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Open Thread 108.25

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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990 Responses to Open Thread 108.25

  1. Brad says:

    I spent the day today wandering around Palo Alto for reasons, and I have to say I really don’t care for it. It’s got a very strange vibe, almost like it isn’t a real place.

    A couple of random observations:

    There are very few senior citizens or babies around, twenty-somethings seem to be the largest group.

    There are very few black people around, and perhaps more surprisingly not many hispanics either. I has don’t have the best gaydar in the world, but what I have wasn’t pinging a lot either.

    I saw only a small handful of beggars and them aside, no random poor or even lower middle class people. It’s pretty much the well off and service workers and the shops reflect that.

    Okay well off, twenty-something whites and asians—so where are all the joggers? I saw very few, not too many bicyclists either. It isn’t like there were a lot of overweight people either, so what is everyone doing peloton or something?

    Likewise, where are all the bars? Where are all the bottomless brunchers? Where are the people getting high and playing ultimate frisbee?

    All I saw is a solid 8 hours of a constant line around the block for some ramen place. Is it blowing on instagram or something? In fact there were a number of places with long lines and seemingly similar places that were empty. I’m sure blue bottle makes good coffee and all, but is it so much better than the next best that people need to wait half an hour on a Sunday for their cold brew?

    —-

    I don’t know exactly what it is, maybe nothing related to those observations but my tentative conclusion is that this place gives me the creeps.

    • Plumber says:

      “I spent the day today wandering around Palo Alto for reasons….”

      @Brad,

      It’s been about nine years since I was last in Palo Alto, but I worked a number of construction jobs there over a ten year period and at first my initial impression was positive (mostly because of the bookstores) but then I noticed a few things:

      1) Near city limits there’s often a number of vans, motorhomes, and even compact cars that people sleep in every night. 

      2) In heading north one day, I found that the road to get to the bridge to head back to Oakland was too crowded, I glanced at the map, saw that a nearby street had the name in both Palto Alto and the much poorer community and mostly non-white) City of East Plato, and (on the map) it looked like they touched. 

      I found a wall that goes for miles in between, and I was reminded of what I’d heard of cold war Berlin.

      3) Dark o”clock in the morning I indeed saw many people on bicycles traveling over the large road (“University” if I recall correctly) that crosses over the 101 freeway to I presume go into Palo Alto for work, or just to beg for work at a Home Depot that’s near the border of both East Palo Alto, and Palo Alto. 

      I grew to hate Palo Alto, and “Silicon Valley”.

      • Nornagest says:

        a nearby street had the name in both Palto Alto and […] East Plato, and (on the map) it looked like they touched. I found a wall that goes for miles in between, and I was reminded of what I’d heard of cold war Berlin.

        …the sound wall along Bayshore? That’s not there to keep people out of Palo Alto, it’s there to keep freeway noise from 101 out of East Palo Alto.

        It looks like that stretch of freeway was built in 1933, but EPA already existed then. Most likely the street you found was continuous before the freeway was built, but not important enough to merit an overpass.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Railroads and freeways and like are known that they can act like walls, though, even if it is an unintended consequence.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, but I think a barrier’s got to be pretty intended before the Berlin Wall starts being a good analogy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This one is intentional (there’s an overpass there where the wall is, but it was blocked intentionally before it ever opened). Would anyone care to guess whether it is the good citizens of Summit, NJ or Short Hills, NJ who are the unwashed undesirables?

        • Plumber says:

          …the sound wall along Bayshore? That’s not there to keep people out of Palo Alto, it’s there to keep freeway noise from 101 out of East Palo Alto.
          It looks like that stretch of freeway was built in 1933, but EPA already existed then. Most likely the street you found was continuous before the freeway was built, but not important enough to merit an overpass….”

           @Nornagest

          It’s been over a decade so my memory could be off, but IIRC I followed the wall (I was looking for a gap to get my truck through and go home), and yes at first it was a freeway on the other side, but eventually I saw trees and telephone poles quite close to the other side of the wall, I got curious, stopped the truck, and I could hear voices from the other side.

          I eventually did find a gap that many pedestrians were using close to the north city limits. 

          To check myself, I just looked at a map, and I see that what I remembered can’t have been very much distance at all, probabably just a few blocks, or I may have gotten into Menlo Park in my attempt to escape the “walled city”, but it sure felt endless and oppressive that day.

          “….I think a barrier’s got to be pretty intended before the Berlin Wall starts being a good analogy”

          @Nornagest

          That’s a fair point, it was an emotional response to what I saw with my eyes without any research to find orgins.

    • Education Hero says:

      @Brad:

      Well-off people in SV are increasingly opting against exercising outside in favor of fancy gyms like Equinox, Bay Club, VillaSport, etc, especially in places that border lower SES communities (East Palo Alto in the case of Palo Alto). This is only accelerated by a growing trend for established and VC-funded firms to offer memberships to such gyms, or comparable gyms within their campuses.

      My personal recommendation: head over to Menlo Park, grab a frosted mocha at Cafe Borrone, and sit down outside for some people watching. I think you’ll find the vibe more to your liking.

      Downtown Los Altos, Main Street Cupertino, and Santana Row would also be solid options if you want to venture a bit further.

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t know Menlo Park or Los Altos, but Santana Row and Stevens Creek in Cupertino are both ugly-contemporary shopping/dining districts that reek of mass-produced classiness they probably bought at Pottery Barn. Fewer white people, more Indian and East Asian, but we’re still mostly talking engineers and their families — and Palo Alto’s at least got Stanford right there to give it some spice.

        I usually like Mountain View’s downtown more than Palo Alto’s. Murphy Street in Sunnyvale isn’t bad either, although there’s not much to it. Campbell attracts a younger crowd. I doubt Brad will like any of those, though.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Campbell might interest Brad. It’s the home of the most unlikely location of a landmark court decision that I’ve heard of — Pruneyard Shopping Center, as in Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins.

        • Education Hero says:

          @Nornagest:

          I focused on these considerations:

          Okay well off, twenty-something whites and asians—so where are all the joggers? I saw very few, not too many bicyclists either. It isn’t like there were a lot of overweight people either, so what is everyone doing peloton or something?

          Likewise, where are all the bars? Where are all the bottomless brunchers? Where are the people getting high and playing ultimate frisbee?

          All I saw is a solid 8 hours of a constant line around the block for some ramen place. Is it blowing on instagram or something? In fact there were a number of places with long lines and seemingly similar places that were empty. I’m sure blue bottle makes good coffee and all, but is it so much better than the next best that people need to wait half an hour on a Sunday for their cold brew?

          The bustling nature of Santana Row and Main Street Cupertino should satisfy those concerns. That said, I agree that both have a Crazy Rich Asians sort of “classiness”.

          The appeal of downtown Campbell hinges upon your opinion of a meat market consisting primarily of (increasingly drunk as the evening goes on) early 20 somethings. Pruneyard is a bit more matur with some hipster influence.

          I’m much less familiar with downtown Mountain View and Murphy Street, but I would concur.

        • Brad says:

          @nybbler
          Is that the one where the CA Supreme Court decided a mall is a public forum for free speech purposes?

      • Plumber says:

        For the decade or so that I worked in “Silicon Valley” when I missed Berkeley and Oakland neighborhoods that were the hangouts of my youth I”d sometimes stop at “the Alameda” neighborhood of San Jose, and there was a bookstore there that impressed me.

        A quick search (it’s been many years!) tells me it was probably “Recycle Bookstore”

    • Matt M says:

      What exactly are you looking for? Some sort of human zoo to show off the diversity of the species?

      What did you expect to see in a wealthy suburb that’s a high-tech hot spot?

  2. johan_larson says:

    (I’m hoisting this out of the original thread, because it has gotten too deep.) The claim is that institutions that have to serve large numbers of poor people (and particularly poor black people) have a hard time because these groups disproportionately misbehave. With that in mind, it might be useful to consider what institutions manage to work well despite having plenty of these poor and black people. Perhaps there is something to be learned.

    The first that comes to mind is pro basketball, at both the upper-tier college level and the NBA. Both are overwhelmingly black, but very popular spectator sports. And they manage to keep order on the court in ways that those wilding Canucks just across the border can’t manage on the rink, with fights practically every game.

    The other is the US military, where the enlisted ranks include plenty of people who grew up poor and also hefty numbers of blacks, including many in positions of authority. Yet the four services manage to fight and win plenty effectively, with failures usually attributed to failures of strategy rather than execution, which is what the enlisted ranks are actually responsible for.

    Can anyone think of other success stories like this? And what are these institutions doing right that might be copied in other settings?

    • Matt M says:

      And they manage to keep order on the court in ways that those wilding Canucks just across the border can’t manage on the rink, with fights practically every game.

      This is a very very poor comparison. Fighting is openly tolerated in hockey, therefore it happens. Fighting is heavily punished in basketball, therefore it doesn’t happen. We can speculate as to why that might be the case, but so long as it is the case, it’s not a valid comparison.

      The other is the US military, where the enlisted ranks include plenty of people who grew up poor and also hefty numbers of blacks, including many in positions of authority.

      Selection bias towards people willing to volunteer to submit themselves to authority and follow orders without hesitation. And a very thorough training and weeding-out process to get rid of anybody who it turns out isn’t prepared to do that at all.

    • John Schilling says:

      The military gets to wait until after their candidates have run through the entire primary and secondary educational system, reject anyone who couldn’t cut it there, take only those who specifically volunteer to spend the next 2+ years under military discipline, and of those they reject the bottom ~30% of the population – by their standards – without having to offer excuses or explanations. Then they put them through extensive training where, if they are at all disruptive, they’re gone. And because there is no right to serve in the military, because the military’s mission receives particular support and recognition of its extraordinary nature, this also is entirely at their discretion.

      The NBA works the same way, except that they are excluding the bottom ~99.999% of the population.

      If you’re allowed to throw people out without offering an explanation, the problem mostly goes away. Where are the institutions that get good results without being able to do this?

    • quanta413 says:

      Elaborating on the reasons above. Intelligence and athleticism/health/etc. actually tend to be positively correlated. I’d expect that even though NBA basketball players are not directly selected for intelligence as a group, they’re probably more intelligent than a theoretical population that was like them except couldn’t make the cut for the NBA.

      And the military just straight up screens on intelligence. Not for geniuses, they just keep the kinda dull out.

      Although not actually helpful in finding a solution, in the early 1900s, my understanding is blacks actually had comparable (or better) employment and marriage statistics to whites. So there’s not some unbearable force of nature stopping society here; it’s just that no one has a clue how to control anything. The social changes that occurred in the 60s-80s really were enormous. Any one social change might not have been a big deal, but the whole stack of social changes happening so fast had both intended and unintended effects. No way to undo it though. And a lot of those social changes were positive, so it’s not like most people would want to rewind the U.S. to the imagination of Ned Flanders even if we magically could.

  3. Deiseach says:

    Well, if any of you are going hiking or simply for a stroll on the hillside, watch out for falling sheep.

    (You’ll be glad to know the sheep is apparently fine).

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Just for the fun of it: text adventure games as a crowd sourced survival skill.

    https://www.metafilter.com/152212/For-some-reason-he-didnt-use-AskMe

    https://www.metafilter.com/176013/Oh-hivemiiiiiiind

  5. apollocarmb says:

    I have been having some very eeird/concerning sleep experiences and I would very much appreciate it if anybody could offer some insight.

    Occasionally I will have night where I will be really sleepy but at the same time I will be having racing, random,involuntary thoughts.

    An example from a recent episode was Venezuela. I had been reading up on Venezuelan history recently and I kept just repeating names/information in my head and I couldn’t control it.

    Sometimes when I am half-awake I will repeat/say things in my head as if I am logically working something out and I will have a “eureka!” moment as if something has finally clicked. When I snap of this however I realise what I had been saying was complete gibberish. For example “Banana = the Irish Parliament”.

    I have tried mindfulness before sleep the last 3 or 4 nights and it has been completely useless.

    Thoughts?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t know what other people do, but I have a naturally racing mind and used to struggle with sleep a lot. When my mind races, I turn to r/funny and just browse for 45 minutes to an hour. I enjoy a good laugh and tire out my brain. I lose an hour, but that’s wayyyyyy better than the 3-4 hours I’ll lose otherwise.

      Alternatively, I also just let my mind race. Eventually it just starts throwing random crap together, but 90% of the time it’ll start going so fast with so little cohesion that I can’t remember what I was thinking 3 seconds ago. At that point, I start losing any will to think.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I turn to r/funny and just browse for 45 minutes to an hour. I enjoy a good laugh

        I was really expecting that to go the other way.

    • lazydragonboy says:

      I am a bit wired as I write this, and I plan to listen to a talk. Therr is a specific monk I like who is interesting to keep me amused while I wait to sleep, but the subject matter is mellow enough that I fall asleep as soon as I relax. It’s a bit like how it’s easy to fall asleep in math class. That example is specofic to me, but maybe you can find something similar?

  6. Ketil says:

    About doping in sports. In the wake of the European Championships in track and field(?), a couple of newspaper articles have pointed out that the results of medalists are much worse than a decade or two ago. This is seen as a good thing, an indication of reduced or eliminated doping.

    It shouldn’t be so hard to quantify the effects of doping from statistics, but I can’t find any good take on this. Anyone?

  7. johan_larson says:

    If you’re looking for an exciting film to see this weekend, let me heartily recommend “Alpha”. “Alpha” is the story of a teenager on the cusp of manhood in ice-age Europe who manages to prove himself by surviving a horrendous hunting accident, and finding his way home through various adventures. Along the way, he manages to befriend a wolf, who he calls Alpha. The plot hits some beats that will be familiar to those who have watched a lot of adventure films, but the cinematography and acting are both awesome.

    Any linguists among us who have seen the film? The language of the protagonist’s tribe isn’t any of the five European languages I am familiar with, but sounds a lot more familiar than, say, Hebrew or Chinese. What are they speaking?

    • Randy M says:

      It’s funny I read the book just before seeing the movie announced.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I could not find any more information beyond “an invented prehistoric language” – which is a reasonable choice, as the film is set some 20,000 years ago, so any language spoken back then would be completely unrecognizable even to speakers of its modern forms (20,000 years is about 20 times the amount of time separating modern English from the language used in Beowulf, or 10 times the amount of time separating contemporary French from Cicero’s Latin).

      Possibly more information will be revealed in making off material and stuff – I’m sure the community of conlangers will investigate the matter.

    • Matt M says:

      Interesting. I remember seeing the previews and thinking it would be terrible.

      • johan_larson says:

        According to Wikipedia, the film was rescheduled several times, which suggests rewrites or maybe reshoots. Maybe this is one of those cases where version 1 had problems, but adjustments based on audience feedback made a real difference.

    • RDNinja says:

      Does the wolf die? That’s kind of a deal-breaker for me.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I was really impressed by the decision to title the film Solutrean.

      • johan_larson says:

        No kidding. Perhaps the next great historical epic will be set in the Seljuk Empire or something equally famous.

  8. timujin says:

    In Radicalizing the Romanceless, Scott says:

    I can confidently say that receiving a constant stream of hatred and put-downs throughout your most formative years can really screw you up

    In his review of The Nurture Assumption (that seems to no longer be available, so I’m talking from memory), Scott generally agrees with the book’s thesis that “nurture”, meaning how you were raised by your parents, mostly doesn’t affect how children turn out.

    These both can’t be correct. If anyone has the power to direct streams of put-downs on a child throughout their formative years, it’s their parents. And this can really screw you up. And this does not affect how you turn out. Something is wrong.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think the underlying assumption to the “nothing parents do has huge effect” is the unspoken “of course we mean so long as you’re not abusive”. So it parses out to “So long as you don’t beat, starve, rape, continuously verbally and psychologically abuse or leave your kids to roam the streets like feral dogs, then what parents do or don’t do hasn’t much effect on how the kid turns out”.

      The assumption is that most parents will feed, clothe, educate and try to teach right from wrong to their kids, so worrying about “Should I spend every waking moment with Lil’ Timmy being an encouraging and supportive pal and parent?” has little real effect on “Will Lil’ Timmy turn out to be a nice person or an axe murderer?”

      • lazydragonboy says:

        Yeah I am skeptical of that underlying assumption. Looking at my peers, acquaintances, and students; I see a lot of maladaptive memes screwing people up. I must admit though, my worldview biasrs me to perceiving people’s choices as affecting their lives.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        psychologically abuse

        Does anyone want to take a crack at throwing a blanket over what level of negative psychological interaction constitutes abuse? What impression or other psychological imprint does a child need to form for it to be “abuse” and not just normal social interaction?

        Is this binary? Or does it exist on a continuum?

        • Thegnskald says:

          Sure!

          Abuse is anything that is more than two sigmas worth of weirdness points away from what you consider normal.

        • Matt M says:

          I think I’m actually with HBC on this one.

          The types of put-downs that are leveraged against the romanceless are awful and we should call out and discourage them.

          But I do not think they rise to the level of psychological abuse.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I think the issue has less to do with the immediate action of the put-downs, so much as what it teaches people, particularly young men in this case, about their role in society.

            Putting a girl down for not being attractive isn’t abuse, exactly, but its more important role in society isn’t it’s impact on her self-esteem so much as what it is telling young women in general. It is teaching women that their role in society requires them to be attractive.

            Likewise, the put-downs aimed at romanceless men teach men – and not just the recipients – that their role in society requires romantic success.

            I don’t think “abuse” is the right framework to regard it in; the right framework is, unfortunately, mired in culture war nonsense, but can be broadly referred to in a more neutral way as oppressive expectations.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            But I do not think they rise to the level of psychological abuse.

            Are you thinking that they have no impact on outcomes then? Or are you hedging the original statement that it requires abuse to change outcomes?

            ETA: I just realized that Matt M and Deiseach have very similar gravatars. I thought Deiseach was responding.

          • Thegnskald says:

            HBC –

            My commentary that is a sibling of the parent comment is a sardonic take on my position, which is that “abuse” is pretty much defined to be behaviors that are sufficiently out of the norm to result in children that fall out of the norm.

            I think nurture is pretty important, but that the outcomes are nondeterministic and heavily overlap in the spectrum of space we call “normality”.

            Or, to phrase it slightly differently, we label “abusive” those behaviors that result in children growing up to be noticeably different from their peers.

            Normally this lines up pretty well with our intuitions on how adults should treat one another, with a few odds exceptions like sex, so it looks, morally, basically like normality.

            We start to see our intuitions and rationalizations fall apart when parental control “look” normal, but fall outside the boundaries that result in normality – the result is a deep discomfort with certain parental styles that we cannot quite explain the issue with. (For example, a parent who refuses to let their children interact with electronic devices.)

          • Matt M says:

            Or, to phrase it slightly differently, we label “abusive” those behaviors that result in children growing up to be noticeably different from their peers.

            I don’t think this is true.

            We label “abusive” things that we deem to be cruel, and that we would not like done to us or to our own children.

            Even if you could conclusively prove with science that locking your child in the basement and feeding them nothing but bread and water didn’t significantly affect their future life outcomes, I’m willing to bet that most people would still consider such actions abominable.

            Science increasingly finding “nurture isn’t as important as we think” does not seem to be correlating at all with any liberalization of “abuse” laws. If anything, the opposite is happening. In some locations, you can get arrested for child abuse for letting your kids walk to school unsupervised.

          • Thegnskald says:

            MattM –

            In what way could you raise a child outside the “normality” framework, that wouldn’t be considered abusive?

            I am not exactly arguing that this process is conscious – the average person isn’t sitting down in a comfortable chair and going “Well, a kid raised without any electrical devices in the home is going to be maladjusted for modern society”, but instead, we just pass laws saying a house without electricity is unfit for human habitation, and treat it as abuse to raise a child in one.

            And in a society where most people live in basements rarely leaving except to acquire bread, it looks like normality to keep a kid in those conditions.

            If you were to retrieve a bunch of peasant children with basically-okay childhoods for that era from 1540 AD using a time machine, how much of a role would you expect nurture to play, there?

            We raise all children, in a very broad sense, in a very similar fashion. It really shouldn’t be surprising that they turn out broadly similar, and that isn’t any kind of nail in the coffin of the concept of “nurture”, it just looks that way because we are so immersed in our own normality that the superficial variations within our culture look far more significant than they are.

          • albatross11 says:

            Some kids are raised in communes. Some are raised on boats (where the whole family lives). Some are raised living in extremely remote places where the nearest town is a hundred miles away. All of those are far enough outside the normal range of childrens’ upbringings that you could imagine them having effects that aren’t visible in adoption studies, but I wouldn’t think of any of those as inherently abusive.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I think how much damage insults cause is pretty contextual– some people are more vulnerable than others to start with.

            The amount of insults, whether the person has significant people in their lives who aren’t being insulting, and how much real world consequences the insults imply all matter.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Parents : children :: Presidents : The Economy

      • albatross11 says:

        The adoption studies that these results are largely drawn from involve middle-class-and-up parents who went through some kind of vetting for suitability to adopt a child. So you’re probably looking at a pretty restricted range of environments.

        Then, they’re computing statistics (even just a correlation coefficient) to compare how similar biological siblings raised apart are, vs how similar adoptive siblings raised together are. Any kind of good or bad upbringing/childhood environment that doesn’t happen very often probably doesn’t show up in the results. If being raised by a genius or by an axe-murderer changes your outcomes, both are probably too rare to show up in the studies.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I can’t cite anything, but I’ve gotten the sense that the “nurture doesn’t matter” stuff carries an exception for abuse.

    • Randy M says:

      They can both be correct if constant stream of put downs is outside the realm of variation seen in adoptive twin families (and their non-adoptive controls) that were studied to draw these conclusions from.
      Whether the behavior referenced is outside of the variation for which this conclusion applies depends on how common it is (or was, at the time of the studies). Based on little more than my own experience, I’d expect an occasional shouting match or put down to be not uncommon (especially for older children); constant stream, though? I dunno.

      Also, the parental effect only applies to behaviors and traits studied–an admittedly extensive list–but doesn’t apply to things like “have lots of bad memories of childhood” which isn’t a category of “really screwed up” but is undesirable.

      Also, it is age dependent; a person’s behaviors are less genetically determined the younger they are; a child can be screwed up affected by normal-level “bad” parenting in ways that will likely fade as they get older (that is, studies show stronger hereditary effects in adulthood for, for example, IQ).

      I was just thinking about this last night, hearing my wife describe some alarming behaviors of a child she sometimes watches, and trying to detangle what are inborn personality traits, what are habits trained by his normal caretakers (I’m being vague here), and what are sex differences from our girls. It sure seems like the nurture effects are strong here, but it is very hard to honestly say.

    • Matt M says:

      Scott generally agrees with the book’s thesis that “nurture”, meaning how you were raised by your parents, mostly doesn’t affect how children turn out.

      Do the studies on “how children turn out” include looking at romantic success?

      It’s possible to be a well educated, highly paid, never diagnosed with a psychological disorder, functioning adult who is still romanceless and really unhappy about it.

      • Randy M says:

        This is the first relevant thing I found. I’ve only skimmed it so far.

        Consistent with past findings, results from the present study indicate that both getting married and ending a marriage by divorce are significantly influenced by genetic factors.

        It doesn’t seem to say how much shared/family environment matters, but genetics does seem to. I share your intuition that growing up seeing discord in family relationships would make marriage/romance less attractive; however, the factors that lead one to have fractious relationships may be genetic and responsible for the unhappy romancelessness; present company excluded from speculation, of course.

    • quanta413 says:

      I think Scott is probably wrong, and it doesn’t matter much in the long run to most metrics. I had great parents, but my childhood sucked in a lot of ways due to sickness and due to other children. But nothing like broken bones or any beatings. As far as I can tell, all of that had ~0 effect on me in college.

      It did however, make life really unpleasant and I still try not to think back on my childhood much. I go with Caplan philosophy: if something you do to someone doesn’t matter much for your or their long term success, then your goal should be to make that person’s life immediately pleasant/enjoyable because the present matters and having good memories rather than bad memories later is nice. Also this will usually be better for you too.

    • maintain says:

      I’ve actually read The Nurture Assumption, so I can try to answer.

      Look at it like this: For years, people debated nature vs. nurture, and conducted studies, research, etc. The whole time, the assumption was that “nurture” meant the way your parents raised you. The book came along and presented the idea that while nurture does indeed matter, the nurture that matters comes not from your parents, but from your peer group.

      If you take children and raise them in a foreign country, do they adopt the accent of their parents, or of their peers? If you try to raise your children to be religious, but send them to public school in a secular area, do your children turn out religious?

      The premise of the book is definitely not that nurture doesn’t matter–just that it doesn’t matter when it’s coming from parents.

      To adopt this thinking to the theme of Radicalizing the Romanceless, we could say that it probably doesn’t matter if your parents try to push on you some unhealthy ideas about romance. You would likely politely listen to your parents, and then notice that no one outside of your parents holds these ideas, and consequently just shrug them off. However if 100% of the messages from your peer group are telling you that you are worthless and low status, it might start to sink in.

      Once you understand that, I don’t think there’s any contradiction.

      And also yeah, what Deiseach said about abuse.

      (Although you can still debate the question: Maybe if the messages from your peer group are negative, they don’t sink in. Also why would 100% of the messages from your peer group be negative? They probably didn’t pull your name out of a hat; there might be other factors involved.)

      • Matt M says:

        The negative messaging might not be directed towards you individually, but to a larger group (i.e. the romanceless) of which you clearly and obviously belong.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Okay, but if all the messages from your peer group are that you’re low status…isn’t that tautologically true then? What is “low status” if not “person everyone signals is low status?”

  9. Aapje says:

    Critical theory/feminist philosopher found guilty of sexual harassment after a Title IX investigation. It’s quite interesting to see how many (female) feminists, like Judith Butler, came to her defense in ways that are often called rape culture, toxic masculinity, the old boys network and such when similar defenses are made for men who are accused.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is serious nottheonion material. Ronell, the accused, is a lesbian. Reitman, the accuser, is gay. (by their own public statements, in both cases). She at one point refers to him as “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod” — that’s not a pet name, that’s his real name. If this was fiction, any editor would reject it for implausibility unless it was intentionally absurdist.

      • Deiseach says:

        Sweet divine, somebody actually named their kid Nimrod and we’re not talking modern day Puritans?

        This is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” cases. Going by the photos he’s not a bad looking guy at all, she looks like you’d expect an NYU professor of philosophy and feminism to look, but if she’s lesbian why is she doing some “grab ’em by the pussy”, so to speak? I could understand her having a kind of doting crush on the guy and making a pet of him and a fool of herself with those kind of advances, but the sexual stuff is odd.

        Yeah, the hypocrisy of the “we know her, she’s a great person!” defence did strike me, but it applies to all such cases; e.g. James Gunn where all his pals were out in full force about what a great guy he was and how unfair the firing was (and I’ve seen online comment starting off with “good guy director” before moving into “this was all a sinister right-wing plot” – who the heck knows he’s a ‘good guy’ simply because ‘he made some movies I like’?)

        • Nornagest says:

          if she’s lesbian why is she doing some “grab ’em by the pussy”, so to speak? I could understand her having a kind of doting crush on the guy and making a pet of him and a fool of herself with those kind of advances, but the sexual stuff is odd.

          It’s pretty common for people who identify as gay or lesbian to be at least somewhat bisexual in terms of actual behavior, especially if they have ties to the LGBT scene (where there’s some stigma against identifying as bi).

        • rmtodd says:

          I know someone who mentioned to me once that he had a boss named Nimrod. Apparently it’s actually a not-uncommon name in Israel. Admittedly it does cause a good bit of cognitive dissonance in those generations raised on Bugs Bunny cartoons though…

          • gbdub says:

            So, because of Bugs Bunny, “Nimrod” has precisely the opposite connotation it used to have (and indeed, the connotation that Bugs was using ironically). That is, Bugs was calling Fudd “Nimrod” (a great hunter) mockingly, as you might call a huge man “Slim” or an idiot “Einstein”.

            A little weird that “Einstein” has maintained the positive connotation but Nimrod completely lost it. Of course, Nimrod just sort of sounds like an insult.

          • Matt M says:

            At the time of Bugs Bunny, society was very biblically literate. Today, it is not.

            I wonder if the creators of Bugs Bunny could have envisioned a future in which he had a greater impact on the popular lexicon than the Bible.

        • Orpheus says:

          Sweet divine, somebody actually named their kid Nimrod and we’re not talking modern day Puritans?

          In Israel it is a pretty common name.

        • Aapje says:

          @Deiseach

          The Kinsey scale allows for people who are more attracted to one gender, but who are attracted to both.

          Another possibility is that she is ideologically lesbian, but does not actually have lesbian feelings.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            ideologically lesbian, but does not actually have lesbian feelings.

            Wat.

            How does this work?

          • Aapje says:

            It’s the left-wing mirror to ‘pray the gay away,’ where a feminist enough woman can will herself to be attracted to women.

            There are various terms for it: political lesbianism, radical lesbianism and lesbian feminism. The ideology sees sexual orientation as a political and feminist choice, and advocates lesbianism as a positive alternative to heterosexuality for women as part of the struggle against sexism/men.

            It is/was mostly a second wave and/or radical feminist position. An example of people who believe(d) this are Julie Bindel and Adrienne Rich. The latter has argued that:

            “The assumption that “most women are innately heterosexual” stands as a theoretical and political stumbling block for many women. It remains a tenable assumption, partly because lesbian existence has been written out of history or catalogued under disease; partly because it has been treated as exceptional rather than intrinsic; partly because to acknowledge that for women heterosexuality may not be a “preference” at all but something that has had to be imposed, managed, organized, propagandized and maintained by force is an immense step to take if you consider yourself freely and “innately” heterosexual.

  10. Sniffnoy says:

    So it seems the FDA has finally approved an EpiPen clone that, unlike with previous generic versions, they’ll allow to actually, y’know, be treated as generic. Why this one and not the previous Adrenaclick, no idea, but it’s good news all the same.

    • Garrett says:

      My understanding is that because it’s a medical device, it has to behave identically to be considered a true substitute. The devices have slightly different instructions and so cannot be substituted without getting a doctor to change the prescription. There are differences in regards to opening the container and whether the needle is automatically shielded when done.

  11. lazydragonboy says:

    Hey I remember a few months back somebody (maybe Scott?) Linking to a startup that would conduct research to find treatment for your medical condition. Anybody have the link? A friend of mine apparently came down with link text this disorder about eight months ago. He is looking for a way to get better, and I believe he could afford such a service.

  12. Mark V Anderson says:

    I have a question for people with knowledge about the ancient world of Greece and Rome. I have been listening to a Great Course on my commute home called “the Wisdom of History.” One of the claims he made about history was about ancient Greece and Rome. His claims made this world sound pretty similar to today’s world (which was his point). He claimed the following points:

    1) That ancient Greece and Rome was mostly democratic. In particular he talked about the direct democracies of the Athens, Sparta, and Syracuse (on Sicily), and republican Rome before Julius Caesar. It is true that all these states had slavery and women couldn’t vote, but the same is true for the early US, and it is usually considered a democracy.

    2) He said that free enterprise existed throughout the ancient world. I’ve often heard that free enterprise was an invention of the industrial revolution. But it makes sense that most economic activity will take place by private individuals, unless the government specifically decides to run things, and has the power to do so, even if this isn’t a principle of the ruling parties.

    3) He said that individuals were free to live as they pleased. Perhaps this is the weakest argument, because I think of Socrates death resulting from his free speech, and the requirement of the Roman Empire to worship the emperor, although one was free to worship other gods in addition. Certainly Greece and Rome were probably a lot freer than was the tradition in those days, but not up to today’s standards.

    Please someone give me the straight scoop. I’ve often thought of Greece and Rome as local peaks in civilization, but nothing compared to today’s world. Maybe I am mostly wrong. Plus of course our prosperity is clearly many times better, so maybe it just riches where we excel so much these days.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not an expert, but: several Classical Greek city-states were democratic at various points*, but it was a really weird kind of democracy by our standards. Modern democracies are almost always representative, but the Greek versions usually used open citizens’ meetings or sortition (essentially a jury system). The franchise was also very limited, even by comparison with e.g. the antebellum American South. And Classical democracies were often short-lived; Syracuse for example had four periods of democracy, lasting a few decades each, with the balance taken by tyrannies or oligarchies. I don’t think I’d say that “most” of the Greek city-states were democratic, and we know by far the most about the Athenian system, because that’s where a lot of the surviving classical political writers were from. None of this means they were bad guys, but it does mean we shouldn’t project modern democratic ideals back on them, even if our democratic ideals are partly descended from theirs. (Note however that the Germanic world had its own native forms of democracy.)

      On the other hand, some aspects of life in the Classical and especially the Roman world really would look familiar, almost anachronistically so, to us. Imperial Rome had apartment housing and subsidized food for the poor, gladiators took sponsorship deals, and so on. But I think this is less about living with a familiar culture and more about living at a familiar scale: a lot of these things would go away when the Western Empire collapsed and power devolved to the local level.

      (*) Sparta was not one of them; depending on period it was either a hereditary dyarchy or an oligarchy or something in between. Athens and Syracuse both were at various times, but see above.

    • DeWitt says:

      mostly democratic […] Sparta

      I haven’t even read most of what you wrote here and I’m already having to restrain myself.

      Still..

      Finagling with the definition of the word democracy aside, I would not call most of ancient Greece democratic at all. Athens is a decent example, as its imperialism and wealth by silver got it enough of a middle class that democracy remained viable. Anyone claiming Sparta was the same is very, very, very seriously deluding themselves, and has no business making grand statements about the ancient world. It was a military dictatorship in every sense of the word, with the one caveat that the military was technically hereditary; it likewise had a lineage of (two) hereditary kings, it disenfranchised everyone not already a citizen, it disenfranchised even citizen families that fell on hard times with no way of rebounding back into citizenhood, and had a serf population about seven times that of the landowning class. The sorts of place we’d call about as democratic as medieval Poland, where you had a very directly voted-in king except only the nobility votes or can be voted in as king.

      The rest of Greece did have a polis or two governed as Athens was, but most of them absolutely remained local tyrannies or kingdoms. The author’s mention of Sicily is particularly egregious, as you needn’t even look through Wikipedia for five whole minutes to notice it having been some democratic paradise is utterly outrageously stupidly wrong. And even then, Greece became less democratic as it went along, not more: the various successor kingdoms of Alexander the Great were, as the name implies, kingdoms, with the Seleukids and Ptolemaians and Antigonids of their times erecting dynasties that lasted for some time, which I suspect your source left out because Greek historians prefer to pretend nothing ever happened past the year 300BC or so.

      And even, even then, those Spartans with a secret police that enshrined beating up the serf population, military rule, hereditary kingship, caste systems, the whole deal? All of Greece looked up to those guys. The rest of the Greeks argued that is what freedom was like, the freedom of real men busying themselves with war and matters of state.

      I’m not even going into slavery and general bloodshed here, especially not since technically rampant endemic warfare isn’t technically unfree or undemocratic. Slavery, however, is. Anyway.

      2: Okay, free enterprise existed. Occasionally. The customs offices and tariffs of ancient polities aren’t particularly easily researched. Calling it the invention of the industrial revolution is deluded, where freedom in commerce is one of those things humanity can do better or worse here and there across history just as much as it does other basic ideas.

      3: Really? Really? Free to live as they pleased? Who? Where? You could argue that a peasant in Thessaly would have the technical freedom to pick up his life and move elsewhere, but then what? Do we care about the technical freedom of someone in Zimbabwe or Laos to move off to God knows where and live there? That technical freedom exists today as it did then, and I’ve no idea why you’d make that point for.

      But repression, then? Nonsense. Utter nonsense. It’s not ahead of the modern world, it wasn’t even ahead of its time. The Romans, for the most part, had a free society that didn’t particularly come down on its subject, but only because it was two dozen societies with a very, very small central government, where the smaller societies could still be as oppressive and tyrannical as they were before Roman rule came in. Some people even wrote this one book about this one guy who got crucified by them, one time. You may have heard of it.

      The Greeks, by all accounts, were much worse about this. The most famous example is that of the Jews, who rebelled in a very ISIS-like manner against the Greeks but praised their Persian predecessors so much that Cyrus is one of a very few gentiles Jewish classical texts have anything good to say about. The Persians were such even-handed rulers that even Herodotos can’t quite bring himself to speak ill of the way they governed, and notes that the Ionian revolt was more due to sheer rebel spirit than it was due to any poor governance on the Persians themselves.

      So, no. No. No no no no no. We find the Greeks and Romans very impressive because of tradition, but they were ahead of their time because of military reasons more than because of others. The Romans added to this an uncommonly clever way of dealing with conquered peoples, but the real example of non-oppression and free enterprise is not either of these two but Carthage, the empire that did invent good governance and tolerance for all was that of the Persians, and even though modern civilisation draws from the latter two much less than the former, viewing them as local peaks of morally good civilisation is entirely fallacious and a very poorly nuanced worldview.

      • Nornagest says:

        The Persians were such even-handed rulers that even Herodotos can’t quite bring himself to speak ill of the way they governed…

        Herodotus’s city fought on the Persian side of the Greco-Persian Wars, along with a lot of other culturally Greek polities at the time. It’s not surprising at all that he has a lot of sympathy for them.

        • DeWitt says:

          It did, but Herodotos is only relatively more positive about the Persians when compared to other Greeks. His writings leave no doubt to the Greeks being clearly superior in his eyes, in the war being one of good against evil, and he’s very clearly biased against Persians much more than he probably should be. When he speaks in favor of anything the Persians do, it is still a thing of note, however mildly so.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Reading cites on Sparta I get lots of answers.
        This one implies it was pretty democratic, altho it doesn’t give the scale of non-citizens or slaves, so hard to judge.

        This one has mixed opinions.

        I’m not sure how to classify this one.

        And that’s it for links, because I am concerned about the post not working.

        • DeWitt says:

          The first link, the one claiming it was very democratic, does ignore the demography: actual citizens were a very, very small minority of its population in any incarnation of the Spartan state. To go back to my Polish example, in 1500 it had a warrior class(the nobility) which had the sole right to vote, was far outnumbered by the clergy and peasantry, but which could elect anyone from its rank as king. Would you count that as a very democratic government?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Well, yeah that is the kind of question I had. Many communist countries have periodic voting of the leadership by everyone in the Party (although whether even these elections are valid are also questionable). I do not consider those countries democratic, because it is only a small minority that vote. Although I am a bit curious what proportion could vote in the first years of the US — my understanding that there was a property requirement at first?

          • DeWitt says:

            The early US required (white) men to own land and pay tax before giving them franchise, yes. Looking at Wikipedia like the lazy person I am reveals to me that this would be about 6% of the population; small as though this seems, this is still a larger proportion than the Spartan population that could vote. Additionally, the US noticeably did not have two lines of kings that were entirely hereditary, as did the US, it stripped citizenship off families that lost the required wealth to partake, which the US never did, and it very much did not allow people to gain citizenship, which the US has been very good at, although you could make a case for the latter not technically being necessary for a democracy.

            Even so, Sparta had a hereditary class of people who could partake in politics, who did not have an equal share of power even then, who could not become king unless they were from a certain two families, who never once accepted outsiders or expanded their rank, who did not allow women or anyone else the vote either, and who behaved in every way as a military dictatorship would. Calling it a democracy is ridiculous.

      • Deiseach says:

        DeWitt, that was beautiful 🙂

        Yeah, Sicily as a democratic paradise? Sicily may have been well-run and peaceful at times, but that was mostly because “the Tyrant of Syracuse is a great patron of the arts” or along those lines, not because it had a representative government of the people.

      • onyomi says:

        We find the Greeks and Romans very impressive because of tradition, but they were ahead of their time because of military reasons more than because of others.

        I think we find the Greeks and Romans impressive primarily because the structures, art, literature, philosophy, etc. they left is impressive.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      We tend to think of democracy as something unique to our modern civilization, but as a fairly natural way of building consent that can reoccur in primitive societies such as ancient Germanics or the Igbo.

      For the importance of consent I quote Levi-Strauss from the Tristes Tropiques (1955):
      “I should like to be able to show how markedly, in dais regard, con temporary anthropology supports the theses of the eighteenth-century philosaphes. Doubtless Rousseau s schema differs from the quasi-con tractual relations which obtain between the chief and his companions. Rousseau had in mind quite a different phenomenon the renunciation by the individual of his own autonomy in the interests of the collective will It is none the less true, however, that Rousseau and his contempo raries displayed profound sociological intuition when they realized that attitudes and elements of culture such as are summed up in the words contract* and consent* are not secondary formations, as their adversaries (and Hume in particular) maintained: they are the primary materials of social life, and it is impossible to imagine a form of political organization in which they are not present.
      As a consequence of all this, it is clear that power is founded, psychologically speaking, in consent. But in daily life it finds outlet in the game of oath and counter-oath which is played out by the chief and his companions. Another of the attributes of power is, in effect, the notion of reciprocity. The chief has power, but he must be generous. He has duties, but he can also have several wives. Between himself and die group there is a constantly adjusted equilibrium of oaths and privileges, services and responsibilities.”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Well, on 1… democratic Athens and Sparta?! You need to be skeptical of everything this professor says, update your beliefs about the Great Courses, and buy a copy of The Landmark Thucydides (hands-down the edition Greekless readers like us will get the most out of). He goes into painstaking detail about which cities were democratic likes Athens and which oligarchic like Sparta from 431-404 BC. Expect to see repetition of passages like “Word reached Exampolis that the Athenian army was about to arrive with X hoplites and Y light troops, so the people killed the elite and formed a democracy.”

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Ms Cat — I take it you are familiar with this course and this professor? I have come to the conclusion that the Great Courses aren’t quite so great, but I still find them interesting. In fact for this particular course, I recognize that the guy is doing some cherry picking in his interpretation of events so they match his theories. But it is precisely his somewhat unorthodox opinions that make the course interesting.

        Do you have recommendations for other CDs I could buy for my 1/2 hour commute? So far I have found the lectures I have found to be superior to the radio at least.

        I do thank you for the recommendation related to Thucydides. I may need to read some original sources to get a better feel for the ancient world — surfing the Internet gives me far too many disparate answers.

        • DeWitt says:

          I will second the Thucydides recommendation. Partially because Thucydides writes about matters that were recent even in his time and clearly has very good sources, but also because Thucydides is a terrible person and through reading his work in the proper context it becomes very easy to figure out that the Greeks weren’t all that particularly great in and of themselves.

          • Philipp says:

            Thucydides is also a very intelligent and thoughtful person (though Herodotus is more fun). Anyone with any interest in the method of history and the development of scientific thinking would benefit from reading the “Archaeology” (his attempt at a Greek pre-history, drawing on Homer, rudimentary observation of historical artifacts, and such) and account of the Athenian plague in bks 1 and 2. The great set-piece discussions of what we would call human rights and international relations–especially the dialogue on Melos in book 5 (why you call him a “terrible person,” maybe, DeWitt?)–are also really important. Heck, just read the whole thing….

            But yes, there’s a real danger in assuming that ancient “democracy” is analogous to modern modes of democracy. If I remember correctly, Hamilton and Madison point in the Federalist Papers much more to Hellenistic-era federal leagues of poleis in Ambracia and Achaea than to e.g. Athens (let alone Sparta). Polybius will be your man for that; and he’s also an important political and historical thinker in his own right.

            If you want to know about actual ancient governmental structures, it would be good to start with (pseudo?)-Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians, the text of the same name by pseudo-Xenophon (“the Old Oligarch”), and the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (that is, the Spartans; you might find it under that name, too) by Xenophon. There is a measure of idealization in the last work, in particular (and by “idealization,” I mean, praise of stuff that seems utterly bizarre to us), so it’s always good to look at the historians, etc. and see how this stuff worked in practice.

            EDIT: There are also Landmark translations of Herodotus and I think of Xenophon’s Hellenica. I can’t speak to those, having only glanced at them in a Classics library once or twice, but the Thucydides text is really good–lots of nice maps, brief technical articles in the appendices, and so on.

    • Simulated Knave says:

      Also…free to live as they pleased? The history of all of the various Greek states is littered with people being exiled, censured, or otherwise suffering consequences for not living as the city thought they should. There are Athenian court cases where people are convicted because “hey, everybody says they heard that this guy did the thing.”

    • If I recall correctly, even Rome during its Republican heydey was not particularly democratic. The plebeians had the right to vote for a “tribune,” but this tribune had basically an advisory role and all of the real power was in the Senate, which was voted on and staffed solely by members of the equites, who were the nobility.

      • Protagoras says:

        It is much more complicated than that, and changed in a variety of ways over time, but the early Senate wasn’t at all democratic, and while various reforms made the late Senate in principle somewhat democratic, in practice it mostly remained the same largely self-regulating and self-perpetuating institution. And the Senate usually got its way when it clashed with the more democratic institutions of the government.

      • Lambert says:

        The Roman Republic is interesting.
        A large number of people had franchise, but some had a lot more than others.
        Magistrates (who became senators) were voted in by the people, but the voting system explicitly favoured the nobles and the wealthy.

        See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trrqslUpfdw

  13. Well... says:

    Suppose you have an extremely uncommon opinion (you’ve never seen your same arguments articulated anywhere else) on some non-obscure topic and you are very confident in this opinion and are ready to defend it against counter-arguments, which you’ve considered as best you can. When you discuss it with people (e.g. in places like SSC OTs), you sometimes get one or two people weakly agreeing and making much weaker arguments in the same direction as yours, but otherwise you mostly get crickets. Nobody has ever argued against you, even partially. Is this most likely because…

    a) Most people simply haven’t thought about the topic much, at least not in terms of your argument?
    b) You’re so wrong that people don’t see the point in engaging with you about it?
    c) You’re so right, and everyone else so wrong, that people can’t wrap their minds around it? This could be a variation of (a).)
    d) Something else??

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I’d say a) is probably going to be greater than 50% of instances.

    • bean says:

      I’m going to say most likely (a). Particularly if you come on really strong on the topic, most people who don’t have strong opinions/lots of knowledge on the subject are going to tend to say “interesting” and move on.

      Let’s take our old friend, battleship analogies. Two years ago, someone shows up here with strong and unorthodox opinions on, say, the value of battleship secondary guns. And they’ve done enough research to be able to make a fairly strong argument for it. If I’m not here, nobody is particularly likely to call them on it, because even John Schilling probably figures that going up against them is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. He updates slightly and moves on.

      (This isn’t meant to imply anything about the factual correctness of the views you may hold. I could even see a reasonable argument against battleship secondaries being made, although I’m not planning to do so.)

      • Well... says:

        But keep in mind, I was talking about a non-obscure topic.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Let me give you an example from my own life, not really so much in online forums, but in dinner talk etc.

          My theory of military victory in the modern era as a rebuttal to the way most modern wars are executed:

          Politicians like to think of wars as they were in the Feudal Era. They think that, essentially, there is a population of serfs within some borders and you can conquer the armies and kill/capture the leaders of “the castle” and then you have won the territory and can implement the governor of your choice.

          IMO this is false and in modern war you can only govern a territory after total war and total military (and civilian) victory. IMO this era begins at least in the American revolution, but may predate, and the older version might have lingered at least till the 1870s. In this model, unless the civilian population of a country fears your troops more than the domestic oligarchs, your military operation will fail.

          Most people, upon hearing/seeing this theory don’t really respond despite it being a perfect explanation for the “popular topics” of the Vietnam & Iraq wars.

          • howdoiworkthisthing says:

            I am with you 100% on this one.Our friends in Washington keep thinking they can do it the old way, and it keeps not working out. They should probably be thinking of WWII Germany, and the total effort that required, along with the fact that we kept military bases there indefinitely. If they aren’t willing to make that kind of commitment, they should just not do it.

            Along with it should probably come the draft, to spread the sacrifice around a bit more. If the situation isn’t serious enough to do this, then why the heck are we getting involved?

          • Simulated Knave says:

            I disagree – sort of. People HAVE come to recognize that you need to win the civilian population over (“Winning of hearts and minds”) or kill them/suppress them with force. Successful empires did that all the time back in the age of empire (though what you describe still definitely took place). They just keep massively overestimating their ability to do so. They assume the people they are invading see things the way they do, and therefore will agree with them quickly and easily. And then they don’t, and it doesn’t work. Also, the various European wars of religion and wars between the Dutch and the Spanish (among others) demonstrated long ago that you need people on-side or things will go badly. The mindset you mention is a problem, but it’s been a problem for centuries.

            But even today (and throughout history), most people stay out of conflicts. Most Americans stayed out of the Revolution (which would have been a curb-stomp if the timing had been slightly different). Most of the local population stayed out of various other revolts against the British Empire. Most Vietnamese did (even when the Viet Cong tried hard to get them not to). I don’t think that’s changed, but I think a few other things have.

            First, people are a lot less comfortable with imperialism and conquest than they used to be. Being governed by outsiders used to be a lot more common. Even then, empires tried to justify it, and I think people take those concepts more seriously than they used to.

            Second, people don’t run empires well any more – if only because they’re out of practice. Empires are an investment. Americans especially don’t like long-term investment. They want a quick profit. And the places that are getting invaded weren’t particularly profitable even in the age of empire.

            Third, force disparities are a lot smaller than they used to be (rebels used to be a lot more willing to stand in the open and fight, and empires used to be a lot more willing to use excessive force). This makes it take more to maintain an empire (and it’s already expensive – there are serious arguments that the British Empire lost money overall).

            Fourth, WWII screwed everything up. The Nazis and Japanese and Italians all invaded people and were evil. And the Germans, Italians and Japanese were all fairly cooperative in defeat and agreed that they’d been evil. Which created this paradigm that when you invade somewhere and you’re right, the people you’ve beaten will recognize that without effort being put forth to do so (and effort WAS put forth in those countries, which people forget). Where this paradigm is carefully avoided (like it was to some extent in Afghanistan) things can go OK. Where this paradigm is NOT avoided, people start to have some self-doubt about whether this war is worth it.

            I don’t think it’s a failure for thinking to adjust or that things have changed – governing an unwilling populace has been difficult or impossible for centuries. But it’s a LOT harder to do it than it used to be, and imperial adventurism is much more likely to be viewed unfavourably than it once was. This means that no matter how well you do it, you’re almost always going to fail.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Both of you provided interesting analysis, but the fact it took so long to get responses is kinda my point 🙂

            I will think your points over mr Knave

          • Simulated Knave says:

            Indeed. When I run into a reaction, I assume it’s a combination of people not knowing and not caring.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If it’s a common topic and on places where people like to argue, I’d say probably b. But the variant of “you’re obviously right but everyone else knows this accurate belief is taboo” is also possible.

      • Well... says:

        The problem with (b) in general is someone, at some point, must surely have argued with you. But what if nobody ever has, no matter how many times you’ve broached the topic among an argumentative crowd?

        • alef says:

          But what about the version of “b” where people don’t think you are wrong as such, but for some reason find your statement essentially unintelligible/incoherent/content-free. Then you are relying on someone seeing sufficiently much of your point (and caring) that they ask for clarification, and if that doesn’t happen you’ll just be ignored.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        There’s also the flip side of “you’re obviously right but everyone else knows this accurate belief is taboo”–“you’re obviously wrong but proving you wrong requires acknowledging a taboo accurate belief”.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Or let us not forget the even milder version: “you’re obviously wrong / partially wrong / it is complicated, but hashing out a detailed argument requires engaging with and forming an opinion on uncomfortable taboo topics”

    • dick says:

      Two thoughts: first, I think it’s pretty rare for people to stake out clear positions (“I believe A because X, Y, and Z, fight me!”) and it’s very welcome when that happens. But second, it seems like a lot of people will only respond on a topic that they weren’t already interested in if it contains bait, defined as “something I would win satisfyingly if I argued over it,” so you’re more likely to get someone disputing X or Y or Z than A.

    • Plumber says:

      “Suppose you have an extremely uncommon opinion (you’ve never seen your same arguments articulated anywhere else) on some non-obscure topic and you are very confident in this opinion and are ready to defend it against counter-arguments, which you’ve considered as best you can. When you discuss it with people (e.g. in places like SSC OTs), you sometimes get one or two people weakly agreeing and making much weaker arguments in the same direction as yours, but otherwise you mostly get crickets. Nobody has ever argued against you….”

      “….keep in mind, I was talking about a non-obscure topic”

      @Well…,

      It’s really hard for me to guess without some clue as to what the idea voiced was, but maybe it has something to do with which Forum you made the argument? 

      I’ve participated in four Forums and the same opinions expressed in some will lead to debate, and in others “crickets”.

      At a Forum for plumbing tools a couple of years ago a debate about how to treat Syrian refugees got a lot of pixels spilled (until a Mod said “no politics”), which is what you’d expect at most Forums, but statements about how ignorant white-collar people seem aren’t disputed, but at this Forum people doubt that any poster is really blue collar. 

      After someone commented how “Every vote counts” and how important turnout is, I made comment to a New York Times comments section thread about how as a Californian my vote really doesn’t count that much and I wish either the Electoral College was eliminated, or California would divide into smaller States because “I’d like to try this democracy stuff I’ve heard about”, and no one disputed that, while I imagine at this Forum someone would argue otherwise. 

      At this Forum I stated how much I miss the Dungeons & Dragons that I played in the 1970’s and 80’s, and what I don’t like about the modern version, with no response, but a statement like that at giantip.com will bring out pitchforks. 

      Or maybe it was just timing and people’s attention was elsewhere at the time?

      • Simulated Knave says:

        …You miss the old versions of D&D?

        • Plumber says:

          "…You miss the old versions of D&D?" @Simulated Knave,

          I very much miss playing 1970’s/’80’s D&D/AD&D.

          The rules are still around, but tables?

          I can’t find any.

          But it’s not really the rules that I care about, 5e could work with just a few tweeks. 3e/3.5 would be harder, but it’s the style of play and setting that’s changed.

          I want Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but current D&D seems closer to Marvel’s Avengers and the Suoerfriends!

          I hate “The Harpers”!

          • Simulated Knave says:

            Honestly, I find even old D&D is abysmally set up for sword and sorcery. It de-emphasizes the sword and emphasizes the sorcery. Magic isn’t magical when it’s common as dirt. But while Forgotten Realms is tripe, it was AD&D tripe long before it was anything else. Hell, look at the settings TSR put out – the only one that really reduced the amount of magic was Dark Sun. All the most popular ones (and, for that matter, the unpopular ones) flat-out reveled in it. And both first and second edition D&D could not actually properly represent any of the characters you mention in their existing rules, IMO – having talents other than smacking things as a fighter was definitely discouraged, and all three of the guys you mention have at least some other skills.

            Honestly, I would wonder if most of what’s changed is that current players grew up with D&D and without nearly as much reference to things like Conan and Leiber stories, and so expect something much higher-magic. They’re fans of D&D playing D&D, not fans of other stuff using D&D to play games about that stuff.

            I actually found 3e supported low-magic character concepts a lot better than previous editions because of the way multiclassing worked, but the problem is the game balance just isn’t designed for it. It assumes you have a ton of magic available. But so does AD&D, unless you tromp around at low levels the whole time (and even then, really). Indeed, 3e arguably gave you MORE low-magic character options than AD&D.

            I strongly suspect that the people who want low-magic swords and sorcery don’t play D&D at all at this point. That’s never really been what the system encouraged, for all that it sometimes tried to claim otherwise.

            I’m not sure what system you might find that lent itself to it, but I think looking for D&D to ever really be low-magic S&S is putting the cart before the horse.

          • Plumber says:

            “Honestly, I find even old D&D is abysmally set up for sword and sorcery. It de-emphasizes the sword and emphasizes the sorcery…..”

            @Simulated Knave, I thought that Chaosium’s 1981 RPG Stormbringer did Swords & Sorcery better, but it’s random character generation system often made most of the PC’s “sidekicks” which was unsatisfying.

            I’ve heard that the newish RPG Savage World’s does a good job at Swords & Sorcery, but at my age any game has to either have rules close to the 1970’s rules of eirher Dungeons & Dragons or RuneQuest that I already learned when I has a more agile mind, or be very simple, and I’m sure there’s dozens (if not hundreds) of games like those with the seeming infinity of RPG’s, but so what?

            I wasted a decade trying to get other gamers to play the Arthurian RPG Pendragon without success, or to just play old D&D again (everyone else wanted Champions, Cyberpunk or Vampire instead), and my days of trying to be a game evangelist are over, instead I play 5e and grumble.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Simulated Knave

            Honestly, I would wonder if most of what’s changed is that current players grew up with D&D and without nearly as much reference to things like Conan and Leiber stories, and so expect something much higher-magic. They’re fans of D&D playing D&D, not fans of other stuff using D&D to play games about that stuff.

            This is, as far as I can tell, pretty much correct. 70s-early 80s D&D was a mashup of pulp novels, Tolkien, and wargaming (the proportions varying based on who you ask). In the 80s it started getting influenced by fantasy novels written by people who had absorbed that stuff. By the 90s onwards, it’s its own thing – generally far higher magic than even high-magic fantasy novels (but rarely grappling with what the effects on the world of common magic would be).

          • Simulated Knave says:

            @Plumber

            I still remember the disappointment I felt when I realized that the GM wanted to basically do Final Fantasy and I wanted something more like a Barbara Hambly novel.

            A bit of Internet reading prompted by this post suggests there are some very simple low-magic Conanish settings out there. Some of them are even free. Bide your time until there’s an appropriate cultural tie-in, then strike!

            @dndnrsn
            That’s why I really liked the concepts in Eberron (which I haven’t read anything about in years, mind) – somebody actually thought about what all this freakishly common magic would MEAN.

    • Brad says:

      Suppose someone made a top level post at SSC claiming that ground up peach pits were effective in slowing down the progress of multiple sclerosis. There were two jargon filled paragraphs which, at least at a surface level, seemed vaguely plausible. Then some references to papers whose abstracts didn’t make the claim the poster did, but the poster claims the data in them does support his point.

      What’s my reaction to this? Well, I don’t know much about MS, don’t have much interest in doing a deep dive into MS, have a decently strong prior against novelty medical treatments, and a strong conviction that the ratio of cranks to diamond in the rough contrarian amateur geniuses is very high. So I scroll down to the next comment.

      If you happen to be on the other side of this, I think it would be erroneous to take my non-engagement as evidence for your theory.

    • rahien.din says:

      In the mere sense of evidence, getting basically no replies is not very different from having never posted in the first place. I don’t think you can conclude anything.

      Even if you could, the strongest conclusion you could draw would be “The response to my argument is tacit epistemic learned helplessness.”

    • Garrett says:

      I’d answer with (d).

      A lot of people, looking at an unorthodox posting are going to wonder what the purpose of posting that is. Posting something substantially unorthodox and off-topic will likely get dismissed as trolling bordering on crazy. Being orthodox and off-topic will likely get treated as annoying. “How much thyme should I use for a 20 lbs turkey?” “Donald Trump is an orangutan!” Moral: if you want engagement, it helps to be on-topic.

      When on-topic, I suspect that presentation is going to matter more. A well-presented short summary of the argument is likely going to get a lot more interest than a long, rambling one. To get a response, someone has to read what you said, care about what you said, and then think that there’s value in responding. In serious spaces, comments such as “me, too” or “I disagree” are usually disliked or mocked. So for things that have low emotional or practical attachment (eg. for adults, favorite color) there usually isn’t much content to respond with. Likewise, arguing with crazy is usually not worthwhile.

      So, to have a good chance at being engaged with, it needs to be something which is on-topic, short, readable, not appearing to come from a crazy person, and have enough importance that someone will think they can add something to the conversation.

  14. dndnrsn says:

    No new Biblical scholarship effort post this time – I should be getting into prophecy in a few days – but I’ve finished what one could roughly consider a single “unit” of the Bible. I’ll link back to this post in future instead of having links to all in the recap (which would otherwise become extremely long and full of links). If anyone has a burning desire to know more about anything I’ve covered, please ask here rather than in the linked posts – I won’t see them there. This is for the Torah (first five books) and the Deuteronomistic History. If I made any mistakes, let me know, ideally with time to edit.

    Creation Narratives
    The Rest of Genesis (erratum: I write “Moses” instead of “Noah” at one point, somehow)
    Exodus – Liberation and Covenant
    Priestly Theology (erratum: I get something wrong in the food laws and am justly corrected)
    Deuteronomy
    Deuteronomistic History

  15. Nornagest says:

    There’s something weird going on with replies. If I haven’t logged in recently, SSC retains my credentials but doesn’t let me reply inline; instead, the page reloads and drops me on the reply box at the top of the page, with a string along the lines of “Replying to SOME_OTHER_COMMENTER” added to the formatting. Logging out and back in fixes this, but when I try to do so, the form isn’t auto-filled even if I asked it to be; checking the “Remember Me” box doesn’t do anything.

    Is anyone else getting this?

    • broblawsky says:

      Speaking of weird SSC things: whenever I try to report a post, I get a “Cheating, huh?” message. Is there a reason for this?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Report function only works intermittently for some people, don’t know about the other thing.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have no technical ability, and the fact that anything on this blog works at all is mostly due to Bakkot occasionally taking time to clean up the most egregious problems. If anyone else who is good at WordPress wants to help, email me and I’ll give you the relevant permissions.

  16. FLWAB says:

    Remember the guy who ended up at the Supreme Court because he didn’t want to bake a gay wedding cake? And how the Supreme Court punted the issue by clearing him of charges because the state of Colorado had shown bias against religious people during their whole process? And they left as an open question whether bakers can deny cakes for protected classes for religious conscious reasons?

    Well Colorado has filed a complaint against him again, this time for not baking a cake celebrating a transgender transition. He’s suing the state on the grounds that the state has it out for him in particular, and I can’t say that’s implausible.

    Interesting facts (or assertions) about the case:

    -In the lead up to the Supreme Court decision I remember seeing a lot of discussion about how denying them a wedding cake outright was bad, but the state couldn’t force him to make a custom cake against his will. There was confusion about whether there way any discussion about what the cake would look like before he rejected it. There does not appear to be confusion in this case: it seems the baker has learned his lesson about covering his bases. The customer wanted a custom cake specifically, one with blue frosting and a pink inside, to specifically celebrate his transition. The baker offered him any of the off the shelf cakes in the store but refused to make this specific cake.

    -It appears possible that the person who filed the complaint has been asking the bakery to make custom cakes for some time in a trollish fashion: cakes celebrating Satan’s birthday, a cake featuring Satan licking a dildo, a cake with a pentagram, a cake with an upside down cross use, etc. So it really looks like this guy was asking for a variety of cakes over time he knew the baker would reject, possibly to find one that he could use to file a complaint with the State of Colorado.

    -Instead of being on the defensive the baker is suing the state directly this time, and wants damages.

    What do we think about this?

    • theredsheep says:

      It’s open-and-shut trolling, and if the wedding cake case was at all ambiguous, this shouldn’t stand a chance. It’ll just waste a lot of money being fought.

      • Nick says:

        This. The case is way less ambiguous than the previous one—I have no idea what the Commission was thinking filing the new complaint against him.

        • Randy M says:

          Perhaps the finding of bias against them was correct?

          • FLWAB says:

            Governor Hickenlooper has stated “Certainly I can’t imagine we have a vendetta against anyone” in regards to the lawsuit. My own experience with government agencies makes me far less sure: when a bureaucracy like the Commission decide someone is a bad guy who needs to be punished they rarely change their mind, and I imagine more than a few people working there were quite upset about the Supreme Court ruling.

            On the other hand, perhaps the Commission is just trying to do their job: absent a Supreme Court ruling to guide how they handle religious liberty cases like this, they may feel that the law requires them to continue filing complaints against the baker until he stops refusing to bake cakes. Or they get a solid court ruling one way or the other.

          • theredsheep says:

            I have to admit that, in my experience, a bureaucrat’s first impulse is to see that the rules are always followed, without regard for whether those rules make a lick of sense in any given context. Some people are more rules-oriented, others more results-oriented, and while I’m the latter, I can see value in both. However, it would make sense for regulatory agencies to favor a rules-oriented mindset.

          • Nick says:

            Perhaps the finding of bias against them was correct?

            Hah. Okay, yes, given the comments made by some members of the commission the first time round, maybe that’s what’s going on here. Even so, my point is that this case is easier for Phillips to defend, so I don’t see the point. Rod Dreher is calling it “petty,” which sounds about right to me.

        • John Schilling says:

          They were thinking that it was now a moral imperative to make Jack Phillips respect their authoritah, and that they would be able to do this if they found the exact right legal cheat code that would circumvent the Supreme Court’s ruling in the previous case. I presume the CCRC was careful to avoid the particular phrasings that the Supremes cited in their last smackdown and to use instead phrasings focusing on the things the last ruling explicitly left maybe-legal-we’re-not-saying-now-go-away.

          My expectation is that a US District court will issue a lesser smackdown but in a similarly narrow precedent-avoiding way, and SCOTUS will deny cert, but that’s little more than guesswork.

    • Matt M says:

      I expect all the people who loudly insist that social media companies are private and have the right to refuse service to whoever they want and nobody has any right to complain about it to back the baker on this one.

      Or to write a 10,000 word essay on how this is totally different.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I request fewer comments like this one, especially the last sentence.

        Pre-declaring that anyone who tries to make a long argument about how things are complicated is bad doesn’t seem conducive to good discourse. I sympathize with the urge that made you write that, but I’ve seen this used against me by stupid people enough that I’m pretty sensitive to it.

        • theredsheep says:

          Seems like a simple tonal fix: “If we grant that private companies (e.g. social media giants) have the right to refuse service based on a customer’s beliefs as expressed on their platform, it seems clear to me that bakers, and other providers of nonessential services, should have much the same right.”

          (okay, I modified the argument a bit)

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          Why are you so tough on sarcasm Scott? Is it a personal preferrence or targeted zero-tolerance policy?

          I use a lot of snark as I feel it helps me express myself more concisely sometimes, although probably at the price of miscommunication, so I worry I’ll cross the line at some point.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Because cross-the-divide snark is very hard to distinguish from simply flaming. You can see one of my comments above for an example.

            And, well, the nice thing about this site is that flaming isn’t particularly tolerated.

          • ilikekittycat says:

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/02/the-comment-policy-is-victorian-sufi-buddha-lite/

            “Necessary in that it’s on topic, and not only contributes something to the discussion but contributes more to the discussion than it’s likely to take away through starting a fight.”

            Scott generally allows True/Necessary posts that aren’t Kind, but objects to this sort of post, being potentially “True” but satisfying neither Necessary or Kind

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            As a general thing, I find predicting in public how people who you don’t like will fuck up to be annoying.

          • lazydragonboy says:

            Personally, I find it hard to be kind and snarky at the same time. It’s possible, but my sarcasm strongly tends towards cynicism, and I feel cynicism prevents the receptivity that is crucial to sincere communication.

        • Matt M says:

          Pre-declaring that anyone who tries to make a long argument about how things are complicated is bad doesn’t seem conducive to good discourse.

          Fair. I’ll attempt to avoid such declarations in the future.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Agreed with Scott – while amusedly noting how every single Supreme Court decision is “a 10000 word essay on how this is totally different”.

          (Or maybe 1000 words, at least. And now I’m curious.)

          • Matt M says:

            And there’s a reason I don’t read Supreme Court decisions 😛

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            You really should consider it, Matt. They’re not really that long (30-45 minute reads on average), they can be entertaining and informative, and the media almost always reports on them incorrectly so later you get to snark at both the media and the people misinformed by it.

          • Matt M says:

            But they aren’t entertaining to me.

            They concern themselves with technicalities of the law, rather than values and philosophy.

            Don’t get me wrong, technicalities of the law are important. It’s a critical job and somebody has to do it and I’m glad that somebody is. But that somebody isn’t me. I just don’t care.

            I know the the “right” answer to this question (in the sense of how this is legally permissible) is “Homosexuals are a protected group and conservatives are not.” But that’s boring. And it’s something I oppose. So I want conversation over whether that is appropriate, and how we can go about changing it.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Matt I’d encourage you to view them as treatises on justice; often they contain insights into topics like, “what criteria should a government be able to use in order to establish offensiveness.” These may not be Pure Philosophy, but as Lou Keep might say, pure philosophy is bunk. Ethics and natural rights are one side of the coin; the other is Justice and the way that rights are encoded, enumerated, and protected. If nothing else, they can teach you (as they’ve taught me) about the rationale that underlies the laws of the country and how that rationale shifts over time.

      • dick says:

        This is ambiguous. Do you mean “I expect” in the sense of “I expect they’ll do this, and be wrong” or “I expect them to do this because that’s the right thing to do”? I’m one of those people who loudly insist that social media companies are private and have the right to refuse service to whoever they want, and I’m broadly sympathetic to the baker, but I don’t think the two situations really inform each other that much.

        • JulieK says:

          No, he means (sarcastically) that he doesn’t expect it, because people (of all political leanings) tend to care more about whose ox is being gored, than about being consistent in their principles.

      • gbdub says:

        I’m actually kind of interested in the long argument for why this is totally different.

        What’s the steelman version of a coherent argument that makes custom cake creation a “public accommodation” but online video hosting a “right to refuse service to anyone for any reason” sort of thing?

        I can’t think of one – every argument I can see as remotely convincing relies on some ideas / some customers with certain characteristics being more protected than others.

        Which is fine, but that’s where the argument needs to happen – it’s definitely a point of incoherence if it’s not addressed.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Benjamin Wittes from Lawfare made the succinct version of the argument, which is that political views aren’t a protected class and sexual orientation is. Facebook can ban people for their political views all day long, but they can’t ban people for being gay.

          • dick says:

            Also, the idea that Facebook bans people for political views is an assertion, not an accepted fact. From where I sit, the only class being oppressed by FB/Twitter/Cloudflare etc is “people who we are getting negative publicity for not having kicked out yet”.

          • Randy M says:

            which is that political views aren’t a protected class and sexual orientation is. Facebook can ban people for their political views all day long, but they can’t ban people for being gay.

            That may answer the question of legality, but has little bearing on morality. It is up to the citizens to debate whether the current list of protected groups is reasonable, should be expanded, or reduced.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            [P]olitical views aren’t a protected class and sexual orientation is.

            Should these two properties have different protections, ideally? What is or should be the underlying principle? I’m having trouble spotting one. “Born with it” doesn’t seem to be sufficient – it leads to other conflicts.

            (This might be obvious to me, later; kinda have a headache at the moment.)

          • Matt M says:

            Also, the idea that Facebook bans people for political views is an assertion, not an accepted fact

            If the cake shop implements and creates a “blasphemous conduct” policy wherein he refuses to make any cake that goes against his view of Christian values, does that mean he’s not refusing service for sexuality?

            Social media can hide behind it’s “hate speech” guidelines all it wants. Everyone paying attention knows that these policies are designed to silence right-wing viewpoints, and are virtually never applied to the left.

          • dick says:

            Everyone paying attention knows that these policies are designed to silence right-wing viewpoints, and are virtually never applied to the left.

            I don’t think this is true. Not the thing itself, nor the “everyone knows it” part.

            If the cake shop implements and creates a “blasphemous conduct” policy wherein he refuses to make any cake that goes against his view of Christian values, does that mean he’s not refusing service for sexuality?

            I don’t know, and I feel like not caring is a valid choice. In the great generational conflict between “the right of religious people to follow their religion as they like” and “the right of gay people to not be discriminated against”, I think the war has been fought to a standstill and 99% of the territory is clearly on one side or the other, and what these people are doing amounts to a squabble over a few square miles of disputed territory along the border. It’s important to the handful of people who live on that patch of land, but for the rest of us the outcome doesn’t matter so much as just that it gets decided one way or the other.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I agree with many people that the idea that one thing is a protected class and another is not is simply punting on the question. Then we must distinguish between protected vs. unprotected classes, and you don’t just get to arbitrarily define them based on your own moral system.

            Particularly because political beliefs are increasingly understood to be genetic. With at least as much evidence for some aspects of this as there are for sexual orientation.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s important to the handful of people who live on that patch of land

            Whichever side wins that patch of land doesn’t intend to stop there.

            The war over cakes itself is, like others have already pointed out, an expansion of the war over gay marriage…

          • dick says:

            The war over cakes itself is, like others have already pointed out, an expansion of the war over gay marriage…

            An expansion? From where I sit, it seems like the war over gay marriage is pretty well over, and what’s happening now is ironing out the last few unresolved bits. The war could restart someday, but I didn’t think anyone really expected the various cake-related court cases to do that. Looks to me like the anti-gay-marriage side saying, “Fine, we lost, but can I at least take this pen?” and the pro-gay-marriage side saying, “No, fuck you, we want the pen too.”

          • Matt M says:

            An expansion? From where I sit, it seems like the war over gay marriage is pretty well over, and what’s happening now is ironing out the last few unresolved bits

            My point is, you’re saying this war is over some small patch of land that doesn’t affect most of us.

            But the baker was told that very same thing about the war over gay marriage itself. Relax, this doesn’t concern you, won’t affect you at all.

            And my point is, much like in real war, armies who win a highly contested patch of land don’t typically stop right there and refrain from fighting further. They continue to fight, and keep fighting, until they are defeated.

            It might be that this patch of land is worth defending not because it is valuable itself, but because it’s the most strategically advantageous position from which to engage the enemy.

          • dick says:

            But the baker was told that very same thing about the war over gay marriage itself. Relax, this doesn’t concern you, won’t affect you at all.

            I didn’t argue that the baker was unaffected. In this metaphor, he is one of those people on the little patch of land who is affected. It’s everyone else who isn’t.

          • Matt M says:

            My point is that this is just the latest battle in a larger war. In the last battle, the baker was told he was unaffected. He was sitting comfortably in Paris. Why should he care that the Germans are marching through Belgium? That’s a different patch of land that has nothing to do with him.

            And now, those of us sitting in London are supposed to believe that the Germans marching into Paris doesn’t affect us, because it’s a patch of land far away that we shouldn’t bother concerning ourselves with, right?

          • quanta413 says:

            I’m with Matt M on this.

            Even when I don’t like what they say or what they believe, I need people to my exterior as a buffer. Otherwise all of my rights of speech and association aren’t gonna mean jack. I’m not super committed to any particular model of association per se, but I want a consistent model. Something very close to either every public business is pretty much a common accommodation and has to serve everyone, or no one has to serve anyone.

            Given how many issues there are to fight over, the odds that an ever shrinking box (whether shrinking on the left or right side) continues to leave me in the safe territory are pretty low.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sexual orientation may be innate, but it’s really hard to see how it would be genetic, at least in any simple way.

          • Brad says:

            In the last battle, the baker was told he was unaffected.

            “was told” by whom?

          • Matt M says:

            Nearly everyone. Including a lot of people ostensibly on his own side.

            I didn’t keep a list of names. Sorry.

          • Brad says:

            Nearly everyone? Wow, I must be a real outlier. Not only did I not tell any bigoted bakers that marriage equality would not have any his business, I can’t even remember having any conversation at all with any bakers ever—unless you count I’ll have that babka as a conversation.

          • theredsheep says:

            “Your neighbors’ gay marriage won’t affect you” was a pretty common argument IIRC. At least, my liberal FB friends threw it around a lot.

          • Brad says:

            Most people don’t own places of public accommodation.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Brad

            Do you honestly not remember the denizens of leftists snarking about conservatives banning gay marriage, because it wouldn’t affect them? Just because we can’t give names off the top of our head doesn’t mean it wasn’t ubiquitous and you definitely won’t convince us otherwise.

          • Randy M says:

            To be fair, the argument I remember is that “Why do you object? It won’t affect your marriage.”
            Though it was left unsaid that there would be volunteer thought police searching for other ways to have it affect you.

          • Matt M says:

            Most people don’t own places of public accommodation.

            At the time gay marriage was being argued for, nobody suggested that this would lead to all businesses being forced to serve gay weddings against their will.

            Well, except a few people on the right, who were dismissed as bigots, crackpots, and “slippery slope” fallacious idiots.

          • Deiseach says:

            Not only did I not tell any bigoted bakers that marriage equality would not have any his business, I can’t even remember having any conversation at all with any bakers ever

            Nice on the “bigoted bakers” part, Brad. Anyway, five seconds Googling brought me to the unimpeachable source Cracked and their “30-second guide to how the gay marriage ruling affects you” states in part:

            If You Are a Religious Official Who Performs Wedding Ceremonies but Who Thinks Gay Marriage Is Wrong:

            This decision does not affect you in any way.

            If You Are an Individual Who Believes Gay Marriage or Homosexuality in General Is Wrong for Religious Reasons, and Wish to Continue Expressing Those Beliefs:

            This decision does not affect you in any way.

            If You Are an Individual Who Believes Gay Marriage or Homosexuality in General Is Wrong for Non-Religious Reasons, and Wish to Continue Expressing Those Beliefs:

            This decision does not affect you in any way.

            If You Are a Heterosexual Who Fears This Decision Negatively Affects You in Some Way:

            This decision does not affect you in any way.

            Don’t worry, by now I’m used to:

            Someone: Hey, it’s raining outside my window right now

            Brad: You are a noted right-winger, I demand objective confirmation by signed affidavit from three qualified meteorologists that this is in fact so!

          • bean says:

            @Deiseach

            Less of the last section, please.

          • dick says:

            It seems to me that the reason the baker is (possibly) being forced to bake these cakes is due to laws that were already on the books before gay marriage was legalized. If it hadn’t happened, or if the Supreme Court struck down gay marriage tomorrow, gay people would still be having ceremonies that look an awful lot like weddings, and they would still want cakes for them, and I presume that this baker we’re discussing would still not want to bake them, and gays would still be a federally protected class who get to sue when someone denies them services.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Re: Masterpiece Cakeshop as an example of gay marriage opponents being affected by gay marriage:

            isn’t gay marriage a side issue here? It’s not the legality of gay marriage that has the baker in the current predicament, it’s the existence of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, and the fact that it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

            Even if the gay couple had only asked for a cake for a civil ceremony, the case could have proceeded more or less in the same way it has.

            We know this because the current situation involves a woman asking for a cake to celebrate the anniversary of her coming out as trans–surely the issue isn’t the legality or not of celebrating such anniversaries, it’s the existence of the public accommodation act and whether refusing to bake a cake falls under it.

          • albatross11 says:

            I very much remember both hearing and making[1] the “it won’t affect you” argument about gay marriage. And I think that this case, while probably inevitable given the way civil rights laws work, will absolutely come up the next time someone tries to make that argument w.r.t., say, trans rights or legal polygamy or the rights of BDSM folks or whatever.

            I think “no skin off my nose” is actually a pretty good argument for all kinds of freedom: What do you care if someone else is gay or getting whipped by his girlfriend or living in a polygamous relationship or smoking dope in his basement? No skin off your nose. Live and let live.

            Whatever other good or bad features of the civil rights laws involved here, this particular case, and similar cases, destroy that argument. They strengthen the arguments of people who want to limit other peoples’ freedom to be offensively weird on their own time, by making it clear that you will likely be required to go along with even the bits of their lifestyle that you are morally opposed to.

            You can simply dismiss anyone who feels this way as a bigot/racist/whatever, but it doesn’t actually change this fact. It is a hell of a lot easier to get people who aren’t comfortable with some weird way of life to accept it if they’re not also expecting to be coerced into somehow taking part.

            [1] I did and do support having legally-recognized gay marriages.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The point Dick and I are making is that Masterpiece is basically orthogonal to gay marriage:

            the initial request for the cake, and the initial lawsuit were both filed not only before Obergefell, but in fact before same-sex marriage was legalized in Colorado–the wedding they were celebrating had taken place in Massachusetts.
            In the counterfactual world where all states continued to outlaw gay marriage, Craig and Mullins could have gotten married in Canada, come back to Colorado and asked for a cake, and still sued under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
            That is: even in a world where no state had legalized gay marriage, the case could have proceeded as in fact it did. Gay marriage is incidental.

            To press the point further, had Craig and Mullins asked only for a cake to celebrate their civil ceremony, the same situation could have arisen.

            The situation in Masterpiece isn’t a result of legalizing gay marriage, it’s a result of anti-discrimination law; the coercion that is occurring happens completely independently of actually legalizing gay marriage.

            If your argument is that ordinary people won’t understand this, and so even if legally there is no reason why public accommodation laws become more coercive in the presence of gay marriage and etc., in the public mind the issues will become conflated, then I suppose that’s plausible.
            But the fact remains, the people upthread who think Masterpiece shows that “gay marriage won’t affect you” was a lie are wrong, even if they are wrong in a politically important way.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11

            Again, most people don’t own places of public accommodation. (And not even in every state.) Your comment makes it sound like if it’s not everyone it’s at least everyone knows someone.

            It was never going to effect absolutely no one. If nothing else there were the Kim Davis of the world.

            The people you told “it won’t effect you”, the odds are it hasn’t.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The people you told “it won’t effect you”, the odds are it hasn’t.

            I would expect this to not reassure most people, and in fact put many of them on alert. Most acts don’t affect most people, but most people would still like options for protection in those rare occasions where it does.

            Most pollution doesn’t affect me; should I consequently never be allowed to take issue with any coal-burning facility?

          • Brad says:

            @Paul Brinkley
            I’m not sure what point you are trying to make. Again, it was never going to effect absolutely no one. I don’t think “it won’t effect you” as an argument is tantamount to “it will effect absolutely no one”.

            I guess we could debate if the critical step in the spectrum of:

            Effects absolutely no one -> effects the Kim Davis of the country -> effects owners of public accommodation in some states -> invalidates your straight marriage.

            is from 2-3 rather than 3-4, but the accusation of deceptiveness I think can be rejected given that “it won’t effect you” was intended to reject the fourth step and in any even is statistically true.

          • Matt M says:

            If nothing else there were the Kim Davis of the world.

            Just to be clear, I have zero sympathy for Kim Davis, and agree with you, it was blatantly obvious that any ruling like this was going to affect her, and nobody has any business pretending otherwise.

            I don’t think that’s true for every small cake shop in the country.

            And while I haven’t studied the laws in detail, I’d also concede that Eugene Dawn is probably right in that the legal justification here is not gay marriage in and of itself, but existing anti-discrimination laws. That said, I think the gay marriage decision is hugely relevant from a cultural impact. Perhaps in the absence of a federal ruling on gay marriage, the cake shop appeals this to the SC which strikes down Colorado’s inclusion of homosexuals as a protected class?

            The overall societal debate vis-a-vis government and homosexuality was gay marriage, not “inclusion of homosexuals on the list of protected classes at the state level.” Everyone fighting the rhetorical battle on social media knew what was going on here.

          • Brad says:

            And while I haven’t studied the laws in detail, I’d also concede that Eugene Dawn is probably right in that the legal justification here is not gay marriage in and of itself, but existing anti-discrimination laws. That said, I think the gay marriage decision is hugely relevant from a cultural impact. Perhaps in the absence of a federal ruling on gay marriage, the cake shop appeals this to the SC which strikes down Colorado’s inclusion of homosexuals as a protected class?

            It’s possible an activist conservative majority would have reached out to overturn the CO law on some pretext or other, but the default presumption is that a CO law is a matter for the CO Supreme Court, not the US Supreme Court.

            The overall societal debate vis-a-vis government and homosexuality was gay marriage, not “inclusion of homosexuals on the list of protected classes at the state level.” Everyone fighting the rhetorical battle on social media knew what was going on here.

            I think I disagree with this. There were, and are, multiple efforts. Some states and municipalities broadened their public accommodation laws before Obergefell*, or the relevant Court of Appeals equivalents, and now we have Obergefell there’s still plenty of jurisdictions, including the biggest of them all, that don’t have gays as a protected class.

            My sense is that the bigoted baker is that conservatives weren’t getting traction with opposing gay marriage but were able to drum up a little bit of sympathy for the bigoted baker. True to form any perceived strong point, no matter how small, gets talked about ad nauseam for endless years. (See also Donglegate, Bengazii!!!!!!, Ruby Ridge, etc, etc, etc.)

            *They couldn’t pick a plaintiff with a name that’s possible to spell without looking it up. How about Loving v. Virginia, now there’s a well named case!

          • Wrong Species says:

            Gay marriage and anti-gay discrimination are not the same battle but they are clearly the same campaign. No one cared about anti gay discrimination from a legal basis until very recently. They are both part of a general trend towards friendliness to homosexuality and it’s ridiculous to act like these things exist in isolation from each other.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No one cared about anti gay discrimination from a legal basis until very recently.

            Unless we are talking about WW2 as recent, then very recently is false. Unless “no one” is extremely hyperbolic. Stonewall happened in 1969.

            Rather, these things move on continuums.

            As to the reasoning behind “it won’t affect you”, I think the reasoning is similar to the reasoning behind anti-miscegenation laws. Don’t want to get married to a Black person? Don’t. If you don’t want to serve all of “the public” in your place of business, then don’t open your business to “the public”.

            Augusta National didn’t admit Black people until 1990, and did not admit women until 2012.

          • Matt M says:

            If you don’t want to serve all of “the public” in your place of business, then don’t open your business to “the public”.

            This is a fallacious argument. The right to freely associate and the right to engage in economic exchange are not conditional upon each other. You cannot be forced to waive one in order to exercise the other.

          • Brad says:

            You cannot be forced to waive one in order to exercise the other.

            In what country?

          • Brad says:

            They are both part of a general trend towards friendliness to homosexuality and it’s ridiculous to act like these things exist in isolation from each other.

            What’s ridiculous is the notion that gay rights activists pulled one over on naive conservatives by claiming that gay marriage wouldn’t have any effect on anyone and sinisterly betrayed the Great Compact by turning around and sneaking through a public accommodations law in Colorado in the middle of the night.

            It’s a bullshit narrative from top to bottom. You don’t like public accommodation laws—fine argue against them. But there was no great deception here.

          • theredsheep says:

            Oh, conservatives certainly weren’t fooled. At least, at the church I attended, the argument repeatedly went, “the history of this country reveals that there’s no middle ground; if this is accepted as a right, we will be railroaded out of public acceptability as analogs to Jim Crow.” And I have read numerous accounts since of people at various firms being pressured into declaring themselves “allies,” etc. Cf. “Eich, Brendan.” There are definite and obvious losers in this fight.

            However, it was sold to the moderate and undecided public as this-won’t-affect you, yes. I don’t think it was consciously deceptive in the sense of mustache-twirling secret strategy meetings at Vox or anything like that; it was more that everyone pushing it took it for granted that their opponents would eventually become pariahs, and didn’t really care because **** those guys.

          • Brad says:

            However, it was sold to the moderate and undecided public as this-won’t-affect you, yes.

            And it hasn’t.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            You’re still misunderstanding the argument here, or at least not responding to it.

            Imagine a world where in 2004, Bush wins the Presidency on a strong defense of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and goes on to in fact shepherd through such an amendment. This would have been a decisive win for the anti-gay marriage side; about as big a win as possible to achieve.

            Now, Craig and Mullins can’t get married anywhere in the United States and that fact more or less can’t be changed legislatively. However, they can still get gay-married in Canada, do so, return to Colorado, ask Masterpiece for a cake, and are refused. All of this can still happen, even in the world where gay marriage decisively loses.

            And, as long as the public accommodation law is on the books, they can still sue, and the case goes forward more or less like it does in the real world.

            The reason Masterpiece is in the situation it’s in has literally nothing to do with gay marriage: as I say, even had the anti-gay marriage forces won as decisively as possible, the existence of the anti-discrimination law would be enough to trigger the situation we’re in.

            And conversely, if gay marriage were legal in all fifty states but there were no public accommodations law in Colorado, the baker could refuse marriage cakes till the cows come home with no legal repercussions.

            The issue is not the legality of gay marriage–its absence wouldn’t help the baker’s position and its presence doesn’t hurt it. The situation he is in is entirely a result of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. Which, as it happens, predates gay marriage in Colorado and Obergefell, and, so far as I know, was passed legislatively, and not handed down by the courts.

            So the people who said “gay marriage won’t affect you” were 100% right. If someone had argued “public accommodation laws won’t affect you”, that would have been misleading, but the point we are making is that was not the argument that people were having. If conservatives were worried about Masterpiece Cakeshop, they were wasting their time trying to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment and fighting gay marriage since winning those fights would have done absolutely nothing to help Masterpiece.
            They should have just fought on the grounds of public accommodation.

          • Guy in TN says:

            “This doesn’t effect you” is probably an incorrect argument, for any given position of any political subject.

            But in our culture that venerates the idea of libertarian man-as-an-island, its an an extremely powerful argument, despite its wrongness. So, don’t feel too bad if you fell for it.

            But also, don’t feel bad if you used that line: deception is a useful tactic in any battle. What matters in a democracy is that you can convince your opponents to join your side. The factual accuracy of the things you convince them of is quite beside the point.

            [I would also like to second that, on the merits, Eugene Dawn is correct that the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy has nothing to do with gay marriage, and everything to do with public accommodation law.]

          • Brad says:

            But also, don’t feel bad if you used that line: deception is a useful tactic in any battle. What matters in a democracy is that you can convince your opponents to join your side. The factual accuracy of the things you convince them of is quite beside the point.

            By and large, there was no deception. First, for the reason Eugene Dawn lays out and second because even as to public accomidation laws, almost no one is effected. So for very large values of “you” “this doesn’t effect you” was entirely accurate.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Eugene

            Do you honestly believe that in a hypothetical world where gay marriage had been recently banned by constitutional amendment, that would have no effect on whether judges viewed it as acceptable to discriminate against gay people? I’m sorry but that’s incredibly naive. You are right that they are technically separate issues but judges are people and that’s not how people work.

            I could imagine a world where black people weren’t allowed to be discriminated against in hiring but it was ok to have mandatory segregation in schooling and we could split hairs about the legal difference. But that world doesn’t exist because it’s not the legal issue that’s at stake. The Supreme Court didn’t rule the way they did Brown vs Board of Education or in Obergefell because they suddenly realized they were reading the constitution wrong. They made those rulings because society changes. The reason conservatives were opposed to gay marriage(outside of just not liking it) is because they knew that it would have second order effects and they knew anyone telling them otherwise was full of it. They may be separate legal issues but they have the same common source, which is more important than the legal justifications used.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            See also Donglegate, Bengazii!!!!!!, Ruby Ridge, etc, etc, etc.

            Donglegate wasn’t much. But how many people died at Ruby Ridge again due to constant screw ups and unhinged decisions by the government? If Ruby Ridge is nothing, than a lot of things the media spends its time on are nothing. School shootings, police shootings. All things that should never leave the local paper because they are extremely rare events where only a few people die.

            I’m actually sympathetic to this idea, but it’s obviously not how our culture operates.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A whole lot of black people were required to sit in the back of the bus. No one ever talks about but one. A whole lot of people were interrogated without being informed of their rights and convicted as a result, but a rapist from Phoenix is the only one you ever hear about.

          • noddingin says:

            @Brad
            So for very large values of “you” “this doesn’t effect you” was entirely accerate.

            Except for very small values of “effect”. Many mail carriers might have to deliver letters addressed to “Mr. and Mr. Jones”.

          • Deiseach says:

            So for very large values of “you” “this doesn’t effect you” was entirely accurate.

            And that applies to trans people who are a tiny minority (1.2% by a 2011 survey) and bathroom laws; even amongst trans people, it only functionally affects those who can’t successfully ‘pass’ for the gender they identify for (or if it’s a student in a school who up to a certain point has been identified as male/female then switches to female/male; everyone knows John before he was Jill).

            So then what are trans activists yelling about? Only maybe one in a hundred at the maximum (and probably even fewer) people ever gets affected by having to use the ‘wrong’ bathroom, they should just suck it up and not rock the cultural boat, right Brad?

          • Brad says:

            I think you’re slipping because that’s pretty weak sauce.

            The argument which your anti-gay side is making is that people “were told” (by someone apparently) that they wouldn’t be effected by gay marriage and now it turns out they were.

            This is nonesense for a whole bunch of independently adequate reasons, among which is that it turns out that most people aren’t effected even by public accommodation laws.

            That’s directly relevant to the question of whether people were lied to, unlike your red herring which is relevant to absolutely nothing going on in this conversation—just your own private hobby horse awkwardly shoed in yet another time.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Wrong Species
            The fact that they are separate legal issues is in fact important to judging whether or not promises that “gay marriage won’t affect you” were made in good faith or not–if in fact it’s not gay marriage but rather the rising tide of social affirmation of gay rights that underlies both, that rising tide of social affirmation is what’s affecting the Masterpiece baker, not gay marriage per se.

            I agree that the political and social context are important variables, but I am not sure that the causation runs obviously one way or another: in the world where gay marriage is decisively banned via constitutional amendment, do we end up in a world where the ban unleashes a backlash, mobilizing gay rights supporters to fight harder for a bunch of secondary battles; or does it show that liberals pushed too hard too fast, leeching support from the centre, while demobilizing and demoralizing gay rights groups? Both sound plausible to me, so while I don’t think that there would be “no effect”, I’m not confident that I could guess the sign of the effect, its magnitude, or that I could identify the effect amidst noise.

            If your point is just that the antidiscrimination laws and the legalization of gay marriage were both symptoms of an underlying cause, then of course I agree, but I’m not sure what the relevance of this observation is to the discussion above regarding whether or not it was a lie to suggest that “gay marriage won’t affect you”.

          • Deiseach says:

            The situation in Masterpiece isn’t a result of legalizing gay marriage, it’s a result of anti-discrimination law; the coercion that is occurring happens completely independently of actually legalizing gay marriage.

            But the situation was not “he refused to take the custom of this gay couple for baked goods in general” which I agree would be covered under anti-discrimination law; they specifically asked for a wedding cake which he refused, and the part about equal treatment does not apply because according to the state law of that time, the only marriages recognised were opposite-sex marriages. So unless the anti-discrimination law was going to bring the lawmakers of Colorado into court – which I don’t remember any governor or other state government official being sued – then singling out a baker for not giving them something the state said could not be given was unfair.

            Suppose I go to a stables and ask to hire out a unicorn to ride, it’d be ridiculous of me to sue over “they never gave me a unicorn they only offered me a horse”. And under Colorado law of the time, gay marriage was a unicorn. So okay, how about a parallel case: suppose prospective customers went to a baker and asked for a wedding cake to celebrate their polyamorous marriage of four people, should the guy bake them the cake or not? Is it discrimination to refuse? Have they grounds to go to the Colorado Commission, given that more-than-two-people marriage is not recognised? Suppose this was a man and his three wives whom he had married in a ceremony overseas recognised as legal marriage by that country – and polygamy is legal in some countries – is that grounds for anti-discrimination court case?

            I get the argument that it was about them being gay, and not about them being married, but it seems very hard lines to sue the guy for not recognising a marriage that the state itself did not recognise as existing (e.g. if one of the ‘spouses’ had tried claiming pension rights or the like, they would have been denied on the grounds that they were not married as far as Colorado was concerned, and whatever ceremony they had gone through had no legal effect).

          • Deiseach says:

            Ah, Brad, Brad, Brad. I suggest you eat more carrots and practice your spelling. Am I supposed to tremble at the hideous accusation of being “anti-gay”? Well, if anti-gay means that I oppose “tolerance is not enough, you must approve” then yeah, I’m anti-gay and anti-you have to cheer and wave flags and gush about how fabulous I am no matter who or what or how offensive to you this is, merely keeping quiet is bigotry.

            So now we know: who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? is answered always and ever “oh you of course”.

            When someone says “this won’t be a slippery slope” and you then observe “oh look, here is everyone sliding downhill”, well that is just your lying eyes! The Emperor is perfectly clothed in shimmering garb of cloth of gold! Anything else is a weak sauce red herring hobbyhorse!

          • Martin says:

            Guy in TN,

            libertarian man-as-an-island

            Curious to know what you mean by that. That according to libertarianism a person is or should be an island?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Deiseach
            Your unicorn analogy would hold only if Craig and Mullins had asked the bakery for a gay marriage, rather than a gay marriage cake. Even if unicorns aren’t real, I can ask for a cake to celebrate unicorns no problem.

            More generally, I agree, I find it interesting that the Civil Rights Commission considered failure to bake a wedding cake to be discrimination at a time when Colorado didn’t even have same-sex marriage; but the fact that they did is pretty clear evidence that legalization of same-sex marriage in itself wasn’t at issue–the public accommodations law and the views of the Civil Rights Commission preceded the actual legalization of gay marriage; in a world where gay marriage is banned by constitutional amendment, gay marriage would never become legal, but all the ingredients are there for a Masterpiece Cakeshop situation.

            So I don’t see how “gay marriage” affected the baker, since gay marriage wasn’t legal when his troubles began, and we can easily imagine a world in which it never became legal, and yet still had the same troubles.

        • drunkfish says:

          I think one argument along these lines that comes to mind (not saying I hold it, mostly just trying to steelman) is that there’s a meaningful distinction between providing a service and providing a platform. Facebook wasn’t just serving Alex Jones et al, it hosted their content on its website and so people went TO facebook to get the content. I think an analogous situation would be if the baker was being asked to keep the transition-celebration cake in his window, rather than just make it and not see it again.

          Whether you think this is compelling or not is up to you, but I don’t think the two situations are totally equivalent.

          • gbdub says:

            Thank you for being the only commenter (so far) to take a stab at the original assignment 😉

            It’s an interesting argument, but I’m not sure I buy it. For example, if we go with “provides a platform” as the distinction, wouldn’t that give, say, reception halls the right to refuse gay weddings? Or that a coffee shop could refuse a group of gay customers that met their informally to plan their Pride float. That doesn’t feel right. Then again we’re (for now) still okay with churches not hosting gay weddings so maybe that works.

            Part of what the distinction hard for me is that, yes, YouTube provides a platform, but it’s largely an “off the shelf” product. The marginal new content doesn’t really require the staff of YouTube to actively participate, and in any case their level of participation is not tied to the messaging of the content.

            Whereas I think the baker has a fair argument that, by being required to produce a symbol / message (typically symbols can be recognized as “speech”), he is being forced to actively participate in speech he doesn’t want to.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. And the platform is the only product Youtube provides. It’s not as if they also sell shirts and mugs and are saying “We’re fine to do business with this person, we just don’t want to provide a platform.” They are rejecting the person entirely.

          • FLWAB says:

            @Matt

            the platform is the only product Youtube provides

            Not technically correct, because the platform is not the product. Ads are the product: the platform is provided for free in the hope that people will fill the platform with content people want to see so they can sell ads to companies who want those people to see them. Because ads are the product, YouTube could care less about denying people a platform if they think the content those people are providing will hurt ad sales. Or if the content is off brand. Or they just don’t like them. The platform isn’t the product, its just one step in the assembly line that ends in selling ad space.

            Remember: if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.

          • Matt M says:

            I thought of that.

            I have to imagine that Youtube will not be accepting advertising from Infowars either, although I don’t know that for sure.

            It’s certainly true that the first thing they do, before they ban you, is to demonetize your videos, thus preventing them from being used in service of their actual product.

            Prager U has had a ton of videos demonetized simply for addressing controversial topics, but as far as I know, have not had any deleted or have not been banned.

          • drunkfish says:

            @gbdub

            I think reception halls are a sort of middle ground in this sense. They’re providing a venue instead of a good, so I do think they probably have more right to refuse service than a baker (though i think it’s still likely that they should both be held to the same standard). Still, something feels different about the fact that by hosting Alex Jones videos, youtube is effectively making him part of their brand, or at least putting their brand next to him whenever he shows up.

            Nobody questions book publishers when they refuse some huge fraction of books people want to publish with them. The difference for youtube is they almost never refuse to publish stuff, and the marginal cost of publishing is much smaller. Still, I think hosting someone’s content is meaningfully different than a one-and-done relationship of providing a good/service.

            @Matt M

            What’s your point? Yes they’re refusing the person entirely, but I’m saying there’s an argument that they have the right to because of the product they sell. I don’t think whether the person is refused entirely from your service or from only part of your service is really relevant?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the default is that you don’t have to do business with anyone you don’t want to. And historically, blacks in particular were being excluded from a lot of stuff–housing, jobs, restaurants, hotels, etc., so we passed laws that forbade refusing to do business with people for specific reasons (aka protected classes–race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, maybe gender identity).

            Now, you could argue that the need for that kind of law has passed–certainly there’s nothing like the inclination toward private discrimination that existed in, say, 1970. Or that it should eventually go away and leave everyone with full freedom of association again. Or that it was an unacceptable imposition on freedom of association even when it was imposed. But as best I can tell, without something like these laws, the massive discrimination against blacks would have persisted for a hell of a lot longer, and might still be among us. (Are there examples of places where this kind of massive desegregation happened without laws against explicit discrimination?)

            I think once we had the notion of a category of protected classes, then there was a natural tendency to want to expand it. And you can argue that either way–gays certainly have gotten their share of kicking around and shunning over the years, so it’s not nuts to include them as a protected category.

            But having those protected categories inevitably takes away the ability of people to decide whom they want to do business with. And the whole mechanism adds a lot of regulations and government power, for good or ill.

          • ana53294 says:

            But as best I can tell, without something like these laws, the massive discrimination against blacks would have persisted for a hell of a lot longer, and might still be among us. (Are there examples of places where this kind of massive desegregation happened without laws against explicit discrimination?)

            In the UK, which has had women’s suffrage for a century, and there are plenty of anti-discrimination laws, there are still some gentlemen-only clubs. We also have them in Spain, but in Spain women’s suffrage and equality have been around for just 40 years.

            It seems to me that, although these things may disappear eventually, without laws, the process would be much slower.

          • Matt M says:

            Are there examples of places where this kind of massive desegregation happened without laws against explicit discrimination?

            Jim Crow laws were laws remember. We never gave the deep south the opportunity to even try freedom of association. We went from “it is illegal to have integrated lunch counters” straight to “it is illegal to have segregated lunch counters.”

            Perhaps it would be instructive to look at what was happening in the northern states, prior to the civil rights act. Despite the existence of lingering racial tensions, my read is that most businesses happily served whites and blacks alike, despite no legal requirement that they do so.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Jim Crow laws were laws remember. We never gave the deep south the opportunity to even try freedom of association. We went from “it is illegal to have integrated lunch counters” straight to “it is illegal to have segregated lunch counters.”

            Right…but Jim Crow laws were not, like integration laws, imposed from outside by a higher level of government answering to a different constituency; they were imposed by governments accountable to the people who owned those lunch counters.

            For an argument of this form to be convincing, I’d want to see some reason why we should believe Jim Crow laws weren’t an honest expression of the preferences of white Southerners.

            In the last thread, we discussed George Wallace, to whom the following quote has been attributed: “I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n—–s, and they stomped the floor.”
            After losing the 1958 race for Governor of Alabama, he is supposed to have said “I was out-n—–d by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be out-n——d again.”
            His inaugural speech as governor promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever”.

            As I mentioned in the previous thread, Wallace himself and his opponent in 1958 were probably not animated by personal dislike of blacks; they both believed that a strong stand on segregation was necessary to win voters.
            If this belief of theirs was correct, it suggests that politicians responded to voters in maintaining segregation, rather than forcing segregation on an indifferent or unwilling (white) populace.

            Georgia elected a governor who famously had promised to shut down his restaurant rather than allow black customers, and who chased black customers out with an axe.

            More to the point, we can look at opinion polling: in 1957, after the success of the Montgomery bus boycott, Gallup found that 27% of Southerners approved of the ruling ending segregation on public transit, as opposed to 70% of non-Southerners. Note that I’m not sure if the 27% of Southerners includes black Southerners, in which case the approval rating among white Southerners would almost certainly be lower.

          • Matt M says:

            For an argument of this form to be convincing, I’d want to see some reason why we should believe Jim Crow laws weren’t an honest expression of the preferences of white Southerners.

            But from a commercial perspective, it’s irrelevant. “Majority rules” is how the state works, but it’s not how the market works.

            It may be that the Toyota Camry or the Ford F150 is an “expression of the preferences of American car owners,” but that doesn’t mean that in a free market for cars, the Tesla 3 or the Nissan Rogue or the Kia Soul can’t exist.

            Similarly, we know that many private businesses wanted to integrate in the south, because it would have made them more money. The infamous “Plessy v Ferguson” was, if I recall correctly, the case of a private railroad suing the state because it wanted to integrate, but the state disallowed it. Which implies that it is not true that anti-discrimination laws are the only reason blacks and whites can sit in the same railcars in Mississippi today.

            Now, if your point is that in the absence of coercion, some segregation would still exist, I think that’s absolutely right. But such is the freedom of association. My point is that there remains a vast, unexplored middle ground between “no business is allowed to integrate” and “no business is allowed to segregate” and the fact that a slight majority preferred segregation to integration at the government level when forced to decide proves very little.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Elsewhere in this thread and in the previous thread people have been discussing the role of social pressure and boycotting as a means to frighten public businesses into discriminating against certain customers;
            Ford F150 owners have, so far as I know, never rioted to avoid having to share parking garages with Priuses, but white Southerners did indeed riot to avoid having to share schools, universities, and lunch counters with blacks–whether widespread and sustained boycotting and social pressure would have been enough to maintain segregation informally I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be ruled out.

            You are partially right about Plessy: the railroad company did oppose the law, but they did not actually sue the state themselves. That was Plessy himself and a black civil rights organization. The railroad company just sent a detective to make sure that Plessy was arrested for violating the specific law they opposed, rather than for vagrancy or some other law, circumventing the challenge.
            More generally, the business community in many Southern cities did tend to favour integration: Atlanta was famously the “city too busy to hate”, and the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce president Sidney Smyer thought that racial unrest damaged the reputation of Birmingham globally.
            However, this moderation was generally provoked by black boycotts of business–if the boycotting were being done more forcefully by pro-segregation whites, they would have sided with the segregationists.
            If, as I believe, segregation would have been maintained informally by boycott and public pressure in the absence of state laws, it’s not clear that the same forces that historically pushed the business community to be racial moderates would have been in operation.

            Finally, even if I’m wrong, and pro-segregation pressure wouldn’t have been enough to maintain an informal segregation, the fact that Southern voters regularly preferred Southern politicians who defended and upheld segregation still implies that the South not being
            given the opportunity” to try freedom of association is wrong: it was Southern voters who denied themselves that opportunity, so phrasing it in this way is misleading.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Apparently the power of coercion is so pale as to prevent it having any meaningfully chilling effect in a recently “desegregated” South …

            … and yet “you” make the argument that Twitter mobs and boycotts are a threat to the very idea of liberal democracy.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I can’t think of one – every argument I can see as remotely convincing relies on some ideas / some customers with certain characteristics being more protected than others.

          This is the correct answer. There are good ideas, and there are bad ideas. While a liberal government (in the classical sense) can pretend to be agnostic on the question, in the end there are fundamental decisions (e.g., what the law of the land will be) that rely on enforcing the good idea, and illegalizing the bad one.

          In this case, the government decided that letting people ban Nazis from your business is a good idea, but letting people ban blacks (or other protected social classes) is a bad one. There’s no “a-ha, don’t you see the hypocrisy” moment, because the there isn’t a moral contradiction.

          I let dogs eat dogfood, but I don’t let them eat chocolate. One is good and one is bad. This is how I decide.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            What is your recourse when someone else decides that chocolate is good for your dog?

          • Guy in TN says:

            They don’t get what they want, unless there’s more people on their side than my side.

            If there’s really more people on the chocolate side, maybe I ought to reevaluate my position on whether chocolate is really bad. Or maybe the masses are simply wrong. But the alternatives to democracy all seem worse.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          There’s definitely a rationale, but I (subjectively) perceive it as being a product of very poor priorities; namely the priorities of “who is the victim” [protected class] determines the severity of the act versus the priority of ‘what are the long term consequences of permitting a particular behavior’ [precedent and genuine power disparity]

          In the cake case you have one member of a relatively competitive industry refusing service. Worst case scenario is loss of a very particular form of junk food. More realistically one could and very likely would find an alternative.

          In the deplatforming case you have fairly solid monopolies cutting people off from fairly important services (which in some cases their livelihoods depend upon) at multiple layers with very weak alternatives.

          I say multiple layers because supposed free speech platforms were compelled involuntarily to also deplatform certain individuals [in part or in whole] because they were threatened by payment processors/credit card companies/domain holders.

          TLDR; there are good legal arguments but the moral foundations of those arguments are flimsy, at least to me.

          • gbdub says:

            Yes, this is kind of where I’m at. The rationale of a “protected class” is compelling when the barriers faced by that class are so onerous as to make violations of the rights of others to accommodate that class acceptable. So in Jim Crow south, where EVERY place is refusing service to black people, that’s justified.

            But that doesn’t seem to map well to wedding cakes in the current environment. As you note, it’s a lot easier to find an alternative baker than an equivalent alternative to YouTube (and not just YouTube, since in the case of Alex Jones multiple social media platforms all at the same time).

            Now, if diverse political views are something you care about, there is no reason the “protected class” rationale couldn’t ever apply to a political or religious group (the bar might be higher than for innate characteristics, but still).

            Part of my problem with “protected class” frameworks is that they have a ratchet effect (can you imagine removing a class from “protection”?), while I think their justification is actually temporary. And, oddly, the time when a democracy has enough sympathy to apply the “protected class” label to somebody is precisely when that temporary justification starts to fade! (e.g., 30 years ago it would have been much harder for a gay couple to get a wedding cake. But they also probably would not have been given recourse by the law. Now they can sue to force a particular baker to give them the cake, but they really don’t need that to fill their cake needs)

        • dick says:

          What’s the steelman version of a coherent argument that makes custom cake creation a “public accommodation” but online video hosting a “right to refuse service to anyone for any reason” sort of thing?

          I didn’t reply earlier because I misread this a bit, but it seems like you’re asking for the steelman version of an argument no one is making. If youtube had a “no gay wedding videos” policy, it’d be overturned on the same rationale as the “no gay wedding cakes” policy. AFAIK no one is arguing that there’s anything special about youtube or social media that would allow them to avoid the public accommodation law bit of the civil right act.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, youtube or its equivalent almost certainly couldn’t refuse to host all Black people, all women, all gay people, all Jewish people, etc.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      It appears possible that the person who filed the complaint has been asking the bakery to make custom cakes for some time in a trollish fashion

      That sounds like harassment. I mean, if somebody calls your convenience store 5 times a week to ask if you’ve got Price Albert in a can, blocking their number isn’t in violation of public accommodations laws, right?

    • dick says:

      It seems like there are two issues here – a large and societally-important one about what kinds of services can/can’t be denied based on protected class membership, and a narrow one where two parties are trying to troll each other without technically breaking the law and the courts have to decide who’s doing a better job of it – and it would be wise not to conflate them too much.

      It’s like a situation where two neighbors get upset with each other over some dispute, and one decides to blare gospel music at the other’s house for twelve hours a day. If they sue each other, the courts will decide who’s side to take based on the decibel level and a fine reading of the relevant statutes on noise, but almost everyone will interpret the ruling as if it were a decision about who was right in the the original dispute.

    • Deiseach says:

      I honestly don’t know about the alleged series of Satanic cake requests; the person whose name is given as the lawyer who complained “he refused to bake my transition cake” seems to be a real person who is a real lawyer (and who was at some point the Assistant County Attorney), so I find it very hard to believe if they were going to bring a test case against him (which this whole set-up sounds like) that they’d muddy the water with such stupid stunts beforehand.

      As it is, I say “set-up” because even if you close your eyes and believe real hard that the original gay complainants had no idea about his views, this time round there is no excuse and making a big deal out of “I specifically want this type of cake because I’m trans and this is to celebrate that I am trans and so it needs to be a trans cake” is asking to be offended; they could always have just asked for “can you make me a cake that’s pink on the inside and blue on the outside?” without any mention of gender. So yeah, a set-up expecting him to refuse so that they could go running to the Commission to complain. Sounds like they (the lawyer at least) see themselves as some kind of activist for great justice and is trying to drive the guy out of business and close him down, because error has no rights and permitting this bakery to continue baking straight cis cakes is intolerable bigotry in Current Year.

      Mostly I’m going “and this is why I was so cynical about ‘gay marriage will not affect you straights in the slightest! it will mean nothing more except that gay people can get married just like straight people!’ because this is a deliberate ‘bow to the prevailing orthodoxy or be crushed’ case”.

      • ana53294 says:

        this is why I was so cynical about ‘gay marriage will not affect you straights in the slightest!

        I think this is mostly an American thing. I have never heard a case about gay cake in Spain (or gays forcing Christians to do anything else), and gay marriage has been legal for thirteen years now.

        I also haven’t heard about them in the Netherlands or Belgium, and they have had gay marriage for longer. They either don’t go around suing cake makers and forcing them to make cakes, cakemakers do not refuse to bake cakes, or nobody makes a big deal of legal cases. I think it may be the three of them together; Americans are very litigious (although unfortunately this habit is coming to Europe too); Americans are also more religious, and identity politics is a bigger deal in the US than it is in most European countries.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          It’s a British thing as well, which I suspect has a lot to do with us sharing a language with the Yanks.

      • dick says:

        I say “set-up” because … there is no excuse and making a big deal out of “I specifically want this type of cake because I’m trans and this is to celebrate that I am trans and so it needs to be a trans cake” is asking to be offended

        Wholeheartedly agree, and you didn’t even mention the part about how he inexplicably wants his trans-iversary cake to be made by the one bakery that is world-famous for being opposed to people like him. But, to be fair, I also don’t really believe that this baker sat down with his bible one night and came honestly to the conclusion that gay marriage is unique among sins as being the one you can’t bake cakes for.

        • Lambert says:

          > But, to be fair, I also don’t really believe that this baker sat down with his bible one night and came honestly to the conclusion that gay marriage is unique among sins as being the one you can’t bake cakes for.

          I’m not sure they’d agree to bake me a custom ‘coveting my neighbors’ livestock’ cake.

        • Deiseach says:

          gay marriage is unique among sins as being the one you can’t bake cakes for.

          How many people ask a bakery to provide them with “Celebrating the 10th person I murdered” or “Got off scot-free from tax dodging charges” cakes? Asking for a “celebrating my divorce” cake might be a good test, I think it was a fad for a while to have divorce celebrations and divorce cakes seem to have been a clickbait topic. Depending on his denomination, he may or may not support divorce.

          • Matt M says:

            I hereby demand you bake me a cake for my upcoming “Eating meat on Friday” festival!

          • Deiseach says:

            That’s only optional penance these days, Matt M, so you can get away with it (unless it’s a fast day or a Friday during Lent) 🙂

          • FLWAB says:

            According to sources, the same baker also refuses to bake “Halloween-themed cakes, cakes including alcohol as an ingredient, (and) cakes celebrating divorce”

        • RDNinja says:

          He’s also said that he won’t make sexual-themed bachelor/ette party cakes, or even Halloween-themed cakes. So no, gay marriage is certainly not unique in that respect.

      • Deiseach says:

        Eugene Dawn – but the whole point was that they asked for, and were refused, a wedding cake. Not any cake in general; not a birthday cake, “congratulations on your new job” cake, ‘let’s buy a treat for teatime’ cake but a wedding cake specifically. The kind of cake which was not off-the-shelf but did involve the baker using his artistic/creative skills to make it unique and memorable for a special occasion. And the baker seems to have been willing to sell ordinary cakes, birthday cakes, welcome to the new house etc. cakes to gay customers, so it is only one specific cake he refused.

        Without gay marriage in any state, would the couple have come asking for a wedding cake and been refused? And if not, then the Commission would never have gotten involved, because there would never have been a complaint about “he sells wedding cakes to straight couples but refused us, that is discrimination”.

        If it had been “we’re gay and would like to buy a birthday cake”/”no, get out of my shop you degenerate perverts”, then sure, the Colorado Commission have grounds to stick their beaks in on behalf of the discriminated-against couple. But this was not a refusal to sell generally but a specific cake. And as others have pointed out, the baker refuses to sell Hallowe’en cakes or other particular types of cake. Were I to go to the Commission claiming I had been discriminated against because he refused to bake me a rum baba, would I have a leg to stand on (after all, my denomination permits the use of alcohol, he’s discriminating against me on religious grounds) and would everyone be going “no no it’s not about Prohibition per se, it’s about cake baking in general”?

        And as has been mentioned elsewhere, the Commission were perfectly willing to defend the rights of conscience of bakers where the boot was on the other foot – a guy asking bakers to bake anti-gay marriage cakes being refused was perfectly fine when the bakers objected on grounds that this was offensive to their beliefs or principles.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          Yes, of course, but the point is that gay marriage doesn’t need to be legal to order a gay wedding cake: they could have gotten married in a different country, or found a UU minister to perform a non-legally recognized “marriage”, or held a civil ceremony and regarded it as a marriage.

          I’m not defending the Civil Rights Commission’s ruling, I’m pointing out that whether or not the two men were actually legally married, and if so, under which jurisdiction, is irrelevant. If you want to argue that the Civil Rights Commission has an insane definition of discrimination, that’s fine, but then you should drop the claim that “gay marriage affected the Masterpiece baker” in favour of the claim “antidiscrimination law interpreted by a kooky Civil Rights Commission affected the Masterpiece baker”.

          Just as a comparison, note that the current lawsuit against the baker is from a trans person who requested a cake for the anniversary of her coming out as trans. “Coming out as trans” is not a legal ceremony in any way, so in this case it’s clear that what’s at issue isn’t the legal status of “coming out as trans”-ceremonies–what’s at issue is whether denying this particular kind of cake is discrimination or not, which is completely orthogonal to the legality of the ceremony in question.
          If the baker loses the case, it would be absurd to say, “anyone who said that ‘legalizing coming out as trans wouldn’t affect me’ was lying”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Eugene, I do think it’s disingenuous to argue that gay marriage had nothing to do with the case. Yes, the anti-discrimination law was in place beforehand, but this particular case was over a wedding, and the alleged pain and hurt and emotional distress was over being refused a wedding cake, not service in general.

            The trans case is a clearer matter, both about the anti-discrimination – because it’s only because of the protected class status that this is being brought – and because it’s plainly a ‘gotcha!’ case – there was nothing requiring the customer to say ‘this is a trans cake for a trans celebration’ rather than ‘I want a cake that is pink with blue icing’. And since there is no equivalent (as yet) of “selling a ‘celebrating being cis’ cake” to make the parallel that “the baker is refusing me service that they give to a different customer”, it has to be on the grounds of protected sexual/gender orientation. Unlike the whole damn fuss over the wedding cake where the big point was made of “he sells these particular cakes to straight couples but denies us”. From the Supreme Court syllabus:

            In 2012 he told a same-sex couple that he would not create a cake for their wedding celebration because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriages—marriages that Colorado did not then recognize—but that he would sell them other baked goods, e.g., birthday cakes.

            So the fact that this was specifically a wedding cake is made clear here, and that it was not a blanket denial of service due to sexual orientation. And again, it is pointed out that this is all in the context of gay marriage, not denial of service to gay customers as a general rule:

            (a) The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.

            …His dilemma was understandable in 2012, which
            was before Colorado recognized the validity of gay marriages performed in the State and before this Court issued United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. 744, or Obergefell. Given the State’s position at
            the time, there is some force to Phillips’ argument that he was not unreasonable in deeming his decision lawful. State law at the time also afforded storekeepers some latitude to decline to create specific messages they considered offensive.

            So as far as the Supreme Court was concerned, it was not simply “oh phooey, gay marriage had nothing to do with it, this was all decided on the basis of the anti-discrimination legislation in place”.

            So in a sense, yes, anyone who said “someone coming out as trans is not going to affect you” was lying as the person complaining is doing so on the basis that they wanted a ‘celebrate coming out as trans’ cake and made a big deal about it. It’s very clear that this is indeed a case about “accept the new orthodoxy or else be crushed”.

            To be frank, I’m seeing a lot of parsing this decision to bend over backwards and split hairs about “no no no it wasn’t gay marriage as such that caused this decision by the Commission, it was purely on the grounds of anti-discrimination law”, which if used by the conservative side in another decision (say about bathroom laws, where it was argued it wasn’t about being trans as such, it was about legal identity) would be jeered as hypocrisy, pretence and flat-out lying to cover up that it was indeed about being trans. Brad, for example, thinks my objection on the point of law is a red herring to cover up my membership of the anti-gay side. My own point of view is “sell the damn cakes” but I’m not going to tell someone with strong convictions that they have to follow what I’d do, anymore than I’d demand a Jewish deli sell bacon sandwiches or a Muslim shop keeper stock alcohol, even though I think pork products and booze are perfectly legit.

            This is to do with gay marriage, as part of the whole package of gay rights activism. Sure, the couple involved could have had any kind of civil, private, or brew their own ceremony and called it marriage, and then the argument would have been “well of course it wasn’t a legal marriage, so the baker was simply discriminating through anti-gay prejudice” – but they claimed it was a marriage, every report in the media talked about a wedding cake, and this was part of the “gay marriages have to be treated equally to straight marriages” push in changing laws, the same as with the florist who provided flowers to a gay customer but refused to do wedding flowers for him but would do other flowers and was sued for the same reason – refusing to provide services for a wedding. You can wrap it up in “it’s anti-discrimination not forcing gay marriage”, but the fact remains that the particular services denied were for marriages and the people involved were willing to provide services for other events, so it’s not specifically anti-discrimination that is the principle.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Would you prefer the phrasing “the legality of gay marriage had nothing to do with the case?”

            You are right the issue is that they asked for a wedding cake, but gay couples can ask for wedding cakes whether or not their jurisdiction recognizes gay marriages. It’s true that this came about because the baker was being asked to contribute to a gay wedding, but it was not a legally-recognized gay wedding–so it’s not clear why legalization of gay marriage is what’s at issue here.

            I’ll say it again: Masterpiece happened even though gay marriage was not legal in Colorado. It could have happened even in a world where gay marriage was decisively defeated.
            And Masterpiece could not have happened in a world with legal gay marriage everywhere, but no anti-discrimination law.

            The presence of gay marriage isn’t necessary for Masterpiece (since it was not present in the actual case), nor is it sufficient: had Colorado passed a gay rights law, but no anti-discrimination law, there would have been no basis to sue.

            I think something being neither necessary nor sufficient to an outcome is a pretty good definition of “had nothing to do with it”.

            I think the compromise position here is that there are two senses of the phrase “gay marriage won’t affect you”:

            1) legalizing gay marriage won’t affect you
            2) people changing their attitude towards gay marriage won’t affect you

            I am defending claim 1) as true, and my sense is that people who said “gay marriage won’t affect you” meant it in the sense of 1); you are arguing that 2) is not true, and therefore that people who said “gay marriage won’t affect you” either were lying about 2), or deliberately being ambiguous between the two possible meanings in order to say something with a plausibly truthful interpretation.

            I doubt there’s much we can do to bridge the distance between our two positions, but I’ll point out that statement 1) is in fact true and
            in the context of whether or not to legalize gay marriage it is a perfectly good argument. So I think it’s perfectly plausible that people were in fact meaning 1).

            Moreover, even to make statement 2) false requires extra steps: the social changes underlying greater support for gay marriage won’t affect you directly without assuming that they also lead to passing anti-discrimination laws. If the way in which you imagine being “affected” by gay marriage is something close to Masterpiece Cakeshop, characterizing this as being “affected by changing attitudes towards gay marriage” sounds, if not exactly false, needlessly circuitous: if we lived in a libertarian society where there were no anti-discrimination laws (and active hostility to such laws), “changing attitudes to gay marriage” and “no anti-discrimination laws” would easily coexist.

            So, while you might think 2) was the natural reading of “gay marriage won’t affect you”, I think it is actually a slightly more forced reading. And even if we accept the meaning is ambivalent, we at worst have a case of people talking past each other, not a case of deliberate falsehood or disingenuity.

            EDIT: One last thought: if we want to know how people at the time interpreted “gay marriage won’t affect you”, we should go see what sorts of effects gay marriage opponents anticipated; I might take a look later to see if I can find any contemporaneous discussions.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Deiseach:

            My own point of view is “sell the damn cakes” but I’m not going to tell someone with strong convictions that they have to follow what I’d do, anymore than I’d demand a Jewish deli sell bacon sandwiches or a Muslim shop keeper stock alcohol, even though I think pork products and booze are perfectly legit.

            If you think this is the appropriate analogue, your head is on backwards, because the content of the stocked items has absolutely nothing to do with this case.

            Rather, this is as if someone went into a Jewish deli to place a catering order and happened to tell the store that they would be using the sandwiches to break their Ramadan fast and were then refused service. Or if someone placed a catering order at catering company owned by a Muslim that was to be part of Bat or Bar Mitzvah and was refused service. There isn’t anything in the case about compelled type of product, but only what that product would be used for.

            I have no idea whether this lawyer is trolling the bakery, and if they are raising what amounts to nuisance claims I think that kinda sucks, but I’m pretty sure that the baker wouldn’t have refused a “baby reveal” cake that had two different colors of frosting. I really don’t see why this is any different than someone revealing that the cake would be use to celebrate the birth of the child of the Lovings, and anti-miscegenation laws were defended on the same religious grounds.

          • onyomi says:

            @HBC

            I think your comparison to a deli or general catering order fails to take into account the specific social function of cakes in US culture, which is frequently as a symbol of celebration, a degree of implicit participation in which is often a part of the job, because the baker often has to decorate according to a theme, such as by icing a congratulatory message. This implies a higher level of personal endorsement than e.g. making sandwiches.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            I didn’t bring in the delis, but if you want them to be Jewish and Muslim bakeries, I think it’s much the same.

            Perhaps there is an argument to be made about compelled speech, but that is not, to my knowledge, the argument that has been made. The shop will not make a cake, period, if they know that it is celebrating a gay wedding. In the original case no details of the cake were ever discussed.

            In addition, wedding cakes generally are fairly abstract. The only “statement” that would be at all typical would be a topper. Again, if they refused to put a black women and a white man together as toppers, would we be in just the same situation.

            You can say we shouldn’t have public accommodation rules, but that’s a separate argument altogether.

            On a slightly different tack, people here keep assuring me that Conservatives/Republicans now have no issue with gay marriage anymore, I’m just fear mongering when I bring it up, etc., but I seem to see in plenty of arguments here that gay marriage shouldn’t have been allowed because it would cause the loss of the rights of those who oppose it on religious grounds… which doesn’t exactly strike me as not having a problem with gay marriage.

          • Nick says:

            On a slightly different tack, people here keep assuring me that Conservatives/Republicans now have no issue with gay marriage anymore, I’m just fear mongering when I bring it up, etc.

            Who said that?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Eugene Re: “gay marriage won’t affect you”

            There’s another option besides “lying” or “misleading” which is “woefully naive,” which is what I was when I used to say that when arguing for gay marriage a decade ago. I honestly thought it was all going to be “live and let live” but it did not turn out that way. I very much regret ever having advocated for gay marriage.

            @HBC Re: “Conservatives/Republicans now have no issue with gay marriage anymore”

            If you’re thinking of me, all I said about that was that I don’t think there’s any serious political will to overturn gay marriage, because it’s 1) currently popular and 2) the justices who approved gay marriage are still on the Supreme Court and it’s very unlikely they’re going to rule “lol we were totes wrong.” Also stare decisis.

            I would say there’s no immediate threat to gay marriage because there’s no realistic method of attacking it. I can only see that changing with a new generation on the Supreme Court, and perhaps a generation of young people who have no memory of anti-gay hostility and whose only view of gay politics is histrionics and the merciless crushing of dissent. This is possible, because I don’t see any signs of the rainbow flag waving fervor dying down.

          • Brad says:

            2) the justices who approved gay marriage are still on the Supreme Court

            Did you forget about the Kennedy resignation?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Conrad

            But what do you think you were wrong about? Do you think the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is an example of gay marriage affecting people that you failed to consider?

            If you could go back in time and had to choose between
            a) weakening protections for gay people under antidiscrimination law
            or
            b) advocating against gay marriage
            which do you think would make more difference to the existence of Masterpiece-style outcomes?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Brad

            No, but I don’t think the justices who dissented are that gung-ho to reopen that can of worms. They might still disagree, but I don’t see them caring enough to grant cert. And over what case? How would you even craft a case to get in front of the Supreme Court to overturn Obergefell? Maybe you’d have to have a state pass a law banning gay marriage and challenge it all the way up? Assuming the lower courts even bother to hear it? Nobody’s going to do that. There are so many other active fronts on the culture war that trying to re-fight a lost battle, right now, is unlikely.

            You’re a better court watcher than I am, what do you think? Is a challenge to Obergefell in the next decade likely? How do you see it playing out?

            @Eugene

            I have no idea. I’ll lay out my case for gay marriage, which is pretty much orthogonal to how the culture war was and is being fought:

            Lots of internet libertarians would use the whole “gay marriage? Government shouldn’t be involved in straight marriage tee hee!” schtick to hoist social conservatives on their own government-enforced morality petard. This is silly because the state doesn’t issue marriage licenses as an “Isn’t it wonderful you’re in love” certificate. Government has to be involved in marriage because government gets dragged in to your divorce. 90% of what courts do is settle property and contract disputes, and what’s divorce except the mother of all property/contract disputes? And when you have a contract dispute, the first thing one party does is argue the contract was never valid.

            So Alice drags Bob to divorce court and then Carol shows up and says “hey, I’m still married to Bob, and Bob was drunk and Alice was 12 when they got ‘married’ so none of this counts!” The court short circuits all of this by making Bob and Alice go to the county clerk’s office to get a license for their marriage, where the clerk can check the register and see Bob isn’t still married to Carol, and the couple is sober and of age and all that jazz.

            This is why when Mrs. Honcho and I got our marriage license, we got a 30 page booklet that had 1 page on how to get married and 29 pages on how to get divorced.

            Are there gays who are going to live together and commingle their assets and then need the family courts to settle their disputes when they get gay divorced? Yes. Therefore, the government has an interest in not having to waste time hearing Steve argue that he and Adam were never really married because reasons. So, the government should issue them gay marriage certificates so it can adjudicate their gay divorce.

            None of that has changed, so I’d probably still vote for gay marriage.

            But nobody fighting in the culture war decides for or against that logic, and the media would never report it that way anyway. It all gets decided on the object level as to whether gay marriage and gays are good or bad and that’s that. And once the government has decided gay is good and love is love, who can disagree? And now I’ve got the gays on the TV shows telling my kids that anyone like their dad who doesn’t think gay is the greatest thing in the world is evil, and they’re harassing the Christian bakers out of business, and the gay priests are molesting the boys in the Church and the Bishop came to Mass yesterday and read a statement about how they’ve got “programs” and “independent oversight boards” to help “victims of abuse” and such but they never mention the giant rainbow-colored elephant in the room that you could solve 95% of the abuse by just not allowing gays to be priests so nothing’s going to change there and it’s all gay rights and no gay responsibilities and there’s damn kids on my lawn and maybe they’re gay or the grass is gay so I’m not allowed to complain about it anymore or some such foolishness.[/rant]

          • Brad says:

            I think you’re right that it won’t come up before the Supreme Court again anytime soon. That sentence was just jarring to me. Someone is wrong on the internet and all that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            90% of what courts do is settle property and contract disputes

            This is an incorrect way to look at it. 90% of what the state does is tell others not in the marriage what specific rights marriage grants to people who are spouses. These specific rights can’t be granted by any other change in status, sometimes at all, but definitely not in bulk with one simple inexpensive legal action recognized universally.

            The fact that this is simple and essentially unchallenged is WHY “We are married you must recognize this” never ends up in court unless and until the two people in question wish no longer both wish to be married.

            There is a simpler (and much more effective) solution to gay abuse by priests which is to simply allow priests to marry (gay or otherwise) and not force them to celibacy. Then, of course, the issue of “sexual abuse by people in positions of power” simply becomes the standard one that every organization that has people in positions of power has to deal with.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:
            Are you actually predicting that a case won’t be brought? Or are you predicting that it will be denied cert?

            I predict that a case will be brought somewhere, a favorable jurisdiction from a federal and appeals perspective, after Kavanaugh (assuming he is confirmed and makes such a ruling) makes a favorable (to conservative Christians) ruling on an abortion case.

            I don’t know if there is an appeals circuit that would be willing to find something novel in a case (and therefore somehow limit or overturn Obergerfell). I think it’s more likely that Roberts would deny cert to a case that failed at the appeal level simply since the precedent was set by his own court, but it’s not like he hasn’t been willing to overturn precedent.

          • Thegnskald says:

            HBC –

            So… it won’t solve the problem at all, since every other organization still has the same problem?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nick:

            Who said that?

            It’s sort of the bog standard conservative/anti-SJW answer here when gay rights are brought up. There is no animus, no one cares anymore, no one is even thinking of trying to limit the rights of gays, it’s over and done with, why would you even bring it up, your arguments are invalid because you are trying to attack a straw man, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Thegnskald:

            It would not eliminate the problem, but it would do quite a bit more to mitigate the specific problem the Catholic church has than “banning gays” which is a suggestion so blind to reality that it fails even simple logical tests. If banning sex doesn’t work to stop people who want to have sex from joining the clergy, how will banning “gays”?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            @Conrad
            So, in summary, you actually don’t regret supporting gay marriage, you just dislike a whole bunch of other things that are tangentially related?

            I think this supports my point: the things you object to don’t have anything to do with legalizing gay marriage, and because of this, on reflection, you do still support gay marriage.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If banning sex doesn’t work to stop people who want to have sex from joining the clergy, how will banning “gays”?

            Because if you don’t have people who are interested in having sex with males in close contact with males then nobody’s going to have sex with males? The vast majority of the abuse is of young men, not girls. It’s not even necessarily pedo stuff as 80% of the cases in the PA report were post-pubescent. It’s all Milo’s and George Takei’s “gay community older men *cough* guiding *hack wheez* young boys but underage stuff is wrong but it was okay when it happened to me because I was ready and the guy was hot tee-hee” cognitive dissonance.

            This is what I’m talking about with the rainbow colored elephant. You’ve got gays molesting boys and the Church’s answer is “programs” to respond to allegations after the abuse has already taken place and your answer is to let priests marry. This does not address the actual problem of the putting of people who want to have sex with young men near young men.

            Nobody would have any problem with this solution if there were an epidemic of heterosexual male leaders of girl scout troupes raping the girl scouts and somebody said “gee, maybe we shouldn’t let heterosexual men be in close proximity to young girls.” But this seems to be another problem that can no longer be solved since we discovered the Zeroth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Make A Homosexual Feel Uncomfortable For Any Reason.

            ETA:

            @Eugene I guess it is regret, but because of the tangential stuff? It’s like I had a schelling fence set at the marriage, the culture plowed through the fence and wrecked tons of stuff downhill from it and now I’m saying “gee, should have set my fence higher.” Or however that works. I can’t remember if the fence is where you want to stop, or the backstop after that, or higher than the place you want to stop.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            But the important question is: to what extent is the tangential stuff related to gay marriage? Would fighting the legalization of gay marriage have helped you on the tangential stuff? If you could go back in time, would you devote your energies to opposing gay marriage, or to opposing the tangential stuff, or to something you regard as the root cause of both?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But the important question is: to what extent is the tangential stuff related to gay marriage?

            Very related because once you’ve got a government/cultural meme that “gay is the same as straight” firmly ensconced then you get all the absurd conclusions that come from treating two different things as identical.

            Would fighting the legalization of gay marriage have helped you on the tangential stuff?

            Probably not because if my objection to gay marriage was “it starts with gay marriage and it ends up with forcing Christians to bake gay wedding cakes and you won’t even be able to ban gays from being Catholics priests so they’ll stop molesting boys and people will get so mad at a porn star who refuses to do a scene with a gay man she kills herself!” people would dismiss me as a nut.

            If you could go back in time, would you devote your energies to opposing gay marriage, or to opposing the tangential stuff, or to something you regard as the root cause of both?

            No, I would do what I’m doing now. Keep my head down, play more video games, and wait for all this insanity to explode to its logical conclusions.

          • Nick says:

            Conrad,

            You’ll be amused to know that, back in 2002, Mary Eberstadt wrote an article adapting the same idiom: The Elephant in the Sacristy. Some money quotes, but please just read the entire thing:

            Call it the elephant in the sacristy. One fact is that the offender was himself molested as a child or adolescent. Another is that some seminaries seem to have had more future molesters among their students than others. A third fact is that this crisis involving minors–this ongoing institutionalized horror–is almost entirely about man-boy sex.

            There are, for example, the seminaries so homosexualized that they came to be known as “Notre Flame,” “Theological Closet,” and the “Pink Palace.” In some, says Rose, seminarians make public outings to gay bars together. In others pornography is ubiquitous. In still others, sexual access to young men is so taken for granted as a perquisite that sexual-harassment lawsuits by former seminarians long ago ceased to be remarkable. Rose also reports–as has a recent, post-scandal story in Newsweek–that the role of the heterosexual seminarian in such a world is not an enviable one. He details cases of non-sexual harassment–by disciplinary action, coercive “counseling,” or social ostracism–by which “lavender” seminaries punish or exclude heterosexual men who are perceived as theological or social threats.

            Even so, the reluctance of the orthodox to face as much proves exactly how wrong the charge of a traditionalist “purge” really is. Orthodox American Catholics, far from brandishing their torches, are in fact (exceptions already noted) coming late to what others have established. What the “purge” argument really does is to deflect attention from something much more interesting–namely, the fact that points like Shaughnessy’s and Rose’s have been made repeatedly over the years by other writers, including some who cannot possibly be described as ideological tools of the would-be “purgers.”

            Cozzens emphasized two other consequences of this gaying of the priesthood: the reordering of what had been masculine social life along feminized lines drawn by gossip, favoritism, and cliques; and the consequent deterrence of some unknown number of actual and potential heterosexual seminarians. “Not infrequently,” Cozzens explained, “the sexual contacts and romantic unions among gay seminarians create intense and complicated webs of intrigue and jealousy leading to considerable inner conflict. Here the sexually ambiguous seminarian drawn into the gay subculture is particularly at risk. The straight seminarian, meanwhile, feels out of place and may interpret his inner destabilization as a sign that he does not have a vocation to the priesthood.”

            “I felt sympathy for most of the gay priests I interviewed; I also found myself troubled by things some of them said. Of eighteen priests . . . I interviewed on a [National Catholic Reporter] assignment about clergy, only two claimed to have honored celibacy. . . . It would be irresponsible not to note that a strain of gay culture is taken up with youth love. . . . Many gay bookstores feature books celebrating man-youth (if not man-boy) sex. . . . There are also some homosexuals who are drawn to an age zone of young manhood that hovers close to the age of legal consent.”

            he author of these and many other unminced words on the subject is no icon of Catholic traditionalists, but rather their bete noire Andrew Greeley–jet-setting Jesuit sociologist, racy novel writer, and no one’s idea of a Church reactionary. Here is Greeley again, in 1990, urging the archdiocese of Chicago to “clean out the pedophiles, break up the gay cliques, tighten up the seminary, and restore the good name of the priesthood.” Greeley, for one, has not hesitated to identify the elephant.

            If this is the stuff of a Catholic traditionalist “purge,” it has acquired an unusual officer corps.

            Pulling together the threads of case after case of prominent offenders proves the point. A very few abusers, of whom Boston’s defrocked John J. Geoghan appears to be one, apparently found their sexual appetites limited to prepubescent children. 4 But as Boston Globe reporters Michael Paulson and Thomas Farragher observed in March, “those cases [like Geoghan’s], in which priests became sexually involved with multiple boys and girls who have not yet reached puberty, are actually relatively uncommon.” Much more common, as anyone reading the details of cases will know, is a polymorphous pattern of abuse in which the easy therapeutic distinctions dominant in the media and the secular therapeutic worlds cease to apply. Some abusers–again, a minority–prey on boy children only, others prey on boy children and teenage boys, others still prefer teenagers and men, and some are what might be called sexually omnivorous, attracted to other gay men, teenagers, and young boys too.

            Paul Shanley’s is one case among many that belies the cut-and-dried distinctions now governing debate. Here was no textbook pedophile or ephebophile, but rather a sexually active gay man with a taste for children and adolescents too. (Shanley has written that he himself “had been sexually abused as a teenager, and later as a seminarian by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor and ironically by the predecessor of one of the two Cardinals who now debates my fate.”)

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Okay, let me phrase my question another way: would the defeat of legal gay marriage have helped your tangential causes? Say the Federal Marriage Amendment had passed, do you think this would have made a difference to the rise of the tangential things you don’t like?

          • Matt M says:

            If you could go back in time and had to choose between
            a) weakening protections for gay people under antidiscrimination law
            or
            b) advocating against gay marriage
            which do you think would make more difference to the existence of Masterpiece-style outcomes?

            I’m not Conrad but I’ll offer my opinion on this.

            I think the difficulty lies in that there are basically three avenues of approach, that I think would be appropriate to fight on a short-term, medium-term, and long-term basis.

            Short-term, the argument is over whether or not gays should be included on the list of protected groups.

            Medium-term is gay marriage, which is the proxy for the overall culture war of “gay rights” vs “religious freedom.” Ultimately, this struggle will decide any and all other short-term struggles (including the above).

            Long-term, the argument is over whether or not protected groups should even be a thing at all. But this requires overturning precedent established back in the 60s and is a much harder battle to win and isn’t going to change much any time soon.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I think the Culture War has proven there is no middle ground. Supporting gay marriage but not the forcing of people to assist in its celebration is not a stable position. It’s either smear the queer or bake the cake. Keep the n*s down or kill whitey. Patriarchy or misandry. Hatred for Jews because they’re Jews, or hatred for Jews because Israel.

          • Randy M says:

            @The Nybbler
            Sounds like you are drifting into political nihilism.

          • Matt M says:

            Supporting gay marriage but not the forcing of people to assist in its celebration is not a stable position.

            Yep. Worth noting that the libertarian presidential candidate came out as “bake the cake.”

            If you can’t rely on the libertarians to show a little bit of nuance on this issue, the hopes for the population in general don’t look good at all…

          • Nick says:

            What Randy said. Culture war isn’t the only possible state of affairs.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            A few points from what I said that I think you are missing:
            – When you put men in situations where sex with women is unavailable for years (prisons, long voyage mariners, English boys boarding schools) , what usually happens?
            – When same-sex attraction is forbidden in your church, but the clergy is explicitly “no sex with women (or anyone)” … what do you think happens to the relative mix of people drawn to the profession?
            – If all sex is transgressional, even onanistic release, who will be most drawn to the profession?

            The Catholic Church has created a a situation where there are no valid sexual impulses for the clergy. Thus we should expect that the ranks of the clergy would come to be dominated both those who believe that there sexual impulses are not valid anywhere in society, and indeed the rules and strictures of the Church encourages them to become these kinds of people.

            This does not address the actual problem of the putting of people who want to have sex with young men near young men.

            You are going to find it impossible to separate out these particular people, in much the same way that it is very hard to figure out who commits sexual assault in any profession. In professions that have high female representation who work with young men (teachers), we see women assaulting young men in the same manner. Anywhere we see people in positions of authority, we see some incidence of assault on those over whom they have authority, but throw in a requirement of celibacy and assault becomes endemic, as in prison. If teachers were required to be celibate, we would see incidences of assault by teachers sky rocket.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Nick

            That was a good (for some values of “good”) read, thanks. I was also heartened by Bishop Robert Morlino’s letter. A highlight:

            It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church’s teaching is clear that the homosexual inclination is not in itself sinful, but it is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest. And the decision to act upon this disordered inclination is a sin so grave that it cries out to heaven for vengeance, especially when it involves preying upon the young or the vulnerable. Such wickedness should be hated with a perfect hatred. Christian charity itself demands that we should hate wickedness just as we love goodness. But while hating the sin, we must never hate the sinner, who is called to conversion, penance, and renewed communion with Christ and His Church, through His inexhaustible mercy.

            Amazing! He even uses the s-word! My Bishop’s mealy-mouthed letter was essentially a paraphrase of the USCCB’s tepid response. I very much wanted to stand up in my pew and scream the truth at him, but I did not. The only response from the pews was a bizarre smattering of applause.

            @HBC

            – When you put men in situations where sex with women is unavailable for years (prisons, long voyage mariners, English boys boarding schools) , what usually happens?

            The bi and gay ones do gay stuff. The straight ones don’t. They don’t suddenly become gay. You’ll notice the vast majority of seamen are not gay, the vast majority of priests are not gay, the vast majority of prisoners are not gay, and the vast majority of englishmen are not gay (citation needed for that last one). If the environment were making them gay, then they’d all (or mostly all) be gay. You’re putting the cart before the horse. What these environments do, however, is concentrate the young gay men together and allow gay subcultures to develop. This is what has happened in some seminaries in the Catholic Church. It is not a problem with the entire Church.

            When same-sex attraction is forbidden in your church, but the clergy is explicitly “no sex with women (or anyone)” … what do you think happens to the relative mix of people drawn to the profession?
            – If all sex is transgressional, even onanistic release, who will be most drawn to the profession?

            Those who have priorities higher than sexual impulse. Also apparently some gays. Given that it’s almost exclusively the latter who are doing the abusing, it makes sense to exclude the latter rather than change the rules for the former. You’ll also notice the “let priests marry!” “solutions” come almost entirely from anti-Catholics (or lapsed Catholics). The gay priests aren’t saying “oh, if only I could marry a woman I’d stop having sex with boys!” The straight priests aren’t saying “Oh, if only I could marry a woman I’d not be tempted to have sex with boys!” The people with skin in the game are fine with celibacy.

            I’m not in any way trying to downplay the horrific nature of the abuse, or minimize it. But it is a conspiracy among a small subset of the priesthood. The vast, vast majority of priests are heterosexual and maintain their vows of celibacy. If celibacy caused gay molestation then they’d all be gay molesters. But I was a lector from the time I was 8. Nobody ever molested me (and I was a cute kid!). Nobody in my family was molested. Nobody I know was molested. No priest I’ve ever had has ever been accused of molestation. No parish I’ve ever attended has had a priest accused of molestation.

            If you have a dry party, and a couple of drunks sneak in a flask and get sloppy, whose fault are their drunken antics? Is it your fault, for making the “no alcohol” rule that everyone else was fine abiding?

            To look at a conspiracy of gay molesters in the Church, and, rather than blame the gay molesters, blame the non-abusers is ludicrous. But these are the knots we must twist ourselves into in accordance with the Zeroth Commandment.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To look at a conspiracy of gay molesters in the Church, and, rather than blame the gay molesters, blame the non-abusers is ludicrous.

            Who is blaming the non-abusers? The abusers, and those who aid an abet abuse, are to blame.

            What these environments do, however, is concentrate the young gay men together and allow gay subcultures to develop.

            Yes this is part of my point. If you put lots of men together in restricted settings, we expect to see such subcultures naturally exist.

            If what we were talking about was merely a gay sub-culture, there wouldn’t even be an external scandal. Hell, for all I know there is already some internal scandal within the hierarchy that involves how many priests are having sex with other priests, or outside adult males, I don’t know, and most would not care (although the parishioners probably would). It’s not a gay sub-culture, it’s wide-spread culture of abuse of minors by authority, and covering up of that abuse by the Church.

            But saying “we are going to ban the gays from the Clergy” won’t magically make the Clergy suddenly heterosexual. First, let’s assume that the Clergy is drawn from a pool of people who are most interested in staying Catholic. Of those people who want to have sex are going to be less inclined to join the Clergy. Because the Catholic Church condones having sex inside of heterosexual marriages, the clergy becomes even less attractive to heterosexuals, and thus relatively more attractive to those who are asexual and homosexual. Because the Catholic Church considers homosexuality sinful, this encourages those who are homosexual to not identify as such.

            You both won’t be able to reliably identify those who are actually gay, nor will you be able to fill the ranks of the clergy if you go on a “gay purge” from the ranks of the clergy.

            he vast majority of …. are not gay

            You seem to be denying that things like prison rape are not well known and endemic. And that perpetrators and victims of this engaged in this behavior outside of the restricted setting. I’m not sure if you are open to being convinced that the evidence is that these things do occur, and radically different behavior is seen inside and outside of the restricted setting.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If what we were talking about was merely a gay sub-culture, there wouldn’t even be an external scandal. Hell, for all I know there is already some internal scandal within the hierarchy that involves how many priests are having sex with other priests, or outside adult males, I don’t know, and most would not care (although the parishioners probably would). It’s not a gay sub-culture, it’s wide-spread culture of abuse of minors by authority, and covering up of that abuse by the Church.

            This is just an error of fact, then. Read the article Nick linked. The predatory relationships in question are almost exclusively homosexual. 80% of them are with post-pubescent males. The priests abusing the young men are also having gay relationships with each other, going to gay bars, and passing around gay pornography. The abusers and the gay subculture are one and the same, because of the male predilection to like young sex partners.

            ETA: There is no corresponding scandal of the heterosexual priests abusing girls or sleeping with women. It is a gay problem.

            Also, with regard to prison rape, this is also very rare.

            A meta-analysis published in 2004 found a prevalence rate of 1.91% with a 95% confidence interval between 1.37–2.46%

            A bunch of men together gives gay rapists an opportunity. It does not turn straight men into gay rapists.

            Similarly from Nick’s article, the gayest of the gay seminaries were still only about ~7% gay as best the author could determine. If the celibacy were causing the gayness, I would expect the numbers among prisoners and priests to be way, way higher.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Re: the supposed link between celibacy and abuse, I’m going to be lazy and C&P a comment I made on another site:

            Presumably the idea that celibacy leads to abuse owes something to the pseudo-Freudian notion floating around nowadays that everybody needs to get lots of sex to be psychologically healthy, and that, if you try and “repress” your sex drive by staying abstinent, you’ll end up turning into a pervert who rapes teenage boys. Of course, when you put it this way, it’s apparent how nonsensical the idea is: whilst situational homosexuality is a genuine phenomenon, it’s one that occurs in environments where men get no interaction with women (prisons, ships on long voyages, etc.). There is, as far as I’m aware, no evidence that a man who interacts with women but isn’t allowed to have sex with them will end up becoming attracted to men or children as a result.

            It’s also worth noting that, from the evidence I’ve seen, Evangelical pastors have rates of sexual abuse allegations no lower than those of Catholic priests, and they’re allowed to get married and have sex. Ditto Orthodox priests. So blaming celibacy for the current crisis is likely inaccurate.

            Another thing I’ve noticed is that nobody seems to take the “lack of sex causes paedophilia” notion seriously in other situations. E.g., nobody worries that non-ordained men who can’t get laid (incels and the like) will end up molesting children. Such concerns seem to be only ever applied to Catholic priests.

            One final point is that, if you read the reports, it becomes clear that the priests and hierarchy weren’t really practising celibacy. I don’t mean that they tried and failed; I mean that, in most cases, neither priests nor bishops seem to have thought that trying was particularly important. Very few bishops thought it necessary to discipline their priests for breaking their vows of celibacy; more often, such things were ignored, unless the priests was actually breaking the law, in which case he might be reassigned to a different parish (but not suspended, laicised, or handed over to the civil authorities for prosecution). So essentially, you’re blaming celibacy for a situation brought about by people who didn’t think that living celibately is important.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Boarding school/a ship/prison isn’t some kind of reverse conversion therapy, but there’s some number of people who are technically bisexual, really prefer the opposite sex, are probably in the closet and are “functionally straight”, but if it’s a single-sex environment…

            Concerning priests and women, there are certainly cases where priests have sex with women and every now and then some priest is caught boinking a parishioner or whatever. It’s just that it’s a pretty piddly scandal compared to priests diddling little boys so nobody really cares. I’m pretty sure that in some places and times in Europe, it was normal for priests to have mistresses. They just paid a fine on the regular. (I am going by vague memories of medieval studies a decade ago, though)

          • Randy M says:

            very few bishops thought it necessary to discipline their priests for breaking their vows of celibacy

            Doesn’t someone somewhere in the church hierarchy have some cognitive dissonance over this? At the very least, one isn’t supposed to be breaking vows–nevermind one presumes they assent to the celibacy stuff as well. This kind of thing makes it seem like Catholicism is a con foisted on believers by non-believing clergy. Are these priests functionally atheist, or have they bought into the “God wouldn’t let me feel desires that aren’t right to act upon, doctrine notwithstanding” line of self-justification? Or do they serve the organization, rather than the purpose for which the organization was founded?

          • Nick says:

            Boarding school/a ship/prison isn’t some kind of reverse conversion therapy, but there’s some number of people who are technically bisexual, really prefer the opposite sex, are probably in the closet and are “functionally straight”, but if it’s a single-sex environment…

            As Mr. X suggests, it’s unclear at best that ships and prisons are the best comparison for seminaries. What’s more, I’m not even sure British boarding schools are a good comparison. I regularly had seminarians in class, since I was a classics major, and the seminary also had classes available to us, although I didn’t take any. Several of them were doing sports outside school; they had their own transportation to and from, and to whatever extracurriculars they did. There was, in other words, no shortage of women around, much less for years at a time. Finally, I’m pretty sure—though I didn’t exactly ask—that there were no formal servile relationships between under- and upperclassmen, so while I’m sure upperclassmen could try to pick up younger seminarians, it would have to proceed on either more egalitarian terms or on get-them-drunk terms, like in college settings. So I don’t think this resembles opportunistic homosexuality much at all.

            The other issue I have with this point is, if these are cases of opportunistic homosexuality, why does it so regularly continue long after seminary?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Doesn’t someone somewhere in the church hierarchy have some cognitive dissonance over this? At the very least, one isn’t supposed to be breaking vows–nevermind one presumes they assent to the celibacy stuff as well. This kind of thing makes it seem like Catholicism is a con foisted on believers by non-believing clergy. Are these priests functionally atheist, or have they bought into the “God wouldn’t let me feel desires that aren’t right to act upon, doctrine notwithstanding” line of self-justification? Or do they serve the organization, rather than the purpose for which the organization was founded?

            It’s one or more of all those factors, depending on the person in question. Regarding priests themselves, some justify their sexual activity by saying “Well, ‘celibacy’ really just means getting married, so as long as I don’t get married I can have sex with whomever I want and still not break my vows.” Regarding bishops, some of them are sexually active themselves (Uncle Ted, for example), and others are uninspired bureaucratic types, whose overriding concern is to avoid as much fuss as possible. The situation is also abetted by the behaviour of members of the Church’s gay subculture, who tend to help promote people who are either gay themselves or at least too supine to stand up to them, and who, if this series of articles is at all accurate, can be extremely vicious to anybody who does try to hold them to account. Finally, we shouldn’t rule out naivety or misguided compassion: the consensus during much of the period in question was that paedophilic tendencies could be cured by therapy, so a well-meaning bishop might well assume that, if Father Pederast went to therapy regularly, he could get over his desires and continue being a priest with no danger to anyone else.

          • johan_larson says:

            The Catholic Church in North America is also very very short of men who want to be priests these days. They can’t afford to be selective, except in extreme cases. That state of affairs pushes even decent bishops to give misbehaving underlings another chance.

          • Randy M says:

            Which leads to men not wanting to be associated with the priesthood as these misdeeds inevitably come out.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Interestingly, St. Peter Damian considers this very argument in the Liber Gomorrhianus (in Chap. 5, “Whether it is legitimate for such people [i.e., sodomites] to act as priests if the Church has need of it”). His response is (1) We accept interregna when choosing news popes because of the importance of appointing a good candidate, so we should also accept delays in finding a good priest for a parish, (2) People who don’t care about sinning in sexual matters aren’t likely to care about corruption more generally, and (3) An open sinner is likely to set a bad example for his flock and lead them to sin as well.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Which leads to men not wanting to be associated with the priesthood as these misdeeds inevitably come out.

            It also leads to lax and lukewarm priests who don’t pass on the faith to their parishioners (because they don’t believe it themselves), which in turn leads to lax and lukewarm parishioners who don’t want to undertake the sort of sacrifice involved in becoming a priest, which in turn leads to the priest shortage becoming even worse, which leads to bishops turning a blind eye to their existing priests’ indiscretions, which leads to…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            They can’t afford to be selective, except in extreme cases. That state of affairs pushes even decent bishops to give misbehaving underlings another chance.

            This is not entirely true. Remember that homosexuals are still a very small segment of the population. Slightly higher among Catholic priests, but if you removed every homosexual from the seminaries you’d only be cutting the ranks by 5-7%. Also, by tolerating such behavior, we’re losing seminarians like the author of this letter who left because of the laxity aided and abetted by the leadership. Losing wheat to keep chaff does not sound like a good trade.

            Watering down the religion does not keep people in the pews. Catholics don’t want Protestantism. If they wanted Protestantism they’d be Protestants. What they want is MOAR CATHOLICISM, not less.

            Scott noticed SSC readership is down. I guarantee you the answer to that is more along the lines of “MOAR SCOTT” and not “Scott starts writing at a 3rd grade level about celebrity gossip.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Watering down the religion does not keep people in the pews. Catholics don’t want Protestantism.

            Heck, judging by Church attendance statistics, it seems that even Protestants don’t want (liberal, mainline, sex-positive) Protestantism.

          • dndnrsn says:

            From what I remember of sociology of religion, demanding more from your congregants usually means more people, not fewer. Most dramatically, the more demanding communes are on their members, the longer they tend to last.

            Trying to make church more like going to the mall/watching TV/whatever fails, because if people want those things, they can get a better version than what the church provides by watching TV or going to the mall. Whereas, you can’t get organ music and chanting on TV; at least not where I am.

            I think there’s also an aspect of sunk-cost fallacy in it. If you had to give up booze and sex for something, it must be good, or else a smart person like you wouldn’t have given those things up!

          • Plumber says:

            “….I very much regret ever having advocated for gay marriage….”

            @Conrad Honcho,

            I’m very wobbly on the issue of legal gay marriage. 

            First I thought that the advocates for legal gay marriage were wasting time and effort on an issue that would effect so few people, but when I saw just how many were rushing to get marriage licenses when gay marriage licenses were first granted I changed my mind, and thought that the advocates had a point after all.

            When Prop 8 was proposed I was irritated, but when the courts repealed Prop 8 democracy was just shoved to the side which seems a horrible precedent. 

            I don’t know what to think about this.

        • Brad says:

          @HBC
          I don’t think scotus will grant cert. Though it is worth remembering that it only takes four—Roberts can’t block it alone.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            So who do you think would vote to grant cert?

          • Brad says:

            Thomas and Gorsuch. Not sure about the new guy. I think Alito and Roberts would vote no.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:
            Can you give some sense of why you think Alito would not vote to grant cert? My impression is that he is a fairly political jurist.

          • Brad says:

            For exactly that reason. I don’t think (and don’t think that he thinks) granting cert would be politically advantageous. For better or worse I don’t think Thomas cares about that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Brad:
            In other words, he would grant cert so long as he thought the ruling would go the way he wants?

            That seems like a much slimmer reed than you may have intended.

            Remember, my original proposition was conditional on Rowe rulings that were favorable to Christian conservatives.

          • Brad says:

            I guess I missed that context. Conditional on Alito thinking Roberts would vote to overturn (should have been named better), I think he’d vote to grant cert.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Cases like this often involve a “set-up.” It’s a form of activism designed to force the larger issue to resolution. “Fair warning” of the baker’s beliefs doesn’t really come into consideration. They are making the issue as clear as possible to ensure the court addresses it. You are most likely correct that they are trying to take down the baker, believing his views should not be tolerated.

        And someone mentioned this being an American thing – I think it largely is, and I think that largely relates to our common law-based system. These sorts of things are a legitimate avenue to social change in America; in countries with codes, you’d have to get the support of politicians and/or the public. We have a hybrid and so can go either way.

        And as others have pointed out, the idea of a protected class stems from very real historical problems, quite often involving black Americans. Arguably this has been overexpanded, but it was quite intentional to impose such restrictions. If you want to argue with anything, it would be accommodation laws. Why does this not apply to political beliefs? Because the general consensus is that beliefs can be changed and relate to your character, and things like race do not. Obviously this can be an area for debate, but it’s generally understood that beliefs have consequences (religion being an outlier there, usually, because it is considered somewhat inherent in a way that political beliefs are not, probably because people feel like they truly don’t have a choice). I would say in the past that people more often tended to take some satisfaction in being kicked out of certain places for their beliefs on political issues (this still happens today in some situations, and I’m sure there were many exceptions in the past). It was seen as very much a choice, a character issue, and a definition of associations. That seems to be less true now. I’ve seen someone argue it is in part genetic; I can accept that certain tendencies that correlate with certain political beliefs can be genetic. But things like distrusting outsiders or being easily disgusted can manifest quite differently. Not supporting gay marriage is different than wishing for the murder of gay people, etc. I realize some people have gone out of their way to penalize the former, and I don’t like how many of these battles are fought on either side, but mandated toleration of all beliefs in all circumstances poses far greater problems. And, most importantly, whether it is right or wrong or what have you, I think it is pretty clear that society would never put up with being forced to accept all beliefs. That’s far more opposed to human nature/free society than tolerance of specific qualities that can be perceived as inherent. People love to shun outsiders, but they love squabbling within their community even more.

    • noddingin says:

      If Gays are in a protected class, so may be Trans people, but not Satan, imo.

      • John Schilling says:

        If “South Park” is to be believed, Satan is gay. He’s also probably a Satanist, and religious belief is a protected class per the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

        • Nick says:

          Satan’s sin was pride, so he’s probably more in love with himself than with men generally.

          • Randy M says:

            What’s love got to do with it?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Weird thing: while everyone knows that Lucifer’s sin was pride, 16th century Catholic bishop Peter Binsfield wrote a classification of demons where Satan was a different guy who was the Hell-prince of wrath.
            The other 5 Deadly Sins? Mammon of Greed, Asmodeus of Lust, Beelzebub of Gluttony (OK, I see it…), Leviathan of Envy (huh?!), and Belphegor of Sloth (I’m not going to put any intellectual effort into that one).

          • Nornagest says:

            Laziness, impatience, and hubris are traditionally engineers’ cardinal virtues. According to Wikipedia, Belphegor tempts by suggesting ingenious inventions to mortals, so maybe this is that kind of laziness?

            Leviathan’s got me stumped, though.

  17. Wrong Species says:

    If I do the right thing because my conscience bugs me to do it, aren’t I just as selfish as the guy who doesn’t care?

    • Randy M says:

      That’s between you and God. Everyone else here is just happy you did the right thing.

    • Deiseach says:

      If I do the right thing because my conscience bugs me to do it, aren’t I just as selfish as the guy who doesn’t care?

      No.

      • Nick says:

        This. The selfish thing to do would be to rationalize not doing it, then keep doing so until your conscience stops bugging you about anything.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t think it’s that simple. Sometimes you can’t just rationalize something away, even if you wanted to. I can imagine someone who is particularly bad at self-delusion but isn’t really a good person. Imagine that we had a machine that could essentially “cure” you of your guilt. Someone who wanted to do a bad thing but without the guilt might choose to use it. That would make them similar to the people who simply use rationalizations. But surely they aren’t better people because just because the technology doesn’t exist right?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is what your conscience is for.

    • theredsheep says:

      What alternative would you suggest? Doing the right thing without any motivation whatever? If you’re motivated to perform an action–whatever the nature of that motive may be–you’re going to feel good from obeying that motivating impulse. There’s really no escaping that.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Sometimes you feel compelled to do something without ever mulling it over. Think of the difference between a poor guy who contemplates murdering his parents for the life insurance but decides not to because he knows he couldn’t live with it versus the guy who never even considers it. Isn’t the latter a better person than the former?

        • Matt M says:

          I would say no. Considering something is not an action, and is therefore morally neutral. We should be judged on our actions, not our thoughts.

          The latter person may just be a simpleton who hasn’t put together the logical connection of “murder parents, poverty solved.” Or he may simply be terrified of prison. Or any number of other possibilities other than “so saintly murder never occurs to him.”

          • Wrong Species says:

            Imagine that in this scenario, the reason he doesn’t think about it is simply that it’s beyond the pale, not because he’s an idiot or scared or some other obviously self-interested reason.

            If some person you knew told you that they contemplated murdering their parents but then decided against it, would you not, at the very least, think less of them?

          • Matt M says:

            No, but I’m weird like that. I’ve contemplated… well I won’t provide details, but uh, well, let’s just say “a lot of stuff.”

          • Wrong Species says:

            There’s a difference between thinking something and seriously considering doing it. I meant more of the latter.

          • Deiseach says:

            If some person you knew told you that they contemplated murdering their parents but then decided against it, would you not, at the very least, think less of them?

            I’d think more of them than if they came to the conclusion they should murder their parents! And someone might have been raised in a very abusive household and came out of that hating the people who hurt them so much that they wanted to kill them, but then overcame that impulse – in which case I would think very well of them.

        • JulieK says:

          Think of the difference between a poor guy who contemplates murdering his parents for the life insurance but decides not to because he knows he couldn’t live with it versus the guy who never even considers it. Isn’t the latter a better person than the former?

          Lewis Carroll [sections 120-125] would disagree – he writes that a person’s condition “in the sight of God” is evaluated based on how strongly he resists the temptation he experiences.

          However, a person’s level of temptation will depend on three factors. The first two, the nature he was born with and the environment he was born into, are out of his control. It isn’t fair to judge two people by the same standard, when one grew up with loving parents who were role models of good behavior, and the other never had a stable environment.

          The third factor is the choices he has made in the past. If he has been tempted and overcome temptation, eventually it will be much easier to make the right choice in the same situation- or vice versa.

          Carroll:

          “The causes, acting from within, which make a man’s character what it is at any given moment, are his successive acts of volition—that is, his acts of choosing whether he will do this or that.”

          “We are to assume the existence of Free-Will?” I said, in order to have that point made quite clear.

          “If not,” was the quiet reply, “cadit quaestio: and I have no more to say.”

          Of course, just because that guy is a better person in the abstract doesn’t mean you would want to have him as your neighbor.

        • lazydragonboy says:

          Disagreeing with Matt and Julie, I would say that yes, the second person is better. But I would argue that is the result of cultivating good morality. Somewhat agreeing with Julie though, I would argue that someone who effortfully cultivated morality has a more thorough, resilient morality than someone who was immersed in a moral environment and so developed moral habits without cultivating a moral mind. Therefore, a third person who had harmful impulses, but made the decision not to act on them and worked to cultivate moral conduct would be better than either. This person I would also expect to have more compassion for others who have harmful impulses or engage in harmful actions, and thus more wisdom to offer them.

    • beleester says:

      Only for a rather useless definition of selfish. If you define selfish as “because it makes me feel good, or because I think it will make me feel good,” then literally everything you do is selfish. But a more useful definition would be more along the lines of “done to benefit me instead of other people.”

      Also, this argument always reminds me of a supervillain’s monologue, which is never a good sign.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m not making the argument that there is no such thing as a selfless act. It’s more about the person who only does a good thing because they’re conscience makes them feel really bad until they do.

        But a more useful definition would be more along the lines of “done to benefit me instead of other people.”

        That sometimes is a false dichotomy. If I do a charitable action because of some problem with the law that will be lifted if I do this good thing, I have helped someone else but with ultimately selfish motivations. If I see a homeless person and give them some money because I know that it would be bug me all day if I ignored them, I’m doing a good thing only for my own self-interest. Next time I travel to this destination, I go a different route because I don’t want to confront the homeless man and my own guilty conscience but if I did see him again, I would still give him money. Is that not selfish?

        • lazydragonboy says:

          That is certainly less good than giving out of an intention to bring benefit. If you give out of a sense of guilt then rather than cultivating generosity you are cultivating a tendency to avoid discomfortable emotions. It may still be on the balance good though. It depends on context.

    • lazydragonboy says:

      I agree with Edward. A well groomed conscience is critical to knowing when an action you take is harmful. If you train it right it can sense out intellectual deceit and stop you from taking dumb actions before the impulse gets strong. This has done wonder’s for my tendency to take care of myself and speak kindly to others.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Media recommendation related to this thread:

      The Good Place.

      Situational comedy about a woman who finds herself in heaven as a result of mistaken identity. She doesn’t belong, but decides to try to earn her place there.

      Surprisingly subtle moral arguments for a network TV show. Don’t expect anything you haven’t encountered before, mind – it isn’t that deep – but it does a pretty good job of summarizing the major elements of modern moral theory.

      • bean says:

        YES! I found it on Netflix a few months ago, and it’s very close to the top of my favorite shows list. It’s not actually a philosophy class, but it’s a lot closer to one than we have any reason to expect on network TV. And it’s really funny.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I was actually thinking of the show when I asked this. Spoilers for season 2:

        When they tested whether she was actually a good person now they had some kind of simulation of what would happen if she never died. She has a near death experience and resolved to be better but then loses her motivation when her life is worse for it. She only decides to become good again when Michael reminds her of her conscience.

        If she had known he was a supernatural being, she might have just wished to be relieved of her guilt instead, since it would be easier. But she ends becoming a better person eventually. I’m saying that her initial motivations(both in the simulation and in the The Good Place), she wanted to be good for selfish reasons.

      • Protagoras says:

        Chidi is believable as a philosophy professor (not that they’re usually like him; they’re often as weird as he is, but in quite diverse ways). It is so bizarre to see a portrayal of one’s profession (well, of a member of one’s profession; it doesn’t really show him doing his job much) which isn’t completely wrong. And in agreement with the general endorsement of the show.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem” won the Hugo for short form drama.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      “If I do the right thing because my conscience bugs me to do it, aren’t I just as selfish as the guy who doesn’t care?”

      I don’t think selfishness is a primary moral issue. The way you’re using the word conflates doing what you want, pursuing your own interests, and unjustly imposing costs on other people.

      Further down, you have an example of someone struggling with the desire to do the wrong thing vs. someone who doesn’t think of doing the wrong thing.

      People are better off if they simply want to do right things and don’t want to do wrong things, but I don’t think the issue is that they’re less selfish.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Do you suppose your conscience is something external to you?

  18. readingmule says:

    Hi I’m a new reader here – but i’ve become obsessed. Other than the top 10 posts in the archive, where do I even begin? what are some posts from other blog roll / related websites that are good reads? I am sitting here at information paralysis, and would love a guidepost.

    • bean says:

      Pick the tag that’s most interesting. Scott’s tags are pretty well-hidden, but they’re at the bottom of the post, in the fine print. Maybe start with the ones on whatever post you like best.

    • drunkfish says:

      I’m a big fan of the old version of the top posts page https://slatestarcodex.com/top-posts/ (if there was a reason this was taken down other than Scott having a new favorite set, let me know and I’ll delete this comment)

    • fion says:

      I was going to suggest a few of my favourites* but then I saw drunkfish’s comment. I’m also a big fan of that page, and there’s some real gems on there (and two of my favourites are on there anyway).

      Edit: If all else fails, one commenter made this rather fun page, that gives you a random slatestarcodex post when you click the button.

      *oh, what the hell I’ll do it anyway.

    • Reasoner says:

      I think http://lesswrong.com/ has some Scott Alexander sequences. You could also try googling for “the library of scott alexandria” and related discussion

  19. Paul Brinkley says:

    The Oatmeal has a cartoon about belief systems and the backfire effect.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      How robust is the “backfire effect” even? I’ve stopped taking psychology seriously unless clobbered with a pile of replication studies. (Sure makes it easy to believe whatever I want)

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          Thanks for feeding my confirmation bias.

          Here’s a quote from a Flynn-Nyhan article citing that Wood-Porter one.

          By contrast, studies conducted on other issues that often feature less well-known misperceptions and more one-sided information treatments have typically not observed backfire effects […], suggesting that highly polarized responses and backfire effects may be more likely for highly salient misperceptions when people receive conflicting cues.

          I think I’ll rather default to my prior that belief perseverance is a lot about the mistrust of the source (perhaps rational?) rather than any inherent defense mechanisms.

          • Deiseach says:

            Backfire, if there is such a thing, may be more likely if you mistrust the person feeding you the facts: if you have reason to believe (even if you’re wrong) that “This guy is The Other Side and he’s going to try to persuade me Our Side is wrong for partisan reasons of his own”, then yeah you’re going to doubt the neutrality and reliability of any facts he quotes you.

            If someone is giving you sixty pages of “this is why and how the moon landing was faked”, it’s entirely possible your reaction might be to hold even more firmly that no, men really did walk on the moon! Is that backfire?

    • Deiseach says:

      My God, the smuggery in that was tough to wade through. Whatever about the backfire effect, the examples he chose to use were iffy* and I think the MRI stuff is dubious because you stick most people into a confined metal tube with loud banging noises that they can’t easily get out of and they have to hold their breath at times, their brain is going to be firing off physical panic signals no matter if you’re reading them “mary had a little lamb” or “this is gonna rustle your jimmies by challenging a cherished political belief”.

      But the cream of the jest was the rainbow brain “I am so woke, so much woker than thou” ending. Where can I get a caveman with a rock to brain this guy?

      *People are really going to get bent out of shape about the date of Christmas? Well, maybe in America with the whole War On Christmas thing, and even that is not about “this is 100% the confirmed genuine birth day of Christ and you have to believe that or else!” as it is about perceived forced secularisation. But for someone spraining his arm patting himself on the back about how tuned in he is to ‘it’s a big wonderful beautiful world out there’, he should remember: the USA is not the entire world and some of us – even on the Internet! – are not Americans.

      • toastengineer says:

        I think it’s just another instance of “lifetime city-boy leftie has no idea how right-wingers actually think.” I can see how someone who has literally never talked to a Christian might imagine Christians finding that statement offensive instead of “everyone over the age of 10 knows this already.”

        • Randy M says:

          “everyone over the age of 10 knows this already.”

          I read it in a Beverly Cleary book and managed to have my naive worldview unshaken.

    • theredsheep says:

      I saw it when it came out. I would have found it more impressive if he’d included any examples that challenged his own beliefs, or those of any of his likely readers (the Oatmeal is not exactly friendly to religious social conservatives). As it is, it got shared a lot by secular progressives as a kind of covert wankfest at the expense of the kind of narrow-minded people who’d be offended by George Washington owning slave-dentures. The readers themselves, of course, were perfectly fine with the idea, and therefore found this comic about such an impulse quite fun to read. Kind of like the old SSC post about white people who bemoan white privilege because it’s a way to criticize conservatives while feigning broad-mindedness. Yuk.

      • Matt M says:

        The Oatmeal is beloved by the SJ circle for being pro-SJ without being blatant about it.

        His piece on Columbus is almost as vomit-inducing as this one.

        • theredsheep says:

          I didn’t mind that’n so much because Columbus really was a quite terrible person who succeeded almost entirely due to incompetence. There’s nothing really partisan about “child sex slavery is bad,” and it’s more than I expected that he made a priest like BDLC the hero of it. I don’t really buy it when he goes in for an inspirational tone, but then his particular set of beliefs is quite different from mine. If you can get past the part where he hates children and seems to have anger issues it can be fun to read, for example, The Bobcats.

          • Nick says:

            Every time I want to give The Oatmeal a little slack, I’m reminded of comics like this and decide that nah, it can wait.

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t think of it as “giving him slack.” I think of it as “Inman releases some funny material, some stupid material, and some obnoxious material. I can either ignore him entirely out of principle, or enjoy the funny material while rolling my eyes at the stupid and obnoxious.” I can ignore the occasional idiot comic like his religion one. YMMV.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Do you validate your beliefs by constantly trying to persuade others to believe the same thing?”

            This pearl of unawareness in a long comic strip all about “religion is dumb, I’m going to quote incorrect and ignorant things about what I presume they believe, and the end towards which all this is intended is to persuade you to adopt my beliefs about materialism and not being religious”.

            Maybe the question should be “do you draw long boring stick-figure panels trying to persuade others to believe as you do?”, Mr Oatmeal?

      • toastengineer says:

        I would have found it more impressive if he’d included any examples that challenged his own beliefs, or those of any of his likely readers (the Oatmeal is not exactly friendly to religious social conservatives).

        I’m pretty sure the 2nd example where he said “republicans supported Roe V. Wade” is supposed to be this.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah but it’s fairly clear he considers Roe vs Wade to be Unambiguously Good Thing so that’s more like “Evil bigots did one good thing once”, whereas the Date of Christmas bit comes across as completely misunderstanding why the people who get their knickers in a twist over the War on Christmas are fighting; “imagine, these dum-dums really think it’s the actual legit official birthday of Jesus! if they only got educated like I am they’d stop this nonsense!”

          No, Oatmeal Man, you are the dum-dum here since that is not the casus belli and the arguments over why was that date picked have been well thrashed out.

          Also, that bird whispering into the ear of the other bird is just creepy.

          • DeWitt says:

            Yeah but it’s fairly clear he considers Roe vs Wade to be Unambiguously Good Thing

            Yes, the author holds a view opposed to yours. The horror. For all the supposed smugginess you accuse him of, you’re being a good deal less respectful than he is.

          • Deiseach says:

            DeWitt, a long list of “things Smart People like me know versus things Dumb People like you think they know” is smug no matter what side the guy is on.

            If you want to be “no that’s not smug”, that’s your perogative. I’m sticking with “smug and creepy”.

          • DeWitt says:

            DeWitt, a long list of “things Smart People like me know versus things Dumb People like you think they know” is smug no matter what side the guy is on.

            He’s listing a bunch of stuff people may or may not have heard of. If the author really wanted to pick sides, there’s approximately three dozen ‘fun facts’ he could’ve went for to drive the point home. The horse you’re on is higher than his; the bias you’re showing is stronger than his, too.

            I don’t see the creepy thing but you do you.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Got bored and gave up without finishing. The bunch of panels in the beginning telling me to read to the end triggered my “spam/chain letter detector” anyway. Checked into the slave dentures thing; looks like Washington may have indeed used them (as well as his own teeth), but he merely purchased them, he didn’t force them out of his or any other slaves. I mean, if you’re looking for human teeth to sell in the 1700s, I can think of a much easier way than taking them from live slaves.

      • Randy M says:

        I mean, if you’re looking for human teeth to sell in the 1700s, I can think of a much easier way than taking them from live slaves.

        Origin of the Tooth Fairy?

        • Deiseach says:

          Origin of the Tooth Fairy?

          DEAD MEN’S TEETH.

          Which is way more metal than ordinary dentures and is one more demonstration that the Founding Fathers were more goth than you could ever be 🙂

      • John Schilling says:

        The bunch of panels in the beginning telling me to read to the end triggered my “spam/chain letter detector” anyway.

        That plus Inman’s track record for being at least thoughtful put it in “you’ve earned a bit of trust, but please don’t waste my time”. And, sure enough, he wasted my time.

        That 18th-century Virginia dentists sourced raw material from deceased slaves as a matter of course was the obvious explanation for the false-teeth story, a morbid curiosity being distorted into an implied scandal in a decidedly eyeroll-inducing manner. Pull enough of that sort of thing and, yes, my blood will start to boil, but in a very different sort of “backfire effect” than the one Inman is asserting.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Thanks for the comments.

      The examples he chose struck me as easy targets for progressives, too. It bugs me more than a little bit, since it ends up making these mental biases (assuming they’re replicable) sound like Things Those Other People Have. Tools for outgrouping. When what they should be, if they’re honest, are calls to awareness, hopefully with solutions if possible.

      One of the most *fundamental* reasons I’m drawn to sites like LW and SSC is because / to the extent they force people to genuinely question their own biases, and explore that. I see enough bias-prone comments there and here that I get to say this is quite non-trivial. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some real blunders myself, that I don’t even know about.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It’s not 0.5, so I can ask: what example would y’all have preferred to strike at the other tribe instead? Or maybe even be even-handed?

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, there’s pretty unambiguous evidence that single parenting yields inferior results; abortion-restricting laws do seem to actually decrease the incidence of abortion (when it’s off the table, women tend to take fewer risks); there’s no statistical evidence to back up the coat-hanger stories; Margaret Sanger was kinda racist and opposed to abortion; Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings was even creepier than is commonly known (she was 14, and his dead wife’s similar-looking half-sister), and in general he was a really terrible person (political coward, tried to nail his best friend’s wife); “assault weapon” as applied by the expired ban is a meaningless category having nothing to do with a firearm’s lethality; Locke originally thought freedom of religion should not apply to atheists or Catholics, though he eventually changed his mind about the atheists. You could probably whip up more inconvenient facts about firearms and economic issues, but that’s some ideas off the top of my head.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Also probably any strongly scientifically backed statements related to the Horrible Banned Discourse. Or “James Damore was pretty much right.”

        • theredsheep says:

          The stuff about MLK philandering is pretty well-known, but that would also qualify.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Good list. It jogged my memory enough to come up with these:

          * Gregor Mendel likely faked his data
          * MLKj plagiarized much of his doctoral thesis
          * Sweden has less purchasing power parity than 46 US states
          * only about 2% of climatologists believe in CAGW
          * enforced minimum wage hikes lead to lower demand for min-wage labor

          • Deiseach says:

            Gregor Mendel likely faked his data

            Yeah, I really want to see something solid on that; I’ve seen it floating around recently and the most explanation given is “his results were so suspiciously good they can’t have been real”. I’d like some solid info rather than the currently trendy debunking of all science and formerly held “everyone knows that” opinions (to be replaced by new “everyone knows that” opinions). If I believe Wikipedia “After his death, the succeeding abbot burned all papers in Mendel’s collection, to mark an end to the disputes over taxation”, so what we’re left with may look cherry-picked but it was probably the finished work that selected the best results and the rough drafts and notes got destroyed. And this guy back in 2004 wrote a paper opposing the guy saying the work was too good to be true, so it seems at least to be an open question, not the settled “he faked the data” that is becoming the popular view.

            The fact that Fr Mendel was an Augustinian prior has nothing to do with it, I assure you! 😉

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The fact that Fr Mendel was an Augustinian prior has nothing to do with it, I assure you!

            I still need to know the Augustinian prior’s Bayesian priors.

          • ana53294 says:

            When I imagine somebody faking their data, I see the following possible scenarios 1) a scientist wants to get a result and just makes up data 2) a scientist makes lots and lots of experiments, ignores all the ones that give non-significant results, and goes for the one that shows some kind of spurious correlation (p-hacking).

            Usually, there has to be an economic or ideological incentive to do it. Why would Mendel fake his data? Nobody really knew what to make of it then, what genes meant, or how the traits of dominance and recessivenes could be explained and used. He didn’t get anything out of it; from what I gather, he only gained fame after his death.

            His data looks very neat nowadays, when we know about genes, dominance, recessiveness, and other genetic effects. Some point out that he was lucky that his work was in peas, because other crops may have traits that are multigenic and thus more difficult to explain. But I don’t think there is any reason to think he faked his data, since the results are true (round shape is dominant and wrinkled is recessive).

          • engleberg says:

            A few years ago someone tried to repeat the original Brown experiments proving Brownian motion using the same equipment- no luck. No claim that it was fake, just that Brown was better at handling the equipment.

          • Nornagest says:

            only about 2% of climatologists believe in CAGW

            Is the “C” “catastrophic”?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: No, “C” is for Cookie. Cookie-Activated Global Warming is a pretty fringe position.

          • BBA says:

            I still need to know the Augustinian prior’s Bayesian priors.

            I doubt he had any – Bayes was a Presbyterian minister.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Yes, ‘C’ stands for “catastrophic”.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems quite likely to me that Mendel figured out what the pattern was, and then expected to see it. It’s pretty easy for that to start affecting things if, say, you start saying “yep, that looks like 1/4 again” instead of carefully counting each one. Or even if you assume you must have made a mistake if you get far off your expectations, and keep counting till you get a right-looking answer.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Deiseach,

            It’s very likely he faked his data, and this case is much different to most trendy science-debunking since we actually know the true values of the probabilities he was estimating, and he adjusted his data to be closer to those true values.

            Most science isn’t like that because you are looking for an effect: you fake your data a little bit to increase the effect size, you might get a p-value of .03 so you reject the null hypothesis in favor that the effect or difference is real.

            Mendel was trying to demonstrate that a certain proportion of outcomes was true, and we know it was true. His data lined up so well with the true proportions that the p-value for rejecting the true proportions was .99993.

            To give you an idea of how weird having a p-value of .99993 is, imagine you want to test a coin for fairness. You’re pretty sure the coin is fair, but you tell someone please go flip the coin 15,000 times. They come back the next day with the result that they had exactly 7,500 heads. Well that is certainly a fair coin, but it is a bit suspicious that the result was exactly 7,500. (the chance of this given that it is a fair coin is .0065) So you ask them to do it again, another 15,000 flips, and they return the next day and say that again, they flipped the coin and had exactly 7,500 heads. (chances of this happening twice in a row, .000045)

            At that point you can be almost sure that the coin-flipper is lying, since that the results are spectacularly unlikely if he actually flipped the coins. It may also be worth noting that Mendel had 28,000 pea plants: if it was just a guy puttering around in an abbey with a few pots there would be nowhere near enough data to show that he faked anything.

      • albatross11 says:

        Most political leaders of both parties are massively overpromoted, in way over their heads, and making decisions about matters they don’t understand very well. At the very top, even the advisors and their advisors are primarily political types whose expertise has decayed during the decade or two they’ve spent climbing the greased pole. (Reasonable certainty–I have some limited experience here.)

        This is probably also true of most top-tier corporate leaders. (Less certainty.)

        Tech company entrepreneurs are actually very smart and driven as a class, but the biggest successes are at least as much the result of lucky timing / everything lining up perfectly as they are the incredible brilliance of the entrepreneurs. Lots of people are as smart and otherwise capable as the big winners, but were only moderately successful. (High certainty.)

        • yodelyak says:

          Re: political leaders… Yes.

          Less so in professions that resemble crafts than in professions that trade on relationships or resemble I-have-status-therefore-I-deserve-status. Most lawyers are workhorse lawyers–lawyers who are usually decent to very good at some subset of the skills that make a good lawyer. (E.g., maybe they suck at trial advocacy, or long-slog litigation, or in-the-trenches-brief-due-by-5-memo-drafting–but they’re very good at one of these, along with maybe an area of law or two or three where they excel.) Some subset of lawyers are primarily relationship lawyers, and these are often wildly incompetent if they aren’t functionally partnered with workhorses (see Giuliani lately).

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      What I learned from it is that motivated reasoning on political subjects is rampant, and it is therefore rational to bring some extra skepticism when someone brings you a purported fact that has a political valence to it.

    • DeWitt says:

      ITT: local comic writer makes comic about tribalism, includes a bit about slaves’ teeth and abortion that are rather sensitive on his own side, gets chewed out by people on the other side for daring to in fact be on the other side.

      • theredsheep says:

        How are the slaves’ teeth and abortion bits controversial/sensitive for blues?

        • DeWitt says:

          Anything related to slavery is; the abortion thing comes across as ‘this victory you once won was actually the other side doing what was right.’

          • theredsheep says:

            But blues are significantly less prone to FF worship than reds, while I read the Roe thing as “even your beloved GOP supported abortion once.” If my side won a victory while the court was held by the opposite party, I’d be baffled but gratified. Actually, I’d almost prefer that; I’d derive tremendous (unworthy) satisfaction from Ruth Bader Ginsberg writing an opinion for a hard-left court that no, you can’t force someone to bake your gay wedding cake. The head explosions would be visible from space.

    • Plumber says:

      I was a little disappointed that I’d already heard three of the “shocking” facts cited, I wanted more.

  20. ana53294 says:

    How likely is an accident similar to the one in Genoa to happen in the US?

    I have heard of the US’ infrastructure problems for the last few years, but nothing of this scale has happened. What would happen if it happens? Would they finally start fixing all the infrastructure? Maintenance can be as expensive as building stuff, but it is always much less sexy.

    • Plumber says:

      How likely is an accident similar to the one in Genoa to happen in the US?

      @ana53294,

      Do you mean happen again
      in the U.S.A.?

      I’ve personally seen and walked on a collapsed freeway in Oakland, California and I well remember the bay bridge losing a section, lives were lost.

      I have heard of the US’ infrastructure problems for the last few years, but nothing of this scale has happened. What would happen if it happens? Would they finally start fixing all the infrastructure? Maintenance can be as expensive as building stuff, but it is always much less sexy.

       As an employee of a municipality doing building repair who tries to maintain public buildings with the resources available I’m extremely doubtful of any return to sane infrastructure policies.. 

      The structures that were built during my parents and especially my grandparents lifetimes are marvels that are rotting away, and I see no signs of any return to mid 20th style taxes and spending, so no I don’t expect any respite, at least not until my tiny generation and the cheapskate baby boomers die off.

      Hopefully the millennials will do better, but they seem distracted by the this “culture war” nonsense.

      • Matt M says:

        What “taxes and spending” policies are you referring to?

        Government spending as a percentage of GDP continues to rise. The fact that we’re choosing to spend it on things other than basic infrastructure is a political issue completely aside from taxes and spending…

        • Plumber says:

          @MATT M,
          While tax receipts are down compared a bit compared to just a few years ago, as a percentage of GDP tax receipts haven’t changed that much for generations.

          What’s more of an issue is were spending goes, and the causes of that change (my favorite Scott Alexander post).

          Also important is who and what is paying those taxes, which is linked to  more Americans being too poor to pay taxes.

          Taxes are effective in controlling inflation as was known and used as a tool in the 20th century.

          Framed in the Port of San Francisco plumber’s break room at Pier 50 there’s a newspaper article from the early 1960’s with a headline of a plumbers union victory, and with it there’s other stories on that front page there’s a story of Robert Byrd predicting  proposed income tax cuts would lead to inflation.

          He was right.

          The prices of education, housing, and medical care relative to wages have exploded since I was a child in the 1970’s (see my favorite Scott Alexander post), something changed to cause that, and I’m guessing it was the reduction in top marginal income tax rates (but I’m open to other ideas).

          Recently I learned of a new slur “SJW” and have learned that it largely concerns stupid on-line and collegiate fights by youngsters arguing back and forth over cultural changes that happened before they were born, while people ignore what to this American who was born in 1968 see’s as the biggest problem:

          The “Hoovervilles” of the 1930″s that my grandparents spoke of are back. They’re now increasingly tents over sidewalks, vacant lots, and by freeways all over now, and that only happened this last decade.

          The term “the homeless” only started in the 1980’s (my grandparents remember them in the 1930’s, but not in the 1940’s through the 1970’s).

          Whatever was done in the mid 20th century, I want to try again.

          And I’m also sick of seeing buildings and roads rot away without getting near enough repair.

          • Deiseach says:

            Recently I learned of a new slur “SJW”

            I find it interesting that you frame the term in that manner. For someone supposedly all “I’m a middle-aged blue collar working stiff who don’t know nuthin’ about all this carry-on, where is it happening, me and the guys just have a brewski and laugh at all this PC nonsense”, you seem to have very quickly become au fait with the “slur” usage as I’ve seen used by – surprise, surprise – the SJW lot.

            Maybe you’re more influenced than you realise?

          • Matt M says:

            Whatever was done in the mid 20th century, I want to try again.

            Cool. Let’s start by returning to the gold standard. We can repeal food stamps next. Deal?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Deiseach – Alternatively, given the speed with which this individual went from “What’s this word all about” to “This is a slur” without any real reasoning behind it, I suspect the former post was feigning ignorance to try to prove a point. But, eh, could be yet another “I am not experiencing the problems other people are reporting, and therefore they’re just making things up”; doesn’t really matter either way.

            Plumber –

            Well, given the world situation in the 50’s, the clear answer is to bomb Europe’s industry to shreds (we’ll have to hit Asia this time too) so that the US is the only serious industrial power, then spend the next few decades rebuilding their industry from scratch.

            Although maybe a better plan, looking at our infrastructure, would be to bomb -ourselves- to rubble, and then rebuild. A large part of the problem is that maintenance is more politically viable than replacement, even when replacement is clearly necessary.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            Cool. Let’s start by returning to the gold standard. We can repeal food stamps next. Deal?

            Having let somewhere between 5 and 10 of these go, …

            I know you can actually have a decent conversation. I’ve seen it. Try to #BeBest or something.

            I’m striking all of this because Scott already said something, but I’m not deleting the post (although maybe I should, not sure).

          • Plumber says:

            I find it interesting that you frame the term in that manner. For someone supposedly all “I’m a middle-aged blue collar working stiff who don’t know nuthin’ about all this carry-on, where is it happening, me and the guys just have a brewski and laugh at all this PC nonsense”, you seem to have very quickly become au fait with the “slur” usage as I’ve seen used by – surprise, surprise – the SJW lot.

            Maybe you’re more influenced than you realise?

            @Deiseach,  

            That’s quite possible. Someone posted that I “live in the heart of it”, which may be why this “culture war” stuff seems to me to be eithet re-fights of stuff from the 1970’s by people too young to remember them, or (more often) white collar management pablum that you try not to fall asleep while they drone on about it (couldn’t they bring donuts at least?).

            Cool. Let’s start by returning to the gold standard. We can repeal food stamps next. Deal?

            @Matt M If thats means more jobs with union wages and median income workers can buy homes like my working-class parents could in the 1970’s then I absolutely would take that deal, but before you eliminate food stamps, please bring back the other welfare programs that were eliminated in the 1980’s and ’90’s, as there are already too many street beggers (full disclosure my dad handed me food stamps to by groceries with when I was 12 and 13 years old. 

            Alternatively, given the speed with which this individual went from “What’s this word all about” to “This is a slur” without any real reasoning behind it, I suspect the former post was feigning ignorance to try to prove a point. 

            @Thegnskald,

            I googled “SJW” and 

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice_warrior Wikipedia said it was a “pejorative”, but I was lazy and used the word “slur” instead (less letters), and yes “SJW” is a new term to me, and how both pro and anti adherents seem to be using it is annoying to me.

            Part of what bugs me is that “social justice” is what the C.I.O. fought for in the 1930’s, and the whole United States of America fought for in the 1940’s (I actually listened to my grandparents!) and I just don’t like punk kids mangling meanings.

            …But, eh, could be yet another “I am not experiencing the problems other people are reporting, and therefore they’re just making things up”; doesn’t really matter either way.

             That’s a fair point, I just plain don’t care about all this “culture war” stuff.

            At this point I’m strongly pro-devolution and want more self-government of metropolitan areas and counties, but the States may be okay, I know the argument against it – Jim Crow, but if Dixieland wants to ban abortion and insist on saying prayers in school for Jefferson Davis, I don’t care I just want the Federal government to stop busting unions and closing post offices. 

            I don’t know if the small States could, but if California gets to govern itself I have no problems with Texas doing the same.

            Berkeley and Barstow are never going to have exactly the culture, why not live and let live?

            Plumber –

            Well, given the world situation in the 50’s, the clear answer is to bomb Europe’s industry to shreds (we’ll have to hit Asia this time too) so that the US is the only serious industrial power, then spend the next few decades rebuilding their industry from scratch.

            Although maybe a better plan, looking at our infrastructure, would be to bomb -ourselves- to rubble, and then rebuild. A large part of the problem is that maintenance is more politically viable than replacement, even when replacement is clearly necessary.

            Come to the old shipyards in San Francisco, they look pretty bombed out already. 

            I hope that I’m not misunderstood, but while I didn’t vote for Trump (he seemed odious with his “Your fired” shtick when I briefly tried to watch “The Apprentice” long before his campaign) that people seemed suprised that the “Make America Great Again” slogan would appeal to those who have memories, unfortunately the man lies and I’ve seen nothing indicating any re-building. 

            At least Obama’s stimulus got us a library branch (originally built in FDR’s time) fixed up, small potatoes but at least something.

          • gbdub says:

            Don’t read anything into this question, I’m honestly curious:

            How does one come upon SSC without being at least passingly familiar with the terms “SJW” and “Twitter Mob”? That’s a very weird slice of a Venn diagram.

          • Deiseach says:

            Thegnskald, I was trying to be tactful given I’ve already had fights with two people previously over “I very much doubt you are telling the truth about who and what you are”, a third row of that nature would be skating on very thin ice and I might be permabanned and nuked from orbit! 😀

          • Plumber says:

            “Don’t read anything into this question, I’m honestly curious:

            How does one come upon SSC without being at least passingly familiar with the terms “SJW” and “Twitter Mob”? That’s a very weird slice of a Venn diagram”

            @gbdub,

            To be clear, “Twitter Mob” was indeed something this Forum taught me this week, “SJW” I had seen at a Dungeons & Dragons Forum that nominally bans political topics about a year ago, where someone helpfully explained “They don’t mean your grandfather, it’s ironic”.

            I found Scott’s blog just over a week ago when The Atlantic Monthly linked one of his essays: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/05/23/can-things-be-both-popular-and-silenced/ which was good reading, and I wanted more!

          • Thegnskald says:

            Plumber –

            SJW is a pejorative in the same sense that “racist” is a pejorative; it is describing a cluster of bad behaviors, which means that, yes, being called one is a bad thing. I would say, at it’s most specific, it refers to assholes (who may or may not be [ETA] interacting in the real world) who find social justice rhetoric to be a source of personal power, and utilize it to attack other people. Whether or not their motives are good is entirely in the imagination of the people who pretend bad behaviors are okay when we agree with the broad objectives of the actors.

            And on that note, Wikipedia is utterly unreliable as a source of information on any culturally touchy issue. One side or the other has already won by the time you look at the page.

            ETA:

            They aren’t a fake phenomenon, but I have a hypothesis that they are much more common in right-wing areas than left, in much the way apparently zealous racists rarely show up outside of left wing areas, because both are really the same group: Trollish assholes who are really about offending people / pissing people off. Ultra-counterculture, basically. So a person in one context is a SJW, and in another, a loud and outspoken racist.

            Because I have lived in many places, and the only places I actually encountered real-life Racists – not just the person who quietly holds a few stereotypes – were left-wing bastions. And the SJWs I have dealt with have been in the more right-wing areas of the country.

            My current group has three SJWs, and zero racists. Of the SJWs, one yelled at a woman in a parking lot at night because he didn’t like the way she moderated a game – and he’s the guy who tried to force “safe spaces” on the group. He isn’t the worst – that would be the “lesbian” who sexted a guy in a relationship, deleted all her texts initiating the exchange from her phone, then showed the “evidence” to the guy’s girlfriend when he wouldn’t have sex with her.

            The third SJW hasn’t done anything interesting to speak of; she is just offensive and annoying and aggressive in a passive aggressive way.

            All three share the central characteristic, however, of Believing in Social Justice. All three also have a mental disorder, and one claims to be disabled, which I won’t get into except to note that it only seems to be a thing when it is beneficial to them. And they all attack other people on the basis of a perceived moral superiority, and, amusingly enough, have done more to make our majority-woman group unwelcoming than the fucking carnie who tries to have sex with every woman who walks in, and steals from the ones he succeeds with. (And I’d love to get him kicked out, but I don’t want to spend the social resources on it, since he’s protected by his ex girlfriend, who keeps him around as a backup between relationships and has nearly as much social power as I could muster.)

            So… yes. They are a problem.

          • Plumber says:

            “SJW is a pejorative in the same sense that….”

            Thanks @Thegnskald that clarifies things quite a bit.

            I’d prefer then that people would put quotation marks around “SJW” to distinguish them from actual warriors for real social justice (like my grandfather in World War 2), but that makes me a language scold so I’m going to try to let it go.

            One plus side for me in learning about this stuff is that I’m a little less envious of those of you who went to college if you had to go through such petty tyranny. 

            The Twitter thing just seems weird to me and I don’t know what to think about that beyond continuing to avoid Twitter. 

          • gbdub says:

            ” to distinguish them from actual warriors for real social justice (like my grandfather in World War 2)”

            The irony that the “social justice” being fought for is more like “zero-sum identity politics” than the traditional meaning, and that the “warriors” aren’t actual fighting a war (just using accusations that offensive words are “violence” to justify any-means-necessary responses) is, as they say, the joke.

            SJW may not be more pejorative than racist, but it is more mocking.

            @Thegnskald: “They aren’t a fake phenomenon, but I have a hypothesis that they are much more common in right-wing areas than left, in much the way apparently zealous racists rarely show up outside of left wing areas, because both are really the same group: Trollish assholes who are really about offending people / pissing people off. Ultra-counterculture, basically. So a person in one context is a SJW, and in another, a loud and outspoken racist.”

            I disagree. On the one hand, I think it’s fair to label the white supremacy wing of the current all-trite as trolls… witness their fizzled march on Washington. They go into town looking to start shit because they know they will be poorly received. But I don’t think those trolls are the central example of “people who actually hold racist views”.

            SJWs, on the other hand, seem to operate mostly in places where their politics (or gentler versions of them) are largely accepted / tolerated, and it’s just their extremist tactics that make them stand out. Like college campuses, or SJ-friendly tech giants.

            @Plumber – you may not be interested in Twitter, but Twitter is interested in you… Seriously if Twitter mobs stayed confined to Twitter no one would care, the bigger concern is the ability of Twitter virality to bleed over into the real world and make a bunch of people protest your pizza shop or whatever.

            In your case I could see, for example, a client overhearing you say something that could be construed as a microaggression against some protected class, complaining about it on Twitter, and it randomly going viral and having a million people calling for your job and your union card.

            It’s extremely unlikely, but totally random, which makes it kind of scary.

          • AG says:

            You tend to be left alone on social media if you’re just shamelessly and happily degenerate, signalling that you genuinely wouldn’t give a shit if someone tried to chide you for your shit tastes.

            The ones who get hauled out to the carpet are the ones with chips on their shoulders, who are already engaging with the other side by making snide comments about how their own tastes contrast with their outgroups’.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Anyone know whether SJW is a slur at the moment?

            I was surprised to find out it started out as an insult because I knew people who were proudly claiming it as an identify.

            I haven’t been seeing so much of that lately.

          • toastengineer says:

            If “nazi” or “communist” or “alt-right” or “hippie” are slurs, then “SJW” is too. It’s an insult as much as any term for the enemy is, even if it is or used to be their term for itself. Still, throwing it around like some people do is bad signaling.

          • howdoiworkthisthing says:

            Yeah, I have trouble with a lot of terminology I read, which doesn’t appear to mean what it appears to. A lot of it appears to be just signaling, among them SJW (wait, are we fighting for social injustice now?), Feminism (I’m pretty sure we all want women to be treated equally with men), Identity politics (?). Calling things “Cultural Marxism” seems to be big now too. Along with the usual calling people you don’t like “racist” or “nazis”.

            The other thing I see from both red and blue is taking the most extreme positions from the other side and attributing it to everybody they don’t like, which allows what used to be unoffensive descriptive names like liberal or conservative to now become insults.

            As somebody who is trying not to live in a bubble, and read ideas from across the political spectrum, it’s pretty discouraging. Can’t we talk about ideas, instead of just slapping a label on something and deciding that ends the discussion?

          • toastengineer says:

            Can’t we talk about ideas, instead of just slapping a label on something and deciding that ends the discussion?

            And when we need to talk about common bundles of ideas?

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve personally seen and walked on a collapsed freeway in Oakland, California and I well remember the bay bridge losing a section, lives were lost.

        I seem to remember an earthquake being involved. Arguably Bay Area infrastructure should have been better hardened against large quakes by the Eighties, but it’s still not in the same ballpark as a bridge that just collapsed from age, neglect, or poor design.

        The 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis is a better analogy.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I have heard of the US’ infrastructure problems for the last few years, but nothing of this scale has happened.

      Unfortunately, it has.

      Would they finally start fixing all the infrastructure?

      Infrastructure starts degrading as soon as it is built and is constantly being fixed. Will another disaster cause governments to pick up and keep up the pace so this never happens again? Probably not. Instead they’ll temporarily pour some energy into taking care of the backlog, institute new requirements which make things even more expensive, and eventually start delaying things for “lack of money” again (as they waste money on all sorts of other things).

    • ana53294 says:

      It does seem like the catastrophe has served to mobilise European governments to fix the infrastructure. I just hope it doesn’t fizzle out. The only good thing is that there is a very corrupt and self interested lobby that will make sure it doesn’t.

  21. MrApophenia says:

    What are the feelings of folks around here on the topic of conspiracy theories?

    I have always enjoyed them as entertainment – I grew up watching the X-Files and my parents got me those Time Life books about the paranormal and I’ve been hooked ever since. The weirder the better – lizard people, the Denver International Airport, No Trees On Flat Earth, I love that shit.

    But sort of despite myself, if you read enough of these things you start to come across a few that actually sound pretty convincing. Partly this is because you come across ones that definitely did happen and have made the jump from “crazy conspiracy theory” to “history” – the Gulf of Tonkin attack, MK Ultra, that kind of thing. But there are others still firmly in the realm of tinfoil hats that I have found it tough to dismiss.

    The RFK assassination theories are probably the best example of this – when you get right down to it, it is really tough to explain how the autopsy can show he was killed by a point blank shot to the back of the head when Sirhan Sirhan was several feet in front of him. (There is also some interesting possible evidence that more gunshots were fired than bullets Sirhan’s gun could hold.)

    What do folks around here think of this stuff? All faulty pattern recognition and cognitive biases? Or are They really out to get me?

    • Aapje says:

      Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr. seems to not believe that Sirhan did it. I haven’t done enough analysis to argue one way or the other.

      • Protagoras says:

        RFK Jr. also believes vaccines cause autism, so I don’t think much of his ability to evaluate evidence.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The conspiracy theories that include a nigh-omnipotent capital-t “They” are faulty pattern recognition and cognitive bias. The really intense conspiracy theorists are, in the end, optimists – they believe the bad guys are running the world, but the obvious corollary of that is that it’s possible for someone to run the world. In reality, incompetence tends to be more powerful than malice – for example, in both Kennedy assassinations, the most parsimonious conspiracy theory would be one in which the authorities failed to capture a second shooter, and the conspiracy is dedicated to covering up their failure to protect an important person and failure to get everyone involved.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t understand this explanation at all. Bad guys running the world is so much worse than nobody running the world. It just sounds like something one guy made up, and people have been running with because it makes conspiracy theorists look bad, regardless of its accuracy.

        • Matt M says:

          Assuming you think the world generally sucks, bad guys running the world (and the world sucking) presents an easier problem to solve than nobody running the world (and the world sucking) though.

          If the former is true, all you have to do is defeat the bad guys and put good guys in place. This is what people think they’re accomplishing when they vote. If the later is true, there’s basically not much you can do.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t think that’s easier. Does it make it easier for any North Korean who hates their government to know that all they have to do is a complete overthrow of that government to be free? If there is no single organization that has complete control, then I can make a little difference in my own corner of the world. With the conspiracy theory, everything sucks unless we can overpower this ridiculously strong organization.

          • beleester says:

            Fictional conspiracies tend to simultaneously be competent enough to run the world and incompetent enough that the average joe at his computer can uncover them over a cup of coffee.

            (The QAnon thing is one of the more blatant examples of this in recent memory – Trump and his crew are running a beyond-top-secret black op to overthrow the all-powerful Deep State, so obviously they’re going to drop hints about their plans on freaking 4chan)

            The fictional conspiracy is also simultaneously as influential or non-influential as it needs to be – they have enough power to avoid getting reported on or investigated by the mainstream, but they don’t have enough power that if they were exposed (wake up, sheeple!) they could avoid getting arrested and thrown in jail. Soft power, not hard power.

            It helps that the US is not anywhere near as overtly controlling as North Korea, so you can reasonably believe that, although the conspiracy has a lot of influence, they don’t have their eyes on Joe Random Conspirator right now. Conspiracy theories often claim that it will have total control Any Day Now (TM) – the Illuminati will engineer a crisis, seize power overtly, and put us all in FEMA death camps – but that hasn’t happened yet and we still have a chance to stop them.

          • toastengineer says:

            (The QAnon thing is one of the more blatant examples of this in recent memory – Trump and his crew are running a beyond-top-secret black op to overthrow the all-powerful Deep State, so obviously they’re going to drop hints about their plans on freaking 4chan)

            I dunno, maybe Taylor Swift is one of the conspirators?

        • dndnrsn says:

          If the bad guys are running the world, it’s possible in theory to replace them with good guys. If nobody’s running the world, the world is ultimately uncontrollable. This isn’t about how things are right now; it’s about the ultimate nature of the world.

        • toastengineer says:

          Even if you can’t replace the “bad guys,” the fact that there’s a self-interested party in charge has advantages; even the evilest secret dictator isn’t going to let the world get nuked or let society completely rot cos, after all, he has to have somewhere to live and some nice plaes to visit in his free time.

          If there were really a person in control of the world whose only interest was increasing his own wealth while remaining hidden, honestly, the world would probably be a way better place. (Didn’t Scott talk about this once; something about how an evil alien comes down and fixes all our problems so he can skim off the top?)

          • Nornagest says:

            Didn’t Scott talk about this once; something about how an evil alien comes down and fixes all our problems so he can skim off the top?

            Fnargl. He’s one of the Dark Lord Mencius Moldbug’s thought experiments, originally, but Scott references him in Meditations on Moloch, and also in his pieces on Death Eater thought here and here.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            even the evilest secret dictator isn’t going to let the world get nuked or let society completely rot cos, after all, he has to have somewhere to live and some nice plaes to visit in his free time.

            I don't know, I've heard that the Illuminati want to immanentize the eschaton.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Fnargl. He’s one of the Dark Lord Mencius Moldbug’s thought experiments,

            Yeesh, “the Dark Lord Mencius Moldbug” sounds more like a Potterverse name than most of the canon ones.

          • Nornagest says:

            Let’s see if there’s a significant anagram!

            “Muscling mob due”?
            “Demonic bum slug”?
            “Bud lung commies”?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It’s gotta be “Muscling mob due.” Bum slugs aren’t one of his major concerns, and while he definitely cares about Commie buds, I don’t see how “lung” figures.

          • Nornagest says:

            I was thinking of trees. Grass. Hash. Reefer. Pot.

            Although I don’t think he’s ever objected to that particularly, at least that I’ve read.

          • Nick says:

            I’m late to this party, but—the anagram was of the form “I am Lord [name]”, so we should be using “I am Lord Moldbug” instead.

            The best I could come up with is “Immoral dud blog.”

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m guessing that at least one of the “crazy” conspiracy theories is true, we just don’t know which one.

    • John Schilling says:

      Any conspiracy involving more than about forty people doing things that unambiguously violate the laws or norms society they live in, will be unambiguously known to exist and its basic nature will be understood by every reporter and policeman with a relevant beat. Humans suck at keeping secrets, and if it is sometimes possible to keep something like the Manhattan Project under wraps it is by all of society’s institutions to punish rather than signal-boost the ones who talk.

      Any conspiracy involving less than about forty people, is highly unlikely to be able to produce the effects demanded by the typical conspiracy theory.

      That leaves you with faulty pattern-recognition and a demand for more order than the universe actually provides. The conspiracies are either false patterns extracted from noise, or gross exaggerations of an underwhelming reality (e.g. the conspiracy-theory version of MK-Ultra compared to the reality).

      • MrApophenia says:

        I’m curious what you think the underwhelming version of MK Ultra was. It definitely did exist. We have the surviving files, and we know some of the specifics. But we didn’t get them until about 20 years after the thing started.

        That was a conspiracy involving hundreds of people in the United States government, as well as at least 80 civilian institutions (some of whom were aware of what they were doing), with expressly illegal aims (conducting experiments on unknowing civilian test subjects) in which people died.

        Knowledge of the program(s) went all the way up to the head of the CIA, who ordered all the records of the program to be destroyed after it was shut down. The only reason we ever found out about any of it is due to two unlikely events occurring in sequence – first, the CIA misfiled a bunch of the records in the wrong storage facility, and so missed them when they carried out the order to destroy said records. Second, that Congress actually engaged in a period of really rigorous oversight of the CIA’s illegal activities, and dug up the existence of the program thanks to that first error.

        Now, you might say, “But we know about MK Ultra!” Sure, but we definitely didn’t find out while it was going on. It started in 1953, was shut down in 1973, and came to light in 1975.

        • John Schilling says:

          The underwhelming version is the one where none of these mind control techniques worked, and the whole thing was never a major CIA priority even before they gave up on it for all the not-workingness. The standard conspiracy-theory version is that MK-Ultra went underground when threatened with exposure, and even now continues to use its working and fearfully effective mind-control techniques for assorted villainy up to and including ruling the world as a shadow government.

          The underwhelming version is the real one. And it might have made for a semi-decent conspiracy theory if anyone had brought it up at the time. But not even the conspiracy theorists had any inkling of MK Ultra’s existence until it was over, and “these naughty people did a bad thing but it didn’t work and they stopped” is too lame to be worth bothering with as conspiracy theories go. Particularly if everybody else already knows that thanks to the front-page coverage in the New York Times. To make a useful conspiracy theory, it had to be grossly exaggerated.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Oh, right, I get you. Yeah, MK Ultra gets trotted out sometimes as if it was real world HYDRA, when in fact it was merely the CIA spending millions of dollars on failed mind control and hurting/killing some people in the process.

            I do think it belies the whole ‘No conspiracy involving the government/lots of people is possible’ idea, though. MK Ultra involved hundreds of government research sub-projects doing messed up, illegal stuff for decades, and getting away with it.

          • John Schilling says:

            “that unambiguously violate the laws or norms of the society they live in”

            MK Ultra was only a bit farther down the slippery slope than were the Tuskegee experiments, and at about the same time. Note that the Tuskegee experiments were openly discussed at medical conferences, with the (correct) expectation that nobody would complain and if they did nobody else would care. “Informed consent” didn’t even exist as a term of art until 1957, wasn’t legally mandatory until well after that, and the laws and norms we had in its place were decidedly malleable. Especially where the underclasses were concerned.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I can sort of see your point there, but applying even that standard still opens the door on a lot of your more famous conspiracy theories.

            Like, we know for a fact the CIA have conspired to assassinate world leaders, and covered that up until the files get declassified decades later – are the Kennedies really so much farther beyond the pale?

            I mean, sure, it does invalidate the really batshit ones, no argument there. Bush didn’t do 9-11. Sandy Hook wasn’t a government hoax staged with crisis actors. But “within the normal moral/legal bounds for the 20th century CIA” still allows for a lot.

          • John Schilling says:

            Like, we know for a fact the CIA have conspired to assassinate world leaders, and covered that up until the files get declassified decades later – are the Kennedys really so much farther beyond the pale?

            “Government X sent its assassins to kill the President of Y”, is definitely a type of conspiracy that can happen. Because for most values of X, that’s almost certainly legal or at worst the sort of illegal that gets a nod and a wink, and so when someone inevitably starts talking the local institutions will all tell them to shut up rather than signal-boosting their accusations.

            “…and Government Y knows about it but is covering it up because reasons, wake up sheeple!”, is rarely if ever plausible, because Y’s average enforcers and institutions won’t be silencing the inevitable blabbermouths wherever they appear.

            That’s the standard that matters. If J. Random Beat Cop, or even reporter, hears a blabbermouth talking about a conspiracy, will they A: see the blabbermouth as a defector who needs to be silenced, or B: see the alleged conspirators as criminals who need to be uncovered? In the USSR, it’s the blabbermouth talking about KGB assassins that needs to be silenced, in the US it’s the KGB assassins that need to be uncovered, and if for some weird political reason it would be expedient for the US government to keep the whole thing under wraps there’s still no practical way to get that message out to half a million beat cops without generating five thousand uniformed blabbermouths in the process.

            And that’s where the KGB-killed-Kennedy assassination theories start looking weak. Not that the KGB couldn’t do that sort of thing and maybe keep it secret. That is plausible (albeit very risky and so not likely). But the conspiracy theorists have to include the bit where the CIA and FBI also know about it and are covering it up, and that’s much less plausible.

            There’s possibly room for a conspiracy theory where the KGB killed Kennedy and the CIA, etc, don’t know about it, but I don’t think I’ve heard that one and it would take chutzpah plus ultra to claim that the tinfoil-hat brigade has out-investigated the CIA and FBI combined. Also the implausibility of any conspiracy theorist not including the CIA on the bad-guys roster of his pet theory.

          • Randy M says:

            I have no reason to doubt the accepted Kennedy explanation, but there are plausible reasons for the CIA to not be forthcoming about KGB ties other than that they wanted Kennedy dead too; it could be that the hit was in retaliation for a botched CIA job that isn’t public, or they want to look ignorant of the true culprit while they plan their own response.
            Of course these ideas are less plausibly kept secret the further away we get from the act.

          • John Schilling says:

            but there are plausible reasons for the CIA to not be forthcoming about KGB ties other than that they wanted Kennedy dead too;

            The issue isn’t whether it is plausible for the CIA to want this, but whether it is plausible for the CIA to achieve this. The false belief that whatever a Super Secret Intelligence Agency wants, a Super Secret Intelligence Agency gets, is the root of almost every nonsense conspiracy theory in circulation.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            MK Ultra sounds like a real conspiracy that no one had a theory about.

            It was atrocious (not “these naughty people did a bad thing”) and so crazy that I’m not surprised no one thought of it.

            It also only got proven by some unlikely chances, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the CIA and other intelligence agencies were still doing the same sort of thing. This isn’t evidence of any particular abuses, but I think MK Ultra is baysian evidence that such mistreatment of random people in possible.

          • MrApophenia says:

            And that’s where the KGB-killed-Kennedy assassination theories start looking weak.

            Sure, but my understanding is that one is less popular than one of the following –

            * The CIA killed Kennedy themselves, and tried to make it look like the KGB did it.

            * A lone nut killed Kennedy, and then the CIA then tried to make it look like the KGB did it, as a way to create a cassus belli for a full-fledged war against the Soviet Union.

            We know that this last one is, at least, the line of argument that LBJ used to convince Earl Warren to run the Warren Commission, because we have that conversation on tape.

          • engleberg says:

            From the evidence JFK was killed by a lone nut communist in Texas. You can emphasize Lone Nut, Communist, or Texas, and blow off the ones you don’t like to the point where you are building a conspiracy theory.

          • MrApophenia says:

            MK Ultra sounds like a real conspiracy that no one had a theory about.

            Yeah, as far as I know there was no one who knew about it before the NY Times broke the story in 1973. But yeah, you have nailed my general view of it – that it is a strong refutation of the idea that the government could not possibly commit a large, elaborate criminal conspiracy and keep it secret.

      • 天可汗 says:

        Was the Afrikaner Broederbond real?

      • Jaskologist says:

        I used to think this, but the latest massive sex & cover-up scandal involving the Catholic Church seems like a substantial counter-example. And this isn’t even unique anymore; institutions ranging from Hollywood to ABC News have been recently caught facilitating and covering up rampant sexual abuse.

        In one sense, yes, “everyone knew,” but in another sense broader society sure as hell did not know. Or maybe I’ve just been mistaken as to the actual norms of those societies.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Yeah, the PA report has explicit evidence of hundreds of members of the clergy conspiring to conceal sexual abuse conducted over a period of decades, in six dioceses across the state. It also seems unlikely that Pennsylvania was utterly unique in this regard.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. Although one can easily make the argument that the catholic church is much more closed, tightly bonded to each other, and committed to shared norms/values systems than secular organizations such as the government.

            When we say things like “A sufficiently large conspiracy would have a few whistleblowers” that probably varies significantly based on the structure and discipline of the organization alleged to do the conspiring.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Priests and bishops maybe, but what about all the victims and their families?

            Much the same went on in Rotherham, no?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah, one brand of conspiracy theory I tend to not dismiss out of hand are those about pedo rings. I mean, it happens, in lots of places, like the Church, the UK government, Hollywood, the grooming gangs, etc. And there do exist people trafficking in children, and that seems like a rich man’s hobby. I don’t think poor people can afford child sex slaves.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think poor people can afford child sex slaves.

            Perhaps participating in a child sex ring is seen as a status symbol (I’m so rich/powerful I can get away with the most taboo thing in society). It certainly seems to me like the supply in terms of what we catch far exceeds what I would expect the demand to be just based on the prevalence of pedophilia.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Perhaps participating in a child sex ring is seen as a status symbol (I’m so rich/powerful I can get away with the most taboo thing in society).

            That seems a pretty strong claim. There’s a spectrum, where so far as we know a Hollywood director like James Gunn would joke about pederasty as a status symbol but never touched a child inappropriately let alone kidnapped one. Hollywood let the more-respected Roman Polanski get away with pederasty, but “child sex ring” may be overselling what exists.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think “status symbol” is not quite the right phrase. It’s not “oh that guy’s a pedo how cool”(???) it’s more “haha, I’m so powerful I and my friends can get away with the totally taboo and the plebes are clueless!”

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, not exactly a status symbol in that they don’t brag about it.

            I guess my theory is more that it draws certain people in primarily due to its forbidden nature, rather than for a desire to have sex with children in and of itself…

          • DeWitt says:

            Isn’t seeking out extreme behavior the exact sorts of behavior you’d expect from people in power?

          • Lillian says:

            Yeah, one brand of conspiracy theory I tend to not dismiss out of hand are those about pedo rings. I mean, it happens, in lots of places, like the Church, the UK government, Hollywood, the grooming gangs, etc. And there do exist people trafficking in children, and that seems like a rich man’s hobby. I don’t think poor people can afford child sex slaves.

            On the other hand, there don’t seem to be many instances of children being outright kidnapped for abuse, and even less of organized groups doing it. In the vast majority of instances of abuse, whether they be organized or isolated abusers, the children maintained contact and continued to live with their families. This is interesting because the number one fear seems to be of shadowy kidnappers stealing children from parking lots or whatever, and that is precisely the form that the pedophile rings don’t take.

        • John Schilling says:

          Hollywood et al aren’t counterexamples; the existence and basic nature of the casting couch had been known all along, and for that matter the fact that Harvey Weinstein was an active player was somewhere between an open secret and a laughing matter, But more generally, not knowing the details or not caring enough to stop it, doesn’t make something a Conspiracy Theory(tm), not even retroactively when you are shocked, shocked to find out what has been going on and decide to do something about it.

          And for that matter, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t understand that Catholic priests frequently diddled altarboys etc, and I certainly don’t recall any revelation that did more than add details and scope to what I already knew. But I don’t know when or how that came to be common-ish knowledge, so the Vatican may have been pulling off a rare successful Grand Conspiracy for a while.

          • Nick says:

            And for that matter, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t understand that Catholic priests frequently diddled altarboys etc, and I certainly don’t recall any revelation that did more than add details and scope to what I already knew.

            Yeah, that sort of thing has circulated forever. At the same time, if you read some of the victim statements, you’ll find numerous examples of mom and dad hitting the kid for saying such terrible things about father. So there were evidently a lot of negligently credulous parents.

            One of the most baffling things to me to come out of the current scandal is this, from Lincoln:

            Schulte says that when Father Benton was sent away in 2000, his parish at the time, St. John’s, was told that it was for health issues. This was the same rationale the diocese gave last year to the people of St. Peter’s parish in Lincoln, to explain the sudden disappearance of its pastor, Father Charles Townsend. We now know that Father Townsend had actually been sent for treatment after the assistant pastor, Father Tim Danek, reported him for an incident involving alcohol and inappropriate behavior with a 19-year-old man in the parish.

            UPDATE: I just received a report on the big meeting that Lincoln Bishop James Conley had with parishioners in Wahoo, Nebraska, last night, in the wake of his removing Father Charles Townsend from active ministry. Townsend had spent a decade as the pastor in that town before moving to a parish in Lincoln, from which he was just removed after an incident involving alcohol and an underage drinker came to light.

            My source said the crowd at the church last night was big and very hostile to the bishop — for what he did to poor Father Townsend! I’m told that the crowd’s overwhelming sentiment was that Bishop Conley unfairly attacked a good priest for what they consider to be a minor incident. Source says that Father Townsend has written privately to some of his former parishioners saying he did nothing wrong.

          • Matt M says:

            So there were evidently a lot of negligently credulous parents.

            It’s tough to blame them that much. Children making up lies about authority figures is hardly unknown…

          • toastengineer says:

            @Matt M
            Are there solid scientific figures on how often children actually do that unprompted?

          • Toby Bartels says:

            Lincoln [Nebraska]

            It's nice to see my hometown mentioned in SSC, although I wish that it were about something else. I notice that they're still bragging about their moral purity, apparently unique among all of the other Catholic dioceses. Somehow mass-excommunicating the people who wanted to allow married and female priests (which really was unique) didn't prevent the celibate male priests from sexually abusing their parishioners! But what more could they have done, really?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Rabelais (1500s) mentioned sex between priests and altar boys, but as I recall he was mocking the hypocrisy without a concept that it might be bad for the altar boys

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nancy: Rabelais was tolerant of homosexuality, which meant he had to be tolerant of pederasty, because “homosexuality” didn’t have its contemporary connotation… nor did “tolerance”, be warned!
            The colloquial definition of “pedophilia” assumes a legal framework where childhood has been extended into our 18th year and the sexes are treated the same, rather than a state where 13-year-old girls who have had their first period are recognized as nubile because they didn’t go to school and bright boys would enter university at like 15. In that world, you’d either take the orthodox position or see a grown man diddling a 13-year-old altar boy as similar to diddling Juliet.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Catholic-priest sex scandals are a good example of what a real conspiracy looks like:

          1. Father so-and-so molests some children.
          2. Local Church authorities realize he’s a diddler, but decide for reasons of keeping up appearances and not wanting secular authorities on their turf that they will keep it quiet.
          3. They get the guy to say he’ll never do it again, maybe put him through some in-house counselling or something, and move him to a new assignment.
          4. He diddles some more children.
          5. Repeat.

          A “crazy conspiracy theory” version of it would be about how the Catholic church sets out to molest children.

          • John Schilling says:

            The one where the Catholic church says, “OK, we didn’t set out to molest children, but now it’s obvious we’re going to be getting lots of molesters turning up in our ranks so clearly we need an established protocol on how to cover these up”, is an interesting middle ground.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      To begin with, let me complain about the term ‘conspiracy theory’. It seems to designed to make one's opponent wrong by definition. As you've noted, conspiracies do happen in real life, so just because someone has a theory (or hypothesis) about a conspiracy does not make them wrong. The anti-conspiracy-theory people will say that actually ‘conspiracy theory’ is a term of art referring to a *false* hypothesis about a conspiracy or even a hypothesis *with no evidence* (sometimes even defined so that there doesn't have to be a conspiracy in it anywhere). But if that's what you mean, then just say ‘false theory’ or ‘unsupported theory’. (This is particularly ridiculous when people criticize conspiracy theories about 9/11, which totally was a conspiracy by anybody's account.) And in practice, they'll note that someone has hypothesized a conspiracy, call it a conspiracy theory, and conclude that it's false, which is obvious bullshit.

      Still, that doesn't make any of these conspiracy theories *true*. I don't know much about RFK, but for a long time I believed in a conspiracy about his brother JFK. Largely this was because I had a social-studies teacher who totally believed in it and told us about all of the evidence in favour but none of the evidence against. Still, having a shooter on the grassy knoll coordinating with Oswald makes it a conspiracy, without getting into any of the crazy stuff about the deep state (as we now call it).

      I am firmly of the opinion that the government is not competent to cover up wide-ranging conspiracies for long. I did think that they would be able to prevent Trump from winning the presidency, but they couldn't even manage that, so they sure as hell aren't competent to cover up a presidential assassination for decades. (Unless they only let Trump win because that's what they *want* me to think …)

      With JFK, the acoustic evidence seems to be against a second shooter, but for a while it seemed to be in favour. And given that Kennedy did try to assassinate Castro, it would hardly be crazy for him to return the favour. We now know that Oswald was trying to recruit some Cubans in Mexico to join him on a mission shortly before the assassination, so it's not out of the question for one of them to have joined up, even if Castro himself stayed out of it and didn't even know. It doesn't look as if anybody did in fact join Oswald, but it would hardly be Earth-shattering if it turned out otherwise.

      tl;dr: Crazy wide-ranging conspiracies requiring huge cover-ups either don't happen or are quickly found out, but small-scale conspiracies involving a second perp who gets away are reasonable and probably happen from time to time without being discovered. Either way, whether a conspiracy occurred must be determined by the evidence and cannot be decided a priori.

      • MrApophenia says:

        I don’t want to go all tinfoil hat myself (unless people are interested) but the much more interesting stuff with the JFK conspiracy these days is based on files that came out back in the 90s due to the JFK records act – basically, it’s less about a second shooter, and more about odd connections between Oswald himself and the CIA.

        • Aapje says:

          The connection between Oswald and Cuba is also interesting. Before the assassination, Oswald traveled to Mexico where he attended an event at the Cuban consulate. The consulate chief was part of the Cuban intelligence apparatus and was know to complain about the assassination attempts by the US against Fidel Castro (which failed because the Cubans had a double spy, who was told about each attempt).

          JFK was very much into such covert operations and it is quite possible that his death was blow back from his own policies. The assassin assassinated, as it were.

          This doesn’t mean that Oswald was instructed by Cuba/Russia. The Walker assassination attempt suggests that Oswald was willing to choose targets himself.

          The Warren committee didn’t investigate the Mexico trip very hard and the CIA seems to have tried to cover it up, which can be for multiple reasons. Perhaps it was feared that if a Cuban/Russian connection existed, it would result in nuclear war. Perhaps the CIA was embarrassed because they thought Oswald was still working for them, even though he was actually doing pro-commie things. Perhaps the CIA had used Oswald for illegal domestic programs. Perhaps some combination of these.

          The actual shooting itself seems to have gone almost exactly as the Warren commission believed it had. Most conspiracy theories seem based on incorrect data, like the magic bullet theory that ignores that the car was a special parade model, with a higher back seat.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The fun thing about the Cuban Embassy/Mexico trip is that there seems to be some doubt if some of it was actually Oswald.

            There’s a good article about the stuff that was released on this topic due to the JFK Records Act from Frontline –

            https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/oswald-the-cia-and-mexico-city/

            The short version:

            – During the Mexico trip someone claiming to be Oswald made contact with a KGB assassin.

            – After the assassination the FBI developed some doubts about whether the transcripts they were seeing of these calls were actually Oswald, and asked to get copies of the original tapes. The CIA then declared that all the tapes had been erased.

            – The FBI became convinced the CIA concocted the whole story, and Hoover demoted or punished everyone at the FBI who had been taken in. (I read in a different book that one guy was literally stationed in Alaska as punishment.)

            But the part of all of this I find really striking, personally, is the bit where (the real) Oswald visits the Cuban embassy, and the Mexico City CIA station asks for information on who this guy is.

            The higher ups sent back that they had no idea who that was – but some of the files now released show that the specific individuals who sent that response had been reading detailed files on Oswald shortly before that.

            That is pretty low key compared to some of this other stuff, until you realize that was how the CIA was responding to Oswald before the assassination.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      All conspiracy theories are false, except one. The rest are just cover.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Does “Many Catholic priests abuse children in their parishes, but local bishops work to keep revelations out of the public eye and ensure said abusive priests are relocated out of state. These priests are frequently allowed to work with kids again, often while the new community doesn’t know the priest’s history, allowing them to re-offend and start the whole cycle up again” qualify as a conspiracy? If you said this happened once or even twice maybe it doesn’t, but at some point it becomes systemic enough to be a full-blown conspiracy, right? 25 years ago, you would have been considered a lunatic for suggesting such a thing was going on.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Yeah, the scope of the PA stuff is actually pretty mind boggling even to me and I’m the guy who’s talking about actually kind of buying some conspiracy theories. Apart from all the actual horrific abuse, the extent of the organizational involvement in the cover up is what was really striking to me. This wasn’t just ‘a few bad apples,’ this really was an institution-wide effort. Also striking was the fact that one of the bishops involved (Wuerl) was specifically one of the ones the Church deployed as an anti-abuse mouthpiece after the Boston scandal.

        There’s a point where this starts to look so prevalent that the thing that kept coming to my mind reading about the PA report was the old line that if you look at how it spends its time and effort, the US government is basically an insurance company with an army; it appears that in Pennsylvania, for the past 70 years or so, the Catholic Church was a pedophile ring that also happened to offer religious services.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        25 years ago, you would have been considered a lunatic for suggesting such a thing was going on.

        25 seconds before the perps went to trial, you would have been considered a bigot for suggesting such a thing was being done by Muslims in the United Kingdom. And even after the central gov’t ended the Rotherham conspiracy with criminal charges, “bigots” were thrown in jail for trying to uncover evidence outside the courthouse.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Also, be sure not to notice the vast majority of abuse victims in the Catholic Church are post-pubescent boys and young men. That might make it seem like the problem has to do with homosexuality rather than pedophilia.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The PA report is full of reports of actual pedophilia involving pre-pubescent kids (although there is plenty of abuse of older kids mixed in as well).

            But frankly, the bigger problem is the fact that in exactly no instance in the hundreds of identified cases, did the Church, upon learning that one of their priests was raping children, take any action other than to hide it, and also make sure they are able to continue doing it.

            The usual deflections on this topic really do fail in the face of the scope of what this report actually reveals. This wasn’t a few bad eggs taking advantage of institutional authority; it was a specific set of organizational practices to enable sexual abuse of children, applied consistently across multiple dioceses for decades.

          • Nick says:

            The PA report details cases going back to the 1940s; most of it is child sexual abuse because it was pre-2002, after which some measures were put in place and prelates like Wuerl and O’Malley started building their careers on being zero tolerance on child sexual abuse. Post-2002, the big concern is predation on young men, especially on seminarians and young priests, and on abuses by, or complicity of, bishops—since both the responsibility to report crimes involving young men and the applicability of the law to bishops were specifically skirted by those writing the Dallas Charter.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            it was a specific set of organizational practices to enable sexual abuse of children, applied consistently across multiple dioceses for decades.

            Yes. I’d been hearing for a long time through the grapevine, from posts on Catholic forums/blogs, about a Pink Mafia. Seminarian learns two other seminarians are having a gay relationship. Troubled, informs Bishop. Bishop punishes reporter and protects gay seminarians. Repeat over and over again for decades, throughout the power structure.

            I didn’t necessarily think this was that big a deal. The priesthood sounded like a decent option for gay Catholics. If you’re not going to get married and have a family and need to be celibate anyway, the priesthood sounds like a pretty good deal. But it turns out these are the same people doing the abuse and cover-ups, also.

            I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, or how it’s going to end, but there’s a reckoning coming.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            But it turns out these are the same people doing the abuse But it turns out these are the same people doing the abuse and cover-ups, also. cover-ups, also.

            Yeah, from a liberal individualist perspective, it's easy to say that seminarians engaging in consensual gay sex should be supported and not persecuted, even in defiance of Church doctrine; while priests taking advantage of the children in their care are completely different. But from a conservative Catholic perspective, they're not that different at all, and a bishop who covers up one is liable to cover up the other.

      • mtl1882 says:

        I have been reading books from the 1800s and early 1900s, and several of them mention clergy sexual abuse scandals, some involving young boys. It has always been a thing, and it was well known. It was not beyond imagination. Of course, a large portion of people are in fact pretty credulous, especially when they know someone and the person has authority. Many didn’t imagine it could happen. But enough did (and wrote warnings about it) that we should acknowledge that ignorance isn’t a blanket excuse for society in general. And obviously the sexual aspect of it involves shame that prevents people from acting or inquiring even when they do know, and then they tend to claim ignorance. People knew, but I don’t blame them for being in denial when faced with so much social pressure and shame. The extent of the coverup is somewhat notable, but I think that is largely because of increased prosecution and media coverage. Before the 60s or whenever this ramped up, it was easy to get away with, and easy to keep quiet. And even easier to move elsewhere without needing a cover story from the authorities. So higher ups just didn’t have to worry about keeping it under control. Individual cases got publicity, but it wasn’t so wide-ranging. And I suppose Catholicism gained ground in certain places, and it is a far more organized religion than most. It is very common with clergy in general, but they’re harder to lump together.

        It certainly is a disturbing conspiracy, but I don’t find it as jaw-dropping as many seem to. People looking the other way of shame and denial when confronted with authority is entirely expected, and happens often at the family level. It’s just that most abusers aren’t connected to such a large and tight-knit organization that would be informed about their activities.

    • Matt M says:

      Something that occurs to me is that one necessary ingredient for a conspiracy theory to exist is silence (or at least the perception of silence) or reluctance on the part of the mainstream official media sources.

      Right now, my social media feeds are cluttered with people howling about the situation in New Mexico. I haven’t done any research at all, but as far as I can tell, the claim is something to the effect of:

      1. A Muslim guy was operating a terrorist training camp for school shooters
      2. This included child slavery and abuse
      3. A “liberal judge” released all of the offenders without bail
      4. The site is already being bulldozed for “cleanup”
      5. The media won’t cover this story

      I have no idea of the accuracy of points 1-4, but 5 seems fairly correct. Or at least, the coverage is minimal as compared to what one would expect, given the shocking and sensational nature of claims 1-4. It would seem to me that if you addressed 5, it would shed a whole lot of light on the validity of points 1-4, but the fact that 5 is firmly in place creates a breeding ground for 1-4 to go unchallenged.

      I think this works for left-wing conspiracies too. Something like “Monsanto is poisoning our kids with GMOs that cause cancer and destroy the crops of innocent farmers who they then sue for unlawfully using their GMO seeds.” If true, that would warrant a whole ton of media interest. But there’s no interest at all. Now that could be because all of those things are untrue, but the media hasn’t really bothered to convincingly argue that point to the general public at all. They just kind of shrug it off and expect everyone to go along. And unsurprisingly, a lot of people don’t go along.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There’s certainly allegations of a school shooter training camp, but there haven’t been any charges related to that — the charges for now are child abuse. There were five defendants; two are being held for other reasons and three are eligible for release on “signature bond” (which means they don’t need to put up any money).

        I think there’s definitely less coverage than there would be if a bunch of good-old-boys were arrested for the same thing, but it hasn’t been covered up in any way.

        • Matt M says:

          To be clear, there are certainly degrees of “covered up.”

          Is it true that the media absolutely will not talk about this incident at all? No. Does it seem to be true that they’re giving it far less attention than they might if a few minor details were changed? Absolutely.

          And it’s not just about the identity of the perpetrator.

          There are similar accusations about the Vegas shooting. A lot of weird stuff that doesn’t add up, horrific outcome numbers-wise, media uninterested in pursuing the various “weird stuff.” Parkland was much more straightforward and less interesting, yet got 100x more attention.

          • CatCube says:

            There’s less rhyme or reason to what gets covered than people think.

            Do you remember seeing the national news cover the guy who blew through the gate of a US military installation, back out another one, then fired an AK-47 at the cops while leading them on a high-speed chase down an Interstate?

            Or how about when a train derailed next to a (different) military installation that resulted in the evacuation of a town and part of the military base and forced everybody to drive several hours out of their way for several weeks? During the cleanup, they apparently didn’t take enough care and it exploded when they were cutting it up, leaving a huge fire right next to another car full of hydrogen flouride.

            These were both covered locally, but never made it to the national media despite them both seeming to me to have pretty good narrative hooks. Now, neither had the most obvious narrative hook because nobody died; however, there are all kinds of things where nobody died that end up at least getting a puff piece. It also depends on what else is going on. That second story occurred right around Hurricane Sandy.

            It’s really weird what will capture the imagination of national media and what won’t.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s fair.

            To be clear, my point is not “any time the media ignores a story you might suspect would interest them the conspiracy theories are true” but rather “any time the media ignores a story you might suspect would interest them, conspiracy theories are sure to follow.”

            Conspiracy theories are, at their core, people attempting to connect the dots and fill in the blanks on things that don’t make sense. All of polite society turning the other way and ignoring a Muslim school shooter training camp doesn’t make sense to most people, therefore, a conspiracy theory must be formed in order to explain the otherwise unexplainable.

            ETA: And in cases like the ones you mention, the “conspiracy” may be as simple as something like “We ignored this story because we’d rather focus on something that fits our narrative better.” The notion that news media outlets are deliberately ignoring “politically neutral” news in favor of round the clock interviews with Stormy Daniels’ lawyer fits in nicely with right-wing conspiracy think. In that case, it’s not the crazy dude with the AK-47 that’s the center of the conspiracy, he’s just a side-effect of the deep state conspiracy to overthrow Trump in a coup.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I find the Muhammad al-Durrah incident an interestingly atypical conspiracy theory scenario.

  22. ana53294 says:

    Why have MOOCs failed to disrupt higher education?

    Most students of MOOCs are already highly educated and middle class. They won’t come to substitute universities, they seem to mostly be used by people who already have a job to improve job performance. So they are mostly helping people who already have a lot.

    Unlike some predictions, they haven’t managed to produce that many people with a college diploma.

    • Matt M says:

      Didn’t you just answer your own question?

      To slightly rephrase, my answer would be something like “Because it turns out that the main value provided by universities is not, in fact, subject-level knowledge.”

      They simply aren’t offering the same product. It’s like asking why McDonalds hasn’t disrupted fine dining, given that their calories/dollar ratio is significantly better.

      • ana53294 says:

        But there are ways where MOOCs by leading universities could be used, such as the flipped classroom model, where students watch a recording at home, and them spend valuable class time with their teacher to discuss issues they had, ask questions and solve problems.

        • Matt M says:

          You don’t need a “MOOC” for that. That’s just “homework” and universities have already been doing it for years.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            So, an aside to this: electronic modules are way more useful than homework, if paired correctly with classwork. They provide immediate feedback and can target education towards actual gaps.

            Like, our 7th grade classroom model was:
            1. Teacher introduces concept.
            2. Classroom exercise to review. Teacher hovers around classroom to identify struggling students.
            3. Homework to reinforce.
            4. Come back the next day to review the homework and close any gaps.
            5. Introduce next concept.

            Electronic modules allow students to proceed at their own pace on multiple topics. The module records the answers and can identify when you are struggling with a specific concept. Then the teacher can step in, and the teacher can move between different students and concepts rather than slowing down the entire class just to teach one thing.

            In practice this is probably difficult in a classroom environment, but as a tutor this was pretty helpful.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Electronic modules allow students to proceed at their own pace on multiple topics.

            I think proponents of MOOCs as replacement for existing teaching models misunderstand how much of a detriment (as opposed to the touted benefit) this can be in practice.

            Akrasia is something I consistently see people posting about here. There is a certain universality to this. If it is not universal at it still so highly prevalent as to be the norm.

          • Matt M says:

            I think proponents of MOOCs as replacement for existing teaching models misunderstand how much of a detriment (as opposed to the touted benefit) this can be in practice.

            This is also a detriment if you only have a finite amount of material to cover, along with a minimum standard that everyone much reach by a specific time (end of the term).

            The slower students fall behind and can’t catch up, the quick ones finish everything and have nothing to do for the last 5 weeks.

            “Everyone moves at the same pace” is a feature, not a bug, of most educational systems.

          • quanta413 says:

            Akrasia can be prevented for many students by just having students take quizzes in class and having many homework deadlines. The people who won’t study for the quiz or do the homework on time probably wouldn’t have paid attention in an in-class lecture either and so can be safely ignored.

            This still works only really works for most people if you have teachers physically present rather than online because it’s easier to berate or guilt people into working if there is real social pressure, but you don’t have to teach by lecturing at least.

            Of course, students hate having lots of quizzes and tight homework deadlines, so it tends not to happen except when it really has to.

        • Aapje says:

          @ana53294

          But there are ways where MOOCs by leading universities could be used, such as the flipped classroom model, where students don’t watch a recording at home, and then spend valuable class time with their teacher to have her explain what the recording said.

          Fixed.

          Lots of people have akrasia, especially young people. A major feature of schools is to force engagement with the material. Increasing the amount of self-study almost inevitably decreases the policing of akrasia.

          A truly disruptive educational technology would be an anti-akrasia method or technology that doesn’t require intervention by humans.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I think you fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of college diplomas. The vast majority of the value is in the accreditation and the scarcity. MOOCs are not scarce so they have no value. Expanding education actually lowers the value of the education, because education (at least after High School, and possibly even lower down the pipeline) is a signaling mechanism, not about learning in the least.

    • John Schilling says:

      1. Most people aren’t motivated, disciplined autodidacts who will learn entire fields of study just from the textbooks, even if “books” now means “Fancy multimedia presentations on the intertubes”.

      2. MOOCs don’t facilitate hanging around in a community of college students with infrastructure optimized to support the things college students like to do with other college students.

      2a. Almost nobody can convince their parents to cough up ~5 years’ living/partying expenses and otherwise get off their back by sayning “But Mom, I’m doing my MOOCs, it’s important

      3. MOOCs don’t give you a network of classmates and professors to help build your career

      4. A college diploma still signals general intelligence, skill, knowledge, and conscientiousness at a high level. A MOOC “diploma” as yet only signals narrow skill plus the fact that you couldn’t manage college.

      5. The bit where you have a bunch of students sitting in a lecture hall listening to a professor was always the least important aspect of college education, so inventing a clever cheap substitute doesn’t really get you very far and it certainly doesn’t make universities obsolete.

      6. Predictions that [X] will make [Y] obsolete Real Soon Now, are almost always grossly overhyped and should be laughed at.

    • Argos says:

      Regarding the finer subpoint as to why universities have not adapted more to the MOOC model, like offering inverted classrooms:

      This comes from my experience both as a student, when a professor with a temporary contract tried to teach a inverted classroom style introductory programming course, and as a teacher for foreign languages when I tried to introduce spaced repetition systems for vocabulary learning (they are based on science, how can it fail!)

      Discussions about innovation in fields like education or Healthcare are usually suffering from applying a framework that is way too general. “moocs are technologically better” vs “universities have no incentives to change”. I think that in this case the problem might be that moocs are not sufficiently better to overcome inertia in organizations.

      In particular, the implementation of a good idea is just as important as the idea itself. This is common knowledge in the tech world but is somehow forgotten when discussing organizational changes. It is quite unlikely that a sweeping change in the classroom will work out reasonably on the first attempt. With moocs it was my experience that my professor provided material that was too difficult to understand on its own ;in class he would probably talk about it more, give examples or take questions, but you cannot do that online. Anticipating that the professor provided an online forum, however he did not anticipate that the students found it very hard to ask technical questions on an online forum. This leads us to the second problem :
      Very long feedback loops :in tech you can just quickly iterate over an idea, however it took months before the professor started to notice that the students were just not picking up the knowledge (first exam)

      These points make it quite likely that you fail. No problem, you can just try next time right? What makes it worse is that the incentives are very much in favor of not trying to get blamed in educational settings. The flack teachers get for underperforming students is usually larger than the praise they get if students overperform. Even worse it’s the young teachers without any clout that try to introduce new technology. Also, somewhat understandably, people don’t appreciate that they and their future are essentially sociological lab rats. Thus my professor had to end the inverted classroom experiment after the first semester due to several complaints and disappointing end of year exams. No second iteration was allowed.

      On the other side of the (non-inverted) classroom, I thought it would be a slam dunk to get my students to use an app like anki for learning vocabulary. It’s based on the simple principle of spaced repetition, meaning that vocab is being shown to you repeatedly, but with progressively longer gaps. It also takes advantage of the testing effect, quizzing you on items and making your recollection of them stronger as a result. Most people in the self study language learning community use it, and it’s thus a proven tool.

      Obviously my experiment also failed, because the students were just not using the app that I wholeheartedly recommended to them. They surely did have an incentive to learn the language, they were paying for courses in order to pass an exam allowing them to study abroad, not just for a certificate’s sake. Yet the problem was much more mundane : during my demonstration of the app I failed to explain it very clearly and it looked hard to use. Also I was just an assistant teacher in this school, and why should they trust my assertions that it will surely help them? No other teachers were pushing it and I could not make using the app mandatory even if I wanted to use the app even if I wanted. So probably two thirds of the hundred students I presented the app to did not even download it. Those who did, stopped using it after some time because it looked like additional work. Usually they would just learn new vocabulary on one day, repeat it the next day and consider them learned. With Anki and Spaced Repetition Systems you have to relearn the vocabulary many times! It probably takes a month until you can finally see the benefit of not forgetting 80 percent of the words you learned, but I was unable to inspire the students enough to give it that much time. Also many were happy doing things the way they are used to do them.

      However, it’s not all bleak. I have more and more coursework in my final year of university that follows an inverted classroom concept. It just took them some time to get it right. Instead of just written material, they usually have both written content and videos so students can choose what they prefer. The videos usually have animations or other “cool” stuff so after watching it you feel like somebody put an effort into them instead of just recording what they would usually say in class, which raises acceptance of the new methods. There are also mandatory tests after each lesson that feel difficult enough to actually have to watch the video but easy enough that you don’t feel annoyed. New, young professors enter the university and try to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

      Based on that I am fairly optimistic that universities will change for the better it will just take much much longer time than one would originally expect. Particularly I give inverted classroom style learning a higher than 70 percent chance of being used in most university courses in the US by 2033 (at least as supplementary course material) . Professors have a certain freedom to innovate and do not need permission for every change, it can b fun when done right students will appreciate not having to spend their time in classrooms.

      I am more skeptical about SRS style learning in schools. Teachers have much less status than a professor, and it’s much more difficult to iterate over an app, counterintuitively. The teachers closest to the process have no way to change the app, and the programmers are too removed from the actual users. On the other hand, telling children to use a learning app at home is not particularly risky so some schools may actually try it. I give give a 50 percent chance that every major city will have at least one school advertising that they enforce use of Spaced repetition apps.

      Sorry for grammar mistakes and typos, don’t know what drove me to write such a wall of text on my phone.

    • Jesse E says:

      Because the truth is, along with everything else people have pointed out, most people aren’t self starters and need some sort of consequence for not doing things, even with something like college. Yes, MOOC’s work great if you’re a foreign born worker trying to get the required piece of paper so you can get a job that will pay you far more than you can make in your home country.

      For your average college student, not really. They’ll treat it like employed adults treat training they have to go through at their own pace at their job, that they’re being paid for.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Because the value of higher education is not education, but scarcity.

    • mdet says:

      I find it interesting that the responses are split between “Education is actually mostly signaling rather than learning, so taking online classes doesn’t really matter” and “Most students need to be physically present with teachers and classmates to stay motivated enough to learn, so meeting people in the classroom is the only thing that matters”.

      Am I right to frame those as mostly-contradictory answers? Either way, I think the overlap between both of those answers is “MOOCs are just fancy multimedia textbooks, and we’ve already had textbooks since forever”

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t think so. Even if you’re actually learning stuff, most of the value of a college education could be signaling — all that requires is that the stuff you’re learning not be very pertinent to the stuff you eventually do outside academia, relative to a credential saying you’re reasonably bright, conscientious, and conformant. This is probably more true for a degree in, say, philosophy than it is for a degree in, say, chemical engineering.

        I think both explanations are probably true to some degree, and that means that MOOCs have two big problems.

    • arlie says:

      I’m not sure if anyone has said this already, but in my experience MOOCs have failed to disrupt higher education for the same reason that The Great Courses failed to disrupt education. Their “college level courses” are low quality, and because the assessment methods are inadequate, people generally interact with them as auditors, rather than as if they were taking real courses, so they learn less than they otherwise would.

      A few individual MOOCs are excellent, but usually only in their first or second time running, and only if the instructors are enthusiastic educational experimenters.

      One problem is that they don’t send students off to write papers – what “research” they assign is of the general category of “read this specific thing on the internet” not “find an interesting question, get it approved as appropriate scaled, and write about it”. When they do assign work of that kind, it tends to be peer graded – and the peers mostly aren’t perceived as competent, especially if they don’t like the student’s work.

      Now perhaps I’m dead wrong. I attended a college generally regarded as excellent/world class, and did so 40 years ago. Perhaps all these flaws are normal for an also-ran college teaching below average students, particularly a for profit college, or one run on behalf of a government desperate to cut costs.

      But this is my experience, for what its worth. Both Great Courses and random MOOCs have been excellent for giving me a basic grounding in a totally unfamiliar area. (Clasical music appreciation, rudiments of climate change science.) To learn something new that’s related to what I already know, I’m better off with a selection of good books, whether the topic is STEM or humanities. And some things require practical work, preferably suprvised – without that, I at least will get nowhere trying to learn them. (Chemistry comes to mind, or programming, or carpentry. Of those, only programming can be provided in MOOC format, though without the helpful supervision.) And even with areas totally new to me, I find I need to consume multiple courses ostensibly covering the same material, to get much of anywhere with it. Also, FWIW, I found Great Courses much more pleasant than MOOCs overall – the interactions with classmates on discussion boards ferquently had all the usual flaws of internet discussion. Also, Great Courses come with decent reading lists, which have been helpful to follow up on.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Several years ago I tried some MOOCs, and in my anecdotal experience they are often simply inferior way to learn.

      1. When I tried Coursera MOOCs, then-prevalent MOOC formula was often at odds with my idea of efficient learning: all courses would have video lectures of highly varying quality; yet some courses would have no written materials at all, so you had to watch the videos, which could easily be a distilled version of the worst aspects of attending a live lecture. (You have to listen to attentively but can not ask questions; and on the other side of the podium, the lecturer can’t observe audience reactions and adjust their pace accordingly.) Also, I view text as vastly superior to videos (much easier to adjust the speed so that it is exactly right for you; no need to fiddle with play/pause buttons if you want to stop and contemplate on something difficult or cross-reference an earlier point), but writing good materials is also a lot of work and many MOOC organizers apparently did not bother. Solutions to submitting and evaluating homework were sometimes outright clumsy. I don’t know if this has changed, maybe MOOC platforms today provide a better experience today.

      2. After I entered a traditional higher education institution, I suddenly had almost zero interest to complete “MOOC courses” in comparison to taking real classes. And if I want supplementary material for self-study, almost everything else (traditional textbooks or internet textbooks / tutorials, StackExchange and other forums, the occasional YouTube video) works much better because they don’t force a paced internet course format on you. Enrolling on a MOOC course on a site like Coursera or EdX to access the materials is an extra hassle.

      I hypothesize the above points combined are a reason why more people who could be disciplined autodidacts don’t overwhelmingly embrace MOOCs: if you are already the sort of person who can self-educate yourself, you will take a MOOC (instead of say, reading a textbook) only if it appears to be truly the best option to learn the thing you want to learn, and there are not many MOOCs that are superior to studying from a textbook. Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning MOOC is kinda famous and very popular, I assume it could be one of those online courses which is that good.

      3. And yeah, there’s also the akrasia and social network related reasons others pointed out upthread. Often the people who could be successful autodidacts will appreciate / can benefit from such features of traditional academia.

      So there’s a couple of explanations why people don’t flock to MOOCs more than they already do based on the contents of MOOC learning format, but in addition there’s also 4., that completing a MOOC is an inadequate credential compared to obtaining a traditional degree, and I don’t belive that is only because of the pure “empty” signaling reasons. I would give also some weight on the fact that MOOC provider can not attest to that it was you who completed the homework you submitted on the website. Cheating is already a problem to some extent in established institutions, but at least if you need to be physically present to get your degree, it’s easier for the potential employer to believe that you probably have done something. Has anyone heard about a reputable degree-granting university where the students don’t need to take any exams in controlled environment at all?

      So that’s a bunch of plausible explanations why MOOCs have not transformed higher education more than they have done. However, I also have had some professors who experimented with various flipped / inverted classroom ideas, and sometimes it worked quite well. I second Argos’ opinion that the successful MOOC-like educational innovations will be adopted and become increasingly widespread, but doing it well requires a lot more work and thought than putting some videos online, so the process will look more like a series of evolutionary improvements than a overnight revolution.

      • ana53294 says:

        Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning MOOC is kinda famous and very popular, I assume it could be one of those online courses which is that good.

        The thing about MOOCs is, the number of students who can take the course is unlimited. So even if 99.5% of MOOC courses are worse than physical courses, there will be an 0.5% of MOOC that are better than courses at universities, provide great written and audiovisual materials, and are much cheaper. And they will be really, really easy to scale.

        At the moment, it seems to me that the really good MOOCs, the ones that give good audiovisual materials, good exercises and feedback, seem to be mostly programming courses (because you can automate a program to check whether the assignment is up to spec). My guess is you can also make some really outstanding physics and math courses, but you cannot make humanities courses, because somebody with more experience than your fellow students should be grading essays.

        Except for Spain (where they are too cheap to hire assistants for professors and professors do all the grading themselves), in most countries* professors do not do all the grading of all the coursework. They rely on graduate students to help grade assignments and exams (partly or fully).

        So you could still offer decent MOOCs for humanities, but you would have to charge a bit more, for the hiring of graduate students to provide the feedback. The courses would still be much cheaper, though, because there would be much less overhead (buildings, libraries, etc. are expensive).

        *This is the case in at least Sweden, the UK, and the US.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Anyone here tried a carnivorous (meat, organs, animal products like eggs) diet?

    • lazydragonboy says:

      I ate very close to that for a while. Upwards of 95% of my calories came from animal products, and the rest was almost entirely vegetables. It worked pretty well health and mood wise. It’s very hard to gain body fat on this diet though, so if you’re skinny enough that that itself causes mood problems, the positive mood effects will be somewhat reduced.

      • Anonymous says:

        Interesting. I am sorta lean now, for the first time in my life, but I’m not skinny, and never were. If anything, not being fat is a great morale boost.

        I’m trying that out after being convinced of the carnivorous nature of human digestion. The major problem I encountered is cravings for carbs. I wonder if my gut flora is throwing a revolt due to being forcibly downsized with the elimination of starches.

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          I’m interested to hear about the carnivorous nature of human digestion. I mostly saw claims that humans are built like herbivores, although I guessed they weren’t to be trusted.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m interested to hear about the carnivorous nature of human digestion. I mostly saw claims that humans are built like herbivores, although I guessed they weren’t to be trusted.

            Yeah, that’s wrong. AFAIK, when we split from our primate cousins at the time of Proconsul, they went the herbivore-omnivore route, and we – our pre-human ancestors – took the carnivore route.

            You may have heard that we can’t digest cellulose, which passes all the way to the large intestine before anyone profits from it (mostly our gut flora, and the lining of the large intestine absorbs some of the short-chain fatty acids they produce, but this amounts to some 2-9% of total gained calories – our large intestine is just too short for the process to be significantly nourishing). You may not have heard that we can’t digest phytic acid or its mineral salts, making plant foods poor sources of a bunch of minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Plant foods are also very poor in vitamin B12, a severe deficiency in which leads to neural degeneration and death (but the body has a long term supply in the liver, so you might exist in a state of mild to moderate deficiency for years on end before major problems manifest). We make pretty crappy herbivores.

            Actual specialized herbivores (ruminants) can and do digest cellulose – in a complicated process involving multiple stomachs and loads of gut microbes. These same microbes also provide protein, vitamin B12 and break down phytic acid and its salts, so they can usually subsist on nothing but poor-quality plant matter. There are other nominal herbivores that have simpler digestive systems, but they can’t digest plant matter nearly as well, and can’t subsist only on scrub; their method for extracting nourishment from plants is to have a much longer large intestine, giving the bacteria there much more time to ferment the incoming material, and absorb the resulting short-chain fatty acids. One example of such a creature is the gorilla.

            Here’s a handy comparison table between the digestive systems of a sheep (a ruminant), a large dog (a carnivore) and a human (nominally omnivorous). You will note that from that comparison, humans are even more specialized to eat meat than dogs are. What I found most fascinating that we can survive with little more than the small intestine intact – colectomies and gastrectomies don’t consign you to an IV drip for the rest of your life.

            Now, the de facto state of affairs is that we do eat both plant and animal matter… but then so do nominally herbivorous and carnivorous animals. By that standard, nearly every higher order critter is an omnivore. But they’re not all specialized to eat the same sort of food – even if they ingest it from time to time.

            As for us, we cheat. The vast majority of plant foods we eat today are almost entirely indigestible except if they are processed in some way – notably, through the use of heat and moisture, ie. cooking. This ruptures the plant cells which we can’t normally digest, and reduces a whole host of plant defense systems against being eaten – such as goitrogens, oxalates, tannins, lectins and protease inhibitors. (But phytic acid is heat resistant, unfortunately.) What we can usefully eat without preparation consists mostly of fruits, particularly those we have greatly genetically modified using crude selection, mostly for sugar content.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        I think rare meat helped me, but not exactly with carb cravings. Rare meat always felt like it transitioned into blood sugar quickly. I have heard it digests easily, and that certainly was how it felt when I ate it.

  24. Orpheus says:

    So…what are you reading now? (And don’t give me any cheeky “The SSC open thread” comments; I mean what book are you currently reading).

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Now? I’ve got three right now I’ve been switching between every chapter or so.

      * Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
      * Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley
      * Alt-Hero

    • CatCube says:

      I’m rereading The Goblin Emperor by Kathrine Addison. It was recommended by somebody here in one of the OTs a while back. I can’t say that the story is great or that the writing is exceptional, but I’m rereading it for the same reason I read The Martian multiple times: I like spending time with this character.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Semiosis by Sue Burke.

      Science fiction novel about an isolated colony on a planet with intelligent plants.

      I think of it as somewhat old style, since a lot of the fun is watching the implications of an idea. Also, it’s restful because the author’s politics aren’t obvious.

      • rahien.din says:

        Just finished Semiosis, and I really enjoyed it. It’s apparently going to be a duology.

      • engleberg says:

        Just bought Semiosis on your recommendation.

      • theredsheep says:

        Counterpoint: I struggled to get through it, and eventually tossed it aside when I got to the chapter about Higgins and realized I was supposed to view him sympathetically.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve been reading the Killbot Diaries novellas, which are quite good–well-written, interesting worldbuilding, etc.

        I also recently read Downbelow Station, which was worth reading even though the tone throughout most of the book is damned dark.

        • engleberg says:

          I read a bunch of CJ Cherryh in the Navy, and she was really good at describing people under tension in a tin can. Not a real fun read though. I wish she’d publish her Latin for Lazy People thing- the parts I read on her website were excellent, and a real fun read.

    • JulieK says:

      I recently caught up one the three latest Vorkosigan novels. I found them a mixed bag; Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was quite good, but Cryoburn was blah and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen had no plot.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The last Bujold I read was “Cryoburn” and it felt “phoned in”. I’ve not read the most recent two.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I just reread The Curse of Chalion– it holds up very nicely.

      • John Schilling says:

        Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was quite good, but Cryoburn was blah and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen had no plot.

        That was my assessment as well. I think Bujold has run out of stories she wants to tell about Miles, and is winding down that saga. Ivan(*) is such a natural fit for that universe that writing a novel-length epilogue for him brought out the best in her Vorkisigan-style writing and enthusiasm, Granny Cordelia very much less so.

        * Don’t say it!

      • Aevylmar says:

        (Bujold spoilers)

        I loved the first half of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (everything up to the “Divorce” scene), but it felt as though Barrayar was going to be a brief, homey rest before rushing off to go slay dragons, the way it was in Mirror Dance, and then… no?

        It feels as though sometime around 2004 she forgotten how to write adventure plots, or how to write villains, or one of these things. All her early things are very good, but her later things are… less so.

        • JulieK says:

          Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance has a lot in common with A Civil Campaign; in both, the focus is on the romance/humor, and the action is a minor element. (In Jole, the action is totally absent.)

          • Aevylmar says:

            [more spoilers]

            Yes… but I thought that the second half of A Civil Campaign worked but the second half of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance didn’t.

            In Civil Campaign, there was tension that wasn’t based on “will they or won’t they,” in addition to the tension that was based on “will they or won’t they.” The two district elections are, if not the A-plot, at least very close, and the question of who’s going to win there remains tense up until the climax of the story.

            In Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, though, I thought that the only real tension for the second half of the story was ‘will they or won’t they’, which… they will. Of course they will. They’re both already at the ‘I love [him/her], but [he/she] doesn’t love me stage.’

            So I thought that Civil Campaign was one of her best and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance wasn’t.

          • JulieK says:

            In CVA you have the “problem with moles” subplot in the second half. (Of which the best parts are undoubtedly the opening and closing scenes- “What is that building?” and “Has our building always looked like that?”)

        • JulieK says:

          All her early things are very good, but her later things are… less so.

          I really liked her old method of telling the whole story from one character’s point of view (in the 3rd person), rather than skipping from one viewpoint to another.

      • theredsheep says:

        I felt like Ivan in CVA was sort of a replacement Miles, now that Miles has settled down and can’t go off doing harebrained things for our amusement anymore. Still amusing. Gentleman Jole was just Cordelia being insufferably Cordelian about her superior progressive values for a whole book. Or so I gather from my wife, who actually finished it. I thought I was strong enough to make it through; I was wrong.

        (Mirror Dance really was her best, yes)

        EDIT: IIRC she has another one out now, about the butter-bug scientist and Miles’s wife. I don’t know details since it hasn’t shown up at the library yet.

        • theredsheep says:

          Okay, it’s “the Flowers of Vashnoi,” currently only available as an e-book on Amazon. It says it’s a novella.

        • Aevylmar says:

          It’s not bad, but I didn’t think it was up to her pre-2004 standard.

          • albatross11 says:

            I liked it pretty well–about as worthwhile as “Mountains of Mourning,” and in fact I kind-of thought of it as Ekaterin’s version of “Mountains of Mourning.”

        • albatross11 says:

          I enjoyed Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance quite a bit.

          My problem with Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen was that there wasn’t any real tension. The problems were too small for the characters. Jole’s midlife crisis career decision wasn’t enough to drive the plot, and Miles’ arrival didn’t actually accomplish anything interesting either. I felt like it was Bujold’s way of trying to tie up the loose ends of the characters so she could stop writing about them.

          There are a lot of interesting stories to write in that universe, but most don’t involve Cordelia or Miles as major characters unless things go massively pear-shaped for the Barrayarran Empire. Miles now has a stature only a little less imposing than Aral did during, say, _The Warrior’s Apprentice_. Barring a civil war or Cetagandan invasion, they’re the powers on the sidelines/in the background while the new set of characters play. IMO, _Gentleman Jole_ would have been way better, if it had been written from the perspective of the Womens’ Auxillary officer who was his aide. *She* faced some interesting problems, including maybe ending up paired off with a Cetagandan defector. That story from her side, with a few overheard bits/interactions with Jole and Cordelia, might have been pretty entertaining.

        • JulieK says:

          Gentleman Jole was just Cordelia being insufferably Cordelian about her superior progressive values for a whole book.

          It was interesting to see the progressive Cordelia refer to embryos as people, though.

    • a reader says:

      “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari.

      But I read it quite intermittently, I’m too much Internet addicted and the book, although thought-provoking, didn’t captivate me enough to overcome my net addiction.

    • sty_silver says:

      Waking Up; Searching for spirituality without religion by Sam Harris

      • lazydragonboy says:

        How is that? I had it recommended by a guy I went on retreat with, but I never wound up giving it ago. I saw public spat of his, and he didn’t look like the kinda guy I would want to learn from.

    • marshwiggle says:

      The Lagoon. It’s an account of the biology of Aristotle.

    • sfoil says:

      I just finished reading Jack Vance’s Araminta Station. It’s the first part of a trilogy, though I’ve heard that next two books aren’t as good. Araminta itself is set in the same universe as the better-known Demon Princes. Overall: an experienced novelist with a distinct style putting his tricks to good use.

    • Aapje says:

      Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk

      The Stormlight Archive (listening as audio book during commute)

    • Anonymous says:

      * Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic
      * Harry Potter and the Natural 20 by Sir Poley
      * Stone Age Diet by Walter L. Voegtlin

    • fion says:

      Judas Unchained, the second part of The Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton. It’s a sci-fi epic, and one that I’m finding very entertaining and gripping. I’d also say it’s very strong on world building and character development. My only criticism is it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on, when there’s so many characters and so many story threads. It’s one of those books where I sometimes wish I’d been taking notes. 😛

    • rahien.din says:

      To Sell Is Human : The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

      Cautious Aggression : Defending Modern Football

    • bean says:

      Let’s see. Limiting myself to books I’ve actually read in the past week or so, and intend to read all the way through (as opposed to ones I’m reading specific sections of, or ones I consulted for reference):
      The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
      British Battleships of the Victorian Era by Norman Friedman
      Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance by Donald MacKenzie
      The Atlantic Battle Won by Samuel Eliot Morison
      Fireworks by George Plimpton
      The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff

      Yes, this is actually how I read books.

      • albatross11 says:

        In those term, I’m slowly working my way through _The Secret of Our Success_ and _Arms and Influence_, and rereading _Knowledge and Decisions_. All three very much worth the time to read and think about them.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I also started and haven’t yet finished The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger, but I didn’t like his writing style very much and am not sure I will actually finish it, and hence whether I can be counted as still reading it.

    • Plumber says:

      “So…what are you reading now? (And don’t give me any cheeky “The SSC open thread” comments; I mean what book are you currently reading”

      @Orpheus,

      Building Outdoor Structures by Scott McBride (my wife wanted a fence to keep the neighbors from parking close to our house), 

      How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman,

      The Time Traveler’s Guide to Restoration England by Ian Mortimer (I really liked his previous books on the Elizabethan era, and the 14th century), and

      Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe (I’m kinda on what I guess is some weird kick on learning about the origins of capitalist employer-employee relations, and on how education was handled in the past. One interesting thing to me is the two parallel apprenticeship systems in Tudor times, one for teens who’s parents pay a fee to start the training that last until the apprentice is in their early 20’s, which reminds my of parents paying for private schools and colleges, and another in which local governments paid households to take pre-teen orphans as “apprentices” which resembles are modern fostercare system).

      I also had tried to read some of Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, which I saw recommendations of, but I just couldn’t get into it right now.

      • SamChevre says:

        I would love to hear more about the Wage Labor and Guilds book once you finish: I’m somewhat familiar with the topic, and tend to think of the modern effective trades unions as their descendants–but generally find the topic interesting.

      • albatross11 says:

        Have you read Kropotkin’s _Mutual Aid_? You might find it interesting–he talks some about guilds in middle-ages Europe, among other things.

    • smocc says:

      Hild by Nicola Griffith, a historical fiction novel about the youth of St Hilda.
      The Wise Man’s Fear

    • SamChevre says:

      Just got a copy of Jo Walton’s Starling (collected short stories) at the library. I tend to prefer short stories and multi-book epics, so I’m looking forward to this.

    • toastengineer says:

      I have a copy of This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible on my kitchen counter, but I haven’t had a chance to actually read it yet.

    • Beck says:

      I’m just finishing The Quarry by Ian Banks (didn’t care for it) and starting Burton’s First Footsteps in East Africa (high hopes).

    • drunkfish says:

      Unsong (I’m a late arrival here, I’m in awe of this book, it’s legitimately incredible, I seriously hope Scott has more long-form fiction planned), and I just finished The Dark Forest/about to start Death’s End.

    • John Schilling says:

      Just finished The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States; good but not great. It has the usual range of first-novel weaknesses, and exhibits a bit more Trump Derangement Syndrome than is really necessary, but he definitely has the technical chops to do the story justice (disclaimer: I’ve co-authored technical articles with him).

    • Aevylmar says:

      “Conquest: Cortez, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico.” I love studying history and I knew almost nothing about the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and this was the least-bad book I could find on the topic.

      Also rereading “Borders of Infinity,” which remains amazing as always.

    • theredsheep says:

      Keay’s history of China. It’s the first readable one I’ve found, and I’m liking it so far.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Nothing exciting. I am reading Bryan Caplan’s Case Against Education. Late-comer to that, obviously.

      I am naturally sympathetic to the central thesis, but as I read a couple red flags keep coming up to me. But I’ll finisht the book and read other criticisms before forming an opinion.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I’d be curious in your thoughts about it. I thought it was pretty good, but he is preaching to the choir with me.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Major differences in the return between different majors are brieflydiscussed, but it’s just assumed that foreign language is soft and biology is hard. Economics is assumed to be soft: Caplan says he teaches no useful skills at all. I don’t think that’s true at all, because most of the people I know that graduated with a degree in economics think slightly differently than people with more general business majors. That’s probably selection bias to a big extent, but my economic coursework helped me out a lot more than my other coursework, IMO, because it really did teach you “how to think” in a way my other business courses simply did not.

          Also, the part about how people learn “on the job” is just hand-waved. It’s, what, a page long? I think if we’re going to criticize the education system, we should have some sort of model of how people learn, and how employers teach. I have my own thoughts on the manner, and they aren’t really supportive of the education system, but it also implies a lot of things about what people can even learn “OJT.”

          There are complaints about not being able to transfer knowledge, but I think in a job environment, things might play out differently. So, Caplan complains about geometry. But geometry isn’t useful because it teaches you how to prove that thing in front of you is a triangle, it’s useful because it teaches you how to prove ANYTHING. And you might not IMMEDIATELY think of using that in your sudoku puzzle, and I have to remind you to do that. Caplan thinks this proves that knowledge doesn’t transfer. But that’s not true. If you show up to work and can’t remember how to apply your geometry proofs, that’s fine. I just tell you to apply your geometry proof process once, and now you know to apply it. This is not a failure of the schooling system.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Okay, you’re right that Caplan does do hand waving in various places. I liked those areas where he did provide good data, and kind of skimmed over the areas where he didn’t. It’s written in a pretty folksy manner, instead how he’d presumably write for an economics journal, so he’s bound to make lots of unsupported comments.

            It is interesting though that I disagree with many of your specific examples. But I am extremely skeptical of those who claim that college teaches one to think — I think you are much less skeptical of that. It is my position that college often teaches one how a particular profession thinks. SO Economics teaches one how to make arguments that economists will find convincing, and History teaches how to convince Historians. But I think this doesn’t teach how to think in a general case.

            I am a little surprised Economic courses helped you with anything in your life. I enjoy Economics theory, and seriously considered going to grad school in Econ, but I don’t see how it helped me at all in my day-to day life. I think you work in the Finance area like me — have these courses helped you in your professional life? And yes, I believe the difference in Econ majors and Business majors are 100% selection bias.

            Yes, Geometry is not about teaching you stuff about squares and triangles, but teaching the skill of doing proofs. I actually enjoyed that part of Geometry, probably because I am pretty good at it, but I cannot think of a single benefit to my life that has resulted. I don’t think my arguments in SSC are any better because I could prove that 2 triangles are congruent.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But I am extremely skeptical of those who claim that college teaches one to think

            College forces you to practice thinking, and offers assessment and correction. Practice, assess, correct is the basic loop of any skill development.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s not clear to me that it’s meaningful to talk about college in general teaching thinking by forcing practicing at thinking. It’s more like college gives you good options to practice a lot of thinking. A lazy yet determined student can avoid most thinking more strenuous than the thought required to assemble a wal-mart pantry (which is non-zero! you have to interpret the instructions correctly and may even need to do a few mental rotations) although they’ll have to temporarily memorize a lot. An eager student can become a master of abstruse topics and modes of thought in mathematics/physics/economics/history/etc. I’m not sure how well each type of thinking generalizes, but it’s definitely learning thinking.

            I definitely took easy to even somewhat difficult classes that were essentially rote memorization. And this happened in both the sciences and humanities. Not that rote memorization is bad in and of itself. But it’s not very useful if you aren’t going to use what you’re memorizing any time after the class.

            I also took classes in various departments that did require thinking. Some classes took a lot of thinking, but often very specialized. For example, my mathematics training was very specialized. Almost two years of real analysis didn’t really improve my skill at anything besides real analysis and closely related things like numerical analysis. Or doing mathematical proofs. But I lost that skill once I ceased to need to do proofs for years. A small fraction of the analysis knowledge itself sort of stuck. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever matter after graduate school. I don’t think it improved my thought patterns for non mathematical topics either.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @heelbearcub

            Its not clear to me that university does what you say, rather it appears that it simply demonstrates to other persons your capability to practice thinking. As you would describe it.

            In other words, its an accreditation of preexisting conditions.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            at best what a lot of college does is teach you other skills in addition to teaching you useless knowledge

            Proofs are in fact a phenomenal example of this; you have to memorize a bunch of useless axioms in order to even start on the whole logic bit, and most of the axioms are in fact useless, plus many of them are just outright dumb. This also means that you can learn “how to solve proofs” without necessarily involving logic; I never noticed proofs were about logic per se and I did great in that class because I’m great at memorization. If you really think teaching logic is so god-damn important then why not just teach a class on it? It’s not like most people will use geometry anyways, and those that will will surely benefit greatly from learning logic straight-up.

            Also, “thinking” and “assessment” and “feedback”. Can’t all of these happen in a job, too? You’re given a task, you think about how to do it, you’re assessed and if you fail, you failed. OK, you probably do more thinking in college (and have more room to fail), but honestly even in college you can sort of just, say, learn the material, not something you can do when solving a real-life problem. This is all important considering that college is expensive and you don’t produce anything while you’re there; there needs to be a great benefit and I don’t see it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @quanta413:
            An eager student can become a master of abstruse topics and modes of thought in mathematics/physics/economics/history/etc. I’m not sure how well each type of thinking generalizes, but it’s definitely learning thinking.

            I’m trying to figure out what you mean by this. I might understand, but let’s see:

            Consider the following concepts:

            * a limit in calculus
            * quantum entanglement
            * comparative advantage
            * decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics
            * allegories and hidden ideas in poetry

            If I gave a short college course covering nothing but the above, would it strike you as a very concentrated version of learning to think?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Mark,

            I’m really skeptical of the value of institutional education and still don’t understand why I spent so much time making dioramas when I was younger. A dodecahedron with each side representing a character or theme from some book: what was the point of that? Not sure, but I failed that project because I refused to do it.

            Anyways, if your supposition is “college is about signaling,” and 5 of your 6 top-performing majors are clearly vocational, you have an issue. If your assumption about the 6th major is immediately that it is not useful, you also have an issue. I am skeptical we can make that assumption, and would think we might try examining the subject a little more since the job market got the other 5 right.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I’m trying to figure out what you mean by this. I might understand, but let’s see:

            Consider the following concepts:

            * a limit in calculus
            * quantum entanglement
            * comparative advantage
            * decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics
            * allegories and hidden ideas in poetry

            If I gave a short college course covering nothing but the above, would it strike you as a very concentrated version of learning to think?

            I was actually thinking in the opposite direction. Like you choose one or two of the broad subjects I mention and spend years doing problems in them. You need to both memorize some number of facts or axioms to work with and learn how to engage in the process of problem solving in your field. You successfully (and unsuccessfully) apply various approaches in your field to a multitude of problems. Then you’ve learned how to think about that subject, and there are probably some cases where that mode of thinking will transfer.

            That’s basically what I did. Mathematics and physics were my choice, and I spent roughly 50-60 hours a week doing those for 4 years. I am definitely more competent at problem solving in those subjects than before college.

            It’s an interesting question though to think about how much you can compress things if you only want to teach a minimal set of facts and processes necessary to teach a mode of thinking itself. I think practice problems ranging from easy to hard are still required to get anything to stick though. And some spaced repetition. But maybe given a good teacher and well designed resources, you could spend 10 hours a week for 2 or 3 years and learn enough to think like an engineer or a historian even if your range of knowledge is narrow.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @HBC

            College forces you to practice thinking, and offers assessment and correction. Practice, assess, correct is the basic loop of any skill development.

            That sounds very good in theory, but that’s certainly not how I remember college. My tests and papers were assessed to verify that I had the right answers. Yes my skill in understanding how that profession thought was increased by each class I took, so that I understood how accountants thought by the time I finished my 4 year accounting degree. I also took several Econ and Psych courses, so I had a much better idea how those folks thought by the time my degree was done. But I didn’t learn to think in general.

            Maybe feedback like you discuss could work if a smart teacher worked intensively with no more than a half dozen students over a period of time. But of course even that could only work if the teacher was indeed very skilled in the art of thinking. I don’t remember any such professors when I was in college.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @ADBG

            Anyways, if your supposition is “college is about signaling,” and 5 of your 6 top-performing majors are clearly vocational, you have an issue. If your assumption about the 6th major is immediately that it is not useful, you also have an issue. I am skeptical we can make that assumption, and would think we might try examining the subject a little more since the job market got the other 5 right.

            I really don’t understand most of what you are saying here, and I would like to since it is directed at me.

            I do think that most of the value of college to students and employers is signalling, not from skill acquisition. I also think that from the student’s point of view it is a good idea to take a vocational degree, if the reason for college is to get a job, which is the case for 95% of students. Even a vocational degree is mostly signalling, but usually more useful skills are picked up than in a purely academic degree. But I don’t understand what you mean by top performing majors.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. It was mentioned in a recent open thread and finally having bothered to learn how to use the Brooklyn library’s e-books it was free. I’m wishing I hadn’t listened to the detractors and instead picked it up after Crypotnomicon. Reports that it has no plot to speak of are accurate, but I’m having fun just the same.

      • add_lhr says:

        I’m just now on the last 150 pages of the trilogy, after an epic but enjoyable six months of fitting it in around the rest of my life. Don’t worry, the next book, The Confusion, definitely has a plot, and quite a fun one at that.

    • Nornagest says:

      Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, and one of the Expanse books but I can’t keep the titles straight.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’ve had my eye on this trilogy of Helprin’s. Have you read it?

        • Nornagest says:

          Afraid not; Winter’s Tale is the first thing I’ve read of his. I’m enjoying it so far, though.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I’ve read Bend Sinister (not too deeply, and at least eight years ago, so I probably can’t comment on it) but I’m interested to hear your thoughts on it if you care to share.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m only a bit more than halfway through, so my take might change as I get deeper into it, but I like Krug’s relationship to the background politics. Another book would probably have foregrounded that, as a political tragedy or cautionary tale or morality play; but Krug’s life is totally dominated by personal tragedy, and he treats the secret police almost as an annoyance. He’s less pissed off that they’re threatening him and oppressing his friends and more pissed off that they’re getting in the way of his grief. It’s very human.

          He’s also blatantly kind of a jerk, where a worse writer would have either made him all sweetness and light or made excuses in narration for the petty or cruel stuff he does.

          Nabokov spends a lot of time dissing George Orwell in the introduction to my copy, so some of this is probably a deliberate reaction to e.g. Nineteen Eighty-Four.

    • Eric Rall says:

      1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. It’s interesting, but not what I expected.Rather than giving a narrative of events as the author has reconstructed them (the way most popular history books I’ve read are structured), 1177 goes pretty deep into the weeds about “Here’s this document or artifact we found, here’s what we understand about its context, and here’s what we think it tells us about events”.

      I think the issue is that the Bronze Age Collapse (like much of the ancient world in general, especially the pre-Classical world) is incredibly poorly documented, and we don’t know enough about it with any degree of confidence to present anything like a detailed narrative that’s anything other than speculative. The actual concrete stuff we know is sparse enough that the book can afford to go down into the weeds of specific pieces of evidence and still be a relative short book.

      Contrasting with Against the Grain, which I read last year and which has more of a conventional narrative feel to it despite also covering a very sparsely documented period of time, but AtG has a much wider scope than 1177 and is looking at patterns across multiple civilizations over thousands of years rather than a single cluster of civilizations around a single event, so the same density of evidence over space and time produces a much larger absolute volume of evidence over the scope of the book.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      The Essential Gandhi. I am planning to do a post about Gandhi soon on SSC.

      The Innocent. Usually I read SF for my fiction, but this isn’t bad so far as a very light-weight book.

      Rethinking Economics of Housing. I got this book because I am interested in housing issues. Most housing books are by political advocates of some kind of housing and appear to me as political screeds. I have been pleasantly surprised by this one that has a very good grounding in economics.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      just finished “The Wheel of the Infinite” by Martha Wells, for the second time

      pretty good book I think, fantasy about a fairly powerful priestess who has to deal with some problems and, well, let’s not spoil anything here

    • James says:

      Dataclysm by that OKCupid guy. Middlebrow nonfiction for my lunch hour. Some nice finds.

      Baudelaire in the Penguin Classics edition with an accompanying literal prose translation. Also to some extent the Penguin Book of French Poetry 1820-1950, same deal. These take me a very long time because I, erm, don’t know French.

      Decadent Poetry from Wilde To Naidu, another Penguin Classics anthology of 1890s-ish, English decadent poets, ripping off the French guys above plenty. Really like this one.

      Kinda-not-really reading, but still on my pile: Beyond Good and Evil, Eugene Onegin (James Falen translation).

      On my really-want-to-read-but-just-don’t-have-time-to-slot-novels-into-my-life-right-now pile: The Drowned World, an early Ballard from before he went off the deep end of experimentalism and ‘merely’ wrote atmospheric, pessimistic sci-fi.

    • lazydragonboy says:

      Make it Stick, by Peter C Brown*
      Still, Flowing Water, by Ajahn Jayasaro
      Meditation: a Way of Wakening, by Ajahn Succito
      Siddartha, by Hermann Hesse* **

      I may drop the last one. I am mostly listening to it to improve my German and as a subhect to start a conversation with someone I have been out of contact with for a while—but I am getting bored fast.

      *I am techically lstening to these on audible rather than reading them.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Finished Siddartha, threw it away. One of the few books I have ever thrown away.

        It isn’t that it was offensive, so much as that, at the end of it, it just felt like a massive waste of time. I am unfulfilled, it must be that I need X. X didn’t work, I am still unfulfilled, it must be that I need Y. Repeat, except take forever to describe how X or Y are acquired, and to detail how they never make the protagonist happy.

        I mean, it sort of offers an answer to nihilism, if you squint hard enough. I think that is supposed to be what the book is about? Struggling with nihilism? Or some other incomprehensible philosophical ailment.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ll bet the repeated “I need X, I’ll go find X, I’ve got X, whoops, still unfulfilled” is the point. Buddhism’s big idea — or, at least, the big idea of the semi-revisionist Buddhism that usually reaches Westerners like Hesse — is that achievements will never fulfill you, because the hope for achievement is what causes the feeling of unfulfillment in the first place.

          It’s been forever since I read Siddhartha, though, so I’m not sure how well Hesse managed to communicate this.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Oh, it absolutely was the point – it just didn’t do it well.

            In the end, something something you can’t be fulfilled when you desire fulfillment because, basically, bootstrapping problems, you can’t finish a list that has “finish this list” on it. So to be fulfilled you have to let go of the desire to be fulfilled. Sort of. That part is kind of a Disney Acid Trip of half-baked metaphors being written as literal events, and isn’t particularly clear, and also it has been a few years since I read it, but I think that was the gist.

            And that’s… not actually a very helpful message? “You can’t finish a to-do list if it includes “Finish this list”” on it? If that is your big philosophical problem, your philosophy needs a little more rework than rewriting the list.

  25. Brad says:

    Other than Georgist land taxes are there any other proposed strategies for reducing the deadweight losses caused by land rents? Leave to one side proposals that amount to undoing policies that make the situation worse, here I’m asking about positive interventions.

    • SamChevre says:

      I don’t know if it’s a proposed strategy in the US, but land reform has been a key policy world-wide, and when done well (Taiwan or South Korea) can be very effective.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Really? Because when I think of “land reform”, I usually think of either “Kleptocrats taking land from wealthy farmers (who they shoot) and parcelling it out to their buddies, then everyone starves” or “Communists taking land from farmers (who they shoot), organizing it into collectives, forcing people to work them, and everyone starves”.

        • Neil Strickland says:

          Yes, really. The book “How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region” by Joe Studwell discusses this in detail. It’s a few years since I read it, but I found it very interesting. The claim is that there was extensive and successful land reform as part of the unification of Germany, and this was consciously and deliberately copied by Meiji Japan, and later by Taiwan and South Korea, again with success. There were less successful (but not disastrous) programmes in Malaysia and the Philippines, and Studwell discusses the reasons for these differences. As far as I remember, he does not really talk about experiences in Latin America or Africa, which are also less positive.

        • Eric Rall says:

          In addition to Neil’s examples, there was a substantial de facto land reform in the US after the American Revolution (confiscation of loyalist estates and abolition of proprietary colonial governments) and in Revolutionary France.

          From what I gather, one-time land reform seems to work pretty well (or at least to be mostly harmless) when it’s done as part of a replacement of a feudal-ish political and social structure with something resembling a liberal democracy with a market economy. Both parts are critical. The reformers have to credibly commit to it being a one-time deal, that the feudal holdings they’re “reforming” are fundamentally different from property under the new regime, and that property rights are going to be secure going forward; without this, land reform destablises property rights, causes tragedy-of-the-commons issues, and disincentivizes investment in land improvements or in repurposing land to higher-valued uses.

          “Liberal democracy with a market economy” (or at least a relatively liberal constitutional monarchy) is also important, both for its own sake and because the common alternatives (communists and autocratic military strongmen) tend to be really bad at property rights and have strong political economy incentives to fall into the failure modes you brought up. But there are historical examples of successful one-time land reforms done by authoritarian revolutionary governments that didn’t liberalize until later (Taiwan, South Korea, Revolutionary France) or by foreign conquerors (Napoleon in his client states, Prussia in the territories they acquired in the Austro-Prussian war), so the important part here seems to be a sustainable trajectory towards liberalization rather than actually being there at the time of the land reform.

          Of course, it could be that the process of liberalization is doing all of the work here, and that a one-time land reform during a transition period doesn’t really help, but a credible commitment to being a one-time deal minimizes the harm, and a general transition to a liberal government with a market economy provides enough offsetting benefits to hide the damage from the land reform.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, in that case, I don’t think land reform in the SF Bay Area is going to work too well. Dispossessing a whole bunch of small homeowners in order to give that land to people who will build dense housing doesn’t meet those criteria. There’s no current feudal system (though the proposed Google company town might be considered a move in that direction), there’s definitely no commitment to doing it only once, there’s no fundamental difference in the property, and the SF Bay governments are not likely to move towards liberalization.

          • ana53294 says:

            there’s definitely no commitment to doing it only once

            Exactly. You start with tearing some buildings, and then you end up with destroying the whole concept of private property. In Moscow, they have this project where they are going to destroy supposedly unsafe buildings (somehow only centrally located 5 storey buildings that are close to public transportation are unsafe), and are going to increase density. Property owners will be given a take-it-or-leave-it deal, and if they don’t accept the provided alternative housing after eviction, they may get nothing (and they will not be allowed to sue).

            This is going to be the destruction of the whole concept of private property in Russia. People are already used to the fact that money in the bank can become useless paper at any time, and that foreign currency ownership can be declared illegal (as was done during the Soviet Union).

            Construction business is one of the most corrupt businesses (almost all corruption cases in Spain are related to construction). You don’t want to have construction businesses using the government to kick out unwilling house owners and providing whatever compensation the government sets. You will just get regulatory capture.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Well, in that case, I don’t think land reform in the SF Bay Area is going to work too well

            Ah, I forgot the thread was originally talking about the Bay Area. In that case, I absolutely agree with you.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      What would be an example of such a deadweight loss? It’s not clear to me that there are any.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Also interested to see more about this.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Name a source of deadweight loss you are interested in, and I’ll tell you how land ownership causes it. Too many ways to know where to begin.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I mean, I guess we should start with the biggest one: Taxes

          • Guy in TN says:

            Private landowners certainly have powers identical to that of taxation. Granted, we don’t call it “taxation” because the word has state-action built into the definition. But if you look at the fundamental actions that encompass the deadweight loss of a “sales tax” (Person A and Person B want to trade, and Person C demands that the trade must not take place without taking a cut for themselves), this is essentially identical to the the fairground example I gave in response to Paul Zrimsek below.

          • Lambert says:

            If there’s no cost to using land, what’s going to ensure that it gets used in the most productive way?

            Letting someone else use my land costs me the ability to use it myself for the purposes of frolicking, or shooting at grouse, or whatever it is landowners do.

            And it’s a lot easier to move to a cheaper or better plot of land than it is to move an entire business overseas.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If there’s no cost to using land, what’s going to ensure that it gets used in the most productive way?

            This is one reason why most societies are willing to accept a lot of deadweight loss in the forms of taxation and private ownership. Its a trade-off that to produces better outcomes than a hopeless quest to minimize deadweight loss would.

            Letting someone else use my land costs me the ability to use it myself for the purposes of frolicking, or shooting at grouse, or whatever it is landowners do.

            Its true that if other people are allowed to use your land, it diminishes the potential gains in value you could derive from an alternative scenario where you had exclusive access to the land. This doesn’t make your ownership any less of a deadweight loss. The state would argue much in the same vein, in response to those who wish to lower taxation (“lowering taxes costs us the ability to use that money”).

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @GuyinTn

            How do you account for things such as the Coase theorem in this instance? Because lets presume (as you seem to do) that multiple people want to use the land, how do you, outside ensure the most efficient use?

            Because if I grow corn on my farm, that necessarily precludes you from growing wheat there. But if wheat were the better crop, I would switch to wheat, or you could offer to buy my land for a value greater than the value I can get from the land for growing corn, and then grow wheat.

          • Lambert says:

            Addendum: The other difference between private land ownership and national sovereignty is that states tend not to buy and sell land in the same way that landowners do.
            I can’t go and buy a bit of France off the Fifth Republic as my own microstate. There is no market in sovereign land, therefore no efficient market.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @idontknow131647093
            If the most economically efficient outcome from Coasean bargaining is that it is privately owned, then you get to charge usage fees. Likewise, if the most efficient outcome from Coasean bargaining is that it is under authority of the state, then they get to charge taxation.

            Although both Coasean bargaining outcomes are “economically efficient”, both outcomes still create deadweight loss. I don’t think it could even be said that the Coasean bargaining outcome necessarily minimizes deadweight loss, since deadweight loss could just be a small part of each party’s valuation.

            Maybe I’m not understanding your question?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Lambert

            The other difference between private land ownership and national sovereignty is that states tend not to buy and sell land in the same way that landowners do.
            I can’t go and buy a bit of France off the Fifth Republic as my own microstate. There is no market in sovereign land, therefore no efficient market.

            Deadweight loss is where Person A wants to trade with Person B, and Person C (who is in some sort of authority position) says no. The “market” for being in the position of power is not the market where the deadweight loss occurs. The deadweight loss refers to the loss of potential value for Persons A and B. That is, if it wasn’t for person Person C, they would trade. The market (or lack thereof) for “who will be the authority figure” is a wholly separate thing.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @guy

            You aren’t understanding my question because you don’t appear to have the right definition of deadweight loss.

            Deadweight loss is where Person A wants to trade with Person B, and Person C (who is in some sort of authority position) says no. The “market” for being in the position of power is not the market where the deadweight loss occurs. The deadweight loss refers to the loss of potential value for Persons A and B. That is, if it wasn’t for person Person C, they would trade. The market (or lack thereof) for “who will be the authority figure” is a wholly separate thing.

            It is missing a critical step: Person C must be incorrect in determining that doing the thing is a positive good.

            I’ll go back to my simple example: I am growing corn on my field. B wants to grow wheat on my field and C wants to buy that wheat. D wants to buy my corn. The deadweight loss, if any, is the difference in the price C would pay for B’s wheat over what D pays for my corn. If wheat is far superior to corn, then I will switch to wheat and sell to C, or B can buy my property, grow wheat, and sell to C. The only deadweight loss in either scenario is transaction costs, which no system can totally avoid.

            Turning now to your slightly more complex example: The Festival

            The buyers and sellers are anyone who is conducting business on his property. An example would be a festival, where the merchants are only allowed to do business if they give the landowner a certain percentage of the profits.

            Lets assume, for simplicity, the owner of the land is also the organizer of this festival with many merchants. Each vendor is actually quite meaningless, and could be replaced with a similar vendor, the value is from the organization and staging of the festival which creates the crowds of people buying things. The organizer charging a fee to vendors is not creating a deadweight loss, he is merely being recompensed for his efforts that created the festival, which would not exist without his efforts.

            Combining the examples, if I disallow a festival on my cornfield, this is again not a deadweight loss if my corn would be destroyed by the festival, or the soil would be spoiled (ruining all future harvests), provided that the value of those things is more than the festival’s value. And if its not, I can agree to host the fest and be compensated for my destroyed corn (or not in Coase’s mind, but whether I am compensated or not does not create a deadweight loss).

          • Guy in TN says:

            The definition I was using was looking at the loss incurred by A and B from lack of potential trades. You are aggregating into this the gains C received from stopping those trades, and saying that if the gains made by C are greater than A and B’s losses, then its no longer deadweight loss, for society as a whole.

            Which is okay, but quite different from how I’ve seen it formulated. Under this definition, how do you even know taxation causes deadweight loss? Here’s the example you provided:

            if I disallow a festival on my cornfield, this is again not a deadweight loss if my corn would be destroyed by the festival, or the soil would be spoiled (ruining all future harvests), provided that the value of those things is more than the festival’s value. And if its not, I can agree to host the fest and be compensated for my destroyed corn (or not in Coase’s mind, but whether I am compensated or not does not create a deadweight loss).

            Switching out private power for state power: If the state disallows people to conduct business without paying a sales tax, this is no longer a deadweight loss, provided that the value the state gains in the sales tax is more than the value its citizens lose in potential tax-free trades (considering the state uses the sales tax to pay for the military, I would say they value it quite a bit!). We know this is the most efficient outcome, because Coase theorem tells us that if you valued not paying a sales tax more than the state valued collecting a sales tax, you would simply buy the power of taxation (you don’t do this because the state values it so much, that no one has enough money for the state to even consider giving it up). That no one does th