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Open Thread 119.75

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1,033 Responses to Open Thread 119.75

  1. Plumber says:

    “Social media” in general and especially Twitter are leading to some journalistic soul-searching, such as:

    “…many journalists are surprisingly shy. We chose a trade that involves watching and witnessing rather than risking and daring. For many of us, the most difficult part of the job is ringing the doorbell of a bereaved family, or prying into the opinions of unwelcoming strangers. Twitter has created a seductive universe in which the reactions of a virtual community are served up in neatly quotable bits without need for uncomfortable personal interactions.

    For another, many journalists are these days under intense pressure to produce quick “takes” on the news to drive website traffic. Twitter offers the amphetamine hit that makes such pressure survivable. No reporter can go to the scene of a dozen events per day, observe what happens, interview those affected, sort the meaning from the dross and file a story. But Twitter offers an endless stream of faux events: fleeting sensations, momentary outrages, ersatz insights and provocative distortions. “News” nuggets roll by like the chocolates on Lucy’s conveyor belt…”

    and

    “…When I checked social media during […] re-election campaign, I mostly saw people bashing her, and she wasn’t bothering to engage with that hate. I assumed she was in trouble.

    But she won her primary against a […] rival by more than 20 points, then trounced her […..] opponent in the general election, 52.8 percent to 37.3 percent. (Third-party candidates received the remainder of the vote.) She had ample support in the end. It just didn’t show up on Twitter, where an overwhelming majority of Americans still spend no time at all.

    (emphasis mine)

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Twitter really is horrible. When I imagine why putative alien civilizations have died out, I’m not entirely kidding with the explanation “eventually someone invents Twitter.”

      • CatCube says:

        On my last deployment, I came to the conclusion that Facebook and Twitter were the tools of the devil. I mean that literally. The speed with which rumor, hate, and discontent could spread, devoid of all reason, was astonishing.

  2. Have any of you seen this article yet? He’s arguing that the AGI community is rife with white supremacy, and the whole project of AGI itself is racist because it conflates intelligence with consciousness.

    • Plumber says:

      @Forward Synthesis,

      Until you linked to it I was completely unaware of the article.

      I just skimmed the article and it seems very niche in a “Somewhere, some people are wrong, I read about them on the internet and you should be worried about them!” way.

      Since there’s no indication of how powerful and how common, I’m not that impressed.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      This kind of association between Less Wrong and particularly Eliezer, silicon valley celebrities like Elon Musk, and the alt-right has always struck me as mainly innuendo and guilt by association, along with some willful cluelessness along the lines of “Poor people and minorities won’t care if an AI destroys the world, they would be no more oppressed as paperclips than they are now!”

      I’ve never had the will to dive deeply into that sphere of thought, though, so I’m undoubtedly missing something. One of these days I’ll read Sandifer’s book and see if there’s anything to it.

    • brad says:

      Did you find the article persuasive?

    • Deiseach says:

      No, but I can’t say I’m surprised. As soon as anything niche percolates into the mainstream, somebody is going to write a Hot Woque Take on it to harvest those sweet clicks as a matter of survival (see Buzzfeed and the former Oath, now Verizon Media, properties as well as legitimate traditional print media with all the layoffs).

    • Nick says:

      What is the point of linking to this article? The thesis sounds difficult to take seriously. Did it persuade you?

      • No, I don’t find it persuasive, but I thought it was an entertaining hit piece. Your mileage may vary. Really though, it’s just the most over the top and lurid example of a narrative that’s been building recently about discriminatory algorithms, and that narrative absolutely does have to be addressed. I expect the same arguments this article makes to get louder over time because it’s only natural to apply “Who? Whom?” to a subject that’s about a supercapable entity that can potentially bend the world to its whim.

        Yudkowsky’s Friendly AI concept is supposed to be politically neutral, but it can’t be.

    • John Schilling says:

      Meh. In order to work on Artificial General Intelligence, you pretty much have to believe that General Intelligence is a thing that matters and that can be measured. If you claim that general intelligence matters and can be measured, progressives are going to accuse you of being a racist. If you don’t carefully defend yourself using progressive-approved terminology, they will take that as evidence that you are an unrepentant racist. And if you do carefully defend yourself using progressive-approved terminology, you probably don’t have much time left to do AGI research.

      And if you’re a Person of Color, you’ll probably face extra criticism for not devoting yourself to work that benefits the Colored community, plus criticism from your family for not working in a more mainstream specialty with better pay and job security to lock in your precarious middle-class existence. That’s if you went into computer science in the first place, which People of Color disproportionately don’t unless we’re counting Asians as Colored this week.

      So, yeah, by process of elimination, the people who do AI research will be disproportionately whites of the sort that Progressives like to call “racist”. And AI research probably is solidly on the SWPL list. We’ve been through this before, and there’s no real significance to that.

  3. Levantine says:

    Scott linked about this a couple of times, here’s the latest:

    via https://patrickarmstrong.ca/

    Recording of “sonic attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba spectrally matches the echoing call of a Caribbean cricket
    Preprint • January 2019 with 29 Reads DOI: 10.1101/510834

  4. Ventrue Capital says:

    Better late than never, I hope.

    @David Friedman and anyone else:

    I run a D&D game in which the primary cultures are anarcho-capitalist (or “anarcho-feudal” as I prefer to call them) and I’m trying to figure out how an anarcho-capitalist society would treat necromancers and intelligent undead.

    “Are those corpses ethically sourced?” (Not my blog, just a really witty post.)

    To clarify, while “ethical necromancy” (i.e. only reanimating corpses that you have legitimate legal title to) and being “vitally-challenged” may be victimless crimes, they tend to creep most people out.

    More importantly, like cannibalism, it makes people afraid that its practitioners will go after non-ethically-sourced products (i.e. attack people in a dark alley) when no one is looking.

    My best guess is that (1) it would depend a lot on the details culture, e.g. religious beliefs (and the Amthorian Empire is Christian, while the Karg tribes are Jewish); and (2) it would probably be handles something like the way drug use would be handled according to the chapter “Is Anarcho-Capitalism Libertarian?” in The Machinery of Freedom.

    I predict that, if anarcho-capitalist institutions appeared in this country tomorrow, heroin would be legal in New York and illegal in most other places. Marijuana would be legal over most of the country.

    So I’ve been assuming that open necromancy, and openly being an undead, are legal in one particular province of the Empire and illegal in most other places.

    Does anyone have any suggestions/advice/comments?

    • ing says:

      A lot of this depends on your worldbuilding.

      Is it inherently evil to create undead?
      Perhaps it is evil because you’ve bound a once-living soul to a decaying body where it exists in agony.
      Perhaps it is evil because the undead you created are bound to obey your every whim in a particularly brutal form of slavery.
      Perhaps it is evil because the constant need for fresh corpses gives you terrible incentives.
      Perhaps it is evil because the particular style of negative-energy magic you use is an Affront To Life and has a corrosive effect on your soul.
      Or perhaps none of that is true, because souls aren’t really a thing, undead can’t really feel, and you’re using the bound undead as menial laborers which create free wealth.

      In D&D 3.5, we have a clear answer to this question: the animate dead spell has the [Evil] tag, which means that casting it is definitely unambiguously an evil act. In D&D 5e, the spell tells you that it “imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life” but it leaves the other questions unanswered.

      Are undead inherently evil?
      Do they have an insatiable hunger for the flesh of the living?
      Does the process of returning from the dead somehow damage their mind, removing the parts that would let them ever feel joy or fulfillment?
      Does the process of becoming a lich involve such gruesome, twisted acts that any who could perform them would be the vilest sort of evil?
      Or is it a harmless life-extension procedure which really everyone should do if they can assemble the components?

      D&D 3.5 tells us that “the process of becoming a lich is unspeakably evil”. D&D 5e tells us that a lich can commonly have “any evil alignment” but doesn’t address the process of becoming one.

      —–

      If evil is a real thing in your world, and if undead really are evil, then it seems likely that your society contains strong taboos against necromancy and undead, and no undead will be tolerated regardless of your political beliefs.

      On the other hand, if you’ve decided that your society really believes in the principles of nonviolence, even against the undead, then it seems very likely that some of the wealthiest members of your society will turn undead to extend their own lifespan. Then they will lobby for legalization of undead and necromancy. More and more people will do this, over time, until eventually your empire is entirely undead rulers and living fodder-slaves.

      And at some point during that process, yes, it’s likely that your empire will have one particular province where the undead are legal, and other places where they’re not.

      ——

      Either way, it seems weird to describe necromancy as a “victimless crime”, unless your worldbuilding is very different than the standard D&D setting.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        Is it inherently evil to create undead?

        Is it inherently evil to fornicate? (Well, the Church says so, and I am a Christian IRL.)

        Is it inherently evil to use heroin? (That gives one terrible incentives and corrodes one’s soul.)

        If so, then I can see how practicing necromancy would be inherently evil.

        On the other hand, none of the other things you mention — binding souls to an agonizing existence, keeping them in slavery — are necessarily part of practicing necromancy.

        In D&D 3.5, we have a clear answer to this question: the animate dead spell has the [Evil] tag, which means that casting it is definitely unambiguously an evil act. In D&D 5e, the spell tells you that it “imbues the target with a foul mimicry of life” but it leaves the other questions unanswered.

        Of course, and I’m asking for something different than Rules As Written or even Rules As Interpreted.

        Are undead inherently evil?
        Do they have an insatiable hunger for the flesh of the living? (etc.)

        Not particularly, although ghouls *crave* living human flesh the way a heroin addict craves heroin, and vampires crave blood the same way. But there are substitutes and other ways to deal with this.

        Does the process of becoming a lich involve such gruesome, twisted acts that any who could perform them would be the vilest sort of evil?
        Or is it a harmless life-extension procedure which really everyone should do if they can assemble the components?

        Right now that’s actually an important issue for at least two player-characters and one NPC, who are desperately searching for a way to become liches without taking innocent life, if possible. (The NPC, though, will reluctantly sacrifice infants if that’s the only way he can avoid dying.)

        D&D 3.5 tells us that “the process of becoming a lich is unspeakably evil”. D&D 5e tells us that a lich can commonly have “any evil alignment” but doesn’t address the process of becoming one.

        Right, but previous editions gave explicit recipes, which I’m letting the characters find.

        On the other hand, if you’ve decided that your society really believes in the principles of nonviolence, even against the undead, then it seems very likely that some of the wealthiest members of your society will turn undead to extend their own lifespan. Then they will lobby for legalization of undead and necromancy. More and more people will do this, over time, until eventually your empire is entirely undead rulers and living fodder-slaves.

        Perhaps, but see “The Lich Kings of Avalon – A Campaign Seed for D&D 5e” (written by an economist).

        Either way, it seems weird to describe necromancy as a “victimless crime”, unless your worldbuilding is very different than the standard D&D setting.

        You’re right, Terramar is definitely not a Standard Fantasy Setting. (I try to make sure people know that before I bother to discuss the mechanics of character creation.)

      • Deiseach says:

        you’re using the bound undead as menial laborers which create free wealth

        Could be misused (and now I think about it, I read an SF short story along those lines) because is it legal to sell yourself into slavery (undead labour)? The desperate and the profoundly indebted could be induced to sell their corpses (once dead of causes other than “the guy holding my contract had me offed”) for such work, and unless there’s a limit (e.g. you can only really get five years out of the corpse which will fall apart after that) it seems like this would be an indefinite term.

        Maybe you don’t care about what happens your body after death, but your family and friends might be distressed to see your corpse shambling around.

        Local lords/the king/the emperor declares that as all the inhabitants are his subjects, he has a legal right to their corpses, and now all the graveyards of the poor get dug up regularly to supply a labour source for him (maybe it is now a crime to cremate or otherwise destroy a corpse so that it can’t be necromantically resurrected, which now means that even in death the poor can’t call their souls their own).

        A thriving trade in Resurrection Men sourcing corpses for necromancers (instead of medical schools), with the same kind of results as with real-life Resurrection Men.

        Maybe nobody cares too much if the undead are working in the salt mines, but maybe local labour cares a whole heap if they are displaced as workers by those who literally work for nothing until they fall apart.

        And of course, the material wealth generated is going to stay at a certain level of society – why would it trickle down to the now unemployed masses who are now best seen as a source of potential corpse labour? Unless it goes into the kind of “bread and circuses” pacification of the urban poor that the Roman Empire engaged in, which is a whole other set of political and social problems.

        You seem to have invented a combination of fears over low-skill immigrants and fears about automation displacing working class/lower class labour in one, congratulations! 🙂

        On the other hand, if you’ve decided that your society really believes in the principles of nonviolence, even against the undead, then it seems very likely that some of the wealthiest members of your society will turn undead to extend their own lifespan. Then they will lobby for legalization of undead and necromancy.

        Oooh, this point makes me wonder! Are the undead mindless shambling corpses, or can they still think and be conscious of who they were in life? Because if the undead still remember and can think, then it’s slavery to resurrect their corpse and use them as menial labour in the salt mines, and people would resent and rebel even more against widespread necromancy in this sort of use.

        Unless there’s a two-tier system, where Pauper Thomas gets the cheap basic ‘undead shambling corpse sold for manual labour’ treatment but Duke Philip gets the full-on lich with mind and will of its own. And then, of course, there’s the whole philosophical question of “is this really still Duke Philip or just an animating spirit that has possessed the body and has access to the brain contents”?

        Undying Emperor who, a hundred years after his natural death, still holds the throne and commands your obedience seems the kind of situation that would evolve into Eternal Undying God-Emperor to be worshipped as well as obeyed as a secular ruler, in time.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        For the record, @ing and @Deiseach, in case there was any doubt, I’d love to have either or both of you in my campaign.

        Same for probably anyone else on here.

        • Deiseach says:

          Thank you for the compliment, I like looking at a new idea and wondering “How could this go horribly wrong?” since I’m a bitter twisted cynic 🙂

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          I am intrigued by this campaign. How do you manage it online? And what would it take to get involved?

    • bullseye says:

      What does anarcho-feudal mean? At the national level feudalism can look anarchic if the lords only pay lip service to their oaths and fight amongst themselves, but at the local level the lord is a powerful ruler.

      • Plumber says:

        I don’t know either but pagan and immediately post Christianity Iceland had an interesting system.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        By “anarcho-feudalism” I mean a feudal system in which each vassal (including individual peasant) is free to choose which noble will be their feudal lord, much the same way the way folks in Iceland could choose their goði.

        I could call it “anarcho-capitalism without modern technology” but I think “anarcho-feudalism” is more colorful and clearer.

        • I sometimes describe the Icelandic system as “franchise feudalism,” since there was a fixed number of godord and they were transferable. But that doesn’t cover the non-territorial nature of the system.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I swear– by my reanimated corpse and my love of it– that I will never walk the earth undead for the sake of another zombie, nor ask another zombie to walk the earth undead for mine.

      • Deiseach says:

        I swear– by my reanimated corpse and my love of it– that I will never walk the earth undead for the sake of another zombie, nor ask another zombie to walk the earth undead for mine.

        Oh, Paul Zrimsek, you have inspired me!

        A zombie version of “Romeo and Juliet” where the star-crossed lovers, being idiot teens, not alone commit suicide but sell themselves into undeath to some (unscrupulous/no it’s perfectly legal) necromancer in order to be together forever despite their families’ ban.

        Which has a whole mess of complications as the families now have to try to get the bodies back/redeem them from undead labour and this adds another layer to the feud because now the Montagues and Capulets have stopped fighting each other and united to fight against the supporters of legal necromancy and whoever bought the corpses, which is equally bloody and messy as their original feud.

        Also what happens if they do get the bodies back? Another philosophical/moral conundrum! Do they kill them again (so they can rest in ‘natural’ death) or let them continue as undead until they fall apart? Is it murder to kill the undead? What about the purchasers’ legal property rights – can they be compelled to give over the zombies if they don’t want to? (Now I’m imagining Paris set it up to buy Juliet’s corpse and revivify her as a zombie which is even creepier than the original play).

        Yep, this one could turn into a cross-over with Titus Andronicus very easily, and be the smash-hit long-running sensation of the Imperial stage! 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            “A gay zombie struggling to fit into a homophobic zombie society.”

            “Come on, this is the 21st century. Done like ten times. One of them won the Booker.”

            That has actually been done, at least in the form of a BBC TV series from 2013 involving a “young gay zombie dealing with homophobia on top of prejudice against those suffering from Partially Deceased Syndrome”.

            Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

    • DeWitt says:

      Does anyone have any suggestions/advice/comments?

      Yeah, whether it’s evil or not, people are going to feel really fucking iffy about their ancestors getting pulled out the ground to shamble and do anything except lie still.

      You can wonder whether or not it is evil in framework X or Y; without further information about your setting, that’s a really meaningless question. But unless there are some very far-reaching and universal customs about undeath being acceptable, most humans are going to find the idea of it awfully revolting and will come up with any number of justifications for why it’s an evil practice rather than consider rationally why it’s okay.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, whether it’s evil or not, people are going to feel really fucking iffy about their ancestors getting pulled out the ground to shamble and do anything except lie still.

        I could see it working in a way as a variant of something I saw in a documentary years back – Madagascan burial ritual, where the bodies of ancestors are exhumed at intervals to be celebrated then re-interred.

        It could be acceptable to have a ritual where at intervals revered ancestors are briefly re-vivified for a celebratory festival of this kind, then returned to their dead (or maybe if undead, suspended) state. But turning that into “using corpses for free labour” is not going to sit well, unless you separate out the “corpse labour” zombies as something completely different and a penal punishment, for example, where executed criminals are revived to ‘work off their debt to society’.

        Prison reform in such a culture would focus on disparate treatment (the poor being sentenced with capital punishment for relatively trivial crimes) and how this is cruel and unusual to not alone deprive someone of their life but also their natural death.

  5. ManyCookies says:

    U.S government reopened for three weeks, no funding for further wall/border security yet.

    “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government either shut down on February 15th again or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said.

    “Over the next 21 days, I expect both Democrats and Republicans will operate in good faith. This is an opportunity for all parties to work together for the benefit of our whole, beautiful and wonderful nation,” Trump said.

    Bets on how this plays out three weeks from now? Same song and dance since there’s been no actual compromise and less pressure to come up with one, Trump quietly drops the issue as a losing battle, the haitus successfully reframes the narrative such that further stalling is blamed on the Democrats?

    • dick says:

      Tortured and convoluted language in a funding bill that the GOP claims is totally a wall and the Dems claim is definitely not a wall, which is vague enough that one or both sides tie it up with lawsuits?

      • ManyCookies says:

        A reasonable ending, especially if the blame shifts towards neutral/Democrats, but why didn’t that happen at some point in the past few weeks?

    • hls2003 says:

      My prediction (in the spirit of predictions): There will be no legislative compromise. Democratic rhetoric has made it politically impossible to approve any compromise that includes a single dollar for anything that can be called a “wall.” Trump’s rhetoric has made it politically impossible to approve any compromise that does not include a single dollar for anything that can be called a “wall.” Feb. 15 will hit without an agreement; Trump will invoke his emergency powers and declare victory; Congress will then pass (and Trump will sign) a budget including zero dollars for anything that can be called a “wall” (but plenty of trillions of dollars of other stuff).

      95% certainty.

      Meanwhile, suit will be filed within 24 hours; the entire project will be enjoined by some federal judge within a few weeks. (95% certainty). That judge will be either under ambit of the Ninth Circuit, or in the Acela Corridor. (90% certainty). Trump will tweet something nasty about the enjoining judge. (100% certainty). The pundit class will criticize Trump for his unseemliness. (100% certainty).

      Everyone gets what they want. Trump gets to declare a victory. Democrats get to declare a victory. The pro-immigration establishment gets to declare a victory. The politicians who just want to get back to spending China’s money get to declare a victory. Trump and the media get to bash each other rhetorically over something whose real-world effect is zero dollars spent and zero steel/concrete erected.

    • John Schilling says:

      With roughly equal probability:

      1. Pelosi and Trump negotiate something that involves token funding for a Wall, in exchange for substantial immigration reform elsewhere.

      2. Trump shuts down the government again in three weeks, and then caves again a few weeks after that.

      3. Trump shuts down the government again in three weeks, and Congress passes a budget over his veto

      4. Trump declares state of emergency to fund wall; courts say he can’t do that and make it stick

      5. Trump declares state of emergency to fund wall; courts let him tap into some small pool of money/resources to build a really crappy barrier along a few hundred miles of border.

      Black Swan events mostly involve catastrophic failure for Trump, e.g. resigning because Mueller indicted his daughter, or attempting an autocoup because Mueller indicted his daughter, or starting a nuclear war with North Korea to distract everyone. But there’s one in there for Trump arranging a non-token Wall construction via some clever plan involving eleven-dimensional chess.

      • ManyCookies says:

        3. Trump shuts down the government again in three weeks, and Congress passes a budget over his veto

        I’d be surprised if it publicly came to that, that seems embarrassing for both Republican congressman and Trump. If there was a real threat of congressional override, I think the chamber leaders would give Trump a heads up to back out more gracefully (as in your #2).

        • John Schilling says:

          If it were any other POTUS I would agree, but you just used “Trump” and “gracefully” in the same sentence.

          Still, you are right that this is in the trade space, and part of the reason I didn’t try to make more specific predictions is that #2 and #3 have a fuzzy border that depends on how obvious it ultimately becomes that Congress is on the veto path.

  6. Noah Luxton says:

    General ‘this blog is amazing and I can’t believe how informative and entertaining it is, right up there with amazing things like the sequences and Unsong’ comment.
    I’m not sure how much I should think when other people say ‘You are so much smarter than me’, my instinct says ‘but intellegence compounds on itself with excellent returns, so even small differences in intellegence can give big returns’ or just agree.

    • Statismagician says:

      Say ‘thanks,’ then say something positive about the other person that’s on roughly the same level of implied praiseworthiness, same as any other compliment.

  7. Hoopyfreud says:

    Thesis: an intelligence that credibly claims to experience something that it can’t articulate ought to be considered conscious. Such a claim is credible if the intelligence generates it without prior exposure to the concept of inexpressible experience.

    • Evan Þ says:

      So when I write a program that can output a catchall “Unknown error occurred!”, does that mean it’s conscious? It seems you’re conflating several things including the entity’s vocabulary.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        A hard-coded error message would mean no more than would printf("I am conscious");

        But if a program that should be able to give specific error messages started saying ” I don’t know, something doesn’t feel right about this input,” I’d raise an eyebrow.

    • aphyer says:

      So for any given level of intelligence, the worse an entity is at articulating its thoughts the more conscious it is? If a human is an incredibly skilled poet and orator, able to put their deepest feelings into words, do you begin to doubt that they are conscious?

    • Statismagician says:

      Antithesis: Accurately articulating experience is impossible, c.f. Wittgenstein, so this never returns ‘non-conscious’ as a value if you want ‘articulate’ to be rigorous enough to make sense for non-biological intelligences.

      Proposed synthesis: an intelligence which can notice its own confusion and take steps to correct it, where those steps are either novel or were drawn from a source which the intelligence can modify, is conscious.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Bullet-biting: panpsychism is true.

        • Statismagician says:

          I mean, you do you, but I don’t think ‘this rock notices its own confusion’ is a very defensible position, or that it’s going to articulate its experiences very credibly.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Proposed synthesis marks many existing advanced ML systems as conscious, at least for many reasonable values of “novel”. And in fact many intelligent animals too, probably even most birds and mammals, at least for many reasonable values of “noticing one’s own confusion”.

        • Statismagician says:

          I don’t know enough about machine learning to comment, but I don’t necessarily have a problem labelling more animals conscious than we generally do.

          • Basil Elton says:

            That would be mostly just redefining the word to mean the concept we do more or less understand – self-awareness. It’s not the difference between intelligent and somewhat less intelligent animal species that we fail to understand. It’s the difference between a human mind and every other single information-processing algorithm we know of.

            Well, ok, “conscious” often is used to mean self-awareness, but then there’s little need to invent ways to define it either theoretically or experimentally – they’re already established.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Earth may have gotten its volatiles because the collision which created the moon was with a sulfur-cored plaent.

    Version with more sceince

    The paper it’s all based on

    My speculations, which go considerably beyond the science:

    If this is true, it might suggest that life is rare. Or maybe not, if sulfur-cored planets are common and can host life themselves.

    On the other hand, if you need an iron core (magnetic field to fend off solar wind) with a big infusion of volatiles, we’re very unlikely.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      How necessary is the iron core? Venus seems to keep an atmosphere just fine without one.

      • bullseye says:

        Venus has almost no hydrogen and therefore almost no water. Sooner or later, every atom of hydrogen found its way into the upper atmosphere and got blown away by the solar wind.

        • John Schilling says:

          This is somewhat true but exaggerated. Venus’s atmosphere has a water vapor content of ~180 mbar at the surface, Earth’s atmosphere averages ~250 mbar. The real differences are, first, Venus has an extra 93,000 mbar of carbon dioxide, which makes its atmosphere relatively drier than Earth’s, and second, Venus doesn’t have any liquid water under the atmosphere. These are driven primarily by runaway greenhouse effect, with water loss being aggravated by solar UV irradiation; solar wind impact is a secondary effect.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I was thinking about the magnetic field protecting from excessive mutation rather than hanging on to the atmosphere.

  9. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Was Maduro’s election in Venezuela fair? I have been in two different filter bubbles, one saying obviously yes, the other saying obviously no, and neither felt any need to defend their decision or even consider it needing proving.

    I don’t need a discussion about how Maduro sucks. I know that one already.

    • Protagoras says:

      In which bubble do people think the election was obviously fair?

    • Levantine says:

      Earlier today I read this comment, which prompted me to search, and this is the first article I came across:

      https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2018/05/15/venezuela-presidential-election

      From it, I quote:

      Those who know about Venezuela from mainstream media no doubt dismiss Venezuela’s electoral system as a sham. However, contrary to popular belief, Venezuela actually has one of the most transparent and fraud-proof election systems in the world. It developed such a system precisely because of the country’s pre-1998 experience with rampant fraud, which led to the development of an exceptionally secure voting system.

      This is not the place to go into this in detail, but it is a dual balloting system, in which paper ballots and electronic ballots are both cast and compared against one another. Also, every step of the process, from the voter registry, to the voting machines, to the fingerprint scanners, to the tabulation systems are thoroughly audited by election observers from all political parties. All of this makes Venezuela’s voting system far more secure and fraud-proof than practically any other voting system in the world.

      I briefly looked for, and failed to find, online video evidence that it is really so.

      I’m leaving this topic with a proverbial shrug of shoulders.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Neither. It was an election rendered meaningless by the opposition’s decision to not participate.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Popular opposition candidates were banned from participating, so no fairer than Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil. I’m not a big believer in the mystical healing power of elections so it seems less relevant to me than who has the Mandate of Heaven. But if you do believe in Democracy and the Popular Will it seems like you should trust the People not to vote for corrupt officials, rather than banning them from elections because the government claims they are corrupt.

      • Do you think someone currently serving a jail sentence should be free to run for office? I believe that was the issue in Brazil.

        I seem to remember a mayor of Boston getting reelected from jail once.

        • ana53294 says:

          Why not?

          Jailing politicians is a very easy way of silencing political opponents. This is a practice of every dictatorship ever.

          If people really elect a guy who is in jail, well, it will be awkward, but I don’t see why that would be that bad. But I generally have the view that all politicians have done shady stuff that deserves a jail sentence, and for the guy in jail we know the type of crime he made.

          I personally prefer a competent thief to run a business, where he skims part but makes sure the business, to an honest manager who runs the business to the ground.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I do think someone currently serving a jail sentence should be free to run for office. This is America, after all. And Venezuela and Brazil might not be America, but wouldn’t they be better off if they were?

          If you think a guy in jail shouldn’t be president, feel free not to vote for him. If your fellow citizens agree with you, he won’t win the election. This is the idea behind democracy, that the people will make good choices. If you can’t even trust the people not to elect convicted criminals, why do you trust them with your government at all?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          a mayor of Boston getting reelected from jail once.

          You’re probably thinking of James Michael Curley. He won his last election (Mayor, 1945) while under indictment. That indictment ultimately put him in prison for 5 months, but he continued in office afterwards. This was not the first time he was elected mayor, but neither was he incumbent, so I wouldn’t call it re-election. He won his first election (Alderman, 1904) from prison, with the slogan “he did it for a friend.”

          Googling “elected from jail” produces lots of 21st century examples.

      • 10240 says:

        Bolsonaro wasn’t an incumbent when Lula was jailed, nor was his party in power, and Rousseff (the president when the investigation against Lula was started) tried to shield Lula. So, unlike in Venezuela’s case, it doesn’t seem likely that it had political motives (and definitely not the sort where the incumbent jails the opposition leaders).

        • suntzuanime says:

          The pro-Lula Brazilians I know see it as basically a judicial coup. The president tried to shield him but the president is not the only force with power in Brazilian politics.

          Like imagine if in summer of 2016 Comey had decided a reasonable prosecutor would pursue a case against Hillary Clinton after all, and she wound up in jail and disqualified from the 2016 election. Would that feel fair to the Clintonites, do you think?

          • 10240 says:

            To the Clintonites, no.To an outside observer, possibly.

          • suntzuanime says:

            So then the question is, is your democracy being run by its people, or by outside observers?

          • 10240 says:

            @suntzuanime I’d say that the elections are fair if the candidate in question was imprisoned (and thus disqualified) with due process and without political motives, unfair otherwise. Of course this means that we often cannot determine with 100% certainty if an election was fair or not. I don’t have a strong position on whether a criminal conviction should disqualify a candidate, I lean towards not, but if a country has a rule that it does, that doesn’t make the election unfair if the trial was fair.

            Most of us on SSC are outsiders when we talk about whether Venezuelan or Brazilian elections were fair. Supporters of the disqualified candidate are likely to be biased towards thinking that the process was biased or it had political motives, even when an objective observer would say it wasn’t.

    • bullseye says:

      I only read about it on Wikipedia, which avoided taking sides. But it does cite a poll saying that 79.9% of Venezuelans want Maduro to step down, which doesn’t look like the kind of number someone who just won an election should have.

  10. johan_larson says:

    The government shutdown is starting to bite. La Guardia has been shut down for lack of air traffic controllers.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47006907

    Here’s a hypothetical: how much capacity could the system support with no ATC staff at all? I mean, if there were enough space between planes, just having the crews looking out and communicating with other planes would be enough to keep things safe. That’s how things run at smaller airports, and for low enough volumes it works fine.

    • jgr314 says:

      That’s how things run at smaller airports, and for low enough volumes it works fine.

      How small are you thinking? I grew up near PSC, which I would consider pretty tiny, and I know that they had air traffic controllers (my parents were friends with several, by random coincidence).

    • bean says:

      I’m not sure it would work at all. The big difference is that most planes who operate in uncontrolled airspace are fairly slow. A 737 is bigger than a Cessna, but it’s also going much faster. Overall, I think that’s going to reduce how many planes you can put through uncontrolled airspace over even current levels.

    • acymetric says:

      I assume this is a question of technical capacity, and not practical capacity? As in, if we factor in concerns over liability my guess is the answer is 0 for flights with passengers.

      • johan_larson says:

        I expect that a modern airport like SFO or LAX could support one landing or takeoff per hour with no ATC support at all in good weather during daylight hours even with all due concern for safety and liability. But could it handle 10?

        • Murphy says:

          I think part of it is how you cope when things start to go sideways. So you have your slow trickle of planes, 1 per hour to avoid too much risk and then something happens that means a plane can’t land during it’s slot, now you have a couple of big planes circling overhead with a third incoming.

          If they’re big passenger planes…. lets assume a plane with 400 people on board, we can multiply by 8 million for value of a human life so now you’ve got billions of dollars worth of risk circling and no controllers and with those big planes even the turbulence from the hot exhaust can be a hazard if another plane crosses the path of one that just passed too short a time before…

          • bean says:

            How do you find yourself unable to land during your slot when your slot is an hour wide?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            How do you find yourself unable to land during your slot when your slot is an hour wide?

            Avoiding a storm on the way makes you an hour late?
            A delay at the starting terminal makes you an hour late?
            Snow on the runway takes an hour to clear?

          • Murphy says:

            Bad weather, a spill of something on the runway, any kind of accident etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      We went through this at Lancaster (KWJF) when it looked like sequestration might shut down our tower but not the rest of the ATC system. With the help of the controllers while we had them, the community determined that procedural tweaks could keep operations at roughly current levels without too much trouble and still acceptably low risk. That’s ~200 flights per day, no commercial airline operations, but including heavy tanker activity during fire season.

      Then they changed their mind and we got to keep the tower, so never mind.

      The bigger problem would be IFR(*) separation, which for the current system absolutely requires ATC. Now that we have near-ubiquitous ADS-B and TCAS, I think you could do enroute self-control with a modest loss of efficiency and capacity by tweaking the rules of the road, e.g. standard airspeeds on the high-altitude jet routes so that if you see 5+ nm of clearance when you join the flow you should have it for the duration. But approach and departure separation for high-traffic airports without ATC would be a bitch.

      * Instrument Flight Rules, which is mandatory in sufficiently bad weather, above 18000 feet, and for all commercial airline operations. Some but not all of that could be relaxed while keeping the risk reasonably low.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Even in the terminal area TCAS might be enough for the basic job of not letting them hit while in the air. Spacing and sequencing of arrivals would be a toughie, though, unless they’re willing to relax the requirement that the preceding arrival has to clear the runway before the following arrival crosses the threshold, which I don’t think they will be. There’d also need to be some sort of solution for ground control, which actually tends to be the most challenging ATC position to work at the major airports.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Even if you got the IFR sequencing working, which might be possible with lots of new systems and training for everyone involved, there would still be lots of problems when things go pear-shaped.

        Problems on the ground like FOD (foreign object debris), braking action tests, gate delays, windshear, and the like all need someone central to disseminate information to the aircraft.

        Emergencies, weather diversions, runway changes and runway closures need someone to take control and coordinate all the diverting and holds. There isn’t enough bandwidth on a single frequency for the aircraft to sort that stuff out between them, and to make matters worse a lot of pilots at international airports have poor English anyway.

        It would be an interesting experiment though, and I’ve often thought it would be cool to simulate this sort of stuff. Designing the systems to make it work would be pretty fun.

      • J says:

        I’m sorry but 5 nanometers clearance between aircraft just doesn’t seem like enough to me

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I think this would’ve worked better if you’d pulled out the relevant quote:

          I think you could do enroute self-control with a modest loss of efficiency and capacity by tweaking the rules of the road, e.g. standard airspeeds on the high-altitude jet routes so that if you see 5+ nm of clearance when you join the flow you should have it for the duration.

  11. EchoChaos says:

    What is the smallest amount of money that would make a meaningful permanent change in your life?

    You are given the money by an anonymous benefactor, tax free and obligation free.

    What sum is the smallest that still makes a difference?

    • andrewflicker says:

      This mostly depends on our definitions of “meaningful” and “permanent”. I think this would be a better question if you got more concrete, like- what amount of money do you think you’d need to receive now to make you rate your current life (subjectively) 10% better a year from now? (just an example, but at least they are comparable!)

      Yesterday a coworker handed me $116 that I won from a fantasy football tournament that I had more-or-less forgotten I was still owed money from. It pleased me, but I stuck it in my wallet and didn’t apply it immediately to a debt or anything, so I think it’s clear that $116 wouldn’t count as very significant to me by most standards. I’m tempted to say $1000, but I think that’s the “nice round number” fallacy in action.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Several million dollars; say $5 million. If it’s not enough to retire on at my current standard of living, it can’t make a meaningful permanent change.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m kind of in the same boat. A bit more money wouldn’t make a real difference; it needs to be enough money that I could change my life. Though if I wouldn’t have to work, I’d be willing to accept a significantly lower quality of life in other respects, so my sum is lower than yours, though I don’t know by how much.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree with this. Even if I were given enough to pay off my house, great, that frees up ~$1500 a month, but I still gotta punch the clock.

        • acymetric says:

          That seems like a high standard. An extra $1,500 per month starting now would seem like it would permanently change your material circumstances even if you still have to work for it.

          Nicer things, better vacations, and the security that comes with knowing you won’t lose your home if your income stops for any extended period for whatever reason.

    • acymetric says:

      Enough to pay off all forms of debt and stash a decent savings to have as a safety net for unexpected expenses, so probably a little north of $100k.

      For a really permanent and life changing gift, make it something like $300k or $350k and I can also buy a decent house cash in the area where I work which would definitely be a drastic, life changing improvement.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m going with $120,000–a down payment on a home around here. I can cover monthly payments fine, but that’s a big chunk to save up, I’m not comfortable with zero-down type loans.
      Alternatively, a job offer in a state with a lower CoL.

      • AG says:

        Yep, seconding “enough for a down payment.”

        I’ve been putting off a lot of projects because I’m waiting to get into a more confidently permanent living situation. Buying furniture/appliances, hosting parties, practicing instruments, etc.

    • S_J says:

      Depends on what you mean by meaningful, and how long of a timescale is covered by “permanent”.

      At various orders of magnitude:
      Around $1000 to $2000, I’d likely stuff it in savings and forget about it. (I got something not-quite-expected, at about this order of magnitude, a month after sold one house and bought another. It was the escrow cash-out from the house I sold.)

      Around $5000, I’d likely put half of it to pay ahead the mortgage, and set aside half so I don’t have to save for vacation travel in the coming year. Meaningful? Permanent? I’ve just chopped a noticeable amount off the end of paying the mortgage on my house, but that won’t be realized for many years.

      Around $10000, I’d likely earmark it, so that I can purchase my next car sooner. Meaningful, and for a period of a few years. But not quite permanent.
      (If I instead decide to drop that into paying down the mortgage, or use it to max out my IRA contributions this year, it looks like a version of the above…but the savings realized by that strategy would likely end up being put towards the next car, anways.)

      Things start getting serious in the range $20000 to $50000. I’d put huge amounts into investments. Still not immediate, but a permanent decrease in my need to save for retirement.

      If the range is $100000 to $200000, I start looking more at retirement investments. However, I think I’d also do some number-crunching to see if I get a better ROI from paying down most of my mortgage, then re-financing. The decrease in monthly on the mortgage would be very nice. The upper end of this range allows me to pay the debt off on my house entirely. Permanent and meaningful, but not quite as life-altering as a higher amount would be.

      When the range climbs above $500000, the plan includes paying off the mortgage, then split the remainder between index fund investments and real-estate investments. We’re still not in the range of take this job and shove it!, but we are in the range where the future is markedly different.

      Above millions of dollars, the plan doesn’t look that different…but the range of new things that can be invested in grows significantly.

      The biggest change is when the gift runs into the range at which I no longer have to work. That range is much larger, but I’m not sure how much larger.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I’m thinking that about $10,000 would be the lowest. I agree with the definition of “meaningful” and “permanent” make a big difference overall though. An extra ~$10,000 would result in currently unexpected house remodeling which would increase the value of my home and likely increase my enjoyment of my home (permanent/meaningful is stretched a little bit here). Alternately, buying a vehicle or removing a payment – those also stretch “permanent” but if you include the knock-on effects of saving several hundred dollars a month for several years, I think that qualifies. Certainly all of these gains could be reversed fairly easily, but I can’t think of an amount of money that fits [cannot be reversed] in an overly strict definition.

      If we don’t stretch “permanent” very much… a few hundred thousand? I think at that level, while I would definitely still have to work (and probably until the same retirement age), the only expense that would really threaten to bankrupt us would be a combination [loss of employment]+[large medical bill]. That would result in enough freedom to make meaningfully different choices in life.

    • Phigment says:

      I’m going to call it $3,000

      That, applied directly to my mortgage, jumps me forward just about a year in getting it paid off, which translates to a year earlier and an extra $10k for buying the next investment property, which is my plan for snowballing into fabulous and luxurious future financial security.

    • aristides says:

      I’m going through a bankruptcy, so for $40,000 I could avoid the bankruptcy and get the same result without the credit hit. That would long term allow me to buy a house sooner, so certainly meaningful. Any amount less than that, I’m better off continuing bankruptcy, and those assets would get seized to pay debts anyways

    • Theodoric says:

      At minimum, enough to pay off my mortgage and student loans (I would then be debt free).

    • brad says:

      Probably my student loans plus the down payment on an NYC apartment. Call it $400k. It wouldn’t be a billion dollars life changing, but it would meaningfully alter the trajectory.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I always figured I would never buy a lottery ticket that didn’t pay at least $1 million, because any less than that wouldn’t make a meaningful change on my life (I could retire). But I said this some years ago, so with inflation it might now be $2 million.

      Actually I have never gotten around to buying even a high jackpot lottery ticket, because it always seemed like too much trouble to figure them out. Obviously I am not a gambling type.

    • Chalid says:

      Other than insta-retirement, the other thing I can think of that would make a large, permanent difference in my quality of life would be something that made travel much easier. An entry-level NetJets card starts in the neighborhood of $150k/year and I think I’d need to have at least $10M in the bank before I thought that that was a reasonable way to spend money.

    • Jiro says:

      What is the smallest amount of money that would make a meaningful permanent change in your life?

      This question can’t be answered because you could then ask “why wouldn’t X – 0.01 make a meaningful permanent change?” To resolve that, you would have to define a threshhold and probably something like “just above this threshhold it has a 50% chance of changing my life (or changes my life by 50% of a ‘large change’) and just below it 49.99%”. You won’t be able to measure it to such accuracy, of course.

      Even ignoring that, you get a related problem where things can affect your life in various amounts. There is probably a range of houses of different quality I could buy, for instance, with price smoothly increasing within that range.

    • Acedia says:

      About $5000 to spend on some hearing aids. At 37 my hearing loss has become significant enough that it’s affecting my employment prospects, and causing me to isolate myself from social situations due to embarrassment at constantly needing to ask people to repeat themselves or pretend I heard them when I didn’t. I’ve never been regularly exposed to the kind of noise that causes hearing damage, but my father’s hearing deteriorated in much the same way post-30, so I guess it’s just bad genetics.

    • fion says:

      Enough to pay off my mortgage: ~£90,000. At that point, I’d (at a pinch) be able to live off my lodger’s rent, which would give a satisfying level of financial stability. I could find a job I really liked and start saving money really fast. And still have enough to increase my charity donations.

      The next really significant jump up from that would be about a million. That’s retiring money.

    • SamChevre says:

      Meta-comment: it’s amazing how much house prices differ. I live in a comfortable, four-bedroom house, in decent condition, on a quiet street, two blocks from a big (Central Park sized) park. On a good day, with a motivated buyer, I might be able to sell it for $200K.

      For me, enough money to make a significant difference would be high–$1 million plus. Enough to either retire, or retrain for a different job and live like I do now while training. (Not sure what I’d do, but something else.)

      • Plumber says:

        @SamChevre

        “…it’s amazing how much house prices differ. I live in a comfortable, four-bedroom house, in decent condition, on a quiet street, two blocks from a big (Central Park sized) park. On a good day, with a motivated buyer, I might be able to sell it for $200K….”

        We bought our 1,121 square feet, two bedroom, one bathroom house built in 1927 on a 3,850 square feet lot for about $550,000 in 2011, and we put in about $100,000 in roofing and structural repaits, getting it painted, and I put in a new faucet and water heater, this last year comparable nearby homes sold for $920,000 to $1,200,000.

    • A1987dM says:

      “Meaningful” and “permanent” aren’t binary categories. Your question makes no more sense than “what is the smallest number of grains rice that could constitute a heap”.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I used non-specific words to let everyone answer on their own. For some people a single mortgage payment faster is “permanent” because it means retirement is closer.

        For others, it has to be a substantial and immediate change. I enjoyed seeing how everyone responded differently.

  12. bean says:

    Season 3 of The Good Place finished last night, and kept up the show’s standards of being amazing. Those of you who haven’t seen it, go watch it immediately. (Seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix in the US.) Seriously, just go. You can thank me later.

    Cneg bs zr vf fnq gung gurl pna’g frrz gb raq n frnfba jvgubhg chfuvat gur erfrg ohggba ba gur fubj, nygubhtu ng gur fnzr gvzr, V pna’g jnvg sbe vg gb pbzr onpx. Puvqv jvgubhg gur crefbany tebjgu vf uvynevbhf, naq V’z nyfb ernyyl phevbhf jub gur bgure gjb arj neevinyf jvyy or.

    Snibevgr zbzragf sebz gur frnfba: crrc puvyv, Qbaxrl Qbht, naq Wnarg(f).

    • Incurian says:

      Thanks for the tip! I’ve been waiting for that!

      ETA: Aw schucks, I wonder when it will make it to Netflix.

      • bean says:

        Season 2 hit Netflix just before Season 3 started airing in September.

      • Statismagician says:

        Honestly, I’ve been enjoying Hulu’s available content more than Netflix’s lately; among other things they get new episodes the day after they air.

      • bean says:

        I just remembered that NBC lets you stream episodes through their app/website, although I’m not sure what their selection is like.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Unfortunately, my wife works late, and I work early, and I am going on a bar crawl tomorrow, so I will not see this finale until Sunday. 🙁
      Seriously, one of the best shows on television right now, if not THE best.

    • John Schilling says:

      I remember when it was considered a bit edgy to have a TV sitcom set in a Nazi prison camp. Now we have one set in Actual Hell. Go figure.

      • Randy M says:

        The devil hasn’t been edgy for awhile. Greatest accomplishment, etc.

        • Nick says:

          At least it means we’re past “the devil is actually the good guy” stuff.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, Netflix picked up Lucifer for a fourth season.

          • gbdub says:

            @John, you really ought to ROT13 that (not the Lucifer comment, the other one)

            @Nick, uhh, have you watched The Good Place?

            Season 1: Gur tbbq thl vf npghnyyl n qrivy

            Season 2: Gur tbbq thl jub jnf npghnyyl n qrivy vf fgvyy n qrivy, ohg ol gur raq bs gur frnfba vf npgviryl jbexvat gb uryc gur tbbq thlf (jub ner ba nirentr penccl uhznaf) sbe frys-cerfreingvba

            Season 3: Gur tbbq thl jub jnf npghnyyl n qrivy unf qrpvqrq gur tbbq thlf jub ner penccl uhznaf npghnyyl qrfreir n frpbaq punapr, bayl gb qvfpbire gung gur jubyr flfgrz bs zrnfhevat “tbbq” naq “onq” unf orpbzr fb ubcryrffyl pbzcyrk gung ab uhzna, rira gur aba-penccl barf, pna rire or whqtrq “tbbq”. Ur gryyf guvf gb Urnira ohg gurl ner fb zverq va ohernhpenpl nf gb or hfryrff. Fb ur qrpvqrf gb svtug Uryy, jvgu gur uryc bs n arhgeny Whqtr, gb cebir gung uhznaf ernyyl pna or tbbq va gur evtug pvephzfgnaprf.

          • Nick says:

            @Nick, uhh, have you watched The Good Place?

            No. I was just saying that if we’re not trying to be edgy, there’s no desire to portray him as the good guy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I was just saying that if we’re not trying to be edgy, there’s no desire to portray him as the good guy.

            You aren’t looking at it backwards, though.

            Start with the premise that Satan is evil and that God is good. Notice that many genuine followers of God commit evil acts, against people they say must be followers of Satan. Note the cognitive dissonance. Make (potentially interesting) fiction based on this dissonance.

          • gbdub says:

            I mean, even Paradise Lost portrays Lucifer as somewhat sympathetic. A Fallen Angel that split from God for plausible reasons is a much more interesting dramatic character than a simple embodiment of evil. From that it’s a natural step to explore whether the devil had a point, and from there to, hey, maybe he was right after all.

            Or the alternative of “yeah, he’s the deity of evil/temptation, but only because somebody has to be. Can you really blame him?”

            “Evil” quickly gets boring as a character (it’s interesting to watch people struggle against Evil, less interesting to just follow around as Evil kicks puppies just for the hell of it). If you’re going to make the devil a character, he needs some qualities other than “is bad”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Not so I’ve noticed, Nick. Wouldn’t watch it if you beat me with a stick, but judging by the cooing over the show and the Actual For Real Demons I’ve seen people online doing, the whole schtick of “The Devil is Just Misunderstood!” is still going strong.

            Of course, it helps that the writers (from what I’ve seen people quoting) stuck in An Adorable Moppet to help with Lucifer’s redemption/vindication, and that the Devil is sound on things like gay rights (the really bad people who are racists etc. get their just deserts from the Devil, but he never hurts ‘I’m a good person’ type people who only do the ordinary average comfortable sins we all like).

            If they tried writing “The Devil supports gay rights because he does think it’s evil”, I imagine they’d be lynched and the commissioning body burned to the ground. That would be edgy, but the wrong kind of edgy. Saying “Hey, Heaven is a bureaucracy staffed by rule-bound fussbudgets and God is distant/unavailable/gone/the real bad guy!” is the right kind of edgy (never mind that by now it’s so old a concept it’s got whiskers).

          • albatross11 says:

            You might have an evil character in several different ways:

            a. He shares our moral system, but actively seeks evil for whatever reason. He wouldn’t kick puppies unless he believed puppy-kicking was evil, but since he does, he’s all about kicking puppies. Ignatief in The Peshawar Lancers is kind-of an example–he actively worships the devil and thinks of the thing he worships as the devil (or the peacock angel).

            b. He has a different moral system which contradicts ours in ways that make him evil. His moral system teaches him that puppy-kicking is a virtue, and he’s following it. Think Thanos from the most recent Marvel movie.

            c. He is amoral–he thinks questions of right and wrong are meaningless and he just does whatever he wants or finds amusing. He happens across a puppy, and on a whim kicks the puppy because hey, why not? Think of The Comedian from Watchmen[1].

            The only examples of (a) I can think of are people who are trying to rebel against society/show how hardcore they are by, say, getting a swastika tattoo or worshiping the devil or something. But this is mainly a movie-villain thing, and it’s hard to see *why* anyone would particularly do it.

            There are zillions of examples of (b) and (c)–that’s most of the evil we actually see in the world. A person whose moral system tells them that mass-murdering their favorite ethnic group or torturing enemies of the state is a good thing will do some pretty awful things.

            [1] You could think of this as an alternative moral system that said “the right thing to do is what’s in your interests/what you want to do right now.” For maximum villain impact, you pair this with personality traits or tastes that lead to horrible things–the amoral sociopath who also gets a sexual kick from inflicting pain and misery on others, say. (Alice Hong from the Nantucket series is an example.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            One of my favorite implementations of an evil character would be if they weren’t really evil, but rather had simply thought through the implications of various positions on an issue one layer further than everyone else, causing them to take the position everyone else thought was evil.

            And then coupling that with a second character who has thought one layer beyond that, resulting in either the previous position or a third. Possibly followed by third and fourth characters as the climax nears.

            Severus Snape is sort of adjacent to this, although in his case, it wasn’t thinking through implications, but rather possessing additional information that no one else could have had.

    • testing123 says:

      the chili scene was just amazing. It’s so ridiculous on the page, but dammit if the actor doesn’t sell the shirt out of it.

    • fion says:

      Aw, was that the end of the season? Damn.

      I really want them to finish it now. In fact I wish they’d finished it after season 2. I loved season 1 and thought season 2 was really good, but it’s the sort of thing that should have a beginning, middle and end, and I just feel as though they’re going to keep milking it for all they’ve got.

      Gurl’er tbvat nebhaq va pvepyrf. Jr’ir frra gurfr punenpgref trg gb xabj rnpu bgure va zhygvcyr qvssrerag jnlf. Jr’ir frra gurz fgehttyvat ntnvafg Gur Flfgrz, juvpu unf orra znqr bhg gb or gubebhtuyl synjrq. V jnag gb xabj jub vairagrq guvf flfgrz! V jnag gb xabj vs gur znva punenpgref ner tbvat gb svk vg! V jnag gb frr gurz trg vagb Npghny Urnira naq gura sbe gur jubyr punenqr gb raq. Unccvyl rire nsgre naq nyy gung.

      In short, I want it to be a story, not a never-ending sitcom.

      • John Schilling says:

        Most successful television series have the misfortune to endure beyond the credibility of their premise, either retelling the same stories to diminishing effect or veering into jump-the-shark territory. The Good Place, as you note, is particularly vulnerable to that fate because it has a story that demands an ending.

        In hindsight I can take the season 2 finale as a tolerably good ending, and would prefer that to either ending here or straying further from the path in season 4. On the other hand, the next season might not suck; balancing the indications in that direction against three mostly-good seasons so far, the odds are not that bad.

        • Theodoric says:

          Most successful television series have the misfortune to endure beyond the credibility of their premise, either retelling the same stories to diminishing effect or veering into jump-the-shark territory.

          Maybe it would be better for American TV shows to try the anime thing of having one season, with a story with a set beginning, middle, and end?

        • fion says:

          the next season might not suck

          Indeed. And to be honest, I expect it to be fine. But it seems like a missed opportunity* to turn what could have been 24 episodes of awesome into 40+ episodes of ok.

          *a missed opportunity from the point of view of good television, anyway. Probably not a missed opportunity from the point of view of profits…

          Edited to add: I don’t have a problem in general with the “never-ending sitcom” model. Lots of types of show don’t need a beginning, middle and end, and many of them remain good for many seasons, or even have a lull and then improve again. The late seasons are rarely as good as the early ones, but their existence doesn’t detract from the quality of the early ones. It’s just not the right model for a show like The Good Place.

    • LesHapablap says:

      It’s really good but man is the non-stop talk about feelings and relationships tedious.

  13. IrishDude says:

    I have lots of questions about Warren’s proposed wealth tax. But first, is it constitutional?

    “Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, two left-leaning economists at the University of California, Berkeley, have been advising Warren on a proposal to levy a 2 percent wealth tax on Americans with assets above $50 million, as well as a 3 percent wealth tax on those who have more than $1 billion, according to Saez.”

    Warren’s proposal includes at least three new mechanisms to combat tax evasion, according to a person familiar with the plan. Those are a significant increase in funding for the Internal Revenue Service; a mandatory audit rate requiring a certain number of people who pay the wealth tax to be subject to an audit every year; and a one-time tax penalty for those who have more than $50 million and try to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

    • brad says:

      No. Direct taxes must be apportioned.

      Furthermore Warren very well knows this.

      • IrishDude says:

        Ah, so you think this is just signalling. Does apportioned mean the federal income from the tax is given back to each state’s government proportional to the state’s population?

        EDIT: I just found this which I interpret that direct taxes can only be taken proportionally to population. If I’m interpreting correctly, does that means direct taxes can only be federally implemented with the same per person tax? So a tax that was $1,000 per person would be constitutional?

        • brad says:

          No apportioned taxes are even crazier than that. What Congress could do is say that it wants to raise 320 million dollars through a wealth tax, then it would mean that the wealth tax would have to generate $40 million of that (no more, no less) in California. So each state would end up with its own percentage in order to make the total amount drawn from each state proportional to population.

      • The Nybbler says:

        With a friendly Supreme Court, they could easily get such a tax through, by calling it a tax on income. After all, you had to get that $50 million somehow, and the Court has already ruled that retroactive taxes on income are allowable.

        • brad says:

          Infinite cynicism is boring.

        • Statismagician says:

          Wait, what? I thought we didn’t like retroactive legislation.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Calder v. Bull (1798) limited the ex-post-facto clause to criminal law. Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997) eviscerated what remained.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Further, the court decided the Act does not violate the Constitution’s double jeopardy prohibition nor the ban on ex post-facto law because the Act does not establish criminal proceedings and therefore involuntary confinement under it is not punishment. Because the Act is civil, Hendricks’ confinement under the Act is not a second prosecution nor is it double jeopardy. And finally, the court said the Act is not considered punitive if it fails to offer treatment for an untreatable condition.[1][3]

            lolwut?

          • The Nybbler says:

            And that is why infinite cynicism, boring as it may be, is justified. Well, that and Wickard v. Filburn.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Granted that it is unconstitutional, it seems to me that there is a trivial workaround. Set the apportioned tax to be a billion dollars per person, and then legislate a UBI of a billion dollars to any person who has less than ten billion dollars in assets. The UBI is not a tax and therefore not affected by the restrictions in article I, section 2.

        If you want finer control, set the tax to 10B dollars and legislate a UBI of 10B to anyone with less than 1B, and 5B to anyone with less than 10B. Iterate fractally.

        Is this any sillier than all the gyrations about whether the ACA penalty was a tax?

        (Best of all, when the government goes broke, all it has to do is cut back on the UBI. After all, it’s irresponsible to hand out such a huge UBI when the government is broke.)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          One the prime defending arguments of the ACA tax, used in the majority opinion upholding it, was that it was small.

          This particular workaround would not fly in an actual court. Once it was determined that it was just a wealth tax [1], it would fall.

          [1] You can argue “no no it’s not a wealth tax it is a huge burden with a selective rebate” all day. But the court won’t listen. They are very used to people trying to implement a banned thing by calling it the negation of something else.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            It would be nice if you’re right. And in fact I suspect that it’s rather more likely, if a wealth tax is enacted, that it would just be done directly, Constitutional or not.

            Does it matter that the ACA tax was textually part of the ACA, while I am supposing that the tax and the UBI are separate pieces of legislation? Has there ever been a decision that a constellation of laws was unconstitutional when each law considered individually would have been?

          • 10240 says:

            @Doctor Mist , In the litigation about Trump’s travel ban, even Trump’s earlier campaign statements were considered as evidence about his motives by some lower courts and some SCOTUS justices (though the SCOTUS majority held it to be constitutional). If that may count, then a rebate law (and politicians’ explanation of how this combination of laws works) may count as well.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @10240: Hmm. Good point.

            I’m still curious about my question regarding a constellation of separate laws. If there is an example it would be very interesting to read about. But it’s true that for a large part of our history, the Constitution was considered a good thing by the legislature rather than an obstacle, and they would not have been nearly as inclined to game an end-around.

            I suppose a more likely end-around would be something like the extensions claimed on the basis of the commerce clause or the preamble — just go ahead and enact the wealth tax, if necessary arguing either that it’s not actually an example of what the Constitution means by a “direct tax”, or else that the reasons for the prohibition no longer apply, so the intent behind the prohibition is not violated. (Hell, it might even be true: that the states ratified the 17th amendment argues that they no longer care about their sovereignty within the Federal project.)

    • Plumber says:

      @IrishDude

      “I have lots of questions about Warren’s proposed wealth tax. But first, is it constitutional?….”

      I’ve no idea if it’s constitutional but it sounds like a great idea!

      Maybe have an “Alternative Minimum Income Tax” that’s based on lifetime income (including inheritance!) instead of just annual income, so that once someone has gotten say $3 million in their lifetime all additional income will be taxed at a 50% rate.

      I’d support that!

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        So your view is that if someone gets a certain sum of money when they’re 18 from inheritance, invests it unwisely or gives it away, and then has no real wealth and an income that’s, say, half of your family’s income, they should be taxed at twice your family’s rate?

        • Plumber says:

          Yes.

          I dislike gambling.

          When their after tax income gets low enough then have a welfare state kick in support including public housing..

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Cool story bro. I’m glad you didn’t do anything dumb enough when you were a kid to have half of your money taken away from you for the rest of your life.

            By the way, my recollection is that you’re a fairly senior city employee of SF and your wife has some kind of white-collar job. What’s your family’s lifetime earnings at this point? Are you signing yourself up for this tax?

          • Plumber says:

            @sandoratthezoo 

            “Cool story bro. I’m glad you didn’t do anything dumb enough when you were a kid to have half of your money taken away from you for the rest of your life.

            By the way, my recollection is that you’re a fairly senior city employee of SF and your wife has some kind of white-collar job”

            Close, I’ve been employed by The City and County since 2011, and my wife did have a white-collar job when I met her, but she hasn’t earned a paycheck since 1993.

            “What’s your family’s lifetime earnings at this point? Are you signing yourself up for this tax?”

            Sadly, many years to go for that, and I may not make it, but yes signing up for the tax that doesn’t exist but I’d like to see.

            If I earned at 18 what I earn now, and continued to earn that, I would now be just about where I’d have to pay my proposed lifetime earnings based tax, but sadly I didn’t.

          • Randy M says:

            If I earned at 18 what I earn now, and continued to earn that, I would now be just about where I’d have to pay my proposed lifetime earnings based tax, but sadly I didn’t.

            Coincidence, surely?

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M

            “Coincidence, surely?”

            😊

          • Deiseach says:

            sandor, you’re really pushing me to support Plumber on this one.

            So through no effort of your own you get a silver spoon and a golden platter, waste it all, and then expect sympathy? Maybe if the prospect of a tax such as Plumber suggests was in mind, your hypothetical wastrel might not blow it all on hookers and blow. There have always been foolish heirs who burned through the family fortune, but it’s hard to feel very sorry about someone born into good circumstances when all your life you’ve been one of the people told “No, sorry, giving you an extra ten cents an hour would ruin the company” while at the same time the CEO who drove the business into the ground is threatening to sue for the gold-plated contract that guaranteed him a bonus and pension and perks into the millions if they try to sack him without paying him all that.

            And he’ll probably get it because it was in the contract and fighting it in court isn’t worth the bother, even though he did more to ruin the business than the shop floor workers asking for a very modest pay raise.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            “Not having a special additional quite large tax” is surely a very broad definition of sympathy.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            What if you omit the “including inheritance!” clause and instead raise the so-called “death tax” to punitive levels?

          • Plumber says:

            @Gobbobobble

            “What if you omit the “including inheritance!” clause and instead raise the so-called “death tax” to punitive levels?”

            Seems to do much the same thing, so sure why not?

            I’m also pleased by a tax code that encourages the very wealthy to have lots of heirs who inherit more equal portions (no ‘primogeniture’).

            For some reason twelve near millionaires by inheritance bothers me less than two billionaires by inheritance.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Is this a real problem? What ultra-rich people practice primogeniture?

            Look:

            Progressive income taxes are a good idea. We can quibble about what precise levels they should be, but they’re broadly a good idea.

            Wealth taxes are not a wonderful idea in general, but may have some utility in some cases.

            Most people who get wealthy will either stay wealthy or have the means to have future high income. For such people, Plumber’s idea basically means a weird, inefficient wealth or income tax. For some small percentage of people, they will become wealthy through some lucky event(s) and then lose their wealth through some unlucky event(s). Plumber proposes that because he has some inchoate dislike of “gamblers,” those people should be punished for life for their temerity to be lucky, then unlucky.

            This is obviously dumb.

          • Plumber says:

            @sandoratthezoo

            “…This is obviously dumb”

            I suppose it is, after all I’m not in the cognitive elite, I just have an ‘inchoate’ dislike of a John Lobb shoe on a human face forever.

          • I just have an ‘inchoate’ dislike of a John Lobb shoe on a human face forever.

            And you don’t distinguish between “he is much richer than I am and so gets a nicer life” and “he is stamping on my face.”?

            You are considerably richer than the median human being at present. Should people in Africa or India think of you as stamping on their faces?

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “….Should people in Africa or India think of you as stamping on their faces?”

            I imagine that many already do feel that way, though I suppose how likely that they do depends on how the circumstances where they live have improved or fallen.

            I know for my lifetime it seemed that in the earlying ’70’s they were less extremes of wealth and poverty, then an economic centerfuge started, and while on balance the total wealth has increased a lot enough have lower living standards than their parents that it’s irksome, not quite Kennedy’s “rising tide that lifts all boats”.

            It’s odd, I see more construction cranes building more housing than I’ve ever seen, but I also see more tents on sidewalks, and under freeways than ever as well, so yes I do support more progressive taxation and the return of “welfare as we know it”, and yes I’m aware that total wealth and economic growth will likely be diminishes, I still judge it the right thing for this generation and “the least among us”, though I suppose if we all turn Japanese or Mormon that will do the trick as well.

            I don’t want to go full Cuba (and certainly not North Korea!), but something more like Japan, Scandinavia, or Utah and less like Hong Kong please.

          • @Plumber:

            Does it matter why the rich are getting richer?

            Suppose, what might be the case, that the reason the top 1% have a larger share of national income than they did forty years ago is that the talents that earn the income of the top 1% are more valuable than they used to be. Forty years ago, a very talented CEO made his company produce a thousand more widgets a year for the same inputs than an ordinary CEO, now it’s two thousand. Forty years ago, a very talented author wrote books that gave great pleasure to one million people, now it’s two million. Similarly for other high income roles.

            Do you still feel as though the high income people have a shoe on your face? As though you should resent their high incomes? Or does it depend on a particular theory of why their incomes are high?

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            There is a perfectly defensible position of, “higher top tax rates and more welfare.”

            That is different from punitive taxes for people who have committed the grave sin of ever having had a fortune, or weird concerns about primogeniture. It seems to me that most of your attitudes are broadly about resentment, and only when challenged do you fall back to the more defensible position of concern for the well-being of the poor.

            I don’t think that the tent cities exist now because there weren’t people in the seventies that poor. Rather, the city in those days just didn’t tolerate the ultra poor putting up semi-permanent tents. Plus the involuntary commitment of those with mental health problems.

          • Plumber says:

            @Deiseach

            “…you’re really pushing me to support Plumber on this one….”

            ☺ Thank you Deisearch!

            It’s nice to feel less alone, very much appreciated! 

            @DavidFriedman

            “Does it matter why the rich are getting richer?…”

            Actually…

            ….no.

            In most ways the current ruling/wealthy class are nicer than that of the past, they’re not hiring Pinkerton’s to shoot striking workers, “tractoring out” sharecroppers, et cetera, and most of them are at least a bit self made now and mostly coming from the upper-middle-class rather than being born tycoons. But it’s the scale of wealth and how many of the wealthy they are now as well as a somewhat reduced “safety net” compared to 40 to 50 years ago that I perceive the problem to be.. 

            Back then stronger unions, higher top marginal tax rates, and/or social norms compressed the differences in incomes between the rich and the poor (the oft cited statistics of the ratio of average C.E.O. pay to worker pay being 22.3 to 1 in 1973, and 295.9 to 1 in 2013 for example), more and a higher percentage of Americans are living below the “poverty line” now than in 1973, while at the same time the centrifuge has gone the other way and they’re more people who are wealthy, and total wealth is greater, which is compounded by “assortive mating” and “double incomes”.

            What I see is far more having second cars, overseas vacations, and frequent restaurant meals, while at the same time college educations, and (especially) single family homes are being bid out of reach for more and more, indeed (judging by the tents), any housing with a solid roof is increasingly out of reach for many.

            I see a link between rising total wealth that is unequally distributed and increasingly unaffordable education and (especially) housing. 

            @sandoratthezoo

            “…It seems to me that most of your attitudes are broadly about resentment…

            I’m sure Herr Doktor Freud could find many explanations for my economic, political, and social attitudes, I know that I have reflected that, given my temperament, had I been born 15 years earlier or later I’d likely have the opposite political alignment than I do, but that doesn’t change my leanings.

            I’m pretty happy with my present circumstances, my resentments are chiefly of my past, especially that none of my peers growing could find the income to own a home near where we grew up, and that I was over 20 years older and worked many more work hours before I get get an older and smaller house than the one my parents got in 1973.

            “…I don’t think that the tent cities exist now because there weren’t people in the seventies that poor…”

            The percentage of Americans below the “poverty line” reached an all time low in 1973, so yes they were indeed less Americans  poor then, both in total and as a percentage. Johnson’ s “War On Poverty” worked, and the abandonment of it is shameful.

            I’ll add that my reading of The Spirit Level inclines me to believe that a more egalitarian distribution of wealth will increase overall happiness, and not just for the poor.

            “..Rather, the city in those days just didn’t tolerate the ultra poor putting up semi-permanent tents…”

            I’d be more inclined to believe you about that if the tents weren’t in every city I see (except the island city of Alameda, which I’m very curious about, and intend to make a “top-level post asking why). 

            “…Plus the involuntary commitment of those with mental health problems”

            That only explains California, where Governor Reagan had the mental hospitals emptied out, it doesn’t explain Seattle (I haven’t seen the conditions ‘back east” so you tell me please).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There are lots of ways of having wealth than losing it besides “gambling.”

            One idea I had a long time ago was a lifetime income tax. Simple implementation: You get 10K tax free each year and then are taxed at 20% of everything on top of that. Each year, you add up all the income you made over your life, subtract out 10K * age, multiply by 20%. Then compare to the total amount of tax you already paid, and pay/receive the difference. If you stop making money, you end up getting tax rebates as your “average” lifetime income changes.

            I gave up on the idea after a few years when I realized what evil people would do with it, but it’s not a crazy place to start from.

          • The percentage of Americans below the “poverty line” reached an all time low in 1973, so yes they were indeed less Americans poor then, both in total and as a percentage. Johnson’ s “War On Poverty” worked, and the abandonment of it is shameful.

            A lovely example of the fact that facts don’t speak for themselves, they have to be interpreted. Let me repeat the same facts you are observing with the opposite implication.

            In 1950, 40% of the population lived below the poverty line. By 1964, when the War on Poverty was announced by Johnson, the rate was down to about 19%. It took a few years for the War on Poverty to be fully funded and staffed, say until about 1967 (I haven’t been able to find figures online–that’s by memory).

            The decline in the poverty rate stopped about 1969. Since then the rate has gone up and down with economic conditions, ranging between about 12% and 15%.

            (Graph of the poverty rate from Wikipedia. The pattern is pretty clear—contrast what was happening before the War on Poverty to what happened after it.)

            The obvious interpretation of the evidence is that the War on Poverty ended the decline in the poverty rate, making it the reason so many people are still poor today.

            If you are interested in a critical discussion of the War on Poverty by someone who was part of it and eventually disillusioned about it, take a look at Losing Ground, Charles Murray’s first book.

            I am using the poverty figures from Wikipedia (plus a 1950 number from an old book by Krugman), that being the most readily available reasonably neutral source.

            Defining how many people are in poverty is complicated, and some people argue that, if you calculate it correctly, taking account of government benefits, the poverty rate is now lower than it was at the end of Johnson’s term. Mother Jones has a piece briefly describing several different measures.

            But the promise of the War on Poverty was not to make poor people better off by giving them money but to lift them permanently out of poverty, make them economically self-sufficient, and by that standard it was a striking failure.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “A lovely example of the fact that facts don’t speak for themselves…”

            Those are interesting articles!

            I thank you for linking them.

            I’m reminded a bit of me reading that the economic fortunes of black Americans did indeed rise after the Civil Rights Act of the 1960’s, but they rose more in the 1940’s and ’50’s (some kind of magic about those decades).

          • DeWitt says:

            I’m entirely not an economist, but how much of the decline after the late 60s you two are getting at could be explained by simple supply and demand of labor given the largest generation in modern history coming of age?

      • liate says:

        Issues (other than what sandoratthezoo said):
        – It would hit the elderly hard. Not only have they accrued income for longer, but it would mess up retirement savings (traditional IRAs are taxed as income when money is withdrawn, not when the money is put in), meaning more of the elderly would have to work at high tax rates.
        – It takes more money from people who get money late in life than early in life, even if it’s the same amount, so, say, a person who inherited $3 million at 20 then barely worked again would pay less based on this tax than someone who made $3 million by working and slowly getting better positions their entire career.

        • Plumber says:

          @liate

          “Issues…”

          I suppose that a minimum amount of annual income (roughly enough for an upper lower-class/lower middle-class or, if we want to be generous and other tax sources are sufficient, a median lifestyle) could be exempt, but I do rather like the “Don’t gamble it all away” incentive, and I am aiming for something like the “Great Compression” of the mid 20th century U.S.A. when mansions on Long Island were subdivided, while at the same time millions left tenements and moved into modest detached homes in sweet suburbia.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      I don’t know if this is legal, and obviously it has no chance of going anywhere, but I think it’s interesting in that both Warren and AOC have suggested actually targeting the very wealthy. The vast majority of the discussion on raising taxes on “the rich” involves simply raising the top rate, which begins to hit households around the 400-450K range, IIRC. Occasionally there’s talk of moving the cutoff up or down a bit, or – very rarely – adding another level that kicks in a bit higher, but you really don’t hear much about targeting the truly rich. So basically the nouveau-riche and the upper-middle class have been running interference for the crazy-wealthy all this time. I’m sure that all this has nothing whatever to do with the truly rich typically being proximate to the levers of power (getting back to our discussion one OT back), and is purely a coincidence.

      If Warren and AOC and their ilk are successful in making this sort of targeting of the very wealthy a platform of the Democrats, or, much more likely, a talking point for a significant fraction of those who vote Dem, I think it will be interesting to see what happens to the party. And by interesting I mean wildly entertaining.

      • Erusian says:

        So basically the nouveau-riche and the upper-middle class have been running interference for the crazy-wealthy all this time. I’m sure that all this has nothing whatever to do with the truly rich typically being proximate to the levers of power (getting back to our discussion one OT back), and is purely a coincidence.

        Quite the contrary. The superconnected and hyperwealthy don’t care as much as the upper middle class. In fact, they’re disproportionately for tax increases relative to their income. There’s little you could put in the tax code to affect the Clintons and Zuckerburgs of the world. When America went into the 30’s with its sky-high taxes, those taxes didn’t destroy the 19th century robber barons.

        The upper-middle class and nouveau-riche care because they are the ones who will be taxed out of existence. Elites at the ‘tippy-top’ have a way of perpetuating themselves and bearing the costs of whatever laws happen to exist. As with many things, such laws have effects on the margins, which is why the lower end of the upper class cares.

        The investors who owned Russia’s oil rigs didn’t die. Much of the nobility escaped. But the kulaks were massacred.

        • hls2003 says:

          It’s also possible that the lower end of the upper class sees that there isn’t enough money in the super-wealthy to satisfy the appetites of the taxing authorities. So they oppose the camel’s nose in the tent.

          • spkaca says:

            “It’s also possible that the lower end of the upper class sees that there isn’t enough money in the super-wealthy to satisfy the appetites of the taxing authorities. So they oppose the camel’s nose in the tent.”
            Exactly this. ‘Oh, we only want to tax the 1%’, goes the cry (or the top 0.1%, or whatever). Then when that produces much less revenue than expected, the next step is, ‘oh just the top 2% need to pay their fair share’. And so on until the entire middle class becomes the target. We’ve seen this movie before. Only very naïve people can doubt how it ends.

          • brad says:

            It’s also possible that the lower end of the upper class sees that there isn’t enough money in the super-wealthy to satisfy the appetites of the taxing authorities.

            It’s not the taxing authority that has the appetite problem.

            Legacy costs (bond interest & retirement benefits), social security, medicare, and national “security”, that’s where the money is going. Which congressman has any serious plans to make significant cuts to any of those? For better or for worse, the AOCs and Elizabeth Warrens are the only fiscally conservative people around in Washington these days. No one else is even trying–the Republicans are back to voodoo math.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yep. Warren Buffett complains that his secretary (upper salaried class) pays more in taxes than he does, then supports tax increases… on his secretary.

        • Gossage Vardebedian says:

          Quite the contrary. The superconnected and hyperwealthy don’t care as much as the upper middle class. In fact, they’re disproportionately for tax increases relative to their income.

          Yeah, I was going to insert something about income tax avoidance and the superrich being able to access those things whereas the upper-middle class can’t, but then I forgot and hit post. Your point is well taken, but my point wasn’t that the superrich care a lot about a tax increase but are protected by angry middle class people, but rather that they don’t mind because as currently constituted – being grouped with a lot of not superrich people – they are in no danger of being hit much harder than they are; that any remotely likely tax increase would be pretty trivial to them.

          I would argue this protection is still meaningful. The wealthy do have some exposure to a higher tax rate, and if a very punitive, very-high-income bracket was introduced, I feel fairly sure you’d hear some howling from them.

          Of course, Warren’s idea to tax wealth would hit them much harder, and I’m interested to see if the general idea of taxing wealth gains any traction. Of course, this would lead to even more creative schemes to hide money. I believe both proposals included penalties for trying to be clever, which are both even more likely to find an audience and even less likely to actually happen.

          • Erusian says:

            I’d argue that the classes are acting independently of each other. High taxes and regulations tend to create an hourglass shape: larger entities who can bear the costs of dodging or complying and everyone else. And it makes it harder to move from one group to the other, in either direction.

            So the incentives of the upper middle class or the lower upper class are to keep taxes and regulation low. The incentives of the hyper-wealthy and powerful are to increase taxes and regulation. And I’d say you generally see this: the tippy top tends Democratic, even if the wealthy classes overall do not.

            There are things we could do to target the hyper-wealthy. They’re usually not proposed because, cynically, Democrats are more interested in taking out the generally Republican upper middle/lower upper class than their own donor classes. And the Republicans aren’t interested in taking out their own donors either and are ideologically committed.

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            Democrats are more interested in taking out the generally Republican upper middle/lower upper class than their own donor classes.

            Bingo. Which is why Warren’s and AOC’s ideas will be very unwelcome to TPTB, but perhaps will gain a following among young, activist progressives, and hilarity will ensue.

          • Erusian says:

            Bingo. Which is why Warren’s and AOC’s ideas will be very unwelcome to TPTB, but perhaps will gain a following among young, activist progressives, and hilarity will ensue.

            Quite the contrary. Warren and AOC’s ideas give more power to the government without cutting out the influence of the hyperelite, and thus more ultimate power to the hyperelite at the expense of the just-normal elite. Warren and AOC’s ideas don’t actually threaten the hyperelite. They threaten the broadly Republican nouveau riche etc.

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            Warren and AOC’s ideas don’t actually threaten the hyperelite. They threaten the broadly Republican nouveau riche etc.

            You think the elites would be happy to give the government more money so that the government, which they mostly run, could be more powerful, which would allow the government to . . . what, take more money from the upper-middle class, and less from the elites?

            I think, rather, that the elites will quietly explain to Warren, AOC, et al, that that simply won’t do. At any rate, time will tell.

          • Erusian says:

            You think the elites would be happy to give the government more money so that the government, which they mostly run, could be more powerful, which would allow the government to . . . what, take more money from the upper-middle class, and less from the elites?

            I think, rather, that the elites will quietly explain to Warren, AOC, et al, that that simply won’t do. At any rate, time will tell.

            Yes, they will be happy to give up more money because of a concept that progressive activists seem to understand very well when it comes to the poor but forget when it comes to the rich: the marginal value of a dollar goes down as you have more money. And not all things that have value are monetary, a fact that progressives seem capable of understanding when it comes to race and sex but not class or geography.

            Let us imagine two individuals, Justin and Bob. They both make twenty million dollars a year and so would be hit equally by the proposed tax.

            Justin grew up in a nice, upper middle class home. He had access to the best educational tools and schools and got into Princeton. He studied finance in undergrad and graduate school (Harvard, you know). Then he worked at Bank of America as an analyst, where the bosses liked him. He now works as a fund manager at Very Big Investment Fund Inc. His fund performs such that he gets take home pay of $20m. He lives in New York City and goes to trendy bars, cocktail parties, and alumni reunions with other Harvard alumns, including a senator and three representatives.

            Bob, meanwhile, isn’t college educated. He grew up in a single mother household in a poor part of the country. Bob graduated from high school and went to work in a factory that made building supplies. While there, he noticed a gap in the market and used his savings to start Bob’s Building Co. Bob’s Building Co. now does a bit under a hundred million dollars a year, leaving Bob with take home pay of $20m. He lives in Kansas City, where he gives heavily to his church and takes regular mission trips. He spends most of his leisure time at barbecues, local fairs, and sporting events. He too knows a few mayors, but of smaller towns and no national representatives.

            Which of these two people are going to be more concerned about losing their money? Which of them will be happier the more power and control the government has?

            The answer is Justin because Justin has much more in non-monetary assets (his Harvard education, his social status, his geographic location, his knowledge of elite social mores, his political connections). The government will be staffed by people like him. In addition, supporting elite mores gives him something in return (access to those elite circles and acceptability within them). He also is part of a larger organization that will defend his interests whereas Bob has only his own company.

            Warren/AOC is merrily increasing government power and raising taxes. Justin and Bob now make $5m each. Let’s pretend for a moment Justin couldn’t get carve outs or something and the tax works exactly as intended. (Hint: It won’t.) Bob has lost much, much more than Justin, who still has his political friends, his education, his social status… And these things become more valuable as money becomes less valuable.

            Now imagine a world where Justin makes five times as much as Bob ($100m), so Bob would be making $5m and Justin would be making $25m. Who does this hurt more? The answer is the same as imagining a world where Justin and Bob make $20,000 and $100,000. It hurts Bob. Much more.

            And this isn’t even getting into how people like Justin usually are good at getting control of elite institutions, like government or corporations, meaning they often possess power or monetary assets that are not personally theirs. Even a 100% income tax wouldn’t change that CEOs get to choose where corporate money goes.

            (I do agree, by the way, Warren/AOC won’t get very far. The media loves them because the media has certain… let’s call them ideas. They’re not really popular in a widespread sense. Bernie Sanders did better, in part, because he was different from them in important ways. And partly because even Democrats didn’t love Clinton. But it won’t be the donors: it will be the fact most Democrats don’t really hate the wealthy or support socialism.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            I don’t really understand your argument as an objection to the wealth tax, assuming it is intended to be one.

            If the poor and the super-rich are both in agreement about what the best policies are… then that’s fine with me? I’m glad they see the light and are in harmony? No ones philosophy should be “do the opposite of what x group wants”.

            And your argument regarding the utility of a dollar being less for the super rich- doesn’t that just bolster the case for the wealth tax further? The point of the wealth tax is to make the lives of the poorer classes better off, not to make the super-rich be miserable.

          • John Schilling says:

            Justin grew up in a nice, upper middle class home. He had access to the best educational tools and schools and got into Princeton. He studied finance in undergrad and graduate school (Harvard, you know). Then he worked at Bank of America as an analyst, where the bosses liked him. He now works as a fund manager at Very Big Investment Fund Inc. His fund performs such that he gets take home pay of $20m.

            Most people who come from upper-middle-class backgrounds and go to Ivy League universities become doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, professors, and the like, making solid six-figure salaries. The ones who become fund managers with eight-figure salaries, are the ones who really really really like money.

            The answer is Justin because Justin has much more in non-monetary assets (his Harvard education, his social status, his geographic location, his knowledge of elite social mores, his political connections).

            And yet, he took the unusual career path of turning those assets into money.

            The government will be staffed by people like him.

            No, the government will be staffed by chumps who turned down an eight-figure salary to civil servants (Justin’s view), or principled decent men and women wholly unlike that greedy SOB Justin (their view).

            I really don’t think you’ve got a handle on Justin. Justin doesn’t happen to be rich; he’s not rich just by accident or circumstance; he’s rich because he really wants to be rich more than anything else in the world. Maybe he’s playing a game where they keep score in dollars, maybe he’s an Effective Altruist who is trying to do maximal good and thinks he’s better at doing good than you are, probably it’s something in between or completely different.

            You’re the person who is trying to make him lose the game that is the only thing that matters to him, or trying to stop him from anonymously saving a thousand lives so you can publicly take credit for a dozen, or otherwise thwart his most important goal in life. He’s not going to be your friend, or amenable to your plan.

            Bob, mostly cares about his family and his community and his God. He’ll probably kick in 10% for the common good, and if he trusts you to be a good steward he’ll probably handle that. Justin’s friends who became doctors and professors, ditto. You’ll need a few hundred of them to match Justin’s fortune, but that’s probably still the path of least resistance.

          • Erusian says:

            I don’t really understand your argument as an objection to the wealth tax, assuming it is intended to be one.

            If the poor and the super-rich are both in agreement about what the best policies are… then that’s fine with me? I’m glad they see the light and are in harmony? No ones philosophy should be “do the opposite of what x group wants”.

            And your argument regarding the utility of a dollar being less for the super rich- doesn’t that just bolster the case for the wealth tax further? The point of the wealth tax is to make the lives of the poorer classes better off, not to make the super-rich be miserable.

            It’s not an argument for or against a wealth tax per se. It’s an argument about how it’s in the class interests of the hyperelite but against the class interests of the elite. And how it will increase the power of the former and decrease the latter. That might be a good thing. Or it might be a bad thing with other positive results that make it worthwhile. But it has winners and losers and those losers are not the top of the elite.

            It’s more of a reaction to the idea of a unified and undifferentiated upper class above a certain dollar amount. Understanding that will allow you to understand their reactions and reasons, which you really should do. Because otherwise you might end up with things you don’t want, like an even more oligarchal system.

            No, the government will be staffed by chumps who turned down an eight-figure salary to civil servants (Justin’s view), or principled decent men and women wholly unlike that greedy SOB Justin (their view).

            I really don’t think you’ve got a handle on Justin. Justin doesn’t happen to be rich; he’s not rich just by accident or circumstance; he’s rich because he really wants to be rich more than anything else in the world. Maybe he’s playing a game where they keep score in dollars, maybe he’s an Effective Altruist who is trying to do maximal good and thinks he’s better at doing good than you are, probably it’s something in between or completely different.

            You’re the person who is trying to make him lose the game that is the only thing that matters to him, or trying to stop him from anonymously saving a thousand lives so you can publicly take credit for a dozen, or otherwise thwart his most important goal in life. He’s not going to be your friend, or amenable to your plan.

            Bob, mostly cares about his family and his community and his God. He’ll probably kick in 10% for the common good, and if he trusts you to be a good steward he’ll probably handle that. Justin’s friends who became doctors and professors, ditto. You’ll need a few hundred of them to match Justin’s fortune, but that’s probably still the path of least resistance.

            Why is it, then, that Justins are much more likely to vote Democrat than Bobs? Why do Justins choose to live in liberal metropolises and Bobs choose to live in red areas? The empirical behavior of these classes of people is at odds with your narrative.

            Out of curiosity, how many Justins do you know? Personally know, have eaten out with, gone drinking with? Because you are reading his mind to make your point. Your point requires knowing how he thinks. I didn’t get inside his head at all. I simply looked at how laws affected his social status, power, and money. But you seem to be impugning his character.

          • Plumber says:

            @Gossage Vardebedian

            “….Out of curiosity, how many Justins do you know? Personally know, have eaten out with, gone drinking with?…”

            If I ever have met a “Justin” I didn’t know it, but I have worked for and even have had beers with a few “Bob’s”.

            In general they are indeed Republicans (when they reveal a preference) and I’ve found the “Bob’s” (business founder owners) are both the best and the worst bosses.

            In my experience it goes from best to worst:
            Nice “Bob” > government > corporate > grandchildren of a “Bob” > mean “Bob”.

            Working for a “Bob” is a real roll of the dice, but while the worst Bob’s are pretty bad, the nice “Bob’s” are much better by far than even government, sadly they usually can’t keep many hands employed for long.

    • gbdub says:

      What’s the actual mechanism by which the wealth being taxed is harmful (EDIT: I mean why is the wealth harmful, not why is the tax harmful)?

      If Rich Guy is sitting on $10B in company stock, the actual money is tied up in assets for the company. If rich guy actually wants to use any of that $10B to show off and make the poors feel bad, he has to sell it, at which point it will already be taxed.

      If it is literally money in a bank somewhere, it was almost certainly taxed as income or capital gains already, and any interest earned is already taxed.

      If it is tied up in real property, then there are property taxes, and more capital gains if you sell at a profit.

      If you die while holding it, there is a death tax.

      What exactly is the upshot of taxing this wealth in new ways when it is already subject to other taxes? Can’t we do the same thing by say, making the capital gains rate progressive?

      Short term, this will probably provide a temporary boost to tax revenue, consumption, and charitable giving, although this will peter out. Long term, it discourages investments.

      Mostly, it probably just makes a bunch of money for financial lawyers who help Rich Guy structure his assets in a way that minimizes the impact of the new tax on his lifestyle.

    • salvorhardin says:

      The exit tax seems particularly likely to be challenged not just on constitutional but on historical and moral grounds; it is essentially the Reichsfluchtsteuer all over again.

      • Lambert says:

        And practical ones, depending on how long it takes to extract all your assets from the country.

        I don’t see other countries being too willing to extradite folks back to the US just for them to be taxed a bit more.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Let’s also remember that when the income tax was instituted, it was seen as affecting only the extremely wealthy. Smash cut to the present.

  14. Don_Flamingo says:

    Life began in the sea. Or did it? Now that there’s more life found in Earth’s deep biosphere (or rather, we figured out, that there is one), could life have evolved under the sea, instead?

    • Basil Elton says:

      From what I know currently the most plausible hypothesis seems to be that life originated in ponds near hydrothermal vents on land. The main arguments for this is first that as these ponds repeatedly (almost) dry out and then fill up with water again, very high concentrations of simple organic compounds can occur there, which is almost impossible in the ocean. And the second is that while the chemical composition of body fluids of multicellular organisms has a lot in common with seawater, the chemical conditions inside a cell are notably different, and apparently have a lot in common with what’s found in the water of a certain type of hydrothermal vents. Plus some minerals, namely pyrite, can serve as a catalyst for polymerization of big organic molecules. Here’s a link to Wikipedia, and there should be someone more knowledgeable here to provide more details or correct me.

  15. LadyJane says:

    On the SSC Discord a few months back, there was a discussion about whether the federal government should secure people’s right to legally transition (i.e. change their official gender on birth certificates, ID cards, and other government documents), and the general consensus was that it wasn’t necessary, since there are only 3 states that still don’t allow it. One person sarcastically remarked “what, should we worry that the other 47 states are suddenly going to make it illegal too?”

    Well, does this mean that it’s time to start worrying? https://utahpolicy.com/index.php/features/today-at-utah-policy/19148-bill-bars-transgendered-utahns-from-legally-changing-their-sex-on-birth-certificates

    • 10240 says:

      Why should the birth certificate be changed? In general, the birth certificate contains data at birth and it’s not changed; e.g. it contains your birth name even if you later change your name. Why should sex be different?

      More generally, why it it a problem if the government decides to use a biological definition of sex rather than a psychological one?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        The two counter-arguments are 1) they were always that sex, just wrongly assigned at birth, and 2) we do this for adoptees, for various social reasons, and T* deserve the same treatment.

        I’m not saying I necessarily agree with those arguments, but there they are.

      • LadyJane says:

        That’s not always true. The name on a birth certificate can be changed when a child gets adopted, and most states allow trans people to change the name on their birth certificate along with their gender marker. Some states also allow people to change the name of their birth certificate just for getting a legal name change, even if it’s unrelated to adoption or gender transition.

        As for why states should (and usually do) allow people to change their birth certificates, despite it being a record of information at birth: having a birth certificate with a different name and/or gender marker than the rest of your documentation (ID card, licenses, passport, Social Security profile) can cause a lot of problems for both the person in question and for the government bureaucracy that has to figure it out.

      • rlms says:

        It makes some people really sad if they can’t change their sex on their birth certificates. Perhaps it makes you really sad if they can, but (a) I don’t think that’s actually the case and (b) it seems unreasonable to be strongly invested in the contents of birth certificates that don’t belong to you.

        • hls2003 says:

          I mean… it seems like there is a pretty general interest in maintaining vital records, historical records, identity records, and the like. If not, why have a central register to do it at all? Just hand that function off to the individuals and they can tell you whatever they want.

          • Evan Þ says:

            This. My dad’s a statistician, and he’s talked several times about how a whole lot of statistical studies depend on accurate birth certificates.

          • Randy M says:

            Seems like the compromise is to allow changes, but keep a changelog.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I agree with @Randy M.

          • hls2003 says:

            It seems like an update log, rather than a change log, would be the reasonable compromise. Don’t alter the birth certificate; that is a public record of a historical fact. (Which is another way of saying – that record doesn’t “belong to” the person, and they’re not entitled to do what they want with it – for example you’re not allowed to simply destroy your birth record because you want more privacy).

            If something must be done for clarity, since society appears to want to recognize the change, then just append an additional document in the file showing that the person now identifies differently. Call it a second birth certificate if you want, when you were “born again” as a new sex or name or whatever.

          • LadyJane says:

            A lot of states do exactly that: They’ll issue an amended birth certificate while leaving the original record untouched. And even in the states where they alter the original, I’m reasonably sure they still keep a record of the changes.

          • rlms says:

            There aren’t many trans people, and it’s a smaller number still that want to change their birth certificates. If you care about accuracy in records, I think you should be more concerned about adoptees having names changed on certificates (and possibly just people filling out the certificates making mistakes).

          • Randy M says:

            If you care about accuracy in records, I think you should be more concerned about adoptees having names changed on certificates (and possibly just people filling out the certificates making mistakes).

            I wasn’t aware this was a thing, and it seems obviously correct to apply the same principle of preserving the true history in both cases.
            My level of ‘concern’ in either case is low.

    • Plumber says:

      LadyJane

      “….does this mean that it’s time to start worrying? “

      Yes, if you’re born in Utah and had plans to get the certificate changed.

      If you’re born in California or (I imagine) most “Blue” States, I wouldn’t worry about it, “There Be Dragons” will do what they do, unless you plan to move there and vote don’t sweat it (but I tend to view other States as other lands where things are just different).

      • LadyJane says:

        So people shouldn’t be concerned about what happens outside their own country/state/city?

        • Plumber says:

          People shouldn’t be as concerned, for example Saudi Arabia (the first place I thought of off the top of my head) sounds terrible in most every way, but I’m not a citizen of there so what goes on there isn’t my business, same with Utah.

          Other places are other places, I may think of them as examples of what to do or not do in California but how they govern themselves isn’t my business.

          • rlms says:

            What about literal Nazi Germany?

          • Plumber says:

            @rlms

            “What about literal Nazi Germany?”

            After literal Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S.A. the U.S.A. went to war with them.

            What’s your point?

          • After literal Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S.A. the U.S.A. went to war with them.

            Before literal Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S.A. the U.S.A. was actively providing their enemies support of war–for instance transferring destroyers to the U.K.

            Before Japan attacked the U.S., the U.S. was sending fighter planes paid for by the U.S. government and piloted by air force personnel released for the purpose into China to fight the Japanese. It was only the fact that getting them into action took longer than expected that resulted in Japan making an undeclared attack on the U.S. military before the U.S. made an undeclared attack on the Japanese military.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “Before literal Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S.A. the U.S.A. was actively providing their enemies support of war–for instance transferring destroyers to the U.K.

            Before Japan attacked the U.S., the U.S. was sending fighter planes paid for by the U.S. government and piloted by air force personnel released for the purpose into China to fight the Japanese. It was only the fact that getting them into action took longer than expected that resulted in Japan making an undeclared attack on the U.S. military before the U.S. made an undeclared attack on the Japanese military.”

            All true, but both those nations were expansionist and judged threatening, unlike say Cambodia in the 1970’s or Rwanda in the 1990’s where great evils were done but the U.S.A. didn’t go to war over.

            Maybe there is a level at which the evils done elsewhere inside their own borders are so high that war is warranted, I suppose a case could be made to invade, let’s say North Korea right now, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a standard that doesn’t result in endless war and most of the world against us.

            The evils of Stalin’s Russia in the 1930’s were pretty bad, and a moral case for invasion could’ve been made, but I don’t think it would’ve gone well.

            I’m not a strict pacifist, but I think war is bad enough that the case for it needs to be pretty strong.

            The Axis powers turning Europe and China into slaughterhouses was a pretty strong case, but the U.S.A. didn’t go “all in” until after the Pearl Harbor attack (and my grandfather told me he was asked to be one of the “Flying Tigers” but he didn’t volunteer, he spent the war as a test pilot, his brothers though did go overseas).

        • aristides says:

          Personally, as long as there are strong exit rights, other states can do whatever they want. Admittedly birth certificates are something that really do not have exit rights, so I’m on favor of the federal government creating exit rights by issuing their own birth certificate to anyone that requests that they can change, while the old state can do whatever it wants to with the old one.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Something like that sounds great to me. Or, even, the state can issue a new one and keep the old one for statistical purposes with a clear “SUPERCEDED” mark.

    • BBA says:

      Maybe we should get government out of the gender business.

      Delete the line from birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, anywhere else it appears. Make all restrooms gender-neutral. We eliminated legal consideration of race, we can do the same for gender.

      • Statismagician says:

        This elegantly solves the issue at hand, but will do weird things wherever government overlaps with health care. Also, legal =/= practical, and we might want to retain the ability to assess things for disparate impact by gender for future policymaking.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        Might be better to go the exact opposite way, and improve what we’re recording. Instead of hiding gender, track the history of gender and make the documents show the values they care about.

        Birth certificates are recording a birth, and thus they should have the record of what gender baby was coming into the world in that birth. They have no bearing on what gender the associated person is currently: it’s a statement about the past.

        Driver’s licenses are generally used for current identification, so they should show current gender.

        Medical paperwork should probably have a full history, because it’s the kind of thing that could be important in treatment. If you only have space for one letter in medical because it’s a small form, then just adjust the label to “current gender” and put that, which reminds providers that if it might be relevant, check the full history.

        I’m sure there are some hard cases I’m not thinking of though.

  16. Le Maistre Chat says:

    RPG discourse: guns edition.

    What’s the most satisfying way to handle firearms in an RPG that has Hit Points as a stat?
    GURPS, in its attempt to be universal, likes to use the terms “realism” and “cinematic”, with the implication that realistic humans are much easier to kill. However, in real life, a normal person like Kenny Vaughn can survive 20 rifle bullets point blank with no cover. Yet one bullet to the torso can be fatal, and this is what movies portray at least 99% of the time, if not universally.
    So what do? Use hit locations and make bullets do modest HP damage to limbs but instant death on a head or torso shot to be “cinematic”? Come up with a damage system “swingy” enough to model reality? Or what?

    • The Nybbler says:

      D&D already has critical hit rules. You could make them arbitrarily complicated. Seems that some chance to insta-kill (e.g. brain/heart/aorta), another chance to take out of the fight but can be saved with immediate healing (assuming you have magic or modern tech), or “ordinary” hit would work reasonably well. You could add “walking dead” for hits to organs that don’t necessarily kill you immediately (so the person could still fight, but will die anyway without healing). If you’re going for realism you already need “bleeding out” rules (someone who is seriously hit continues to lose HP until stabilized) for edged weapons, guns would also be included in that.

    • John Schilling says:

      What’s the most satisfying way to handle firearms in an RPG that has Hit Points as a stat?

      The most satisfying way is to sit down and redesign the system so that it doesn’t have Hit Points as a stat. But I suspect you’re asking for the easiest satisfying way.

      I will note than in baseline GURPS, a character with HT 15 has a better than even chance of surviving 89 hit points of damage, which gets you a good ways to Kenny Vaughn territory. To improve on that:

      Hit locations are vital for anything resembling realistic treatment of gunshot wounds. Or any other wounds for that matter. But if you’re also doing something resembling a realistic treatment of morale, you can avoid 90+% of the hit location rolls by ruling that for any NPC/monster who is not Highly Motivated(tm), more than X damage always causes them to run away and more than Y damage always causes them to fall down unless there’s some specific reason to care about the difference between “fell down screaming and cradling their shattered arm, hoping you don’t shoot them any more” vs “…unconscious” or “…dead from a headshot”

      Due to the high variability of gunshot wounds, really wounds generally but especially penetrating missiles with indifferent shot placement, avoid “Nd6” damage rolls in favor of “1d6*N”. Except for shotguns, which do it the normal way. This is one of my preferred house rules for GURPS, and I really wish I had thought of it when I was a playtester.

      With this, damage modifier for shot placement where for each 2 points that you beat your to-hit roll you roll an extra damage die and take the best of the set. Except for autofire, where you roll once for the whole burst and each 2 points gets you an entire additional hit up to the burst size.

      I think you want “hit point” loss to be sublinear with energy or tissue damage, to account for the observed fact that old-style military rifle bullets are not actually an order of magnitude more lethal than standard pistol rounds, but coupled with a robust critical hit system to account for the fact that a well-placed .22LR can kill just about anything. And possibly a dual-tier critical hit system where for PCs and Important(tm) NPCs you roll some specific result but for most mooks it’s just a fixed damage multiplier.

      Or, you know, don’t do hit points.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The most satisfying way is to sit down and redesign the system so that it doesn’t have Hit Points as a stat. But I suspect you’re asking for the easiest satisfying way.

        I will note than in baseline GURPS, a character with HT 15 has a better than even chance of surviving 89 hit points of damage, which gets you a good ways to Kenny Vaughn territory. To improve on that:

        Hit locations are vital for anything resembling realistic treatment of gunshot wounds. Or any other wounds for that matter. But if you’re also doing something resembling a realistic treatment of morale, you can avoid 90+% of the hit location rolls by ruling that for any NPC/monster who is not Highly Motivated(tm), more than X damage always causes them to run away and more than Y damage always causes them to fall down

        Re: HP, my thought is that players have a revealed preference for this. Not only is D&D a supermajority of the tabletop market, but every CRPG uses them.

        I note that GURPS is an odd case in that, with system mastery, you can build a character who passes their death checks 98% of the time and doesn’t go unconscious, meaning you spend nearly 5/6th of your health bar in negative numbers. I could see using a system like that but making the equivalent of HT 16 universal for characters (as opposed to “extras” or “monsters”) and switching to positive numbers.

        As far as avoiding most hit location rolls, I’m thinking of a bell curve attack roll where one of the dice is read as hit location and another as 1dX*N damage. I’m a big believer in One Roll after DMing D&D 3.5 to Epic level. (Roll to hit, roll to confirm critical, roll damage…)

        • John Schilling says:

          Re: HP, my thought is that players have a revealed preference for this. Not only is D&D a supermajority of the tabletop market, but every CRPG uses them.

          It can’t be revealed preference, because it’s not just every CRPG that uses hit points but almost every tabletop RPG as well. There’s been no real chance for players to reveal any other preference. At most, you can suggest that game designers have been 100% accurate in assessing an unrevealed preference.

          Mostly, I think it is founder effect. D&D used hit points (poorly), everyone else did it the way D&D did it, and the more people did it that way the easier it was to say “we’re just doing it the way everyone does it”.

          If there’s a difference, it is between systems that try to retain D&D’s kludge of “Hit Points also mean skill so that you can keep dodging just enough that the sword only scratches you, except when they obviously don’t, shut up, Conan has to be hard to kill so he has to have two hundred hit points”, and systems that try to make hit points really just mean severity of injury and then either make Conan too easy to kill or mooks too hard.

          I’m a big believer in One Roll after DMing D&D 3.5 to Epic level. (Roll to hit, roll to confirm critical, roll damage…)

          As am I, except that for some things you really do need a second or third roll to get a broad and detailed range of effects. So, and not limited to guns: Wound level based primarily on the extent to which the to-hit roll is exceeded. To-hit mechanics reflect Conan being really good at being where the sword isn’t. And morale rules mean that mooks mostly run away after a moderate wound and go down after a serious one.

          One roll. If it’s Conan swinging at a mook, the one roll tells you whether he missed, inflicted a superficial or light (mook at -1 from now on) wound, or a moderate-plus wound and then we move on to the next mook. If it’s a mook vs Conan, almost always no effect or superficial wound, sometimes light (Conan at -1 from now on), and only on the rare occasion when the mook’s to-hit roll is exceptionally good do we need a second roll to determine hit location or evaluate a crit. Conan v. Boromir, still mostly one-roll misses or minor injuries but slightly more interesting stuff.

          For missiles instead of melee, injuries will be sufficiently randomized from skill that I would want a die roll added to the severity side of the equation, but that can be a colored die rolled at the same time as the to-hit roll and ignored on a miss.

        • Nornagest says:

          Re: HP, my thought is that players have a revealed preference for this. Not only is D&D a supermajority of the tabletop market, but every CRPG uses them.

          It’s still common in CRPGs, but shooters have been drifting away from it over the last few years — there are numbers under the hood, but no numbers are exposed to the user, and interface screw is a big part of how it cashes out in gameplay. I’d model that as a wounds mechanic in an RPG, not a HP mechanic.

        • Ventrue Capital says:

          Re: HP, my thought is that players have a revealed preference for this. Not only is D&D a supermajority of the tabletop market, but every CRPG uses them.

          I say it’s first-mover advantage. Or else it’s just simplicity.

          To me the problem isn’t with hit points per se, it’s with hit dice/levels, so that an adventurer might have five, ten, or twenty times as many hit points as an ordinary civilian.

          • MrApophenia says:

            That’s a good point – a big part of the reason guns tend to work in Call of Cthulhu (or with the Delta Green variant I mentioned downthread) is that Call of Cthulhu PCs don’t level up. When most people have about 8-12 HP, a gun that does 1d10 damage feels appropriately lethal (but isn’t a guaranteed kill if you get shot once).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            To me the problem isn’t with hit points per se, it’s with hit dice/levels, so that an adventurer might have five, ten, or twenty times as many hit points as an ordinary civilian.

            Well, yeah. Either Chainmail or OD&D treated Conan as a Superhero who fought as 8 men, while normal men went down from their first wound.
            It wasn’t until D&D 3.0 that you could have more than 9 hit dice, which were perhaps already way too many.

    • LadyJane says:

      The overall mortality rate for gunshot victims is only 27%, so you have a roughly three-in-four chance of surviving a single gunshot. However, if it’s a gunshot to the head, the mortality rate goes all the way up to 95%. Depending on what percentage of gunshot wounds are headshots, that could significantly raise the overall average. The mortality rate for a gunshot to the heart is 24%, and I’d imagine that would be the second deadliest location to get shot, so the mortality rate for wounds to the abdomen or limbs is probably well below 20%.

      I’m not sure how much being shot multiple times affects the mortality rate. From what I can tell, the main risk is that each subsequent shot is another shot that could hit a vital area. While you could eventually kill someone by shooting them enough times in non-vital areas (via blood loss, damage to musculoskeletal integrity, etc.), that’s a surprisingly ineffective strategy, which is why you have stories of people who survived getting shot 10-20 times. Unfortunately, most tabletop RPGs tend to combat systems built around killing people through attrition, which makes them very bad at emulating the results of gunshot wounds.

      I think the best solution would be to keep the base damage for small arms fairly low, but include rules for hit locations and have them matter a lot. I don’t mean the usual “headshots do 2x/3x more damage” rules, I mean something more like “headshots do 15x more damage” or “headshots have a 19-in-20 chance of just killing the victim outright, regardless of how many hit points they have.” The second best solution would just be to have a really wide damage range for small arms, so any given shot had the potential to do a lot of damage or hardly any damage at all.

      It’s worth noting that the low mortality rates for gunshots is largely a result of people having access to modern medical technology, and it’s probably much lower for adventurers wandering around a forest or soldiers on a war-torn battlefield miles from the nearest hospital. In those situations, a lot of people with gunshot wounds would probably die from blood loss or infection within a matter of hours. It’s also worth noting that, contrary to the expectations of most tabletop RPGs, most people will not (and in many cases cannot) keep fighting until they are dead; a gunshot wound to the shoulder is very unlikely to kill someone, but it’d take the vast majority of people out of the fight. So a tabletop RPG aimed at realism should probably have mechanics for incapacitation, blood loss, and infection caused as a result of even minor wounds, though that would probably make the game’s rules too complex for a lot of players.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The mortality rate for a gunshot to the heart is 24%, and I’d imagine that would be the second deadliest location to get shot, so the mortality rate for wounds to the abdomen or limbs is probably well below 20%.

        Wow, that’s surprising.

        I’m not sure how much being shot multiple times affects the mortality rate. From what I can tell, the main risk is that each subsequent shot is another shot that could hit a vital area. While you could eventually kill someone by shooting them enough times in non-vital areas (via blood loss, damage to musculoskeletal integrity, etc.), that’s a surprisingly ineffective strategy, which is why you have stories of people who survived getting shot 10-20 times. Unfortunately, most tabletop RPGs tend to combat systems built around killing people through attrition, which makes them very bad at emulating the results of gunshot wounds.

        I think the best solution would be to keep the base damage for small arms fairly low, but include rules for hit locations and have them matter a lot. I don’t mean the usual “headshots do 2x/3x more damage” rules, I mean something more like “headshots do 15x more damage” or “headshots have a 19-in-20 chance of just killing the victim outright, regardless of how many hit points they have.” The second best solution would just be to have a really wide damage range for small arms, so any given shot had the potential to do a lot of damage or hardly any damage at all.

        It seems like the general rule is that people either fall down from attrition (we have stories of people who aren’t even soldiers dropping after 20+ knife OR pistol OR .22LR wounds and surviving after being rushed to the hospital) or 1-2 hits. I think we can model this as “most people/animals go into shock easily, but PCs never do, and head shots with guns give 5% chance of a death save.”

        • Nornagest says:

          Wow, that’s surprising.

          I met a guy once who’d been hit in the chest by a stray bullet back in 1990s Los Angeles. He put pressure on the wound and ran six blocks under his own power to the emergency room, where they pulled a pistol round out of his heart, sewed up the entry wounds, and gave him a couple liters’ worth of blood transfusion. He survived in good enough shape to still be doing martial arts twenty years later, though he did have to endure a couple months of physical therapy.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        The overall mortality rate for gunshot victims is only 27%, so you have a roughly three-in-four chance of surviving a single gunshot. However, if it’s a gunshot to the head, the mortality rate goes all the way up to 95%. Depending on what percentage of gunshot wounds are headshots, that could significantly raise the overall average. The mortality rate for a gunshot to the heart is 24%, and I’d imagine that would be the second deadliest location to get shot, so the mortality rate for wounds to the abdomen or limbs is probably well below 20%.

        Yep, that’s why there are hit location rules. GURPS (and Chaosium/BRP) for the win! 😀

        • Plumber says:

          I love BRP!

          And I also love many of the GIRLS “Worldbooks”, but the core rules came out when learning shiny new rules just didn’t feel worth it anymore.

          Anyway, D&D also had a “hit location chart in the 1975 Blackmoor supplement, but I don’t remember anyone using it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            And I also love many of the GIRLS “Worldbooks”,

            Yes, GIRLS “Worldbooks” are cool. 😉

          • Plumber says:

            *sigh*

            “GURPS”

            Damn you auto-correct!

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @Plumber:

            Come play in my campaign.

            Just as with D&D (or BRP) you don’t need to know the rules in order to create a character and play!

            Just come up with a character concept and someone who knows the rules can fill out a character sheet for you.

            And when you play, just explain what you want your character to (try to) do and someone else will tell you what funny-sided dice to roll.

          • Plumber says:

            @Ventrue Capital

            “Come play in my campaign.

            Just as with D&D (or BRP) you don’t need to know the rules in order to create a character and play!

            Just come up with a character concept and someone who knows the rules can fill out a character sheet for you.

            And when you play, just explain what you want your character to (try to) do and someone else will tell you what funny-sided dice to roll”

            That’s very kind of you, my time is pretty limited, I know “Roll 20” simply doesn’t work on my phone, how does “Discord” work?

          • DeWitt says:

            Discord works perfectly fine and well on phones.

    • Nornagest says:

      The problem isn’t really unique to guns. An arrow or a spearhead through the intestines can kill you just about as dead as a 9×19 round. It’s more a matter of genre expectations: if a cowboy, cop or soldier in the movies gets shot in the head or torso, that means instant death, whereas Conan the Barbarian can get pretty cut up in his battle scenes. It follows, then, that hit points probably aren’t a good choice of mechanic for a game that’s supposed to model cowboy, crime, or war stories, and that if you insist on using them anyway, they should be scaled such that a single shot can drop them to zero. Then add in cover, wounding, or “hero point” mechanics to give your PCs the survivability they need.

      (If you do need a “realistic” gloss, though, the instant-death-bullets thing is a Hollywood invention — with prompt medical treatment, you’ve got good odds of surviving a single gunshot wound. Though your quality of life may not be great for a while afterwards, and I gotta assume these are mostly relatively low-powered pistol rounds on the grounds that that’s mostly what people shoot each other with.)

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        In D&D, at least 1e D&D, “hit points” were not about how much physical abuse you could take. It was the fact that, when shot with an arrow, the more experienced person can flinch or dodge so that the hit is just a Flesh Wound and doesn’t tear the intestines.

        • Nornagest says:

          Various editions say something to that effect, but it doesn’t actually make much sense in the context of the system. Constitution improves HP, for example, and Dexterity doesn’t, which is the opposite of what you’d expect from this justification. Similarly, a cure light wounds spell repairs 1d8+1 hit points, period; am I to believe that the same first-level spell can close life-threatening wounds on feckless peasants but can only handle a minor flesh wound on a 9th-level fighter?

          • LadyJane says:

            The old Star Wars d20 had separate tracks for Hit Points (which were basically what D&D claimed their Hit Points represented, dodging and flesh wounds and the like) and Vitality Points (which represented actual serious injuries). Normally, attacks would only reduce Hit Points, but if the attacker got a Critical Hit or the target’s Hit Points were at 0, they’d lose Vitality instead. It’s worth noting that characters typically had dozens of Hit Points, but their Vitality Points were equal to their Constitution, meaning it would only take a few serious hits (or even just one or two serious hits, if they were from a sufficiently powerful weapon or the attacker had a really good damage roll) to kill even a particularly tough character. It was somewhat similar to the system that sfoil proposed below.

          • bean says:

            @LadyJane

            You have it backwards. Vitality Points were equivalent to D&D hit points, and were the ones used up first. Wound Points were equal to CON and were the ones used second.

            Source: First RPG I played and am currently running a game in it.

            Personally, it’s one of my favorite systems for resolving this problem. Also, it’s worth noting that non-heroic NPCs had special classes which didn’t give them VP, so you can easily build high-level stormtroopers which have the skills to be a threat to the heroes (stop laughing) but still go down in a hit or two.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’ve played a couple of console JRPGs (yes, I know, they don’t count) with a broadly similar system. In all of them, the “deep” health stat was substantially harder to replenish than the shallow; you basically had to go to an inn to get them back, while the shallow could be restored by magic, items, or in some cases automatically at the end of a fight. I think the original Halo had a similar system, way back when, but replaced it with one where both kinds regenerate.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think the original Halo had a similar system, way back when, but replaced it with one where both kinds regenerate.

            It had fast- and slow-regenerating health tracks, yeah (“shields” and “health”). Shields regenerated in seconds if you weren’t actively taking hits; health you needed a medkit to fix, which weren’t too scarce but also didn’t grow on trees.

            The system was dropped for 2 and 3, but returned for “Halo: Reach”. I haven’t played any of the more recent ones, so I don’t know what’s become of it since.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The problem isn’t really unique to guns. An arrow or a spearhead through the intestines can kill you just about as dead as a 9×19 round. It’s more a matter of genre expectations: if a cowboy, cop or soldier in the movies gets shot in the head or torso, that means instant death, whereas Conan the Barbarian can get pretty cut up in his battle scenes.

        Well yes, exactly. I wonder if this is the true cause of Fantasy Gun Control? In pre-modern adventure stories, characters get to take lots of wounds, while in cowboy, crime, or war stories, characters are either wounded in a limb or dead from the first bullet.

    • nkurz says:

      However, in real life, a normal person like Kenny Vaughn can survive 20 rifle bullets point blank with no cover. Yet one bullet to the torso can be fatal, and this is what movies portray at least 99% of the time, if not universally.

      I can’t speak to the RPG aspect, but I can speak a little to the realism from growing up as a hunter. This is largely a problem of terminology. Saying “rifle” is not enough; it’s like saying someone was hit by a vehicle without specifying the speed or the type. From the article, Vaughn was shot with a .22 rifle. It’s the smallest commonly used rifle. The same bullet can be shot from a pistol or a rifle, and in both cases it’s going to have about the same energy: a little over 100 ft-lbs.

      A .22LR (long rifle) is not legal for hunting deer anywhere in the US, and instead something with more energy is required. A typical large deer rifle might be a .30-06, which shoots a heavier and faster bullet, achieving about 3000 ft-lbs. That’s 30x greater energy, which is about the difference in energy between a fully-loaded super dump truck (80,000 lbs) and an empty Honda Civic (3,000 lbs) if they are travelling at the same speed.

      My guess would be that the 99% movie death rate for a torso-shot from from a high powered rifle with an expanding bullet is more-or-less right. They exaggerate the “instant” death aspect, but the almost certain lethality is unfortunately not just cinematic. This make me believe that if you are seeking realism, you are definitely need to include both the specifics of the weapon and the location of the injury.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      People don’t like getting shot. That’s why they usually avoid it. Thus your character can be more or less accurate, but your target will not be in a mood to expose himself. So just assume, that most shots fired will not hit anything or will be supression fire.

      In the World Wars most people actually didn’t shoot to kill, because humans have to be conditioned methodically to instinctively and reliably do that. But that’s really lame for an RPG, so ignore that fact.

      Guns are very loud. This matters mostly indoors. Implement that, how you like.

      Machine guns, sniper rifles, submachine guns (mostly as defensive weapons indoors), RPGs, Carbines, Pistols, Revolvers obviously are guns which fit different time periods and are useful for different scenarios.

      Depending on desired complexity, you can implement recoil, accuracy, skill with specific weapon, reload time, bayonets, magazine size, rate of fire, (night vision or thermal vision) scopes, body armor and many different things.

      Grenades, grenade launchers, trenches, land mines, barbed wire, poison gas, creeping barrage artillery, flamethrowers, biplane air support might be fun to have in your scenario as well.

      For mobility, consider Skis (WW2, Winter War), horses, jeeps, horse wagons, railways (the German-French war comes to mind), dog sleds (not sure if that’s ever happened)

      Getting shot has a 70% chance (guesstimated) to take you out of a fight quickly. If it’s realistic, then it has to be some kind of teamfight, for a gunshot not to be a quick game-ender.
      x% hand/arm/leg/shoulder shot (no artery), “wait what?!”-affliction, which is a y% chance to miss your shot or grenade throw, because you’re noticing, that you’re missing a finger, are stumbling, can’t lift your arm. The adrenaline keeps you from noticing it, which in combination with grenades can lead to amusing deaths. Limbs are easy to loose as well. Though, it’s not realistic to amputate an arm and then to immediately continue your adventure.
      ‘instant liability’ is an interesting scenario, that gets opened up:
      y% chance to, that your teammmate has to be taken care off quickly (or he bleeds out)/needs hospitalization quickly after that in addition in more severe cases; even if no hospitilization is needed for survival, there should be penalties in stamina, after first aid. Loss of consciousness and so on.
      x% screams loudly in pain (which might be a problem, depending on scenario)
      headshot scenarios:
      z% chance that you’re dead (z is fairly high)
      y% grazing shots (ear, eye, bruising the temple, teeth), gives you a hideous debuff, depending on what’s hit and with which ammo, you might loose an eye, teeth, ear, your good looks, your ability to chew food, whatever;
      which can be translated into various debuffs, which can be helped thru modern surgery/magic or whatever your scenario offers
      x% chance that you loose consciousness for a minute and then have a Phineas Gage scenario (random insanity debuff, not realistic, but amusing)
      headshot (with helmet):
      WW1 German or British decent chance, that the character hears a loud ring, takes cover immediately and is fine
      WW1 French (early WW1) dead, (late WW1) more like the above
      weapon shot scenarios:
      100% weapon broken, forcing you to use secondary weapon, possibly a broken finger or two, depending on grip and the physics (not sure if realistic, but might be a thing)
      (big explosion if our hero has a flamethrower and the tank gets hit, which then does explosive + fire damage against anyone unfortunate to be around)

      all shots taken should normally decrease accuracy, your ability to control the recoil of your gun, the ability to run and throw things, the ability to help your teammates.
      Short Term Pain resistance and an adrenaline rush might be a buff, which can help out in situations.
      Depending on the situation, getting shot makes it very easy to get shot again, so the character should seek cover, probably try to wildy shoot back and hopefully is protected by immediate suppresion fire of his mates.

      scenarios:

      If you want to roleplay Verdun (ish), then he might stumble into an artillery shellhole, where he most likely can’t climb out off and most likely die. Or stumble into some mud and die. Or his gasmask is shot and he dies. Keep in mind that WW1 is extremely loud. Like imagine the loudest thing you’ve ever heard, double that, and then imagine that for hours on end, day after day. Shellshock is something that can definitely be explored.
      WW1, Western Front is fun, because many of it’s aspect can be modelled as enviromental hazard.
      Or they can take a hard left turn and go into Lovecraftian territory like in the movie Deathwatch.

      Also for character classes:
      German stormtroopers are highly trained, wild young men with long hair and a devil-may-care attitude, equipped with the best gear and sent on dangerous missions. Also keep in mind, that after they’ve taken position in a French town and feel reasonably safe, they might just raid the bar and get absolutely shitfaced. Because they’ve been through a lot, didn’t have enough to eat and really want to do that at the moment.
      If I wanted to know more about actual combat during trench warfare (especially storming an enemy’s trench), then I’d probably start reading ‘Storm of Steel’ by Ernst Jünger, who’s seen and survived a lot of the action on the Western front. The generals all survived and they wrote a lot about their experience too, but that’s not too helpful for an RPG.

      If you want to roleplay the recent Iraq war, then keep in mind that 300.000 bullets are used up for every insurgent. Those guys sure can take some punishment 🙂
      Not sure, how that actually looks like in practice. Lots of suppression fire, I guess. You’re gonna need a large inventory (though, a lot of this is probably from Tanks, helicopters and turret enplacements, rather than infantrist)

      Finnland’s Winter War is also very interesting. Your five hero Finns have to use stealth, local knowledge and skis to take out an ill-equipped, demotivated, very cold, but very numerous Soviet bataillion, who’ll nervously will shoot at anything that moves.

      Japan has his own period of gun warfare, that I know nothing about. But they got quite a lot more sophisticated than the Europeans did during the same period, till they managed to completely ban them, because guns are dangerous.

      American settlers vs Indians is also a good scenario. Comanche make for great, fearsome enemies. And vice versa.
      The opening scene for ‘The Revenant’ gives you an idea of how such a fight might look like (not Comanche, the Indian tribe attacks the beaver hunting expedition, slaughter many of them and force the others to abandon most of their fur). I’m not sure how accurate it is, but… not sure there’s a lot of realistic fighting depicted in TV.
      Those flintlock rifles are probably easy to work with in an RPG setting.

    • dndnrsn says:

      If meant to be believably “realistic” (not in the sense of being a super crunchy quasi-wargame, necessarily, or in actually being realistic, but believable enough not to kill the mood of a game and for it to be enough like real life that people’s tactical instincts aren’t miscalibrated. Swingy dice (eg d10 instead of 2d6), multiple attacks, multiple bullets expended per attack (with no difference to the attack mechanically), make reloading slower. One of the reasons firearms are deadly is that it takes less energy from the user to fire a single round – whereas most games make attacking with a sword about as fast as firing a gun; conversely, this means that ammunition lasts for many, many combat rounds. Guns are deadlier but a bad damage roll will just nick someone, and emptying your magazine at a bad moment happens more often.

    • Plumber says:

      @Le Maistre Chat

      “RPG discourse: guns edition.

      What’s the most satisfying way to handle firearms in an RPG that has Hit Points as a stat?
      GURPS, in its attempt to be universal, likes to use the terms “realism” and “cinematic”, with the implication that realistic humans are much easier to kill. However, in real life, a normal person like Kenny Vaughn can survive 20 rifle bullets point blank with no cover. Yet one bullet to the torso can be fatal, and this is what movies portray at least 99% of the time, if not universally.
      So what do? Use hit locations and make bullets do modest HP damage to limbs but instant death on a head or torso shot to be “cinematic”? Come up with a damage system “swingy” enough to model reality?”

      Isn’t that what variable damage dice rolls are for?

    • sfoil says:

      Make HP a representation of luck/cover/risk-minimizing movement technique. Perhaps critical hits actually involve being shot (this would imply that armor reduces the risk of critical hits, possibly at the cost of reducing maximum HP). The bullet that brings a character to 0 HP is always a hit. Otherwise, non-fatal HP losses are basically suppression. Critical hits (i.e. actually being hit non-fatally) reduce max HP until healed and have additional status effects. HP lost to “suppressive fire” on the other hand recovers quite quickly on its own once the shooting stops.

      I think this accounts for being shot being a big deal, and for the fact that the overwhelming majority of bullets fired don’t hit anything but still have an effect.

      Another way to add to this is to make sure that combat occurs at the “correct” range — something that video games and films have a really hard time with. Two units exchanging fire from behind cover at 300 meters probably isn’t a slaughterhouse, although those same units fighting inside a house might produce a lot of casualties (represented in gameplay by large critical hit bonuses at close range).

      As Nornagest pointed out, a system like this means that having HP based on Constitution doesn’t make sense. So: don’t do that.

    • bean says:

      Take the system from the first d20 Star Wars RPG. (LadyJane mentioned it deep in one of the threads, but I think it deserves to be a top-level post.)

      Anyone with heroic class levels has two tracks: vitality and wounds. Vitality is essentially D&D hit points, and basically represents the ability to turn a hit into a near-miss. Wounds is equal to Constitution (plus some modifiers for feats and the like) and represents actually getting hit by attacks. This resolves 90% of the weirdness you get out of a conventional single-track HP system. Vitality hits aren’t real hits, and vitality damage is easily cured by rest. I’m still baffled that d20 Modern didn’t use it. (Well, I know they wanted plug-and-play compatibility with D&D, but I still think it was a stupid decision.)

      NPC classes don’t give VP, so this also makes it easy to build high-level mooks that can actually hit high-level heroes, but who still go down in one shot.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        You can also separate going up in skill from going up in vitality.
        Steve Jackson’s pre-GURPS RPG The Fantasy Trip let characters advance on three tracks: Dexterity (accuracy), Intelligence (quantity of spells or skills) & Strength (HP + damage).
        Then if not using muscle-powered weapons, it would be trivial to make mooks who reliably hit high-level heroes and go down in one shot.

        • bean says:

          Oh, there are loads of different ways to do that, and overall I’m partial to point-buy systems for my RPGs. But I was specifically interested in contrasting this system to D&D, where hit dice and levels are the same thing, and it’s hard to get a glass cannon.

      • theredsheep says:

        How does that work in terms of lore? I gather that “HP” in this context is a sort of stamina you use up by dodging a lot in a short period of time? Do you also use up HP by running, lifting heavy stuff, swinging a Gamorrean axe, etc.?

        Also, has anyone ever integrated the two tracks? I’m thinking of a system where you have, say, fifty health and fifty life (shallow and deep, respectively). You take ten points of damage from grazing blows and punches, NBD. Then you get stabbed by a big knife; it inflicts ten points of health damage and five points of life damage. The kicker is that, with those five points of life damage, you can’t be healed past 45 health. Your current life is your max health, and life is much harder to recover. Your current health also factors into damage calculations; when you’re really roughed up, you can’t hit as hard. Dunno if D&D et al have a way to model that already.

        • bean says:

          VP also are the fuel for force powers. I’m not positive if they get used up for other fatiguing activities or not, but I don’t think so. The other idea is interesting, but it’s rather different from what Star Wars d20 did.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I like how the new edition of Delta Green handles this. Particularly lethal weapons have a Lethality rating; if you get hit with one of them, there is a chance you just die, HP be damned. If you don’t automatically die, you take HP damage as normal (which of course might still kill you).

      So for instance, getting shot with a pistol does 1d10 HP damage; might just wing you, or maybe kills you instantly, depending on your HP and the roll.

      If you get shot with an automatic burst from an SMG, that has a lethality rating of 10%. You roll 2d10 and treat it as a percentile roll, with one as the 10s and one as the 1s. If the result is under 10%, you’re dead. If the result is over 10%, you add the two dice together and take the result as HP damage.

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      Just a reminder that

      1. Le Maistre Chat runs an online D&D game on Discord.

      2. RainyDayNinja has set up a Discord server for SSC members who are interested in roleplaying games. https://[ remove this if you’re not a spambot ]discord.gg/PpwJtQ (Link expires in 24 hours.)

      3. I run a roleplaying campaign (on Roll20 and also on Discord) set on a world called Terramar and I specifically want SSC members and/or libertarians as players.

      Draft campaign wiki at http://terramar.obsidianportal.com/

      Campaign also has a Discord server at https://[ remove this if you’re not a spambot ]discord.gg/SgZNhn. (Link expires in one day from posting. Contact me if you want in and the link has expired.)

      • acymetric says:

        Are any of these open for complete beginners or are they for more experienced players? Followup, what kind of time commitment/schedule for each?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Open to complete beginners. Get the Adventurer, Conqueror, King (Basic/Expert D&D clone) PDF and start reading. Schedule is Saturdays 3-7ish Pacific time.

        • Ventrue Capital says:

          @acymetric:

          My campaign Terramar is open for complete beginners.

          You don’t need to know the rules in order to create a character and play.

          Just come up with a character concept and someone who knows the rules can fill out a character sheet for you.

          And when you play, just explain what you want your character to (try to) do and someone else will tell you what funny-sided dice to roll!

          Normally I run regular sessions on Roll20 from 6:30pm to 10pm Eastern Time (currently UTC -5, so 2230 to 0200 UTC) every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

          You can play any one or more of those.

          Right now my regular sessions are on hold due to work-related issues but I’m still doing play-by-posting on Discord. https://[ remove this if you’re not a spambot ]discord.gg/GTQddx (Link expires 24 hours after posting.)

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            I have a player who had only played D&D once before … with a DM who apparently required that everyone in the party play a troll and ran nothing but combat adventures, while the player wanted to play a housecat.

            I encouraged them not to quit D&D, and now they are playing an intelligent, talking, magic-using housecat (whose backstory is that they are a former witch’s familiar) in my game, and having a great time sitting in the other characters’ laps, demanding to be petted and getting their ears scratched, and running off to chase birds, bugs and snakes.

    • beleester says:

      Rename “Hit Points” to something that better communicates the fact that it’s about mitigating damage and not simply tanking hits. Call it “Luck” or “Evasion” or “Combat Focus” or something. If you get shot 20 times and you’re hanging on at 1 HP, you didn’t survive 20 sucking chest wounds only to get put down by the 21st. You took 20 grazing wounds, shots to nonvital areas, or near-misses that required really stressful dodging, but now your luck has run out and the next one is going to hit something vital.

      • John Schilling says:

        You took 20 grazing wounds…

        No, don’t do that. The first time is exciting, but by the tenth “grazing wound” both suspension of disbelief and the dramatic impact of being shot are both gone. Also, people will start thinking that number that keeps going down on your character sheet represents health/injury status after all, and you won’t be able to keep “It’s mostly luck and skill except when it really does mean injury except when it mostly doesn’t” straight.

        Have a mechanic where skillful and/or lucky characters can avoid getting shot, and don’t try to make every shot that doesn’t seriously connect into a “grazing wound” for the sake of false drama. Bang bang, you missed, did so, really.

        • dndnrsn says:

          “It kills you but you spend hero points to turn into a graze” is indeed better than “it hits you, doing damage to your many ablative hit points” – especially with HP inflation over the years (did it start in earnest in 3rd, or 4th? I know enemy HP went off the wall in 4th).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            In Old School D&D, you stopped gaining Hit Dice at 9 and a CON bonus of more than +1 per die was rare. 3.0 established a new Hit Die for every level and uncapped attribute bonuses.
            So an old school Mage who’s throwing around 9th level spells would be unlikely to have more than 40 HP, and a Fighter with the same XP about 70, giving him 50-50 odds to die from a 200-foot fall, something that just became a source of attrition to 3.X tanks.

  17. Another Throw says:

    One of the things I have noticed ’round these parts, prompted by a mention elsewhere in this open thread, is how discussions about marriage frequently involve asking why the state is involved in the question in the first place. To which I generally see some mention about adjudicating divorce.

    But, then, why does the state of a monopoly on adjudicating divorce?

    Let me back up. We seem to have rediscovered something that worked perfectly fine across cultures and for a few thousands years. Having rediscovered it, however, it now involves a lot more lawyer fees. I am of course speaking of choice of law.

    It is interesting to note that regardless of where it is issued, most every corporate and a large share of government bonds are governed by the laws of the State of New York. A lions share of the companies listed on the major stock exchanges are chartered in Delaware. Returning to our topic at hand, one of the primary purposes of paying a lawyers thousands of dollars to write you a prenuptual agreement is so you can have the first paragraph picking the state whose laws will govern the divorce.

    The only reason that the state has a monopoly on divorce is because the King had a vested interest in being able to control the laws of inheritance and shut down all of the competing venues to adjudicate the issue. Plus Western Europe in general, and England in particular, went through a long period of (real or enforced) cultural homogeneity so competing venues were obvious not necessary. The fact that it really wasn’t culturally homogeneous is a big part of why, for example, the US threw of the yoke of British Imperialism.

    The US has also gone through the whole post war period pretending that it is culturally homogeneous when it really isn’t. Which is how we ended up in the mess we are in, where all cultural issues (such as the proper composition of marriage) must be adjudicated by the federal government. Yeah, well, that didn’t work out so great for Europe during those couple hundred years when they couldn’t stop killing each other over these kinds of issues.

    If you want to get married in The Church, and be bound by their rules when it turns out you were just young and horny, that’s your choice. If you don’t like their rules, find a different church. Or “church.” Or State. And then let them deal with it.

    This really isn’t that radical. Other than the intrusion of the SCOTUS into the composition question, and having to pay a lawyer a lot of money if you don’t like the local monopoly, this is basically the system we have now. But seeing as how we are not culturally homogeneous, even within a state, much less the entire US, breaking the local monopoly and getting the SCOTUS out of it probably wouldn’t hurt.

    • Randy M says:

      But, then, why does the state of a monopoly on adjudicating divorce?

      The state doesn’t have a monopoly on adjudicating divorce, but it does have final say in the matter. If your Rabbi says X, and then one party decides they no longer wish to be bound by Rabbinic law, what path should society follow?
      1) Parties then take their dispute to the state courts, which can enforce the law decision with violence
      2) Parties then take matters into their own hands
      Are you proposing
      3) The state enforces the Rabbinic adjudication, provided the parties can prove they agreed to be bound to it? That’s an interesting decision, but it will fail in many cases for the same reason Federalism is failing (busybodies want to have a say in the conduct of others), and anyhow the majority are unlikely to have prior agreement to any religious (or other…? Masonic? Tribal?) marriage law, so at best you’ve carved out a few niche exceptions (like the covenant marriage)

      • 10240 says:

        What happens today if you don’t get a civil marriage, but you get a religious marriage, and you sign a contract saying that you agree to pay or give the other whatever the relevant religious authority says you have to give him/her in the context of this religious marriage agreement and possible subsequent divorce? Would such a contract not be enforceable in civil court?

        • ana53294 says:

          In a lot of even Muslim countries, the triple talaq divorce is not allowed. So religious decisions will differ from civil ones.

          I don’t think you could have a civil contract where one side (and only one side) can unilaterally break a contract just by saying so. Contracts have to give enough to both sides in order to be enforceable.

          Some clauses in marriage contracts will be unenforceable, if we start building the system of civil cohabitation contracts from zero. We already have a body of law for a standard civil cohabitation contract. There are tweaks to it, where by signing addendums to the contract you can change some conditions of the contract.

          So why change this system of civil cohabitation contracts, just because you don’t like the fact that they are called marriage? Any other system of such contracts will end up being regulated by the government, if the government is expected to enforce those contracts.

          • 10240 says:

            Plenty of contracts allow its parties to cancel them at any time, for example, many rental contracts. Both sides give something to the other as long as the contract is in force, but either side may cancel it (usually with a notice period), dissolving the obligations of both sides. There are also contracts that only one side may dissolve at any time, for example some loans which the debtor may repay at any time, but the creditor can’t cancel them and demand immediate repayment.

            I just think it doesn’t make much sense to call these contracts marriage when, under the proposals where private institutions handle marriage and divorce, they would really just be contracts with arbitrary terms, depending on the institution. Much of the existing body of law regarding marriage would not be usable when the terms are different from the current marriage law. If the current terms of marriage wouldn’t be enforceable if written as a private contract, that should be fixed: it’s weird if it’s legal to agree to a certain term in conjunction with a bunch of other terms (many of them unrelated), but not in itself. Anyway, these proposals to privatize marriage usually come from libertarian-minded people who tend to agree with me that a contract with (almost) arbitrary terms should be enforceable (as long as the promises made by the two sides are legal).

          • ana53294 says:

            Yes, in some contracts, both sides have the right to unilaterally rescind the contract. The critical part here is both sides.

            In a talaq divorce, only the husband has the right to unilaterally break the marriage. The wife doesn’t. I can’t imagine a secular country which would allow such an unequal contract.

            Different countries have different laws regarding marriage, and different types of marriage. These different types of marriage have different ways of assigning marital property on divorce.

            For example, you can get married in Spain, where the default type of marriage is community property. But then the poorer spouse can move to the UK, live there for a number of years, and get a division of non-community property. In most continental countries, there are strict limits on alimony, unless the spouse is too old to work. In the anglo-saxon world, there are cases of unlimited alimony for young spouses of working age.

            Other contracts don’t change depending on where you are. Most other contracts are not so easy to change by just having one side move to another place.

            I don’t think privatizing marriage would make it better, or easier. I think it would become an even bigger mess. Judges would have to learn the traditions and contracts of all those private groups, and it would be a mess.

          • brad says:

            There’s nothing per se unconscionable about a one sided option to terminate. Some bonds are putable, some are callable, some are both, and some are neither.

          • 10240 says:

            @ana53294 What you say is another reason private contracts are superior to marriage. Marriage is a “contract” whose terms may change if one or both spouses move to a different country. The government sometimes also changes marriage/divorce law in a way that also applies to marriages contracted before the change. Government rarely changes regular contracts after the fact.

            I don’t think privatizing marriage would make it better, or easier. I think it would become an even bigger mess. Judges would have to learn the traditions and contracts of all those private groups, and it would be a mess.

            On the other hand, with my proposal they would just have to read the contract. (Well, some of the private marriage proposals also propose having private institutions adjudicate them.)

        • Randy M says:

          you sign a contract

          This is not taking things out of the governments hands.

          • 10240 says:

            Most people who want to take the decision of the terms of marriage out of the state’s hands at the same time support the enforcement of contracts by the state (except anarchists). Also, your Point 3) was about whether the state should enforce religious marriage contracts.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, I was trying to get at what exactly Another Throw had in mind.
            Basically I’m recalling the liberarian principle that all laws are ultimately enforced by men with guns, while pointing out that any other enforcement method–non-binding arbitration, social shame or rewards–is already available for non-state actors to use. “Government out of marriage” means either no one enforces the marriage terms, the state enforces terms the parties have otherwise agreed to, or the state loses the monopoly on violence.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            It would become relatively moot if no laws (especially tax & inheritance) were conditional on anyone’s marital status.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It would become relatively moot if no laws (especially tax & inheritance) were conditional on anyone’s marital status.

            That’s probably never going to happen, because tax and inheritance depend on property ownership information, and ownership information depends on whether individuals are married. Otherwise, the Homemaker who spent a decade saving money and beautifying the property bought by the Breadwinner’s salary will have nothing on paper to show for it. Any Western society will roundly reject any claim that the Homemaker is entitled to nothing even so. The only question will be how far the Homemaker’s entitlement reaches.

            The couple can get around this by formal transfer of ownership as they go, but that’s expensive, and wasteful if the couple never divorces (true of about 5/6 of them).

    • 10240 says:

      I don’t understand why this argument are usually phrased in terms of “we should allow private venues to handle marriage and divorce”, rather than “abolish marriage as a legal institution, and let people sign whatever contracts they want (if they want)”. Once you have various different venues with different rules, it’s effectively equivalent to private contracts anyway. It seems to me that, for some reason, many people view marriage as a necessary natural institution rather than an artificial institution created by the government.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        As was pointed out last time this came up, the effects on third parties are significant, desirable, and important. Marriage is what lets your spouse visit you when you’re in a coma, what lets them pick your child up from school, and what grants them access to your information and accounts if something happens to you. The ability to designate someone a spouse for these purposes can’t be accomplished if the institution of marriage is dissolved without extensively modifying contracts, including Ts and Cs, for any service you use to refer to them as an individual and make them an explicit party to the contract – and don’t even think about the headache a divorce would involve.

        • 10240 says:

          Marriage is what lets your spouse visit you when you’re in a coma,

          What’s the point of visiting when they’re in a coma?

          what lets them pick your child up from school,

          Being the children’s parent lets you pick them up from school. My mother never married, and she had no problem picking me up from school.

          what grants them access to your information and accounts if something happens to you.

          What information? Why should they have access to your accounts? It wouldn’t be all that hard to create ways to allow one to designate an arbitrary person for all these purposes, if you want to (in many cases such mechanisms already exist). It would have the benefit that you can also designate a friend without all the other consequences of marriage which you may not want with a friend (perhaps not even with a romantic partner).

          The ability to designate someone a spouse for these purposes can’t be accomplished if the institution of marriage is dissolved without extensively modifying contracts, including Ts and Cs, for any service you use

          How many services actually refer to one’s spouse in any way?

          don’t even think about the headache a divorce would involve.

          What would be a headache about it? No marriage, no divorce. Bank accounts belong to the one whose name is on them (joint accounts are divided), real estate belongs to the one whose name is on the deed, movable property belongs to the one who bought it etc. Plenty of unmarried couples live together and separate, without major issues.

          This applies to the other points as well. Plenty of people date, cohabit, and have children without getting married. It’s not unknown territory, it’s something for which we have mechanisms to deal with. How many people do you think there are whose main reason to get married is to avoid the sort of inconveniences you describe?

          • Another Throw says:

            Being the children’s parent lets you pick them up from school. My mother never married, and she had no problem picking me up from school.

            Being the parent that has custody today lets you pick the kids up from school. A significant portion of kidnappings happen when a noncustodial parent does so and blows across state lines. Schools (and Departments of Education) aren’t terribly keen on this and have started to actually check.

          • Evan Þ says:

            What’s the point of visiting when they’re in a coma?

            I recommend you ask your parents, your siblings, your friends, or any other more-or-less-average person. It emotionally matters a lot.

            It wouldn’t be all that hard to create ways to allow one to designate an arbitrary person for all these purposes, if you want to (in many cases such mechanisms already exist).

            Yes, and we should create those ways. However, we should also have a one-stop solution that lets you designate one person for all those purposes, rather than leaving people to puzzle through it on their own and maybe forget any number of parts. To make it legible to people, it should probably be called something like “marriage.”

            What would be a headache about it? No marriage, no divorce. Bank accounts belong to the one whose name is on them (joint accounts are divided), real estate belongs to the one whose name is on the deed, movable property belongs to the one who bought it etc.

            Ask any number of ex-spouses, and you’ll get any number of answers to this. You frequently have situations where Husband deposits his paycheck in his bank account, Wife deposits hers in hers, and one or another pays more of the bills because it’s more convenient – leaving the other spouse with an arguable claim to part of the other’s paycheck. Or, one spouse quit their job to stay at home raising the couple’s kids, with the implicit promise of support from the still-working spouse. You’re basically taking a hammer to the whole elaborately-constructed system of divorce law. It very arguably needs one, but it should be done with great thought because the situations it covers really aren’t simple.

          • 10240 says:

            Yes, and we should create those ways. However, we should also have a one-stop solution that lets you designate one person for all those purposes, rather than leaving people to puzzle through it on their own and maybe forget any number of parts.

            @Evan Þ It’s a fault, not a benefit, that people take on a bunch of different agreements in one go, without thinking about them separately in detail (at least with regards to the more consequential effects). It can be at least as much of a problem if you designate a person for some purpose without realizing it as if you forget to do so.

            You frequently have situations where Husband deposits his paycheck in his bank account, Wife deposits hers in hers, and one or another pays more of the bills because it’s more convenient – leaving the other spouse with an arguable claim to part of the other’s paycheck.

            Absent an agreement, that should be considered a gift on part of the person whose account it was paid from. If you pay bills from the account of one of you, the other one should regularly transfer money to that account. Or you should open a joint account, or write a contract that your property is jointly owned — my original point was that these non-state varieties of marriage would effectively be similar to substituting marriage with arbitrary contracts.

            Or, one spouse quit their job to stay at home raising the couple’s kids, with the implicit promise of support from the still-working spouse.

            Implicit promises shouldn’t be enforceable. Again, it’s a bug, not a feature, that you can sign up for a variety of different obligations you probably don’t understand properly in one go; people should decide for themselves what they want to agree on. If you want to make such a promise, write a contract that you’ll pay a specified amount of support in the case of a separation — or, simpler, just transfer money to your partner’s account while she stays at home, so that nothing needs to be done after a separation.

            Things would be much clearer and more predictable if we declared that there are no implicit agreements or implicit promises (legally enforceable ones at least); if you want to rely on a promise, you write a contract. This way you would know exactly what you have, and what obligations you owe. More fair, too: the simplest way to make a fair agreement is to have both sides voluntarily agree to it, understanding its terms, then it should be automatically considered fair. It’s much harder (and costly) to have a judge decide, say, what the fair compensation for some work is, and it’s less certain that it will actually be fair.

            You’re basically taking a hammer to the whole elaborately-constructed system of divorce law.

            With all that elaborately-constructed divorce law, you can do two things: either you try to understand it all, which probably takes more effort than to just write a contract with the specific agreements you want (assuming that pre-written contracts would be available). Or you just sign the marriage contract without properly understanding the consequences, and hoping that the eventual outcome (if it comes to a divorce) will be fair. Plenty of ex-spouses feel like it isn’t.

            Even without a lawyer, I can understand things like transferring money from one account to another, what a joint account is etc. In a system without implicit agreements and promises, one can manage most personal finances (such as transferring money to a partner’s account, paying a bill and sharing the cost, supporting a partner by paying their bill) even without signing any contract (other than the contracts with the bank and the utility companies). However, if a law says something like “the judge decides how much alimony is paid based on the financial circumstances of the spouses”, I need a lawyer to help me understand what it means in practice, I’d need a lawyer to get a decent settlement in an eventual divorce, and even with a lawyer I can’t accurately predict what the settlement will be. In a system with implicit promises and implicitly shared costs, I can’t even support someone by paying their bills without writing a contract to assure them that I won’t come up with claims on its basis.

            It very arguably needs one, but it should be done with great thought because the situations it covers really aren’t simple.

            It’s hard to come up with divorce law that will produce fair results for all the couples in a jurisdiction, but a couple should be able to understand their own finances.

      • Randy M says:

        It seems to me that, for some reason, many people view marriage as a necessary natural institution rather than an artificial institution created by the government.

        This is because marriage is a necessary natural institution that was not created by the government.

        • 10240 says:

          How is it necessary? And, under proposals to have it handled by private institutions, what would be the essential difference from abolishing marriage and allowing people to write up contracts?

          I assume that, a long time ago, marriage originated from some form of cohabitation that eventually came to be regulated by the government. But in today’s terminology, we wouldn’t call unregulated cohabitation marriage, we would call it a long-term relationship, cohabitation, boyfriend/girlfriend etc.

          • theredsheep says:

            Possibly not “necessary,” just “strongly recommended.” Without marriage, women have no guarantee that fathers will stick around and help, while men have no stake in society to keep them stable, focused, and not doing something stupid or antisocial. Which is why most societies have invented some variant on it, with rare exceptions like that Chinese minority where women keep fly-by-night boyfriends and uncles act like fathers.

          • 10240 says:

            Without marriage, women have no guarantee that fathers will stick around and help,

            @theredsheep Marriage doesn’t guarantee that either. There is divorce, and I’m unaware that marriage law has a requirement to help your spouse. However, law obligates you to support your children, in the form of child support if you leave your spouse (assuming your spouse gets custody).

            men have no stake in society to keep them stable, focused, and not doing something stupid or antisocial.

            What is a stake in society? Regardless of marriage, men have an interest in a reasonable way in their own interest, and in that of their children. Your phrases sound like platitudes that sound good to some people, but have little meaning — or at least they are not explicit enough to make it clear to me what they mean, and how marriage incentivizes these things.

          • theredsheep says:

            Sorry, aiming for brevity and overshot, I guess. As you said, marriage begins not as a matter of law but of custom; men and women stay together for an extended term, each having a claim on the other, and form the foundation of a family unit, which is itself the foundation of society. Government takes an interest in marriage, but then the government takes an interest in most important things sooner or later, and family formation is utterly crucial. Monogamy is the norm and I’ll assume that here for simplicity’s sake, but yes, the other kinds are a thing, though they have liabilities which monogamy lacks.

            Human children take a really long time to become self-sufficient, and require an environment with long-term stability–can I cut to the chase here and say that somebody needs to be raising the kids in a society? That means parents, and ideally they need to be the same parents throughout because kids don’t do well with instability.

            Mere monetary support is not sufficient; it really helps to have an extra person there to help you watch the kids and raise them right. Now, you could have, say, a sisterhood of mutually supporting women helping with each others’ kids, and in practice that does happen sometimes, but it’s not a standard arrangement and it has the potential to get quite uncomfortable, especially when one considers that those women are still going to want men around in some form.

            As for men, well, we tend to do stupid stuff when left to our own devices. Young men in particular commit the overwhelming majority of crimes. A single woman can still be a single mother, which is proven to be bad for kids but still gives her some bond to the human race. A single man, on the other hand, can most of his life radically untethered, a part of no family, in charge of nothing.

            This is very bad news, and I think the only reason our increasingly single society doesn’t have a higher crime rate is that we invented really good video games and opened the floodgates of porn. Now all the listless men who would have been out raising hell in earlier societies play games instead, as captured in those angsty news stories about men who sponge off their parents instead of looking for work. The stories always blame the video games, but in any earlier era, strong social pressure would have forced them to marry by that point, and their wives would have threatened to leave them if they didn’t get their asses in gear. Instead these men just … float. It’s not long-term tenable, and the axe will come down sooner or later.

            Now, you can argue that marriage isn’t essential, you just need long-term committed pair bonding with repercussions for breakups, etc., but at that point you’re arguing that you don’t need lemons to make lemonade, only a specific combination of organic compounds which happens to be found in lemons.

          • Plumber says:

            @theredsheep,

            I’m not going to bother pulling quotes, I’ll just say that I agree with a lot of what your arguing, and say well done!

            For childless couples, sure, do whatever, “fly your freak flags high” and “be free to do you’, but once children are involved I become very authoritarian and the gates close and the children’s parents happiness and freedom mostly concern me as far as it effects their children’s welfare.

            I was a child in the 1970’s and I have very strong and bitter feelings about this. You want to be a “free-spirit”? Then don’t have kids, once you do your and societies duty is to them, and if some adults chafe, so be it.

          • LadyJane says:

            @theredsheep: I don’t think any of that is particularly accurate. There are plenty of single men (and single women, gay men, and lesbians) in the workforce, so there’s no real basis for the idea that young men will just drop out of society and become criminals or parasites if they don’t choose to start a family. For one thing, almost no one turns to crime just because they’re bored; when people commit serious crimes, it’s generally for money or for specific personal reasons, not just because they have nothing better to do. And sure, there are plenty of aimless men who spend most of their free time playing video games and watching porn and getting high, but a lot of them still have jobs, and some of them can even make good money. They usually have social lives too, at least to the extent that they have friends who they play video games with, go drinking with, and so forth. You might consider them failures if you define success in terms of starting a family, but that’s a tautological argument.

          • 10240 says:

            @theredsheep The angle that we guys shouldn’t have too much freedom is an argument I’ve haven’t heard before. I’m not very sympathetic to it. Of course if you have children, that gives you responsibilities whether you’re married or not.

            Adult sons who live with their parents are primarily the responsibility of the parents who won’t kick them out and/or put their asses to work. Then again, if parents are willing to work in place of their sons, that’s their problem for all I care.

            Now, you can argue that marriage isn’t essential, you just need long-term committed pair bonding with repercussions for breakups, etc., but at that point you’re arguing that you don’t need lemons to make lemonade, only a specific combination of organic compounds which happens to be found in lemons.

            Well, the question of whether we should have marriage or just long-term relationships is central to this thread. I find it somewhat perverse for government to be involved with people’s personal lives, thoughts, emotions, plans etc.

            It’s not obvious if marriage creates significant negative repercussions to breakup/divorce. The main way it changes the situation is that it alters the distribution of property after the divorce. That disincentivizes divorce by the spouse who is worse off in a divorce than in a split-up after an unmarried relationship, but it incentivizes divorce by the spouse who is better off to the same extent. A divorce may leave both spouses worse off because maintaining two households is somewhat more expensive than one joint one, but that equally applies to unmarried cohabiting.

            There may still be some social pressure against divorce, but that could be attached to splitting up while having children.

            @Plumber While I agree that children’s interests are important, I don’t see why they should categorically override the parents’ interests. A somewhat better childhood but less freedom during adulthood is not an obvious trade-off; I wouldn’t take it (I was raised by a single mother).

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t mean that they’re bored in the sense of “hmm, nothing on ESPN, better go rob a liquor store,” I mean that we are social animals and are not meant to be unmoored from families (or, in theory, other strong social groups, but families are the norm). And it’s specifically unmarried young men who do most of the crime. Marriage is good for us because it ties us down and forces us to grow up–it used to be a critical life stage one more or less had to pass. This doesn’t mean that every unmarried young man is going to become a criminal, just that the danger greatly increases while he’s circling in a holding pattern like that.

            For human society to continue and be healthy, the substantial majority of men and women have to marry (or enter functionally-identical analogues thereof if they have an aversion to the word). Because the next generation of men and women has to start as someone’s children, in a stable household. We (in the US) are an increasingly anti-reproductive society, and our total fertility rate is now well below replacement–and that’s just TFR, not what percentage of the kids are in healthy families. This cannot and will not last, as a matter of simple math if nothing else. Either the culture will change, or we will be displaced.

            I know little or nothing of gay men and lesbians; I consider them a separate case, and irrelevant to the issue insofar as they very seldom have unwanted/neglected children, which is the greatest evil that comes from the abandonment of marriage and commitment. I don’t know how being gay effects other behaviors, but since something like one man in forty or fifty is gay it doesn’t strike me as a big issue.

            My point, 10240, is that the government-enforced aspects of the thing are an afterthought, if a necessary one. Saying that marriage is a government thing is like saying that property rights are a government thing; the government may enforce both, but people don’t need the people in charge to be a married couple any more than they need those people to tell them that their stuff is theirs. The actual legal and social mechanisms of marriage and its enforcement varied from time to time and place to place. In the middle ages, peasants routinely got married in private by verbally agreeing to it, then having sex to seal the deal. For a long time, this was considered legally binding.

            If you were single-parented, you don’t know what you missed, but I’m guessing you were one of the lucky ones. Studies consistently find that single parenting is associated with higher rates of basically everything going wrong with a child’s life. I don’t know how your mother managed it, but as a parent of two it strikes me as fundamentally unfair to both parties.

          • brad says:

            I’m not one of the people that’s terribly interested in fertility. I tend to think these things will sort themselves out.

            But that said, if it was something I was worried about the last thing I would want to do is make having children even more of a phase change than it has to be. When parents are expected to spend so much time, energy, and money on children or be considered horrible throwbacks to the dreaded latchkey parents of the 70s is it any wonder that people aren’t in a rush to have kids? Now you want to add on top of that you can’t get divorced? Which direction do you think that’s going to move the equilibrium?

          • theredsheep says:

            ? Where did I say that people couldn’t get divorced? It’s tragic, but it does happen, and it’s far better to allow it than to force people and their families to remain in an increasingly dysfunctional relationship. I don’t know where I stand on the specifics of divorce law, with no-fault versus whatever. I know too little to have an opinion worth considering there.

            The contemporary treatment of parenthood as some kind of overachievement contest by a relatively small body of trendsetting cul-de-sac denizens is a separate issue. Parenting needs to be common; whether or not the kids go to soccer practice matters little.

            For clarity, I jumped in specifically to contest the idea that marriage is unnecessary. I’m not following the larger thread very closely, and I hope that isn’t causing a lot of confusion here.

          • Plumber says:

            @brad

            “…about the last thing I would want to do is make having children even more of a phase change than it has to be. When parents are expected to spend so much time, energy, and money on children or be considered horrible throwbacks to the dreaded latchkey parents of the 70s is it any wonder that people aren’t in a rush to have kids? Now you want to add on top of that you can’t get divorced? Which direction do you think that’s going to move the equilibrium?

            I was a lackey kid in the 1970’s and I feel pretty strongly about this, ’tis better to have fewer kids that are well raised than a larger but scared generation. 

             @theredsheep

            “Where did I say that people couldn’t get divorced? It’s tragic, but it does happen, and it’s far better to allow it than to force people and their families to remain in an increasingly dysfunctional relationship. I don’t know where I stand on the specifics of divorce law, with no-fault versus whatever…”

            That was me in other posts, unfortunately I haven’t thought of a way to punish the parents without also harming the kids, maybe by the parents being put in stocks and be ridiculed by the other villagers? 

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            “Lackey kid” is one of the more inspired autocorrect fails I’ve seen lately. I was a vassal kid myself, though I got to be a toady for a while in high school.

          • Randy M says:

            My wife was a Lackey kid; I preferred sci-fi.

          • Plumber says:

            autocorrect

            Oh!

            It turns “latchkey” into “lackey” but it doesn’t turn “helo” into “help”?

            Demon dogs!

          • 10240 says:

            Studies consistently find that single parenting is associated with higher rates of basically everything going wrong with a child’s life.

            I haven’t looked at the studies, but there may be a lot of confounding effects there other than the causation you suggest, which may be hard to separate. It’s also plausible that there is a significant effect in the segments of society that are too poor to adequately raise a child as a single parent, but little in the wealthier segments.

            I’m reminded of those very general “diversity trumps aptitude” vs “homogeneous groups work better” studies that the two political sides can pull out to win debates. Again, I’m not saying that two-parent families aren’t beneficial, I just don’t think the effect is that great, a lot depends on individual circumstances, and I don’t trust “studies find…” arguments in social science very much (though it’s possible that I’d be convinced if I looked at the studies).

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            “Lackey kid” is also what Holden Caulfield called his roommate when he wanted to get his goat.

          • brad says:

            @theredsheep
            I guess I must have read multiple posts in this sprawling thread on conflated a different one with yours. My apologies.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      why does the state of a monopoly on adjudicating divorce?

      The best argument I’m aware of is that the state has a compelling interest in the welfare of children. In the absence of children I mostly agree with you. However, I’d also note that the powers vested by statute in a spouse are, to a significant extent, part of what the institution of marriage is perceived to be, and the divorce-centric view of marriage tends to ignore that.

      • 10240 says:

        That’s not very reasonable given that it’s perfectly legal to have children without getting married, and it’s also legal to enter most sorts of contracts while having children.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          If two people sign a marriage contact that gives the mother full custody of the child in the event of divorce, and she turns out to be abusive when the child is 5, does the state have a responsibility to ensure that the child doesn’t end up with her or to ensure that the father gains custody?

          • The Nybbler says:

            If the state has an interest in the welfare of the child, it is separate from the father’s interest. The contract can only yield the father’s interest to the mother; it has no effect on what the state can do to protect its own interests.

          • 10240 says:

            Child custody is something the state should be concerned with. I consider child custody a somewhat different issue from marriage and divorce, since some married couples don’t have children, and some couples with children aren’t married.

          • Plumber says:

            @10240

            “…I consider child custody a somewhat different issue from marriage and divorce, since some married couples don’t have children, and some couples with children aren’t married”

            The Burkean in me says that quick radical change is dangerous, but for giggles; how about this then:
            Only have parents be legally sanctioned and bound as married.

      • brad says:

        The state also has an interest in clarity about the ownership of property.

    • Another Throw says:

      I’m honestly kind of spitballing and haven’t thought through the implications terribly closely. That’s why throwing it out there is interesting, to see what y’all come up with.

      Marriage involves a lot of different things:

      1. The powers vested in your spouse. A power-of-attorney-lite. A medical-power-of-attorney-lite. Visitation rights. Custodial rights over any issue that happens to occur during the course of the marriage. What have you.
      2. Rules about property ownership and inheritance. What is communal property, joint property, separate property? What is the mandatory minimum of the estate a still living spouse or children must receive? Other constraints on beneficial gifts the disinherit the spouse or children?
      3. The rules about how to divide all of this during divorce. Are any of the marital powers retained? Visitation rights? Custodial rights? Who gets what property? Spousal support? Compensation for foregone earnings? Child support?
      4. Rules of procedure to undertake the division under 3. Valid grounds of divorce? Predivorce consoling? Mandatory arbitration and by whom? Can you skip that arbitration under certain types of fault? If that arbitration method falls through?

      There is enormous scope here for different approaches to acheive conscionable outcomes. To the extent that distinct cultural groups have a shared understanding, or at least a large overlap, on how to acheive these outcomes, having an option to undertake the marriage under that shared understanding would be beneficial. These cultural groups are not necessarily religious, but it is a common source for a shared understanding.

      Suppose that at the time of marriage, say, you were able to chose from a few common sets of rules on any/all of these items (with the probable exception being item 1 as it mostly deals with how third parties treat the marriage) that most closely matches you and your spouse-to-be’s understanding of these issues, and if you don’t like any of the preformulated options you can still hire a team of lawyers and write a prenup.

      Like, a lot of states require premarital consoling don’t they? Where you sit down with someone and they harass your for a while about whether you really want to be doing this thing [under the rules you have chosen]?

      • brad says:

        People, including even children, aren’t a species of property to be disposed of at will in a contract.

        Other than that, I don’t see what’s so different between what you are saying and what we have now. You can designate a set of rules (e.g. Halacha) and an arbitrator (e.g. a Bet Din) in a pre-nup today.

        • Another Throw says:

          This really isn’t that radical. Other than […] having to pay a lawyer a lot of money if you don’t like the local monopoly, this is basically the system we have now.

          • brad says:

            The catholic church is free to publish pre-nup agreements for all 50 states.

            What isn’t exactly you want, for people to be forced to use alternative dispute resolution mechanisms?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I don’t particularly have a problem with this, but the “multiple systems of law” opens up a whole can of worms for a nation state. We can’t even get people 100% on board with arbitration agreements. You’re talking about turning the Catholic Church into the arbiter of a sizable fraction of the nation’s marriages, and also allowing Shariah Law for another sizable fraction.
      What exactly differentiates this from allowing Duke Scott Alexander to reinstate feudalism in the Duchy of Somewhere San Francisco?
      A major victory of the modern age (IMO) is centralizing law and eliminating a great number of insane carve-outs.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      90% of the purpose of government is settling property disputes. When you say “I own X” and somebody else says “no I own X” you can either do pistols at dawn or we can just ask a judge to decide. And if you disagree with the judge, well, the judge has men with guns.

      If you shift this responsibility to decide who owns X to the Church, do the guns shift to the Church as well? Or does the judge (government) enforce Church decisions for them?

      I think you’re just moving the problem around but not solving it.

      • Randy M says:

        If you shift this responsibility to decide who owns X to the Church, do the guns shift to the Church as well? Or does the judge (government) enforce Church decisions for them?

        Exactly. People who say “government out of marriage” should say exactly what they are taking out of the state’s hands. Is it just about not having a commonly accepted contract, but making everyone specify their own terms in every single instance?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Further, is everybody okay with every contract? Like, let’s say a 45-year-old man wants a not-marriage contract with an 11-year-old girl. Is that okay? Probably not. Maybe we should have a minimum age for when someone can sign these contracts?

          And what happens when someone disputes the totes-not-marriage contract? Says “No, I was drunk when I signed the contract it doesn’t count.” Maybe they should have to sign the contract in the presence of a witness the judge trusts?

          And what happens when somebody tries to sign a for-reals-not-marriage contract with two different people without the others knowing about it? That kind of gums up the works on the whole “who gets half the stuff” thing when half the stuff is already pledged to someone else. Maybe there should be a central register where these definitely-not-marriage contracts are kept so we can make sure nobody signs more than one at a time? It could be kept by some sort of clerk…of the county.

          Maybe these problems are so common that we just call the standard don’t-you-dare-call-it-marriage certificate a “marriage certificate,” code it in law, but say you can make any additional agreements you want and call those a “prenuptial agreement.”

          • Plumber says:

            @Conrad Honcho,

            It’s almost as if you imply that customs, laws, and systems that evolved over centuries shouldn’t just be thrown out on a whim.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Perhaps they should even be…conserved. I will call this new outlook “conservatism.”

          • Plumber says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            “Perhaps they should even be…conserved. I will call this new outlook “conservatism.””

            That would be fitting but unfortunately there’s been a large group calling themselves “conservatives” who’ve been advocating radical change for most of my lifetime.

            It might get confusing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The problem is that the people who want to conserve SOCIAL structures also wanted radical changes to economic structures. Many of which damaged the social structures.

            I would give the left the tax rates of the 1950s back if they let me have the social laws of the 1950s back.

          • The problem is that the people who want to conserve SOCIAL structures also wanted radical changes to economic structures.

            I’m not sure what changes you are thinking about. I would have said that the radical changes in the economic structure occurred during the 1930’s, supported by (among others) the same people who wanted radical changes in the social structures.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @EchoChaos

            Are you talking about segregation and anti-miscegenation laws? Because holy hell, that’s S O B R A V E

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Hoopyfreud

            > Are you talking about segregation and anti-miscegenation laws?

            Sure, them too. I don’t see why it’s a big deal to people in New York if the people of Virginia want to make another marriage legal or illegal.

            The idea that people are allowed to democratically choose things like who can marry or associate except when it offends liberal principles is a dumb one.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman

            “…I would have said that the radical changes in the economic structure occurred during the 1930’s….”

            The ‘New Deal’ was pretty radical (though I imagine that compared to Asia and Europe at the time the changes seemed tame), it probably reflects badly on my knowledge of history but most every other changes to a society that were that much and that fast that I can think of didn’t turn out so well, the fall of communism in eastern Europe seems to have turned out relatively well for most, but civil war still broke out in a few places and average lifespan lengths dropped in the former Soviet Union, Croatia (for example) is now a major tourist destination and has better living standards now, but if in 1990 the Croats were told “You’ll wind up living in better place, you just have to go thorough a civil war first”, I think some of them would decline the trade.

            I think the U.S.A. was very lucky that our experiments with fast radical change in the 20th century turned out as well as they did, and I think we should be more cautious about messing with the status quo too much, too fast.

            Since circumstances change some reforms are necessary but I think an incremental approach is better (and yes I’m well aware of some radical changes I have advocated, but I’m not expecting them anytime soon, if they actually looked probable I’d recommend fractional steps first).

          • 10240 says:

            I would give the left the tax rates of the 1950s back if they let me have the social laws of the 1950s back.

            AFAIK the 1950s arrangement is known more for astronomical tax rates on the rich (which didn’t generate all that much revenue) than for particularly generous benefits or services for the poor. It looks like some people here, when talking about inequality or taxation, find it more important to drag down the rich than to pull up the poor. Why is that?

            @Conrad Honcho , It’s already possible to make various contracts other than marriage, so some of your examples already have mostly adequate solutions (and if they don’t, that’s a problem that should be fixed in a general way). Minors usually can’t sign binding contracts with major consequences. No idea if being drunk can be a defense to a contract; either it shouldn’t be, or it should be but there should be a way to sign a contract in such a way that there is no doubt about its validity (e.g. in front of a notary). Again, if you couldn’t sign a contract (other than marriage) such that no drunkenness defense can be raised, that would be a problem anyway.

            What happens today if you sign two different contracts that you can’t fulfill at the same time? I presume it would be illegal, and perhaps criminal in some cases. I don’t know if the existing legal system adequately prevents this sort of thing from happening. If not, that should be solved in a general way (e.g. contracts involving real estate or significant amount of money should be registered, and contracting parties should be able to see your existing obligations); that way the problem would be solved for all sorts of contracts rather than marriage only.

            Also, if the problem of conflicting contracts is not handled by the system adequately, that’s a problem for marrying couples too: e.g. what happens if you get married without disclosing an existing contractual obligation to your spouse, or if you get married, and then take on a contractual obligation without informing your spouse? Many people would just say they trust their spouse (rightly or wrongly), but (assuming the trust is justified) that would solve your questions too.

          • I would give the left the tax rates of the 1950s back if they let me have the social laws of the 1950s back.

            AFAIK the 1950s arrangement is known more for astronomical tax rates on the rich (which didn’t generate all that much revenue) than for particularly generous benefits or services for the poor.

            I am pretty sure that the fraction of the Federal Income Tax paid by the bottom quartile was substantially higher in the 1950’s than it is now.

    • ana53294 says:

      Marriage gives protection not just to property rights.

      In a lot of countries, even an extremely poor person that cannot support themselves and requires state assistance can marry a foreigner and have the state give them a residence permit. Usually, other types of contracts presume the ability to maintain that spouse. In Sweden, for example, they have cohabitation agreements. A cohabitant can only invite the other one if they can afford it, and it’s different for marriage.

      Marriage also gives protection to non-biological children. So let’s say that a woman who is already pregnant meets a guy, falls in love, they get married, and gives birth. The man knows he is not the biological father, but chooses to raise the child as his own. And then, 10 years later, during the divorce, the man says he is not the biological father, and his son is crying asking why his daddy hates him.

      Most states have presumed paternity rules where a man has a limited time to deny parentage (usually 2 years). After that, even a DNA test won’t get you out of parental responsibilities.

      I may disagree with the ethics of a woman who has a child by another person and does not tell the legal father about it. But the formation of the paternal bond is too important to let biology undermine it. And this is done for the protection of children, not the mother. Indeed, the non-biological father can get full custody if the law determines it, and the mother can’t use a DNA test to get custody, either.

  18. salvorhardin says:

    Very interesting article linked by Slate:

    https://slate.com/business/2019/01/scandinavian-socialism-might-be-a-product-of-19th-century-us-immigration.html

    I am skeptical of the stated thesis for a bunch of reasons, but I think it’s noteworthy that a Slate author is implicitly endorsing the idea that traits like individualism vs. collectivism can be somewhat-reliably transmitted within ethnic populations and subpopulations over several generations with consequences as large as the Scandinavian tendency toward large welfare states (regardless of what you think the transmission mechanism is).

  19. AG says:

    I better see “No One Is Prepared for Hagfish Slime” in the next links post.

    Although, to be fair, that article doesn’t get into the interesting potential applications of the slime as much. This one has the goodies, though the most interesting part to me was the one-sentence reference to spider silk farming via bacteria!

    • acymetric says:

      How does that level of cheating compare to the level among the human pros?

      I kid, mostly.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Now they should program an AI for real military tactics rather than a war-ish computer game.

      • dick says:

        What is it you’re supposed to do re: that which you cannot put down? Call it up just to see if you can, was that it?

        • Nornagest says:

          Drunk-dial it.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @dick: Well, that was a rhetorical flourish to highlight AI risk. That which you cannot put down shouldn’t actually be invented.
          Mind, I don’t even believe in Yudkowskian AI risk. But giving a non-FOOMing AI officer control of a few hundred war drones seems risk enough.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Stalkers are OP, I knew it! I’ve been saying that for years!

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I don’t know that it’s actually minimal amounts of cheating. Its APM advantage is pretty large, though they try to downplay it in their article.

      (The article tries to claim that the machine doesn’t have a major APM advantage because its APM averaged across the entire game is lower than the human players. However, human players do lots of kind of inessential actions during relatively low micro-intensive times — they “stay warm” as it were by constantly twitching around the interface. The computer bursts up to 1,000 APM with perfect accuracy, allowing it to do stalker micro that is clearly inhuman. Humans can have 1,000 APM, but not those kinds of actions, and particularly not with perfect accuracy. A lot of the human APM is tapping hotkeys, not selecting a unit and then selecting a precise point for it to move. And when they do try to do that kind of micro, they are often inaccurate at hundreds of actions per minute.)

      • hls2003 says:

        I don’t know that much about Starcraft at those levels, but I did read their summary and that stuck out to me. I remember playing enough Starcraft that toggling around and directing micro action was always the hardest. It’s moderately impressive that they have learned legitimate strategies, but this seems like it’s adding decent strategy to the speed and accuracy advantage the base-game AI always had anyway. Seems a bit like Watson-owns-the-buzzer again.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        The other “cheat,” which may actually be more important, is that the AI can “see” the entire map at the same time. Meaning, it can interact with the entire map at all moments. Feints against a human player to draw their attention would literally be worthless against the AI.

        The article really glossed over that portion, but there was a second AI created without the ability to see the whole map, and it lost to the human players. There was some handwaving about it being less trained and planning for a rematch, blah blah blah.

        Agreed the APM is a huge factor though, also glossed over in the article. They did mention that the AI interacted directly with the game, so no mouse/keyboard. That alone is a rather significant difference.

        Not to overly downplay the accomplishment, but I think that “AI is better than humans” is overemphasizing the skill of the AI over the functional differences.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Not to overly downplay the accomplishment, but I think that “AI is better than humans” is overemphasizing the skill of the AI over the functional differences.

          This same thing happened with OpenAI’s DOTA 2 project. When the humans play the game on the AI’s terms, they lose. When the AI plays the game on the human’s terms, it loses.

      • rlms says:

        My impression (as someone who has played Starcraft about twice) is that AlphaStar did cheat with superhuman micro in the way you describe in a couple of matches, but it wasn’t relying on that completely to win. While its macro wasn’t superhuman in the same way, it still looked like it was at worst almost as good as a pro, which seems like a significant achievement.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Yeah, it’s definitely not cheating to the level that would make up for laughably bad macro. Just probably enough to bring it from “reliably a little worse than the pros” to “reliably a little better than the pros.”

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      My impression (as a non-Starcraft-player who watched the matches and has done some reading) is that AlphaStar had a big advantage in micro and a moderate disadvantage in macro, but was definitely doing passable high-level strategic play. Only that one blink-stalker match against MaNa was really egregiously micro-dependent (I thought the disruptor-spam against TLO was also, but then some people on r/starcraft seemed to think the disruptor micro wasn’t even that great, so…)

    • b_jonas says:

      Is Starcraft II a worthy enough successor of Starcraft for this to count as a major achievement?

      • beleester says:

        The things that make it a good challenge for AI – real-time decision making, fog of war, long list of possible actions at every moment, early-game decisions with long-term consequences – would exist for almost any RTS, “worthy” or not.

        But yes, Starcraft II has a big enough pro scene that beating the top pros is impressive.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          To me, the big question is how much of the code used by that AI was successfully borrowed from other AIs with minimal adjustment. Because that plays into the question of how easy it would be to develop a winning AI for the next game to come along.

          And by extension, the effort required to produce winning AIs for activities that aren’t games.

  20. Deiseach says:

    Today I found out, totally unconnected to the reasons for the original search, that back in 1972 Leonard Cohen did a version of Kevin Barry. It’s also a very upbeat cover, given the lyrics and subject; you could dance a waltz to it!

    Consider me properly boggled 🙂

    • Plumber says:

      @Deisearch,

      He probably learned the song from a Clancy Brothers album, which judging from my parents record collection was a pretty common record to have among “Folk” fans in the early 1970’s.

  21. hls2003 says:

    The discussion below about Alexander the Great (and subsequent comparison to Genghis Khan) got me thinking. Is there any single trait, or suite of a few related traits, that defines “great military leader” or “military genius” across history? Or, given the vastly different social and technological eras in which they operated, were they all different, simply contingent on mastering different iterations of “one neat trick” which held true at the time?

    For example, one could say that Alexander and Genghis Khan and Julius Caesar and Napoleon all had “the right stuff” – that, with sufficient time, cultural familiarity, and opportunity one would expect them all to be great military leaders whenever they arose. I suppose this might be viewed as the “Art of War” model (or the “Ender Wiggin” model) – they’re all blessed with minds extremely good at identifying and implementing local versions of timeless principles like “outnumber your enemies” and “fight on good ground” and “demoralize your opponent.” So if that’s the case, what are the traits one would say they all possess? Genius intellect? Great skills in visualization (terrain and maneuvers)? Great people skills? Detail-oriented logistician?

    Alternatively, one could argue that “great military leader” is correlated with military success, but the causation runs the other direction. A “great military leader” is simply one who has succeeded in most of his important fights. This makes him popular, experienced, and charismatic to his men. He has improved morale and loyalty because his troops expect success. He has improved resources because people want to help a winner. He has improved success because enemy troops are afraid to face him. But it all originates because of something entirely contingent to his environment and time period – one is Henry V with English longbows and French mud on his side; one has mastered the art of the phalanx; one’s people have figured out the best way to use stirrups with horse cavalry; one is the master of entrenchment logistics. But take Alexander out of his time, and even with time and education he would be no better than most at figuring out how to defeat the Mongols; take away the stirrup and horse bow, and Genghis Khan would be no better than most at setting up tactical maneuvers; put Napoleon in WWI and he would have no great insight into winning trench warfare. They all had their “one neat trick,” but there’s nothing inherent in them that would make them great military minds across place and time.

    I lean towards the former, but I’m not sure. What say you – if great military leaders are a thing, then what is that thing (or set of things)?

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s hard to say for a lot of generals, but Alexander and Genghis Khan both fought so many different people in so many different ways that “one weird trick” doesn’t seem plausible. Alexander would be faced with an army fielded by a people he’d never seen before, with totally unfamiliar tactics and equipment, and he’d figure out a way to beat them more or less on the fly. This happened not once but many times, and he never lost a battle.

      Being intimately familiar with his own side’s phalanx and cavalry tactics helped, certainly. If you pulled him out of the sand in Bactria and plopped him down in a command vehicle at 73 Easting, he probably wouldn’t have been much help, even discounting the language barrier. But if you then ran him through a course at West Point, I’ll bet he’d have come out the other end as a top-notch commander. Maybe not the best — the world was a lot smaller in his time, and a world-beater then maybe isn’t a world-beater now. But very good.

      • It’s hard to say for a lot of generals, but Alexander and Genghis Khan both fought so many different people in so many different ways that “one weird trick” doesn’t seem plausible.

        I’m not so sure about that. First, Genghis Khan unified the mongols. Then he defeated the Tanguts and Jurchen, nomadic people occupying northern china. And finally he beat the Khwarezmid Empire, centered on Samarkand. All of these places would be fairly comfortable fights for a nomadic horseman. It wasn’t until his children that you see them conquering people originating from more geographically diverse places.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ll argue that great military leader is a thing, but i’m not sure what it is.

      My go-to examples are Odoacer and Harald Hardrada. Both fought in multiple places, with multiple groups of soldiers, and were successful until they weren’t.

    • J.R. says:

      Don’t have time to give an effortpost, but I would boil it down to strategic and tactical superiority and the logistical ability to raise (and feed) an army. Also, cultivating generals below them that also have the appropriate skills.

      It is tough to say, though. The historical record is relatively thin for several of history’s greatest generals, like Alexander, Hannibal, and Genghis Khan.

      EDIT: strategy =/= tactics

      EDIT 2: Also, I’m sure Clausewitz has a lot to say on the matter.

      • hls2003 says:

        strategic and tactical superiority and the logistical ability to raise (and feed) an army. Also, cultivating generals below them that also have the appropriate skills

        Yes, that seems true more or less by definition. I’m pondering whether those abilities can be broken down further into a set of discrete personal traits – spatial reasoning, social skills – that would transcend their environment, or if it’s just “great military leaders are people who are good at military stuff.”

        Then there are counter-examples like George Washington, who by most accounts was at best an indifferent strategist and tactician, but a sufficiently inspiring leader of men to keep the Continental Army together and lead it to a most unlikely victory.

    • Urstoff says:

      luck

    • Deiseach says:

      But take Alexander out of his time, and even with time and education he would be no better than most at figuring out how to defeat the Mongols

      I’m not so sure about that; at Gaugamela the Macedonians went from “Holy crap what are those unknown monsters?” to “So this is how you take down an elephant” pretty fast:

      The Persians had 15 Indian-trained war elephants, which were placed at the centre of the Persian line, and they made such an impression on the Macedonian troops that Alexander felt the need to sacrifice to the God of Fear the night before the battle. Despite this the Persians lost the battle, relinquishing the Achaemenid empire to Alexander.

      Alexander seems to have been very adaptable and very good at quickly picking up how to handle previously unmet conditions. He beat Darius on Darius’ own ground, I think that after the initial “well we got our clocks cleaned there” encounter(s) with the Mongols, Alexander would have worked out what, if anything, he could do.

      Militarily he was brilliant, but as a civil ruler he left an awful lot to be desired. I honestly begin to think that he would have done much better as the general of an emperor – let the guy on the fancy throne do all the ruling of the conquered territory, just keep supplying Al with all the men and matériel as he keeps conquering all before him.

      • theredsheep says:

        I’ve read that the Mongols, like the Huns, Parthians, Scythians, etc. before them, were victorious in large part because skilled horse archers were basically superweapons in open battle; they could simultaneously outrun and outrange anything else on the field, attack while retreating, and cover enormous stretches of ground in a few days. The only reason they weren’t used more often was that riding a horse is hard, firing a bow is hard, and doing both together requires so much practice that you almost have to be a lifelong nomad who does little else with his time but ride around shooting stuff. Which is why all those powers were short-lived as empires; riding around all the time is less fun than settling down with concubines and booze, so the conquerors go soft within a generation or two.

        Now, I’ve heard varying reports on the efficacy of recurve bows. Some people say they’re almost as vicious as longbows, some say more so, others say they’re just peashooters used for annoyance. Don’t know who to believe and can’t find a good YouTube demo.

        But it might be that Alexander wouldn’t have had a particularly good counter for the Khan.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “Superweapons” is putting it a bit strongly: arrows aren’t actually all that good at killing things (even the famous English longbows didn’t actually stop the French charges; that was done by hand-to-hand fighting from prepared positions), and horse archers need a lot of space or else they’ll get trapped against some natural feature and slaughtered. (Which, I suppose, is why they never really took off in western Europe.)

          Also, I think the effectiveness of horse archers tends to get overestimated due to the spotlight fallacy. Sweeping conquests are big and dramatic and get talked about a lot, so we tend to focus on those rather than all the occasions when nomads were defeated by non-horse-archer-based armies. Everybody remembers the first Mongol invasion of Hungary; practically nobody remembers the second, far less successful, invasion.

          As for the peoples you mention, the Mongols used melee-fighting heavy cavalry as much as they used horse archers; the Hunnic forces which terrorised the Roman Empire had more Germanic vassals/mercenaries than Hunnic horse archers; the Parthians’ capital was sacked by the Romans on no less than five separate occasions; and the Scythians never managed to seriously defeat a settled empire on said empire’s home turf. So, whilst they were all good soldiers, they weren’t quite the military supermen pop history makes out.

          • theredsheep says:

            Parthians were the armored cavalry anyway, I was thinking of the Medes and proto-Persians. I’ve read that there are claims that the Mongols used melee cavalry, but they can’t be substantiated. But yeah, this is not anything like an area of expertise for me.

        • John Schilling says:

          We’ve been through this before, and no. There’s lots of ways to beat horse archers. A heavy cavalry charge wasn’t one of them, and the Mongols had the good fortune to make their move into Europe when European armies were A: very much focused on heavy cavalry charges as the one true path to victory and B: sufficiently bad at logistics that they usually couldn’t afford to wait for the Mongols to make a mistake but had to rush in and make their own.

        • Composite recurve bows certainly outranged longbows and they are more efficient–the ratio of energy stored to force at full draw is higher. How they compared in other ways I don’t know. If you believe the reconstructions of the Mary Rose longbows they had very high draw weights, which suggests that they required a lot of training. I don’t see any reason why one couldn’t have similar draw weights for recurves, don’t know if they did.

    • Erusian says:

      I’d say a great military leader needs a few things:
      1.) To be born in a time of military conflict. As the oracle famous said to Cao Cao, he would only achieve his full greatness in chaotic times.
      2.) To have access to regular, committed, skilled military formations. It’s remarkably rare that a great military leader creates their army from scratch. In fact, I can think of no examples.
      3.) Military charisma, as defined by the ability to get respect and obedience out of soldiers and warriors.
      4.) Extreme tolerance for discomfort and risk in pursuit of military objectives.
      5.) Strategic and especially tactical insight above their opponents. Tactical insight is privileged not because it’s more important but because it’s more dramatic.

      Someone with these things will not necessarily win. But they will overperform and if that overperformance is noticed then they’ll become remembered as a Great General in Civ 5 etc.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        2.) To have access to regular, committed, skilled military formations. It’s remarkably rare that a great military leader creates their army from scratch. In fact, I can think of no examples.

        Philip of Macedon would count, since he basically created the Macedonian phalanx from scratch. He tends to get overshadowed by his son, but he was a great commander in his own right, and the first man ever to unite (almost all of) Greece.

        • Erusian says:

          Philip of Macedon reformed an existing army drawn from a people already considered uniquely skilled at war. Ancient accounts tell us he inherited an army of eleven thousand men who were already considered one of the best armies of the barbarians.

      • John Schilling says:

        To have access to regular, committed, skilled military formations. It’s remarkably rare that a great military leader creates their army from scratch. In fact, I can think of no examples.

        Frederick the Great considered George Washington to be one of the greatest military leaders of the age. And he wasn’t the only one with that opinion, just uniquely qualified to make the assessment.

        • Erusian says:

          George Washington had access to a populace that had fought en masse in a world war ten years earlier and had been involved in intergenerational conflicts for their very survival for more than a century and a half. Virtually every American man had some military training and a gun.

          • John Schilling says:

            Virtually every American man had some military training and a gun.

            That is a very different thing than an army, as even a cursory study of George Washington’s attempt to build an army will show. And not unique or even particularly noteworthy when it comes to the raw material most preindustrial military commanders (great or otherwise) had to work with.

          • Erusian says:

            Quite the contrary, George Washington’s great pain was not creating military formations. It was reforming existing formations into a standing army. And American militiamen were uniquely skilled at fighting, at least in their home country. Indeed, they formed armies before Washington was even on the scene and beat the British at times.

            And yes, the American militiaman was uniquely accustomed to warfare compared to his peers in other countries. Rates of gun ownership and enrollment in militias, as well as actual war experience in those militias, dwarfed anything seen in Europe.

          • bean says:

            Yes, but a militia and an army that will actually fight a war are very different things. Washington had to do an incredible amount of work to turn one into the other, and did it successfully. In large part, this was by abandoning the militia model in favor of long-service regulars from the lower classes, but he did it.

          • Erusian says:

            Yes, but a militia and an army that will actually fight a war are very different things. Washington had to do an incredible amount of work to turn one into the other, and did it successfully. In large part, this was by abandoning the militia model in favor of long-service regulars from the lower classes, but he did it.

            Sure. Washington was effectively recreating the British system with a standing professional army assisting by local militias, except both were American rather than having one shipped from the metropole.

            But that concedes my point. It’s not that the person doesn’t reform the army or make it better. It’s that they already have skilled, committed military formations to work with. Likewise, Genghis Khan reorganized his armies too but he certainly didn’t invent everything about them. Horse and bow, driving tactics, etc.

          • bean says:

            But that concedes my point. It’s not that the person doesn’t reform the army or make it better. It’s that they already have skilled, committed military formations to work with.

            No, it really doesn’t. He didn’t have skilled, committed military formations to work with. The history of the militia in the Revolution is mostly one of failure, with an occasional victory thrown in despite themselves. They were neither particularly skilled nor particularly committed. And there was no regular army in 1776 at all, so it couldn’t have been skilled or committed.

          • Erusian says:

            No, it really doesn’t. He didn’t have skilled, committed military formations to work with. The history of the militia in the Revolution is mostly one of failure, with an occasional victory thrown in despite themselves. They were neither particularly skilled nor particularly committed. And there was no regular army in 1776 at all, so it couldn’t have been skilled or committed.

            We appear to be turning here on the definition of skilled, committed, and military formations.

            Perhaps you are right. I do not think so, but I’ll leave it to people to read about things like the Siege of Boston, General Lee, General Arnold, and all the other pre-Washington battles. They might also compare the American militia to near contemporaneous rebellions who had more dismal track records from the start.

            If they feel Washington was dealing with people accustomed to fighting, part of existing organizations, and who were more skilled than, say, their average countryman back in England, my point stands. If not, then it falls.

          • bean says:

            If they feel Washington was dealing with people accustomed to fighting, part of existing organizations, and who were more skilled than, say, their average countryman back in England, my point stands. If not, then it falls.

            I think you still have the goalposts in the wrong place with these conditions, which are probably technically satisfied. The military story of the Revolution is basically Washington trying to keep his army together. He spends a bunch of time running away or getting defeated, and wins just enough battles that things keep going. Eventually, Cornwallis marches into Dien Bien Phu Yorktown, and Washington wins that battle. But he absolutely had to build the army that won there.

    • theredsheep says:

      Belisarius is generally credited with the magic combination of firm authority, a quick grasp of the situation, and extreme ingenuity. I could see that combo working well in a variety of situations.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      For Napoleon I recommend this 20 minute explanation of various factors behind his success.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      Well, I wrote a story putting forth one explanation for Alexander the Great…

      (Can anyone here figure out exactly how Alexander Outis was killed?)

      • beleester says:

        It seems like a straightforward deduction, even if they don’t say it outright. The article says he died of “a Foundation memetic kill agent contracted through unknown means at an unknown time.” That means it was a Foundation agent who did the deed, and that they didn’t feel the need to conceal who did it. That implies official sanction, which implies O-5 gave the order (Especially since they explain why he had to go immediately afterwards). Was that it, or was there some other detail I missed?

        • Anaxagoras says:

          Nope. O5-10’s letter came decades after this incident. And at the time, they weren’t happy that he’d died — as the letter said, they’d come to rely on him to a larger extent.

          Check the timeline.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      @hls2003
      From WW1 on, if not a little before, great leaders cease to matter as much and great organizations are what wins wars. I’m sure Joffre wasn’t intrinsically more or less capable than the younger Moltke. The reason the French had such staggering losses against the Imperial German Army was more to difference in military doctrine, culture and preparedness ensured by Moltke (the Elder), Klausewitz, Bismark et al, who weren’t actually involved in that war themselves. So at some point reformers matter more, than campaign leaders. Falkenhain, Hindenburg, Ruprecht, Churchill were capable leaders at the top, but all were arguably replaceable. (perhaps not Churchill)

      And the militarry orgs coupled with a nation state’s resources themselves weren’t ones that relied on ‘one neat trick’, but rather were evolving into ever more efficient killing machines.

      So I think we should only consider pre-20th century warfare for the question.

      For that I’d say a mix between:
      low risk aversion (this is not a very common trait for humans to have!),
      manic energy (Napoleon and Churchill, which might be triggered by being at war and in charge itself for some people; see “Napoleon never slept” by Randall Collins),
      creativity (for the required out-of-the-box thinking, pretty much anyone considered great),
      familiarity with the enemy (true for Hannibal (I think), Alexander, Flavius Aetius)
      and the property refered to as clutchness (dealing with things not according to plan, staying calm under intense pressure)
      You’re wrong about Alexander, Napoleon and Genghis. They weren’t one-trick ponys. They were constantly innovating and taking risky novel approaches. I recommend the Dan Carlin’s HardCore History podcast to get better insight into Alexander/the Macedonians and Genghis/the Golden Horde. Also ‘Blueprint for Armageddon’ if you want to hear 20 hours+ about WW1.

      Nobody would have immediate insight into how to conduct trench warfare, trench warfare just kinda happened. They each would have done just fine in each other’s shoes I think.
      There’s not one property or one word for this complex combination, because why would there be word for something that so few people or even understand (historically anyway). Greatness works works well enough.

      • Fitzroy says:

        I think the characteristics you mention are pretty on the money.

        Everyone seems very focused on land warfare, so I’d like to offer, as another example of those characteristics, Admiral Thomas Cochrane, particularly his exploits as Captain of HMS Speedy.

      • hls2003 says:

        I enjoyed Carlin on WWI very much, although it was rather bleak sledding. For the record, I wasn’t saying I think the Alexanders are definitely one-trick; I lean the other direction – but I think it’s worth asking the question.

        I really like the “requires less sleep” theory. As someone who needs a lot of sleep, that always sounded like a superpower to me.

      • Nobody would have immediate insight into how to conduct trench warfare, trench warfare just kinda happened.

        I thought trench warfare was invented by Lee in his final campaign, when, if I remember correctly, Grant lost more men in two months than Lee had in his whole army. Unfortunately for Lee, Grant had the men to lose.

        Was nobody in Europe paying attention?

        • woah77 says:

          From what I’ve read and learned: No, Europe wasn’t paying attention at all. Too busy taking over colonies in Africa and suppressing the indigenous people. When World War One started, nobody had updated their doctrine to match the weapons available and that’s why it was such a bloody war. Calvary got shipped across the English Channel and set to charge against machine gun emplacements. Just as a given commander was figuring out why traditional strategies weren’t working, they’d get pulled off the front line for failure to make headway and the next foolish senior commander would take charge and make the same mistakes.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Calvary got shipped across the English Channel and set to charge against machine gun emplacements.

            Cavalry were necessary for scouting, and to screen your own movements from enemy scouts. Whilst I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some cavalry units happened to find themselves on the wrong end of a machine-gun emplacement, that certainly wasn’t the reason for their being there.

            Just as a given commander was figuring out why traditional strategies weren’t working, they’d get pulled off the front line for failure to make headway and the next foolish senior commander would take charge and make the same mistakes.

            That’s false; all sides learnt from the experience of trench warfare. Hence the introduction of such new weapons as tanks.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Woah77

            As the original Mr. X notes, commanders did learn from trench warfare: the practice of trench warfare itself kept “evolving” new techniques and technologies, and by the end of the war they were starting to do stuff that would have broken the deadlock pretty well. They weren’t failing to learn the lessons, but rather, they were just dealt a lousy hand. Advantages in defence over attack for technological reasons: machineguns and artillery, but also a lack of portable radios for infantry, low levels of motorization, etc. Successful attack could be very costly (in resources if not lives) and it was hard to follow up on due to poor communications and mobility. The best generals of WWI faced the same problems as the worst.

        • Statismagician says:

          People in Europe were indeed paying attention, and their military observers generally had positive things to say about US military equipment. It’s just that the lessons which seem obvious to us now simply aren’t if you don’t already know what’s going to happen in 1914, especially since the central example of ‘modern’ warfare to a late-19th Century European is the Franco-Prussian War, not the US Civil War, and the former seemed to prove pretty conclusively that strategic speed and superior military organization are the ways to win.

          • hls2003 says:

            I also think it’s worth noting that Germany was really close to replicating [something close to] the lightning victory of the Franco-Prussian War (though with vastly more casualties). They drove to within a few miles of Paris by September 1914. If they could have taken the city and regrouped over the winter in French territory, it’s not at all certain the Allies wouldn’t have sued for peace. They were more than holding their own on the Eastern Front. If things had gone not too much differently in Belgium (as the Germans planned upon, although perhaps foolishly), we might be talking about how the lesson of WWI is that speed is essential, and trenches are useless because they will just get either flanked or stretched too thin to be defensible, and how wars could be limited to quick conquests to extract concessions from the French.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Don’t forget the Crimean, Franco-Austrian, Schleswig-Holstein, Austro-Prussian, Russo-Turkish, Boer, and Russo-Japanese Wars, which all involved military technology equally or more advanced than that used in the American Civil War, and all saw troops successfully making attacks against enemy infantry. And European leaders did learn from them: as you say, the Franco-Prussian War was won in large part thanks to Prussia’s quicker mobilisation and prompt invasion of enemy territory. The idea that the US Civil War showed the way for WW1 but that European generals weren’t paying intention is only tenable if you ignore pretty much every late-19th-century war between modern armies.

        • dndnrsn says:

          European military observers noticed the American civil war, and then extrapolated from the massive size difference between continental Europe and the continental US. “Swift decisive movements will still be possible here, where the distances are shorter” was correct until newer technology changed the balance.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Also, because both sides in the USCW were essentially creating their armies from scratch, their soldiers weren’t as well-trained as European forces, and consequently were less able to successfully carry through attacks. European forces were generally able to close with their enemies, right up until they weren’t.

    • spkaca says:

      As you say, difficult to reduce this to one thing. Also: is a great general one who wins battles, even against the odds (Hannibal, Napoleon, Lee) or one who achieves a great objective without much or any fighting at all (e.g. William of Orange in 1688)?
      Assuming we are interested in the former (i.e. the great tactician): one feature that unites Alexander, Hannibal, and Marlborough (& probably others) is that they held a mass of cavalry (i.e. shock troops) in reserve until the right moment and then unleashed it (e.g. Cannae, Blenheim). Easy to say, hard to do; what is the right moment? This sense of timing is probably critical and at least partly instinctive – all the training in the world wouldn’t necessarily provide this sense of timing.

      • hls2003 says:

        is a great general one who wins battles, even against the odds (Hannibal, Napoleon, Lee) or one who achieves a great objective without much or any fighting at all (e.g. William of Orange in 1688)?

        It’s a very fair point, but would we say that William J. Crowe, Ronald Reagan’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was a great general because he presided over the end of the Cold War? Or Reagan himself as the great general in that instance, since he had more control of policy? I lean towards the second – I think Reagan deserves credit for the application of severe pressure for the Soviets to keep up with US innovation – but then you end up rather blending the categories of “great leaders” and “great military leaders.”

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Purely based on gut, I’d say there are qualities that could make one a good military leader across a wide range of places and times, but the difference between good and one-of-the-all-time-greats is mostly contingent.

    • DeWitt says:

      I’m not seeing as much SSC contrarian pushback as I’d like, so I’m going to steelman the position that a lot of people we call great conquerors are people in the right place at the right time more than uniquely different people.

      Alexander is the very best example of such a person. When we learn about the Ancient Greeks, as I had to do during my full six years of high school education, you learn history, mythology, and philosophy. What you don’t learn is that the Greeks were some of the most fractious and warlike people in classical antiquity, to the point that even among what writings survive a lot of them question whether they should be infighting so much. No hoplite army has ever lost a battle against an army similar in size, and the Greeks were accustomed enough to war that Thucydides (a little farcically, but only a little) implies the Athenians sailed for Sicily to make war out of sheer boredom.

      This has very strong implications for how impressive you find Alexander. Here you have a man whose father reformed an already powerful military, who unified most all of Greece, and all of whom have ancestral reasons to really ferociously hate the empire next door. Someone who has no riches to find elsewhere, no other neighboring great civilisations, and commands a united army of people who have spent the last five centuries practicing year in, year out endemic warfare against one another constantly.

      It’s either that, or one random person who inherited the throne this one time just happened to be that skilled a conqueror. Hmm.

      You can make a similar case for Julius Caesar. Even if you take his own propaganda to be true, the man had an enormous advantage over his foes: here you have someone with effectively limitless soldiers, who is pulling warriors from Africa and across the Mediterranean, up against some people who don’t even like each other very much. What were the Gauls ever even going to do? A great deal of their people had been bought off or swayed by the Romans, and they couldn’t petition home for more soldiers should they lose a battle. In the Roman track record of conquests, it really doesn’t stand out as a case of unique leadership as much as it is one more republican addition of territory.

      No. I’m of the opinion that if you want to look for places with great generals, you need to look at times and periods where said generals earned their position. In times and periods of warfare and strife to the point that leaders aren’t selected hereditarily or strong ones come out on top, this is really very visible: it’s easy to point at Napoleon and explain him away as taking advantage of citizen armies the first, or at Genghis Khan and noting that anyone could’ve taken his army and conquered, but the victors of the Sengoku Jidai or a figure like Shaka arose in areas where success was much less guaranteed. A lot of great conquests in history had to benefit from some very excellent timing, and it’s likely more valuable to look at that than to look at the conquerors themselves and consider their victories entirely their own.

      • testing123 says:

        Caesar’s conquest of the gauls does have that issue, but caesar also beat other romans, often romans who outnumbered him.

        >it’s easy to point at Napoleon and explain him away as taking advantage of citizen armies the first, or at Genghis Khan and noting that anyone could’ve taken his army and conquered

        To my mind, the greatest generals are precisely those who build fundamentally superior armies. Phillip of Macedon, Frederick the Great, Hans Von Seekt, napoleon, they didn’t just maneuver troops well on the battlefield they had armies that were capable of battlefield achievements that their enemies weren’t, and that gave them a huge advantage. But those armies didn’t come from nowhere, they made fundamental innovations that gave them that capacity, and that to me is the supreme test of generalship.

        • DeWitt says:

          The case for Caesar is a little weaker than it is for Alexander, but then history went along as it did. If Pompey had won the power struggle we’d be having the reverse discussion here.

          Agreed about the rest of your statement, though Frederick the Great is one more person who got astoundingly lucky enough that I’m not sure he’d be admired as well if history had gone just a tiny touch different.

          • testing123 says:

            Frederick was incredibly luck to survive, much less win, the 7 year’s war, but he still built an army that was fundamentally better than all those of the neighboring states. It was just only enough better to take on two of them at once, not 3.

  22. 10240 says:

    I made charts about the comment threads under the oldest-first and newest-first orderings. I expected that the number of top-level comments would increase, but the number of comments in the average thread (under a top-level comment) and the longest thread would decrease, as we drop a discussion faster. Eyeballing the charts, the effects are unclear, but it looks like there is a slight increase in the total number of comments, the number of top-level comments, but perhaps even in the length of the average thread and the longest thread. (Script, data.)

  23. anonymousskimmer says:

    I tried resposting four comments (as quotes within one comment) from a 119.25 thread in order to show context and continue the conversation here, and it got marked as Spam. Is this because I tried adding the following link to the conversation, or is it because reposting in this manner is frowned upon and someone clicked report?

    (The original thread is about the US Constitution, original intent, etc…)

    Original thread: https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/01/16/open-thread-119-25/#comment-712702

    • Erusian says:

      Original poster here. My point, supported by the fact that the Founders told us their intentions, is countered with that they may have been lying. You then go on to say that if something is ambiguous, we must presume we cannot know the Founder’s intent. We then presumably may insert our own, as you argue for.

      Frankly, you have an issue. We have mountains of evidence on our side and you have an innovative definition you thought up recently and that contradicts how it was understood at the time and all times until your innovation. You’re desperately reaching to make evidence irrelevant by constructing a world where there can be no evidence at all and all interpretations of any ambiguity are allowed.

      But nothing can change the fact we have evidence and you do not. You can make an epistemic argument about what evidence is or how we even know anything at all. This might make you a great philosopher. But it makes you a poor lawyer.

      You also make the absurd claim that nothing in the US system privileges precedent. The US is a Common Law system, except for Lousiana. The Supreme Court itself uses common law precedent principles on its decisions.

      • brad says:

        Who told you his intention? A handful out of dozens of drafters? And even if you had all the drafters they exercised no sovereignty whatsoever, not even the delegated kind. They were mere proposal makers. The act of sovereignty were the ratifications held in the states. It was the ratifiers and what they believed they were agreeing to that matters, not the inappropriately capitalized (and quasi-deified) founders, which is in the end largely just Hamilton and Madison.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          what they believed they were agreeing to that matters

          Is this a consistent legal principle? I was under the impression that if you misunderstand a contract you’re SoL

          • brad says:

            First, I should say that this is assuming the contractarian view of constitutional legitimacy. I have mixed feelings about that and texualism in general, but for this discussion it clearly fits.

            Secondly, in both cases (contract and constitution) if the text itself is clear that’s it. It’s only in cases of ambiguity that the understandings of the parties come into play. In the case of a contract, the parties are the people that signed the contract (not the lawyers that drafted it!). In the case of the constitution it is the ratifiers that matter, hence original public meaning, not the drafters (Founders, peace be upon them).

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Ah yeah, I’m not meaning to contest the constitutional aspect too strongly (not necessarily agreeing but it’s outside my expertise and is at the least an interesting take I hadn’t encountered before).

            More curious about whether contract law actually worked that way. I guess the issue there would be that contracts which are arcane to regular shlubs – but “clear” to lawyers – are also clear to judges?

          • brad says:

            Contract law gets fairly complicated, fairly quickly. There’s something called an integration clause (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/integration_clause) that is put into every professionally drafted contract. There’s the parol evidence rule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parol_evidence_rule). There’s the UCC that, among other things, provides “gap fillers” for contracts it governs. There’s rules about industry customs and practice, and how that sheds light on ambiguous provisions, etc, etc, etc.

            But to your question, ambiguous and unambiguous is judged “objectively”, which means in practice that they aren’t concerned about the understandings of shlubs.

        • Erusian says:

          Who told you his intention? A handful out of dozens of drafters?

          The people who occupied leadership positions within the group and actually drafted the law. Of course, this is irrelevant because I do not need to have every single person for my interpretation to be stronger. I have more than you, who have none, and that is sufficient.

          If I have exactly one person explaining their intentions to me, no matter how dubious, and you have zero, then I have more evidence for my interpretation than you. This principle applies not only to Founding Fathers but, for example, the people who wrote laws last year. Or in the 1950s.

          What is your argument precisely? We do not know the secret thoughts of every person who voted to ratify a bill so we are free to interpret any ambiguity however we please?

          And even if you had all the drafters they exercised no sovereignty whatsoever, not even the delegated kind. They were mere proposal makers. The act of sovereignty were the ratifications held in the states.

          Here you equivocate between the Founding Fathers and the drafters for some reason. The two groups are not equivalent. But yes, the arguments in the Federalist Papers are relevant because they were advanced to the people who ratified the document. Of course, the bar for this has sometimes been much lower. The entire concept of Separation of Church and State comes out of Jefferson’s letters.

          It was the ratifiers and what they believed they were agreeing to that matters, not the inappropriately capitalized (and quasi-deified) founders, which is in the end largely just Hamilton and Madison.

          Yes, therefore it might be relevant to see what the Ratifiers were told to influence their ultimate decision. Reading people who ratified it, as many of the Founding Fathers did cast such votes, also helps.

          And on a petty but revealing note: ‘Founding Fathers’ is a proper noun and is thus properly capitalized. It is not a particular mark of respect. The All Union Communist Party and the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party both require similar capitalization. I do not know why you keep returning to this point. Or why you keep accusing me of deifying them. You seem to have some unique objection to them. Something that drives you to object to basic rules of grammar when you feel it gives them respect.

          • brad says:

            Of course, this is irrelevant because I do not need to have every single person for my interpretation to be stronger. I have more than you, who have none, and that is sufficient.

            No it isn’t. We don’t need intent to begin with. You have what you believe is intent and you are using that to bootstrap a need for it.

            We have the plain text, we have the shared context, we have the teachings of our nation’s history, we don’t need Jefferson’s letters. They have no bearing on the meaning of the Constitution.

  24. Alexander the Great wanted to conquer all of India but was forced back because of low morale among his men. If it wasn’t for that, is there any reason to doubt that he could have done so?

    • Protagoras says:

      As I understand it, the predominant theory is that Alexander died as a result of infections produced by some of his numerous battle wounds. So there’s no reason keeping going with the fighting in India would have prolonged his life any, and in fact it would likely have shortened it. India did not have a unified government as Persia had had, so there wasn’t any one enemy he could defeat and bring the campaign to a close; he’d have to defeat a lot of petty states, which would unavoidably take time, possibly more than he had.

      If you extend his lifespan, his prospects improve some, but it would be very hard for him to bring reinforcements from home all the way to India. Replacing losses with local recruits would, over time, reduce the proportion of his troops that are Macedonian, and at some point having too few Macedonian troops and too many foreign troops would worsen loyalty and morale problems, so even if he’d averted the initial crisis that caused him to turn back, more would likely have arisen.

      • I’m not sure the local recruits would have been an insourmountable problem. Towards the end of his campaign, he accepted a batch a freshly trained Persians in to his army. There was some grumbling but his troops were still loyal to him. If he doesn’t die from infections/poison, then he was still a young, ambitious 33 year old who had plenty of time for deft maneuvering to take care of that problem.

        • Protagoras says:

          I know he used foreign troops, but that practice would have become more troublesome as the ratio of Macedonian to foreign troops shifted to fewer of the former and more of the latter.

          • I understand, I’m just saying I don’t think it was an insurmountable problem. Didn’t the Mongols increasingly use foreign troops in their army? They had a much larger empire with very few mongols relatively speaking. I don’t know if they had any serious problems but it didn’t seem to affect them terribly.

          • Protagoras says:

            Sure, Genghis Khan made it work. Impressive though Alexander was, he was not so impressive that “if the Great Khan could do it, he could do it” looks like a safe inference to me.

          • What was it about the Mongols that made it possible for them to have higher numbers of foreigners in their army but not the Macedonians?

          • broblawsky says:

            Mongol-style horse archers are almost unbeatable in a straight-up fight with the technology available at the time. If the conscript troops mutinied, the Mongols probably could’ve just slaughtered them.

          • @broblawsky:

            My impression is that the non-Mongol forces were mostly other groups of steppe nomads, also fighting as horse archers.

          • John Schilling says:

            Mongol-style horse archers are almost unbeatable in a straight-up fight with the technology available at the time.

            Linking to the other instance of that claim in this OT, for discussion of the rebuttal.

      • Don_Flamingo says:

        From what I understand, the Indians wouldn’t have been pushovers like the Persians were. Them being non-unified (and I’m assuming semi-constantly at war with each other) would have made them tough to beat on their own turf.
        After Alexander won against Porus his men were less than amused, because just that one petty state gave them a lot more resistance than they were used to and at this point willing to face (what’s the point of having conquered, when you just die trying to conquer more).

    • John Schilling says:

      If it wasn’t for a shortfall of the single most important thing in war, the one that successful military leaders agree is three times as important as everything else put together, [X] could have won more military victories than he did.

      True for all values of X.

      • I’m not saying I believe that low morale is something that can be glossed over. I don’t think there’s a scenario where he could have kept going. I’m saying that if you look at the resources available to him along with his own strategic thinking and imagine that troop morale was higher, how does that compare to the states of India?

      • fion says:

        single most important thing in war, the one that successful military leaders agree is three times as important as everything else put together

        I’m intrigued by this and I wonder how literally you mean it. Your point is that morale is very important, and I can believe it’s more important than I’d expect, but is there any meaningful sense by which we can say it’s more important than other factors?

        • suntzuanime says:

          It hasn’t really been true since the introduction of the machine gun, but in premodern warfare Bravery was *the* stat. Formations were strong, individual soldiers were weak, so battles were about scaring the enemy soldiers into breaking formation and massively reducing their strength. And having your formation fearlessly charged is really scary, so it was an offensive weapon as well.

        • John Schilling says:

          I was mostly riffing on Napoleon, but he wasn’t just pulling the number out of thin air.

          Very few armies retain much useful combat strength after even 20% material losses, and usually break well before that point. If you know how to make your army be the one that endures until 20% losses, and you know how to make the enemy be the one that breaks at 5%, then you can expect to defeat an army 2-4x the size of your own, depending on which version of the Lanchester equations you are using.

          And yes, this works even in the modern era. You just substitute “scare the enemy into breaking formation” to “scare the enemy into hiding at the bottom of their foxholes, each one content to leave the fighting to the rest”. Formations made it easier to handle morale, because it is immediately obvious to both commander and comrade-in-arms who is not doing their part.

          • fion says:

            That’s very interesting; thanks for the explanation.

            (By the way, your link to the Lanchester equations appears to just direct to this thread. It’s easily googleable, though, so no worries. 🙂 )

  25. John says:

    I love fungi! I was once the youngest person to write a letter to the British Mycological Society. Perhaps I still am. My knowledge is pretty rusty, unfortunately. No, that’s not right. My knowledge of fungi is mouldy. I was thinking of my knowledge of metallurgy.* Anyway, twelve year old me would be appalled at how little I can recall.

    Fungi are closer to us biologically than they are to the plants, but unlike animals they spread their tissues across acres of decaying organic matter in damp forests, rather than being encased in one compact central body. These fragile mycelial threads communicate across great distances. No, not a mind, not the internet either, but something nonetheless. They can live for centuries and mass more than a whale.

    Given this habitat it should perhaps not be too surprising that they have developed some truly remarkable compounds to defend themselves in the bitter microscopic turf war that is their existence, compounds that humans can make good use of.

    *Could probably extend or alter this joke by talking about rusts on plants, which are fungal.

    • Elementaldex says:

      Do you have specific compounds in mind when you refer to humans making good use of them?

      • John says:

        The nootropics community has been singing the praises of lion’s mane supplements for quite some time now. Are they on[to] something?

        I think the anti-microbial and anti-viral potential of many fungal compounds is going to receive greater attention in coming years. Paul Stamets, undoubtedly the most famous of the fungal popularisers has a number of youtube videos on the potential of Agarikon and other species.

        Bear in mind that he is a bit of a showman and many of his claims are oversold and require further scrutiny. Take what he says with a big pinch of something that has good anti-fungal properties and could rid you of athlete’s foot.

        That said, I’m still a fan. If he can create a groundswell of interest in this field and increase the number of professional mycologists he will have done a very good thing.

    • achenx says:

      Could probably extend or alter this joke by talking about rusts on plants, which are fungal.

      Indeed, after moving to a house with juniper trees in the yard, I learned all about cedar-apple rust. What a bizarre life-cycle, though I take it not actually unusual for a fungus.

    • Well... says:

      I love fungi too, at least intellectually. (Not gastronomically.) I don’t know a lot about fungi but most of what I do know is from the In Our Time podcast episode about them. Fascinating stuff, and inspiring too.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Do you expect there to be fungi in the deep biosphere? I’d assume, there’s not enough organic material down there, but since until recently we assumed there’d be close to none at all…
      Also, mushrooms talk to each other?
      Or are you referring to those yellow, jelly fungi (I don’t recall what their name was)?

    • Basil Elton says:

      Wow, I’ve just recently learned about prototaxites, which some say were fungi. Do you think it’s likely, and if yes why the hell would they need to be so huge – 8 meters tall – in the era when the biggest plant was waist-high?

      • Nornagest says:

        If Wikipedia’s right and it had algal symbiotes, then it would have got its energy through indirect photosynthesis. Then it could have formed vertical forests like true plants did later, and for the same reasons — to compete for light with similar organisms.

        Alternately, growing higher would have meant better spore dispersal, though that’s a bit more of a long shot.

        • Basil Elton says:

          Yeah, lichens competing for light is one option, but as I understand it remains highly controversial whether those things had symbiotic algae. And if they didn’t – is it such a great benefit to have better spore dispersal to justify the expenses? I mean, how big and far spreading a mycelium should be to support say one such thing, if it’s a plain fungus?

  26. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to the eighteenth installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series. Last time, we looked at wisdom literature and its main example in the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs. Proverbs teaches, among other things, that good and prudent behaviour is rewarded whereas bad and imprudent behaviour is punished. Both of the books that we are going to look at today, Ecclesiastes and the book of Job, are at least in part examinations of the observable fact that this is not in fact the case.

    Caveats: I’m not a real expert on this, but I did study it in university. I’m aiming for about a 100/200 level coverage of this, fairly briefly, but will try to expand if people have any questions. This is about secular scholarship, not about theology. I’ll be providing limited summaries, but space is an issue.

    Ecclesiastes is a book of experiential wisdom on a variety of topics: it presents its content as the result of the writer’s experiences. It seems to have internal indications of structure, which might indicate that it is a coherent document.

    The author of Ecclesiastes, calling himself Koheleth (the names meaning something like “assembler” – of sayings, or of people to a gathering), begins by discussing the futility (the word literally means air or breath; it’s been translated in various different ways in English) of human endeavour. Nature and human life are cyclical. Attempting to understand the ways of the world is also futile. The pursuit of pleasure, the acquisition of property, luxury, is also futile. The wise man and the foolish man both die – what advantage is it to be wise, especially considering that wisdom can make you unhappy? The oppressed suffer. There are those who have riches but do not enjoy them. Chance can make or unmake a person.

    One thing the author notices is that reward and punishment, as presented in a tradition like that of Proverbs, and on a different level in much of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, don’t always work. Some good people don’t prosper, and some evil people do. Everyone will die in the end and whether someone prospers or fails depends on more than just their merit. The latter is most famously put in 9:11: the fastest doesn’t always win the race, and so on. The author of Ecclesiastes seems either to think there is not an afterlife (3:20-21 says people come from dust and return to it, and questions whether a person’s lifebreath rises upwards and that of an animal down – men may be no better than beasts; also, this may be a reference to a particular Hellenistic belief about the afterlife), or that the afterlife is undifferentiated and does not preserve a person’s self (see 9:5-6); in either case, there is no reward after death to make up for unrewarded merit in life. The wise man and the fool are in the same boat once they die.

    Ultimately, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that human understanding is limited, and part of wisdom is to understand this. What ultimately can be known is that God is in charge, and that people should try to enjoy their lives, even if they cannot fully make sense about what happens to them. There’s comparable material in some other ancient Near East wisdom literature, especially from Egypt (as noted in the last installment, Israel’s wisdom tradition seems most influenced by, or at least most similar to, Egypt’s).

    The text itself identifies the author as a king, specifically Solomon. However, the rest of the document isn’t consistent with this; the author does not consistently speak from the position of a king. Based on contextual references (to politics, land, and money) it is likely that the author was of a landed, well-off class, but not connected to the royal court.

    Internal evidence, including the use of Persian loanwords, suggests a postexilic origin for Ecclesiastes. It might be from the Persian period, or from the Hellenistic period. As noted, 3:21 may indicate a Hellenistic origin, but this is fairly weak evidence.

    Considerably longer than Ecclesiastes, and more challenging from a scholarly perspective, is the book of Job. It begins with a prose introduction. Job is a “blameless and upright man” who is quite prosperous. “The Adversary” (or, “the Accuser” – Satan in Hebrew), part of God’s divine court, incites God against Job, saying that Job is pious only because life is good for him, and that if this wasn’t the case, he would blaspheme. God agrees with this, and Job’s life is ruined: his children and his flocks are all killed or carried off. He doesn’t blaspheme, though. The Adversary, however, answers that if Job suffers physically, he will blaspheme. Job is then struck with a terrible skin disease, and while his wife urges him to blaspheme, he still does not. Job’s friends come to comfort him.

    The text then shifts to a dialogue between Job and his friends. Job insists that he is blameless and questions why these things are happening to him. His friends insist he must have done something, and that he presumes to question God. Ultimately, God shows up and basically tells Job that he isn’t capable of understanding what’s going on – he’s not God, and cannot judge God’s power. Job agrees.

    The dialogues are followed by another prose section. God condemns Job’s friends for not speaking the truth about God as Job did. God restores Job’s fortunes, and he is more prosperous than ever, dying “old and contented.”

    The book’s Hebrew is trickier than usual, and there are features (such as indications a speech is meant originally to have been spoken by someone else) which suggest there have been transmission errors. In general, the textual history of Job is very confusing. The scholarly debates are pretty arcane, but a fairly common view is that one way or another Job consists of two stories combined. The first, consisting of the prose introduction and conclusion (some scholars think 27 is also involved, and the discussion of wisdom in 28), is about a man named Job who has everything taken away from him, does not blaspheme, and then is restored. The dialogues are about a man named Job who has everything taken from him, disagrees with his friends over his responsibility, demands justification, and then is shut down by God.

    The scholarly debates, as I noted, are complicated, and rely a fair bit on fairly advanced Hebrew work, which I am not equipped to deal with. The consensus seems to be that Job is two stories combined (plus a bit of other stuff). One story takes a view that goes with what we saw in Proverbs: Job is a good man who is harmed by what amounts to a test which he passes, and is thereafter restored. Good behaviour is rewarded. The other book has a message that more resembles what we saw in Ecclesiastes: humans are not God and cannot understand things as God does. What seems to us incomprehensible or unjust is simply beyond our capability to get. We’re not in charge. The alternative explanation to this view would be that disjunctions between the prose and dialogue, and between the introduction and conclusion, were the result of a rougher-than-usual transmission process.

    What God says to Job includes a lot of creation motifs. God’s statements include a lot of rhetorical questions pointing out that Job had neither a hand in creating the world nor in the operation of that creation in the present. Similar to the speculations about God’s past enthronement in the Psalms, there’s some speculation that the creation motif includes hints of supposed older traditions, in which God’s role at the beginning had included struggle. Regardless of this point, God’s superiority is expressed very heavily in these terms.

    Job is a non-Israelite, from the land of Uz. Uz, another name for Edom, was part of the Transjordan. This area in general was sometimes known as “Kedem” (more generally, one could talk about “the East”) and its people were known for their wisdom tradition (1 Kings 5:10 boasts that Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the Kedemites and Egyptians; you wouldn’t boast about being wiser than a people not known for their wisdom). Job is cited in Ezekiel 14 as a righteous character. Job may originally be a folktale character, famous for his response to catastrophe. There are some similar stories in other ancient Near Eastern literature.

    Job is tricky to date, because the dialogues are poetically styled, and poetry is more likely to be intentionally archaic in style. The language of the prose introduction and conclusion suggests no earlier than the sixth century; meanwhile, the dialogues seem closest to material from the sixth century also. The role taken by (the) Satan in the introduction suggests a postexilic date, while the use of the definite article points to a date before Chronicles. Job must be from before the third or second century, the date of an Aramaic paraphrasing version found at Qumran. Most scholars thus date it to the sixth or fifth century.

    So, that’s Ecclesiastes and Job. Both are associated with the wisdom tradition, but are quite different from the more typical wisdom worldview we saw in Proverbs last time. Ecclesiastes is a reflection upon humanity’s ultimate failures, and the book of Job includes, or is, one – depending on how you look at the scholarship. Both deal with the observation that God doesn’t always reward the good or punish the bad. Job is likely from the sixth or fifth century, while Ecclesiastes is probably a bit later.

    EDIT: If I’ve made any mistakes, let me know as soon as possible, and I’ll edit or note them.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The author of Ecclesiastes seems either to think there is not an afterlife (3:20-21 says people come from dust and return to it, and questions whether a person’s lifebreath rises upwards and that of an animal down – men may be no better than beasts; also, this may be a reference to a particular Hellenistic belief about the afterlife), or that the afterlife is undifferentiated and does not preserve a person’s self (see 9:5-6); in either case, there is no reward after death to make up for unrewarded merit in life.

      One alternate interpretation: Ecclesiastes is exploring the implications of there being no afterlife, rather than necessarily endorsing that position.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not informed enough to have a real opinion but I wouldn’t be surprised if Job was originally two stories because as a single story it badly undermines itself.

      In the beginning we get an omniscient narrator who tells us exactly why God is punishing Job: he’s got a bet going with Satan that Job won’t blaspheme, and goes along with Satan whenever he raises the stakes. Then, when Job questions why he’s being punished, God makes a big deal out of how Job can’t judge him because he has no idea why God is doing what he’s doing. Which might be a fair point for Job himself to keep in mind, but the reader knows exactly why he’s doing it thanks to the omniscient narrator telling us about the bet. Which makes God come off as a liar, since he’s clearly implying that there’s some good or at least incomprehensible reason for what he’s doing when it’s actually just the sort of shenanigans that Zeus would have gotten up to.

      Either you can have the story about the bet or the speech about God’s unknowable motives. Putting them both in the same book undermines them both.

      • J Mann says:

        1) Can’t you just go back a step and say we don’t know why the bet was a good idea because we can’t comprehend God?

        2) Alternately, Job’s virtue is precisely in having faith in God even when God doesn’t appear to have a good reason for his actions, which is coherent but not immediately very satisfying.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The problem with 1) is that if we do that, we’re fighting against a plain interpretation of the text. There’s no reason to think that Job has an unreliable narrator, and the narration suggests a perfectly straightforward motivation for God to take Satan’s bet.

          2) is what I meant when I said that it makes sense for Job himself to behave as though God has a real reason for tormenting him even if we as readers know it isn’t true. We don’t have the benefit of omniscient narrators in our own lives so we can’t actually make those judgements.

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks!

            1) I think there’s more to it than that. I think we see God permit Satan to afflict Job, but I don’t think the Bible tells us why. The passage explains (twice!) that Satan shows up, that God volunteers Job as a example of perfect virtue, that Satan argues that Job’s virtue will wither if his fortune does, and that God permits Satan to test Job.

            a) First, a quibbble, but I think an important quibble; I don’t think that precisely describes a “bet” – there aren’t any stakes that we know of.

            b) It would IMHO be fairer to say that God permits Satan to afflict Job and predicts that Job will remain virtuous.

            c) You could call it a “test,” then, instead of a bet, but ultimately I think this is exactly the problem of evil – why, exactly, does God permit undeserved evil (here, personified as Satan), to occur to Job?.

            One possible answer is to prove a point – that God wants Satan to learn that Job’s virtue does not depend on his fortune. Another would be that God himself wants Job to be tested by adversity. but (i) IMHO, neither interpretation is clearly spelled out in the text, and (ii) even that would just force us to ask why God cares what Satan thinks about Job and/or wants Job tested.

            But ultimately my read is that (a) God permits undeserved evil to happen to Job, (b) we don’t know why, and (c) then he tells Job that Job doesn’t get to know why and/or couldn’t understand it. It adds a little extra edge that it seems like God is just doing it to prove a point – that He and Satan are throwing dice with men’s lives – but IMHO, the beginning creates that assumption and then the end reveals it as an unjustified assumption. God says “you have no idea why I am doing what I do,” and when we look back at the original narrative, we realize that we don’t.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            2) is what I meant when I said that it makes sense for Job himself to behave as though God has a real reason for tormenting him even if we as readers know it isn’t true.

            Why isn’t it true? By letting Satan test Job, God is giving him an opportunity to grow in faith and to become detached from transient, worldly goods. Those are both good things.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, the bet is Satan saying there is no such thing as real virtue, people are only good when they’re well-off and happy, take someone like Job who is praised for being blameless – it’d be different if he lost all his riches and contentment, then he’d turn on God just like the rest of humanity.

            God is saying “Job is not like that” and in a wider sense virtue does exist. He permits the testing of Job because He has confidence in Job (and in humanity, His creation). Satan is the everyday cynic who believes it’s all relative – people are good until it costs them, then they revert to their original and base nature. It’s like the people who say that you don’t see someone’s real true self until you see what they’re like when they’re angry or stressed – then you’re supposed to take the drunken/angry/stressed snap reaction as the ‘real’ person and ignore all the times they haven’t snapped because that wasn’t the ‘real’ person, that was only the comfort talking.

            It’s not really a bet on God’s part because, well, He’s God, He knows how this is going to turn out. This is letting Satan (and by extension all the other “yeah there’s no such thing as good and evil, there’s no such thing as virtue, it’s easy for you to be good” types) see that they can be wrong. Job gets everything stripped away from him, is put under stress, and the ‘real’ Job that emerges is the same as the ‘fat and happy’ Job who put all his trust in God.

            In Hindu mythology/religion, there is the concept of Pariksha (a test or examination, also used in this meaning in ordinary life as for example sitting an exam) that devotees and ordinary people undergo, either by the gods or for other reasons. The famous one is the Agni Pariksha, or trial by fire, that Sita had to undergo to prove her chastity after being rescued from imprisonment by the demon Ravanna. However, later on Sita is exiled (because the common people of the kingdom still doubt her after spending all that time in another man’s house) and called upon once again to prove her chastity by undergoing another test, and she refuses and returns to Mother Earth. At least Job got his happy ending after the testing!

      • dndnrsn says:

        The scholarly debates are basically a fancier version of “hey, this story undermines itself!” I think Job is one of the places where the scholarly consensus requires relatively few tenuous bits where people sorta say “uh huuuuuh?”

        EDIT: Also, there is a Zeus-y edge to it. I think it’s relevant that some scholars think the prose intro/conclusion are based on an older folktale: older, “folksier” stuff is often supposed to be older. For some reason I’m remembering that some scholars think the amoral/weird miracle-type things that happen in Kings are older: folksy, amoral tales are supposedly a different beast from more literary, theological stuff.

        • Randy M says:

          I wonder if any of that comes from expecting ancient people to be less sophisticated than we are. A fable where everything made perfect sense and the message was perfectly consistent might have made for better propaganda (what biblical scholars seem to think the purpose was) but not matched reality as well and thus not been preserved as well.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think you’re right that there’s an expectation that less-literate cultures are less theologically inclined. But I think I’ve explained it poorly. It’s not that the earlier societies had stories that made less sense or were inconsistent. It’s that moralizing elements, stuff that exalts God more, etc can be a later theological element: the original stories feature a God who makes bets like that. Meanwhile, earlier people just cared less about that stuff. So some kids (JPS translation has “little boys”) made fun of Elisha and he sicced bears on them. So what?

            The God who shows up to say “hey you know what, why don’t you try and be Me, why don’t you try that, since you got all these criticisms, oh right, YOU CAN’T” is by this theory the product of a later tendency to have a God who is more majestic and removed from our experience. Even the betting stuff is fairly small potatoes by the standards of deities of the time.

            Couple this with the whiffs some scholars find (and/or imagine) of early polytheistic stuff, of the idea of God having once had to win a primordial victory, and you get some interesting (if wildly speculative) things going on. Unfortunately, the bits of Job that include the supposed primordial victory stuff are not in the folktale-seeming bit…

        • marshwiggle says:

          Agreed with Randy on the scholars thinking ancient people were less sophisticated.

          I’d like to come at this from a slightly different angle. I know Biblical scholars aren’t rationalists, but when we see an apparent contradiction in just about anything there’s two possibilities. One, there’s two opposing things there. Or two, one of our assumptions is false. What if wisdom literature is designed to question our assumptions precisely by presenting apparent contradictions? Seems like a thing it would do. But Biblical scholars aren’t exactly set up to question their own world view assumptions.

          • dndnrsn says:

            It’s possible, but it’s untenable for scholarship if any inconsistency in a document of a philosophical, etc bent could really be evidence of being intended to make the reader question their assumptions. At a minimum, one would need some indication that there was a tradition of this in Judaism – I have no idea whether there is or isn’t.

            I think there is an unfair assumption of simplicity of folktales, especially given that these were folktales written down later.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Whoever put Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 right next to each other was clearly intending for the reader to directly notice and grapple with the contradiction. So that’s some evidence for deliberately posing paradoxes being a thing in the ancient Jewish wisdom tradition. Certainly Judaism does not seem to have a tendency to shun paradox, unlike other religious traditions I could mention.

            If believing that the ancients were sophisticated in this particular way undermines the methodology of biblical scholarship then… so much the worse for biblical scholarship?

            One problem with saying that the prose and poetry parts of Job were originally two separate accounts is that there’s nothing in the prose part of Job, as we have it, for 42:7 to refer to.

            To me this is the key verse in the entire book—God says that Job was justified in speaking as he did (even though he did so from a position of ignorance). And therefore, believers are justified in being honest about our actual grievances rather than thinking we sin unless we accede to pat justifications. It seems to me fairly obvious that the writer of the poetry section agreed with that judgement, i.e. that he was on Job’s side of the debate.

            Of course, you don’t really avoid such theological issues by saying that the prose and poetry were originally two separate documents. Because once you postulate a redactor who edited them together, then you can still ask what the redactor meant by combining them in a way that leads to an obvious paradox. Unless you want to say that the redactor simply didn’t notice the issue, but that seems too contemptuous of his intelligence.

            (In some ways this supports my point about Judaism. If there was a school of redactors who combined superficially inconsistent religious literature into books, then the theology of that school obviously believed that it was important to synthesize apparent contradictions rather than picking one side and dropping the other. And may I humbly suggest that, if we are asking big questions like “does virtue lead to happiness”, then it’s pretty obvious that both the yes side and the no side contain important insights that need to be combined if we’re going to match the data in the real world.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aron Wall

            1. The scholars who think that the story was originally one thing usually appeal to transmission errors being likelier for Job, due to complicated Hebrew-related reasons. So either way you’ve got a problem: either they were kinda mashed together, or there’s stuff missing that would reconcile the prose and the poetry.

            2. I think that, while it is true that Biblical scholars have a tendency to posit greater “development” with time, at the same time, the German Protestant Biblical scholarship tradition has a strong preference for earlier stuff: it’s very easy to read the foundational Biblical scholarship and come up with the comparison of cool, ethically-concerned prophets and lame, rules-and-purity-obsessed codifiers. (Similarly, a lot of them really seem to dislike Paul, viewing him as having sold out the message of Jesus.) Biblical scholars seem to prefer the poetic bits of Job, but frankly, it’s more interesting than a story about a guy who is tested and vindicated.

            2. So, this is an area out of my wheelhouse; the actual hardcore redaction criticism is above my pay grade and I did enough Hebrew to conclude that Hebrew is hard. The redactors definitely did know they were preserving multiple accounts of things, contradictions, etc. Possibilities I can come up with:

            a. they were, not more cool with paradox in some kinda Zen sense or something, but more cool with putting two different accounts there together. We might be the weird ones, overly concerned with determining the way things really happened. (We almost certainly are the weird ones.)

            For something dissimilar but arguably related: up until a certain point, it was completely normal to put historical scenes, scenes from the Bible, etc, in contemporary dress (and now if it happens it’s seen as having some greater significance – the stained glass window with Christ alongside men dressed as Canadian soldiers circa ~1918 while there’s been some attempt at historical accuracy in the other windows was paid for by the parents of some poor boy or multiple boys). Presumably Caravaggio knew that Christ wasn’t apprehended by soldiers wearing what some guy with a musket in his day would be wearing. (But I’m not an art historian and maybe it had special meaning intended actually.)

            b. it was really, really easy to screw up. I still make mistakes on a computer, touch typing. Imagine if you had to do everything with ink on paper, and probably paper and ink are more expensive. And your pen kinda sucks. And you don’t have electric light (which provides way more illumination than all but an impractical number of candles). There’s things for ease of reading which are more recent developments (it’s way easier to translate Greek or Hebrew from a nice modern scholarly printing than a papyrus withthewordsallrunningtogether.

            c. I don’t know very much about Jewish traditions and their history concerning the copying and handing down of the text and much in-depth scholarship about that; I spent more of my time on bits of the New Testament. You’re right that there has to be a reason for the two things being presented alongside each other; the scribal types who wrote and edited this stuff down weren’t dum-dums.

            On the other hand, the Biblical scholars weren’t/aren’t dum-dums either – I’m probably not doing a good enough job of presenting the more arcanely-derived bits. (One could also make the case that the professors share many of their virtues and vices with the folks who put the books together in the first place: there is a ton of scholarship in German that’s taken as basically foundational, or at a minimum you gotta respect it.)

    • S_J says:

      I find it interesting that these books are bundled together with Proverbs in the Wisdom literature.

      (It reminds me of the humorous stereotype, that three Jewish scholars can have a discussion and produce four different opinions on the subject of discussion.)

      The book of Ecclesiastes has a cynical edge, but it also has beautiful poetry. Chapter 3 is especially interesting, and has entered the popular culture of the 20th century in the form of a song.

      I think I’ve also mentioned elsewhere that the book of Job is an epic-style story. It is not linked closely to the historical parts of the Hebrew Bible. It tells a story in an epic-poem form. It refers to people who might be connected to the family of Abraham (detailed in the genealogies of Genesis), and it tells a story of a man who worshiped God in a style similar to Abraham. But it doesn’t deal with foundational cultural events or heroic military leaders. It is an epic-poem about…theological discussion.

    • theredsheep says:

      I tried reading Job once and found it unfathomable; Job and his interlocutors kept appearing to say the same things, yet still be in disagreement with each other. A corrupted manuscript would explain a lot there.

      • hls2003 says:

        Job is difficult, no question, but I have never read it as the interlocutors saying the same things in different ways. Job says “I am suffering without deserving it, God is punishing me unfairly, I demand God account to me for why.” His friends then state as a syllogism that (1) God only punishes the wicked, (2) Job is being punished, (3) therefore Job must have committed some wicked sin. Job protests that he has not, that he’s better than the wicked men around him (which appears true). His friends get progressively nastier and more personal and proceed to directly accuse Job of secret terrible sins, perverting justice, harming the poor, etc. The argument breaks down when Job calls God to witness an oath that he has no such specific sin-skeletons in his closet.

        One way of looking at it is that Job is saying “How could God do this, God should be righteous, and I know I am better than other men, many of the truly wicked don’t endure this kind of horrible suffering.” And Job is correct that he is better than other men – God in the end answers with incomprehensibility; he does not tell Job he is worse than other men, only that he is a man and cannot understand God’s ways. But the friends dispute Job by saying “Actually, you are worse than the truly wicked – we just don’t know how.” That is why God says the friends have not spoken rightly, as Job has. Job is correct that God is just; Job is correct that Job is not especially wicked; and the friends’ attempts to justify God by smearing Job are wrong.

        • theredsheep says:

          Idunno, I kept reading through the interminable conversation and thinking that they were all saying the same thing, viz. “God only makes bad things happen to bad people, so shut up.” I’m familiar with the broad outlines of the story, I just found actually reading it to be an unedifying experience.

          Perhaps I had a bad translation.

          • hls2003 says:

            Actually, Job spends a fair amount of time complaining that God does not make enough bad things happen to bad people – he opines that the wicked are often fat, happy, and prosperous.

      • Plumber says:

        @theredsheep

        “I tried reading Job once and found it unfathomable; Job and his interlocutors kept appearing to say the same things, yet still be in disagreement with each other. A corrupted manuscript would explain a lot there”

        Really? Job is the only book of the Bible that I’ve fully read, it just felt more cogent to me than the others I tried to read.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      If I understand Robert Alter’s translation of Ecclesiastes correctly, he puts a much more Buddhist-seeming gloss on it: the author is framed as meditating on the ephemerality and meaninglessness of the material world. Thus the literalist translation of “havel havalim/hakkol hevel u re’ut ruach” as “merest breath/all is mere breath and herding the wind, and thus also the recasting of 9:11 and after: it’s not that the swiftest doesn’t always win the race because sometimes the underdog does instead, it’s that *nobody ever really wins because victory is meaningless,* because time and chance wipe out whatever illusory meaning victory might have.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Job represents the Jewish people / Am-Yisrael — that’s why he can’t himself be a Jew. The whole thing is a meditation on what has happened to the Jewish people and a repudiation of the typical (Christian) charge that the Jewish people were punished for their sins.

      Similarly, the speaker in pretty much every psalm is the Jewish people / Am-Yisrael — the psalms are absolutely not about the spiritual condition of “the individual.” They make no sense as expressions of an individual person’s suffering and hope (how many individual people are destroyed to the extent that the psalm-protagonist is typically destroyed?) and complete sense as expression of collective Jewish suffering and hope.

      Same with the Jonah story, by the way, which is evidently built up around the psalm that’s embedded in it — probably the story was constructed in order to make more literal sense of the psalm but still in a way the preserves the psalm-protagonist’s representative identity with the Jewish people as a whole.

      • Jaskologist says:

        What event are you referring to when you say “what has happened to the Jewish people”? It can’t be a Christian charge, because whenever you date Job to, it’s definitely BC.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Are we talking about later interpretation, or about initial context? Job couldn’t be a repudiation of a charge made by Christians, who didn’t exist yet. Plus, at a minimum, chunks of the Hebrew Bible come from a period before suffering and hope became the big thing: there was a period of, what, half a millenium or so where the big question wouldn’t be “why do these awful things keep happening, and somehow getting worse”.

        • acymetric says:

          a period before suffering and hope became the big thing: there was a period of, what, half a millenium or so where the big question wouldn’t be “why do these awful things keep happening, and somehow getting worse”.

          What a time to be alive!

      • bullseye says:

        I don’t follow. Why should a symbol of the Jewish people not be a Jew himself?

    • Aron Wall says:

      One argument for the book of Job being rather early is that the poetry sections contain many extremely archaic words. You mention this in your description, but maybe don’t quite convey the extent of the issue: I’ve been told that a large part of the book was left untranslated by the Septuagint because they couldn’t understand it.

      On the other hand, a lot of the dialogue between the friends seems to presuppose that a wisdom tradition similar to Proverbs is already in existence. One would naturally think that such a tradition would not first appear in the context of a dialogue where the proverbs are being “perverted” (either by being misused by Job’s friends or reused ironically by Job).

      “The Adversary” (or, “the Accuser” – Satan in Hebrew), part of God’s divine court, incites God against Job, saying that Job is pious only because life is good for him, and that if this wasn’t the case, he would blaspheme. God agrees with this,

      Agrees in the sense of allows Satan to intervene; I don’t think you meant to imply that God agrees with Satan about how Job will react.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I must admit that my limited Hebrew exposure is a hindrance. I did more Greek than Hebrew, and the New Testament is easier Greek than the Hebrew Bible is Hebrew – some parts of it are very easy indeed, and classicists make fun of people learning Common Greek (or at least, some classicists made fun of me in particular). I’m far better able to describe the character of a text in Greek than in Hebrew.

        (With regard to God and Satan, yeah, that God was agreeing to give him the power.)

        • marshwiggle says:

          Some parts of the Hebrew Bible really aren’t so hard to read. Job is very much not one of them. In Proverbs, grammar often goes out the window, but at least the individual words are still legal. Job not only has archaic stuff, it’s got lots of individual words that are either in some wacky dialect of Hebrew, so old the rules are different, or something that produces much the same results. For this reason I have not read Job, just English translations.

          Agreed that most of the NT is less elevated Greek than the Hebrew Bible is Hebrew. But think of all the wacky puns you miss not reading in the Hebrew.

  27. Dan L says:

    Samu had posted an interesting prompt in this OT, but I think their elaboration got it deleted by the aurors. Nevertheless, let’s try again: what are your strongest Left wing, Right wing, and Libertarian beliefs?

    (“Wait, do you mean which of my beliefs are the most extreme in those directions, or what are my strongest beliefs that happen to fall in those windows? And where are those windows anyway?” Your call! IMO, the meta-discussion ought to be half the interesting bit.)

    Mine:
    Left: I’m unapologetically on the Demon’s side. That does cash out as a Right-wing position in a few interesting cases, but most of the time I feel like it’s solidly a Left thing.

    Right: Pax Americana is real, important, and worth actively maintaining.

    Libertarian: A significant relaxation of governmental and “ethical” oversight in medicine would be net positive. Particularly in the field of human genetic engineering.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Is the Pax Americana a right wing position? It seems like one of, if not the, core centrist / establishment positions in American politics.

      Paleoconservatives aren’t exactly fond of our policy of “invade the world, invite the world.” Progressives are likewise skeptical of the “military industrial complex” and “American imperialism.” It’s the neoconservative and neoliberal wings of both parties which support America playing the role of world police.

      A right wing position would be either to reduce foreign entanglements or at least insist that other countries kick in their fair share of the costs of defending them. The status quo of Washington threatening to spend American lives and tax dollars to punish other countries for not towing the line on LGBT seems like the precise opposite of right wing.

      • I think it depends on what we mean by “Pax Americana”. If it means taking John McCain’s policy positions of invading every country that looks at us funny, then probably not. But I bet most believe that something like the Gulf War was a good thing. Basically, don’t invade because of internal problems in a country but do invade when when they are threatening some other country.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Pax Americana may also mean economic interests in addition to military or human rights interests. So for example, it is worth pursuing trade deals favorable to the US, on PaxAm grounds.

      • gbdub says:

        To me Pax Americana implies a belief that Western Civ in general, and America in particular, are, in meaningful ways, better than the available alternatives (particularly Communism and Islamism). And therefore, a world where everybody is either directly allied with the US or at least generally willing to avoid directly opposing American and allied interests, lest they get the Big Stick, is the best world we can reasonably hope for right now.

        It does not mean that American Culture is the best possible culture, or without issues, just that the USA is the only state with both the willingness and ability to be a Superpower that I want anywhere near Superpower status in today’s world.

        • albatross11 says:

          Why does US culture being better than, say, Haitian culture require us to invade or bomb them?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Why does US culture being better than, say, Haitian culture require us to invade or bomb them?

            In what way did gbdub imply this?

            All he seems to be claiming is that US culture being better than Nonustan culture means the US is going to be pickier about who it bombs or invades than Nonustan would be (while still having “bomb or invade” in its playbook as a plausible deterrent), which is probably better for everyone.

            Compare China, considered likely to invade Taiwan if US culture weren’t around, and Russia, which very much has “invade” in its playbook and poses a threat to the US ability to deter.

      • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

        This is a just partisan fantasy. When did the US ever seriously contemplate military action (I assume that’s what you mean by “spend American lives and tax dollars”) to punish a foreign country for not “toeing the line on LGBT” rights?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      From the “which of my beliefs are the most extreme in those directions” angle:

      Left: Anti-corporate. Strongly pro-labor, generally pro-union [1].

      Right: Close the borders [3].

      Libertarian: Taxation is theft [2].

      [1] But you gotta keep a close eye on the leadership.

      [2] But is a necessary evil in support of civilization.

      ETA: [3] Fine I’ll put a caveat on that one too. Not so much “close” but “moratorium on immigration until we figure out what the hell is going on.”

    • Plumber says:

      @Dan L

      “Samu had posted an interesting prompt in this OT, but I think their elaboration got it deleted by the aurors. Nevertheless, let’s try again: what are your strongest Left wing, Right wing, and Libertarian beliefs?….”

      @Samu

      “….was a thing in Twitter some time ago so let’s do it here. Post your most right-wing, left-wing and libertarian opinion down below”

      Sure, but since I’m wishy-washy as to which I believe most strongly I’ll do more than one per category:

      Right-wing: Parents getting divorced is mostly bad for children, and the widespread social acceptance of the practice did more harm than good.

      The most effective social-welfare system in the U.S.A. is the church-based one in Utah, it better to be born poor in Salt Lake City than in most other places in the U.S.A.

      Most social issues should be decided by local elections not national judicial fiat. 

      Too many immigrants all at once is too much competition for those already here especially for the so-called “low-skilled”.

      Leftist: Trade unions are a good thing and there should be more of them

      Affirmative-action to benefit many African-Americans is still warranted

      Affirmative-action to benefit all kids growing up in poverty is warranted.

      Great extremes of wealth and poverty are a bad thing.

      Libertarian: Government should be progressively weaker the more remote it is from the individual citizen (I suppose that’s “Localist” rather than “Libertarian” so please someone help me out with a suggestion for a Libertarian idea that sounds good to me).

      • Well... says:

        Libertarian: Government should be progressively weaker the more remote it is from the individual citizen (I suppose that’s “Localist” rather than “Libertarian” so please someone help me out with a suggestion for a Libertarian idea that sounds good to me).

        There was a thread on that one or two OTs ago. I can’t remember what term they came up with…municipalist or something?

        • Plumber says:

          @Well…

          “There was a thread on that one or two OTs ago. I can’t remember what term they came up with…municipalist or something?”

          Yes that was a suggestion in that thread, @Watchman suggested “localism”, and that seemed clear, “municipalism” seemed good as well.

          • Well... says:

            Localism to me is the thing about buying/eating stuff made/grown locally whenever possible. Doesn’t have implications about the size/power of government at various levels.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Mine

      Left: Corporate control of government is a real and serious problem in America, largely because corporations are so big and powerful.

      Right: Diversity is an active negative, not a positive and therefore immigration should be zeroed out.

      Libertarian: Regulations on small businesses (<100 employees) are substantially too high.

    • aristides says:

      Left: Some sort of larger redistribution of wealth should be implemented, not sure if I favor UBI, wealth tax, expanded EITC, or something else.

      Right: It is usually better for families to be a two parent household, with one relative staying or working from home, with a religious upbringing.

      Libertarian: All occupational liscensing should be abolished. Certification, yelp reviews, insurance costs, and legal liability can deal with the risks better than occupational liscensing.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Left: ethno-nationalism is bad. Having lines drawn in ways that cannot be changed or are perceived as being unchangeable is really dangerous and has a long, bad history. It’s kind of a silly idea in the first place (because the definitions do change; there are “ethnic groups” that in the past were a bunch of smaller, often hostile groups)

      Right: it’s beneficial to have some changeable cultural means of creating a dollop of group identity and so forth. The important bit here is that it’s changeable and can thus in theory expand to include all people in the group “humans”. Is this really right-wing? All the workers and peasants everywhere identifying as a group would be pretty left wing, so really I’m a big ol’ cheater.

      Libertarian: all recreational drugs should be legal starting at 18. The nastiest drugs either would disappear when better stuff can be easily found or the nastiness is in large part due to the illegality.

      • Nornagest says:

        The nastiest drugs either would disappear when better stuff can be easily found or the nastiness is in large part due to the illegality.

        I don’t really disagree with the proposition this is supporting, but put this way, it sets off just-world alarms in my head. There’s nothing inherent to how drugs work that’d require this, and it’d be awfully convenient if it was true by pure chance.

        On the other hand, you could get opiates and cocaine over the counter for decades, and the world didn’t end.

      • WarOnReasons says:

        ethno-nationalism is bad. Having lines drawn in ways that cannot be changed or are perceived as being unchangeable is really dangerous

        Does it mean that you also oppose Affirmative Action based on ethnicity or gender?

        • Plumber says:

          @WarOnReasons

          “Does it mean that you also oppose Affirmative Action based on ethnicity or gender?”

          You didn’t ask me but I’m going to chime in anyway, if affirmative-action based on ethnicity was replaced with affirmative-action based on relative family wealth I’d have no problem with that and would even support that, but what I wouldn’t support would be no affirmative-action at all, which is usually what’s advocated.

          As for affirmative-action based on sex, I feel no great urgency to have more women be carpenters or plumbers and more men to be lawyers or teachers, but I don’t feel very strongly against those efforts either (but I hardly notice them anyway).

          What would be AWESOME!!! is affirmative-action based on age, forcing the young out of jobs that don’t require heavy lifting would be great, and less Americans would have to subsist on Disability, and a program to maybe create more of those jobs (doubling the number of teachers for example) seems good to me.

      • monistowl says:

        >and can thus in theory expand to include all people in the group “humans”

        I can think of three big explicit attempts to do this: Islam, Christianity, and Communism. Each seems to slow down, Xeno’s Paradox style, and fragment the closer it gets to planetary fixation.

    • fion says:

      I think it probably says something interesting about a person whether they view The Demon as mostly left or mostly right. I kind of view it as mostly right. It’s all about competition, and about the most efficient course winning, whether or not it’s good and pure. (Of course, what “efficient”, “good” and “pure” mean are different to different people…) Sure, it’s progressive, but it’s progressive in an unchecked way, being guided more by an invisible hand than by a government or a local community.

      However, I am solidly left and still mostly on The Demon’s side, so perhaps I’m talking nonsense.

      To answer the question:
      Left: A myriad of options, but probably the leftist view that I hold most strongly is that some services such as the railways, health service, post office and energy are better off nationalised than privatised.

      Right: I’m not sure if I have any strongly-held right-wing views, but I would accept right-wing proposals to fight climate change, if I expected them to be effective. (One example might be increasing the tax on fuel, even though this will disproportionately harm the poor. Stopping climate change is more important than fighting poverty right now.)

      Libertarian: Prediction markets should be experimented with as part of the process of government. (This isn’t specifically a libertarian view, but given that it’s extending the market to something that it’s not normally extended to I think it’s within the spirit of the thing.)

    • J Mann says:

      I’ll interpret “strongest belief” as “most aligned with that viewpoint that I am still reasonably confident of.”

      Leftist beliefs: We should engage in carbon taxation because a significant portion of the population is concerned about carbon output, it’s a reasonable compromise, and you have to tax something. Marginal gun control (like outlawing extended magazines) is probably the right thing to do, even if it amounts to depriving people who bought extended magazines of a good faith expectation, and even if it doesn’t do much good.

      Rightwing beliefs: “Western civilization” (the mish-mash of Greek and Roman roots, Christianity, and the enlightenment) has some significant harms to answer for that should not be ignored, but has been net positive and should be celebrated.

      Libertarian beliefs: Great jumping Jehoshaphat, leave people alone and get a life you bloodless bureaucrats! Let that little girl sell lemonade! Shut down the G-D raisin cartel! When you find yourself in the M-F US Supreme Court defending the United States practice of destroying people’s raisins in order to make sure we don’t have too many raisins in the US, you should look at your life and judge it a failure. I don’t particularly even care if it’s Constitutional, and I don’t like raisins, but how do you go to work every day and say “my job is to make sure there aren’t too many raisins in order to maintain raisin price stability.” HOW????

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Left: Tolerance for those who are different. A society growing in wealth should lead to some provision for those who are worse off. (I believe the left routinely goes beyond where they should go with these, but give them credit for owning these positions)

      Right: Sensible immigration policy. National identity based on something or other is important. Family values.

      Libertarian: Non-interventionist foreign policy. Distrust of government. Shrinking the state apparatus.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I like this question! (I assume for the sake of argument that you’re referring to the US sense of these terms – I feel a little sorry for the extent to which this leaves out our extra-US readers…)

      Left: The right to acquire and use birth control should not be infringed.

      Right: +1 to Pax Americana being real, important, and worth actively maintaining.

      Libertarian: Any failure in a free market exists in any alternative economic framework, to equal or greater extent.

      I feel like the latter is significantly stronger than the former two. And I notice the conflict between them. And I’m open to counterarguments on all three.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        Birth control is a bit complicated. The recent pushes to make it OTC have been either Republican led or at least Republican supported. I am not aware of any push by the Trump administration nor the Republican Congress to reduce access to birth control.

        The conflict appears to be an underlying issue related to the ACA. Republicans (and Libertarians) might characterize the conflict less about access to BC, but instead who is required to pay for it. The recent court cases are about religious organizations with an ideological reason not to want to buy BC being required under the terms of the ACA. That’s either pro-religious freedom (mostly Republican) or anti-government force (Libertarian), rather than anti-BC.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          One reason I gave the answer I did for Left was that it was something I expected Democrats to advocate, and Republicans to oppose. So it’s interesting that OTC BC gets Republican backing.

          OTOH, it’s not surprising that Republicans oppose having the state pay for it, which is why I wrote “the right to acquire and use“, rather than the more ambiguous “the right to”.

          Like David Friedman, I find a lot of my strong views about right and left tend to also align with libertarianism. My view on PaxAm is a rare point where I (and the Right) part with the latter (though perhaps not with a consequentialist implementation of it). It’s harder for me to think of a point where I side against it with the Left. I did, however, have two candidates written down that I hold more weakly:

          Left: It may be worth pushing to expand the options available to the poorest 40% of Americans, even under threat of force. At the very least, it is worth mapping those current options in greater objective detail, thus expanding options by way of raising awareness of available options, and doing so now rather than later.

          Left: There exist certain segments of US infrastructure that might be mature and institutionalized enough to not be worth the cost of trying to privatize them at our current technological level (e.g. interstate highway maintenance, vaccination, collective defense, and fire prevention, but not education, local road maintenance, health care, medical care, or welfare).

          It’s possible there are others, perhaps involving the rights of children, the comatose, and generally people unable to act as their own representative. Also, there are cases involving incomplete information that I have yet to work out to my satisfaction.

    • The problem for me is that the views of mine that might be considered left are also libertarian. Examples would be drug legalization and free immigration.

      For conservative, it would probably be support for stable marriage, especially as a context for rearing children. My guess is that mf and ff couples both work—I’m not sure which works better. My guess is that both work better than mm couples, but I don’t have a lot of data to support that. As a libertarian I am not in favor of legal restrictions on casual sex, polyamory, open marriage, and the like, but my guess is that the more traditional approach, probably watered down a little, on average works better.

      For libertarian, my most extreme position is probably support for a stateless society.

    • Walter says:

      Left: Take everyone’s guns.
      Right: Punish people who break the law, even if they are sad.
      Libertarian: Gov shouldn’t know about marriage, period, relate to citizens as individuals.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Libertarian: Gov shouldn’t know about marriage, period, relate to citizens as individuals.

        The problem with this one is that the government gets called in to settle your divorce. When someone is trying to take half your stuff (or you’re trying to take half of someone else’s stuff) it’s really useful to be able to point to the existence or lack of thereof of a document certifying that yes you were in fact married, you were of age, not coerced or intoxicated, not still married to someone else, etc. This is the true purpose of a marriage license and is why when Mrs. Honcho and I got our license it came with a 30 page booklet, one page of which said “grats on getting married” and the other 29 pages were about how to get a divorce.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          This is pretty much the rationale for civil unions.

        • 10240 says:

          No marriage, no divorce. You can always write a contract that each of you can get half of the other’s stuff by invoking the contract. Absent a contract, no-one gets half of the stuff of anyone; bank accounts belong to the one whose name is on it, real estate belongs to the one whose name is on the deed, movable property belongs to the one who bought it (or the one who was gifted it), etc. The last one may be hard to prove, so if you have movable property of considerable value, it’s a good idea to write a contract about who they belong to (unless you have a general 50–50 contract).

          A lot of people enter marriages without actively thinking about all its legal consequences. If you were forced to write explicit contracts about all these legal agreements (assuming you want to make them), you would actually think about them, and about whether you want them. I’m not sure at all that most people who get married today would actually be willing to sign contracts equivalent to the current legal consequences of marriage; for example, the part where you have to give half of your stuff to your partner on demand would be a hard sell if it was not part of an institution that most people consider an expected part of a life path.

          • Walter says:

            I agree with this comment. This is what I was thinking of.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I agree with this too. There is a bunch of discussion on this in a thread above this (but written afterwards, confusing), in which I kind of wanted to chime in with agreement to 10240, but hard to get in a word. I think that government regulating marriage is a bad idea, but it is also true that you’d need a whole lot more than the two paragraphs above to discuss what sorts of contracts would replace marriage contracts. But I do agree with 10240 that marriage is way too much of a “one size fits all” to work very well. I also think the government provides far too many privileges to married people, which is discriminatory to singles.

          • John Schilling says:

            But I do agree with 10240 that marriage is way too much of a “one size fits all” to work very well.

            What fraction of the human population do you think want something significantly different than the “standard contract”, and in what way?

            How to handle divorce would be an obvious point of divergence, except that almost everybody still goes into a marriage expecting there won’t ever be a divorce, so good luck getting people to implement real improvements over the standard marriage contract through careful consideration of divorce terms up front.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            What fraction of the human population do you think want something significantly different than the “standard contract”, and in what way?

            Given the number of people living together without being married, I would say a pretty large fraction.

            We just went through a culture shift where now two folks of the same gender are included with the group are widely accepted in the marriage umbrella. How long before more than two living together are acceptable? And how about siblings or others couples (or groups) living together with no sexual components included? It seems to me that there are a lot of different contractual arrangements for different situations where some of the current rules for marriages are needed, but not others. Our society has gotten used to the idea that kids grow up, then get married, then have 2 1/2 kids of their own. Because of this meme in society, competing contractual arrangements haven’t been developed. I think such other contracts would be useful.

          • John Schilling says:

            Given the number of people living together without being married, I would say a pretty large fraction.

            How many of those people have any sort of contractual relationship with one another?

            “Living in sin”, shacking up, what have you, has pretty always been a thing, often frowned on to some degree, now not so much. Marriage, one man one woman one economic union with joint custody of the children till death do us part, exit clause for adultery abuse or abandonment, has pretty much always been a thing. And as long as governments have been a thing, they’ve passed laws saying “this is what we understand the standard marriage contract is; if our courts take official notice of any problems, this is what we will enforce”.

            The claim, as I understand it, is that governments are doing this badly because they are enforcing a one-size-fits-all contract and lots of people want a different contract. If that’s the case, people who are just shacking up with no apparent desire for any formal agreement, don’t come into it. We need to look at the people who are drafting domestic partnership contracts that are substantially different from traditional marriage. How many of those are there, and what do their contracts look like?

          • Lambert says:

            I bet more people would go for a formal contract other than marriage if society considered it an option.

            i.e. They were aware of it as something they could do,
            enough legal precedent had been established that they knew how the courts would interpret things
            enough lawyers with experience in drafting such agreements
            etc.

            Also, there’s the issue that the current ‘one size fits all’ agreement is tangled in a load of social stuff, such as throwing the most expensive and stressful party of your entire life.

          • ana53294 says:

            But there is a standard, legal form that can be signed when you are starting cohabitation, and it is known and widely practiced – it’s called a will.

            And many cohabitating couples don’t even get a will, the standard contract that can be changed at any moment while you are alive. Stieg Larsson’s girlfriend famously lost all rights not just to the copyright of his books, but moral rights also, because he didn’t get a will.

            So no, all those people who cohabitate do not seem to be demanding a new type of cohabitation contract – they seem to want no contract at all.

          • John Schilling says:

            But there is a standard, legal form that can be signed when you are starting cohabitation, and it is known and widely practiced – it’s called a will.

            Also, cohabitation agreements and domestic partnerships are a thing; they’re just rare. Except where they were the only way that same-sex couples could have something like a marriage – and when that was a fairly high-profile thing, the same-sex couples in question mostly seem to have wanted their domestic partnerships to be as marriage-like as possible. And approximately no straight couples looked at this and said, “Hey, we could use this newfangled ‘domestic partnership’ thing to formalize that arrangement we’ve always wanted, that’s just like marriage but only lasts seven years” or whatever.

            And of course legal marriage can be uncontroversially modified by prenuptial agreements, but only about 5% of Americans do that. Variants like explicitly open marriage are even more rare.

            All the places this alleged demand for something other than standard-issue marriage could manifest under current law and custom, are too conspicuously underpopulated for me to believe that there is a huge demand for variant marriages that is suppressed because states and churches don’t make it part of the standard contract labeled “marriage”.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Look, John, I don’t mean that married and unmarried folks out there are clamoring for new contractual arrangements. Most people don’t think about such things, and don’t want to think about such things. They just go with the flow, and they either get married or shack up as they decide is the best option.

            But that doesn’t mean a whole bunch of them wouldn’t grab different options if they were available. And I don’t mean they are going to go find a lawyer to write up their own special contract, as your link suggested. Of course, most people won’t bother with such complications.

            Marriage is a very strong meme in society. It has benefits both in custom and law. It allows you to file joint tax returns, it gives the spouse the right to various procedures if the other becomes incompetent or unconscious, one gets additional medical benefits and pension benefits (both from employers and the government), and a bunch more things. I got married 36 years ago so my girlfriend would be covered by my employer’s health insurance. It is hard to judge how much people would demand other contracts when the law and customs so favors marriage. I strongly favor the government undoing those rights, so maybe we could find out.

          • John Schilling says:

            But that doesn’t mean a whole bunch of them wouldn’t grab different options if they were available.

            It also doesn’t mean that they would grab different options if they were available. Because, different options are available, and very few people are grabbing for them. You keep claiming that this is because it’s too hard and it isn’t evangelized the way marriage is, but some of them (e.g. prenups) aren’t that much harder than straight marriage.

            You are asserting a substantial demand for variant marriages, but presenting zero evidence beyond “you can’t prove there’s not a demand, if it’s cheap enough and promoted widely enough”. So I think I’m just going to rest my case.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I just want to repeat the most important piece of my previous rant:

            It is hard to judge how much people would demand other contracts when the law and customs so favors marriage. I strongly favor the government undoing those rights, so maybe we could find out.

          • Plumber says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            “It is hard to judge how much people would demand other contracts when the law and customs so favors marriage. I strongly favor the government undoing those rights, so maybe we could find out”

            Ypu want a radical change in customs and laws just to see what would happen?

            Why take the gamble?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think some states have “covenant marriage,” which means that divorce can only be gotten for cause (rather than just because someone got bored). And many states were offering domestic partnerships as an alternative to marriage (mainly to allow gays to get more-or-less the same benefits from the law as straight couples, at least within the state, but some straight couples used them). It would be interesting to look at how popular those were, to get a sense of how much demand there is for this sort of thing. Perhaps another small step that would let us learn if this is something a lot of people want would be to publish a few standard prenups and recommend choosing one when you get married.

            An interesting aspect of marriage law is that the terms of the contract were changed from the top down over several decades, as states and judges changed the requirements for divorce, the assumptions underlying alimony and child support, etc. In a world where that had been spelled out by explicit contracts, I wonder whether we would have seen the same changes.

            One reason to suspect we would have seen those changes is that a lot of racial discrimination in housing was done via private contracts (restrictive covenants). I think (from a quick Google search) these were declared unenforceable by the Supreme Court in 1948, but they were still put into contracts until they were made illegal in 1968. It seems plausible that the same social forces weakening marriage might have led courts to decide that some common terms of the standard marriage contracts were no longer enforceable.

          • 10240 says:

            @John Schilling , I find it plausible that many people get married primarily because it’s a tradition rather than because they actually want its legal consequences, and if marriage was not available, they wouldn’t make any contract (except perhaps about a small part of its consequences such as inheritance or hospital visitation). To the extent transfer of property is justified (e.g. if one partner does more housework than the other), in most cases it can be handled in ways such as transferring money from one account to another, having a joint account, or deciding in what proportions to own a real estate when you buy it.

            As you implied, most people don’t sign prenups because they find it unromantic to discuss what would happen in a divorce when they get married. If the standard option was taken away, they would be forced to make a conscious decision about it — or just not sign any contract. Another problem with prenups is that they are not enforceable in some jurisdictions.

            @Plumber If most people are actually on board with the current legal consequences of marriage, nothing would change as people would continue to get married at private institutions or sign contracts with similar consequences.

            The custom of marriage evolved under very different economic and social conditions from today’s. It’s unlikely that the traditional rules of marriage are best suited to today’s conditions. The institution has been updated in some aspects (e.g. no-fault divorce) but not in others (e.g. lifelong alimony, which still exists in some jurisdictions, is hardly justified when women can and do work).

          • 10240 says:

            @albatross11 It’s unclear because when the laws around marriage were changed, they typically didn’t make it illegal or unenforceable to make contracts with terms similar to the earlier legal effects of marriage, unlike in the case of segregation. However, some of the current or earlier terms of marriage may be unenforceable in a generic contract as one-sided, or for other reasons.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            What 10240 said to John and Plumber.

            Taking away the legal benefits of marriage doesn’t mean people won’t get married, or keep up tradition. If it’s a good tradition, it will stay. I think we saw in the discussion on gay marriage the discrimination that single people face. Allowing gays to marry just subtracted a few of those discriminated against. I think we should eliminate the discrimination altogether.

          • John Schilling says:

            If it’s a good tradition, it will stay.

            And if it stays, it will result in disputes over property and child custody and yes even hospital visitation. Which courts will have to resolve, and they’ll ask “OK, so what did you guys agree to?” And when the answer is basically the same as the last hundred billion or so people to implement this tradition, they’ll start presuming that agreement exists unless some other is explicitly specified, and then legislatures will formally codify it, and most of us will live happily every after. And really, you can replace all those “if” statements with “p>0.95”, because we’ve done every part of this before many times and it pretty much always ends the same way.

            I think we should eliminate the discrimination [against single people] altogether.

            This is the lowest form of “eliminating discrimination”, where you reduce every thing and every one to the lowest common denominator, take away a benefit that most people enjoy just because it can’t be provided to anyone.

            Speaking as someone who is not enjoying that benefit and is among the victims of the alleged discrimination: knock it off. You’re not helping people like me, and you’re not helping people like you, you’re just hurting all the rest.

          • 10240 says:

            @John Schilling The “If most people are actually on board with it” part is important. As I’ve said, I don’t think that most people consciously agree to all of it’s current legal consequences, and that they would stay. I doubt that anywhere near 95% of people could say that they’ve agreed to something equivalent to e.g. the current rules about property distribution and alimony in a no-fault divorce if they didn’t have the memetic power of being the default arrangement tied to marriage, which they consider to be an expected part of a life.

            This is the lowest form of “eliminating discrimination”, where you reduce every thing and every one to the lowest common denominator, take away a benefit that most people enjoy just because it can’t be provided to anyone.

            We should separately consider the legal consequences of marriage which constitute an agreement between the two persons (and which could be substituted by a contract), and the ones that constitute benefits accorded to the couple by the government. The latter part is where discrimination happens at the expense of single people. (Although such benefits are minimal or non-existent in many jurisdictions.) Such benefits could be either eliminated or, if we consider it beneficial to society to have children, tied to having children rather than to being married.

      • EchoChaos says:

        > Right: Punish people who break the law, even if they are sad.

        I don’t see this as remotely right-wing. The left wants aggressive enforcement of the law just as much, they just don’t care about the same laws as the right.

        • Walter says:

          I hope that you are right, but in my experience the left have a strong tendency to want to let people off, because racism/patriarchy/they are refugees/whatever.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I find that this is mostly an excuse to get laws they don’t like defacto repealed rather than go through the pain of repealing them, not really principled objections to strong enforcement.

            There aren’t tons of left wing protests against super strict gun laws in Chicago that primarily incarcerate young black men, for example.

          • acymetric says:

            It is part trying to defacto repeal laws we don’t like via lack of enforcement, but also trying to reject the outsized punishments that have developed for some crimes that are agreed generally should be crimes but where the penalties have become far too severe through constant “tough on crime” one-upsmanship. It also isn’t always related to feminism/racism/etc, sometimes people just think laws (or at least their associated punishments) are bad for everyone and do more harm than good when enforced.

            If you think a crime warrants some community service, a fine, and maybe some kind of substance or behavioral rehab, but the mandatory minimum sentence is 5 years in prison, you might well decide to look for some excuse not to convict the person of that crime at all rather than issue what you see as an outsized punishment that harms both the person and the society more than it helps either party.

      • S_J says:

        Left: Take everyone’s guns.

        I’ll push back against this one, using an argument that I’ve seen elsewhere.

        Imagine a scenario, in which a violent man confronts a woman in an dark parking lot late at night.

        The scenario might lead to several possible outcomes. In outcome A, the woman is forced into the trunk of her own car, driven to another location. It ends with the possibility for rape and murder.

        In outcome B, the woman resists with a firearm that she had been carrying. The would-be-attacker ends the evening on the pavement, severely wounded. The intended victim waits for Police and the ambulance to show up, gives a statement, and then drives home.

        In outcome C, the woman also has a firearm, and points it at the would-be-attacker. He runs away, and the woman sits in the parking lot waiting for a Police officer to write down her description of the would-be attacker.

        Which outcome is morally superior?

        If you are in favor of taking everyone’s guns, you are in favor of making outcomes B or C much less likely.

        This is an edge-case. But it is a good way of describing the tradeoffs involved in forbidding the law-abiding from carrying a gun. It is also a good way of describing the tradeoffs involved in forbidding the law-abiding from even owning a gun.

        • Plumber says:

          I’m fine with having just young and/or unmarried men and boys being forbidden gun ownership, Hell just make it so only women are allowed to possess pistols.

          • Statismagician says:

            This is obviously unconstitutional, even before questioning how on Earth you’d go about enforcing such a policy. Or, you know, why we apparently don’t care about self-defense for men.

            My sense of the issue is that no plausible gun control has any real effect, so we should all stop shouting about it every two years until the political climate changes.

            EDIT: Illegal under the Civil Rights Act, not unconstitutional. I forgot where the protected classes came from.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Statismagician, it’s unconstitutional under the Second Amendment as well.

          • Statismagician says:

            Right, yes, obviously. *smacks forehead*

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I’m fine with having just young and/or unmarried men and boys being forbidden gun ownership, Hell just make it so only women are allowed to possess pistols.

            And what if the young and/or unmarried men and boys are sickly, and the scenario S_J describes above is a mugging (just to make it a bit less edge-case)?

            What if they appear strong, but aren’t able to fight due to nerve damage?
            What if the man is middle aged and/or married, and still finds it lucrative to go raping and pillaging?
            What if the attacker decides he can get a black market gun (he’s going to commit rapes and muggings anyway, so why not) and mug and rape until he gets caught?

          • 10240 says:

            Possibly under the Fourteenth Amendment as well. Discrimination by private parties is made illegal by the Civil Rights Acts only, but discrimination by the government is usually unconstitutional.

          • Randy M says:

            I read that as “discrimination by private parts” and it made perfect sense.

          • Plumber says:

            “I read that as “discrimination by private parts” and it made perfect sense”

            Indeed it does, and you got me to laugh!

            Thanks @Randy M

        • Walter says:

          Maaan, you don’t need to go into A/B/C until you establish that I care about this situation, yeah?

          I don’t trust y’all. I am safer if less of you are armed. There are less cops than there are folks, so a vibe where just cops have guns is better than a state where cops and folks have guns. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Maaan, you don’t need to go into A/B/C until you establish that I care about this situation, yeah?

            I can’t tell what you’re getting at here. If, for instance, you care about women being abducted even in cases where no guns are around, why are you okay with them being disarmed?

            I am safer if less of you are armed. There are less cops than there are folks, so a vibe where just cops have guns is better than a state where cops and folks have guns.

            There’s the rub; this simply isn’t true. Reduce the number of guns, and eventually there will be people who can get guns, and people who can’t, and the former become safer while the latter become much less safe.

            This is compounded by motivation. When guns are scarce, the former group will contain people with intent to make the latter even less safe. But if everyone can obtain them legally, there will be many more people with intent to make people (themselves, at the very least) more safe.

            This was strongly implied by the A/B/C post, and is fairly common knowledge. If you want to claim “less guns = more safe”, you will be required to address this, or the claim won’t make it farther than the nearest listener who understands how incentives work.

        • rlms says:

          If you only consider one side of a tradeoff, obviously you’ll get a one-sided conclusion.

          But also, that argument isn’t in favour of permitting gun ownership. Rather, it’s in favour of *mandating* gun ownership (at least for people who could be the victim in that scenario). And empirically, I believe a mandate like that would go against the majority of people’s preferences about carrying guns.

          • 10240 says:

            How so? The woman who could carry a gun but doesn’t only increases her own chance of getting in trouble. While many people (though not everyone) support creating some obligations in order to protect people from their own bad decisions, most people don’t support creating such obligations for every possible situation.

          • rlms says:

            Maybe mandating was the wrong word. I mean that it makes the stronger claim that people should carry guns, not that they should be allowed to. In comparison, you should be allowed to e.g. drink heavily and endanger your health, but it’s not true that you should actually do that.

          • 10240 says:

            @rlms Assuming someone thinks that it’s a good idea for women to carry a gun as a means to defend themselves, it’s not implausible that he thinks that they should carry a gun (at least in some situations).

          • rlms says:

            @10240
            Perhaps, but that’s weird for several reasons. Firstly, most people exhibit revealed preferences against carrying guns; saying that actually you know what’s best for them doesn’t seem very libertarian. And secondly, the claim that people should do something typically comes policy proposals to encourage them to do the thing. But e.g. a proposal to give tax breaks to people who cary guns would be very peculiar, and even purely cultural promotion of carrying seems to focus on defending the culture against politics where it exists, rather than expanding it to places where it doesn’t.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think even among very gun-positive people, most everyone recognizes that some people shouldn’t have a gun. For example, if you’re inclined toward suicidal depression or homicidal rages, you really should not have a gun, because you’ll do something terrible with it. If you can’t be troubled how to use the damned thing safely, likewise, you ought not to have one. And so on.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s a parallel with herd immunity here, right? If a large enough fraction of the public is armed, then some kinds of predators will be driven away or killed off, and so there will be almost no rape/armed robbery/mugging/etc. in that society–the would-be perps either got wise or died of lead poisoning. But then there’s very little incentive to carry a gun around, since crime is almost nonexistent….

          • 10240 says:

            @rlms Your argument is a really weird argument from repugnant conclusion (if I understand it correctly). You’re basically saying that it’s implausible that carrying a gun makes a woman safer, because that would mean that women should carry a gun, which would be non-libertarian, and which would lead to proposals to make it obligatory to carry a gun, which nobody supports. With your example, it’s like saying that it’s implausible that heavy drinking is bad for your health, because that would mean that you shouldn’t drink heavily, which would be non-libertarian, and which would lead to proposals to ban heavy drinking, which few people want.

            Of course such arguments have no bearing on whether carrying a gun actually makes you safer, or whether heavy drinking is bad for your health. Depending on one’s understanding of what a “should” statement means, either the first implication (“you should carry a gun if it makes you safer”) or the second one (“if you should carry a gun, then it’s reasonable to make it obligatory to do so”) doesn’t hold.

            It’s also likely that it’s only worth carrying a gun for some people, and only in some situations, and the person in question is better suited to decide than the government.

          • 10240 says:

            @rlms Or maybe you are arguing that even if carrying guns makes people safer, it’s not an argument for making it legal, because if it had any bearing on whether it should be legal to carry one, it would also be an argument for making it obligatory, which we disagree with. But the same logic could also be used to argue that everything should be either forbidden or obligatory, something anyone who cares even a little bit about freedom and doesn’t want to live in a totalitarian state disagrees with.

    • gbdub says:

      What’s interesting is how few of any of these so far I disagree strongly with. Anyway, for me, and I’m probably going to cheat and do more than one:

      Left: Yay gay marriage. Purely market based health care is never going to fly, so let’s just get on with Medicare for all already.

      Right: +1 to Pax Americana (and Pax Western Civilization in general). Ban unionization of government employees and pass right-to-work everywhere.

      Libertarian: Legalize most drugs, decriminalize the rest. Significantly curtail legally required professional licensing, or at least the ability of non-government modern guilds to control it. Citizens United was correctly decided.

    • IrishDude says:

      Left: Open borders
      Right: Strong nuclear families create strong individuals and societies
      Libertarian: Political authority is not legitimate

      • Note that your “left” is a position more popular with ideological libertarians than with ideological leftists. Bernie Sanders was against it. I’m for it.

        • IrishDude says:

          It’s complicated. Some of the best open borders arguments I’ve read have come from Bryan Caplan, an ancap. But libertarians have a split on this issue in the same way the left does, with factions within each arguing for and against open borders. Some libertarians argue against open borders because of the welfare state or concerns about cultural assimilation/voting patterns. And the leftiest parts of the left, international workers of the world uniting types, are open borders advocates:

          “Whatever practical compromises we may be forced to make on the route to “free movement,” we should always insist upon it as a core value, and we must never repeat the mistakes of the bigoted, conservative parts of the labor movement, which were self-destructive and misidentified the causes of working people’s suffering. The best and most noble radical traditions have always been fueled by immigrants, welcomed immigrants, and upheld the central left slogan that must always continue to guide us:

          Workers of the world, unite!”

          That said, you may be right that open borders have a larger base with libertarians than the left; I don’t have good data on that.

          I struggled a bit to come up with my most left position, as they all seem to overlap with my libertarian position (drug and sex work legalization, the destructiveness of crony capitalism, etc.) and settled on open borders because I was kind of stuck.

    • Left: Whereas conflicts of interest between “races,” nations, and religions are socially-constructed and exist because of subjective wills that define their identities in certain ways in opposition to other subjectively-contrived identities, conflicts of interests between different classes are not socially-constructed. Class is not an identity to which one ascribes, but instead an objective economic condition with objective and unavoidable interests attached to it. Therefore, different class interests and class struggle are inevitable under capitalism, and it is only to their disadvantage if participants on each side fail to recognize these objective class interests of theirs.

      Right: Modern IQ tests probably point to some type of capability that we should care about; perhaps it is not the only type of capability that we should want humans to maximize, but if we discover genetic interventions that could predictably raise IQ in future generations with little to no side effects on other types of human capability that we care about, we would be wise to employ those interventions.

      Libertarian: Protective tariffs slow down the aggregate growth of the capitalist world economy.

    • SamChevre says:

      Left: bigness and high inequality are problems. They give too much ability to manipulate politics.

      Right: anti-discrimination law is an utter disaster and should be abolished at the Federal level and scrutinized carefully by the courts at the state level. Any group that people are free to leave or to avoid dealing with should be able to set it’s own criteria for what and with whom it will associate.

      Libertarian: people should be allowed to run their lives how they want, unless they are defrauding or attacking others. If John’s good life is wake-and-bake pot use, Jim’s is a bunch of opium every day, Joe’s is ascetic monasticism, and Bill’s is peddling conspiracy theories on street corners–this isn’t the government’s problem.

      Basically, I want lots and lots of little hierarchies and few and weak big hierarchies.

    • Nornagest says:

      Left: Coordination problems are hard, and this difficulty cashes out into a lot of the environmental, social, and economic problems we face. Large corporations exert undue influence over regulatory processes. Neoconservative nation-building exercises were a terrible idea and we shouldn’t participate in them.

      Right: Culture is complex and potentially fragile, and the downsides to messing it up can be very severe. While claims of marginalization deserve to be listened to, proposed solutions that involve overhauling foundational cultural concepts should be steeply discounted. (But on the other hand, some cultural concepts aren’t as foundational as they appear. The shift from viewing marriage as an institution for producing children to an institution enshrining romantic love was a major overhaul by my lights, but once you have the latter, it’s not a major overhaul to then bring in gay couples.)

      Libertarian: Individual and local sovereignty is a goal worth pursuing, even at some cost in safety. “First, do nothing” is a good heuristic for governments.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Left: Medicare for all.
      Right: Two-parent families for every child. Immigration control. Western countries and India should have state religions, and where impractical due to having many different churches with significant “market share”, that’s a suboptimal fact on the ground rather than a fundamental human right.
      Libertarian: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore, we should replace political parties that contest universal-suffrage elections by making voters hate and fear their fellow citizens as an enemy tribe with giving all power to two guys who will check and balance each other. 😛

      • Nornagest says:

        Therefore, we should replace political parties […] with giving all power to two guys who will check and balance each other.

        Yes, but which two guys?

        For maximum reality-television potential, I nominate Mel Gibson and Tim Curry, stipulating that the latter be made up as Dr. Frank-N-Furter whenever he appears on camera. Both will be armed with ice picks.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      I’ll try again at something that could be shoehorned into working for all 3:

      A liveable UBI should be given to all citizens above the age of majority. Open borders for anyone that can demonstrate they would pay enough tax to cover their portion, at least for [some number of] years. This would create a strong enough foundation that we could then get rid of most welfare, unions, and government departments: gives sufficient resources and negotiating power to workers, and the govt could be more-or-less stripped down to the UBI apparatus & military (+border control) that protects it.

      (I personally would prefer to keep state-run criminal law enforcement and FDA/CDC types, but we’ll set that aside to try and qualify for the libertarian prong)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I am a partisan Republican, political center-right (US spectrum)

      Left: The majority of people on the right are pretty damn racist or selfish, with a sizable minority that are just flat-out unapologetic racists.
      Right: The majority of people on the left are disaffected outcasts that want to blame others for their problems, and a sizable minority that are basically just socialists in it to take other people’s money.
      Libertarian: If the public education system gets trillions of dollars and is unable to teach more than half of Americans that the Earth revolves around the Sun, the public education system does a crappy job of educating the public and we should start defunding it.

      Centrist opinion: The US is a decently well-run nation and almost no major politician deserves even a tenth of the outrage they have to deal with. The major exception is DJT. I am undecided on AOC. America’s political opinion, IMO, roughly tracks with people becoming more politically active, and greater political activism will probably make things worse, not better.

      Self-reflecting opinion: My opinions have changed enough in the last decade of my life that I don’t put too much stock into them. If they are stable over the next 5, I’ll start trusting them a bit more.

      • J Mann says:

        Beta Guy, what’s your thumbnail guess on what percentage of the right and left are racist. (And if it makes a difference if we believe it’s possible to be racist against white people, maybe give a number assuming it is and a number assuming it isn’t.)

        • Plumber says:

          @J Mann

          “…what’s your thumbnail guess on what percentage of the right and left are racist…”

          You didn’t ask me but I’m going to chime in:

          My rough guess is that 99.9999% of “The Left” is racist to some extent, and that roughly 99.9999% of “The Right” is racist to some extent.

          Since I assume that I am a person who does bad things I do assume that I’m sexist, bigoted, and generally tribalistic, as well as my being prideful, greedy, lustful, envious, gluttonous, angry, and very lazy, indeed since people aren’t celestials I assume that most everyone I meet is, to some extent, as well and I try to check my dark impulses and I try to be forgiving when others don’t, as I think much of that is “baked in”.

          That doesn’t mean I don’t bemoan those qualities in myself and others, I just try to view people as people not demons.

          Realize the evil, strive for the good.

        • To answer that question, you have to define “racist.”

          If believing that there are significant differences in the distribution of significant characteristics by race counts as racism, then I expect that over ninety percent of both left and right are racist. If reacting differently to individuals of different races does it, then still a large majority of both left and right.

          If “racism” is limited, as I think it should be, to hating or despising people because of their race, I would guess under ten percent on either side.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          It’s possible to be racist against white people, and it’s possible to be racist against other black people even if you yourself are black.

          My back-envelope calculation is 20-30% of the American Right are “I don’t want my daughter dating a black man” racist, and maybe 50-80% are “I really don’t feel comfortable with all these black people being here” racist. I’m not even counting the “I think black people are lower IQ,” because that’s a totally different question and I don’t think believing in genetic variances among people should fall into the “I don’t like them” camp.

          I don’t know about the American Left, because it contains too many ethnic underclass minorities I do not regularly interact with. My impression of America’s white liberal upper class is that Lizardman Constant are “I don’t approve of inter-marriage” racist, and 20% are of the “I don’t feel comfortable” racist. I am NOT including the “I don’t want to deal with those idiots in AP after they outsourced it to the Philippines,” which would drive up those numbers to something like 80%.
          I’d put, at most, 15% of the Left in the “I will assume the worst of white people” camp, though this gets amplified considerably if HuffPo tells them to hate on a white man who is assumed to be wealthy.

          You didn’t ask, but among the American Left that I deal with, I’d say about 50% are one Lost Decade and one charismatic leader away from “Hail Stalin” in terms of their economics, particularly as you advance down the economic ladder. I’d say about 75% are one step away from the Jacobin.

          • Nornagest says:

            My impression of America’s white liberal upper class is that Lizardman Constant are “I don’t approve of inter-marriage” racist

            Probably about right.

            and 20% are of the “I don’t feel comfortable” racist.

            Waaaaaaaay too low. I’d put this only slightly lower than the right-wing equivalent, maybe somewhere around 50-60%; you’ll have a hard time getting them to say so, but there are a lot of people in the white liberal upper class who’ll talk up minorities any chance they get but still cross the street when they see a black dude coming, especially as you start looking at older people and/or people outside of ethnically mixed city centers. Note however that this isn’t incompatible with “I will assume the worst of white people”, especially when that amounts to talk more than action.

            Upper-class Blue social mores come down way harder on explicit racism than Red ones, but upper-class Blues are probably less likely to come into frequent social contact with non-Asian minorities than any other other white cohort outside of actual hillbillies. That means you’ll end up with a lot of implicit racism. (The urban WWC on the other hand is probably the most likely.)

          • albatross11 says:

            ADBG: That seems way high to me, but I don’t really know whether you’re right or not. Is there good polling data on this stuff?

            This poll said 96% of blacks and 84% of whites approved of interracial marriage in 2013. Assuming not much has changed, that might give us some notion of the right numbers–people who disapprove of interracial marriage[1] presumably would not want their kid to bring a black girlfriend/boyfriend home with them, and as of 2013, that was probably about a quarter of whites. That’s *way, way* more than I would have expected.

            [1] Note: the question isn’t whether it should be illegal.

          • Theodoric says:

            maybe 50-80% are “I really don’t feel comfortable with all these black people being here” racist.

            If this belief were due to blacks having 8x the homicide rate of whites, would you still code it as “racist?”

          • and as of 2013, that was probably about a quarter of whites.

            16%. About a sixth.

          • Note: the question isn’t whether it should be illegal.

            It also doesn’t specify why they disapprove of inter-racial marriage. One reason might be that they believe the couple, or their kids, would face hostility.

            I’m thinking of a real case, a couple who are good friends of ours. She is Chinese-American (born in the U.S.), he is Croatian-American (ditto). Their parents knew each other professionally (chinese restaurants and wholesale butchers) and cooperated in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the kids apart. Her Chinese father thought American men didn’t treat their wives properly. His father thought the children of a mixed marriage would have problems.

            The couple are married with four children, the youngest now college age. As best I can tell, they got along fine with both sets of parents. I would be reluctant to describe either set of parents as racist.

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            a. Thanks for the correction! Yes, 16%, not 26%.

            b. This seems like a reasonable first cut to the answer, but what would really be useful would be a poll which asked party affiliation and whether (assuming you had kids) you would object to them bringing home a partner of another race.

            My intuition is that when the other race is black, you will have much higher negative responses than when the other race is Asian or hispanic, but that’s just a guess.

          • @ albatross11:

            My guess as well, but there is still a problem of interpretation.

            My guess is that many parents would be more uncomfortable if the Asian brought home was a recent immigrant, speaking fluent but accented English, than if he or she was a third generation Asian, indistinguishable if your eyes were closed from a white American. Someone your child marries is part of your family, and having members of your family with a very different cultural background could be uncomfortable.

            I suspect the same pattern would apply if the person was black. A middle class black who felt culturally “normal”—i.e., like your family—would be much less of an issue than someone who had grown up in the inner city and showed the fact in speech and attitudes.

            I can only remember having dated one black girl, long ago, not for very long. My memory is that she felt more like “my kind of people” than the average white girl.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Left: Recycling is good and worthwhile

      Right: Values matter and most people need to work

      Libertarian: The (college) education system is incredibly broken, bordering on evil

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      All answers assume loose, colloquial US standard of Right-Left-Libertarian. If I list multiple beliefs it’s because I can’t narrow it down further. I’m going with broad stuff rather than specific policy positions where possible because I feel like that’s a different discussion.

      Strongest as in most deeply, firmly held…

      Right: American values and culture are in fact exceptional, and most of America’s failures have been failing to live up to those values, not failure OF those values. This cashes out in a lot of different ways, from being hostile towards attempts to redefine or narrow individual liberties in the name of progress, to thinking that we should balance welcoming and accepting immigrants with ensuring that we remain committed to assimilation and discourage the sort of “multiculturalism” that leads to cultural and community segregation, to a hundred other little things.

      Left: Immigration is a good thing, on net. We need some social safety net provisions as part of our government and shouldn’t depend solely on private charity. Gays, Lesbians, and Trans men and women are not inherently threatening to social order or virtue.

      Libertarian: The government that governs best, governs least, and is as small and as weak as it can be while still performing its core functions. Note that over time I’ve come to conclude that “small and weak as possible” in my view is still bigger than any doctrinaire Libertarian would agree with, though my solution would be to decrease the size of the polities. I also think that more smaller countries are better than big countries.

      BONUS ROUND:

      Anarchist: Because the most outnumbered minority will always be the individual, it’s wrong-headed and narrow-minded to see “The Government” as the only threat. Whether it’s a church, a union or guild, a homeowner’s association, or even just a group of like-minded people organizing for power, organized hierarchies are necessary evils and should not be allowed to get too large or too powerful.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      German context applies

      Right:
      the refugee situation, is badly handled, specifically:
      Opening the borders was a mistake. No refugees should be allowed to be let in, without all of them being monitored, fingerprinted and the state knowing about their whereabouts at all times (afraid, that part is also not even thinkable, because Nazi-past).
      The current system of handling the refugee crisis is a drain on German resources and a potential security risk.
      What I’d actually like, but is not exactly a Rightist position, because our Right is too cool and edgy for making all that many constructive propositions:
      There should be a points system, that allows and encourages refugees to prove themselves integratable and useful and quickly decide for each one (I’m thinking 6 months max), whether they’re to be sent away or whether they can stay long term as probationary citizens (which I think is common sense, but I’ve never seen anybody suggest it. Our discussion is either shouting ‘Refugees bad’ or ‘Refugees welcome’, and sadly never asking ‘What the hell do we do with them all? How do we ensure, they’re not causing any trouble? Who can stay here long term and under what conditions and who can not?’ This for years now, and nothing ever gets settled.)

      [this is really awkward, because our chancellor is supposed to be right/conservative, but stands for the absolute opposite policy here. The new right-wing-malcontent party appears rather scarily racist sometimes and isn’t exactly an overly coherent movement that can be agreed or disagreed with.]

      Left:
      Some form of UBI should be implemented.
      caveat:
      [though I prefer a UBI that cuts out all other services and is fairly low, in addition to getting rid of many restrictive land and property use regulations, since rent is the greatest expense for the poor and middle class; having just one major welfare state transfer should at least cut down on the bureacracy and the make-do work; just first guess of best solution, Friedman (the Elder) had this negative income tax-concept, that was some kind of UBI mechanism as well, which I probably would prefer, if I went to the trouble of understanding it]
      Libertarian:
      tax reform, specifically:
      The VAT should be simplified to one averaged rate, instead of two.
      The income tax calculation should fit on a beer coaster.
      [old campaign promises, that they’ve never managed to implement,
      despite being in government for years and years. Our Libertarians are kinda useless.]
      Uber should be allowed here. [not sure, if the Libertarians have even demanded that]

      [for more context on German politics, read below]

      damn, that’s hard for a German. Left, Right, Libertarian is so 1970s.
      (we used to have a right/left/libertarian three-party system till 1980,
      with the libs almost always being in government as a tie breaker, which I think did
      the country much good)

      The policy space, that’s under discussion at any given time is rather small. This country is incredibly conservative and unimaginative sometimes. Which is good, because it also means, that we’re not going to invent a new government agency every Tuesday, but I digress.

      Today it’s more like Kinda Leftish*, idiotic Super Left, Kinda Right (but really, left, but really what Merkel feels like), Kinda ActuallyRight (Bavaria only, though), priveleged eco-Hipsters, useless Libertarians, Right-Wing Malcontents;
      currently less important: Hippy Hacktivists Pirates, that nobody takes seriously (because why would we); some wannabe Nazis, that everyone pretends are super duper dangerous, but don’t actually do much;
      Antifa that likes to burn down cars, when they’re feeling particularly ambitious (nothing compared to the ’70s RAF terrorists); some other thing in Bavaria called ‘Freie Wähler’ (right-wing?)

      *The 100 year old+ SPD suffers from a complete and probably fatal identity crisis, because they’ve been economically libertarian/austerity in the 2000s and as of yet have not recovered from that (good for the country, bad for the party). Last I’ve heard, the current new promising leadership candidate wants to make feminist porn available in the public TV streaming service. Which is…. a thing….. and a good example of how it alienates all it’s working class voters and seems to have forgotten it’s roots.

    • LadyJane says:

      Leftist: Methodological individualism and equality of opportunity. I think it’s both morally and practically wrong to pre-judge people on the basis of arbitrary traits like race, gender, and sexual orientation, and I think that all people should be given an equal opportunity to succeed. We may not ever be able to completely accomplish this goal, but we should strive to come as close as possible. I also support a universal basic income, which is generally a leftist idea (although I’ve heard some libertarians and even a few right-wingers support it too).

      Rightist: Free-market capitalism. While there may be a few utilities that require some degree of government control (due to perverse incentives, natural monopolies, or overly high barriers to entry), the free-market is simply the best approach for the vast majority of industries. Like Scott, I’m in the weird position of being very pro-welfare, but also very anti-regulation: For instance, I don’t support the idea of the minimum wage at all, and I think it actually hurts poor people a lot more than it helps them. I think we should either get rid of it or lower it significantly (I’ve heard convincing arguments that we need some minimum wage to prevent a race to the bottom), which puts me to the right of most conservatives!

      Libertarian: Methodological individualism and free-market capitalism already put me on the same page as Ayn Rand, but aside from that, my general support for civil rights and opposition to foreign interventionism.

      • WarOnReasons says:

        I think it’s both morally and practically wrong to pre-judge people on the basis of arbitrary traits like race, gender

        Suppose that by some accident you find yourself lost in a very high-crime area. Two of the locals (a ~20 years old male and a female of the same age) notice you and make separate offers of giving you a ride to your hotel. Whose offer are you going to accept?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Suppose that by some accident you find yourself lost in a very high-crime area. Two of the locals (a ~20 years old male and a female of the same age) notice you and make separate offers of giving you a ride to your hotel. Whose offer are you going to accept?

          Neither. But if I must choose, the male. If he meant me harm he’d most likely harm me right there rather than offer a ride. The woman if she means me harm will bring me to be harmed by her family or gang, who would quite possibly justify it to themselves by the fact that I interacted with one of “their women”.

        • acymetric says:

          I’m with Nybbler, probably neither. If I have to choose, my answer is that there isn’t enough information provided. I assume you are trying to appeal to some heuristic that men are more likely to be violent or commit crimes, but I already know I am in a high crime area so everyone is likely to commit crimes. I would choose based on visual and verbal cues (the appearance of the person, the way they talked, and what kind of car they drive).

      • J Mann says:

        Methodological individualism and equality of opportunity. I think it’s both morally and practically wrong to pre-judge people on the basis of arbitrary traits like race, gender, and sexual orientation, and I think that all people should be given an equal opportunity to succeed.

        Interestingly, I associate that principle with right wing and libertarian views more than left wing. I think it’s left wing if you make some assumptions about systemic discrimination that requires counter-discrimination to correct, though.

    • spkaca says:

      Left: the railways and BAe should be nationalised (British context showing here). These are not industries subject to normal competitive pressures so privatisation doesn’t work well.

      Right: no abortion after the first trimester.

      Libertarian: legalise all drugs. The war on drugs is a fake war with real casualties.

    • Theodoric says:

      Left: Income distribution, maybe UBI, limit employers’ ability to regulate what you do off the clock (ie: expand laws prohibiting employers from firing employees for legal off the job activities, restrict drug testing to determining if someone is showing up to the job site intoxicated, not weekend drug use, etc).
      Right: Immigration restriction; there might be a genetic component to IQ
      Libertarian: While I might not want any kids I might have to be or use sex workers, use drugs, etc, I do not think those who do these things should be handcuffed, strip searched, confined in an environment with a real rape culture (county jail counts), and given a record that makes it hard to find work at McDonalds.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Most extreme:

      Left: The BLM protestors are basically correct about the racist nature of policing and incarceration systems in the US; a large majority of offenses that are currently punishable by incarceration should not be. US housing and immigration policy are also deeply and viciously racist. Abortion on demand and without apology. There is no good reason to gender-segregate bathrooms.

      Right: Majoritarian democracy is deeply flawed because most people aren’t, *in their role as voters*, cognitively or morally fit to participate in governance. Epistocracy would be an improvement; possibly some form of property qualification for the franchise could be as well; in the meantime supermajority requirements are good and we should have lots more of them. Military coups that overthrow democratic governments are sometimes justified; the 2002 attempt against Chavez was in this category and the US should have supported it, ditto the 2016 attempt against Erdogan.

      Libertarian: There is a moral right to violently resist the enforcement of unjust laws. Governments differ from mafias only in degree, not in kind.

      • There is no good reason to gender-segregate bathrooms.

        That strikes me as odd. Do you regard all the existing norms about exposure, urination in public, and the like as things that could easily be abolished? Those norms are strongly and widely held and having only gender mixed bathrooms forces lots of people to violate them.

        Do you feel similarly about the norm against cannibalism? Wastes a lot of good meat.

        • salvorhardin says:

          The exposure and urination norms (which are silly, but yes, likely to be clung to because people cling to silly things) can be easily accommodated by having a row of actually-private Euro-style stalls with a row of not-private sinks outside them. I’ve seen this work perfectly well lots of places including the US (the Slanted Door in SF does it this way IIRC).

          The cannibalism comparison is odd, because cannibalism aversion has substantive reasons for it (disease avoidance, avoidance of incentive to kill people) that “modesty” does not.

          • Making every lavatory single user is indeed one solution, but not a costless one. And I don’t think you should assume norms related to sexuality have no function. They are at least in part a language, hence arbitrary but not useless.

            The obvious example is dress. It’s useful to know whether a woman is likely to want to date you, sleep with you, whatever. Styles of dress are one way of signalling that sort of thing. Wearing a wedding ring on a particular finger of a particular hand is arbitrary, but conveys useful information.

            One can suggest reasons for the norm against cannibalism, but how strong they are depends on the particular circumstances of the society. You take it for granted that one could not think up reasons for norms under which (for example) a woman letting a man see particular parts of her signals something about her intentions towards him.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Are most of the women you know comfortable with pooping next to their male coworkers? What if they find one male coworker especially creepy, would they be comfortable then?

            Myself I would prefer not to poop next to any woman that I’m interested in dating. I don’t think that is silly because if a woman hears and smells some disgusting pooping going on from myself then she is likely to be grossed out and not attracted to me.

            This is pretty normal and I don’t think these norms are silly.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            “I do not see the use of this wall between the restrooms; let us clear it away.”

          • salvorhardin says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Yes, all-stall desegregated restrooms can be a costly retrofit to existing buildings, but as I understand it they are costless or even cost-negative for new construction due to less duplication and superior ability to balance demand as the gender mix in the building changes over time, and many new buildings whose architects would like to use them are prevented from doing so by building codes. If building codes really gave full freedom to builders to install desegregated restrooms, but the market demanded segregated ones anyway, I would roll my eyes but respect builders’ right to build whichever they liked.

            The other responses in this thread rather prove my point. If you seriously think that “some pretty girl might be grossed out by my pooping in the stall next to hers and therefore not want to date me” is a valid reason to impose the substantive, material burdens of segregation on others, your moral system is way out of whack. Nor is desegregation an untried fantasy of social reformers: it has been tried repeatedly with no negative consequences observed that I’m aware of. Nor, in fact, are we ignorant of the historical reason why segregation exists– it’s because of 19th C sexist delusions about the weakness and vulnerability of women.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I’m all in favor of keeping the question out of the building code. But in the rare case where the builders go for unisex bathrooms, the only question will be whether the tenants decide as company policy that the unisex bathroom on the third floor is for women and the unisex bathroom on the fourth floor is for men, or their employees make it an informal norm on their own. Either way, the urinals on the third floor will go to waste.

          • LesHapablap says:

            salvorhardin,

            Do you think it is silly for a woman not to want to share a bathroom with a coworker that she finds creepy, or that has harassed her in the past? If a woman expressed this concern, would you tell her that she is blinded by 19th century sexist attitudes and her feelings are invalid?

            If we’re talking full enclosed stalls that are just small bathrooms, then fine, but that’s not desegregated that’s just going from 2 bathrooms with X stalls each to 2X bathrooms. Those are great set ups and are ideal in my opinion, but they won’t be cheaper than ordinary stall dividers + urinals in the mens + a female bathroom, and hey maybe women want their own space anyway.

          • ana53294 says:

            Being in a private room with a man that has harassed you before is uncomfortable regardless of whether the room in question is a toilet or no. Are you suggesting to make office coffe rooms, break rooms, or any other rooms where women can bump into their harassers one-on-one segregated?

            If safety is the issue, you can make toilets where only the stalls have non-transparent walls. And make the area with the sinks have transparent walls, so anybody can see if there is something threatening happening there.

            And install panic buttons inside all the stalls. It could also be useful if somebody faints or feels unstable, and they are standard in disabled toilets.

            I think desegregated toilets are great, achieve potty parity and get rid of a lot of the nonsense over transgender women supposedly molesting little girls.

            In Sweden, there were plenty of desegregated toilets, and they worked fine. I also saw a swimming pool in the UK with not just a desegregated toilet, but a desegregated locker room with individual stalls to dress and undress. They managed to fit more people this way, and things were easier for everybody.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            If you seriously think that “some pretty girl might be grossed out by my pooping in the stall next to hers and therefore not want to date me” is a valid reason to impose the substantive, material burdens of segregation on others, your moral system is way out of whack

            Which are… what, exactly? Using a little more space to build two restrooms instead of one mega-restroom?

          • albatross11 says:

            Does the comfort of the people using the restrooms have any weight in this calculation?

            My guess is that gender-neutral restrooms are one of those issues that seems pretty pressing in SJW and academic and journalism circles, but has almost no support outside those classes. 95% of the public would react with some version of shaking their head and thinking “what the hell are those guys smoking.” Our society being what it is, that probably means we’ll find ourselves with gender-neutral restrooms as a matter of law and public policy, without any particular consideration for whether the benefits are worth the costs.

        • rlms says:

          My personal experience of non-gender-segregated toilets is that female/male are simply relabelled as cubicles/cubicles and urinals. I’ve not used them enough to know which kind women tend to use (men tend to use the ones with urinals). If building new ones I think it would be silly to not use urinals, for efficiency reasons. Exactly what a system designed around efficiency would look like is an interesting question.

          • Plumber says:

            @rlms,

            My experience has been that they put a lock on the door, which is nice except that there’s usually multiple stalls locked away by the one person in the restroom, which increases wait times (especially when “urban campers” move in), and my wife complains that “men are filthy, I hate gender-neutral”.

          • rlms says:

            @Plumber
            As in effectively changing rooms with several stalls to ones with only one? That sounds crazy and terrible.

          • albatross11 says:

            Plumber:

            I think there’s no workable strategy for having decent public restrooms alongside a large homeless population inclined to camp out in them. The fact that we have spent decades letting homeless people turn public spaces unusable seems utterly nuts to me.

            It’s like we’re in the sweet spot of cultural inability to cope with homeless people–we’re too liberal to have the cops run them off/arrest them for vagrancy, we’re too conservative to maintain effective services that keep them in some kind of shelter instead of camping out on the street, and we’re too libertarian to forcibly commit the crazy people.

          • Plumber says:

            @rims

            “….That sounds crazy and terrible.”

            Nevertheless it’s what I’ve seen partially or wholey done with some State of California court restrooms, some City and County of San Francisco restrooms, and at many corporate owned businesses.

            As far as I can tell, if the restrooms have more than three seperate toilets and/or urinals they’re still being left seperate men’s and women’s restrooms, but the ones with two and three toilet stalls and/or urinals are being converted to “gender neutral”, with a lock for whole restroom (as are the one’s with only one toilet, but those make sense to be converted, unlike the multiples).

            Looks like typical corporate and governmental central planning, so ’tis not surprising.

            @albatross11

            “…It’s like we’re in the sweet spot of cultural inability to cope…”

            That’s a very apt description!

          • johan_larson says:

            It’s like we’re in the sweet spot of cultural inability to cope with homeless people–we’re too liberal to have the cops run them off/arrest them for vagrancy, we’re too conservative to maintain effective services that keep them in some kind of shelter instead of camping out on the street, and we’re too libertarian to forcibly commit the crazy people.

            You’ve stumbled on a pretty deep insight, there. If you wrote an article about homelessness around that insight, I bet you could get it published in some influential forum, like the Atlantic. It would be a week-long orgy of wonkish chin-stroking.

          • Randy M says:

            keep them in some kind of shelter

            There is some fraction of homeless that prefers the streets to following the rules of a shelter. This is likely because a disinclination to follow rules is correlated with an inability to maintain employment.

          • albatross11 says:

            I gather the shelters are often not well run, and sometimes are unsafe. And also that trying to make them safer and better run tends to lead to kicking some people out of those shelters, which leaves you with people on the street.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            My understanding of the most common rule that causes people to avoid shelters is the prohibition on drugs (and maybe alcohol).

            I’m not sure how to remedy that particular issue, since allowing drugs seems like a really bad idea.

          • 10240 says:

            I’m not sure how to remedy that particular issue, since allowing drugs seems like a really bad idea.

            Why? It’s an alternative to living on the street where they can use drugs (illegally, but enforced less than in a shelter I presume). If the drug users bother the non-users, segregate them.

          • Mr. Doolittle says:

            There is a significant history of drug users at shelters acting violently or disruptively. “Segregate them” implies levels of enforcement beyond denying them entry that may or may not exist, and is a lot harder to monitor and administer than a straight ban.

            Currently, non-disruptive drug users can be at a shelter if they are not disruptive and hide their activities well enough. Removing the ban will make such an arrangement much more difficult for the shelter.

          • 10240 says:

            @Mr. Doolittle A simple implementation is that some shelters allow drug use and some don’t, in proportion to homeless people’s preferences or rates of drug use.

          • Randy M says:

            What if even drug users don’t like to be around other drug users?

    • Bugmaster says:

      One of my strongest beliefs is that freedom of personal expression (in the sense of a social building block/concept, as opposed to legal construct) is absolutely paramount. Obviously there are exceptions, such as “information wants to be free and nuclear launch codes are information, so here we go”; but restricting freedom of expression in the name of social engineering, no matter how benign, can never end well.

      I honestly can’t tell which philosophy this belief aligns with best. It’s tempting to say “Libertarian”, but I do not believe that “money is speech”, and am in fact in favor of a regulated market, not anarcho-capitalism, so that probably doesn’t fit either…

    • albatross11 says: