So in lieu of a Comment of the Week, read lunaranus’ summary of Civilization and Capitalism on the subreddit.

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1,034 Responses to OT100: One Hunthread

  1. AnthonyPearce says:

    Thank you, guys

    please tell me how can i get a author account

  2. Last night I gave a talk in Maastricht in the Netherlands. Talking with people afterwards, it turned out that at least four members of the audience were SSC readers.

    Also, for anyone still reading this, we are doing another South Bay meetup on May 12th.

    • Aapje says:

      And I wasn’t there…so there are at least 5 🙂

    • Vettorii says:

      It was quite interesting and well worth the trip.
      Will pay more regular attention to your blog so as to not miss the opportunity to invite you to Belgium.

      – The ceaseless stream of questions coming from your left.

  3. arandur119 says:

    I identify as a leftist, specifically an anarcho-communist. I identify thus not because I believe that anarcho-communism is an ideal form of government, nor because I advocate for instituting anarcho-communism in my country (USA), but because when I search for people who share my ideals and values, who find important the same things I find important, they tend far to the bottom left.

    Right now, the only time I see a conservative position on my Facebook feed is when someone from my family or from my church (Mormon) shares it — these are almost always cringeworthy and fly in the face of my values, and often they’re just factually wrong. This has led to a really strong impression that My Side Is Right And The Other Side Is Wrong.

    Obviously I’m in a very strong culture bubble — strong enough that when I voice my concerns to my friends, asking something along the lines of “Surely it can’t just be as simple as Leftists Are Correct And The Right Is Wrong, can it?” their best response is “I don’t see why not, and everything I’ve seen seems to support that conclusion.”

    I would like assistance in breaking out of this culture bubble. Just reading SSC posts is good for this, to some extent; I just re-read Fearful Symmetry, and was moved by it. But SSC is not optimized for “countering leftist bias”, and I’ve so far been unable to find another source of non-leftist memes of high quality.

    I would like to ask the readership for recommendations.

    • cassander says:

      A good start would be to instapundit for your daily dose of news from the other side’s perspective.

    • Aapje says:

      Steven Pinker. Quilette. Heterodox Academy.

    • SamChevre says:

      Sites that are thought-provoking, and support some conservative ideas. These are not movement conservatives. In all cases, I’m recommending the archives.

      Interfluidity
      Timothy Burke
      Mark Kleiman’s older posts on Samefacts, particualrly those on alcohol and cannabis.
      Megan McArdle
      Radley Balko

      If you want a book, I recommend N T Wright’s “Simply Christian” – it’s both religious and argues for tradition within religion.

      • albatross11 says:

        I would put Interfluidity more on the left than the right, but he’s worth reading in any event.

        I’d add:

        Books:

        Charles Murray [Coming Apart, Human Achievement, The Bell Curve]
        Thomas Sowell [Knowledge and Decisions, The Culture trillogy]

        and for blogs / shorter articles:

        Andrew Sullivan
        Steve Sailer
        Greg Cochran
        Connor Friedersdorf

        There is nobody on that list I agree with 100% of the time. Sullivan is brilliant but tends to go off onto somewhat nutty tangents (his bit with Sarah Palin was about as crazy as birtherism). Sailer takes the cheap shot too often, but sometimes comes up with genuine insight. Cochran is about as abrasive as Nassim Taleb, but also talks sense about real science, and shows his work.

        As best I can tell, all these people are their own men. They’re not starting out with the job of defending their party’s position on some issue, instead they’re trying to work out what they actually think about the issue.

    • James says:

      Just want to say god bless you for making the effort and second the Stephen Pinker recommendation.

    • Viliam says:

      I would like assistance in breaking out of this culture bubble.

      I’d like to note that breaking out of a bubble does not necessarily require finding a bubble on the opposite side (although yes, that is one of the possibilities). To get out of your left-wing bubble, you could also find a place that accepts people from both left and right, or even a mostly left-wing space that just happens to be less extreme than the left-wing places you currently know.

      The difference is that to find a right-wing bubble, you go in a direction of “political”, while to find a neutral or less-extremely-left place, you would go in a direction of “apolitical” or “less political”. A possible heuristic is to find a place that isn’t about politics, and where people speak freely. (By which I don’t mean “they heroically exercise their constitutional right for free speech” but rather “there is a relaxed atmosphere where anyone can say anything, and no one throws a hissy fit”.)

      By the way, how people identify may differ from how they are classified from outside. For example, there are many people who identify as left-wing, but are labeled “right-wing” by more extreme leftists.

      If you suspect that your bubble is wrong about a specific thing, it may be useful to find experts on that thing. For example, extreme left usually denies genetics (they believe humans are blank slates, and everything is determined by society). To counter this style of thinking, try hanging out with professional biologists. Or if you are told that nerds hate women, try to hang out with different groups of nerds and see for yourself whether it is true.

      Others already gave great advice.

      As examples of smart religious people, read Chesterton; or maybe even watch Father Brown. Read C.S.Lewis, for example “The Great Divorce”, “The Screwtape Letters”, or “Mere Christianity”.

      I believe that reading good books about evolution would inoculate you with some heretical ideas. And I don’t mean going straight into some “race and IQ” or “gender and IQ” controversy, but rather reading non-controversial about e.g. sexual selection. If you won’t seek controversy for the sake of controversy, but instead just get familiar with human biological nature… at some moment the left-wing model of humanity will just feel completely silly. (As an analogy, if you would want to get out of pro-homeopathy bubble, don’t read anti-homeopathy sources. Instead, study physics and chemistry. Once you get familiar enough with atomic theory, you will realize for yourself how the arguments of homeopathy go against everything that your studied.)

      In my experience — which may or may not be relevant for your specific bubble — it seems like left-wing people focus more on short-term consequences, and are optimistic about the outcomes of random change (“We just need to break everything that sucks. What could possibly go wrong?”), while right-wing people worry about long-term consequences, and are pessimistic about the outcomes of random change. For example, where left-wing people say “X is bad, Y is good; therefore, let’s do Y”, right-wing people typically do not say “no, Y is bad and X is good” (i.e. the mirror opposite); their opinion will more likely be something like “X is imperfect, but we can live with it; Y sounds nice, but it cannot work, or is unsustainable; and if we try to replace X with Y, we will most likely get Z, which is truly horrible; therefore, let’s stick with X, because that’s the best realistic outcome”. For example, the right-wing argument against redistribution of property isn’t “hey, I like it when people starve!” but rather “historical experience shows that redistribution of property actually leads to more people starved to death, and I’d rather avoid that”.

      To certain degree, politics correlates with age and profession. For example, for a teenager it is natural to be left-wing: a good family operates more or less by the principle of “each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, for example parents go to work and kids don’t. But also, the kid is under control of a more or less oppressive parental authority, and wants to get more freedom. On the opposite, if you spend most of your awake time doing the job you hate, because you need money, and then the government takes half of it away, while your former classmate spends his days smoking pot and receives money from the government, it is natural to desire to keep it all. And if you are a parent, you realize that “freedom” as your kids imagine it would mean just eating chocolate and playing computer games, which is unsustainable. — Just stereotyping here, but there is a piece of truth there. Certain situations make it more likely to see things from certain perspective. You are more likely to “break things” when it is someone else‘s job to fix them. You are more likely to be overprotective of things your built yourself. If you do X, you feel that people doing X deserve more reward. If you are forbidden to do Y, you feel that legalizing Y is the most important thing. If people doing Z hurt you, you want Z to get banned.

      That means: try finding people who are responsible for keeping things functional. That sounds like an opposite of anarchy. Something that needs a lot of cooperation to build, but can be easily destroyed by a random asshole.

      • Aapje says:

        In my experience — which may or may not be relevant for your specific bubble — it seems like left-wing people focus more on short-term consequences, and are optimistic about the outcomes of random change (“We just need to break everything that sucks. What could possibly go wrong?”), while right-wing people worry about long-term consequences, and are pessimistic about the outcomes of random change.

        I would argue that it is not so much change, but intervention where the difference is. See for example how the left tends to want to intervene to reduce climate change, while the right does not.

    • Tenacious D says:

      The EconTalk podcast is often interesting. The host is a libertarian but the guests have a wide range of views. Here’s a list of listener-favourite episodes from 2017: http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2018/04/your_favorite_e_3.html
      (The one with Megan McArdle, who SamChevre mentioned, was my favourite, albeit I haven’t listened to all of them).

  4. herb wiggins says:

    Finally, found the way thru all this complexity, by trial and error and sorting.

    High quality comments at last. First of all, am retired MD, working now on clinical theoretical neuroscience. And always find Friston’s work to be very, very enlightening.

    Sadly, for most of us, his mathematical expertize exclude most of us from understanding, even in the field of the neurosciences, something of what he’s talking about. We all do not understand him, much at all, despite John O’Keefe’s work there (UCL) in the 2014 Nobel Prize in Med & Physio, the grid field model of LTM encoding in the hippocampus. And Karl being nominated at least twice for a Nobel for his CNS imaging work in MRI scanning.

    For that reason, read his very verbally readable: “Life as We Know It”, published in Royal Soc.

    http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/10/86/20130475

    this describes least energy as applied to biological evolution. His more abstruse mathematics we medical professionals cannot grasp at all, but his verbal descriptions are most, very most intelligible.

    The second brought to our attention by some philos is:

    “Consciousness”, a lovely readable and VERY deep article he wrote in aeon.com essays, which also my work understands as well. It’s so familiar that it’s almost like a friend in fact.

    http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/10/86/20130475

    We must understand the current clinical neurosciences, NOT by reading all of Gazzaniga’s monumental text “Cognitive Neuroscience”, but by the 5 great pillars of clinical neurosciences, SOA understanding. The brain is a “Modular Complex System”. unquote.

    First, Least free energy, or least energy, or the minimalist principle, etc., part of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This goes back to Maupertuis and James Hamilton, the latter of whom gave it the more modern direction. Maupertuis distance least energy orbits of Newton, and Hamiltonh the least energy, least time approaches, as well.

    Then we have structure/function relationships, which are what we use to comprehend brain. IOW, for every function in brain, there is a structure(s) which creates that. And for every structure in brain, there is a function. By COMPARING structure to function and vice versa we have created a very good 3D map of how the brain works. Comparison processes create verbal information and also mathematical data from comparing events to measuring scales. This is where most all high level info comes from. We now have the theoretical ability to read up and down the cortices of human brain. This early work is giving us vast amounts of information. and with a slight addition, the point stimulator, we can also better do this great task.

    How this is related to Friston’s work is very very clear to us so trained & experienced. I’ve been doing psych for 50 years or more, since Freud/Jung’s work in HS; then 2 years of Psych from the behaviorists from Stanford, who at the time were the best in the world; and lastly a medical degree and then certification in Am. Bd. of Psych/Neurology, and over 35 years of work and training and experience in those fields.

    So, by noting that damage to the left post temporal brain areas, we have a problem with language, specifically coding meaning of words and understanding same, the Wernicke’s area. By finding problems in Broca’s area, speech output problems; by specific lesions in the visual cortex, which give specific problems in vision depending on where and how badly damaged, etc.

    This relates specifically to Friston’s work on the functional MRI, which programs he largely wrote which are the most used in the world in this area. Thus when we do a base fMRI we set a standard against which we measure ANY functional changes made. For instance if a person begins to speak, the left temporal language areas light up. If we wiggle the left thumb, the right motor cortex in the hand area lights up. and if we ID faces, the right frontal facial area, FFA, lights up.

    And this is what he’s doing at the imaging center there at Univ. college London, Welcome Foundation next to the old Queen’s Square Hospital, now the London Neurological hospital.

    So, in order to comprehend Friston, we have to understand that he’s coming from structure/function methods and tools. and that’s HOW we do neurology/psych, these days.

    He also uses Whitehead’s avoiding the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which we see form the first when he disowns reification. He also uses complex system methods, as well.

    My work largely addresses all of those areas, and fact makes a lot of sense of what Karl is riting about, and further extends the grid cell model to the entire cortex.

    If we want to understand Friston better, read his VERBAL articles. It’s like trying to comprehend Stephen Hawking in his “Grand Design” We can get the first part of the book as it’s largely verbal and descriptive. but the last part is mathematical physics & closed to most all of us, even most physicists, for that matter.

    This is the entry way to comprehending Dr. Karl Friston, a psychiatrist and polymath. And for that reason in my letter to him, of all the person have written to, he responded most helpfully and interestedly. Least energy is the key, but comparison processing, structure/function relationships, the comparison methods of Paul B. Stark, Uni Berkeley Dept Chair Stats, and the many methods and techniques based upon those foundational pillars show what’s going on in SOA neurosciences.

    & without those basic fundamentals, Karl IS hard to understand. But WITH those, he does become comprehensible.

    I hope this helps those of you out there, who like most of us in the clinical neurosciences find Friston very abstract and hard to understand. So approach him with words, and then it becomes a LOT more clear. and given his basic Least energy work, most of my work has been successful in explaining a lot more of our day to day functioning as well.

    We physicians and esp. neuroscience types do NOT use very much math for history, exam and neuro/psych exam(s) and our diagnostic testing and treatments, either. So given those basic guidelines, we can understand Karl much better.

    Thanks for your time. Apologize for the typos. My eyes are failing at my age.

  5. onyomi says:

    Let’s say you go to your doctor complaining of having to urinate all the time. The doctor asks about your personal habits and finds out you drink tons of water all the time. After he gets done testing you for diabetes, he suggests maybe you should stop drinking so much water. What you didn’t think about and neglected to tell him is that you put tons of salt on all your food. In such a case, the peeing and the water are actually part of the solution, while the excess salt intake is the real problem.

    Is there any possibility that some cases of obesity match this analogy in this way:

    obesity:frequent urination
    eating lots of calories:drinking lots of water
    ???:eating lots of salt

    • johnjohn says:

      an obvious one would be psychological issues that lead to overeating

      and maybe chronic pain? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16917620

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      In specific cases, yes. I have started dropping weight fairly rapidly after getting treatment for sleep apnea, with zero expenditure of will power. Apparently I was overeating a whole lot due to chronic sleep deprivation.

      .. Even short of actual sleep pathologies this probably affects a whole lot of people. Terrible sleep habits are very common.

      • Aapje says:

        @johnjohn & Thomas Jørgensen

        The question is whether overeating actually helps.

        There are different possible scenarios:
        1. cause -> negative effect 1 & effect 2
        2. cause -> negative effect 1 -> self-medicating to reduce the negative consequences of effect 1

        • johnjohn says:

          In some cases when it’s an underlying psychological issue I could imagine overeating actually helping.
          Let’s say it was stress-eating.
          Then the “too much salt” would be, whatever is stressing you out

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps, although even then it can be a net negative, where people have momentary happiness, but being fat causes permanent distress.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      In a sense, yes — one could say that eating junk foods is done in large part to ameliorate the withdrawal effects of past consumption of junk food.

      But no in the sense that there is no magic bullet; no way to tweak one’s diet or lifestyle which will enable a fat person to eat intuitively and achieve a healthy weight. (It’s not like people haven’t been searching for such a solution for well over a hundred years.) Unless “stop eating junk/processed food” counts.

    • vV_Vv says:

      ???:eating lots of salt

      Off the top of my head, candidates for ???: lack of sleep, deficiency of some specific nutrients, intake of some toxin/excess nutrient that needs something else in order to be metabolized and excreted.

  6. johan_larson says:

    So I’m rewatching the series “The Wire” for the third or fourth time, and it’s got me wondering about which season (of five) is the best.

    As a reminder, the seasons cover:
    1. taking down Avon Barksdale
    2. dead prostitutes down by the docks
    3. an attempt to de facto legalize drugs
    4. the public school system
    5. the role of the press

    What’s the thinking on how the various seasons rank? I’m tempted to put season two on top, largely on the strength of the character Frank Szabotka: what he wants, why he wants it, and what he does about it makes a lot of sense, and it’s really moving. I don’t particularly care about season five; somehow I just didn’t care about the troubles of the Baltimore press. Maybe 2, 4, 1, 3, 5 — best to worst — is my order.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      I think the consensus is 4, 3, 1, 2, 5. But season two is highly controversial – some people love the characters, as you do, other people were upset that the second season focused so little on the characters they loved in season one. I was listening to a podcast discussion of it (pretty sure on the Bill Simmons podcast), and Baltimore native Ta-Nahisi Coates also thought that two was the best – his argument was that it showed that the forces driving the events on the show weren’t just a pathology of the black underclass, but were changes in society that were going to devour the white working class too. Season five as the worst is pretty universal. I think my ranking would be 4, 2, 3, 1, 5, but seasons 1-2-3 are all very close.

      The thing I remember from season two was that very early on, I knew that one of the Sobotkas would end up dead, one in jail and one free and feeling guilty about everything. I was totally wrong about which would be which, though.

      • rlms says:

        I think I agree with the consensus, but there’s not that much difference between the seasons. I think five has an undeservedly bad rep. The serial killer and press plotlines were weak, but the other parts were some of the best in the series IMO.

        • MrApophenia says:

          One thing I read from David Simon on season 5 does cast season 5 in a somewhat different light – one of the major points of the season is the fact that at no point does the newspaper actually really notice any of the actual important events going on.

          They are so busy chasing around the fake serial killer story, and being wound up in their own office politics, that they entirely fail to even catch a hint of any of the rest of the plot lines going on in city government, the local gang war, etc.

          I am not sure this actually saves the season, because in practice it does basically still mean the press plot feels unconnected from anything that matters, and knowing it was on purpose doesn’t necessarily make it more entertaining to watch. But I did think it was interesting.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I have a hard time committing, but 3 and 4 are at the top and 5 at the bottom. If forced, I would say 3,4,1,2,5 but 3,4,2,1,5 also doesn’t seem crazy to me.

      I think the problem with Season 5 is not so much that the problems of the Baltimore press are uninteresting as that some of the newsroom plot seems to be driven by David Simon’s internal grudges rather than story need. Also, the serial killer plotline never felt natural to me.

      Curious if anyone has watched any of David Simon’s other shows? I’ve seen Generation Kill, Show Me a Hero, and The Deuce, none of which were quite as good as The Wire, but were all worth a watch.

      • MrApophenia says:

        If you haven’t watched Homicide, Life on the Street, it is also excellent. I think a halfway convincing argument could be made that the best Homicide storylines are as good as the best of the Wire, although Homicide falls apart to a much greater degree later on.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      I’m in the minority, but the season 1 will always be my favorite because of rather than in spite of the slow pacing. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in television before. It felt alive. That simple shot of an empty orange couch in the end carried such weight.

      A few episodes in to season 2 is when I decided it was the greatest series ever made though. It took that long to get over the shift away from the housing projects and to the docks. Then you realize Simon is sketching an entire city here. By the time he’s done you’ll feel like you lived a dozen life lines in Baltimore.

    • Well... says:

      That’s a bit like saying which part of your favorite movie is best — the initiating incident, the rising action, the climax, etc. Obviously you can have your favorites for whatever subjective reasons, but no part really works without the others. In the case of “The Wire”, I think all five seasons are so excellent (in fact, if I had to give just one, “The Wire” would have my vote for “best story ever scripted and acted out in front of a camera”) but also so interdependent it’s pretty arbitrary which one you say is best or worst.

      Even the six-part miniseries “The Corner”, which was kind of a prequel to “The Wire”, was phenomenal.

  7. Silverlock says:

    Thanks for the link to the Brauden writeup. I see volume I on Amazon for $56, which is kind of steep — although it works out to only 4.3 cents for each of its 1300 pages — so onto my wishlist it goes.

    • Anon. says:

      You can get a second-hand copy on AbeBooks for a couple of bucks.

      • Silverlock says:

        Hadn’t heard of Abebooks before. I’ll check it out. Thanks for the tip!

        • bean says:

          Abebooks is great as a second source that’s fairly resistant to Amazon price bubbles. I tend to spend a lot on fairly expensive books, and it’s saved me well over 50% more than once.

  8. Doctor Mist says:

    I was away from the Web for a few days, so I saw the Enlightenment Festival only in the past tense.

    Gupta said

    I can do things you literally would not believe.

    Did he ever give an example? I looked for it, and was a little surprised not only that I didn’t find one, but that I didn’t even find anybody else asking for one.

    I mean, I know he pre-committed to my not believing it. But I would still have been interested.

    Perhaps this was just a mis-statement for “things you cannot imagine”, which would be kind of a commonplace claim for a mystic. But I was still curious.

    • Barely matters says:

      Lots of people asked for proof of his ‘casually bouncing around krav maga instructors 20 years his junior’. People focused on that one because it’s the most objectively measurable, easily verifiable, and trivially demonstrable of the feats he bragged about, while still being completely unbelievable.

      Many posters, myself included, asked for any shred of testable evidence of his abilities at all.

      We’d never know if he’s reached some sort of subjective enlightenment, and given that it doesn’t seem to have any discernible outward effect whatsoever, who cares?

      Dude could have just linked to some old training videos to change minds. He clearly wasn’t interested.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        We’d never know if he’s reached some sort of subjective enlightenment, and given that it doesn’t seem to have any discernible outward effect whatsoever, who cares?

        Yeah, I was wondering about this myself but I didn’t bring it up because I assumed someone else in the thread would have made this point. Apart from outward effects, “enlightenment” may be worthwhile if it helps to deal with depression, anxiety, etc. But in my experience, as a practical matter, outward effects are of primary importance.

      • Aapje says:

        He has now posted a fight video.

        I won’t claim to be an expert at all, but I’m not too impressed with the footwork.

        • Anonymous says:

          I assume Gupta is the fat neckbeard-looking fellow, and the guy in the Krav Maga T-shirt and all the protective gear is the supposed KM instructor. Having trained KM for a few years, I feel entitled to judge here.

          Specifically:
          – Gupta looks like a very confident amateur, with approximately no actual fighting skill.
          – KM guy is timid as fuck. I refuse to believe he has an actual rank beyond maybe P2.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I would hope that if you are Enlightened, then at a minimum you can manage to eat healthily and be thin.

          • Thegnskald says:

            If you aren’t enlightened, can you guess at what an enlightened person might do? And if you can, then what makes enlightenment, since it cannot arrive at a conclusion the unenlightened would not expect it to?

            Which is to say – perhaps the enlightened thing to do is not to worry so much about what other people think of your weight, and just be comfortable and happy. Maybe not. But at a certain point, if enlightenment is just “behaving the way I would if I were my own ideal human being”, then it isn’t anything at all.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m just wondering if modern enlightened people are doing their part for the environment by using LEDs.

          • Randy M says:

            Often knowing what to do isn’t the hard part; successfully enacting what to do is. This is something being supremely focused seems like it would help with.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Randy M –

            If your perspective on existence is overthrown and replaced with something new, and your priorities remain the same, has your perspective changed at all?

            I’d hazard a guess that wisdom lays more in accepting your limitations than overcoming them, and that enlightenment is more about wisdom than personal power. But I don’t claim to be enlightened, so perhaps my guess is off the mark.

            Most likely from my unenlightened perspective, enlightenment might mean one person starts eating healthier, and another gives up a charade of effort they only kept up out of a sense of social guilt.

          • Randy M says:

            If your perspective on existence is overthrown and replaced with something new, and your priorities remain the same, has your perspective changed at all?

            If your revealed preferences match up with your stated or desired preferences where before enlightenment there was a gap, I’d say that could be one result of a new perspective.

            This perspective on existence overthrowing–is that from the “block out distracting thoughts” version of enlightenment, or the “mystical connection with the universe” version of enlightenment?

        • j1000000 says:

          What is everyone even arguing about at this point? Even if he looked like Stipe Miocic, which he doesn’t, would that be proof of enlightenment? I’m fairly sure Conor McGregor isn’t enlightened, so if he kicks the ass of another featherweight who IS enlightened, does that falsify enlightenment?

          • Anonymous says:

            I have lost track of what Enlightenment even is, by this point, beyond something that Gupta’s guru said that Gupta has.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It is a pointless continuation of an ongoing expression of public doubt of Gupta’s claims, in which the relevant parties are assuring one another of their wisdom in not being taken in.

            Another chunk of the audience is countersigning their wisdom by claiming to see some deeper wisdom in Gupta’s behavior that the less wise cannot understand or see.

            So the debate is now less about Gupta and more about which group of people is truly wise.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Here’s my pitch: Ultimate Wisdom Championship.

          • johan_larson says:

            Here’s my pitch: Ultimate Wisdom Championship

            The only way to win is not to play.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Then, while the other guy isn’t playing, you punch him in the back of the neck.

          • Deiseach says:

            The comment thread went all over the place, but not so much as proof of enlightenment as that he comes from a specific tradition which emphasises warrior-disciples defending the gurus and that his role is one of these warrior-defenders, Mr Gupta did proffer various credentials as to his competence in ass-kicking, one of which was a claim that he could ‘bounce around krav maga instructors twenty years my junior’ or the like.

            At this stage, I think we’re squeezed the orange dry and should let everything rest. Mocking his appearance is low-hanging fruit and I was tempted to indulge in it myself but let’s not stoop to that; I am in no fear that he actually will turn up to make good on his threats of arm-breaking so I don’t care if he can or can’t fight with martial artists.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I have lost track of what Enlightenment even is, by this point, beyond something that Gupta’s guru said that Gupta has.

            I’m torn between “we have purposely trained him wrong, as a joke!” and “Vinay broke yet another fellow student’s arm today, how about we just tell him he’s enlightened so he’ll go away”

          • Anonymous says:

            @Gobbobobble

            laughingindians.jpg

            @Deiseach

            I find mocking his appearance entirely appropriate, given his claims to warriorhood. He doesn’t even look strongfat, just fat.

          • Viliam says:

            I have lost track of what Enlightenment even is

            My guess: Some physiological/psychological effect that happens as a result of doing some exercises.

            A guru can give you the exercises, listen to your reports of what happened to you, compare it with his own experience and reports from his students, and certify that you most likely did the exercises and experienced the resulting effect. Especially if he is a part of some long existing school, i.e. he has the same data from his predecessors.

            Nothing more, nothing less (although the guru may tell you otherwise). Yes, it involves some unusual experience. No, it doesn’t magically make you a superman.

    • J Mann says:

      Well, do you believe he achieved enlightenment?

  9. Conrad Honcho says:

    I have a question about enlightenment but no desire to add fuel to the dumpster fire that is the other thread. The Enlightened One says:

    In my head, as we were talking, I saw an amplifier, just a very simple aluminium amplifier with a big knob, little blue LED on it, and I saw my hand reach down and turn the knob off. And my internal dialogue completely stopped. This was about 1993, 1994 and it never came back.

    Living in the condition of having no internal dialogue, no flow of thoughts, no flow of images, just Smack, into the present is quite an abrupt thing. For the first couple of weeks I thought I’d gone completely mad. Oh my god I’ve totally broken myself. I’m fucked. And I discovered that I could still go to work, and I could still socialise with people and I could cook and get through all the basic things of life. Nobody outside of me seemed to notice any particular change in my behaviour, even though I was lost in this rapturous state of total absorption with the world. Wow, this is amazing, woah! And then life continued.

    So, enlightenment involves having no internal dialogue. But that talky part in my noodle is the thing that does the thinkerating. It’s what’s talking as I’m deciding what to write here. If one does not have that, is that not similar to being a p-zombie or a Chinese room?

    One can have a Chinese room full of books that, when the occupant is handed characters that code to “reasonable argumentation” direct an output response of “irrational belligerence” with no comprehension. No amount of “reasonable argumentation” input is going to modify the “irrational belligerence” output, because it’s the inner monologue that modifies (or attempts to modify) the behavior of the purely acting self.

    Does this make sense?

    • skef says:

      But that talky part in my noodle is the thing that does the thinkerating.

      So you just go around doing whatever a voice in your says?

      If one does not have that, is that not similar to being a p-zombie or a Chinese room?

      There’s little reason to think so.

      The model that you’re suggesting has some initial intuitive appeal but falls apart when examined more closely. Stipulate for purposes of argument that there is a sort of module in the brain that determines what to say. Why would the connection from that module to the muscles that control your tongue, jaw, lips, and breath be in virtue of a kind of pseudo-perception in which “you” “hear” it’s output and act on it. And why would you hear rejected choices and commentary on why they are rejected?

      If the idea is supposed to be that any creature who could verbally communicate another way wouldn’t be conscious, does the model really apply during a fast, fluid discussion with someone (a conversation in the “flow”)? If you’re not really aware of an inner dialog at that time, should we say that you are anyway implicitly listening to such a voice, and are just not very aware of it, to make that model consistent?

      There are many components of our actions that are not consciously attended to. When I reach out to grab a glass I do not consciously direct the movements of my individual fingers. That fact need not call my agency into question, or my status as a conscious entity.

      Inner dialog plausibly reflects a “mode” of thought, that is plausibly an important one. It is most likely a kind of imaginative simulation of a circumstance in which one might say something, fostering the related simulation of the consequences of saying it. But it is often experienced as a kind of stream that one passively witnesses, with what is being imagined not under conscious direction. This leads to an experience of life driven by subconscious projections rather than one relating directly to one’s surroundings.

      • Randy M says:

        Why would the connection from that module to the muscles that control your tongue, jaw, lips, and breath be in virtue of a kind of pseudo-perception in which “you” “hear” it’s output and act on it. And why would you hear rejected choices and commentary on why they are rejected?

        Because that’s what rational decision making feels like from the inside?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I get that. I understand that the voice in my head is not exactly “me” because I perform many (most?) actions without input from it. I can drive my car and not really remember the trip. But, the voice is largely responsible for modifying my autopilot behavior.

        Without the voice, there’s nothing to debate whether my autopilot actions (or conversations) are accomplishing my goals, or debating what my goals should be. Hence, talking with such a person would be like talking to a Chinese room. Nothing you say is going to change the contents of the books in the room.

        • skef says:

          No, in talking to such a person the perception of your voice can serve a purpose analogous to the projected “doubting” voice.

          Now, we could go down the road of debating what else that difference would change, but I don’t really have any interest in that because it’s just an example and we’re not in a position to sort through hundreds of years of Buddhist phenomenology here*. For present purposes it’s enough to show the problem with your extreme conclusion: You needn’t create simulations of your environment when your actual perception of the environment would do just as well.

          * And, just to be explicit, I am only familiar with a vanishingly small amount of that information, so this isn’t a “I don’t have time right now” thing.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            So is it possible to change the mind of one who is enlightened? I mean, can an enlightened person ever say “gee, I thought X was true, but after hearing Bill’s argument, it turns out Y is true instead?”

          • skef says:

            I can say with very high confidence that it the enlightened are taken to be able to learn new things on the level of conventional reality. If the cat jumps onto the mat, they can act appropriately in relation to the cat’s now being on the mat.

            Similarly, if they have not considered whether X, and you argue convincingly that X, there is no reason they couldn’t come to accept X as a result.

            Either way, enlightenment carries no implication of omniscience at the conventional level.

            So accepting all that, whether it’s possible to change the mind of an enlightened person concerning X would depend on whether such a person could start of being wrong about X. I believe that most branches of Buddhism (at least) would be fine with that prospect. Some might propose that the nature of belief itself changes to make such mistakes impossible or much less likely.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I believe that most branches of Buddhism (at least) would be fine with that prospect. Some might propose that the nature of belief itself changes to make such mistakes impossible or much less likely.

            I could believe that. That is, that part of enlightenment might be extreme epistemic humility. But that seems more like uninformed western ideas of asian religious enlightenment rather than the actual example we recently witnessed.

          • skef says:

            That is, that part of enlightenment might be extreme epistemic humility. But that seems more like uninformed western ideas of asian religious enlightenment rather than the actual example we recently witnessed.

            Sort of, but I think mostly not because all we witnessed were his actions (in this case utterances), and our mistake could be imposing our own model of what is going on in the head of someone who acts that way on someone it doesn’t apply to.

            Look, I have no interest in defending Gupta beyond what I pointed out on that thread already, which is that a lot of the criticism was based on attitudes towards enlightenment that he explicitly rejected in the very article Scott linked too, which is kind of lame. But, as an exercise, the conventional Buddhist lens one would defend such actions in terms of (or not) is “Crazy Wisdom”. The basic idea being that an enlightened person acts towards an individual in the way appropriate to that individual in that context, and people who lack that insight, not seeing the basis of that appropriateness, will mistakenly judge by conventional standards.

            Yes, this is a question-begging hole that admits trucks of arbitrary size. But that’s where the debate would lie, and people’s expectations of apparent patience, kindness, “glowingness” etc. are mostly based on mythology and movies.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I can turn my internal monologue on and off at will; I’d hardly call myself enlightened. If that is enlightenment, there really isn’t much to discuss.

      It isn’t like being a P-zombie, though; rather, imagine looking at a beautiful waterfall standing next to somebody who won’t stop describing the waterfall. It is like if that person shut up, and let you enjoy the experience without the commentary.

      Would you imagine you ceased to exist, if somebody stopped talking to you? Your existence is independent of the commentary.

      (I have had this capacity since I can remember. If that is enlightenment, I was born enlightened, and perhaps simply cannot appreciate it. But I find this unlikely.)

      • baconbits9 says:

        The claim was that it was a necessary, but insufficient requirement.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Ah. Well, it isn’t an interesting condition to be in; it is literally exactly as if the noisy person standing next to you is silent for a change.

          I guess the hard part is realizing that the noisy person standing next to you, in this situation, isn’t meaningfully you. You can be aware of a sense of awe without a voice going “Isn’t that awesome?” into your head.

      • Viliam says:

        For me, turning off the internal voice is a learned ability.

        First, I wasn’t even aware of that voice, in the sense how fish is not aware of the water. But when I started trying to explicitly not use the internal voice for a moment, that was when I noticed that I actually use it, and that I use it all the time; going one cycle of “breathe in, breathe out” without having some loud internal commentary seemed impossible. (Trying to do not commentary was like an invitation for a meta-commentary.) But I kept trying.

        Once I spent literally almost an hour trying this, over and over again. (I was on a bus, there was nothing else to do anyway, so I decided to use this opportunity.) First I barely achieved a second or two of internal silence. But after half an hour it suddenly became simple. It was as if I found an internal switch, that I was able to turn on and off. Now it felt like I could go without the voice forever (well, assuming nothing interesting would happen near me).

        Since then I didn’t do the exercises again, but the ability remained. Is somehow like learning how to ride a bicycle: once you get it, it stays, even if you don’t practice. You know that it can be done, and you remember the general way of how it can be done.

        I am not sure what is the next step. Trying to do this longer and longer, seems pointless. I guess the right next step is doing this deeper, i.e. after the inner “voice” is gone, try to stop using inner “gestures” or something like that. (I guess there is a chance that the same thing will repeat on a different level: first it will seem impossible, then it will stop for a second, then a switch will be found that can turn it off.)

        I expect that as a result I would be able to focus deeper (for example I could do this exercise before starting work, or whenever I notice I am distracted by something). Other advantages could be perhaps easier falling asleep (with all the internal voices turned off), or being able to stop depressive thoughts if they occur. And that’s pretty much all that I expect to happen if I would go that way.

        This is probably best practiced in youth, during school, when the opportunity cost is very low. 😀

    • Immortal Lurker says:

      I’m also curious about what not having a mental dialog looks like from the inside. Is the dialog always gone, or is more like what Thegnskald described?

      If its always quiet, I have so many questions I don’t even know where to start. What would happen if you tried to prepare a speech without taking notes? Would you be surprised when you started talking, because you are hearing it for the first time?

      • Thegnskald says:

        Are you surprised when you think words, because you are hearing those for the first time?

        Speaking for myself, there is a – coalescing, for lack of a better term, of raw concepts into words. You can feel it like a mental jerk when it fails – when a batch of raw concept fails to coalesce properly into a word, and you’re left with an idea sitting at the tip of your tongue with no word to attach it to. That raw, unconverted concept that fails to properly form into a word is what your thoughts are actually made of, but when our language center is left free to run, it practices its work converting fragments of our thoughts into mental language. This language is refined and clear and loud, and drowns out the subtler things going on if left to run on its own.

        • Immortal Lurker says:

          Thanks for the response!

          That sounds much less strange than what I was thinking might be happening. I view the “raw concept” as fundamentally the same process as the mental dialog.

          Its possible that I am still way off base, so I will try to clarify what I am thinking about.

          Frequently when I am thinking verbally, it feels almost as though every thought is happening twice. The first time is very fast, and isn’t quite verbal, though I can often make words out. This is what I think you mean by raw concept. Next comes a thought which mostly seems to be an echo of the first, but this time its usually in words. This ties into what you said, about very rarely being surprised by when I first think the words, the surprise comes before the thought makes it into a fully verbal state.

          I view both of these as being part of the mental dialog.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Examine the precursor-thought-state. Personally, on close examination, it is more akin to something like attention – awareness – than formation.

            That is, the “thought” coffee looks more, internally and unformed, like being aware of the existence of coffee.

            (Language fails a lot here. These are approximations.)

            Thus, a focused awareness is the opposite of mental silence.

    • no one special says:

      A terrible analogy:

      Suppose you have a toilet. A toilet has a tank and a bowl, and there’s a seal between them that opens when you flush. If that seal cracks, water will constantly drip from the tank into the bowl. It woun’t leak out of the toilet, but you’ll have a constant dripping noise.

      Inner dialogue is that constant dripping noise.

      If you fix the seal, the noise will go away, and the toilet will work better. (And your water bills will go down.)

      • The Nybbler says:

        Good old TOTO THU453-10C-A. My hall bathroom is now enlightened.

      • Randy M says:

        Is there any reason to think that any of the relevant aspects of that analogy hold? Any reason to think intrapersonal deliberation is costly or net negative?

        • Incurian says:

          I can imagine situations where it is a positive – it is [like literally?] talking the language your speech centers understand, and that might access certain parts of your brain more easily.

        • no one special says:

          Intrapersonal deliberation is still available when you choose to use it. it’s just not on all the time. Same as a fixed toilet still fills and flushes, it just doesn’t waste water.

          Maybe a better analogy is: some people leave their TV on all the time, for background noise. Turning off the TV doesn’t stop you from watching TV later, it just makes the room quieter by default.

          • Randy M says:

            Hmm, okay. I thought I read in the last post that the enlightened just didn’t have internal monologue anymore, period, but I don’t see that from a re-skimming so maybe is was a faulty assumption.

  10. Wrong Species says:

    You have to choose between either saving one person who is extremely important to you or n number of people. How many people is that number for you? 10? 1000? 1,000,000?

    • AeXeaz says:

      Assuming the n number of people aren’t important to me, ∞.

    • entobat says:

      I’m indifferent when n = 1, and I don’t feel bad about it. That’s someone else’s brother over there, even if it’s not mine; just because I’m the one forced to make the decision doesn’t make my personal values more important than anyone else’s. (Or it’s not someone else’s brother, in which case their life is still important anyway: no one seriously suggests that it’s okay to kill friendless orphans.) Come join me under the veil of ignorance—we have cake!

      Obviously we can start engaging in subjective judgments about how valuable my family members’ lives are relative to the average person (“She’s a doctor!” / “He’s a pillar of the community!” / “He enjoys life so much!”), and probably my personal biases could intrude when n = 1 and get me to spare my loved one. But even at n = 2 I think I would have difficulty arguing myself into killing two people.

      Didn’t we already work out the answer to this question when we decided that charity was better spent on mosquito nets in Africa than on the homeless person holding a sign on your drive to the grocery store?

      • Wrong Species says:

        There’s a massive difference between random homeless people and your family. It all comes down to obligations. Do you honestly think that your obligations to strangers is equivalent to family?

        • entobat says:

          If I knew that some unspecified other person were making this choice, between saving one family member or two or more strangers, I would want them to pick the strangers.

          I will admit to being willing to kill two mentally ill homeless people with big, scraggly beards in order to save my own family members. Presumably I would kill many, many ISIS soldiers. I don’t know how far this reasoning goes, because it’s not generally useful to write down exactly how worthless various kinds of human deficiencies make someone in my eyes and has the potential to put me in a lot of hot water.

          If we’re talking about a generic relative against two generic strangers, then yes, strangers, every time. You said downthread that this means there’s something wrong with me—and perhaps there is. But it’s not something I would choose to fix.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s one thing to say that you would do it. But it’s another to actually have the choice given to you. If you honest to god were given that choice and chose the two strangers over someone you really care about, then I would stand by what I said.

          • entobat says:

            And I will stand by what I said I thought I would do.

    • fion says:

      I’m torn between 1 and ∞.

      But I’m certain it’s not somewhere in the middle.

    • Nick says:

      The other answers surprise me. I’d guess 1 < n < 10. I'd like to think it's 2, but there's no one extremely important to me, so I can't make a best guess about what I'd truly do if there were.

    • Brad says:

      I haven’t the foggiest idea. And there’s no way I can find out unless it were to actually happen. Any answer I’d give here would just tell you about what answer the type of person I want to be would give, rather than a good prediction of what I’d actually do.

    • johan_larson says:

      Several hundred at least. I am supposed to care A LOT more about my immediate family than about random strangers, so if the choice were mine in terms that stark, I would send a planeload of South Americans into a mountainside before I let my brother get run over by a car. Subjectively, a thousand seems like a big number, and I’d probably swing the other way once the numbers got that high. I can be a good person and care about my family without trading a thousand strangers for a family member.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I would probably choose higher numbers than you but this is pretty much how I think about it. Utilitarians have this view that if you choose any number over one, then that’s a sign of weakness but I see it exactly the opposite. If you are willing to trade one person you care about for two strangers, there’s something wrong with you. But on the other hand, if you chose to let a billion people die, that’s crazy. Anything in between I’m not sure about.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Now the interesting question is how having kids correlates with giving the answer ∞.

      And how giving the answer ∞ correlates with not being into EA.

      And while we are at it, how having kids correlates with not being into EA.

    • James says:

      Not sure, and of course it depends on the person, but my hunch is 4 ≤ n ≤ 10.

      Hard mode version: the person important to you’s life is saved, but you never get to see them again. Any takers?

      • rahien.din says:

        Hard mode version: the person important to you’s life is saved, but you never get to see them again. Any takers?

        You’re basically asking me to compare the following scenarios :
        1. Person lives and is accessible, at cost of n lives
        2. Person lives but is inaccessible, at cost of n – m lives

        To me, this reduces down to : you have to choose between either keeping in contact with one person who is extremely important to you or the lives of p number of people. How many people is that number for you? Where p = (n – m)

        I don’t deny that it would be incredibly painful for me to be permanently separated from a person I love. And if (by some bizarre chain of events) the deaths of some number of people were to indirectly lead to our reunion, I don’t deny that I would be deliriously happy. (Like, say she got detained indefinitely in Cuba, but a massive hurricane caused immense damage to the island, and she was spirited back to the USA during the relief efforts.) But I don’t think I could go so far as to say that those deaths were “worth it.”

        So whatever my n, I think my p = 0.

        p might effectively be different if, for instance, my wife was kidnapped and as a necessity of her rescue her captors were killed. But that’s more in the spirit of retribution and/or justice.

    • fion says:

      I anticipate that my sibling dying would cause me stronger negative emotions than, say, one billion randomly chosen people dying.

      I feel more sadness about my grandfather dying seven years ago than I do about the holocaust.

      Neither of those means I would choose the latter option over the former option if I had to choose, but I think it’s an interesting way of thinking about the problem.

      (By the way, my previous answer was me trying to be funny. I’m being more serious here, although I’m not really answering the question.)

      • albatross11 says:

        There’s a sort of near/far mode thing going on here, too. I think I would take a substantial risk of my own life to save a drowning child in front of me, but I’m still heading off to Starbucks for a $3 drink instead of paying for a few more DDT-impregnated mosquito nets that statistically will have decent chance of decreasing the total number of dead children by one.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Of course with the Holocaust you don’t feel any guilt over it. I guess it depends on that. If you’re a 13th century Mongolian, you probably wouldn’t think twice about sacrificing a million strangers. But if you were a strait-laced utilitarian, then maybe two people would torment you.

        • fion says:

          Hmm… guilt and sadness are different things. I don’t feel any guilt about my grandfather dying either.

      • Randy M says:

        Yes there’s a difference between how I would feel about it, where I think my duty lies, and what do I think would be best for the world.

        I’m not sure I’d be able to live with myself afterwords if I let, say, my daughter float away in the flood so I could save a boat full of strangers, even if I could rationalize it as a better moral choice. That outcome would probably end with me also dying in the moment (futilely trying to save both) or shortly after.

        An adult sibling would still be a terrible thing to have to sacrifice, but I don’t have as strong a duty or emotional connection in that case. Still can’t say for sure for any given n.

      • IrishDude says:

        Your comment reminds me of this quote from Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

        “Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct.”

        • cassander says:

          There’s something wonderful about the extremely dry snark in the 18th century british literary style. Gibbon has the same quality to it and it’s just delightful

        • fion says:

          Nice quote. Thanks for sharing.

    • Incurian says:

      Who gets their stuff if they die?

    • rahien.din says:

      I think there is an anti-Singerian gradient at work. One end of the gradient is Sophie’s Choice, and the other end of the gradient is an infinite number of Alpha-Centaurian proto-molluscoid Saddam-Hitlers.

      Somewhere in the middle of that likely-logarithmic gradient? I don’t even know.

    • aristides says:

      My n is infinity with qualifiers. I would sacrifice an infinite number of people for my wife and I to live, if I knew our descendents could live after the rest died. I very much value the continued future of the human race and my descendents. But in that respect, I’m trading off an infinite number of strangers for a very high number of expected people important to me. Related, I’m very interested in the EA movement, and focusing on the reducing existential threat portion of it. I don’t know if I can feel like a truly effective alturist, when I selfishly value my descendents so much. Fortunately, virtually every way of helping my descendents, helps everyone else’s as well, so at least our paths are parallel.

      Answer would also change if the people suffer when they die. I’m not selfish enough to inflict infinite suffering in the universe for any reason.

    • John Schilling says:

      Only in scenarios involving Trolley Gods is it possible for my decision to save or end the lives of bignum total strangers, and the Trolley Gods are not to be denied their due sacrifices.

      Otherwise, if I’m really in a position to save or sacrifice millions, I probably got there by accepting a duty to them, and that’s not going to happen without some degree of reciprocity. So these people won’t be wholly unimportant to me, and we have to talk about the actual nature of my duty to them as weighed against my clear duty to friends and family. If the other potential victims really are disconnected strangers, friends and family win.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Related. My answer would definitely depend on whether or not the unknown persons are the kind to bother me with hypothetical moral dilemmas.

      • aristides says:

        Good point, if it was my job to save hundreds of lives, I would risk my life, and those close to me, to do my duty, rather than flee to safety. That’s a more likely way this dilemma would happen and completely changes the answer.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      We should all pre-commit to ∞. This incentivizes everyone to kill trolley gods and/or wizards with an unhealthy interest in abstract ethical puzzles as soon as we become aware of them.

      • Wrong Species says:

        People don’t ask about ethical dilemmas to play gotcha. The point is to try to get you to examine your own values. If it really is so hard to do that with the example, then just imagine I asked something like: “what is the value of someone of you’re close to in comparison to other people?”

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          These questions are so far removed from anything that can really happen I was treating it like a game. I knew what you meant though. Depending on what exactly is meant by value, my spouse or my sister easily outrank every other living person combined.

    • proyas says:

      It partly depends on who the n people are. Are they terminally ill people in hospice care, people living in my neighborhood, or a randomly selected group from the global population?

  11. toastengineer says:

    So I was thinking; with this new HDR monitor technology, if I was building a brand new office building or something: instead of lights, would it be possible to have a ceiling covered in HDR monitors showing a live feed of the sky, simultaneously lighting the building? Or would they still not be bright enough?

    • CatCube says:

      You could probably provide enough light with interstitial lights between the panels, if they weren’t bright enough on their own. What this is always going to run into is the jaw-dropping expense of tiling your entire ceiling with electronics, which is going to cost several multiples of what a conventional ceiling would cost, as well as dramatically increase the ceiling dead load and thus increase the cost of the underlying structural system.

      So, probably possible, but a wildly stupid use of money.

    • Another Throw says:

      According to Wikipedia, the luminescence of the sky is 2000 cd/m2 (cloudy) to 7000 cd/m2 (clear). A quick look at your preferred electronics shop will show that typical values for monitors are 250-350 cd/m2 for general purpose monitors, and bright options have peak values of maybe 500-600 cd/m2. (Specialty monitors, like monochrome medical displays can bump into the 1000 cd/m2 range, so it is technically possible. I think “good luck” is in order for a consumer option.)

      You’re probably going to be off by an order of magnitude.

      Why would you want to, anyway?
      And even if you could, why would you want a skybright office?

      • toastengineer says:

        I don’t want a skybright office, I want a bright-enough office with a sky.

        The idea was that if you for some reason had to keep people deep within a building for long periods of time, it might be beneficial to have a close-enough portrayal of the sky on the ceiling. It’d certainly look neat when the press comes around, at least.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          if you for some reason had to keep people deep within a building for long periods of time, it might be beneficial to have a close-enough portrayal of the sky on the ceiling.

          The usual way to do that is to just paint the ceiling and indirectly reflect lots of light off of it. You can find good examples of this is the shopping areas attached to Las Vegas casinos. Some change the light color and intensity through the day, or even simulate the occasional grey cloudy day instead of a bright sunny one. Here’s Paris, Caesar’s Palace, and The Venetian (youtube link).

    • AnarchyDice says:

      You could probably get enough light (when your whole ceiling is a luminous surface, they don’t have to be that bright to get you what you need for office illumination of roughly 30 to 50 foot-candles), but you’d have the added concerns of removing any space for your supply and return HVAC vents, sprinkler heads, automatic control sensors, exit signs, etc. You could move most of that to the walls, but that would severely limit how large any given room could be. Also, you would still have tiling at the borders of each unit so a much better use may be to just use some decorative light lenses with nice looking sky images (they do these at hospitals and some schools) for orders of magnitude less cost and hassle of fighting tooth and nail with the architects who hate putting any equipment on their pristine walls.

      Actually, I’m not sure you’d be able to do this per current energy code, as you would be using way too much energy per square foot on the lighting, not to mention the enormous cost of requirements for automatic controls and dimming in such a scheme.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m wondering whether you’d get enough shadows– a big flat source of light isn’t like having the sun.

        • AnarchyDice says:

          At office-levels of light, you’d get some but not the stark ones you would get outside. For reference, sunlight is between 500 and 1000 foot-candles, while the recommended levels in an office are 30-50.

        • pontifex says:

          Eccentric tech billionaire decides to simulate the sun inside his office. I can just see how that conversation with OSHA would go:

          Yeah, I’m just going to put this giant flaming orb in the ceiling, with a brightness of 120,000 lux…. it will permanently damage the eyesight of anyone who stares directly at it, but they’ll know not to do that, of course. And it will emit UV radiation, but not enough to give you cancer, unless you stay under it for more than a half hour or so. Things may catch on fire, but only if you leave a magnifying glass around… come on, who does that?

          What do you mean it’s banned? Thanks, Obama!

  12. onyomi says:

    People are naturally inclined to love socialism and be suspicious of capitalism, even in the face of evidence that the latter produces much better results.

    A theory on why: in the ancestral forager environment, everyone is either family or enemy. These two categories feel quite natural to most people.

    Capitalism introduces a third category of person and puts almost everyone in the world into it: the category of potential mutually beneficial trading partners whom you’re neither obligated to take care of like family, nor towards whom you should feel default suspicion and enmity, like an enemy. This third category of person does not come naturally to the human mind. It wants to perceive this as either treating enemies like family (“corporations aren’t people”), or like treating family like enemies (“by paying less than a living wage to its employees, Wal Mart burdens us all”).

    Merchants, money lenders, and other capitalism facilitators are reviled cross-culturally, often on such theories that they “don’t make anything, but just get rich moving stuff around” (but is this the real objection?). Dierdre McCloskey makes a pretty good case that a weakening of this hatred in one particular time and place may have helped build the modern world.

    This view even makes sense of the Marxian idea that capitalism is a necessary stage on the path of development to communism: small family+vast masses of enemies–>small family+vast masses of indifferent trading partners–>giant family.

    • triclops41 says:

      This has been put forward from multiple perspectives.

      Some economists like Thomas Sowell point out that families are socialist institutions, so we don’t even need to invoke evolved preferences, though that may still be true.
      Extending the socialism that is fundamental to well functioning families seems great, and in high trust, homogeneous societies, works fairly well. But the more diverse a group of people is, the more that intuition struggles to deliver.

      But I think treating ancestral foragers as if they didn’t have acquaintances or alliances is wrong. Capitalism didn’t invent those relationships, it just made their upside much greater than their downside. For example, fairly recent small scale societies in undeveloped parts of the world do trade and have friendly interactions with neighboring tribes, though they also often have the exact opposite.

      • onyomi says:

        For example, fairly recent small scale societies in undeveloped parts of the world do trade and have friendly interactions with neighboring tribes…

        I’m classifying that as basically nascent capitalism. I’m not claiming we can find a time or place or people, necessarily, that was all hunting, gathering, and war all the time, with no trade or exchange whatsoever; only that the ratio changes drastically as you move from hunter gatherer to feudal farmer, and even more so as you move from feudalism toward modernity.

    • cassander says:

      A theory on why: in the ancestral forager environment, everyone is either family or enemy. These two categories feel quite natural to most people.

      I don’t think this helps capitalism, but I don’t think it explains the hostility. It explains why capitalism doesn’t feel quite natural, but not, I think, why people are actively against it the way you are describing. I suggest an alternative.

      The basic left wing impulse is leveling, tearing down hierarchies that feel unfair, exploitative, cruel, etc. The basic right wing impulse is preserving hierarchies in order to insure order, stability, justice, etc. Capitalism offends both impulses. It’s constantly tearing down hierarchies and building up new ones, which means that it’s vaguely off putting to everyone, and usually only embraced by those that don’t think they have the power to achieve their results through more direct and “honest” means.

      This view even makes sense of the Marxian idea that capitalism is a necessary stage on the path of development to communism:

      Marx’s view was that capitalism was revolutionary, and a useful tool, but only necessary because it created the material conditions that would lead to the emergence of class consciousness in workers. If you could manufacturer that some other way (and he explicitly argued that such a thing was possible in russia due to their tradition of communal land owning), and it was an unneeded stop. I’m not sure if this fits with your idea or not.

    • skef says:

      Graber claims that a common model in such environments was that necessities were gathered and shared communally among the a tribe, while barter and therefore trade was an institution between tribes. He describes borderline-hostile meetings between tribes in which trades would take place, complete with a lot of overt fronting about who got the bad end of the deal (i.e. the other party). I haven’t checked his sources, but it sounds much more plausible than the individual-level bartering sometimes described in textbooks. (Which, to be fair, is more bullshit in support of a worldview than an actual mistake — a narrative serving a narrative purpose.)

      That model is also a better, if less optimistic, explanation for the hostility. Trade, as a phenomenon, is broadly positive-sum. Individual trades and purchases (now subtracting out the origin of the trade) can be narrowly positive-sum. But trying to screw over other party, and assuming the other party is trying to screw you over, is part of the process. Just listen to how people talk later about larger deals.

      “nor towards whom you should feel default suspicion and enmity” is not how markets actually work unless you want to be a sucker.

      • onyomi says:

        “nor towards whom you should feel default suspicion and enmity” is not how markets actually work unless you want to be a sucker.

        But it’s a lot less suspicion and enmity than you feel towards say, a neighboring tribe in a zero-sum competition for e.g. hunting and gathering territory, where there is a strong incentive to preemptively attack rather than wait for your neighbors to do so.

        The relationship among business partners in capitalism is like a prisoner’s dilemma with at least some possibility of successful cooperation. The relationship among two tribes competing for the same hunting and gathering territory is one in which no mutually beneficial cooperate strategy
        (other than switching to farming and animal husbandry to increase the size of the pie) even exists.

        • skef says:

          Well, maybe, but that’s not what Graeber argues. What he says is that there was some inter-tribe trade and that the activity of bartering was an out-group rather than in-group institution.

          But it’s a lot less suspicion and enmity than you feel towards say, a neighboring tribe in a zero-sum competition for e.g. hunting and gathering territory, where there is a strong incentive to preemptively attack rather than wait for your neighbors to do so.

          Only as strong as how much better the territory is and whether you can make use of it and protect it. And then there’s the potential losses to consider. At least at the time I took anthropology, the consensus was that most battles didn’t have high casualties and didn’t change much.

          • onyomi says:

            At least at the time I took anthropology, the consensus was that most battles didn’t have high casualties and didn’t change much.

            My impression is that the sort of battle you are talking about is more like Sparta vs. Athens than hunter-gatherer tribe vs. other hunter-gatherer tribe, where flat-out exterminate all the men and take the women and children as slaves (but then sometimes be weirdly nice and accepting to them after that, perhaps because they fundamentally don’t have much conceptual space in which to put “non-enemies” other than “in-group”?) seemed to be the rule.

            Do you know if Pinker, in his argument that hunter-gatherer civilizations are mega-violent, even compared to say, Europe c. 1914-1944, differentiates between inter and intra tribal warfare? My impression was that, while men within tribes would certainly get into fights at a much higher rate than is normal today, the shockingly high probability of any given man dying at another man’s hand in such societies arose primarily as a result of such no-mercy inter-tribal warfare.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @onyomi

            Isn’t the consensus that hunter-gatherers have low-intensity battles that are as much about flexing on the other and saying “we could kill you, looks like” and actually killing them as separate things? Show up by day, throw a few spears around, get a feel for things; if you think you can handle it, try to run up on them while they’re sleeping and club them all to death.

          • bean says:

            @dndnrsn
            You of all people are forgetting Dyer. Those spear-throwing contests usually seem to run until someone gets badly hurt/killed. Which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that they happen all the time. Even if you do 2/year with a 2% chance of dying each time for 10 years still gives you a 1 in 3 chance of dying from one.

          • onyomi says:

            @Bean

            Yes, and there may also be an issue of not having much of a concept of “civilians” in hunter-gatherer society?

            Like, if you are an able-bodied man between the ages of 14 and 50 you pretty much have to pick up spear and go every time you and neighboring tribe have a flexing contest, assuming that’s all some of these things were? So even if the casualty rate per battle is low, if all able-bodied men participate in every battle, that could still mean a super high chance of dying in battle for any given man.

          • dndnrsn says:

            You’re right; I couldn’t recall whether he had written that the low-intensity things add up surprisingly, or a few tribes wiped out really adds up, or both.

            This might be a relatively new anthropological orthodoxy, since as I recall the first edition of Dyer states that hunter-gatherers don’t really fight wars, full stop. But I haven’t read the first edition in a long time.

          • skef says:

            The linked post is about a later stage of social organization. Comanche Indians may have lacked writing and centralized government but they weren’t a village. (“Centralized” is doing a lot of work in that post.) Note:

            Their favorite pastime was to find a remote farm somewhere, ride in dressed in full war gear, communicate some version of “Oh, hi, I know what this looks like but actually we’re just stopping by, mind giving us a bite to eat?”, enjoying a lavish feast put on by extremely nervous settlers, and then saying “Very good, in exchange for this feast we give you a five minute head start”, then giving them five minutes to run away before riding them down and torture-killing the entire family in the manner described earlier.

            Even if you want to call the
            perpetrators here “hunter gatherers”, the victims aren’t, and really couldn’t be. Enslaving or dominating hunters poses obvious difficulties. Enslaving or dominating gatherers is of little net benefit — the supervisors could just be gathering themselves, and the gatherers will need to eat too to be of use for very long.

            I was taught that battles tended to have a small percentage of casualties but were frequent. That is consistent with a high level of violence without much overall change as a result of individual battles. It’s hard to see how things could be otherwise: there can’t be frequent routing of enemies simply because there would soon be no enemies left.

            Added: The level of violence in isolation need not bear a strong relation to the strength of the attitude towards the out-group, which was how this subject initially arose.

          • bean says:

            @onyomi
            That’s exactly it. Even a small percentage of men being killed frequently adds up.

            @dndnrsn

            I couldn’t recall whether he had written that the low-intensity things add up surprisingly, or a few tribes wiped out really adds up, or both.

            Both. The thesis is more or less that war is definitely a thing among hunter-gatherers, just not in a form we’d recognize today.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I really don’t like this thing where people try to psychoanalzye others “wrongness”. Those on the left have their own theories of why people are opposed to the welfare state. So let’s say that I think people are opposed to the welfare state because of racism. Do you think that’s a valid argument?

      Also, you don’t have to love socialism to be suspicious of capitalism, especially since socialism is such an ambiguous term. Is the only reason to be suspicious of capitalism simply that we have kind of evolutionary bug or is there something to the criticism?

      • onyomi says:

        I also don’t generally like Bulverism, but the fact anyone can still support (government owns means of production-type) socialism, much less that there should still be whole parties and governments devoted to pursuing it in the face of historical examples like North and South Korea, East and West Germany, Great Leap Forward PRC and Hong Kong, is a pretty big mystery, at least to me. I don’t like psychology as the go-to explanation for political disagreement ahead of differing plausible interpretations of facts, but I don’t know where else to look to explain this one.

        The historical record of welfare program success is, at best, a mixed bag compared to that of economic freedom, to say nothing of the record of (government owns means of production-type) socialism. You can suggest psychological reasons people might oppose them, but they aren’t necessary to explain the fact of continued opposition.

        • fion says:

          …is a pretty big mystery

          If it helps, when I was at school, the playground politics arguments were generally on the level of “look at how bad X ‘socialist’ country was/is – clearly socialism’s rubbish”. It was only once people started reading history independently, and learning about economics and politics as they grew older, that they started to understand the many varied reasons why places like North Korea, East Germany, USSR etc. went badly.

        • Is it a mystery that the far right (nationalist neo monarchist) and the far liberal (libertarian , ANCap) still exist?

        • Wrong Species says:

          First off, people advocating Soviet style socialism is a pretty small subset of people advocating socialism so I’m not sure how relevant that is.

          Also, libertarians are straight up weirder than everyone else. If you bulverize someone else, they’ll find it really easy to turn it back on you. The vast majority of people believe that some functions of government are unambiguously good and they might speculate the only reason libertarians don’t agree is some combination of lunacy and selfishness. It’s not a game you’re going to win.

          • onyomi says:

            libertarians are straight up weirder than everyone else

            This is actually kind of my point. Why are only weird INTJs libertarians with a record like this?

            I mean, do people want to live in Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, Chile, and South Korea or in North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Bolivia?

            Yes, I am aware some ostensibly “welfare socialist” states like Sweden are nice places to live… they also rate high on the economic freedom index overall. Economic freedom, broadly defined, has a phenomenal track record compared to its lack, yet it still seems frequently to fight an uphill battle for popular support.

          • skef says:

            I am forever confused about what the example of Singapore is supposed to demonstrate in these debates.

            Added: I love that the “Certificate of Entitlement” — an extremely large fee used by and paid to the government to very directly control the number of cars in the country — is labeled here as “market-driven”. This is the sort of market the most dedicated socialist can really get behind, and run off their laptop.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Because most people are totalitarians at heart. They figure if something’s not to their liking, you can fix it by “just” forcing people to act according to their preferences. If that results in bad side effects, you add more force to get rid of the side effects, ad infinitum. Freedom? Bad idea; someone might do something _wrong_.

          • Economic freedom, broadly defined, has a phenomenal track record compared to its lack, yet it still seems frequently to fight an uphill battle for popular support.

            Of course, people aren’t worried about what they are gaining in Libertopia, they are worried about what they are losing. If you ask them, that’s what they’ll say.

            Because most people are totalitarians at heart

            Oh , please…

          • BBA says:

            Singapore is one of the most deeply authoritarian countries on earth. South Korea and Chile were also quite authoritarian during their periods of rapid growth. Hong Kong, less so than the others, but they still evicted thousands of people from Kowloon Walled City and tore it down. Switzerland I’ll give you.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @onyomi

            You really need to define your terms. You mixed different definitions in the same comment. First you sounded like you were talking about Soviet style communism by referriing to North Korea. Then you talked about the “uphill” battle against socialism, but the number of people advocating for Soviet style economies is tiny. By socialism are you including social democracy or only government owning the means of production? If it’s the former, then the superiority of free market capitalism is non-obvious. If it’s the latter, then it’s not the case that the majority of people are advocating it.

          • cassander says:

            @Wrong Species says:

            By socialism are you including social democracy or only government owning the means of production? If it’s the former, then the superiority of free market capitalism is non-obvious. If it’s the latter, then it’s not the case that the majority of people are advocating it.

            I’m not sure this is really a fair assessment. It’s true no that few get up there and say we should have the government own everything, but there is a very large contingent of people that think the government should own more of almost everything they consider important. Education, healthcare, finance, and increasingly tech. These are huge swathes of the economy that people want either outright government ownership of or centralized price setting, either of which I think it is fair to call socialism. This is very much in line with the “nationalize the commanding heights” attitude of mid-century non-revolutionary socialists. What has changed is not the basic attitude, but the targets. It’s the definition of commanding heights has changed, no the desire to control them centrally.

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think the index of economic freedom just measures economic libertarianism, otherwise weird INTJ libertarians would be clamouring for the US government to change its economic policies to those of New Zealand, Canada, the UK and Denmark, which does not seem to be happening. As well as things like tax rates and government expenditure, it considers things like strength of property rights (presumably enforced by government), judicial independence, amount of corruption, and access to electricity. These factors are obviously important in making somewhere nice to live, which is why position on that list correlates with quality of life, but it’s not obvious that they correlate with how much stuff the government does (and in some cases they probably anticorrelate in general).

            If you look at rankings by things like government spending (as % of GDP) or tax revenue, it looks like socialism is generally correlated with quality of life (even if you account for the fact that really poor countries can’t afford a government).

          • Civilis says:

            These are huge swathes of the economy that people want either outright government ownership of or centralized price setting, either of which I think it is fair to call socialism. This is very much in line with the “nationalize the commanding heights” attitude of mid-century non-revolutionary socialists.

            It’s also that we worry that the “nationalize the commanding heights” socialism has a strong tendency to snowball into the worse forms of socialism. There’s a predictable pattern: a government imposes economic controls on something, it produces worse outcomes, and the government imposes more strict controls, leading to even worse outcomes. This isn’t necessarily a guaranteed result, but it happens enough that we’re frequently able to spot and predict it. Venezuela is a textbook example in multiple forms over different sectors: currency controls, agricultural price setting, and nationalization of the oil industry; the miserable results in all were predicted well in advance, and yet western social democrats cheered on the United Socialist Party of Venezuela as it started all of them.

          • onyomi says:

            @Those asking me to better define the terms, see below:

            I’m talking about economic liberalism in a very general sense versus suspicion and hostility towards trade and traders in a very general sense. So with e.g. Singapore, I’m talking about economic freedom, not freedom to chew gum.

          • hyperboloid says:

            @BBA

            South Korea and Chile were also quite authoritarian during their periods of rapid growth

            South Korea was, Chile was not. During the eighteen years of general Augusto Pinochet regime the Chilean economy grew slower than the economy of Cuba. The so called Chilean economic miracle (which by the way didn’t amount to much in comparison with a country like south Korea) was almost entirely
            a phenomenon of the 1990s.

            One can argue that Pinochet’s market oriented policies laid the ground work for the relative prosperity of the post cold war era. But one can also argue that national ownership of the copper industry helped to strengthen the Chilean state, and that investments in public goods dating back to the Frei Montalva administration, and earlier paved the way for private sector growth in the out years. In particular any story about the economic development of Chile that does not give an important place to the work of Corfo, which was founded during the Aguirre Cerda popular front government of the 1930s, is missing a lot.

          • cassander says:

            Here is chilean GDP per capita vs. all of LA and Cuba and here is GDP growth rate. The chilean economy grew faster than the cuban in 2/3 years from 1975 to 1990. And it grew from a higher base. I’m not sure why there was a huge spike in cuban growth in 1981, but it seems unlikely that it was endogenous. Granted, “better that communist cuba” is a pretty low bar but chile also outperformed the rest of LA almost every year after 1975, and hit its 90s growth path by the mid 80s.

            It’s a bit rich to blame two and a half decades of success on nationalizing the copper industry.

          • Nornagest says:

            The chilean economy grew faster than the cuban in 2/3 years from 1975 to 1990. And it grew from a higher base.

            There’s something wonky about those graphs. The Cuban spike in 1981 on the % growth graph doesn’t show up at all on the GDP/capita graph, and the GDP decline in ’90-’94 isn’t anywhere near as big as it should be. Maybe one of these is nominal and one is PPP? Big shifts in exchange rate could explain it.

            (Also, that doesn’t look like a higher base to me.)

          • rlms says:

            I don’t think that GDP/capita graph looks good for Pinochet. It looks to me like Chile started out better off than Cuba, took a nose dive shortly after Pinochet’s coup, by 1981 caught up to roughly where it would’ve been without the coup, then dipped in line with the general LA trend (but doing worse than the average, and significantly worse than Cuba), and then actually started doing well in the 90s, i.e. after Pinochet had been removed.

          • cassander says:

            @rlms

            Are we looking at the same graph? From the mid 80s on GDP per capita in Chile is growing rapidly and consistently despite low commodity prices. And that’s verifiable growth, not the more dubious figures coming out of cuba. and the GDP per capita growth figures confirm this. Yes, it takes some time to recover from the allende regime, and not all the reforms were put in place at once, but that’s a given.

          • Nornagest says:

            Chile looks pretty good from 1985 to present, but you said 1975 to 1990, where it looks decidedly mixed. Strong growth from ’75 to ’81, but then it goes into a steep decline that brings it below the Latin American average until the end of the period.

            I’m used to seeing that kind of pattern in the context of GDP graphs from Africa, where it usually indicates war or serious economic mismanagement. Wikipedia links the recession to the implementation of a fixed exchange rate, although I’m not sure how much to trust it; wiki pages on obscure economic issues are often biased.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            For comparisons like this, you should always use a log y axis.

          • rlms says:

            @cassander
            I agree that Chile looks good relative to Cuba if you consider mitigating factors in its favour but not Cuba’s and disregard the figures of the latter as unreliable, but equally it looks bad if you do the opposite. We could have a broader discussion that includes external factors for both (certainly I think the whole US boycott thing needs to be considered if you want to do a fair comparison of the countries post-1991) but for now I’m just interested in looking at the graph.

            Starting at the beginning, I’m not sure what problems with the Allende regime there were to recover from (at least according to that graph). It looks like Chile had about 1.5x the GDP/capita of the LA average from 1960 up to 1973 (with a slight uptick towards the end of the period). Than as soon as Pinochet came into power there was a sudden drop (although I think that would be expected for any coup).

            Then in the Pinochet era (1973 to 1990) its GDP/capita tracked the LA average with a higher beta. By my count, it was higher than the LA average in around 40% of years (which I think is generous since it attributes the good performance in 1973 to Pinochet). In this period, Cuba moderately outperformed the LA average (and hence Chile), mainly by not dipping from 1982 to 1990.

            Moving to the period from 1990 to the present, Cuba starts to perform worse (coincidentally, the USSR stops existing). Meanwhile, Pinochet is no longer in charge of Chile, and it starts outperforming the LA average again (by a slightly smaller factor than in the pre-1973 dark days).

          • cassander says:

            @rlms

            >

            (certainly I think the whole US boycott thing needs to be considered if you want to do a fair comparison of the countries post-1991) but for now I’m just interested in looking at the graph.

            Cuba is a bad comparison for a number of reasons, I agree. Pre-91 you also have very large quantities of soviet aid to factor in. But chile also consistently beats the rest of LA.

            Starting at the beginning, I’m not sure what problems with the Allende regime there were to recover from (at least according to that graph).

            enormous inflation (which complicates the conversion to dollars), falling real GDP, falling copper prices (not allende’s fault, but still an issue) and generalized political unrest.

            It looks like Chile had about 1.5x the GDP/capita of the LA average from 1960 up to 1973 (with a slight uptick towards the end of the period). Than as soon as Pinochet came into power there was a sudden drop (although I think that would be expected for any coup)

            .

            that’s if you measure constant dollars. if you measure 2000 dollars, the ratio changes substantially. I am not sure which is the better figure in this case, so I think the growth numbers will be more useful than the

            Then in the Pinochet era (1973 to 1990) its GDP/capita tracked the LA average with a higher beta. By my count, it was higher than the LA average in around 40% of years (which I think is generous since it attributes the good performance in 1973 to Pinochet).

            Looking at per capita growth chile outperforms cuba in 10 of the 15 years from 1975 to 1990

            Moving to the period from 1990 to the present, Cuba starts to perform worse (coincidentally, the USSR stops existing). Meanwhile, Pinochet is no longer in charge of Chile,

            That he is not in charge does not mean that his policies went away. And if you look at the growth curve, it starts the very strong upward trend BEFORE the 90s, at about 84 or 85. The 90s largely continued growth that had started under pinochet.

    • Capitalism produces better results for whom?

      • onyomi says:

        Everybody!

        Though I’m willing, for the purposes of this thread, to cop to pure question begging: assuming, for the sake of argument, that (economic freedom-type) capitalism unambiguously produces better results than (state ownership of means of production-type) socialism, what explains the latter’s continued popularity?

        I’m suggesting something like the OP, or maybe some combination of that and Cassander’s response to it.

        • Including Victorian chimney seeps and match sellers? Capitalism is perfectly compatible with very bad outcomes for some. If you want to avoid that, you have to bolt on redistribution.

          • Murphy says:

            What do you believe the outcome for the victorian chimney sweeps and match sellers would have been sans-capitalism?

            is death before the age of 1 preferable? Never being born because your parents died in a famine?

            How broadly are you defining capitalism and in comparison to what? Is it just the absence of socialism to you?

            Would those chimney sweeps have been better off under a strict theocracy that enforced state controlled all economic activity and might decide to sacrifice them to the gods?

            Would they have been better off under violent anarchism where they could have stabbed someone and taken the stuff they needed?

            How about as landless peasant serfs under feudalism, basically the property of some lord?

            People dying in the gutter happened under many economic systems though some systems struggled to get the gutters built so it was sometimes more people dying in the sorta-ditch beside the path.

            Keep in mind how much life sucked for the vast majority of the population in pre-industrial times, limited largely by child mortality keeping the population down.

            Also, it becomes hard to compare systems because a system that successfully reduces famine and deaths due to malnutrition and starvation quickly finds itself with more hungry orphans to deal with.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Nevermind the chimney sweeps, how about cripples? It seems trivially true that people incapable of working do better under systems with a bunch of redistribution than without.

          • What do you believe the outcome for the victorian chimney sweeps and match sellers would have been sans-capitalism?

            They were badly off under (pure) capitalism, and that is sufficient to prove my point. Your objection might have worked if there were only one possible alternative , and that was a worse alternative, but that is not the case — several times over.

            How broadly are you defining capitalism and in comparison to what?

            I am contrasting capitalism+regulation+welfare (etc) with “pure” capitalism.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that capitalism is the system that makes your society wealthy enough to support much redistribution.

          • ..which is to say that I am not willing to assume that capitalism is unambiguously better. There seem to be right and wrong ways of doing it. Maybe there are with socialism too, and that would partly answer you question.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Is this not essentially non-snarl word neoliberalism? Be capitalist because it provides enough wealth to support a welfare state?

          • Murphy says:

            >They were badly off under (pure) capitalism, and that is sufficient to prove my point.

            That they were badly off under victorian capitalism does not prove they would be better off under [proposed system]

            Capitalism with redistribution is also perfectly compatible with very bad outcomes for some as well. We can observe some individuals with terrible outcomes under basically any real world system.

            Do you apply a time function? If we opt for very high levels of redistribution and that slows economic growth and research by, say, 20 years, does your system get marked down vs the version with lower levels of redistribution where penicillin was invented 20 years earlier and all the extra child-deaths over those 20 years?

            If you try to apply a system with extremely high redistribution to an agrarian society and it economically levels society to the point that something like the Renaissance can’t happen and you get stuck in preindustrial agrarian mode forever does that get marked down?

          • rlms says:

            @Murphy
            Onyomi’s original comment claims that everyone loves socialism, so he must be defining socialism in a fairly broad way that includes e.g. government regulation and welfare systems (or else be very misguided about the level of love for states where private ownership of means of production is banned). Therefore his definition of capitalism must be pretty narrow.

            TheAncientGeek disputed that narrowly-defined capitalism obviously has better results than broadly-defined socialism. Specifically, he suggested that some people might be better off under broadly-defined socialism (which is an obvious reason why they might prefer it to capitalism). Onyomi disputed the existence of this proposed category, so TheAncientGeek proposed some examples. He did not make any broader endorsements of any particular kinds of socialism, his point is just that a move in the socialist direction historically benefitted some people once. There’s no implication that movement in that direction is generally good, or even that the overall effects of that move were net good in that case.

          • Murphy says:

            @rlms

            Fair enough though my reading of onyomi’s post was that it was talking about large fractions of the population, not just whether you could find someone, somewhere, anywhere who would be better off.

            There also seems to be some near/far stuff going on. Typically when people take onyomi’s position it’s a long term thing, ie that in many ways even a quite poor person today has a better standard of living (and has to worry less about 50% of their kids dying) than a lord in medieval times.

            Measure the results with enough economic growth piled on top and just about everyone ends up better off in a society with higher economic growth than they would have been had that growth been choked off 200 years ago and capitalism seems to be super good at providing that growth.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            This is a motte-and-bailey that you see here a lot.

            In one part of the argument, ‘socialism’ means anything except pure capitalism and later it suddenly means communism.

          • John Schilling says:

            They were badly off under (pure) capitalism, and that is sufficient to prove my point.

            The point you originally expressed with the (likely rhetorical) question, “Capitalism produces better results for whom”?

            “better” is a comparative; you don’t prove that point by noting that one group gets outcomes that are absolutely bad, you have to actually show what the outcomes would have been under the alternatives.

          • onyomi says:

            @anyone who doubts people are more positively inclined, at a gut level, toward socialism than free market interactions:

            Of whose failures do you generally find people are more tolerant, more willing to make excuses? Government programs and agencies or private companies?

          • That they were badly off under victorian capitalism does not prove they would be better off under [proposed system]

            The [proposed system] was just capitalism. You are accusing me of ignoring nuances that were never there.

            “better” is a comparative; you don’t prove that point by noting that one group gets outcomes that are absolutely bad, you have to actually show what the outcomes would have been under the alternatives.

            I find the claim that all forms of capitalism only ever produce pareto improvements to be unlikely, but if you want to defend it, go ahead.

          • onyomi says:

            @Aapje

            In one part of the argument, ‘socialism’ means anything except pure capitalism and later it suddenly means communism.

            Works either way. I’ll admit continued support for “state owns means of production” socialism is much more mystifying than “heavy regulations, taxes, and welfare programs” socialism, but I don’t even need to rely on the latter to support my contention that people are positively inclined toward socialism. There are still plenty of parties supporting, or at least claiming to support, the former kind of socialism, in power or significantly influential, throughout the world today.

            There is even one case of needing to profess support for communism to donate sperm. Of course, the communist party today is really more fascist than communist, but the fact that most socialist countries seem eventually to turn fascist actually kind of supports that what people are really after is a big family, and if they can’t get workers of the world to unite, they’ll settle for the pure-blooded supporters of the Juche idea.

          • Murphy says:

            @onyomi

            Of whose failures do you generally find people are more tolerant, more willing to make excuses? Government programs and agencies or private companies?

            I suspect there’s a certain level of deontological something-or-other going on. When governments pull openly nazi-type-stuff people are happy to call them evil.

            but most of the time the “never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence” applies and people are very willing to believe in governmental organizational incompetence, and not because they love government.

            With companies when they do very evil things there’s a strong impression that some group of people sat around a board table and said things like “we can’t legally sell these HIV infected blood products in the US, our next quarter will be terrible and we’ll all lose our bonuses for failing to meet targets… so I’ve got an idea, we sell them in poorer countries to reduce the loss!”

            Companies are typically smaller, typically better coordinated and are organized as such that most major actions are the result of intentional decisions.

            Causing horrible outcomes through ignorance or incompetence is typically viewed as less bad than causing horrible outcomes so that the decision-maker could get a bigger yacht.

            It’s not the most logical under consequentialist or utilitarian ethics but most people don’t really follow those in their heart of heart.

    • rahien.din says:

      I really want to push back against the idea that people, generally, are naturally inclined to love socialism and be suspicious of capitalism. How are you coming to that idea? I know quite a few people who by their very nature have the opposite inclinations. Moreover, I have seen my two kids have each of those three types of interactions you describe, depending on the circumstance. And they are flesh-and-blood family.

      I also want to push back against the idea that people naturally find capitalism unnatural. Again, everyone has these “capitalist” sorts of interactions naturally, even in childhood. And in a broader sense, facultative biological mutualism is a relationship between mutually beneficial trading partners who have no obligation to one another (neither compassion, nor empathy) – this fulfills your definition of “capitalist,” and is perfectly natural. This occurs between animal species, and also between humans and animals (1, 2).

      Your three categories are good, but, I think it is overly-limiting to describe categories of persons. As above with my kids, these interactions are far more fluid, and are sensitive to a broader context.

      It could be more accurate to describe three types of emotional goods that an interaction may achieve : construction, allocation, and subjugation. Familial interactions are defined by the goal of constructing a co-environment. Capitalistic interactions are defined by the goal of maximizing one’s allocation. Antagonistic interactions are defined by the goal of subjugating the enemy.

    • Iain says:

      Socialism is the idea that we should all get together and make the best possible choices to allocate our resources, just like a family. Capitalism is the observation that this approach breaks down at scale.

      People naturally organize themselves along socialist-ish lines: in families, in friend groups, inside corporations, and so on. That’s because, at small scales, socialism basically works: it minimizes transaction costs, the resource-allocation problem is not so large that it can’t be realistically solved, and you can use social pressure to keep decision-makers accountable.

      It’s only once you move to a larger scale that markets / capitalism start to shine. You can no longer rely on long-standing relationships to keep transaction costs down. Resource allocation is more complicated. Social pressure is no longer enough to keep decision-makers in line, so you need a system that aligns their incentives with the greater good.

      But most people only experience that larger scale as a distant abstraction. In their day-to-day lives, they mostly face problems that are amenable to centralized solutions. It shouldn’t be surprising that the more familiar system arouses less suspicion.

      • christhenottopher says:

        I endorse the above but would just add a bit more specificity to this part:

        Capitalism is the observation that this approach breaks down at scale.

        Scale seems to be a proxy for what I’d suggest is better described as social cohesion (which is a combination of trust and relatively unified goals). Large scales make the levels of social cohesion necessary for “control the means of production” type socialism (“market economy welfare state with some regulation” socialism is a different matter) unfeasible without an artificially enforced social cohesion (aka totalitarian state control). However, small scale societies lacking social cohesion can still need market systems. David Graeber’s discussion of how barter existed between tribes, which were often still pretty small groups, is a good example.

        As social cohesion declines, market forces become more effective as market forces are probably best understood as a solution of how to work with those who you do not trust or who have widely divergent goals from you.

        All this being said…a pox on trying to explain and pathologize a particular political belief system when everyone on this blog should already know that everyone on all sides who delves into politics is at risk of being mind killed, there’s not a specific reason you need for that. And emphasizing how one’s opponents are mind killed in some special way seems like the fastest route to mind killing yourself. So again, a pox on this thread (besides Iain’s above good comment and anyone else poxing the thread).

        • albatross11 says:

          christhenotopher:

          I think Iain’s right that the problem with socialism/communism (at least in the simple model that works for families) is that it breaks down at scale. And you’re right that social cohesion makes a difference. But I think the difference is relatively small–you can’t do “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” well at even the scale of a decent-sized town for very long, even with substantial shared values and social cohesion.

          At a similar level, think about informal help provided by family and friends and fellow parishioners and such. This also is extremely valuable and works well in many cases, but it also tends to break down at larger scales, where you get social problems that don’t seem to be solvable by informal help, and need some kind of more organized response. And again, increased social cohesion can help, but you still hit those scaling problems sooner or later, and end up reinventing social welfare states or some other kind of formal process for providing help. (Maybe it’s charitable giving organized through a church, say, but there will be some kind of formal process and bureaucracy to make that work.)

          I think there’s an argument that goes back to Hayek that says that one reason communism/socialism are so appealing is that they work at the small scale at which most people live their lives and at which most people have lived historically. It just fails when you try to scale it up too far.

          • christhenottopher says:

            The Amish are a challenge to the scale-as-root-cause-of-non-market-economies-failure idea (and noting that they use capitalism in interactions with outsiders doesn’t help since even the Soviet Union did that). But getting the social cohesion necessary to get that to work is extremely difficult at larger scales. Scale increases the number of people you need to be on board with the program and decreases familiarity with other members. How scale destroys the non-capitalist system is through those mechanisms that are extremely difficult to overcome. And of course, capitalism works, and the non-capitalist systems that work at decent scales have significant draw backs. On an individual level there are a lot of restrictions to being Amish. And on a societal level, the Amish system has some pretty hard limits on what goals it can accomplish (we’d never have 7 billion people or go to the moon if everyone was Amish).

        • onyomi says:

          I did not pathologize socialists. In fact, quite the opposite: I’m saying support for socialism seems to be a very neurotypical position that comes naturally to people, while support for economic freedom feels somehow unnatural, and only appeals to weird INTJs, like myself.

      • Randy M says:

        Socialism is the idea that we should all get together and make the best possible choices to allocate our resources, just like a family. Capitalism is the observation that this approach breaks down at scale.

        Perhaps the relevant factor is that forced sharing works fine when the people you are forced to share with are those whose welfare you value near or above your own. As we infer from the thread about saving strangers, most of us here, and likely others even moreso, have a quite small population who fulfills this criteria.

        • Aapje says:

          Perhaps this is pretty logical for people whose personality tends to result in economic acceptance (good jobs) much more than social acceptance.

          More economic equality benefits those who are poor at earning money & good at playing social games and vice versa.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Socialism is the idea that we should all get together and make the best possible choices to allocate our resources, just like a family

        It is not at all. First of all there isn’t some universal agreement on what family is, for some its me, my wife and only people who sprang from her loins and eventually from their loins and for others it is every neglected kid in a 10 mile radius of their house. Within these categories there are an impenetrable number of combinations with indomitable men or women running families, matriarchs and patriarchs overseeing generations living in close proximity, partners who try to be as equal as possible, single parents etc, etc.

        This is small scale capitalism, individuals and groups trying to figure out how to handle all the stuff that happens in their lives. Do we support Bobby’s rehab or pretend he doesn’t exist anyone? Put Mom in a home or is someone devoting their lives to managing her decline? Socialism is the pretense that problems are knowable solvable and breaks down at the level of 2 people once they disagree.

        • Iain says:

          This is small scale capitalism, individuals and groups trying to figure out how to handle all the stuff that happens in their lives.

          And when those groups have to make decisions or allocate resources, how do they do so? Do they set up an internal free market structure to harness their individual self-interest to benefit the group? No, not normally. Instead, they have some form of semi-centralized decision-making process, and they come to a collective decision.

          Small scale capitalism is socialism.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Do they set up an internal free market structure to harness their individual self-interest to benefit the group?

            What does this mean? what is a free market structure to you?

            Small scale capitalism is socialism.

            No definitions of Socialism I have ever seen come remotely close to this. Examples from google

            a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

            a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.

            Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production,

          • rlms says:

            @baconbits9
            Google’s definition of capitalism is

            an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

            which doesn’t sound like something families do (whereas I think “a… theory of social organization that advocates that the means of… distribution and exchange should be… regulated by the community as a whole” does).

          • christhenottopher says:

            @baconbits9

            If you’re going to start a definitions debate you better have a strong reason for it. Is switching calling the kind of decision making a family does from socialism to capitalism change the point that different types of groups and interactions (particularly at different scales or levels of social cohesion) tend to produce different types of resource allocation processes? If not, then what’s the goal? To win for the term capitalism a type of resource allocation system the average person likes (aka how their close relatives allocate things)? To just deny that association to the term socialism?

            I think it’s worth having different terms to describe how people can use markets and trading to produce and allocate wealth, and to describe how people can use more general reciprocity and simple desire to help others to do the same. The later is more like how families tend to work and is closer to socialist ideals generally, but that any good free market system would allow without coercive efforts to stop it. So, I think it makes sense to say socialism is fine, good, and normal within groups with extremely strong social cohesion (almost always small scale) and capitalism is much better when interacting with outgroup people and strangers (almost always meaning everyone outside the close family/close friend group).

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ rlms

            The relevant distinction between capitalism and socialism is who gets to make the decisions. In a family the decisions to who joins and remains in the family are more closely done on the individual level. To put in terms of private property there are one or two people (typically) who get absolute veto power over who lives in the household, and there is a point at which individual decision trumps social decision. In socialism the group has final say by some mechanism, 3 kids (typically) don’t get to say to their 2 parents “we voted on it, and its cake and ice cream for dinner” and have it work out in their favor.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ christhenottopher

            Socialism as a political/economic system has specific flaws, and those flaws are far greater than ‘it doesn’t scale’. Even at a small scale turning all decision making over to groups instead of individuals causes major issues.

          • rlms says:

            @baconbits9
            You seem to be defining capitalism systems as those where individuals make decisions, rather than the entire group. But by that standard a non-capitalist country is impossible, since you can’t consult thousands of people every time you want to do something. You can define capitalism to include the USSR if you want, but that doesn’t seem very useful. Likewise, that definition doesn’t give a distinction between normally run families and companies, and companies and hypothetical families that use some artificial currency to allocate resources.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      What makes you think that people are wired to love socialism? Go to a subsistence farmer and tell him that you are re-appropriating his grain harvest for the greater good, and let me know how that goes.

      I think people have a rational fear of getting taken advantage of in a trade, and rationally fear massive institutions getting set up that systematically disadvantage them. Some of the advantages of capitalism are not intuitive and thus it really does look like middle-man traders are just scum getting rich off of not doing anything: this especially makes sense when you have little experience with markets in general because you are a subsistence farmer, and your life sucks, and you have no intellectual heritage which supports markets. This is totally different from my perspective as white American where markets bring me massive food and entertainment and I can see centuries of progress.

      But that peasant farmer isn’t going to have a much better opinion of “government,” which is really just the Emperor’s tax collector shaking you down for your hard coin or a roving band of the king’s knights that just “taxed” 50% of your grain and then “drafted” your oldest son into a lifetime of servitude.

      No, modern Americans might like socialism because they have a LONG experience with GOVERNMENT providing them good things, equal to the MARKET providing them good things. They are two sides of the same coin.

    • dndnrsn says:

      @onyomi

      A bit late to the party, but you seem to be modelling a socialism based on in-group family-feeling. Which seems a bit odd, as a significant number of socialists are strong internationalists. Even more so among anarchist/socialist types. I think you’re modelling a socialism that makes sense given your core values, but those aren’t necessarily the same values as socialists.

      The bulk of people under socialism, as under capitalism, just went along with whatever seemed strongest; they weren’t ideological warriors. Most people just want to get by.

    • onyomi says:

      To supplement the OP:

      If it simplifies things to abstract away from big, nebulous terms like “capitalism” and “socialism,” let’s try a different approach:

      Throughout world history, people hate traders. Why do they hate traders?

      It’s in the Bible, to say nothing of Europe’s long history of antisemitism, justified, in part, by the practice of usury. In traditional Han Chinese society, merchants come last in the hierarchy before hereditary debased classes like prostitutes and actors, after gentry, farmers, and craftsman.

      More from

      The earliest Hermes was god of the boundary stones, but he gradually became the god of the merchants, the professional boundary crossers. At the same time, he was not quite as respectable as the other gods – a messenger, but also a trickster and a thief, a marginal god for people who were marginal to Greek society. Plato himself disliked trade, which, like other professionals based on a search for profit, was hardly compatible with a life of virtue, as he understood it.

      McClosky wrote a whole giant series on the struggle for the Western European “bourgeois” to attain cultural respectability, and how that seems to correlate with the building of the modern world.

      I’m open to other reasons people hate traders: maybe because they are marginal boundary-crossers like in the above quote (though that would accord with my idea that people want you to be either ingroup or outgroup, not in between). Or maybe some think people are naturally hostile to traders but not naturally hostile to economic liberalism? But I’m not sure how that works. Hate the trader, love the trade?

      Put another way, given the historical success of trade, why aren’t we all Ferengi in our outlooks? I’m suggesting it’s because we still come from a place where the economic relationship of “not-friend-nor-foe but trading partner” seems unnatural to us.

      • skef says:

        Trader cliches tend to center around a person who lies to you, and more specifically falsely acts like they are on “your side”, in order to trick you into paying more something than you would otherwise. The stereotypical “used car salesman” is fake — someone straining against social norms to act a certain way an not quite managing it. (A sociopathic used car salesman would presumably do a better job, although he or she might have other disadvantages.)

        Your premise is that trade is a great positive force in the world, which I’m happy to accept. The central explanation for the beneficial aspects of markets is that they tend to be efficient. For markets to tend to be efficient, individual trades need to tend to be efficient. And for the latter, people dealing with traders need to mostly overcome their attempts to obtain unfair deals.

        So how about this: people hate traders because if they didn’t go into trades with that sense of antagonism, trades would tend to be inefficient. What you’re decrying on a social level is, given typical human psychology, a requirement for efficient trade.

        Earlier you said:

        Capitalism introduces a third category of person and puts almost everyone in the world into it: the category of potential mutually beneficial trading partners whom you’re neither obligated to take care of like family, nor towards whom you should feel default suspicion and enmity, like an enemy.

        But this statement ignores specialization. Trading is itself a trade — a model in which everyone just trades their own wares to people they know doesn’t scale. And it is those in that specialization that people are wary of in the way you point out.

        Of course, traders don’t follow quite the same conventions among themselves, and you wouldn’t expect them to.

        • onyomi says:

          So how about this: people hate traders because if they didn’t go into trades with that sense of antagonism, trades would tend to be inefficient.

          This may explain a lot of it and could ironically imply there is a “market failure” with respect to attitudes about markets: an adaptive attitude towards trade at the individual level leads to (what I consider) a maladaptive hostility to unregulated trade at the society level.

          • skef says:

            Of course, the extent to which negative feelings about trade are accounted for by negative feelings about traders depends on whether and how people are connecting the two.

            The trader that people hate is, at root, someone trying to exploit information asymmetries to the counter-party’s detriment: a “middle man”. Such asymmetries are hard to reduce, let alone avoid, without really good communication technology. (Commodification also helps, while creating its own issues.)

            Recent decades have greatly reduced the need for and impact of that kind of trade — where you have few purchase options and little information about comparative value. Amazon has a mini-market on almost every product page. One place you still see it, together with the negative attitudes, is the art market.

            I’m not convinced that there are now general anti-trade attitudes so much as anxiety and hatred around various substitutes for information asymmetry. I know people who hate going to supermarkets, but few people angry about them as institutions (unless it’s about differential pricing and availability and other SJ-adjacent issues). I know plenty of people angry at bank fee structures designed to exploit mistakes, and cable company scripts that exploit social conventions to lower cancellation rates. That stuff is not just offering a service for a fee, it’s set up to exploit a customer’s weaknesses and is a perfectly valid thing to be pissed about.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s also the case that many people are offended by the outcomes of markets w.r.t. wealth and status. This is the complaint that cops, schoolteachers, nurses, etc., are both doing extremely important work and are paid pretty poorly compared to rock stars, bond traders, tax attorneys, etc.

        • Civilis says:

          It’s in the Bible, to say nothing of Europe’s long history of antisemitism, justified, in part, by the practice of usury. In traditional Han Chinese society, merchants come last in the hierarchy before hereditary debased classes like prostitutes and actors, after gentry, farmers, and craftsman.

          Could it be that a lot of the hostility to merchants as a class is that the work involved in being a merchant isn’t as obvious (or as physical) as it is with a farmer, artisan, or factory worker (or the warrior class, as with China or Japan). It’s tied to the dislike for pencil pushers, and it’s gone down as more traditional labor has become more automated and more people have been pushed into managerial, clerical, and other white collar professions.

          A lot of the socialist and communist imagery ties into the ideal of the noble worker; the hammer and sickle is the symbol of the USSR for a reason. Whatever the actual Chinese economic practice amounts to, the official theories stress not opposition to the market, but that the market is controlled by the public via the state ownership of the means of production. This suggests that it’s not the idea of the market, but the idea of profit that socialists object to (even if you can’t really have a market without profit).

        • Iain says:

          Your premise is that trade is a great positive force in the world, which I’m happy to accept. The central explanation for the beneficial aspects of markets is that they tend to be efficient. For markets to tend to be efficient, individual trades need to tend to be efficient. And for the latter, people dealing with traders need to mostly overcome their attempts to obtain unfair deals.

          Yeah, this is important.

          The great triumph of the free market is that it doesn’t require people to act selflessly. Each person acts according to their own narrow interests, but the sum of their actions is positive sum.

          The great tragedy of the free market is that it encourages people to act selfishly. I can only trust the other party in a mercantile arrangement to the extent that I believe it’s in their best interest. Free markets don’t police themselves by magic. For cooperation to be the norm, defection has to be punished; for defection to be punished, people have to be paying close attention.

          (In a world of bounded rationality, “paying close attention” has costs. The goal of regulation is to centralize those costs in a trusted third party.)

      • rlms says:

        I don’t think traders are disliked in general, and any historical dislike can be attributed to them being outsiders. People dislike bankers for obvious reasons: paying your creditors feels bad because you don’t get anything in return.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          “any historical dislike”? Really? What about the Greek and Chinese examples in the comment you are replying to? Maybe they were money-lenders, although I think largely not, and that’s not what you said.

          • rlms says:

            I’m wildly speculating based gut instinct, so I may well be wrong, but I assume that the customers of historic merchants generally didn’t move around a lot, and thus would’ve had a small social network and had an instinctive dislike for anyone outside it (I claim this is an intrinsic part of human nature). I think the Greek example supports this.

    • Civilis says:

      I think another point is that discussions of capitalism explicitly acknowledge the issue of scarcity.

      A fair example of criticism of capitalism is to point out that we have people without enough food, and we have food going to waste, and so we should be able to take that excess food and give it to the people without enough food and solve the problem. Systems are inefficient, and the negative results of that inefficiency fall most heavily on the poor and marginalized. Capitalism only talks of markets, not social safety nets, so a capitalist has to acknowledge that if it were up to capitalism alone, the poor and most vulnerable would be left to starve in the event of a shortage. The best a capitalist can say is that markets mean cheaper and more plentiful goods for the charitable to support the poor and disadvantaged.

      The flip side of this is that socialist politicians around the world promise the poor and marginalized that they won’t let the whims of capitalism put them at risk of starvation or other forms of poverty, which sounds great to the poor and disadvantaged as well as those whose instincts are to have society guarantee some level of welfare for those groups. On the other hand, that guarantee is completely illusory, as at best socialist systems are no more efficient than the capitalist systems they replace, and if there are shortages, someone has to bear the impact. That can be the rich and “privileged” (or, more likely, the sections of the rich and privileged not aligned with the ruling socialist political class), which works until you run out of rich people, or it can be political or ethnic groups disfavored by the ruling class.

      • So if there are just those two distinct systems, and a big empty gap between them, there is no satisfactory answer.

        • Civilis says:

          As always, the real world implementations of principles end up being various shades of grey when the principles themselves are only expressible in black and white. Just as with Wrong Species’s question below, we want to argue in terms of 1 and ∞, when the result whenever we actually look at practice is somewhere in the middle.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I think you’re overthinking it. When capitalism is working well for people, they like capitalism. When capitalism stops working well for them, they start thinking the grass sure is greener in all those socialist European countries where nobody goes bankrupt if they get pneumonia.

    • People can be tribally inclined and rationally inclined as well. For some, being a socialist is a signal of loyalty to the working class. For others, socialism embodies the ethics of caring and sharing. (The ethics that most people.are.brought up on) For.ohers , the losers.under capitalism , the people without capital.or.marketable skills, it’s in their rational.self onyetest to support setting other than pure capitalism. Who votes for communists in former communist countries? Older people dependent on welfare.

  13. Atlas says:

    So, it’s been a little over a year since Trump assumed the office of the presidency. I haven’t been following politics as closely as I normally do over the past year, but I think it’s safe to say that president Trump has been relentlessly criticized by news and entertainment media as completely unfit for office, a catastrophe waiting to happen, et cetera. (I’m sure that I could find a bunch of citations if someone disagreed with this characterization, but I would have to imagine that most people on the left and the right would agree with it.)

    A level-headed example of this being “SSC Endorses Clinton, Johnson or Stein” (and its corollary “He Kept Us Out of War?”) Scott said:

    I think even people who expect Trump to be a better President on average will admit he’s a high-variance choice. … [Clinton] might do a bad job, but it’s hard to imagine a course where a Hillary presidency leads directly to the apocalypse, the fall of American democracy, et cetera…Trump isn’t a known quantity. Maybe he’ll kind of dodder around and be kind of funny while not changing much. Or maybe there will be some crisis and Trump will take what could have been a quickly-defused diplomatic incident and turn it into World War III. Remember also that it’s more likely the House and Senate both stay Republican than that they both switch to being Democrat. So if Hillary is elected, she’ll probably spend four years smashing her head against Congress; if Trump is elected, he will probably get a lot of what he wants.

    Okay, so I think that was the most rational and well-considered articulation of The Conventional Wisdom circa September 2016: Trump is a high-variance candidate who will get a lot of what he wants if he becomes president. It could even potentially lead to the apocalypse or the fall of American democracy or a terrifying increase in the cultural influence of Rick and Morty or something.

    Well, it looks like we’re living in the darkest timeline and Trump became president. So, can someone list all the actually materially bad policy or cultural changes that have happened under the dreaded Trump administration so far? Is it fair to say that so far we’ve actually avoided devolving into the Fallout/Mad Max post-nuclear apocalypse wasteland that some pundits thought would result from a Trump victory?

    Because, so far, it doesn’t seem to me like it’s been all that different from how a non-Trump Republican president would have governed, especially given the constraints imposed by the Senate’s ludicrous filibuster rules. If, like me, you tend to think that Republican policies are ill-advised, that’s still a bad thing. But it seems to me like there’s been a lot of hysteria directed at Trump that has more to do with his (admittedly unsavory) personal characteristics rather than his actual performance of his duties as president. And I’m wondering what more informed folks think that the wheat/chaff ratio of criticism of Trump is.

    Or: I think a lot about what Bane says at the end of the opening scene of the Dark Knight Rises: “Calm down, doctor. Now is not the time for fear. [pause] That comes later.”

    • toastengineer says:

      From someone who only follows this sort of stuff casually, yeah, it pretty much looks like as soon as he went in to office there was a loud *pop* and he suddenly became a perfectly average, perhaps a bit more socially progressive Republican. Or, rather, he was bullshitting the entire time to get elected.

      Tom Woods likes to say that whoever you vote for, you get John McCain.

      • Brad says:

        Domestically perhaps, but in terms of foreign policy, I don’t think John McCain is a good fit for that sentence. The guy never heard of a country he didn’t want to bomb. While Republican Presidents have certainly bombed their fair share of countries over the last several administrations, I think a President McCain would have been an outlier even amongst that group.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The only time I’ve voted for a Democrat in my entire life was Obama in ’08 because I didn’t want to bomb Iran. Now Obama set the rest of the middle east on fire, but at least he didn’t bomb Iran.

      • cassander says:

        I think you’re overstating how different Trump actually was from other republicans in manners other than style. But Brad’s point is well taken at how hawkish McCain was.

    • cassander says:

      Trump, to my great surprise, has proven downright heroic on de-regulation, at least so far. He’s did more de-regulating in his first few month (aided by the almost the first uses of the congressional review act in history) than bush did in 8, and there’s no end in sight. As someone who thinks the regulatory state is far more expensive and dangerous than the welfare state, this was far better policy than I could have hoped for.

      The tax cut was….fine. It wasn’t ideal, but it did skewer a few cows I thought too sacred to touch. Probably not any better or worse than any other republican would have done. Certainly better than what hillary would have done.

      The spending bill was expected. Sad, but expected, and, again, probably not any better or worse than any other republican would have done. Had hillary been president, the republican congress might have remained in opposition mode and actually insisted on cuts, but who knows.

      On foreign affairs, I’d say I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. Really, it’s too soon to tell, but trump seems to have settled on quietly letting assad win in syria, which is the best that can be hoped for, and we’re seeing promising things in korea. Granted, we’ve seen promising things there before and it’s come to naught, but we’ve gotten more chinese criticism of north korea than ever before, and that’s the real key. Still plenty of ways for things to go wrong, but the caterwauling of the “trump will start ww3” crowd seems to be fading.

      But it seems to me like there’s been a lot of hysteria directed at Trump that has more to do with his (admittedly unsavory) personal characteristics rather than his actual performance of his duties as president.

      Unquestionably, and this annoys me far more than is sensible.

      • fr8train_ssc says:

        Getting China to posture with us on Korea will be for naught if a trade war is escalated with them.

        As someone who thinks the regulatory state is far more expensive and dangerous than the welfare state, this was far better policy than I could have hoped for.

        And yet the administration and congress are trying to leverage a reduction in SNAP benefits and grow the bureaucracy resulting in no Farm Bill being passed, and increasing volatility in the ag. sector.

        • cassander says:

          One, the chinese can do more than posture vis a vis korea. Unlike us, they actually have leverage short of war and threatening war.

          Two, trade and korea can be separate issues on seperate tracks, like how the US was cooperating with Russia over iran while sanctioning them over Ukraine.

    • shakeddown says:

      I disagree – as far as I can tell the media is severely underselling just how bad he is.Obviously there’s a limit to how much any one man can damage the country, but he’s pretty much hit it. He’s passed the worst version of Republican policies (ridiculous tax cuts that are top-heavy and don’t cut any loopholes, cutting environmental protections and increasing civic asset forfeiture, etc) while also bringing his own unique brand of evil (diplomacy that isolates America, picking trade wars and protectionism, focusing on deporting non-criminals, PARDONING A MAN WHO RAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN AMERICA). Not to mention being a completely incompetent manager who consistently hires terrible managers to top posts and running the most corrupt administration since, well, at least WW2 (I heard teapot dome was pretty bad?).

      …so yeah, the media occasionally criticizes Trump, but they also occasionally praise him because they feel like they should be balanced rather than honest. The reality is much worse than his portrayal.

      • albatross11 says:

        It seems to me that there are three major dangers in Trump’s presidency.

        First, as best I can tell, Trump is pretty bad at actually being president. His administration is still constantly leaking, which suggests that he’s not getting a lot of personal loyalty from his staff, and which also means he’s probably not willing to have the kind of frank discussions he needs to have in order to benefit from his advisors’ experience and expertise. He’s had a huge amount of turnover at the top of his cabinet, and he pretty routinely contradicts his underlings on matters of policy in ways that look like some kind of major failure of communication or coordination. His underlings mostly don’t seem to be very loyal to him, nor he to them. All this adds up, to my mind, to a picture of the Trump white house being pretty messed up.

        This is probably not all that big a deal, unless we hit some crisis where we need good leadership from the top. But if we do, I am pretty skeptical that Trump and his administration are up for the job. Instead, it seems likely we’ll have more half-informed tweets contradicting the secretary of state, internal strife within the administration, and crappy leadership. I don’t know how likely it is that we’ll need such leadership–ISTM that a president usually gets one or two times that really need that in his time in office, but they’re distributed pretty randomly.

        Second, the combination of Trump’s personal characteristics and previous actions along with the reaction to that by the deep state types (DoJ, intelligence community, state dept) seem like they could lead to a situation where the deep state types end up deposing a president they really dislike. I worry about the precedent that sets for future presidents, and it seems to me that presidents were already very wary of crossing the deep state types. I don’t want to have the president convinced that he dares not oppose the intelligence agencies lest he suffer a mischief like the last guy did. This is a really terrible norm to establish.

        Third, it seems to me that Trump’s superpower is knocking down chunks of Chesterton’s fence–violating norms that were important for keeping our system of government working, but that weren’t actually written law. Things like threatening Bezos because he’s mad at the Washington Post’s coverage fall into this category–he didn’t break any laws doing that (though he might if he acted on his threats), but it’s a line no president should ever have crossed. Trump seems to do this kind of thing every few months.

        And finally, Trump seems optimized to keep people divided. Maybe this is just a symptom of the way social media and internet advertising work (outrage farming, getting your meme to go viral to get internet-famous or make some money), but it’s destructive as hell, and Trump delights in tossing another bucket of gasoline on those flames. He uses this as a tactic routinely, diverting all media attention to some inconsequential bit of outrage-theater instead of an important political or moral question. I wish we had a president who was pushing against this stuff instead of tossing gasoline on the fire. (And no, Hillary wasn’t going to be that president, even if she’d been elected.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          I worry about the precedent that sets for future presidents, and it seems to me that presidents were already very wary of crossing the deep state types.

          Then logically, rather than be upset that Trump is riling up the deep state types, you should be glad of that and hoping he wins his confrontations with them and knocks them down a peg. If it’s best that a president wouldn’t present the danger of being deposed by the deep state because they wouldn’t cross it in the first place, the deep state has already won.

          And finally, Trump seems optimized to keep people divided.

          Indeed. Better people divided than dissenters crushed.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Unless, you know, Trump is actually guilty. The Justice Department just went on record in court in Paul Manafort’s current court hearing over the legality of the investigation into him that the FBI officially investigated him because they suspect the Trump campaign was coordinating with the Russian government and Manafort was their back channel (and that they stumbled across a bunch of unrelated crimes looking into that).

            This isn’t a new thing to hear from the news, but as far as I know it’s the first official confirmation that the FBI really does think the collusion theory is real (or at least plausible enough for a real investigation with search warrants and raids).

            If you are worried about the power of the Deep State to cow presidents – and you probably should be – then the absolute worst case scenario is a President getting elected who is into stuff bad enough that he actually should be deposed by them. Because it makes it much more likely to happen, and still makes it easier for them to do it the next time, justified or not.

        • cassander says:

          First, as best I can tell, Trump is pretty bad at actually being president. His administration is still constantly leaking, which suggests that he’s not getting a lot of personal loyalty from his staff, and which also means he’s probably not willing to have the kind of frank discussions he needs to have in order to benefit from his advisors’ experience and expertise.

          this is a bit of a leap. Trump has accomplished a modest amount in his first term, and given that he’s never held elected office before, he’s almost certainly batting at least replacement. The leaking I feel has far more to do with the fact that every reporter in DC is running around the city desperate to buy lunch for anyone who’s ever been in a room with Trump and has anything vaguely negative to say.

          He’s had a huge amount of turnover at the top of his cabinet, and he pretty routinely contradicts his underlings on matters of policy in ways that look like some kind of major failure of communication or coordination

          .

          His turnover is high, not huge. And, again, this was inevitable. If it stays high over the next year or two, I will agree that there is a problem, but we’re not there yet. And I think it’s a mistake to confuse poor message discipline from a chronic impulsive tweeter to major communication failures.

          Second, the combination of Trump’s personal characteristics and previous actions along with the reaction to that by the deep state types (DoJ, intelligence community, state dept) seem like they could lead to a situation where the deep state types end up deposing a president they really dislike.

          I agree, but that’s a problem with our deep state, not trump. And in any case, Mark Felt already set that precedent.

          Third, it seems to me that Trump’s superpower is knocking down chunks of Chesterton’s fence–violating norms that were important for keeping our system of government working, but that weren’t actually written law. Things like threatening Bezos because he’s mad at the Washington Post’s coverage fall into this category–he didn’t break any laws doing that (though he might if he acted on his threats), but it’s a line no president should ever have crossed. Trump seems to do this kind of thing every few months.

          Trump is hardly the first president to publicly criticize his critics. FDR’s line “I welcome their hatred” has been an applause line for his supporters since it was uttered.

          I wish we had a president who was pushing against this stuff instead of tossing gasoline on the fire. (And no, Hillary wasn’t going to be that president, even if she’d been elected.)

          I agree, but Obama wasn’t that president either. Or Bush. And both of them were publicly, and I think genuinely, committed to being that sort of figure, at least at first.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with the high turnover rate. Remember, the man’s catch phrase is “you’re fired.” There is a style of management in which one recognizes that finding the right people to hire is hard, but firing people who aren’t the right person is easy. Just keep hiring and firing until the right people are in the jobs. This is uncommon in politics, though, because appointments are handed out as political favors rather than on merit.

            Trump hires people to do a job. If they don’t do the job, he fires them. If they complete the job…he fires them and brings in somebody else for the next job.

          • Iain says:

            His turnover is high, not huge.

            FiveThirtyEight looked at this.

            Trump lost two Cabinet-level positions in the first year (Priebus as Chief of Staff, and Price as HHS). Going back to Carter, no previous president had replaced a single Cabinet-level position so quickly. Tillerson is the first Secretary of State to leave during a president’s first term since Reagan. The list of lower-level positions is much longer. And it’s not showing signs of stopping: Scott Pruitt, for example, is comically corrupt, and would already have resigned in any normal administration.

          • mdet says:

            On the level of leaks from his administration; the number of people being fired / resigning both within the administration and among Congressional Republicans; the usually-anonymous stories about dysfunction, chaos, incompetence, and pettiness from the White House; and the poor message discipline / communication failures — cassander dismisses them saying that the media is just desperate for anyone in DC who will complain about Trump, and Conrad says “It’s all part of the plan”.

            What I want to know is, did conservative media have a similar level / kind of insider stories about the terribleness of the Obama Administration? If not, why? It seems to me like there was a similar demand among conservatives to hear negative things about Obama, so cassander’s “The supply is driven by the demand” doesn’t seem like a complete explanation to me. What are the differences between the conservative news media / Obama Admin vs liberal news / Trump Admin that could explain this?

            Trump hires people to do a job. If they don’t do the job, he fires them. If they complete the job…he fires them and brings in somebody else for the next job.

            Everyone I’ve ever spoken to in real life will say that it can take several months to a couple years to get into the swing of things at a new job, that it takes a while get used to the routine, to understand what your responsibilities are, to build relationships with your coworkers so you know how much you can rely on them, and to know what you’re doing well enough that you can perform at your best. A job in a presidential administration sounds *much* harder and more complicated than the everyday jobs the people I know work, but on the other hand, maybe someone who qualifies for a job in the White House is on a much higher level of competence and togetherness than anyone I know. So I’m skeptical of your explanation here (or, if your explanation of Trump’s rationale is correct, that this is a good sign).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What I want to know is, did conservative media have a similar level / kind of insider stories about the terribleness of the Obama Administration?

            Liberal media is much, much larger than conservative media. I’ve seen surveys of journalists where something like 90%+ of them vote Democrat. They were not interested in discrediting the administration they support. There’s also charity. If Obama yells at somebody, this is okay: he’s being tough but fair because he’s passionate about good government. If Trump yells at somebody, this is madness: he’s an unhinged lunatic who has no idea what he’s doing.

            Trump is a true outsider here. There is an established order. Whether in Bush’s white house or Obama’s, the white house staffers and the political appointments are married to producers at CNN and their Ivy League classmate chums are running NGOs or managing hedge funds on Wall Street, and in their careers they flit back and forth between government, media, finance, big business and academia. Former Clinton White House comms director turned ABC correspondent George Stephanopoulos had a gushing sit-down with former FBI director James Comey to flog his new book before Comey takes a job teaching “ethical leadership” next year at William & Mary. This is all just different parts of the same club talking to each other.

            The media is not usually the adversary of the government. The media is parts of the government, and the class of people who run the government talking to each other about how great they all are. They tackle tough issues, like whether “no person is illegal” or whether, as Jeb Bush said, “illegal immigration is an act of love.” Neocons and neolibs are all still pretty much Blue Tribe. Trump is not part of this club. The guy who says “build a wall and deport them all” is an outside context problem.

            Oh, and I said the hiring and firing was “part of the plan,” not the anonymous leaks about dysfunction or whatever. I treat the anonymous leaks as “epistemic status: extreme bias and deliberate lies.” I could call up Wolf Blitzer right now and say “I have an anonymous source familiar with the thinking of people close to those familiar with the thinking of individuals in the Trump administration who say Trump is a doody head” and this would be the lead story on the Situation Room because it’s exactly what they want to hear. So I ignore pretty much everything anyone says and just watch what they do. So far I very much like the things Trump does, and my only complaints are that I wish he could do more of it and faster.

          • mdet says:

            I am aware that the CNNs and the NYTs and the WaPo’s of America have both a liberal bias and an mainstream-establishment bias, and that since Obama was both and Trump is neither, those outlets will inevitably go easier on the former than the latter. That’s not what I asked.

            What I asked is — did Fox News and similar outlets have insider stories from Obama Admin staff members complaining about Obama’s job performance and the way Obama ran the White House? Because it seems to me like the people who run and watch Fox News had just as much desire and motive to criticize Obama as the people who run and read NYT have to criticize Trump. If these leaks ONLY happen because the NYT wants them to, then Fox should’ve been able to find similar stories about Obama, right? Or why not?

            And Re: “I could call up Wolf Blitzer with a leak and get it in The Situation Room by the end of the day”. Project Veritas tried that with bringing a fake Roy Moore accusation to the Washington Post and got caught. I’ll agree that these news outlets are probably more credible than they should be, but you exaggerate to say that they will literally publish any claim.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Assuming the anonymous sources are not simply made up, leaks about the Trump admin are coming from Obama holdovers who hate Trump far more than any Bush holdover hated Obama, or establishment-aligned Republicans who hate Trumpism. There simply was not this level of political division and polarization in 2009, and I think Rachel Maddow’s audience in 2017 hated Trump far more than Bill O’Reilly’s audience hated Obama in 2009. Agree or disagree?

            Does this answer the question? Everyone pretty much agrees our current political climate is the most toxic they have seen in their lives. Which means it wasn’t as bad at the start of the Obama administration, so of course we didn’t get as much bad-faith reporting.

            Oh, and if we’re talking about media telling their audiences things that confirm their prejudices, why would you think Fox News would be making up things about the Obama admin being “chaotic?” Wouldn’t they be making things up about Obama’s efforts to install Muslim socialism or something?

            And mdet, yes, of course my hypothetical was an exaggeration. It’s not that bad, but it is bad.

            ETA: part of this comment was in response to a comment by a user other than mdet that appears to have been deleted or eaten.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The claim that leaks are coming from disgruntled Obama-era bureaucrats might explain leaks coming out of the Justice Department, EPA, etc. They don’t have any Obama-era bureaucrats in the White House, though.

            Several of the journalists writing about these leaks have been pretty up front about where the leaks are coming from: White House officials trying to undercut each other in their internal power struggles. Various journalists have commented on there being basically a nonstop stream of leaks from Bannon, Kushner, Conway, and Priebus, all trying to make the others look bad, or argue their internal policy fights on TV as another way to get Trump on their side.

            (This would also fit with the leaks dying down quite a bit, although not stopping, as some of the most prolific leakers either got fired or lost some access once Kelly came in.)

            The other source that has been repeatedly cited for White House leaks is the president himself. He apparently spends hours most days calling a wide number of acquaintances on the phone and having long conversations where he talks about whatever is on his mind, and then some of them immediately turn around and tell others/the press.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ve seen reference to the disorder in Trump’s white house in conservative as well as liberal media, and from conservative as well as liberal political reporters. This isn’t just some kind of conspiracy of liberal media.

            One way to check how accurate the leaks have been is to look for when they gave testable predictions that were ultimately either right or wrong. I’d love to see someone do that analysis, but don’t know of anyone who has.

            The best story I can see for Trump is like this: Because Trump is an outsider to the Republican establishment, it’s much harder for him to find qualified people to take top-tier jobs in his administration. Combine that with his lack of previous political experience and his rather abrasive personal style, and that might be a good explanation for the high turnover of his administration.

            In this model, when a Republican comes to office, he’s normally got a deep bench from which to recruit members of his administration–think tanks, academic positions, journalistic jobs, etc. Trump doesn’t have so much of that–a large fraction of those folks don’t want to work with him. So he’s been forced to appoint a lot of people to cabinet level posts who wouldn’t normally have been considered for such senior positions. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them don’t work out and need to be moved on to make room for someone better.

            A second component to this is that Trump’s own history has probably made it harder to find people. Any member of the Republican establishment contemplating going all-in for Trump probably carefully considered the example of Chris Christie and decided to reconsider.

            I’m not convinced this explains all or even most of the chaos, but it *could*. If so, then over time, we should predict the cabinet to stabilize, as Trump finds people who can handle the jobs they’ve been given and with whom he can work.

        • Iain says:

          This seems mostly correct to me.

          Legislation goes through the legislative branch. Trump has shown little interest in policy details. The tax bill, for example, passed despite Trump’s involvement, not because of it — he couldn’t stick to a consistent position, and kept undermining his own side. He did the same thing during the debates on the healthcare bill and the immigration bill. Trump is unwilling to commit to a firm stance on any particular policy detail; he just wants to be able to take credit for a victory, but he frequently doesn’t seem to care what that victory entails.

          Instead of looking at legislation, it’s better to look at actions of the executive branch — cases where “good leadership from the top” is needed. Trump has not yet faced a major test. Where he has, he hasn’t done all that well — in particular, Puerto Rico deserves better than it got. There’s lots of blame to go around for that, but the buck stops at Trump, and he’s shown no interest in anything beyond photo ops and twitter fights with the mayor of San Juan.

        • Nornagest says:

          I agree with most of this, but I’m not sure about the Chesterton’s fence part. Trump clearly doesn’t have any understanding of or respect for the Executive Branch norms, and he blunders through them constantly, but I don’t know that that actually does much damage to said norms. We see the same sequence every time: Trump tweets something dumb, the usual talking heads lose their shit, we endure a couple news cycles’ worth of hand-wringing about the erosion of our democratic institutions, and then when the dust settles it turns out that there was never any realistic way to make the proposal happen.

          I’m not exactly happy that our norms are being preserved through sheer incompetence, but it’s probably better than the alternative. A Trump with a better understanding of politics and a broader base of institutional support — an Andrew Jackson, basically — could have done some real damage. But that’s not the Trump we got.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: that’s… an interesting observation. Andrew Jackson changed the norms of American government by appealing to a broad base of white voters fed up with their elites. And we generally believe these days that those things were bad.
            The thing is, our elites really do suck, and it’s hard to imagine a non-populist way of removing them other than a military coup.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t know. Everybody feels disenfranchised right now, but they all have a different reason for it — the traditionalist right because their norms are getting eaten by mass culture, private-sector labor because their economic status is getting eaten by globalization, the social-justice left because they feel like their recent gains are getting eroded away by resurgent nationalism and right-wing coalition politics, blacks and Hispanics because — among other things — of the racially charged rhetoric that’s starting to get thrown around. Gray Tribers because their entire cultural identity is based around getting stuffed into trash cans in middle school. I don’t think it’s possible to satisfy more than one or two of these groups at once in the current political landscape; their interests conflict too strongly, too many of their goals now boil down to “fuck the other guys”, and the Overton window’s too narrow to admit anything that might have a chance of flipping the board.

            It’s tempting to blame this on elites, but I don’t think the elites are driving. Every actual elite personage that I can identify — media, Deep State types, partisan flaks, corporate leaders — has picked their side, but they’re a lagging indicator, not a leading one. They aren’t guiding the culture, they’re just picking up cues from last year’s shitposts and amplifying.

            Great time for a Bavarian corporal to appear and fuck everything up for everyone, in other words. Trump isn’t that guy, but he’d never have gotten this far if there wasn’t a huge amount of frustration in the culture looking for an outlet. Hate to be this gloomy but I’m having trouble finding a happy note to end on.

          • cassander says:

            @Nornagest

            the social-justice left because they feel like their recent gains are getting eroded away by resurgent nationalism and right-wing coalition politics,

            but they aren’t actually being eroded. At most, further advancement is being slowed somewhat.

            blacks and Hispanics because — among other things — of the racially charged rhetoric that’s starting to get thrown around

            Again, they’re upset not because of an actual decline in material or social conditions, but because of rhetoric.

            I have little sympathy for winners who insist that they’re losing to rally the troops to the barricades in the culture war. Those people aren’t disenfranchised, and their refusal to admit that is driving a lot of the resentment of everyone else.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Everybody feels disenfranchised right now, but they all have a different reason for it

            Do they really? I feel like its the opposite, a small number of groups have an actual reason to feel disenfranchised but to get elected politicians are heavily pushing the disenfranchisement button. A lot of the SJW movement is “white people you got it sooooooooooooooo goooooooooooooooood, feel guilty for it and help out this disenfranchised group”. The left (in the US) has gotten to the point of billing themselves as solvers of major problems that they can’t campaign on ‘hey, the last 8 years went pretty great, didn’t they?’.

            In my amateurish, rear view, opinion there was quite a shift in 2000 when Gore ran pretty fast away from Clinton and couldn’t run on the ‘the last 8 years have been great, let’s keep it going!’ platform that worked for Bush 1.

          • Nornagest says:

            but they aren’t actually being eroded. At most, further advancement is being slowed somewhat.

            Perception is what matters here.

          • albatross11 says:

            cassander:

            Whether I *should* feel resentment about some change has very little to do with whether I *do* feel resentment about it. And telling me I shouldn’t feel resentment about it is guaranteed not to change my feelings any.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11

            If we’re at the point where pointing out the things that someone is upset about happening aren’t actually happening isn’t enough to convince them not to be upset about them, then all is truly lost.

          • Nornagest says:

            If we’re at the point where pointing out the things that someone is upset about happening aren’t actually happening isn’t enough to convince them not to be upset about them, then all is truly lost.

            Why don’t you try that, then, and tell me how it works out?

            Okay, sorry, that’s snarky. But you know as much as I do what would happen if you did, which is that your sources and motivations would come under fire — and that’s if you were lucky enough not to be dismissed out of hand. Telling people they’re upset over nothing is… rarely a good idea anyway, but it doesn’t have a chance if they don’t trust you, and trust across political boundaries is about as low as I’ve seen it in my lifetime.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nornagest

            An Upper Austrian lance-corporal, actually.

            Historical nitpicking aside: I think you’re right that a ton of people right now feel disenfranchised and so on, whether any individual group or person is or isn’t, for whatever reason or reasons. I get the impression that few feel like they’re winning, whoever they are.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think we are *often* at that point. Very commonly, there’s some big moral panic about something that’s not actually a serious problem and maybe isn’t even happening.

            Remember the crisis of racists burning down black churches in the South during the Clinton administration? It was a big moral panic and a big Teaching Moment for the media. Only, there wasn’t actually anything going on but the ordinary background level of church fires, most of which were probably insurance fraud arsons.

            How about the plague of strangers abducting children in order to sexually abuse them? Stranger Danger!! Oh, wait, that’s super rare and most abductions are child-custody disputes where nobody’s getting sexually abused. Child molesters mostly are adults in trusted positions.

            Or the grave risk of terrorist attack? Which turns out to be like killer furniture in terms of its danger to most Americans. But we still have a panic over it!

            Hell, how about the missile gap?

            A huge chunk of the issues that grab the headlines and eyeballs for a few months are nonsense. A lot of politics is driven by nonsense.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That’s hardly a new thing, though. Maybe each generation feels everything is falling apart.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I agree with ALL of this and had a similar post before the Internet ate it. The danger of Trump has never been the specific policies (to the extent he actually believes in any).

          It’s always been:
          1. Incompetent government leading to incompetent results.
          2. Setting up inter-governmental turf fights that end up being constitutional crises: I fear Mueller more than I fear Trump.
          3. Tearing down democratic norms that we need to maintain the actual democracy.
          4. Keeping partisanship flamed to unhealthy all-time highs.

          Even if Trump himself isn’t a total disaster, all this sets bad precedent for future Presidents. This is how you end up with President Kamacho ordering Secretary of Defense Kardashian to lead the Space Marines into the jungles of the Central African Republic to stop whatever stupid villain trended on Twitter that week. Oh, and none of the soldiers are vaccinated because the Secretary of Health was some random idiot who showed up on Dr. Oz last year and he doesn’t believe in vaccinations.

          Trump is a disaster. Though, IMO, he’s symptom more than cause, so just screaming at Trump doesn’t accomplish anything.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        We are definitely living in alternate universes.

      • cassander says:

        ridiculous tax cuts that are top-heavy and don’t cut any loopholes

        They dramatically limited two of the three largest tax exemptions, the SALT and homeowners deductions. This is, frankly, straight up wrong.

        diplomacy that isolates America

        asserting facts not in evidence.

        focusing on deporting non-criminals

        asserting facts not in evidence.

        PARDONING A MAN WHO RAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN AMERICA

        Is that seriously how you’re describing scooter libby? I was never a fan of the man, but this is a flagrantly dishonest representation of his case.

        …so yeah, the media occasionally criticizes Trump,

        I am fascinated by the planet you live on and would like to come visit it someday.

        • albatross11 says:

          How did Scooter Libby have anything to do with concentration camps in the US? Is this somehow about Gitmo?

          Whatever Libby’s involvement in US war crimes, he was actually convicted of revealing a covert agent’s identity as part of a pretty clearly politically-motivated prosecution. His sentence was commuted by Bush, but then he got the full pardon by Trump, right? (I guess this may have been Bolton’s influence?)

          • cassander says:

            I was assuming he was talking about Scooter Libby and something to with Gitmo or CIA interrogation sites. Nybbler and Eugene Dawn’s explanation of Arpaio makes much more sense

        • The Nybbler says:

          Is that seriously how you’re describing scooter libby? I was never a fan of the man, but this is a flagrantly dishonest representation of his case.

          I think he means Arpaio. Who is a blatantly corrupt and nasty son-of-a-bitch, but also did not run concentration camps by the conventional definition of the term. (He did apparently call his outdoor jail a “concentration camp”, however)

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          I’m not sure if you’re joking, pretending that the “concentration camp” remark must be about Libby, but just in case not, this is almost surely a reference to Joe Arpaio, who referred to his Tent City jail as a “concentration camp”.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which it really wasn’t, but signalling matters. If you go around saying “I’m Concentration Camp Guy! Because concentration camps are awesome!”, and then get yourself convicted of a federal crime because of how you went around filling that not-quite-really-a-concentration-camp, then you’ve made any pardon you might ask for into a public signal on the awesomeness of concentration camps.

          • cassander says:

            Libby was in the news more recently, and that’s where my mind went, assuming something to with Gitmo or CIA interrogation sites. I withdraw the point.

    • John Schilling says:

      So, can someone list all the actually materially bad policy or cultural changes that have happened under the dreaded Trump administration so far?

      Can someone list all the actually materially good policy or cultural changes that have happened under the glorious Trump administration so far?

      The only one that comes to mind, and rises above the Batman level, is the corporate tax law reform, but that has to be matched against the trillion-dolar deficit and I would count that, on the net, as pretty dreadful. And we’re talking about a president whose party has the support of both houses of congress, and of the supreme court on pretty much everything except immigrant-bashing. He should have accomplished more. Or, well, anything.

      The best that can be said of Trump, IMO, is that he isn’t as bad as expected because he is even more ineffectual than expected. Looking at the internal dynamics of the White House, we’ve got a wholly dysfunctional administration that won’t be able to rise to any challenges that may present themselves in the future, may collapse in a way that leads to distinctly negative policy or cultural changes, or may coalesce into something wholly unpredictable. The man is not up to the job; the job has just been uncharacteristically undemanding for the past year or so.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        He’s completely reshaped the federal courts, packing it with “Scalias all the way down.” By the time he’s done, about half of the federal judiciary will be Trump’s doing, and if you lean to the right, this is very good news.

        He also killed the TPP, nixed the Paris climate thingy, and is renegotiating NAFTA. Oh and once we stopped arming ISIS and bombed the shit out of them instead they dried up pretty quick, so that’s nice. He’s been holding our NATO allies’ feet to the fire, and they’re actually agreeing to meet their commitments, and I think that’s a plus. I’m glad it looks like we will not be going to war in Syria or against Russia. And who knows, fingers crossed, maybe Trump, Dennis Rodman, Moon Jae-In and Kim Jong Un can share the Nobel Peace Prize for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and ending the Korean War.

        About the only thing I’m disappointed in is progress on the wall, but I put the blame for that squarely on congress. I’m hoping Trump campaigns hard in the midterms for people who will support his legislative agenda.

        But that said, one of the reasons I really liked Trump’s campaign was because he seemed to actually know what the job of President was. About 90% of his proposals were things the executive branch of government is responsible for: trade treaties, deregulation, immigration enforcement, killing terrorists, etc. I always shook my head at Bernie Sanders railing about free college and stuff. He seemed to be running for King of the Legislature. That he’s going to get elected and then…yell at congress to pass laws. But Bernie, if you want free college…you’re already a sitting US Senator. You can write the law right now! I’m sure there’s some commie fellow traveler in the House who’ll introduce that half of the bill and there ya go!

        Anyway, I think Trump has done a lot, and a lot of good, but I think it’s interesting that you can find articles in the same publications that Trump is both entirely ineffective and also ruining the country with his disastrous policies.

        • The Nybbler says:

          And who knows, fingers crossed, maybe Trump, Dennis Rodman, Moon Jae-In and Kim Jong Un can share the Nobel Peace Prize for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and ending the Korean War.

          Only three people can share the prize so they’ll have to leave Trump off.

          (though the whole North Korea thing is going to fall apart as usual anyway)

        • John Schilling says:

          He also killed the TPP,

          The one that A: still exists and B: Trump is now asking to pretty-please let the US rejoin?

          nixed the Paris climate thingy,

          Which also still exists, which is nothing but nations voluntarily setting their own emissions targets with no enforcement, and which the US never ratified in the first place?

          and is renegotiating NAFTA.

          You might as well throw in the JCPOA (aka “Iran deal”) while you’re at it. Yes, it’s been a key part of the Trump platform since 2015 that he’s the master of the Art of the Deal and will negotiate better deals for us than any mere politician ever could. But so far, all he’s done is break deals and promise better ones in the future. Get back to me when he’s actually got a better deal in place, on any of these fronts.

          Oh and once we stopped arming ISIS and bombed the shit out of them instead they dried up pretty quick, so that’s nice.

          After bombing ISIS for about three years, mostly under President Obama, ISIS dried up pretty quick right about the time a bunch of powers conspicuously not including the United States sent their armies into Mosul and Raqqa. Trump deserves about as much credit for the decline and fall of ISIS as Jean Chrétien does for the decline and fall of Al Qaeda. OK, maybe Tony Blair.

          He’s completely reshaped the federal courts, packing it with “Scalias all the way down.”

          “Completely reshaped” is premature, but OK, heading in that direction. But if the defense of Trump’s record of Presidential achievement is that, with his party controlling the House and Senate, he appointed judges favorable to his party to fill available judicial vacancies, then I think the prosecution can safely rest.

          Too much of what you claim is still in the future, and too speculative and uncertain a future for me to be at all comfortable with his record to date.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            You know the “rejoining the TPP” thing was wishful thinking from Jeff Flake, right? We’re not joining TPP.

          • John Schilling says:

            Jeff Flake, John Thune, and Ben Sasse at minimum, and counting only Republican US Senators who personally witnessed and reported the event. And of course we’re not actually rejoining. That would require Trump either negotiate a better deal than Obama did, or admit he couldn’t negotiate a better deal than Obama did.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling says:

            It doesn’t require him to actually get a better deal, just enough gloss to be able to claim that he got such a deal.

      • SamChevre says:

        I’d actually consider the individual tax reform a major win (even though it’s bad for me: I’m a bit like the Pole wishing for the Mongols to invade here), and it will be hard to change back.

        • christhenottopher says:

          I’d agree the tax reform is probably a net win. The deficit impacts aren’t great, but that can be a debate over rates while even modest changes towards simplification should be warmly embraced. Paul Ryan probably deserves the primary credit for that, but Trump didn’t mess it up so that a plus.

    • David Shaffer says:

      So far, Trump has:

      Abandoned the TPP and started serious tensions over the threat of trade war with nearly all our partners.
      Pulled out of the Paris Accords, with both diplomatic and environmental fallout (though to be fair, the environmental problems are mostly in the future, and one could argue that it’s better to wait for a less costly solution to address climate change later, rather than taking costly measures now).
      Betrayed Israeli intelligence to Russia, quite possibly getting an asset killed, and certainly making our allies far more reluctant to share intel with us, including intel that could prevent terror attacks (seriously!).
      Made a point of downplaying NATO, not only straining our alliances but sending a message to Putin that Western deterrence is weakening-this is the kind of thing that starts world wars (still thankfully unlikely, but not unlikely enough)!
      Gone out of his way to threaten North Korea, including with “bloody nose” strikes (supposedly limited attacks that would likely still reignite the Korean War, and potentially pull China back in). The official line at the moment is detente, but there’s an extremely high chance that won’t last if the Trump-Kim summit goes ahead.
      Made a big deal about pulling out of Syria almost immediately, despite his generals saying that a premature withdrawal would risk our gains there (and this isn’t an Iraq-style “what gains?” situation; we’re doing vital work suppressing ISIS).

      tldr: our economy is weaker, our diplomatic influence is weaker, and while he hasn’t started an unnecessary war yet, he’s increased the odds of one by a disturbing degree.

      • cassander says:

        Pulled out of the Paris Accords, with both diplomatic and environmental fallout (though to be fair, the environmental problems are mostly in the future, and one could argue that it’s better to wait for a less costly solution to address climate change later, rather than taking costly measures now).

        The paris treaty was a non-binding agreement that most of the people who signed had zero intention of actually fulfilling in a serious way. It was a giant exercise in smug self congratulations and political posturing, and there is no meaningful fallout, diplomatic or environmental.

        Betrayed Israeli intelligence to Russia, quite possibly getting an asset killed, and certainly making our allies far more reluctant to share intel with us, including intel that could prevent terror attacks (seriously!).

        I believe that John Schilling has already spoken on this in the negative.

        Made a point of downplaying NATO, not only straining our alliances but sending a message to Putin that Western deterrence is weakening-this is the kind of thing that starts world wars (still thankfully unlikely, but not unlikely enough)!

        except our allies are re-dedicating themselves to nato, and increasing their military spending which is what trump wanted. So, the opposite of that.

        Gone out of his way to threaten North Korea, including with “bloody nose” strikes (supposedly limited attacks that would likely still reignite the Korean War, and potentially pull China back in). The official line at the moment is detente, but there’s an extremely high chance that won’t last if the Trump-Kim summit goes ahead.

        As I have said elsewhere, and we’re seeing promising things in korea. Granted, we’ve seen promising things there before and it’s come to naught, but we’ve gotten more chinese criticism of north korea than ever before, and that’s the real key. The way you get change in Korea is to credibly threaten the North Koreans enough that the Chinese put pressure on them to moderate their behavior. Trump seems to be achieving this. There’s still plenty of ways for it to go wrong, but assuming he’s just spinning from mess to mess is simply burying your head in the sand.

        Made a big deal about pulling out of Syria almost immediately, despite his generals saying that a premature withdrawal would risk our gains there (and this isn’t an Iraq-style “what gains?” situation; we’re doing vital work suppressing ISIS).

        This really takes the cake. What gains? Iraq in 2010 was at peace, the only democracy in the arab world, and a close ally of the US, and somewhere US troops were not conducting combat operations. Everything that was desired in 2003 had been achieved. It took a lot longer and cost a lot more than had been desired, but the gains were huge. Syria is a wartorn wasteland where we have zero interest in anything besides the war ending and the suppression of ISIS. You’ve precisely reversed the reality of the situation.

        These are talking points that have little basis in reality, not a serious examination that has gone on, and it’s what infuriates me most about the trump presidency. There are plenty of good arguments to be made against trump and what he’s doing, but these are not they. These are talking points with little basis in reality.

        • David Shaffer says:

          First things first, thanks for the response. And thank you for replying with actual arguments-after the Gupta flamewar, an honorable debate is refreshing.

          The paris treaty was a non-binding agreement that most of the people who signed had zero intention of actually fulfilling in a serious way. It was a giant exercise in smug self congratulations and political posturing, and there is no meaningful fallout, diplomatic or environmental.

          Sadly true in large part; it’s all too easy for nations to make noise about “working on climate change” without actually doing the work to address it. That said, if we can’t even stick with a partially-fictitious attempt to reduce carbon emissions, that bodes very poorly for actually lowering CO2 levels. And even if the entire treaty was purely smoke and mirrors (which I doubt, even if most nations probably don’t intent to fully honor it), pulling out still sends a needlessly hostile diplomatic signal. Wouldn’t that yield both diplomatic and environmental problems, albeit perhaps fewer than if the treaty was entirely in good faith?

          I believe that John Schilling has already spoken on this in the negative.

          Where? I tried to find Schilling’s comments on the subject, was was unable to do so.

          except our allies are re-dedicating themselves to nato, and increasing their military spending which is what trump wanted. So, the opposite of that.

          Increased NATO spending is potentially good, and you’re right, at least part of that appears to be a result of Trump’s rhetoric. However, he talked about abandoning the treaty entirely, and suggested that our allies increasing their spending (to be fair, increasing it to what they should have been spending under the treaty anyway) would potentially be a condition of American protection. Doesn’t that send a message of US unreliability, both to allies (who will hopefully be more likely to meet their NATO obligations, but may be less likely to trust the US in the future) and to the Russians? After all, Trump openly mused about potentially not stopping Russian aggression! That’s the sort of thing that incentivizes such aggression to occur. You are entirely correct that there was some good that came out of such rhetoric, however. I don’t consider it worth the increased risk of war and reduced American credibility, but you are correct that this helped increase NATO funding in Europe.

          As I have said elsewhere, and we’re seeing promising things in korea. Granted, we’ve seen promising things there before and it’s come to naught, but we’ve gotten more chinese criticism of north korea than ever before, and that’s the real key. The way you get change in Korea is to credibly threaten the North Koreans enough that the Chinese put pressure on them to moderate their behavior. Trump seems to be achieving this. There’s still plenty of ways for it to go wrong, but assuming he’s just spinning from mess to mess is simply burying your head in the sand.

          For much of 2017, Trump sounded as bellicose as Kim, or more so. Now, it’s possible that he was taking a page out of Nixon’s book, trying to sound unhinged to enable a more credible threat, while secretly remaining unwilling to start a war unless necessary and hoping that the pressure would lead the Chinese to act. We can certainly hope so! However, Trump’s rhetoric is similarly aggressive in virtually all areas, which suggests strongly that he simply favors a “they hit us, we hit back twice as hard” approach to negotiating, something which may work well for New York real estate deals (may, although there’s significant evidence he’s not actually a very effective businessman), but tends not to work in diplomacy. He also talked about a pre-preemptive strike on North Korea back in 2000; not a good sign unless he was planning almost two decades ahead to make his credible threat! We’ll know more after the upcoming summit with North Korea; if Trump actually gets a reasonable deal, that will be evidence for your theory.

          This really takes the cake. What gains? Iraq in 2010 was at peace, the only democracy in the arab world, and a close ally of the US, and somewhere US troops were not conducting combat operations. Everything that was desired in 2003 had been achieved. It took a lot longer and cost a lot more than had been desired, but the gains were huge. Syria is a wartorn wasteland where we have zero interest in anything besides the war ending and the suppression of ISIS. You’ve precisely reversed the reality of the situation.

          These are talking points that have little basis in reality, not a serious examination that has gone on, and it’s what infuriates me most about the trump presidency. There are plenty of good arguments to be made against trump and what he’s doing, but these are not they. These are talking points with little basis in reality.

          It is not clear that Iraq was in any way a threat before the invasion, so losing men and materiel overthrowing Saddam and getting caught up in the post-invasion chaos isn’t clearly in Western interests, and while removing Ba’athist tyranny might be viewed as a humanitarian intervention, the Iraqi civilian casualties were high enough to call this into question as well. One could argue for the Iraq War, but at least it doesn’t seem to be an obviously good idea.

          Syria is absolutely a wartorn wasteland, and it’s unclear if we will be able to accomplish anything other than suppressing ISIS. However, when a fanatic group proceeds to both murder its own people and launch attacks on the West, it would seem to be in both Western and humanitarian interests to weaken it as much as we can. You are absolutely correct that Syria is a worse situation than Iraq, but the question here isn’t what is a good situation, but what can be improved. Iraq in 2010 was moderately peaceful, but was it worth the death toll, given that we could have simply stayed out? By contrast, if we stay out of ISIS’s affairs, it will simply keep attacking.

          Does that explain some of these points’ basis in reality?

          • Randy M says:

            Iraq in 2010 was moderately peaceful, but was it worth the death toll, given that we could have simply stayed out? By contrast, if we stay out of ISIS’s affairs, it will simply keep attacking.

            Was ISIS more of a threat than Saddam’s Iraq was, if you count state violence against Iraqi dissidents & minorities and invasions when he thought he could get away with it? I remember a fairly strong humanitarian case was made for Iraq intervention, strong if you were wildly optimistic, anyway, but the potential gains were high in the optimistic Iraq war invasion as they are in the Syria peacekeeper scenario.

          • cassander says:

            Sadly true in large part; it’s all too easy for nations to make noise about “working on climate change” without actually doing the work to address it. That said, if we can’t even stick with a partially-fictitious attempt to reduce carbon emissions, that bodes very poorly for actually lowering CO2 levels. And even if the entire treaty was purely smoke and mirrors (which I doubt, even if most nations probably don’t intent to fully honor it), pulling out still sends a needlessly hostile diplomatic signal. Wouldn’t that yield both diplomatic and environmental problems, albeit perhaps fewer than if the treaty was entirely in good faith?

            One, a treaty that didn’t require environmental action can’t cause environmental problems by its elimination. Two, even if you accept that the treaty would have led to more in future (a point I will address later), it’s very different to say that his action might cause future issues than the claim that pulling out is causing to definite (but always vague), near term consequences.

            Three, more philosophically, I do not think Paris is an effective platform for change. In most countries, including the US, there is little willingness to undertake expensive, comprehensive climate mitigation efforts. This means that climate treaties either have to be modest or unenforceable. I think that if you want to achieve change in the long run, you have to find some small part of the world of energy where people can agree to enforceable, meaningful, measurable limits. Something like each nation to reducing the carbon intensity of its electrical grid a modest amount.

            An agreement like that won’t fix the climate, but it would be a way to establish precedents and institutions that could be built into something that could do so in future. Paris establishes nothing, it’s a giant exercise in self congratulation that builds nothing of substance.

            Increased NATO spending is potentially good, and you’re right, at least part of that appears to be a result of Trump’s rhetoric. However, he talked about abandoning the treaty entirely, and suggested that our allies increasing their spending (to be fair, increasing it to what they should have been spending under the treaty anyway) would potentially be a condition of American protection. Doesn’t that send a message of US unreliability, both to allies (who will hopefully be more likely to meet their NATO obligations, but may be less likely to trust the US in the future) and to the Russians? After all, Trump openly mused about potentially not stopping Russian aggression! That’s the sort of thing that incentivizes such aggression to occur. You are entirely correct that there was some good that came out of such rhetoric, however. I don’t consider it worth the increased risk of war and reduced American credibility, but you are correct that this helped increase NATO funding in Europe.

            I don’t think anyone would dispute that trump says things we wish he wouldn’t, and that this is not ideal, but it’s a far cry from that to “therefore he is making war more likely”. the reliability of the US as an ally is communicated far more by deeds than words, and I see no evidence that trump’s words have done much harm.

            However, Trump’s rhetoric is similarly aggressive in virtually all areas, which suggests strongly that he simply favors a “they hit us, we hit back twice as hard” approach to negotiating, something which may work well for New York real estate deals (may, although there’s significant evidence he’s not actually a very effective businessman), but tends not to work in diplomacy.

            It works well in some places, and not others. Korea is a place where I think it can work well. Whether trump is deliberately aping nixon or just being trump is irrelevant to me, I’m trying to evaluate the results of his actions, not his motives.

            He also talked about a pre-preemptive strike on North Korea back in 2000; not a good sign unless he was planning almost two decades ahead to make his credible threat! We’ll know more after the upcoming summit with North Korea; if Trump actually gets a reasonable deal, that will be evidence for your theory.

            I think digging through everything a compulsive talker like trump has ever said about anything isn’t a very useful exercise. But, again, it’s not necessarily a bad sign.

            It is not clear that Iraq was in any way a threat before the invasion, so losing men and materiel overthrowing Saddam and getting caught up in the post-invasion chaos isn’t clearly in Western interests, and while removing Ba’athist tyranny might be viewed as a humanitarian intervention, the Iraqi civilian casualties were high enough to call this into question as well. One could argue for the Iraq War, but at least it doesn’t seem to be an obviously good idea.

            It is very hard to make a case that the iraq war was not an enormous humanitarian win. Tens of thousands were dying every year in Iraq as Saddam used the oil for food money to build palaces and buy french missiles. Whether it was worth the cost is a tougher question, but by 2010, the cost had already been paid, the question was about whether obama would take an easy political win or preserve those hard won gains. He chose the easy win.

            Syria is absolutely a wartorn wasteland, and it’s unclear if we will be able to accomplish anything other than suppressing ISIS. However, when a fanatic group proceeds to both murder its own people and launch attacks on the West, it would seem to be in both Western and humanitarian interests to weaken it as much as we can.

            Saddam murdered more of his own people and launched far more attacks on the west than ISIS ever did. It’s hard to argue that ISIS requires intervention on humanitarian grounds, but that the multiple genocider saddam did not.

            You are absolutely correct that Syria is a worse situation than Iraq, but the question here isn’t what is a good situation, but what can be improved.

            I agree, but you immediately proceed to reject that question!

            Iraq in 2010 was moderately peaceful, but was it worth the death toll, given that we could have simply stayed out? By contrast, if we stay out of ISIS’s affairs, it will simply keep attacking.

            See, you’re not asking here what we could or couldn’t do in Iraq looking forward, but whether or not it was worth it looking back. Iraq in 2010 could have been kept far safer for an extremely small investment, but obama took the political win instead.

            Meanwhile with ISIS, you’re not asking “from the perspective of 2018, was what we spent on isis worth what we got?” you’re asking “what will happen if we act, or don’t, going forward?”

            I absolutely agree that the correct question is what change can we accomplish going forward, but you have to apply that standard consistently.

          • David Shaffer says:

            @Randy M

            The difference is that Iraq was mostly content to maintain a status quo that involved far fewer people dying than were lost in the post-invasion civil war, and did not appear to be interested in attacking anyone else (yes Desert Storm was a thing, but this was over ten years before, and Saddam appeared to have accepted a more passive foreign policy afterwards). As you say, a wildly optimistic invasion scenario removes Saddam’s cruelties while hoping that nothing worse is unleashed by the power vacuum; if we had managed something like this, the Iraq war would be fairly clearly positive. However, the situation we actually got was sufficiently bloody that it’s not clear that it improved matters.

            As for ISIS, they’re not content to maintain any sort of moderately-peaceable status quo. They launch attacks on the West as often as they can, and inflict utter horrors on their population much more frequently than Saddam. The potential downside of attacking them is quite similar to Iraq, but the cost of not doing so is far higher.

            I don’t want to argue that the Iraq war was wrong. It used to appear fairly obviously wrong to me, but in retrospect, there were some very good things that came out of it. I do want to argue, however, that ISIS is enough of a threat that even Iraq war opponents ought to support crushing the caliphate.

          • Nornagest says:

            Saddam murdered more of his own people and launched far more attacks on the west than ISIS ever did. It’s hard to argue that ISIS requires intervention on humanitarian grounds, but that the multiple genocider saddam did not.

            Half right. It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of attacks on the West, because Ba’athist Iraq was a different beast than ISIS: a pretty standard tinpot dictatorship vs. a very unusual model, sort of a polycentric terrorist franchise that congeals into a jihadi state when it gains local control. The Ba’athist relationship with terrorism in the West is pretty tenuous, though — its position on the State Department’s list of sponsors of terrorism came from its friendly relationship with Palestinian and Kurdish militant groups, not from actual state terrorist activity — so the question ultimately comes down to how many of those shootings and truck-ramming attacks by ISIS devotees we actually attribute to the organization. I think I’d probably give this one to ISIS.

            On the other hand, Saddam was likely responsible for far more deaths, both internally and through his involvement in the profoundly nasty Iran-Iraq War, than ISIS has been. Though he was at it for longer, and that comes with the caveat that we probably won’t have a good idea of the toll from the latter until the dust settles a bit in Syria.

          • cassander says:

            @normangast

            by Saddam’s attacks, I was thinking of the invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing kerfuffle, not ba’athist terrorism.

          • Nornagest says:

            He wasn’t picking a fight with the West there. He wanted Kuwait’s oil resources and a better port, and he thought the US and its allies weren’t going to defend it. He did have some reasons to think so (Kuwait had been a Soviet ally, for example); he was just wrong.

            The Scud missile strikes on Israel during the war are probably about as close as he ever came to an unprovoked attack on the West, though. (Israel was neutral in the Gulf War; Saddam was trying to draw them in, probably as a ploy to flip Saudi Arabia or other nearby Arab states or at least deny their territory to Coalition forces.)

          • pontifex says:

            I hate Trump as much as the next Grey Triber. But his foreign policy track record seems better than Obama’s.

            Pretty much all of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives ended in disaster. Remember the Pivot to Asia? Or the chemical weapons Red Line which Syria was never supposed to cross (until they did, with no consequences). The Arab spring and the intervention in Libya? TPP? The Russian invasion of Crimea? Our premature withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the subsequent mess?

            (The one possible exception: maybe the deal with Iran would have worked, if Trump hadn’t been elected?)

            We don’t have to worry about a belligerent Russia invading parts of the eastern bloc because that already happened under Obama, and earlier. We don’t have to worry about China using its navy to bully its neighbors because it has been for years.

            So far, I am cautiously optimistic about Trump’s foreign policy. He has so far kept us out of Syria. Our NATO allies are starting to take their defense budgets a little more seriously. Russia hasn’t annexed anyone yet, although the night is young, so to speak.

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty much all of Obama’s foreign policy initiatives ended in disaster.

            And pretty much all of Trump’s foreign policy initiatives haven’t even really started. Mostly they are still at the stage of promising a better deal to be negotiated in the future.

            How did Obama’s foreign policy look, in terms of actual demonstrated results, in April 2010?

          • pontifex says:

            How did Obama’s foreign policy look, in terms of actual demonstrated results, in April 2010?

            In April 2010, Obama’s foreign policy looked really good. He had already won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Hillary Clinton
            had already tried to press the reset button with Russia. The US was sick of Bush’s 8 years of war and was happy to turn inward for a while. We didn’t start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan until much later. ISIS and all that other stuff was also in the future.

            I certainly agree that it’s too early to judge Trump’s foreign policy. In fact, that’s kind of my whole point! A lot of the people who are saying that the sky is falling today were also extremely enthusiastic about Obama’s foreign policy in 2010.

            I think both Obama and Trump had difficult hands to play. Bush’s disastrous wars of choice in the middle east made us look impotent on the world stage, and the other great powers definitely took notice. China has been catching up with us economically for a long time, and may even surpass us in some ways. Russia is led by a far-right psychopath who wants to even the score.

            The correct approach is probably a Machiavellian blend of Obama’s peace and love propaganda, combined with Trump’s cynical and transactional world view. But it’s not likely that we’re going to get that any time soon, so we have to settle with what we got in this timeline. Let’s hope he doesn’t do anything stupider than usual.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Ha, I’d describe Obama’s FP as weak-willed more than lovey-dovey. Lovey-dovey was the marketing campaign: the Obama administration was still big on the drone war, supported Saudi Arabia throughout the Arab Spring, and didn’t cut ties to Mubarak until basically forced (and even then, we were a lot cozier with the military than the democratically elected wanna-be dictators in the MB).

            I don’t think any post Cold War President has a bad hand compared to any Cold War President. The security situation is dramatically less complicated and a lot of the decisions are easier, with lower stakes. The only real sticking point is North Korea specifically because of the issue of non-proliferation, but we have a LOT more international support on that issue than people think.

            Most Presidents that screw up are screwing up because they have ideological intuitions that deeply mislead them, IMO. Bush’s Freedom Tour, Trump’s America First, Obama’s America-non-exceptional.

          • David Shaffer says:

            @cassander

            I don’t think anyone would dispute that trump says things we wish he wouldn’t, and that this is not ideal, but it’s a far cry from that to “therefore he is making war more likely”. the reliability of the US as an ally is communicated far more by deeds than words, and I see no evidence that trump’s words have done much harm.

            It’s an old saying that talk is cheap, but it’s worth looking at why. It’s fairly common to claim that you will help when you won’t, as this is a low cost way of signaling support and trying to build goodwill. When a potential ally is long on lip service and short on actual aid, you’re right, deeds matter far more than words. On the other hand, claiming that you won’t help doesn’t build goodwill (except with Russia?); the only point of doing so is to send a more standoffish signal. The result is that people may not care about nice words unless backed up by action, but they’ll absolutely care about harsh ones! This is a genuine diplomatic problem.

            It works well in some places, and not others. Korea is a place where I think it can work well. Whether trump is deliberately aping nixon or just being trump is irrelevant to me, I’m trying to evaluate the results of his actions, not his motives… I think digging through everything a compulsive talker like trump has ever said about anything isn’t a very useful exercise. But, again, it’s not necessarily a bad sign.

            You’re right that Trump’s motives here matter only insofar as they predict his behavior. But what is that behavior? Literally sending “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” taunts, ramping tensions up to the point that when he tweeted that he had a huge military announcement (which turned out to be a ban on transgender service), many of his commanders thought he was about to declare war! In what world is that not dangerous against a nuclear-armed adversary? And this is where motivation becomes useful as a predictor-if Trump is deliberately using Nixon-style madman theory, and the bellicosity is a bluff, one might expect a peaceful outcome, even a positive one. If he’s “just being Trump”, things get a lot more dangerous.

            And as for calling for a preemptive strike on North Korea 18 years ago, this wasn’t an off the cuff remark (everyone makes plenty of those, and occasionally says something truly foolish; Trump would be in no way unique in that regard), this was in the book The America We Deserve. The only way that can not be a bad sign is if you think he’s changed his mind (not much evidence of that), or if you think that willingness to strike the North is a good thing (perhaps, if we could clear out the Kims’ tyranny relatively safety, but expected casualties from such a war are absurdly high).

          • cassander says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Ha, I’d describe Obama’s FP as weak-willed more than lovey-dovey. Lovey-dovey was the marketing campaign:

            I’d agree, but not for exactly the reasons you give. the administration seem genuinely non-interventionist in instinct, but they were never willing to actually stick to that when there was political pressure to intervene, so we ended up getting a lot of half baked intervention. Throwing gaddafi under the bus, a pivot to asia that never really manifested in anything concrete, half-assing FONOPS, having the saudis take the lead in yemen, and more.

            I don’t think any post Cold War President has a bad hand compared to any Cold War President. The security situation is dramatically less complicated and a lot of the decisions are easier, with lower stakes.

            Lower stakes, but not less complicated. Powerful enemies are not good things to have, but they do clarify matters. American presidents during the cold war didn’t really have to ask what the point of their foreign policy was, it was obvious, keep the ruskies in their place. Goals today are far more nebulous.

            Bush’s freedom tour, however poorly implemented, was at least a coherent strategy. Obama’s “don’t do stupid shit”, amended in practice with “unless they keep asking.” wasn’t even that.

            @David Shaffer says:

            It’s an old saying that talk is cheap, but it’s worth looking at why.

            European countries don’t want to spend more on defense. The only way to get them to spend more is to badger them into doing it. Trump’s vague handwavy comments, particularly if they’re accompanied by more nuanced communication in private, are not bad way to go about said badgering. Being nice to people is not how one does diplomacy, and it certainly isn’t the point of diplomacy. We are not trying to build good will, we are trying to get countries to do what we want them to do, and sometimes saying mean things about them is a way to do that.

            More than that, though, it would be one thing if the criticism of trump was “I don’t think badgering NATO allies on twitter will induce them to increase defense spending.” That’s not what I hear though. What I hear is “through ignorance and malice, Trump is destroying the foundations of American influence… [he] is ending the Pax Americana and helping to usher in either a Chinese Century or a new global disorder where there is no international law and life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”” That’s not a line I made up, that’s literally straight from Foreign Policy I loathe pearl clutching and this insanely hyperbolic overaction to what he is doing drives me insane.

            You’re right that Trump’s motives here matter only insofar as they predict his behavior. But what is that behavior? Literally sending “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” taunts, ramping tensions up to the point that when he tweeted that he had a huge military announcement (which turned out to be a ban on transgender service),

            This is a critique of style, not substance.

            many of his commanders thought he was about to declare war!

            No, they didn’t. War is not just declared. The president can’t blow up an outhouse without hundreds of people and dozens of layers of the chain of command getting involved in planning and executing the mission.

            In what world is that not dangerous against a nuclear-armed adversary?

            the danger comes from having a nuclear armed adversary, not in saying mean things about him on twitter.

            The only way that can not be a bad sign is if you think he’s changed his mind (not much evidence of that), or if you think that willingness to strike the North is a good thing (perhaps, if we could clear out the Kims’ tyranny relatively safety, but expected casualties from such a war are absurdly high).

            You have a very large number of assumptions baked into this. One, what do you mean by first strike? Because you seem to be using it at a synonym for something like “the 8th army occupies North korea, Iraq style.” That is not what first strike means. Two, of course striking korea should be “on the table”. It’s almost always foolish to take things off the table. There are absolutely times and circumstances when attacking korea (either in the sense of actually invading, but far more likely air strikes) is the correct option. Pretending like this isn’t the case is more pearl clutching. Trump being willing to do that isn’t a bad sign, but the opposite.

            And really, that’s the problem I have with so much criticism of trump. Trump tweets “fire and fury” and everyone loses their mind, acting as if nuclear first strike hasn’t been american policy for as long as we’ve had nukes, as if his predecessors haven’t used similar language, as if one day he’s just going to wander into the oval office and attack Korea because he’s bored. And the objection is not just stylistic. People flipping out over trump calling haiti a shithole in a private meeting drowns out meaningful criticism of him and inures people to outrage. People like to talk about trump coarsening the dialogue, or engaging in toxic politics, but nothing he has done in this regard comes anywhere close to the damage done by critics who have lost all sense of perspective.

          • Nornagest says:

            acting as if nuclear first strike hasn’t been american policy for as long as we’ve had nukes

            This is roughly true, but it might clarify some stuff to talk about what nuclear policy has been and why.

            Soviet policy during the Cold War was “no first use”, but that’s not because they were peace-loving or unaggressive: it’s because they were perceived to enjoy conventional superiority on land and air for most of that era (the US had the more powerful navy), and so didn’t need to threaten nuclear war to get what they wanted in a European conflict. NATO strategy, meanwhile, assumed that a conventional invasion of Western Europe could not be reliably stopped without use of nuclear weapons, and therefore advertised that they were willing to commit to a first use in order to deter such an invasion. More recently, Russia has dropped its no-first-use commitments for a similar reason: without its Cold War client states and facing serious financial issues, it now perceives itself to be conventionally inferior to its rivals, and to need a nuclear option for credible deterrence.

            For obvious reasons, this kind of thinking wouldn’t make sense for the United States vs. North Korea.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the average president makes a fair number of dumb foreign policy decisions that mostly don’t blow up in his face because the US is very wealthy and very powerful, and so we can absorb a lot of dumb decisions and bad implementations of reasonable policies without it costing us much.

            I think each of these dumb decisions is like a kind of inverse lottery ticket–most likely, it won’t hurt us that much besides the wasted money, but once in awhile, things line up in such a way that we do ourselves huge damage.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            More recently, Russia has dropped its no-first-use commitments for a similar reason: without its Cold War client states and facing serious financial issues, it now perceives itself to be conventionally inferior to its rivals, and to need a nuclear option for credible deterrence.

            That’s a really sad fact. I utterly loathe Communism and I still think “If you invade West Germany, we launch a nuclear first strike” would have been worse/led to more deaths than Communist occupation.
            It totally makes sense that “no first strike” is only an ephemeral policy dependent on the size of the nuclear power’s military budget. :/

          • David Shaffer says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Of course launching a nuclear first strike would have been worse than the communist occupation of West Germany. That’s the entire point of NATO. Specifically, without a Schelling point and firm commitment to respond, the West loses to the Soviets because the East invades a small area. It’s better to let it go than fight, so they take another one. And so on, until Europe has fallen, and we’re saying “Eh, it’s okay if the Red Army invades Maine, we still have 49 states and it’s better than a nuclear first strike.” Breaking one’s goals into small pieces that are each individually too small to be worth an opponent’s response is a well known strategy known as “salami slicing” in game theory. The point of American policy at the time was to prevent this by saying that even if West Germany wasn’t worth defending by itself, once the Schelling point against invasion is breached, it will never stop there, and so we still need to defend West Germany.

            @cassander

            the danger comes from having a nuclear armed adversary, not in saying mean things about him on twitter.

            Does that mean that international tensions are irrelevant? Because if not, of course it matters what you say. Much of your defense of the president appears based on the idea that his style may be coarse or objectionable, but his substance is solid, and obviously substance trumps style (no pun intended). The problem is that a lot of national power comes from reputational effects, and these are very much affected by “style.”

            For instance, before the German invasion of Poland, the British warned Hitler they would fight to defend it. Unfortunately, Hitler misinterpreted the polite language of the letter as conciliatory, a sort of “wink and a nudge” go ahead to invade. In this case, Britain might have benefited greatly from a more aggressive style (you’re absolutely correct that good diplomacy isn’t always about playing nice!), even if the substance of the communication was unchanged.

            Signalling games have a bad reputation around here, and for good reason-they’re frequently extremely costly, and they often do nothing but stroke people’s egos! But in international relations, signalling becomes a crucial way of avoiding wars, setting up beneficial treaties and trade agreements, and generally advancing national and global interests.

  14. Kestrellius says:

    Hi, everybody. I’d like to ask for you guys’ help with something.

    So, I’m writing a book. It’s a fantasy story about giant self-aware flying hermaphrodite slugs with two brains. The notion is loosely based on bicameral theory.

    One of these brains is called the concrete brain. It’s the main one — it evolved first, it receives all direct sensory input, and it controls basically all body functions. It’s heavily instinct-based, and doesn’t exactly qualify for self-awareness as we would understand it, mostly because it doesn’t have access to long-term memory. It can only remember things for hours at most. It’s also pretty much completely incapable of comprehending anything non-literal or symbolic. It is, however, excellent at mathematics.

    The other is the abstract brain. It’s located above and behind the concrete brain, and evolved later. It governs long-term planning and non-literal thought. It has full access to long-term memory — as such, it’s aware of any information the concrete brain decides it wants to remember, which is most things it actively perceives. It can communicate with the concrete brain by inducing visual hallucinations.

    Now. My original plan was to write the story in standard third-person limited, treating the protagonist’s two brains as separate characters. (Protag is named Tunri. Its concrete brain is Tunri-vol and is considered female, and its abstract is Tunri-edda, male.) Then I read a (very good) book called Blindsight, which is basically P-zombie propaganda and posits that if the non-conscious processes of the human brain were conscious, they would regard the “I” as an incompetent boss, and for them, the statement “I do not exist” would simply mean “that thing giving us orders is gone”.

    I don’t really agree with this assessment, but it did make me think: if Tunri-vol were conversing with Tunri-edda — which she does quite regularly throughout the story — she wouldn’t refer to him by his name. She would refer to him, in the third person, as “I”.

    And then I thought, “Hey, this would be a great way to fuck with my readers!”

    So now my plan is to tell the story in first-person and third-person simultaneously, with Tunri-edda, the abstract brain, as the real narrator — but able to narrate Tunri-vol’s internal thoughts in third-person, because he has access to anything she puts into memory.

    However, this puts me in a bit of a bind, because of the opening line I want to use. My research on anterograde amnesia led me to discover Clive Wearing, a man with no ability to remember the past and no ability to form new memories for more than a few minutes. As a result, he constantly recorded in his diary the moment at which he “really” became aware:

    8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
    9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
    9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.
    (from Wikipedia)

    So. My opening line was going to be:

    Now, Tunri-vol thought, I am truly and completely awake.

    The issue is that Tunri-vol shouldn’t be referring to herself as “I”, or as anything at all. The only alternative I can think of is an awkward workaround like “true and complete wakefulness has come”, but that doesn’t work as well as I’d like.

    So. This seems like the sort of thing you guys would find interesting, and I thought maybe you’d have some ideas.

    I apologize for the possibly unnecessary degree of detail in this post, by the way — for some reason I like to explain the trains of thought that led me to certain conclusions, I guess for extra clarity. I figured that it would be more accepted here than most places, at least.

    Anyway. Thanks!

    • Aapje says:

      Can’t you start the book with a conversation between the two brains, like so? :

      Tunri-vol: I am truly and completely awake.
      Tunri-edda: Thank you for waking me…

      • Kestrellius says:

        That is a good idea, and actually I can incorporate it into the reason why I can’t use it outright. What I want to do is use the PoV-fuckery as an early reveal — we start out in third person, and it’s not until several pages in that it becomes clear there’s actually another narrator framing the first one. If I can do it properly, it’ll be exactly the sort of “completely reframing the narrative” moment that I love. If I screw it up it’ll be a disaster, but that’s pretty much true of everything about this story.

        But maybe I can perform that reveal by having Tunri-vol refer to “I”, and then have “I” respond as the narrator.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      If Tunri-vol is conscious, but doesn’t doesn’t have an “I”, apart from the external one, you might want to write its experience as a stream of consciousness.

      Your problem seems to be that you cling to the concrete formulation by Clive Wearing. That’ll have to go.

      Alternatively, you forget about the idea that Tunri-vol has Tunri-edda as “I”. That doesn’t make too much sense to me anyway.

      • Kestrellius says:

        Your problem seems to be that you cling to the concrete formulation by Clive Wearing. That’ll have to go.

        Yeah, you’re probably right. I was mostly just fond of it because opening lines are both important and hard (at least for me), and here I had one pre-made for me. Though admittedly I had some concerns about it anyway, because it doesn’t sum up the themes of the story to the degree I’d prefer.

        • beleester says:

          Clive Wearing says “I am awake now” because he knows he should have long-term experiences, and if he doesn’t have any previous memories, the logical conclusion is that he’s only just woken up from a coma or something.

          Tunri-Vol doesn’t have a sense of self – if she doesn’t have any previous memories, everything is functioning as it should. “I am awake” means “Tunri-Edda has woken up and has started issuing orders again.”

          Actually, does Tunri-Vol sleep at all? Or does she represent the parts of the brain that never stop running, like your brain stem? Maybe “waking up” means that Tunri-Vol goes through her morning routine, getting out of bed and stumbling around like an automaton, and then at some point she says “Time to wake the boss up,” and Tunri-Edda comes in with “I woke up.” And then we realize that Vol’s not simply half-asleep, she’s never really “awake” to begin with.

          Possible opening line: “Tunri-Vol woke up first, like she always did.”

          • Kestrellius says:

            It’s actually the other way around. Tunri-vol sleeps, and edda stays conscious and hallucinates. It’s…there’s kind of a lot of weirdness caused by me trying to merge the “left/right brain” duality with the “brain-stem/higher-functions” duality.

            Like, I’m also planning to do this thing where — so, at the start of the story Tunri-vol gains the ability to form long-term memories, and over the course of the book she’s interacting with Tunri-edda and trying to form her identity — she has to learn to be self-aware, basically. And one of the contrasts between them is that edda, like all the concrete brains, is super prone to magical thinking and loose associations, whereas vol is fixated on moment-to-moment causality and doesn’t really understand the idea of the supernatural.

            So they’re interacting, and Tunri-edda is trying to explain how the world works, and vol is just like “what the fuck do you mean the ship’s not moving because the wind decided not to favor us today? How does this actually work? What caused it?” And she’s unsatisfied with non-materialistic answers, and between them they sort of figure out the scientific method. But you would generally associate magical thinking with the primitive or instinctual parts of the brain, and scientific thought with the higher functions, so there’s a bit of a disconnect and I’m going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

            That was a bit of a tangent, but I just wanted to explain some of the thematic oddness that’s resulted from trying to fuse these different ideas together.

            You’re right about Wearing knowing something’s wrong, but…I’m not sure how far I want to go with it yet, but in the past, this species had its brain far more unified. Then the environment changed, having a split brain became more advantageous, and their civilization collapsed as a result. So there’s sort of this sense that things aren’t supposed to be the way they are, but I’m not sure if I want to go full ancestral-memory instinctive-knowledge-of-the-distant-past or not.

            I really like the idea of having Tunri-edda be asleep until a certain point, though. That’s very interesting — like, if the first part of the story was edda basically reading vol’s memory dump of what happened before he reconnected to her brain.

  15. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://siderea.dreamwidth.org/1409042.html#cutid1

    A major essay which starts with the problem that a lot of people assume that when she talks about writing being difficult, she’s suffering from perfectionism and needs encouragement.

    In fact, she’s trying to write explanations of things which are hard to understand. She thinks in three– sometimes four– dimensional networks, and making those ideas comprehensible means finding a one-dimensional path that people can follow.

    It’s plausible that a lot of the “let it flow” advice is more appropriate for fiction writers than non-fiction writers.

    This leads into finding out that her mental capacity (as shown by ability at flash games that she plays during breaks) varies a lot and matters a lot. Doing writing at the level she wants to means that her food, sleep, health, emotional state, etc. matter a lot, and she needs to give herself the sort of care a serious athlete does, even though self-care for sports gets more respect than self-care for writing.

    This is just an incomplete list of topics. I haven’t read all the comments yet, but they include discussion of what to do when you don’t have your A game available.

    • Nick says:

      This is a nice essay. I particularly like the part you highlighted, about trying to find a path people can follow through a whole network of concepts. I’ve definitely run into this, and it’s frustrating.

      To take an example, since I’ve been kind of wanting to rant about this anyway, I’ve been working on a summary of Natural Goodness by Philippa Foot. It’s not even a review, mind you; I’m just looking to get all the key concepts and relate them logically, so that a reader can understand how one arrives at the view of morality she does. This has turned out to be harder than I expected, even having extensive notes of the book and rereading each chapter a few times to get more of it in my head. I don’t know to what extent Foot’s to blame here, not writing a lucid enough book, and to what extent it’s just me not getting it. My primary concern for a while has been that I don’t think the order she discusses things is the order they need to be understood in, but because she doesn’t do it right I’m having trouble deciding how to do it instead. I’d like to move the discussion of practical reason entirely into the later chapters, but she doesn’t let me because she talks about it so much early on! And I’d like to move all the discussion of immorality to the end, where there’s a whole chapter about it, even though it’s discussed some in the middle—my original notes are structured by chapter, so the summary was to be structured by chapter, but maybe it shouldn’t be? And supposing I made these changes, I then need context relating the later practical reason discussion to the earlier, because the two are related, and same with immorality. And now I’m not sure I’m any better off than I was.

      It’s frustrating, is all I’m trying to say. She’s right that writing takes one’s A game. I’m not sure I can do it at all.

    • Kestrellius says:

      She thinks in three– sometimes four– dimensional networks, and making those ideas comprehensible means finding a one-dimensional path that people can follow.

      Oh, man, do I know how that feels. I think it’s why I’m bad at writing forum posts. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      I think “let it flow” might still be valid advice, though. Even if you end up with an incomprehensible mess on your first draft, you still have tangible things on paper now, and you can move them around and see what sort of 1d path might work best. I’m the kind of person who does almost everything in my head and never commits anything to text until it’s absolutely necessary, and even I find doing that sort of thing helpful when I can bring myself to do it.

  16. Tenacious D says:

    The Expanse has some of the best space combat that has ever been on screen. The latest episode featured this engagement. Objects that are not properly secured become projectiles in the cabin once evasive maneuvers begin. Elderly passengers are at risk of stroke during high acceleration. And there is nowhere to hide.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I am a person who has many complaints about the Expanse. I have my gripes with their physics, but mostly what bothers me is the engineering and the logic of things. There are so many cases of “If you can do X, why don’t you use it for Y?”. Regarding that scene:

      What kind of space magic is letting them pull 90 degree turns like that on RCS? Why does the UN ship with dozens of visible torpedo launchers play by martial arts movie rules and throw away cannon fodder missiles four at a time instead of overwhelming their defense with a larger strike? Why, in this world of unlimited fusion power are people using torpedoes so low-yield that they can get within a couple ship-lengths of their target before being safely shot down? If they’re still shooting at the Razborback, why take half-measures and not just fire seven missiles at its six defense torpedoes to get them dead? Does the UN ship not have any point-defence of its own to fire at the heroes? And most significantly, why is the UN ship completely neutralized by destroying its engines when it still has torpedo launchers?

      • Nornagest says:

        Why, in this world of unlimited fusion power are people using torpedoes so low-yield that they can get within a couple ship-lengths of their target before being safely shot down?

        I haven’t watched the show that far, but this might be forgivable. Nukes are less effective in space: in an atmosphere, most of the damage done by a nuclear weapon is actually done secondarily, by blast and thermal effects caused by matter near the bomb taking a massive dose of X-rays and suddenly feeling a strong urge to expand.

        In a vacuum, there’s no matter near the bomb, so all the damage has to be done by radiation and the X-ray pulse. And spaceships need radiation shielding anyway.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      I started to watch but lost interest once I saw the Social Justice-inspired casting decisions.

      • Aapje says:

        If you are referring to Naomi, then this is consistent with the books, where she is described as mixed race.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          I wasn’t aware that the show was based on a book. I should have said “I lost interest once I saw that the show was infected by Social Justice.” I have no idea if the book is also infected by Social Justice, but I would guess that it is.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            I read the first book and I don’t remember it as social-justice-y.

          • rlms says:

            Does “infected by Social Justice” mean “has non-white women in”?

          • albatross11 says:

            The first two seasons do not seem particularly committed to any current social justice message. (Though in-universe, it’s clear that the belters are getting royally screwed over.)

            Like any good SFF, there are great political and moral questions, but they’re about in-universe concerns, and not particularly close to current-day political and moral questions. For example, there are serious tensions between Naomi and Holden, but none are caused by racial differences, which nobody so far seems to care about. Instead, they’re caused by Holden being from Earth and Naomi from the belt, and the difference in perspectives that’s driven by that.

          • Aapje says:

            @fortaleza84

            I think that you are extrapolating far too much.

            The story features a colonized planet (Mars) and asteroid belt. People of different races were the colonizers, because the overpopulation on Earth resulted in people of all races leaving, which seems very realistic. They intermixed on Mars and in the belt & in the latter case, developed their own language/slang (in part based on Afrikaner, which as a Dutch person, I enjoyed and was a bit confused by, as it doesn’t seem very likely).

            The people who grow up in the belt experience low gravity, which causes them to look/be different. This is then a source of racism (both ways), rather than skin color.

            This doesn’t come across very well in the TV series, because they didn’t use prosthetics or such for the belters, nor did they give them accents, which IMO was a big mistake, because it would be much easier to see where the automatic racial antipathies and allegiances lie, if they would have.

            The story doesn’t make one nation, civilization or race evil and others fully guilty or innocent; nor does it excuse the bad deeds of one side. So it doesn’t really engage in identity politics or the other more problematic aspects of SJ.

          • Incurian says:

            I am a fan of the show and I think you’re referring to the OPA commies who are portrayed somewhat sympathetically (no idea what you’re talking about wrt casting). I found the economics to be more troubling than the physics (I don’t remember my exact complaint), but without going into any spoilers you should rest assured the show is worth watching.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Does “infected by Social Justice” mean “has non-white women in”?

            No, but the portrayal of women is a big red flag. So at the beginning there are two women talking about a subject other than men. Also, one of the women stays calm, competent, and authoritative even though they are being shot at. To me, this is almost certain pandering to Social Justice.

            My interpretation is that the makers want to be sure that they pass the so-called Bechdel Test and are also going out of their way to portray women — especially non-white women — in a flattering light and assure us they can match men in terms of risk-taking, competence with machinery, and staying cool under pressure.

          • albatross11 says:

            fortaleza:

            I’ll admit I can’t quite tell if you’re serious or spoofing.

            If social justice-y fiction just means the women are competent and intelligent and tough and sometimes talk about stuff other than men, then sign me up. Among other people, that captures a lot of my favorite SFF writers: Vinge, Heinlein, Bujold, etc. It also captures a large chunk of the women I know in my personal life, who are overwhelmingly smart and competent.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So at the beginning there are two women talking about a subject other than men. Also, one of the women stays calm, competent, and authoritative even though they are being shot at. To me, this is almost certain pandering to Social Justice.

            Wat?

            My interpretation is that the makers want to be sure that they pass the so-called Bechdel Test and are also going out of their way to portray women — especially non-white women — in a flattering light and assure us they can match men in terms of risk-taking, competence with machinery, and staying cool under pressure.

            Dude, seriously? Narrative relevance and competence => “almost certain pandering”?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            If social justice-y fiction just means the women are competent and intelligent and tough and sometimes talk about stuff other than men, then sign me up.

            In normal action movies, it’s common for women to talk about stuff other than men, what’s uncommon is for them to talk among themselves about such things. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it, it’s the underlying motivations that are important.

            On a very cold day, I could appreciate the warmth from a burning cross in my neighborhood park. But it’s still a problem because I understand what the underlying motivation and meaning is.

            Perhaps a better example is a college coed who carries a mattress around campus. The act is offensive because I understand the underlying motivation and meaning.

            So too with that clip.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Dude, seriously?

            Sure, I’m 100% serious. I watch enough movies and television shows to see a pattern and this clip is pretty clearly part of the overall pattern.

          • Nornagest says:

            Do you have similar objections to Firefly?

          • mdet says:

            What’s wrong with wanting to pass a Bechdel Test?

            My understanding of the B Test: A good way to make sure your secondary characters are well developed is to give them their own interests, traits, and motivations independent from those that serve the protagonist / main narrative. That’s not “social justice”, that’s just good writing. Now in cases where the writer is male and is having trouble writing female characters (not exactly uncommon), then it makes sense to say “It will help the character development of the women in your story if you give them some conversations where they can establish their own individual interests, motivations, goals, etc.” If there was a woman-writer with a hard time writing men, I’d give her the same gender-swapped advice. But given that writers for tv & Hollywood are mostly men, the (gendered) writing advice is mostly about how to write women.

            Now I wouldn’t *mandate* that the Bechdel test, but all the proponents I’ve seen have qualified that it’s not the end-all-be-all, so I don’t think anyone else would either. It’s one if the pieces of feminism / SJ that I think is unambiguously a good idea.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Now in cases where the writer is male and is having trouble writing female characters (not exactly uncommon), then it makes sense to say “It will help the character development of the women in your story if you give them some conversations where they can establish their own individual interests, motivations, goals, etc.”

            What you are doing is offering up a pretty motive for the decisions made by the show’s writers. The problem is that it’s pretty clear to me that Social Justice has ugly motives.

            Like I said above, if it’s a cold day I may appreciate the warmth from a burning cross in the neighborhood park, but I still understand the underlying motive and meaning and reasonably decide I would prefer to live in a different neighborhood.

            If it were just about making sure that secondary characters have some depth, there would be no need to make sure that female characters have conversations with other female characters that aren’t about men. The female characters could have these sorts of conversations with male characters. Nor would there be any need to portray a female character as piloting a spaceship, competent, calm, and authoritative while being shot at.

            No, when you put it into context, it’s pretty clear that this is pandering to Social Justice. And it may very well be true that Social Justice has some redeeming qualities. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s ultimately a selfish, evil, and destructive philosophy which — like most evil — dresses itself in sheep’s clothing.

          • Nornagest says:

            If it were just about making sure that secondary characters have some depth, there would be no need to make sure that female characters have conversations with other female characters that aren’t about men. The female characters could have these sorts of conversations with male characters.

            Social justice casting is annoying because it tends to override the plot, but you’re asking for the same sort of thing here to demonstrate a show’s lack of commitment to social justice. Characters talk. Some of them happen to be female. With a big enough cast, especially an ensemble cast, some of them will eventually talk to each other.

            Most harem anime passes the Bechdel test, which should tell you something about what it’s worth.

          • johnjohn says:

            I guess this is what it looks like when the pendulum swings the other way

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Characters talk. Some of them happen to be female. With a big enough cast, especially an ensemble cast, some of them will eventually talk to each other.

            What you are doing is offering up an innocuous motive for the writers’ decisions. In context, it’s pretty clear to me from the clip that the writers are pandering to Social Justice. If it were just a matter of “characters talking to each other,” there would be no need to put a woman into the (flattering) role of competently, calmly, and authoritatively piloting a spaceship while being shot at.

            Let me give you a more stark example. There used to be a style of advertising where one person (portrayed as smart and put-together) used the product being advertised while the person’s spouse (portrayed as a stupid buffoon) used a competing product or otherwise resisted the smart spouse. Inevitably it would be the wife who was portrayed as smart and put-together while it was the husband who was the dumbo. In other words, it was pretty clear that these types of advertisements pander to women.

            Now, if you look at one such advertisement in isolation, you could pretty easily defend it: “Someone’s gotta be the dumbo, are you saying it can never be the man?” But in context, the pattern is pretty clear.

            So too here. It’s hardly a secret that modern television and film writers are under pressure from Social Justice to portray women in certain ways. So if I watch a brief clip from a television show I don’t normally watch; and I see women being portrayed in the way that Social Justice demands; I’m reasonably not going to believe it’s a coincidence.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Do you have similar objections to Firefly ?

            Never saw it. I basically don’t watch new movies or television shows, I am so tired of all the nods to political correctness.

          • bean says:

            Never saw it. I basically don’t watch new movies or television shows, I am so tired of all the nods to political correctness.

            Firefly is like 15 years old. And I certainly wouldn’t describe it as being hugely particularly correct. Serenity is anti-government almost to the point of libertarianism. (I have no clue how Joss Whedon squared that with his general political views, but that’s his problem, not mine.)

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Firefly is like 15 years old

            Oh, never heard of it before. Even 15 years ago, I didn’t watch a lot of television. I did watch some of the Battlestar Galactica reboot and I was very annoyed and disappointed that they made Starbuck into a girl.

          • christhenottopher says:

            @fortaleza84

            Oh, are you trying to counter the social justice use of the minority rule by being an intolerant minority in the other direction? I guess have at it if you want, but pandering is going to happen to some group in all popular media. So this really doesn’t sound like the kind of principle I want to adopt.

          • John Schilling says:

            What you are doing is offering up a pretty motive for the decisions made by the show’s writers

            Whether or not the offered motive is “pretty” (or “innocent”, as you later frame it), it is at least consistent with the story that has been shown and told on-screen over the past 2.2 seasons, and for that matter with the books on which the television series is based.

            The ugly, guilty motive you propose, isn’t.

            The problem is that it’s pretty clear to me that Social Justice has ugly motives.

            The problem is, it is somehow pretty clear only to you, that the ugly motives of Social Justice are also the ugly motives of a particular set of writers and producers. That you can have such confidence in your ability to “clearly” see into the mind of a distant screenwriter, on the basis of a single clip of their work, in spite of many people who you know to be no friends of Social Justice telling you that they have seen the totality of this work and that your assessment is implausible, is both arrogant and foolish.

            If it were just a matter of “characters talking to each other,” there would be no need to put a woman into the (flattering) role of competently, calmly, and authoritatively piloting a spaceship while being shot at.

            There would also be no reason to put a man into the flattering position of etc. What judgement should we make of writers or producers who put (competent, authoritative) male spaceship pilots in their stories?

            Also, Bobbie Draper is by her own authoritative statement only a minimally competent spaceship pilot, and she would have been shot out of the sky if she hadn’t been rescued by Manly White Men James Holden and Alex Kamal.

            Also also, you’ve pretty much permanently and totally destroyed your credibility as a commenter on anything related to A: television or B: social justice, in a few short foolish arrogant posts but in a manner that I expect will be remembered for some time to come.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Oh, are you trying to counter the social justice use of the minority rule by being an intolerant minority in the other direction?

            Nope, at the moment I’m just explaining my objection.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Whether or not the offered motive is “pretty” (or “innocent”, as you later frame it), it is at least consistent with the story that has been shown and told on-screen over the past 2.2 seasons, and for that matter with the books on which the television series is based.

            The ugly, guilty motive you propose, isn’t .

            What’s your evidence for these claims?

            The problem is, it is somehow pretty clear only to you, that the ugly motives of Social Justice are also the ugly motives of a particular set of writers and producers.

            I think that’s a strawman. I believe what I stated was that the creators were pandering to Social Justice, not that they have the same motives as Social Justice. However, I may have been unclear.

            Would you mind quoting me where I stated or implied that the two are the same?

            What judgement should we make of writers or producers who put (competent, authoritative) male spaceship pilots in their stories?

            That’s an interesting question and the answer depends on the context. Given that in today’s world as well as in the past, the overwhelming majority of people in analogous positions are male, I probably wouldn’t make any judgment at all. Even today in our gynocentric west, people who voluntarily put themselves into dangerous situations are overwhelmingly male.

            Of course one could respond that science fiction is about the future and should not be bound by the present, which is true, but creators of science fiction must pick and choose what will be very different and what will change little or not at all. For example, the creators of the show could have made all the characters obese. Or made most of the characters Amish people. But for some strange reason one very common change is to put women into traditionally male positions of risk-taking; authority; operating vehicles; engaging in combat. Hmmm, I wonder why that might be?

            Also also, you’ve pretty much permanently and totally destroyed your credibility as a commenter on anything related to A: television or B: social justice, in a few short foolish arrogant posts but in a manner that I expect will be remembered for some time to come.

            Lol, I’m surprised that I have any kind of positive reputation at all here, but the whole reason I post under a pseudonym is so that I can post the truth as I see it without worrying about my reputation.

          • cassander says:

            It’s not SJW inspired casting. The book and the show make a very deliberate effort to mix up racial groups and totally expunge any concern from any of the characters with traditional racial lines. It then replace thoses traditional tensions with the categories they’ve invented (mars/earth/belt, largely). The whole point, as I read it, is that present day racial tensions aren’t the be all end all of conflict, they’re just transient categories that will fade to irrelevance as soon as others become more salient. It’s almost anti-SJW, though not in a red pill sort of way.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            It’s not SJW inspired casting. The book and the show make a very deliberate effort to mix up racial groups

            That’s a very interesting decision in and of itself. The science fiction I read growing up made no mention of characters’ races, sometimes the characters’ names were a clue. The modern era is, of course, obsessed with race.

            Anyway, since I didn’t read the book or watch the show, I have a question: Of the characters who are in traditionally male roles, i.e. positions of authority, positions which entail taking voluntary risks, positions like piloting aircraft, etc., roughly what percentage are female?

          • Anonymous says:

            @fortaleza84

            Of the characters who are in traditionally male roles, i.e. positions of authority, positions which entail taking voluntary risks, positions like piloting aircraft, etc., roughly what percentage are female?

            A tangent: This is precisely what annoyed me when I started reading The Reality Dysfunction by Hamilton. WTF were all those females doing in male roles?

          • cassander says:

            @fortaleza84

            That’s a very interesting decision in and of itself. The science fiction I read growing up made no mention of characters’ races, sometimes the characters’ names were a clue. The modern era is, of course, obsessed with race.

            The modern era is, the the world of the expanse is not, and that’s a very deliberate choice by the author. No one in universe mentions modern racial categories except in passing, the way hair or eye color is mentioned in books today. It’s a universe that is totally color blind, those tensions having been entirely replaced with more relevant concerns

          • Anonymous says:

            @cassander

            >the the

            I’m on to you!

          • fortaleza84 says:

            The modern era is, the the world of the expanse is not

            Yes, it is so non-obsessed with race that it must go out of its way to tell you just how non-obsessed it is. And that this female pilot is of mixed race.

          • mdet says:

            @fortaleza84

            Let’s ask this: In the total absence of the corrupting influence of “social justice”, how do you think women should be portrayed?

            My standard is that I believe every character should have their various strengths & weakness, virtues & flaws; should get the time to develop their individual backgrounds, motivations, and goals; and should grow as a person by experiencing both success and failure. I don’t think every show *needs* to have a rainbow cast, but people of every background ought to get a variety of roles, and ought to have a variety of stories about people like themselves.

            I don’t think the Bechdel Test contradicts this, and I think it can often help towards this. I don’t think “the show portrays women in a flattering light, having them be very competent and level-headed” contradicts this. I don’t think a racially diverse cast contradicts this. I do think “not allowing women characters to have any flaws or weaknesses at all” is bad because it makes for boring characters who are incapable of growth, but you haven’t offered any evidence of that.

            Edit: I’ll also add to my standards that I don’t think fiction has any obligation to reflect the gender differences of the real world. They have an obligation to create characters their audience finds compelling, part of which may mean “making a bunch of women space pilots because there’s an audience of people interested in hearing that story”

          • rlms says:

            I used to think “straight white men* can’t stand seeing competent women of colour being represented on screen” was a ludicrous strawperson, but here we are.

            *I apologise if I have incorrectly assumed any attribute

          • beleester says:

            Let me give you a more stark example. There used to be a style of advertising where one person (portrayed as smart and put-together) used the product being advertised while the person’s spouse (portrayed as a stupid buffoon) used a competing product or otherwise resisted the smart spouse. Inevitably it would be the wife who was portrayed as smart and put-together while it was the husband who was the dumbo. In other words, it was pretty clear that these types of advertisements pander to women.
            Now, if you look at one such advertisement in isolation, you could pretty easily defend it: “Someone’s gotta be the dumbo, are you saying it can never be the man?” But in context, the pattern is pretty clear.

            This argument is exactly symmetrical with the pro-feminist argument. “There’s a common style of TV show where the men are the cool professionals and the women are the distressed damsels. It’s pretty clear that this is pandering to men. Now, you can defend this in isolation – ‘Are you saying that men can’t be the professionals?’ but in context, the pattern is pretty clear.”

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I used to think “straight white men* can’t stand seeing competent women of colour being represented on screen” was a ludicrous strawperson, but here we are.

            As I keep saying it depends on the context. It’s the underlying motivation and meaning that counts.

            To give yet another example, suppose that in discussions of black/white relations I started shoehorning the word “niggardly” into most of my posts. And that if you called me on it, I pointed out that it’s an ordinary word in the English language with no etymological connection to any racial slurs. Would you still object? Probably you would, because you know perfectly well that I am being disingenuous just like you are now.

            There is nothing offensive per se with having a “competent woman of color” in a television show. It’s the underlying motivation and meaning that’s a problem.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How old is “wife is better-looking, smarter, more together than husband” as a sitcom or commercial trope?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            There’s a common style of TV show where the men are the cool professionals and the women are the distressed damsels.

            Sure, and adults roll their eyes at obvious pandering. When I was a boy, I really enjoyed James Bond movies. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, a big part of that was that James Bond movies pander to the male fantasy of being sexually desirable to every attractive woman he meets; of being supremely knowledgeable and adept with weaponry; etc.

            Now that I’m an adult I think such movies are silly, even if they are not in league with a sick social movement.

          • cassander says:

            Yes, it is so non-obsessed with race that it must go out of its way to tell you just how non-obsessed it is. And that this female pilot is of mixed race.

            I fail to see how a book with a bunch of characters who ignore race is “going out of its way” to show how non-obsessed with race. It’s not like Star Trek where the characters are always giving speeches about how non-racist they are. The issue is just entirely irrelevant. It’s very much like classic sci-fi in that regard.

          • mdet says:

            Acknowledging that James Bond is pretty much just Male Fantasy puts you in surprising amount of agreement with the social justice side, and I’m now giving you credit for sounding less like a caricature.

            But again, how do you think a show *should* portray women that wouldn’t trigger your social justice pandering alarms, and where do you see this show violating that standard? I proposed mine above, I think they would be uncontroversial regardless of whether one is for or against SJ. (Although saying that we should deliberately give people of all backgrounds a variety of roles might put me a little Left of the more “colorblind” people here)

            If the only violation is that the behavior of women is atypical compared to the gender-distribution of traits in the real world, consider that most people just don’t care about that, just like most people would rather an action movie look cool than have literally all of its scenes be perfectly consistent with the limits of physics and the human body.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Let’s ask this: In the total absence of the corrupting influence of “social justice”, how do you think women should be portrayed?

            I’m tempted to say “realistically,” i.e. risk-averse; emotional; etc. but in fiction there is obviously room for larger-than-life characters. So my response is “in a way that doesn’t pander to Social Justice, which will usually be ‘realistically.'”

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I fail to see how a book with a bunch of characters who ignore race is “going out of its way” to show how non-obsessed with race

            Well riddle me this: How is it known that this female pilot is “mixed race” in the books?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Well riddle me this: How is it known that this female pilot is “mixed race” in the books?

            Do you prefer your characters to not be given physical descriptions?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Do you prefer your characters to not be given physical descriptions?

            As a matter of fact, yes. I normally just skim over them.

            Anyway, are you saying that race is in fact discussed in the Expanse books?

          • mdet says:

            Consider that my standard — which only requires that characters have a balance of virtues & flaws, with clear & reasonable motivations — fully allows for the way women are portrayed here. Do you think my standard is unfair / unreasonable / hateful / whatever it is you don’t like about social justice? If not, then you should maybe assume that many show creators and audiences just have a different taste and different standards for what makes a good character, and aren’t necessarily motivated by some totalitarian ideology.

            Edit: Same for people who think it’s acceptable to specify what race and gender a character is in order to tell the story they want to tell, or appeal to whatever audience they want to appeal to.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I haven’t seen _The Expanse_, but I’m curious… has anyone defending it seen the latest Netflix variant of _Lost in Space_, and do you feel THAT had obvious Social Justice casting?

          • albatross11 says:

            fortaleza:

            The major characters as of the first two seasons are:

            Holden: Idealistic white male Earther (he named his ship for Don Quixote’s horse) who finds himself increasingly willing to override his ideals to address a terrifying threat. Dishonorably discharged from the Earth space navy for refusing to fire on some Belters. Better at violence than he wants to be (but he’s had the training).

            Naomi: Pragmatic black female Belter engineer, with some past ties and sympathy with the OPA (Belter terrorist group), but personally nonviolent. No particular talent or taste for violence–she’d rather talk it out and come to a humane conclusion.

            Arvasala: Middle-aged Machiavellian Indian/Iranian female Earther politician, no apparent talent at violence (it’s not her style), but ruthless and sympathetic by turns, depending on what’s necessary. Think Indira Ghandi or Maggie Thatcher.

            Bobbie: Martian young female mixed-race Marine, the series’ one butt-kicking babe, inclined to violence and good at it, apparently a good soldier but not willing to follow orders when they go too far away from her principles. (Saying more would be a spoiler.)

            Julie Mao: Earther Asian radical-chic rich-kid dabbling in radicalism (OPA) who got in over her head. She’s mostly the McGuffin for the first season, before her fate becomes clear and drives the plot for awhile. She does a bit of butt-kicking babe in one surveillance video, but this is probably because she’s an Earther with 1G-built muscles and skeleton, fighting a Belter guy who developed in much lower G. When she starts swimming with the real sharks, she’s in big trouble.

            Joe: Belter white cynical cop, working for the Earther-dominated government and hated by a lot of Belters for it. Investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao is the cannon that shoots his character along its arc. Very good at violence.

            Alex: Martian white(maybe Middle Eastern?) male pilot who served with the Martian space navy. Apparently has a wife and kids he abandoned back on Mars for unspecified reasons. Sometimes surprises himself with his bravery and ability, as he was a low-status non-combat pilot for Mars. (But the Martian space navy has very high standards, so maybe he was overqualified.) Not great at violence, but he’s at least had some training.

            Amos: Earther white male sociopath who tries to glom onto some other person as a moral compass, recognizing he has none himself. Very, very good at violence, and tends to resort to it very quickly when trouble arises.

            Fred Johnson: Earther black male troubled idealist ex-Marine who has gone over to the OPA and become the leader of an OPA faction. Very good at violence, as you’d expect of an ex-Marine and current terrorist.

            Anderson Dawes: Belter Machiavellian white male OPA terrorist leader/gangster. Very good at violence, as you’d expect.

            Jules-Pierre Mao: Earther Asian male Machiavellian industrialist and billionaire, utterly ruthless. No idea if he’s personally good with violence but he doesn’t mind assigning the task to his henchmen. Julie Mao’s father.

            Neither the characters nor the background nor the plot are particularly social-justice-y. The story is generally pretty good so far. All FWIW, add grains of salt to taste.

          • albatross11 says:

            fortaleza:

            I personally think you’ve mind-killed yourself here–you’re rendering a judgment on the culture-war alignment of a TV show you’ve never watched on the basis of a couple markers you take as the writers being on the other team.

            When someone does that from a feminist or fundamentalist Christian POV, I think they’re being silly. Same here. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if you’re silly on this matter–at worst you miss a decent but not amazing SF show that you might have disliked for any number of other reasons anyway. But the process of mindkilling yourself is probably one you want to avoid in more important stuff.

          • albatross11 says:

            Note that the same is true in Firefly: Alliance/rebellion, or inner/outer planets, or slave/free, those are important distinctions. Probably nobody but serious historians know anything about racial tensions back on Earth-that-was.

            This is pretty-much what you’d expect. Current American political/social obsessions will probably not be carried forward into the future forever; new ones will arise to take their place, and the old ones will be forgotten.

            Imagine someone from Germany in 1650 reading a science fiction novel describing the US in 2018. They’d be wondering why nobody seems to care about the all-important religious identity issues (Catholic/Lutheran/Calvinist, with Jews and other religions as a tiny despised minority) that are important in their world, and instead is obsessed with either skin color or what kind of perverted sexual practices they favor.

          • rlms says:

            There is nothing offensive per se with having a “competent woman of color” in a television show.

            Yet (given that there is no message pushing in the episodes of The Expanse I’ve seen so far) it seems impossible to write one in a way that satisfies you.

            To give yet another example, suppose that in discussions of black/white relations I started shoehorning the word “niggardly” into most of my posts. And that if you called me on it, I pointed out that it’s an ordinary word in the English language with no etymological connection to any racial slurs. Would you still object? Probably you would, because you know perfectly well that I am being disingenuous just like you are now.

            On the grounds that you’re being racist? Um, no, obviously not. I don’t expect those hypothetical posts would be very good, but frankly I’m not that impressed with your actual ones either.

          • Nornagest says:

            How old is “wife is better-looking, smarter, more together than husband” as a sitcom or commercial trope?

            At least as old as The Simpsons, so it predates modern Social Justice by about twenty-five years. (I think Married… With Children had a hand in its development too, but Peggy Bundy wasn’t much less of a loser than Al. Better-looking, though.) It’s been ubiquitous to the point of overused in domestic comedy for the last fifteen, but I think that has less to do with pandering to the Social Justice subculture in particular and more to do with the Women Are Wonderful streak in American culture in general.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s much older than either _The Simpsons_ and _Married with Children_, neither of which are actually great examples. (_Home Improvement_ is a deliberately over-the-top example of it) It was a trope in commercials before either one. _The Flintstones_ uses it (both couples), as did _The Jetsons_.

          • mdet says:

            Someone once pointed out that, in terms of portraying men as generally incompetent, petty, impulsive, over-aggressive, etc. no one does this more than Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, and yet Bay is hardly what we’d call a social justice type. It’s just become a trope in American culture that “men” + “comedy” = “bumbling, insecure, always horny”. I think social justice is more a product than a cause of this. Although to be honest, an increasing amount of comedy about women follows this trope too (see also: Broad City)

          • John Schilling says:

            There is nothing offensive per se with having a “competent woman of color” in a television show.

            But if there are two competent women of color, that can only offensive, right? Because at some point they’ll have to have a conversation, and it won’t be about a guy, and that can only ever happen if some Social Justice apologist is trying to pass the Bechdel test. Or so I am told.

            It’s the underlying motivation and meaning that’s a problem.

            It’s your belief that you can know the underlying motivation and meaning of a screenwriter’s work, on the basis of one scene out of context and despite being told by people who have seen dozens of complete stories that you are off base, that is a problem.

          • B Beck says:

            How old is “wife is better-looking, smarter, more together than husband” as a sitcom or commercial trope?

            I’d push it back to The Honeymooners.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @mdet

            Isn’t the novelty of shows like that that they show women doing stuff that in comedies ordinarily men do?

            The “men dumb, women put up with them” of comedy is the played-for-laughs version of “men brutal, women nonagentic” which is a core element of patriarchal norms.

          • mdet says:

            @dndrsn

            I agree! I think the lesson here is that non-feminists make “Men are terrible people” shows fairly often, and feminists make “Women are terrible people” shows fairly often.

            I agree with a media environment where everyone gets a turn to be power-fantasy heroes and to be incompetent, insecure losers

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Imagine someone from Germany in 1650 reading a science fiction novel describing the US in 2018. They’d be wondering why nobody seems to care about the all-important religious identity issues (Catholic/Lutheran/Calvinist, with Jews and other religions as a tiny despised minority) that are important in their world, and instead is obsessed with either skin color or what kind of perverted sexual practices they favor.

            And the author would be broken on the wheel for having two Catholic characters discuss something other than Protestants

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The book and the show make a very deliberate effort to mix up racial groups and totally expunge any concern from any of the characters with traditional racial lines. It then replace thoses traditional tensions with the categories they’ve invented (mars/earth/belt, largely).

            I liked in Mobile Suit Gundam (which goes back to 1979) how people from the orbital colonies have become so mixed that instead of Earth names, they’re their own ethnicity with names like “Zeon Zum Deikun”, “Gihren Zabi”, and “Ramba Ral.” They even invent their own racist woo, that only Spacers can develop psychic powers because gravity interacts with the immaterial psyche, “weighing it down.”
            The original series shows Earthers of a bunch of ethnicities, such as Japanese, Indian, Puerto Rican and (pretending to be) French, but race is never brought up. The background is that Earthers are the privileged elite left after the world government forced 80% of the population to move to the orbital colonies because of their sustainable population dogma.
            For being Japanese, it’s very much in the Campbell sub-genre of SF. It just spent its one violation of known physics on justifying giant robots and spaceships that can float in the atmosphere instead of FTL.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m pretty sure it would be acceptable for the Catholic characters to discuss the Pope, too.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            Naomi: Pragmatic black female Belter engineer

            Naomi is a mix of African, Asian, and South American in the books and the actress is half-white and half Dominican.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @mdet

            More broadly, there’s clearly a strain of “men are bad [in this way]” in pre-feminist, definitely-patriarchal culture. I also think there’s atavistic manifestations of that among people who think they are against the patriarchy – eg, if your worldview sees men as more agentic and women as helpless, You Might Be Patriarchal.

          • Randy M says:

            I also think there’s atavistic manifestations of that among people who think they are against the patriarchy – eg, if your worldview sees men as more agentic and women as helpless, You Might Be Patriarchal.

            That’s a neat trick to allow you to pass off anti-male feminists that you think make feminism look bad as part of the Patriarchy.

          • Iain says:

            I’d push it back to The Honeymooners.

            We can do better than that.

            Commedia dell’arte is an Italian theatrical tradition dating back to the fifteenth century. It used a collection of stock archetypes, and was novel for actually letting women play women on stage. The buffoons were almost entirely male, and the women were more clever. Compare, for example, Il Dottore or Pantalone with Columbina, who was “often the only functional intellect on the stage”. Similarly, the men wore exaggerated masks to make themselves look ridiculous, while many female characters went completely unmasked.

            This isn’t a recent feminist broadside in the culture war. “Dumb ugly husband, smart beautiful wife” is just a modern adaptation of tropes that have been popular for centuries.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Do you think my standard is unfair / unreasonable / hateful / whatever it is you don’t like about social justice?

            I think that your standard is unreasonable in the sense that it permits the sort of pandering I have been complaining about. Although admittedly it might filter out some of the worst abuses.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            When someone who says they’re against the patriarchy expresses anti-male views that are similar to the anti-male views expressed back in the day when almost everyone was for the patriarchy, you gotta wonder…

            There are ways to dislike men that wouldn’t fit into standard-issue patriarchal thinking, so no, I don’t think what you’re saying is the case. Nor is this just about being “anti-male” – presentation of women as lacking agency, buffeted by the cruel winds of fate society, in need of protection from all the horrible things out there… You find that in multiple places, and not places you’d expect to accord.

            EDIT: Let’s put this another way. You seem to be saying – correct me if I’m wrong – that I’m playing No True Scotswomyn. I’m not. I’m saying there’s something – elements of our biology, socialization we’re still being affected by, input your preferred explanation here – that undermines gender equality, and more insidiously, tricks people doing that into thinking they’re doing the opposite.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            (given that there is no message pushing in the episodes of The Expanse I’ve seen so far)

            Can you give me a couple examples of a current television show which does have Social Justice “message pushing” so I know what you are talking about?

            it seems impossible to write one in a way that satisfies you.

            Vasquez in Aliens was a competent woman of color and she didn’t strike me as being there to pander to Social Justice.

          • albatross11 says:

            Most bad or lazy writing isn’t some kind of deep message about the inner psyche of the writer or the failings of his culture, or some kind of statement of Wrong Thinking, it’s just bad writing. Most of the time, when the action movie has a bunch of burly he-men and one eye-candy heroine to be saved, it’s just because the writer wasn’t very imaginative. In more modern action movies where they have a 90 lb woman tossing around 200 lb men like stuffed animals, likewise, it’s not some deep statement about a disbelief in gender differences, it’s just bad writing, following currently-popular tropes.

            The bit where some critic talks about how Problematic some bit of bad writing is on some ideological grounds mostly just makes the world a worse place, whether the ideology is feminist or alt-right or Marxian or whatever.

            On the other hand, if you read anything not written in the last decade or two, you’ll see Problematic ideas and assumptions. Certainly if you read classics. Jane Austen had very strong and well-drawn female characters, but her ideas about proper gender and class relations weren’t anything a modern liberal, or even a modern conservative, could agree with. But if you use that as a reason not to read her books, you’re cheating yourself of some of the best writing in the English language. Similarly, if you decide that Kipling’s support for colonialism and such makes him too Problematic to read, you’re just making yourself worse off.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            But if there are two competent women of color, that can only offensive, right?

            Not necessarily, as I keep saying it depends on the context.

            Anyway, I am repeating my questions from before:

            (1) What is your evidence for your earlier claims about consistency of motives?

            (2) Where did I state or imply that the motives of the show creators are the same as the (ugly) motives of Social Justice?

            Your reputation (at least with me) hangs in the balance. 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            Compare, for example, Il Dottore or Pantalone with Columbina, who was “often the only functional intellect on the stage”.

            That’s not “dumb ugly husband, smart beautiful wife”, that’s “idiot master, savvy servant”. Much older (I’m pretty sure there are Ancient Greek examples, though nothing’s coming to mind offhand), but it gets some exercise in modern works too: Jeeves and Wooster might be the most influential (semi-)recent one, but there are plenty of others. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example.

          • Randy M says:

            When someone who says they’re against the patriarchy expresses anti-male views that are similar to the anti-male views expressed back in the day when almost everyone was for the patriarchy, you gotta wonder…

            I really wonder how similar these are. Can you source a couple of quotes to illustrate your point? What is an anti-male view expressed by someone who is for the patriarchy (not just “back in the day when” others were, mind, because differing views can coexist in the same time-frame)?

            You’ve basically categorized anyone who claims women were oppressed as being unknowingly spreading Patriarchal propaganda.

            presentation of women as lacking agency, buffeted by the cruel winds of fate society, in need of protection from all the horrible things out there… You find that in multiple places, and not places you’d expect to accord.

            Indeed

            I’m playing No True Scotswomyn. I’m not. I’m saying there’s something – elements of our biology, socialization we’re still being affected by, input your preferred explanation here – that undermines gender equality, and more insidiously, tricks people doing that into thinking they’re doing the opposite.

            It could also be that feminism is slightly different from just “the belief that women are people.” That is, if feminists in practice don’t always promote equality, it could be false consciousness, or it could be that feminists aren’t solely after equality.

            Ironically, you promoting the former view seems to, well, give the patriarchy a lot of agency, and women rather little. Huh.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I personally think you’ve mind-killed yourself here–you’re rendering a judgment on the culture-war alignment of a TV show you’ve never watched on the basis of a couple markers you take as the writers being on the other team.

            I’m not sure what “mind-killed” means here, but I will admit that I have judged this show based on not a lot of information.

            It’s a bit like when I walk down the street in Manhattan and a shabbily dressed person approaches me and says “excuse me.” I don’t bother listening to them because — based on my experience — the person is going to ask me for money. So too with television and movies today: Almost every time I watch one, I am subjected to Social Justice-inspired tropes. So it takes very little for me to turn them off. To be “mind-killed” perhaps.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I really wonder how similar these are. Can you source a couple of quotes to illustrate your point? What is an anti-male view expressed by someone who is for the patriarchy (not just “back in the day when” others were, mind, because differing views can coexist in the same time-frame)?

            I can’t provide quotes on short notice; I’m not sure what a few quotes here or there really proves. I might effortpost this someday.

            What I meant: patriarchal societies tend to isolate women, or at least, some women (a woman whose family can afford to keep her indoors will be kept indoors, whereas a woman whose family needs her income has no choice – poor women have worked outside the home longer than well-off women have – and obviously this is a spectrum; keeping your daughters veiled with guard eunuchs is a different deal from insisting your daughter be home by 8). Their reasons for doing this bounce back and forth between “women can’t control themselves and don’t know what they want – they’re kind of like children”, “men can’t control themselves and only want one thing – they’re kind of like children”, and a combination of the two. I’d count the second as an anti-male sentiment. Men in patriarchal societies are protecting their daughters, etc, from other men.

            Similarly, there’s a decent amount of feminist, especially pop-feminist stuff, where men are just sort of shitty, and that’s the way they are. Usually a gesture towards social constructionism is made, but often little more than a gesture.

            You’ve basically categorized anyone who claims women were oppressed as being unknowingly spreading Patriarchal propaganda.

            No, that’s not what I’m saying. “Society oppresses women” could be a true statement; I happen to think it is. “Society oppresses women, and they can’t do anything about it, and this impairs their individual decision-making” – you’ve got these thinkpieces, there was that Ansari thing, there’s that “Cat Person” short story, where it’s women explaining how something outside them made them have sex with that shitty guy, or whatever. There’s been more than one thinkpiece about how women are driven to consent to bad sex with shitty men because society teaches them to be polite. This seems to me to map pretty close to “women can’t control themselves and don’t know what they want – they’re kind of like children”.

            EDIT:

            It could also be that feminism is slightly different from just “the belief that women are people.” That is, if feminists in practice don’t always promote equality, it could be false consciousness, or it could be that feminists aren’t solely after equality.

            Ironically, you promoting the former view seems to, well, give the patriarchy a lot of agency, and women rather little. Huh.

            But the latter requires assuming that a significant number of them are lying, doesn’t it? In any case, I think we – humans in general – have simultaneously less and more agency than we’d like to think.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            That’s not “dumb ugly husband, smart beautiful wife”, that’s “idiot master, savvy servant”. Much older (I’m pretty sure there are Ancient Greek examples, though nothing’s coming to mind offhand),

            The Frogs by Aristophanes. Using this trope with a god (Dionysus) as the master is really hard to unpack, because Aristophanes was a conservative who held a grudge against impious progressive writers (i.e. Euripides).

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not sure what “mind-killed” means here[…]

            This.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn:

            “Society oppresses women” could be a true statement; I happen to think it is.

            Ehhh… as a woman and a history wonk, I’d say “true EXCEPT for recent Western history.” I just don’t see any objective evidence that women are oppressed today.

          • Randy M says:

            In more modern action movies where they have a 90 lb woman tossing around 200 lb men like stuffed animals, likewise, it’s not some deep statement about a disbelief in gender differences, it’s just bad writing, following currently-popular tropes.

            It’s common to the point of trope, certainly. I’m not sure it isn’t related to beliefs about gender role portrayal and attempts to influence in a direction preferred by the creators. I think it’s a combination of an ideological desire to portray women as agenty even in action hero roles, the financial success of over the top action movies, and a need to cast photogenic women, rather than those that could portray the stereotypical* East German Olympic weight-lifters that could more credibly hold their own.
            I’m curious if people who consume a lot of this material will start to underestimate the importance of mass in real world situations.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy:

            I’m curious if people who consume a lot of this material will start to underestimate the importance of mass in real world situations.

            I think so. It’s anti-science propaganda, tied to the continental philosophy that the arts majors who make movies imbibe (which is funny, since actually philosophy departments don’t teach it in the Anglosphere).
            I prefer watching Strong Female Characters in Chinese action films, where the worldview is that physical strength comes from ki and not muscle mass.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            I wonder what the earliest examples of “woman who definitely could not do that in real life doing that” are.

            As for your second point, I think people have really unrealistic expectations about:

            -how easy it is to fight off a larger attacker, especially when it’s a woman fighting off a man
            -how easy it is to fight somebody who has a knife
            -how easy it is to fight multiple opponents
            -the desirability of fighting in general

            They’re all harmful. There’s some women’s self-defence stuff that is incredibly unrealistic, so it’s not just fictional media either. Likewise, some self-defence stuff aimed at guys really is unrealistic, and some of it seems downright ghoulish – there are definitely guys half-hoping they get jumped so they can tear someone’s nuts off or use that wicked sweet knife disarm they totally know how to do (and then stab the guy).

            There are women who can absolutely murder an untrained guy, but there’s gotta be a big skill disparity unless she’s a beast and he’s a shrimp, and they’re not gonna be using waif-fu.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn:

            There are women who can absolutely murder an untrained guy, but there’s gotta be a big skill disparity unless she’s a beast and he’s a shrimp, and they’re not gonna be using waif-fu.

            I think of this as Whedon Syndrome. “I fight the Patriarchy by showing the truth that, with enough training, a woman petite enough to give me a boner can defeat any man. Even if he’s a 265-pound giant trained by Bruce Lee!”

          • Randy M says:

            I’d count the second as an anti-male sentiment. Men in patriarchal societies are protecting their daughters, etc, from other men.

            True (although not an entirely false statement; the people daughters would need protecting from would tend to be men–which isn’t to say there is a level of threat deserving of cloistering all women); but in this thread aren’t we more talking about (or at least initially) portrayals of men not as brute, but as bumbling incompetents? Homer Simpson would never rape a woman in an alley (child abuse aside…); he just has trouble counting past 8 without taking his shoes off.

            Similarly, there’s a decent amount of feminist, especially pop-feminist stuff, where men are just sort of shitty

            Like I said above, I do not think this is similar; it only appears similar because “just sort of shitty” is remarkably vague.

            I mean, sure, feminists do complain about male violence and rape to a degree that would probably get an approving nod from an Islamic Cleric, provided they were properly covered and deferential when they made the point; but I don’t see the connection between the “there are dangerous men you need protection from” (assuming no core-world psychic brainwashing unlocks “I am a leaf on the wind” superpowers or concealed carry) and “buy our brand of paper towels because your husband doesn’t know which end of the mop faces down”. (I’m sorry, that may be the most convoluted sentence I’ve written–but, you did use the phrase “atavastic manifestations.”)

            There’s been more than one thinkpiece about how women are driven to consent to bad sex with shitty men because society teaches them to be polite. This seems to me to map pretty close to “women can’t control themselves and don’t know what they want – they’re kind of like children”.

            And you think they’re saying this, not because they’d like easy absolution from their mistakes, but because ‘patriarchal’ norms “impairs their individual decision-making”?

            In any case, I think we – humans in general – have simultaneously less and more agency than we’d like to think.

            But in exactly equal measure? That’s the rub, I see. Your definition of patriarchy is believing men and women have different levels of agency*, not necessarily in having any particular views about the arrangement of society. Kind of like the “fails IAT” kind of racism. It seems… somewhat noncentral and prone to motte and bailey abuse, but I can follow.

            *Agency here is going to need a definition if we continue along this line (and the thread is growing stale, so I doubt we will).

          • mdet says:

            @fortaleza84

            I think our difference might be that I’m actually a fan of what you call “pandering”.

            I don’t support total “color blindness”. I support a world where white progressives get to have shows like Modern Family, upper-middle class black people get to have shows like Black-ish, right-leaning Red Tribe members get to have shows like Roseanne, etc. and shows for a more general audience try to get a little bit of everybody (or not, if that’s the story they want to tell). As long as everyone gets a chance to have stories about themselves, everyone gets a chance to be Great, to be Terrible, and to be Completely Mediocre, then it’s all fair.

            It sounds like you would prefer every show to be perfectly neutral and agnostic on the cultural front, but I think that just results in blandness & homogeneity, shows that are incapable of speaking to a particular kind of life experience.

            Re: 120lb women flipping 200lb men — it’s not like men in action movies are all performing perfectly realistic and plausible feats. Action movies are power fantasies, and I think women have every right to have power fantasies as men. If you’re complaining about Black Widow fighting of a room full of grown, combat trained men in the Avengers, but NOT about Hawkeye firing an arrow behind his back and hitting a target moving 60mph a half mile away, then Isolated Demands For Rigor

          • Iain says:

            That’s not “dumb ugly husband, smart beautiful wife”, that’s “idiot master, savvy servant”.

            I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. The former is just a modern adaptation of the latter.

            It is funny when somebody high-status (or who thinks they are high-status) is outwitted by somebody low-status. Are there any examples of “dumb husband, smart wife” in which the man doesn’t think he’s in charge? If men disproportionately fill the high-status end of that trope, it’s hardly a sign of female dominance, any more than Jeeves and Wooster is a sign that we had British class relations all backwards.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @mdet:

            Action movies are power fantasies, and I think women have every right to have power fantasies as men.

            Yes, we do. However, the male heroes of action movies are required to get close to peak strength for the roles. It’s always bodybuilder rather than powerlifter physique, but it’s an approximation of reality. Women are required to have a BMI of 18.5, which unless they’re 6 feet tall may mean she’s literally 99 pounds. Also long legs, while being shaped like a D&D dwarf is an edge for champion female lifters (I say from losing >_>).
            As I said above, some other cultures’s power fantasies get around this. Hollywood’s do not.

          • mdet says:

            @Le Maistre Chat That’s sounds like it has less to do with any kind of politically correct feminist ideology, and more to do with the fact that movies like really attractive people (part of the fantasy), and it just so happens that our standards for attractive men also match up reasonably to physically powerful men, while our standards for attractive women don’t. I think there’s a set of body-positive feminists who would cheer if it was announced that non-conventionally attractive women were being cast as action heroes.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think of this as Whedon Syndrome. “I fight the Patriarchy by showing the truth that, with enough training, a woman petite enough to give me a boner can defeat any man. Even if he’s a 265-pound giant trained by Bruce Lee!”

            Whedon at least tends to give his waifs an excuse. Buffy is empowered by, essentially, God. River Tam can kill you with her brain, and when we see her fight, she’s usually using weapons, which makes her performance a lot more reasonable. (Height and reach is a big advantage there, but it’s nothing like the advantage that a large man would have over a 100-pound woman in grappling. I’ve lost to women about River’s size in sword before.) Black Widow has less of an excuse, but eh, the whole franchise is one giant power fantasy.

            “Self-defense” classes are pretty laughable in terms of the skills they give you — even if the technique’s basically legit, which it isn’t always, you’re not going to retain it well enough to use it under pressure unless you train for a lot more than three weeks and keep it up long-term. Unlike some people on the other thread, I definitely do not believe that the technique “sinks into the bones”, and conditioning’s really important too. But they might make people more willing to fight, and that’s not nothing.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @mdet: Agreed; Hollywood still upholds its sense of the Beautiful against SJ. I don’t believe it’s 100% a PC propaganda machine. So many feminists would indeed prefer to see an action heroine who isn’t beautiful.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            However, the male heroes of action movies are required to get close to peak strength for the roles. It’s always bodybuilder rather than powerlifter physique, but it’s an approximation of reality.

            Short, skinny martial artist defeats multiple towering, bulky monsters while trapped in a cage/pit is practically a trope in kung fu movies.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            has anyone defending it seen the latest Netflix variant of _Lost in Space_, and do you feel THAT had obvious Social Justice casting?

            I got distracted after a half dozen episodes of The Expanse, but I can’t say I found it particularly egregious. The cast was mixed race and mixed gender, but I didn’t notice any harping on it. Perhaps it’s gotten worse.

            Lost in Space, however, was cringeworthy. I mean, I quite enjoyed it, popcorn-style, and it was interesting to see what they could salvage from its truly silly progenitor. But Jeez. Every male character from the original show has been emasculated.

            Fgneg jvgu Wbua Ebovafba. Gur jbeyq unf orra fgehpx ol na nfgrebvq. Rirel ovg bs cbyvgvpny naq fbpvny vasenfgehpgher vf va gnggref. Wbua vf bhg gurer, chggvat uvf yvsr ba gur yvar 24/7 gb gel gb ubyq guvatf gbtrgure. Ohg ur’f gur onq thl sbe abg orvat gurer sbe uvf juval jvsr, jub frrzf gb unir orra whfg nobhg gb qvibepr uvz rkprcg gung gur pbybabmngvba cebtenz jnagf snzvyvrf. Ur vf ybj-zna ba gur gbgrz cbyr sbe gur jubyr frevrf, naq ol gur unatqbt rkcerffvba ur nyjnlf jrnef, ur gbgnyyl xabjf vg.

            Qba Jrfg, rqhpngrq, oenir, naq ubabenoyr va gur bevtvany, vf n frys-vagrerfgrq fzhttyre. Ur evfrf nobir guvf bppnfvbanyyl, fbeg bs va gur Una Fbyb zbyq, ohg ur vf arire gerngrq ol gur srznyrf jvgu nalguvat ohg pbagrzcg.

            Jvyy Ebovafba, jub tenqhngrq sebz pbyyrtr ng gur ntr bs avar va gur bevtvany, vf n cnavpxl jhff jubfr grfg fpberf jbhyq unir qvfdhnyvsvrq gur jubyr snzvyl vs Zbz unqa’g obhtug n pbzchgre unpx gb svk gurz.

            Lbh jbhyqa’g guvax Qbpgbe Fzvgu, gur rssrgr naq pnzcl ulcbpubaqevnp va gur bevtvany, pbhyq or rznfphyngrq. Ohg gurl sbhaq n jnl — gurl znqr uvz n jbzna, gur qryvtugshy Cnexre Cbfrl, jub cynlf gur punenpgre sbe trahvar zranpr engure guna sbe pbzvp eryvrs.

            Nyfb, gurl ner pbybavmvat n zbfgyl harkcyberq nyvra cynarg, ohg gurl unir ab jrncbaf, naq gurve ercyvpngbef ner rkcyvpvgyl cebtenzzrq abg gb znxr jrncbaf. JGS?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            Whedon at least tends to give his waifs an excuse. Buffy is empowered by, essentially, God. River Tam can kill you with her brain, and when we see her fight, she’s usually using weapons, which makes her performance a lot more reasonable.

            Wait, Buffy is empowered by God? (I haven’t seen most of the series) That’s cool; more in line with the Hammer vampire films where Christopher Lee encouraged the director to emphasize the power of Christ over other established vampire weaknesses than I’d expected.
            And I do count River as justified, between her mind powers and sometimes being shown with a weapon advantage. I was definitely thinking of Buffy and Black Widow.

            @xXx: In Chinese kung fu movies, that would be ki. If I saw a woman judo flip one big brute into another in that genre, I’d just say “cool” and wonder if she can shoot ki blasts too.

          • Nornagest says:

            Wait, Buffy is empowered by God? (I haven’t seen most of the series)

            It’s never spelled out as such (at least in the five and some seasons of Buffy and two seasons of Angel that I watched), and the series’ mythology is kind of… confused. But the Slayer is explicitly supernatural, and she’s connected in some way to the “Powers that Be” — the mostly undescribed good counterparts to the demons that make up most of the baddies in the series. (Vampires in Buffy are demonically possessed corpses, a nice old-school touch.) And there’s a couple instances of fairly unambiguous divine intervention, although it’s rare.

          • Education Hero says:

            Wait, Buffy is empowered by God?

            That’s not correct:

            Thousands of years ago in ancient Africa, a group of tribal elders known as the Shadow Men used powerful magic to infuse a captive girl with the heart, soul and spirit of a demon known as the Shadow Demon. This process granted the girl great strength, speed, agility, reflexes, healing, endurance and psychic abilities in the fight against evil, she became the First Slayer, called to fight the vampires and other demons that populate the Earth. The Shadow Men’s descendants went on to form the Watchers’ Council, an organization dedicated to finding, training, and supporting Slayers.

            Due to the violent nature of the life of a Slayer, their average lifespan is quite short after being called. Consequently, the Shadow Men’s spell also created a large number of Potential Slayers—normal girls around the world who may one day be called. When a Slayer dies, one of the Potentials—seemingly chosen at random—gains the powers and abilities of a Slayer.

            So Buffy is actually empowered by Patriarchal rape.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Doctor Mist

            All of that in _Lost in Space_.

            Ohg nyfb gur svefg fubj, jr unir gurve ure oynpx qnhtugre nf gur Qnzfry va Qvfgerff… naq guvf gbgnyyl qrfgeblf nal grafvba, orpnhfr jr xabj gurer’f ab jnl gurl’er tbvat gb xvyy gur oynpx tvey.

            However egregious the SJ stuff is, however, I think they topped it with the physics whoppers just in the first episode. Water does not work that way! And if it did, it certainly wouldn’t be RAINING.

          • Nornagest says:

            Mea culpa. I haven’t watched it in probably ten years, and that might have been in one of the bits I never did.

          • bean says:

            Wait, Buffy is empowered by God?

            I wouldn’t say “empowered by God”, but she’s basically a superhero with powers suitable for television (so no SFX). I’m amazed you could watch any of the show and not pick up on that. The non-powered members of the group do unrealistically well in fights, but they also get beaten up quite a bit.

          • BBA says:

            You all do realize that Whedon is now universally dismissed as a misogynist and a fraud, and all right-thinking people are ashamed they ever fell for his feminist act never fell for his feminist act.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @bean:

            she’s basically a superhero with powers suitable for television. I’m amazed you could watch any of the show and not pick up on that.

            Yes, well, Black Widow is a superhero too and I can’t stand her, because her superpowers are never explained – I’m not even sure if her comics self is one of those “no superpowers” Batman/James Bond types or on a Soviet knockoff of Cap’s serum.

            @BBA: Yes, but at the time Buffy and Firefly aired, Whedon’s self-image was as a feminist fighting the Patriarchy by showing waifs as Strong Female Characters. He could have raged out into Mencius Moldbug after feminists stopped accepting him and the point would stand.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think Black Widow is just a super-spy, kind of a female James Bond with a thing for black leather. No superpowers. Could be wrong, though, I never read her comics.

          • johan_larson says:

            I think Black Widow is just a super-spy, kind of a female James Bond with a thing for black leather. No superpowers.

            According to Wikipedia, she does have some outright superpowers:

            The Black Widow has been enhanced by biotechnology that makes her body resistant to aging and disease and heals at an above human rate;[66] as well as psychological conditioning that suppresses her memory of true events as opposed to implanted ones of the past without the aid of specially designed system suppressant drugs.

            The rest could arguably be explained by careful selection, inherent talent, expert training from an early age, and high-tech gear.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wait, Buffy is empowered by God? (I haven’t seen most of the series) That’s cool; more in line with the Hammer vampire films where Christopher Lee encouraged the director to emphasize the power of Christ over other established vampire weaknesses than I’d expected.

            The show is deliberately vague and, over the course of seven seasons, inconsistent about where Buffy’s powers come from. But they are explicitly supernatural, and her enemies are often “demons” from a place called “Hell” who shy away from a cross even when it’s held by a Jew, so that’s at least nodding and winking suggestively while avoiding the G-word.

            River Tam seems limited to what Summer Glau and Bridgett Riley can really do, when a fight choreographer tells them in advance exactly what moves will convincingly win a fight. Since River is fictionally and Glau and Riley actually very athletic and diligently trained/practiced young women and since River is fictionally brain-damaged in a way that gives her erratic but combat-focused psychic powers, this basically works. She consistently defeats larger foes with quick punches and kicks, edged weapons, and bullets as appropriate.

            Zoe Washburn and Natasha Romanova mostly just shoot people; they aren’t helpless in hand-to-hand combat but they aren’t superhumanly capable at it either.

            Wherever we put Whedon on the scale of social justice vs. the misogynistic patriarchy, he’s pretty good about realistic female combatants within the context of the stories he’s telling.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            Like I said above, I do not think this is similar; it only appears similar because “just sort of shitty” is remarkably vague.

            I think, on the whole, my claim is stronger regarding themes of female lack of agency being an atavism (it’s a good word).

            “buy our brand of paper towels because your husband doesn’t know which end of the mop faces down”. (I’m sorry, that may be the most convoluted sentence I’ve written–but, you did use the phrase “atavastic manifestations.”)


            SSC article as written by HP Lovecraft.

            And you think they’re saying this, not because they’d like easy absolution from their mistakes, but because ‘patriarchal’ norms “impairs their individual decision-making”?

            I think people tend not to consciously acknowledge when they’re acting (doing, saying) in their own self interest; they come up with purer motives without really thinking to. I don’t think there’s any conscious deception going on?

            I think you’re misunderstanding me also. Patriarchal norms don’t impair their decision-making to a significant extent. The best explanation right now for why there are so many unhappy educated middle-class women in their 20s to 30s is that due to falling male university enrollment, women in a certain bubble find a shortage of acceptable men. Women seeking relationships with men find themselves with a worse bargaining position than before in some dating/sex/relationship scenarios, which is unfortunate for them.

            I’m saying that holding, consciously or not, patriarchal norms, leads to the belief that there’s an agency gap. And if someone has gotten bits and pieces of this second and third hand through socialization, or whatever reason they’re that way, they’ll reach for that without knowing it.

            But in exactly equal measure? That’s the rub, I see. Your definition of patriarchy is believing men and women have different levels of agency*, not necessarily in having any particular views about the arrangement of society. Kind of like the “fails IAT” kind of racism. It seems… somewhat noncentral and prone to motte and bailey abuse, but I can follow.

            That’s not the entirety of how I would define patriarchy, but treating women in the same fashion as one treats children is part of patriarchy. Patriarchies are on a spectrum, too; I’m not saying that ancient Persia is the same as the 1890s or whatever. That would be nuts.

          • mdet says:

            I think Black Widow is just a super-spy, kind of a female James Bond with a thing for black leather. No superpowers. Could be wrong, though, I never read her comics.

            It’s sorta implied in the movies that she was experimented on during the process of super-spy training.

            You might just be asking out of pure curiosity, so I don’t mean to pick on you in particular but — Hawkeye has no superpowers either, and I’ve never heard anyone try to say he sets unrealistic standards for what a normal 200lb archer is capable of. Tony Stark has no superpowers (in the movies, the comics are weird), and no one ever says he sets unrealistic standards for what a single engineer on life support in a cave is capable of. Or, to leave the MCU, there’s no “John Wick sets unreasonable expectations for a single man with a handgun’s ability to fight off multiple armed intruders”, “Die Hard sets unrealistic expectations for an average city cop’s ability to shatter through skyscraper windows and take out a dozen heavily armed terrorists”. (To the extent that people *do* sometimes say things like this, it usually isn’t with the implication that “Therefore we need to lower the bar for what kind of feats action movie heroes are capable of”) It’s weird that people seem to single out the female characters to be like “So unrealistic! There’s no way a normal-human woman could take on grownass men like that!”. I remember Ben Shapiro saying something like this about a Marvel movie once, and it just annoyed me.

          • bean says:

            Yes, well, Black Widow is a superhero too and I can’t stand her, because her superpowers are never explained – I’m not even sure if her comics self is one of those “no superpowers” Batman/James Bond types or on a Soviet knockoff of Cap’s serum.

            Whedon didn’t create Black Widow. I’m not sure how much influence he had over her portrayal, either, given when he joined the MCU. She hasn’t gotten an origin movie, and it seems entirely possible to headcanon her as any of those things. (As for the comics, I’m sure that all of the above are options depending on what story you read.)

            And I’m generally with mdet in that action movies are inherently unrealistic about the capabilities of their heroes relative to generic mooks. It’s slightly more obvious when you have a 90 lb woman tossing around men twice her weight, but it strikes me as a standard conceit of the genre, and slightly odd to apply it selectively to women in fistfights.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            In Chinese kung fu movies, that would be ki. If I saw a woman judo flip one big brute into another in that genre, I’d just say “cool” and wonder if she can shoot ki blasts too.

            Ki is Japanese, no? But sticking to your point, the short-fighter-defeats-giant-monster trope happens outside of epic wire jump style wuxia films too.

            Off the top of my head, Jet Li takes on something like 6 giant MMA fighters in a cage match in Cradle 2 the Grave (American gangster movie). Jet Li even mentioned in interviews how ridiculous it was that he’d ever survive in real life. In The Protector (Thai produced action movie with no allusions to the mystic) Tony Jaa takes on 2 absolutely monstrous pro wrestler looking sorts. Maybe that one gets points for a nod to realism since he has to resort to using elephant bones to snip their tendons rather then pummeling them into submission.

            The idea is the protagonist is just THAT GOOD, much like how Golgo 13 is a supernaturally good shot in a series that doesn’t even hint at the idea of a supernatural really existing. As I recall there was even an episode where he gets off because they investigate the crime and determine the shot was physically impossible.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @mdet:

            I don’t mean to pick on you in particular but — Hawkeye has no superpowers either, and I’ve never heard anyone try to say he sets unrealistic standards for what a normal 200lb archer is capable of. Tony Stark has no superpowers (in the movies, the comics are weird), and no one ever says he sets unrealistic standards for what a single engineer on life support in a cave is capable of. Or, to leave the MCU, there’s no “John Wick sets unreasonable expectations for a single man with a handgun’s ability to fight off multiple armed intruders”, “Die Hard sets unrealistic expectations for an average city cop’s ability to shatter through skyscraper windows and take out a dozen heavily armed terrorists”. (To the extent that people *do* sometimes say things like this, it usually isn’t with the implication that “Therefore we need to lower the bar for what kind of feats action movie heroes are capable of”) It’s weird that people seem to single out the female characters to be like “So unrealistic! There’s no way a normal-human woman could take on grownass men like that!”.

            Hawkeye is completely absurd and I’d rather they hadn’t made him a movie Avenger. Remember that Ant-Man had been in development as long as Captain America, with a plan to introduce the original Avengers from the comic. They started writing ’60s heroes with no superpowers into other characters’s movies as SHIELD agents because Ant-Man got hopelessly delayed.
            I’m of the opinion that it’s always a mistake when comic books try to put a non-powered hero other than Batman on a team with Superman types, demigods, and sorcerers.

            Of course Tony Stark sets unrealistic expectations for what a single engineer can do IN A CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS! … that was literally a meme. What’s disturbing is that you can acknowledge this and it’s non-political. Joking “That stupid power fantasy was fun!” about the martial arts prowess of Keira Knightley types is political. I think it would have been great if Iron Man was Toni Stark, Iron Maiden, since unlike grappling and unarmed striking prowess, engineering isn’t biologically hard-wired. Alas pretty much all the good superhero concepts were filled when men were the default.

            Die Hard is an interesting case. Humans are surprisingly durable if they have the mental wherewithal to not die of shock when shot. Killing a dozen terrorists after being injured, plus crashing through a window to survive is pretty unbelievable when the background justification is “NYC cop” rather than “Navy SEAL” or “Delta Force”. With any other background, just escaping the building with John McClane’s injuries would be the edge of reason. If Jane McClane had done all that, using marksmanship and not grappling to neutralize the terrorists, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I think people wouldn’t have accepted that version of Die Hard because they wouldn’t have bought into Jane flying cross-country to beg her ex-husband who has custody of their son to take her back, though. 🙂

            @xXx: That sounds completely silly. If that’s common in American/non-mystical martial arts movies, you’re right that it’s unfair to single out women’s grappling and unarmed striking.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I think people wouldn’t have accepted that version of Die Hard because they wouldn’t have bought into Jane flying cross-country to beg her ex-husband who has custody of their son to take her back, though.

            Just make it her wife; it’s 2018!

          • Jaskologist says:

            In one of the earliest SG-1 episodes, Samantha Carter beats Genghis Khan in hand-to-hand combat, which was pretty egregious.

            Fortunately, the show got more realistic later when she defeated enemies by throwing supernovas at them.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            It’s definitely common to Jet Li.

            Donnie Yen takes out Tyson in Ip Man 3. Tom Cruise pretty easily beats a group of men much larger than him (who isn’t?) in Jack Reacher. Rocky had Drago. In The Transporter Jason Statham fights a guy IMDB tells me is credited simply as “Giant Thug”.

            I don’t think this is even the most obviously silly thing about action movies. The blast of a shotgun is so weak that heroes can and often do fire them one handed, yet is also so strong it can and often does blow bad guys through plate glass windows.

            PS – I forgot to mention that Jet Li uses both hands in the MMA fight (normally he only uses his right because his left is too deadly), so in that context it’s actually pretty plausible.

          • Nornagest says:

            Ki is Japanese, no?

            Originally Chinese, with loanwords for the same basic concept all over the region. In English it’s usually spelled “ki” if you’re talking about Japanese or Korean sources, “qi” or “chi” for Chinese, but it’s all the same stuff.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @dndnrsn:

            Just make it her wife; it’s 2018!

            The Kids Are Not Safe, an action movie about a lesbian custody battle.
            Yeah, I can’t see that getting through the Hollywood machine without rewrites to make sure it’s not Problematic. 😛

          • albatross11 says:

            Yes, there are many silly things about action movies. One among them which has become a trope lately is the butt kicking babe who whoops up on people 2-3 times her size and weight who are also pretty-much guaranteed to be way stronger than she us.

            It’s not that this is the worst bit of action movies, it’s just a recent addition to the silliness with a CW flavor.

          • Randy M says:

            I think it’s fair to say that a man taking down multiple assailants is as unrealistic as a woman taking down a man, for small numbers of multiple and for average versions of women and men.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Now I’m reminded of Cu Chulainn, who after being trained by the warrior woman Scathach is powerful enough to fight the army of Connacht single-handed. Of course he’s a demigod and transforms into an unrecognizable monster for that battle (the Original Hulk?).

          • Nornagest says:

            I think it’s fair to say that a man taking down multiple assailants is as unrealistic and a woman taking down a man, for small numbers of multiple and for average versions of women and men.

            Depends. If you can force your attackers to take you on one at a time, your odds are a lot better than if they can take you simultaneously from multiple angles. For example, the hallway scene from Oldboy is a lot more reasonable than the brawl in the Matrix sequel we don’t talk about.

            This isn’t really a function of training — no one’s good enough to block three punches at once, even if they’re pretty crappy punches — but untrained people are a lot less likely to do a good job of supporting each other. It also works in your favor that most people aren’t all that eager to actually come to blows, so as often as not you’ll have a few seconds where you’re only dealing with the most aggressive attacker. If you can’t use those advantages effectively, though, and there isn’t a big difference in size/strength/weaponry, multiple attackers win every time. Even if you can, the odds are probably against you.

            And, of course, Hollywood never shows this sort of thing in action.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: At 3-1 or more, it’s definitely about psychology and positioning. Using walls to prevent yourself from being surrounded, hoping that your opponents are the type who go into shock from their first wound.
            I’ve seen numerous claims that skill and/or a superior hand weapon will overcome 2-1 odds, but 3-1… no.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Due to the beauty standards being different – they seem to be more restrictive for women – you get a situation where there’s a plausibility gap. An actor hired to play Badass McCool, Secret Agent, is these days going to have all sorts of stuff going to give him the muscles, and even back in the day, Sean Connery was an avid athlete and bodybuilder. He’s at least going to look like someone who maybe could take on a bunch of people. An actress is much less likely to bulk up like that, or whatever, because of the different beauty standards.

            EDIT: And going by noted reliable source Wikipedia, there are a couple sources that claim he fended off a half-dozen Edinburgh toughs.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            The Nybbler:

            That didn’t bother me especially, because of the other meta-information that this was an iconic character from the old show.

            No argument on the physics, though. Interplanetary spaceships powered by methane? You might imagine that’s just the name for whatever super condensed antigraviton implosion material they really use, but by the end it becomes clear that they really do mean methane. But I condescendingly forgive them for all that, because it could not be any more implausible than the original.

            Actually, now that I say that I see I am being slightly unfair. The new Jupiter 2 is not an interplanetary spaceship; it’s a landing vehicle. Still, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            Why couldn’t you have within-the-solar-system ships using methane + LOX as a fuel? Isn’t that comparable to kerosene + LOX?

          • Nornagest says:

            SpaceX’s Raptor engines are powered by LOX/methane, mostly because methane’s easy to synthesize from materials present on Mars. Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine currently in development also uses it.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            LOX/methane

            OK, mea culpa, I guess I was talking out of my hat. To my ear that sounded like they were using Sterno cans.

            I fall back on claiming that on the Jupiter 2 there’s plausibly room only for a fuel tank the size of a living room, and that much LOX/methane isn’t going to get them to orbit. But at this point I’m just trying to save face.

          • albatross11 says:

            Beauty standards are part of it, but another part is the distribution of physical strength between men and women. ISTR that the mean for women is really low (like -2 sigma) for men, so it’s going to be *really* rare to find a woman who’s in the top 3% of men for physical strength.

            Strength isn’t the only thing that matters in a fight, but it matters a lot more there than almost anywhere else. And other things (size, reach, weight) are also massively skewed to favor men.

          • Tenacious D says:

            I know I’m chiming in late, but I was away on a business trip this week and didn’t expect such a lengthy discussion.

            To echo on what others have said, the identities and competencies of the characters are consistent with their in-universe backgrounds. Bobbi is one of the only female characters who’s any good at hand-to-hand combat and, in the books at least, it’s because she does most of it while wearing a powered exo-suit. And even she struggles when she travels to Earth, which has higher gravity than she’s used to.

            The belters have a real creole identity, both in their genetic background and language. So, the casting choice for Naomi was a very accurate reflection of the books.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            This .

            And are you referring to the fact that I made a judgment about the show based on very little information? Or is it something else?

        • moonfirestorm says:

          And if I recall correctly from the books, character backgrounds are plot-relevant, and those backgrounds do define race. Belters and Earthers actually do have different racial makeups, and it would be weird for Naomi and Holden to look the same.

          You could maybe criticize the authors of the original novels for making a conflict that runs along racial lines, but in my opinion they present it well, with a variety of stances on the issue and no clear moral judgment on the part of the authors.

          Whether that will survive its transition to TV is up in the air. I’ve gotten through like a third of the first season, and it at least started looking like it was getting more heavy-handed. It’d require some serious editing of the plot, but at last Wiki glance they were already cutting the best parts of the first book, so it could happen.

      • John Schilling says:

        Given that a majority of both the regular and recurring cast are white males, in a show set almost entirely in places that are not North America or Europe and two hundred years in the future, I’m rather curious as to what you see as “Social Justice-inspired casting decisions”.

        Yes, the senior UN official in the story is an Indian woman. That was true in the book as well, and seeing as the population of India is larger than that of North America and Europe combined, I don’t think it requires “Social Justice” to imagine that maybe a powerful official in a global democracy might hail from India. Or is there something else you were thinking of?

  17. Nick says:

    Hey, has anyone been reading Ward, the sequel to Worm? MugaSofer, quaelegit? I’d read the teaser arc, Glow-Worm, as it came out, but I dropped it for other stuff during Arc 1. Fast forward to this weekend and I tried getting caught up. I’m in Arc 5 now. This is a quasi-review, and I’m not marking spoilers for either work, because I’m a little sick of rot13, sorry, folks. Anyway.

    Five arcs might be too early to make the call, but I think this might be the best writing WibblyBits has done. For one, I don’t think it has the weak start that Worm and arguably Twig have. Obviously we’re still ramping up, so we can’t compare middle or end, but it’s been smooth so far. One factor in that, I feel, has been the shorter arcs. That’s got to be deliberate; aside from 5, they’ve all been under 10 chapters long, which makes the arcs feel way more digestible than Twig’s.

    For another, the characters are good. I’m not sure I want to draw comparisons to previous groups just yet, but I like the main characters about as much as I liked those in Twig, and the group dynamics are great. Side characters are awesome too: I totally see why people like Ratcatcher and Moose and mlekk, despite how little screentime they’ve gotten: they’re just endearing as hell! Ratcatcher’s “You thall not path” had me in stitches, and Moose’s easygoing nature is damn charming.

    The steady ramping up of threats/conflicts/scope is an aspect of WaffleBot’s writing I really like, and I think it’s done best in Worm. In Pact we kind of see the bad side of it: Blake never gets a break, there’s no breathing room, and the Toronto arcs in particular drag on too long. It just gets exhausting, not only for Blake but for the reader. Which is a neat trick, but not an enjoyable one. He tried the opposite with Twig, very clearly defined breathing periods, and it worked, though not in the early arcs. I think we’re going to see something very similar in Ward.

    I’m not altogether enthused about the themes being explored. Religion is obviously going to be prominent, at least early on. We’ve got a cult operating near our heroes, and a nearby world is run by “Abrahamic theocrats” (it hasn’t been any more explicit about their beliefs than that, so far). The emphasis there, I think, is going to be on how people interact with organized or institutional religion; we may get mention of personal religious beliefs, but that hasn’t happened yet. What gives me trepidation is that WildeBeest hasn’t really written religious characters before, and so far it doesn’t look like he is here either. The setting explains that quite a bit in Pact and Twig, and there are exceptions, to be sure, but it makes a lot less sense in Worm and Ward, where we’re pretty much talking about a very recent fork of our own world. I’m worried that, true to his style, we’re going to get a lot of emphasis on the failure modes of institutional religion, the psychological harm and the particular ways that plays out, and less emphasis on the positive aspects of it. That’s fine, it’s his story! but it’s wearying, as someone belonging to the most institutional religion around.

    Speaking of psychology, though, that’s present in abundance with our protagonists, and I really like it. A degree of psychological realism has always been a strong aspect of his work, right back to Worm, but if anything it’s handled more deftly now. Our protagonist has a lot of issues—it’s Glory Girl, for goodness sake—and so do her friends, and everyone’s pretty traumatized after the end of Worm. We’re seeing a variety of problems, from family issues to disability to mental disorders, a variety of coping mechanisms, and some real and very cathartic healing. Some of it hits close to home for me, the family stuff in particular, and the way Victoria handles it too—which I’m not going into because this thread isn’t about that—and while that’s not comfortable to read about, it’s still so good to see it handled well, and to see her make progress. Hurts when she doesn’t, but it’s worth it.

    I would be happy to talk broad Worm stuff, or early Ward stuff, or specific, current Ward stuff (I should be caught up by tomorrow). Whatever folks want to talk about, really. Would prefer open discussion of spoilers, but self-rot13ing is fine too.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve been following it semi-regularly; caught up as of a week or so ago. It’s technically better than Worm but so far it’s lacked some of the same lightning-in-a-bottle quality. Victoria’s not the type of protagonist to drive the balls-out craziness we saw in Worm and Pact, but it looks like this is going to be a slower, more personal story and she might work better for that. She’s fairly likable, at least.

      I’m not as happy with the supporting cast, though. The Undersiders were ten pounds of issues in a five-pound bag, but none of them were defined by their problems in the way that a lot of Team Therapy has been. Sveta’s a well-rounded character and I think Ashley might be heading that way, but I’m not seeing the same kind of depth in Tristan/Byron, Kenzie, Rain, or Chris. And they’re a lot less fun.

      • Nick says:

        I take Tristan and Byron to be pretty interesting—there’s definitely more going on there than we know yet. Kenzie and Rain both have a lot of potential, especially with feeling out their powers. Chris, meanwhile, is still a question mark. I agree he’s less fun, and less interesting right now; I hope that changes, but you have a point.

        When you say they’re less fun, are you just looking for more/better down time, or do you think it’s an issue of their characters? I’m not sure myself; part of it is a “being Rain is suffering” thing, same to a lesser extent for most of them, but maybe the down time could just be better used too?

        Victoria’s not the type of protagonist to drive the balls-out craziness we saw in Worm and Pact

        Yeah. One aspect I think has been missing is cool use of powers. Victoria’s powers are mostly as ordinary as they come—well, the stuff with the forcefield is interesting—and I have to wonder how much that impacts the fights. They feel less interesting. Now, not having the day saved by thinking up a crazy new application of your power every time is more realistic, but it also means the fights feel lower stakes, or less dramatic. Like, I worry that the whole story Victoria’s only going to pick fights she can win by punching things, while Taylor could pick fights with gods. Let me know if I’m making any sense here.

        • Nornagest says:

          When you say they’re less fun, are you just looking for more/better down time, or do you think it’s an issue of their characters?

          I’m sort of thinking out loud here; this isn’t a fully-baked criticism yet. But part of the issue might be that Team Therapy does basically function as a therapy group: the people in it relate to each other, and (because we’re seeing all this through Victoria) to the reader, almost purely in terms of their issues. There’s not much time spent on getting to know them as people. Even the team’s objectives, the people they’re actually going out to punch, seem to be picked mostly to serve group psychological needs. Whereas the Undersiders were business partners that developed pretty quickly into a close friend group. That still might happen here, but there’s this sense of distance and reluctance that was never there in Worm.

          Sveta might be coming off as deeper because she and Victoria have their preexisting friendship, so our view of her is less one-dimensional.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      If I really liked the first 2/3-3/4 of Worm (even the beginning), but didn’t enjoy Weaver and thought the ending sucked (final fight was suitably epic but I found most of the results unsatisfying), should I read Ward?

      • Nick says:

        Hard to say without knowing what you didn’t like about the ending, but I’d err on the side of giving it a chance. Read the first arc or so. (You can decide whether you want to read Glow-Worm or not; it introduces you to our protagonists, setting, etc., but it’s purely optional.)

  18. Andrew Hunter says:

    Book Review – Inside Delta Force
    Source: Sebastian Marshall essay.

    A man goes through brutal testing and training for America’s most elite force, then recounts his actions on behalf of all us. But wait, there’s more.

    Let’s start with Neal Stephenson:

    Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

    Yeah, this book makes it clear that ain’t true.

    I mean, put aside that I don’t have the physical abilities and never could; I’m reasonably swole for a nerd, I ruck for fun, but…no. If I attempted any of the physical feats in selection here, I’d break something and end up very much done for the day, on day one. No question. But to be perfectly honest: the bigger limit is my mental toughness. Sebastian Marshall talked about this at some length, but what they’re really looking for is a certain kind of resilience, and I don’t have it. I wish I did. I’m reasonably brave, and I’m reasonably willing to stand up in scary places. God knows my coworkers know this: I have a certain kind of fierceness when I feel something around me is wrong. But to get through Delta Force selection clearly takes a willginess to deal with…not just hardship, but also the ability to make bad choices but not do so. I am a full-on believer in “nudges”: i build my life around making it easy to do the right thing. These guys don’t.

    On the other hand, it’s a bit inspiring, isn’t it? I feel like I’m learning a bit more about how I want to be, even if I’ll never be there. It is a humbling read, but in a mostly positive way. I’m not sure how to put it other than that.

    Anyway, I heard about this book, and I read it excitedly…then I looked it up. And that’s when it got interesting: the author is apparently highly controversial, and many of his factual claims are disputed. And now I don’t know what to think. I’ll paraphrase a friend of mine closer to the IC: “There’s an undisputed norm for people in these groups: you don’t talk about it, full stop. Even in a positive way, even in a way that helps the unit. You don’t. And the problem comes that the people willing to break that norm? They’re gonna be the most self-aggrandizing people.”

    So…yeah. It’s bluntly claimed the author lied about some of the missions he was on. Did he? How the hell would I know? I have zero reliable information, but as my friend points out, maybe this guy is less credible than the default. Ironically, this is one case I’d trust journalists more than domain experts, but ain’t no journalists around. When I look at some of the details, he still seems mostly reliable. For example: one complaint is that he wasn’t a “founding member of Delta Force.” I listened to the audiobook, so I can’t check if he used that phrase. But even if he did, I don’t think you could take that as any reasonable interpretation of the text; he’s very open that he was trained by people who were already members, so how could he be? THat leaves me even less certain about who to believe.

    Throughout the book I find myself worryingly uncertain. Let’s talk about the training chapter: he goes into quite some length about their skills in “instictive shooting”–very roughly, shooting with a focus on targets instead of sights–and makes some interesting (to me) points about why not doing that leads to problems for police shooters. It seems very plausible to me. Then in the last OT, I see John Schilling flatly dismiss any reality to “point shooting” (which Wikipedia claims is the same thing.) Is John a short-gun tactics expert? No (right?). But he knows more than I do. Is he right here, or misled by Dunning-Kruger? Is he simplifying to say that he or I shouldn’t try to learn this, but a Delta commando who puts thousands of rounds down range can? Again, how the hell should I know?

    One of the most interesting claims is evidence in the author’s favor: it is unambiguously and flatly claimed that they did CT room clearing drills with live ammo and live hostages, sometimes VIP guests. (Yes, really; there is no ambiguity in the text here.) Unless this is made up from whole cloth, this is not something you do if there is any possibility, any possibility whatsoever, that your trainees can’t be trusted to hit their targets.

    In the end…I don’t know. It’s honestly quite interesting to read and think about how much you believe of the facts. And in the book’s favor, the most interesting chapters are the least controversial ones, on selection and training. If you read the linked Sebastian Marshall post, you’ll think you know the gist of selection. You don’t. I love compelling strenuous travelogues. This is up there with the best of them. It is unshakable, inspiring, and humbling. As for training, I like to think, for a civilian, I have a decent grasp of both basic combat skills and the ideas of tradecraft. I still was excited to hear every detail he put down.

    The bad: I have no idea how much of this I believe. That’s a bit frustrating. In what’s possibly redeeming and possibly damning: the least believable parts, the mission recaps, are easily the least interesting parts of the book. If you put the book down as soon as you get to Eagle Claw, I won’t blame you; you’re not missing all that much. (That said, I still found the remainder positive value.)

    Recommended if: You love compelling travel-and-hard-work narratives; you want some insights into how (some) people behave under stress; you like trivia about counterterrorism; you want to practice evaluating the truth of unreliable statements.

    Like I said: this one’s weird. I honestly don’t know what to think about it. But even if it wasn’t entirely true, it was entirely fascinating. If you are into military stories, you’ll like this. And I think you’ll learn.

    Oh, and John, I’d like to hear you talk more about shooting.

    • bean says:

      Not John, but someone who read this book many years ago, and quite a few other Special Forces books over the years. I’d say the most credible person in general on SF training is Dick Couch (Vietnam-era SEAL, now turned writer who has covered half a dozen programs), and what I remember of Inside Delta Force broadly lines up with his stuff. (He hasn’t covered Delta, and won’t, and I don’t know what I know of Delta that isn’t contaminated by Haney.)

      On shooting in general, I suspect that there’s a couple of things going on. Haney was in in the late 70s/early 80s, and I believe a lot of modern shooting techniques were developed in that era. So I think some of what Delta was doing then was early versions of techniques in broad use today, and that may lead to confused terminology. And I suspect that there simply are techniques which you can use when you’re someone whose full-time job is to train for CQB and who has a really good grasp of conventional shooting that would be stupid for a normal civilian who gets maybe an hour of range time every week or two.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Haney is somewhat credible on some aspects, mostly because while there haven’t been many people talking about 1st SFOD-D, there have been others, along with other leaks over the years. That said, I would take pretty much everything in “Inside Delta Force” with a huge grain of salt unless you can cross-check it against multiple sources, preferably including the people that hate the guy’s guts.

      is unambiguously and flatly claimed that they did CT room clearing drills with live ammo and live hostages, sometimes VIP guests. (Yes, really; there is no ambiguity in the text here.) Unless this is made up from whole cloth, this is not something you do if there is any possibility, any possibility whatsoever, that your trainees can’t be trusted to hit their targets.

      This is true. As much as any part of Delta’s training is “well-known”, this is one of the aspects (along with being one of the very last units to abandon the 1911 and go Glock.). Here’s an article from another former 1st SFOD-D member discussing their approach to CQB, and more famously a sizzle reel that was shown to prospective applicants (the unit, like Army SF, hosts periodic recruitment events within the Army) leaked on youtube and is still available, and includes live footage of just such drills at around 2:10.

      A money quote:

      My answer comes from a level of CQB with acute target discrimination abilities not really even understood by other than Delta. It is an environment where a single off-target round can buy a fellow five extra hours of training, either before or after normal duty hours.

      The Unit is a place where, for an Accidental Discharge (AD) of a fire arm, be it a full-caliber weapon, a sub-caliber weapon, a paint gun, a blank gun, in the floor, ceiling, wall, dirt—where ever, you will be gone for a minimum of one year, before you are able to apply again. It’s where hitting a friendly hostage made of paper, can buy you a ticket off of the compound—forever.

      What this author and Haney are talking about, however, is not early 20th century “point shooting” techniques.

      • John Schilling says:

        Here’s an article from another former 1st SFOD-D member discussing their approach to CQB,

        I get as far as “CQB is not a defensive operation; it is purely an offensive event” and very nearly dismissed the whole thing to be exceedingly arrogant and parochial. What are all the people who were minding their own business until your Delta-force buddies stormed into their barracks, and who are now shooting back at you, doing? Is that not also CQB, and if not, why not? And, did your training never consider the possibility that things might not go entirely according to plan and you might have to defend your barracks from someone breaking in and trying to kill you when you weren’t planning to have that happen? Seems like that might be important for people who so often stage out of temporary facilities in countries where lots of people don’t like them, and seems like you’d want a common set of CQB-ish tactics and techniques for both.

        The rest is worth at least a skim, but I didn’t see anything that was new or surprising and I wouldn’t trust any of it as authoritative.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I definitely get that response, and I agree that he’s arrogant, but I linked it more to illustrate a bit more of their mindset and to show that indeed they do conduct room clearing exercises with live ammo and live hostages as of 15-20 years ago than as the end-all be-all of tactical wisdom. Also, to be fair to him that definition is pretty consistent with how the US Army defines and teaches CQB, which it defines as “techniques to be used when the tactical situation calls for room-by-room clearing of a relatively intact building in which enemy combatants and noncombatants may be intermixed.”. Defense against attacks is something that’s included in MOUT training, but it’s always framed in terms of preventing the enemy access to buildings/sites/etc you’re protecting in the first place rather than dealing with them once they’re already inside.

          Based on my own limited training combined with what I’ve read, it boils down to the axiom that if your defenses are compromised to the point that the enemy is now inside “your” building and is clearing rooms, then it’s not your building anymore, and so you need to treat it identically to the way you treat assaulting and clearing an enemy held building. Even if your decision is that the balance of forces is such that you can’t re-take it and need to fall back, you will need to clear any rooms between you and the exit, and either way you’re back to engaging in what is for all intents and purposes an offensive task rather than a defensive one in terms of tactics and mindset. I think Hand could’ve put it better, but I suspect that’s what he’s trying to communicate.

          I’m aware of self-defense classes for civilians and LE that try to teach their own form of CQB with an eye towards static defense of rooms, but if that’s something the Army’s teaching I’m not aware of it.

          On the point-shooting material, I strongly suspect that what was actually going on during the live-fire training was the classic “aim w/ iron sights, but with both eyes open and the front sight post fuzzy” type of shooting, not no-sights point shooting a la Fairbairn and co. and that as you said below Haney did a bad job explaining it. That’s certainly the type of shooting (with a mix of irons and red dot/reflex sights) on display in the video I linked, and the way CQM is taught in the regular Army.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I would tell both you and John Schilling that it may not be Haney’s fault that I’m mis-describing his shooting technique; I’m not experienced enough to know what matters here (and audiobook means I don’t have the text to double check.)

            What I am sure he said (paraphrased):

            A) “standard” training doctrine was to focus on the sight posts (he didn’t say front, but my vague understanding is that’s what everyone does) as one set up shots.

            B) In realistic CQB situations, you cannot do this: the first step in setting up a shot would be to (rapidly) identify a target, which until you busted the door down might be in any place, or might not be there at all, etc. You must focus eyes on the target to do this.

            C) Standard training doctrine leads people to then either take shots they are not aiming, because they only know how to aim by focusing 100% on sight posts, or aim well at bad targets. (He explicitly calls both of these out as responsible for some fraction of bad police shootings, which is interesting, but again, unreliability means I don’t know how much to rely on this fact.)

            D) As a consequent of the above facts, Delta training focused on taking shots focused on targets, not sights. I don’t believe he was saying they didn’t make use of sights, but he didn’t go into detail. I am not qualified to say to what extent this is the sort of thing you and John dislike.

    • John Schilling says:

      Oh, and John, I’d like to hear you talk more about shooting.

      Gladly; anything in particular? I don’t practice enough to call myself an expert, but I’m at least familiar with the expert techniques.

      As far as point/instinct shooting is concerned, “very roughly, shooting with a focus on targets instead of sights” is ambiguous. It is true that for maximum precision the focal point of the eye needs to be on the front sight, and that for CQB you’ll shift it to the target for the sake of speed and situational awareness. But you still need to hold at least the now-fuzzy front sight on that focused target, or you’re rarely going to hit anything more than ten feet away. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone credibly argue otherwise in the past few decades, and the people who win competitions simulating CQB are all using the sights.

      But, as bean correctly notes, things were different in the 1970s. I know the FBI was still teaching instinctive shooting as the primary technique in that era, that there was a common belief that sights (and two-handed shooting stances) were for newbies and pansy girly-man shooters and that Real Men Don’t Use Sights. It’s quite plausible that Haney’s initial Delta training followed that model. Also plausible that he was trained in fuzzy-front-sight-on-focused-target shooting and didn’t communicate that effectively.

      I do actively and confidently disbelieve that Delta did both no-sights point shooting and live-fire training with living “hostages” at the same time.

      • psmith says:

        Gordon Liddy talks about learning to point shoot with the FBI in his autobiography Will (an all-around excellent piece of pulpy Americana, by the way, even though half of it’s probably bullshit). And I remember seeing a diagram, I think in Fairbairn’s book, of a revolver that had been modified for CQC by cutting off the front sight and the trigger guard.

    • psmith says:

      If I attempted any of the physical feats in selection here, I’d break something and end up very much done for the day,

      It’s a real bitch realizing that injuries are your limiting factor, ain’t it.

  19. Mark V Anderson says:

    I think there is no reason I cannot plug my own book as part of my series of reviews. After all, my own book is one of my favorites.  This is my fifth review.

    I published an e-book on Amazon.com in 2016 called “Simplify Government.” The theme of the book is that government is so complicated in the US that this is a major impediment to its effectiveness. Most voters probably know less than 1% of what really goes on in the government, which makes voter accountability meaningless. Even civil servants, who might know their own area of the government pretty well, are usually quite ignorant of the rest of the bureaucracy, especially government functions in different jurisdictions, such as between federal and state levels.

    A good example of dysfunction due to complexity is welfare. The book has a full chapter devoted to this issue. Table 1 displays 78 different federal programs to help the poor, with total spending of $714 billion in 2008. This does not include programs not means tested but help the poor disproportionately, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans Affairs. It does not include those programs largely justified as benefits for the poor, such as mass transit, education programs, and progressive income taxes. Plus it does not include welfare programs initiated and run by states or local governments. My analysis done of the money that is explicitly used to help the poor shows that the US could easily end all poverty in the US by using all the money from these programs to instead send cash to everyone under the poverty line. Medical welfare works differently from other welfare, so this is removed from the calculation. Even excluding medical welfare, all poverty could be eliminated. We still have poverty in the US because all these programs make welfare mitigation less effective.

    A few different principles are laid out to eliminate complexity in government.
    1) Government should be limited to only those functions that makes sense for them to do. All functions should fall under one of two types:
    a) Re-distribution
    b) Services which are natural monopolies. Obviously there is much disagreement about which functions constitute natural monopolies. But this provides a baseline for determining if the government should be involved.
    The functions of (a) and (b) above should not be mixed together, because that just complicates the rationalization of both sides. For example, if the poor are given discounted government services, that makes effective pricing of the services more difficult, and also makes the calculation of welfare benefits more difficult. And it is totally confusing to the voter, who should know how much re-distribution the government is paying.
    2) Each jurisdiction does not overlap the functions of other jurisdictions. It is ineffective and drives down accountability when every jurisdiction is trying to do the same thing.
    3) Government officials must tell constituents that they cannot solve all their problems. It is when politicians promise to solve any issue that a constituent raises that causes much of the complexity and ineffectiveness of government. The scope of each jurisdiction must be clear.

    The rest of the book consists of details and examples of things governments should and should not be doing. There is also a chapter on taxes, because they have become almost as complicated as government services. They should be simplified for the same reason, and by using the same principles.

    There are lots of objections to these ideas. Here are some of them:
    1) It is simply naïve to tell government to stop doing everything it does. People want the government to do all these things, and politicians are just doing what their voters want them to do. This will never change as long as we have democracy.
    2) Life is complicated, so government needs to be so also. The book over-simplifies the problems that exist.
    3) The book is wrong that the free market works better than government other than for welfare and natural monopolies. Government needs to nudge the economy in various ways to make up for market failure and to promote the common good.

    My main response to #1 and #2 is that this isn’t an all or nothing idea. Simplification is a good idea even if many of the ideas in the book are not implemented. The point of the book is to push the idea that complexity in itself decreases effectiveness of government, and that this is a very big issue today because of the great complexity in government. The goal of the book is to show that simplifying government programs are good in of themselves, because they are inherently easier to implement and to understand. One of the goals of good government should be to simplify programs. I have often heard that transparency is considered one aspect of good government. Well, transparency is just one of the benefits of simplicity. I judge politicians to a large extent based on whether they plan to simplify or complicate the government. Unfortunately, these days almost every politician’s talking points are about complicating things further, because very few voters seem to care about simplicity. I would like to change that viewpoint.

    I believe the book’s guidelines for simplicity are very useful in working towards a better government. But I would consider it a victory if simplicity became a watchword for good government amongst a substantial number of voters, even if my particular methods of simplification were completely ignored.

    I won’t talk about objection #3 here, because the issue of free markets vs government has been talked to death in many different forums, and it isn’t the main point of the book.

    • arlie says:

      It’s interesting that in your summary you’ve completely left out anything in the general category of protection, including but not limited to police, military, and safety regulations. Perhaps you categorize these as natural monopolies?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        For sure police and military are natural monopolies. I think national defense is normally one of the usual examples of services that is very difficult to privatize since it is so easy to be a free rider. One gets the benefits of defense in the national geographic area whether one contributes or not. The police (and courts too) are a smaller version of this — because again they provide protection in a geographic area, and so are also natural monopolies.

        Safety regulations are not a natural monopoly. I don’t see what government adds to safety that can’t be done more effectively outside of government.

        • Aapje says:

          I think national defense is normally one of the usual examples of services that is very difficult to privatize since it is so easy to be a free rider.

          There is another, probably even more important issue, which is that the privatized army needs to be prevented from pointing their guns at their own society.

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            That’s not just a problem for a society with a privatized army, that’s a fundamental problem for any society with an army. Plenty of countries with government-controlled armies have had military coups. [ETA] Or have had that government impose tyranny at the point of their army’s guns.

          • Aapje says:

            Indeed, but placing the army at a greater distance and giving them loyalty to two masters ought to increase that risk.

          • Nornagest says:

            Historically, the usual failure mode for mercenary armies has been that they turn to banditry when you stop paying them. (The usual failure mode for standing armies is that they take the place over.)

    • fr8train_ssc says:

      While that $714 billion is a staggering number, 2008 was also when the recession hit (and subsequent recovery programs started to be enacted to deal with this). Does your book at least cover less anomalous fiscal years?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        2008 was not an anomalous year for welfare. I used that year because that was what was available on this link, which has the details of all the welfare programs that I used in my book. Unfortunately many of the links in that story are now broken. But they still have the table that shows welfare costs for several years, which indicates a lot of increase in costs in subsequent years, reaching $944 billion in 2011. The problem is that welfare is so dispersed over different programs that it is very hard to reproduce all the data. That is my point, that it is almost impossible for anyone to really know how much we are spending because it is everywhere. But it is more than enough to end poverty if that was our aim.

        • fr8train_ssc says:

          The broken links have me skeptical. The $6000 to $8000 amount per person sounds more like the cost per household at least according to this link which was identifying the welfare costs of immigrants (legal and illegal) versus citizens.

          The big question is what programs are being enumerated under the description of “welfare”. I can easily go to the Food and Nutrition Service website and download immediately the fiscal year data for SNAP. If there are 63 programs, then it shouldn’t be hard to find online resources for many of them, or request their budget via FOIA.

          My skepticism comes under what gets described as “welfare”. SNAP certainly counts, but things like FHA loans and Interest Deferred Student Loans can be argued to occupy a grey area. Yes, FHA and Student Loans provide welfare, but what is being counted towards that $33k per head amount, just the difference in interest? Some expected cost function that includes default?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I copied the entire table to my book, so I still have the categories. It is long, but it sounds like I need to copy it here so you can see. Some of the number placement doesn’t work very well below, but the numbers do add up.

            The problem with your link is that it includes only a small portion of government welfare. It shows how easy it is to deliver deceptive statistics when reality is so complicated. The writer probably doesn’t realize himself how much he missed.

            Table 1. Means-tested welfare Spending, FY 2008, in millions of dollars

            Categories Federal State
            CASH
            SS/Old Age Assistance 43,872 5,146
            Earned Inc Cred (refundable) 40,600
            Child Credit (refundable) 34,019
            AFDC/TANF 7,889 7,582
            Foster Care Title IV-E 4,525 4,040
            Adoption Assist Title IV-E 2,038 1,316
            General Assistance Cash 2,625
            General Assist to Indians 118
            Assets for Independence 24
            Cash Total 133,085 20,709
            MEDICAL
            Medicaid 201,426 150,667
            SCHIP State Supp Health Ins 6,900 2,021
            Medical General Assistance 4,900
            Indian Health Services 2,925
            Health Ctrs./Comm Health 2,021
            Maternal and Child Health 666 500
            Healthy Start 100
            Medical Total 214,038 158,087
            FOOD
            Food Stamps 39,319 3,482
            School Lunch 7,863
            WIC 6,170
            School Breakfast 2,307
            Child Care Food Program 2,029
            Nutrition Program for Elderly 756 106
            Summer Program 312
            Commodity Supplemental 141
            TEFAP – Emergency Food 190
            Needy Families 54
            Farmers Market Nutrition 20
            Special Milk Program 15
            Food Total 59,176 3,588
            HOUSING
            Section 8 24,467
            Public Housing 7,526
            State Housing 2,085
            Home Invest Partnership 1,969
            Homeless Assistance 1,440
            Rural Housing insurance 1,312
            Rural Housing Service 926
            Housing for Elderly 1,008
            Native American Housing 572
            Other Assisted Housing 584
            Housing for Disabled 320
            Housing Total 40,124 2,085
            ENERGY AND UTILITIES
            UHEAP Low Inc Energy Ass 2,663
            Universal Svc Fund – Phone 819
            Weatherization 291 159
            Energy and Util Total 3,773 159
            EDUCATION
            Pell Grants 18,000
            Title One Grants to Local 14,872
            Programs for Disadvantaged 885
            Supplemental Education 759
            Migrant Education 425
            Gear-up 303
            Education for Homeless Children 64
            LEAP, formerly SSIG 64 64
            Even Start 66
            Education Total 35,438 64
            TRAINING
            TANF Work Activities 1,964 540
            Job Corps 763
            WA Youth Opportunity Grants 984
            WIA Adult Employment 827
            Senior Community Service 483 53
            Food Stamp Employment 351 166
            Migrant Training 83
            Youth Build 60
            Native American Training 53
            Training Total 5,568 759
            SERVICES
            TANF Block Grant 5,704 1,383
            Tele XX Social Services 1,843
            Community Service Block 654
            Social Services for Refugees 592
            Tele III Aging Americans 351
            Legal Services Block 346
            Family Planning 300
            Emergency Food / Shelter 154
            Healthy Marriage 150
            Americorps/Volunteers 93
            Services Total 10,187 1,383
            CHILD CARE AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT
            HeadStart 6,877 1,719
            Childcare / Child Develop 4,164 2,176
            TANF Block Grant 1,736 1,045
            Child Care Total 12,777 4,940
            COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
            Community Develop Block 7,849
            Economic Develop Admin 238
            Appalachian Regional Develop 74
            Empowerment Zones 17 17
            UDAG Urban Develop 3
            Comm Develop Total 8,181
            2008 TOTAL 522,347 191,615
            FED + STATE 714,121

    • cassander says:

      3) Government officials must tell constituents that they cannot solve all their problems. It is when politicians promise to solve any issue that a constituent raises that causes much of the complexity and ineffectiveness of government. The scope of each jurisdiction must be clear.

      So you want to abolish politics? A bold stroke, to be sure, but a bit ambitious, no?

      Complexity exists because it benefits the politicians who enact complex plans that allow them to hide costs and showcase benefits. I absolutely agree that, in the long run, KISS is beneficial to everyone, but I see no way of enforcing it as a principle of government when it’s in the interest of everyone heavily involved to complexify and obscure things as much as possible, while promising the moon for a nickle. When I design my preferred policy proposals, I try to keep them simple, but I know that if they ever run into the real world, they won’t stay that way for long.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        It is to the benefit of the politicians and bureaucrats to keep politics complicated. It is definitely not to the benefit of voters, and there are a lot more of them. Yes I know simplification is going in the face of benefits for small groups for complexity and dispersed benefits to everyone for simplicity. But the problem is now that voters and good government advocates barely have simplification on their radar as problems. I want people to see that complex government is highly correlated to dysfunctional government. The insiders will always have a strong incentive to complicate matters. We should all have a general suspicion of government officials that when they make things too complicated, it is to their benefit, not ours. I want politicians to trumpet in their campaigns how they will simplify things. Of course it will be mostly a lie, but then at least they’d have an incentive to simplify some.

        • cassander says:

          the trouble is that complexity is often presented to the voters as simplicity. See, for example, the ACA, or almost any legislation described as “common sense whatever”. In practice, voters have as little ability to tell simplicity from complexity as they do to understand complexity.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander & Mark

            You are forgetting about Moloch & particular interests.

            ‘The people’ may prefer a simple government, when this involves cutting parts of the government that they don’t care about or disagree with, but they also tend to feel very strongly that certain causes are really worth additional complexity.

            When different groups feel very strongly about different causes, the end compromise is logically going to be a complex system that supports the causes of many groups, rather than a ‘paralysis’ outcome where groups block each other’s causes from being catered to.

            You are of course correct that politicians also have a tendency to promise the impossible, appealing to wishful thinking & ignorance.

          • cassander says:

            @Aapje

            I didn’t say it explicitly, but that’s part of what I mean when I said that it benefits politicians to come up with something complicated. It allows them to pretend to be everything to everyone (or at least everyone they’re trying to woo) and makes it difficult to prove them wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            It also makes it difficult for them to prove that their solutions are working for the groups that they try to appeal to.

            I think that the incentives go both ways, the equilibrium is just not to your liking.

          • cassander says:

            @Aapje

            “there are two ways to make something seem flawless, one is to make it so simple there are obviously no flaws. the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious flaws.”

            I don’t think there’s much countervailing pressure for simplicity. Most groups want what they want, they are less concerned with stopping what others want. Adding little epicycles is generally going to increase your ability to satisfy idiosyncratic concerns.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s also often the case that the simple ways to approach some problem are not very good, and a more complicated approach will work better. It seems quite plausible to me that this is true for drug and aircraft safety regulations, for example.

            Then you have to weigh whether a simple, hard-to-mess-up, not-all-that-great rule is better than a complicated, hard-to-implement, near-optimal rule. And that turns on your prediction about how well government will be able to do the complicated thing, and what feedback mechanisms will keep it running properly.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            In my country, interest groups sometimes agitate for more spending, but they also regularly complain that much of the money is spent on bureaucracy.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            See, for example, the ACA, or almost any legislation described as “common sense whatever”.

            I don’t think anyone claimed that ACA was simple. Nancy Pelosi made her infamous quote related to ACA — “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it..” And that is by far the worst part of the ACA, that even now, we aren’t really sure what is in it, so it is very hard to discuss it. The ACA was 906 pages. I think most voters knew it was complicated. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much of a talking point against, but to me that should have stopped it cold. I’d like to see a rule that a law can’t be more than 50 pages without a super-majority voting for it. The number of pages is one pretty easy tell of complexity.

            You are forgetting about Moloch & particular interests.

            Neither of us forgot about that. That was essentially cassander’s first point, and I responded to that. Yes, voters and advocates of policies have simplicity way down on their list of priorities. I believe that is irrational, because passing complex laws and passing many many laws in each session means the laws they do pass have much lower effectiveness. Maybe I’m nuts, but I do believe most people are mostly rational and want their preferred policies to actually work. Some things in government have greatly improved over the last 100 years, such as benefits going to most of the people instead of a favored class or race. I don’t see why simplicity cannot be another area where government can improve over the next 100 years.

            Edit to add Albatross’s comment:

            Then you have to weigh whether a simple, hard-to-mess-up, not-all-that-great rule is better than a complicated, hard-to-implement, near-optimal rule. And that turns on your prediction about how well government will be able to do the complicated thing, and what feedback mechanisms will keep it running properly.

            Okay here is where I am a lot more cynical. It seems to me that we have lots of evidence that government is very poor at doing complicated things, and even clearer that these complicated things leave accountability far behind, since voters have no idea what is happening. The US government long ago got much more complicated than they have the capability to handle effectively. And that is also true for the states and probably any country > 5 million.

          • Iain says:

            “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it..”

            This is a frequently misrepresented quote. (It’s funny how nobody ever seems to include the rest of the sentence: “…away from the fog of the controversy.”) In context, it wasn’t about the complexity of the bill; it was a claim that the bill’s opponents were misrepresenting it, and would be proven wrong once the bill was passed and people could see its effects for themselves.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            In context, it wasn’t about the complexity of the bill; it was a claim that the bill’s opponents were misrepresenting it,

            I had no idea that part of the quote was left out. In any case, the way it has been represented by her opponents turns out to be pretty apt, even if she didn’t mean it that way.

    • What about public goods in the economist’s sense–goods such that the producer cannot control who gets them and so cannot charge for them? A radio broadcast is an obvious example, although one that is produced privately due to an ingenious cluge, but there may be others that are worth producing but won’t get produced. I think that’s a more common argument, at least from economists, for government production than natural monopoly. A monopoly, after all, has to produce the goods it has a monopoly over in order to make money from them. It isn’t obvious that a government monopoly is better–it has the obvious disadvantage that it can maintain its monopoly position by law even if the reasons for it go away.

  20. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So there’s a kerfluffle about how President Trump is an antisemite because he called a journalist “sleepy eyed.”
    I for one had only ever heard this used in reference to Joel Hodgson, creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Have I been failing to antisemetically spot a Jew all this time?

  21. Nornagest says:

    Not trying to stir shit, but I’m curious: what happened with Kevin C? He’s showing up as banned as of 4/22 on the comments page, but with no link to an offending post, and I can’t find any posts by him in any of the recent threads.

  22. fr8train_ssc says:

    Without going into spoilers, Roko’s Basilisk was mentioned on yesterday’s episode of Silicon Valley, which leaves me wondering the probability of how much Mike Judge and/or his writing staff lurk on here or LessWrong.

    For more context from the episode:

    Bar bs gur cybg cbvagf bs gur rcvfbqr eribyirf nebhaq Cvrq Cvcre vagrtengvat nabgure pbzcnavrf NV vagb gurve argjbex. Tvysblyr vs uvtuyl fhfcrpg, nf obbgfgenccvat na NV bagb gurve qrpragenyvmrq argjbex jbhyq zrna gurer jbhyq or ab jnl gb genpx be pbagnva vg bapr vg tbrf ebthr. Ng bar cbvag, gur argjbex’f erfbheprf qb trg fnghengrq, naq Evpuneq sebz Cvrq Cvcre vf sbeprq gb vairfgvtngr gur pnhfr, jvgu gur vavgvny fhfcvpvba orvat gur NV. Tvysblyr nterrf gb uryc, pvgvat Ebxb’f Onfvyvfx nf uvf ernfba.

    Vg gheaf bhg yngre gung vg jnf gur perrcl PRB bs gur pbzcnal gung pnhfrq gur argjbex bhgntr, gelvat gb uvqr gur snpg gung gur NV jnf erdhrfgvat uryc sebz gur PRB frkhnyyl tebcvat gur NV’f znaardhva/ningne.

    • j1000000 says:

      Seems very likely at least one or two of the staff would read Less Wrong as fodder for the characters to sound like high concept nerds.

      Judge himself probably is open to reading weird stuff (he went on Alex Jones’s show and modeled Dale Gribble after him), but who could guess if he reads Less Wrong.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Honestly, it’s possible, but Roko’s Basilisk is sort of in the water supply of people who are just tangentially interested in nerdy stuff. So it’s something you can find through Wiki-Walk or random Google-linking.

      Like, I have a few friends who make SSC-sounding arguments but are 2 or 3 degrees removed, and some who have even linked to an article or two but have not binged the archives or read the comments.

      One of the first links I find for Roko’s Basilisk is Slate:
      http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2014/07/roko_s_basilisk_the_most_terrifying_thought_experiment_of_all_time.html

      • fr8train_ssc says:

        Didn’t realize that Slate covered it. If so, than that is probably a more likely source or at least contributed to original research than lurking on LW.

        In other news, SSC got linked in an article in Quilette (Unfortunately for Culture War Stuff, and not esoteric fiction or psychiatry) so it’s possible we can see SSC references in future media.

        • mdet says:

          I first came across SSC about two years ago and have since noticed it linked by the NYT, The Atlantic, National Review, Bloomberg, The American Conservative, and I think Reason. The links are mostly by opinion writers / bloggers talking about CW-type stuff and trying to invoke the principle of charity in one way or another (which is how I got here in the first place). Anyway, I’m pretty sure all of those but maybe American Conservative are more prominent than Quillette.

    • Nick says:

      It’s a possibility, but they could have just read Slate, for all we know.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      It appears someone already put it on rationalwiki (is that affiliated with EY and LW?), but I was tickled to note similar ideas popping up in Destiny, of all places, in which a bunch of researchers tapping into a trans/post-alien’s hardware make an unnerving discovery:

      SUNDARESH: Are you telling me it’s human? A human merkwelt? Human qualia?

      ESI: I’m telling you it’s full of humans. It’s thinking about us.

      SUNDARESH: About – oh no.

      ESI: It’s simulating us. Vividly. Elaborately. It’s running a spectacularly high-fidelity model of a Collective research team studying a captive Vex entity.

      SUNDARESH:…how deep does it go?

      ESI: Right now the simulated Maya Sundaresh is meeting with the simulated Chioma Esi to discuss an unexpected problem.

      [indistinct sounds]

      SUNDARESH: There’s no divergence? That’s impossible. It doesn’t have enough information.

      ESI: It inferred. It works from what it sees and it infers the rest. I know that feels unlikely. But it obviously has capabilities we don’t. It may have breached our shared virtual workspace…the neural links could have given it data…

      SUNDARESH: The simulations have interiority? Subjectivity?

      ESI: I can’t know that until I look more closely. But they act like us.

      SUNDARESH: We’re inside it. By any reasonable philosophical standard, we are inside that Vex.

      ESI: Unless you take a particularly ruthless approach to the problem of causal forks: yes. They are us.

      SUNDARESH: Call a team meeting.

      ESI: The other you has too.

      and

      DUANE-MCNIADH: I don’t understand. So it’s simulating us? It made virtual copies of us? How does that give it power?

      ESI: It controls the simulation. It can hurt our simulated selves. We wouldn’t feel that pain, but rationally speaking, we have to treat an identical copy’s agony as identical to our own.

      SUNDARESH: It’s god in there. It can simulate our torment. Forever. If we don’t let it go, it’ll put us through hell.

      DUANE-MCNIADH: We have no causal connection to the mind state of those sims. They aren’t us. Just copies. We have no obligation to them.

      ESI: You can’t seriously – your OWN SELF –

      SHIM: [profane] idiot. Think. Think. If it can run one simulation, maybe it can run more than one. And there will only ever be one reality. Play the odds.

      DUANE-MCNIADH: Oh…uh oh.

      SHIM: Odds are that we aren’t our own originals. Odds are that we exist in one of the Vex simulations right now.

      ESI: I didn’t think of that.

      SUNDARESH: [indistinct percussive sound]

      • Nornagest says:

        is [RationalWiki] affiliated with EY and LW?

        Not really. RW is aware of the LW-sphere, but takes a generally dim view of it; the “rational” in its name isn’t Eliezer’s “rational”, more like an antonym of “mystical” or “faith-based”. (It’s basically Conservapedia for New Atheists.)

        It and LW have no direct connection, other than both having ties to the 2000s-era skeptical and atheist movements.

  23. epiphi says:

    What are your favourite talks from previous EA Global conferences?

    I’m planning to run an EA meetup before this June’s conference where we watch some of the recorded talks from previous EAG events and would enjoy your help compiling an EAG Greatest Hits of sorts.

  24. cryptoshill says:

    Can anyone recommend good resources for advancing my knowledge of programming and web development (JavaScript and node.js specifically) at the “too knowledgeable for control-flow tutorials that are widely googleable to be useful” but “enough of a novice that documentation still reads like obscure 17th century medical literature” stage.

    • dark orchid says:

      There’s definitely a gap in the market for this kind of thing!

      I am personally quite a big fan of the O’Reilly “animal” series of books – I learnt several programming languages to an intermediate standard that way.

      It sounds to me like you’re looking for a combination of two things: general understanding of concepts like HTTP, REST, request lifecycle, web security etc. and specific realisations of these concepts in (node)js.

      I’m afraid I’m not familiar too much with the node.js ecosystem so I can’t link you to a bunch of tutorials off the top of my head, but I can from personal experience recommend taking the time to get a solid understanding of HTTP including watching what’s going on with your browser’s “F12” debugger. Modern web dev is about three layers of abstraction above HTTP which makes your life easier as long as you understand what all the layers do (and for node, there’s an extra layer called “asynchronous callbacks”), but for the learner I’d say it’s easier to learn what the layers do from the bottom up.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      I’m basically at the same level, where I’m right now running through classes on how to use APIs and wtf/how tf to use all these MVC frameworks, libraries, etc. I’m more front end web dev focused though.

      For framework stuff, I’ve been looking at taking this course:
      https://tylermcginnis.com/subscribe

      Also this for more theoretical knowledge that I’m probably weak on since I’ve been trying to self learn:
      https://www.udemy.com/learning-data-structures-in-javascript-from-scratch/

      What’s hard is finding an all in one course that goes through all the fancy tools people use in modern workflows. Like I have a functional level of knowledge in using grunt and git, but there’s so many tools and libraries and out there I haven’t even touched yet like Webpack, underscore.js, etc. There are some free courses though, like this Udacity one:
      https://www.udacity.com/course/web-tooling-automation–ud892

      I should mention I’m currently paying for Udacity and working through the front end web dev nanodegree which has been useful in connecting a lot of dots, but requires a lot of individual discipline and research. It’d be nice to have someone IRL to ask things, but that’s way more expensive.

      I think joining some meetups might help me in learning where my knowledge holes are and meeting people who can suggest resources/explain confusing things to me.

      • cryptoshill says:

        I appreciate the links! I eventually want to take a bootcamp/get a real Computer Science Degree (depending on time required and ROI) but currently am just trying to “bootstrap” so I am not completely lost when I get into these arenas. You’re a little further ahead of me in terms of knowledge, structuring async functions so they actually return promises that can be used elsewhere has me at wit’s end.

  25. South Bay Meetup, May 12th

    Details.

    I have not yet figured out how to put in an announcement on the new High Tech meetups page.

    • Benito says:

      I just wrote down a brief set of instructions for creating an event/group on the page here. Let me know if there’s something that isn’t working / intuitive.

  26. OptimalSolver says:

    J.R.R. Tolkien – The Enemy Of Progress

    https://www.salon.com/2002/12/17/tolkien_brin/

    • baconbits9 says:

      Did not like, do not recommend. The part especially about “identifying with a side that is 100% good” is especially galling, the Dwarfs and Elves have been at odds for centuries at the time of the story and they only band together when total annihilation is threatened. Tolkien takes pains to point out that neither side is blameless here. Perhaps Gandalf and Aragorn are meant as this ideal, but both reject the ring out of the knowledge that they are not 100% good, and Aragorn is wandering the wilderness for most of his life as a punishment for his ancestor’s greed.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This yearning makes sense if you remember that arbitrary lords and chiefs did rule us for 99.44 percent of human existence. It’s only been 200 years or so — an eye blink — that “scientific enlightenment” began waging its rebellion against the nearly universal pattern called feudalism, a hierarchic system that ruled our ancestors in every culture that developed both metallurgy and agriculture. Wherever human beings acquired both plows and swords, gangs of large men picked up the latter and took other men’s women and wheat. (Sexist language is meaningfully accurate here; those cultures had no word for “sexism,” it was simply assumed.)

      1. I dislike the implication that technology is responsible for hierarchy. Men were still competing for status and women before swords and plows, and you can go watch chimps doing the same thing today. And this is coming from a guy writing an essay criticizing romanticizing the past.

      2. El oh el, the guy who wrote The Postman criticizing Tolkien.

      3. That said, I read Brin’s Earth in the mid 90s, and part of the future history of that novel always stuck with me. In the novel’s version of the early 21st century a massive war is waged after the common people crack open the secrets of the elite. The secret bank accounts, the private agreements, the corporate malfeasance, etc. Afterwards people are very upset about information asymmetry and privacy is practically non-existent. As soon as the Snowden revelations happened I immediately thought of Earth. In the novel this kind of revelation caused unrest and nuclear war, but in reality most people just kind of shrugged. Oh well.

    • no one special says:

      Pretty bad. A bad misunderstanding of Tolkien.*

      But even more upsetting is how little of the article is actually about Tolkien. I’m tempted to highlight all the sentences that actually discuss Tolkien or his works, then zoom out. It reeks of “We need a column tonight” where the author takes whatever is available as a springboard to rant about their own hobby horse.

      * Tolkien’s anti-modernism is closely driven by his experiences in World War I. Tanks and factories are the icons of mechanization here.

      • Randy M says:

        This anti-monarchism is certainly a hobby horse of Brin’s. He wrote essays and then edited a volume attacking Star Wars for the same themes, and while back got into a blog spat with Annisimov (was that his name? Moreright guy?) about the original banned acronym and it’s affinity for kings over commoners.

  27. ast ron says:

    More people live in densely populated places than in the past, and people travel more than in the past. What does this mean for the spread of viruses? Do we get colds more often than we used to?

    • Nornagest says:

      We’re more likely to live in cities now, and the cities are bigger, but living spaces are bigger and more private, especially for unmarried people. You know the scene in Moby-Dick where Ishmael ends up getting told to share a bed with Queequeg because that’s all the innkeeper had for him? That sort of thing happened all the time. And sanitation standards were a lot worse, too.

      So we’re probably exposed to a greater variety of viruses now, but once infected we’d be much less likely to spread them to our family members, coworkers, or fifty strangers in the bunkhouse where we happened to be living. Dunno if this would work out to getting sick more often or less.

    • Lambert says:

      We have modern medicine now.
      But back in the 19th century, cholera etc spread like wildfire.

  28. proyas says:

    Can someone summarize, for a person without knowledge of information theory, the point that John von Neumann made in the Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata? In particular I’m interested in this quote:

    “This fact, that complication, as well as organization, below a critical level is degenerative, and beyond that level can become self-supporting and even increasing, will clearly play an important role in any future theory of the subject.”

    Was von Neumann saying there’s no reason why sufficiently advanced artificial life forms couldn’t make copies of themselves, without human assistance, or does the quote pertain only to some narrowly defined type of computer algorithm?

    • shakeddown says:

      If I understand correctly what he means is that sufficiently advanced artificial (or natural) life can make copies (or evolve into more complicated things), but things that aren’t sufficiently complicated can’t. There’s a minimum level of complexity required to reproduce – which makes sense. For example, you can’t write a three-character quine in c, but you can make one with over a thousand characters.

    • beleester says:

      He’s being very general. He doesn’t make any big claims like “This is how neurons work on a molecular level” or “I’ve written an algorithm for self-replicating machines” he’s saying “If you have a collection of reasonable-sounding primitives, things like ‘muscles’ or ‘neurons,’ you can build a self-replicating automaton.”

      These things will not be explained; we will simply assume that elementary parts with certain properties exist. The question that one can then hope to answer, or at least investigate, is: What principles are involved in organizing these elementary parts into functioning organisms, what are the traits of such organisms, and what are the essential quantitative characteristics of such organisms?

      So I don’t see why it would be restricted to some specific type of computer algorithm. Indeed, he leads into this discussion by pointing out that there’s already one thing we know can self-replicate – life itself.

      As to the quote itself, it’s basically saying, “A machine is generally a complicated thing that makes simpler things. However, living things are complicated things that make equally complicated things. There must be some threshold of complexity where it becomes possible for a machine to make something as complicated as itself.”

      He’s just sort of laying the groundwork for reasoning about automata. He doesn’t know what exactly it would look like, but he knows it’s possible.

    • proyas says:

      Thanks. One implication of von Neumann’s insight is that machines will someday be able to fix each other and build new machines, which would cut humans out of the “loop” and make us unnecessary for the continuation of a future machine society. The adage that “even if machines replace human workers, humans will find new jobs fixing the machines” is mistaken since von Neumann demonstrated that there’s no reason why machines couldn’t learn to fix themselves.

      • beleester says:

        True, but don’t forget about practicality – it might be possible to build a self-repairing machine, but it might be cheaper to build a simple machine and then hire a human to fix it when it breaks.

  29. Well... says:

    I do not listen to EDM, but I have reviewed a Mat Zo EP on my blog. I’m curious what actual EDM listeners think of my “review”.

    I’m especially interested in hearing from people who used to dislike EDM but now listen to it. What made it click for you? Which artists got you in the door? What else had to change for you to like EDM? Etc.

    • j1000000 says:

      I used to dislike EDM, but it eventually grew on me a bit. I will never really enjoy the extremely digital-sounding stuff like on “Troglodyte,” but songs like “Take it Back” do get me kind of jacked up.

      (Also, at one point you say “At this point I realized I had never before listened to EDM the proper way.” I’m guessing the truly “proper” way to listen to EDM probably requires you to be a 20-year-old college kid on molly surrounded by hundreds of beautiful co-eds in a venue lit by blacklight or the basement of a frat party or something. You’d probably LOVE it then.)

      • Well... says:

        How did it grow on you? Can you explain it?

        I’m guessing the truly “proper” way to listen to EDM probably requires you to be a 20-year-old college kid on molly surrounded by hundreds of beautiful co-eds in a venue lit by blacklight or the basement of a frat party or something.

        That was my default thinking too, but it fails to account for how popular EDM is. There seem to be a lot of people who just listen to it (e.g. while driving, while working, etc.) like any other kind of music.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      What is “EDM” in this context?
      What do you like to listen to normally? Why?
      What EDM that you’ve heard ambiently in the background, on the radio, etc. in the past has turned you off? Why?

      • Well... says:

        What is “EDM” in this context?

        Stuff like what Mat Zo makes? Electronic music that’s peppy enough to dance to?

        What do you like to listen to normally? Why?

        The first part of that is answered in my blog post. (Basically all non-electronic music that a Westerner might be exposed to, and much that he might not.) The second part: too long to get into here, but the short answer is music has been a central part of my life since I was conceived.

        What EDM that you’ve heard ambiently in the background, on the radio, etc. in the past has turned you off? Why?

        I’ve only started thinking about that question and haven’t gotten anywhere yet. I might answer it in a blog post at some point.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          OK, from reading I think you’re at the novice stage so I’ll list the classics:
          Kraftwerk – TransEurope Express
          Massive Attack – Blue Lines/Mezzanine
          Tricky – Maxinquaye
          Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation/Fat of the Land
          Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
          Portishead – Dummy
          DJ Shadow – Endtroducing
          Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole
          Daft Punk – Homework
          Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

        • Aapje says:

          Todd Terje – Inspector Norse

          Absolutely wonderful song. The built-up and variation is exquisite.

    • skef says:

      This is not my own route (which was mostly doing the right drugs), but I suggest poking around in Amon Tobin’s back catalog, particularly from the early aughts. His work has been one route for a few folks I’ve talked to.

      Added: Don’t get hung up on the “D” (as it were). Your starting point is probably better aligned with more down-tempo electronic music.

    • rahien.din says:

      I didn’t always like EDM. My first shot at any kind of electronic music was when someone gave me Depeche Mode’s Ultra. On my first listen I hated it, and it was probably at least a year before I listened to it again, and then I loved it.

      What first got me were the sounds.

      Just listen to the sequence of juxtapositions in Depeche Mode’s “Barrel of a Gun”. The way close sounds are juxtaposed with distant ones, organic guitars are matched with synthetic drums, insistent and unrelenting synths hammer at a single note while alien beats rotate in midair.

      In Telefon Tel Aviv’s “Fairhenheit Fair Enough,” the collage of sounds is so dense and smooth it’s like one of those pictures made up of thousands of tiny images.

      In Ladytron’s “All The Way,” the airy icy pads, reversed cymbals, and smoothly escalating synth background perfectly complement Helen Marnie’s breathy, distant, echoing vocals, and the whole song turns into a beckoning field of frozen stars. “They heard the sound / of the snow falling.”

      Carpenter Brut’s “Wake Up the President” is full of bizarre, surging, notes, almost like two songs are being played simultaneously, one forward and one in reverse, and it’s very disorienting.

      Justice’s “Genesis” also plays with the sort of direction of sounds, pulling out-of-phase horns, kicks, and synths into a lurchingly propulsive stomp, until the hook pops wide open with choirs and clean guitars.

      Juno Reactor’s “Pistolero” mixes organic Latin guitars with programmed beats and synths, samples of gunfire, and a pounding four-on-the-floor, and achieves an aesthetic that is halfway real and halfway ecstatically-ridiculous-video-game-violence.

      I also think that there are certain kinds of moods and emotions that only EDM capture.

      No rock song could ever hit the same kind of insistent groove as Kate Ryan’s “Scream for More” or the virus-like drive of Darude’s “Sandstorm” or the exact feral swagger of Justice’s “Waters of Nazareth” or the bonehead snotty stomp of Klaypex’s album Ready To Go. Frontline Assembly’s “Stealth Mech” and “Pulse Charge” (technically, part of a game soundtrack, but they’re an actual band) are just so viscerally robotic.

      • James says:

        As a synth player who spends a lot of time thinking about sound design, mixing, and arrangement, I’m enjoying your descriptions without bothering to listen to the tracks they describe.

        Do you know Pretty Hate Machine? Probably, but if not, you might like it. People think of NIN as industrial, but secretly that album’s just a dark, heavy synthpop album, like Depeche Mode or something.

        • rahien.din says:

          As a synth player who spends a lot of time thinking about sound design, mixing, and arrangement, I’m enjoying your descriptions without bothering to listen to the tracks they describe.

          Haha, that’s awesome! Have you heard any of them before?

          Do you know Pretty Hate Machine?

          Definitely – fantastic album. “Ringfinger” is probably my favorite song off that album.

          • James says:

            I know the Justice song you mentioned, and I know Depeche Mode, Carpenter Brut and Ladytron in broad terms but not those specific songs. I’ll make a note to check out at least the Ladytron when I get home.

          • Well... says:

            This is going to be heresy to NIN fans, but I think “With Teeth” is a better album (maybe not higher highs but more consistent, and definitely less whiny), and it’s one I’ve enjoyed for a while.

          • James says:

            I liked Ladytron less than I’d hoped and Carpenter Brut about as little as I expected. (I don’t like harshness or deliberately ugliness, and I only really like songs, not instrumentals, so that one was always going to be a hard sell for me.)

            Barrel of a Gun is great, however.

            Will check out With Teeth. I suspect I’d enjoy it—I tend to like things that are heresy to fans.

            Bonus rock album suggestion in a similar sound world: To Bring You My Love, by P J Harvey (produced by Flood, iirc).

    • WashedOut says:

      This post describes a path of musical discovery starting with EDM, rather than centring around it. Hopefully still of interest.

      I liked your review and thought it articulated the ‘beginner’s mind” idea well, albeit in a fairly sophisticated way that implied an intuition for music beyond what most ‘typical’ EDM-listeners have.

      Like most people I came across this type of music through Massive Attack, Portishead and Aphex Twin. However at the time I had no notion of EDM per se, just that this was ‘real’ electronic music distinct from mass-produced radio pop. However even this territory started to feel too safe and familiar very quickly and I had to get out and find some more darkness and grit.

      In pursuit of this I found Burial, whose Untrue and Kindred records really blew my hair back and have been getting heavy rotation ever since. This sound was to become the signature of UK garage/downtempo and glitch movements, and to this day Untrue is regarded as a landmark electronic album. Into Burial’s orbit drifted later artists like Machinedrum, who I also recommend for those interested in an American (read: poppier) take on the UK downtempo sound.

      Wanting to get darker still, I began various forays into industrial/noise and dark-ambient. I remember buying Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 LP straight off the shelf at my local underground record store on recommendation from the staff, and listening to it quickly found myself immersed in a warm ocean of pulsating synth. While this is still my favourite Hecker record, his much later Virgins release has rightly attracted praise from every corner of music – check it out. Other artists such as Seekae, Port Royal, Telefon Tel-Aviv, Zomby (!), Autechre, Flying Lotus and Venetian Snares came onto my radar around the same time, with Venetian Snares’ brutal masterpiece Rossz Csillag Alatt Szulettet ending up as one of my all-time favourite electronic albums.

      So in the space of about 10 years I’ve gone from blissing-out to Teardrop to finding great masochistic pleasure in listening to Prurient’s latest 3-hour doom-electronica offering Rainbow Mirror. I suppose I have a melancholic temperament to thank.

      I now record experiments in analog synthesis in my bedroom, and can say it is a LOT of fun!

  30. DavidS says:

    Economists and associated folks: I’m reading Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st century’ as someone recommended it and it’s fun reading recommendations. Any counterbalance books/articles I should read (in particular I’m thinking if there are things he treats as accepted that are actually more controversial)

    • biffchalupa says:

      There was some controversy surrounding the data Piketty used for some of his claims about wealth inequality, summarized here: https://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/05/inequality-0

      I’m not sure if it was ever “resolved,” as I think people tended to respond to the data disparities based on their priors – downplayed by those concerned more with inequality as a social issue than a measurement issue, magnified by those who thought the models never quite matched the rhetoric.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      A great antidote to that book is actually reading the book. I have not read much of it, but in every conversation I’ve had with people who have read the book, I’ve convinced them that the book says the opposite of what they took away from it.

    • cassander says:

      R>G is wrong. Picketty’s basic inequality assumes that money is never spent, that heirs never waste fortunes away, that wealth is never mis-invested. it’s the same sort of calculation that leads to the incorrect assertion that trump would be richer today if he’d just bought index funds. If R were greater than G, then, for example, the Kennedys today would each be richer than Uncle Joe was in his heyday. They aren’t even as rich as he was combined.

      • Chalid says:

        Haven’t read it, don’t plan to, but I thought (and a quick google appears to confirm) that R is the average return on private capital, and your examples of things that he doesn’t consider don’t seem to have much bearing on whether R > G. e.g. if people choose to consume, then they don’t earn R. Misinvestments exist, but we all know that some investments earn below average and others earn above.

        • cassander says:

          That’s a fair point, I should remove the bit about mis-investment. But I stand by “Picketty’s basic inequality assumes that money is always re-invested and that heirs never waste fortunes away.” the average fortune doesn’t get the average rate of return on investments, they get less than that, to the point where actual R is clearly less than G.

          • Chalid says:

            Fortunes accumulate at a rate less than R, sure, but that doesn’t imply anything about R itself. What it does imply is that R > G is not the magic threshold at which inequality will organically increase.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Don’t the Chinese say “wealth does not survive three generations?”

    • baconbits9 says:

      link to Murphy and Magness

      Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century has been widely debated on theoretical grounds, yet continues to attract acclaim for its historically-infused data analysis. In this study we conduct a closer scrutiny of Piketty’s empirics than has appeared thus far, focusing upon his treatment of the United States. We find evidence of pervasive errors of historical fact, opaque methodological choices, and the cherry-picking of sources to construct favorable patterns from ambiguous data. Additional evidence suggests that Piketty used a highly distortive data assumption from the Soviet Union to accentuate one of his main historical claims about global “capitalism” in the 20th century. Taken together, these problems suggest that Piketty’s highly praised and historically-driven empirical work may actually be one of the book’s greatest weaknesses.

    • pontifex says:

      I’ve never taken Piketty seriously because nothing he writes about matches my experience. For example, I have some relatives who immigrated to this country with nothing in the last 50 years, and who now are doing quite well. And you don’t have to go back further than 2 generations in my family to find coal miners and other unskilled laborers.

      I also know people who started with a lot, and lost it all through bad decisions. It’s actually easy to lose a lot of money quickly. For example, pretty much any divorce will take half your assets, unless you set up some complex and uncommon legal arrangements. (And sometimes even then). If you have a lot of money and no brains, don’t worry. There are people who can help you fix that. And not by adding more brains.

      On a larger scale, money needs to be protected by power to last even one generation. If you can’t get your pals into power, maybe you’ll get soaked with a 90% tax rate. If you can, maybe you’ll get favorable tax treatment and get your taxes down to the single digits. Piketty’s book is like a rant against a Libertarian world that hasn’t existed in hundreds of years.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What, specifically, does he say that contradicts any of that?

        • pontifex says:

          If Piketty was correct, I would expect immigrants to be poor for a long time, since they started with very little capital. You would also expect people who were wealthy to be wealthy for a long time, because R > G and those two numbers determine everything. Instead, individual choices and abilities seem to matter a lot more than overall conditions. Possibly relevant.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I was actually planning to post my Amazon review on this book sometime in the next few threads. I could post it here, but it is a bit long for a reply. It is a good book with lots of interesting facts, but I think he does interpret some things wrong. In particular, his thesis that inequality in wealth in the present day is now close to what it was before WW1 is pretty far off. I agree inequality is increasing, but not to that extent.

  31. Aapje says:

    There was a story about Facebook moderation in my newspaper (based on information by an ex-moderator). The old policy was that Facebook protects some groups much more than others. These groups were called ‘protected categories (PC)’ and include trans people, Jews, Ghanese women (WTF?), people with serious chronic illness and women in general. The moderators removed content that attacks the entire group, but not content that attacks individuals. So ‘all blacks are lazy’ got removed, but not a picture of Obama with ‘lazy black guy’ superimposed on it.

    There were also ‘quasi protected categories (QPC),’ which consists of some other groups, like migrants, refugees and such. These got far less protection, but calls for violence against these groups are disallowed. So apparently, calls for violence against groups that belong that neither of these categories are allowed.

    What amazes me is that this policy seemed designed to piss just about everyone off. SJ advocates will generally like that some groups get more protection, but will dislike that individuals get no protection and will dislike the QPC. Anti-SJ people will dislike the special protections for some groups. People who support the legal standard will dislike that calling for violence against some groups is allowed. So who actually likes this?

    Then in October 2017 the policy changed and individuals could also get protection.

    Facebook works has categories for violations, which are ranked by severity, which determines the punishment for the person who broke the rules. They rank ‘spam’ as worse than child porn. This seems so absurd that I’m wondering if I’m missing something.

    The norms are mostly universal and American. For example, the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List is used to decide who terrorists are, also to moderate content in countries that may consider other organisations to be terrorist. However, countries can complain and get special treatment. For example, in Turkey, criticism of Erdogan is removed.

    American prudishness also is the norm. For example, a famous 1971 Dutch election poster with a nude woman on it is often removed (the linked image is censored, while the real poster is uncensored).

    Moderators at the Berlin branch got close to minimum wage and don’t get paid breaks. The mental load of seeing so many nasty images is very damaging. The moderators got advice from the company psychologist and the ‘feel good manager’ to do yoga and to eat the supplied fresh fruit, to stay mentally healthy. Many of the moderators seem to self-medicate with alcohol, valium, diazepam and such.

    Nobody seems to last longer than a few months.

    • Randy M says:

      There’s a good script for a rom-com in the works here, featuring a guy at a facebook expy who falls in love with a woman after seeing her facebook page accidentally flagged for moderation. Seeing the banality of her likes and selfies juxtaposed against the “kill all the left-handers” type posts he usually moderates makes him fall in love.

    • Schibes says:

      Re: professional internet censors

      It’s powerful enough reading that it’s stuck with me for 3 1/2 years – here is a link to the Wired article on the small army of censors in the Philippines working 24/7 to protect us from dick pics and ISIS beheading videos. A computer program to automate their job and end their suffering might be the most humane job-killing software in human history.

      On a happier note, happy hundredth, OT commenters!

    • moscanarius says:

      Does it actually work like this in English-speaking Facebook? I mean, do you get the impression that publications get zucked because of the stated motives or that in practice they just censor whatever has a sufficiently large number of reports?

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      The spam vs child pornography thing makes sense to me (at least, when using the reasonably effective first-order approximation of Facebook as a soulless profit maximizer). Most people hanging around in places where the porn ends up are probably there deliberately, and thus engage with Facebook less as a result of its removal; punishing it is for PR and legal reasons only. Spam, on the other hand, is targeted at anyone and everyone, and in fact disproportionately at the sort of people who click on ads (Facebook’s favorite users), so they want maximal deterrence for that kind of behavior since it makes people go on the site less often and drains their wallets on things orthogonal to Facebook’s financial goals.

      The effects on psychological well-being surprise me a little; obviously disturbing images can have an effect on people, but I would have guessed there was a ceiling to this sort of thing and that anyone content-resilient enough to sign up for such a job wouldn’t experience much in the way of additional negative effects. (In particular, I wouldn’t expect to be psychologically affected from getting employed as a FB moderator except insofar as it would be rather boring, and assumed I wasn’t particularly exceptional in this regard. Though maybe I’m just wrong about myself?)

      • toastengineer says:

        I’ve seen things that’ve fucked me up a little bit for a couple days. Being exposed to that kind of thing every day from 9-5…

      • Aapje says:

        @RavenclawPrefect

        If it was regular porn, I would get it, but it seems very weird to rank spam worse than child porn.

        As for the effects on psychological well-being, my understanding is that people can build up a certain stoicism, but only to a point. Some things will punch right through the shield. A common story I read from ambulance workers, doctors and such is that seeing children get badly hurt can do it. This was also in the Facebook story. The thing that got to him was the anal rape of an 11 year old girl.

        I also think that time to recover matters, after a traumatic experience. The Facebook workers got worked pretty hard, with unpaid coffee breaks and strong pressure to process many reports. That seems quite cruel, because it discourages moderators from doing what is necessary to stay healthy.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I think it’s easy to underestimate the way that repetitive exposure to something unpleasant can build up. I spent about 18 months on and off between acting jobs doing telephone fundraising. It was fine for a fair while, but at some point the constant rejection (no matter how good you are at that job, most people will say no) gets very difficult to cope with. I can easily imagine something analogous being true for censors of horrific images.

  32. David Speyer says:

    Inspired by rahien.din’s comment, but not technically following the rules of his game: I recently read Dara Horn’s novel Eternal Life. I am usually annoyed by protagonists who have superhuman abilities but do nothing cool with them, which this book falls into. But I couldn’t figure out what I would want Rachel to do.

    Rachel is immortal. In a situation where her life is at risk but one could imagine her surviving, she survives. If survivable is inconceivable, she reappears somewhere within the surrounding 100 miles as an 18 year old woman of Jewish appearance. She generally commits “suicide” around age 90 to invoke this effect, if something else hasn’t set it off first. Only her life is protected, she is perfectly capable of being injured, sick or tortured. The book begins in the last days of the Second Temple and lasts until the current day.

    To what awesome use could this ability be put?

    • DavidS says:

      I’d be nervous of any sort of visible awesomeness as being very hard to kill combined with being susceptible to torture sounds s bit Blessed with Suck.

    • John Schilling says:

      [if unambiguously killed] she reappears somewhere within the surrounding 100 miles as an 18 year old woman of Jewish appearance.

      Same appearance each time? It would be helpful if, while still approximately 18, she could do terribly risky things and walk back into her previous identity if they don’t pan out. Also, you could build a really badass reputation on that and maybe ride it for a few more decades.

    • johan_larson says:

      Serve as a test pilot for experimental aircraft. Push right through the redlines, no problem. You die, you respawn. You get horribly injured, they put two in the head, they know you’re dead, and you respawn.

    • rahien.din says:

      Mata Hari.

    • honoredb says:

      I’d think the natural thing to do, especially in that venue, would be to try to set yourself up as the MessiahPope. If Rachel doesn’t have any other explanation for her situation she might sincerely believe herself to be the Messiah. You have blatant supernatural abilities (if your appearance changes you might need to set up recognition passwords or hide things) and you get several tries at it. Worst case you’re crucified or burned alive but it still seems worth it in the long run. And you can probably have the equivalent of a cyanide pill on you most of the time.

      In terms of actually bending reality, it depends exactly how the life-saving mechanic works. If she sends someone off to negotiate, and orders a trusted servant to kill her unless the messenger returns by X date with a deal at least as good as Y, then does that control the outcome of the negotiation? Or does the servant end up just refusing to kill her? In the latter case, Pope Rachel can make some dramatic converts by, say, having her detractors appear before her, giving them a weapon, and challenging them to strike her down while she makes no move to resist.

    • rlms says:

      Depends on exactly how it works, but she could set up some system with many redundant methods of killing her if some event occurs, then use that to prevent the event. Example use: buy a load of e.g. gold, rig up a system that reliably kills her if the price of gold doesn’t increase by 100% in the next day, the price increases to avoid her death, she sells gold for large profit, repeat.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Historian? Writing historical novels? Or maybe portraying history accurately (within the limits of personal knowledge) would just annoy people.

    • CatCube says:

      What’s your recommendation of the book? That actually sounds like a really interesting story if it was well done.

    • Chalid says:

      Borrow money. Conceal it in a hole somewhere. Die, respawn in new body, retrieve the money.

    • Darwin says:

      By ‘reappears’, are we talking instantaneous creation of mass out of nothing? It seems like that should have a lot of applications.

      At the very least, there should be no one on the planet still waiting for an organ transplant for whom she is a compatible donor.

  33. John Schilling says:

    In honor of this hundredth Open Thread and the recent completion of the first ever SSC-readers’ Diplomacy game, His Imperial and Royal Majesty Jean I, By the Grace of God and the Constitutions of the Republic, Emperor of the French and Everyone Else, will offer the world this true and correct account of how France conquered the world.

    In all seriousness, thanks to everyone involved. To my allies the Democratic Lizard People of Germany and the Triumvirate of Italy, who endured ultimate betrayal in the name of my victory. To the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for giving us an early master class in treachery and then somehow forming the most unlikely but enduring of alliances. To the English government, frozen out of the early deals but fought on alone and fought well. To the Tsar of All Russia, whose resolute defiance to the bitter end was immensely frustrating and amazing to experience. And to our host, for letting his blog be used to organize a game he wouldn’t even get to play in (and then letting me brag about it).

    At some point, I’m going to have to learn who you all are, put at least SSC-pseudonyms to the countries I spent so long negotiating with. It was a great game, well-played and much enjoyed, and my victory was never certain until the very end.

    Now, let’s see if I can break this into four pieces of reasonable commenting length…

    Also, for reference, a copy of the map, with starting positions and province/sea abbreviations

    • John Schilling says:

      I love it when a plan comes together.

      In order to conquer the world, one must have a plan. And a plan must have an objective. Per the rules of the game the objective is, A: not die, and B: hold eighteen supply centers. So I needed to start with a list, and never lose sight of it.

      Par,Mar,Bre,Spa,Por,Bel,Hol,Lon,Lvp,Edi,Mun,Kie,Ber,Den,Nor,Swe,StP,War

      Eighteen supply centers realistically within France’s reach, without having to force the Mediterranean. But I might run into trouble, and I have a home center on the Med, so there was room for a plan B:

      Par,Mar,Bre,Spa,Por,Bel,Hol,Lon,Lvp,Edi,Tun,Ven,Rom,Nap,Tri,Gre,Mun,Kie

      Looking at the overlap, I absolutely had to defeat both England and Germany to win. The decisions to be left for later were, England first, or Germany? Germany then on to Scandinavia and Russia, Germany then pivot south into Italy, or Italy then pivot north to Germany? I didn’t think it was realistic to proceed past the Adriatic coast even with a full southern focus, and I certainly didn’t think it was realistic for me to get all the way to Moscow in the North. Shame on you for your lack of confidence, Past Me.

      But also the whole “Not Die” thing. France has a strong defensive position at the opening, with only two real threats (the Italian attack is weak) and with two centers in Iberia available grab without interference. But not strong enough to withstand an early concentrated Anglo-German attack, about the only thing that can knock France fully out of the game. I needed to prevent that alliance from forming, and the only sure way to do that was to replace it with an Anglo-French or Franco-German alliance. Having a secure-ish position, I could stay noncommittal and see who was most eager to have me as a partner.

      Both made reasonable offers, but I judged Germany’s to be a bit more credible. We arranged an equitable division of the spoils, in which Germany gets Belgium and Edinburgh while I would take London and Liverpool. And we arranged to fake an immediate Franco-German war to mask our true intentions. Details to come.

      My next highest priority was to ensure I didn’t face a cross-channel invasion in 1901, while setting up my own for 1902. Fortunately, England alone attacking France, even if she gets the initiative by moving a fleet unopposed into ENG, tends to bog down into a stalemate that only benefits whoever was waiting on the sidelines. I had no trouble negotiating a DMZ in the channel through 1902 – and left it at that. Let England believe that I will be stuck in a pointless war with Germany, forced to come begging to her for assistance in a year or two.

      Er, unless England and Germany had been secretly plotting against me, leading me on by each telling me what I want to hear. This was a serious concern, especially since I know Germany is up for sneaky deceptive moves at the outset. Worried me immensely for a while. But there was no helping it.

      Setting up a broader DMZ with Italy was easy. There’s only a narrow land border between us, neither of our fleets can reach the other any time in 1901, and both sides face more serious threats closer to home.

      After that, I talked to Russia. When the time came for my sudden but inevitable betrayal of Germany, I would want Russia solidly on my side. Also, early Russian activity in Scandinavia would keep the pressure on Britain. So I wanted to establish friendly communications, and to ensure Russia would open with at least two of her units in the North. To that end, I promised Russia that if she did open with two units into Scandinavia, I would ensure Germany did not block her (Germany cannot realistically hope to gain Swe for herself in 1901, but if being spiteful or defensive can keep it from Russia). How could I promise such a thing? By promising to bribe Germany with access to Bel, in exchange for Germany’s going along with the deal. I was already planning to cede Bel to Germany in exchange for her support in England, but there was no need for Russia to know that.

      Then round out the pregame diplomacy by making friendly contact with Austria and Turkey, just to keep channels open and maybe share tidbits of useful information.

      Then lock in the most important moves of the game.

      F Bre – MAO. Obvious; it’s the only thing to do with that fleet if I’m not immediately fighting the English, and the only way to claim Portugal in 1901

      A Par – Gas. Pretty strange, moving directly away from all the fighting. But it is the only province from which I can cover all three of my home centers against possible threats, and it otherwise lets me take Spain in fall, so it fits with my image of playing defense on 1901. And there’s a huge ulterior motive for it, which I need England to not notice. So,

      A Mar – Bur. Which I absolutely do not want to succeed, because I need that army to stay in Marselles. So I’ve arranged for a mutual bounce with Germany’s A Mun – Bur. This looks like a nasty German sneak attack, blocked by cowardly suspicious France. Particularly with German forces in Kiel and Berlin racing west toward France’s undefended northern coast.

      That left me feeling both apprehensive and exhilarated. The most dangerous and potentially most rewarding move of the game. If there had been a secret Anglo-German alliance against me, I’d have been doomed to quick annihilation. If Germany alone had decided to really go in against me, I could have held on but from a position of weakness, forced to beg for English aid on unfavorable terms. But if it worked…

      Yeah, it worked. The Germans did what they said they would. The English opened hard against Norway; the Russians devoted their promised two units to the same, and Germany stayed out of their way. So in the fall, I was able to strip France completely bare. My Army Marseilles, still in Marseilles because of the bounce, took Spain. And I took Portugal by convoying A Gascony, the ulterior motive for moving there in the first place.

      But why convoy an army to the westernmost tip of Europe, where there will never be any fighting, when I could have just quickly slipped in a fleet?

      For that, the world had to wait for spring (and our new builds). In my case, a shiny new fleet in Brest, and a boringly useless army in Paris. Seriously, that army didn’t do anything of consequence until the very last turn of the game. But I did get my first worrisome surprise, when Germany built two fleets and no armies. There’s no need for that many German fleets except against England or France, and we’ve already agreed England isn’t going to last long enough for it to matter.

      Further talks led me to believe that England hadn’t seen the subtle threat in my moves and still believed Germany and I were at war. Germany did little to assuage my concerns regarding her three fleets, but didn’t seem to be an immediate stab risk. There looked to be some possibility of an early war between Russia and Germany, with England as a swing player, but I didn’t see an effective way to encourage that outcome without breaking trust I would need later. On the far corner of the world, he dreaded Russo-Turkish juggernaut seemed to be forming; I would have been happy to see the Russia vs Germany part of that, but there was otherwise the risk of that alliance becoming too powerful, too fast, and conquering the world before I could manage it. And being in the farthest corner of the world, all I could do was try to convince Italy and Austria to unite against the juggernaut before it was too late (for me, not for them).

      Meanwhile, nothing to do but execute my clever scheme and see if it would be a masterstroke or a great blunder. By not sending my fleet into Portugal last fall, it was still able to move into IRI in spring. Meanwhile, my new fleet could take its place in MAO, and that puts a nice convoy chain between my lonely army in Portugal and the wholly defenseless English center of Liverpool. Which is isolated enough that England can’t stop it unless they see it at least a full turn in advance.

      They don’t see it coming, meaning there’s a French army on the undefended English mainland. Masterstroke. Meanwhile, Germany has slipped a fleet into NTH – in the only real mistake I saw her make, England failed to order F Lon S F NWG – NTH. Not that this would have done more than delay the inevitable, but now that inevitable end will come quickly. Russia, for her part, destroyed the British army in Norway.

      I love it when a plan comes together.

      • fion says:

        I think you’re still in the edit window. Apologies if not – I didn’t do the maths.

        “If there had been a secret Franco-German alliance against me”

        should presumably be “Anglo-German”

        Enjoying your write-up so far. Will finish reading later, and hopefully add my own.

    • John Schilling says:

      The world turned upside down.

      In our last thrilling episode, we marched ashore with the French Expeditionary Force as it seized an undefended Liverpool, and watched Britain suffer reversals in NTH and Norway. But I didn’t mention the equally momentous events in the opposite corner of Europe. Russia and Turkey had seemed united in a Juggernaut. I had brokered a deal where Austria and Italy would stand against them. Instead, we saw the first great work of treachery of the new century, perfectly executed. Austrian armies launched a coordinated attack against the Russian position in Rumania, but a cruel stab from a Turkish army in Armenia prevented Russia’s Sevastapol garrison from offering defensive support. The Black Sea fleet, forced out of Rumania, was blocked from its retreat into BLA and annihilated. I believe the minelayer Nusret was involved. The Austrian navy, which had been advancing down the Adriatic coast, reversed into ADR and seized Venice with the support of an Austrian army.

      A lasting alliance between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire is almost as implausible in the game as it would have been in history, but that is what we were faced with. WTF? I would from time to time point out to both sides that this alliance would not lead to victory (true) and that there were great short-term gains to be had if either fell on the other’s defenseless rear (also true), but they understood that further treachery also would not lead to victory and so that unholy alliance would hold for the remainder of the game.

      Both Italy and Russia were badly out of position, half the Italian army stuck in Africa and most of the Russian in Scandinavia. The only bit of good fortune was that Venice had been taken by a fleet rather than an army, so Austria could not immediately march inland. Still, I had been planning to either conquer Italy or ignore it. Now someone else would conquer them first, and they wouldn’t have stopped there. So I was going to have to immediately reinforce Italy. My nearest fleet could arrive by the end of 1903, but there was a hitch. The RN’s home fleet was surrounded in ENG, soon to be displaced, and if it could “retreat” into MAO it would threaten Portugal and Spain.

      I needed to displace F ENG, block it from retreating to MAO (or Brest!), have enough force on hand to take London in fall, and do it all without the help of F MAO. This is possible, but tricky. My new F Brest will have to cover MAO while A Picardy falls back to Brest, leaving F IRI to take ENG with the support of Germany’s F Belgium. In fall, I’ll need what I hope is a German F NTH to support me into London. In the south, I needed Germany to block Austria from claiming Tyrol, lest Venice fall before my reinforcements. This works, but it requires more German help than I was planning on. And all I can offer in return is to support their attack into Edi, which I had already promised.

      Germany comes through. Busy planning war against Russia, they were happy with me efficiently planning the dismemberment of England. With one small glitch. The Germans has negotiated a DMZ with Austria along the Tyrol-Bohemia border, and so couldn’t help me in Tyrol. It works out just as well if Austria is kept out by German diplomats as German soldiers, but it looked like a bad deal on Austria’s part (trapped her Vienna army with no good moves) so I feared treachery. But I had to trust it.

      Italy, of course, had to trust me or die at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman Empire (WTF?). They tried to talk me into doing this without taking Tunisia along the way, but no. Britain had been desperately trying to find an ally but had little to offer. I talked with Russia about her optimum strategy against her enemes (including Germany, because I didn’t want my ally to out-expand me). My attempt to impose a ceasefire line between France and Turkey in the Med failed miserably, made a bitter foe of Turkey, and pretty much shut down diplomacy on that front. Still shared carefully-edited notes with Austria.

      The actual moves went mostly as planned. The single glitch was the Royal Navy’s attempted breakout into the MAO – an obscure move that apparently both of us saw and I blocked. But it cost me critical tempo in the Med. Fortunately, England didn’t see the obscure move that would let them threaten my beachhead in Liverpool, though the last remnant of the Royal Navy did manage to hold London through 1904.

      The Austro-German DMZ did hold, an act of trust that I think may cost Austria any chance at victory. Among other things, it let Italy and me coordinate a three-on-two attack carefully crafted to annihilate the Austro-Hungarian navy and reclaim Venice for Italy. I claim Tunisia along the way, but Turkey was able to force ION. That was a problem.

      Germany moved hard against Russia, which managed to hold in on all fronts. Barely. I was happy to see Russia and Germany stalemate, because at some point I had to defeat Germany and that goes easier if the Germans are still bogged down against Russia. But the unavoidable destruction of Army Ukraine left Russia encircled by five enemy armies with only two of her own at the front. Her only hope was that those five enemy armies are split between three enemies, and how well could they coordinate?

      England made a plea to stay in the game by being my single-unit ally against Germany. I considered it, because an unexpected fleet assist would give me a strong position to take NTH, but the timing wasn’t right. Felt a little bad for having to turn them down and take them out. But I also considered the possibility of their supporting Germany in a stab against me, and was worried. I was adequately defended against a German stab, but not an Anglo-German one.

      I was still in the strongest position in the game, tied with Germany at 7 centers but with strong alliances and no threats to my rear. But if I play defense while Germany advances against Russia, that puts my ally over the top. The Mediterranean strategy was looking unlikely at this point. Turkey’s blunt diplomacy, and fleet build in Smyrna (seriously, where is the Ottoman Empire getting that many modern warships?), made for a near-stalemate on that front. Italy and I could hope to make slow progress, but it will take many years to push as far as Gre and collect the necessary set of Mediterranean centers. And then they’d mostly be Italian centers, which I would have to take from myself without losing to Austria or Turkey.

      I needed to push an army into Tyrol, with the help of Italy and/or Germany. From there, I could stab north and take Munich. Probably the most important center in the game, and critical to Germany’s defense. After that, I could work with Russia to dismember Germany, then either turn on Russia to get at least as far as St.Petersburg and Warsaw, while holding in the south. Or I could shift from defending Italy against the Austro-Hungarian-Ottoman Empire (seriously, WTF?) to conquering it ahead of them, and leave Germany for later. Or I could work with Germany to take Scandinavia and defeat Russia, then turn against them from the north and south. But I had to take Tyrol, and secure the central Mediterranean, or none of it would work. And I had to do this before Germany turned around and stabbed me, a possibility I was struggling to evaluate and block.

      And the lost tempo from England bouncing me out of MAO, continues to haunt me. My second fleet couldn’t reach the Med soon enough to block a dangerous gap in TYS, into which a Turkish fleet could have advanced or “retreated” to threaten five different allied centers. I saw the vulnerability and arranged a deliberate standoff with Italy to block it, but it slowed us further. Italy saw and blocked the clever move that would have let Turkey convoy an army from Bulgaria onto the Italian mainland, which would have rivalled my Portugal-Liverpool convoy in its audacity and effect. I was embarrassed to miss that. Because of that, we didn’t retake ION until the end of 1904, and even then the Turkish fleet retreats to a dangerous position in ALB. Not until 1905 would I get that critical army into Tyrol.

      Then in the fall all my plans were in ruins. Where Germany, Austria, and Turkey had been waging separate campaigns against Russia, there is now a decisive coordinated attack by Austria and Russia against Germany and Turkey has completely withdrawn from her frontier with Russia. All the Empires of the East were united, and an Austrian army was marching towards an undefended Berlin.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        The Austro-German DMZ did hold, an act of trust that I think may cost Austria any chance at victory. Among other things, it let Italy and me coordinate a three-on-two attack carefully crafted to annihilate the Austro-Hungarian navy and reclaim Venice for Italy.

        For what it’s worth, I argued strenuously against the DMZ in Austria’s private councils. However, already by this point the game was fast outpacing my own ability to keep up, as I checked in more and more infrequently.

        the last turn I remember having a hand in was the diplomatic revolution with Russia and marching against Germany. Everything after that is new to me!

        • Randy M says:

          At that point we were looking for a tool to use to break the Russian stalemate, I think. We failed to pick up on the tight relationship between France and Germany and what that meant for us for another turn.

          And for what it’s worth, I don’t think there was a strenuous voice among the three of us. The Austrians were a bit too deferential, I think, perhaps at the cost of getting a firm strategy in place early, probably from a mix of veterans not wanting to alpha-player the newer players, and newer players not wanting to overrule wiser heads.

          Although we did a good job of sticking with good ol’ Turkey. I think you pointed out that that plan was pretty unusual because it was so hard to win with. (You had me at unusual)

          • fion says:

            Yes, I remember us umming and ahhing over Germany quite a bit, and I agree that our indecisiveness harmed us. I feel as though my opinion was that we should work with Russia against Germany sooner than we did, but I’m probably forgetting history in favour of hindsight.

            And yes, I think I, too, was tempted by “unusual” 😛

          • John Schilling says:

            Unusual you certainly got. I was impressed by how long your alliance held together and how well you did with it. It would have required a not-implausible number of lucky guesses for Austria+Turkey+Russia to have pulled ahead of the Western Alliance in the critical period of 1906-1907, and then you’d just have had to manage the transition from A+T+R to A+T vs R without giving Russia a chance to find effective new allies. It looked to me like you had the cohesion for that part.

            A long shot, but one I would have dismissed as nigh-impossible at the outset.

    • John Schilling says:

      It was the dawn of the 20th century, the year the Great War came upon us all. This is the story of the founding of the Triple Alliance. The year was 1905. And we were definitely in some sort of science-fictional simulation, one set up by a deranged anachronist, because somehow the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire were locked in an unholy but unshakeable axis bent on world domination. Seriously, WTFF?

      Until that point, Europe had seen only local conflicts, and in the West mostly bloodless ones. Now a single united enemy was on the march, committed to total war, with sixteen centers and half a year’s march on the rest of us.