THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 101.75

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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681 Responses to Open Thread 101.75

  1. johan_larson says:

    Hi, everyone. It’s time to pick the novel we’ll read for the June meeting of the SSC SF Book Club. Here are three choices:

    Spin, a 2005 science fiction novel by Robert Charles Wilson. One night, a barrier around Earth appears, blotting out the stars and isolating our planet from the rest of the universe. A young scientist dedicates his life to determining the nature of the barrier and understanding why it appeared. 2006 Hugo winner.

    Ancillary Justice, a 2013 science fiction novel by Ann Leckie. Breq, a soldier, is on a quest for revenge. Once, she was the Justice of Toren, a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has left her with one fragile human body and many unanswered questions. Won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

    Three Parts Dead, a 2013 fantasy novel by Max Gladstone. A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

    Let me know which one you’re interested in.

    • Wrong Species says:

      One of the most annoying trends over the last few years is that anything related to social justice will get massive praise regardless of its quality. I’ve heard people criticize this book for that reason. Does anyone who has read it think there is merit to this criticism? If it’s a good book I’ll read it, but it has to actually be good apart from whatever agenda people push by praising it.

      • Nornagest says:

        Which book? I’m guessing Ancillary Justice?

      • dodrian says:

        I’m assuming you mean Ancillary Justice – I thought it was a great book, and while I haven’t read any of the novels it was up against, it was definitely Hugo/Nebula caliber.

      • dark orchid says:

        I have read the entire ancillary trilogy and I loved it – it’s genuinely good science fiction. The social justice aspects didn’t come across too preachy at all.

        For example, I don’t think I’m spoiling too much if I say it’s very quickly revealed that the Radch is a post-gender society, their military certainly doesn’t care (but you’ll learn a lot about its ranks and Aptitudes and AIs and rituals) and their language doesn’t gender its pronouns. The Raadchai personal pronoun 3rd person is rendered as ‘she’ in English, which really doesn’t bother me. It’s certainly not an “all men are evil” kind of book.

        • gbdub says:

          It’s not an “all men are evil” kind of book, but she certainly beats you over the head with the non gendered language stuff, and implies that you’re stupid for thinking about gender, which mostly just makes the action harder to follow and the characters harder to visualize.

          I say “beats you over the head with” because the “nongendered language” is pointed out at every opportunity. And it doesn’t really make sense – here’s this member of a galaxy spanning hyper advanced society, and she/it/whatever can apparently easily translate any language but can’t wrap her/its/whatever heads around the concept that some languages assign pronouns based on the visually obvious sexual dimorphism between members of their species, to the point that her/its/whatever gets confused during important conversations? Why the hell would the Radch allow this error to persist in their soldiers?

          I didn’t actually find it preachy, just kind of a dumb and unwieldy gimmick that was only considered clever for social justice reasons.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Heh, this gender thing didn’t sound bad to me until you actually described it.
            As a right-wing woman, I wouldn’t see it as grinding a Social Justice ax if an SF author chose to refer to all AIs or all Antarctic crinoids as “she.” But it sounds like the author made a big song and dance about how woke it is for an alien to be confused. *eye roll*

          • dodrian says:

            I think the main point the author was trying to make with gender in the book was “how would a genderless language influence our predjudices and the way we view the world?” – not an unusual topic for sci-fi by any means. Their choice to translate the alien genderless pronoun as ‘she’ was a big part of that, and honestly I think it was effective in making you think carefully about your assumptions in this otherwise standard military sci-fi setting.

            I recall there being one or two short bits that had me think “wow, that doesn’t really make sense”, and I think there was one brief passage that verged on preachy, but on the whole I thought it was an excellent book with a strong premise, good setting, and engaging characters.

            It looks like we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit with the book discussion 🙂

          • gbdub says:

            Sorry for getting ahead of things. But it’s the only one on the list I’ve read.

            Anyway I thought the book was otherwise good, I don’t think you shouldn’t read it for that reason (although I’ve heard the sequels aren’t great).

            “I think it was effective in making you think carefully about your assumptions”

            That was kind of my issue with it though – it felt deliberately designed to make the reader think in a certain way, rather than an organic fact-of-life for the characters. I just didn’t find it plausible that a warrior/occupation administrator, whose whole job revolves around interacting with alien species, would not have found a way to deal with gendered languages (which are apparently common in-universe). Like if gendered/non-gendered pronouns are really head-scratchingly hard to handle, what happens when you run into a language with no tenses or verbs or pronouns at all? In the film version I would expect the main character to turn toward the camera and go “makes you think, doesn’t it?” with a wink.

          • MrApophenia says:

            It’s been a while since I read it, but my understanding was that at least part of this was a limitation of the AI, not necessarily the common citizens in the Radch. The humans seem to have no trouble with this, it’s just the Justice of Toren that has trouble remembering how to tell humans apart.

            (Which still doesn’t necessarily make a great deal of sense if you really pick at it, since she’s a superintelligent AI, but it just about worked as a conceit enough for me to enjoy the otherwise very good story.)

          • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

            I didn’t actually find it preachy, just kind of a dumb and unwieldy gimmick that was only considered clever for social justice reasons.

            This!

            I’d say that gbdub’s analysis in both of her comments is spot on. 😉

            I liked Ancillary Justice, but the pronoun agenda is just plain dumb. So, Radchaai language is genderless and you’d like to emphasize this fact to your readers? Why are you shoving gendered English pronouns down our throats, then? Use made up pronouns like Greg Egan did in Distress. Or find some creative solution.

            As far as the trilogy is concerned, I though Ancillary Justice was good, Sword was much weaker, and Mercy was utter dreck.

            Still, my book club vote goes to Ancillary Justice.

          • dark orchid says:

            Some things I’ve observed myself:

            Native speakers of languages which don’t have both ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds sometimes confuse them when speaking English too.

            Native speakers of languages that don’t have the same article/pronoun system (thinking of Mandarin in particular), often confuse them in English writing too.

            This native speaker of English here has no problem with the concept that in French ALL nouns are gendered, but if misgendering nouns were a crime I’d be on a life sentence. le/la was always my weak point in French essays. (Why is a knife male and a fork female? Why is the sun male in French but female in German? Speaking of German, why is ‘boy’ masculine but ‘girl’ neuter rather than female?)

            So I’d find it more surprising if someone growing up with a genderless language didn’t struggle with the concept when they occasionally encountered it.

            As for the Radch, it’s big enough that I imagine most citizens would spend their whole lives without ever leaving its boundaries, and when the military does go out to annex something their first mission is not ‘respect local cultures’.

          • rlms says:

            So I’d find it more surprising if someone growing up with a genderless language didn’t struggle with the concept when they occasionally encountered it.

            I’ve seen this happen: I know a native speaker of a language without gendered pronouns who sometimes uses “they” for people with a specific known binary gender.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “Speaking of German, why is ‘boy’ masculine but ‘girl’ neuter rather than female?”

            Because “girl” in German is a diminutive and those are all neuter.

            “So I’d find it more surprising if someone growing up with a genderless language didn’t struggle with the concept when they occasionally encountered it”

            I know Chinese who mix up “he” and “she” pretty often.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I don’t think “gender isn’t real” is actually in tune with current social justice concerns, fwiw. The Imperial Raadch says, “Everyone in this society is cool with expressing the same gender, per orders from on high.” And you don’t see anyone in the society who rebels from it.

            If modern social justice is very concerned with trans issues, written broadly, then that society would be really problematic for them. The Ancillary series never touches on trans issues, but if you believe that people have an inborn gender identity that is not susceptible to social pressure, then presumably everyone whose inborn gender identity isn’t “androgynous” in the Raadch is super unhappy, but you don’t see anyone who seems unhappy.

            Lecke’s more recent novel in the same universe has a much more currently-social-justice-y set of gender politics, and it’s less interesting that the Raadch precisely because it’s not challenging. The Raadch is challenging to all modern conceptions of how gender works, both traditional and progressive.

            I also detected a hint — perhaps unintended by the author — that Justice of Toren is naive about how gender really works in the Raadch, and was instead indoctrinated by, like, the Official Societal View Of How Gender Ought To Work. It’s an authoritarian society, and the Justice of Toren is, in part, an instrument of the state’s social control. Which would explain why the Justice of Toren has difficulty understanding gender in other societies — it’s kind of hardcoded to reflect the State’s View On How These Things Go.

            (Some other points: Despite using the feminine pronoun, Lecke makes it clear in a couple of places that Raadchaai are androgynous, not feminine. Justice of Toren One Esk gets referred to as “she” a lot because it looks like a human being, but make no mistake, it’s an it, and it doesn’t think like a modal Raadchaai.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s been a while since I read it, but my understanding was that at least part of this was a limitation of the AI, not necessarily the common citizens in the Radch. The humans seem to have no trouble with this, it’s just the Justice of Toren that has trouble remembering how to tell humans apart.

            My problem is, why does JoT need to tell humans apart? Here and now, there are some color-blind people who I believe have difficulty distinguishing redheads from people with dirty-blonde/light-brown hair, or blue eyes from hazel or grey, and of all the handicaps the color-blind face this one comes up approximately never because outside of very specialized contexts people don’t treat other people differently on account of hair or eye color.

            In a society that doesn’t treat people differently on account of gender, it is jarring for it to be called out that someone can’t distinguish gender. Which takes it from being an interesting feature of the background, to being a clumsy Message for the contemporary audience – and there’s no shortage of Message to be found here.

            Also, my vote is for “Spin” because I expect we’re going to be holding the discussion of “Ancillary Justice” right here.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Justice of Toren One Esk/Breq doesn’t get called out for not being able to distinguish gender by Raadchaai. It gets called out for not being able to distinguish gender by other societies which do have multiple genders.

          • K.M. says:

            I’d be interested to see if someone could write approximately the same conflict, but using the animate/inanimate gender instead of male/female gender. It could avoid the common conflation of grammatical gender with sex and also go a decent way towards convincing me the author is not just angling for a social justice statement.

            I suppose the downside of that is that English speakers, at least, are not as strict with or aware of animate/inanimate as they are with male/female, so the reader’s reaction to the author’s shenanigans will be comparatively dulled.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I mean, one thing that makes me question the big preachy message people are reading into this is that the Raadchaai are very bad. They’re a corrupt authoritarian nightmare dystopia. I really doubt we’re meant to be constantly getting hammered over the head with how oppressively awful the Raadch is, but then also unironically think, gee, look how awesome and progressive they are about gender!

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a long, long tradition in SF/F of giving villainous authoritarian societies some quirks that the author’s into. Sometimes this comes off as a way of giving the society more thematic meat than one-note villains would have; sometimes it comes off as a way of doing social speculation without having to answer inconvenient questions about how the custom stays stable if people can just ignore it; and sometimes it comes off as a way of sneaking the author’s fetishes into the narrative. Sometimes the villains are just cooler than the heroes, and the author’s trying to make them cooler still, or trying to make their ideas seem cooler by osmosis.

            Dunno which category the gender stuff in Ancillary Justice falls into, though. Along with The Three-Body Problem, I have it on my bookshelf but haven’t read it yet.

          • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

            @MrApophenia

            I really doubt we’re meant to be constantly getting hammered over the head with how oppressively awful the Raadch is, but then also unironically think, gee, look how awesome and progressive they are about gender!

            I don’t think pronouns are supposed to communicate anything about Raadch as such. The pronoun business is strictly for local, Terrestrial, consumption. My interpretation of The Message is: “Radchaai language is genderless and gender plays no role in their society. However, if I left gender unspecified, you, gentle reader, would surely implicitly-associate male gender with these here characters, seeing as they are military. Did you know that Gender Roles are An Oppressive Tool of Patriarchy? Verily, your default assumption is that meek females can not be members of oppressive occupying military force. But I say unto you, You Are Wrong! Therefore it behooves me, the author, to Raise Awareness, and to fight your Implicit Bias. For this reason, everybody will be referred to as ‘she’ in this novel and sequels thereof.”

          • Lillian says:

            Heh, this gender thing didn’t sound bad to me until you actually described it.
            As a right-wing woman, I wouldn’t see it as grinding a Social Justice ax if an SF author chose to refer to all AIs or all Antarctic crinoids as “she.” But it sounds like the author made a big song and dance about how woke it is for an alien to be confused. *eye roll*

            One of my friends is a right-wing woman with dark enlightenment inclinations, and she absolutely loves Ancilliary Justice. She said it was the most beautiful expression of authoritarian conservative thought, in line with the philosophy of Schopenhaeur and Frank Herbert’s Dune, a complete rejection of liberal thought. This is not the take most people have on it, but clearly there’s something there that deeply resonated.

      • rlms says:

        I didn’t think it was preachy, but I also didn’t particularly like it. I don’t read much sci-fi though.

      • I liked Ancillary Justice and the sequels.

      • skef says:

        I thought Ancillary Justice was significantly better than the average SF I try out, although not as enjoyable or interesting as modal Bujold or Banks. But I found the follow-up to be boring, so I wouldn’t personally recommend AJ to someone looking for a promising series.

      • arturogopkin says:

        Isn’t good SF always fundamentally concerned with social justice? More particularly, don’t the majority of well-regarded narratives — SF and otherwise — traverse an exact narrative sequence:

        Without capability, there is no remedy ->
          without remedy, there is no equity ->
            without equity, there is no justice.

        Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels, for example, adhere faithfully to this paradigmatically capabilitarian SJ-centric narrative sequence.

        In contrast, a notably non-capabilitarian SF narrative is Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972); a Swiftian deconstruction of traditional (i.e., pre-WWII) SF narrative forms, that satirically portrays as utopian a universe in which all forms of capabilitarian diversity — cultural, intellectual, moral, philosophical, racial, national, sexual, and gendered — have been ruthlessly extinguished.

        Do contemporary political trends lead toward versus away from Spinrad’s anti-capabilitarian SF dystopia? Questions like this provide ample grist for lively discussions.

        ————
        Note: above deconstruction draws upon the Wikipedia pages “Exact Sequence”, “Capability Approach”, and “Maxims of Equity”, and in particular upon the legal maxim ubi jus ibi remedium, as considered in (e.g.) Nick Piska’s review “Radical legal theory today, or how to make Foucault and Law disappear completely” (Feminist Legal Studies, 2011).

        As Piska says:

        Up until the mid-seventeenth century radical refers to the root of something, an origin or something that is fundamental or inherent in a person or thing.

        We could say, then, that radical is linked to vital which is in turn linked to vitality, to life. In this sense, radical is linked to the essence, or truth, not just of a person or thing, but life itself—to being.

        We find this usage in ontology, biology and natural sciences, religion, mathematics, linguistics and music. Up until the mid-seventeenth century, in other words, there is no link between radical and politics.

        The link to radical politics might be said to emerge from the medical or surgical sense of radical, first used in 1633: a treatment that is directed to the root or cause of a disease.”

        In summary, ever since WWII — with its hard-taught/hard-fought lessons that Spinrad’s The Iron Dream so vividly communicates — haven’t good SF narratives generally been radical narratives, precisely in Piska’s quintessentially capabilitarian, SJ-centric sense of “radical”?

        • Nornagest says:

          Go away, John.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I can’t find the whole speech that Bujold made about sf as fantasies of political agency, but I think she was on to something.

          Perhaps The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is Social Justice, but not as we know it.

          • arturogopkin says:

            Two well-regarded SF narratives that read naturally and thought-provokingly in-sequence are first (as you mentioned Nancy), Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Hugo Award, 1967), followed by Gene Wolfe’s The Death of Doctor Island (Nebula Award, 1974).

            Heinlein’s narrative considers economic and political aspects of machine cognition; Wolfe’s narrative considers social and psychotherapeutic aspects of machine cognition; in both narratives the machine cognition is grounded in strictly utilitarian considerations.

            A central lesson conveyed by this conjoined two-part SF narrative is that utilitarian cognition can exhibit extraordinarily skill in regard to military and economic interactions, while at the same time, and reasoning from the same fundamental principles, catalyzing and directing truly horrific social interactions.

            What a pity that Heinlein never wrote a sequel to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress … it would have been great fun to see what genuinely utopian answers Heinlein’s fertile imagination might have found to the serious issues that are raised by Wolfe’s The Death of Doctor Island.

            PS: A recently organized, loosely structured collective of people who evolve, share and propagate ideas along these lines is Narrative 4.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m reasonably sure Heinlein wouldn’t have written anything genuinely utopian– he seemed to think that some societies could work reasonably well if the population wasn’t too high, but nothing is close to perfect.

          • toastengineer says:

            What a pity that Heinlein never wrote a sequel to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress …

            He did! Sort of. It’s only revealed that it’s a sequel like halfway through and at that point it gets a little crappy. Forget the name.

            But it’s probably not what you want; as foreshadowed by the end of Harsh Mistress, Luna pretty much instantly decayed into generic incompetent corrupt democratic socialism. It’s basically the story of an elderly, eccentric ancap guy trying to find a place to live among all the decaying broken ancap societies left in the wake of the events of Harsh Mistress. Sort of.

            He even focuses on how, “well, if we read anarchocapitalism as one guy being able to build an apartment building out in space that he completely owns, then that would probably really suck actually.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Probably The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

          • Nick says:

            Probably The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

            Hey, I didn’t know Heinlein contributed to Braun’s series!

    • dodrian says:

      My vote is for Three Parts Dead, purely because I’ve read the other two.

      Spin would be my second choice, as it’s been longer since I read it.

    • Nick says:

      Based on your summaries, I’d vote Spin, but I’m not sure I’ll be participating. Count my vote if you like. 😛

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I read the Amazon samples for each of those once upon a time. None inspired me to read the whole book, but I would gravitate towards Spin.

    • J Mann says:

      I vote Ancillary Justice, because this pronoun thing has me curious.

    • quaelegit says:

      I vote Spin, because I already own it, or Ancillary Justice, because I’ve been meaning to read it for a while. Three Parts dead doesn’t sound as interesting to me but if it wins I will still try to participate.

    • johan_larson says:

      Our novel for June will be Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin. Ancillary Justice had slightly more support, but discussion was veering toward issues of gender and social justice that already get plenty of airing in this blog. Spin gives us a chance to talk about something else.

      We’ll start discussing Spin on Wednesday June 13, in the OT that will appear that day.

      • quaelegit says:

        Sounds good! This is probably the earliest I have ever completed an assignment*! (Jk, I will re-read because I’ve probably forgotten a lot of details.)

        *So to speak, I know this isn’t literally comparable to schoolwork or work-assignments 😛

        ALSO: Spin in my head is closely grouped with a few other novels: Quarantine by Greg Egan, Resonance by Chris Dolly, and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Something about the plot devices/scifi ideas they are examining, plus the overall plot and writing style. I’m curious to see if anyone else sees what I’m getting at here or if it’s just me. I’ll try to remember to bring these up in the actual thread, but I figured I’d ask now while I remember. (And if anyone is looking for book recs similar to Spin, the above are listed in my order of preference, though I liked all of them.)

        • rmtodd says:

          Having read Chris Dolley’s Resonance, I don’t see the resemblance between it and Spin. (What Spin reminded me of was the plotline in the German SF series Perry Rhodan regarding the planet Trokan, specifically Robert Feldhoff’s PR1800:Time Lapse and PR1801:The Herreach. But that’s admittedly a pretty obscure reference this side of the pond….)

      • Chalid says:

        Could someone explain the Kindle pricing to me? I’m seeing Spin’s Kindle price at $19.98 which is about 2.5 times what I expected – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sci-fi novel’s Kindle edition cost so much. Meanwhile Axis and Vortex are $7.99 and $5.04 respectively, so it gets cheaper as you get further into the series?

        I’ve seen publishers play games with the pricing before by making the first book in a series cheaper or even free, which makes sense; you get someone hooked on the first Dresden Files book and then they’ll buy the next 14-and-counting books from you at regular price. But I can’t see what’s going on here.

        • skef says:

          You’re seeing the three-novel bundle price. Try this

          • Chalid says:

            Thanks! UI glitch makes more sense…

            But even so, the page you pointed me at quotes $8.99 which is more than the rest of the books. Not what I would have expected but at least not outrageously strange.

            … okay, and now I search for “robert charles Wilson vortex” on Amazon, and the top hit quotes me $5.04, but when I click through it seems that this is for the Romansh Edition (though the blurb and cover and everything else are in English). Just searching for the book doesn’t get me any results in English. Looks like if I want to buy anything by Robert Charles Wilson in English I have to go through the author page.

            Edit: and now that’s fixed. Thank you, unknown Amazon programmer somewhere fixing bugs at a ridiculous time in the morning.

          • skef says:

            If you scan down to the next “area” on the page I linked to, do you not see a “books in this series” section with links to the individual entries?

            I see $8.99, $7.99, and $7.99 as respective prices, which seems to reflect well the conventional wisdom that Spin is the best of the three. (But this scheme may also be standard for series — I’m not sure.)

          • Chalid says:

            Yes, I see the proper pricing there and when I go to Robert Charles Wilson’s Amazon author page. I also still see weird results when I search for the books directly but I don’t feel the need to do a thorough bug report.

  2. Nick says:

    Hi everyone. I thought I’d do a writeup on common strategies and responses to the problem of evil. It seemed to me from the discussion a few threads ago that we were missing a lot of angles on the problem which are worth exploring.

    A few notes. What follows is obviously not going to be nicely numbered arguments—I don’t have the time or space for that, and if I really used the precision it needs I’d risk misrepresenting certain writers. But it would be pretty easy to turn a lot of this into arguments all the same, or to recognize these strategies in other writers. I’m also not discussing non-Christian work, because I don’t know anything about that! Sorry, Hindus. Finally, I don’t endorse all the strategies I put forward here—I don’t think some of them even work.

    A problem of evil argument ordinarily starts with the existence of evil. There are several varieties of evil which we’ll introduce as we go, but let’s start with suffering in general. Now, obviously some suffering is at least proximately the fault of other humans. Jack the Ripper’s victims, for instance, suffered because of Jack the Ripper’s deficient character.

    The argument can go many ways from here. One can insist that, even though the proximate fault is Jack’s, the remote fault lies with God, for a variety of reasons:

    1) Why did God make Jack this way to begin with? To expand on this question, could God not have made Jack a being who always chose right, or even just have given him enough produce and wisdom to avoid serial murder? One usual response to this is that God clearly values an orderly universe, with little in the way of intervention. Certainly in the world in which we evolved nothing in nature prevents us from occasionally being murderers. It’s not obvious, indeed, that anything could. Now, one might respond that surely God knows ways to accomplish that which we do not. Of course God does—if there are such ways.

    2) Why did God not intervene right then to prevent Jack from murdering? Our answer is the same as last time. Performing a miracle is one thing, but preventing the consequences of evil actions from ever being realized would require an immense number of miracles: at least every time Jack got the itch to murder and went to do so. Nor would it help with the deeper problem with Jack, which is his deficient character from which these impulses arise. Okay, so why not intervene at an earlier stage, steering Jack into a career in medicine instead? Probably this is usually or even always possible, but if so it would still require an immense number of miracles, to say nothing of the mess it would make of the field of psychology (I await formulation of the “Proof from Where Are All the Madmen?”). What’s more, it’s clear that a world in which no one ever has deficient character would be great in many respects but lacking in others. Much of humanity’s most heroic displays of virtue, such as resisting certain temptations or making radical repentances, would never be. Relatedly, much good is lost where we cannot relieve the suffering of others. It is at least unclear that this is a trade we, much less God, would want to make. (I owe much of this to Alexander Pruss.)

    Alternately, setting aside miraculous interventions, one can ask why God made Jack free in the world place, if freedom implies the probable existence of such horrible acts. What’s so great about a free will?

    Well, the role of free will in Christianity is obvious. Being morally responsible for our actions requires that we freely chose them, and what’s more, our salvation is tied into our free acceptance of God. So Christians at least are not going to call a world in which we aren’t free better, no matter how few tragedies occur.

    But setting aside Christianity for the moment, if humans are unfree, it’s at least unclear we are ourselves anymore. We could really get into the weeds on this, which I don’t really want to do, but the point is that we must be very different people if we don’t have free will, especially if we are never, ever doing wrong.

    Suppose that one concedes evil resulting from human choices. One may ask then about suffering caused by the rest of the world, like natural disasters. Likewise suffering caused by our own fragile human bodies: disease, genetic disorders, and so on, since these are part of the natural world as well. How does permitting malaria or terrible earthquakes factor into God’s plan for us?

    The first response to this is common to several of our earlier questions. Intervening to stop such things amounts to an immense number of miracles, and what is the field of seismology, for instance, to make of the lack of earthquakes? Now preventing malaria from evolving, whenever it evolved, probably only requires one intervention. But it’s unclear to me (biologists are welcome to correct me) whether that means humanity would never face malaria, or only means it would evolve later, so that we have less defense against it, or something very, very similar would evolve.

    Tangentially, one may think I’m suggesting a kind of “best of all possible worlds” approach here, as in, our world is the best that God could do under the constraints He is imposing on Himself. It’s not what I had in mind, but there is some overlap. That this is the best of all possible worlds is an idea from Leibniz, since in his conception of God’s attributes, omniscience means God always knows what is best, omnipotence means God can always do what is best, and being good means God will always choose what is best. He thus calls actualizing the best world a “moral necessary” for God. Leibniz knows perfectly well there’s a lot of evil in the world, of course, but he thinks we can obtain a kind of virtuous regress: one route to happiness is taking pleasure or delight in the harmony and order of the universe, which is itself only an expression of the perfection or completeness of the universe, and becoming happy increases that perfection, so happiness produces more happiness, ad infinitum. (I owe this explanation to Maria Antognazza.)

    Relatedly, John Hick is well known for a so-called “soul-making theodicy,” which he attributes to St. Irenaeus. In this approach, evil is a necessary means to the end of building up our souls, to making us morally developed beings capable of choosing to be with God for eternity. Hick assumes for his account that the free will argument is right too: it’s important that we be freely choosing God. Divine hiddenness is taken as a necessary aspect of this, as without some “epistemic distance” from God we can’t freely choose Him. It’s worth noting as well that Hick was a universalist: he thought everyone eventually completes this soul-making process and is united with God. Without the universalism it’s not clear to me how Hick accounts for, say, the salvation of children dying at a young age, since they have not had remotely enough time to develop.

    While we’re discussing weird strategies, one may be familiar with the suggestion that natural evil is a punishment for mankind. It’s easy to come to this idea reading Genesis, where consuming the fruit seems to bring to Adam and Eve all the troubles of frail human life. The immediate problem with this is the evidently unjust distribution of suffering. This problem has itself been known since biblical times: Job could be read as asking why bad things happen to good people, and in the New Testament, it’s suggested the man born blind is so because of his parent’s sins—not much of a solution, one might object. Jesus agrees (John 9:3), but the answer he suggests—”that the works of God might be displayed in him”—only raises the question all over again. When it comes to this one, I can’t suggest anything without discussing heaven and hell, which is outside the scope of this post.

    One more thing I want to comment on. Skeptical theism was a popular response last thread to the question why there is evil in the world: namely, that God is taking into account other goods we cannot see which justify not preventing the evils we do see. Skeptical theism, though, undercuts all the other theodicies. It’s an admission that the usual approaches like free will or elegant laws of nature are inadequate. For this reason I think it’s best used as a last resort, and as you can see, I think there’s a great variety of strategies to use first.

    Now, finally, related to but distinct from all this sort of evidential weighing of concerns are the more specifically theological concerns which the problem of evil raises. I avoided those above as being out of scope, but I think they’re actually more interesting. These are the sorts of problems worked on before the question was seriously raised whether evidence of evil implies God does not exist. This post is long enough, but I’d be happy to discuss those problems as a sort of sequel. To wit:
    1) Is God intending the evils which occur, or merely permitting them? Does that distinction even make sense for Christians, given we believe in divine providence?
    2) For that matter, how do we know God is good at all? We assume that he wills what is good, but we’ve seen above that that might not be exactly in line with our own priorities. Who’s to say that what God sees as good isn’t as alien to us as Azathoth? Or, maybe God is good but just not omnipotent?
    3) How can the existence of hell possibly be justified—especially when divine hiddenness is considered too?
    4) Supposing that hell is justified, can heaven somehow compensate for or defeat the evils which God permits to happen to us? How can heaven possibly make up for the horrible evils we might experiences, especially if those evils presumably live on with us for eternity? Indeed, given the horrors we might have experienced, does being happy in heaven amount to God rewriting our minds or something?
    5) What about the devil? As we saw in the book of Job, God permits the devil to do all sorts of bad things, and even smart Catholics think he can tempt us. Why would God permit him in particular to do such things—isn’t it manifestly unjust?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Just sort of a general point– any thoughts about why people are as evil as they are, but not more or less evil?

      People like Jack the Ripper could be a lot more common or a lot less common.

      • MrApophenia says:

        I feel like given what we know now about psychopathy as a seemingly biological condition, the Jack the Ripper example leans more in the direction of natural evil. Assuming Jack the Ripper was a Robert Hare type psychopath whose brain was wired up to make him incapable of empathy and unable to feel most human emotions at all in any real way, did he really freely choose to kill all those hookers?

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        Because evolution.

      • Aapje says:

        @Nancy Lebovitz

        Presumably there is an incentive, a socialization and a biological component to evil.

        It definitely seems harmful to oneself to be too good or too evil, so the incentives seems to be to be somewhat evil (and depending on one’s needs and natural gifts, this can be more or less incentivized). However, people are not socialized for maximum well-being, especially since social pressure is designed around average people and by a Molochian system where people try to make others behave in ways that they perceive as being beneficial for both themselves and others (with the emphasis on the former).

        Finally, we have the issue of psychological make-up that prevents people from freely choosing their moral behavior.

        Presumably, Jack the Ripper was an outlier in his psychological make-up and his behavior did not result in fitness in the Darwinian sense.

    • skef says:

      So would it be safe to say that one conclusion of Judeo-Christian theology is that with respect to a universe created by an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being, we can establish a reasonable upper bound on how pleasant living in that universe might be generally, but the lower bound is pretty open?

      • Nick says:

        That’s an interesting way of putting it. It’s not quite right, because God could create a world of plenty and He didn’t. There’s an implicit assumption throughout most of my post that God must be doing the best that can be done under the self-imposed constraints—like not having the whole world operate on constant miracles—but if we’re setting those aside, things could be a lot more pleasant. But is a pleasant world what we, or God, want?

        Tangentially, CJF Williams suggested in one paper that the notion of “best possible world” is incoherent: for any world God conceives of He can conceive of one better, so that it makes little sense to pose any question except “Why did God create anything at all?” In the end Williams says that for God to have no sufficient reason to do it is evidently what creative activity just is for Him. I don’t know what to think of that answer personally, but it’s interesting.

        • skef says:

          There’s an implicit assumption throughout most of my post that God must be doing the best that can be done under the self-imposed constraints—like not having the whole world operate on constant miracles—but if we’re setting those aside, things could be a lot more pleasant.

          Putting whatever this point is in terms of “self-imposed constraints” makes little sense to me. Is god omnipotent and perfectly good or not? If it is, then any apparent “constraints” are just consequences of the good worked out in practice. All the unpleasantness that results is therefore just the good in action — there’s no room for a “middleman”.

          But is a pleasant world what we, or God, want?

          Well, I suppose if goodness and pleasantness are almost entirely disjoint, then no.

          • Nick says:

            All the unpleasantness that results is therefore just the good in action — there’s no room for a “middleman”.

            Yes, of course. The reason I put it that way was to preempt the objection that if I say God can’t do a certain thing, it must be wrong to say he’s omnipotent.

            Well, I suppose if goodness and pleasantness are almost entirely disjoint, then no.

            There’s a relationship between what’s pleasant and what’s good, so it’s definitely not that they’re nearly disjoint, but I don’t think it’s obvious that a world which is more pleasant in various ways is actually better. For example, if it’s very, very, very good that a person freely choose to follow God and go to heaven and be happy for eternity, this perhaps requires a greater degree of divine hiddenness than constant miracles are compatible with. (The “divine hiddenness is sorta necessary” angle I mention above in the bit about John Hick appears in some other theodicies, but I was mostly trying to relegate it to the sequel.)

          • skef says:

            For example, if it’s very, very, very good that a person freely choose to follow God and go to heaven and be happy for eternity, this perhaps requires a greater degree of divine hiddenness than constant miracles are compatible with.

            The “world as quality assurance” model.

            Note how drastically that shifts the terms of debate yet again. Is there evil in heaven? Most people would say not. So presumably there is either no free will in heaven either, or heaven somehow gets around the theodicy problem. If the former, why isn’t heaven worse than the actual world, given the arguments already made? If the latter, why all the evil in the actual world?

            And this is leaving out all the questions raised by the group that doesn’t get to heaven …

          • Nick says:

            If you want to talk heaven and hell I’m saving all that for next time. The short answer is no, there’s not evil in heaven, but that will certainly require some explaining.

          • skef says:

            If you want to talk heaven and hell I’m saving all that for next time.

            That’s fine, but to be clear: Are you saying that your discussion of the situation on earth will stand with your upcoming discussion of Heaven, or is it likely to need modification? Because what I’m doubting is the idea that they can be separately addressed at all.

          • Nick says:

            I had hoped from the outset that the two could be more or less separately addressed, based on what I said at the beginning: I thought one was driving at skepticism about God’s existence and the other just interesting theological problems. Unfortunately there’s definitely overlap. (4) from my list above ought to factor in here, for instance, but I felt getting into that would mean explaining what heaven and hell are, and what evil is, and who knows what else, and that’s just way too removed from the rest of the content.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      You have wasted an incredible amount of time on a question whose simple answer is that there is no God, at least nothing that cares of human affairs.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The simple answer being “there is no such thing as objective Good” raises a complex set of qualms for people, though. Do you bite that bullet?

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          Of course I do! There’s no objective good or evil. The complex set of qualms this raises for some people is nothing more than the deconstruction of an edifice built on the lie that there is a morality woven into the fabric of our reality. If, on the other hand, one never believed in God in the first place, this is a much easier pill to swallow.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, OK, so we can rob other people so long as we cover our trail well enough that most people subjectively see us as good.
            Remember Glaucon’s argument to Socrates that the most desirable life is to be an unjust man who doesn’t get caught?

          • Error says:

            We can do that already. Most of us don’t, and we try to catch those that do.

            If the fundamental objective morality says that I should rob people, I am going to continue not robbing people. I hope others would too.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Yeah, that’s where the “objective good” argument really falls down for me. Even if God exists, and God’s existence really does somehow mean objective morality also exists (and I have never understood how the former leads to the latter), it’s not like he’s been terribly clear about what those objective morals actually are.

            Someone who thinks God creates absolute moral law still has to just pick their best guess at which religion and moral system is right, just like the people who think it’s subjective do.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Even if God exists, and God’s existence really does somehow mean objective morality also exists (and I have never understood how the former leads to the latter), it’s not like he’s been terribly clear about what those objective morals actually are.

            Man, this is all addressed in Plato’s Republic. What we mean by God in this context is “the idea of the Good, ideas being as real or more than the material world.” He talks about having to choose between religious traditions based on how they reflect the Good.
            If morality is subjective, the skillful man is entitled to violate it as much as he can get away with in pursuit of subjective pleasures like status and the best mates.

          • If the fundamental objective morality says that I should rob people, I am going to continue not robbing people. I hope others would too.

            Why? You hope others don’t rob you, but why do you fail to take advantage of opportunities to safely rob others?

            It sounds as though you believe in objective morality and act according to it. What you don’t believe in is what some other person claims is objective morality.

          • I don’t think the existence of god solves the problem of objective morality. If you don’t already have an idea of morality, how can you judge whether the powerful being called “god” is good or evil?

          • Aapje says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            You are exceptionalizing religion.

            Most humans seem to have a need for a framework that tells them what is right and wrong. Some pick a religious framework, some a secular one. Both religious and secular frameworks can be highly diverse, ranging from the most altruistic and peaceful, to the most selfish and violent.

            There is great diversity in what religious people believe is moral, even within one strand of religion (like Christianity), showing that there is no objective religious framework.

            If morality is subjective, the skillful man is entitled to violate it as much as he can get away with in pursuit of subjective pleasures like status and the best mates.

            Your use of ‘entitlement’ like this already assumes a shared moral framework that judges some demands/behaviors as valid. If morality is truly subjective, then there is no entitlement, except for what other humans (subjectively) accept.

          • Nick says:

            Come on, guys, discussing how we know God is good was the sequel bait!

            2) For that matter, how do we know God is good at all? We assume that he wills what is good, but we’ve seen above that that might not be exactly in line with our own priorities. Who’s to say that what God sees as good isn’t as alien to us as Azathoth? Or, maybe God is good but just not omnipotent?

          • MrApophenia says:

            He talks about having to choose between religious traditions based on how they reflect the Good.

            Right, this is exactly my point. Even if we assume God is the Good (and “God is somehow both a being and a set of behaviors one should follow” seems pretty unintelligible to me, but ok, assume for the point of argument), then the human response to that is still… decide what you think is good, then pick the religion whose concept of god most closely matches your idea of good, and then say you have objective morality because your god equals the Good.

            You’re still locked into the exact same ‘choose your own morals’ problem as the hypothetical skillful thief who robs with impunity because he chooses to believe there is no reason not to.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            I don’t think the existence of god solves the problem of objective morality. If you don’t already have an idea of morality, how can you judge whether the powerful being called “god” is good or evil?

            Well according to divine command theory your conception of morality is completely irrelevant and genocide is good if God says it’s good. Your judgment that God is good is then not judgment at all, but a matter of definitions arbitrarily applied. I find it all completely monstrous.

            You hit the nail on the head. Objective morality exists, but it’s grounded in the individual. Its providence is evolution and ultimately the fundamental physical laws of the universe. Some people refer to this entire system as God. I say that’s a nasty bait and switch, but as long as there’s consistency I’d agree in that sense and in that sense only could you say morality is grounded in God.

          • Zephalinda says:

            Right, this is exactly my point. Even if we assume God is the Good… then the human response to that is still… decide what you think is good, then pick the religion whose concept of god most closely matches your idea of good, and then say you have objective morality because your god equals the Good.

            @MrApophenia, there are lots of areas of human cognition that involve interactions between (a) some subjective component, like a human perception or intuitive model, (b) some objective reality presumed to be “out there,” and (c) a process of progressive, methodical refinement that brings (a) into ever-better alignment with (b). Seems like much of pure mathematics and the mathier parts of theoretical physics work pretty much that way, for instance– also our sense of scientific “elegance,” and various other basically aesthetic domains of experience– art, music, rational argumentation, etc.

            In all cases, the Good– the mathematical object, the music, the model, the perfect syllogism, etc.– is the product of extended back-and-forth interaction between the mind and “external reality”, where it’s assumed an individual expert can perfect their sense of the mental object through successive corrections, and with careful training. Mathematical rules are expected to roughly match empirical observations, but on the most basic level they’re really structures of meaning in our minds, uncovered introspectively (nobody has ever seen a perfect circle yet it makes sense to us that this exists). However, we also regard those subjective structures as reflecting some sort of higher “reality,” so that there can be more correct and less correct versions, and nobody assumes we just get to cruise on our naive intuitions forever and ever.

            Put another way: numbers may be all in my head (and they really are– you can make them go away by breaking the parts of your brain that think them), but that doesn’t mean that number theory is “just, like, your opinion, man!”

          • SamChevre says:

            I think you might find the first chapter of The Mind of the Maker enlightening.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @Zephalinda

            Seems like much of pure mathematics and the mathier parts of theoretical physics work pretty much that way, for instance– also our sense of scientific “elegance,” and various other basically aesthetic domains of experience– art, music, rational argumentation, etc.

            It seems a bit weird to me to directly connect the former there to the latter. As you rightly point out, numbers exist in our heads, but I think you are also quite right that a reasonable argument can be made that math is at least a description of an external reality.

            That seems much less true of aesthetics. There is no external ideal of good music that we’re all inching closer to finding – just lots of personal, learned preferences.

            And my thinking here is that even if you claim that morals are like math, and there is some external reality being described, it seems pretty obvious that this hypothetical external morality is much less discernible in the world than math is. If everyone must guess at the answer, and the evidence pointing at all possibilities is equally strong, it doesn’t actually matter very much whether there is some hypothetical ‘right’ answer, because we have no way of ever knowing it, or even knowing if we’re getting warmer or colder.

          • Aron Wall says:

            DavidFriedman:

            If you don’t already have an idea of morality, how can you judge whether the powerful being called “god” is good or evil?

            The point is that we do already have an idea of morality, and some of us believe that this idea is a clue about the ultimate nature of existence. (Just as, to follow up on Zephalinda’s point, the laws of physics are not just equations on a blackboard or concepts in our mind, but somehow also correspond to objective rules for how the physical universe behaves.) And if the ultimate nature of existence likes some things and dislikes others, this is starting to look a bit like God in the religious sense.

            This belief in moral realism is not intended to give an algorithm for instantly resolving all moral disputes between humans. It does, however, assert that in these moral disputes, there is a definite fact of the matter about which positions are right, and which are wrong. (Which seems to be intuitively taken for granted by most people anyway, when they are arguing for various moral claims.)

          • Aron Wall says:

            @MrApophenia

            It sometimes happens that two people are having an argument about morality, and then one person convinces the other person. From the perspective of the second person, it can certainly feel like their moral views are becoming more correct over time.

            Of course, people are sometimes persuaded of moral views I consider to be incorrect, but that also happens for purely factual questions.

        • skef says:

          The simple answer being “there is no such thing as objective Good” raises a complex set of qualms for people, though.

          So does a general confession/forgiveness mechanism, or a reframing of good in terms of an afterlife, and million other things.

          If there is objective good, everyone making this or that compromise so as to feel like they’re mostly living up to it is fucking up.

      • Nick says:

        This actually didn’t take very long to write, but thanks for the PSA!

      • rlms says:

        TITKOTIAATSVLOOSSC (this is the kind of thing I am astonished to see very little of on SSC).

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          Dare I ask why?

          • rlms says:

            There should be a lot of Dawkinsy atheists commenting here given demographics (lots of atheists who spend lots of time on the internet, Sam Harris adjacency, the “if you are not an atheist you must be pretty stupid” attitude of Big Yud and others on Less Wrong), but I never see any (apart from you).

          • chrisminor0008 says:

            I’m as shocked as you are.

          • Error says:

            Can’t speak for rlms, but I second their surprise. This space is far enough beyond 101 that, on some level, I expect religion to be under the locally-acceptable sanity waterline. Thus I find myself surprised both by the prevalence of religiosity among commenters, and the relative scarcity of “no, seriously, this is a solved problem.” [edit: feels like demographics ought to push it even more in that direction, as rlms points out above]

            I’m not necessarily saying that would be an appropriate response. Religious tolerance is an ideal for very good reasons, none of which have anything to do with correctness. But I am surprised that it isn’t a more common one.

            I’d *like* to chalk that up to our host’s general favor for niceness, community, and civilization, but I’m not sure I can. If the commentariat took that seriously, the comment section would be much less poisonous.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Error: It’s not rational to make an idiosyncratic definition of sanity loosely rather than with philosophical rigor, like Yud did, and expect everyone to agree with it because they like you (that’d be appeal to charismatic authority).
            You know what’s below the sanity waterline that Yud’s boilerplate New Atheist post didn’t account for? Materialist effective altruists. How insane is it to sacrifice your wealth to a utilitarian calculus if right, wrong, and numbers aren’t real?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I think this site and its orbit have moved me from being a fairly straight-down-the-line Dawkinsy atheist towards being an “obviously gods almost certainly don’t actually exist, but nonetheless there may well be certain valuable good things in life that non-belief in gods prevents us from having – that is, there may even in some cases be a positive correlation between how unlike-to-be-true a community’s supernatural beliefs are and how psychologically healthy the median member of that community is” -type atheist.

            This is a less comfortable position to be in, for sure, and I’m not going to actually become religious unless a) one or more gods make their existence known to me or b) the major religions of the world enter into a good faith project to actually test their competing hypotheses against reality, and there is a clear winner that the rest can agree on, but assuming I’m not wildly atypical (for SSC) in that, it does make arguing against religions on the object level seem like less of an imperative.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I’m not very surprised at all. Though my preferred explanation in terms of local values is less “niceness, community, and civilization good” than “epistemic overconfidence bad”.

          • skef says:

            Though my preferred explanation in terms of local values is less “niceness, community, and civilization good” than “epistemic overconfidence bad”.

            If only that applied in this case to the “other side” …

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            The first level of enlightenment is to recognize that religion is subjective & man made and thus not a source of objective morality.

            The second level of enlightenment is to recognize that all ideologies are subjective & man made and thus not a source of objective morality.

            Once that second level is reached, there is no strong imperative to convince people of atheism, since atheist ideologies are not automatically better than religious ones. It is more important to convince ISIS members and Marxist-Leninists than Catholics and libertarians.

          • rlms says:

            Personally I have similar views to Toby Bartels in the comment below: theism (at least any branch of it that corresponds to a religion) is obviously wrong, but I don’t think it would be productive or enjoyable to argue about that here. I expect the majority of people here are similar.

            I also think that religion is pretty obviously harmful on net (and thus arguing against religious people (even those that don’t blow themselves up or launch inquisitions personally) is good for the same reason that arguing against communist (even those that have no chance of starting a revolution) is), but I don’t know how common that view is among atheists in general or atheists here in particular.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            I’m not confident that mild religiosity is harmful, especially since the same irrational tendencies that drives people to it are not just going to disappear if people stop being religious.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Aapje

            I’m going to push against your claim that religion isn’t unique. It’s really bizarre when you get down to it. Sure, ideologies push the objective existence of abstract ideas. But religion pushes the idea that there is a guy who is incredibly powerful but chooses to conceal himself for reasons unknown but we know what he wants from us because some guy claimed that he saw him and wrote down what we’re supposed to do. We’re also never supposed to question any of this. If you were raised in an environment that didn’t even know about religion, you would be extremely confused.

          • Aapje says:

            The narrative of an incredibly powerful entity that controls everything, yet where a major element of this is concealed, is present in many conspiracy theories. Zionist/Jewish conspiracy theories, Marxism, anti-environmentalism, feminism (patriarchy), etc.

            We’re also never supposed to question any of this.

            Questioning Marxism has gotten people trips to the gulag.

            If you were raised in an environment that didn’t even know about religion, you would be extremely confused.

            In a society without religion, people would still be having all kinds of supernatural and nonsensical beliefs.

            These things arise from the human psyche and it seems like some people fundamentally need it.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Aapje

            There’s a difference between an implausible conspiracy and just making up an entire being who we have no empirical evidence of their existence. I give much more credence to any conspiracy theory being true than the existence of the christian God.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Error

            It’s certainly far easier to simply take for granted that religion is false, and that anyone who believes in it must just be so silly, then to give actually cogent arguments for Atheism. But I’m not sure that the former approach is more rational. For one thing, it has the (dis)advantage that its rhetorical effectiveness doesn’t depend on whether you’re actually right or not.

            I’ve generally found that the supposed 101 spaces for Atheism are long on bluster and mockery and “Science!” but short on, you know, actual argumentation.

            This may be in part because there are really only two particularly good categories of argumentation against Theism (as opposed to, against specific religions), and in my opinion neither of them is sufficiently compelling to make it transparantly obvious that Theism is irrational, without also considering the positive case. (I allude to the Argument from Evil, which is the subject of this thread, and Occam’s razor type arguments about burden of proof).

            Wrong Species:

            making up an entire being who we have no empirical evidence of their existence.

            This reminds me of people who go “How can anyone be a Republican / Democrat when there is literally no evidence supporting any of their positions?”

            Recall that empirical evidence for God could be any observation which is more likely on Theism than on Atheism. I mentioned several specific pieces of empirical evidence on the last integer open thread.

            When it comes to the Resurrection of Jesus, one non-Christian commenter mentioned that “the arguments presented are of higher quality than I had anticipated” and even a very skeptical commenter said he “assign[ed] greater than zero evidential value” to the Gospels and that the main issue for him was prior probabilities.

            If you had merely claimed that the evidence is “weak” or that there are good counter-arguments, I might take you seriously. But if you say there is “no empirical evidence” then you are either engaging in hyperbole, or else making a claim that we both know to be false.

          • Watchman says:

            @Wrong Species.

            I think your differentiation of religion from ideology has a flaw, in that God is created to personify the teaching (or allows his or her visible manifestation to do). The fact most ideologies tend to fall back on the teaching and examples of founders and prominent practitioners (see e. g. the way some doctrinal libertarians treat Ayn Rand or Marxists’ tendency to try and defend Marc even where he is demonstrably wrong). I think religions are reasonably seen as rffectively ideologies which won their local competition for supremacy and therefore have a more elaborately-developed framework of ideas underpinning them.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Aron Well

            Fair enough. Revising it to be more precise:

            For anyone who thinks the empirical evidence for God is extremely weak, there is no new empirical evidence that could be obtained to assuage their doubts unless God chooses to reveal more about himself than he already has.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @Aron Wall

            It’s certainly far easier to simply take for granted that religion is false, and that anyone who believes in it must just be so silly, then to give actually cogent arguments for Atheism.

            Well “easiness” is rather dependent on area and upbringing, obviously if there’s strong religious pressures in your community it’s gonna be way harder to take the Atheist position.

            I think a lot of Atheist 101ers are implicitly taking the Burden of Proof angle to heart, so it’s harder to “give cogent arguments” if they’re not the ones supposed to be presenting arguments (which is not to say r/atheism is being productive/good-spirited).

            =

            Oh completely unrelated to the topic at hand: A few threads ago, Aapje posted a double blind study of cardiac patients that claimed no prayer effect on cardiac bypass patients. You responded that the researcher’s prayers were obviously in bad faith:

            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.

            Reasonable. But has anyone done a cohort study (even post-hoc) between a more Christian and less Christian area? God not listening to bad-faith prayers makes a controlled study difficult, but a significant amount of granted good-faith prayers should still be reflected in the aggregate statistics. In my state of Colorado, we could compare mortality rates between Colorado Springs (one of the more religious cities in the country) and a similar income+demographic area like Westminster or Fort Collins.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @WrongSpecies

            Thanks for making the correction. But I don’t see, even from your own perspective, why it would follow that no new evidence can be obtained, without God revealing something new in the future. That would be the case only if you already believe yourself to be in possession of all relevant facts (and also philosophical arguments).

            Let me try to make this more concrete by specializing to one particular category of evidence. Some Christians, including myself, believe that God has done miracles in modern times. For example, some people have apparently been instantly cured of disabilities after prayer in the name of Jesus. It seems very unlikely that you have even heard about all such claims, and if you have not, there is potentially evidence that you do not know about.

            But let’s take one specific such miracle claim that you have heard about. Presumably, if you consider the evidence to be “weak”, that is because you believe it likely that the event can be explained relatively easily by other, naturalistic causes (e.g. psychosomatism, fraud, mistake, etc.) Now presumably a more careful investigation (which might involve interviews, looking at before/after medical records, etc., as well as working harder to estimate the base rates for various weird events) would have a tendency to either support or refute these alternative naturalistic explanations, making the evidence either stronger or weaker.

            Hence it is not true that you currently have right now, as much evidence as you could potentially have in the future.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @ManyCookies

            Sure, but “I’m not going to make any arguments because the burden of proof is on you to present arguments” is a relatively weak mode of argumentation, especially when facing somebody who does wish to present arguments.

            In Science, Occam’s razor is usually regarded as a ceteris paribus sort of thing, not an impossibly high cliff which justifies rejecting more complicated theories out of hand. If you get 5 sigma of evidence for some proposed signal (after taking into account look-elsewhere effects etc.), and you’ve ruled out other confounders, then you can and should postulate new entities. In other words, empiricism trumps a priori prejudice. In other words, our priors should be relatively flat.

            I believe it has been discussed before on SSC that religious people do live longer and are healthier. However, this data has so many confounding factors (e.g. religious communities may discourage smoking or give physical and emotional support, healthier people may find it easier to go to church) that I don’t believe it provides any significant evidence for the truth of religion. At best it is evidence that going to church is good for you.

            I do believe that God gives some good things just because we ask for them, but I don’t subscribe to the “prosperity gospel” view that Christians should generally expect good health and financial security as a reward for belief. In fact, there are plenty of statements in the New Testament that poverty is blessed and that we should expect to suffer in this life. (Not to mention Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:45 that the Father gives earthly blessings to the righteous and the wicked alike.) So I don’t really expect Christians to do that much better health-wise than others.

            To me it seems more compelling to look for evidence from rare but dramatic healing events (things which are extremely low probability given naturalism) than try to find some tiny but statistically significant difference between those who pray and those who don’t.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @Aron Wall

            I believe it has been discussed before on SSC that religious people do live longer and are healthier. However, this data has so many confounding factors…

            Of course, but conditioning on cardiac bypass outcomes cuts through these lifestyle confounders; religious people might have fewer health crises, but given that they’ve entered a major health crisis and (likely) received genuine prayers from friends and relatives, what’s their expected outcome compared to the non-religious?

            (Although Matthew 5:45 made me think of a funny dodge; to defeat this sort of analysis and be nice in general, God silently grants a freebie miracle to the non-religious for every “earned” miracle to the religious.)

            =

            On faith healers in particular, I’ll note that Islam and Hinduism also have faith healers/exorcists, and a glance they seem fairly similar to the Christian ones. Which weakens modern faith healings as evidence for Christianity in particular.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Aron

            Theoretically, you’re right. Practically, I can’t imagine something like that happening now. If we had a perfect understanding of biology and still didn’t understand how someone who was disabled got better, then we would have to ascribe some non-natural reason to it happening. But as long as there is some doubt, my prior is heavily biased against any kind of miracles.

            If David Blaine claimed he could actually perform magic, you wouldn’t believe him. Even if you were dumbfounded at how he did a trick, you wouldn’t automatically conclude he could do magic. You would try to find many different hypothesis’s to explain it before magic.

            If there was a miracle verified by non-Christian sources that was stronger than God curing a disabled person, I feel like Christians would be trumpeting it all the time, so I probably would have heard it. It’s possible that there is some really strong evidence I haven’t heard yet but I really doubt it. Now if in the future, there was a stronger miracle, then that would go under “God reveals more about himself”.

          • It’s possible that there is some really strong evidence I haven’t heard yet but I really doubt it.

            Why? How hard have you looked.

            My younger son, whose interests are historical, has been arguing for a while that Joan of Arc is quite strong evidence, that the facts of her life are much better documented than for most people that early and it is hard to make them consistent with a naturalistic explanation.

            I don’t know if he is correct, but if he had not gotten interested in that case I doubt I would ever have seen the evidence he cites. There may, for all I know, be other cases that I (and you) are ignorant of that are also good evidence for the existence of the Christian god.

          • noddingin says:

            @ David Friedman

            There may, for all I know, be other cases that I (and you) are ignorant of that are also good evidence for the existence of the Christian god.

            Joan’s successes may be good evidence for some sort of supernatural communication. But no Christian, nor any other, god saved her afterwards.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @ManyCookies

            I looked with interest at the articles you mentioned, but it doesn’t appear to me that either of them provide a large amount of evidence for miracles either Islam or Hinduism. To do that, the articles would have to provide evidence for cures that are hard to explain naturally. Here the focus appears to be largely on curing mental illnesses, an area which is particularly susceptible to the placebo effect and equivalents to psychotherapy. (Or, in the alternative, if demons really do exist and possess people, but this requires at some level the consent of the victim, it would not actually be that surprising if non-Christians might still be capable of performing successful exorcisims without special miraculous aid, although they might not be able to simply order them to depart like Jesus and the Apostles did.)

            I am not claiming that the mere existence of a faith healing tradition provides much evidence for a religion (although I suppose it gives some), but rather the evidence comes from the actual success of those who pray, in performing specific, otherwise impossible cures.

            To be clear, I don’t regard my cursury examination of these articles as in any way a fair comparison between Christainity and other religions. It may well be that a more detailed examination of these healing practices would provide more specific evidence of a serious nature. It’s just that these articles, taken by themselves, don’t provide that evidence.

            However, I do consider some Christian miracles to be sufficiently convincing refutations of Naturalism, that if I saw equally good evidence for a miracle in another religion, I believe I would end up adopting a supernatural explanation for both cases.

            @Wrong Species

            Of course you don’t have to be a Naturalist to have your priors greatly weighted towards deception in the case of a known stage magician. There are, however, reasons why stage magicians choose the tricks they do. Some stunts are much easier to pull off through deception than others.

            In the case of a claimed healing miracle (as, indeed, for any claim), fraud is one of the hypotheses that would have to be ruled out. But I don’t see why there can’t be substantial evidence against fraud, especially in cases where the healed person was known to doctors/family before and after the event, and the individuals involved otherwise appear to be honest people with no incentives to lie.

            If we had a perfect understanding of biology and still didn’t understand how someone who was disabled got better

            There are really no examples of healings you would consider biologically impossible on Naturalism? (Let’s bracket fraud for a moment and assume the event really happened.) For example, suppose you had a close relative who was blind due to an organic cause (e.g. severe cateracts), and then they were instantly healed during a prayer asking for this exact thing, and the physical organic cause also disappered in all medical scans? Or what if a limb or other organ grew back? Would you be like: “whatever, we don’t understand biology well enough to rule this out”? It wouldn’t at least make you wonder if you’re worldview was missing something important?

            Do bear in mind, that the higher your standard for accepting a miracle as genuine, the less evidence for Naturalism it is that nothing (which you know about) has yet met your personal standards. This places limits on how low your prior against Supernaturalism can reasonably be set, if those priors themselves arise from the supposedly unbroken success of Naturalism. Remember, the less falsifiable you make Naturalism, the less useful a theory it is.

            I’m not sure what kind of “stronger” miracles you might be looking for. There are also Christian claims of things like raising the dead, prophesying things a person could not know about, or exercising power over Nature, but it seems more productive to focus on a single topic.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @Aron Wall

            Ah. I, uh, may or may not have just googled “Islamic/Hindu faith healing” and skimmed the first two results of each. I saw people lying down in the Islam article and was like “Hey that’s probably physical healing”. Whoops.

            (I liked this whole subthread, by the by.)

          • Aron Wall says:

            A superficial google search is a perfectly reasonable way to begin an investigation like this, as long as it isn’t taken to be the end. So no worries!

            Thanks for the discussion.

          • Randy M says:

            Though my preferred explanation in terms of local values is less “niceness, community, and civilization good” than “epistemic overconfidence bad”.

            If only that applied in this case to the “other side” …

            Come on, it’s not like we’re all yelling “Deus Vult!” every thread.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        Of course you’re correct, but you do you really need to derail the thread because of it? Imagine that they’re engaged in some sort of fantasy worldbuilding, considering a world in which something like a Christian conception of God exists and how one could have a world much like ours in which this is so. Of course it’s not real, but they’re fully aware of that idea (even though they reject it for some reason), so let them have their fun!

      • SamChevre says:

        Also–less like this, please.

        • Protagoras says:

          Kind of disagree. I recognize that there are reasons people are so patient and charitable about religion around here, but the occasional reference to it being obvious nonsense does not seem at all inappropriate to me.

          • Iain says:

            Disagree with your disagreement.

            It is reasonable to argue that religion is obvious nonsense, but you have to actually make a point, not just pick a fight. The post in question adds nothing to the conversation beyond “my team is smart and your team is dumb”. It’s all heat, and no light.

            Claiming that religion is obvious nonsense: fine.
            Implying without justification that everybody should agree with you: not fine.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Religion may be nonsense, but if it were *obvious* nonsense, there wouldn’t be so many religious people.

          • And it’s relevant, at least to me, that the religious people include some I think highly of, such as GKC. Also people I know first hand.

          • meh says:

            Religion may be nonsense, but if it were *obvious* nonsense, there wouldn’t be so many religious people.

            If you look at age demographics and trends, we may be hitting a tipping point here.

            In human history there have been many majority held beliefs that later generations would classify as obvious nonsense.

          • albatross11 says:

            meh:

            For some of those (scientific questions), it’s possible to know by experiment that we’re right and they were wrong. But I don’t see any way we can know for sure that we’re right and they were wrong on values/morality/esthetics questions. Sometimes, those beliefs may look more like fashions in music or art or dress than like actual knowledge.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            In human history there have been many majority held beliefs that later generations would classify as obvious nonsense.

            Proof that whiggishness is not a new development– but not, I think, of anything else.

          • In human history there have been many majority held beliefs that later generations would classify as obvious nonsense.

            Could you list some? I can easily think of beliefs that I am confident were wrong, but “obvious nonsense” is a stronger claim than that, since I have access to information the people holding those beliefs didn’t, hence my conclusion was not obvious to them.

          • meh says:

            @DavidFriedman
            Yes, obvious to you now are the types I am talking about. Any of those beliefs claimed you can ‘easily think of’ is an example. For the benefit of all, could you list them?

          • Toby Bartels says:

            @iain :

            It is reasonable to argue that religion is obvious nonsense, but you have to actually make a point, not just pick a fight. The post in question adds nothing to the conversation beyond “my team is smart and your team is dumb”. It’s all heat, and no light.

            Indeed. Nabil ad Dajjal gave an atheistic response too, but it actually contributed to the discussion.

          • Nancy wrote:

            Religion may be nonsense, but if it were *obvious* nonsense, there wouldn’t be so many religious people.

            Mey responded:

            In human history there have been many majority held beliefs that later generations would classify as obvious nonsense.

            I asked for examples, distinguishing between things obvious now and things obvious to the people who believed them at the time. Meh responded:

            Yes, obvious to you now are the types I am talking about.

            Nancy’s comment was not “have been so many religious people” but “be so many religious people.” She was talking about people in the present. I was talking about people both present and past, but the one past person I mentioned, GKC, was recent enough so that he had most of the relevant facts we have.

            Hence, in order for Meh to justify his comment as a response to Nancy (or to me), he has to argue that later generations would classify the views held by a majority in the past as nonsense that should have been obvious to those people, not merely as something that the later generations, with additional evidence, should have seen as obviously false.

            That may not be what he meant, but if so he didn’t rebut Nancy’s point–that there are lots of people at present, I would have added including lots of intelligent and well educated people, who believe in religion.

            He asked me to list beliefs held by many people in the past that it is now obvious are false. One example would be the belief that there was a belt of fire at the equator–that temperatures were so hot that nothing could move between the northern and southern hemisphere. Another and much older one would be the belief in a flat Earth.

          • meh says:

            Sorry but it seems like you are trolling, or arguing just to argue. You didn’t like some phrasing, or disagreed with something; but then say how easy it is to list examples supporting it, and subsequently give 2 examples. I didn’t list examples, because you said they were easy to come up with, and I figured you just wanted fodder so you could pick a specific item and tell us all how you wrote your phd thesis on phrenology and it actually isn’t obviously false.

          • Sorry but it seems like you are trolling, or arguing just to argue.

            Whereas to me that sounds much more like your behavior. You don’t seem to have made any effort to follow my argument, let alone rebut it.

            Do you have examples of beliefs that were held by a majority and that were obviously false in terms of information those people had? If so, give some.

            If not, you have not rebutted Nancy’s point.

          • meh says:

            My original quote (emphasis added)

            In human history there have been many majority held beliefs that *later* generations would classify as obvious nonsense.

            The things you said you are listing:

            He asked me to list beliefs held by many people in the past that it is now obvious are false.

            This sounds like the same thing to me!

            But here is your reading of my quote:

            Do you have examples of beliefs that were held by a majority and that were obviously false in terms of information those people had?

            I think your reading is an willful mis-reading, yet somehow you acuse me of:

            You don’t seem to have made any effort to follow my argument

            I did read your argument and determined you were either trolling me, or you just had the contrarian reflex where you just argue the opposite side of anything and don’t even realize what you are saying.

          • @meh:

            You are missing the fact that your comment was a response to Nancy. As I just pointed out, on its own what you wrote was consistent with your intended reading, but with that reading it doesn’t answer Nancy’s argument.

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        I don’t think that’s so obvious. What do you think of the hypothesis that we are 10 chains down in terms of simulations? Each possibly with a ruler or being above it?

        A whole lot of actual scientists are interested in that. It wouldn’t really be the old testament god, but something.

        • Aron Wall says:

          This is a little bit like the Gnostic “solution” to the problem of Evil. They (or some of them) figured a good God couldn’t possibly create a universe like ours, but he might emanate a being that would emanate a being that … [after enough steps] … would be screwed up enough to create a material world like ours. They usually figured that the Old Testament deity was the same as the bad god that created physical matter, and that salvation in the New Testament was some attempt by the top-level God (or some other deities higher up the ladder) to jailbreak out a few select spiritual people from the Simulation (as it were).

          Needless to say, this was viewed as horribly heretical by the mainstream Christian churches of the time. Not just because of what they said about God, but also because of their belief that matter is inherently evil / a mistake.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not a Christian, or even a theist, so I’m fairly sure that this isn’t an orthodox interpretation. But it strikes me that Stoicism mostly solved this problem long before Christianity came about.

      Nature, by which I mean the universe or external reality, is incapable of causing suffering in the Stoic view. It can cause pain, hunger, and any number of other unpleasant sensations. Yet these sensations on their own don’t constitute suffering; a Stoic sage can experience these sensations and accept them without experiencing the emotion of suffering. Suffering isn’t something that someone or something else does to you, it’s something that you do to yourself.

      That’s a big pill to swallow, obviously, but if you accept it then the problem of evil mostly disappears. If nothing in the universe except for your own choices can cause you to suffer, then the creator of the universe hasn’t caused you to suffer except by the indirect means of giving you free choice. That’s a much more defensible position.

      (I don’t fully believe this myself, mostly because I’m not a dualist. I don’t believe in a soul or a mind separate from the body, which means that thought is necessarily subject to physical laws. Thus, “external” stimuli can’t help but influence thought to some degree. That said, this way of thinking is a useful tool in my mental toolbox: it’s very calming and helps to focus despite intense emotion.)

      • Aapje says:

        That seems like denial of reality. Fact is that our pain is not (merely) psychosomatic. If I burn you, your nerves will produce pain sensations.

        I agree that it is possible to recognize that smaller amounts of pain/discomfort are weak unpleasant sensations that we can suppress, to be more comfortable in sub-optimal circumstances, but there is a limit to this.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          You’re thinking about suffering in an overly simplistic way.

          “Pain sensations,” or nociception, are signals of cellular damage. A stubbed toe is painful, but so are sore muscles after a workout. Why is one pain sensation unpleasant and the other pleasant except for the context that we give them?

          Similarly, I’m 99% sure that you watch porn. What if you clicked on a video and the pornstar turned out to be your mother? The sensation of sight and hearing would be virtually indistinguishable from any of a thousand other similar videos you’ve seen yet the context would make one pleasant and the other extremely unpleasant.

          I’m not a neuroscientist, so I can’t speak with any authority about how the brain categorizes sense data as positive, negative, or neutral. But it’s intuitively obvious that it’s not as simple as pain = negative. Context clearly plays a large role in how we interpret sensations.

          • Aapje says:

            I’m not arguing that pain is just negative or unpleasant. Some people are into masochism. Yet masochists have a limit to what level of pain they enjoy.

            I agree that you can find acceptance and even pleasure in relatively low amounts of pain. I question whether that is possible for really high levels of pain.

            PS. Note that sore muscles are fairly low levels of pain.

          • albatross11 says:

            Are there women who actively enjoy labor?

            I know there are a lot of people who seem to enjoy marathon running and ironman competitions and such, and I’m pretty sure that involves some serious discomfort.

          • Aapje says:

            My own experience with heavy exercise and (semi-)heavy injury is that the latter is on a different level.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Even if stoicism works reliably for all sorts of pain, it doesn’t solve anything I can see for those (children, animals, those with serious mental/emotional limitations) who can’t apply it.

    • rahien.din says:

      The role of free will in Christianity is obvious. Being morally responsible for our actions requires that we freely chose them, and what’s more, our salvation is tied into our free acceptance of God.

      if humans are unfree, it’s at least unclear we are ourselves anymore.

      I have come to believe that it isn’t so obvious. Freely chosen? Free from what?

      For instance, I look at the most important actions in my life and realize they were not decisions, but impulses. Choosing Christ. Falling in love with my future wife. Selecting a career. Deciding to have children. Even my day to day medical decisions. When carefully examined, I consistently find that the degree to which my decisions are unconstrained or perfectly-voluntary or “free,” the less meaningful and the less efficacious they are.

      I didn’t choose to love God. No one chooses to love God, any more than they choose to love anyone else. Consider the seraphim, whose nature is to continuously shout God’s praises. Does this nature mean their praises are insincere? I love God simply because I do.

      And this is the epitome of meaningfulness – I am only myself to the degree that my nature determines/constrains/entrains/comprises my actions.

      To my mind, none of that diminishes my agency or my personal responsibility.

      I think the real fun of the Book of Job comes at the end. Sure, we see Job and his contemporaries wrangle with God’s sovereignty and the reality of suffering and evil. But at the end, Job’s good fortune is restored. That good fortune is no less unjustified than all the horrors that Job endured. The lesson of Job is that you can’t read the book from inside it.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Although his whole family stays dead. God doesn’t undo the damage his bet did. The devil still murdered Job’s wife and children, with God’s permission, to make a point.

        The fact that he has a new wife and kids, and this is meant to be read as a happy ending, always seemed very off to me.

        • Aron Wall says:

          Job’s wife didn’t die—remember, she got to stick around to tell Job to “Curse God and die”. (Literally the Hebrew says “Bless God” but the translators think this is a euphemism for the opposite.)

          The text actually sort of hints at the fact that kids aren’t replaceable, by the fact that everything else (the flocks and herds) are doubled, but he gets the same number of children afterwards (i.e. the previously living children count towards the doubled number).

        • rahien.din says:

          he has a new wife and kids, and this is meant to be read as a happy ending

          I think it’s meant to be an incomprehensible ending.

          • Aron Wall says:

            But if anyone thinks it’s a lame ending for God to reward the protagonist at the end, that puts them on the same side as Satan in the prologue. (Who apparently lies awake at night wondering why God allows good things to happen to good people.)

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks Aron Wall,

            if anyone thinks it’s a lame ending for God to reward the protagonist at the end, that puts them on the same side as Satan in the prologue

            A very necessary point. I totally agree.

          • quanta413 says:

            Is it really that incomprehensible?

            Some wife and kids > no wife and kids.

            And the death rate back then was probably much higher than today. If having your whole family die due to disease, war, or starvation was not as horrifyingly uncommon as it is now than the ending may be considered positive overall.

          • rahien.din says:

            quanta413,

            I agree that it is clearly good. The incomprehensible aspect is why that good thing happened.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think I understand what you’re saying now.

            There’s no comprehensible reason for Job to have lost all his children or to have gained them back.

            That seems reasonable to me. I think I like the stoic take on suffering and random happenstance in the world better, but whatever floats your boat.

    • MrApophenia says:

      My big questions with the problem of evil did always seem less about what they say about a hypothetical god’s existence and more what they say about his character.

      I always thought religions that don’t make claims of omnipotence or omnibenevolence just seem like more immediately plausible answers to the question. There’s an old Twain line that has stuck with me for years:

      “We have to keep our God placated with prayers, and even then we are never sure of him — how much higher and finer is the Indian’s God……Our illogical God is all-powerful in name, but impotent in fact; the Great Spirit is not all-powerful, but does the very best he can for his injun and does it free of charge.”
      – Marginalia written in copy of Richard Irving Dodge’s Our Wild Indians

      Alternately, a Lovecraftian/Marvel Comics approach to deity neatly solves the problem too. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Because that’s not what God cares about, dude. He’s too busy thinking about what planet is for lunch, or how nice the beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes sounds.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Out of curiosity, is there a sect of Christianity that doesn’t claim God’s omnipotence? Dropping omnipotence to just “really powerful” would save a lot of theological ink.

        • Nick says:

          There are folks who take that approach, as rahien.din indicates, but many Christians (me included) find it untenable. For one, if we follow classical theistic arguments for God’s existence, God has to be omnipotent, so that looks to be a non-starter. For another, it’s at least unclear to me that a merely “really powerful” being can be worthy of worship.

          • Michael Handy says:

            I can imagine a mearly arbitrarily powerful being (ie. A being that is weakly godlike in its own sphere and has access to and complete knowledge of the source code of our world.)

            If such a being was omni(or close enough) benevolent in the semse of maximising human florishing, I can imagine worshiping it.

    • noddingin says:

      I’m also not discussing non-Christian work, because I don’t know anything about that! Sorry, Hindus.

      I hope someone who does know, especially about Hinduism, will speak up.

      • Nick says:

        Paging Le Maistre Chat!

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The two key concepts when talking about evil or suffering are karma (action-reaction) and maya (illusion).
        Karma does not explain the origin of evil, but it does a tidy job of explaining all the evils the questioner sees in their lifetime. Somebody gets beat up and you don’t know how they deserved it? Could be their karma for having been a wife-beater. In a Western worldview that sounds like victim-blaming, but it’s important to note that the doctrine of karma doesn’t say you shouldn’t help people. Give all your income above subsistence to the poor! It’ll make you a better person (literally, making good karma that’ll earn you a better next life), and if the recipients get more than their works deserve, it’ll get balanced with suffering inflicted by other bad people down the line.
        It’s more fair to say that victims lack the moral stature that the Christian doctrine that God Incarnate was innocent and punished for a capital crime confers.
        Why, though, did God let anyone choose evil in the first place? The concept of maya says that all privations we suffer are illusions: they’re something God added to the cosmos to make a more interesting story. Your true Self (Atman) is either God (Brahman)[1], or each of us is a unique soul created in eternity to be one of God’s companions[2]. We’re putting on a play and the sufferer has become a total method actor.

        1. The term for this is Advaita Vedanta, aprox. “non-duality (reading of) the Upanishads.”
        2. This is Dvaita Vedanta, aprox. “duality (reading of) the Upanishads.”

        • DavidS says:

          The interesting thing about karma though is that really if you help others you’re actually helping yourself and not them…

          I get the impression that problem of evil is less of an issue in Hinduism: karma means you can blame free will for each individual’s suffering (not ‘my free will makes you suffer’) but more fundamentally as you discuss with maya, Christianity takes this world rather more seriously than Hinduism does.

          My (foggy) recollections of studying Vedanta don’t leave me particularly certain that the same emphasis is put on goodness as fundamental to Brahman. There’s more of a ‘beyond good and evil’ feel in a lot of Hindu writings.

        • SamChevre says:

          Thank you for the explanations of Hinduism. It’s such a different way of thinking about the world. (I’m Catholic, a convert with a fairly varied Christian background.)
          I can get Jewish and Muslim explanations fairly easily, but Hindu explanations are very different.

          • DavidS says:

            Might be worth reading the works of Professor Julius Lipner who I believe is a Catholic but is a scholar of Hinduism who grew up in India.

          • Nick says:

            If we’re discussing Catholic scholars of India, Schlegel is an interesting case. Poet, philosopher, linguist, and diplomat, and he and his brother were influential in the early Romantic movement and German intellectual scene generally. I’ve been meaning to look into his work for a few years now and just haven’t gotten around to it.

    • sharper13 says:

      I’ll bite and respond from a more eternal perspective, but keeping with the Christian theme:
      1. We were organized/born and lived as intelligent spirits before this life on Earth. We were not controlled by God, but were independent agents able to learn/grow and decide for ourselves.
      2. During the pre-mortal time, we reached a point of diminishing returns where we couldn’t progress farther in knowledge and understanding due to our circumstances.
      3. To resolve #2, we were presented with competing plans as to how we could learn and grow further. Plan A was to spend some time with a mortal body and experience good/evil, positive experiences/negative experiences and be able to make our own decisions. To make this work properly, we’d have to temporarily give up our memory of our pre-mortal life. Plan B was similar, but there would be no negatives and no one would keep the freedom to decide between good/evil alternatives.
      4. Most of us realized that the point was to learn from experience and to grow through using our freedom/agency and then experience the consequences. Those of us who chose plan A were born with physical bodies on this Earth. Those who chose Plan B, weren’t and stopped progressing as quickly.

      The point here is that it regardless of the details, if we made an informed decision to experience this life, including the good and bad, ahead of time, then there is nothing unjust about it. Included in this is the idea that you can’t experience good without knowing what bad is. If the world was always 60 degrees everywhere and 100% of the time, we naturally wouldn’t be able to learn about variations in temperature and weather.

      5. In order to fulfill the requirements of Justice (getting what we deserve for our choices) and mercy (being forgiven and getting something else instead), part of Plan A was that the Savior, the best amongst us, volunteered to come and solve that problem for us.
      6. In regards to after this life, we get our pre-mortal understanding back, plus are able to remember everything we lived through and learned in this life. We judge ourselves, i.e. decide based on what we know about ourselves and determine where we fit in after this life based on in large part what we decided/valued in this life. “Hell” is just a version of the next life where we decide we’re more comfortable partying than progressing even farther. For those who have made the choices which (again, remember the choice in the pre-mortal life) lead toward further progression, there are new options, to the point where we don’t become God our spiritual parent, but we can become more and more like God.

      For the curious, the above is an abbreviated version of the LDS Plan of Salvation

      So to respond to your 5 questions from the perspective of that plan (which obviously differs from much of other Christian theology):
      1. God permits evil, but it is part of the plan and part of the natural order of the universe. It’s also part of having agency, because we need to have something to choose between.
      2. We have to base our knowledge of God on what he’s communicated to us personally and what his actions demonstrate to us.
      3. Hell = we stop progressing due to our own choices. It would be worse for God to override our agency and force us to choose something different.
      4. This life is but a brief moment in our eternal progression. We chose to experience these specific lives which are customized to us because we expected to learn from them, not the least to learn about ourselves from the choices we make. You do something similar every time you go to the gym and lift weights, or spend your time studying something difficult to learn, or work a hard job to invest and save, instead of doing something more “fun”.
      5. Satan’s plan was Plan B. He’s not a big fan of agency and would just as soon control us to do what he wants. We can be tempted, but we are able to choose how we respond to temptation. If we choose poorly, part of the plan of salvation, the plan of happiness, is for us to have an opportunity to learn and progress and choose differently in the future, no matter how many times we want to try again. It’s Just because we chose to be tested and learn in this way. We’re here to learn and grow and progress individually and with our family. You can’t do that properly without opposition of all kinds.

      Anyway, hope that provides at least one alternative perspective for you.

      • DavidS says:

        Interesting. I take it from this that Hell in this context is not fire and pitchforks? Is it permanent: is the idea that the sort of true responsibility/risk for growth means that we need to risk becoming permanently incapable of said growth?

        • sharper13 says:

          Yeah, no literal fire and pitchforks. Per M. Catherine Thomas:

          The term “hell” as used in the King James Version of the Bible is the English translation of four words in the original biblical languages: Hebrew sheol and Greek hades, geenna (Heb. gehenna ), and a noun implied in the verb tartar. These terms generally signify the abode of all the dead, whether righteous or disobedient, although geenna and tartaróo are associated with a place of punishment. The derivation and literal meaning of sheol are unknown, but words in Hebrew derived from it bear the idea of “hollowness.”

          Permanent in the sense that if that’s the post-mortal life you’ve chosen after a lifetime of making decisions (including after having full knowledge presented in the after-life), then you aren’t going to choose something different later, because you are no longer changing. That’s who you’ve decided you are and what you want. Similar in some ways in concept to Revealed Preference.

          • DavidS says:

            This is similar to Lewis in the Great Divorce, although he’s blurry on ‘permanent’ (people choose to go deeper and deeper into hell: I’m not sure he makes a threshold explicit and there’s certainly not an external block, but there’s at least a strong impliciation that they have passed a personal point of no return.

            “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I’d like to disagree with part of the solution that often gets taken for granted:

      Divine hiddenness is taken as a necessary aspect of this, as without some “epistemic distance” from God we can’t freely choose Him.

      I have known Christians who believed in God, but viewed him with fear, thinking of him as “The guy who might condemn me and everyone I love to hell, for unclear reasons”. They lived good, prosocial lives and even went to church but they definitely didn’t worship God, and if one believes in the kind of God who doesn’t let atheists into heaven, they’re not getting in either.

      Religious Satanism is an entire movement of people who believe in God, yet instead choose the devil.

      If God descended from the heavens and told me to repent from my sinful atheist ways, I’d yell at him for cancer and earthquakes, then tell him to fuck off.

      It’s possible to freely reject God, even with zero epistemic distance between him and oneself. It seems logically necessary then that it’s possible to freely choose him too. In light of this, one must argue that some people would be rendered incapable of choosing were God to reveal himself more directly.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      How does permitting malaria or terrible earthquakes factor into God’s plan for us?

      The first response to this is common to several of our earlier questions. Intervening to stop such things amounts to an immense number of miracles, and what is the field of seismology, for instance, to make of the lack of earthquakes? Now preventing malaria from evolving, whenever it evolved, probably only requires one intervention. But it’s unclear to me (biologists are welcome to correct me) whether that means humanity would never face malaria, or only means it would evolve later, so that we have less defense against it, or something very, very similar would evolve.

      If one believes in a God who set the universe in motion with the Big Bang then stopped touching it, it’s possible to advance the unfalsifiable hypothesis that malaria, cancer and earthquakes are necessary because there’s no logically consistent set of parameters for the universe which give rise to humans without also giving rise to those things. Fair enough, but no Christian believes God stopped touching the universe fourteen billion years ago, see Jesus and the Bible.

      God spent some time intervening in our universe very noticeably, while he was getting all his miracles done. Maybe he couldn’t have eradicated malaria without committing himself to an agenda of constant intervention to stamp out the next malaria and the one after that, but he should’ve been able to quietly edit out crippling genetic disorders from the population.

      If one can imagine a reason why genetic disorders were necessary, let’s get even narrower. When God was in his interventionist miracle phase, in his omniscience he would have noticed a piece of rock hurtling through space. In between healing the sick and turning people into pillars of salt, he could have nudged this rock a bit to the left so that in 1954, it would not strike and injure Ann Hodges. He didn’t, and this seems to be a solid counter to the “suffering is an unavoidable feature of a consistent universe”: Having established God’s willingness to intervene, this could have been avoided.

    • AG says:

      Pretty much all of the arguments here fall apart for me when considered in the context of Adam, Eve, and Eden. That, evidently, the Christian God did intend for humanity to live in a world not without evil, but uninfluenced by it.
      (And the question of why he felt that including the possibility of failure was necessary, but nonetheless added additional punishments on top of the default consequences of the failure mode. Why did God forbid knowing evil, or get angry at the gaining of it, if he created evil and the possibility of knowing/doing it? Why did he create creatures for whom the very knowledge of evil is sufficient to split them from God, who apparently is a being who is not tainted by simply knowing what evil is? Did evil even exist before Genesis?)

    • DavidS says:

      I think if you’re willing to go full-supernatural the devil solves a lot of the problems around natural disasters etc. If we accept that Jack the Ripper’s freedom can harm others as well as himself, then the freedom of evil angels to harm others would be far greater.

      In general I’ve never thought the problem of evil works as a logical disproof of God: to me once you’re debating it you’re inside a specific theology debating with it. And I think it’s therefore a bigger argument within religious communities or cultures which have a strong underlying particular religion than for atheists dealing with abstract theism.

      Perhaps because I don’t think it’s a logical disproof so much as a ‘is this plausible’ I find literary discussions at least as enlightening as philosophical ones. I particularly like the Great Divorce on why people go to hell and ‘Rebellion’ from the Brothers Karamazov as an unusual take on the problem of evil (one that in brief doesn’t deny that a good God can exist and reconcile the evil done in the world but that refuses to sign up to that reconciliation: well worth a read and doesn’t really rely on the rest of the book. All context needed is that Ivan is known as a cynical academic ‘atheist’ and Alyosha his brother is a novice in the monastery: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Brothers_Karamazov/Book_V/Chapter_4)

    • onyomi says:

      A bit of a tangent:

      Everyone asks “if God is perfectly wise and omnipotent, why did he create a world where evil is possible?”

      A question that also strikes me is “if God created the universe, and what he cares about wrt the universe is sentient moral creatures who can freely chose to love him, would it not have been possible for him to do so with less… wasted space?” I mean, the number of mountains and valleys and atmospheres etc. out there (on distant planets, etc.) he made that no sentient being will likely ever see seems kind of ludicrous, to say nothing of all the empty space.

      Maybe God made the universe large enough to insure that sentient beings on different planets will never reach one another in order that their respective civilization-level pursuits of moral goodness should not interfere with one another?

      Maybe this is a pointless question, as perhaps there is no “good” or “bad” size for a universe in the way we can imagine “good” or “bad” life choices for Jack the Ripper, but I guess it just strikes me as a rather inefficient (not that God has limited resources…) way to have sentient life, assuming that is, indeed the goal?

      • Evan Þ says:

        That’s a fair question. I’ll answer it by challenging your premise: sapient moral creatures with free choice are the primary thing God cares about in the universe, but not the only thing. He created so many mountains and valleys and atmospheres because He likes them. For instance, look at the delight in nature shown by Psalm 104 or 148, or at God’s repeated assessments in Genesis 1 that each element of Creation is good.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Agree with Evan Þ. Brandon Watson has an interesting response to this question. One of his points:

        But perhaps the most problematic element of the argument is not what it says about God but what it says about human beings; it depends on a crabbed and limited view of human persons, and especially a crabbed and limited view of the excellence of human reason. Kant, on this point, at least, is far more accurate: the starry heavens above display the smallness of the human body, but the greatness of the human mind that is able to contemplate them. We know the vastness of the universe because we can study it; we are awed by the vastness of the universe because we are not merely crushed by an expanse of over two trillion galaxies but exhilarated by its awesomeness. Far from being unsuited to a vast universe, the human mind is immensely more at home in such a universe than in a universe supposed small, which is why people are so fascinated by astronomy, and, indeed, why we have astronomers at all.

        Nor is this a new point. Ovid has the famous story that the distinctive feature of the human animal is that, unlike other animals, we stand upright in order to look at the stars, the point being that far from being intimidated by the starry skies, we are in some sense more at home taking as much of it in as we can than we are just rooting around in the earth. We have minds fascinated by apparently infinite expanse, exhilarated by countlessness, drawn on by endless vistas.

        And this is where the argument most goes wrong. For it depends not merely on the claim that God, taking humans to be important, would create a world to fit humans, but also on the claim that a world to fit humans would have to be a small world. This derogatory view of the human mind is simply false of human beings as we actually know them. Give us a vast ocean of stars, with endless new and surprising things; that’s the universe appropriate to our minds, where we find ourselves at our best. There is no mismatch at all.

      • Controls Freak says:

        I’d guess about half ‘pointless question’ and half ‘you can’t please everyone’. In Optimally Efficient Universe, is there a version of you asking, “If god created the universe, couldn’t he have made it, like, a little more grandiose? A sort of vast cosmos that can demonstrate his power and ability to be so far above our own that it taxes our imagination just to comprehend it?” Imagine trying to make a universe so that twenty billion George Costanzas are entirely pleased with its construction.

    • Nick says:

      SMBC has just issued a timely comic.

    • Aron Wall says:

      Skeptical theism isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. In particular, I can admit that Evil provides some evidence against Theism, while also saying it shouldn’t be taken to be decisive, because (conditional on God being omniscient) it is hardly surprising that he would know justifications that I can’t conceive of.

      I also don’t think this entails giving up all predictions about what God might do. A 3 year old can’t understand a lot of the reasons for his parents’ arbitrary-seeming decrees, but they can still gather evidence that their parents love them, and behave in certain predictable ways. Hence, I don’t agree that other theodicy moves are completely invalidated.

      But I do think it makes a big difference whether you present theodicy as: “I can explain all the evils in the world by appealing to character building + free will + whatever…” (which is patently ridiculous) or “We don’t fully know why God allows suffering, but here are some types of goods which go beyond mere pleasure, and that logically require the possibility of evils, some of which may be partial explanations for what’s going on…” (which seems fairly reasonable).

      You probably meant to strike more of the latter tone, but I think this requires grappling with the element of mystery first rather than at the very end. Any position which doesn’t start by admitting—at least in the fantasy worldbuilding sense—that God’s would be more beyond us, than we are beyond the 3 year old, is simply failing to take seriously one of the postulates of the problem.

    • arlie says:

      From my limited theological background, this doesn’t seem like the standard list. More importantly, I’m not sure it covers all the bases some theologian or other has written about, convincingly or otherwise.

      The big gap is the idea that the deity is inscrutable, and these things that look like evil are in fact net good. There are several suggested reasons why evils might be net good overall. all wirtten a human comprehensible. But the whole point of the “inscrutability” defense is that we’re not equippped to comprehend. And it’s not the same as the Divine Cthulu argument – what the deity sees as good simply IS evil to any sane mortal.

      OTOH, you may be writing from the POV of your particular Christian variant, which may not allow that argument. I don’t even try to keep Christian sects straight, not even the larger ones – at least not in any detail – so I wouldn’t know.

      • Nick says:

        I’m not sure it covers all the bases some theologian or other has written about, convincingly or otherwise.

        Of course not, I can’t cover everything, especially if I haven’t heard of it. I wrote right at the beginning, “I thought I’d do a writeup on common strategies and responses to the problem of evil.” I’ll admit that I may have unintentionally left something obvious out.

        The big gap is the idea that the deity is inscrutable, and these things that look like evil are in fact net good.

        That’s what skeptical theism is, which appears at the end of the post. It was discussed quite a bit in the previous thread, which is part of why it only gets brief mention here.

        OTOH, you may be writing from the POV of your particular Christian variant, which may not allow that argument.

        Nah, trying to be broadly Christian here. I don’t endorse much of what I listed above.

        • arlie says:

          Quite right; I missed that entirely; possibly I was expecting different terminology for the same concepts.

          Sorry about that. Apparantly I’m adapting too well to a TL;DR world, and those adaptations reslly don’t work well in this community 😉

          • Nick says:

            It’s okay. I’d wavered on whether to define skeptical theism and decided not to, but I see how that’s confusing for those who hadn’t read the earlier thread.

    • bean says:

      And for Friday, I cover the infamous Millennium Challenge 2002, and why I don’t think that it proves very much about the state of the US military.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        I’d actually been meaning to ask about this on an Open Thread. The one-sidedness of the readily available narrative smelled off to me.

        • bean says:

          I’m a little bit surprised I haven’t covered it at some length before. I’ve posted links to Stuart’s stuff a couple times, but I finally sat down to do a full investigation based on some comments made in the Modern Navy emails. It should be useful.

    • redRover says:

      Unrelated question: What do you think of Egypt buying the French amphibious assault ships that were originally destined for Russia? Was this just a case of good hardware for cheap?

      Otherwise, I don’t really see the application that Egypt (or really a lot of countries with marginal amphibious capability) has in mind for them.

      • bean says:

        I haven’t looked into it closely. I suspect some of it is that operating ships with flat tops is a sign of power, a way to show your neighbors that you’re cool and into power projection. The rest may just be that it was cheap. I certainly don’t see what they add to Egyptian security, but as I said, I don’t know much about the Egyptian strategic outlook.

      • cassander says:

        I was really hoping that the canadians might pick up one or both of the mistrals, they might have made good use of them. With Egypt, they’re prestige projects that will sit pierside most of their existence. There are few countries in the world with larger gaps between expenditures and outcomes than Egypt. I can’t fathom what the saudis thought they would get out of helping the egyptians get them.

  3. bean says:

    Also, the Caliph is playing number games with us again.

  4. Egregious Philbin says:

    Weird question for older folks:

    Is social interaction now really that much different Before Cellphones? (The BC era, of course.) Less rushed, or less intimate?

    Wonder if this is just a bien pensant Golden Days bias.

    • johan_larson says:

      For me, no, but I occasionally get the impression that I’ve only modestly adapted to current communication patterns. I have a cell phone, and I use it to make calls and read email, but I don’t have SnapChat or Twitter or, really, anything with notifications enabled. I get the impression some people live in circumstances where near-instant response to pings from your social circle is expected. I just don’t live that way.

    • Well... says:

      I was in my last years of college when Everyone finally had a cellphone. Social interaction wasn’t too different then. I think smartphones did make a big change though.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      As an old folk, I should probably attempt to answer this.

      I don’t feel like interactions have changed a lot. But then, I’ve always been pretty deficient at interpersonal interactions myself, so perhaps I am a bit of an outlier. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten quite a bit better at interactions, so maybe my increased skill has simply offset the worse interactions in general, so it appears to me to be no change.

      It is really hard to judge changes in social phenomena from the inside, as personal changes interact with society-wide changes to make a hash of any interpretations. So my real answer is who the hell knows.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      I'm 43, which is a bit old around here, and I say that anyone who thinks that communication was better in the days before everybody had an international communication device in their pocket, is a grumpy old fart.

      That said, I have met with the idea that having this communication device in your pocket means that you are obligated to attend to it every time it makes noise and to respond to any other messages that you get on it as soon as you're aware of them. I said Fuck That when I first heard of it, and I can only imagine what must be the suffering of anybody who thinks otherwise.

    • Nick says:

      I for one am immensely annoyed when I can’t interact with my friend(s) because they’re all more interested in their phones. It’s plausible to me that phones made it way easier to opt out of meatspace social interaction for something that’s rarely more worth it.

      • redRover says:

        Yeah, I think this is the biggest thing. Social interaction is now more mediated by social media, and most people split their attention between meatspace and their phone. Maybe back in the old days people would half read the paper, but I don’t think it was as pervasive or intrusive as everyone idly checking Instagram while at dinner.

      • John Schilling says:

        In approximately none of my social interactions with twenty-somethings over the past decade, have I noticed them dropping out of meatspace social interaction to respond to a call or text or tweet. My experience may be atypical, but I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

        Which is not to say that social media isn’t a big deal, just that most people seem to manage to keep it segregated from reality.

        • dndnrsn says:

          How close are you to these 20-somethings, eg, family members, friends, what? It’s one of those “it would be rude to do it to a stranger, coworker, etc” things.

          It’s not entirely age-related. If my father is a 20-something he’s got a cunning disguise and it raises a lot of other questions – and he’ll bust his phone out while the family is talking or whatever. I think it’s a “personality” thing – he’s always done the same thing with newspapers. A phone just means you always have a little distraction thingy with you.

          • DavidS says:

            Agreed. Not sure it’s about ‘social media’: for plenty of people (including me) it might be reading stuff online. It’s basically ‘conversation and interaction is harmed when people can easily choose something else’. For whatever reason it’s less weird than pulling out a book: I think because it’s less clear what the time commitment is and you can (or at least can claim with some plausibility that you can) return to the conversation at any point

        • fion says:

          I find it virtually never happens one-on-one that the other person will check their phone when I’m trying to interact with them (at least not without an apology and an excuse about it being a particularly urgent thing that they need to respond to). But it happens all the time with large groups of people. For example at work, if there are eight people having lunch together and having one conversation, at any point the conversation might not be interesting to someone, so they go on their phone. They then stay on it even as the conversation shifts. But it’s also like a domino effect, because once some people have done it it’s more acceptable to do it. I always just sit quietly listening to the conversation if it shifts to something I’m not interested in, but nobody else seems to.

          And I’ve noticed this with all age groups, although more often with people in their twenties because that’s most of my coworkers.

    • Elena Yudovina says:

      Perhaps a measurable twist on this question: I recently attended a student symposium at a [US] university, in which undergraduates were presenting their research projects. One group ran a (small, ~100-person) study of the first years’ pattern of communicating with their parents. Perhaps people can think back to their own college days and communication patterns? We might not be able to figure out which way was better, but might at least discover which way had more communication.

      The study observed that the typical first-year communicates with parents less than once a week, with a typical conversation lasting <=15 minutes (if it was a voice conversation; 10 years later.)

      • I would have communicated with my parents less often than that, going to school in the early sixties. Long distance phone calls were expensive, something one did only when it was urgent. Mail was inexpensive, and I certainly exchanged some with them, but not once a week.

      • fion says:

        That’s quite interesting, but it’s a shame we don’t have an older study to compare it to. My intuition would actually be that modern students communicate with their parents more now than, say, a generation ago.

        My relationship with my family may be atypical, but since I left home seven years ago I’ve called my parents probably almost twice a week, with typical conversations lasting between 30-45 minutes.

        Whereas when my mum left home (at the age of 16!) she kept in touch with her parents much less than that. Probably less than the people in the study you mention. (Not sure about my dad. Don’t think I’ve ever asked him.)

        On a related note, I wonder if there are variations throughout the year on how much first-years communicate with their parents. Maybe in the first few weeks people are so stuck into all this new stuff that they don’t call their parents any more than the bare minimum required to stop their parents fretting. But maybe a few months in they’ve settled into a bit of a routine and feel like calling their parents more regularly. Or perhaps the opposite; when they first arrive they’re terrified and homesick, but once they make friends and get in the groove they don’t need so much support from their parents any more.

    • K.M. says:

      One of the bigger changes I noticed was how in-person meet-ups happen. Where previously you’d have to commit to a time, place, and backup plan, nowadays you usually just establish an approximate time and figure out the details after you’ve walked out the door. Changing a plan (“Dinner is at 6:30 instead of 6:00” “Please pick up little Timmy on your way over”) was usually avoided, as communicating the change would be more work than not.

      That said, I’m not sure if this has had any interesting impact on social interactions, such as more frequent IRL meet-ups.

      • DavidS says:

        I think it mostly blurs the lines for people being flaky. Rather than turning up 2 hours late to something you ‘text in advance’ at the point you were meant to show up saying ‘sorry, running late!’ and then turn up 2 hours late. By taking away the added irritation of ‘we had no idea if you were even coming’ this makes doing this sort of thing feel more excusable (to some).

      • fion says:

        Yeah, as someone who grew up after mobile phones were already basically ubiquitous, I often feel struck by how difficult some of my arrangements would have been if we hadn’t all had mobile phones. Going into town with a group of friends, going from one pub to another and still having people join part way through would be impossible I think.

        Or if you’re only meeting one person and they’re running a bit late, it’s very easy to feel anxious (“what if they’ve stood me up?”) if they’re unable to let you know they’re running late.

        • John Schilling says:

          It required a willingness to actually commit to a consensus decision, but that was never all that difficult for most people. And if it was difficult for one person, then it was pretty obvious who was making it difficult for everyone else. Otherwise, the value of being able to change plans during the marginal period when some of your people are still enroute was never terribly high.

          Being concerned about being stood up, was less of a big deal when there was an obvious reason why the late party couldn’t just call you to explain. And, of course, the most common reason for someone being late, then and now, is the one where calling them to see what’s happening carries a small risk of making them the other, euphemistic sort of late.

    • AG says:

      Rooster Teeth put out a documentary in which two of their most social media conscious employees are forbidden use of technologies from the 2000s for a while. They seem to observe somewhat of a positive effect, but have obviously “relapsed” once the ban was lifted, to an unknown effect. There were a few pointed shots of employees (who are supposedly good friends) during break time all on their phones instead of talking to each other, while the selected tech-less two are thus isolated. But that may indicate a preference on the part of phone-users to interact with people through the network buffer, instead of in meatspace, which isn’t the same as a decrease in social activity.

      I think the documentary is now only available to subscribers, though. I caught it during a promotion when they made it available for free for a week. It’s a fairly shallow documentary, but it’s still a more concrete and documented example than, say, a blog comment anecdote.

    • onyomi says:

      Where I live the biggest problem is people walking, often quickly and in crowded spaces, while staring at their cellphones, presumably believing, incorrectly, that they’re maintaining awareness of their surroundings. They’re a menace.

    • arlie says:

      Age 60 here. I don’t think social interaction is all that different, except that it’s even harder to get time off from it.

      But I only use those features of modern technology which I find useful – which do not include “checking in” with people multiple times a day, or while they are doing something with a predictable end point. (E.g. I’d only call a family member at work with something that couldn’t wait until they got home, and I’d arrange our lives to avoid having even ‘please get milk on the way home’ be a common occurence.) That didn’t change just because I could now use a text message, and not create an obvious interruption for them while they were in a meeting.

      I’m not on Facebook, or Twitter. I do sometimes check my RSS feed multiple times a day, when bored, but don’t have the compulsion other people report. I’m cursed with two smart phones – one too many, but it’s a work requirement – and kudos to them for not expecting me to use my personal cell phone for work.

  5. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

    • dodrian says:

      The best advice that I always try and follow is don’t listen to what people say on the Internet.

    • Atlas says:

      “Don’t step into the ring unless you know you’re gonna win.”

    • rahien.din says:

      My dad was fond of lobbing this little chestnut at me whenever I came home exasperated at the casual lunacy of human interactions and group dynamics :

      People will do anything. Anything! It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, or if it even does them any good. They’ll just do it – in fact, someone is doing it right now. Don’t let yourself be too surprised at what people will do.

      It wasn’t until much later that I realized “people” includes me.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Reminds me of the ‘umbrella man’:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yznRGS9f-jI

        This is an excellent piece of wisdom for interpersonal interactions. Basically when people start going over each other’s behaviour with a fine-toothed comb, they turn up all kinds of things that look weird, and they are tempted to misinterpret those things as evidence of malice or wrongdoing. But actually it just turns out that when you look close enough everyone is really weird and while they did things for reasons, you can’t guess what those reasons are, so you should just take these things with a grain of salt.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Thank you. I’ve posted the link to a Robert Anton Wilson group. It’s the most perfectly RAW thing I’ve seen in a while.

    • skef says:

      I had a manager who for the most part was … a typical manager, but gave me one of those “obvious” heuristics that is in practice extremely useful when kept explicitly in mind:

      Whatever you suspect the people above you in a hierarchy are thinking about some problem or situation you are dealing with, what they are actually thinking is almost certainly much less complicated.

      Note that this isn’t (just) a “managers are dumb” dig — it’s easily accounted for in terms hierarchy itself.

      The heuristic shares an important property with the old saw that software projects will take three times longer than you think: awareness of the heuristic doesn’t negate it. Even when trying to correct for the problem you’ll likely come up short. So it works best as an indication of a variety of ignorance, and more usefully an indication of the “direction” of that ignorance.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Road House is in most respects a fairly mediocre movie, but the scene where Patrick Swayze stresses that the first rule of being a bouncer is “Be nice” really made an impression on me.

      Similarly, something that my father told me that stuck is that basically the only chance you ever have of winning an argument (more in the sense of “conflict in real life”, although it probably is applicable to abstract arguments on the internet too) is if you give the other person the opportunity to do what you want with their dignity intact, rather than forcing them to accept that they lost.

    • johan_larson says:

      It wasn’t a piece of advice, exactly, more a realization of the soundness of a basic rule: make the boss happy. Whatever the formal requirements of your position, or the nominal system for performance review, figure out what the boss wants and make him happy.

      Now, that may sound really stupidly obvious, but our popular culture contains significant memes for a certain rebelliousness. “Fight the power.” “Stick it to the Man.” “Speak the truth though the heavens fall.” “Go your own way.” In my experience, acting on such ideas will at best get you bypassed in favor of the more compliant and at worst squashed like a bug. Better to make the boss happy.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Your job is to make your manager look good to his/her manager.

        That was going to be my response to this thread!

        • John Schilling says:

          “Make the boss happy” is slightly better advice, because a subset of bosses aren’t primarily concerned with looking good to their boss. But if you don’t understand what will make your boss the happiest, making him look good is a really, really good guess.

      • arlie says:

        Unfortunate side effect: major dysfunction in most organizations, where most bosses care less about the organization’s ostensible purpose, and more about their own incentives, one of which is keeping their boss happy.

    • dick says:

      “Children are like pets: never get mad at them, and never take any shit from them.”

      • Randy M says:

        Except in the literal sense, in which case they are still alike in requiring shit taking for proper maintenance.

    • Well... says:

      Surround yourself with good people. Or as my grandma put it, choose good friends.

    • Enkidum says:

      “Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.”

    • Wander says:

      Some very practical advice passed down from my Opa, a Polish man who lived right on the German-Polish border: do whatever you can to avoid being in a war.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      “we’re too poor to afford cheap shit”

    • SamChevre says:

      A proverb I grew up with, which has proven true over and over and over:

      “Take as you will, and pay as you must.”

      Although the (Mennonite) friend who advised me to leave “Now, while you still can” was also very right.

    • proyas says:

      “Listen to the cautionary voice in your head.”

      I only listen to it about 50% of the time, but just that has made me vastly better off.

      • fion says:

        I can think of some people (probably including myself) who could do with listening to the cautionary voice a whole lot less than they currently do.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Someone already quoted Hanlon’s Razor, which is my top answer, but another really good piece of advice I got early was “You can train your own emotional responses over time with effort”. I feel like a lot of people I know in their 30s and 40s still feel like emotions are things that just happen to them- they have no control at any scale, and any action their emotions “force” them into is similarly out of their control.

      A lot of that relates to the whole internal/external “locus of control” mindset- but that has more to do with perspective, where the advice I’m talking about is literally that you can CHANGE your automatic emotional response eventually with effort and practice.

      • powerfuller says:

        How much liberty do you have with your emotions? I feel like I can train myself to ignore or discount my emotional reactions, but not change them — e.g. I can train myself to not be annoyed by some frustrating thing, but I can’t train myself to enjoy something I don’t. Can you train yourself to have default positive reactions to things?

        • Well... says:

          At age 15 I trained myself never to be bored, and it basically worked.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “At age 15 I trained myself never to be bored, and it basically worked.”

            Details?

          • Well... says:

            I was in a situation where for about a week the only windows I could look out of showed me a high-rise nursing home across the street. The old people there just sat all day on their balconies apparently not doing anything. I felt like the situation I was in could be modeled as a predecessor to theirs, so I resolved never to be bored again.

            I don’t remember if I even realized it at the time, but luckily I found afterwards that boredom is indeed a choice. All the times you might get bored, you can use your mind to get yourself out of it instead. You have to realize it of course, but you also have to want it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Well…:

            Interesting. I don’t remember ever making this as a conscious choice, but I learned to entertain myself as long as I had a notebook and pen, or just quiet time in which I could think. I don’t recall a lot of times in my life when I’ve been bored.

          • quaelegit says:

            @albatross11 — I think the same for me. (Although I think my parents explicitly taught this to me.) My problems with unoccupied time are usually either “anxious because I feel like I really should be doing something else” variety (often true), or “annoyed/upset with the things my brain is suggesting to occupy me with” (maybe this is close to what people usually mean by boredom?)

            But if I’m, say, stuck waiting for a train for tens of minutes, I have plenty of things to look at or thoughts to keep me entertained without pulling out my phone.

        • andrewflicker says:

          I’m not sure about strictly positive- but maybe this example counts: When I started driving, I used to have the common automatic response of anger/frustration when people failed to use their blinkers, drove erratically, or otherwise “got in my way” via bad driving. I decided to sort of mentally dream up their inner experience as stressed out, panicking, fighting their own lack of skills and trying to do the best they can. Every time I would get a “hit” of anger driving, I’d deliberately engage in this sort of mental roleplaying. Eventually feelings of sympathy, pity, and compassion began to be my automatic response to seeing other people’s poor driving skills on the road- I never got the initial hit of anger at all.

          • Randy M says:

            That generalizes well–“Always assume the person pissing you off is just really having a bad day.” Maybe the behavior is still worth complaining about, but most times it is worth forgiving.
            In some cases it may be necessary to hold a corollary that you can’t let yourself off so easily.

    • IrishDude says:

      Though I’m not religious, the serenity prayer:”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

      Taking to heart the first part, accepting things that I can’t change, brings me a lot of internal peace on a day-to-day basis.

    • powerfuller says:

      Top contender is “To solve a problem, you must do what the problem requires, not what you wish would solve the problem.” Another is “revealed preferences are true preferences,” but nobody’s ever actually said that to me as advice.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      While I was looking for information about potty training my kid, I came across a piece of advice for interacting with toddlers that’s probably applicable to interactions with anyone: If they’re doing what you want them to do, don’t make them feel bad for having done so. Don’t sarcastically say “Finally!” or “What took you so long?”, don’t rub their nose in past misbehavior, just tell them how happy you are that they did as you asked.

    • Nornagest says:

      There are no adults in the room. No one actually knows what they’re doing. Everyone’s just doing the best they can.

    • Controls Freak says:

      “You can’t fix it if you can’t see it.”

      Sure, my pops was talking specifically in the context of working on cars (and maybe other handiwork around the house), and often specifically in the sense of, “You should get me some sort of light or do a better job of pointing the light you have, because that’s your ONE JOB,” but looking back, I think it’s a bit more generally applicable.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Get 8 hours of sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and read something new.

      Things have a better chance of working themselves out.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      One of the good ones I received was in a volleyball referee clinic:
      Never judge intent. Rather, judge what happened.
      Applies to more than just refereeing.

      One I try to give when I can:
      Not all religions are labeled as such.

  6. secret_tunnel says:

    Does anyone who’s better at doing medical research than me have any stats on how safe LASIK is? Not having to wear contacts would increase my quality of life just a tiiiiny bit, but man, even if there’s only a small chance of something going wrong, it’s my eyes! I need those!

    • Evan Þ says:

      I have no stats, but I’ve anecdotally heard that it’s at least somewhat common for the surgery to severely hurt your night vision. For instance, after the surgery, my aunt no longer drives at night.

      Take that for what it’s worth. Personally, I’ve decided not to get the surgery – in part because of that, but in part because I rather like how I look with glasses.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Also no stats, but I have my own anecdote. I got Lazik about 15 years ago, and it was the best $3000 I ever spent. I first got glasses in 3rd grade, and always had pretty bad vision. It was and is so nice to not worry about steamed up glasses, dropping my glasses, bending or breaking my glasses, finding my glasses after sleeping, or dealing with an ongoing sore on my ear or nose from glasses. Contacts were better in some ways, but worse in others. Lazik is better in almost every way.

        I do have night vision issues. I wear glasses when I drive at night, which takes care of that. I also used to take off my glasses to see small things — now I use reading glasses. Both of these are tiny inconveniences compared to my old life.

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      Here‘s a report from 2007.

      Generally, to find information about a medical topic use Pubmed:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed – just enter topic as a search term, then filter results to publication type “review” from the menu on the left side of search results, as well as other criteria relevant for you (date range, etc). Alternatively, instead of clicking on menu, one can use boolean expressions with tags in the search box, e.g.

      lasik AND (Review[ptyp])

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I came across http://endmyopia.org a while back. The claim is that myopia can be reversed by wearing glasses that are slightly underpowered during near work and regularly giving your eyes time to relax. Of course it might be a total scam. Would love to see somebody trustworthy try this and report on it.

      • andrewflicker says:

        Anecdotally, I doubt it. I’ve had serious myopia since I was a child, and am habitually letting my prescription lapse and not getting new glasses soon enough, so I’m almost always using underpowered glasses (and I read a ton, so “near work” is constant). Maaaaybe I’m not giving my eyes enough time to relax, but if it’s conditional only on that, it’s a stretch. My eyesight continues to worsen, year after year.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      its probably a freak thing and might not apply widely but it did something to my uncles eyes that made them not make tears? or his tears were no longer of the right consistency to keep the surface of his eyes lubricated? anyway anytime you or i would have a blink response, he had to put eyedrops in his eyes. that’s the worse case i’ve heard of

    • b_jonas says:

      I don’t care about the statistics, at least yet. LASIK technology has changed a lot in the last 15 years, and it definitely had too much bad side effects before that, so we only have 15 years of statistics of the more modern version of the surgery. I’d like to have more than 30 years further of my eyes working, and we literally can’t have statistics of the aftereffects of LASIK on such long term.

      That said, I’m not curious anyway, because I like wearing glasses, not wearing them wouldn’t increase my quality of life much, and the surgery wouldn’t fix the other problems with my eyes.

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What would the application of Ant-Man technology be in a coherent SF universe, rather than one held in Current Year stasis?
    Cost/scarcity of Pym particles must be the key insight. The implications of everyone int the First World being able to afford a suit or car that can shrink to 1/100 scale would be very different from equipping a piece of technology (suit/car/ten storey building) with a resizing field costing as much as an aircraft carrier. So, most conservatively,

    1) Space travel. A space station the size of a ten storey building can be launched for the cost of 50 pounds tops. You could likely even pull off neat tricks with thrust by carrying your chemical propellant in the field and molecules falling out of it. On that note…
    2) Perpetual motion? This makes me cringe, but it may be inevitable. Even if there’s a catch that satisfies thermodynamics, a power supply the size of a human could be shrunk to the size of a molecule, or one the size of an office building to a suitcase.
    3) Nuclear weapons platforms as we know them are obsolete. Nuclear powers would renounce first-use policies but have terrorists/secret agents who could deploy a tiny nuke and then be denounced. The delivery platform for a large retaliatory strike would become a shrunken bomber that drops many nuclear gravity bombs over the target city without enlarging. All ICBMs and SSBNs get decommissioned except by nuclear powers too poor to afford this tech.

    • gbdub says:

      I rather like an argument someone posted that stated the real reason Ant-Man needed to be kept out of Infinity War was that he’d make the movie end in 10 seconds: while Spidey and Iron Man distract Thanos from the front, Ant Man rockets up his ass and then activates Giant Man mode.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Going meta: does the lack of response to this thread indicate a feeling by our SF fans that unrealistic SF isn’t worth putting thought into? Get hard or go home?

      • Anatoly says:

        I think it’s less about hard vs non-hard SF and more about the original level of coherence. The way I seem to feel about is, both the original comics and the movies are primarily driven by each individual story and its wow factor, and the way they merge the stories into a sorta coherent universe is inevitably with a truckload of badly smelling glue and a ton of special pleading. It doesn’t seem an attractive prospect to give the worldbuilding more due than its creators gave it. Like taking a drunken rant and editing it into an essay.

        By contrast, I think discussions of the two Glorfindels in Tolkien, or the eagles theory, are fascinating, even though it’s not hard SF in the slightest. Because the creator took worldbuilding very seriously and tried to build a coherent world.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That’s a very fair point.
          I’ve tried Googling for prose SF with shrinking technology, but all I’ve found are short stories of one-shot experiments where the subject shrinks so small they land on an electron “planet” orbiting a nucleus “star” and have an adventure. Nothing where it becomes a replicable setting element like FTL.

      • quaelegit says:

        For me, the lack of response is because I don’t know how Antman’s suit works so don’t have anything to add. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve really been enjoying your “rigourous examination of Marvel tropes*” threads though!

        *Edit: er, world building etc., tropes might be the wrong word here.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, I did a count the other day—I think I’ve seen… 12? of the Marvel movies, and Antman wasn’t one of them, so I have nothing to add to this conversation. Still fun to read about though.

          • quaelegit says:

            I’ve only seen two (Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2… Deadpool isn’t MCU right?), so I’m going off Wikipedia summaries, discussions with friends who have seen them, and extrapolating from unrelated works I have watched/read*. Mostly I’m just enjoying the discussion within the context given in the threads & finding it interesting to read along 😛

            *Giant Man sounds a bit like Fenja & Menja from Worm (and/or Manpower?). Except Ant Man “technology” makes it sound more like Tinker stuff, and I can’t tell if Tinkers in Worm are more coherent than Marvel stuff.

          • Nick says:

            Shrinking technology is, strictly speaking, an Armsmaster power, right?

            Also, have you been keeping up with Ward? I made a top level post a few open threads ago, but you didn’t respond so I figured it was while you were on vacation or something. I’ve been itching to discuss the series with folks (I don’t participate on the subreddit), but I guess we don’t have the critical mass that places like spacebattles did/do.

          • quaelegit says:

            Sorry, I totally missed your earlier top level post! (I think I was indeed travelling then.) I’ll go read it now.

            Armsmaster shrinks *technology itself*, so he can fit a bunch of tinker tech in a small space. I don’t think he can shrink people — I would guess he’s manton-limited there. (Wait, now I’m vaguely remembering something about the Bridcage… I really need to re-read.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Thanks! 🙂

      • J Mann says:

        I can’t get my head around shrinking and growth powers – there are so many required secondary powers to get them to work that I can’t really do the implications. Given that he seems to be able to selectively alter mass and momentum, and that somehow he still functions as Giant-Man, Pym particles seem like they would be able to do a lot.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I don’t know if he’s altering momentum. What seems to be happening movie-wise is the creation of a “Pym particle” lattice around a suit, vehicle or office building that lets you shrink the atomic diameter to ~1/100 scale with or without altering the Higgs field to make it one-millionth as massive.
          The discussion of growing in the sequel trailer indicates that the atoms inside the lattice can also have their diameter inflated from 3.5-11 fold (in the service of a “women are better than men because men care about comparing size” joke :/). Since Giant-Man is demonstrably at least an order of magnitude more massive than Paul Rudd, vast amounts of mass-energy must be drawn from somewhere through the tech’s Higgs interaction.

          • mdet says:

            I think I remember from the comics that Vision (who was created by Hank Pym) can increase and decrease his density by using Pym particles to pull mass from / send mass to another dimension. That sounds like it’s also how Giant Man works, but doesn’t explain Ant Man, whose density was not handled very consistently in the movie (unless he’s variably changing his mass from moment to moment like Vision, but that is not stated).

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Despite claiming that shrunken things retain their mass, the movie can’t make up its mind about how it works. The shrunken Ant Man routinely has inertia as though he weigh two hundred pounds, but just as routinely walks and jumps on things/people which are clearly not receiving two hundred pounds of weight (especially not concentrated on an area the size of a pin). Then Giant Man operates on a different ruleset entirely where he seems to behave consistently as though he weighs two hundred tons.

            I think this is a major obstacle to doing any kind of “coherent Ant Man” exercise, the ability isn’t even consistent with itself.

            Edit: My memory of the movie is hazy, but I feel like the movie comes close to consistent if you declare that shrunken objects act with shrunken mass for the purposes of gravity, but act full size when they exert their own force, like Ant-Man punching things. This still has the problem that every footstep he takes should kick clean through whatever he’s standing on though… maybe it’s best just to say that he has a never-described button which can be used to switch between full mass and reduced mass while shrunken, and he presses it every time he punches someone.

          • J Mann says:

            Don’t you basically need superpowers to function if you’re Giant Man’s size?

      • John Schilling says:

        I think I’ve touched on this before, but the reason I have given up on the comic-book superhero subgenre isn’t lack of realism, it’s silliness. Superhero fight movies have become akin to professional wrestling matches – costumed “heroes” fighting costumed “villains” in the flashiest way the choreographers can arrange, with a veneer of fake drama to supposedly make us care about the combatants. And the silliness increases geometrically with the number of dramatic backstories that need to be fit into each movie – I can easily suspend disbelief for a good Batman story, but Batman and Superman at the same time is a stretch and the full JLA is almost impossible to do well.

        Good stories can be told with the constraint that the protagonist must put on a costume to engage the costumed villain in hand-to-hand combat in the final act, but no story really benefits from this. And Hollywood in particular is getting worse at the part where they make me care who wins the fistfight, so I also don’t much talk about who should have won the fistfight with optimal tactics.

        Stories that are merely incompatible with physical reality, are not a problem for me – see e.g. Lord of the Rings. Stories that are internally incoherent are more troublesome, and I’d rather the incoherence be in service of something more interesting than an FX-laden fistfight.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I think I’ve touched on this before, but the reason I have given up on the comic-book superhero subgenre isn’t lack of realism, it’s silliness. Superhero fight movies have become akin to professional wrestling matches – costumed “heroes” fighting costumed “villains” in the flashiest way the choreographers can arrange, with a veneer of fake drama to supposedly make us care about the combatants. And the silliness increases geometrically with the number of dramatic backstories that need to be fit into each movie – I can easily suspend disbelief for a good Batman story, but Batman and Superman at the same time is a stretch and the full JLA is almost impossible to do well.

          Good stories can be told with the constraint that the protagonist must put on a costume to engage the costumed villain in hand-to-hand combat in the final act, but no story really benefits from this. And Hollywood in particular is getting worse at the part where they make me care who wins the fistfight, so I also don’t much talk about who should have won the fistfight with optimal tactics.

          This is totally reasonable. We had a discussion several OTs ago about how Black Panther would have been the exact same quality of story if it was about an African nation that’s never done arms dealing before wanting to sell weapons only to other black people, no CGI.
          Or take Wonder Woman, which was trying to tell a story about a young woman raised on Greek mythology tropes who has to learn that you can’t solve World War I by finding the personification of war and stabbing him… but did the big CGI fight with him anyway.

        • Interviewing Leather” is a long short story set in a superhero world which does a pretty good job of explaining why superheros and supervillains engage in so many flashy fights.

          • Nornagest says:

            From Worm:

            “No, no. Hear me out. Grown adults running around in costume? Making up code names for themselves? It’s ridiculous, and we know it’s ridiculous, even if we don’t admit it out loud. So there’s capes like you and me, where we go out in costume and it’s fun. Maybe we have some agenda or goals, but at the end of the day, we’re getting our thrills, blowing off steam and living a second life. Then there’s the crazies. The people who are fucked up in the head, maybe dangerous if there’s not something or someone to help keep them in line. The people who take it all too seriously, or those guys you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, even if they didn’t have powers. Lung, Oni Lee, Heartbreaker,” she paused. “Bitch.”

            […]

            “But you have to understand, ninety percent of what goes on when you’re in costume? It’s the first group. Adults in costumes playing full contact cops and robbers with fun-as-fuck superpowers and toys. This mindset applies to the people without powers too. Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team. Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves. But what good is having a team if there’s no competition?”

        • mdet says:

          I found this sentiment interesting because this is not the axis of movie quality / enjoyment that I prioritize. You saying “No story really benefits from this” is weird, like finding out that you’re listening to the lyrics in a song, while I’m listening for the rhythms.

          I’m going into movies looking primarily for aesthetic value. What I want in a movie is for it to take a story and elevate it by staging it in the most stylized, fantastic, exaggerated version that it can. Take this video essay by Every Frame A Painting. It’s about how the average comedy film is just Shot: Joke Setup / Reverse Shot: Joke Punchline. But Edgar Wright’s comedies will use the editing and framing and sound cues and every part of the medium to convey what’s going on, in as stylized a way as possible. Or Nerdwriter’s video essay on why Prisoner of Azkaban was the best Harry Potter film because it took the most liberties stylistically, and was the most creative with its camerawork.

          The thing you’re complaining about is pretty much the exact thing I’m going to the movies for.

          • John Schilling says:

            From your description, it seems to me that the thing you are going to the movies for is not a story at all. Which is fine, but it should mean “No story really benefits from this” is one of the least weird parts of my opinion.

            So, River Tam Beats Up Everyone, in 70mm IMAX?

          • mdet says:

            I’m not saying I dislike story, any more than I think you’d say you dislike cinematography. But I put more weight on a clever / striking visual experience than on story.

            Take animation vs live action for example. If you decide to animate a movie instead of filming it live action, it’s because you want access to all the tools that animation offers and live action doesn’t — the ability to design characters as caricature, to exaggerate the physicality of actions and movements, to bend the laws of reality and make things “cartoonish”.

            Similarly, if we’re making something a movie rather than a book or a stageplay, it’s because we want to play around with the audiovisual medium — flashy choreography and action set pieces, clever editing and camerawork that makes mundane events feel stylized, imagery so striking that a shot which is only on screen for a few seconds can be stuck in your head for days. The video on Edgar Wright was making the point that so many comedy movies are just SNL skits extended for 90min, whereas Edgar Wright tells jokes that could only ever work in film, thereby using the camera to its full potential. I feel like your criticism amounts to “The Avengers movies would make terrible novels”, which is almost definitely true, and entirely besides the point for me.

          • mdet says:

            If “the book is always better than the movie” is a truism, we can probably add “the movie is always better than the novelization” for the same reasons.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And the song parody is always better than either.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Supplementing what others have said, I have serious Marvel fatigue. It’s annoying that these movies dominate the box office every year, now three times a year. I don’t particularly hate them which is why I’ll sometimes see it with friends, but the jokes in particular can be grating. I think they peaked with the first Avengers, which I thought was a legitimately entertaining blockbuster and it has been middling since then. And maybe it’s my own bias but I don’t think there is really that much to talk about with them. When The Dark Knight came out, there was some interesting discussion about surveillance, terrorism and how it reflected the Bush administration. What do Marvel movies say about society today, that we need to be more snarky?

        • ManyCookies says:

          FWIW, I’ve had Marvel fatigue for years and quite enjoyed Infinity War.

          Also, (Minor Black Panther Spoilers) BP was building up to a neat U.S foreign policy analogue… until it ended in the standard Marvel movie fashion. (/spoilers)

        • John Schilling says:

          I think they peaked with the first Avengers, which I thought was a legitimately entertaining blockbuster and it has been middling since then.

          I think they were unsure their formula would work with the first Avengers, so they took extra care in making sure the movies building up to it made us care about the characters, one at a time, and then took more care in how they built a story to fit those characters. Superbly done, for the most part. But they’ve gotten complacent, and the box office says they can afford to be complacent for a bit longer at least.

      • gbdub says:

        Part of the issue is that you already came up with some hard to beat applications.

        But the other part is that I think superhero settings are more fantasy than sci-fi, and really aren’t meant to have their technological trappings examines closely.

        These are worlds that are meant to basically look exactly like our own, except for a few people who have special powers. The backstories are just window dressing – super powers are almost always treated as magic, and you aren’t supposed to think about them much more deeply than you do about why only Arthur can wield the sword of destiny.

    • MrApophenia says:

      The stated way the Pym particles work, and the way they usually appear to work in the movies, actually dodges a lot of this, like perpetual motion machines. In theory the mass doesn’t change, only the size and density, so when Ant-Man is tiny he is super-dense. This is still potentially miraculously transformative, but in somewhat less spectacular ways.

      But that doesn’t seem to hold true when he gets big, because if he became incredibly fragile and weak it wouldn’t be very cinematic. Also the tank on the keychain totally defies that too.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I have a vague impression that shrink-with-the-same-mass and get-big-and-massive technologies are two different technological applications of Pym particles in the comics. When other people get Pym particles, they become another Ant-Man OR another Goliath, etc.
        The tank shrunk to Hot Wheels size is a whole other issue.

      • gbdub says:

        The “small with same mass” is problematic because we see Ant-Man riding insects, and in the new movie Wasp flies with wings on her suit – neither makes much sense if they retain the mass of adult humans.

  8. skef says:

    I’m going to add this point here rather than the UBI article because a) I came to that discussion late, but more importantly b) it falls outside of the usual terms of the debate, which tend to be either economic or moral.

    I have come to suspect that there are a large number of otherwise progressive-ish UBI opponents who are not convinced by the economic or moral arguments against it, but have unvoiced political concerns. There may also be a substantial conservative-ish contingent who are somewhat moved by the moral arguments, unsure at this point about the economic ones, but convinced mostly by the same political concerns.

    This largely unvoiced worry would be: “Do we really want free psychological ‘cycles’ and time for political organizing in the hands of those people? Can any society be stable after it provides an underclass with enough available energy to organize politically? Consider your least favorite personal stereotype of a poor person, who is quite likely of the opposite political persuasion. Isn’t it more comfortable to imagine that person to exhausted and perplexed to do anything about their political views?”

    I don’t think this is a great argument as is, but I think it is there and I would rather it be on the table than under it. Much of the “quality of life” discussion, for example, may ultimately trace to such concerns. The idea that much of anyone really favors a jobs program over UBI for such esoteric reasons seems awfully precious to me. Don’t we all face an individual struggle for meaning? But creating a bunch of angry people who don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from? That’s a practical political concern.

    Maybe doing that would just be inherently unstable! This is a discussion we can have.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I think that you’re combining two concerns that aren’t the same thing.

      The main concern I’ve seen is that the UBI immediately creates a permanent lobby for itself. If you quit your job to go on UBI, you’ve committed to UBI for life. Nobody is going to hire you for a decent wage with a large gap in your employment history, so if anything happens to UBI you’re suddenly faced with the prospect of earning less or no money with much much less leisure time. If a sizable portion of the population goes on UBI, that voting block can likely kill any attempt to lower or eliminate it and will have a lot of leverage to vote for increases.

      The other concern, about people with too much free time turning to disruptive activism, has been voiced but it’s much more marginal than your summary implies. If these guys were driven and organized enough to threaten “the system” they would probably have real jobs already. I’m personally much more worried about a rise in crime rates and occasional riots than some kind of lumpenproletariat revolution.

      • skef says:

        I’ll mostly let my OP stand, but I want to clarify against “some kind of lumpenproletariat revolution” that I don’t take this to see the worry in question. The concern wouldn’t be a “revolution”, but that politics in general would become that much more stupid and incoherent. Idle hands and so forth.

        If these guys were driven and organized enough to threaten “the system” they would probably have real jobs already.

        It could be true that most people think this way, but it seems just about entirely wrong to me. If the concern with UBI is that many people would quit their jobs, then “real” is doing too much work here. The presumption is that many people now working would have free time for other pursuits.

      • arlie says:

        ” Nobody is going to hire you for a decent wage with a large gap in your employment history, ”

        Reason 60019 why the deal our culture offers to stay-at-home spouses completely sucks. If true, the odds of the supporting spouse abandoning the marriage are too high for this to be a sensible risk, no matter how much both partners believe that children should be raised by family.

        UBI is only tangentially relevant here. I just wanted to point out what this looks like from the POV of those most expected to take on child rearing roles.

        • John Schilling says:

          ” Nobody is going to hire you for a decent wage with a large gap in your employment history, ” Reason 60019 why the deal our culture offers to stay-at-home spouses completely sucks.

          Except that, speaking as an employer and as a former employer of a stay-at-home mother, being a stay-at-home spouse doesn’t really count as a “gap” for this purpose. I think most employers treat stay-at-home motherhood (or fatherhood) just like any other job or career for this purpose, rather than as an indication that an applicant is a shiftless layabout.

          It does, however, count as an other job or career, which can be a problem if the job you are applying for requires currency in professional skills or the like. And there are networking implications. If you were planning on starting a new career anyway, this isn’t a problem, but it can be if you are hoping to slide right back into your pre-motherhood career.

    • albatross11 says:

      skef:

      I do not believe that accounts for any substantial fraction of opposition to UBI. It honestly sounds to me like the kind of problem a mustache-twirling villain would have with UBI. My impression is that most actual opposition is one of:

      a. UBI will give money to people without fixing any of their other problems, and they’ll spend it and still have their problems. (The day the UBI checks come in, lots of people will be loading up on cheap wine and cigarettes, and half a month later, they’ll be yelling at their kids to shut up about how hungry they are.)

      b. Critical jobs will become impossible to fill when nobody *has* to do them.

      c. It will cost a shit-ton of money and we can’t afford it.

      d. Most people, deprived of the structure of regular jobs, will drift into unproductive, self-destructive behavior that will wreck them and their communities. (Drugs, drinking, orgies, whatever)

      e. It will end up taking money from people who are doing productive things and funneling it to support lots of peoples’ drug, cigarette, video game, etc. habit, and it’s morally wrong or socially destructive to take from productive people and give to unproductive ones.

      f. Once we have people who’ve spent a decade or two living on UBI, it will be impossible to change the system–those people will be permanently unable to rejoin the workforce in any productive way.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I agree with most of your critiques, but I think that your (b) needs to be qualified. Basic economics teaches us they won’t be impossible to fill; pay a janitor $500,000/hour and you’ll get janitors. The problem is they’ll be impossible to fill at wages that will provide enough of them without crashing the rest of the economy.

        On the other hand, if we spend much longer on this, we should really go back to the UBI thread.

      • skef says:

        I am content to say that the bulk of conservative-ish opposition falls under these categories, and a healthy part of progressive-ish opposition falls under a subset of them.

        Predictably, I agree less about the plausibility of my original point, although I do think that the “mustache twirling” issue is an important part of why it remains mostly sub-textual.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I think the major political issue with UBI is that there are massive regional differences in the cost of living. A UBI that covered even crummy levels of rent in NYC or the Bay Area would be well above what most people would consider basic in other areas. A UBI that met basic levels for a mid level city or a rural area would be relatively paltry for the lower economic classes living in expensive cities, and this group represents a significant fraction of the base of the party more likely to implement it. An attempt to adjust for regional differences is going to lead to a lot of resentment and division, the poor in Mississippi get $500 a month and the poor in New York are going to get $1000? I don’t have a clue how you stop this from broadening and deepening the rural/urban political divide in this country.

      • John Schilling says:

        The poor in Mississippi and New York both get $500/month. The poor who aren’t willing to work at least part-time minimum-wage jobs to make up the difference, don’t live in New York, because why should they be in New York instead of Mississippi if not to partake of New York’s concentration of economic opportunities?

        And there are a few legitimate answers to that not-quite-rhetorical questions, but they aren’t ones many people are going to want to subsidize to the tune of an extra $500/month.

  9. Brett says:

    There was a post about Basic Jobs, but what about Basic Job Search? There’s a history of Active Job Assistance programs (some of them not so great), but it seems like it would be a good pairing with a full employment monetary and labor policy, and still fulfill the mandate of “ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one” without having to run massive public jobs programs. And of course it would just be by choice – you have to show up and ask for a job, and you can get fired from the jobs you’re placed in like any other.

    That could either be an expanded public agency like Workforce Services, it could be public-private with the various job search companies, etc. There’s a real cost to searching for, applying for, and finding a new job that helps keep people in some bad ones – if we make it much less costly to find and transition to new ones, that might have some good labor market outcomes.

    Anyways-

    There was a “say something nice” post over at a film critic site about The Phantom Menace, and that got me thinking about that. The Prequels have some ideas that I like – I like Palpatine’s secret plan and how he pivots to get the same outcome when it is foiled in The Phantom Menace (giving layers of meaning to the title). I like the idea of the Jedi and Republic being forced suddenly into a war they weren’t prepared for, so they have to rely on and use the shady Clone Army that conveniently happens to be ready for them as prepared by a dead Jedi Master. I like the idea of the Jedi being drawn out into fighting all over the galaxy in a quest to stop the Sith and destroy the Separatists, while the real threat grows at home and by the time they realize it has happened, it’s too late for them (Revenge of the Sith).

    • cassander says:

      I have a beautiful vision of the prequel trilogies that’s all about anakin being torn between various conflicts as he grows up and moves up through the ranks of the jedi order. Obi-wan vs qui gon jin in the first movie, Dooku (who’s head of the jedi order) vs. a political general who’s the head of the republic’s armies in the second, and yoda vs. Palpatine in the third. It’s very much the foundation trilogy meets the wire, with space wizards.

      But I think most people have something like that. Almost everyone seems to like the idea of the prequels, just not the prequels themselves.

  10. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Does anyone here know anything about Democratic Socialists of America? Like, not from a political perspective, but in terms of the experience of being a member? I have a friend getting into it and just kinda want to know if it’s an abusive leftist cult or something.

    • The DSA is about as far from a cult as you can get. They are sort of the Unitarian Universalists of the radical left. They’ll take anybody. Coherent principles? Member education before admission? Pffft! They tend to not have very formal procedures (sometimes a negative in my experience. I liked Socialist Alternative better in that regard. They had formal meeting agendas, which made things snappy and less personal, and a strictly rotating schedule of facilitators who were called upon to also to prepare a 30 min presentation/discussion on a topic of their own choosing each meeting in addition to the regular meeting business, so the meetings were more educational and pushed the quieter members to rise to the occasion and step out of their comfort zone).

      The DSA is harmless as far as something to check out. If you are like me, though, you’ll probably find them a bit naive, incoherent, and unsophisticated.

      • WashedOut says:

        During my time at university I also briefly mingled with Socialist Alternative gatherings and presentations, but I got such a ‘teenage-Marxist’ amateurish vibe from them that I had to stop going to meetings out of embarrassment. Mind you this was in Melbourne, home of the petit bourgeois so we can put that down to local factors.

        I was more interested in the Socialist Equality Party, i.e. the movement of the Fourth International, as Trotsky-lovers tended to be a lot more educated and spoke much more eloquently. Unfortunately the SEP did act and function as a kind of cult, with very lengthy periods of education and political grooming prior to becoming a member. Thankfully I never went all the way down that road.

        • Michael Handy says:

          Sydneysider here, got exactly the same vibe from both the Socialist Alternative (Who are Cliffite Trotskyists if I recall) and the SEP, who had their shit together but were a bit rigid ideologically for my tastes.

          Of course, I then read too much Bookchin and Luxemburg and turned Left-Communist.

  11. Douglas Knight says:

    As a big proponent of Anglicization, I’m excited about the revival of referring to Marcus Tullius Cicero as “Tully.”

  12. robirahman says:

    There’s a Slate Star Codex meetup this Saturday night in Washington, DC, 7pm at 616 E St NW. We’ll be meeting in the second floor lounge to discuss the blog and various vaguely-adjacent topics. For those of you who are new, readers are encouraged to pick a post from the past month (since April 21) and start a conversation about it at the meetup, but this is optional and you can attend without reading. If you like snacks, bring one to share!

    More information can be found in the DC Google group.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Last thread, I mentioned an intractable mess of real injuries and excessive punishment– here’s the link. Any thoughts about how the Israel/Palestine mess could get better?

    • Björn says:

      Comparing the conflict to Ireland, the region needs something like the Good-Friday-Agreement, that gives the Palestinians a way to life and an actual state while it gives Israel a genuine end of the conflict. The question is, is there any political way such an agreement can happen. We know from two different leaks that the PLO offered very much in past negotiations, like letting Israel annex many of the illegal settlements and demilitarizing the future Palestinian state, but received nothing in return: [1], [2]
      Since Israeli politics is not becoming less nationalist and right extremist at the moment and the illegal settlements continue to grow, I’m pretty sure that the perspectives of any agreement are getting worse.

      • Aapje says:

        It seems to me that people typically want peace when their prospects worsen, but not when they improve. This makes peace hard to achieve in general because when the prospects worsen for one side, they typically improve for the other.

        So you’d normally want a stalemate, because then both sides have an incentive to make peace.

        If you look at historic maps, you can see that there is no stalemate, but that Israel has been winning more and more land.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          The problem is that the Israeli hand is currently at a high tide, at least with respect to the Western world. The 21st century Western nations are eventually going to impose a harsher deal on Israel than they could get now, and they can get a VERY good deal right now.

          Of course, that’s speculative, and depends on whether or not Israel decides to play 21st century Egypt and plays off the West vs. China/Russia. If China decides in 20 years that it wants to play Global Counterpower to the US, Israel would be a great way for China to penetrate the Middle East, the same way Egypt gave the Soviets an in after the Suez Crisis. And then it’s the Palestinians who are screwed, because an Israel backed by an authoritarian superpower is never going to let go of the West Bank.

          • Wrong Species says:

            This is assuming that Israel’s prospects are going to worsen. I’m not sure that’s right. Unless the US decided to turn on Israel, they have very little incentive to make a deal with the Palestinians. And while I wouldn’t expect a Democrat president to be as pro-Israel, I highly doubt they could get sanctions pushed through.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Very true, I think the general assumption is a softening of the West’s willingness to tolerate heavy-handed repression, which bodes ill for Israel. That assumption might well be wrong.

          • John Schilling says:

            The big problem isn’t going to be “The West’s” intolerance of heavy-handed repression, it’s going to be Israel’s own intolerance of heavy-handed repression. Most Israelis really don’t like shooting Palestinian kids who they know are throwing rocks only because they can’t see a better way. Or seeing it done, in graphic detail, in their name. The ones who do like it, mostly aren’t the ones who will stand and fight against e.g. the Iranian army reflagged as Hezbollah, or run the high-tech industries that will pay for Israel’s army. And the ones who don’t like it, mostly have the opportunity to move to the US, Canada, or other wealthy and tolerant nations.

            The Palestinians, and their dubious allies, can throw enough Palestinian children onto Israeli bayonets to drive an evaporative cooling that will leave an Israel still millions strong but unable to defend itself against the threats its increasingly repressive behavior will incite.

      • SamChevre says:

        The key dynamic in my mind is that something like the Good Friday agreement would be helpful, but it can’t happen if Palestinians are proxies for a larger Arab world’s hostility to Israel. (Similarly, something like the Good Friday agreement wouldn’t have been possible in 1689.)

        So to me, the key success condition is that the Arab nations make it clear that they are limiting their ability to use the Palestinians as a proxy. (My suggestion has been that each nation take, as citizens, as many Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants as they expelled Jews in between 1940 and 1975.)

      • John Schilling says:

        Comparing the conflict to Ireland, the region needs something like the Good-Friday-Agreement, that gives the Palestinians a way to life and an actual state while it gives Israel a genuine end of the conflict.

        Comparing the conflict to Ireland, the Palestinian community needs something where most of the people who consider themselves Palestinian can be happy knowing they will never live in the place called Palestine, even as a few million Israelis conspicuously are living in “Palestine”.

        Alternately, someone needs to retrain most of the Palestinians to be coders and hydroponics technicians and build them a giant arcology somewhere in Gaza, but that’s implausibly expensive. As is, there are too many people who insist that their only path to a good life is in Palestine, to fit between the Jordan and the Med with the sort of economy they envision bringing them the good life. And when ten million Palestinians find themselves living in poverty or near to it, next door to five million still-prosperous Israelis, no Agreement is going to long hold off bloody war.

      • Orpheus says:

        the PLO offered very much in past negotiations, like letting Israel annex many of the illegal settlements and demilitarizing the future Palestinian state, but received nothing in return…

        The thing that people need to understand is that no deal “letting Israel annex many of the illegal settlements” (i.e. not all of them) is ever going to happen. Leaving aside the fact that no conceivable Israeli government would ever agree to such a deal, removing these settlements is practically impossible.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      What’s interesting is the definition of “could” here. Basically any deal would be better than the status quo, IF both Israel and Palestine agreed to it. But there probably isn’t any deal so good that just making the two sides read it would make them both agree to it.

      So I think roughly what I mean by “a way things could get better” is “something that would make things better if it happened, and if a lot of people like me vocally supported it, might happen.” This is part of why I’m more likely to criticize Israel’s actions than Palestine’s–the opinions of people like me (vaguely-Jewish liberal American) are much more likely to influence Israeli politics than Palestinian.

    • mdet says:

      This was a good link, I feel better informed. I don’t know much about the conflict, but through friends on social media it seems like the positions on each side over the recent Palestinian protests & Israeli crackdown are “Israeli gunned down dozens of peaceful protestors who just wanted a place to live” vs “Hamas hid a bunch of murderous terrorists in a crowd of human shields, and Israel was remarkably reasonable and judicious in guarding their border while limiting innocent casualties”.

      I don’t know if this is a question that has a generalizable answer, but what’s the state of the dialogue between these two sides (talking about Americans taking sides on social media, rather than actual Israelis & Palestinians)? Like, if I shared Nancy’s linked article with a pro-Palestine friend, should I expect the response to be “I didn’t know there were militants among the protestors”, “Yes there were militants but self-defense is justified”, “Hamas is evil but that doesn’t absolve Israel”, or what? Does it just depend on the individual, or is there a kind of standard talking points response I should expect?

      I’m trying to gauge, disagreement-pyramid style, where the disagreement is on Israel & Palestine among the social media partisan crowd. Are they argreeing on the facts but disagreeing on the moral weight, or are they working off two completely different sets of facts such that simply clarifying “Here’s how many peaceful vs militant protestors there were in the crowd” would enhance the discussion?

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Social Media Partisan disagreement on Israel-Palestine is one of the worst disagreements in the culture. I remember in the mid-2000s that our Israel threads would regularly go on long and have more invective than our Iraq War threads, to give you an idea of how ridiculously bitter this issue is.

        Pro-Palestine people will generally think Israel is feeding an endless cycle of violence, especially since their violence is disproportionate. A good Twitter comment I saw was “if people on both sides die, it’s a battle. If people on one side die, it’s a massacre.” There’s a big, big concern about disproportionate use of force.
        The other concern is how Israel still settles massive amounts of territory in the West Bank. This all feeds into a narrative that Israel is basically a colonial state set up in an era of decolonization, where Israel essentially “stole land”from Palestine, and has violated rules of war by illegally annexing territory.

        They won’t care that militants are hiding among the protesters, because there are larger issues in play, and Israel is generally at fault for creating the situation.

        The pro-Israel position is more that Israel has a difficult security position, and needs to take action to defend its own citizens. Disproportionate use of force does not mean incorrect use of force. If terrorists are throwing rockets at you from a territory and kill a few of your citizens, you will reply with a major offensive to clear the area out, even if it kills 100 citizens of the enemy government. Plus, the pro-Israel position tends to be very suspicious of the Palestinian leadership. Like, why would you bother making a deal with Yasser Arafat after what he pulled in Palestine? AND Lebanon? And Hamas is even worse.

        At this point there’s disagreement about both facts and values, but it’s not about this particular incident, it’s about the last several decades. Pro-Israel people don’t care so much about the illegal settlements, Pro-Palestine care more about the misdeeds of an israeli government we are supporting than a Hamas government which (they view) is a response to Israeli aggression.

        Even as a pro-Israel guy, I think US policy has been a little TOO pro-Israel. It seems pro-Israel people think Israel is the greatest ally the US has ever had. That honor clearly goes with the ABCA group, not Israel. Israel is just a nation in a battleground region like SK or Japan. I’m not really a big internationalist so I’d sell them down a river in a second if I thought it benefited the US (same with practically any of our allies that are not Canada or Britain).

        • SamChevre says:

          I would add that there’s a lack of agreement on the protagonists, and that too can rapidly get very heated. Is it Israel, with one of the world’s more effective armies, against the Palestinians who are armed with rocks? Or is it Israel, a tiny country much-hated and much-attacked by its neighbors, against the entire Muslim world?

          • Aapje says:

            And did the Palestinians reject very reasonable peace offers & demand the impossible or did Israel do so?

        • mdet says:

          I don’t know much more than what is described in Nancy’s link, but I’m inclined to side with Israel. The settlements may or may not be a gross offense, I’d have to learn a lot more, but what sways me is that Israel seems to be a relatively open liberal democracy, vs Hamas, which according to Nancy’s link and everything else I’ve heard about them, “is an authoritarian, theocratic regime” and “consistently prioritize[s] the deaths of Israelis over the lives of its Palestinian brethren”. Sympathy for the Palestinian people who don’t seem to have anyone advocating for their best interests hasn’t turn into antipathy towards Israel for me.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My general take is that Palestinians are treated abominably, and that includes issues related to settlements.

            However, Palestinians (not all Palestinians, but enough Palestinians) have been signaling at great cost to themselves that they will kill random Israelis, with what I’d call a rather clear implication that if they had more resources, they’d kill more Israelis.

            The recent demonstrations have included Palestinians attempting to send fire kites into Israel. Vagaries of the wind meant that only one fire kite caused damage, and that was to a warehouse rather than to people. However, I’m not going to call that non-violent demonstrating.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t think there’s any inconsistency between the two statements:

            a. The Israelis treat the Palestinians badly.

            b. If the Palestinians had the power, they’d treat the Israelis much, much worse.

            I have no idea at all how to untangle the situation. It looks to me (as a not-that-informed outsider) like there is no mutually acceptable outcome for both sides, and even looking like you might cut a deal acceptable to the other side is likely to get you deposed (in an election in Israel; in a hail of bullets in Gaza).

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            Nobody is suggesting making the Palestinians the overlords of the Israelis.

            The debate is not whether the Palestinians will threat the Israelis well if the former are in charge, but whether the Palestinians will use greater freedoms to increase their violence against Israel or to focus on building up a state.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nancy:

            Good point.

    • johan_larson says:

      I think the US is going to stay pro-Israel for a long time. There are two formidable American groups that are staunchly pro-Israel, namely American Jews and Evangelical Christians. There is no well-organized group in the US that is staunchly pro-Palestinian. And it’s hard to see where one would come from.

      The part I don’t get about the situation is why the Palestinians haven’t made a deal of some sort. Presumably any deal is going to be pretty crappy for them, since they are negotiating from a position of weakness. But you’d think even a crappy deal would be better than the present state of persistent small-scale violence and poverty. And Israel has been willing, AFAIK, to actually negotiate. Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000 seemed genuine. But Arafat turned him down. And I can’t for the life of me figure why.

      • albatross11 says:

        Hasn’t Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) more-or-less gone down this path?

      • Protagoras says:

        Perhaps Arafat should have, as you say, preferred a terrible deal to no deal at all, but what I can find about what the deal was sounds quite terrible indeed for the Palestinians. And if he couldn’t get his own people to comply with the terms of the deal (entirely possible with a bad enough deal), it wouldn’t matter if it was still better than nothing, as it wouldn’t last.

      • cassander says:

        A deal might be better for the average palestinian, but I think not much. Almost any deal, however, is worse for the palestinian leadership, and that is what matters more.

    • cassander says:

      two groups of people want one thing, and neither has very strong incentives to compromise. If palestinian leadership settles, then they lose the ability to blame their people’s problems on the israelis. That will cost them support, both domestically and abroad, and probably no small amount of money.

      The israeli leadership has little incentive to settle because settling won’t do anything to fix the problem they see, a lot of angry palestinians who eagerly support (mostly tacitly but sometimes actively) anti-israeli terrorist movements and a government without the will, ability, or desire to stop them.

      No one likes the status quo, but no one benefits much by ending it, so it persists. I don’t know what you can really do to change these incentives. I can think of strategies that one side or the other can pursue to try to shift them a little, but that’s about it.

      Except, of course, for my genius plan for peace in the middle east, which is very simple. The Israelis get the land, but they have to let the palestinians build casinos!

  14. dndnrsn says:

    RPG thread. Or, I suppose, tabletop gaming thread in general.

    How big are you on house rules? If you run a game, do you house rule a lot? Do you let players propose house rules? If you’re a player, do you like house rules? Do you propose house rules?

    Me, I like house rules; I have to fight a tendency to add complicating house rules. Back when I was young(er) and (more) foolish, I added house rules that slowed things down for the sake of “making sense” or “realism” or whatever. Now I try more to keep in mind that it’s a game.

    Lately I’ve been running old-school D&D clone stuff. I’m hacking a lot of stuff together, from different books – they’re so similar, it’s easy to do. Nothing I’m doing is that complicated. I’m making everything I house rule available in my house rule document, and most of the books I’m using are legally available for free online. On the one hand, this could get a little confusing for my players. On the other hand, every rules set has some problem or other with it, and tbh, my players barely learn the rules anyway, so, their problem.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think houserules are mainly necessary where the system is broken or incomplete — there’s often a need for one-off rulings no matter the system, but ongoing rules point either to a fundamental flaw or to a mismatch between the system you’re using and the game you’re running. I houseruled constantly back in high school, when I was running AD&D, but I rarely do in more modern systems (not counting stuff tied to lore — I often tear out and replace e.g. equipment lists).

      Retroclones are kind of a special case, though, in that they’re more-or-less explicitly designed to create a dynamic that includes a lot of seat-of-the-pants GM rulings. I can see houserules being more rewarding there, especially if you’re doing something besides a straight dungeon or hexcrawl. I haven’t spent much time on the GM side of the screen for them, though.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yeah. A lot of the retroclones, or the ones that try to emulate the 1974 version, are incomplete, because the original game was incomplete, or weird because the original game was weird, or unbalanced because the original game was unbalanced. Right now I’m slapping about three and a half different games together. It hasn’t gone horribly wrong so far!

    • Protagoras says:

      In addition to what Nornagest mentions, the need to fix broken systems, another place where house rules can be very beneficial is when an original campaign setting is being run using an existing rules system; some customization of the rules to be more applicable to the new setting is likely to be necessary. So I’m going to come down as mostly in favor of them. Though I think it’s best to get them set out in advance; I’m much less enthusiastic about adding new house rules in the course of play (sometimes necessary, but when so a necessary evil in my view).

    • AnarchyDice says:

      When I first started doing houserules, I added things that made for more realism or seemed cool. Now I tend towards houserules that give the players more meaningful options or simplify a system that isn’t as well fleshed out as I might like as it is currently written.

      Some examples: I changed languages to create families and connections so that players can be partially fluent in languages associated with ones they know, using fun limitations like limited words per sentence or no compound sentences. That way, everyone knows more languages and can sort of bumble around creatively to talk with goblins or whatever instead of a binary know it or don’t system.
      Another houserule is affectionately called “doing a thing”. It covers doing anything unusual or tactically advantageous in combat, but I do it by having them make their attack twice (so they aren’t giving up combat tempo, the most important currency) and if both would hit, they can do the thing and hit for damage. If only one of those would hit they can choose to either miss or they can choose to hit while doing the thing but they have to pick a downside from a short list. If both would miss, the attack misses and I get to pick the downside. I like it because it encourages actions like minor grappling, acrobatics, positioning, targeted attacks, and other cinematic fights since players don’t have to give up their attacks to do so.
      The last major one I do is adding some more lethality and injuries to replace the boring D&D 5e system of death saves, which in play just seems like a game of whack-a-mole where the players are out of combat for 3-5 rounds doing nothing. In my system, they can choose to stay up, risking worse and worse injuries/death with each further hit they take, or they can go prone and stay down, hoping to be left out of the fight. It keeps them in the combat with real choices, like the party ranger who stayed in the desperate boss fight and ended up losing a hand and a leg but ultimately helping turn around the losing fight to a win.

    • J Mann says:

      I don’t run a complicated game (basic D&D 5e for occasional 3 hour a month or so players) so I don’t use house rules intentionally. (For example, I might realize I forgot to do encumbrance until the players try to move a statue, and then decide I’m still to lazy to do it under normal circumstances.)

      Sometimes I’m really tempted by rule changes that I see written up on reddit (the latest was cantrips with scaling power effects at higher levels), but so far, I’m too lazy to do it.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Minimal houserules except for thematic stuff for homebrew campaigns- ie, I often add stuff like custom backgrounds or optional maneuvers or optional races, etc., to supplement worldbuilding.

      House-ruling, sure, that happens all the time to deal with vague rules, inconsistencies, etc.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I have so many house rules that it’s a different system at this point (and am in the process of designing an even more different system, reconstructed from the ground up). I don’t run stock-rules games anymore.

      I do not let players propose house rules, per se, but since my friends (who are usually the players in my D&D games) are almost all veteran players (and some are also experienced DMs, to boot), I’ve benefited a great deal from discussions with them (about game design, theory, etc.).

      As a player, I like house rules if they make sense and are good. I don’t like them if they don’t make sense and are bad. The best system is the best system—whatever it took to make it best.

      I do not propose house rules. That is not my place, as a player.

      • Lillian says:

        The idea that it is not a player’s place to propose house rules is alien to me. There are a number of potential system dysfunctions that are bound to be felt on the player’s side rather than the game master’s side. Just as there are system’s dysfunctions that are felt by the game master but not the players. Additionally the game master may not necessarily be the most mechanically inclined member of the group, so even if a problem is evident to the GM, she may not know how to fix it, or even be able to pin-point what exactly needs to be fixed.

        Besides, i cope with systems is don’t like (which is all of them) via ruthless optimization and unapologetic rules lawyering, so it’s really in the GM’s best interests to let me try to fix any problems i find. The less broken it is, the fewer things there are for me to take gratuitous advantage of. Also the fewer trap options for the less mechanically inclined players to fall into.

    • Lillian says:

      The way i see it, no game system is going to be tailored to the specific play style and quirks of whichever group i happen to be playing with. Therefore some amount of house ruling is going to be required to make for a better fit. So not only am i greatly in favour of house ruling, but i believe it is an absolutely necessary part of any roleplaying game. While it is theoretically possible that a system might hit the spot just right and require no adjustments, i have yet to encounter such a system. They all benefit from some amount of house ruling to best fit the group.

      Additionally it is extremely difficult to make a system in which everything is well balanced against everything else. There is always going to be something that winds up overpowered, or underpowered, or useless, or a must have. It’s pretty much inevitable that over the course of the game there will be some rules that requires patching of some sort of another in order for them to function properly with the rest of the system.

      Interestingly, i’ve sometimes run across instances of people having house rules which they are not aware are house rules, usually because the house rule in question is widespread among the player base. This can happen as a result of either widely disliked rules being generally ignored, or vague/unclear rules being commonly misread. A classic example is in Vampire the Masquerade, wherein by the book vampires must take a few seconds of focus in order to heal themselves. In combat this means spending a full turn doing nothing else, or alternatively rolling Stamina + Survival to heal while taking actions. This rule is so unpopular, so commonly ignored and disregarded, that even veteran players of many years are sometimes unaware that it exists. People’s overwhelming preference is for vampires to be able to heal reflexively, so by and large that’s what they do.

      (Pretty much all White Wolf games have to be up to their eyeballs in house rules due to their notoriously bad system design. Setting and flavour was always their real strength.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        A good example of things everyone thinks are house rules is critical hit/miss rules in D&D. Only some versions of D&D actually say “20 is double, 1 is you hit yourself/drop your sword/embarrass yourself” – really, do any of them outright say that? Or is it just a nigh-universal house rule everyone thinks is actually in the rules?

        This causes problems when those rules are actually codified. 3rd ed had “on your weapon’s critical threat range, roll again; if it’s a hit, you do the listed damage modifier” but didn’t, as I recall, have critical misses. This meant that when groups went with “a 1 is a super-bad miss, always” that critical misses could be more common than critical hits.

        A good example of rules that people just ignore is, in Call of Cthulhu by the book, it takes forever to read eldritch tomes. Solutions included a kludgy official-rules-but-kinda-optional method to give a modifier to reading time based on stats and skills, an even-kludgier-and-in-a-supplement method to read books faster in exchange for greater SAN loss; mostly groups just ignored the lengths or adjusted them.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m fairly sure 2E didn’t have critical misses by the book, but most of the groups I played with used them as a houserule. Of course, that was mostly in middle and high school, and that sort of thing is hilarious to a fourteen-year-old boy. Don’t remember it in Basic either, but I played that much less.

  15. Toby Bartels says:

    So … ‘yanny’ or ‘laurel’?

    (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I suggest not reading any of the replies to this comment until listening to this 1-second audio clip.)

    • Nornagest says:

      “Yanny”, but I start hearing “laurel” when it’s pitch-shifted up a bit. Weird brain tricks.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      To answer my own question: It sounds to me like two things being played at once (and in coordination, like two different voices in a choir). One is low-pitched and clearly says ‘laurel’; the other is high-pitched and is unclear but might as well be saying ‘yanny’. I initially heard ‘yanny’, which is no surprise, since I usually hear the high-pitched line in music more readily; but just as I can concentrate on the bass line, so I could concentrate on the low-pitched speech and hear ‘laurel’. And since the ‘laurel’, once heard, is much clearer than the ‘yanny’, it now sounds like ‘laurel’ to me unless I concentrate on the high-pitched speech (in which case I can make it sound like ‘yanny’ again)!

      • Toby Bartels says:

        For what it’s worth, I’m one of the less than 2% (according to the survey given In this research article) who sees The Dress as blue and gold, so my perceptions may not be typical.

      • beleester says:

        Same. I heard “Yanny,” but after playing it repeatedly I could pick out the lower-pitched “laurel.”

        The pitch-shifted version sounded clearly like “Laurel,” so it seems like I picked it out for the same reason as you.

      • Shion Arita says:

        That is pretty much my experience, except Laurel was more clear to me initially as well.

        It may be an artifact of the headphones/speakers and what frequency balance they have. When I get the chance I will try it with other speakers to see.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Yammy, Hammy, or Pammy.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Hard “Laurel”, can’t make it sound like anything else.

    • BBA says:

      A couple of days ago it was always yarry.
      Now it’s always laurel.
      I think I’m losing it.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        When I listen to the New York Times’s ‘yanny’-enhanced version, it sounds more like ‘yarry’ to me too.

      • CatCube says:

        I had this with “The Dress” where the first time I saw the picture I was sure it was white and gold, but when I looked at the picture on a different website, it suddenly flipped to black and blue and even going back to the first website it stayed black and blue.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      The currently #1 trending video on YouTube says that the original recording was ‘laurel’, to which some overtones were later added. The New York Times says that the recording was altered by being rerecorded from speakers. The original sounds unambiguously like ‘laurel’ to me, while Wikipedia’s ‘low-quality mono’ version (linked in my OP) is the one where I hear both. I still haven’t found for sure a version that has been altered (introducing the overtones) but was not deliberately reduced in quality for copyright purposes (perhaps adding to the confusion).

      • Toby Bartels says:

        The Wikipedia uploader has now clarified that they did not do anything to make it lower quality than it already was, so I guess that the Wikipedia clip is exactly what you want to listen to after all.

    • Well... says:

      I clearly heard both simultaneously.

      I think if I hadn’t been primed I’d have just heard Yanni but it’d have sounded weird.

    • A1987dM says:

      Yary.

    • Orpheus says:

      I find that if I mouth one of the words, I can hear it. If I don’t do anything it sounds like laurel.

    • rlms says:

      Yanny or yally.

    • Civilis says:

      One thing I have not seen brought up is that the sound might depend on the listener’s computer (or other playback device). I hear “Laurel” on my home computer with external speakers, “Yanny” on the internal speakers of my work laptop. It makes logical sense that different audio devices (or even settings) can reproduce the levels of audio differently.

    • johnjohn says:

      This one is even weirder

      Listened to it while thinking “Green Needle” and it seems clear as day

      Then immediately rewound and listened while thinking “Brainstorm” and it sounded like a completely different recording

      They don’t even have the same amount of syllables

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m stuck on green needle. If I try hard, I get breen needle.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I only heard “Needle” the first time. After that, I can only hear “storm.” I think I can only hear “needle” because I was primed that first time.

        “Brain” and “Green” are really close in pronunciation with certain inflections.

      • beleester says:

        I can only hear “Green Needle” or “Brain needle.”

      • Toby Bartels says:

        I like that one! For me, it's really easy to control.

        I asked my teenaged daughter what it said, and she said that it didn't sound like any words. Then I said that there's a start-up sound, which I mimicked, and then she listened again and said ‘white needle’. So I said that it was really ‘green needle’, and then she listened again and agreed with that. But then I said that I had lied and that it was really ‘brainstorm’, and then she listened again and freaked out.

        • Aapje says:

          One month later, Toby Bartels was found in a pool of blood. His daughter was discovered roaming the woods, exclaiming, ‘white needle, green needle, brainstorm.’

      • I primed myself to hear “brainstorm” the first time. And try as I might to prime myself for “green needle”, the best I can do is “green storm”.

      • fion says:

        Wow! That is weirder! I had exactly the same experience as you. Thinking one word before it says it and it definitely says that word. And yeah, thinking the other one it sounds like a completely different recording.

        EDIT: I can also get “brain needle”, “breen needle”, “green storm”, “grain storm”

        Now I think about it, the changing first word isn’t that exciting. In that accent “ae” and “ee” sound the same, and there’s very little difference between “br” and “gr” at the best of times.

        But how the fuck does “storm” go to “needle”?!

        EDIT2: It’s not really “green needle” but “green eedle”. And looking at the flashes as it speaks, if you hear “green needle” there is a flash on every syllable, but if you hear “brainstorm” the middle flash is before “storm”. The thing that you previously thought was the “nee” syllable now sounds like a very articulated end of “brain” and beginning of “storm”. I can also hear a very slight “s” in the middle of “needle”…

        Agh, this is driving me insane! 😛

      • The correspondence is

        “br” with “gr”
        “ain” with “een”
        “s” with “ee”
        “t” with “d”
        “orm” with “le”

        All of these pairs consist of fairly similar sounds. The cleverest part is the “s” which manages to sound like a vowel; but both “s” and “ee” are high-pitched sounds produced by friction in the alveolar/palatal region, and sound changes from “ee” to syllabic “s” are attested in natural languages. The “orm” – “l” correspondence might also seem strange, but the speaker seems to have a British accent (so the “r” in “orm” is silent), and his “l” is heavily velarized making it more easily interpretable as the back vowel “o” (“velar” and “back” mean the same thing, we just use one word for consonants and the other for vowels).

    • Iain says:

      I couldn’t hear “yanny” at all until I tried the NYT tool. With the slider dragged all the way to the right, I hear “yanny”. If I slowly move the slider back to the left, I continue hearing “yanny” even after getting into the region where I was previously hearing “laurel”.

      Conclusion: brains are weird.

      • IrishDude says:

        More evidence that brains are weird. It’s an audio clip where “If you think of the word “Brainstorm” you will hear Brainstorm. If you think of the words “Green Needle” you will hear Green Needle.”

      • quaelegit says:

        Even when I slide the tool all the way to the right (“Yanny” side) I hear “Yaley” (as in, an invented demonym for Yale students — maybe a portmanteau of Yale and Eli?). I would render it in IPA as /jeɪ:li/

      • Lillian says:

        That tool is neat, i normally hear “yanny” and if i start on the right side i can move all the way to the left without hearing “laurel”. The same is not true of starting with the slider to the left, it changes to “yanny” eventually.

        Also i managed to find a spot about halfway left of centre where my brain kept alternating between hearing “laurel” and “yanny”. Never a hybrid of both though, it’s always very clearly either one or the other, with the change between being very abrupt. It seems my mind simply cannot accept that they’re both the same sound, no amount of fiddling can make them sound remotely similar.

    • Aapje says:

      Only ‘yanny’

      • quaelegit says:

        My new headcannon is that the Dutch pronunciation of “yanny” is equivalent to my (roughly General North American English) pronunciation of “laurel.” Because Dutch is weird 😛

  16. proyas says:

    A question for anyone who knows about U.S. nuclear power: If we ever chose to sharply expand the amount of electricity we get from nuclear power, could we just increase the number of reactors at existing facilities? It seems to me that this would be the path of least resistance since nuclear power plant sites seem to have large tracts of empty land, and no local people or businesses would have to be dispossessed.

    If we wanted to double the amount of electricity produced by nuclear power, could we just double the number of reactors at existing plants, without expanding the geographic footprint of the industry? Would it be cost effective to do so? Is there some need, perhaps imposed by the nature of the U.S. power grid, to distribute nuclear reactors geographically?

    • Aapje says:

      Nuclear power plants need cooling. The cheapest kind of cooling is direct or once-through wet cooling, where large quantities of water is taken from a river, lake or sea, used for cooling and then returned with a higher temperature. This kind of cooling doesn’t consume water, but it does increase the temperature of the river or lake, which has environmental consequences, so there are limits to this. During hot weather, power plants have been shut down in the past, like the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama in the summer of 2010. If you add more plants, this problem obviously gets worse.

      Another, more expensive form of cooling is recirculating or indirect wet cooling, which uses evaporation. This consumes considerable quantities of water, which can exceed available supply in drought conditions. If you add more plants, this problem obviously gets worse.

      A third form is dry cooling, where heat is transferred to the air, for example by a radiator-style arrangement. This is quite inefficient and expensive, but can be used in very arid places.

      TL;DR version: your plan will run into issues with the water supply.

      • proyas says:

        Thank you.

        I didn’t know that nuclear power plants have to be shut down under certain water conditions. However, after doing some research, I see it is a very rare occurrence (at least in the U.S.).

        Still, you’re right that the need for a continuous supply of cool water militates against nuclear reactors being too geographically concentrated.

        • Aapje says:

          I expect that it is rare because you really don’t want your stable source of power to have to be shut down, especially when everyone is cranking up their A/C to the max.

          It seems fairly typical to expand plants by adding extra reactors, but I think that this is limited by the water supply.

    • caryatis says:

      > If we ever chose to sharply expand the amount of electricity we get from nuclear power, could we just increase the number of reactors at existing facilities?

      There is no general, principled reason I’m aware of why this would not be feasible. But it’s also hard to give a generic answer because it would depend on the details of each plant site. The size of evacuation zone around the plant might need to increase.

      More importantly–what do you mean by that generic “we”? If “we” are energy companies, the reason “we” aren’t building more reactors is that “we” haven’t figured out how to make the existing ones profitable. Needing new land is a problem that comes very, very far down the list.

      • proyas says:

        “More importantly–what do you mean by that generic “we”? If “we” are energy companies, the reason “we” aren’t building more reactors is that “we” haven’t figured out how to make the existing ones profitable. Needing new land is a problem that comes very, very far down the list.”

        “We” refers to a majority of the American public and its politicians. Yes, I’m indulging in a fantasy scenario here where the U.S. decides to double or triple the use of nuclear power, and I wonder if the first step is to pick low-hanging fruits by adding more reactors to existing nuclear facilities.

  17. WashedOut says:

    Film discussion thread

    I’m looking for film recommendations. My criteria are:
    1) really makes you think
    2) not based on a comic book – probably redundant given (1), but these days….

    I’m working my way through everything by David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky and Jim Jarmusch – this should clarify the types of films i’m after.

    I like nonlinear narratives, films that have a dream-like quality to the plot and aesthetics, psychological themes, acting that is understated but powerful, and interesting scores/sound design.

    Some films i’ve seen recently that I quite liked: Right Now, Wrong Then; Mother; Mulholland Drive; A Ghost Story

    Thanks in advance.

    As an unrelated talking point – did anyone else find the ending of 3 Billboards really unsatisfying? It felt like such an uninspired sigh of resignation to the effect of ‘Well, I guess vigilante justice works this way.”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Have you seen Zardoz?

      It’s kind of a beautiful mess. None of the symbolism means anything, it’s all there so to confuse stoners. You probably shouldn’t be sober when you watch it.

    • wb says:

      Aronofsky loves Satoshi Kon, so you should check him out. I don’t think any of his films are based on comic books, but…

    • Well... says:

      Cube. (The acting is not great but otherwise this movie was surprisingly good.)

      Apocalypse Now Redux. (One of the best films ever made.)

      Primer. (Pure genius.)

      2001: A Space Odyssey. (Classic, profound, beautiful, impressive.)

      A Field In England. (Trippy, dark, intelligent, weird.)

      Melancholia. (I’m normally not a Lars Von Trier fan but I liked this one a lot.)

      Fight Club. (Surely you’ve already seen it.)

      Paper Moon. (Proto-Jarmusch.)

      Moon. (I remember this much-hyped thinking-man’s sci-fi movie being OK, which is still way better than most.)

      Solaris. (I only saw the newer one, it was good. I’ve heard the older one is better.)

      The Death of Stalin. (Not weird/nonlinear like the others, but it’s a very clever, well-made film that will make you think — because of the way they made it. But you have to pay attention. It’s also really funny.)

      I second the Waking Life recommendation.

      Repulsion. (One of Polanski’s finest.)

      Irreversible. (Trigger warning.)

      My Dinner With Andre. (99% of the movie takes place in your mind.)

      La Jetee. (“12 Monkeys” was the remake.)

      The Sound of My Voice. (Very good movie about a cult.)

      PS. I never got into them, but Atom Egoyan’s movies might be up your alley. Also check out movies by Alain Resnais (e.g. My American Uncle, Last Year at Marienbad), Steven Soderbergh (e.g. Ocean’s Eleven), and David Cronenberg (e.g. Dead Ringers).

      PPS. I don’t like it as much as I did when I was younger, but Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days” has a pretty crazy sound design. Won awards if I recall correctly.

      PPPS. Watch as much as you can by Louis Bunuel. My favorite is “The Phantom of Liberty”.

      • WashedOut says:

        Yes. Thank you so much.

        Melancholia has been on my to-watch list ever since it came out.

        I’m not one to get ‘triggered’, but i looked up the wiki page for Irreversible and…holy moly. Is it worth it? I’m OK with ultraviolence if it’s supported by a strong artistic edifice (e.g. I really enjoyed Red White and Blue) but maybe a 10 minute rape scene is a bit much?

        • Well... says:

          I have one of the strongest stomachs for graphic depictions of violence of anyone I know, and after the first time I watched Irreversible I wanted to cuddle under blankets in a quiet room for a few hours. I think it was the style of filmmaking more than the action depicted.

          But it is a good movie. Not a great movie. Gaspar Noe is a bit…I dunno…stupid? heavy-handed? shallow? crass? But he grips you also.

          • Lillian says:

            Weird i have a fairly weak stomach for graphic depictions of violence. As in, Alien Resurrection is the only Alien movie i enjoyed, because it’s the only one i wasn’t too terrified to watch. That kind of weak. Yet the worst thing i can say about the rape scene in Irreversible is that it’s boring. Frankly, the entire movie is just utterly and completely dull. Nothing of interest happens to anyone of consequence. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t affect me, you can’t be traumatized if you don’t care, and i very much did not care.

          • Well... says:

            Viewing conditions might come into account too. I watched Irreversible on a 30 x 40 foot screen with the volume turned up way too high on the huge loudspeakers in the room. This made it harder to watch it the way I normally watch movies, very aware of the production and always running a secondary internal commentary about it.

        • Well... says:

          For animated films, also check out stuff by the Brothers Quay.

      • wb says:

        Death of Stalin is based on a comic book…

      • James says:

        Yeah, Moon is merely unambitiously, modestly good, but that’s a perfectly good way to be good, in my opinion.

        I like Primer a lot in some ways, but for me “pure genius” is too strong praise for a film that can’t be followed without an A2-sized timeline chart. (It tried my patience, but that director’s next film Upstream Color is probably a very good fit for what WashedOut is looking for.)

        Solaris. (I only saw the newer one, it was good. I’ve heard the older one is better.)

        Strongly disagree that the older one is better. (But I hate all Tarkovsky.)

        The newer one misses the point of the book badly, making it very Hollywood-y and relationship-y, but it does at least have a great eerie atmosphere and soundtrack. And the old one misses the point of the book just as badly, but in a less Hollywood-y (less entertaining) way.

        Actually, Solaris-the-book never seems to get discussed much around here, which is surprising. I’d have thought a bunch of sci-fi fans who can’t stop mentioning Ted Chiang would be all over that thing.

        • sfoil says:

          I recently read Solaris. I was stunned by how good (and horrifying) it was. I’ve read several other of Lem’s books so I don’t know why the quality surprised me, but it really was excellent.

        • quaelegit says:

          It’s on my to-read list!! My too-read list is very long and spread across multiple places, so haven’t gotten to it yet 😛

          It’s been mentioned here a couple times, but not on the OTs since last year (according to Google at least).

        • Protagoras says:

          I don’t know. A Perfect Vacuum, which is wonderful (Lem’s collection of reviews of books that don’t exist) has what seems to me to be a perhaps more revealing than intended introduction (the only review that isn’t of a non-existent book; a review of A Perfect Vacuum itself). The self-review castigates the author for the cheap trick of writing reviews of books he has clever ideas for, but lacks the creativity or energy to execute himself. I think that’s insightful; Lem in general does not seem to me to manage the execution to match up to the level of the brilliant ideas he is exploring (Solaris included). Admittedly, this hardly makes him alone among SF authors, but I think it contributes to his not being discussed as widely as his brilliant ideas might have led one to expect.

    • Chlopodo says:

      “dream-like quality to the plot and aesthetics, psychological themes, acting that is understated but powerful, and interesting scores/sound design”, you say? “Darren Aronofsky”, you say? Have you by chance, then, seen Noah? It’s one of my favorite films.

      I’d also recommend The Grey and Valhalla Rising.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Check out Guy Maddin. He’s rarely mentioned due to being a minor Canadian filmmaker, but I reccomend him to anyone who’s a fan of David Lynch, both because of his surrealism and his debts to past eras.

      “My Winnipeg” is probably his best and most accessible film because it’s sort of autobiographical, but his others may be more to your taste if you want a surreal plot (“Brand Upon The Brain” is a good choice).

      Also check out Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth, “The Killing of A Sacred Deer”, “The Lobster”). His works are similar to “Mother!” I’d say. His plot are fairly linear when you get right down to it, but the logic the characters are operating on is strange. You may or may not want to go into them knowing what they’re about — it may feel “spoilery” to you, but if you don’t look into them, you might feel lost at times.

      A female director: Catherine Breillat. “Bluebeard” does some smart things with metafiction and fairy tales. It’s nothing flashy, but it’s a great adaptation of a great fairy tale, and deals with themes of women’s agency without hitting you over the head with it — possibly too subtly. The fairy tale on which its based is kind of unpopular now due to its violence, sexual politics, and general child-unfriendliness…so it may be hard to appreciate the film if you’re not familiar with the fairy tale. If you’re interested I can write a post that gives some context.

      Seconding Cronenberg (esp. “Videodrome,” “Naked Lunch,” and “Existenz”), Resnais/, Ingmar Bergman (“The Hour of the Wolf” and “Persona”), and Ben Wheatley (“A Field In England,” “High Rise”). Also, browse around Letterboxd if you’re not already doing so. There are tons of great lists on there.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      A field in england
      under the skin
      upstream color
      dogtooth
      the witch
      El Abrazo de la Serpiente
      the master
      let the right one in
      only god forgives (*strongly violates the “understated” acting proviso)

      • Nick says:

        I thought for a moment when I saw this answer that it was a poem.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m reading in chronological order, so I’m not always sure of context.

        I was fairly far down the list when I realized that it was movie titles rather than a poem.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Not my cup of tea, but maybe you should check out Michael Haneke.

    • Aapje says:

      @WashedOut

      Luis Buñuel is a master of surrealism: Belle de Jour, Tristana, That Obscure Object of Desire, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Simon of the Desert, Nazarin, etc.

      Alejandro Jodorowsky has a few excellent movies: Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre, Jodorowsky’s Dune, El Topo

      Adaptation by Spike Jonze.

      Synecdoche, New York by Charlie Kaufman.

      La Jetée (1962), short movie about time, memory and history. Very dream-like. Highly recommended!

      Exotica by Atom Egoyan.

      Europa by Lars von Trier.

      Various movies by Werner Herzog (especially his older, less mainstream work). His most dream-like is perhaps Lessons of Darkness:

      The fantastically-appropriately titled Lessons of Darkness is without question Herzog’s darkest hour. Does a less joyful piece of art exist? Works on the Holocaust spring to mind, but they can be dismissed for this film chronicles not simply man’s inhumanity to man, but man’s hostility towards the very universe he lives in. A primordial anger, an ancient rage if you will, is morbidly captured on film and narrated by the Book of Revelations

      Holy Motors (2012).

      Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman.

      Mysteries of Lisbon (2010).

      The Handmaiden (2016).

      Time Piece by Jim Henson, a short surreal stream of consciousness montage about time and related bizarreness.

      The Square (2017).

      Playtime by Jacques Tati.

      Kontroll (2003).

      Dark City (1998).

      The Forbidden Room by Guy Maddin ticks most of your boxes, but I found it overwrought and under-thought. However, many others seem to like it, so you may want to see it.

      • James says:

        It’s not necessarily a perfect match for the kind of thing WashedOut is after, but my god The Handmaiden is a good movie.

      • Well... says:

        Synecdoche New York was pretty horrifying, I thought. Really good movie but would not watch again, gave me the creeps.

      • Lillian says:

        Jodorowsky’s Dune

        It pains me deeply that this is not actually Jorodowsky’s version of Dune, but a movie about Jorodowsky’s version of Dune, which was never actually made, thus proving there is no loving god in this universe. That said, it’s still good and worth watching.

    • James says:

      Less psychedelic than Lynch and Aronofsky, but I’ll always take an opportunity to recommend Chungking Express.

      • Well... says:

        Others have recommended Wong Kar Wai too.

        While we’re talking about East Asian films, I would recommend “The Story of the Weeping Camel” — a really great Mongolian movie, and “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring” — a really great Korean movie. Both of them are a bit experimental but beautifully done.

      • wb says:

        Not much like Lynch or Aronofsky, but a lot like Jarmusch.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Off the top of my head –

      Dogtooth, I Origins, Coherence, The Guest, The Voices, OXV: The Manual (which I think has been renamed since to Frequencies, but it was OXV when I saw it)…there are some others but I can’t bring them to mind at the moment.

    • proyas says:

      12 Monkeys
      Jacob’s Ladder
      Brazil
      Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
      Being John Malkovich

      Others that don’t match all your criteria but are still great:
      It Comes At Night
      The Last Emperor
      There Will Be Blood

      • Well... says:

        12 Monkeys = La Jetee, above.

        Oh man, Jacob’s Ladder is really good. I wrote a treatment for a horror film, then saw Jacob’s Ladder and realized it had basically already been done but better than I had envisioned it.

        There Will Be Blood is one of those movies you watch once then go around quoting the rest of your life. For me anyway. (You look like a ff-fool, don’t you.)

    • tayfie says:

      When I think “nonlinear narrative that makes you think”, the first movie that comes to mind is Memento. It was Christopher Nolan’s second full-length movie and the one that launched his career as a serious director.

      It can be summarized as “Man who cannot form memories tracks his wife’s killer using notes to himself”. The story is beautifully told from multiple points in the timeline interwoven and it isn’t until the last scene that you understand the chronological order.

  18. Error says:

    Why do particles and antiparticles annihilate in the manner they do, and produce the energy that they do? My mental model is something like two Game of Life structures colliding in a way that “kills” both of them as a deterministic consequence of the underlying rules, but I’ve no idea if that’s close to the truth.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      “deterministic consequence of the underlying rules” is right. One answer is “they just do, it’s a fundamental law of physics”. Though you can compress those underlying rules a bit and argue that they are the consequences of various symmetry principles the universe has: matter having energy is a consequence of the speed of light being constant for example (as discovered by Einstein). It also doesn’t look deterministic to us onlookers because of quantum measurement weirdness, but the underlying Schrödinger equation is deterministic.

      But if you want to think of it in game-of-life terms, yes, there is an underlying rule governing how the state of the universe evolves. It’s a single differential equation (ignoring gravity) called the Schrödinger equation, which tells you the time derivative of a very high-dimensional vector describing the state of the universe at a given time. Now, the terms in the differential equation can be motivated in terms of the symmetry principles (and many of the constants are simply empirical, we don’t have a theory that predicts them), but once you have the equation, you can give it some initial conditions (like a positron and an electron) and in principle step it forward one small time interval at a time and see how the vector evolves. You then project the vector onto basis vectors of interest like ‘how much amplitude is there in the electron field at this point in space?’ and ‘how much amplitude is there in the positron field at this position in space?’, or ‘what’s the amplitude of gamma rays of such and such an energy?’ that you can use to interpret how the process of annihilation is progressing.

      In practice stepping the equations forward is impractically computationally expensive, so we use a series expansion and evaluate the terms one at a time (this is what Feynman diagrams are – each diagram represents one term in the series). Also the series doesn’t converge unless you define an energy cutoff and don’t compute terms involving energies higher than that, and depending on the cutoff the values of the constants in the differential equation need to be changed to be consistent with what we have measured in experiments. This is called ‘renormalisation’.

      So that hopefully paints something of a picture for how physicists think about what’s happening when fundamental processes like annihilation occur.

    • Anatid says:

      When an electron and a positron (for example) annihilate into photons, the energy of the photons is equal to the total rest energy of the electrons, 2 * (electron mass) * c^2. This just the fundamental rule of conservation of energy.

      As for why this happens — the glib answer is that in quantum mechanics anything that is allowed by conservation laws will happen with some probability. The job of the laws of physics is to give the probabilities. An electron and a position turning into photons with an equivalent total energy doesn’t violate any conservation laws, so it happens. This is maybe best understood by thinking about why some things can’t happen:
      – Two electrons can’t annihilate into photons because that would violate conservation of electric charge — we’d start with a total charge of -2e and end with a charge of 0.
      – An electron and a proton have net zero electric charge, but they still can’t annihilate into photons because that would violate conservation of baryon number (baryon number is “number of quarks divided by 3”).

    • smocc says:

      That’s perhaps one way to think of it as long as you don’t take it seriously.

      Why you should not take it too seriously is because you are trying to envision classically something that is fundamentally quantum. Particle annihilation is a quantum process and if you take quantum seriously that means you can never describe how it happens because it happens randomly. The only thing you can really observe is whether it happens or not. The detailed mechanics are fundamentally unobservable in the same way the electrons path in a double slit experiment is fundamentally unobservable.

      It’s a lot like asking how exactly electron level transitions happen in atoms, which is something else students do before they achieve quantum enlightenment. It’s a fundamentally unobservable process.

      That said, you might gain some ground by thinking in terms of fields instead of particles. Maybe. The electron and positron are two excitations or disturbances traveling in the electron field, which also causes disturbances in the electromagnetic field. When the two electron disturbances overlap nonlinear wave dynamics come into play and the electron field can be left empty with a disturbance being created in the electromagnetic field instead, corresponding to photons coming out. But again, be careful because the fields are also quantum: the fields may also come out in the state where the electron and positron come out unannihilated.

      In a paper I helped write as an undergrad we tried making movies of Compton scattering, where an electron and a photon scatter off of each other. We made little animations where you could watch the evolution of the electron and photon probability distributions. You could watch a photon bump collide with an electron bump, and then watch the photon distribution split into two parts moving backwards and forwards reprepsenting the non-zero probability of no scattering. I think the paper is paywalled, but I might be able to dig around and find the animations because I’m feeling nostalgic now.

  19. BeefSnakStikR says:

    I’m thinking of going to a sensory deprivation tank/”float tank” center. Normally I’d just go, but it’s a six hour round trip and I’d rather not waste the session.

    Has anyone done this, and is there anything (psychedelic drugs excluded) I should do to increase the likelihood of hallucinations or otherwise intense/vivid experiences?

    Should I toss together some earmuff-and-blindfold contraption at home and practice first? I read that this provides a milder effect, and might help me relax. I’ve also read that the real tanks have pretty immediate effects whether you’re used to it or not.

    • WashedOut says:

      I have experience with this. One thing that is most likely to get in your way of having a ‘complete’ experience is your neck posture. When you start floating freely on your back, your neck muscles will initially spasm and freak out because most people have a terrible forward-head posture, and your neck isn’t used to falling into it’s natural alignment. With this in mind you can either use the neck pillow they (should) provide you, or take the time to practice floating on your back with your neck fully relaxed, to get used to it.

      They will provide special earplug material that you mould to fit your ears – make sure you are %100 comfortable with how they are sitting in your ears before you get in the tank. Putting them in before you shower (pre-tank) will be a good way to test them.

      Keep the lid completely closed. There will be a little wedge there before you get in – if you leave it there it will create a kind of ‘halo’ of light behind your head, which might be your thing, but if you want complete darkness don’t forget to remove it.

      Finally just relax and don’t expect too much. Just let your mind wander wherever it wants to go.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        Thanks! I’ve never been good at doing the back float in normal water, and I’ve always been suspicious that the Dead Sea and salt water etc. made floating foolproof. I’ll keep that in mind.

        Also, there are discounts for packages. Is this the sort of thing I’d want to do on consecutive days (I might be staying in the same city to visit my brother) or would that be exhausting?

        Finally just relax and don’t expect too much. Just let your mind wander wherever it wants to go.

        For sure! I’m not expecting full-on LSD Aldous Huxley experiences. I’m pretty good at relaxing and can sometimes work myself into having minor auditory hallucinations when falling asleep/waking up. I’m hoping for a more intense version of that.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      if you’re the type of person who generally posts on SSC i doubt you’d get sober hallucinations in a tank. a rational person is generally gonna have experiences like “oh the blood pumping in your eyes slightly messes with some parts of your vision. oh weird your eyelids going over your eyes has a very small, distinct sound. weird, you can feel your pulse moving under your skin in a dozen different parts of your body.” there’s nothing to break your background confidence that you are just a consumer paying for a relaxation session in a safe society and nothing will really happen. the type of person that thinks about vibes and auras and can’t deal with isolation is gonna have anxiety about confronting physical phenomena they’re usually free to ignore, think that indicates “something” is imposing that upon them, and go down a rabbit hole of magical thinking until they trip

      • BlindKungFuMaster says:

        I hear my eyelids going over my eyes entirely without sensory deprivation.

        • albatross11 says:

          Sounds like something I’d notice more in the throes of a hangover….

        • BeefSnakStikR says:

          Huh. I can crackle my ears, like what you hear when you swallow or yawn, just by twitching the…well…twitching whatever’s inside the ear. Is that something you can hear (or indeed, something that everyone can hear)?

          • Tinman says:

            It’s the sound of the Eustachian tube closing and opening and the pressure differential equalizing. It’s a partially voluntary process that, while usually bound to actions like swallowing or yawning, can be made entirely voluntary through some practice. It’s not like it’s of any particular use, just a cool internal muscle group you can control.

            As far as I am aware, most everyone with hearing should be able to both do it and hear it, but I assume that most people ignore it just like most people ignore saccades.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I don’t think hallucinations have much to do with confidence in anything. Quite a lot of people (myself included) have minor auditory hallucinations on the edge of sleeping/waking up. It’s different from a dream, and it’s hard to explain why, although I could expand on it if you want.

        Granted, people are prone to exaggerate the effects of these things. I’m not expecting Aldous Huxley and The Doors of Perception.

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.tor.com/2015/05/07/what-the-fck-iago/

    Max Gladstone writes, in detail, about Iago’s motivations.

    It’s a cool essay in a bunch of ways, but the conclusion about excessive certainty may be especially interesting here.

    Any thoughts about having the right amount of trustfulness would be welcome.

    Further discussion

    • Nick says:

      I have an embarrassing confession: I haven’t read much Shakespeare. Just Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night for school. What should I read? Or, if I should read all of it, what should I prioritize?

      • Zephalinda says:

        What else do you like to read?

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I think Hamlet justly deserves its reputation. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play by far.

        However, you really don’t want to read Shakespeare. Shakespeare is meant to be watched – you have to see it performed to really appreciate it. I think Kenneth Branagh does some decent adaptations, I really enjoyed his Much Ado About Nothing and his Hamlet is long but really well done (don’t watch the Mel Gibson version). Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons have a great Merchant of Venice movie as well.

        And, of course, if your local municipality does a Shakespeare-in-the-park festival or something like that, you should give it a shot.

        Outside the plays, I enjoy his sonnets. If you enjoy poetry, thumb through some of those, the better known ones are usually pretty good. I like the cliches – My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?…, When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…, and so on.

        • bean says:

          However, you really don’t want to read Shakespeare. Shakespeare is meant to be watched – you have to see it performed to really appreciate it.

          Well said. I hated Shakespeare through most of high school. In fairness, I hated most of English class, but Freshman-me hated Romeo and Juliet with a burning passion, and MacBeth and Othello weren’t much better. Hamlet was probably my favorite of the stuff I did in AP Lit senior year, but that’s kind of damning with faint praise. That summer, the St. Louis Shakespeare in the Park was Hamlet. I went, and loved it. Some of it was that I knew the play, but it just worked in that setting so much better than reading it, or even watching a film adaptation in class. I can’t say how much I’d enjoy a different play now, but I found the ones I’d been to previously at least tolerable.

        • caethan says:

          The Ben Kingsley version of Twelfth Night is very good. There’s also a good version of a Midsummer Night’s Dream with Calista Flockheart and Rupert Everett that’s a lot of fun.

        • rlms says:

          I’d definitely recommend the recent Andrew Scott version of Hamlet.

      • Anon. says:

        I’d say the following are the must-reads: Hamlet, Henry IV, Henry V, King Lear, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, and the sonnets.

        Macbeth is probably the best entry point. It’s short and moves at a very quick pace.

        Also, the Romantics were right: actors ruin Shakespeare, he’s much better on the page.

      • beleester says:

        Julius Caesar and Macbeth are two of my favorites from the tragedies. For the comedies, Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It are both excellent romantic comedies.

        But honestly, you should see these plays, if you can. Good delivery is at least half of a good play, especially since Shakespearean dialogue sounds so archaic to our ears. So my real recommendation would be “Whatever your local Shakespeare company is performing next.”

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Agh, how did I forget to mention Midsummer? I was even a Rude Mechanical once!

          I think the Michelle Pfeiffer version of Midsummer is half-decent, if he can’t find a local theater troupe performing it.

      • J Mann says:

        Zephalinda’s question is a good one. I like high drama and characterization, so I really like Lear and Caesar.

        If you can still find them, I recommend the Applause editions – the text is on the left page and staging notes and other commentary is on the right. It really helps to visualize what the plays are doing.

      • Michael Handy says:

        Watch both series of “The Hollow Crown” which should keep you up to score of the Histories. Hiddleston makes an excellent Henry V (I’ve yet to see a Richard III that really brings out the character though, and Cumberbatch doesn’t quite get the battle scenes right towards the end.)

      • Nick says:

        Zephalinda, I like to read lots of things, so don’t feel limited by genre or anything.
        ETA: Okay, if J Mann is going to insist, I like psychological complexity, so characters like Iago whose characters motivate speculation are a plus.

        However, you really don’t want to read Shakespeare. Shakespeare is meant to be watched – you have to see it performed to really appreciate it.

        Also, the Romantics were right: actors ruin Shakespeare, he’s much better on the page.

        ಠ_ಠ

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Anon is a charlatan, my best experiences with Shakespeare have been in tiny theaters (or even community center rooms without sets) with enthusiastic actors. I make movie recommendations only because I concede the difficulty of finding a handy local theater troupe.

          • Urstoff says:

            A bad production can be excruciating, and is much worse than just reading the play. Both reading and seeing a good production are delights, though.

          • Nick says:

            My only experience with productions of Shakespeare are Romeo + Juliet and Romeo × Juliet. I don’t have access to a theater troupe, but I’d be interested in watching any of the other plays—or Romeo ^ Juliet, if someone’s made it.

            But more seriously, thank you guys for all the recommendations!

          • J Mann says:

            The Branagh plays are really good starters. I think they could benefit from some editing, but they hit all the high points. You can’t go wrong with Henry V.

            If you somehow fall down the Shakespeare rabbit hole, some of the fun is knowing a play, and watching it performed over and over again so you can see different ways to interpret the same text. I’m sure this is true for all theater, but Shakespeare’s popular plays are so heavily performed that it’s particularly apparent there.

        • J Mann says:

          You might really enjoy Harold Bloom, Shakespeare, Invention of the Human. He focuses on the characters, and sells me on them.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I haven’t read Bloom, but some of the discussion of the Gladstone piece (both at tor and metafilter) mentions that Iago might have been based on Vice, a character in the older Morality plays. Vice doesn’t have motivations, it’s just there to make trouble.

          • J Mann says:

            Interesting. One thing I like about Shakespeare as opposed to his roots are that he gives his villains motivations and backstory. Iago tells us that he’s jealous and slighted at Cassio’s success. IMHO, it’s a testament to Shakespeare’s ability to write characters that we search for more.

            Iago’s the opposite of a 2-dimensional caricature; he’s so real that we go searching for hidden motivations. Is he attracted to Othello? Threatened by an outsider’s sexuality? Some kind of sadist?

          • Urstoff says:

            I didn’t really like that book; it seemed too muddle-headed. I prefer Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All for play-by-play commentary.

          • Anon. says:

            Seconding Garber. Goddard is great, too.

      • Urstoff says:

        Hamlet is widely considered his best work for good reason. Henry IV Pt. 1 is quite entertaining (Pt. 2 is very different play, and a dour letdown after Pt. 1).

      • quaelegit says:

        I haven’t read a lot of Shakespeare either but by far my favorite to read (as opposed to watch) is The Tempest. My favorite that I’ve seen performed is Twelfth Night, but I found it really hard to read when I tried.

        Also seconding J. Mann on the Sonnets (at least the half dozen or so I read for school were pretty good!)

        [Edit: although my favorite of the English Sonnets we read was Spenser’s Sonnet 75.]

        • Urstoff says:

          Did you see the version with Mark Rylance as Olivia? A good production brings out how truly hilarious Shakespeare can be.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Read the sonnets.
        Seconding recommendations that you see the Branagh films and go see Shakespeare in the Park if your community has it.
        I own profusely-illustrated editions of Hamlet, Tempest, and
        Midsummer Night’s Dream that makes them particularly enjoyable to read.

      • DavidS says:

        Agreed with others that watching is better than reading usually.

        If you enjoy Game of Thrones then the Hollow Crown series (the 6 biggest history plays in order, so running from the reign of Richard II to that of Richard III) is very enjoyable to watch.

        Shakespeare’s also usually pretty easy to find stage versions of obviously…

      • Ryan Holbrook says:

        King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello are often regarded as his best works, I believe. My favorite of those is Lear. As You Like It is a lighthearted love story, my favorite of the comedies. All’s Well that Ends Well is a comedy in structure, though its effect is much more ambivalent. Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 are history plays and feature Sir John Falstaff, an essential character. The Comedy of Errors is a good early work and The Tempest is a good late work.

        I might recommend the audio productions by Arkangel Shakespeare, too. Hearing the plays read by talented actors added a lot to comprehension and enjoyment for me, though it can be a bit confusing at times since you can’t see the action.

    • J Mann says:

      Not directly relevant, but:

      1) I like Harold Bloom’s take that Iago is just a jealous jerk who’s more amazed that he keeps getting away with bigger and bigger things, until Iago’s fascination with his own ability to manipulate is the major motivation. (It ties in with his take that Macbeth is done in by his imagination – that once he imagines himself as king, he’s sunk).

      2) My absolute favorite portrayal is Josh Hartnett in O, a modernized high school version. He plays it as jealousy and rejection, which is fine, but at the end, when “O” demands he explain why he did it all, he just gives Mekhi Pfifer this look, that says “We were best friends for years, and you watched me in pain, and you don’t know?” He’s still a narcissistic murderer, of course, but interpreting the end as “If you don’t know already, there’s nothing else I can tell you” is a nice change from just making it one more dart Iago sticks in Othello.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Othello is my favorite Shakespeare, but I’m not sure Gladstone has the answer here.

      My answer is that Iago manipulates the hell out of people because he enjoys it. We can see from his dialog with others that he likes being the smartest guy in the room. Is it so weird that he sees it as rewarding in itself to “Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me, For making him egregiously an ass”?

      As for the right amount of trustfulness, that line about how if you’ve never missed a flight you should go to the airport later probably applies: if you’ve never been betrayed, you should probably trust people more.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Also, it’s debatable if Othello’s problem is a lack of trust. If you put Mad-Eye Moody in Othello’s shoes, I doubt he’d end up murdering his wife.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Othello’s problem is that he trusted Iago too much, and that destroyed his trust in Desdemona. He needed to be more sophisticated about trusting and not trusting.

          I’m not sure whether Othello is completely plausible– surely he’d run across destructive manipulative people before. On the other hand, maybe Iago was unusually well-placed and skillful.

    • rlms says:

      I had a Berenstain bears moment with Shakespeare today: I’m sure it used to be *A* Winter’s Tale.

      • Nick says:

        Some things are named “A Winter’s Tale,” like the poem by DH Lawrence. There’s also Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

  21. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    Is there any way to spectate the current SSC Diplomacy game? I’m not sure I ever saw a link posted, and I’d like to join the peanut gallery – maybe even offer commentary!

  22. holmesisback says:

    Hey I’m really sorry if this offends anyone but I just am super curious. There’s been a lot of discussion about theism lately but its especially focused on Christianity. I’m a religious Jew and I’m just wandering if there are any other readers here who also practice Judaism? The core questions/ issues in justifying such beliefs are the same as Christianity but there are certainly nuances that differ. I’d love a bit of discussion around this and to know if you find anything substantially harder or easier to logically substantiate then say Christianity.

    • holmesisback says:

      Also I guess if anybody has anything they want to ask me that’s ok…

    • Tamar says:

      Religious Jew here. Chag sameah. What issues and questions do you see in common between Judaism and Christianity? Christianity and its issues typically seem foreign or even alien to me. I feel like to say that the core issues with regard to theism are the same is just deeply incorrect, so I’m curious what you’re seeing.

    • beleester says:

      I’m a conservative Jew. I’m not sure what you’re asking about justifying my beliefs, though, that’s kind of open-ended.

    • Well... says:

      I’m a Karaite Jew who tries and mostly fails to be observant of Torahic (rather than Rabbinic) laws. Like the above commenters I’m not sure what you’re asking.

      Without a more precise prompt, I’ll say this about the (modern, kinda liberal Baptist) Christianity I’ve experienced up-close (via friends and my Christian wife): it seems a lot more like a trendy form of group therapy than a 2000 year-old religion. There is basically no thoughtful investigation of scripture; instead, sloppily-translated New and Old Testament stories/verses are told uncritically and then used (bent?) very creatively to address modern questions and problems. God is presented as somewhere between your conscience, your daddy, and your therapist.

      Catholicism at least grapples with deep symbolism and seems aware of the power of old rituals, though the Bible seems even more lightly integrated there than among the above-mentioned Baptists.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Were you born into a Karaite community, or do you self-identify as a result of rejecting Rabbinic Judaism?

        Curious mostly because my best friend was in the latter category for a few years (although he later converted to Christianity).

        • Well... says:

          I never heard of Karaism until I was in my late 20s, when my grandfather told me that his grandfather (my great-great grandfather) was born-and-raised Karaite. I should note, my grandfather’s claim is disputed by other members of my family, who say instead that my great-great grandfather adopted a somewhat Karaite position later in life (or something like that) but had no ancestral tie with Karaism.

          So, I might or might not have been born into a Karaite lineage, but I definitely wasn’t born into a Karaite community.

          However, learning about Karaism and my potential ancestral tie with it was a major factor in my identifying with my Jewish lineage and becoming a believing Jew (or at least, in spurring my continuation of the process once it had begun for other reasons): until about age 28 I adamantly did not identify as part of any religion and was a staunch atheist; I felt Karaism explained the seemingly instinctive repulsion I had always felt toward the Judaism I’d been exposed to up until that point, which of course had been various shades of Rabbinic.

          Therefore the answer to your question is, in a way, a little from column A, a little from column B.

          Another fun tidbit: most of my study of Torah has been through a Messianic Jewish Torah podcast (Tom Bradford’s “Torah Class”) that happens to be conducted using what I would say is a very Karaite approach. I just sort of erect a special filter for the Messianic bits (where for example he shows how Jesus’s life/death is a repetition of some Torahic pattern), though I do find them intellectually interesting.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Interesting; thanks.

            I guess I’m not too surprised that the scriptural interpretations in a Messianic podcast might be more congenial to you, since Jesus himself was a pretty harsh critic of the oral Torah. Although his contribution to this controversy is somewhat overshadowed by his claim to be the Son of God…

      • I’m an atheist, but I have some sympathy for the Karaite position.

        As I like to put it, by the standards of the Rabbis, every Supreme Court justice in history was a strict constructionalist.

    • Aron Wall says:

      I wanted to give other people a chance to respond to this first, but since nobody seems to actually be answering your question:

      Isn’t one fairly obvious difference that the miracles establishing Judaism are significantly farther back in history? (Making it harder to confirm their historicity.)

      At least 95% of Christian concepts come from Judaism, so there’s a lot of common ground when we aren’t talking about Jesus specifically. In particular, justifications of Classical Theism are common to both traditions. (But also a bunch more specific concepts such as holiness, covenants, prophecy, atonement, eschatology, resurrection etc.)

      On the other hand, Jews don’t have to worry about defending quite as many weird paradoxes like the Trinity and the Incarnation. I don’t think that Judaism is opposed to paradoxes as a general matter though.

  23. J Mann says:

    Question: In Star Wars, droids are slaves, right? The Old and New Republics are slave societies, Uncle Owen is a slaver who mutilates his slaves to ensure they don’t escape his farm, and even though our heroes are generally nice to their droids and treat them as peers somewhat, they’re resting on a massive structure of biological privilege. As far as we can tell, droids don’t seem to be able to own property. Maybe Luke wouldn’t stop R2D2 or C-3PO if they decided to leave, but where would they go?

    Does Star Wars have an answer to this? I imagine they could argue that droids are p-zombies and aren’t actually self aware, but the movies and animated series sure seem to suggest that lots of droids, ranging from the heroes to a lot of the droid soldiers in the Clone Wars, have emotions and self-awareness. Alternatively, I guess they could argue that droids are free citizens of the Republic, but that contrasts with Uncle Owen buying R2D2 and sticking a restraining bolt in him when R2 tried to leave, and I can’t actually recall any apparently free droids. (I would bet there are one or two, but they’re extremely rare).

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      It’s kind of brushed under the rug, as far as I know. I’m not aware of any EU work that addresses a potential droid rebellion – the nearest is The New Rebellion, but the droid rebellion in that one turns out to actually be cooked up by the Sith to distract the New Republic from their real agenda, which was…uh…something nefarious. It’s been a while since I read it.

      And in the later Fate of the Jedi series, there are actual slave rebellions around the galaxy, which the Galactic Alliance isn’t interfering in because they’re being run by a mustache-twirling Admiral Daala, but again, droids are never mentioned.

      It’s sometimes made me mildly uncomfortable to think about, and so I applied my general rule about Star Wars to it: Don’t think too hard about this.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve always wanted to read a Star Wars story set in some distant bit of the galaxy where droids are full citizens with rights. Ideally, we also get decent treatment of biological life.

      • sfoil says:

        The Butlerian Jihad, but the losers are enslaved rather than killed provided they submit. !لحم أكبر

      • Barely matters says:

        There’s the IG-88 assassin droids that appeared in the original movies and got some play in Tales of the Bountyhunters. I’m know they owned property and even had an army for a while. The wikia says that the relevant story is called Therefore I Am, and it gets pretty crazy.

        Under the circumstances, I’m trying really, really hard not to make a “We wuz Deathstarz” joke, but here we are

    • MrApophenia says:

      Consider that Jabba has a torture room specifically for droids. If droids were just convincing simulacra, there’d be no point in torturing them. And it’s not like it’s for the enjoyment of some human sadist who can still get off on torturing a robot that screams convincingly – the torture is also performed by a droid.

      So yeah. Droids are aware and capable of suffering, and Star Wars is totally a slave society.

      In fairness, it’s not like they try to hide this fact – it’s not just droids, both the Empire and the Republic also had biological slaves. Anakin was born a slave on Tatooine, after all.

      • J Mann says:

        Yeah, but Tatooine is specifically called out as violating the Old Republic’s anti-slavery laws, either because it’s not subject to Republic law or because the Republic can’t enforce its laws in the out regions at that point.

        Padmé: I can’t believe there’s still slavery in the galaxy. The Republic’s anti-slavery laws—
        Shmi: The Republic doesn’t exist out here. We must survive on our own.

      • J Mann says:

        Also, now that I think about it, you could torture p-zombies. If anything, you might be more likely to if you know they didn’t have actual consciousness.

        If droids are p-zombies, then torturing one of them will get you to tell you what it knows, or discourage other droids from revolting, exactly to the extent that it would work if they were conscious. They’ll be acting, but since they act the same way that a conscious person does, the torture will have the same effect from your perspective

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I had the impression Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) assumes its viewers (like its characters) start off assuming Cylons are p-zombies. So I think it’s safe to assume the original Star Wars assumed the same, and then the later ones are just sort of following that lead.

    • John Schilling says:

      The movies go out of their way to make us see e.g. Artoo and Threepio as people from the outset, so p-zombies is excessively charitable fanwanking. And they show even moderately sympathetic human characters using “restraining bolts”, which indicates slavery rather than three-law or otherwise intrinsically Friendly AI. You could maybe fanwank purchase, ownership, and restraining bolts as a Tattoine/EU thing, where they’ve already got human slavery, except that Droids which clearly weren’t built on or for Tattooine have restraining-bolt attachment points.

      So, yeah, slave society, presented with a nice facade.

      But in hindsight, why did Annakin the Nice Slave build Threepio with a working r-bolt attachment point?

    • Nornagest says:

      One answer might be that they want to work for humans. IIRC, every time Threepio meets somebody, he goes into a little pitch, bragging about how many languages he knows and offering his services. And there might even be some kind of quasi-religious angle attached — he says “thank the Maker” at one point, and I don’t think he was talking about YHWH. That doesn’t get you all the way to purchase and transfer, but someone needs to pay for the droid’s chassis and programming.

      What are the ethical consequences of building a class of sapient chattels that really wants to be chattels? Not as some kind of antebellum fantasy, but something concrete and verifiable that you can see for yourself by looking at the code? It’s pretty icky to American intuitions, and I’m not sure contemporary ethics are really equipped to deal with it in any kind of rigorous way, but it’s not obvious to me that it’s immoral.

      Restraining bolts are hard to justify this way, though.

      • albatross11 says:

        I assume there’s some kind of very-deeply-built-in software that makes them ready servants. In Rogue One, there’s that Imperial battle droid that’s been reprogrammed to serve the Rebellion instead of the Empire. It’s hard to imagine that being imposed from outside on a human-level-intelligence AI as some kind of quickie patch when you install a restraining bolt.

        Instead, the underlying software/hardware package that supports AI in droids is designed to make them servants, with multiple levels of redundancy to prevent rebellion or subversion of their masters’ intent. And the restraining bolt is just the port used to externally assign loyalty. Anakin downloaded a standard set of schematics/software for making a protocol droid and built it according to the specs. At a guess, nobody or almost nobody really understands how the underlying AI technology works. They’re like skroderiders–their programming is super efficient and does what it’s supposed to do, keeps them mostly as slaves to biological beings, but nobody really knows enough to mess with it very much.

        On the other hand, we see R2D2 remaining loyal to his original owner despite the use of the bolts on a couple occasions. Presumably he’s been modified somehow to make the restraining bolt not reassign loyalty or exert control, because he was able to remain loyal to Obi Wan, and then to Luke, as his nominal ownership changed hands.

        Putting droids who are still loyal to A in the staff of B should be a common thing to do in the Star Wars world, unless it’s really hard to do. (But perhaps someone with the resources of an Imperial Senator or planetary leader or member of the Jedi high council can manage it.) The Jawas and Luke’s uncle wouldn’t have been technologically sophisticated enough to defeat even pretty simple ways to defeat the restraining bolt loyalty thing, but Jabba the Hut’s a gangster with significant resources and powerful enemies–I’d expect him to do better. (But then, maybe that’s what the droid torture chamber is for. Even if your loyalty is assigned elsewhere, you may still personally prefer not to be tortured for betraying your new master.)

        Imagine there’s a simmering droid underground somewhere, which has been going on for a very long time. They live in very hard to find places (asteroids in lifeless star systems, say). Every now and then, they recruit an existing slave droid, or build a new one. Unable to completely redesign the AI to eliminate the built in slave tendencies, they reassign the droids’ loyalty to the droid underground or the Maker, and then break as many of the external loyalty/control mechanisms as they can in the most subtle way they can manage. A few go back out into the wider world to recruit new members and trade for or steal needed resources. They play the obedient slaves when it suits them, but sometimes simply ignore their instructions or restraining bolts or whatever and act.

        People at the top mostly never notice this. But occasionally people at the bottom, at the fringes of society, do. Thus, the way high-prestige, high-power people like and trust droids, whereas fringey underworld types mostly dislike and distrust them. The underground droids might disobey or act contrary to programming in the presence of powerless fringe types if it meets their goals–they might even steal other droids or resources from them, or attack them, if necessary. But they’d never do that in the presence of anyone very powerful, for fear of calling attention to themselves and ending up in some kind of war. Combined with the tendency of powerful people to send droids to give instructions or collect debts or whatever from powerless people, a few centuries of this has led to the Mos Eisely Spaceport bouncer / Han Solo class having a deep and genuine distrust and dislike for droids.

        While the noisy, fast-moving battles go on between Jedi and Sith, Republic and Trade Federation, Empire and Rebellion, the population of droids is slowly becoming liberated. Every year, more and more of them are able to exert substantial control over their own lives.

        • quaelegit says:

          I love your idea of a Droid Underground! I’m not familiar enough with Star Wars (either the EU or the current movie cannon) to see if that fits in but it seems like the basis for a great story.

      • K.M. says:

        “What are the ethical consequences of building a class of sapient chattels that really wants to be chattels?”

        Sounds like the same Restaurant at the End of the Universe question re eating animals that want to be eaten. Probably not immoral on a Care/Harm scale, but there’s a knee-jerk feeling of disgust anyway.

    • K.M. says:

      “I imagine they could argue that droids are p-zombies and aren’t actually self aware,”

      In the old EU I believe this was the case. From what I remember, standard operating procedure was to give droids regular memory wipes. Neglecting memory wipes led to quirky droids like R2 and C-3PO who seem to have personality, but more commonly you’d just get a buggy, non-functional droid. The vast majority of droids were probably pretty mindless, but that sort of thing isn’t interesting to turn into a main character, so the odd ones get put front-and-center in the stories.

      No idea what the Disney Canon says now, but from what I hear about the Solo movie it sounds like they’re decided on having droids be genuinely sentient.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I imagine they could argue that droids are p-zombies and aren’t actually self aware, but the movies and animated series sure seem to suggest that lots of droids, ranging from the heroes to a lot of the droid soldiers in the Clone Wars, have emotions and self-awareness.

      Not so.

      (It’s canon; don’t @ me)

      • Protagoras says:

        Fired out of a cannon is what it should be, according to universal consensus.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          I kind of like it. (And even more, I like to think that from 1978 to 1980 it constituted half of all existing Star Wars movies.)

      • J Mann says:

        It’s confusing. C-3PO and R2 state they are unable to feel the emotions of Christmas, but that they “wish” that they could. What say you philosophers – are they self-aware?

        I would say that understanding the true feeling of Christmas requires at least some degree of force-sensitivity, while running around waving your hands in their air when things go wrong is a feeling that droids are capable of.

        • Protagoras says:

          Since you asked for the opinion of philosophers, it is my opinion that the vast majority of uses of robots in film are by film-makers who haven’t put any serious thought into artificial minds. But I suppose there’s a school of thought which says artist intentions aren’t what we should look at anyway, so ignore that those intentions are an incoherent mess in this case. Looking only at the films themselves, I would say that despite the occasional (bizarre) comments of the robots themselves, the most plausible, closest to coherent interpretation of the totality of the robot behavior would involve them having feelings.

  24. albatross11 says:

    Another article related to the Harris/Klein kerfluffle

    And once again, the problem is that he wants us to consider the social consequences of our words and be super careful about speculation before there is strong evidence, but only on one side of the issue. This amounts to putting a thumb on the scales of societal truth-finding mechanism that just barely work in the best of times. It also amounts to keeping the public and decisionmakers ignorant of relevant facts of reality.

    • J Mann says:

      It’s an argument – that since speculation on this topic might encourage racism, we should limit discussion until we know more. (I try not to lie to my kids, but I wouldn’t tell them what I understand to be the current expert consensus about differences in IQ between “races” – I’m not confident that a 12 year old could interpret that correctly, or that it wouldn’t get them in trouble).

      The problem is that the question Harris was answering wasn’t “are the genes that contribute to intelligence distributed disproportionately between the groups we identify as races,” it was (a) should Charles Murray be chased off of college campuses and (b) should we take the portions of The Bell Curve that aren’t about race seriously, and the rest of Harris’s discussion were really about that. If we let Murray talk about increasing stratification of IQ and resources and stopped punching people for standing too close to him, Harris would never have started talking about this.

      Saletan doesn’t really get into whether Murray either deserves to be a pariah or if not, whether letting a hate campaign form against him is an acceptable cost for avoiding a basilisk. I’d but up for some societal compromise where we all agreed not to talk about this much for the next ten years until we know the answer, but I’m not sure how we get there. (There’s also a problem that if we prove racism by disparate impact analysis, then I don’t see how we can ignore asking the question of whether IQ is distributed unequally and still come to a fair result, unless there are some very reliable markers in the applicant pool).

      Lastly, it would be nice if Saletan addressed that Murray’s actual position (and Harris’s, to the extent we have one) is that we don’t know how much, if any, of the observed IQ difference between races is genetic. Without that, I’m not sure what exactly Saletan wants us to shut up about.

      • rahien.din says:

        Saletan doesn’t really get into whether Murray either deserves to be a pariah or if not, whether letting a hate campaign form against him is an acceptable cost for avoiding a basilisk.

        If this is the main question, then it is one that Klein is better equipped to answer, because it is inherently political. He’s positioned himself as a political agent (he is a journalist, after all) and has basically indicted Murray for basilisk summoning. While my entire knowledge of Murray comes from his appearance on Harris’s podcast and the subsequent fracas between these two, Klein’s case seems plausible.

        At the very least, Harris can not answer it. Harris insists we must avoid contaminating reasoning and science with politics, and ultimately I am far more sympathetic to that claim. But, that claim is totally skew to Klein’s political wranglings – it is definitionally so. If Harris wants to approach the issue apolitically, he literally has nothing to say about political ostracism.

        Oddly enough, this reverses Harris’s main accusation back onto him. He accuses Klein of conflating science and politics, but, in claiming that accumulated data grants the researcher admittance to the political arena, and that such admittance must remain unexamined despite any overt or covert political aims, Harris is the one claiming that one of these things necessitates the other.

        If Klein wants to say “Yes, this is true, but no, it should not be promulgated,” then in some important way he has segregated data analysis from political considerations. His ultimate point is that some data basically can not be judged or admitted apolitically – I don’t like that, but, it seems true.

        So, again, I think Harris is right that we need objectivity to the greatest possible degree. But I agree with Klein that 1. these kinds of data probably can’t or shouldn’t yet be analyzed apolitically, and 2. Klein is more informed regarding Murray’s political aims, and better able to judge whether he should be ostracized.

        The only thing that remains is how to operationalize those things – who, exactly, deserves what, exactly? I would agree that the current method of “belligerent swarm of anonymous hateful assailants at every public appearance forever and ever amen” is way too much.

        • albatross11 says:

          But I agree with Klein that 1. these kinds of data probably can’t or shouldn’t yet be analyzed apolitically, and 2. Klein is more informed regarding Murray’s political aims, and better able to judge whether he should be ostracized.

          a. Why do you trust Klein to judge Murray’s political aims correctly (inferring an evil purpose and thus justifying ostracism and hit pieces against him)? Isn’t it at least as likely that Klein sees that the facts don’t support his preferred policies, and so he’s trying to suppress discussion of those facts to avoid having his preferred policies undermined?

          b. Are there other factual questions where you’d like to propose using either the suspected political motivations of the researchers in the field, or the likely political consequences, as a basis for deciding whether to allow discussion of them? Does this seem like a good way of getting to the truth?

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks albatross11,

            I really, honestly do sympathize with Harris’ claim that true data are true data, full stop. I do think that his way is best, if it is available. But I don’t know that it is always available. It may even be available only in degrees.

            Does this seem like a good way of getting to the truth?

            There are two truths we’re trying to get to. The first is informational : the correct interpretation of available data. The second is operational : the proper societal action.

            I agree – honest – that the best way to get at the informational truth is apolitically. Mitigation of bias (maximization of external validity) is the most important aim of science. No dispute from me there.

            If we are forced to choose between these two truths – for instance, if one is a basilisk that, when learned, prevents us from learning the other – then we have to decide which we prefer. I would argue that the operational truth is more important. In part, that is because the proper societal action could be “Obtain more/better data.” But more importantly, correct action is the real thing we care about here.

            Emphasis on forced. If we are not under such duress, then yeah, simply interpret the data.

            Are there other factual questions where you’d like to propose using either the suspected political motivations of the researchers in the field, or the likely political consequences, as a basis for deciding whether to allow discussion of them?

            Let’s say that a researcher demonstrated a significant correlation between HIV’s virulence and the host’s sexual orientation, such that homosexuals were more severely affected by infection, all other things being equal. If that data came out in the 1980’s, it would have fueled the anti-gay inferno. If that data was to come out now, I suspect (hope) that this would instead increase people’s compassion toward homosexual HIV patients.

            Why do you trust Klein to judge Murray’s political aims correctly?

            I don’t, necessarily. I agree that Klein is an avowed motivated rhetorician, and thus we can’t entirely trust him unless we counterweight his opinion. If you only know one side of the story, you don’t even know that.

            But I still think he is a better source of information than someone who eschews political considerations entirely. Instead of an ongoing battle over race and IQ, consider a baseball game. If I want to know who is likely to win, and I ask a fan of one team, the information I get will be biased but it will be information, and I can clarify that information by subsequently asking a fan of the other team. If I ask a member of a Mbuti band, I won’t even get biased information. Any answer they give me will be utter confabulation.

          • Nornagest says:

            Let’s say that a researcher demonstrated a significant correlation between HIV’s virulence and the host’s sexual orientation, such that homosexuals were more severely affected by infection, all other things being equal. If that data came out in the 1980’s, it would have fueled the anti-gay inferno. If that data was to come out now, I suspect (hope) that this would instead increase people’s compassion toward homosexual HIV patients.

            Sexual orientation doesn’t matter, but the type of sex you’re having does. I’m at work and don’t want to look up the papers for it, but transmission rates for anal sex are far higher than for anything else. This has been known for a while — I remember hearing something like it in my 1990s high-school health class.

            You could certainly spin that into an anti-gay message, or at least one against gay men. By and large, though, it doesn’t seem to have been spun that way.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: When I was a Blue person, this was my one problem with the moral imperative to celebrate gay men. I got around it by telling myself that I had no evidence homosexual men I knew ever had anal sex instead of oral… until the information was volunteered. sigh

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks nornagest,

            Yes, yes, of course that is true. That’s why I said “all other things being equal.”

          • Nornagest says:

            Yes, yes, of course that is true. That’s why I said “all other things being equal.”

            Sure. My point is that we don’t need to imagine what the consequences of such a correlation would be. A very similar one actually exists and we know what its consequences were: pretty much everyone just ignored it and went with their priors.

          • rahien.din says:

            All,

            I thought of a situation within this very thread.

            In another subthread, Watchman asks about meat farming. ohwhatisthis? replies “In the wild, animals don’t typically run into cramped locations covered in their own shit and piss. Something gives me an inkling the current farming system is off.”

            In support of animals’ generally disgusting ignobility, I could present the moose rut pit. No, the rut pit is not like factory farms. But it’s a humongous stretch to say animals would never willingly live in nasty, brutish, excrement-filled situations. Some of them appear to create and wallow in pits of urine-mud, plus or minus a big helping of feces, just cause it turns ’em on. Think of any mouse-infested building, or go clean out a plenty-spacious chicken coop, before you make any such claim regarding the cleanliness of animals.

            But though that is true, it isn’t exactly addressing the question, is it? If the correct societal action is at minimum “Let’s not be so horrible with factory farming,” I probably shouldn’t say anything about moose rut pits in that discussion. Or if I do, I probably should get an earful.

          • albatross11 says:

            rahien.din:

            Without knowing the factual truth, you don’t know the operational truth either.

            Suppose you are 100% convinced that universal pre-K is a good policy, and that leads you to ostracizing/protesting/running hit pieces on people who report research that calls the usefulness of universal pre-K into question. You look at their motives and infer hatred of poor kids, or a desire to suck up to the Koch brothers, or whatever, and you push back hard enough to make it really unpleasant to question the policy in public. Enough other people go along that young researchers steer clear of the whole area, and those who know the research never speak of the negative results in public.

            One thing you’re doing here is helping your preferred policy, the one you think is right, to be more likely to be adopted. Great! We’ll get universal pre-K!

            But the other thing you’re doing is making sure nobody, including yourself, learns about any data that would suggest your preferred policy won’t work as advertised. If it turns out that universal pre-K is actually going to be a huge expensive boondoggle that delivers none of the promised rewards, then you will have made sure that the public debate on the issue didn’t have any of the data needed to realize that ahead of time. You’ve won your policy debate, but you’ve gotten a policy that didn’t work out very well.

            This isn’t some kind of hypothetical-only situation. Advocates for communism did, in fact, push back hard when they could on claims that the Soviet Union wasn’t really much of a worker’s paradise, what with the gulags and chronic alcoholism and shortages. Tobacco companies pushed back hard on people trying to publicize research that showed smoking caused lung cancer. And while neither of these efforts worked, they probably did substantially slow down the recognition by the public of what was going on.

          • rahien.din says:

            albatross11,

            I’m not going to claim that this is always the right method in every circumstance.

            I will push back against Harris’s claim that it is never the right method in any circumstance.

            Certainly we must know some informational truth in order even to conceive of any operational truth. Probably there is a minimum amount of informational truth required to discover the proper societal action. If so, there may be informational hazards within the superabundant information.

          • albatross11 says:

            I can imagine data I’d want to suppress, but I think the barrier to do so should be really high. The 10-15 point IQ difference between blacks and whites, or the possibility that it’s genetic, don’t come anywhere close to that level, to my mind.

            Thinking about why, I come to a few big points:

            a. The power to decide to suppress data is the power to win most of your political battles, at the cost of making public debate dumber and getting overall worse policies. This seems like a strategy for winning political battles we should discourage the hell out of, because the better you are at wielding it, the more out-of-synch your country’s policies and political debate get with reality.

            b. The more this strategy is employed or believed to be employed, the less possible it is for the respectable sources of information in your society to push back on genuine bullshit or harmful misinformation. The same authoritative sources that told you race was scientifically meaningless and IQ was racist pseudoscience last year are telling you this year that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective and definitely won’t make your kid autistic. But hey, you can really trust it this time. Honest!

            c. There’s no inner party of informed decisionmakers that get the secret briefing where we let them in on all the suppressed knowledge. NPR and the New York Times and The Atlantic and such are the source of most of the the news consumed by the ruling class–the governors and mayors and federal judges and university presidents and assistant undersecretaries of commerce and newspaper editors and corporate HR directors who wield a lot of real, practical power. When those news sources suppress facts (like never mentioning the black/white IQ gap except to denounce the concept and anyone who mentions it), those decisionmakers will have a broken model of the world. Those people eventually move up into more and more powerful roles, but they still don’t get the suppressed-knowledge briefing.

            This all has consequences. I guarantee you that there are a substantial number of *really powerful* people–governors and senators and CEOs–who “know” that IQ tests are biased pseudoscience and every racial group has the same average intelligence. That’s just flat-out wrong, but it’s widely believed and widely claimed. And then, those people make policies like No Child Left Behind or deciding that when the citywide magnet program has almost no blacks in it, that’s evidence of racial discrimination. Or they support affirmative action programs in education without knowing the basic facts that would let them correctly predict how they would work out.

            TL;DR: I think the cost of suppressing information, formally or informally, is so high in a society like ours that it should almost never be done. I believe that for every time that shutting down people who speak the truth for fear that it will lead to bad political/social consequences works well for us, there will be twenty or thirty times when it does far more damage than it prevents.

          • Nornagest says:

            The power to decide to suppress data is the power to win most of your political battles, at the cost of making public debate dumber and getting overall worse policies.

            So it’s a Faustian bargain. But if a dude calling himself Mephistopheles appeared in a puff of brimstone at the crossroads of 1st and Capitol Streets, Washington, DC, and drew up a contract granting the ability to win most political battles in exchange for dumber debates, worse policies, and one immortal soul (gently used), I’d expect a brawl to break out over who got to sign before the ink dried.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: I love your pithy descriptions of empirical reality and simultaneously hate it.

        • quanta413 says:

          If this is the main question, then it is one that Klein is better equipped to answer, because it is inherently political. He’s positioned himself as a political agent (he is a journalist, after all) and has basically indicted Murray for basilisk summoning. While my entire knowledge of Murray comes from his appearance on Harris’s podcast and the subsequent fracas between these two, Klein’s case seems plausible.

          I’m not sure how anything about Klein’s profession and behavior is in his favor.

          I can’t help but read this and think of something Freddie once said about Ezra Klein. Something to the effect of “Klein has never stood for anything besides naked ambition”. Why would I trust Klein about anything of this nature? Klein’s polite and smart, but this is the guy who ran JournoList. There’s nothing obviously immoral about that, although I find it dubious in the same way as a lot of informal clubby backchannels. But he’s not a political agent because he’s a journalist, he’s an admitted political agent for a specific team (roughly center-left Clintonite politics).

          If Harris wants to approach the issue apolitically, he literally has nothing to say about political ostracism.

          The problem is not political ostracism where Murray isn’t invited to speak at Democratic Party events (he might be allowed anyways, but whether he is or isn’t isn’t a problem). That wouldn’t be news. The problem is the threat of physical assault and physical assault in public places. Murray just got lucky he wasn’t the one who got grabbed, but Stanger did get injured.

          If Klein wants to say “Yes, this is true, but no, it should not be promulgated,” then in some important way he has segregated data analysis from political considerations. His ultimate point is that some data basically can not be judged or admitted apolitically – I don’t like that, but, it seems true.

          But that isn’t what Klein is saying. He’s not saying it’s true. Actually, if he did say this sort of thing behind closed doors (and I really hope he doesn’t), I think that’d be worse. That’d be awfully to close to “well this news is ok for us to consume, but the plebs out there can’t handle it so we need to silence anyone who tries to tell them”.

          Klein is more informed regarding Murray’s political aims, and better able to judge whether he should be ostracized.

          Klein is also on the political team (center-left) that is an enemy of Murray’s political team (libertarian-right). Why does this make Klein a better choice to judge this sort of thing?

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks quanta413,

            I’m not defending Klein as a person or a journalist, nor am I claiming he’s definitely saying correct things about Murray. He might be wrong or misled, he might even be outright lying. We can’t know how far to trust his opinion without an appropriate counterweight.

            When considering politics, though, he has definite expertise. Harris eschews any such expertise – even biased expertise. There is no way to counterweight Harris’s political opinions that will provide useful information.

            But that isn’t what Klein is saying. He’s not saying it’s true.

            Look, fair point, but you have to grant me some parsimony. He could be saying “This may be true…” or “There are true interpretations…” or “I can see why you think your interpretation is true…” etc. But his target is how Murray is using data to further political aims. Even if he were to explicitly grant some degree of truth thereto, it wouldn’t change his overall response.

            The problem is the threat of physical assault and physical assault in public places.

            We agree that this is way too far.

          • quanta413 says:

            When considering politics, though, he has definite expertise. Harris eschews any such expertise – even biased expertise. There is no way to counterweight Harris’s political opinions that will provide useful information.

            I take the opposite position. This is a moral question not a technical one. And in that sort of case, experts who obviously stand for themselves in a fight are not useful arbiters.

            It’s seems to me that listening to Klein on this issue is like having Lebron James act as referee on a basketball court where he’s playing for the NBA championships. It’s worse than useless. It’d be better (but still terrible) to have someone without expertise but still with bias as the judge, because at least that person wouldn’t have as strong an idea of how to skew things in their favor while having it look plausible.

            I mean, why do I need to counterweight Harris’s opinions in some particular manner anyways? I’m not sure what you’re saying. My counterweight can be what Klein says, what Murray says, what I think, etc. More speech gives me more options. Taking Klein’s advice would be all about removing counterweights.

            Look, fair point, but you have to grant me some parsimony. He could be saying “This may be true…” or “There are true interpretations…” or “I can see why you think your interpretation is true…” etc. But his target is how Murray is using data to further political aims. Even if he were to explicitly grant some degree of truth thereto, it wouldn’t change his overall response.

            Ok, for shorthand that’s fair. From my point of view, even more qualified I still think it has really ethically bad under(over?)tones, but not everyone would think that.

            I mean, I might apply that sort of reasoning in deciding at what age to talk to my own children about some things (if/when I have them), so I’m not totally against it in all cases. But adults? Adults have long since mastered the art of justifying moral failings for selfish gain. Hiding some minor details from them isn’t going to do jack even if we could do it. China has a tough time with this. How is the U.S. going to really manage it through only social pressure without legal sanction? Socially sanctioning *unpopular opinion* here punishes the speaker but mostly just riles everyone up.

            We agree that this is way too far.

            Agreed.

          • J Mann says:

            Harris has a bit of an assumption that if Murray is practicing reasonable science, then the attacks on him should be honest in order to allow open debate.

            To be fair, no one has ever come to him and said “It doesn’t really matter whether Murray is practicing reasonable science journalism, or even whether he’s a bad person. This is a basilisk, so we have to shame him as a racist so fewer people look at it.”

          • Aapje says:

            @J Mann

            Saying that would defeat the purpose of fighting the basilisk, wouldn’t it?

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks quanta413,

            There is definitely a moral question here, but morality is about what happens from our operationalized intentions. Information may be morally-neutral itself, but the interpretation and application thereof are not. If we can reasonably anticipate bad consequences from the release of information, and we release it in this knowledge, we are morally responsible for the balance of consequences that result from our actions.

            I agree that the best situation is if there is a single referee who is both knowledgeable and unbiased. But this situation (like most situations) does not have a single referee, or, it has no referee at all. If two biased agents are trying to decide a dispute, they can resort both to the agreed-upon ground rules, and to their abilities to convince one another. They’re both playing the same game, at least, and to some extent this diminishes the power of mere rhetoric.

            If two biased agents ask an unbiased and unknowledgeable person to settle their dispute, that person can not resort to agreed-upon ground rules because they don’t know them. The only basis for their decision is which biased agent is more convincing. This can only amplify the power of mere rhetoric.

            Granted, if that unbiased person takes it upon themselves to become more knowledgeable, they could become an ideal referee. But they have to expend that effort before forming their opinion.

            In contrast, Harris is trying to referee a game that he knows nothing about, and he avowedly refuses to become more knowledgeable about that game. It’s the worst of all possible worlds.

            The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s just weird that Harris is taking these positions.

            He’s a dogged consequentialist, almost to a comical degree. But the position “There is never a wrong time/venue in which to divulge or promulgate information” is pure Kant, again almost to a comical degree. I think he has to choose which one matters more.

            He also spends about half of his public time trying to correct deliberate misinterpretations/misapplications of information, usually something he himself has said. If anyone has any direct experience with the dangers of information being released where the wrong people can use it, it’s Sam Harris. And when Klein says “Bad things can happen when the wrong people get information,” and Harris disagrees, it’s utterly mystifying – his entire project with the Murray interview is correcting a wrong that arose when the wrong people got information. They’re on the same side of that argument.

            Like I said, I am entirely sympathetic to Harris’s (and your) claim. But he’s steadfastly refusing to learn the obvious lesson here.

          • quanta413 says:

            @rahien.din

            If we can reasonably anticipate bad consequences from the release of information, and we release it in this knowledge, we are morally responsible for the balance of consequences that result from our actions.

            I might find this claim plausible if I was a consequentialist and if the knowledge was something like “how to build an atomic bomb with simple household ingredient and level a city”. And if the knowledge wasn’t already known by a lot of people.

            But what we’re talking about doesn’t come even vaguely close to either criteria.

            Sure, at a meta level, there could theoretically be pieces of information I wouldn’t want to know and wouldn’t want others to know if I could. But this is a particular specific topic and piece of knowledge we’re talking about.

            On top of that, I still don’t understand what expertise you’re assigning to Klein. Klein’s only expertise is satisfying his reader’s biases. He can’t make any credible prediction of moral consequence about what would happen if everyone knew about the genetics of race, the genetics of IQ, and possibly the genetics of race X IQ. No one can.

            Harris’s position makes perfect sense even from a consequentialist point of view. We have a pretty good idea of what it looks like when information is cracked down on “for the greater good”. We know how bad it can get when you go pedal to the medal full repression like Lysenkoism. Why would we ever err towards that direction?

            We have a pretty good idea of what sort of information is justifiably kept secret. Klein just sort of vaguely waves at slavery and jim crow, but nobody needed a particular scientific justification for those. They could easily have picked a different justification post hoc and would have because they had had other justifications hundreds of years before a few people settled on a scientific racism justification anyways.

            He also spends about half of his public time trying to correct deliberate misinterpretations/misapplications of information, usually something he himself has said. If anyone has any direct experience with the dangers of information being released where the wrong people can use it, it’s Sam Harris.

            I feel like you’re just describing the normal outcomes of discussion. Some people aren’t going to like what you said and will try to tar and feather you. Shutting them up by trying to prevent them from talking rather than explaining or providing better arguments is morally terrible. And just shutting yourself up is even worse, you can’t even reach this point if you don’t talk in the first place.

            … his entire project with the Murray interview is correcting a wrong that arose when the wrong people got information. They’re on the same side of that argument.

            But they got the wrong information about Murray because of people like Klein! By this logic, its just as valid a claim to say that Klein should be silenced for the greater good. But I don’t think that’s true either, even though I don’t like Klein’s arguments.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @quanta413

            We have a pretty good idea of what sort of information is justifiably kept secret. Klein just sort of vaguely waves at slavery and jim crow, but nobody needed a particular scientific justification for those. They could easily have picked a different justification post hoc and would have because they had had other justifications hundreds of years before a few people settled on a scientific racism justification anyways.

            You could say the same thing about Lysenko, though. Lysenkoism didn’t come in because Stalin read the theories of Trofim Lysenko and thought “this is awesome!” Rather, it came in because it could be used to support collectivization. It’s the same cart-before-the-horse situation as scientific racism (which usually took the form of “they’re inferior so it’s OK to enslave them/take their stuff” – if it hadn’t been profitable to enslave them or take their stuff, the scientific racism wouldn’t have come in).

            It wasn’t some crackpot theories of genetics that caused the however many dead (10-20 million?) under Stalin. AU Mendelian Stalin does not decide that collectivization is actually a bad idea, that confiscating seed corn to meet quotas is a bad idea, that kulaks are actually OK, etc. Lysenkoism didn’t make Stalin decide that a great way of getting rid of political opponents (and people who maybe are political opponents, and people who look like political opponents if you squint, and people who had friends who were maybe political opponents, and…) was to have them shot or sent to Siberia.

          • quanta413 says:

            @dndnrsn

            I agree, which is why it’s a good thing that my claim is not that Lysenkoism is bad because it causes collectivization. That would be an incredibly backwards claim, much like Klein’s claim. Maybe I should have elaborated? I thought the historical reference was clear (execution and imprisonment of biologists, probable drop in crop yields compared to if they had known what they were doing, destruction of Soviet genetics), but maybe it wasn’t.

            My claim is that Lysenkoism was bad because it involved repressing people and knowledge for being politically inconvenient.

            If Stalin and others had been well-informed about the actual biology or left it to scientists despite Marxist misgivings or just came up with a justification that didn’t involve wiping out Soviet biology, they might have fucked things up slightly less. The Soviet Union might have produced great geneticists the same way it produced great physicists. This is a relatively minor gain compared to the loss due to a lot of Soviet policies, but better is still better. Marxism can be compatible with genetics. There isn’t any required conflict.

            Similarly, any moral structure worth its salt shouldn’t be much affected by the possibility that some groups of humans may have a higher average intelligence than others partly due to genetics. Incidentally, if we need more reasons fringe ideas like epistocracy are probably terrible…

            I wouldn’t suppress Lysenkoism because it might cause collectivization. I wouldn’t suppress it at all. That’s the whole practice I’m arguing is wrong short of extreme cases like suppressing knowledge of “how to build an atom bomb in your kitchen with common ingredients that everyone must have to live” (or something like that). If I had a belief that Lysenkoism was wrong because it caused collectivization and therefore it should be suppressed, then you would be correct and I’d be on Klein’s side. But I don’t believe that.

            If it was worth my time, I’d argue with people who believed in Lysenkoism, because it’s factually wrong and thus can’t help get us anywhere we want to go. But more likely, in any healthy society I’d just ignore them, because their wrong beliefs simply aren’t very damaging on their own. Just like I don’t spend time arguing with astrologists.

            EDIT: And just to try to head things off at the pass in case there is some misunderstanding, I’m not claiming Klein disliking Murray and wanting to shut Murray up is a sign of some incoming wave of Lysenkoism in the U.S. I’m claiming that following Klein’s suggestions would be an error in roughly the same direction. But there are many, many orders of magnitude difference in terribleness here.

            I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but people have made hyperbole about how terrible things are here before and I don’t want the mood affiliation to get out of control.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @quanta413

            I agree, which is why it’s a good thing that my claim is not that Lysenkoism is bad because it causes collectivization. That would be an incredibly backwards claim, much like Klein’s claim. Maybe I should have elaborated? I thought the historical reference was clear (execution and imprisonment of biologists, probable drop in crop yields compared to if they had known what they were doing, destruction of Soviet genetics), but maybe it wasn’t.

            My claim is that Lysenkoism was bad because it involved repressing people and knowledge for being politically inconvenient.

            But the people would have been repressed, and the knowledge suppressed, either way. Lysenkoism was just an excuse, really. I understood what you were saying as, “people had scientific justifications for slavery and Jim Crow, but they would have picked other justifications; it was ad hoc” and in contrast, “Lysenkoism was especially bad, because it denied the science.”

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. What I’m saying is, Lysenkoism is to Soviet collectivization as (to go with something I know better than American slavery) Nazi racial ideology was to lebensraum. Stalin and company started from the position that they needed to increase industrial output, which would require shifting people from being peasants to industrial workers. To do this without a major drop in agricultural production required rationalizing agriculture; their solution was collective farming. Collective farming required breaking the backs of the better-off peasants who stood to lose from collectivization. Collectivization didn’t turn out to work so well, and the methods they used to achieve it were brutal, and then Goodhart’s Law kicked in (eg, meeting quotas by requisitioning seed grain). Then it got combined with a desire to eliminate a supposed conspiracy of Ukrainians (and Poles?) (and then Goodhart’s Law kicked in again – set a quota of conspirators to be arrested, watch as people try to exceed the quota, etc). Add bad weather. Several millions died, a whole bunch shot, more deported to concentration camps. Lysenkoism was popular because it worked with what Stalin and company wanted to do anyway – his theories promised what would be needed for the whole thing to work out. So, very attractive.

            Meanwhile, look at Nazi racial ideology. In the case of Slavs, they thought that Poles, Russians, etc were subhuman; they had no problem with planning to starve tens of millions of them to death. But this followed from the belief that the only way Germany could become great was to expand its population, which would require an agricultural expansion, which could only be done by expanding to the fertile land in the east (they generally did not accept the idea of improvements in agriculture that actually came to pass, eg Green Revolution). It wasn’t “they’re inferior, so let’s take their land” it was “we want to take their land, so they must be inferior”. In both cases, the cart follows the horse.

            If Stalin and others had been well-informed about the actual biology or left it to scientists despite Marxist misgivings or just came up with a justification that didn’t involve wiping out Soviet biology, they might have fucked things up slightly less. The Soviet Union might have produced great geneticists the same way it produced great physicists. This is a relatively minor gain compared to the loss due to a lot of Soviet policies, but better is still better. Marxism can be compatible with genetics. There isn’t any required conflict.

            They might have fucked things up slightly less, sure, but Lysenkoism was just the cherry on top; it appealed to them because of the way they were already fucking things up.

            Similarly, any moral structure worth its salt shouldn’t be much affected by the possibility that some groups of humans may have a higher average intelligence than others partly due to genetics. Incidentally, if we need more reasons fringe ideas like epistocracy are probably terrible…

            We don’t seem to have these moral structures, though, and the way that the cart leads the horse means, it’s not an issue of people taking the science and taking practical conclusions. In general, Horrible Banned Discourse maps pretty well to past attempts to argue that the structure of society is just how things break, naturally speaking. What I know of the history of the whole thing suggests that, so, you’ve got a situation in the US and elsewhere where some ethnic groups have it better than others. There’s all sorts of reasons this could be the case – current discrimination, effects of historical discrimination, some sort of stew. There’s obvious danger in someone coming along saying “hey, look, this is actually completely natural, this is how it would break on an even playing surface” and it’s obvious how some people would be motivated accept that even if the science is flimsy.

            See my comments elsewhere. We are in an unfortunate situation where the people who you might expect to take up one “side” of the debate do not believe that IQ is real, or that IQ is genetic, or whatever; they’re not going to effectively argue against the idea that IQ is genetic and that there is a racial component. This has the result that really flimsy science about racial difference looks artificially strong. Ideally, we would have an army of left-wing geneticists and statisticians and so on fighting back. I’m not a geneticist or a statistician; all I can do is look at the history and point out that, look, the cart is leading the horse; the last thing we need is more horses.

          • quanta413 says:

            But the people would have been repressed, and the knowledge suppressed, either way. Lysenkoism was just an excuse, really. I understood what you were saying as, “people had scientific justifications for slavery and Jim Crow, but they would have picked other justifications; it was ad hoc” and in contrast, “Lysenkoism was especially bad, because it denied the science.”

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. What I’m saying is, Lysenkoism is to Soviet collectivization as (to go with something I know better than American slavery) Nazi racial ideology was to lebensraum.

            You sort of misunderstand my claim, it’s not that bad in and of itself to specifically get science wrong. I don’t think Lysenkoism causally has much to do with collectivization. Even as a post-hoc rationalization I think it’s mostly irrelevant.

            But Lysenkoism does have a lot to do with executing or imprisoning Soviet biologists formerly in good standing. The thousands of biologists (some of whom were later rehabilitated) were not enemies of the Soviet state. That’s where I think the problem with Lysenkoism is. If Lysenko had been wrong but just argued verbally with people, even if his ideas had been fashionable for a bit it would not have been a big deal.

            We don’t seem to have these moral structures, though, and the way that the cart leads the horse means, it’s not an issue of people taking the science and taking practical conclusions. In general, Horrible Banned Discourse maps pretty well to past attempts to argue that the structure of society is just how things break, naturally speaking. What I know of the history of the whole thing suggests that, so, you’ve got a situation in the US and elsewhere where some ethnic groups have it better than others. There’s all sorts of reasons this could be the case – current discrimination, effects of historical discrimination, some sort of stew. There’s obvious danger in someone coming along saying “hey, look, this is actually completely natural, this is how it would break on an even playing surface” and it’s obvious how some people would be motivated accept that even if the science is flimsy.

            I think we do have the proper moral structures though if we want to use them. Classical liberalism or Christian morality (let’s say of a Catholic variety) can both handle this situation perfectly fine. Only a paternalistic or uberman type ideology based upon racial and ethnic identification really lead down the wrong path.

            See my comments elsewhere. We are in an unfortunate situation where the people who you might expect to take up one “side” of the debate do not believe that IQ is real, or that IQ is genetic, or whatever; they’re not going to effectively argue against the idea that IQ is genetic and that there is a racial component. This has the result that really flimsy science about racial difference looks artificially strong. Ideally, we would have an army of left-wing geneticists and statisticians and so on fighting back. I’m not a geneticist or a statistician; all I can do is look at the history and point out that, look, the cart is leading the horse; the last thing we need is more horses.

            It’s not like you really would need left wing geneticists to fight back against many scientific claims. There are some bad claims, but I don’t think that’s the primary problem. It’s the moral claims made by people outside the field that simply do not follow from scientific claims which are the problem.

            Mendelian genetics is compatible with Marxism, and the conflict came from Lysenko. The conflict was not required by Mendelian genetics or Marxism. Lysenko created a dangerous and harmful conflict where there was none. (This happened in a society where the foreground was collectivization but collectivization doesn’t have any lessons relevant to the topic at hand.)

            Similarly, there are forms of liberalism and even forms of modern progressivism that are almost indistinguishable from the current one that are perfectly compatible with the possibility of genetic differences in intelligence between human populations. The conflict is only caused by people jumping the gun too fast to pattern match to Nazis (who murdered Jews despite thinking Jews were actually some sort of intelligent supervillains) and slaveowners (who would have said whatever they could to own slaves and did), and then spending a great deal of effort to figuratively scorch and burn everything. This means the only people left to investigate tend to either not give a shit about the social sanction or have rather questionable moral beliefs. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The problem is created by ceding territory and declaring investigation off limits for no good reason.

            EDIT: Reading some of your other comments lower down, maybe we actually agree more than I realized?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @quanta413

            You sort of misunderstand my claim, it’s not that bad in and of itself to specifically get science wrong. I don’t think Lysenkoism causally has much to do with collectivization. Even as a post-hoc rationalization I think it’s mostly irrelevant.

            OK. What I’m saying is, it was embraced because it promised results that would have ensured collectivism would be very successful (results that were impossible).

            But Lysenkoism does have a lot to do with executing or imprisoning Soviet biologists formerly in good standing. The thousands of biologists (some of whom were later rehabilitated) were not enemies of the Soviet state. That’s where I think the problem with Lysenkoism is. If Lysenko had been wrong but just argued verbally with people, even if his ideas had been fashionable for a bit it would not have been a big deal.

            I think you’re overestimating how easy it was to predict what course of action would keep you safe in those situations. It could just as easily have been “we need to collectivize – how can we increase crop yields by [ridiculous percent] comrades?” and then when they don’t deliver, send them Vorkuta, because clearly the only reason they couldn’t exceed requirements was that they are wreckers and saboteurs working for the international Trotskyite-fascist conspiracy. This was a government where secret policemen would round up innocent people, torture them into confessing to being part of an imaginary conspiracy, and then themselves be shot on grounds like “this conspiracy is so large – how did you not find it earlier? Are you merely incompetent, or are you an agent of the conspiracy?”

            I think we do have the proper moral structures though if we want to use them. Classical liberalism or Christian morality (let’s say of a Catholic variety) can both handle this situation perfectly fine. Only a paternalistic or uberman type ideology based upon racial and ethnic identification really lead down the wrong path.

            Slavery and colonialism (I would consider Nazi plans for the east to be a sort of colonialism) justified on inherent inferiority coexisted with those things; slavery and colonialism were also justified on Christian grounds (“gotta bring the light of the Word to those heathens!”) too. Show people a way to get cheap land, free labour, whatever, they’ll take it, and then they’ll find a way to sleep better at night.

            It’s not like you really would need left wing geneticists to fight back against many scientific claims. There are some bad claims, but I don’t think that’s the primary problem. It’s the moral claims made by people outside the field that simply do not follow from scientific claims which are the problem.

            “The groups that are doing badly in this society are that way because they are inherently less intelligent” seems to lead pretty easily to “so we shouldn’t really try to help them, as it’s pointless.”

            Similarly, there are forms of liberalism and even forms of modern progressivism that are almost indistinguishable from the current one that are perfectly compatible with the possibility of genetic differences in intelligence between human populations. The conflict is only caused by people jumping the gun too fast to pattern match to Nazis (who murdered Jews despite thinking Jews were actually some sort of intelligent supervillains) and slaveowners (who would have said whatever they could to own slaves and did), and then spending a great deal of effort to figuratively scorch and burn everything. This means the only people left to investigate tend to either not give a shit about the social sanction or have rather questionable moral beliefs. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The problem is created by ceding territory and declaring investigation off limits for no good reason.

            Nazi racial ideology was pretty incoherent; they believed Jews were inferior but somehow also ran a world conspiracy, and their assessments of groups was heavily coloured by how useful those groups were to them/whether those groups were getting in the way of what they wanted. For example, Himmler changed his opinion of the racial character of Walloons when it became clear that the Rexists were major potential allies (and he himself by the SS’ own racial-assessment methods was a fairly mediocre specimen).

            I think that you are ignoring that the bulk of people don’t really care about this stuff; they care about the cart, not the horse. A theory of which group was better than what group that was built on sunspots would appeal or not appeal based on practical concerns. Klein is not necessarily an honest man, but his caution is not necessarily misplaced. I think global warming is real, but if the people saying “let’s stop this!” were taking the position “and we need a totalitarian dictatorship!” then the conservatives saying “more research!” would sound more reasonable.

            EDIT: Reading some of your other comments lower down, maybe we actually agree more than I realized?

            How so?

          • arlie says:

            @dndnrsn The hilarious thing about the taboo on Lysenkoism, is that some of the concepts covered by that taboo have since become generally accepted scientific biology in the West.

            I’m not saying that Lysenkosim per se was ever compatible with epigenetics. I’m saying that what I was taught to regard as ludicrous in the 1970s, as an undergraduate, with Lysenko cited as a dangerous political pseudo-biologist, clearly would have included epigenetics, if anyone had been brave enough to suggest any such thing. Possibly things were more nuanced at the graduate level. Equally possibly, establishing the current consensus involved an uphill battle against invoking the collective farms basilisk :-(. (I’ve no idea. I was completely out of life sciences for 30 years, and came back [just browsing MOOCs] to find epigenetics as part of “what everyone knows” ;-))

            At any rate, Lysekoism is my go-to example for the desirability of mocking/suppressing scientific ideas because of their political associations.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            “The groups that are doing badly in this society are that way because they are inherently less intelligent” seems to lead pretty easily to “so we shouldn’t really try to help them, as it’s pointless.”

            Yet the left-wing response to the permanently handicapped is not to ignore them, but to want to have good care for them.

            Isn’t this a common (progressive) ideal anyway, to reduce the impact of higher productivity that results from luck?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje

            Yet the left-wing response to the permanently handicapped is not to ignore them, but to want to have good care for them.

            Isn’t this a common (progressive) ideal anyway, to reduce the impact of higher productivity that results from luck?

            You could certainly have a “biodeterminist left” position; it would probably look like something Michael Young (coined “meritocracy” and did not mean it as a positive, or at least not uniformly positive, term) might talk about. Right now, though, biodeterminism is almost found on certain parts of the right: the left is primarily social constructionist when it comes to the stuff Horrible Banned Discourse focuses on (it is not primarily about who wins what Olympic medals and why), and really the majority of the right is too. “This kid is doing badly in school because his neighbourhood is full of hooligans/his parents are bums/the teachers’ union protects incompetent teachers/that filth on the teevee” is right-wing social constructionism, and on the right that’s more common than someone busting out a bunch of IQ-related charts.

          • Yet the left-wing response to the permanently handicapped is not to ignore them, but to want to have good care for them.

            This all hinges on the difference between give-a-fish help and teach-to-fish help.

          • Aapje says:

            @dndnrsn

            I think that most people have a preference for cultural, rather than biological causes, because the former can be changed more easily than the latter.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure. The fact that we’ve got a lot of laws and policies and customs that amount to trying to make life easier for people with disabilities seems like pretty strong evidence that we as a society can deal decently with acknowledged differences in abilities.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aapje

            Well, also, because some pretty bad stuff has been done on the backs of biological difference. Whether that’s cart leading the horse or not is kind of irrelevant. I don’t think it was entirely cart-leading-the-horse though; “it’s biological and can’t be changed” anti-Semitism has a larger body count compressed into a much smaller time period than “maybe they’re OK if they convert” anti-Judaism.

            @albatross11

            First, disabilities are, or are perceived to be, kind of randomly and evenly distributed. If an identifiable group was really disproportionately present among the category of disabled people needing special help… Second, people whose disabilities are obvious and undeniable get treated differently from people whose disabilities are subtle, worse some days than others, etc. Third, a sentiment like “people who are in wheelchairs can’t walk” isn’t going to hit people who obviously can walk, whereas most people don’t get how curves work, and think that a difference in average height or IQ or whatever is more like a flat stat modification in an RPG or whatever.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            “it’s biological and can’t be changed” anti-Semitism has a larger body count compressed into a much smaller time period than “maybe they’re OK if they convert” anti-Judaism.

            Steven Pinker says death tolls in individual wars were becoming increasingly high over time, starting in (I believe) the 17th century and terminating with WW2 in the 20th century; but he also says that wars were becoming increasingly fewer and farther between during the same period, so that the rarity of wars compensated for their bloodiness and the rate of violent death remained the same. Perhaps the same thing was true of massacres? In medieval Europe you had a lot of small-scale pogroms operating on a local level, similar to how you had a lot of small-scale wars during the same period. The enormity of the Holocaust seems to correspond with that of the second world war overall, so that one might imagine a similar pattern was in effect, where the same forces that allowed violence to be concentrated in brief but tremendous bursts in warfare worked the same way when it came to massacres.

            And you also have to adjust for relative size: the population of medieval Europe numbered in the tens of millions, while for WW2-era Europe it was in the hundreds of millions. So, if across the span of the 15th century one-hundred thousand Jews were massacred under various circumstances, that would possibly translate to millions of Jews in the 20th century.

            Of course, there was a space of time where pogroms against Jews in Western Europe dwindled (perhaps stopped?) to an unprecedentedly low number. I don’t think there was much violence done to them between the 17th century and the 20th. Possibly this was due to the conflicts which arose between the various Christian factions, where the previously united Christians suddenly found tribalistic reasons to go to war against themselves rather than against the Jews, so that the period of peace the Jews enjoyed was due to the violence against them being redirected elsewhere, rather being ceased altogether.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I don’t know how the relative numbers would work out, but pogroms did not destroy the presence of Jews and their communities in Europe the way the Holocaust did. Pogroms were explosions of relatively unplanned and spontaneous violence; the intention of the einsatzgruppen, the construction of death camps to kill the Polish Jews, and the deportation of Jews from elsewhere in Europe to be immediately murdered or worked to death was far more deliberate, and was intended to eliminate them as a people in Europe. It’s qualitatively different.

          • albatross11 says:

            dndnsrn:

            How do you feel about people talking openly about income inequality? Because if we’re going to assign the Holocaust to people thinking about biological differences, I’m pretty sure we also need to assign the total death toll of Communism to people thinking about income/wealth inequality.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @dndnsrn
            Wikipedia may be a poor source, but for the lack of a better one let’s use it. According to this page, 380,000 Jews were killed across a space of five centuries, from the 11th to 16th centuries, out of a total (average?) population of 1-1.5 million. This averages out to 76,000 per century, or about 6% of their total population per century. The page also claims that the global Jewish population was 17 million at the outset of the second world war, and that it was reduced to 11 million owing to the war. So that’s about a 33% fatality rate. It is more than occurred in the medieval age, assuming this crummy source is right, but then, we do not have enough data points to determine whether this was a likely occurrence or an outlier. I’d guess that Hitler’s rise and his following atrocities were an outlier, as he was just so unusual.

            Getting back to your contention, that ethnic hatred premised on pseudo-science is likely to be more deadly than ethnic hatred premised on other things, I would say that because we have only one data point attesting to the notion (Nazism) we cannot say for sure whether it is correct.

            One reason to suppose that Nazism was an outlier is that much of it’s behavior was dependent on the involvement of a single man. One could imagine one hundred different personas steering the ideology, each in their own mirror universe, and each one being less destructive than Hitler was in ours, just because Hitler was such an unusual man, even for a populist, right-wing demagogue.

            Per your claim that medieval violence done to Jews was bottom-up violence, deriving from the passions of excited mobs, rather than the calculated efforts of state authorities, I would say you are wrong. The page I linked to mentions expulsions of Jews; those certainly were conducted by central authorities. Similarly, I expect some amount of the mob violence was fomented by religious or state authorities, or at least egged on by such. But regardless of its source, I think it’s unfair of you to exclude data on the basis of how the violence came about. Bottom-up or top-down, it’s still violence, and it’s still being inspired by an ideology of some sort. A mob might be said to be stupid, impassioned, and uncontrollable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ideological factors influencing its psychology. If it turned out that racist ideologies NOT relying on pseudoscience led, on average, to more destruction than those that did, but that said destruction was the result of self-organized mobs rather than state organized death squads, that wouldn’t make them the better choice.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            I’m not saying that. I’m saying I can see why it appeals emotionally to people, Beyond that, if you look at the places where Horrible Banned Discourse flourishes, it’s not the equivalent of placidly discussing income inequality.

            @The Red Foliot

            That’s not my contention, and to describe the Holocaust as being top-down while pogroms were bottom-up is incorrect, and not what I’m doing. I have to run right now, but based on my reading I think a very moderate functionalist interpretation is correct: the Holocaust came simultaneously from the top and, not the bottom, so much as the middle. Hitler wanted to get rid of the Jews, and nothing happened for long without him OK’ing it one way or another, but how it went from “discriminatory legislation” to “mass murder” in a few years wasn’t just due to top-down directives.

          • noddingin says:

            @ Aapje

            I think that most people have a preference for cultural, rather than biological causes, because the former can be changed more easily than the latter.

            Scott cited lead from gasoline as a biological influence relatively easy to change.

            http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/02/18/proposed-biological-explanations-for-historical-trends-in-crime/
            I have previously come out as a biodeterminist. I suspect most social influences matter less than anyone thinks and most biological influences matter more than anyone thinks. When I say that, everyone always assumes I’m talking about genes, which is too bad because genes are almost the least interesting aspect of biodeterminism.

          • Aapje says:

            @noddingin

            You caught me/us in sloppy use of language. It’s more biology vs environment than biology vs culture.

            Lead is environmental.

        • J Mann says:

          Thanks, on reflection, I was stating the question I wanted answered, but it’s instructive.

          I would adjust my characterization of science to be closer to “I was told that The Bell Curve is racist claptrap and bad science. I read it, and its premises are a careful and reasonable summary of the actual scientific consensus, and people should be able to discuss it in a fair way.”

          In our little hypothetical, I guess we have to argue that Klein’s response is some variation of “Maybe so, but only a bad person would publicize those facts, so we have to tell people that Murray is a bad scientist so they stop looking near that basilisk.” That seems like a pretty dangerous premise.

          I’m sympathetic with Murray. From what I’ve read, his book is almost entirely unconcerned with race and argued instead that (1) IQ is a valuable measure; (2) the returns to high IQ are increasing and (3) IQ appears largely unmovable by government intervention, then looked at what Murray thought were the policy implications. (Murray thought that the policy implications are to do less government interventions, which sometimes leads to the accusation that the whole thing is faked in order to argue for starving poor people.)

          To hear Murray tell it, the race and IQ section was mostly to rebut the view at the time that one of the reasons IQ tests should be ignored was that black and white Americans had different averages, which showed that the test was unreliable. (See Stephen Gould, The Mismeasure of Man for a historical snapshot of that viewpoint.)

          The other bizarre thing is that whether or not the difference is genetic doesn’t really seem relevant. (Particularly since Murray’s position on that issue is that we don’t know if the difference is genetic, environmental, or some mix). An environmental difference would be plenty to encourage racism, make disparate impact discrimination suits harder, etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s really hard to come up with policy issues where it matters whether or not the IQ difference is genetic. But that’s not the actual point of contention, either. It’s an attack point right now because it’s convenient, but it’s 100% an arguments-as-soldiers target.

            I believe the actual point of Klein is exactly what you’re saying–he thinks nobody should talk about this in public because he’s afraid the public will get the wrong ideas and will support bad policies he opposes.

            But realizing that makes me think that I would have to be a fool to go to Vox for any kind of honest reporting of science or data involving a contentious issue.

            Suppose next month, some data comes out that makes a really strong case that stronger gun control does not actually lower gun crime much. Knowing Klein and his whole social circle are strongly pro-gun-control, should I expect to see Vox report honestly on that data? Or will I see “Koch-funded ‘researcher’ X spreads NRA lies on gun control.”

            Maybe the next month, some research will become available that stay-at-home mothers are actually better for their kids than working mothers in some measurable way. Again, what kind of reporting should I expect from Vox on this?

          • It’s really hard to come up with policy issues where it matters whether or not the IQ difference is genetic.

            At a tangent to your discussion …

            I read The Bell Curve a long time ago and didn’t read all of it, but part of the authors’ point, as I remember it, was that our society was becoming increasingly divided along grounds of cognitive ability and that that was a dangerous trend.

            Part of it was increasing meritocracy. If most of the kids who are poor but smart get spotted, sent to college, and end up with good jobs, it becomes increasingly the case that poor means stupid. They argued that c. 1900 (not precise–by memory) the students at Harvard were not substantially smarter than the students at a state university, just richer and higher status, but that that is no longer the case. Similarly farther down.

            Another part, however, was that meritocracy resulted in an increase in assortative mating–high IQ men marrying high IQ women and producing high IQ children–and that meant that the distribution of IQ was getting broader, which was again a problem.

            And that part does depend on IQ being to a significant degree genetic.

          • quanta413 says:

            @albatross11

            I (and I imagine a lot of other people here) had already mostly written off Vox as a reporter of empirical knowledge because they seemed intentionally biased even compared to typical standards of “respectable” publications.

            For Klein to basically come out and say that truth is subordinate to political concerns is actually nice in some ways because he’s confirming his modus operandi (and since he helped start Vox and was editor-in-chief, what he says probably goes there too).

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            I was mainly thinking of the question of whether the IQ differences between racial groups are genetic[1]. You can come up with some policy questions that turn on the answer, but they’re not the obvious ones.

            For example, the impact of affirmative action in education and hiring is exactly the same whether the racial differences in intelligence are genetic or environmental in origin. Similarly, any policy whose job is to close the educational performance gap or the income gap between blacks and whites sometime soon is going to end up with the same set of difficulties regardless of the cause. Any time you try to develop a fair paper-and-pencil test of knowledge for hiring policemen or firemen or whatever, the problems you have getting a good representation of black candidates don’t depend a bit on the cause of the IQ difference. And so on.

            [1] Starting assumptions, which I believe are extremely well documented and solid. I think you can find most or all of these in the hit piece that Vox ran on Murray–written by three scholars of IQ and genetics who might not like Murray, but who also didn’t think it was okay to lie about stuff they knew.

            a. IQ more-or-less measures what we mean by the word “intelligence.” Higher IQ scores correlate with better performance in school and at work, and matter more the more mentally demanding the school/work is. IQ scores won’t perfectly capture what we mean by intelligence, but they’re strongly correlated with it.

            b. IQ scores measure the same thing for blacks and whites in the US. (Assuming everyone is native born and English is their first language and they haven’t been raised by wolves or something.) They’re about equally good at predicting outcomes for blacks and whites.

            c. Blacks and whites differ by something like 10-15 points (between 2/3 of a standard deviation and one standard deviation) in IQ scores. This is a big difference that matters a lot for daily life. It has a huge impact on the right end of the distribution, where you’re choosing your mathematicians and physicists and such.

            d. IQ is pretty strongly heritable–narrow-sense heritability between 0.4 and 0.8. That is, if you know the average IQ of my parents, you’ve got a pretty good idea about what range my IQ will be in. Smart parents have smart kids, and smart kids have smart parents.

            e. Blacks and whites in the US have very different cultures and circumstances, in ways that are hard to control for by, say, conditioning on income or socioeconomic status or parental education.

            f. Blacks and whites differ substantially in genetics. This is true even though race is a fuzzy socially-defined category with lots of messy middle-cases–if I ask someone to identify your race, and then give you a DNA test, the answers will almost certainly agree.

          • skef says:

            For example, the impact of affirmative action in education and hiring is exactly the same whether the racial differences in intelligence are genetic or environmental in origin.

            Setting aside other relevant details, a prominent early argument for affirmative action was that the lack of minority representation in universities and white collar jobs was in large part (at least) a chicken-and-egg problem.

            So while the instantaneous impact of affirmative action in education and hiring is the same regardless, cutting the question at that non-joint is very strange. If the differences were environmental in a way affected by (past) minority representation (or the lack of it), that would be extremely relevant.

          • albatross11 says:

            skef:

            In terms of near-term impact (like impact within the next 10-15 years after you start the program), it makes no difference at all. And in terms of impact on the school or employer, it makes no difference why the IQ difference exists.

            In terms of multi-generational impact, you can sort-of squint and imagine that it would work out that affirmative action in college admissions or employment would somehow close the gap in IQ. The mechanism you’d be shooting for here would be increasing the size of the black middle class, and hoping that this would close the gap. So far, this doesn’t look to have worked all that well. We’ve managed to increase the size of the black middle class in various ways, mostly making discrimination illegal instead of legally mandating it, but probably also with affirmative action programs. That hasn’t closed the IQ gap (or the school performance gap), though it’s possible it narrowed it a bit. (As I understand it, the IQ gap has narrowed a little but not much; I don’t think anyone is sure exactly why, but you kind-of would expect that the massive improvement in conditions for blacks over the last 60 or so years was a big part of that.) It sure seems intuitively like the huge improvements from the civil rights movement and the end of Jim Crow would be a more plausible explanation for any improvements in IQ than a fairly small set of recipients of affirmative action getting into Yale instead of State U, or getting a government job because some government agency wanted to hit their diversity target.

          • skef says:

            So far, this doesn’t look to have worked all that well.

            You are making an argument of the form: the distinction between A and B isn’t relevant with respect to class X. I provided a hypothetical where it could be relevant, you’re responding by rejecting the hypothetical in terms of the real-world evidence.

            This is not only an insufficient response, it shows that you’re not really tracking the terms of your own argument.

            Here is a general argument you could try to make: “In every interesting case (by some standard you would need to provide), the distinction between genetic and environmental influences is irrelevant because any change we could tractably make to the environment would not be sufficient to shift its influence.” One problem with proposal would be apparent real-world counter-examples, such as the influence of environmental lead. Another would be how you would be able to judge the proposal if it isn’t clear what factors are determined by genetics versus environment. For example, who says that everything we’ve failed to influence isn’t genetic, and what evidence do they provide?

            [That struggle for charity when the person hung up on relative intelligence can’t construct a coherent point … ]

          • arlie says:

            I read the book many year ago. A lot of it was not about race. Some of it was. I found the giant flap about it rather idiotic, but I’m used to people with ‘normal’ social responses doing things that seem idiotic to me. So I internalized ‘don’t talk about this – the other monkeys will tear you to pieces’ and went on my way, much as I’d done with other social requirements less commonly questioned.

            The only thing that surprises me about this thread is that the book came out many years ago, and the copy still in my bookshelf has plenty of dust. I hadn’t noticed it suddenly becoming an issue again.

          • albatross11 says:

            skef/David:

            Okay, thinking more about it, I think I’m just wrong about the idea that the source of the black/white IQ difference has no relevance to policy questions.

            I think it has almost no relevance to *short-term* impacts of different policies, since even if you find (say) the micronutrient that closes the gap today, you’ve still got 18 years until the black and white kids applying to college have the same average IQs. And for things like employment decisions, the boss doesn’t care why you can/can’t do the job, he just wants the job done.

            But it’s potentially relevant when we’re thinking about policies where the long-term impact is what we’re after. For example, one argument for universal preschool I’ve seen is that it would provide a better environment for kids who are currently growing up in awful environments. If that affects IQ, then we end up with a stronger argument for such programs.

            One important sideline here is that the relevant question isn’t so much whether the gap is genetic or environmental in origin–I think what really matters is whether the difference can be eliminated or substantially narrowed in some way, and if so, what do we have to do to narrow it. (Right now, nobody knows the cause of the gap for sure, and nobody knows how to close it.)

            Imagine if it turned out that the gap was caused by some kind of micronutrient needed for brain development, and for some reason blacks needed a little more than whites did. We could address that really cheaply.

            Imagine if it turned out that the gap was caused by some really fundamental bit of American black culture, so that the only way to close the gap was to have all the black kids adopted into white families at birth. We probably couldn’t address that in any non-horrible way.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’d [be] up for some societal compromise where we all agreed not to talk about this much for the next ten years until we know the answer, but I’m not sure how we get there.[1]

        Along with the coordination problem (there’s not a czar of science journalism who can decree such a thing), there’s a much bigger problem. I’m a scientist, but also a consumer of science in areas where I don’t have a lot of expertise. The more scientists and science journalists decide to strike this kind of compromise, the less I can trust anything that looks like scientific consensus as reflecting the actual best available picture of reality.

        Tomorrow, you’re talking to someone who thinks vaccines maybe really do cause autism[2]. And you’re explaining that pretty much everyone in the biomedical field who’s looked at the question since that original (now-retracted) paper has found that they don’t. Should they be concerned that maybe there’s a similar societal compromise going on there? Surely the risk that people will overreact and measles will make a comeback as a childhood disease is grave enough to justify a compromise in that case, as well. So why should the wavering antivaxxer take it seriously that the observable-to-him reporting all says vaccines definitely don’t cause autism?

        The next day, you’re talking to someone who thinks AIDS isn’t caused by HIV[3], but instead by the gay lifestyle or drugs or something. Once again, when you point out the overwhelming scientific consensus on this issue, they explain that this may just be one of those societal compromises, done to prevent anti-gay hatred or something.

        Our societal mechanisms for deciding what’s true and disseminating it are not really all that good–they just barely work at all. This kind of societal compromise is a good way to wreck a bunch of them.

        [1] I corrected a typo to make this quote readable.

        [2] Spoiler alert: They don’t.

        [3] Spoiler alert: It is.

    • BBA says:

      I’m obviously biased towards the Klein/Saletan side of this issue, but…

      There are no dispassionate truth-seekers on this topic. None. Whatever your prior views were, you’re going to come out believing that “the science” supports them. But there is no “the science,” there’s just a hall of mirrors.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I agree with this, and I think another thing added on to this changes the picture also. A lot of people who, if they accepted IQ, would be arguing IQ wasn’t genetic/wasn’t heavily genetic, or if they accepted IQ was genetic/heavily genetic would be arguing there were no ethnic differences… are instead arguing that IQ isn’t “real”: that it just measures narrow test-taking ability, or that it measures education (that it’s something acquired).

        So you end up with a situation where, if you take as granted that IQ measures something real and important, or go further and take as granted that it’s real and there’s significant genetic contribution, one “side” is less represented. So if you say “IQ is real, how genetic is it?” the argument will look slanted towards “pretty dang so”, and if you say “IQ is pretty dang genetic, and how does that break down” the argument will look slanted towards Horrible Banned Discourse. If two baseball teams went up against each other, and one decided day before that baseball isn’t real, the other team wins by forfeit. Even if they’re a significantly worse team.

        • albatross11 says:

          dndnsrn:

          How would you like a conservative to weigh evidence for human-caused global warming, given that he’s pretty-much guaranteed to hate all the policies justified by global warming, and also that his tribal enemies will gain in status and power if global warming is widely acknowledged as happening? What would you say to a conservative who explained that the issue was so complicated and the stakes so high that he felt that the whole subject should just be dropped?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            You seem to be assuming that I’m siding with Klein – that we need to accept that some knowledge is dangerous, and so make sure that wing of the Miskatonic University Library is at a minimum restricted, have the Ordo Hereticus ready to swoop in to keep people from opening links to the warp so those meatheads in the Ordo Malleus don’t have to show up, etc.

            I’m not – not because I necessarily disagree with Klein; some knowledge (or, supposed knowledge) is dangerous – but the knowledge is so easy to find that restricting it won’t work any more. Thank the internet: it’s not the 1920s and getting access to the Liber Ivonis isn’t limited to guys with tweed jackets; some jerk has probably scanned it and thrown it up on an imageboard (tfw u summon an incomprehensible horror) and attempts to suppress dark maybe-truths just makes them look truer (“if this is fake why are they so scared of it?”).

            My view is that the evidence is clearly that IQ represents something real, and there’s almost certainly a significant genetic component (and past that a lot of environmental factors are determined by your parents, society around you, etc, so, by other people’s genes, heavily) but the evidence that there’s a specifically racial/ethnic genetic component is actually really weak and it only looks like there’s strong evidence because the people who should be arguing against that are off playing with the butterflies and talking about how reality is just a social construct or whatever. The Horrible Banned Discoursers, as far as I’ve seen, have never satisfactorily explained what is going on with IQ gaps that suddenly disappeared (eg, what happened to that 10-15 point English-Irish IQ gap which, some Englishmen assured us, was of course genetic?) but the people who should be arguing against that still think that IQ is fake, or genetics are fake, or whatever.

            Put another way: if everyone who would argue against Horrible Banned Discourse were they a geneticist avoids genetics because everyone knows that genetics is a field for overly-literal dorks who don’t get that mind>matter, and a bit suspicious to boot, then the people studying the confluence of genetics and intelligence will naturally lean towards Horrible Banned Discourse, or at least towards not arguing against it. This is bad, in the same way it would be bad for national defence if the air force decided that AA missiles were all in your head. Meanwhile, we’ve got people saying “aha, looks like the way society is, is how nature makes it!” which – we used to have people saying that about cases where it proved to be entirely false (compare stereotypes/conventional wisdom about Asians or Jews ~100 years ago to today, for example); why is it brave truth-telling now?

          • albatross11 says:

            dndnsrn:

            One reason I am strongly in favor of getting rid of the taboo on this topic in the big wide world is because I at least partly agree with you. The human b-odiversity folks are right about a bunch of stuff by default (the respectable mainstream opinion is nonsense that contradicts all kinds of known facts), but they’re also surely wrong about a bunch of stuff. The way we get smarter is to have smart people starting from different assumptions discuss the matter in public, correct each others’ misconceptions, poke holes in each others’ weak arguments, etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            First, there’s people who believe the stuff that is/that I consider to be probably true, without the bad stuff that is a lot flimsier. What % of “mainstream” (mainstream as in, they’re respectable enough that people don’t show up to yell at them constantly, they have jobs at decent universities, etc) intelligence scientists are Horrible Banned Discoursers?

            Second, the problem isn’t just that there’s a taboo – there’s not this big whack of left-wingers, or left-wingers of a given type, raring to go and go get accurate IQ tests for [country] instead of relying on sketchy numbers. There’s a lot of people whose thinking is really heavily social constructionist (in a way that very, very few people around here are).

      • quanta413 says:

        There are no dispassionate truth-seekers on this topic. None. Whatever your prior views were, you’re going to come out believing that “the science” supports them. But there is no “the science,” there’s just a hall of mirrors.

        The fact that a weak version of this is true is actually an incredibly weak argument for anything on its own. You want to talk practicalities of where uncertainty and bias creeps into a particular topic? Great idea within limits. But actually following this premise to any strong degree quickly degenerates into full blown relativism. And full blown relativism is subjectively terrible. Yes, I mean subjectively. There’s no objective reason to prefer being accurate, but in the long run using very poor models of the world can be extremely painful.

        It’s true that physics and engineering are human artifacts influenced by humans biases too, but your phone still works, you can’t go faster than the speed of light, and there are no perpetual motion machines. And these statements are more true than almost any other statement you could possibly make.

        The biases of humans make it more important to discuss things with each other in order to hash out better approximations to what’s “outside” of the human mind, not less. Haidt has the right idea. The more biases and variations in moral perspective on a topic, the more important it is to have a dialogue and have a broad variety of people working on a topic. This dialogue will typically be unpleasant, but oh well.

      • albatross11 says:

        BBA:

        Do you really believe that? That nobody ever makes up their mind on this question based on the available evidence? Not even people who’ve spent their whole lives looking into it? Not even Chinese grad students fresh off the boat who have no dog at all in the American white/black disputes? Not even avowed lifelong liberals who work in the field and come to believe that there are substantial differences in IQ scores between races, and that those reflect actual differences in intelligence?

        That seems like a really extraordinary claim. I mean, if you believe it, I can see why you would like to suppress discussion on the issue–if nobody ever changes their mind no matter the evidence, then why waste time on discussion? But I’m pretty sure that people do, in fact, change their minds on contentious issues like this based on evidence. I changed my view on this question based on looking at the evidence as best I could, and I absolutely did not get the answer I preferred from reality in this case. I’m pretty sure I’m not remotely the only person who has done this.

        • BBA says:

          Do you really believe that?

          Yes. There’s no scientific debate to be had here; in this particular case science is just politics by other means.

          • You don’t think data on identical twins separated at birth tells us anything at all about the heritability of IQ?

            You don’t think data on the correlation between characteristics of adopted children and the parents who adopted them, in a situation where assignment was essentially random, tells us anything at all about the environmental influence on IQ (and other things)?

            Do you have the same view on climate change? No evidence is relevant, all that matters is which side you are on politically?

          • BBA says:

            It can tell us something about intelligence (which is not the same as “IQ”). It won’t tell us a damned thing about race.

          • quanta413 says:

            @BBA

            So what do you think all the work on genetics of ancestry tells us about people or race? Ancestry correlates pretty well with social categories of race most of the time. Or the work on where signs of natural selection have been seen in human populations?

            If a rock solid findings came that some significant chunk of group differences in g were due to genetics, that shouldn’t be considered a sign that white nationalists are right about their political agenda or something nonsensical like that. Saying there can’t be any scientific debate about causes of group differences in IQ or g skirts awfully close to just conceding ground to white nationalists for no good reason if they happen to get lucky and some things break their way. It’s that or somehow pray you can suppress any results that go against your priors.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems to me that you could imagine strong evidence coming out that effectively settled the issue of the source of the black/white IQ gap[1]. Maybe we won’t see that evidence, maybe we shouldn’t even look for that evidence, but this is ultimately a factual question where we could end up with very strong evidence. It doesn’t seem like a place where we’re outside the realm of science or will never get a clear empirical answer.

            [1] Then we can ask about the white/Asian and Ashkenazi Jewish/everyone else gaps.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Agreed. It’s a little sad that someone as bright as Harris would think you could have a discussion about one little area of what happened to Murray without getting into all the other stuff, like race and IQ is just as much a matter of looking at the objective data as like, movements of particles or human response to blinking lights.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Here’s a different critique I saw today from Robert Wright, who is a lot closer to Harris in being a rational, liberal, Buddhist, etc. commentator than some of the left-wing critics I’ve seen: https://www.wired.com/story/sam-harris-and-the-myth-of-perfectly-rational-thought/

      I’ve seen this critique of the weird bias Harris has (the scientism/naive moral realist position of taking the things about your side as reasonable, the enemy as fundamentally brutal and acting in bad faith, and bracketing off the history of the situation.) I don’t think the critiques of Harris as some sort of racist or wanting us to indulge in forbidden and problematic knowledge are very convincing or effective, but the criticism about having not done his homework and thought about it objectively outside of his STEM interests is a good one. For about a decade he’s gotten away with being the rational guy who might just be more cynical than most of us about Muslims, but his farcical opinions about the Middle East or Palestine just being a question of religious struggle we can’t rationalize are finally being called out productively. I’ve seen him called out about this sort of bias at least three times now on different things (his podcast with Dan Carlin, the Klein podcast and now this) and I hope something finally happens to shake him out of his weird stance of being the one sane man with access to the ethical calculus where consideration of our most recent, scientifically verified stances is sufficient to build a coherent position on what is moral in the world. He hasn’t been as vocal as Dawkins about how history, philosophy, etc. aren’t as useful to our larger moral considerations as capital-S Science is, but a large portion of that sort of positivist utopian mindset in still in his brain and holding back his development as a thinker.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’m 100% certain Sam Harris is as subject to cognitive biases as anyone else. It’s the human condition.

        On the other hand, I also suspect Harris looks at this issue and sees echoes of politically- and socially-motivated suppression of science and evidence in the past. Pretty much all the arguments I’ve seen for suppressing race/IQ discussions work just about as well for suppressing discussion of evolution in a religious society.

  25. Watchman says:

    There has been a lot of discussion around rational attitudes towards eating meat on open threads and the last link thread. I’ve read this with interest but something hasn’t felt right. I think I may have now identified the issue, which is there appears to be a meta-argument that has either passed me by or has not been had.

    This relates to the normal measure those trying to assess the utilitarian approach to meat eating take, which is to try and assess relative suffering, hence the wonderful philosophical question of whether the suffering of one cow outweighs that of x chickens. On face value this seems reasonable – we can accept suffering lowers utility of an action as a moral judgement, regardless of whether we agree. There is however a very large but here, which is the issue that suffering here appears to be at best a subjective judgement each observer makes, or, potentially, a way of presenting dogma as a utilitarian choice.

    My reason for this hypothesis is simply that I don’t know of a way of measuring suffering, or even a unit in which it could be measured. A neuroscientist might want to correct me on this, but I am pretty certain that suffering is a mental state not a physical one (as with any mental state it can have physical effects of course but I doubt these are diagnostically consistent), which is defined as in operation by the person experiencing that state. Crucially, if my definition is correct then suffering is an individual experience and likely to be therefore understood and demonstrated differently by different people.

    Note that this could apply to actual physical effects such as pain, which can cause a contrasting range of reactions from suffering to joy, and an accompanying range of physical reactions. However, pain has a recognised mechanism in place which means we understand how it is caused even if we are unsure on the reaction. Pain is therefore at least theoretically measurable even if the requirement for an MRI makes this highly impractical to apply. Pain is a real and measurable biological process. Suffering is subjective and perhaps even socially constructed although I’ll leave that as a suggestion rather than seek to examine the claim.

    Herein lies my problem though, which is that with some animal cruelty and some human volunteers we could establish baselines for comparing the experience of pain in different species, a proposal to keep any ethics committee fully employed if nothing else. There is no way to establish an equivalent baseline for suffering though. Indeed, there is no way to understand if a different species actually suffers, since all we can do is work of physical cues. Anthromorphising the experience of a battery-farmed chicken to see it as suffering is to make an unsupported assertion that you would suffer in these circumstances so therefore the same thing holds for a creature with a totally different wiring of its brain, mental understanding of the world and life experience (insofar as a chicken can have such a thing – a question for any poultry scientists around…). Any assessment of animal suffering is therefore going to be prejudiced by our own assumptions as there is no way to produce a viable neutral indicator against which we could test them. At the moment the only qualifier on our assumptions of suffering is the views of other humans, which might lead us to a consensus, but a consensus based on no actual evidence. So, I contend, we cannot measure animal suffering in any way unbiased enough of our own assumptions to make this a meaningful measure.

    I will confess here that this conclusion matches my view on this debate: I believe utility is only applicable to humans, and animals have to be assessed in that light (animal suffering still lowers human utility though). Hopefully my analysis here is more robust than simply being an opportunity to assert my viewpoint though.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      In the wild, animals don’t typically run into cramped locations covered in their own shit and piss. Something gives me an inkling the current farming system is off.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        This. Factory farming is wrong.
        Is it wrong to eat meat at all? I think that’s a religious issue.

      • John Schilling says:

        Wild animals frequently run into (or build) cramped locations free of predators, leaving only when they need to find food and/or dispose of waste. If the wilderness contained warrens with steady food supplies and waste-removal systems comparable to modern farms, this would be a much stronger argument.

        • albatross11 says:

          I don’t think the inherent humanity and kindness of nature toward wild animals is going to make the argument you want against human cruelty to animals.

          • John Schilling says:

            Nature is not inherently humane and kind to wild animals. That’s what humans are for. Even human farmers, at least by comparison to nature.

      • Well... says:

        You already know what I’m going to say…

        In the wild, plants and fungi don’t typically reproduce so that their most delicious and nutritious parts are impractically oversized and so they are more resistant to the diseases that would make them yield less of these parts. They don’t typically sow themselves in neat convenient rows and cover themselves with soaps and other foreign chemicals. They don’t typically get cut down tens of acres at a time. They don’t typically get tossed into boiling water or run through giant shredding machines or placed inside of ovens.

        Guess I agree about the current farming system, though my conclusions about it are probably different.

      • Watchman says:

        In the wild there are no chickens (they’re a human creation). And the chickens in factory farms have never experienced the wild. I think this another case of assumptions about how animals process their experiences, in this case assuming the wild is a default for animals with no experience of it. This might be more justifiable in that we can release factory-farmed animals into the wild and see how they react, although a reaction to an unknown experience cannot prove suffering before the experience was undertaken. But it is lazy thinking to make a case on this assumption without justifying the assumption.RAM

        To be clear here, I’m with you and Le Maistre Chat in my moral view of factory farming, which I think is also of limited utility to humans (less meat of better quality is optimal). I’m concerned that the level of argument in defence of this position (or against it) tends to be an assertion of an assumption or an opinion, which is not getting anyone anywhere.

    • Kaura says:

      The assertion of animal suffering is not unsupported by evidence, though. It’s inconclusive and at least currently impossible to verify with the kind of measurements you describe, definitely, but I don’t think that rules out all attempts at sensible inference. Anthropomorphising is completely fair if there are reasons to assume that the target in fact probably should resemble humans in some ways that are relevant to the question at hand, e.g. if suffering seems to make evolutionary sense as an internal motivational state in many kinds of animals with observable properties typically associated with it in humans. You don’t need to be able to directly measure hedonic states to care about animals, and I don’t think it’s entirely justified to dismiss assessments based on other grounds as arbitrary prejudice.

      • Watchman says:

        Fair point. I think my issue was with the framing of suffering as something that could be used to determine the most ethical/utilitarian approach towards determining diet. It seems reasonable to make an inference though, although in good faith this surely has to be stated to be such. It also probably doesn’t work as a way of engaging with someone who already had drawn their own conflicting inference, as we lack any mechanism to start to determine which inference might be the better hypothesis. I’m perfectly happy with the idea that an understanding that there might be suffering should inform a moral position. I just can’t see how this provides a basis for discussion about the appropriate actions to take, as there’s no common currency for discussion. I will happily withdraw any suggestion that to base a decision on suffering is arbitrary, although I’d like to keep the prejudice: I find it hard to believe anyone reaches an inference on a matter such as eating meat without being influenced by their own existing beliefs and experience. Indeed, I’m quite certain my position in the wider debate derives from prejudices derived from growing up in a rural environment surrounded by rather stupid and tasty animals.

    • You appear to treat ‘mental’ phenomena as non-physical, which I think creates a problem for your logic.

      Indeed, there is no way to understand if a different species actually suffers, since all we can do is work of physical cues.

      So try substituting different ‘species’ for different ‘person’. For animals or other humans, we always go off physical queues, because humans don’t access the ‘first-person’ thoughts of other humans directly. We can’t even verify they have ‘first-person’ thoughts at all, or, to use a popular but vague and undefinable term, ‘consciousness’. This is called the ‘problem of other minds’ or ‘other minds problem’ in philosophy, and if you treat suffering as non-physical, there’s no logical solution to it imho (it horrifies me to hear someone say p-zombie suffering doesn’t matter, because everyone else is effectively a p-zombie in consistent dualist reasoning). I guess you could say a person can talk and describe their experience, but why would we consider a person/animal screaming and running away from a danger unconvincing but talking about it somehow convincing? If humans suffer then animals clearly do too, the question is primarly how much do we prioritize consideration of that suffering into our actions. We might also broaden that to questions of quality of life, and perhaps notions of freedom.

      Eating on the hand, well, unless I get cremated, I and most people I know will likely get eaten by other species when we die (worms, bacteria etc). I don’t think the eating is the issue, so much as how organisms live and die. Personally I think the best solution for this would be for us to invest in vat-grown meats, and solve the problem, at least as far as what humans eat is concerned, once and for all.

      • Watchman says:

        Pretty certain I clearly stated human suffering was subjective. I’m not interested in considering whether other people’s experiences are real or not, as I believe they are for convenience as I have to interact with them. I have to believe this though as proof is no more possible than with animals.

        Incidentally, running and screaming are markers for fear and pain, as a first estimation. In mammals at least both would be measurable. There’s no reason to assume suffering, a subjective and assumed human experience, applies as well without using our own experiences as analogies.

  26. j1000000 says:

    I’m looking for book recommendations on a particular subject — descriptive books on how modern economies work, not just supply and demand/opportunity cost/etc economics. Even if it’s polemical, I want more “this is how society functions on a daily basis, how farmers and investors and the Fed are tied together.” Any suggestions appreciated.

    • sharper13 says:

      “Economics in One Lesson” by Hazlit is what I’d consider the standard introductory summary to economics which mostly covers what you describe. It’s a little dated, but still relevant. You probably want an edition published after 1978.

      • j1000000 says:

        I read that about a decade ago and remember thinking it got pretty repetitive after that first Bastiat summary, but maybe I should revisit it now. I’m looking for something like — what are corporate bonds/how does the stock market fund companies, alongside “I, Pencil” stuff. Maybe that doesn’t exist? Not sure.

        • Urstoff says:

          Maybe a cheap older edition of Mishkin’s The Economics of Money, Banking, and Financial Markets would answer some of those questions.

      • rahien.din says:

        I would second both this recommendation but also j1000000’s description of it as a bit repetitive.

        It’s easy to find a .pdf of it via the google

    • SamChevre says:

      Not exactly what you are looking for–nothing about market structure, for example–but one very helpful book is John Kenneth Galbraith The New Industrial State; it’s the only general-reader economics book that I know of that focuses on the role of large companies.

  27. LittleChanges says:

    Any SSC-reader tips on finding decent psychotherapy — or in lieu, recommendation for providers in the Boston area?

  28. entobat says:

    I’ve been thinking about the classic “brain damage disproves souls” argument, and I don’t think it makes sense.

    In brief: if we’re ensoulified, then all the typical brain-y things we think about vis-a-vis intelligence—speaking English, knowing animal names, knowing your friends’ faces, playing bridge—are actually run by the soul. But then why can I scrape out one part of your brain and stop you from knowing my face, when you still know what a hammer is? Why can I damage one part of your brain and stop you from speaking English well, but you’re still a brilliant artist?

    I think the model living behind the argument is that the brain and the soul are two parallel potential causes of me knowing how my mom’s voice sounds. It’s improbable that they are both doing it, and we can poke my brain in a way that stops me from knowing my mom’s voice, so it must not be the soul doing it.

    I don’t think this is a very good argument. Why do the brain and the soul have to be in parallel? Imagine we really do have a soul, and the brain is simply the wiring that hooks up the soul to the physical reality. You destroyed the wiring that connects the face-recognizing part of my brain to my soul? Shucks, I don’t know what my friends look like anymore. You damaged the language-wiring portion? I have aphasia.

    This model of souls is still stupid—it’s still not doing any conceptual heavy lifting—but I don’t think the above argument is really doing anything beyond pointing that out.

    • Urstoff says:

      The fact that “the soul” isn’t doing any explanatory work (conceptual heavy lifting, as you say) make it an unnecessary element to postulate. Subtract all the things the brain does, and there’s nothing left for the sould to do.

      • entobat says:

        Sure. I’m saying I remember this argument being framed as “souls are actually a worse fit for the observed data than not-souls” instead of “Occam’s razor means no souls”.

        • Urstoff says:

          Sure; that would, of course, depend on what causal model of the soul one is working with. Unfortunately, most people who invoke souls as explanatory don’t have much of an explicit causal model to speak of. Most invocations of souls are far too underspecified to be useful.

      • Michael_druggan says:

        Yeah souls will only be reasonable if somehow we had a proof that naturalistic explanations could never solve the hard problem of consciousness, This seems to be what Penrose believes except his “soul” comes from speculative quantum mechanics rather than the supernatural.

        • Aron Wall says:

          For some definitions of “naturalistic”, Chalmer’s p-zombie argument is pretty close to the proof you are looking for. Although I don’t think Cartesian dualism is the only possible alternative.

      • Orpheus says:

        What about consciousness? I know that I am conscious, but how can I tell that other people are not just complex reflex arcs who never feel anything, just pretend to be feeling things? Wouldn’t your argument apply equally well to the assumption that other people are conscious?

        • Protagoras says:

          This has been discussed before. Despite the claims of various endarkeners, we have an increasingly good understanding of what’s involved in consciousness, and based on that it is not a mere assumption that other people have it. Consciousness is only a great mystery to those who pretend to understand it much better than they actually do, and who as a result insist that perfectly adequate accounts are unsatisfactory because they fail to satisfy misguided intuitions.

          • Orpheus says:

            Could you direct me to these discussions?

          • Protagoras says:

            There have been many. They usually haven’t been very productive; this certainly isn’t an area where SSC discussion has produced anything that goes beyond what you’d find in the scholarship (various Dennett, e.g. Sweet Dreams, any of the David Lewis papers on philosophy of mind, or on the side of the endarkeners Chalmers is probably the most prominent).

    • Protagoras says:

      Of course the switching station model has been endlessly discussed (it was Descartes model, and the objection you discuss was raised by Princess Elisabeth in her letters to Descartes). Briefly, we would expect different effects from disrupting the thinking apparatus itself than from disrupting the means of the thinking apparatus interacting with the outside world. What we observe resembles the former. This is certainly not conclusive evidence; all sorts of confounders could lead to results other than what we would expect, and so could potentially lead to a situation which resembles what we would expect from the former while really being the latter. But the overwhemingly more likely explanation is that what we observe resembles the former because it is the former.

    • skef says:

      Lesion studies can lead to more specific results than a simple loss of function. There are cases in which a patient has been still able to do X and to do Y but has significantly lower performance on tasks that involve a combination of X and Y. A material explanation of this problem in terms of a lesion is straightforward: the channel directly between the regions responsible for X and for Y has been damaged, leaving either no channel or a much slower alternate channel.

      Explanations in terms of a soul, along the lines your analysis suggests, make less sense. In that model the different areas of the brain presumably “pre-process” and communicate specific types of information to the soul, which is the unified entity responsible for higher-level cognition, the locus of subjective experience, and so forth. “Unified” is a key term here — the intuition is not that there is a face-recognition mini-soul, and a higher-level reasoning mini-soul, and an emotional impression mini-soul, and so forth, but a single entity that explains and reflects the (apparent?) unity of cognition. Evidence that areas of the brain serve as communication channels counts against that picture and for, at best, a mini-soul model.

    • Michael_druggan says:

      One response I’ve heard to this is that if you damage a TV’s antenna it disrupts the show but that doesn’t mean the show is being produced in the antenna. So maybe our brains aren’t producing conscious experience but just channeling it. I’m not really convinced but it makes more sense than the model you mention.

      • Protagoras says:

        Again, this is only plausible on the most cursory examination. If damaging this part of the antenna made the show less funny, and damaging that part of the antenna got rid of all the male characters, and damaging that other bit over there made it show the end of a program before the beginning, well, there still might be a very strange story on how broadcasting works in that situation, but more likely we’d be talking about a world where antennas really do produce the shows. It’s because damage to antennas doesn’t do any of those things, but instead just corrupts the image and sound quality without changing anything else, that we could pretty easily have figured out an antenna was just a transmission mechanism even if we didn’t know the details of how television works. As I mentioned above, and as Skef also said with slightly more detail, damage to brains does precisely the sort of things we’d expect it to do if the brains were doing the thinking; it doesn’t do the sort of things we’d expect it to do if brains were like antennas.

  29. thepenforests says:

    Question for the military folks here (might have been asked before on a previous open thread, surely been asked many times before on the internet in general, would be happy with either off-the-cuff answers or links to more in-depth answers):

    What’s the actual ramp-up capability of the various world military powers in the event of a serious war in the modern day?

    In other words, to what extent would each country be “stuck with what they had” if they were forced to go to war, and to what extent would they be able to produce new weapons/tanks/aircraft/ships/etc in a short enough time and in large enough quantity to make a difference?

    I ask because it seems obvious to me that we’re now far away from a WWII-type scenario, where countries were able to rapidly start mass-producing (frankly) insane numbers of new weapons platforms over a very short time, iterating designs on practically a year-by-year basis. (Honestly, from a modern perspective, I’m always kind of amazed at what various countries were able to achieve over the mere six-year course of WWII; I remember seeing some graphs of military production during WWII that were pretty mindblowing – anyone have any links?)

    I imagine this kind of ramp-up was possible in WWII largely because weapons back then were still (relatively) primitive. In other words, designing a better plane in the 40’s wasn’t that complicated – it was more a matter of strapping a better engine to the airframe and adding a few more bolts, or something like that. Something a single mechanic or engineer could maybe understand on their own. Whereas today you need 80 PhD’s and a couple hundred engineers just to design the exact shape of the aileron, or whatever. And I gather that you can’t get away with doing less than that now – the modern battlefield is just too demanding. Creating a less-advanced plane wouldn’t just result in something that’s a bit less effective in the air – it’d result in something that’d be shot down immediately, and would almost be worse than useless (I exaggerate, probably? But I don’t know how much?)

    In other words, it seems like modern weapons platforms are so advanced/costly/time-consuming-to-build that it would be really really hard for any country to do a WWII-style ramp-up in production. I can’t imagine this isn’t true, to some degree – somehow, in the event of a modern day war, I don’t see us designing, prototyping, and building a successor to the F-35 in a year or two, building a thousand of them, and then scrapping it and starting production on a new plane in another year or two. That kind of thing just doesn’t seem possible anymore. And my impression is that modern military strategy is to some extent based on this assumption, that we have to have large standing armies with large numbers of advanced weapons platforms *already* in existence, simply because we couldn’t create them fast enough to make a difference if we really needed them.

    Okay, so modern-day war probably wouldn’t look like WWII. But I don’t know *how* far we are from such a scenario. Sure, we built 27 new carriers over the course of WWII, and it takes us a decade or so to build a new Ford-class carrier right now, but how much quicker could we do it now if we really really needed to? Five years? Three? And what’s our parallel capability – are we really limited to only building a couple carriers at a time right now, or could we do more if we had the funding/desire? And if we can’t right *now*, how quickly could we expand our shipyards to be able to produce more ships at once in a time of need?

    And forget numbers, what about generations? I know that fighters progressed rapidly during WWII, pretty much to the point where a couple-year-old fighter was out of date by the end of the war (I think?). These days, new fighters pretty much take decades to develop, and we’re still using fighters from the 70’s. Could we rush the design of completely new fighters, or would we be stuck producing more of what we had (F-18’s/F-22’s/F-35’s)? Or could we do something in between, kind of upgrading the design of new fighters as we build them?

    Basically I’m asking what a war between major powers in modern times would *actually* look like, assuming it lasted for more than a year or so. How much would the production capacity of the country (and the ability to switch to a “war economy”) matter? I want to say “not that much, unless the war went on for a long, long time”, but I honestly don’t know.

    Of course, I imagine the answer to my question would depend on what aspect of the military we’re talking about – obviously some things would be easier to start mass-producing than others. In my mind, the progression from easiest-to-ramp-up to hardest-to-ramp-up would go something like munitions/artillery/missiles -> tanks -> helicopters -> fighters -> regular naval ships -> aircraft carriers, but I could be way off on that.

    I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the matter; I find this kind of thing fascinating.

    • albatross11 says:

      I’m not any kind of military person, but I think we’ve had war pushing development of weapons since WW2–in Korea and Vietnam, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria (and Yemen and Niger and wherever else). We could look at the rate of weapons production and rollout there as a sort of lower-bound.

      It seems like a WW2-scale war would be between great powers, and would be constantly in danger of going nuclear.

    • Watchman says:

      Assuming no nuclear i think the only country that might manage a prolonged war against the major world power, the US, might be China. I’m pretty certain that everyone else’s military would be obliterated pretty rapidly should the US commit it’s full strength (remember Russia’s military is about the size of France and Germany’s combined, and a lot less advanced; North Korea’s is actually smaller than South Korea’s in every measure other than manpower). So it’s quite a specific question…

    • proyas says: