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OT101: Threadversarial Collaboropen

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. There will be an South Bay SSC meetup on Saturday May 12 at 2 PM. Location is 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA (a private home). David Friedman will definitely be there, and I will try to be there.

2. Two new sidebar ads. Mixtiles is a tech startup “revolutionizing how people put photos on walls”; they’re looking for a remote senior data analyst. Bubble is a tech startup working on a drag-and-drop framework that helps people create software without programming skills; they’re looking for NYC-based software engineers.

3. And one old sidebar ad renewed and switched to an affiliate system: Triplebyte is a company that helps programmers find jobs. You sign up, take some coding assessments, and if you pass they do everything from sending your name out to appropriate companies, to fast-tracking you to the final interview stage, to representing you in salary negotiations, to even paying for your flights and hotels while you interview. It is free for you; if you get hired; your company pays them for finding you. FAQ here. Aside from the fact that I am getting paid to shill them, I really do think they’re great; they represent exactly the kind of resume-blind, credential-blind, demographics-blind hiring I think everyone should be aiming for, and they’re helpful for the sort of low-executive-function people who couldn’t handle a job search well on their own.

4. Comment of the week is AlexScrivener on early arguments against socialism. I said on the Fabian post that it was really hard to argue against socialism in the 1800s; Alex proves me (somewhat) wrong by collecting quotes from a whole lot of people who tried.

5. If you’re involved in effective altruism, consider taking the 2018 Effective Altruism Survey (estimated time cost: 10 – 20 minutes). If you’re interested, after you’re done you can find the results from 2017 survey here (see links to related posts at the bottom).

6. The adversarial collaboration contest is coming together. Two people have offered to increase the prize money, so assuming everyone comes through (no guarantee), we’re now looking at a first prize of $2000, a second prize of $500, and a third prize of $250. These are estimates and may change with circumstances. Please see description and rules here. I notice there are some potentially really interesting collaborators who don’t officially have partners yet, like Salim Furth on urban economics, Freddie deBoer on communism, and plenty of other people; if you’re interested, get in touch with those people or discuss it here. The teams I currently have registered are:

1. MP and TW on ability grouping and other educational issues
2. M and M on mandatory childhood vaccination
3. C and Z on Ray Blanchard’s transgender taxonomy
4. JV and CC on sexism in STEM
5. M and AR on puberty blockers for transgender children
6. C and N on the effects of low-skill immigration
7. DS+SE and JL on AI timelines
8. JB and CF on Islam and democracy
9. JRM and TB on heroin legalization
10. F and D on the impact of tokens and ICOs
11. TW and PJIQ on central planning causing dictatorship
12. A and M on the psychological effects of pornography
13. S and S on gun control
14. T and A on social media and political polarization
15. D and E on Caplan’s signaling theory of education

Registration continues to be open right up until the end of the contest, so if you find something you and a friend want to work on, please email me at scott[at]shireroth[dot]org and register. Please also feel free to advertise this among your non-SSC reading friends or elsewhere in the Internet (in a tasteful way).

Right now I am setting the due date for people to have emailed me their results as July 15th. I’m expecting to use the two other people who have donated money to the prize fund as co-judges (if they accept), and we’ll figure out exactly how that works later.

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907 Responses to OT101: Threadversarial Collaboropen

  1. Thegnskald says:

    A thought I have been pondering, which I’ve waited to put here because I suspect it may cause a bit of fuss:

    If women were regarded by society exactly like men are, rape would be more common, and taken less seriously as a crime. In general, assault and harm against women would be taken less seriously as a social problem.

    MRAs aren’t asking for a return to a previous era – they are, in substantial part, asking for men to be treated more like women (which is to say, vulnerable and requiring protection, rather than expected to protect themselves and others).

    Would men be happy with that? I am uncertain; it certainly conflicts with make identity as it exists, and may conflict with more fundamental drives. Certainly I suspect women would generally be unhappy with being treated more like men.

    Would society function like that? I have returned to this thought a few times, and have no conclusive answer. It does seem that society has historically depended upon men’s willingness to put themselves in harm’s way, whether it is mining coal or waging war, and it isn’t clear that this has changed, even if we have substantially mitigated many such risks.

    • Well... says:

      The “y’all are acting like a bunch of sissy girlies” criticism of MRAs is not new, nor is the “y’all are asking to be treated like men but be careful what you wish for” criticism of feminists.

      I can’t say I fundamentally disagree with these criticisms, though I’m open to having my mind changed.

      • Thegnskald says:

        True, but such criticisms are generally vague, and don’t actually specify the issue at stake.

        • Well... says:

          They’re not that vague, are they? The issue at stake is that society needs men and women — with all the sexual dimoprhism implied. If we try to pretend all men are equal to women or vice versa, we risk upsetting that mutually beneficial codependent relationship. There has to be a balance between blind egalitarianism and crushing, unforgiving patriarchy.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I don’t think there can be a balance. The principles are diametrically opposed; either there is equality, or there is not.

            For the simplest demonstration, consider the inherent imbalance provoked when women can vote for war, or for policies that lead to it, but only men must bleed for it. Insofar as we treat men and women as distinct classes, there is a clear imbalance here; insofar as we argue that women care for sons, brothers, and fathers, the reverse argument also holds for why they didn’t need the right to vote in the first place.

            Egalitarianism isn’t a principle which permits exception.

          • Well... says:

            either there is equality, or there is not

            I’m all for giving up this “equality” language. Note I didn’t use it. The optimal point between blind egalitarianism and crushing unforgiving patriarchy isn’t equality, after all.

            Egalitarianism isn’t a principle which permits exception.

            No principle, firmly enough held, permits exception. But you can hold any principle loosely. I consider myself of a basically egalitarian nature (I don’t forbid my wife from voting, for example), but when I recognize areas where divergence is better — or clearly inevitable — I don’t worry so much about closing the gaps.

          • Aapje says:

            @Thegnskald

            Equality is a spectrum, not a black/white issue.

            Also, we can’t have perfect equality, since men and women are different on a biological level.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Why wouldn’t I be happy with it? I don’t want to be subject to workplace injuries or assaulted. That’s why I work in a corporate office and live in the suburbs. Most of us don’t buy into the whole “you need to be under threat of constant danger to be a REAL man” psyche. Or else, you know, we wouldn’t have bothered with this whole “civilization” thing. Judges are an expensive replacement to trial by combat, so we must really like being “treated like women.”

      When it comes to situations of grave danger that CANNOT be eliminated, yeah, men are the more expendable danger, but we’re talking Normandy, not random street violence.

      • Thegnskald says:

        You don’t really get to pick when men are regarded as expendable; either they are, or they aren’t. Either our society is willing to send unwilling men to die, or it isn’t.

        If you structure society such that men’s lives are regarded as being as morally relevant as women’s on a day to day basis, that is the moral value of men’s lives. Whatever you regard as morally reprehensible, directed at a woman, that society would likewise regard as morally reprehensible, directed at a man.

        There won’t be a moral “off” switch for emergencies. Morality is what it is, and the public will stomach only what it will stomach.

      • Thegnskald says:

        And to answer your first question:

        Many women find the way they are treated (for their own protection) to be infantalizing.

        By and large, society is in an uncomfortable state where women being in danger makes people unhappy, but they aren’t allowed to interfere because that would be sexist.

        In the society in which men are no longer more expendable, no such backstop would exist. No, you may not bungee jump, because that is dangerous and foolish. No, you may not drive a motorcycle. No, you may not…

        What we are talking about isn’t street violence – I suspect the biggest change there would be softer sentencing for criminals, as men are now treated like women in our imagined society – it is the way you interact with the world on a more fundamental level.

        And if you value freedom more than security, as men tend to do, that world is going to be rather uncomfortable. Just as it is for more freedom-minded women, only worse, because there is no class of people whose security matters less than their agency to balance the interests of security against.

      • Well... says:

        When it comes to situations of grave danger that CANNOT be eliminated, yeah, men are the more expendable danger, but we’re talking Normandy, not random street violence.

        Why aren’t we talking random street violence too? If I’m walking with my wife and kids and a bad guy tries to harm one of us, it makes sense that I should be the one to risk death/injury by confronting the attacker. I’m bigger/stronger than my wife and my kids probably need my wife slightly more. (I earn more, but I have life insurance to compensate for precisely that.) If some version of that sentiment trickles into our culture and laws and institutions I think that’s OK as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          The first best option is an effective enough police force to deter crime. The first best option for WWII is diplomacy. Your scenario is basically what I meant when I said “Normandy”: it’s going to happen, it’s already happening, it’s happening right now, and someone has to do the job. That “someone” is going to be a man, more likely than not.

          I just mean that “men are expendable” does not actually mean expendable in the “we have reserves” sense. Every man that suffers or dies is a tragedy and those tragedies should be prevented when economically rational, and the economic value of man’s life is not zero.

          Basically I just mean any well-functioning society should have a violent death curve that trends to zero, but the gender make-up of that line is still going to be 90-10 men/women.

          • Thegnskald says:

            A shift that treats men’s lives with the same value as women’s will attempt to arrive at a 50-50 balance to the line; anything short of that is, implicitly, treating men’s lives as less valuable. Is that something you would be happy with?

            You asked what would be the problem, and your reply here suggests you think things would remain the same. Take away the assumption of masculinity that a man should take a bullet intended for a woman, however, and you arrive at a different kind of society than the one you describe.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            There’s a difference between men voluntarily taking on additional risk and the government subjecting them to additional risk or otherwise ignoring their suffering. Like, the majority of coal mining accidents will be male, because the majority of risk-tolerant people will be male. That’s totally fine.

            What I do not want is a value-of-life measure that assigns a lower value to a man’s life, or white-washing of social problems because the victims happen to be male. Like, a ship goes down, 90 people die, of which 10 were women and children…those 80 male lives still count.

            MRAs shifting the overton window where men’s problems with schooling, domestic violence, etc. are taken seriously are all good changes.

            A major exception would be a military draft, but the US military has been all-volunteer for decades now.

            So I guess, what do you mean by male life being treated exactly like female life? I am coming from a more libertarian perspective, people should be able to take their own risks, men will take more risks and therefore will die more and end up at both tails of the distribution. I’m fine with the stats showing more men dying in coal mines for the same reason I’m fine with more male CEOs.

            The way I picture MRAs arguing is arguing for a legal equality and just taking male concerns and male safety a lot more seriously, which I don’t find objectionable at all. It’s exactly what I have done in my own life, so by revealed preference it’s what I’d prefer. I don’t want a society that just ignores me getting shot just because I have a Y chromosome, or current society ignoring me failing out of school because I happen to have a Y chromosome (and therefore am not sympathetic).

          • Thegnskald says:

            I don’t think the difference is so great as you think; in order for society to value men’s lives, men must value other men’s lives, and perhaps most difficult, value their own.

          • Aapje says:

            @Thegnskald

            Yes, and that must be thought. People may choose to sacrifice themselves based on a rational decision that fewer people will die overall if they do so and/or as part of a quid-pro-quo, where that sacrifice gets compensated. They shouldn’t do that out of self-hatred or ‘duty’.

            And when people disproportionately sacrifice men, that is sexist oppression. We stopped to consider it acceptable to disproportionately sacrifice Jews, blacks, etc. The principle is good and should be universal.

  2. S_J says:

    I saw this in the news a little while back: a cold case known as the Golden State Killer was solved, using old DNA evidence re-evaluated with modern techniques and genealogy-research.

    The best discussion of what happened appears to be here. (The blog that is linked is usually focused on gun-rights/politics in the U.S. The poster nicknamed Bitter is a genealogy hobbyist also.)

    Basically, a Police agency may (or may not) have abused the Terms-of-Service of an online service to solve a cold case.

    In the words of Bitter,

    Based on some of the most detailed reporting that didn’t come out until late last night and this morning, the investigators did not use a commercial DNA testing company you commonly see advertised. In the US, the big ones are Ancestry.com, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage. Three out of the four confirmed in statements when the media started getting things wrong that they in no way cooperated with any criminal investigation with their DNA databases. While the fourth one didn’t issue a statement, the police didn’t use their private databases, either. All of them have pretty solid policies not cooperating without a warrant.

    However, because these companies all offer different tools, many of which are useful in their own ways to us genealogists, but you can’t compare to someone who tested at another site, some folks built a website called GedMatch that’s sort of like a public open source comparison tool. It’s database is made up of people who have taken their raw DNA data from other companies that run the tests and upload them to be compared to each other…

    The police created a raw data format that looked like one of the major testing company’s raw data forms based on the DNA sample recovered from a crime scene. Using that form, they uploaded it to Gedmatch as though it was a sample from one of the major testing companies. There’s nothing in Gedmatch’s terms that says you can’t “spoof” a major company format with data obtained elsewhere. The entire purpose of the site is to compare across testing platforms.

    That actually looks like an ingenious way to use the tools available.

    Even though GedMatch doesn’t demand that the data come from one of the big-name Genealogy/DNA companies, they do have Terms-of-Service that don’t allow cases like I’m a Policeman investigating a case, and would like to find out if my unknown suspect is related to anyone in your database. The Police investigator likely used Gedmatch…but they didn’t admit which service they used.

    Which presents a big conundrum: how easy is it for Police to use/abuse a service like GedMatch? How careful do they have to be to turn the results into a valid evidence?

    Can the suspect point to a likely abuse of Terms-of-Service by a Police investigator?

    Lastly, people leave DNA in public all the time. How careful do investigators have to be to identify the source of DNA-gathered-in-public?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This case is interesting because it reverses my natural inclinations.

      In my field we work with genomic data all the time, and while I’m not currently using primary (patient-derived) cells right now it’s not out of the question that I might be sequencing DNA from some random accident victim as part of my project. So I constantly have to go to obnoxious training sessions on the ethics of using, storing, and publishing data which can identify patients.

      The ethics we’re taught are often overwrought and hysterical. One example where I had to argue with the discussion leader was if a genetic test revealed father-daughter incest whether we were obliged to hide that information. Standing by when you know with certainty that a child was raped is despicable and cowardly. I don’t care if it violates HIPPA, sitting on that information is wrong.

      In theory this case is very similar, but my reaction is the opposite. I feel that the police should need a warrant in order to collect this kind of information, even if it’s publicly available. If I had to guess as to why, it probably has to do with the fact that the police are an arm of the government. I trust private individuals to mostly do the right thing, and when they don’t they have a limited ability to cause damage. I have no trust whatsoever that the government will do the right thing, and when they inevitably fail their ability to cause damage is essentially limitless.

      • J Mann says:

        The issue here is the terms of service, right?

        As an example, I don’t think the police should need a search warrant to search public reddit postings, or to run a Google image search for someone matching a suspect’s photo. The GEDMatch participants seem to understand that match data is essentially public.

        The other issue is that people can find you based on your relatives deciding to share their genetic information. (Similar in some ways to how they can find you based on me sharing my photos if you’re in them). Would you feel a lot different if someone who was the subject of a sealed adoption tracked down their biological parents by finding mutual relatives on GEDMatch?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The issue here is the terms of service, right?

          Not for me. I’ve never taken terms of service seriously and I suspect that most people don’t either.

          Would you feel a lot different if someone who was the subject of a sealed adoption tracked down their biological parents by finding mutual relatives on GEDMatch?

          Yes, and that was my whole point.

          The government can’t be trusted to use this or any other data responsibly. I don’t want the government to be able to search up my Reddit comments, or find my face with Google, or look up my relatives with GEDMatch. They’re certain to misuse the data if they can get it so I’d rather prevent them from having access to it.

          Most people are good, and the exceptions who aren’t have limited resources. The government is malicious and has essentially unlimited resources.

  3. johan_larson says:

    “My hovercraft is full of eels,” translated into many languages, natural and constructed.

    Whoever built that page may be a few eels short of a hovercraft.

    • Well... says:

      The mental image conjured by that is particularly horrifying to me.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, an eel full of hovercraft would surely be worse.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        The obvious portmanteau to make here ought to be between ‘hovercraft’ and an author known for tentacle-ish or vaguely piscine horror. But ‘Lovercraft’ comes out sounding like, I dunno, the aquatic equivalent of a sex swing or something…

    • Iain says:

      My personal highlight is the Scots translations:

      Ma hovercraft’s full o eels
      Ma hovercraft’s lippin-fou wi eels
      Ma hovercraft’s lippit wi eels
      Ma hovercraft’s breemin’ ower wi eels
      See ma hovercraft? See eels? Hit’s pure hoachin wi them. (Glaswegian)

    • John Schilling says:

      I have to assume the Quenya for “hovercraft” is a neologism, with several ages worth of neo.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’d guess it’s derived from the term for “magic carpet”, perhaps with some ending denoting “infernal machine”. Though where they would have borrowed “magic carpet” from I don’t know.

    • quaelegit says:

      Delightful! Thanks for sharing!

      I’m having fun noting which languages borrowed “hovercraft” from English, and also which (I’m guessing?) borrowed/kept “plena” and “anguillus” from Latin.

  4. Parfay says:

    I’d be interested in helping out with the sexism in STEM adversarial collaboration (unofficially / not for prize money, but I’d be up for helping with research as it’s a topic I read about a lot). If that team has any interest, let me know how to reach you.

  5. dndnrsn says:

    The Bible has come up elsewhere in this thread, and I’ve thought to toss out the idea of doing a series of longposts or effortposts or whatever we’re calling them these days. I’ve got one person interested in reading it already. This would take a while, though, because the Bible is a big book [citation needed].

    Credentials: I did a master’s in this sort of thing, primarily early (1st century or so) Christianity (and its context and so on). I did some of the languages. I know enough to teach a 100 or 200 level university course (“Introduction to the New Testament” or whatever) competently, probably; maybe for some things beyond that. If you dropped me in a conference reception of biblical scholars, I would be able to avoid embarrassing myself and seem like I belonged enough to drink several glasses of wine and make a few runs at the cheese tray, at a minimum. So, I know enough to offer a decent survey of current scholarly opinion, and I don’t have any wacky fringe opinions I’m going to tuck in there.

    A caveat: this is entirely a secular-study-of-religion approach. I’m not a theologian and I’m not entirely equipped to argue the actual truth of, say, the Resurrection; stuff like that can’t be established one way or the other with tools like textual analysis or the archaeological evidence we have. I’m used to being around both nonbelievers and believers (the latter generally of the liberal variety, but still) and in any case my knowledge isn’t in that area. I’ll try not to offend people, but if you are seriously offended by the idea that the Bible is, on at least one level, a historical document put together over time by people like you or I, it’s not for you. However, I know from personal experience that someone can simultaneously be really into the secular scholarship and be a true believer who takes part in the community life of their church and so on, so being a believer shouldn’t preclude taking an interest in the secular scholarship.

    I’d start with Genesis, and talk about the creation narrative(s), maybe break out to talk about the scholarship a little, and continue from there. References would be provided.

    Anyone interested?

    • bean says:

      I’m the person interested, posting because there’s a doubled already in the first paragraph. My fault for missing it during proofreading.

    • Aron Wall says:

      I’m sure it will be interesting and I look forward to seeing it.

      I am certainly not “offended by the idea that the Bible is, on at least one level, a historical document put together over time” which is an obvious truth.

      But I’m not convinced whether it’s possible, as you suggest, to bracket off the religious claims and just talk about what “neutral” scholarship of the texts says. Above, yaisaacs has already pointed out that the dating of the Gospels already depends in part on what people think about predictive prophecy (and other miracle claims).

      The issue also arises with the Torah, for example there is a clear prediction of the Exile centuries later, which is is compatible with an early date for the Torah if Moses was a real person and a prophet, but a clear anachronism if you don’t believe in the supernatural.

      Many secular biblical scholars claim to adopt a principle of “Methodological Naturalism” which in practice amounts to saying “Assuming there are no miracles, what’s the most likely explanation of how these texts came about?” That may make sense for somebody with very low priors for the supernatural, but if people don’t realize the presupposition, they may wrongly think that the Naturalistic origin was proven rather than assumed.

      The correct approach is of course Bayesian, but that means that there is no watertight separation between the philosophical questions, the historical questions, and the textual questions. They all depend on each other.

      • dndnrsn says:

        There’s not watertight separation, no. The really hardcore “miracles are impossible, so, there can’t have been miracles, checkmate” people annoy me – people in the ancient Mediterranean clearly thought things we define as supernatural really did happen, and did not have the “secular/religious” and “natural/supernatural” distinctions as many modern societies do. If the alternative case is being assessed – miracles generally don’t happen, except these ones did – “miracles don’t happen now, therefore those can’t have happened” – is a pretty bad argument.

        Most serious secular scholars just sorta lampshade that they can’t decide one way or the other. The approach I ended up taking was, these are historical books; if the divine is real and all that, then these are human attempts to grapple with the divine. If the divine isn’t real, then they’re artifacts of human belief, which is a thing humans do. I encountered very, very few outspoken to the point of being aggressive about it atheists either among secular scholars or among more religiously-minded ones.

        Ultimately, this can’t really resolve things completely. Unresolvable questions are how scholars stay in business, so nobody seems hugely upset.

    • hls2003 says:

      I grappled with a number of the secular textual criticism issues in my undergrad days, but that is (depressingly) long ago now. I was recently thinking of looking for a general survey book or something refreshing me on more current secular scholarly consensus. While I would likely disagree with some of your conclusions based on our respective starting points, I think your proposal sounds like something useful that I would like to read.

    • SamChevre says:

      Definitely interested. It’s a topic where I’m an interested amateur – at the level where I can read Diarmaid MacCulloch and learn details, but am already generally familiar with the underlying topic.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Interested.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d be interested.

    • J Mann says:

      Interested

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’m very interested. I did like a 200-level course in Biblical criticism, so I wouldn’t know as much as you, but I’m clued in and wouldn’t flip out in offense.

    • Atlas says:

      I would be super duper interested. Please do this!

    • dndnrsn says:

      Sounds like there’s enough interest to make this worthwhile. I’m going to crack open some of my old books and start figuring out how I’m going to break this up. Currently, I expect that I will have something covering part of Genesis (I don’t think it’s likely the whole book could be covered in one post; I also imagine that the creation narratives and a little bit of info on the textual criticism scholarship I’m going by will take up a disproportionate amount of time and space compared to the rest of Genesis) ready for proofreading in the last or second-last month of the week. After that, the pace should pick up a bit. I’m hoping to be able to do one installment a week overall.

      • Randy M says:

        I’d advise doing what you think is most important or most interesting or best illustrative of the principals first rather than necessarily starting at the beginning, on the chance you end up not wanting to continue the project as long as a thorough discussion might take.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Genesis is good for those things as well, luckily, but I see the point. I’ll probably pre-write, or at least make some notes about, the bits I want to do most.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I forget, does the Documentary Hypothesis claim that the early chapters of Genesis are JEP or just J and E? If JEP, the beginning would indeed be a good introduction.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think it’s the idea that multiple things have been edited together and we can probably make educated guesses about how that worked, more than the particular strands. For demonstrating that the best bits are the creation narrative, the Synoptics, or maybe Job.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Unless I’m completely failing to read it (which is possible; I am not firing on all cylinders right now) my old text says that the creation narrative is J and P but does scholars argue over what’s J and what’s E, for some parts at least.

    • WashedOut says:

      Please do this.

      Just to be clear though, how much interpretive ‘work’ do you expect to do, vs. a straight narrative retelling? Will this be a search for meaning, a historical/contextual summary, or a TL:DR for the Bible?

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’m gonna be focusing on the scholarly side of things – if I have to, I’ll condense stuff, but I expect that people will be able to read the Bible themselves. So, historical/contextual summary more than anything else. “Meaning” only insofar as “clearly such-and-such-a-thing was important to the people who wrote this; why might that be” is meaning.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes.

    • S_J says:

      I would read it with interest.

      I’m a knowledgable amateur: I have a high level of memory of things I’ve read in the Bible, and about the Bible. I’m probably not at your level of knowledge, but I do hope to enjoy the subject, and possibly contribute some useful comments.

    • zoozoc says:

      Definitely interested.

    • I would be extremely interested.

      By the way, there’s a Tumblr I came across doing a similar thing with the Quran, from an ex-Muslim perspective.

  6. Anon. says:

    Westworld season 2: what an utter catastrophe. What happened?

    • gbdub says:

      Care to elaborate?

      I’m still enjoying it, but it’s definitely gotten to the point where it’s a show meant to be “solved” rather than “watched for entertainment value”.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Seconded. Though the Maeve and Bernard plotlines have always been catastrophes. The Season 1 Dolores story and general mystery worked in spite of those two exercises in straining credulity.

      What happened?

      They don’t have Anthony Hopkins any more

    • cassander says:

      it’s definitely too soon to call it a catastrophe, but things aren’t headed in the right direction.

      As to what happened, I think the writers had two much fun with obscure mysteries and non-linear plotting in season one. That’s a good way to set up a story, but you can’t end your season on that much of a bang and then try to go back to subtle mystery.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I liked Varieties of Argumentative Experience a lot, and I’ve got something that might fit in the comments there, or might just be a bad sort of argument that gets on my nerves, so I’m putting it here.

    I see a lot of unjustified certainty about the future– absolute certainty that some policy will lead to disaster. These days, there might not be so much of unjustified belief that a policy will lead to utopia.

    • dodrian says:

      I don’t quite understand what you’ve written, do you mean:

      A) that ‘belief that a policy will lead to utopia’ might not be unjustified these days, or
      B) that in contrast to seeing many arguing with certainty that a policy will lead to future disaster, you don’t see similar instances with arguing that a policy will lead to future utopia?

      Or have I misunderstood you in some other way? 🙂

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        (b)– I think there’s less belief in the possibility of utopia, at least where I hang out.

        I should have thought of positive possibilities short of utopia– my impression is that a lot of pro gun control people overestimate how fast it can be expected to lower the risk of mass shootings, even assuming that it does work.

        • dodrian says:

          Ah – I’d agree that runaway dystopia seems to be in vogue at the moment, but I think that underlying a lot of political activism or campaign promises has to be the implied promise of a utopia.

          Most obviously, some talk about UBI as if it will usher in a utopia.

          Less obviously, you have beliefs like:

          – Public [single-payer] Healthcare will solve all health problems within the US
          – Taxing the rich will give us excellent public services!
          – Lowering taxes will give us a stronger economy and more freedom!
          – If we could just get rid of the [$racial_group/immigrants/bigots/facists], we’ll have no more conflicts in our country

          “UBI will mean that no one ever worries about money” sounds a lot more tantalizing/convincing than “UBI might make some situations of poverty suck less”, so you’ll hear the former argued a lot more than the latter, at least by those outside of academia/economics.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Or the libertarian argument for a UBI:

            “It will probably cause fewer market distortions than welfare”

          • dodrian says:

            I dunno, ‘fewer market distortions’ sounds to me pretty much like a libertarian utopia 😉

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I was with you for the first clause of your first sentence. It’s important to remember that just because you can imagine something happening doesn’t mean that it will happen. It’s a mistake I see a lot in my own reasoning: the more intense emotions an imagined situation evokes, the more likely it seems.

      The second clause of the first sentence and the subsequent sentence are much much weaker IMO. This is the same logic as entropy: an arbitrary change is orders of magnitude more likely to break things than to fix them. Change is necessary for survival but small-c conservatism is a good rule of thumb even for progressives.

    • Well... says:

      The unjustified certainty about the future I see a lot, and which annoys me, is the certainty that some technology will come about and/or be prevalent. “Self-driving cars are coming” is one such attitude. Mass adoption is taken for granted.

      To me this seems based on some kind of technological determinism, in which technological progress is assumed to take place on its own, independent of humans, and is considered unstoppable.

      Though also (and this is a side tangent now), it seems like the technology that gets developed and widely adopted is whatever we first keep telling ourselves will be developed and adopted. Such that given equally viable emerging technologies A and B, with equal costs of development/implementation/bringing to market/etc., if A is obscure and nobody talks about it while B is in all the Wired articles and Elon Musk memes or whatever, then within a few years you’ll start to see early adopters sporting brand new Bs, while nobody much thinks about A anymore.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Have you been paying attention to the development of self-driving cars? By the end of the year, anyone in Phoenix will be able to hail a self driving car. Barring some extreme federal government regulation or an act of god, self driving cars are coming.

        • Well... says:

          What’s your point? People have been saying “driverless cars are coming” long before they had this kind of basis for saying so.

          • Wrong Species says:

            There’s a difference between predicting a technology and asserting its inevitability. You made it sound like it was ridiculous for anyone at this time to take self driving cars for granted. They are coming. It’s only a matter of when.

          • Well... says:

            I’d say that asserting a technology’s inevitability seems like wishful-thinking-turned-self-fulfilling-prophesy. Like Scott Adams’s thing about telling himself he’d be a successful cartoonist a thousand times every day or whatever.

            I’m concerned about repeating technological inevitability mantras, especially in cases where it isn’t clear that the technology will be net good. I personally don’t think driverless cars will be net good even if they will be in some isolated cases.

          • crh says:

            I’m curious what your reasons are for thinking driverless cars will be a net negative. My hope (not confident enough to call it a prediction) is that they will significantly reduce traffic fatalities. Do you think that won’t happen, that it will happen but be offset by other harms (economic disruption?), or some third thing that I haven’t thought of?

          • Well... says:

            Driverless cars probably will reduce traffic fatalities, maybe depending on how/where they are introduced. Personally, I’m opposed to them mainly for cultural reasons, and would prefer to reduce traffic fatalities in other ways (possibly including lowering speed limits, introducing greater restrictions on driver’s licenses, other interventions to make the driving experience less distracting, making cars safer, etc.).

            The economic implications (e.g. putting out of work people who make their living driving and who are unlikely to easily retrain in other professions, changing the nature of car ownership–though this last one is part of the cultural reasons I mentioned above) are also a major concern.

            I’m also not comfortable with the information-side possibilities, e.g. a company or the government always knowing where I’m headed/where I’ve been, or whether the police should be able to take control of a driverless car to pull it over.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Well

            Assume that the measures you’re talking about only decrease auto deaths by at most 10%. Also assume that self driving cars reduce deaths dramatically, let’s say 99%. Would you still be opposed to self driving cars?

          • John Schilling says:

            Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which we discussed here a year or so ago, posits a society that reduced traffic fatalities to ~10/year worldwide via self-driving cars(*), and wound up seriously regretting it.

            The socially acceptable cost for the package of value that comes with manually-operated cars, is necessarily greater than 100% of the current fatality rate. So it is certainly possible that self-driving cars would be a bad deal even if they reduced the death rate to zero, if along the way they reduced the value by a sufficiently large fraction. So the first question is, how well do you understand the value other people place on automobiles?

            * well, self-flying hypersonic aircars

          • Well... says:

            @Wrong Species: John Schilling basically said (immediately above) what I would have said.

            I also gave you a few basic examples of the kinds of value I’m concerned about losing to driverless cars.

            BTW: I hereby move to call manually-operated cars “driverful cars”.

      • John Schilling says:

        Though also (and this is a side tangent now), it seems like the technology that gets developed and widely adopted is whatever we first keep telling ourselves will be developed and adopted.

        This explains why we have flying cars, jetpacks, fusion power, anthropomorphic robots, and cities on the moon.

        • Well... says:

          None of those pass the viability test, so they’re out of the running anyway.

          Though people do keep trying to make flying cars, jet packs, and anthropomorphic robots. Every now and then there’s another news story about some exciting startup that’s building them.

          • bean says:

            Why do you know those don’t pass the viability test? Obviously, they’ve never been made to work, but if the viability test can only be applied several decades after the prediction is made, it’s sort of a useless test. If you’d asked someone back in the 50s about solving fusion power or driverless cars first, I don’t think it would be fair to fault them for picking fusion power.

          • Well... says:

            If earlier it sounded like I was saying “all technology that gets talked about gets developed and adopted” then I was being unclear. I meant something more like “of the technologies that do get developed, it seems like they are overwhelmingly the ones that got talked about.” And therefore what we talk about is important.

            Our persistent talking about jet packs and flying cars means eccentric rich people keep trying to develop them and tech journalists still write fluffy stories about them.

            There is comparatively little talking lately about fusion power or cities on the moon. And people are starting to understand that non-anthropomorphic robots are often more useful — though there was still that Ossimo craze a few years back.

      • bean says:

        it seems like the technology that gets developed and widely adopted is whatever we first keep telling ourselves will be developed and adopted. Such that given equally viable emerging technologies A and B, with equal costs of development/implementation/bringing to market/etc., if A is obscure and nobody talks about it while B is in all the Wired articles and Elon Musk memes or whatever, then within a few years you’ll start to see early adopters sporting brand new Bs, while nobody much thinks about A anymore.

        There’s a lot of truth to this. I forget the sociological term for it (I’m reading a sociological history of ballistic missile guidance, which has been really interesting), but yes, there are often times when a technology wins for reasons that have less to do with the numbers and more to do with the environment it’s in. The example that comes most directly to mind is the success of geared turbines over turboelectric transmission in battleships. I’m not really sure that geared turbines were much better at the start, but they got all the development dollars for various reasons.

      • Though also (and this is a side tangent now), it seems like the technology that gets developed and widely adopted is whatever we first keep telling ourselves will be developed and adopted.

        From which it follows that flying cars will be on the market by next year, whereas cell phones and self-driving cars are still in the distant future?

  8. Thegnskald says:

    Poking around cognition, I have encountered something I am going to try to convey. This may not apply to other people, however:

    “I”, in the sense of that thing which I think most people would call my identity, is nothing more than a collection of mental habits, perhaps more aptly described as the filters which sit between awareness and experience. Stimuli X gets transformed into internal state Y; the transformative acts which do this conversion define my personality. And they are plastic, which is to say, mutable; more than that, they are mutable in the way habits are mutable, in that you can transform your unconscious thought patterns by consistently holding yourself to a new thought pattern for a time.

    Which is to say, the thing I think most people ascribe identity to, is nothing more than a set of filters or mental habits. “As a man…” or “As a woman…” represent a filter on the world, through which information is processed, and can be removed as easily as any habit (which is to say, for most people, it is impossible). More importantly, if this holds true for other people, “identity” in general shouldn’t meaningfully be part of your identity, because it represents a false “you”, a potentially mutable habit rather than anything like an innate characteristic. (Also, the idea of willpower is a habit / filter.)

    Also, in the process of noticing this, I noticed that I have a very sloppy (messy/chaotic with an element of laziness) mental process; I am trying now to ascertain whether this enables my genius, or whether my genius enables lazy mental patterns, prior to making changes. But in the event that I do, I am struck with an issue, in that I have no idea what a well organized mind would even look like, in the sense of “What patterns of thought and filters and mental habits should I replace my extant system with”.

    (Note: As I realized my own mental sloppiness, I am struck by exactly how good the advice to “clean your room” by Peterson is. It is about good mental habits and mental hygeine, not about the room itself. I think.)

    • Thegnskald says:

      It occurs to me I didn’t state the concept strongly enough; the stronger version looks like this:

      Everything, or maybe almost everything, you think of as yourself (insofar as your mind resembles mine) is, in fact, a set of mental habits you have developed; modes or pathways of thinking burned into your subconscious by frequent use. You aren’t an anxious person, you have anxiety-inducing mental habits; you don’t get bored easily, you have a habit of asking yourself what you should do next, and when you don’t have an answer, your mind circles endlessly around the pattern until you find something, and the unpleasant experience you experience as boredom is an unanswered question. Or something along those lines.

      ETA:

      The “I” within youraelf, insofar as you resemble me, is pure consciousness, pure awareness. It is an altogether plainer thing than the mutable self you think of as yourself, and continuity of experience doesn’t meaningfully exist, it is an illusion borne of awareness of memory.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I’ve thought of something along those lines, and the thing that I always wonder is how well someone could impersonate “me” in a sort of Turing test in which my email account is hacked. (Or how well I could impersonate someone else in another way). I think a lot of the time it would be fairly successful.

        So, yeah, all those things you list, I’m inclined to agree aren’t really “me” and are just patterns.

        I haven’t come to a conclusion on whether pure consciousness is the only thing that makes me “me.” Dennett gives a pretty compelling argument for this sort of thing, calling it “emergent” IIRC. Consciousness may be just continuous thoughts.

        One thing that I’m not sure how external references to facts play into it…I think it’s fair to say that things that “only I know” are part of “me,” even if it’s impossible for me to know what I alone know.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Would you stop being you if you forgot those facts, however?

          Would you stop being you if you stopped thinking for a few minutes? It is possible. I have yet to manage to shut down the last bit of proto-thought – the awareness of what breath is, for instance – but I can shut everything else off, and exist in a state of awareness of breath and nothing else.

          (I am puzzling over what is supposed to be “unsatisfying” about experience, however. I wonder that there is an expectation people have of experience that I lack; okay, so I don’t experience the platonic ideal of experience, but I don’t expect to, and I am left confused as to what it is people find so unsatisfying. If I did experience the platonic ideal, what would be left to experience? Does “unsatisfying” refer to the fact that experience is never complete? I can see that from a religious perspective in which you are supposed to reach a state of completion, but from the nihilistic perspective, it just looks like a form of attachment, and a rather unhappy one at that.

  9. rlms says:

    Weirdest thing to come out of LessWrong in general/Roko’s basilisk specifically to date: Elon Musk and Canadian synth-pop artist Grimes dating.

    • tenoke says:

      Yes, this is pretty bizarre. Who would’ve expected for LessWrong’s biggest blunder to turn into a celebrity pick up line?

    • He shouldn’t be dating, he should be saving the world,

      • Urstoff says:

        Can’t save the world if you’re mopey and depressed due to loneliness.

      • gbdub says:

        Maybe a lady will teach him some humility, something badly needed for a dude who thinks “made a couple billion dollars off the idea of moneygram+internet” makes him the world’s greatest genius on every topic and has hordes of fanboys begging him to (and believing he can) “save the world”?

        But it probably won’t work.

        • John Schilling says:

          The word you were looking for there was “implementation”, not “idea”. Ideas are worthless, in the strict economic sense. Supply so vastly exceeds demand that nobody is going to pay more than the proverbial two cents for the best idea you, or Elon Musk, ever had.

          Actually implementing the idea of monegram+internet, that’s actually worth quite a bit.

          • gbdub says:

            Well fair enough. On the other hand he also had the good fortune to be at the right place and the right time where his idea and implementation skills were relevant to make a few billion. Five years later Elon Musk gets preempted on PayPal and then who knows where he is today.

            At any rate, neither the idea nor the implementation skills for moneygram+internet are terribly transferable to, say, mass production of electric automobiles, or to closing the business case for giant suborbital cargo rockets.

    • KG says:

      As someone more familiar with Grimes than Elon Musk, it’s really amusing to me how that link is worded.

  10. 4thwaywastrel says:

    I’ve started with a new therapist for self worth issues who’s a lot more psycho-information and therapy techniques focused then my old one (who was really just a pharmaceutical grade listener, which I liked). He talks a lot about “trauma” and “micro-truamas”, social exchange theory, and the vagus nerve.

    1. Has anyone else had experience with these ideas/techniques
    2. For those who do receive therapy but don’t have a science background how do you go about investigating what your therapist is recommending without spending weeks deciphering the state of the research?

    • cuke says:

      One suggestion is to ask your therapist for the sources they recommend to learn more about the approach(es) they’re using. If they can’t answer this question within some reasonable time frame (like between one session and the next), I’d consider this worrisome. If they tell you to just google “vagus nerve” I’d consider that worrisome. As a therapist, I welcome this question when I get it.

      One of the main factors associated with successful outcomes in therapy is that the therapist and client are telling a shared story about what’s going on with the client. So from my perspective, it’s really important that the client understand the story the therapist is telling, that they like the story the therapist is telling, or that the client and therapist create the story together (ie, without reference to jargon or a trendy technique).

  11. Levantine says:

    Your “Work Related Fuck-Ups”
    if you’re ever having a bad day at work, come back to this page and read how so many people have fucked up worse.
    Glorious stuff – so much hilarious incompetence …

    http://b3ta.com/blog/work-related-fuck-ups/

  12. CheshireCat says:

    Thoughts on Tab for a Cause? It’s a free browser extension that puts ads on your new tab page and donates the proceeds to some decent charities. My internet-addicted ass generates about a dollar a month for charity, and that’s not bad at all for what is effectively zero cost.

    (Full disclosure, the above is a referral link, but all I get out of it are some warm fuzzies and the chance to watch a few numbers go up)

  13. newt0311 says:

    Hey guys,

    I wanted to talk about a (somewhat) recent paper by Chetty et al. He pulled in race data from the census and combined it with the IRS data he had on incomes to come up with a ridiculously comprehensive data set. He published some analysis of it in a pretty good paper here: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/race_paper.pdf. Among other things he found that after controlling for household income levels, black women had roughly the same outcomes as white women. If true, this is a really surprising discovery (and very much against my intuition on the subject) so I found it to be really interesting.

    I wanted to discuss his primary control: household income. It seems like he was just adding up the incomes of all the parents in the household. But if we want to use income as a proxy for intelligence, this feels like a really bad idea, no? For example a two parent household with an income of $50k per parent would be equivalent to a single-parent household where the sole parent earns an income of $100k. While the children have roughly the same resources (roughly; economically) surely the single parent in this example has a substantially higher expected IQ. Given that single-parenthood is much more common across the income distribution among African-Americans vs. Whites, it seems like this could meaningfully bias the results.

    Any thoughts? I don’t have access to the dataset so I can’t actually test this theory directly…

  14. liljaycup says:

    I’m teaching a “Writing about the Sciences” class next fall to undergraduates at my university. I’m a rhetorician and creative writer, so there’s some real gaps in my knowledge and experience when it comes to teaching a course about the sciences.

    What are some ideas about what would make the class worthwhile? I’m thinking about teaching it as a kind of “translation” course where science students (or journalists) learn how to translate studies/theories/etc for a more general audience while maintaining nuance, rigor, and accuracy.

    For those of you in the sciences, what would you have liked to learn as a student? What would you still like to get better at when writing? What are some of your biggest frustrations with the way the general public consumes science-writing?

    Any feedback or thoughts you all have would be valuable!

    • bean says:

      I haven’t done much of this for sciences, but I’ve been doing it for technical topics (battleships, mostly) for 2.5 years now, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I learned to do it as a volunteer tour guide on the USS Iowa, so what follows is basically me trying to replicate that.
      Coming at it from the technical person side, I’d suggest having the student pick a topic or set of topics they know about and like, and focus on practicing it in front of a live audience. Have them do a 5-minute spiel on it to a small group once a week. Shuffle the groups so you’re not constantly seeing the same presentation. I suggest live because you get a lot better feedback, even indefinable feedback, there. If you can’t do that, I’d still suggest doing the work mostly in small, frequent sections, at least initially on topics the students like.
      I don’t really know what to recommend you do for the journalists. Part of me believes that most science topics are basically impossible to understand without a lot more background than they can expect to have. But it might be good to have the journalists teach the scientists writing/storytelling, and the scientists teach the journalists how to read scientific documents.
      (If you’re wondering if I know anything, or if I’m just bloviating, check out my blog).

      Edit:
      Of course, thinking this over more, some of what made it work for me was that I really loved what I was doing, and wanted to be a better tour guide. (I still basically write as if I was giving it to a tour group.) But I would say that it sounds like you’re teaching two entirely different classes at the same time, because each of the scientists and journalists have half the skills they need. And for the scientists, I can only say that it would be best to do it a lot of times.

    • zz says:

      Coming from a technical background with a side of creative writing, the biggest gap I see in writing classes is humor. See Scott’s piece on nonfiction writing device for details.

      That said, near as I can tell, technical writing is reasonably close to an efficient frontier. Attempts to translate a technical topic while maintaining nuance, rigor and accuracy are largely doomed to failure because if there were a simpler way to write about something without sacrificing those things, we’d be doing it anyway, it’s not like what we’re doing secretly easy such that we have to unnecessarily utilize erudite vernacular to make it sound like what we’re doing is hard. I am very much of the belief that, if you’re too much in the general audience to understand the relevant textbook, then you’re incapable of understanding what’s going on and it would be better if you didn’t falsely believe you did. (Also, if an area of knowledge hasn’t been well-crystallized enough to have textbooks, if you’re not literally a researcher, it’s almost certainly not worth your time learning about it.) cf Gell-Mann amnesia.

      That said, the best writing instructor I ever had spent the entire course making us reflexively recognize the forms of the verb “be” (am is was were be being been), such that we’d reflexively notice the passive voice, thereby allowing us to use it intentionally. Also, the verb “be” is often used when a better verb exists, so having a program in my brain that notices its use is helpful in that respect, too.

  15. Well... says:

    Anyone know if Jonathan Haidt is aware of this adversarial collaboration project? Seems like something he’d be wildly enthusiastic about.

  16. Andrew Hunter says:

    The heck is the rightful Caliph getting at here? Eliezer posts some weird-ass shit sometimes as forms of trolling, but…what?

    • Well... says:

      My best guess is he’s using proxies instead of saying what he means. What he means is, he finds young well-to-do blue-tribe white people (i.e. the people who hike and go to parties and plays, probably also people who eat quinoa and care a whole heck of a lot about where their coffee was grown) annoying.

    • Nornagest says:

      Smells of trolling to me, but I’m not sure what the point is.

    • johan_larson says:

      Asceticism can foster its own odd sort of poisonous self-regard: pride in all you have given up to live rightly.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I heard that described once as still being consumed by the things of the world: not to own them, but to be rid of them.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Maybe he’s just getting old and grumpy.

    • bean says:

      That’s not the rightful caliph!

      • aNeopuritan says:

        Of course not. That’s the Messiah, and Scott is the first Pope.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy

        • Immortal Lurker says:

          He isn’t Saint Peter, he’s Saint Paul. He speaks to a much wider audience, and slightly changes the emphasis of the original message.

          He even changed his name!

          All we need is for yvain to have a vision of Yudkowski right as he becomes Scott Alexander.

    • Atlas says:

      I think this tweet is saying: hey, you know how you were just now thinking about how all those people who score hotter dates than Eliezer, have active social lives and at least moderately physically demanding outdoorsy hobbies are cooler than him, so he must be jealous of them? Well, actually, when you think about it, Eliezer is the cool one here, because here he is taking care of planet Earth (edit—“planets”, so actually not just Earth, other planets too) and saving civilization from collapsing into barbarism, sort of like a real life Superman, while those dumb idiots are doing dumb stuff like going to parties after work, so actually they should be jealous of him.

      Insofar as one takes this tweet at face value, I guess the Rightful Caliph is saying that he has observed not just some, but indeed many people enjoying their lives and partaking in “fun” activities, which must mean that they are not capable of making positive contributions to human civilization. Scott addressed this line of thinking in “Nobody is Perfect, Everything is Commensurable.” (I’m reminded of Mencken’s definition of Puritanism.)

      (Okay, I realize that was kind of mean-spirited. But I don’t see why Yudkowsky would lament other people’s insufficient commitment to saving civilization without also modestly mentioning a lack on his own part, unless he believes no such lack exists, which I think is clearly prideful.)

      Look, far be it from me, an intermittent misanthrope, to criticize anyone for misanthropy. But it’s most tastefully done in the privacy of your own thoughts, without reference to how much better you are than everyone else.

      • Atlas says:

        (Also, I’m very surprised to see Geoff Miller second this, given that he co-authored a great book, Mate, that helped me understand that there are a lot of benefits to spending your time doing stuff like hiking with friends as opposed to playing video games or reading alone in your room.)

      • toastengineer says:

        Perhaps it is what we earth humans refer to as a “joek.”

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Someone needs a case of Queer eye for the straight guy.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I have no idea, but I hope it’s “stop virtue-signalling about how scared you are about the world, when you spend most of your day in recreation.”

  17. pontifex says:

    This seems like a good example of what Scott sometimes describes as “a good example of what’s wrong with everything, all the time.”

    He did everything cheaply. He didn’t have a credit card. He didn’t travel, preferring to spend vacations at his small ranch home a few miles from campus. While he’d enjoyed routines even as a teenager, the desire intensified as he grew older. Each day, breakfast came from one of the library’s vending machines; lunch was a sandwich stored in the pocket of his sports coat; supper was a frozen dinner….

    After decades of this, he had saved up 4 million by the time of his death, which he gifted to the university. But only 100,000 of that got earmarked for the library had he loved. The rest got spent on some questionable stuff, including 1 million for a scoreboard for the football team.

    I guess you could say that he should have earmarked it for the library, if he wanted it to go to the library. But if you’re that cynical about the school administration, then why donate at all? Also this guy seems to have had some kind of undiagnosed autism or asperger’s syndrome (I think?) The whole thing is just depressing.

    • Well... says:

      Are you armchair diagnosing him with autism just because he lived alone and never got tired of his routine?

      • pontifex says:

        It was a rude comment, and I probably shouldn’t have said it. But I do wonder sometimes.

        • Well... says:

          I didn’t think it was that rude (though I’m not the guy in question), just never heard “likes routines” equated with autism.

          • pontifex says:

            It’s a little more than just liking a routine, isn’t it?

            …in 1979 he invested in an exciting new technology: the VCR. At home he started watching three or four movies a night and kept it up until he’d seen 21,000 films. (At some point he went back and counted.) His television quit working in 1997, but instead of fixing it Morin flipped to a new pursuit: reading every American trade book that had been published in the 1930s, in chronological order

            […]

            …when football season kicked off in the fall of 2014 he started watching games for the first time. Mullen was shocked when he heard this—sports had never come up during their lunches. “I remember going to visit him and he’d be watching some obscure bowl game,” Mullen says, “Eastern Washington or Southern Illinois or whatever.” Morin never talked to his nurses about football. He didn’t follow any particular team. Instead, he immersed himself in the game’s components, in its systems and rules—and, yes, as UNH kept chanting after his death, in the names of its players and teams.

            None of this made him a football fan. That was never how Morin’s passions worked. When Sky Gidge, the student journalist, asked Morin why he chose his reading regimen, he could offer only this answer: “Because I like the 1930s.” Morin couldn’t do much better when asked why he liked watching movies or even working at the library. In each case, it seemed mostly about focusing on a sprawling and complicated topic, about fixating on one thing and one thing only until he decided it was time to move on.

          • Well... says:

            I meant more to convey a sense of “IANAD and neither are you, and neither of us knew the guy.”

            I wonder if you could find some list of facts about my life that would make it look like I for sure had some kind of condition I don’t actually have.

          • Aapje says:

            @Well

            You clearly have SSCiditis 🙂

    • crh says:

      I don’t really see what’s so depressing. It sounds like he found a career he was perfectly suited for, had hobbies he enjoyed, and generally lived a good life.

      • pontifex says:

        That’s a fair point. The article implies that he made lots of sacrifices to save up money, and that he wouldn’t have been happy with how his gift was spent. But there isn’t a lot of hard evidence for either point.

        I wonder if there is any more detail about why he repeatedly decided not to earmark his donation.

        • crh says:

          Does it imply that? The author seems rather to directly state the opposite.

          Morin didn’t seem to care how the school spent it, mostly because he didn’t care about money at all.

          The fact that his friend and financial adviser specifically suggested he earmark the money and he declined seems like pretty good evidence that he didn’t care how it was spent, in my opinion.

          I also didn’t get the impression that he particularly sacrificed to save money. Rather, it seems like he was naturally inclined to frugality and the money sort of just accumulated. Some people are like that. Obviously I didn’t know him personally so I don’t know if that’s an accurate picture of things, but it’s the picture I thought the article painted.

          Interesting that we came away with such different impressions.

          • pontifex says:

            I read a few more sources, and it sounds like Robert Morin did earmark 100,000 for the library, even as he left the rest unrestricted.

            Reading about this a little bit more, I think I was wrong. I think Robert probably wouldn’t have minded the donation being spent on the career center and the giant scoreboard. I still think it was a dumb waste of money, but those are my values, not Robert’s.

          • crh says:

            For what it’s worth, we’re in total agreement about the scoreboard being a dumb waste of money.

          • J Mann says:

            Based on the Deadspin article, he earmarked an early life insurance policy, and then when he piled up $4 million and decided to leave that to UNH, his advisor specifically asked if he wanted to earmark that, and Morin said no.

            I agree that the scoreboard is pretty silly, but there’s no way to measure how much the football players enjoy it. I’m an old fogey – I like being able to watch replays a lot, but don’t care about all the other “get hype” stuff.

            Presumably, if stadium attendees want to watch replays, you could just add a dollar or two to the tickets, but that’s true for almost anywhere you spend the money.

          • Protagoras says:

            It seems pretty likely to me that the school would have built the scoreboard anyway, taking the money out of some other source, and so that building it with Morin’s money meant another million being available to other worthy causes. As to why they’d credit the scoreboard to Morin’s money particularly, a scoreboard is a physical thing to which it is possible to attach a little bronze plaque saying “paid for by a donation from so and so,” and commemorating donors may encourage future donors.

  18. johan_larson says:

    Once upon a time, in America, there was a plan to populate the swamps of the south with hippopotamuses. These gentle(1) giants(2) would feast(3) on the invasive water hyacinth that was choking the canals of the south, and would in turn be feasted on by the nation’s teeming millions.

    Sadly, nothing came of these plans, but you can read about them here:
    https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-remarkable-early-20th-century-plan-to-farm-hippopot-1493356004

    If you’d rather read a fictional treatment of hippo farming, set rather earlier in the nation’s history, you might enjoy Sarah Gailey’s novella River of Teeth. It has some really excellent reviews.

    (1): No.
    (2): Yes.
    (3): Yes again.

    • crh says:

      Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
      Lisa: But isn’t that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we’re overrun by lizards?
      Skinner: No problem. We simply unleash wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They’ll wipe out the lizards.
      Lisa: But aren’t the snakes even worse?
      Skinner: Yes, but we’re prepared for that. We’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
      Lisa: But then we’re stuck with gorillas!
      Skinner: No, that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

    • quaelegit says:

      I read River of Teeth last fall, and wasn’t super into it. It’s a fabulous idea but I thought Gailey’s treatment of it was shallow. However, I’ve talked to some people online who loved the book.

      It’s set in and alternate-universe 1850s (IIRC) with modern “left-ish” social mores — a bit like the webcomic Widdershins*. People who find it annoying when “they” is used as a singular pronoun for a specific person (was that argument here or some other blog?) should definitely skip it. I found the world building the most interesting part and wish she had gone into more detail on it (though it’s a pretty short book so there isn’t really space.)

      *tangent: Widdershins is one of my favorite webcomics, highly recommend anyone who’s into webcomics check it out!

  19. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The largest land animals that ever lived were Cretaceous and terminal Jurassic sauropods, which were longer than blue whales and weighed perhaps half as much. The largest flying animals that ever lived were Quetzalcoatlus of the late Cretaceous. But the largest aquatic animals are the extant blue whales, with no known extinct sea creature being larger than the 21-meter Shonisaurus.
    Any guesses as to why Jurassic or Cretaceous sea creatures never pushed up against what we believe to be the limits of biophysics, as sauropods and pterosaurs did? And how big could a sea creature get if there was selection pressure for it?

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Rabbi Johanan bar Nafcha said that he had once been out at sea and seen a fish three hundred miles long. Upon the fish’s head was written the sentence “I am one of the meanest creatures that inhabit the sea, I am three hundred miles in length, and today I will enter into the jaws of the Leviathan.”

    • johan_larson says:

      Perhaps this article has something useful to tell you:

      https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/why-whales-got-so-big/557213/

      • Iain says:

        Specifically, this part from an earlier article:

        Around 3 million years ago, the planet entered a cycle where large glacial sheets would form in the northern hemisphere, expand all the way down to the northern U.S., and then retreat again. These cycles triggered a shift away from continuous warmth toward seasonal climates that varied over the year. That seasonality reshaped the oceans. By strengthening winds that blow from the south, it intensified the upwelling currents that bring nutrients up from the depths, specifically near the coasts of continents. And those coastal waters were also hit by run-offs from melting glaciers on land, which brought even more nutrients with them.
        The result was an unprecedented boom-time for coastal waters, with nutrients feeding hordes of crustaceans and small fish—potential prey for whales. But these bonanzas weren’t evenly distributed. They were concentrated in particular, far-flung places—all-you-can-eat buffets separated by literal food deserts. And that, Pyenson says, is why the giant baleen whales evolved.
        They are beautifully adapted to hunt down sparse but concentrated prey. Their huge size allows them to survive for long stretches without encountering any food. And they evolved a foraging technique called lunge-feeding, where they accelerate into a shoal of prey, open their ballooning mouths, and suck in vast volumes of water. […] The bigger that baleen whales get, the more efficient lunge-feeding becomes. A blue whale, for example, can engulf 120 tons of water and around half a million calories of krill in a single mouthful. So by becoming as big as possible, the baleen whales managed to monopolize the newfound bounties of freeze-thaw planet. That’s why they survived and their smaller peers died off.

        • Nornagest says:

          The last ice age was end-Devonian to late Permian. It’s fun to imagine eurypterids the size of blue whales, although their body plan probably wouldn’t support it.

  20. BeefSnakStikR says:

    Based on last week’s OT, I know SSC loves giving dating advice to clueless guys like me. : )

    The spam filter seems to be eating up my question, so here it is on Reddit.

    • Nornagest says:

      If you say “wanna hang out sometime?” and she says “oh, that’d be great”, then that’s just polite friendship maintenance on both your parts. It doesn’t mean much in terms of interest. (It does signal “you could ask me out at this point if you wanted to”, but you shouldn’t read too much into her not choosing to initiate.) If you want to actually ask her out, you need to be more specific, e.g. “wanna hang out on Friday?”

      (If you say “wanna hang out on Friday?”, and she says “oh, I’m busy”, then that’s a no. If instead she says “I’m doing X on Friday, but what about Saturday?”, though, then that’s a yes.)

      • Well... says:

        She might legit be busy on Friday, and she might have just been too absent-minded to suggest another day.

        Instead of “wanna hang out” suggest a specific date-like activity, such as going to a movie or a concert or something.

        • Nornagest says:

          There’s some ambiguity, sure. It’s a judgment call, and stuff like tone and timing factor into it too, but all else equal more specificity is usually a good sign.

          If you’re not sure the first time, I think it’s generally acceptable to ask again on another date. If you’ve gotten two or three “I’m busy”s, though, move on.

    • Well... says:

      I am a master and will rule all the question.

      Is it a bad sign that she didn’t say “I’m free on such and such a day”? Is she answering vaguely because it’s more polite than saying no?

      She might just be absent-minded. You know her, so use your judgment. Even if she isn’t absent-minded, you should still offer such and such a day.

      Should I wait for a week or two, and just email “are you free this weekend, do you want to go for coffee?” again? Should I wait longer? Or do something differently?

      I wouldn’t wait longer than a week or two, but why not email her as soon as you get a chance to? This is 2018, we spend a lot of time in front of our computers. It’s not weird.

      How persistent should I be if she can’t make it and doesn’t make an effort to arrange something that works for her — is that a sign that she’s letting me down gently?

      I’d try once more to reschedule, then let it go. If she really can’t make it both times and really wants to see you, she’ll try and reschedule the next time.

      At this point, should I still be inviting her to do things as part of a group and as friends? I don’t really have any way of doing that, except, I guess, saying I’m going to an event and telling her to bring a friend.

      If your aim is to try something romantic, just invite her on something date-like. Just the two of you.

      If I do see her, how do I make it clear that I’m interested in her?

      Compliment her on something that would be inappropriate to compliment her on if you were coworkers but not something too intimate. So, her smile, her hairstyle, her outfit, her perfume are all in-bounds; her shapely figure is probably too risky. This goes without saying but your compliment should be genuine.

      Ask directly towards the end: “are you seeing anyone” and “do you want to go on a proper date some time”?

      Nah, that puts her on the spot. Do what I said.

      Steer the conversation towards it, casually mention “I broke up with someone a few months ago?” (white lie, but less pressure on her to answer about herself/make a decision)

      Don’t do this. Lying is a bad idea.

      Or should I keep it social — “I’d like to do this again some time”… it feels weird to take things that slowly at this point

      Why? I think that’s a fine thing to say toward the end of the evening.

      Or is it already obvious to her? Most people I know wouldn’t go out for coffee with someone of the opposite sex outside the context of dating, but it depends on the person.

      I know lots of people who would, including me. I wouldn’t assume it’s obvious.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        Or should I keep it social — “I’d like to do this again some time”… it feels weird to take things that slowly at this point

        Why? I think that’s a fine thing to say toward the end of the evening.

        .

        I should have been more clear about “slow.” I didn’t mean taking things further, I meant keeping things social. If things don’t go any further but you want to continue as friends, rolling things back towards specific group activities seems to happen pretty immediately. That doesn’t usually take seeing someone more than once to figure out, and the specificness of the activity usually means more than a vague “this again.” Granted, I’m basing this on friendships with same-sex friends that I’m trying to become closer friends with.

        Asking someone to do something again seems to be a sign you’re unsure about seeing them again — ie. it didn’t go too well the first time. Which is fine, I’m not expecting much, but that’s what “we should do this again” seems to mean where I am. Again, I’m basing this on friendships with same-sex friends.

        Coffee is pretty low-pressure. When I’ve gone out for coffee with my same-sex friends, it’s a way to see how we get along more closely and without other people around, and either of us can leave at any time without it looking bad. (Every time I’ve gone out with a male friend to do something specific without a coffee-like meeting first, it’s been awful, because unless you have very specific common interests, one person has to commit to something they’re not familiar with.)

        • Well... says:

          I thought “this” referred to an actual date.

          I agree, if it’s coffee then you might want to specifically suggest something date-like next.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’s not a bad sign that she didn’t mention a specific day. It just meant she’s not that interested. At our age, “sometime in summer” means “i am busy right now, which really means I am busy ALL THE TIME, and maybe I can theoretically fit you in during the medium term.” The medium term scheduling is a lot like politicians trying to schedule deficit reductions for the medium term: it’s not MY problem, it’s Future Me’s problem.

      But it’s not a NO. So it’s good. There’s still some positive feeling there, it’s just not enough to make you a priority. I’d read this as “friend-zone.” That can TOTALLY change, though, so don’t get dispirited.

      I’d definitely wait at least 2 weeks before trying to schedule something, especially since she said “summer” and we’re still in “May.” Maybe in 2 weeks suggest something for Memorial Day weekend, “you know, if you’re free.”

      If you want to steer it in a romantic direction, just do what Well said: compliment on something that’s a little risque, like her hair or perfume. See how she reacts when you’re together. Is she just sort of passing the time and looking at her phone or she is really engaged, twirling her hair, smiling a super-ton, blah blah. At the end of whatever meet-up you’re doing, you can ask up to meet up again. If she says she is super busy and she needs to see you again in a month, she’s just not that into you.

      Or should I keep it social — “I’d like to do this again some time”… it feels weird to take things that slowly at this point

      Or is it already obvious to her? Most people I know wouldn’t go out for coffee with someone of the opposite sex outside the context of dating, but it depends on the person.

      1. If you really can’t infer from body language, I think you can just ask. You’re 26, she’s 30. People start to become a lot more blunt at this age. I won’t lie, you still might come off naive if she’s really not interested, but who cares at this age.

      2. I meet up with people all the time for coffee or food with non-romantic people. Mostly I hang out with dudes because girls are just not that interesting, but there are still some girls I am close friends with.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        Thanks for the detailed reply.

        If you really can’t infer from body language, I think you can just ask. You’re 26, she’s 30. People start to become a lot more blunt at this age. I won’t lie, you still might come off naive if she’s really not interested, but who cares at this age.

        Both of us are kind of reserved in general, so yes, it’s hard to tell. Is there a way you’d express interest without putting her on the spot?

  21. rlms says:

    Today in “good things that are actually bad”: detecting cancer early.

    • crh says:

      I used to work with a research group that studied cancer screening & prevention from a decision-theoretic perspective. Overdiagnosis was an omnipresent theme.

      I didn’t work specifically on breast cancer and my role was more quantitative/technical anyway. But behind closed doors I heard from more than one domain expert that 1. (US) mammography guidelines are much more aggressive than is warranted and 2. one had to be careful about expressing this opinion publicly.

  22. johan_larson says:

    For the last few decades or so, the US Pacific coast has had a certain position of cultural leadership. Stuff would start there, or flourish there, and only percolate to the rest of us later. Think of rock climbing, sushi, skateboarding, and coffee-culture, for instance. Once, these were very local affairs, in California or Washington state, but now they are simply part of the common culture.

    This observation leads to a question: What weird shit are you guys on the Pacific coast up to right now that the rest of us should be ready for in, oh, twenty years or so?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Do you already have ironic beards, anorexic men, fixee bicycles, and kombucha?

      • The Nybbler says:

        In New York, yes. The first three are actually kinda passe.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yes to the first three, and I think I could find kombucha if I looked for it, but it’s not standard. Chai, matcha, and rooibos are pretty standard at this point. This is in Toronto

      • Well... says:

        Man, we’ve had kombucha in Aldis here in the Midwest for years. Are you even in California right now??

  23. BeefSnakStikR says:

    Based on last weeks OT, I know SSC loves relationship questions from clueless guys like me. Ahem… 🙂

    I (26m) recently reached out to someone I knew in college (30f). I think she was interested in me at the time: we talked a lot, she invited me out a few times in a group setting. Later, she got me alone several times after class, which I’m pretty sure was an invitation for me to ask her out on a date. Though I can’t be sure…

    We fell out of contact. I never asked her out on a date: I was living with my parents at the time, she was older than I was, and I was leaving for university a few months later. I ran into her once after I moved back home a few years ago.

    I still don’t have any experience dating, but I’m living more comfortably as an adult (I work a steady job & rent my own place). There’s less of an age difference between the two of us now.

    Last week, I emailed her to ask her advice on something (we both work freelance). I mentioned that my email was out of the blue and that I’d been busy over the last few years. I asked if she wanted to catch up over coffee some time; she said that it could be nice to catch up over the summer.

    Anyway…
    —-Is it a bad sign that she didn’t say “yes, let’s go on such and such a day”? Is she answering vaguely because it’s more polite than saying no?
    —-Should I wait for a week or two, and just email “are you free this weekend, do you want to go for coffee?” again? Should I wait longer? Or do something differently?
    —-How persistent should I be if she can’t make it and doesn’t make an effort to arrange something that works for her — is that a sign that she’s letting me down gently?
    —-At this point, should I still be inviting her to do things as part of a group? I don’t really have any way of doing that, except, I guess, saying I’m going to an event and telling her to bring a friend.

    If I do see her, how do I make it clear that I’m interested in her?
    —-Ask directly towards the end: “are you seeing anyone” and “do you want to go on a proper date some time”?
    —-Steer the conversation towards it, casually mention “I broke up with someone a few months ago?” (white lie, but less pressure on her to answer about herself/make a decision)
    —-Or should I keep it social — “I’d like to do this again some time”… it feels weird to take things that slowly at this point
    —-Or is it already obvious to her? Most people I know wouldn’t go out for coffee with someone of the opposite sex outside the context of dating, but it depends on the person.

    I know some people say not to go back to someone after such a long period of time, and that I should move on (it’s been five years). But it’s pretty common where I live to move away/come back again (it’s a small city), and most of my friends are people I see once every few years. She moved here from another country, and she works freelance/remotely, so may have a fairly small social circle & few dating opportunities.

    This turned out to be a long post…I’m not obsessing over this, I’m prepared for this to go nowhere or even end up a friendship. I just overthink things and am socially clueless sometimes.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yes it’s a bad sign. Try once more with a specific date, time and location. “What are you doing Wednesday at 1? I’d like to buy you that cup of coffee at [Trendy Coffee Place].” (not starbucks). If she doesn’t commit to a meeting then she’s Just Not That In To You.

      If I do see her, how do I make it clear that I’m interested in her?

      I don’t know man. Just be yourself :^)

    • Iain says:

      Seems quite plausible that she’s already in a relationship. Can you Facebook-stalk her to find out?

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        Seems quite plausible that she’s already in a relationship. Can you Facebook-stalk her to find out?

        People here are pretty private/intermittent with their Facebook accounts. Absence of a relationship status wouldn’t mean “not in a relationship.”

        I’m also happy to see her socially, even as a one-off thing. As I say, where I am, a lot of people do this. I’ve both initiated it and been on the receiving end of it (admittedly mostly from male friends). I usually try and get in touch with a few people every year.

        Everyone I’ve talked about it to hates doing this in the abstract, but they also seem happy to see each other/me. It’s a weird social landscape.

  24. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    “Don’t only practice your art. But force your way into its secrets. For it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” Piano guys video.

    Probably a better translation: Do not merely practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; it deserves that, for only art and science can exalt man to divinity.

    I’m posting it because it seems like a shockingly unmodern attitude, but possibly useful– does anyone here use this approach to finding out new things? Does anyone think it would help?

    • Randy M says:

      This is motivational but not exactly outlining an approach. What is being recommended? Persistence? Going for a deeper level of mastery? Using art to achieve immortality?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I see it as not expecting cooperation from the universe. You should want to learn things which aren’t at all obvious!

    • Zephalinda says:

      This is really interesting, because it reads as an entirely bog-standard modern statement to me (and Beethoven, writing from within that German idealist/Romantic moment, is kind of right in the middle of everything that grows up into what we’d call modernity). What about that attitude feels “shockingly unmodern”?

      • Well... says:

        What about that attitude feels “shockingly unmodern”?

        To me it was the “secrets” and “divinity” parts.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        the aggressiveness of the first sentence struck me– I think of a normal contemporary (perhaps not “modern”) attitude as expecting an open field to explore.

  25. Atlas says:

    So, last OT I posted about how it seems like the tendency of demographic groups to vote in blocs and the partial heritablity of political views seem to pose a challenge to the theoretical case for democracy. Some folks responded, and since I didn’t have time to respond before, I’ll do so here:

    hls2003 wrote:

    I agree that the increasing segmentation of American society and the rise of identity politics poses challenges for American democracy. But I do think it’s overstating the matter to suggest that preferences are unchangeable to a meaningful degree. I think what the evidence shows is that the timescale of change tends to be relatively slow in comparison to electoral cycles, but change does happen, usually at a cultural level, and often in conjunction with or reaction to other cultural changes. For an obvious example, there was a time when African-American voters were as strongly Republican as they now are Democratic, and the big fights in early 20th century Republican politics were over control of the A-A delegates’ support. Obviously that changed in the 1930’s-1960’s. Theoretically, it could change again. Whites did not used to be nearly so conservative (or at least not so Republican). There are plausible arguments that the Emerging Democratic Majority thesis foundered in part on the delayed reaction of lower-class whites to the Democrats’ embrace of pro-minority identity politics, producing a slow pro-Republican shift. You started seeing it with the Reagan Democrats, for example, and the phenomenon of Obama voters shifting to Trump suggests it is ongoing. Politics tends to be a pendulum, and coalitions (even unlikely ones) tend to form to offset permanent majorities. Not in time for an election cycle, but over a generation or two.

    So, I have a lot of thoughts about the object level points about politics made here, but I think they’re sort of subsumed by the meta level question I tried to raise. Or, that is to say: the question of which ethnic groups are allied with which parties at which times is less significant to me than the fact that ethnic groups are a meaningful factor in politics at all. It seems to me that the case for democracy, as summarized in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry I quoted, is partially (though I realize not entirely) based on the idea that people make rational, disinterested decisions about the best policies based on factual evidence. (Obviously Conflict vs. Mistake is relevant here.) But I pointed out that people tend to vote to a non-trivial degree along demographic lines rather than as pure individuals, even in the face of the same evidence, which means that who wins elections in a democracy is often more about what kind of people are doing the voting than which ideas are better than others. Which I just think is a serious and basic problem with democratic government that I don’t feel I see enough recognition of. And I think that all the empirical points you raise tend to support that broader point.

    • Atlas says:

      Nornagest said:

      The causality here is two-way: people don’t just vote for a party because the party represents what they believe, they substantially also take a position on some issue because that’s what their party’s for, or at least because they’ve been exposed to the arguments for it (and not for the other side) through their social circle or their pastor or Jon Stewart. Because of that it’s very hard to say how many of the things those polls are measuring actually reflect an innate predisposition to belief.

      Both parties try to swing demographic groups all the time, and pulling this off is largely a matter of figuring out things that a group cares about strongly but which aren’t well served by their traditional representation. The GOP tried to do it with non-Cuban Hispanics during the Bush years by softening their stance on immigration, but that was largely a failure; lately they’ve had more luck appealing to white union members (a traditional Democratic constituency) by emphasizing economic nativism.

      As I said in response to hls2003 above, I think these are object level points that in fact are consistent with the meta level point I was trying to make. If democratic politics is about group representation, rather than a competition of ideas, and winning is about forming the largest coalition, then I think it’s a big problem with democracy that not enough people are thinking about. (I’ll maybe add some more comments about the specific points you’ve made later, including links to some relevant Steve S*iler—press f to pay respects—and Ron Unz articles about Hispanic immigration and the GOP.)

      • Randy M says:

        Here’s a relevant quote

        Mr. Lee [Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore]: Why should I be against democracy? The British came here, never gave me democracy, except when they were about to leave. But I cannot run my system based on their rules. I have to amend it to fit my people’s position. In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion. Supposing I’d run their system here, Malays would vote for Muslims, Indians would vote for Indians, Chinese would vote for Chinese. I would have a constant clash in my Parliament which cannot be resolved because the Chinese majority would always overrule them. So I found a formula that changes that…

        Is he right? I don’t know for sure, but your points above and his agree.

        It’s amusing that what he sees ethnic and religious interests in a multicultural state supplanting are not the good of the nation, but their economic and social interests. In this view of democracy, which fits with the little bit that I know of the Federalist papers, democracy does not work by establishing a marketplace where experimentation and rational discussion find the policies that produce the most good on average, but where coalitions will need to cooperate with other factions in order to get the policies implemented that help their group–hence the perceived need for a bill of rights to protect individual or minority rights.

        Of course, it’s not hard to find plenty of examples of legislation or attempts at it that aren’t about group interest but controlling others behavior for their own good or that of others–abortion, drug use, etc. But this isn’t much more hopeful, for in a multicultural society there are more competing definitions of the good.
        But it’s also possible that these differences on policies manifest themselves more when there is less tribal competition for the spoils of government. That is, ideologies are a result of a monoethnic polity.

        • Atlas says:

          @RandyM

          Thanks for bringing up that LKY quote in its entirety; I’d heard the gist of it before, but never seen the context, which I found very interesting.

          It’s amusing that what he sees ethnic and religious interests in a multicultural state supplanting are not the good of the nation, but their economic and social interests. In this view of democracy, which fits with the little bit that I know of the Federalist papers, democracy does not work by establishing a marketplace where experimentation and rational discussion find the policies that produce the most good on average, but where coalitions will need to cooperate with other factions in order to get the policies implemented that help their group–hence the perceived need for a bill of rights to protect individual or minority rights.

          Indeed. You know, from what I know of the Federalist Papers, a big theoretical issue at the time was whether democracy could work in a big diverse country, because previously it had only worked in smaller polities like Switzerland and some of the Greek city states. Madison argued in Federalist #10 that actually size was good for democracy, which some people vigorously disagreed with.

          It was always sort of assumed that Madison was right, but I’m wondering if he’ll turn out to have been wrong after all.

          You somewhat allude to this below, but I think the question of faction might suggest that small, homogeneous polities are the best places for democracies, at least democracies where ideologies can be debated more on the merits. Nassim Taleb has written about “localism” in Skin in the Game, and has noted that it’s not clearly a leftist or a rightist position.

          Also: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/07/archipelago-and-atomic-communitarianism/

      • hls2003 says:

        Let me try to address your meta point more directly. (With the understanding that I do share some concerns about the long-term viability of the liberal democratic project). I think there are two basic issues. The first is that I don’t know that race or ethnicity have any causal relationship as opposed to correlation. It’s not surprising to me that people with a similar culture or shared history and traditions might overall see certain issues the same way. But in that case, ethnicity is merely a proxy for “see things the same way,” which is what I see your meta-point as asking of democracy (assessing policy and voting based on how you see it). Race obviously has toxic elements, especially in American history, but I don’t know that the correlation between the exercise of democratic franchise (making a judgment based on one’s priors) and one’s ethnicity (which may influence one’s priors) dooms democracy. The second thing is that I’m not sure it matters tremendously if ethnicity has predictive power for voting, if it does not reliably predict the direction of policy preferences. That is to say, people are always going to vote in blocs based on common interests. As long as some assessment is occurring of what common interests unite a particular ethnic group – that is, if those blocs are capable of realignment based on an assessment of the proposed policy’s effect, or at least an assessment of the likely consequences of an opposed coalition’s policy’s effect – then it seems to me there is no necessary stagnancy. If, say, the gene for red hair also coded for high taxes, then yeah you might have a problem inasmuch as tax policy might get formulated in the long run based on birth rates. But if it’s cultural transmission, and the transmitted cultural assessments can change over time, then you are not substantially constraining the decision space that the democratic polity can reach; you are simply moving to a longer-term struggle over influencing culture and building coalitions of interest.

        • aNeopuritan says:

          I’m pretty sure the genes for low IQ/conscientiousness/honesty-humility do code for high taxes [on everyone else].

          (Not to say I think most of the ethnic voting factors require genetic causes, or that the problems with low IQ/C/H should be seen mainly in ethnic terms.)

        • Atlas says:

          The first is that I don’t know that race or ethnicity have any causal relationship as opposed to correlation. It’s not surprising to me that people with a similar culture or shared history and traditions might overall see certain issues the same way. But in that case, ethnicity is merely a proxy for “see things the same way,” which is what I see your meta-point as asking of democracy (assessing policy and voting based on how you see it).

          I agree, but I think that’s exactly the problem. If specific culture, history and traditions lead groups of people to have specific beliefs about governance, as opposed to disinterested, neutral individual evaluations of which policies are best for society based on the evidence, then it partially undermines the theoretical justification for democracy. Ideally, we’d want democracy to work because people tend to “see things the same way” based on logic and evidence, so the competition to win elections is based to providing better logic and evidence so you get a majority. But if people have beliefs that are based on identity, rather than the evidence, then winning elections is, in an important sense, a somewhat arbitrary question of which identity group is the largest within the polity. (May add more and address other points in your comment later.)

          • albatross11 says:

            One way that could be wrong is if members of some ethnic group had a lot of shared experiences that inclined them all in the same direction w.r.t. some policy. If lots of blacks have had bad experiences with the police, that could plausibly lead to lots of blacks supporting more oversight of the police for entirely sensible reasons.

          • Atlas says:

            One way that could be wrong is if members of some ethnic group had a lot of shared experiences that inclined them all in the same direction w.r.t. some policy. If lots of blacks have had bad experiences with the police, that could plausibly lead to lots of blacks supporting more oversight of the police for entirely sensible reasons.

            I think that in this scenario, if blacks tend to be right about criminal justice issues then ethnic identity shaping politics is still an issue, it’s just an issue with white identity. (Which is in fact what many leftists believe, though they don’t seem to understand how that logically leads to ethnic nationalism.) And, sure, I don’t dispute that demographic groups could happen to make the right choice; I’m just saying that theoretically one of the benefits of democracy is that it’s more likely than random chance that the people make good choices.

          • Civilis says:

            If specific culture, history and traditions lead groups of people to have specific beliefs about governance, as opposed to disinterested, neutral individual evaluations of which policies are best for society based on the evidence, then it partially undermines the theoretical justification for democracy.[…] But if people have beliefs that are based on identity, rather than the evidence, then winning elections is, in an important sense, a somewhat arbitrary question of which identity group is the largest within the polity.

            The problem is that these aren’t necessarily groups wanting their own interests to take precedence over society’s interests, but differences between groups as to what they think the best outcome for society is. Different groups of people tend to have different shared values based on their history, which causes them to evaluate different things as being best for society (or, at least, better), even if they agree on the evidence.

            The way around it might be to identify the minimum set of values necessary for society to function, set those values as hard coded in society, and then let the democratic process play with everything else over time.

          • hls2003 says:

            I don’t think that’s the problem you make it out to be, at least historically. Recall the structural arguments made for the U.S. Constitution by the various Federalist writers; they were never arguing for philosopher-citizens, which would just be another impossible version of philosopher-kings. Rather, they assumed that men were neither angels nor devils, would act in their own self-interest, but would also have the ability to sometimes change their opinions based on reason and experience. They used structure to try to ensure that self-interested people would set up checks and balances to inhibit tyranny, while allowing for slow shifting coalitions (and indeed requiring them to make large changes). Thus, having viewpoints shaped by culture would not seem to be fatal, as long as the viewpoints are capable of updating to reflect each individual’s experience of how policy is affecting them.

            Put more directly, I don’t agree that the justification for democratic participation relies upon citizens making disinterested policy calculations for society – almost at all. I think it, like the invisible hand of the market, relies upon citizens making self-interested judgments about the effects of various policies upon them personally. That isn’t to say there is no role for public-spiritedness; I agree that there are some basic rights and assumptions that the polity needs to share or else the project cannot continue (thus the Bill of Rights, etc.). So it is very possible for a polity to become so non-virtuous, or at least possess the wrong virtues, to render self-government untenable. Tribalism that is entirely impervious to change is definitely such a challenge, I agree with that. But if the tribalism is not impervious to change – merely resistant, or helping to form self-assessments – then I don’t think it is fatal to the underlying project. I don’t expect citizens to know, calculate, or even particularly care what the “best” policies are for everyone. I expect them to give feedback about what is working or not for them. Who better to judge their happiness than themselves? If part of that judgment is shaped by culture, so be it – they can assess how they like the results of their judgment down the line. As long as they can update, change, and shift policies and coalitions (but still are committed to peaceful coexistence with opposing coalitions), it shouldn’t matter if part of their judgments coincide with that of others within their ethnic group.

          • Iain says:

            I’ve been meaning to write a reply to this thread, but hls2003 covered most of the rest of what I wanted to say that hasn’t already been said.

            The case for democracy is that is the least bad system at:
            1. Aligning the incentives of the rulers with the interests of the ruled.
            2. Incorporating the knowledge and experience of as many people as possible into the decision-making process.
            3. Peacefully transferring control from one leader/party to another.

            The claim that people will (to quote Atlas’s OP) “make rational, disinterested decisions about the best policies based on factual evidence” is unrealistic. (I also don’t see it in the SEP article.) There’s an implicit assumption running throughout this thread that “the best policies” is a well-defined objective. I don’t think that’s accurate. Any group large enough to need a government will contain profound disagreements about what “best” means. The same facts about abortion usage patterns can imply very different policies, depending on whether you are pro-life or pro-choice.

            Given that, governance is always going to be messy. Democracy doesn’t — and can’t — give a path out of the mess. Democracy doesn’t offer “best”. It offers “better”. A democracy won’t perfectly represent the interests of its citizens, but it will do better than anything else. A democracy won’t perfectly integrate everybody’s knowledge, values, or beliefs, but it will come closer than the alternatives.

            If democracy doesn’t live up to what you expected, the problem might be with your expectations, and not with democracy itself.

    • Atlas says:

      Zephalinda said:

      Seems not unlikely that there’s some underlying factor strongly related to both. Perhaps something like “subculture” that’s a combination of social class (not just strictly income) and geographic location (especially rural/urban)?

      I’d expect people living on the same block in Seattle, and in the same neighborhood in rural Pennsylvania, to have a lot of shared political views, regardless of individuals’ demographic groups. But it’s also the case that particular demographic groups are more likely to occupy specific geography/class niches, owing to historical patterns of immigration and economic activity. So then you’d get a situation where what’s actually just local culture shows up on polls as a weird, messy correlation between demographics and ideology.

      Besides agreeing with this, I want to note that there are some very relevant SSC posts discussing similar things: Part III of “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup” and the book review of Albion’s Seed.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Which I just think is a serious and basic problem with democratic government that I don’t feel I see enough recognition of.

      Yeah, well the philosophical case for democracy is empirically false. A better question is “Is there something superior we could replace our representative oligarchy with?” If not, we have to keep it.

      • albatross11 says:

        IMO, the main benefit of a democracy is that it gives people in power some incentive to care about whether the public is happy with how things are going. Without that feedback, there’s no check on the powerful people doing whatever the hell they want–imposing laws and policies on the people that they overwhelmingly hate, screwing over large numbers of people, ignoring common needs (like keeping the roads working and the courts functioning honestly) in order to line their own pockets or impose their own vision of the world.

        • Atlas says:

          @albatross11

          Sure! But the problem, which Jason Brennan in Against Democracy, Achen and Bartels in Democracy For Realists and Bryan Caplan in the Myth of the Rational Voter have written about at length, is that the feedback mechanism is deeply imperfect, relative to the ideal we learned about in high school.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure, I’m not disputing that it’s deeply imperfect. I’m just saying that there’s an important advantage, which is that the powerful people in this society have good reasons to care about how happy or unhappy the majority of people are about how things are going. That’s not a perfect kind of feedback, but it’s at least something.

            I wonder if there are parts of the operation of government that explicitly need to be free of voter feedback to work. The example that comes to mind immediately is the Fed monkeying with the money supply–it’s probably good overall that they’re not standing for re-election every few years, or we’d probably have a lot less stable monetary policy. Another example is judges ruling on unpopular civil rights cases, where you’d like them to care more about getting the right answer than getting re-elected. (But the other side of that is that when the supreme court justices decide to just change the law, there’s no feedback from the voters.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @albatross: “Civil rights” just gets defined as “culture war” by the Supreme Court. I don’t see how it’s vital that everything the government does except culture war and monetary policy need feedback on the consent of the governed!

          • albatross11 says:

            That would e the “just decide to change the law” problem. Even when I like the result as policy (gay marriage, for example), I think it’s a pretty bad way for things to be done.

        • John Schilling says:

          IMO, the main benefit of a democracy is that it gives people in power some incentive to care about whether the public is happy with how things are going.

          Making people happy is hard. Much easier, and just as satisfactory for an elected government’s purpose, to make people agree on whose fault it is that they aren’t happy. Whereupon you can impose laws on people you hate, screw over large numbers of people, ignore common needs, etc, all in the name of waging total war against Those People.

          • Iain says:

            You’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. What is your point of comparison? Like, sure — democratic leaders can partially substitute culture war for real policy. Is that worse than the alternatives? Non-democratic leaders don’t need an excuse to impose, screw, or ignore. They just do it. If you disagree that this is a relative advantage of democracy, explain a system that better convinces the people in power to care about the interests of the public.

          • Non-democratic leaders don’t need an excuse to impose, screw, or ignore.

            Sure they do. A dictator isn’t Superman, ruling by his own strength. He depends on enough support from the relevant people, which might be the military, the bureaucracy, local leadership, …, to keep him in power. For the limiting case, see Bierce.

          • beleester says:

            Democracies aren’t Superman either. Your statement is true of literally every form of government in existence, and probably will stay that way until we invent robot armies, so I’m not sure what that really proves.

            The fact remains that dictators can get away with much flimsier excuses, since they only need to make their excuses to whoever controls the army instead of 51% of the population.

          • Your statement is true of literally every form of government in existence

            Correct.

            The fact remains that dictators can get away with much flimsier excuses

            Different excuses. An excuse that convinces the voters might fail to convince the elites whose support the dictator needs, or the other way around.

      • Atlas says:

        Yeah, well the philosophical case for democracy is empirically false. A better question is “Is there something superior we could replace our representative oligarchy with?” If not, we have to keep it.

        Definitely agreed; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think democracy works better than really everything else anyone has tried so far, so let’s definitely be careful about changing it. But I think it would be good for more people to think about what a fundamental imperfection this is of democratic governance. (Analogy: most if not all attempts to replace actually existing capitalism with Marxism have been disasters of varying magnitude. But there are still problems with actually existing capitalism and capitalism theoretically that people should think about and try to ameliorate.)

        • cassander says:

          I don’t think it’s so much that democracy works well, as that wealthy industrial society tends towards democracy, and trying to prevent that tends to strongly interferes with either the production of industry and wealth or something more fundamental that leads to them.

        • I think democracy works better than really everything else anyone has tried so far, so let’s definitely be careful about changing it.

          There is at least one mechanism we are all familiar with that works better–competitive dictatorship. That’s how restaurants, hotels, stores are run. The customer has no vote on what is on the menu, an absolute vote on which restaurant he eats at.

          Expanding that to replace all the things currently done by government is a non-trivial problem, but not necessarily insoluble. Expanding it to cover many of the things, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. For one simple example, when Adam Smith wrote, Scotland had multiple competing private issuers of currency.

          Lots of people take the line attributed to Churchill—Democracy is the worst form of government invented by the mind of man, except for all of the others that have been tried from time to time—as an endorsement of democracy. It might better be taken as a critique of government. If the least bad form of government works very badly, that’s an argument against using government to do things.

          • That would be dictatorship with absolutely guaranteed exit.

            Oh, and most of those businesses would allocate resources with central planning…

          • Nornagest says:

            Central planning works fine when you have a small enough population and a narrow enough set of resources that the entire plan fits in one guy’s head. “Palace economies”, which were centrally planned on the local level, were common in the Bronze Age and appear to have worked for a couple thousand years — but when we say “palace”, we mean a building about the size of your average elementary school and with about the same number of tributaries. The calculation problem only becomes intractable at scale.

            The diseconomy of scale that this implies is one of the reasons why we’re not buying everything from McGoogWalSantoSoft.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            There is at least one mechanism we are all familiar with that works better–competitive dictatorship. That’s how restaurants, hotels, stores are run. The customer has no vote on what is on the menu, an absolute vote on which restaurant he eats at.

            Competitive monarchy is an intriguing idea. To quote Hamlet via Mystery Science Theater 3000:

            CLAUDIUS: Wilt thou be ruled by me?
            LAERTES: Well, I do have an attractive offer from the King of Flanders…

        • One argument for democracy that I don’t think has been mentioned is that, in any society, power can shift if the views of enough people change, and democracy provides a relatively low cost way of letting it happen.

          Losing an election is less traumatic than losing a civil war.

          • Thegnskald says:

            That, I think, may be the best way to view democracy; it is a proxy for civil war. Ideally, a democracy should be structured such that, if you could win a war, you can win the votes to get the policy you want.

            What is dangerous is when this ceases to be the case; when you could win a war, but cannot win the vote.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The Swiss and the United States Founders believed in one gun, one vote for this reason.
            So why have democracy if a tiny minority of the population can win a civil war?

    • Randy M says:

      By the way Atlas, as far as I can remember, you posts are always clear, well reasoned, and interesting. I’m almost jealous.

      • Atlas says:

        Wow, thanks! That means a lot coming from you, Randy, since I’ve always found your own comments to be remarkably intelligent, funny and perceptive, even when brief.

  26. crh says:

    I’m interested in examples of controversies that aren’t polarized along the usual partisan lines. Does anyone have a good list? Lots of political beliefs appear to consistently cluster together in ways that don’t really make sense to me. Studying beliefs that don’t behave this way seems like it would be useful.

    • Jaskologist says:

      tabs vs. spaces
      vim vs emacs
      two spaces after a period vs 1 space

      • crh says:

        One thing all these examples have in common is that they’re primarily of interest to specialists. Another is that they all involve trivial issues.

        • Randy M says:

          The non-trivial ones will appear to justify state policy proposals, which will in turn justify political figures taking sides and their partisans adopting the issue into the canon.

          Local controversy may also avoid becoming polarizing along conventional party/tribal lines but be contentious, such as whether or not to allow a certain establishment in an area, with concerns about traffic or noise competing with ideas about how to spend increased tax revenue. There might be ideological views of property rights or other broader concerns at play, but people might not align according to those views when in is in their backyard.

      • Anonymous says:

        tabs vs. spaces

        Newlines 4 lyfe! (CRLF orthodoxy. CR and LF heretics BTFO.)

      • Orpheus says:

        And, of course, the Oxford comma: yay or nay?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Anti-vaccination is one that is very polarizing but not clearly partisan.

      When I was growing up, a lot of the hippies in my town didn’t vaccinate their kids because they thought it was poison being shilled by Big Pharma. Today it seems like anti-vax has made inroads with the more paranoid elements of the right as well.

      • lvlln says:

        I think fear about GMOs might follow a similar pattern, too.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          It’s entirely possible.

          I know that it does in Europe, but I spend almost 100% of my time in deep blue regions of the US so it’s hard to tell whether it’s my bubble that makes anti-GMO look like an environmentalist thing.

          • I just came back from a southern California libertarian gathering (Libertopia). I’m pretty sure one of the talks I didn’t attend was about how to be healthy by eating only pure things, where GMO probably counted as impure. And some other people there seemed to be pushing along vaguely similar lines.

        • crh says:

          From Pew:

          For example, roughly equal shares of Republicans (39%) and Democrats (40%) feel that GM foods are worse for people’s health. And, half of Republicans (50%) and 60% of Democrats have positive views about the health benefits of organic foods.

      • crh says:

        Yeah, reading some posts about the non-partisan nature of anti-vaccine sentiment was part of what motivated my question.

      • bean says:

        Today it seems like anti-vax has made inroads with the more paranoid elements of the right as well.

        It’s a communist plot to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t see this much now that computers are kinda commoditized and Macs have respectable market share. I associate it more with the late Nineties, when hardware was expensive and Macs were the underdog.

      • onyomi says:

        Mac v Windows feels very Blue v Red tribe to me, though there are a lot more exceptions than with with bigger issues.

      • S_J says:

        Mac vs Windows, with a sideline of wild-eyed fanatics saying “Just use Linux!”

        Why does that feel similar to the Red-Tribe/Blue-Tribe/Libertarian division in American politics?

        • Thegnskald says:

          Linux is left-libertarian, Unix is right-libertarian.

        • Nornagest says:

          The Mac market share is pretty deep Blue — creatives use Macs because creative software tools, for historical reasons, are usually designed first for Macs and work best there. For video or sound editing, decent suites even come free with the OS. And Mac laptops are a status symbol for bourgeois-bohemian types.

          I don’t think the Windows market share is as Red as Apple’s is Blue, though. There are lots of reasons to buy a Windows PC — it’s still the standard for office use and for gaming, you get better bang for buck performance-wise, they’re usually more maintainable and upgradable, and the low end of the market is almost entirely Windows.

          Only nerds use Linux, but those nerds are probably about as likely to be socialists as libertarians.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I suspect the toilet paper orientation debate breaks down between “cat owners and parents of young children” vs “everyone else”.

        • Well... says:

          I’ve had both cats and young children and I still say over is better, I’m just less willing to die on that hill now than I used to be.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        “The Dress” has my vote for “Wikipedia article that reads most like an SCP entry”

    • Well... says:

      Sports rivalries?

      Coke vs. Pepsi maybe, if you only look at people who drink lots of it?

      Actually, this might generalize to any consumer good where there are basically two big brands competing for market share dominance, where their shares together add up to something like >80%.

    • WashedOut says:

      Probably too trivial for those outside the relevant niches, but:

      Keto for weight loss (good or bad?)
      For bodybuilding: Bro-Dieting or If It Fits Your Macros ?
      Who does the best version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallejulah? (Hint: it’s K. D. Lang)
      Reservoir Dogs vs. Pulp Fiction?
      Snatch vs. Lock Stock?
      Beatles vs. Beach Boys?
      Rachmanninov vs. Prokofiev?
      1984 vs. Brave New World?

      • onyomi says:

        Pineapple on pizza?

      • crh says:

        I’m not sure if I got quite what I’d hoped for from this thread, but I am learning that I have a lot more strongly-held opinions about trivialities than I realized.

        (No opinion on the first three, Reservoir Dogs, Snatch, Beatles, neither — Shostakovich, 1984.)

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Keto for weight loss (good or bad?)

        Disagree; the people who like keto also like weightlifting and care about testosterone levels, and the left throws some serious invective at them in the right places. Anything close enough to exercise is going to be CW-y because lifting is tagged red. (Also because the overweight are part of the left’s base at this point, though not entirely dominant yet.)

        Who does the best version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallejulah? (Hint: it’s K. D. Lang)

        Wrong. It’s an obscure group called Late Tuesday who did an amazing live cover that I somehow have a mp3 of (I have literally no idea where I got it, and it’s not on any of their for-sale albums.) Here’s an incredibly shitty recording. It doesn’t hold a candle to the real recording, but you can hear enough to see that I’m right.

      • Well... says:

        Peter Gabriel vs. Phil Collins!

        • toastengineer says:

          Picard vs. Kirk?

          I wonder how partisan P vs. K turns out to be, actually.

          • Well... says:

            How would you imagine it breaks down?

          • crh says:

            Picard is clearly a “thrive” hero, while Kirk is a “survive”, so I think I would mildly expect Picard fans to skew left and Kirk fans to skew right.

          • Well... says:

            See, I’d expect the same breakdown but for different reasons: TOS seems to (now) have a more general audience (especially with, or maybe because of, the reboot movies), while TNG has a definite “leftwing nerd” scent to it.

      • johan_larson says:

        Beatles vs. Beach Boys?

        Really? I thought the fundamental dichotomy in pop music was Beatles vs. Rolling Stones.

        • powerfuller says:

          I thought it was Elvis vs. Beatles. At least we can say that Rolling Stones vs. Beach Boys is straight out. Really James Brown deserves to be in the conversation, too.

          The correct answer is Beach Boys, btw.

          • johan_larson says:

            Now I’m wondering who actually makes it onto the short-list for the Best Performer trophy in the (pop music, English-language, 20th century) category.

            I’m rejecting any such list that doesn’t have the Beatles. The Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis are at least credible contenders.

    • Jaskologist says:

      linguistic prescriptivism vs descriptivism

      • powerfuller says:

        Often though, people claim to be descriptivist but become prescriptivist when it involves their pet issue, and those issues can play out along usual partisan lines (case in point: pronoun arguments). But I guess there are a lot of issues like the Oxford comma that don’t skew political.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Conlang’s First Law: everyone is prescriptivist about what he knows best.

        • Pronoun arguments are not about prescriptivism vs descriptivism (as the terms are understood in linguistics—of course, they may have developed a different colloquial meaning among Internet arguers).

          The argument for using the right pronouns for somebody is that it emotionally distresses them if you use the wrong ones. That is harm. It is sensible to change usage to avoid causing harm to others, whether you are prescriptivist or not.

          Prescriptivism is the idea that there is an objective “proper” English, that doing something like using singular “they” is wrong because it’s just not what “they” means in proper English. It is inherently connected to this unsophisticated conception of what a language is. It is an inherently unsophisticated perspective.

          You can still argue as a descriptivist that people ought to change their usage. You just have to provide reasons, rather than asserting your authority as the arbiter of what is proper English and what is not.

    • powerfuller says:

      Mike vs. Joel

  27. razorsedge says:

    I was wondering about the health risks associated with Marijuana and Schizophrenia. I have used Marijuana on occasion and found it deeply enjoyable , far more so than alcohol. However I am very concerned about the increased risk of Schizophrenia , I was wondering what the risk levels would be like for someone with no family history of schizophrenia, and whether i should stop using completely and switch to liquor as my occasional vice of choice.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Marijuana would have to be pretty dreadful for you to make alcohol a superior vice. You should only consider alcohol if you have a track record as someone who can reliably stick to 3 or however many drinks, and if your family doesn’t have a history of people who can’t reliably do that.

    • cuke says:

      I gather the highest risk is for adolescents and young adults with family history of schizophrenia who are heavy users. I don’t know how well the risk has been quantified, having only looked into it a bit, but if you are mid-late-20s or older, without family history, no prior mental illness, and are a moderate user, I would read your risk as very low. While the risks of regular alcohol use are significant.

  28. Freddie deBoer says:

    Regarding the “was the Soviet Union an authentically communist government” question, I became convinced by the discussion in the initial thread that it would end up devolving into a definitional impasse – one of those “this is that/no it isn’t” type of debates that become semantic and thus have no satisfactory conclusion. That said, if other people want to take the question and run with it, I’d be very interested to read.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It was a one-party republic ruled in the name of Marxism, so its failings reflect on Marxism. We might as well taboo “Communist” as anything other than a Party name.

    • hyperboloid says:

      The Soviet Union never claimed to be Communist; by their own definition they were a Marxist-Leninist Socialist state. According to the officially sanctioned dialectical materialist theory of history all societies must pass through ordered phases of feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. It is in this last stage that the great abundance created by “scientific Socialism” was supposed to allow the flourishing of a new kind of society where the state would wither away, and people could live in a state of unprecedented freedom and equality.

      When you ask: “was the Soviet Union an authentically Communist government”, do you mean was it Marxist-Leninist in character, or do you mean was it Communist in the end of history sense of that word? It was certainly the former, and certainly not the latter; and few who understood the question would claim otherwise. Based on the available historical record, there can be no question that Soviet leaders (with the likely exception of Stalin) were genuine in their convection that the things they did were necessary to bring about fulfillment of Marx’s envisioned utopia; and there can be no question that they failed utterly in that task.

      It remains an open question whether such a utopia can ever be achieved through other means, and I think that it is possible that it can. But if it is ever to happen it is much more likely to come about as a result of the technological innovations of capitalism (or more precisely the combination of capitalism and Socialism common in the most advanced industrial states), and not through the schemes of any would be revolutionary.

      It is a bitter pill for the Che Guevara T-shirt crowd to swallow, but one can not wish a better world into existence overnight. The hierarchies of our society are a technical necessity of our current level of development, the fact that Soviet Union was forced to reinvent them in a different form is proof enough of that. To level them will require a change in the nature of our economy that must be not merely political but technological. It must change the very way we produce and provide the goods and services that support our quality of life.

      Until then utopia must wait.

  29. rlms says:

    If you signed up to play diplomacy with other SSC readers, you should’ve now got a message from me with the team assignments.

    • tayfie says:

      Can you please send team members each others’ emails so we can coordinate without having to find each other in a thread?

  30. Joe says:

    A while ago, I read an essay which made an interesting argument for why the ‘technological unemployment’ claim is false, at least today. It contrasted the lives of hypothetical two couples: one living in India and the other in the US. The Indian couple would pay to be driven to their respective workplaces while a babysitter looked after their child at home; in the evening they’d buy freshly cooked street food and perhaps a couple of individual cigarettes. The American couple would travel by self-driving car to their workplaces, and from time to time during the workday, one of them would check on a monitor that their baby was safe in the hands of their robotic babysitter. In the evening they’d eat a meal prepared for them by their automated cooking machine.

    The essay then pointed out that the former of these stories might seem relatable to someone living and working in India, while the latter story is clearly science fiction. In fact, for people living in the US, all these jobs that it’s possible to pay someone to do in India simply don’t get done. This couple would not be able to both go to work while having their baby looked after, by either a robot or a human. One of them would have to give up work, or work part-time, or get help from their family, or use some other non-market solution. Therefore, there clearly is not a labour surplus in the US. There’s a labour shortage – the exact opposite – as is plainly obvious by how many jobs there are that we’d like to have done but don’t have enough people to fill.

    I’ve tried several times to find this essay, and in spite of remembering a fair amount of quite specific details from it, I can’t for the life of me find the right combination of terms to Google. Does anyone have a link? I don’t think I just imagined this…

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      You’re thinking of “Robots didn’t take our jobs” by Chris Stucchio; he posts here sometimes.

    • Technological unemployment does not have anything to do with a lack of useful things that humans would like to have (and if that were the problem, we would be jumping for joy because it would mean we are generating useful wealth faster than humans can consume it and superabundance has been achieved).

      Rather, the threat of technological unemployment stems from the fact (in my opinion) that Say’s Law is false and that humankind’s ability to produce useful wealth routinely outstrips the market for that wealth, leaving much of that useful wealth unprofitable to produce despite the fact that it is very much wanted.

      In other words, there is a given real aggregate demand for commodities on the world market at any given time, and if that given real aggregate demand can be satisfied by more robots and fewer workers, then many workers will find themselves unemployed.

      Now, what determines this real aggregate demand for commodities on the world market at any given time? It is determined by the amount of gold and credit money on the world market. Those two types of money are “non-neutral” in the sense that an increase in their quantity leaves prices unchanged but increases real purchasing power and aggregate demand on the world market for commodities. An increase in the world gold stockpile decreases interest rates and enables more credit creation, while an increase in credit money increases interest rates and discourages gold production by increases the golden-price-level of commodities and making gold mining less profitable.

      Token money, whether in paper form or in an electronic form redeemable upon demand at a central bank at par for its paper form, is neutral and obeys the Quantity Theory of Money. So, increasing the amount of token “fiat” money will not fix the problem of inadequate real monetary demand. Prices will simply increase, and even more money will be needed to buy things at prevailing prices, leaving just as many commodities still unsold or sold unprofitably.

      An increase in credit money can address technological unemployment, but not forever; without an equal expansion of the underlying gold monetary base of the world economy, an increase in credit money will tend to increase interest rates, cut into the net profit of enterprise, and make the financial system more fragile and prone to crises.

      Only an increase in world gold production can (temporarily) solve technological unemployment by sustainably creating greater purchasing power and lowering interest rates, thus increasing the net profit of enterprise and making more production and more employment of workers profitable. See the Critique of Crisis Theory blog for more details.

  31. rm0 says:

    Trying to comment for the last time (sorry if all of these are actually registering!)
    I am currently a senior in an American high school. I will be spending the next four years in college in China. If anyone here has lived there, do you have any advice for me?

    My primary concerns are:
    * I am moderately concerned about privacy/surveillance. The consensus I’ve heard is “Don’t do anything bad and you don’t have anything to worry about.” This is troubling but workable.
    * I still cannot get a lock on whether the Chinese government is socialist, state capitalist, socialist with Chinese characteristics, capitalist but moving towards socialism, etc etc. Everyone I ask has a different view. I have no idea what to think of the Chinese government. Any sources that are less biased than state media or American media are welcome.
    * I am transgender, and concerned about Chinese perceptions (or lack of knowledge) about trans issues. Some people I have talked to said there is more ignorance than malice.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I haven’t lived in China myself and for this purpose second-hand information probably won’t be very useful. But I’m very confused about why you’re going to Duke Kunshan.

      Duke is a good university but I don’t know to what extent the name is going to help when it comes to a satellite school like this. If you could get into Duke proper that may have been the smarter choice. It looks a lot better for a Chinese student to go to Duke than for an American to go to Wuhan.

      At my graduate school we get a lot of people from the elite Chinese “C9” universities, mostly Peking University and Tsinghua. But they’re all Chinese; it would look suspicious that an American would choose to study there unless there was a specific lab or program that only exists there.

      Anyway on a more substantial note, a lot of your questions are things that Duke is best equipped to answer. From the Wikipedia page on Duke Kunshan it looks like they worked out legal agreements with the Chinese government regarding academic freedom already so they probably have detailed information on what is or is not safe to say. You should call or email someone at Duke Kunshan or Duke itself with these questions.

      • Deiseach says:

        I agree about the perception of “Why is an American going to Kunshan, couldn’t they get into The Real Duke?” but then again, Scott was driven to the extremity of attending medical school in The People’s Republic of Cork and that seems to have turned out okay job-wise 🙂

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          “What do you call the guy who graduated last in his class in medical school?”
          “Doctor.”

          That’s not to impugn Scott. He’s obviously extremely bright, and I’m sure that he’s a fine doctor. It’s just that having a medical degree, any medical degree, means a lot just by itself.

          Even Caribbean MDs can come into pharmaceutical companies and make much more than anyone else without an MD, including scientists and statisticians with prestigious PhDs. They won’t get to the highest ranks but they have much better prospects for career advancement in industry.

        • Atlas says:

          Scott was driven to the extremity of attending medical school in The People’s Republic of Cork and that seems to have turned out okay job-wise 🙂

          Uh…weren’t there some posts on both SSC and his old blog about how he initially couldn’t find an entry level doctor position despite strong academic performance partly because his med school had fewer connections to US institutions, and it was an incredibly stressful and frustrating experience, though?

      • rm0 says:

        The reasons I am going to Duke Kunshan and not Duke:
        * I get a Duke degree and a Duke Kunshan degree
        * Global experience etc etc
        * I’ve lived abroad before and it was a great experience
        * I get to be in the first undergraduate class and help shape the culture of the school going forward
        * They gave me a LOT of money
        * The school is taught in English and will have about 30% non-Chinese students so I won’t be entirely alone
        * A ton of money is being put in to the school to make sure it is successful
        * The professors I’ve met are top notch
        * All the students who are going that I’ve met are.. interesting? main characters? They seem like people who will be important, and that I can learn a lot from being around.

        I have asked people at Duke, but I keep getting conflicting answers or nonanswers, and I think there might have been a conflict of interest because they wanted me to go, so would not have told me any negative things.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Fair enough. If they’re giving you a full ride and you get a Duke diploma then it sounds like you’re set.

          I wish you the best of luck, and hope that you can find a less cagey source of information!

        • Zeno says:

          I have a few questions as an interested student potentially applying next year:

          Was the money they gave you need-based financial aid or merit scholarships?

          It seems from your wording that you were accepted into Duke so I can assume you were a top notch applicant. Do you have any idea about the “profile” of admitted students?

          Did you have any experience with the Chinese language before applying? I know classes are taught in English, but I would imagine the school would prefer students versed in Mandarin.

          Alas, many of the most important questions about the school are really unanswerable at this time so we will just have to wait and see. The level of investment Duke is putting into it is impressive so I am cautiously optimistic, and the dual degrees provide a safeguard against a useless diploma regardless.

          • rm0 says:

            Was the money they gave you need-based financial aid or merit scholarships?

            The money was primarily merit based (I assume based off of the amount of need-based aid other colleges offered), but I heard other students got need-based as well.

            It seems from your wording that you were accepted into Duke so I can assume you were a top notch applicant. Do you have any idea about the “profile” of admitted students?

            I was admitted into Duke Kunshan, and I did not apply to the normal Duke program.
            The profile they said they were looking for was students who “had a desire to have an impact in meaningful ways”, who wanted to “leave a legacy/be a founder”, who were “eager to share their perspectives and embrace others'”, who were “unique” and “adventurous”, who had a “diversity of perspective”, and were “academically strong”. (According to my notes)

            Did you have any experience with the Chinese language before applying? I know classes are taught in English, but I would imagine the school would prefer students versed in Mandarin.

            I took three years of Mandarin, but I know very little. Language classes are a requirement, but some students will definitely be starting from beginner level. At the admitted students weekend, some people spoke Mandarin, but the majority did not.

    • powerfuller says:

      I’ve lived in China and had to use a VPN to use Google mail, but never had an issue wrt the things I did online. I would second “don’t do anything bad,” adding that the only “bad” thing is probably criticizing the government; even then, if you’re criticizing the country in your personal emails back home, nobody’s going to care, I think. If you’re constantly blogging about the evils of Chinese communism, that might matter. College students are more likely than the general population to care about and know how to circumvent the great firewall.

      Similarly, I wouldn’t worry too much about what the government actually is. Most Chinese people I talked to felt the same way as a lot of Americans — they don’t like what their government does, but what can they do? Their biggest complaint was about the environmental damage. Just don’t go harping on about Tienanmen Square or Tibet (you can probably talk about these things, but nobody’s going to like “Your country is evil” kind of criticism).

      I didn’t discuss transgender issues much, but I recall the few times it did come up the reaction was mostly akin to how Americans felt/feel about sideshow freaks (insert bearded lady joke) — that they’re not evil or deserving bad treatment, but definitely weird and outside the norm.

      Caveat: this was all a few years ago; things may have changed. And also, China’s a big place, my limited experience, etc. etc…

    • On the subject of what the Chinese economic system is, you might want to read Ronald Coase’s final book (coauthored by Ning Wang), How China Became Capitalist.

      As best I can tell, China, at least parts such as Shanghai, is not much less capitalist than the U.S. or Europe. The current government doesn’t understand capitalism very well and has an unrealistic belief that it can manipulate economic development in useful ways–but that’s true of the U.S. and Europe as well.

  32. rm0 says:

    Trying one more time because it doesn’t look like my comment went through?
    I am currently a senior in an American high school. I will be spending the next four years in college in China. If anyone here has lived there, do you have any advice for me?

    My primary concerns are:
    * I am moderately concerned about privacy/surveillance. The consensus I’ve heard is “Don’t do anything bad and you don’t have anything to worry about.” This is troubling but workable.
    * I still cannot get a lock on whether the Chinese government is socialist, state capitalist, socialist with Chinese characteristics, capitalist but moving towards socialism, etc etc. Everyone I ask has a different view. I have no idea what to think of the Chinese government. Any sources that are less biased than state media or American media are welcome.
    * I am transgender, and concerned about Chinese perceptions (or lack of knowledge) about trans issues. Some people I have talked to said there is more ignorance than malice.

  33. greghb says:

    The 2018 US midterm elections are getting going For the 2016 election I did a bunch of research on how an individual citizen with disposable resources can most effectively contribute to a particular candidate being elected. (Short version: this book has all the answers.) But knowing “how” is useless without knowing “what”: what should be the electoral goal for the 2018 midterms?

    Of course the answer will vary based on one’s values etc., so let me ask the folks coming from roughly where I’m coming from. Has anyone who is roughly a “something sort of like left-libertarian” (referencing this post) thought about the best outcome for the elections?

    To define the space a bit, some achievable outcomes, not mutually exclusive, are as follows:
    – Democrats take the House vs. Republicans keep the House
    – Democrats take the Senate vs. Republicans keep the Senate
    – Farther-left-than-average democrats take the House

    Assessing the odds of these outcomes is a separate conversation: I’m first just asking how much we should value each of these.

    • I’m not much like a left-libertarian. My feeling is that we are better off if the Republicans control one house and the Democrats the other, since I expect that government is more likely to do bad things than good things.

      • greghb says:

        Targeting gridlock makes sense given that view.

        This is a bit off the main topic, but what do you think about the concern that, over time, a dysfunctional, gridlocked government causes deeper rifts in society, and that loss of faith in government leads to some bad mix of cronyism and anarchy? For example, people I meet from Italy sometimes bemoan that their country has fallen into such a suboptimal, distrustful equilibrium. Is there something to be said for a smoothly functioning, centrist government?

      • Eric Rall says:

        I used to favor gridlock for much the same reason, but I’m increasingly concerned about gridlock leading to a “controlled flight into terrain” scenario where the status quo on entitlements and health care policy keeps getting maintained despite being unsustainable in the long term.

        • albatross11 says:

          The other likely outcome (which I think we can see now in US politics) is that since the business of governing needs to get done, and Congress is gridlocked and ineffectual, we end up putting more and more government decisionmaking power into the hands of either the executive branch, the bureaucracies (including the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon), or federal and state courts. One result of that is that we get less and less meaningful democracy–of all those people, only the president ever stands for election, at most twice, in a nationwide election where the a large chunk of the votes are already pre-ordained by state party balances.

          This doesn’t look like it’s working out so well for individual liberty, to me.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I, like you, firmly believe the status quo on entitlements will be a flight into terrain.

          But you can’t fix this just by giving the government to one party with a mandate “fix this.” Even if they fix it, and even if they fix it properly, the fix will be unpopular, and they will be voted out and replaced by the other party. And that party knows this and won’t bother in the first place.

          You need buy in from both groups. This is unlikely, which is a problem, but it’s still more likely to generate a solution.

  34. Alex Zavoluk says:

    I’d be interested in collaborating with Freddie; I think I can even argue something very close to his actual claim. Is there a reliable way to get in touch with him? I doubt he’s still checking the original thread and he doesn’t seem to have posted on the followup thread.

  35. JulieK says:

    So am I the only E. Nesbit fan here? (Seeing as how no one mentioned that the author of The Treasure Seekers was also a founder of the Fabian Society.)

    • Aylok says:

      No you’re not. Planning to give them to my future kids!

    • Eric Rall says:

      I grew up on the Psammead trilogy and the Book of Dragons. I recently re-read them, and they held up better than I’d expected.

    • Zephalinda says:

      Another fan here! I was going to post in that earlier thread to note that her work illuminates how deeply, radically classist that whole Fabian scene was, but got sidetracked into the classism and never actually brought in E. Nesbit.

      There are some wonderful passages satirizing Higher Thought types in The New Treasure Seekers, IIRC, as well as a weirdly racist futurist utopia episode in The Story of the Amulet.
      Good times.

      Her husband, Hubert Bland, was the more politically active and seems to have been a pretty terrible person.

      • JulieK says:

        I hope to get around to posting about classism in Harding’s Luck (wherein it is revealed that Nesbit, like a group who Must Not Be Named, wants to take us back to the Stuart era).

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I grew up with the Arden books. I didn’t know they were that old. Looking forward to the time when I can read these kinds of books to my daughter. Unfortunately the window until they start to prefer reading on their own is pretty narrow.

  36. Freddie deBoer says:

    Imagine an algorithm that can sort out whether a series of numbers were truly randomly generated (or quasirandomly really) by a computer or if they were chosen “at random” by a human. That is, given a certain string of numbers of X length, could an algorithm determine if they were being chosen through the quasirandom number generation of computers, or from a human picking them out of thin air? Would the number of digits in the numbers matter? Does such an algorithm exist? If not, how easy would it be to create?

    • fion says:

      I don’t really have any answers, but it might depend on how the human chose them. If you tell a human “give me a random string of digits, two a second” then it is very obvious that they’re a human doing a crap job (if you haven’t already, try doing it, out loud, and see how hard it is). I would guess a good algorithm could just check for consecutive runs and repeated patterns.

      If they were given longer to think about the numbers they were choosing it might be more interesting, though.

    • The Nybbler says:

      People are terrible at creating random number sequences, so just about any test for statistical randomness will distinguish such a sequence from a good pseudorandom (or true random) sequence.

    • Anon. says:

      Humans tend to be bad at generating randomness, so any randomness test would have a high hit rate.

    • Unsaintly says:

      http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~nick/aaronson-oracle/index.html

      Here is an extremely basic one. A truly random sequence would have 50% predictability, but most humans fall towards the 70% area. This works better if you plan out 20 or so “numbers” (in this case f and d, which map to 0 and 1) instead of adjusting on the fly as the algorithm predicts you

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Hi Freddie,

      As I posted below, I would be interested in an adversarial collaboration with you, on the Soviet Union topic you proposed in the original thread. If you’re interested, email me at [my first initial][my last name]@[gmail]

      • Aylok says:

        As you can see below, deBoer has withdrawn. Just to clarify, were you planning to take his side or the opposite one? And what question were you proposing?

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          I see that, unfortunately.

          I was planning on taking the position opposite Freddie. Something like:

          1. The negative aspects of the Soviet Union are the expected outcome of attempting to implement communism or Marxism.

    • I don’t know if it has occurred to you, but something along those lines could actually be financially valuable.

      Consider a lottery where individuals choose what number to bet on. If the number of bettors is close to the number of numbers available, many will be doubling up on the same number. The ability to select a number that nobody else will choose then substantially increases your expected return from the lottery, perhaps by enough to make the expected value of your ticket greater than its cost.

      • rlms says:

        1,2,3,4,5,6 is famously chosen much more frequently than other values. I’m fairly sure that even if no-one else picks your combination you would still have a negative expected value, but I could be wrong.

        • hls2003 says:

          Lotteries almost always retain negative expected values, regardless of jackpot sizes, because ticket sales escalate along with jackpots and thus the total expected value to a winning ticket maxes out. That said, you can tinker on the margins to improve your expected value slightly by certain strategies – for example, avoiding numbers under 12 and under 31, which many people play because birthdays are a common source for lucky numbers.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          I believe the standard explanation is that many people choose dates of major events in their lives, which biases numbers towards those that could be months (<13) or days of the month (<32).

    • crh says:

      There’s an exercise statistics teachers sometimes do in intro courses. You ask the students to go home and flip a coin. If it comes up heads, they flip it 100 more times and record the results. If the first flip was tails, they instead imagine flipping a coin 100 more times and write down the imagined results. You can then look at the results tables and pick out which are real. As in, at a glance, no algorithm needed. “Random” sequences chosen naively by humans don’t even look like actual random sequences.

      This is assuming a “typical” human is doing the generating. A sufficiently motivated human with time to prepare could always run a high-quality PRNG, memorize a long stretch of the output, and then recite it on demand.

      • hapablap says:

        Our version was just “go home and flip a coin 50 times, then come in and we’ll share the results.” Then when you got to class, the teacher would ask how many students had had 4 in a row of either heads or tails. The students who had actually flipped a coin all had 4 in a row at least once, and the ones who had just made up results did not.

    • hapablap says:

      There’s a test used in accounts auditing that looks at the first digit of a series of numbers, such as invoice $ amounts. The first digit of numbers generated by a human will tend to have a fairly uniform distribution across 1-10, whereas real life numbers are heavily weighted toward the first digit being 1, then 2, etc. (Benford’s Law)

    • Björn says:

      Such tests exist. They use statistical methods like checking wether you can estimate a digit from the other digits of the random number. If a number is truely random, if you know all the digits but one, you can only guess the last digit. If you have a (naive) human who thinks things like “The same digit five times in a row is not random”, then in binary you can guess the digit that comes after “11111”. As the tests are some kind of hypothesis tests, they only calculate a chance that the input is non-random (a true random generator can come up with “11111111111111” after all), but when your input is long and your statistical tools are sophisticated, the result will be quite definitive.

      Another topic is wether you can recognize a certain rng from the output. In principle, this is possible, especially if the rng is not very good. That’s why good random number generators are so important for cryptography.

  37. Urstoff says:

    Has there been any follow-up research on Rodney Brooks’s “Intelligence without Representation” robots? That is, has there been more research on robots that exhibit intelligent behavior without a hierarchical, centralized command structure? Or did this end up being a dead end or fizzled research project?

    A similar question: what are the most advanced autonomous/semi-autonomous robots these days?

  38. Deiseach says:

    Looking at the adversarial collaboration projects, most of these look really juicy and I do badly want to read the results when and if completed. Congratulations on getting an interesting selection!

    Several of these I have strong “Hell, no!” reactions towards, and I’m fascinated to know if there’s any way I’ll be shifted to at least “well I still think it’s crazy but everyone is entitled to go to heck in their own way”.

  39. kaakitwitaasota says:

    I’m on a personal crusade to increase my productivity and stop wasting time, and I’m soliciting outside advice.

    Basically, I have an obscenely easy job (English teacher at a private high school in China) for which I am in the classroom for about ten hours a week. For an additional thirty hours, I am on campus but not teaching (office hours are Very Important in Chinese work culture, even if you’re not doing anything productive at all), and the rest of the time I am free.

    I have thus been given a golden opportunity to read, write, learn, and generally improve myself. Mandarin is unlikely to ever be of professional benefit to me, because the amount of time I would need to sink into it to get to professional-use level is simply massive (at least the next half decade; I’m 23 and have other plans after the summer of 2019). Thus my goal is to get to HSK 3-4 or so, so that I can operate in daily life and not be That Foreigner (a goal towards which I advance daily).

    I know what else I would like to work on during my free time: my reading knowledge of Greek and Latin, my German (shooting to start a master’s degree in the German-speaking world in a year and a half), a couple of research projects for which I have all the raw data I need to work with, and filling in the gaps in my literary education (there’s a lot I haven’t read). I really feel driven to work on this; e.g. I’ve stopped going to most expat meetups because they’re usually on weeknights and almost inevitably at bars (expats in China, particularly ESL teachers, tend to be young, single guys, and many of them drink more than they should), since I never get home before midnight and feel kinda zapped the next day (not a hangover–I don’t drink that much–but rather a lingering lack of energy stemming from too little sleep and a couple beers). To counter this, I am starting a Sunday-brunch meetup within my friend group so that I get at least some socialization in; I don’t have any real Chinese friends yet, and the language barrier is still an issue.

    That aside, however, the issue is simple: I have a lot of time, but I get easily distracted and have insufficient discipline. I have toyed with the idea of swearing off video games for the next decade, though I have yet to take the plunge; more broadly I feel like Current Year is really frickin’ distracting. There are too many devices and too many Skinner boxes running on them, and the devices are necessary and indeed useful (most of my books, research data, music, etc. is either on my hard drive or the Internet). Still, I feel like I’d be knocking it out of the park if it were 1975, and I’m not.

    It’s not really all that bad; I do pick up my Ovid and Herodotus a couple times a week each, I have been diligent with my Anki decks for Greek/Latin/Chinese vocabulary, and I’ve been reading a decent bit (most recently, at the suggestion of Scott’s best comment one Open Thread ago, Braudel’s Capitalism and Civilization, which everyone should go out and start reading right now). But I can’t help but feel like I could do so much better. For example, an undergraduate Greek professor of mine told a story about how one of his professors, when he was in college, had a competition with one of his fellow Classics undergrads to see who could memorize the Middle Liddell (a mid-sized dictionary of Greek) first. I’d like to do something like that, and I have more time right now than I’ll ever have again until I (if I) retire.

    (Rundown of lifestyle: I get up early, usually around 6:30 and try to go to bed early [by 10 if I can], another preference which inhibits expat socialization. I basically don’t drink [the odd beer with hotpot aside] unless I’m at a bar–another reason I don’t go to expat meetups too much, as I’m never at a bar unless I’m with expats, but can easily have three or even four beers if I’m at one. I bike about two miles a day for exercise, and don’t get much caffeine because coffee in China is rare and pricey–and coffee shops are never open before ten. I take melatonin before bed but am on no other medications or drugs, though I used to be on Zoloft for anxiety, which has mostly gone away. I should probably eat more fruits and vegetables, but get a decent number of them; my staples are wheat noodles [with eggs or a bit of meat] and oats, and I try to avoid too much white rice because, being a very simple starch, it zaps my energy [rather like the jellybeans in which I indulge probably more than I should].)

    I suspect SSC has a higher-than-average proportion of people who have memed themselves into ceasing to waste time, so I thought I might see if anybody has any advice. (Neither Adderall nor modafinil are options here). I feel like life’s too short to suffer my natural laziness to continue.

    • Nick says:

      My advice is just to start slow and ramp up until you find the pace you can’t manage, then scale it back a bit. When you feel yourself getting too comfortable, try ramping up again. Repeat.

      You said you pick up Ovid and Herodotus pretty regularly. Try going one more day a week, and if you can handle that one more day a week, and so on. If your anki decks are static, try adding cards regularly: you can start at just three new cards a day or something and ramp up from there. If you’re reading decently, try upping the amount of time you spend reading, or balancing one book with another so you never get tired of a particularly dry topic.

      The most important thing for me personally is avoiding burnout, which is always what sinks a project like this. My best runs of spaced repetition decks are still only a few months long; I’ve never been able to keep it up consistently for even a year. My reading list does better because I can set aside a book or a series for a while if I like. Your mileage may vary, of course.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        Yeah, I’m adding cards regularly to my Latin and Greek decks, though not always to my Chinese deck. I’ve decided to set things up so that I do Ovid and Herodotus on alternating days, which should avoid too much burnout. (Friday is the only day on which my work schedule isn’t leisurely–I have five classes, including three back-to-back after lunch–so I’m letting myself skip reading on Friday).

    • Deiseach says:

      Still, I feel like I’d be knocking it out of the park if it were 1975, and I’m not.

      Console yourself with this: were it 1975 it’s very unlikely you would be working as an ESL teacher in China and much more likely you’d be time-wasting keeping up with high fashion like this, cultivating your pornstache, and learning how to dance The Hustle 🙂

      • albatross11 says:

        That just makes it worse! Not only is he not reading the classics, he missed disco! Poor bastard.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Unrelated question: would you recommend teaching English in China? I’ve been looking for a change of pace in my life and I’ve always thought China was really interesting.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        I finished undergrad last May, and it hasn’t been a career for me, just a two-year hiatus before grad school.

        It’s an easy job and one that pays well by local standards (so you can save a lot), but it’s rarely all that fulfilling. If you work at a private school (like I do) and even, to some extent, if you work at a training center, you’re being hired for the parents at least as much as for the students–sending your kid to learn English from a real live foreigner (perhaps at Future Harvard International Kindergarten) is a status symbol no less than vacationing in Thailand or driving a Lexus is. (Chinese parents can unfortunately be quite racist in this regard, so it helps to be white).

        I would make sure you have something other than teaching English to work on–learning Mandarin, writing articles or a book. It gets quite lonely, even in a Tier 1 city (you’ll find that you have very little in common with most Chinese people, even when there’s not much of a language barrier), and ESL teacher communities tend to be full of miserable people who drink too much.

        Ultimately, I’m not looking to do it as a career, even though I probably could–it’s just a break between undergrad and grad school, and the easy schedule gives me time to write a couple more papers and save some cash. ESL teaching in China can sink a résumé if it’s not done early in your career and you have nothing else to show for that time.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you spend a lot of time on your computer (in your office, perchance?), and especially if you don’t turn it off for the night, you can try what I do to keep my self-discipline high: keep a resolution tracking spreadsheet. Let Office Calc/Excel run in the background, and maybe set up a reminder on your phone/whatever to check it once a day (until you get into a habit of checking it dozens of time a day when you are bored and want something to do). This is apparently backed by loads of science – keeping track of how you are doing helps in like 90% of cases – but I mostly do it because it has reliably worked for me.

      First column is a calendar, by day. Other columns are resolutions, like “learn Russian” or “avoid sugar”.

      Each row represents a day for each of the resolutions. If you carry out a given resolution that day, set that cell’s background to green. If you are precluded from accomplishing it by force majeure, or only have only partial success, or it doesn’t apply that day, mark it yellow (you set the standards for each). If you fail without an excuse, mark it red.

      Mine looks like this: https://i.imgur.com/f4LDlvC.png (I keep additional notes in the cells as needed.)

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        Started one this morning. It hadn’t occurred to me, but now that you’ve suggested it I feel like an idiot for not thinking of it before. Thanks!

        • Anonymous says:

          NP. I only found this method once I’ve paid for a self-improvement online course. Among the best money I’ve spent in my life, even if this was the only practical item I got from it.

          • kaakitwitaasota says:

            I should look into Beeminder. It occurred to me a few years ago that one of the problems with language courses is that you pay upfront (or don’t pay at all), or have a subscription model, and so have no real incentive to keep going. I’d like to see a platform where you pay a deposit that you forfeit if you fail the course. I think Beeminder works sort of like that, doesn’t it?

          • Anonymous says:

            Don’t know, never used it.

          • crh says:

            I use Beeminder. It’s similar to what you describe, but it’s designed for tracking/incentivizing continuous effort/progress as opposed to binary goals. So instead of, e.g., committing to passing a language course that ends 6 months from now and then giving up a large amount of money if you fail, you’d commit to something like “studying language Y for X hours every week”, and then each time your hours/week dipped below the goal value you’d be penalized a small amount.

        • Anonymous says:

          Oh, and do mind what Nick said about not overdoing it. Start small, move up to a little below your limit. Said limit will increase over time as you get used to stuff, but if you load up too much up front, you may get discouraged after you repeatedly fail to accomplish overly ambitious goals right from the start.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Not useful to your more general waste-less-time question, but I was pointed to the website LingQ by fellow commenter Onyomi a couple of years ago (I think; I’m terrible at remembering time), and can recommend it as useful for picking up a language if you have access to the internet and can use headphones at your workplace. Its philosophy is based on exposing yourself to lots of content, both listening and reading (they don’t put any content on the site unless it has matching text and audio), with in-built auto-translate for any words or phrases you don’t know, which is just at a level high enough to be challenging but not bewildering, and not worrying too much about consciously learning vocab or grammar, since you’ll pick them up by being exposed to the words and structures over and over again. I credit them with such skills and Dutch and in Finnish as I have (I mean, I’m not great at either, but I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot worse otherwise). It’s a subscription service, but it sounds like you may have enough spare time to get your money’s worth. At any rate, it’s not effortless, but it’s a lot less effortful than Anki. I literally can’t remember the last time I got my review stack down to zero.

      They have Mandarin, German and Latin, but, sadly, not Classical Greek.

    • Rana Dexsin says:

      Since you mention having at least some gaming background: I signed up for Habitica (formerly known as HabitRPG), and the “gamification for good” aspect has worked considerably faster than anything else so far for incentivizing me to keep my habits consistent. For instance, my party is doing a boss quest right now, which gives a weakly-bound social incentive to keep up; if I miss checking off daily tasks, everyone takes some damage. Pairing it with Forest as a “total focus time” tracker has helped even more, though I’m still a long way away from where I want to be.

      I did also do a bunch of introspection to get rid of mental blocks that were in the way of me feeling motivated, which doesn’t generalize well. I do think both were necessary. But “I’m too conditioned to my phone” is something where twisting the technology around on itself can actually help get you out of it (or at least help you get more out of it).

      Remember that leisure’s important too, of course. Life’s too short for low-quality life, but feeling obligated all the time isn’t necessarily high-quality either.

  40. albatross11 says:

    I have a couple psychology questions which I hope someone can answer:

    First, what’s the current consensus (if any) among psychologists on repressed memories? (I have the vague sense that this was a big thing in Freudian analysis, but maybe isn’t so widely accepted now.) Are there people who repress memories of traumatic events for many years, and maybe remember them because of some trigger?

    Second, what’s the current consensus (if any) among psychologists about recovering those memories in therapy? I know there were some awful cases where “recovered” memories from children led to these crazy witch-hunt-like prosecutions for competely implausible crimes. But are there places where this sort of this seems to work–that is, yielding verifiable results, or helping people who survived some awful thing in their past become more functional?

    • cuke says:

      I don’t have my fingers on the pulse of consensus in psychology but I can say a couple of things as a therapist who works with people with trauma histories:

      1. I think it’s fairly uncontroversial that people can and do repress (or otherwise not remember for a time, without getting into “repression” as a verifiable thing) traumatic experiences and that memories can re-surface in other times and contexts. I don’t know how often it happens, but I think it’s generally acknowledged that it happens. There’s been a little research about the variable accuracy of those memories when they surface — ie, they’re not always reliable.

      2. There’s pretty good evidence that memory recovery is not necessary for trauma recovery. It’s possible to achieve relief from trauma symptoms by addressing the current presenting symptoms and what knowledge is consciously available to the person. Unearthing “the truth” is not necessary to treatment. That stance is controversial in the sense that some people will disagree with it, but there’s a fair amount of evidence that people who survived some awful thing, whether they remember the details of it or not, can become more functional without having to excavate all the details of the awful thing.

      • Aapje says:

        @cuke

        Is that repressing or forgetting?

        And if it is the latter, is it memory recovery or memory construction, where a narrative is created that matches the remaining memory & emotions, without necessarily being true?

        • cuke says:

          Forgetting seems like a more usefully straightforward word here since repression implies unconscious dynamics that are not verifiable.

          I imagine remembering always entails construction. My sense is most of our experience, even what’s happening right now, is mediated through our ongoing narrative.

    • Nietzsche says:

      Not a psychologist, but have done professional collaborations (publications) with them. I don’t think “repressed memories” are well-regarded. It’s a bit older now, but check out Elizabeth Loftus’s book The Myth of Repressed Memory.

  41. johan_larson says:

    The discussion of incels and their grievances in the last OT got a bit heated. Would it make sense to consider this issue a part of “culture war” and as such agree to keep it out of the non-culture-war threads?

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s clearly culture war, but I expect it will die down when something replaces Minnassian (or that facebook page proves to be a fraud, which will start a round of something different)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It’s pretty close to being a central example of a culture war topic. It combines mass murder, feminism, dating, race and a bunch of other stuff that would each on its own be prime culture war fodder.

      It’s also one of those topics that makes people’s brains go completely haywire because they see everything through the lens of policy. If government intervention is the default solution to any problem, then framing inceldom as a problem raises horrifying policy implications. One would have hoped that people would reevaluate that assumption in the face of problems clearly unsuited to policy solutions but that’s not really how people think.

      Finally it’s significant for SSC in particular, since a lot of the undersexed guys here already had reason to worry about ideological purges in tech even before people started publicly calling for the mass firing of male virgins.

      • Nick says:

        It’s pretty close to being a central example of a culture war topic.

        This. The topic seems to make up about two-thirds of the last open thread. I think that qualifies it for most virulent culture war subject yet on SSC, comfortably defeating Falling-down Rockboy, gun control, education, and a litany of other topics—although we’ll see if it has any staying power.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Falling-down Rockboy” conjures the mental image of Ben Grimm falling over furniture like Dick van Dyke. So now I imagine that’s what the said professor looks like entering class.

        • toastengineer says:

          I was about to say, I if one more big discussion in a row happens about this it’s going to end up going the way of the Lobster King of Toronto.

        • crh says:

          I have no idea what Falling-down Rockboy is, and googling isn’t helping. Can anyone clue me in?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Jordan Peter son, requiring you to know the etymologies of the first two words.

          • crh says:

            Thanks. Not something I would’ve ever figured out on my own, I think.

    • J Mann says:

      As the OP of the last one, I think that’s a good rule. (And to be fair, the topic showed up in 100.25 and 100.75, but not 100.5, so people may be following it already). It’s also probably played out, unless someone has something new to say.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I would think so. Incels are basically a side-step away from “SJW,” which are definitely culture war material.

    • Well... says:

      Talking about “incels” and any community of such probably should be considered culture war. But that should not preclude talking about guys who have serious chronic trouble with the ladies, which is both the same thing and not the same thing as “incels”.

  42. I wanted to give a signal boost to a subreddit I stumbled on the other day, /r/Erisology.

    Eris is apparently the Greek goddess of strife and discord, and the idea of Erisology is to study specifically dysfunction that arises as a result of non-constructive disagreement, especially where two parties come away from a conversation without at least understanding the other’s point of view (let alone having progressed human knowledge).

    Given the theme on SSC often centres around civil, rational discussion between people with very different views, I feel like this might be of interest to many people on the site. It was mentioned briefly in a OT mid last year, and has been recently mentioned a bit on the SSC sub, but there’s been some further articles posted and I thought I’d raise it here in case people had missed it. The main guy running it seems very receptive to constructive comments and thoughts on the topic!

    For me the concept is great because it might help formalize and zero in on some of the warning signs that a conversation is going off the rails, as well as clarify key principles to keep it on track! I think most people have an intuitive sense of those things, but having simple clarity is really important in the middle of arguing some complex or emotive topic, because, well, the brain can only think of some much stuff at once.

    • casebash says:

      I’m pretty keen to see people using this term as well. I think that having a term for an area is a pre-requisite for allowing people in the rationalsphere to develop their skills in this to the level I’d like to see us reach.

    • quaelegit says:

      >Eris is apparently the Greek goddess of strife and discord,

      Probably most famous for her role in starting the Trojan War.

      I’ve heard of this subreddit before (maybe on here?) but haven’t checked it out yet, so thanks for the link!

      • b_jonas says:

        > Probably most famous for

        SSC readers might also have met Eris in https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/27/a-modern-myth/

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        There’s also Wilson and Shea’s Illuminatus!, but I think they cutesified her.

        • Nornagest says:

          Discordianism — tongue-in-cheek worship of Eris as a primary goddess — predates Illuminatus! by a few years, although that’s probably the book that popularized it.

          The foundational text, such as it is, is the wonderfully named Principia Discordia: Or, How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her (Hill and Thornley, 1963). It’s been in print since the Seventies, in various editions.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Speaking of cutesfying her, when I ran a Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in the first generation of Greek heroes, I had Eris show up at Harmonia’s wedding to Cadmus looking like Discord from MLP, just with a feminine voice.

    • SamChevre says:

      Another article referencing her and discordianism which I like is the Archdruid Report’s essay on Discordianism applied to international affairs, and on chaos, discord, and confusion.

      These are SSC-length posts, and more digressive–but well worth reading. Sample quotes:

      From the Discordian point of view, Hegel went wrong for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t know about the Law of Fives, the basic Discordian principle that all things come in fives, except when they don’t. Thus he left off the final two steps of the dialectical process: after thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, you get parenthesis, and then paralysis.

  43. Vincent Soderberg says:

    (originally posted in the classified thread, reposted here cause it fits better here)

    How much of willpower/motivation is genetic, how much is environmental, and how much is within the persons own control?

    I ask this because i kinda want to have an EA focused career, or a career in general, but i just hugely struggle with just applying for a job or doing proper planning most of the time. I do suffer from depression (take 60 mg fluoxetine which works generally really well) and i am high functioning autistic, but i dunno.

    I have several times gotten into really bad anxiety/panic attacks over this, twice this week (my chest still hurts from that one, tho i feel better now). It mostly feels like i get things done when it’s very Gamified, or i have my dad or county helper help me.

    Im fine having a normal, not very high impact life, but i feel very frustrated/stressed about this because one one hand, i know im smart. I like listening to high level podcasts, i like to be intellectual and that, and other people think im smart. I used to think i were just diligent in reading books or something, but im pretty sure im just smart.

    But its really stressing to both feel smart, and feel. like i really struggle to do anything, that when i accomplish things it’s mostly luck (something-in-my-brain-worked-properly-luck). I don’t know. I don’t know if there really is anything that properly motivates me and makes me organized beyond “feel smart and understand this, but can’t actually apply this”, food/hot showers/good fiction, and games.

    Im way more better off now then i was beffer my antidepressants, but this aspect doesn’t really feel like its going forward. I am learning things and growing, but im not sure i’ll ever manage to like. be truly intedepent.

    (it might be the case that im in a mood right now)

    Side note: Can stress cause naseua?

    • Dacyn says:

      Ha! This sounds pretty similar to me, not that I have any advice for you. (I mean, I suppose I could talk randomly about my life and about panic attacks, I don’t know how useful you would find that.) I think medical help is the main thing and it looks like you’ve done that. (Though I found psychotherapy to be more helpful than antidepressants.) Regarding willpower, I like Nate Soares’ expression that “A problem isn’t solved until it’s solved automatically, without need for attention or willpower”: http://mindingourway.com/productivity-through-self-loyalty/

      Anyway, good luck.

    • I feel that early differences and their usefulness in predicting success far later in life suggests its partly genetic:
      [Stanford Mashmallow Experiment](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment)

      Willpower and determination are generally shown to be better predictors of success that smarts once you pass into the above average intelligence area. Basically, genius without work means little.

      Keep in mind a couple of things. Even a strong genetic tendency leaves a lot of room for environment factors. Also, because our ancestors evolved being ‘eaten by lions’ and worrying about the neighbours getting stabby with their spears, I think there’s a lot of hidden stress-resilence in most people, including yourself. You have to work with the tools you have of course.

      It sounds like you’ve got a strength you can use to adapt challenges to suit your own style. Maybe gamifying your path to success could help?

      • JulieK says:

        I feel that early differences and their usefulness in predicting success far later in life suggests its partly genetic:
        [Stanford Marshmallow Experiment]

        That could also be interpreted environmentally, though. If the adults in a child’s life aren’t trustworthy, he’ll be less likely to trust the researcher’s assurance that he’ll get a second marshmallow, and more likely to fear that he might even lose the first if he doesn’t eat it right away.

        • Vincent Soderberg says:

          seems like a reasonable point

        • Iain says:

          This has been studied experimentally, and the effect size was huge:

          Children who experienced unreliable interactions with an experimenter waited for a mean time of three minutes and two seconds on the subsequent marshmallow task, while youngsters who experienced reliable interactions held out for 12 minutes and two seconds. Only one of the 14 children in the unreliable group waited the full 15 minutes, compared to nine children in the reliable condition.

          “I was astounded that the effect was so large,” says Aslin. “I thought that we might get a difference of maybe a minute or so… You don’t see effects like this very often.”

          In prior research, children’s wait time averaged between 6.08 and 5.71 minutes, the authors report. By comparison, manipulating the environment doubled wait times in the reliable condition and halved the time in the unreliable scenario. Previous studies that explored the effect of teaching children waiting strategies showed smaller effects, the authors report. Hiding the treat from view boosted wait times by 3.75 minutes, while encouraging children to think about the larger reward added 2.53 minutes.

          The robust effect of manipulating the environment, conclude the authors, provides strong evidence that children’s wait times reflect rational decision making about the probability of reward. The results are consistent with other research showing that children are sensitive to uncertainly in future rewards and with population studies showing children with absent fathers prefer more immediate rewards over larger but delayed ones.

      • Vincent Soderberg says:

        Im gonna chill for a while, then think about this more. thanks for the comment

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      Have you been tested for ADHD? I only ask because I have struggled with it, and it led to anxiety and depression which were diagnosed long before the underlying issue was recognized. In general the main symptom was my inability to get anything done, especially things that were important to me. This led to a number of motivational problems (why start things you won’t finish?) and a lot of fear.

      In my case getting my drugs right has done a lot for increasing my motivation. It’s still on the lower side, but I can feel it improving over time as I start to accomplish things.

      • Vincent Soderberg says:

        I find it unlikely that it would be adhd: my best friend has adhd and we are very different, and i went to a pretty great primary school for disabled kids. But ill check it out anyway. it was a good question to ask

  44. Aapje says:

    This is especially relevant to David Friedman:

    Grassland plants react unexpectedly to high levels of carbon dioxide

    Plants are responding in unexpected ways to increased carbon dioxide in the air, according to a twenty-year study […]. For the first 12 years, researchers found what they expected regarding how different types of grasses reacted to carbon dioxide. However, researchers’ findings took an unanticipated turn during the last eight years of the study.

    “Because carbon dioxide is needed by plants to grow, we expected grasses that have the C3 photosynthetic pathway to grow more under elevated CO2, because these plants are known to be able to increase their CO2 capture as CO2 levels rise. We also expected that growth of grasses with the C4 photosynthetic pathway would not be affected by higher CO2 levels, because these plants are generally less able to capture extra CO2 as CO2 levels rise,” said University of Minnesota Professor Peter Reich. “While that held true for the first dozen years, that pattern changed.”

    Researchers found that during the last eight years of the study, C4 plant species grew more in an elevated CO2 environment than C3 plants. While it’s uncertain why this shift happened, these findings could have significant implications.

    “If mature grasslands worldwide behave like our experiment did, this could have long lasting impacts on how we think about the conservation and restoration of grasslands around the world,” Reich said. “Grasslands cover between 30 and 40 percent of land and play a key role in soaking up carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels.”

    Note that C4 carbon fixation is more efficient at extracting C from CO2, is more water efficient & is more efficient at higher temperatures than C3 carbon fixation, but at the expense of taking extra energy. These plants grow mainly in hotter regions. C4 plants represent about 5% of Earth’s plant biomass, but they account for about 23% of terrestrial carbon fixation.

    C4 plants include maize, sugar cane, millet, and sorghum. C3 plants include rice, wheat, barley, rye, oat and soybean. Researchers are working on creating a C4 variant of rice.

  45. ohwhatisthis? says:

    With the mass propogation of deep learning courses and worldwide experimentation, AlphaGo(with a surprisingly simple structure)AI labeling pictures with accurate commentary in it,who else has bumped down the general strong AI date from 2040 to…..2021 at the latest?

    • rlms says:

      Call me when someone beats the Winograd Schema Challenge.

    • arlie says:

      Most of the “AI” I see seems pretty close to fraudulent. It’s not intelligent in any meaningful sense, and while it may be successful in a statistical sense (gets e.g. 80% of cases not laughably incorrect) its blooper rate (not just errors, but laughable errors) is obvious and high. In general, the root cause of the problems could easily be interpreted as total lack of “common sense”.

      I’m a software engineer, but not in the AI field. I’m also frequently on one or other long tail of statistical curves, so when a “fits the middle 80%” solution is applied to me, the results generally range from maddening to hilarious.

      The problem seems to be that while it’s relatively easy to create an AI to solve a well constrained problem, including a general AI capable of training to solve many well constrained problems, that’s not what intelligent life forms are especially good at. General intelligence is hard. Many of the people writing about AI either have primarily a humanities background (= don’t understand that they are writing about), or have a financial interest in presenting a particular outcome (spokespeople and copywriters for companies producing AI products). Quite commonly they have both limitatios.

      That said, many of my colleagues disagree with me – they have a lot more confidence in AI than I do. Also, I have an interest in AI being limited, given the uses to which I expect it to be put. (I expect it to be primarily deployed to channel wealth and power to those already having more of both.) So there’s presumably some element of wishful thinking in my evaluation of the evidence.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m not sure if the lack of common sense is as damming as you think. Think of Watson playing Jeapordy. One time one of the questions was about an American city but it answered Toronto. It still wiped the floor with the competition. An AI could get common sense answers right only 50% of the time but its collection of specialized knowledge could be good enough to make it very powerful.

        • crh says:

          Also, cognitively normal humans commit laughable errors all the time, so “must not commit laughable errors” seems like a bad criterion for intelligence.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      “At the latest”? That seems nutso and an opportunity for someone to profit at your expense. Does “2021 at the latest” mean that you’d take a 100:1 bet against it? Like I put $100 on the line, you give me $10,000 on 1/1/2022 if there isn’t a machine that I can have a normal conversation with?

      If 2021 is “at the latest,” when’s your 50:50 prediction for strong AI?

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        Why is it nutso? You have the *entirety* of the world engineering machine learning algorithms, experimenting, and entire nations competing with each other now. Look at how utterly absurd the progress in the last 4 years has been. And its not due to moores law.

        I think its going to be here by 2021-2022, but under wraps by some scientists afraid to talk about their creation.

        There’s what watson was 7 years ago, now boosted with this giant deep learning algorithms.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          This sounds to me like you’re furiously backtracking on your claims.

    • toastengineer says:

      Gotta taboo “strong AI.”

      AlphaGo Zero was the only thing that actually spooked me. Up until then all the most advanced AIs were taking massive amounts of human-generated content and boiling it down; proving the power of thousands of years of humans thinking about things, not the power of your system. AlphaGo Zero exceeded those thousands of years of thinking in like a week on its own from scratch.

      So I think “AI strong enough to be a real threat if someone gave it a robot army” exists currently. “AI that could replace entire jobs” is on the horizon.

      “AI I can have a genuine interpersonal relationship with” I don’t think will exist for centuries. “AI strong enough that it can in theory solve any solvable problem given sufficient computing resources and time” I imagine is at least >30 years off. Like, 99% it won’t happen in 10 years, 90% it won’t happen in 20, 80% that it won’t happen in 50, 60% that it won’t happen in 100.

      • albatross11 says:

        Once we get to AI strong enough that it can solve the problem of taking over the world and getting rid of/enslaving the pesky humans on it, I don’t think I care very much how long it takes to get to those other problems.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        But how different is war from the game of go? I’m not convinced that AlphaGo could defeat the US with an army of land and air stones. OTOH, it has convinced me that a computer that can win the game of war is foreseeable, and the computer could still be mindless rather than a tyrant angel.

        • cassander says:

          the hardest part of winning a war isn’t strategy, it’s finding a big enough supply of angry young men willing to fight for you, then keeping them fed and armed.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yes, and any computer wargame you’d train Son of AlphaGo could simulate that. Ofc the map-territory distinction will bite him hard if young men refuse to obey a computer, but the parent comment did specify a robot army.

        • pontifex says:

          Didn’t the Cold War already give us “computers… that [could] win the game of war”? You had game theory, which said that mutually assured destruction (MAD) was the only stable equilibrium. You had operations research to tell you how to make tactical decisions and allocate resources. And control theory to guide the missiles. And humans with terrible haircuts and pocket protectors sitting around in faux-wood-paneled rooms to carry out the orders.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          War is very different from the game of go. It is much, much, much less constrained with many more pieces and each piece having many, many, many more things it can do. The AlphaGo approach is obviously incapable of handling an unconstrained real-world war: how would you write a Monte Carlo search tree for simultaneous movements of hundreds of real-world divisions that can go anywhere?

          I feel like people continue to think that AlphaGo is like, “Oh, we threw some machine learning at Go and it won.” The machine learning part of AlphaGo is a supplemental part of it: the main algorithm is a Monte Carlo search tree.

          As pontifex points out, as soon as a computer could plausibly issue a go command for pre-existing nuclear strategies, it could “win” a war.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Consciousness is still a mystery, so I’m 100% agnostic on “strong AI” at any time. Maybe a General Ultron who can beat humans at war even though it’s orders of magnitude more complex than go, but no way by 12/31/21.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Strong AI will come when when our machine learning models have the capacity to accurately model the world. If you look at efforts to model a somewhat open environment, including the relationship of the objects and agents within that environment, you’ll see that currently only toy problems can be tackled.

      The real world is just orders of magnitude more complex than any of the narrow domains that gave us some of the astonishing successes in recent years. If Deepmind creates something like AlphaZero for StarCraft and other computer games, i.e. an architecture that can be trained on any computer game to a superhuman level, maybe then we should start getting scared.

      Nvidia aims to accelerate GPUs by a factor of a 1000 over the next five years. It is hard to foresee what that kind of hardware will make possible, but my guess is that it will allow us video synthesis at a decent level. If you can synthesise realistic videos, you should have the ability to think ahead in real world scenarios. That could get us to the intelligence of some small animals.

      When I look at current research AGI doesn’t seem imminent. But in another 5-10 years all bets are off.

  46. Erusian says:

    Hello Scott! PJIQ and I are working on UBI. (Also, I offered to collaborate with Freddie but he hasn’t responded.)

  47. doubleunplussed says:

    Scott do you have any way of making your website HTTPS by default, including RSS links?
    Bothers me slightly whenever I inadvertently click through to discussions containing many keywords no doubt of interest to my employer….

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think someone might have tried to fix this before and it broke something.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Looks like the ‘HTTS everywhere’ chrome extension can help me, I’ll just try leaving it on.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Thank you for the obvious-in-hindsight recommendation! (Getting the plain HTTP version on occasion messes up all my cookies and reading order.)

    • Antoine says:

      Can you comment on what “many keywords no doubt of interest to my employer” means?

      This looks like a sentence you would read in a dystopian novel — but I don’t live in the US (I’m from France), maybe I’m not aware of certain practices…

  48. Horse Rotorvator says:

    Robin Hanson mentions in his slate interview:

    “it should look roughly like a random walk, that’s how information processes change things”

    Where can I read more about this?

  49. userfriendlyyy says:

    This is the best criticism of Jordan Peterson I’ve seen. I highly recommend it.

    • Notsocrazy 24 says:

      I knew this was gonna be Contra before I even clicked lol.

    • Anatoly says:

      “…who got famous for sounding the alarm about how protecting transgender people under the Canadian human rights law shall surely lead to Stalinism”.

      Well, that’s a promising start.

      ETA: “So Jordan Peterson’s succeeded largely by drawing in audiences with fairly popular opinions: political correctness often feels stifling, student activists are sometimes inarticulate and overreactive, angry transsexuals are telling me what words to use and I don’t like it.”

      That’s not how Peterson became super-famous. That’s a standard right-wing message. There’s no
      shortage of people expressing it. This describes, I don’t know… Ben Shapiro?

      If you look at what people say they liked particularly in Peterson’s videos, it’s very very rarely
      the poltiical correctness and trans stuff. It’s a very small part of his book etc. It’s deeply uncharitable
      to present this as the main reason for his success.

      Then ContraPoints goes on to talk definitions over “Postmodern neo-Marxism”. This section of the
      video is basically a huge strawman. As an example, Marxism is a theory of a class struggle between the workers and the capitalists, and since “some professors believe in that, but zero corporate HR
      departments do”, that proves Peterson’s deluded. But there’s no shortage of explications from
      Peterson on what he means by “postmodern neo-Marxism”, and group identity politics certainly comes
      under that, and he talks about that *all the time*, that and equality of outcome. It’s a little hard
      to argue that corporate HR departments don’t care about group identity politics. Contrapoints claims to
      have listened to many hours of Peterson’s lectures (more than me then), but in characterizing his
      political views never mentions equality of outcome.

      Next, ContraPoints attacks the lobster stuff in the Cathy Newman’s interview by saying that the argument that lobsters have hierarchies can be used to justify any hierarchy, like monarchy (or slavery, I guess). That’s.. surprisingly not a bad argument, and the first such in this video, I think. Peterson would probably reply that his whole point was not merely that “lobsters have hierarchies”, but specifically that their brains are attuned to social status via the same hormone that we use (serotonin), and therefore there must be a continuity of *social hierarchies* in lobster and human “societies”. That is, social status is a phenomenon with biological underpinnings, which I think you’ll find plenty of people objecting to, contrary to ContraPoints’ claim that “no person on the left thinks that” (which may be true w.r.t. hierarchies in general).

      Next, Peterson’s use of “the West” is criticized as inaccurate, because it is “geographical chauvinism”, because Marxism is Western philosophy too. Finally,

      “The very idea of people requesting individual pronouns to suit their individual needs is exactly the kind of thing a person who values individual liberty over collective dogma should be on board with.”

      Note the dishonesty of the word “requesting” – of course “requesting” is not what Peterson (rightly or wrongly) railed against.

      And it’s over.

      • Anatoly says:

        So overall my impression from that video is similar to that from a few others by ContraPoints I watched. It starts with (A) objecting to unfair, misleading, uncharitable interpretations of the subject by some or many others on “her side”, and proceeds to (B) make some unfair, misleading, uncharitable interpretations of the subject of her own. Usually (A) is good, and not perfunctory – I think it’s done and presented honestly. Usually (B) is not nearly as bad as the worst examples (A) objects to, but still isn’t very good. Occasionally (B) is only very mildly – or not at all – misleading, and then I’d judge the video as good overall. This video on Peterson isn’t one of those times.

      • Deiseach says:

        Next, ContraPoints attacks the lobster stuff in the Cathy Newman’s interview by saying that the argument that lobsters have hierarchies can be used to justify any hierarchy, like monarchy (or slavery, I guess). That’s.. surprisingly not a bad argument, and the first such in this video, I think.

        I know nothing about lobsters (apart from how they’re caught and cooked) but my general opinion on this kind of example is that the people who used gay penguins raising chicks to argue for same-sex marriage and families (because look, it’s part of nature, this destroys the conservative argument about it being un-natural!) do not get to object to other people using examples from nature to bolster their arguments.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Aristophanes mocked “appeal to nature, but only to support things I already agree with.”

      • userfriendlyyy says:

        Then ContraPoints goes on to talk definitions over “Postmodern neo-Marxism”. This section of the
        video is basically a huge strawman. As an example, Marxism is a theory of a class struggle between the workers and the capitalists, and since “some professors believe in that, but zero corporate HR
        departments do”, that proves Peterson’s deluded. But there’s no shortage of explications from
        Peterson on what he means by “postmodern neo-Marxism”, and group identity politics certainly comes
        under that, and he talks about that *all the time*, that and equality of outcome. It’s a little hard
        to argue that corporate HR departments don’t care about group identity politics. Contrapoints claims to
        have listened to many hours of Peterson’s lectures (more than me then), but in characterizing his
        political views never mentions equality of outcome.

        You should watch that part of the video over again. First she gives a guess as to what JP seams to imply when he says postmodern neo marxist then she breaks down the components of the term and shows how they don’t really fit together. Honestly the best line in the video is:

        Anyone with any experience in leftist circles knows that Marxists and Identity Politics Activists are constantly at eachothers throats. With Marxists accusing the activists of being Bourgeois dogs who want more female CEOs of color and disabled transgender drone pilots. While the activists accuse the Marxists of being a club of brocialists no more woke and gender and race issues than the average Jordan Peterson fan. Both of these accusations are correct because everyone is problematic and I disown them all.

        The point she is making is that JP has either a complete misunderstanding of the term or he is just trying to lump the left (Clintonite corporate shills and Sanders supporters who hate each other) into one convenient enemy by stapling together two words that pretty much mean the opposite of eachother. She does circle back and point out what JP apparently means by his frankenstein label.

        • Björn says:

          But the thing is, identity politics is influenced by marxism to a high degree. All the queer theory, post-colonial theory etc. is based on post-structuralist thinkers like Foucault, Derrida etc. In their theory, they present the idea that in the second half of the 20th century the oppression of capitalism has moved away from the classical “worker poverty” and has become indirect through culture. And they take the more paranoid angle of marxism where the main fear is the capitalists controlling EVERYTHING through sinister means, and make it even weirder.

          So I would say that Jordan Peterson is not wrong in calling the social activism based on post-structuralist theories “post-modern neo-marxist”. It would be nice though if he would use more accurate terminology like “marxist-influenced post-structuralist thinking”, and if he would make a clear argument why and how the social activism he hates so much is influenced by marxism, like I did in this post.

        • onyomi says:

          I am skeptical that the Marxists and the postmodern intersectionality theorists are really “at each others’ throats.” Some degree of outgroup homogeneity bias surely applies, but most of my professional contacts are in the academic humanities, and I don’t see it. Sure the (often white, male) Marxists would rather the postmodernists not get so distracted by race and gender, while the postmodernists don’t care so much about labor unions and critiquing capitalism as the Marxists, but at the end of the day, they all agree: capitalism, bad; identity politics for women and PoC, good. Peterson disagrees with both of these and rightly views them as not unrelated, for reasons Björn states above.

          Put another way, many academics preferred Bernie to Hillary, but when Hillary got the nomination, they all bit their tongues and voted for her (unlike some white, working class Bernie bros), as did all the many academics who are not actually Marxists or intersectionality theorists, but whose views almost universally fall between “far left” and “center left.”

          Contra’s characterization of cultural Marxism as a “Nazi conspiracy theory” is also completely inaccurate, even if nobody self-identifies as a “cultural Marxist” (as no one self-identifies as a “neoliberal”). The Nazis, I believe, were more worried about “cultural Bolshevism” in literal music and art.

          We had a debate over “cultural Marxism” before, and I seem to recall agreeing to stop using the term, but no one denies that the Frankfurt School is a real and influential thing.

          • Björn says:

            I wouldn’t compare classic communist marxism and post-structuralist influenced social activism to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Bernie and Hillary both offered actual policies, and one can see that Bernie wanted European style social democracy, while Hillary wanted a continuation of what Obama did. And I would say that both of them associated with socialists/identity people because they belong to the respective wings of the Democrats, even if they are annoying.

            In opposition to that, both the classical marxists and the post-structuralists offer only an nebulous fight against “the system”. That leads to the big difference between the marxists/communists and the social democrats, the social democrats want to give trade unions more power, higher minimum wage etc., while the marxists see this as an unholy alliance with capitalism. They just wanna smash capitalism.

            The post-structuralist social activism works very similar. I remember that there was a meeting between Hillary Clinton and leading Black Lives Matter people during her presidential campaign. Hillary asked them what policies (like more body cams, better persecution of police violence) they wanted to implement. The Black Lives Matter people had only symbolic/pointless ideas like “apologize for white supremacy”.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            I am skeptical that the Marxists and the postmodern intersectionality theorists are really “at each others’ throats.”

            Oh boy ever are they. Here is an amazing essay that Marxist Mark Fisher wrote about how damaging the Identity politics people are before he got overwhelmed by it and killed himself a year ago January. His short book Capitalist Realism should be required reading for anyone that wants to debate left politics. It’s the perfect blend of theory and pop culture.

            If you don’t believe me I can point to numerous social media lynchings from the ID Pol left of anyone that would dare put class issues first.

          • Nornagest says:

            Everyone thinks their ingroup is barely holding itself together while their outgroup is united in malefic purpose. Falls more or less directly out of outgroup homogeneity.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            Rereading the 86 page Capitalist Realism I had forgotten how much he talks about Capitalism’s effect on mental health. I think Scott would find it interesting. I hope he notices this comment and reads it.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @Nornagest
            No, see my other comment down thread. I have no trouble distinguishing the various factions on the right. There is no group I see as particularly unified except the ultra rich, who make sure that economic issues are the main focus of the GOP and an afterthought for Democrats. Most of them don’t much care about social issues because it isn’t an issue in their social circles.

        • Notsocrazy 24 says:

          From what I’ve experienced in leftist circles, purity tests, purging, accusing others of being Nazis/capitalists/brocialists etc. is just the norm regardless of actual ideological splits like IdPol activists and Marxists, although I only move in more low-brow leftist circles and not academic ones. I don’t know how much this is a sign of the times (everyone seems to agree we here in the U.S. at least are Really Divided) rather than a sign of leftism, but I think there’s a way in which the existence of such in-fighting doesn’t entirely negate JBP’s use of such a catch-all term for the types of people and/or thinking.

          The rest this will be me trying to argue that there’s something perhaps worth thinking about on a meta level going on when people on the left use catch-all terms that put variously Ben Shapiro, Richard Spencer, and Thomas Sowell in the same category and people on the right using catch-all terms that put the Evergreen protesters, Noam Chomsky, and Michel Foucault in the same category. But first let me just say that a) I feel pretty damn young and stupid on SSC so my confidence that I’m seeing anything new is low and b) yes I’m aware of the Red Tribe/Blue Tribe model and no I’m not confident I am just doing a bad job of fitting the tribalism model to the way people use these terms. So epistemic status is that I feel out of my depth but I’m trying to swim anyway.

          Okay so I think people don’t generally hold consistently and rigorously to ideologies. People are imperfect, biased, and irrational on the whole, so we love to pick and choose. Also, the aforementioned Red Tribe/Blue Tribe split, which seems relevant in the U.S. and Canada at least, if not the world over, groups a fairly wide range of ideologies together under the banner of political alliance, even if those ideologies are at odds in the purely philosophical realm. And of course as much as the left-wing identitarians and the Marxists dislike each other, they’ll still talk to each other and vote with each other against the conservatives and the right-wing identitarians.

          So because of the political groupings (and because of this to some extent the academic groupings), people tend to put together a sort of mixed ideology or political identity that groups together useful but inconsistent positions like postmodern skepticism of overarching classical liberal or conservative claims about freedom or whatever with Marxist overarching claims about class struggle. Or people take Marxist language of class struggle and apply it to race, gender, sexuality, or what have you even though that’s not really a Marxist thing. Or people combine libertarian/natural rights justifications for limited government but make a traditionalist moral argument against abortion.

          So maybe there is something to be said for libertarian nationalism or neo-Marxist postmodernism or whatever. Maybe those people really do exist in some capacity, because of the way that libertarianism and nationalism are more closely linked in our political situation and thus are influencing each other more. Perhaps the same is true for Marxism and postmodernism. Or maybe not, and Peterson is just name-calling across the Red/Blue tribe divide.

          • onyomi says:

            Agreeing with your post and qualifying my own above:

            I can point to lots of things I don’t like about the Reagan presidency, or important differences between Hayek and Friedman, but I can still understand why leftists would lump me in as part of the same, big “neoliberal” Hayek-Friedman-Reagan-Thatcher movement they don’t like, because ultimately, I’m pro-Reagan-Thatcher-Hayek-Friedman relative to the alternatives, and strongly influenced by that big tent of thinkers and politicians which includes Ayn Rand and Pat Buchanan, even though the latter two and their supporters would likely claim they’re worlds apart.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            See that is frustrating to me. I am most definitely on the far left, but I am more than happy to spend time reading different right perspectives, some of which I freely admit to agreeing with. I’d say I have more in common with the average reader of The American Conservative than the average Hillary Clinton voter. (Yes, I’m that anti war, I would have voted for Trump if it would have mattered in my state).

            I actually find it rather disappointing that right leaning thinkers on this site aren’t willing to be as charitable with left ideas and subgroups. I support equal treatment of all minority groups (like I assume most of you do too) but I am no SJW. I think intersectionality is a neoliberal boondoggle that has done nothing but make class solidarity next to impossible.

          • J Mann says:

            @userfriendlyyy

            You write that you “find it rather disappointing that right leaning thinkers on this site aren’t willing to be as charitable with left ideas and subgroups” as you consider yourself to be.

            In my (unreliable) observation, engagement and empathy are fairly well distributed. There are a few people in all of the various ideological buckets who seem pretty good at reading others charitably and/or understanding them, but I don’t notice a particular concentration.*

            It’s possible that you’re exceptionally charitable and openminded when compared to both lefty SSC readers and righty ones – I’d be interested in a more rigorous comparison.

            * Scott’s done some extensive surveys of his readers, but I don’t know if the data would be relevant here.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @J Mann
            Fair enough, I certainly don’t claim to speak for all people on the left. But I can assure you that I enjoy reading diverse opinions. I enjoy and agree with the anti elitist parts of Breitbart. I’m with Tucker Carlson, Cernovich, and The American Conservative when it comes to our never ending pointless regime change wars. I go a long way on free speech (not doxing though), and I’m against deplatforming because it is as effective as shooting yourself in the foot.

            Where I disagree with the right is on economics. The current version of capitalism we are on is just awful in every way. Even the high priests of economics have pointed out that it relies on wildly inaccurate simplifying assumptions that don’t get relaxed, more dependant variables than equations that relate them, and jaw dropping oversights.

            All of that is used to perpetuate a system which has made work more precarious and life harder for all but the very rich (and if you want to tell me about global poverty reduction read that last link first). If as a species we want to have any chance of surviving climate change we can’t be intentionally destroying human capital with an inefficient system that tells people they are worthless if they can’t find a job while at the same time ensuring that there is less jobs than people who want them. We can’t afford to tell people who come out of prison that they have paid their debt to society and then make it next to impossible for them to find productive work. Those are not just random flukes, those are defining features of capitalism. It does not make for a cohesive productive society when people are constantly worried about making ends meet.

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks – I know it makes me a pedantic scold, but there’s a difference between (1) you have an eclectic collection of views and agree with people on both sides the classic “red tribe”/”blue tribe” dichotomy on various issues and (2) you’re unusually good at understanding people who disagree with you. (Of course, both can be true!)

            On your substantive point, I disagree with your take on economics as I understand it, and imagine we can have some fun discussions. To start with, I don’t agree that capitalism is incompatible with either a job guarantee program or with programs to increase post-prison employment. That doesn’t mean that any particular suggestion along those lines is a good idea, of course.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @J Mann
            IMO a Job Guarantee is an absolute necessity. The problem is that full employment is incompatible with capitalism. We had two decades after the war where the industrialized world targeted full employment to make socialism less appealing. Once socialism had been sufficiently associated with authoritarianism and not a threat to replace capitalism they engineered stagflation using oil shortages in the mid east leaving Reagan and Thatcher to end full employment targeting. The people with the money and the power care much more about the power than the money. Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people. It’s all spelled out rather simply here. If any of that were false we would have full employment because it is more profitable for everyone and the only people in the way are the people in power.

          • cassander says:

            @userfriendly

            The problem is that full employment is incompatible with capitalism.

            Why?

            Once socialism had been sufficiently associated with authoritarianism and not a threat to replace capitalism they engineered stagflation using oil shortages in the mid east leaving Reagan and Thatcher to end full employment targeting.

            Who on earth is they?

            Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people.

            Um, why not?

          • Aapje says:

            @userfriendlyyy

            Do you agree with me that some people are not very good employees? Like quadriplegics, people with severe anti-social behavioral problems, etc.

            Do you agree with me that employing these people can result in negative productivity?

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks, @userfriendlyyy – here’s my take, FWIW.

            Once socialism had been sufficiently associated with authoritarianism and not a threat to replace capitalism they engineered stagflation using oil shortages in the mid east leaving Reagan and Thatcher to end full employment targeting. The people with the money and the power care much more about the power than the money.

            That’s a pretty remarkable claim. I don’t believe anyone engineered stagflation or oil shortages in order to bring Reagan and Thatcher to power. My model is that well-intentioned actions of previous governments led to consequences that the voters didn’t like, resulting in some retrenchment. It’s hard to believe that Jimmy Carter and the British Labor party pre-Thatcher were intentionally acting to bring about a conservative swing. Principally, I’d say (a) I’m not aware of any evidence for that, and (b) once “they” had control of the US Democratic party and British labor party, the scheme seems needlessly complex.

            Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people.

            I understand full employment programs to be essentially a jobs guarantee – that the government would agree to provide a job of last resort to anyone who wanted it. Does it mean something different to you? Bosses could still fire people under that model.

            <a href="https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/08/kalecki-on-the-political-obstacles-to-achieving-full-employment.html"It’s all spelled out rather simply here. If any of that were false we would have full employment because it is more profitable for everyone and the only people in the way are the people in power.

            Kalecki assumes that his full employment program would actually increase capitalist profits indefinitely, and therefore the only reason anyone could oppose a job guarantee is to maintain capitalist power. Is it also possible that some people disagree with Kalecki about the benefits and effects of a job guarantee program? Here’s the Cato Institute making the case that it would have harmful effects.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @cassander

            Who on earth is they?

            Militant anti communists like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lewis F. Powell and others.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Kippur_War#Events_leading_up_to_the_war

            And no, I don’t buy the whitewashed version of kissinger in wikipedia.

            Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people.

            Um, why not?

            Sorry, I meant it makes the consequences of getting fired much less severe. If you want your employees to have a stake in the overall welfare of the company I prefer the carrot (profit sharing) rather than the stick.

            @ Aapje
            Yes, which is why a JG is not intended to replace SSDI. Many other questions about a JG can be answered here.

            @J Mann
            Stagflation was caused by a huge jump in oil prices with the OPEC embargo, which the US gave it’s stamp of approval to.

            Attention soon focused on the oil-exporting countries. After the U.S. quadrupled its grain export prices shortly after the 1971 gold suspension, the oil-exporting countries quadrupled their oil prices. I was informed at a White House meeting that U.S. diplomats had let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries know that they could charge as much as they wanted for their oil, but that the United States would treat it as an act of war not to keep their oil proceeds in U.S. dollar assets.

            The Yom Kippur war was the trigger but the oil embargo was no surprise.

            Neoliberalism had largely taken over the mainstream economics departments by the time Carter was elected. He appointed Volcker to the FED and really started us down the deregulatory path.

            Yes, Carter. It was the peanut farmer from Georgia who pushed the United States toward a market economy, not the one-time actor from California. Reagan certainly shared Carter’s vision on deregulation, embracing with bravado policies that Carter launched with grim solemnity. But Carter laid the groundwork for the United States’ transformation from the economic malaise of the late 1970s to the vibrancy of the following decades. More importantly, only someone with impeccable credentials as a Democrat could have started deregulation. If it took Nixon to go to China, it took Carter to embrace markets.

            (I don’t share the author’s sunny view of deregulation and markets)

            I understand full employment programs to be essentially a jobs guarantee – that the government would agree to provide a job of last resort to anyone who wanted it. Does it mean something different to you? Bosses could still fire people under that model.

            Yes, that was hasty writing on my part. While all the industrialized countries did target full employment (until Neoliberalism invented the NAIRU out of nowhere and focused entirely on preventing inflation) they didn’t have an explicit JG program.

            For a source on that, and an explicit rebuttal on the deficit scaremongering from that Cato link see this.

            On some other points Cato makes:

            In fact, some even paid more than $31,200 might consider leaving their jobs to pursue guaranteed roles if they perceive better working conditions or an easier worklife (asked under what conditions someone would be fired from such a role, the Levy Institute paper suggests that you would be sacked for failing to go to work, but that your performance would not be judged by “private sector ‘efficiency criteria’”, for example.) It’s not inconceivable then that over 25 percent of the labor force could find itself part of the scheme.

            Yes, that is part of the point, to ensure that if people are working they are paid a living wage. If a company can’t afford to pay a living wage than it doesn’t deserve to exist. They are well within their rights to increase prices to offer higher pay, which is why JG proposals note that upon implementation their would be a small (about 0.7%) one time bump in inflation. What they mean by not judging success by private sector measurements means that it shouldn’t be profitable. That is also how you address ‘crowding out’ making JG jobs ones that need getting done but that no one is paying for. See the FAQ I linked above. As far as disciplining employees goes, yes they can be suspended from the JG program. However, one of the real benefits of the JG is that it is designed to help people who have problems; it could direct people to rehab or counseling or address any other problems people have that are preventing them from working.

            But back to my main point, things like the Powell Memo are are exactly what happens when you have an empowered working class under capitalism, and why I doubt any JG program could be sustained without relentless attacks from the rich and powerful.

            I think every private business should be at least partially a co-op. If we believe in democracy I don’t see why that needs to end when we go to work. Give workers a say in the way their employer operates and a share of the profits and we would have a much fairer society. I am fine with some degree of inequality but when it gets this bad it is bad for everyone.

          • Skivverus says:

            Give workers a say in the way their employer operates and a share of the profits and we would have a much fairer society

            Er. Don’t co-ops already exist? And profit sharing, for that matter. They’re just not mandatory.

          • cassander says:

            Militant anti communists like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lewis F. Powell and others.
            And no, I don’t buy the whitewashed version of kissinger in wikipedia.

            there is so much here I hardly know where to begin. No one would call Henry Kissinger or Zbig militant anti-communists. Both presided over a period of detente! And I’m not sure which assertion is more ridiculous, that Kissinger was whitewashed, or that he arranged for a decade long rise in commodity prices brought about largely by inflation!

            Sorry, I meant it makes the consequences of getting fired much less severe. If you want your employees to have a stake in the overall welfare of the company I prefer the carrot (profit sharing) rather than the stick.

            As an employer I can tell you flat out that I do not give one shit about people suffering “consequences” after being fired, and neither does anyone else. If anything, the desire to avoid them suffering consequences leads to people avoiding firing low performers.

            Neoliberalism had largely taken over the mainstream economics departments by the time Carter was elected. He appointed Volcker to the FED and really started us down the deregulatory path.

            Carter de-regulated transportation. And the results were a staggering success.
            . The Fed had nothing to do with it.

            Yes, that is part of the point, to ensure that if people are working they are paid a living wage. If a company can’t afford to pay a living wage than it doesn’t deserve to exist.

            How comfortable a moral assertion to make, a pitty the tens of millions it leaves unemployed

          • J Mann says:

            @userfriendlyyy – thanks, this is a perspective I don’t normally get to read, so I appreciate it.

            For what it’s worth, my take is that your beliefs are sufficiently out of the mainstream that I would argue you should reduce your confidence in them.

            A lot of your beliefs in capitalist motivations and inner thought processes depends on your belief that left wing economics is so obviously correct that the only conceivable reason for opposing them is malice. I’d posit that maybe some people honestly disagree with the left wing economics you believe self evident. To be fair, I have evidence that you don’t, which is that I know that I personally disagree with those economic theories and I don’t believe myself to be motivated by the reasons you ascribe to capitalists, but only by actual intellectual disagreements on the underlying facts. I realize that I can’t convince you that I’m not a scheming capitalist lying about my intentions because I want to hold workers down, but I know I’m not.

            So I’d say instead that when you’re arguing that Wikipedia is whitewashed, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but it does mean that a lot of people disagree with you, which I think should lower your confidence that you’re as self-obviously right as you appear to believe.

            Thanks again!

      • SaiNushi says:

        “Next, ContraPoints attacks the lobster stuff in the Cathy Newman’s interview by saying that the argument that lobsters have hierarchies can be used to justify any hierarchy, like monarchy (or slavery, I guess).”

        His argument that lobsters have hierarchies doesn’t justify the existence of hierarchies, it just points out that they exist everywhere and you have to learn to live with them. Which is exactly what he says to anybody who ask him about that point justifying hierarchies.

        • Iain says:

          His argument that lobsters have hierarchies doesn’t justify the existence of hierarchies, it just points out that they exist everywhere and you have to learn to live with them.

          This part doesn’t follow.

          Let’s say I find a study about lobsters committing genocide against each other. That would be evidence that genocide exists everywhere, but it would not mean that you have to learn to live with genocide. At most, it can tell you that your fight to eradicate genocide will be an uphill battle.

          “Is” doesn’t imply “ought”.

          • lvlln says:

            Let’s say I find a study about lobsters committing genocide against each other. That would be evidence that genocide exists everywhere

            No it wouldn’t. Not unless there’s a mountain of other evidence you can point to that shows that lobster brains have some sort of “genocide circuitry” which works similar to circuitry in human brains, thus indicating similar genetic lineage. In which case it absolutely would follow that we’d have to learn to live with genocide, at least in the sense that such circuitry “understands” genocide (given the complexity of genocide, it seems plausible that our innate brain circuitry for genocide may be able to be subverted or falsely sated – it would have to depend on the details. One could even argue that we currently are living in that world, with our innate nepotism and tribalism being that “genocide circuitry” that we have to live with, by valiantly subverting it).

            The point isn’t that observing X in lobsters is enough evidence to prove that X is some unchanging eternal constant that all humans have to obey forever. Peterson hasn’t ever said that, and to whatever extent SaiNushi is presenting him as having said that, SaiNushi either is mistaken or is being misinterpreted. It’s that it’s a particularly notable example – notable for just how old our common ancestor is – from the mountain of evidence pointing to the concept of hierarchies being innate within our biology.

            Now, one could also still argue that just because it’s innate to our biology doesn’t mean we have to “live with” it. Which depends on what you mean by “live with.” If the argument is that, on net, even with all the hard work involved in forcing humans to suppress their innate psychology, a hierarchy-free society is still more desirable, well, the devil’s in the details. As someone who read Brave New World and was befuddled that people saw it as a dystopia rather than a utopia, I’m pretty partial to such arguments. I don’t know what Peterson would say, but he seems to have a strong bias against plans that rely specifically on suppressing innate psychology rather than channeling them in productive ways – it might be due to his profession as a clinical psychologist/psychology professor, or it might be his obsessive studying of 20th century history of Communism.

            Also should be noted that his argument can’t be used to justify living with any particular hierarchy (e.g. monarchy, slavery), and, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t ever justified any particular hierarchy based on this argument. He has defended the hierarchical organization of Western society on the grounds that it tends to do the job pretty well, or at least better than most other societies. But the full extent of his lobster argument ends at pointing out that human’s innate psychological need to live in – and thrive in – a hierarchy is something that society ought to meet, or else there will be lots of suffering by the members of that society.

          • Iain says:

            Here’s Jordan Peterson’s argument about lobsters, from his infamous interview with Cathy Newman (with minor edits to remove irrelevant crosstalk from Newman):

            And the reason that I write about lobsters is, because there’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a “sociological construct of the Western patriarchy”. And that is so untrue! That it’s almost unbelievable! And I use the lobster as an example. Because the lobster, we devolved from lobsters in evolutionary history, about 350 million years ago. Common ancestor. And lobsters exist in hierarchies, and have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin, just like our nervous systems do. And the nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar, that antidepressants work on lobsters! And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of “hierarchy” has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural constructions, which it doesn’t! [I]t’s inevitable that there will be continuity in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures. It’s absolutely inevitable! And there is one-third of a billion years of evolutionary history behind that! Right? That’s so long, that a third of the billion years ago, there weren’t even trees! It’s a long time! You have a mechanism in your brain that runs on serotonin. That’s similar to the lobster mechanism, that tracks your status. And the higher your status, the better your emotions are regulated. So as your serotonin levels increase, you feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion.

            I’m not saying there’s nothing we can do about it, because it’s like, … In a chess game, all right, there’s lots of things that you can do. Although you can’t break the rules of the chess game and continue to play chess. And your biological nature is somewhat like that, as it sets the rules of the game, but within those rules you have a lot of leeway. But one thing we can’t do is say that hierarchical organization is a consequence of the “capitalist patriarchy”. It’s like that’s patently absurd! It’s wrong! It’s not a matter of opinion! It’s seriously wrong!

            If you would like to substitute a more thorough exposition of the Lobster Argument, be my guest. This is the best I could find. Responding to this version of the argument:

            First: lobsters are a bad example. Here’s the study that Peterson cites, showing that serotonin increases aggression in lobsters. From the introduction of that paper:

            The amine serotonin has been linked to aggression in a wide and diverse range of species, including humans. The nature of the linkage, however, is not simple, and it has proven difficult to unravel the role of the amine in the behavior. In vertebrates, lowered levels of 5HT (endogenous or experimentally induced) or changes in amine neuron function that lower the effectiveness of serotonergic neurons generally correlate with increased levels of aggression, whereas in invertebrates, the converse is believed to be true .

            If the goal is to wow us with an appreciation for how deeply the connection between serotonin, hierarchy, and aggression is hardwired into our brains, it’s awkward that the effect is reversed between lobsters and humans. The claim of “continuity in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures” is misleading. Lobster brains and human brains use similar hardware — neurons, neurotransmitters, and so on. But you can’t conclude that the similarities in hardware must imply equivalent similarities in hardware.

            (While trying to find a better example of Peterson’s claim, I ran into this reddit post claiming that penguins are social but non-hierarchical. If true, this would obviously throw a wrench in the Lobster Argument, but I couldn’t find anything conclusive about penguin hierarchies one way or the other.)

            Second: let’s assume that we can patch up Peterson’s scientific claims. His argument still doesn’t work, because he’s attacking a strawman.

            To a first approximation, nobody actually holds the position that Peterson is attacking. Governments are forms of hierarchy. Corporate management is a form of hierarchy. Leadership roles in NGOs are a form of hierarchy. There might be a handful of anarchists who want to abolish all of those, but it’s certainly not a mainstream feminist position. It’s a big world. If you tried, you could probably find examples. But they’re neither representative nor important.

            Instead, what most people who yell about hierarchy want to do is abolish specific instances of it: patriarchy, say. You may disagree whether the phenomenon they’re attacking exists. You may disagree that it’s a problem. But those are questions that must be considered at the object level, not the meta level. As you say yourself, this argument can’t be used to justify any particular hierarchy. You aren’t going to figure out whether the gender pay gap is caused by innate factors by looking at lobsters.

            Do we have to “learn to live with” any particular hierarchy? I don’t know. I’d say it depends on the hierarchy in question. What I do know is that stories about lobsters aren’t going to be relevant.

          • lvlln says:

            If the goal is to wow us with an appreciation for how deeply the connection between serotonin, hierarchy, and aggression is hardwired into our brains, it’s awkward that the effect is reversed between lobsters and humans. The claim of “continuity in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures” is misleading. Lobster brains and human brains use similar hardware — neurons, neurotransmitters, and so on. But you can’t conclude that the similarities in hardware must imply equivalent similarities in hardware.

            Fair enough that the biological issue is rather complicated, and as a non-evolutionary biologist, I don’t have the expertise to defend or debunk his argument, and I fully buy the notion that he may be making a connection where one doesn’t exist. I don’t find that fact awkward in the least, though; it’s entirely plausible for serotonin to have opposite effects with respect to “levels of aggression” as mentioned in that intro while there being a continuity of genetic descent of the phenomenon of hierarchies. The sheer complexity of our bodies, our brains, and our social world, and how different those are to their “equivalents” in lobsters means that the fact that the same chemical is used to regulate similar sort of behavior is a pretty significant connection.

            And, again, it’s obvious that he’s only presenting the lobsters as an illustrative example from a mountain of evobio literature – he’s not presenting at some evobio conference, he’s answering an interview question in a mainstream news outlet. If you think the entire argument breaks down upon close evobio inspection, again, fair enough; I lack the expertise.

            Instead, what most people who yell about hierarchy want to do is abolish specific instances of it: patriarchy, say. You may disagree whether the phenomenon they’re attacking exists. You may disagree that it’s a problem. But those are questions that must be considered at the object level, not the meta level. As you say yourself, this argument can’t be used to justify any particular hierarchy. You aren’t going to figure out whether the gender pay gap is caused by innate factors by looking at lobsters.

            Do we have to “learn to live with” any particular hierarchy? I don’t know. I’d say it depends on the hierarchy in question. What I do know is that stories about lobsters aren’t going to be relevant.

            The issue here is that the when most people who yell about hierarchy say they want to abolish patriarchy, they’re not just attacking the idiosyncrasies of a particular hierarchy, they attack the very innate psychological impulses that led to that hierarchy and also label those impulses as part of that hierarchy. For instance, the fact that men tend to be more willing to sacrifice their free time and their health in order to pursue money and status is considered a part of the patriarchy, and the abolishment of patriarchy necessarily involves conditioning men such that they no longer desire to compete and thus thrive in hierarchies.

            His point is that this drive to fit oneself in and to get to the top of hierarchies is something that’s innate in human psychology and something that can’t just be wished away. Again, maybe the cost would be worth it. But the cost of conditioning people to deny their innate psychological impulses has to be acknowledged and dealt with seriously.

            One might argue that most people who yell about hierarchy actually suggest other hierarchies which they deem to be more just. I’d argue that those are just the examples of a lack of seriousness in dealing with the innate psychology that Peterson is calling out with his lobster story.

          • Iain says:

            Two points: first the narrow point, then the broad one.

            Narrowly:

            For instance, the fact that men tend to be more willing to sacrifice their free time and their health in order to pursue money and status is considered a part of the patriarchy, and the abolishment of patriarchy necessarily involves conditioning men such that they no longer desire to compete and thus thrive in hierarchies.

            Who says this? I’m sure that somebody somewhere has made this claim — it’s a big world — but the standard forms of this argument talk much less about abolishing the drive to compete, and much more about (say) gendered expectations around childcare that make it easier for men to make sacrifices for money and status without giving up on the hope of having a family. I challenge the claim that “most people who yell about hierarchy” fall into the category you describe.

            Broadly: I’m not actually interested in delving too much further into the specific debate in the previous paragraph, but I think it’s important to point out how much that debate hinges on the details of a specific situation, and how little it hinges on humans being biologically wired to recognize hierarchies.

            The Lobster Argument is just another motte and bailey. The motte is the uncontroversial claim that human brains are in some sense wired for hierarchy. The bailey is the implication that this claim is important in an actual contentious debate.

            Nobody — not even Peterson himself — seems particularly interested in defending that bailey. Until that happens, I feel pretty comfortable dismissing this entire argument as irrelevant fluff.

          • lvlln says:

            Who says this? I’m sure that somebody somewhere has made this claim — it’s a big world — but the standard forms of this argument talk much less about abolishing the drive to compete, and much more about (say) gendered expectations around childcare that make it easier for men to make sacrifices for money and status without giving up on the hope of having a family. I challenge the claim that “most people who yell about hierarchy” fall into the category you describe.

            I don’t have any citations at hand, so I may be wrong. Just basing it off my own experience of growing up and being taught these things. The idea that individuals’ competitive drive was merely the product of socialization by the patriarchy was basically the default belief, and that was why smashing the patriarchy necessarily also meant destroying capitalism, which only works with competition. I still see that a lot today in popular SJW culture, which reveres socialism over capitalism due to its lack of reliance on competition, which is, again, a socialized drive created by the patriarchy.

            But that’s all just my anecdote. Maybe it’s not most, though it seems to be the loudest, from my experience. Certainly, they’re loud.

            The Lobster Argument is just another motte and bailey. The motte is the uncontroversial claim that human brains are in some sense wired for hierarchy. The bailey is the implication that this claim is important in an actual contentious debate.

            It seems that the point hinges on how contentious a debate you think it is that people either are or aren’t in some sense wired for hierarchy. My experience has been that this is extremely contentious. Again, maybe that’s the “somebody somewhere” in this “big world” effect. I’d posit that the people that Peterson has experience with also probably fit that mold.

          • Nornagest says:

            There is a strain of thought which holds that the EEA — or a state of nature, or the primitive state of man, whatever you want to call it — was essentially non-hierarchical, with egalitarian social relations and weak or no concepts of property. Marx’s theory of history started with a version of this, “primitive communism”, but it shows up outside of Marxism as well. If we could show deep neurological foundations for hierarchy, especially ones which are more basal than H. sapiens, that’d make for a strong argument against this line of thinking.

            Though there are related but subtly different lines that it wouldn’t argue against. Interpersonal status relations don’t necessarily mean stable, formal hierarchy, for example — my intuition is that the EEA would have had no formal hierarchy but strong informal hierarchies, like high school or prison.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “The motte is the uncontroversial claim that human brains are in some sense wired for hierarchy.”

            My impression is rather not only that this is an extremely controversial claim, but that any kind of pre-wiring is blasphemy in leftist circles. Isn’t that what blank slate-ism is about?

          • Iain says:

            My impression is rather not only that this is an extremely controversial claim, but that any kind of pre-wiring is blasphemy in leftist circles. Isn’t that what blank slate-ism is about?

            I don’t think anybody argues for a maximally blank slate. People are pre-wired for vision. We’re pre-wired for language acquisition. We’re pre-wired to hold our breath underwater.

            When I say that humans are “in some sense wired for hierarchy”, I’m making a very weak claim. I’m not saying any particular hierarchy is wired in. I’m not even saying that a predisposition to formal hierarchies is wired in (to borrow Nornagest’s useful classification). I’m just saying that human beings are naturally social animals. The ability to perceive hierarchies and status comes built in to human brains, in a similar way to the ability to feel happiness or sexual attraction.

            Does anybody seriously disagree with that? My impression is that all the real disagreement comes downstream of that claim, arguing whether such and such a behaviour is or is not an immutable expression of our hardwired hierarchy.

            But note that the lobster argument can’t say anything useful about the downstream disagreement. All it can do is justify the claim that brains come pre-equipped with the ability to recognize hierarchy and status.

        • J Mann says:

          The lobster discussion is a little depressing. I think the thesis sentence from the Newman interview is:

          And [the lobster example is] part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of “hierarchy” has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural constructions, which it doesn’t!

          I think Peterson goes way too far if the lobster story is supposed to be dispositive, but if it’s part of a larger stack of evidence, then I think it’s fine as one example in a sufficiently large pile.

          It’s an oversimplification to say that all critics of patriarchy think that hierarchy is something that men invented because they are mean or testosterone poisoned or whatever, but it’s a position that some people hold. It would be nice if we could just say “ok, and then what.”

          IMHO, the patriarchy critics argue that it’s possible to construct a society which is less hierarchical or which has a better hierarchy by the critics’ standards, even given our biology. So the answer to the lobster example is presumably:

          (1) Yes, but you don’t know if our biology predisposes us to THIS hierarchy or if some of it is socially constructed on top of our existing biology. Maybe we’re predisposed towards a bonobo style hierarchy rather than a chimp style one. More study is needed.

          (2) Ok, even if we’re predisposed to a chimp style hierarchy, that doesn’t mean we can’t steer the boat with societal interactions. We’re probably predisposed to a lot of stuff we don’t want people doing, and which we often successfully motivate people not to do.

          Now, Peterson may well have answers to those points, but at least then we’d be having a constructive conversation, not “look how dumb the lobster example is.”

          • Iain says:

            I agree with basically all of this.

            I would just add that, from where I’m standing, the set of feminists who say that we can construct a better hierarchy regardless of our biology is much larger than the set who say that men invented hierarchy to be mean, and the conversation would be better if Peterson engaged with the former instead of the latter.

            Much of the mockery of the lobster argument comes from people who perceive it, correctly or not, to be a response to the “better hierarchy regardless of biology” crowd. I don’t think it’s valuable to quarrel over who is responsible for that breakdown in communication, but Peterson is the person in the best position to repair it.

          • J Mann says:

            Yeah – IMHO, the problem isn’t that Peterson talks about lobsters, it’s that he says hierarchy has “absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural considerations,” which is such a strong claim that

            (a) it’s almost certainly false, and

            (b) is probably hyperbole and/or not the point Peterson was trying to communicate, in which case he should tell us what that point is.

    • fion says:

      Well that’s… not what I was expecting.

  50. Peter Shenkin says:

    Re. 4: I am reminded, reading the Leo XIII’s 1891 argument against socialism, how different the connotation of the word has become from what it meant then. My parents were socialists until FDR converted them to capitalism, and they always explained that the basis of socialism is public ownership of the means of production and some form of common ownership of all but quite personal property.

    You don’t see any such program in the Europe that the conservatives call “socialist”, nor in the platform of today’s self-proclaimed “socialists”, like Bernie Sanders. The word now seems to be used to describe any sort of government effort to provide more affordable services either to all (e.g., health care) or to the poor (e.g., housing).

    No doubt there is plenty to be said both for and against such efforts, but whether you are fer it or agin it, it ain’t socialism.

    • arlie says:

      Interesting. My parents (in the 1960s) made a distinction between communism and socialism, and would probably have classed “public ownership of the means of production and some form of common ownership of all but quite personal property” as communism. And I note that the arguments against “socialism” I saw in the early references seemed to be opposing what they would have called communism.

      • Peter Shenkin says:

        My parents were social democrats, and as socialists, strongly opposed communism, even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. (Whereas our equally Jewish Communist friends supported the Soviet Union through that unfortunate episode and many years later pretended that they hadn’t.)

        My parents distinguished their views from those of the communists by saying that all socialists believed in public ownership of the means of production, etc., but social democrats believed that it could come through democratic processes: voting, elections, etc., not violent revolution. They had voted for perennial Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas (Princeton graduate and Presbyterian minister). Communists, on the other hand, believed that only violent revolution would suffice. As a partly separate issue, my parents recognized early on that the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) was really just a front directly controlled by the Soviet Union for their own benefit; which was fine for the followers, as long as they believed that the Soviet Union was genuinely going to usher in a peoples’ paradise for all people. Which my parents didn’t buy.

        FDR convinced them that capitalism could have a human face, and they left all that other stuff behind when they got behind the New Deal.

        Not that I personally ended up adhering completely to their view of the world, either. When someone asks me if I had a religious upbringing, I always respond, “Yes. We were taught that there was one God and his initials were FDR.”

        • Aapje says:

          My parents distinguished their views from those of the communists by saying that all socialists believed in public ownership of the means of production, etc., but social democrats believed that it could come through democratic processes: voting, elections, etc., not violent revolution.

          This gradually changed over time, as communism failed so badly and a mixed solution worked quite well.

          So the definition of socialism changed to reflect this.

          • Peter Shenkin says:

            @Aapje

            I don’t think it did. Rather, the term lost meaning, just as “neoliberal” lost meaning. Neoliberal started out meaning what people use “socialist” to refer to now: a capitalist system where the government supplies a large proportion of basic services, like health care for all and housing for the poor.

            At this point, “socialism” is a label self-proclaimed radicals find it fashionable to boast of, whereas “neoliberalism” is a label they find it fashionable to rail despise.

            Self-proclaimed conservatives, of course, despise West-European capitalism, which fits the original definition of neoliberalism, and when they do so, they the self-proclaimed socialists call them “neoconservatives.”

            Neither term means a goddamn thing any more. This is just Gresham’s law at work in the realm of language.

          • Aapje says:

            Only if you believe that ideologies have to be ‘pure,’ but then you have to take issue with how many other words are used.

            Many people call themselves capitalists even though they believe in state-ownership of some means of production (for money, passports, etc). Are those people also posers who use a fashionable label?

            Are there any ideological labels that are not fashionable by your standard?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Ha! From your first post, I thought you meant your parents become capitalists in opposition to FDR because they saw how bad socialism was. Now I see you meant they became capitalists because they seemed to think that FDR was capitalist, but was a good guy despite that. Because he was an American president, that meant he was a capitalist?

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, whenever I am tempted to label FDR “worst president ever,” I try to remind myself that he was US president at a time when most of the world was going communist or straight-up fascist, so if he provided a palatable alternative to those, maybe we should be glad, even if he set a lot of bad precedents.

          • Antoine says:

            I thought FDR was widely considered to be one of the best presidents ever, not one of the worst.

            However this is my perception from France (supposedly “socialist” country at times), so it might be biased.

            Any comments?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Historical polls and rankings among historians tend to put FDR in the top five consistently, even if they’re not of his party. I would guess that American liberals tend to like him because of the New Deal coalition and the recovery from the Great Depression, and American conservatives due to his leadership during WW2.

            Free market advocates, including ancaps like onyomi, are another story. I have heard there is evidence, although I haven’t looked at it myself, that the New Deal prolonged and deepened the Depression, and most of the reason the US came out so far ahead anyway was because it was the largest Western manufacturing base left standing after the war. Meanwhile, the New Deal expanded the government considerably, and the post-war boom so cemented its reputation as a net benefit that it rendered the case for free markets equivalent to arguing a counterfactual – hence why free marketers tend not to like FDR.

          • Paul sketches some of the reasons why some of us do not think well of FDR. One might also add that he originally got elected by complaining about what a big spender Hoover had been, then did what Hoover had done only more so.

            There is also the small matter of putting more than a hundred thousand Americans, none of them charged, let alone convicted, of any offense, in concentration camps.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I suspect that historians usually interpret such polls, whether or not they’re actually worded that way, as being about which presidents were greatest as opposed to best— i.e., they focus on which ones got the most done, with the question of whether it was for good or ill shunted to one side. Reagan has come out well in the polls I’ve seen despite the usual left-liberalism of historians.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Paul Zrimsek: you might be right about that. Which makes me wonder how historians of various political bents would rate them if they were asked to explicitly make the distinction.

    • Wrong Species says:

      One of my pet peeves is when people talk about capitalism and socialism without defining them. Nearly every single conversation about them is bogged down in people talking past each other.

      • Lambert says:

        Yeah. Maybe we should institute a norm of tabooing those words whenever discussion about them becomes non-trivial.

        • albatross11 says:

          Or at least define what you mean when you use the terms.

          • professorgerm says:

            I’ve taken to a Lemony Snicket-style sidebar, adding “a word which here means…” when I’m discussing something that I know is defined totally differently by different groups.

    • cassander says:

      >sort of government effort to provide more affordable services either to all (e.g., health care) or to the poor (e.g., housing).

      Healthcare is 10% of the economy or more. Housing is 15% or more. Socializing them isn’t “providing a few services”, it’s nationalizing a massive share of the economy. Socialists haven’t grown less ambitious with time, what’s changed is what they consider the commanding heights, not their desire to master them.

      • 1soru1 says:

        > Healthcare is 10% of the economy or more. Housing is 15% or more.

        Well, they would be a lot smaller share of the economy if they weren’t organised on a rent-maximizing basis.

        • cassander says:

          Yep, that worked out so well with grain in the Ukraine. Food production to almost zero percent of GDP!

          Snark aside, I will absolutely take for profit provision of essential goods over government any day of the week, and the idea that putting the government in charge of things makes them cheaper is not borne out by the evidence. Governments might not seek profit in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean the people who work for them magically become selflessly dedicated to the common good. They just take their profits in less transparent ways.

          • rlms says:

            Why are you bringing up grain in the Ukraine? Why not one of the many countries with (partially) nationalised healthcare and/or housing?

          • cassander says:

            I admitted that was snark, but the point was that sometimes you might not want the value of essential goods and services to shrink as a share of GDP. If you banned the creation of any new treatments, medical spending as a share of GDP would definitely start to decline, but that doesn’t mean we’re better off.

            As to countries with nationalised healthcare and/or housing, I can point to the colossal failures of high rise public housing in several so countries off the top of my head.

  51. Squirrel of Doom says:

    I’ve been toying with some ideas for how to organize your parliament.

    I agree with the idea that you want to avoid a one chamber system, since a single parliament is a single point of failure, and you want at least one more center of power as a check on the dumb and/or corrupt decisions that come out of a single chamber.

    This is is the reasoning behind the US system, for example. Originally it was set up to have the House represent the people and the senate represent the states, but after the 17th amendment in 1913, it’s just another way to represent the people, and some say that was the start of the decline of the US 🙂

    Britain also has its House of Lords. Both these systems has democratic problems. In the US Californians are vastly underrepresented compared to Wyomingans. The British lords are even more glaringly problematic. So I wanted to think up fully democratic ways to have two parliamentary chambers that were meaningfully different.

    I have two ideas I like:

    – Genderbased chambers: All men vote for a male parliament and all women vote for a female parliament.

    – Age based chambers: The younger half of the electorate has one parliament, and the older another.

    Thought? Other crazy ideas? Any exotic real world systems I haven’t heard about?

    • arlie says:

      One aspect of the original American system was to give the members of each chamber a different time horizon. Members of the House face a new election almost immediately after they take their seats; this seems designed to make them take the short view. Members of the Senate get a 6 year term, allowing them to e.g. vote against today’s stupid fad, secure in the belief that it will have blown over and been forgotten by the time they next need to face the people.

      I’m not sure that these are the right time horizons; maybe a decade or two would be better for the longer term view, or even life membership (e.g. Canada’s appointed Senate). But I think there’s something to be said for the idea of short vs long views.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        And of course until 1913, Senators were not elected at all, but appointed by state legislatures.

    • shakeddown says:

      A second house where the representatives have one vote to cast per person who voted for them. Can’t do it with one house (since too many people harms negotiating ability and such), but works as a check on it.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        I do like the idea of being able to delegate my vote to someone.

        If I think Kelly McSmartass is the smartest and most trustworthy person I know, I can delegate my vote to them. Kelly can do the same, or vote on individual issues. If my vote starts getting used in ways I don’t like, I can reassign my vote, perhaps after a waiting period.

        You could imagine a system where people have to delegate until we’re down to a fixed number of people. Those people are our parliament, but each one has the votes of everyone who has delegated to them.

        This is more about addressing of the underinformed voter problem than what I brought up, but it’s still interesting.

        • Jiro says:

          If you can delegate your vote, someone can threaten you to in order to get you to delegate your vote, or buy your vote.

          • God's Hatter says:

            There’s probably a good cryptographic way to be able to lock your vote in to be the same as someone else, whilst maintaining plausible deniability about whether that’s what you did. I think e-voting is a pretty bad idea given the present ease of exploitation, but it’s a fun thought experiment 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            Why is this different from threatening/buying your vote in the current system?

          • Jiro says:

            Because in the current system it is not possible for you to prove that you voted in a certain way, so the blackmailer or purchaser has no way to know that he’s succeeded.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the current system it is possible for the blackmailer to demand you show them your completed mail-in ballot right before you seal the envelope and drop it in the mailbox. Or, for that matter, that you simply give them the signed but otherwise blank ballot to fill in themselves. AIUI, in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, all ballots are mail-in only, and California may be joining them in 2020. For convenience.

            There are logistical problems to organizing vote-buying schemes on a scale that would be significant in a national election, but only if the political climate is that such things are Absolutely Unacceptable and to be reported to the authorities on sight. Which is probably the case in the contemporary US, at least for explicit votes-for-cash schemes. But it wasn’t so in the past and isn’t guaranteed to remain so. And, for a softer version, I can easily and frighteningly see a polarized society adopting norms where, in order to hang out with the Cool People (possibly including your family and/or employer), you have to attend the election-night party where all the Cool People fill out their ballots together as a bonding ritual.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            In some current systems, your mail-in vote has to be made in a booth at a post office, precisely for this reason.

          • John Schilling says:

            In some current systems, your mail-in vote has to be made in a booth at a post office

            Can be made at a post office, certainly, but I’m skeptical about has to be. First, because I just checked and that specifically isn’t the case for the three US states to have gone for 100% mail-in elections. Second, because part of the reason for mail-in ballots in the first place is to accommodate people who aren’t physically in the state at the time, and trying to set up two separate types of postal ballot of which only one can be dropped in an anonymous mailbox a thousand miles away is just going to cause confusion and hard feelings.

        • Deiseach says:

          Delegation of votes to a single voter used to be a system, it was called rotten boroughs. How it worked as satirised in Blackadder.

          H: And now, finally, a word with the man who is at the centre of this bye- election mystery: the voter himself. And his name is Mr. E. Bla–
          Mr. Blackadder, *you* are the only voter in this rotten borough…?

          E: Yes, that’s right.

          H: How long have you lived in this constituency?

          E: Since Wednesday morning. I took over the previous electorate when he, very sadly, accidently brutally cut his head off while combing his hair.

          H: One voter, 16,472 votes — a slight anomaly…?

          E: Not really, Mr. Hanna. You see, Baldrick may look like a monkey who’s been put in a suit and then strategically shaved, but he is a brilliant politician. The number of votes I cast is simply a reflection of how firmly I believe in his policies.

          H: Well, that’s excellent. Er, well, that’s all for me — another great day for democracy in our country. Vincent Hanna; Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette; Dunny-on-the-Wold.

          You could have a lot of people delegating their votes to a single voter, and forgetting all about it in gratitude that they didn’t have to bother turning up to vote and all that nonsense. It’s already difficult enough to get the electorate to turn out, I’m not really in favour of a system of “just sign here to authorise P. Artie Mouthpiece to vote on your behalf”, because it would be very strongly in the political parties’ interests to get organised at the grassroots levels to turn out ‘community organisers’ to go door-to-door and sign up the electorate on their behalf, and I would not trust as far as I could spit some person with a clipboard and a line of fast talk trying to persuade me to sign over my vote to a completely neutral representative who will vote according to my values and preferences.

          Never mind the opportunities for bribes, corruption and the likes of ‘walking around money’ to be funneled to local party organisation to get voters signed up to Preferred Representative Voter.

          For every one voter who will follow the results to make sure the Designated Representative really will be voting as they want them to vote, there will be a solid number of people who neither know nor care, and this means the parties can be even more hucksterish in vote-grabbing than they already are.

          • Dave92F1 says:

            @Deiseach I think the problem you describe doesn’t occur (or at least is vastly smaller) if people can re-delegate the votes they’ve received to others, indefinitely.

            So, instead of giving P. Arty Mouthpiece your vote (someone you don’t know and is vouched for only by the clipboard-wielding campaigner), you give it to your brightest friend, whose motives you trust. She only gets, say, 10 votes, but then she re-delegates those to her brightest friend, etc., until somebody ends up with enough votes to sit in Parliament.

            And, of course, each delegation should be secret and cryptographically secure.

    • infinull says:

      My idea, is to use to different voting techniques. (Coming from a US perspective, but I think this system would work OK for a parliament as well)

      we quintuple the number of reps in the house (while keeping districts the same size, so each district has between 3 and 9 reps), and then use single transferable voting.

      For the senate, use proportional voting based on party. Each party with at least 1% of the vote gets a senator. (would have to get rid of the filibuster…).

      Entire senate is re-elected every 4 years on the same year as the president (or if you were doing a parliament, this doesn’t matter as much), and house is re-elected every year. (not every 2 years).

      Some kinks to work out like whether house reps could be on the senate party list, leaning towards just no, but you could allow a rep to specify an alternate. (then is the alternate allowed to run for the House…)

      For a parliament, I think the leader of the party/coalition in the upper house (the senate) should be the Prime Minister, and not the lower house.

      And maybe if 1% or more of the populace voted for a party in the senate that got less than 1% of the vote, you could have a special senator for them. (perhaps chosen randomly from the party lists of all partys with <1%, though that would encourage parties to have long party lists even if they don't get very many votes, I suppose party lists can't be more than 100 people, so maybe this doesn't matter so much?)

      (Other democratic reforms would be needed to make this work… though I suppose working out the details of that is a little silly since none of this is ever going to happen in the U.S.).

      • Vosmyorka says:

        This is very similar to the system currently used in Australia, where the House of Representatives is elected from 150 single-member districts using STV (resulting in what is basically a two-party system, though there are more independents than there are in the United States), and the Senate’s 75 members are equally split up among the states and elected from a twist on a proportional system, where the candidates are still ranked but you only need a quota (1/(n+1), where n is the number of seats up for election) to win a seat. This results in a variety of third parties being represented in the Australian Senate (there are currently no less than 7), where the main parties need to rely on them to approve legislation, and majorities are very rare (though the right-wing Coalition — which is de facto one political party, Australia’s main right-wing one since its constituents have been in a permanent coalition in the 1920s — managed it in 2004, which was a decisive victory for them).

        The obvious failure mode in such a system is if the two houses were to be controlled outright by different parties, which hasn’t happened since the 1970s (when third parties were much weaker than they are now; between the demise of Democratic Labor in the 1974 election and the foundation of the Democrats in 1977, there really weren’t third forces other than independents in Australia’s Parliament, which is unthinkable today), but which essentially creates a constitutional crisis until such time as both houses aren’t at each others’ throats. The gridlock that creates is a lot worse in a parliamentary than presidential system, which is probably why most parliamentary systems have trended toward effective unicameralism, with the upper chamber becoming a relic.

    • BBA says:

      It’s questionable how much the pre-1913 Senate really represented the states. The fixed six-year terms mean any state’s senators were chosen by a previous iteration of the legislature, and were not bound by the interests of the state government once elected. (And that’s setting aside the Senate’s reputation as a “millionaire’s club” where seats were obtained through outright bribery.)

      In Germany the upper house consists of the minister-presidents of the German states, plus additional members of the state governments allocated proportionately by population. Seats are not elected on a fixed cycle, but change whenever the state governments change. Adapting this to another parliamentary country like, say, Canada is straightforward. In the US I don’t know how it’d work – you’d start with the 50 governors, sure, but then the majority leaderships of the state houses or members of the state cabinets or what? And that’s setting aside the odd case of Nebraska.

    • cassander says:

      You’re going to want a parliamentary system of government, because presidentialism is sub optimal in a lot of ways. Empirical evidence on this is weak, but consistent.

      This complicates things, because it means that one of your chambers is going to be dominant. Yes, there were systems like the 19th century british where PMs could come from either lords or commons, but I don’t think that’s sustainable in a purely democratic system. There are going to be party leaders, and they’ll tend towards the house that gives them the most leverage (both with voters and over each other).

      That said, if we’re discussing radical schemes, I want a house of repeals, that is a house that can only repeal legislation, not pass anything new. The incentives facing members of house than can only exercise power by reducing the quantity of legislation (and by threat of doing so with new legislation) are obvious.

      @bba

      It’s questionable how much the pre-1913 Senate really represented the states. The fixed six-year terms mean any state’s senators were chosen by a previous iteration of the legislature, and were not bound by the interests of the state government once elected.

      This point doesn’t get made nearly enough. If you want the states represented, then you have one senator per state serving at the pleasure of the state’s governor.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        The House of Repeals is the best new idea I’ve seen in this discussion!

        • Lambert says:

          Note that complete power of repeal also implies the power to stop new laws from passing, by insta-repealing them.
          Perhaps limit it to laws over a certain age. (Maybe give it power to delay and scrutinise new laws, like the House of Lords has.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          A legislative body which specializes in repeals is mentioned in Heinlein– as a possibility for the government of Luna, I think. The proposal also suggested that it should only take a 1/3 minority to repeal a law.

          Should the House of Repeals be able to repeal parts of laws rather than whole laws?

          Will it have a bias in favor of repeal so that it will look as though it’s doing its job, just as more conventional legislators have a bias in favor of more laws? At this point, I’m imagining politicians being required to serve double terms, one in a legislating body paired with another in a repealing body.

          Are there costs to having the laws be in flux? How high would that be?

    • alef says:

      > All men vote for a male parliament and all women vote for a female parliament.

      That’s a really bad idea, IMO. If no disagreement, it doesn’t matter. If disagreement, one gender gets to blame the other for imposing something undesired on the other. It supports the beliefs that we aren’t individuals, but representatives of factions. I don’t see a society surviving long if crude distinctions get institutionally reinforced even further than already so. IMO this whole line of thinking (special chambers depending your demographic characteristics) is silly.

      Checks on decision making by having factions designed/chosen to be motivated by different time frames – that seems more promising. But best to do that in ways that don’t promote factionalism. Weight (not segregate) voting power by expected time to live and number of children – that strikes me as wrong, too, but not nearly as fatal as parceling out the electorate into disjoint demographic groups.

    • WashedOut says:

      Parliament selected by random lottery, in much the same way as jury duty selection. Random parliamentarians would serve a paid, fixed term before being discharged from duties. The random pool would be supported by a small ‘core’ contingent of approximately policy-neutral experts in legislative procedure, selected on merit, who arbitrate and guide the process along the right legal tracks.

      • cassander says:

        this is precisely how you get Yes Minister, where long experienced civil service workers lead unknowledgeable members around by the nose because they have strong relationships with one another, deep experience, institutional solidarity, and industry connections.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          Some say that is already what’s happening in places with short term limits, like California.

          You should be able to mitigate this while maintaining the original idea. Longer terms, for one thing.

          I also don’t think it’s such a terrible thing if a cadre of professional civil servants have some stabilizing influence on long term governance.

          • cassander says:

            >You should be able to mitigate this while maintaining the original idea. Longer terms, for one thing.

            If there’s anywhere in the world where knowledge is power, it’s a legislature. And by that, I don’t just mean knowing the rules of parliamentary procedure. It’s having a bank of favors you can call in from other legislatures, knowing who can be swayed by which arguments, who is likely to support or oppose what, who trusts whom and knowing what has been tried and where bodies are buried. Getting that sort of knowledge takes years. Even if you had 8 year terms, by the time the legislators acquired it, they’d be on the way out the door in a year or two, and if they tried to deploy it they can just be stalled. You’d permanently be shifting power into the hands of unelected bureaucrats in a massive way even with fairly long terms.

            >I also don’t think it’s such a terrible thing if a cadre of professional civil servants have some stabilizing influence on long term governance.

            That’s only true if you think the interests of civil servants align with the interests of the population as a whole, which I don’t think is the case. I don’t think it’s in our interests to give CCPOA and AFSCME even more power.

          • albatross11 says:

            How much does that opinion depend on what policies you expect the long-term civil service to support?

            Pretty much everyone supports policies that make their jobs easier. For police, that means fewer restrictions on wiretaps and evidence and seizing property and questioning suspects and holding people in custody. For spies, that means less oversight and more budget and fewer constraints set by policy (say, forbidding assassinating foreign heads of state). And so on. It’s not at all clear to me that this is any kind of unalloyed good.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11 says:

            How much does that opinion depend on what policies you expect the long-term civil service to support?

            Depending on how you mean that, either not at all or a whole lot. If you mean that the civil service is mostly blue tribe and will support blue tribe politics, it isn’t that. Well, emotionally it probably is a little, but intellectually it’s not.

            It’s that the civil service will support the power, wealth, and prestige of the civil service at the expense of everyone else. That’s not tied to any particular policy, just a tendency that the slope will slip down, and with no mechanism to correct it because as their power, wealth, and prestige grow, they’ll only become less accountable. It’s a system that’s guaranteed to run itself off a cliff eventually.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      The Irish system (or the way it works in theory at least) is interesting. The lower house is elected from multi-member constituencies (each electing between 3 and 5 representatives) via STV.

      The upper house, meanwhile, is selected by a range of methods (with terms the same as the lower house). Of its 60 members, 11 are directly nominated by the Prime Minister, 6 elected by the graduates of certain universities, and the remaining 43 from a system called Vocational Panels. These are supposed to be people with expertise or experience in specific fields, nominated by bodies like trade unions, learned or professional societies, or charities.

      • Deiseach says:

        The Upper House is meant to be an equivalent to the British House of Lords and a check on the lower house, but functionally the Seanad is useless since it is so reliant on vested interests; it gets stuffed with political appointees nominated by the government/party in power, a lot of ambitious wannabes start off in the Seanad to get experience before they go for the Dáil and real power and hence they are beholden to the political establishment, the university nominees do feck-all except be annoying (yes, I do mean you, David Norris) and the Vocational Panels suffer from the same strain of cute-hoorism as in mainstream Irish politics (and life, if it comes to that).

        I’m a tiny bit jaundiced, you might say. Any real power has been carefully constrained and stripped away by the Dáil so the Seanad can’t meaningfully interfere with it.

    • johan_larson says:

      My crazy idea: group voters by income, not by location. I bet I have a lot more shared interests with people who make about as much money as I do than I have with people who just happen to live nearby. Let the Honourable Member for the 7th Percentile Households debate tax policy with the Honourable Member for the 95th Percentile Households.

      • bean says:

        A couple potential issues:
        1. Households don’t all have the same number of voters. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect there’s at least a slight trend towards higher-income households having two voters (or maybe more, depending on how college students and such get counted).
        2. Your constituencies are going to change a lot election-to-election. My last raise moved me up 1.7 percentile points. This seems bad for stability of government.
        3. I’m not sure that the basic assumption that households of like income are more alike is good. College students, retirees, and people on welfare are all broadly similar in income. Their voting interests are very different. Much the same is true probably up into the 75th percentile, maybe higher. Single vs dual earner makes a big difference there, as does career stage.

      • Deiseach says:

        I bet I have a lot more shared interests with people who make about as much money as I do than I have with people who just happen to live nearby.

        Don’t people who make about the same money happen to live near one another? Or how many millionaires are living on council estates?

        On the other hand, if you are in the Fifty-Ninth Percentile Bloc you may be in dispute with others of your voting cohort if you live in Portcity and they live in Inlandopolis, and the matter in question is a bill to divert money towards dredging harbours; for you and the other cohorts in Portcity this is going to be something you feel is a benefit and indeed a vital contribution to the economy of your city where jobs will be retained or lost depending on shipping docking in the harbour, while Inlandopolis wants to use the money for street beautification projects instead.

      • Lambert says:

        Are yow aware of the Roman Assembly of the Centuries, a kind of income-grouped voting system?
        Of course, back in those days, it explicitly gave a disproportionate amount of power to the nobility and super-rich.
        Historia Civillis has a good video on it.

        • Protagoras says:

          The officers/cavalry, the nobility and super-rich, were only 18 centuries, while the heavy infantry (more like upper middle class, prosperous farmers) were 80 centuries. So it disproportionately favored the well-off, but the bias toward the super-rich wasn’t as great as someone might think from your comment.

    • bean says:

      I quite like Hong Kong’s Functional Constituency system for that. It groups people by actual occupation, and seems like a good way to counter the relentless tide of lawyers that we see in Congress today.

      • Dave92F1 says:

        @bean The Functional Constituency system is widely criticized as the Beijing government’s attempt to install a rigged sham democracy in Hong Kong.

        I don’t agree with that criticism (but then I’ve been fooled before, so discount my thoughts here appropriately).

        I think there are prominent quasi-scholarly elements in the CCP aware of the history of democratic reform demands emerging as countries get wealthier, who fully expect the same to happen in China. But they’re also aware of the failings of conventional democracies, esp. demagoguery and populist idiocies.

        (Of course this is mixed up with the usual desire to retain and exercise power for private advantage, but the CCP is aware of this problem too, tho unable to fully solve it.)

        So I interpret the Functional Constituency system as an experiment in “improved democracy” – something that addresses demands for popular input to government, provides a way to depose bad leadership bloodlessly, yet doesn’t suffer the usual problems of populism.

        I think it’s good that people are trying experiments in improved democracy. (I’m happy with the recent Maine experiment with ranked-choice voting for the same reason.)

        We need many more such experiments. I’d love to see a trial of Robin Hanson’s Futarchy.

        • bean says:

          It’s very possible that the current implementation is Beijing playing games. I know next to nothing about Hong Kong politics. I was mostly suggesting it as an idea for a different way to structure representation.

    • rlms says:

      One house with locally elected representatives and one house elected nationally with PR or something seems boring but obvious. It’s the current system in Paraguay and I assume some other places as well.

    • John Schilling says:

      Just a general response, but I’m seeing a lot of proposals based on dividing people up to arrange their representation on the basis of wealth or occupation or gender or age or, well, anything except geography, on the grounds that SomeOtherThing better represents their interests than boring old geography.

      First, I think these proposals vastly overstate the extent to which the world, or even just the Western world, is populated by cosmopolitan WEIRDs for whome mere geography is irrelevant. Lots of people still live their lives in meatspace, in geographically rooted communities, working in geographically rooted professions like farming and mining, having invested the bulk of their wealth in immovable real property, etc. Geography still matters.

      And second, even if you’ve correctly determined that geography now matters less than [other stuff], what makes you think you’ve identified the enduring best value for the [other stuff] by which humanity is to be broken up into convenient political chunks?

      Let people decide for themselves how they want to be represented. At-large proportional representation allows for representatives or parties devoted to the interests of geographic regions, of professions, of whatever people feel most important in this context. There will be legislators devoted to the interests of people who are and want to remain Rural West Virginians, and others devoted to the interests of WEIRD cosmopolitans who are stuck living among geographically-rooted rednecks who keep trying to vote their primitive values onto us.

      If you’re not willing to do that, probably best to leave it at the default setting of “geography”, because geography probably matters more than any other single thing you’d use to impose political divisions. If nothing else, actually enforcing whatever laws your legislature comes up with will be a lot easier if it is done on a geographic basis and if most people in the region agree with those laws.

      And understand that none of this matters, because almost everyone’s #1 political interest is that they don’t have any significantpolitical interests and want to stay out of the whole thing except, sigh, OK, I guess we have to stop the StupidEvil party from ruining everything so sign me up for whatever is the single most powerful force opposing the StupidEvils. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, but no nuance in policy goals and no willingness to deviate from the most effective AntiStupidEvil strategy. So does it matter that someone gets to vote for e.g. the AntiStupidEvil representative from Silicon Valley as opposed to the AntiStupidEvil representative from the Coder’s League?

      • albatross11 says:

        Maybe geography seems less and less important for governance as:

        a. More decisions are centralized at the federal government/federal court level.

        b. People become increasingly mobile, so that you don’t have such large differences in local culture/values.

        c. Businesses and media are nationwide or worldwide, and so tend to be less responsive to local differences.

        On the other hand, a huge amount of practical governance that matters in the US is regional/local–public transit, highways, schools, policing, etc., all are mostly run locally. That makes a case for giving the people of each locality a voice. It seems entirely reasonable that Montana and New Jersey might need different sets of rules w.r.t. gun ownership, speed limits, water rights, etc. [ETA] By giving each state/region/locality some kind of voice in the federal congress, you can avoid having those local differences get steamrollered.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        I’m happy to have one chamber based on geography.

        But if you want a second chamber based on something orthogonal, you have to get creative.

    • honoredb says:

      Various ways to have a Populist House and an Elitist House:
      – Elitist House doesn’t get paid a salary, forcing the members to be some combination of independently wealthy and “corrupt”/beholden to monied interests.
      – Populist House has term limits.
      – Voting power in Elitist House increases with tenure. For bonus points, it increases when a vote you made two years ago is declared retrospectively to be correct (via subcommittee vote or popular poll).
      – Elections in Populist House are made by picking a random ballot from each constituency, resulting in a mix of party-nominated candidates and people who wrote in their own name.
      – Elections in Elitist House are made using the system John Schilling describes in this thread. You can phase this in slowly by marking “the incumbent for your geographic area” on people’s ballots so that they’ll generally win.
      – Members of Elitist House are limited to one term. Votes and deliberation are secret under penalty of expulsion.
      – Members of Elitist House are elected for life but can be impeached by a supermajority in either house.
      – Candidates for Elitist House are chosen by party officials, not voters.
      – Members of Elitist House can only vote on them after personally passing a written, proctored test on the contents. Members of Populist House get lots of funding to hire staff to take the test for them, and can only vote once at least one member of their staff passes the test.

      One wacky scheme I’ve never heard talked about: deliberately create an Opposition House and a Loyalist House. Loyalist House consists entirely of the party that won a plurality in the last general election, Opposition House has everyone else. Loyalist House gets to name a Prime Minister and Cabinet, but otherwise their powers are identical and not much can be done without majorities in both houses.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think the key question is “what do you want your parliament to do?”

      The US system worked fine for its goals, pre-administrative state. The design goal was stability and “if you can’t agree on what’s do be done, don’t do anything.” It’s a terrible design for keeping an independent civil service and judiciary from taking over power, but a fine system for only doing things that have widespread agreement.

      Basically, there’s a trade-off. A system that can act quickly can do more, but will be less stable (multi-party parliamentary systems). A system that has many veto points can do less, but will be more stable (US system).

      If you can somehow ensure that power has to flow through parliament, not around it, then more stability will mean a less capable government; this may be a design goal or a flaw depending on what you want to accomplish.

      My question–related, but similar–is how do you keep the civil service, or the judiciary, from taking over from parliament or the other elected bodies as the key driver of policy (as has happened in the US and I understand in Europe as well.)

      • BBA says:

        The US system worked fine for its goals, pre-administrative state.

        If you set aside 1861-1876, sure, but that’s a pretty big asterisk. Throw in the previous secession threats of the Hartford Convention and the Nullification Crisis and the violence in the leadup to the Civil War, and that’s most of American history up until the administrative state began in 1887.

    • Garrett says:

      One chamber elected on a one person, one vote scheme.
      One chamber elected on a one net tax dollar, one vote scheme.

      Given that the majority of what the government does these days is transfer money around, it seems like a good way to provide a good incentive to keep the golden goose laying eggs.

      • bean says:

        Ooh. I like that. Although how do you handle people who are net negative? Do we make them vote, then chose the opposite?
        (The obvious answer is to just not let them vote, but I like the image here.)

      • Iain says:

        We do not need to incentivize making money. The incentive to make money is that you end up with money, which can then be exchanged for goods and services of your choice.

        • Nornagest says:

          We don’t need to incentivize making money, but it might be a good idea to disincentivize frittering Other People’s Money away. One way to do that is to make that money into a constituency.

        • John Schilling says:

          The incentive to make money is that you end up with money, which can then be exchanged for goods and services of your choice.

          Actually, most of the money that I nominally earn cannot be exchanged for goods and services of my choice. How this might incentivize me to act, I will leave to your imagination.

          • J Mann says:

            It’s a little interesting to argue that if we need to tax high earners more (because that’s where the money is), then we should have a counterbalancing incentive to earn money, so that we minimize dead-weight loss of taxation. If I ever write a puckish econ-based humor piece, maybe I’ll try it out. 🙂

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I wonder if that would successfully channel or wind up universally accelerating the usual means for converting money into political influence

      • Aapje says:

        @Garrett

        Given that the majority of what the government does these days is transfer money around, it seems like a good way to provide a good incentive to keep the golden goose laying eggs.

        What if the goose starts hoarding the eggs because the second chamber vetos most spending?

        From the perspective of ensuring that redistribution happens, you need both people making money, but also decision making that transfers part of that money to others.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      One parliament organized by regions, and another not? The former would be similar to the American House of Representatives–Californians, say, would vote for people to represent California; the latter would be like a ‘standard’ European parliament, where people vote for various parties and then those parties get seats based on the proportion of total electoral votes they get.

  52. bean says:

    Naval Gazing’s look at Russian Battleships continues with a detailed study of the first Russian dreadnoughts, the Ganguts.

  53. WashedOut says:


    Differences in generic nickname vocabulary between men and women

    I’ve noticed that men have dozens of generic nicknames for eachother in lieu of knowing/using their real name, but women don’t. For example:

    Men:
    Buddy, pal, mate, chief, boss, dude, bro, man, etc. etc… plus all the regional slang variants depending on country/province (squire, cobber, oldmate…) plus a slew of suffix-modifications that get applied to the names without permission or necessity such as Johnno, Mikey, Timbo, etc. etc.

    Whereas women don’t seem to have the equivalent list of non-name salutations. You don’t hear women calling each other “sis”, for instance, and the names used between men are very rarely used between women. What you do hear is women who are already friends calling each other ‘gorgeous’ or similar affectionate, positive descriptors in place of their name.

    I have one main idea as to how this developed, and one supporting nod to evo-psych.

    1. The slang-name vocab has been developed between men over the course of many decades of the shared experience of manual labour and military service, and functions as a) social cohesion under stress and b) a practical way of addressing someone you don’t know but need to get ‘on-side’ with straight away.
    The starkly different histories of work and war participation between the genders gives rise to this theory.

    2. Men are generally more assertive and less sensitive than women, which together provide the necessary precondition for taking a social risk in addressing a stranger/acquaintance by a generic pet-name.

    Is my basic observation correct, and if so do the above hold enough explanatory power?

    • Well... says:

      A lot of women (especially black women) call their female friends “girl” as a nickname. I think I’ve also heard “chica” among Latina women but that might just be in movies.

      If I’m onto something and the pattern you’re describing only really applies to white people, that fact is interesting too.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      >Men are generally more assertive and less sensitive than women

      Most murders are commited by males for trivial status offenses. Define “sensitive”.

      • Nornagest says:

        Where are you getting “for trivial status offenses”?

      • Well... says:

        I thought most murders (in the US) had to do with domestic violence and gang warfare. (I don’t know the actual numbers of the various motives, but “trivial status offenses” doesn’t seem right.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          As I recall, the #1 reason for murder is “unknown” and #2 is “argument over something other than money, property, or romance”.

          Yep, just checked. The data is in the FBI Uniform Crime Report supplement. Unknown is at 6075 for 2016, followed by 3208 for “other arguments”. Argument over money or property is pretty low at 202, romantic triangle at 114.

          • Well... says:

            Which motives on that list map to “trivial status offenses”, I wonder?

          • The Nybbler says:

            “Other argument” includes but isn’t limited to “trivial status offenses”; the data you want isn’t available.

    • mrthorntonblog says:

      Would looking at how this works across the devide help?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      As someone with recent experience of femoid interactions, I can report they use “queen” for that now. Like, all the time

      • aNeopuritan says:

        … by “femoid”, do you in fact mean “actual woman”?

        • Rick Hull says:

          I’d guess they mean: human being that presents as a woman and likely identifies as a woman, but out of respect for not assuming gender does not presume actual womanhood.

        • quaelegit says:

          My first guess was he meant drag queens or another very specific social group.

          Quick googling suggests that the term is related to incels, but I’m disinclined to click the links.

          I’ve never heard “queen” used in the context WashedOut is asking about, and given the google results, ilikekittycat might be trolling.

          • Barely matters says:

            Typically follows “Yaaaaas” in the wild. The girls who currently say it are a pretty specific subset within a tight age range, but I can confirm that the term sees regular use.

    • tayfie says:

      I think this is completely wrong and women have lots of names for each other. In my experience, women are more intimate with their friends and are more likely to assign pet names.

      I have personally heard women call each other: sugar, sugarcube, honey, honeybun, sweetie, sweetie pie, darling, dear, dearie, bestie, BFF, girl, girlfriend, amiga, rosy, pookie, schnookums, and toots.

      Those are the affectionate ones when not used ironically.

      I have never in real life heard a man call another man mate, chief, or boss. Dude, bro, and man are more like informal forms of address than nicknames. I call men about my age dude or bro sometimes to get their attention when I don’t know their real names.

      • WashedOut says:

        In my experience, women are more intimate with their friends and are more likely to assign pet names.

        Right, but that’s not what im curious about. I’m interested in how people address each other when they are either complete strangers or do not know their name.

        sugar, sugarcube, honey, honeybun, sweetie, sweetie pie, darling, dear, dearie, bestie, BFF, girl, girlfriend, amiga, rosy, pookie, schnookums, and toots.

        I’ve heard some variants used very rarely in, say, specific tones of friendly mockery or irony between already close friends, but I’ve never heard a woman say “Hi, honey” or “How’s it going toots?” to a woman they are getting introduced to or don’t know very well.

        Say you’re only the slightest bit aquainted with someone and need to address them in a casual, once-off kinda way. Do you find out their name or use a generic placeholder?

        • God's Hatter says:

          I live in London, where ‘mate’ is the predominant placeholder for men. Women who don’t know each other certainly do use ‘love’, ‘sweetheart,’, ‘darling’ – but these do have more of a sense of assumed closeness and so can be a bit forward; they’re also less common in the middle/upper classes. ‘Mate’ among men is a class marker too but is comparatively more acceptable between middle class speakers outside of formal situations.

          The default mode of address for a stranger is often to just use pronouns and avoid any direct term at all. This is common in both genders, but especially among women since there’s less of an alternative.

          My best armchair evo-psych for why direct terms of address are more common among men is that there’s more of a need to signal non-aggression when two men meet, since violence is more likely than among women. I’d be interested to hear if the same pattern is true in other languages though, or else it’s likely a cultural quirk of us anglophones.

          • j1000000 says:

            I like your armchair explanation, but it also seems like these words are not inherently positive or negative. Think of Ronnie from MTV’s Jersey Shore yelling “come at me bro!” or Dane Cook’s old “buddy/pal/chief” bit.

          • Deiseach says:

            Say you’re only the slightest bit aquainted with someone and need to address them in a casual, once-off kinda way. Do you find out their name or use a generic placeholder?

            In Ireland it’s much the same as God’s Hatter describes for London; amongst women a generic “Yerra girl, don’t be talking!” would be acceptable but it’s class-based (in a sense); very much more likely to be used by older/rural/lower-class townswomen than middle-class/upwardly mobile women. “Well boy/girl (depending on gender of person addressed)” would be a standard greeting round these parts, but considered usage of the low(er)-class rather than aspirational 😉 “Butty” is also a term used by men to address friends, again more used by/for commoners.

        • Doesntliketocomment says:

          Evidently you haven’t been to the South, because “Honey” or “Hon” is used all the time between women who have never met, as is “sweetheart” or “sugar”. Meanwhile calling some guy you don’t know “Bud” is dangerous territory.

        • tayfie says:

          It depends if the people in question expect to see each other again and how close they expect the relationship to be.

          If they expect to be close, they make introductions.

          If they expect not to be close, they use nicknames. The best example I can think of for women is a waitress or clothing store attendant who need to address lots of different women in a friendly and often informal way and it isn’t feasible to learn everyone’s name. “Honey” is something I’ve noticed commonly in the former case, often shortened to “hon”, and “girl” is more likely in the latter.

      • fion says:

        I have never in real life heard a man call another man mate, chief, or boss

        I’m guessing you’re from the US? In England I hear all of these often. Mate more than anything. (Australians famously use “mate” all the time. I think this is true, and not just a cliche.) “Man” is also common, but “dude” and “bro” are only used somewhat ironically, occasionally with a half-hearted American accent…

        • tayfie says:

          That’s correct.

          I’ve seen enough movies to be aware of the differences, but I’ve never been to either of those places and know movies aren’t always a good guide to different countries.

        • Nornagest says:

          West Coast American here. I hear “boss” occasionally, mostly from retail workers, though I think it was more common a few years ago. Though, yes, “man” is more common. “Dude” and “bro” are used unironically here but only within certain subcultures.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Unironic English “dude” user here.

      • As the other replies to this comment suggest, I suspect what is actually going on is that there is a lot of local variation in generic nickname usage norms, and in some places the men have more of the generic nicknames while in others the women have more (it may be that one of them has more overall, but that’s not a question which any one person’s anecdotes will be of much help to answer).

        • KG says:

          Basically this. My wife calls people “dude” and “buddy” not infrequently, regardless of gender, and I knew a girl who called people “pal” and “friend”.

    • ana53294 says:

      In Spain, it is common for women to address each other “tia” (in a very informal, colloquial manner; you would never use it with someone older/of higher status) and men “tio”. These words stand for “aunt” and “uncle”, and they are also use as a cross-gendered form of address (men to women, women to men). I have no idea how it works in South America, but my general impression is that they are much more respectful and less colloquial than the Spanish (for a person of equivalent social status).

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      You don’t hear women calling each other “sis”, for instance

      First, the nicknames for men are also used by woman addressing men. So there are nicknames that women use to address women, and that men would also use to address women.

      Off the top of my head…sister (somewhat rare), girl (as in “you go girl”), and lady (usually disparaging, as in “move it, lady” in a traffic jam).

  54. Aron Wall says:

    I’m a physicist who studies black hole thermodynamics & quantum gravity, and a longtime reader of SSC although I don’t post much. I’m also an evangelical Christian who believes in miracles and accepts the Nicene Creed, although I’m not a fundamentalist (e.g. I think the opening chapters of Genesis obviously aren’t supposed to be literal scientific reporting).

    Ask me anything.

    I’ve just managed to get a good faculty position after many years applying, so one topic that’s particularly fresh in my mind is how the academic job market works, especially in the USA (although I’m headed to Cambridge this January).

    • melolontha says:

      Obvious and perhaps overly broad question, but: why do you believe? If you see a distinction between the justifications for your belief (why are you right to believe) and the causal factors behind it (what would have had to happen differently to cause you not to believe), I’d be interested in both.

      And as a follow-up, do you think that every fair-minded and intellectually curious person could/should come to share your beliefs, or (for example) do they depend on some very specific experiences or feelings that not everyone has?

      Finally, what level of responsibility do you feel to spread the word and encourage people to find God? (While I don’t enjoy being proselytised to, intellectually I find it hard to reconcile a) sincere belief in an afterlife, b) basic human goodwill, and c) the lack of interest in finding new converts demonstrated by many religious people. Though I guess one possible explanation is that it’s basically the same process by which sincere, kind utilitarians fail to become extreme effective altruists.)

      • Aron Wall says:

        @melolontha

        Overbroad question first:

        The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened (in addition to other ancient and modern miracles, but that’s the most important one), if the primary sources are judged without a heavy a priori bias against the supernatural.

        I grew up in a Christian household (my Dad is relatively famous for his faith since he wrote the Perl programming language). It’s important to me that my beliefs be based on reality, so I wouldn’t identify as a Christian if I didn’t think the evidence was compelling. It’s always possible that bias has entered my views, but I have seen people convert to Christianity who were reluctant to do so, on the basis of the same evidence. So if the causal factors don’t match the evidential ones, it is in spite of my best intentions to try to keep them together.

        I don’t think that philosophical arguments should be given the same weight as historical ones, but I do think that the existence of life, and consciousness all point towards Theism, while the existence of evil points towards Atheism. If, however, you think that ethics is objective (so that calling something evil isn’t just a matter of our own tastes, but is a hint about the fundamental structure of reality), then there are ways of arguing towards Theism from that as well.

        The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

        As far as more subjective factors are concerned: I’ve had a number of religious / mystical experiences where it seemed like God was communicating with me. I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

        • Shion Arita says:

          The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

          The existence of life is an emergent phenomenon that would be extremely difficult to predict a priori from the values of those fundamental constants. Is there any reason to conclude that it’s not possible that for other values of those constants, though reality would have a very different structure than our own, emergent phenomena just as complicated and interesting as our life could exist, and those phenomena are just as difficult to predict as life in our universe?

          • alef says:

            > I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.
            This seems fair (though if I had to pick I’d go with multiverse) but
            what about a simulation hypothesis? Or is that in your mind (and reasonably enough; I personally can’t see the difference) entirely
            identical to theism?

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Shion

            Good question. To clarify, I’m not asserting that constants close to our own are the only possible way to support life; there may be other islands of goodness in parameter space. I’m just claiming it’s rare within the total space of laws of physics looking roughly similar to our own but with different constants.

            I certainly agree that, in general, it could be a very difficult problem to look at a given set of laws of Nature, and decide whether they are compatible with some sort of (not necessarily carbon-based) “life” arising or not. In fact, the only reason I am sure that the Standard Model allows for life is that it actually exists!

            On the other hand, some universes are sufficiently boring that I think we can be pretty sure nothing as complex as life exists. Most notably, the Cosmological Constant seems to be fine-tuned to about 1 part in 10^120 (or 1 part in 10^60 if supersymmetry exists). The Cosmological Constant receives contributions from all quantum fields in Nature, and to get it that small, you need a very delicate cancellation between the positive and negative contributions. If it were as large as expected and negative, then the universe would recollapse in about 10^-43 seconds. If as large and positive, then any objects separated by more than about 10^-35 meters would be unable to ever send signals to each other again. In either case, it seems that the universe would be unable to support complex computations of any kind.

            There are some less impressive instances of fine tuning (a couple different things of order 1% or so) that are needed for things like stars and heavy elements to exist. It’s hard to imagine complex structures existing in a dark universe with no elements heavier than lithium, but I can’t say I know for sure nothing can happen.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @alef

            I should have also mentioned the Simulation Hypothesis, although I don’t personally find it very plausible.

            If you think we were created by life that evolved in some other universe, then there is the question of why that universe was life permitting, and that seems to raise the fine-tuning problem all over again. It also seems plausible that a finite being could only simulate a daughter universe of significantly lower computational power than the mother universe they live in. But the cosmos we live in does not seem to show signs of a limited-resource computation. (For example, if the goal was to simulate Earthlings, why make the universe billions of lightyears across?)

            To me, there is also a very significant religious difference between the God of Classical Theism (the fundamental source of existence, with infinite holiness, wisdom, and power) and a Simulator (some dude that came into existence and has finite goodness, wisdom, and power). Namely, that I consider the fomer entity worthy of worship, but not the latter.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If you think we were created by life that evolved in some other universe, then there is the question of why that universe was life permitting, and that seems to raise the fine-tuning problem all over again.

            Not sure I see why this would be. You have no picture of what that universe might look like, what are its fundamental constants, etc. Our simulated universe might be an exploration of how common life is when it’s really, really hard. It might be that in the “real” universe, there’s nothing tricky at all about life — that a wide range of possible values for the constants would have enabled it.

            Of course, a believer in a universe such as that might note how friendly to life it was, and consider that as evidence for a Creator.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Doctor Mist

            That’s a logically possible scenario. However, (excluding multiverse scenarios) it’s not like we know of any simple laws of physics which give rise to sufficiently complex behavior over a wide range of parameter values.

            For example, only a few cellular automata exhibit complex behavior (instead of chaotic or stable behavior). Even the complex ones (e.g. Conway’s “game of Life”) mostly aren’t suitable. Yes, in principle you can construct a universal computer, but one glider in the wrong place and it becomes a mess!

        • Dacyn says:

          [Edit: Replied to the wrong comment, reposting below]

        • Aapje says:

          @Aron Wall

          The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened

          Even today, we still have cases where people are mistakenly thought to be dead. The biblical account seems very compatible with Jesus being pronounced dead by accident, being buried, then living for another 40 days, before dying.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Er, no, it’s not compatible with the biblical account at all, which I suspect you have not read recently. For example, it isn’t consistent with the spear thrust through the heart, the guards/stone at the tomb, the angels, the Resurrected Jesus’ ability to appear and disappear at will, the Ascension narrative, etc. Nor is it compatible with ancient Jewish burial practices which involved tightly wrapping the corpse with cloths and spices. You should also bear in mind that it was a capital offense for a Roman soldier to allow a vicitim of execution to get away alive.

            It’s barely compatible with Jesus being able to walk around at all, let alone impressing people with his victory over sin and the grave, since the Scourging & Crucifixion would have been an incredibly traumatic experience (the one ancient account we have of people being pardoned and taken down from the cross before dying and given the best medical treatment, 2 of the 3 still died). And at the end you’d have a corpse of Jesus which required respectful Jewish burial, which would sort of put the kabosh on the Resurrection thing.

            Perhaps you meant, that after discounting almost everything written in the text, it’s compatible with a couple things that remain?

          • J Mann says:

            Even today, we still have cases where people are mistakenly thought to be dead. The biblical account seems very compatible with Jesus being pronounced dead by accident, being buried, then living for another 40 days, before dying.

            I’m a believer myself, but it would be funny if it turned out that the people of Jesus’s time were just really bad at identifying when people were dead, so Jesus’s three resurrection miracles and his own return were just errors. (Also, we might imagine they were really bad at counting loaves, and at labeling which cask contained wine).

            But just to be clear, I vote miracle. 😉

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            The Bible is pretty clearly not a very accurate collection of texts, since it has inconsistencies and contradictions. The stories were also orally communicated at first and only written down at least 50 years later, by people who had no first-hand knowledge (like Paul & John). The Bible is full of metaphors and as such, it does not focus on accuracy so much, but seems more intended to be a religious document to make people believe (more) in Jesus.

            For just the resurrection, we have conflicting stories about which women found Jesus missing (1, 2 or 3 women respectively). We have one angel rolling back the stone, no wait, two angels just sitting there, no wait, two men dressed like ‘lightning’, no wait, just one guy dressed in white.

            Given how stories about heroes tend to get embellished, I assume that most claims are greatly exaggerated or false. For example, of the various options above, maybe the one guy dressed in white is accurate. Perhaps he and some friends heard Jesus calling for help and they moved the stone, after which most left with Jesus to give him medical aid and one stayed behind to tell Jesus’s mates. There was probably one woman (Mary Magdalene) who then got told by this guy, but she was in shock and didn’t listen very well (studies that test how much information patients retain after they get significant news from the doctor shows that people generally retain little information).

            Simple story, makes sense. Is scientifically possible. Assume that Mary Magdalene didn’t listen very well and the disciples then filled in the blanks with some nonsense based on their faith. Add 50-100 years of embellishment that happens when stories are passed on orally and I can see you ending up with the Bible.

            For example, it isn’t consistent with the spear thrust through the heart

            Where in the bible does it say that his heart was pierced? John only mentions that Jesus’ side was pierced. Perhaps Jesus suffered from edema, due to the crucifixion and the soldier drained it.

            the guards/stone at the tomb

            Only in the Gospel of Matthew, which is a late text. In Matthew 27:62 you suddenly have priests going to Pilate and telling him that Jesus predicted that he would rise after 3 days. No earlier text said this, nor does even the Gospel of Matthew tell us that Jesus told his disciples or that they knew. Apparently Jesus told only his enemies, which makes no sense.

            But wait, in Matthew 28:15, we hear that there was a rumor in circulation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’s body from the tomb. Thankfully, just as we first hear of this rumor, we get new information from Matthew that makes the rumored story impossible. Such a happy coincidence. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the writer of Matthew first heard the rumor and then made up a story to convince the doubters that the rumor is wrong…

            the Resurrected Jesus’ ability to appear and disappear at will

            This is not in the earlier texts, even up to 70 CE & then suddenly makes an appearance in 80–90 CE. This really speaks to the reliability of the things that you take for granted (and frankly, your bias to believe the Bible uncritically).

            If teleporting Jesus happened and was noticed by several, then it makes absolutely no sense that people would not write it down at the first written recount of the resurrection. Teleportation is pretty huge.

            Nor is it compatible with ancient Jewish burial practices which involved tightly wrapping the corpse with cloths and spices.

            How so? I’ve seen no evidence that this wrapping was so restrictive to not allow for survival and for the person to unwrap himself. Note that Jesus’s head was probably loosely covered with a face-cloth (aka sudarium). He could probably breathe fine if he were still alive (linen is very breathable anyway).

            You should also bear in mind that it was a capital offense for a Roman soldier to allow a vicitim of execution to get away alive.

            Yet the Bible explicitly says that they didn’t do what they normally do to ensure the death of a crucified person: breaking their bones (they stabbed him instead to check). So Jesus seems to have been treated exceptionally, which increases the chance that the guards made a mistake.

            It’s barely compatible with Jesus being able to walk around at all, let alone impressing people with his victory over sin and the grave, since the Scourging & Crucifixion would have been an incredibly traumatic experience

            The Bible notes many times that the disciples barely recognize him, which is quite consistent with someone who looks like shit due to being nearly crucified to death.

            the one ancient account we have of people being pardoned and taken down from the cross before dying and given the best medical treatment, 2 of the 3 still died

            I agree that this one event was somewhat unlikely, but Jesus didn’t perform very many other miracles that aren’t easily explained away as embellishment and regression to the mean ‘faith-healing.’

            There were other Jewish prophets at the time, it’s not strange for one to have experienced an unlikely event that can form the basis for a religion.

            And at the end you’d have a corpse of Jesus which required respectful Jewish burial, which would sort of put the kabosh on the Resurrection thing.

            After he truly died, the disciples could just have secretly buried him and made up a story about ascending to heaven to explain it. They clearly had motive to do so. Secretly burying a body is not a miracle.

            Perhaps you meant, that after discounting almost everything written in the text, it’s compatible with a couple things that remain?

            I understand that, as a believer, you put way more stock in the Bible. However, the fact remains that inconsistencies are rife and later texts come up with major new information, which is a very strong sign of embellishment (and remember, we only see the embellishment that happened later on, there is ~50! years where a lot of embellishment could have happened without us being able to see evidence for it).

            My personal opinion is that the Bible would have seemed a lot more trustworthy if they had hired a good editor like Rebecca Friedman to clean it up. She specializes in fantasy, so… 😛

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Oy. I think when looking at the miracles in the Gospels, you need to establish probability. Bayes! Remember him?
            If you start from the assumption that all Roman miracle stories are fake, or worse don’t know that the stories exist, it’s going to skew your priors way down. Note that Greco-Roman intellectuals who criticized Christianity never said “You made those miracles up”… they believed that miracles were well-documented and all it proved was that gods really liked someone, not that they were God Incarnate.

          • yaisaacs says:

            I take it that Aron’s point about Jesus’ putative ability to teleport was not to presuppose the veracity of the biblical narratives. Instead, I take it that his point was to say that naturalists must reject some aspects of the biblical narratives, and not merely offer alternative naturalistic interpretations of them.

            As far as timing goes, I should note that the crucifixion of Jesus is generally dated to somewhere from 30 to 33 AD. The gospel of Mark is generally dated to somewhere around 70 AD. So the the time gap between the crucifixion and the gospel narrative is, at most, 40 years rather than 50. I don’t myself think that decade would make an enormous epistemological difference, but others might well. (I should also note that dating Mark to 70 AD is, in the context of this sort of debate, more than a little tendentious. A substantial factor that places the date at AD 70 rather than earlier is that the temple was destroyed in AD 70, and thus naturalistic scholarship treats the apparent prediction of the temple’s destruction in Mark 13 as something which was either invented after the fact or somewhat daringly ventured once the destruction of the temple looked probable a bit before AD 70. A presupposition that prophecy is impossible is not germane to an investigation about the reliability of the gospel narratives. But these sorts of issues threaten to take us far afield, so I’m just gesturing at some of the pertinent issues in this parenthetical.) Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is dated to around AD 50, and it takes Jesus’ resurrection as something its audience already accepts. Given this sort of timeline, I think that the more plausible naturalistic hypothesis is that the erroneous belief in Jesus’ resurrection emerged among Jesus’ followers shortly after his crucifixion rather than that the erroneous belief in Jesus’ resurrection developed out of accretions or misunderstandings of oral tradition or something else like that.

            As far as inconsistencies go, it seems to me that minor contradictions should be expected from human witnesses (at least given our evidence about how human witnesses behave). Agnosticism about the particulars that vary from witness to witness may be perfectly sensible without warranting a more widespread skepticism. For example, Plato’s rendition of Socrates has him offering to pay a fine of 30 minae (secured by his friends’ assets) whereas Xenophon’s rendition of Socrates has him refuse to suggest any punishment. It’s perfectly sensible to be agnostic about this aspect of Socrates’ behavior, but that’s no cause for skepticism that Socrates was convicted by an Athenian court in the first place. The precise number of women who found Jesus strikes me as being – at worst – a minor detail about which divergences should not be hugely unsettling. While I don’t think that the timeframe easily allows the development of a mistake about whether Jesus was resurrected, I do think that the timeframe easily allows the development of a mistake about how many women found Jesus (indeed, such mistakes need barely take time at all). And some other differences – such as that between two angels and two men dressed like lightning – strike me as more modest still.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Aapje,

            Can you say what you think the likelihood is of the complicated, accidental survival (with subsequent conspiracy by the disciples) you mention above? How many other people do you think have survived similar levels of trauma while appearing to be dead?

            As far as I can tell, you are saying that the first part of your story (Jesus surviving the cross and the spear and appearing dead, then reviving in the tomb) was just an accident that could have happened to anyone. Isn’t it kind of a weird coincidence that this really weird medical glitch just happened to happen to a charismatic religious leader who already had a reputation as a faith healer?

            As yaissacs has pointed out, your dates for the Gospels are off, even if you go by the more skeptical/liberal consensus. Personally, I don’t accept the wikipedia comments on dates and authorship as accurate. You might be surprised at how weak the evidence for these late dates is if you look into it.

            For example, it says that “Luke/Acts” is anonymous even though every early copy of the Gospels we have has the authors’ names on it, and the 2nd century writers were unanimous about the point. By that standard, most of the books on my bookshelf are anonymous.

            Yes, John never says explicitly that his heart was stabbed, but he does say that there was a “sudden flow of blood and water” suggesting the destruction of at least one fluid filled organ such as the region surrounding the heart. If someone is copiously bleeding it should be pretty easy to tell if they have a pulse or not (and if they do, they won’t for much longer).

            Breaking the legs was not the standard way to check that crucifixion victims were dead. It was specially done in that case to prevent bodies from being on the Cross during the Sabbath. The usual procedure was to keep the victims up until they expired, sometimes days later.

            I agree with yaissacs that apparent discrepencies should be expected for testimonial accounts. It would be far more suspicious if the accounts agreed identically on all trivial points, because that would suggest a greater degree of collusion.

            However, differing numbers of women / angels at the tomb is not in any case a contradiction, since the texts never say “And there were no more with them”. By that standard, anything other than identical testimony would count as a contradiction.

            I agree that this one event was somewhat unlikely, but Jesus didn’t perform very many other miracles that aren’t easily explained away as embellishment and regression to the mean ‘faith-healing.’

            I don’t think this is true at all, unless you mean that the stories are so distorted that basically all of the specific details are wrong. In the text, there are quite a few stories of Jesus instantly healing people from major bodily defects like blindness, deafness, lameness and (in 3 cases) death, sometimes at the request of others, and this is supposed to be entirely explained by regression to the mean and psychosomatism?

            Honestly, just say that the stories are completely made up, it would be so much simpler!

          • Aapje says:

            @yaisaacs

            Thank you for the correction on the time line.

            I agree with you that inconsistencies in the accounts are to be expected, also if Jesus actually resurrected. This uncertainty makes it easier to argue that the narrative is consistent with the narrative that Christians settled on, but also easier to argue that it is consistent with only naturalistic events having happened. My bias is to strongly default to the naturalistic explanation, given that I have never seen scientific evidence for miracles & because many/most people clearly have a tendency to (wildly) extrapolate beyond the available evidence and then to believe those extrapolations to be fact.

            The commonalities between the biblical accounts of the resurrection are fairly minimal IMO & the inconsistencies are quite severe. At the very least, this shows a large willingness to fill in the blanks with speculation. The commonalities seem quite consistent with a misinterpretation of naturalistic events that did happen. Furthermore, the witnesses already believed in Jesus’ divinity and ability to do miracles, so it seems likely that they would be especially prone to interpret events as miracles.

            Note that I am not doubting that Christians started believing in Jesus’ resurrection shortly after the crucifixion, based on having him recover after being falsely declared dead.

            The precise number of women who found Jesus strikes me as being – at worst – a minor detail about which divergences should not be hugely unsettling.

            I disagree. This speaks quite strongly to the quality of the evidence. The woman or women who found Jesus have the first-hand account. The people who listened to her/them have the second hand account, which is known to be far less reliable than already quite unreliable first hand accounts. Then we have the 3rd, 4th, etc hand accounts. That the sources can’t even settle on the number of first-hand witnesses, strongly suggests that we are dealing with narratives by people who are fairly far away from the event and who confidently state things that are inconsistent with each other, so most of these are wrong and must have been extrapolated. If this is extrapolated, then why not that Jesus was resurrected?

            And some other differences – such as that between two angels and two men dressed like lightning – strike me as more modest still.

            You forgot the one man dressed in white. So on the one hand, we have a claim that in itself is fully naturalist & on the other hand, we have various claims about the same event that are gradually more outlandish/supernatural. If it was just a guy in white, there are perfectly logical possible explanations why he would be there, without requiring divine intervention.

            Basically:
            – it was a (desired) feature of crucifixion that people would not die too quickly, but would suffer for many hours at minimum
            – it doesn’t seem strange that a gradually weakened person could have weak vital sins, that are easy to misinterpret
            – stabbing a person to check if they are dead seems to be a method that can sometimes fail
            – it doesn’t seem strange to me that being taken out of the sun and being put in a cool tomb, could let a person recover. A few years ago an old woman recovered while in cold storage in the morgue.
            – Jesus can plausible have called for help from the tomb and gotten some (non-Christian) passers-by to help him, both to remove the stone and with medical aid
            – the removal of the stone doesn’t necessarily require angels, since humans put it there in the first place
            – the rest of the narrative is quite consistent with a severely weakened Jesus living a short time longer and visiting a few people, while not actually looking good or being very lucid

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            Can you say what you think the likelihood is of the complicated, accidental survival (with subsequent conspiracy by the disciples) you mention above?

            We don’t actually know exactly what trauma Jesus had* and we certainly don’t have modern data on survival rates, since we don’t crucify people anymore. However, we do know that people could survive for days on the cross and that Jesus lasted ‘only’ for some 6 hours before being taken down. Furthermore, it seems to have been common to hasten the death, so lots of crucified people could probably have survived for longer if they hadn’t been ‘encouraged’ to hurry up and die.

            It seems that it was uncommon for the condemned to be buried properly, so Jesus might have had a far better chance than others to survive being mistakenly declared dead. Perhaps the normal way to dispose the bodies was far less survivable than to gently be carried to and placed in a tomb?

            So the likelihood may be far higher than one would think, despite the lack of other similar stories, by virtue of Jesus being treated exceptionally.

            * For example, it is unclear how many lashes Jesus got and how much damage these did. Paul did brag in the bible of having survived 5 maximally nasty lashings, but by the Jews, whose punishments were presumably not the same as the Roman punishments.

            Isn’t it kind of a weird coincidence that this really weird medical glitch just happened to happen to a charismatic religious leader who already had a reputation as a faith healer?

            We are probably dealing with survivorship bias, where the very (perceived) unlikelihood of the events made it more likely that Jesus would be seen as the messiah (instead of the other Jews of the time who claimed the same). From the perspective of a lottery winner, the chance is incredible small that he will win. However, the chance that someone, somewhere wins the lottery and then that person or others being amazed how such an unlikely event could happen, is quite common.

            It’s also quite plausible that if Jesus hadn’t been believed to have resurrected, the Christian narrative would simply have been different. There is a reason why proper science tends to make predictions, rather than come up with a just-so story after the fact.

            You can look at the miracles of Muhammed to see an example of a prophet who didn’t resurrect, yet is considered holy because some wind blew sand towards the enemy during a battle, he removed some sand from his companion’s eyes with some spit, it rained during a drought and other ‘miracles.’ So from a skeptical point of view, it seems perfectly plausible that this event is taken as evidence for Jesus’ divinity because it happened, while if it hadn’t happened, he would still have been considered divine.

            Yes, John never says explicitly that his heart was stabbed, but he does say that there was a “sudden flow of blood and water” suggesting the destruction of at least one fluid filled organ such as the region surrounding the heart. If someone is copiously bleeding it should be pretty easy to tell if they have a pulse or not (and if they do, they won’t for much longer).

            I’m not a doctor, but my understanding is that people can have edema in various organs whose stabbing is fairly survivable (like the lungs) and that fluids can also accumulate outside of the organs, like in the belly. So some flow of blood and water seems possible for a very survivable stabbing.

            I don’t see any claim of “copious[ly] bleeding” in the Bible. It could just have been a very limited amount.

            Breaking the legs was not the standard way to check that crucifixion victims were dead. The usual procedure was to keep the victims up until they expired, sometimes days later.

            The Bible says otherwise:

            John 19:32-33 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

            So apparently they would break the legs of the condemned to hasten death, but Jesus avoided this treatment, because he was declared dead. Perhaps Jesus fell in a coma quickly enough to avoid this treatment, which presumably would have been lethal. Perhaps the Romans mistreated Jesus so badly earlier, that he relatively easily fell into a coma once up on the cross & thereby they actually saved his life.

            In the text, there are quite a few stories of Jesus instantly healing people from major bodily defects like blindness, deafness, lameness and (in 3 cases) death, sometimes at the request of others, and this is supposed to be entirely explained by regression to the mean and psychosomatism?

            Sure, why not?

            Even today we have faith healers doing the same. If you gather a big crowd of the sick who seek healing, you will always have a percentage who are psychosomatic, who ‘heal’ by interpreting their limitations as a glass half-empty before the healing and a glass half-full afterwards, who regress to the mean, or such. Nowadays we have modern medicine and knowledge about the human body, but back then the situation was a lot different. People may have been even more susceptible to faith healing back then, especially since there was no good alternative.

            Honestly, just say that the stories are completely made up, it would be so much simpler!

            But this is a lot more fun! 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            I also want to point out that my possible explanation for the source of the resurrection story mostly actually sticks quite closely to the statements of fact in the Bible, aside from the stuff that has multiple inconsistent descriptions, where I pick the one that fits my explanation best.

            For example, I accept that both the guards and Jesus’ followers believed that he was dead. I do not doubt that they saw a man with no visible vital signs. The step in going from seeing no vital signs to concluding that the person is dead, is where observation of fact is used to draw conclusions. My claim for that part of the story is merely that the conclusions may have been wrong. I’m quite confident that any doctor will say that laymen cannot be trusted to determine death, so doubting this conclusion doesn’t seem outlandish to me.

            Only the ascension of Christ, which as it happens is merely described by one author, is the part where one needs to deviate from the text substantially to make my theory fit.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Aapje

            Just a few quick points for the moment.

            If you look at the previous verse in John 19 before the ones you quoted, it suggests that the procedure was (at least somewhat) unusual, done in order to appease the Jews about their upcoming holiday:

            31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs…

            The woman who recovered from cold storage was not untreated for any apparently fatal wounds, she was merely found in a coma and mistakenly thought to be dead. And the fact that it made international news strongly suggests that events like these are extremely unusual.

            (But now would be a good time for Scott to chime in and say that, during his residency, people were waking up in the morgue all the time due to a variety of humorous bureaucratic mistakes!)

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            If you look at the previous verse in John 19 before the ones you quoted, it suggests that the procedure was (at least somewhat) unusual, done in order to appease the Jews about their upcoming holiday

            That is a good point and it contradicts my earlier claim that they would typically hasten the death of the condemned.

            However, it still supports my overall point: that the procedure was irregular. Do you agree with me that irregular procedures are more likely to result in irregular results?

            And the fact that [a woman being falsely declared dead] made international news strongly suggests that events like these are extremely unusual.

            Yes, because modern medicine is pretty good. The period we are now discussing had far more primitive doctors.

            We know of quite a few devices that were used in the 18th and 19th century to allow people who were accidentally buried to escape or notify outsiders. Even as late as 1896, the Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in London.

            I don’t see how we can conclude that these kind of things were super-rare back when Jesus lived, just because they are very rare now.

            Furthermore, as I said before, the unlikelihood is not even a particularly strong argument against a naturalist explanation. Many rare events happen and we can presume that followers of prophets will interpret rare events as miracles. So from a skeptical point of view, we should probably consider P(rare event|prophet), rather than P(falsely declared dead|Jesus).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Survival is not enough. You need the guy who recently had nails stuck through all his limbs, a big gash in his side, and the lingering effects of a severe whipping to be so up and perky that it inspires all his follower to think “I gotta get me some of that.” Stepping gingerly while hallucinating due to a 106 fever isn’t going to cut it.

          • bean says:

            We know of quite a few devices that were used in the 18th and 19th century to allow people who were accidentally buried to escape or notify outsiders. Even as late as 1896, the Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in London.

            How much of that was due to ghost stories and the overheated immagination of the Victorian public. (Not that we’re much better now, we’re just overheated about different things.) Add in a dash of profiteering on other people’s fears, and you don’t need premature burial to be at all common for such things to spread.

            And crucifixion was incredibly brutal. I don’t see someone getting up and walking away from it, particularly not after they stuck the spear into his side.

          • johan_larson says:

            The case for the Swoon Theory (Jesus was crucified but didn’t really die on the cross) would be vastly stronger if there were other documented cases of people surviving crucifixion. Are there any?

          • Aapje says:

            @Jaskologist

            Why not?

            Resurrection is still considered so impressive by many Christians that they center their faith around it. Why would Jesus’ followers be unimpressed with a half-dead Jesus?

            Note that your claim that Jesus was nailed to the cross is poorly sourced. John claims that the risen Jesus has wounds on his hands, but doesn’t claim that these come from nails. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of nails. The Gospel of Peter has the first mention of nails, but it is non-canonical.

            The earliest mention of the appearances doesn’t give a timeline and the narratives of the appearances are quite inconsistent in general. So it seems to me that Jesus could have recovered for some time before showing his face. He had up to 40 days to recover.

          • Aapje says:

            @bean

            Again, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve heard many stories that suggest that the human body can sometimes survive major trauma. And we don’t actually know how much trauma Jesus actually had.

            It seems that many hospitals now try to let stab wounds recover without surgery, if no major organs/arteries were hit. We have no evidence that the stab wound was particularly nasty.

            Putting Jesus in a cool tomb, his body wrapped tight in linen with (antiseptic?) spices may be close to the optimal treatment that was available. Or not, dunno.

            @johan_larson

            The Life of Flavius Josephus / Vita:

            420 When I was sent by Titus Caesar… to a certain village… I saw many prisoners who had been crucified, and I recognized three who had been my close associates. My soul was grieved and with tears I went to Titus and said so. 421 He immediately directed that they be taken down and receive treatment with the greatest care. Alas, two of them died during treatment, but the third lived.

            Note that he does not describe how long these people had been on the cross.

          • John Schilling says:

            You need the guy who recently had nails stuck through all his limbs, a big gash in his side, and the lingering effects of a severe whipping to be so up and perky that it inspires all his follower to think “I gotta get me some of that.”

            If the alternative is being Completely Dead, being a bedridden invalid falls solidly into the “I gotta get me some of that” category. And if I actually do recover from being Completely Dead in a manner that leaves me bedridden for six months before I can take a few shuffling steps with a cane and a supportive friend, I’m guessing that a hundred years later the stories will have me dancing a jig as soon as I climb out of the grave.

            The miracle is the resurrection, the transition from Dead to Not Dead. Everything else is trivial by comparison.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Aapje

            The thing about your theory is that it makes me feel like I do whenever I read other cleverly argued historical conspiracy theories: where each individual coincidence is made to look merely implausible by carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize, but where the whole series of coincidences required amounts to something staggeringly implausible. I am especially unimpressed by the fact that your theory, which begins with a merely accidental freak event, has to end with an act of deliberate fraud (secretly disposing the body) that is unrelated to any of the other implausible things in the theory. Surely, if the fraud hypothesis has to be introduced anyway, it would be more parsimonious to have the whole thing be a fraud from the beginning. (By the way, in the Jewish culture of the time, disrespecting the body of your beloved teacher would have been a majorly taboo act; almost unthinkably horrible.)

            It also fails to match the whole tenor of the Resurrection stories, which pretty much all (even if you discount the instantaneous nature of the appearences and disappearences) seem to involve Jesus appearing surprisingly to a various groups of people in various geographical locations (different locations in Jerusalem on Easter, Galilee on other occasions). If Jesus were mortally ill as you propose, surely the stories would have involved Jesus staying put in some fixed location (doubtless tenderly cared for by the female disciples), while the various groups of people went on pilgrimage to where he was.

            Many rare events happen and we can presume that followers of prophets will interpret rare events as miracles. So from a skeptical point of view, we should probably consider P(rare event|prophet), rather than P(falsely declared dead|Jesus).

            While I understand your point, I’m not sure “prophet” is the correct reference class since most prophets do not view themselves as being uniquely important divine figures whose death is redemptively significant (that Jesus believed this prior to the crucifixion seems about as certain as anything else in the texts, since the Eucharistic tradition is in all 4 Gospels and also in Paul, who claims to have received it from an even earlier source).

            If we instead take the reference class to be people who convinced at least some people to take them seriously as the Messiah (note that most of these people did not make claims of divinity), there are about 60 people mentioned in the list on Wikipedia (not sure how complete it is, though). This raises the interesting question of whether we would have any historical references to Jesus’ claims at all, if the Easter-event had not occured. Obviously there is no way to run the experiment, but I am inclined to think that this is a very close question. John the Baptist is the closest comparison I know, and he is mentioned in an extrabiblical text (Josephus).

            Anyway, is this the crux of the matter for you? That is, if at some future time you came to believe that (using only facts you think are true about Jesus’ life before Easter, plus anything else which is not causally downstream from his apparent Resurrection) Jesus was already, in some evidentially relevant ways, uniquely privileged among all other known Messianic candidates/”divine” men/religious founders/whatever, would you then believe that a miracle happened?

            Happy Ascension Day, by the way 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            The thing about your theory is that it makes me feel like I do whenever I read other cleverly argued historical conspiracy theories: where each individual coincidence is made to look merely implausible by carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize, but where the whole series of coincidences required amounts to something staggeringly implausible.

            And yet from my perspective, it is still a lot more likely than divine intervention.

            Also, it seems to me that it is impossible to believe that the Bible is true without “carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize,” because the Bible has inconsistent narratives. Christians typically distill a consistent story out of this by “carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize,” so why can I not do the same?

            I believe that Matthew 7:5 may be applicable here 😉

            Surely, if the fraud hypothesis has to be introduced anyway, it would be more parsimonious to have the whole thing be a fraud from the beginning. (By the way, in the Jewish culture of the time, disrespecting the body of your beloved teacher would have been a majorly taboo act; almost unthinkably horrible.)

            First of all, there was no need to disrespect the body of Jesus in my narrative. They could have reburied him according to the religious rules, but merely not have told outsiders.

            Secondly, stories about heavenly ascensions were somewhat common at the time. For example, an ex-praetor claimed that Augustus ascended to heaven. So the disciples could simply have decided to respect Jesus by telling a similar story about him, rather than that he just fell over and died.

            So… my claim has precedent, as similar stories were told about others at the time. Do you believe that it was falsely claimed that Augustus ascended to heaven or do you believe that he ascended as well?

            If Jesus were mortally ill as you propose, surely the stories would have involved Jesus staying put in some fixed location

            I suspect that Jesus was one of those fellows who refuses to stay in bed when his doctor tells him. After all, he was sentenced to death for being stubborn in the first place.

            Anyway, is this the crux of the matter for you? That is, if at some future time you came to believe that […] Jesus was already, in some evidentially relevant ways, uniquely privileged among all other known Messianic candidates/”divine” men/religious founders/whatever, would you then believe that a miracle happened?

            No.

            I have a very strong prior against supernatural miracles and a strong prior against very old historical documents being reliable, especially those written by people with a motive to favor a certain narrative. It seems obvious to me that the followers of Jesus had such motive.

            Fact is that we have a whole lot of stories claiming various supernatural acts, like the ascension of Emperor Augustus, the miracles of Muhammed, continuing to the modern day. Yet in history, we have seen that what was claimed to be divine, has been explained by science time and again.

            Now, I agree with you that the Bible is more solid than a lot of historical documents of that time in history, but that is very faint praise, since most historical documents of the time are extremely unreliable.

            Happy Ascension Day, by the way

            You too.

          • Aron Wall says:

            [written before Aapje’s most recent comment appeared]

            One more point, since I want to push against the claim that the Easter accounts are full of contradictions. While I don’t claim they are 100% consistent about the exact order of events, I think the degree of contradictoriness is vastly overstated by skeptics due to an isolated demand for rigor (probably faciliated by the fact that they seldom calibrate their expectations by reading multiple documentary accounts of the same event in other, nonreligious contexts).

            The accounts are close to being compatible, once you accept that there were Resurrection appearences in both Galilee and Judea, and that each Gospel is giving a limited selection from these, given their space restrictions (copying documents was expensive). As Dorothy Sayers said, it is only necessary to make “a trifling effort to imagine the natural behavior of a bunch of startled people running about in the dawn-light between Jerusalem and the garden.”

            At a meta-level, one problem is that the more stupidly you read a text, the more apparent contradictions you see. So reading a text with the goal of looking for contradictions (in order to make an internet list) often leads to people making themselves less sophisticated readers than they would be in other contexts.

            I don’t want to clutter up the comments with a detailed harmony, so let’s just consider the question of how many women went to the tomb. Aapje seems to be claiming that the following verses are contradictory:

            When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1)

            After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary [the mother of James and Joses] went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, bracketed text supplied from 27:56)

            On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb… It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. (Luke 24:1,11).

            Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (John 20:1)

            I see no contradiction whatsoever in these verses. They all agree that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found it empty, while the Synoptic Gospels include a list of the women in the group who went with her. They are a contradiction only if you take each Gospel to have the unstated implication and there were no other women with them besides those named. I see absolutely no reason to make this assumption (and Luke explicitly denies it).

            Another example of hidden compatibility is in the number of men who went to the tomb. Luke said it was Peter, while John says it was Peter plus “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (traditionally taken to be John himself, but let’s not get into that dispute here) Since John came after Luke, this is obviously a transparent attempt to add an extra key witness to the scene to bolster the credibility of the story! Except that, if you read Luke very carefully, he implies in verse 24:24 that multiple men went to the tomb. So this actually proves that at least one Evanglist did not take “X went to the tomb” as implying “Nobody else did”.

            Similarly, verse 24:34 implies that Jesus had an individual meeting with Peter prior to meeting with the other disciples, which is in harmony with 1 Cor 15:4 where Cephas (= Peter) leads the list. A lot of these hidden congruences are the sort of thing you don’t notice until you’ve read the texts many times.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            Now try the harder ones, was the man in the tomb an angel or a man, or was the angel a man?

            Was the tomb already open, or was it opened by an angel in front of Mary Magdalene?

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Aapje

            I have a very strong prior against supernatural miracles and a strong prior against very old historical documents being reliable, especially those written by people with a motive to favor a certain narrative. It seems obvious to me that the followers of Jesus had such motive.

            If it is really true that you assign very old religious documents basically zero evidential value (!), then I don’t think there is any point in continuing this conversations about the texts. Our divergence in outlook goes too deep to be resolved by bickering over the details. And while I would argue the historical evidence is strong, I said earlier that I didn’t think it would persuade somebody with an extremely strong a priori bias against the supernatural.

            I am a little curious though how you justify such a steep prior. It seems to me that such a prior would have to be based on having an extremely high level of confidence about the right answers to tricky metaphysical questions about what the ultimate nature of existence is like. If there’s one subject where we ought to have a little bit of humility about our ability to confidently work things out from pure reason, it’s metaphysics. In LessWrong terms, it seems obvious to me that there are a much smaller number of bits of evidence available to us in philosophy, then in history (even ancient history).

            Even today we have faith healers doing the same. If you gather a big crowd of the sick who seek healing, you will always have a percentage who are psychosomatic…

            A minor point. While I obviously agree with you that such things happen, I also think there are legit faith healings in modern times (although that is conversation will need to be saved for ). I am therefore unwilling to use the general catefory “faith healers” as a control group to establish the naturalistic baseline. The category would have to be gerrymandered a little to exclude the ones I think are for real.

            Now try the harder ones, was the man in the tomb an angel or a man, or was the angel a man?

            An angel is supposed to be some kind of heavenly being, sent to earth to communicate a message to humans. (The Greek word for “angel” means messenger, and in some contexts can be used to refer to an ordinary human being carrying a message, although that is not the theory I am going to propose below.) Since the angel comes from outside of our own universe, presumably it either does not have a body, or if it does have one it isn’t one we can comprehend. So in order to communicate with a human, it needs to adopt a suitable material form and/or appearence. Frequently, but not always, the appearence chosen is that of a man. (Other times they appear in the form of animals or wheels or something else.) There are many stories in the Old Testement where somebody meets a person who at first seems to be human, but is later revealed to actually be an angel.

            Set against this background knowledge, there is no discrepency at all. The phrase “man dressed in white” describes the appearence of the angel, what it would have looked like if you were there. The word “angel” describes what the women and/or Gospel writers concluded that the being actually was.

            A similar thing happens in any sci-fi novel where you meet an alien creature. The writer might say either “She saw a man with the head of a fish emerge from the spacecraft” (describing what it looked like to a naive observer) or “She saw the Gzxborkian emerge from the spacecraft” (using the authorial voice to indicate what the creature actually is).

            Was the tomb already open, or was it opened by an angel in front of Mary Magdalene?

            The tomb was already open when she arrived.

            In Matthew 28:2, the author is backtracking in time slightly to describe what had happened just before the women arrived; what they actually saw when they got there was the final results of the events described in verses 2-4. Recall that the Evangelist claims in verses 11-15 to have inside knowledge of what the guards experienced, as well as what the women experienced. (One conceivable mechanism for this, is if one of the guards later became a Christian.)

            As for the reason for the backtracking in time, the Evangelist probably had already dictated verse 1 to his scribe, and then realized he needed to describe prior events to explain what the women saw when they got there. You have to remember that people didn’t have word processors back then! So he couldn’t just copy-and-paste to rearrange the order of the verses. He just did what any normal person would do in conversation, which is to break the flow of the narrative to supply the missing events, and then proceed onwards from there.

          • Aron Wall says:

            PS This building in Rome makes it clear that the other Romans didn’t think much of the ex-praetor’s story. Either that, or they interpreted it as a spiritual vision which was fully compatible with his corpse remaining to be interred in a tomb. But the author of Acts states multiple times that Jesus’ body did not remain behind on earth to see decay. So the parallel is not quite complete.

            But it is true that, as N.T. Wright argues in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, the Christian resurrection claim was much more unique than the ascension claim.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            If it is really true that you assign very old religious documents basically zero evidential value (!), then I don’t think there is any point in continuing this conversations about the texts.

            I do assign greater than zero evidential value, but my position is that the evidence for supernaturalism has to be extremely strong, since it is such an extreme claim. For (far) less extreme claims, like the existence of Jesus as a person, I am willing to consider that quite likely based on the religious documents.

            I am a little curious though how you justify such a steep prior.

            I interpret evidence in a greater context of what science strongly suggests is true, as well as more subjective observations (including of human nature). I see a general tendency by many humans to substantially underestimate the randomness of life* & to come up with ‘creative’ explanations, which are often anti-scientific and sometimes religious. However, whenever scientific evaluations are done, the results are typically like this.

            * Or instead of randomness, one can call it complexity that is so high that the causal mechanisms at work are beyond understanding.

            If there’s one subject where we ought to have a little bit of humility about our ability to confidently work things out from pure reason, it’s metaphysics.

            My wordview is not built on pure reason. I try to ground my reasoning in fact. Of course when extrapolating from facts, the conclusions are less certain than the facts themselves.

            There are many stories in the Old Testament where somebody meets a person who at first seems to be human, but is later revealed to actually be an angel.

            In other words, angels are not actually distinguishable from people & we are supposed to believe that certain human-looking messengers are angels, based on faith, I guess.

            This is a good illustration of my point that I’ve been trying to get across. In this world, we have observations and we have have interpretations of those observations. What I’ve tried to do, is to point out that most of what you see as proof of the supernatural in the resurrection story are interpretations of the causal mechanisms that have led to certain outcomes. These same outcomes can also be explained differently, with non-divine causal mechanisms at play.

            Imagine that I find a nugget of gold. I can believe that God wanted me to have this nugget, I can believe that someone lost this nugget or I can come up with another explanation of why that nugget ended up where it did. However, all of these explanations are speculation, as I simply lack sufficient information. So I am heavily dependent on my priors, if I insist in guessing.

            To go back to the Biblical resurrection, we know with high probability that people can be and have been incorrectly judged to be dead. The evidence also suggests that this is correlated with the medical training of the person who makes the call. Furthermore, we know from people who were ‘brought back’ by human intervention, that a lack of oxygen of the brain causes deterioration which makes resuscitation have worse outcomes the longer someone’s brain has been deprived of oxygen.

            This kind of causal mechanism can be tested, we can explain how the mechanism works by zooming in and examining the human body in more detail, this knowledge can be used to make better choices, etc. Science is very useful.

            Religion doesn’t seem useful in that way, as far as I can tell. In so far that religion may work, it seems that this is at most at the meta level. Many believers may benefit from religion, because they have a need for spirituality and perhaps believing the rules makes them live a better life. However, none of that requires the existence of and the interventions of God.

            In Matthew 28:2, the author is backtracking in time slightly to describe what had happened just before the women arrived; what they actually saw when they got there was the final results of the events described in verses 2-4.

            So how does Matthew know what happened before there were any witnesses present? Was he speculating?

          • Aron Wall says:

            Judging from the abstract of the study you link to, some researchers randomly assigned cardiac bypass patients to multiple groups, and then asked God to heal the people in group A, but not the people in group B. (There was a 3rd group in the study, but it isn’t relevant at the moment.) For some strange reason God did not view this as a legitimate request. Considering that the request was made with complete insincerity, it’s not hard to see why. (The researchers’ request was clearly not motivated by any actual love for the members of group A specifically.) If this had worked, it would have proved something closer to magic than religion. You can’t do a triple blind test where you also blind God to the procedure and intentions of your study.

            They may as well have just asked God to strike the nearest tree with lightning to prove he exists, and then written up the results as a “scientific study”. It says something that God doesn’t usually indulge such requests, but dressing it up in the veneer of “Science!” doesn’t really add anything.

            In other words, angels are not actually distinguishable from people & we are supposed to believe that certain human-looking messengers are angels, based on faith, I guess.

            No, in the Old Testament stories I mentioned, the person is generally revealed to be an angel after they do or predict something miraculous, that human beings cannot do.

            So how does Matthew know what happened before there were any witnesses present? Was he speculating?

            As I indicated in my previous comment, the guards witnessed it, and later reported it to others.

            The women only saw the empty tomb, spoke to the angel who did it, and possibly also felt the earthquake.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Oh, and the nails are mentioned explicitly in the Bible in John 20:25. The nail marks also seem to be alluded to in Luke 24:39-40 (what other reason would there be to look at his hands and feet specifically?), while the act of nailing to the cross is mentioned (for its symbolic implications) in Col 2:14. I checked the Greek to make sure these verses contain legit references to nails, and not merely to crucifixion (although it would have been common knowledge that this was usually done with nails).

        • arlie says:

          Interesting discussion here. I don’t have anything useful to contribute, but I did want to say that.

        • vV_Vv says:

          The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened (in addition to other ancient and modern miracles, but that’s the most important one), if the primary sources are judged without a heavy a priori bias against the supernatural.

          Can you summarize this historical evidence, please?

          The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

          Well, in an universe that does not support life, there is nobody pondering the question.

          As far as more subjective factors are concerned: I’ve had a number of religious / mystical experiences where it seemed like God was communicating with me.

          This is not evidence of the existence of a god external to your own mind.

          I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

          This is not particularly strong evidence of Jesus being divine.

          • I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

            This is not particularly strong evidence of Jesus being divine.

            I don’t know if the claim is true, but if it is true I think it would be strong evidence, although not proof.

            You have a project that many people have attempted. One person achieved it much more successfully than anyone else before or after. That person claimed to be more than human.

            Applying Bayesian reasoning, the posterior probability that the claim is true ought to be much higher than the prior probability, since the probability that a god could do what he did is much higher than the probability that an ordinary human could do it.

          • vV_Vv says:

            You have a project that many people have attempted. One person achieved it much more successfully than anyone else before or after.

            Many people tried, one happened to have done it better than anybody else, but not orders of magnitude better, Muhammad and Buddha come close by number of followers.

            That person claimed to be more than human.

            If I remember correctly, according to the Scripture, he didn’t even claim to be a god, this is a later interpretration.

          • bean says:

            If I remember correctly, according to the Scripture, he didn’t even claim to be a god, this is a later interpretration.

            That’s just nonsense. He may not have actually uttered the words “I am God”, but any understanding of Jewish idiom makes it crystal clear that he does make that claim repeatedly.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Can you summarize this historical evidence, please?

            Several people have asked me to do this, so I’ll try to pull something brief together. But the resources johan_larson linked to should at least give a rough approximation to what I’d say.

            Well, in an universe that does not support life, there is nobody pondering the question.

            Correct, but our existence still requires some sort of explanation.

            This is not evidence of the existence of a god external to your own mind.

            In Bayesian terms it is evidence, since it’s more likely to happen if an objectively (real) God exists than if he doesn’t. It may not be conclusive evidence, but it’s evidence. But there is a reason I’ve also mentioned external objective evidence like miracles.

            I do know of some examples of people that God spoke to even though they weren’t predisposed to expect it, and also at least one case of a person learning something important they seemingly couldn’t have known naturally.

            This is not particularly strong evidence of Jesus being divine.

            It’s not conclusive by itself, but if some person X does claim to be the unique incarnation of a perfectly holy and wise Deity, then “X is the most insightful moral teacher of all time” had better at least pass the laugh test. For the vast majority of people who have ever lived, including most religious leaders, this claim is absurd. And if most people would fail this test, then success counts as evidence. (Basically what David said.)

            If a person with a good claim to that also has one of the most impressive apparent miracles in history, then you should start to take them seriously. Surely you agree that Jesus is enormously more likely to be the Son of God, then say your neighbor next door?

          • yaisaacs says:

            I note that even if the putative caliber of Jesus’ ethical teaching isn’t particularly strong evidence on its own, it does not follow that such evidence can’t make a substantial contribution to an overall case. Put in very abstract terms, a Bayes factor that doesn’t produce much of an arithmetic difference in probabilities for a hugely improbable hypothesis can produce a substantial arithmetic difference in probabilities for a fairly improbable hypothesis. Let’s suppose that Aron’s esteem for Jesus’ ethical teaching is such that he thinks the probability of someone coming up with a system that good without divine inspiration is 1/100. Let’s also assume that his evaluations of moral systems are sufficiently coarse-grained that there’s no further information about his evaluation of Jesus’ ethical teaching and that he’s certain that someone with divine inspiration would produce this sort of impressive-seeming moral system. If the probability of Jesus’ divine inspiration were hugely low, then making it go up by a factor of 100 wouldn’t mean all that much arithmetically – the difference between 1 in 100,000,000,000 and 1 in 1,000,000,000 isn’t worth getting excited about. But if the probability of Jesus’ divine inspiration were initially around 1 in 10, then the move to probability 9 in 10 would be dramatic.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            If a person with a good claim to that also has one of the most impressive apparent miracles in history, then you should start to take them seriously. Surely you agree that Jesus is enormously more likely to be the Son of God, then say your neighbor next door?

            Of all of the people who claim divinity, there is always going to be one with the most impressive miracle, just like, of all the people who play the lottery, there is always going to be one who wins the biggest prize.

            It seems wrong to me to conclude that the biggest lottery prize winner is much more likely to have been chosen by God to have received that prize, since we gave perfectly good reasons to believe that the person just got lucky. In a scenarios where luck plays a major role, shouldn’t we put little stock in n=1 outcomes?

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Aron Wall

          You’ve already been asked what you think is the historical evidence supporting the resurrection.

          As far as more subjective factors are concerned: I’ve had a number of religious / mystical experiences where it seemed like God was communicating with me. I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

          What do you think Jesus’ ethical teachings were? What was his overall message to his audience? For our purposes, let’s assume that the Sermon on the Mount was either delivered as written, or was a bunch of things the historical figure Jesus said, stitched together to have a better rhythm than “one time he said this thing, and this other time, he said this other thing”, and this stitching-together has not misrepresented the overall message.

          • Aron Wall says:

            What do you think Jesus’ ethical teachings were?

            Well you can read the Gospels too, but the key points seem to be this:

            God is a loving Father who provides for everyone, including sinners and those who do not acknowledge him; therefore we too should love everyone, including our enemies. Morality is a matter of the heart, so we need to be very careful about making our intentions right and not focus on external behavior or ceremonial matters. Religious people need to be particularly on the watch to avoid hypocrisy and legalism. If you want to become great, you should become humble like a small child, rather than trying to make yourself an authority over other people. God will take care of you so stop being so anxious about worldly things, instead give your wealth to the poor so that you will have treasure in heaven.

            What a summary like this doesn’t really get across is how he keeps on making shockingly extreme claims, that seem like common sense to him but seem like an incredibly high bar for the rest of us to clear. I can’t say this as well as Chesterton did.

            Of course, many aspects of Jesus’ morality presuppose Theism (as it should if Christianity is correct), and no element is entirely original (how could it be, if it is truly the right way for humans to behave?)

          • Aron Wall says:

            I should add that Jesus’ ethics of self-sacrifice even for enemies, also fits perfectly with the theology of what he actually did. You can’t talk about Jesus’ ethics without talking about the Crucifixion.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I have read the Gospels; I went to school for the general subject (the secular study of it more than the theology, although a decent chunk of secular-study people are themselves believers of one sort or another) back when. Scholars disagree over what, exactly, Jesus’ teachings were – different sorts of scholars have different disagreements, and it often comes down to hair-splitting.

            There’s broad acceptance of some things – your summary is pretty close to what median scholar would say about Jesus’ ethical message, although median scholar would probably then start talking about apocalypticism.

            The elephant in the room is the gap between the Synoptics and John.

          • Aron Wall says:

            I didn’t realize you were asking me to place my beliefs in the context of secular biblical scholarship.

            There, the game seems to be to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” by deciding that certain parts are what Jesus actually said, certain parts later interpolations.

            They use fairly silly critria for this, for example the principle of “Double Dissimilarity” which states that anything that sounds too much like other Jewish or Christian literature should be suspected of being an interpolation, as if it were unreasonable for the Jewish founder of Christianity to sound like Judaism or Christianity. A lot of it is based on circular reasoning, for example assuming that the parts with more “developed” theology must be dated later from the rest, but the scholar decides what is more developed based on their own presuppositions about what came first.

            I believe that the Gospels are basically historically accurate, so when I refer to Jesus’ teaching I mean the things actually printed on the page, including of course the apocalypticism.

            Yes there is a notable difference in style between Synoptics and John, but this is exactly what you’d expect given that the Gospels were written by different people who noticed different kinds of things. (E.g. Plato and Xenophan had very different takes on Socrates, but there can still be a common person who both are describing.) John seems to presuppose that the readers already know about the synoptic material, and he includes lots of extended conversations, which I assume give the gist of what Jesus and his interlocutors said to each other rather than being what would come out of a tape recorder. But the parts that are narrative seem extremely concerned with minor details in a way that strongly suggests to me an eyewitness source for the text (as it explicitly claims).

            But even if you reject John, there’s still plenty of testimony to the miraculous in the Synoptics, Acts, and in Paul (whose letters were actually written before the Gospels).

          • dndnrsn says:

            I didn’t realize you were asking me to place my beliefs in the context of secular biblical scholarship.

            So, I think the wall between secular and religious biblical scholarship is thinner than a lot of people think. Most “secular” biblical scholars I met were religious: liberal, but religious.

            There, the game seems to be to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” by deciding that certain parts are what Jesus actually said, certain parts later interpolations.

            They use fairly silly critria for this, for example the principle of “Double Dissimilarity” which states that anything that sounds too much like other Jewish or Christian literature should be suspected of being an interpolation, as if it were unreasonable for the Jewish founder of Christianity to sound like Judaism or Christianity. A lot of it is based on circular reasoning, for example assuming that the parts with more “developed” theology must be dated later from the rest, but the scholar decides what is more developed based on their own presuppositions about what came first.

            What’s funny is that a lot of secular scholars think that (usually past a certain point) doing this sort of thing is a blind alley, and one of the major works of the field basically concludes it’s a blind alley, but people still try.

            I believe that the Gospels are basically historically accurate, so when I refer to Jesus’ teaching I mean the things actually printed on the page, including of course the apocalypticism.

            Yes there is a notable difference in style between Synoptics and John, but this is exactly what you’d expect given that the Gospels were written by different people who noticed different kinds of things. (E.g. Plato and Xenophan had very different takes on Socrates, but there can still be a common person who both are describing.) John seems to presuppose that the readers already know about the synoptic material, and he includes lots of extended conversations, which I assume give the gist of what Jesus and his interlocutors said to each other rather than being what would come out of a tape recorder. But the parts that are narrative seem extremely concerned with minor details in a way that strongly suggests to me an eyewitness source for the text (as it explicitly claims).

            So, I think as historical sources, the Synoptics are pretty good. There’s a vigorous scholarly fight about John; I recall coming to the conclusion that the narrative source was legit, at a minimum. (Conversely, some people who go really hard on the “Thomas is the real-deal sayings collection” fall into a trap, because there’s some stuff in Thomas that is blatantly later insertions)

            But even if you reject John, there’s still plenty of testimony to the miraculous in the Synoptics, Acts, and in Paul (whose letters were actually written before the Gospels).

            Oh, certainly. You can’t take the miracles out. Jesus was clearly understood to be a miracle worker. In general, looking at this from the modern perspective is missing a lot – we tend to wall off “religious”, “not religious”, “natural”, “supernatural” in a way that a first century Jew or Roman pagan or whatever wouldn’t.

          • JohnBuridan says:

            N. T. Wright (Anglican theologian) has written some good stuff on the historical period in which the gospels and new testament were written. I highly recommend New Testament and the People of God , a good book, filled with primary sources on the topic Jewish culture in the Greco-Roman period and how the narratives about Christ relate to the period. His solid scholarship starts with what is definite and works its way to the conjectural. He also clearly explains framework he is using for understanding the gospels and new testament, i. e. understand the period and you will understand the gospels, the qumran scrolls, the gospel of thomas, Josephus’ Histories, and a variety of text from the 1st – 2nd century much better.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Thanks for answering these questions, this is all very interesting. I just want to say it’s cool you’re Larry Wall’s son. I have always been a big fan of his. Say “thanks for Perl” to your dad for me.

        • rahien.din says:

          Random, post-Baptist Catholic here.

          The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened (in addition to other ancient and modern miracles, but that’s the most important one), if the primary sources are judged without a heavy a priori bias against the supernatural.

          The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

          I have always found this to be a very weird kind of argument. What do you make of people who believe in Christ without needing to rely on that sort of thinking?

          Whenever you invoke evidence, you invoke falsifiability. But I don’t think you would allow your faith to be falsified – what sort of physical or historical evidence would have to prevail in order to reverse your views? I kind of don’t believe that your faith is based on a careful study of evidence.

        • Buckyballas says:

          Hi Aron,

          Thanks for the AMA. I’ve read Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Strobel’s Case for Christ, Tim Keller’s Reason for God, and a few other Christian apologetic works, and I have come away with a thought experiment which leaves me unable to accept the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as sufficient for me to believe in its literal truth. That is, I imagined a scenario where a collection of eyewitness accounts was revealed today which are more or less identical to the gospel accounts except that they describe a the resurrection of a heretical Muslim itinerant preacher who claimed to be the son of God and was supposedly resurrected in 1940 in, say, Malaysia. There exist all the same claims as the gospels: the empty tomb, the eyewitnesses, the ascension into Heaven; as well as the circumstantial evidence: the martyrdom of the supposed eyewitnesses, the rapid growth of a persecuted sect, cultural idiosyncrasies, etc. Would you then convert to this sect based on the strength of the evidence? I do not think I would. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and all that. Since I cannot accept this hypothetical account based on the evidence, I cannot accept the Gospel account either.

          In fact, if, in addition to the accounts, there existed grainy videos and photographs which purport to show this man’s death and his life after death, and testimony from contemporary intellectuals which corroborate the accounts, I would still hesitate to believe. It would still be easier (for me) to believe that everything is an elaborate ruse/delusion/misunderstanding/legend/exaggeration/mistranslation/justification than for me to believe that a person who was biologically dead got up 3 days later with no apparent serious injuries, and furthermore to believe that he is the son of an omnipotent deity (as well as walking through walls and ascending to the clouds and all that).

          What are your thoughts on this?

          • EchoChaos says:

            I would indeed believe that person was resurrected, FYI.

            That is necessary but not sufficient for me to consider joining their religion.

          • Protagoras says:

            Hume discusses a similar hypothetical involving imagined stories of Elizabeth I being resurrected in his famous discussion of evidence for miracles.

          • yaisaacs says:

            I think there are some potentially delicate issues with the heuristic you outline.

            It seems that Aron’s claim is that the historical evidence for Christianity is uniquely strong. If we hold the evidence for Christianity fixed and imagine adding in analogously strong evidence for this new religious movement, then that’s importantly different. The existence of two, inconsistent religions with the same evidential profile could well change our estimate of what that evidential profile amounts to. If some number comes up on my cell phone when someone calls me that strongly suggests that it’s their number. But if some number comes up on my phone whenever any of dozens of people call me, that strongly suggests that my phone is malfunctioning and thus that the number might not belong to any of the people calling me. So just adding another Christianity-like religion doesn’t seem like a viable test.

            On the other hand, one could change more. We can delete Christianity from our hypothetical, and instead have this alternative religi