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Open Thread 114.5

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821 Responses to Open Thread 114.5

  1. lazydragonboy says:

    I read a post on Facebook about prison labor fighting fires in California, and it occurred to me: this is a couple kinks away from being a really good idea. The primary problems are a) prisoners are unable to secure firefighting jobs after release, and b) prisoners are paid ludicrously little for their
    labor ($2/day + $1/hour—seriously? I could see chiseling them to $10-15 because they’re trainees, but that’s just egregious). Those issues being fixed though, and they seem fixable, this seems like a great program. Prisoners get a better environment, more access to their families, and despite the danger, I imagine in many ways fighting
    fires is more emotionally rewarding than being in prison. Generally, this seems like two inhumane layers away from a more humane approach to imprisonment, so my question is: what other domains could we do this in? Are there other fields where something like this would be politically, logistically, and financially feasible?

    • Walter says:

      Putting other domains to the side, I doubt this one will persist for long.

      Like, sure, obviously the least productive possible thing for prisoners to do is sit in their cells. But this isn’t a new insight. The problem with every version of using convict labor for anything at all is that someone will call you a slaver.

      The democrats are ascendant in California. I don’t think there is going to be any appetite to expand this program. Anyone who champions it will get hit from the left, and they don’t have shields on that side.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The problem with every version of using convict labor for anything at all is that someone will call you a slaver.

        Yes, that’s why Kanye went off on the 14th Amendment. Also because, well, Kanye.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        @conrad wait, really? Can you link me? I vaguely remember this.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          As Evan said, I meant the 13th Amendment. My bad.

          Ye tweeted that he wanted to abolish it, but that’s because the 13th amendment only abolished slavery for people not convicted of a crime. You can still have chain gangs, etc. Ye has taken up prison/criminal justice reform as a cause. Or had anyway. Who knows.

    • psmith says:

      prisoners are unable to secure firefighting jobs after release,

      Quite a few Federal wildland guys started on inmate crews (see e.g. 4:40 here.). There are some perverse institutional barriers relating to parole requirements (this comes up in Danielle Allen’s Cuz), and municipal departments usually won’t hire you if you have a record, but it’s certainly not impossible. (The barriers alluded to in the article apply to Cal Fire, the state fire agency.).

      Note that the inmate program is as voluntary as anything can be under the circumstances–nobody is drafted into it, though there is of course a plausible argument that a choice made in the context of prison is never really voluntary etc etc etc.

    • gbdub says:

      Several members of a prisoner crew became casualties of the 1990 Dude Fire in Arizona.

      The prison in question was a minimum security affair where every inmate was required to be employed in one way or another. The volunteer only fire crew was plum, competitive duty because you got to sleep outside, eat well, and generally be treated much less like an inmate while on a fire.

      I can see some logic in paying them very poorly – after all, incarcerating them is still probably a net drain on the state coffers. But the really crappy thing was that the Dude Fire victims weren’t even given death benefits (even funeral costs) that federal/state employees are otherwise entitled to because courts repeatedly ruled they weren’t state employees.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It doesn’t make sense to complain that prison laborers aren’t being paid enough unless there’s an actual shortage of volunteers at that price. It’s not like you can get evicted from federal prison, or somehow fail to afford your federally-provided food and medical care. I don’t know how far $2 a day goes in prison but if prisoners will volunteer for that little it seems like a good deal.

      That said, expanding this type of program sounds useful. I would look to the Civilian Public Service program during WWII for inspiration. Unlike Quakers and Mennonites, I wouldn’t want convicts working in psych wards but they could probably do good work building levies or whatever is involved in soil reclamation. The chief difficulty is coming up with jobs that are both suitable for a prisoner to do under normal supervision and that don’t involve anything that looks like picking cotton.

      • gbdub says:

        It has always seemed a bit weird to me that there is an apparently vocal contingent of people that are mostly okay with locking people in prison, but aghast at the idea that those prisoners might be expected to do something other than sit on their butts while there.

        There are some nuances of course – effects on the labor market, incentives to incarcerate, and so on, but the visceral response to prison labor as “OMG MODERN SLAVERY” is just a bit weird to me.

        • secondcityscientist says:

          I would be against a sort of “low pay” schedule not because it is bad for the prisoners, but because it could be bad for non-prison laborers. If an employer is in the market for unskilled labor and can choose between $5/hour prisoner labor and $12/hour non-prisoner labor, that seems like a bad deal for a laborer who isn’t in prison and has done nothing wrong. There are ways around this problem and I suspect that many states have implemented them but I also suspect that other states have not.

          I also think it’s a bad idea to have prisoners doing dangerous work because they have limited ability to complain about working conditions. If a prisoner gets sent off for a six month prison stint for a minor crime, but is forced into dangerous work and ends up dead or permanently disfigured, that doesn’t seem particularly just.

          • SamChevre says:

            I also think it’s a bad idea to have prisoners doing dangerous work because they have limited ability to complain about working conditions.

            I think this argues for not making prisoners do dangerous work, and maybe not paying prisoners significantly more for dangerous work than for non-dangerous work. I’m not certain that entirely voluntary work–you can make license plates in safety OR you can go fight fires if you’d rather, and you can always switch back to making license plates–poses the same problem.

          • acymetric says:

            That would help, I guess, but only if there are enough license plate jobs that everyone can have one. Otherwise the people who don’t get the license plate jobs are left with fight fires or nothing and we’re back to the same problem. Even if there are enough non-dangerous jobs, I would not be entirely comfortable with it.

          • gbdub says:

            As I noted above, at least in Arizona, dangerous work was strictly voluntary and had more volunteers than slots (everyone had to work, but most worked in the library, kitchen, or laundry, basically support functions for the prison itself).

            And I do think if prisoners are doing dangerous work they should be eligible for at least some of the death/disability benefits afforded to other state employees, if that wasn’t clear from my earlier post.

            The impact on the labor market is one of the potential nuanced arguments against prisoners working, but that just seems orthogonal to the question of whether it is unjust “slavery”

          • 10240 says:

            If an employer is in the market for unskilled labor and can choose between $5/hour prisoner labor and $12/hour non-prisoner labor,

            The employer would buy the prisoner’s labor for $12, the prisoner would get $5, and the difference would go to the state (which spends more than that on running the prisons anyway).

          • acymetric says:

            In that case why would the employer want prison labor as opposed to equally priced regular labor? Also, the “we aren’t making enough profit off of our prisoners this quarter, what our your plans to improve it” meetings are still going to take place and I think most of us are trying to avoid that.

        • John Schilling says:

          Compulsory prison labor turns a debatably necessary evil into a perversely desirable one. And real people don’t debate each and every policy question with the depth, nuance, and intellectual charity of an SSC effortpost or even OT subthread, so either the perverse-incentive problems get ignored or they get dealt with by OMG PATTERN-MATCH FOR RECURRING EVIL. After all the crap the human race has had to deal with from slavery for the past five thousand years, I’m kind of OK with this one pattern-matching for one more manifestation of the same old Oh Not That Again No Just No – particularly if you’ve got a minimum wage for every other sort of labor that you’re conspicuously not applying to your involuntary public servants.

          • acymetric says:

            Seems pretty reasonable to me. I think it also works well if you replace “compulsory prison labor” with “for-profit prisons”. In either case, the prisoners essentially become a coveted commodity (cheap labor in one case, income stream in the other). Systems where “more prisoners” benefits anyone sends up pretty much every red flag available.

          • gbdub says:

            Are “sentenced to hard labor” and “slavery” really the same thing, at all? Even on the emotional pattern matching level? That’s the part I don’t get.

            They aren’t “involuntary public servants”, they are “criminals whose punishment includes doing something to benefit the community they wronged”. Is “community service” outside of prison also “slavery”? Should criminals who get to pick up highway trash in lieu of going to jail get paid minimum wage? Is it really a good pattern match to chattel slavery if they don’t?

            Does the problem go away if you “pay” them minimum wage and then charge them a fair rate for their room and board?

            Basically, my objection is that we’ve already agreed that these people have forfeited a really substantial portion of their usual human rights for the duration of their sentence. Does “also forced to do work at a punitively low wage while they are in there” really justify pattern matching to “all the crap the human race has had to deal with from slavery for the past five thousand years”?

            @acymetric – But what about bad incentives for prisoners? If prison is not only a free “three hots and a cot” but also guaranteed employment at $15 an hour, that starts to look pretty attractive compared to homeless and unemployed.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Are “sentenced to hard labor” and “slavery” really the same thing, at all? Even on the emotional pattern matching level? That’s the part I don’t get.

            I think it’s more the terrible incentive structure that it sets up: even if people who are in prison are genuinely deserving of punishment, if you make prisoners too profitable, the government will be strongly tempted to seek to expand the pool of prison labour by making more things punishable and/or selectively enforcing draconian laws against demographics that you are not fond of. Paying prisoners the going non-prison rate for their work may be inefficient in the near term, but it helps hold Moloch back a little.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are “sentenced to hard labor” and “slavery” really the same thing, at all? Even on the emotional pattern matching level?

            If the hard labor in question provides a direct economic benefit to the people commanding the laborers, then yes, that’s pretty much the central example of slavery. Go ahead and explain how it’s OK to sentence people to some number of years or a lifetime of Yes Really Slavery for their crimes, and that might be an argument you can win. People have been winning that argument for millenia, and the 13th Amendment allows for it.

            Claiming that what you’re doing isn’t slavery, is going to trigger everybody’s doublespeak warning circuits the way doublespeak usually triggers those warnings, and for good reasons, and it’s a good thing you usually can’t get away without significant pushback on that front.

            Does the problem go away if you “pay” them minimum wage and then charge them a fair rate for their room and board?

            A truly fair rate for their room and board is going to be extremely low, for most real prisons. If you’re demanding that they pay for e.g. the guards charged with shooting them if they try to leave, and you bookkeep that under “room and board”, that again is doublespeak and it’s a brand of doublespeak that pattern-matches to brutally oppressive regimes and China billing the children for the bullet used to execute their father and other things you really don’t want to be associated with.

          • acymetric says:

            Consider also that generally inmates end up paying money for their time in prison in at least some places. So they might be getting ‘paid’ $15 an hour, but they aren’t just sticking it in a savings account for when they get released.

            Edit: Should add that they certainly aren’t charged the equivalent of the cost to imprison them, but it is still not a small fee.

          • gbdub says:

            Fine, call it “sentenced to slavery” if you want. But it really is doublespeak to ignore the SENTENCED TO part.

            It’s also doublespeak to talk about economic benefit to the government contracted “slavers” while ignoring that the “slaves” got that way by imposing pretty high costs on the public.

            And yeah, the guards are part of that cost. A cost the criminals imposed on themselves by being the sort of people society has decided it needs to keep locked up so they can’t impose more negative externalities. Why is it immoral to expect them to pay off that expense, but moral for criminals to foist that cost on the public through their own voluntary actions? There’s something to be said for “paying your debt to society”.

            Are prison laborers in the USA really producing a huge amount of excess economic output that even offsets (let alone exceeds) the net cost to society of catching/prosecuting/incarcerating them?

            As for pattern matching to Chinese political prisons – well, you can’t ignore the “political” part of that. A big part of what makes them horrifying is that people get thrown in there for things that we think shouldn’t be crimes in the first place. (And of course working someone to death in brutal conditions is a very different thing from making them work kitchen duty to help feed the other inmates)

            Therefore I think we need to distinguish between “prison labor incentivizes imprisoning people for economic benefit, which will lead to improper imprisonment” from “forcing a properly imprisoned person to work for below market rate as a means of offsetting the cost of their imprisonment is fundamentally wrong and indistinguishable from slavery”.

            The latter is a moral argument, the former is essentially a consequentialist one.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fine, call it “sentenced to slavery” if you want.

            I do. I really do, and I’m not alone, so until you actually get judges and juries to agree to actually sentence people to slavery and call it that, you’ll keep getting this pushback.

            But it really is doublespeak to ignore the SENTENCED TO part.

            We’re explicitly talking about prisoners and convicts. Those are words than are almost synonymous with “sentenced to”, so no, we aren’t ignoring that in favor of doublespeak.

            But only almost synonymous, because “sentenced to” means sentenced to a specific thing. You don’t get to use that as an excuse to do any thing that tickles your fancy or sense of justice and make it OK just because the targets are dastardly criminal convict prisoners who have been sentenced to be punished and this thing you propose to do is a punishment that you find particularly appropriate for whatever reason.

            If they haven’t been sentenced to slavery, then it’s flat-out illegal to use them as slaves. If they have been sentenced to slavery but you used weasel-words in doing so, then that’s kind of sleazy and is going to get you pushback even if it is legal.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Claiming that what you’re doing isn’t slavery, is going to trigger everybody’s doublespeak warning circuits the way doublespeak usually triggers those warnings, and for good reasons, and it’s a good thing you usually can’t get away without significant pushback on that front.

            Ok but whenever anyone talks about how members of basically every ethnic group have been enslaved at some point over the centuries, that also triggers the doublespeak circuits because American slavery was Different In Important Ways. Prison slavery is closer to Roman slavery than the Peculiar Institution. But, even though it is a correct term, when you refer to it as slavery, especially with the demographics of America’s prison population, it carries the emotional valence of the latter.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            A big part of what makes [China] horrifying is that people get thrown in there for things that we think shouldn’t be crimes in the first place

            Well, okay, but so does the US. It’s not as if the War on Drugs is uncontroversially accepted, to pick only the most obvious case of imprisoning people for things that shouldn’t be crimes.

          • gbdub says:

            @WinterShaker – absolutely! But arguing about who should be in prison is a different argument than the one about what prisoners can be forced to do once we agree they should be in prison.

            @John Schilling – taboo the term “slavery” for the moment, you’re letting the moral valence of that word do all the arguing for you.

            What, fundamentally, makes “forced incarceration + labor” a moral horror in a way that “forced incarceration, no labor” is not? Why is your labor sacrosanct in a way nearly all your other physical freedoms are not?

          • John Schilling says:

            taboo the term “slavery” for the moment, you’re letting the moral valence of that word do all the arguing for you.

            What, fundamentally, makes “forced incarceration + labor” a moral horror?

            So, you’re asking me to explain why something is a “horror”, but I have to avoid anything with “moral valence”?

            The whole reason the human race has concepts like “horror”, and everything else with “moral valence”, is that if we didn’t we’d keep having horrible things happen to us while we were busy doing consequentialist algebra for every single decision – and with bad inputs because of all the people motivated to give us bogus data.

            Whenever you have one person forced to do labor for the positive benefit of another and without the option to walk out on the deal, then you have an asymmetry where most of the benefits go to the party making the decision and most of the costs are borne by the wholly powerless, and that perverse incentive leads to net bad outcomes just about every time you let it run its course and no matter how virtuous or consequentially beneficial you imagine it would be if properly administered. Which, of course, it won’t be.

            We know this, from thousands of examples over thousands of years. And because we know this, the entirely rational response to the thousand and first proposal is not, “I’ll get my slide rule, and where did we put the QALY conversion table?”, but simply “That’s horrible, no!”

            Any other way, leads to horrors whenever some sleazy king or conman slips some bogus numbers into your QALY table and tells you what you want to hear.

          • 10240 says:

            I do. I really do, and I’m not alone, so until you actually get judges and juries to agree to actually sentence people to slavery and call it that, you’ll keep getting this pushback.

            If we are talking about voluntary prison labor (even if low-paid), then that’s not slavery, and it shouldn’t be called so. If we are talking about compulsory prison labor as a hypothetical proposal, that doesn’t exist at present in Western countries (AFAIK), so I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you want judges and juries to call it slavery. If such a punishment was reintroduced, the more usual and neutral name for it would be forced labor or hard labor, while a sentence of slavery would be a more loaded term. I don’t see why you insist that they use the loaded term.

            We know this, from thousands of examples over thousands of years.

            For most of those thousands of years, noone instituted slavery as a punishment and then used it to profit from forced labor through unjust sentences. For most of the thousands of years, people just enslaved other people without any pretense of it being a punishment. Sure, there are more recent examples when it happened, but most of the slavery of the past thousands of years is irrelevant to this argument.

          • gbdub says:

            My point was not to take “morality” out of the equation, but rather that you were counting on the word “slavery” to do the work without explaining why “forced incarceration + labor” for criminals was inherently the same sort of thing as the stuff that gave “slavery” all that negative moral valence in the first place.

            That is, “forcing criminals to work is slavery” feels like the same sort of thing as “taxation is theft” and “MLK was a criminal”: an example of the noncentral fallacy, and I’m still not convinced you’ve proven that it isn’t.

            You’re still begging the question a bit by dubbing the prisoners “powerless” by analogy to chattel slaves or POW slaves or whatever – maybe that’s a fair comparison if you’ve rounded up a bunch of undesirables that didn’t do anything wrong, but criminals dubbed as such by a democratic legal system because of their voluntary actions are not a central example of innocent victims of tyranny.

            And “locking people away in cages” has a lot of horrible moral valence too – my objection has always been “why does adding labor to that make it a difference in kind of horror, rather than merely a difference in degree (if even that)?” We’ve already decided we’re taking away some fundamental human rights from criminals, why is the fence here and not one block down the road (or one block up)?

            That said, I think I’m sympathetic to “getting any positive value out of prisoners leads to negative incentives and therefore negative outcomes”. With the presumed corollary that “imprisonment should be costly for the jailer to incentivize only locking up the really deserving”.

            I just think that that is more of a consequentialist / slippery slope / moral hazard type argument, and deserves more consideration than a simple “that’s slavery, checkmate”.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t see how we can know anything about whether someone is powerless or not by considering how they got in their current state. The US spent some time in the war on terror torturing helpless captives for information. The captives were often really awful people who had murdered or tried to murder innocent victims. And yet, when you’ve got the guy chained to the floor being waterboarded, he’s helpless, even if he’s a bad person.

          • What, fundamentally, makes “forced incarceration + labor” a moral horror in a way that “forced incarceration, no labor” is not?

            “Moral horror” is probably too strong, but the essential difference is that forced incarceration is costly to the people doing it, so they will only do it if they believe it produces some indirect benefit, such as deterrence of crime. Forced incarceration+labor has the potential of being profitable, so the legal system has an incentive to imprison people whether or not that achieves any useful objective.

            For my old discussion of the issue, see this.

        • albatross11 says:

          There is a pretty consistent pattern where you make it profitable for the local government to ticket/arrest/lock up people, and then suddenly, they find all kinds of new reasons to ticket/arrest/lock up people. So I don’t think the slave labor issues are crazy ones to raise.

          Long-existing programs that don’t seem to be being abused are probably fine. And maybe at the level of a whole state, there’s not so much temptation to game the rules to get more inmates to do more work so you can get more revenue or stop paying private sector wages for whatever work you get done. But it’s possible to create a situation where a local or state government gets a noticeable fraction of its revenue from prisoner labor, and then you’ve set up some truly awful incentives for the people running things in that state or local government. Given the widespread existence of using fines to fund local governments and no-trial property seizures to fund police departments, I’d like to see a strong argument for why some proposed way to more heavily use inmate labor to do something economically valuable *isn’t* going to lead to the state trying to optimize for large population of inmates who can be sent to do that economically valuable work.

      • dick says:

        For me, the problem with paying prisoners laughably low wages is that it provides such a profoundly perverse incentive to the employers. It certainly makes sense in theory (should prisoners learn valuable work experience while incarcerated? Obviously yes! should the employer have to pay them the same wage as a non-prisoner? Obviously no!) but a big entrenched industry that relies on jailing as many people as possible has Moloch written all over it.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This. It’s so ripe for abuse that it’s in no way worth it. By all means, teach them a trade. And maybe if they’re doing something pro-social like volunteering for disaster relief during fires or after hurricanes or floods or something, that’s fine. But anything that looks like profit screams perverse incentives.

          ETA: Other reasonable activities: cook at or operate a soup kitchen for the homeless, or work the prison farm to grow food that will be donated to the underprivileged (or fed to the other prisoners). That’s fine. Just nothing that looks like profit.

        • lazydragonboy says:

          Something that hasn’t been addressed elsewhere: I actually like the idea of prisoners acquiring savings in addition to having a trade. My understanding of prison release is that a lot of the danger of re-entry comes from lacking a valuable trade. I see savings as helping with that. If there were conditions so it would go into a trust accessable by the prisoner when they leave and by their immediate family or something, fine I guess, but I think it’s generally good for prisoners to come out of prison with the best means they have to start a new life.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I think what’s missing from this conversation is a sense of the overall justice and prison structure and how it fits into the broader society.

        If you have a Scandinavian style justice system that is focused on rehabilitation more than anything else, then many of the “perverse incentives” go away. If you have have a system that has primarily been focused on punishment based system, like the US, then the issues become much larger.

        In a system that actually works to provide ongoing rehabilitation for the criminal, giving them opportunities to freely choose means of both furthering their rehabilitation and earning some wages makes sense. It is not suspicious, as it is simply in line with the goals of the system.

        In a punishment based system, you immediately mistrust those who say that the employment offers rehabilitation, as this is not the goal of the overall system. One immediately sees this in the framework of punishment. Nearly uncompensated work that puts one in mortal danger in lieu of endangering others sounds a lot like further punishment.

        • gbdub says:

          Right. You (and others here) are mainly leaning on the perverse incentives argument. Which I am sympathetic to and largely agree with.

          What I don’t agree with (and tried to flesh out in the threads above) is the “forcing prisoners to work = slavery, morally wrong, full stop”. Which nobody here is arguing for explicitly, so keep in mind I don’t think I’m in hard contradiction with any of you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Even though this ended up as a reply to a specific person, it wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular. I just hadn’t seen anyone address the overall philosophy of the judicial/prison system in question.

            But, I will say that forcing prisoners to work probably is morally dubious, regardless of whether it is in a rehabilitative or punishment based system. I don’t know if that is particularly relevant to this conversation, as we were originally talking about volunteers.

            That said, there is a certain kind of labor, the labor endemic in meeting the needs of the prisoners themselves, that probably is on firmer footing.

          • gbdub says:

            No worries, mine wasn’t quite targeted at you specifically either, just figured I’d drop it at the end of the thread (at the time)

            The particular system I was generally referring to was one in place at the minimum security prison where part of a fire crew was killed in the Dude Fire (AZ).

            My understanding of that scenario: every prisoner was expected to work, but they got to select their jobs to some degree. All jobs were paid (a very low wage, like $0.30 an hour in 1990). Hazardous jobs (like the fire crew) were strictly voluntary, but paid more (still << min wage) and offered some additional privileges (job training, time outside the prison, etc.) and thus in high demand among the prisoners. I think most (all?) of the other jobs were of the "supporting the needs of the other prisoners" type.

            You call out “forced” labor as morally dubious – is there a reason, other than the perverse incentives, you feel that “incarceration+labor” is particularly troubling in a way “incarceration alone” is not? That’s the particular thing I’ve been trying to poke at.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            I want to distinguish between a few different types of things that we might call work or labor.

            There is labor that of the “breaking rocks into smaller rocks” variety that is strictly punitive. For all I know this kind of labor never actually occurred, as it seems sort of ridiculous, but given that you’ve accepted the morality of a fully punishment based system, this seems actually to likely to be fine to me (provided it isn’t injurious in some manner, as opposed to merely exhausting).

            There is labor of the “you don’t live at your mom’s house anymore” variety. Washing clothes, making food, cleaning dishes, cleaning the facilities. Given that these are the kinds of things that the inmates would be either doing or at least responsible for securing in daily life anyway, this also seems like it’s on moral grounds, again, as long it isn’t made to be done in some way that is injurious or dehumanizing.

            The kind of forced labor that seems inappropriate to me is labor that isn’t either of the other two. These might be for profit ventures, or community betterment, or state jobs that need to be done, etc. People have already raised a number of objections to this kind of labor, and I don’t feel the need to rehash them all. At core it seems to me, as I stated earlier, that this can’t be supported under the ideological underpinnings.

            Perhaps, we could say that under a restorative model some sort of expected work in the community, for the community could be considered. I’m not sure.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What I don’t agree with (and tried to flesh out in the threads above) is the “forcing prisoners to work = slavery, morally wrong, full stop”. Which nobody here is arguing for explicitly

            The problem is that for every 10 totally fine, “prisoners get job training and perform pro-social character-building labor” programs, there’s going to be one corrupt, for-profit program straight out of Shawshank Redemption and we’re going to have to hear about it endlessly as an indictment of the criminal justice system in particular and the entire US in general.

            Think about how much we already have to hear about for-profit prisons. I’m sure you can find hundreds of Reddit Intellectuals opining as to how we can never have real criminal justice reform because of the “Prison Industrial Complex.” But only ~8% of prisoners are in for-profit prisons. And not all of those are bad.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @HeelBearCub

            There is labor that of the “breaking rocks into smaller rocks” variety that is strictly punitive. For all I know this kind of labor never actually occurred, as it seems sort of ridiculous,

            It certainly did in the British Victorian prison system. While some of the work prisoners sentenced to hard labour did was vaguely useful- the treadmill sometimes actually did grind grain- others was completely useless. Perhaps the most infamous example was “shot-drill”, which involved moving cannonballs from one part of the prison yard to another and back.

        • Lambert says:

          This.
          If prisons were not already pits of misery, exploitation and lack of oversight, I would be a lot more ok with that kind of thing.
          It’s not so much a matter of principle as an empirical observation that this road tends to lead to bad places.

    • SamChevre says:

      My brother used to teach Bible Study classes at one of the fire camps.

      According to him, getting onto a fire crew was something the prisoners thought to be a major achievement, and worked very hard to accomplish.

      • albatross11 says:

        So, is there a way to make sure programs like this don’t become mechanisms for some crony of the governor to get slave labor for his factories or something? I mean, I don’t object to prisoners doing useful work, and the firefighter scheme seems pretty worthwhile. But I’d like to know why it (or some expansion) isn’t going to create awful incentives and end up with some prison-labor equivalent of speed-trap towns.

        • gbdub says:

          You could probably limit prison work to the following:
          1) Jobs that support the operations of the prison directly (e.g. kitchen or laundry duty), thus reducing the cost of running the prison
          2) On a voluntary basis, emergency services needing “surge” labor that would normally need to be funded by state funds (wilderness firefighting, disaster cleanup, etc.). This would again directly reduce costs to the state.

          What you really don’t want is “crony capitalist gets prison labor for which he can charge market price while only giving the prisoners a pittance”. Prison labor could be used to offset the costs to the government of imprisoning people, but all proceeds from that ultimately need to go to the prisoner-worker, or to the state itself. “Debt to society” but not “free profit for politically connected”.

          In the case of private prisons, any difference between minimum wage and what the prisoners get ought to come out of the prison’s contracted fees from the state. Basically, the prison needs to “buy” the labor of the prisoners from the state at market rate.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The real world.

          Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

          Black men (almost entirely) were subject to arbitrary laws and, as prisoners, hired out to businesses. This is why we can’t have bad things.

          • 10240 says:

            That’s not a plausible risk today, since guarding and housing prisoners would still most likely cost more than the value of their work.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I don’t see why it isn’t a plausible risk. Individual parts of the government– or individuals– could come out ahead even if the whole government is taking a loss.

          • 10240 says:

            Well, at that point they can also just take kickbacks from the companies that build prisons or make prison food (which incentivizes imprisoning more people too), or practice equivalent corruption in other sectors of governance (that doesn’t). I don’t know if benefiting from prison labor is a more likely form of corruption (possibly it’s more difficult to get caught?).

          • acymetric says:

            Well, those things do happen. I would guess that forced sub-market-value labor IS more likely to be abused, but that is just my intuition. Regardless of whether it is more likely or less likely, it certainly provides an additional avenue for abuse and perverse incentives for incarceration that would be exploited and I’m not sure we need or want any more of those.

          • Well, at that point they can also just take kickbacks from the companies that build prisons or make prison food

            A real world example, as I understand it, is lobbying by the prison guard union in California against legal changes that would reduce the number of prisoners.

        • Skivverus says:

          One possibility I’ve been mulling is “prison gets percentage of prisoner’s earnings after they leave, lasting until (a) X time passes or (b) they commit another crime”; the state already has this sort of incentive, called “taxes”, but private prisons currently don’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            Every prisoner finishing his sentence and/or being released on parole, has the choice between taking what will probably turn out to be a crap job as a a janitor somewhere, or joining some criminal enterprise with one of the many criminal friends and friends-of-friends he now has after many years of social interaction with mostly other criminals. One of these paths leads to a chunk of his wages being garnished and sent to the very people responsible for the worst years of his life, and one of them doesn’t.

            Incentives matter. This provides a really bad one.

          • acymetric says:

            Wait, how does this avoid bad incentives to increase prison population? I feel like I’m missing something.

            Beyond that, I’m not really sure “make life even harder for ex-prisoners AFTER their sentence is complete” is going to accomplish much towards any positive goal.

          • 10240 says:

            Don’t garnish what would otherwise be their net wages, but send (part of) their taxes to the prison.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Every prisoner finishing his sentence and/or being released on parole, has the choice between taking what will probably turn out to be a crap job as a janitor somewhere, or joining some criminal enterprise with one of the many criminal friends and friends-of-friends he now has after many years of social interaction with mostly other criminals. One of these paths leads to a chunk of his wages being garnished and sent to the very people responsible for the worst years of his life, and one of them doesn’t.

            While I agree that this is an incentive, I can easily predict the retort:

            “Well, they should have thought of that before they committed a crime.”

            That argument won’t make the problem go away, but to me, it does strongly suggest a belief that people ought to know better than to get into situations where they have to either suffer a garnish or join the mob. Which in turn tells me there’s a likely high incentive to get prison chaplains in there. Or conclude that hardened criminals will never soften, and that the solution is therefore to lengthen the sentence. If that leads to overcrowding, then lower the quality of the prison. Eventually the pressure should crack the hardening.

            Point being: it’s pretty easy to argue that prisoners deserve it, whether that’s true or not. Prison life isn’t typically understood by people who will never go to prison. It’s seen mostly through movies and television, and studios have their own incentives.

            Also: there might be a significant fraction of criminals who genuinely want to reenter mainstream society, rather than go pro. For them, the “garnish your wages” option might indeed seem most acceptable. I imagine this might be the case for the more white-collar crowd. And FAIK there do exist programs by which they can do extra labor in return for better conditions, esp. since that labor is likely to be skilled. I don’t know how big that cohort would be though, and it might be too small to make a difference, and I’m sure the other cohort will still exist.

          • Skivverus says:

            Wait, how does this avoid bad incentives to increase prison population? I feel like I’m missing something.

            That’d be one of the “possible unintended consequences; tread carefully”. This particular idea isn’t targeted at incoming prison population, but at recidivism and incentives on that front.
            Train of thought was roughly:
            1. How do we help prisoners get pro-social careers after prison?
            2. In-prison training.
            3. Prisons don’t really allow that kind of training right now (citation maybe needed).
            4. Prisoners don’t have the power to change that, prisons do.
            5. What incentives can we add to prisons to make them value prisoners’ future success?
            6. Money’s relatively straightforward.
            7. “Future success” would be “future earnings”.
            8. But if they go back to crime for those earnings (or for other reasons), that defeats the original point of prisons.
            9. So, let’s say recidivism means no more money for that prison (from that prisoner).
            10. Having this hanging over a prisoner’s head for the rest of their life doesn’t really sit well; let’s add a time limit.
            11. Waitasec, this looks kinda like taxes. Which would mean government prisons have an incentive (i.e.: creating future good taxpayers) that private ones don’t.

  2. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Do you notice slow personality changes in other people?
    3 AM thought this morning. Now in my 30s, my adult self has known other (mostly young) adults for 5-10 years. I’d expect a lot of marginal personality changes over the years, and some major ones. Obviously, more responsbility and less impulsiveness, but some changes in tastes and outlook as well.

    I don’t see much of this at all, though.

    -“Maturity” traits (showing up to work on time, finishing what you started, taking responsibility, some level of introspection) seem to have increased for maybe half the people I know, but most of those are people I knew when they were under-25. There are a rare few people who have become more patient past that point, that seem related to having a long-term-relationship for the first time in their late 20s. Most of the highly irresponsible under-25s I knew have only become somewhat irresponsible above-25s.

    -“Outlook” traits have changed in some people…but only those that have families, majored in business, or were seriously responsible at a young age. I am surprised by the number of “Peter Pans” and “Peter Panettes” that are perpetually in an outlook that resembles a high schooler to me. They are mostly focused on having fun and having parties. Their life goals have hardly changed, except they might want to be married? They are slightly more morbid because Work Sucks, and they are tremendously less inclined to start drama or worry about their Instagram likes, but the overall mindset is remarkably similar.

    -“Taste” traits have changed in practically no one.

    I wonder if I am just missing out on subtle changes that occur over many years, or whether personalities are really mostly fixed at 16-18 with only small, predictable changes 18-25.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’ve only noticed big changes in people when they have kids.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      If you mean literal taste, my tolerance for bitter flavors has gone up, but I think it started after I was forty.

    • Plumber says:

      Of my high school peers, the only one besides me who stayed in town pushes a shopping cart full of  cans to recycle (he recognized me and asked “Class of ’86”?), and I didn’t rememberI him from then.

      My best friend from those years went to college out of town (U.C. Santa Barbara) and eventually became a research scientist with what looks like a nice family (I saw his obituary).

      My brother married a nice girl who’s parents decided to chip in for him to go to college (we did as well) and after he graduated from SF State he moved to near his wife’s parents and eventually got a job with the State of Maryland, and he changed a lot, as in his youth he was very into drugs and believed in crazy stuff (that he could see “auras” and “psychic powers” are real), now he has a daughter and does yard work. 

      A former girlfriend of mine sometimes teaches classes at UC Berkeley and has some books published, but isn’t tenured.

      The only other person that I know what happened to them is a writer usually living in New York City, who was a roadie for Green Day for a while, when I last saw him we were both in our 40’s but he seemed as bohemian as every (the ‘zine he writes is pretty good).

      For myself the biggest change was my stopping riding motorcycles just before my son was born, and I’m far more pro-government than I was in my youth.

      I think for me the dividing line between youth and the grumpy old man I am was in my early 20’s when my future wife dropped out of law school and invited me to live with her, after a glorious year living on her unemployment I found a full-time job at a motorcycle shop, but the year after that the families that lived in the apartments next to us moved out and college students moved in, their noise changed us, we had been music lovers (and I guess “hipsters”) but we were quickly changed into grumpy elders.

      I actually think many “extended adolescences” are due to how hard to find wages that let you have a house and family are, if it was easier to get those earlier I think far more would settle down and act “mature”, being a ‘hipster’ is due to the lack of opportunities to be ‘square’, I know I would’ve loved to have a house and kids decades before we did, and I suspect most would as well.

      I did note though during my plumbing apprenticeship that the immaturity of our classmates who were still in their 20’s let those of us in their 30’s and up keep our jobs, as while they could do the human forklift work expected of apprentices better than us, and work faster overall, they had the habit of getting into barfights and being arrested for drunk driving and thus not able to show up for work because they were in jail, at least twice I thought I was going to be cut for “too slow”, when the other (younger) apprentice didn’t show up (one time the guy asked the foreman to bail him out!), which turned my reviews from “too slow” into “dependable” (still it was close, I had a summons to appear in front of the JATC for bad reviews the very week I copied my pay stubs proving I had the 9,000 hours to become a Journeyman plumber, which cancelled the summons).

  3. theredsheep says:

    And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: a discussion of middle Byzantine fiscal policy!

    So, I’ve been going on a Byzantine history jag lately, and one of the odd things I discovered is that at one point they had a very complex system of office-selling. We think of the sale of offices as corruption, but in their case it evolved to a point where the offices in question were largely honorary and useless; the point was to get the stipend that came with it, plus the glory. So, you pay a lump sum up front, and get a fancy title and yearly salary for the rest of your life. As I understand it, it’s basically a primitive variant on our treasury bonds, a way for the government to make money now and repay it later. Of course, the amount they had to pay back would depend on how long the office-holder lived. You could even agree to pay a higher amount and get a higher salary in return. Eventually it got out of hand, and one emperor (I think Basil II) simply stopped paying the salaries and dared anyone to complain. Nobody did because Basil II was really quite a terrifying man to cross.

    Does anybody (probably David Friedman) have experience with something similar in other societies?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I wouldn’t say I’ve been waiting for it, but that’s really cool. Thanks for posting it.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Medieval/Renaissance England did have a custom of selling some offices. These were generally actual working offices with important functions, and they did come with an income, but the income was the legal right to collect (at his own expense) a certain bundle of taxes and fees. For example, the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower of London had the right to collect tolls from people entering London through the road that the Tower controlled. Those tolls went straight into his pocket.

      From an economic perspective, the sale of these offices gave the Crown (or whoever was selling the office) a lump sum payment for the expected net present value of the taxes and fees minus the cost of enforcement, without having to go through the trouble of collecting the taxes and fees directly and making sure the money actually makes it into the royal treasury (e.g. if you send a salaried official to collect the toll and pass it to the King, you need to keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not pocketing tolls anyway). It serves the bond-like function of your Byzantine example, plus an added “franchise” function for delegating revenue enforcement work while still capturing most of the rents for the central government.

      • Lambert says:

        So not entirely different from the privatisation of public services today.

        Except with the flow of money in the other direction: from the people to government coffers, via private entities.

      • cassander says:

        I’d put tax farming in a different category than venal offices, even if the offices being sold are tax offices.

    • Salem says:

      In Britain until the mid-19th century, army ranks were purchased – and then you got the salary. You had to be accepted for your rank, you could still be demoted or sacked, and you didn’t purchase the highest ranks, but that was basically how it worked. This was not a bribe to your superior officers, but an official payment. As a result, “promotion” just meant the opportunity to buy a higher rank, and if you couldn’t come up with the money then you were stuck in your current rank. The result was a curious mixture of merit and plutocracy. By the late 18th century it was seen as an anachronism, but inertia made the system hard to fix, so it wasn’t abolished until the mid-19th century as part of general reforms to make the system more meritocratic. Funnily enough, the army never performed as well again afterwards, but this is probably just a coincidence.

      This system of buying army ranks is what Austen is referring to when she says that Darcy purchased a commission for Wickham, and is of course an ongoing plot point in the Sharpe novels, among other pop cultural references.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        My understanding is that the purchase system was not peculiar to England; it was standard to purchase a captaincy or colonelcy in the French army under Louis XIV (which led to the institution of the position of lieutenant and lieutenant-colonel — literally those who served in-lieu-of a captain and a colonel, respectively — who exercised actual command because they had actual skill, unlike the nominal commanders). I also heard it was the normal way of getting command of a Spanish tercio — a position which carried a 33% casualty rate — but I can’t find any evidence for or against that.

        My understanding is also that the purchaser of a commission had an incentive for his unit to perform well, because being victorious in a battle meant being rewarded with loot; similar to the way the British Navy gave prize money as a reward for capturing a ship.

        Finally, the holder of a position was able to sell it to their successor. However, being “cashiered” meant being discharged from the position *without being able to sell it*. This was a major financial blow, the equivalent of losing a law license or medical license today — something which costs six figures, and which is expected to pay off eventually — or losing one’s home without insurance.

    • BBA says:

      I suppose I’m a vestigial example. I pay a fee to the government every few years, in exchange for which I am authorized to carry out a governmental function and may collect fees for my services. You guessed it, I’m a notary public.

      For a less trivial example, the New York City Marshals, whose eviction notices are seen on many a closed storefront here in the Big Apple, are private citizens who essentially rent their badges from the city government.

    • One thing somewhat similar in medieval England was a baron paying for the right to enforce parts of the law. I’m not an expert on that system, but as I understand it, there were parts of the law which were automatically under the authority of a baron, parts that were under his authority because he had paid the crown for the right to enforce them. When he died, his heir had to buy from the crown the right to enforce the second category. Pretty clearly, law enforcement was viewed as a source of revenue.

      • Salem says:

        Wardships in particular were considered juicy plums into Tudor times.

        But don’t examples like these give you pause about the desirability of a for-profit judicial system? I could also bring up Nevada’s elder guardianship laws. Arbitration works well because there is competition, but lots of areas of the law don’t lend themselves to competition. Law enforcement as a source of revenue is not an unalloyed good.

        • Law enforcement as a source of revenue is not an unalloyed good.

          Depends on whether you get the revenue by fining people or by selling people the right to have their disputes arbitrated, and verdicts enforced, under the legal system you are selling them entry to.

          • Salem says:

            I agree, and I specifically gave arbitration as an example of for-profit law enforcement working well, but how far does that get us? Let’s take the example of wardships. The whole reason someone needs a ward is that they’re not capable of making good decisions for themselves, so the classic agency problem is not ameliorated by saying “let’s have people compete to be guardians” because the decision-maker still isn’t the one bearing the costs. The reason these medieval barons were so keen to assume wardships is because they could make lots of money by directing the education and betrothal of wealthy heirs. But these costs were being borne by the wards, and they were supernormal profits (which is why people were so keen to have them). And even if kings had run a competitive system for wardships to take away supernormal profits, the barons would have been competing for the favour of the king, not the interests of the wards. So yes, this is an example of how for-profit wardships can and will exist in a free market, as is the Nevada example, but it seems hard to view this as desirable.

          • To make for profit wardship work, you need a mechanism in which the choice of who has the wardship is being made by someone who has the minor’s interest at heart, probably his or her parents. That’s the point where the agency problem comes in.

            If anything, your example cuts in favor of private law and against government provided law, since it is the crown that is (mis)allocating the wardships.

            On the other hand Isabel of Pembroke probably got the best outcome available, possibly even the one her father would have chosen.

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    “Buddha had an advantage in his search for truth. He wasn’t distracted by Buddhism.”

    I came up with this, and posted it to facebook. I got 55 likes (above my average) and felt smug.

    Then a couple of people started arguing with me.

    Wouldn’t knowledge of a prior successful effort be helpful rather than distracting? It would be easier to invent an internal combustion engine if you knew someone else had done it. How different is enlightenment?

    I’m inclined to think that trying to achieve a mental state is a more subtle problem, and it’s harder to notice errors about mental states than about objective challenges. (I’m assuming that getting mathematics right is more like the internal combustion engine.)

    What do you think?

    • Randy M says:

      Are you trying to say something about Buddhism, or something about discovering truth?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Both?

        Buddhism includes an organized effort to discover the truth about human experience.

        • Randy M says:

          How much of Buddhism is based or derived specifically from Buddha? If it is significant as the name implies, then either Buddha didn’t discover truth, and thus probably wasn’t terribly advantaged, or he did, and thus would have gotten farther had he had it as a starting place.

    • arlie says:

      It occurs to me that ‘enlightenment’ is notoriously hard to describe. It also occurs to me that people like to tell stories which simply aren’t accurate, and often don’t distinguish between fact and fiction, and the domain labelled ‘religion’ is notoriously prone to this.

      So, let’s imagine I’m a Seeker of some kind. I can believe whatever my culture told me about ‘enlightenment’, assuming it’s not internally contradictory. But what it told me isn’t 100% accurate, and I don’t know which parts are wrong. Maybe it’s all wrong, and the ‘true’ path to salvation is actually faith in some God or the other. Maybe there is no such thing as salvation or enlightenment. How do I know?

      Now that’s also true of the internal combustion engine. Imagine what you could learn about it from generations of “soft skills” types passing down what they’d heard from similar non-technical, non-engineering types before them. They burned things and that caused a cart to move. Burned them inside the cart? Inside a box in the cart? Sounds like a con job to me, or a myth.

      But the key difference, given the stories, is that attaining Enlightenment is hard. If a million people try, *maybe* one succeeds. *With* instructions. Whereas if 100 people with some very basic technical skill *and clear instructions* try to produce an engine, they’ll mostly succeed, or be able to point at a very specific reason they cannot. (“I cannot get one of the specified materials.”) So engines are a lot less likely to become mythological in the first place – and there won’t be a huge cottage industry of people who haven’t ever successfully made one purporting to teach others how to go about it.

      I think that’s the big difference. Buddhism is a system created by mostly/entirely non-Enlightened people, to teach other people how to approach Enlightenment – sometimes in their current lives, and sometimes just how to position themselves for a better chance in a future life. Those methods may have started out as instructions from a person who actually succeeded, but they’ve had generations to be embellished, mis-transmitted, etc. And there hasn’t been an example of the goal available for them to check, so they’re almost certainly misrepresenting that too.

      Is it easier to attain something (true Enlightenment) when you are trying to attain something else (“Enlightenment”, as misrepresented by your culture), or when simply seeking truth? That seems like an empirical question, which would vary for individual goals. And given the rarity of success in either starting condition, it would take one gigantic experiment to acheive statistically significant results. I’m filing this as “something we cannot know, for practical rather than theoretical reasons”.

    • Lambert says:

      Sounds like Linji’s ‘Kill the Buddha’ koan.

  5. dndnrsn says:

    RPG thread: inspired by the discussion of the ghost above, why is it that some things players accept, but other things they will basically rebel over? Death seems to bother players less than maiming or losing a level, everyone has always hated the Rust Monster or anything that destroys equipment, and players generally hate being captured or having their stuff stolen.

    I’m not sure what’s up with the equipment-destroying hate (maybe it’s something like “you gave me this cool thing, and now you’re taking it away?”), but the first seems to be something about preferring to lose a character than having them “ruined”, level loss mechanics I think might annoy people because not only do you feel like you’ve lost the fruits of your work but they’re also just kinda weird, especially in systems where you gain skills and such as you level up (a monster touches you, and you get worse at alchemy?), and getting captured/your stuff is stolen is a really common railroading technique.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The problem with maiming, stealing from, or otherwise humiliating a player’s character is that it’s an ongoing reminder that you screwed up.

      If my character dies, well that sucks but characters die sometimes and I can play smarter with my next character. If my character loses a leg then I either have to voluntarily retire the character or keep playing and constantly deal with that past failure. Either way it adds insult to injury.

      It also depends on the game you’re playing. If I play a Warhammer 40K rpg there’s no expectation that my character will end a session with the same number of limbs that he started it with, and that’s part of the appeal. Likewise with Call of Cthulhu and turning into a gibbering maniac. If losing a limb or your sanity isn’t a failure or bad play, it goes from tragedy to comedy.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Delta Green, which is basically CoC+, features a mechanic by which your character’s home life disintegrates as they fight against the unknown. That stuff was indeed tragicomedy: the guy who, learning magic, voluntarily took more hits to his sanity than he might have in order to preserve his relationship with his wife and kid – he’s a FAMILY MAN, dammit. The guy who reacted to the horrors of the unknown by compulsively cheating on his wife. One player kept blowing his rolls to keep his personal life together, so it just got worse and worse.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I eat that kind of domestic stuff up with a spoon.
          My least favorite thing about D&D-type RPGs is how there’s no mechanical support for having a family.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It really improves the game. There’s a theme in CoC of your characters not only sacrificing their lives and sanity but also their relationships with society in general – dehumanizing themselves to protect others from threats they can’t talk about. However, in practice, without a mechanical reason to do this, most players will end up playing classic “wandering protagonist” types. DG mechanically enforces it, and I think the overall result is really good.

          • Nick says:

            I have a fondness for systems that encourage having relationships beyond the members of your party. Pathfinder has some optional rules for generating character backgrounds, including family and mentor, but they haven’t seen much use in campaigns I’ve been in. dndnrsn has given the Delta Green pitch before, and I really like that mechanic about trading relationships for sanity, but I have yet to play it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick:

            Use for siblings: replacements for a dead PC, page, kid who cleans your gear (a murderhobo’s armor wouldn’t last long, Rust Monsters or no Rust Monsters), hostages
            Use for mentors: trainers required to level up, rescue party, mid-campaign villain

          • Randy M says:

            Families? Those are for backstory pathos and for the GM to kill when he needs motivation.
            Also, identical twins make rerolling characters a snap.

          • Nick says:

            You folks are too set in your murderhoboing ways! 🙁

            If one of my party members were replaced by her identical twin sister or snotty little brother, I would not make it easy on them. How can I trust you, you’ll never be what she was to us, blah blah blah. Well, right up until we’re fighting the next lich, I guess.

            In all seriousness, though, these uses I like:

            Use for siblings: replacements for a dead PC, page, kid who cleans your gear (a murderhobo’s armor wouldn’t last long, Rust Monsters or no Rust Monsters), hostages
            Use for mentors: trainers required to level up, rescue party, mid-campaign villain

    • Walter says:

      To give the cliche reply “It depends on the player”.

      More broadly, “It depends on the game.”

      Like, how many players are at the table? How much of the time spent playing the game is spent in round time? How many sessions are the characters expected to last, etc?

      Changing the answers to these questions will change what the players tolerate. It is hard to come up with a global theory of player dissatisfaction.

      My take is that basically, you will run into trouble any time you negate the player’s choices without building up trust first. They wanted to play a character with an awesome sword, and thanks to rust monster they can’t. They wanted to take action X and thanks to failing that will save they can’t. They want to contribute on their turn, but thanks to grapple check they can’t. They want to impress other party member, but thanks to DMPC they can’t, etc. At the root of most any player gripe is the DM stepping on their attempt at contributing to the shared fiction.

    • John Schilling says:

      Character levels, and powerful magic items, are things that players earn. In ways that the GM will almost certainly have made as evocative and memorable as possible, thus maximizing the players’ emotional investment. Furthermore, these things earn the player the right to play the game at a literally different level, facing dragons and demons rather than orcs and brigands.

      So, do you really need to ask why people react badly when you take away things that are valuable and enabling and in which they are emotionally invested?

      Losing a character is just another way of retiring them, which most everyone expects to happen from time to time, and there’s little emotional distinction between remembering how you used to play Lord Bob the 9th-level fighter with his +2 Vorpal Long(*)sword and +5 Plate Mail(*) but who is now ruling a fief from his castle somewhere while you’re playing a new 1st-level rogue for a change, and remembering Lord Doug/9th level/vorpal blade/+5 armor who died heroically in the fight against Demon Lord Xorgokk and now you play a 1st-level sorceress for variety. But while it lasts, you earned the right to play Lord DougBob as a 9th-level fighter with a vorpal blade, not a 6th-level fighter with a pointy stick and one leg.

      Also, yes, it’s obvious that the DM is railroading you into a plot to escape the dungeon so you can steal back your sword and regain levels 7-9, and you already did all that the first time, and you should have been able to defeat the slavers what did this to you if the DM hadn’t predetermined that whatever you did would fail so that you would wind up in his dungeon cutscene sans equipment. Or maybe you just had some bad rolls in a fair fight with an adversary who logically would take your gear and throw you in a dungeon, but the railroad version has been done too often for DMs as a class to get much charity on that front.

      * Yes, yes, we know…

      • dndnrsn says:

        Perhaps part of it is that stuff that diminishes a character is significantly more likely to be “save or this happens” than stuff which is “save or die”? A 9th level fighter probably doesn’t go down to Lord Xorgokk in one hit. If the GM rolls a 20 and then rolls super high for damage, well, that happens sometime, but there were more steps between “he attacks” and “you die” than a save-or-die effect.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          A lot of it depends on what options a player had to avoid the problem. Save-or-die sucks when sprung on a character, but may be okay if there’s plenty of time to know about it and prepare. Dying to Lord Xor is more acceptable if you intended to fight him, rather than him coming to Safeville square and attacking as you walk out of the local pub.

          It’s the same core problem with railroading generally. It’s not that the end result for the character is particularly good or bad, but what role the players had in achieving it.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I was in a very short lived campaign where we were railroaded into being captured. The GM made it a point of giving us personalized equipment (one piece each) prior to that, so we got to both get captured and lose equipment!

      Even if the GM would have fudged things to get us our equipment back, there was a feeling that it wouldn’t have made sense for that to happen. We felt powerless, and the nice things we were given had been taken away. I wouldn’t have cared if my equipment was essentially a plain sword or whatever, but it was the effort and personalization involved.

      Similarly, losing a level means losing progress – which you personally spent time and effort to obtain.

      Losing a character can have that feel, if you put a lot of time and effort into character creation and backstory, or if there are character-specific outcomes from playing that character instead of a similar character.

      • Randy M says:

        That reminds me of the most irritating part of Chrono Trigger, where you are captured inside an airship and have to search for your equipment. Disempowering, frustrating, and, worse, boring. I know it had thematic connections, but even still, it’s hard to play through.

        • gbdub says:

          It seems like every video game RPG contains an annoying mission where your equipment is taken away (only to be returned shortly after). Not one of my favorite tropes.

          • sfoil says:

            It’s funny you say this because I was about to post how much I liked the part of the original KOTOR where this happened. It’s relatively brief, forces you to make do with junk you wouldn’t normally pay attention to (including putting on some clothes you find lying around) until you get your gear back, and IIRC at the end you triumphantly use your recovered equipment to finish off one last encounter.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think it’s different in a computer game, because there isn’t the expectation that it can improvise like a decent GM can. Still annoying, but not the same level of annoying. But there’s some published adventures and campaigns for tabletop RPGs where “the PCs will all enter the room and get knocked out! Then they wake up on a boat!” seriously gets used…

            What annoys me more in video games is stuff where cutscenes unstealth rogues, pull party members into the room with the boss, etc.

        • theredsheep says:

          In the case of CT it wasn’t so bad, because Ayla couldn’t be disarmed and the enemies were weak enough that she could plow through them single-handed. Of course, there was no guarantee that you’d have Ayla in your team, but at that point six of the ten possible parties included her. And there was basically no reason ever to use Marle once Frog joined, so really, unless you happened to have a group of Lucca, Robo, and Frog, it was a minor nuisance. And TBH I never liked Lucca, there’s nothing like a character who can do only one useful thing and becomes a paperweight as soon as she encounters an enemy immune to it. Plus Ayla was the newest character at that point and needed training. So you could say one design failure was mitigated by others.

          It was WAY more annoying in Wind Waker. Complete with the “dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-DUH-DUN” every time you get chucked back in the cell.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Here’s a revolutionary statement: Roleplaying games are games you play to have fun.

      Not exactly mind-blowing. But people forget it! The surest way to make players leave a game is to make them play characters that are not fun to play. Gimping a character and then expecting someone to still play it is usually asking them to accept a lot of frustration. “Hey, cool, it’s another monster that I can’t fight because my magical weapon was destroyed.”

      So this also depends on what people signed up to play. I GMed a very successful, extremely depressing game called Pax America in which the players were generals in a massively drawn out WWII as America at home turned increasingly authoritarian, and eventually the players found themselves being sort of the executors of a fascist state. Players left that game under a black cloud — but it was what they signed up for, and they enjoyed it in the way that people enjoy tragedies. It would not have worked if they were there for a feel-good action story about punching Nazis.

      You’ve just gotta retain a light touch with all this, and stay attuned to your players and what they’re getting out of the game.

    • dick says:

      By cooincidence, I was in a game last night where one of our party got an item that seemed really railroady and unfair. We were one room in to a dungeon, and found an “axe swings out of the ceiling” trap that had been constructed with a +1 magic axe, which our fighter was able to pry loose and make his main weapon.

      This is a party of 2nd levels and it’s our first magic item of any kind, and it just feels cheap. We didn’t even have to deal with the trap! It was just a magic weapon hanging out of a ceiling near the bones of whatever creature discovered it a thousand years ago. I mean, maybe we’ll later find out that it made total sense for someone to make a trap there and use a magic weapon and for why no one in a thousand years has stumbled across it, but it felt like a handout.

      Anyway, back on topic, it’s never come up for me but I agree with John Schilling, I think most players would be more upset about losing all their hard-won equipment than about dying. The only scenario where I can imagine it being reasonable would be, like, if the campaign was feeling moribund and everyone had agreed to transport the players to a new setting or something. However, I can certainly imagine losing equipment as part of some sort of trade or transformation in which the player also gets something new and cool.

  6. johan_larson says:

    We’ve spent a lot of time talking about medical care in various existing systems, particularly the American one. But suppose we came at this from the other direction. Let us consider what the medical industry would look like if libertarians who are not anarchists were in charge.

    To that and:
    Poorly done medicine can have devastating consequences. Would there be any limitations on who is allowed to provide medical care?

    Emergency care is problematic, since it involves people who are in very poor positions to negotiate because they are bleeding out, and in some cases utterly unable to negotiate because they are unconscious. How would this be handled?

    Some people are distraught, some are senile, and others are literally crazy. How would issues of restraint and agency be handled for people who do not appear to be of sound mind?

    Some people are not basically healthy with occasional illnesses. They have conditions that require lifelong care, sometimes at great cost. Are these people on their own in libertopia?

    • theredsheep says:

      Effective emergency care generally involves a lot of supplies and equipment, plus multiple people. And libertarians aren’t averse to civil suits AFAIK. I imagine they would be okay with reputation, natural entry barriers, and fear of repercussions weeding out most of the quacks. The crazies might well be restrained under similar rules as today. I assume the answer to number three is some kind of insurance.

      Obviously, I am not a libertarian.

      • Garrett says:

        I’m not sure that reputation for emergency care itself is good enough since, by definition (for true medical emergencies), the patients themselves are not able to make the choice of providers. However, I could see that a hospital would not want someone who isn’t certified by an independent group (eg. board-certified) to practice.

        I’d note that this happens even now – it’s basically impossible to get a clinical job in a hospital with “merely” a medical license. You pretty much need to be board-certified in something. Even setting up your own practice is a challenge unless you are in an under-served area.

      • brianmcbee says:

        My biggest problem is with this is that such a person is hampered form shopping around based on price. Free markets depending on pricing mechanisms, and this basically can’t happen in this circumstance.

        I used to be a “religious libertarian”, and this was the thin end of the wedge that led me to look at the rest of the philosophy. I still think that free markets should be the default, but you have to look case by case for market failures and adjust accordingly. Plus the whole concept of “natural rights” is basically nonsense, as far as I can tell.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Oh hey, time for a public display of heresy.

      From easiest to hardest

      People who are [bleeding out/in a coma/severely psychologically impaired/abandoned children/otherwise helpless and unable to provide for themselves] ought to be provided for by the state. I believe that it is a legitimate function of the state to help these people-who-cannot-function-as-people, and that it’s best for this cost to be borne by the members of a society via taxation. No idea what the best way to determine salaries is, but they’d at least be working in comparable fields to market-driven ones.

      As far as licensing goes – I’m very wary of litigation-based systems, as they’re highly asymmetrical. Capital is directly correlated with the ability to win in court, and doctors are likely to be price-segregated in the first place. Even if people weren’t leery of publishing their medical history, it takes expertise to distinguish between good and bad doctors, especially since patient quality can be treated as a commodity between doctors. I think in the end I come down on the side of pseudo-voluntary licensing, where to call themselves a “doctor” the doctor must be licensed and specify which licensing agency they are licensed by. Unlicensed doctors cannot call themselves “doctor,” but can offer whatever services they want. A legal standard whereby the licensing agency holds some portion of the liability for malpractice may help or hurt here – I’m not smart enough to see how the economics of this plays out and whether it results in the creation of a private auditing system.

      I have no answer to the question of chronic conditions. I lost years of my mother’s life to lifetime insurance caps when they existed. To some extent, lives and money are incommensurable, especially the lives of invalids. How much money is a seven-year-old’s mother worth, when no matter what happens she’ll never work another day in her life? It’s impossible for me to say, and I’m too close to this question to really give it the consideration it merits.

    • 10240 says:

      I don’t have a 100% perfectly libertarian and satisfactory solution, but we could get a lot closer than at present.

      Poorly done medicine can have devastating consequences. Would there be any limitations on who is allowed to provide medical care?

      No, but you are strongly advised to not rely on people without proper qualifications.

      Emergency care is problematic, since it involves people who are in very poor positions to negotiate because they are bleeding out, and in some cases utterly unable to negotiate because they are unconscious. How would this be handled?

      Based on your fingerprint, emergency medical providers can access a database which contains information about your insurance (or, alternatively, a bank deposit from which funds can be drawn for your care), your preferred hospital(s) (whose prices you know and accept, or which are covered by your insurance), and possibly your instructions regarding cost/benefit trade-offs as well as any other medical decisions. For an emergency where you need to be taken to the nearest hospital ASAP, there would be a set of industry standard prices that a typical insurance covers, and which most hospitals charge, and your database entry typically contains that you accept care for the standard prices at any hospital in such an emergency. Your database entry can be retrieved and the most important information read in a minute, so this takes care of all but the most extreme emergencies (and situations where all your fingers are blown off by an explosion).

      If you have neither an insurance, nor a sufficient deposit, you are denied care. If we are not 100% right-libertarian and accept some amount of cash subsidy to the poorest, or if they receive enough charity, they can (and are strongly advised) to use it to buy insurance. In that case denial of care can only happen as the result of a (poor) choice.

      Some people are distraught, some are senile, and others are literally crazy. How would issues of restraint and agency be handled for people who do not appear to be of sound mind?

      While you are sane, you decide what you want to happen to you in the case that you go crazy. (You are strongly advised to allow restraints and treatment in case you pose a danger to yourself, or are otherwise delusional.) If you pose a danger to others, you can be restrained regardless of your choices; otherwise you are treated according to your choices.

      Some people are not basically healthy with occasional illnesses. They have conditions that require lifelong care, sometimes at great cost. Are these people on their own in libertopia?

      The usual problem with chronic diseases in a free-market health system is that insurance companies will deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. My solution for chronic diseases (including those which require lifelong care) is to have insurance that pays for the treatment of a chronic disease for the rest of your life (or for the duration of the disease) if you are covered by the insurance when the disease is first discovered, even if you later cancel your contract with that insurance company. That is, the entire cost of the disease is considered to be incurred when the disease is discovered. (Would this make the insurance extremely expensive? No: a new chronic disease may be very costly to your insurer, the probability that you get a new chronic disease in any given year is correspondingly low.) I don’t know if this kind of insurance currently exists anywhere.

      The problem with this is that you could game the system by going without this kind of insurance, and when you get a chronic disease, you get the insurance (without telling them that you already know about the disease), and make them pay. People doing this would then drive up the price of the insurance to a point where it’s not worth getting for healthy people. Ways to prevent this include: make it a crime (insurance fraud); the insurance company can require you to undergo various medical tests before you get this kind of insurance if you didn’t have this kind of insurance before; make any new insurance contract, cancellation or change effective after a certain period (say, 2 years; the medical tests are also done after this period). This way we have dealt with all chronic diseases, except those which cannot be detected by medical testing at an acceptable cost even 2 years after they are first diagnosed (or suspected).

      One more problem is medical care for children, and for chronic diseases discovered at birth or in childhood. More generally, issues regarding children are difficult to handle in libertarianism, since children can’t make sound decisions for themselves; I don’t have an fully libertarian and satisfactory solution to them. There is a wide range of libertarian views on children, from one extreme that children are the property of their parents since they owe their life to them (which I disagree with), to the other extreme that children should have much more freedom from as early as possible.

      My own justification for libertarianism doesn’t apply to people who create children, since through bad decisions they could make another (newly created) person miserable. Furthermore, if we don’t allow parents to hurt their children (which we shouldn’t), we also shouldn’t allow them to make decisions in the name of their children that are bad for their children. So I endorse government obligations for parents in some situations where I would oppose obligations for adults making decisions for themselves; in this case an obligation for parents to get health insurance for their children.

      That said, the beneficiary of the child’s health insurance is the child, not the parent, so it’s questionable if parents should be made to pay for it. If children and fetuses were fully rational, it would be a sound decision on their part to take out a loan to pay for health insurance right before birth, to be repaid in adulthood. On this basis, if we are willing to deviate from libertarianism a bit more, we could make the presumption that they make such a contract; this would be essentially equivalent to making health insurance for children (including chronic diseases discovered in childhood) tax-funded (with private insurance providers). The same could apply to chronic diseases which can’t be detected by testing 2 years after they appear. If we had a free-market system without obligations for all other diseases, it would still be a much freer than probably any existing system.

      • pjs says:

        In your scheme for chronic insurance, is the company merely legally obliged to pay for lifetime treatment over time, or does it actually pay a single lump sum for the expected cost (maybe not to the insured directly, but to some trusted third-party escrow)? I don’t see that the first works (even without the cheating problem), but the second sounds promising so long as a reasonable estimate is possible.
        Basically, from an accounting perspective (of the front-line insurance provider), make chronic look as discrete and unpredictable as possible (albeit costly).

        • 10240 says:

          I’m not sure about the details. Lump sum is better in terms of being able to switch providers. But it has the problem that the cost of treatment (and even what’s the best treatment) may change over time. Having the current company pay for the treatment may work; if the company stops providing health insurance, it can buy you an equivalent coverage from another company. You probably also want some sort of secondary insurance in case the insurer goes bankrupt, similar to deposit insurance. In either case, we have the difficulty of having to write a precise, future-proof contract that defines what is covered; I don’t even know how it’s done in present private insurance systems.

          The ideal would be some sort of security whose price tracks the expected present value of lifetime treatment, but it would be difficult to do since different people’s diseases are not exactly fungible.

          • pjs says:

            If the company is paying out every year for the chronically ill people on its roll (whether or not there’s insurance or some other plan to deal with the post-bankruptcy case), it _will_ have higher year-on-year costs than the otherwise identical company I can set up in competition but with a shorter history and overhang of chronically ill. Especially so if its lightly regulated. Then I poach your healthy customers with my lower rates (lower than you can match), and your death spiral ensues.
            That’s why really I like your idea in a form that makes the insurance company take a one time hit. The cost prediction problem means that this will necessarily be imperfect, but even if we can get it broadly right it mitigates a lot of problems.

            I think any rough solution would make this a good idea, but your idea of offering the risk to the market is great (I think it will end up being a market in the misestimation risk). People’s diseases are not fungible, but neither are people’s home mortgages (e.g. in risk of default). Fortunately we have the technology (securitization) to fix this, hopefully now with fewer bugs 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            But it has the problem that the cost of treatment (and even what’s the best treatment) may change over time.

            But now you’re asking for insurance not just against disease or injury, but against the possibility of somebody inventing a better but more expensive treatment. That’s going to be really hard to pull off, and only in part because of the general uncertainty in technological development. Beyond that, once you make the commitment it’s an obvious incentive for someone else to come up with a treatment that is marginally more effective but which costs One Hundred Billion Dollars (bwuahahaha!).

            A lump-sum payment corresponding to the expected cost of current treatment at current rates, would be a nearly ideal solution from an economic standpoint, for the portability and negotiability benefits you mention. And it would encourage everyone who develops better medical treatments, to also bring the costs down ASAP. But it would require admitting that not everybody will always get the best possible treatment.

          • 10240 says:

            The version where the company pays the ongoing treatment would still be based on the one-time event concept. The treatment of chronic diseases that were diagnosed in a given year would be normally paid from the premiums paid in that year (effectively from an annuity based on what would be lump sum payments*), not from premiums paid by customers in later years. If you charge less, you are in for a big loss when that money runs out, and if you don’t have a lot of capital, you are obviously headed towards bankruptcy, so you won’t be able to get bankruptcy insurance, and customers won’t trust you.

            * Maybe this is what you meant by an escrow account. I’m not sure if that’s necessary; in the financial industry, firms often take up obligations without escrow accounts to ensure that they can meet them I think, though some form of oversight is often used.

          • 10240 says:

            @John Schilling In theory, a contract could set some $/QALY limit, similar to what some existing healthcare systems do when deciding what new treatments to cover. It could lead to some costly lawsuits, though.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The lump-sum idea might be tough to police against fraud. (“What would you like to be diagnosed with? We’ll split the proceeds 50/50.”)

    • b_jonas says:

      > Emergency care is problematic, since it involves people who are […] in some cases utterly unable to negotiate because they are unconscious. How would this be handled?

      Same as in the real world. I carry a wallet and mobile phone with me almost all the time, except while I’m at home or swimming. The wallet has my identity documents, as well as telephone numbers of relatives to contact in case of an emergency, written on paper in ballpoint pen (so it doesn’t smudge or get unreadable from water). If I have a medical condition that is severe enough that urgent care has to know about it (but that isn’t obvious on sight), then I also write that onto the paper. If the medical condition is even more severe, I’ll wear a wristband too. Luckily currently I don’t have such conditions, so the paper only mentions the pill I take regularly, and even that one is probably unnecessary. Ambulance workers are trained to look for such documents when they find people who can’t communicate.

      Basically the same would work in the situation you suppose in your question. The main difference is that instead of a single universal healthcare system, there may be different healthcare insurance providers. Thus, instead of the identity documents that help the government healthcare system find my insurance data in Europe, I’d have to carry documents about which insurance provider(s) to contact. This already happens in our world when I go skiing, because the government insurance doesn’t cover the mountain rescue for skiing in some countries of Europe. Thus, when I go skiing, I have to buy a cheap travel insurance that pays for the costs of rescuing me from the mountain, even if it takes a helicopter. There are about a dozen different insurance companies in Hungary selling such an insurance (unless you’re an elderly person, in which case you’re screwed because almost no insurance company will bother with elderly persons).

    • John Schilling says:

      Regarding emergency care, there is almost certainly going to be a telephone number that you can call that results in an ambulance being dispatched to provide emergency medical care first and ask billing questions later. There’s huge demand for this, and it’s relatively cheap to provide. If it’s being paid for by multiple private agencies, e.g. insurance companies, they are going to cross-negotiate a set of linked deals for treatment first, billing questions later. And it’s quite possible it would be done on a volunteer basis, as with many fire departments.

      But it integrates really well with things that are unambiguously government functions, like police protection, so it probably will be done by local governments or private contractors closely tied to local governments. The same number that you use to call police to the scene of a shooting, or firemen to the scene of a fire, should also get you an ambulance to treat the injured. There’s economies of scale in integrating all of this into a single emergency-response system, and large parts of that integrated system are within the legitimate domain of any non-anarchist libertarian state. And the sort of purist libertarian who would say “aha, but these injured people are outside the strictly-defined set of people that the State is allowed to help with Tax Dollars, therefore we have to send this ambulance back and summon a private one!”, is the sort least likely to ever be elected to run a real government.

      So, that ~2% of health care spending probably stays with the state, possibly farmed out to contractors or volunteers. We can maybe imagine small towns where the entire emergency-services system is run by organized volunteers; in cities it’s probably going to need professionals paid with tax dollars. And probably administered in a way that results in de facto licensing for EMTs and ER physicians, because the government is going to impose some standard on who it pays to do those jobs.

      The harder problem is that emergency care sometimes transitions into more expensive and prolonged non-emergency care – even more so if you’ve got people whose plan for dealing with long-term health problems is to wait until they become acute emergencies and then call an ambulance. And in any society that involves A: human beings and B: television, any plan that involves saying “this is no longer an emergency and you have no money/insurance, so we’re throwing you out on the street to die” is a political non-starter.

      Ideally, someone reasonably organized body like e.g. the Church will be even more committed to making sure that doesn’t happen, and sufficiently well-financed by voluntary donation to run a network of hospitals of last resort. If that’s not the case, it will be politically necessary for the state to run the hospitals of last resort, and for them to not be obviously wretched. It will also not be necessary for them to provide the Best Possible Medical Care, For Everyone, because that’s not even possible.

      It may be politically necessary for them to lie and say that’s what they are doing, but that would be unfortunate because it would prevent us from acknowledging and advertising the unavoidable truth that if you’ve got money you actually can buy better health care than the state provides. In any libertarian society, once the immediate emergency is over you want as many people as possible to be themselves paying for the best medical care they can afford, even if you can’t get that to 100% coverage.

      If you are paying for private health care in a non-emergency situation where there’s time to make informed decisions and take calculated risks, you should be free to pay for uncredentialed quacks if that’s what you really want. Caveat emptor. And you should be similarly free to decline the restraints and non-consensual medical treatment once the emergency is over.

      Long-term health issues that require either expensive or non-consensual treatment are another hard problem that would be much easier if we could convince everyone to sign up for an appropriate insurance plan before the problem manifests. I can believe we’d get 90-95% coverage via social pressure and economic self-interest in a mature system, but not 100% and not even 90% for the transition, so again there’s a need for a last resort.

      • b_jonas says:

        Would it be politically possible to re-use the same hospital infrastructure and doctors to provide both the low level state-sponsored care and the higher level care that patients pay for?

        Currently in Hungary this only happens in smaller scales illegally, which hurts the state. If a doctor legally wants to provide both state-sponsored healthcare and higher paying private services, they have to do the two in two different buildings, and the state hospital and the private clinic have to buy duplicates of the same expensive medical equipment. I don’t know how much money this actually wastes though.

        • John Schilling says:

          Tricky. In addition to the political issues, one of the practical ways to reduce the cost of hospital care is to use open wards rather than private rooms for every patient. This also reduces the quality of care somewhat because quality of rest and communicable diseases, but so long as you don’t take it too far it may well be part of the recipe for cheap-but-good-enough health care. Meanwhile, if there are people that are willing to pay extra, private rooms are near the top of the list of what they’ll want to pay for.

          Unfortunately for this plan, hospital architecture in the United States has severely deprecated open wards in recent decades, so you’d basically have to rebuild or substantially remodel lots of hospitals, for a substantial short-term expense in hopes of long-term cost savings, and you’d have to explicitly admit you were spending all this up-front movie to provide explicitly second-class service to the masses in the same place that people with more money were getting better treatment.

          • b_jonas says:

            Private wards in hospitals? And that’s on the top of the list people would pay for? Wow. I absolutely can’t imagine that.

            Either I don’t understand the U.S., or I haven’t stayed enough in hospitals. On the top of the list I pay for is guaranteeing that the doctor has time to pay attention to me, and that I get a competent doctor, but these are for outpatient care. Luckiliy I don’t have much experience with inpatient care. In the last one and a half decade,

            I was admitted for inpatient care (i.e. spending at least one night in the hospital) twice. I spent two weeks in 2012 for an elective surgery. That hospital is actually terrible, once of the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune to be in, but the inpatient area was actually much more tolerable than the outpatient one. They had shortages of clean bedsheets and of bandages, and if they offered me to pay for getting those, I would have, but I happened to not get on the bad end of the stick. I spent three weeks in a hospital ward this summer. I have already recounted as much of that story as I want in another thread. The worst part of the hospital conditions was the mattresses on the beds, which were so bad that I lied awake half the night because of them, at a time when the doctor told me plainly that I had to sleep to get better, and that was after I got pills that help sleep and I put the mattress on the floor because the bed frame is also terrible. (Also, my first memory after the amnesia is that I came out the bathroom and couldn’t tell which of the five ward rooms in the corridor I had to enter. A patient had to help me. How the heck would that work if there were thirty private wards on the corridor instead?)

            In both of these two stays, the best part was that my family could visit me and phone me often, but you can’t buy that for money. In both of the stays, the part that felt bad was that during the last week, when I really wanted to leave already because I was already in a good enough condition to stay at home under my family’s care, and would be able to rest better there, but in both cases the doctors weren’t allowed to take that risk, and again this isn’t something where money would matter.

  7. WashedOut says:

    You have materialised in a room of about 100 people at a networking/mingling event. Let’s assume the event is organised under a banner broad enough such that the attendees are diverse in their interests and backgrounds. Your goal is to have the most interesting conversation possible, by your own standards. You are allowed to ask only one screening question in order to decide whether you want to talk to someone, and you have to ask the same question for everyone you approach. What question do you choose?

    • ing says:

      “What do you do for fun?”

      My goal is to identify people who could be friends with me after the mixer, and this question selects for that.

    • johan_larson says:

      What was the last book you read?

      • cassander says:

        I’d refine it to “What was the last bad book you read?”

        • Nick says:

          Oh, I like this one.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          Interesting approach, however the way it could backfire, at least to me , is someone having abandoned a bad book may not have very much material and depth to discuss about regarding the material. That being said, this is a good topic for understanding a bit about how someone thinks.

    • dick says:

      First thing that comes to mind is, “How many different industries have you worked in?” though that won’t work on youngsters.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        Interesting, but this approach would very much be a business networking one, in my opinion, rather than a “lets explore common interests”, though perhaps I just have an especially strong aversion to initiating conversation about work matters in my personal discourse.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Follow-up question: for how many people here is this scenario MUCH more anxiety-inducing than the one about the mountain lion attack? (The only question I’d be interested in asking anyone would be where the nearest emergency exit was.)

      • WashedOut says:

        Yes, but in this case my anxiety would be more like a sullen resignation that I will find people insincere and dull. That’s why im asking this question – out of genuine personal interest.

        I really dislike small-talk, especially at parties. My dream is that someone will come up to me and just start talking about an idea that they are currently grappling with.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          I can’t help suspecting – though it’s very possible that this only reflects my own lack of skill in networking/mingling – that no question about people’s thoughts, however cleverly formulated, will be effective. Most people won’t give an honest and interesting answer even if one exists, either because they weren’t prepared for the question or they think it’s risky to give too much information about their thoughts to strangers at parties.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        I find it more disconcerting because I have almost 100% confidence in the mountain lion scenario. They are not that scary of an animal.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Oh yeah, mountain lion attack beats mingling event any day. At least there’s a win condition for the mountain lion attack.

        • achenx says:

          “Oh yeah, mountain lion attack beats mingling event any day. At least there’s a win condition for the mountain lion attack.”

          I could not agree with this more.

          • arlie says:

            *roflmao*

            Emotionally, I come close to agreeing.

            OTOH, the maximum likely loss case for the mountain lion scenario is much higher than for the “yuck, mingling” scenario – doubly so if I can, instead, just quietly sneak out the exit.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Mingling is still enjoyable as long as I get to have a drink or two. Out of 100 people, there’s SOMEONE I can start a friendship with.

      • Deiseach says:

        Definitely. The cougar only perceives me as a threat or wants to eat me, it doesn’t expect me to make witty chit-chat about that TV show everyone in the country (except me) is watching.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      “If you could have any single wish granted, what would you wish for?”

    • AG says:

      TRICK QUESTION. I never open the conversations, instead milling around and eavesdropping on discussions until I find one that’s interesting enough and then jump in. Works in line for various things (both business and pleasure), works with my co-workers, works at SSC meetups!

      But also, I rarely go to events where networking/mingling is the only thing happening. Even when hanging out with friends, I try to arrange things so there’s some external activity that people can gracefully drop out of conversation to focus on, or to be able to re-direct conversation to something happening in-situ. Group walks/hiking is ideal for this. See also the core premise of hash house harriers.

    • Evan Þ says:

      If my only goal was to have one interesting conversation, and if it wasn’t for the 100-person limit, I’d ask a detailed question about history like, “What do you think about the differences between William Jennings Bryan’s and William McKinley’s colonial policies?” I wouldn’t really care what they answered; I’d care that they answered at all – I’d be looking for someone who knew about Bryan and McKinley and knew what McKinley did even if not the details of his policies. Then, we could have a good conversation about American history even if maybe not the Spanish-American War in particular.

      The downside is that perhaps none of the hundred people in the room would be able to answer. The other downside in real life is that I’d leave ninety-odd people slightly baffled and with a slightly negative opinion of me.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t remember where I’m stealing this from, but I think I’d prefer something like either:

        a. Tell me about something you’re studying right now that’s really interesting and exciting to you.

        or

        b. Tell me about a hard problem you’re working on solving.

  8. theredsheep says:

    I’d like to talk about intersectionality. Specifically, the peculiar intersection of vibes going on here, and in places like Quillette. SSC is run by a polyamorous atheist in San Francisco. Yet the site has a healthy following of religious people, mainly of the stoically conservative type who are predisposed to homeschool (myself included). Likewise on Quillette, the latest writer is likely to be someone like Stephen Pinker or (up now) Michael Shermer. The sort of person who trips my curmudgeonly theist’s gag reflex. And yet Quillette is also quite popular among religious conservatives. Does this, and the related Peterson phenomenon, and probably other stuff I’m not cool enough to know about, represent a new alliance in the culture wars, where people who agree that truth is not a function of who’s speaking it band together to crush the progressive-postmodernist front, so we can go back to tearing each other to pieces like old times? Or what?

    Has Scott already written about this? Probably. Am I oversimplifying it? Almost certainly.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Perhaps its just that intersectionality is nonsense unless it is actively enforced.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “I am addressing the Platonists here, because they are closest to the truth.” — The City of God, somewhere.
      Yes, it’s easier to get along with unbelievers who believe in the True than people who think what to believe is determined by the speaker’s identity group.

    • cassander says:

      I’m not sure that would represent a new alliance. For several decades now, the culture war has been the progressives against everyone who’s opposed to the progressives.

      • theredsheep says:

        Oh, it wasn’t long ago that Dawkins et al were the archenemy for us idiots and our Magic Sky Daddy. Now we’re intrigued by their ideas, would like to subscribe to their newsletter, etc. At least where the multi-culti is concerned. It would be interesting to see if this eventually played out in politics.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The way I see it…

      Curmudgeonly theists like you are driven here by the pelting you receive at the hands of internet progressives, and are left only with places where you won’t get bile on you. But as far as an alliance goes – I don’t like most people who go by that description, and I don’t think that most of their (your?) causes are worth fighting for at an object level. I almost think you’d be happier with the progressives if you all could restrain yourselves from flinging shit at each other, but you can’t, so I resign myself to your company and theirs and chalk the fact that people speak civilly in places I like up as a victory.

      Note that the “you” here is demographic, not personal.

      • theredsheep says:

        That’s the thing: I’ve tried talking to the hard progressives–I’m quite moderate, politically, for a curmudgeonly theist. Made several efforts since Trump’s election. No matter how I approach it, I inevitably get anathematized. The closest I can get to a civil conversation is with SJ-leaning libertarians. Every now and then, I resolve to try again, with a slightly different tack. I’m done for now.

        • dick says:

          You’ve repeatedly tried to have civil conversations with progressives, they’ve all gone off the rails, and you’re confident the problem lies with the progressives?

          • theredsheep says:

            I know I haven’t done perfectly either, if it comes to that. The culture does give me the willies, somewhat. But usually there’s much more margin of error if things go pear-shaped. One doesn’t usually go from benefit-of-the-doubt to Hitler quite that quickly.

          • dick says:

            To paraphrase the old tech support adage*, what are you saying to these people right before they start calling you Hitler? Also, are we talking about actual postmodernists, or regular people with progressive politics?

            * “I understand that you didn’t break it, but what were you doing right before it broke itself?”

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            To be fair, this isn’t impossible if you’re riding just this side of taboo, and it seems that “conservative theist” is close enough to taboo in certain circles that Brownian social motion can induce a dogfight.

          • theredsheep says:

            It’s variable. I try not to call anyone names or anything. But, for example, I’ve had an FB conversation where someone asked me if I supported insurance coverage for birth control. I said that I thought birth control, considered purely as a contraceptive (so not like women with cramps or what-have-you) was a bit of a scam my sex pulled on women, switching out a cheap piece of rubber that lessens sensation for the man for this complex and expensive maintenance med with all sorts of nasty side effects. And then calling it some kind of liberation. With that said, though, it’s their health, and anyway there are plenty of other reasons for using the stuff, so sure, insure it. All this was said to a friend who is leftish but generally open.

            Friend-of-this-friend jumps in and says something about my denying women’s lived experiences or some such; it’s been a while since it happened so I don’t recall what exactly. She repeatedly said what about cramps, etc. and I was like “yes, but I said considered purely as a contraceptive,” and at some point she told me basically that as a man I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion.

            Now, it probably could have gone more smoothly if I’d been willing to pussyfoot around it and use lots of disclaimers, but I was talking to somebody I was used to straight-shooting with, and I think that even if I had soft-pedaled it, in the end, it would have come down to my accepting she was right by virtue of her gender, or else winding up in the same place. And I’ve had much more aggressive conversations with people on the right, and been friends with them at the end of it.

          • theredsheep says:

            Hoopyfreud: I’m only theologically conservative, ie not an Episcopalian or the like. Aside from opposing abortion (which I know better than to even bring up), I’m pretty well in the middle politically.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You’ve repeatedly tried to have civil conversations with progressives, they’ve all gone off the rails, and you’re confident the problem lies with the progressives?

            If you date a bunch of unrelated women and have the same problems with all of them then odds are that the problem is you. If you date several sisters and have the same problem with all of them its reasonably likely that it is them (but also still likely that it is you).

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @theredsheep

            To be clear, I’m saying that someone slightly-too-edgy could take any excuse to object to what you say because of who you are, and that as time goes on it becomes inevitable that someone will do this. Not saying it’s your fault.

          • dick says:

            I said that I thought birth control… was a bit of a scam my sex pulled on women

            It sounds like you said something provocative and are now complaining that someone got provoked.

          • ana53294 says:

            I said that I thought birth control, considered purely as a contraceptive (so not like women with cramps or what-have-you) was a bit of a scam my sex pulled on women, switching out a cheap piece of rubber that lessens sensation for the man for this complex and expensive maintenance med with all sorts of nasty side effects. And then calling it some kind of liberation. With that said, though, it’s their health, and anyway there are plenty of other reasons for using the stuff, so sure, insure it.

            I find it really strange that a woman objected to this. I kind of think that feminists should talk more about this, as I think that more couples should be using condoms if the woman does not need contraceptives for separate medical reasons (there are plenty of people who still respond badly to oral contraceptives).

            That said, condoms should be covered by insurance (they are also a good way for insurance companies to save money avoiding expensive diseases such as AIDS, antibiotic resistant gonorrhea, and other sexually transmitted diseases).

          • theredsheep says:

            If strong claim with a load of provisos and qualifiers counts as provocative–of course I wasn’t moderating because I was not intentionally addressing anyone I knew to be sensitive, I agree I could have put it more mildly–then strong claims are effectively off-limits. I can see how the claim itself could ruffle feathers, but what troubles me more is the aftermath where I was effectively told that I wasn’t allowed to form my own opinion, but needed to “listen to women.” Which in this context means “listen to women like me,” since my wife is a woman and she has the same opinion I do. I don’t like the idea that there are experts who can’t be questioned; an environment that doesn’t allow for skepticism is an environment that encourages deceit.

          • dick says:

            If strong claim with a load of provisos and qualifiers counts as provocative–of course I wasn’t moderating because I was not intentionally addressing anyone I knew to be sensitive, I agree I could have put it more mildly–then strong claims are effectively off-limits.

            “Off-limits” is a pretty strong term for “if you say it, someone might disagree with you.” Yes, saying provocative* things on Facebook sometimes starts arguments, and if you don’t want that then you shouldn’t do it. But beyond that, from your description it sounds like she was just arguing for her position and you got upset. There’s nothing about what you’ve told us to support the idea that this was asymmetrical, that your side was reasonable (just making a “strong claim”) and her side was unreasonable. “I’m right, you’re wrong, I know more about this than you, you should listen to me” is pretty much what people say in any argument.

            * Of course it was provocative. The idea that the invention of birth control was an important and generally good development for women is a very standard default position, the kind of thing 8th graders get assigned to write an essay on. That doesn’t mean you can’t argue against it, but doing so is very much dangling bait for someone to argue back. And of course the idea that birth control is a scam foisted off on women so that men won’t have to wear rubbers is literally false, but I assume you didn’t mean it literally.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            @dick

            Would you consider it reasonable to differentiate between a class of argument on the merits of the argument, and an argument on the merits of the person arguing it?

            It seems to me that theredsheep is concerned that instead of having an argument on the merits, the argument was about whether he was allowed to participate in discussion at all. I see that as a separate type of discussion, and “someone might disagree with you” is not a good descriptor of the scenario – at least as described.

          • theredsheep says:

            Yeah. I fully expect people to tell me I’m wrong; what I object to is not the idea that I’m wrong, but that I’m wrong by nature. And I keep running into that same idea; I’m not wrong because my ideas are wrong, but because I’m a straight white cis man.

          • lvlln says:

            “I’m right, you’re wrong, I know more about this than you, you should listen to me” is pretty much what people say in any argument.

            That’s not an argument! It’s just a contradiction!

          • dick says:

            And I keep running into that same idea; I’m not wrong because my ideas are wrong, but because I’m a straight white cis man.

            Three thoughts:

            1) If someone literally said that then I agree they’re wrong and I’m pretty sure everyone else here does too, but it seems likelier that she said something similar but less dumb, like “you being a man makes it hard for you to see why you’re wrong” and you’re characterizing it unfairly.

            2) If you had come in here and said, “Hey guys, I just had this argument where some progressive told me I was wrong because I’m white, how fucked up is that?” you would have our condolences, but I wouldn’t have engaged, for reasons explained at length in the Cardiologists and Chinese Robbers essay. The fact that it took us a long and circuitous path before we got to the part about you claiming that someone said that to you doesn’t change this.

            3) This – the thing where someone has (or witnesses) an unsatisfying exchange on Twitter or FB and comes here to rehash it – never seems to go well, and I think the overarching reason is the indirectness. You started by attributing the position you’re against to your outgroup generally (“people who agree that truth is not a function of who’s speaking” vs “the progressive-postmodernist front”) but only obliquely, in a way that makes it very hard for someone who wants to defend progressiveness to respond and be sure they’re interpreting your position fairly. We now know that that was a reference to people telling you you’re wrong because you’re a white guy, but it took us a lot of back-and-forth to get there. And I (perhaps uncharitably) suspect that the reason you didn’t take the direct route – “Hey gang, I saw @Bong_Destroyah_69 take this position that I really disagree with, I’m curious what you folks think, and if anyone agrees with him I’d love to discuss it further” – is because it would be immediately obvious that this is just an anecdote about a single person being a dick, not evidence that your outgroup are inherently dickish, and attributing dickishness to your outgroup was the point of the whole endeavour.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            it would be immediately obvious that this is just an anecdote about a single person being a dick

            “And the Ironic Handle Award goes to…”

          • Plumber says:

            @theredsheep

            “…I fully expect people to tell me I’m wrong; what I object to is not the idea that I’m wrong, but that I’m wrong by nature. And I keep running into that same idea; I’m not wrong because my ideas are wrong, but because I’m a…”

            Where are you meeting these people?
            If they’re saying “You don’t know what it’s like to be a [whatever] then you respond “Tell me”, but otherwise people being so dismissive seems weird to me.
            These are friends not strangers?
            EDIT:
            From other posts it seems like this was an on-line not a face-to-face interaction, if that’s the case my advice is to just not worry about it.
            They are millions if not billions on-line, and someone somewhere is likely to post most anything.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, no, I’ve had broadly similar encounters over and over again, but I didn’t start this conversation to rehash old arguments–that wouldn’t be fair, since you don’t have access to the original conversations and are therefore left adjudicating on hearsay. I shouldn’t have brought it up, sorry (though you did explicitly ask me to, if you recall). I sort of assumed, by the way I keep getting that response, that it was something almost everybody was familiar with, since complaining about SJWs is common here.

          • dick says:

            I sort of assumed, by the way I keep getting that response, that it was something almost everybody was familiar with, since complaining about SJWs is common here.

            I think that’s a fair assumption, but you were talking about progressives, not SJWs. And “your opinion is wrong because you’re white and male” is a caricature even by the standards of how people who dislike SJWs would describe SJWs.

            At any rate, if you think dickish behavior is a defining feature of progressives (not a position without support at SSC), then there’s nothing remarkable about meeting dickish progressives, that’s the expected outcome. And if you think dickishness is no more or less common among progressives than any other ideology, then the fact that you keep meeting dickish progressives is something that might merit reflection. And whether dickishness is or isn’t a central characteristic of the left is not something we can usefully argue over.

          • That said, condoms should be covered by insurance

            As far as I can see, there are two functions for health insurance. One is the insurance function–to protect you against low probability high cost outcomes. The other is the middleman function–to bargain on your behalf with healthcare providers, provide some expertise on what it is worth doing with regard to healthcare.

            Condoms don’t come under either category. Nor does contraception more generally.

          • Plumber says:

            @theredsheep

            “….I sort of assumed, by the way I keep getting that response, that it was something almost everybody was familiar with, since complaining about SJWs is common here”

            It is, but I only started reading posting to and reading Forums in 2015, and it’s only in the last two years that I noticed the term “SJW”, which initially caused me some puzzlement, I’m pretty sure there’s an old post of mine in which I say something like “I’d be proud to be called a social justice warrior” (I’m very pro-union and some guys like Harry Bridges were eulogied as “warriors for social justice”), but @no one special posted an explanation that clicked with me: 
            “Plumber:

            One way to square this circle is to make the claim that SJWs are “extremely online” people, and that this phenomenon mostly takes place online. The Genesis of the term “Social Justice Warrior” originally comes from message board culture, derived like so:

            The “Keyboard Warrior”: some asshole who like to argue a lot on the board. known for spewing pages of response text when someone sets him off.

            The “God Warrior”: A keyboard warrior with a specialization in “defending” his religion from online atheists.

            The “Social Justice Warrior”: a keyboard warrior with a specialization in “defending” the marginalized from “oppression”. (In quotes, because on message boards, no one could get you fired or evicted. This predates the twitter mob.)

            There may be some overlap with the people who actually organize and attend things that happen in meatspace, but it’s probably not a large overlap”

            Once I saw that I understood and in retrospect I recalled encountering this phenomenon such as when I posted that “Mayor Sam Gamgee is the real hero of the Lord of the Rings, not those ponces Aragorn and Frodo!” which got someone to respond that I was using “oppressive language”.

            This is not to say that they aren’t self-styled “progressives” doing stupid stuff in real life, I’ve read accounts of college students shutting down classes under dubious pretexts at selective colleges (if they’d go further and stop all selective colleges I’d support them as I think education should be for all citizens, not just a privileged elite, and also college students just get on my nerves, turn that noise off families live here!).

            Locally there’s also the “Black Block” who like to dress as ninjas and break windows when larger protests occur, most protesters have a “You’re not helping!” attitude towards them.

            Regardless, in my adult life I’ve had to endure far more right-wing rants face-to-face (from my old boss for example) that very much outnumbered the left wing rants I’ve heard (including those of my late father’s) during my lifetime, so I just don’t fear “SJW’s”, but I’ve spent almost my whole life in a “blue” area, maybe leftists are the majority of ranters in “red” areas because being outnumbered makes you angry?

            Anyone know?

          • Brad says:

            @theredsheep

            Are you coming across these “social justice warriors” in person or only online? If the former, do you live on / very near a college campus?

            Like Plumber (I think?) I’ve gone my whole life in a very blue city without having met this fabled creature.

          • theredsheep says:

            A whole bunch of my old college friends, and their friends, converted into them online. Ditto for one lady who went to my old church, and some odds and ends. They’re almost exclusively millennials or slightly older. And, ironically, mostly white.

            Other than that, I’ve only read about the usual real-world exploits (e.g. doxxing and mobs). Probably I do get more worked up about the phenomenon than I need to.

          • dick says:

            Other than that, I’ve only read about the usual real-world exploits (e.g. doxxing and mobs). Probably I do get more worked up about the phenomenon than I need to.

            It seems like there’s an effect where any controversial group looks worse when your primary source of information about it is the news, because the worst excesses of it are the most newsworthy.

            A good example of this was Reddit, a couple of years ago when they were trying to decide whether to ban some of the most controversial subreddits (e.g. /r/fatpeoplehate). A lot of writers were saying, “Oh, Reddit is this terrible place full of doxxing and hate mobs and so forth,” which was mystifying to regular users who go there to look at cats or talk amicably about their hobbies. But to non-users it seemed like a terrible place, purely because “what’s the worst thing that happened on reddit lately?” was a newsworthy topic.

        • Plumber says:

          @theredsheep

          “That’s the thing: I’ve tried talking to the hard progressives–I’m quite moderate, politically, for a curmudgeonly theist. Made several efforts since Trump’s election. No matter how I approach it, I inevitably get anathematized. The closest I can get to a civil conversation is with SJ-leaning libertarians. Every now and then, I resolve to try again, with a slightly different tack. I’m done for now”

          Sadly I have no idea of an internet forum for you to have the kind of conversations you want, but if you want to talk to people who vote for “progressives”, and are positive about religion, most majority black churches have pews filled with them.

          Your best bet is the old ladies who are usually eager for conversation, but mostly to listen, probably not coffee house spitballing of ideas, your instincts to rely on SSC and the “Grey Tribe” are probably better.

          Another alternative (which I have less experience with) are Conservative (denomination) and Reform Jews.

          I had a conversation last month with the grey haired tool librarian (a Berkeley and an Oakland public library lend tools), and he was quite enthused after attending Yom Kippur sevices, as he felt that the old texts “Are all about social justice” (I assume he meant charity towards the poor, not collegiate and internet scolding), so there was something he found that he felt reconciled his political leanings and his family faith.

          I’ve heard both leftist and right-wing grey haired men angrily rant their opposition towards “the other side”, and I’ve heard right-wing young men do the same, no women though, except from reading young-ish leftist women on-line, so my advice is to talk to old ladies, and old men who aren’t scowling.

          But I may be odd in that in my youth I found conversations with both old religious people, and old leftists either comforting or interesting, but I tried to ask not argue.

          I’m less sociable these days though, and the world is now filled with young people who confuse me.

          • theredsheep says:

            I am thinking about specifically the “social justice” crowd here; the attitude is highly prevalent among college educated young people, to the point where I simply don’t talk politics to most of my old college friends.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        But as far as an alliance goes – I don’t like most people who go by that description, and I don’t think that most of their (your?) causes are worth fighting for at an object level.

        Yeah, an “alliance” sort of implies a purpose, or a cause. Do “we” (to whatever extent a “we” even exists) have a cause? Sure, SSC likes reducing uncertainty and supporting charity, but what causes would “SSC PAC” fund?

        Are there any political groups / foundations universally supported by SSCers? Does anyone here dislike FIRE? Is anyone opposed to open scientific journals?

      • arlie says:

        OK, I’m cranky tonight:

        And I keep running into that same idea; I’m not wrong because my ideas are wrong, but because I’m a straight white cis man.

        I’ve encountered any number of people whose standard argument in many cases of claimed oppression is something like “if that happened to me, I would like it, therefore you aren’t oppressed.”

        Then there are the cases that having experienced one thing they didn’t like, are absolutely certain that it was at least as bad as any bad thing anyone else has ever experienced.

        Then there are the ones who are absolutely certain that people of category-they-aren’t-part-of have some trait that makes them like something that of course would be terrible if done to people not of that category.

        Then there are the bores who have to offer a solution (based on some article they read once) to the problem(s) of someone whose been coping with those problems for decades, and has doubtless tried that solution, and fifty others the bore hasn’t even thought about.

        And then of course there are the rationalizers, who react to venting, or desire for sympathy, by trying to debate the topic.

        I don’t know which of these categories the person who posted this tends to fall into. It’s even conceivable that they are somehow innocent – and are just getting hit with the reverse problem themselves. (“The last 500 straights/whites/cisgenders/men I interacted with on this topic were so annoying I’m just going to ignore/yell at the next 500 :-(” And heavens knows, we have plenty of people posting on SSC who defend treating people as being the average of their categories, not as individuals. So if this bugs you when it happens to you, I hope you don’t routinely do the same yourself.)

        If you aren’t a software engineer, you are exceedingly unlikely to have good ideas about my latest software issue. I’m afraid the same thing tends to apply to random net.males, net.whites, net.cisfolk, and net.hets, addressing things of particular relevance to the experience of their opposites.

        You might be the odd one out who actually has something useful to say. But for every person who is that odd one out, another 10 seem to be so clueless they don’t even understand how little they know, but insist on stating it, at length, often cutting off others who have useful comments. Or they are trolls, simply trying to upset people, because that’s something they enjoy.

        I think also that if you were to quote what they actually said, it won’t generally be “you are wrong because you are male (etc.)” I’d expect more like “[because you have never experienced this, let alone routinely having to deal with it] you have about as much clue as a poet trying to explain quantum physics. Shut up and listen, or shut up and go away”.

        • Baeraad says:

          Yeah? Well, I’m every bit as cranky as you are.

          You don’t think other people can know anything about your problems? Whereas you, of course, are completely objective about them and would never blow them out of all proportion? Okay. You know what? Okay. I’d be willing to accept that none of us can truly know another’s pain.

          If the people who make that claim would practice it in regards to me.

          Which they don’t, ever. It’s amazing how wonderful my life is, according to feminists! Sunshine every day and met with nothing but smiles! And if I say that no, actually, it’s been an endless, painful slog where I’ve had to sweat blood for every tiny scrap of relief, that I’m a hopeless loser and take great pride in it because “hopeless loser” is miles above where I thought I’d end up, which is “burnout, dead before the age of forty” – oh, then I’m just a crybaby who need to shut up and listen to people who have REAL problems, like the fact that men sometimes talk over them. (because other men listen with rapt attention when I open my mouth, of course!)

          So you feel like your problems aren’t being taken seriously? Like even when people don’t just tell you to shut up and stop whining, they just lecture you on some impractical solution that you know wouldn’t work because you’ve actually tried it ten times over? Yeah! I know the feeling! FUCKING HELL, do I ever know the feeling! But you’re getting zero sympathy from me, because you’re doing the exact same thing, AND you’re doing it while claiming that you’re on the side of decency and compassion!

          (and if you start protesting that no, no, you have always been every bit as compassionate towards disabled men as towards able-bodied women – well, that doesn’t change the fact that the last 500 feminists I talked to weren’t, does it? And by your logic, that gives me the right to yell at you, doesn’t it? I mean, it’d be completely unreasonable to hold me to any standards of rational discourse, given that I’m in so much pain and all!)

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Not sure how many people care about venting. Issues definitely will arise when you attempt to impose solutions. For the relevant case of male-on-female sexual harassment, standards of conduct cannot simply be created by females and imposed on males without any sort of male input. You should not be surprised when males start intruding into your spaces when they cease become venting locations and become platforms to advocate for norm changes. The fact that males do not have your “lived experience” is besides the point. They do not need your “lived experience,” you are attempting to impose a norm, they are subject to the norm, therefore they are going to have input to the norm.

          To take your software engineer example, software engineers do not get to simply make decisions without business leadership having some sort of input, simply because it makes life easier for the software engineer. That could very well result in making life harder for everyone else and damaging the company.

          Anyways, n=1 and all, but I somehow get mistaken for an ally because I “shut up and listen,” and the only woman I’ve ever seen take a male POV in any of these venting discussions is my wife. Probably because my wife spent most of her high school and college years around exceptionally dorky, socially awkward young men. Other than that, it’s just your typical in-group bashing on out-group exercise.

          I don’t have any particular comments on race dynamics, since they simply have not come up in my social bubble (besides yelling about whatever is trending in the news at the moment)

          • arlie says:

            The current cultural change moment with regard to sexual harassment etc. is very fraught, needs input from everyone, and is going to be a clusterfuck full of people yelling at each other whatever we do.

            How could it be anything else? The stakes are high, for many individual people. Even if we had universal surveillance – bad in many other ways – arguments about what was and was not acceptable would still be rife; as it is, we have frequent “he said; she said” battles with someone’s freedom or career at risk.

            And that’s before we throw in “identity” politics, both red/blue and gender based.

            I find myself fantasizing about rational people being able to discuss this without throwing out the kind of emotionally laden vocabulary that leads to people being told to shut up. But it’s not going to happen, except among individuals with lots of mutual trust, and no audience able to interfere or retaliate. The juridical system will try, at least in judges’ statements, but even the lawyers will be all about appeals to emotion.

            Presumably we’ll eventually come to some rough consensus on what behaviours are appropriate, what happens if you violate those norms, and perhaps ways for people who don’t like those norms to consensually do something else.

            But there will be a lot of yelling in the meantime. And whatever consensus results, there will still be some number and severity of miscarriages of justice. (Because some people are skillfully malicious, and no people are perfect omniscient judges.)

    • Brad says:

      Scott wrote about it near group / far group terms. Just as pink haired college kids and hijab wearing Muslims don’t really agree with each other about much so too urban gray tribe types don’t really agree with Bible Belt conservatives about much. But the former don’t like (to put it mildly) the blue tribe they live and work among, and the latter don’t like them either (on a more concrete level they probably don’t like the offshoots that now exist in any city of 50,000 people or more). So enemy of my enemy and all that. M

      It’s be interesting if the gray tribe ever got political representation to see if they would go so far as to vote with their far group allies, but since despite the grand label they are a rather small group it’s unlikely to happen.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It’s be interesting if the gray tribe ever got political representation to see if they would go so far as to vote with their far group allies, but since despite the grand label they are a rather small group it’s unlikely to happen.

        Hasn’t Scott or one of the other IRL organizers mentioned having to meet outdoors because they can’t get a coffee shop to cater to their demographic? That’s very telling.

        • Nornagest says:

          Meetups featuring Scott might have a unique set of problems. I went to one of the early ones, several years ago now; it was held in a restaurant, and it was a zoo. Something like seventy people showed up, all the tables filled, it was impossible to get food in a timely fashion, and the key selling point of the meetup (see and talk to the Rightful Caliph!) ended up being a non-starter because the restaurant was a restaurant, viz. designed for parties of two to six who’d rather not talk to each other.

          I don’t know if Scott was uninvited or if he correctly decided that this was a bad plan going forward, but I don’t think either one requires nefarious intent on anyone’s part. Something like a catered banquet would probably work, but that takes money, and also a skillset that’s rare in this crowd.

          • We’ve had South Bay meetups that Scott attended, although I don’t think any of them ran over about forty people. We do them in our house, which is large for a Bay Area house but not huge. I think that works better than a restaurant, since people can and do circulate. We generally feed dinner to anyone still around at dinner time, which usually ends up as about half the people who came.

      • 10240 says:

        It’s be interesting if the gray tribe ever got political representation to see if they would go so far as to vote with their far group allies

        One would guess they would vote with their “far group allies” when they agree with them, and not when they don’t. Today, when the “gray tribe” has no major political party in the US, and they are effectively forced to choose between the two main parties, it makes more sense to ask if they vote together in the elections; I don’t get why you asked this in a situation where they have their own political representation.

        • The Drug Policy Alliance seems to be a libertarian/leftist coalition.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “The Drug Policy Alliance seems to be a libertarian/leftist coalition”

            It wasn’t too long ago that Republicans were pro-free trade, and in living memory many Democrats were pro-segregation, so while are constitutional structure makes it likely that two major parties will emerge it’s likely that their positions will change in the future or even swap.

            I’ve posted before that I’d like a “four party system” (libertarian economic and social, “progressive” social and statist economic, “conservative” libertarian economic and traditionalist cultural, and a “populist” statist economic and traditionalist cultural parties) that were clearly labeled, but that’s not going last even if it did occur, but in some ways the alliances within the two parties are that.

            As it is shaking out now, the Republicans seem to be libertarian-ish business owners along with whites without college diplomas (mostly men), and the Democrats are non-whites and white college graduates (mostly women).

            Maybe I’ll get used to it, but right now these alliances seem strange to me.

            I wonder how long they will last?

    • Tenacious D says:

      Christopher Hitchens is another example of the phenomena you’re noticing. Obviously he’s no longer around, but quoting him today signals a very different political alignment than it did fifteen years ago.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I don’t seem to see people quoting Hitchens much at all these days, but he was always one of the most combative voices in the movement-atheist crowd, so I find it difficult to imagine actual religious conservatives becoming fond of him now. What alignment has he become posthumously attached to?

        • theredsheep says:

          I wouldn’t say he’s aligned to “our side” or anything, but I did enjoy/admire his essay on free speech, even as I continued to dislike his Iraq war cheerleading and atheism.

    • benwave says:

      Surely there are still a large majority of religious conservatives who wouldn’t go near SSC or Quilette with a ten foot pole? It sounds less like a shift in alliances and more like a split in the conservative religious bloc to me, if what you describe is a new phenomenon. (Not that I would have any experience in those social groups.)

      • edmundgennings says:

        I think the vast majority of religious conservatives would be bored by SSC and to a considerable extent it just represents a particular axis of interest that some religious conservatives have. But I do think that SSC represents a environment that, while not religiously conservative or in a coalition with them, is not hostile to religious conservatives who are openly religiously conservative and that is rare. Also, I think there a shared interest in the pursuit of truth and living one’s life in accordance with the truth.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          This is exactly where I stand on the question. It’s very rare to find, especially online, a group that isn’t explicitly religious but where it’s okay to be religious. The fact that religion is a search for Truth and places like SSC seem genuinely interested in (if not “Truth,” then at least facts), it makes it a place where the religious can join in meaningful conversations without hiding their religion.

          I’m pretty tired of being outright attacked for beliefs I don’t even have at the mere mention of a religious background.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, modern science indicates that all religious people are fundamentalist evangelical protestants as filtered through the understanding of moderately informed secularists, so really it’s your fault for using confusing terminology.

    • dick says:

      It seems like you’re describing more or less the same thing Scott covered in Right is the New Left, but I don’t really understand your point (“truth is not a function of who’s speaking it” is a religious value now?) so I may be off.

      Also I don’t read Quillette but its wiki page suggests that it was founded to provide an alternative to the left-leaning media and is generally considered libertarian-leaning, so it doesn’t seem super mysterious that people on the right would like it. Skimming through the front page it looks like a center-right Harper’s with a focus on academia. Is that in the ballpark?

      • theredsheep says:

        I don’t mean that it’s something specific to religious people or non-religious people, but rather that religious people and some of the more strident atheists have one … heuristic? I don’t know what the right word might be. One basic framework for approaching questions of truth, and certain subsets of contemporary progressivism disagree with that.

        By “truth is not a function of who’s speaking it,” I’m referring to the whole “white privilege” hierarchy, which in my experience sets up a hierarchy where people are effectively granted superior credibility, at least on certain subjects, purely by virtue of who they are. To some extent, this is a given, in the sense that experts are privileged over laymen, etc. But if an expert tells you you’re wrong, he’s generally expected to explain why you’re wrong, usually in an empirically-verifiable way. In the subculture I’m concerned with, the expert is not obligated to explain; in fact, it’s somewhat offensive to ask for explanation. There’s a whole class of people who seem to specialize as bouncers to shoo away obnoxious people who might traumatize the experts by asking them to show their math.

        There’s more, but in general I’m worried that the Left has grown as opposed to Enlightenment values as the worst of the Right, just in a different way. The Right tends to disagree with the ideals of the Enlightenment, while still respecting, if only nominally at times, the process (free inquiry). With the new Left, it’s the reverse; they stand for the cosmopolitan ideals of the Enlightenment, but oppose the process. And that makes me really nervous. I can, in theory, convince somebody who’s on the hard right, or at least find common ground, if we sit down with enough beers or whatever. We’re still playing the same general game. That’s not possible if we can’t even establish ground rules.

        DISCLAIMER ADDED IN EDIT: All this is based on tenuous gut feelings based on personal experience. No actual hard research backs this up, and I don’t know how one would go about doing such a thing.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          This is reminding me of another sort of identity epistemology– a lot of the time, it seems like military people don’t want opinions from civilians. I don’t know how much of this is aggravation with civilians actually getting things wrong, and how much is just not wanting to hear from people who haven’t shared the experiences.

          It’s not as though military people all agree with each other.

          • christianschwalbach says:

            I think this holds strong for combat veterans, but not so much for other military folks. My Grandfather was a career Navy Intel. officer and had at least 1 deployment to Vietnam, but being Navy he was either on ship or a non-hostile shore posting. What I remember of him was he seemed willing to talk military matters with civilians as long as they were respectful, and as an amateur historian, I am sure he loved discourse with folks of all stripes that shared that interest. I can understand combat troops feeling like there is a larger gap between their experience and that of civilians, but I think the same holds true with civilian survivors of trauma, disaster, war, etc.. and non affected civilians.

        • dick says:

          This is a much clearer explanation of what you’re on about, and I wish I had seen it earlier (it took all of my free time to reply to the other thread), thanks. All I can say is that I don’t think the people you’re describing (who sound very similar to the pejorative term SJW, although it’s not clear to me if you’re unfamiliar with that term, avoiding it for purposes of clarity and constructiveness, or avoiding it because what you’re describing differs in some way) are not as common or as worrisome as you, although not everyone here would agree with that. Specifically I bridle at the implication that these things are central to progressivism or liberalism, but that’s been argued in to the ground here.

          • theredsheep says:

            I know it’s not central to progressivism as such; it worries me anyway because it gets taught in schools. It was making the rounds in upper-level classes back when I was in school more than ten years ago. Since then it has grown much more prominent, and could potentially elbow what used to be mainstream progressivism out of the way. Part of the reason that I homeschool is that I worry about some young teacher fresh out of university deciding to introduce my sons to “white privilege,” and I won’t even find out about it until they bring it up weeks later.

            I was avoiding the term SJW because it’s a slur, yeah.

          • dick says:

            I don’t really understand why that would be scary, but speaking on behalf of the liberal brainwashing conspiracy, you better chuck out your TV and your cable modem as well because we’ve been pretty successful with that particular meme 🙂

          • Randy M says:

            you better chuck out your TV and your cable modem

            Can’t speak for theredsheep, but that wasn’t even challenging.

    • rlms says:

      Somewhat, but it’s weird that Jordan “influenced by Jungian archetypes and Taoism” Peterson is leading the charge against wishy-washy postmodernism.

      • theredsheep says:

        I’m hardly a huge Peterson fan myself. He strikes me as a bit of a goof, honestly, and I don’t get the appeal. I dislike Pinker even more, if it comes to that. But the gulf between us still seems smaller, at times, than that between either one of us and a student at Berkeley.

        • quaelegit says:

          We might not reflect the modal Berkeley student any more than you match the modal Religious Conservative, but a lot of us* read this blog too 😛

          (*technically I’m a recent alum not a student but there’s still a lot of people like me at Cal)

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, I’d like to thank you very much for not no-platforming me, or doxxing me, or stealing my soul, or whatever it is we’re scared of you doing right this moment. 🙂

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I’m flummoxed that anyone who would embrace rationalism or the rationalism community would take Petersen seriously. He strikes me as your typical self-help snake-oil salesman. You listen to his arguments and they full of imprecise language and fallacies masquerading as strong argument.

        The dude thinks (or thought, but I hardely think that matters) the caduceus is evidence that the ancients knew about DNA.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Peterson is the youtube incarnation of the Chesterton’s fence parable.

          What his value is is that he goes around pointing out that there are all these people tearing down various fences and he asks them why the fence is there and they almost never know. So then he says, “how do you know there isn’t a bull inside and you are going to be gored,” and again they almost never have an answer.

          What he has to say isn’t all that insightful, its the silence he gets in response to questions that should be obvious to ask that is important.

          • Baeraad says:

            What he has to say isn’t all that insightful, its the silence he gets in response to questions that should be obvious to ask that is important.

            This, pretty much.

            I also think that he’s got a very unusual public persona that can’t be dismissed as either a smug, dick-waving alpha male or a whiny loser, which sets him apart from about 99% of other anti-progressives. My defining impression of him comes from an interview where someone asked him what right he had to say things that upset people. He snapped back, “you contradicting me makes me upset, but you don’t let that stop you from stating the truth as you see it!” He manages to come across as vulnerable without seeming weak – a rare accomplishment.

            That said, I think he’s pretty much a kook, too.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            What he has to say isn’t all that insightful, its the silence he gets in response to questions that should be obvious to ask that is important.

            All this indicates is that he likes to debate people who are poor debaters or inadequately prepared. It’s a trick, not an argument. While that may be satisfying if you dislike the ideology of the person he is arguing with, it’s not any good reason at all for someone who embraces rational discourse to update towards his positions.

            These aren’t much more than “Checkmate, atheist!” arguments phrases as “I believe that my queen has your king mated, thus proving that you are actually a Christian, despite your professed non-belief.”

            My objection isn’t to the idea that some (many!) people find him persuasive, just that people who are attracted to the rationalist community would.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            All this indicates is that he likes to debate people who are poor debaters or inadequately prepared.

            He debated Sam Harris (although the result was a sh*tshow). I think that at least indicates he’s not seeking out weak debaters. The quote in question comes from his interview with a main line BBC host. I don’t have much respect for the media, but it is kind of a standard, and a seeming professional. It’s not like Stephen Crowder “debating” any random, entirely unprepared college student who wanders by his “change my mind” table in the quad.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The quote in question comes from his interview with a main line BBC host.

            What quote, where? ( I know there is some BBC interview out there somewhere where he supposedly “pwned” the reporter).

            Sam Harris

            I don’t think this really helps you as much as you think. Harris wants to prop Peterson up, not tear him down.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I don’t think this really helps you as much as you think. Harris wants to prop Peterson up, not tear him down.

            Harris and Peterson are on the same team now, but their first encounter did not go so well (I assume this is what Conrad Honcho was referring to as a shitshow).

            Also, believe the ‘quote in question’ is the exchange from about 40 seconds into this clip from the infamous Cathy Newman interview.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            All this indicates is that he likes to debate people who are poor debaters or inadequately prepared. It’s a trick, not an argument. While that may be satisfying if you dislike the ideology of the person he is arguing with, it’s not any good reason at all for someone who embraces rational discourse to update towards his positions.

            I don’t agree at all. He engages with people who attempt to have strong articulations of there positions, when they come up. The major reason that his opponents appear dumb is because they state things that have never been challenged in their group. Peterson doesn’t really engage with the normal political positions like taxes, instead he engages with cultural totems. For many of the people he debate he is the first person they have ever had to deal with that is saying the things he is saying. Something like, “there are biological differences between men and women that cause things like the pay gap.” Cathy Newman, clearly, had never interviewed anyone who would say that and had nothing because she was not ready to debate, on this point she had only encountered nodding heads.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Cathy Newman, clearly, had never interviewed anyone who would say that and had nothing because she was not ready to debate, on this point she had only encountered nodding heads.

            So when I said he likes to debate people who are unprepared … this contradicts that how?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            The difference is that I am saying they are unprepared because there is no mainstream person available who would be prepared.

            Its just like when Ezra Klein tried to debate whats his name about Charles Murray’s IQ work. Ezra appeared totally unprepared and got stomped, but that’s not because he didn’t prepare, its because there is no preparation available. Its a set of ideas that only can exist where they are going around burning straw men of their own creation, but then when a regular guy appears they are confused and unprepared. The reality is that setting a human on fire with flint and steel just doesn’t work.

          • Dan L says:

            @ idontknow131647093:

            Its just like when Ezra Klein tried to debate whats his name about Charles Murray’s IQ work.

            Sam Harris? I’d have a hard time describing that as a stomping, more like a general failure of both parties to engage the argument the other wanted to make in favor of their own hobby horse. Or are you referencing an event I haven’t heard of?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Nah it wasn’t Harris. I can’t really listen to him because he’s far too interested in equivocation to ever say stuff that is all that interesting. Plus its just my understanding his position isn’t even a defense of the idea, just a defense of the idea of talking about the idea, isn’t that correct?

            IIRC it was not really an all that prominent person at some lame event, and it could have even been an audience member. The point is that, actually, Klein is only even capable of engaging in the debate I think he had with Sam which is, “are these ideas too dangerous to even discuss”, which of course Klein thinks is the case. But he also thinks himself a fairly big expert on the subject but he’s not even prepared for a rudimentary debate with a Breitbart commenter on the subject.

          • Dan L says:

            Plus its just my understanding his position isn’t even a defense of the idea, just a defense of the idea of talking about the idea, isn’t that correct?

            I believe that’s essentially right, but I don’t find Harris useful enough to engage with as deeply as possible either.

            IIRC it was not really an all that prominent person at some lame event, and it could have even been an audience member. The point is that, actually, Klein is only even capable of engaging in the debate I think he had with Sam which is, “are these ideas too dangerous to even discuss”, which of course Klein thinks is the case. But he also thinks himself a fairly big expert on the subject but he’s not even prepared for a rudimentary debate with a Breitbart commenter on the subject.

            This sounds like a piece of evidence that deserves a low amount of weight… but it does match my understanding of the situation. Klien is much better at the history around the subject than any object-level arguments, to put it kindly.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Peterson’s notable advantage is that he wishes young men well. He wants them to have good lives.

          Feminism’s “misogyny hurts men too” is very thin stuff by comparison.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Peterson’s notable advantage is that he wishes young men well. He wants them to have good lives.

            The number of people who are managing to convince themselves that this is somehow an actual discriminator is … too high.

            I might agree that some of Peterson’s attraction is that he tells people that there are others who wish them ill, and that he is one of the few that can lead them to happiness. This is pretty standard “cult of personality”, “self help guru” stuff.

            I suppose, though, I should not under estimate the anti-“SJW” tilt of the rationalist community. I guess that is one thing that could explain his popularity inside the community.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Whether or not you believe that those who wish young men (particularly young white men) ill are rare, young men will continue to encounter them and Peterson’s message will continue to work as a result. It’s not like the Culture War _wasn’t_ already raging when Peterson came onto the scene. _Untitled_ was January 2015, Peterson’s pronoun thing was September 2016.

          • WashedOut says:

            @HeelBearCub

            The number of people who are managing to convince themselves that this is somehow an actual discriminator is … too high.

            I might agree that some of Peterson’s attraction is that he tells people that there are others who wish them ill, and that he is one of the few that can lead them to happiness. This is pretty standard “cult of personality”, “self help guru” stuff.

            On your first point:
            Many outspoken commentators on the left have been voicing sentiment that is either apathetic or hostile toward young men. Their arguments lean heavily on perceived attitudes of sexual entitlement, the notion of privilege, discussion of ‘toxic masculinity’ etc etc. A public intellectual expressing concern over the potential negative effects of the aforementioned criticisms seems like a completely valid differentiator, since he’s only one of a handful of people doing so. Camille Paglia and Claire Lehrmann come to mind.

            Your choice of words “managing to convince themselves”…”somehow an actual…” is the language of implied delusion. Probably not the best framing if you want to understand where these people are coming from.

            On your second:
            I’ve read most of what JP has written, listened to almost all his lectures, and taken a look at his Self Authoring suite – all with the intent of critical analysis. “There are others who wish them ill” is correct. “…and that he is one of the few that can lead them to happiness.” is a step too far.

            Given his enthusiastic following I can see how tempting it is to assume he gets off on being some kind of idol for a generation of young men. However my reading is that he wants to give people the tools to help themselves, such as the Self Authoring Suite. I cannot find any reference to anything he’s said where he intimates that “he is one of the few that can lead them to happiness.” Maybe you could provide the support for this.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @WashedOut:
            I’m too lazy to go digging, but my gut reaction to Peterson is that he likes to employ phrases like “What they don’t/won’t tell you ..” He presents himself as a font of lost knowledge from a better time, fighting against the corruption of modernity. That’s where I am coming from when I say he is framing himself as one of the few who can help. If the vast bulk of society has fallen under the spell of corruption, it naturally leads to the conclusion Peterson is one of the few who have not been so corrupted. This is pretty standard fare, as far as it goes. It’s old pattern of dialogue.

            It’s so commonplace and so standard that we consistently see its purveyors as targets for satire. Think of characters like Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character or the titular character of “The Music Man” .

            I think Peterson, when it comes to self-help, is offering advice in the same vein as guys like Tony Robbins.

            As to the idea that there actually exists some general desire for young men to fail or do poorly, this seems unsupportable. Obviously there is plenty of criticism of certain normalized behaviors that code as male, and to the extent that young men see these behaviors as normal, desirable or even central to their self-conception, they may perceive these criticism as threatening. But it is tendentious to then conclude that there is a general desire for ill aimed at young men.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            HeelBearCub:

            “As to the idea that there actually exists some general desire for young men to fail or do poorly, this seems unsupportable.”

            That’s not quite what I meant. What I see from a lot of feminism (admittedly, I may be seeing SJW venues which are more extreme than average feminism) is utter callousness towards men.

            There seems to be an assumption that there’s only so much empathy to go around, and any empathy that men get means there’s less for women.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nancy: Not only that, but male tears are delicious.

          • Plumber says:

            “….outspoken commentators on the left have been voicing sentiment that is either apathetic or hostile toward young men…”

            Well count me in, not of all young men though, just the college students.

            After the Costa-Hawkins Act, families moved out of the apartment building me and my wife were living in and loud obnoxious college students moved in.

            I used to pray for the draft to come back.

          • Brad says:

            I used to pray for the draft to come back.

            They make too much noise, so you want them to die screaming in the mud thousands of miles from home?

            What a lovely sentiment.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            They make too much noise, so you want them to die screaming in the mud thousands of miles from home?
            What a lovely sentiment.

            Pretty sure the vast majority of them are coming back alive, even if they were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan in the peak-2000s. A universal national conscription in the US is probably going to have more troops do something like disaster relief. I doubt we want to bother putting 600,000+ bodies in Iraq.

          • Plumber says:

            @Brad

            “They make too much noise, so you want them to die screaming in the mud thousands of miles from home?..”

            This was in the ’90’s so still peacetime, but for the guy who kept blasting the Red Hot Chile Peppers I like your idea better!

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Plumber

            Do you really?

            I’m asking this in a serious tone because I know people for whom this is literally true, and they terrify me. I don’t think that you owe me a response, but I’d appreciate a straight answer so that I can attain greater understanding.

          • Plumber says:

            @Hoopyfreud,
            Right now it’s easy to say no, but at the time?
            Me wife got so infuriated that she carried a rifle downstairs “to have a talk” while I was at work, and yes the police came and they let her off with a warning!
            What did happen was me and my life lived in an RV for a couple of years instead, moving to different industrial areas, under bridges when it rained, and Wall-Mart parking lots, moving most days.
            It was awful and I don’t recommend it, still better than days on end of no sleep because of those damn college students!
            If I had a magic wand at the time and could make the othet tenants in the apartment building adults and their children, like it was when we first moved in, and have the college students disappear though it would damn my soul yes I would’ve used it.
            Why not just move?
            No other place was affordable on my wages anymore, rents jumped dramatically in the ’90’s, it was only Oakland’s rent control laws that allowed us to keep a roof over our heads until I could get the RV.
            Awful years.
            It’s said money can’t buy happiness, I call B.S. on that, making Journeyman status with regular hours (unlike 2002 and 2009) and moving into a house in a quiet neighborhood in 2012 has dramatically improved our lives.
            If I had a magic wand that could create an economy so that everyone could enjoy that I would.
            When I think about men’s median hourly wages have dropped since the draft was eliminated in 1973, and the U.S. economy recovered from depression in 1941 when a peacetime draft was implemented before Pearl Harbor, and the post Korean war and pre Vietnam war when we had a peacetime draft with young men sent to the now closed bases in the U.S. as well as the ones in Germany and Korea were times of a broad based suburban middle-class, when more Americans who weren’t in the privileged minority who get to go to college could afford a home of their own.
            No I wouldn’t want to fight in a war, but 1954 to 1964, after the Korean war but before when only “advisors” were in Vietnam?
            Think about it, you spend two or three years as a draftee, and if you were lucky they’d send ypu to Europe! When you got out you could work at the GM factory in Fremont (which is now Tesla after being closed for years) or at the Ford factory in Milpitas (now the “Great Mall”), and you could buy a house and have a family before you were 30 years old!
            Except for when the Cold War got hot that’s a damn good deal!
            Not like the “stop loss” of the 21st century, where those unlucky enough to be in uniform stayed for years after their enlistments were supposed to be up, houses are unaffordable for most, and we have hundreds sleeping in tents that I pass on my daily commute!
            If bringing back the draft would bring back the middle-class economy of the 20th century instead of the 21st century centrifugal casino economy, yes let’s bring it back!

          • bean says:

            @Plumber

            I think you’re seeing cause and effect where there is none. The problem is that training and equipping an effective soldier is getting more and more expensive, which means that we can’t afford a draftee army any more. The big issue in the Vietnam era was that the draft wasn’t universal, and there was tension between those who had to go and those who didn’t. We could, I suppose, stick everyone in uniform for a couple of years and make them march around with small arms, but it would be a pretty horrendous waste of money.

            And I’m really not sure how ending the draft somehow destroyed the middle class.

          • Plumber says:

            @bean

            “….. I’m really not sure how ending the draft somehow destroyed the middle class”

            Not “destroyed” so much as diminished, but what was the cause? 

            The usual story from the “Right” is that the immigration reform and ‘Great Society’ legislation of the mid 1960’s is somehow the cause, but median hourly wages adjusted for inflation continued to rise until 1973, if the changes of the Johnson administration were the cause I’d expect the decline to start earlier. 

            The usual story from the “left” is that Reagan and “neo-liberalism” was the cause of decline, and given my prejudices that narrative is compelling to me, but the decline started before the Reagan administration. 

            Something else (oil embargo?).

            I’m speculating on the end of the draft, and a reduction in ‘weaponized Keynesianism’ (for example the closing of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyards in the ’70’s was devastating to what had been a black middle class in San Francisco, I suspect that other such events must have happened at that time) because think about, many young men were taken out of the private sector workforce, and put on the Federal payroll, so it seems obvious to me that that must have put upward pressure on wages, and that’s not even including the stimulus spending to equip that military force during the cold war years.

            I imagine that the same results could be achieved by by giant W.P.A./P.W.A/C.C.C., but those programs never reached the scale of spending of the Second World War and the Cold War when the broad based prosperous middle class was created, and for some reason it seems easier to get votes for spending for the increased ability to destroy rather than build, so eh.. pretend it’s for defense against Martians and start the prosperity engine again! 

            Unfortunately it’s well-known now that machines not men may win wars, and with the increase in automation there just isn’t as much employment building the machines either, so I’m not very hopeful for a return of the “Great Compression”.

          • If I correctly understand this, you regard a situation where a bunch of young men are required to do boring and sometimes dangerous work for a very low wage and the result of taking them off the labor market is that other men get a higher wage than they otherwise would as a clear plus?

            Aside from assuming that the draftees don’t count, are you also assuming that the higher wage of those not drafted comes entirely out of money that would otherwise go to stockholders, rather than out of the money paid by consumers for the higher prices of goods and services more expensive to produce because labor costs more?

          • bean says:

            The usual story from the “Right” is that the immigration reform and ‘Great Society’ legislation of the mid 1960’s is somehow the cause, but median hourly wages adjusted for inflation continued to rise until 1973, if the changes of the Johnson administration were the cause I’d expect the decline to start earlier.

            I’m not so sure that your opponents would agree this is the case. (I’m a rightist, but this kind of macroeconomic speculation is something I don’t participate in.) The obvious counter is that legislation takes some time to take effect. Immigrants don’t arrive all at once, and social attitudes don’t change instantly.

            I’m really not sure what went wrong in 1973, but I just don’t buy it being the end of the draft. Here is a list of military manpower per year through 1997. Postwar, military manpower bottomed out in 1948 at 1,444,283. After Korea, you had a nadir in 1960 at 2,475,438 and a peak in 1968 of 3,546,071. This fell to 2,251,936 in 1973, but it then leveled off in the 2-2.2 million range for the rest of the Cold War (I’m actually rather amazed how steady it was through that period, although it looks like these numbers are active-duty only). I suppose this was a substantial fall in the military as a percentage of the population over time, but there isn’t a clear correlation between military strength and economic health.

            I should also point out that there are only a handful of those years when the military has been flush with applicants. (The only ones I know of are right after Desert Storm and late 2001/early 2002, but there could be others.) The economic benefits are definitely a reason people join, but we aren’t keeping qualified people out for lack of slots.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m flummoxed that anyone who would embrace rationalism or the rationalism community would take Petersen seriously.

          I like him* because he says things I agree with about the usefulness of ancient stories: they exist and persevere because they provide useful insight into the nature of human behavior and how to not completely screw up your life, and dismissing them out of hand is foolish. I thought this was trivially true and obvious, but apparently it’s big news to lots of people. I’m glad someone is able to get that message to these people.

          I think it’s sort of a post-rationalism. I like the parts of rationalism that tell me more effective ways to accomplish my goals, but I am extremely skeptical don’t believe at all that rationalism can tell you what good goals are.

          The dude thinks (or thought, but I hardely think that matters) the caduceus is evidence that the ancients knew about DNA.

          Do you have a citation for that? That seems too nutty to be true.

          * I did lose a little respect for him after he tweeted about the Kavanaugh hearings that Kavanaugh should step down if nominated to “clear his name” or something. Peterson had correctly said previously that you never apologize to a mob because a mob is incapable of forgiving you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            He has made the claim multiple times. Here is one example in one of his “Maps of Meanings” Lectures.

            Okay so the two primary gods are Abzû and Tiamat. Tiamat is female and Abzû is male and they are locked together in an inseparable embrace. Okay, so how do you understand that? Easy. Yin and Yang. It is the same idea. Here is another representation…this is a cool one…I have a couple of them here that are really cool.

            This is from China. So this is Fuxi and Nuwa, I think I got that right…But I just love that representation…It is so insanely cool this representation! So you see the sort of…the primary mother and father of humanity emerging from this underlying snake-like entity with its tails tangled together. I think that is a repres…I really do believe that this, although it is very complicated to explain why. I really believe that is a representation of DNA, so…and that representation, that entwined double helix, that is everywhere…you can see it in Australian aboriginal arts and I am using the Australians as an example because they were isolated in Australia for like 50 000 years. They are the most archaic people that were ever discovered and they have clear representations of these double helix structures in their art, so…and those are the two giant serpents out of which the world is made, roughly speaking. It is the same thing you see in the staff of Asclepius, which is the healing symbol that physicians use although that is usually only one snake but sometimes it is two. So that is a Chinese representation and then there is this.

            You can look at other times he has talked about this claim at this link . You can see that he subsequently modifies his claim, saying that he both retracts his earlier claim, but then in retracting it he simply reasserts claim.

            We do not know the limits of our perception, especially under certain conditions and I think people have had intimations of DNA as the cosmic serpent forever

          • Randy M says:

            That’s not Peterson thinking the ancients knew about DNA. That’s Peterson thinking reality is actually a work of literature and you can find symbolism in random historical trivia that ties into factual events not discovered until centuries later, because nothing is a coincidence.
            I think he is an escapee from the unsong universe.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Does the claim of deep truths in ancient stories actually hold up?

            Here are some alternatives. People like stories. It’s hard to come up with a satisfying story, so people keep retelling the same stories. All a story needs is resonance and to not be so destructive it’s significantly decreasing people’s ability to survive.

            Or…. stories have deep meanings, but any theory about what the deep meaning is just needs to feel right. People are *guessing* about what stories mean to people, and there’s no real way to check.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, Randy, I think that’s just kooky. Unless Assassin’s Creed is real and humans have genetic memories of symbols seen during their creation and enslavement by the Isu.

            Nancy, I think it’s more like “people saw people who succeeded or failed and told stories about them, and the stories are frequently similar and predictive because the ‘success’ sample space is small and the failure modes are common.” Human psychology, Peterson’s field, is a useful lens through which to examine these stories and why they describe modes of behavior that commonly lead to success or failure.

          • Randy M says:

            No, Randy, I think that’s just kooky.

            You’re not supposed to read me literally. Of course it’s not literally true. But it’s true on a deeper level than mere superficiality, on a fundamental level where the psyche interfaces with the core truths of our collective experience. You know? Like, we’re out here all alone, surrounded by symbols, how can we help but attach meaning to them? We can’t. That’s insanity. That’s literally insanity, to avoid grasping meaning when it is within your reach. Do you think all people before you were insane? I’ve got news for you, they weren’t. They were every bit as sane as you or I. How could they not be, when reality would beat them over the head–or should I say, bite them on the foot? Like the serpent in the garden, or the serpents coiling around the healing staff, coming full circle. It’s there, just waiting for us to part the darkness.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Oh, well since you put it that way, sign me up for a lobster hat.

          • Nick says:

            Oh, well since you put it that way, sign me up for a lobster hat.

            I brought order out of chaos, defeated Neo-Marxist totalitarians, and cleaned my room, and all I got was this lousy hat!

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Randy

            Alternatively, submission to the collective unconscious is death. There are no core truths; the snake is a noose, or a neuron, or a nematode. It’s all in the seeing, and in the telling, and in the believing.

            Peterson is in the business of creating the impression that things matter. He holds out the promise of religion without the substance – light without heat. And it is a great and monstrous tragedy that by so doing he puts people back on old paths, rather than encouraging their incandescence.

            But that’s just my opinion. And I like to tell stories.

        • baconbits9 says:

          You listen to his arguments and they full of imprecise language and fallacies masquerading as strong argument.

          I don’t know how you get this from Peterson, he is more precise than your typical rationalist and uses far more evidence for most of his positions.

          The dude thinks (or thought, but I hardely think that matters) the caduceus is evidence that the ancients knew about DNA.

          The guy has a hundred opinions and you take one that he has stated he doesn’t hold seriously against him is indicative of a bias against him.

          • rlms says:

            I’m sure Hitler had a hundred opinions too.

          • brianmcbee says:

            I dunno. If you read or listen to the things somebody says, and you can’t tell which are serious and which are not, I think that’s pretty good evidence that you should just ignore them. I have the same problem with the president. Which of the many things he says are his actual core values? I sure can’t tell.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            he has stated he doesn’t hold seriously

            … and then in the same breath says again that he does actually hold that opinion. You can look upthread for examples.

            If you believe that the structure of DNA influenced the ancients into drawing pictures of double helix shapes, like two snakes twined together, you are barking up a tree in crystal and woo territory, and no amount of “it’s just speculative thinking” rescues this.

            As to the clarity of his argument, I will simply say I have yet to see any evidence.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But to go fishing in someone’s thousands of hours of public speaking to find one half-formed and ill-expressed kooky idea and thereby dismiss everything else he says is poor form. The rest of his schtick might be Just So stories, but it’s not woo.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            No, it’s just a very concrete and accessible example of the kind of woo he is pushing.

            He is explicitly pushing traditional religious doctrine while at the same time eschewing belief in the traditional monotheistic underpinning of that religion. He says things like “You can’t quit smoking unless you have a direct spiritual experience. It’s impossible.”

            When he is pressed on what he actually believes he engages in attacking the question, and a kind of circular logic where he disavows and then a restates the original thesis in different language.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I googled around for that quote and it sounds like a hyperbole of what he said, which is that you give somebody magic mushrooms and they have a spiritual experience and it’s much much easier for them to quit smoking. That doesn’t sound like woo, and I know several people who have had positive psychological changes from psychedelic use. It’s unfortunate that the drug laws being what they are we cannot have useful research into therapeutic uses of psychedelics.

            When it comes to Peterson, there’s three primary domains he speaks on:

            1) Clinical psychology. By all accounts his clinical psychology scholarship is excellent and his students well informed.

            2) A psychological interpretation of Biblical/mythological stories. These are essentially unfalsifiable Just So stories, but are interesting, plausible, and useful. Much more interesting and plausible than the usual “it’s all lies to get power and money in the collection plate” /r/atheism take.

            3) “Common sense” self-help advice, like “cleaning your room,” writing down your goals, etc. While I haven’t read his book on this subject it was well-reviewed by our host and seems unobjectionable.

            But instead of attacking his speaking on these domains, you go after uncharitable interpretations of one or two minor asides that don’t have anything to do with his major points. The DNA woo thing about which we don’t really understand what he was trying to say anyway does not seem like the true objection. Are you sure it’s not just that he opposes your political tribe and you don’t like that?

            One or two kooky ideas does not unmake a person. Dr. Ben Carson is a gifted neurosurgeon, but he’s wasted at HUD. He should have been Secretary of Agriculture because he knows stuff about grain storage that absolutely no one else knows.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            I googled around for that quote and it sounds like a hyperbole of what he said

            If I go through the effort finding and then linking you to him saying what I said he did, will you update? Because, yes, he does talk about mushrooms or other hallucinogens, but it is in the context of him saying there is proof that God exists.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            I think that the issue is that he seems to make the claim that (2) is the stuff that meaning ought to be made of. It’s much more central than I think you’re letting on, and a large part of what his reputation (for better or worse) trades on. Otherwise he’d be one more anonymous idiosyncratic professor/Dr. Phil wannabe.

            This on its own is not a fundamental problem, but I do believe that the explanations and just-so stories he peddles are virtually designed to stop people from thinking. He puts up paper-thin walls between metaphysical truth and everyday life, and instead of building a structure of philosophical inquiry between them he says, “well, if you can believe in it, it doesn’t matter if it’s literally true.” He strikes me as the kind of person who, if someone came up with a pill that could resolve the human desire for meaningfulness, would encourage people to get in line for it. That scares the shit out of me, to be honest.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I found this at RationalWiki, which is hardly a friend of Peterson or, well, rationality, and I don’t see anything really objectionable there. Except perhaps that one could take away from that that they should experiment with drugs they may not understand to quit smoking.

            “well, if you can believe in it, it doesn’t matter if it’s literally true.”

            No, his point is that if it’s useful, that’s a kind of truth, and the literal truth is irrelevant. Look at the story of Icarus. Fly too high, forgetting your own limitations, and you crash and die. Fatal hubris is a pretty common theme in lots of stories. Is it true that hubris can end you? Yes. Absolutely. So the “story of Icarus” is true. But is the story of Icarus literally true? I’m pretty sure it’s not. So maybe let’s not get so hung up on literal objective truth that we miss true useful meaning.

            He strikes me as the kind of person who, if someone came up with a pill that could resolve the human desire for meaningfulness, would encourage people to get in line for it. That scares the shit out of me, to be honest.

            Except instead he gets the exact opposite reaction, which is young men leading meaningless lives find meaning by shouldering responsibility. And the really good kind of responsibility, like for their own lives and their families. Why does that scare the shit out of you?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            Yes, that transcript is a good example of the kind of bullshit double-talk Peterson engages in.

            Dillahunty: We have no confirming that this something mystical or supernatural actually can — happened, this this is this is about the language —
            Peterson: Stops people from smoking.
            Dillahunty: Well, you can stop smoking without any sort of supernatural intervention.
            Peterson: No, not really.
            Dillahunty: You can’t stop smoking without supernatural —
            Peterson: There aren’t really any, any reliable chemical means for inducing smoking cessation. You can use a drug called Bupropion, I think that’s the one, whatever Wellbutrin is, um —
            Dillahunty: Is that supernatural?
            Peterson: No, you don’t need a supernatural effect, but it doesn’t work very well, but if you give people magic mushrooms, psilocybin, and they have a mystical experience, they have about an 85 percent chance of smoking cessation.
            Dillahunty: Sure, but —
            Peterson: With one treatment. Yeah, but that’s kinda like evidence, you know.

            Now, tell me, what is Peterson’s actual proposition? Is it that there is a literal supernatural effect induced by hallucinogenics? Or is it that hallucinogenics induce a physical brain state that feels mystical which is useful in promoting smoking cessation?

            And note that later Peterson specifically rejects the second explanation, but does it in a way that remains ambiguous in meaning.

            Later he says:

            Well it depends on how you define supernatural.

            And note, he does say literally what I said that he said, which you rejected as hyperbole, that it is impossible stop smoking without supernatural intervention.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I still don’t see what’s so awful, HBC.

            There is no:

            chemical -> stop smoking.

            But allegedly there is:

            Shrooms -> mystical experience -> stop smoking.

            So it’s the mystical experience from the shrooms that makes the “stop smoking” thing work, not the shrooms in and of themselves. I’m not a therapist and I have no experience with smoking or quitting smoking, but this doesn’t sound completely ludicrous to me, as I have seen people make abrupt positive behavioral changes after using psychedelics. They credit the mystical experience/altered consciousness, not “the chemical in these mushrooms changed my self-destructive behavior.” The chemical in the mushrooms changed their consciousness so they could examine their self-destructive behavior and change it.

            When the number is 85%, saying “impossible” is hyperbole.

            I don’t think this is a standard you would generally apply to, say, a left-winger who says it’s “impossible” to live on minimum wage. It’s possible. It’s really freaking hard though. I understand when someone says it’s “impossible” to live on minimum wage, they’re being hyperbolic, and so I extend to them some charity on that one.

            And again, we’re going deep into the weeds to find a quote that may be kooky, but nobody’s listening to Peterson for advice on how to quit smoking. His general life advice seems good and unobjectionable. His psychological interpretations of Biblical/mythological stories is plausible, useful and entertaining. He rose to prominence by speaking out against (alleged) compelled speech codes which is an entirely defensible political opinion lots of people, myself included, share. He can say the best way to quit smoking is to lick toads under the full moon and it doesn’t change the rest of that.

            This seems like the non-central fallacy? You’re really going after these tiny, irrelevant bits and none of the substance that matters to people who are interested in what Peterson has to say. If you want to undermine Peterson, explain why the Rules for Life are bunk (“getting things close to you in order is bunk because…” or “writing down your goals is bunk because…”) or explain why his speculations on how Biblical/mythological stories developed is bunk (“The Garden of Eden as a metaphor for the development of human consciousness is bunk because…”). Exaggerating the effectiveness of psychedelics on the ability of people to quit smoking doesn’t really do any of that.

            ETA: And I ctrl-F the article for “impossible” and there’s only one match which is not about the smoking thing. I’m not sure who’s being hyperbolic, you describing what he said or him describing his perception of how psychedelics can help people stop smoking, but either way it’s hyperbole based on his explanation, and I wouldn’t hold that against either of you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            I understand what you mean by hyperbole, now. I thought meant that my statement about what he said was hyperbole (in the same way you doubted that he actually said that the caduceus was evidence the ancients knew about DNA). Yes, it’s reasonable to interpret this as him is saying that the it’s highly unlikely to quit smoking without this.

            But, does mystical experience = supernatural?

            He starts off with a very strong claim, that the super-natural can cause people to stop smoking, and that you can’t “really” stop smoking without super-natural intervention.

            Then he sort of backs off the claim that it has to be super-natural:
            “No, you don’t need a supernatural effect”

            and then in the same breath:
            “but it doesn’t work very well”

            So, throughout the entire conversation he is conflating “mystical experience” as if it IS a “super natural” one. The most he could actually say is that mystical experiences might be consistent with super-natural intervention, which is extremely weak evidence. But he continues to speak as if mystical experiences ARE super natural ones. This isn’t correct, but it’s very hard to pin people down who are being this slippery.

            Look, I’m not trying to be an ass here, but I perceive Peterson to argue this way all the time. This isn’t non-central fallacy because it’s something he does over an over. The Dillahunty debate is full of this, over and over, not just in one instance.

          • Nick says:

            FWIW, I think HBC is right that Peterson does this. I’ve seen it in other interviews with him I’ve watched. I think the “Do you believe in God?”-related answers are a little more central, though, as far as him being cagey/slippery. (Why are those synonyms here? Don’t they evoke opposites?) He gives answers like that Jesus performed a miracle by giving us such-and-so a concept, or that Jesus rose from the dead so far as his ideas are with us today. I can probably find the interview he gave those answers in after work.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nick:
            According to this “cagey” may have come out of boxing.

            Not positive, but I think that this might refer to the venue the boxing matches occurred in (and then becomes a reference to their wary behavior in the match), but I could be wrong. I’m only guessing this because basketball games were frequently confined in a sort of cage for a while, and basketball ball players were then referred to as “cagers”.

          • Nick says:

            Okay, I think this was the video where Peterson dodges the “Did Jesus resurrect?” question. My transcript, starting around 3:05—I didn’t pick up every tic of his speech, but it should be otherwise faithful:

            “JBP: Did he—is his resurrection real? Well his spirit lives on. That’s certainly the case.”

            Interviewer: “In what sense do you mean spirit? Just to qualify that.”

            JBP: “Well, let’s imagine that a spirit is a pattern of being, and we know that patterns can exist independe—patterns can be transmitted across multiple substrates, right? Vinyl, electronic, impulses… air, vibrations in your ear, neurological patterns, dance—it’s all the translation of what you might describe as a spirit, right? It’s that pattern. It’s independent of its material substrate. Well, Christ’s spirit lives on. It’s, it’s had a massive effect across time. Well, is that an answer to the question… did his body resurrect?” There is a pause. “I don’t know. I don’t know. The accounts aren’t clear, for one thing. What the accounts mean isn’t clear. I don’t know what happens to a person if they bring themselves completely into alignment. I’ve had intimations of what that might mean. We don’t understand the world very well. We don’t understand how the world could be mastered if it could be mastered completely. We don’t know how an individual might be able to manage that. We don’t know what transformations that might make possible.”

            I thought I heard the “giving us [concept] is a miracle” in the same video, but evidently not. I found that one in his debate with Susan Blackmore. I think, by the way, she does a lot better job pinning him down than say Cathy Newman, who just humiliates herself and completely vindicates him. My transcript again, from about the 45 minute mark:

            SB: “You slipped away! If I can bring you back to Justin’s question, really, because you slithered out of it, I think, and your question was, is Jesus different from the rest of us, by saying, well we’ve all got a spark of divinity. But do you then believe that Jesus was divine in a sense that’s other than what I am? What was th—you know, did he do miracles? Was he, you know, all, all of that stuff, and—”

            Justin: “Quick answer and then we’ll finish with a final question.”

            JBP: “Quick answer?! To that question.” Laughter. “Umm, how about this. ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.’ That’s a miracle. That’s the separation of church and state in one sentence. So there’s a miracle for you.”

          • Randy M says:

            Umm, how about this. ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.’ That’s a miracle. That’s the separation of church and state in one sentence. So there’s a miracle for you.

            Scott and Nick have mentioned that while Jordan may have some of the appeal of, say, CS Lewis, Lewis would find him heretical. This quote is pretty much the opposite of Lewis, with his view that Christ didn’t actually bring all that much novel moral teaching; the problem was actually following it, and Christianity claims that one who submits to God will be given supernatural help in following the moral teachings.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Did his body resurrect? … I don’t know. I don’t know. … I don’t know what happens to a person if they bring themselves completely into alignment. I’ve had intimations of what that might mean.

            Like I said. Woo.

          • Nick says:

            HeelBearCub, I’m not a fan of the word “woo,” but… yeah, pretty much.

            Peterson prefaces a lot of his responses by saying that he doesn’t like answering these questions. He doesn’t want to be pinned down, or he doesn’t think it’s a well-formed or precise question, or he can only speculate in response—all of those points were raised in the two videos I linked. I think those are fair reasons not to give a straightforward answer, and I think sometimes Peterson is right to object that way. And there are cynical explanations available too, like that his Christian readers would take issue if he said outright that he doesn’t believe the supernatural claims. But when he comes out with stuff about “alignment” and the resulting “mastery” of the world, it’s hard not to suspect part of it’s just that he believes nonsense.

          • baconbits9 says:

            and then in the same breath says again that he does actually hold that opinion. You can look upthread for examples.

            No he doesn’t, he holds it personally. He doesn’t suggest that we should be investigating tombs trying to find out how to cure AIDS because the ancients were so in touch with their bodies that they would have figured out how to combat viruses.

            Peterson has about a hundred different interviews where he talks about how important free speech is for being able to say wrong things as a function of being able to think about things, oh, and hes pontificating on meta physics, if he had the type of mind that held no weird positions you never would have heard of him.

            If his work was based on this position you would have a point, remove it and nothing else he says falls apart. Trying to discredit a thinker for a non central idea is cheap, and functionally what people have tried to do to Elizabeth Warren (whom I strongly dislike for her politics, but ought not to be disqualified for one poorly held belief/action).

          • And note, he does say literally what I said that he said, which you rejected as hyperbole, that it is impossible stop smoking without supernatural intervention.

            And shortly thereafter he says:

            There aren’t really any, any reliable chemical means for inducing smoking cessation. You can use a drug called Bupropion, I think that’s the one, whatever Wellbutrin is, um —

            Which makes it clear that “impossible” is rhetorical exaggeration for “there is no reliable way of doing it.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It just sounds to me like from a personal, religious point of view, he’s agnostic. As a Catholic, I would like if, when asked, “did Jesus bodily rise from the dead?” everyone in the world said “yes.” But this is not that perfect world, and there’s lots of people who say “no” and lots of people who say “I don’t know.” And Peterson says “I don’t know.” It seems like you’re haranguing him for intellectual honesty. And about issues non-central to his message, as his personal view of Jesus or smoking cessation is irrelevant to self-help life advice, free speech advocacy, or a psychological interpretation of Biblical and mythological stories.

            Also, the goalposts have shifted from woo to that he uses imprecise language. But this is not condensed matter physics. The big stuff he talks about is an intersection of theology, psychology, ancient allegorical literature and symbolism. Peterson is not significantly more imprecise than the vast majority of theologists, psychologists, or scholars of ancient allegorical literature and symbolism. And a big part of his point is that the symbols and the stories and the allegories arose because people lack the language to precisely describe these concepts. If you try to precisely describe the concepts you wind up with the failure modes of Seeing Like a State.

            When you keep going after these nit-picky and non-central things it screams motivated reasoning to me. Nick, are you sure you don’t just dislike him because you think he’s bad for Christianity? HBC, are you sure you don’t just dislike him because you think he’s bad for left-wing Culture War politics?

            I’m not a fanboy or anything. I don’t need self-help life advice (my room is already quite clean, thank you), and Catholicism is all the religion I need. But I find the push back against the guy bizarre. He’s helping disaffected young men get out of their parents’ basements and get jobs and girlfriends. What exactly is the problem here?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            It just sounds to me like from a personal, religious point of view, he’s agnostic. … It seems like you’re haranguing him for intellectual honesty.

            This is irritating. Peterson self describes as religious, and not only that, he further claims that Dillahunty isn’t really an atheist. Describing him as being “intellectually honest” when you say you think he is actually an agnostic is some twisted logic.

            Are you sure you aren’t defending him merely because he pisses off the liberals?

            As to “he is helping young get out of their mom’s basement”, I have said repeatedly he maps to me as a self-help guru, with all that entails. I view self-help guru as a central descriptor of his public persona. However, if you accept this, that hurts rather than helps your argument that he is intellectually honest.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          One of his earlier claims to fame was a lecture series on personality. His lectures on IQ and the big 5 as far as I can tell summarize mainstream opinion on the topics fairly well.

          “Clean your room” is sound psychological advise as far as I can tell but again it’s not something he originated.

          Other than that I would call him a net negative; it’s dangerous in the long run for disassociated young men to embrace even greater depths of individualism as Peterson insists. However, it doesn’t surprise me that center left types would find him interesting.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            it’s dangerous in the long run for disassociated young men to embrace even greater depths of individualism as Peterson insists.

            Does he insist? As far as I can tell, he’s certainly very keen on individualism as opposed to collectivism, i.e. that everyone should be evaluated on their own merits and flaws, rather than as an undifferentiated member of a demographic group, but he is not at all keen on individualism in the sense of atomism – his whole shtick is about how life gets better if you take on responsibilities and try to make yourself a more reliable and productive person so as to be able to contribute to your community. But I’m not familiar with his complete oeuvre – maybe you have links to places where he contradicts what I have understood to be his position.

      • Nick says:

        Yeah, that’s the funny thing with Peterson. He’s on the side of religious conservatives (who believe in classical liberalism anyway), but he’s gotten there by a route that is inimical in its own way to said religious conservatism. He accepts orthopraxy without orthodoxy, not believing in a salvation beyond death or anything supernatural as far as I can tell, and in the words of Scott paraphrasing Lewis, fuck that shit.

        I’m inclined to say he doesn’t belong on theredsheep’s list at all. Jungian archetypes and Taoism is really far from a premodern Christian worldview (or even a modern one), and the orthopraxy-without-orthodoxy things means a lot of the common ground is very shallow. It might be easier to have a long conversation with Peterson than it is a social justice person, because he’s going to respect the process, but it’s going to be just as hard to actually move him from weird secular mystic self-helpism to Christianity as it would be to move someone from social justice to Christianity.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It’s a foot in the door, though. Come for the Moral Therapeutic Deism, stay for the eternal salvation.

          And I don’t think there’s any danger going the other way. No believing Christian is going to listen to Peterson and decide to stop believing but keep practicing.

          • theredsheep says:

            Here you’re excluding more complex possibilities, such as a lapsed Christian “coming back to the faith” when he gets it explained to him in terms of haloed lobsters vanquishing the feminist dragons. And never moving past that. Is that better or worse than just staying vaguely agnostic, from our perspective?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            haloed lobsters vanquishing the feminist dragons.

            Ah, the Monstrous Manual was so rich with weirdness.

          • Nick says:

            Is that better or worse than just staying vaguely agnostic, from our perspective?

            I don’t think that’s the right question; the question is whether bringing a lapsed Christian “back to the faith” at all is better, given that (contra Conrad) there’s some risk he’ll come back to it proper, and some risk that as you say he’ll simply adopt Petersonism. And I think Conrad is saying obviously yes, because he’s got his foot in the door now; he can learn what’s really going on, and not be stuck in the lies-to-children of haloed lobsters.

            But I think first that Conrad is eliding the pretty big risk that the person will stick with Petersonism, and second and more importantly, that yes a person absolutely can deconvert from Christianity to Petersonism. And the third and most importantly of all, I’m not sure it’s any easier to move from some kind of quasi-Petersonism to actual Christianity. This is sort of what I was trying to get at in the first place: I think there’s a way in which I share a lot more with the atheists of SSC than I do with Peterson, and someone who got to actual Christianity by way of Peterson will have to do a lot of unlearning what he got from Peterson.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            that yes a person absolutely can deconvert from Christianity to Petersonism.

            Do you have any examples of this? Blog posts, reddit posts, etc? I know I’ve seen people say they got back to Christianity through Peterson, though.

            I was a lapsed Catholic who came back through a similar thought process, but many years before Peterson. I came to realize that the stories are True in the sense that they describe the only workable method for the redemption of flawed man and the fallen world (including the divine intervention as well), and this metaphorical True was indistinguishable from literal true, and so I Believe. It’s the same process, I just did it without Peterson. I don’t see why someone couldn’t do it with Peterson, especially when Peterson constantly goes out of his way to not answer the “but is God real” question and says he acts as though He is. Once you’re acting as though He is, you’re already alieving it and all it takes is Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith to believe it, too.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            For this to work you already need to believe in Redemption. The leap of faith is not the final step; it is the first, and once it is made the generalities of the outcome are never in doubt. But I do not believe in the Fall of Man, or in Redemption, and no Church or Canadian psychology professor is going to get me to start.

          • rlms says:

            And I don’t think there’s any danger going the other way.

            I’m not so sure. There’s not direct danger, but Peterson could be a gateway to Sam Harris etc.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Hoopster: in what sense are you using “Redemption” there? I’m not sure I understand why that would be difficult.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            I don’t rightly know. It seems to be fundamental to Christianity (and most other religion) – the idea that humans can achieve some sort of higher metaphysical state through surrender, or by the mercy of [god]. This seems to be most often called Redemption, but I don’t really understand what it means, and I don’t think I’m wired to. Heaven knows I’ve tried.

            E: “exaltation” might actually be the core concept I’m missing, with redemption being the process by which humans become exalted.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I just took it as “you can be forgiven for your sins/faults and do better,” and this seems obvious. People can do this for each other, so obviously God can do it, too.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Conrad

            This seems to amount to the same thing for me. If God’s forgiveness matters in a metaphysical sense, then those who repent unto God are different than those who don’t, which has no resonance with me; I don’t think that anyone’s moral character is fundamentally better or worse than mine, and I can’t bring myself to judge them by a different standard. And if God’s forgiveness doesn’t matter, then I see no reason to seek it. I have never had an experience of transcendental forgiveness – every time I’ve struggled to feel forgiven, it’s been a struggle within my own mind, against only myself.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I came to realize that the stories are True in the sense that they describe the only workable method for the redemption of flawed man and the fallen world

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that mainstream Christianity has at its core the idea that ‘redemption’ means that you get to go to Heaven or avoid Hell after your earthly life is over, which strongly implies the proposition that Heaven and Hell literally exist as places / states of being outside of this universe in some sense, and that what happens in this universe is of little or no importance except insofar as it impacts on what happens to people in the afterlife… and believing that really does require a leap of faith well beyond anything required to take Peterson seriously when he talks about personal responsibility etc.

            Whenever I’ve seen Peterson pressed on the question, he always brings up earthly ‘hells’ to avoid, like the gulags and the concentration camps, or the mental states that lead people to become murderously resentful – and his Jesus is not someone who saves you in an afterlife; only someone who represents an ideal which can help you to save yourself from whatever crappy existence you would have here on Earth if you don’t make the effort to improve yourself. But he nonetheless recognises that communities that have certain supernatural beliefs at their core can nonetheless flourish better in this world than other communities that do not.

            My impression is that he subscribes to something like the tragic view that we cannot have a long-term-sustainable, tolerable existence without having normalised the belief in some almost-certainly-not-literally-true propositions, and that even if he cannot with his rational brain actually believe those propositions to be literally true, he is very cagey about admitting so.

            Perceived from that angle, it is easy enough to get from Petersonism to wanting most people around you to be Christians, but much harder, I would have thought, to actually persuade yourself of the truth of claims that he apparently can’t.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, but C.S. Lewis said “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.” That’s very similar to what Peterson says about aiming for the highest possible moral good.

            I definitely see how if everyone acted like they wanted to get into heaven, the earth would be a better place. So that supports Lewis/Peterson, but is not in itself sufficient to subscribe to Christianity. But it certainly doesn’t contradict Christianity.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect Peterson is responding to his market. But one other possibility is that he thinks people/the world are better off when they live within the framework of Christian ideas/beliefs, even if they don’t literally believe. I think that’s actually a plausible position from a small-c conservative position.

            That is, if you think it’s pretty hard to get a well-functioning worldview that leads to happy lives and functioning civilizations, you might think “Say, the cultural Christian/Western Civ worldview corresponded with a massive increase in wealth and human well-being over the course of a few centuries, maybe it’s not the worst one ever to follow.”

            He might also think (at least this is a plausible position to my mind) that a broadly Christian worldview is a useful corrective to a lot of the social pathology in the world now, and also that the existing dominant worldview will act as a corrective to the failure modes of the Christian worldview. (So we’ll have enough SJW to resist calls for a new crusade or inquisition, but enough Christianity to get most people to marry before having kids.)

            Alternatively, maybe he’s a self-help guru who’s reasonably smart and well-intentioned, but who’s not actually all that deep a thinker.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Peterson is modernist woo. Totally different from postmodernist woo.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I mean, isn’t all psychology modernist woo? We know that the talking cure works well enough that even hard-headed STEMlord MDs like our host are expected to engage in it, but studies don’t produce empirical support for any school of psychology over another, right? Doing the Jungian talking cure is just as good as Rational Emotive Therapy, which is no better than CBT, etc?

    • arlie says:

      I tried to read the many responses, and mostly got confused. So here’s my two cents, without checking whether it’s already been said.

      I don’t think religion is a factor. But hyper-rationality and/or Asperger’s syndrome might be.

      Some of us like to analyze things, and do so when people around us would prefer an emotional response, or when many people would only be able to produce an emotional response, or when anyone with the social skills of a brick would know that they should SHUT UP ASAP to avoid creating drama or worse.

      I think you are one of them. I know I am one of them. Several prolific posters here seem to belong in the same category, at least when online. (Many people behave differently online and offline.)

      I suspect that religious people with this trait often find themselves uncomfortable among other religious people. So they may go hang out with fellow “nerds” who just don’t happen to be religious. At least we won’t get angry when they analyze someone’s experience instead of expressing sympathy 🙁

      As for the conservative part – I suspect that’s not as much of a factor. High levels of analysis doesn’t seem to me to correlate with political position. (Those that disagree with me merely don’t analyze competently, perhaps because they admitted some major error into their set of axioms. … or from your POV, left out something important … ;-( )

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, yes, this is a den of nerds, and I’m certainly a nerd. But I’m interested in the weird camaraderie between the most hardcore-devoted sorts of religious people and the confirmed irreligious here. Perhaps it’s a totally different phenomenon from what drives the Quillette political axis.

        My comfort with the traditionally religious probably depends mostly on how well I understand and/or respect their tradition. I can comment on theological issues just fine, only it’s not something I’m particularly well educated in (by Orthodox Christian standards) nor one that attracts my interest. But I can understand and get along more easily with my wife’s childhood Calvinist friend than I can with the leftists at Orthodoxy in Dialogue.

        • Deiseach says:

          the weird camaraderie between the most hardcore-devoted sorts of religious people and the confirmed irreligious here

          Mostly because the non-religious on here (a) aren’t going to try and deconvert the religious (b) if they do want to argue religion, have better scripts than “ooh religion is only for poopy-heads!” and it’s possible to have a genuine conversation. I think us religious types are also not trying to win souls for the Lord by sharing the good news (so eh maybe we’re falling down on the job there) so if we’re talking about movies, books, history, battleships or the best way to cook veal it’s because we’re interested in the topic and not as a set-up to “have you been saved?”, and it’s nice to have a place where if someone does want to know “so why do you believe?” it’s a genuine query, not a set-up for “let me list off how many ways religion is for poopy-heads and you’re a poopy-head”.

          Mostly it’s live and let live? I completely understand what you mean about getting on better with people outside the tradition than with the more heterodox inside the tradition; one lot may be wrong but in understandable ways, the other lot are wrong but have no excuse 🙂

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            it’s nice to have a place where if someone does want to know “so why do you believe?” it’s a genuine query, not a set-up for “let me list off how many ways religion is for poopy-heads and you’re a poopy-head”.

            This is why I can’t stand reddit. I responded to a “Believing Christians of reddit, why do you believe?” and I took my time to give a thoughtful, rational and personal answer, and wound up at -20 or something while all the “poopy-head” responses got ALL MY UPBOATS. Why did you bother asking if you didn’t want an answer?

          • albatross11 says:

            In this community, I think being a decent and sane person who’s openly religious is likely to be more effective as a commercial for religion than actively going out to try to convert the heathen rationalist hordes.

        • You can see some of it outside SSC. It’s my impression that a lot of people with about my non religious worldview are fans of G.K. Chesterton. Probably C.S. Lewis and Tolkien as well.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Most everyone here are nit-pickers. We like to find the weak parts of arguments and point out that they are wrong. That also leads many of us into contrarianism, as almost all arguments have holes. We also all found out that most people don’t like talking about things in such detail.

      That’s the common strain that binds things together. The fact that both religious and non-religious nit-pickers both like to hang out here then seems unremarkable.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        I agree. This forum, mostly for good, but sometimes ill, is a terrible place for people who dislike complex and incomplete answers to hang out

    • Guy in TN says:

      My somewhat boring take on the phenomenon you are noticing:

      At the current time, people are simply placing more value on their economic political axis, than their social political axis. So you get “weird” team-ups, like religious blacks (social right+economic left) and solid progressives (social left+economic left) in an alliance, and libertarians (social left+economic right) and traditional conservatives (social right +economic right) in another alliance.

      Now, the question of why people are tending to prioritize advancing their economic policies, rather than their social policies, is one that could use some attention.

      • christianschwalbach says:

        A lot of it has to do with the large numbers of people in the country that are economically vulnerable, I would think.

      • Bamboozle says:

        That’s because it’s always about money. People are feeling poorer with wages stagnating so economics trumps social values at this time.

    • Michael Handy says:

      Maybe, but from what I’ve seen there’s a fairly strong cohort of exasperated Economic-Left heretics as well (Like myself.) who’d also dearly like to see the Social-Left (Motto: What we need are more minority billionaires!) hoist by their own petard. Can we join?

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Join what? Isn’t it hard to actually execute your plan in the end?

        • theredsheep says:

          I personally favor really aggressive estate and income taxes on a new top bracket over a million or so, combined with prompt annual redistribution. A variant on UBI. Shame it’ll never be executed.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            But you have failed to explain how you are going to excise cultural leftism from this movement.

          • theredsheep says:

            Once it’s actually implemented, the effects will be so beneficial that it will give us more than enough cultural cachet to defund the liberal arts, and thereby starve postmodernism. Also if fewer people are poor it will make grievance-peddling a harder sell. Mostly, though, I’m pushing for the elimination of drastic inequality as a good in itself. Once that’s achieved we can all get together and celebrate by giving noogies to the entire staff of Vox.

          • Nornagest says:

            There isn’t enough income in the >1M bracket to fund a UBI worth speaking of. Left-leaning pundits like to talk about wealth inequalities, and those are real and large as far as they go, but wealth and income are two different things.
            $SMALLNUM people might hold half the wealth in the country, but the number of people responsible for half its income is not very small.

            Estate taxes, if you can figure out how to implement them without most of the wealth mysteriously vanishing, might do it — but only for one generation. Then there won’t be any large estates left to raid.

          • theredsheep says:

            The primary goal here is the diminution of the rich, not the enrichment of the poor. It won’t happen, anyway, but I like to daydream.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Isn’t that just question begging away the most difficult step?

          • theredsheep says:

            Sure. Aren’t you just endlessly criticizing other people’s ideas as soon as they’re presented? Does your username indicate a desire to be Socrates?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            My position is merely that I don’t think its really all that possible to have an equality agenda that is all that different from a social justice agenda. They, to me, are both intertwined with envy as the driving emotion behind the political agendas. So you can say your gonna get rid of Voxplainers once you level the $$$, but IMO it would actually just make the social justice complaints twice as loud, as it would be all that is left to complain about.

            When John from Manhattan and Lucy from Harlem have the same amount of money, but John’s life is still much better, Lucy will have no excuses except for the patriarchy and institutional racism.

          • dick says:

            I’ll just pop in to say that this exchange caused me to google 131647093. I imagined it might be an interesting mathematical constant or some other reference I didn’t get; in fact, the top three results are for a brand of anti-incontinence underwear.

        • Plumber says:

          @idontknow131647093

          “…you can say your gonna get rid of Voxplainers once you level the $$$, but IMO it would actually just make the social justice complaints twice as loud, as it would be all that is left to complain about…”

          I’d still like to give it a try (and I think “cultural leftism” is a manners debate of little consequence anyway).
          I don’t want Cuba (and I really don’t want North Korea!) but the Denmark of today or the U.S.A. of 1973 instead the homelessness and the “meritocratic” (yeah right, pull the other one, it’s a caste system with minimal mobility) centrifugal casino economy we have now?
          Bring it on!

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the rich-getting-richer part of your complaint probably has a different set of causes than your homeless-starving-people-on-the-street complaint. It’s possible to have rich people getting richer and also safety nets that work for people at the bottom. The US doesn’t do this so well for the people really at the bottom (crazy/addicted/drunk homeless people), but that doesn’t mean it *can’t* be done. And I don’t think that has much to do with whether the top 0.01% can get richer faster than everyone else.

          • acymetric says:

            This is not necessarily directed at you or meant as a criticism, but I think it is interesting that whenever we model homeless people we model them as crazy/addicted/drunk. I know that the majority of homeless people suffer from some form of mental illness or addiction, but I do wonder something (that may or may not already have an answer). How many of those people are homeless as a result of the mental/addiction issues (a sizeable portion to be sure) and how many developed mental issues or addictions as a result of being homeless for other reasons (a group that is probably larger than many would think or be comfortable admitting). Sort of the urban version of “going feral”.

            Edit: Actually, the majority of homeless don’t even fall into this category. Figures vary, but generally appears to be between 20-40% (so not even half). Interesting that this is the default face we put on homelessness then.

          • Brad says:

            You have to be careful with statistics on homelessness. The official definition is very much not the colloquial one. Is the 20-40% stat for “unsheltered” homeless?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m assuming the dire problem needing a solution is not the guy sleeping on a friend’s couch till he gets back on his feet after the nasty divorce, it’s the guy sleeping in a cardboard box for a couple years till they find his frozen dead body in the box some very cold winter morning.

    • Walter says:

      I think it is like this:

      Scott is a progressive who dunks on the movement at large from time to time in the hopes of getting it to be better. This pushes away other progressives, who regard it as betrayal, and attracts non progressives, who enjoy seeing anyone dunking on progressives. Thus, SSC, a left blog with a right readership.

    • Plumber says:

      @theredsheep

      “….Does this, and the related Peterson phenomenon, and probably other stuff I’m not cool enough to know about, represent a new alliance in the culture wars, where people who agree that truth is not a function of who’s speaking it band together to crush the progressive-postmodernist front, so we can go back to tearing each other to pieces like old times?…”

      I wasn’t sure what a “progressive-postmodernist” was so I did a quick web search and found this site which described them as:
       “tend to highly value environmental sustainability, multicultural diversity, social justice, a foreign and domestic policy that admits wrongs and makes amends, and equality among Americans”,
      I then took the site’s test on “Major Positions on the American Political Spectrum” which had me as a “Your value priorities point to this political position, described below:
      Liberal Modernist, you tend to highly value a strong social safety net, economic justice, a peaceful foreign policy, a balance of jobs and environmental protection, and equality among Americans”
      ,
      which is close enough, the other two possible results were 
      Fiscally Conservative Modernist or Libertarian, you tend to highly value economic vitality and growth, freedom from government regulation or interference, global free trade, meritocracy, and “equity” where rewards are proportional to effort and talent”,
      and 
      Socially Conservative Traditionalist, you tend to highly value loyalty to country and faith, laws that protect heritage and traditions, a strong military, and a culture of “equity” in America where rewards are proportional to effort and talent”,

      of all those “positions” only the ‘Fiscally Conservative Modernist or Libertarian’ have some priorities that I’m against (despite my enjoying conversations with libertarians), otherwise (for example) if the ‘Socially Conservative Traditionalist’ wanted say cash to rebuild a church, in return for help towards the poor I’m fine with that, so I can imagine alliances shifting.

      For some reason my “bubble” is such that I hear far more angry right-wingers face to face (all but one men) than angry leftists face to face (all men), but I read about equal numbers of angry voices from the left and the right on-line, mostly men on the right and women on the left, the only women I’ve ever heard being angry about politics face-to-face is one of the very few women plumbers I’ve worked with who really hated oaying taxes, and my wife who has stuff she dislikes about both the Democrats (“too far”) and the Republicans (“crooks”).

      As far as the “SJW’s” that our host and many others have complained about it’s hard for me to feel threatened by them because if I’ve spoken to one face-to-face I didn’t know it, though I have spoken to some old-timers who marched with Cesar Chavez who’d probably like the label, but of militant atheists and feminists?
      I just don’t remember any.

      Of “hot button issues” the most vitriol I’ve heard (in person) has been anti-gay marriage, and have seen (on-line) are pro “bake the cake”, I’m not sure why, but I do note that those kinds of “hot button issues” seem to be mostly decided in the courts, not at the ballot box here (unlike in Ireland for example).

      My own position of “let it be decided by local plebiscite” seems to be a minority one.

      • Nick says:

        Oh man, I love taking tests like these. According to the first one, I am +8 traditional and -8 modern, and according to the second one, I’m a socially conservative traditionalist. Those might sound accurate, but just take a look at the description of the traditionalist:

        In traditional worldviews the religious sphere is generally not distinguished from the secular sphere, nor is metaphysics from science. Religious or metaphysical views on reality thus answer the big questions in life, and substantial faith is placed in religious authorities, such as scriptures, doctrines, and leaders. In this worldview, a transcendent God is usually seen as separate from the profane, earthly world, and man as fundamentally different from nature. The relationship with nature is frequently understood in terms of ‘dominion’ or ‘stewardship’. Traditional worldviews tend to emphasize the importance of family and community, as well as values ​​such as honesty, decency, sobriety, obedience, discipline, solidarity, conformity, service, dedication, respect for tradition, humility, and self-sacrifice.

        You know me, always confusing metaphysics with science and going on about man as fundamentally different from nature!

        • theredsheep says:

          I once took one where I shifted from “Market-skeptic Republican” to “Disaffected Democrat,” three steps to the left, by answering one of seventeen questions differently and then saying I was a Dem-leaning independent rather than Republican-leaning. I think it was a Pew Research thing. Can’t recall.

          • Plumber says:

            That sounds like Pew, I took the same test and got “Disaffected Democrat” as well, I was reminded of a “What D&D Alignment are you?” test that had me as “Lawful Neutral’ one day, and “Chaotic Good’ another day.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nick

          “….You know me, always confusing metaphysics with science and going on about man as fundamentally different from nature!”

          Hey! You do you!
          (Like most paragraphs with the word “metaphysics” in it, what you quoted sounds like gibberish to me, I wonder if the author knows?)

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t have a problem with that description. There isn’t “religious truth” and “scientific truth”, truth is truth (probably not actually a controversial opinion here, except that I do hold some religious assertions as true). The deal is, though, that supernatural aspects to reality aren’t phenomena to be studied but agents to be interacted with, so the scientific method may not function reliably.

          Similarly, proper behavior is proper behavior, and a religious belief that leaves one’s secular behavior unchanged is probably not a meaningful one.

          And man is fundamentally different from nature. Man is the animal that has spiritual life, uniquely accountable for his behavior. This is far more significant to our understanding of him than is his being, for example, prokaryotic or eukaryotic, though of course the latter is highly relevant to enabling the former.

          (Whether that is a fitting description of Nick, I won’t venture to say)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Compare.

            “And man is fundamentally different from nature.”
            And humanity is fundamentally different from nature.
            And people are fundamentally different from nature.

          • Nick says:

            Sure, but even Catholics distinguish temporal from spiritual power—Jesus said render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, for heaven’s sake! We might not accept the kind of separation of religious and secular spheres present in the contemporary West, but we know the difference between religious and secular.

            As for man and nature, first there’s no reason why man needs to be the only animal with a spiritual life or free will, and second man isn’t different from nature, that’s just not all he is. This one I admit is kinda nitpicking, but for Christians it makes a big difference: for one, it’s the only reason natural law is possible.

            Maybe I spoke too soon when I said “You know me”. 😛

          • Randy M says:

            @Nancy
            Why?

            Are you just chiding me for using an archaic and allegedly sexist mode of speech or making some point related to the conversation?

            @Nick
            I’ll grant that the first point is more complicated; it is unclear what they mean by “religious sphere”; I interpreted it as an individual’s approach to life, but given that it is a political quiz, they may be meaning to imply that traditionalists think we should only elect monks or priests to political positions, which is not a statement I’d support.

            and second man isn’t different from nature

            That’s like saying a hamburger isn’t different from bread. Yes, there is a natural component to man, but the spiritual makes a significant distinction. You’ll have to argue your point about natural law, I don’t see the connection. To say man has a nature, from which we can reason, isn’t to say that man is just another part of nature.

            there’s no reason why man needs to be the only animal with a spiritual life or free will

            Man does not need to be thus, however, he is thus. It is a pretty fundamental Christian belief that man is a unique part of creation, alone having the divine spark. (At least, of the creation we know of, and I don’t know if it is heretical to suppose this could change at some point, but I could be open minded there.)

            One can be a traditionalist by temperament* or inclination without buying into Christianity, of course, but inasmuch the latter informs the former, one will probably see man as more different from the rest of nature than other species are from each other.

            *What the heck is that a doing in there? You do you, English orthography.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Both. I was irritated at your use of “man” to mean humanity, and then I realized that the connotations for the different phrasings were interesting.

          • Nick says:

            That’s like saying a hamburger isn’t different from bread. Yes, there is a natural component to man, but the spiritual makes a significant distinction. You’ll have to argue your point about natural law, I don’t see the connection. To say man has a nature, from which we can reason, isn’t to say that man is just another part of nature.

            Yeah, okay, there are certainly several ways to take it. One is to say man is not a part of nature, which I think is flat out wrong. Another is to say man has been in some way set apart from the rest of nature, which I think is absolutely true. It sounds to me like we agree about both, but you think the second is more salient than the first.

            The natural law thing was just that yes, that man has a nature (an animal which can reason and will) is necessary for natural law.

          • Randy M says:

            It sounds to me like we agree about both, but you think the second is more salient than the first.

            Not even necessarily salient because it is more important, but just salient because at this time it is the counter-cultural element.

            Part of the response is probably that this weekend I was reading mere Christianity to my daughters, a chapter where Lewis is speaking of the spiritual life by which we can be children of God, going so far as to try to coin a new word for it to contrast with bios (I don’t think it caught on). Whereas the modern will see nature as a spectrum, with man at one end, the tradionalist will see a categorical difference that is not bridged with by adding a few IQ points to the smartest ape or dolphin or what have you. (I do reserve the right to change my mind on this, should we manage to actually add those IQ points to the ape or dolphin and find it pondering the meaning of its existence, etc.)

            It’s funny though, I was last night writing about the importance of the biological, the animal to the meaning of humanity and the necessity to preserve it in an attempt to preserve the species, contra transhumanism’s dreams of uploads and ems being essentially equivalent.

      • Plumber says:

        I actually did just think of a view of mine that if I was more vocal about probably would be anathema locally.

        Immigration.

        It seems obvious to me that increased immigration does lower wages and increase rents which hurts the poor who are already here, but saying so is “Nativist” so bad/wrong/objectionable.

        I have read some “right-libertarians” who say they would be for open borders “If there wasn’t welfare”, but my view is the opposite, I think that because the “safety-net” is so full of holes as the reason immigration should be limited, but apparently only those with “false consciousness” have those views so I’m bad/wrong/in-correct for reasons that I don’t comprehend.

      • Nornagest says:

        The “progressive” and “postmodern” there are two different, though related, sets of ideas. Postmodernism resists easy description, but you could oversimplify by calling it an academic tendency over the last forty-odd years to be skeptical of objectivity, rationality, hierarchy, and conventional — or at least what used to be conventional — notions of truth and meaning. That covers a lot of ground, and almost everyone, including our gracious host, harbors a few opinions with postmodern roots, but when you see people dissing it they mainly mean critical theory: Foucault and friends.

        Progressives, on the other hand, are what you think they are. But critical theory, despite being just this side of incomprehensible, has had an enormous amount of success in the humanities and social sciences, so, aside from a few old-school socialists, pretty much everyone who developed progressive politics in the last forty years backs them up — whether they’ve thought about it or not — with concepts that either belong to critical theory or build on it in some way. That elides quite a bit of tension under the hood — critical theory is way better at breaking stuff down than building it up, so it has trouble supporting any positive agenda, and different fields deal with this in different ways — but it’s probably good enough for a two-paragraph summary.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nornagest

          “….critical theory, despite being just this side of incomprehensible, has had an enormous amount of success in the humanities and social sciences, so, aside from a few old-school socialists, pretty much everyone who developed progressive politics in the last forty years backs them up — whether they’ve thought about it or not — with concepts that either belong to critical theory or build on it in some way…”

          Thanks for the tutorial.
          From skimming the link you provided it’s hard for me to think that anything with such obscure jargon could have much influence on many people’s politics, but I suppose other mass-movements have also had jargon filled “canons”.

      • Baeraad says:

        As far as the “SJW’s” that our host and many others have complained about it’s hard for me to feel threatened by them because if I’ve spoken to one face-to-face I didn’t know it, though I have spoken to some old-timers who marched with Cesar Chavez who’d probably like the label, but of militant atheists and feminists?
        I just don’t remember any.

        Like I think I’ve said to you before, I think this has a lot to do with what age group you move in. I have never met a SJW worthy of the insult who was (today) older than forty or so. (though of course they get older every year without seeming to mellow in the slightest)

        My personal theory is that the entire “everything is wrong with everything” mindset is a reaction to coming of age during the smug complacency of late nineties and early aughts, when the conventional wisdom was that we lived in the best of all possible worlds and that nothing should change again, ever. To this day, I genuinely believe that there was no sane response to that attitude other than to go, “FUCK THAT!” and start smashing things to pieces with a sledgehammer. Where I differ from my generational peers appear to be that I think it’s long past time to put away the sledgehammer and try to start building something new instead, whereas the rest of them seem to be having entirely too much fun with their rampage.

        For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think you have any reason at all to feel threatened. If you’re a happily married middle-aged guy with a circle of friends and a decent living, I think their ability to harm you is pretty much zero. These people work hard to be as feeble and helpless as possible, they don’t have the muscle mass needed to sling any sticks or stones at you! Whatever right-wingers here or elsewhere may like to claim, the only people who are genuinely in danger from feminists and their ilk are the ones who are mentally, emotionally and socially vulnerable enough that words really can do meaningful harm to us. The reason why I whine about feminists a lot is that I am very much one of those vulnerable people, but I’m not going to pretend that they pose some sort of existential risk to anyone with a normal amount of emotional fortitude.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Dungeons & Dragons monster discussion:

    I’m jumping out of alphabetical order here to discuss the undead. I’ve mentioned before that while most monsters are unique, there’s a humanoid sequence where Gary Gygax looted a thesaurus for kobolds, goblins (+2 hit points), orcs (+1 HP), hobgoblins (+1 HP), gnolls (gnome trolls, +~3 HP), bugbears, ogres, etc. up to trolls.
    Well there’s at least one other monster sequence like that: the undead. The differences never get quite as piddly as 1 HP, but there’s a sequence that goes:
    Skeleton/Zombie
    Ghoul
    Ghast
    (jumping predators from The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, part of a ghoul-ghast-gug ecosystem.)
    Wight (Tolkien’s barrow wights, based on draugr… someone rich enough to have been buried in a barrow. You lose a level every time they hit you.)
    Mummy (someone given a proper Egyptian burial… Hit Dice equivalent to a Level 6 character… which really raises economic and metaphysical questions! Their blows inflict “mummy rot” rather than draining a level.)
    Wraith (undead in hooded robes, possibly incorporeal. Level drain is back!)
    Spectre (more of the same; officially a synonym for Nazgul in 1974 printings before a Tolkien Estate IP attack)
    Vampire (has spells including Charm Person, Summon wolves or bats, shapeshift into anything it can summon or a mist… basically Dracula rather than the lesser vampires in fiction.)

    That undead were similar to a character class growing in power was clear to players in the free-wheeling early years. Mike Mornard, one of Gary Gygax’s original players, recorded this leading bizarre places.

    In Volume 1 of Original D&D, Gary wrote that “There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top.” I’ve noted that I played several Balrogs, and way back in the Introduction, I told the story of Sir Fang, the first Vampire player character.

    Note, however, that Sir Fang was not the LAST Vampire player character.

    One of the gang at the U of Minnesota wanted to play a vampire. This was LONG before vampires were sparkly, and, for that matter, long before they were Brad Pitt. A vampire was Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi in tuxedo and opera cape, period.

    In D&D, if you wanted to play anything, you ALWAYS started low level and worked your way up. D&D undead had a correlation between type and hit dice; a Skeleton was 1 HD, a Zombie 2, etc, up through Ghoul, Wight, Wraith, Mummy, Spectre, Vampire… so our would-be vampire started, of course, as a Skeleton. But at long last he became a vampire, and then, per the rules, proceeded to make a bunch of slaves by “putting the fangs to them.” Of course, those killed would rise with 1 HD also… as a Skeleton.

    Eventually the vampire got a cohort of slave vampires and spectres following him. Hooray.

    Well, one dark moonlit night our PC and his henchpires were out travelling somewhere and had a random encounter… another band of vampires. PC decides he’s going to eliminate the lead vampire of the other gang and take them all over; the NPC vampire had much the same idea. And the fight was on.

    Vampire attacks Spectre. Vampire hits; Spectre is drained 2 levels; Spectre becomes a Wraith.

    Wraith attacks a different enemy, a Spectre, because it’s easier to hit, and hits. But wraiths drain one level, not two, so the enemy Spectre is drained one level… and turns into a mummy.

    Oh, by the way… both vampire gangs had been flying, and were fighting at an approximate altitude of 1000 feet above the ground. And mummies are notable for their aerodynamics – “notable” in the sense of, “They fly about as well as a dessicated human corpse that’s had its internal organs pulled out and then been wrapped in bandages.”

    And the hapless mummy plummets earthward, flapping its arms madly.

    I’m sure you can see where this is heading. The aerial duel continued in something rather like “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Blue Max,” and as the combatants were drained levels, they would eventually hit a non-flying form… zombie, ghoul, wight, or mummy… and go hurtling towards the ground in the grip of that puissant incantation, “9.8 meters per second squared”.

    I picture the peasants below, huddling in their wretched huts and praying as hard as they can as various half-decomposed bodies fall out of the sky to land with meaty thumps. On the other hand, all that organic material would be great fertilizer.

    I’ve never needed rules for “comic relief” in D&D. Wait patiently and the players will provide it in abundance.

    • theredsheep says:

      I don’t play D&D, but does “Lich” go somewhere in there?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes, at the top. “Vampire” has a limited set of spells up to 4th level to emulate Dracula’s abilities. A Lich’s touch attack is reduced from “level drain” to Ghoul paralysis but it gains a full set of spells up to, minimum, 6th level and it can’t be killed by staking or decapitation. You have to go all “The Death of Koshchei the Deathless” on his hidden soul container or he’ll regenerate from being knocked below 0 HP no matter what you do to the corpse.

      • John Schilling says:

        Liches came along a few years later, I think, and were better optimized for the role of high-level undead characters (whether PC or otherwise). And the bit where you literally change “species” every time you level up, was dropped pretty early. Just play a necromancer-ish wizard until you’re ready to make the switch.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Just play a necromancer-ish wizard until you’re ready to make the switch.

          This actually reflects Slavic Christian folk beliefs. People who used witchcraft (also werewolves) would rise from their grave as a vampire/upir instead of getting to go to Heaven (I think this applied to apostates and anyone wicked enough to be denied churchyard burial also).

    • Nornagest says:

      Ghosts fit pretty cleanly into this progression. 10 hit dice, incorporeal, can possess victims per Magic Jar (which might be the least intuitive name for a spell in the AD&D canon) or touch them to age them by 10-40 years. No save. Just seeing one ages you by 10 years, although you get a save this time, and clerics above level 6 are immune. They’re explicitly immune to spells unless the caster is ethereal. Fortunately, this is before touch attacks were a thing, and their THAC0 isn’t so hot for a 10 HD monster. Unfortunately, RAW there’s no way to get those years back short of chugging several elixirs of youth or potions of longevity, neither of which grow on trees and one of which is unreliable (potentially lethally so). A wish could probably do it, but this is the era when DMs were encouraged to play Asshole Genie with their wishes, so it’d probably turn you into an infant or something. Better leave this one to the elf in the party.

      I’ve never seen one run this way at the table, either because they’re so blatantly unfun that the DM that tried would probably be tarred and feathered by their players, or because there’s lots of narrative potential for ghosts that’s squandered if you can’t even look at one without shriveling up like a prune.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Ghosts fit pretty cleanly into this progression. 10 hit dice, incorporeal…

        I’ve never seen one run [Rules As Written] either because they’re so blatantly unfun that the DM that tried would probably be tarred and feathered by their players, or because there’s lots of narrative potential for ghosts that’s squandered if you can’t even look at one without shriveling up like a prune.

        Good catch. They do fit pretty cleanly above the vampire.
        It kind of boggles my mind that the most popular tabletop RPG has a common pre-existing creature statted up so as to destroy a campaign by getting the DM tarred and feathered. I’m the sort of person who thinks 4E & 5E went boringly far in making it hard to hurt PCs, but that’s so far in the other direction that it’s baffling that the original game became a hit with campaign-destroyingly unfun monsters.

        You will remember that in my current campaign, I used a D&D shadow to represent the Greek shade/ghost, so it could have a place in a narrative.

        • Nornagest says:

          On a lighter note, I discovered when I was poking through AD&D monster listings for this that there is such a thing as a bardic lich. So if you ever wanted to play Eddie, the zombie-looking Iron Maiden mascot you might have seen in Balaclava drag on the album cover to “The Trooper”, it looks like there’s rules for that.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            So if you ever wanted to play Eddie, the zombie-looking Iron Maiden mascot

            Better campaign inspiration: album covers or Frank Frazetta covers?

          • Nornagest says:

            Could be both. I’m pretty sure Frazetta did a few album covers in his time, and if not, he’s definitely been pastiched in them.

            If someone hasn’t already made a tabletop RPG based on Brütal Legend, the 2009 heavy metal-themed action RTS by Tim Schafer, someone should. I’d play it if it was at all playable.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: I’ll just leave this here.

        • Walter says:

          “It kind of boggles my mind that the most popular tabletop RPG has a common pre-existing creature statted up so as to destroy a campaign by getting the DM tarred and feathered.”

          I never played First Edition, (though I read the books), but I played AD&D for years and it was filled with this sort of thing. So many monsters and items had their own ridiculous systems that didn’t interact with the rest of the rules, and as you added more sourcebooks (Completed X’s Guide…) it just got more weird.

          I think my favorite example was in some module or other (I want to say Necronomicon?) where you are supposed to go down this valley and deal with this tomb. About 3/4 of the way down the valley there is an encounter where bad guys attack you from the cliffs on either side.

          Fine, sounds great, but what if the players climb up one of the sides before reaching the ambush? Well, the module had planned for that.

          Paraphrasing:

          “Any attempt by a player character to climb up the side of the valley is thwarted when a deranged hermit pushes a boulder down at them from above. Save vs. Rod/Staff/Wand at difficulty 22 or take 2d8 damage.”

          Note how this protects a future encounter with guys on a cliff by giving you an encounter with a guy on a cliff. Note how this climbing/combat encounter has no interaction with the climbing/combat systems. This sort of thing was everywhere back in the day.

        • Randy M says:

          I’m the sort of person who thinks 4E & 5E went boringly far in making it hard to hurt PCs

          Before being erratted and rewritten, 4E Wraiths were wretched creatures to fight, perhaps the worst monster in the book. Incorporeal (so half damage from most attacks) and a 1/2 damage aura, so PCs did 1/4 damage. Also could fly and pass through walls and create minions when it killed something. It’s a stupid combo at any level; these guys were 5th. And one of the design goals was “you don’t need any particular class, like clerics, to play” but the Force damage (WTF ever that is) to bypass incorporeal wasn’t exactly easy to pick up.

          Anyway, I there’s so many undead in these games with little to no intuitive way of discerning which need to be feared and which are cannon fodder. Are Wights worse than zombies? What’s the difference in world? etc. I almost think they should just keep two main types, zombie type and ghost type, and use the other names for higher leveled versions or something. Although that’s not really how monsters are done.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Ah, interesting.
            The examples I remember are it taking several failed saves for Medusa to turn you to stone, so presumably you could just power through the encounter (“Leeeroy Jeeenkins!”), and Rust Monsters causing metal to temporarily rust.

            I was also disgusted with the design goal of making it just as easy to play without a Cleric. 🙁

          • Walter says:

            +1 on Wraiths being wretched. Whoever wrote that entry was operating far too much in ‘story mode’, and hadn’t considered what these things would be like from a gaming perspective.

            Medusa/Rust Monster/Mummy/Weird Poison etc monsters all are kind of subgenres of the same problem, the plot hijacking monster. Like, presumably the story is pointing you one way. But after you encounter this creature it is pointing you 2 ways. (Keep going and stop whatever, or go back to town and cure your mummy rot / unstatue your comrade / buy a new sword, etc)

            You get division, where the party disagrees about which to do. You get simulation strain, where the OOC desire to let all players play prompts a trip back to town while the archvillain…uh, waits? You get people being mad at one another for not being prepared (who memorizes stone to flesh?). They are just bad all round, if used incorrectly.

          • Randy M says:

            I was also disgusted with the design goal of making it just as easy to play without a Cleric. 🙁

            How do you sell splat new core books with six new classes if the party requires a cleric, thief, and wizard in order to overcome challenges?

            Yes, in general 4e was designed so that monsters weren’t puzzles (figure out the weak spot and prepare ahead of time), but tactical challenges. Wraith designer didn’t get the memo, or thought players liked doing multiple division steps in the damage calculation. Shame, too, because “incorporeal undead” is an important niche for low levels. I used the revised version several times in my last game. Mindless undead are good minions for evil wizards, but cursed or haunting undead have great built in story hooks. There’s no land ripe for adventuring that doesn’t have a place for regrets from beyond the veil.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy M: I mean… the previous three editions sold splatbooks without making the idiotic error of presenting a pre-modern setting where religion is completely optional.

          • Statismagician says:

            Wait, what? How did they do that?

          • Randy M says:

            @Randy M: I mean… the previous three editions sold splatbooks without making the idiotic error of presenting a pre-modern setting where religion is completely optional.

            I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. “Your party doesn’t need a cleric in it to provide healing in order to survive the dungeon” =/= “there is no religion in the world”
            I mean, 4e has a specified pantheon, compared to 5e shifting it to an optional appendix, so I really don’t buy the criticism. The default 4e setting very definitely has gods and worshipers thereof.

            Now, I’m pretty sure that WOTC, being good progressives, would be totally cool with you playing in a universe without religion, deities, or anything divine, but that’s decidedly not the rationale for “you don’t need a cleric”.

            edit: Or do you mean Dark Sun? I’m not familiar with it, but I think it has no clerics. It was a rerelease of a prior editions setting, so I think you’re wrong on that front as well.

          • Nick says:

            Should every party have a cleric? I don’t think it says religion is optional, I think it just says not every party will face undead—which might be reasonable in some settings or campaigns and unreasonable in others. If a DM is going to run a campaign with undead in it, the party may want to plan accordingly, of course.

            (I here note, LMC, that you haven’t sent any undead for Protus to turn away yet. 😛 )

          • Nornagest says:

            Anyway, I there’s so many undead in these games with little to no intuitive way of discerning which need to be feared and which are cannon fodder.
            I almost think they should just keep two main types, zombie type and ghost type, and use the other names for higher leveled versions or something.

            I never had a good idea of what a wight looked like. Presumably something draugr-ish, but it’s clearly a Tolkien ripoff, and Tolkien was unusually light on description in that passage. The Monstrous Manual illustrations were kinda generic, too.

            The implementation’s definitely kinda clunky. Especially since the special abilities undead get lead to weird jumps in power; skeletons are 1 HD monsters, but they take half damage from slashing and piercing weapons, so they’re effectively 2 HD monsters to everyone but your cleric. It feels less like a logical sequence and more like a bunch of archetypes shoehorned together, and it only got worse as the splats started coming out.

            3E got a little crazy with its templates, but templates really do seem like the way to go here.

          • Nornagest says:

            Dark Sun didn’t have gods, but it did have clerics, worshipping elemental powers.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy M:

            I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. “Your party doesn’t need a cleric in it to provide healing in order to survive the dungeon” =/= “there is no religion in the world”

            NPCs have religion, but it’s not something the PCs need to survive. D&D was never exactly Runequest, but Cure spells, Turn Undead and certain other buffs was the hook that got the party to think pre-modern thoughts. Dark Sun would be an exception, but… that’s how I always rolled as a player. >_>

            @Nick: I fully admit to this shortcoming (well there was a shade, but you didn’t need to turn it to win). The skeletons are now on their way.

          • Randy M says:

            Cure spells, Turn Undead and certain other buffs was the hook that got the party to think pre-modern thoughts.

            Can you expand on this?

            I still don’t think that was an accurate characteristic of 4E’s setting, but I am interested in where you are going with this. On a deeper level, your critique has some resonance; I think modern roleplaying games are, and are explicitly, moving towards a more “modern” fantasy milieu.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think modern roleplaying games are, and are explicitly, moving towards a more “modern” fantasy milieu.

            Pathfinder and 4E, parts of 3E too, seemed to be settling into a sort of dungeonpunk aesthetic. I’m not sure how I feel about that; it’s got legs as a visual aesthetic, but I don’t think there’s a clear thematic vision behind it. It doesn’t know what it wants to be about. And it doesn’t play particularly nice with some traditional parts of the D&D formula. On top of that, it doesn’t have much literary heritage to draw on: China Mieville’s Bas-Lag Cycle is sort of the aesthetic taken to its logical extreme, but that’s about all I can think of in Western literature.

            Computer gaming’s done a better job coming up with coherent revisionist fantasy formulas, I think: Dark Souls and the Witcher games are two very different takes, but both work better than whatever modern D&D is trying to be.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy M:

            Can you expand on this?

            I still don’t think that was an accurate characteristic of 4E’s setting, but I am interested in where you are going with this. On a deeper level, your critique has some resonance; I think modern roleplaying games are, and are explicitly, moving towards a more “modern” fantasy milieu.

            I never said it was an accurate description of 4E’s setting (called George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light, right?), but of 4E PCs. Religion can be something superfluous that only NPCs have, the way an atheist might smugly view the real world. The PCs, the people who matter, might rely on a Warlord rather than religion to survive sacking enemy fortifications, or maybe an Artificer.
            This strikes me as making it so godless moderns never have to step out of their comfort zone.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            Pathfinder and 4E, parts of 3E too, seemed to be settling into a sort of dungeonpunk aesthetic. I’m not sure how I feel about that; it’s got legs as a visual aesthetic, but I don’t think there’s a clear thematic vision behind it. It doesn’t know what it wants to be about.

            Ugh, exactly.
            I think of this as the Paladin Problem (no, not the problem that Paladins are disadvantaged by being the only class whose powers the DM is encouraged to take away). Originally, D&D was based on a combination of pulp fantasy and Catholicism. The Catholicism was flowing in from multiple angles: Gygax’s medieval wargame Chainmail, Dracula, beating up Tolkien and taking his stuff… and a little fantasy novel called Three Hearts and Three Lions.
            THaTL is based on the Matter of France, mainly the character Holger Danske (whose story is summarized as the very last part of Bulfinch’s Mythology). Holger, an atheistic American-educated Danish engineer in the WW2 resistance, finds himself teleported to the parallel universe Western poets accessed when they wrote epics and romance (the Matter of France is in continuity with the Trojan cycle and King Arthur… folk culture had its own, social, equivalent of the capitalist “shared universe” 😛 ). He has to learn to be Lawful/a good Catholic every waking moment, or the forces of Chaos will be able to hurt him. He has to get reunited with his mount and holy sword to save the world, and along the way repudiate his long-time lover the Chaotic Morgan Le Fay, choosing a Lawful Catholic Swanmay instead.
            Even before Advanced D&D and Basic/Expert, “Edition 0” had a class designed for playing this one guy, and that’s telling.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            While this may be true for the B/X era, TSR D&D was showing influences of Conan and pulp fantasy of the early 20th century fairly prominently. Dark Sun and Planescape in particular were radical departures from Arthurian myth cycles, and while Dragonlance did have a Great Quest, its most defining featire was that the gods were massive dicks all the time. The basic gameplay loop has never supported a Great Chivalric Quest framework – anyone looking for a game of this sort would be far better served by the Pendragon RPG. Which is why it was made, honestly.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Hoppyfreud:

            While this may be true for the B/X era, TSR D&D was showing influences of Conan and pulp fantasy of the early 20th century fairly prominently.

            Er, I don’t disagree? Even at the time of its 1974 publication, the D&D rules offered a rather schizophrenic slate of options: you could be amoral looters with a conscience like Conan, Fafhard and the Grey Mouser, characters from Tolkien motivated by loot rather than a sacrificial heroic quest (so The Hobbit…), or refugees from magical medieval Europe. The protagonists of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth were in there somewhere too, and those guys were basically sociopaths; it’s not really clear how Gygax intended DMs to keep a Dying Earth wizard and Cudgel the Clever in line.

          • Randy M says:

            @Le Maistre Chat
            I think if you review what you posted you’ll see my confusion.

            Anyway, I’m all for games that push a coherent theme or setting throughout the rules and presentation, but I don’t really care for games that try to push people out of their comfort zones.

    • Nornagest says:

      gnolls (gnome trolls, +~3 HP)

      There are gnolls in Dunsany, although they don’t look like hyena furries.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        They don’t look like anything, unless Dunsany had them illustrated. Gnoles were just some undefined non-human creature having a house in modern Britain, and Nuth the master thief would have robbed it.
        It was a funny choice of source material.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Ack, level drain is definitely one of my least favorite mechanics ever. Instant death even feels like a better mechanic than drain to me.

      • John Schilling says:

        That said, classic Swords and Sorcery along with a fair bit of mythology and horror tropes are going to have adversaries that drain or suck “life energy” rather than boringly cut people so that they bleed. You’re probably going to want an RPG system to have a rule for that, and if you’ve already invested in “character levels”, that’s the obvious approach.

        It also fails for reasons already discussed at length. What games do it better, and how?

        • johan_larson says:

          I’ve never seen this in a game, but one possibility is to have high-level undead do damage that requires both magical and ordinary (time-based) healing. That means ordinary people, without access to magic, get wounds that never heal. And adventurers, with access to magic, have to take weeks or months out of their schedules to let the damage heal naturally. That’ll teach players to be wary of these creatures.

          • Statismagician says:

            Hmm. Mind if I steal this? I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with undead in my own campaign.

          • Dan L says:

            Exalted has Aggravated damage in addition to the standard Bashing and Lethal, which is almost always caused by magic and can only be healed by magic with difficulty. In the vast majority of cases it’s the result of exploiting racial weaknesses (holy smite v. undead), but of course the PCs will naturally gravitate towards the most broadly applicable (supernatural poison v. anything with a pulse).

          • johan_larson says:

            Mind if I steal this?

            Go ahead. Happy to help.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Permanent CON or HP drain? I switched to permanent CON drain over level drain. It can all be restored by magic, and it seems to annoy the player less.

          • John Schilling says:

            Permanent CON drain and applying the per-die modifier to HP would work quite well for modern (3e or later) D&D I should think.

            Call of Cthulhu has POW drain, along with HP and SAN attacks, which works quite well in that context but may not generalize.

    • Dack says:

      The reason there was such a wide array of undead baddies in older editions is mainly because there were no rules for leveling up the monsters (aside from changing into different monsters, which was silly, as noted above.) If you wanted to throw sturdier mooks at your players, you just changed the ghouls to ghasts, for example.

      This all changed with 3rd edition. The rules to increase the HD of any monster to whatever you wanted was right there in the Monster Manual. They still kept an entry for each undead in that lineup though, because legacy.

  10. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    From a recent ssc meetup: What would be plausible results of people having a 200 year lifespan? Assume they’re typically healthy until the last ten or twenty years, and fertile until they’re one hundred.

    I’m especially interested in the effects of some large fraction of people getting better at various skills for extra decades compared to the present. The usual depiction of increased longevity is ossified hierarchies, but I think that’s just easier to write.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The increased time of fertility is massive; assuming we don’t screw it up and make childhood and adolescence much longer (which actually seems most likely, but I’m a pessimist), we’d likely have a slow-motion population explosion as people would actually be able to become established in their careers AND have plenty of time for children. Again, at least until we screwed that up by making career establishment take much longer.

      I’m especially interested in the effects of some large fraction of people getting better at various skills for extra decades compared to the present.

      There’s a line about how some people have 10 years of experience, and some have 1 year of experience repeated 10 times. I think most people already hit a plateau pretty early on and don’t get better. There are very few fields where people are limited in their ability by running out of time to learn. In the exceptions — fields both wide and deep — we’d see serious forward progress, but driven by a relatively few geniuses rather than some large fraction of people. A big win might be due to more interdisciplinary understanding; more people would be able to become skilled in multiple fields over their lifetime and be able to improve one with lessons from the other. Again, driven by relatively few.

      Ossified hierarchies, unfortunately, are also likely.

      • Randy M says:

        I would expect a population boom, too, but less steep or with less certainty than previously given current low fertility rates in the developed world.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Female fertility now runs roughly from 14 to 40, with the low end very strongly discouraged for cultural reasons and the high end somewhat discouraged for medical reasons. Increasing the 40 to 100 (or even 90, if we assume the last decade is discouraged for medical reasons) roughly quadruples average undiscouraged years of fertility.

          • Randy M says:

            It does. But given that one birth and subsequent weaning takes, on the outside, 4 years, it isn’t hard to fit 4 kids in to that current 26 year span. And yet, fertility isn’t that far off of 2.0.
            So I don’t think age is the current limiting factor, but rather women don’t want children, or don’t want children when they are young, but presumably with increased life/health-span, we’ll define young as under 160 or whatever.
            An extra 100 years of fertility is a lot of time for accidents, though, and a lot more couples will conceive despite using birth control. However, I think there would also be a lot more semi-permanent birth control employed.
            I think the real difference is that the religious or poor impulse control types would end up having twenty, rather than four to six, but most people would still only have one or two.

          • arlie says:

            @ Randy M (mostly)

            Currently, a middle-class woman has a bad set of choices:
            – reproduce before career establishment, perhaps by making an arrangement with a partner to provide income and assistance.
            – reproduce while actively working. Just barely doable, but exhausting, and arguably hard on the kids. And probably requires a partner.
            – Establish career and income first, and then be able to afford paid help. But any fertility issues, or delay finding a partner (if she wants one, but waits till ready for children), and she’s SOL. And her odds of winding up with a “special needs” child get older the older she is.

            If she’s fertile from 14 to 140, or even better to 170 (20 years post-menopause middle age, + 10 years old age, as currently) then even if the time from adulthood to career establishment doubles, she’s got much better choices.

            This won’t have much effect on those who inherit enough wealth to support themselves and their children in comfort, or on those whose expectations are so low that they’d feel comfortable on social assistance. But women in the middle may well have more children, if they feel theyc an support those children, without relying on a partner. (Who may divorce them, be unable to keep a job, etc. etc.)

          • Randy M says:

            Currently, a middle-class woman has a bad set of choices:

            These will be the same issues faced by any limited lifespan.
            Unless we are also positing post-singuarlity, careerspan will likewise grow to encompass all healthy years.
            “You can’t expect me to have a baby now! I’ve only just finished my 45 year internship! Maybe after I’ve made a name for myself in 30 or 40 more years.”

          • Deiseach says:

            If humans are going to live to be 200, then I think that will have a knock-on effect. 50 year olds are going to be the equivalent of teenagers. I can’t see human women becoming fertile at the current early ages they are, I would imagine it would be delayed into the 20s or maybe even 30s (if you’re going to be capable of childbearing up to 140 or so).

            Society nowadays very much has taken against the idea of a 16 year old settling down to have babies, I imagine future society would feel the same about a 40 year old. If you expect to have a career that spans a century, or several careers over the course of your life, the same pressures about education and qualifications that we have now will apply even more so, and an adult might not be deemed ready to responsibly start marriage and a family until into their 60s.

          • Chalid says:

            Living longer raises the benefits to having children (you have adult children for longer) and generally lowers the cost (child-raising takes a smaller fraction of your lifespan). Going onto the mommy/daddy career track for a year or two is a big deal when you only have 20-30 really productive years, but if you have 100 then it’s not so important.

          • Randy M says:

            I agree that’s logical, but I don’t think that’s by and large how the psychology would shake out, in the same way people who get a raise quickly adjust to the new value and still wish they had just a little bit more.
            In fact, I think the analogy with wealth and fertility would likely resemble that with age and fertility; more wealth doesn’t closely correlate with more children.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Living longer raises the benefits to having children (you have adult children for longer) and generally lowers the cost (child-raising takes a smaller fraction of your lifespan).

            And yet as countries have become richer, with longer life spans and fewer costs associated with child bearing (lower mother mortality, lower child mortality) reproductive rates have fallen.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, but being richer also reduces the benefits of having children, as their economic contribution to the household becomes zero or negative.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Sure, but being richer also reduces the benefits of having children, as their economic contribution to the household becomes zero or negative.

            I doubt this is a major driver, having children in modern countries doesn’t improve the economic well being of families and yet the poor don’t seem to have fewer than the rich, and the rich can more easily afford it.

            My current guess is that having children is difficult and compared to the typically lifestyles of the middle class is probably the most physically and emotionally difficult thing that they do. The opportunity cost then is high, either nice dinners out and vacations or more children kind of becomes an easy choice.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            It seems to me the missing component here is that the cost to raise a child is highly dependent on the standard of living. Rich people’s standards are quite high, so the cost per child is quite high as a result. Poor people have lower expectations, so their costs are lower.

            Children bring some level of benefit, though highly variable, which is a better offset for poorer families to have more of them. Richer people would therefore tend to have fewer children, as the cost-benefit ratio is much lower.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It seems to me the missing component here is that the cost to raise a child is highly dependent on the standard of living. Rich people’s standards are quite high, so the cost per child is quite high as a result. Poor people have lower expectations, so their costs are lower.

            Cost per child decreases per child. Even if you are purchasing brand new clothes for every precious bundle of joy there are few reasons not to reuse your car seats, strollers, cribs etc. Difficulty of raising a second child is far lower as well since you already have a ton more experience (barring long gaps between children).

            Cost per child for people with a stay at home is even lower for the 2nd child as they have already forfeited earnings for the first child for at least some of those years.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            Cost per child decreases better for lower standards, though, so poorer people will see more benefit there. Not many millionaires seem to count on reusing carseats (not to mention, those things apparently expire – not that most middle class families notice or care). Hand-me-down clothes are also more important for poorer families, as well as sharing electronics and bedrooms, and so on.

            The real costs that a middle class+ family will consider per child is things like college education, extra-curricular activities, etc. Those are much higher expenses than food and clothing, and do not diminish very much, if at all, with additional children.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Cost per child decreases better for lower standards, though, so poorer people will see more benefit there.

            I don’t think so, at the very top end you it decreases a tremendous amount. You don’t need 2 nannies for 2 kids and you don’t need to double your old nannies salary, nor your old cooks, nor do you need extra square footage in your house when you already own a large one. With kid seats it is fairly difficult to fit 3 kids and 2 adults into a Civic, but its fairly easy to fit three across in larger and more expensive cars that the rich are far more likely to own.

            Even at lower levels you have lots of efficiencies, dropping and picking up 2 kids off at daycare (where discounts for multiple kids are fairly common) is no extra time driving and the rich face a higher opportunity cost for that time than the poor typically.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          Sorry, responded to wrong thread.

        • albatross11 says:

          Are there statistics somewhere on the number of women who didn’t have kids they wanted because of age-related fertility problems?

          I’d expect kids from 2nd and 3rd marriages to be a common thing in that world. You divorced after 40 years of marriage, married a new guy a few years older than you, and hey, let’s have a couple kids so this feels like a real family!

          • Randy M says:

            That is probably true, and interesting to think about as there would be many on their fourth or fifth marriage while still fertile.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        One of the skills people might improve is the ability to stay on top of a hierarchy.

        • The Nybbler says:

          One of the skills people might improve is the ability to stay on top of a hierarchy.

          True, but countered by improvements in the ability to knock other people down a peg (or out entirely). I expect that many hierarchies would become more cut-throat (perhaps not literally. perhaps.) as “positioning oneself to take advantage of the boss retiring or dying” becomes a less-applicable strategy.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I don’t think increased time of fertility will make a difference in the long run, relatively few people don’t have as many children as they want due to hitting 40. Fertility rates are low because lots of people have 0 or 1 child and it doesn’t seem likely that those people are going to intentionally have an extra kid because they have longer to think about it.

        If you are working until you are 160 and living to 200 there is going to be a huge importance placed on your early career. You aren’t going to want to be falling behind and get (or feel stuck) a level or two below where you could have been for the next century. Such a shift would push people to spend more time at college, more hours at work in the jobs immediately after college and would delay marriage and childbirth even further. People who currently “settle” in their 30s would be pushing that into their 60s at least and maybe 80s or 90s.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      There’s a common saying that people become experts at their specific tasks at about 10,000 hours of practice (five years at 40 hours a week, give or take). I agree with The Nybbler that very few people would achieve greater heights in terms of skill. The biggest limiting factor appears to be intelligence, rather than time to learn.

      What we might see are people who cobble together skill combinations that might be previously impossible, or at least quite difficult. As a specific example, right now, a Supreme Court justice barely has enough time to meet all of the qualifications by the time they might get nominated in their early to mid 50s. Someone who doesn’t even try to get into law until they are 120 has the potential to have a more varied background. You could have a computer expert that is great at running a business and also a politician, and then go into law. Such a person could evaluate a broad range of scenarios from various angles and be a much better judge on technical matters than is realistically possible now. I’m thinking specifically of when technology cases go to the Supreme Court, and they don’t understand the tech, the business model running it, or the policy implications. That’s obviously just one example.

      Of course, such people would have a huge bias about norms from their early lives that no longer apply, and their specific knowledge has likely faded badly, even when not entirely out of date. There’s also an issue of seniority-based viewpoints entrenching literally the same people in the same positions. Think of politicians who go 40+ years in Congress already…

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        The 10,000 hour rule is sketchier than it’s frequently made to sound.

        In any case, I expect that the standard for being an expert would get higher.

        We might also add more difficult fields of expertise– no particulars are coming to mind, but they might not just be combinations of fields we’ve got now.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I agree that 10,000 is a very rough approximation and with a million caveats, but I think the underlying idea is fairly sound. There’s only so much to learn about a particular task or process, even if it’s fairly complex. Think in terms of learning an instrument. People are going to tend to max out at a certain generic skill level, even if they get particularly good at playing certain songs or whatever.

          I also agree that standards for expertise would become higher as well, but I would lean on my earlier idea that people are going to combine separate skill sets, rather than more “difficult” skill sets. I’m fairly certain that intelligence is the limiting factor in advanced Physics, and very few people are going to be able to do a more difficult course load, though they might learn several disciplines at the same level.

        • arlie says:

          The rule is sketchy, but OTOH, take a look at the salary pattern in e.g. software engineering.

          Lots of increases in the early years, as they navigate from entry level to solid performer. Then most folks stagnate. The next level has limited space, but it also requires different skills, that people don’t usually acquire just by contributing at the prior level.

          Put another way, I know plenty of people with 20 years experience who aren’t worth more than they were at 10 years, and only marginally more than they were at 5 years.

          • Plumber says:

            @arlie

            “….Put another way, I know plenty of people with 20 years experience who aren’t worth more than they were at 10 years, and only marginally more than they were at 5 years”

            For an apprentice plumber to “turn out” as a Journeyman 9,000 hours of working and five years of night classes were required, but the general consensus is that “A guy really doesn’t know the trade until he’s done it for ten years”.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I’d say that is as much selection bias as actual skill isn’t it? A person can be a journeyman without being good at the job. By the 10 year mark an incompetent plumber is no longer a plumber. Either he pisses off his customers by being slow and overcharging or he pisses them off by exploding toilets.

          • ana53294 says:

            But the programmer already spent 4 years in college, so that is 5+4. Not that different from what a journeyman requires.

          • arlie says:

            Make that 6 years in college – jobs that get to call themselves “software engineer” rather than “programmer” frequently require a master degree these days.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Requiring a masters degree for SWEs was popular for a while, but seems to have faded in a rare retreat for credentialism. Also it tends to be 5 years, as many CS schools have a 5-year combined bachelor/master program.

      • Butlerian says:

        Competence is a positional good. If 10,000 hours becomes “easier” to attain while maintaining work-life balance, all that’ll happen is that the bar for “being an expert” will rise to 40,000 hours and we’ll all end up in a *worse* work-life balance than before. Credentiallism marches on and you need 3 PhDs to pump gas.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz

      “….What would be plausible results of people having a 200 year lifespan?….”

      Disability rates would go way up (repetitive stress injuries and the like). 

      Reliance on pain killers will jump dramatically. 

      Competition for white-collar careers would become greater as the percentage of people able to do physically demanding jobs drops.

      Fertility rates will climb as people have children in the hopes of getting supported by them during their long lives being crippled. 

      Suicides will climb. 

      Murders will drop as the percentage of men between 15 and 25 lessens. 

      It would be nice to see many more teachers per students, so the crippled may have something worthwhile to do to contribute, but I’m doubtful of that happening, instead I expect a greater chasm between a wealthy few who got a good head start and the majority. 

      The wealthy will have less children, or primogenture will become common again so their families don’t fall in wealth and status, and they will be little resources available for the children of the majority.

      Absent “basic income” or B.S. “make work” (doing long “studies” and “reports” that no one reads) crippled beggers will fill the streets. 

      Eventually it will turn into the world of Zardoz.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think there will be a good many group/extended families. If you want to have a number of children of similar ages together but don’t want to have huge numbers of children, either you have your children in small groups occasionally or you build a village.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        grumble grumble Back in the old days, it didn’t take a village to raise a child. digs well

    • fion says:

      It would be great for theoretical physics.

      Physics is a very old discipline, and unfortunately it seems like you really need to master the old stuff before you can start on the new. Take Maxwell, for example. Electromagnetism is quite hard, such that second- and third-year undergraduates struggle to learn this century-and-a-half-old material. And almost everything in the 20th century is built on it. Most universities don’t offer any proper courses in theoretical physics until masters level, and most people even towards the end of their PhDs are still playing catch-up.

      In experimental physics it’s not as bad. You can get good at the ancient material, learn how to operate some equipment and get good at stats and you can actually be doing useful stuff by your first postdoc, but with theoretical physics it really helps to learn more and more old stuff.

      But then there’s also the problem that a lot of people seem to lose their flair, creativity and mathematical ability as they get older. I think this is one of the reasons why theoretical physics is moving slowly. If we could double lifespan, double the period in which geniuses retain their flair, we’d get far more people who combine the necessary genius and the necessary expertise and the quality of the best theoretical physicists would increase dramatically.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Would doubling lifespan double “flair retention,” though? My “flair” went out at 35 because I felt I had seen and done an awful lot of the things I wanted to see and do, and I wanted to settle down and have kids. I don’t think that had anything to do with impending mortality.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          I don’t think that had anything to do with impending mortality.

          Perhaps indirectly in that if you don’t settle down and have kids before a certain point, and your children make the same choices, you’ll miss out on a lot of grandkids time?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Not really. As a man I don’t have much of a biological clock. It was more like “I’ve done the traveling and partying and that kind of thing, I want something more meaningful in life.” I could have kept right on traveling and partying but I didn’t want to.

        • fion says:

          To be fair, I am being optimistic. It was specified that people stay healthy until the last couple of decades and stay fertile until 100. I’m assuming that the period of peak smarts is increased too.

          There’s a joke about how mathematical ability wanes very quickly, but I do think there’s some truth to it. I know professors who are all-round much better physicists than me, and their knowledge base is stupendous, but I can manipulate equations quicker and more accurately than them.

          So it’s possible we’re using “flair” differently. I’m not quite sure what the best word is…

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve wondered about life extension– even if you specify health extension, people who are like healthy 20 year-olds wouldn’t be the same as healthy 50 year-olds.

        • pontifex says:

          Alternately, perhaps your flair started to decline because
          your brain started to demyelinate after your 30s. Hence causing crosstalk.

    • dick says:

      Does everyone have this extended lifespan, or just people rich enough to have consistently good medical care? I don’t think it’s overly pessimistic to worry about the latter case developing in to a bifurcated society of entrenched centenarians who control nearly everything and use their position to stack the deck against young people via some kind of economic serfdom.

      Even if longevity isn’t limited to the rich, it seems like concentration of power and wealth would be a pretty big concern with possibly dystopian effects. Right now, the average 70 year old is either spending down their savings (at least in first world countries with Social Security or the equivalent) or dying and passing it on to their kids. In Nancy Lebovitz’s hypothetical longevity world, those people would be hoarding their capital and investing it very cautiously, potentially for another hundred years. That seems like a good way to get back to Downton Abbey.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Very nice thought experiments this thread, Nancy.

      There has been some discussion that most people reach a pinnacle in their achievement after 10 or 20 years, and don’t improve after that, so having a 200 year lifespan wouldn’t mean much improvement in their accomplishments. And then someone else was talking about some fields like Physics can only be done by those intelligent enough — no matter how long the average person studies, they simply won’t be able to achieve much as a Physicist.

      I think both of these thoughts are correct, and I want to combine them. I think the more intelligent one is, the more the benefit of a longer lifespan. Thus one of the biggest differences in such a world would a great increase in inequality. I have noticed in my life that the advantage of IQ becomes stronger and stronger as one ages. As a teenager, the smarter kids may be leaders more than the dumber ones, but it isn’t a great difference, and a lot of very smart kids are pretty low on the dominance scale at that age. But in their 20’s and 30’s, it becomes pretty clear who the smarter folks are, because they are by far the majority of the ones succeeding at high paying jobs. And I think there is even further division in the decades after that, as the most intelligent find themselves pulling further ahead, as they have the more ability to continue improving in whatever field they are in than most. I think with an extra 100 years, it would become even more obvious, and the differences would become even greater.

      I think these increasing differences would also happen in other areas than IQ, such as athletic skills (assuming they didn’t physically decline in the 40’s or so as they do now, but instead lasted for 100 years or so). And mental health differences would be more exaggerated, as some would have more time to decline, and the more healthy would become stronger in comparison. But in our society, IQ is now so important to success,so it dominates.

    • WashedOut says:

      I’m inclined to think about this question in terms of laws, risk, and reputation; although a lot seems to hinge on the reliability of our long-term memory at old age. If improvements to long-term memory were commensurate with the added lifespan, or if we technologically outsourced it in some neat way, we could see some cool side-effects.

      For example, questions of “lawmaker’s intent” would presumably be easier to resolve, since you could just ask the person who wrote it 150 years ago what they meant, leading to fewer inadvertent reinterpretations of old legislature.

      Ancient engineers were held personally accountable and responsible for their buildings and infrastructure, and in some city-states, if your building failed and killed people, you were put to death. The point is that the risk stayed with you for as long as you were alive, but that wasn’t very long. In this hypothetical, the downside risk of design and policy decisions you make will be less disparate – you will be alive to be punished, rather than the company you worked for before you died. So more skin in the game?

      Currently we have 30 year old footballers being tried in the court of public opinion (and in some cases their sport’s governing body) for past indiscretions from their adolescence. The scope for this kind of scandal increases significantly when you live to 200. Hush-money, extortion and emotional blackmail rackets would probably be a more attractive business model too, especially if the testimony of a 200 year old defendant was as unreliable as a 90 year old’s is today.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is it conceivable for the human race to give up war? What might it take?

    • Randy M says:

      It’s not like it’s a hobby… well, okay, for some. But probably less so as war has gotten more terrible, a la Robert E Lee’s famous aphorism.
      War is a way of getting what you want in international relations. For it to never be used again means there is never a situation where the benefits seem to out weigh the harms.
      Nuclear proliferation might help, except that this increases the chance of a nuke in the hands of someone who just wants to watch the world burn.
      A global increase in empathy may help as well. Perhaps we’ll cull sociopathy from the gene pool eventually. Wouldn’t bet on it though, it seems to be sexy.
      I don’t think a global government would prevent war, as long as you count revolutions as war.

      • brianmcbee says:

        I’m in the US, and the wars we’ve been involved with in my lifetime seem to have more to do with the egos of the folks who make the decisions about war than they have to do with any sort of benefits or harms to the actual people that live here. So I would say no, as long as the people in power perceive benefit to themselves, the wars will continue.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I think that at least part of your question boils down to “Can we stop having intractable differences of opinion about important matters?” Phrased that way, the answer is clearly no. If your question is more along the lines of “Can we eliminate armed humans killing each other and conquering territory?” or some variation, then…maybe? I’m a little more hopeful if you limit the scope to countries, rather than including things like rival gangs.

      With the implementation of nuclear weapons, the number of large traditional wars has dropped significantly – but we still war with our rivals. We use more targeted methods, and what we would typically think of as non-military (that is, economic, diplomatic, technological, etc.) approaches. If that counts as giving up war for your question, then we may be able to do that. We have already significantly reduced it, though I doubt we will reach zero.

      As for what I think it would take? I think there may be two routes – 1) Everyone getting the ability to defensively eradicate their enemy, if attacked. As Randy says, in regards to nukes, this has a huge amount of danger to it, and is not recommended. 2) All humans become members of the same tribe, preferably even clan. That seems very unlikely, absent an extraneous force, probably alien, providing a foil by which we can join together and look outward. Unfortunately, the most likely scenario for #2 actually working finds us at war with an alien species so…not very helpful for your question.

    • Atlas says:

      I certainly think so, though in my view it’s less useful to think about an absolute Platonic ideal of “peace” than a continued substantial empirical decrease in the incidence of violent conflict. I find Steven Pinker’s arguments in the Better Angels of Our Nature quite convincing on the whole, and, while I haven’t read it yet, John Mueller’s book Retreat From Doomsday seems quite good as well.

      The idea of “world peace” is often derided as the bailiwick of John Lennon’s “Imagine” style naive idealists, but it seems to me that violence is ultimately simply a means to various ends, and its decline will result substantially from its pragmatic shortcomings. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates refutes Thrasymachus’ contention that injustice is always stronger than justice by pointing out that, in a successful gang of thieves, the thieves must at least be just to each other. Under conditions of anarchy and distrust, violence is often an individually effective means to an end. However, a group of people bound by trust and/or the law to the point where they can cooperate without fearing violence from one another will tend to be better at achieving its aims, including violence against outsiders, than one without such safeguards. Empirically, this is a process described in Francis’ Fukuyama’s book the Origins of Political Order and Political Decay (volume 1.)

    • Bamboozle says:

      It’s simple. War will continue to exist as long as there are human beings willing to wage it on each other….unless we kill them. Therefore, it would take killing all the violent humans who are willing to kill others.

    • Baeraad says:

      A decent amount of global wealth, more or less equally distributed, might go a long way. Not that everyone doesn’t always want more stuff, but I like to think that people are at least sufficiently averse to going to war that they won’t as long as a) they at least have enough stuff already that they’re not actively hurting for more (and would need to worry about losing what they already had if the war ended up going badly), and b) there’s no one sitting around with so much more stuff than them that it’s a source of constant jealousy and resentment.

      Good news is that we do seem to be moving closer to that situation. I guess we’ll see what happens.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        People who start wars– the leaders– aren’t doing it because of deprivation.

        Even in the absence of conscription, people frequently join militaries because they don’t have better alternatives, but the mere existence of the military doesn’t guarantee wars, though they do make war more likely.

      • A decent amount of global wealth, more or less equally distributed, might go a long way.

        I think you may have it backwards. If the way wealth is allocated is by political redistribution, every man is the enemy of every other man–if I get a dollar more from the pool that means you get a dollar less. If the way it is allocated is by the market, then the way I get a dollar more is by making something you want and selling it to you.

    • AG says:

      The cynical answer: a combination of sufficient inequality and wireheading.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think it is impossible. Think of the quote “Diplomacy is war by other means.” I think this is essentially true. When we have good diplomacy, then war is minimized. But if there is no war at all, what leverage do diplomats have? There has to be a possibility of war for diplomacy to work. And where there is a possibility of war, then war will sometimes happen. I agree with Pinker that global society has greatly decreased war, but there is a limit to this.

      The only way to successfully eliminate war totally is to have coercive powers between countries that don’t involve deadly conflict. I’m not sure if that’s possible. One country can have economic power over another, but doesn’t that work only because these countries ultimately have armies available to keep the peace when necessary? But I haven’t given this much thought, only what occurs to me now. But it does seem to me that even if peace was a very strongly held global value, it only takes one outlier country to break the rules and decide to take other countries’ stuff. Similarly to why you need cops even in the most pacifistic societies.

      • albatross11 says:

        You can avoid war by having all the governments that could wage war also face strong internal incentives not to do so–for example, the US could presumably win a war with Canada, but a president talking seriously about going to war with Canada would find it hard to get much support among voters. Similarly, I don’t see Germany and France going to war anytime soon, because their voters would be horrified by the idea, and so their governments don’t have any incentive to do so.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Conceivable, yes, in the same sense that I can conceive and even write out 2+2=5.

  12. baconbits9 says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to explain or come up with a convincing narrative for Tesla’s stock price over the recent past (3 months to a year) noting when and how the stock reacted to Musk’s behaviors and also the longer term price shifts.

    • mnov says:

      I will accept this mission for one thousand dollars.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Investors using FOMO to fuck over shorters. Tesla’s market cap is unjustifiable, and the stock is valued as a tech company, not a car company. Any impacts from Musk’s antics should be understood as institutional reactions to the FOMO-ers’ reactions.

      Note: I am not shorting Tesla because as far as I can tell, this will work until some sort of tech bubble pops, and I’m not brave enough or smart enough to time the market.

      E: alternatively, this.

      • What does it even mean for the “tech bubble” to pop? The big tech companies right now have been hurt over the last couple of months but no one is saying that Amazon is now doomed.

        Why do investors care more about trying to “fuck over shorters” rather than make money? Companies have a very strong interest in not screwing up and doing so just to screw over a couple people they don’t know is the epitome of irrational. Maybe some individual investors can afford to do that but if it was really as obvious that Tesla will fail as you’re saying then people would be getting fired for betting on them.

        • John Schilling says:

          Why do investors care more about trying to “fuck over shorters” rather than make money? Companies have a very strong interest in not screwing up and doing so just to screw over a couple people they don’t know is the epitome of irrational.

          Companies are run by people, and people are sometimes irrational. Tesla, until very recently, was run by one person, Elon Musk, who seems to have considered short selling to be a personal insult and attack as well as an attack on his company.

          And because Tesla’s stock is grossly overvalued by any rational standard, Tesla investors are either cynics pursuing the Bigger Idiot theory, and Elon Musk fans who believe their idol’s vision and leadership will transcend economic fundamentals and eventually justify this valuation. The former will eventually become short sellers when they feel the time is right; the latter will follow their idol’s lead and regard the short-sellers as the Enemy who must be Defeated.

          This may not be rational, but it is very human.

          • This goes beyond some people being irrational. He’s saying that entire institutions do not care about their own goal of making money and in fact care much more about these random short sellers. That’s not just irrational. It’s downright suicidal. Do you think that every single institution that has invested in Tesla just doesn’t care about making money?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @wrong species

            They are “fucking over” the short sellers by taking their money. There are almost 30 million short shares of Tesla, and it’s been one of the most heavily-shorted stocks on the market since IPO, basically. As long as that’s true, institutions stand to gain an enormous amount with this long-term short squeeze.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I’d argue every institution investing in tesla subscribes to the greater fool theory.

            The price generally is driven by public sentiment rather than fundamentals. An institution wouldn’t have cared about him smoking pot on Joe Rogan.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          What does it even mean for the “tech bubble” to pop?

          It would involve currently-overvalued companies (speaking about P/E) tumbling in the face of a new generation of disruptive technology. Look at Uber – they’re priced astronomically relative to their profitability because people are betting that they’ll be ahead in the autonomous race. This is almost certainly not the case, and Uber will tumble if it’s not. Add that to the fact that a lot of tech companies represent or are supported by luxury goods (ads are marginally more effective when the economy is doing well), and I predict that at some point in the future

          -Ad revenues will fall dramatically

          -Current-generation overvalued tech companies will begin to fail, driving a stampede

          -Companies valued on growth will see that growth stall out early, since many companies are competing for very similar markets

          That’s the bubble-popping I see on the horizon, and I think it’s very likely in a proper recession.

          • This is really vague. Amazon/Apple/Google/Netflix/Facebook are all tech companies. Do you think they are overvalued and will fall? Or are you referring to marginal tech companies?

            If Uber falls, it’s because some other company will replace it, not because people will suddenly decide they don’t want ride-sharing. Are you suggesting that the major companies are going to fall and be replaced or are you saying that the tech sector is inherently flawed and will go down? If you’re suggesting the latter, I can’t imagine how you could be justified in thinking that. That would be like me in the 1920’s suggesting that Ford was going to fall because the automotive market was overvalued.

          • Walter says:

            I dunno, like, Uber/Lyft destroyed the taxi companies by cheating, and protected themselves from the gov by daring it to enforce the law in the face of the public demonstrably loving what they were getting.

            If the gov actually does it, makes them admit their drivers are employees who need taxi medallions, then they go belly up and don’t get replaced.

            Failing that, though, I agree with WS that there will always be a company that substantially does what they do now. There’s money to be made in that model.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Taxi licensing is mostly local, it is very unlikely that “The Government” is going to step in and make them license all of their drivers.

          • Eric Rall says:

            That’s a bit of an oversimplified description of the Uber/Lyft business model. Most cities with a taxi medallion system also have a separate “black car service” regulatory category. The key differences are pricing (black car services give you a firm fixed price quote when you hire them, while taxis usually use a meter to charge per mile and per minute of wait time) and how you hire them (you can hail taxis on the street, but you usually need to call black car services to schedule a ride). And black car services don’t need taxi medallions and don’t have their fares fixed by the taxi commission.

            What Uber and Lyft did was design services that provide a taxi-like customer experience (ordering a ride via a mobile app is closer in convenience to hailing a taxi than to making a phone call), but which can be reasonably argued to fall into the “black car” regulatory category (you technically ordered the ride with your phone rather than hailing the car on the street). There was an element of brazenness to this (the categorization is debatable, and they did generally just set up shop assuming a black-car regulatory classification rather than getting prior approval of their business model from regulators), but not nearly as much as you’re making it sound like.

          • John Schilling says:

            Failing that, though, I agree with WS that there will always be a company that substantially does what they do now. There’s money to be made in that model.

            If you’re talking about Lyft/Uber, I’m pretty sure there isn’t money to be made in that business model, which to date has required extensive subsidies from subsequent waves of investors to maintain solvency. The plan is that there will be money to be made from the closely-related business model where the gig-worker humans who work sort of cheap are replaced by fancy toasters that work for free, and it’s worth running a money sink now to have market share then. If that doesn’t happen before investor patience runs out, they will tumble.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t be able to make money connecting drivers with riders, ebay has made a business of connecting buyers and sellers as have many others.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            What John said, basically. Uber isn’t making money. They’re running on investor dollars, racing towards an unknown and highly speculative future. The same is true for a lot of companies in this sector. Tesla does appear to have resolved its major production problems, but it has comparable hurdles to clear in terms of scalability and cost. If it doesn’t clear them, it will fail.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t be able to make money connecting drivers with riders, ebay has made a business of connecting buyers and sellers as have many others.

            Ebay can connect a buyer with basically any seller anywhere in the developed world, and it doesn’t matter if the seller is busy with their day job and won’t deliver for another day or two. Uber and Lyft need to have “sellers” within a few miles of the buyer, available within minutes.

            There aren’t enough drivers to make that practical, to make “I should use Uber and see if they can get me a ride” a reasonable proposition for any significant user base, unless Uber entices those drivers with a fair bit of money specifically including things like surge pricing. And, empirically, we know that the amount of money Uber has to pay to get what they consider an acceptable supply of immediately-available drivers, is more than their customers are willing to pay.

            Uber and Lyft are taking all the money they think they can extract from their customers without driving them away on “this is too expensive, I’ll just call a taxi” grounds, adding money they are extracting from their investors on FOMO grounds, and paying it to their drivers to make sure there are enough drivers to be confident they won’t lose customers on “this is taking too long, I’ll just call a taxi” grounds. That is obviously not a sustainable business model. But it is one that builds market share by convincing their customers that they are faster, cheaper, and in every way better than taxis.

            Unless they can come through with some better plan for what to do with that market share than keep losing money servicing it, they’re going under. From their investment in robocar technology, it seems pretty clear that the plan is to cut the expensive human drivers out of the loop. But the clock is running.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Its not uncommon for companies to lose money for stretches while living on investor dollars, especially expanding companies (also Uber losing money doesn’t mean that ride sharing is doomed itself, it could just be that uber is doomed).

            @ John Schilling

            I don’t think Uber is competing with taxis. Taxis have all the same issues with enough cars in area X plus a bunch of extra overhead (medallion prices) right now, without the ease of app usage. Uber’s maximum reach is more along the lines of getting people to say “screw it, we don’t need 2 cars we can use 1 and then Uber whenever we need something more.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @baconbits

            The trouble is that right now Uber is not priced that way, and investors will cannibalize it to save some of their cash if it looks like that’s Uber’s eventual fate. It’s like the housing crisis; the underlying investment has real value, but you’re fucked anyway. And someone being publicly fucked to death has a chilling effect on the market.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Hoopyfreud

            I’m responding to John Schilling’s statement that their isn’t money to be made in their business model.

          • dick says:

            I broadly agree with John Schilling here. No one knows exactly how heavily Uber is subsidizing its users’ fares with invester money, but I’ve seen estimates as high as half (meaning, for them to be profitable would mean doubling fares) and everyone seems to agree it’s a lot of money. Also, their network effect isn’t super powerful; anyone who can pay drivers a little more and charge riders a little less is a real threat.

            No one really knows if Uber would be viable without burning investor cash, because their big competitors do it somewhat too. However, I think if the industry stopped burning money generally it wouldn’t mean Uber goes out of business, it would just mean that Uber in big cities starts to look more like Uber in small cities: a reliable way to get home from the airport and home from a night out drinking, but not reliable at off-hours.

          • rlms says:

            It seems pretty likely that the ride-sharing business model is profitable. The implausible thing is that it is profitable on a level that supports Uber’s valuation, because if that were the case it would be doing so already. Burning money while growing is *a* strategy, but not applicable to this situation since there’s no way for Uber to capture their market — if they raise their prices people will just go back to normal taxis.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Burning money while growing is *a* strategy, but not applicable to this situation since there’s no way for Uber to capture their market — if they raise their prices people will just go back to normal taxis.

            Your conclusion might be correct, but I don’t think the reasoning is. Uber (and Lyft) rides have far outstripped the lost rides of taxis. The taxi or Uber is a false distinction, people who never used taxis have started using Uber/Lyft.

          • albatross11 says:

            Walter:

            I can’t exactly disagree with your description of how Uber became successful, but I keep coming back to the reason they didn’t get shut down–the public loved them, because the previous system was just awful on a bunch of levels. It seems pretty damned clear to me that Uber/Lyft represent a sizable net improvement in the well being of mankind, which managed to knock down a bunch of businesses that were providing shitty, overpriced service under the protection of local laws whose purpose was to screw the public for the benefit of the cab companies.

          • John Schilling says:

            @albatross: Yes, Uber is, in the markets it focuses on, faster, better, and cheaper than Taxis. This makes them more popular, and makes people yell at local governments if they try to shut down Uber.

            The reason Uber is faster better and cheaper than taxis is, they took a whole lot of Other People’s Money and paid a lot of workers to provide faster better cheaper service. You can pretty much always provide faster better cheaper service if you throw enough OPM at the service providers without charging the customers, and the customers will always love you for it. Provided you never stop.

            Eventually, the Other People are going to be asking what the deal is with their Money. And they aren’t going to take, “producing a sizable net improvement of mankind, but only so long as you keep giving us money and never ask for any of it back” as an answer. They won’t care how much the public loves them, if the reason the public loves them is that the public doesn’t have to pay their costs. At which point, Uber’s business plan looks an awful lot like the classic,

            1. Sell lots of subsidized taxi rides at below cost
            2. ???
            3. Profit!

            So what’s the Step 2 that makes this anything but a flash in the pan? Cutting the cost of the uberTaxi rides by cutting the human drivers out of the loop would make sense, if it were technically feasible. Capturing more market share so you can keep losing money on every ride but making it up in volume, doesn’t. What else have you got, other than your intense desire to not see Uber go out of business because you hate old-school taxis?

          • pontifex says:

            Uber benefits from network effects. One example is that if 4 people are using Uber in the same 5 mile radius, Uber can potentially use the same driver to get all of them to where they are going. Then the costs go down by 4x. Another example is that if you arrive in an unfamiliar city, and you already have the Uber app installed, you will be likely to use that because it’s what you’re familiar with. You also know that there almost certainly Uber drivers around. In the same way, McDonald’s doesn’t have to be better than every local restaurant. It just needs to be consistent and always available, to get a substantial fraction of dollars from travellers.

            i agree that the network effects are maybe not as strong as those of some other businesses, but it’s not solely an investor ponzi scheme. I also agree that the self-driving car thing seems like a weird hail mary play which may or may not work out for them. Their valuation is… higher than I would like, right now.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling

            >So what’s the Step 2 that makes this anything but a flash in the pan?

            (A) Competing directly with taxis without having to buy taxi medallions or deal with other taxi regulations

            (B) Using your app, and the extremely flexible employment model it allows, to put to work a lot of capital and labor (cars and drivers) that were previously too marginal to effectively monetize.

            Uber’s not going to change the world, but it certainly has a niche to carve out.

          • arlie says:

            I’d say Uber has two possibilities – other than failure:

            1) Amazon model. Knock the compeition out of business, then increase prices, reduce service, and generally act like a monopoly. Extra bonus – get ad-viewing revenue from forcing ads on your paying customers. This is monopoly 101.

            2) replace the humans with really cheap robots, while investors are still giving you even more capital, to develop and/or purchase the robots. This is what they are claiming to do.

            Or given their demonstrated ethical standards, what they are *really* doing is accumulating victims – customers and drivers – for an eventual massively profitable hack on all their bank accounts. No money to the investors in that case, of course, or most of the employees. And the business goes under.

          • albatross11 says:

            At the volume that Uber and Lyft are doing business, it seems very hard to believe that their investors are subsidizing the cost of the rides. Maybe the cost of the infrastructure/centralized part, but the individual rides–it seems like they’d burn through a fortune in no time doing that.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, I’d be curious how much of a hit they’re really taking. Based on what I know about driver pay, and what I know about fares (from paying them) I’m pretty sure they are at least close to even money there, not losing it hand over fist.

            Edit: In fact, I’m pretty sure the drivers are paid a percentage of the fare…so how could they ever lose money on the ride (ignoring overhead/administration)?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            All leaked documents (so not for PR, or at least for external PR) show that Uber is making money on each ride, but losing money overall because it keeps on shoving cash into expanding into new areas.

            Uber doesn’t have that strong of a first-mover advantage. They had to do the really heavy lifting of convincing drivers and riders to use their service, but after that other companies can still come in. There are some barriers to entry for new entrants, in that it takes a substantial cash infusion to jump-start your business in a city to create the two-sided market necessary for business, but it’s very easy to piggyback on existing drivers to do so.

            Uber is very very likely to exist 20 years from now, doing substantially what it does today. I doubt it really has the market power to justify its current valuation, so people who buy in now are likely to lose, but they are entirely sustainable as a one-of-many ride-sharing services.

          • John Schilling says:

            Edit: In fact, I’m pretty sure the drivers are paid a percentage of the fare…so how could they ever lose money on the ride (ignoring overhead/administration)?

            Per CBS, “Uber gives each rider a cost estimate for a trip, but the actual cost can be higher or lower depending on road construction, traffic or other factors. The company either pays the difference if the estimate is too low or keeps the money if it’s too high”

            So the figure the drivers are getting a percentage of, isn’t the figure that the passengers are paying. If Uber feels the need to build market share, or is struggling just to keep it, then they just have to adjust their customer-facing “estimates” downwards, and throw in their own money to make sure the drivers still get paid what they expect.

            And to be pedantically clear, it’s driver fees + company overhead that exceeds revenues; if we take their figures at face value they’be eking out a small profit if they just had to pay the drivers and had zero overhead. Nobody has zero overhead, and they are losing money on every ride.

    • What exactly is the mystery? Tesla went down earlier in the year because they were having problems with their production targets. They went up again because it looked like they were making progress. It went down because of PR problems(this I’m least sure about). It looked like it was going to go private but then people realized that it wasn’t going to happen. There was the brief lawsuit from the SEC that was settled quickly and then Tesla made a profit.

      • baconbits9 says:

        This isn’t the story that was being told at the time of the events. Tesla’s stock plummeted with Elon’s specific troubles and bottom around the time of the resolution, and the commentary was heavy on how important he was to the company. Their 3rd quarter profit would be due to the period where he was still chairman, and the stock price has returned to basically the same level that it was pre-issues despite those issues having occurred.

        • I’m not sure what you mean because Elon has had a lot of problems. Which resolution are you talking about, the SEC deal? The SEC lawsuit and the production problems were the main issues that Tesla had this year. Once the lawsuit was taken care of and the profitable quarter signaled that the worst of the production problems was over, those issues were dealt with.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The SEC lawsuit is settled but the root cause of that was Musk’s behavior, which isn’t obviously settled. For the production issues consider three possible outcomes

            1. A company never had production issues
            2. A company had production issues and perhaps has resolved them
            3. A company had production issues and hasn’t resolved them

            Tesla is clearly in position #2, which is worse than #1 which was the point it was at earlier in the year, so while #2 is much better than #3 it still should be a somewhat muted response from the market (if rational).

          • 2. A company had production issues and perhaps has resolved them

            What exactly does this mean? Tesla is consistently making 5k cars a week. It’s not like they are suddenly going to stop being able to do that.

            Tesla definitely had production problems earlier this year. They’ve been having problems since the Model 3 was first produced in 2017. And even before then, Tesla has had production problems for every new model they’ve released. It’s just that the Model 3 was the most prominent.

            As far as Musk’s behavior, him saying mean/stupid things on Twitter is not what will make or break Tesla. Saying something that could get him sued and/or thrown in jail is possible but to what extent can we say that isn’t “settled” if that’s always a possibility? In a recent interview, he mentioned that during the worst of it, he was working 120 hours and is now down to his usual 80 hours a week, which probably reassured investors that the stress/lack of sleep won’t be as much of an issue.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            5k a week is not remotely enough. Tesla is valued at one third of Toyota. Toyota makes 8 million and change cars a year. So in order to justify their capitalization, Tesla needs to be making 2-3 million cars annually, and soon. 5 k is literally a tenth of where they need to be.

          • Salem says:

            Tesla doesn’t necessarily need to make 1/3 the number of cars Toyota does to justify a valuation of 1/3 of Toyota. They could have a per-car margin substantially larger than Toyota’s, or substantially lower fixed costs, or something else.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            .. Ten times the margin of the most efficient auto-maker on the planet?

            Sorry, one second, need to recover from the mad cackling.

            Nothing about Teslas product supports that kind of margin – Batteries are a commodity. Cars are a commodity. Electric motors are one of the oldest commodities there is. Tesla has first mover advantage, sure, and that might get them established as a player in a market which has seen very few new entrants in a very long time, but “Electric car” is not a market which has network effects. If Tesla sells two hundred and fifty thousand cars at a profit margin of .. 88.9 % the strategy department at every single one of their competitors gets the chewing out from hell over missing a huge market segment, and the year after, their entire lineup gets undercut as everyone turns out equivalent models. At 65% of the price.

          • Salem says:

            Maybe and maybe not. Tesla is a brand. The reason that, say, a Calvin Klein T-shirt has a much bigger margin than a George one is not that Calvin Klein are much more efficient than ASDA at manufacturing and distribution. Quite the reverse. It’s just that they charge a far higher price. And nothing about their T-shirts “objectively” justifies such a margin. It’s just that people are willing to pay it anyway because they like the brand.

            This isn’t unique to T-shirts, this is robust across just about every market. Apple makes more of a margin than Samsung. Kellogg’s makes more of a margin than the supermarket own-brand cereal. And so on. Yes they are “undercut” by their competitors. No, it doesn’t matter.

            Why do people buy Teslas? They are very expensive, and they don’t do anything their competitors’ cars don’t. But they are a status symbol. They are already being “undercut” by all the other manufacturers on the planet. There is no “market segment” their competitors are missing out on – an electric car is just a car. They are even being undercut on electric cars specifically – you can buy a Ford Focus Electric far cheaper than a Tesla – but no-one cares because driving a Tesla is cool and driving a Ford isn’t.

            The route for Tesla to make a zillion dollars isn’t to be leaner than Toyota. It’s to build a brand to sell a worse product at a higher price. Now, I don’t think they will be successful, but let’s not exaggerate what they have to do.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Car-as-veblen good will get you a higher profit margin sure. To be exact, it will get you a profit margin around 15 %, which is what Porsche is managing.

            It will not get you a profit margin of 88.9 percent,

            which is what it would take to justify their valuation on current manufacturing output.

            Am I saying Tesla will inevitably crash and burn? No. I am saying they need to take all that investor capital and ramp up production a whole lot, or they will. It is a conditional argument.

          • I don’t think 5k a week is enough either. I was just responding to the claim that Tesla hasn’t resolved its production problems. They may not make enough, but they aren’t suddenly going to be making less.

          • baconbits9 says:

            What exactly does this mean? Tesla is consistently making 5k cars a week. It’s not like they are suddenly going to stop being able to do that.

            Tesla was producing to few cars, they wanted to ramp up to 5,000 a week as a step toward being a major producer which will require several more ramp ups. Having serious issues getting up to 5,000 might well indicate that going from 5,000 to 10,000 will have issues and 10,000 to 20,000.

    • b_jonas says:

      We’ve already had some detailed discussion about Tesla and Elon Musk in a comment thread a month ago “https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/10/10/open-thread-112-25/#comment-678325” . Did anything new happen why you want to revive this?

  13. littskad says:

    Is there any particular reason to expect that vote recounts are more accurate than original counts rather than less accurate?

    • arlie says:

      Presumably they are in less of a hurry. And there might be some kind of extra checking being done as well; that probably depends on local election law. My sister might know the rules for her (Canadian) jurisdiction, as she’s worked for Elections Canada. Or then again she might not, as I don’t recall her ever having been involved with a recount.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I don’t have an answer to this question, but I will second it. I have often wondered the same thing.

      1. Obviously taking a more careful approach should result in a cleaner tally, and knowing that it’s come down to a recount is a good incentive to do so.

      2. The other side of the question may depend on whether you are worried about fraud and partisanship in the process. If there is no fear of cheating, then maybe #1 is the answer. If there is a fear of cheating, then knowing that the vote was very close is an opposite incentive from #1 and now the tally is untrustworthy.

      #2’s problem is that even if you are concerned about cheating, you would presumably be concerned about it during the first count as well, and I’m not sure we could even quantify how many of the ballots might be bad.

    • MrApophenia says:

      In modern times, part of it is to account for possible voting machine error. Take the Florida recount – the one going on right now, where they just retabulate the voting machine results, is basically a formality.

      If they retabulate the results and they are still within half a point, which they will be, then a manual recount happens. And that has at least a possibility of catching major issues with the machines, if any occurred.

      Consider the current situation in Broward County – there are several plausible explanations for why so many fewer votes for Senate were counted there than the other races on the ticket (probably pure incompetence in ballot design being most likely), but it is also possible that people did put votes for the Senate on their ballots and the machines missed it due to a systemic error – in which case the recount could turn up a major change in vote count.

    • Meister says:

      In every vote there are some ballots which aren’t initially counted. These can include damaged ballots, ambiguously filled or illegible ballots, joke ballots, ballots rejected for debatable procedural reasons (e.g. arrived 1 minute after the deadline), and so on.

      In almost every case the result of the vote is clear regardless of the status of the excluded ballots, which number <1% of the total. Only in exceptionally close races do we go through the headache of counting every vote, which must often be done by hand and essentially comes down to a series of judgment calls that the other side will challenge in court.

      Once you get down to divisions of <0.25%, the idea of an "accurate" count isn't well defined IMO. Reasonable people could differ in how they make these judgement calls. I would prefer such races to go to a run-off election, but unfortunately Florida has a different procedure that tends to encourage a legal circus.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Only in exceptionally close races do we go through the headache of counting every vote, which must often be done by hand and essentially comes down to a series of judgment calls that the other side will challenge in court.

        They have their drawbacks, but electronic voting machines get rid of the vast majority of the “does this count or not?” that we have to do when hairless apes fill out paper ballots. Out of a million votes, instead of hundreds or thousands of votes that need human judgment, you only have a handful (like figuring out how to count write-in votes that don’t quite match the name of a candidate).

        • acymetric says:

          Err…only if they are well designed, well maintained, and upgraded regularly (and the confidence in any one of those things being true, let alone all three, is low). There have been quite a few stories about problems with electronic machines this election and in previoius elections.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Do you have examples of them missing the specific benefit I said they have? I acknowledged they have issues, but where are people fighting after-the-fact about deciding what a voter intended?

    • Spiritkas says:

      I think the goal is important. You only need to be ‘so’ accurate in your first effort. If you’re in a plus/minus 2% type of count and a candidate wins by 10%, then you don’t need a super exact/accurate count. The costs of reducing uncertainty from 2% to 1% or down to 0.1% must go up on a steep curve with significantly more costs incurred for no benefit in most cases. I do agree with that as a first step, then to go in by hand or with a double or triple recounting process if its a close election.

      I’m overseas and do not vote because I know my vote will very literally not be counted. They only count them, variable per jurisdiction, in my old area when the race is super close. They even have a rule that the total doesn’t matter. Say the vote was 10,000 votes advantaged to one candidate. If the overseas ballots were 15,000…they could choose not to open them or count them as they’d be ‘expected’ to go one way or the other. I can’t say I agree with it, but they’re very concerned about cost cutting in an office which operates in a major way once every 2 years….they’re only meant to be the portal which safeguards our democracy! No need to put an extra dollar into that 🙂

      • ana53294 says:

        How much do elections cost?

        In Spain, we have none of that machine-counting (all votes are counted manually; every ballot is checked by representatives of the different parties, and election results are all accounted for by next morning). All mail votes and international votes are counted together with the ordinary votes (at the end of the day, the mailman brings them, they are put into the box, and they are counted together with the rest).

        In Spain, political parties get subsidies for campaigns. If we ignore this, the cost of setting up the elections is ~ 140 million euros. If we round it up, Spain has 37 million voters, and around 70% participation. That means 26 million votes, or around 5.2 euros* (5.85 USD) to account for each votes (and we don’t have recounts). If we count the cost per voter, it’s 3.78 euros (4.25 USD).

        I find this cost acceptable as the price of a non-hackable way of counting all votes. How much do first-round vote counts and election set-up cost per voter in the US? If they are similar to the Spanish costs, is your state so bankrupt that they can’t spend 90 000 USD for 15 000 votes to make sure that votes really count?

        * This includes the costs of mail, the security, the people who are counting the votes, setting up electoral colleges, and the embassies organizing.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You have only one question on the ballot most of the time, I presume? Do you simply cast a vote for the party you prefer?

          In the US, the number of individual contests on a ballot is somewhere over 20, you vote for your preferred individual, and the questions on the ballot vary even within an individual precinct.

          • ana53294 says:

            This is an example of the Senate ballot. You make a cross at whichever three (or fewer) candidates you like. If you make more crosses, it is invalid. People generally stick to the three of their party, although you can certainly choose any three.

            This is an example of the regional ballot of one party for the Spanish Congress (equivalent to the American House). When you vote for the Congress, you insert the ballot of the party you like into an envelope, and put it into the box. Municipal and provincial ballots look the same. European ones, too.

            Even when elections happen concurrently, votes are counted separately (Senate and Congress votes are introduced into different boxes). My understanding is that most European countries handle separate elections separately.

            So no, we don’t have one question on the ballot, we usually have two or three. European elections happen on their own, on a 5 year cycle. National elections happen every 4 years, or more often in cases when there is no coalition formed, or the coalition fails (Spain is a parliamentary democracy; Autonomous Communities, Provinces and City Halls function as parliaments, too).

            National elections combine the Senate and Congress elections. Local elections combine the Autonomous Community election, the provincial election, and the municipal one.

            2019’s European elections will combine the European election, the municipal one, the provincial ones and Autonomic ones (except for some autonomous regions). So four elections in one day, which will be handled by the same amount of people as if it were one.

            We don’t elect judges, prosecutors or any other professions I haven’t thought about, though.

            When we have referendums (those tend to be rare; there was the NATO one, the Constitution one, and the EU Constitution one), they are handled separately.

  14. Nicholas Weininger says:

    Sitting here in SF looking out the window at the fourth straight day of unhealthy air quality due to the latest catastrophic wildfire, and counting myself lucky that bad air is all I’ve had to suffer from it, I am moved to ask: what should be done about this? Local news coverage has been disappointingly short on suggestions for making these fires less common in the medium-term future (i.e. substantially less long term than “fix climate change”) and I’m wondering if that’s because there aren’t any, or because news coverage is falling down on this part of the job.

    Some possibilities that occur to me, a non-domain expert:

    — burying more of the PG&E transmission lines that seem to cause a disproportionate fraction of large fires (is this just too expensive even relative to high estimates of the fires’ cost?)
    — moving toward more distributed/local grid generation in high fire danger areas to reduce the need for such lines (same question re: expense)
    — instituting tighter activity restriction policies in areas, and at times, of known high fire danger (are there any such that would even work?)
    — changing forest management practices in some way that requires advocacy directed at obscure bureaucracies (are there still old and counterproductive restrictions on controlled burns?)
    — changing forest ownership patterns in ways that would give better incentives for management (e.g. I hear CA forests are mostly federally managed but there’s a substantial fraction under private management, are the privately managed ones less likely to have wildfires? if so, is that because of their ownership or do the feds just own the more fire-prone land?)

    Anyone with domain knowledge want to weigh in?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are humans moving too much into forests? If people weren’t there, would we still have these fires?

      There is this concept that having lots of woods around you means you are environmentally conscious, and I just realized I think this myself. It’s probably incorrect. Forests should be forests and human habitats should be human habitats. Mixing them is disaster.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Are humans moving too much into forests?

        That ship sailed millions of years ago.

        But yes, there would still be fires if people weren’t there. Not the same pattern, but still fires.

        • brianmcbee says:

          True, but if humans didn’t live in the forests, we wouldn’t have the high damage and deaths that fires cause.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m pretty sure that trying to arrange for there to never ever ever be ignition events ever ever, is not going to be the winning strategy. In a sufficiently dry environment, basically everything that grows is going to burn sooner or later. And arid forests have evolved to accommodate that; in some case to actually require it.

      If the objection is to really big fires, then you’re going to need either lots of smaller fires, or less forest.

      If the objection is to being blamed for really big fires, and you’re PG&E, yeah, maybe bury the lines or depower them during maximum-hazard periods and hope some careless camper beats you to it.

    • johan_larson says:

      Domain knowledge? This is the internet!

      My first thought to deal with this problem is some sort of cleared zones around inhabited areas. A 50 m dead zone around all inhabited areas where nothing bigger than an ankle-high weed grows isn’t going to stop a big fire, but it will buy the firefighters precious time.

      Of course, maintaining such a zone isn’t free.

    • Guy in TN says:

      are there still old and counterproductive restrictions on controlled burns?

      If California’s situation is anything like in the east where I am, the answer is certainly “yes”.

      In Tennessee, burns are treated as a luxury, something for an agency to dabble in if they have excess time and money, rather than an imperative. Not that our landscape is as pyrophitic as the chaparral, but it does need a good fire every couple of decades, otherwise it burns on its own.

      AFAIK, there’s been no “autopsy” on what we did wrong to prevent the Great Smoky Mountain Fires. We should have been burning, yes even near populated areas, and yes even during tourist/hunting season. Due to rainy springs and summers, the fall (hunting and tourist season) is by far the most effective time to burn in our area, but the restrictions are such that it rarely (or never) actually gets done.

    • psmith says:

      are there still old and counterproductive restrictions on controlled burns?

      I don’t know what you call “old”, but NEPA (1970) is still very much in force.

      Otherwise, yeah, bury the power lines and more mechanical thinning (cut and pile those manzanita thickets and doghair Christmas-tree stands; burn the piles after it starts snowing, or masticate/chip them if you can.). Potentially salvage-log ponderosa pine killed by beetle infestation. Of course, there are institutional barriers to all this as well.

      • brianmcbee says:

        Can you bury high voltage lines? I’m unclear how this works. I guess I assumed that many meters of insulating air around them was what allowed them to work.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s not easy but it’s doable. The actual line appears to be a conductor with two jackets, the first probably the main electrical insulator and the second protecting the cable from damage.

        • rmtodd says:

          Well, there are insulating materials that are many times better than straight air, so yeah, that’s not a problem. Underground HV lines are sometimes done, but it’s a hassle (read: more expensive) to bury the cable (and dig it up again if you ever want to work on it), so not as common as the big tower-based lines. Plus, in California, you’d have the worry that some of the bits of ground are (slowly) moving in different directions, thanks to all those interesting fault lines, making life more interesting for any Big Long Buried Things…

    • Tenacious D says:

      Not a domain expert, but I’m wondering if the forests in question are in a self-organized critical state, where there is enough potential energy in the system that any ignition event can trigger a fire whose magnitude follows a power-law distribution up to the whole size of the system.
      One thing that might help mitigate damage is adding firebreaks across a range of scales. Keep smaller fires from growing to the point they can jump rivers or highways.

      • Statismagician says:

        Not self-organized, but basically yes. Recall that fires are a naturally-occurring part of lots of ecologies – our policy of attempting to prevent all sizable fires lets flammable material build up to artificially-high levels, so when something inevitably gets missed the resulting fire gets a lot worse a lot faster than it would naturally. Another contributing factor is suburban sprawl; even if Cal Fire would really prefer to let a medium-sized fire burn itself out rather than fight a gigantic one three years from now, it’s not politically possible to do that when the medium-sized fire area includes a bunch of houses.

        That’s my understanding, anyway.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          When people build houses right up against the coast and then a hurricane takes them out, there is no attempt to save the homes. Get the people out but that’s it.

          Should we do the same for homes built in forested regions?

          • Statismagician says:

            Flood zones are probably more analogous, where we do what we can to save the homes but accept it won’t always work, and therefore require+subsidize flood insurance (which program has its own massive systemic flaws, but that’s not relevant here). It’s not a perfect match, though; here the problem is that preventing/quenching small fires inevitably leads to gigantic ones, which doesn’t have a ready equivalent in flooding.

            Possibly we might get somewhere with establishing areas where fires will be allowed to behave naturally and not interfering fires within them except to save protected areas, but setting those up properly would be difficult enough I’m not really confident in our institutions’ ability to do so.

            I’m inclined to think that insofar as this problem has a solution, it’ll be so tightly interlocked with all the other insane issues caused by the prevailing planning/building environment that trying to address one without the rest won’t work.

        • brianmcbee says:

          At least where I live, before Europeans came the Native Americans intentionally set fires on a regular basis to keep the brush down and allowed their preferred food sources (tubers) to grow. I’m way up in Oregon though, so I don’t know if this applies.

    • CatCube says:

      I can’t speak all that well about the detailed requirements, but there is a model Wildland-Urban Interface Code from the ICC. Chapter 5 has requirements for fire-resistance of structures in the wildland-urban interface, which Chapter 3 basically just says is any area designated as such. Chapter 6 has requirements for defensible spaces, including required dimensions.

      California has a wildland-urban interface code in force, but I don’t know if it’s based on the IWUIC or if it’s a locally-written requirement.

      Edit: The model code isn’t very long–by my eye maybe 20-40 pages–but man, some of the requirements seem brutal. The ignition resistant requirements seem like they’ll get pricey real fast if you’re in a high-hazard area without a “conforming” water supply.

    • Spiritkas says:

      I’m not an expert, but the I’d blame management. In many domains of life, that’s often the answer. Better execution of flawed plans isn’t going to work. I’m in Australia and we take a much more reasonable approach, in some ways learned from the Aboriginals, and in other ways due to the fact that we have lots of fires. Our dry gum trees are filled with flammable essential oils, which makes fires spread rapidly.

      We use the controlled burn strategy to avoid large fires and it works really well most of the time. Occasionally we get too dry too quickly to do it and that’s where land management in terms of zoning is the issue and longer term planning. I don’t know of any planning office which limits how many trees are ‘allowed’ to be grown on private land, but people tend to be fire smart and avoid having trees too close to their houses or at least not contiguous sizeable vegetation.

      I lived in the US for many years on the east coast and there seemed to be an anti-fire strategy which was quite pervasive. That we should not have big fires. It works relateivley well in the wetter and more suburban and balkanised forest of the east coast in the US, but is a disaster for the dryer west coast and Texas.

  15. Statismagician says:

    NYT notices cost disease in health care, specifically drug prices, starting from approximately 1995. Possibly a precursor to somebody saying ‘hey, maybe we should figure out why everything costs ten times as much as it should for no apparent benefit?’

    • Spiritkas says:

      Interesting, the article does come to a conclusion that the American system doesn’t have price controls on drugs…or on several other parts of the health system. I thought Scott had argued against some of those points in his article and the NYT piece even notes that Americans use fewer drugs and a higher rate of generics…so a huge price difference with $1000/month pills in a smaller number of instances isn’t incredibly supportive. That would mean that 16% (opposite of 84% NYT cited rates of generic drugs in the USA) are generating 3 fold increases in prices above the general trend towards more money spent as we can treat more diseases. I’m not convinced by the NYT explanation, but it is interesting to see them noticing this. If they had drawn a connection to the insane rate of college prices or other things, then I’d be more inclined to say they had noticed the cost disease issue itself; but certainly it is there for the reader to infer.

  16. Why did the UK spend so many resources on the western front during ww1? Wouldn’t their efforts have been better served by sending troops to the eastern front, trying to knock out the Ottomans or something else?

    • DeWitt says:

      The British didn’t manage to defeat the Ottomans, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.

      • But didn’t they spend their resources mostly on Gallipoli rather than a general attack against the Ottomans?

        • Statismagician says:

          Not really. There were major offensives in Palestine and up the Tigris as well, each with their respective disasters and triumphs; the Palestine force had a top (per Wikipedia) strength of 1.2 million, ~3 times greater than Gallipoli, and the Tigris force was of about equal size to the one at Gallipoli.

      • Salem says:

        What do you mean the British didn’t defeat the Ottomans?

      • John Schilling says:

        The British could not bring Armageddon to the Ottomans, so they enticed the Ottomans into Armageddon. Where the heavens rained fire upon the Turk, who was well and truly defeated and saw the final destruction of his Empire. Basically Norman Schwarzkopf’s battle plan from Desert Storm, executed a hundred years early with wood-and-fabric biplanes and horse cavalry, Rolls-Royce armored cars, and an assist from Lawrence of Arabia. At literal Armageddon, because that never gets old.

        As defeats go, this one is Biblical in its awesomeness several times over, so how is it that it is so thoroughly unknown in the popular understanding of the Great War?

        • Nick says:

          Was this battle in Lawrence of Arabia? I remember Aqaba and I remember Damascus, but I don’t remember Megiddo.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, this was after Aqaba and shortly before Damascus. The Arab Northern Army, under Faisal and Lawrence, conducted diversionary and harassment operations around Meggido, which I don’t recall the movie singling out from his general campaign of harassment in that period.

        • sfoil says:

          The effectiveness of their primitive aircraft in attacking completely unprepared ground forces in the open terrain certainly made a lasting impression on British aviators, although that was true of that theater in general. I’m not too familiar with the relevant organizational history but possibly the RAF managed to “claim” the battle while ground forces focused on the more salient European theater.

        • Tenacious D says:

          Even though it’s not on Wikipedia’s list, I’d consider the battle of Ain Jalut to have been close enough geographically to literal Armageddon as well.

      • Tenacious D says:

        Related question: were the British trying to defeat the Ottomans primarily to help win WW1, or were they using WW1 as an opportunity to cut a great power competitor down to size?

        • John Schilling says:

          That is a very good question, and one I have never thought to consider before. Will have to look into it.

        • Statismagician says:

          I’m inclined to think it’s the former. The German Empire is the peer competitor here; the Ottomans had been considered basically a joke for decades and had lost nearly all their European holdings very recently during the Italian and Balkan Wars. On top of this, the Ottomans only ended up in the war at all thanks to a series of coincidences and some truly bizarre naval politics; there were lots of perfectly plausible outcomes where the Ottomans didn’t end up involved at all.

          • Eric Rall says:

            And pretty much the only reason the Ottomans still existed at that point was because Britain had been actively propping them up against attempt to partition them, especially against Russia’s long-standing ambition to control the straits. The necessities of winning a war against Germany and Austria drove Britain to almost completely reverse their policy in the region, endorsing Russian and Greek territorial ambitions at Ottoman expense and actively trying to tear down the Ottomans instead of propping them up.

            I’m not 100% certain of Britain’s reasons for backing the Ottomans previously, but I think it’s a combination of their 19th century view of Russia as a strategic rival, their naval policy of keeping as many of the major oceanic choke points (Gibraltar, Suez, Panana, the Capes, Malacca, Constantinople, etc) under British control if possible and under friendly or neutral control otherwise, and a general policy of maintaining the status quo.

        • cassander says:

          the brits had spent most of the previous century trying to prop up the ottomans against various european rivals. When the war comes, though, they rather quickly decide that defeating in said war is important and promising bits of the empire to various factions was a very effective way to buy allies. So a little bit of both, really.

    • James C says:

      The list of British military disasters the British incurred trying to turn that particular flank is long and many remain national embarrassments.

    • Aging Loser says:

      They should have just built tanks until 1918 while fighting a purely defensive war. Then they could have gone on the offensive with several thousand tanks.

      But this always applies. We should have just built A-bombs until 1946. I guess we needed island bases to hop-scotch bombers across the Pacific with, though, so we would have to have built up our Navy too. But no need for any ground-fighting except for taking those islands.

      In the American Civil War the North should have waited until it had hundreds of thousands of repeating rifles and several hundred of those hand-cranked machine-guns in 1865 before engaging in offensive operations.

      By the way, how come the death toll in English Civil War battles was so high — way higher than in American Civil War battles despite there being far fewer combatants? Did they poleaxe wounded enemies to death or something?

      • Statismagician says:

        ‘Pike and shot warfare was significantly more awful than you’d expect,’ is probably the short answer to your last question. It was an almost uniquely brutal test of stamina and morale; the Swiss were the unquestioned masters of it particularly because of their demonstrated willingness to literally die to the last man before retreating.

        • Deiseach says:

          the Swiss were the unquestioned masters of it particularly because of their demonstrated willingness to literally die to the last man before retreating.

          Exactly. The Swiss had a sterling reputation as mercenaries, which is how the Pontifical Swiss Guard started out: hired by various popes as mercenary troops in their wars during the 15th century. Then came the part where they really proved their loyalty:

          Its most significant hostile engagement was on 6 May 1527, when 147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the stand of the Swiss Guard during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 42 guards.

          After that, when the Italian Wars had stopped, the Swiss Guard became personal guard of the pope and ceremonial guard, and five hundred and twelve years on from their official foundation they’re still there.

        • Aging Loser says:

          I was wondering the same thing about the Italian Wars that Deiseach mentions.

          Poleaxes were the Wars of the Roses weapon, I remembered after bringing in my laundry. In the English Civil War it would just have been shot, right — no pikes there? But it was still a matter of not running away until you’re all dead or wounded? (But they did run away — see below.) Still, why not mostly wounded rather than dead? Why would getting shot in the English Civil War be more likely to kill you than getting shot in the American Civil War? Denser firing-lines, shorter distances?

          Here’s another possible explanation, though — I’ve just looked at the Wiki for Marston Moor: “The triumphant allies meanwhile turned against the remains of the Royalist centre, overrunning successive units and cutting down many fugitives.” I don’t think that the Northern and Southern armies in the American Civil War were in the habit of “cutting down fugitives,” were they?

          A little lower down I read that 4,000 Royalist soldiers were killed. That’s out of 17,500 — an amazing death-toll. The Wiki on Antietam reports that at Antietam the South had about 1,500 killed out of “38,000 ‘engaged.'”

          • Statismagician says:

            Nope, very definitely still pike-and-shot in the English Civil War; the New Model Army standard was 1/3rd pikes per Wiki.

            It’s important to remember that the English Civil War was two hundred years before the American. Medicine was, horrifying though this is, even worse during the English Civil War than during the American, which is a factor in the inflated mortality figures. The big one, though, is probably harrying of retreating enemy units, as well as it being perfectly acceptable to just kill anybody left on the field and not important enough to bother capturing, especially after particularly brutal fighting likely to inflate mortaltiy rates anyway; see i.e. this paper on prisoners of war in the English Civil War.

          • Eric Rall says:

            In the English Civil War it would just have been shot, right — no pikes there?

            No, they used pikes. Flintlock muskets (which were more reliable and had a better rate of fire than matchlocks) and especially bayonets (which made muskets double as short pikes) were what really put pikes out of fashion. Pike were still useful well into the 19th century (the Confederacy fielded a few pikemen as support units for close-in fighting early in the America Civil War, and seriously considered raising more deploying them systematically throughout their army), but their advantage in melee over bayonetted rifles was narrow enough that they weren’t worth the morale disadvantage of bringing a pointed stick to a musket fight.

            Muskets at the time of the English Civil War (1640s) were still matchlocks, and bayonets only existed in crude forms and weren’t widely employed. Flintlocks and plug bayonets became available late in the 1600s, and ring bayonets (which allowed musket-armed infantry to keep shooting after fixing bayonets) around 1700.

            Another option was to issue musket-armed infantry with swords as sidearms for close-in combat. This was most notably employed by Sweden during the Carolean era, but I don’t think the English ever went in for it.

            Why would getting shot in the English Civil War be more likely to kill you than getting shot in the American Civil War? Denser firing-lines, shorter distances?

            Both plausible. It’s also likely that battlefield medicine was worse. As bad as American Civil War medicine was by modern standards, they were quite good at quick amputations, cleaning and debriding shallow wounds, and staunching bleeding. The Wars of French Revolution were a big turning point in battlefield medicine, where a lot of surgical techniques for combat wounds were refined and codified.

            I don’t think that the Northern and Southern armies in the American Civil War were in the habit of “cutting down fugitives,” were they?

            Also true. Two key differences were evolving standards of conduct (19th century armies were both better at taking prisoners and more willing to surrender if they found themselves in a hopeless position than 17th century armies) and a shortage of cavalry in the American Civil War (the English Civil War used cavalry extensively for flank assaults and pursuing routed units, while the Americans had much less trained cavalry and reserved them mostly for scouting and behind-the-lines raiding).

          • sfoil says:

            Take the number of dead and wounded with a grain of salt. Did someone count 4,000 dead bodies, or did 4,000 fewer people show up at roll call over the next several days?

            Others have pointed out that “pike and shot” warfare seems to have been particularly bloody. As best as I can tell, this resulted from the fact that pike-and-shot armies quite frequently actually made mutual contact in good order with said pikes, something that later (including American Civil War) armies did not do with their bayonets. Ironically, this would be because firearms — or possibly just the way they were employed — were too ineffective to prevent such close contact from occurring.

            Many armies have engaged in the killing of fugitives, although there are two mitigating factors. The first is how easy it is to surrender without having your throat cut — this is idiosyncratic but there’s no real question that the American Civil War was more humane in this regard.

            The other is how physically easy it is to run down fleeing enemy. American Civil War armies were quite adept at screening retreats with cavalry and rearguards, and keeping in good order while doing so. Would Royalist cavalry screen the retreat of Some Mercenary Company You’ve Hired? Maybe not. Compounding this, more men would probably have been running from hand-to-hand rather than ranged combat than in the later American war.

          • Deiseach says:

            Speaking of the English Civil War, there is a funny breakfast cereal advertisement from the 90s using that as a theme.

            I wonder about the New Model Army – part of Cromwell’s “let’s get a proper professional fighting force going” seems to have included “and let’s kill absolutely every bugger – a dead enemy soldier is one you don’t have to fight tomorrow”:

            Sir,

            It hath pleased God to bless our endeavors at Drogheda. After battery, we stormed it. The Enemy were about 3,000 strong in the Town. They made a stout resistance ; and near 1,000 of our men being entered, the Enemy forced them out again. But God giving a new courage to our men, they attempted again, and entered; beating the Enemy from their defences.

            The Enemy had made three retrenchments, both to the right and left of where we entered; all which they were forced to quit. Being thus entered, we refused them quarter; having the day before summoned the Town. I believe we put to the sword the whole number of the defendants. I do not think Thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did, are in safe custody for the Barbadoes.

          • bean says:

            Being thus entered, we refused them quarter; having the day before summoned the Town.

            This is an important part. At the time, there was a generally-recognized “last chance to surrender”, I believe when the walls were breached (in this case, the previous day). After that, no quarter would be given. So it wasn’t a specific decision on Cromwell’s part so much as an application of standard procedure.

          • Statismagician says:

            What bean said. I think you get a chance to surrender when the enemy invests your position, one right before bombardment begins, and a final one once a breach is made. Similarly, at least in Medieval warfare, if a city makes it necessary to properly besiege and assault it, that city will be getting sacked pour encourager les autres.

            Assaulting fortresses is an absolutely hellish experience for the attackers. I cannot stress this enough. During the Napoleonic Wars (i.e.) the first wave through a breach was expected to have near-100% casualties; in the French army anyone who survived was guaranteed promotion to the officer ranks, and the British had similar, if not formally codified incentives. The idea behind not granting quarter after a breach is made is a) an incentive to defenders not to make assaults necessary, and b) a recognition of the fact that anybody who’s just watched a supermajority of their unit die will probably not be in an especially merciful mood.

          • Aging Loser says:

            Thanks, you guys

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I want to chime in here to say that I’m not really sure the lowered casualties are entirely attributable to the American Civil War being more “humane.” I think the ACW has a lot of unique characteristics from the geography and technology available, too, that lowered casualties.

            For one, American Civil War armies were quite resilient. In previous wars, usually armies would be able to fight perhaps one major battle per campaign – and sometimes one major battle per war. You’d have the battle, one army would be more or less shattered, and that would be the war. You can see this pattern in the Persian Wars, a lot of the Roman civil wars, all the way down to Napoleonic times, when an Austerlitz or Auerstadt would end the war in an afternoon. There are exceptions, of course (the War of Spanish Succession springs to mind), but by and large that’s the way things play out.

            In the Civil War, this is not so. There are almost no instances of an army being totally routed from the battlefield and being totally ineffective thereafter. Even in the face of overwhelming defeats like Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, or Fredericksburg, typically the defeated army was able to withdraw in good order under their own terms. The only exceptions I can think of are Bull Run, Chattanooga, and Nashville.

            Why is this so? A variety of reasons, I think. The biggest is the huge edge that defenders had, thanks to the rapidly evolving rifle technology. That made armies a lot more capable of defending themselves, and even small numbers could hold off many times their number of attackers long enough for the rest of the army to withdraw (cf. George Thomas at Chickamauga, or the Confederates at Antietam). The powerful rifles also meant that cavalry had to keep their distance, and so grand Napoleonic charges by glittering battalions were right out (to say nothing of the fact that neither side really HAD any glittering battalions of heavy cavalry at all).

            A second reason is the poor level of training at all levels through the war. The vast majority of commanders had no experience leading such massive armies (the largest ever deployed on this continent), virtually all of the fighting men were green volunteers, and that led to repeated screwups on the battlefield. Commanders would repeatedly devise over-complicated battleplans that then totally fell apart because their subordinates were unable to coordinate with each other and with their men. Lee, especially, was guilty of this, but all armies in all theaters fell prone to it at one point or another – Nathaniel Lyon at Wilson’s Creek is another example that comes to mind. Victorious armies would often be as disorganized by victory as the loser was by defeat, and be unable to follow up in good time (1st Bull Run is a prime example).

            Third, the terrain in the US differs significantly from Europe and from England. The English countryside is largely tamed, and most of the war was fought in “civilized” areas. Ditto most European wars – fought in densely-settled countryside with lots of little villages, cultivated fields, and good roads. By contrast, the American Civil War was fought in ghastly terrain. Thick, tangled forests, high bluffs, swamps, fast-flowing rivers – all manner of difficult terrain. Why did this lower casualties? Because it inhibited coordination and made it tough to strike a really decisive blow. In the West at places like Shiloh or Stone’s River, in the East in the literal Wilderness of northern Virginia, armies were basically groping in the dark for each other. Battles were swirling, blundering affairs, and the type of coordinated strike to surround and destroy a foe was basically impossible. And, of course, cavalry can’t operate in that terrain.

            Indeed, you almost never see cavalry in the sort of battlefield support role that it had historically always played in the Civil War. Instead, usually it’s off operating independently, scouting and raiding. Everyone knows about the famed cavalry raiders, but the Union had its fair share in the West, as well.

            Bottom line: It’s not just that warfare was more “humane,” Civil War battles were less lethal because historically, most casualties in battle have come when one side routs and flees. For reasons stemming from technology, training, and geography, armies rarely routed in the Civil War, and neither side had a body of trained cavalry to exploit routs when they happened.

            Sorry for lack of sources, but I’m typing from work and don’t have time to dig up everything. If anyone requests clarifications or citations I’ll be happy to do the research.

          • Statismagician says:

            @Chevalier Mal Fet

            These are all really interesting points and I’m looking forward to considering them further. Face validity is certainly very high.

          • cassander says:

            @Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I think you make a good point, but I’d add one more, the relatively good discipline among the rank and file. Despite being a largely amateur army commanded by inexperienced men, the troops generally kept themselves in relatively good order even in defeat, and out and out routs were rare.

          • gbdub says:

            Many of the biggest battles in the American Civil War were of the form “one side attacks prepared or semi-prepared defensive position of other side and fails” – Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg were all of this form. I think those battles are going to tend to have relatively lower casualties, because what typically happened was the attacker would be repulsed and retreat back to their own defensible position / reserve forces.

            Rifles and effective field artillery made attacking positions much more difficult, but I think it also made retreat from a failed assault easier – much harder to disengage safely when you’re in a big melee, not to mention that you can fall back under the cover of friendly guns.

            It was much closer to proto-trench warfare then to the “two fully committed forces meet on a big open field and one side gets slaughtered by heavy cavalry as they flee” of the English Civil War and similar battles.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Was a given soldier in the English Civil War likely to be in more, or fewer, battles per unit of time than a given soldier in the American Civil War? My understanding is that there’s a spectrum between “fewer, more intense battles” and “more, less intense battles” – so while a given soldier in one war might be more likely to get killed or wounded (the “or wounded” having largely to do with the medical care available) in each battle, but be fighting fewer battles per year or whatever.

          • Lambert says:

            More battles or more battle?
            Hastings and Verdun were both one battle, but one took most of a year, while the other was unusual in taking a whole afternoon.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Good point, “the Battle of X” used to be fairly likely to be a day or maybe a few days; in WWI or WWII it could be months.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Was a given soldier in the English Civil War likely to be in more, or fewer, battles per unit of time than a given soldier in the American Civil War? My understanding is that there’s a spectrum between “fewer, more intense battles” and “more, less intense battles” – so while a given soldier in one war might be more likely to get killed or wounded (the “or wounded” having largely to do with the medical care available) in each battle, but be fighting fewer battles per year or whatever.

            That’s a good question. Let’s see…if a soldier had joined up with the Army of the Potomac in May, 1862, for a three-year term of service (the standard length of a volunteer term by the middle-late war), he would have been involved in Fair Oaks, Seven Days’, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg in those three years. Many of those battles saw significant fractions of the army wrecked – 20% of the Union army was killed or wounded at Gettysburg, for example.

            If he’d signed up with General Grant in the west, let’s say in January 1862 – January, 1865, he’d see action at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Iuka and Corinth, Chickasaw Bluffs, the Vicksburg campaign (which was a running battle culminating in a siege), Chattanooga, the Atlanta campaign (another steady series of medium-intensity battles), and Sherman’s march to the sea OR the battles of Franklin and Nashville, depending on whose unit he was in.

            A Confederate in Earl Van Dorn’s Transmississippi army would have fought at Pea Ridge, been transferred over in time for Shiloh, fought either with Van Dorn at Iuka and Corinth or, if he’s unlucky, been assigned to Bragg’s Army of Tennessee and fought at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Franklin, and Nashville. By the end of the Battle of Nashville, in December, 1864, the Army of Tennessee had lost every major battle it had fought in, save Chickamauga, and had basically ceased to exist as an effective fighting unit.

            Now, every unit wasn’t involved in every battle, but near enough as makes no difference. And this doesn’t include all the minor skirmishes and flare-ups between armies as they maneuvered and jostled each other that didn’t escalate to the level of a full-blown grand battle, either, but could kill you just as dead.

            Your chances of dying in any single battle were probably a lot higher in the English Civil War, but in the American Civil War you almost certainly fought in a lot more major battles.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I recall reading that supposedly, regardless of the war, through most of history a given soldier had about a 50% chance of being killed or wounded in a given year. However, I can’t recall if the work to get to this number was shown, or whether disease was counted as “wounded” for those purposes.

      • bean says:

        That sort of thing never works. It’s politically impossible, and assumes a level of technological determinism that simply doesn’t apply. How do we know that the British develop the tank on schedule in 1918 if they chose to sit on the defensive? How do they justify that to their people, or to the French? Wars have a momentum, and ceding that momentum for longer than you have to is a terrible plan.

        We should have just built A-bombs until 1946. I guess we needed island bases to hop-scotch bombers across the Pacific with, though, so we would have to have built up our Navy too. But no need for any ground-fighting except for taking those islands.

        1. How do we justify this strategy, without giving away the secret weapon? Nuclear weapons aren’t magic, and the Japanese came very close to not surrendering despite the pounding they’d taken, so assume it’s going to take until maybe 1947 to get enough nukes to blow either them or the Germans completely to Hell. Stalin is screaming for you to open the western front. He was really annoyed that we didn’t invade France in 1942 or 1943 IRL. And there are lots of resources you aren’t using and can’t use in this plan.
        2. In the Pacific, this only lets us bypass the Philippines and Okinawa. The former was essentially US territory. Good luck with leaving them in enemy hands.
        3. In Europe, this ends with the Soviets in control of all of Europe before we get enough bombs. Let me know how that works out for you.
        4. What about the Jews who go to the ovens, or the Chinese who died while we were carefully husbanding our strength to make sure our casualties were as low as possible?

      • cassander says:

        Civil wars are almost always much nastier and more brutal than non-civil wars, for a variety of reasons. The US civil war is an extremely impressive exception to that general trend.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Well the US Civil War is of course such an outlier that “Civil War” is arguably a misnomer. For all the rhetoric of brother against brother, unless you lived in Tennessee or the other border states you knew which side you and all of your neighbors were on.

          • Statismagician says:

            [snark] Might the historical narrative around the Civil War have been distorted in some way, perhaps deliberately? Shocking! Shocking, I say! [/snark]

            This is actually a really important facet of the war that’s basically completely slipped out of the popular perception, which has always bugged me.

          • cassander says:

            well, one, there where 4.5 million people living in border states, out of a population of 31 million so that fraction isn’t inconsiderable. But even beyond that, you’d expect far more massacring as the north occupied the south after several years of brutal war, with an conscripted army that was none to happy about being there, but war crimes were relatively few and far between. Even when there was looting and burning, it was done with far more respect to human life than was typical for the time.

        • hyperboloid says:

          Civil wars are almost always much nastier and more brutal than non-civil wars

          I very much doubt this. Civil wars tend to be small scale conflicts with each side having only a portion of their nation’s resources at their disposal.

          • Nornagest says:

            Each side has only a portion of their nation’s resources at their disposal, but they tend to make greater use of them (i.e. to be strategically closer to total war), neither side has territory to retreat to that isn’t claimed by the other, the objective is usually one side’s total capitulation and may include genocide, and as a result of all of this they tend to be drawn out and bitterly contested. It’s also fairly common for neighboring powers to be drawn into the conflict: the Second Congo War (originally a civil war in the DRC) is a modern example, the Thirty Years’ War (which grew out of a succession crisis in the Holy Roman Empire) a historic one.

            Chinese civil wars (there have been many) tend to cluster around the high end of historical death tolls, with their only real competition being the World Wars and the Mongol conquests. The Russian Civil War was also one of the deadlier modern conflicts.

          • cassander says:

            On top of what Nornagest says, for the leadership, the usual penalty for losing a war is disgrace. The usual penalty for losing a civil war is being hung as a rebel. That’s not to say that everyone who ever lost a civil war was hung, but the likelihood was a lot greater, which can’t help but concentrate the mind and inspire one to use more desperate measures.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        @Aging Loser:
        I’m not a great war historian so take what I’m about to say with a massive grain of salt.

        The French/british attacks on Germany on the western front were seen as necessary to keep the german military from safely re-allocating them to the eastern front where war was more mobile and Tsarist Russia was under much greater strain. Had the German generals assumed the French/british had no plans for any offensives for another 3-4 years they may have been able to knock Russia out of the war earlier than they did historically by leaving the western front lightly defended.

        There’s also the issue that practical military experience is gained by militaries through combat. The war against Russia would have given the germans valuable knowledge on properly using modern weapons that the French and british would lack because they relied strictly on defense.

        The war with the ottomans had a similar purpose; Russia was cut off from Britain in the Baltic by the Germans and from the Mediterranean by the Ottomans.

        • cassander says:

          at least as as often as not, it was the western allies pushing the russians to attack to give them relief not the other way around.

    • Walter says:

      At a guess, they weren’t making their decisions in a cool and collected manner, with possession of all the facts. This was a long time ago, I don’t think I can accurately model what they knew and what they were doing, but my general suspicion is that they were basically just following the script of ‘brave soldier’ that their culture had passed down.

      • bean says:

        I strongly disagree with this. They didn’t have quite the tools of the modern analytical staff, but the situation in WWI was much closer to that of today than to the traditional model in use up through the 19th century. Early in the war, one of the prominent British leaders was Jackie Fisher, who invented half of modern naval warfare. He was absolutely not about “following the traditional script”, and frankly neither were any of the other British leaders. This was a time of tremendous innovation in military affairs, and at least in the Navy, this lead to many innovative and forward-looking men rising to the top. For that matter, what I know of Haig suggests that he was actually a pretty good commander faced with an impossible situation.

        • Walter says:

          I mean, the traditional ‘lions led by donkeys’ narrative is pretty harsh to the decision makers, yeah? I sort of thought that WWI was the end of the ‘victory by bravery’ era and the beginning of the ‘victory by cruelty’ era. Like, somebody was telling dudes to go over the wire and get machine gunned down.

          If you’ve studied this then you are more probably correct than I, I’m just regurgitating the overall vibe that WWI has.

          • bean says:

            I mean, the traditional ‘lions led by donkeys’ narrative is pretty harsh to the decision makers, yeah?

            It is. It’s also a really good way to annoy British Army WWI history buffs. Basically, the generals of the day, on all sides, were faced with a near-impossible challenge. Assaults into prepared positions were only possible with extensive support, and the communications technology of the day didn’t allow forces moving forward to call down such support. So it was fairly easy to build a line too deep to penetrate, and to bring in reinforcements to seal off any penetration. Most offensives did take territory. They just couldn’t rupture the line. By the end of the war, the British had built an excellent Army, while the Germans had exhausted themselves.

            Edit: Eric does a better job of explaining this below.

          • Eric Rall says:

            The “lions lead by donkeys” myth is heavily influenced by taking the first day of the Battle of the Somme as a central example of British trench warfare, when it was actually a perfect storm of everything going wrong at once.

            Basically, the British rushed their newly-recruited mass volunteer army into a large-scale offensive before it was really ready, based on the perceived need to divert the Germans from pressing home their ongoing offensive at Verdun. The British knew the army wasn’t really ready, so they decided to use simplified tactics (advancing at a walk in relatively close order) based on the perceived limitations of infantry’s ability to execute. They also got key parts of the artillery plan wrong (they counted on air-burst shrapnel to cut German barbed wire, which doesn’t work — you can neutralize wire with artillery, which the Germans and French did routinely at this point, but you do so with explosive shells fused to burst underground to churn up the dirt underneath the wire), and there were a couple fairly major intelligence failures (the Germans had about twice as many divisions in reserve in that sector of the front as the British though, and they’d dug in a lot deeper than the British thought so the British bombardment inflicted a lot fewer casualties than the British had been counting on).

            The more typical experience of a WW1 offensive by any army on the Western Front (British, French, German, or America) is a well-managed barrage and infantry assault that overruns the enemy front lines and inflicts quite a few more casualties on the defender than the attacker. Where the casualties start stacking up for the attacker is when one of two things happen: 1) the attacker tries to press their advantage and advance the infantry beyond the range of effective artillery support. If the defender has a strong reserve force to defend the second or third trench line (and they usually did), then the attacker is going to have a bad time. Or 2) the defender counterattacks with reserves when the attacker is disorganized, out of position, and only weakly supported by their own artillery.

            Every major army on the Western Front had a learning curve as they developed and refined their tactics and doctrines. Every army had major blunders, but they all learned from them. The British were no exception.

          • Michael Handy says:

            @Eric Rall That really helps point out why the Tank was such a great invention, and why it was concieved as infantry support/horse artillery rather than a cavalry spearhead role….it was the only way to get field artillery to move up with the infantry at a decent pace.

          • John Schilling says:

            That really helps point out why the Tank was such a great invention, and why it was concieved as infantry support/horse artillery rather than a cavalry spearhead role

            Both, actually. But also separately. Until roughly the start of World War 2, infantry-support tanks and cavalry-substitue tanks were different categories of vehicle, and as you note the key requirement for an infantry tank was to carry a field artillery piece with enough armor to advance under heavy fire. Light or “cruiser” tanks were faster but often armed with and armored against nothing more than machine guns, sufficient for cavalry-type roles like scouting, pursuing a fleeing enemy, and tearing up his rear areas.

            This works dashingly well if you’re fantasizing about fighting the last war, in this case World War One where nobody else had tanks of any sort and yours can perform their specialized functions to utterly rout the enemy’s infantry, horse cavalry, and static artillery. By early WW2 at the latest, it was clear to everyone that the only kind of tank that really mattered was the kind that carried a pretty serious anti-tank gun.

    • Statismagician says:

      Consider that the site of the first Battle of the Marne is something like a hundred miles from Paris. The British put so many men into France because if they hadn’t, France would have been defeated, followed swiftly by the British themselves. This was the entire aim of the German war plan, and it got damned close to coming off exactly as intended.

      • Eric Rall says:

        That’s true to varying extents in different part of the war. It’s most true during the 1914 campaigns and the spring of 1918, when the combined efforts of Britain and France (and America, in 1918) were necessary to stop German offensives. It’s true to a lesser extent in 1916, when the German offensive at Verdun was straining France’s resources and the British offensive on the Somme was thought to be necessary to take pressure off.

        But for most of 1915 and 1917, the Entente was on the strategic offensive on the Western Front. Some British forces were necessary to hold the line, but they had the option of reinforcing other fronts instead of launching offensives in the West.

        To some extent, they did just that. The Dardenelles/Gallipoli campaign was one such attempt, as were the campaigns in Mesopotamia and British aid to the Arab Revolt. Another option that was proposed but never followed-through with (mainly because it was insanely risky, and because the German Navy needed to be neutralized first) was Admiral Fisher’s proposal to break into the Baltic and land troops in Pomerania.

        From what I understand, the main reason Britain focused resources on offensives in Flanders and on the Somme instead of reinforcing or opening other fronts was logistics: Flanders was right across the channel and had a robust rail system connecting it to the Channel Ports. Other existing fronts (Mesopotamia in particular) were already reinforced to or beyond Britain’s logistical capacity to keep them supplied, and the Gallipoli campaign is a good illustration of the difficulties involved in opening new fronts. The Russian front also suffered from huge logistical issues for the Entente: the main strategic rationale for the Gallipoli campaign was that Russia was short on weapons and ammunition and opening up the straits would allow Britain to run supply ships into Sevestapol and Odessa rather than just through Murmask and Archangel (which were relatively remote and were closed by ice for half the year).

        • dndnrsn says:

          There were political reasons, weren’t there? When you’ve gone to war to defend your ally France and plucky little Belgium from the depredations of the Hun (or, at a minimum, have told the public this), there’s domestic and foreign policy reasons to focus your energies on the Continent.

        • bean says:

          All true, although I wouldn’t underrate the military politics involved. The Army came in with a coherent war plan, while the Navy’s was basically “just trust us, we’ve got this”. That’s going to give the Army’s plans to fight it out in France a lot of momentum. And then the British botch every attempt at flanking…

          • Statismagician says:

            Was it really that the Admiralty didn’t have a plan at all, or was it more along the lines of them saying ‘look, we’ve spent literally decades planning for this and I’m not going to risk missing the tide explaining Mahan to you lot again?’ It seems like the old blockade-everything-sink-whatever-comes-out plan wouldn’t be that hard to sell, given how successful it’d been for the RN historically.

            I could also see ‘no coherent plan’ being the visible result of Fisher saying ‘let’s build a bunch of crazy hyperspecialized Baltic battlecruisers and invade Prussia by sea, what could possibly go wrong?’ and everybody else just quietly forgetting to send those documents along to the War Office, but I’m not an expert on Whitehall dysfunction circa 1914.

          • bean says:

            This was somewhat earlier, so Spurious, Curious, and Outrageous don’t enter into it. There wasn’t a centralized plan for what ships would go where during a war, or what they would be doing. The senior fleet commanders may or may not have had a plan, but it wasn’t written down or shared with their subordinates. (Cite is Massie, who seems pretty good on this stuff, but it’s possible that they’ve found more on this recently. I’ll check Friedman when I get home for a more recent take.) I trust I’ve established my pro-RN credentials, and I think they seriously screwed up here.

          • Statismagician says:

            That is pretty damning, I agree.

          • Eric Rall says:

            The impression I got from Massie is that this came from a cultural issue within the Royal Navy. Britain’s last major contest at sea against something like a peer competitor was the Napoleonic Wars, about a century previously, which they’d won handily. Ever since then, the Royal Navy had been at peace, chasing down pirates and smugglers, or fighting colonial wars against hopelessly outclassed opponents. The culture was very much oriented around the “Chase down the enemy and pound the stuffing out of them” mindset that had served them well in that threat environment (*).

            The British Army had some nasty setbacks during the Boer Wars which had convinced them they needed to modernize their organization, planning, and doctrines. And they’d had a decade or two to roll out those reforms before war broke out. Meanwhile, Fisher had been trying to work similar reforms within the Navy, with a moderate amount of success, but he didn’t get anywhere near as far as the Army did without external events demonstrating a clear need for reform.

            (*) The mindset was also reinforced by an oversimplified popular understanding of Lord Nelson’s tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar. He’d had a detailed battle plan built around an operation conflict of forcing a general melee which would emphasize Britain’s advantages in shipbuilding, training, and experience over the Franco-Spanish fleet and which would limit the enemy’s ability to retreat in good order and preserve a fleet-in-being that could continue to threaten the British blockade. But his instruction that “No Captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside the enemy” was taken badly out of context.

          • bean says:

            @Eric

            I do think Massie takes far too dim a view of the RN’s modernizing tendencies. He set up Dreadnought as mostly Fisher and followers vs the reactionaries, which isn’t particularly supportable. There were a number of mistakes in that section, and a couple of cases where I know scholarship has moved on. They were seriously concerned about the French throughout most of the Victorian era, and then about Germany.

            On the other hand, the lack of a staff did badly handicap them, and the Army gained a major advantage in politics by having one. Situations at sea are more fluid than those on land, but that doesn’t mean plans aren’t important.

            I’m not totally certain of my conclusions here, as my knowledge comes from a bunch of books read over the last three years or so, and a lot of them were on related topics which only touched on this.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I suspected that might be the case to at least a certain extent. Massie’s account did have an air of telling a compelling narrative at the expense of leaving out inconvenient details that don’t fit the story. His story seems plausible on the face of things, but I figured it probably wasn’t the whole story.

          • bean says:

            Fighting the Great War at Sea basically confirms. There was some planning gone on, and naval operations at the time didn’t take anything like the level of planning army operations did, but Fisher and Wilson both refused to reveal their plans. Fisher did provide an analysis of alternatives, without saying which one he would choose, while Wilson did so badly in front of the Committee on Imperial Defense that he was sacked.

      • rmtodd says:

        The British put so many men into France because if they hadn’t, France would have been defeated, followed swiftly by the British themselves.

        France would fall, yes, but would British defeat then “follow switfty”? After all, in the subsequent World War, France did fall, but Germany never did manage to invade Britain.

        • Protagoras says:

          I’d agree that swift defeat seems wrong; the Germans can’t invade England in WWI any more than they could in WWII. But in WWI they drove the Russians out of the war even without defeating France; presumably that would happen even more quickly with a French defeat. And once both Russia and France are gone, Britain doesn’t really have a path to victory. Germany could send some of the millions of men no longer tied up in France to the Ottoman territories, invade Persia and Egypt, and at some point Britain is going to want to cut its losses. It’s especially dire for the British if France falls before Italy joins the war, as in that case Italy probably joins the other side, adding considerably to the naval forces opposing Britain. The Royal Navy was huge, but if they have to cover the coast of France as well as the North Sea, and they have extra enemies in the Mediterranean sea, and maybe they lose Suez, then at some point it becomes too much even for them.

        • cassander says:

          The brits wouldn’t be invaded right away, or any time soon, but I could certainly see them throwing in the towel relatively quickly after the fall of france if they were offered decent terms.

    • John Schilling says:

      Once France falls, the Germans also get to start putting resources into various second and third fronts. And if one of those fronts is the Atlantic, they’ll have ports on France’s west coast for their raiders and submarines. They’ll have two fronts against Italy, so if France falls before April 1915 Italy probably joins the Central Powers. If after, then either Italy falls and the Central Powers rule the Med, or the UK has to take all the resources they saved by not fighting the German army in France and instead devote them to fighting the German army in Italy.

      For all the jokes about the military prowess of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, you’re really much better off spending WWI fighting alongside the French army than the Italians. Or the Russians.

    • Salem says:

      As others have pointed out:
      1. They had to dedicate lots of resources to the western front, otherwise France would have been knocked out of the war, and it was a close-run thing.
      2. They tried exactly your suggestions, and they went terribly.

      The British did try and knock out the Ottomans. They made opened a new front against the Ottomans on five separate occasions (Gallipoli, Palestine, the two Mesopotamian campaigns, and their support of Sharif Hussein). Two of these were even worse disasters than the Western Front, and the other three weren’t exactly immediate brilliant successes.

      They also spent a lot of time, money and capital opening other fronts – most notably, persuading Italy and Romania to join the war. These were futile at best and disastrous at worst.

      Don’t forget all the resources they spent on the navy. That’s what ultimately won the war. I will never understand why the German high command preferred to let their country starve than risk the existence of their fleet in being, or how the sailors at Kiel could show their faces after their mutiny, but there’s a sense in which those decisions were correct – had the High Seas Fleet attempted a sustained engagement with the Royal Navy they’d probably have been massacred. British naval superiority was not a law of nature, it’s a demonstration of the effectiveness of their resource allocation.

      • 1. They had to dedicate lots of resources to the western front, otherwise France would have been knocked out of the war, and it was a close-run thing.
        2. They tried exactly your suggestions, and they went terribly.

        This seems to be the consensus. I knew about Gallipolli but I didn’t really know about the other ME campaigns. My only question then would be about Russia. The UK couldn’t send troops with Germany and the Ottomans blocking the Baltic and Black Sea but what about another way? Would it have been too much of a logistical nightmare to send troops via Eastern Russia or from India through Central Asia? If they did, would it have been a wise use of troops compared to the ME campaigns?

        • bean says:

          First, Russia has always been pathological about letting other people’s troops on their soil. Second, logistics. One of the main motives to try to open either the Baltic or the Dardanelles was to get a good route to support Russia and import Russian grain. As it was, the support the British could provide would be limited by trackage from Murmansk to the front. Which isn’t much. And that’s not a fun sea route. The Arctic convoys of WWII were uniquely hellish.

      • bean says:

        Don’t forget all the resources they spent on the navy. That’s what ultimately won the war.

        This. This is the key thing. Germany fell because they were starving, and they starved because the British were much more effective at cutting off their trade than the U-boats were at sinking British merchant ships. WWI, just like essentially every war ever, was won at sea.

        • Statismagician says:

          For an illustrative example of this principle at work, consider the American Civil War – even with a massive population and industrial advantage and a long land border, it’s really the South’s inability to export cotton/import weapons and supplies which guarantee a Northern victory.

        • ec429 says:

          essentially every war ever, was won at sea

          Counterexample: WWII was won in the air and you will never convince me otherwise. Even the Battle of the Atlantic was won in the air 😉

          • bean says:

            You have a (weak) point on the Battle of the Atlantic, in that 10% more boats succumbed to air attack than surface attack, but a lot of those were off of the escort carriers, which count as sea power. And the ultimate goal of that battle was tonnage across the ocean, which is kind of hard to do with planes.

            As for the Pacific, it was sea power which secured the bomber bases, and submarines which strangled Japan. Naval power provided greatly needed supplies to Russia, and made the invasion of Europe possible on all levels. And it tied the allied economy together.

            I’m not trying to downplay air power here. But if you want to know who will win a war, see who has control of the sea.

            But still. Let us put aside our differences and unite to crush the real enemy (the Army).

    • bean says:

      As others pointed out, they tried a lot. There was a war in the Middle East, which went back and forth until 1918, when the British won because of (mumble). The Ottomans sued for peace a few days before the Germans did. They also made a couple of other attacks, most famously at Gallipoli, which is a byword for military disaster (somewhat unfairly, but that’s a rather long story.) The attempt to go in through the Balkans was almost as bad, although they weren’t actually run out of that front.
      The British were absolutely thinking about flanking attacks throughout the war. They even built some rather odd ships specifically to strike into the Baltic. It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds, although it probably would have failed pretty spectacularly.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      @bean: Since you’re talking so much about World War I outside the trenches, I wonder if you own Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis?

  17. johan_larson says:

    You are about to be attacked by a mountain lion. Which of these weapons would you prefer to defend yourself with?
    – a common wood-axe
    – a wooden baseball bat
    – a machete (15″ blade)
    – two knives (6″ blades)
    – a 6′ quarterstaff
    – a 10 lb sledgehammer

    • Walter says:

      Am I getting pounced on by surprise, or do I see it coming?

    • Machine Interface says:

      Quarterstaff. I’m not more confident in my ability to use it than any of the other weapons on that list, but at least I’ll have the advantage of reach — whereas all the other weapons on that list, if you’re close enough to whack the lion, it’s close enough to whack you.

    • JPNunez says:

      Machete or Axe, probably Axe.

      But I am not too optimistic about my chances…try to get a lucky hack onto the lion’s head, if I fail and hit something else, well maybe it’d be good too, but the lion ain’t gonna die of that and that’s it, game over.

      WAIT NO

      quarterstaff

      Just look down the lion into getting scared.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBpu4DAvwI8

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thanks for the video– I’m taking it as a reminder that you don’t have to kill to win…. enough.

        The video has some entertaining comments.

        Also, I wonder how you’d arm a team of three humans vs. a mountain lion.

        I will completely ignore the spirit and the letter of the challenge and suggest a mountain lion of the opposite sex, or possibly a ball of yarn.

        See _The Lady and Her Tiger_ by Peter Beagle, non-fiction (or at least marketed as such) about a woman who lived with big cats and once sufficiently distracted a presumably not very hungry big cat by doing soft shoe dancing.

    • Deiseach says:

      I want to keep the animal off me as much as possible, because once it gets close enough to use claws (never mind teeth) I’m going to pick up a lot of heavy damage fast.

      The quarterstaff sounds the best option here, but it could be unwieldy to use. I’m going for the wood axe, assuming a length of around thirty inches?

      Though this is a situation where the Victorian joke applies:

      Q. What is better in an accident than presence of mind?
      A. Absence of body

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      Absolutely not:
      Knives – No reach, you are being hit if using this one.
      Sledgehammer – No flexibility, you get one shot with a heavy slow item, and your timing is probably going to be off.

      Probably not:
      Machete – Bad reach, same as knives, though slightly better (swinging motion is better than stabbing too)

      Not great, but maybe workable:
      Wood Axe – Cutting blade and decent length, without so much weight that it would be unwieldy, still not very long
      Baseball Bat – Good speed and decent le